Things She Loves: Author Scott Lynch responds to a critic of the character Zamira Drakasha, a black woman pirate in his fantasy book Red... →
The bolded sections represent quotes from the criticism he received. All the z-snaps are in order.
Your characters are unrealistic stereotpyes of political correctness. Is it really necessary for the sake of popular sensibilities to have in a fantasy what…
I’m sitting on the train, and I’m thinking about my run. I was supposed to do 3, key words supposed to, but I got half way and call it quits. I can always call it quits when it really matters. When it’s something that really matters, I can always call it quits. I don’t even know why it mattered. I know getting to 13.1 is not going to change anything about my life. People won’t turn and whisper “She ran a whole 13 yesterday and she’s not even beat” when I walk down the street. No. I’ll be the same ole body that leaves home, goes to work and comes back at the end of a long day. So I don’t know why it mattered but it did. It mattered so much so that I was sitting on the train thinking about the fact that I did 1.5 when I was supposed to do 3. Then I glanced down at the silver check on the upper thigh of my tights. Suddenly I felt like the elephant amidst those washed out amber lights. The girl to my left with her tightly wound ringlets was sneering at me. I could tell she was sneering at me. If a man were holding a pint of ice cream I would imagine he’d want her as his spoon. That’s just the kind of girl she was. She probably could outrun my 1.5. Her bad days probably revolve around the number 6 at least, not that it should have made any difference to me. But it did.
Especially because the Jake Gyllenhaal look alike sitting two rows down never once looked at me. If I had pushed past 3, if maybe I had just done 3.2 he would have looked at me. Not that I cared because somewhere in the underground of the city was a boy roaming the system looking to get some extra change just so that we weren’t living in poverty. Or, somewhere in BedStuy streets he was rolling another without me ever coming to the surface. I wished the look alike would glance at me. In my reality, he’d fall for me. Beg for my number and pursue me even after mention of that boy whose heart I keep. He’d make it hard for me, confuse me into saying no and yes all in one breath.
Instead, he walks out on 86th street leaving me to tend to scars I should not have or wounds that go far deeper than a look alike.
I’m laying in my bed, and I’m singing. I’m signing and from the deepest recesses I feel pang. My face becomes hot and I ball up into myself, not knowing why or from where or for what only that armed tears are here like American soldiers on their way to war. I’m thinking about my run and the boy whose heart I keep and the store that made me start running again and the dream career looming in the shadows that made me apply to the store and the abysmal summer job that introduced me to this boy and the institution that certified me ready to go out into the world to find nothing but failure and sorrow coming up right in the middle of my bed.
You’re Prettier When You Blow Me
15% of rape survivors are under the age of 12.**
I was sitting in the back of a darkened auditorium, surrounded by nearly 100-150 professional women, when the statistic slapped me across the face. Not even an hour before I had shown Katie Makkai’s “Pretty,” alongside a couple of other spoken word poems on culture, gender and race to a group of 15-16 year old girls who laid out on the table all of the times they had felt ugly or fat or worthless because of—not surprisingly—images in the media. Even less surprising was their retelling of times when their mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles had told them they were ugly, fat or worthless because their hair frizzed due to a morning’s dew or their thighs failed to squeeze into precious size 2s. In multiple conversations with young girls and older women alike I find that our closets are full of moments when we felt being worth something amounted to the lack of food on our plate or the array of colors splayed across our faces. Thinking back I can’t even remember a time when losing 50 pounds wasn’t one of my New Year’s Resolutions, or having curly hair has made me feel beautiful and edgy and worth it. And in that moment I think, can I be a positive female role model when I still falter to see the beauty that everyone else sees?
At age 12 I was still new to sex in the sense that I was a virgin, and would be for another 7 years thereafter. I had though, to my brother’s horror I’m sure, stumbled upon what was then simply deemed “channel 35.” There were nights when, as my grandmother shook the entire apartment complex with her snore, my cousin and I watched as our young eyes were assaulted with shaved vaginas and extremely veiny penises for countless hours of the night. After my brother caught me sex became mysterious, wrong and dirty. In a way, it became alluring because it was something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. Looking around at the kids in my class, I begun to understand that good girls—smart, studious, virgins—were not desirable. If good girls were anything like me then they were chubby, with frizzy hair and really bad clothing (because their mothers were still making the fashion choices). I was Ugly before anyone even knew of Betty.
But I had crushes. And I always crushed from afar because in 3rd grade I got the message very clearly that I was not anything to be looked at when the only Valentine I got was from my mother. I could not be me and expect boys to like me. So when at the age of 12 my crush gave me the opportunity to be anything but me, I ran with it. I had been chewing on a pen in Art class that afternoon when I glanced up and saw my crush looking at me from across the hall. Chewing on my pen wasn’t exactly a highlight in my day so I shrugged it off until my crush circled me after school with a group of his friends. The story went that by chewing on my pen I had been offering to blow my crush. Stunned that he had even noticed me I didn’t do much to clear up the story. He was finally interested in me, ME!, that ugly little 7th grade duckling with the acne scars and dominating mole right smack on the side of her face. But I wasn’t ready the next day after school when all four of them coaxed me to their building lobby, and after 15-20 minutes of saying “No, I will not go upstairs with you” I said okay because one of the boys had taken my book bag and I feared my mother would yell her head off if she found I had not only gotten to the bus stop where she normally picked me up on foot but with no book bag.
I used to wake up in sweats, ashamed and in tears remembering that naive day before I finally confided in a high school friend. Every time I closed my eyes I would think about walking into that apartment with those 4 boys, and having at least 1 boy sit in the living room with me—watching me, to make sure I didn’t try to leave. I sat in a corner, unaware of the fact that this would be a defining moment for me and my childhood and my relationship to sex. I sat in that corner, scared that I’d still have to go home without a book bag. Scared that my father would want an explanation as to how it happened and I would have none to give. I wasn’t aware of the minutes going by as I sat in that corner. All I was aware of was that I had no book bag and I could not go home without one. As I sat in the corner of one of the couches the boys would sit next to me, pleading with me to give them head. Channel 35 had not prepared me for this. Let me explain that I did not even understand what a blow job was until Sophomore year of high school, so at the age of 12 I was lost as to what these boys were asking me to do. One of them had no qualms about giving me an explanation, despite the fact that I had not asked for one. Rather than ask, he simply laid his penis out on top of his jeans and grabbing me by the back of the head, tried to introduce me. He even tried pressing it against my lips as if maybe I just needed to be even closer to his pale flaccid self for him to be pleasured. I didn’t let any of the boys sit on the same couch as me or near me after that.
My book bag was returned to me only after I was shoved into the closet because keys could be heard wrestling in the lock. When I was questioned by the police I would hear that one of the boy’s sisters—who had found me in the closet where my book bag was being held hostage— had found them masturbating and watching porn in the bedroom. When I reached the outside I was swarmed by a group of 8th graders, shouting “Whore” and “Cock sucker” and “Wipe the cum off your face!” I wanted the entire thing to be over so I lied to the police on my case about what happened because I couldn’t handle having the principal of my junior high school tell me I was asking for it or not being allowed to go out for lunch or being continually heckled and physically shoved by an 8th grade bully every day after school. My crush and his 3 friends didn’t speak to me or look my way afterward. If I wanted any ounce of attention I had to spread my legs and at the age of 19, after years of crying myself to sleep because no boy found me pretty, I did. I pushed my breasts up and out, I cut 4” off my skirt and heavily made up my face to erase all of my ugly. Forget pretty, I wanted sexy. I wanted boys to see me walk down a hall and want to fuck me. If they fuck me, I thought, they’ll like me. And they did. They fucked me. And every time I would think “Finally, someone who likes me. Someone who’ll wake up in the morning and say have lunch with me. Someone who will fall for me.” They all fell—prey to my advances but not head over heels.
So I cut my hair. Because short hair was not pretty, and after discovering “pretty” and being made to feel like a cheap blow up doll the last thing I wanted to be was pretty. I cut my hair. Maybe this way I can get someone to see me. But boys still wanted to fuck me, and just fuck me so I gave up and decided if that’s all I was to be then at least it would be on my own terms. I could forget love and being wanted and not worry if a guy asked me to lunch the next day. In the midst of forgetting about pretty, I became confident and bold and even carefree. When I stopped worrying about pretty, boys began to like me but in the back of my head pretty still amounted to sex and I didn’t want to be just another hole for a guy to place his penis in. I no longer wanted to be pretty because I didn’t want to just be discarded after a night in bed the same way a vegetarian passes up on a chicken leg. So when my boyfriend tells me that I’m pretty or that he prefers me without endless amounts of layers on my face or when he’s perfectly content watching a movie than rolling around in bed with me I can’t help but in the back of my mind think that he’s lying or that he’s bound to find a girl worth spending time with. Despite the fact that he doesn’t flinch at the blaring 12 on my jeans or kisses me when my hair is all types of frizz and curls I still feel the need to be society’s ideal of pretty—lined eyes, long legs and all. Even with a boy by my side I still think that pretty meets at the v between my legs, and anything less is only temporary.
I squinted really hard in the hopes of reading the small words scrawled on the napkin. I made it a habit of never wearing my glasses when out and something about poking a finger into my eye kept me far away from contacts.
Finally, I pulled the napkin up to my face.
Are you always this miserable, darling?
The small rounded letters astonished me. I took a good look at the handsome daredevil that wrote the question.
I began to wonder if I really was that miserable.
As a way to get us thinking about descriptive writing, our Professor gave us the task of describing ourselves in 75 words or more. We had to “paint a picture so vivid it would be crystal clear on an HD screen”—that was just the type of shit he said. That was just the kind of guy he was. I couldn’t wait to get this class over with, and it was only the second week of the semester. Our target audience was anyone, either a person or a group of people we didn’t know. We had to put together this HD image so that strangers felt we were no longer unknown to them. “Think: *He inserts a dramatic pause here. I told you that’s just the kind of guy he is* You are a can of paint. Spill the whole can onto your canvas. Paint, like you’ve never even picked up a brush before.”
Every one was scribbling or typing furiously when I looked up from the blinking cursor on my screen. Who was I? In 75 words or more. Who was I… in 75 words or more?
I stop to count. Were over analytical and motor mouth each one word or two words? Whatever. I wasn’t even 1/7 of the way through. I needed the extra words. Count: 8.
My fingers aimlessly danced on the keys. People were really writing. I guess they knew themselves quite well. Who was I… in 67 words or more?
Dinosaur-In-Training. (This one was honestly not in jest.)
Laugher wasn’t even a word but I liked laughing. I liked to be made to laugh, and I tended to laugh at everything therefore I believed myself a laugher. I was also a smiler but I didn’t figure my professor would appreciate me making up that many words. He was quirky like that.
I Googled adjectives. I didn’t realize just how many adjectives there were.
Reckless with own heart.
Reckless with other’s hearts.
I paused, worried using the same word wouldn’t be allowed then I decided to screw the Professor’s rules. It was my self-description. My 75 words or more and I was going to use those 75 on whatever I damn well pleased.
I hope I’m somewhere halfway by now but I don’t bother to count. At this point, I’m at a loss for descriptions. I peer up and lock eyes with my professor. Last week, he pulled me aside and told me I had potential. He said I had real talent if I only let myself see it, and then let myself use it. I don’t know what talent is, nor what it means to have “potential.” He’s staring at me as if he knows I haven’t even gotten to 75 words but have already given up so I look at no particular point on the ceiling and then open up the browser on my computer.
I check my mail.
On Boyfriends: A Letter to Young Girls
Dear 10-17 year old Me,
There’s a lot I have to tell you. I hope you’re comfortable because this might be a bit extensive and long winded (I apologize in advance). At 10, this might be a bit much to talk about but this conversation needs to happen so I figured better now than never. We need to talk about boys. Yes, boys (I know you don’t think they have cooties anymore with the way you’re crushing!) See, I want you to not get caught up on the small things… like whether or not he’s dark haired and green eyed or speaks Spanish or dresses like a walking Abercrombie ad. You want someone who’s going to add to what you already have/are and I’ll tell you now: you love what’s unconventional, you don’t always (or rarely ever) speak Spanish and you’re so far from an Abercrombie ad that both Abercombie & Fitch are rolling around in their graves. It’s just not you. Categories are not. You’re not one for boxes, so your boyfriends shouldn’t fit into one.
It’s okay if he’s not built like Brad Pitt. He’s real and far less of an asshole. It’s fine if he’s younger or the color of Taye Diggs, because there’s more to him than age & race. He’s not going to be perfect (please please please PLEASE remember he’s NOT going to be perfect!) and you’re bound to find things that irk you and that you wish he didn’t do. There are things he dislikes about you too, but he’ll still be in it for the long haul if you’ll join him.
He won’t always know the right thing to say and sometimes he won’t even know you’re upset but he’ll care to fix it. You’ll have good days when you can spend hours on end around each other, in silence, and still be content. Many times you’ll be on the same page (others you’ll be chapters apart) but for whatever reason he’ll be good for (and to) you. You’ll know if he’s not. So listen to your intuition. Don’t get dragged into something that makes you uncomfortable and don’t do anything you don’t want to (that includes the birds and the bees, and overstepping privacy). Say no when you need to. But don’t be afraid to say yes. Don’t allow boys to take advantage, don’t look to them for validation. Not everything they say will be true. They will destroy friendships or make you feel like meat. Others will want nothing more than to be platonic but for those in betweens don’t be afraid to give.
Don’t forget: The in betweens are the best. Those are the ones who want to be friends while also taking the next step and they’ll drive you mad with their crooked smile or so-not-green-but-I-am-still-loving-your-brown-eyes-and-could-stare-into-them-all-night eyes. Their laugh will brighten up starless nights and just sitting by them will make you feel safe. You’ll learn to hate sleeping alone so much so that even your stuffed Mickey will not replace the boy you love to hold. Sometimes, their pain will become your pain and you’ll worry yourself sick trying to figure out how to fix it. Remember to give him space and let him fix some things himself. And don’t get too mad when you find all the Heroes in your story or Romeos of your songs resemble him, good things tend to pop up in everything you do.
But if there’s one thing you take away about boys and relationships and love, let it be this: You are absolutely worth it.
When I was little, I lived in my brother’s shadow. Our birthdays were the very first sign of what was to come. He was born on Independence Day, 1980. Yup. Glorious little U.S.A marked baby. And what, with my mother’s having immigrated here from Dominican Republic, could be any better? It was as if…
I forgot all about comfort and rolled right into bed in my jeans and t-shirt. Even snuggled under the covers. No air conditioner. I was just a mess and wanted to get things off my mind as quickly as possible. So I slept it off. It kind of hit deep at some point. I might have started dreaming then or some time before but I remember you were there. It wasn’t now and it wasn’t the past. I’m not even sure it was the future. But you were there, and we’d fixed whatever it was that was coming in between us. We’d opted for labels. And the thing is, I was so sure of you. All the other dreams I had these boys competing for me, and I’d ping pong back and forth between who I thought would best suit me. They were kind of like outfits. Which one would work today? Maybe he’ll be best for Thursday… There was none of that with you. I was happy to have you be my one in the dream.
You were on my mind when I woke up. It was hot and I’d kicked off the covers but I was content thinking of you. There’s no one else who occupies my mind. Out of all the boys chasing me, you’re the only one I want to be mine. So please don’t think I’m not staying. Don’t think I’ve packed my bags and gone. I don’t even know where my bags are. And frankly, I don’t want to go anywhere you won’t be.
It’ll Come To You
“I was down by Angela’s when it happened… or well… no…” He began refolding the napkin. It was one of those things he tended to do when nervous, not that the new girl sitting across from him would know because the girl who would know was now 6,000 miles cross country, but just for insider purposes know it was one of those things he tended to when nervous. Not that he was nervous about this new girl because really he had decided to call it quits nearly 45 minutes ago but he was nervous more so because he was 24 hours away from traveling 6,000 miles cross country. All in all it came down to a girl and that’s why he was refolding and unfolding the napkin.
“Actually it wasn’t Angela’s. That’s a bit further uptown than where I was. I mean, do you remember that weird Scottish bar down near where that old shoe place used to be? God… what was the name of that shoe place? Right near uh where the GameStop is now?”
She shrugged. It was so half-hearted that he tossed the napkin into the middle of the table.
“It doesn’t really matter where it happened… I mean I remember it was down by where that Scottish place used to be. I was in the middle of the block and suddenly, I get this feeling that I know exactly what I want. I know where I want to be. I know who I want to be with. I know what I want to be doing. I know how I want to be. I know why.”
“In the middle of the block?”
“Yeah. Right? I spend 15 years trying to piece it all together and just…” He snapped his fingers. He never used to snap his fingers before he got with the old girl, you know the one cross country. It was just something he picked up in his time with her.
The new girl imitated his snap. He put on what he thought was a polite smile, but really it was more of a cringe. The snap sounded fake, impersonal, uncharacteristic. It didn’t exude the same kind of charm coming from this girl.
“Look Mel you’re great. You’ve been great. You just… I didn’t see you factoring in when I was standing in the middle of the block. And it’s not anything you did. Really, it was everything she did. She kind of just fucked me up but in a good way. I mean, in a good way for me and in a bad way for every other girl after. And… God, you deserve that. You deserve to fuck a man up so bad that he can’t function if you’re not factoring in. Just… just remember that. If a man ain’t fucked up after you, if he ain’t completely crushed by your loss then he never really saw forever with you.”