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360 pages
5 hours
Nov 5, 2018


Sometimes, falling apart is the only way to put yourself together.

"The story of one woman's journey to change her life and realize her dreams, or face another crushing failure, 'Participant' is a fully engaging novel that showcases author Carmen Kemp's genuine flair for originality, memorable characters, and inherently entertaining narrative storytelling skills." ~ Midwest Book Review

Alexis spends most sunny California days in a drab cubicle toiling away at a job that crushes her soul, and goes home to a dysfunctional relationship that is doing a number on her heart. She's plagued with discontent and haunted by an unsettling melancholy, which only worsens after her fiancé of almost three years packs up and moves out. Desperate to pull herself out of a downward spiral, she spends money she doesn't have on classes at the Chloe Dillon Modeling and Acting Center. Unexpectedly, she discovers a passion for acting.

Self-discovery and new friendships abound at the Chloe Dillon Modeling and Acting Center, where she opens her eyes to positive affirmations and mingles with talented ambitious classmates. She believes she's turning her life around as she painstakingly steps towards learning to love life and herself. Battling her way through self-doubt, fear, and depression, she musters the courage to risk it all, quitting her dreaded job and pursuing a huge opportunity that could help her break into the acting industry.

In the throes of preparation for the big acting showcase, she's saddened to learn that her estranged fiancé has been diagnosed with a serious illness. Alexis, finding herself in a financially and emotionally precarious situation, must choose between a newly discovered ambition that might never become reality, and the relative safety and sense of loyalty she feels for the only man she has ever loved.

Evolved Publishing presents the story of one woman's journey to change her life and realize her dreams, or face another crushing failure. [DRM-Free]

More Great Literary and Women's Fiction from Evolved Publishing:

  • All the Tomorrows by Nillu Nasser
  • White Chalk by P.K. Tyler
  • Yours to Keep or Throw Aside by E.D. Martin
  • Cassia by Lanette Kauten

Nov 5, 2018

About the author

Carmen has always had a love of words, spending many summers of her childhood reading as many books as she could get her hands on. Her love of reading led to a love of writing, which started out with keeping diaries and journals since age ten, and ultimately led to her desire to write a novel. She was born and raised in Southern California, and still lives there with her husband.

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Participant - Carmen Kemp






Copyright © 2018 Carmen Kemp

Cover Art Copyright © 2018 D. Robert Pease


ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622530063

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-006-9


Editor: Jessica West

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond



At the end of this novel of approximately 86,735 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) ALL THE TOMORROWS by Nillu Nasser, and; 2) WHITE CHALK by P.K. Tyler. Both of these books are award-winning women’s fiction that we think you’ll enjoy. We provide these as a FREE extra service, and you should in no way consider it a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.


eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.

What Others Are Saying About PARTICIPANT:

Feathered Quill Book Awards – 2019 – Women’s Fiction


"I loved the story line of Participant but I loved the characters even more. The young women in this book are so relatable." ~ Tami


"Participant is well written and relatable, especially if you are at a stage of life where you are floundering and trying to find yourself." ~ x


This was an extremely engaging, enjoyable read. I immediately found myself rooting for the main character, Alexis, which drew me into the book. It was easy to relate to, fast moving, enjoyable, funny, and inspiring. ~ LIR


It’s a story of a woman that has allowed herself to be bogged down by life at a young age, but learns to find and fight for her own happiness in life! ~ Janna


We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.


In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First 2 Chapters of Nillu Nasser’s critically acclaimed and top selling ALL THE TOMORROWS.






NILLU NASSER’S BOOKS at Evolved Publishing

In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the First Chapter of P.K. Tyler’s powerful, emotional, award-winning WHITE CHALK.






P.K. TYLER’S BOOKS at Evolved Publishing

Table of Contents


What Others Are Saying


Table of Contents




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36


About the Author

What’s Next?

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: ALL THE TOMORROWS by Nillu Nasser

Special Sneak Preview: WHITE CHALK by P.K. Tyler


For all the dreamers,

You are worthy, capable, and a lot stronger than you think.


When people say they are depressed, I always wonder what they really mean. Sad. Bummed out. Distraught. Destroyed. The word is thrown around so casually. They didn’t have my size in that dress. I’m so depressed. My car broke down. I’m so depressed. I lost my wedding ring. I’m so depressed. The word depression can mean so many things. Is there clinically something wrong with your brain, or are you just having a bad day? Then again, I throw that word around too. I haven’t been properly diagnosed with anything, but a dark memory I’d rather forget leads me to believe I should be. When I say the word depressed, I think it means more than just a bad day.

When I was fourteen, my mother found me in my bedroom closet under a mound of clothing. It was really cold, for California anyway, and I’d spent much of the school day shivering from place to place. Rather than unmake my tidily made bed with the perfect corners, I haphazardly tugged on a section of sweaters until enough of them slid off the cheap wire hangers to cover me. Something I’d never ordinarily do, because even the closet equipped with sliding doors to hide the mess should always be neat as a pin. I made a nest in the safety of darkness near the corner that still housed my first pair of roller skates. There, I swallowed what was left in the bottle of pills and waited for what would come next. Sleep? Nothingness? I waited in fear and longing until my eyelids became heavy and the blurry edges took front and center, plunging me into darkness.

Chapter 1

"You’re listening to Jim and Dani in the morning on Channel ninety-four point two." I jab the snooze button to silence the cheery morning jingle of the local radio station. I’m probably the only person on the planet who still uses a traditional alarm clock, but I can’t get out of bed this early without Jim and Dani. I hit snooze three more times with my phone an inch from my face, scrolling through Instagram between the third and fourth, living vicariously through the people of Instagram and their neverending vacations. Work is about as enticing as a prison sentence, but it has to be done, so I put aside my phone to get ready. Our plain bedroom comes into focus when I shove my glasses on my face. Dragging my heavy legs over the side of the bed to stand up, I stare sleepily into my side of the closet at a tightly packed jumble of clothing that all looks the same to my half-closed eyes. Another yawn stretches my face, making my head throb.

My morning routine is sluggish but turns into a lively race against the clock when I realize how much time I’ve wasted, and I almost forget to yank a frozen entrée out of the freezer in my hurried dash out the door. Squinting against the blinding sun, I climb into my car, apathetic towards the splendor of another sunny San Diego day. I make the short drive, clenching my jaw against a multitude of yawns.

The office walls assault me with a particularly oppressive olive-green hue as I make my way through a labyrinth of cubicles. Narrow slivers of floor-to-ceiling windows sporadically break up the drab, textured walls. The place purrs to life as those of us who start at 7:00 a.m. are settling in and getting down to business.

I try to get our insured on the phone to do a recorded statement about an accident that happened six months ago. I leave another long-winded message about how important it is for her to call us back. It’s a condition of her policy... blah, blah, blah. The claimant, Mr. Reeves, is going to call me like he does every day to ask if I got ahold of my insured and when can he take his car in for repairs.

The phone immediately rings again as soon as I hang up, as if on cue. "Claims, this is Alexis. Can I help you?

No, Mr. Reeves, I was unable to reach the insured party. No, Mr. Reeves, I don’t know when you’ll be able to repair your car.

Mr. Reeves sputters on about incompetence and the worse experience he has ever had before demanding to speak to my supervisor.

I transfer him, staring stonily at my phone that once again demands answering.

I’m sorry, Mrs. Daniels, but your rental car insurance only extends for up to five days after you’ve received an offer on your total loss. I’m a robot who looks like a person and repeats the same words over and over again, all day long. I’m programmed to know all forthcoming objections, and my mouth is already formulating the response. We apologize, but we are unable to extend your rental for the length of time it takes you to find a new car. Your policy indicates that we are only obligated to... Click. She hung up.

Within seconds, it rings again.

Hey, Alexis, what do you want to do for lunch? my cubicle mate, Sarah, asks in a loud whisper. I hold up my index finger, pointing it at my head to indicate I’m on the phone. I spend the next twenty minutes explaining to a policyholder what to expect after he fell asleep at the wheel and rear-ended another car on the freeway, causing it to flip. He’s lucky the other party isn’t claiming any injuries. The people who get tapped in the rear at five miles per hour in the parking lot are always injured, while the ones who were in the roll over’s say they are just fine. By the time I finish with my phone conversation, Sarah is in the middle of a heated debate with someone who can’t understand why we won’t buy him a brand-new car.

It’s payday, so we get an hour lunch instead of the usual forty-five minutes. As soon as 12:30 p.m. rolls around, I bolt from my desk, ringing phone be damned, because every minute counts as we try to make the most of our hour away from the office.

Sarah and I are so predictable that we end up at the same place every time, even though we often talk about going elsewhere. Right now, it’s Black Angus. They have lunch specials, and we can get a sit-down meal because they’re quick.

We rush off in my car and arrive knowing exactly what we want. By the time the waitress comes over to take our drink orders, we tell her we’re ready. I order diet soda, but Sarah can’t stand any diet stuff so she orders the real thing.

I’ll have a grilled chicken sandwich with fries.

Sarah orders an Au Jus open face sandwich.

Everyone likes Sarah with her bubbly personality and perpetually pleasant smile that goes all the way to her eyes. Her trusting face inspires people to talk, so she finds out information before anyone else without even trying and is always up on the latest drama of the day.

So, what’s new? A long sip of ice cold soda chills my throat.

Did you hear about supervisor George? Who just got a divorce?

Of course I haven’t. No.

Well, guess who he’s dating? Never mind, you’ll never guess. Red, from clerical.

Her name isn’t Red. We just call her that because of her flaming red pageboy haircut nobody understands.

Really? I think she’s about a foot taller than him and at least ten years older. Oddest pairing ever. I shake my head.

I can hardly believe she’s talking about the same dismal place I trudge off to for work each day. The place she talks about is exciting and filled with the requisite intrigue and mystery you would expect from a steamy soap opera, but all I see when I look around is green carpet, drab walls, rows of cubicles, and stressed out drones. Sometimes, I’m convinced she must be making it all up until someone gets fired and I realize that person was the subject of some sort of controversy she was telling me all about months ago.

Oh, and about Angela. You know, from Trevor’s unit? Rumor has it that she faked a pregnancy to steal her husband away from his first wife. She had a ‘miscarriage’ but the damage was done. He’d already broken the news to his wife and moved her out of her parents’ house and into her own apartment.

Wow. I’m shocked. Well, just shocked in general but not shocked that Angela would do something like this. I get a devilish ‘hanger on’ vibe from her and there’s nothing genuine about the way she’s overly friendly to Sarah while acting as if I don’t exist.

Yep. Mainly, I just feel sorry for the girl, if that’s true. Enough work gossip. How is Will? You haven’t said a thing about him in a while.

He’s fine. Tell me what’s going on with your cousin. My sly reply successfully derails a discussion about my fiancé.

Our food arrives just as Sarah finishes the story about her twenty-year-old cousin Isabel who has just announced she’s getting married to a man twice her age with three DUI’s under his belt and four kids by two different women. Sarah pulls her shoulder-length, thick, brown hair into a messy bun and digs into her sandwich while I go straight for the steaming fries, careful not to burn my tongue in my impatience. Every time we go out, I tell myself I’m going to substitute vegetables for the fries, but when I open my mouth to give my order, it has a mind of its own. Fries always comes out. I savor each bite while Sarah continues to recap the rise and fall of Cousin Blanca’s turbulent marriage. The divorce will be finalized soon if he agrees with her ridiculous alimony demands. I swipe the last French fry on my plate through a smear of catsup and guzzle the last of my water.

The supervisors watch Sarah like a hawk. She doesn’t have the luxury of being even a few minutes late, so I drop her off in front of the building before finding a parking spot. I plop myself down at my cube, already in the throes of a carbohydrate-induced crash. I want to crawl under my desk and fall asleep. Instead, I position my headset and pick up the phone to retrieve my messages so I can get on with the rest of my day and get out of there.

At 3:45 p.m. on the dot, I’m out the door. Sarah remains at her desk, surrounded by piles and piles of files. She missed work yesterday to attend her brother’s child custody court hearing, so now she has to play catch up. If I’m the golden child of the office, then Sarah is the black sheep. She’s terribly behind in her file reviews, but so is almost everybody else. I don’t know why she bothers, but I need what is left of my sanity way too much.

I walk out to my trusty little Toyota and settle into the sun-warmed leather seats for my short commute home. It is just one of the perks of living in the centrally-located and much-sought after San Diego community of North Park. It takes me ten minutes to get anywhere I need to go, and I never tire of admiring the charming bungalows neatly lining the streets. Will and I used to stroll around the neighborhood on foot, wandering in and out of eclectic shops and trying new restaurants back in the days when spending time together mattered. Before he decided he hates California.

A sad sigh escapes my lips when I catch sight of his car in our parking space. I drive up and down the street until I find a spot two blocks down.

At about seven hundred fifty square feet, this is the biggest apartment we have ever lived in. One whole bedroom and a hallway? I marveled when we moved in. We joked that we were finally moving up in the world and really, we were—considering we started out in a studio the size of a postage stamp. Our décor could be described as drab industrial brown carpet, meets concrete cinder block walls. The kitchen and bathroom are straight out of the 1960s, but it was within our price range. When you live in California, you pay a Sun tax. It’s not an official deduction on my paycheck, but everyone knows we don’t get all this sunshine and blue skies for free.

I exchange my too-snug work pants and uncomfortable button up top for a pair of sweats so faded I can barely make out the triple row of pink stripes running down the sides and my favorite, oversized t-shirt. Finally comfortable, I rock my head from side to side, trying to shake out the days’ worth of constriction in my neck and shoulders—an unwelcome side effect of sitting hunched over a desk every day. The tension in my neck extends to my demeanor.

Hello, I say in a clipped tone, walking past Will.

Hey, he replies from his usual spot on the couch, without averting his eyes from the TV. He asks how my day was without listening for answer.

In the kitchen, I try not to look too hard at the yellow linoleum, potholed with grooves and crannies caked with dirt from tenants past, that I can’t get clean no matter how hard I scrub. I also try not to look at the growing pile of magazines in the dining room chair. Will gets five magazines a month from his magazine club, only reads half, then leaves them all on the kitchen table along with the rest of his mail and other various items. In an attempt to remove the mess from my line of sight, I stacked the magazines on the chair, but that plan apparently isn’t going to work anymore. The pile is growing higher than the table.

I take a personal size frozen pepperoni pizza out of the freezer and the party size bag of tortilla chips off the tiny shelf that doubles as the pantry to snack on while I wait for the oven to heat up. My mom gave up on teaching me to cook long ago and added it to her list of ways she failed me as a mother. Maybe if I had a kitchen from the same century I lived in, I might be more inspired, but for now, the frozen food aisle keeps us fed. Besides, I already do everything else around the house. I’m not adding personal chef to the list.

I get access to the television later that night, after Will finally shuffles off to bed. You’re watching Model Mission on MTV. We’re getting ready to give one young lady an amazing opportunity at a $100,000 modeling contract with Imagine Models. One girl we have chosen from among thousands will have her life changed forever and be catapulted into a fabulous modeling career with one of the top agencies in the world. I watch transfixed as the cameras take us to contestant Crystal’s hometown. She’s your typical small-town girl who goes to school at the same high school as everyone else in her town above age fourteen. She has long, blonde, straight hair and those really cute teeth, the kind where the eyeteeth on both sides stick out just a little more from the front four like that actress Kirsten Dunst. They aren’t perfect, but they give her smile unique character that I like.

Crystal has always dreamed of modeling, but currently works at McDonald’s for extra money. She must beat four other contestants from all over the United States in order to launch herself from Big Macs to the Big Apple. Cameras follow each young girl to their hometown where they talk about their dreams of traveling and making it big in the modeling world.

I’m twenty-four now, which is over the hill by anyone’s standards for a modeling career, but even when I was a teenager, there was no chance in hell that I could’ve been a model.

I was an okay baby. Chunky, but I guess I’d say I was cute. Somewhere around the third grade is when I imagine cute ended and painfully-awkward began. I had long, thick hair I didn’t know what to do with. The sloppy ponytail became my signature look. I don’t know which was worse, the extreme over bite or the large space between my two front teeth. To add insult to injury, I started wearing glasses in the fourth grade that got progressively thicker each year I went in for an eye exam. Getting to wear glasses like Mom and Dad was cool at first, but by the time I got to middle school, any perceived cool factor was gone and I was just a goofy looking girl with glasses and bad teeth. I started out tiny like the rest of them, but puberty hit at twelve and I was no longer the slim-hipped, petite pixie gymnast that my gym mates were. As the tallest girl, I was last to march in at every gymnastics competition, and our coach had to raise the high bar to keep my pointed toes from scraping the mats. By high school, I was all muscle from years of balancing on my hands. Sort of like the female version of a linebacker-turned-sumo wrestler, according to the current state of my thighs. I was too tall for a gymnast but, even at five-seven, not tall enough for modeling, especially without the collarbones and the long, slim torso to go along with it.

I am the antithesis of five-foot ten Crystal, who goes on to win the whole Model Mission competition. She is overcome with tears during her winning runway walk then falls triumphantly into the arms of her family. I wonder what it feels like to make your parents swell with pride and admiration. The show ends as she prepares to embark on an opportunity that most people can only dream about. It’s 11:00 p.m., so I click off the TV, brush my teeth and get into bed, all the while imagining how different my life would be if I were a fashion model on the fast track to fame and fortune instead of an overworked cubicle dweller with a forever fiancé and no wedding date in sight.

Chapter 2

One of the few perks of my job is a business casual dress code with jeans allowed on Friday. That means cotton blend casual pants with whatever shirt I can find that’s not too wrinkled through the week and jeans on Friday.

I push aside the vision of me on a plane to New York City to start my modeling career as I lug a heavy claims file off of my shelf. With a resigned thud, it hits my desk. Opening it, I muck my way through the nine-hour day that never ends and, as zoned out as I feel when I leave the office, I snap out of it on my way home.

Once again, Will relegates me to street parking. He used to leave the parking spot open for me. That he no longer does stings, a sensation that has become familiar. Rather than face Will’s wrath for blocking him in, I maneuver my way into a crappy parallel parking job down the street. I consider straightening out but I’d probably only make it worse.

He looks away from the television, acknowledging me as I step into our apartment.

Hey, Bumble Bee, he says.

Encouraged by his smile and the use of a pet name I haven’t heard in a while, I decide to make a move. Hey. How about we go to dinner tonight or a movie or both? I ask nervously, bracing myself for a cop-out, but he surprises me.

Sure, I’m just going to finish this game and then we can go.

Excitedly, I take out my laptop to check movie times. It’s 4:10 p.m. now. Strike Back starts at 8:00 p.m. and we’ve both wanted to see that since we saw the first trailer.

"If we leave by 5:00 p.m., we’ll have plenty of time to go to dinner and see Strike Back."

Okay. I’m almost done.

He gets a kiss on the cheek for that. I choose my go-to pink cotton top with the cute fringe around the neck. I’m pretty sure it’s the same shirt I wore the last time we went out, but that was a long time ago. In the bathroom, I touch up my lip gloss, then flop down on the couch next to Will and wait for him to finish his game.

Almost ready to go?

Yeah, sure.

His mouth twists in concentration and his hands clutch the controller tighter as the animated football players charge across the TV screen. Twenty minutes later, he’s still at it.

It’s 5:10 p.m. Are you about ready to go yet?

Yes, I told you I was almost done. Just give me a minute.

I sense a bit of irritation in his voice, so I don’t push it.

Finally, he pushes the power button on the game controller and gets up, so I do too, but then he says he needs to iron his jeans. It’s 6:00 p.m., already an hour past when I said we should leave, and now he wants to iron his jeans?

Can’t you just wear what you have on, or not iron them just this once?

No, it’ll just take me a minute.

He always does this. I mean, who irons their jeans anyway? And if it’s not ironing that’s holding us up, he has to shave. That can take up to a good hour. I’m supposed to be the girl, but why does it always take him longer to get ready? I’m twitching with the urge to let him know exactly how I feel about his compulsive desire to iron denim, but it will destroy any sense of harmony that we’ve got going and not only our date, but our entire weekend would be ruined. It’s a sad pattern we’ve repeated more times than I like to admit.

Instead, I sit quietly with my phone and kill time on the ridiculous time suck of an addiction that is social media. I peruse Facebook and Twitter only occasionally, but my favorite is Instagram. I don’t particularly like @BaileySueKnight’s ugly, felt-brimmed hat sitting in front of an exposed brick wall but I mindlessly fill in the little red heart anyway, pondering what I would have to do to get 1,000 likes. Hmmm...people like Ikea. I imagine myself risking my life to climb onto Ikea’s roof, doing the perfect handstand right above the sign within the ten seconds it takes for the self-timer to go off, surviving the climb down, then carefully selecting the perfect filter. Dismissing it as an option, my finger continues a mindless scroll, sending me down the rabbit whole of grotesquely flexible dancers, cleavage-baring selfies, and superior lives highlighted by must-have outfits and easy-to-make peanut butter brownies with caramel sauce drizzled on top.

By the time Will gets dressed and we’re out the door, it’s 6:30 p.m. We get into his car and head over to our favorite spot, Antonio’s. It’s a busy Friday night, so of course it takes a good twenty minutes to get seated. The waitress takes our drink order right away.

Are you two ready to order?

I should really try something else, but change isn’t really part of my vocabulary.

Yes, I’ll have the Chicken Quesadilla.

Will smiles at me and touches my left hand across the table, eliciting a mischievous grin and an excited hand squeeze in return. By the time our food comes, it feels like the old us—the us who used to sit on the same side of the booth and hold hands under the table. When the check comes, I quickly slide it to my side of the table and jam my credit card in the folder, hoping he doesn’t notice. He catches my eye contentiously but says nothing, reaching into his pocket for tip money.

We’re pushing it, but the theater is within walking distance. I think we’ll make it just in time to miss previews, until I notice the crowd. Throngs of date night couples holding hands and high school kids hanging out surround us as we make our way towards the front of the building.

Didn’t you already buy the tickets online? Will asks when I stop at the end of a very long ticket line.

No. I never said I was going to buy the tickets online. I said we should leave at 5:00 so we’d have plenty of time to make dinner and the movie.

"Well, I assumed that you would just go ahead and buy the tickets so that’s why I took

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