I know it’s been awhile since I last blogged. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m slowly working my way through a new project while I wait to hear back on queries for EMBERS. My latest work-in-progress is a little (a lot) different from the things I typically write. Before I can begin to explain, I want to tell you all a discomfiting but extremely important story about a realization I had in high school.
It begins in the eleventh grade, or more specifically, on one winter day when I was upset.
“LOLZ, HIBA,” You say. “DUH YOU WERE UPSET. IT WAS HIGH SCHOOL DUH.”
And I totally concede that that’s a fair assessment, but hear me out – this incident was special. It was freezing cold and I’d just sat outside in the football bleachers waiting on my chemistry teacher for a good hour and a half after school only to realize the test I needed to makeup had been given to another teacher inside.
It wasn’t a fun test (is chemistry ever fun?) and the cold, plus my performance on the test, plus a million other things that seemed insurmountable at the time but very trivial in retrospect, contributed to the perfect storm that left me utterly and completely drained.
And maybe, that would’ve been the end of the story. But as I was leaving school, I caught the eye of a close and annoyingly persuasive friend who just so happened to be my very first CP.
Let’s call this friend “P.”
P saw that I was upset, and he wanted to know why. When I came home and charged my phone, I found several messages from P who – in light of my non-response – had attempted to guess the source of my troubles in the sort of humorous way that might bring a smile to your face when you’re only mildly peeved but that you really can’t appreciate when your butt has been replaced with an icicle.
I didn’t want to answer P – I really didn’t. But after roughly the 500th time he asked me what was wrong, I realized I wasn’t answering because I didn’t want to.
Somehow, through all his questioning, through all his speculation, P had uncovered some part of me that I immediately wanted covered back up. P understood, maybe without even realizing he understood, that I was incapable of responding.
How do I know that he understood?
P told me to explain through my main character.
He stopped asking how I felt. He wanted to know how my MC felt.
And magically, there it was. As years of pent up emotion and tired feelings gushed forth, I discovered that I’d always spoken through my characters.
I don’t know why.
I don’t know how I can be so closed off and impenetrable in my day-to-day life and lay everything bare on the page. I don’t know how I can write such vivid fantasy worlds and still somehow depict every nuance of mundanity in my own. I don’t know why I’m so adamant about honesty in others when I can barely look at truth in the mirror.
That day, I poured over pages and pages lined with accusatory honesty masquerading as story and blinked back tears. I was mortified by the little pieces of me that had shattered and rematerialized in ink, pieces that weren’t certain about anything yet, had made a lot of mistakes, had such a long way to go –
Now, there’s a point to this story.
In spite of my discomfort on that day, I found a little bit of relief in knowing that at least the world at large wouldn’t know how much I’d revealed about myself. I knew, and P might have subconsciously suspected it, but everyone else was completely oblivious.
So no one is more shocked than I am at the fact that, four years later, I am now actively seeking the truth I uncovered that day and that panicky feeling that accompanied it.
My WIP is an Own Voices novel, which means I’m writing about a character in a marginalized group of which I am also a part. This, of course, comes with some responsibility, and a large part of this responsibility goes back to being honest.
I really, really loathe blatant truth on the page. It’s harsh and more than a little gut-wrenching.
Over the past year, however, I’ve learned that honesty is my best friend. At the end of the day, it all comes down to being as brutally honest about your experiences as you can. Honesty begets empathy, and empathy is one of the most important outcomes of diverse literature.
Does this mean that I’m writing an autobiography?
Far from it, but I’ve found that my characters demand more and more of my experiences the longer I write. In my desire to be as honest as possible, I’ve had to draw on my own relationships and their effects.
Yeah, it sucks – but I’ve come to realize there is nothing more powerful or freeing than being honest with yourself and with your story. Most days, it feels like slowly dragging a sharp tool through my dermis. But on the rare occasion that I find myself completely and totally immersed in my contemporary world, my hands sting with the sparks that fly off the page and I find more magic than I could’ve ever created in those early fantasy books.
There’s something so freaking empowering about allowing yourself to tell your truths. Poets have known it for centuries.
Now, thanks to wider support for marginalized voices, authors of every color and creed can share in the magic too.