NA novel exploring rape culture: chapter 1

I don’t normally work this fast on a new book, but I’m under a self-imposed deadline to finish this one before pitching at a writing conference in Denver on November 15th: something I’ve never done before, so naturally I’m freaking out a little.

While keeping consistent with the themes of my first novel — feminism, rape culture, women’s issues in general — this is a very different book for me because it’s my first one that is distinctly New Adult.

Adelaide Scott is a 25-year-old magazine columnist for a a Cosmopolitan-style women’s magazine. Her new boyfriend, Jordan, is a photographer for a sports magazine, and is quite well-known and respected in his field. Until one of his ex girlfriends publicly accuses him of rape. Jordan swears he’s innocent, and Addie wants to believe him. So Jordan gives her a list of all his recent exes for Addie to ‘interview’ to prove he’s telling the truth. Addie will find out the truth…but it’s nothing like she expects.

This WIP still needs a title. Suggestions welcome!

Here’s a sample of chapter one:

Jordan and I are in that stage where we say “Text you later” rather than See you later. The marginal difference matters: it means we aren’t getting too invested too quickly.

Jordan, a photographer for Sports Unlimited, is the kind of man with perfectly-imperfect styled bedhead straight out of a hair-care ad, with just the right amount of swoop over his right eye to look intentional. The kind of man with a devil-may-care attitude about dating. The kind of man a writer for a magazine like Stunning! would have drinks with, and almost cost me my job by getting me to genuinely fall for him.

“Your column this month was amazing,” he whispers, as his teeth slightly graze my ear. An involuntary shiver weaves through my blood. I hook the bed sheet between my toes and yank it up, suddenly feeling cold.

“Glad you liked it,” I respond, though I almost wished he didn’t. Deep down, I wish he cared more about relationships as I secretly do. He wouldn’t be offended at the notion of being played–Hook Him and Book Him!–because he participates in the exact same game with women. What we have now–this informal sleepover ritual, alternating between his place and mine–is as close to serious as he’ll get. Any other woman would have been forgotten weeks ago. For some reason (I dare not ask which), I’m outlasting all of them.

I’m really not as stylishly bitchy as I have to be for the sake of the magazine: the Adelaide Scott I play for my dating column is a shrewder, coarser version of myself than I’d like to be, but my boss, Clare Allen, had a very specific persona in mind when she hired me. We share the same alma mater, and I double-majored in Journalism and Women’s Studies, so I think that’s what really worked in my favor when she interviewed me. My qualifications aside, the real Addie would have been way too soft for her.

“I love everything you write,” answers Jordan, propping himself up on his elbow, his gorgeous head supported on his hand. “Any ideas for the next one?”

“Umm.” I always dread this question. New ideas require more acting on my part, as I try to imagine what avid Stunning! fans want to read. I’ve become invested in Sex and the City for inspiration, but it’s always long in coming. Last month’s column was inspired by Carrie Bradshaw’s signature shoe collection: Do-Me Pumps and Other Ways to Get His Attention. It was my first column to go viral, securing my position and finally earning Clare’s hardened respect.

But as my feelings for Jordan deepen, my ideas for future pieces get soft. Last month I wanted to write a modern woman’s take on waiting for “The One” without actually waiting in the old-fashioned sense, but instead encouraged women to travel, go out with girl friends, and basically enjoy being their own boss. I could tell immediately that Clare hated it. It was only the second time I’d seen Clare’s botox-infused forehead crinkle with disappointment. The first time I saw that happen was when an intern forgot the Splenda packets for her coffee.

“No, not yet,” I finally tell Jordan. Not that I can’t just borrow concepts from my previous columns. The key to any women’s magazine, I’ve learned, is the art of regurgitating the same old content with different titles and different wording of previous articles. I would know: for “research” purposes, I immersed myself in subscriptions to all our competitors: Glamour, Cosmopolitan, etc. It’s safe to say that not one of them has published a single original concept within the last few years.

Like how many ways can you have sex that don’t require training for Cirque du Soleil? Pretty sure our earliest human ancestors had those figured out before the invention of print media.

Jordan stretches and sits up. “I’m sure you’ll think of something. But hey, I need to get going. I’ve got a photo shoot in an hour and traffic is going to be awful.”

It’s a nice change of pace to see him pick his clothes off my floor for once. True, his apartment is closer to our common work place–I work on the third floor, he works on the fifth–but maybe leaving his scent in my sheets will be fodder for my next piece. You never know.

Grabbing his jeans by the cuff, his wallet slides out of his pocket and onto the floor. A small snapshot shoots across the hardwood like a hockey puck. I lean to the edge of the bed to retrieve it for him, and notice the photo is of a tiny little girl, probably no only than two or three, with what looks like ice cream smeared on her face.

“Who’s this?” I ask lightly. Normally I’d be mortified at the thought of asking about the other women in my lover’s life (what better way to scream I’m clingy and insecure? Total violation of Stunning! policies) but I think it’s fair for me to know if the man I’m seeing is a father and never told me. As much as I like him, I can’t deal with any baby-mama drama.

Smiling, Jordan takes the photo from me. “Oh, Zoe? She’s my niece. I get to see her once a month, and I’m kind of taken with her.”

It’s embarrassing for me not to know that he has siblings. But it’s not like he knows anything too deep about my family history either. This whole no-strings-attached thing is so confusing, but after almost a month, I wonder if we’re starting to move beyond that.

“I’ll call you later, okay Addie?”

That’s a rhetorical question; Jordan’s signature sign-off. We kiss briefly after he tugs on his shirt. He then grabs his camera bag and lets himself out.

It’s a quarter till eight, according to the alarm clock on my nightstand. I guess I ought to get dressed too.

There’s not enough time to shower. I decide to swoop my wavy, brown hair into a low bun, and throw on a pencil skirt and blouse–sincerely hoping Jessa Felton, Fashion Features girl, was right about messy being the new sexy. I hate having to rush like this. Next time I won’t argue when Jordan suggests his place, though he didn’t exactly do that when he left…

I’m locking up my apartment when my phone rings. “Hello?” I answer, even though I already know who it is.

“Good morning,” answers a way-too-early-to-be-this-chipper voice. “May I please speak to Addie, Queen of Scotts?”

My best friend Kiersten Sharp. She has to make this signature pun on my name at least once a week. My family background is Scottish, though any connection to Mary, Queen of Scots has yet to be proven. “Morning to you too, Kier.”

“You on your way?” As an editor, Kiersten always arrives to work earlier than everyone else to look over drafts before the office gets crazy, when in reality, I think she likes to have first dibs on whatever pastry the intern brings in (fat free, of course). As my editor, I’m grateful for the perfect team we make, even if she’s a bit blunt for my taste (hence her aptly proper last name Sharp).

“Uh huh,” I mutter, shuffling along with my phone tucked under my ear as I adjust the bag that’s about to slip off my shoulder. “Once I get my Scribble Scrabble latte, I’ll be there in fifteen.”

“So you didn’t spend the night at JJ’s then?”

I love Kier, but I don’t know what annoys me more: that she always knows whose apartment I slept at based on where I get my morning coffee (Starbucks is definitely closer to Jordan’s), or that she calls him JJ. Sounds like the cutesy nickname of a preppy schoolgirl.

“Not like that’s any of your business, but no, I didn’t. He…” I glance around; making sure no one is within close enough hearing distance to judge me. “He slept at my place.”

Kier doesn’t even acknowledge the “It’s not your business” part. Because she’s Stunning! More than that, she’s Sharp! “Oh yeah? That’s a nice change of pace. How’d you swing that?”

“It wasn’t that difficult,” I say, strolling through Scribble Scrabble’s open door. “I pulled a Carrie.”

“Pulling a Carrie” is a synonym we made up for Standing Your Ground: Something every independent woman should do, per the examples set by the heroines of Sex and the City (Carrie Bradshaw, we reasoned, would undoubtedly be a reader of Stunning!).

“I’m sure you pulled it off well,” Kiersten responds coolly. I hate to be the kind of person who’s on her phone while ordering a drink, but it’s worth the risk of appearing rude to hear her confess, “I’m almost a little jealous.”

That is a big deal. No-nonsense bombshell Kiersten, never without bright red lipstick and the kind of thick blonde hair that seems to style itself, has no trouble attracting anyone.

“Why thank you. I like your humble side.” Drink in hand, I try to pick up the pace as I cross the street–no easy task while carrying a hot beverage and wearing heels. “I’m gonna lose you once I get on the subway, so I’ll see you in a few minutes, okay?” I speak fast and hang up before I can hear her snort.

I’m the kind of person who needs to sit quietly with her coffee for a few minutes before I’m up for talking to anyone (Kiersten and Jordan being obvious exceptions). It’s still early enough where there are a few empty seats available on the train, so I seize the opportunity to rest my already aching feet for a bit. By now, my latte is almost lukewarm, but I don’t drink coffee for taste at this hour. It’s caffeinated; that’s all that matters.

I get five minutes of Addie Time before the doors open and a well-dressed man–late thirties? Early forties?–steps on. Still plenty of seats available, he decides to sit right next to me. I uncomfortably shift to make room, though it seems so unnecessary. Why can’t he sit in one of the other available seats?

“How are you today?” he asks gently.

“Fine,” I quip, taking a large gulp of latte. I don’t mean to be rude, but I also don’t want to give the impression that I’m open for conversation. Of course I had to finish the paperback I usually keep in my bag to help ward strangers off. I have yet to make a trip back to the library for a new one.

At a loss, I take out my phone and reread Jordan’s text messages.

The man doesn’t seem to take the hint. “You look really pretty,” he tells me, leaning in a bit too close for my comfort.

What the hell is his problem? I immediately understand that this is no longer about casual conversation between two strangers on their way to work. This is a man looking to get a rise out of me. Someone to avoid. Someone potentially dangerous if I don’t give him the kind of reaction he wants.

I once wrote a column about moments like this, actually. Well, more about the kind of shouts and hollers women get when wearing outfits like mine today, or more revealing ones. The title of it was, Is it Harassment? Or is it a Compliment?

The truth? I wanted to call it harassment. It was Kiersten–and ultimately, Clare, who has the final say in everything I write–who convinced me to rewrite it as some kind of affirmation of hotness. “I mean, think about it,” Kiersten remarked. “Would fugly, older women get those kinds of comments? No, they wouldn’t.”

Begrudgingly, I went with it. How could I not? I have rent and student loans to pay.

But in this situation, with no best friend of boss nearby, all I could do was stare at the man, dumbfounded. It’s the kind of expression I do best, so I’ve been told: casually bitchy with just a touch of Are you kidding me?

Truly stunning indeed. Mercifully, the train stopped where I needed to get off, and the Creepy Man did not follow me.

It’s a funny contradiction, this Stunning! paradigm I’m working to promote: independent women are ones who are never afraid to “Pull a Carrie” when a moment calls for it. Unless that moment involves a man giving them compliments, and then we accept them no matter what. Because what does it mean to be “stunning” without confirmation of sex appeal?

Oh well, it’s over now. Time to start my day.


5 thoughts on “NA novel exploring rape culture: chapter 1

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