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The Cheat Sheet (A Word from the Author)

Memorial Day 2022 - 5:22am

Today is a day of reflection and memories. Bare with me as I open up about my journey...

I originally started working on the storyline and concept behind The Art of Cheating during the winter of 2005, essentially by accident. At the time I actually had about four (4) years invested into a completely different and unrelated project - a story about college life and pledging Black Greek Letter Organizations. Inspired by my own campus experiences along with the rich, and in many ways, untold history of the black collegiate culture, I was aiming to be a literary version of Spike Lee with this other project – perhaps something even greater. Although there was still much work to be done on this college story, by the time of my third draft, the narrative had almost all of the elements necessary to bring it to literary life – deep character development, intense plot building, detailed and precise connectivity, along with drama, drama, drama. However, there was one key component missing that I’d obviously need before thinking about publishing any final edits: a book title.

So one night, I’d been stuck at a particular scene where one of my main characters – a young kid with otherwise no moral stains – was set to be disloyal to his girlfriend for the first time ever. I found it difficult to paint the picture, for as a young writer, I had become attached to these characters and developed a sincere, relatable empathy toward their journeys. The scene became surprisingly more challenging to write than I was comfortable with, so I decided to take a break. This led to another necessary brainstorm session about the project title, which I had long been highly undecided and frustrated about, knowing how much power a story’s name can hold. I knew I had to get this done eventually if I was ever going to finish this damned project…and I vowed to do so before going to sleep that cold winter night. If this fraternity story was going to work, I needed a title - plain and simple.

After about an hour and plenty of scrapped ideas, the ideal title would finally hit me like a Mike Tyson uppercut: The Kost of Brotherhood. I repeated it, over and over again – both in my head and aloud, full of writer’s awe and satisfaction. That just might work! It was exactly the handle I’d been searching for – deep and mysterious, and fitting for where I wanted to take this story of young college kids finding themselves. I suddenly felt more confident again, motivated to finish the entire book – starting with the scene I was stuck on: my golden boy facing the temptation of losing his ‘unfaithful’ virginity.

“The Kost of Brotherhood….The Kost of Brotherhood! That’s it!” I kept repeating to myself as I prepared to switch back into storyteller mode.

But then the craziest thing happened, when suddenly my repetitive verbal cadence randomly switched from The Kost of Brotherhood to - The Art...of Cheating.

‘Holy shit,’ I thought to myself. Wait…what did I just say? ‘The Art of Cheating’ sounds even better – way more fucking intriguing and dramatic! “Where did that even come from though?” I pondered. I was penning a book about campus culture and pledging – the focal point wasn’t about cheating at all. Perhaps the weight of the scene I was about to write got to me? Or could it be that this small episode of writer’s block was by divine design? I’d never truly know, but what I did know in that moment – was that now I needed to somehow take advantage of this incidental spark and put good use to that title, even if it meant coming up with a whole new storyline and putting The Kost of Brotherhood project on hold.

Years went by. I would constantly switch back and forth between working on the two stories, The Kost of Brotherhood vs The Art of Cheating. I was now torn over which one to focus on and release first, with added indecisiveness about how personal I wanted the cheating storyline to be. I eventually decided to gravitate more towards The Art of Cheating draft that in fact was the most personal, and based on real life experiences. But this only increased my author’s empathy for the characters, especially since this meant that the main personality would now be a storybook version of myself. Struggling with blurring the lines between real life and fairy tales, my longest affair to date with writer’s block soon followed. Thus, in 2011, I decided to shelve The Art of Cheating indefinitely – conveniently convincing myself that the world was simply not ready for a raw and gutsy tale centered around the concept of unfaithfulness.

In all actuality, I realized later, it was the writer who wasn’t ready for the responsibility.

My hesitation carried over into the spring of 2014, up until about a month after the third season of the hit television series Scandal wrapped up. If y’all remember, the show had quickly become one of America’s favorites pastimes, drawing over 13 million viewers that season who were thirsty and eager for more scandalous storylines. Between the President, his side chick, and her slew of other boyfriends, the high-profile ‘crime’ drama had more than enough cheating to go around. Then there was the NY Times best seller released the previous year, Gone Girl, the story about the deranged wife who faked her own death, framing her husband with the murder as revenge for his cheating. The Gone Girl novel had done so well that they were now advertising a movie release for the following fall, which would go on to be one of the top grossing films at the box office in 2014.

Where am I going with this? Well, the success of these projects forced me to accept an unspoken truth:

Most of the popular movies, shows, music, and literary works historically will have some form of deceit or infidelity somewhere floating around the narrative, though very few tell you so through the title.

This brings me to the morning of May 22, 2014.

I’d stayed up late the night before…reading over my old drafts and notes for The Art of Cheating, trying to figure out where to start again. But the writer’s block still had me on the ropes. There were so many different directions I could take it, so much depth I needed to add to paint the full picture and connect all the dots. I was still hesitant. ‘Do I really want to put some of this stuff I’ve been writing about out there?’ I thought. And then, ‘If I’m going to do this, it won’t work if I hold back’. I’d went to bed frustrated and at conflict with myself again, but my head was clear by that morning and I was ready to end my drought at all costs.

My first idea was to come up with an exercise to develop more character backstory for myself as the author, and so I chose to do some freelance writing. For some reason I decided to use social media as my platform – and instantly publish whatever I came up with. Freestyling off the top of my head with no editing, I started writing a side story about cheating with a co-worker called Sassy.

The tale itself was based on characters from my latest draft of TAOC, but I had no plans on including the full Sassy story in the novel I had been working on, mostly because Sassy was simply a backstory to be referenced for the main storyline. Nevertheless I began typing away, using the Facebook app as a word processor so I could quickly post it unedited to my page for review. The positive response and feedback the 1st part received was totally unexpected, but at the same time, extremely necessary to kill my reservations about what I’d been sitting on for so long. So, after about 45 minutes, I posted Sassy Part 2 – in the same raw and impromptu format. Then Part 3 and 4, as I kept writing off the top of my head throughout the day until the short story was complete.

This spontaneous writing exercise would continue throughout that next week, and before the two-week mark - I would write three (3) different impromptu stories!!! Over the spring and summer of 2014, these other side stories kept flowing out via Facebook, spawning into the first season of what’s now titled The Art of Cheating Episodes.

Eight years later, I’ve turned those impromptu Facebook posts into a full-blown book series - relaunching each episode as an Extended Author’s Cut Edition with new story arcs, and unreleased episodes are finally being introduced to the world for the first time. With Season 1 now available in eBook/paperback format along with a music soundtrack to supplement the storyline, I’m starting to realize that perhaps none of this writing journey occurred by accident as I once believed.

Life is about finding inspiration where little exists, sometimes even with the things we’re most passionate about. So whether you’re a new reader or one of my loyal followers that were there for those original, unscripted Facebook posts – I challenge you to trust the things that inspire you daily…even those unexpected, seemingly accidental rumbles. Because, in the end, everything happens for a reason. The Art of Cheating is my proof of this.

The series is about the ups and downs of infidelity and failed relationships, as told through the eyes and mind of a habitual cheater. My goal is to give you my uncensored truth, and shed light where darkness looms thick. The themes are raw, raunchy, and offensive...but the story is catered to readers who want the full experience with no stone left unturned, and my audience will never be cheated out of that.

With that being said, in celebration of the eight-year anniversary of The Art of Cheating week, I proudly present to you the audiobook version of Sassy - complete with talented voiceover actors, actresses, and Emmy-award winning studio production and engineering! As always…until we cheat again…thanks for reading, and enjoy the episode folks!

- HoLLyRod


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