Thirty-Seven Questions For Writers

3534516458_48e4e8595f_z The questions came to light from my reading of BD Hesse’s blog. They originally came from

  1. Why do I want to be published? For me, being “published” doesn’t necessarily mean being published by a traditional publisher, as some of the next questions indicate. The reason I want my stories to be out there in the wild, is because I believe that I have a gift to share. That’s not meant to sound pretentious, but it might. I come from a long line of story tellers and I want to continue that tradition. Publishing allows me to do that with a larger group of people. I also want to make a living from these efforts. Thus, publishing. Where many of these questions say “publishing” for me I will be thinking “a successful career as a published author”.
  2. What type of writing will I to focus on? I love to play in a variety of genres and mix them up. So, I guess the answer to this is the big umbrella of fiction. I don’t really have a desire to write non-fiction on a regular basis. Though I would, given an opportunity.
  3. What expectations do I have for myself as a writer? To improve and increase my output until I feel that the latter isn’t possible any more. The former is always possible.
  4. Are my expectations realistic? So long as I continue to write on a fairly regular basis, yes.
  5. What is my ultimate goal for my writing? My ultimate goal is to please a whole mess of people with my stories. Somewhere between now and this ultimate goal I hope to make a living from it as well.
  6. What knowledge do I have about the publishing process? I was once upon a time part of a small, ragtag bunch of rogue publishers. Thus, I know a fair amount. I have a lot to learn.
  7. What areas of the publishing process do I need to research more? I would say the marketing end of the publishing process.
  8. What time of day am I the most productive? Mid-day and provided I get enough sleep, between nine and eleven in the evening.
  9. What kind of writing schedule will I keep? I write at lunch nearly every day during the week and try to carve out some tiems on the weekend.
  10. Which authors do I most admire, and why? Of the ones in my sphere, I admire Paul Cooley, Terry Mixon, and Jake Bible to name only three of many. They all have the workmanlike approach that I strive to achieve and they’re great storytellers.
  11. How would I describe my writer’s voice? I think I’m still finding it, but I like to blend humor and realistic characters and put them in situations that challenge them as human beings. They may fail or they may succeed, but in striving they learn what it means to be human.
  12. What do I really know? How can I apply my real world knowledge and experience to my writing? As a career IT professional and a person who’s had many jobs and a rich life, I find it easy to think outside of my own head. I still have a long way to go in writing believable characters that are “other” than me, but I will always try.
  13. What skills do I have that will help me move toward publication? I know a lot about what it takes to make and put out a good story. I’m learning what good covers and layout look like.
  14. What skills do I lack that I must improve if I want to be published? My writing craft must continually evolve.
  15. What kind of professional development will I pursue? I will go to workshops, continue networking with other authors, and read, read, read.
  16. What roadblocks am I likely to face in my road to publication? Dedication. Making the time I have count.
  17. What is my contingency plan if I can’t get published? I don’t have a plan B. Self publishing isn’t a plan B and it shouldn’t be for anyone. It should be part of plan A.
  18. How will I build a platform–for either fiction or non-fiction? I’ve been working on that through podcasting and social media, but mainly it’s write, write, and write some more.
  19. What goals will I set for today? This week? This month? This year? I suck at setting goals and hitting them. My goal for this year is 350,000 words. That means I need to write about 30,000 words a month, 7,500 a week, a little over 1,000 a day.
  20. What am I doing to increase my exposure, even before I am published? Hosting podcasts, interacting with other writers, blogging.
  21. How do I plan to maintain my motivation during the rough times? My family is a big help. And having Patrons and fans who already believe in me.
  22. How will I deal with friends and family members who are not supportive of my writing? I don’t have this problem, but if I did I’d love them anyway.
  23. How will I financially support myself (and my family, if applicable) while I pursue publication–and even afterward? I have a day job and will continue to leverage those skills until I don’t need to anymore.
  24. Where will I go for writing support–critique groups, forums, etc.? I have a couple of Facebook groups that I’m part of and I have many good friends that are creative. I do want to find a local group.
  25. What might I need to give up to make this all happen? I need to at least reduce my TV intake and “lazy” time.
  26. Where will I/do I write, and is it the most effective place? I really find that I’m able to write anywhere, though having a writing shed would be nice.
  27. How do I plan to take care of myself physically and mentally during my writer’s journey? Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and maintain some level of down time.
  28. Am I a plotter or a pantser, and is my current system working for me? I do a bit of both. For short stories I pants. For novels I plot more. I feel like that’s working for me.
  29. Will I focus on gaining minor publishing credits first (short stories, poetry), or jump right into full-length books? I do a mix of both right now.
  30. Under what circumstances, if any, will I decide to give up? I hope to never give up.
  31. Will I consider self-publishing? I’ve considered and done it. See my links at the top.
  32. What feeling do I want readers to get from what I write? It depends, but I always want them to identify with the characters.
  33. What are the most effective ways for me to get inspired? Reading, people watching, listening to everything around me.
  34. Will I write by hand or on a computer? Will I use a word processor or specialized writing software? I’m a computer geek and find writing longhand to be tedious. I have had some success with keeping an idea book.
  35. What are the biggest struggles I face in this journey, and how do I plan to overcome them? My own personal demons; self doubt, laziness, and depression. I’m overcoming them with help from family, medication, and good self care.
  36. How can I make my writing more authentic, more genuine? I don’t want to chase trends. I don’t want to win awards. I just want to tell the stories that come spilling out. That may result in my being part of a trend or winning an award, but those aren’t my goals.
  37. Will I enter writing contests, or not bother? I don’t see the point in them.

How would you answer these questions?


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Photo by Marco Belluci

This Content Is Clean!

movie_rating_labels_by_fairyfindings-d45tuzt So there’s this bonfire among the writing community blogosphere involving an app called Clean Reader. This is from its blog:

Clean Reader prevents swear words in books from being displayed on your screen. You decide how clean your books should appear and Clean Reader does the rest.

This is, as one of my friends pointed out, CleanFlicks for books. The first blog post I saw came from one of my favorite firebrands, Chuck Wendig. His blog post, which is gloriously “unclean”, has some legitimate points. If they are a) making changes to ebooks and reselling them without the consent of the publisher or b) selling books that are no longer available then this isn’t legal as far as I can tell.

If, as their copy says, they are filtering books without making changes to them, then as stupid as I think this idea is, I don’t see the problem. When a television channel airs an edited copy of a movie, no one screams bloody murder. They have permission and authorial intent be “darned”, they will make sure that your family doesn’t hear any naughty words or see any naughty bits.

I do plan downloading and trying it out. I’m curious to see what the whole deal is. I don’t plan on using it outside of curiosity, since I believe that an author’s work should be consumed unchanged. If words or images offend you, then it’s on you to see that you don’t consume those things (or that you get offended and then perhaps grow as a person).


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Writing Tools

Tools I was asked by a friend of mine, who’s interested in upping his writing game, if I had anything like a creative writing course syllabus. I had to answer in the negative. I’ve never taken a creative writing course. I’m largely self taught. Instead, I sent him some links to tools that I use. I figured that was better than a kick in the shins. They’re all tools/approaches that I’ve used in the past. Since I’d love it if everyone who touched pen to paper, or fingers to keyboards, would use them I’ll share them with you. Please leave any of your favorites in the comments.

Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet isn’t as dirty as it sounds. It breaks the traditional three act structure into manageable pieces. This link takes you to a site explaining it. There is also a link to a book by Blake Snyder that I’ve heard good things about.

EshoStClaireCvr-CSThe Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot is a formula for writing a 6,000 word pulp short story. Now, I know what you’re thinking. A formula? But no one says you have to follow it word for word. I used the essence of it for The Casebook of Esho St. Claire.

The Snowflake Method is something I’ve used for years. You don’t have to follow it religiously, but for those of you who would like to learn how to build an outline for a novel, this is probably the easiest way I’ve seen to do so.

Here are some blogs and podcasts that I use as well. Listening to and reading about how other authors do it is invaluable.

The Blood Red Pencil
Business Rusch
Killing Sacred Cows series by Dean Wesley Smith

I Should Be Writing
The Dead Robots’ Society (Full disclosure, I’m on this one.)
Get Published


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House of Phobos – A New Anthology And Potential Paying Market

ScottRoche-Phobia-Tease I’m putting together what I hope will be an ongoing series of anthologies called “The House of Phobos”. Each one will contain five or six of my short stories, each one tackling a different phobia. In the depths of darkness last night, it occurred to me, why stop there?

If you would be interested in contributing art, poetry, or flash fiction that tackles the subject of fears/phobias, let me know. I have a small budget and could open a few slots to start. From there we could see how it goes. Leave a comment or shoot me an email and we can talk about how it would work.

Pocket Full of Quarters

COBREcentavosecuador2000-2 When I was a wee lad, there existed these temples to entertainment. For a mere quarter you could be transported to another world. You took your change and turned it into electronic dreams. I speak, of course, about video game arcades. Now there’s something like that for short fiction fans. Writer and hoopy frood Kris Neidecker clued me in on this new and interesting venue for short stories. It’s called QuarterReads.

Writer and software developer, Ian Rose, saw a gap in the short story market. I’ll let him tell you:

On one side, there were the traditional magazines, online and off. Tightly edited and designed, difficult to break into and subject, for better and worse, to the tastes and preferences of the editorial staff. On the other, there was self-publishing, a free-for-all with no barrier to entry, no gatekeeper, and no quality assurance. The space between began to seem to me less like a niche and more like a gaping hole, and both my writer and developer brains got excited about the idea of building something to nestle right into it. A few months later, QuarterReads was born. We launched on October 14, 2014. There are a few reviewers and various helpers that work on the site, but it remains my baby and if there are any problems with it, I take full responsibility for them.

So how does it work?

The other thing that sets QuarterReads apart is our royalty structure. As the name suggests, each story on QuarterReads costs one quarter, 25 U.S. cents. Readers who sign up with QuarterReads pay $5.00 (USD) for 20 reads. Every time they decide to read a story, the reader spends one of their reads. Of that 25 cents, 22 are paid into the writer’s account. That’s 88%. Also, if the reader loves a story, they can “tip” the author either 1, 2 or 4 reads (equivalent to $0.25, $0.50 or $1.00) and 100% of those tips go straight to the writer.

If you’re interested, have a look. I put a story up there. It’s “The Good Doctor”, an alt-western fantasy piece, with werewolves and a doctor that’s not so good. And maybe not a doctor. All the stories on the site are under 2,000 words. I’ve got some flash pieces that clock in under a single k that I can beef up to the site limit. Is that something you as a reader would be interested in?

Leave me a comment and let me know.

Full of Crap

full of crap As a co-host of the Dead Robots Society, I can tell you that a large number of our topics come from our listeners. Wolf Roark, a good friend and a man whose picture is next to lovable curmudgeon in the dictionary, recently asked one that resonates with me.

How do you keep the crap that happens in the real world from affecting the story you’re trying to tell?

Now, this question can be taken in a couple of ways. I’m going to answer in both ways that spring to mind:

Way the First – I’m a husband, a father, someone with a day job, and in general just a busy dude. In short, there’s a LOT of crap in my life. Things that take time. Things I waste time on. Things I actually have to do. All of that stuff can get in the way of telling the story, much less actually getting the story written down. There are a couple of ways you can prevent that from happening:

Have A Schedule – Much of the crap that gets in the way has its own schedule. I have to be at work at a certain time. The kids have a bed time. We eat dinner at roughly the same time every day. Why should writing be any different? I write nearly every day at lunch. This is a habit I’m trying to cultivate and am having some degree of success at. I also try to write at the end of the day, but that’s possibly the worst time to do it for me personally. If any crap hits the fan then writing isn’t going to happen. That’s why I don’t rely on having that time to write. It’s like a bonus. So you need to find the best time of day for you to write.

Be Flexible – This may seem to contradict the schedule thing. For me, it gives me some freedom. I used to write almost nothing. Months would go by and nary a word would I commit to paper/electrons. When I finally decided to “get serious” I would start of grand and then something would go to crap. I’d feel guilty, get discouraged, and give up for a few weeks. Now, if life interferes, I let it. Then I remember that writing can happen and WILL happen the next day. I don’t let that trap of guilt and shame slow me down.

Get Buy In – Make sure that the people in your life know how important writing is to you. My wife, God bless her heart, will go to great lengths to make sure that I know that it’s writing time. She hasn’t taken the nuclear options of stealing the remote or hiding my beer, but those cards are on the table.

Way the Second – It is entirely possible he meant “how do you keep current events or the crap at work from creeping in to the stories you’re writing?”.

I say, don’t stand in the way of those things. Inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places. Everything from the origin of the story itself to events in the story can and should be somewhat fluid. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, you can leave room open to being affected by that song you heard or that movie you watched. These days I think that can be particularly useful if you happen to be writing political thrillers, but every genre can and should tackle the sort of events and issues that we run into in our daily lives.

Then there are the things that happen in my personal life. Being a father and a husband has done nothing but make my writing better/richer/deeper. I let those things in. I draw events and interactions into my stories. I feel like that will help them resonate with people.

The Final Thing – It’s entirely possible that I’ve missed the point of his question. Or that you’re inspired to ask a new question or answer the question he seems to have asked yourself. Please do! That’s what comments are for.

Image Credit


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Gender In Writing

A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1 I’ve been studying both French and Spanish over the last few months. I was fluent in French at one point and am working to regain that. I’ve never studied Spanish, but I’m finding that the dribs and drabs I’ve picked up over the years is leaking out of my brain and gaining flesh as I study. I’m using a combination of the Duolingo app/website and the podcasts produced by Radio Lingua.

One thing this study has reminded me of is the concept of gendered nouns (regardless of whether or not the physical object has a gender), and the fact that both languages change the spelling of adjectives based on the gender of that noun they describe. I wondered if that was changing at all in practice the way that it is, to a lesser degree, in English. While we don’t have gendred nouns per se, I can’t help but think how I’ve gone from saying “fireman” to “fire fighter” and “policeman” to “police officer”. There’s another change in usage that I’ve noticed. Certain masculine words like “waiter” are supplanting their feminine versions entirely, in spite of efforts to create words like “waitron“. Then there’s the question of pronouns. All three languages I speak have “him” and “her”, but the only gender neutral term I know of is the English word “it”.

The more I read when it comes to gender issues and the use of descriptors like cis-gendred and genderqueer to name but two that are new to me, the more I wonder if this neutrality trend is good or bad (or neither). As someone who writes some science fiction, I think about how to use language like this in my stories. It’s somewhat pointless to try and be accurate about how we’ll speak in twenty, fifty, or a hundred years. No one can be sure how language will evolve in the coming decades. We only know that it will. Still, it’s fun to think about. Then there’s the matter of respect for the communities that use those terms currently.

Given the choice between using words that are gender neutral, gender specific, or applying the current gender specific masculine (or feminine) term to the broader group; how do you address that in your writing? Does that depend on your genre and audience, or do you have a rule that applies to all of your writing?

“A TransGender-Symbol Plain1″. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons –

The End of the World

This is a piece of audio I wrote and read as an addendum to Flagship, a webzine that I was happy, so very happy to be a part of for two years. It took me down memory lane and I thought I’d share it with you lovely people, especially since most of you didn’t get the chance to listen to it the first time around.

The Teacher

Here’s my latest entry in my ongoing serial horror piece. This one creeped me out.

I’m interested in suggestions for a title for this work. Drop any suggestions in the comments.

Abe popped the gel coated tablets into his mouth and chased them with a slurp of the red wine he’d bought earlier that day. It had been a hell of a week at school and he felt like he needed a break. He walked over to the fireplace, glass in hand, and hit the ignition button on the fireplace. Peace and quite, an adult beverage, and the flickering of the gas logs were only the first course.

He relaxed into the easy chair, relishing the feeling of his skin against the leather. It was cool at first, but it soon warmed to body heat. He was a little disappointed that he had to enjoy this time alone. He’d hoped to have a date to share the pictures with, but the person he had in mind was being investigated. They’d have to lay low for a while. Abe had been enjoying his hobby for twenty years and knew what precautions to take. His friend was newer to the passion and may not be as well schooled in what to do and what not to do. That could be very bad for him.

Abe had slipped up once and it had nearly cost him his job. It had cost him his marriage and he needed to really be careful, but that was all water under the bridge. He grabbed his tablet from the table nearby and opened the texting window. The face that looked back at him was angelic. The boy, Charlie, was a junior in Abe’s French II class. His grades weren’t the best and when he needed extra help, Abe had been very understanding. After all, bad grades could cost him his spot on the football team and without that there would be no college scholarship.

Soon he and Charlie had quite the friendship. Abe had never taken it any farther than that. It had been tempting, but that was part of being careful. He’d used all of his knowledge of Charlie’s likes and dislikes to build Rachel’s profile. Rachel was seventeen, had flaming red hair, and was an average student. She told Charlie that she attended a school across the state and had heard about him in the newspaper. She friended him on Twitter and soon the two were exchanging emails, texts, and direct messages. Cultivating the relationship hadn’t taken long. Getting it to the point where Charlie was sending him naked pictures had gone fairly quickly. Once he had those, it was easy to take it further. Now he had pictures of Charlie’s friends taken in the locker room and even had a video of varsity cheerleading coach Dana going down on Charlie in the back of her Passat. All Abe had to do was convince Charlie that this was the sort of thing Rachel got off on. In return he sent Charlie pictures of Rachel getting off. That had been a piece of cake since everything of Rachel’s came from one of those “barely legal” sites.

Soon he would take it to the next level. He had plans to “discover” the online relationship and threaten to reveal it to Charlie’s parents. That, plus all of the pictures, especially the secret locker room snaps, would turn the young man into his slave. It was the long con, but the little nibbles along the way, the pictures and videos, made the wait worthwhile. He’d been unable to really look at any of the pictures Charlie had sent this week and settled in to appreciate them.

When he opened the folder he nearly shrieked. All of the pictures had been replaced by one photo repeated over and over again. The barrel of a gun pointed at a camera’s lens. “I don’t understand.” He was about to put the tablet down when his muscles started to cramp. He gripped the device in spasming hands. Any tighter and he might crack the screen.

A window opened on the screen and it was Charlie’s face, but only the mouth moved. It wasn’t Charlie’s mouth. “I see that the medication has taken effect. There was a ‘mistake’ and your regular dose of anti-anxiety meds was replaced with something a little fiercer. The man I received your information from had planned to make your outing a little more public. So I expect you would thank me. If you were able to form words.”

Abe could no longer feel his hands.

“I don’t usually kill people, but in your case I’ve decided to make an exception. I can be convinced otherwise. If you understand, grunt once like a pig.”

Abe tried very hard and forced air through his throat and out of his mouth.

“You’re looking at the barrel of a gun. You like young men to put their ‘barrel’s’ in your mouth. I say you combine the two and take the barrel of that .357 you keep in your drawer and put it in your mouth. Pull the trigger and everything bad will go away.”

Abe wanted to scream. There was no way he’d kill himself. Suicides went to hell and he had no desire to end up there.

“I know. I know. Killing yourself is hard. Here’s what will happen if you don’t. You’re thinking to yourself that the next words out of my mouth will be that I’ll make your little secret public. If I wanted that then I would have let your eventual blackmailer live. I don’t want your victims to be hurt by your sickness. However you choose to die, I’ll wipe every file you have. No one will know about your indiscretions. That I promise you.”

Abe was able to narrow his eyes.

“What’s the alternative? I’ll kill you. It will be slow. And painful. You’ve made a life out of stripping people of theirs. After you lose your pictures I will see to it that all of the care you’ve taken in building a respectful life will fall down around your ears. You will wish that you killed yourself. Then, one day, a person will come to you with a package. That will take your what’s left of your life from you, but only after you’ve lest everything you live for.” Charlie’s face faded from the tablet’s screen.

Abe sat there for exactly seventeen minutes, until feeling began to come back to his fingers and toes. He felt the tears trickle down his face. He could either take his life, or he could leave it for this monster to take. “What kind of choice is that?” He screamed to the empty house.

He managed to stand after another ten minutes. He dragged himself to the kitchen using walls and furniture for support. A splash of cold water on his face convinced him that this whole mad experience wasn’t a dream. “There’s no way someone could take my life from me. I’ve been so careful. I’ve followed all of the rules.”

The tablet beeped at him from the next room. He stumbled to the chair and picked it up in time to see icons began to disappear. The tablet rebooted. “You could get to that. Of course you could. I have other places. I’ve hid them where no one can find them.” Feeling began to return fully to his extremities. The pins and needles threatened to drive him crazy. He ran as best he could to his office. The computer there was clean. He clicked on a link that took his web traffic through layer after layer of obfuscation. Eventually he reached a computer located in another country. It was there that he stored a number of his dearest files.

When the barrel of a gun looked at him from the screen, he pushed back. “There’s no way. You can’t have gotten everything.” He’d spent years building relationships and getting the things he wanted most. They were slipping through his fingers. If the person could get to all of his files and get into his home and switch his medicine, what couldn’t he do?”

Abe dragged himself to his kitchen and pulled down the bottle of scotch. He unscrewed the cap and turned the bottle up to his mouth. The liquor burned his throat. Drink and more pills took him to a sleep devoid of dreams.

He woke up the next morning, hung over and sure that everything he experienced had been a horrid dream. He started to go to his computer when the phone rang. He jumped like he’d been hit with a cattle prod. He answered it on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Abe? This is Principal Faulkner. We need to talk about something.”

Abe shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. “What is it, sir?”

“Abe, we’ve known each other for years. You’re one of the best teachers I have and I want you to hear it from me first. You’re being suspended, pending an investigation.”

They’d found out. The bastard that poisoned him had lied. He worked hard to keep his tone level. “Sir, Walter, I don’t know what this is about.” He came close to babbling out an excuse, but the principal hadn’t told him why he was being suspended.

“It’s probably nothing. We got a call from a parent and there’s some concern that you’ve been helping children to cheat on tests.”

A giggle burst out from Abe’s lips.

“You think this is funny?”

Abe cleared his throat. “Of course not, sir. I know how important reputation is. I just don’t see how you could possibly believe…”

“We have to treat each report of this nature as though it’s potentially true. Of course, I don’t have to tell you if this is true it will cost you your job. We’ll talk more in the morning. Goodbye, Abe.” There was a click.

“Goodbye, sir.” He hung up the phone. His job was gone. There was no truth to the idea of him helping a student to cheat. But someone who could get to all of his files and invade his home would have no problem manufacturing a cheating scandal. He walked to his office. The light was still on and his computer was still up. The wallpaper had been replaced with the picture that had haunted him last night.

“You win. Whoever you are.” He pulled open the desk drawer and pulled out a metal box. The pistol was nestled in black velvet. He cleaned it regularly and practiced with it. The short barrel was cold and tasted like gun oil.

The computer began beeping as files were deleted and tracks erased. The sound of whirring was overshadowed by a single, muffled shot and the splat of blood and brain on plaster.

Playing A Player

This is the next in my ongoing horror serial. Enjoy!

SanDisk_Cruzer_MicroElard finished his jog and stopped outside the library to cool down. He felt bad for Melanie. He didn’t know exactly what happened, but he knew one thing. She was no liar. He’d do some snooping on the library computers and see if the guy bugging her had left any trail. Then he’d take it from there.

He walked into the library and headed for the computer that Mel used. She was a creature of habit. If the computer she wanted wasn’t available then she’d wait. Elard was a different creature in many ways. The computer she always used was occupied. That just wouldn’t do at all for his purposes. He walked up to the baby faced young man hammering at the keys. “How you doin’ sweetie?”

The guy didn’t even flinch.

Elard touched him on the shoulder. The white button down shirt the hammerer wore was lightly starched. “I was talkin’ to you sugar.”

This time he flinched. “Huh?” He looked up at Elard with big blue eyes. “Can I help you?”

Elard nodded. “This computer has some viruses on it. Seems like someone was looking at baby porn on it. Pictures of naked little kids. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” He stared at the man-child. Poor thing couldn’t have been more than six months out of high school.

“Shit no.” His fingers practically shot away from the keyboard. “I was just working on my term paper.” He scooted back and adjusted his thick framed glasses. “You go ahead and do what you need to do.”

“Thanks.” Elard nodded. “You toddle on over there.” He watched the young man walk away, taking note of the tightly fitting trousers. “Too young and innocent for me.” Elard turned his attention back to the computer. He plugged a usb stick into one of the available ports and powered it off. When he turned it back on he waited for the right screen and forced the computer to boot from the stick.

“Excuse me.” The voice came from behind Elard.

Elard turned to see the young man had come back. “Yes, sweetie.”

“Did you save that document? The one I was working on.” He pointed at the computer. His hand trembled slightly.

Elard shook his head. “Fraid not. You weren’t working in the cloud?”

“The what, now?” The young man cocked his head.

Elard sighed. Young and not too bright, in spite of the nerd chic look. “Google docs or some such?”

“No. I was going to save it to my USB thing when I was done.” He looked at the mostly dark screen. It looked for all the world like he was going to start bawling right here in the middle of the library.

Elard put a hand on the man’s stomach. “You sit right over there. When I’m done I’ll recover it for you.” The stomach underneath that shirt was hard and flat.

His eyes cleared up. “That would be awesome. I don’t know how I can thank you.”

Elard flicked the fingers of his other hand. “We can talk about that later. You go sit down and let daddy work.” He swiveled in his chair. He hadn’t been a dancer his whole life. Computers and anything electronic gave him a sense of control and power. When he’d get beaten up, he’d spend hours in the school computer lab healing and hanging out with the other rejects. He didn’t get the hang of them right away, but now everything about them made sense.

He sifted through the computer logs and the files on the PC and then moved out to the network. Every computer in this building had a chunk of code that could turn it into a zombie with one string of nonsense put into the right folder. The person that had taken these machines over would know nearly anything the people on the computers did. Key loggers would store anything that was typed and another piece of malware would grab screen shots periodically or if certain keywords were typed in. Go to a bank’s website and he’d have your balance and login information. Download smut and he’d know it. There was even a bit that used the webcam as a spy eye.

None of that mattered right now, since Elard’s homemade bootstick kept all of that cordoned off. All the mystery person would know was that this computer was down for a while. He could possibly guess why, but Elard wasn’t making any changes. At least not yet. He took his own screenshots and copied the bots of code that he could without tripping any alarms.

It was no wonder that this person knew Melanie well. He or she would have been able to cyber stalk her for at least the last year. What she didn’t do on her laptop she did hear. Hell, the person likely had her laptop owned as well since the girl used the same USB stick here and at home. She didn’t update their antivirus as often as Elard recommended, not that most AV programs could keep up with people like the one who was doing this. He was no script kiddie. Those pseudo hackers were no better than trained monkeys. Some of them very well trained. No, this person was on Elard’s level, if not above it.

Thinking better of the notion that his own stick was “invisible” to this person, he pulled the power cable and the USB stick. He’d be careful about the next place he plugged it in and then he’d destroy it. If there was anything nasty on there he’d minimize the damage and then make sure no one else got infected.

“Can you get my file?” The voice coming from behind him was timid.

Elard turned and really looked at the person. He could see the binding now under the white shirt that kept his breasts constricted. Whether the guy was a pre-op trans or a cross dresser or any number of other choices on the gender spectrum, he was good and would fool most people. Hell he’d fooled Elard. He held out a hand. “Name’s Elard. Sorry about all of that garbage I fed you a few minutes ago.”

“You can call me Gus, Elard.” They shook hands.

“That computer really is fucked. You don’t want any part of any file that you had on there. I wasn’t feeding you a line about that.” He pulled the guy’s USB stick from the computer and handed it to him.

Gus got that cry-baby look again.

Elard felt more than a little bad about how he’d treated Gus earlier. He’d turned on the creep factor pretty high. “Hey, look, I know shit is hard. You lost your paper. We’ll get you fixed back up.”

The look disappeared like Gus’s flipped a switch. “Gotcha.” The young trans person winked.

Elard laughed. “You played a player. Well done. But I really can help you out with that paper and I can introduce you to some friends.”

Gus narrowed his eyes. After a second he nodded. “I’d like that.” He grabbed his things and they walked out into the chilly afternoon.