Secondary Characters Speak Out About Burning Man
by Edmond Manning
My latest release in The Lost and Founds series, King John, introduces a few secondary characters, all attendees of Burning Man in the year 2002. We see bits of their stories through their interactions with narrator, Vin Vanbly, but a few of them have intriguing insights about Burning Man and what drives people to attend.
These voices might be worth hearing.
Meet Helena and Alan, a mid-twenties couple who have attended Burning Man for a number of years. He’s blond and a little sunburned, but who isn’t this week at Burning Man? This mighty and naughty festival in the desert boasts incredible costumes, mutant cars, and the craziness of people who gather to worship the sun and themselves. Helena is his girlfriend, and she walks the playa like a black goddess, turning the heads of men and women alike. Back home, she works as a costume designer for a university drama department.
John is possibly the same age as Helena and Alan and wants a career as a musician, but to be on the safe side, he’s getting a degree in pharmaceuticals. Lots of jobs in that market. But attending Burning Man is freeing for him, a reminder his life isn’t locked up in a pill box, unless he wants it to be. Last year was his first year as a burner, and he loved it.
And Michelle, who—well, Michelle speaks for herself. Best not to give her an introduction. She’d only criticize it.
How many times have you been to Burning Man?
Alan: This is my fifth year and Helena’s third.
Helena: Actually, babe, it’s my fourth and your sixth.
Alan: Right. I forgot about the year it rained.
John: My second year. I was a burgin last year, which is what you call someone who is attending their virgin year. But that’s not me this year.
Michelle: My first time. Although I don’t like the word burgin. Don’t call me that.
And what brought you back to Burning Man? Or for Michelle, what brought you here for the first time?
Helena: We love it. As a costume designer, I come for inspiration. And these people are doing fabulous things on the cheap. I learn how to do things on a budget from everybody here.
Alan: Uh, and it’s fun, right, honey? Fun? Honey? She doesn’t like it when I call her honey.
Helena (laughing): I only dislike it when you’re so phony about it, you fucking fake.
Alan (laughing): Also, we have more sex out here than we do at home.
Helena: True. But it can get boring out here. Sometimes sex is all there is.
Alan: Gee. Thanks.
Michelle: Gross. By the way, you look fabulous. I love those necklaces. They’re all fake gold, right?
Helena (laughs): Thank you. And no comment.
John: I came—
Michelle: Kisses, girl.
John: I came this year because last year was amazing. I had such a great time. We didn’t get the exact same crew back this year, but I’m sure it’s gonna be a blast. We love hanging out together, me and my camp. We never get enough of it in the real world and so out here, we really get to spend time together. It’s amazing.
Michelle: Me? Oh, I dunno. I came because I was bored.
How would you describe Burning Man to someone who had never been here?
Alan: I would describe it as a wild party in the desert. A chance to get outside of civilization and remember freedom. It’s insane out here. Even with all the electronics and fire and parties, the best part is the people.
Helena: This is why I love you. I know you’re obsessed with the electronics, the fire gadgets and everything, but you still said the best part is the people. Love you, babe.
Alan: I love you too. And I want to be clear that I don’t mind being used for sex, even if it’s just because you’re bored.
Helena: I’m never going to live that down, am I?
Alan (smiling): No, ma’am.
Helena: If I promise we can do something kinky later today, will that help you forget?
Alan (grinning): Yes, ma’am.
Michelle: This place is boring as hell. You go and look at art stuff. Big deal. Also, it’s very sandy in the desert. Or powdery. Whatever.
John: Burning Man is where you go when you need to challenge yourself and also remember there’s more to life than studying and tests and a good credit score. This is what matters. Life. You come out here and you let life get into your skin, and when you—
Michelle: It gets in your butt crack. The sand.
John: It’s worth it. Even with the sand.
Alan: It is.
What’s your favorite costume?
John: I gotta be honest, I do not mind seeing a scantily clad Sparkle Pony. I do not mind that at all. I don’t mind saying it. They like the respectful attention.
Alan: Last year, Helena wore—
Helena: Well, aren’t you the flatterer. I was serious. We can do something kinky.
Alan: Good. So, she wore this golden—
Helena: Don’t tell that story. I was fat. Pick another costume.
Alan: Um, okay. How about I also say Sparkle Ponies just to make it easy.
Helena: Sparkle Ponies? Why’d you pick them?
Alan (grimacing): I do not see any winning way out of this conversation.
Michelle: There’s a lot of costumes, okay? But I want to get off my chest that I don’t think you’re a good interviewer. You haven’t asked anything we weren’t expecting. I mean, what do you like about Burning Man? It’s lame.
Alan: Chill out. It’s the third question.
Michelle: Thanks for the advice, frat boy. If it’s okay with you, I’m not gonna not listen to a guy who puts product in his hair in the desert. I mean, this is supposed to be an interview. Ask us something evocative. Interesting. C’mon. Get interesting.
Michelle, how old are you?
Michelle: How old do I look?
John: Only chicks in their teens ask that question. She’s not even twenty. Bet you a hundred bucks.
Alan: No, she’s gotta be twenty three. She talks like she’s from Vassar, and she just finished her first philosophy class last semester. Nothing but attitude.
Michelle: What’s a Vassar?
Helena: I’m with John. Michelle looks like she’s nineteen. Maybe. And my favorite costume is something we saw a day ago, this cute little family dressed as Star Wars characters, with their water cooler fitted out to look like R2D2. Next question.
What’s the hardest part of dealing with being away from civilization for over a week?
Helena: I won’t lie. I’m addicted to email. Who would have known by 2002 people would get addicted to answering email and making sure their Inbox was clean, right? I mean, how much worse could it get than that? I miss clicking Send.
Alan: Carpet. I forget how soft and good it feels under your feet. Nothing but hot sand here. I miss carpet.
John: Taking a normal dump on my own toilet.
Michelle: You guys are pathetic. Carpet and a dump? But the real problem is the questions being asked. You’re not taking chances. You’ve got to risk more in this life if you want more in this life, and your questions are lame. Ask something better.
What’s your favorite Burning Man food?
Helena: This is going to sound disgusting, but beef jerky. I would never eat that at home. But I relish it here. I don’t know why I never crave it—
Michelle: Okay, see, this is what I am talking about. Sorry, girlfriend. I had to cut you off. This is lame. Everybody’s going to have different foods they prefer and someone says pretzels and someone else says, chips. Who cares? Nobody. You should ask people what feelings they feel the strongest, something that matters, not whether or not you like Twinkies.
Alan: I love Twinkies. I’d eat a Twinkie right now. I want one.
John: Me, too. Love Twinkies.
Alan (holds out fist): Dude. Fist bump.
(The gentlemen fist-bump.)
Michelle: Oh my god. You boys and your jock games. Fist bump. Ask something real. Get to the truth of things, man.
Okay, Michelle. Let’s get to the truth of things. No way you’re twenty-three. What’s your real age?
Michelle: You know what? This interview bores me. I’m leaving. Also, where do I get food in Black Rock City? Like, a convenience store or something?
Alan: You are kidding me.
Michelle (shrugging): I left in a hurry. I packed light.
Alan: You are a total Sparkle Pony. I’m changing my favorite costume back to Helena in the golden wings, her ancient Greek costume. I pick that. Even if she was fat that year.
Helena: Excuse me? Fat? Did you just call me fat?
Alan (bewildered): But you said…you said you were—
Helena: There goes the kinky thing I promised.
Alan: Well, shit.
John: I’m twenty-five. Well, I’ll be twenty-five in two months. That’s my real age.
Michelle: You’re a terrible interviewer. Someone point me toward the nearest Coke machine. Also, I need some quarters.
About King John
English attorney Alistair Robertson can’t quite believe an astonishing tale of kingship and transformation he hears at Burning Man, the annual counter-culture art festival in the Black Rock desert. Who are the Found Kings? Is “being kinged” as magical as it sounds?
Determined to find the mysterious garage mechanic named Vin who helps men “remember who they were always meant to be,” Alistair catches his quarry amid the extravagant sculptures, fire worshipers, mutant cars, and lavish costumes. After searching for three years, he’ll finally get to ask the question burning inside him: “Will you king me?”
Wandering together through the desert, Vin Vanbly and Alistair explore Burning Man’s gifting culture and exotic traditions, where they meet the best and worst of their fellow burners. Alistair’s overconfidence in Vin’s manipulative power collides with Vin’s obsessive need to save a sixteen-year-old runaway from a nightmarish fate, and the two men spiral into uncontrollable, explosive directions.
In this fourth adventure of The Lost and Founds, beneath the sweltering summer sun and the six billion midnight stars, one truth emerges, searing itself on their hearts: in the desert, everything burns.
About Edmond Manning
Edmond Manning is the author of the romance series, The Lost and Founds. The books in this series include King Perry, King Mai (a 2014 Lambda Literary finalist), The Butterfly King, and King John. King John takes place at Burning Man.
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Don’t forget to check out Gyn’s review of King John to see what she thought of it!