That Tiny Website — Short Stories, Video Games, and Freelance Editing

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Illusion

This short story is a response to one of Poke Traveller Lola’s November writing challenge prompts. The prompt I’ve chosen is “I’m no illusion”. Just as a warning, this story does get a bit dark at a couple of different points. Just a warning in case you need that.


“It’s not coming clean,” I mumbled.

“What’s not?” yelled Sara from back inside the house.

I continued scrubbing, trying my hardest to get the dust and grime off of my car, hoping to get it even remotely close to the shine it once had.

“Whatever I got on my car,” I shouted, my voice echoing through the cavernous garage.

“How did it get on there?” she asked, walking out the side door and making her way towards me.

I felt the palm of her hand touch the back of my arm. It was cold; a pleasant reprieve from the summer’s oppressive heat and stickiness. She ran her fingers up my forearm towards my shoulder, her fingertips catching ever so slightly on the sleeve of my black t-shirt. Sara caressed the back of my neck with a soft, fluttering motion that never failed to get my attention.

“I don’t know,” I replied, tossing my soapy rag against the car’s quarter panel. Someone had to have hit one of the puddles by work and splashed it onto the car.

“We could take it to a detailer, you know?”

“I’m not spending a couple of hundred bucks just to get shit off my car.”

“But is it worth your time?”

“Yes!” I yelled incredulously.

“And your frustration?” Sara retorted, her eyes drilling holes in me.

I sighed and picked up the rag.

“Sorry, hun,” I said. “I just want it off.”

“I know. Try again after you’ve calmed down?”

“Yeah.”

Sara took the towel from my hand, tossing it into the bucket of water placed by the car’s wheel.

“Shower or lunch first? And before you answer, I’m joining you for both. Choose wisely.”

—–

I stared at the clock on the wall through the darkened room. A quarter after one. I think. Could be just after three. I can’t tell. It’s not backlit and I’m not turning a light on. Fuck that noise.

I hate this night. I mean, I hate every night. The thoughts going through my head that keep me from getting to sleep. Sure, they start innocent enough. There’s a girl. We’ve got a date coming up. Thursday night. We’ll get dinner. Maybe go to a movie, to a bar, or bowling. It all depends on the girl. The dates all start mostly the same. They all end the same way. Either I drop her off at her place or we drive to our own homes separately. She does whatever she does. I go home and try to sleep. I try to think about how I can stop this cycle.

It doesn’t stop.

It’s after midnight though. That I know for sure without knowing exactly what the clock says. Through the blinds, a car slowly makes its way past my yard and down the street. It’ll turn at the intersection. Statistically speaking, it’s one of the local cops, scouting the neighborhood to make sure there’s no crime. They come by a couple of times a night on their patrols. No one else comes by this late.

I lean my head back, leaning the back of my chair until it touches the wall behind me. If I close my eyes for just a second, maybe sleep will come like it does in the movies.

—-

“This is…”

“It’s not good, is it?” I asked, cutting Sara off.

She set her fork down on the edge of the plate.

“No,” she said. “It’s honestly disgusting.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “I was afraid of that.”

“But hey! You didn’t burn it tonight. That’s progress.”

“Right. Yeah.”

“Hey.”

Sara grabbed my hand, holding onto it with both of hers.

“You’ll get this,” she said. “I know you’re trying.”

“I am,” I answered. I followed my half-hearted response with a deep sigh.

Sara walked to the pantry and dug around for a few moments before poking her head out and shrugging.

“How much money do you have on you?” she asked.

I reached in my back pocket and grabbed my wallet, thumbing through the bills to get a rough count.

“Two fifty,” I replied. “But I’ve got to get gas and pay the internet bill. I don’t get paid until next Tuesday.”

Sara stared at the calendar over the counter. If it were me, I’d be doing the math in my head. Eight days. $250 to live off of. One, maybe two tanks of gas needed to get me to and from work. She’d likely need tank as well. Though I didn’t know what was in her purse, there was a good chance she’d come ask me for that gas money when the time came. Being a student didn’t pay well. At least that’d be over soon.

“How’s pizza sound?” Sara asked.

“Sounds like money,” I answered.

“Please? It’s a night away from our house.”

“It’s not our house,” I insisted. “We’re just renting it.”

“I know,” Sara answered. “But one day we will have a house that’s our house.”

She walked over to me, wrapping her arms around my neck. From my seated position, I rested my head against her side, only for her to pull me in closer, practically trying to drive me through her ribcage and literally into her embrace.

“We’ll go to the all-you-can-eat place and bring home enough for meals for a few days. I’ll even ask for a mac and cheese pizza. Please?”

—–

My eyes are dry. Whenever my eyes get dry, Ben Stein’s voice comes into my head. That reference hasn’t been relevant in decades. It still happens though. Some things just have an association with them though, whether I want that link to be there or not.

Songs are the worst. Don’t get me wrong, I love music. But I hate how I can hear a song and immediately snap back to a feeling or a moment or a person that I’d tried my hardest to forget comes charging back. Sure, there are positive musical associations my mind makes. “The Entertainer” by Joplin was my first piano recital piece that people did more than clap for me on. I’m transported back to my first night with Sara whenever “Aero Zeppelin” by Nirvana comes on. Even the theme to “The Exorcist” is calming, as I associate it with high school bonfires and hot cocoa.

When Sara and I split, the first song I heard after we went our separate ways was “Through Glass” by Stone Sour. No matter when I hear it, I’m taken back to that moment. The complete and total silence echoing through my head before my car’s engine started and the song came blaring through my speakers was deafening. While I yearned for something, anything, to break it, the song did me no favors. I didn’t have to look in my rear-view mirror to know that my face was a disaster. My hysterical sobs assured that would be true.

My house is dead silent. Not even the airy breath of the furnace pushing heat through the vents is present right now. Just that song, repeating through my head on loop. I want to cry. My eyes are too dry.

—–

“Are you excited for your first day, Dr. Carrier?” I asked, wrapping my arms around Sara’s waist as she fiddled with the clasp of a necklace.

“I’m nervous,” she replied, leaning back into my arms. “I don’t get ready for something 90 minutes before I need to be there if I’m excited.”

“You’ll be fine.”

Sara latched the necklace, tucking it under her shirt. I leaned my chin over her shoulder, placing soft, patient kisses along the side of her neck.

“This isn’t the day for that,” Sara replied between giggles. “When I get home, alright?”

“I’m just trying to calm your nerves,” I said.

“I know.”

She turned around and embraced me, resting her head against mine.

“You’ve got this,” I said.

“I know. You do too.”

—–

It’s after four now. I can’t quite see the minute hand because of the way the shadows are hitting the face of the clock. But it’s some time just before the half-hour. Part of me wants to know the exact time. Part of me doesn’t care. Most of me though just…is.

This was always the cycle when things were good. Sara would have these days where she’d work overnight shifts at the hospital. I’d stay up so that she could have dinner — more commonly known as breakfast to those not working at night — when she got home. We’d share eggs, bacon, and bagels, take a quick, usually uneventful shower together, then curl up in bed and sleep until three or four in the afternoon. We’d occasionally get awoken by a delivery driver knocking at our door or the garbage truck’s chimes that sounded out as it reversed during turnaround. But most days, as the world pressed on around us, we slept. Our fluffy comforter was our armor against the noise of the outside world.

My body hadn’t corrected to living in the daytime. Not yet. You’d think a year and a half would be enough. Apparently not.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

—–

I woke up to the afternoon sunlight skirting past the edge of the blinds and into my eyes. I blocked it out with my arm, annoyed that nature dares exist, then rolled over and faced away from the window. Sara was still asleep, her raven hair obscuring her face from the trickles of sun that tried to reach her. I resisted the urge to wake her. I knew she needed sleep. We were both exhausted, though not for the same reasons.

Sara’s least favorite part of her job — or at least the part of it she complained to me about the most frequently — was the days where she was the on-call doctor. From what I could gather, it was a hard gig for most doctors. But for a pediatrician like Sara, being on-call combined the uncertainty of her normal job, the potential exhaustion from a night of sleep interrupted, and the fear of losing a patient too young to tie their shoes in the middle of the night, and suddenly being on-call was its own special hell.

For me, this was month six of unemployment. The company that had employed me as a security guard had gone under, leaving 130 employees out of work. Though I’d tried my best to find a job, there just weren’t a ton of companies looking for an ex-security guard with an English degree, three year-plus gaps in employment due to health issues, and a preference to not work nights.

Sara said it was fine. Repeatedly. She said I’d find something, especially if I looked beyond security work. At first, I believed her. But at this point I was losing faith.

—–

The sun is going to come up soon. I think. I’m not sure what time the sun rises in November. Fucking time change.

My head is being held up by the bookshelf to my right, though my eyelids don’t have similar support. I want to walk to bed or to crawl myself to the couch. If I do that though, I’ll wake myself up. If I wake myself up, I’m going to go through this all again. Another hour or two or three or four or more of not being able to sleep. Only this time, somewhere along the way, the sun is going to come up. And for as easy as it can be to sleep with the sun out — thank god for the inventor of the blackout curtain — falling asleep in daylight is a whole other matter.

My neck is going to hurt after this. It’ll be ten or eleven in the morning when I inevitably slump forward, my head will crash into the floor, and I’ll wake up in a daze. I’ll be confused for a few seconds, then I’ll get up, take a lukewarm shower, and move on about my day with three to four hours of sleep. My head will hurt from the combination of the neck stiffness and lack of rest, but at least I will have slept.

As I feel my eyelids come together, I hear a squeak coming from the front of the house. The front door is just out of sight, but I recognize that sound. The sound of a key turning and a creak follows. My eyes stay closed as the sound of the door shutting and light footsteps echo throughout the home’s main floor.

“You’re not actually here,” I grumbled. “You’re the just the bitters and the brandy playing tricks on me.”

“Cole, get up,” Sara said, her voice exhausted.

I heard her set a plastic bag filled with something down on the counter. Or at least that’s the sound I thought I heard. I rubbed my eyes. Hard.

“Why is my head fucking with me like this?”

“I’m no illusion, Cole.”

I leaned back against the bookshelf, trying to get comfortable again. I felt Sara sit down beside me, the palm of her hand covering my own, intertwining her fingers with mine.

“It’s another bad night isn’t it?” she asked.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.

“Where has the rabbit hole gone tonight? Is it somewhere I can pull you out of?”

I felt tears run down my cheeks, but I wasn’t crying. My body was releasing them for me, completely against my will.

“Cole.”

I shook my head, the right side lightly knocking against the wood of the bookcase.

“Cole. You can’t keep doing this by yourself. You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”

“It’s going to all go away,” I whispered.

“What is?” Sara replied calmly.

“You. This house. Everything.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“It’s been eighteen months since I worked.”

“I know.”

“I can’t keep letting you down like this.”

“You’re not letting me down.”

I squeezed Sara’s hand. She was there. I was sure of that. I didn’t want to open my eyes. Not because I feared she’d be gone if I did. It just hurt too much between the tears and the fatigue to do so.

“You were gone tonight,” I said. “All because I can’t control this. There was a story to it and everything.”

Sara pulled my head into her shoulder, stroking my hair repeatedly kissing me on the head.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she answered.

“I’m broken, Sara.”

“You’re not. But you can’t do this alone.”

We sat there for some amount of time I couldn’t begin to estimate. I didn’t even notice that Sara had stood until she was grabbing my hands and trying to pull me up.

“Come on,” she said. “Not sleeping only makes it worse.”

“I know. But I don’t think I can.”

“Then come hold me until I fall asleep. You’re always good at helping me.”

“Yeah.”

I walked up the stairs trailing Sara, my hand still in hers. We stripped off our clothes and crawled into bed, though her arms wrapped around me instead of the opposite as we’d discussed.

“This is a trap,” I joked.

“Just lay against me,” she replied, her hands running through my hair. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I don’t remember falling asleep. The last thing I recall feeling was the light touch of Sara’s fingers in my hair. Sure enough, the sun was out when I woke up, but instead of the beams falling on Sara’s hair, they landed on the sheet beside me.

Was she gone? Had I actually dreamed her like I initially thought?

I climbed out of bed, grabbing a pair of pajama pants out of the drawer, and making my way downstairs. Before I’d even made it fully down, I came to a piece of notebook paper taped to the wall with a bright pink sticky note on top of it.

Ran to IHOP for day off breakfast. Back soon. Love you.

I peeled the sticky note off of the notebook paper. I knew what the paper said. It was the same paper that Sara left me every day. I’d read it so many times that I could recite the instructions at the top of the paper from memory, even without re-reading it.

Hey. Here’s some options when you’re ready to talk to someone. If you want me to call, I’ll be there and help you. If you want to do this yourself, here you go. Whenever you’re ready, I’m here for you. However you need me. -Sara

Beneath Sara’s instructions was a list of phone numbers for five therapists Sara had suggested I see. I knew I clearly didn’t need to see all five. These were just options. The list has been the same for the past six months. Just pick one of the numbers and call. That’s all I had to do.

Pick one.

Call.

Pick.

Call.

“Good morning, handsome,” Sara said.

“I didn’t notice you come in,” I replied, putting the paper down to my side.

“I know. You busy or you ready for breakfast? Or lunch? Or whatever this technically is?”

I mashed my lips together and stared at Sara. She didn’t deserve to deal with this. She held herself and me together on a daily basis. I couldn’t put her through this. Not anymore.

“Can yo…can..” I fumbled over my words. “Can we eat? Then will you help me? Please?”

“Of course.”

WIP Update #5/NaNoWriMo Update

This is going to be a combined update for a couple of different writing-related items at this point, as I felt like neither of them were long enough to warrant their own post at this point. That said, both were important enough that I wanted to be able to post about them on the blog.

In September, I asked many of you (both here and on Twitter) to give me your thoughts as to what topics you’d like to see if I did another NaNoWriMo Tips series this year. I got a lot of good ideas for what topics I could potentially talk about and even had started talking with a couple of different folks about potentially guest blogging for the series this year, as it seemed like a good idea.

I also recently wrote this short story that I really liked. In rather exciting news, it seems that a lot of you liked the story as well — which is great considering that the story itself is intended to very much be an introduction to what would likely be a larger story, if not a full novel. I took a poll asking people whether they’d rather see me do the NaNoWriMo Tips series again this year or if I should do the full version of this story on my blog for NaNoWriMo.

The results of the poll are irrelevant for reasons I’ll get into momentarily. The story won by a decent margin (69%-31%). But that’s not the reason I’m writing this post.


I’ve been working on my current work in progress novel for quite some time now. I’ve written four different posts to this point sharing where I’m at in the process of getting it to the point where I could look to publish it, all with varying levels of working having been done when I wrote said posts. In my most recent WIP post, I went through this long list of things that allowed me to get to the point where I had written three drafts of the book. Within that list was a note mentioning how I had a mental breakdown that led me to write a blog post about the duality of writing. Even still, there was a footnote buried in that list1I use the term buried loosely here. It’s obvious the footnote was there. That said, I know full well most of the views I get on my posts come from folks who don’t click on the footnotes. I’ve looked at the data. mentioning how this wasn’t just a one-time occurrence. Granted, the breakdown that led to that post was a one-off, but the act of breaking down was not — and is not — an isolated incident for me.

I’m finally starting to get the help I need to be able to deal with some of the stuff that caused everything I described in the paragraph above. I’m sure it’s going to be a long process — mostly because I’m already realizing there was a lot more that I need to work through than even I initially realized — and I’m not particularly ready to talk about it here yet. That may well be something that happens in the future. After all, the whole reason I started blogging/writing back in 2009 was because of a suggestion given to me by the therapist I had gone to see then when I told her I couldn’t afford to come to our second appointment. But that time likely isn’t any time soon.

That said, I bring all of this up because of something that happened somewhere along in the process of finally reaching the point of realizing that I need help. I found the place from which one of the characters in my book is coming from. I admittedly didn’t expect it. The character isn’t necessarily the character I was looking to continue building on in the next draft of my book. But at the same point in time, doing so not only makes a lot of sense to me but feels a bit more meaningful.


I say all of that to say I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo Tips in November of this year, nor will I be starting a NaNoWriMo project based on the short story linked in this post. If you’re looking for NaNoWriMo help, I would encourage you to pop over to r/nanowrimo on Reddit, as it was a great resource for me last year. I likely will still turn that short story into a book in the future, as it’s a story that has existed — at least in part — in my head for nearly six years now.

This November will be dedicated to working on my work in progress and helping to build it out to where I want it to be. I’m hoping that between whatever notes my editor has for me by that point, my own quick plot consistency review I’ve been working on, and the newfound voice for one of the story’s characters that this edit will go a long way towards getting my work in progress to a finished product.

New Patreon Goal Reward Up!

It was (rightly) mentioned to me earlier this week that I don’t advertise my Patreon enough. That’s a completely accurate sentiment. I hate being the person who is annoying about advertising myself and my writing/podcasting/etc. I am a human, not a brand. And I don’t want to portray myself as anything else.

That said, I barely ever talk about my Patreon on this blog. The last time I talked about it was when I posted the link to the Q2 Patreon Q&A, which has been months ago at this point. So why talk about it now?

I’ve started a new goal system on my Patreon. Once I get to 10 patrons, I’ll be doing a raffle for a chance to win a signed copy of my first book An Epilogue to Innocence. Not only that, but the winner of this copy not only gets a signed copy of that book, the book will have handwritten annotations with my thoughts on the book and the short stories within it in the book. It’s to be determined whether I’ll actually write these IN the book or whether I’ll post-it note them or provide a supplemental document. Because let’s face it — my handwriting is garbage.

In addition to that raffle, I am still doing various perks at different levels of support. These perks include the ability to submit questions to the quarterly Q&A before the general public, signed pictures of not me, a monthly bonus blog post, and a monthly patron-exclusive podcast.

If you’re interested in becoming a patron, just click the link below. If you happen to read this post and would be so kind as to share the post with others you think might be interested in my work, that would be amazing.

Become a Patron!

Meeting Charlie Madagan

Note: The following short story is actually the combination of a pair of ideas I’ve had floating around in my head for a while now. At the recommendation of a few writer friends, I thought I’d pilot the idea as a short story and see what people thought.


“Hot chocolate with two shots for Tyler!” the coffee shop employee shouted from behind the counter.

“It’s Kyler,” I muttered to myself. Not that it mattered. They always got it wrong.

Drink in hand, I started my search for the man I was to meet up with for my project. ENG 3030 had a reputation for being one of the toughest courses creative writing majors would take on campus, being the first major workshop course and all. I’d nearly sunk myself on the first project of the class before it’d even begun.

On day one of class, our professor, Dr. Eugenio Torrence, laid out the basic structure of the class, including all of the projects. Our first project was a long-form essay – 20,000 to 25,000 words — wherein we had to adapt the life story of an actual person into a work of creative writing. This would be one of the two major projects we’d have in the semester, but it was the only one that students knew about before they came in. The pool of individuals that students could choose from was composed of a motley crew of Dr. Torrence’s friends, colleagues, and various other long-time participants in this project.

Part of what made the project so difficult was the lack of parameters around the project other than the word count.

“I don’t care how you go about composing this piece,” said Dr. Torrence, “so long as you turn it in on time, it meets the word count guidelines, and I can see the person you interviewed in your story. Take all the creative liberties you want beyond that.”

I, being the person I am, overslept on day two of class. Naturally, this was the day where we got to pick our research subjects. Since I arrived to class last, it meant I got to pick my person last, leaving me stuck with the last person left on the list: Charlie Madagan.

The bio card I’d received from Dr. Torrence read like something out of one of those rich people financial magazines you read in the dentist office waiting room when you’ve finished Sports Illustrated. Charlie Madagan was an ex-Wall Street broker, an inventor, and a hedge fund manager. He was, apparently, one of the 100 richest people in the state and gave a lot of money to the college, as it was his alma mater. That said, he was also eccentric and prone to days or weeks at a time where no one would be able to hear from him.

Great. Just what I needed.

I looked around the coffee shop, trying to find Charlie from the description he’d given me in his email. The problem was that when someone promises to wear a black hoodie and blue jeans in a college town, they’re not exactly going to stick out. There was an old guy in the corner wearing a winter coat in the middle of September. That seemed weird enough to be Charlie. Maybe the hoodie was underneath?

No sooner was it that I had taken this line of thought than I felt a hand touch my shoulder.

“You’re late,” said a timid male voice behind me.

I turned around to see a middle-aged man wearing a black hoodie and blue jeans, his salt-and-pepper hair sticking out from underneath a Wellesley College baseball hat.

“Charlie?” my voice meekly squeaked out.

“You’ll never get a good interview with anyone like that,” he said softly. “Come on now. Stand up straight.”

I did my best to straighten my posture, concerned that I hadn’t realized I was slouching.

“Now, try again,” he said.

“Charlie Madagan?” I asked, my voice a bit louder this time.

He let out a deep sigh.

“You’re going to be more work than Eugie said,” he replied. “Come on. Bring your coffee and let’s grab a table and get this started.”

“It’s hot chocolate,” I corrected him.

“Fucking millennials,” he mumbled to himself.

Charlie pointed at a table in the far corner of the room.

“See that empty three seater round table in the back?”

I nodded.

“Go sit there,” he continued. “Leave me the seat by the coat rack and take whichever other one you want. I will be right there.”

I followed his instructions, seating myself to the right of his desired seat. For a moment, I considered pulling out my computer and readying myself to take notes. But then I remembered his snide comment about my age and decided pen and paper was the right choice — at least in his eyes. The project overview sheet gave us a list of questions as recommendations to begin our interview with, though something told me Charlie Madagan wasn’t going to let me use too many of them.

“Here,” he said, nudging me with a cup and saucer.

I thanked him and carefully placed the drink down in front of me. The coffee cup was half the size of a regular cup. Even then, it seemed underfilled to me, especially after seeing the massive amounts of caffeine both of my parents regularly ingested.

“Hot cocoa is for Christmas and cuddling,” continued Charlie. “The former is three months away and I have no intention of partaking in the latter with you. Espresso is a much better choice for an interview.”

He sipped at his own cup, barely making a dent in the level of the liquid. I stared at his hat again, knowing the name sounded familiar, but couldn’t place why.

“Where’s Wellesley?” I asked, fully expecting a condescending response based off of how our time together had gone so far.

“Massachusetts,” he replied. “One of the most prestigious women’s colleges in the world.”

“Does your daughter go there?”

“No, no. I’m afraid she didn’t have the grades to get in there — though I do appreciate your educated guess that I had a daughter.”

“Well, it made sense.”

“Because I’m old?” he asked.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” I said, backpedaling.

“How old do you think I am?”

Charlie leaned forward slightly in his seat, like a cat getting ready to pounce on an injured bird.

“Forty-five?” I said, my statement turning into a question as I spoke.

He let out a hearty laugh, one with a much fuller sound than his speaking voice led me to believe he was capable of.

“You flatter me,” he said. “Maybe there’s some hope for you after all. No, I’m fifty-two. And my wife is actually the Wellesley alumna.”

Charlie Madagan pulled a folded slip of paper out of the pocket of his hoodie, sliding it across the table to me. I stared at it, confused as to what exactly was going on.

“Go on,” he said. “It’s better than whatever you’ve come up with.”

“What?” I replied.

“Have you even prepared questions to ask me?”

“Yes.”

“Mine are better. I promise.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

I wasn’t sure why, but he was quickly getting on my nerves. Nevertheless, Charlie Madagan took another sip of his espresso, patiently considering my question.

“I’ve known Eugenio Torrence for twenty-nine years,” he began. “For the past thirteen years, I’ve been helping him out as a subject in his creative writing courses. I am always the person he gives to the slackers, the stoners, the eventual dropouts, or the kids who are perpetually late to class.”

“I was late one day!” I shouted back.

“What’s your GPA?” Charlie asked, his voice still calm and annoyingly melodic.

“What does that matter?”

“What’s your GPA, Kyler?”

“3.3.”

“And how often do you miss class?”

“It…it depends on when in the day it is.”

“Kyler. Just look at the list.”

I pulled the sheet of paper towards me, slowly sliding it across the table, taking care to avoid the small pool of condensation from whoever had this table before us. I took my time unfolding it, trying to sneak a glance at the expression on his face. It was unflinching and stoic, almost as if he was trying to convey to me that he knew how I was going to react before I did.

The list was a mess of handwritten bullet points. Charlie’s penmanship would be best described as third grader trying to create calligraphy in a bumper car, but it was clear that his pen strokes were meticulous and careful, even if the end result was not particularly beautiful. The list read as such:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages to libertinism? What could society learn from this philosophy?
  • Why is the feeling of falling in love so addictive?
  • Why agree to helping the youth of America when not all of them are capable of becoming the future leaders of tomorrow?
  • Is there a difference between philanthropy and marketing?
  • Are humans really the heroes of their own stories?

I looked up from the list and stared at Charlie. Clearly something about my expression was off to him.

“Let me guess,” he said. “Not what you were expecting?”

“None of these questions are about you,” I replied. “They’re just essay topics for a philosophy class.”

“I can assure you they’re not. Trust me. I’ve pitched the topics to a number of members of the philosophy department. None of them take my suggestions seriously.”

“I think I’ll stick to my list,” I said as I opened my steno pad to find my questions.

“Just ask one,” said Charlie. “I’ll even let you pick. Take any question from the list and let me respond. I promise that every question that you could have possibly come up with to learn about me will be answered by those five questions. I’ll only need to answer one for you to know I’m right.”

I looked the list over again. The questions really did look absurd to me. While I’m sure I could tangently get a good bit of information about Charlie Madagan from whatever answers he gave, my goal was to pass this class. And since ENG 3030 was at eight in the morning, my hope was to do so while getting as much sleep as possible. Still, it was clear to me that I wasn’t going to make any progress with my list of questions without at least humoring him.

Two of the questions jumped out to me as a place to start. The second question focused on love, which would hopefully give me an in to learn about his family and the story there. I already knew he had a wife who went to Wellesley and a daughter who existed, but beyond that, I still had nothing. Still, most people don’t have an interesting family. You’re much more likely to come across someone whose family is a trainwreck than anything of actual interest.

The final question on the list definitely had the most potential for an interesting story. In one of my English classes in high school, I remember hearing some modern author talk about how everyone, even villains, always see themselves as their hero of their own story. So it’s clearly a question with potential. But then I looked at Charlie. While he was clearly extremely successful and likely was at least of above average attractiveness in his youth, it was clear his prime years were ending, if not already gone. Maybe there was something dark in there — something juicy like white collar crime or drunken parties on a yacht off the coast of Colombia. More than likely though, it’d just be some story about how he hazed some clown freshman in his college days. If I wanted to hear that kind of a story, I could go back to campus.

“I pick the second one,” I said, pointing at the question and turning the paper back to him.

“An interesting choice, if not a predictable one,” Charlie said as he took a longer sip from his cup. In my time focusing on the list of questions, I had missed him drinking nearly the entire glass.

“Predictable how?”

“Everyone wants to hear a good love story. That’s what falling in love is about.”

He took another drink of the espresso, this time finishing what was left.

“Still,” he continued, “you’ve also picked the longest question to answer. I’m afraid we don’t have time to answer it today.”

“That’s fine,” I replied. “We could always continue through email o — ”

“No,” Charlie interrupted. “I mean this is an explanation longer than the time you told me you had in your schedule, as well as a question that must be answered in one sitting.”

Was this guy serious? Was his story really that important that it necessitated I clear my schedule just for him?

“What’s your Friday look like?” asked Charlie as he picked up his phone and scrolled through what I could only presume was his calendar.

“Class 9:05 until 9:55, one from 10:35 to 11:25, and one from 1:30 to 2:20.”

“Any plans after?”

I didn’t have any plans. My best friend, Malik, was out of town for the weekend. But what college kid doesn’t have plans on a Friday night?

“I’ve got a party I’m going to at night,” I said, lying through my teeth.

“That’s fine,” said Charlie. “Meet me here at 3pm. This place closes at 8pm, so you’ll be home in plenty of time to pregame — or whatever it’s being called these days.”

“It’s still pregaming.”

Charlie got out of his chair, grabbing his cup and saucer to take back to the counter.

“And Kyler,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Bring a laptop next time. No one takes notes on paper anymore.”

NaNoWriMo Tips 2019

Last October and November, I took on a project that I admittedly didn’t expect to gain much traction. I wrote a series of posts giving advice to those who were participating in NaNoWriMo 2018. As someone who has participated in NaNoWriMo on three different occasions — and finished it twice — I felt like I had a lot of advice I could share that could be beneficial to someone participating for themselves. Much to my surprise, the series went over well, with four of the posts in the series making my top 20 posts of the year despite being published with two months (or less) left in 2018.

I wanted to get a bit more of a headstart on the project this year, however, I also wanted to try something new in the process. What I’d like to do is to see what those of you who are considering participating in NaNoWriMo would like for me to write about. What questions about the month-long writing endeavor do you have?

I’m not sure exactly how many topics I’ll write about this year. With that said, I’ve listed the topics I wrote about last year below. While I’m not opposed to revisiting a particular topic and putting a different spin on it if there’s enough interest, I would like to see what new topics you all would like for me to write about.

If there’s a specific topic you’d like for me to write about, leave me a comment and suggest it. I’m going to work on planning out my post schedule over the next couple of weeks so that I can begin writing them in early October (as I learned last year, this project takes a while).

If you don’t have a topic you’d like me to write about, I would still love to hear what you’re planning on writing about for this NaNoWriMo. Leave your story I’d in the comments. I’d love to talk about them.

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