Why Self-Publishing Hits a Snag: Branding Your Booty, and by Booty I mean “Treasured Gifts”.

How do you brand yourself? Over and over anyone who is pursing something creative or business orientated is told to build a brand without a singular person really getting into the nitty gritty of how you figure that out. We can certainly identify branding, but building it is a hard complicated thing. Worse plenty of people make brands and then come to hate them later. One media critic I know wishes he hadn’t put every single thing under his original brand because now his articles and videos are nestled under that identifiable identity. So there’s a lot of pressure from a lot of different angles to approach branding well and in a way that benefits you long term.

Yet we get told to just make a brand. Seems kinda stupid, doesn’t it.

Much like people telling self-published authors to “just blog” your way to marketing, there is a lack of deeper advice or exploration into what a brand is. It is just one in a long list of what you need to get your butt in gear to do. As I explained in in this post the question is always where and how to start. All of my life I’ve had difficulty taking information and synthesizing it into an actual plan. As I’ve researched the nature of branding I find myself really beginning to understand that hard work only takes you so far. What makes or breaks you is planning and luck. For some people that comes naturally, but even though I now try to over plan, so that I have every single thing in place, ideas can fall by the wayside. Being a self-motivated person is hard and being your own employee is even harder. This whole branding thing is difficult and hard to plan when no one is offering solid or consistent advice. When you’re a kid the chances of someone telling you to start your own business or telling you that writing is essentially being an independent small business owner are slim to none. People don’t teach you how to market. You’re just focused on becoming a better writer or trying to just pass math class to even think about those things. But now comes the pressure. Now you know you don’t have to always work for someone else. So what the hell do you do?

Well, before you do anything you need to build a brand. What is a brand? It is a combination of traits that immediately allow people to say “Oh that is [your] work”. It is a logo, a combination of colors, fonts, visual imagery, slogans, design pieces, the presentation of the product you make, and the product you make itself. A brand is who you are and how you want to be known. Where Wal-Mart rolls back prices I “give intellectually stimulating and steamy erotica”. Ask yourself who you want to be, and then ask if you may need a pen name if you want to be too much. You build a brand by making yourself and your product something people can recognize and associate with you. 

As a writer I want to be recognizable, but even more than that I know how frickin hard it can be to find what appeals to you. As I’ve been researching and researching ebook self-publishing I’ve discovered how fucking repetitive advice can be, but I’ve also realized that repetitiveness extends to branding.

comp3
These two are more different than most covers. Some are almost exactly the same position as Twilight.

Mimicry Ain’t Flattery Honey or Anything at All.

In facebook groups I find other authors parroting great advice in the worst ways. In the last several days I’ve looked at seven different self-publishing groups and found dozens of authors of all levels stressing the importance of a book cover. That is great advice! Where can you go wrong? It is the first thing people see. It is supposed to sell a person on what may be inside and if it fails you’ll likely flop. They’re not easy to do. Some cover artists charge upwards of $200 dollars for a cover, which is more than most people like me can ever afford to spend. I’m in my early twenties, working retail part time, doing research work to bolster my resume, and every few weeks I do low cost consulting. I may do a lot, but it doesn’t show in my bank account.

A book cover? That runs too high, but I will pay $60 for an independent artist to do a commission. Plenty of people are in the same boat, and convince themselves they can get by with whatever. I know I tried to do the same thing until I started really researching book covers. I did a little test where I pulled 70 book covers in the genres for each book I was about to release. Then I asked “Which 10 would I buy?”. Most were shit. I’ll be honest. most indie author covers were shit, and when I turned to these groups I saw it without question. I asked what I liked and hated with each cover in my genre and among indie covers it always came down to the author’s branding. What do I mean? If you look at a new product what is it you ask yourself? Does it look like or sound like something I can trust? Does the author logo, the cover, the blurb, all contribute to a feeling of confidence in the consumer. When you make your blog does the layout inspire confidence? Do the images evoke feelings of copy pasting or a well structured choice of images(stock or no) that enriches or ads structure to the page? All of those questions are things we ask without even realizing because we don’t waste our time or money or anything.

Those groups on FB and elsewhere were 110% correct that covers matter.

But the next advice people were giving came down to this little “gem“:
Make your cover, the face of your brand, look like everything else. Don’t copy, but make it look similar, and by similar I mean as close to humanly possible to 40 other books in that genre.

3-2bbook2bcover2bdesign2btips2b-2bbook2bmarketing2b-2bauthor2bbranding2b-2bnook2bpromotion2btips
Good covers, won’t claim they are not, but ,except for two elements, these are paint by numbers.

That trick is as old as time and in a world where a thousand people are launching a venture every day that may be some of the most misguided advice I’ve ever heard. Maybe I’ll change my mind once I have a few books online, but the fact is you can pull basic design elements that you believe work…but how many paranormal romance stories with shirtless men, pendants, and tramp stamps do we fucking need?

More importantly what good is paying that $200 for cover or even the $60 for an illustration to edit into a cover if it ends up looking indistinguishable from the crowd. If nothing is is making your book stand out how can anyone notice it? Stock imagery makes creating ebook covers, art for presentations, website pages, etc. incredibly easy. There is nothing wrong with using stock, pulling common elements, or using another piece for reference. Certain elements wouldn’t be used if they didn’t catch a viewer or reader’s interest.

However, by not adding anything unique you dismantle your branding. The picture of Winter and Twilight evoke similar imagery, but even those two differ in font size, placement, and use of color enough to simply say “We’re both aimed at this audience”. But so many covers go farther like the paranormal romances above. With nothing new you make yourself look like every other person out there. To those who may not be into anime they all look the same, but to fans? Those who care about quality know the signifiers of copy pasted poop.. Even if you make a quality product, a fascinating story of humanity in animated form…if it looks like generic anime(and it is unintentional) it will be lost among the masses. I’ve scrolled past a thousand manga, anime, comic books, regular books, VHS, DVDs, video games, novels, short stories, and other things because nothing about it stood out.

But don’t think I’m just talking about covers because this applies to every step of producing a product!

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about book covers, animation styles, burgers, printing services, or vapes….If. Your. Brand. Is. Generic. No one will buy it, and if they do it won’t be in the sales you need unless your product really gets attention. Even if you give it away, you will severely cut yourself off at the foot. You can’t just be a cheap knock off of Nicholas Sparks or Stephen King. You can be influenced by them, you can do a take on a concept from them (loosely), you can be compared to them, etc. etc. But don’t sacrifice originality or uniqueness in the hopes that someone will go “I’ll just read this one”. If you blend in with the crowd you may end up with a group of adamant fans, but more likely then not you’ll still be standing against the wall with your 4 fans instead of in the center of the room drawing more people to your wit and intellect. There’s nothing wrong with being against that wall, but if you don’t want to be there, if you want to sell your product, if you want to grow then you have to attract people with more than copy paste ideas and branding.

Even if your brand is “I do the same thing as Michael Bay…except better”. You’ve made your brand the “better” brand and more “confident brand”. You may do something similar but you aren’t just trying to deceive people like a knock off Transformers movie in Blockbuster. If you do that, r accidentally come across as doing that then no one will trust your name.

transmorfers-transformers-2
One of these is not what I meant to click on Netlfix…

Research, Critique, and for the Love of God get Yourself Together!

Now does this mean you have to go way out there? No. When you’re creating your design, style of presentation, and what not you have to find a balance that makes you comfortable between originality and making it so your audience knows what they’re getting. Very few vampire books should have a cover font of Comic Sans, but it could be done. Your food truck probably doesn’t need to be puke green. You have to understand your market. Not just to sell or get views or what have you. If you keep pushing your videos, blogs, or images without understanding what keywords people search for or terminology used by those in your audience you can easily miss people who would love your work.

More than anything else you have to understand your market in order to understand what you’re making, what defines your product, and then you can really make an excellent brand. It sounds crazy. We all know what we market and we build the brand to that. Well, you are part of the market. If you think people are coming to you for thoughtful advice, when they are coming to you in part because of your tone you could make a mistake by listening to a viewer that critiques you. If you’re writing articles on yoga and clean living when a million others are too what makes you unique? Does your culture, your religion, your background, your style, your energy, and your sense of humor pull people towards you? It seems like a question people hate to ask but it matters. I follow a plus size black yoga guru because in her I see my body potential. She gets my struggles and since I know I will never be small (and never want to be) seeing her gives me knowledge, comfort, and feedback that I don’t get with other yoga bloggers. Does that mean I don’t read or watch anything by anyone else? Not at all, but she has centered herself and her brand around what she knows…her body, her life, and her struggle. That allowed me to connect with her. What allows your clients and audience to connect with you?

unnamed-213
This is original, simple, elegant, and eye grabbing.

So How Do I Put This All Together?

When I began this venture I wrote down several ideas for blog titles, facebook urls, and most importantly decided what I was going to write and why. I needed a basis of who I wanted to be seen as, what I know I do best, and what can I do. You need that too, and below I’ll help you figure that out.

The next step? I began reading and researching. First, I looked at the process other writers had experienced and basic advice columns like “Top 5 tips for indie ebook publishers” (Spoiler there’s like 40 of those). That gave me a knowledge base to move from.

Then I looked at other author’s pages in my genre and took notes on their platforms, layouts,  what I liked, and did not. From that I wrote down what I hated and would never have despite not knowing what I wanted. Then I took pictures and screencaps of what I adored. So far I understand this…I hate romance covers. 80% are just stock art and while they’re fun they don’t fit my style. Now that being said I did pick up themes and traits that would immediately let you know if my book was romance, an erotic romance, fantasy, or drama. More than that I figured out what immediately caught my own eye even in things I hated.
In short I learned not only how individual authors branded themselves, but genre branding. 

Genre branding isn’t just about books, but anything you do. If you work in marketing how do people see your signature? Do you always use pie charts of a particular color scheme? Do you begin presentations in a particular way? Do you always push a particular type of campaign? No matter what you do you have a brand. A brand is just the business equivalent of knowing people. If I’m your friend and you’re walking down the street you’d identify me by my physical “brand”: Tall, black woman, with afro, blue jeans, t-shirt and suave ass jacket walking in a particular manner with a particular energy. You’d be shocked to tap me on the shoulder and find someone else with my exact sense of style, color of hair, or way of walking staring back at you. It can and does happen, but if you really pay attention and take a look the chances of it happening are very slim. Even if that happens you still associate me with that brand. You say “Oh well that woman was like Rosie.”

That is the power of a brand. Dean Koontz is a well known and love author…but he will always be like Stephen King to many people. That’s not bad. In fact that comparison helps his business because it gives a positive measure.

Branding is about a measured uniqueness without compromising yourself. You figure out what works for others or for the type of product your making. As I said I looked at book covers in my genre. I looked at other websites. You figure out what you hate. I can’t stand the overly beautiful people and stock imagery. You figure out what you love. I love an elaborate original image filled with emotion…or a minimalist piece that leaves you intrigued. You then figure out what you want…then cut it down to its barest elements. Then you run with it.

For Example…(Suffer too Good is available on Amazon The Black Hat Society is TBA soon)

suffering-too-goodblack-hat-society-final-w-bun

So What is the Take Away?

Part of the reason it is difficult to give branding advice is because once you get past overt traits you do have to dig into what you simply see as normal about you and what you do. A blogger, even me, can’t help you figure out your most unique or interesting traits without speaking to or knowing you. That is why I’m doing to give you the branding cheat sheet I’ve been using for the last few months.

Here are some things to consider/ask when building your brand:

  1. Why am I doing what I’m doing?
  2. What am I doing that others aren’t doing? (For me I feels it is telling realistic, diverse, and complex stories)
  3. What gap do I want to fill?
  4. What do I want to add to the world, the market, and people’s lives?
  5. What colors do I wish to use with my brand or have associated with me? What colors are common in my product area?
  6. What images do I want to be associated with and what fit my products?
  7. What do I want people to think of when looking at my font? Which fonts are over used? Which fonts are over used in my product sphere?
  8. What makes my product, my stories, so unique? Is it the world? Is it the characters?
  9. What symbols, logo, product, or person have products/presentation/brand that I really love?
  10. Google “worst book covers”(“Worst fonts”, “worst drawings, etc.) and look at the legitimate ones.
  11. Google “best book cover”(“best logo”, “best colors for X”) and look at the legitimate ones.
  12. Read blogs, websites, forums, and facebook groups that focus on your subject and products.

When you go through these questions start asking yourself why you responded how you do. For example hating a particular color or having a protagonist who hates that color could be reason enough to not make the font that color. For any and every reason you can say X or Y, but you best be able to explain it because then you better understand what you feel and how others may interpret your choices, yourself, and first and foremost your brand.

Here is an author who really has some good advice:

Check out this author and learn from their advice. They are realistic, knowledgeable, and have experience in marketing which is very VERY useful.

Until next time…

marvel-comics-retro-love-comic-panel-crying-it-s-all-over

Advertisements

20 Minute Erotica Challenge

An old challenge I used to do every month that I think I’m bringing back.

Driving me insane

2/19/14

She misses him more than words can say.

So when they reunite she kisses him with a grin then captures him in her arms. In response he squeezes far too tight. Her back cracks, eliciting a half groaned out laugh.

~~

They are alone

He takes her by the waist, and kisses her hard in a way she didn’t know she missed. Her heart is beating against her chest, as fire pumps through her veins. There is him, and his bed, and her panties damp from heavy petting and frequent kisses. When he breaks away it is only to kiss along her jaw to her neck. He sucks her flesh, and bites hard until she digs her fingers in his back. It takes her a moment to realize he’s unhooked her bra and tossed it aside. He pushes her down to his bed and gets on top of her. Their eyes meet, and she whispers “I love you.” and he smiles and says the same. Their lips are crashing against each other, as he slides his hand under her shirt, pinching both nipples at once, so she moans into his mouth. He’s hard, and she grinds against him. The sheerness of her leggings only makes her more eager.

Pants come off, and legs are spread. He’s hard, and his eyes are glazed over in a mixture of lust and love. She licks her lips, half mad in her desire, shivering as his cock brushes her wet womanhood. With a grunt he thrusts deep. Her walls clench and massage his cock, pulsing as if celebrating his welcome familiarity. She looks into his eyes, and he looks into hers. Nothing is more real than that. He pulls back, and thrusts in again, causing a mild slick noise. She blushes and he chuckles at her reaction. He begins to thrust in earnest. His lips meet hers furiously, and their tongues dance in each others mouths and across their lips. Her tongue traces down to his neck. She adorns his delectable flesh in sweet kisses that descend in nibbles and hard needy sucks. This time she wants to leave a mark. He belongs to her just as much as she to him. His chest is brazing against her soft sensitive nipples. Her legs are locked around him tight, and she knows it’s only driving him further into their sweat ridden madness. The tenderness fades in his motions, but not his eyes. She gasps and groans, signaling that he found her spot. He beats upon it with his throbbing cock until he’s groaning with her. With a hard thrust, she spasms, orgasms, like heaven fell into her body. He keeps going and she’s louder now. She tries to quiet herself, and he groans, driving deep sending them both into orgasm. Hers sends her whirling. She forgets her own name as the shivers ravage her body. But she remembers his and sings it to the high heavens, again and again she sings. The warmth of his cum inside her and his cocks throbbing makes her bite her bottom lip. It’s a feeling she loves. Their time apart has built up, and she knows when he pulls out, and she puts on her panties she’ll be swimming in a sea of his seed. She doesn’t care. She never has. It’s perfect as it is

 

Written in 20 minutes.

 

#NaNoWriMo2016 a lesson in Pushing through Depression

So far #NaNoWriMo2016 has been an exercise in pushing forward creativity.  As our Guest Blog touched on the other day depression and anxiety are tricky things. On one hand, psychologically, depression has been linked to creativity. But on the other hand it is so difficult to slip into a deep bout of being unable to do anything with concentration or joy. I’ll be honest my not concentrating is what is making this post possible. However the goal of NaNoWriMo and structure of it really urges me to go forward. Better yet there are prompts, events, and forums that can really help get you into writing; not just the act, but the mindset of writing, which can be hard to enter when you feel the exhaustion of depressive anxiety.

As I struggle with the last few days, with legitimate fears and the frequent response of others that my fears have no merit….often like how they dismiss how every other aspect of who I am lacks credibility or merit though they’re too “good” to admit that, I find myself turning to my daily writing sessions for solace. I find myself begging to do something and that something right now is diving into my creative works. Earlier I didn’t work on my novels, but I began looking through years old folders for stories because I will be damned if my voice, my views, and people who look like me will be ignored.

Sometimes it makes me feel a bit guilty. I imagine for many of you that may be the case. You write and write and then…don’t for several days then you’re behind and that makes you anxious. It happens. I’m sorry. For me I drift between the buoys of how my anxiety and depression manifest.  Right now energy surges through my nerves and veins under my skin. So to sit down and make it manifest as something is awesome instead of having that energy turn into pure weight. This event doesn’t lessen my other feelings or mean I can’t care about multiple things at once. I’m poly so I got the feelings part sorta down pact. Depression means that writing at a time like this makes a person feel connected and useful even in disconnected feelings. After so many years of eye rolling this big ol’event the use and power of it now hits me in the face. I just create. You can just take your power and put it into something and we don’t always get that lucky. If you can do this too then you’re lucky. Maybe it is pure luck that I can do this and not just not feel like doing anything, but regardless NaNoWriMo2016 is saving my mental health thoroughly by keeping me working in a non-toxic environment with a struture that pushes me to work harder, better, and longer….and enjoy as much of it as I can. Even if you disagree with my politics we can both agree this American election…hell this year has been rough. Sometimes we need something to set our minds to work, and after all this a good thing to work on, to give structure, and to get positivety from is what we all need.

If any of you are doing NaNoWriMo I’d love to talk to you about it! Tell me what you’re working on in the comments or give feedback to this post.

 

Learn More about NaNoWriMo here!

Follow me on Facebook!

 

Motivational Mondays!

Can you believe in yourself while acknowledging your limitations? I think a lot of people assert that you cannot when the reality is, so long as we are fair and compassionate to ourselves, we truly can. We often forget to be kind to ourselves because we notice our flaws more than we ever realize. We must accept critique with grace, but remember to never let those critiques define us or undermine our self-confidence. No one is perfect, and we must not only recognize that, but accept it as part of our reality as we grow as people. It is hard, but the effort is worth it.

#Mondayinspiration#MotivationalMonday #advice #writelife

Excerpt from White Hot Room Draft

 “‘This wasn’t planned’. That wasn’t true. It was planned but Lita never imagined it could go this far.”

 Offered a chance to explore her deepest and darkest fantasies with her most trusted friend, the confident and handsome if somewhat unpredictable Jon, Lita finds herself submitting to things she could never imagine. However a world of self-consciousness has held her back for so long that going through with it may be harder than she ever imagined. This only gets harder when she realizes Jon’s love is as intense as his dominant side. Love and lust can be frightening things, but anyone worth their salt knows one is far easier than the other. Will she succumb to her fears of the unknown, or surrender to the wiles of love, passion, and the depths of submission?

A Lita Loves Tale. In fact this is the first of this realistic and sensual series!

The Lita Loves Tales are an erotic fiction series for a mature audience. White Hot Room features rough intimate scenes of bondage, spanking, flogging, curvaceous women, male domination and female submission. The Lita Loves Tales proudly proclaims to be a series with interracial romance and intercourse without any odd racializing found in other stories. Sensual, hot, and tinged with Miss Ruthers desire to capture the complexities of sex and intimacy White Hot Room promises to bring something new to e-readers everywhere.

White Hot Room

One thing was certain about Lita and that was nothing was 100% certain with her. Her father used to tell people that the “2.99% of uncertainty will get you if you aren’t careful”. Though she liked her comfortable life and usual routine, something in her always managed to surprise people…even herself. Still every single inch of her was no better than a pile of nerves in that hallway despite the fact that deep down she yearned for Jon to take her to another level; another level that lined up with odd thoughts that always lurked in her dirty mind and made her feel not just good, but like living fire and also the calmest ocean.  Tonight came as one of those little astonishing circumstances, one of those little moments that fell under the 2.99%. Lita hoped things would go smoothly, but they hadn’t even started and fear glued her in place. So much remained unknown and could only be known by exploration. That gave way to anticipation which meant nerves and hesitation. With every ounce of trepidation that resounded inside her as she looked at Jon there was this grand sort of rush building in her stomach. Nerves. Part of her liked the nerves even as another part of her felt like fleeing. This moment would never come around again. These nerves. These sensations. These thoughts. All of it made for a powerful part of the game they were going to play, and she had to play it. She said she would and she knew if she didn’t she’d regret it for the rest of her life.

Something told her she had to savor everything rolling around inside her, and that meant, in their mutual silence, reminding herself that sex didn’t get them there.

This game always seemed to be about sex, but it was so much more intimate if it was done right. He told her that “I don’t just play with anyone…I can, but it’s not the same, but I’d like to try with you,” but he didn’t seem to believe she’d say yes that night. There in the hall the joyous look in his eyes remained tempered by the sort of nervousness she’d only seen him have when their friends kept hinting at getting him an ‘epic’ birthday present despite their funds. He didn’t want to get his hopes up and yet…hope was there lurking around in his eyes. Still he remained composed, watching her, meeting her gaze with his own.

“I worried you would choose…not this.” He motioned to himself and then from his back pocket pulled something out. A split second later Jon held up a dangling patent red collar. The glimmer of light reflecting off the shinnying faux leather made her heart skip. “Or this.”

Daily Prompt: Banned

via Daily Prompt: Banned *Unedited as of 10/26 2016 11:46pm est.

It wasn’t the taste of blood in my mouth or the way I watched Markus crumple back onto the floor that convinced me how much he cared, but the way he refused to look at me did. For a man way older than me he seemed dreadfully uncertain of every decision and this one was no different. He glanced towards me, but quickly shied away, clutching his bleeding wrist. I turned my head towards the ceiling of the dark cave tunnel, watch the way the light poured in and cast shadows over every wall until the shadows grew large and simply became darkness. I should have been dead. I should have simply been another missing woman somewhere in the world, but this vampire chose to save me. This whole mess would have been easy to run from without me, but there I was. I wiped my hand across my mouth leaving a dark red smear over my skin before a wave of weakness came back over me.

“Crap.”

“How do you feel?” he asked softly. I heard a ripping noise, and when I looked closely at him I saw he’d begun to tie the ends of his shirt around his wrist to halt the bleeding.

“Well, I won’t be running a marathon any time soon. Not that I…I ever planned on it.” As I spoke my skin began to tingle and I suddenly became acutely aware of the blood flowing through my body. The bruises on my neck and waist throbbed in time with the deep cut on my abdomen and along my spine. Pulsing. Pulsing. Every centimeter of myself began to sing with a rush of overwhelming and awe-inspiring energy that made my heart bound so fast I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My lungs ached as though someone had beaten my chest in, and the struggle for air got more difficult. Was I turning? Was I losing the battle for life? I did not know as my hands shook and I began to squirm on that cold hard ground. As quickly as this all began Markus loomed over me. His usual cool affect evaporated as he pulled me onto his lap, cradling me as though all he wished to do was help me.

“Shh…it’ll be over soon.”

I tried to get out words, but the sounds didn’t even reach my throat as panic made me paw at my own chest. It needed to work. I needed to know what he did. I managed to mouth Did you?’ and that was enough to get him to shake his head sternly.

“No. I didn’t turn you. I…I wouldn’t do that unless you asked. You need to relax, slow your breathing, and let the blood do what it must.”He began stroking my hair, and I tried to do as he said. One breath seemed to half way work  but then it felt squeezed out of my lungs by force like someone pressed on a juice box until only air came out. “Shh, keep trying. Slowly…come on.” And I did again…and again and again. With every attempted breath that feeling hit me. Dark clouds peppered with rainbow stars began to pop before my eyes. The pain in my lungs intensified my wounds felt as though the flesh was being pulled together again. The sensation was like straining a muscle and then having someone grab onto the wounded flesh and tightly pulling it taunt until it gave a little…then a little bit more. It hurt like a mother fucker and the adrenaline rushing through me seemed to be running a race through my blood, causing my head to throb. Never in my life had I imagined such feelings to be possible all together. I once read of a condition where people could hear their internal organs and all. It was apparently a very painful and distracting thing. This was a distant cousin, but it made me understand how too much awareness didn’t just swamp your brain. It made every single thing you felt louder, more angry, and more suffocating.

“Don’t black out on me now. You can’t. Not yet,” he begged. I’d never heard him beg in the near year I’d known him. Markus had more pride than anything else and this certainly took the cake. If I died I at least got to hear something remarkable first. The heaviness of my body deepened. For a moment I imagined sinking through the wound on my back and all of me melting through the cave floor down into the warm embrace of the abyss. “Serene! You’re stubborn as hell so don’t disappoint me now.”

Another failed breath. Pressure. Pain. So tired. I did not want to die, but life had never been about what I wanted though sometimes life lined up with that. Life had been about living through pain and sorrow with all the baggage those things brought. That didn’t diminish the promise of joy! Oh I’d had such laughs with family and friends. I’d loved things with such vigor, and so much remained uneaten or untasted. Markus had been tasted, but how I wanted to love him. Just to try…just to see.

He slapped my cheeks lightly a few times sending a sting through my face.I grimaced, tossing my head, trying to grab onto his voice through the encroaching dark.

“No. You do not get to leave me now. You and I have things to work out…I want to figure us out so you damn well better stay with me!” He pressed his lips to my forehead and a small smile came on my face. “I want more of those cupcakes, I want more time, and I want more of you and I trying to figure this out ok?”

One more breath. The air rushed my lungs and I felt them fill as though all the crud and gunk in my slightly asthmatic self was obliterated. My eyes widened as every single ache and pain climaxed into this magnificent yet horrid pop, forcing my back to arch and every muscle to tense until they hurt. After what felt like all too long the sensation left and my body plopped prone onto him as I began to gasp for air. Markus began to laugh running his fingers through his dark hair with a grin that I’d never seen.

“Don’t scare me like that!” he said with a relieved laugh.

“Don’t scare you like that? I thought I was done!” I tried to sit forward, and he took my hand to help keep me steady. As he did the thuds of many feet filled my ears and I heard pebbles being kicked around. Markus’s attention turned toward the tunnel as he scowled, and I tried to stand only to fall down. My wounds may have healed, but somewhere between them and the healing I got a nasty case of vertigo that left me a bit weak and nauseous. He looked down quickly, shaking his head before standing in front me as though he planned to protect me.

“Those must be her guards,” he said.

“Why don’t they just give up and let us leave!?”

Markus pulled his switchblade from his pocket and with a slight movement of his thumb the sharp blade sprung to life. That was all we had left besides ourselves. It wouldn’t end well. I couldn’t stand needless to say throw a punch, and he half drained himself feeding me his blood to save my life. Most wouldn’t have noticed how it affected him. The slight stagger, the slight unease in his stance, and the tiredness in his eyes were subtle things, but undeniable. We couldn’t fight, but we sure as hell would try.

But as the footsteps grew closer they grew softer and less numerous.We may have had a bit more of a fighting chance than I thought. I sat forward, cracking my knuckles, and told myself that shit would be just fine. I didn’t believe it, but I tried. The long shadows of the case drew towards us turning into approaching figures. They stopped in the shadows, whispering far too quiet for me to hear. One tall figure stepped forward, motioning for the others to remain still. The light was just enough that I could see his eyes reflected a dull glow almost like a panthers or a cat at night. He stepped forward again and Markus raised his knife to attack

“Show yourself!”

“It is I.”

That voice must have been familiar, and I had a small guess as to who it was when Markus lowered his hands. The figures drew forward again and the leader instantly reminded me of the man I saw in the portrait hung in Malika’s private office. She, Desaad, Markus, and their Sire. The older man with the silver hair dressed in the latest fashions of 1879. That man whose eyes told of tremendous horrors and wisdom I’d love to pull apart stood there, tall and smiling at us. His trousers were more than bloody, his undershirt torn in several places, and his shoes were as scuffed and dirty as his skin. How long had this man been a prisoner? Still he looked remarkably aged and remarkably as powerful as he looked in that portrait.

“Master…I thought you were-”

“Malika’s goons? Yes, I figured. I’m glad you escaped with your life.” He looked down at me and gave an almost grandfatherly smile. It made me like him a bit more than I probably should have. “And I am glad you escaped with your friend as well. I know how terribly attached you can get.”

“Don’t speak of my relationships like they’re child’s toys or my friends and…her as though they were pets.”

“Ha we’re all someone’s pet something.” The man laughed, nodding his head as he tucked his hands behind his back. He glanced towards a bronze skinned handsome gentlemen that had moved close behind him. “So she is the stranger?”

“What?” Markus said.

I looked up at Markus and nodded.

“That was an old name for what some called…what I am.” It didn’t shock me that their Sire already knew what I was…what I could do. Things like that were juicy if not important details when it came to this strange situation. The elder vampire was kidnapped, tortured, used to take every ounce of rage he inspired in his once treasured adoptive daughter, Malika. He probably asked for an update before he’d even been unchained.

“So you are one of The Empty?”

“Yes, and may I say it is a pleasure to finally meet you, sir.” I had always been taught to respect my elders. Didn’t see why I should stop there. I rose to my feet slowly, doing my best to shake off the vertigo lingering in my mind.

“Ah!” He beamed as though thoroughly pleased with this development. “It is so rare to find a young person with good proper manners! It is nice to meet you as well. However, I wish it were under normal circumstances…and that I must not give such bad news.”

“News?” Markus said. He looked as though something sour had fallen into his mouth, and his brow furrowed.

“You are, so long as you remain with this girl and unaffiliated with any known coven you are hereby banned from doing any significant business with those under my protection.”

The nerve of this man! After all we did to save his triphlin’ ass the first thing he spits out was that garbage. Exiled? “Banned”? For me? Markus never got too into details about how much influence his Sire wielded, but from what she recalled from their interviews the man had considerable power among those who made being an immortal creature in the world of Social Security Numbers, open public records, and google a hell of a lot easier. He protected many, and plenty who Markus on occasion admitted he called friends. They were loyal, or tried to be…and more than that something told me that the man could be far more fierce than he initially seemed. Hell what Malika told me…the murders, the burning, the tortures…all pointed to him being far more cruel than he appeared.

I had to ask. I needed to know. “Why? Because of me-”

“Oh no. Trust me you are not that important though you are most curious,” Their Sire ignored my scowl and just kept going. Yeah, I liked him a bit too soon. “It is you in conjunction with the fact that he has no allegiance. Not to me. Malika shows I can’t trust that now.”

“That is paranoia at its finest,” I said.

“Do you know who you’re speaking to, girl?” The bronze vampire growled, but their Sire just raised a hand to signal him to back down. The handsome asshole did as told, adjusting his coat and looking away.

“What do you mean by significant?” Markus asked. Not a hint of shock or malice hung on his voice. Did he expect that to happen? He remained as still as stone, unmoved by everything, and meanwhile everything he and I did got thrown out the goddamn window. Moments ago I was bleeding out and preparing to meet my maker, and now this? Vampire crap. No. Human crap enhanced like vampirism enhanced everything else.I crossed my arms wishing Markus would just say something, protest, but he said nothing else.

“Well…it is whatever I decide, yeah?” The man laughed and Markus just bobbed his head a slow smirk came on his lips that said he had expected this somewhere in the back of his mind. “We will gladly assist you for the remainder of the week before you leave”

“We need a change of clothes. One or two meals, and then a nice plane ride back home. I’m done with all this.” Markus sighed, looking around the caves slowly. “I’m done with Istanbul…Desaad and Malika loved it here, but…well it is appropriate they are here now.”

“They always deserved each other. He was too afraid to return and she was too afraid to leave. They were rather pathetic really.”

A silence far colder than the caves around us settled over me. Once upon a time Malika called him her father and far more recent than that…Desaad fought tooth and nail to rescue him. Within the grey storm of that man’s eyes none of that mattered. Worse, I sensed he appreciated it all very deeply. He respected their choices, their loyalty, and enjoyed their service whole heartedly. Something about how he said their names told me that much, but none of that changed how he felt or affected him in the slightest. Maybe the elder vampire needed to act that heartless in order to cope, but all I heard was sincere feeling. In his ancient eyes, in the eyes of their creator, they were truly pathetic in ways I could not understand. It made me feel sick again as though a stranger tied a knot in my stomach.

From the corner of my eye I saw Markus ball his hand into a tight fist. “We will leave the day after tomorrow.” His voice did not waver or shift. Not a single note of anger clung to it. “Banished…yes, I can make that work.” He sounded almost hopeful in some twisted way. That made a light bulb go off in my head. Malika did horrendous things in the name of putting the past behind her. But Markus? No, he did a good and loyal thing…and the result ended up the same way. Banned from those who most reminded him of his past. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and I could see the gear turning away in his mind.

“Well, shall we go?” The elder vampire cheerfully asked.

We followed those seven vampires out along the hillside and down the cliffs to their cars. Markus held my hand for the whole way, but besides asking me how I felt he remained lost in the web of his mind. As we sat in a jet black SUV behind two vampires who preferred not to acknowledge us at all a gruesome thought crossed my mind. What if…Markus had some how foresaw all of this in the beginning? What if this was his ultimate plan? What if he had learned far more from his Sire than Desaad or Malika, or even the vampires that followed the man now? How would I know? The answer did not exist as I knew it. It troubled me and followed me through that whole long drive. As much as it did I could not bring myself to truly justify how much it mattered. I could only say…there was far more to learn from my das vampyre…and I hope banishment treated him far better than his Sire.

 

 

*This is based on my vampire action+romance series that has yet to be titled starring Serene and Markus.