Excerpt from Having It Both Ways, The Lust Diaries: Book Three

I think I share this excerpt every Christmas. I need to write more christmas-y things. Anyway, here’s a bit of Julian and Yves from having it both ways. It’s a Christmas scene. There’s a particularly blasphemous “blog” entry from Yves before this chapter but I decided to keep it cute.

I hope this tides you over while I take a bit of a blogging break until the New Year. If you haven’t read The Lust Diaries yet you can grab a copy of the omnibus for $1.99 from now until Christmas!

Happy Holidays!

The house smelled of memories when I arrived on Christmas Eve, but still my stomach twisted with nervousness as I opened the door. As much as I’d been looking forward to nochebuena I dreaded it, too. I knew that it meant that I would probably have to talk about everything that was going with me, and this time, I would have to tell them about Elijah. I’d somehow sidestepped that conversation at our last gathering, but I knew it couldn’t be avoided it now.

I came in to find Marcelo and my brother in law on the couch watching football. “Hey, Desmond!” I said, pulling him to his feet and into a hug. “It feels like forever since I’ve seen you.”

“Only because you’re too busy to visit us anymore,” he said tightening his squeeze.

“Yeah, well, you know I’m kind of a big deal now,” I said with a nonchalant shrug.

“Whatever,” he said bopping me on the back of my head. I gave my brother a quick kiss on the cheek and batted away my nieces when they tried to pick up and shake every gift I put under the tree.

The soft, sweet harmony of my mother and sister singing Christmas carols floated out to me from the kitchen. I followed the sound of their hesitant but beautiful voices into the cramped and deliciously fragrant room. My mother was at the stove swaying as she sang. My sister stood a little ways from her taking empanadas out of the fryer. Even Gia was helping out, wearing one of my mother’s old aprons and chopping onions and peppers for sofrito at the linoleum top kitchen table.

“Chiquita!” my mother chirped waving me in close for a hug. I pressed my lips to her cheek as she hugged me. Her skin was so soft and smelled faintly of roses.

“What can I do? I want to help.”

“Nothing,” Mercedes said. “We’d like to make it through this evening without burning down the kitchen.”

“Aye, Mercedes!” our mother scolded, swatting at her with her free hand. “You can help Gia,” she said, nodding toward my brother’s girlfriend. The message was clear: make nice. I grabbed the last apron on the hook and tied it on.

“Hey, girl! Feliz Navidad!” I said cheerily and sat next to Gia.

“Feliz Navidad,” she said back in perfect lisping Spanish with a big, beaming smile. It was then that I noticed how gorgeous her smile was.

Hmm. Big brother has good taste.

“What are we working on here?”

“Just peppers and onions.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “I don’t think they trust me not to burn anything either.”

I smirked. “Hell, we’re lucky we’re even allowed in here. These two can get very possessive of this kitchen.”

“You misspoke. Protective is the word you were looking for. We are very protective of this kitchen,” Mercedes said.

“Cause one small grease fire and you’re banned for life,” I muttered, rolling my eyes.

“You’re damn right! Three coats of paint and that scorch mark is still bleeding through!” my mother said.

“I mean, why are we bringing up old shit, though?” I asked.

It felt good to be in my mother’s kitchen laughing with the women that loved and knew me, even if it was at my expense. Gia was hesitant at first but soon came to understand our sarcasm and fell into an easy rhythm with us.

When dinner was close to ready, Mercedes and I went into the dining room to set the table. Christmas was the only time we used my mother’s good china and real silverware—the only wedding gift she still had from her mother in Santo Domingo.

“So where’s Elijah? I was sure he would come with you tonight. Did he have plans with his family?” She said it in an off-hand way, but I could tell she had been burning to ask that question since I came in the door.

“Elijah is Jewish. They don’t celebrate Christmas.”

“Oh. Right. So why didn’t he come with you?”

“We…we’re taking a break,” I said, hoping that my words were true. That this was really a break and not a break-up. “We may have rushed into things. It was really soon to get involved with someone after Cesar and—”

“He broke up with you?” Mercedes asked, her voice low and edged with anger.

“Don’t make a big deal out of this—”

My sister set down her handful of silverware and glared at me. “Thanksgiving. That’s when it happened, eh? I knew you were weird over Thanksgiving. That’s why you got so drunk! I’ve never seen you that drunk before. Is that when it happened? Why didn’t you talk to me?” Mercedes leaned in and lowered her voice. “Was it the spanking, D/s thing? Did things get out of hand?”

Did they get out of hand? Maybe. But if they did it was my fault. “It wasn’t that. He just…”

“He just what?”

I swallowed my tears back. “We just needed to take a step back and reassess—”

“So does that mean you’re going to get back together? No pressure or anything, but you guys were perfect together.”

Weren’t we, though? We were so fucking perfect.

“Is there anything you can do?” Mercedes went back to putting out the place settings.

“Not really. He said I should just work on me for awhile, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

“Good. You need a little work. Could you pass me those napkins behind you?”

Any other time, my sister’s dismissive end to this sharing session would have left me feeling angry and a little abandoned, but today I was just glad that I made it through that conversation without dissolving into tears. That’s progress. Maybe I was getting closer to okay.

Dinner was loud and merry, and I ate way more than I should’ve and drank even more than that. My mother was the happiest I’d ever seen her with all of her family around her and the coquito warming her cheeks. My brother must have been just as drunk because he kissed Gia at least half a dozen times. It struck me that this was the first time I’d ever seen him like this with anyone but family. Seeing him so in love made me happy and sad all at once.

I rode with Mercedes, Desmond and the girls to the church. The pews were already nearly full when we arrived—backsliders like myself squeezing into the empty spaces that were there every Sunday. But there was always room on what I’d come to call my mother’s pew, on the left side of the pulpit, second from the front.

I loved my mother’s church at Christmas time. The sanctuary glowed with soft yellow candlelight. On the stage in front of us, there were no less than six heavily decorated trees. The nativity sat on a raised dais just to the left. It was the same one that had been there since I was a kid and had grown even more beautiful with the patina of age. Real, shiny green holly, ripe with berries hung from the balustrade where the children’s choir sang my favorite Christmas carol, The Little Drummer Boy. My mother sat close, holding my hand in hers.

Something welled up in me as I watched the kids stumble through their play; tiny humans dressed as shepherds and wise men with a real squalling infant as baby Jesus. I felt content and whole for the first time in weeks. Maybe me and God can have a better relationship this year. I took communion with an open heart and a sincere desire to be better in the coming year.

On the way out, we passed the bank of red votive candles. Wishes and prayers burning bright. I slowed to a stop in front of them. My mother patted my hand.

“We’ll meet you outside,” she said softly.

“Okay.” I watched her leave then turned my attention to my prayer.

I hadn’t done this in so long that I nearly forgot what to say after I lit the stick of incense. But as the glowing tip lit the wick, I whispered out the silent prayer to a God I barely acknowledged. The memorized words fell from my lips in a rush, but when I got to the part where I actually had to make my request, I hesitated. I couldn’t say it out loud.

I bowed my head and closed my eyes. Please, bring him back to me.

The flame of the candle leaped and so did a little hope in my heart.

Mercedes and the girls, Gia and my mother were waiting just outside the chapel doors for the boys to pull the cars around. Gia was standing a little off on her own. I went to her side and looped my arm through hers.

“You know, I was so intimidated by you,” Gia said without looking at me.

“Intimidated? Why?”

“You’re important to Marc and if you didn’t like me…”

“Listen.” I turned to her, forced her to look me in the eye. “You make my brother happy. That’s all that matters to me. And it doesn’t look like you’re going anywhere so we might as well get to know each other.”

She smiled. “He makes me happy, too.”

“Good. I’m not gonna lie. I’m a hard person to like. Even harder to love. I wish I could say that I’m going to make it easy for you, but I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.”

“Understood. But we’re good for now, right?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “We’re good.”

The rest of the family said our goodbyes, promising to call or text when we got home. I wasn’t headed home, though. It was after midnight, but I had one more stop to make.

The streets were full of revelers and last minute shoppers as I made my way to Julian’s place. I’d had just enough coquito in me to keep me warm and giddy under my winter coat.

The building was quiet as I approached his loft, but as I neared his door, loud voices and festive music spilled out into the breezeway. Julian wasn’t alone. It was silly of me to think that he would be. He’d always spoken of close friends that he had in Philly, but I never had the opportunity to meet them. I did feel a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t have him to myself, but I knocked anyway and was greeted by smiling and drunk, Julian.

“Star!” he exclaimed, pulling me inside and then into his arms. “Ain’t it a surprise? Wasn’t expectin’ ya but so glad to see ya all the same.”

“It’s Christmas, and I knew you didn’t have any family in town, so I decided to stop by and bring you a present.” I reached into my big bag and pulled out a large, rectangular shaped box and handed it to him.

“Oh…oh shit. Nah buy ya nothing.”

I laughed. “Don’t worry. I have everything I ever need. I just wanted you to have a good Christmas.”

Julian tore away the wrapping paper to find a beautiful bamboo box.

“Oh no,” he said softly as he lifted the lid to find the beautiful set of paintbrushes I’d bought for him. They were sable with hand turned wood handles. The artisan said that the wood would warm in his hand and mold to his grip eventually. “These are so beautiful,” he said.

“I’m glad you like them. Merry Christmas.”

He smiled, dimples in each cheek deepening to make him even more drunkenly adorable. “Thank you, star. Ya gwon stay, then? There’s food and drink, and weed and ya can meet all my friends,” he said, gesturing around the room.

I nodded and smiled hello at his friends, but as I acknowledged them I saw that all the furniture was gone, and boxes were piled up against the wall. “Are you moving? Why is your place all boxed up?”

Julian turned to me, his expression sobering a bit. “My visa is up. Time for me to go home,” he said with a shrug.

“What?”

“It’s a shock. I know, but I can’t stay here forever. Time to go back home, ya know? Regroup. Start thinking of other things.”

Other things besides me…

Stunned and a little hurt, I covered it all with a smile. “That’s good, I guess.”

“It is. Lemme get ya a drink.”

The party went on until two in the morning. I helped Julian round up the stragglers, mostly young girls who were so enamored of him that they had tears in their eyes as they said their goodbyes. He embraced them all like some sweet-faced prophet and sent them on their way until it was just me and him and boxes and the shadows of missed opportunities. I helped him clean up, holding in all the words and feelings I had no business feeling. When we were done, he knelt at my feet to help me out of my boots and then lead me into his bed.

“Do ya…should I dig out a shirt or something for ya to sleep in?” he asked hesitantly.

“No.” I pulled my dress over my head, shimmied out of my tights and climbed into his bed. Julian followed suit, stripping down to his boxers and climbed in next to me. One rough hand trailed up my back, pulling my body in close to his.

“I’m so glad ya came tonight, star.”

“Really? I probably would’ve planned for it if I got some sort of invitation.”

He chuckled softly. “Twas a surprise. Had no idea they were going ta do it.”

“But you knew that you were leaving, right?” I felt him go tense under me. “You weren’t going to tell me or say goodbye?”

“To tell ya the truth, nah think ya would miss me,” he said softly.

I pushed up onto my elbows so that I could look at him. With the thick black out curtains packed away, plenty of light filtered in from the street so that I could see him clearly. “Considering everything that happened between us that was probably a fair assumption to make, but it’s still hurtful.”

“I’m sorry.”

Part of Julian’s face was cast in shadow, the light splitting his profile in two. I traced my finger over the dividing line, pausing when I got to his lips to give them a kiss. “I will miss you.”

“I know that now.”

“When are you coming back?”

“I’m going home indefinitely. Nah got a reason fa come back.”

“What if I said I could be that reason?”

“I’d say it’s too little, too late.”

“What if I said I disagree?”

“I’d tell ya that ya just lonely.”

“Aren’t you lonely, too?”

“Yes. But we are both stricken with a very specific loneliness. I’m lonely for you. Don’t think ya lonely for me.”

I couldn’t disagree with that. Not entirely. Julian was sweet and familiar, but I wanted Elijah, and he knew that. “When do you leave?”

He reached for his phone to look at the time. “Wow. In a few hours actually.”

“What about all of your things?”

“One of my friends is gonna make sure everything gets boxed up proper the day after Christmas. Just wanted to be home to spend the holidays with my family.”

“Of course.” My chest tightened with sadness or regret or something in between. “So this is your last night?”

“Yes.”

“And we probably won’t ever see each other again?”

“Nah likely.”

“Julian?”

He sighed heavily. “Don’t ask me to fuck ya cause ya know I can’t say no.”

I didn’t know if he meant it to be a joke, but I laughed, all the same. Eventually he joined in. Of course, I was going to ask for sex. How else does someone say a proper goodbye to a lover?

“Well,” I said with a smirk. “Since I know the answer is going to be yes—”

Julian flipped me onto my back and wedged his hips between my thighs, his hard cock pressed right up against the seam of me. My heart thundered in my chest, and the lacy bra and panty I had on suddenly seemed too constricting.

“Can’t give ya what he gives ya. All of that spanking and nonsense, but I still fuck ya good, yeah?”

“You know you do.”

He smiled. “Yeah, I know.”

“Can you fuck me now?” I asked undulating under him.

“Okay, but promise me one thing.”

“What?”

“Be here when I wake up.”

There was something behind this request; I could see it in his eyes, but I still found myself nodding. “I’ll be here.”

He kissed me in that way that always made me feel like he was giving me a piece of himself. “I wish this didn’t have to be goodbye.”

I sighed, not bothering to hide my disappointment. “Me either,” I agreed. “So make it a nice long goodbye, okay?”

“I can do that.”

Julian peeled away the pretty lingerie that I’d wore for him then made himself naked. He braced himself over me and just looked at me for a long moment, drinking me in. “I don’t even think ya know how beautiful ya are,” he whispered.

I reached for him, wanting him close. “You’re beautiful,” I whispered. “Come here.”

He lowered himself over me until we were chest to chest. “I’m sorry I tried to leave without sayin’ goodbye to ya.” He pushed my hair away from my face and kissed me. “I’m just weak, ya know? I didn’t want to feel this.”

Whatever that thing was that he didn’t want to feel, he gave it to me. The slow, steady, deep thrust of his tongue was hypnotic. With just his kiss he brought me to the brink. We rolled and arched against each other. He was still outside of my body, but I felt him so deeply that I knew I would come if he kept this up. Was this what he felt for me this whole time? This deep, consuming desire-lust-want? If so, I knew why he was so angry that night. How could he imagine sharing me with someone else when he felt this so deeply?

Tears were pooling in the shell of my ears by the time he finally entered me. We fucked like two people who knew each other’s bodies. A lazy, drunken, fluid knowing. After all the random fucking I’d been doing recently, this was more than I needed. Familiarity was sweet.

Skin on skin like we’d made a promise to each other, I rode his cock until he pulled out and emptied on my belly. That was a mistake, but regrets were for the morning. It was still night, and I put those thoughts aside while he kissed and kissed me and said his goodbyes.

We never really went to sleep. Every time I started to drift off Julian would wake me with more kisses. More of his skin on my skin.

“Come home with me,” he had said while clutching me close to his chest.

“Oh. I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to fuck me into delirium so that I agree to whatever you suggest.”

He chuckled. “Maybe…but I do want ya to come home with me. I’ll take care of you.”

“I can’t. My life is here. I won’t run away from it. I’m no quitter.”

“Who’s running away? It’s a vacation in Jamaica. I have a little place that’s steps away from the beach. Bright blue water, soft sand…and a big bed.”

“I like the sound of that…especially the part about the big bed.” I grinned and wiggled against him. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. Come home with me, Yves. I’ll change my ticket, and we can fly back together.”

In those early morning hours, while he dozed, I wondered if leaving was exactly what I needed. My first instinct was to say no. I couldn’t keep running. Elijah wasn’t wrong when he pointed that out. But maybe a change of scenery would be exactly what I needed to jolt me out of this funk.

Somewhere close to dawn I drifted off, snuggled in close to him. Dreaming of soft island sand and crystal clear waters.

There Are Levels To This Sh*t: The Character Hierarchy #writerwednesday

character hierarchy

As authors, we all know that all characters are not created equal. To put it bluntly, there are levels to this shit and how you handle these characters can let your readers know which characters are important to the story and which will exit stage left without making an impact. But how do you determine the importance of a character?

Characters will typically fall into these three levels of importance:

Main characters:

These are the characters that you spend most of your time developing. You’re telling their story. The stakes are higher for them and they have the most to lose. Their desires and actions drive the plot.

Secondary characters:

Secondary characters serve as devices to challenge the main character or as key pivot points in the plot. They show up multiple times in the story. Their actions and desires may serve as plot twists but don’t play a role in shaping the overall plot.

Tertiary characters:

This character is the in the background, the colorful tapestry that populates the world just beyond the peripheral view of the main and secondary characters.

How to use each character in the hierarchy.

It’s important to remember that there are levels of importance to the characters in your story because each of them have different roles. We don’t need to know their deepest inner conflict just because they made it to the page, but the reader will certainly remember the chain-smoking neighbor who routinely drops bits of wisdom on your main character while they share a cigarette on the front stoop. Here are a few ways that you can use each of these three characters effectively:

Tertiary characters

Unless you’re writing a book about an agoraphobic character who never leaves her home, your character will live in a world populated by people who aren’t involved in their every day lives. In a previous post I talked about stories about place. Tertiary characters and your setting help to shape these stories and make them more impactful.

Make them part of the scenery.

These characters don’t necessarily need “speaking lines,” but they can and should interact with your character in a some simple way. They can be the barista who hands out encouraging affirmations with your coffee or the Uber driver that test you a colorful story on your way to the airport. But be careful with how you handle these “walk-on” characters to make sure they don’t spend too much time on the page.

Here’s an example to illustrate how to use tertiary characters in your story.

Down on our shared stoop, my elderly neighbor Mrs. McKinney sat perched on the second step, working on what looked like her second cigarette. I sighed wearily and sat down next to her.

“Morning, Mrs. Mac.”

“Mornin’, little girl.”

She knew that I was twenty-five years old, but anyone younger than Mrs. McKinney must seem like an infant. The woman had to be at least seventy. She may have been pretty once, but now she was so heavily wrinkled that she resembled hand-wrung washing. She had a long salt and pepper grey braid that hung down to her waist, blue eyes slightly clouded with cataracts, and a crabby attitude that scared the neighborhood kids. There was a Mr. McKinney, but he died a couple of years ago. Mrs. McKinney hasn’t been the same since. She seemed a bit sadder—a bit slower. Her kids tried to make her move to a nursing home, but she put up such a fuss, they decided it was better to just to leave her alone. They came by from time to time to check on her—take her to the grocery store, doctor’s appointments, and such—but mostly it was just Mrs. McKinney and like ten cats. She kind of smelled like stale cigarettes and dirty kitty litter, but who was I to judge? Especially since Maniac was one of the feral kittens she fed who had run into my apartment the day I moved in and never left.

“Can I bum a cigarette off you?”

Mrs. McKinney looked at me with her rheumy, blue eyes and tapped out a cigarette. “If you have a habit, you should be able to support it.”

I took it and pinched it between my lips. “I know, I know, but I thought I would try to quit.”

“Didn’t stick, huh?” She passed me a tattered book of matches.

I grunted, struck the match, and lit the long, thin cigarette. Mrs. McKinney smoked Virginia Slims. They tasted like shit, but they would do in a pinch.

In Her Closet, The Lust Diaries: Book One

Later on in the novel, Mrs. Mckinney and Yves share another cigarette on the stoop and have a conversation that bookends this one. She’s important, but we don’t need to know much more about her other than her interaction with the main character. This scene, among others, paints the world of Yves Santiago.

Tertiary characters are also a good place to illustrate diversity in the world that you’ve written.

There has been a lot of conversation over the years about diversity and how mainstream fiction is overwhelmingly white. Unfortunately, that message has been distorted and I will probably write a post about it someday, but I wanted to highlight this as one way that authors can tell a diverse story without stepping into #ownvoices territory.

Having that said, when you’re crafting this character, make sure you are not playing into negative stereotypes. Some authors will say the exact opposite and they encourage sticking to stereotypes when you’re crafting tertiary characters, but honestly, I feel like that is boring and lazy writing. There are plenty of negative stereotypes in literature and film. There is absolutely no reason why you need to add to that catalog by making all of your bad guys black, or every Spanish speaking foreigner a day laborer. DELIBERATELY BREAK THE STEREOTYPE!

No author is expected to include every marginalized person in every story, but making the “scenery” of your book colorful and diverse is a good place to start. Make your small town less white and affluent. Paint a real picture of the world around you.

Secondary characters

At this level, your character will get some development if only to establish how they relate to the main character and what purpose they serve in the plot. The reader should notice this character and anticipate that something pivotal or important is supposed to happen when they appear on the page. They still shouldn’t be scene stealers but the scenes that feature them should be memorable.

How do you make the secondary characters memorable?

Make them eccentric, or odd.

When I think of eccentric secondary characters, the first that comes to mind is Mrs. Havisham from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. A chain-smoking heroine, trapped in a bygone era who lives in a mansion that is falling down around her tends to stick in your mind, dunnit? We don’t know much about Mrs. Havisham. We don’t ever really find out why or how she came to be this way, but she plays a very important role in how Finn and Estella relate to each other.

This is eccentricity at it’s finest.

Exaggerate their seemingly normal human traits.

In Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter Series, he paints Dexter Morgan as a khaki-wearing, achingly normal blood splatter analyst who’s flat affect and dry humor hide a sadistic, sociopathic, serial killer. He does this so effectively that the reader is compelled to root for him to escape the punishment he deserves for the crimes he has committed.

Or maybe that was just me.

In each book, Dexter struggles with trying to appear more normal while still appeasing his dark rider.

I realize that Dexter is the main character in this series, but you can apply these same attributes to a secondary character to make them more interesting.

Give them an obsession.

There are definitely levels to an obsessive character with the most obsessive being the one you want to stay away from—unless that is part of your plot. For the most part, you want them to be less Joe from You written by Caroline Kepnes and more Elijah from my trilogy The Lust Diaries who cyber stalks Yves with nothing but the best intentions.

The difference between secondary and main characters is how often they appear on the page—and no there is no set number of scenes or chapters. However, be careful when and how you introduce them because if they are super impactful, your reader may spend the rest of the book wondering about the sleepy Jamaican artist your character had to deploy her ninja skills to escape instead of focusing on her true love interest.

Main characters.

This character is usually the reason why you started writing your book in the first place. As previously stated, the stakes are highest for them. They have the most to lose and their actions and desires drive the story.

Your main characters require the deepest characterization and would benefit from a run through The Basic Character Creation Workbook. Their backstory, central problem, goals and motivations will drive the plot.

Once you have all of that done there are a few ways to signal to the reader that this is the character that they should care about.

Their choices make changes.

Your main characters choices should be informed by their central problem—the damaging belief or inner conflict that they have to overcome or face to achieve their goal. Make those choices important enough to have a real effect on the story.

Make them the focus.

This particular way of writing the main character is effective if your story is told from alternating points of view, while the main character never really appears on the page. Everyone sees them, listens to them speak, and talks about them behind their back which elevates their importance. In fact, their absence becomes the big event at the center of the story and makes this off-screen character the vehicle for the plot.

Tell the story from their point of view.

This, more than any other device, is the most potent way to elevate the importance of your character. Telling the story from their point of view allows the readers to sympathize and empathize with characters that resemble themselves, a loved one, or even an enemy.

If you establish character hierarchy early on, it makes storytelling much easier. Knowing the roles each character will play will give your story balance and continuity.

Have you read a truly memorable character lately? Tell me about it in the comments!

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