Point of View

I violate one of the basic rules of storytelling. I do it often, I do it on purpose, and I like doing it.

The rule is to pick a point of view and stick to it, at least for a full chapter. But because the stories I tell myself are never told from a single point of view for very long, how could the stories I tell others ever be? One of my greatest fascinations with a tale is how differently the events appear to various characters. So if you read something I write, be prepared to hear the plot unfold through several sets of eyes.

My latest book is providing me with new challenges in this regard. As the sixth and last book in my 46. Ascending collection, it features a dozen characters with five unusual powers as they learn to work together. I’m having fun changing the point of view, but am also striving to find new ways to do it so that it doesn’t leave my readers’ heads spinning.

My character Alex, who can slow down or speed up time, reacts to save his wife Lola while they are aboard a cruise ship in a storm at sea. I tried this technique for showing how they both experience what happens.

About twelve minutes later, or so it seemed to her, a series of sharp knocks on the cabin door woke all three of them. A pleasant young man brought in a tray of dry snacks, cartons of water, more motion sickness treatments, and extra pillows, cushions and even bungee cords for securing people and things.

“We are in a bit of a lull now,” he cheerfully informed them “and the rain has stopped. The captain says that if you want a spot of air on deck at all today, now would be the time to take it.”

“I’ll pass,” Maurice muttered without moving. “But I will take a look at your pill selection.”

“I could really use the fresh air,” Lola said. She looked at Alex hopefully. He knew how hard it was for her to stay in the enclosed cabin.

“Let’s both go get a breath of it,” he agreed.

After that, their recollections would always be different.

She would remembered wanting to leave the cabin quickly before he changed his mind.

He would remembered wondering why she didn’t stop to put on something besides those stupid cheap slippers she’d bought in Ushuaia.

She would remember hurrying down the hall because she wanted to catch the heavy metal door before it latched completely behind a couple coming back inside.

He would remember being annoyed because he had to speed up to join her as he felt a large gust of wind blow through the open door.

She would remember bounding outside, then looking up and being overwhelmed at the sight of the unusually large wave on the other ship of the ship. She would recall the roar of it, the froth of it, the fear of it as she started to slide backwards with the tilt of the deck.

He would never even see the wave. As he reached the door, he would be looking down, watching her momentum carry her into a slide as she slipped along an improbably tilted deck towards a rail that was clearly inadequate, coming only as high as her thighs for christsakes but sticking out way over the ocean, and what the hell kind of guard rail was that?

She wouldn’t even remember a guard rail, just a second of terror, a realization that she was going over board.

He would see her slow down, way down, almost stopping as she hung there.

She would remember Alex grabbing her arm so fast she thought he’d dislocated her shoulder, then both of them slamming onto the deck and sliding backwards towards the door, with Alex grabbing on to something as the boat made a high-angle lurch the other way and then a few more frightening tilts back and forth.

He would remember time speeding back up as she cried and shivered with the cold and the shock, and thinking that he had almost lost her again.

She would only remember thanking him and telling him that she loved him.

He would remember silently holding her to warm her, and hoping she understood how much he loved her too.

(For more excerpts from my new novel visit Am I sure I’m Sherrie?, Worry about those you love and write about what you know, Cease worrying when you can and write about what you know, and The Amazing Things I Get to Do.)

Time and Hate

This is a blog about time and hate. Maybe intolerance or bigotry would be a better word than hate, but I like the punch in my word choice. Group hate is really what I’m trying to say.

hippiepeace3Group hate rises out of incidents and situations, grows, sometimes to horrible proportions, and then it passes like a bad winter. With time, it looks ridiculous. Who didn’t react with disbelief upon hearing that 150 years ago signs saying “Irish need not apply” were common? Why wouldn’t you hire the Irish? Everybody loves the Irish. Or at least I though that they did.

While researching z2 I learned about how unwanted Italians circumvented the immigration laws of the day by crossing the Rio Grande and coming in as more welcome Mexicans. I was astounded to learn of the extent to which Asians were denied entry into the early U.S. under any circumstances. My own ancestry is largely German and, yes, there was a time when some states tried to keep out the undesirable Germans, too.

I don’t talk about this to make light of the group hate that plagues us today. I don’t think society will ever look back on our racism and xenophobia and laugh. I least I hope not. Rather I want to point out how ultimately petty and harmful our biases of today will someday seem. And I want us to consider that, sadly, new group hates will likely keep forming until we as a species learn to be far more vigilant about this.

weird2My point is, I wrote z2 in 2012. That is not very long ago. The examples of group hate that I turned to were ones that have plagued my home state of Texas for a long time; race relations between whites and blacks, and immigration issues with Mexico. Although the book was written eleven years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, it did not even occur to me to discuss animosity between Christians and Muslims. Why? Because it wasn’t something I heard all that much about.

Here we are, not even four years later, and this new group hate is taking hold fast. I have no reason to think that white people in Texas are doing all that much better empathizing with the challenges faced by African-Americans or recent immigrants from anywhere, documented or otherwise. Rather, for many the vilified Muslim has just been added to the mix of people of whom to be afraid.

On online news magazine The Week reported this story yesterday

A Muslim woman was removed from a Donald Trump rally in South Carolina on Friday. When the Republican presidential hopeful said Syrian refugees “probably are ISIS,” Rose Hamid and a few other people silently stood, sporting badges made to look like the stars worn by Jewish people during the Holocaust. The crowd chanted “Trump!” and Hamid was escorted out as some supporters shouted and booed at her. “This demonstrates how when you start dehumanizing the other it can turn people into very hateful, ugly people,” Hamid said. “It needs to be known.”

Rose Hamid is now a hero of mine. Not because of what she did, although it was heroic. No, she has my full admiration because she understands. When any of us, all of us, no longer think of one part of our brothers and sisters as human, we lose the capacity to empathize. Once we lose that, we are capable of atrocities beyond belief.

I learned the story of Mary Turner while researching x0. Mary Turner was a twenty-year-old black woman, lynched in 1918 in Georgia. She was eight months pregnant when she publicly denounced the killing of her husband by a mob. I quote what happened from the website Remembering Mary Turner :

To punish her, at Folsom’s Bridge the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob.

I have a question for you? Do you think that the people who behaved with this unthinkable hate, considered themselves good people? I bet most of them did. I bet most went to church, were good to their own children, and cared kindly for their elderly parents. Some may have regretted their actions eventually, but I bet many of them hardened their hearts and somehow found words to justify the horrible atrocity to their dying day.

How do you begin to explain this? All I  can think of is that to this mob, Mary Turner, and her child, were not human. Every time we peel a group of people off and denounce them across the board as being “dangerous” we lessen our ability to feel compassion for them and set ourselves up for mob behavior.

Whole countries have waged war on us in the past, and we on them. We inevitably demonize their looks and their culture and they do the same to ours and then we manage to go at each other, killing away. It’s sad, and fifty or a hundred years later it finally looks that way.

wake up worldAre individual sometimes dangerous? Of course they are. We have laws to deal with this, and it is worth remembering that those laws are also in place to keep us from collectively losing our heads and setting ourselves up as executioners. Those laws are in place to keep cruelty separate from justice.

We know in our hearts that group hate is wrong. It’s embers are fanned by fear and its strength grows when we see it accepted by those around us. There are things we can do. Spend time leaning more about those who make us uncomfortable. Turn on both our hearts and our brains when we hear outrageous claims being offered as truth. Speak up when others are silent in the face of fear-mongering.

Today I saw this wonderful article from the Detroit Free Press called How to Truly Support the Muslim Community. It has several practical ideas, but it was most interesting to me for the following reason. It suggests talking to people like they are the living, breathing individuals that they are. You know, humans with heartbeats like your own. What a fine idea.