Friday, November 12, 2010

Ballot Kill

This is a story I worked on last year. I found it back a few weeks ago and decided to post part of it on, and it's been getting positive feedback. This inspires me enough to sit down and work on this again. The story is about a small time criminal who just spent seven years in prison for a crime he didn't commit: When Michael Wright is released from prison, he's eager to get back to his old life of stealing, sex and sunshine in south Florida. But when he tries to get in touch with his old contacts, he discovers that he's no longer welcome in Miami, and suddenly finds himself the target of hitmen. With the help of his tiny new girlfriend Mia, and his estranged 13 year old son Kyle, he uncovers that he was unknowingly a pawn in political plot related to the election of a President seven years earlier.

In the excerpt below, Mike, the protagonist, meets his son Kyle for the first time after having been released from prison.

In the distance I see a kid. I know he's mine, even from this far away. As he gets closer I recognize his mother's eyes. My face and mouth. But he's small, very small. How tall is a kid that age supposed to be? Taller I think. I'm recalculating his age in my mind. Thirteen, he should be thirteen but looks more like eleven. Or does he? I really have no idea what a child that age should look like. It's been too long since I've seen one. Still, I was expecting my clone by now. At his age I was big and buff. He looks almost like a girl. Slender with long, too neatly combed hair. God, I hope he's not a fag.
He stops right in front of me. Blue eyes stare at mine. An uncertain sparkle. I know what he's expecting. Something inside me makes me want to turn around and walk away. I can't do that. It’ll destroy him. I know what that's like. Been there.
"Hi kid," I smile.
Instant gratification. His eyes light up as if someone hit a switch. "Hi," he grins back, a little unsure. His voice sounds like a sneaker skidding on a basketball court.
 I used to take him out every now and then. Nothing regular. Just now and then. But I do remember how happy he was to be with me each time. He was innocent then. Didn't know what I was all about. Now he knows. He knows where I've been, his mother told him. He doesn't care. He doesn't care I was in prison. He doesn't care I'm a career criminal. To him I'm his dad, and as long as I fulfill that role, he will love me.
"How've you been?"
"Fine," he squeaks back.
He looks at me as if he's asking to reach for him. I need to show I care.
"I'm glad to see you," I say, and I mean it. I never wanted any kids, but I have long accepted this one as mine. I blocked him out of my life and mind for the past seven plus years out of self-preservation, not because I didn't want him. I just don't know how to do this.
"You look good--" I hesitate, "your mom been taking good care of you?"
He nods. "You look good too," he says.
"Liar," I laugh. It breaks the ice.
"No, I mean it," he smiles. "I've been wondering what you'd look like when I would see you again. If I ever would see you again--"
"I'm sorry, I should have written you--" Suddenly I regret losing all these years. "Life is different on the inside--"
He looks at me. Sizes me up. "Is it hard in prison?"
I'm guessing he wants to know if what he sees in movies has anything to do with reality, like Mia did. We still stand next to my car. I look at the house, but his mother is nowhere to be seen. She doesn't want to see me. It's fine, I don't need to see her. She would probably just talk about money, and that she needs some from me. I gesture at Kyle to get in the car, and walk to the other side.
"Mom hates me," he says as I throw his bag in the backseat.
I look at him.
"She says I look like you, and that I remind her of you each time she looks at me."
I don't know what to say.
"She told me to give you this--" he hands me a large brown envelope with my name on it.
I throw it on the dashboard and start the engine. I'll read it later.
I don’t want to talk about his mother. I don’t think he does either. "Prison is no summer camp," I say. "In prison you're nothing, you don't exist. If you try to exist you better have the goods to back it up or you get hammered." I briefly look at him to see his reaction.
He listens.
"But I sat out my time quietly. I had no trouble."
"You didn't get into any fights?"
"Nope. It happens, but I wanted to get out as early as possible so I stayed out of trouble."
"Oh." He seems almost disappointed.
I put the shift in DRIVE, and release the break. The car starts to move. Kyle immediately grabs the seatbelt and fastens it. His mother dressed him well.
"You should put yours on too," he says. "It's mandatory now."
Mandatory. It sounds strange in his mouth. Or maybe I haven't accepted the fact that he's thirteen. I smile at him while I buckle up, and accelerate.
The envelope falls from the dash, but I'm quick enough to catch it and put it back.
"Why don't you open it?"
"I will. Later."
I'm nervous again. It's the kid. I'm his father and have to take care of him this weekend. A whole weekend.
I'll be fine.
"So do you play any sports?"
He shakes his head. "Just skateboarding."
"That's a sport, isn't it?"
He sighs, and looks at me. "Yes and no-- I mean, technically it’s more of a sport than poker, which by the way is on ESPN all the time. But it’s like, skateboarding is not taken very seriously by most people."
"How come?" I'm grateful for conversation that is not about me.
"Well, it's like this: sports is all about money, so the more money there is in the sport, the higher it's ranked. I don't think golf is much of a sport. Right? I mean, come on. You hit a ball, and then there's a guy to carry your shit around, and all you have to do is walk to the cart because you don't even have to walk from hole to hole, You drive in a cart."
I laugh. He's a thinker. Or maybe he’s just nervous.
"But, there's lots of money in golfing for some damn reason, so it's all over ESPN. Skateboarding is much more physical, right? So it should be considered a real sport, but there's a lot less money in it, so people don't take it seriously."
I can tell this is something that bothers him a lot more than the fact his father is a criminal.
"Everybody likes money," I say. From the corner of my eye I see he's looking at me. I have to pay attention. Traffic is dense. The next few minutes we ride in silence.
"Where are we going," he finally asks.
"I'm not sure. I was thinking of getting us a room at a hotel."
"Can't we go to your place?"
I'll have to lie now. "I'm not even settled yet-- Maybe next time."
"Oh. Okay. Where do you live anyway?"
What do I tell him. The place in Miami or the one in Hollywood? "Miami. Next to the airport."
"I thought you lived closer."
"Sorry. I don't mind the drive though."
"I love your car. It's a 69 Mach 1 right?"
I smile. He knows his cars too. "Yeah, a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1, with a 428 V8 engine, to be exact."
"It's really cool."
"I bought it at an auction, but it's been in a garage for seven years--"
"It looks like new."
"That’s because it had been completely restored when I bought it."
He looks at me and at the dashboard. I can tell he wants to drive the car. He needs to grow a little.
I turn off the A1A and head for Palm Beach. We have the sun in our back and from the bridge Palm Beach stretches out ahead of us. It has changed. Not everything, but things are different.

©2010 David Thyssen

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I'm getting some favorable reviews on both All that you can leave behind and Painting by numbers. J.M. Snyder over at Rainbow Reviews did a great job reviewing Painting by numbers, and I was happy to see that he fully understood the message of the book:

"The author strips away any artifice when it comes to the depiction of this character while at the same time ensuring that the portrayal of Seth and his violence is not gratuitous, sensational, nor is it romanticized. No doubt Seth’s inability to cope with the victimization he endures at school is further exacerbated by his mental illness and the author does not attempt to hide or make excuses for Seth’s violence, or his sexist and racist tendencies. But at the same time, the writing deftly communicates to the reader with understanding and compassion the sheer anguish of Seth's existence and the reasons for his vehement self-loathing, his anger and his feelings of utter helplessness and hopelessness. The author achieves a fragile balance in the writing of this character. Even with what Seth has done, it is difficult to dislike him. The emotion that does surface while reading this novel is one of deep sorrow at the tragedy of Seth's life.
In this sense, the overarching message of this story is not a moral debate of whether Seth is a victim, or a monster, or both. Rather, the story questions why no one stepped in to help Seth in school, and how and why a boy in Seth’s predicament can so easily slip through the cracks and go unnoticed in virtual plain sight by family, teachers and society until it’s too late"

You can read the full review here : Painting by numbers: Review.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

12 year old plots to kill students, family...

I just found this article moments ago, and this one. The articles talk of a 12 year old boy who plotted the murder of at least 20 of his fellow middle school students. He had guns and a list with names of kids he wanted to kill, and was probably just waiting for the right moment. Incredibly, parents of the targets on the list now play victim in the media. The boy's plot was discovered after he allegedly 'bullied' girls on the bus to school, and threatened to kill. But what drives a young boy to a point where he wants to kill other kids? That's the question people should ask, instead of seeing the boy as a deranged potential killer. Surely, this boy has psychological problems, and his home situation is probably not ideal, but this boy is also clearly a victim.

If a kid plans to kill a whole list of other kids it's not because he thinks these kids wear the wrong clothes, or that he just doesn't like them. It is because he was systematically being bullied. This boy was driven to a point where he could only see one way out of his predicament, and that was by killing his tormentors. The sad part is that now he's being portrayed in the media as an aggressor, while he was the victim for a long time. I don't know this boy, and I just read a a few articles about him, but from the elements I take out of these news articles I can understand his story.

I wrote it.

Just scroll down, and you'll understand that I know what I'm talking about. My novel PAINTING BY NUMBERS is this exact story. While Seth, the protagonist in Painting by numbers is two years older, I'm fairly certain that he and the boy from Carnation WA have a lot in common. Of course, Seth has some additional problems that are his own, but I read the Carnation boy was living with an adoptive mother and recently tried to strangle his 12 year old sister, so I think it's safe to conclude that he was having some serious problems at home as well. I wrote Painting by numbers partly from my own experiences with bullying, and I have been at a point where I just wanted to kill all my tormentors as well. I never got that far, but I can understand someone who does.

If people would just take a closer look at this boy and his motivations, they may see what was really going on. In the last few weeks bullying has been getting a lot of media attention, but apparently not enough. If schools would pay more attention to bullying, and systematically pick out the bullies and educate them, some kids may possible be stopped from committing suicide, and boys like the one in Carnation WA won't be driven to make hit lists of their bullies, and being labeled as aggressors instead of as victims.

What is even more sad is that this boy is in a juvenile detention center right now, instead of a specialized psychological treatment facility. I'm fairly certain the boy has been put on medication, but I wonder what impact juvy hall will have on him. Surely it won't help getting him back on track. Since he hasn't committed any actual crimes, he will probably soon be released, and then what? I fear that if this boy is not properly treated by experts rather than the community shrink, this is not the last time we will hear of him.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


When you're a kid, you can't always foresee the consequences of your actions. This is why you're not allowed to do things like drink alcohol, or drive, or have sex, until a certain, older, age. Your brain needs time to mature, and no matter how mature you believe you are, your brain can still be in transition. When you're a teenager you may get the idea that you're somehow invincible, that you can ride a motorbike at full speed without a helmet, that you can do a wheelie with your bike in traffic, that you can jump off a flight of stairs with your skateboard without any protection, or that you can stand on the edge of a roof of a tall building without holding on to something. Some kids push other kids to do things, or just push, without thinking about the possible consequences.

After thirteen year old Seth Walsh from California committed suicide, his classmates reportedly said that they weren't aware that their actions could actually cause Seth to kill himself. And this is something that always comes up, that most bullies do not know how far their bullying can push their victims. But in the meantime the bullying goes on, and kids find themselves pushed into a deep dark corners of which they see no way out.

When I was a kid I was frequently bullied. It started in elementary school where I was harassed for reasons I still don't quite understand. I'm not gay, but you really don't have to be gay to be bullied. I do remember having been accused of being gay, probably just because it makes an easy target and an easy laugh. I was different though. I liked to read and had a bigger vocabulary than most, and probably already spoke my mind when I was young, which is one thing that may have attracted some attention. I lived in my own little world, sometimes setting myself apart from my classmates and friends whenever I would drift away in my thoughts. I don't remember all of it, it's been so long, but I do remember certain moments of being bullied. I remember sitting on the ground surrounded by a group of kids, kicking and screaming at me. Even kids I called friends. I remember many times being on the run, and hiding out in bushes or in trees to escape my tormentors. I remember one time when an older guy cornered me with his friends, and forced me to open my mouth so he could spit in it. The earliest memory I have of being bullied was when I was barely five years old, when I was pushed into a pond by some kids while I couldn't even swim yet, and having to explain my wet clothes at home. I was punished because my clothes had gotten wet, while I could have drowned that day. Somehow I made it out of the water, kicking my legs and arms like a dog. The other kids first laughed at me but ran away when they saw I couldn't swim, and I had to climb out of the pond alone. I remember how difficult it was, how high the edge seemed, and how terrified I was. But, if I was being bullied at 5 years old, there must have been something about me that made me stand out. I'll probably never know exactly what it was, but I was different somehow.

As I got older and went to middle school, the bullying continued, especially when I was placed in a class with mostly older kids who had been left back once or twice already. I was small for my age, so that made me an easy target for these boys, most of whom were already fully grown. I can remember all the times I didn't want to go to school. That I'd rather play sick, or just skip school and stay out in the streets for the day, just so I didn't have to face my tormentors. And I did, many times. There was a lot more going on in my life, and being bullied only added to my daily anguish. I had two ways of escape. The first was my fantasy world in which I wasn't afraid of anything or anyone, and could face any danger or anyone who had ever made my life miserable. The other was writing. I wrote a lot in my early teenage years, some of which I used in my novel 'Painting by numbers', which has its roots in my history as a victim of bullying. But writing also gave me a possibility to vent, because whom else could I talk to? Certainly not the school 'counselor' who, when I was fourteen, told me I should stand up for myself, and be more aggressive. He literally told me to 'fight back'. That's great thing to tell a kid with a death wish. In 'Painting by numbers' Seth Mason fights back. One day he walks into his high school and shoots everyone in sight. I could have been Seth Mason if I had access to guns, because that's how much hatred had built inside of me. I started carrying a knife to school with the thought that, if I was able to pull it out of my pocket when cornered again, I was going to use it.

Luckily, I never did. Shortly after my talk with the 'counselor', I was cornered again, right outside a classroom. Teachers were around, but none had ever even tried to stop anything, and I wasn't counting on them this time either. There were about 5 or 6 of my usual bullies, all older, bigger, and stronger. And they knew they had power over me, they already had it for over a year. It started out with words but quickly became physical, as it often did. I never fought back, afraid that if I did, I would get beaten harder. What made me fight back that day I still don't understand. But, once I had been pushed around for a while, which turned into punching and kicking, suddenly everything turned black. I focused on one guy, and with all that I had, I started punching him in the face. I remember seeing how surprised everyone was, that this smallish kid would just fight back. It didn't even take much, a few blows to the face and he went down. I remember the feeling I had, shaking, in tears, and scared shitless of what was going to happen to me next. I was expecting the guy to get up and beat me to pulp, and that everyone would join in, right there in front of the classroom. But he didn't. He stayed on the ground. I knew that if they would start beating me up, I would fight to the death. My knife was in my bag on the ground, and I was slowly going for it. Before I could reach it, and to my great surprise, everyone started to laugh. They laughed at the guy on the ground, not at me, and from one moment to the next it was all over. Still, I was afraid they would get me again another day, and better this time, so I kept walking around with my knife in my pocket for weeks. But that was the last time I was bullied. They never tried again. Apparently, my sudden aggression had either scared them off, or I had finally gained their respect.

I'm not saying that every bullied kid should fight back. You don't stop bullying with bullying. I'd much rather see adults react when confronted with bullying of kids. To be honest, I don't think bullying will ever stop, but we CAN stop bullying getting to a point where victims want to kill themselves. Many, if not most individual cases of bullying can be stopped. If parents, teachers, and all adults take notice when someone is being targeted for sexuality, for physical reasons, or any reason at all, and if those adults respond by either talking to the bullies, or reporting them to the school staff, in addition to talking to the victim, then maybe they can stop someone else from taking his or her life. Bullies should be taught the possible consequences of their actions, and the bullied must understand that it won't last forever. Life goes on, and really does get better. As soon as the bullying stopped and the pressure was off, going to school wasn't so bad anymore, and two years later I was in a  new class with the best group of friends I ever had in my teen years.

Personally I'm glad never having acted on my suicidal thoughts. But how close I have been, so many times. I lived on the 12th floor of an apartment building, and there was a gallery to get to the front door. The top bar of the railing was about 3 to 4 inches wide. How many times I have stood on top of that railing I can't recall. As young as nine years old I would walk the railing from one end to the other, not caring I could fall to the wrong side. I also had this game where I would climb over to the other side of the railing, and I would let myself fall backwards with my hands in the air, only to grab the railing at the last possible moment. One day when I was a little older I found out that the door to the roof was left unlocked, and for a while I went out there every day to sit on the edge of the roof, more than 100 feet above the ground. Death was so close, so easy. And I played with knives, sharp knives. I didn't know what cutting was, but I would cut myself sometimes, because that pain was such a relief and distraction of the world I was living in, and what I went through almost every day. I remember thinking about cutting my wrists but I was afraid it would take too long to die, so I didn't. I thought about swallowing chemicals but I was afraid it would be too painful. I didn't know how to make a noose, but I tried. It didn't work. There was no internet yet with instructional videos for ways of killing yourself. But also no internet to find someone to talk to or to vent, or to read stories of other people who found a way out. I fled to alcohol and weed by the time I was thirteen, but that was always only a temporary fix. I still got the biggest rush from standing on top of the railing and looking down at a quick death.

I don't know why I never jumped. I think the game of walking the railing, or letting myself fall backwards and grabbing the railing at the last moment, gave me such a rush that it made me feel alive. Maybe that rush was the drug I needed, but in those days I didn't realize how close I came to dying each time I got up on that railing. Only once the bullying stopped I was able to start looking at life as something that could possibly be something worth trying, and I stopped my dangerous games. No matter how troubled I still was, the bullying was the strongest factor that made me want to die.

I saw councilman Joel Burns' video on Youtube, and it's inspiring. It's sad to see how much haters are commenting on the video. Nothing is easier than to speak your prejudice from behind a keyboard in your own home. It's a form of bullying, but these bullies are true cowards. In any case, bullies get their satisfaction from lifting themselves up by bringing someone else down. Unfortunately, cyber bullying can also push someone to commit suicide. There are kids out there right now, who have to deal with bullying in school, and when they come home are not heard by their parents,  then go online for some distraction, only to get bullied there as well. I can understand why kid like that would see that life has no use. I understand each and every kid who killed himself that I heard of these past months. Even if I'm not gay, I understand how they felt worthless, that they had no place in this world, and that the only escape was death.

No one ever saw my own despair. No one ever called the cops when I was walking the railing of the12th floor of the building I lived in. Did no one notice at all, or did they just didn't care? No teacher ever came to my aid whenever I was cornered, and I was only called to the councilor's office after I had been accused of having started a fight. Yeah, right. Remember, all the other kids towered at least a foot above me. At home I wasn't noticed at all, and since there was no internet, all I had was myself. I had no one I felt comfortable talking to, and had to deal with everything alone for many years. I wish I had internet in those days. It is so easy today to find solace online, or to find help, or just someone who can listen. There were no helplines for me either, so things have improved for today's kids. But why are there still so many kids killing themselves?

Like I said earlier, you don't have to be gay to be bullied, but we hear too many stories of young gay kids being bullied to death lately. And these kids are so young. When you're thirteen years old and have the desire to kill yourself, you can't yet see what the consequences are. While you may escape your bullies that way, you leave a lot of people behind who do care about you. Your life does have value, now, and in the future. I learned that being different is what makes me more interesting to people, and why these people care about me. It really is like Joel Burns said; life does get better. You won't be in school forever, and you won't be living at home with your parents forever. One day you will get out. One day, you will escape. One day you find that life has plenty to offer and, because you never know when it's going to end, it should be lived to the fullest.

In 'Painting by numbers' bullying is only one of the factors leading Seth Mason to kill, not just himself, but teachers and fellow students in his high school. 'The book is by no means a guide for suicide, or massacre. But there is a warning in the story. There are too many kids around America, and around the world, who are on the verge of being pushed too far. I hope that people will start noticing these kids, and help. I hope that kids who feel like Seth Mason in Painting by numbers, or like Seth Walsh from California, or Asher Brown from Texas, or Billy Lucas from Indiana, or anyone else who has suicidal thoughts, will seek help, and speak up. The worst thing to do is keeping all the pressure and all these thoughts to yourself. The worst thing for a kid is having to live with the thought that death is the only answer. Many of the thoughts Seth Mason has were my own, but I never acted on them. Instead, I found a way out. I think I came out stronger, and my desire for happiness became my force. Today, I don't let anyone or anything bring me down anymore. I'm living out loud and to the fullest, and so should you.

Painting by numbers is available at Amazon, and at Smashwords.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Excerpt: Painting by numbers

8) The Seth Mason needs a girlfriend application form

1. Do you smoke? (Yes I mean weed bitches, any loser can smoke a cigarette.)
2. Do you have boobs? (If all you have is oranges, you need not apply. I’m more of a melon guy.)
3. Do u mind if I wake you up in the middle of the night just to talk? (Even if it's totally random? Like, wtf is the use of Pi?)
4. Are you going to criticize me for every little thing I do? (Teachers and my parents do this enough, so no need for more.)
5. Will you tell me what you're feeling or thinking, at any given moment in time? (I’ll tell you what’s on MY mind at any time, so if you think my dick is too small or if you’re going to dump me for another reason, I want you to tell me right away.)
6. Will you tell me if there’s something you don't like about me? (I will not hesitate to tell you all the things I don’t like about you!)
7. Will you laugh at my jokes even if you don’t understand what the hell I’m talking about? (I don’t care if you don’t understand me, but at least pretend you do.)
8. What is your favorite food? (If you like Chinese, and/or Mexican food, you need not apply. I like good old American cooking. Reply you like burgers and I promise I’ll eat you like one.)
9. Will you just ditch me to hang out with your friends? (At least say no now.)
10. Will you have sex with me even if you promised your mom you’d stay virgin until marriage? (Seriously, I’m so sick of people NOT trying to get in my pants. Forget about all the previous points. I don’t need a girlfriend, or any friends. I just want someone to fuck me like a damn monkey in the jungle. Is that too much to ask for, to have someone to fuck? Can you be the one who’s after my dick instead of my heart? Just remember this; friends come and go, but fuck buddies are forever.