Category Archives: Writing

Dear White Authors: Our Fantasy Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

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Hi friends! It’s been awhile. I’ve been focusing on fiction. The sequel to Panther in the Hive has been released, by the way!  (The Rooster’s Garden, here.) But I did write a blog this week.

Below you will find an excerpt to my latest, “Dear White Authors: Our Fantasy Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum” which has been published on Huffington Post. I encourage you to read it here.

You see, our fantasies don’t exist in a vacuum. Every character we create, every world we imagine, every king we conjure, and every centaur or alien or whatever we weave together with our words comes from somewhere. Writers, I know: we like to imagine our stories as apparitions that arise from magic or stardust; a miraculous creation that channeled through us from a mystic source. But that’s untrue: our stories come from us, and “us” is often problematic.

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Ranting, Process, and White Girls in Dystopia: 4 Questions with Olivia A. Cole

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The amazing and talented Jenn Jackson (who recently interviewed Janet Mock) passed a blog tour baton to me, an exercise that is linking writers and bloggers together and provides their readers with a way to learn more about the people whose work they enjoy. This is timely, as I field a lot of emails from readers who want to know more about what I’m working on and why I write what I write. So here you have it: four questions, and four answers. Enjoy.

1) What are you working on?

The thing that takes up most of my writing time these days is the sequel to my novel, Panther in the Hive, which is currently untitled. I’ve had a lot of people ask when it will be finished, but that’s not a question that I can easily answer at this time. But I can say this: Panther took three years, and the sequel will take nowhere near that long. The storyline is mapped out through to the end and I’m about halfway finished writing the book itself. It’s coming!

Besides that, I do continue to write poems when inspiration strikes. In fact, a poem of mine is currently a semifinalist in the 21st Annual Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Awards. (If you’re in Chicago and want to attend the reading, it’s on July 23rd at the Chopin Theatre. Click the link for more information. I’d love to see you there.) Then, of course, there are my blogs. I try to do a blog a week but that’s not always possible. However, I love blogging and try to give it time and energy whenever I can.

Finally, I am working on a young adult series starring a female protagonist as well. That book has barely been born, but it stays at the front of my mind because I think it’s an important one to write. More on that soon.

2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

Well, for starters, my characters are people of color, and generally that is hard to come by in the science-fiction/post-apocalyptic genre. There are, of course, geniuses working in that genre such as Nnedi Okorafor. But overall, non-white characters in apocalyptic settings are annoyingly rare.

I’d also venture to say that my writing takes itself far less seriously than a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction. While I explore themes of humanity, racism, and violence, at the heart of my work is a thread of fun and excitement. Writing is fun. The worlds I create are exciting. I think the sense of humor that works its way into Panther in the Hive, for example, is somewhat rare in its genre.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Oh, this question always makes me a little crazy because I never know how to answer it. I don’t set out to write the things I do, I just…do. It’s always been this way. That question needs to be more specific anyhow. Why do I write books that feature characters of color? Because almost all of my friends, heroes, and influencers are people of color. Besides, does the dystopian genre really need one more love-crazed white girl running around in it? Nah. Why do I write fiction that takes place in the future? Because the present depresses the hell out of me. Why do I write fiction that is strangely funny and references a lot of pop culture? Because I love comedy and pop culture.

Or, if we’re talking about the ranty blogs that I write, well, that’s even easier to answer. I write ranty blogs about movies, people, etc. because when something infuriates me—and so many things do—I have to write about it. It’s a compulsion, one I’ve had since a child. I’ve stopped trying to tell it no.

4) How does your writing process work?

If we’re talking about fiction, then usually ideas strike me like lightning. One minute they don’t exist, and the next minute they do. From there, I just….begin. I just have to begin. By the time the idea strikes me, it already has something of a body, so I write in its legs and arms and eyes and so on until it can walk a little on its own and then I see where it leads me. Then I keep writing. I force myself to write every day, otherwise it may not get done and then the thing sits on my back and guilts me until I return to it.

Once an entire draft is finished, editing begins. That takes a long time. Usually there is a lot of cutting because I’ve written a bunch of things that suck and need to be removed. Panther in the Hive went through about 100 different drafts. If not more. I’m sure its sequel will be close, although I’m a better writer now then I was then (I hope) so maybe it will be less.

As for blogs, they’re a lot easier. After I see a film like Transformers or Single Moms Club, the problems are very apparent and hang in my head like light bulbs until I switch them off one by one. This “switching off” can only be accomplished by writing the blog, addressing the issues point by point. I usually don’t have to edit much for blogs. Rants tend to enter my mind in a very complete form. That makes it a lot easier.

There you have it. Stay tuned later this week or next for another rant from yours truly. Until then, if you have questions about my process or work, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer as many as I can.

Finally, I will now pass the baton to two other writers who I respect. Danielle Koon is the first, a writer based out of DC who is working on her first novel, The Docks. The second, Maggie Gray, blogs over at Colorful Adventures of a Gray Girl, exploring themes of womanhood, sexism, and life. Looking forward to reading their responses to these questions.

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People of Color DO Survive the Apocalypse: 5 Books You Should Read

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It’s been written about before: the problem with mainstream post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction and its absence of people of color. In the imaginations of so many writers of these genres, people of color don’t ever seem to survive the apocalypse, or somehow the series of events that led to the dystopian society that has banned smiling (or dreaming, or whatever the big “gasp” factor is) wiped out people of color along the way. Post-apocalyptic fiction is a craze, and not a new one: we have always, on some level, wondered what happens next, after we destroy ourselves, for a long time. (Think about it: the Bible’s versions of Heaven and Hell are a kind of dystopian fiction in itself. A book talking about what happens next if we keep f@&#ing up the way we have been? Just saying.) Yet somehow the versions of these stories that make it into the mainstream—and don’t get me started on Hollywood—almost invariably star white people, and especially white girls. But in case you’ve ever looked at the whitewashed array of dystopian and post-apocalyptic books that line the shelves and asked yourself, “Do people of color survive the apocalypse?” the answer is yes. Read these books.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Environmental and economic crises lead to societal disintegration in Parable of the Sower. Lauren Olamina is the daughter of a minister who loses her entire family when the chaos of the outside world enters her home compound. She ventures out into the wasteland of America alone and what follows is her journey to a new future in the face of almost certain death. Octavia Butler was a genius and you should read everything she’s ever written. Pronto. You can buy Parable of the Sower here.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

The setting for this post-apocalyptic future is Saharan Africa, in a world that is ruined by rape and genocide. A young girl named Onyesonwu—which means Who Fears Death?—is raised in the midst of a society that hates her; a society that she must overcome if she is to 1) survive and 2) save the world from the evil that plagues it. She is not only extremely brave, but flawed, funny, and powerful, and the story involves magic, self-discovery, and analyses of racism and sexism. In short: it rocks. You can buy Who Fears Death here.

Panther in the Hive by Olivia A. Cole

Chicago hasn’t really gotten its fair shake when it comes to post-apocalyptic stories, and this book takes place in a Chicago of the not-so-distant future, following the story of Tasha Lockett, an oddball brown girl who finds herself alone in the city when a cybertronic disaster overcomes the States. It’s a coming of age story that takes on healthcare, racism, sexism, and political corruption. Oh, and I wrote it. Just throwing that in there. You can buy Panther in the Hive here.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

If you like zombie novels, here’s one for you. Colson Whitehead isn’t known for genre work, but this book was a doozy. The story follows Mark Spitz, a survivor in a civilian sweeper unit who is clearing Zone One of straggler zombies. It’s deep, dark, and literary, and it will leave you thinking. You can buy Zone One here.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson has won too many awards to count, and you should really check out all of her work. But Brown Girl in the Ring suits the purposes of this blog, following the story of Ti-Jeanne, a new mother who finds herself alone in a Toronto that has collapsed into violence and gang rule, with the rich and privilege having fled the city and barricaded everyone else inside. A little bit of voodoo. A little bit of love. A lot of adventure. You can buy Brown Girl in the Ring here.

There are others: this is just five. Do you have a favorite that isn’t listed here? Share it in the comments. There’s a shortage of these stories in fiction, so let’s collect them here.

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5 Bloggers Who Are Blogging Better Than You (And Me)

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This morning I’m getting on a plane for New York, where tonight I will join Beverly Bond, Jamilah Lemieux, and other incredibly talented and powerful women for a panel hosted by Black Girls Rock!, The Black Girls Rock! Think Tank: Checkin’ Our Fresh. I’m excited to sit amongst such inspiring company, where we will discuss media representations of black women, why some white people feel fear and discomfort about programs like BGR, and other topics. In honor of tonight—and in honor of every day—I wanted to hip you to five amazing women whose blogs you should be reading right now.

Michonne Micheaux: Anti-Oppression. Pro-Storytelling

@LexiScorsese

I knew Michonne as @LexiScorsese before anything else—one of the most hilarious and on-point Twitter accounts I follow to this day—but when I discovered her blog I was in love. Her tagline—Anti-Oppression. Pro-Storytelling.—says it all. She describes herself as “a film nerd who talks too much for microblogging & who loves humanity more than hegemony.” Can we say love at first read?

One of my favorite posts by Michonne Micheaux: The Myth of  “Fast Black Girls”

Trudy of Gradient Lair

@thetrudz

I first came upon Trudy on Twitter. She is brilliant, bold, and no-nonsense, writing about art, media, society, politics, and more. Trudy will blow your mind, every time. Womanism, black feminism, intersectional feminism…she covers it all.

One of my favorite posts by Trudy: General Misogyny vs. Anti-Black Misogyny (Misogynoir), Specifically

Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous

@BlackGirlDanger

Mia appeared on my radar via Facebook. Everyone was sharing her posts left and right, and I soon learned why. She is an incredibly insightful writer, leading Black Girl Dangerous with posts about race, racism, and the experiences of queer and trans people of color, while also amplifying the voices of other amazingly talented writers.

One of my favorite posts by Mia McKenzie: Easy Out There For A (White) Bitch: A Few Words On Lily Allen and the Continued Use of Black Women’s Bodies As Props

Asha French of MODERN MOM

@AFrenchWriter

Asha was actually a mentor of mine (and still is) when I was a young, dumb writer of 15. She’s a columnist at Ebony now for a column called MODERN MOM, where she writes about the wide world of parenting and family while also discussing race, queerness, and more. She’s also writing a book that I can’t wait to read, so stay tuned for that.

One of my favorite posts by Asha French: Dear Beautiful Daughters Who Happen to Be Light

Feminista Jones at FeministaJones.com

@FeministaJones

Here’s another woman that I regularly thank the Twitter gods for. Feminista is fearless, fun, and fierce. She writes about everything from racism to fitness, sex to domestic violence. She’s also HA-LARIOUS. She’s serious about research—trust me, this woman knows her stuff. In my head I call her the Queen of Stats, but really she is the queen of many things.

One of my favorite posts by Feminista Jones: Rape Culture 2.0

If you want to improve the contents of your brain, read these women. If you want to improve the brains of the people around you, share their blogs. And don’t stop there. If you read my blog and you like it…just wait until you read these bloggers who rock. They make me look like an amateur.

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Mrs. Jones – Microfiction

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She considered briefly that the screen would reveal an extraterrestrial fetus napping somewhere in a bubble between her major organs, but decided that part of being an old woman was dismissing these thoughts. She chose to watch the clock instead. It seemed to be in a bit of a rush, she thought, ticking her life away. She thought of the Mad Hatter, the old cartoon, his buttering the clock and making a sandwich of it. Perhaps that was how you beat time. You ate it.

The nurse continued his slow rubbing across her stomach, the ultrasound gel warm and thick.

“Breathe normally,” the nurse said, stern. She must have been panting.

The question hiding in the holes where her wisdom teeth once lived hunkered deeper. It was both small and large, shrinking and swelling; trying, at once, to abort and be born.

“Do you see anything?”

There it was, an unshelled peanut falling from her mouth.

“What?” The nurse paused his rubbing and stared. Probably she sounded drunk, or like she was speaking an alien language. His eyebrows were impatient. He had other stomachs to rub with his eyeless, all-seeing machine; other livers to examine; other plagues to diagnose.

“Do you see anything?” She thought she sounded human but couldn’t be sure.

Silence.

She couldn’t see what the screen revealed: he had it tilted toward him, a secret. She realized watching his face might provide some clue, so she turned her attention from the clock to him. If only he was wearing glasses—she could peer into the reflection; spy on the shadowy masses he surely saw.

She imagined the dark terrain of her body, its geography of organ continents and the oceans of blood between them. Her blood. She could almost feel the rays or waves or whatever of the ultrasound piercing through her skin and fat, a dull slicing into the private world inside. Through the protective bars of her ribs. No defense. The invisible made visible; the hidden revealed.

The nurse spluttered, the gel smearing down his forearm as she rose, her shirt still tucked up in her beige bra.

“Ma’am, the procedure isn’t over—”

She was already gone, power-walking down the hall empty-handed, formalities being called down the corridor after her—ma’am and miss and Mrs. Jones. The door was in front of her, her palms against the cool metal bar, and she was pushing through into October, into a street that would lead her to safety.

The Mazda struck her body from the side. The sound was dull.

On the ground, little pieces of stone and glass made marbled indentations in her skin—she imagined it as a pattern like scales, the smooth perfection of a quick green snake. She turned her neck slowly, becoming, charting the path on which she would slither toward freedom, away from the crowd gathering. Beside her was a bird, longer dead. Its body was open, the terrain of its heart and spleen solved.

Mrs. Jones followed the map.

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The Factory–A Short Story

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“First time to the Factory?”

Mr Thomas turns. It’s a man in a black suit, whispering, eyes the same color as his clothes.

“Yes, it is,” Mr. Thomas says shortly, and begins to turn back to the front before he changes his mind.

“Do you work there?” Mr. Thomas asks.

“Lots of us do.”

 

Its lawn is green and geometric. Some hand not present has mown overlapping circles and squares into the grass and Mr. Thomas stares at them as he approaches the entrance. The man in the black suit is gone. He’d gone another way, a way Mr. Thomas could not follow.

“Name. Business. Time.”

The man at the desk says these things abruptly, a wind-up machine.

Mr. Thomas writes the required on a pad of bright yellow paper sitting on the black desk like a flame.

“Sit.”

Mr. Thomas sits.

 

Sitting, he can observe the Factory. He is in a cavernous hall, removed from the front door through which he’d entered, where he’d had his eyeballs scanned, his finger pricked, a sample of his hair taken. He hadn’t asked why. The ceiling is as high as a church, cast in shadow. The chair is straight and black, the floor an astonishing expanse of white marble. He stares at it, looking for dust, a dimple. There is none. It is flawless.

“Thomas. This way.”

It’s the man at the desk, away from the desk. He beckons Mr. Thomas stiffly with his arm. Mr. Thomas thinks he must need grease.

 

He is walking up then he is walking down. The passageways wind like snakes and Mr. Thomas begins to think they are underground. The air feels close like a burrow. Yet he thinks they’re walking uphill. The effect is dizzying.

“Are we walking up or down?” Mr. Thomas asks the man at the desk, who is leading him.

“Both,” the man says, then turns his head slightly to look back. “Dizzy? It will pass.”

It does pass. The smooth white floor levels out and the corridor widens. It should be dark, Mr. Thomas thinks: there are no overhead lights, no sconces, no windows. Yet the hallway is lit. The light doesn’t come from anyplace; it just is.

“Sit,” the man at the desk says again. There’s a chair by a door.

Mr. Thomas sits.

 

Waiting. The perfect white floor. The light that comes from nowhere. Then a command. “Come,” a door opening with a sound like snake’s scales.

 

“Sit,” and Mr. Thomas sits again, but he has to grope for the chair. Its silhouette is fuzzy, the light from nowhere is nowhere and the room is dark.

“Forgive me,” the voice says, and there is light, too much, and Mr. Thomas sits down blinking.

Before him is a man in a pale suit—Mr. Thomas can’t tell if it’s white or beige. Perhaps a faint gray. He is leaning against a massive desk, piled high with papers.

“Did you bring the paperwork?”

Mr. Thomas nods, and reaches into his briefcase. He hasn’t put it down since he’d picked it up this morning and he flexes his fingers, which ache. Inside are the papers. He draws them out and hands them to the man in the pale suit.

The papers shuffling are reptilian coils in the bright, dry room. Too bright. Too dry. Mr. Thomas feels thirsty and tired.

“You are here on behalf of Schadcorp,” the man in the pale suit says, eyeing the papers.

“Yes,” says Mr. Thomas.

“And what is the problem Mr. Schaden is encountering?”

“There is…there is some bad press.” Mr. Thomas swallows, searching for the words. “Mr. Schaden had an…indiscretion with an employee. She is pressing charges. People are…very angry. The photographs of her injuries were leaked. Mr. Schaden would like a solution.”

“Ahh.” It’s all the man in the pale suit says. He stands and walks behind the massive desk.

Mr. Thomas watches him. His eyes feel very dry. He puts the briefcase down again, for it it’s suddenly heavy.

“Mr. Thomas,” the man in the pale suit says, “would you like some water?”

“Yes…yes please.”

The man in the pale suit points. Following his finger, Mr. Thomas sees a cart with a pitcher and tall slender glasses. He hadn’t noticed it before; he’d only seen the man and the desk.

Mr. Thomas rises and goes to the water. The pitcher is cold in his hand. When he drinks, he tastes cucumber.

“Mr. Thomas, how serious would you say Mr. Schaden’s situation is?”

“Serious? Well…very serious. The news crews are outside his house and headquarters all day and night. Sales are down. Boycotts in Chicago and New York. I’d say it’s…it’s very serious.”

“Alright,” says the man in the pale suit. “Let’s get down to business. Sit, Mr. Thomas.”

 

Mr. Thomas sits.

 

The man in the pale suit looms above his desk, shuffling papers, looking. He finds a book and opens it.

“How would Mr. Schaden like to handle this little problem?”

“I think Mr. Schaden wanted to know some options,” says Mr. Thomas. The glass of cucumber water is too cold.

“Well,” the man in the pale suit says, flipping through the book. “Let me see what I have available.”

A moment of silence, just shuffling paper.

“We haven’t had an e.coli scare in awhile,” the man says. “Will that do? Oh, what about African bees? The media loves things with ‘African’ in their names. That’s always good.”

Mr. Thomas sips absently. His eyes are still dry.

The man in the pale suit looks up to see Mr. Thomas’s reaction. He looks slightly disappointed.

“No? Alright. What else…” Flip flip flip. “How about we have Arizona consider a bill banning…oh, I don’t know…interracial seating arrangements in classrooms. I could let our lobbyists come up with something better if you don’t like that. Or,” his voice peaks a bit with excitement, “we could have a meteor land in Minnesota. We have old footage that CNN wouldn’t recognize. That would be good.”

Mr. Thomas finishes his water. He wishes he had brought the whole pitcher over to the chair.

“No, you’re right,” the man in the pale suit says, looking crestfallen. “Too much, too much. We shouldn’t use it all at once. We might need to save the meteor for down the road if our Mr. Schaden runs into trouble again. Mr. Thomas, are you alright?”

Mr. Thomas feels like a frog drying out in the sun.

“I…I think I’m alright,” he says.

“It’s your first time,” says the man. And he looks tender. “Forgive me. You must. So insensitive of me. Let me get you more water.”

Mr. Thomas drinks another glass.

“The Factory,” he says, feeling a little drunk. “What do you make here?”

The man in the pale suit leans against the front of the desk, his expression gentle. He doesn’t respond.

“The Factory,” Mr. Thomas says again. “Surely you must make something. A factory creates, manufactures. What do you manufacture?”

The man folds one hand into the other, his eyes pale.

“Do you need me to tell you, Mr. Thomas?”

Mr. Thomas feels the sweat from the glass slide down onto his fingers. The water sinks into him.

The man in the pale suit pushes off from his desk. He pauses for a moment, studying Mr. Thomas, before he goes behind it again. He shuffles more snakeskin papers.

“I think a rapper should do it,” he says to the air.

“A rapper?” asks Mr. Thomas, only barely curious. The empty glass in his hand feels unbearably heavy. An anvil.

The man looks up from where he’s bent over the desk.

“A rapper, yes. Some controversial lyric. We’ll pull all the appropriate strings. It will be quite captivating.”

“A rapper…” says Mr. Thomas.

“Yes, that always seems to do the trick.”

Mr. Thomas feels quite faint. The glass seems ready to slip out of his hand but he manages to slowly, slowly lower it to the floor. It comes to rest by the leg of the black chair with a gentle click.

“Mr. Thomas,” says the man in the pale suit, removing his glasses. Had he been wearing glasses all along? His face seems to have changed. “Are you certain you’re alright?”

“I am…not.”

The man sets the eyeglasses down on the desk where they blend in with the nests of papers.

“Let me see you out, Mr. Thomas. I can take it from here. A rapper will do just fine. Here, take the paperwork. Inform Mr. Schaden that he’ll have his solution. No later than Thursday.”

“What day is it today?” the world seems very far away.

“Today is today,” the man says.

“Today is every day,” says Mr. Thomas without knowing why.

They’re at the door. It seems too small to walk through, a Willy Wonkian door. Outside Mr. Thomas knows there is fresh, cool air. Water. Light that has a source. But the fear is heavy. He hadn’t realized it until the moment he laid eyes on the door—the fear has been sliding its hands all over him since he sat down in the chair. It’s had its fingers in his mouth, its hands around his throat.

“But…but…” the door will bring freedom, but he shrinks from it.

“It’s alright, Mr. Thomas,” the man says, guiding him. “This is your first time. The truth is a little hard for everyone at first.”

“The truth.”

“Yes.”

“That’s not what the Factory makes.”

“No.”

They stare at one another. The man’s face has changed again.

“Out you go, Mr. Thomas,” says the man, gesturing.

“But I’m afraid.”

“Yes.”

.

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Short Story 1: Matthew

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I have a limit of 300 words on all my blog posts, but will make exceptions as I begin to post pieces of short fiction. Here is the first of many to come. Enjoy.

 

He boards the Red Line at Thorndale, carrying a plastic bag. It’s his second bag: the first had a hole he hadn’t noticed when he filled it, and blood had escaped onto the floor before he’d even gotten it out of the bathroom. The second bag wasn’t quite as big as the first, and the tips of her fingers peeped out as he tied it. He’d pushed them gently back inside as he tightened the yellow strings.

“No, no,” he’d murmured, “not yet. Stay in there where it’s safe.”

He’d left her head in the sink. She’d be waiting for him when he got home, and the idea fills him with a happiness that spreads through his chest and his cheeks like a blush.

On the train, a pretty girl sits next to him, texting on her cell phone. He makes sure his thigh doesn’t brush hers. It’s a nice thigh, he sees, tapering down into a slim ankle, but he doesn’t want to be rude.

“Excuse me,” he says when the train reaches his stop and he hefts the bag. She smiles and stands to let him pass, not minding when the bag brushes against her knees. “So sorry,” he says, lying.

“It’s okay!” Her smile is warm and unforced. “Oh,” she says, “don’t forget your gloves!”

They’re sitting on the seat he vacated, and she grabs them, putting them right into his hand.

“Oh, thank you so much,” he says, remembering to open his eyes wide to show he’s grateful; to show that forgetting the gloves would have been the worst possible event. This is actually true; it would have been. He smiles politely at the pretty girl once more before leaving the train. She is back to texting again before the door closes, at which he feels a little prick of anger in his belly. But he doesn’t have time, he thinks, he has things to do.

Outside, it’s spring and he smiles to feel the new air snaking up his shirtsleeves. It’s chilly still but this is good. No one will look twice at his gloves, although they might wonder briefly at their thickness. He breathes in deeply. He’s strong—for his size, he’s strong: something he likes to tell himself—but the bag is heavy.

“Might have considered a diet, Martha,” he whispers, smiling a little.

She is not the first Martha, Martha 3 in fact, but he knows she wouldn’t mind, not now. She might have minded before, before he’d shown her. But not now. He wonders if she’ll remember, at home in the sink. She will. He thinks of his favorite movie, Wild Wild West. He could have done without Will Smith, but Salma Hayek was so lovely. A woman in a corset earned a special place in his heart—earned it.

His favorite part of the movie was when the scientist—he doesn’t remember the character having a name—took the disembodied head and hooked it to the contraption that showed, like an old movie reel flickering on a screen, the last few moments of the head’s life, before a spinning metal blade had separated head from body.

He relishes this. Sometimes he’ll watch just this scene, not bothering with the preface. Sometimes he masturbates to it. Not to it, exactly, but about it. He puts Martha 1 and 2 in the place of the head on the screen. He closes his eyes, straightening his legs in the blue tweed armchair—a chair he replaces every six months—and thinks of the tape the heads of the Marthas would play. What movies would those be? What glimmering images would he see there, dancing on the wall like shadows in a cave? He knows what he would see. He would see himself. Him, leaning down over them, unmasked and unafraid. He would be the spinning steel blade, the perfect circle. The thought leaves him writhing in the rough blue chair, his eyes open and taking in the vast whiteness of the ceiling.

Now he puts on the gloves. He wishes these could also be white—like him, like his ceiling, like the Marthas—but they must be black. He hasn’t been able to find a red pair that would mask the blood perfectly in shade. It always shows. The black hides all.

He checks the outside of the bag for any of that red before hoisting it over his shoulder; Fulton Market is long and carrying the bag by his side will tax him too quickly. Carrying it over his shoulder lets him feel strong. He had done the same thing with a bag of toys when he was eight and had resolved to run away. His mother had punished him for some childish crime and his father had refused to reverse her decision, so Matthew had packed his favorite things and set off. That had been when they lived in the suburbs, in the house with the yellow door. He’d loved that house and had returned by dark, hungry and lonely, like generations of runaways before him. He’ll return to his own home tonight, but glows again with the knowledge that, for him, it will not be lonely. Martha 3 will be waiting for him, eyes open. Even her mouth is open. He can imagine in it a smile.

He arrives and must put the bag down to pat out his keys. The street is dark. The factory is dark. Chicago is dark. But he is not. He is full of light.

Inside, he doesn’t need a flashlight. He knows the way, he knows the combinations and the mazes and the levers. He knows where she’ll go, where he’ll put her. He puts her there, a safe place with other pieces, other divided forms, other reds and bones. He eases her in gently, gentler than he’d been before. When he returns to her in the sink, he’ll tell her how gentle he’d been. She’ll be grateful.

When he’s through, he stands there in the dark, his back against her place. He wants his blue chair. He wants his white ceiling. But he’ll wait. For now, he clutches the crinkling bag in his black-cotton hands, gripping it hard. He could leave it here for the first shift to discover. They’d throw it away without looking: probably Mark or Javier, people who cared nothing for order. They wouldn’t notice—everything is bloody here. This would be just one more bloody thing. But he’s gripping it tightly, thinking of his white ceiling, and so he carries it out with him when he leaves, folding it gently into a square like a shroud.

Outside, the sky is black and thick like the bag in his pocket, stars plucking out holes in the darkness, some bright thing seeping through. Walking, he passes no one, but he doesn’t need to remind himself to smile in case he happens upon someone, anyone. He’s already smiling. He will be for weeks; at least until Martha 3 begins withering, until her eyes are no longer eyes. He’ll need company after that. But tonight his loneliness is a book on a shelf, its spine uncracked, its pages crisp and unworn. His feet take him back toward the train, his soles solid against concrete the same color as stars.

He removes the gloves. He wants to see his hands, white and blue, in the streetlights. Later, when he imagines Martha 3’s final tape, her flickering thirty seconds, these hands will be in the frame. He looks at them, loving each finger.

He boards the train again, pushing the bag deeper into his pocket with the gloves. A woman with distracted eyes brushes past him for a seat.

“Excuse me,” he says lightly, reminding his mouth to smile in a way that covers his teeth. “Excuse me, so sorry,” he says. She ignores him and he’s hating her, already naming her.

“Excuse me,” he says quietly, and at home Martha 3 waits like a queen, and he owns her eyes; he’ll show her where to look. If she’s a lady he’ll save her skull, keep it like an urn containing all the precious thing she hadn’t been; the things he’d made her.

The train rocks north and he watches the city smear alongside him. He holds the headrest of the seat in front of him, his hands whiter and whiter the more tightly he grips.

Home. Home. Home. He is the perfect circle, made of steel.

“Excuse me,” he says, holding the train’s door open for a woman with headphones, unseeing. His stomach growls with rage. “So sorry.”

All original content copyright Olivia Cole, 2012-2013

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This is my story. There are many like it but this one is mine.

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I’ve always been a panderer.  In second grade when we first started writing stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, I would write what I hoped my classmates would like. Also—because I was an attention whore, a trait (I think) I have since cast off—I wrote what I thought my teacher would most likely ask me to read aloud to the class. I liked telling stories. I wanted to tell them. So I wrote for the “popular market” of my second grade classmates. And it worked. My teachers let me read out loud. My classmates laughed at “the funny parts.” And I felt like a phony.

This continued throughout my burgeoning “career” as a writer. For contests, I wrote things that I thought the judges would like, as opposed to submitting work that I’d already written that I thought fit with the theme. And it worked. I won. I got money. My name was in anthologies. I was a successful panderer.

But I wasn’t happy with my writing. When I wrote my first novel—which I am currently shopping—I made certain decisions that I thought would be popular. Themes, word choices, scenarios. It was the book I wanted to write, but elements of it were pander-y. (Yes, pander-y.) And not only was I unhappy with its quality, readers weren’t connecting with those parts. When your voice is missing, it doesn’t go unnoticed. The novel has since changed in a myriad of ways, and I have slowly begun to feel as if it is truly the story I intended to write.

So my lesson, dear readers <Mother Goose voice>, is what I think tons of literary agents would echo: write the book YOU want to write. And, by extension, don’t write for trends. Kinda like the Rifleman’s Creed, but the Writerwoman’s Creed: “This is my story. There are many like it but this one is mine.” This one is yours. Make it count.

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For Writers Who Considered Marketing When the Art Wasn’t [Paying] Enough

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Nothing you are doing is a waste.

This is what I tell myself. Every day I go to my job where I’m a senior marketing specialist, and I know it’s a lie. I am not a specialist of marketing. I am not a specialist of anything except for putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and writing writing writing. When I graduated college and stepped into the 9-5 world, I felt the emptiness that artists feel when straying from their art in order to pay the bills. Resentment. Anger. Bitterness, even. But eventually I learned: nothing I am doing is a waste. And nothing you are doing is a waste either.

The skills I learn here I will one day apply to my own career. When I am a published author, I will use these years spent marketing to promote my book; publicizing with tight strategic campaigns, incorporating PPC, social media, blogs, and guest posts. Won’t I? I refuse to waste these years.

What are you? Besides a writer? Are you in sales? When you pitch to a client, keep your book in your mind: you’ll pitch it one day. You work in a plant—watch the machines. In the turning gears you might see the next great science fiction novel. You’re in retail. Ha. You have the easiest job of all. Watch those people, the ones that f*ck up your carefully arranged towers of t-shirts, and record every single stupid thing they do. You don’t love retail. I don’t love marketing. But I love what it will create.

All of this matters. Your life is not a waste. Folding t-shirts doesn’t mean you’re not a writer—you’re just a writer folding t-shirts.

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National Poetry Writing Month: 3/30

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It’s National Poetry Writing Month. Like thousands of poets, I will be writing a poem a day, as I have every April for seven years. I won’t share them all–how tiresome would that be!–but I will share some. Here is day 3.

After meeting a feminist man on the city bus

It’s the joy of wandering through space,

Second rock to third to fourth

all manner of Martians hostile

and staring—and then

from under a stone

crawls a creature with eyes

like Earth but the color of Venus

who says

Greetings. We are the same.

and after so many months

of deciphered struggle,

of being thirsty to hear

a word that is true to your ear

that comes from the mouth

like a meteor of Light…

you are satisfied.

This is a planet full of fools

but at least there is one

with a soul.

 

 

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