Writers and Validation

I’m involved in a fairly active writing community online and I keep seeing writers saying the same things over and over again:

I want to get published by a traditional publishing company and self-publishing is a last resort.

I will never self-publish and if I write twenty novels and none of them find a home at a Big Five publishing company, I still won’t self-publish.

I won’t publish with a small press because I might not get an advance and they can’t market my work.

Now, every writer is different. Some writers are not cut out for self-publishing. They just aren’t. Self-publishing is a business (actually, all publishing is a business, but many writers don’t see it that way and that’s another post for another day) and some writers don’t want to be business owners. Essentially, if you go the indie route and do-it-yourself, you are effectively a small business. There are writers who don’t want to deal with everything that that entails and that’s their choice – the purpose of this post isn’t to persuade anyone to this side of the business, but to ask why this is.

Why do writers cling to the traditional publishing model despite the steep odds of breaking in? Why are so many writers closed off to other avenues of getting their work into the hands of readers? I mean, presumably if you’re trying to be a career writer and not just a hobbyist, you’re writing with the intention of getting an audience. So why limit your ability to do so by sticking to one way of publishing?

I started thinking about this, thinking about why I used to want to be traditionally published, and it came back around to validation. I wanted to be able to say, “Big Time Publisher X just gave me a three book deal. That must mean I’m a good writer.”

Well, no, not exactly.

Publishing is a business after all so that means the bottom line of a given company is first and foremost the concern of the people running it. That means that if they come across a writer who is only so-so when it comes to the actual mechanics of writing, but is writing on a subject that’s currently hot in the book market and can make them a lot of money, they’ll publish that writer, shitty prose and all.

You can write the most beautiful sentences in the world, but if your story isn’t considered salable by the marketing department of Big Time Publisher X, you’re not going to get a contract for your book. At least not from that particular publisher.

Now, I’m not saying my teenage rationale for wanting a traditional publishing contract is the rationale for all aspiring writers who go the legacy route. I’ve had many writer friends say to me, “I want a traditional book contract so I can get my work edited.” I don’t bother pointing out that more and more publishing houses are cutting editorial positions and outsourcing the work to freelance editors and I won’t get into that now – that’s for another post and another time.

Another one I get is, “I want a traditional publishing company to sign me so they can market my novel since I’m not good at self-promotion.” I have on occasion pointed out to the writers who say this that even if they score a contract from a New York publishing house, they’ll still be doing the majority of their book marketing themselves (especially as a newbie), but that always falls on deaf ears so I’ve stopped saying it. Let them believe that all they have to do is write the book, turn it in, and sit back and collect the royalty checks – not my career, not my business. They’ll learn soon enough how much self-promotion traditionally published writers have to do just to be midlist. (Hint: it’s pretty much the same amount of work indie authors have to do to be midlist.)

These are legit concerns that aspiring writers have. They don’t seem driven by ego or crippling insecurity. But I’ve seen writers say stuff like this:

·         I want a traditional publishing contract because I need the validation that someone besides my family and friends thinks I’m talented

and it saddens me. I am a firm believer that the only validation a writer should need is the validation they get from readers. Readers are the ones who spend their hard earned money on your work – not agents, not publishers, and certainly not other writers – and, therefore, their opinions are the only ones that should matter.

Talent is subjective. There are even many people who don’t believe talent exists. (I am not one of those people, but that too belongs in another post.) But if readers are buying your books and enjoying them, and you’ll know they’re enjoying them if they leave glowing reviews on all the online retailer sites and Goodreads or they’re blogging about your book, then those people think you’re talented or entertaining or something and that should be enough.

Again – if you’re a hobbyist writer, then this probably doesn’t matter to you, but if you’re trying to do this as a career, you have to get past the notion that only a legacy publisher can tell you if you’re good. Readers are the new gatekeepers in this digital age and they’ll let you know if something you’ve written is good or not by either buying it or ignoring it. (And yes, sometimes good books get ignored due to obscurity or bad covers or crazy pricing and quality of the project has little to do with it. I know.)

This publishing dilemma reminds me of a situation I found myself in after college. I couldn’t get a job at any newspaper in the country and I couldn’t pay magazines to run one of my freelance articles. I felt like a complete failure, not to mention angry at the amount of money I spent on a useless degree. So I applied to grad school for creative writing and when I was accepted into Sarah Lawrence’s Graduate Writing Program for Creative Non-fiction, I was thrilled. Somebody thought I could write! I wasn’t a hack after all – I was good.

Well, again, not exactly.

See, I believed this to be true when I deferred my acceptance so I could try and get enough money in scholarships and grants to attend and the school held my spot without question when I explained to them, nicely, that their financial aid package for graduates wasn’t going to “aid” me in doing anything other than accumulating more debt than I already had from my undergrad studies. I thought, “Gee, these people must really believe I’m a good writer if they’re willing to wait for me. They must really want me in this program.” I kept thinking it when I asked for a second deferment and was given it with no fuss. But if they’d really wanted me in the program because I was good, wouldn’t they have tried to adjust my financial aid package so I could afford to attend the school without going bankrupt in the process?

They wanted my money. That’s all. It had nothing to do with whether or not I was “good.” But I bought into that idea because I was naive about how MFA programs, and university admissions in general, actually work.

That same lack of understanding of the business side of publishing is what I believe makes people say the things I’ve mentioned above. These writers are operating under the assumption that the business still works the same way it did a decade or more ago – it doesn’t. And sure, you can tell writers to research the industry for themselves before committing to any particular path, but the problem with this is that every writer’s experience in the business is different so for writers who need clear, step-by-step instructions on how to go about doing this professionally, they won’t get it. The path to publication is not one size fits all. For every former traditionally published writer who now publishes his own work via Amazon and swears he will never go back to a New York house because of how horribly he was treated, there’s a former traditionally-pubbed author self-pubbing who’d gladly go back to a traditional contract if offered one.

Is it for validation’s sake? Advance money? It’s certainly not for rights and royalties because when you self-publish, you keep all of your rights and you get a higher royalty rate than if you were to go through a publisher.

I don’t know. All I know is that my first book just recently received its first review on Smashwords after months of radio silence and it was lovely. The review made me smile because the reader loved the characters, loved the setting, and said if there’s a sequel, he (she? The name was gender neutral) will most likely be getting it – and “most likely” is way better than a “probably.” It’s practically a “yes.” That’s the reaction I was hoping for and I now have at least one confirmed reader for the next book in the series.

Seriously – besides making a boatload of money, what other validation could be better than that?

Free Fiction: Dialogue Only Shorts

This story was originally submitted to the Bartleby Snopes Dialogue Only contest at the end of last month and it was probably the fastest rejection of a story I’ve ever received in my writing career. The turnaround time was the next day after the deadline – pretty sweet if you ask me. People ask me why I think it’s a good thing when stories are rejected quickly. I respond that it’s like the Band Aid thing – if you pull it off quickly, it hurts but the pain subsides just as fast. If you pull it off slowly, however, you’re just prolonging the hurt and who wants that? Plus, when a story’s promptly rejected, you can send it off to another publication for consideration or slap a cover on it, put it up on Amazon KDP and/or Smashwords, and start making money off it.

I chose not to do the latter because the story doesn’t really fit into the Amber Turner brand (though I do seem to keep coming back to the same subject matter of BDSM and dominatrix dens for whatever reason – maybe I was a Dom in a past life) – I’m making a name for myself as a humorous mystery writer so this story would be a little out of left field for the two readers that I’ve acquired since Preppy Little Liars debuted. I didn’t chose the former option because, well, there aren’t that many paying fiction markets that would accept a dialogue only story so I’m posting it here for free so people can see what not to do when submitting to these kinds of contests. If you like the story, feel free to comment, favorite it, tweet it – whatever. If you hate it, same thing.

 

 

Stop Talking

by

Amber Turner

 

Take your pants off and have a seat.

Okay. Thank you.

Lose the shirt and jacket too, Armani.

My name’s Cliff actually.

Don’t speak unless spoken to.

Oh, sorry.

Am I allowed to talk?

What do you want to talk about?

…I don’t really know. I’ve never done this before. I’m kinda nervous.

Well don’t worry, Virgin – I’ll walk you through it.

Oh, I’m not a virgin.

I was being flip.

Oh, right.

Is Mistress Payne your real name or is it like a pseudonym?

Did I give you permission to speak?

Sorry.

You don’t follow directions very well do you?

Am I supposed to answer that?

You might as well.

I don’t know. I guess not. My girlfriend claims I never really listen to anything she says because sometimes when she asks me to pick up something from the store, I’ll get there and forget and so I come home with a bunch of stuff she didn’t ask for. So I guess that’s like not following directions.

I zoned out somewhere around “girlfriend.”

Right. My bad. I tend to ramble when I get nervous.

How do you want to start – you want to stand and get shackled or stay seated?

I think I’ll stand. This seat’s kinda cold.

Do you want to be blindfolded or would you prefer to watch in the mirror?

I’ll try the mirror. I haven’t done that before. I haven’t been blindfolded either, but-

That question only required a one-word response.

Right.

Tell me what you want me to do to you.

…I guess whatever it is you do. Hey, these shackles are tight.

So are you. Unclench.

What?

Unclench. If you don’t and you stay tense, this isn’t going to be the pleasure/pain experience you’re hoping for. Relax.

Got it.

I’m going to start by using this riding crop. What safe word would you like to use?

Safe word?

Please don’t tell me you’re this vanilla. A safe word: something you say that lets me know that what I’m doing to you is too intense and you’d like me to stop. What do you want yours to be for this session?

Gretchen.

“Gretchen” is your safe word?

It’s my girlfriend’s name. Well, ex-girlfriend. We kinda broke up a week ago.

I can’t imagine why.

She didn’t dump me if that’s what you’re thinking. It was mutual. Okay, maybe more so on her end, but I agreed with her decision after I thought about it. We hadn’t been happy for a while-

Again, you’re speaking as if I care about your personal life. I only care about your sexual one. Now – do you want me to asphyxiate you while I work you over with the crop?

No, thank you. Do people really do that? Like, put bags over their heads or ropes around their throats while doing it? Ow!

Every time you speak without being spoken to first, I’m going to bring this crop down on you, is that clear?

Answer me.

Right. Yes.

Yes, what?

Yes, ma’am? Ow!

Yes, what?

Yes, Mistress Payne.

Very good. Now look at me and hold still.

…Ah…ow!

Do you like that?

Yes, Mistress.

If Gretchen saw me right now, she’d be pissed.

One more unsolicited word and I’m bringing out the ball gag.

Why are you looking at me like that? Yes, you’re allowed to answer.

It’s just that you kind of look like her from certain angles.

Oh dear God.

Sorry, it’s just throwing me a bit. Obviously she’d never dress like you or do stuff like this, but you kind of wear your hair the same way. And you’ve got the same scowl. Man, I miss her scowl.

Maybe you’re confused about where you are. Is there a shingle on my door that says “Dr. Payne?” Maybe I should pull up a couch from the hall and you could lie down while you’re at it?

Is that sarcasm? Ow! God, it was just a question.

You don’t get to ask questions, Cliff. You are the sub which means you shut up and do what I say and only speak when I allow you to, is that clear? Good. Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to unshackle you and you’re going to kneel down over in that corner. Normally I’d have you kneel on bags of rice, but since you’re a novice, I’ll start you off slow with just the concrete. Use your safe word if you need to.

Gretchen.

I didn’t even unchain you yet.

Yeah, I know, but I have bad knees from falling a lot as a kid so I don’t think this is going to work…Why are you sitting down?

I’m waiting for you to regale me with the fascinating tale of why you kept falling as a child. I figured it may take a while so I’d better get comfortable.

Well, it really was an interesting story. See, I grew up in a house on a hill and the way it was built, there was kind of a slope in the floor in some rooms in our house so since I wasn’t the most coordinated kid in the first place, whenever I’d run or walk real fast, I’d trip on a small mound and land on my knees…That was sarcasm again, wasn’t it?

Do you have Asperger’s?

Not that I’m aware.

Get tested immediately.

Do you even want to be here, Cliff? I mean, really – it’s your hour, you could spend it doing anything you’ve ever desired, and you’re standing here babbling about faulty limbs and your evil ex.

I didn’t say she was evil.

Whatever. The point is, you paid me to take you away from reality and yet you seem reluctant to leave it. So why bother?

Now you have nothing to say?

I don’t know why. I guess…maybe I wanted to be close to someone. I didn’t realize how much I needed that connection until I didn’t have it anymore. She was everything. She was the first person I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw at night. She was in my head when I was at work or with my friends and even now with you here looking like her, I can’t stop thinking about her. I feel like she ripped part of my chest out, threw it on the ground and stomped it to a pulp.

I’m being annoying again, huh?

No. I’m sorry.

Why? You didn’t dump me.

I’m sorry you’re hurting.

That’s funny coming from you.

I’m a funny girl.

Have you seen that movie? I love it. I know it’s not manly to admit, but Streisand, God-

Cliff? Go home.

Excerpt: Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers

amber cover noglow

                 WHEN DADDY COMES HOME

 

Opal Brown spit-shined the forks for that evening’s supper. She buffed out all the water stains with a crisp linen napkin. Her silverware needed to sparkle; dinner would be special.

Daddy was home. He’d been off living with some hot-butt trollop for three months. It didn’t last. He’d called that morning asking to come by and “see the girls.” Opal had told him to come around six.

He didn’t know she would make his favorites: pork loin, fried okra, and biscuits. She’d wanted to surprise him. She would put out the special dinnerware, not the cracked and discolored dishes they’d been used to. He’d get the plates and bowls with the silver trim finish – nothing but the best for him, see. She’d even do her hair up all fancy; dab on a little perfume. Just the way he liked.

Opal dressed the girls in their matching Sunday best even though it was a Tuesday.

They’d said they wanted to go live with Daddy, their lips poked out, wounded to be left behind. Opal had stroked their cheeks and said, “He’ll come back. He always do.”

She sat the girls one on either side of the table. Daddy sat at one end and Opal sat opposite.

The smell of peppery-lemon zest with an undertone of seared fat dripping in juices enveloped the room. Opal inhaled the aroma, satisfied. Dinner was done.

She donned her favorite oven mitts; the ones Daddy had given her on her birthday with little frosted cakes along the top, and took out the meat. She set the baking pan in the middle of the small table.

“Mmm,” she said. “Don’t that smell good, y’all?”

The girls and their Daddy stared at one another.

Opal pulled out her chair. She turned on her husband and winked. “Aren’t you glad you came back to us? The house just wasn’t the same without you, was it girls?”

She reached out and grasped one of each of her girls’ hands. The girls’ free hands rested inside their father’s open palms.

Opal wriggled in her chair to get comfortable.

“Now. Let’s all say grace.”

She bowed her head and thanked the Lord heavenly father for the meal they were about to receive, for each of her girls, but most of all, for the return of their daddy. Without him, there was no telling what Opal might do.

She ended her prayer with an “Amen”, then went around serving the food. When finished, she took her place back at the head of the table.

“I don’t want to boast you know, but I think this may be the best dinner I done made yet,” Opal said.

She smiled at her family. Their hands remained joined, but unfeeling; their full plates of food untouched; their eyes glazed over and unseeing.

She’d done good.

Opal stabbed up a forkful of moist meat and popped it in her mouth. She grinned.

Daddy was home. Just like she said he’d be. And that’s where they’d all stay.

Forever.

Get the full collection of Dark Tales NOW via Amazon and Smashwords.

Free Fiction: Dialogue Only Shorts

Flash fiction and short stories are quickly regaining popularity with reading audiences. Whether it’s a response to our collective shortened attention spans or new e-reading devices that make it easy to gobble up stories during daily work commutes, lunch breaks, or even before bed, these stories provide ample entertainment at a fraction of the time needed to devote to a novel.

Many short story markets, online and in print, accept experimental forms of fiction. There are also many contests for writers of short fiction, one of which is the Fifth Annual Bartleby Snopes Writing Contest: Dialogue Only, that had a September 15 deadline. The rules of this particular contest were simple: compose a short story under 2000 words entirely of dialogue using as many characters as the author would like without using narration or tag lines.

In honor of this contest, which Indie Spirit Press author Amber Turner has entered, our writers will be posting free, dialogue only flash/short fiction over the next week. The first story, “A Stiletto to the Heart” by Amber Turner,  author of Preppy Little Liars, is a mystery that deals with the murder of the proprietor of a dominatrix den.

We hope you enjoy the story and if you do, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you. Happy reading 🙂

 

A Stiletto to the Heart

by

Amber Turner

Who found her?

I did.

And she was alone?

Of course. I told you she doesn’t let anyone in her office.

How’d you get in?

The door was slightly open. I thought it was strange ‘cause she never keeps it open so I went in to see if she was okay.

So she was in her office when you found her?

I just said that. What do we do?

Nothing. Call the cops. Let them handle it.

Deacon, you know we can’t do that.

Because it’s a brothel?

We’re not a brothel.

Brothel, dominatrix den – same difference.

Your flippancy aside, you know the police won’t make the distinction. The cops come here and we’re fucked.

You’re fucked regardless. You have a dead body in the building – what are you gonna do, stuff her in a closet and hope none of your clients notice?

I’m really considering it right now.

She’ll start to smell.

Jesus. I can’t believe I’m standing here having this conversation.

You have a bigger problem.

…Which is?

If she was alone and no one is allowed in her office, who killed her?

Could it have been one of your clients?

No. No way. There was no one here.

How do you know? Did you check?

We close at midnight. She had to have died after that because I saw her go in her office when I showed out my last appointment.

What about the other Doms? Did they have appointments tonight?

Yes. And they all left before midnight. At least I think they did. I’m not sure.

So if it wasn’t a client who did it…

What?

…It was someone who works here.

No. Absolutely not!

How can you be sure when you just said you weren’t sure if everyone had left?

I just don’t see it.

Well, either someone here is the murderer or the place is haunted and a spirit offed her.

Very funny. Any second I’m bound to laugh.

I’m trying, but I don’t know what you want from me. You won’t consider the possibility that one of your coworkers killed your boss so what other option is there?

Maybe it was suicide?

She stabbed herself in the heart with a shoe?

…She could have fallen on it.

On the heel?

Okay, maybe not.

Look, Raven – I don’t know what you want me to do. I’m a reporter, not a lawyer, which is what you need right now.

Why would I need a lawyer?

Because you were the last person to see Adele Goodman alive and now she’s dead. You found her body and you didn’t immediately call the police. It’s going to look bad for you when the police are finally called in.

But I didn’t do anything wrong….Why are you looking at me like that?

Did you kill her?

What?!

Hey, I had to ask. You did find the body…that looks suspect.

I can’t believe you. I’m your sister – not a murderer. You should know me better than that.

I never said you were a murderer. I just had to know if you knew more than you were saying, that’s all.

Well I don’t. So are you going to help me or not?

Do I really have a choice? If I don’t and you get clinked, it’s gonna make for a very awkward Thanksgiving dinner with mom and dad.

…So where do we start?

We interview your colleagues. Has everyone gone home for the night?

Yeah.

Then we need to make some house calls. Get everybody back here.

I don’t like this, Deac.

You don’t have to like it, but it needs to be done. One of them killed your boss. If we don’t find out who did it before morning, you’re dead.

Sorry. Poor choice of words.

***

 

Why are we here, Raven?

Good question – I was in the middle of a soak in my hot tub.

And I was a seconds from sleep. You know I’ve got insomnia, girl. This better be good or I’m gonna be pissed in the morning.

Relax everybody. I’m going to explain why you’re all here in a minute, but first, I need to introduce you to my brother. This is Deacon. He’s a reporter for The Enquirer.

That’s nice. What’s that gotta do with us?

My sister found your boss in her office. Dead.

What?

How is this possible?

My God.

Is this a joke?

I knew I shouldn’t have got out my tub.

 

Everyone, please!

Thank you. Now, as I was saying. My sister found your boss dead and we called you all here because we believe-

Actually, my brother believes – I said I couldn’t see it being any of you.

Thanks for the clarification, Ray. Maybe you want to take over here?

No.

Then please – let me do my job without undercutting me.

I wasn’t undercutting you, I was just making a point.

Yeah, in front of the people you asked me to investigate.

Wait – we’re being investigated?

No.

But you just said we were. So either we are or we ain’t.

Do I need to call a lawyer?

You see what you just did?

Everybody, please calm down and listen.

This is not an official police investigation. I merely have a hunch and I’m examining it from every angle. It could be that this is a huge misunderstanding, a freak accident that can be easily explained once the cops get here and sift through the evidence. I just want to talk to all of you before this situation escalates – that’s all.

How’d she die?

Beg pardon?

You said Adele’s dead. How’d she die?

Well…

Geneva. My real name’s Geneva.

Well, Geneva, it looks like…it appears as though someone stabbed her with one of those heels you all wear.

A stiletto? How do you stab someone with a stiletto?

We don’t know, Gene. Deac’s going to look into that soon though, right?

Right. Though I want to stress that I’m not a detective – just a writer.

So Mr. Writer – are you gonna question us separately or is this gonna be a group trial?

I think it’s best to do individual sit downs.

So who’s first?

***

 

And your name is? For the record.

Shonda.

Hello, Shonda. Apologies again for pulling you out of your hot tub.

Eh.

So I guess I’ll start by asking when your last client left tonight. Or, last night rather.

I don’t know. I guess around eleven-fifteen. Maybe quarter after.

And did you go home immediately after your client left or did you stick around for a while?

I stayed to pack up my things and change out of my outfit. I’m not walking to my car in the middle of the night dressed like Tina Turner in Beyond Thunderdome, you know what I’m saying?

Yeah, that might be dangerous. So what time do you think it was when you left?

Probably about five minutes to midnight.

And did you see Adele at all between the time your client left and when you left?

Yeah, I check in with her every night after a client’s gone just to give her the rundown of what was up.

Is that standard with all employees or that just something you do?

Some of us do it. It’s not mandatory or nothing.

Is my sister one of the ones who stays behind to see Adele?

Not really, but she had a late one I think so that could be why she was still here.

You don’t think she did it, do you?

What?

Raven. Do you think she killed Adele?

I can’t really say.

Why not? She’s your sister. If her own brother thinks she’s a killer, that’s fucked up you know.

I don’t have an opinion one way or the other. I need to get all my facts straight first, then, I’ll be able to put the story together.

Whatever.

Do you know if Adele had enemies either externally or internally?

Did she have enemies? Of course she had enemies. She was a successful woman in a male-dominated trade. Most of the businesses around these parts that do business like ours are run by men. She didn’t take shit from any of ‘em and she certainly never had a problem telling people what was what.

She pissed off a lot of people?

All the time. But that’s what happens when a female tries to assert herself in the world. People are always looking to shut her down.

What about here? Did anyone who worked for her hate her?

I don’t know. I keep to myself for the most part; I don’t get into other people’s beefs. They handle they business and I handle mine.

I see. One last question – what size shoe do you wear?

…Eight and a half.

Thank you. You’ve been a lot of help.

 

***

 

Hi. What’s your name for the record?

Real or handle?

Beg pardon?

Do you want my real name or the name I use with my clients?

Oh – your real name’s fine.

It’s Idina.

So Idina, what time did your last appointment leave and when did you leave?

Do you mean what physical time we left?

Uh…is there another kind of time?

Yes. The metaphysical.

Then I meant, the um, original physical.

And are you asking if we left together or whether we left individually and at what physical, individual times we left the den?

I…think I was asking the latter.

Haha! Okay, that makes sense since I believe he and I both left here last night on a wholly different spiritual plane at different times. For him, it’s usually right before he climaxes, but for me, it’s usually when he’s at the height of his pain.

…Right. So, what time was this again?

The spiritual departure or the regular one?

Thanks, Idina. You’ve been…interesting.

 

***

 

You’re cute.

Well, thank you. Hm.

You don’t look like Raven. Are you sure you’re related?

That’s the story mom’s been sticking to the last thirty years.

Nice personality, too. You know, I know a guy who’d pay top dollar to get his hands on a man like you.

Oh, well, I prefer to be hands free these days.

He can do that, too.

Uh…let’s talk about your boss, shall we? I heard she had enemies – did you know any of these people and, in your opinion, would any of them hurt her?

Probably. But I’m guessing you think one of us did it, otherwise you wouldn’t have called us here in the middle of the night so what you’re really asking is, would any one of us hurt her? Maybe. If given the right circumstances.

And what would be the right circumstances to murder someone?

If they were stealing from you or blackmailing you for instance. If they were sleeping with your spouse or hurt your kid…some people would consider those murderable offenses.

Was Adele stealing from anyone or blackmailing them?

Maybe. I don’t know all the details, but I’ve heard some things.

Things like what?

That she was manipulating a few of the Doms here. To what end, I’m not sure – it wasn’t happening to me so I didn’t worry about it.

If you had to guess which one of you killed Adele, hypothetically speaking of course-

Of course.

But if you had to guess who did it, who would be your killer?

Nelson, definitely.

 

***

 

She said me? That bitch. She only said it because I’ve been pulling more clients lately and she’s a jealous, sour-faced hag trying to get me out of the way. Devious gash.

I didn’t say Pam accused you of murder exactly-

No, she just “hypothetically” threw me under the bus. I feel much better knowing that I just might be going to “hypothetical” prison. Bitch.

No one’s called the cops yet and there’s no evidence linking you to the crime yet, either.

Oh, but you think there will be? I thought you were supposed to be impartial while investigating.

I am impartial.

Please. I can see the accusations swirling in your beady little eyes.

My eyes aren’t beady.

Whatever helps you get through the day.

Anyway – back to the dead body in the building.

Ugh, don’t even remind me. You said Raven found her in her office on the floor?

Yeah.

That’s a damn shame. You know she had this brand new Persian rug put in about three weeks ago? Blood is a bitch to get out of carpet.

Yeah, that’s the worst part of somebody being murdered in cold blood – ruining the carpet.

So true.

Nelson, are you the only man who works here?

Yes sir I am.

And you’re a Dom, too?

Yes, for our female subs and the men of a certain…persuasion.

You mean gays?

No, I mean cyclists. Of course I mean gays. Honey, I’m gay if you hadn’t noticed.

I try not to prejudge.

Well, you’d be the first.

How much do you weigh?

What the hell kind of question is that? You can’t be asking about my weight!

Why not?

Because it’s inappropriate.

Everything’s appropriate to ask in a murder investigation. And if you don’t answer now, I’ll just find out anyway when they cart you off to jail and I sneak a peek at your driver’s license.

You have no decency. Fine. I’m about one ninety, give or take a few extra pounds.

Good. And how tall are you?

Tall enough.

Okay, I’m about six feet even.

What size shoe do you wear?

An eleven, twelve. Depends on the make of the shoe.

Did you have any issues with Adele Goodman?

Sometimes, but she was a pain in the ass to a lot of people. That doesn’t mean I killed her.

Yeah, I know. Why was she a pain in the ass?

Do you have five hours?

Give me the Spark Notes version of events, please.

Sure. She and I occasionally sniped at one another because she was a bitch and game recognizes game, Deacon. Don’t ever forget that.

I wrote it down in my notebook.

Adele had the type of mouth that could get you in trouble if you ran it off to the wrong person. I didn’t hold grudges against her, we said our peace and moved on from our little tiffs, but some of the others couldn’t let shit go.

Who were the others?

Uh-uh. I know what you’re trying to get me to do, but unlike Pam, I’m a classy bitch – I don’t sell other bitches out.

Right. What about Pam’s other claim? That Adele was manipulating some of the girls? Can you talk about that?

Not too much because I don’t know all the ins and outs of it, but a couple months back she started taking big cuts from some of the girls’ side business.

Side business?

Yeah. See, the thing about us is, we used to be a club that was sex free for the most part. When I got here, it was purely power play that was happening. Sex was something other dens were doing, but it was a big no-no here.

When’d you start working here?

Five or six years ago. About three years into it, some of the girls decided to up the ante so to speak to compete with the other businesses that provide our kind of entertainment with a lot less regulation. Adele turned a blind eye to it at first – we had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when the money started coming in – but when she saw how lucrative the side stuff was becoming, she wanted a cut. So she took a small percentage of fees for the use of her den and that was that. Everybody was happy. But then a couple months ago, someone was shaking her down for cash, I don’t know why, and she started demanding seventy percent of the revenue from the side shows.

That’s a lot of money.

Who are you telling? A lot of people were not pleased with that and Adele just wouldn’t budge. She said they either paid their cut or she’d cut ‘em loose.

So, uh…who all was getting money taken?

Don’t worry – I don’t think Raven was one of ‘em. She seems old school to me – purely into the power play stuff, nothing extra.

Out of all the disturbing things I’ve heard and seen tonight, that was most comforting, thanks.

I like to be of service…You have wonderful bone structure. Have you ever considered “gay for pay?”

Thanks, Nelson. Send in Geneva, please.

 

***

 

This is so surreal.

I guess it would be. I’m sorry for your loss.

Thank you. I still can’t believe she’s dead. Are you sure?

Quite sure.

Did you see the body?

Not yet, but my sister did and I doubt she’d drag me here on a lark.

Maybe…

What?

Maybe Raven did it? She did find the body after all.

Maybe. I talked to her before everyone got here.

And did she say she was innocent?

Yeah, but so did everyone else. And I bet you’re going to say the same thing.

Yes, because it’s true. I loved Del, she was like a mother to me.

In what way?

She took care of me – all of us – but we had a bond that was deeper than that. I trusted her and she trusted me.

I see. What about enemies? Do you know if any of the other Doms had reason to want Adele dead? Besides my sister, of course.

No. Well…

What?

Geneva, what is it?

I don’t want to say anything, but I can’t not speak up if I know something that might help catch Del’s killer right?

Right.

Okay. Well, yesterday I heard her and Nelson arguing about money. I only heard snatches of the conversation so I couldn’t tell you what it was about, but I know Pam’s name was brought up…I think she may have complained about him to Del and Del called him on the complaint.

Did Nelson argue with Adele a lot?

Oh yeah. Those two were constantly going at it. They’re both really strong personalities.

How so?

Nelson doesn’t back down when he thinks he’s right and neither does she.

So in your opinion, was Adele difficult enough to want to kill?

No. She wasn’t the most pleasant person and she did things that weren’t always decent, but you’d have to be a pretty twisted person to think that was a reason to kill someone.

What size shoe do you wear, Geneva?

A seven. Have you checked the size of the murder weapon? Is that why you asked?

Not yet, but I was going to. You’re very observant.

Not really, I’ve just seen a lot of Law & Order reruns so I kind of know how interrogations go.

This wasn’t an interrogation. It was just two people talking.

Oh, I know. I’m only saying that the circumstances are similar, that’s all.

Do you think you know who did it yet?

Sorry, what?

No, I’m sorry. I saw you reading your notebook just now and I thought maybe you were piecing together the mystery and had a name.

Oh. I have a theory, but it may be way off base. Won’t know for sure until I see the body.

Have you called the cops?

Not yet, but I will once I get an idea of who did it. It’ll have to be a discreet call to my friend Tom.

Is your friend a cop?

Yeah, he works the Vice beat.

Vice? You can’t call in Vice.

Relax – he’s not on duty tonight. He’d come, but he’d only bring one other cop to back him up so it doesn’t turn into a circus out here.

And he would do this for you just because you’re friends?

We’ve known each other since high school. He knows Raven – he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her and getting her workplace raided would fall into the hurting her category.

I see. Well, that sounds like a pretty good idea then.

Yeah, don’t worry, Geneva. I’ve got everything under control.

 

***

 

So who did it, Deac?

What? You can’t be in here. Get out.

Why? I found her, remember?

Yeah, but you’re also a suspect, or at least you’re supposed to be, and how’s it gonna look to everyone else you being in here with the dead body talking to the guy who’s supposed to be impartially questioning them about the murder?

Who cares what they think? One of them’s a murderer and I don’t want to be left alone to get killed with another shoe.

I don’t think the shoe did it.

What do you mean?

I mean, I don’t think it’s the real murder weapon. Come here.

What am I looking at?

This. It’s a hole in the chest bigger than the size of the heel.

So?

So, whoever killed her shot her first and then put the shoe in the hole to make it look like that’s what killed her. See?

I’m not touching that stiletto.

Did you hear a gunshot after your client left?

No, but our changing rooms are down in the basement and Adele’s office is soundproof. She wanted pure quiet when she was doing the numbers.

Did she keep a gun in the office?

I think so. But she never used it, it was mainly to scare off some of our more disturbed clientele that couldn’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy and wouldn’t leave. I never thought it was loaded.

Where would she keep it, in her desk you think?

Maybe. You can look.

It’s not here.

Shit.

This is bad.

No kidding.

No, this is very bad. Look – this stiletto is a size twelve. Nelson wears a size twelve.

Oh my God, I recognize it now. Nelson killed her?

That’s what it looks like, but I don’t think so.

Then who did?…Who are you calling?

Tom.

 

***

 

My friend from Vice is on his way here with backup.

You called Vice? Have you lost your mind?

Calm down, Shonda. He’s a good friend. He’ll get the coroner over here to pick up the body and he’ll discreetly arrest the killer of Adele Goodman.

So you think it was one of us?

I know it was.

Who was it?

The stiletto found in Adele’s chest belonged to Nelson.

That’s bullshit!

I knew he did it.

Oh my God.

I never liked him.

I knew I shouldn’t’ve answered my phone.

 

Everyone, listen!

The shoe was Nelson’s, but it wasn’t what killed Adele. And I don’t think he put it there.

So then what the hell happened? Don’t keep us in suspense, fool. We got a murderer up in here!

Thank you, Shonda, I wasn’t aware of that fact. Anyway, whoever really killed Adele wanted it to look like Nelson did it to throw anyone off their scent. But when going over all of the interviews, something stood out to me. You were the only one with familiarity to the victim.

Excuse me? That’s absurd.

No, Geneva, it’s not. See, when I got here and asked Raven where she found the body, she said she found Adele in Adele’s office and that your boss never let anyone into the office. The door was ajar so either someone busted it open or Adele let the murderer in. And since the door-jamb wasn’t broken and the lock wasn’t picked or locked I might add, that cemented my theory that the murderer was someone Adele trusted. You said it yourself, Geneva – you and “Del” as you called her had a deep relationship. She trusted you and you trusted her. The fact that you were the only one to call her by a nickname also lends credence to your assertion that your relationship with her was much deeper than her relationship with anyone else’s. But how deep exactly?

I don’t have to listen to this.

Yeah, you kind of do. Nelson?

What are you doing?! Get out of my way!

You took my shoe and put it in somebody’s chest? You ain’t going nowhere but to jail and if I find out it was one of my Bottega’s you stole, we just might have another dead body on our hands, y’all.

I know that’s right.

Don’t encourage him, Shonda.

Whatever.

Hey, settle down! There will be no more murders here tonight. My friend’s on his way – please don’t make him have to call in more police.

Why’d you do it, Geneva?

Don’t ask questions you already know the answers to, Raven.

But I don’t.

I trusted her. She promised me when I got here that she would take care of me. I gave her everything I had…everything. And she used me; played me for a fool. I wasn’t bringing in any of the side business money so she had no more use for me. She said she was dumping all of us who weren’t involved in bringing extra revenue to the den.

What? She said that?

She didn’t tell you? Well, she was a liar to the end I guess. She said you already knew that she was dumping us. I tried to reason with her, to get her to see that this club is all I have, that she was all I had, but she wouldn’t listen. She tried to throw me out. She pulled that gun out on me that she kept in her desk. I couldn’t believe it. It’s one thing to tell me to leave, but to treat me like I was just some stranger on the street that she didn’t give a shit about? After everything we’d been through…I snapped. We struggled for a minute and I don’t know how it happened, but I heard the gun go off. She hit the floor. I panicked so I took the gun and ran out of the room. I was going to leave, but I saw Raven’s car outside and I couldn’t leave her alone with the body. It was an accident. I didn’t want you to get blamed for it.

But you were going to let me take the fall?

Well, yes – no one really likes you so it made the most sense.

You bitch.

I snuck into the basement and Nelson’s cubby was the first one there. I grabbed his shoe, the pink one with the rhinestones on the heel-

The Louboutins?! Oh, you need to go under the jail!

I took it back to her office and stuck it in her. I knew if the cops were called, they would notice the difference in size between the wound and the shoe heel. I just didn’t think you would.

But you thought I’d see the shoe, know that it was Nelson’s because I was asking about sizes, and just assume it was him?

Why’d you come back here? If you went to all that trouble to frame someone else for Adele’s murder, why come when I called you?

Because if she didn’t, then it would have been obvious that she was the real killer. She couldn’t risk being exposed so soon. Am I right?

Hey, the door was open. Deacon, what’s going on? You said there’s a dead body here and murderer?

Yeah, Tom – in the back office. My sister’s boss. She was shot. And that’s the killer.

…Her? Is this a joke?

Lover’s quarrel gone wrong. You can take her.

Jesus. Okay, let’s go. Chris, go to the office and check the damage.

Right.

So, what do we do now?

I don’t know, Ray. I guess I’ll go write a story about this, changing names and vaguing up some of the details so you guys don’t get busted, and you’ll go find a new job and hope your next boss doesn’t get murdered.

…Sometimes I can’t even believe we’re related.