Sisyphian Pity, Party of One

I feel like I’m being left behind. I’ll admit, part of what I’m feeling is due to having a sick brain that I take less care of than I should. The rest is…murky and ill-defined.

My friends have paired off and moved on. They have families, jobs, pets, and hobbies that need tending to. Phones would ring unanswered, texts unread.

My family crumbled; what blood I have is dead, estranged, or at odds. The family I built has left and carried on with their lives. As they should. The universe does not stop on my account.

I thought I had it figured. I had someone I loved in my bed, I had a child on the way, I had a job with opportunity, I had people around me who I was invested in, and who invested in me.

The love, I found, was on one side. I was unplanned, never intended to be permanent or long term. And so, we parted. I got the dresser, she got the family.

With my home broken, my child is only in my life half the time. I appreciate my alone time, but I wonder what I miss, I wonder if I can be a full father part time. I wonder, since my time is spent trying to spend every spare second with him, if I can have a life of of my own any kind now.

The opportunity feels stolen from me. Not by his mother; she’s a good person and deserves her happiness…I just wish her happiness did not come at the cost of my own. No, I feel slighted by whatever gods may be; that Zeus himself has cursed me to a life of inadequacy, a modern Sisyphus. I feel no matter how much time I pour into my son, my work, and our future, it will never be enough. I have no team. I am adrift and alone, and as strong as I am, I cannot bear that load across my shoulders for long.

Those I love have found lives. Marriages, fulfilling work, families, passions…while my own wither on the vine. Was I slow in tending to my harvest, or were my crops poisoned in their seed, destined to die bitter and dry?

My friends did not leave me. I got busy. They got busy. And now, save for passing greeting, I have no communication with the world outside my head.

My troubles have deepened with age, like cuts in the creases of my hands. Any attempt to carry on living only tears open the wounds, while resting and healing is not a survivable option. A shark in an oil spill, if I stop moving, I’ll die, but if I keep going like this, the result is the same.

I hide in my room when I am home. My bed has developed a dip where I lay. I have to set alarms to remind myself to shower. I burn candles in an attempt to clear out the musty air of living in a 12×12 box, surrounded by dishes I will wash tomorrow, garbage I’ll take out before my son comes home, and toys I have not picked up since he left. My clothes sit wrinkled in a basket, unfolded, unhung, a trophy of my endless exhaustion.

I don’t want to go to holiday events. But I have to, or they’ll notice. They’ll notice that I am broken, unfit, and lost. And they’ll pity me.

I hate pity. I don’t want it. I’m not a charity case, I am a person. I don’t need to be fed, I need…fuck, I need a brawl, I need a good cry, I need to feel some purpose or some fire again.

I need my old man.

I’m out of my depth. I’m hurt. I’m not convinced I’ll recover. I’m not broken hearted, I’m just broken, and in ways with which I am unfamiliar.

I’m trying. Fuck me, I’m trying. I started a project. Been going four months strong. But it’s tiring, and energy is low as it is. I’m gunning for a new job, in a new industry, hoping to change my atmosphere and inspire myself again. But hope takes energy. I’m trying to date. I’m just bad at it. I’m trying to put myself out there, there’s just…nothing to give.

I’m busted up pretty good, in a year where we’re all busted up. I feel guilty even saying all this, cuz what do I have to complain about? I’m just having a midlife crisis, shouting at the stars about how life is unfair. Boo hoo.

I’m fed. I’m housed. I have a job in uncertain times. I have a car, a phone, utilities. My son is healthy, fed, and safe. By all accounts, I’m good.

It’s this other bullshit that’s got my goat.

Single parenting is hard, man. I’m tired. I got no time for anything or anybody. I got no money cuz the price of livin’s high. And keeping diapers on his ass and clothes on his back is stupid expensive. His clothes cost as much as mine, and they use a quarter of the material.

I’m spinning plates. Job, check. Kid, damn, that’s at least three of these plates, check. Basic survival needs, check; wobbly, but spinning. Then there’s these two plates that always struggle, and I seem to only be able to keep one. I have social life and passion project. Well, I chose my passion. So…friends, loved ones, romance…falls to the floor.

Overwhelmed, overstimulated, and over emotional, with poor coping patterns and apparently deplorable time management skills.

Single parenting is hard. Being a single dad is hard. You’re alone. This isn’t what you signed up for, but this is what you’ve got, and if you want to see your kid, there’s some things you have to abandon if you want to be a good dad. Maybe you’ll have room for them in a few years’ time. Maybe when he goes to school. Or when he turns 13. Or when he graduates. Or…shit.

Where did my life go?

Hello?

New Project! Check US Out!

Hey, all, I’ve recently launched a new project here on WordPress, The Price Is Write. It is a blog dedicated to the analysis and understanding of the art of storytelling, in all its forms. We are two articles deep right now, but have big plans coming down the pipeline. The plan is to continue with a few different series, each tailored to diving into a different aspect of storytelling, from book or film breakdowns, to talking about concepts like the implementation of flashbacks and amnesia, to broader coverage of the life, styles, and works of authors and directors. The plan is to do both written articles as well as getting video content up in the near future.

In the meantime, check out our articles here:

Home

Looking forward to bringing you some new content, and discussing these topics with this community!

 

Twenty Million Silenced Souls

As of this writing, here are the facts.

The low estimates put the number of human beings in modern slavery at 20 million.

 That number looks like this: 20,000,000. 

That is slightly more than the entire population of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix combined. All those people, owned and abused. It’s believed that half of those cases are children. 71% are women and girls. 50 thousand humans are trafficked into the United States each year. Globally, the human trafficking industry yields approximately $150 Billion dollars. With a big B.

 That number looks like this: 150,000,000,000. 

If you stacked up 150 billion dollar bills, they would stretch from the North Pole to the South Pole and almost halfway back again. 99 billion of those dollars come from sex trafficking specifically. According to the market, that means the average dollar value of a human life is $7,500. For the low cost of $7,500, someone around the globe could pay to have you kidnapped and delivered to their residence, never to be seen again. Never to breathe free air again. Never to hold your loved ones or feel the safe comfort of your mattress again.

Why?

I don’t have an answer. It is a legitimate question.

The Western world pats itself on the back for ending slavery. What we conveniently leave out is that only the African-based slave trade triangle between Europe, Africa, and the US was shut down. And the lasting issues from its existence are still felt in the daily lives of plenty of people today. But that’s not my point here.

Humans have this habit of owning other humans. As pets, as workers, as sex objects, and as the recipients of various levels of torture and abuse. It’s been a documented fact for thousands of years. The oldest parts of the Bible have laws and instructions on how slaves should be treated. There is even a law dictating how much someone has to pay you if they rape your female slave. So sidestepping past the point that it was only frowned upon and not forbidden in the first place to rape another human being (because, in the same book, we have laws about how much you owe a girl’s father if you rape her in the woods and get her pregnant…it’s very specific)…where was I? 

That’s right. This shit gets so boggy I lose my point a lot. Lots to rabbit trail on. Anyway, the concept of slavery is old enough that by the time religions were forming, they had toaddress the issue. The practice of capturing a person and forcing them to work against their will for no pay is older than religion.

The Western idea of slavery is very much tied to issues of race superiority, but globally and historically, the issue is much more than just race. It includes gender, lineage, social standing, economic position…if there is a way someone can devalue a human life, they have used that ideology as an excuse to enslave someone who fits that category.

Today, slavery and trafficking are publically denounced…but…there are still tens of millions of people enslaved. And since there isn’t a compound somewhere that holds all those people, it is safe to assume that there are at least a couple monsters worldwide who hold the belief that trafficking humans is both lucrative and enjoyable.

The movie TAKEN has a somewhat happy ending. The girl we are supposed to care about gets to go home. But what about the others? What about the other auctions where the same thing is happening and Liam Neeson isn’t there to save the day? It can be argued that the film dramatizes the situation, and that may be true to an extent, however it cannot be denied that these things happen. It just may happen with fewer theatrics. Or maybe it happens exactly like that. How it happens doesn’t really matter, now does it? What matters is this shit happens every day, and it happens all over the world.

Ashton Kutcher has done a commendable job of championing the cause of these poor people, investing in and bringing a face and a voice to the efforts of those attempting to free people trapped by human traffickers.

But…why does a Hollywood star have to go before elected officials and tell them that something needs to be done? Why do those in power need to be told that human trafficking is bad and needs to be stopped? Obviously, I am not saying that no one except Ashton Kutcher and Brian Mills are fighting human traffickers. What I am saying is…why is EVERYONE not on board with this? Why is this not on the news every day? Why is this not part of anyone’s platform? Taxes, foreign relations, human trafficking.

Why do we spend half of the election cycle arguing about abortion when we can’t seem to care about the lives of people who are already born? Why do we put so much effort into writing and debating legislation for bringing every fertilized egg into the world, but once that fetus takes its first breath, we toss them to the wolves?

For those of you thinking I’m taking this too far, let me remind you that approximately 5% of the entire human population is in some state of slavery today. 5% of the human beings alive today are the victims of human trafficking. If 5% of the population was infected with a disease, the populace would be losing their damn minds. But because these people are out of sight, they remain out of mind.

These people are forced into labor.

These people are forced into child armies (yeah…that’s still a thing, people.)

These people are abused.

Raped.

Tortured.

Murdered.

I don’t claim to have any answers. 

In reality…I’d like someone to help me find some.

Here’s that number again.

20,000,000.

Somebody. Please. There must be a way to at least drop a few zeros off that number. MAybe we can’t fix the problem entirely, but we should do something. We should at least try.

Why aren’t we trying? Why aren’t MORE of us trying?

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

They say freedom is not free. That is a load of crap, and if you take two seconds to actually think about it, you’ll realize that. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

All men are created equal. They are born with the inherent right to life. Every human, regardless of race, gender, position on the globe, or social status, takes their first breath possessing the right to live. Moreover, the right to live free, in a state of liberty, BELONGS to them. It need not be earned or gained. It is intrinsic to humanity. We agree that this is the birthright of being human. And on top of that, those same people are born with the right to live free and pursue happiness (assuming that it does not infringe on the right of others to life and liberty.)

Liberty is not a gift or a privilege. Touting the status of your freedom, especially when so many around you and around the globe have had theirs stripped away, as if it makes you superior is inhumane and ignorant. Those whose freedom stands free have the express responsibility to defend the rights of those whose liberty has been stripped. 

Those people who live under dictators and cruel leaders deserve to have their rights reinstated. Those who flee oppression, poverty, and death to pursue happiness in a place of life and liberty deserve to be given the opportunity to do just that. Those who live among free people and yet are themselves oppressed, disenfranchised, and discriminated against deserve to be seen as equal to every other free person. Their rights do not need to be earned or vetted. They need to be reinstated, post haste.

The real discussion should not be whether these people deserve to be given the same opportunities as their brethren. The very pillars that the “Free World” is built upon grants every human being there has ever been the right to be just as free as the freest of the free. The discussion and what should be raising the tempers of all people is first, how did we let the freedoms of so many people be confiscated, and second, why are we, the still free, doing so little to rectify the situation?

Those who rule the populace brandish their right to bear arms as a right inherent to all. That is, until the Black Panthers hold a rally where they proclaim that this right also extends to them, both in times of peace and when they are oppressed. Then…suddenly…that right must be reigned in. When a law states all people, naturally, it does not mean ALL people…just, you know, the WHITE people…I mean the Right people.

Martin Luther King Jr. is taught by the school system as the face of the Civil Rights Movement. He is taught as the primary, or in some cases, the only leader of the movement. There were plenty of others. There were many who were beaten, murdered, entrapted, imprisoned, and crushed who helped lead the way in the fight for the rights of people darker than pantone 67-5. They took the phrase “all men are created equal” back to center stage where it belongs. 

I don’t need anyone to tell me why the history of the Black Panthers, Black Wallstreet, the war on drugs, the socialist capitalism of the post WWII era, and the systematic destruction of the liberties of the people by the ever-more-extreme “religious” right are not taught in schools. I DO need someone to explain to me why, when these things are discovered, they are not immediately brought to the public eye. Why do these things not get any coverage? Why does no one talk about them? Why do those who know not petition for these things to be taught? Why do those who DO petition get silenced or discredited? There is power and there is shame behind these truths, and the only way to square with these things is to bring them out into the light and acknowledge them.

Why are they not acknowledged, then? Because they are still happening. Slavery may technically be a thing of the past in the Western world, but in truth, more people are trafficked today than at any point in history. Lynchings may technically be a thing of the past, but police shootings that end in death and racially motivated mass shootings are on the rise. The effects of the FBI setting people up to be murdered in the 60s and 70s are still felt in a very tangible way today. The effects of the government pumping crack, coke, and heroin into the veins of the middle class can be seen on almost any street corner in any city across the US. The effects of Nancy Regan’s bullshit are blatantly obvious in any textbook. 

This is what you get when you elect movie stars who publicly profess that their faith dictates their political decisions, who consult astrologers for major policy decisions, who flip flop on their own policies when it suits their agenda. No, we don’t own people anymore. We don’t lynch people anymore. We push them down into little boxes, limit their access to education and advancement opportunities, use the police to keep even law-abiding citizens afraid for their life and liberty, we crush the portion of the community we see as being less than equal. We apply pressure and force on entire communities until they feel they have no recourse but to stand up to the tyranny that rules their lives, raise their fists, and demand freedom and representation by any means necessary. 

“You see!” we then shout. “They are violent, aggressive, and uncivilized! They should be detained, locked up, and stripped of their rights!” Psh. What rights? Those were stolen long ago. This is nothing more than straw man justification.These people are doing the same things that the people who founded this country did. When they riot, yes, they are angry. Yes, it is scary. But the Boston Tea Party was a riot. They destroyed property. They gathered in large groups, armed to the teeth. A literal war broke out in its wake. A war, mind you, that secured your birthright to the same life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness you steal from others whilst they are still in the womb.

So learn from your past. Learn from your fathers’ mistakes. Learn from your mothers’ transgressions. Learn from your own experiences. Be an ally of truth and justice, not a suppressor of them. Your history should make you mad. Your present should make you want to do something, change something, fix something. It sure does for those who live it and are affected by it. But every time they speak up or try to make a change, somehow a bullet always finds its way screaming their direction. 

The revolution will not be televised. Shit, we can barely manage to write this stuff down.

Hate Me Today

Tow years ago today, I went to breakfast with two ladies and sealed my fate.

I have finally figured out where I went wrong. Hang in there, this will be brief. Brief…ish.

I went to breakfast with the then-future mother of my child and her daughter. While we were waiting for our table, we ran into a kid I knew from college. A very religious guy. That plays. Tuck it away.

I said hello, and introduced the girls as my family. Specifically, I told him the little girl was my daughter. It was a moment, a single sentence. One that ruined my life.

He left, we got our table, and I thought we had a great time. My girlfriend, on the walk back to my car, brought up that little moment. She asked me why I said what I did.

I said it was a brief introduction, and it was faster and easier just to say she was my daughter. She was, in a way, as she lived with us. I would never be dad, but she was my girl.

My girlfriend was unsatisfied with my answer. She paused. Asked me again.

I did what I always do. In an attempt to find some logic behind my instinct, I scrambled. Instead of saying it was just a guy move, and I didn’t have much of reason, I told her it was easier. That explaining the situation, our complicated little family, to a very conservative very religious guy, the conversation would have lasted longer. And talking to him, I already felt uncomfortable. He reminded me of a time when I was beholden to people with no authority over me except that which god apparently gave them personally.

And right there…that was the moment. She would never let it go. She felt like I was ashamed of her. She’d never understand I was ashamed of myself. Ashamed that I felt like I still owed those religious twats some sort of answer for who I was. She deserved better from me in that moment.

It wouldn’t be long before I became who I needed to be. But it was too late. I…was too late.

Like ships in the night. We passed one another that day. And even though we slept in the same bed for over a year, and lived in the same house for two years, I never got her back.

I don’t really know how I feel about this. What’s done is done. But…it’s nice to be able to pinpoint the change. I found my mistake. At least the fatal one.

It’s nice to be able to blame myself again. I’ve missed it. The world feels right again.

*looks outside*

Ah, shit. Well, it still stands: this unnecessary load on my shoulders feels good.

Let It Go

I’m gonna take a break from what I’ve been working on to work through some baggage. And much like a lunatic in an airport, I’m gonna dump it all out on the floor in public. So here we go.

I don’t know what my life is going to look like in two weeks. I’m probably going to need a lot of distractions as I ignore my depression until it recedes to a manageable level.

Everything is changing. I’m moving, and while that may not seem earth shattering, for me it feels like it is. I’m moving away from what I thought my life would be. Away from some of the people I thought would be in it. Away from the dream I used to have. The hopes I used to harbor.

I’m officially going to be a single dad. I’m not going to see my boy every day. I’ll see him a lot, sure, but it’s never going to be the same again. It feels like the only person who has loved me every day is only going to be in my life half of the time. That scares me. That makes me sad. It hurts me.

Moving represents so much this time. Two years ago, I was moving into a family. I had people I loved around me, a baby on the way…life seemed beautiful. But somewhere along the way, things soured. I tried to hold everything together. I tried to find the problem and fix it. But there was no problem. There was only this…chasm…between me and the life I wanted.

I feel like I failed. I failed the person I loved because I was not…something. Whatever it was I was supposed to be, I wasn’t that. I failed my son, who now has to grow up in a broken home. Not the worst thing in the world, necessarily, but so much more difficult than it could have been. And I failed myself. I had everything lined up, everything ready, I was almost there…and it crumbled. I don’t know why. I can’t find a reason. It just did. And I pissed away my chance at being happy in that way.

I feel like the moment I move out of this house, my life is over. I will never be me again. Not that I’m me now. I’ve been spent. I’ve used up all I was to just get here. I bet it all on this place, on these people, on me…and I made a bad bet. Every ounce, squandered.

I feel like it’s over after this. My heart feels stopped up. Frozen in time. Stuck in that moment where it all came crashing down. Hoping for change. Wishing for reversal. Knowing that this is my new normal. Realizing it’s just me and my boy from now on. And when he’s not home…it’s just me.

I haven’t felt this alone in a while.

In context, it’s been eight months. Eight months ago, everything changed. And I still can’t deal with it. I can’t let it go. I can’t let her go.

I want to live my life. I want to be normal. I want to be happy. I want to move on. But I’m stuck. And I don’t know how to fix it.

It’s not even just the person I can’t move past; it’s the idea of being happy. I feel like I won’t ever be happy again. I laugh all the time, but I’m not happy. I wanted to love someone, and have a family, and fight over stupid stuff, and apologize at the same time, and watch my son grow up, and go to bed each night knowing that I would see everyone I loved most in the world when I opened my eyes again…

But that’s not how this story goes. And I have a lot of trouble letting that go.

But I have to. If I don’t, I’ll fester even more. I’ll become toxic. I have my toxic moments; I think everyone does. But if I don’t find a way to heal, and fast, I’m going to be toxic all the time.

Honestly…moving will probably do me some good, in that regard. Getting away from the memories and all that will probably help. But I’m afraid of what happens if it doesn’t.

I don’t have a hopeful image of my future anymore. I see a fat, unhappy, single dad who can’t get past his past, and who misses so much of his present.

Cuz let’s be real, that’s the real consequence. I’m so caught up in my sadness, I’m going to blink, and my son will be moving out on his own.

I’m going to miss it. Whatever life is ahead of me, I’m going to miss it. Because it’s there. There’s probably not a love interest for the rest of this journey, and that’s fine, but there is a life.

I don’t want to miss it.

I want to be better, so I can see it. I want to see my son grow up in person, and remember it when he’s older. That’s all I have left.

I can’t miss it. I can’t let it slip. I need to be there for him, and therefore, I need to find a way to be there for myself. No one else can do this for me. No one can really help me at all. Listening, agreeing, giving advice, and whatever else people do…it’s all hollow. It does absolutely nothing.

I have to let go.

I have to move on.

I have to be someone new. I need to shed this skin and grow into my new one. I am like a hermit crab. I am moving from one home to the next. This one has become to confining, and I need room to grow. Space to think. Time to heal. Distance to forget.

I need to forget how I feel. I need to forget that it hurts. I need to forget that everything I wanted is gone. I need to forget those things…until they are not true anymore.

Letting go is a curious thing. It is not a one time event. You have to let go every day. Sometimes multiple times a day. Because it’s so easy to pick that thing back up.

I’m letting go. Tomorrow, I’ll still be letting go. I’m hoping I can let go enough days in a row to not feel the need to reach down and pick it back up again anymore.

So…yeah. There. I said it.

Chapter Five: Contracts and Cannibals

I printed up and signed the contract, mailing it off the next morning, just like I had told Jake. I emailed Marisela, letting her know the contract was in the mail. She responded later that day, saying she was excited to start working with me and that big things were in our future.

A week later, I got an email requesting a few small edits before the manuscript was shopped around to the major publishing houses. It was just some polishing work, with grammar and punctuation being the primary focus. The body of the work was left alone. I should nor have been surprised, but I still was.

Not long after that, I was standing on my patio with a cup of coffee, trying to come up with a witty ending to the article I was working on, when my phone started buzzing. I pulled it out of my pocket, rather confused; my phone didn’t ring very often.

It was Marisela.

“Hey, I would have emailed you, but I was too excited to wait for your response. We have an offer on the table.”

I blinked. That was the moment it became real. Not when I finished the manuscript or when I got the agent. It was when a publishing house decided to commit to the project, to me, that it became real to me.

“Really? W-who is it?”

“Harper Impulse. The Romance branch of Harper Collins.”

“That’s…that’s huge.”

“They’re one of the biggest. And one of the best.”

“What’s their offer?”

“Pretty standard, for the most part. 35% royalties, full edits, press tour, the works. The bonus stuff they’ve put in is all good, though. A few tv interviews, including one with Ellen, and one with Wendy. Oh, and the advance is really nice, too.”

“How much is the advance?”

“$25,000. about ten grand more than average. From my estimates, they are expecting you to be a pretty decent hit; somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 copies in your first year. You’ve got NYT best seller potential with those numbers.”

I almost dropped my phone. twenty-five grand. Holy cow. That was more than just a big break for me. That was life changing. That was more than half a year’s pay.

I must have gone silent for longer than I thought, because as I imagined myself swimming in Scrooge McDuck’s vault of gold coins, Marisela’s voice came over the phone again, bringing me back down to earth.

“Uh…Dave? You still there?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, yeah.” I cleared my throat. “Sorry. That just caught me by surprise.”

She laughed.

“I’m guessing that means you want me to send you a copy of the contract to sign?”

“Oh, definitely. I mean…it would be stupid not to…right?”

Marisela sighed.

“Okay. Well, professionally, I’m conditioned to tell you to negotiate this, to counter offer and see if they bite. The upside is that you might get more money. The downside is that they could rescind their offer altogether. Personally, I think you should sign the contract that’s on the table. It’s a big enough advance that it tips their hand a bit. They know you’ll be successful, but they aren’t expecting windfall. They have their eyes set on pushing for the best seller lists, but it’s doubtful they are looking at film or tv for this. So this is likely to be the best offer you’ll get. If our roles were reversed, I would take it. But, obviously, if you want to counter offer, that’s your call.”

I nodded to myself.

“Yeah, I want to sign. Send over the contract, and I’ll fill it out right away.”

“Will do. Keep an eye on your inbox. I’ll forward it to you in a minute or two.”

So that was…cool. More than cool, obviously. But cool was how I was feeling. I shuddered. An old timey ship captain’s voice was echoing in my mind.

“There’s a change a-brewin’ on these winds, laddie. Changes come, indeed.”

I chuckled, and turned my eyes back to my desk. My copy of my book sat opened to the middle, heavily marked in red pen.

I’m guessing you want to know what was on page 163…

He smiled down at me, as he covered my bare chest on bleu cheese dressing.

“Pleasures grow exponentially when you combine them with other pleasures. Just as I hunger for your body, to consume you, I also hunger for…these chicken wings.”

He reached over to the nearby coffee table and grabbed a plate of boneless buffalo wings thatI had not seen and, even more surprising, had not smelled when we began. My stomach growled. I was starving. I hadn’t eaten in, like, an hour. And since my metabolism ran like a fine tuned machine and I was boning like it was my job today, I needed to replenish my energy. I reached up to grab one off the plate, and he pulled them away, frowning at me.

“These are mine. If you were hungry, you should have brought your own.”

He dipped the first one into the dressing he had poured on my body, savoring tit like a delectable chocolate.

“Mmmm…like I said, combining pleasures is delightful. So much better with a boner.”

“Do you always get boneless wings?”

“Oh, yes. Why?”

“I don’t know. I was just wondering. Aren’t they basically just chicken nuggets?”

“No, they are wings. boneless wings. It says so on the menu.”

“But…they aren’t shaped like wings. They aren’t made from wing meat. They are just chunks of breaded chicken. So…….chicken nuggets.”

“That’s…that’s not…there’s…they…” he sighed, unsure of how to continue.

“Fine. Maybe they are chicken nuggets. But they are chicken nuggets for pleasure seeking adults such as myself, and you can’t take that away from me!”

“I wasn’t trying to; I was just making an observation. I thought we were having a conversation. Geez.”

He shook his head. 

“I’ve heard enough from you. The time has come. Get in the pot.”

“What pot?”

“The giant pot that’s been in the corner this whole time.”

I looked over to where he pointed, confused and surprised.

“You really are not very observant. You didn’t notice the wings, you didn’t notice the bubbling cauldron, and you didn’t notice that  I was dicing up carrots, onions, and celery the entire time you were talking about the difference between wings and nuggets.”

“Hey! Were you listening to my private inner monologue?! That’s an invasion of privacy!”

Perhaps; but still, it is time to get in the pot. I am still very hungry, and you are on the menu tonight.”

I walked over to the cauldron and climbed inside.

“So, you’re a cannibal then?”

“Indeed I am,” he said.

“How does that work? Are you born craving human meat, or are you raised by other cannibals, or…how…how does that work, exactly?”

As I rubbed carrots and onions on my body, still covered in bleu cheese dressing inside the giant pot, the door burst open as he was mid-sentence, as my other lovers burst into the room, as if on command, as if my rescue were planned, as if it were timed, as if…the cannibal had been set up…

 

Chapter Four: Read it to Me Slow

“You’re joking.” I could practically hear Jake shaking his head incredulously through the phone.

“Swear to god. Twenty of them. I settled on one, obviously, but I felt like I should lead with that information.”
“I hate to say I told you so…ah, who the hell am I kidding. That’s my favorite thing. I. Told. You. So.”

I sighed as he laughed. I had made a big swing on this bet, and I had lost spectacularly. I would be hearing about this moment from him when we were eighty. He finished giggling.

“So, what’s the offer?”

I scanned the email once again, even though I had read it so many times by now I had it memorized. “From what I see, and what I’ve read online from other authors, it’s a pretty standard contract. The agent and the agency get their commission from net sales, I don’t pay out of pocket, and if they don’t find a publisher within a certain amount of time, I can shop the project elsewhere with thirty days notice.”

“Cool, cool. So, I have one burning question. Well, technically, it’s two questions. You said that you have to send in sample pages for most of those queries, right?”

“Yeah…”

“I gotta know: what did you use for your sample?”

“Stuff from the beginning.”

“No, no, no. I need to know, verbatim, what it is that hooked twenty different agents on this project.”

“Ugh. You just want me to read to you again.”

“That is definitely a plus. Hearing you awkwardly read sex scenes out loud has brought me a level of joy I did not think I could reach in this life.”

“Fine. Give me a second to pull up the email.” I scrolled until I found the original message. “Here goes.”

“Steve slid closer to me, his arm just barely touching mine. The hair on our forearms intertwined as if it knew our bodies would be joining later.

“‘I hope you don’t mind me being forward, Anne, but…as a special agent spy masterclass four elite general, I travel all over the world. I meet lots of women, but…none…of them…are quite as…intoxicating as you.’

“I felt myself blush on all four cheeks. My heart beat faster, as if it wanted to reach out of my chest and touch him. Every cell in my body wanted to touch him, for him to touch me, for me to touch him while he touched me. But we had only known each other five and a half minutes. I knew, because there was a clock on the wall across from me. Unless it was broken. But then it wouldn’t change at all. In fact, it was a digital clock. When digital clocks are broken, do they even show numbers? Or do they just constantly blink at midnight?

“Regardless of what kind of clock it was, it led me to believe that we had not known each other long, and that I had to play this slow. I couldn’t give into my body right away. He may have been a super special agent spy masterclass four elite general ranger, but…what if he said ‘irregardless’ or didn’t recycle? I could not forgive myself if I opened my bosom and my lady happy place to a man who frowned at babies. I needed to be sure I could trust him.

“‘Steve, if that’s even your real name, take me! Take me now!'”

“I ripped open my shirt, buttons flying everywhere. One hit Steve in the eye. He began to sob uncontrollably.

“Why would you hurt me like that?!”

“It was an accident, my love! I promise! I would never hurt you! Unless that was what you were into, and you told me you wanted me to! Then I would hurt you as much as you wanted, because we are on our way to Paris, and who am I to judge how someone wants to be loved in the city of love?”

“He continued to sob, and I held him. His vulnerability stirred something deep inside me. Very deep. So, so, so, so, so very deep. It sent shivers down my legs. I knelt down and untied his shoes. Then I pulled off his socks. I looked up, with every ounce of sultriness I could muster and locked eyes with him.

“‘This is where our night begins. Don’t cry anymore. Or do. That actually turned me on a lot. I’ve never felt like a tough guy until just now, so on second thought, keep crying while I take off your clothes. Then I’ll give you a reason to cry.”‘

Jake laughed until he was out of breath.

“I gotta give it to you, buddy. You got picked up by an agent for that? Holy cow. That is atrocious. Are you sure they don’t think it’s a comedy?”

“I don’t know, man. Honestly, at this point, I don’t think I care. They are the first people to pay me for a novel, so I’m coming around to the idea of making some dough off of this before it’s all said and done. I still don’t want this to be what I’m known for, by any means, but if this helps launch my career into novel writing, I suppose I can kiss your ass for a while and tell you that you were right. It’s a small price to pay. Relatively.”

Jake snorted. “I guess. Still…that’s incredible. That’s really what you sent them? Like, all of them?”

“Every one.”

“Geez. That’s something. So…when do you pull the trigger?”

“I’m thinking I’ll sign the contract tonight, mail it in the morning, and email Marisela when I wake up with my decision.”

“Cool beans, man. All jokes aside, congratulations.”

“Thanks, buddy. Maybe this time next year, we can celebrate me finding an agent for a book I’m actually proud of.”

“Shoot, Dave, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if this is as popular with the public as it has been with the agents, you’re gonna have to find some pride for this here smut.”

I took a long, slow breath. Dammit, dammit, dammit. He was right. Again.

Chapter Three: Sense of Agency

Like I said before, the querying process is emotionally and mentally taxing. You write up your best hook for the story, try to find some way to bond with the agent you are submitting to, and you tack on a few sample pages from your work, and you email it out. In order to get it juuuuuust right, each one of those emails can take twenty to thirty minutes.

Typically speaking, I do my querying in spurts or rounds. I send out ten or twenty over the course of a week, and then sit back and wait for the inevitable rejections, then start back up a few weeks later when everyone has passed on the project. That’s what I planned on doing with this novel. I’d sent out a few extra queries, around 30 in total, for that first round. I never intended to send out a second round. I was trying to make a point, after all. I took it seriously enough during the querying process, picking out agents and agencies specifically geared towards what I had written. I was afraid if I didn’t do this right, I might get blackballed for the rest of my work. You know, because THAT was doing so well.

There’s no twist here. You all know how this story ends. I was sitting there, smug in my certainty that this manuscript was going to tank, and it would be something I would take out at parties and read to my friends so they could laugh at its outrageous nature. But then…then, my inbox started filling up.

After about ten days, the emails started coming back. The first was a rejection. The next five were requests for full-manuscript submission. When an agent asks for a full manuscript, you hooked them. Most agents, or so I’m told, know if they are going to represent you from reading the query. They ask for the full project just to be sure, but there’s an eighty percent chance you’re going to the negotiation phase.

Five requests for full manuscripts. Then a day later, three more. Two days later, six more requests. I just about pissed my pants. I sent out the manuscripts, letting each agent know that there were multiple people looking at the project.

The return emails came in twice as fast as the manuscript requests. Agents offering contracts, telling me they were the perfect people for the job of representing me, that I had a gold mine on my hands. I was suddenly in over my head. I’d never had an agent even wink at me, but now I had to choose between twenty different ones clamoring at my door. My phone was ringing nonstop. My inbox was full of agents offering me their very best. I had no idea what I was supposed to be looking for. I’d never gotten this far before…

I could not believe this was the project that was getting attention from agencies. It astounded me. I suddenly was unsure if I even understood what a bad romance novel would look like. Was I a secret genius? On top of that, was I such a secret genius that even when I tried to make something terrible, I spun gold onto the page?

I looked over to the copy of the manuscript I had printed at the library. I always like to have a physical copy of my work lying around. Since I had never published anything before, it was probably a way of compensating. I squinted at it, trying to imagine what anyone saw in that pile of nonsense. I picked it up and flipped it open somewhere in the middle.

“‘Banitu, I don’t care! I don’t care, can’t you see that? I love you for you! Just like I love Orphlegle, and Maekitoshi, and Slarf, and Ackackack, and Faribon…and Steve! I love you all for who you are on the inside! I don’t care about the other stuff.”

The seven foot tall robot turned away from her in shame. If he could have cried, he would. But his designers knew better than to design a giant circuit board with the ability to feel emotions AND to soak itself in tears.

“No…no, NO! No, Anne, can’t you see? My erectile dysfunction means we can never be as close as I want us to be…AS I NEED US TO BE! Go on, find some other robotic man to love. One better suited to fulfill your desires than I. I cannot engage in carnal activities. My makers, in their cruel sense of poetry, programmed me to love, to be in love, but never…to make love. My bones are made of steel, but there is one bone that will never be hard enough to satisfy you.”

Anne violently shook her head. “You listen to me, you big, dumb oaf. If it means that much to you, we’ll find a programmer who can give you a boner. Hell, we’ll find a programmer who can make you hard all the time. Even when you don’t want to be.”

Banitu smiled a sad smile. “That sounds terrible. I don’t think I would like that at all. But even though you’ve told me you don’t need a physical relationship with me…I think that would make you happy. If you say it can be done, let’s go. Do you know any programmers?”

“No; do you?”

“No. Well, I guess there’s no hope, then.”

I guess not. Goodbye, Banitu. I’m sorry, but now that there really is no hope of us fixing your penis, I am afraid I don’t love you anymore. My love octagon is now…just a love polygon.”

“Heptagon,” the robot whispered. “You are now a love heptagon, and I…I am…leaving.”

I put the page down. It was absolute bull. This. THIS is what people wanted from me all along? God, I hated people right then. But after a few minutes of stewing on the stupid irony of it all, the call of the royalties and that elusive title of “published author” beckoned me back towards my laptop.

I scrolled through the emails from agents. I carefully went over what each one was offering, and looked up what they had represented before. By the time the sun set that evening, I had made a decision and responded to an agent named Marisela. She had been an agent for nearly ten years, and apparently had represented some rather successful works along the way. And not just romance stuff, either. She represented stuff in the other genres I wrote in, too. I crossed my fingers and hoped that if she picked up this project, maybe she would pick up one of my other novels down the line.

I sent her the full manuscript for consideration. It only took her two days to confirm that she would take on the project, and with that, she emailed me a copy of a contract. She told me to take a few days to look it over, and to let her know when I made my decision. I had obviously already made up my mind, but I didn’t want to seem too desperate. I also appreciated the time to look over the contract. I didn’t think an Association certified agent would try to screw me over, and even if she was, I wouldn’t know what to look for, but I would still feel better after I looked it over.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t told Jake about any of the recent developments. I was excited, kind of, to tell him I was about to be published, but…hot damn, it burned me knowing I was going to have to admit he was right. Jake was absolutely insufferable when he was right. When we were in college, he told me I couldn’t pull off a mustache. Three weeks later, I was arrested for fitting the description of a guy who robbed a liquor store two towns over. The description? White guy, creepy mustache. Yeah, Jake still never let me live it down. The bastard brought it up a few days ago. But I’m getting off topic…

 

Chapter Two: Backfired Wager

I spent the next few days setting my outline. Boring stuff for anyone but me. I was tickled pink by the sheer absurdity of the entire tale I was weaving. Whenever I would get stuck, I would think of something absolutely bonkers to pull me back into it. Was there a lull in the romance? I’d add another love interest. Was there a lull in the action? I’d write up an intergalactic incident. By the end of my outline phase, I had the most convoluted, illogical, space-odyssey-on-a-train story that could ever be told. I was excited to get down to the actual writing.

I have a habit of hiding myself away when I really get into a project. I write as a freelancer for a few different websites, so I’m able to do most of my work from home. Even though I wasn’t able to get my novels published, I was still able to make myself a decent living my doing work for a review site and a couple pop-culture sites. As long as I wrote sixteen articles a week, I was usually fine. And since it generally only took me about an hour to write each article, I could crank out a few more than that each week. But that also gave me the freedom to pour myself into my personal stuff, since even during a busy week, I had a lot of free time. I decided I was going to average twenty articles a week, and I was going to put in twenty pages of “10:45 to Paris” per day.

Basically, I would be writing articles from the time I poured my first cup of coffee in the morning until just before lunch. I would stop for lunch, relax for a bit, then get back to my desk. I would put on the cheesiest, sexiest music I could find to set the mood, and I would spend the next five or six hours plugging away at this abomination of word sludge. As soon as I got into the actual writing process, I kind of started seeing it as a comedy piece rather than a romance novel. I got super into it, and it became my passion for a few weeks.

I didn’t go out for drinks, I barely saw my friends, I didn’t play video games. I was totally consumed by this crazy book. There were a lot of nights I would even eat dinner and go back to writing until I went to bed. I was averaging nearly seven or eight hours a day on it, and my progress showed it. Normally, it takes me two or three months to finish a novel. I had the first draft of that bad boy wrapped up in three and a half weeks.

It was during my first round of edits and rewrites that Jake called to check in on me.

“Dave. Buddy. You alive out there, man?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good. I’ve just been busy writing for the last few weeks.”

“I figured you were down the rabbit hole; I was just starting to worry, since it’s been a while since you’ve dropped off the map for so long. So, how is your bestseller coming along?”

“It’s finished.”

Jake choked on the other end of the line. “W-whAT?! What do you mean finished?”

I laughed. “I’m done. I’m editing right now. That’s what I was doing when you called me.”

“No kidding, huh? Well, how did it turn out?”

“It’s amazing. and by ‘amazing,’ I mean it’s absolutely terrible. There is an alien invasion at one point. And after a really steamy intergalactic arrest, a super spy is taken off in to Florbian custody for war crimes under the Andromeda Accords.”

“Wait…I thought you were writing a romance novel?”

“I did.”

“Then how…how does…where the hell does all that stuff come into play?”

Guess you’ll just have to read it to find out,” I chuckled.

“I’ll be damned. You’ve got me hooked. This is going to be the very first, and hopefully last, romance novel I ever read.”

“Glad to be of service.”

“Now: how about you read me an excerpt.”

“Why? It’s awful.”

“Because I want something to whet my whistle. To keep me interested until you get published.”

“Okay, I guess that makes sense. Um…should I start at the beginning?”

“Oh, no,” Jake said emphatically. “Open it to a random page and read from there.”

I scrolled through the manuscript, stopping at a random spot. The page started on a new sentence, conveniently.

“She gasped exuberantly as the Florbian drew it’s two tongues up her leg. Starting at the inside of her knee and slowly tasting her inner thigh. Her legs shook, and her shoulders quivered. She didn’t even know that shoulders could quiver. They seem so stationary and unquiverable. It was strange, but she liked it. Just as the Florbian’s tongue reached the space where her thighs met, the door to the traincar flew open.

“‘Halt your progress, criminal! You would dare defile this woman?! Disrespect her?! You know the law states that no female is to approach orgasm with less than four tongues on her body, and two members pleasuring her. If you wish to avoid forty years locked in the frozen doushlags, you will allow me to join you.”

Jake was silent on the phone for a second after I finished. He cleared his throat.

“That’s, uh…Is the whole book like that?”

Every damn word.”

“I mean, it’s definitely weird. But…it’s not half bad, man. I know you think this is a joke, but, dude…you might really have some success on your hands.”

“Ha. Yeah right.”

“I’m serious! Hurry up with those edits of yours and get to querying. I want every waking second of your life to revolve around becoming a millionaire smut writer.”

“I don’t know if I could live if that happened.”

“Oh, you’ll live. And when it does happen, I better see a cut of your royalties.”

“Sure, Jake. Hell, I’ll buy you a new car with my big, fat advance.”

“I accept. It’s gotta be within two years old for the deal to be valid.”

“Hey, I said NEW car, didn’t I?”

Jake laughed, and we hung up. I sat back down in front of my computer. Now the difficult part began. Editing is mind numbing, and querying is a harrowing process. Trying to get people you know to watch a tv show is hard enough. Emailing strangers and trying to get them to read your writing is even harder. It definitely keeps you humble.

This time, though, things were different. Once I got through my edits, I heard back from the agencies much quicker than I was used to…