Illustration by Ana Hinojosa.

I am thinking a lot about damage. The moments that make your heart go dark and then your knees go soft with pain. But how when you surface, you are possessed by a strange, new grace. Damage has given you something: an unexpected gift, a deeper take on this Heaven-Hell-Heaven that we call a life.

My novel, HEARTBREAKER, is populated by damaged people. I write fighters. I write survivors. The story starts with Billie Jean Fontaine (yes, named for the Michael Jackson song), bolting barefoot from her bungalow into the cold October darkness. She vanishes. She abandons her fifteen-year old daughter, the bombastic Pony Darlene, her quiet storm of a husband, The Heavy, and her ancient lesbian killer dog, the ever-loyal Gena Rowlands (yes, named for the movie star). Why does Billie Jean leave? Where does she go? Like solving a crime, those who love her are left behind to piece together her secrets.

For me, the women of books become real when they do something bad–when they lie, cheat, kill. Too often the women of books, as in life, must be plain heroes–noble and pure. I am always drawn to the other kind of woman–the woman who contains multitudes. Billie Jean is as electric as Nina Simone. She glues rhinestones around her eyes. She’s a bolt of lightning, her own weather pattern. And yet she is shy and haunted, with a vast and private interior world. She has gone through things, terrible things, and must find a place where she can reckon with her ghosts.

One night, about ten years ago, I met up with a beloved friend. She was in a black slip dress, black overcoat, black high tops–her face, sunken. She was grieving. Her mother had died suddenly, and my friend was racked with a pain that stretched out endlessly before her. She felt the pain might swamp her other qualities and become all that she was. I opened my palm. In its center, like the dark eye of a new flower, was a necklace. It was a gold-plated chain–tarnished, beaten by wear and beaten by time. It was sold to me at a pawn shop: AS IS. I fastened the chain around my friend’s neck, this partly glimmering loop of punk rock. We agreed that the best people, the ones who are worth knowing, loving, and being, are as is.

Here is your creative prompt: Locate the as is moment in your own life, and then portray it in your art–a photograph, a song, a poem, an ink drawing, a delicate hand-sewn dress punctured by safety pins, a camo jacket with LOVE HURTS Sharpied across the back. See that those parts of you that appear to be separate and at war–your past pain and your future happiness–are, in fact, bonded. There is not one without the other. You have your damage–and then you have what you make of it. Send us your stories along with your first name, last initial, age, and city/state to [email protected] with the subject line “Creative Prompt” by Friday, September 21 at 6 PM EST.

Last month, we asked you to explore the things that make you who you are. Here’s what you came up with…