I’m about to embark on two of the toughest pieces I’ve ever written, simultaneously.
As the title of the last volume promised, the story from here on out is breaching new territory. For some, six is where they should jump off this train and leave it at that. If they’re looking for a safe, comfortable slice of horror fantasy nonsense, “The End of Everything” should really be where their reading ends.
I can’t really get into the new volume without spoiling it for you. All I can say is that writing it in 2007, I accidentally addressed everything that would eventually force me to leave America.
I didn’t do a good job of it. Initially, I bought into a lot of what Ben buys into, in the course of the story. Between 2007 and 2013, I developed a much greater insight and empathy into the plight of the “corrupt town” in the book. I began to see the “good guys” for what they were.
Obviously this is an overarching theme in any story involving the Three Legions, who take as dim a view of Michael’s quest for righteousness as they do the various quests to use mankind for unholy ends. It just got very personal, for me, as I saw what I’d written unfolding in the 2015-2016 election cycles. In February of 2016, I turned to my fellow zombies and said, ‘We have to get out of here. It’s gone too far.’ And it had. It really, really had.
It’s the companion piece, though,
that’s really going to take all the courage I have.
In the companion piece to Volume 7, I’m finally bringing you the story of how Kenneth White got hold of Lamayel’s Thorn. It’s the first side story to feature Lamayel, and it’s as complex and delicate as he is. I’ve spent years trying to get it right, pouring my passion into the effort. And as with any of my dealings with Lamayel’s virtue, I’m sure it’s going to blow up in my face.
I’m just as sure that it’s worth the pain it’s going to put me through. I love it, and I refuse to apologise for it. I’ll go ahead and apologise right now for any offense it does anyone. I’ve done everything I can to make sure it’s painfully authentic. The most controversial parts of it are drawn from people I’ve loved passionately, though in keeping with the fantasy promise nobody and no real events are faithfully recreated. I’ve no wish to appropriate anyone’s experience nor co-opt their pain. Instead I’ve tried my best to honour it, and there really is no way to do that which will satisfy everyone. I’ve shown it to them, and asked them what they think of it. They’re in love with it. That’s all I really need to know.
I know for a fact that I’m exposing myself to some pretty awful things by even wandering into these topics. One of the amusing side effects of the way internet people operate is that they often mistake Nathan’s avatar for a representation of myself. Based on him, they decide for themselves what I do and don’t have a right to think, say, feel, and discuss. For the most part it hasn’t bled back into my work. I can’t count on that forever. Sooner or later these rage locusts will descend on what I write, and decide for themselves what I do and don’t have a right to say.
I’ve talked before about how important to me it is to try to handle these things with respect. I understand the anger that a lot of people have. Respecting that means that I know there is absolutely no way I could write about these topics that would satisfy everyone. There is no one mindset about abuse, or about race, that covers everyone. See, I’m not really worried about the rage locusts. I’ve dealt with those before. I’m worried about the people who might be genuinely hurt. I really don’t mean to hurt anyone. I’m trying the best I can, but I won’t give Kenneth White up because people tell me I can’t write about him without looking like him.
Kenneth White is a dear character to me. His name, his story, his history, the way he talks, they’re not casually created. His best qualities are drawn from real people, people I admire. Some of his shortcomings are, too. He isn’t idealised, though he can seem that way at times. He isn’t a bit player, or a token, not in any way. He is a brave, bold, and at times bitter man. He is above all a man of incredible faith. He has made his choices, and he’s seen other people make other choices, and he’s tried to live a life he won’t regret. He’s the kind of man I believe could face up to a monster like Lamayel, and look him in the eye, knowing exactly how dangerous that was. He’s the kind of man I believe could call Lamayel out on his bullshit and survive the experience. He’s the kind of man who could take this world he’s living in on the chin, and refuse to be put “in his place” by it.
But he’s also the last man on Earth that would be prideful enough to be telling anyone how to live, or how to deal with their own pain. How he approaches it works for him. He doesn’t expect it to work for everyone, and neither do I. Not everyone is going to understand that. Because I myself am not black, no matter how I try to counterbalance and protest within the work, sometimes people are going to feel called out or otherwise mistreated by it. I get that. I can’t prevent it. I can’t water down these characters trying to create a universal perspective. There’s no such thing. I’m not going to play the “black friend” garbage either. My loved ones know who they are and they’re not passes to be trotted out to defend what I’ve written. People can love or hate or nothing it as they see fit.
It will be imperfect, but written with love. Lamayel is going to be a jackass at times, and White is going to handle it the way he handles it, and it’s not intended to be an example or a lecture or anything but the story of an individual black widower of faith standing up to the temper of an out of control angel in love with his own pretty French vessel– an angel thoroughly swept up in his own shortsighted passions.
If I sound confident,
that’s just because I’m resigned to failure.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to give this effort everything I have. From now until release, I am going to do everything I can to make sure I’ve ironed every problem, every error, every shortfall that wasn’t intended out of this piece.
I’m still going to fail some people. These subjects are just too polarised. Whatever I do here, there are going to be people who feel I’ve failed them. I get that. I understand. Not just on the topic of race either. There are some tough themes revolving around what women go through. Boy have I had some fun experiences who assume Nathan represents me. I’ve had a faceful of how little right I have to talk about any of these things, from people who really should have died of severe irony toxicity. If they only knew.
While I don’t really have anything to defend me when it comes to Kenneth White’s story, at least in Rachel’s experience I have personal domain. I didn’t go through exactly what she went through– hopefully no one did, though statistically a lot of women will share at least a part of her experience. I won’t go into how much of that territory I share. I am in no way a public person. I am nothing more than a figment of imagination, and I need to stay that way. When I shared too much of myself as a creator, I ran into people who felt like they should own me because of it. Most of the time that’s harmless. Sometimes it’s really, really not.
After one or two of those makes it clear they intend to show up on your doorstep without warning and “make you understand” how much you belong to them, you learn to just keep your doorstep out of play. Also you learn how to use every sharp object in your home a little more effectively. I live in a city where acid attacks are occupational hazards. Anonymity isn’t just a preference. It’s a literal condition for survival.
I already belong to someone anyway. I’m not really worth the trouble. I’m a sick, decrepit, disfigured corpse that nobody’s bothered to bury yet. My upkeep is frustrating and expensive, and there’s next to no payoff. So there’s no point trying to own me anyway. Seriously, don’t bother.
It’s worth it, though.
For that one person, and everyone else like them.
There was one person in particular I’m dedicating the Thorn story to, and she was the first to read it. I put it in her hands, and I waited. I daresay it was the single most tense day of my life as an author. I don’t think I ate or drank anything for the whole day. I couldn’t. As hard as I worked, as much as I tried, I was dying inside feeling like I hadn’t properly honoured the bits and pieces of her experience I’d drawn from. How could I? I only knew what it was like from listening to her, and others like her. There were pieces of my experience there, and pieces of theirs, and the thought of hurting her any further with what I’d done with those pieces was killing me by degrees.
She put it down, and she burst into tears. She hugged me, and she cried so hard. I cried too. I was about to beg her to forgive me when she thanked me.
“It’s perfect,” she told me. I cried even harder. I cried until I thought I would throw up. I knew it wasn’t perfect. There were still pacing hiccups, and some repetitive phrases. That wasn’t what she meant, though. I’d managed to give voice to something she needed to hear. I managed to shine a light on things people kept telling her, messages she kept getting from the world, that hurt her over and over because no one seemed to understand. Somehow I’d managed to write something that did understand. Enough, at least, for this one person.
That’s what these books are about. That one person out there. That person who needs to hear someone questioning what we’re told, trying to see it from a different angle, and a different angel. Once in a while, I get to hear from that one person. I get an email, or an enquiry through Twitter, or even meet them in the weirdest places. I get to hear how much better it feels, that Ben’s anxiety doesn’t just fall away when life needs him to be the hero. How it helps, that Nathan isn’t magically fixed just because he grew out of the things that used to hold him back. How being strong doesn’t remove the cracks in his heart. I get to hear from the people who recognise little bits and pieces of their own vulnerabilities, and a story that doesn’t condemn or erase them.
In the end, success or failure don’t really matter.
My circulation is unbelievably tiny. Between the direct downloads, Smashwords, and people trading the volumes, I estimate I write these books for a thousand people or two, at most. Probably less. In terms of book sales, that’s unbelievably pathetic. I rank beneath fetish porn for people who find office furniture erotic, I’m sure. In terms of people, though. I couldn’t even handle being in a room with that many people. I’m honoured that I’ve managed to help a handful of those people.
And I’ll keep writing them, for that one person, whether they ever see the light of day or not. Until the day they finally get around to sticking me in the crematorium, I’ll keep punching these keys. I’ll keep setting down these volumes, and trying to make them cry. I put each and every new first draft into the hands of someone I cherish, someone who needs that story, and it’s already done what it was supposed to do.
That’s as much as anyone could ask for, from life.
I’ll face down my anxiety and share it with you all for as long as I can, but that one person will always have it. So even if this does blow up in my face, and six really does end up as the End of Everything, the other ten volumes I have in first drafts will get where they need to go.
And counting. Sixteen is really shaping up to be incredible. Here’s hoping we all get there.