Linear Storytelling

One thing that a lot of people might notice about the way I tell stories is that sometimes they are not linear. In books like THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING, A SURPLUS OF LIGHT, JACOB MICHAELS IS TIRED (the whole series, really), and the forthcoming BETWEEN ENZO & THE UNIVERSE, I jump around in the timeline of events that comprise the story. It’s just a thing I do from time to time, though I am certainly not the first or last to do it.

Some stories require that you start at the beginning, tell the middle, then give the conclusion. They make the most sense this way. They require that they unfurl from the beginning to the end with no sidesteps or detours. That’s how they make the most sense and deliver the biggest impact. It’s the standard for writing a story. Or, at least, what is most common. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I write linear stores more often than not, as do most writers, I feel.

However, some stories are dependent on knowing information about the characters that might have been learned years before the actual story takes place. For example, in THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING, the story of two boys being involved in a sexual assault at summer camp intersects with the story about one of the boys dealing with the aftermath over the years that follow. The story spans the course of about 6 years. Trying to tell a story like that in a linear fashion would probably create a book that is so long no one would want to read it. Not every day or detail in those years between the assault and the road to possible recovery have to do with the story itself. Some people, regardless of the enormity of a particular event in their life, still have many boring, normal days. So…what does one do?

You hit the highlights. You touch on the things that have the most impact on a story and give it the most emotional gravity. See what I did there?

People will tell you to start at the beginning and tell a story. But a story is full of beginnings and endings. Life is full of beginnings and endings. The only true beginning to a lived life is birth, and unless your story is about the birth of a character, you can’t really use that as a focal point. In writing a story, the writer gets to decide where the beginning truly is for the character. Again, as an example, I decided in THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING to use the beginning of Tom’s recovery. I also chose to never show the true ending to the story, but that is unimportant.

I told the story of Tom’s recovery, and I went non-linear in explaining why he needed to recover. There were flashbacks and memories and false memories (Tom’s an Unreliable Narrator), leading the reader through the beginning of recovery, and what led to Tom’s need to recover in the first place, simultaneously over the course of those 6 years covered in the story. I wanted the reader to feel as confused and broken as Tom, to understand how a person gets into such a headspace in the first place. However, I didn’t want the reader to feel that it was as simple as: this happened, then this happened, then this, then that, so on and so forth. Because Tom couldn’t think in those terms, why should the reader have that luxury?

Writing in a non-linear fashion isn’t easy, but it is not incredibly difficult. If you are a Plotter, you can still easily outline a non-linear story. Outline it in a linear fashion, then jumble up the events. Tell them in the order that makes the most sense to give the reader the biggest jolt. But, whatever you do, don’t be afraid to tell a story in the sequence that makes the most sense for the characters and the plot.

Sometimes, non-linear storytelling gives your characters the respect they deserve, and your readers the experience they’ll enjoy most.

To my American readers and friends – Happy (early) Thanksgiving. I hope that you will be the spending the day with people you love and love you back…and of course, that you will eat until you nearly explode! To my non-American friends, I still hope your upcoming Thursday is full of love and delicious food!

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

How Do You Run From What’s Inside Your Head?

In the last few months, my life has gotten a little hectic. Of course, Halloween just passed us by and Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us, so that makes things even more intense. A writer has writing/editing to worry about, day jobs, pets, partners–and I’ve been taking furthering education classes and trying to get more exercise and having more of a social life. Not to mention all of the little appointments and responsibilities (chores, doctors, grocery shopping, and whatnot) we all have to deal with each day.

Because of this, I’m constantly tired, often frustrated, irritable, and threatening to run away at any given time of the day.

That’s just life, right?

All of us writers don’t stop being human beings with lives to lead once we start writing and/or publish a book. Or two books, three books…

In a funny way, all of life’s daily frustrations and being a writer keeps me from losing my cool from one minute to the next. One second I’ll be about to blow my lid and snap at someone…and then I realize that these emotions are helping me to understand the human experience more. How is that not helpful in writing multi-layered and believable characters?

That thought always comes to me when I feel that my emotions are going to creep into “extreme” territory. Whether that is extreme joy, extreme anger, extreme frustration…feeling those things and understanding what is causing them helps me to create characters that readers feel more connected to in my stories.

It especially helps when having characters interacting with each other in scenes. Writing over the top characters (especially villains) is incredibly easy to do, but unless a writer is trying to write something over the top or campy, readers might be turned off by this. For example, Ursula from The Little Mermaid is a classic villain…but it would get old really quickly if every character was that…fabulous?

Knowing the nuances of human emotion and what causes people to experience different levels of certain emotions is integral to writing believable characters. If you haven’t lived, you probably can’t write–unless you are very good at observing others and have an innate intuitiveness that informs your writing.

If I were to give a writer advice for how to create believable characters, I would simply say: “Live.” Live especially when it hurts, when you’re angry, when you’re frustrated, when you’re in love, when your heart is broken, when you feel alone, when you feel celebrated, when you feel like a pariah…experience life in all its ups and downs. And you will know how to create any character you need.

But don’t forget what I said – Life is a uniquely internal experience. Each of us have our own version of what it means to live and what life is about. Don’t forget to (discreetly) watch and listen to other people. You will learn so much from watching and listening to people when they don’t realize you are doing it.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Talk, Talk, Talk

We had a big month on Chase Connor Books in October, huh? Let’s get back to talking about writing, though, shall we?

Recently, I was working on a scene for a book and I was struggling with the dialogue between two characters. These are two characters who are very familiar with each other, have shared intimacy, and are in no way strangers. Yet, I struggled to make their exchange seem natural.

When two people have known each other for years, have been intimate with each other, and know practically everything about each other, why would they struggle to speak to each other? Wouldn’t those be the easiest interactions to write? Why would two people struggle to have a normal conversation?

Okay. I know I sound insane since we’re discussing two fictional characters here, but sometimes the characters in a writer’s head step out for a cigarette and the writer finds it difficult to summon them back. I know these characters aren’t real…but they feel real. At least, a writer would want their characters to feel real to the reader.

Forcing myself to stop and consider the scene, what my characters were actually talking about, I realized that I needed to approach the scene like I would real life. If I want my characters to feel like real people to the readers, maybe I should consider how two real people would speak.

When two real, live people, who have known each other a long time, have a conversation, it is not structured like a normal conversation. For example, imagine a husband coming downstairs after a good night’s rest to find his wife sitting on the couch, cuddling their dog:

Husband: *yawns* Mornin’.

Wife: *petting dog* Good morning.

Husband: Coffee?

Wife: Not yet.

Husband: Should I?

Wife: Please. Love you.

Husband: Mm. Love you, too.

A husband and wife wouldn’t say things like “Good morning! How are you today?” and “Is there any coffee made? Do you want me to make some?” They read each other’s verbal and physical cues. They are attuned to each other’s ways of thinking and processing information, so they can communicate with minimal words.

Formal dialogue between characters only makes sense if the characters are meeting for the first time, are unfamiliar with each other, are business associates, or something similar.

So, I realized that I needed to drop the accepted rules for how two people interact in a socially acceptable, polite way. I had to throw out the rules of etiquette.

Writers often forget (for fear of what people might say) that dialogue between characters generally does not have many rules. It just needs to feel natural. Dialogue should be written the way that characters “speak” – not the way that rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling tell us they should. It is okay to write “somethin'” instead of “something,” for example.

When it comes to dialogue, make sure the reader will read it the way your characters would sound when they “speak.” It’s one of the easiest ways to get your readers to understand and relate to your characters.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween, my friends! Muahahahahaha!

That’s about as creepy as I get, though I do love Halloween. Before we get started, why not have some mood music?

Halloween is my favorite holiday, as you might know if you pay attention to the things I post on Twitter. It’s all about spookiness, the supernatural, fun, frivolity, candy, movies, music…tricks and treats.

Personally, I prefer treats over tricks, so I want to offer all of you a treat.

My indie imprint – The Lion Fish Press – is working with me to give five readers FREE paperback copies of ‘Jacob Michaels Is Tired,’ along with a free ‘Chase Connor Books’ coffee mug and bookmark! Check out the goodies:

Beautiful covers by @DeanColeWriter!

In order to win a book, coffee mug, and a bookmark you only have to do 3 simple things:

  1. Get on Twitter and tweet a link to this post. Include the hashtags #JacobMichaelsIs #MMRomance #paranormalromance #LGBTQ #CCBGiveaway #readers #freebooks and tag me: @ChaseConnor7
  2. Make sure you are following me (Chase Connor) on Twitter.
  3. Follow The Lion Fish Press on Twitter.

***DEADLINE TO PARTICIPATE IS 11.7.19***

On November 8th the randomly selected winners will be contacted for details about where your book, coffee mug, and bookmark should be shipped – they will even ship internationally! You will have to provide a mailing address, so if that makes you uncomfortable, you won’t be able to receive your free book, coffee mug, and bookmark. Also, remember that you will be tagged on Twitter as a winner, so if this is something you do not want shared and attributed to you, it is best if you do not participate. You are giving The Lion Fish Press and Chase Connor Books the rights to use your Twitter handle publicly.

There will not be any rainbows or mention of LGBTQ+ on the outside of your package when it is delivered, in case that is a concern. The safety of Chase Connor Books readers is very important to The Lion Fish Press and me.

So, have a ghoulishly fun day. From me, Chase Connor, and the folks at The Lion Fish Press – HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

The Blame Game

One of my skills that I am most proud of is my shortsightedness.

Obviously, I am being sarcastic since shortsightedness, having no forethought about what might result from your actions, is not something of which to be proud. Especially for someone who creates art that is (hopefully) going to be on public display until the end of the human race.

As an indie author, I happen to run across a lot of thoughts and statements about indie authors in a variety of places. Social media, blogs, news articles, in YouTube videos, and even in real life. My favorite statements or reviews about indie authors and their books almost always involve problems with the editing and/or proofreading (these are often two separate things and have multiple stages).

Could really use a heavy hand from an editor.

So many spelling mistakes.

Ugh. Did the author even bother getting an editor?

First, to really understand where these statements are coming from, we’d have to educate indie reviewers and the general public on the difference in editing, proofing, and the multiple stages of both. A decent book is rarely edited and proofed just once. Of course, sometimes self-pub and indie authors (these don’t always mean the same thing) cannot afford much in regards to these services, so they have to do it themselves. It’s not ideal, but I always feel that unless I’m willing to pay for these services for these authors, I will just keep my mouth shut. The greater majority of self-pub and indie authors are doing the best they can (sometimes with very little or no money), with no intention of making a reader mad over spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Trust me. They’re just trying to achieve a dream with the means and talent that they possess. The publishing world can systematically exclude certain peoples. Whether it is intentional or not is another discussion, but often, anyone not white, LGBTQ+, women, people with physical or mental health issues, and the economically marginalized have to work so much harder to even get a book in print, let alone get it noticed. And so many wonderful storytellers with wonderful stories to tell, identify as being part of one or more of these groups. People often forget this, sometimes as it is convenient for them.

Let me explain to you my brand of insanity.

I wrote a book. I felt it was good. So I edited and proofed it myself.

Not a great job.

I wrote another book. I felt it was good, but had learned a lesson. I got an editor/proofreader. They did a great job. Then I changed some things after the final edit.

Those changes had grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

I wrote another book. I felt it was good, and I had learned two lessons. I went back to the same editor and he explained that if I change something, another edit/proof has to be done. He wouldn’t even charge me extra. Great. He edited/proofed my book and reminded me to tell him if I changed anything so the editing/proofing could be done a second time. I nodded, accepted my book back, then changed things. I didn’t tell him.

There were grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

Errors happen no matter how thorough and professional you are with your work. I recently got a letter from my lawyer (someone I’ve used for 7 years) and the letter had my name spelled wrong. It happens.

Now, I’ve gotten better over the years at having less of these types of errors in my work. That definitely doesn’t mean that I feel I can skip editing and proofreading. But I’ve only recently gotten it into my head that I need to really listen to and heed the advice of the people I pay to do a job. What’s the point of paying them otherwise?

Editors do not say something merely to hear themselves speak–most of them. They are receiving money from you and imparting their experience and wisdom, hoping you will receive it well, and are just trying to do the best job that they can. In the meantime, they hope that maybe they train you to have less errors in the future. The best editors teach you without saying a word about how they are teaching you.

It’s bothersome to me when someone arbitrarily decides that the editor is the problem.

None of the editors I’ve worked with are the problem. I, like a lot of writers, am my own problem. Editors and proofreaders do their best to wrangle us and help us achieve our dreams…and sometimes we stick our fingers in our ears and sing: Mary had a little lamb…

I’m not saying that I want people to spit on me in the streets for having these types of errors in my books. Nor do I want them to tell me: “it’s alright.” However, I would like to shift away from errors being something that triggers people into pointing fingers, assigning blame, and spewing negativity out into the literary world.

Simply put, stop assigning blame unless you have intimate knowledge of the author’s process. And, if you want to be super duper nice, maybe do like a lot of my amazing readers, and kindly, yet directly, tell them when you find a mistake in their book. That’s how boneheaded writers like me finally start to realize that they need to pay attention.

Will it ever make me or my books perfect?

Probably not. Well, actually, definitely not. But we’re all just doing our best and trying to make the world a more creative and interesting place. Sometimes imperfections shouldn’t be triggering. They can always be corrected.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

A Surplus of Light Audiobook

I’ve been posting on Twitter about choosing a voice actor for the audiobook adaptation of A SURPLUS OF LIGHT recently.

I’m more than pleased to announce that…well…just watch this:

Narrator: Brian Lore Evans

I’m so excited to have Brian Lore Evans as the narrator for a book that is so near and dear to mine and so many readers’ hearts! I predict that this will be an amazing and fulfilling process and one of my dreams come true. One of my books in audiobook format!

Here’s to the future…

You can learn more about Brian Lore Evans here.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Genre Burnout

Recently, a friend asked me if I preferred to write things like A SURPLUS OF LIGHT, A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF NORMAL, and THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING or if I preferred to write things like JACOB MICHAELS IS TIRED and JUST A DUMB SURFER DUDE. My answer was that I like to switch things up, moving from one genre to another (at least within the few that I write) because if I always wrote books like the former, I would be emotionally drained all of the time. The latter helps me to continue to have fun writing and indulge in things that are not so serious.

Fast-forward to a few days later, and I found myself on a phone call with my editor, tears streaming down my face. Why? Currently, I’ve been going through the arduous process of editing BETWEEN ENZO & THE UNIVERSE with the same editor I worked incredibly closely with for A SURPLUS OF LIGHT and my other “serious” works listed above. This editor has the uncanny ability of drawing work and emotions out of me that no other editor can. When we work together, nothing is off-limits, it is intense, and it is painful.

I mean all of these things in the most positive way.

Writing ENZO was a fairly quick process for the first draft. Just a few months, really. Of course, the hours spent writing during those few months were considerable, but a few months is a short time to write a novel. Of course, I’ve participated in and “won” NaNoWriMo, so I guess ENZO didn’t happen as quickly as other projects.

Regardless, we’ve recently been going through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, deciding what stays, what goes, what is good, what is crap, what we are happy with, what needs to be improved, and what we absolutely hate about the book. So, I am reliving the writing process and each scene bit by bit at a slower pace.

When writing a first draft of a book, the process can be so quick and intense, or so painfully slow that you are not fully immersed for long, that you do not get the full effect of what you have written. The editing process, at least for me, is like writing the book, but if the book was given steroids and then told to kick your ass. It is your feelings unmasked, your experience of the first draft being drawn like blood. You cannot hide from how you feel during the editing process.

While writing the first draft, I was unaware of how certain scenes affected me.

Issues such as racism, immigration, the experience of being LGBTQ, feeling disconnected from one’s cultural and ethnic heritage, death, religion, parental/child relationships, relationships with siblings, and the intensely nuanced nature of all of these things is difficult to ruminate on for hours on end, day after day. Even in a book like JUST A DUMB SURFER DUDE 3: SUMMER HEARTS where race, diversity, and inequity are major themes, there is at least a lot more levity and romance to break up how draining the emotions can be. Not to say that ENZO does not have levity in it–there is plenty–but the themes are much darker. Much more…real.

I know that by the time the editing process with ENZO is over, I will be an emotional wasteland. However, I feel that ENZO will be an example of some of my best work. It will not be for everyone (like any of my books) but it will be good. Of course, that is not just something I can take credit for since a lot of the credit goes to my editor.

In 8 days, all of you will be able to judge it. I am giving the first chapter away for free here on the website.

So, I think that I will be happy to move onto another project such as JACOB MICHAELS IS DEAD, A MILLION LITTLE THINGS, ONE BRICK KINGDOM, or even a M/M Romance novel I am co-authoring (ooooh, secrets!). I’m burned out on being emotional all day long. I guess that is just an occupational hazard for a writer.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Free Short Story – Noah

From 10.14.19 – 10.17.19, I am posting short stories centered around characters from previously released novels. All of these short stories were once released in a compendium titled ‘Four Short Stories from the Books of Chase Connor,’ but it is not longer in publication. You will be able to read these stories in the posts themselves, or you can download a PDF of the story to read on the go. If you download a PDF, feel free to share them with friends, family, whomever you think might enjoy them. The copyright belongs to me but I am giving everyone permission to share them as they see fit. You may not reprint them, claim credit for the work, or modify the work in any way but you are free to read them as much as you want and share them as much as you want.

These stories may contain spoilers, so if you have not read the books these stories are based around, you might want to read the books first.

Today’s short story is centered around Noah from ‘A Tremendous Amount of Normal‘ and is a follow up to where Noah is now after the events described in the book. If you have not read the book, this story will give away MAJOR plot points. Just a fair warning.

Enjoy!

Noah Short Story

I don’t like it when people stare at me.

          Usually, I don’t notice.

          Now that I’m not as anxious as I used to be.

          Now…now I can ignore a lot of things. I don’t spend as much time noticing things that go on around me.

          It’s mostly my medicines. I take an SSRI and a sedative. I’ve been taking them for three-hundred and…a year. Manny said that I should tell people that I’ve been taking them for a year. Neurotypical people understand what “a year” means but they might not understand if I tell them it has been three-hundred-and-seventy-seven days. I don’t think I really understand it, either, if I’m being totally honest. I don’t know why I know how many days I’ve been taking my pills. I just do. It makes me a little embarrassed to know that I know these things, but other people do not. It makes me not normal. I don’t like being different sometimes.

          But then Will tells me that he loves my type of normal.

          And that makes me feel really good.

          So, I stop noticing things again.

          It’s kind of hard to notice things in the library anyway. It’s very quiet there. The shelves, which are seventy-eight inches high, which is seven-and-a-half inches taller than I am, make everything muffled. All of the sounds that might be heard in a library are indiscernible when I’m putting books away from my cart. It’s the books. All of the shelves are stuffed full of books, and when I’m between the shelves, I feel like I’m in a cocoon. When no one is in the same aisle as me, I can imagine that I’m completely alone and I don’t have to worry about people staring.

          Usually.

          But I noticed the girl staring this time.

          Does she know that I’m not normal?

          Was she going to call me a “retard” like the other students used to do in high school? Was she going to ask me what’s wrong with me and then I’ll have to explain being on the spectrum like Will taught me to do? I don’t like explaining what’s wrong with me to neurotypicals because I have Asperger Syndrome, but I have to say “on the spectrum” for them to understand. I don’t like saying that because it isn’t true and it’s not the reason that I’m not normal.

          No one really bothers me at the library. Not since Mrs. Robinson asked if it would be okay if she put up a sign at the entrance. It says that “one of the employees” has Asperger Syndrome and does not like to be touched or talked to loudly so please be mindful of that. Not in those words, but it lets people know that they shouldn’t just assume that it’s okay to touch strangers without asking first. I told her that I thought that was a good idea because I do not want people touching me unless they ask first, and even then, it might not be okay.

          The girl who has been staring at me for twenty-seven seconds is now standing three feet away, staring at the side of my face as I put a copy of The Two Towers on the shelf where it belongs. J.R.R. Tolkein. He’s one of my favorite writers. He created a whole new world that has rules and structure and didn’t make me have to suspend disbelief too much—like a lot of fantasy novels do. His world makes sense. Even if there are magic and elves and dwarves and wizards and orcs. After I shelved the book, I turned and reached for another book, ignoring the stare of the girl who was standing really close and not even trying to hide the fact that she was staring at me. I’m not sure if that was rude or not and I didn’t have Will or Manny to ask.

          But I knew that I’m not supposed to tell people that they are being rude unless I know for sure. People don’t like that.

          “Hi.”

          The girl spoke to me.

          Her voice sounded like bells. Like sleigh bells. One of my favorite sounds. I like it in Christmas songs when there are sleigh bells.

          I turned to the girl. I tried to look her in the eyes. I failed. Again. I try a lot to look people in the eyes, especially Will and Manny. Last week, the therapist who leads my behavioral therapy class told me that I don’t have to look people in the eyes continuously. In fact, it’s best if I don’t. Most neurotypicals don’t maintain eye contact continuously throughout a conversation. Their eyes move around from time to time for dramatic effect, to give themselves a reprieve from being overly stimulated by emotions they experience during intimate conversations.

          The Intense World Theory—a theory about why atypical people like me do not make eye contact well—says that people on the spectrum, and people with Asperger Syndrome, are continuously assaulted emotionally by our environments. We do not make and/or maintain eye contact as a way to cope with this continuous processing of an abundance of information. Especially emotional information. My therapist said that while people like me don’t understand emotions like neurotypicals do, we still have emotions, and we process them differently. We also process them nonstop. Because we’re easily over-stimulated.

          I like my new therapist a lot. He is a black guy, and he is five years older than Will and Manny. He’s really tall. He smells like the beach—like saltwater and suntan lotion. I don’t like the beach, but I like how the beach smells. And he always says, ‘I’m so happy to see you today, Noah.’ He is really patient and takes time to talk to me the way I like to be talked to. If his skin weren’t so dark, he would be a lot like Will. If I get overstimulated or confused in class, he lets me put on my headphones and be quiet for a while. He’ll turn off the lights while I’m being quiet and he always keeps the room cool. I really like that. He told me once that he understood being different so I shouldn’t be afraid to tell him how I’m feeling or talk about anything I need to talk about. I really liked that, too. We talk a lot.

          Will let my therapist take me to the YMCA when he was meeting his friends for a basketball game. I don’t know how to play, and I didn’t want to play, but I had a lot of fun wearing my headphones and watching. All of my therapist’s friends were really nice to me and would tell me before they patted me on the back or shoulder. My therapist showed me how to shoot a basketball after the game was over and all of his friends cheered for me. At least, they looked like they were. I can’t hear much when I’m wearing my headphones.

          Will and Manny told me when I changed doctors and therapy classes, it was going to be a challenge for me. But Dr. Mangal and my old therapist had done all they could do for me, and they all thought that things might be even better if I saw new people and tried new things. They were probably right. I haven’t had to do any repetitive motions in two-hundred-and-sixteen days. My new doctor is in the same building so Will and I still get to see Dr. Mangal often. He’s always really happy when I tell him how I’m doing.

          I gave Will a “high-five” after he beat Manny in a video game yesterday.

          Will looked at me really weirdly for a minute and then got up and left the room.

          I know now that when Will leaves the room, it’s because he needs to be quiet for a little bit, too.

          Manny said he wanted to hug me.

          So, I hugged him so he would be happy.

          But only for three seconds. It felt weird with our chests touching.

          But it was okay because he’s my brother, too.

          It was kind of weird when he told Will about hugging me, and they both seemed really excited about that. But they were happy. So, it didn’t matter.

          When Will bought me an orange hoodie to try, I didn’t really like that, though. Not all change is good. Orange is a fruit, not a color to wear. And I told him that. But I wore it because he bought it for me and that was more important than hating orange. Mrs. Robinson, the library administrator, told me that I looked really handsome in orange and that it was one of her favorite colors. So, sometimes I wear it because it makes her happy. But I like my purple and blue hoodies more.

          “Hi.” I was able to look at the tip of the girl’s nose instead of her eyes. “Can I help you find a book?”

          That was what Mrs. Robinson said I should ask people if I don’t know what someone might need.

          The girl smiled at me. Her teeth were very white. They looked very clean.

          “I see you here a lot.” The girl said.

          That was funny. But I didn’t laugh. Will told me not to laugh at things neurotypical people say unless they laugh first. That’s not what neurotypicals do, but I am not neurotypical. I have to do things differently if I want to seem more normal.

          “I work here.”

          The girl laughed. But…it was different than the way most people laugh when I say something.

          “I see that.” She looked down at my cart. “You’re always here putting books up when I’m here.”

          “Monday, Tuesday…Monday through Friday.” I replied, remembering the way Manny told me to explain my work schedule.

          The girl smelled like laundry detergent and soap. I like it when things smell clean. I don’t like it when people smell like sweat and dirty things.

          “Do you…are you in college?” She asked, which I didn’t understand because that had nothing to do with my work.

          “No.”

          “Are you still in high school?” She asked another weird question.

          “No,” I responded but knew not to ask why she was asking me questions that were dumb. Manny told me not to do that. “I graduated last year.”

          “But you don’t go to college?”

          “No.” I looked at her hair. Her hair was dark. Like mine and Will’s and Manny’s. It looked like silk—like how Will describes Manny’s hair. But the girl’s skin was not dark like Manny’s. Not as dark anyway. She was really pretty.

          “Why not?”

          “I’m on the spectrum.” That’s what Will said I could tell people if they wanted to know why I was working at the library and not going to college. “I’m not ready to go to college yet. My brother, Will, said that if my therapy helps, maybe I’ll go next year. But only if I want to. I don’t have to.”

          The girl stared at me. I don’t like to be stared at by strangers. But…this girl smiled at me when she stared. And her eyes didn’t, like, bore into me. Her eyes looked all over, not just in one place.

          “Oh.”

          I just stood there, my eyes moving to her chin. I was getting tired of trying to keep my eyes on her face.

          “Do you have Asperger’s?”

          I didn’t know what to do. Neurotypical people never ask me if I have Asperger Syndrome when I tell them that I’m on the spectrum. They usually say something that doesn’t make sense and then walk away. I felt myself getting a little anxious because I’ve never had to know what to do when a stranger who is neurotypical asks me if I have Asperger Syndrome.

          “Yes.”

          That seemed like the appropriate response. Manny would probably be really proud of me. I want my brothers to be proud of me. I try really hard to be normal so that they will be happy. I told Will that once and he told me that he was really happy just because he was lucky enough to be my brother. Even if I wasn’t like neurotypicals. I didn’t know what luck had to do with it, but I’m glad that he’s happy, so it doesn’t matter.

          “Are you heterosexual?” The girl asked.

          That is really funny when you think about it. It’s probably my hair. My brothers tell me that my hair is really handsome. I think sometimes people think that I’m homosexual because my hair looks the way it does.

          “Yes. I am heterosexual.”

          I like questions that make sense and have simple answers.

          “You’re very cute.”

          I didn’t know what to say to that except what Manny had told me to say when someone says something that is probably nice.

          “Thank you,” I said.

          “Do you think I’m pretty?”

          “Yes.”

          I surprised myself. I answered without thinking. But…I had already decided that the girl was pretty when I first saw her staring at me.

          “Thank you.” She replied.

          I just stared at her. I wanted to say something else, but I didn’t know what it was that I was supposed to say. Will told me that if I felt like I wanted to talk to someone, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say, that I should just be myself and be kind. So, I tried that.

          “I think that your hair is really pretty,” I said. “It looks like both of my brothers’ hair. And mine. But yours is nicer.”

          “Thank you.” She replied, her teeth showing again.

          I liked her teeth.

          “How many brothers do you have?”
          “Two,” I said. “My brother Will and my brother Manny. Manny is my brother’s boyfriend, and he has dark skin like you, but his is a lot darker. He’s Indian, but he was born in Vermont. His parents are from India.”

          The girl smiled widely at me.

          “I’m from Texas.” She replied. “My parents are from Oaxaca.”

          “Do you speak Spanish?”

          “Very little.” She replied.

          “Did your parents not teach you Spanish?”

          “They tried.” She laughed.

          So, I laughed with her. That’s what Will would have told me to do. Unlike other neurotypicals, she didn’t give me a weird look when I laughed.

          “But…I wasn’t a great student.” Her face looked scrunched up when she smiled. “I wish I had tried more.”

          I understood that I think. When Will and Manny and my therapist teach me ways to be more normal, I have to try really hard. The girl continued to stand there and look at me, but it didn’t seem like she was uncomfortable. And with her staring at me I didn’t feel uncomfortable because she was smiling and her teeth were really pretty, and she didn’t say anything that didn’t make sense.

          “I’m going to college here.” She said. “I’m studying psychology and childhood development. I don’t really have a lot of friends here yet.”

          “My brothers are my best friends,” I said. “And Mrs. Hess and Principal Hoffman.”

          “Who are they?”

          “Mrs. Hess was my history teacher in high school, but now she’s retired, and Principal Hoffman is…was my principal before he had his heart attack. Now he runs a bookstore.”

          “They sound really nice.”

          “They’re really nice, I think.”

          “Do you like coffee?” She asked.

          “I’m not allowed to drink coffee because it has caffeine in it, and it can make me anxious,” I said. “My brother let me try it once, and it tasted okay, I guess.”

          “Would you like to talk to me while I drink coffee sometime?” She was looking down at her feet.

          I had to think about that. Not the talking to her part. I thought that I would like to talk to her a lot. Or at least listen to her talk. But I didn’t know if I would like going to a coffee shop because they always had a lot of people in them and people are really loud and might touch me without asking first.

          “I don’t think I’d want to go to a coffee shop,” I said.

          “Oh.”

          “Do you like pancakes?” I asked.

Free Short Story – Ian

From 10.14.19 – 10.17.19, I am posting short stories centered around characters from previously released novels. All of these short stories were once released in a compendium titled ‘Four Short Stories from the Books of Chase Connor,’ but it is not longer in publication. You will be able to read these stories in the posts themselves, or you can download a PDF of the story to read on the go. If you download a PDF, feel free to share them with friends, family, whomever you think might enjoy them. The copyright belongs to me but I am giving everyone permission to share them as they see fit. You may not reprint them, claim credit for the work, or modify the work in any way but you are free to read them as much as you want and share them as much as you want.

These stories may contain spoilers, so if you have not read the books these stories are based around, you might want to read the books first.

Today’s short story is centered around Ian from ‘A Surplus of Light‘ and tells his point-of-view of the first time he met Mike.

Enjoy!

Ian Short Story

Squirrels generally do not make great models. They move a lot. They’re nervous little balls of anxiety, always hyper-aware and paranoid. But, as I was sitting against the tree by the creek, my sketchpad laid against my knees, wondering what I should sketch, a squirrel sauntered up lazily and threw himself down on the large, flat rock at the creek’s edge. He looked like he had fallen in the creek and had struggled to extricate himself. He was tuckered out. He just wanted to sun himself. His head had lolled to the side when he first laid down, and he eyed me for a moment. After a few moments, he decided that I was not going to bother him, so he went to sleep. I started to sketch.

          Trees were usually my favorite subject because they’re not known for moving around much, are they? Other plants, flowers, landscapes, they were pretty good for sketching for the same reason. Sometimes, I’d get lucky, and one of the kids at the creek would sit still long enough that I could sketch them quickly. But those sketches were never that great because the kids never stayed still long enough for a real sketch to be done. Except for the kid with the sandy blonde hair and mossy green eyes and the beginnings of freckles along his nose. Michael Steedman.

          That was his name.

          I had asked Kevin when I ran into him at the creek once.

          Kevin knew everyone and everyone knew Kevin, though he didn’t really have many friends. He wanted to be my friend, but…but, that just wasn’t a great idea. If Kevin was going to make one friend, it was best if it wasn’t me. Too much baggage there. No reason to put another target on Kevin’s back. He got heckled for his stutter and being scrawny enough. He didn’t need his friendship with a bad kid to be another reason that he got bullied. Of course, no one bullied Kevin much anymore. And I doubted that his most persistent bully, Carson, was going to bother him much anymore, either. At least not as frequently. Carson had probably learned his lesson when I had hit him.

          I felt my eyes start to water at the memory.

          I clenched my hand, flexing my fingers as I looked down at the bruises that littered my knuckles.

          I hated my hands.

          I hated violence.

          I hated that my hands could be used for both the kindest and cruelest of touches.

          I hated that people were capable of such cruelty.

          I hated being…alone.

          Clearing my throat, I moved my shaking hand back to the sketchpad, took a deep breath, steadied my hand, and continued sketching the squirrel. I forced myself to smile over at the squirrel, thankful for such an unexpected and wonderful subject. Living things usually don’t give me the opportunity to sketch them. Sure, it was just a squirrel…no, not just a squirrel…it was a living creature that had honored me with its fearless presence. This squirrel had sensed that I was harmless. It knew that I would do nothing to harm it as long as it didn’t harm me. For that, I was incredibly grateful. I felt exalted. That made me blush and feel embarrassed at my unearned pride.

          I didn’t feel so alone with the squirrel sleeping on the warm rock, sunning itself dry. Something had chosen to spend time with me, even if it was at a short distance. He didn’t mind me, and I didn’t mind him. We were able to sit there in silence together, both of us doing what was second nature to us. And we allowed each other to do that without interference or judgment.

          When Michael Steedman approached, I heard and sensed him rather than saw him. I knew, after a week of being stalked by him, that Michael would eventually approach me. For a solid week, every time I looked up, there he was, watching me, examining me, trying to figure me out. At the creek. In the store. Walking along the streets. Sitting by my favorite tree along the wooded path where I loved to sketch and watch animals. He always seemed to find me…and his eyes did a number on me each time. I didn’t mind so much. I did mind that he never said anything. Then again, he had witnessed me hitting Carson, so he was probably keeping a safe distance.

          I couldn’t blame him.

          For the first few days, anyway.

          After a week, it was making me sad to see him watching me yet saying nothing. Of course, I didn’t really want him to say anything. Or did I? He was a popular kid at school. He didn’t need me bringing down his social stock. Of course, a kid like Michael Steedman probably wouldn’t get bullied much, if at all, if he was friends with me. He was one of those kids who could do whatever he wanted, and people still thought the sun shined out of his ass. I usually hated people like that. But not Michael Steedman. He always said “hello” to Kevin in the hallways and smiled at him, even though they weren’t friends. He never picked on other kids or was cruel. He never jumped out of my way like other kids did. Of course, he didn’t seem too aware that I existed, either. Not until he saw me sketching by the creek. He was blissfully unaware of most things that went on around him, consumed by his own life.

          And his life probably wasn’t all that fantastic.

          Just average.

          When Michael Steedman approached me at the edge of the creek, as I sat there sketching the squirrel, he stopped before he got too close. I continued to sketch for a moment, waiting for him to say something. To give him the option of whether or not he wanted to pursue…whatever it was he was pursuing. After a few moments, it became apparent that even today, with no other kids around, he was doubting whether or not he should talk to me. Whether or not he should be afraid of me. So…I went against my nature. I gave a kid a break.

          I looked up at him but didn’t stop sketching.

          He looked…shocked?

          “You still stalking me?” I asked before turning my attention back to my squirrel sketch. “I thought you’d have given up by now.”

          I somehow kept myself from smiling as he walked in a wide arc around me, afraid to get too close. Afraid to enter my atmosphere, as though the gravity of who I was would pull him in and never let him leave.

          “What are you always drawing?” He asked.

          Then he sat down a few feet away in front of me, his back to the rock and the squirrel, not noticing it at all. Blissfully unaware. The squirrel hadn’t spooked at Michael Steedman’s approach. That was…interesting.

          “Usually trees,” I answered, looking back up at him. His eyes were so green. Mossy. Kind. “Sometimes other kids. Birds. That squirrel there.

          I flicked my head in the direction of the squirrel, my bangs landing in my eyes. As Michael Steedman turned his head slowly to look at the squirrel, I reached up and pushed my dark hair out of my eyes again. Suddenly, Michael Steedman’s eyes grew wide, and he looked devastated.

          “Is he dead?

          I don’t know how to explain what happened to me then. But my heart felt like it swelled until it was pushing against my ribcage. My chest felt full. It was hard to breathe for a moment. Did he really care if this squirrel was dead? God, I hoped that he did. I took pity on Michael Steedman and swallowed hard, then squealed loudly, even though I knew I’d lose my sketch subject. The squirrel popped up on his hindquarters, its head whipping back and forth frantically. Its eyes went to both of the boys sitting by it, then it dashed off quickly in a blur of fur.

          “He was just sunning himself,” I said.

          Michael Steedman gave a relieved chuckle.

          There went my heart again.

          “What have you got there?” I asked, nodding at the bag he had set down beside himself.

          “I, uh, brought us some sodas and chips.” He was blushing. “If you want some anyway.

          Michael Steedman had ventured out to the creek to find me. He assumed that he would bring snacks and he would talk to me, and we’d become best friends. He would open up to this strange, violent, bad kid who sketched things, and we would suddenly be tied at the hip. He was right.

          “I don’t eat,” I said.

          He was frowning at me.

          “Or drink,” I added. “I consume the blood of virgins and smoke the reefer, and I joined a gang right before school last year. Sometimes you can see me swimming at the creek at night, worshipping Satan.

          Okay. Maybe that made me an asshole. But I knew that Michael Steedman had heard the rumors about me. I knew that other kids had told him that I was a bad kid who did horrible things. It didn’t matter that none of it was true. I wanted to test his mettle.

          “Is any of that true?” He asked after staring at me for several breathless moments.

          I stared back at him, wondering if this kid, Michael Steedman, believed these things when he had heard them from others. Or had he thought it was all bullshit until he heard me say them? Would he be my friend either way? Internally, I knew it didn’t matter if he’d be my friend if they were true—because they weren’t. But I would rather be alone than have a friend who would judge me. However, I realized that Michael Steedman had come to the creek with sodas and chips, determined to be my friend no matter what. So…I was going to be nice.

          “I like swimming at night.” I nodded. “But I don’t believe in Satan. And it’s kind of hard to find a virgin nowadays.”

          “Why does everyone say those things about you?” He laughed nervously.

          It was adorable. Michael Steedman was nervous and shy. I didn’t really have that effect on a lot of people. Mostly they were scared of me—either because they’d heard stories or just assumed things about me. Michael Steedman, though, he seemed self-conscious.

          “Carson, the guy you saw me with the other day?”

          He nodded, not bothering to lie and say that he hadn’t been spying on me a week prior. I liked that he didn’t try to deny it.

          “That’s not the first time I’ve had to punch him. After the first time, he started making up stories about me. He didn’t realize that it made no difference to me.”

          “I guess he never learns.” Michael Steedman smiled and looked down.

          Michael Steedman.

          Michael Steedman.

          Michael Steedman.

          I kept saying his name in my head. Michael Steedman was an All-American boy. Blonde, built, gorgeous. Easy smile. Affable. Kind. An “aw-shucks” type of guy. The type of guy you’d pay a compliment to and he’d reach up and rub the back of his neck while looking down at his feet while he blushed and smiled. He was absolutely adorable, and my stomach felt like butterflies. I knew exactly what that meant. And it scared the shit out of me.

          “I don’t like hurting people. No matter what you might have heard.” I was mentally pleading with him.

          Don’t. Judge. Me.

          Michael Steedman’s eyes flicked down to my hands. They were covered in bruises, but I did nothing to hide that fact.

          “I believe you.” It was an exhalation.

          I found myself staring at this All-American Boy, the body of a god, looks that most guys would kill for…and I believed that he believed me. After several moments, I realized that staring much longer would probably scare him away, and I didn’t want that. I stretched my legs out and let my sketchpad lay upon them as I smiled at Michael Steedman.

          “So, what kinds of chips and soda did you bring?

          “I, uh, didn’t know what you’d like, so I just got Cokes and a couple of bags of Cheetos.” He replied nervously, removing the items from the bag.

          I hated Cokes and Cheetos. But I was touched by the thought.

           “Perfect.” It was a harmless lie. “But I don’t have any money.”

          “It’s cool.” He feigned insouciance. “I had some allowance saved up.”

          I doubted he had to save up allowance. His parents probably gave him money anytime he wanted or needed it. I didn’t hold that against him. That was nice. But, I thought about that for a moment. One should never go into a relationship without being on an even keel. I didn’t want to owe Michael Steedman anything, even if he probably wouldn’t hold that over my head. I flipped through my sketchpad, found the sketch I was looking for, ripped it out, and held it out to him.

          “We’re even.”

          Michael Steedman took the sketch from me gently, his eyes staying on mine as he pulled the sketch close to himself. His mossy green eyes stayed on mine, his affable and gentle and kind nature shining through, until the sketch was right under his face. He looked down at the sketch, and his eyes immediately widened and lit up, the smallest, self-conscious smile appearing on his lips.

          “Wow.” He said simply as he looked down at the sketch I had done of him the first time I had laid eyes on him, sitting across the creek from me a week prior.

          “It’s not my best,” I admitted as I moved to grab the Coke and Cheetos that he had bought for me. “But it’s not my worst.

          “It’s…amazing.” Michael Steedman looked up at me, his smile no longer self-conscious.

          “Thank you.” I twisted the cap off of my Coke. “I like your hair. You should let it grow out even more.”

          Michael Steedman’s hair begged to have fingers run through it. It was like the sun as it just started to peek over the horizon at dawn. Warm and golden and beautiful.

          “So…what’s your name?” He asked.

          I couldn’t help myself. My eyebrow rose as I sized him up. Did he think that I’d believe that he hadn’t heard about me?

          “Okay.” He was blushing, aware that had been a poor attempt at subterfuge.

          “And you’re Michael Steedman.”

          Saying the name out loud made my stomach flip-flop.

          “Mike.” He interjected, still blushing. “I go by ‘Mike’ to everyone but my mom.”

          “What does your mom call you, Mike?” I smiled, curious to know what nickname he’d been saddled with as I brought my soda to my lips.

          “Sugar Man, mostly.” He blushed so deeply that I wanted to pull him into me and laugh and hug him and make him feel less self-conscious.

          Mostly, I wanted to thank him for being so unabashedly honest.

          Instead, I just grinned.

          “You look like a ‘baby boy’ or ‘junior’ to me, personally,” I said, honestly having thought that one of those would have been the nickname. “Sugar Man doesn’t really fit you.

          That was the truth. He didn’t look like a “Sugar Man.” He was too…Michael Steedman for such a “squee” name.

          He laughed gently, the blush slowly fading from his face.

          “But, there’re worse things than ‘Sugar Man,’ I guess.” I shrugged.

          “Do you want to be my friend?” Mike spat suddenly, then blushed again, his eyes dropping to look at his lap.

          I held my breath, the weight of this moment in my chest. The absolute joy at having Mike Steedman find me by the creek, doing something so thoughtful as bringing me food and drink. Talking to me like I was a normal person. Not being scared of me. Not treating me like a bad kid. Wanting to be my friend.

          ”All right.” I nodded.

          “Good.” He smiled and reached for his Cheetos excitedly.

          I breathed out, trying to not show how excited I was that Mike had sought me out and asked to be my friend. And I was so grateful. I would drink Coke and eat Cheetos and sit there and talk to Mike about anything he wanted to talk about. I wasn’t alone anymore. Silently, I thanked God for two things as Mike began talking ninety-to-nothing. The squirrel. And Michael Steedman.