by Ren Alexander
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Yeah. I’m none of that crap.
Okay. I’m a man. There’s that much.
Almost everyone calls me Rod, whether I like it or not. I’m the guy others look to for a laugh, a dirty joke, a distraction—the office clown. Even my best friend, Hadley, laughs.
It’s just that, I’m not always laughing. Not even on the inside. Nobody knows the real Greg or the agony I hide with humor. My recently dead sister had a clue, but she’s in no position to blab. I screwed up big time—then and now—but it’s all my undoing. Through everything, Hadley’s been my cure and my curse. And I fell in love with my married best friend. But she wasn’t always married, and I wasn’t always broken.
I had a millisecond of a chance, but I blew it, siding with morality. What guy does that? And sailing that sinking ship all the way down, I sacrificed my wants for her needs. Doing that, I fathered a kid with the office trouser troll. Stupid? Hell to the yes. Because now, regardless of the grand total, I want something I can’t have. Integrity and my sanity be damned.
But nobody, especially Hadley, can know the real Greg Rodwell, my tortured soul, my unashamed love, or my darkest truth, because it wouldn’t just blow her mind.
It would rock our damn world.
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Does killing time damage eternity?
Do you need a silencer if you shoot a mime?
Can a hearse carrying a corpse drive in the carpool lane?
If a person dies and then rises from the dead, do they get a refund for the coffin?
“Did you fall in?”
Widening my eyes at the piss-colored wall tile, I restlessly sigh, dramatizing my annoyance. Can I not get a moment of fucking peace around here? It’s the only place I’m able to ponder life.
“Just taking a piss break, Amos.”
“Could you at least give a courtesy flush?” The fucker laughs, and it echoes midstream while I throw him a middle finger from behind the door. Without seeing him, I know he’s checking out his bald reflection in the mirror, blinding the room.
“I’ll get right on top of that,” I reply like a dial tone as I near the finish line, imagining I’m pissing on his face. He’d probably like that shit, though.
“You know, there are urinals in here.” His pompous voice reverbs, giving me a double dose of his assholery.
“Oh. I thought they were snooty sinks.” I yawn as my actions also echo within the stall. Jackwad.
“Don’t be playing around in there. I need a face-to-face after lunch, so make sure I don’t see more than your face and zip your pants.” He just wants to think of me holding my dick. Perv.
On the third shake, I qualify for playing with myself as I check my watch at the same time. I don’t want to see him when I leave this stall. I guess it’s time for the big guns, so to speak.
Rolling my eyes, I moan—not my greatest moment—and noisily suck air between my teeth, praying to God nobody else walks in right now. With a loud, stuttered sigh, I give the fourth shake, grinning to myself. I hear his jaw, and his disbelief hit the sink. Don’t fuck with me, comrade. You’re no match for me.
Amos mutters, “Okay. Okay. Just stop. I was only kidding. I’m leaving. My office in 30.”
Because Amos Vaughn is so transparent, I know he’s squinting his eyes at me from the other side of the door, unsure of how to respond. Lacking comeback skills, he heaves his brawny body into the door, at the mercy of my patience. “It’s 29 minutes now, Rod.”
Rod. Yeah. That’s me. I used to be just Greg Rodwell. A nickname given to me by a former coworker troll has transcended even her tenure here. Now, most of my coworkers and my godforsaken boss call me it. Though, that’s the tamest version of names the bitchtress used to call me, giving that my middle name is Richard. Draw your own conclusions. Sometimes I’m still Greg at work, but not often and only by a select few. I’ll never escape Rod while working here. I’ve accepted it. I just hate the source.
I’ve also accepted that I’m the office clown, making everyone laugh. In reality, I should be a goddamn marvel for the services I provide since most of my coworkers are garbage humans. I’ve crafted my distance, deflecting with my carefully sculpted wit, aged to perfection in oak barrels for nearly 29 years—an undiluted, rye wit, you could say. That’s my superpower. Fuck me. I need a job at a distillery.
Tucking myself and my shirt back into my pants, I kick at the handle. Emerging from the stall as I buckle my belt, the sound of the flushing toilet swirls the Amos-free room just as Crick Scanlon enters. I instantly grin. With his Caesar haircut, circa George Clooney 1996, this particular coworker is a favorite of mine. Maybe it’s because he’s the Arctic opposite and doesn’t outwit, allowing me to polish my skills. To those who don’t know him, he has a wallpaper-paste personality. That’s their loss. Because of his eerie quietness and formalness, his rare laughter is a goldmine. He takes anything I lob at him. Crick is the coloring book to my bucket of crayons. I aim to shock the hell out of him, making him laugh or gape in horror, which, coincidentally, is how my mother often looks at me on any given day. “Hey, Crock. Get fucked last night?”
His face reddens faster than a novice ass at a BDSM club. He looks at the wall with an expression like I just kicked him in the liver. “Uh, no. Um…you?”
My grin doesn’t falter even as I go for a depressing lie. “You know it. All night. Every night.” He’s a decent-looking guy. He could probably find a date if he tried. I’m pretty sure he’s gay like Amos, not that they’re dating each other. That would be fucking disturbing. Crick deserves way better. Not Amos Vaughn. He’s a sick fuck.
Crick makes an effort to not look at me. I dig his awkwardness, so I grab a bigger shovel. “If you’re like me, I bet you’re a beast in the sack.” When he looks at my hands working my buckle, I tease, “I’m not doing no replay of last night for you.” He swallows loud, gaping at me. Bingo. “Just yanking your chain, Crack. Calm down.” I laugh when he looks at the ceiling, still quiet. “Maybe I can help you find a date. What’s your type?”
“I’m not really into dating right now.”
Finished with my belt, I go for the sink. While washing my hands, I watch Crick scratching his arm through an unnecessary sweater for the early October weather. “Come on now. I know a sex fiend is hiding beneath that submissive exterior.” Images of him being collared at one of those clubs make me flinch at my own reflection.
He shrugs as I catch a surprising quirk of his lip in the mirror. “I’m boring, Greg. I don’t have much luck as you do, especially with a certain coworker.” Goddamn it. Don’t say her name.
The sudsy water swirling in the sink temporarily enthralls me, so I don’t have to see either of our expressions. “Uh… She’s… We’re—”
Looking up at the mirror, I glare at both of us. Shit. Joke’s on me.
Shasta. Enough said.
Actually, no. I have plenty I want to say about that meat sock. I wish I could blame Shasta for what we did, but I was the one who went to her. It was a last-ditch effort to forget my life for the night. And shit did I do things with Shasta I’m not proud of, not that I wouldn’t do them again. Just not with her. And thanks to a busted condom, I’m glued to her. Enjoy that mental image.
Grabbing a paper towel, my smile shrinks faster than my dick earlier, feigning jerking off for Amos. “Never.”
“Well, Greg, I mean, you do have a daughter with her.”
Shooting my wad—not that kind—into the trash, I try to laugh, but I’m still caught off guard by his unusual commentary. “No. Yeah. I meant, never again, not even if hell froze over, melted, caught fire, and then froze again. Damn, Crick. You know how to destroy a guy’s day.”
He clears his throat as he inches toward a urinal. “I didn’t intend to. I’m sorry. I thought since you were joking around, I needed to engage.”
“Jesus Christ. What a day for you to grow a vagina.”
I return to the mirror, adjusting the Windsor knot of my Storm Trooper tie while he says, “Um, right. Well…” Through the mirror I see him staring at the urinal, and I’m half expecting him to start singing In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel. I never said he wasn’t peculiar.
I snort. “You need a bathroom pass or an engraved invitation?”
He slightly smiles. I’ll take that as a win. “No. I was just…”
“I’m just busting your balls.” Crick looks away from me, and I feel super awkward now for saying that. “Uh, right. Anyway, enjoy. Not too much. There’re some sick bastards working here.” Why can’t I just shut the fuck up? As I leave, I hear his quiet laugh. There’s that, at least.
When I reach the hallway, I’m ticked for now thinking of Shasta. I guess talking to Crick does have its drawbacks.
Taking a left, I steer clear of my office since it’s attached to Amos’. I’m not ready for that follicle-challenged psycho again yet.
Approaching the open door, I hear a familiar voice. Stopping in the doorway and leaning against the frame, I straighten my tie and cross my arms.
She looks my way with a bright smile as she talks. I don’t know how she does it, but I grin back at her. It’s a requirement.
My favorite person.
Well, I guess next to my infant daughter and my older sister, Eden, but to be fair, my daughter is new in town, and my sister is dead.
I watch Hadley move as she talks. I’m always watching her.
Hadley and I have been BFFs since I started working as a paralegal at the law offices of Rhodes, Dryden, Charleton & Associates over three years ago. Only that long? It feels like I’ve been rotting here for a century and a half.
Hadley turns her attention back to her computer screen as she nods. Her honey-brown ponytail dances along while I stare, and I can’t help but do that, even though I have no right. When she laughs, my gaze drops to her bouncing tits, larger than they used to be only months ago. Her left hand goes to her chest, and her sapphire and diamond rings catch the overhead light, blinding me while reminding me. I didn’t give her those rings, but I may as well have with the lengths I went to get them on her finger.
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Unique or quirky. Hmm. I’m right-handed but can only drive with my left. Weird, I know. I write my best/intense scenes in the dark. The smell of peaches or cucumbers makes me gag big time. The artificial scents are even worse than the smell of real peaches.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I grew up in several places in West Virginia’s northern panhandle, but I lived the longest in both Bethany and Wheeling and attended West Liberty State College (now University), graduating with a degree in Criminal Justice.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I loved writing the most in middle school and my middle school language arts teacher, Mrs. Mains, told me I should be a writer. I loved hearing that, but I fell out of writing in high school some until college. My Freshman English professor encouraged me to write more since she enjoyed my daily journal entries we had to turn in to her. She either laughed or cried, which was a huge compliment. From there, I took a creative writing class, where I learned a thing or two. I was going to major in English, but I didn’t really know what I could do with an English degree, besides becoming a teacher, which I didn’t want to do. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how far I could get with that career since it seemed unobtainable. I didn’t even keep my stories or journal entries because I thought I’d never get anywhere and I was wasting my time.
I loved law enforcement, but I also didn’t want to be a police officer, instead working behind the scenes or along with the police. So, that’s what I ultimately decided to pursue in college, hoping to get a job, but it also was an uphill climb to get anywhere in the field.
After working for a medical insurance company and being assigned to write the remarks on EOBs, I became a certified medical transcriptionist, which oddly, has led me to transcribing police reports. So, that’s where I am right now amidst my writing.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Ooh. I’ve thought about that. I think out of all my books, The Keys to Jericho or UNSCREWED would be good as movies, whereas my Wild Sparks books would be good as a series on HBO or Netflix. Just a thought for anyone out there with connections.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
On the way to one of my book signings, two of my friends and I visited Richmond, Virginia, the home of my Wild Sparks series, and then the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia, which is also featured in that series. It was surreal being in the places I wrote about. I felt like my books were coming to life in a way. I loved it.
Do you have a favorite movie?
One of my favorite movies of all time is Honeymoon in Vegas with Nicholas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker. Such a great and underrated movie. I also love Wedding Crashers, and Girls’ Trip.
What inspired you to write this book?
My most current book, UNSCREWED, is so out of my comfort zone, but it’s also my favorite character’s story, Greg Rodwell. He’s a funny guy with a big heart, who has serious problems buried beneath the surface that nobody ever expected. Nothing really specific inspired me to write it, except that Greg needed to tell his story. It’s not pretty, perfect, or always funny. In all actuality, his story is probably the most tragic of all my characters.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
It took a while but one of the main characters, Finn Wilder, is a sportscaster/daredevil who has his own sports segment on Fridays called the Wild Side. As I was writing the second book, Daring the Wild Sparks, it became apparent that his name would dominate the series. I can’t give it all away, but by reading the series, you’d figure out why or how it got its name.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I wanted UNSCREWED to be so much longer, but I tend to let my books run away from me like that. Beckoning the Wild Sparks is huge at around 700 pages I think. The Keys to Jericho is slightly shorter.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
A lot more real than fiction.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
That I would dismantle my Wild Sparks series with one paragraph from UNSCREWED.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story? Convince us why you feel your book is a must-read.
Oh, hell yes. I always have an outline. But when I write, usually about halfway through, all that is blown apart, especially Greg Rodwell. He has such a mind of his own. It’s like he takes over my brain and I just type what he says. Seriously. Most of the time I have no idea what he will say or do. That’s the beauty/horror of writing him. UNSCREWED is a book I was terrified to write for four years now and it is the most challenging book I have written so far. It took me way out of my comfort zone, but his story needed to be told authentically and as raw as possible. His story will make you laugh, yell, cry, and question what the hell is happening. I questioned it at every turn. Underneath his silly exterior lies a deeply traumatized soul. Finding the balance of the light and the dark was a struggle, but I’m immensely proud of the book, no matter how difficult it was to write and it will be to read.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
The end. It’s earth-shattering and mind-blowing. I did not expect any of it.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Mostly beforehand in the outline, but some will pop up here and there as I go. The major ones, though, are well-thought out ahead of time.
Pen or typewriter or computer?
It used to be pencil when I was in grade school. By college, it was typewriter that soon transitioned to a computer. I don’t know how I did it before the computer came along!
What makes a good story?
A story that sucks you in and refused to let you go, even after you finished. It will stick to you for days, sometimes weeks, and often you want to go back and read parts of it or the whole thing again. Those are my favorites.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
It never used to be until recently, but Facebook and my damn phone. I’m constantly checking FB because that’s how I communicate with my PA, who lives in Canada. I’m a slave to distraction. I would get so much more done if I didn’t stop to check FB, my messages, or just to procrastinate in general. I do that especially when hitting a difficult section of my book, which UNSCREWED had a ton. I need to be better about ignoring all the crap and just writing.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
When I started out, I wrote three books in about four months, and they’re LONG books, like 200,000 plus words. My latest UNSCREWED is one of my smaller ones and it took twice as long due to the story and the increased amount of distractions. Refer back to the previous question/answer.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
More than the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Abominable Snowman altogether. The struggle is friggin’ real.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” It’s my life’s motto. I do my own thing and ignore the trends or what people tell me I should be doing. I’m not them. I’m Ren Alexander, not Author A or Author B, and I’m truer to myself than anyone else could be in my place. I tell the stories that need to be told, whether they’re commercial or not. Don’t really care about that aspect, even if I should.
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