Tag Archives: fantasy

Chin Up, I Tell Myself

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I’m trying hard not to feel sorry for myself because I know things could be much worse. There are people tonight who don’t have the warmth of a wood stove or the safety of a roof over their heads. There are people with fatal neurological diseases who have no hope of recovery. There are those who don’t have an incredible support network of friends and loved ones. I am blessed to have a plethora of people who care about me enough to go out of their way to make sure I have food, shelter, and warmth. The sincere have proven to me what wonderful and giving people they are, and I am grateful for and appreciate those who have helped me in my time of need. While my circumstances are not ideal, all in all, my life could be in much worse shape than it is right now. Remembering that and thinking about that help me stave off the creeping bitterness that wants to take hold.

Hopefully, I will have an answer from disability by the end of January. Until then, I wait and count my blessings.

The Conversations We Need to Have

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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.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0076OCAKG

Mid-November Update

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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.

http://www.gofundme.com/brotherhood

I Need Help

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It’s not easy for me to ask others for help.

Dave Mattingly started a GoFundMe for me because of my health issues. I’m embarrassed to have to ask for help, but right now, I have little alternative. The MRI offered no answers, neither confirming nor ruling out anything, so I’m probably going to have to go to a neurological clinic. My insurance lapses tomorrow, and my funds have been exhausted already. Getting a confirmed diagnosis seems like a far away dream.

I don’t want to whine too much, but these neurological issues are making basic day to day functions difficult. It will be a little while before I hear anything about disability, so I’m stuck in this hellish limbo with no job, no insurance, and no means of fending for myself. I’m also behind on child support, which eats at me every minute. My sons are everything to me, and it pains me deeply not to live up to that obligation.While it’s hard for me to admit it, I truly need help right now.

http://www.gofundme.com/brotherhood

Talking Smack

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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!

Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail

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As a general rule, I don’t like to write advice pieces because who am I and what have I done to warrant offering advice to others, but here’s something I want to share because it’s important:

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.

Another Nameless Post (I’m sensing a pattern here)

The Brotherhood of Dwarves - Book One
The Brotherhood of Dwarves – Book One

It’s Dragon*Con weekend, the location of my greatest triumph and biggest humiliation of my writing career. In 2009, I was accepted to DC as a Guest — not a Pro or any other designation but a full-fledged Guest — as an independent author. It was quite an honor for an unknown hillbilly with no agent, publisher, or PR firm greasing the wheels on my behalf. On the other end of the spectrum, in 2013, I had to withdraw from the show because the crowd overwhelmed me too much. Despite that low point, DC will always have a special place in my heart because of what it signifies in terms of credibility in my career.

Right now, with my health deteriorating daily and the nightmare our healthcare system has become, I doubt I’ll ever top that accomplishment. Because I spent my life teaching instead of pillaging retirement funds, I cannot afford all the expenses to find out what is wrong with me, let alone receive treatment. I’m trying not to be bitter about that, but it gets harder every single day. I feel used up and discarded by a system too short-sighted for its own good. Any country that punishes its citizens for working and attempting to be productive deserves whatever misfortune it brings upon itself.

I’m still optimistic that I’ll be able to write book five and complete the Brotherhood series. The people who have stood by me and encouraged me over the years deserve to have the final installment, so I will do everything in my power to finish it. My fine motor skills are eroding, which makes typing difficult, but I ordered an oversized keyboard with 1″ buttons. It makes typing a little easier, even though I’m still having to retrain myself on the location of certain buttons because of the size. Concentration is also something of an issue, but I’ll have to find a way to overcome that. I will complete the rough draft or die trying. I mean that quite literally.

All things considered, I’m keeping as positive an attitude as I can. I refuse to feel sorry for myself over this illness. Even though I’m angry at our inane system, with or without treatment, the illness itself will not hinder me from striving for my goals. It may slow me, but it will not stop me. I may never make it back to Dragon*Con, may never be invited to ComicCon, and may never know that success in this life, but I will complete the Brotherhood series and produce a couple of novellas for the Outlaws.

I’ve learned from previous experience that people will reveal their true feelings for you when you endure real hardships. Those who truly love and care for you will offer support and encouragement in whatever form they can. Those who see you in terms of what benefit they can reap from association will stand back with indifference. They may occasionally utter a word or two of support, but that’s as far as they’re willing to go. Those who harbor malice towards you will kick you while you’re down. I’m blessed and grateful to have a handful of true friends who will have my back no matter what. They are the only ones who matter.