English was one of my worst subjects in school; I read only one novel, Jack London’s White Fang by age sixteen and quit high school at seventeen. Yet, with the first one-hundred dollars I earned from my parents’ cleaning service, I bought a Sears electric typewriter and wrote a one-hundred and twenty page novella, single spaced on onion paper. I was twelve. I even sent the novella to the Library of Congress. I also penned numerous poems though I know little about the technical aspects of poetry. The story, though, was about five kids with no need for a wolf.
I think I loved what scared and intimidated me. As one who suffered abuse, I was always silent, and my oppressive silence was seen by adults as a refined character, albeit a baffling and unlearned one. A good child is no child at all. To have no voice was somehow good. But words made me weep. I would write lines. I would not read them. I would feel them. Love is passion. I came to love a world where there is as much truth to fiction as in non-fiction, and maybe even a little more.
Then I moved in to more dangerous and darker territory. I read Lolita and The End of Alice and realized that everyone else also loved what scared and intimidated them, what disgusted them. We had the voice of dangerous men, starved from empathy that provided Virginia Woolf’s “angel in the house” or is it “Lolita in the house” as male fantasy.
I found myself a writing teacher with too little time to write and with new interests in the dark corners of human sexuality. I did work one semester for a chapter of the United Nations gathering research for victims of human-sex trafficking and would later support the anti-sex trafficking movement. Yet I was interested in the “offender.” What made one cross a line, and I realized that the victims were just as muzzled as the offender: she was silenced by abuse, and he was silenced by fear.
Yes, I got my GED, went back to college, got my first “A” in music appreciation, and never looked back. I was silenced by abuse and fear, but writing, not college gave me a way out. Yes, I read thirty-two novels per semester my junior and senior year, became a McNair Scholar, but everywhere I turned I faced the rejection of the past and, moving forward, the defensive nature to just “carry on” as Tim O’Brien’s characters note in The Things They Carried. I was fighting a war but one of imagination.
Imagination kills, as O’Brien’s narrator confesses, but imagination is also the giver of a new life. I decided to write the truth in a fiction and to confront the world with my imagination’s child. A child that would make few friends, unless you look at her just right. So I wrote again, a second time, sixty-five thousand words in a month to voice a lifetime of burden, a novel that represents its main character. It’s not sure what it is but it’s sure to do well in a world drunken with hate and degradation. It confesses like a memoir, sparks with literary imagery, but preaches like a polemic cultural critique. In other words it’s as human as he.
I chose a girl with no name for my cover; a snake instead of a lion. Is she dangerous? Or is she in danger? Will it kill you or her? Yet she doesn’t seem serious, just a child handling the adult world the best she can. Yes, girls were not visible before, only in dark rooms. Just like they were in Shakespeare’s time, where Portia, playing a woman who is playing a man in court says to the much-abused Shylock, if God does not grant us mercy, we would never see heaven. But in her world, Portia is still locked in a box. It’s the deadly and threatening lead that saves her. My main character tells, “… life is all about contrasts, and these contrasts are what make it beautiful.”