Yule Shade

Through December I posted this serial Christmas ghost story on Facebook under #yuleshade. Here it is in its entirety for you. Happy Holidays! 🙂

Yule Shade

As a rule, Karen never returned anything. She didn’t want to add fuel to her name being used to brand a certain type of woman, or court the inevitable connection. But if she had the money to buy a second replacement TV she probably wouldn’t have had to relocate across two states to the house her great aunt left her when she died. How run down must that thing be? She couldn’t make enough to keep an apartment in the city anymore, so she took her meager savings and rented a moving van. Who cares if the customer service associate at Walmart thought she was “A” Karen, anyway? She’d never be back in this city again. Well, except to visit family and her husband’s grave. If she could find a job quickly, even minimum wage, she should have enough to buy food for two people for two weeks. In a way she felt she’d lost her son when her husband died. He’d retreated so far the counselors she couldn’t afford hadn’t been able to bring him out of it. Maybe living in the country, a new environment, would help. For now, she just needed to get a TV that worked. Smile. “I’d like an exchange please. Here’s my receipt.”

As she stopped the moving van and turned off the Christmas music in front of their new home, Karen wanted to cry. A heavy blanket of snow couldn’t hide this Victorian house’s sore need of repairs. The roof sagged or had fallen in on one side. A window below that was cracked like a spider web. It had been so long since it was painted that she couldn’t even tell what color it used to be. And the garage door sat crooked, and probably wouldn’t open. Her son didn’t notice, head down playing a game on his Nintendo. A sudden gust of wind moaned around them, sending a chill up her spine. She wiped the bottom rims of her eyes and took a deep breath. “Come on, Jared. One of your chores is shoveling the walk… and that starts now.” He scowled, then hopped out into the calf deep snow. She wondered how long it would take him to realize they didn’t own a shovel.

Karen managed to get the water turned on, but the electricity and gas companies wouldn’t send anybody until tomorrow. The one thing that had gone their way was her aunt had left a good stack of firewood in the garage, which they could only access from the inside. While she waited for a pot of water to get hot, Jared just crunched his Ramen noodles right out of the plastic. He’d used all the power on his game device and phone. He’d used most of the power on her phone, too, before she made him stop in case they needed it for an emergency. Huddled around this fire, the room looked almost cozy. And, small miracle, her son even talked to her. It wasn’t deep, but it warmed her heart almost as much as the fire. The upstairs creaked, and occasionally, a low moaning sound caught their attention. There was one room up there with a door jammed so tight they couldn’t get it open. When he stopped mid sentence to listen, with eyes a bit wide despite him insisting nothing scared him, she said, “It’s probably a hole in the roof. The wind makes that sound when it blows past.”

Karen woke up freezing. Her son, under a blanket in front of the fireplace, lay curled up shivering. She picked up a poker to try and stoke it, but the cold of the metal handle seemed to bite into her hand. She couldn’t find a single hot coal amid the black wood and gray ash. What happened here? She put Jared’s coat over his blanket and tucked him in. Then she put some fresh wood and paper in, holding the long-neck lighter at the base. She burned page after page, but the wood wouldn’t catch. It wasn’t wet. Howling wind rattled the windows as the temperature dropped steadily. Why wouldn’t it light? If she couldn’t figure it out, they’d have to use the heater in the moving van to keep from freezing. She didn’t want to go outside to siphon gas in this weather. Slipping on her shoes, she rummaged through the kitchen supplies until she found a bottle of hand sanitizer. 80% ethanol should work. She squirted half of it on the logs and lit it. The blue flame sputtered, as if struggling to to get air. When it threatened to go out, she squirted more on. Jared lifted his head. “That stuff’s flammable?” She tucked a few small pieces of wood in the bottom and squirted them, too. Eventually, the cold surrendered and the wood began to catch. She bit her lip. If the heat wasn’t on by tomorrow, she’d have to spend some of their food money on lighter fluid.

Karen couldn’t believe her good fortune finding a job at the local gas station within walking distance of their house. She’d left her son with one job while she was at work– get that upstairs room’s jammed door open. Two hours later he texted her. “Can’t open it. Borrowed a pry-bar from the neighbor, but when I went up there, the house growled at me. Like a crazy dog. Every time I try, it happens again. I don’t need my own room. I’ll sleep on the couch.” It bothered her for a long time, but before her shift ended, she decided to forget about it. The heat and electricity were on and either the vent in that room was closed or snow covered it. Either way, they weren’t wasting a lot of money on it. Besides, it’s not like she had any money to fix whatever was wrong with the roof. She couldn’t quite let it go, though. The house made a lot of weird sounds. She’d dismissed it as wind or creaking floors, but growling like a rabid dog?

It was late in the night when Karen heard a woman’s voice. She thought she’d dreamed it. Wide awake now, she got up to check on things and realized it was once again bitter cold. Why was the heat off? She wrapped in a robe and slippers. Downstairs she found Jared on the couch shivering. Nothing woke him. She started a fire, with lighter fluid this time. All she could hope was that whatever was wrong was on their side, because she didn’t know how she’d pay for repairs if it wasn’t. Tucking in by her son’s feet, she planned to stay up, but found herself being roused by the same scratchy voice. She couldn’t mistake it for wind now. Tomorrow they would get the door open if she had to hack it up with an axe. Only she didn’t have an axe.

When Karen told the assistant manager at the gas station about the problem with her house, he offered to come over and take a look at it. He was younger than her by enough that she didn’t see it as turning into a problem. Her son had joined the school play, which was a miracle considering how introverted he’d been lately. She suspected he just didn’t like being home alone in this creepy place, but she didn’t care as long as it got him out interacting with people again. The house seemed fine when they got there. It always took several tries to make the lock work. “That roof doesn’t look good,” he said. She showed him upstairs and he pounded the door with his shoulder. “Looks like it’s become load bearing. I have tools in my truck, but I’m beginning to worry that more of that roof will fall in if you do get it open.” A low scream vibrated the door when he touched the handle again. He rushed down the stairs and outside. “Maybe an animal living in there,” he offered as he drove away.

After the assistant manager left, while Jared was still at play practice, Karen found herself alone in the house. Snow fell on the 18″ already blanketing the small town, blocking the sun and making the world quiet… except for the house. Wood creaked here and there, following a broken rhythm. Howling emanated from the locked room, despite weak wind outside. The heater, working at the moment, couldn’t penetrate some of the cold areas. Karen wanted to put up the Christmas tree, but she couldn’t. She had to deal with whatever this was. So she set a folding chair in front of the jammed door, leaned her forehead against it, and cried. “I can’t… I can’t take it. What do you want from me? I have nowhere else to go. What did I ever do to you?” Behind the door, a hoarse laugh rose to a scream.

“Who are you?” Karen screamed through the shuddering door. “Why are you doing this?” The voice on the other side dropped to to a low cackle, then a cough. “Who do you think sat alone in this house year after year? No calls. No letters. Watching the world go by, forgotten?” Karen stood up. “Aunt Beth? Is that you?” Frost gathered on the door and around her so she had to cross her arms for warmth. Her breath left small clouds. “I sent you Christmas cards every year. But you stopped coming to the family parties and never called. I just assumed mom knew.” Her voice faltered. “What happened?” There was a long pause, before the voice behind the door spoke again. “See for yourself.” The door popped open an inch.

Karen touched the door to open it, but pulled her hand back. The cold burned. Her mind screamed to run away, but she couldn’t keep living like this… and they had nowhere else to go. Desperation finally overcame her terror. She pushed the door with the toe of her shoe. It creaked and stopped, wedged against the floor. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and kicked it over and over. “It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything to you.” Each time, it let out a screech as the frozen wood scraped. When the light from the hall finally penetrated the darkness, she gasped. A wheel chair next to the broken window lay sideways on the ground beneath the hole in the roof. Snow and ice scattered over a wide blood stain. Aunt Beth had somehow fallen and slowly died here. Karen whispered, “I’m so sorry.” Behind her a whisper… “You will be.”

Karen spun around, clasping one hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. Floating a few inches above the ground, her aunt looked like coalesced black smoke with white vaper leaking out of her eyes to join her dissipating hair. “Nobody ever wanted me. Nobody ever cared.” She reached one hand out, turning Karen’s chest cold. “That’s not true!” Karen let her terror turn to rage. “We wanted you. I didn’t know you were cooped up in this house because you never told me. I would have helped. Mom would have helped. You didn’t need to suffer on your own.” Beth’s white eyes went impossibly wide as she floated backward into the shadow. “Nobody ever came to check.” The ghost’s niece pushed forward, unwilling to let her go. “Well we’re here now. But we can’t stay unless you stop with all of this. Please, come spend Christmas Eve with us.” Her aunt’s face scowled, then softened. The steam and smoke swirling chaotically. She opened her mouth wide as if to scream, but no sound came out.

On Christmas Eve, Karen and her son were sipping hot chocolate next to the fire, listening to soft music, and looking at the decorated tree when it happened. She’d prepared Jared over and over, but his eyes still went wide and his hands shook when the house’s former occupant finally joined them. She looked less frenzied, obviously trying to make as polite an appearance as a vengeful spirit can. “Merry Christmas!” Karen smiled and offered her aunt a seat. They chatted, reminiscing about bygone holidays, family, and the terrible weather. The door upstairs would open now, but they left it closed until they could deal with the hole in the roof. Jared relaxed as time went on. Eventually, he brought out a small box, wrapped in shiny red paper and a green ribbon, and presented it to Beth. “For me?” Small trails of white vapor formed under her eyes and she reached for it. Her hand went straight through, of course. Jared said, “Maybe I should help?” He unwrapped a ceramic vase, painted white with glaze sparkling in the lights. “I made it in school.” The apparition gasped, smiled, and thanked him profusely. Then her smoky body gently dissipated, her smile leaving this world last.

The End

Want more holiday themed ghost stories? Check out this anthology: Haunted Yuletide

Witch on the Run

Happy Holidays! I got you a present early this year: Witch on the Run. It’s about a young woman coming to grips with powers she’s been trying to hide.

You can read the whole thing here on Story Origin. Hey, a superhero origin story on Story Origin… that’s funny! Enjoy. 🙂

Cyber Monday Special

Living through a pandemic by hiding in media and technology? Exhausted by political upheaval? Why not send 2020 off with a bang by adding in an alien invasion!

On sale for 99 cents through Cyber Monday: Theocracide!

When this book came out seven years ago, I had no idea how much of it would literally come true. It’s kind of scary… like this old cover.

The Calling – Halloween Flash Fiction

I always like to post a dark story for Halloween. Enjoy!

When she heard the cry of wolves in the distance, Amy closed her eyes and kept quiet. She already knew nobody else could hear them. Her parents said they believed her. They took her to counseling, and had her hearing checked. Friends found it novel at first, but soon stopped sympathizing with her little quirk. In the end, people became impatient, even accusing her of making it up to get attention. College was hard enough without feeling isolated and weird.

Lately, the howls had grown louder and more frequent, which just made things worse. One afternoon, she stopped studying, covered her face with her hands, and just listened. It didn’t matter what people in the library thought of her. She sort of hated them all anyway.

This time, it sounded different. She felt a message being communicated by the wail. This voice wanted her to go to it.

Amy picked up her things and shoved them into her backpack. As she walked toward the entrance, the sound grew quieter. The autumn wind flowed over her as she entered the sunlight. At the first intersection, she went north toward her apartment and felt the ululations growing. When she went west, they softened. She turned around and the mystical sound seemed to hit her in the face. For the first time the chorus made her feel wanted instead of lonely.

It led her out of the university into the foothills. She kept walking along the trail through scrub oak and pines, passing a few other hikers as the sun set. The voices sank when the path turned back toward the city, so she followed them off the road. Climbing a grassy hill, she found herself on the crest.

Stars filled the night sky and she cursed the nearby lights blocking some of this magnificent show. Amy searched every direction for the wolves that had been calling her for so long. Their summons quiet now, she shivered in the brisk breeze. Doubt seeped in and she crossed her arms. Was she crazy? Had her mind cracked and led her out here to the middle of nowhere in the dark of night for nothing? Still, she felt good. This place felt right.

As the last sunset light faded, the tips of the mountains to the east, took on a yellow glow. Tonight would be a full moon. The thought thrilled her, in a strange way. She felt like pulling the legs off of bugs and pouring soda-pop into her dad’s computer keyboard.

As the edge of the bright disk came into view, her lungs burned. Her stomach cramped and her lower back ached. It scared her at first, but once she realized it was something inside her trying to get out, she calmed. She set her pack down and sat near it feeling the emotional and physical tug speeding up her heart. She took deep breaths as the disc rose higher into the sky.

Suddenly she knew. This October moon was the signal, calling her to a remote place where they could be alone together. She flexed her arms and stomach, repressing the gnawing inside. A monster lurked there, and it wanted out. She knew it as clearly as she knew her own name. It wanted to run and hunt and kill.

Also she understood she she a choice. The beast could be held in. She could turn away and hide from the transforming light and keep the creature inside forever, just as she was doing now. Her life could be normal.

Yearning welled up inside her. This lunatic orb promised exhilaration if she just leant it a little control. She could stop being a marginalized girl and turn into a force of nature. People would die. Probably the people she’d passed on the path up here would be first.

Another pang in her gut made her wince, but when she opened her eyes, it had turned to a smile. This power would be worth the cost. She tipped her head back and let the moon take over.

_____

🙂 Want more free spooky stories?

The Thing I Hate

Fatty-Goth

99

99 Cent Sale

Looking for a great Halloween read for less than the price of a soda? Check out WHERE NIGHTMARES RIDE by R. A. Baxter. It’s just 99 cents and it has all the creepy you’re looking for.

And if that’s not enough for you, the publisher has several other spooky stories on sale. 🙂

Reaper Novel

So, in my spare time I’ve been playing with a story that involves the Grim Reaper as a main character. It’s based roughly on a comic I dabbled with ten years ago. Nothing serious. No real end goal in mind, or expectation of it becoming anything I’d commit time to.

Then, this morning, it hit me. A really great ending. Of course I have to trash everything I wrote so far (that’s normal) and start over. And I have to construct a pretty tight outline (not my normal). But suddenly it’s turning into a legit project. And I’m like, “Am I really going to commit this kind of effort to this story?”

Yep. That’s how ideas turn into books.

If you want to see more of these comics, you can find them here. Happy Halloween!

Siege War

(Here’s a serial project I started up last week.)
Siege War
Day 1
Half the hoard descended in mass. Due to the cunningly arranged battlefield, they were splintered and isolated. Despite there being no advantage, two still attempted to breach the fortress wall, with no real success. Supplies are full and so far there’s no word from the castle of any infections among the attackers, but we can’t be sure they would tell us anyway. Politics ever taints the information long before it trickles down to us on the front line. Morale is still high on the inside, but we all know it’s just a waiting game – not a matter of if, but when. And the enemy is very good at waiting. They act casual, mulling around and pretending they aren’t even interested, but the anger is always there. They may keep it down today, tomorrow, a week, a month; but sooner or later, they will find a weakness, a crack in the walls. Then they will strike – not a powerful rush of war calls and broken weapons, but a silent spreading of biological agents. The poison will seep in and defile the unsuspecting. I’ve seen it many times before, but never for such high stakes.
Day 2
The rest of them arrived, like warm Trojan horses. It’s still early days, so nothing seemed amiss. Again, two times one of them pushed against the wall. Why two? Is that how many seemingly innocent attempts they believe they can make without raising any alarm? We aren’t fooled. We know they are searching for weakness. But what choice do we have? All we can do is try to keep things calm and avoid drawing attention to the elephant in the room.
Day 3
The wall has been breached.
Only one attacker came through, and did not get far before being routed. Still, it weighs heavily. Why didn’t the others join the sprint? It’s unnatural. Unlike any normal war.
Including the one that briefly entered the fortress, there were two more attempts on the fortress wall. Why two every day? It’s like some kind of hive mind is making puppets out of the seemingly innocuous hoard. Maybe we are all puppets. In the end, one side will win the war. But will the plight of the peasants change? Will the soldiers be any worse off under one king or another? All these questions are just distractions. Our job is to hold out, and so we continue to dance with an unknown partner. So far we remain in control.
Day 4
Five today. I’m not sure whether to be relieved that the pattern finally changed or worried that it’s accelerating. Are they emboldened by having spent so much time examining the battle field, or just acting out of boredom? We have supplies and are well prepared, but the hardest part of the “game” is the mental gymnastics. Are they going to rally a full scale attack or just try to wait us out? Sometimes I catch myself wishing it would just start so we can get it over with one way or the other. But I know better than to entertain such thoughts. The longer we all hold out, the fewer people will die in the end, on both sides.
Day 5
Only one breach today. Quickly routed. The numbers are thinning. It makes me wonder if the enemy has the resources to lay any kind of sustained siege at all. Of course we’re hopelessly outnumbered if they get past. If they infect even one of us, their work will be done for them. Maybe the others are planning something special where we can’t see them? Can’t let myself get distracted. Just hold the line. Nothing else matters.
If you want to see more, follow me on Facebook at: JasWymore

Mormon Steampunk: A Mighty Fortress

mighty fortress cover

For fans of the Mormon Steampunk series, the latest (and probably final) volume is available today! Edited by Holli Anderson, this volume, like the others, includes amazing stories by bestselling and award winning authors. So wind up your clockwork heart, select the goggles with the reading lenses, and dive in!

In case you are new to all of this, Steampunk is a kind of historical science fiction. Think Jules Verne. It’s set in the past, but contains technology (usually steam powered) which didn’t actually exist at the time. So it’s a specific flavor of historical fiction. All these stories revolve around the the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who used to refer to themselves as Mormons. They are not religious stories, meaning they aren’t meant to inspire faith or sow doubt about anybody’s beliefs.

One might suspect that such a narrow niche might produce a large number of similar stories, but I’ve been shocked by the extremely broad range of these tales. It’s a monument to writer ingenuity.

Here are links to the entire series:

All Made of Hinges (I edited this one)

Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

Press Forward Saints (my story, Spirit Photographs, is in this one)

A Mighty Fortress

 

Discovery Writing

I’ve recently been in a discussion with my friend, R. A. Baxter, author of Where Nightmares Ride, about the difference between Outliners and Discovery Writers. This conversation comes up a lot in author circles or writing conferences. The two names describe different styles or writing processes used by authors.

crime-scene-30112_960_720Outliners (also called Planners or Architects) are authors who write extensive outlines before beginning a book. Before writing the first page, they have bios about each of the main characters, and a chapter by chapter break down of what will happen in the story all the way through the end. The advantages to this method is that you can almost always deliver a satisfying ending and you tend to need less revision work after the first draft. The disadvantages are that sometimes people think it is less emotional and forces characters to do things they wouldn’t have in order to get to the desired plot points.

black-and-silver-gift-boxDiscovery Writers (also called Gardeners or Pantsers, as in ‘fly by the seat of their pants’) start writing the book and just let the story take them wherever it feels like it should go. They may start writing with only a character and a vague idea where to go, relying on the movement of the character to drive the story in the right direction. The advantages to this method is that you get a first draft done faster and it’s more exciting because you experience the ups and downs of the journey with the characters. The disadvantages include it’s easy to get stuck and not know where to go next in the story, and it usually takes a lot more rewriting after the first draft to get the book into good shape.

Most experienced writers agree the ideal process involves some of both. I came to this same conclusion over the course of my writing and publishing career. When I started out, I could have been the poster boy for discovery writing. I wrote over a dozen books (most of which will never see the light of day again). None of them had any plan or outline. I loved being in the moment with the characters as I wrote. However, it sometimes went far off track of anything readers would want to read. Occasionally it produced very bad endings, too. (A bad ending is one that feels wrong and isn’t satisfying.) Once I improved my skill and began doing better editing, I finally got a book contract. But I was still writing almost everything the same way.

Over time (as the Actuator series progressed) I realized I needed outlines more and more to get to the end of some of the complicated things I’d gotten myself into. I even got the point where I forced myself to outline a couple of books before I wrote them and largely stick to the outline. (I posted part of an outline at the end if you want to see an example. It doesn’t include the background and character work, just the chapter summaries.) Outlining produced good work, but it felt less exciting and rewarding during the actual writing of the book. So I compromised. Now I tend to use a hybrid system. I will write some background and character information before I start to get things on track. Then I make a short outline for the first part of the book (10 – 25%). After I write that, I just barrel forward until I reach a snag or get near the last part of the book. Then I retroactively build an outline from what I have and make sure I have all the threads properly coming together. Finally, I discovery write the climax and ending of the story.

Maybe it seems impossible to you for somebody to write an ending when they don’t know how it will end. If so, you’re probably an outliner. That’s okay. Just embrace it. For those concerned that they don’t know how or want to make a big plan before they start, don’t worry. Some of the greatest writers are discovery writers. If you get stuck, you can always make an outline of what you already wrote and use that to decide where to go in the future. What I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to let go of control and enjoy the ride. Trust the characters and the process. They will lead you to a fantastic finale.

__________

Example Outline – The Actuator 2: Return of the Saboteur

Act 1                 Series Act 2ab

  1. 421/421 words. POV Zach.  Zach looks over an idyllic futuristic city and decides to go back to the Actuator.
  2. 1,954 / 2,375 words. POV Red.  An attack by Luis to retake the Actuator.  They hold the orcs and scatters the attackers.
  3. 1,735 / 4,110 words. POV Jon.  In a meeting Jon says he’s going after Saul’s key.  Zach calls in the middle to tell them he’s coming to help.
  4. 1,995 / 6,105 words. POV Glass/Red.  Glass expresses feelings about Jon going.  Red pines over Xenwyn until Cindy brings him a book and mentions some hope.
  5. 2,575 / 8,680 words. POV Cindy / Dragon Star.  Cindy explains to Red that they might have a chance to save Xenwyn in Neverland.  With Zach, Red might be able to leave and try to save Xenwyn.  Dragon Star decides to go after Pete and changes his name back to Choi.
  6. 2,140 / 10,820 words. POV Glass.   Theme Stated by Glass: People do what they think is best for them, but with everybody doing that, nobody is investing in the greater good.  (Prisoner’s Dilemma) Jon proposes.
  7. 1,573 / 12,583 words. POV Red.   Jon leaves.  Moment of Resolve for Red, he has to trust others to keep the Actuator safe while he goes to take care of Xenwyn.
  8. 2,333 / 14,916 words. POV Glass/Choi.  Glass realizes the books in Denver might have information on the Actuator, since it’s a futuristic place made by the Actuator.  She decides to go there and look.  She goes out to meet Choi.  Choi tells her he has decided to go after Pete.

Act 2a                   Series Act 2ac

  1. 2,207 / 17,123 words. POV Zach/Cindy.  Zach’s return to the base with twenty people, after transforming himself into a wizard.  Cindy is unhappy about being left alone with him.
  2. 1,763 / 18,886 words. POV Jon/Red.  Jon makes it through Brian’s sci-fi realm.  At a feast of a meeting, Red tells Zach they are all planning to leave, except Cindy.
  3. 2,046 / 20,932 words. POV Glass/Red.  Glass talks to some of Zach’s people before departing.  The Actuator makes her want to stay, but Choi takes her off anyway.
  4. 1,796 / 22,728 words. POV Jon/Red.  Jon has a run-in with a young tough at the LA station.  Unable to contact Elizabeth, Zach suggests Red do more research before leaving on his quest.
  5. 2,516 / 25,244 words. POV Choi/Zach.  Choi and Glass are ambushed by orcs on the way north.  Glass gets shot.  They discover Ruiz is recruiting and call to tell Red.  Red decides he has to leave right away.
  6. 2,177 / 27,421 words. POV Jon/Glass.  Jon deals with a thug on the train trying to get revenge.  As soon as they cross the border, he sees bandits coming to rob the train.  Choi takes Glass to a Shakespearean apothecary to get the arrow taken out.
  7. 2,132 / 29,553 words. POV Red.  Red takes Xenwyn into Brian’s realm again.  Brian stops him.  Red takes Brian hostage and flies to the edge of Area 51.  He leaves Xenwyn with a stranger and goes into the base.  Stop asking questions for book and series.

Act 2b                   Series Act 2ba

  1. 2,290 / 31,843 words. POV Jon/Choi.  A young couple decide to accompany Jon to Florida.  Glass gets the arrow pulled out.
  2. 1,897 / 33,740 words. POV Red.  Red meets Sam and swipes the list of names of Machine Monks that have used the teleporter.  He calls Elizabeth who says she thinks he can bring Xenwyn to London.
  3. 2,049 / 35,789 words.  POV Jon/Choi/Red.  Jon sees Austin and keeps going.  Choi decides he has to wait for Glass to heal.  Red talks to Elizabeth and solidifies his plans to visit her.  He gets test data from Scott’s time machine.  Then he steals the teleporter.

 

 

Writing the Other

Diverse_people_using_phones

There’s a lot of talk between writers and advice to writers about writing “the other” (someone of a different race, culture, gender, etc., from yourself). It’s a complicated debate. On one hand, there are minorities and underrepresented groups who would like to see more diversity in books and other media. On the other hand, there are many who get upset if people are only represented as stereotypes in the story. On top of that, there are people who feel that if you write a character of a different culture you may take away the ability for people within that culture to write about and have their experiences recognized (it’s called “own voices” if you want to look into it). What is an author to do?

Although I’m afraid people will think this is a cop-out, I think they are all right.

That doesn’t mean you have to do it, of course. It depends what you are writing and what you want your work to “say” to the reader. It’s true that sometimes a homogeneous group of people will interact. So stories about and largely with characters of all the same “type” are legitimate. It is, however, rather limiting in terms of who is likely to relate to the story. It would also be unrealistic to have a book set in any city but the characters never interact with anyone unlike themselves.

It’s also true that just saying somebody is Hispanic or Jewish doesn’t fix the problem. It’s likely to offend people who are being misrepresented. The solution is to actually look up information about these other people and portray them authentically in the story.

What about the old axiom to write what you know? Well, the best solution would be to get to know people outside your own type, well enough to empathize with them. If you really want to dig into social issues and include somebody different than yourself, it’s also recommended to find sensitivity readers. Get somebody who is the type you are writing about to read it and help you get the character right.

If you’re a new writer, this can be hard to do. But as you grow, it’s better to stretch farther. If you only write people like yourself it is likely to limit your audience.

In my experience, no matter what characters an author writes, they tend to put a little bit of their self in each one. The magic then becomes seeing reflections of yourself in people you previously thought to be different.

I started my most recent book, Thug #1, with the intent of writing someone different. Although CJ is not really like me, as I listen to the audio book again, I realize there is still more of me in this henchman than I expected.

See for yourself!

Thug #1 Sale Banner B