Interrogating Josh

I’m sitting at my favorite coffeeshop with its board games on the walls, its sepia walls and Postmodern Jukebox playing on the speaker. My spot is one of the two comfortable chairs halfway up the length of the shop. My computer is perched on the stand in front of me. I’m not, however, making any headway into my story.

I stop, frustrated, and take a sip of my coffee. I buckle back down to writing, or at least staring at my keyboard.

A voice, a light tenor, spoke close beside me. “May I sit down?” 

I look up to see a slender man with black bangs threatening to fall into his eyes. I know this man; I smile and motion to the seat. “Josh, it’s good to see you.”
“I was in the neighborhood and — ” he shrugged. “I thought I’d come in and talk.” He sat on the other upholstered easy chair.

“You’re just the person I wanted to talk to,” I replied. Josh nodded as if he already knew that. Which, of course, he did, being a figment of my imagination.

Talking to one of my characters always felt eerie, like the veil had lifted between this world and the world I wrote about, which looked remarkably alike except for the presence of Powers. Josh, slight and young as he was, held some of that power, and I could feel it in the economy of his movements, in his direct gaze.

“So, Josh,” I began, a little nervous. “You’ve grown.”

“Not really,” he said wryly, indicating his slight build. “I’ve just gotten older.”

“That’s the point. You know what you want now. You’re not having the puppy crush you had a few years ago.” Josh’s crush on Jeanne Beaumont, the botany professor, was standard knowledge between the two of us. 

“I still want Jeanne. Maybe I can get her to believe me now. But still, I’m …” Josh trailed off, and I finished off the sentence in my mind. Twenty years younger. 

“But this is Jeanne,” I offered. “Jeanne’s not exactly — typical.”

“That’s good. Neither am I,” he smiled ruefully.

That’s an understatement, I thought. I imagined I could feel his ki, his energy bunched up in his solar plexus. True power was always quiet, needing not to introduce itself unless necessary. 

“So, what now?” I asked him out of the companionable silence.

“I introduce myself. Worst that can happen is we end up being friends. Or I make a fool of myself.” He looked at his hands.

“But that’s not going to stop you, is it?”

“No. My gut tells me this is what I need to do.” His gut. His ki. The source of his quiet assuredness.

And this is how the story will start.

Writing from the Dark Side, Part 2

Yesterday, I interrogated the scenario my dark side put forth (which involved moonlight and walking in on someone disrobing) and found out it was not about me at all, but was inside the psyche of Jeanne Beaumont, the heroine of Gaia’s Hands.  Jeanne felt disturbed by the dream because — oh, hell, let me just show you the passage: 

A silver beam from the moonrise sliced through the darkness of her room. In shadows bled of color, Josh stood, the light falling across his face. He tugged his t-shirt off, the beam illuminating a slender chest and burying itself in his dark hair.
“Why are you here?” Jeanne asked, feeling her voice shake.
He met her gaze, his youthful face serious. “For you.”
Jeanne muttered. “I don’t need you,” and turned toward the door to flee.
“You misunderstand.” A smile flitted across his face; the light showing a dimple incongruous to the moment. “It’s my need.”
“No,” Jeanne shook her head, grasping for the door frame to steady herself. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m old enough to be your mother. If I’d started late. This is impossible.”
“If it’s happening, it’s not impossible.” Josh held a hand out —
Jeanne bolted upright from her bed, squinting at her clock’s luminous numbers in the dark. 3:00 AM, the perfect time to have a haunting dream. Josh? She took a panicked breath. And her?
If it’s happening, it’s not impossible, she recalled from the dream.
If it’s happening …
What the hell was happening to her that she began to dream about Josh, that quirky young man she had become friends with?
She knew. He had become more than that quirky young man to her.
He had become compelling to her, and she tried to deny it. “I don’t need you,” she had told him.
But perhaps she did, and he would reject her instead.
My subconscious informed me that, in editing Gaia’s hands, I had lost an important aspect of it, the tension (in part sexual, in part fear of rejection) between Jeanne and Josh. 

Let’s see Josh’s point of view:

Josh wanted. It seemed a perpetual state for him, so much so that he wondered whether he wanted to be Jeanne’s friend or to bed her. Or both. Or everything. He leaned close to his notepad and wrote automatically, ignoring the lock of hair that habitually fell out of place.

I want to be reckless; he wrote. I want to kiss her with everybody watching in the middle of the cafe. I want to take her clothes off in a room where there are thoughts of only us. I want to know her twenty-five years down the road, even though she’ll be seventy-five to my 47 years.
I should care about the age difference, but it doesn’t bother me. It probably bothers her. I would be her child’s age, if she’d chosen to have children. She’s never married. Maybe she didn’t want to get married.
In my most intimate fantasies, she waits for me. In reality, she holds me at arm’s length, and I don’t know if it’s for now or forever.
I want a guarantee where there are no guarantees.
The vision came to him, the garden in its fullness, and Jeanne standing within, naked. All bountiful curves and sags like an ancient goddess. Does one dare to approach a goddess? He walked toward Jeanne in the garden, slowly and deliberately, each footstep pounding in his ears. He reached out –
The vision drifted out of his grasp.

Why does this come from my dark side? It’s a reflection of how I struggle with my age and face the invisibility that women “of a certain age” (I hate that phrase!) experience. The book is, in part, a biological fantasy about outliers — Jeanne, despite her age, represents a fertility goddess with her preternaturally prolific gardens, and Josh, despite his youth, makes a convincing god of the hunt with the inevitability of his pursuit. That’s in addition to the fantasy elements of Josh’s visions and Jeanne’s preternaturally prolific gardens.
I have to edit this book, bring back to it the tension between the two protagonists, add it to the other tensions and menaces. This is my job, to make these fantasies real and complex.

Interrogating Josh Young again

Josh slipped into the seat across from me, looking fey with his slight frame and mischievious smile. “You were looking for me?”

“Josh, how do you feel about Jeanne?” I ask, knowing that I would catch Josh off-guard.

“Oh, boy,” Josh said, taking a deep breath. “I don’t want you telling me she’s old enough to be my mother, or she’s out of my league, or that I have the rest of my life to find someone. I’ve heard all those already, and I haven’t even told my mom about Jeanne yet.” Josh pushed straight black hair out of his almond-shaped brown eyes.

“Ok,” I smiled. “No advice. I just want to know for the sake of this story.”

“Jeanne’s the one. That’s it. No matter what people argue, I know she’s the one I want to marry.” 

“This isn’t just ‘I want to go out with Jeanne, then,” I noted. You’re serious about her. How can you be so certain?”

“At my age?” Josh raises his eyebrows.

I slump in my seat, abashed, because that was exactly what I was thinking.

“What does it mean when you’re certain of something? Does it mean you can read the future? Or that you’re deluding yourself? We never know until it shakes out. My age or my lack of experience doesn’t make that any different than for anyone else.” I definitely had the disadvantage in this debate.

“What if you’re not the one for Jeanne?”

“It’s entirely possible I’m not. But if I don’t end up with Jeanne and I find someone else, I will always remember that she’s not Jeanne.” He squinted and looked in the distance; I wondered if he tried to see that reality.

“Are you attracted to Jeanne?” I venture timidly.

“I am. And you’re surprised, because everything you’ve been told suggests that would never happen. We’re both writers, and we both have active imaginations. Do you really believe in a world where younger men are never attracted to older women? Wouldn’t that world be poorer for it not happening?”

“Yes, it would,” I admitted.


Interrogating Jeanne again

I went back and had another conversation with Jeanne because I’m having trouble getting over the age difference:

“Jeanne, how do you feel about Josh?” I sipped my cup of coffee.

“You mean how should I feel about him, or how do I feel about him?” Jeanne looked at me, woman to woman, simpatico. Both of us wore summer clothes, and only those who knew us would recognize us as highly educated women.

“I need to know how you feel about him if I’m going to write this correctly.”

“He’s an impossibility. I’ve studied sociobiology, and everything I learned tells me that there’s no possibility our relationship should exist. I’m not of childbearing age, so he shouldn’t be attracted to me. He’s not a provider type – “

“Do you know that?” I asked.

“Guilty as charged. Let’s just say he’s a writer, and you should know by now that he’s never going to be rich.” Jeanne chuckled and set her cup down. “If the whole purpose of the human race is to provide another generation of humans …”

“But you don’t believe that,” I challenged Jeanne.

“First,” she emphasized, “I think sociobiology is garbage. The same sociobiologists who assume that the sole purpose of life is procreation assume all human enterprise – travel, art, architecture – exists so that the male of the species can attract the attention of a bed partner.”

“And you’re not waiting for some guy to write a sonnet for you.”

“Oh, God,” Jeanne lamented. “I’d love it if Josh wrote a sonnet for me. How far gone am I?”

“You tell me,” I grinned.

“As I said, Josh is impossible. He made the first move; did I tell you that? I’m sitting there with my computer, and suddenly, I look up and there’s Josh sitting across from me. With this grin and the hair falling in his eyes. I shouldn’t think this, but –”


“I’ve never gone for the traditional. If I wanted a scientist, I’ve been surrounded by them for years. None of them have ever agreed with me – what a statement; they didn’t interest me, especially when they did the ‘Howdy little lady’ thing and told me why I should let the men take care of things. I think it made me more open-minded.”

“And?” I ask. I’m rather enjoying this.

“Josh isn’t typical. He’s not that warrior-hunter type sociobiology tends to promote. He’s bookish, so it’s wonderful to have conversations with him. He’s devoted to his aikido and his writing. He’s – well, he’s not a big guy. That may be an understatement; I don’t think he weighs 130 pounds. Okay, he’s absolutely beautiful, and it drives me crazy because I’m not exactly beautiful.”

“What does he think?” I probe.

“I don’t know. I don’t know if he knows it’s getting serious enough in my mind that I wish we were dating, with all that implies. He hugs me and I’m curious. I have no idea where he stands and I don’t want to scare him off.”

“So you’re going to wait for him to say something first.” 

“I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to be like a cougar or something, and – God, I think he’s a virgin.” Jeanne rubbed her forehead.

“Well, if he’s as bookish as you say he is, then I suspect you’re right. Is it that scary?”

“It’s a lot of responsibility.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” I shrug. We both break out laughing clandestinely, as if caught in something naughty.

Interrogating my characters: Josh Young

I arrived at my favorite chair at the coffeehouse to find Josh already there, mug in hand.

“You’re looking for me, I take it?” I asked, setting my things down.

He looked up at me, brown eyes laughing. “You were looking for me.”

“You are going to give up my chair, right?” 

Grinning, he moved to the other chair.  “You have some questions for me, right?”

I study him — a slight young man with brown-black hair barely long enough to pull into a tail; big brown eyes, slightly oblique;  a long nose, a full lower lip, a fey smile. 

I cut to the chase: “Why Jeanne?”

“You make the assumption everyone does, that there’s no sane reason I should be in love with someone old enough to be my mother. Is there a sane reason to be in love with anyone?”

“Probably not, come to think of it,” I muse. 

“So, let’s look at the insane reasons,” Josh continues. “No woman has ever stood out to me the way Jeanne does. It’s like walking through a forest in a fog, and you can’t see any of the trees clearly so they don’t seem real, and then there’s one tree you see with perfect clarity, and you realize that’s the tree you’re looking for.”

“Except the tree is a woman, and the woman is Jeanne.”

“Exactly. And she wasn’t just a good enough tree — ” Josh chuckles. “Enough of that metaphor. When she said we should just be friends and see what happens, I couldn’t be mad because that’s what needed to be said. And that’s another insane reason — we balance each other. Like the taijitu — the yin and yang. My yin, her yang and vice versa.

“And then there are the visions …”

“Visions?” I ask.

“When I first met Jeanne, I had a vision of her as the tender of a riotous garden with vines and plants and trees laden with fruit. More greens than I could put a name to, and she, a voluptuous woman, stood in their midst. How could I not engage with such a woman?”

I consider telling him he’s not the typical twenty-year-old male, but that goes without saying. “What do you think the vision is about?” I ask.

“I think,” he reflects, “it’s about Gaia.”

Bonus post: Interrogating Jeanne Beaumont

(For those of you relatively new to the blog, “interrogating” is when I interview a character in my novel to get insight into their character and motivations.)

I sit on my favorite easy chair at the coffeehouse, musing. How do I explain a relationship — a solid relationship? — between a twenty year old male and a forty-five year old female? Is that even possible? The biology is against it …

A sturdy woman with greying chestnut hair in a ponytail sits down at the chair next to me and sets her latte on the table. “You want an explanation, don’t you?” she shrugs. “What if there is no explanation?”

“Jeanne,” I caution her. “There’s always an explanation. Even for you and Josh.”

“Look, I’m a biologist. A plant biologist, maybe, but I know at least some of the animal side of things. A sociobiologist would say my relationship with Josh shouldn’t exist — he should be looking for a young thing he can make babies with, and I — well, I shouldn’t bother looking. Older women are obsolete in the biological world.”

“You don’t buy that,” I challenge. “You and I are both here, and biologically, older women notice young men. After all, cougars exist.”

Jeanne burst out laughing. “I’m hardly a cougar.  I’m a pretty solid woman who’s grown comfortable with her single life. And then came Josh.” She took a long sip of her latte. “I can’t find an explanation. Society says — those pesky sociobiologists again — that women should have no patience with young men because they don’t know where they’re going in life. But then again … ” Jeanne paused for another drink of latte. “Then again, isn’t the belief that any of us know where we’re going to be tomorrow a bit of an illusion?”

I think of my marriage late in life, my developing career as a writer. “I think you might have something there.”

“Understanding that something, anything can interrupt our trajectory frees one up to look at a situation differently. Stability has to be balanced with resiliency. Although evolution favors the random mutation that happens to work with change in lower creatures, humans can adapt on the fly to changes. So someone like me can be an outlier and maybe that’s a good thing.”

“Enough of the biology, Jeanne,” I chuckle. “Why you and Josh?”

“I have trouble believing in mysticism, you know, but it’s almost something like that. Like, when he showed up at that table that night, we connected. I do alone pretty well, listening to the music and typing on my computer, but when he showed up, I wanted to be in his presence. It was a momentary ego trip spending time with such a beautiful young man, I suppose, but it was more than that. It was like he said to me, ‘I know where I want to go, and I want to go there with you.’ And what he said made perfect sense, if I wanted to tell society to go hang. And I did. I never have regarded what I’m ‘supposed’ to do with much love.”

“So you and Josh were supposed to be,” I teased Jeanne. “Which flies in the face of biology.”

“You would have to say that,” Jeanne muttered. “I feel foolish looking at it that way.”

“But that’s the way Josh would look at it.”

“Yes, it is,” Jeanne mused. “And he might be right.”

Interrogating Laurel Smith

I sit in the Garden at Barn Swallows’ Dance — a sacred place that exists nowhere but in my imagination. Dappled sunshine flashes as a breeze stirs the twinned apple trees that sit atop a mound. It could be spring or winter, because in the Garden time makes no difference; the Garden remains protected by an unseen force.

 A petite woman with curly golden locks walks into the Garden. “I’m sorry — ” she says and makes a motion to leave.

“No, it’s okay,” I tell her. “I already know your secrets.”

“Oh.” She drops down next to me as if deflated. “How do you know my secrets?”

“It’s okay. I’m the writer.”

Laurel takes a deep breath, and her demeanor changes. The timid shell evaporates and she holds herself with purpose. “You know who I am, then.”

“An Archetype. An immortal.” I pause, gathering my words so I don’t give away more than she’s ready to hear. “A holder of human patterns, of cultural memory. Our cultural DNA.”

“Yes. I can feel it — I’m a part of something bigger than me.” In her voice I hear a shadow of millennia, of great personal power, of weariness. “But I  don’t know what that is. I’m told that I’m six thousand years old, but I remember nothing except the past twelve years.” Laurel gave a wry smile. “Twelve years of living underground without an identity, hiding the freakish parts of me that I’ve just learned are my legacy.”

“I promise that you will get your memories back. You will know who you are.” Again, I pause, because I know her future, with all its strife, and its unbelievable burden.

“I think Adam knows, but he’s not telling,” Laurel sighed. “Adam can be pretty annoying at times.”

“But you like him,” I prompt.

“I’m afraid so.” Laurel smiles sardonically; dimples show in her cheeks. “He’s endearing, even when he’s being arrogant.” Her smile fades. “But he knows who I was. Who I am. He’s hiding something, and I don’t know what he’s hiding. And — “


“I’m afraid to find out.”

Interrogating the villain — Harold from Voyageurs

Harold strolls up to me while I’m sitting at my computer typing. I feel his presence before he speaks, and I look up.

“Harold Martin,” he says, shaking my hand and sitting down across from me. “But you can call me King.” His air is self-deprecating arrogance, as if the arrogance was a put-on, but I can feel the tentacles of the con reaching out for me.

“Hello, Harold,” I respond firmly. “What can I do for you?”

“I have a favor to ask,” he said smoothly. “No — hear me out.”

I sat there, waited for the pitch.

“You’re writing this book, right? The one where people keep messing up my arm?” He gave me a knife-sharp smile. “There’s no reason you couldn’t let me win, right?”

“Well, except for the fact your goal is the obliteration of humanity, no.” I paused, curious. “Why do you want to obliterate humanity?”

“I want to be best at something. To do something nobody else has done.” His eyes glittered, and I understood at that moment that the suave exterior contained an evil insanity.

I spoke carefully, knowing that I sat across from a madman. “Why do you have to be the best?”

“My brother was always the best. My father said I wasn’t manly enough, and he did anything he could to make me more manly. It worked — I became what my father wanted. Still it wasn’t enough; my brother got all the compliments. I finally found a way to deal with both my father and brother, who disappeared in 2003. Families go missing all the time.” He smiled, and this time it was a genuine smile that reached his eyes.

I felt my muscles crawl, and I counted the steps to the exit.

Meet Sunshine Walton

As I peered into my computer screen, a low and modulated voice broke into my reverie. “May I sit down?”

I look up, and the cafe became solid again. A tall, slender woman with brown skin and fine black braids pulled into a sleek bun stood with her hand on the back of the chair facing me. She is dressed in a red skirt suit with sensible black heels. Her air of calm competence left me feeling a bit awkward.

“Sure,” I said, nodding to the chair.

She reached down to shake my hand. “My name is Sunshine Walton. You asked to see me?”

Oh, I thought. Oh. Of course I had asked to see her. I had thought I needed to see my characters for my latest book more clearly. I hadn’t guessed … “Yes — yes. I did ask to see you. I just didn’t expect you so — quickly.”

Sunshine smiled bemusedly. “Did you want to ask me some questions?” She sat straight, almost primly, in her chair.

“Yes. What is your background?”

“I’m a military brat.” She sobered. “I think we moved five times by the time I finished high school — no, six. ” She chuckled, a low pleasant sound. “I got to see the world. It was a strange childhood. It was hard to get to know anyone outside my family, because then they’d leave, or we’d leave. It was a vivid and lonely childhood.”

“Any romances in your life?” I wasn’t sure that was a good question to ask, but I asked it anyhow.

“Oh, I had a grand romance in high school — that was ages ago …” Sunshine chuckled. “I was convinced he was the love of my life, and then — “

“Then what?” I asked impatiently.

“We moved again. Apparently it couldn’t last long-distance. He never wrote. Since then, I’ve been too busy to have a relationship — college, finding a job in my field …” Sunshine gazed in the distance, then shrugged.

“What is your field?”

“Accounting. But I also have some management skills. I think I have an innate talent for management, but I thought accounting was safer.”

“Safer?” I queried.

“More likely to get a job. I don’t like the thought of starving.” Sunshine raised her eyebrows. “That’s why my dad ended up in the military, I guess.”

“One more question,” I stated. “How do you feel about Santa Claus?”

Sunshine laughed. “I haven’t believed in Santa since I was seven. I guess he’s a good thing for the children. I suppose if I have kids, I’ll do the Santa thing with them, but …” Her voice trailed off as she gazed into the distance, then she shook herself.  She checked her watch. “I have to go — I have an appointment across town in fifteen minutes.”  She stood in an efficient motion, nodded to me, and strode out the door.

I smiled. Sunshine’s studied calm was about to be upended by a bit of Christmas magic.

Interrogating Daniel

I finally got an hour of writing yesterday. Not a good hour — I really need to get a feel for my characters again, because it’s been so long since I visited Whose Hearts are Mountains, given my editing forays …

I sit in the cafe with its bright light, tables and chairs from some old diner, and shelves of board games against the wall. Inspiration fails me; I stare at the letters I typed into my story. I’m bored with the story, bored with the process of writing.

A tall, lightly muscled man with black braided hair and dark skin strolls into the cafe. He is not like anyone else in the cafe; his presence washes the atmosphere with a certain surreality. I watch him order coffee, trade banter with the owner, and amble toward me.

“I’m Daniel,” he says in a resonant baritone. “You must be Lauren.” He reaches his hand out to shake mine. His grip is firm, his hand dwarfs mine.

“I am,” I respond, “but how did you know that?”

His speech is easy, slow like honey. “Because you’re my writer. You wanted to get to know me.” He leans back in his chair as if settling back to tell a story.

“Tell me a little about yourself.”

He chuckles. “You sound like my mother, the anthropologist. She can always get a story out of someone that way.” He pauses, large hand wrapped around the coffee cup. Black coffee, of course. “I’m an Archetype, an immortal, but unauthorized. Earthbound, we call it.” He takes a long sip of coffee. “My mother is the Kiowa Archetype, my father Valor Burris, the Archetype engendered to hold the cultural DNA of the African diaspora. I was born as an experiment, I guess, to create an Archetype Earthside, as it were. We didn’t know about Lilith at the time. She’s been around far longer than I have.”

“An experiment?” I ask. “I thought Archetypes weren’t good at creating new things.”

“Those of us who are Earthbound, whether unauthorized or drawn Earthside like my mother, have spent a lot of time around humans. We’ve picked up a lot of things from them including, I have to admit, coffee and cozy spaces.” He studied the coffee mug, then raised his eyes to mine. “We are babes in the wood compared to humans, who have shorter lives but more extensive folklore, more skills handed down from generation to generation, more identity as part of a whole. Except for the Earthbound, our generations do not interact, and each of us have to earn our limited experience anew. Thus we do not create — but we among the Earthbound are developing abilities to synthesize information, to create. This is frightening to other Archetypes, which is why we’re prohibited from entering InterSpace, the Archetypes’ dwelling place.”

“You’re not allowed in InterSpace?”

“No,” Daniel sighed. “We are Prometheus. We carry fire to our people, and we are punished for it.”