Not Exactly a Love Story

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When listening to audiobooks, there are times when the quality of the writing is clear and clearly different from the quality of the narration. However, quite a few audiobooks, such as Not Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis narrated by Maxwell Glick, are harder to decipher. In books such as these, it it clear that the narration is subpar, but that can distort the effect of the writing on the reader.

Not Exactly a Love Story tells the tale of fifteen year old Vinnie Gold, a teenager in New York in the 1970s. Vinnie has to deal with many issues facing teens, including his girl moving to California, his parents getting divorced, his mom remarrying, and himself falling for Patsy, the girl next door. When Vinnie happens upon Patsy’s phone number, he decides to call her at midnight, setting off a string of late night phone calls where Vinnie, under the guise of his alter ego Vincenzo, and Patsy open up to each other, sharing a side of themselves they don’t show anyone else.

That sounds like an interesting story, right? It did to me until I started listening and a few things became transparent (and some more opaque). First is the fact that Vinnie’s “girl” who moves away does so at the beginning of the story. She doesn’t even get a name, and yet we’re supposed to believe he’s heartbroken at her departure, something he tells us a small handful of times but never shows. Then there are the late night phone calls, the first of which ends with Vinnie inquiring, “Wanna fuck?” The fact that Patsy continues to answer his phone calls could be Couloumbis attempting to make some kind of social commentary on the way girls were expected to behave, but if it is, she misses her mark.

This isn’t to say that Couloumbis’ novel is all bad. The plot thread of the parents’ divorce was handled well. Whereas most writers would be too heavy-handed with such a topic, Couloumbis offers a realistic view at a teenager trying to cope with his parents’ break-up. At times, much of Vinnie’s internal conflict felt like a teenager of any decade. And the drama among Vinnie, Patsy, and Patsy’s boyfriend felt organic. The rest of the story, unfortunately, came across more contrived and less voice-y, a fact not improved by the narrator.

When Maxwell Glick first started reading, I had to look up the age level of Vinnie to make sure I was reading a Young Adult and not a Middle Grade novel. This isn’t Glick’s fault. His voice sounds way too much like an MG narrator than YA, meaning whoever decided he should be the one reading didn’t do their job. There were some things that Glick could have improved on, though. For starters, I think Couloumbis was trying to give Vinnie’s mother a stereotypical Italian mother’s persona and cadence, but Glick’s reading of her character took away most of the personality. In fact, most of his characters had merely tiny variations in the way Glick portrayed them, making the reading experience uninspired and leaving me wondering how much of my indifference toward this novel was because I was bored by the writing or by the reading. Whatever the reason, the results are the same: a mediocre audiobook I didn’t even want to finish, let alone write a review for.

With Coulolumbis contributing 1.5, I give Not Exactly a Love Story 2 out of 5 headphones.

The rating scale for reviews is out of 5 headphones, 4 of which can be earned by the author, and 1 which can be earned by the narrator.

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Turtles All the Way Down

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The first time I read a John Green novel, I was sitting at my dining room table going over some papers when my fiancee walked up, swept everything off the table, plopped Paper Towns in front of me, and said “You need to drop everything you’re doing and read this.” So I did. It was a wonderful book full of nuance and symbolism and mystery. It was one of the best Young Adult books I’ve ever read. However, this review is not of Paper Towns, but rather Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, narrated by Kate Rudd.

Sixteen year old Aza Holmes can’t stop thinking about the germs in her body. No, really, she literally can’t stop thinking about them. This makes it difficult for her to be the friend/daughter/self she wants to be. When an eccentric billionaire goes missing, Aza and her friend Daisy want to investigate. However, a few things get in the way. First, there’s the fact that very few clues are available. Then there’s Davis, the billionaire’s son who pays the girls not to go looking for his dad. But ultimately, it’s Aza’s crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that really puts a damper on things. Aza must learn to accept who she is in order to get better.

Let me start by saying that I am not a mental health expert. Over on his Youtube channel, Vlogbrothers, John Green has done a lot to educate people about his OCD, and all of it has been exceptional. When it was announced that Green’s first book in over five years was being published, and that it dealt pretty heavily with mental health, many people were excited, myself included. That being said, I was a bit disappointed with this book.

I want to be clear: Turtles All the Way Down was not a bad book. Anyone who’s ever read anything by John Green knows of his sometimes lyrical style of writing, and it’s still present. The main problem I have with this novel was that it’s a little too aware of itself. At times, it felt like it was going out of the way to educate about OCD rather than letting the reader organically learn through a great story. Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser actually does a good job of showing the reality of mental illness without sacrificing a strong plot. Mental health is an important issue to Green, and at times I felt the anxiety his character was going through. The mental health aspect of the novel was beautifully and terrifyingly well-portrayed. The thing was that this issue, rather than enhancing the plot, really took the place of it.

Green has always written strong characters, and this book is no different. From Aza’s anxiety to Daisy’s comedic relief, his portrayal of teenagers is still strong. But the book jacket promises a story that the book does not deliver. The synopsis reads like it’s going to be a mystery, and it starts out that way, too. But the mystery doesn’t just take a back seat; it gets dropped all together until the end when the truth is revealed in a slap in the face to the concept of fair play. One disadvantage to Green here is that before this he wrote Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars, to me three of the most well-written, moving stories in all of YA. So, he has the chops, but I found myself too often comparing Turtles All the Way Down to those other books and not getting the same feeling.

That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy listening to the story, and that’s thanks in large part to the talents of narrator Kate Rudd. Green’s characters came to life, not just through Rudd’s variation of how character’s sound, but through her expert voicing of emotion as well. Her performance added to the anxiety I felt in putting myself in Aza’s shoes and to the frustrations felt by all those around Aza as she dealt with her disorder. Rudd improved the reading experience for me, and she is definitely going on my list as a narrator whose work I want to seek out and listen to.

Again, Green’s book wasn’t terrible, but I would give his contribution 2.5 out of 4. With Rudd’s performance added in, I would rate Turtles All the Way Down 3.5 out of 5 headphones.

The rating scale for reviews is out of 5 headphones, 4 of which can be earned by the author, and 1 which can be earned by the narrator.

The Impossible Vastness of Us

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Let’s play a quick game of “Never Have I Ever.” I’ll start. Never have I ever experienced so much emotion in a single book. If you took a drink, then you must’ve read The Impossible Vastness of Us by Samantha Young, narrated by Brittany Pressley. I’m not the kind of guy who hides my emotions. Still, there are few books that will actually make me cry. Young’s novel brought more tears to my eyes than any I can remember.

India Maxwell has a secret, a secret that has motivated her to carefully cultivate a protected existence for herself in Arroyo Grande. Unfortunately, India’s mother has found someone and is moving her and her daughter from California to Boston to be with him. Now India finds herself at the bottom of the social ladder and living with a to-be step-sister who makes it clear that she doesn’t have India’s back. However, as India begins to navigate the world of the elite, she discovers that everybody has their own secrets and, try as they might, secrets don’t stay secret forever.

John Green once famously said that we must learn to imagine others complexly. Young’s novel doesn’t just seek to do that, it succeeds. That is what makes this book so wonderful. Her characters are not only believable, but they’re complex. When issues get resolved, it’s not just in the “Oh, I felt one way, but now that the secret is out, I will completely change who I am for the sake of social commentary” manner. Things get messy, and characters do change, but not so dramatically that the readers are left wondering if they can trust the author.

Young is like a seasoned seamstress with nimble fingers. She expertly intertwines issues of class, abuse, sexuality, love, betrayal, trust, friendship…. I could go on, but I don’t want to turn this review into a list. Suffice it to say that if someone told me that a book dealt with so many issues, I wouldn’t have read it, believing that no author could satisfactorily address them in one book of average length. I’m so happy to be wrong.

How does a book like this get even better? With a great audiobook narrator. I’ve listened to some awesome books that have been ruined by awful narrators (Jennifer E. Smith’s Windfall narrated by Tonya Cornelisse comes to mind). Brittany Pressley, thankfully, does The Impossible Vastness of Us justice. Her voices are unique and capture the essence of the characters, from the elite soon-to-be step-father all the way down to the cold-hearted mean girls, and every personality in-between. I love it when an audiobook narrator can make me forget his or her gender and help me focus on the development of the characters. Pressley does just that.

The Impossible Vastness of Us is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and both Samantha Young and Brittany Pressley worked in tandem to earn 5 out of 5 headphones.

The rating scale for reviews is out of 5 headphones, 4 of which can be earned by the author, and 1 which can be earned by the narrator.

My Life With the Walter Boys

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As a teacher, I don’t get much time to read “for fun.” So, I turn to audiobooks. As a Young Adult writer, I try to read (or listen to) books that share some similar themes to what I write. As a guy on a budget, I often rely on my library or some other free lending service. So, when I saw My Life With the Walter Boys by Ali Novak, narrated by Renee Chambliss, up on Hoopla (a free borrowing site), I was mildly interested. I was a bit hesitant when I saw that the book was originally written on Wattpad, and it turns out that was for good reason.

Novak’s novel tells the story of sixteen year old Jackie Howard who loses her family in a horrific car accident in New York City and has to move to Colorado to live with the Walters, a family with eleven boys and one girl who “acts like a boy anyway.” Instantly, Jackie is thrust into a love triangle between the hot bad boy Cole and the hot geeky boy Alex, all while trying not to be hated by all the other hot boys with various fill-in-the-blank personalities.

This is Novak’s first mistake. Every guy is hot, and Jackie instantly finds herself staring at their “washboard abs.” The funny thing is that the guys actually do have nicely differentiated personalities. Jackie’s the problem. She simply isn’t believable. She’s just lost her family, and now all she can think about are these two guys. Novak tells us at various points that Jackie is sad her family is dead, but these reminders are arbitrary at best, and only occur when she wants to shove internal conflict upon her main character. She does a poor job of showing Jackie’s pain. Similarly, Jackie tells us that she really wants to get into Princeton, but she never acts like it. All this makes it difficult to trust Jackie as a character, and not in the fun, interesting, and mysterious unreliable narrator kind of way, but more like the “my author doesn’t want to take time to develop me as a character and would rather focus on plot,” kind of way.

I know that all may sound harsh, but when the teenage girl loses all her sense of supposed independence over a guy, when she falls for the guy even though he treats other girls like shit, when almost every single conversation she has with another girl revolves around guys (goodbye, Bechdel Test), when she only is willing to go for what she wants because one of the guys says its okay, when she gives up her voice in order to let her actions be dictated by the guys she lives with, then that tells girls who read this dreck that they should do the same, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is harsh.

I’ve left a lot out of this, such as the fact that she has way too many characters, making satisfying character development nearly impossible, and that the fact that the book reads as if an editor hasn’t even glanced at it. However, I would like to turn my attention now to the audiobook’s one redeeming quality: Renee Chambliss. I’ve often found myself liking or disliking an audiobook and wondering if it was the writing or the person reading. In this case, I can say unequivocally that Ms. Chambliss does a great job of capturing character voices and making each one unique, a difficult job when you’re narrating no fewer than eleven male voices. Not only that, but Chambliss excels at emphasizing the emotion described in each scene, a fantastic feat when you consider how poorly any description other than “wow, this guy’s hot, I like him, but I shouldn’t” is. I credit Chambliss with being almost too good and blame her for my finishing this book. Her great job as a narrator lulled me into a false sense of security, and I was almost halfway through before I truly realized how bad this book is.

Nevertheless, as wonderful as Chambliss’ reading is, I would not recommend this book to anyone looking for something that has the least bit of quality to it, and I would definitely steer all teenage girls in your life to something that is actually empowering, like This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales. If Novak’s book is any indication, I know that I myself will be staying away from everything else bearing her name.

With Novak garnering 0.5 out of 4 and Chambliss getting 1 out of 1, My Life With the Walter Boys earns 1.5 out of 5 headphones from this reader.

The rating scale for reviews is out of 5 headphones, 4 of which can be earned by the author, and 1 which can be earned by the narrator.

Time

I was talking with my wife yesterday, and we were making plans for the upcoming Chicago Book Expo. We were discussing money, as it’s often tight in our household, what with me being a teacher and her not able to work. I explained that I didn’t think we were going to need a lot of money when she asked, “What about when you want to buy writing stuff?” This gave me pause. Ever since high school, I’ve been a sucker for buying writing stuff. Journals? Yes please. Pencils? Oh, I love a good pencil. Books about the craft? Gimme gimme gimme! Writing games? Oooh, what fun! But suddenly, as she asked that question, a realization hit me.

“I don’t need to buy writing stuff,” I told her. She responded with that well-used look that said ‘I know you’re full of shit.’ But I continued to let her know something I had only really just come to understand in that moment. I only need one thing to write: time.

As a teacher, my time is often taken up with teaching and planning and grading and meetings. That’s not to mention the 45 minute commute, one way. As a husband of someone with health issues, my time at home is sometimes taken up with cleaning and making sure she’s well-taken care of. As a writer, my time at home is mostly taken up with procrastination, albeit the kind where I try to find people who want to connect on Book Twitter.

For the last human gestation cycle, I’ve been away from this blog because I’ve convinced myself I don’t have time. Well, thanks to my wife, I am now learning to re-prioritize my life.  The hope is that I will spend less time screwing around and more time being productive.

There are ways I can do this. My first book was 2/3 completed in 2015 for NanoWrimo. One thing I did was to carpool with a friend. We trade off days, and on the days when he drives (and I’m not extraordinarily exhausted), I will crack open my laptop, open Scrivner, and write. That was how I got most of my writing done then. I also will go to my library or, oddly enough, my local McDonald’s, as both options make it more difficult to get distracted by Netflix or Hulu. Finally, I will start implementing a schedule. Everybody’s heard it before. Set a writing schedule and stick to it. That’s easier said than done, at least to begin with.

I’m curious what everyone else does. If you have tips or tricks that you use, please leave them as a comment here. I look forward to seeing what everyone does.

Everyone’s a Critic

Criticism is a part of life everyone has to deal with. Parents criticize their children and children criticize their parents. Teachers and students give the back and forth. Friends criticize each other. It is something with which everyone is familiar.

And yet…

Writers are the victims of criticism. This isn’t because they receive more than others. Some may, some may not. This is because a writer is already inundated with crippling self doubt. Some may say that they are not, but the truth is that they just haven’t experienced it yet. Whether it is an area of concern (“I know my dialogue isn’t great”) or the sting of someone else pointing out your flaws, the writer feels…exposed.

Most people have some kind of self-doubt. Writers, we are filled to the brim with it. That’s why it is so hard to show our work to others. Either they tell us what we already know (this needs work = you suck and you’ll never be good enough), or else they lie to us (I like this part = I need to find something nice to say, even if I don’t mean it). Okay, so most of that is in our heads. Which is why when I share my writing, I like to share my first draft. I know it sucks. I know it needs work. I know it’ll never get published.

But I also know that it can only get better. I also know there are some good bits in there, however few and far between they may be. And I also know that I can learn from my first draft, from both the mistakes and the golden nuggets. It’s so easy to be pulled down into a cesspool of anxiety, so don’t sink there. Start there.

I teach, and whenever I have a student absent I will put a zero in the gradebook. It’s electronic, so not only does it update automatically, but the student has access to it. Some of my students struggle, so when they turn in work that is less than stellar, it hurts their grade. This often causes them to turn nothing in. I found out that if they start at zero and turn in something that is only worth 50%, they see that actually working toward a goal isn’t a bad idea after all.

The same can be said for writing. What you put out there may suck. I’m currently revising a novel I finished back in March, and it sucks. But as I revise, it’s getting better. If I gave up, I’d have nothing. Leonardo da Vinci once said that art is never finished, only abandoned. This might sound depressing, but it’s not. Because you are constantly improving. So, please, don’t stop writing. I won’t. I can’t. But I will get better, and I hope you do, too.

Are You Listening?

Before teaching, I went to school for teaching. I didn’t have a problem with the amount of work, but because there was so much to do, I found myself with less time to read for me. Being a writer, this is a problem. But even if I wasn’t a writer, this would still be a problem. I grew up on reading. My mom read to me. I read Treasure Island two or three times a month as a kid. I convinced my parents to spend money on the Scholastic book fairs. Then I grew up, and I started reading older books. Stephen King, Piers Anthony, and more Stephen King. My girlfriend (now wife) got me to read Harry Potter. I gobbled up the Tomorrow series by Australian author John Marsden. I. Loved. Books.

So when I couldn’t read as much as I wanted to, I just stopped reading. It was slow at first, but as I started teaching, my time to read dwindled more and more until I found myself not reading at all. This bothered me. It really concerned my wife who knew how much I loved reading and who was partially attracted to my love of literature. What was worse was that I stopped writing. I knew that I couldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t a reader. So, instead of finding a way to read, I just…stopped writing.

Finally, I gave in. I started listening to audiobooks, and my view of them changed. My commute to my day job is 45 minutes. Before giving in, I listened either to the radio or to silence. Now I listen to books. My reading increased, and thus so did my writing.  In the process, I also discovered a new way to decide what to read: narrator. Some of my favorite narrators include Jim Dale (the Harry Potter series and The Night Circus), Euan Morton (Fool and The Serpent of Venice), and Kim Mai Guest (Anna and the French Kiss and The Girl from Everywhere). I will listen to just about anything narrated by these people.

The problem is that it works both ways. Sometimes I will listen to a book and find myself not liking it. When this happens, I wonder if I dislike the book because of the plot, writing, characters, etc., or if I dislike it because I don’t like the way it is narrated. This concerns me because I fear I am missing out on great stories. I also fear for my own stories. What if I get published and the audiobook narrator turns off readers who think they don’t like my book? Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that adds to the already crippling doubt that exists in most writers’ minds.

That being said, I like the payoff. I have the opportunity to read literature that I didn’t have time to read before. Any chance I get to read is worth it for me. I am really interested in what others think about this. Do you like audiobooks? What issues do you run into with them? What are your favorite audiobooks? Narrators? I look forward to hearing from you.

It’s Not What You Know…

In the process of cleaning out my closet today(so far there aren’t many skeletons), I came across a business card from one Mary Robinette Kowal. My wife and I were lucky enough to meet her at the first ever NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis in 2015. We shared a cab with her, talked about reading and writing, found out she is a Hugo award winning short story writer and novelist, and just had an all around good time. We traveled by train, and on the way back we had a stop in Chicago. Mary asked if we would like to go see the museum of art with her (which gave me the idea to make my writer an artist in my first completed manuscript, so thanks, Mary). The best part was talking about the writing process. We talked names, dialogue, and setting. We later learned that she actually teaches a class and is one of the participants of the amazing podcast Writing Excuses. All in all, it was a cool trip.

That year, I won Nanowrimo and finished my manuscript a couple of months later. Even though I did the work of sitting down and typing, I chalk it up to that convention and, more specifically, those interactions with Mary. This isn’t because she’s a great writer or a great teacher, though she is and she is. I attribute this to my lack of contact with the writing world.

I attended a university for professional writing for three years before it closed and I changed my major to education. Most of the other people there were not necessarily that good (though I’m sure I wasn’t, either). The value of the experience came in being around other writers, other people who are as passionate about writing as I am. I realized in Minneapolis that in the interim years since that school closed, I had been longing for, hungry for that connection. Instead, I got six years of working with people who think writing is a hobby. Anyone who writes seriously is familiar with the “advice” other people can give. The one I get the most is, “Oh, you should write about your experience working here.” I also cannot avoid an inevitable eye roll on my part when I hear, “I could write, but I don’t have time/don’t want to/etc.” Writing isn’t taken seriously by non-writers.

Fast forward to October of 2016. A year had passed since the first NerdCon, and my wife and I couldn’t afford to go this year. The advice and community we had received the year before were great, but their effectiveness was starting to fade. Earlier this year I started my second novel, began the revision process of the first, and wrote a few different query letters. I was still missing something, though: community. So I set out to start a writing group. I wanted to get together with other writers and share and comment on what we had written. I wanted to create a community. Instead, I found one: The Fort Wayne Fiction Writers Guild. I attended meetings and started sharing my work and getting feedback, and my writing has improved. Not just the quality, but the quantity, as well. Because writing is the one place where quantity begets quality.

I teach high school English, and I’ve been writing for many years now. I consider myself to be pretty good at writing. What I discovered was that I needed help with writing well. A slew of unique voices help me out every two weeks to become better. And we are a support group. We critique each other, yes, but we also praise each other. We tell each other what works and what doesn’t. We encourage each other. And together, we take the most solitary of tasks, writing, and turn it into a group event. Could I get published if I didn’t have this group of writers? I’m sure that eventually I could. Would I be as good? Probably not. But even if I would, it wouldn’t be worth it. Because, in writing, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And I know some pretty amazing people.

The Art of Rejection

Writing a book is hard. Revising it is harder. Sending it out for potential representation is deceptively easy. That’s because getting it back is the most difficult part of the process.

I actually enjoy looking for literary agents. It’s kind of like buying a house. You get to do research, see if it fits your needs, and tell others about your book. The best part is the fantasizing. If you’ve ever looked at a house before (or a car, I suppose), then you probably know what I’m talking about. You imagine yourself living there, thinking about what the living room will look like after you decorate or how to make the most space out of the kitchen. I’m not particularly handy, but I know people who can do this with broken down homes. That’s because what they see is that magic word: potential. To me, looking at possible literary agents is just like that. It is finding the potential.

Okay, admittedly this is not healthy. I know I am only opening myself up for disappointment, especially in the beginning stages. The best thing that can happen at that early point is they will ask for more manuscript. The worst is not to be rejected. The worst is to get no feedback at all.

The thing about rejection is that often times, even with an official rejection, you don’t necessarily get much feedback at all. It makes you start to wonder what you did wrong. I’ll tell you: it doesn’t matter. If they reject you because your writing is bad, take it as an opportunity to improve. If they reject you because they are not interested, take it as an opportunity to find someone who is. Agents and editors don’t reject you to spite you. They have better things to do with their time. And they don’t want to see you fail. They are agents and editors, not just because they are good at it, but because they love books. They want to see you succeed so you can populate the world with more beautiful writing. That is why I have come up with my Rules For Dealing With Rejection So I Don’t Get Discouraged:

Rule #1: Remember that most agents read your query, don’t charge a fee, and respond, even if it is in a form letter.

That’s it. That is my only rule. There are people out there who want you (and me) to succeed. They don’t have a job without writers. So they read what I am sure are dozens of queries a day, hundreds a week, perhaps even thousands a month. Often they reject. And that sucks for us authors, but they also have to deal with writers who don’t take the news so well. I saw a tweet from a literary agent specifying not to pitch to agents and editors on Facebook or with physical queries sent to their homes. He did not say this just as a friendly reminder. He said this because people do it. I even know of an agent who got pitched to in a bathroom!

My point is that rejection sucks. Dealing with rejection sucks. Fearing that you will never be an accomplished writer sucks. Thinking that you are worthless as a writer sucks. I know all of this because these thoughts go through my head each time I get a rejection. The thing is, I don’t fight it. I allow myself to feel bad for no more than five minutes before I remind myself of the most important thing to remember when writing to be published: Everyone’s been rejected. Stephen King put a nail on his desk that fell out because it was weighed down with so many rejections. John Green has been rejected. Hell, even J.K. Rowling has been rejected.

Those writers, and many more, have something else in common as well. They never gave up. And you writers who read this, I hope you don’t give up either. I won’t. I am not going to look at the eight rejections I’ve gotten, but rather at the six responses I haven’t gotten yet. And I am going to fantasize. And write.

Maroon(ed)

“Maroon is strange word,” Jeffrey thought as he looked at his leg. The blood had slowed, but he still lost enough of it to worry about passing out.

“Maroon is a strange word,” Jeffrey said out loud. Nobody responded. Hal was over by the tree nearest the water, so maybe he couldn’t hear. Elise was nowhere to be found. Typical Elise. She probably ran off with Lonnie to give him a piece of her mind, and then a piece of ass. Ashley laid closest to Jeffrey, but her eyes were closed, her lips parted.

In fact, her lips made Jeffrey’s mind think of the word maroon. The dark color adorned her lips, which he had tasted only hours before, when things were still fine. They didn’t taste maroon then. They had tasted like grapefruit.

Jeffrey looked down at his pants, once khaki, now crimson. It made him sad to think that nobody asked if he was okay. The pain wasn’t as bad as when they first landed, but would it have hurt them to at least inquire? “I guess everyone is dealing with the news in their own way,” he thought.

Still, Jeffrey thought that Hal could have been more concerned instead of huddling against the tree. Sure, his daughter was by Jeffrey’s side, but Jeffrey couldn’t expect her to take care of him. She was asleep.

The moon crept up in the sky. “When did the moon appear?” Jeffrey thought. “And When did it get dark?” It was only a sliver, so Jeffrey couldn’t see much beyond his immediate vicinity. He was sure Hal had gone off to find where his wife had gone. Caprice was a little bit loopy, though Jeffrey would never admit that to his fiancee. Ashley loved her mom more than anything. She aspired to be her mom.

Elise and Lonnie still hadn’t returned. They were probably still wrapped in each other’s arms. Jeffrey would never call his sister a bad name (wasn’t slut-shaming looked down on now?), but she had always wanted to “bang on the beach.” Her words, not his.

Jeffrey thought about the birds flying in the sky. The vermillion sun brightened their white feathers, giving a contrast to the fiery sands surrounding Jeffrey. The pain in his hips was gone now. In fact, all the pain in his lower body had vanquished. He felt everything up top, though. If only he could sleep, sleep like Ashley slept. Her cherry lips (or was it grapefruit, he couldn’t remember) parted reminded him of the first time they met.

Hal was back at his tree. Apparently Caprice had decided not to join him. Nobody joined Jeffrey. Were they all still mad at him? Didn’t they know it was an accident? If only Ashley would wake up, she would tell them it was an accident, that it wasn’t entirely his fault.

The moon grinned down on Jeffrey. He thought it reminded him of a cat, but he couldn’t remember why.

The leaves nearby rustled, and Jeffrey heard a “shhhhh” echo off the water. It seemed Elise and Lonnie were done with their frolicking for the day. Jeffrey couldn’t imagine why Elise wanted to hookup with Ashley’s brother. Wasn’t that weird?

Ashley’s cheeks flushed pink. She must have been dreaming about their first time together. It was a doozy. Hal, of course, still sulked over by his tree. Jeffrey tried to shout out to him, but then he thought better of it. No use pissing off your soon to be father-in-law, especially when he was already upset.

Jeffrey’s heart ached. His stomach stopped hurting, though. So did his arms. Now he could lay peacefully and stare at the scarlet sky.

Elise wasn’t talking to Jeffrey anymore, either. He knew she would forgive him. She was like that. Wasn’t that why she was scolding Lonnie? It didn’t keep her from letting him into her pants, though.

As the sun set (or maybe it was rising), Jeffrey couldn’t help but feel sorry for Caprice. She was the one who always had his back. Maybe that was why she wasn’t with Hal. She always defended Jeffrey to her husband, and now Caprice was off alone and Hal sat sullenly by his tree.

There was no moon. The sun shone bright, but the edges of Jeffrey’s vision went to nightfall. “That’s peculiar,” Jeffrey thought.

Jeffrey’s heart still hurt, but the pain was a dull throb now. Ashley would wake up soon. Elise would walk out from behind the trees with Lonnie. Caprice would come put her hand on her husband’s shoulder. They would all make sure Jeffrey was okay. He had laid down for so long he would need time to shake out the pins and needles.

Night and day blurred together for Jeffrey. The sun was fading. Soon the moon would take over. “That would make for a beautiful wedding,” Jeffrey thought.

Jeffrey was sure Hal would forgive him for the accident. That was why they were here. That was why Hal made this awful trip, wasn’t it? Jeffrey knew Hal would forgive him. He’d always wanted grandchildren.

The sun burned brightly in the center of Jeffrey’s vision. As the blackness encircled it, closing in, Jeffrey thought of the color of the sun. It wasn’t yellow. It wasn’t orange. It was more saturated than those. “Maroon is a strange word,” Jeffrey thought, and he closed his eyes.