Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Of Playground Rejection and Black Moments


Captain Jack hurries onto the deck, blurry eyed and frantically dressing.  He yanks his trousers up, skidding to a stop.  "I'm here, I'm here.  Where are the damn cards?"

Gunner Marnee perches on a barrel of rum, dressed in a dry clean only dress (something she'd never wear at home), typing at her laptop.  She peeks at Jack over her  librarian glasses.  "Morning, Jack.  Need some coffee?  I think DRD's already fired up the pot.  Couple of ibuprofen for the headache?"

"Only  had one… er, a few tankards of rum last night.   Didn't want to be incapacitated for our guest."

Gunner scans the empty deck.  Confetti litters the planks, empty bottles roll about.  A layer of dust covers everything but the bar.  Chance would never allow dust to settle on the bar, after all.

So, the boat looks pretty much like it does every day.

"No guest today, hon.  Just me."  She shrugs.

Jack scans the scenery.  "Damn.  You're right."  His gaze falls on the Gunner again, a wicked tilt to his lips.  "Well then.  It seems we're alone, lass."

"So it does."  The Gunner smiles, all innocent sweetness.  "But remember?  I'm one of the happily married ones."

"Oh yes.  Your husband's carries the clubs."

"You mean he plays hockey?  Yes.  That's him."

"Right you are."  Jack slinks toward the stairs.  "Well, then.  I believe that's Hellie calling me.  She doesn't like to share anyway."  He sweeps off his tricorn hat and sinks into a courtly bow.  "Good day, love."

He doesn't wait for a response.  Gunner shakes her head, chuckling, and turns back to her laptop


Last week, my husband and I took our sons to the playground in our neighborhood.   My oldest is going on five and he's always hoping that there will be neighborhood kids there for him to play with.

This day, there were.  In fact, there were eight of them.  They were all racing around, all seemed to know each other.  My son practically wriggled with glee.  Like a puppy, he squirmed and hopped.  "Mom, can I go play with the kids?"

"Sure, baby.  Go ahead."  As he skipped ahead of us, my hubby and I smiled to each other.  My son is not shy.  He'll talk to anyone, much like his mommy.  So he walked right up to those kids, found the boy who appeared to be the closest to his age—maybe a year or two older—and introduced himself.

"Hi.  Can I play with you?"

Then he waited.  And waited.

The little boy was playing with a girl who seemed to be a year or two older than him and he ignored my son.  The boy and girl climbed up the slide, ran across the shaky bridge, and cast curious looks at my son who still stood where they left him, alone.

The other kids on the playground were watching the proceedings though they were pretending not to.  The chatter had petered off.

I'm a mommy.  My little son, so sweet and so friendly, looked dejected.  His little shoulders were set and he glanced at me with a questioning look, as if he didn't know why he felt the way he felt right that moment.  I wanted to sweep in and insist that these kids include him.  I wanted to scold and stomp my foot.

But I didn't.  Because my son is at the age where he doesn't want me to be involved all the time.  He's starting to exert his independence.  He wants to do things for himself, damn it.

So I stood to the side and I prayed.  Please God.  Don't let them hurt his feelings.  Don't make my son doubt how awesome he is.

My heart ached.  I remembered times on the playground from my childhood, of mean things kids would say, and I felt his pain as if it was my own.  Maybe it was my own, magnified through my love for my child.

The little boy continued to avoid eye contact but the girl he was playing with turned to my son and said, "What's your name?"

My son's posture changed.  Gone with the stiff shoulders.  He smiled brightly and told her.

"Do you want to play tag?"

He nodded with an enthusiastic, "Yeah!"  And they were off.

Turns out the little boy was just really shy.  He warmed up to my son.  It's hard not to, honestly.  My guy is a darling, really, and I'm not just saying that because I'm his mom.  (Okay, maybe….)  But it was a happy ending.  They played until the sun went down.

I realized later that this rejection and the fear of it is what drives black moments in romance novels.  If a happily ever after is the result of two people finding companionship and love together, the converse—the black moment—would be the result of feeling or being rejected.  When I read a romance and hit that black moment, if it's a good story, my heart aches and my throat tightens.  I'm connecting with the hero or heroine and projecting my own fear of rejection, my own remembered rejections, onto them.  But as I'm wrapped up in my empathetic response, I know that it'll work out for these characters I've grown to love.  It's a romance after all, not unpredictable real life, where rejection can stand unchallenged.  In a romance, I know that their loneliness is short lived and that they'll find their way back together.

I just read Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn.  The black moments in that book come after the hero and the heroine both realize they love each other.  But then the heroine finds out the hero was pressed into watching over her by her absent brother.  So she thinks the hero only cares for her like a sister, that her brother made him even take that much interest, and now she's the one who loves him and he sees her as an obligation.

She worries that she cares more for him than he cares for her, that her love is going to be unwanted.  I knew that he loved her, but she didn't.  And I've been in that place, worrying that I cared for someone who didn't care as much for me.

So, my request today is for you to think on your favorite books.  At the black moment, how does rejection manifest itself?  In your own writing, how is rejection a part of your black moments?  How do you produce that feeling of being rejected, of possible loneliness?  What writing techniques can really wring out the fear of rejection in the black moment?



2nd Chance said...

I'm odd sort of romance writer, where the black moment is seldom a simple rejection. Or even a complicated rejection. It's more like a realization that no matter how much one cares for the other, things may very well not work out.

Generally because of the villain.

Or the world is in danger.

What have a read recently that had a nice classic black moment? I've been on a reading binge of my own writing lately and honestly...can't think of anything!

Argh! A technique question!

Wow, that bar...it just needs a bit more wiping, don't ya think!? Oh, my and all that confetti... Oh! Bottles that need to be collected! Busy, busy, busy!

2nd Chance said...

And oh yeah, playground rejection...gods, do I remember that! Good for your kid that he just waited and didn't slink off to ball. Which I would have done. Probably did do, come to think of it.

Good thing he just met up with a shy guy and not a rotten kid.

Marnee said...

You know me, Chance. I can't resist a good technique question. LOL!!

I think that realizing that no matter what you do, things might not work out is its own kind of rejection. Because that implies that somehow the person involved isn't good enough to make it work. Whether their best effort is what's not good enough or that something about them inherently is not good enough. I think we've all been in situations that no matter how we try, we just can't make something work out for us. It's something we can empathize with.

And I was glad the kid was just shy too. The parents were all standing there so I was hopeful that no one would be overtly rotten. Now that I look back on it, this boy's parent was probably hoping that he would accept my son's friendship overture, stretch out of his shell a little. At least that's what I would have been thinking.

The whole interlude only lasted a minute. But to this mommy it felt like forever.

Donna said...

Oh, Marn, my heart was in my throat reading about your son. Thank God it had a happy ending! I thought I was gonna have to add something strong to my coffee.

That's a lovely analogy though, watching a potentially heartbreaking scene unfold in front of you, hoping for a happy outcome, but not too sure, and wanting to jump in and fix it.

The black moment really is a rejection -- of the trust the person has given, of the hope of a future.

Mmm, now I've got to apply this to my WIP. Thanks for the insight and inspiration!

Marnee said...

Donna, I thought I was going to cry in that moment watching him look so sad. And it was only a minute or so! I'm not sure I'm made of stiff enough stuff for this parenting gig.

The hope of a future. Exactly! Because in a romance, they might not even have the happiness yet, but they've thought about it. And the resulting sadness if it doesn't work out. So when it doesn't work out, it's like the fulfillment of their worst fear.

I was thinking that the possibility to have this kind of rejection is in my black moment. But the execution of it is more difficult. In mine, the main characters know they love the other one but the heroine is constantly thinking she's not good enough for him. And the hero has a really strong sense of responsibility and need for social approval. I think it's going to work out. I hope it's going to work out.

Quantum said...

The blackest moment I can think of was David Beckham missing a vital penalty for England in world cup soccer. It ruined a fabulous story. Some of the fans were in tears! Beckham must have felt like the loneliest person in Britain at that moment. No HEA for this story. LOL

Yes, the politics of the playground is fascinating to watch. One can observe the whole range of human character. The potential Hitler with his gang huddled in one corner. The leader organizing a game of tag. The introvert reading on his own.....

No point trying to intervene. Nature will take its course! :lol:

Heck I forgot the question! I'd better come back tonight.

Marnee said...

Q - You sound like my DH with the sports black moments. LOL!!

I don't want to be a helicopter parent. I want my sons to learn to handle situations on their own, stick up for themselves, and to step in when they need guidance. But boy is it hard. LOL!!

Bosun said...

I remember being that kid. I was the youngest in the neighborhood, which meant the youngest of maybe 20 kids who ran around together. I was sensitive and fragile and they TORTURED me. Ran from me all the time which sent me home in tears. Damn hateful kids.

Not that I'm bitter. Ahem.

My kiddo has had to change schools several times due to a tumultuous few years. She's taken it like a champ, and thankfully, made friends with ease each time. She's so resillient.

I'm not sure I can answer the writing question. LOL! I mean, I know what I need to do, but HOW to do it is something mystical. In my current WIP, the heroine is used to others making decisions for her, but the hero teaches her to stand up and think for herself. Then, at the most critical moment, he makes a decision for her as if she's no more than a child. And in that decision, he basically rejects her love.

I guess my black moments are more about one character breaking the other character's heart. Which is the ultimate rejection. I need the reader to feel the pain my characters feel. HOW I do that, I'm thinking, is by showing the reader how it feels. The knife to the heart. The blow to the body. The taking her breath away and then the flow of tears.

I'm big on the tears.

Sin said...

Awesome blog, Marn.

As a kid, I feared rejection at preschool. I was a social child. A part of the appeal of getting out of the house (my mother was a homemaker while I was little) was getting to share my imagination with others. But while I was a social kid, I feared others. I think everyone just wants to fit in and I was always afraid I'd be rejecting for the one thing I loved- living in lala land.

I didn't really have trouble with kids my age or younger, it seemed like the most trouble I had was with the older ones. I never took naps at preschool so I always played with kids years older than me. And they took all opportunities to bully and tease me. And parts of that are to impress other kids so they aren't rejected.

Humans, by nature, are animals. If we sense a weakness we head straight for it.

My black moments tend to be death, betrayal, sabotage. All heartbreak, for me, seems to be a minor detail. Heartbreak is just another part of life. It's always going to linger in the corner waiting for it's chance to jump.

One of my favorite black moments *SPOILER* is in For a Few Demons More one of the main characters dies. And it's a mystery how he dies but the heroine thinks it was by her hand. She loved him. To think you blacked out and dealt the double death (vamps have two deaths: living and undead) gives me goosebumps every time. It makes her best friend doubt her. It makes her doubt herself. It's perfect.

Hellion said...

Dude, I was holding my breath, hoping for a happy ending with kiddo, and if there wasn't a happy ending, I was going to open a can of whoop ass on some kids--and I was going to yell at you for making me cry with your Nicholas Sparks stories! I'm glad it turned out. And I totally would have been all up in their business, making sure they played with my kid. *LOL* I'm impressed you managed to keep out of it.

Black moments. Death is the big black moment for me. I think it was why I was so impressed with the POTC3 when no one else was. When Will Turner dies, that was huge. When he ends up being Captain of the Flying Dutchman--that wasn't much of a rescue. It was a bittersweet HEA; he wasn't dead, but they weren't really together either.

When the black moment in Harry Potter comes--that death--OMG--I was an emotional trainwreck.

Near death also works for me. *LOL* And betrayal, rejection, or having the secret that you never wanted used against you USED AGAINST YOU (oh, I guess that's betrayal *LOL*)--those are Black for me. I'm not a fan of heartache, whether it's plain rejection or the more permanent kind like death. I think so long as it feels like the end of the world for the character, I'm good with it. Whatever is personal to the character, that ruins them forever--that's the black moment I want.

carrie spencer said...

oh dear. i still remember being six, having moved into our new neighborhood, and hoping someone would let me play with them. i was sooo shy!

my black moments seem to consist mainly of one character realizing the love, the other taking longer to get to it....or in some cases having it slightly beat into him. =) rejection mostly. kinda depressing when i boil it all down to that!


Marnee said...

Bo'sun - Yucky bad memories. Being a kid is hard. This playground is better than that. The parents do take an interest, which is more than I can say for the Chic Fil A playarea. I was there recently and it was like Lord of the Flies in there.

I like your black moment. I've read stories with similar black moments but I always feel like when stuff like that happens--the one character shifting the power structure so that they're no longer seen as equals--that the rejection is the rejection of an equal relationship. Will the other ever see me as their equal? If not, then what sort of future do we really have?

Sin - Humans, by nature, are animals. If we sense a weakness we head straight for it. So true. I think there is definitely a power shift for the older kid. If a kid is going to bully, they're going to assume a younger kid is an easier target. It's sad. But again, it's the Lord of the Flies tendency, I think.

I love betrayal black moments, when they think that someone they cared for was using their affection to hurt them. So sad and angsty. And that book sounds great. To think that you killed the one you loved? Ugh....

Hells - I would never Nicholas Sparks you guys. Where's the faith, girls? LOL!! But I was impressed with myself too. I literally had to grind my teeth and resist the urge to swoop in all mama bird style. I was proud of myself. But if that kid had been overtly nasty, I'm not sure what I would have done. Especially if his parent hadn't reprimanded. I can hold my tongue for the right time but that doesn't mean I'm a saint.

And the HP Black moment? UGGGHHHHH!! Soooo horrible. I cried and cried. :( And I think what you mention is why it works. To have a secret used against you. And then he had to choose to do the right thing, despite being used. Ugh.

I think so long as it feels like the end of the world for the character, I’m good with it. Whatever is personal to the character, that ruins them forever–that’s the black moment I want.

SOoooo true.

Marnee said...

Off to the grocery store! Be back as soon as possible. (I hate grocery shopping with two kids.)

Marnee said...

PS, the moment Will Turner is stabbed is heartbreaking. *shivers*

Carrie - That was the worst part of this, that you could just feel how much he wanted someone to play with him. It was like vibrating off of him. Heartbreaking.

And it's not sad; those are my favorite kinds of black moments. :)

Hellion said...

The parents do take an interest, which is more than I can say for the Chic Fil A playarea. I was there recently and it was like Lord of the Flies in there.

*ROTFL* Unfortunately I can picture this perfectly. Children are WOLVES. Pack mentality that turns on anyone they sense is weaker.

Sorry, Marn, I'm not sure where my faith is. I should have known better, but my childhood memories aren't exactly cheerful either.

Bosun said...

Kiddo was at the bus stop one time this year, standing off by herself looking unhappy. I had to drive off to work, but I nearly turned around at the end of the street. You never stop feeling that anxiety for them.

P. Kirby said...

Yeah, I'm kind of in Chance's boat, in that my black moments are often borne out of something more complicated than rejection. This is probably because my writing is fantasy with a strong romantic subplot (with a HEA), rather than real romance.

So when you first mentioned black moment, my mind turned to the moment(s) in my upcoming release, when circumstances make it impossible for the couple to be together. Outside circumstances, not fear of rejection. Then I remembered that that moment happens after the couple have worked through the emotion stuff in the relationship (rejection) and have decided, "Yeah, we can make this work." Then splat, I throw some more misery their way.

And playground politics. Oy. Just reading about your son's encounter brings back unpleasant memories. I'm glad it worked out okay in the end. I guess there's also a lesson there about not making snap judgments about people. I.e., the boy was shy, not a jerk.

Marnee said...

Hells - I think kids definitely can be wolves. Personally, I think they learn what they live. If a kid is treated like they're always weaker and can be pushed around at home, they're going to give that when they see someone weaker than them in their lives. The world's a tough place though and raising kids is not for the faint of heart so I have a hard time being really judgmental these days.

Ter - So this doesn't stop? I'm not sure I'm going to make it....

Chance - When nothing they do is going to make a difference it’s a real slap in the face of their reality. A shift in perception that sometimes, life isn’t fair.

That is a huge shift in perception. And would be a great source of growth for strong ego-ed characters. :)

P - It sounds like you're describing a two part black moment. Sort of a black moment for them in their personal relationship followed blacker moment when they think, crap we worked this out but now they have some external thing that might ruin everything for them. Is that correct?

And it was a good lesson for me as the mom, to not judge other people's kids too harshly. It's easy to jump to conclusions, especially when you see them treat your kid poorly. But, I didn't really know where he was coming from, ya know?

Bosun said...

Pat's comment makes me thinks of those action movies where one or the other character is hurt at the other end and the other yells in their face, "Don't you dare die on me now!" Those are fun.

Doesn't stop, Marn. Kiddo called me the last day of school crying. I said, "What's wrong?!" thinking she was hurt or lost. She said, "It's the last day of school! We're all crying!!"

Then I thought she was just silly. Once my heart rate returned to normal.

2nd Chance said...

Wow, did I ever regret the last day of school? Well, maybe when I 'graduated' from 8th grade and knew we were all going to different schools. In my case, a different city...

Gods, I think even with high school...I had great friends, enjoyed myself and still...was so ready for all the drama stuff to be done.

I usually rocked out the classroom singing "Schools Out For Summer" at the top of my lungs...

Bosun said...

I cried at HS graduation but no time before that. Then again, I went to school with the same people all 12 years and played softball with a bunch of the girls all summer. Then there was band, which you never really got a break from.

2nd Chance said...

And then...at bandcamp...

2nd Chance said...

Sorry, Marn...I couldn't resist.

So true about the whole life intervenes and screws up the relationship. I can really see that in what I write and makes sense for Pat to find that in her writing, too.

Marnee said...

They cried on the last day of school? Were they going on to HS? Like they'd never see each other again? Or were they all moving to different parts of the planet?

See, that's a whole level of drama I don't think I'd be ready for. I think I might have cried at HS graduation. I suspect my boys won't be crying on the last day of school. I hope anyway.

I liked HS, but I was ready for the next thing, I think. And my friends were still around. So it wasn't like I couldn't see them whenever I wanted. In fact, I had more time to see them.

And what's that they say, Chance? That Life's what happens while you're busy making other plans.

Bosun said...

There was one or two moving away (military community - happens a lot) but the rest will see each other all summer and come back together in same school in fall. Sometimes boys will take part in the conversations on Kiddo's facebook status stuff and it amazes me. Never a full sentence and rarely makes sense. LOL!

I don't think tears in middle school will be your problem. At least I hope not.

Bosun said...

I should clarify, the girls don't often communicate in full sentences either. I'm not a fan of text-speak.

Janga said...

Marn, I don't think it matters if your kid is 5 or 35, if someone hurts him/her, the instinct to annihilate kicks in. Sane people restrain themselves, but it's never easy.

I didn't cry when I graduated from high school because I was thrilled to be headed off to college. But I cried at every graduation when I taught hs. There was just something about all those bright and beautiful kids who thought they had the world at their command and knowing that for some of them all that belief and wonder would end in broken dreams, broken hearts, even broken lives that turned on the tears. No tears once I started teaching college though. Those students were never "my kids" in the way my hs students were.

The reason I love romance fiction--reading and writing it--is that I know however dark the black moment may be, there is still the promise of the HEA. I read and reviewed Lorraine Heath's Waking Up With the Duke this week. There is this scene where the H/H are parting after a brief time of emotional and physical intimacy and they know their farewell to what they shared is forever. Life, circumstances, and their own honor force the rejection. And even though I knew they were wrong (I read the ending first), for a moment I believed what they believed, and I was a sodden mess.

Marnee said...

Ugh about teen speak. I think all this technology has stunted their communication skills. Maybe I sound old and crotchity but if this sort of regression in human communication continues, I fear my grandchildren might only be able to grunt.

Janga - My mother said the same thing about the 5 or 35 thing. Being a mommy is a lifetime gig, I guess. LOL!!

About teaching HS. There were a couple years when I cried too. Especially good years.

And I think I'm going to pick up Waking Up With the Duke . That sounds like my type of book. I love an angsty black moment.

Hellion said...

I love that Janga reads the end of a book first. To be sure. I *LOVE* that.