I wrote the first draft of “Whiteface” at Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp, as a direct result of an idea generation exercise that Scott had us do. We were to come up with five stories in particular ways. One way was by walking around town and noticing odd things that could be prodded into a story, and I saw this teenager at a local WalMart with white paint streaked over his face. I got to thinking: Is this some new kind of fad I don’t know about? I decided he was probably trying to look like a vampire or something.
Anyhow, that led to me wondering what would happen if we all had painted faces, and the colors determined something about us. And what if we chose these colors as infants? I had this great image of a baby sitting in the middle of circle of colors, about to choose, and this became the basis of a story about a son who chooses a color that makes him basically a slave to his tribe.
But that story seemed . . . dry. I was interested in the society but not the characters. Enter the second idea generation activity: research.
Oddly enough, my research topic was Nikola Tesla, who figures prominently in this issue’s cover story “Under the Shield.” I’d seen a Discovery channel documentary on him a couple weeks earlier, and was intrigued by him. What I found was that he was a proponent of Eugenics, which is an appalling application of the theory of evolution that says we should keep people with negative traits from breeding in order to increase the vigor of the human race. From that I got a story about a boy who was to be castrated when he came of age because of a genetic deformity.
That story, like the other, seemed lifeless as well. It wasn’t until I combined them that things started coming to life. I realized that the real story was about the father coming to grips with his son’s fate, and that the son was adamant about accepting the color he’d chosen as an infant.
That first draft was rough and full of holes, but the critique process was revelatory. Not only did I get some awesome suggestions from Scott Card himself (Leaping-Deer, Otter’s father, was not in the original story at all), but the other bootcampers supplied me with the most useful, honest critiques a writing group can possibly give. I went back home immediately and got to work on the story, doing more research, and tightening up the story with the help of fellow bootcamper Trina Phillips.
I hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I did writing it!
-Jared Oliver Adams