This month marks the fifth birthday of my muse, Black, from "Blacker Than Black."
It was in the early fall of 2006 when I found a submissions-call for an anthology with a "Red Light District" theme. A fellow writer had challenged me to write something new and different, completely removed from anything I'd done before. Up until that time the bulk of my writing revolved around an epic fantasy which, these days, I fondly call the Trunk Novel.
Okay, I remember thinking. Something completely different. The wheels churned in my head, as I visualized the divergences and extrapolated.
Nano found me writing a story about a streetwalker. A member of a slightly post-apocalyptic society's underbelly, who sells to the upper-crust elite. I wrote in first-person to obscure the gender of the narrator. And I wrote in present tense for a number of reasons -- mainly to engage the reader and distract from the aforementioned obscuring, but also to challenge myself to do it and do it well, and break out of the doldrums of writing in the past tense for so long.
It wasn't easy. Nothing about writing BTB was easy. I wrote every sentence twice during that first NanoWrimo stint. If I wasn't slipping back into past tense, then I would find myself writing in third person. Never mind the struggles with finding the right wording or phrasing or approach, so that gender identifying pronouns were avoided.
I've heard it said that first person is the tool of the infant writer, the artist who has not yet discovered how to write well. I'm inclined to disagree. I see it as one of those tools that is easy for the beginner to get their hands on. The sheer volume of what you can find out there, amateur quality written this way, doesn't change the fact that the tool is capable of refined use, capable of crafting beauty.
At any rate, Black the Nightwalker was born from a frenzy of fifty-thousand words. It started out with the intention of being a short story, but it never stopped unfolding. There's more to this, Black kept saying. Keep going. Which is precisely what the muse-slave did, of course. And why the story now sits at full novel length. With a sequel on the drawing board.
It was a difficult story to edit, thanks to its myriad unorthodox details. Some who read it reacted with, "what are you doing writing in first person? Only amateurs do that." Others reached the second chapter, discovered the gender still wasn't clarified, and freaked out on me. Too many simply made assumptions about the narrator's gender through the first chapter based on Black's observation that the vampire john appears male.
It was an interesting exercise, with beta readers seeing what they wanted to see. The psychologist in me had a field day with it.
Black, sadly, doesn't make it easy for the reader by manifesting any cliche gender behaviors. This detail is one that I refined and honed through the rewrite and editing processes, long before the story hit the desk of Riptide's editors.
Have I mentioned I love playing with reader assumptions and socio-cultural conventions? I am an Evil Writer.
Do I hide the truth deliberately? Of course I do. Again, I am the Evil Writer.
But seriously, who walks around thinking in their head, yep, I'm [this gender] and my sexual orientation is [this]. Don't know a single person who does that, unless they have some major identity issues. Let's face it. You look at the people around you, you acknowledge beauty when you see it; you acknowledge flashes of sexual attraction when they occur. Contrary to the stigmas that currently exist in our society and culture, none of that actually defines your gender, and without that parameter, none of it defines your 'sexual orientation' as set forth by society, either.
Oops. So cruel of me, isn't it.
As a result of these details, Black's story isn't one for the faint-hearted reader. It was a struggle, finding it a good home, though no less difficult than it was spending years fashioning it into a well-written tale. Riptide is the best home Black could have. This story was probably decades ahead of its time five years ago when I began writing it, and I expect its unconventional nature is still a few years in advance of acceptable.
Still, it will touch some. Those who need this story to be voiced, who've sat in silence all this time while it wasn't written...
I hope you like Black as much as I do.
And for those that will embrace Black as wholeheartedly as I have, I will take the heat and the criticism and the vitriol that will doubtlessly accompany it.