The Vicious Cycle of Minority Representation

This might not be my longest, most drawn out entry, but I came to a realization today when I was out talking with a woman. The whole crux of what I’m saying rests on an understanding of what the movie “Get Out” means to me, but not necessarily the specific plot points of the movie.

What made the movie such a huge deal for me was the way that it seemed so different from other movies, namely in that it chronicled experiences that I felt were things that only I had felt. It got into a personal space for me and put those things up on the screen for audiences of millions of people who might not have the same life experience.

And people loved it.

That’s the problem with Hollywood character representation. We have your “Get Outs” and your “Atlantas” and these things show a side of minority life that we don’t often see. A lot of film execs say things to the affect of “white audiences just don’t like to see minority characters” and that puts unfair blame on white audiences at large.

The real issue is that a lot of minority characters are stock types and they don’t seem genuine. Sure, there are going to be some bigots who don’t accept characters like them, but the writers are writing them and using other media they’ve been exposed to as a template and since there’s always been poor minority representation in movies it comes off as a parody of a parody of a parody. The real person there gets distilled down to a set of tropes that people are tired of seeing. White audiences are tired of it and so are audiences of color.

But the problem isn’t the white audiences don’t know how to accept those unlike them, the problem is that writers aren’t writing characters that should be accepted.

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In Which I Make a Text Based Rube Goldberg Machine to Blame Space Ghost Coast to Coast for a Problem I Have with a Trend in Comedy

Comedy has an intertextuality problem and it’s all the fault of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”.

Okay, that’s a hell of an opener and it might not really make sense because there’s a lot to walk back and unpack there. Intertextuality is the relationship between texts, usually it is a term reserved for actual written texts. In the sense that I’m using it we’re just talking about a text as being any kind of media.

Every text or piece of media is influenced by something, hell, even if something is looking to actively ignore other texts that as a conscious decision is still a choice made because of the relationship to other texts. It’s not a bad thing by itself, but the way it’s come into comedy seems to mostly not work.

Back to the point about why this is all Space Ghost’s fault. Space Ghost was a shitty cartoon made in 1966 Hannah Barbera (I swear the word Barbera didn’t have an ‘e’ in it before I wrote this) and in 1994 Cartoon Network used old footage of the original show to make a late night talk show. This show was what started what we have come to know as Adult Swim (the late night programming block on Cartoon Network most nights of the week).

Adult Swim was pretty experimental at first and it wasn’t like anything else that we’ve ever seen on television. After Fox canceled “Family Guy” in 2002 Adult Swim stepped in to run the show in syndication and that along with huge DVD sales helped to cause Fox to take the show back, but pre-2003 Family Guy and later Family Guy became different shows. Audiences in 2003 were using online forums to talk about shows more than ever and audience reaction to some things changed parts of the show. Meg was kind of ignored before, but now she was outright hated by others in the cast and the cut-aways and references to other media and history and just anything got far more intrusive.

The show doubled down on the shock humor and just referencing other things. Not even referencing them in a way that informs the scene or the rest of the story. You see this kind of comedy used in other shows, not so much the cut ways, but the references. Some of them care enough to fit the reference into what’s actually happening. When Archer says “I hate surprises, well except surprise fellatio, unless it’s the Midnight Cowboy kind” that references another piece of media, but it’s also not stopping the action of the plot and even if the reference were removed it would be funny.

Family Guy just throws any old reference up into a space to waste time in an episode. Twenty-one minutes turns into thirteen when you find a way to waste the other eight on bullshit. And the huge problem with it all is that it’s become a way that people will talk to others. I can remember a time when just pointing out that you and someone else remembered something wasn’t in and of itself comedy.

Especially considering that a lot of people don’t even remember the things that are being referenced on Family Guy (seriously, does anyone really remember the DuMont Television network? It ran from ten years, from 1946 until 1956 when it was dissolved).

I’ve seen it creep into real life to a small degree with some of my friends. They’re not even referring to things from media some of the time, they’re just referencing unfunny, unremarkable bits from our actual lives. It’s usually used as a kind of exclusion of a party who is there that didn’t share in the moment. Can’t see any other purpose for it.

As I pointed out earlier with the Archer example this kind of thing can work. When enough people are in on the joke and the joke holds some relevance and doesn’t distract or when it’s just really smart, but not in a condescending way. Your average writing team on television isn’t crafty enough to pull it off, especially not on a weekly basis.

Maybe you can point out that it is a small thing or that it’s not really having any effect that wouldn’t have happened, but that’s just not how intertextuality works. Other works are going to be affected by what’s happened, even if they are affected because they resist the change.

Outline Time

I’ve always considered outlines to be kind of artificial.

There was this glorious, wondrous idea in my head of what a real writer should be and how they should strive to preserve their vision in its purest form. It sounds like some kind of romantic period ideal when I write it out like that, but I felt that outlines boxed a writer into a set of events that might need to be changed to better fit the story.

They weren’t something bad writers did as much as they were cheating, at least in my mind.

Now without much development on the writing front I’ve started to watch a lot of videos and read a lot about other writer’s methods and Jenna Moreci said something in one of her videos that stuck with me: writer’s that outline should plan their story back to front. Start with the ending and you’ll know what leads to where. If you work on the characters in conjunction with the actual outline there’ll be less chance of you needed to make up stuff on the fly when you’re actually writing and less chance of writer’s block.

My ending is something that’s worried me. I’ve never been good at endings, though when I come up with something it fits so well. Problem is that I go back and edit all over the place to shape the story around it.

How much editing do I do? Well, my last completed novel ended up shedding three whole chapters when I went back and edited. I read three whole chapters and realized that the problem created and solved in the space of thirty double-spaced pages could be dropped with no consequence to the rest of the book.

That’s exactly the kind of thing that an outline would protect against.

The problem becomes how to even do an outline. I have bits of a story written, some of it out of order and all of it related. I need to outline the parts in between and see what still needs to stay. Outlines are something I never learned to do because even in school the teachers realized that I could keep my ideas straight and in order for five to twenty pages, but when we’re talking about two to three hundred pages things get a little harder.

So this is where we are: I have to learn how to construct an outline and plan a concrete ending. I have the idea of an ending, but I need something thematically fitting and something the events around my story build to. If I find that the events I have planned out or written out don’t fit that theme I have to cut them or repurpose them for a later project.

It’s time to get brutal with it and stop letting “I can’t” be an excuse. I would suggest that anyone who hasn’t checked her out, give Jenna Moreci a glance. Also, if you do outline any tips are welcome.

Lost in Translation

I might have lost my first reader because of what I’ve been writing.

If you don’t write there’s this thing that seems to be something that even the most carefree, fearless of writers goes through–somehow, someday you’re going to write something that is going to get you into trouble. Writing has caused an uproar before, for sure. There’s what happened with Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code or the many people made about the portrayal of sex and just relationships in general in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Notice that both of those books sold very well.

That’s not an invitation to write the worst things that you can, but there’s obviously something to be said about the controversial selling or the shitstorm that brews around a thing actually helping to fuel its ascent.

We could only hope to be that lucky. In my case I passed a story along to a woman who I wouldn’t call a friend quite yet, but there was something budding there. She had asked to see something I was writing and as she actually reads a lot I thought that this could be a common ground for us.

I e-mailed the first chapter to her, because I almost never send out the complete manuscript, expecting to hear back in a couple of days. The idea was that she would read it and make some comment like “that was really cool, I’d read this” or “nah, not really my kind of thing”. In the past I’ve gotten either.

I’ll interject here that one of the things that I read in Stephen King’s On Writing that has always rang true with me was that the writer in us has this desire to find an ideal reader–usually a spouse or friend or family member whose feedback they write for. This person would be the audience you have in mind. Maybe not so much in the sense that they are the type of person that you’re writing for, but more that you write everything to filter through them. The writing process is lonely by necessity, even when you’re writing with a co-author. That first time that you hand someone the printed stacks of paper that are your novel or send out that little file attachment is a big step. Their impression of the thing is your first impression of what anyone else thinks.

And in a way I’m kind of searching for the person to be that. It takes more than just being the first to read a thing; they have to be honest enough and brutal enough to be willing to take a stab at something very personal that has, up until then, been your own little secret creation.

Sure, you learn to get hardened to criticism and to take it as a critic of what’s on the page and not you, but it’s still a part of you. It’s still a very vulnerable give and take relationship.

So when I didn’t hear back, I figured that it was because she didn’t like it and was scared of hurting my feelings. I actually like hearing someone didn’t like it, someone telling me that they loved it doesn’t usually tell me what needs to be fixed.

Something always needs to be fixed.

She and I talked over the next few days about photography and kind of joked around. We came to the point where she was going to meet up with me the other day and then the day of she backed out. And I did what I do when anyone does anything, even a small thing. I over analyzed it.  It really works in my favor some of the time. If there’s a problem that needs a high level of scrutiny I can do that.

The phrase she used was “no contact” and it seemed like a very specific sort of language to use with someone who you had very lighthearted contact with in the first place. Looking back over the conversations we’ve had since I got the iPhone (and looked for an excuse to text anyone I knew had one to see the little blue bubbles) there’s nothing alarming in my language with her. We had breakfast together once a while ago and haven’t seen each other sense, but I wondered what I’d said to get this response.

The old “what did I do that upset you so much” conversation isn’t one I usually have to have. I know what I’ve said, I probably said it on purpose. I was careful this time; I’m usually extra careful because i can get carried away with jokes that are too much for people and topics that shouldn’t be discussed.

Then I realized the only place I hadn’t been careful was my writing. The first chapter of the novel I sent her has some choice words in it and some choice imagery. She actually questioned it when she first started reading the whole thing, but that was the last conversation where we mentioned it. At that point she seemed fine with there being a little adult content. It wasn’t there for no reason, that’s for sure.

I think she read the rest of it either days ago or very recently and had been thinking it over. Is this the kind of person that I want to be friends with? Someone who would write this must be sick or someone who would write this must have a real problem. Authors aren’t the people they write about in their stories, although part of us does go into the process. I’m no more Lissette than I am any other character written by someone who just had the idea. But she’s up here in my head, she came from there and I can pull that personality forth and put it on the page (haven’t been doing it as much lately).

The writing scaring her is all that makes sense to me with the scant information that I have. This isn’t really the first time this has happened, but it is the first time that someone has not wanted to be my friend anymore because of it and it’s sad because she seemed really sweet and I wish her the best.

Does this mean that I stop what I was doing before or change how I have been writing, no. I don’t have direct feedback to know what it was that caused her issue nor do I want to be the kind of person who censors their writing. I’d rather write things better and strive to take offensive subjects in a thought provoking way, rather than hiding from them or appealing to the lowest denominator.

If I’m published someday I hope she sees the book in a store or while scrolling through Amazon and decides to take it look; I hope she gets that what I’m trying to say is clear. I hope she keeps turning the pages and finally gets what I’m trying to say.

Forum Feeling

AstleyFeaturedThere’s a special time of year where I get the need to join some writer’s community. I can never maintain a presence on them for too long and while I’m there I’m not even sure why. An old forum that I used to be part of is still up and I popped in to check and see if it was ripe for my return.

See, the thing is that I was banned from this place about six years ago. Usually that would keep me away, but I’ve moved a few times and would use a name that I’ve never used anywhere else to make it harder to connect the dots. The only problem is that when I checked in on the place it was like looking through a portal into the mid-1990s.

People were having to be taught the internet as if it were this new beast. Forum posting and forum etiquette might as well have been daring, unexplored territory.

They might as well have been the Congo River from Heart of Darkness.

Their ignorance toward tech and internet norms is what caused my banning years ago. I posted a link to a Rick Roll site in a discussion thread and some old man complained that it frightened him and he turned his computer off to stop the virus.

Someone thought Rick Astley’s haphazard gyrations were kin to malicious script.

I was ready to go back to that place, maybe have a little fun with it. Pretend to be something I’m not and only post pieces of writing which would be outside of my normal realm of doing things – I wanted to push my boundaries with it, but do I really want to push my patience with them

Forums used to be one of my favorite things online. There was a time I lived for them. I was there when the old Nintendo of America forums fell; before the word forum was even used to describe what we had called a BBS. I was on Maddox Mania back when Maddox himself might pay an actual visit. And at one point I even though it worthwhile to pay the five dollar entry fee for Something Awful .

I love the idea of forums, but often the execution is the same for all of them. Internet hardmen ( but, honestly, what else could I have expected from Maddox Mania). The forum exists in kind of this gray area for me: on the one hand it’s a great idea and I’d love to like it, but in reality it’s always too hot or too cold and never just right.

Ideas on Page

Writing is a frightening thing. An overrated thing that your friends and family will not understand takes a lot more hard work than they think. To be the next Faulkner, or Rowling or C. S. Lewis you’re going to need more than just a bottle of liquor and an idea. Most of the would be writers are failing out there because of the simple fact that they never put ideas on the page.

No one will ever read the story you don’t write.

Part of my time is spent doubting myself and my ability. I know I’m decent, but decent doesn’t get you far in most other things. Decent shouldn’t ever be enough.

These last few weeks have been getting back into that routine and doing something with these ideas that I was keeping to myself. This isn’t to sound pompous, but I know there’s a collection of snippets in there that would create the story that people want to read. I know this because somewhere in there is a story that I would want to read and no matter what anyone tells us, we’re not all that unique.

So I made a promise to put ideas on the page, because the ideas you don’t will never make it out.

Not A Call To Arms

There’s a series of age worn black and white photographs out there of Charles Bukowski. In them he is depicted with a cigar in his mouth as he smiles with some young woman on his lap. The photos depict him, at first, grasping her ass tightly as she looks into the camera and he’s leaned back proud and happy. The second one has him, sans cigar and sucking on her nipple (did I mention she’s totally nude, yeah she is?). In the third he’s fingering her with a determined look on his face.

I don’t know the context of the pictures or who took them. For what I’m about to describe I don’t think it matters. The content of the photos is important, but their origins don’t have much need here. You see, earlier today I watched a guy mount a defense against feminism based on the fact that people call Bukowski a misogynist. His evidence was these pictures.

It would see that somehow having sex with women means you couldn’t possibly hate them—in much the same way that I guess befriending blacks or being one means you can’t be racist…

It’s always funny to me how much effort people put into changing the minds of people who they disagree with. And really there’s all this talk about debating and making points and outreach, but there’s no reaching out to someone who has this kind of false logic. At least not from what I can see.

What do you tell someone who attributes something like that to being proof of this sweeping claim that requires a lot of looking over of years of work? I believe that we need to point out injustices when we see them and that it is the right thing to do, but I don’t think that we’re serving a purpose by going after someone so far gone that they resort to this kind of logic.

Why waste your time?

Batgirl #35 Review

Going to try to keep this short. I know I say that a lot, but I rarely do it. I picked up the fresh off the presses Batgril #35, the issue that I blogged about being the big change over in the tone of the series, and let me just say did they keep that promise. comics

The art is more light hearted and brighter and Batgirl is moved out of the dreary downtown section of Gotham to live in trendy, upbeat Burnside. the transition might be jarring. The new team goes fast like their ripping off a band-aid, but I think it’s time to stop pandering to comic book readers as if there’s only one type of reader reading these things.

Yes, there’s a girly tone to the book now. But it’s odd to see that leveled as criticism when roughly half of the planet is girls and some of those girls will more than likely like girly stuff. And some of the guys won’t mind something in that tone if it’s well written (and drawn).

I’m not sure how far in advance these things are written, but the story seems ripped from the headlines of the iCloud hacking scandal. Someone in Gotham is stealing phones and collecting the data on them to expose the secret lives of others. That’s the villain for this book. I liked it and it didn’t have that depressing tone so many other comics seem to need to have (what’s with DC and not wanting people to have fun?).

Also the art is nice. Babs Tarr has a real stand out style.

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If you’re worn thin on brooding superheroes I would give this one a try.

Preview Chapter Two of Stephanos

So I’m lazy. I wanted to have something else for today’s post, but I didn’t know what to write. So here is the second chapter of the story from the previous post. Stephanos, chapter two.

Laptops unwind in that same way that spiral-cut-hams do, until you’re down to the good bits: the motherboard, the power supply and the little connectors that I make up names for. Nothing looks exactly the same as anything else, and nothing fits where it shouldn’t. That’s the golden rule of computer component repair. It looks more complicated than it is, really.

hornsAt this point I could afford another cold heat soldering iron that was actually made to do these jobs, but there’s a charm to this one. I made it out of a busted curling iron, some mechanical pencil lead refills, a sliver of mica I took from an old compass, some twelve-gauge wire and other parts I salvaged from around the house.

Thank you, You Tube.

A girl in my class managed to snap the charging port off of the motherboard in one of the loaner Sony Vaio’s that we use in school. I offered to fix it for a tiny bit of cash and it’s good practice.

The actual soldering is just a dab and the quicksilver-like dot sizzles into place beneath the charging port. I barely have time to take in the oily metallic smell before I have to pull the iron and coil of solder away. The smell is my favorite bit.

A few seconds to dry and I test the connection. Yellow or orange or a red light will indicate if it is charging.

And of course it is.

I slide the innards of the laptop together, working the snap together fittings down over one another until I hear the small click of the latches. Each layer has a few screws. I’ve got them separated out into the little compartments that line along the old fishing tackle box that my Dad let me have. All arranged by size right to left; smallest to largest.

Someone knocks at the door to my bedroom. “Your dad said you were busy back here?” My chest does this little hiccup thing at the sound of Daunte’s voice.

“Almost done. Come in.”

He slips through cracked door, leaves it hanging open and steps in behind me taking me around the waist. My head tilts right in anticipation of the kiss I know is coming. “You still look busy.”

“Stop,” I giggle. “Static electricity, I could short the whole board out.”

“She wouldn’t know; it’s already broken,” he mutters against my neck.

My skin is warm and buzzing as I slump against him. “Funny.” I meet my reflection’s gaze and my eyes are a vibrant red instead of their normal blue. My eyelids close and I dry swallow before opening. “Did you stop by to tease me?” When I look again they’re back to blue.

“I was on the way home and wanted to stop and ask you if we’re still on for tomorrow?”

I turn so that we’re face-to-face and almost eye-to-eye. My toes push off the ground until I close the distance and can kiss him full on the mouth. “What you mean is: is Lissette still coming to meet Errol?”

“He’ll be all mopey if she isn’t. It’ll just be shitty. I’d rather tell him we canceled it.”

The prickly hairs dotting his cheek catch at my skin as I run my thumb along his face. “I’d rather tell him we canceled and still go, too. But she never gave me a straight answer. She’s driving me so I guess she’ll be there.” I rest my arms on his shoulders so that they stick out straight behind his neck and tilt my head to one side. “What exactly did you tell Errol?”

“You and Lissette are like sisters.”

Daunte and I have been friends since Miss Swanson’s third grade class, when the seating chart changed and we were partnered up to learn cursive. That same year my horns were coming in and he was the one of the few kids who didn’t tease me about them. I kissed him in the sixth grade when he tried to stand up for me and got punched in the face. Neither of us ever officially asked the other out—we were just kind of dating after that. And three years later, here we are.

“He’s not going to expect me to help him talk to her or pass little notes or some shit, is he?”

“He’s not going to do anything.”

“Okay.”

“Just tell her I whined about how I haven’t seen her outside of school in forever.”

My hands find themselves under his collar straightening the crease. “Guilt trip. We’ll make that plan B.”

“I have to get home and help Mom.” He rubs the hair down over my horns and pulls me in for a kiss. “I love you—see you tomorrow.”

“Love you too, night.”

__________

From the warmth of my bed I do the shower math—how much longer can I sleep, plus how long I absolutely have to shower to be presentable, minus the time I told Lissette to be here. Do I have time to get ready? I lie on the edge of sleep for five minutes and then stumble on my heels into the bathroom.

Most of my morning shower is cold today; I’ll have to make an effort to replace the wire I borrowed from the tank-less water heater to make the soldering iron. The rest of the time spent getting ready comes easily. The Succubus side of me means I never look like a hot mess—my hair will fall into those perfect bouncy curls, but it does cooperate with other styles. I don’t need makeup except for lip gloss (though sometimes I cover up my freckles). I’ve never had a zit or pimple in my life.

When the sound of the shower is gone Lissette and Dad’s voices come through the wall muffled. His laugh is distinct and there’s a faint smell like—scrambled eggs? I towel off in the shower and step out onto the mat.

My outfit for the day is a purple peasant-style tunic and a pair of black yoga pants. I keep thongs and other things I don’t want found hidden in a Tampax box under the sink. It’s the one place Dad wouldn’t look. I step out of the bathroom and slip into some no-show-socks and a pair of black flats.

I find Lissette making small, slow circles beneath her face with a frying pan full of scrambled eggs and sniffing them. She doesn’t see me at first. “See how fluffy they are? It’s all about the whisking, the more air you get into them then the fluffier they are.”

My dad is shoveling the eggs into his mouth and grumbling something that sounds like agreement in reply.

“I didn’t know we were trading egg recipes.”

“Look who finally decided to join us.” Lissette puts the skillet back on the stove and ditches the oven gloves.

“I told you to be here earlier than we needed because you’re usually late.”

“Ouch.”

I sigh. “How’s your mom doing?”

Lissette plucks a sliver of egg out of the pan and drops it into her mouth. “I didn’t tell her. Something came up.”

“Lissette.” The words are behind my teeth waiting to come out, but Dad’s right there staring up at us as he chews his egg. I close the distance between him and me, and hug him tight around the shoulders. He’s tense as I whisper to him. “Bye Daddy, I’m staying at Lissette’s tonight.”

“Alright. Give me a call when you get in for the night.”

I never do and he never bothers me about it.

We head out the door to where her car is parked. I’m staring at the back of her head as we walk. She’s braided some of her blonde hair into a circlet that wraps around her head and for some reason it reminds me of a Valkyrie.

There are muddy trenches marking the spots where cars have backed up and turned around and parked. I try to step between them and hold my tongue until I reach the door of the car. “Why didn’t you tell her?”

“I’m not really in a rush to see my Mom cry over another guy.”

“Oh. Are you in a rush to see her get some disease or—or—knocked up by a guy who doesn’t even respect her.” Lissette’s mom was the closest thing I had to a mom at this point; she even had me calling her Mom.

Lissette holds her hand up. “I’ll tell her tonight while you’re there. I might need the back up.”

“Okay.”

“Anyway, we’re early. How about we make a quick stop to check on something?”

“Is this scheming or snooping?”

“I slipped a GPS tracker on Tim’s car the other night—I think he’s with the little home-wrecker.”

“What makes you think that? And where did you get this?”

Lissette shrugs. “Fifty dollars at one of those run down places that sell spy gadgets. After I acted all confused and worried about my cheating dad the guy even helped me set it up.”

“Dammit, Lissette.”

“What?”

“I tell you what, we’ll go indulge your stalking fetish if you do that thing we talked about?”

“Which thing? We talk about a lot of things.

“Come with us today and get to know Errol.”

“When I had a boy pinned to his bed last night with my tongue halfway down his throat and do you know what the furthest thought from my mind was? When’s my prince charming going to come and rescue me from this dreadful life of doing what I please?” she clasped her hands together, tucked them under her chin and fluttered her eyes. Lissette and her theatrics.

“You were with some boy last night? When?”

“Like I said, I wasn’t in a rush to see Mom cry. Remember that kid we used to give rides home.”

“Alex?”

“Or Nick. It was definitely four letters.”

“Please tell me you used a condom.”

“Didn’t have any—so we just made out and necked some.”

I roll my eyes. “I’m not asking you to give Errol a handy. Just come with us so that he’s not—.”

“—Fucking your swerve up? Awe, you guys let me tag along all the time without an escort.”

“Yeah, but you keep yourself occupied.”

“True. I’ll go, but only because you need to spend time with Daunte.”

“You’re the best.”

“And because I need your help to follow Tim.”

“There’s something very broken inside of you Lissette.”


Stephanos Preview Chapter–Edit

English-dept_The threadbare carpet bites my knees every time I move and the dress I’m wearing doesn’t reach far enough to cover them. Poor planning on my part. There’s no room beneath this desk, but if I slip out now I risk exposure. So, I keep my head hunched down and scroll through Twitter and Facebook to drown out Mom’s boyfriend, Tim, and the woman who is obviously-not-my-mother getting hot and heavy on the table across from me.

I catch a glimpse her lying on her back with her salon-perfect hair dangling over the edge of the desk and the tip of her nose sticking out just above her bangs. Tim is hovering over the woman, sweaty and as red as a baked ham, with an expression that suggests he’s pulled a muscle. My phone has a folder full of pictures I snapped of them kissing in his car. And another folder of them kissing in the stairwell. Video of this would just be added trouble. When Mom found out that Annemarie and I searched “penis” on Google out of curiosity a few years back she canceled HBO and grounded me for a week and a half.

How much longer are they going to be at this?

I shift so that my back is on the floor and curl my legs up to my chest. Their breaths are just as deep and slow by the time I’m a week into my Facebook wall. I settle in for the long haul.

Mom’s relationships follow a pattern of guys with secret cellphones or apartments that she can’t go to. This guy’s late night archeology tutoring sessions didn’t seem to have any set times, he stood Mom up to go to one of them and he’s not even being paid. It felt like it fit the patterns.

I’d rather be grounded than caught, though. This is, like, my Olympics. I’m a pretty fucking awesome stalker. We high school girls tend to nurture our stalking skills. So, when I “accidentally run into you” in the hallway for the third time, claiming I’ve missed a button or remembered a funny joke, and you do that little laugh and lean in close and notice the smell of the perfume (that I practically thrashed around in a tub of), then the stalking becomes legitimate dating.

Boys don’t always figure out how to nurture their charm. Sometimes their stalking becomes kidnapping, which usually becomes twenty-five to life.

I burn through a good chunk of a Facebook game before I finally hear his breathing growing shallow. There’s a dull thud as his body hits the table. They finally fall silent. I poke my phone out over my shoulder past the corner of the desk to get another look at them with my front facing camera; the woman has her back to me and is slipping her underwear on under her dress.

“I can’t keep coming down here to see you,” she says. “We need to go to your place. It’s closer to the dig site.”

“Not there. She has the key,” he drinks in a few breaths. “She pops over sometimes to visit.” The ‘she’ in this case being my mom.

“I see.”

“It’s not like that, just she’s suspicious. Bad history with relationships.”

And yet you still humped this girl on the table in the lab where you both work. There’s a quality to the girl’s voice that I can hear affected by the acoustics of an auditorium classroom and asking about plate tectonics and laccoliths and their effects on artifacts. She mentioned dig sites. Karen something-or-other. She was a student in one of Mom’s classes; I used to come by after school and use passing out papers as an excuse to steal cookies and cakes from the faculty lounge.

Jumping out, pointing my finger and yelling “Ah-ha!” is out of the question. There’s several more minutes of them talking in low tones before he gives her a peck on the forehead and they part ways.

It’s like, she just had your cock in her mouth not fifteen minutes ago—you’d think he’d show a little more gratitude.

The shaft of my boot drags against the carpet as I crawl out from under the desk. I pause a second and listen for movement before getting to my feet. The usually pale skin of my thigh is rubbed a splotchy red. I limp down the stairs, my leg tingling from the sudden movement, and go out the door I propped open earlier.

My Jetta is parked in a student lot beneath a large oak tree. Annemarie stands with her butt resting on the passenger side window and her head down over her iPhone. She glances up, the glow from the phone mingling with the parking lot light, painting her hair orange.

“You didn’t text me,” I say.

“This book’s just getting good,” she holds her phone even though there’s no way I’m reading it at this distance. “Besides, someone could hear if your phone isn’t on silent.”

“Like I’d make an amateur mistake like that.”

Annemarie locks her phone and slips it back down the front of her top. She’s all dresses, skirts, blouses and tights. She hasn’t worn anything with a fucking pocket since Pokémon cards were the in thing.

I’m climbing into the car as she slides in next to me. The spiraling ram-like horns poking out from beneath her bangs on either side of her forehead catch the Mardi Gras-style necklaces dangling from my mirror. Her horns are smaller than other succubi and don’t get caught on things often, but those trashy beads that people hang in doorways are the bane of her existence.

“Don’t move.”

“Not again,” Annemarie whines.

I lean over and unwrap her. “We’re going to have to get one of those big cones to go around your neck like they use so dogs don’t lick themselves.”

“It’d just make me run into even more shit than I already do.”

“There,” I take the beads down at least until I figure out how to keep her from getting caught in them. “So I had a bit of a huge breakthrough tonight.”

“That why you were there so long?”

“Yeah. Tim is cheating on Mom with a student.” I flick through pictures on my phone of Karen pressed passionately against the wall next to the stairwell door as Tim kisses her face and then neck. Then I move through a group of them together in the car.

“How did you get these?” asks Annemarie.

“Why do you think I told you to stay over here? Kind of hard to hide with a six foot succubus trailing you around.”

“I’m not six feet tall.” She turns to look the window at something past the massive tree, something I can see. “You know this is going to kill her, right? How’s she supposed to go back to work if her partner-slash-boyfriend is cheating on her with a student? The school’s going to suffer. Who are they going to find to replace her?”

“I could take Mom’s place.”

“The university isn’t going to give a sixteen year old research privileges.”

Mom’s one of the few doctorates in Eclispademonology on the planet—that’s the study of extinct demons. Only a handful of programs in the country exist for it; her old grimoires and tomes were my bedtime stories and summer reading. Mom never encouraged it, but she never stopped me either.

The car revs to life as I turn to face Annemarie. “Do you remember Simon?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“If I have to be the one to tell her that her new boyfriend is a lying sack of shit, so be it.” I back out of space and head for the freeway. “But we’re not going through that again.”

Annemarie is silent until we’re almost halfway to her house. “Maybe they’ll let you teach someday. No one’s lining up to talk about sifting through the dirt for clues about things that happened when dinosaurs were the flavor of the week.”

“Dinosaurs never existed alongside demons.” She should know this, she’s heard me do report after report on the subject.

I catch the smile on her face as we pass through the light of the halogen lamps that line the freeway. “Shut up.” I move into the center lane to avoid passing too close to a police car that has someone pulled over.

Lightning explodes in the sky in a three-strike burst that causes us both to scream. Hand to her chest and gasping for breath, Annemarie glances over at me. I’m trying to pretend I didn’t just swerve all over the place. “What the Hell? It’s clear out,” she says.

There’s no moon, so we glance to the gash in the eastern sky, streaked with hints of purple at its edges. It looks as if someone stretched a spot in a black trash bag until it ripped. The Wound’s been there since the Beginning, it’s the final remnant of my father’s lost war.

I got ahead of myself. My name is Lissette Metzger and my parents are a woman who was hipster before hipster had a name, and Lucifer. Morningstar Lucifer. Nurture over nature—I turned out fine. But I’ll be the opposite of fine if I’m not home by 10:30 PM.

Annemarie made me drop her off at the corner of the sagging chain-link fence that encloses her yard. She made some excuse about the gate being broken around front. This time of night, her dad would be passed out drunk and shirtless in the front porch rocking chair. No use risking the engine and lights waking him. I wait until she slips through the side door to the screened in side area of the house and flips the switch for the flood light behind the house to pull off.

Two hours to kill and only ten minute drive from home; there’s nothing appealing about seeing Mom cry again. If I’m in the house holding the evidence it’ll be impossible to keep it from her.

There’s a boy who has a work-study scholarship to the Catholic high school near Annemarie’s. On summer nights when school was out and we were out until the rain ended we’d pass him walking down the street, his shirt soaked through with sweat or rain or both and offer to give him a ride home.

Occasionally he’ll text me, but the conversations never lift off. I don’t need him to be good at talking, anyway. I lift my phone to my ear as I pull up to the stop sign and it clicks mid-ring.

“Hello?” his voice is confused and distracted. I’ve caught him busy.

“Hey. Do you know who this is?” His name is listed in my phone as Nick, but I have a habit of giving people names I wish they had.

“Lissette?”

“Yeah, listen, I’m doing this thing for school and I need to get the opinion of someone who goes to a school with uniforms. Like, I need to know how you feel about it—can I interview you?”

“Sure. Ask away.”

“I’d rather do this in person. The body language and junk might be helpful to the article. It’s no problem if you’d rather do phone, though—”

“No. Sure, Lissette. Come on over.”

“See you soon.” I hang up before he can answer me and take a left onto the road. The driveway at his house is all grass and mud. I’m the only car so I pull in close. It’s for the best, the gear shifter makes the logistics of the whole business too hard and my backseat is piled high with heels, bright dresses and empty slushy cups from Sonic.

He’s at the door in a wrinkled white t-shirt, and his dark hair is slicked down to his forehead wet. I’ve never seen it dry.

I’m in a yellow and black polka dotted sundress and my hair is in that Zen state of messiness where it looks look like I don’t care, but not so bad that it appears that I’ve given up. I step out of the car and go in the back seat for a random notebook that’s under the driver seat.

“Sorry to bother you.”

“It’s okay,” he comes off the porch and walks halfway to my car.

“You’re here alone?”

He nods. “Dad works in a plant and my sister has the car.” No mention of a mom; she’s dead or left. I can’t remember.

He falls in step with me as I reach him and holds the door for me. “Well, I won’t keep you for too long.”

“It’s okay really. Tomorrow’s Saturday, so no practice.” The screen door closes behind me and I stop next to a cracked leather couch that’s draped in those decorative yarn blankets. The kitchen kind of just begins out of nowhere off to my left and there’s a hall past that, the bedrooms I figure. “Do you want something to drink or anything?”

“Water please. Thanks.” I touch his arm with the tips of my fingers.

I watch him get the glass and make the water out of the corner of my eye as I sidle toward the hallway with the notebook clutched to my chest. The door at the end of the hall is open and a basketball jersey is tacked to the wall inside.

“Is that your room?” I ask as he hands me the water.

“Yeah.”

“You’ve been playing football a while then?”

“That was basketball actually,” he chuckles.

I take a big drink of the water. “Oh, right. Can I see? It might be best if we do the interview where you’re most comfortable anyway…”

“Sure. I mean, yeah. That’s fine.”

His room is all posters and trophies and musk mixed with body spray. There’s an Evangelion poster to my right; racist portrayal of Angels, but at least his taste in Anime isn’t shit.

I catch him staring at my eyes. Most Nephs have multiple colors in at least one eye. Mine are green with a yellow swirl. It gets a lot of looks and you get used to spotting people trying to look while trying to look like they’re not looking.

“How—how do we begin?” he asks.

There’s a black and white poster of two girls laying on their sides kissing with artfully messy sheets around them above his unkempt bed. I walk over and sit on the corner of the bed and place the notebook down in my lap. It must be past eight forty; I don’t want to waste more time than I have to.

“Look, I’m going to be straight with you—this notebook is full of drawings of horses,” I open it to show him the colored pencil sketches of two horses running through a meadow. “There’s no interview or article. I just wanted to have sex, but I don’t have any condoms and I can tell by the state of this room that you don’t either. We can make out. I’ll even slide the top of my dress down, but the bra stays on and your dick stays behind at least two layers of cloth, okay?”

“What?”

“It’s a yes or no question, whatever-your-name is. I’ve got to be home in an hour and fifteen minutes.”

“Okay?”

“Okay as in yes or…”

“Yeah,” he closes the gap between us and I polish off the last of the water dropping the cup on his bedside table. He kisses me as if he’s worried that I might slap him or pull away. But before long we’re full on kissing and I’m pulling his head into mine and trying to draw him back onto the bed.

His tongue tastes like Dr. Pepper and cigarettes. He puts a knee into the mattress to brace himself between my legs and I push my forehead to his to keep our lips apart. “Let me get these straps down,” the heater kicking on almost drowns out the sound of my voice.

The top part of my dress falls until it’s hanging off my thin leather belt. He rests a hand on my shoulder lightly and works the fingers of the other one up into my hair. Either he’s shy or he’s taking it slow. It’s okay; we’ve got an hour.

Then again, I want to stop by this gyro truck on Westheimer before I go home.

I grab him at the waist with a burst of strength that’s part cheerleading muscle, part Neph. I flip him partway onto the mattress and straddle him. His fingers play at my skin that’s almost hidden by my knee high leather boots (the damn things have too many buckles for me to bother taking them off; I don’t hear him complaining).

“Sorry for getting rough,” I tell him before I kiss his neck.

“It’s okay.”

His hands are on my waist, but he’s not aggressive. We stay like this for I don’t know how long; necking back and forth. I pin his hands to the wall right below the poster of the lesbians and we kiss until my back hurts from fighting to keep my legs wrapped around him and my body bent to kiss him. And then the alarm I set before I came in here goes off.

“What’s that?”

“I have to go.” I retrieve my phone from the cup of my bra and silence the alarm.

“What was this?” His eyelids slump and he glances away.

I shrug as I slip back into my dress. “I get bored and I needed to avoid going home because Mom is going to cry when I tell her what I did.”

“You’re going to tell her about us?”

“No, her boyfriend’s cheating on her—it’s just—it’s complicated.” I climb off of him. “I’ve got to go. Thanks Nick.” I go to head out of the room scooping up the notebook as I leave.

“My name is Alex.”

“Right. Tell your dad to get a Brita filter; the water tastes like metal.” I’m out the door texting Mom as it shuts behind me. I don’t think he moved from the bed.

Be home soon. Gyro for dinner?

Her reply comes a few seconds later. Sure.

Trying to soften the blow of infidelity with spun meat. This will go over well.

Mom is sitting cross-legged on the bar stool when I come through the door clutching my phone and two gyros. She turns to greet me and her thick horn-rimmed grading glasses are perched on the end of her nose. There’s a bottle of beer or some kind of wine cooler next to her. The bottle is green, but she always picks her labels off.

“Guess who’s got two gyros and is a minute late?” she narrows her eyes at me.

I sit her food down next to her. “There was a line.”

“It’s okay,” she smiled as she grabbed the wrap up and pulled the foil with her fingernails. Mom’s hair is an ombre white-blonde and dark brown, but the slight gray in her roots is showing. She’s got freckles and full lips that are always the color of a candied apple. It’s odd to be saying it since Dad is probably one of the most attractive creatures in Creation, but I wish I had taken after Mom more.

“I told them to take it easy on the onions this time.”

“Good. I thought I was going to have to bathe my tongue in tomato sauce to get the smell out.”

“We need to talk, Mom.”

“About?” she pauses with the gyro lifted to her mouth but not quite in attack range. The grease is threatening to drip onto her Florence and the Machine t-shirt. I freeze.

“My curfew…couldn’t we go a little later. I mean ten forty five or eleven even?” I ask.

“Maybe,” she says. ‘I’ll think about it.”

“Okay. You’re going to get grease on yourself,” I wrap a napkin under the underside of the gyro and clutch it there until she wraps her hand around to hold it. She smiles until her cheeks turn red from strain and then bites into the gyro. Telling her now would be a greater disaster—a Hiroshima out of what would have been Pearl Harbor. I unwrap my food and take a bite.

How long has it been? My last clear memory is seeing Mom curled up on the recliner across from me eating Greek yogurt and watching the News.

There’s darkness creeping in at the edges of a place I can’t make out. The smell of salt water and the heat are still on my face. My body tenses and my eyes open to see Mom fumbling with her purple grading pen. “Christ,” her voice is a whisper.

“What is it?” my whole body is sore. Is this what dreams are like?

“One of the girls who needed special tutoring is bombing this test Tim asked me to grade—I don’t get what else I can do.” Tim, Mom’s soon to be ex-boyfriend, teaches archeology and he tests multiple choice so it was entirely within Mom’s (or anyone else’s) ability to grade for him.

“Who is she?”

“Karen Laurel,” Mom says. “Sweet girl.”

The dream or whatever it was still echoes through my mind and it takes me a second to hear what she’s said properly. I saw one of these study sessions for myself earlier tonight—it goes a long way to explain her test.

Mom smiles. “You look like someone just walked over your grave. Everything okay?”

I press the button to unlock my phone and look down at the pattern security screen; it times out and goes dark. “Yeah. It’s nothing.”