Ah, dang, this was written before I kind of raced ahead of my planned goal dates. The release date for The Audacity Gambit is April 26th and links to preorder and see the cover are here.
Not surprisingly, this has been the process post I’ve put off the longest. If you were to casually ask me why I spent my time on my commute, years ago, writing this thing and why I then spent time (and actual money!) making it worth sharing, well. I’d have a glib answer, I’m sure. It would be and sound true enough to satisfy.
“Growing up where I did, there weren’t fantasy novels about people like me or that I knew. So, I wanted to make that.”
That’s super legit! Creating things is like tattoos, you really don’t need a why, but people like hearing some sort of reasoning behind action, it makes them feel more secure. However, also like tattoos, if you give too much of an explanation it can get awkward. People don’t actually want to know that the basis behind how I plot my tattoos is tied into the ideas of false morality and true monsters, it’s like asking “how are you?”
Sometimes though, you want to answer truthfully. Or you need to. And I want to. I know a part of this is because I feel like I have to justify why I’m self-publishing, but I also don’t really talk about some of the things about where and how I grew up—or what it is like being an often, but not always, white-passing mixed Latinx in an ex-logging town.
For all that I love talking about myself, I also hate actually talking about myself. So how about I talk around this.
“All the things to do”
The last time I visited the town I grew up in, my sister took me to see the mural I’d painted when I was in high school. The city was tearing it down to build a little park, though weather and time had done a lot of their work for them. Though I had genuinely no real feelings about this, my sister was angry enough for me. I learned that the weird little painted greenspace was a fond place in her generation’s memories and that there’d been quite the pushback against the city about changing it.
The main street had changed significantly since I’d last been there, while also remaining very much the same rows of mid-century buildings updated in the 70s, housing a rotation of places to eat and shop that I hadn’t interacted much with growing up.
Looking around at the mostly empty storefronts, my sister told me that all of the things for teens to do or go had been closing or finding trouble. She told me something like “all the things we’d had to as teens do are gone.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I think I just nodded and sympathised, because small towns never have things to occupy teenager’s time, or to keep people from moving away. But, whatever there had been to do in town, when I was a teen, I never knew about.
Unlike my sister, I spent the entirety of my life on a patch of land well outside town. Nobody taught me to drive, so I’d bike into town sometimes, which was about six miles, less if you rode alongside the highway. Friends could drive, so I’d see movies in the next city over sometimes, but mostly we’d hang out and watch people play video games, or I’d sleep over at their houses and listen to Songs In The Key of X on repeat.
But mostly I sat in my room and wrote, or watched movies, or made elaborate stop motion animation. I was in theatre (I lettered in it, twice), so a lot of my time outside our trailer was spent learning lines or blocking, practising accents or prepping for away drama events. In the summers I painted murals.
The last time I remembered being downtown, as a teen, was just before the end of my junior or senior year of high school. We’d had a half day at school, so we could watch the parade for the town festival. A couple of friends and I were wandering around, and I was trying to act like I was familiar with that shop being there and this person’s mom working at that diner.
Most of the time I was within city bounds I was with my family grocery shopping or eating dinner after church in one of two restaurants. It was the same as any space travel or science fiction TV show. Sometimes the cast took a shuttle to another planet, but for the majority of it we just see the same parts of the inside of their ship.
After the parade, we passed by a bookstore I didn’t know existed. I thought, as I looked at the giant orange bookstore cat happily sunning in the window, that I actually and really was wildly unfamiliar with what the town I lived by looked like. How did I not know that there was a bookstore there?
Sitting outside the door of the shop was a giant box full of old Asimov’s Science Fiction magazines from the 70s through the early 90s. “Free” was scrawled on the flap of the box and I scooped it up and carried it until someone gave me a ride home. I have more memories of reading the stories in those magazines than I do of the town I went to school in.
I’ve known I was Latinx since I was old enough to fill out forms. Before that, there wasn’t really an awareness of anything different about some of your family speaking another language. It just was. Some people have uncles in Idaho, some of mine lived in El Salvador. But once I entered the cycle of state school testing, my mom constantly reminded me “always be sure to fill out ‘Hispanic’ on forms, because it could help you get better advantages and treatment.”
My mom, let’s get this out of the way, was white. She had me get perms to make my hair curl “correctly”, made me brush my hair instead of using a wide comb and regularly pointed out the darkness of my arm and leg hair.
I learned I was also Palestinian years later. My mom was bundling a scarf around me, before I went out into the snow, wrapping it over my head and across my mouth and nose, leaving my eyes free. I was like, eight, so I couldn’t tell you what exactly she said but basically it was along the lines of “there you go, just like the Arabs (which is okay to say because you are one).”
Thanks to my mom being white and my dad being the lightest in his family, along with living in Oregon my whole life, I’m mostly white passing. People ask if I’m Jewish a lot, which never stops being kind of funny. I’ve had it very easy and I’m super aware of that.
That growing up I wasn’t treated as “normal” was also very much something I didn’t realise I was super aware of until I was well into my twenties. But that’s because sometimes you don’t realise things are weird until you start comparing your experiences with other people’s experiences. And also, because I’m a little dumb. I draft my Fallout characters with an Intelligence score of about a four for a reason. I didn’t realise my nose has a bump in it until I was like, nineteen. I’m not an aware person.
I always read books that barely described the main character. I also read a lot of books where the main character was a man, partially because that’s what most SFF gave you to work with. It was annoying to read about women with blonde hair, or straight hair, or curves. It took me out of it. It was easier to hear nothing about the character at all.
What’s funny about that is that when I first wrote The Audacity Gambit I did exactly that. I barely described anyone. Then someone I adore drew Emily, the main character, as white with basically straight hair and I felt betrayed. Going back through it I tried to add as much coding as I could. She was mixed, I’m mixed. That’s what my dumb brain defaults to and I forgot most white people default to white.
The one thing filling in “Hispanic” on forms ever gave me was the chance to job shadow and intern at the local daily paper. I was very active in my high school newspaper and jumped at the chance to be part of their program to get kids with “other perspectives” interested in journalism.
It was a great program and I loved it and learned a lot. What was funny was that, of the group of kids from a Captain Planet mix of races and mixed races (including kids who passed way better than me), I still didn’t fit in. One was going to Pepperdine, none of them had ever shopped at a thrift store or Goodwill before, they all lived in cities. Their land didn’t flood when the river rose, they didn’t keep gallons of water on hand to flush the toilet when the power went out, they didn’t think debit cards were possibly the way The Beast was going to track us.
I’d hoped, going to the camp, to make friends with people who might understand the rootless feeling of not belonging quite anywhere. But they had places they belonged just fine.
The Country Life
There was a dream I had a lot as a teen.
Our property, and every property in the area I lived (population 229 in the 2010 census) was separated from the road by a culvert, a three-foot-deep trench often overgrown by weeds and never without a couple inches of thick, green water.
In the dream, I was in a canoe, paddling down the culvert, winter-full of water but still choked with weeds. I was paddling the best I could, away from our property, into a nothingness. The dream always ended before I could escape.
My brain is not a subtle one.
I wouldn’t say I was discouraged from having friends or going out. But there were always barriers to interaction. I had to leave a friend’s house after a sleepover by noon so I wouldn’t “be annoying.” Going as far as town was discouraged, for safety reasons. I had a little sister to watch. There were church functions.
I wasn’t allowed to have a job because I needed to focus on school. And getting to a job would have been difficult anyway because I’d have had to ride my bike there, along a highway that log trucks barrelled down with regularity.
The fence around our property that tried to keep out the deer was the bounds of my reality for the majority of my life. A mile down the country road was the church, and the bulk of the population for the area, with the houses of kids that I’d babysit to supplement my $20 a month allowance. One of the houses had the internet and I’d use their MSN chat to role play my X-Men character, the primary way I used the internet beyond looking up facts about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics at school during open study.
Looking back at my old notebooks and sketchbooks, I am pretty sure I was basically unaware of the isolation. I was an angry kid but a well-behaved one who had a rich inner life. And once I moved away to college, the only college that waived the application fees that I couldn’t afford, I never went back.
I mean, so obviously . . .
I’m going to be super truthful. The themes that are now obvious to me in The Audacity Gambit were 100% unintentional. I wasn’t trying to write about defining your own identity, or isolation, or the manipulation of adults. I was just trying to write something that I, as a teen scouring my mom’s thankfully packed library of books, would have finally seen myself in.
And I think I did.
Also published on Medium.