Tag Archives: Novels

The Vulnerability of Being Brown – Part 1

I wrote this essay months ago. After the words and thoughts got too loud rolling around in my head.  I think I’ve been waiting to see if things change, if my thoughts shift.  But I’m in a process of working on my novel, Stands Alone. Doing another line by line revision.  (This is to cut 16,000 words to get my debut novel under 100,000, which is another post or more for later).

This morning, though, I’ve decided that there is so much to unpack about vulnerability of being brown, I need to open up this up.  And where else can I do that?  In addition to therapy. Lol.

Maybe it’s the incredible work of current books and TV shows and movies that are prompting me to share my thoughts.  (GO TO NETFLIX AND WATCH WHEN THEY SEE US- NOW!) Maybe this is just time. My time.

I will continue to write more on the subject. But I’m also hoping to hear from others who get this. Who understand what this feels like. Who want to change things for people of color which…get this… is good for all people. See how that works?

Here we go. Part 1:

The Vulnerability of Being Brown – Part 1

I never contemplated vulnerability until Brene Brown’s research and books turned me on to the topic. I remember feeling alive and empowered when I understood more about what it meant to live a whole-hearted life. To be my best authentic self.

Whenever I think about vulnerability I think about resiliency, too. They’re not opposites but I think you may need one to have the other. I learned of resiliency years ago and it shook me wide open. I was in school for my BA in Liberal Studies. My emphasis was on families. I was a child advocate. While studying about how some children ‘make it’ and for others, their struggles overcome them, which I know is a very simple way of breaking this down and in no way is it simple for children born in or living with adversity, the term popped up right off the page. My thoughts didn’t travel to future children’s programs I hoped to create but to myself. My siblings. Our childhood and what we had in our lives that made us resilient. Made us survive.

Coming to an understanding about vulnerability was the same way. I went from reading ‘women’ as a whole to focus on myself. Of course, we all do this. We encounter new concepts that turn on and turn up lights bringing understanding to something about ourselves that we might not even know needed the light. I embraced the term vulnerability just like I did with resiliency. Collected these terms and my understanding of them like weapons and set out on my way.

Lately, though, I can’t get past how difficult it is to be authentic because I am always vulnerable. I don’t get to determine how much. I don’t get a break from it unless I’m home, with the news off and away from social media.

I’m a brown woman living in this country. I’m Mixed. Indigenous and Black. And I can’t hide it. And I don’t want to but yet; I am so damn tired from the weight of the target that being brown carries.

I live in a world where random acts of violence against people of color are no longer so random, where brown men, women and children are targeted, or hunted. However it happens, the man in the white house who bullies, taunts and spews hateful racism, and applauds the minions who carry out his work, sanctions these crimes. He seems so very comfortable in his power to rein havoc, pain and even death on people of color. Sure, he’s at a distance and protected right now but the white person fueled by his words and actions, who is living in fear of losing something, anything, everything to a person of color, will attack. Has attacked.

Being a woman who looks like me is to live in a state of constant vulnerability. I am confused, sad and pissed because I want to be my full ‘give zero F*#ks’ all natural fierce AF badass brown woman. I want to always be okay in my skin with these curls and this body. I want to walk with pride and purpose. And yet, I’m the woman who makes ‘kind eyes’ at people in the stores. I’m the one who makes sure I make no sudden moves around white shoppers and say ‘sorry’ when they bump me. I’m the one who is vigilant about giving space to white people and making sure they’re comfortable with me. I do all that to create armor around my vulnerability. Which also feels futile because I can’t hide my brownness. Or pretend I’m something other than what they see. And that’s what makes me a target.

Too many times, because once was too much, brown women, men, and children are attacked and killed for no other reason than being brown and perceived to be a threat, because of that brownness. And instead of dealing with their misplaced fear, those with power and privilege to harm use it to do so. To kill.

And yes, there are efforts and activists doing incredibly hard work but will that keep me safe today?

I think about these women like me when I venture from my home. My thoughts run a bit wild, wondering who’s scared, who’s running, who’s being attacked right now, and just what am I going to do if it’s me in the next moments. I know, though, that if I let myself stay in those fearful thoughts, I wouldn’t leave my home at all. Ever. So there is a part of me that overcomes this. For bits of time. That’s how I make to Target, the grocery story or the post office. That’s how I get to the movies. Or out for lunch.

But it’s exhausting. To be hyper vigilant. To carry the pain of other brown women, my sisters, my aunties and grandmothers. It’s often crushing to be in this battle. To just exist. And yet, I do.

Stacey Parshall Jensen is a Mandan, Hidatsa and African-American writer, storyteller and filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of Minnesota.

 

Before the search begins…agents

Can I tell from looking at their photo on the literary agency website if they’re going to be my agent?  Is there something there that can give me the extra know, that wink to my future?

I know. I can’t. But yet my thoughts go there. I look at their smiles and wonder what they’re voices are like. What it will sound like when they call and talk about Stands Alone? Is that a voice I can listen to for many calls? For great meetings? For maybe, not so great meetings?

I don’t know for sure what they’ll be saying, since this is will be my first agent. For my first novel. But I’m hoping for a lovely voiced woman who laughs at my jokes and finds me fascinating for writing such a tough hard crime suspense novel about being Mixed, history, warrior women and rape. For writing about fighting and winning.

Can I tell that from just looking at her photo? I sure as hell wish I could.

I’m building my agent database right now. I’ve been searching Publishers Marketplace, Query Tracker, and researching other writers who are in the vein of Stands Alone to find their agents. I’m doing Google searches and reading interviews and Twitter accounts.

I have a couple more super smart people in line to review my query letter and synopsis and then, I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready.

I’m anxious.

And feel super vulnerable. But driven and dare I say…believe in my own craft even though I still have so much more to learn and am working and writing every day. I’m creating story and birthing characters that I throw into pits of fire of pain, grief and oppression or dump in the middle of dark wildernesses created by their own fears or by some way their parents fucked them up and then hope that the trail becomes clear to get them out of there. Never unscathed but at least out to where the sun lives.

I feel like I’ve come into my own. And my voice is clear. And I hope to find an agent who sees that. Gets that. And wants to join me for that often blind rushing run through the wilderness.

Pages to go…gulp!

I’m pages to go.  Just 20 or so to get to the end of this round of revisions for Stands Alone. I set a deadline for March 26th because the plan was to go to AWP with this novel ready. Tucked under my arm. Well, not really, tucked there but ready on my laptop and on multiple disc drives. But I got sick. Really sick and by Monday night, I was going down fast. I canceled my trip and hit my couch. I spent the next few days taking soaks for aches and pains, drinking tea, napping and bingewatching Tin Star. Both seasons. And of course, looking at photos and posts of friends in Portland at AWP, making myself feel worse.

AWP was not a golden ticket to landing an agent or finding a publisher. Not at all. There are none. This is hard work. Perseverance. It’s about the stars lining up AND talent AND determination AND craftwork AND networking AND AND AND…. I missed an opportunity. This time.

So this morning, as I opened up the word doc to go back to line edits and rethinking, rejiggering passages, and hopefully deepening my characters, I stopped to think about this journey. How far I’ve come from an image (yes, I’m still beginning stories with a Black woman’s feet running) to a pilot to a novel to multiple drafts to beta readers and now…queries for an agent.

I think about how much I’ve learned about myself, my skill and what continues to drive me to tell the stories that I do. I reread and rewrite painful acts of against women and let my weeping take me through to tell of their triumph, too.  I see the slivers of myself and my story in some of the women. I write their strength, their uniqueness, what makes them cry and shiver, what makes them run and what makes them fight. I am forever changed because of them.

Gulp.

Next step will be sending this story, these women warriors, out into the world.

I’m pages to go to let them fly.

Gulp. Sigh.

Chuckle and grin.

Yeah…  I got this.

 

 

 

Creating a White Supremacist Character

If there’s at least a tiny part of ourselves in every character we create, then what does that mean when it comes to creating bad guys? To creating the narcissist? The evil? To creating the one who wrecks havoc and tears through whatever and whoever is in their path?

Of course, writing to the humanity of these characters is the goal. That’s what gives them flesh. Finding their underbelly, exposing it, and then healing is a goal. Maybe. Destroying them? That’s a righteous goal, too.

I’m thinking about this as I prepare to go back into my novel. It’s been with beta readers and now I’m ready to enter this world again, which means I have to pull up a chair at the table headed up by a white supremacist. Of all my characters, my bad guys, and there’s plenty of them; I write crime suspense so my bad guys do heinous things, creating Raimond Davies has been the toughest.

In Stands Alone, my novel about a Mixed Blood cop who takes on a white supremacist, their ancestors are the soldiers in this war. Which means I wrote their histories, too. I know who Raimond’s father was and what he did to him. I know who his grandma was and how filthy and mean she was. I know who Raimond was as a small boy at the mercy of the adults in his life and how that set him on a course of hatred.

I think that in the many hours I’ve spent with this story, and the many more to come, my own ancestors settle on the loveseat in my office. Native men and women who fought the destructive forces of white men for their families and their tribes. African women who endured unimaginable atrocities and yet never stopped fighting for their freedom. They keep the sage burning, the drums pounding as they wrap their arms around me, whispering that this is the story that I need to tell. That only I can tell. They say it’s okay. That I’m safe from the horror on the page, from the horror in my imagination. They tell me I’m honoring the fight. Their fight.

My fight.

But damn.

The love of a story prompt

I gave myself a goal this holiday. For the month that I am spending in MN with my family. That goal was to continue honing my prose writing chops by writing short stories.

I have a novel in works out to beta-readers so I’m sitting on starting revisions or the second book of that trilogy. (I CAN’T WAIT!!! And yes, imagine that in my best Oprah-esque voice) And I have all these characters sorta milling around in my head.

Okay, some of them are more demanding of their stories than others. They’re mostly cops. Female cops in gritty cities or small towns. Badass chicks who have to hunt down some evil POS and do right by the badge they hold dearly. Some are women fighting for their families, for their lives. For the world that may be kicking them in their asses but it’s the world they’re committed to save. So, I guess the image of them milling around, sipping tea and watching holiday baking shows in the afternoon doesn’t really fit them. (actually that’s me when the work is done…lol!)

I needed a way to get these stories to the page so I put the word out to my online writing friends- incredibly talented women who are so far ahead of me in the prose fiction journey, accomplished novelists and authors who have had stories published online in the top journals and in beautiful collections, just all around inspiring, talented storytellers. I found some sites that have prompts to jumpstart a story. And I’ve started popping in on an incredible writing session with book mentor, Ericka Lutz http://erickalutz.com. 

In her sessions, writers would gather in zoom room for a timed writing session. She’d give us prompts if we wanted them or needed them. Set a timer and we’d go. Aside from seeing these other writers at their computer, intense looks on their faces, sipping tea or staring off, however they were creating their magic on the page, I was seeing that they were doing it like me. One word at a time.

These prompts, though! They were like lightening in a bottle. BOOM! I had a line of dialogue that gave me a direction to take my undercover Native cop, Carla Killingbear, to the alley to confirm the dead girl was the missing girl. She and her partners disagree on how swiftly they had to move on a suspect she developing a relationship with but had no concrete evidence. Yet. This story, Skye Isles, will be a longer work of fiction. O MY GOD!! Another novel??! YUP YUP! I’m excited and so is Carla Killingbear. I didn’t even know she was waiting to tell her story until I got the prompt. Joy. Joy. Joy!

The next prompt I used in another session was a place. Ericka said country store and I immediately saw Becky’s. A dusty place Off The Highway in New Mexico. And I saw Stella, a young Native girl, in old guy Coozer’s truck as he raved about how much he loved Becky and that she would be able to help Stella get her car fixed that died on the highway. Stella was on her way to California, on a grief healing journey after her mother’s death. What they didn’t know was who else was in that country store and the murder that was going to happen. BOOM! I WAS SO HAPPY! That prompt opened up a whole new story world with these incredible characters! A short story that moves with intrigue and suspense. More Joy, Joy, Joy!

If you’d like to connect with Ericka, you can find her on Facebook at Spark the Second Fire https://www.facebook.com/groups/sparkfire/.

If you have other links to writing prompts, let me know!

Write On!