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The Mirror

When writing in first person, sometimes it is challenging to tell the reader what your character looks like. I thought I would be clever and write what he thinks when he looks in the mirror, and the reader could see how his self-image changes through the course of the Hero’s Journey. Too bad the voice didn’t fit the character. I had to cut it.

 

Chapter 4

 

I get out of the shower, and there it is—my nemesis—that hateful thing, holding court over the entire bathroom, watching my every move.

Hazel eyes, dark brown hair, thick and short, like a bear’s hide. Pale and speckless cheeks stretched over sad, thin bones. Clean-shaven, smooth skin, not yet dried and hammered by the sun. The once powerful rage of acne has retreated and all that is left are a few blackheads and scattered pimples stubbornly resisting the dryness of age, on spotted, ghostly shoulders. Progress? Do I look older and wiser? Too soon to tell. Part man, yet still part boy. When will I ever grow up?

He stares back at me. Silent. Resentful.  The mirror is a politician; a lying stranger hired to serve a need—but never does. The mirror has an agenda, hidden behind its silvery curtain, lurking just below the surface, smiling, barely controlling its own laughter, but all I see is what it wants me to see, what it thinks I want to see, what I think I really see.

It serves a secret twisted purpose—the mirror. I’ve learned to hate it, resent its fake smile, it’s mocking eyes. I vow one day to get a new one, but I never do. They are all false confessors anyway, and they weave lies with the truth so cleverly, so artistically, it can be impossible to separate one from the other. Such is the tapestry of life. Believe it all or nothing; what choice is there?

In school they teach that life is binary; black and white, on and off, good or bad, but in the real world I’m learning there are many shades of grey, yet somewhere inside the depth of shaded space is an invisible line that once crossed—changes everything. Truth can be bent until it becomes a lie.  Good things can be used for bad ends, and the good gets beaten out of it. Somewhere in-between the good and bad, a change is made. Hot to cold, up to down, black to white, hero to criminal. The mirror is where binary meets the infinite palate of life.  Like or don’t like, hot or not, friend or un-friend. Polite society is in perpetual contradiction with it’s Law and Order court systems where guilt is always obvious, set against it’s Siskel and Ebert movie reviews, where everyone gets to choose one side, or the other, and be right either way.

When I was a kid, the lies didn’t seem so obvious. Of course when I was young, the mirrors didn’t lie either. They revealed the youth I wished were older, the ugly I wished were cute, the skinny I wished were strong, the pitted I wished were smooth, the spotted I wished were not.

Mirrors told the truth too much and earned a hard reputation. I began to trust its brutal honesty, agree with its unfair accusations, and then one day I looked different.

The thing that stares back at me pretends to be me, but I know it’s not. The man I wanted to be is not there, just some impostor pretending to be me—the person I always knew deep down inside I would become.

He is neither rich, nor easy to look at. His body is not swathed in iron and dipped in bronze. There is no crown upon his head, or vengeful sword by his side. His eyes do not shine with the courage of a thousand vanquished fears.

I remember the ugly scrawny little kid I used to be, but the mirror won’t indulge me. My youth is almost gone except for the last fading spots on my nose, or maybe those are lies too, and in its place is this. . .  loveless thing. Don’t look too long and get trapped in its lies. Hypnotized. Changed. Look away. Never stare into the Hydra. Never admit the link, the secret, the truth.

Mirrors are at least kinder than photographs. Pictures suck the fantasy right out of life.

Oh, crap, what time is it?

Dark brown pants, dark brown vest, dull yellow “Shift Leader” nametag, a gold “1” year pin, dark brown tie, dark brown socks; I’m a pauper, not a knight.

The promises made long ago, the ones where they say I can be anything I want are like a rainbows; I see one, I know it’s there, but the more I walk towards it, the more it laughs and says, “I am here, come closer, you are not far,” but I never arrive, and the rainbow bids me come, like a beautiful dream. I am neither young nor old. I am in the valley in-between. The pit. Purgatory, just like Shane said.

Time to brush my teeth. Careful, don’t get any white specks on the mirror; break it’s spell, provoke it’s wrath. Put the toothbrush down and comb my hair forward. Time to go, can’t be late. Dark peppermint for breakfast again.

God I hate working mornings.  What is it about mirrors these days? The more I begin to look like a man, the less I like it. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I seem to be stuck right in the middle of a morph, the part where one thing changes into another, but right smack dab in the middle. I wonder if there’s a word for that. I should look it up. Maybe use it in my next creative writing project.

I take a peek out the window and get more bad news. An early rain is misting down. Summer is ending so soon? Didn’t they used to be longer?

I gotta get going.

In the closet by the door I find my umbrella and clear plastic poncho. First rain—a sprinkle really, but it could get worse; I grab them both. I try not to look directly at it, but it’s too big to miss; the box of shame. It looks up at me, smiling, mocking me. It holds the secrets of my past and knows my whole identity can be blown apart, should any of it’s contents leak out into the world. And there is the threat. As long as we keep it, my identity is in jeopardy and it knows this.  It smiles as if saying, “you can keep me in the bottom of this closet, but if I ever get out, your life will change forever.” I hate that we keep it. I hate she hangs on to something so bitter, so humiliating. She needs to move on.  I wonder if she’d miss it, if it were just gone one day.

Outside a warm breeze pushes a fine mist around like wet dust and it’s turning everything darker. Standing there for a second, looking up, I feel its cool wet fingers brush away the residue of whatever it was that twisted my insides just moments ago. Not to worry—that well runs deep.

I lock the door behind me and then open the umbrella when something flutters past my eye. I catch it before it hits the ground. I’m greeted with a cast of liars. Smiling faces before the ultimate betrayal. I’ve seen this picture before, a long time ago. I can feel black ink flowing through my veins as I look at it. I used to spend hours looking at these pictures and Mom would tell me great stories about my Dad. That was before I found out who he really was. I haven’t looked at them since.

In this picture she looks very young and innocent, especially surrounded by that pack of vultures. Look how realistically they all smile. How could she not be convinced they liked her? It’s not her fault, really; it’s them. They are such good liars. Comes from generations of practice I guess.

I gotta get moving. I shove the wedding photo in my back pocket. I’ll throw this one away at work.

I wonder how it got inside the umbrella? Mom must have been looking at the pictures again. Why does she torture herself like that? She’d be better off burning the box and forgetting all about that side of the family, like me. Assholes.

A car driving by wakes me up from my little walk down memory lane. Mom’s memories really. I wasn’t born yet. I gotta walk fast, I can’t be late. I have to be a good example for the employees if I ever want to get promoted to Assistant Manager. We could use the money.

Standing at a traffic light with six other people, I silently wonder about the Mexicans ahead of me. I’ll bet they’re illegal. I wish the border patrol were here. Why is it they never seem to be where the Mexicans are unless they get called? Actually, they don’t even come every time they’re called. I called a month ago about the illegal aliens at work, but I haven’t heard a thing from immigration or the Department of Homeland Security. This is why we patrol the border ourselves. Can’t rely on our government to take care of the situation.

Out in the desert, Shane was so cool. Tough, silent, methodical, thorough. . . I could be like that. Maybe I should join the Army after high school, like Shane. Then I could be the one leading the patrol in the desert. Maybe I could do like Shane says and pay the Coyotes in lead on this side of the border. I’d kinda be like a superhero. A masked vigilante.

What would a good border guard vigilante superhero name be. . .  I’d be in the desert so I could be Scorpionman. . . The Rattler. . . The Lone Chupacabra. . .  I’ll pick this up later, I’m at work already. Time seems to fly when I get thinking about them. For now I’ll just be me. Quiet, calm, calculating. . . and tough. Shane; I could live with that name.

Why you need a Brand

business man hand point to branding diagram

If you are selling anything, be it a book, your services, a product, whatever, you need a platform to get the message out that you have something for sale. Even if the cost is FREE, you are still selling something, the price is just really low. (Actually a free book is really your way of buying someone’s attention or trust, but we’re talking about why you need a brand here, so let’s just keep focused on this topic.)

When you are building a platform, you are telling the world you have something to offer. If you don’t build a platform you are really just writing something and sticking it in a drawer. Nobody will see it that way either. Writing a book and buying adsense ads for some key words, or sitting on a sidewalk with a table and some books is called the “spray and pray” marketing method. Not much of a plan, really.

The first thing any good author does after she writes a book is figure out where to situate it in the consumers mind. Are you giving advice, solving a problem, teaching a skill, telling a story, enhancing someone’s self-image? Whatever the case may be, you are not trying to say your book will do all the above for everyone on the planet.  Would you buy such a book?

Everything is niche based selling, meaning you want to define your audience as specifically as possible. Want proof? Go into any book store and you will see sections clearly defined in categories. Fiction, Non-Fiction, self-help, DIY, Hobbies, computer, business, marketing, etc. Stephen King sells to horror readers. Seth Godin sells to marketers. Nicholas Sparks writes Romantic Dramas. Ray Bradbury wrote Sci-Fi novels. All of these authors are very popular. None of them try to be everything to everybody. If that is your goal, it’s a nice dream, but it aint gonna happen. If Stephen King can’t do it, you probably won’t be able to either. The branding stage is what separates the pros from the wannabes.

So, we are writing a book and it is in a specific Genre or two. Now, you need a Brand that tells the world who you are and what you stand for. Your book should also have a specific message and audience in mind, and hopefully, the two of you will not be to different from each other, or you will have identity problems with your readers, which is not something that you should be shooting for. If you don’t try to define our message, you won’t stand for anything, and not standing for anything is just as bad as trying to stand for everything. Again, think of an author and if she is any good, she stands for something. Comedy, tragedy, drama, sci-fi, cookbooks, DIY home gardening. . . You get the idea. You want to write more than one genre? great! create more than one brand. (Each time you do you will be starting over from scratch. Think Garth Brooks trying to go Rock N Roll or Michael Jordan playing baseball, or JK Rolling writing Adult fiction.  Some authors can do this–most can’t, but far be it from me to tell you what you are capable of or not. I don’t know you. You might be able to do it. What you won’t be able to do is write a love novel that everyone in the world will want to read, or write a sci-fi, novel, a comedy, a cookbook, a car repair guide, a quilting book, a biography of Ghengis Khan and a star-gazer’s guide to the heavens, and have the reputation of being a leader in each and every one of these genres. It will actually look like you suffer from multiple personality disorder and people won’t give you the time of day for ANY of your books when they discover you trying to do all this, under the same brand anyway. This is what a brand does for you. It tells your specific audience who you are and lets them know you are exactly what they are looking for.

So, now that we know we need to establish ourselves in some specific area of interest, next we’ll discuss how to create a brand message  that creates a great reputation and makes your audience keep coming back for more.

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