As is usually the case for me with posts like this, several things sort of converged this week. A maelstrom of thinky-thoughts, cauterized by a few news articles.
Last week the Women Destroy Science Fiction! anthology was funded on Kickstarter with over 1000% its funding. This week the Daily Dot ran a story about how some established science fiction and fantasy authors and an editor or two got super misogynistic in a forum thread…forgetting it was public. And finally, a museum in Pittsburgh is running an exhibit about women in comics.
Well, what do you know? These things are more than peripherally connected.
Most tellingly, perhaps, is this quote by cartoonist Hilda Terry, referenced in the link above about the comic exhibit. The context is that she was responding to being rejected from the National Cartoonists Society (the bylaws of which prohibited women from joining). She suggested they change their name to “National Men’s Cartoonists Society,” and here’s the relevant quote:
“Gentlemen: While we are, individually, in complete sympathy with your wish to convene unhampered by the presence of women, and while we would, individually, like to continue, as far as we are concerned, the indulgence of your masculine whim, we find that the cost of your stag privilege is stagnation for us, professionally.”
The rather disappointing thing about her quote is this: it could have been written yesterday. It wasn’t; it was written in 1949.
All of these things are connected by something rather simple: even when women are a minority or participating equally, we are perceived as dominating. There have been multiple studies (here’s one from Cambridge) that show that when there are an equal number of women present, both men and women feel like women are the majority. Studies that debunk the idea that women talk more. Studies that show that men are more likely to find female managers domineering and that even when women are in a distinct numerical minority, they may be perceived as dominating the conversation or group.
These findings are glaringly evident in the case of the SFWA forum kerfuffle. The men involved seem to think that just women being around poisons their fun. And when you factor in last year’s SFWA bulletin fiascos, it’s clear that those who think this way are fine with women if and only if women are paper dolls onto which they can paint chain mail bikinis and discuss their relative hotness.
Sure, in some ways we’ve come a long way from 1949. In others, I’m not sure we’ve progressed at all. The eerie sense of synchronicity I felt when I read Hilda Terry’s words and the forum posts by Sean Fodera was unnerving.
Shifting gears slightly, today they announced the all-female Expendables film. I’ve a fuzzy soft spot for the Expendables movies. They’re full of boom and badassery, and when I heard an all-female installment was in production, I was super excited. Until I saw the logline. Apparently the only story line they could think of was to make this team pose as high-class call girls to infiltrate a dictator’s home.
This sparked a long Twitter discussion this afternoon, and this is where this post’s title comes in.
As someone who creates fantasy worlds professionally (still excited to say that), I’ve given a lot of thought lately to how I build those worlds. What aspects of this one that go into it. Primarily, how I portray women and people of color — if at all. It’s no secret that fiction is dominated by white men. I’ve a running joke in our home with film trailers I see. White men in space! White men in the west! White men solving crimes! White men under the sea! White men on a boat! There’s nothing wrong with white men — but there are so many other people on this earth who just aren’t represented in our fiction.
The same principles above pertain to issues of race and ability and class and sexual orientation as well — when a minority is even given parity in fiction or in life, they are perceived as dominating. This diverse world that we live in is reduced to one or two demographics, and those of us who don’t fit into those demographics are expected to conform, to accept, and to relate to the protagonists who aren’t us.
When the tables are turned, that same expectation vanishes. “I just don’t relate to female protagonists.” “Well, there’s this one film with a Black lead, so you can’t say they’re not represented.” Those who are in a position of power have the privilege to ignore media that doesn’t fit their comfort zones; those who do not occupy that position of power do not have that option most of the time.
Which is why I wanted to write this post. I know there are a lot of like-minded writers out there. Writers who find that the diversity in our world is its biggest strength. Writers who want to see sexism and racism go the way of the dodo. (But can we bring back dodos? They’re cool.)
So here’s my challenge.
When you are a writer, you are god. You spin whole universes out of ink and ones and zeroes and paper and graphite and toil. You build empires and crush them. You annex nations and raise up dictators and stomp on monarchies. You make magic.
But all too often, we think and create within the confines of the world within which we live. Stories need the truth of humanity; they don’t need our most systemic failings.
Fantasy worlds don’t need institutionalized sexism or racism to have conflict. In fact, reliance on the things that have plagued our society (even though they still do) is, frankly, lazy. You are god. CREATE. SOMETHING. NEW.
Not everyone needs to be white. Tell stories where you explore new kinds of conflict, where women go through the world without the constant threat of rape or assault hanging over their heads like a smarmy cloud of nasty. Sexism and racism and all the other -isms don’t exist in your fantasy worlds unless you put them there.
For some reason, I think people assume that removing those basic, obvious, go-to -isms will somehow make all conflict vanish into a boring utopia.
Not so. Read Hunger Games lately? I can’t think of a single moment in the books where Katniss faced opposition on the basis of her gender. Where sexual violence was a threat to her. Where anyone underestimated her because she was a her. Collins almost entirely removed sexism from the books — and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a soul who’d tell you those books lack conflict. Race was also almost a non-issue (until you come to the film adaptations and whitewashing and all that jazz).
My point is not that we shouldn’t incorporate aspects of our reality into our fiction; it’s that from a creative standpoint, some of the sad frameworks of our world are bad enough in the real world — and have been done to death in fiction already. You as a creator are the reason everything in your story exists. The responsibility for representing people — whether it’s women or people of color or people with disabilities or Joffrey Baratheon — that’s on you. What you write comes from you. It may be conscious. It may be subconscious. But ultimately what you put on paper is your responsibility.
This is something that’s not just directed outward; I fully direct it inward as well. I need these lessons. I need to kick down the walls of this box just as much as anyone. My challenge for all of us is to do so cognizant of the impact fiction has on the world. Some people would rather fiction reflect a status quo clung to with bent-back fingernails and gnashing of teeth. Personally, I think fiction can be the catalyst for a more diverse and tolerant world.
Because to wrap this all up, those guys flailing and wailing in the SFWA forums and calling women dogs and interlopers — well. Their fears aren’t entirely unfounded. Inviting women to the table does change the conversation at the table. Inviting people of color to the table changes the conversation. Inviting people who are not you to the table changes the conversation. That’s the beauty of it.
So, writers — gods all* — let us change the world with our words.
To quote Chuck Wendig, “Art harder, motherfucker.”
*Some are majestic gods who fart rainbows and leave trails of glitter. Some are gods who go around in tight white briefs scratching their arses. I may or may not be the latter.
You don’t actually need a claymore to query, but it might help you feel more awesome.
I don’t often write about writing-related stuff these days (let’s be honest — I haven’t been blogging about erm…anything lately for the most part), but Capclave inspired me. It struck me that the writing world has changed dramatically in the past ten years, and the process of publication has shifted a lot even in the past two. For new writers starting out who are sure they want to become traditionally published (instead of independently publishing), that means querying.
There are a lot of ways to find an agent.
Okay, scratch that. There are a lot of ways people have found their agents.
I was on a panel about agents at Capclave, and it was a reminder of this. Of the four of us, two had gotten agents in ways that are not precisely the statistical norm. Here are a few of those not-so-common ways:
- Meet at a conference and sweep your agent away on a sea of roses.
- Get a referral to Don Maass or Merrilee Heifetz or Janet Reid and sweep yourself away on a sea of roses. (Or sharks, in the case of the latter.)
- Start querying with an offer in hand from a major publisher.
- Receive an email or a tweet from an agent interested in you because of your blog/indie published bestseller/hilarious appearance on a daytime talk show/published op-ed in the NYT/etc.
- Get plucked out of a contest and surf the sea of roses.
Those ways are all pretty awesome. There’s really only one problem: that’s not how most people manage to find an agent. And those ways are not exactly things you can bank on unless you’re very well connected within the publishing world.
If I had to guess (and if you find some Solid Data-like Stuff on this subject, please plop it in the comments), I’d say that at the very, very least, 75% of new authors find their agents through the slushpile.
So what’s the slushpile? It’s the masses of unsolicited submissions agents (and editors) get in their inboxes. At first glance, that sounds inherently disheartening, especially when you add to that the fact that many agents get hundreds of queries per week.
Query (n.) That maddening 250 word letter in which you stake your sanity on the ability to sum up and make coherent the entire plot, voice, and characterization of a 400ish page novel.
But I love slush. I absolutely love it. For new writers without connections, slush is The Great Equalizer. It’s also a proving ground.
Which is why I rather like to think of querying as….a quest.
I mean, I’m a fantasy writer. What did you expect?
QueryQuest Part 1: Find Your Sam
A few lines up, I called querying a proving ground. That’s true on many levels. It also means that there are several things you need if you’re going to be successful.
The first real thing you need when you embark on QueryQuest is Samwise Mothafucking Gamgee.
“Emmie,” you’re saying, “What the HELL do you mean?”
I’m getting there, Frodo. Mind if I call you Frodo? I’m going to anyway.
Your Sam is your story. It’s the stalwart centerpiece of your quest, even if you might THINK that honor belongs to the Precious. You know how fickle that damn hunk of metal is. Your Sam is your reason to keep going. Choose your Sam wisely. Sometimes you might assume you’ve found Sam, when indeed you’ve found an orc wearing a half-eaten goat as a hat instead. Without a great story, without your Sam, you ain’t getting nowhere near Mount Doom, Frodo.
Your Sam will get you farther than you can get yourself. Without your Sam, you’re just trudging through bogs with a gaggle of disgruntled Nazgul on your tail. Doors slam in your face, your mom tells you that you smell, and you’ll end up farting in important meanings out of sheer nervousness. It’s tough to know if you’ve really got Sam by your side, but if you put in the work, you can be pretty sure. Finish what you write, get trusted eyes to give you feedback, listen to that feedback, and then polish, polish, polish. Keep your heart open and your skin thick, and you’ll find your Sam.
Ready to get trekking?
Nope. Not yet.
QueryQuest Part 2: Listen to Gandalf, Ya Idjit
Okay, so I might have been channeling Bobby Singer a bit there.
Seriously, though. Gandalf gives you your roadmap. He’s the one at your ear telling you to keep it secret, keep it safe. He knows his shit, dude. Listen to him.
Gandalf is the ropes you need to learn. Querying ain’t easy, Frodo. It takes a lot of hard work to make it to Mount Doom, and finding your Sam is only part of it. The nifty-super-rad secret, though? Listening to Gandalf makes it easier. And here’s why.
Gandalf knows why going into the Mountains of Moria is bad juju, Frodo. Gandalf knows the pitfalls that will get you rejected faster than you can say, “Balrog.” Very simply, Gandalf is your submission guidelines. Do your research before you start sending out queries willy-nilly. You don’t want to end up with a Nazgul blade lodged in your chest on the top of Weathertop, do you?
I didn’t think so. Agency guidelines are easy to find. Google is your friend (it’s pretty much like Gandalf’s staff). There’s no excuse for fudging this part.
Here’s why it’s important:
Simply following the damn instructions puts you ahead of a hefty chunk of queriers out there.
Did you catch that bit? Read it again. My agent’s told me about the number of middle grade queries she gets every week. She doesn’t REP middle grade. At all. But they keep coming. My friend’s agent deletes all queries that don’t follow instructions. They’re almost never as terrifying as some of the things Gandalf tells Frodo, so you should just save yourself the trouble and follow directions.
I promise you, if you have your Sam and listen to Gandalf, you will traipse into Mordor without too much hassle. Agents will read your work.
Here’s where it gets tricksy (because it was bound to get tricksy, and you know it).
QueryQuest Part 3: Be Frodo, Not Gollum
Trouble making that compute? Once more.
Basically, keep your cool, Frodo. Be Frodo, not Gollum. Don’t be Smeagol, either. You’re trying to get a literary agent, not a one-way ticket to the funny farm. Be professional, be polite, and keep your sword sheathed in public.
The road to Mordor is fraught with all sorts of insanity, but you don’t want to let that show when you have agents peeking at your social media pages.
While inside you may be feeling like this after your umpteenth rejection:
You need to pretend it’s all (full!) pints of ale and Longbottom leaf. Find a few trusted friends who won’t wig out at you if you have a momentary Gollum flash, but keep any stupid comments in your pocket. (Have a The Room reference, just to spice things up a bit.)
And just because we need to complicate things a bit more, onto the last bit.
QueryQuest Part 4: That Fickle Precious
I bet you were wondering when this would come in. Here it is! The Precious. The One Ring.
Why go to Mordor without it? Without it, it’s just a long trek with only stale elven biscuits for fodder. Ew.
Here’s the deal with the Precious.
The One Ring is the market. ”The market?” you ask. “Emmie, how much Longbottom leaf have you been smoking?”
The One Ring IS the market. It’s what books are selling and why. Six years ago, if you had a solid vampire novel and a dream, you’d probably be snapped up before you could say, “Hello, Cullens.” Nowadays, if you have a vampire novel, you better have trussed that sucker up with underwater basket weaving or something equally random to make it fresh enough for an agent to even entertain the idea of representing you with it.
The craptastic thing about the Precious is that it yearns for Sauron. You can do everything right, and it’ll still trip you into a bog of the dead.
But here’s the plus side of the Precious.
The Precious isn’t personal. Sure, it might make you feel nuts sometimes, especially if you discover a book with a similar premise to yours just sold for upper six figures and made some debut author’s LIFE. But when you’re on your QueryQuest, the Precious is why you desperately need your Sam. You need a killer story. Your Sam is how you can find representation when the market doesn’t prove there’s a place for your book. Your Sam is how you can find an agent even if the Precious is whispering that your premise has been done before. Your Sam is what will haul you up the slopes of Mount Doom to your goal.
Agents pass on manuscripts for myriad reasons. Sometimes they see that your Sam is all there, but that you’re just not the droids they’re looking for. (Okay, still working on that bit of the metaphor.) Sometimes it’s the Precious, and they just don’t want to invoke Sauron if they can avoid it. Sometimes wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey just ain’t on your side. It happens.
Your QueryQuest can be difficult, but this is why I love the slushpile: if you have your Sam, your Gandalf to guide you, the Precious, and a staunch commitment NOT to be Gollum, you are already at the Black Gate while others are still bumbling about the Shire, trying to find the Brandywine River. If you have a great story and some professionalism and you manage to follow directions (I swear, it kills me how many people see agent guidelines and pull a Pirates of the Caribbean with them and assume they’re guidelines to be disposed of when desired), you will get close. Not only that, but if you keep at it, you’ll find success and get to drop that Precious into the fires of Mount Doom with aplomb.
The harsher truth about QueryQuest is that you may not have the tools you think you have. That’s where companions come in. Merry and Pippin, Aragorn and Legolas, Gimli and Eowyn — those are your betas and critique partners. They’ll help you get (and stay) on the path you’re supposed to tread.
How’d you get to Mount Doom? Through the slush? Did you snag a referral or a deal before finding your agent? Tell us your stories in the comments…just remember to be Frodo, not Gollum. The Eye of Sauron sees many things.
Want some more info about finding agents? Check out Nathan Bransford’s blog as well as Query Shark, because Janet Reid is a BOSS.
And for some levity to break up the QueryQuest, check out Nathan Bransford’s Publishing Process in GIF Form.
Grumpy Cat is the reason for the season.
I’ve been having a weird month. I don’t have a fiction project in full swing, I’m working a lot at the day job, and frankly, things have felt sort of stagnant. I spent May, June, and July in a sort of whirlwindy flurry of activity. Starting Searching for SuperWomen, frantically revising a book for submission, working a heap at the day job, trying to plan myriad things so that the autumn will allow me to do what I have to do without making our finances implode. Busy stuff.
When August rolled around, I looked at the pile of Could Be work. Starting a new book. Moving SfSW forward…somehow. Blogging. Everything.
And something in me turned two years old and relearned a two-year-old’s favorite word: NO.
When August hit, something in me said NO. I obviously haven’t been blogging around here. There have been days in August where nothing went up on SfSW, and I didn’t fill the gap myself. I attempted to start writing a new book and then set it aside and read four books instead.
Part of my mental aversion to the flurry I’d been caught up in for three months stems from normal life stuff. We gave our notice for this hellacious apartment, but had nowhere lined up to move. We had to be out in 60 days…then 50 days…then 45 days. We looked at apartments and heard that word again: no. We found a glorious, perfect place, and they said NO. Because people think huskies are aggressive. All the work I’d been doing at the gym and in karate for months didn’t seem to be paying off when it came time to get on the scale. I was frustrated, discouraged, and exhausted.
This week, my schedule flopped around and gave me three days off. At first, my thoughts were, “I’m going to go to the gym every day! I’m going to write 10,000 words of the new book! I’m going to write blog posts and re-start Confessions of a Star Trek N00b and watch three whole series of Doctor Who and maybe all of Battlestar Gallactica and OH, I’m also going to bead and maybe go hiking and…and….and….”
Putting aside both my clear inability to compartmentalize time and my unwillingness factor the number of available, non-sleeping hours in a day into the above smorgasbord of activities, when Sunday rolled around, my gears came to a screeching halt of NO.
And I realized instead that this was me:
The Bluths get it.
And maybe this:
Because when Sunday happened, nothing else did. I looked at the list I’d inscribed on the inside of my rib cage, and when Spouse said, “Hey, wanna go see Wolverine?” I said, “YES.”
We didn’t end up seeing Wolverine. Instead we ended up having a nice lunch together and then deciding to go up to a local orchard. We bought fresh white peaches and two huge bunches of basil, some black raspberry jam and four pounds of raspberries…that we picked ourselves.
Fresh picked raspberries. NOM.
Those are, in actuality, our raspberries above.
We came home and cooked a beautiful homemade, part locally sourced pesto for dinner. We ate and watched TV and relaxed. And on Monday, I got up, bought Spouse’s birthday present, went to karate, and worked out at the gym. On Tuesday, I did nothing. Almost…nothing at all. I didn’t write a single blog post. I didn’t pen a single word of the new novel. Instead I read a book and puttered around the internet. The only thing that actually happened on Tuesday was that Spouse and I went to check out an apartment.
Sometimes saying NO is the best thing you can do for yourself. I’ve taken a day or so to reevaluate several things. What I want out of this autumn, and what I’m willing to do to get it. I have my zombie race in October, followed by a move, followed by a visit from my fabulous friend Kristin and our time at Capclave. I want to go to the Salute to Supernatural convention in Burbank at the end of November. Those things are all going to require some work on the front end. And a lot of it.
If you are still reading and not picking your nose and wondering whether the sky might turn orange today, you might have caught the word “race” in the previous paragraph. I’m running one. There are obstacles to go with it. And zombies that chase you. Because of that, my fitness level is something that needs my attention. It’s not currently bad, but I’m still carrying around 10 or so pounds I’d rather not be carrying when the zombies come.
Here are the things that occupy my list of Things To Happen for the autumn:
2. Race/Belt Progression
3. New Novel
4. Growing SfSW
Those four things require a lot of extra work, a lot of mental energy, and frankly, they require my face getting peeled off the floor this week.
It’s the second day of my work week, and today I woke up ready to reevaluate. It’s like I graduated from the terrible twos of my days off. Part of my feeling of NO I’M DONE last week I think stemmed from the feeling that I’m in control of nothing. Our housing situation, my writing career, whether SfSW gets fifty views in a day or 300 — all of those things feel out of reach. Part of my reevaluation has been to focus on the things over which I do have control. Those last ten pounds giving me trouble? I know my body, I know my metabolism (such as it is, which is crap), I know what I need to do to make it happen. I want to have the financial freedom to relax with Kristin when she’s here and not have to work at all? I need to pick up shifts now and not go out to eat (which, bonus, helps with the whole nutrition thing). I want to survive my zombie race? I need to hit the gym even when I’m tired.
I think part of my three days of NO was my way of taking back some modicum of control. For toddlers, learning the word NO is the first act in having agency over themselves. Their first way of expressing when they would rather be doing something else. Until that point, they are limited by their parents. Told when to eat and sleep and go here and go there, and when they finally learn that they can also use this word that has been applied to them to get them to stop yanking on the dog’s tail, they go nuts with it. It allows them to feel like they have some control over their tiny lives.
But the kicker at the end of all this is that there are things I can control. I can control what I put in my body and stop my denial about how my own personal body works. I can control the weights I lift, how much I run, and how often I stretch after karate. The work I do today and tomorrow and the day after that dictates the freedom I’ll have to go to the conferences I want to go to. I can control those things. I can.
It may sound a little silly, but the epiphany I’ve had this week stems from the serenity prayer. I’m an agnostic, but it still holds a lot of wisdom. This week I’ve found some of the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I’ve rediscovered the courage I need to change what I can, and sometimes saying NO to the noise gives you the quiet necessary to know what the difference is.
Here’s to a new beginning.
Oh, and we got the apartment we looked at Tuesday.
Hello, gentle viewers!
I’ve decided to offer critique services for the summer. From now through September (possibly beyond, depending on my schedule), I’ll be available to critique short stories, partial manuscripts, and full manuscripts. I’ve done a lot of critiquing and beta reading for friends and acquaintances in the past, and I have a great eye for structure, characterization, and pacing as well as myriad other elements of fiction. If you’re stuck on your manuscript or just want extra eyes on it, I can help you whip it into shape and get it to sing you songs. Or do the dance of joy, if you prefer.*
I’m more than happy to read all sorts of genres. If you need references, I can send you to chat with people I’ve done critiques for in the past. Rates are below!
- First ten pages: $30
- First 50 pages: $110
- Partial manuscript (100-200 pages): $2 per page
- Full manuscript (200+ pages): $1.75 per page
- Short story rate will be on a case by case basis depending on length
Page rates will be calculated based on the work being in typical manuscript format (double spaced, 1 inch margins, etc.). My turnaround time will be between 72 hours and two weeks, depending on the length of the work.
My basic critique will consist of:
- Structural analysis
- Cohesion of story elements (dialogue, backstory, internalizations, setting, emotion, etc.)
I will both write out a letter with the major points addressed AND use Track Changes in your document to leave comments throughout the work. Additionally, I’m happy to meet with you via Skype or Google Hangouts for 30 minutes to discuss my notes with you in more detail.
Payment will be accepted through PayPal. Payment is due before I start to work on your critique. I focus on constructive comments and will never tell you that something is “wrong” with your work. If I feel something isn’t working, I will always give you a way to improve it or shift it so that your words and your intent for your story have the chance to shine. While a critique isn’t the same as a line edit or a copy edit, I’ll try to also note any typos or grammar errors as I go, mostly because I’m incapable of ignoring them. My OCD is your bonus gift with purchase.
If you have any questions, please address them to emmie at emmiemears.com or click over to my contact form and drop me a line. Ready to sign up? Email me the following info:
- Your name (Author McWriterson)
- Your manuscript’s category and genre (Adult Urban Merpeople in Swamp Fantasy or YA Sea Urchin Sci-Fi)
- Word count and page count of your manuscript (81,000 words, 392 pages)
- Any specific issues you want me to look for (I overuse the word “effulgent” or my secondary characters feel flatter than Nebraska)
After I receive your information, I’ll reply with payment instructions. As soon as I get the payment, I’ll send you an estimated completion date, and you can sit back and drink a mimosa while I get to work!
I’d greatly appreciate any shares/RTs of this post! Thank you all for coming by!
Below is a testimonial for your reading pleasure.
Emmie Mears provides the most detailed and insightful critiques. Her notes and observations helped me focus my editing process when I was bogged down in an endless cycle of drafts and revisions. A more well-read and perceptive critic for your manuscript would be hard to find. -Testimonial from Eleni Sakellis
*I’m not magical, and even though I have Hermione’s wand, it doesn’t work for me. Chances of an actual manuscript singing and/or dancing post-critique are slim to none.
This very belated bit of flash fiction written for my 1200th Twitter follower, Paul (@Orbital_Habitat). He gave me the prompts: woodlands, strange lights in the sky, and a twist. I hope you enjoy it!
The trees close in around me like the throng of people who are supposed to be out here, stocked with marshmallows and beer. The night sheathes the trees in darkness, but the light of the full moon turns them to silhouettes. The same light makes my skin a pallid gray against the bright purple of my shirt. I don’t like that.
I rub my hands over my gray arms. “Where the hell are you guys?”
No one answers, but a brief strain of music reaches my ears. My feet crunch twigs in time with the beat. It grows louder as I walk toward it.
This is what we get for having our graduation party out in the middle of cow-tipping nowhere. There are no cows here, though. Just trees. And the reverberation of a bass line. Dub step in the forest.
In the canopy of trees above my head, lights flicker. I squint up at them, but they don’t return.
The music’s louder now. No wonder no one heard me calling. I pull out my mobile and shake it as if the movement will give me 4G service to tweet about this. Wandering through the woods in 140 characters or less.
Another flicker of light appears up ahead, this time at ground level. I rub my hands over my arms again, anticipating the warmth of the fire. I squint ahead. I don’t remember there being a clearing at the party spot. I look up through the branches, hoping for a glimpse of starlight, but even the moon’s gone behind a ribbon of clouds. I follow the ruddy glow of the fire and the pulse of the music.
The fire vanishes.
There are trees in front of me, blocking my view. I skirt to the side, looking around the trunks. I can’t see the fire, but the music continues to beat, the rhythm pausing, varying. I should be almost to the fire now. I should hear voices, see movement. But there’s nothing.
Something flickers above my head, but when I look up, it’s gone.
The trees open up to expose a clearing. A few smoldering embers dot the ground, still glowing red. They trail off to the right.
The song ends. Silence greets me. I walk toward the embers, peering at them. Where’d the fire go? Where the hell is everyone? It’s not just like you can pick up a campfire and run away. Talk about burning a hole in your pocket.
The ground feels warm even through the soles of my thin flip-flops. The moonlight is gone. Even without the dense branches overhead, no light permeates the clearing.
My feet slip. The ground crumbles away beneath them.
My hands scrabble at the dirt. One palm comes down on an ember, and I yell. The scent of my burning skin reaches my nose. I’m sliding backward, legs swinging below me. I dig my fingers deep into the loamy soil, through a layer of pine needles.
I twist my head around, look down.
Lights blaze into being. Hundreds of lights. White dots. Incandescent suns.
My fingers give out.
I fall into the brightness.