BLOG: The girl who opened the door
[Note: This is the second in a series of blogs exploring the characters, writing process, and behind the scenes of THOUGHTS & PRAYERS.]
FILE>NEW>BLANK DOCUMENT. For the writer in me, nothing is more exhilarating and terrifying. When I started a project where the inciting incident would be a school shooting, the terror was tenfold. No wonder the words of Stephen King, the master of horror, spun through my head:
"Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”
“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”
Those words convinced me that the school shooter wouldn’t be the monster in my character Lily’s story. It would come from inside of Lily. This, of course, was not a new concept. Creating multi-dimensional characters with inner demons is Writing 101. But for me, I knew this would be the hardest character I’d ever written. That challenge became the exhilarating part.
Lily Rose Jeong lives a life of obedience. A senior at Rockwell High School, she gets straight As, plays the violin in the school orchestra, and is on the math team, debate team, STEM club, and student government.
Soft-spoken, petite, and typically dressed in colorless outfits, Lily has the ability to disappear. She stands out on her report cards and college applications, but not in the halls of Rockwell. Not like Keisha Washington does.
Since elementary school, Keisha has been the shining star of her class. Lily has been the tail of a star—brief flashes of success and recognition before fading again into black. Lily lives in Keisha’s shadow, always competing with her and trying to reach her level of teenage fame. But her patriarchal, subservient upbringing did not equip Lily with the confidence, social skills, or strength to do that. Keisha is free to speak. Keisha is free to be. Lily feels she will never be free.
Envy. That’s the first ugly green monster inside of Lily.
Playing the violin brings her momentary peace, a form of meditation and escape from the rigors of academics. It keeps the envy beast contained. But her true escape is in the found-object art she secretly practices. Her mosaics are built of bits and pieces of other people’s lives: buttons, bracelets, earrings, hair ties, poems scribbled on scrap paper, shoelaces, straws, late slips.
At first the objects were “found,” but soon Lily began to steal things, the adrenaline rush of doing something sinful—something her parents would forbid—becoming an addiction. Stealing bits of other people’s lives filled a void in her own life and fed the monster.
Early last summer, Lily found her second form of escape. A boy and his mother moved into the end townhouse diagonal from hers. Aaron Blake Crofton. He watched her; she watched him. They met at their windows night after night, sharing silent dreams and desires. One night they met beneath a tree, when her parents were asleep. And then they began to meet in his basement, in his bedroom, late at night. Aaron tells Lily that she is his shining star. She believes him. He tells her that the world they live in is a corrupt cesspool of sin and greed, that God is a lie, and there is no redemption, no light to be found. She believes him.
Aaron and Lily keep their love a secret from their parents and classmates. After she humiliates herself in front of her classmates, Aaron tells Lily that it will be all right. He will take care of it. No one will get hurt. She believes him. She opens the door for him. When he’s done shooting, a more terrifying monster is unleashed inside of Lily. Guilt.