Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bend Me, Shape Me by Debra R. Borys: Character Interview and Excerpt


Welcome back, Jo!  What kind of responses have you received since your last interview here and since the release of Debra R. Borys’s first Street Stories novel, Painted Black?
People I meet on the street now trust me and talk to me even more openly than they used to.  They know that the stories I tell are an attempt to be a voice for them, not written for my own selfish reasons.  They want to be heard so that something can be done to help them, and now they’re starting to believe I can help them with that.
The reviews for the book show that Deb is right on with the way she portrays these street kids.  There is evidence her readers are starting to look at people on the streets with new eyes.  Like one reviewer said, “Borys depicts the street life and struggles in an engaging, interesting way that draws you in and helps give a little perspective into the lives of the homeless. Maybe the next time you see someone huddled in a door frame or sleeping on a park bench, they won’t be quite so invisible.”
What kind of difference did telling Chris Young’s story in Painted Black make in his life?  What is he doing these days?
Chris, aka CRY, is still doing art these days, though usually it’s on paper or canvas now instead of alley walls.  He’s in Job Corps and has a promising future ahead of him.  I’m hopeful that someday he may be able to reconnect with his family.  This one girl I recently helped, Snow Ramirez, knows a lot about the importance of that.
Snow is the bi-polar young woman Borys writes about in her new novel, Bend Me, Shape Me, correct?  She also has a brother who has some sort of developmental disorder.  Do mental health issues make these kids more difficult to deal with?
Mental health issues are a huge problem on the streets.  In my opinion, it’s an even more common denominator than addiction and alcoholism.  Sometimes the reason people start drinking and doing drugs is because they are trying to cope with a mental illness.  That doesn’t mean they deserve less respect or should be feared or shunned.  I find the rule you should apply to everyone, homeless or not homeless, mentally healthy or no, is treat people with respect. Nine times out of ten they will do the same with you.
In Snow’s story, her disability became a road block to anyone believing her when she tried to tell us about the psychiatrist treating her brother Alley.  Her history of histrionics and her manic way of responding to the stressors in her life made her very real fears sound like mad ravings.  Once she felt heard and trusted, we were able to sort through the melodrama to get at the truth of what was really happening.
And was Mordechai Levinson really the ghoul she made him out to be?
Well, you’ll have to read Deb’s book to find out the answer to that. I can tell you that one of his patients, Snow’s friend and someone she stayed with in an abandoned brownstone on the Westside, slit his own throat in front of Snow. He was a patient of Levinson’s. That’s what set her off, that’s what convinced her the doctor was warping the brains of his homeless young patients who had no one to look out for them or speak up for them.  She was desperate to make sure that didn’t happen to her baby brother, and I’m just thankful she trusted me enough to tell me the whole story so we could sort things out. 


Snow Ramirez hasn’t trusted anyone in a very long time, not even herself.  Memories of her childhood on Washington’s Yakama Reservation haunt her even on the streets of Chicago.  When her squat mate Blitz slits his own throat in front of her, she knows it’s time to convince someone to trust her instincts.  Blitz may have been diagnosed bi-polar, like Snow herself, but no way would he have offed himself like that if the shrink he’d been seeing hadn’t bent his mind completely out of shape.

Normally she wouldn’t care.  Who wasn’t crazy in one way or another in this messed up world?  After all, she’d gotten out from under the doctor’s thumb weeks ago and it was too late for Blitz now, wasn’t it?  Snow’s little brother Alley, though, there might still be time to save him.  If only she can get reporter Jo Sullivan to believe her story before Snow loses her own mind.

It was the whispering of two ghosts that drove Leonard Goldenhawk to fly the long distance from Yakima County, Washington to the West Side of Chicago. One was a murdered soul, four years rattling spirit drums and moaning like wind through the mountains. The other had begun as a slowly dying spirit when Rose White took her first drink of raw whiskey at the tender age of thirteen. The weapon used had been distilled by the brother of a tribal elder, the finest bootlegger in the Pacific Northwest.
The shadows of both ghosts waited with Leonard now as he stood within the dark mouth of an alley in Wicker Park and watched the house across the street. He had been on surveillance for four days now, varying the length of his stay, his movements, and the time of day or night. His perseverance had finally paid off. Ten minutes ago, Snow had arrived with no coat, looking distraught. Something was off tonight. So he listened and waited.
Her shrieks came first, wordless and shrill, and pigeons flew from the rain gutter over his head. Then the shouting of the uncle, Spanish curses, and a stream of abuse unusual to hear from the mouth of one so young.
For the words came from her, the niece. Seventeen for now, but soon to be an adult according the laws of the courts. It was also Snow, he was certain, who caused the sudden crash that brought down silence on the night.
The hour was late, past midnight by the path of the moon. His breath made cold clouds before him, and his fingers, even in thick wool gloves, ached from the unaccustomed cruelty of the Chicago wind. Even so, he didn’t move. He had hunted many a mule deer on the rez and knew the best camouflage was stillness.
The door burst open and the girl rushed out. A smell came with her so strong it cut through the fumes of diesel, rotting cabbage, and somewhere, faintly, a trace of cooking meat. A perfume used by old women in the casinos. He had seen many of them, cheeks red with rouge, seated before the slots with spinning icons reflected in their glasses. The wind brought this scent to him, but it came from the open door, not the girl. When she ran down the front steps and around the corner, the smell remained behind.
He moved across the snow, boots crunching wet footprints into the fresh white blanket. A few flakes began to fall again, but fitfully, as if the sky had no energy left. A lone cloud crossed the moon just as he reached the gaping door. He paused but heard no sound except distant cars traveling slowly along unplowed streets.
The stink was stronger inside, and he found the source of it in the first room. Against a wall in the cluttered front room a buffet—a sideboard, his Auntie used to call them—had been swept clear of all the papers and jars and trinkets. All lay tumbled on the floor in a mass of shattered glass and smeared lotions, pills spilled from their vials, porcelain angels missing limbs and noses. A broken bottle of White Shoulders perfume.
The loud tick of a clock came from the kitchen. Through an open door to the right the flicker of a muted television passed patterns of light against the corner of an unmade bed. From behind a couch at the far end of the front room came a flutter of wings like a bird trapped in a chimney.
It was a canary, but not in a chimney; in a half-covered birdcage hanging from the wall. He moved toward it and almost stumbled over someone lying unconscious in the darkness behind the sofa. An overturned tallboy bookcase—magazines and volumes scattered about—had been pulled down on top of the man.
When Leonard lowered the cloth over the cage the bird sang a note like a question mark. “Good question,” he murmured. He squatted and pressed two bare fingers against the man’s neck. The pulse beat strong despite the blood thickening at his temple. There was no wallet or identification, but he knew who this was. Carlos Ramos—the uncle. The stink of booze hinted at a possible reason for the argument.
Leonard stood up, pulling his glove back on. On a small table near the birdcage were several photos in frames. He picked up the one he wanted and held it to the fluid light spilling from the television in the bedroom. The girl, photographed perhaps a year ago, before the piercings in her nose, before her long dark hair had been sheared unevenly, the tips dyed orange red like flames from a feeding fire. The boy beside her looked small for his age, dark like his father, but with the proud nose of his Yakama ancestors and the small eyes and thin upper lip of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
He left the frame and took the photo, tucking it into the inside pocket of his coat. The man at his feet moaned, moved a little. Leonard glanced down, noted the now even breathing, then looked once again around the room.
A small table held candles and incense burners surrounding a statue of Christ on the cross, Mother Mary at his side. Newspapers and magazines everywhere. Tables crowding chairs crowding footstools and dirty plates. The cold air from the open door made its way into the corners.
He thought of his cabin on the banks of the Toppenish Creek: wood burning stove for the winters, a single blanket on the bed, a wood rocker by the window. In summers he would sit on his back porch and gaze across the plateau, Mount Adams and the Cascades to the west, Horse Heaven Hills to the east.
Yet this was what they had called home. This drunk the man they called uncle. He thought of stories told by the old ones of children taken from their houses and fed white man’s ways in boarding schools. The thinning of the blood had begun then. And few people cared to gather what was left, to make the blood line pure again.
Leonard left the door open behind him when he left, a chant from his childhood in his head and beneath his breath. A chant for the children.


     Debra R. Borys is the author of the STREET STORIES suspense novel series. A freelance writer and editor, she spent four years volunteering with Emmaus Ministries and the Night Ministry in Chicago, and eight years doing similar work at Teen Feed, New Horizons and Street Links in Seattle. The STREET STORIES series reflects the reality of throw away youth striving to survive. The first book in the series is Painted Black. Her publication credits include short fiction in Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Downstate Story and City Slab.

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