This will be my last post for awhile, maybe ever. I got turned down for disability. Somehow, I have to find a way to go back to work and find a job I can do in this condition. I will still try to finish book five one day, but I have no idea when or how. I’m grateful for everyone who has shown me kindness and love over the years. Even in this really dark moment, I know I’m blessed to have all of you.
I’ve started and stopped this post a dozen times at least over the last few months. On one side, I feel like I need to get these things off my chest to vent and feel better, but on the other, given the difficulties of my neurological illness, it seems like petty whining. However, the fact that I keep coming back to the topic tells me that I need to vent it. When I lay down at night, the thing that eats at me most is that my writing career is judged not by the quality of my storytelling or the clarity of my prose but rather by my inability to wrangle social media. I cannot express in words how much that bothers me.
I began pursuing writing as a career in the early 90’s. Like most, when I began, I was terrible, but what I lacked in ability I compensated for in desire and effort. I studied. I practiced. I wrote. The hours I spent honing my craft were countless – all nighters in coffee shops and diners hunched over a book or a stack of notes; weeks bent over a yellow legal pad with a black Bic pen; more weeks seated before a Brother word processor with a built in printer; reams of paper and ribbons. My poor roommates were forced beta readers and endured many a painful rough draft. There was no internet, not as we know it today, and the submission process was glacially slow. Yellow envelopes, a couple bucks postage, thuds at the bottom of the chute, and weeks of waiting for the SASE to return. I collected 36 form rejection slips before I landed my first story in 1995. Those slips were thumbtacked to my wall by my word processor as scars of honor.
I don’t enjoy bragging on myself; it always feels forced and awkward talking about the quality of what I do publicly. Those are statements best left for others to make, but I know the Brotherhood series has serious depth. The volume and quality of reviews speak for themselves. Still, I can’t break through, can’t reach my audience, which I know is out there, because I’m not savvy with social media and don’t know how to create click bait. It’s maddening to feel in your bones that your audience is out there and with this global inter-connectedness we now have to be able to reach them in more ways than ever before but always to feel drowned out by the inundation of cat memes or the outrage of the week. And don’t get me started on the bait and switch Facebook pulled.
I look at the authors who do tend to maximize social media, and I just don’t want to be like those people. There’s Chuck “Windbag” Wendig who manages to trumpet the white liberal guilt message on every public outrage. If parrotting to the left what they want to hear is the path to success, I’d rather stay broke and obscure. To the right, there’s Larry Correia, who’s just a smartass asshole. I tried following him for a week or two, but after watching how he talks to people in general, biting their head’s off for daring to waste his precious time, no thanks. He can keep his success and shove his attitude up his ass. I’ll put the quality of my storytelling and prose up against theirs any day of the week, but I will not behave as some caricature of a political mouthpiece.
Right now, I’m also frustrated because I can’t work. I can’t do the thing I love and close out the final installment of Brotherhood. My health is in the way of that, and those who know me well know how much it’s eating at me to be in this hellish limbo. While I believe I may have found the solution with these dietary changes, it’s going to take time for the neurological symptoms to improve. In the mean time, I need to sell books to be able to afford to eat the right stuff, but to sell books, I need to be more social media savvy. Last night, I tried to create an Instagram account, but I’m too much of a dinosaur to know how to do anything with it. I suck at Twitter. Google+ is a ghost town. Facebook wants money. It’s a vicious cycle.
I just want to find my audience and be able to write for them. I want to spend whatever time I have left on earth using my creative energy. That doesn’t seem like an outlandish goal to me, but right now, it still feels as far away as it did all those years ago when my fingers let go and that first yellow envelope slid down the mail chute. I know it’s not. I know I’ve traveled a long way and overcome a lot of obstacles and accomplished some good things, but I still haven’t reached my audience yet. I guess I’ll stop whining now and end this little pity party.
Open and honest discussions of racism and prejudice matter. The cold, harsh reality in America today is that racism is alive and well. My Facebook newsfeed over the last few months has proven that fact to me and opened my eyes. Not so long ago, when America elected its first African-American president, I believed that our culture had made tremendous progress in overcoming racial discrimination, and in some ways we have. In 2008, I believed racism had been pushed to the fringes, populated only by lunatics and the truly backwards. However, ever since the protests and rioting over Michael Brown’s murder made national news, my eyes have been open to the fact that many, many people still harbor horrific racist views about minorities.
I have long believed that race is merely a mirage. I believed this long before DNA proved it right, and my reasoning was based on observation and experience. I’ve had the good fortune to have lived a rather diverse life among a myriad of people, and what I have learned from my interactions with people of numerous nationalities and religious backgrounds and cultural identities is that people are people no matter where you go. Some would offer you their last bowl of soup if you needed it; others wouldn’t share if their pantry was overflowing and you were dying of starvation before their very eyes; and still others would steal a life-saving meal right out of your hands. And like most everything, there are countless shades in between. The simple reality is you cannot tell who truly falls into which category until you witness their behavior in your moments of weakness.
In college, I discovered the writings of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington and immediately felt a kinship for these former slaves, not because of racial identity but because of the obstacles of poverty that they had overcome. As I studied their works, I began to see that race and bigotry are social constructs used to divide us so that we the populace never learn to cooperate as a unit. Skin color is such an easy divider, and it becomes so easy to say I knew “those people” would behave that way, no matter that you can easily find examples of other skin tones doing the exact same things and no matter what the examples might be. When people, human beings, get upset over circumstances out of their control, a certain element take it upon themselves to destroy other people’s property, usually stuff that belongs to some innocent bystander. Whenever social order breaks down, there will always be an element, irrespective of skin tone, who capitalize on the opportunity to steal material objects. That’s human nature, regardless of “race.”
I always knew that I wanted to write works that would attempt to break down racist thinking, and though I thought progress had been made, I also believed that there was still work to be done to rectify the centuries of slavery and now century and a half of social and economic discrimination. I also knew that as a white man from the hills of East Tennessee, I would have an uphill battle to write about race relations in America. To counter this stereotype (and yes, I live under the yolk of an oppressive stereotype about hillbillies, and no, I’m not making an attempt to draw a comparative analysis of being more or less oppressed than anyone else because that’s counter-productive), I chose to use Fantasy Action-Adventure as my medium for discussing race and discrimination.
The main character in my series is bi-racial and struggles to find his identity between two disparate cultures. Each race carries misconceptions and prejudices about the others, and from those mistaken ideas much of the tension grows. However, through the course of the series, the central characters learn to see each other as individuals, not as part of a “them,” and through this process they learn to work together to defeat their common enemies, those who seek to oppress. I’ve not discussed this facet of the series very often because I had always hoped my audience would find it for themselves. However, as we encounter this new era of racial tension, it is more imperative than ever that we as a society discuss these issues and listen to each other.
So now, I’m going to be something of a capitalist and ask you to buy the first book in my series and share it with the young adults in your life (Because it is fantasy and there is some bloodshed, I do not recommend the series to anyone under ten years old). I’m making this appeal for two reasons. First, we need to have these open and honest discussions about the racial problems that still exist in this country, and I’m a firm believer that fiction can be an excellent bridge to discuss difficult topics. My second reason is that I need to sell more books to be able to afford treatment for this neurological condition that is crippling my body. So if you would like a good work of fiction that examines the racial divide we are facing today and would like to help out a person in need, you can do both by checking out The Brotherhood of Dwarves. As always, thank you for your support.
There are two great pieces of news to share. First, thanks to the kindness of two of my former students and the congregation of their church, my place now has ample insulation to get me through the winter. Second, I have adequate heat in the form of a wood stove. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude for those who helped me get both installed, either. As I type these words, a nice fire roars away in the stove, and the insulation keeps the heat in here with me. It’s a nice feeling compared to the alternative, which I had gotten to know all too well.
Physically, my days range from kind of bad to really bad. One day, the spasms will be constant and unrelenting; the next, the burning in my shoulders will have me nearly in tears (once upon a time, I thought I was kind of tough). Some days I walk okay, but others, I can barely lift my feet. The fatigue continues to worsen, too. Any amount of exertion leaves me absolutely exhausted, and I can’t explain just how much that frustrates me. There are so many things to do, and I can’t do any of them.
I know I’ve expressed that I don’t have a confirmed diagnosis, but the neurologist and I are both fairly certain it’s MS. The symptoms all fit, and it makes sense with the predisposition to autoimmune issues from the Celiac (not sure if “from” is the right preposition there, so scientist friends please don’t bombard me about it). I haven’t mentioned MS on here before, I don’t think, because of the lack of a confirmed diagnosis, but that is the most likely culprit. The good news is it is manageable if I can get health coverage.
Speaking of which, my medical review for social security is next month. With any luck, I can get approved and get some kind of treatment and hopefully be able to get back to work. Mentally, some of the concentration and memory issues seemed to have eased off, so if I could get the physical issues under control, I could at the very least hopefully get back to writing regularly. More than anything else, I want to get better and get back to doing the things I love, the most important of which is being an active father for my sons.
I’m grateful for everyone who has contributed to the fundraising campaign. That money got me through September, October, and November, and without you, I really don’t know what kind of shape I’d be in right now. Hopefully, the medical review will prove beneficial, and I can get income from disability until I can get well enough to fend for myself. Until then, my situation remains pretty desperate. I still hate begging for handouts, and it eats away at me to have to ask, but if you could please share the link around and help me get through the next couple of months, I would greatly appreciate it. Once I’m well and back on my feet, I vow to pay it forward to others in need.
For the last three plus years, I’ve lived every waking second in some degree of pain. Up until June of this year, I endured this pain and soldiered on because I held out some hope that maybe one day things would get better. Now, the pain gets so bad that sometimes I wonder if I can take it for much longer. Most nights, I awake from a dead sleep calling out in pain. My left hand is nearly useless from trembling, numbness, and constant twitching. I can barely walk because I literally cannot tell how high my feet are off the ground and because the muscle spasms make my legs hurt so badly that the very act of walking is painful. Now, any amount of physical exertion exhausts me within minutes.
I feel used up and discarded, and for the first time in my life, I regret moving back to East Tennessee to teach. This state does not value education or educators. It does not value literacy. I regret allowing some misguided ideology that I needed to come back here and teach because if not me then who would do it. I was a fool for not moving to New York or LA and writing for TV or the movies. I should have been selfish and gotten as far away from this backwards, pill-popping, illiterate state as I could. For the first time in my life, I’m truly ashamed to be from Tennessee. I’m ashamed of this place and the ignorance and corruption which govern it.
I’m angry and bitter, and I feel completely and utterly hopeless.
I made this vow over the weekend, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who really knows me: Regardless of my diagnosis on Wednesday, I will fight this neurological disease with everything in me. It has no idea the mistake it made coming at me, son. And once I’m back to feeling like myself, I’m hitting the world like an emeffing tornado. Stand back and watch because the show will be entertaining!
If you are going to attempt to pass yourself off as a professional in a given field, you need to learn the ropes of your field before you feign a stance as an expert. We all go through growing pains as we find our footing in our careers, and we all make mistakes from time to time. However, if you are going to request to share your knowledge of a specific subject at a professional gathering, proceed to demonstrate zero knowledge of that specific subject, and then get called out publicly for not knowing what you are talking about, instead of acting pompous and superior, go back and do a little research into your profession. Furthermore, once you have revealed how little you know, just stop talking. Don’t proceed to paint yourself as an arrogant buffoon by attempting to explain your ignorance away. It’s better to save face by showing a modicum of humility than to keep saying ignorant things.
We live in a highly competitive country. Moreover, in this age, creative endeavors are some of the most difficult fields in which to establish one’s self. Fans who attend conventions tend to take things seriously and have high expectations for creative folks. Mediocrity will not last for long on the steep climb, and ignorant pomposity will be met harshly by fandom. It’s not a sin not to know something on the periphery of your specialty, but it is a sin to volunteer to share your knowledge specifically about that periphery and then show up empty-handed. In the information age, it is unpardonable to show up to a professional presentation and not even know the basic definitions of the topics you asked to discuss. If you are going to climb into the arena, you had best train for the fight ahead of time. If not, don’t be surprised by the ass-kicking you receive.
To all of my friends, readers, fellow writers, and former students, please know that I share these words of warning out of love because I want you to be successful in your endeavors. I’m not going to share details or name names, so please don’t ask, but the person who committed this particular blunder last weekend should be glad that it happened at a first year show with only a handful of audience members at the panel, and not at Dragon*Con with a packed room. The latter could be career suicide. The former will pass by mostly unnoticed, but it serves as a teachable moment. When you choose to represent yourself as a professional in any field and are in a public venue, please for the love of all that’s decent in this world, show up prepared.