My WIP: “When In Doubt – Freshman Year” : Chapter 3

“When In Doubt” banner, created on Canva.com, I don’t own any of the images included, and can remove per owner’s requests

Welcome back, and take a look at the third chapter of my work in progress: a novel that will turn into a multi-book series loosely based off my years at the University of Wisconsin-Stout! While I’m still editing away on my second draft, I’m still continuing posting just the first few chapters to allow anyone interested to get a sneak peak at what I’ve been working on. It’s been a long couple of weeks with plenty of drama, work kicking my butt, family tragedy, and I’ll admit it’s all caused me to mentally step away and not focus as well as I usually have, but I can’t beat myself up for that! I won’t go into detail, but I’d say it’s pretty well justified; all I will say is be sure to reach out to your loved ones, whether it’s your biological family or your chosen or both, tell them you love them, you appreciate them in your life, and that you cherish them! You never know when life will take a crazy turn, and suddenly someone is taken away from you too soon…

Back to the topic of my project, here is the next chapter to (hopefully) enjoy that follows Luke Mitchell this time around. Get a sneak peak of what’s brought him to campus at the start his freshman year; he’s certainly got some major baggage he carries similarly to Matt and Heather, who you’ve met in the previous posted chapters.

Also be sure to head over to my page dedicated to this project at the top menu of the website! It’s labelled as WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or if you don’t feel like scrolling, just click the link HERE

Hope you enjoy!


Chapter 3:

The next morning, Luke yawned and stretched his arms above his head before trying to tame his wild, chestnut waves. He coughed when he got a big whiff of his roommate Rob, not expecting the smell of marijuana as soon as he woke up. It did explain where he’d been until three in the morning. 

Luke chuckled to himself as he glanced over at Rob’s passed out form in his lofted bed; he wasn’t even trying to be subtle about smoking, but based off how deafening his snoring was, he also wasn’t getting up anytime soon. 

Climbing down the side ladder, Luke quietly undressed before snagging his towel, shampoo, and body wash before heading over to the communal showers. He almost forgot his rubber flip flops, which reminded him when his older brother had explicitly warned him to pack a pair. He hadn’t been able to take it seriously, because really, who actually wore flip flops into the shower? 

His brother, Brett, remained persistent. “Lukey, it’s a communal shower with a bunch of guys in college… You have no idea what goes on in those stalls, or what stays behind. Trust me, you don’t want to be barefoot in there. If they could talk, those tiles would be screaming louder than Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.”

Luke made the short trek from his room down the hallway towards the communal bathroom, but of course, two girls just happen to walk in from the stairwell with to-go containers. Wearing nothing but a towel, Luke stopped and mumbled a “sorry, excuse me,” with his head down before letting them pass first. One of the girls, who had bangs and green eyes, eyed him up and down in appreciation before whispering something to her friend as they both walked back to the girls side on the third floor of Chinnock-Milnes. 

Double checking his flat stomach with what he had to consider a semi-decent pair of abs, Luke also made sure to check out the girls when they looked the other way before he made haste into the bathroom. 

I guess I’m not the only early riser anymore, Luke thought to himself. He smirked at the memory of the girl’s gaze on him before he noticed steam lace through the air from behind one of the curtains in one of the shower stalls. 

The guy in the stall also wore a cheap pair of flip flops, and Luke couldn’t help but be a little relieved he wasn’t be the only one; maybe it was a serious thing to actually worry about. 

In his own stall, Luke turned on the water and as soon as it was hot enough, he hung his towel on the hook and stepped under the hot spray. Water blasted his scalp and all the way down his back, and he felt all the tension leave his shoulders. 

He felt himself wake up as he ran his hands through his hair, and reached for his body wash, but it slipped through his grasp. He cursed as it slid into the other occupied stall next to his, then cursed them at how they just had to pick the one in the middle, even though no one was around beforehand.

“Oh shit, someone’s already dropping the soap!” the guy announced, his deep voice filled with humor. Luke was about to respond, but froze when another, more higher pitched laugh also joined in. 

Holy shit, I think there’s a girl in here, Luke thought.

The laughter abruptly stopped right before the guy’s hand returned Luke’s bottle over the barrier.

“Hey man, sorry about that,” Luke said. 

 “All good, bro. No worries.”

There was definitely two voices in the next stall, and they were both trying to be quiet as they whispered to each other, but the more high pitched voice kept giggling or letting out little squeals while the guy kept saying something too low to pick out amongst the running water.  

Feeling like a total creep, Luke sped along with cleaning himself off. He flipped the shower off, wrapped his towel around his hips, and tried to escape without being seen or hearing them possibly start to go back at it. He wasn’t against anyone hooking up—he even wished he’d gotten that lucky on the second day of college—but he also wasn’t about to stick around and have it literally be five feet away from him while it was going down. 

The next stall door opened behind him, and Luke froze in his spot like somehow it was him who’d just gotten busted. Out walked a tall, blond guy on their floor who might as well have stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. He remembered the guy’s name was Jared from their floor meeting the day before, but he hadn’t expected to see anyone on his floor be completely bare-assed while drying off his hair with his navy-blue towel. 

The towel he formerly had tucked around his waist.

“Seriously dude? What the fuck?!” Luke raised his arm to shield his eyes but it was too late, he’d gotten a full-frontal glimpse of the guy’s junk.

Jared laughed with complete nonchalance. “My bad, bro. You know what they say when you’ve got it, amiright?”

Thankfully, he wrapped his towel to hang low around his hips while he tossed Luke a wink and grabbed a second towel off the hook, but kept it just out of reach. A slender, very obviously female arm reached out and snagged it after a few failed attempts, and the two of them laughed as she tried to whip him in retaliation. 

Jared regarded Luke once again and shrugged with a cheeky grin. 

The back of his neck red, Luke practically flew out the door to get back to his room and away from the happy couple before they went back at it with him right there or worse: possibly offering him to join them in a threesome. He was so completely done with this weird as hell situation he’d stumbled upon.

Luke scoffed under his breath. “Great, we have a man-whore on the floor.”


Making sure to avoid anyone else on his floor for rest of the morning, Luke snuck down the stairwell towards the HKMC lobby to head out to his brother’s house, which was about a twenty minute walk from the dorms. 

It’s been a Mitchell family tradition to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stout; both his parents met each other when they’d attended back in the day and were engaged before graduating together. Both of Luke’s older brothers, Brett and Jason, also had enrolled: Jason graduated two years earlier with both a Bachelor’s Degree and a fiancé, very much like father like son. Brett was still enrolled as a Junior, but had a girlfriend he was getting pretty serious about, so it seemed like a pattern had strangely developed amongst the men of the family in those regards. It wasn’t premeditated, it just sort of happened like that. Luke never really considered himself superstitious, but he was sure there was some sort of unspoken expectation, so there was just one more thing to constantly tug on the back of his mind while we was at school, besides simply trying to make up for all that’s happened to him in the last year and what he’s put others through.  

Same shit, different day, Luke always told himself to shrug it off, but how does someone simply move on from the fact that their own father could no longer trust them, that they breathe down their neck about every little thing, and constantly reminded them of their mistakes? 

Luke reminded himself that he could finally loosen up again and enjoy his first real sense of freedom, which included brats on the grill and plenty of Pabst Blue Ribbon once he got to Brett’s house. He had a feeling he was going to be visiting quite a lot over the course of the next two semesters.

Exiting the stairwell, Luke rounded the corner towards the lobby, but failed to see the person right there, and bumped into them before he could stop himself. It was becoming a tragic habit for him, it seemed.

Even wearing sandals, the girl had legs for days with flowing waves of blonde hair cascading down to her lower back, and dark eyes stared back at him while full lips spoke words his way, but Luke was actually struck dumb and didn’t hear any of it.  

 “Sorry about that.” Luke grinned. “Still waking up I guess, I guess. What’d you say?”

The girl sighed with a jutted-out hip, her arms crossed to cover her chest with a bemused expression of learned patience.

“Oh, you know, just talking to some guy with serious hearing problems who may or may not have been staring at my ass, so it’s making me reconsider any apology of bumping into him”—she rolled her neck while giving him a side eye—“but I figure I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt to try and redeem himself.”

Luke winced while scratching the back of his head before officially apologized. “Well, I appreciate the second chance. Not every girl is as forgiving about that sort of thing.”

“Ah, so you do totally admit to checking out my ass,” the girl replied, but at least she looked amused while she said it.

Luke could only shrug in response before stepping aside in an attempt to be a gentleman, but that made the girl actually laugh and smile his way.

“Oh no, I appreciate the honesty, but I think I’ll go after you.” She gestured for him to walk ahead of her, so Luke reluctantly did so while trying to ignore the way his face burned.

The only positive thing to come out of it was she could possibly be checking him out too, so maybe he should glance back and see exactly where her eyes are traveling towards.

As they entered the lobby together, she sped up her pace until they were side by side, and Luke noticed she wore short cutoff denim shorts and a white tank top with a pair of aviators resting along her crown.

 “Is there a beach somewhere nearby?” Luke asked.

She shrugged a tan shoulder. “Actually, I was going to start a game of volleyball out on the court, you want in?”

Luke grunted in disappointment. “I’m actually going somewhere already, but for sure next time.”

What. The. Fuck?!, Luke screamed inside his head. When a girl asks you join her, you don’t freakin’ say you can’t… fucking dumbass.

While he inwardly cussed himself out, at least the girl gave no indication that she was aware of his inner turmoil. “For sure. I just figure it’s a good way to meet new people, so there’ll probably be other games to join in over the next few days.”

 “I will definitely be there next time, I just hate canceling plans I’ve already made.” Luke offered his hand. “I’m Luke by the way. Luke Mitchell.” 

Her eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion, so Luke prayed she didn’t notice how he almost squirmed under her scrutiny, but her stony expression cracked along the edges, and her eyes warmed.

“Heather Gracie, it’s a pleasure.” She shook his hand with an impressively good grip. “I guess I’ll see you around, Luke Mitchell. Don’t stare at anyone else’s ass for too long wherever you’re off to. Someone might get weirded out.” She added a wink at the end for good measure.

Luke laughed. “Lesson learned, you can bet on that.” He nodded his farewell, and when he was outside and out of sight, he let loose a deep breath he didn’t even realize he was holding. He couldn’t remember when a girl had ever put him in his place quite like that, but he kind of liked it.  

He arrived at his brother’s place about twenty minutes later, and Brett’s house was in full swing. In the backyard, there were two slip-n-slides set up parallel to each other with a table lined up with two rows of red solo cups along the ends. There was actually a decent amount of people there, and someone had their speakers up on the patio blasting some Macklemore.

Luke grinned as he watched the relay start. The group screamed encouragements as two guys slid across before sprinting towards the table, shooting back whatever was in the cups before trying to flip the cup from the bottom off the edge to have it land on its lid. As soon as one was successful, the next person was urged on by their team and repeated the whole process.

“Don’t get any crazy ideas, son,” a voice spoke from directly behind Luke, and he swore his heart skipped a beat. There was no way…

Luke slowly turned to find both of his parents standing right there behind him, and he actually lost the ability to speak for a couple moments. 

“What are… wuh… what are you guys still doing here?” Luke managed to stutter out. How could his parents still be around after they’d dropped him off and helped him move in just the day before? Have they seriously still been here the whole time? 

His father nodded towards the game still going on. “Apparently, we’re keeping you from fucking up your college career before it’s barely even begun.”

Whoop, there it is… 

Luke’s father never missing an opportunity to remind him not only of his past mistakes, but also of how little he expected from his youngest son. He was always able to say all that in a single sentence. Every. Single. Time. 

“Oh hush, Hugh.” Luke’s mother swatter her husband on the shoulder with scolding look. “Leave him be. You know he can have a beer or two if we’re here and say it’s okay.”

Hugh chuckled with a deep roll of his eyes. “Don’t give him any ideas, hon. We let him have one, then what?”

“Okay, seriously though”—Luke rested a hand behind his head—“what are you guys still doing here?”

His father was about to make some retort, but his mother threw him another dirty look that shut him up before she answered instead. “We haven’t been back for a couple years now, and since it’s where we met, we wanted to visit some old spots around town, and reminisce about it all.” Her tone went soft and dreamy. “We like to see how much has changed or stayed the same since we enrolled.” 

“And to make sure our kids are staying out of trouble,” Hugh added. Any amusement or happiness left his face as he regarded Luke again. “I swear, if I get to know the Menomonie PD as well as I did with Milwaukee’s back home, your ass is out of here, you here me?”

Luke’s jaw clenched and he had to count to ten before he could respond. “Crystal clear.”

He also ignored his mother’s pitying look. There was only so much she could do, but at least one of them has forgiven him for everything he put them through. 

“Good.” Hugh looked around at the backyard. “Now, where’s you’re brother? We’ve been here for five minutes, and he still hasn’t come over and offered me a beer.”

“I just hope he finally introduces us to that girl he keeps mentioning whenever I give him a call.” Luke’s mother looked around she smiled and waved at someone on the patio.   

Brett was at the grill with bratwurst sizzling, and he had one arm wrapped around a curvy girl with darker tanned skin and hair up in a messy bun. She whispered something in his ear before she nuzzled his short, dirty blonde hair until the front was styled more towards the front. When it was to her liking, she took the spatula out of his hand, and with a quick kiss on the cheek, Luke’s older brother stepped away to wrap him up in a big bearhug. 

“Lukey, you made it!” Brett put him down and his smile grew as he turned towards their parents; a more toned down hug for their mother and a firm handshake for dad. “You all did! Great to see you, glad you could all make it.”

“Of course dear, you didn’t expect us to return and not stop to see you too?” Their mom chuckled at the absurdity. “I will say I wasn’t expecting you to have so many friends over today.”

Brett’s green eyes twinkled as he scratched the back of his head. “Yeah, just a couple of ‘em wanted to stop by to celebrate Labor Day weekend the right way.”

“Well that’s alright, you’re of age and want to wind down.” Hugh stepped forward and gave Brett a firm pat on the shoulder. “But I know this is to just get it out of your system before you’re back to hitting the books, am I right?”

Luke swore he saw Brett’s megawatt smile crack just a bit, but he nodded along. “Yes sir, you got it.”

Brett and him shared a look when their dad didn’t notice. 

“So, can I get any of you a beer? How was move-in yesterday?” Brett asked as he bumped fists with some random passerby. 

Their mother smiled. “It wasn’t too bad this year. I swear, they get more organized with it every time we come back.”

Brett nodded at Luke. “What dorm are you in again?”

“Third floor Chinnock.”

“Aw man, I was in South Hall my freshman year, and let me tell ya, there’s a reason why they call it the ‘Dirty South.’”

Hugh coughed. “Yes, well… I’m sure it’s a riveting story, but more importantly, whatever happened didn’t stop you from staying on top of your courses. We met your brother’s roommate yesterday, and the kids a huge pot-smoking dope. Luke doesn’t need to be around that if he wants to go far.”

Luke winced at his father’s harsh words. The day before as they all met Rob, his father took one look at his roommate’s multi-colored beanie and longboard and started to chew him out with a third degree interrogation that made everyone feel uncomfortable. Thanks to that, Rob probably thought he was a part of a whole family of narcs, so Luke internally reminded himself that he should apologize to him when they ran into each other.

Brett pulled Luke in and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “No need to worry pops, I got him taken care of. Consider me his mentor to show him the ropes and keep him on the straight and narrow.” 

That at least seemed to satisfy both of their parents; they both raised their bottles of beer in salute. Both Luke and Brett joined them, the former relieved at his older brother’s magical way to somehow say exactly what their parents always wanted to hear. It certainly helped that he grew up as the “golden boy” of the family: varsity captain of the football team, homecoming king, you get the picture. It certainly helped create some high expectations and plenty of pressure from their father.

Brett gestured over his shoulder. “Well like I said, glad to have you guys stick around and stop by, so I want to introduce you to some people. First, This is my girl, Eve.”

Brett gestured back towards the girl up at the grill. She waved with a bright smile as she scooped the food onto a nearby platter before placing it on the nearby table, leaving it to be devoured by the eager feeding frenzy of eager college students.

Eve walked down the patio steps into Brett’s waiting arm and removed her sunglasses as she greeted the Mitchell family without an ounce of trepidation.

“Eve, such a pleasure to finally meet you,” their mother said. “Brett has told us so much about you.”

Eve nodded. “Same with you for me, I feel like I practically know you both already.”

Hugh nodded at them. “How did you two meet again?”

Brett and Eve shared a look, and Luke took another swig of his beer to hide the smile that creeped onto his lips. If he remembered correctly from what Brett admitted once, Eve and him met while dancing against a stripper pole at one of the local bars, and started going at it in the bathroom forty-five minutes later after about three-too-many tequila shots.

“We met at the one of the Packaging Committee meetings,” Brett said. “She was sitting up front, answering almost every question the president was asking us, and I just couldn’t help but be impressed at how smart she was.”

Eve kissed his cheek before she flashed a bashful smile. “Oh you know, I just had to impress this amazing hunk of a guy. I noticed him when I first walked in, and thought to myself how he was the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen.”

Luke snorted, but hid it with a cough and stuttering how his beer went down the wrong tube while ignoring Brett’s stony expression tossed his way. 

Hugh’s eyes narrowed on Luke. “Geez son, with all the shit you’ve pulled, I’d assume you’d at least know how to drink a freakin’ beer.”

Well, that certainly caused the gorgeous, warm day to drop a few degrees. Luke didn’t respond as he took another sip, this one long enough to finish off the bottle. 

Brett snapped his fingers. “That reminds me, Luke, I got something to show you.” He turned back to Eve. “Babe, can you keep my parent’s company while I bring my brother inside really quick?”

Eve’s smile had an edge of panic, but she hid it in the blink of an eye. Luke had to hand to her, she could really roll with the punches. “Sure thing, honey. Take your time!”

“Love you, babe,” Brett said before he kissed her. She nudged him away with a chuckle before she wandered off between both their parents. 

Luke grinned at his brother. “I gotta say, I think you got a keeper there, Brett.”

His brother gave him a smarmy smile before smacking Luke across the back of the head and pushing him up the patio and inside his house. 

It was much cooler inside thanks to an AC unit in one of the windowsills. Luke once again reminded himself how he’d have to crash there more often. He certainly wouldn’t run into naked floor-mates getting more than just themselves wet in the morning, plus HKMC was so sticky and disgusting with all the heat still infesting every square inch after move-in day. There wasn’t AC in sight unless someone paid an extra hundred to have one installed into their window, but he needed any extra cash he could manage to scrounge up, and Rob was probably much more interested in using his industrial-sized fan for obvious reasons. 

Random people chatted on the two mismatched couches in the TV room, but Brett led Luke right past them up the stairs. It looked like they had the whole upper level to themselves, but Brett still closed the door behind him once they were inside his bedroom. 

His older brother turned to him, his green eyes looked serious instead of their usual amusement, and he clasped his hands together.

“So, I just wanted to clear the air and make sure that we’re on the same page about pops.”

Luke remained silent. 

“I know what I said out there, but I just wanted you to know, I honestly don’t give a damn what he wants.” 

Luke crossed his arms. That was rich, coming from one of dad’s golden children…

Brett continued. “I’m being a hundred percent real right now. Lukey, you’re way smarter than both me and Jason…hell, you saved my ass from flunking half my classes.”

It was true. Back home, Luke might not have straight up done all Brett’s schoolwork, but he was definitely the reason why Brett was able to play every Friday night and even remain Captain. Come to think of it, how has Brett been doing with his courses while he’s been away at college? Ironically enough, it’s never brought up. 

Brett raised his hands in front of him in calming gesture, like he expected Luke to physically lash out. “I know things have been kind of fucked back home with those assholes you used to run with, plus everything with dad and all, plus I’m sure Jason and I didn’t make it easy for you.”

Luke felt the sharp ache hit him in the chest. “It’s not entirely that… well, it’s not like you guys purposely made it harder for me.”

Brett waved him off. “Like I said, don’t sweat it. I just hope you know, and I’m sorry for getting all mushy on you, but Lukey, I love you.”

And at that, somehow the ache in Luke’s chest continued to twist and contort like someone was trying to wrench his heart straight out of his chest. How many times has he damned his brothers over the years at how big of the shadows they left behind for him to try and crawl out from? Their father already put enough pressure all on them, but when someone has two “perfect” older brothers like Brett and Jason were, it seemed like nothing Luke did ever measured up, and their father was always quick to remind him of that. Even more so now after everything.

Brett rested a hand on Luke’s shoulder. “I know Jason and mom love you too… dad does too, even though he’s godawful at showing it. He pushed Jason and I until we couldn’t stand it either, but it’s just the way he is. Hopefully with age, he’ll learn to calm the fuck down.”

Luke didn’t believe that for a second. If anything, the inevitable retirement would just make the infamous enigma that was Hugh Mitchell even more irritable, but Luke nodded along in silence nonetheless. 

“Hey, you don’t actually have to go all straight and narrow like I said earlier, you can still kick it here whenever you want,” Brett assured him. “Hell, I’d say you deserve to let loose more than anyone else I know.” 

Luke released a heavy sigh. “I can’t argue with you on that, but I better take it easy for the first semester, just to get him off my ass a little bit.” 

“That’s why you’re the smart one, Lukey. You can just head straight over here every weekend, and that way I’m not completely bullshitting Pops when he asks me if I’m actually keeping an eye on you. I can even ask the housemates if it’s cool to get you an extra key.” 

Luke couldn’t help but smirk at the look on his brother’s face as they figured this all out; Brett was so proud of himself for (almost) coming up with it all on his own. His green eyes lit up like Christmas lights as he told Luke about what they could do without their parents around, and Luke himself couldn’t help but feel the anticipation rise up at that prospect. 

Brett patted him once again on the shoulder. “I’ll make sure you enjoy yourself. I got’chu, and you’re gonna have the time of your life here, buddy. You know what they say, ‘When in doubt, go to Stout!’

Luke squirmed as Brett pulled him into a headlock and noogied his scalp; his loose waves getting even more messed up. “Fuck off!”

Brett chuckled as he let him go. “Oh c’mon Lukey, you’re my little brother, I gotta mess with ya every now and then.”

Luke shook his head with a smirk. “But in all seriousness, thanks Brett, it’s about damn time I got over here, and be able to start fresh.” He paused and looked down at the carpeted floor. “I just want to make dad proud of me again, you know?”

He hated how small his voice sounded just then, or how vulnerable he felt admitting that out loud, but he desperately needed someone in his corner after everything. Their mom may have forgiven him, but Luke couldn’t remember the last time they’d had a conversation and it was like she was walking on eggshells around him. Jason was also halfway across the country over in Oregon with his wife and two dogs, and only made appearances at holidays or any other major family events. Luke just wanted a sense of normalcy.  

He peered up to see Brett’s eyes that were full of sympathy or pity—possibly both—and it was crazy how much he looked just like their dad. Sometimes he forgot that detail since whenever his father ever bothered to speak to him anymore, it was with absolute contempt, distrust, and what felt like barely controlled rage at its worst.

Brett’s voice went soft. “You will Lukey, I know you will.”


Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell


My WIP: “When In Doubt – Freshman Year” : Chapter 2

“When In Doubt” banner, created on Canva.com, I don’t own any of the images included, and can remove per owner’s requests

Continuing off my previous post on the home page, I’m continuing with giving a sneak peak at my WIP passion project while still working away on the next draft of my college story starring my cast of six characters. Last chapter, you met Matt Anderson, but this time around you’ll meet Heather Gracie, who has a lot going on beneath the surface as she too is starting over in a new environment and hopes for the best!

Be sure to head over to my page dedicated to this project at the top of the website! It’s labelled as WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or if you don’t feel like scrolling, just click the link HERE.

Hope you enjoy!


Chapter 2: Heather

Not many people would realize it if they were to take one look at her; they’d probably take in her long blond hair, hourglass figure, striking features, nice clothes, and assume she had everything handed to her and has never had a single hardship. She just has a way about her that naturally draws people in, and more than likely was both the homecoming queen and prom queen from back home in Prior Lake, Minnesota, had the latest fashion trends in her closet and had too many friends to even be able to keep track of them all, and maybe that was true at one point, but that was couldn’t be more further from the truth. 

Heather has been ready for a fresh start since her sophomore year of high school. After everything thats happened—without having to rehash it all if anyone would ever ask—she was finally able to start her life over, and leave all of it in the past where it belonged. She didn’t even bother to look back as she, her mom, and boyfriend all drove onto the highway earlier that very morning.

She was riding a high of finally moving into her dorm, and it quickly faded with the heavily weighed down feeling of an oncoming food induced coma as the three of them walked back onto campus after grabbing a bite to eat at an upscale local bar & grill on Main Street named the Log Jam. 

Heather ran her hand through her long, golden blonde hair and sighed with total pleasure at how bright and warm the sun felt on her face and down her spine. To her, it was like a good omen of how she was finally where she needed to be. 

She decided to get out her Canon while Ryan, her boyfriend of three years, simply followed with her other hand still connected in his. She felt his smile on her with his warm brown eyes while she snapped a quick photo of the UW-Stout clocktower as it stood tall and proud against the clear blue sky. He playfully tugged her back into his chest after she took another shot, and kissed her cheek.

What was she going to do without him for the next ten months? He was always there over the last couple of years when she needed a shoulder to lean against, always within arm reach, and now he’d be over an hour away finishing his final year over at the University of St. Thomas. 

While her mom walked ahead to give them both some space, Heather reached up to fix Ryan’s brown waves that he’d been growing out over the summer. It gave him a sexier laid-back look that she’d really began to like. 

“Your hair looks so much sexier pushed back,” she quoted her favorite movie of all time, Mean Girls, as she played with some of Ryan’s locks, tugging a few locks behind his ears. 

“Yeah yeah yeah, babe.” Ryan chuckled as he rolled his eyes. “Why are you so obsessed with me?”

Heather laughed. “Because I have a boyfriend who can quote movies right back to me, that’s why.”

“Well, you’ve had me watch them so many times, I practically could quote that entire movie back to you.”

Heather ruffled his hair with a mischievous grin. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Hey now.” Ryan’s voice feigned a warning as he playfully swatted her hand away. “You just fixed the hair, babe.”

“Well, I like it all messed up like that,” Heather lowered her voice as she leaned into his ear. “It gives me some great ideas.”

“Heather…not with your mom right there.”

“Fine, we’ll keep it just PG-13 for now.” Heather wrapped her free arm around his neck to have him lean down and share a quick kiss before her mom turned back around to catch them in the act and clear her throat. 

“So, have you talked to your roommate at all recently?”

Heather shrugged as the three of them walked back into the HKMC lobby. “We talked about a month ago to see if there was anything else I needed to bring. Otherwise nope, not really to be honest.”

“Well, she seemed nice at least, right?” 

Recognizing the worried tone, Heather shared a look with Ryan while her mother’s back was to them. “I guess so.” 

They walked up two levels through the stairwell, the echoes of their feet on the tiled floor could be heard all the way up to the fourth floor.  

Heather didn’t want to admit that she was dreading this inevitable greeting because as soon as the housing department emailed her roommate’s name: Lindsay Erickson, she’d immediately gone onto social media to check her out like any other normal millennial with a smartphone at their disposal. She still remembers the pit in her stomach and how it grew with every picture on Lindsay’s many profiles showed a petite human barbie doll with platinum blond hair going halfway down her back, baby blue eyes, a beauty pageant smile, designer clothes, and many group shots of her and her friends with their hands on their hips in that bent back pose…the many duckfaces…and how they all owned different versions of a Coach designer handbag. Based off that alone, Heather had a pretty good idea what kind of person her roommate was; hell, she was that same person not that long ago herself. 

Heather decided to go to the University of Wisconsin-Stout to escape from the dark memories of back home, but it seemed like some of it decided to follow her there.

Speaking of the Prada wearing Devil with blue eyes, Lindsay was already moved into her side of the dorm room while the three of them had been out. Her side was an assault of the colors pink and white, and was currently painting her nails at her desk with what seemed like almost professional-level precision. She even had what looked like an actual makeup artist’s station set up on her desktop with many sized brushes, mascara tubes, hairspray, and different shades of eyeshadow.

Lindsay looked up with the flip of her sleek hair and flashed them all a too bright smile as she introduced herself. 

“It is soooo fabulous to finally meet you!” Lindsay rose from her chair, and waltzed over to embrace Heather before she could even respond, but making sure her nails didn’t smear. “Can I just say, your Insta’ pics do not give you justice. You’re, like, so gorgeous…ugh, I am so jealous.” 

She actually said the word “ugh.” 

Heather quickly cleared her throat and pasted on a perky grin. “It’s soooo great to meet you too, Lindsay, and I am, like so in love with your hair! You’ve totally got to show me what kind of conditioner you use!”

“Oh, I totes gotchu girl.” Lindsay winked. “Not that you need any help, but if you’re ever looking for a little glow up, I am here for you.”

 “I’ll definitely have to remember that just in case.” Heather looked around Lindsay’s side and lingered on a poster with curvy font saying just the words “Bold, Dream, and Sassy.” 

 Heather’s mom took a step forward with a cautious smile of her own. “So Lindsay, I’m surprised how quickly you moved in, we were only gone for almost a half hour. Are your parents still here?” 

Lindsay sat back down at her chair and quickly blew on her nails. “Oh no, they’re both so incredibly busy with work back home, and had to rush out ASAP. Thank god for those people out front to make moving in so quick.” 

Lindsay paused to check her phone. “So…we will defs have to chat some more soon, but I’d actually promised a friend of mine that I’d meet up with her once she got here, so see ya roomie! Something tells me that this is going to be such an amazing year!” 

Lindsay waved over her shoulder as she jolted out the room left the three of them alone, once again not even waiting for a response. 

Once the clank of Lindsay’s heels disappeared down the hallway, Heather glanced over at Ryan, who swore under his breath and ran a hand down his face. Her mom didn’t look any more relieved either.

“C’mon guys, it’s not that big of a deal.” Heather crossed her arms. “Compared to the others, she seems harmless. I can definitely handle her.”

Ryan plopped down onto the large red futon. “I believe you, babe, but I just don’t want you to have to deal with any more bullshit. One look at her, and it looks like it’s just followed you here.”

Heather’s mom checked the doorway before answering. “She does remind me of those girls you used to run around with.” 

And of course that’s who I get paired with, Heather thought to herself. She noticed Ryan’s sullen expression from her mother’s comparison. “True, but like I said, I can handle it if anything happens. I can handle it, I swear.”

Ryan grunted some response, and her mom nodded with her usual worried look. “Just be sure to call me if there are any issues at all, because I love you and only want the best for you, okay honey?” 

She walked over, and Heather was wrapped up in another tight embrace, this one much more welcome. She wished she could say or do something to completely erase the worry lines that have become so pronounced all over her mother’s face over the last few years. It was a reminder that she wasn’t the only one who’s suffered some hardships over the last couple years. Both her and Ryan have helped her through what was her own personal hell.  

As she reluctantly let go, her mom took a deep breath and her expression brightened. “Okay, now it’s time for you two to scrunch together for a picture before we leave.” 

She gestured for Heather and Ryan to stand close together while she whipped out her phone. Ryan scooted in from behind and wrapped his arm around Heather’s hip. They both smiled with well hidden patience while her mom struggled to figure out her smartphone’s camera, even though she’s had it well over a year by now.

 “I’ll be sure to come visit often, someone’s got to make sure there aren’t any knives to take out of her back,” Ryan joked. Heather laughed, but her mom simply threw a bemused smile his way.

He kissed Heather before she could reply with some snappy response. “Love you, babe, and you’re going to do great here. Just get out there, and you’ll meet people in no time, I know you will.” 

“Well damn, now I guess I have no choice with all this pressure on me.” Heather rolled her eyes, but returned his smile. “But I’m not worried one bit. I say bring it on.” 

Soon after, both Ryan and her mom gave their final goodbyes as they walked out the door, and Heather actually had to fight back tears as she was now alone in an entirely new world that would be her temporary home until May. The last thing she needed was to start bawling and have someone walk by; it wasn’t the first impression she wanted to make.

Strong girls who looked for a fresh start didn’t cry at the first sign of trouble.


Later that day at around two in the afternoon, everyone was officially moved into the third floor of Milnes-Chinnock, so both Resident Advisors made their rounds to introduce themselves to all their new freshmen. 

The girl’s side RA was named Tiffany: a shorter, curvier sophomore who was a little ball of energy all decked out head-to-toe in UW-Stout apparel. She gathered all the girls to meet in the study lounge that divided their side from the boys. The bun on the top of her head practically bobbed with excitement in just about every one of her motions.

Heather sat down at one of the worktables, and was joined by Lindsay and another girl with shoulder length layered blonde waves, but Tiffany spoke up before anyone could get even a word in.

“Hello girls, and welcome to our first-floor meeting for third floor Milnes! Now, the point of this meeting is to get you all ready to be able to start off your year here at Stout with a bang!”

The girl sitting next to Lindsay chuckled. “Amen to that.” 

Olivia continued without skipping a beat. “So, while I’ve gone around and met each of you individually as you’ve moved in, you have yet to meet each other. I wanted to take the time to have us all sit together so you can do so, and so that there’s hopefully some familiar faces in case you’re ever lost around campus, or want to find someone to sit with in the commons.” 

Olivia’s eyes immediately met Heather’s, who tried not to let her wince peak through her smile. “So, we’ll go around in a circle until we get back to me. Just tell us your name, hometown, major and what your favorite food is.”

Yay for those awkward ice-breakers…

Heather noticed a few of the girls rolling their eyes or sneaking glances at their phones, so she turned back to a hopeful Tiffany with a warm smile as she introduced herself. “I’m from Prior Lake, Minnesota, my major is Entertainment Design concentrating in Digital Cinema, and my favorite food is pizza.”

Lindsay hid her phone and perked up as she introduced herself next. “I’m from Edina, Minnesota, my major is going to be Professional Communications and Emerging Media, and my favorite food is…I’d say veggie wraps or spring rolls.” She giggled to herself. “I actually made the decision to stop eating meat, like, I believe that—”

“Yo, so my name’s Ali Devereaux.” The girl with the shorter blonde hair cut in with a smirk and greeting hand gesture. “I’m also from Edina, and Linds and I have actually been tight since second grade. I’m doing Industrial Design, and feel free to shove anything sweet and chocolatey my way.” 

A couple other girls went around the circle. Next was an artsy, bohemian chick who wore a rosy-pink maxi skirt with a floral short sleeve top. Her green eyes that peaked out from beneath her bangs practically glowed; her whole demeanor felt warm and Heather found herself liking her almost instantly. 

“My name is Eden Harrington. I’m from St. Anthony Falls, and my major is Entertainment Design.” 

Heather also perked up at that. 

Eden continued. “I’m in the Animation program, and my favorite food is…oh goodness…so many things. I love sushi, pasta, coffee, muffins, and did I mention coffee?”

A petite girl with porcelain skin, dark brown hair, and eyes the shape of teardrops straightened her back as she started next, introducing herself as Jenna Nguyen. 

“I am from Duluth Minnesota, I’m majoring in Graphic Design, and my favorite food is mozzarella sticks.” Jenna gestured to her pin. “And yes, I am also a Ravenclaw, so if anyone else is a fellow Potterhead, we should talk!” 

Eden practically squealed in her seat at how she was a Hufflepuff. Heather remembered when she’d taken the Pottermore quiz on that website a few years ago, and learned she was a Gryffindor.

They got to the final girl, who had pitch-black hair that was professionally straightened, and her dark skin was devoid of any imperfections; she was certainly striking. She had a commanding air around her as she spoke.  

“My name is Madison Parker, and I’m from Beverly, Chicago.” She sounded like everyone should’ve just known that information already. “I’m going into Industrial Design, and I’m always up for grabbing tacos.”

Heather’s floor certainly had an interesting array of girls she was going to be living with for the next few months. Some she was more thrilled about, like Eden and Jenna and maybe Ali, but there were girls like Madison and even Lindsay who she was weary of. She wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, but she also didn’t want history to repeat itself. 

Shortly after, Tiffany led the group outside towards the grassy quad separating the dorms from the academic buildings, where there was a festival called the “Backyard Bash” underway with many booths set up. Tiffany explained how all the student organizations on campus recruited new or returning students for their clubs, emphasizing how it was a great way to see all the different ways to be able to get involved on campus, and that everyone should sign up for at least one of them.

All the girls immediately split up and searched to see what UW-Stout had to offer; Heather ended up going off on her own since everyone else already appeared to be paired off. Eden and Jenna naturally bonded over their love of all things involving a boy wizard and his lightning bolt scar, and her roommate seemed to latch onto the girls like Madison, but not without dragging her childhood BFF along too. 

None of the other girls really gave her the time of day either; they probably saw her long blonde hair and big breasts, and assumed she was just another stuck up bitch who thought she was better than everyone else because she was probably another Barbie clone.  

Whatever, Heather thought to herself, It’s not like I haven’t dealt with that before. She refused to let it bug her, so she held her head high, squared her shoulders, and flipped her hair until it flowed halfway down her back, and kept on going even if it was on her own. 

She pointedly ignored the sorority booths but was still curious at some of the other clubs being offered: Anime Club, Comics Creators, Blue Devil Productions, Blue Devil Brewing, and The Fine Arts Association were just to name a few. Her interest piqued when she saw that Blue Devil Productions were actually in charge of live concerts and the free campus movie nights, but wondered if she’d be able to film her own flicks at all. Maybe she could start her own filmmaker club while she was enrolled; it’d sure look great on a resumé for anywhere she’d apply to in a few years. 

Her stomach began to growl so loudly her eyes darted around to check if anyone else actually heard her too. She supposed she could wait in line for a plastic container of nachos, and maybe listen to the live cover-band while they played on a stage nearby, but she had to admit that idea didn’t sound incredibly tempting or satisfying. 

Someone tapped her on the shoulder, so Heather turned around to find that rocker chick from her floor, Ali Devereaux. Her ruby red lips grinned like she knew a secret. 

“You’re Heather, right?”

“That’s me.”

“What do you think of all this so far?”  

Heather glanced around and shrugged a shoulder. “A lot, thats for sure.”

Ali chuckled. “Right? Like, let me have a fucking second to breathe at least.” She paused to feign a gagging noise. “I swear, the chick running the Fashion Club booth or whatever would’ve decked me with her clip-board if she got any more up in my face to have me sign up, you know?”

Heather chuckled as she crossed her arms. “What? You mean you don’t like people attacking you to get you to sign up for something.”

Ali smirked. “If I did, I’d go find the nearest Best Buy.”

So very true, Heather thought to herself, but what does this chick want from me? “I guess, and at least they get paid to do that sort of thing, but thanks for the heads up, I’ll make sure to avoid them too.” 

“Anytime, babes.” Ali gave her a quick once-over with a raised brow. “So I did have an actual reason to grab you besides just idle chit-chat. Linds told me that you seem cool, so we wondered if you wanted to come with us to get some real food at the student center?” 

“We?” Heather’s brow rose while looking over Ali’s shoulder to spot Lindsay, Madison, and a gorgeous dark-brunette from her floor as they all stood about twenty paces away. She remembered the girl’s name was Mandy, who had striking eyebrows and the whole dark hair with pale blue eyes combo that made her a total knockout. Like Madison, she’d worn a bored expression while all the girls introduced themselves, and she seemed to have a smile like she already knew everyone’s dark secrets. 

She gave off a strange vibe; it wasn’t like she thought everything was beneath her, but more she didn’t take anything seriously or have any real emotions towards anything quite yet. It was just a cool indifference, and it was hard to get a good read on her.

Lindsay and Madison both waved—Lindsay with much more enthusiasm—while Mandy simply wore an indifferent smile with her hip jutted out and arms crossed.

 Part of her really wanted to say no, but Heather reminded herself how it was all their freshman year too, and no one wanted to be alone—Lindsay didn’t seem like someone who could even go to the bathroom on her own—so maybe they couldn’t be all bad if they extended an olive branch like this.  

That certainly didn’t mean she wouldn’t keep her eyes on Madison and/or Mandy, because something about them didn’t sit right in the pit of her stomach.

She joined the girls, so the five of them all wandered over towards the Memorial Student Center—MSC for short—to check out what food options it had.  

Heather just hoped she wouldn’t regret it.


Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell


My WIP: “When In Doubt – Freshman Year” : Chapter 1

“When In Doubt” banner, created on Canva.com, I don’t own any of the images included, and can remove per owner’s requests

Anyone who knows me, or visits this blog on more than one occasion, (hopefully) knows about this work in progress story that I’ve been working on-and-off for two years now. It’s going to be a coming of age story starring six young adults as they traverse through their years at a small, midwestern college, and slowly but surely become their own kind of chosen family.

I want the story to show themes of acceptance, finding yourself, personal growth, mental health, love in many forms (friendship, romantic, self, etc.), and consequences of the choices we make. It’s loosely based off my years at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, which have been the most influential and memorable years of my short life so far. I think it’s a story worth telling, and hopefully it can help someone who needs a story like this to land in their hands one day!

As I’m working away on my next draft of this project in both writing and editing, I thought I’d share a sneak peak of my story by sharing the first six chapters that introduce my six main characters: Matt, Eden, Jared, Madison, Luke, and Heather. By no means are these chapters I’m releasing fully completed, and they are subject to change as time moves forward, but why not share a little tidbit of what I’ve been working on to anyone interested in reading?

Be sure to check out my page dedicated to the development of this passion project of mine: you can find it on the top menu of my blog under WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or just click the link HERE! You can meet my main characters, listen to the Spotify playlist, follow the Pinterest board, and read about the process of this project so far and see how it’s developed over the last couple of years! Meanwhile, below is my current Chapter 1, which follows my character: Matt Anderson

Hope you enjoy!


Chapter 1: Matt

“Look honey, there’s the sign!”

Nineteen-year old Matt Anderson glanced up from his iPhone at his mother’s words and glanced out his window from the backseat of the family SUV. His dark eyes caught a blue highway sign that read “UW-Stout: Exit 41,” and his gut twisted and it became to breathe. His heartbeat accelerated like he’d just downed two cans of Redbull back-to-back.

Matt was moments away from officially beginning his Freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. 

Matt’s mother turned in her seat until she faced him with that scrunched eyebrow look almost every parent has for their child. “Have you talked to your roommate about what you’re all bringing? He knows you’re bringing the futon, right? When was the last time you two talked anyways? Are you sure you grabbed everything you’ll need?” 

Holding in a groan from the rapid-fire questioning with a deep yawn, Matt ran his hands down his face and flashed a sheepish smile while removing one of his earbuds. “Mom, I’m pretty sure asking me if I have everything isn’t going to make a difference when we’re literally driving up the exit, but I’m sure I’ll be fine.” 

“I know, but I’ve never sent a child off to college before.” Her voice went thick with the warning of falling tears. “Well, at least there’s a Walmart in case you think of anything later on….Oh! What about a fan?”

Matt hung his head in mock defeat. “Yes, mom…you were literally right next to as I bought one at Target last week.”

Matt’s dad chuckled as his mom rolled her eyes, once again faced forward.  

“Okay Mr. On Top Of It All, I guess you’ve got it all figured out,” she replied. “Take it easy on me, this day is going to be hard for me. I’ve never sent my child off to college before.” 

Matt grimaced and leaned back in his seat, guilt now seeping in along with every emotion he was already feeling. He knew his mom has been all over the place helping him in all the prep work over the summer with packing, finalizing tuition payment plans, dorm assignments, and orientation. She’s always been a helicopter parent merely because she just cared so much, and Matt had to remind himself to lay off every now and then; it wasn’t a bad thing to have a parent that cared. 

Amongst his own jumble of nerves mixed with excitement over starting college, he sometimes forgot that he’d also be saying goodbye to his parents while he was “leaving the nest” as his grandpa put it, and would truly be on his own for the first time in his life. It both exhilarated and terrified him. 

Back home, Matt felt like he’d never fully fit in anywhere or with anyone amongst his graduating class. It didn’t help how he was in the largest class to ever roll through Eagan High School with 753 students at his graduation ceremony; there were people sitting next to him whom he’d never even seen before until that moment. Either way, they’d grabbed their diplomas all the same as he did, ready to move onto the next chapter of their lives. 

He’d had some friends to grab half-off appetizers at Applebees with after the Friday night football games, or to even just sit with in the cafeteria every day during his lunch period, but always felt like he’d never been fully integrated into any clique or group. He always felt like that loner always on the outside looking in, the character always hanging out in the back of everyone else’s center-stage life in the spotlight.

College was more than just that for him; it was an opportunity that he’d been patiently waiting for. He was no longer going to be the background character, he was going to start over and become a different version of himself, an enhanced version of himself. He was going to be more outspoken, he was going to make friends, he was going to go to parties and get drunk for the first time, he was going to make amazing memories and maybe—just maybe—feel like he belonged somewhere for once. Those were the goals he’d set for himself, but whether he could actually pull it off while getting over his searing anxiety about not knowing anyone else in an entirely new setting was another story. With the opportunity of a fresh start, he was also completely alone with no support system and absolutely no familiarity to help him along the way.  

As quietly as he could so his parents wouldn’t notice, Matt took a deep breath to attempt rid himself of the sudden tightness in his chest and the pounding of his heartbeat that made it difficult to breathe. Freaking out before he even stepped out of the car wasn’t going to help with any of his aspirations. 

Getting off the exit off I-94 East, the three of them arrived in the small town of Menomonie, which was going to be Matt’s official new home for the next ten months. Right off the exit was a large handful of the usual fast-food joints like McDonalds, Wendys, and Arby’s, along with several gas stations, motels, car repair shops, and a large Marketplace grocery store. It was all along one main road, and Matt watched as they drove down a hill towards a large body of water amongst the trees.

Next was large bridge overlooking a large lake that was actually reservoir on the Red Cedar River, with the small town of Menomonie wrapping along the shore off in the distance. 

The UW-Stout campus also immediately appeared on the other side with several red-brick buildings that made up the northern end of the campus that smoothly transitioned into the downtown with plenty of small shops, restaurants, and cafés. There were of course a large amount of bars that were surely to be filled to the brim every weekend. 

The UW-Stout clocktower dominated the skyline, and Matt glimpsed the feather at the peak with the sun beaming almost directly behind, giving the whole tower an angelic, ethereal glow. It was what was showcased on all the fliers, pamphlets, and even the website; it was like this town’s version of the St. Louis arch, the Golden Gate Bridge, or even the Empire State Building.   

There was a line of cars forming down Broadway Street, and they followed until they reached the southern end of campus, where it seemed all the newly incoming freshman and their families were being directed into the massive parking lot of the Johnson Fieldhouse, the campus athletic facility. 

Color-coded cones were everywhere, and they directed cars where to go, along with numerous groups of young people with matching colored shirts and wide smiles helping guide everyone along. 

After about twenty minutes, Matt and his parents pulled up to the first station with a welcoming committee of overly-cheerful girls in front of enormous cork-boards that had sets of keys next to a bunch of numbers. They asked Matt what dorm he was in and what room he was in, gave him his room keys along with a gift bag before before instructing his dad to specifically follow the green cones over towards the freshman dorms.

“Wow, I must say I’m impressed with how organized this all is,” Matt’s mom commented afterwards as his dad drove forward. She turned down the country radio station, and Matt inwardly had to scoff; why did people have to turn down the radio when they were close to their destination? Like somehow it was going to help them understand the directions better.

Matt leans forward between his parents to look out the windshield. “Yeah, it’s almost like they’ve done this sort of thing before.”

His mother turns to him with a smarmy grin. “You know, I didn’t see a single Chipotle anywhere around here. Are you sure you’re going to be able to survive here without your daily fix?”

Matt now made sure to scoff out loud. “Yeah, asking me as we’re literally about to move into my dorm is some great timing there, mom, but I think I’ll be fine. If not, I’ll just be sure to make friends with someone who has a car.”

“Smart thinking,” Matt’s father said as he caught a group of students with matching green shirts all waving them over towards a specific parking spot. 

As soon as the SUV parked, Matt and his parents got out and were greeted by the students while they all offered to help gather up all of his large bins of belongings, his suitcases full of clothes, the futon folded up in the trunk. Much to him and his parent’s relief, they would assist them in helping carry it all up to his room on the third floor.

Matt gazed up at the red-brick dormitory with the landscaped concrete walkway leading up towards glass doors of the main lobby. It was named HKMC for the four halls it was comprised of: Keith, Hansen, Milnes, and his specific hall: Chinnock. It branched off to the right of the main lobby and was paired with Milnes, which was specifically a girl’s dorm.

Matt’s mother immediately made herself comfortable and carried just a bedside lamp while walking alongside the students carrying Matt’s heavier items. 

“I can’t tell you how relieved we are that you guys are all here to help out! I don’t know how these two would’ve done it all by themselves.” His mom laughed like she’d just told the world’s funniest joke while gesturing back towards Matt and his father, who were both highly unamused as they both carried something in their hands. She turned to the closest student. “How was this all organized anyways?”

A tall, athletic girl with a high ponytail flashed Matt’s mom a polite smile over the suitcase in her arms. “We’re the Track and Field team. Stout has it set up that all the athletic teams arrive here a few days early to help out with freshman move-in day.”

She nodded towards the next dorm down the street with more student-athletes in different shirts were helping other families. “Each team is assigned a dorm and helps everyone move in. It’s supposed to be a part of the ‘Freshman Experience.’”

Matt’s mom’s face lit up. “What a great idea! Matt, you should think about joining a team while you’re here. It’ll help keep you in good shape.”

Matt buried himself behind his suitcase in response. He pointedly ignored the several pairs of eyes now on him, especially the older guys with cutoff workout tanks, charming smiles, facial hair, and shredded arms. He cursed himself under his breath at how much his face burned. 

The inside of HKMC certainly didn’t help cool things down either. There was no central air-conditioning, so after just one trip up the stairwell to the third floor, everyone broke out in a sweat. Matt had at least remembered to bring two fans with him, but maybe he should’ve urged his parents to splurge on the window AC-unit the university offered for an extra hundred dollars. He wondered if it was worth bringing it up as he wiped his forehead with his free arm.

The group stopped in front of Chinnock 316, Matt’s assigned room, and he fumbled with his keys as once again all eyes landed on him. He made sure to not pay attention to a particularly attractive guy lift up his shirt to wipe the sweat off his brow, and finally opened the door to an empty dorm room, the shades pulled tight to darken the room in shadows.

“Looks like we beat your roommate here,” Matt’s mother commented while everyone piled in. 

While the members of the track team unloaded everything, Matt wanted to snap some snarky remark like “no shit, mom,” but instead responded with a low grunt as he set down his backpack.   

Back during his orientation in the spring, Matt check-marked the box to let the UW-Stout Housing Department match him with a random roommate, which is never a good gamble, but what choice did he really have? Once July came, they’d emailed him saying he was paired with someone named “Thomas Thornfield.” 

Immediately logging onto Facebook and scrolling through his profile, Matt had deducted that they wouldn’t become friends based off how little they seemingly had in common. Thomas was a total gamer (not that there was anything wrong with that), but Matt always preferred to read a book or catch up on whatever wrestling show he missed that week. Nonetheless, Matt had started a message thread so they could introduce each other and figure out who’d bring what when it came time to move into their dorm together. They’d be living in an eleven-by-fifteen foot room together for the next ten months, they might as well try to get along with each other.

Once everything was inside the cramped space, the track athletes all said their goodbyes as they walked out the door to go back and help out the next family moving in. Matt’s mom immediately sprang into her house-cleaning mode. 

“Alright honey, I will put away your clothes if you and your father want to adjust the bed and move the futon,” Matt’s mother said. The air in the room was warm and stuffy, so she pulled the shades and opened the window to try and get some airflow inside, then all three began the arduous task of unpacking everything he brought. 

Not even five minutes passed when Matt’s mother sat down at his desk chair and pulled a bottled water out of her purse while him and his father attempted to lower the lofted bed down a peg or two. They weren’t sure if the bars were completely back inside the slots, so Matt tested it out by climbing up top, and it’d seemed secure enough at the time. It was a little bit wobbly, but who knew how old the bed frames were anyways? 

“So, how do you feel, college man?” His mother asked while she remained seated. “Has it hit you quite yet?”

Matt pinched his shirt and aired himself out. “I feel winded to be completely honest, but that just might be because, you know, I’m actually putting stuff away.” 

His mother’s smile dropped. “Watch your step, son.” 

Matt raised his hands in surrender and apologized. “I guess I’m just nervous since I literally don’t know anyone here or have any idea what’s going to happen, you know?” 

Some warmth returned to his mother’s expression. “I know, and it’s completely normal to feel that way, but remember how you’ve been saying how you’ve been ready for this?”

“Yeah, that’s because I just needed to get the hell—,” Matt mumbled another quick apology “,—heck out of Eagan, because it sucked for me back there.” 

“Well, and I could tell you were miserable, but now you’re here, and can finally start over. You can have a fresh start like I bet you’ve always wanted.”

It was freaky how sometimes it felt like his mother could read his mind, because that’s exactly what he’s been been excited for since he’d started applying for schools about a year ago. Sure, the thought of having to meet an entirely new group of people was also terrifying, but it couldn’t have been worse than how he’d had it back home where someone’s reputation was pretty much set ever since elementary school. 

Before he knew it, Matt was all moved in. His half of the dorm room was already feeling like his cramped and tiny new home. He stood with his parents in the middle of the room as they all took it in. 

His mom’s eyes started to well up with tears. “Well, it looks like this is it…I can’t believe my son is about to begin his college career!” 

Matt’s mom embraced him with her shoulders shaking, and he moaned despite everything. If someone else cried around him, it’d only mean he’d start crying too, and he couldn’t be known as the guy on his floor who cried while hugging his mom as soon as he moved in.

His father chuckled off to the side. “You’re fine, he’ll be home for Thanksgiving.” 

His mom gasped. “But that’s so far away, what will I do with myself until then?”

Matt struggled to disentangle himself from her surprisingly firm embrace. “You know you have another child, right? His name is Bryce?”

His mother scoffed even while her eyes welled up. “Oh please, we all know he’d rather be out smoking god knows what with his friends.” They all laughed at that as she let him go. 

“You could always just come home with another random dog like you did before,” Matt suggested. 

His father hmmpthd. “Yeah, that’s not happening ever again.”

His mother laughed. “Agreed, that was a onetime deal.” She turned back to Matt with a sad smile. “But can you at least call every now and then so I can hear your voice, please?”

Matt slowly grinned down at his mom with a warmth in his chest, an ache he hadn’t expected started to . “Of course I will, you know I will.”

His mother’s shoulder’s sagged in relief. “Alright, well we promised your grandparents we’d meet them for lunch back in the cities afterwards, so we better get going before traffic becomes a total nightmare.”

Matt shifted his weight with his hands in his pockets. “Okay, I can probably finish off the rest of the unpacking and see what else is going around campus.” 

“We love you, my son,” his mother’s eyes started to well up with tears again. “We are so proud of you, and we know you’ll have the time of your life while you’re here.” 

Matt felt pressure behind his eyes and had to look away, so he turned toward his dad, who wore a cheeky little grin.

His dad patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t only call when you need money, okay?”

Matt snorted but retuned his smile. “I’ll do my best.”

His parents said their final goodbyes, and once they walked out that doorway and disappeared down the hallway was when it finally hit Matt square in the chest so hard that it was like the wind got knocked out from him.

He was truly on his own for the first time ever. He wouldn’t come home to a home cooked meal almost every night, he’d have to finally figure out how to do his own laundry, and he’d have to remind himself to finish his homework and set his alarm for the next morning. 

Before, he’d always complained about wanting to move out and not have to deal with constant nagging, but now he questioned whether he was truly ready for it all.

~ ~ ~

The sun by now was high in the sky and the weather couldn’t be more perfect on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. The UW-Stout campus was alive with all the other newly incoming freshman moving into their dorms while saying goodbye to their loved ones; the mixed feelings of anxiousness, uncertainty, but mostly excitement was absolutely contagious and practically hummed in the air.

Matt decided to put in his earbuds to add some rhythm to his step while he took a stroll through the lively campus to soak it all in. It sure beat twiddling his thumbs while sitting alone in his room. The final straw was how he’d actually considered walking around the floor and introducing himself to the other guys while they moved in to try and get over his shyness, but that immediately drew a big, fat NOPE from his inner voice of reason. 

He’d never admitted it to anyone before, but he secretly enjoyed making playlists for just about everything: his favorite books, or even just for sleep, relaxing and rainy days, when he was down and depressed, and even upbeat and happy. He’d even made one for this day. 

As he walked across the quad between the dorms and the nearby dining hall, he had some rhythm to his step with bands like Yellowcard, Third Eye Blind, and Hot Chelle Rae.

As he passed by North Hall, Matt noticed the football team was out front helping others move in. All of the athletes wore their navy-blue and black Blue Devils jerseys, and Matt wondered if he’d ever make it to a game at some point during the season. It’d feel weird since instead of being under the Friday night lights, their games would be at noon the next morning. 

One particularly handsome player with a perfect smile and hair said something to a group of his teammates, causing them all to bust out in laughter. One shared some intricate handshake with him while a couple of girls smiled in appreciation before whispering to each other, the sway of their hips in short, cutoff denim even more noticeable than before.

Matt watched it all unfold before he regarded himself and dejectedly noted his un-styled short brown hair, t-shirt, worn out sneakers, and cargo shorts combo. That, along with his semi husky figure, convinced him that he was probably never going to be like Mr. Alpha over there anytime soon if ever. 

Half an hour later, he returned back to his room to find his roommate, Thomas, was already moved into his side of the room. He was seated at his desk with noise cancelling headphones over his ears with an attached mouthpiece, and he was playing some shooting game on his laptop. He slammed his hands on the desk causing Matt to jump. 

Thomas repeated himself to whomever he was playing with while continuously pounding away at his keyboard. “C’mon man! You gotta look behind you, or that asshole will just keep fucking us up!”

After standing there for about five minutes or five years, Matt feigned a cough and exaggerated his movements, to which Thomas finally glanced up and noticed him for the first time. His thick spectacles caught a flash of light coming from the window. “Oh, hey man! I just gotta finish this level real quick, then I’ll be done.” 

Matt nodded, but Thomas was already back to his game before he could even respond. With a deep sigh, Matt slumped down onto his futon underneath his bed. In between more cussing and pounding keys, he heard Thomas mutter, “Nah man, my roommate just walked in, so we gotta chat for a sec.” 

Well, this is off to a great start, Matt thought to himself.

While he continued to wait, he silently took in the other side of the room his new roommate took over. Back in their Facebook messages, Thomas had insisted he’d bring his own TV and PlayStation, both of which were already set up on a cheap looking stand most likely from some old relative underneath his own lofted bed. Shoved up against it were enormous semi-clear storage bins full of wrinkled clothes, tangled cords, and multiple wireless controllers with another filled with snacks like instant ramen, hot chocolate packets, protein bars, Cheetos, Capri Sun juice boxes, and double-stuffed Oreos.

Physically, Thomas was a bigger guy sort of similar to Matt’s body type, but he seemed more like someone who put personal hygiene pretty low on his list of priorities: his black hair stood up in random spots, there was some odd odor that definitely hadn’t been there before he’d moved in, and his fingernails desperately needed to be trimmed. A chill ran down Matt’s spine as he imagined the sound of  something scraping across a chalkboard.

Were they going to have to talk about these issues, or should Matt just stay silent and let it all slide? He had absolutely no idea.

Somehow, he didn’t imagine his freshman year starting of quite like this…


Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

15 Questions to Ask Someone Who’d Just Read Your Novel

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So, you’ve finished the first draft of whatever piece of literature you may have written: a novel, screenplay, memoir, biography, self-help, or erotic fanfiction that you feel brave enough to share outside of Tumblr or An Archive of Our Own…first off, I want to tell you congratulations!! You’ve just accomplished something major that not everyone else can claim to have done, and that deserves to be rewarded. I say, go for that extra slice of chocolate cake, eat that gigantic plate of carbolicious pasta, have a whole bottle of wine, sleep in or whatever you prefer to do when you treat yo’self!

***Act responsibly, of course!***

One thing you absolutely should do is take a step back and separate yourself from your draft and give your mind a mental vacation. A few days to a week, maybe two, is the best amount, but honestly it’s up to you!

After the celebration is complete and you’re ready to get back to work with a fresh pair of eyes and rejuvenated mind, you can then start editing. One great method of doing that is to gather a small batch of people called “Beta Readers.” For those that are not familiar with the term, they’re basically a small group of people—similar to a focus group—who read your work and give you feedback on how it is: what works and what doesn’t, are there major plot holes, and what the overall impression of your words look like for someone other than yourself. They can give valuable perspective from an outside source, and give a whole new perspective to make your work even an even stronger piece of literature.

Going about gathering those readers is also important. Ryan J. Pelton wrote a similar article to this topic on writingcooperative.com—the link is HERE—but for those that want to stay loyal to my URL, he gives some guidelines on who would be a great candidate:

  1. Beta Readers shouldn’t be writers, if possible…basically, it’s a tricky spot because each writer has their own voice, their own method of how things work with written word, and it’s likely they’d focus too much on switching things around to however they’d write it. Beta Readers shouldn’t be correcting grammar (unless it’s a universal no-no); they’re to help figure out story flow, character impressions and development, pacing, and plot. Grammar is something you’ll worry about later!
  2. Only choose 1-2 Beta Readers…Everyone reads at a different pace and interprets the words differently. Ryan also uses the quote: too many cooks in the kitchen to help emphasize the point that too many people at a time giving feedback could be counter productive. I gave my five beta readers two months to look my draft over (which may or may not be more than enough time), and you want to make sure you’re selected readers you trust will actually do it and give honest, constructive criticism. Imagine my disappointment when the two months passed, and I get back to my some of my readers on their progress, and I either get some of them didn’t actually read it or the greatest response ever: “It was good.”…that’s it.

For this article, I focused more on the types of questions to ask if you’d written a piece of fiction over a piece of nonfiction like a memoir, biography, or self-help title. You really want to leave the questions open-ended so you don’t just get “Yes” or “No” answers, as those don’t really help. There are also plenty of other questions you may want to ask your readers that pertain to specific components of your story, and that’s totally okay! Go with that gut feeling, I am all about that journey for you. Just remember, you also don’t want to overwhelm your readers with too many questions, so I’d probably stick to twenty questions maximum; the twenty questions are entirely up to you on whatever answers you seek.

Below is the list of questions (in no particular order) that seemed to be broad enough to cover all the main aspects of what the Beta Reader is supposed to look for:

“At what point did you feel like the story had really begun?”

This question is about when they sat down and started reading, and you want to know where it was when they’d first gone “Awh yeah, now it’s getting good!” What was that first initial part that was (hopefully) early on in the story that really pushed it along and raises the call to action. Ideally, the introduction to the main conflict of the story should be introduced within the first 1-3 chapters, and I’ve had some fellow readers even say they give a book only the first twenty-five pages to grab their attention, and they’ll toss it aside if they aren’t interested by then…so if need be, get to the point!

“What parts did you find yourself skimming over?”

Basically, what were the boring parts? What parts seemed slower to the overall story, and if possible, how can you make them better? Maybe you don’t even need them at all, and could probably axe it from your story entirely. If you’re an artist, you’ve probably heard the phrase “kill your darlings,” which means to not get too attached and be prepared to trim off anything that needs to be. One suggestion that I’d like to give is to not actually delete any parts you decide to omit from your story, but instead to cut and paste them into a separate document–you never know if you might actually need them later on in the same project, or a different one!

“Was the overall premise of the story exciting enough?”

Did the conflict seem big enough? Are the stakes high enough? Is the conflict something the main character(s) absolutely can’t walk away from? If not, maybe you need to go back and rethink a few things about the plot…Think about Frodo and his task of taking the one ring to Mordor in order to destroy it before Sauron can fully return to power! Think about Harry Potter needing to defeat Voldemort in order to save the world. Your premise doesn’t necessarily need to be end of the world level of excitement, but it does need to be big enough to be a story worth telling.

“Did the conflict(s) your main character(s) deal with seem big enough or relatable at all?”

Besides the outer conflict, there’s also the inner conflict that your character is dealing with as well that’s a driving force for the whole story. Maybe they’re just looking for an adventure, or maybe they seek acknowledgement or glory from everyone, or maybe it’s to come to terms and move on from a past trauma, or it’s falling in love; it could be anything! What does your character want more than anything, and what are they willing to do to get it? Also, is their desire relatable in any way? Is it a desire anyone else could have in their own life, even if it’s not the same as the Beta Reader’s? If you have a main cast of multiple main characters: if their story arc doesn’t seem strong enough, if their development doesn’t seem strong enough, should they even be a main character? Maybe they’re better served as a minor character instead.

“Which characters(s) felt the most fleshed out, and who wasn’t?”

Obviously, some characters are going to receive more attention than others, especially if you have a cast of multiple main characters. For my WIP, I have a cast of six characters as my main cast, and I will say: it’s tricky… I relate to some of my characters more than others, and it does show in the writing with how in-depth you are able to get with their inner turmoil and their overall story arc. Do they have their own personality, or does it blend too much with someone else, and your readers may even get the two confused.

“Were there any moments in the story that felt really confusing?”

When you’re writing a scene in your story or maybe it’s just describing a person, place, or object, you may have a clear image in your head of what it all looks like. Unfortunately, no one is a mind reader–at least as far as I’m aware of–and they might not actually understand what you’re saying or trying to get across. Or, maybe you got some facts mixed up, or you screwed up a name somewhere, and need to go back and fix it. Maybe a character did something that’s completely against what they represent or it was so out of the blue, maybe rethink it if it’s purely for shock value.

“What were your thoughts on the pacing of the story?”

For this question, it’s all about how well your story flows. Is it really choppy and inconsistent, or do the scenes transition really well together? Is there a definite beginning, middle, and end? Does the tension rise as you read further along? With that, are the stakes continuing to rise and is the character being put in more confrontations that they can’t simply walk away from?

“At what point(s) in the story did you start to care about the main character(s), if at all?”

It’s referred to as the “Saving the Cat” in the story, but what it means is was there a specific moment in the story that really showed the characters moral code in a simple moment. If they’re being chased, would they take a longer route to avoid running over the little old lady across the street, or would they not care? Would they stop to save the cat stuck up in a tree, or would they say “screw you, beast, I’m out!” It’s usually how the character reacts to a certain situation that shows what kind of person they are, and the main character(s) need to be likeable to some degree, whether they’re the hero, the antagonist, or even the villain.

“Was the storyline too predictable?”

Maybe your story needs a few more levels of excitement to boost it up, or some major plot twists that no one could see coming. It would still need to make sense for the sake of the story, but readers need a delicate balance between what is expected to happen, and something that comes along that they’d never experienced before or never would’ve expected to happen. Maybe a character experiences a major betrayal from someone they’d trusted most of their life? Maybe a belief or myth that everyone had believed true for thousands of years turned out to be a lie? Maybe the villain turns out to be the father? Maybe someone’s gay? Be sure to add some foreshadowing moments so it’s not completely out of the blue, but to also add some sizzle to that steak!

“Did the characters sound like actual people with their dialogue?”

You’d want to go back and check your dialogue by reading it out loud and checking how well it sounds and flows together. I’m guilty of doing this, but characters can’t say lines while they laugh, snort, yawn, etc… It doesn’t make sense, and it’s an amateurish move in any sort of writing. Also, consider how each character sounds in the sense of their own voice. Not everyone talks the same way, and can use different words, dialects, or phrases to describe the same thing. Each character needs their own specific voice/vocabulary to help stand out amongst everyone else.

“How was the setting? Was it too descriptive or not descriptive enough in some areas?”

Going back to the question of whether something was really confusing in the story, the setting could be a specific component that may need to be edited. It may have made sense to you, but you want to make sure others can understand the image you’re trying to paint in their heads as to the location(s) your characters are in the story. Like Goldilocks and the three bears, you need to be just right in the amount of descriptions you give about the place. No one wants to read half a page of what the coffee shop looks like; they can fill in the blanks to a certain degree, and really, you should mainly stick to whatever is within the setting that pertains to the story. You want to sprinkle out little tidbits as the scene moves along, or even wait until the characters return another time to describe something. All in all, avoid info dumps but give your readers something to work with too.

“Did it feel like the main character(s)’s story arc had a strong enough beginning, middle, and end?”

Your character’s arc needs to somewhere to start, how it furthers along as the plot thickens and they have choices to make, and to have some sort of resolution towards the end. If it’s a series, maybe some part of its conclusion doesn’t happen right away, but a small chunk of it definitely does as every book within a series needs to have it’s own storyline within–Think about the Harry Potter books and how each one has it’s own journey or quest that Harry, Ron, and Hermoine work through everytime they return to Hogwarts. They deal with the sorcerer’s stone, then the chamber in the next one, and so forth as it all pertains to ultimately defeating Voldemort in the grand scheme of things. It helps to have an idea of how the story arc will end from the very beginning when you initially start writing the story, that way you’ll have knowledge of the direction the story arc is going and won’t drift off it’s path.

“If you had to get rid of at least one character, who would you take out from the cast, and why?”

You love all your characters, you don’t want to kill any of your darlings, but maybe your story is too long, or there’s just too many scenes that are filler and don’t need to be there. If their story arc isn’t strong enough, if their conflict isn’t strong enough, or they just don’t really serve much of a purpose at all except for maybe being another sidekick to the main character, maybe consider that a character should just be taken out of the story. Reminder: don’t just delete everything! Cut, paste, and store into a separate document somewhere because you never know if you’ll use that material elsewhere!

“What was the most exciting/suspenseful part of the story for you?”

You’re looking for criticism on plenty of what doesn’t work for your story, but you should also be aware of what DOES work for your story. Maybe you’re really good at writing sex scenes, or battles, or weaving between different character’s perspectives, or something else. That’s great, and you should also look into why whatever it is that works well in your writing, and remember it for future projects. Don’t fix something what isn’t broken, and it’ll even help make it easier on what components you should focus on in your writing from now on.

“What was the last book you’d read?”

This seems like a random addition, but it’s more for the Beta Reader themselves because how they critique your work can be heavily influenced by what they normally read, or even the last title they’ve read. Maybe they’re on a vampire binge, or maybe they’re looking for the next fantasy series to forget about the travesty that was season 8 of Game of Thrones, or they’re really into contemporary romance/erotica, or they’re not even into fiction at all, and instead love to read about subjects of history or political science. This can help you get a little intel into where your reader’s mindset is at when they’re looking through your work.


So there you have it, some help for anyone who feels a little lost on what exactly to do after you’ve finished writing your novel!

Look for feedback and gain some insight into where you need to go next, and honestly, remember to take whatever a Beta Reader says with a grain of salt. What they suggest may only pertain to their needs as a reader, and they only really offer another set of eyes on your work. They may be onto something or maybe they’re not; I’d at least take a closer look into whatever they’ve pointed out and give it some more thought, but ultimately it’s YOU that makes the final call! It’s YOUR work that YOU created!

Be proud, and be happy that you created something that took a lot of time and effort to do!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell