Communication During the Editing Process

Update: the book is coming along swimmingly.

Part of the reason the recent editing of the book is going so well is the clear lines of communication between my editor and myself. Like any endeavor – writing, military operations, power plant maintenance, family – communication is key. I find over-communication tends to be better (though perhaps a little annoying) than under-communication.

Now I’m not going to write a whole lot on this. I am going to put a lot more into “A Tale of Two Editors – Part 2”. But it has been such a good experience that I wanted to cover it.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Throughout the whole editing process this last month, my editor and I have been in regular communication through phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings.

Some people may think that this could become cumbersome, even annoying. At times my first reaction is just that.

But the high level of communication has allowed us to deconflict issues we’ve had, reschedule meetings without issue, and to verify next steps and expectations.

Talking through things has allowed my editor to have a much deeper grasp of where I want to go with my story, and the background to it. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable talking about all the nerdy stuff in my book. But the more I explain, the more my editor has been able to guide me in a better direction, and my book is really shaping up because of it.

Now Communicate Some More

I’m going to go back to the possibility of annoyance for a second.

I am very straight forward, concise, to-the-point kind of guy. I want the facts, and then to tackle the solution. I don’t need fluff or prolonged discussion.

Usually.

I quickly found that this would not work in this case.

First and foremost, while my editor and I have gotten to know one another better, we still really don’t know each other well. We have both had to learn to understand how the other operates, reads, and understands things.

While I am a straight to the point kind of person, my editor needs more discussion. That, and I found that greater discussion in greater detail was required so that my editor could really grasp what I am trying to do with my book. It was a bit of a mental stretch for me, but once I got past my mental block, my editor has come to understand my book better and, as I said before, has helped me change it for the better.

For example, I wanted to ensure that the culture of the Star Folk, the main peoples described in my book, had a lot of examples without just info dumping. Info dumps make the writing boring and interrupt the flow. At first I tried to describe this and my editor had a difficult time helping me. But once I described the culture more, where and how I wanted to describe it, and examples of info dumps, my editor was able to give me suggestions and help me brainstorm.

Softy

The issue with this kind of communication is it’s a soft skill. It’s more difficult to make it into a procedure, or to document a process.

I have to understand myself and how I communicate, and learn how the other person receives information, processes it, and communicates back. And I have to do this each time with different people, whether writing, at work, or with family and friends.

As many may know, it takes time, practice, and many iterations of trial and error.

Conclusion

Communication through the editing process has been key to helping my book become better. Sometimes the over-communication has at first seemed unnecessary, but I’ve learned it’s required if I want my editor to really be able to help me. Perhaps if I had done this more in the past, my book would be further along that it is.

The book is, in fact, coming along really well! I wouldn’t normally say that – I would say good, or decent, or it doesn’t quite suck. But I can honestly say the book is making some real leaps to something much more organized, professional, and almost ready for publishing. I will have more updates in the weeks to come.

Until next time. . .

Hiring a New Villain

This is from the Weekly Writer’s Prompt from Writer’s Digest: Hiring A New Villain, originally posted April 27, 2017. 500 words.

 

I crossed my left leg over my right as the monstrosity settled down into the chair on the other side of my dark wood desk.

“So, Mardock,” I began.

He immediately corrected me, his voice booming from behind the scarred metal helm that covered most of his face. “MOR-dock. Not MAR-dock. Mordock the Blood Drinker.”

As Mordock spoke, the sense of something just behind the veil of reality chattering and barking filled the room.

“Right,” I said, making note of it on my yellow writing pad.

I met Mordock’s hellish gaze. His eyes were red hot coals burning within his helmet. As Mordock shifted in seat the veins in his tree trunk of a neck and boulder-sized shoulders rippled – almost as if the tentacles of some creature resided under his skin rather than veins.

“So, Mordock, tell me a bit about yourself, and what would make you the best candidate for the villain of my next novel.”

“I began life as a slave in one of the tribes on the plains of Hruntnor,” Mordock began, his voice almost a shout. “My mother was a concubine of the tribe’s chief, and though I was his son he treated me lower than the livestock. As a young man I was thrown into the fighting pits, and quickly earned a reputation as a brutal killer.”

I scribbled notes as he spoke.

“It was the night of the blood moon that I discovered my destiny,” he continued. “I and fourteen other slaves fell into a sinkhole. I was the only one to survive. Within was a cave, and there the dark gods offered me power, taking the deaths of the thirteen other slaves as a satisfactory offering.”

Though I couldn’t see Mordock’s smile, I could hear it in his voice and see it in the flare of his fiery eyes.

“I climbed from that cave and killed my father, taking control of the tribe. I subjugated the surrounding tribes, leaving offerings of death to my fell patrons in my wake.”

I nodded approvingly. I liked what I heard.

There was just one more question I had.

“This all sounds excellent,” I said. “But can you do sneaky and underhanded?”

Mordock stopped and froze in place, his blazing eyes cooled for a moment.

“Uh. . .I, uh. . .I can kill.”

“Right, I gathered that. But can you craft and hatch maniacal plans?”

“Well. . .” I could see his red eyes narrowed in a frown. “I can. . .I can launch campaigns. . .and slaughter thousands. . .did I mention I can kill?”

“Yes, you did mention that.”

“Good, good,” he said, helmeted head bobbing. “Yes, I can definitely kill.”

“Well, thank you, Mordock,” I said, standing up. “I will be in contact.”

Mordock shook my hand, and I could tell he was a little dejected. He opened the door to my office, and I could see the long line of villain applicants had increased since the beginning of Mordock’s interview.

“Next!” I yelled.

A Tale of Two Editors Part 1

So I’m back into the actual writing schtick. My book previously published under the title “Der Sternvolker” (which, by the way, is terribly improper German grammar; Es tut mir leid) went through a major edit last year, and is going through another one as we speak.

My experience with the two different editors I’ve used has been like night and day. One barely communicated at all, the other communicates a lot. One had a very definitive vision of where they wanted to go, the other looks to me for more guidance.

I’m sure other new writers are going, or will go through similar experiences. Here I will describe my experiences, and welcome input from other just starting authors who working with their first or second editor.

Part One covers my first editor. NOTE: This isn’t a positive or negative, and I attempt to simply relate things as they occurred. I do, however, write several lessons learned at the end.

Editor One

I won’t use names in this article. So the first editor I used shall be dubbed: Editor One.

Editor One was an experienced editor with quite a few titles under her belt, as well as a few titles she wrote herself. I was excited to work with her as she seemed to generally understand the more sci-fi sort of things I was trying to get through, such as Cowboy Bebop and Firefly references. I was in geek heaven. She also had a firm grasp of the Turkey City Lexicon which has become the standard in a lot of writing circles, specifically in sci-fi/fantasy writing.

When I solicited her editing services she sent me a sample edit of the first few pages of my manuscript, and upon receipt of her edits confirmed I wanted her to edit my work.

It was the price tag that hit me: $2,400.

I had just received my tax return back, and instead of paying off some more debt, I decided to take the leap and pay her for her services.

And so the editing began.

I heard nothing for about four weeks.

And then, one day, my edited manuscript appeared in my inbox! I was ecstatic.

I went through the manuscript to see what she had done. It was diced, chopped, sliced, and beaten. And it needed to be. There was so much in my old manuscript that needed work, and that was just downright bad.

But, most of her notes were comments or recommendations. No hard “change this” or “move this here and it will really pop” or “delete this garbage and rewrite it.”

Included in her fee was a 1 hour consultation on her edits. I sought further information on many of her comments, and where things should go and how I should rewrite certain parts. She didn’t offer much. One of the recommendations I remember after asking if I should write a certain part a certain way was, “Really that’s up to you.”

At the end of our conversation I made the comment that I had a lot of deleting and rewriting to do, and she responded with, “And that’s one of the great parts of writing. You get your edits, and then you get to rewrite, sometimes the entire book!”

And that was that. My hour was up and I had exhausted my services with her.

I delved into the task of rewriting my manuscript – again. And then I re-rewrote it, and eventually stumbled upon my current editor…

Lessons Learned

First and foremost I felt some confusion with the process, especially at the end. My thought was that, while the editor can’t tell me exactly what to write, shouldn’t they at least be able to help with how to write it?

And that is where clearer communication would come in. I should have asked more questions about exactly what more of her editing looked like, maybe have check-ins throughout the process to get a feel for what she was saying and recommending, and get clarity on the details of the 1-hour consultation at the end. Maybe ask how such conversations went over with her other clients, what they covered, and what she absolutely would not/could not do.

I did look into other editors before I chose the one that edited my MS. Pricing for the length of my book (110k words) was about the same, give or take $50. With my contracts/procurement background I definitely got a wide selection of pricing and compare their editing styles and what they offered in their services (ie. post-edit consultation). Ultimately she was the best bang for my buck.

Perhaps I should have looked harder for editors, maybe there were veteran editors out there who could have offered better pricing for the same/similar services. And I would recommend to any readers to absolutely do so. Solicit examples and pricing from at least seven (7) different editors, and I recommend going all the way up to ten (10). Understand their editing style, personality, what they will do, and what they won’t do in the editing process.

Make sure everything is clear, and preferably in writing so there are no questions, disagreements, or misunderstandings down the road.

To Be Continued

I am currently working with my latest editor. Part 2 will be posted upon completion of her editing services, upon which time I will write about the experience, and lessons learned.

I hope this is helpful for new writers like me. If you’re a new writer, or even a veteran writer, tell me about some of your experiences – good, bad, and indifferent, and the lessons you learned. Are there any editors you would recommend to others?

Until next time. . .

Poem – Hearth and Home

I have always loved the poetry of Yates, Henley, and others. Lately I’ve been taking notes (mostly in my head) of the poems I read and what I want to express.

It’s funny, actually watching the movie “Moana” with my children (as well as reading the Viking sagas) has nurtured this flame of desire to write poetry.

“Hearth and Home” is about my dedication to protecting my family. So simple, yet in this day in age seems so foreign, even counter-cultural based on what I’ve been seeing in the media.

~~~~~~~~~~

HEARTH AND HOME

Whilst my family slumbers
I lay resting but ready
The clock glaring with red numbers
My breathing and heart steady.
*
Whilst my children play on our street
I stand calm but alert
Though most are kind that we meet
I am prepared to protect my offspring from hurt.
*
Let the evils of the world swarm
Wherever we may roam
I will be the righteous storm
Defending hearth and home.

How Strategic Sourcing Can Improve Your Organization’s Processes

Your organization is working to improve its sourcing processes and strategy. Like areas of spend have been grouped together to determine what the organization spends annually. The department or division responsible for sourcing has identified areas of spend where savings can be realized.

But, as the organization delves deeper, they find that reducing outside drivers of cost isn’t the only hurdle they face.

There are materials and services within the organization that people have been dependent on for years, perhaps decades. Leaning these materials and services, or removing them altogether, will be a major culture shock. Senior management is even wary of cutting off these materials and services.

Senior management wants to save money, but the sourcing group knows that changing how materials and services are sourced, what will be sourced, and when will have a major impact on the organization’s processes as well as its budget.

Sourcing the material and/or service is just one part of the larger sourcing strategy. A lot of work goes into transforming the rest of the organization and how it does business in order for the wins in sourcing to have their full effect – one more part of total cost ownership. Process improvement in other parts of the organization are just as important as improvements in the sourcing function itself.

Total Cost Ownership

As discussed in a previous blog post, Total Cost of Ownership is everything that goes into before, during, and after the sourcing of a material and/or service.

Generally speaking, this includes administrative processing costs, technology costs, overhead, freight, the cost of lead times, if items are damaged, and rework that needs to be done.

Rarely do organizations look at total cost of ownership in terms of what their own organization is doing.

Does each project manager or department use the freight carrier they like the best?

Is there a service the company uses, but could be eliminated if project managers were held to better standards of planning?

Do employees make parts runs because favored suppliers “don’t deliver”?

It’s internal processes like these that need to be looked at in tandem with the improvement of sourcing the material(s) and/or service(s) and organization buys. They are as much a part of Total Cost Ownership as overhead or lead times on materials.

How so?

Let’s use an example from my experience.

The company I work for uses a freight service that only delivers between facilities in my company in the city we’re in. This freight service costs about $300,000 per year for them to move material from one facility to the other. We love this external freight service so much, their drivers park their trucks at our facilities.

Why do we use them?

Because sometimes project managers cut work orders associated with one facility, only to draw the material out of another. So materials needs to be shuttled around to ensure the proper materials are in the proper place at the proper time.

We also junk out some of our larger equipment, and this service transports the junked out equipment (they’re rather large) to our central processing facility here in town.

On the face of it, this is $300,000 expended by my company per year.

Immediately some will note that, if PM’s were held to a standard, and their work orders assigned to the correct facility, this would eliminate the need for this service. And can’t we use internal personnel (we have personnel qualified) to load the equipment and drive it to the central processing facility?

But it goes deeper than that. PM’s not assigning work orders to the right facility forces them to draw from that facility, which causes work in the warehouse, and then those materials aren’t there for jobs that are properly assigned to that facility, creating wait times as items are shuffled between facilities. Sometimes its time sensitive jobs that are forced to wait as the warehouses figure out where material went and what needs to be brought in from other warehouses. Sometimes people get lazy, and instead they just put in an order to have it bought from the supplier, costing the District even more.

So it’s not costing the company I work for $300,000. It’s costing them hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions, in additional man hours, rework, opportunity cost of inventory, and delays on projects.

Why do we still use this “shuttle” service then? Because we’ve had them for almost twenty years. Because no one has pushed back on PMs and other internal business partners to assign work orders to the correct facility. Because our warehouse personnel are doing the best they can within this system and the shuttle service is a Band-Aid that people have become comfortable with.

In this case, it’s not just a process – it’s a part of the culture.

Where to Begin

So where does a sourcing professional begin?

Start with the sourcing strategy.

The sourcing group has identified a need, and then they go and gather their facts. But they don’t just gather the facts on the surface. They have to dig deeper.

  • What are like materials/services that can be grouped with the one being looked at?
  • What vendor(s) provide this material/service and those grouped with it?
  • What internal stakeholders use these?
  • Why are they using them?
  • Why are they using them the way they are?
  • Are they still needed?
  • What would need to be done to consolidate or remove materials/services?
  • If this is done, how will it affect the processes and procedures of the different divisions and departments of the company?

These are just some of the questions that must be asked to challenge the status quo, especially if that status quo is costing the company substantial amounts of money.

And it has to be the group responsible for sourcing in the organization that must do this.

While part of sourcing strategy is definitely cost savings and value adds, it’s also process improvement around what is being sourced, and how it will affect the organization.

I caveat this with the organization should not mold itself around its sourcing department. The organization should mold itself around its overall strategy, and the sourcing strategy should support this. But if there are procedures (low level/tactical) changed by sourcing that will help the company achieve its goals, then these should be pursued.

Buy-In

As the sourcing organization moves to change the processes – and perhaps even some of the culture – of the organization, they cannot operate in a vacuum.

Any change initiative needs a guiding coalition, preferably upper management, and buy-in from managers at all levels. It will be up to the Director/Division Manager of the sourcing organization in the company to win that buy-in, and to communicate with upper management for their support.

This isn’t unique to sourcing. Any change initiative requires this. I would argue that sourcing needs it more since most people view sourcing or supply chain management generally as order takers, and resistance to change coming from this area may be greater.

Conclusion

The processes surrounding and effected by sourcing strategies within the organization for different areas of spend are just as much a part of total cost ownership as external factors. Sourcing professionals must take this into account when sourcing materials and services from a strategic level. Some organizations call these individuals Category Managers, and category management is a discipline all of its own with that broad focus. It’s up to the organization to determine how they will conduct their strategic sourcing, and they must do so with an eye to internal process improvement.

Supply Chain – Finding Savings in Sourcing Before Cutting Headcount

The Office Space Effect

Many remember (and chuckle, and seethe) at the scenes in the movie “Office Space” when the consultants are grilling the employees of the company to determine what they do to see if they are needed. Many in today’s workforce can relate to this. When companies need to save money or are trying to find efficiencies, where is the first place they look to cut?

Headcount.

The men and women that do the actual work in the company.

I am not advocating that executives cut their pay (though, that may help image-wise). I am a firm believer in free market capitalism and the freedom of people to amass as much wealth as they see fit. If the executives’ pay is the thing hurting the company though…

But cut the people that are making the company operate every day? Especially if those people are effective at their job? That makes no sense to me. (Note: I said if the people were effective at doing their job. If they’re not: fire them.)

Rarely do companies look at their sourcing activities, as well as other internal processes within the company, to cut the budget.

Developing more effective sourcing techniques and improving processes, and reducing total cost ownership will do more for a company, both up front and long term, than slashing headcount.

NOTE: I use the following terms here interchangeably.

  • RFP/RFQ/Solicitation for Bids
  • Supplier/Vendor/Contractor

Developing More Effective Sourcing Techniques and Improving Processes

This is anecdotal and I don’t have any hard data to back it up, but I am finding that many medium and even larger companies don’t have a central procurement/sourcing department, or a department within their organization that leads and monitors that function. Purchase orders are done as lists on excel spreadsheets, or over the phone. Many times supervisors or crew leaders simply go to the vendor with a credit card. This is an ineffective way of sourcing the company’s needs.

How do these companies know they’re getting the best price? Because the vendor tells them? Unfortunately, “Our supplier tells us we are getting the best price.” is the answer I hear time and time again, both in other companies and in the company I work for.

Developing effective sourcing techniques can help reduce costs almost immediately. Just a simple RFP can produce lower purchase prices. (We’ll talk more about purchase pricing below under reducing total cost ownership.)

The company I work for did this with their MRO. They discovered on some items which suppliers were telling us we were getting the best price we were being charged a 400% mark-up. When we asked the supplier why, the supplier’s response was, “You never asked.” It was no wonder these suppliers “loved us” so much – we took them at their word when they said we were getting the best price, and were able to overcharge us exponentially.

Control of bidding, purchase orders, and contracts – everything that goes into sourcing – with a central sourcing department, or at least one department within the organization that is given responsibility and accountability for this function, helps, too. They can work to set company policies, processes, and procedures around sourcing and, with upper management support, enforce it.

This is where your Lean and Six Sigma ninjas come in, too. Perhaps there are already procurement processes within the company, but there is clearly room for improvement. Mapping the processes and their sub-steps, and leaning them out by removing steps and/or red tape will save in work hours alone – and time is money. It doesn’t take spending millions on a consultant like McKinsey and Company, or Accenture to do this. Companies can do this themselves.

Developing better negotiating tactics and techniques can help, too. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) includes many techniques for negotiations in their CPSM Study Guide. And there are lower cost consultants and webinars out there that can help your company hone their negotiating skills. (Yes, I do have a bias against the bigger supply chain consultants. There might be some bitterness there. (There’s definitely bitterness.))

Finally, control of the procurement process, and by extension payment of suppliers, helps save. While there are some instances where parts or services are needed in less than 24 hours – I emphasize some – 95% of the time this is due to poor planning on the part of the Project Manager, the sourcing department, and the warehouses. (Note my use of and not or. It’s a team effort, and if one fails, they all fail.)

The company should limit who can input requests for orders, who can approve and issue these requests and orders, and then keep a close eye on invoices to ensure they match quoted pricing.

Working closely with the company’s warehouses can help set minimums and maximums (min/max) on materials so that what is needed most is in stock when it’s needed, while working estimates and forecasts on past spend and usage and upcoming project earlier can ensure that if additional materials or services are needed they are sourced well in advance. Having pre-negotiated agreements across the company with a handful of suppliers can ensure that support is provided when needed, and new one-off contracts aren’t being constantly issued.

Reducing Total Cost Ownership

So your company has a handle on its sourcing of materials and services. Controls are in place, and the processes have been made lean, mean, sourcing machines. Money is being saved.

But not enough.

The next thing a company should look at is the total cost ownership of the materials and services they are sourcing.

Here’s an example:

Lean Corp wants to go out for bid for buying and installing widgets. (Very original, I know.) They send out a RFP to five vendors. The bids come back, and Lean Corp short lists two of the vendors: Cheapo Co, and Quality Co.

Cheapo  Co can provide the widgets for $10, and charge $10/hour for installation.

Quality Co can also provide the widgets for $10 (widgets are probably a commodity, like steel), and charge $20/hour for installation.

At face value, Cheapo Co is the low bidder.

But there’s a catch.

Cheapo Co takes 3 hours to install each widget! That’s $30 of installation per widget!

Quality Co, on the other hand, only takes an hour to install each widget; $20 of installation per widget. And the equipment is up and running faster, meaning less downtime, meaning Lean Corp can produce more, sooner.

Lean Corp brings both vendors in for negotiations.

Cheapo Co won’t budge on their pricing, and offer very little extra for their services. C’mon, they’re clearly the low bid! They know it! They’ve been working with Lean Corp for over a decade and the working relationship is great. And Cheapo Co’s owner is golfing buddies with two of the VPs of Lean Corp. Why would Lean Corp want to award to anyone else?

Quality Co, on the other hand, offers extended warranties on the widgets they install, and they offer up to 10 business days of training per year at no charge, a value of $15,000.

That training has downstream effects in Lean Corp: the training which Quality Co provides increases the knowledge of Lean Corp mechanics and reduces rework they have to do, and reduces downtime of the equipment by dozens of hours per year – remember time is money. The additional cost reduction is compounded by the value added services Quality Co provides.

This is an extremely simplified example, but it gets the point across well.

Total Cost Ownership is a pricing model that takes into account everything before, during, and after the sourcing of a material or service. This includes (but is not limited to) materials that go into producing the thing being bought, labor hours that go into producing the material/service, overhead, freight, mark-up, how long it takes to provide the material or service, number of deliveries per week/month, estimated downtime, and inventory holding costs, to name a few.

Reducing the total cost ownership of the materials and services sourced, while working to increase the value added services the supplier provides, should be the goal of the organization trying to cut its costs, especially when trying to not cut overhead.

This can be done through negotiations with suppliers, or through internal efficiencies within the company itself.

Conclusion

Companies looking to reduce costs should develop more effective sourcing techniques and processes, and reduce their total cost ownership of materials and services before slashing headcount. This will not only create short-term wins, but a long-term, sustainable model of keeping costs low. It is up to senior and middle management of companies to enforce this so that it takes hold in the company’s culture.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not advocating for never cutting headcount. If positions are completely outdated and unneeded, then they need to go. No need having the ten Accounts Payable clerks that were kept because that’s how many they had in the time before computers and now everything is automated so six of those clerks are being paid to check social media. And if individuals are truly underperforming, even after corrective actions, then they need to go.

Improving sourcing is where companies should start to cut their costs.

Short Story – American Socialism

Marcus Brown sat at xyrs desk in the open office area. Xe sat, and xe worked. Today, work was staring at a blank word document on xyrs computer screen. Xe swiveled back and forth in xyrs black rolling chair with the ergonomic back support, and then xe rolled forward and back. Every once in a while xe would click the mouse to keep xyrs screen from going dark.

“Hello, Marcus,” said a sweet voice from behind Marcus.

Marcus turned to see the soft, white face and long, straightened brown hair of xyrs supervisor, Maureen.

“Hello, Maureen,” Marcus said.

I don’t want to talk to you right now, Marcus thought.

“How’s work coming along?” Maureen asked.

I don’t want to do any work, Marcus thought.

“You know,” Marcus began, “I just. . .things have been hard lately, and I feel stressed and unsure about life. I just haven’t had a lot of time for work.”

As if Marcus had choreographed everything beforehand, Maureen’s eyes widened and her mouth opened, her hand going to her mouth to add to the effect.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Maureen said, and Marcus knew she actually meant it. “If you want you can go talk to the floor counselor. Xe can help you talk it out.”

Marcus gave xyrs best sheepish smile. “Thanks, Maureen. I think I just need to go home for now. I can come in tomorrow, refreshed.”

“Not a problem Marcus, take as much time as you need.”

Marcus thanked Maureen as xe stood, then walked down the lines of desks topped with large screened computer monitors. Many of the desks were empty. Other employees had required time off for their feelings, too. As Marcus strode through the office, xe passed two employees who were “taking a break” with table tennis. One employee in their early forties zipped by on a scooter – and Marcus immediately felt bad for having age-ist thoughts. Walking past the counselor’s office, Marcus heard the whimpers and sobs of Jessica, an employee who usually sat next to Marcus, unless xyrs energy didn’t want xem to.

“Xe said I wasn’t getting enough done,” Jessica said, sobbing into xyrs hands, tears running down xyrs face.

“Perhaps xe didn’t realize your perspective,” the counselor, Bob, said, attempting to console Jessica.

Marcus exited the office building and strode out into the warm summer day. Xe picked xyrs way across the broken, pitted road – still unrepaired since the peaceful protests a month ago – and squeezed between two burnt out cars. Across the street, at a coffee shop Marcus frequented, the owner swept up glass and broken equipment off the sidewalk from the previous night’s demonstrations. Marcus was surprised to see the city had already cited the coffee shop owner for littering.

Strolling through downtown Marcus passed a long line of people leading up to a building that had once housed a line of stores, the people all looking the same in their ragged clothes. Now, government officials handed out welfare checks – extra for the “repressed”, less for the “privileged”. Posters in the windows of the building espoused the benefit of universal incomes and how it was benefitting the country. Marcus had already cashed xyrs check this month – a lot less since xe was extra privileged with xyrs skin color and a job.

One individual in the welfare line stood out from the rest. Xyrs clothes were newer and cleaner. Just by looking at xem Marcus knew they would receive a larger check.

“I can’t to get my check and get another pair of new shoes,” the individual said.

Some of the people in line grumbled about just needing enough food to last the month, maybe new shoes for their growing children. Marcus shrugged. The check was that individual’s right, these other people shouldn’t shame them.

At last, Marcus reached xyrs apartment building. There had been a peaceful protest here a few weeks ago – Marcus had been part of it – and the door to the building was missing. It was fitting, Marcus thought, since no one should be kept out, right?

Marcus took the rickety elevator up to xyrs floor. Before Marcus reached xyrs apartment, two individuals walked into the hallway.

“Hey,” one of them said. “Where’s your check? You owe it to me.”

Marcus had never seen these individuals before, but xe immediately noticed they both had guns.

“Guns are illegal,” Marcus said, freezing.

“Sure they are,” the other individual said. “Now give us your check.”

Marcus darted down the hallway to his apartment before either individual could level their gun at him, and immediately xe heard the heavy footfalls of the two individuals behind xym.

Reaching xyrs apartment, Marcus unlocked it, zipped in, and then quickly closed the door and locked the three deadbolts.

“Damn man,” Marcus heard one of the individuals who pursued xym say.

“We’ll get the next one,” the other individual said from the other side of the door.

Marcus didn’t move until xe heard their footsteps fade down the hall.

Turning, Marcus looked at his small apartment. A ratty futon decorated the floor, topped with a few blankets and a pillow. The toilet sat in the far corner of the room, yet still too close to the bend. Opposite the toilet was the refrigerator, the pantry, and the stove. Mounted to the wall was a brand new government provided TV.

By programmed action, Marcus picked up the TV remote off the floor and turned on the TV.

“Another demonstration against capitalism and hate,” the news anchor said as the TV screen flicked on.

The image on the screen was of people burning cars and smashing windows while holding up “Love Trumps Hate”, “Hands off my pussy”, and “Black Lives Matter” signs.

“Legislators offered their support for these demonstrations,” the anchor continued.

The image on the screen switched to an elderly, balding individual with a warm smile on their face.

“We support these peaceful protests,” the legislator, whose name was Chelsea Lanning, said. “Their feelings on these subjects are valid and fighting hate is always a noble cause.”

Marcus nodded along with Lanning’s words.

“These people are supporting freedom and democracy,” Lanning continued.

“Yes,” Marcus said, pumping his fist in the air.

Lanning spread his hands, as if offering something to xyrs viewers. “And because of the efforts of the people, we are free.”

“We are free,” Marcus repeated with zealous rapture.