Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Interview with Author Danielle Wong

It has been a long time, almost a year, to be exact, but the Literature Lounge returns with an award-winning author whose latest novel will be released next month. The Literature Lounge presents author, Danielle Wong.

LL: Hello Danielle, and welcome to the Literature Lounge. It's a pleasure to have you here.

DW: Thank you so much for having me! I am happy to be here.

LL: For those who may not know you, could you tell us a little more about yourself?

DW:  I am an author and a lifelong bibliophile. My debut novel, Swearing Off Stars, is a historical fiction story, and my forthcoming novel, Last Liar Standing, is a psychological thriller. I love to travel and always feel inspired when visiting a new place!

LL: What started you on your journey to becoming a writer?

DW:  I have always gravitated towards writing, but I didn't think it would actually become a career until much later on. My first published story came out while I was in high school, and I completed my first manuscript during college. As a voracious reader, I found it thrilling to create books of my own. My goal was to give people the same rush that devouring my favorite novels gave me.

LL: Who would you say are the biggest influences in your life and career?

DW: My loved ones are my biggest influences. I was lucky enough to grow up with two parents who encouraged me to work hard while pursuing my wildest dreams. They championed my creative pursuits with unwavering support and encouragement. 

LL: I understand that your first novel, Swearing Off Stars, has won you a few awards, including the Independent Press, Ben Franklin, and International Book Awards. Describe the feeling of that accomplishment.

DW: I am still very honored that Swearing Off Stars received awards before and after its publication. That kind of recognition was humbling, and I felt grateful to be in the fantastic company of several accomplished authors.

LL: Are there any projects in the works?

DW: Always! I am currently writing a psychological thriller about a reporter given an assignment that seems too good to be true.

LL: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

DW: This is one of the most incredible jobs in the entire world, but it is definitely not devoid of ongoing obstacles. Authors--whether emerging or established--can always agree on that. Imposter syndrome and self-doubt come with the territory, so it is vital to be genuinely passionate about your craft. Remember why you began writing in the first place, and try viewing rejection as a right of passage. We've all been there, and it's just part of the process.

LL: Finally, tell the readers why Last Liar Standing is a must-read.

DW: Last Liar Standing is a fast-paced thriller filled with emotionally-charged scenes, complex characters, and shocking plot twists. I hope that readers walk away feeling simultaneously stunned and satisfied! Here is a brief synopsis of the book:

Vonny Kwan wakes up in a Nevada hospital, the victim of a hit-and-run accident she doesn't remember. As she struggles to recover from her injuries, she learns that she also has no memory of the past nine years, including her marriage and what she was even doing in the West.

While she's still reeling from the shock of her amnesia, two detectives visit and inform her that her husband, John, was recently murdered. As more information comes to light, Vonny grows increasingly suspicious of everyone around her.

Vonny realizes she must piece together the last decade to uncover the truth. The missing chunk of time holds secrets about the person she became, the mysterious man she fell for, and the life she never wanted.


"This is one of the most incredible jobs in the entire world, but it is definitely not devoid of ongoing obstacles."

I couldn't have put it any better myself. While you will encounter outside obstacles along the way, such as pessimists and people who give nitpicky, spiteful, and disrespectful feedback, usually the biggest obstacles one will face is oneself

Indeed, rejection is something that all authors can relate to. I wasn't familiar with Imposter Syndrome until today, and this along with self-doubt are prime examples of what I'm referring to in terms of inner adversaries.

I would like to thank Danielle for her time. For more information on Danielle, go to To follow her on social media, visit the links below.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Second Interview with Patrick Johns

It has been a long time. I haven't done an author interview since 2019, but I'm back. When I interviewed Patrick Johns in 2017, he was an aspiring writer working on his book Junkland, which till this day is my second most viewed post on this blog. Now, he returns to the Lounge to talk about his life in another country, finding your purpose, and his new project from The Hoarding series, The Lost Soul.

EA: First, welcome back to the Literature Lounge.

PJ: Thanks for having me back! The Literature Lounge was my first ever author interview, and I’m honored to be speaking with you for a second time! Let’s dive into it…

EA: I've asked this before, but for the readers who are new to your work, what writers are your biggest influences?

PJ: I’m going to change my answer a bit as I need to give credit to the authors who got me into reading. Because without them, I wouldn’t be a writer. I read a lot of The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne. When I was a child, I had a huge imagination just like Jack and Annie, taking me to imaginary worlds with my dinosaurs and lightsabers and all-star basketball team, so I could always relate to them. I have even began reading the series again in Spanish and it’s been nice returning to their adventures.
I also read a lot of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. I love animals. Especially animals who live in castles and carry swords and fight and sing and eat. Brian Jacques was who got me into fantasy.
I then need to mention J.K. Rowling. Reading the Harry Potter series took me to a whole new experience of reading books. I felt like I was a part of the world as I was reading. I even made my own world like Harry Potter
I remember rewriting all the subject names in my assignment pad to subject names studied at Hogwarts. Math became Defense Against the Dark Arts. Science became Potions. History became History of Magic. English became Transfiguration. And Gym became Quidditch. It was also the first time reading a book with relatable characters. I felt like Harry, Ron, and Hermione were also my friends. These books became lengthy in page count, but I would still read them in a few days. That just shows how great of a series Harry Potter is. 
Next is Michael Crichton. He’s the reason for my love of dinosaurs. Jurassic Park was, and still is, my all-time favorite movie. Every time I would go to my grandparent’s house, I would watch it. I loved the movie so much that my grandma finally gave me the VHS to take home so I could enjoy it even more. Now it’s on Netflix so I can enjoy it whenever I want. But it also got me into reading a lot of his books, especially Jurassic Park, Next, Prey, and Sphere. His books always give me fear for the unknown, but wanting me to turn the page. I also like how he mixed science into his stories. He really did his research.
Then comes George R.R. Martin. I always love stories I can’t predict. George R.R. Martin does it perfectly. I love how his world starts off almost realistic, and then slowly becomes more and more fantasy as he develops Westeros. It makes the surprises more surprising and eerie.

EA: The last time we spoke, you were working on your first novel from The Hoarding series called Junkland, which was released in October 2017, if I’m not mistaken. What was the reaction/feedback from that book?

PJ: It was officially released in November 2017, good memory! Junkland exceeded my expectations. Within three months I surpassed my goal of books sold and also my financial goal. But what I never planned on happening was for Junkland to become a bestseller within its genre on Amazon. I remember staying up until four in the morning, refreshing the Amazon page to check the rankings of my book. I couldn’t believe it when I hit bestseller status. I celebrated with a big bowl of ice cream.
But I always have to go back to my main goal: I wanted my story to influence someone to do something they love, as the story Aladdin had influenced me to write Junkland when I went to see it on Broadway back in January 2016. I think the most rewarding success I had with Junkland was the amount of people who reached out to me saying they had made a big change in their own lives because I had influenced them. And that’s the reason why I write.
Overall, the feedback of Junkland has been positive. Fans have reached out to me saying they can’t wait for the second book to be done and that I need to work faster, making me feel like George R.R. Martin. My fans have also classified my book as fairy tale fantasy, which was exactly what I was going for. I wanted to write a Disney-like fairy tale, but more for an older audience. The thing I love the most is when fans tell me they can relate with Jahrys, the main character. Just like Aladdin had influenced me to write my own story. That is my fuel for writing: to develop more characters like Jahrys and Aladdin.

EA: I see your upcoming project is Book Two for The Hoarding series called The Lost Soul. Could you tell us a little more about it, and do you have a release date in mind?

PJ: The Lost Soul takes place just after the events of Junkland. I personally don’t know what to say about a sequel without giving away any spoilers from the first book, but I will say that The Lost Soul is different. In a good way. The Lost Soul goes deeper into the characters, the plot thickens, the world expands, and it’s darker. I will give a little teaser and say that The Lost Soul will take you across the Farrest Sea and maybe, just maybe, over the Western Mountains. ;) 
The Lost Soul will be available on Amazon on June 1st.

EA: How much has the main character Jahrys grown from his first adventure to this one?

PJ: A lot. Jahrys grew as I grew. While writing Junkland, I was going through a rough time in my life. You could even call it my quarter life crisis. I didn’t like my job or where I was living. I felt trapped. I knew deep down I had to make a change. This reflects in Jahrys as he also didn’t like working for his father and dreamed of making a change in his life. He dreamed of becoming a knight.
After I published Junkland, I moved to Spain to write The Lost Soul. However, as I wrote my second book, I felt lost. I love living in Spain. But I am going against east coast, American-living culture: I gave up making a lot money, I left the many hours stuck in a pig pen under soul melting fluorescent lights, I am one of many friends who is not buying a house in his late twenties, nor am I starting a family or anywhere near to settling. All these things were always on the back of my mind—they still are—making me feel lost. But I always have to remind myself, none of that is what I truly want now. I needed to learn to forget worrying about the future and focus more on the present. Yea, I may not be living in Spain for my entire life, but I can’t kill myself every day worrying about where I will go, what I will do, who I will meet, what age I will be when I finally settle. And all of this comes out in The Lost Soul through Jahrys. Jahrys is also lost in life, trying to find himself in a world he thought he understood, trying to figure out what he truly wants after getting what he needs wasn’t really all it turned out to be.

The Hoarding Series.

EA: I must say, quitting your engineering job and moving to Spain was a bold move. Would you take us through your thought process when making that decision, and what led you to do it?

PJ: Oh boy. I think taking you through my thought process would be like trying to explain a black hole. After I graduated from the university, I worked for a large engineering firm outside Washington D.C. This job was anyone’s dream, but mine. I didn’t feel myself growing here, and I felt I had no purpose. It was hard to wake up in the mornings. Every time I told my friends and family this, many of their responses were telling me that a job is a job and you’re not supposed to like it, only make money to do the things you like. I started questioning this. Well, why can’t I make money doing something I like? Why do I have to stay in a situation that is actually awful for my mental health? Jerry Seinfeld once said, “I never worked a day in my life.” If he can make that happen, why can’t I? So I set out on my journey to discover how I could also live like Jerry Seinfeld and enjoy my profession. But I then encountered one of the hardest questions to answer: What do I want to do?
I first began asking myself, well, what do I like? This wasn’t an easy answer as it had taken me months to uncover it. I started taking yoga classes and doing a lot of meditation to really clear my cluttered mind. During this time, I began recalling my roots. I remembered all the times I played with my dinosaurs in my basement. All the short stories I wrote in elementary school. All the times I spent in my imaginary worlds which included being a Jedi, discovering dinosaurs, and even taking my basketball team to the championship; Michael Jordan Jr. could make any 3-pointer. I recalled all the times I would ride my bike to bookstores just to be surrounded by books. I wouldn’t buy anything. The thought of so many adventures surrounding me filled me with energy unlike anything else. It still does. 
I also recalled all the song lyrics and poems I’ve written since I was in high school. I even took a creative writing class in the university, and I didn’t even need it to graduate. All these memories were puzzle pieces, and it took twenty-six years of my life to fit them all together to show me my answer: I wanted to write.
But then I was hit with another tough question: What do I write about? In January 2016, I went to go see Aladdin on Broadway. Aladdin is my favorite Disney movie. I’ve seen it so many times, but this time, I felt something different. I cried. I laughed. I felt inspired as goosebumps covered my arms and legs. Because what Aladdin was going through on the stage was exactly what I was going through in my life: trying to find my purpose.
I knew this was the message and feeling I wanted my readers to obtain after reading one of my books, to feel inspired as Aladdin had inspired me. When I returned to Washington, D.C with this new inspiration running through my veins, I found myself walking through a stairwell; one I’ve walked in many times. However, this time, an emergency light caught my eye. I stopped to admire it. This emergency light reminded me of a Disney character with its little square body and big round lightbulb eyes. I instantly knew this was the character I needed to write about. So I took a picture of the emergency light and went to my desk to examine the photo further. I first thought, what kind of setting do I see this character in? A junk land popped into my mind, kind of like the world Wall-e lived in. I then dove into an outline, writing it all on my phone. This outline was barely a page long. But it had a beginning, a fuzzy middle, and an end. I then began writing and writing and writing.
Suddenly, thirty pages turned into forty. Forty pages turned into a hundred. A hundred pages turned into two hundred. Next thing I knew, one book turned into a trilogy. I never intended to write a full book and I never intended to publish anything. This was all supposed to be for fun. It just happened.
I made it my goal to finish Junkland, publish it, and then leave my job. I began to wonder what I could do next…
I’ve always wanted to study abroad in university, but it never worked out. I had recently learned about the teaching English programs which you can find in many countries around the world. My friend from the university had been living in Spain for two years at the time so I began talking to him about life in Spain as I had always been interested in learning Spanish. Once I published Junkland, I applied to the program and left my engineering job behind to move to Spain where I’ve been living now for three years, teaching English.
I have never looked back since I moved to Spain. I absolutely love living here. Yes, it’s hard at times, as you can imagine, but it has been one of the best decisions of my life. I am not the same person I was just a few years ago. Moving to Spain has made me grow as a person and as a writer. In Spain, I earn money to save and still have enough to travel and enjoy my life, more than I had before in Washington, D.C. I also have time to work on my writing brand. What does the future hold? I don’t know. But if my writing journey has taken me from a small town in New Jersey, to studying in Blacksburg, Virginia, to living just outside Washington D.C., to living in Spain; I can’t wait to see what life has in store for me.

EA: Out of curiosity, what’s it like in Spain?

PJ: Spain is a beautiful country! My first year I lived in a small town called San Roque which is nearly at the southern tip of Spain. It’s right next to Gibraltar, Algeciras, Tarifa, and just across the Mediterranean Sea from Morocco. I’ve never experienced so much wind in my life during this year. I always thought I had pink eye since I was working with kids, but it turns out I just had sand in my eyes and they were irritated. My second year I lived in the city of Cadiz. Cadiz is the oldest city in Europe still inhabited by people. It’s the sister city of Havana. If you’ve ever seen the movie Die Another Day, you will remember the scene when James Bond went to Havana, Cuba and watched the famous scene of Halley Barry coming out of the ocean. That was actually filmed in Cadiz. In Cadiz, I was able to surf every single day. And my favorite part of the city was going to the giant fish market every weekend to buy food and enjoy a drink and food with some friends. San Roque and Cadiz are both located in Andalucía which is an autonomous community covering most of southern Spain. 
Andalucía is gorgeous and every day is sunny. I can still remember the days when it rained. If you ever get a chance, you need to visit Granada, Seville, Malaga, Cordoba, and Cadiz. There are so many more beautiful places, but these are a must. Andalucía was conquered by the moors back in the day so there’s a lot of Moorish architecture like the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar in Seville.
My third year I made a big change and moved to the north of Spain. I’m now living in a city called Ferrol which is located in Galicia. Northern Spain is a different world than southern Spain. I’ve never experienced so much rain in my life. But the beautiful sunny days make up for it when everything is so green. Galicia has one of the nicest coastlines I have ever seen. There are so many mountains and cliffs running along the coast with hiking paths.
There are seventeen autonomous communities in Spain which are like states in the United States. I love how going to each community is like going to a different country, like going from Andalucía to Galicia, for example. Each community has its own culture, food, and sometimes its own language. In Galicia they speak Galician, which was actually the language that formed Portuguese. In Catalonia they speak Catalon. In Basque Country they speak Basque. 
Overall, Spain is very safe, beautiful, and relaxing. Life is slowed down here. No matter what the weather is outside, you can always find people sipping a coffee or a beer at a café in a plaza, talking for hours and hours, never worrying about being late to anything. You can experience this while walking on the sidewalks too. Even if you say, “Excuse me,” people will not move out of the way for you or speed up their walking. You just need to be prepared to be late. But everyone is always so nice and willing to start up a conversation. I remember when I lived outside Washington D.C., no one would even make eye contact with me in the streets. Here in Spain, sometimes it’s difficult to avoid random conversations started by the old grannies and grandpas at the bus stops. But I always enjoy it.

EA: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

PJ: The advice I always give is: Write from start to finish. This is SO important. I’ve seen writers who struggle to get past the first chapter, sometimes even the first paragraph. And a lot of times these writers are better than myself. But what’s different between myself and them? Well, I finished a book and they didn’t. J.K. Rowling didn’t write Harry Potter in one take. It took her five drafts to finish it. No one is ever going to see your first draft. The first draft needs to be written with a free mind with the door closed. Write as if no one is lingering over your shoulder, judging you. Then, once you’ve seen your end, you can go back and edit. It’s so important to see the end of your story in order to know the point where your story needs to converge to. My biggest advice is, if you really do need to go back and edit while writing, add a note to remind yourself what needs to be changed in the second draft. But keep pushing forward. And once you’ve finished your first draft, you can go through your notes and fix your story as needed.
This leads to the famous advice of the magic of always being able to edit what you have written, but you can’t edit blank pages. So just write!

EA: Finally, tell us why The Lost Soul will be a must-read.

PJ: Well, if you enjoyed Junkland, you are going to love the second book in The Hoarding series even more. The Lost Soul goes so much deeper into the world of Astenpoole and its surroundings. It digs further into the characters’ minds. It resolves questions from Junkland but brings about new questions. But I think more importantly, this story had blossomed from my heart after I had left my engineering job to move to Spain three years ago. This book symbolizes the next step in my dream of becoming a writer. Scratch that. Of BEING a writer. And I can’t wait to share this next chapter of my life with my fans. My goal is to hopefully influence even more people to take the time to figure out what they love and want to do with the little time we have on this planet. Life will fly by. Our bad choices and failures will matter little in the long run of the universe. So why be afraid to take a chance on life and pursue the thing that makes you want to get up in the morning? 


I can relate to Patrick's story in a lot of ways. For starters, the part about meditation, but mainly
knowing that I hated working 9-5s and knowing I could do better than what I was doing. This led me
to discovering, uncovering, and revisiting my life's passion: writing. I had been writing since I was a child, but I somehow got away from it--aside from drafting scripts--as I grew older. 
In my early 30s, after some thorough reflecting, it led to me return to the one thing I've always enjoyed doing, and I've made a commitment to it since.
As far as finding oneself and one's purpose, that's something everyone can relate to at some point in their lives, particularly when they're young, but as he mentioned, one shouldn't be afraid to take a chance in life and pursue what makes them happy and enjoy what they're enjoy doing.

I would like to thank Patrick for stopping by the Lounge today. You can purchase The Hoarding series here
Check out Patrick's website as well as his social media pages in the links below.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Stepping Stones: A Writer's Ramble, Pt. II: Nitpicky Readers

As a writer, I realize not everyone is going to like your work, or some cases if they do, they will offer some criticism on what they didn’t like, which is fine. What I can’t stand is spiteful, nitpicky readers/criticism. Recently, I got my book, Bounty Huntress: Invasion of the Keratinians listed on a website for “elite” readers. This particular pier is set up to where once your book is listed, an “elite” reader can request your book, and you send them the PDF, Mobi, etc. for them to read in exchange for a review as an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy, for those who don’t know).

I waited nearly two weeks before checking back with him to see how it was going. Yesterday, I sent him an email to see where his progress was, and he tells me that he couldn’t get past 16 percent of the book, according to his Kindle reader, then proceeds to ask would I prefer a bad review or no review at all? I basically told him not to bother posting a review, since I could I clearly see that he didn’t like it.

He then asked me have I written plays/scripts in the past. This was one of those “to ask question is to answer the question” situations because I knew why he was me asking that, so I told him, “ I have, but not professionally.” As I suspected, he told me that it reflected in my writing style, then suggested that I don’t use that as a way to make my books flow. Then had the audacity to say, “I hope you don’t mind my feedback,” to which I didn’t even bother to reply.

As these emails are being exchanged, I’m processing the information, and I concluded that his issue wasn’t with the story in and of itself, but the way I wrote the story. Yes, he’s entitled to his opinion, but to me, his feedback was nitpicky and petty. So, because the book wasn’t formatted to his liking, the whole book is no good? Man, fuck you. GTFOH. I’ve had people read my books before and they didn’t have a problem with my writing style.

He should’ve just left well enough alone. He already made it clear he didn’t like the book because of the way it was written. That’s all I needed to know, I didn’t ask for details. As far as I’m concerned he could’ve kept his “feedback” to himself. I’m good.

This goes back to what I mentioned in the beginning: I can’t stand spiteful, nitpicky readers/critics. They find one thing wrong, to them at least, and they go to pieces. Perhaps the opinion wasn’t spiteful, but it was definitely nitpicky and petty. I’m almost certain, at least 8 times out of 10, that this guy is not a writer. People like this are usually your biggest critics. They don’t do what you do, but they want to dictate how you should write your story.

I’ve read books that while the story itself was good, grammatically, the writing was shitty, which that alone would make most people discard the book. However, while I pointed out these errors in the book in the review, I still rated it a 3 out of 5 stars because despite the bad grammatical structure, the book still kept me intrigued and turning the pages wondering what was going to happen next.

Some might be thinking, “He can’t take criticism.” Not true. There have been times where someone gave a critique, and I considered what they said, I saw what they were talking about, and I made the minor adjustment. Mind you, one of them was a writer. I’ve received critical feedback that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but I thought it was honest and fair, and I respected their opinion. Bullshit feedback like his, I don’t respect.

I’m always looking to improve as a writer, but for some lame ass, so-called elite reader to try to dictate my writing style and tell me how I should write my books a NO-NO. Now, if someone offers feedback or advice that you find viable and applicable, by all means, apply it if you choose to do so, but never let anyone dictate your writing style and/or tell you how to write your stories.

This is why it is imperative to trust yourself and be confident in your writing abilities because not everybody is going to like your writing style and/or your stories, that’s just the reality of it, but never let them deter or discourage you. I’m 99 percent sure Stephen King’s writing was criticized before he became a renowned writer, and I’m sure even till this day there are some people out there who don’t care for his writing style, but he doesn’t let that stop him.

A fellow writer told me that’s why he doesn’t care for those Elite Reader websites because the readers tend to have a bad sense of entitlement. While I’m sure he was speaking collectively, in this guy’s case, he’s absolutely right. The bright side or silver lining in all of this is at least there was something about the book that requests have been made to read it. As for me, I’m far from deterred or discouraged. If anything, it’s added bulletin board material and another stepping stone.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Butterfly Affect

Author's Note: This post was originally an entry for a writing contest for the Chicago Tribune back in February, but due to the pandemic, I'm sure the contest is off, citing more important issues at hand. My entry was featured on the online magazine, Daughter of Ani in July, and now I'm featuring it here on the Literature Lounge. Enjoy!

Hi, I’m Gabriel Chabert. To tell you a little more about myself, I’m a retired football coach who was born in the cajun town of Lafayette, LA. and raised in the state’s capitol, Baton Rouge. I paid my dues through the ranks of college and the pros as a graduate assistant, scouting coordinator, running backs coach, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and finally, becoming the head coach of the Boise Bombers.

Some call me a legend; some would say I was overrated, having only won one of my three Pinnacle Crown Championship appearances. Oh well, you can’t please everybody. Anyway, I was known for my offensive approach; a lot of vertical passing mixed with intermediate passing and the run game. For years my offense was known as “Da Bomb Offense,” as a reference to the team’s name and of course, the aggressive nature of my offense— and defense, I might add— that has made nearly every quarterback that I’ve coached at least an All-Pro at some point in their careers.

Ah, I miss the old glory days in Boise sometimes. Anyway, enough of me rambling on about my past life in the grid iron world. That’s not what I came to talk to y’all about, well, not mainly. He-he. I’ve moved back to Louisiana, namely New Orleans, since then. As I sit here lounging in front of the lake near my 6,000 square foot mansion, I can honestly say as much as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career and everything that led up to it, it’s my personal and love life where this is the happiest I’ve ever been. It makes me ponder, is love really so strong that even if you pick the wrong one, it will come back and revisit you until you get it right? Is that possible?

Aside from that, have you ever felt as if something has happened to you before? Or to quote the cliché, “Did you ever get that feeling of déjà vu?” I know I’m sounding strange and all over the place, perhaps I’m spooking you out, but stick with me, I’ll explain everything.

As I alluded to a moment ago, my career was on fire, but my marriage was in the dumps. After college, I married Abigail “Abby” Oliver, “The Most Popular Girl in School” and the prom queen. I must admit, she was smoking hot. Besides a beautiful face, she had a petite frame that attracts guys such as me, along with an inviting smile that sealed the deal. I know you’re asking, if she was so gorgeous and coveted by majority of the guys, how did your marriage end up in ruins? Well, I’ll tell you. First of all, everything I described was on the outside, the exterior. A lot of guys don’t consider if the woman has a quality character. They see whatever it is about the woman they like, and the spell has been casted, so to speak.

This was a hard lesson I had to learn being with Abby. Man, you talk about someone being entitled. The whole world and everything in it revolved around her, and boy was she a nagger. However, according to those on the outside looking in, I had the “perfect” marriage and was living the “dream,” which would be an attractive wife and two children, Hunter and Casey, whom I love dearly— the children, I mean. The only thing that was missing was the dog. I had 2 out of 2.3 children. What’s a third of a child, anyway?

Everyday, either when I was going to work or if I was dropping the kids off at school, I would see this butterfly. It would zip and zigzag all around me, which Hunter and Casey— my son and daughter, by the way— thought was so funny. Seemingly every day, like clockwork, this butterfly would buzz around me. I know this sounds strange, but after a while I started to wonder if it was trying to tell me something. Seems like it had been going on for years. I never told anyone this, until now.

One day, after another argument with the wife, I had to take a drive, ya know, just get away for a while. I decided to drive to Pete’s Boise Bistro or known simply as “Pete’s.” It was my favorite spot in Idaho. His steaks were amazing, but his potato dishes were the best this side of the cosmos. I was a huge fan of his famous Pete’s Potato Bowl, filled with chunks of steak or chicken, corn and black beans all covered with cheese. They knew who I was, and what I wanted most of the time when I went there. Ah, I can taste that potato bowl now.  Anyway, as I was saying, while I was driving to Pete’s, the memory of one Lucy Dreams came to mind. Lucy Dreams. I always loved her last name. It was such a…breath of fresh air.

She wasn’t bad to look at either back in high school. She had bleach blonde hair that she sometimes wore in a bun, an infectious personality that could possibly bring nations together, but besides that, the main thing that drew me to her were her dreamy blue eyes. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but when I looked into hers, I think I saw something celestial.

She was always nice to me. Whenever she saw me, she would smile and say hello. Then again, Abby did the same thing when we were in high school, but looking back, it could’ve been because I was the quarterback on the football team. With Lucy, it was always genuine. During class, I would happen to glance in her direction and our eyes would meet and she would smile.

A lot of people thought we were perfect for each other. Although I was the star quarterback, I was pretty much the black sheep of the team, the odd ball— if you will. I didn’t do a lot of the things that the other athletes participated in, so while I was a “surgeon” and a “beast” on the field, I was labeled “weird” and “nerdy” off the field. Lucy, despite being a pleasant view, was also often looked at as if she had ten heads.

It’s funny because we never dated in high school, but we were very close. I remember some of the weirdest things would happen when I was around her. One time, I left my Calculus book at home, but I didn’t realize it until after my mom dropped me off at school. I had 20 minutes before the bell rang for 1st period, so I had time to go through my bag to see if it was there. Nothing. I sat there on the bench; frustrated, disgusted. Then, I felt a hand gently touch my shoulder. I looked up and found myself staring right into these dreamy, blue eyes.

“What’s wrong?” She asked.

I sighed. “I left my Calculus book at home.”

“Oh no.”


“We have an open-book quiz today. You can’t contact your parents to get it for you?”

“Nah. My mom is on her way to work and my dad is already at work.”

“Well, explain to Mr. Stevens what happened.” She suggested. “Maybe he will let you borrow one of the extra books for today.”

“I can try, but it’s an automatic ten-point deduction from my test score if I do that.”

“Well, a 90 is better than a zero.”

“True. I’ll see what I can do.”

She smiled. “That’s the spirit.”

Five minutes before the bell, I sat in Mr. Stevens class, bracing myself, waiting for him to enter. He usually had his door open for students to enter five minutes in advance. For some reason, I decided to look in my book bag one last time before Mr. Stevens walked in, I guess hoping that the book would magically appear. I looked through my things, and I’ll be dipped, the book was there! Once again, I felt a sudden gentle touch on my shoulder and saw those blue eyes when I looked up.

“Hey, you looked shocked.” She said.

“I am. I found my book.”

“Really? That’s great! Where did you find it?”

“It was in my book bag.” I replied. “It’s weird because it wasn’t there 15 minutes ago. I nearly ransacked my things looking for it, and it wasn’t there. I’m sure of it.”

“Well, maybe you were overlooking it.”

“I guess. I’m just glad that I have it.”

“Me too. I’ll talk to you after class.”


You know what? Come to think of it— man, this is weird— there was another instance where I created this volcanic lava cake for my Home Economics project the night before. On a side note, Abby was a better cook, but I was hands-down a better baker. Anyway, Rufus, the family’s pet Boerboel, ate it. Yes, the dog literally ate my homework! I took pictures while he was feasting on my assignment. Devastated doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. I was so perturbed I wanted to sell him.

Where it gets weird is that not long after fuming over Rufus’ dastardly deed— or should I say greed? — I went to sleep, and I had the weirdest dream. In the dream, I saw that same butterfly flying over a land of pastries, of all things. I followed the butterfly to investigate, but then I was awakened by the telephone ringing.

It was Lucy. I told her what happened. Her words of encouragement helped a little, but it wasn’t gonna change the fact that I would have to start a new project, and it was due the next day! As soon as I got off the phone with Lucy, the door gingerly swung open and mom peeped her head in.

“Dinner’s almost ready.” She said. She noticed the dejected look on my face. “What’s wrong, Gabe?”

“Rufus ate my class project.”

“What?! Really? Let me check and see.” She closes the door. Two minutes later, she came back. “Gabe, what are you talking about? Your homework is still on the kitchen table.”

“Huh?” I got up from the bed, grabbed the pictures I took and went downstairs. I looked on the kitchen table, and there it was. “I don’t understand. I saw him eating it.” I held up the photos. “I even took pictures.”

She took a look at the photos. “Gabriel, he’s not doing anything but sitting next to your father’s chair.” She said. “He always sits there.”

I looked at the pictures again. “But I saw him…”

“Maybe you imagined it. Did you have one of those dreams again?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Perhaps that’s what it was. Now, start getting ready for dinner.”

“Yes ma’am.” I sighed and went upstairs.

Till this day, I have no idea how that happened. I wasn’t imagining things. I only let it go because I didn’t want to argue with mom. I know that dog ate my assignment; I just know it. Everything’s coming back to me like a rush from a tidal wave.

My grandmother was one of those superstitious types. She told me — no — she insisted that whoever I went to the senior prom with would be the one I would marry. Even though some considered Maw-maw to be nutty, she usually wasn’t wrong about these things.

That night, Lucy stopped by the house to brainstorm some ideas about the upcoming events for Senior Night, and mom talked her into staying for dinner. Mom and Maw-maw were really high on Lucy; they loved her. They were captured by her personality as much as I was. “That girl is gonna be your wife.” Maw-maw would say. After that night, she was invited to come over anytime. She didn’t come often, but when she did, she was greeted with “How’s my daughter-in-law?” by mom. Lucy would smile and take it in stride. She took everything in stride; she was so serene, never got too high or too low about things.

I remember Lucy and I sittin’ on the porch swing that night, and while we were talking, a butterfly zipped between us in the middle of our conversation.

“Darn butterfly.” I recall saying.

“Be nice.” She said with smile. “It just wants to keep us company.”

“I guess.” I said with a chuckle. “I didn’t know they come out at night.”

“They’re amazing creatures.” She said with such conviction— soft, sweet conviction, that is. “They’re highly regarded among some tribes.”

“I’ve heard. I never looked much into it, though.”

“By the way, you were amazing last week.” She complimented. “That might’ve been your best game yet.”

“Thanks. Say, I have a question.”

She looked at me inquisitively. “I’m listening.”

For some reason, as much as we seemed to get along at school, the thought never crossed my mind to ask her to be my prom date until right then and there. She told me that Zach Martin asked her the day before, and a few guys before him, but she told them she would think it over. Wow, amazing. All year long she was kind of the forbidden fruit in the sense that despite most guys finding her attractive, they thought she was strange, utterly strange, which kept a lot them away from her once they got to know her.

I think most people didn’t understand her. Often misunderstood myself, I totally got her, and she was far from strange to me. When I gathered the impromptu nerve to ask her to the biggest event of one’s high school years, now suddenly every guy was in her face, namely Zach Martin.

Zachariah “Zach” Martin. The star linebacker and co-captain of the football team— I was the team captain on offense. We were on good terms last I checked, but it wasn’t that way when I first met him. We were freshmen trying out for the team, and my first encounter with him was him trying to bully me. He was a big guy, and although I was tall, I was on the skinny side. I put on more weight as each year passed.

After practice he would jump in front of my locker with this devious grin on his face, daring me to move him. The first couple of times he did it I let it go, guys who were higher up on the depth chart at that time would tell him chill and he would eventually get out of my way.

One day, it was just me and him, and he jumped in front of my locker again. Now, I as I’ve said before, I was tall, skinny and perhaps “nerdy” back then, but I was and will always be a ragin’ cajun at heart. It was already a long day, plus I was tired of his foolishness, so I shoved him so hard, the locker shook. He came charging at me, and my dad’s wrestling training— he was a wrestling champ in college— came back to mind.

I side-stepped him and brought him to the floor with a double leg takedown, then immediately went up top, putting him in a front headlock. He was a big sucker, so he put up a fight, but my hold was cinched in and he eventually tapped out just as the coaches walked in and broke everything up. I never really could shake the “nerd” thing, but I did get the respect of my teammates.

By our senior year, heck, by our sophomore year he was a nightmare for opposing offenses. He became known as “Zach The Ripper”. He was revered for his sideline-to-sideline range when pursuing the opponent, now, true to his linebacker instincts, he was pursuing Lucy. The next day, word got around that Lucy decided to go with Zach to the prom, and Abby still hadn’t found anyone, to the surprise of many.

I found it quite eerie how all of this came about. To confirm the rumor, a picture leaked with Zach standing next to Lucy in the dress she planned to wear for the prom, and Abby out of nowhere approached me about not having a prom date. I hadn’t heard anything from Lucy to find out if the rumor was true or not, and while I was frustrated with the sudden lack of communication, her Houdini act really baffled me. In the midst of all the confusion, I bit the bullet asked Abby to the prom…and she said yes.

The next thing I knew, four years went by and I wound up marrying Abby. I never saw Lucy again. The next 20 years of my life was a living you-know-what. Well, 18. The first two years wasn’t so bad. The only thing that kept me afloat were the children and my career. One night, after a hellacious argument and a threat to divorce me and take custody of the children, I was at my wit’s end.

I never prayed much, but on this night, I was out of answers. For the first time since grade school probably, I got on my knees and prayed. I had tears streaming down my face, supplicating, pleading for my life to change. I tossed and turned before I finally went to sleep. I woke up and found myself sitting on the porch with Lucy again. Once again, there was that butterfly, and there I was asking Lucy to the prom. This time she said yes without hesitation. This time we walked into the ballroom hand-in-hand. She was wearing that blue dress that she wore in the picture with Zach.

She was so beautiful, so stunning in that dress. It matched the color of those mysterious blue eyes. I had the pleasure of gazing into them while we danced to the last song of the night: Mariah Carey’s Butterfly. Zach was the prom king and Abby was the prom queen again, but neither us cared. We just wanted to be together. The limo our dads pitched in for took us to our destinations. The first stop was Lucy’s because she was closer.

Before she got out, I asked the chauffeur to give us a few minutes. Without hesitation, I asked Lucy to be my wife. Shocked, elated and teary-eyed, she said yes! I didn’t have the ring on me at the time; I accidentally left it at home. I never seen her laugh so much in my life. She teased me for the next two days about that. I wasn’t offended; thinking back on it, it was hilarious.

The night before our wedding, she stopped by my house. She told me that she had something to say to me and it required my undivided attention. I had a nice candle lit dinner laid out for the two of us: steak and shells and cheese for me, and some caponata pasta, for her. She never ate much meat. I made it all myself, although I’ll admit I got the recipe for the pasta from mom years ago. I always loved her caponata pasta; still do, actually. After dinner, we sat at the table and held hands. Then she laid it on me.

“First, I want to thank you for being so understanding and actually getting me all of these years.” She said with a slight chuckle afterward. “Although the way some people responded to me was uncalled-for, to be fair, I’m different from most.”

“Yes, you are, but that didn’t give them the right to treat you the way some of them did.” I chimed in.

“No, you don’t understand. I’m different in ways your mind couldn’t imagine.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have the ability to manipulate time.” She revealed.

I pull my hands from hers. Not to be mean, but out of state of shock. “Run that by me again?”

“I can warp time. I’ll elaborate: Do you remember when you left your Calculus book at home?”

Confusion and anticipation took over at that point. “Yes?”

“I arranged it to where book wound up in your bag.”

I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit skeptical. “But how?”

“You didn’t see that butterfly hovering over your bag.” She said. “You were so busy rumbling through it.”

“Okay, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“Everything. Those butterflies are my representatives.” She revealed.

“Wait. Wait. Don’t get me wrong, I want to believe you, but this is a lot to digest.”

“I know and I understand, that’s why I’m taking the time to tell you this.” She said. “I know it will be hard to believe at first, but one of the things I’ve always admired about you is your open-mindedness and understanding.”

I took a deep breath. “Okay, continue.”

“Some of those fellas are my messengers, some are more hands-on.”


“About the dog eating your homework.”


“Do you remember the butterfly you saw in your dreams?”


“Your subconscious communicated with me in another realm in request to reverse the situation. Obviously, I obliged.”

“So, that would explain the butterfly? Messenger, I assume?”


“So, you’re saying I had a lucid dream?”

“Something like that.”

“I appreciate the assist, but you had my mom thinking I was insane. I was even wondering what was going on, that maybe I was imaging things.”

“My apologies, but your volcano cake did win the 1st prize ribbon.”

“True. Despite everything, you saved my rear that day. I can’t thank you enough.”

“You deserved it.”

“Now, a burning question: can you explain what happened prior to our prom night?” I inquired. “Ya know, the rumor, the picture with you and Zach, your disappearance?”

“The rumor, well, I had no control over that. People saw me speaking to Zach and ran with it, you how it is.” She replied. “The picture was actually rigged. Someone managed to forge Zach’s prom picture with mine to confirm the rumor. My disappearance? Let’s just say I felt guilty.”

“Guilty about what?”

“When you asked me to the prom back then, my answer was yes, but I decided to test you by informing you that Zach and a few others asked me already. I wanted to see if you would react or how you would respond.”

“So, Zach and the other guys never asked you?”

“They did, but I had no intention of going with them. I just wanted to test you, and I let it go too far.” She started tearing up. “I couldn’t face myself when I found out Abby asked you after the rumors about Zach and me gained momentum. She always was an opportunist.”

“Wow. Really?”

“I mean, she was beautiful. I just knew I blew it when she asked you. I didn’t see you turning her down.”

“I wish I would have. What happened to you all those years? I never seen or heard from you again.”

“I passed by. Where do you think the butterflies came from when you were going to work or dropping off Hunter and Casey to school?”

“Shouldn’t you have known I was unhappy?”

“I manipulate time; I’m not a telepath. Besides, you looked okay to me. I stood back because I didn’t think you needed me anymore. When I heard you cry out that night, I saw it as an opportunity to make things right, so here we are.”

“I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.”

“I would start that night over a thousand times if I had to, if that’s what it took for us to be together.”

“So, what happens to Abby? Just curious.”

“Well, she marries Zach.”

“Wait. Our children. What about Hunter and Casey?”

“They’re Zach and Abby’s. If you desire to start over, we must start anew.”

There were few hard swallows in my throat. Tears ran down my face because while I didn’t care too much what happened to Abby, I loved those children. “I understand. There are things in life that requires sacrifice.”

She smiled. “I’m glad you understand.”

“One more thing. What about my career?”

She smiled again. “It’s yours.”

I breathed a collective sigh. “Thank goodness.”

I took Lucy’s hands in mine. At that moment, a butterfly flew in and hovered over the fire lit from the candle placed between us. It flapped its wings immensely, fanning the flame from the candle until a bright light consumed the room.

So, here I am. I got to keep my career, and everything is just the way it was, except I’m married to Lucy instead of Abigail, and we have four wonderful children instead of two. “Maw-maw, if you’re listening, I guess you were right after all.” Excuse me, I took a moment to look up in the sky. I couldn’t ask for a better life, and I definitely couldn’t ask for a better wife. That’s my story. I guess if nothing else, what I get out of this is sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. They say time heals all wounds, but in my case, I experienced something that transcends healing. It’s more of a rebirth on life.




The End




Monday, December 9, 2019

Interview with Author Michelle Al Bitar

Hello and welcome to the Literature Lounge. Today's guest is an aspiring writer from Lebanon. She released her debut novel Red Circus in May. Introducing author Michelle Al Bitar.

LL: Hello Michelle, and welcome to the Literature Lounge. It's a pleasure to have you here.

MAB: Hello! It’s a pleasure to be here as well.

LL: For those who aren't aware, tell us more about Michelle Al Bitar.

MAB: Well, it’s a little difficult to talk about myself so I’ll stick to the essentials. I mostly grew up in a very supportive environment, and my interest in art started blooming since I was a child, whether it was related to drawing, poetry, or acting. However, the older I got the more I was directed towards a scientific career path (doctor or architect). I mean don’t get me wrong, I love science, but it’s just not something I want to live for. I always subconsciously knew I lived for poetry, art, imagination, expression through brushstrokes or words… And so my journey with literature started after I transferred from architecture to English Literature during my second year as an undergraduate.

LL: What started you on your journey to becoming a writer?

MAB: Following what I said in the previous question, my passion for literature and writing was not only expressed while I was at home reading or scribbling down random ideas. It affected me the most when I was sitting in most of my architecture classes and writing a long poetic prose about existential thoughts and imaginary worlds. After I transferred to English Language and Literature, I fell in love even more with classic literature, books that made a change, that broke into the cannon, and I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be a writer who wrote about something that mattered, not something that would sell. I believe I still have a long journey to reach my goal (that after I’d publish probably at least some of the books I have in mind), but what matters to me is that I’m never giving up.

LL: Who would you say are the biggest influences in your life and career?

MAB: My biggest influence in my life are my parents who fought through the war and survived, who taught me and my sister to follow our dreams and never settle for less than what we crave for. They were there for me through thick and thin, especially when I decided to major in literature and our social circle criticized me for not choosing the cliché career path set for every Lebanese student.

What influences my career are all the great writers that preceded me. After reading or listening to their biographies, I realized that nothing comes easy, and we all need to go through the most difficult trials before reaching our destination. They inspire me not to give up on my dreams, even if life sometimes tries to hold us back.

LL: Would you tell us a little about your first novel, Red Circus?

MAB: Red Circus was originally meant to be a horror story about a circus that performed rituals to trick the audience into seeing things that don’t exist; and eventually, one of the rituals backfires and they have to face the consequences. As I started writing the first draft, I realized I wanted to do something political and yet not directly loaded with political theories. This led me to transform Red Circus into a Dystopian novel where tricksters exist, the world is ruled by a bunch of kingdoms, and World War IV has finished (yes, World War IV).

The main idea behind it is that the protagonist Riley Red is circus performer and a trickster (human with an advanced mind that helps her create illusions) whose parents died because of King Christopher Freedian. She uses her power in the circus and mind tricks to enter the king’s palace and tries to get her long wanted revenge. Eventually, the life she leads inside the castle is different than the one she thought she would.

LL: Are there any projects in the works?

MAB: Yes. I am currently working on a series of short stories, each is totally different, but they all have an embedded moral lesson and a plot twist in the end.

LL: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

MAB: We all start as aspiring writers, and I still am one. You may start as a self-published author like me or get a deal with a publishing house. Either ways, both take time. Do not give up. You have the most beautiful hobby/job/passion in the world. You could be or create anything you want. Imagine scenarios before you sleep, when you wake up, and during your breaks throughout the day.

Write. Write. Write.

LL: Finally, tell the readers why Red Circus is a must-read.

MAB: Red Circus has some prophetic sense to it and acts as a caricature of the “democratic” regimes around the world. It suits people who are interested in politics, romance, fantasy, feminism, and war stories all at once. And for all literature geeks out there, there are countless references to classic literature inside.

Give it a try. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy it and start wishing you were a trickster as well.


 "I wanted to be a writer who wrote about something that mattered, not something that would sell." Those are very interesting words because while there are writers/authors who do the former, there are lot of them who do the latter, and there are a few combine the two. It indeed takes time to find success as a writer-- or in anything for that matter-- regardless of what route you take on your writing journey, however, if it's something you truly desire to do, stick with it despite everything, and most definitely don't give up.

I agree that the arts is the most beautiful passion and career in the world. I can relate to imaging scenarios before and after sleep or at random times during the course of the day. I want to thank Michelle for hanging out at the Lounge with us. To purchase Red Circus, click the link below. Once again, this is the Literature Lounge, I am your host Edward Anthony, and I'll see you next time.

Amazon: Red Circus

Saturday, September 28, 2019

LL Blog Series: Mamacita: Chapter Two: Mercedes

Author's Note: This story contains content that is graphic. Viewers/Readers discretion is advised.

Copyright © 2019 By Edward Anthony

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic and mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems — expect in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without written permission.

Mercedes, also known by loved ones as “Cede,” (say-dee) is a woman like no other. She has the zest of a cha-cha dancer...yet, a personality— not to mention looks— hotter than Pepper X. She’s a woman with a slim and trim build; long, silky brunette hair, who is well endowed and proud. Yet, with everything she could offer any man physically, there is something her heart longs for that drives her well beyond the brink of her feisty passion.

Mercedes Santa Cruz was born in Bogota, Colombia to Evelyn, a Colombian, and Jose Santa Cruz, a Mexican who was stationed in Colombia while serving in the Mexican army. After four years in the military, Jose and Evelyn migrated to the Bronx borough of New York in 1993. The family suffered miserably after Jose lost his job as a forklift mechanic/technician in 2003.

As money was running out, the family went down a gradual path of destitution. Jose, a very passionate and proud man, refused to accept government assistance and was determined to find work, but it seemed as if every door he went to was slammed shut in his face. His determination was teetered down to defeat more and more each day. He resorted to drinking to ease his pain; alleviate his stress, drown his sorrows.

To make ends meet, Evelyn took on a job as a waitress in a bar, and even Mercedes’ older brother, Ricardo (AKA “Rico”) started working the evening shift at a bodega before it closed at night while going to school during the day. Beyond frustrated with her family’s situation and devastated to see her dad as a shell of his former self, and refusing to work nickel-and-dime jobs, Mercedes decided to hit the streets. Both Jose and Evelyn were suspicious of her whereabouts, but Evelyn was too focused on morally supporting her husband and helping him get his life back on track to attend to her.

Rico was well aware of Mercedes’ coming and going; while he didn’t agree with it and tried numerous times to convince her not to sway in that direction of life, deep down he knew she wanted more than what she was getting— he couldn’t blame her— and most for the part, chose to stay out of her way.

She would leave the house at any given moment, day or night, sneaking her dad’s M1911 out with her to help “make ends meet.” This business consisted of pick pocketing, being a stick-up, and occasionally drug trafficking. The extra income helped pay the bills and kept food on the table, but Mercedes wasn’t satisfied. She became addicted to the streets, and the streets were addicted to her as if they were a couple who were made for each other— like a moth to a flame.

Night after night she regrettably lied to her father about her whereabouts, saying she was by the parents of either Jasmine Alvarez or Jennifer Gomez, two long-time friends of hers. There were times where that was the case— sometimes, she would go to either one, and eventually wander off to the streets— but most of her time was spent hustling money or others for their money. She did her best to hide her secret life from her dad, who often wondered where the money was coming from, but never took the time to question.

He was never a religious person, unlike Evelyn, but if there was a god, he was definitely thankful not to be out of a house and thrown out on the streets. Mercedes herself took after her dad on that questionable mindset towards religion. She never understood how if there’s truly a god, why would he let her, and her family suffer the way they were.

As for her friends, Jasmine, “Jazzy,” as most would call her, lived in the same apartment building that Santa Cruzes moved into not too long after migrating to New York. She’s the one Mercedes hangs around often; one of the reasons being is because Jazzy is understanding and is always there to lend an ear and a shoulder to cry on, with no complaints. Another reason is Jazzy is also too lenient with Mercedes; she tends to give her wild behavior a pass.

Jennifer, on the other hand, is the total opposite of Jasmine, and while she’s the other close friend of Mercedes, their relationship is unique in that they argue quite often. Even when not arguing, they have a rather strange of way bonding. It’s a situation where they often find themselves on the edge of the cliff, but never taking the leap.

Bronx, New York: Present Day

“What’s good, Jen?” Mercedes asks as their walking down the street heading to Mercedes’ apartment.
“Nothing much, girl. A little tired, but I’m good.”
“Oh okay. Still doing your singing thing?”
“Yeah, girl, still pushing for it. That’s why I’m so tired.”
“I’m saying, I mean, something’s going on. I hardly hear from your ass anymore.”
“I know, I know. It’s keeping me busy, though. Besides, I wasn’t sure if you wanted to hear from me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mercedes asks rhetorically. “Look, I know we have our squabbles sometimes, telling me shit I don’t wanna hear, but have I ever pushed you away or told you not to come near me?”
Jennifer thinks about it for a moment. “No, you haven’t.”
“You had to think about it?”
“Look, we’re rolling to your place now, right? Relajarse. Stop being so damn sensitive.”

Arriving at the apartment building— a spot where Mercedes is now staying with her brother— she opens the door to let them in. As they enter, Rico is sitting at the dining room table, typing on the computer. A childhood crush of Jennifer’s, seeing him always puts a smile on her face, no matter what she’s going through or what mood she was in.

“Hi, Rico,” Jennifer greets in an unwittingly somewhat giggly schoolgirl way.
Rico stops typing and looks up. “Hi Jennifer. How are you?”
“I’m fine.” She walks over to the chair next to him.
“Well, I’m going to my room.” Mercedes says walking past both of them. She stops by the entranceway of her room, turns and sees Jennifer still standing over Rico, watching his computer screen. “Sit ya ass down next to him. You know you like him.”
“Bitch, fuck you.” Jennifer responds.
“No bitch, fuck you.” A grin flashes across Mercedes’ face as she’s shaking her head, opening the door to go into her room.
Rico shakes his head in disbelief. “And you two are friends?” He asks Jennifer.
“Yeah, that’s how we along.”
“You two have weirdest fucking friendship I’ve ever seen,” He says. “Y’all were like that since you were little. A few times I thought I was gonna have to break you two up, but you would stop just short of fighting.”
“It’s weird, I know, but our relationship was built on it.”

Rico once again shakes his head.
“I know one thing. That’s my girl; that’s how we rock. Nobody else bet not fuck with her.”
“The crazy part is, Jen, I believe you when you say that,” Rico admits. “I don’t think you would let anybody hurt her, and she wouldn’t let anyone hurt you.”
“You’re darn right, Rico,” She replies. “But enough about us, what’s going on with you?”
“Checking out some of these ads from potential clients.”
“Oh, you’re still in marketing?”
“Yep. I was recently promoted to Sr. Copywriter.”
“Oh wow. Felicidades!”
Gracias. What about you? Still singing?”
“Yeah. I’m really close to signing with an agent.”
That diverts Rico’s attention from the computer. He turns, giving his full attention to Jennifer. “Oh really?”
“Really. Like I was telling Cede, that’s what has been keeping me so busy lately.”
“So, you’re dropping an album?”
She takes a deep breath. “Not yet, but I’m working on one. Of course, you know these things aren’t guaranteed to be a hit, so hopefully—”
He puts his hand on her shoulder, looking into her eyes. “Jenny, you got this. Don’t let that doubt creep in. You’ll be fine.”
“You’re right, Rico. It’s probably my exhaustion talking. Spending so much time at the studio, I really do need to get some rest. I better get going. Tell Mercedes I’ll see her later.”

As she’s getting up, Rico stops her. “Hey, you can crash in my room for a few hours, if you want to. I’ll be out here for a while, anyway.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Of course, I’m sure. I’ll walk you to the train later.”
“Okay. Thanks.”
“No problem.”

Jennifer goes into Rico’s room and falls asleep almost immediately. Thirty minutes afterward, Rico gets up and takes a power nap on the couch. Four hours later, Jennifer is standing over Rico, poking his arm to wake him up.
“Yeah?” He says.
“I’m about to leave. You still want to walk with me?”
He sits up on the couch, wiping his eyes. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

Rico returns home from walking with Jennifer. Mercedes is sitting in a chair that she turned sideways from the table, holding a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade that she has drank half of.
“Oh, I see you’re up.” He says.
“Yep, I decided to have a little liquid courage before going back to sleep.”
He looks at her in half amazement and half disgust. “How do you drink that shit?”
“Like this.” She says, taking a drink.
He smirks. “Smart ass.”
“It takes one to know one.”
He chuckles. “What are you doing up, anyway?”
“Your crush woke me up with all that damn snoring. I couldn’t get back to sleep.”
He busts out laughing. “Wow. Really? She was snoring? I didn’t hear anything.”
“Yeah, you always were a hard sleeper,” she replies. “That girl was sawing lumber in there. She could’ve built a treehouse.” Mercedes pauses and looks at Rico momentarily. “You didn’t try anything with her, did you?”
“No, I didn’t. I was a perfect gentleman.” He says, being sarcastically humorous.
“She probably wouldn’t mind if you did. She has the same schoolgirl crush on you that she has had…,” She shrugs her shoulders. “…when she was a schoolgirl.”
“Well, I have to get back to this computer.”
“That’s all you do. You never have time for friends or a girlfriend; your job is your girlfriend. Why don’t you get away from that for a minute, relax, find you someone and chill?”
“Okay, ‘mom,’” He replies sarcastically. “I’ll call Jennifer back over here and we’ll have a blast.”
“Smart ass.” She rolls her eyes and takes another drink.
He grins, shaking his head. “You’re something else, you know that, sis?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” She stands up, finishing the rest of her drink.
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
“But you love me, though.”
“Yes, I do, Cede. That’s for sure.”

A smile crosses her face. “At least are trying to come up the right way and make something of yourself,” She acknowledges. “That’s why I started making the moves I make. I know you don’t approve, but I’m tired of struggling, so I’m doing what I have to do.”
“You don’t actually, but I already know where you stand, so, it is what it is.”
“These people out here aren’t going to give you a fair shake, Rico. They don’t play fair. It’s dog-eat-dog, kill or be killed,” she says. “Some of our own family members look down us because we’re not as fortunate. Stuck-up bastards.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Like aunt Carmela and aunt Eva. Carmela stays on the good side of Brooklyn, and Evelyn is in Manhattan,” She says. “We would have family gatherings every year and I started to hate them as I got older.”
“You know why, Rico. Carmela always turned her nose up at us; she would always look at us as if we crapped our underwear,” She responds. “She had no idea how much I wanted to punch in her fucking face. She and a few others would— whenever we did something, me particularly— just shake their heads.”
“Yeah, I remember that, too.”
“It was like we could never do anything right in their sights. Anything you did, those uppity bitches would shake their damn heads. I wanted to snag ‘em with an uppercut. I was like, ‘What the fuck are you shaking your fucking head for?’ Stupid motherfuckers. They looked like human bobble-head dolls they shook their heads so damn much.”

Rico laughs heartily. “I’m not laughing because I think it’s funny; what you’re saying is true, unfortunately. It’s the way you’re saying it. You always tickled me when you get fired up.”
“It was infuriating, Rico. Eva came up and forgot what it was like to be on this side. She started her career, moved to Manhattan, and started looking down on us, too. You remember that comment she made?”
“What comment?”
“One of the last family reunions we went to before mama finally allowed us the option of not going if we didn’t want to, thank goodness, we were all in the dining room and Eva made that sly remark about mom and I being dressed alike and moving us to another family.”
“She was joking.”
“Bullshit, Rico! She knew what she was saying. That’s what she wanted you to think.” She replies. “You know we never were wealthy; then dad was coping with the loss of his job at the time, money was scarce, so we didn’t have the best clothes and what not. We stood out compared to other family members, and not in a good way. It was a slick way of saying we didn’t belong because we were broke and struggling. It was a low-key cheap shot disguised as a joke.”
 “I caught what she was trying to say back then. Mind you, I did nothing to her, and that motherfucker took a shot at me. When she said it, I was thinking, ‘bitch, fuck you,’ but, of course, I would’ve been seen as taking everything to heart, plus, you know me cussing out aunt Eva wouldn’t have went too well with mama and papi.”
“No, it wouldn’t have,” Rico agrees. “One of the rare times you kept your cool, although I’m sure it showed on your face.”
“You’re probably right. What kills me about them is they can say whatever they want to us, don’t care if they offended us or not, but we shoot something back at them, the game changes. ‘That was uncalled for,’ ‘Y’all take stuff the wrong way,’ and everything else.”
“She always was on the disgruntled side.”
“One of the main reasons she’s like that is because she’s sexually frustrated.”
Rico laughs. “Wow. Sexually frustrated?”
“She’s mad at the world because nobody’s checking for her Shrek-looking, awkward-built ass.”
Rico busts out laughing. “Wow. OMG, Cede. OMG.”
“Calling it like I see it.”
“Well, she has one kid, so somebody was drunk enough to hit that.”
“Yeah, for some reason. Selena was a cute little kid, I haven’t seen her since she was four. She was so friendly. Too bad her mom wasn’t that way. She could’ve learned something.”
“I hear you. I was there with you, so I know how you feel.”
Mercedes sighs. “I know. Well, I know you have things to do, so I won’t keep you.”
“Nah, you’re good. I always have time for you, sis.”
“Nah, I’m tired anyway. I’m going to bed. Buenas noches, bro.”
Buenas noches, sis.”

After checking out a movie, Mercedes, Jasmine, and Jennifer go hanging out at the Mi Casita Lounge for some drinks.
“Chica, why you always have to dress like that?” Jennifer questions. “The guys would see your 34-DDs if you were wearing a blanket, but do you always have to show them your ‘Colombian Peaks,’ as you call them?”
Mercedes rolls her eyes. “Why are you worried about it?”
“It can attract the wrong type of attention. That’s the only reason these guys come to you.”
“What’s wrong with that? They can come— and cum again after seeing them, if you know what I mean— that doesn’t mean they’re going to get it.”
“Yeah, well some guys will try to take it.”
“That’s okay, that’s why I carry my twin peaks,” Mercedes responds, slightly raising up her short denim skirt where the hem stops just at her thighs, revealing two Smith & Wesson 9MM pistols. “Well, that, and just in case some other shit jumps off.”
“Girl, what’s wrong with you? You are you crazy?” Jennifer asks, talking below a whisper, gesturing for Mercedes to hurry up and cover up her guns. “Anyway. So, all you have in your closet is a wife beater and short jean skirts?”
“No, I have dresses. I just don’t want to wear them. I’m comfortable in these,” Mercedes responds. “C’mon Jenny, relax. Besides, the way I see it, if you got it, flaunt it. I mean, you and Jazzy aren’t A cups, either. We’re the BTC.”
“Yes, I remember. The Big Titty Committee.” Jennifer responds, smiling and shaking her head.
“Yep. The opposite of the Itty-Bitty Titty Committee.” Jasmine laughs.
“Those bitches used to hate on us bad.” Mercedes says.
“For real.” Jasmine says. “They used to get so butthurt. Don’t blame us because we’ve been gifted. I wasn’t ashamed then, and I’m not today.”
“Speaking of them, have you ever noticed how they wear revealing clothes more than we do?” Mercedes asks rhetorically. “Girl, it tickles me pink. I mean, they don’t have shit to show. They can jump up and down and nothing bounces.”
Jennifer laughs. “Trust me, I’m not ashamed of mine, either. I’m just saying.”
“Yeah, you’re saving yours for my brother.” Mercedes replies.
“You know what? Yes, I like your brother, so what?” Jennifer responds. “If I wanna date him, I’ll date him, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Mercedes sits up. “No?”
“No.” Jennifer responds.
“What if I said I’ll pistol whip you if you go anywhere near him?”
Jennifer rolls her eyes and sucks her teeth. “You ain’t gonna do shit.”
“Oh yeah?”
“C’mon girls, don’t start with that,” Jasmine says. “We came here to chill and have a good time, remember?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Mercedes acknowledges. “You know she burns my ass sometimes.”
“You’re not a walk in the park, yourself.” Jennifer responds.
“Girls, chill!” Jasmine retorts.

As Mercedes and Jennifer start to bicker, three guys approach their table. One is black, the other is white, and the third is a Puerto Rican. The black guy is wearing V-Neck shirt with black wind pants, the white guy a Star Wars t-shirt with blue denim jeans, and the Puerto Rican a plaid shirt with dark blue denim jeans.

“Hey, I’m Tyler.” The black guy says.
“I’m Conner.” The white guy says.
“I’m Alonso.” The Puerto Rican says.
“Hello fellas.” The ladies say in unison.
 “Are you girls waiting for someone?”  Tyler asks.
“No, we’re by ourselves tonight.” Mercedes replies.
“Would you girls like some company?” asks Alonso.
“No, no thanks. Not tonight, fellas.” Jasmine replies with a pleasant smile.
“Right. We’re just here to chill tonight.” Jennifer concurs.
“Sort of like a ladies’ night out, huh?” Tyler asks.
“Something like that.” Mercedes replies.
“Besides, we don’t plan on being here very long, in fact, we will be leaving shortly.” Jasmine says.
“Yeah, we have plans later on.” Mercedes inserts.
“Okay, cool. We can be a part of those plans.” Tyler says.
Mercedes sizes him up momentarily, then chuckles. “Not tonight, fellas.”
“Sorry.” Jasmine says to them as they get up to leave.
Three young ladies notice the interaction from afar and are walking over as Mercedes and her crew are leaving.
“Hold up. Did you just pass up those dudes for whatever reason?” One of them asks Mercedes.
“Ummm, yeah. Why?” Mercedes responds matter-of-factly.
“Seriously. Me and my girls have other plans.”
“What kind of plans y’all have like that?” Another girl asks Mercedes.

This prompts one of the girls to start laughing so hard, tears are coming down her face as she quickly makes her way to the restroom, the third woman trailing her, the woman who questioned them right behind her. They’re laughing so hard that it’s heard by Mercedes and Jennifer, who is enraged.
“What happened?” A confused Jasmine asks.

“Those bitches are in there laughing at us.” Mercedes says. She looks at Jennifer. “You wanna go find out what’s so damn funny?”
“Let’s ride.” Jennifer concurs.

As they’re making their way to the restroom, Jasmine hurriedly jumps in front of them.
“Girls, girls. Don’t worry about it,” She pleads. She looks at Mercedes. “Remember the plan you said you wanted to talk to us about?”
While Jasmine is trying to get cooler heads to prevail, Mercedes and Jennifer both are still trying to get to the restroom. It was Jasmine’s reminder about the plan Mercedes has in mind that makes them stop.
“Yeah, that’s true.” Mercedes reluctantly agrees. “That’s the only reason I’m letting it go. Girls let’s get out of here. Forget those pendejos. Silly ass bitches.”
“Two of them were those itty-bitty motherfuckers we were just talking about.” Jennifer includes.
They’re laughing as they exit the lounge.

“Now what’s this plan you’re talking about?” Jasmine enquires.
“I thought of a way we all could all eat.” Mercedes responds.
“How, pray tell?” Jennifer wonders.
“Well, there’s this new name that has been buzzing around the neighborhood lately. The past several months, actually,” Mercedes says. “Been stacking some mad dough, I’ve heard.”
“How did you find out about him?” Jasmine asks.
“I have ears; I hear things,” Mercedes responds. “Not much gets past me on these streets. And it’s not a ‘he,’ it’s a ‘she.’”
“She? Is it who I think you’re talking about?” Jennifer asks.
“Perhaps. She’s known around theses blocks as ‘Mamacita.’” Mercedes says.
“You mean Lucy Luna?” Jennifer asks. “What are you gonna do?”
“Well, let’s just say I plan on making her share the wealth.” Mercedes says.
“Oooo, I don’t know about that, Cede,” Jasmine skeptically responds. “Are you sure you wanna try to hit up Lucy Luna?”
“Have I ever been unsure?” Mercedes asks rhetorically.
Jennifer sighs. “You have pulled some crazy shit in your lifetime, Mercedes Santa Cruz, but this one takes the cake. Are you out of your damn mind?!”
“Hey, Jennifer, Jasmine, look at me,” Mercedes demands. “Look into my eyes. Real talk. As long as you two have known me, when have I ever been scared to do something that I set my mind to? Don’t ever question Mercedes Santa Cruz; don’t ever question my balls. Ever! I don’t even have balls, and I still have balls! That’s how I roll!”
“I’m not questioning your ‘balls,’ I’m questioning your intellect.” Jennifer responds.
“You don’t have to do this, Cede.” Jasmine says.
“Yes, I do. I’m tired of struggling. In order to get ahead in this world, you have to be on the take,” Mercedes says, snapping her fingers on the last term for emphasis. “You’re either predator or prey. Kill or killed.”
“You’ve lost your mind, Toni Montana,” Jennifer responds. “Are we still going to your place?”
“Yeah, why?” Mercedes inquires.
“I’d rather finish this discussion there, if you don’t mind. Too many folks lurking around out here.”
“Sure. Whatever.”

It’s 2:00 in the morning; Rico is sleeping when he’s suddenly awakened by loud, high-pitched arguing. “Ahhh, shit,” He mumbles and groans, sitting up in his bed. “Jennifer must be here.”
He gets out of the bed, walks over to the entryway of Mercedes’ room. The door is shut; he slightly cracks open the door and watches the kerfuffle unfold in disgust.

“Mercedes, what you’re about to do is fucking crazy. Don’t do this.” Jennifer warns.
“I’m going to do what I have to, Jen, and I don’t care what you think of it.” Mercedes responds. “To be honest, I don’t remember asking for your approval, anyway.”
“Oh, you have an attitude?” Jennifer questions.
“Yes, you got a problem with it?”
Jennifer takes a deep breath to maintain her patience. “I’m doing this because I care. I don’t wanna see you get hurt.”
“I’ll be fine, Jennifer.”
“So you say.”
“You’re not my fucking mom!”
“Look, Mercedes. I’m not Jasmine. I’m your motherfucking friend. I’m not scared of you, bitch.”

Mercedes walks closer. She points and briefly holds her middle finger in the space between her and Jennifer’s face. “You know what? I guess we are friends. That’s the only reason I didn’t put one between your eyes just now.”
“That’s the only reason I didn’t slap your ass through that wall for flipping me off.”
“The fuck you wanna do?” Mercedes asks, spreading her arms out, walking towards Jennifer.
“Cut that shit out!” Rico demands. “It’s too early in the morning for that. People are trying to sleep.”
Their attention turns to Rico.
“Rico, I’m sorry you had to hear that,” Jennifer says. “I think I better leave.”
“No, let’s finish this!” Mercedes says, trailing Jennifer as she’s walking out of the room.
“Mercedes, chill.” Rico says, who stops her when she gets to the entryway.
“Fuck you! Don’t come back here!”
Jennifer stops at the entryway of the front door, turning her attention to Mercedes. “You don’t mean that.”
“Like fuck I don’t. Stay the fuck out of my life.”
Tears run down Jennifer’s face. “If you say so, Mercedes.” She slams the door behind her.
“I think I’d better leave, too.” Jasmine says. “Good night, Rico. See you later, Cede.”
“Good night, Jasmine.” Rico responds.
As the door closes, Mercedes falls into her brother’s arms, bawling her eyes out, as he hugs and comforts her.

Interview with Author Danielle Wong

It has been a long time, almost a year, to be exact, but the Literature Lounge returns with an award-winning author whose latest novel will ...