Warning: This is not a very pretty, shiny post.
Bliss House is the tentative title of my nearly-completed WIP. I won't go into deep detail here--this isn't about the novel itself, but about some accidental research.
Jillian McAdam is a fourteen year-old girl who has shut herself away in the massive house her mother has just purchased in historic central Virginia. She's hiding from the world, afraid that she's become a freak because of the vicious burns covering a significant portion of her body. Bliss House may be a heaven or hell for her--it will turn out to be a bit of both, in the end.
I've looked at lots of photographs of burn victims, wondering what being seriously burned must feel like, and wondering what it would be like to almost die from devastating burns. I've pondered what it means to be disfigured--and what disfigurement really is. There are acceptable ranges of appearance that vary from one culture to the next. But the ranges are never very wide or terribly different from one another. Deviance from symmetrical norms is barely tolerated. And suffering as a fashion went out with hair shirts and self-flagellating monks.
My experience of a small burn wrought by carelessness is nothing compared to the anguish endured by the seriously injured, but it certainly got my attention.
As fond as I am of good research, I didn't burn myself on purpose. We had company at the house a little over a week ago, and I made pizzas. Lazy bum that I am, I didn't bother to remove the oven rack sitting just a few inches above the rack holding the pizza stone. As I used a spatula to ease the stone-cooked pizza onto a baking sheet for cutting and serving, I accidentally burned my forearm on the unused rack. I didn't think anything of it at the time, of course. Anyone who bakes more than once in a blue moon can tell you that the occasional minor burn is part of the drill.
It wasn't until the following evening that the burn became a problem. Bengal and I were taking a CPR class for Scouts at a local hospital when someone brushed up against my arm and tore off the fragile veil of damaged skin covering the more tender layers. I had to bite my lip to keep from crying out. The burn looked pink and stupidly innocent, but it hurt a lot. That evening, I started putting an antibiotic cream on it. Eventually, my daughter convinced me that I needed to cover it with a loose bandage and actual burn cream. Here's how it looks after a week:
It still hurts like hell if I touch it.
Now I must go back and extrapolate and imagine my character's day to day life and I'm not sure if I can do it. The wound on my arm is about one-inch square. Jillian, my character, is a year out from her accident, and while she may not be in immediate physical pain, the memory of that pain must surely be beyond horrific. She is irreparably scarred--in both body and soul. Fortunately, for Jillian, Bliss House offers her something close to comfort and healing. But that healing can never be complete. Her pain can never be forgotten. She needs only to look down at her hands, or to look in the mirror to live it all over again. Still, Jillian's story is fiction. It's not real.
In my research, I stumbled upon Angel Faces, a non-profit group that provides healing retreats and ongoing support for adolescent girls with severe facial disfigurement. Also, Firefighters Quest for Burn Survivors. They seem to have a real heart for burn victims. You might want to check them out.