COVER REVEAL: Half-Resurrection Blues

Beyond excited to reveal this stunning cover for my first novel, Half-Resurrection Blues, part of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc imprint. Y’all…I love this. That’s the Grand Army Plaza behind Carlos, which sits right at the opening of Prospect Park and beside the Brooklyn Public Library. Besides being creepy and beautiful, that memorial used to house a secret puppet museum that you could only go in whenever the little old lady running it happened to be there (always reminded me of those King’s Quest/Space Quest computer games where you just had to wander around hoping the right witch/dragon/dwarf would/wouldn’t be where you went so you could get the secret treasure/not die horribly…but i digress).

It’s thoroughly just right. The Park — well, most of my characters end up there at one point or another fighting evil or finding solace. In HRB it’s the site of transformation and a long romantic walk and the arch itself plays a major role in the plot. Roc was excellent with me in the process, checked in regularly and went back to the drawing board when I had complaints, so a huge thank you to them.Half-Resurrection Blues Final Cover

My Writing Process: Blog Tour

My friend and mentor Tananarive Due asked me to take part in this excellent blog tour about writing process. It was passed to her by another friend of mine and fellow VONA alum Serena Lin. Here’s Serena’s post and here’s my contribution:

bunny type

1) What are you working on?
I’m juggling! About to start edits on Half-Resurrection Blues, the first in the Bone Street Rumba series which comes out from Penguin’s Roc imprint in January, and Shadowshaper, a Young Adult novel about a Nuyorican girl that brings her murals to life with spirit magic in Brooklyn, that comes out from Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine imprint next summer. Both are winding up edits at the same time.
I’m also right in the middle of writing the (still untitled) sequel to Half-Resurrection Blues, Bone Street Rumba Book 2. I got right up to this pivotal halfway point and then stepped away to jump into these other projects and I’m almost aching to get back already, but I know I will when the time is right.

2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
Well, Urban Fantasy has, in its mass-market published form anyway, been a very white genre, and I write work that actively degentrifies it. Of course, people of color have always told amazing, fantastical stories about The City, but they don’t get published or boosted or supported. I think it matters that we tell stories not just with characters of color but that we allow our sensibilities and voices and complex truths to be absorbed into the very narrative arcs, the rhythms, the mythologies of our work.
3) Why do you write what you do?
To continue from Question 2, I write like I do so that others can too. When I read great works of fiction written in voices that are familiar to me, that are Home to me, I’m given permission to do the same. So I hope my work tells other writers that yes, our voices matter, our voices are exceptional and crucial and we will be heard, loud and clear and true.

4) How does your writing process work?
I love the creative process. An idea shows up. Sometimes it’s a situation; usually it’s a character. The character is so alive, I can’t help but play the story out. It thrives and surges forward and I wrastle it one way then another, let it flow then steer it back towards plot, a turning point. It’s so much fun. At some point, I know: it’s time to write. Sitting down too early can be fatal. That’s when you just sit there staring at the screen like an asshole and feel like shit. You gotta know when to strike. So I walk with it, dance with it, move and sleep and sometimes even draw it out, and then at some point I know it’s time so I sit and pour it out onto the page.
For the actual writing process, I like to have a cup of something hot to drink while I sit there mulling it and listening ot music, then I just really focus on flow – not grammar or sequence or anything else but getting those words out into sentences that flow into paragraphs and push the story forward. Flow is the kind of thing you can’t fake – it’s almost performative, not in the sense of acting or putting on a ruse so much as an action that happens in the very moment. Other things you can go back and fix: plot and character development, word choices, clarity. But flow is magic. You can’t explain it or teach it. So when I’m writing, flow is what matters. All that other shit gets handled in editing.
NEXT WEEK: Sofia Samatar and Sofia Quintero write their process posts!

Pub Deal Announcement: SHADOWSHAPER

In January 2009 I decided to write a book. I’ve always written, always made up strange worlds and sent characters hurdling into them, always dreamt of monsters. But until that day, I was scattered: a screenplay here, a few essays there. Some poems. None of ‘em went very far.
I’d read all the Harry Potters and loved them, loved how they immersed me in the world so thoroughly and stayed grounded and exciting. And I wanted something more… I’d just finished Junot’s Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao and Walter Mosley’s Six Easy Pieces and the combined ferocity of those two singular and relentlessly truthful voices lit a fire inside me. Octavia Butler’s work stoked that fire and Stephen King’s On Writing reminded me that writing a book was something that can be done, long as you sit down and do it.

So I did.

I was working graveyard shifts on an ambulance in Brooklyn, getting home at dawn and waking up at noon and writing, plotting, thinking, pacing. Mosley and Butler and Díaz gave me permission to write in my own voice, and I wanted to use that voice to take a seat at the table of magical Young Adult literature and urban fantasy.

So I did.

The book I wrote over the next few months is a world away from the book that I’m finishing edits on now. I tore it apart and put it back together more times than I even want to remember. I discarded characters and recycled them into other stories. Nathan Bransford guided me through many of these revisions and helped me understand mechanics of plot and how to raise the stakes.
Fast forward fast forward fast forward through countless submissions and rejections, agents coming and going and in the meantime, I did what they always tell you to do after you finish a story and send it out: I started another. And then I started another. And that’s how Salsa Nocturna was born.
Today, it’s with a tremendous amount of joy and excitement that I announce that this book, the book I started five years ago in the basement of my Brooklyn apartment and have finished and started again many times since then, will be released from the same publishers that brought Harry Potter to the US, Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Imprint, in the summer of 2015.
The book is called Shadowshaper and it’s about Sierra Santiago, a Puerto Rican teenager in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn that learns how to bring her murals to life with spiritual magic. I’m grateful to my amazing editor, Cheryl Klein and my always fantastic agent Eddie Schneider for making this all happen and believing in this story and this voice.
As you can imagine, I’m over here mamboing my ass off.

Storify on the Strange Horizons Long Hidden Review and Voice

<div><iframe src=”//” width=”100%” height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src=”//”></script><noscript>[<a href=”//” target=”_blank”>View the story “On a @StrangeHorizons #LongHidden Review and Voice” on Storify</a>]</noscript></div>

Recent Publications

I Sought Solace in my Bookshelf: on love, violence and literature at Buzzfeed Books

Move Over, Lovecraft…Fantasy Writers of Color are Coming Through at The Guardian

Dust at Lightspeed/iO9

Animal, a short story at Nightmare Magazine

Snowpiercer and the One White Dude To Rule Them All at Al Dia

NPR’s Latino USA segment on race, sci-fi and publishing featuring NK Jemisin, Nalo Hopkinson and me

The FanBros site interviews me about what I’m up to

 Jamie Moore and I interview the great Kiese Laymon about race, publishing and craft

On the Spirit World and White Supremacy in Publishing: an Interview with Latino Rebels

Specter Magazine interviews me about writing

Kimbilio Fiction interviews me about writing

Diversity Is Not Enough: Race Power Publishing at BuzzFeed Books

Gentrification’s Insidious Violence and the Truth About American Cities at Salon

Anyway: Angie, a short story in the Bone Street Rumba series at

Thom Hartmann interviews me about the White Savior Complex in slavery narratives

 12 Fundamentals of Writing ‘the Other’ (and the Self) at BuzzFeed Books

One Hundred Years of Weird Fear: On Lovecraft’s Literature of Genealogical Terror at BuzzFeed Books

What’s Like The Craziest Shit You’ve Ever Seen?” at The New Haven Review and Gawker

It’s time to take the white savior out of slave narratives at Salon

Whitewashed TV isn’t just racist, it’s boring at Salon

Another World Waits: Towards An Anti-Oppressive Sci-Fi & Fantasy at Apex

How I Found My Voice As A Feminist Of Color at Salon

An Interview With Ashley Ford

Victory Music a short story with audio

Set Truth On Stun: A Roundtable Discussion on Reimagining An Anti-Oppression and SFF

Borges’ Birdman and The Roots of Story a guest post on process and dreams

Writing From The Crossroads of Life & Death a guest post on EMS and writing

Skin Like Porcelain Death reprinted from Salsa Nocturna



(originally published in Salsa Nocturna)


In a couple of hours, Magdalena will walk out of a forest and into a field. I’ve imagined

the moment so many times now. One of her spaghetti straps’ll be hanging down her

shoulder and she’ll still be carrying the machete with her. She won’t be smiling. Face so

serious you’d wonder if she’ll ever smile again. But she will walk out into that field and

far, far away, and leave the terrible past behind her.

“So you’re saying you still think about her?” Big Cane breaks into my imaginings.

Probably because he’s bored. We’ve been floating amidst the manicured bushes in front of

this library for two days now, waiting, watching, watching, waiting. Not glamorous at all,

this ghost hunting work.

“Every mothafuckin’ day, B. Well, okay, not every single one. But many. And especially

as today started coming up.”

“This was when you were still alive that you knew her?” His enormity demands he

always be looking down at whoever he’s speaking to, but otherwise, Big Cane is the least

condescending white person I’ve ever met, dead or alive. When he looks at me, I believe

he really does see me, not some cavewoman cartoon he caught on TV in whatever

century he lived in, not some pitiful, overweight, punk rock colored chick that needs

saving. It’s something in his eyes.

“Yeah. This boarding school I went to.” I always pause there. Don’t ask me why. “For

troubled teens.”

I hope I’m right about Cane, because I’ve told him more about my life than I’ve ever told

anyone else ever. He has a way of just prying stuff out of me, probably because he really

doesn’t try, just makes his little noises and occasionally sews together sentences and then

I get to babbling. Which I swear is really unlike me, except when it’s not. That particular

grunt means, “I see” with an added connotation of “What are you gonna do about it,

then?” We spend a lot of time together, me and Cane.

I shrug and move my neck in circles to ease the soreness of so much of the same. “I don’t

know if Imma do anything, yet. There’s something to be said for letting go.”

“Hm.” Amen.

At the coffee shop across the street, life bumbles along its insanely dull daily routine.

We’re in Riverdale, a gushy suburban corner of the Bronx and not a damn interesting

thing has happened here since 1947. Probably not true: a few night clubs and assorted

shenanigan holes are scattered around on Broadway, not far away, but this block right

here? Duller than death. You’d never guess there’re three parasite phantoms poised to

feed on an entire room full of pediatric souls in the daycare center behind the coffee shop.

“Oh, look, that same mom with the two kids from yesterday,” Big Cane points out.

“Mm.” I’m getting to be more like him with each passing day of this insane stake out.

Good thing I like him.

“‘Cept she’s a little later today.”

“Indeed.” Kill me now.

Cane adjusts his position, stretches those gigantic arms forward and then up above his

head. “So…I think you should do something.” A rare declaration of opinion from the

ancient giant.

I frown. “Suggestions?”




Magdalena strolled into fifth period English class late and chewing gum one chilly Friday

afternoon, and slid into the seat next to mine. She wore a purple dress and you could tell

she had those kind of breasts that just lay there against her chest and that she didn’t give a

fuck what people thought about that. Halfway through the class she slid a folded up sheet

of lined paper onto my desk with a drawing of a penis riding a mule, its grotesquely hairy

nutsack straddling the saddle like fat little legs. I tried to suppress a cackle, caught some

saliva in my windpipe and erupted into a coughing fit.

When I recovered and Mr. Davis stopped glaring at me, I drew devil horns on the donkey

and a backpack on the penis with a little baby penis poking its head out, papoose style.

That was the first time I saw Magdalena smile. It exploded like the tearing of two

tectonic plates across her face; transformed her in seconds from a snarling teenager to a

bright little girl. Her two front teeth were huge and one laid slightly on top of the other

like it was trying to hold it back from picking a fight with the world. Then she

disappeared the smile, perhaps never to be seen again, and concentrated on drawing the

mama penis and her mule.


“I think it’s time,” I say, more because I’m bored than any real reason.

Big Cane shakes his big head. “Not yet.”


A nod and the slightest of smiles.

“How will we know?” I’m not usually this impatient but Magdalena’s big moment is

rapidly approaching, and it’s drenching my thought process with a swirl of gruesome

images. Not the walking out the forest ones. Other, uglier scenes, that I’d rather not think

about. “The Council gonna send us a message or something?”

Cane lets out a gentle chortle and rubs his big fingers into his eyes. “Council ain’t tellin’

us shit except come to XYZ location, wait and move when it’s time to move. The

parasites been holed up in there for two days, gathering strength while the kids come and

go. And you and me are the eyes and ears of the Council right now, Krys. That’s it.”

“So we just wait ‘till some magical moment? How do we decide what to do?”

“Look, you wanna talk about what you’re really talking about?” Cane says instead of

answering. I hate that he can see right through me. I also love it, but right now I just

bristle and shrug. I am, after all, still a teenager.

Cane shrugs too and it looks like a mountain range going for a stroll. “Suit yourself.”

I let a moment or two pass, because I don’t want to seem too anxious, and then say, “It’s

an anniversary thing. The day and hour she turns eighteen and… The day something

horrible happened to her, years ago.” Cane nods and I say, “On her eleventh birthday,

actually.” I’m not sure why I added that detail; maybe I needed to see Cane flinch like

that, to know there was still some living, feeling thing under all those translucent layers

of muscle and fat. But then I feel bad, because now the sadness in his eyes won’t go away

and it’s too late to go back. “Her father.”

Cane looks like he’s been slapped and for what it’s worth, a part of me is relieved. You

never know how someone, especially a man, is gonna react to information like that, and I

was afraid he’d just go on being the big stoic impenetrable badass he always is and that I

would hate him for it.

Terrible, how far and wide the tentacles of a single act can spread.


I wasn’t crying as Magdalena finished telling her story but I was definitely making stupid

little sobby noises and frowning a whole lot. It was three am on the morning of her

sixteenth birthday. We’d snuck out of our dorm and holed up in a little makeshift nest

made of stolen blankets and flickering candles in the cramped props room behind the

auditorium. I hiccupped and sniffled but Magdalena just sat there calm as could be like

she was talking ‘bout what she had for breakfast. Then she told me about the promise

she’d made to herself. A covenant, she called it, fiddling idly with one of the silver spikes

sticking out of her lower lip. A covenant. Then she frowned.

She still had babyfat on her face and her hair was tied back beneath a red bandana. I felt

so big and solid next to her wispy little frame, but for the first time in maybe ever that

bigness didn’t feel like a bad thing, an awkward thing, it just felt like what I was. I wished

in that moment that I could bottle the certainty in her eyes that made it so simple and

obvious to just be me. Wished I could manufacture a lifetime supply for every moment a

stranger’s gaze told me the opposite.


“It’s time.”

I look up from my memories. Cane is poised like a giant tiger that’s about to obliterate

some unknowing gazelle. The bastard’s actually smiling about the magnificent asswhupping

he’s about to deliver and that’s why me and Big C are peoples. Because I’m

smiling, too. Life, death, struggle, whatever: It’s complicated, laden with strife and

disagreements, regret, poisoned hearts and betrayals. We’re all survivors of something.

And nothing helps all that muck disappear into the ether, at least momentarily, like truly

wailing on some deserving fool of a soul-sucking phantom.

I don’t know what silent cue Cane took from the universe to tell him our moment had

come. He never gives me a straight answer when I try to ask; instinct I guess. A thing I’m

only beginning to understand. Either way, like he says, he just knows.

At a nodded signal, I pull my bow and arrow from my back and aim at the sky above the

coffee shop. Feels so good, so right to stretch my arms after so long sitting and waiting.

Just right. I take an extra second to double check my aim, imagining the havoc I’m about

to unleash. I don’t really need to, but this is no time for arrogance. Children’s lives are at


I release, feel the projectile erupt from my bow, stretch upwards in a glorious arc, cut

through the late afternoon sky above the heads of a dozen oblivious passersby. It hangs

there for a solid second, as if unsure whether or not to give in to gravity, and then

plummets. The warhead at the end is a sharpened canister: the spiritual equivalent of a

shock grenade. It won’t do any real damage but should stun everybody enough to give us

the upper hand.

Inside the building, fourteen kindergarteners stand in a tangled shadow web. They can’t

see it of course, can’t see anything in their semi-comatose state, but those misty lines

stretch between the three hunched over phantoms. The parasites are fully in some kind of

hellacious meditation, all bent on their soul-sucking ways. They’re draining these kids of

their life force. The kids’ll live but they’ll just be shells, no vitality. Failure to thrive, it’s

called in medical textbooks. The rest of their sad lives will be a failure to thrive. At least

that’s what would’ve happened. Instead, my warhead comes dancing out of the sky,

swoops through all those layers of concrete and wire mesh and finds its mark smack in

the middle of the feeding.

Cane and I burst out of our hiding place. People walk down the street like it’s just another

day in Riverdale, strolling, shopping, going about their business. We cut through them, a

sudden breeze against the flesh of the living, and push into the building. The arrow has

done its job well; the parasites stumble every which way, their long interconnecting

tentacles flapping in the air uselessly. The kids blink awake; a few start crying and

running around in circles.

I bring my bow down hard on the first parasite I pass, smashing it into the ground in a

pathetic ghostly heap. The next one is recovering some; it lurches up at me and I meet it

with a fist in the face. The thing crumples again and I move on, stepping gingerly over

the collapsing ghost web.


After Magdalena told me about her plan we sat quietly for a few minutes. This band she

likes, Culebra, screamed and wailed on a gritty little speaker box she brought and the

only other sound was us pulling on the joint, coughing occasionally. If it had been totally

quiet, no music, no smoking, nada? I think she would’ve been able to hear my heart

sobbing. No tears came out, although Magdalena’s story has pulled the floor out from

under me. I just let the sadness become a sleeping snake, curled up inside me. I let it rise

in my chest, squeezing a little tighter with each puff of smoke.

After a few minutes, Magdalena opened up that big smile once again. “The other part of

my plan is this”:”

“Tell me.”

“Every year until then,” she said like she was coming to the end of a really corny ghost

story, “on my birthday, I will make love to a beautiful woman.”

I burst out laughing, but Magdalena had folded her smile back away. I stopped laughing

and we just looked at each other across the candlelight.


“Go,” Cane says. He has his own covenant, the protocols of manhood. He follows them

religiously and they don’t allow him to put words to what’s on his mind. But he doesn’t

have to. A certain tremble erupts in those ghostly pupils and it tells me everything I need

to know. “Go,” he says again, but he’s really saying Go, because it happened to me too.

Because I survived and lived a long healthy life and so should she. Go.

When I hesitate he nods towards the last writhing phantom and says “I got this” in a voice

so hoarse and serious I almost hug him. But that’s not the move right now and I know it.

The move is get out of here and find Magdalena. Fast. So that’s what I do.


“Actually,” I said when Magdalena put her pretty, uneven lips against my neck, “I like

boys.” I still cringe when I think about it.

“Me too,” Magdalena said between slurps.

I was lying on my back. Lying perfectly still, because if I moved, the whole moment

might shatter. “I mean I’m not gay.”

Magdalena didn’t say anything, just worked her mouth down my shoulders and along my


I didn’t know whether I was relieved or disappointed when she stopped kissing my toes

and nuzzled up on top of me like a kitten sleeping on a baby bear in one of those feelgood

postcard photos. I mean, I was praying the whole time, to an entity I knew no name

for, and cringing too, and I suppose all my prayers and my shame and pleasure got mixed

into one sultry, complicated sludge that got sent up to Whomever and that was that.

I said, “I thought you were going to make love to me,” trying to make my voice neutral.

“I did,” she said and I felt her smile against my chest.

First, I felt sad, because maybe in her strange, broken world that’s what making love was.

No vaginas, no ins and outs, no gooey juices; just a whole mess of the gentlest kisses in

the world placed with the utmost care on each available body part and then a good

cuddle. I watched the top of her head rise and fall with each of my breaths. I had never

felt so peaceful in all my life. Maybe that was what making love was in my strange,

broken world too, and it was everyone else who had it wrong. I smiled and was grateful it

was too dark for her to see the tears sliding out of my eyes, down my face and onto the

stolen blankets.


This is where she said it would happen. I move quickly through a clearing; I’m just a

translucent flash in the darkening sky and then I’m gone, disappeared into the shadows of

the forest.

Perfect spot for a killing, really. There’s no one around for miles; we’re well away from

the main road in a vast park in the murky nether region where Brooklyn becomes Queens.

I glide forward on intuition mainly, because once I enter the woods it’s anyone’s guess

where she might be. Maybe it’s the beginning of Big Cane’s magic being born in me too; I

feel myself getting closer. Then I see her.

I’m too late. Sort of. Magdalena’s standing by a concrete opening in the forest floor,

maybe the foundation of some building that never got built. It’s full of murky rainwater

that looks like it’s been there for eons, all sludge and dead leaves and trash. Doesn’t

matter. What matters is the lifeless collection of limbs piled in the mulch at the edge of

the pool. The ground is dark with blood and blood is splattered in a frantic design across

Magdalena’s white t-shirt and jeans. She’s crying. Wipes a hand over her sweaty brow,

slathering blood all across her face. She’s still got the machete in one hand, and as I move

towards her, she places the tip of the blade against her belly and closes her eyes.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. I admit I had no plan. But I thought maybe I’d make it

here before the deed was done. I’d figure out some way to prevent it but still cause the

stupid guy enough holy terror to keep him from ever doing anything so foul ever again –

maybe castration as a last resort – and then Madgalena would walk away, out into the

field and on into the rest of her life.

I wrap around Madgalena, feel her shudder as my translucence covers her. She can’t see

me; I’m only a memory, a whisper, but I’ll be a whisper at the forefront of her

consciousness, I’ll be memory enough to blot out all the seeping terror. She trembles, her

body still stiffened, ready to strike.

I’m just new to the afterlife but I have some swagger to my magic. I squeeze tighter,

throw all my spiritual strength into making my ethereal almost nothingness break through

into that flesh and blood dimension. And Magdalena still stands there on the line,

wavering slightly in the early evening breeze like some baby oak tree.

It’s a few minutes before I realize that whatever I’m doing isn’t working. She’d thought

there would be some sense of relief, some triumph and closure after all that waiting and

plotting. Instead there’s just an emptiness so deep it infects me too: A total devastating

void. Magdalena lets out a sob and tightens her grip on the machete.

I was a pretty devout atheist in life. That night in the prop dock was probably the one

prayer I could put my name to. Since I died I’m not so sure. Hard to deny that there’s

something else out there when you are that something else. Cane, on the other hand, was

a true believer all through life and still hangs out in the back of some church in

Inglewood on Sunday mornings, smoking his hand rolled cigarettes and trying not to get

mistaken for the Holy Spirit. He says every soul is like a tiny shard of glass that reflects

God. He says when you’re dead, you’re just a soul, and the reflection is even stronger, not

muddled by all that flesh and blood and “‘living people shit”.’

Right now, at this moment, I’m gonna go with Cane’s view of the world, because it’s the

biggest source of strength I can find. I’ll be that super-magnified shard of divine light if

that’ll make some glimmer of hope filter through me into Magdalena’s sad soul. I’ll be

that. That emptiness keeps trying to overtake me, the sudden absence of life lying in a

crumpled pile in front of us, the sudden absence of mission and fire in the girl I’m

surrounding. My mind keeps trying to get distracted by the horror that just happened, but

I force it back into focus.

At first I think I’ll imagine-up a beautiful future for Magdalena, one where she’s peaceful,

not haunted by today or that day eight years ago or anything else that’s happened in

between. But I need something more solid than a dreamy sunlit apartment and a warm

cup of tea. Instead, I dig up a memory: The last week of my life, when every cell in my

body wanted so badly to live. Cancer won, but the imprint of that desire, that thirst for

life bubbles up inside me now and I let it overflow into Magdalena.

I slide my arms down hers, ease along like a second skin across her. My whole being is

vibrating with that memory, the lion’s roar to live, and I let it vibrate from my core all the

way through Magdalena and out into the forest around us.

A minute passes, or maybe ten. I lose track. Lose track of my own trembling, transparent

body and all my joys and sorrows. Lose track of which is me and which is her or whether

it matters, which of us is teetering on the fine line between life and death. Both I suppose.

And then Magdalena lets out a long, shaky breath and I know we’ve won. Death will have

to wait its turn for her. She lowers the machete, squats down and pushes the pile of limbs

that was her father into the green water. The last pale appendage disappears with a

gurgle. Magdalena stands and then walks out of the woods and into the field.


These workshops are available for all ages and can be tailored to fit different times. Shoot me an email to discuss pricing and availability:



In this 3-hour workshop we will break open the rules and preconceived notions about gender and race, tracing their affect on our daily lives back to the cultural, institutional dynamics that created them. Using these power maps, we’ll explore tools for incorporating the analytics of oppression and resistance into the narrative arts.



This 3-hour interactive intensive explores the basic elements of story: plot , character, context, and conflict. Beyond these fundamentals, we’ll discuss the strategies for taking our narratives to the next level, touching on deeper concepts of craft and thematic structure.

Breaking Bad Season 3’s Epic Finale

First of all, shout out to the amazing use of that opening preamble section. As the show’s matured, they’ve put those couple minutes before the Opening Titles to amazing use. What’s refreshing about it is that since the show is otherwise so tightly written, each tiny moment builds the story, they have the luxury of using these vignettes for worldbuilding, backstory and character development. That’s why we have these amazing bite-sized treats like the narcocorrido about Walter White, in its entirety, the commercial for Los Pollos Hermanos dissolving to a Picture Picture like montage of meth production and the sad, telling moments of backstory that are inessential but beautiful. Love.

Second of all, I honestly thought this season was going to fall prey to the Amazing Penultimate Episode Disorder I blogged about with Boardwalk Empire earlier. Halfway through the season, we got this incredible war in a parking lot. It results in the loss of two antagonists that they’d been building up as badass since day one and while Walter wasn’t directly involved, it felt like a finale in a lot of ways. Now, at the time it’s clear part of the hugeness of this event is that it’s all orchestrated by Gus, it solidifies him as a tactical genius and as such even more badass and formidable an opponent than the twins, so yes, I see how it’s all an amazing set up. At the same time, about three quarters the way through things start to lose steam. It almost feels like a new season without the twins and with Hank out of commission and Jessie back cooking. It’s disconcerting. Then this conflict with the drug dealers from last season comes up and it feels a little forced — a stroke of randomness, Jessie meeting and getting together with the sister of the child that shot one of his dealers last season, causes him to suddenly want to beef with them. It’s the second absurdly random plot point that sets things in a whole new direction (last season was Walt’s chance meeting with Jane’s dad in a bar the night she died).

You know when else this happened? The Dragon Tattoo series. They had built up some amazing bad guys and then they just killed em off midway through the series and while I still love those books, I think they could’ve gotten a lot more traction if they’d kept some of those vile cats around a little longer.

Anyway, then the penulimate epi rolls around and it’s fucking excellent, full of tension and oh shit oh shit, even with the somewhat outta nowhere conflict and the sense of deja vu as Walt once again steps in a saves Jessie’s aintshit ass. I thought, one more time and that’s gonna become a shtick, yaknow? But there was more to come. Instead of spending the whole finale cleaning up the mess and slow winding down to some faux-ass sense of closure, the last episode just ratchets everything up. From the first tense meet-up to forge a fragile ceasefire in the desert onward, each scene builds on the last to land at the final, disastrous sequence: a perfect set up that demands Jessie step out of his always fucking up, always getting saved shell and make a decision. The problem is, the ‘right’ decision, to save his partner’s life, requires him to take someone else’s in cold blood.

This ending does everything an ending should: the threat is real. When Gus’s hitmen pick up Walt and for the first time we seem really lose his cool, actually beg for his life, it’s both emotionally gripping and the threat is real. Even knowing the show goes on, we really feel like he might get it. The stakes are high. The enemy has been slowly established over the season as the baddest of bad guys, even if he appears mild mannered, we know he’s ruthless and brilliant. The outer conflict intwines flawlessly with the inner ones, both Walt’s descent into full on gangster/tension with being a family man and Jessie’s need to be decisive/not a self absorbed fuckup. So the final final last moment, where we’re wondering in those awful seconds which of the two impossible choices Jessie will land on, is earned. And then it just blacks out, and all the things that may or may not happen next hang in the air around us until we cue up season 4….