I Don’t Want to Be in Love Today

It may sound traitorous,
But I don’t want to be in love today.
Want just me and myself to sail away.
To feel the breeze instead of on my knees,
To be apart except for in the heart,
To be like one yet spread apart,

Even when I love it…there are storms.
Even when I’m with you I’m always torn,
I’m a loner whose living unnaturally,
I’d give it up,
Because I love you naturally.
But with that said
I don’t want to be your love today.
Just pack my things and run away,
And it is nothing that you’ve done
But I’d like to be just me originally,
To be,
Alone like a person,
Even though I’m half a person without you.
Somehow it seems the best thing to do.

You’re not like me.
No you’re desperately in love,
In a way I cannot be,
Because I like to be alone with me,
Does that change a thing?
When I sing my songs about you?
When I only want to dance with you?
If so what shall I do?

Don’t tell me I’m not a lover,
If everything isn’t about him,
I love and I do miss him,
But I miss me myself alone too,
So the wisest thing to do,
Is temporarily to try  to be,
Alone with me.

*Poetry for an introverted lover.

Editing Chapter One: How to Writing?

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.



Wattpad and the Problem of Writer Community

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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

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)


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…


One Sentence Story Time! #2

Without another word Xavier plunged the blade into Connor’s chest, ignoring the tears streaming down both their cheeks, and he knew that no matter why he did this Xavier would never be able to forget how all of this horror could have been avoided.

#prompt #writelife #fantasy

Prompt: Words

Quick Tips for Paperback Page Numbering — Pearls Before Swine

Originally posted on Lit World Interviews: When numbering the pages of your paperback manuscript, the thing quite a lot of Indies have trouble with is that they use Page Breaks rather than Section Breaks. A Page Break is just that—starting a new page within the same section of a book. With a Section Break you…

via Quick Tips for Paperback Page Numbering — Pearls Before Swine

Warm Up and Short Story: Bionic Pulp


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.

Never His Lady, but I was His Ferret. Poetry under Polyamory

It is an over used word,
But every blue moon,
When the stars align,
And your wireless internet holds,
And you’re aching to be noticed,
And that someone interesting notices you,
You find something truly unique.

What we had was unique.
Love and Sex and,
Words and hurt and,
What was once certainty.
It is broken now.
By my hand.
By my lips.
Twice by my body,
When it arched with pleasure,
When it quivered in pain.
Some days are harder than others.
Some days I can barely breathe.
Some days are easier.
Some days I just dream.
Of what? Of other things that could never be…
I could never give you what you need.
You could never give me more than what I want.

Before I was his lady,
I was his ferret.
I tried to hide the pitch black clouds in my eyes,
The sorrow in my sighs,
The youth in my mistrust which ultimately turned to lust.
Great big smiles and corny pun filled jokes,
Recipes for left over egg yolks.
Science things and history,
Inside jokes because “well you know me,”
I scampered with my words,
Sprawled in glittering images for your eyes,
Joined your little world with my fur well groomed,
Observed with quiet trainable adoration,
And my intentions? More than light.
They were right.
they were right…
Never thought it would end this way on a weary autumn night.

You see,
I kept things cool until truths got too hot.
The heat blasted and I sweltered,
As you gave it nary a thought,
It had nothing to do with you really.
Needless drama. All my making.
Accidental self-destruction,
A common cause of animal disruption,
I jumped from a shadow filled floor,
To a sweaty place near the ceiling,
Stepping on that thermostat, turning and turning and turning and turning and turning
With every struggling step.
It had nothing to do with you really.
Senseless drama. A trifle of my making.

Your little ferret knew who should win,
but you did not. Instead you found no one can.
A ferret dies in too high heat,
Our systems run and then combust,
Or just give out as we wilt and rust.

Ferrets are tricky animals.
Cute, a tad odorous, a tad amorous, a tad…
Before all these terrible things,
Before all my missteps,
Before all my misdeeds and loves,
I was his treasured pet.
Before I ever knew his name,
Before I ever played this newer game,
Before the slipping in the wet snow-rain,
I became his pet.
Whenever I see red I think of you,
When I see purple it happens too,
I just wish I knew what to do,

But wishes mean nothing.

Little rhymes? Just words.
Little lies turn to just desserts.
I never was his lady.
I never loved him quite the same.
I never called him “baby”,
I never took the blame.
Yet no matter what one unique thing remains,
A noble burning pang…
A unique tie to heart,
A sign we were never the same.
The differences that excited us….
The pitch black lust that ignited us…
A ferret, most curious, and a man unlike most…
Now both have nothing with which to boast.
And yet…and yet this defies other lover’s chains.
I never was his lady, but I was his pet,
I never knew him truly, but I was his broken ferret.
Some days are harder than others.
Some days I can barely breathe.
Some days are just easier.
Some days I try not to dream.

-For K

Disconnected from Happily Ever After? Are Fairy Tale Endings Too Out of this World

For a long time there has been debate about what makes a book fit into the romance genre, and a large part of that has been predicated on the idea of happy endings. This has always fascinated me because I do love happy endings, but I find myself struggling with them as I’ve gotten older. I don’t think I’m alone. In my lifetime I have participated in over ten different workshops for writing in all genres, and in my recent observations of what people write and enjoy there is something happening. As a social scientist and part-time psychologist I have begun to notice that ,on average, happy endings seem more acceptable and believable to older members of a workshop. However people who would be classified as Millennials (or perhaps more broadly people younger than 33) tend to give more critical opinions on stories that are tied up with a neat little bow. Oddly enough millennials can readily defend and understand why those endings happen, and generally speaking they do defend them (unless a person is a stereotypical ThatGuyinYourMFA type). There can be debate, understanding, and even agreement on the ending. However the reaction from those under 33 tends to be one of disenchantment. It is as though the happy ending just doesn’t convince those readers to embrace it, accept it, and believe in it no matter how they love it. I can’t help but wonder if there is a change in our perception of happy endings based on how we see our own potential happy ending and that of those we relate to. If so then this can’t be ignored. b7c92d1ae2a844883ffca09e53f1695b_xl

My theory is that happy endings do feel false to a lot of people who went through and were affected by the recession and the economic downturns of the last 15 years  in the U.S. Much like the Great Depression the affects of going from relative stability, even immense wealth, to instability leave lingering affects. Younger people have a deeper skepticism of capitalism, and in much the same way after the Great Depression many young adults redefined capitalism(because they assumed socialism was bad) or drifted towards socialism in order to get worker protections. Whether it was unionizing, demanding fair work hours, or demanding better pay and insurance these ideas became accepted as common place in many minds. The national perspective accepted ideas that ensured stability even if they were considered “red” by redefining them as simply worker rights, status quo. Regardless of how you feel about that the fact is people changed. Death of a Salesman is an American play that reflects a lot of those changes. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof does just about the same in different ways. These aren’t just plays, they reflect the life and times of their author and thus the world. Why? When society experiences a trauma, or perhaps a general wide spread disappointment, it manifests in what we make. As authors we should be aware of how it manifests in how we, and others read.

This is pretty much the mindset I think a lot of people my age have at the moment

What manifests in our response to love stories, to happy endings, and everything being tied up in a neat little bow may be our disbelief in that being possible anymore. My mother moved out on her own at 19 and got a job. She got a soundproof apartment, a car in her mid twenties(she lived in a city so didn’t really need one), took regular vacations, and had a large group of friends who did the same with ease. That isn’t possible anymore unless you get a great job and/or come from a family where you have high inheritance(parents can help pay bills, buy you a car, keep you on insurance, buy your kids clothes, can watch your kids, etc.).

The world we are moving through and the experiences we have disconnects us from characters who may be 25 with a sprawling one bedroom loft, working as an assistant to a CEO, who then meets the perfect man. She’s never had to really worry about rent. Chances are she’s never had to worry about much of anything beyond her personal relationships. I can’t even buy myself a car, so how much can I believe in love always winning? How much of a positive response can I give you in our writing workshop when I’m a barista with a degree in clinical psychology? With all those things how can I respond to your book without a voice going ‘That’s just not possible anymore. Its not realistic and I don’t believe it’? As writers this may very well be what we’re fighting and it isn’t the readers being self-centered. This mindset is about the readers believing in your story and the possibilities within. If they do not they will question it, not with the knowing and loving laugh many women have given romance books for generations, but with world weary and jaded skepticism.

“Geeky” and “Nerdy” books are as popular as ever maybe there’s a reason.

It isn’t that millennials have gotten weak or weaker than people in the past. Every single person in every generation thought that about the next generation. You and your parents aren’t unique if you’re rolling your eyes at this article. That whole reaction serves evolution. If you think a bit less of youngsters then it encourages you to do everything you can to help them move forward and get stronger. Unfortunately, people use this excuse to get upset over the fact that young people are sick of pretending everything is fine all the time. We care less about decorum, formality, and more about facts, honesty regardless of consequence(not inherently good), and wanting to change the status quo. It isn’t that more people have anxiety per se. No, we probably have the exact same levels of anxiety post-depression young people had combined with national war fatigue. Why do you think so many people are invested in what was once considered nerd crap? It is all escapism. In fact I suspect that many of the stories that ended happily that my peers call unrelatable wouldn’t get that comment if they were transported to the future or an Adventure Time like landscape. In a world of super humans a well executed story of love triumphing no matter what may just be believable because happy endings may just be super natural to us normal humans in a world of divorce.

Let’s Get Real

1382764781432944787Books provide a level of escapism, but there caveats. There may be a stipulation that things don’t feel ‘real’ once you turn your brain on, and that’s what all authors should want because if I think about your book I’m going to talk about your book. What do I mean by feel ‘real’? Well, I mean your story doesn’t always feel relatable even if the story was over all satisfying. Even if your goal is to put up a bit of wall, or dabble in the surreal there has to be a certain level of penetrability in your book. For romance stories it 100% has to be there.

From home ownership to student loans there is a sense of immobility in my generation that is often baffling to those who are outside of my generation. While some people feel we need to go back to a mythical golden age others simply have stopped believing that doing your best and being good enough means anything. Truth is my generation followed every step we were told. We finished school in record rates, went to college in record rates, and then found ourselves underemployed and called lazy whiners for asking why. We’re disenchanted.

Are Young People Just Jaded?

It is possible that younger people overall are more drawn to angst or cynicism? Truthfully, I believe that is the case. As you become more of an adult you realize, if you have lived a relatively stable life, that the adults around you don’t know everything, can lie, and are just trying to live their lives as best they can.That is very jarring and before you accept that you begin to question and distrust everything people told you to be true. However that doesn’t explain how dramatic the difference  from what I can see. Essentially you realize adults are people and change is inevitable. So sad endings, angst, ambiguity, and stories that end with melancholy become more relatable as you navigate the world. They become expected and relatable resulting with you connecting with those stories.

A real photo of the writing process.

The Importance of Telegraphing Your Love

One of the most important things to do in writing is telegraphing. You have to subtly and carefully telegraph the happy ending and fluffy side of stories ahead of time. The possibility of the theory that young people have pulled away from romantic happy endings due to experiencing the recession, loan debt, educational shifts, and current economic shifts being true makes subtly telegraphing your stories possible directions even more important.

I will be the first to say that I could be completely wrong in suggesting a feeling of disconnect exists between one generation and the concept of happy endings. Maybe the response from people my age is how we respond to different character relationships in different stories. I’ve heard from different writers that some people respond AGGRESSIVELY to characters not getting together. That isn’t an age restricted thing because when a story doesn’t do what you believed it would or doesn’t do it well the story doesn’t feel successful to you. As writers we have to do everything we can to make sure as many people as possible find our stories successful. If it doesn’t work out some people completely decide the book they otherwise adored basically betrayed them. That isn’t something I do, but you can’t deny it is a disappointment.

Sometimes it is because they believe all romance stories should end happily because that is just what the genre does. Sometimes it is because they believe this romance story was moving towards a particular happy ending. I don’t think it is a matter of the author deceiving the reader, but ultimately everything I’ve spoken about is expectations.  People want what they want, and you have to make sure they know they’re going to get, or that their not getting what they want will make sense.

the_graduate_ending_shot_elaine_and_benjamin_on_busPlenty of stories I see in workshops that end happily set the reader up for one or two endings. The thing that always makes or breaks a story is how well an author sets up the conclusion they choose. You can end a story anyway you want, but you damn well better make sure that you make that ending make sense. If two characters commit the ultimate betrayal they can’t just get over it because it is convenient. The ending of The Graduate isn’t a legend because it is sad. It works because it understands expectations, and ends the romance with the reality the film built towards: “How can this story end happily?” you wonder throughout the film, and the director nods and says “It can’t. Not really”.

How Do Expectations Work?

The trick is that expectations don’t just start with a book, but with the author and the world they live in. How many times have you assumed an character was the same gender as the author? How many times have you avoided an erotica novel by a man? All of those things affect our expectations. Numerous times I’ve been told by non-black people that my characters didn’t seem black or that they didn’t realize a character was black because they broke expectations. That is my intention, but when something like that happens with the plot we have to understand why. What expectations are people bringing to our stories, to your stories? How can you begin using those expectations and subverting them?

This book broke my heart and made it worth while

Caroline B. Cooney’s Janey Series has a long woven love story throughout, and **SPOILER** in the third book(I believe), The Voice On the Radio, the protagonist’s love interest betrays her trust by taking the intimate details of her life and using them for fodder on his college radio show. The core of this is also that she expects people to know that being separated from a partner due to college is added stress to a relationship. It isn’t out of character for him, we have that expectation, and their relationship came about and flourished under stress but ,now, her life is consumed by that stress. The themes of the series are about the angst, the lies people tell young people, and deceptions we make ourselves believe. So when we get to book three his turn is well telegraphed, and not unexpected. So you don’t necessarily begin to root for their relationship to work out. After all the actions they take constantly keep you from believing a full fledged happy ending is possible. The reason this book still works over a decade later is that it like many well loved stories builds an expectation…and concludes the lover story on neutral ground. What keeps this love story from becoming the romance book of the series isn’t the greater mystery elements, but those expectations .

Idolizing Love as an Alternative to Reality.

fantasy_escapismNow, I do think feeling social, economic, political, or basic life pressure can in some circumstances spark a very strong gravitation towards happy endings and ideals. When you examine rap lyrics from different eras you find a glorification of an ideal life style. Violence isn’t just tied to feelings of alienation and telling where people came from. Just as often violence isn’t itself the object of admiration. What is the subject of admiration is power and freedom which is paralleled in the sound and lyrics of heavy metal. The often superficial notions of money(not wealth), cars(not quality), women(not relationships), loyalty and acceptance reflect a strong desire for an ideal. When we look at romance novels, films, and even poetry we often see an idealize state and narrative. The latter is that “Love conquers all, all we need is love, and when we have each other we have everything” and the state is “Happily Ever After”. In the black community there is a strong gravitation towards romance novels because they promise us a look at Black people being in love, and living that narrative. People often don’t realize that until fairly recently black people holding hands inspired thoughts of sex, sin, and immorality, because we were, and to a certain extent still are, interpreted as hyper sexual. In part because of that the idea of a loving black relationship, especially due to welfare reforms in the ’70s that essentially pushed black men out of the household, isn’t seen as normal on its own. Reading those stories provides a look into hope, into vicariously living through characters we come to love in situations that are far more interesting and dramatic then our every day lives.

So What Does This Mean?

I don’t know. I really wish I did. At the moment my feeling is that we’re between a rock and a hard place. Escapism and happily ever afters will always draw people in. I’m not saying those things are going to go away, in fact they may become more prominent, but how your readers interpret and respond to those things may happen in ways we can only begin to expect and understand. Those are things we have to think about. Things that may affect the entire meaning of what we write. As I said I don’t claim this to be 100% the truth nor the truth for everyone everywhere, but my experiences in workshop, my own life, and that of those around me lead me to these conclusions. When we write romance we should keep this in mind regardless of the genre because not only does this impact our writing, but it does say something about where an entire generation of people are emotionally and how they may perceive the world.

Now what do you guys think? **If I made any editing errors please politely inform me. I only got one set of eyes…two with my glasses. Have a great one readers!

Today’s Speed Story

Speed Stories are unedited, not proofread, quick pieces of fiction by me that may or may not be unprompted. Leave a comment if you do want to suggest a prompt or subject.

What did I listen to as I wrote this?

Meat is Murder (album) by The Smiths.

Prompt: Fire

Genre: Horror

Thick black smoke clouded Shari’s lungs as she moved through the pitch black of her bedroom. Her mind was still dazed by sleep and she coughed out a yelp as she slammed her foot against the corner of her dresser drawer hard enough that she felt like she rattled the bone. She began to utter a curse, but the lungs wrapped their way into her throat forcing her into a fit of coughs. This wasn’t good. No. She bent down like the hobbled over old women and men she saw making their way through the local mall on weekday mornings. The lower she was the farther the smoke would be. Didn’t Smokey the Bear always say smoke rose? Maybe that was just something she heard. She didn’t know. She reached for her door knob and as she wrapped her hand around it she let out a small gasp. The metal didn’t burn, but it was already getting hot. Her time was running out, so without anymore hesitation she swung open the door dashing into the hallway.

Pillars to yellow and orange flame sparked towards from down the hall to the back staircase. It almost looked like some sort of abstract painting against the black clouds Not like Pollock, but like something she probably thought about buying at the county fair. It was such an odd thought, but it just popped in her head and for a moment she wanted to laugh until a great and powerful dread weighed her shoulders down. Her tiny little house, proudly bought after ten years of saving, was going up in smoke. Was it electrical from all the work that pissy contractor did? Did she forget to blow out a candle on the kitchen table? Either way something had gone terribly wrong. She pulled her nightgown neck over her mouth, and began to turn towards the main staircase. There in the corner of her eye amidst the flames she saw a strange and imposing black shadow. She whipped her head around but there was only the smoke, which seemed to be smothering all the air on the second floor. There was no time to do anything. It was a trick of the light. She quickly began speed walking towards the stairs.

‘Goddamn long ass hallway’ she thought, picking up her pace to a run. As she jogged past her guest bedroom a light splash hit her ears and her feet felt wet. Confused she shot a look towards the wood floor. Somehow she stepped wrong and the floor went out from under her. With a resounding and thud her body smacked the floor. Her chin rattled up against her teeth, her sinuses tingled angrily, her knees and stomach throbbed as her breasts ached. With a grunt she scrambled towards her knees. It was then a sickeningly sour chemical smell permeated her nose, making her briefly wish for the smoke. She looked down at herself and across her night gown was covered in some strange liquid. She pulled the night gown down from her face, taking a quick strong wiff of the stuff. ‘Gasoline? Oh god!’. With disgust and fright she scrambled to pull her night gown from her body as the heat of the fire drew ever closer. She tossed the gown to the ground as though it took every ounce of gas with it, but far too much stuck to her bare legs for her to truly be safe from going up in flames like a piece of wood. Everything in her turned to terror and she jumped to her feet. She looked down the hallway and saw long dotted lines and random splashes of glistening wet peppered her floor like some some dog had pissed on every surface in some bizarre act of dominance. This certainly wasn’t home anymore, and who would do such a thing.

A loud roar of something giving way followed by loud unending fire crackling reminded her to stop thinking and go. Her whole body was shaking, but she began to cling to the left wall avoiding the trails of gasoline that hadn’t yet sparked. As she neared the stairs she threw herself against the other wall. She descended, clinging to the railing with shaking hand as though it were her only life line.She looked at the stairs and saw more glistening splashes. It was everywhere from the portraits on the walls down to the stair’s brand new beige carpeting. Someone knew what they were doing. What had she done? Who had she offended? She glanced back towards the quickly approaching fire, and adrenaline pumped through her veins. With loud, but careful, thumps Shari jogged down the stairs. What could she do? Her mind ran through everything as she got further from the heaviest smoke down to the middle landing of the stairs. ‘My phones off by the door. My keys. My wallet. My jacket-‘

Once more in the barest corner of her eye she saw that same figure looming in the kitchen hallway where the dry heat seemed to thickest. The figure appeared as though wearing a long, thick coat like she’d seen construction workers, police, or even firemen wearing. She whipped her head around, but all only grey and black smoke illuminated by yellow dancing flames was there. She was paranoid and running on adrenaline. She ran her fingers through her hair and then kept going forward towards the foyer. She grabbed a long raincoat from her rack and hastily threw it on. What would people think if they saw a naked woman on the front lawn regardless? She shoved the keys from the silver trey on the table by the door into her pocket along with her wallet, and then turned to grab her phone. As she picked it up and began to reach for the door handle, hearing the laps of flame approaching  a sudden realization occurred to her. Why the hell wasn’t her fire alarm going off?  From where she stood she peaked into her living room where her fire alarm remained silent. The light was lit. It looked exactly like it had since it was installed four months ago. She had another alarm just like it upstairs and yet there was not a single alarm. Having to pee woke her up not any odd sounds. She’d heard nothing and no one the whole night despite being a notoriously light sleeper.

It simply was not possible, but there she was, losing her house without any warning. It really could happen to anyone. With a heavy heart thumping like a drum she looked around one last time then ducked out of her house like she truly had caught fire.

Outside in the chill of the night she saw her neighbors had gathered on the road in front of her lawn. Some stood on porches with faces aghast with horror with phones pressed to their ears. Some didn’t even notice her exit, but a few ran towards her with faces full of worry. It was then the weight of it all truly descended. Faces came and went, questions were asked and answered. Blue and red sirens lit up the street, but they barely registered in her mind. She thought she did everything right. She thought she had lived a good life and done right by as many people as could. She said as much to the fire fighters and the police officer who first arrived.

“Well ma’am sometimes bad things happen to good people…I know we always say that and it’s more than little shitty.” He put a firm hand on her shoulder, but what happened in the next hour became a blur. Television cameras showed up. More police. More fire fighters. Questions became interrogations. Her lawn became a cold interrogation room even yards from a blazing inferno. Did she have insurance? What did she mean by she smelled gasoline? Did anyone see any strange cars? “No” was her neighbors consensus. Well did anyone have a grudge against you? “No” was her conclusion “at least not one to kill over”. Shari hid nothing. Shari felt nothing and yet this felt like something she’d never experienced. If she had her head on straight then she would have hated how much it showed on her face. The EMT said it was a case of intense shock. That sounded about right. Who was she to argue and why would she. After a while all she could do was watch in vein as firefighters pointlessly aimed their impotent hoses at her home. By then the roof caught light and the smoke rose high enough to block out the stars in the horizon. It was then she heard a shrill male voice shout “SOMEONE’S STILL INSIDE!”

Collectively everyone followed her neighbor’s point to a window in what would have been Shari’s bedroom. Her heart jumped into her throat and the adrenaline in her veins slowed into some strange frightening calm, as her lips fell open. There against the glass stood that same black  bulky figure and then, with almost methodical slowness her curtains fell obscuring the figure. Within seconds the curtains were ash and the figure was no where in sight.

“Do you live with anyone!?” A firefighter barked. A dozen faces watched her, but Shari shook her head “Was anyone staying with you?” He repeated.

“Not a soul.” Shari said, but her face must have said it all because before she even finished the police and firefighers had turned around and a disquiet fell over the entire scene. Even as those brave men and women fought on that feeling seemed to eclipse them. Even as sympathetic neighbors laid hands on Shari’s shoulders, and offered her a place to stay for the night they gradually would look over their shoulder, just out of the corner of their eye, as though something unnatural lurked there.

She lived alone. Everyone confirmed it. She lived alone and didn’t usually have guests after midnight. Besides Miss Crawford and her grandsons were on their porch drinking across the street late that night, and they saw nothing until they looked out to see why so much light was pouring in their windows. No, to Shari none of this made a damn bit of sense.

After 15 minutes that first officer insisted she go in the ambulance where an EMT carefully began wiping gasoline from sore bruises and scrapes on her legs and arms.

“Did you breathe in a lot of smoke?” The EMT, Gladis according to her uniform asked.

“A fair bit, but I’m fine.” She didn’t mention the fact that she was more horse than normal.

Gladis nodded, but the look in her eye told Shari that the older woman didn’t believe her. “I’m gonna listen to your heart and lungs, James take her vitals. Is it ok if we take the jacket off.”

“Yeah I guess.”  The moments passed in fast forward again after pulling off her coat.

Her home, her favorite books, her paintings, that photo of her grandfather in his WWII uniform, and even that fancy cheese she was excited to try were all consumed by something beyond her control, by primal destructive energy. Shari liked fire. She liked the smell of burning wood and clean smoke. She liked the warmth of fire on a cold winter’s night. She loved the way it danced on the tips of candle wicks. Even the sound was nice, pleasant, familiar. It reminded her of jack lanterns and Christmas, and spas. Fire betrayed her, and she always knew it could, but to see it and feel it? To know someone somewhere used it against her, violated her home with fire felt…mortifying.

It was then Shari burst into loud heaving sobs that turned into almost wretch-causing coughs due to the smoke still lingering in her lungs. She held onto her knees, and Gladis simply put her hand over Shari’s as James put a hand on her shoulder. There was nothing they could do. Everything she worked for was gone and she couldn’t explain why. And Shari did not really stop crying until hours later.

When the EMT’s mentioned this to the police, mentioned how every few minutes she went from shocked to raw heartbreaking tears, they decided it may not be best to tell her that when the last flames had finally been put out the wall of her charred ruined kitchen had one thing they could not explain. There on the beige wall was one large  grey shadow with burn trails sprawling outward like great reaching arms that grasped and explored. Almost ,vaguely, the gas and shadow reminded the officers and fire fighters of a human octopus. It was best Shari did not know, they reasoned, when she had already lost so much.