Going Global, Baby!

Hello Readers,

This is the last in a series of posts focused on communication and how it relates to writing. It has been a great journey to look at how we try to focus our efforts to write for a specific audience and then work to actually get our work out there for that audience to read–to listen to the ideas and messages we have created. To experience the worlds and characters we have taken the time to put together detail by detail so that they come alive on the page or on the screen.

This time, though, let’s look at this in a broader view. What if we become WILDLY successful and our stories take off? What if we gain a readership that is not just domestic, but hits the readership on a global level?

AMAZING, right?

As we (the world) continue to cross borders and reach out to one another, as our level of communication broadens and we reach people from Israel, Pakistan, China, Japan, Korea, Germany and many other countries, how do we make sure the messages, ideas, actions, plots, characters, and worlds all relate to a worldwide readership?

In my current readings, an author, Doreen Starke-Meyerring, stated “…professional communicators who operate on the basis of a concept of culture as hybrid, heterogeneous, complex, and constantly renegotiated boundary creations do not ascribe literacy practices to presumably static groups. Instead, they understand literacy practices as existing in complex webs of diverse, overlapping, and dynamic “cultural ecologies.” In other words, we are writing for a readership who comes from a background that is vastly different from our own. We are often “speaking” to peoplewho may not believe as we do and who may not be able to relate to the ideas and details that we have created.

So, what do we do about this?

I remember when Harry Potter first came out. One of the things that the publishing company did to market overseas was to, of course, use a test market on their books. One thing they found was many of the references and area-specific terms were not understood by their American test group. This was the same in many of the countries that they tested the book in. Their answer was to adapt the book to the specific country they were marketing to while creating the wording to get the ideas across to the readers.

HP American 2                                                       HP Asian

HP England                                                      HP ??

Basically it is telling the story, not just in a different language, but in a different way so it would be understood by the readers in these different cultures and societies.

This is where we go back a step to the last post. At some point there will be a decision to make between self-publishing and working with an established publisher. To gain a worldwide market, it will be important to understand the amount of work there will be to put into this scale of marketing. It is not impossible to do this yourself (in fact this is becoming easier and easier) but, as accessible as this is becoming, it doesn’t mean it is easy. Just something to consider.

On the other hand, this is a problem worth having. Becoming successful enough and having a viewership wide enough to have your stories become a worldwide event. To have to solve the question: How do I get this idea across in India? That is a goal worth striving for.

Thanks for reading my series on discourse and communication, and stay tuned in for new topics and other writings coming soon.

Keep Writing!
Nevin

Social Media and Publishing

As a writer just beginning in the world of publication there is a lot to learn. What avenues of publication do I want to take? Should I try to reach my audience through Publishing companies or should I Self-Publish? What are the avenues of reaching a high profit potential with each option?

These are not easy questions. It takes a lot of time (no matter which option that is chosen) to get a piece of writing to a wide audience. And either way it takes a lot of determination and patience to get the word out. So which option is best? I have to admit that I do not know at this point. What I do know is what I’ve learned from some great people on both sides of this fence.

Let’s talk about The King. Yep, I am talking about Stephen King. Probably the best marketer of writing that I have seen for someone who started out by writing articles for sports. He made some good money doing this but he wanted to become a writer. He had an idea and he wanted the idea to be published. In my readings he showed that writing for an audience is very important. He talks about revisions of his work and the hundreds of submissions of his story that were rejected or never even answered. Until it was. In 1974 Stephen King had his novel Carrie published and he hasn’t stopped much from there.

Yes…I do realize that in 1974, publishing looked vastly different than it does now. In our current age it is easier to reach people and Self-Publish. What need is there for a big publishing company?

Marketing. The key to any successful venture is marketing. This is where I begin to think that finding a publishing company may be a good thing. Marketing companies work endlessly on researching how to reach an audience and how to connect with that audience. This is key to being successful. The business hours put in to make sure a book is published and then reaching out to people on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr and various other social media can be a daunting task. In talking to some of my self-publishing friends one of the things I have found is that they are reaching out and connecting, but the hours it takes to do this on a daily basis (and it has to be daily to build an audience) can take over what is important…the writing.

This social media aspect of publishing is key. You need to be able to reach the audience you want and to keep that audience. You need to put in the work to keep up the communication with your audience and make sure they know that you are invested in them as your audience. Then you need to make sure that what you have created (your storyline, your characters, your world) stays in the conscious mind of your audience so they will keep coming back.

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson have both done a great job building and keeping social media alive and connected with their books. Numerous websites supporting the world of The Wheel Of Time books are out there and Jordan and Sanderson have both done a lot of work to keep in contact with these groups of people to support their audience. They are invested

I suppose what there is to keep in mind, when making this decision is what you get to keep in the publishing of your work. This is the difference between the self-publisher and the corporate publishing.

In self-publishing, all rights to your material is yours to do with as you will. Want to have a movie made from your book, you make that call. Want to print a second edition, You make that call. There are many creative and business decisions that you get to keep with self-publishing. Basically you are paying for marketing by giving away your rights to your work.

So, what is the best way? I know this sounds like a cop-out but it is really what you are willing to put into your work. Do you want to spend hours on social media and researching how best to reach your audience and then continue to be on social media to keep in touch with your audience? Do you want this work handled by someone else and lose some of your rights to what you created? The choice is yours. What suits you the best?

Once you figure this out Move forward with all the energy you can put into it and then share on your social media…there are others out there who want to know what worked and why, so share! 🙂

Keep writing!

Nevin

Why I am a Writer

I have been doing a lot of reading, lately, about being a writer. Much of the reading has begun to show me how much of my writing (my ideas, my style, my genre) actually comes from outside of me instead of from me.

 

“What is he talking about?” You might ask…I am talking about where ideas come from and where they land.

 

It is becoming clear to me that many of my ideas are coming from my discourse community. I talked a little about this in my last two posts. The discourse community is basically the group of people I associate within the science fiction and fantasy genre. The people I talk to and bounce ideas off of and get feedback from. This is my discourse community. It also consists of the audience I am writing for. What my audience expects and what they will read. They are also a part of my discourse community. When I write, these are the people I think about. These are the people who will read my ideas and either appreciate them or discard them. An author/researcher names Amy Devitt said “form and content (and the related form and function, text and context), product and process, individual and society” all define what we write.

 

I know, the first thing I thought was “I am the writer. I am the one who decides what to put on paper. Why would Devitt (and many other researchers, by the way) say that the ideas are not coming from me. Well, think of it this way: We were raised a certain way. We have all these ideas and notions based on all these years that we were raised. We have all these influences that gave us messages of right and wrong, happy and sad and angry that we grew up with. All these ideas are part of who we are. Then, we started having our own opinions. We gain the ability to decide “I like Scifi. I don’t like history. I like historical fiction, though. I don’t like romance.” And on and on we began to receive ideas and notions from these communities about what was acceptable and unacceptable inside of these communities. So, the ideas that we have are our ideas, but they come from the influences of our upbringing and the crowd we choose to hang out with.

 

You might be thinking, “So what?”

 

The reason this is important is this: When we write, it is truly important to understand the audience we are writing for. We need to understand the community we are writing within. If we do not understand this, then our readership will ultimately be limited. And worse, without knowing this, our readership will likely discard our writing. To be relevant within our communities and to reach the people that we want to reach with our stories and our messages we have to be keenly aware of who we are writing for.

 

It kind of looks like this: we enter a group and begin to learn what that group is about. We decide…Ok, yeah, I want to be a part of this. I like the whole thing about a conflict between Superman and Batman. I want to see the Hulk take Loki by the foot and smack him around a bit. And so we dive in. We spend our time learning what it is to be a part of a community who likes the same things we do. We learn things that we should not do (No, The Joker should never die…that would be dumb, who would the Batman have to fight against?) We learn that creating an unbeatable hero with no flaws is boring. And so we write, thinking that we have created the ideas in our head.

 

Now, though, I hope it is becoming clear. We have our audience and our communities to thank for the way we write. They have shown us what they want and what they expect. They have shown us the boundaries we can push and those lines we should never cross. We need to thank our communities and remember that they are the reason we are writers.

SciFi and Discourse

Today I found myself looking at my recent story and poems and thinking: “Do these belong on my blog?” After all, this is a blog for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers, right? Did any of this come close to Sci Fi/Fantasy writing?

 

In looking at Discourse Communities and Intertextuality I would have to say, yes…this writing belongs. But let me back up a little bit.

 

What the heck is a Discourse Community? This is a title for the different communitites that we operate in. Discourse is the language we use, actions we take and the nuance of our community. An example of this is when we tlk about some of our favorite shows or movies. Most people would know who the Hulk is if we brought him up in conversation. But fewer people would understand if we made an off-handed comment like “Puny God” to be a reference to the Avengers movie and the scene right after the Hulk tossed around Loki like a rag doll. Most people who seek out comic books and know the stories and understand the characters would understand the reference because we all belong to that Discourse Community.

 

At this point you might be thinking: “Aannndd, why does this matter?” It matters because I am staring at my story and realizing that in the eyes of the reader (my audience and discourse community) Norm’s New Family, has nothing to do with Sci Fi or Fantasy writing. When I go to a blog about Science Fiction I expect to find Science Fiction on that blog…if it is not there, then why is the blog called a Scifi blog? Now, in my head, Norm’s story is rooted in science fiction. The story I posted is just a small part of the novel I am writing, but I realize that this was not made clear to my readers. This kind of situation may have the people reading my blog wondering why this story is posted here.

 

This week, though, I had the benefit of reading an article by James Porter (Intertextuality and the Discourse Community). In this article, Porter explains that people need to understand the Community that they communicate within and be able to use intertext with that community. Intertextuality is the ability to use different references to be able to speak to a wider audience. I write Science Fiction but I can include references that may engage people with other interests. I also write personal narratives, but I also include references that people from a science fiction perspective would find amusing.

 

I know, I know…Why does this matter? I guess you can see this as an apology and an explanation. I think that Norm’s story is connected enough, through references, to be included on my blog. I also think that my blog is geared toward more than just people looking for SciFi/fantasy, I think that it is geared toward readers and writers in general. Intertextuality binds us all together so we can see that there is value to the writing even though it is light on the SciFi/fantasy elements.

 

Now, I would also say that I also understand that I need to put more of these elements in the coming stories…or change the name of my blog. Never Fear…I will get you covered. =)

 

The next installment of Norm’s story if forthcoming. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Keep writing!
Nevin

Norm and Junior Battle–Part 4 (The Finale)

********************

Junior was climbing back over the concrete wall after falling on the other side. Frantically, I looked around for some way out of here. We had run all the way to Old John Bank’s garage. There were a few cars out here to hide behind but, unfortunately, the tools were all locked up. An 8-foot block wall surrounded the yard with the gates closed and locked up tight. I was trapped.

“You made me kill my dad.”

“Junior, I didn’t mean to do anything.” I shouted at him.

“You’re right! You didn’t do anything! You were supposed to make them happy. They kept fighting and kept fighting and then–then they said they were going to find another boy and we would all be happy. YOU. DIDN’T. MAKE. THEM. HAPPY! And now, now he’s dead!” rage and fear were painted on his face like a second skin, and, then, I got it. I understood.

I understood Junior more clearly than I had ever understood anything in my whole life

“I wasn’t replacing you.” I shouted out. Another shot rang closer to the car I was behind. “I could never replace you. And none of this is our fault. It’s not your fault!”

“I–You–They were going to be happy. Because of you.

“No! They can’t do that! You can’t do that. This isn’t my fault either! I didn’t do this. You didn’t do this and Phillip didn’t do this. It is not us. It is not our fault, Junior.” He was getting closer. I could feel it. But I could also feel him turning this around in his head; I just had to make him see.

I stood up.

This was a dumb move. Junior was not even ten feet away and he turned toward me and fired. The bullet punched through my shoulder, sending me flying to the ground. I screamed as pain rushed through my whole body and all I could do is writhe around on the ground cradling the wound with my other hand.

I thought I could talk him down, but he walked towards me and was pointing that barrel right at my head. I couldn’t move. There would be no running or ducking now. I had no place to go and I knew that I was going to die. I was going to die in this dirty garage with a bunch of junky cars and my death would be a perfect match for my life. A big nasty mess surrounded by mounds of broken and busted junk. But I found I couldn’t give it up. This life sucked but I couldn’t let it go. Lying there with my strength fading, the effort to stay conscious weighing down on me. I struggled to speak.

“It’s not us. We didn’t do this.” I said with my voice shaking.

“It is us. I couldn’t stop them and Phillip just made it worse with all his talking and they kept fighting and then, and then they said you would make them happy.” Tears were streaming out of his red eyes. his hands were shaking, the grip on the gun loosening. “They said that we would help you and there would be happiness in our home again. Not–not this. I didn’t mean to–” Junior broke down and the gun dropped to the ground.

“Junior,” I said as I felt a hazy darkness closing in on me, “We can’t help them. They are the adults. They make the problems and we can’t solve them. We can only try not to make those mistakes. They are still good. They still love each other and you and Phillip. Even if I were blind I could see that you all are a family. We can’t help them, they have to help us. They have to be there to show us what is right and wrong. And adults–Parents–they fail. But your parents try and try and try or they wouldn’t have gotten me. They are trying hard but it’s not our fault.” I knew I should be scared, or screaming, or trying to get away, but I just held out my hand toward him and he looked at me with tears streaming down his face.

“I shot my dad. That’s my fault.” His face fell into a look of despair

I grabbed onto his hand and squeezed. I suddenly understood what a parent, a brother, a family was supposed to be. Not perfect, but always there.

The darkness grew and sucked me in.

*********************

Things took awhile to get worked out after Junior lost it.

People had heard the shots and found Junior screaming for help and trying to stop the blood from my shoulder. I was taken to a hospital, where I stayed for a couple days until they moved me to a hospital close to the Kennedy Center. Miss London showed up almost every day around six-thirty. She would check to see if I was ok.

People from the state kept visiting me and asking questions.

“Did the Ramseys keep guns laying around the house?” The man’s eyes would look at me without blinking. He didn’t move much, just sat there stiffly waiting for my answers.

“No, I only saw the gun when Nick came home and went to work, I didn’t know where it was at any other time.”

“Did Junior exhibit erratic behavior?” There was no expression on his face at all. He didn’t care about Junior.

“No, Junior is not a psycho. He was usually nice.” I knew what they were going for. They were trying to find a way to put Junior in jail forever. He didn’t need that; he needed help.

“Did Mr. or Mrs. Ramsey act inappropriately toward you?” The guy said this with a meaningful quirk of his eyebrow.

“That’s gross! No!” What was wrong with these people? Geez!

“Did Phillip every try to harm you?”

“Phillip is awesome; leave him alone.” I didn’t like these guys.

Miss London would always be there to make sure these people interviewing me were letting me have enough rest and to “guide” them out when their line of questioning started making me mad. I told these guys the same story probably five hundred times before they left me alone and stopped coming around. After a week and a half they let me go back to the Kennedy Center with Miss London. Just in time, too, I was about to lose my mind sitting there all day with nothing to do. You can only walk the halls of the hospital so many times. There weren’t many kids around. Plus, it stinks there.

Nick was ok. Miss London got to me after the “incident” and the first thing she told me was that Nick was in the hospital and alive, the bullet shattered some ribs and grazed his lung but he had survived. I was so relieved I started laughing and crying at the same time. Don’t ever do this if you get shot, it hurts! A lot! After the pain died down a little I made her tell me everything.

Junior was in jail, Nick was in the hospital, and Sarah and Phillip were at home and in pretty rough shape. Over the next few weeks they were all being interviewed, too. It looked like, instead of bringing the Ramsey’s happiness, I was bringing them a whole lot of hurt.

I wanted to be there. I wanted to talk to Phillip and tell him everything was, well, not ok, but it was going to work out. I wanted to tell Junior that this wasn’t his fault. I wanted–I wanted Sarah and Nick to tell me this was going to be all right. I know it sounds little kiddish, but I wanted to feel their arms around me. I wanted to sleep in my bed and shuffle around on my Yankees carpet at one in the morning cause I couldn’t sleep. I wanted Sarah to call me down to the kitchen and ask me what would help me sleep better and make me a sandwich or just hang out and talk. I wanted Nick to ruffle my hair and call me “buddy” and take me back to bed so I could get “some shuteye”. I wanted my family back.

“Miss London?” I stood waiting at the door while Miss London continued to write on her paper and enter something in the computer, her thin fingers flying across the keyboard faster than a person should be able to move. I didn’t say anything more, Miss London made it clear that she could hear you when you called her and that she would get to you when she was good-and-ready to get to you.

“Yes, Norm? What can I help you with?” She was still reading the paper in front of her but her hand was pointing to the chair in front of her desk. I sat down.

“I was wondering. I mean, it might be a dumb question…”

“Norm, you know better than that. If you want information, ask a question. Now, what can I help you with?” She was peering at me over her reading glasses, her paper forgotten.

“I just wanted–I mean–When will I be going back to the Ramsey’s?” It was a dumb question. I knew it was. There was little hope that I would ever see the Ramseys again after what happened. And even if some miracle happened and the Center let me go back, I doubt that the Ramseys even wanted to see me. I fingered the bandage over my shoulder. It’s a habit I picked up since the hospital. I quickly put my hand down and looked at Miss London again. She had taken off her glasses and was looking at me intensely, her hands folded in front of her. As always she noticed everything. She knew I was nervous and she knew I was determined.

“Norm, do you want to go back?” She asked. This question surprised me. I was expecting, you know, just a no or something that would distract me so I would stop asking.

“I–I do want to go back, Miss London. I do.” She looked at me again. Her eyes searching, looking through me. She ruffled through a stack of papers on her desk and pulled out a file.

“The Ramseys have been in constant communication with me since the–since you were injured. They are petitioning for custody of you and have made inquiries into an adoption.” She looked through the papers and then looked at me. I wasn’t sure what she meant though.

“Are you saying they still want me?” I asked surprised. “They still want me to stay with them? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I’m sorry, Norm. I just didn’t want to ask you with everything you have been through. I didn’t want to see you hurt again.”

“Miss London, it was an accident. I’m not saying the Ramseys are angels. They have problems, but I–I want to be with them.” Did I? Did I want to take the chance? I found I did. Things were crazy. I got shot and Nick was shot. Junior totally lost it. But I didn’t care about that. For the first time I felt like I was actually part of something…a–a family. “They’re my family.”

Miss London almost had a hint of a smile. She opened the file and looked at me. “Well, we have some work to do, don’t we?”

It took awhile. There were more interviews. I am sure that the Ramseys were being investigated as if they were invading terrorists. But it happened. Miss London called me into her office and there they were. Nick still twisting his hat as if he was called into the principal’s office for getting in trouble. Sarah nearly in tears. I walked in and fell into a jumble of arms and hugs and tears.

After a few moments, Miss London, spoke. “This will not be easy.” She said. Nick and Sarah both nodded

“It doesn’t matter.” Nick said. “We will do whatever it takes.” He looked at me. “Norm, here is our boy, there isn’t anything that’s going to change that.” I couldn’t talk. No one has ever stood up for me…No one has ever wanted me.

“Let’s get started then.” Miss London said.

********************

“You be good for them.” Miss London said quietly, her arms held me tightly. “They need you.” She let go and ran her hand gently over my head. Her eyes touched the scars on my face and the sling holding my arm. “Be safe.” She added.

“Let’s get going, Norm, we’re supposed to be back before dinner.” Nick said and opened the back door for me with his good arm. He grabbed my bag and threw it in as I turned to look at Miss London.

The Ramseys stuck to it and kept coming to those meetings and talking to the Protective Services people. They wanted me back; they still hadn’t given up on me. Well, I hadn’t given up on them either. We would work this out because that’s what families do, right?

I waved at Miss London and even though she was crying (and I was crying) I didn’t feel like I was leaving my home behind. I knew I was just gaining a new family. I jumped up into the passenger seat, buckled myself and settled in for the ride.

And Now…An Informational Interlude

Before I post the last section of Norm’s story. I thought I would take a break and talk about social media and advertising for a moment.

Social media is everywhere and to get ahead of the game of advertising we need to be using social media to put our product out there.  Whether that product is writing, photography, internet based business or whatever your specialty is, we need to be engaged in social media so others have access. Sometimes, though, it can be overwhelming to try to connect to a mass audience. There are so many people out there writing and creating products. There are so many ways to engage and connect to people (goggle+, twitter, tumblr, facebook, instagram and many, many more). It can make a person crazy trying to keep up with it all.

So, how do we do this? How do we write or create a product and then reach a larger audience so they are pulled to connect with us? I have done a bit of research on this very subject AND interviewed my Amazing wife, Phaedra Culley (writer of http://best-photo-places.blogspot.com) who actively researches and develops reliable leads on social media through blogging and engagement on social media sites.

In the beginning, I thought all I had to do was put something on my blog and post it on Google+ or Twitter or facebook and the readership would come. I quickly found that this was not the case. There has to be something to connect to the reader and to my audience to catch their attention. This is commonly referred to as Rhetoric. The general rules of rhetoric are that you have to have something that people can connect with and you have to have a reason (or context) for them to connect with it. In other words, I can’t just go throw something out there an expect people to read it. I have to say something that captures their attention so they will want to read it, then I have to say something in my writing that they relate to. The second item was not that hard. I can write and, I have been told, my writing is enjoyable and entertaining. Hooking people was my biggest constraint.

To get some help in this I talked to my wife. She writes on a blog geared towards Photographers and she engages in social media to support photographers and business owners. I conducted a mini interview and found out a few things that I thought I would share…maybe someone else would get the benefit of not struggling so hard in the beginning.

Here is what I found:

Nevin: Who is the audience you engage with?

Phaedra: I mainly focus on photographers and business owners who want to build their business.

Nevin: What’s your main purpose in working on social media?

Phaedra: Social media can be used for a variety of businesses to reach their audience so I try to focus my information to support other business owners and photographers. I try to inspire people about what they are doing and have them understand how they can use social media to achieve their goals in their business.

Nevin: While writing your blog, what do you think is especially important?

Phaedra: I think that writers need to focus on relevant content. Have it be engaging interesting and targeted to the business’ specific audience. Keep an eye on the stats to make sure you are reaching your targeted viewers. This can be done by monitoring your views, shares, as well as tracking what the reader is looking at.

Nevin: Why is written communication important?

Phaedra: Written communication is only important if there is a social context for it. It provides valuable information to readers as well as showing the writer’s authority and credibility in their field of interest. Most important, though is the fact that communication has to have some sort of a connection to the reader for them to engage in it. if you just write about anything and everything, it is difficult to get a readership or a following. You have to build a context that you are writing from and stick to that context. Then, when a reader comes to your site or reads your material, they know what they are coming to you for whether it is science fiction writing, photography or another type of business

Nevin: What strategies will work best for writing for a specific audience?

Phaedra: You have to have a human element and speak in a relatable way, be engaging, have a hook that’s catchy. Make sure to use media tools like hashtags and keywords so people can find you through SEO (Search Engine Optimization); then, engage with other writers and google+ users.

Nevin: Anything else I need to be aware of when using these tools?

Phaedra: Just understand that you do not have to be super tech-savvy to use social media. There are many people who are putting out information about how to use these tools to help with businesses. Ask questions, find people who have researched the field and they can really get you going. Then, stick with the communication. One of the biggest ways that people lose readership is by letting their blogs or their own engagement drift away.

While engaging on my research there have been many writers of Rhetorical research that will also state what Phaedra was discussing such as making sure your content is relevant to the person reading or hearing what you have to say. I have also read that there are many ways to get your message across. This falls under the different rhetorical or persuasive strategies. How can we use logic, credibility and an emotional connection with people to relate our information such that it engages our audience and has them return to us looking for more? Repeat business is not just for restaurants and retail outlets. As writers and bloggers and engagers we want people to seek out what we have to offer. Using the tools and ideas like rhetoric and Phaedra’s information about social media will help us create that level of writing, photography, technology or whatever YOU are delivering to the public.

I hope this brief insert has been helpful (or at the very least…engaging!). The finale of Norm’s story will be posted in the next couple days. Hope you enjoy!

Nevin

Norm–Life Falls Apart–Part 3

*********************

Life was great, those first few weeks. There were the family gatherings and neighborhood barbeques. But they were not to show me off; they really felt like I was being welcomed into the family. I met grandparents and cousins and the neighborhood kids. Everyone was very happy. I was flying; it was like riding an awesome rollercoaster, the feeling infected my head and tried to tell me life was good. I could almost ignore most of the sad, pitying looks that some of the people gave me, like I was this injured animal that the Ramseys had rescued and were going to care for. I avoided those people and stayed close to Phillip and Junior.

I grew close to Phillip quickly. He talked non-stop, and he was so full of energy and exploration that I felt like I wanted to ride along just to see where he would go. His little 9-year-old body never stopped. A lot of the time I felt it would be good to be there just so he didn’t accidentally hurt himself. He never did. Somehow or another all of his antics left him unscathed.

Phillip seemed to like me as much as I liked hanging out with him. Though, I think that kid liked anyone who was near him. Nothing could stop that smile or his talking. It just made me laugh. I swear I heard him start talking before he actually woke up one day and he was still talking after he had fallen asleep that night.

Junior was harder to figure out. He was nice but much quieter than Phillip. He was always watching. He watched me with Phillip and me with Nick and me with Sarah. We would hang out and play games on his TV or we would watch movies but I always felt like he was watching me. Like he was waiting for something. I hope I wasn’t disappointing him. I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do, but I felt like I wasn’t doing it.

After a month we settled into a routine and I felt more like this might be ok. It might be time to re-assess. It was a little early and everything was not perfect, but Nick and Sarah did not flip out at everything. Even when I broke this really expensive vase in the front room, they didn’t get mad at me. It was a couple hours of talking me down before I heard them say that it was ok. That it was an accident and everything was all right. Phillip was patting my back and crying with me even as he smiled and told me that he broke things all the time. Junior just watched.

Then Nick had to work late one evening. I didn’t think anything about it. He was a cop. I thought cops always worked late. But as the hours ticked by, Sarah became more and more tense. When it reached 11:00 PM she was near tears and was muttering something I could barely hear. I thought she might be scared, but she sounded angry. I knew this was bad, that something that I didn’t understand was happening. Junior had taken Phillip upstairs at 9:30 to put him to bed and then he just sat at the top of the stairs looking down at me.

What the hell was I supposed to be doing?

I looked at him and then at Sarah in the kitchen, crying now. I was out of my depth. I didn’t know what was going on and I could feel that alarm bell ringing throughout my body. Pacing around the living room and up and down the stairs, my insides were quivering. That sense of wrongness hung throughout the house, stifling any other action except waiting, waiting for the explosion. Fear and anger coursed through my veins. Something was going to happen and I could do nothing to stop it.

Nick’s truck door closed outside and everything inside went quiet. The door opened and Nick came in and smiled.

“Hey, buddy! Up late, aren’t you?” But his senses clued him in quickly. He was a cop, after all. His eyebrows scrunched down and he looked around quickly, assessing the situation, searching for clues. There I was, frozen, my eyes open wide with worry. Junior sitting at the top of the stairs, quietly watching, but tight, like a trap ready to spring. Sarah standing in the kitchen, weeping with her hands spread out on the table. He laid down his jacket and belt on the front couch and put both hands on my shoulders.

“It’s all ok. Just go on up to bed, okay. Me an’ Sarah just need to have a talk. It’s OK. Go on.” He gave me a slight push toward the stairs and I kept walking even when I heard Sarah say, “How was she?” and break down crying.

I passed Junior and touched his shoulder but he jerked away

“You were supposed to fix this.” He said through gritted teeth.

“What?” I had entered some weird dimension where no one was the same person…they were all replaced by some strange alter-ego robot replica of who they were supposed to be.

“They got you so you could fix this. You were supposed to make them happy again. You were supposed to fix this.” Junior was almost yelling, but the Ramseys couldn’t hear it because Sarah was screaming “Your little slut at work!” and Nick was yelling, “Why are we still going through this? Nothing is going on, Sarah!”

“Look, man, I–I had no idea.”

“You were supposed to FIX THIS!” Junior’s fist took me by surprise. He hit me in the gut and I stepped backwards missing the stair below me. I tried to turn to catch myself but fireworks exploded in my head as I slammed into the wooden shelf on the landing. It was hard to see. I tried to stand and the world tilted awkwardly. I sat down hard on the floor. I heard more yelling, louder now as footsteps ran through the house.

“Oh my God! Norm, honey, are you alright?” Sarah said, holding my head.

“What the hell happened?” Nick asked while trying to keep me calm. “Don’t worry, buddy. We’ll get you taken care of.”

I touched my forehead and felt a sticky wetness covering my fingers. My senses became alert and I started to understand what I was seeing.

“Junior.” I said in a whisper.

Junior stood at the foot of the stairs with his father’s gun. He was shaking, but that gun was still and firm and pointed right at my chest.

“Junior!” Nick said, sounding more shaken than I had ever heard him. “What are you doing?”

Sarah was crying and shaking her head.

“He was suppose to make you happy again. He was supposed to–he was supposed to stop all of this. He–HE was supposed to FIX THIS.” I saw his finger tighten on the trigger.

“NO!” Nick shouted and jumped in front of me. The gun went off and Nick went down.

Everyone was screaming. Junior was running up the stairs, Sarah was holding onto Nick rocking back and forth. Blood and tears were steaming down my face. I was fading; I could feel all of this growing dim and distant. I didn’t know what was going on and I couldn’t help–I couldn’t help this. This wasn’t my–wasn’t my fault.

“I’m going to KILL you!” Junior shouted. He started turning the gun toward me and I just moved. With a hard punch I caught him in the jaw sending him rolling down the stairs. Before he or anyone could recover, I was running out the back door.

*