How do you edit the first chapter of your story is a question every fiction writer asks, and it is a question I’ve done my share of struggling with. However I think I’ve found the most important bit of advice when dealing with the beginnings of any story, and even any non-fiction piece. Whether you’re doing chapter one or the opening paragraph of an essay, you are doing a fine balancing act. You have to give as much information as possible to the reader without overwhelming them, but also ensuring they’re following along with everything you say. The opening of your story, regardless of genre, will sink or swim your novel. While I don’t claim to have perfected the opener, I do claim to have worked at working around and through common mistakes authors are prone to make. And so I’m going to offer the best advice I’ve ever heard for editing chapter one of a novel, advice I was reminded of by the lovely Stephanie London via her youtube channel.
When you’re writing you feel the pressure to get everything just so because you want to be clear about who, what, where, and why. However, the dangers of exposition are many. Since I’ve been an active member of scribophile I can tell you that I’ve seen my share of wonderful tales bogged down by the exposition fairy. That little butthole flew through the window and just refused to leave from the moment the story began. The exposition fairy encourages telling not showing and harkens back to the way we most naturally tell stories, orally. But away from the oral tradition you have to put people in the story. You have to give them a front row seat, and if the exposition fairy is guiding your hand at every other paragraph, or god forbid every other sentence, the reader will be stuck in the back of the theater.
So how do we deal with this?
Well, truthfully it will always be tempting to have it happen unless you are a minimalist story teller. Fans of grand epics and sprawling worlds fall prey to the exposition fairy most of all, but everyone can be a target. To that end, you have to write smart. BE vigilante of your own bad writing behaviors, and then keep writing. MAke notes, and even make minor changes but don’t edit constantly while your writing unless you truly benefit from it or it has to happen. Then once your opening is written you have to do this one super important thing. This is the thing that will make all the difference in the world….
Go back through your opening and highlight every ounce of exposition.
Reread and highlight. Whether you print it out or do it digitally, go through and highlight everything that is only there for exposition. What lines only serve to explain what isn’t shown? You may wish to use different colors for exposition related to different characters or events in order to keep track. Sometimes I mark exposition important to the plot with stars or sidebar comments so I know why they’re their and that they matter. If your opening is mostly color coded and coated then chances are you need to tighten that sucker up. You will most likely need to rewrite the whole thing. It isn’t enough to disguise exposition in unnatural dialogue. It isn’t enough to excuse why its there because it is there for a reason. It isn’t enough for it to be there to help your readers understand. If it isn’t furthering your theme, your plot, your characters, and bringing people into your text then it isn’t working. I say to do this because you need to see how much explaining to the reader you’re doing. Seeing it visually becomes a lot harder to justify or overlook. Does this mean all exposition is evil? Not at all, but there are ways to pace exposition and present it that are vastly superior to walls of text that may not enrich the story.
By doing something as simple as highlighting expository text you are increasing your ability to keep the story in action and moving forward, which will keep your audience engaged.
If anything will make you a better content writer and a better writer in general it is interacting with other writers. Reading the works of others and having other others read your work elevates you to another level. However the biggest and most common issue a writer faces is getting feedback. Now that’s a broad way of putting it because feedback is buying your books, views, shares, comments, etc. But in this case by feedback I mean what people enjoy or dislike(in a constructive respectful matter). While there are people who write perfectly well in a vacuum even they could stand to gain from interaction. With all that being said…most writer’s communities suck and unfortunately it is in part because of selfish writers who constantly want to take and never give. Two weeks ago I started using Wattpad and the frustration I have always felt with others began to become clearer. The selfishness of fly-by-night writers who steal into writing communities demanding without ever wanting to give is underscored by communities that are swamped by so many fly-by-nighters that all work gets buried.
So how do you get involved?
Now, my opinions may change, but over all they can only change if the community standards change. Wattpad specifically needs more forums that are better organized in order to connect writers and readers more directly. They also need a search system that is at least on par with FanFiction.com, and can separate newer and older stories…BUT more importantly a can be searched on views in order to give everyone a chance to be seen. But wattpad isn’t the only problem.
The problem is us.
Writers keep acting like we can be selfish and that if we just market we’ll find readers, reviewers, and beta readers. Marketing is important along with everything else, but you can’t hope to get anything when you don’t give. Writing communities don’t work if writers don’t actually invest in stories they don’t write and participate in not only dissecting their own work, but other’s. You learn so much by reading and talking no matter how introverted you are. As a teenager I thought I was an excellent writer, but after years of workshops I look back fondly at my work while muttering a “Thank Hera” under my breath because I am SO MUCH BETTER. I am not unique.
Critiquing, sharing, and discussing writing exposes you to a wide range of styles, ideas, and concepts that you can dissect in terms of why it works, why it doesn’t, why you like it, and maybe why you do not. The bottom line is when you exit your vacuum you not only learn, but your brain gets going. You learn how to pull apart your own stories and you also learn what other people pick apart. In essence a group of writers or just readers like Wattpad connects you to your audience. That is one part why community is important because your writing friends can become your buying friends. Not just because they know you, but because you’ve learned what works in your writing and what works for real people and not just for you.
And yet somehow all of these communities suffer the same problem. Some would say it is accountability that’s the problem. Well, everyone is accountable…only to themselves. Somewhere in writing programs and reading classes we never taught people to value interacting with writing and the writer. Yet this is what keeps writers in business and going because who reads more than writers and creators? If we don’t support each other who will?
So I challenge you now to find writing communities.
I challenge you to not just read, but review and comment on other authors.
I challenge you to help that friend whose writing a novel or poem, by reading and giving honest thoughts about it.
We make the communities we want to live in. Earlier tonight,and not to get political, I was watching a program and a conservative radio host was laughing at the thought of basically any celebrity or anyone with a platform using it. It was whining. It was grandstanding. And I’ll be real conservative republicans have a very nasty habit of assuming everyone to the left of them is insincere and/or weak. Nothing I or anyone to the left of them is real, which is bullshit. But I bring this up because his point was that no one gets to make their community. In his eyes you don’t get to challenge, change, or make a statement about culture. It’s a very dangerous mindset no matter who you support or what you believe. It is dangerous because our communities support us emotionally, economically, and intellectually. Humanity is interacting. Writing for all the solitary hours we spend with a page and our thoughts…requires interacting. Communities inspire writing. Communities inspire you to dream bigger and do better. No one is an island and we all need to do better by each other, by book stores, by bloggers, and by ourselves by engaging with each other.
So I have one last challenge for you…engage more, have fun, and do better by yourself as a content lover and creator. If you do this you may discover stories, authors, and friends that will enrich your life in ways you can never imagine. Please, support each other because if you don’t who will support you?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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)
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:
Why am I doing what I’m doing?
What am I doing that others aren’t doing? (For me I feels it is telling realistic, diverse, and complex stories)
What gap do I want to fill?
What do I want to add to the world, the market, and people’s lives?
What colors do I wish to use with my brand or have associated with me? What colors are common in my product area?
What images do I want to be associated with and what fit my products?
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?
What makes my product, my stories, so unique? Is it the world? Is it the characters?
What symbols, logo, product, or person have products/presentation/brand that I really love?
Google “worst book covers”(“Worst fonts”, “worst drawings, etc.) and look at the legitimate ones.
Google “best book cover”(“best logo”, “best colors for X”) and look at the legitimate ones.
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:
With two small boxes in her hand and a man napping on the sofa in front of her Lita began to wonder if she made a mistake. Jon had always been messy…but she had asked him to go on an unpack the boxes in their new living room. She sat the last two boxes from her old tiny apartment down by their new big blue sofa and made her way across the massive room to the kitchen. Her kitchen. She loved this house with all her spirit, and that is why Jon paid just under full market price for it once they decided to live together. As she looked from the gleaming white cabinets to the grey eco-friendly counter top she knew Jon loved her. It wasn’t just the sex. No. Their…unique relationship had never been just that even as she wore that silver choker around her neck, that silver symbol of her choice to be with him. But living together?
Naughty words and naughtier deeds were a hell of a lot easier than living together, or having the burden of being the one who suggested living in the suburbs right outside the city far from his glittering penthouse in the sky. Yeah, the penthouse she had decorated for him as a favor. Maybe there was a reason for that. He didn’t get everything this house symbolized to a girl who lost her childhood home to pettiness and deceit. He didn’t get that she had been raised to put things just so. He didn’t get how not unpacking even onw of those boxes made her let out a heavy worried sigh. Her boss had been riding her ass all day and that was before she went to her holiday shift at Mint! Eight hours of work followed by four hours of more work, followed by an annoying as hell drive home did not make for a happy Lita. So for him to not do this simple little thing? “It would have been fucking nice…but guess not”. She went to their wine glass cabinet, which she put in order, and grabbed one of their larger glasses. Maybe this had been one big mistake. Maybe Jon just wasn’t living together material…maybe she was just freaking out. She glanced towards the sofa, but noticed how orderly their entertainment console looked. The xbox and wii sat neatly beside each other beneath their massive TV. She could tell the cabinets and cubbies had been filled with controllers, video game cases, DVDS, and a few of his favorite neck knacks(some of which were hers like the figure of the Pink Mighty Morphin Power Ranger doing a high kick, and the hand painted white and gold rabbit she brought back from France. The books, the vases, the paintings, and everything else in the living room remained boxed. But he obviously unpacked their XBOX and router just fine though. Go figure.
“Go to the bedroom…” Jon’s sleepy voice echoed from the living room.
“Hey, babe…you could have done one other box besides that one-”
“Go to the bedroom” Jon said with a yawn. He popped up from behind the sofa back and stretched.
“I’m really not in the mood for anything now. I just…had a long day.”
Jon’s mouth contorted into a sympathetic frown that deepened as he looked her over. She must have looked more tired than she thought. Perfect. She thought she’d looked cute today. She even matched the red of her blouse to the red that tinted the ends of the locs and wore her red cats eye glasses to match.
“I’m sorry, hun, but go to the bedroom.”
Lita set the glass down on the counter, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. There wasn’t an ounce of fight left in her, so she just shrugged. Chances were she’d get into it once they got started and quite frankly by the look on his face he’d be more than willing to give her a full body massage. The thought made a small smile pierce her annoyance. How could she stay 70% irritated when post-massage sex was one of the best kinds of sex. Still earlier she’d thought about maybe them trying a 24/7 d/s relationship, but if her irritation was any indication that’d never work out. She walked down the hallway to the stairs and each step up reminded her how tired she felt. By the time she reached the second floor she could have asked Jon to come carry her. “Nah…fuck the massage.”
With another little sigh she walked down the hallway, hearing the low bass of one of her favorite songs coming from the bedroom. Lita glanced towards the stairs, hearing Jon’s footsteps approach.
“I’m right behind you!” he said.
“Alright.” Lita kept walking, noting how dim the light coming through the bedroom door was. When she came to it she pushed it open and a gasp left her lips. He may not have gotten to their living room…but he certainly got to work upstairs. The whole room was in perfect order: Their bed was perfectly made and sprinkled with roses; at the front of the bed was their “toy” trunk with several new toys laid on top; on a nightstand beside a picture from their first date was a tray holding two glasses and an ice bucket with a wine bottle sticking from the top; beneath their television their stereo played music softly beside a vase filled with roses. She stepped inside as the shock rolled over her only to see their bathroom was also perfectly arranged, and inside rose petals lead from the door to the large soaker tub.
He did all this. He took the time out of his day to not only get this all organized, but to dress it up so…romantically. Her heart skipped a beat and she felt tears begin to rise to her eyes. She’d dated but no one had ever done this. No one had ever put something like this together so perfectly just when she needed it most. After being dressed down at work, dealing with angry customers, and petty co-works…and thinking he just blew off what she asked him to do…she came home to this.
Suddenly his arms surrounded her and she felt his lips kiss her neck.
“I thought this was more important. Hope you don’t mind”And against her iron will those tears began to fall, and Jon pulled away and moved in front of her. Deep concern was written in his dark eyes and her wiped the tears from her face. “Please tell me these are happy tears?”
And all Lita could do was laugh and nod her head. Second thoughts. Life had a lot of them, but right then as she embraced him this house, this man, and this life weren’t one.
I am a lazy woman. What makes that harder is I’m an introvert with occasional agoraphobia, a deep fear of the insectoid world, and depression. So you can guess I don’t always do a great job of getting out much…but I do my best to make the effort to at least go on a ten minute walk once a week. Besides my trying to be healthier I do this because it “clears my head”. A rush of cool air, being out in an open place full of a thousand little changes, and switching my mindset from inside to outside is like a small system reset. When I do a reset like that I come out able to sit down and feel in a better position to write with a bit more inspiration than before.
So many of us writers are home bodies, but those of us who are able can learn a lot from going out into the world and finding means to alter our thinking, find inspiration, and generally refresh ourselves. Sometimes getting away from writing is the best thing for writing.
What are your techniques for resetting your mental modem? How do you give yourself a new perspective and approach?
My mother used to watch Bionic Woman, but I could never get into it until now. That chick, the bionic woman, had complete control of her body. Her limbs moved like an Olympic athlete, her body was tough as steel, and she could do things others couldn’t. That show was on when my mom wasn’t even born, but she watched them because her grandfather watched them. We often do things because we see them, because we can, and because we experience fleeting joy. Guess that’s just how it goes.
“As I think these things I lose track of time” I mutter as I pull back my hand again. Twelve dozen servos click and lock beneath my pseudo-human meat flesh. Pop. Snickt. Pop. It is quiet, but I hear it. It is three and one half servo rotations away from how my hips react to making love. The difference between one movement and the next is minimal to most people, but folks like me notice everything. Some adapt entirely, but others just end up here.Pop. Pop. Snickt. Wrr. It is quieter than the way this artificial hand pounds into skin and the flesh of the man who now lays in a pool of blood. He looked at me like I was the devil earlier. Hell he even asked. “Then the devil must have excellent taste in fashion” I said. It was a good one. Then he got what he got coming.
The money that was in his pocket surrounds us like thrown confetti at a party if confetti was $8,000. It waffles in the wind, but it won’t get away. It’s already a tad wet. This guy took that money from Miss Loretta’s fundraiser, and that really pisses me off. Her school does a lot that the public schools will not or can not, and besides that I don’t suffer theft in my presence. The nerve of this dirty ass turkey. He’s as dark as I am, dressed in a suit and tie, but underneath his nails and on his skin there is a fine grime. They dressed him up, but he still walked like a guy who didn’t know anything of real value but knew where to bum a Mercedes. Someone, I reason as I land another punch causing a loud crack in the man’s jaw, put him up to this. I grab the man’s collar and land several more punches until the man is a mass of swollen purple meat bubbling up blood. I’m not sore or tired though and though I should be out of breath my lungs remain steady. Later when they ask me I will say “I beat him because he was a bad man. I kept beating him because I enjoyed it.”
There are no secrets here anymore.
“Gretchen,” Louis says. My heart flutters like butterflies have filled it up. I swear my womanity is escaping and I want it back. It belongs in this neat little jar I have that I only bring out for Sex and saturday nights. Little s on saturday, and big on Sex. That’s how it goes. Even without looking that ebony Adonis is grimacing and I know it. He has never liked my methods. The turkey drops to the wet cement like a sack of garbage and I turn around to Louis. He’s a tricky fellow, mostly because he is honest. Most people never believe where we met. We were actors in Othello. Yeah, two classically trained black actors. The world needs more of those right? Eventually I stepped out of the spotlight but Louis with his neatly trimmed inch thick afro and his immaculate burgundy leather jacket was forced. Too much attitude and too tired of playing bit parts. It wasn’t choice. He just wasn’t and isn’t grateful enough. White folk expect it from us, black folk always accuse us of not having enough when we give it. I didn’t mind, but Louis did and let it be known. So his fine ass self ended up there with me, but I don’t think he minded too much. Men like him were tall and powerful, built for both speed and strength. He needed to use his body somehow even if most times he let me do the work.
“I count all that’s missing.” Louis looked at the man, shook his head, then cracked his back. As we stood between those two towering buildings he looked like he didn’t belong for a second. Irony being of course that he was and is more street than I’ll ever be. He’s really not my type, but he’s smarter than most and he only does what he knows he has to. We were very different.
“You good?” He asks, and all I do is nod. It doesn’t matter if I am or not because punching time is done. Nothing blocks out the world anymore and I slowly exit my bionic limbs and come back into my organic body. My allergies are starting to kick up and I suddenly become aware of the pressure at the front of my skull. I can taste the cold wet air and smell the meat wafting on the wind. I can feel the tightness in my shoulder’s from being so tense and I relax with a slow steady breath. Louis hands me a thick navy blue handkerchief. I wipe the blood from my knuckles. If there were real nerves and blood behind those knuckles how would it feel? I never punched someone before my…upgrade. I was a good girl after all. I begin to hand the handkerchief back to him but he just snatches it and like he’s some worried parent he begins wiping my cheeks. I thought it was just stray drops of wet, but I must have just been ignoring the blood splatter. He drops the cloth back in my hands as though wanting nothing to do with it then looks at the bloodied man with irritation.
“Come on then.” And like nothing happened we walk out of that alley with our heads held high. The cops standing near the alley entrance stand up straighten and stop leaning on their cars. We give them a solemn nod then step aside so they can go get that piece of garbage I left on the ground. They look us over carefully, and then with big beaming smiles say:
“Have a good one guys.”
It takes me ten years to get to this. I wish I knew what this was.
Whenever we get back to the office Louis takes off his coat and if I’ve been busy while we’re out I’ll take a shower. It is nice that we had an office shower, but really it is only because it used to be an apartment. Kinda still is considering how often Louis slept there. I toss my coat on the rack, walk past our desks and down the hall past that annoyingly tiny galley kitchen and hit the bathroom. Peeling off these sweaty clothes feels amazing. The cool air hits my skin and within moments the chill roles over me. The thing about prosthesis is that the nerve feeling isn’t the same. Every time something new touches you then you have to readjust, to remember that not all of you is you even if it belongs to you, and then accept it. I just sigh most days, turn on the shower, step inside and get clean.
It is no surprise when I turn my head and see Louis standing there in boxers, watching me with a smile.
“Can I join you?”
He doesn’t need to ask. Its just the routine. So he takes me in the shower from behind, grabbing my hair hard, and grunting in my ear. We don’t know how this got started. One day after a particularly hard job we started drinking then started doing more talking than drinking. As though we both feared we said too much we decided to do something else. We haven’t talked as much since that night and I think he prefers it that way. As he thrusts his thickness into my depths, forcing soft lustful moans from me I realized I could not care. I like Louis and he does like me, but love ain’t the game. Sometimes when I’m filing our cases I catch him watching like he does want that to be the game. Then sometimes when we’re fucking in the shower, and his hands are on my hips he says “I wish I could…I want this all the time”. I’m the only woman he does it bareback with. I know I usually run his errands with mine. He dates a number of cute girls. I’ve stolen one or two away from him without any hard feelings, so he gets plenty of action. But he thrusts in me without hesitation and with such relish his whole body shivers. Sometimes I wonder if he does it because part of him hopes I’ll get pregnant, that it will force him to be open with me. The risk just gets me off. He always finishes first and leaves me with that incredible warmth inside, but he is a gentleman and keeps going until I’m satisfied as well.
Usually we’ll be back at it again by nightfall in another room, on a desk or chair, once on the kitchen counter. But I can already tell by how he strokes my neck afterwards that tonight won’t be one of those days. He’s feeling something inside himself tonight. I can’t help with that.
An hour later we’re at our desks. He researches a case while I make sure our files are once again in order. He’s been quiet even for him, and I guess it bugs me when he gets like that.
“You got plans tonight?” I ask.
“Nah, well, I’m gonna see.”
“Date?” He always got awkward about that sort of thing, but he knew he didn’t have to.
Never a good sign with him. After three years I knew that meant he took some sorta case on the side or got mixed up with some shit. At this point all I could do is laugh, and he looked up at me like I’d lost my damn mind
“Gonna need me to save your ass?”
He chuckled and leaned back in his chair, tucking his hands behind his head like he had some grand master plan. Whatever it could be probably meant me getting involved at some point.
“No. Not tonight. You should take it easy.” He looks at me real hard like I’m some sort of enigma for a second. The hallmarks of some rare and distant sympathy flickered in his chestnut eyes as though he were recalling some long forgotten thing. He always reminds me of the men I saw growing up, but unlike their fragile insecurities that gave them an aura of false pride Louis turned inward into some sort of ancient seer. Now his confidence radiated erratically and his whole demeanor shifts on thoughts I will never know. Through it all he looks at me softly as though he has words to say, but all he can do is put them aside for a better time. As quickly as it came in it vanished. Part of me aches. I yearn to see what it is. I yearn to take him apart. Mystery is a weakness we share. “If things get rough I’ll call you.”
“Yeah, do that then.”
I do not know what else to say. With him I rarely do. * Not sure if I’ll keep this story going. I have some ideas but I don’t know.