The Argument Before the Argument

Words are vehicles for transmitting bits of yourself into someone else.  I bet you can think of something nice that someone said to you ten years ago.  I bet you know that person’s name, maybe what they were wearing at the time, and what their face looks like.  Similarly, I’m pretty sure you can look back ten years and see someone who said something hurtful to you.  Words are immortality, in a way, because so long as someone remembers our words, we live on.

Yes, so many of our words are throw-aways.  We talk about nothing and everything.  We talk to keep the air full of something.  We talk to remember that we exist.  And it isn’t always possible to know which words are going to be kept and which ones will vanish.  Not every conversation is a keeper.

But those conversations that are intended to be kept, the ones that make or break friendships, or love.  I want to talk about the words that we use in those.

Over the past week, I’ve talked to a couple of people contemplating serious conversations with people they love over the state of a relationship.  The pre-conversation conversation starts with “can I say this?” and then something comes out that I know has been considered and edited and rearranged for days, if not weeks, if not years.

And always, these things that we want to say are a hand extended by reaching around the shield.  Comments that give and take in the same breath.  Designed to hedge the bet about how the other guy is going to react, or to manipulate the other side of the conversation.  Part posturing, part supplication.  We’ve all done it, we’ve all been on the receiving end of it.  And it is maddening.

With one friend, we started out with “why do you hate me” and ended up with what she really wanted to say, which was “can we try this again?”  “Why do you hate me” is easier to say.  It is less vulnerable.  There isn’t the possibility of a “no” at the end of it.  It is demanding rather than giving, it seeks an outcome rather than saying what it is.  There’s not much by way of honesty in it, unless you count the honest desire for engagement behind it.  “Can we try this again” is straightforward.  It opens you up for a clear, clean “no.”  It is vulnerable.  It admits a wanting for something that you might not be able to have.  But it is also distinctly lacking in coercion, manipulation, passive-aggressiveness, or attempts to control the outcome.  It’s terrifying.  It’s impossibly vulnerable for someone who has been hurt – and we’ve all been hurt.

I saw some back and forth over text from another friend.  “I know you’ve moved on…” one party said.  Well, did they know that?  Or was that a defense mechanism and a backhanded way to ask “have you moved on?”  And the conversation disintegrated from there until no one knew what the other guy was saying because the words that were being used hadn’t been born clean.  The words were stuck trying to carry too much that was at odds with itself.

We all plan these conversations.  We argue before we argue, working out strategy about how we’re going to play the different aspects of our position, using our real pain in manipulative ways to orchestrate the empathy in our favor. It isn’t like you aren’t thinking about how to have that conversation already.

Unfortunately, the reality is that it is going to hurt either way you go about it.  All of your fancy words and making the meaning double up on itself until no one can tell which is sincere and which is sarcastic; even your manipulations, trying to nudge things in your favor, even that is going to hurt.  Negotiating relationships hurts.  Full stop.  It’s scary.  And there is no way to protect yourself from the terror, at least not if you want an authentic connection.

From a writer.  As a writer.  As someone who thinks about using words well all the damn time.  Really.  All the damn time.  Play that conversation out.  With every iteration, push your words closer to simplicity and closer to the naked truth until you can get to the plainest words there are.  Words that don’t try to shape the other person’s answer.  Just the words.  Remember: this is someone you love.  This is someone you believe you need in your life.  This is someone who makes everything better when they’re in the room.  They fart sunshine and shit glitter.  You can’t stop thinking about them.  It’s been years and you’re still missing them.  They’re still all you can see.  The first thing on your mind in the morning; the falling asleep breath on your pillow holds their name.  Start with the truth, and let the truth set you free.

I miss you.  I love you.  I want you to be happy, and I want to be a part of your happy. What can I do to make that happen?

Under Water

I started swimming a few months back.  My rationale at the time was something about realizing that I’m not getting younger here and I need to do something to show the universe I’m trying to stave off the ravages of decrepitude some 30 years down the line.  Apparently, swimmers are physiologically about 18 years younger than their non-swimming counterparts – who comes up with these statistics – and I’d like to hedge my bets as much as possible.  I’m officially at the age where I’ve got to start that nonsense.  So I started.

And discovered that it is paying crazy dividends for my sense of mental balance.  My mentor mentioned that symmetrical movement helps the brain hemispheres get re-organized, which is good for an overall sense of balance, but google doesn’t seem to be coughing up any research to back that up. It sounds good, if nothing else.

Maybe it’s got something to do with the meditative breathing.  It forces a rhythm, and, come to think of it, it forces deep breathing as well.  None of this shallow breathing nonsense.  There is a lot of research on the connection between how we feel and our physiological presence.  If you want to appear more confident, go to the bathroom and stand in a victory pose (arms up in the air like you just won the Marine Corps Marathon) for a while.  You can be in a good mood or smile, or you can smile and change your mood.

It’s working on a lot of levels, then.

Intense rooting in the body: don’t drown, don’t drown, don’t drown.

Zazen-like counting: reach 1, reach 2, reach 3 and breathe.  reach 1, reach 2, reach 3 and breathe.

Being so busy trying to remember how many laps you’ve gone thus far that you can’t think about anything else, thereby breaking whatever patterns of thought you’d been stuck in: was this lap 7 or lap 8?  They all look the same!

Symmetrical movement, perhaps balancing out the functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Movement-induced endorphins.


Oh, and the part where I found a muscle yesterday and I didn’t even have to go looking for it.

I know I’m not the only one in the world with a propensity for anxiety and a distaste for exercise.  If my motivator were to be a bean-pole, I’d have quit by now, for sure.  But if anyone else out there is running out of xanax and wanting some feel better that doesn’t come in a pill…  I’m suggesting you give the pool a shot.

Just not my pool.  There are plenty of people at that one already.


The S-Word

Strangers reading the book – well, any of the books – makes me happy.  People I know reading the book makes me nervous.  In part because of this pervasive rumor that authors write themselves into books.  Unfortunately, some of us do.  I’ve seen several author interviews where they talk about how the main character is just like them – same occupation, same racial composition.  This lends itself to a confluence, or an assumed confluence, between the author and the story.  It is a legitimate conclusion to draw in some cases.  However, it just isn’t the way it works for me.

This question gets to a question of legitimacy:  can we legitimately write from the perspective of people who aren’t us?  Or is the only legitimately-tacked character one that is you with a thin veneer of obfuscating details?  Can I write a convincing man?  Am I allowed to have a character with a different racial composition?  Am I presuming too much?  How much imagination am I allowed to have here?

Because the whole book is the product of my imagination and a bunch of critical insights and suggestions made by my editor and my story consultant.  As mentioned elsewhere, the book does betray of my aspirations: I’d love to be an old lady like Morrigan, or to drop everything and wander across the country like Willow, or carry around half of Ianthe’s bravery.  I admire Miles and his clinical logic.  I have grudging respect for the compromises Warren makes.  There are few characters in the book that don’t have something that I like or would like to have myself.

But I’m not them and they’re not me.  Where this becomes most uncomfortable is what happens when we get to the sex part.  Because people in the book have sex.  And yes, I imagined up the sex, and then I wrote it down.  But that doesn’t mean that what happens in the book reflects what I have done, what I want to do, or what I could be talked into doing given a nice enough bottle of wine.  Human sexuality is critical for creating well-rounded characters.  For people to live and breathe on the page, they’ve got to have all the same dimensions of someone that you’d meet in the real world.  That includes sex.  And not everyone experiences human sexuality in the same way.

I’m writing The Camellia Reckoning.  I’m writing sex scenes for Miles.  If you met me, you’d know I’m not Miles at all, but here I am writing about what Miles sexual history might look like.  What would it take to get someone that analytic to lose control?  I don’t know, I’m not that logical.  But I have to figure it out because I wrote him and now he’s got a life of his own.  His fantasies are not my fantasies.  What it takes to push him over the edge isn’t what it takes to get me there.

When you write, when you’re in the state of flow, your ego kind of fades away.  All those boundaries and memories and opinions that make up an identity get lost as imagination and empathy settle in and let you cross the dividing line between yourself and someone with a history that is not your own.  Coming back to yourself can be disorienting.  Then you look at what you’ve written and wonder what the hell just happened and what went wrong in your life that you can come up with this twisted little scene – sexual or otherwise.

Honestly, I don’t know where this shit comes from.  But if you know me in my real life and you’ve read the book…  assume nothing.  If I ever get around to book signings and interacting with book clubs …  still assume nothing.   No single character is a self-portrait and there is no scene anywhere in the book that is autobiographical or has a direct correlation to things that I have done, will do, want to do, consider doing, refuse to do, or think about doing.  This isn’t 50 Shades of Grey where I have turned an extended sexual fantasy based on some other book entirely into a trilogy.  Honestly, there’s not that much sex in the book, even with the reviewer that said it is Hunger Games, X-Men, and 50 Shades rolled into one.

I mean, I should be so lucky.  All of those franchises were incredibly successful.

Still, don’t get any big ideas.  I’m not Willow, and you aren’t Ven.


It’s becoming a bit of an obsession, this idea that not everything has to be perfect for everything to be perfect.  I’m living by it these days.  Everything isn’t perfect.  There is a list of three things that I really want that I don’t have, and at least one of these things …  well, let’s just say its absence is both uncomfortable and persistent.

But everything doesn’ t have to be perfect for everything to be perfect.  Sunsets.  Cool weather – at least for July.  Friends.  Music.  There’s perfection everywhere, in small doses.

Everything doesn’t have to be perfect for everything to be perfect.  I can live with that.

The Philosophical Breakdown

There are certain places my philosophy breaks down entirely.

Like last night.  In the pool.  I was aiming for 1.5 miles.  I’m not the fastest swimmer in the world.  I’m pretty much built for endurance, not speed.  I’ve made my peace with this.  I don’t swim in the fast lane because, while I won’t stop and cling to the side to catch my breath at any point in the swim, I am not going to be breaking any records for getting from one end of the pool to the other.  I’m just going to keep going.  And going.  And going.  For all 45 laps.

And then this lady gets in the pool.  She wants to join a lane that already has two people in it, ending the split and beginning the rotation: up one side, down the other.  Which is fine.  All except for the part where I’ve done this with this lady before and she has a ruinous front crawl.  No joke, she swims like a rototiller and, like the machine, kicks up a lot of shit with not much forward movement to show for it.

I seriously contemplated drowning her.  Or being very, very mean.

A Comic-Con footnote


The market for something to believe is infinite… –gapingvoid.

Originally posted on Call of the Siren:

Outside Comi-Con 2014, San Diego Convention Center.

Comic-Con 2014, San Diego Convention Center

I was standing outside the convention center for Comic-Con 2014 on Saturday — it was hot and noisy, and waiting for the traffic signal to change was even more unpleasant because of the Christian evangelicals positioned at various crosswalks.

As we waited to cross the street, they blasted our ears with their mini-speakers. All of us, they announced, were headed to H-E-double hockey sticks if we didn’t accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. A fiery punishment awaits  all unbelievers.

Unbelievers, at Comic-Con? I thought. Really?

There was plenty of belief on display inside and outside the venue. I didn’t dress up, but tons of people did: I saw witches and scarlet witches; zombies, vampires, and angels with elaborate, feathery wings; gladiators, King Arthurs, and Game of Thrones characters; manga girls and X-boys, and, of course, your traditional superheroes, too.

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The Color Question

I think about race.  I think about race in terms of what I write; not my in-my-own-naval blog posts on philosophy, interpersonal ethics, and philosophy, but when I’m writing fiction.

But I haven’t thought about it enough.  Because when I picture people in my head, I tend to picture people that look like me. Which is dumb, because I look around and the world I live in doesn’t look like me at all.  It looks like an amazing blend of colors and styles and backgrounds and interests.  My job, as a writer of fiction, is to build a world that is believable.  For writing to be believable, it has to have sufficient connection to reality to be grounded.  My reality isn’t all one color.

So I had a brief exchange on twitter with another author who is using the multi-racial composition of her book as a marketplace discriminator.  Honestly, it made me sad.  Why isn’t that the baseline?   How do we still live in a world where you can say with authentic feeling that your book is unique because you have a multi-racial protagonist?

That being said, and I’m ashamed to admit this, when I was in the train with Willow and Ian, looking around at who else was there, Willow stood out as a bi-racial woman.  I wasn’t thinking racial implications, I was thinking about her as a woman who is torn between two worlds.  Someone who lost her mom and has been told ever since that who she is has to be boxed in and confined to be acceptable.  Because that is the world we live in.  Judgments are made long before  you open your mouth.

I can’t go back now.  Willow is who she is, and I’d like to think she’s complete.  A product of her parents, of course, but who they were, not what they looked like.    And some of the other characters are set.  I can’t un-write Tane’s blue eyes.  Or Ianthe’s blond stick-straight hair.  But book two broadens the world of The Camellia Resistance.  There are more opportunities for me to pay attention to what can only be described as laziness in imagination when it comes to characters.  Writing character descriptions is far more interesting if you’re describing traits instead of features.  Somehow, getting into what people are wearing and their finely-chiseled noses ends up sounding like historical romance.  But it does matter, and it matters because too often, our cultural default is white.  So I’m going to pay more attention in the writing, because maybe a white default is normal for the movies, but it isn’t normal for the reality I’m living in.  Nor do I want it to be.