Stop hating people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or, in fact, anyone with a permutation of sexuality that is practiced with other consenting adults.
Stop hating people who are transgender, or any other interpretation of gender that cannot be neatly divided into two very, very narrow categories.
Stop hating people who believe in a different god than you, or different gods than you, or who believe in no god at all.
Stop hating people who are women, whether they use birth control or have ten kids, whether they are fat or thin, whether they say yes or no.
Stop hating people because their skin doesn’t look like yours, or they speak a different language, or a different kind of the same language.
Stop hating people who don’t live up to your personal moral code. Morals are the rules you set for yourself, not something you can force others to live by.
Stop hating people, because beyond any of those arbitrary words we’ve created to splinter humanity, to make sure that others know that they aren’t like us, for better or worse, we’re all still people.
Stop hating people.
Please. Please stop hating people.
(Note: Today’s post is less about the mechanics of writing, and more about the acknowledgement that what you imbue in your writing matters. Treat people, even your imaginary ones, with the respect due another sentient being.)
I’d never read this person’s blog before yesterday. (Cleaning out my google reader and filling it with relevant blogs is gonna happen Real Soon Now.) I don’t know how they respond to other questions, to other issues, but this post, this moment of time and words, is pretty much perfect to me.
“I want us to be so loud and so angry and so visible and so terrifying that we cannot be mistaken for anything other than the future, a future that looks like us. In all our kinds of bodies, in all our kinds of love. Waiting for the time when none of us are angry anymore because the only thing left is the world we want to live in. When the hardest thing any of us will know is teaching ourselves how to live without anger altogether.”
Naturally, I’m stealing the best lines, but the entire post is well worth your time. They’re talking about current events, about Jonathan Franzen, and how ridiculous it is to tell someone else what they “should” be angry about. I, being of a less profound bent, am using it as a jumping off point to talk about writing an unexpected apocalypse.
Part of the reason I’ve always staunchly believed I don’t enjoy the post-apocalyptic genre is that there is no happy ending. Nothing good will happen that eclipses the very big bad that has already been. When I started writing my current book, nobody was more surprised than me to find it set after a war and a plague, in the middle of a wasteland that used to be the United States.
The change for me was that I finally understood that the story I wanted to see wasn’t about fixing the world that had been, but making the new one better. It was about creating a future when the past failed, and yes, anger. Taking the kind of anger that could sustain someone through the death of family and friends, through the repeated assaults of the world around them, and turning that into fuel to keep going in the face of near-overwhelming odds.
There’s a certain conditioning, at least the way I was raised, to believe that anger is always bad. A flare of temper is okay, but sustained anger weakens you. I actually agree with that to a point; I think sustained, long-term anger with no outlet tends to seek one, and will almost inevitably turn back on you if you can’t find one. But I don’t think that’s the kind of anger the Rejectionist is talking about, and it’s not the kind of anger that DOES something. That kind of anger makes you feel like there is no point in fighting, because you can’t win. It’s impotent and ultimately defeating.
I think the anger in many post-apocalyptic and dystopian works, and one of the underlying reasons that we’re seeing more of them lately, is the kind of focused, productive anger that reminds us that the same people who want you to believe you’re powerless are the ones who are taking your power from you. Particularly in dystopian fiction, that overwhelming, almost omniscient governor (be it fear, consequence, or actual government) is nearly as important a character as the protagonist. What makes the protagonist fight? What brings her to the point where “enough” is both not, and more than? Anger. Anger, and love, and many times, the realization that his anger is the only thing that will make the world into one where love can hope to exist.
Once I understood that what I wanted out of post-apocalyptic fiction wasn’t about unmaking the problems of the past, but taking what was left and using the fire of anger to forge something new, something better, the apocalypse wasn’t so unexpected anymore. And maybe it wasn’t before, either. I think I looked at it, and mistook the power of a future created from anger for a future where only anger could survive. There’s a balance between the two, and a reminder in there that anger is worth more to my characters if it’s fuel for a bomb that remakes the world into one where their struggle becomes the need to adapt to a life where it isn’t vital for survival.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Or if you can’t manage nice, at least shoot for polite. “And why,” I hear you ask, “is that important today, Michelle? Why do you feel the need to regale us with the obvious?” Well, I’ll tell you. Because it’s on my mind! You have a problem with that? Uh, yeah, anyway…
So I’m reading this book. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call it “The Book”. Written by Author X. I’m reading “The Book” and I’m quite enjoying it. I tell Reesa about it… something along the lines of “Hey, I’m reading this book. It’s pretty cool.” She looks at it and says “Oh yeah, Author X. She was at Authors after Dark. She walked out of one of our panels.”
Things. Instantly. Change. All of a sudden, I don’t want to like “The Book” so much. I’m kinda wishing I hadn’t bought it. Author X was rude and I don’t particularly enjoy contributing to the careers of the ill-mannered. Now I know this is skirting the edges of rational and reasonable thought processes, so no need to send me scathing emails denigrating my parentage or the fact that I dropped out of finishing school. I can’t walk with a dictionary balanced on my head. So sue me.
ANYWAY. I realize that there may have been extenuating circumstances. Her beeper went off letting her know that a kidney was available. Her kid texted her from jail. The Krispy Kreme hot light app went off. Whatever. The fact is, logically or not, it bothers me. A lot. Enough so that the chances are pretty freakin’ slim I’ll buy anything else by Author X.
So the lesson here tonight, kids? Be polite. Your career could be riding on it.
The story no title will stick to, my little post-apocalyptic baby, now toddling towards its final round of disasters, weaving in ends while I knit another pattern repeat. I have missed this book, even though our love affair has matured out of the stage where we only want to spend time with one another.
We’re plotting and pacing and poking the fourth Ylendrian Empire book, which, as it happens, was actually the first Ylendrian Empire book, once upon a time in the dimdarkpast. The Spacers will return, better than ever- now with context, class warfare, and echoes of a past we hadn’t created yet, back when they first introduced themselves.
Peripheral People, the third Ylendrian Empire book, is in the hands of our terrific editor, who should be giving us news one way or the other in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we’re writing a short story set after the events in the book, because that’s how we roll.
And speaking of short stories, or really, novellas, our last (current) WIP is a daring little holiday rampage featuring Tal, Kellen, and Vanya. Sometimes finding the gift isn’t actually as hard as giving it to someone- especially when you wake up naked and alone in the middle of the black, and find they’ve gone missing.
Finally, on a more grounded, mundane note, there will be a series of website updates happening soon, none of which should cause any trouble, but you can never tell with these things. If you have any trouble with either the blog or the Ylendrian Empire site this weekend, keep calm and carry off anything of value- we’ll be up and running again shortly.
The thing about Kellen Frey is, most times, he can get what he wants. Like a lot of people, the few things he can’t have are the most intriguing to him. The pair of bounty hunters on his tail top that list.
Do U Damage – The Specimen I wanna, I wanna get close to you
This is a silly, pop-y dance track, with a “do your worst, I’ll do my best” theme that underlies the lyrics. The “do your worst” definitely pits Kellen against the world, while the “I’ll do my best” reminds me of his need to prove himself to Tal and Vanya throughout the story.
Nocturnals – Peter Gabriel (YouTube Link, because it’s not available on Grooveshark) i dream of birds, birds without wings
children who grow up to be dangerous things
This is my Vanya song. It’s creepy and violent and sexy, in a very understated way. You would not want to mess with this song in a dark alley. Likewise, Vanya wouldn’t be my choice of people to cross. She’s got a habit of making things happen, and she doesn’t particularly care if other people like that or not.
Pain Killer (Summer Rain) – Turin Brakes Batten up the hatches, here comes the cold
I can feel it creeping, and it’s making me old
You give me so much love that it blows my brains out
Sometimes, loving someone just wears you out. I think Tal feels that way a lot.
The Con – Tegan and Sara Calm down, I’m calling you to say
I’m capsized, staring on the edge of safe
I think if there was a Kellen’n’Cassie song in this mix, it would have to be this one. Love is a game, and at least one of them forgets that to some people, the point of a game is to win.
Out the Airlock – Paul Dempsey
Okay, so maybe there are two Kellen’n’Cassie songs on here. Or maybe this one is all about a man who thought he knew what he was doing. Or maybe I’m cheating, and I just liked the song. We may never know…
Backfire – Mutemath
Isn’t having something to watch when it all blows up in your face the whole point of having a plan? Nobody in The Slipstream Con is getting what they expect, but some of them are getting what they want anyway.
Perfect Weapon – Communique
Tal and Vanya have a very physical element to their relationship that I love writing. They communicate with body language and touch, and Kellen picks up on that pretty quick.
Tell Me ‘Bout It – Joss Stone
Oh, repressed lust, you look so pretty under the stars… Even though the story didn’t allow for a lot of on-screen sex, there’s a current of tension that starts almost on the first page, before you even meet Kellen in person, and carries through the whole book.
27 – Fall Out Boy
My mind is a safe, and if I keep it in, we all get rich
Kellen’s warring desires to help Cassie and keep Vanya and Tal out of his mess collide with his own fervent wish not to spend time behind bars. It’s a lot to keep track of, a lot to control, and I like this song because it made me imagine Kellen as the man pulling the strings, who doesn’t realize they’re all about to be cut.
Let’s Pretend – No-Fi Soul Rebellion
Oh, let’s. I love the backwards/forwards/sideways/upside-down vibe to this song. It takes a strong personality to live under all those lies.
Fair – Remy Zero
What if you catch me, where would we land?
So, say you were a law-abiding, licensed Good Guy. Say you had the worst habit of falling for people who lived on the other side of that line. Where would you meet- in the middle, or would you just keep running?
Armistice – Mutemath
I’ve mentioned a couple times, I wrote the entire last scene of the book with this song on loop. And not-so-subtly paid homage to it, as well. Back and forth, give and take- those things can get lost, when you’re not sure if you’re even fighting for the same things.
A Good Idea At the Time – OK Go
Well, it did! I can actually hear any of the three of them saying this, at any given moment.
I hope you enjoyed the drive-by commentary, and the mix itself. Remember, just leave a comment on any entry from this week and be entered to win a signed paperback copy of The Slipstream Con. (Soundtrack not officially licensed or included. 😉
(The following piece of flash fiction contains minor spoilers for The Slipstream Con.)
“Oh, I was an art student.” The instant Kellen uttered the seemingly innocuous words, he wanted them back behind his teeth, swallowed down deep into the lost part of him that shouldn’t even exist anymore. “Of course I was also the wealthy son of an investment banker, and possibly a lost Imperial cousin.”
Vanya kissed his forehead, her hand gentle on the back of his head as she moved past him. “The difference is, only one of those was true.”
He didn’t answer her, but he didn’t go to bed that night, either. She came into his studio hours after she should have been asleep, and her voice was soft. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I don’t know how I did, but if you tell me what I said, I’ll figure out if I’m apologizing or not.”
Kellen laughed, staring at the brush in his hand for too long before he replied. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” It felt like he was breathing fire, his tongue shaping flames as he spit out an explanation that didn’t really tell her anything, and still felt too revealing. “I like who I am. I like who I’ve become. I’ve never liked who I was.”
“You’ve changed, though. You’ve gotten out of that life–”
“I don’t mean my alleged criminal activities.” Red paint dripped from his brush into the canvas, marring the landscape. He made no move to wipe it off. “I can’t talk about it. And I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but I don’t want to be around anyone right now. Can you just…”
He didn’t have to ask her to go. The door shut halfway through his request, and he didn’t know if she was on the wrong side or not, but at least he was alone.
Angry with himself, Kellen picked up a tube of crimson paint and filled his palm with it, smearing it across the perfect copy of Hoefling’s famous starscape, Imperial City. He’d worked on it since the anonymous trail turned up a result he was almost insulted by.
Kellen hadn’t seen her face in years, but his fingers dragged it out of the brilliant red pigment, smudging in age he hadn’t witnessed, and a smile he barely remembered. When he was done, so angry he could barely keep it in, he ran a hand through his hair, ignoring the paint, and stared at the portrait until it dried just enough that there was no way to erase her.
It didn’t matter that she was alive. It wouldn’t have, to anyone but her son, and he was dead and buried, a year shy of graduating art school when he was dropped in the ground.
He should have left it alone, but it was a sickness he’d suffered from lately, this feeling like he needed to tie up loose ends. He wasn’t dying, or settling up a score, or clearing the way for a new con, and there was no good reason to have gone looking for her, not after all this time.
He wasn’t her son. He could remind himself of that all he wanted, but the fact remained that he’d found her alive, and he didn’t know what to do about it. He wasn’t her son, just a man of his own making, who used her son’s face. He owed her nothing, and wanted nothing she could give.
Her son’s name had been Grant. He didn’t know who Grant would have been, but it was a fair bet it wouldn’t have been Kellen Frey. He wasn’t sure Vanya and Tal would see the difference between them, and he couldn’t take that chance.
Alone, in the wee tiny hours before the false dawn of a ship on the drift, Kellen sealed her away with wide swaths of black paint. Her face disappeared from the canvas, mouth first so she couldn’t spill his secrets.
(Note: Due to technical difficulties, yesterday’s entertainment is being shared today.)
Tal Serafine-Reyes, Imperial Forces (retired), has agreed to play victim to the Random Interview generator, and the questions of a few of his fans.
Q: If you could steal one thing in the entire world without consequence, what would you steal?
Tal Serafine-Reyes: I’d have to defer that question to Kellen, as that’s more his area of expertise. Allegedly.
Q: What misconception of adulthood did you have as a kid that you secretly wish had been true?
TS-R: That everything would be right and fair, as soon as I was old enough to understand the secret rules adults didn’t tell me about. There are a lot of things about life that are neither right, nor fair, and it startles me on a daily basis how much I enjoy most of them.
Q: What would you tell yourself ten years in the FUTURE?
TS-R: The same thing I tell myself today. Don’t wake Vanya when she’s sleeping and search Kellen’s pockets before you let him leave someplace interesting. Honestly, I can’t see either one of those changing. Oh, and I’d tell myself to remember that what I found is better than what I expected to find. Just in case I’ve forgotten by then.
Q: What’s your favorite position for Kellen? (Submitted by Patrick.)
TS-R: Anywhere I can watch him is good.
Q: When you walk into a room, what do you notice first? What do you expect people to notice about you?
TS-R: Exits, and the two gorgeous people accompanying me.
Kellen Frey has made a study of the con for many years, and he’s damn good at the game he plays. He’s got a set of guidelines, and he sticks to them… Unless he doesn’t. Want to run a con like Kellen? Check out a few of his rules before dipping your toe into the world of professional lies.
Kellen Frey’s Rules of the Con
1. Don’t forget what you want out of the game.
2. Your job is to convince someone that they want what you want them to want.
3. Never believe your own con.
4. A good con needs a composer and conductor- you’re both. As a composer, you have to create the most beautiful masterwork ever performed. As a conductor, you have to keep the work accessible to your audience. Perfection is rare, and rarer still in people. It’s better to bring the human touch to your game than it is to look as though you’ve already written your mark’s part.
Kellen, his rules, and the bounty hunters who make him question all of them can be found in The Slipstream Con.