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Apparently a lot of folks got a credit in their online book buying accounts (e.g., Amazon) from a price fixing settlement today. It’s all down to a lawsuit involving Apple colluding with publishers to push up the prices of ebooks, but even if you never bought ebooks through Apple (I didn’t), you still might see a payout because it affected the whole industry. Business Insider has the details here:

My share of the settlement came in the form of a $68 virtual giftcard on my Amazon account, because I buy a lot of books and almost all of them are electronic. Because people bought a bunch of the fun stuff off my wishlist for my birthday and because this magic internet money arrived in my account the day after I was basically praying for a financial miracle, I have elected to be responsible with this money and use it to buy some of the bulk household items on my wishlist (sponges, kitty litter, gallon bags) and some of my pills.

But, you know, don’t feel constrained to follow my example. I was this close to getting Mario Maker with it, and if I had, I’d have zero regrets. The last time I had an ebook price lawsuit settlement credited to me, I turned right around and bought more books.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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…I want to share something I learned recently: there are online restaurant supply companies that will sell to the general public and ship to residential addresses, and you can use them to order bulk less-than-perishable foods (including canned fruits, veggies, meat, and soups, and dry goods like pasta and rice and beans, and condiments, and drink mixes or syrups). We started using Webstaurant Store a while back for certain things. Individual dietary needs means we can’t take advantage of all their offerings, but I’d like to pass on the good word to those who can.

Now when I say bulk, I mean bulk. You might want to get some friends and/or neighbors and/or coworkers together to split an order, and when you’re comparison shopping make sure you’re paying attention to the unit sizes and how they compare to the ones on the grocery store shelves. $15 for something like ten cans of tomatoes might not sound like a good deal… until you realize they’re 6+ pound cans and so you’re getting them for less than a quarter a pound.

Now, that’s before shipping, which is something you’ll want to watch, and it doesn’t do you much good to have 60+ pounds of canned tomatoes if you can’t go through an open 6 pound can before it turns, which is why it’s probably good to coordinate. But if you’re involved in a church or school function, or you’re running a daycare, or you just have a large extended family to feed? Score.

You can get some good deals on staples this way. It can also be a cheap way to get some treats, which is how I discovered it a while back.

You know those flavor syrups that coffee shops use? It’s hard to find them in grocery stores beyond the most obvious everyday flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and hazelnut, and they’re not cheap. We use the sugar-free versions to add a sweet indulgence and variety while controlling blood sugar, but those are even harder to find. You can get them online for around $10 a bottle, or a bit cheaper on Amazon if you aren’t picky about flavors and don’t mind getting bundles of the same one.

But the restaurant supply store has them for around $5 a bottle, before shipping and taxes.

Again, you have to have the money to make this deal work; with shipping, it doesn’t really become worth it until you’re buying more than half a dozen at a time. But if you can either save it and splurge or get a bunch of friends and coworkers to go in with you, can add that decadence to your morning coffee or soda or whatever.

So, again: if you’ve got the shelf space and flexibility in your budget, and you do a little careful comparison shopping and watch the shipping (I suggest keeping your shopping cart open in another tab so you can refresh to see what the shipping is as you add items), you can save yourself some money. Might take some planning and friend-wrangling to make it really worth it, but it can really pay off for you if you can make it work.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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So, my goal of spending the day writing did not come to fruition due to aforementioned bank hijinks, because I spent a portion of the day in necessary confabs with Jack about meal planning for today and tomorrow, and emergency planning about when we’d be able to go grocery shopping, and sketching out financial contingencies, and in between all of that I was too anxiety-riddled to focus on stories and creativity.

But! My pre-existing goal for today was that I would post a completed draft of tomorrow’s Tales of MU chapter to the MU Patreon so the now 17 people who are pledged to support each chapter could read it a day early. Given everything above, and given my sickness of late last week through the weekend, I was kind of bracing myself for failure… right up until my must-write alarm went off at 4:30 and I sat down and did my thing.

As of 6:30, end of day… mission accomplished. The post is posted. And I have a word count of 2,600 for today, 600 of which is for Thursday’s chapter. I’d hoped to be done with this week’s major writing before this week began, but I’m still ahead of the game.

If you’re a MU reader who wants to see the MU chapters early, you can get in on them by pledging a dollar or more per chapter here: While my income is increasing across multiple streams of revenue right now, Patreon support for both Tales of MU and my writing generally are the ones that are poised to make the biggest difference to my life in the medium to long term.

So, to sum up: it’s not been a great day, but I still did a thing that was worth doing.

And in fairness, I knew it was going to be a long day as soon as I looked at the calendar this morning.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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…I think the best example of the growing genre of “flash mob composed of performers from a local production of Les Mis staging ‘One Day More’ in a shopping mall” is still the first one I’ve seen, and the earliest exemplar of which I’m aware: the Polish version in Warsaw.

And there are three reasons for this.

One, the video’s early focus on crowd reactions as people notice the singers or it slowly dawns on them what’s happening.

Two, the fact that each of the players is dressed in what (once you realize what’s happening) is recognizably something their character would wear in a modern AU. They’re neither out of place in a modern shopping mall, nor out of character.

But three: the fact that they cast a big-name pop star not in the role of Marius (recognized as the male romantic lead) but Enjolras, which means that when he comes sweeping in like a storm, the response from the crowd is exactly what it should be for a young man so dynamic and charismatic that he inspires others to follow him into the jaws of hell. Enjolras’s part in the story is not small, but it’s not foregrounded. He is the fulcrum on which the entire second half of the story swings (which action creates Marius’s arc). Watching the crowd react to him, you could well believe that some of them would be tearing fixtures out of the stores to barricade one of the anchor stores if he asked them to.

I mean, the whole thing is very well staged and all the actors are charismatic and engaging, but I applaud whoever had the perspicacity to recognize that Enjolras and not Marius needs to be the one who can command a crowd with an upraised fist and voice.

See it here:

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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So, I did that 8 hour game experiment in part because I was too headachy and congested to engage the story brain. Over the course of the day I felt really energized and inspired, and I figured that meant I was on the upswing.

Nope. Just super into what I was doing. As soon as I stopped: headachy, dizzy, sore, and tired. Opened up my mouth to speak and it was a creaky whisper. I think part of that was disuse, as I barely said a word to anyone all day (and nothing for the last 6 hours), but while my voice did improve a bit with warming up, it is definitely a bit torn up from post-nasal drip.

Good thing I still have some of my con supplies (crystallized ginger and cepacol lozenges). Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow, as it’s supposed to be D&D day.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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I’m having late night anxieties, mostly surrounding money. I mean, it’s not exactly keeping me up at night. Headache, joint ache, and a possible low-grade fever are doing that. But since I’m up, this is what’s occupying my mind: money. My Patreon payouts are still just over two weeks away. Cash will dribble in in small, unpredictable amounts until then. Me having a surplus following WisCon helped out a bit. The kind gifts some readers purchased off my Amazon wishlist have also helped. But I don’t think I’m going to be able to relax until my WorldCon fundraiser is over, and I’ve had my first payout on my new Patreon set-up.

Nothing can speed up the latter, but we’re very close on the former. Just $355 to go and I can close the thing out. That’s not nothing, but it’s less than 20% of the total. A few moderately sized donations or one really generous one or several smaller ones, and it could be done this month, or this week, or this weekend.

I know, I know… I’ve been given so much already. But I have to believe that I’m worth it, or I wouldn’t ask.


Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Over the course of my birthday, I posted links to my Amazon wishlist. Generous folks out there in internet land provided me with some of my medically necessary dietary supplements, a few new wigs I’ve had my eye on, and… a new smart watch.

As I mentioned last week, I took a gamble on getting a bargain basement smart watch to go with my new smart phone, and it was a huge mistake. My reasoning was “Maybe it won’t do much for that price, but I really just need it to tell time and give me notifications without having to dig my phone out.” What I got for the price was a phone that tries to do everything you might want a smart watch to do (including take pictures, place and answer calls, etc.) but fails at most of them. It can barely make or hold a connection to a phone. The interface is terrible, the touchscreen is non-responsive, and most of the functions are not accessible without a third party application that will not install on my phone and/or a SIM card or memory card inserted into a watch that has no aperture for receiving such.

The watch worked just enough to make me see the value of a good one. I asked Twitter for recommendations. Weird thing: if I say anywhere on the internet that I’m thinking about getting an X or that I’m having Y problems with Z, I’ll have people falling over themselves to give me advice that is often unneeded or inapplicable, being based only on the iceberg-tip view of what’s going on that my blog provides. But when I threw out a request for information, I got exactly one response.

Now this might be a side effect of the fact that I have been kind of vocal about the unsolicited advice thing lately, in which case it’s a matter of people learning the wrong lesson… which I was pretty sure was going to happen. But, oh well.

The one recommendation I got was for the Pebble. After looking into it, I listed a couple of  models on my wishlist (one a bit older), with the intention of saving up for one. From my quick research, it seemed like the Pebble was pretty much the epitome of what I was looking for: rugged, with a long-battery life, capable of both telling time and delivering me messages from my phone, and not a lot of extra bells and whistles like trying to be a phone itself or having a tiny, awkward camera.

The pills and accessories did not surprise me, but I was floored when I opened a box today and found a Pebble Steel in it. It’s the older of the two I had listed, but it is, indeed, exactly what I was looking for. Solid and sturdy seeming. Simple. No touchscreen or even color display, just an old-fashioned LCD. But it paired quickly and easily, and hasn’t dropped its connection anywhere I go in the house relative to the phone. So far I’ve read text messages and emails on it. It has limited ability to respond to them (pre-sets only, basically), but at the point where I know I need to respond to an alert, I am perfectly willing to get my phone.

It does do more than my bare minimum, but not by enough to be a distraction. It has a timer function, which is great, as I use timers in my writing, but the web-based timer I’d previously used no longer works reliably with my browser, and having to dig out my phone to set a timer kind of throws me off my game. I also find I like the gentle pulsing buzz on my wrist (this device does not appear to have any speakers) much more than I do any alarm sound.

The neatest thing about this watch, though, is something I never knew how much I wanted until I had it: a virtual watch face that tells you the time in words, as in “SIX eleven”. I can read an analog clock, and in fact, I was pretty sure I would be using a virtual one when I saw that the face could be customized. But there is something so adorable and charming about a watch that just says “SIX twelve” (now) in so many words. Welcome to the future.

Anyway, this is just to say thank you to everyone who sent me something—even a message or well-wishes—for my 36th birthday. The start of my awesome year of awesome is officially underway. Stick around… you’re really going to see something.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Fun with Twitter ads!

(Facebook users, for the full effect, click the link to see the original post.)

"The cringing mortal you knew as Chad Sayler is no more. I am become Lord Chad, Master of Seals, and my pinniped servants shall overrun this corrupt earth like wet, undulating hounds of hell. Pray to any gods you please for mercy in the next life, for you shall find none in this one. ORF ORF!"

“The cringing mortal you knew as Chad Sayler is no more. I am become Lord Chad, Master of Seals, and my pinniped servants shall overrun this corrupt earth like wet, undulating hounds of hell. Pray to any gods you please for mercy in the next life, for you shall find none in this one. ORF ORF!”

This one is based on a New Yorker cartoon:

“The Seal Master grows tired of your career advice, Mother.”


seal master weird dogs

“Weird dogs? WEIRD DOGS? These are NO MERE CANINES, you simpering fools! They are SEALS, Nature’s perfect weapons. They obey only the commands of LORD CHAD, the SEAL MASTER, and they shall be your DOOM.”

seal master fish

“My hands do NOT smell of fish, Barbara, they smell of POWER. The POWER to control SEALS. Yes, yes, the power comes from fish, but he who masters the SEALS masters the WORLD. DARE you truly wrinkle your nose and shy from the touch of the future master of the world, Barbara?”

seal master circus tricks

“Oh, you trained a seal to balance a ball on its nose? How clever! Quelle drôle d’idée! When you are finished demonstrating your little circus tricks, I shall show you a trick of my own, and then we shall see who is the true MASTER OF SEALS, Francisco!”

If you’ve enjoyed the adventures of LORD CHAD, SEAL MASTER, please throw a little something in my tip jar:

I will produce another set of image macros containing a further quote from the SEAL MASTER for every $10 I receive today (June 13th), or any day through Friday (June 17th), to a maximum of 25 new images of LORD CHAD, SEAL MASTER. Funds need not arrive in multiples of 10; if ten people throw in $1, that’s still one image.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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So, I’ve been intermittently anxious and miserable about phone-related difficulties pretty much since leaving WisCon, when my rapidly declining phone began to crash. I got a replacement, I got a case for the replacement, I dropped the replacement while putting it into the case, the screen shattered, and that’s what you missed on Glee. (GLEE!)

I wrote about how I felt about that yesterday, and also said that I’d looked at the options and concluded that an insurance claim was my best bet. Deciding that didn’t make me feel any better, and today I thought about why.

It basically comes down to: I don’t want to pay a deductible of $50 or more for a phone that might well be a refurb, won’t necessarily even be the model I picked (and will be paying for), and certainly won’t be the same color. I had just started getting this phone trained to work the way I like (minimal notifications, no autocorrect or spelling suggestions, no auditory or haptic feedback on most things), and it was starting to feel like it was mine. Transferring stuff of my dying phone to this one was an ordeal, and while transferring from this one to an insurance replacement would likely be a lot easier (because it’s brand new and fully functional), but, you know, at this point I’m invested in this one.

My manufacturer has a standing offer right now that I think of as “I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Recall!”, whereby in exchange for believing them when they say that the screens on this phone are totally made of impact-resistant space-age materials, they will replace any shattered or cracked screen on any unit purchased within a time frame of now-ish, no questions asked. I found out about this while looking at my options yesterday, but I rejected it because it requires me to ship my phone to them, and thus be without it for “4-7 business days” (or a week to a week and a half), whereas the insurance claim can be processed within a day and they’ll overnight a replacement without waiting for the old one to be returned first.

But that’s instant gratification. I could have a phone tomorrow, but it won’t be my phone. Not the one I picked, not the one I’m paying for, not the one I’ve been getting used to and customizing. I mean, there’s probably a good chance it would be the same model. Probably. But if it’s not, then I’m stuck with a case I can’t use, and have to wrap my replacement phone in bubble wrap until I can get a new one.

And as much as the thought of being phoneless for up to the better part of two weeks is not a fun one… I do it, and I’m done. I have my phone back. It fits my case. I can use it, theoretically, for years to come.

I can theoretically reactivate my old dying phone for the time being, but I’m not sure I honestly need to? I’ve gone more than two weeks without using my phone as a phone, even for texting. I can also send and receive texts through my carrier’s website. Most people who have my phone number don’t necessarily expect me to be easy to reach by phone anyway. I can use my tablet for a lot of the things I would use my phone for, and to the extent that it works, I can use my deactivated old phone for most of those things, too.

I keep thinking, “Well, this isn’t an ideal solution.” But I’m not sure why we always look for ideal solutions, when the fact that we’re looking for a solution is a strong indication that we’re not in an ideal situation to begin with. The ideal solution is that I didn’t drop my phone, or it didn’t break the screen when I did, or that I developed the ability to telepathically communicate with wireless networks and/or repair objects by thinking hard at them. (It is my birthday, universe, so if you’re feeling generous, you could help me cross a couple items off my superpower wishlist. No? Okay. Worth a try.)

Of the solutions that actually apply to the situation, this is the one that works the best. I mean, I can’t promise that the lack of a phone and background anxiety about it won’t weigh on me in the coming weeks. It can and probably will. But right now I’m kind of in the “soft launch” phase of pushing my career to the next level, and while I keep thinking how inconvenient the timing is that I’m dealing with this now… it’s really not a bad time.

And even though this means my phone problems are stretched out another few weeks (I’m not going to mess with this until Monday), honestly, just making this decision and having it be my decision, just claiming ownership of this phone I picked out and bought… it makes a huge difference in how I feel. The loss of my old phone’s functionality and the damage to this one were things beyond my control. This is a choice, though. It’s me taking ownership of the situation. And that right away makes me feel better about it.


Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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…that I have three actual honest-to-goodness print books in my house that I didn’t publish myself, but which nonetheless contain my name and my works. They all arrived at some point in 2016, mostly during a period when I was agonizing over my life choices and career path. It’s a funny old world, when you think about it.

The books in question are:

  • The 2016 Rhysling Anthology, containing my nominated poems “Institutional Memory” and “Observations from the Black Ball Line Between Deimos and Callisto”. (
  • The 2016 edition of The Martian Wave, containing “Observations from the Black Ball Line Between Deimos and Callisto”. (
  • Nights of the Round Tablea Circlet Press anthology of Arthurian erotica, containing my very long short story, “The Giving Game”, which retells the story of Gawain and the Green Knight as a bisexual polyamorous romance.

It’s possible I should be creating a trophy shelf of the sort some authors have, but the fact is, I wasn’t particularly pursuing print publication when I wrote or submitted these works. I wasn’t aware The Martian Wave would have a print edition. I knew it was possible for Circlet Press to take their books to print, but they’re primarily an e-publisher and the print edition is not something they announce when they solicit submissions. At the same time, I also feel like I have enough stuff in my house and in my life, and I don’t feel a strong connection to physical books. For accessibility and ease of use, I mostly read electronically.

But I know there are people who enjoy having a physical object, enjoy that tangible connection to artwork. So I’m going to try something out here: at the end of the first month in which I have 100 sponsors on my Patreon (, I will do a drawing of all the people who were paying sponsors that month. The winner will get my copy of The Martian Wave, with my signature on my (Rhysling-nominated!) poem.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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I have had a seriously up and down week. However, the week is at an end. I had two weeks in a row of updating Tales of MU twice a week, following a schedule. My fiction-writing word count is over the proverbial nine thousand, as they say dans la belle internet. I got a shiny check for $25 and a contributor’s copy of Circlet Press’s Nights of the Round Table, a book I wasn’t even aware was getting a print edition. (They probably told me, but I’ve been incommunicado. Sorry!) I started a new story that is a lot of fun to work on, wrote a poem of which I am very proud, and issued a challenge for writers.

It’s a good week, and a good start for the year.

Back in May, I had an introspective late night moment on Twitter when I was on the verge of giving up on everything, and I decided instead to double down, to stop listening to the critical voices within and without, and to do the things I wanted to do, that I knew I could do. I reflected on the fact that I was almost 36, an age that is a perfect square, and that a year later I would be 37, a prime number; perfect, going into the prime of my life.

I said that this was going to be the year that people sat up and took notice of me, this was going to be the year that I retook the title some people called me back when few knew who I was, that of “most prolific author on the internet”… or one of them, anyway. The internet is a big place.

I don’t think I said it in so many words, but part of the subtext was: this is the year where I start making enough money to actually live off again.

The stuff with my phone has been discouraging. The fact that my personal Patreon did not immediately catch fire when I announced my big plans is also a bit discouraging, if not fully unexpected. I had hoped that my short story reprint-a-thon in the days leading up to the end of May would give me a boost, but it really didn’t. I have the impression that few outside my existing supporters paid attention to it.

I’m not sure what to do about that. That’s really my biggest obstacle. Back in the day I spent money advertising Tales of MU and it found the right audience and caught on, but I did the same thing with previous projects and they didn’t. There is no magic formula for success. Among the reasons that I decided to self-publish, ages ago now, was the fact that all the platitudes about every manuscript finding a home if it’s good enough are just platitudes. There might be a right place for your work, but you might never find it at the right time. There could be audience demand, but it might not be concentrated in the way that any publisher would feel confident trying to reach it.

You can do everything right and still fail.

My decision to go my own route was not based on any notion that it would assure success, because this is true no matter what you’re doing. Rather, the idea was that it would make success or failure less of a binary. Whether I ever made a living, or any money at all, my work would be out there being read.

And my work is out there, being read.

And I have made money at it; I am making money at it.

And for a while, I did make a living off it.

As a wise weirdo once sung, “I’m going to go back there someday.”

At least that’s the plan. If I don’t make it… well, like I said: you can do everything right and still fail. But by the same token, even if I fail, I can still do everything right.

We’re a third of the way through the month. Coming up in this month, there will be more Making Out Like Bandits, more Tales of MU, more humor and satire, and a wholly original short story. Some of it (the further installments of Making Out Like Bandits and likely the short story) will only available to my patrons. Others will be freely readable for the public, like Tales of MU.

As I very recently observed on Twitter: if 1 in 1,000 people who like my work can afford to pay me a $1 for it, what I want is more people reading it, not for the 999 to feel guilty about their lack of support. Guilt and shame are powerful weapons but terrible motivators. If you read my work, if you like my work, I want you to feel proud of that, and of me. I want you to brag about me, to boast about me. I want you to see your friends and followers who haven’t yet heard the good news as one of today’s lucky 10,000, as they say dans la belle xkcd.

It’s true that I need more money. But the horse comes before the cart, and the horse here is made out of eyeballs and the cart is made out of money. Okay, that’s kind of horrific. It’s like a political cartoon drawn by Hieronymus Bosch. Never mind the horse or the cart. The point is that in the process of writing this, I have figured out that I should be focusing on building my audience and letting the money follow from that, rather than haranguing everyone in earshot for dollars.

Thanks, internet. You’re a real pal, you know? Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re an awful cesspit of ignorance and hatred.

Anyway, long story short: happy birthday to me. This is now officially (well, not officially, but you know) my year. If you want to do something nice to help me ring it in, I posted a list of suggestions in the middle of the night:

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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It’s been a mixed week, with some great highs and pretty sweeping lows. If you want to help give me a boost as I enter into what I really intend to be an amazing year for me as a writer, you can give me a gift in any of the following fashions:

  1. Help send me to WorldCon! It may or may not make the world a better place (this statement has yet to be evaluated by the FDA), but it makes the sad puppies howl and the rabid ones foam at the mouth.
  2. Support me on Patreon! You’ll get a ton of original content every month, and help me pay my day-to-day living expenses.
  3. Buy me something nice! My Amazon Wishlist has fun stuff, necessary stuff, big stuff, and little stuff.
  4. Just throw some money at me. Money: I need it to live.
  5. Buy a DRM-free copy of Angels of the Meanwhile. It doesn’t benefit me directly, but goes directly to one of the most important people in my world, Pope Lizbet. It’s a phenomenal collection of poetry and prose that I am honored and proud to have brought to life, and not enough people seem to even know about it. Honestly, if one thing in this list could blow up overnight, I’d like it to be this one.


Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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So, when I decided to skip getting a replacement for my dying phone through an insurance claim when I was planning on upgrading in less than a month, I took the money I had set aside for the claim and used it to buy a budget brand smart watch and a protective case.

The new phone arrived yesterday, and I was on tenterhooks using it without any kind of protection. I didn’t carry it around the house, didn’t really use it beyond set-up, etc.

Today the case arrived, and so the first thing I did was pop it in… or attempt to. I had a hand spasm while trying to maneuver it in, and dropped it. It landed face down, and the screen cracked in multiple places. The cracks run the length and width of the screen, and it’s spider-webbed in one corner, though still usable. In fact, with a non-bright background, it’s possible to miss the damage (as I did on my first inspection).

As far as I can tell, the phone’s usability is not impaired, but I fear that ignoring it will lead to troubles down the line as the cracks spread. I spent some time today investigating possible options with Jack. AT&T no longer does screen replacements. I can file an insurance claim, which will get a replacement phone rushed to me, but require a deductible of $50 or more (can’t find any specific info on what deductible for what devices). My phone’s manufacturer will replace the screen for free… if I mail it to them, paying the postage both ways, and am willing/able to go without a phone in the meantime. Buying a replacement screen and replacing it myself or having a third party repair shop do it is apparently far more expensive than doing the insurance route.

So we’re going the insurance route. I’m not happy about this, especially since it turns out that a budget brand smart watch is a pretty terrible buy. If you’re ever tempted to spend $30 on a smart watch, you’ll probably do better allocating that money for any other purpose, including a regular watch or thirty tacos. My thought was that maybe for that money, it just wouldn’t do much, and that was okay. It turns out it has a bunch of features, few of which work. I thought “As long as it gives me a way to check the time and read incoming messages without digging my phone out of my bag, I’ll be happy.” So far, it’s just the time thing. So, again, basically a watch.

I took a gamble on buying something cheap and I knew it was a gamble, but it was a gamble based on the idea that I wouldn’t need to use my mobile insurance. And now I do. If I hadn’t dropped the phone, I’d be shrugging it off as a lesson learned kind of thing. As things stand, though, it feels less like a lesson than a punishment. And I know that in truth it’s neither, it’s just a bad stroke of luck, a confluence of things that happened. And it’s not even that bad. The phone still works, the insurance claim works in such a way that there will be interruption in me having a phone.

It just took a lot of the wind out of my sails, I guess is what I’m saying. I’ve been on edge about my phone dying, and then I got the replacement and it was taken care of, and now the process has been extended.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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In one of my WisCon panels (about “calls for inclusion” for trans and non-binary people), I made the assertion that gendering our language is a habit and that frequently requires more work than using gender neutral, but we don’t know the work because it is a habit. I could offer as evidence my habitual greeting of “hey, folks” versus “hey, ladies and gentlemen” (which is longer) or any gender-specific greeting (“hey, ladies”) that requires me to make observations and/or assumptions about my audience. There’s the counter of saying “hey, guys” as gender-neutral being easier, but that requires us to accept that the masculine default is universal enough to be counted as agender, and if we accept that, we’re still taking the roundabout way to wind up using gender-neutral language.

In another panel about trans narratives, I talked about what a watershed moment it was for me when I realized how many CRPGs in the 80s asked you to define your character’s gender and then did absolutely nothing with that information. In most versions of the Ultima Trilogy, your character was a blobby stick figure. Nothing about how your character appeared or was referred to by the game changed based on whether you labeled the character M, F, or (in Ultima III: Exodus) O. It asks you this information, it stores it somewhere, and then it does nothing with it.

Why does it ask you? Because the tabletop roleplaying games on which it was based have a space for it. Because it’s assumed that you need to know this to relate to the character. Because it’s a habit.

We do live in a gendered society, one which tends to gender us whether we accept it or not. The gender of a character can be an important part of a story. It can mean something. But the presumption that it must be known in order to relate to the character…

Back in the 90s, I hung out in one of the original, HTML-based Geocities chatrooms. And there was a person in the room who refused to disclose their gender. I say “refused” because people took it very personally and got very insistent about it. I was not that politically aware back then, nor fully in tune with my own gender identity, but I did find it strange that so many people—mostly men—would assert that it was basically impossible for them to talk to somebody if they didn’t know if they were a man or woman.

“I need to know how to relate to you,” was how one of them put it.

“I need to know how to treat you,” is what none of them said, but what I suspect many of them meant.

I was thinking about this person the first time I decided to try writing a story without gender. There had been times I’d dropped a character into a story without referring to their gender. I’d written stories where the narrator/protagonist’s gender was not immediately clear (which, believe me, caused some readers terrible confusion and mixed feelings when they found out they had been “tricked” into identifying with a woman, even though I didn’t intend any such deceit; it simply hadn’t come up yet).

I’ve only written a handful of stories with multiple characters and actual dialogue between them in which gender does not come up. My short-short “The Sweat of their Brows” (which appears in Angels of the Meanwhile) does not contain any references to gender. The similarly themed “You, Robot” does not gender any human characters, though one of them reflexively refers to an agender robot as “he”. The titular story in my collection The Lands of Passing Through (Amazon Kindle version, multiformat bundle) is, I think, my longest such work. The story “To Live Forever…” in the same collection is a story told in the form of a monologue, or a conversation in which the more minor participant’s part is implied, silent video game protagonist-style. Neither the speaker nor listener is gendered. While I like that format, there are some limits to the stories that can be told in it.

The interesting thing about the other stories I’ve mentioned, the ones that I told in a traditional third-person style but without gendered pronouns or other references, is how people receive them. If I tell them up front what I’m doing, I sometimes hear that the writing is stilted, forced, and unnatural. I’ve never once heard such a complaint from someone who wasn’t primed going in for anything to be unusual. Not once. Not only do people not notice the lack of gender, but in many cases, their mind glosses over it to the point they assign gender to the characters and assume that this is part of the text.

I’d love to see more writers exploring this kind of writing, so here we come to my challenge: write a story of any length with at least two characters and no references to their gender.

There are many ways to do this, none of them wrong. You can simply avoid using personal pronouns in the narration, as most of the stories I referenced above do. You can use a gender neutral pronoun. You can write it in first or second person, allowing one of the characters to be referred to by gender-neutral pronouns such as I/me or you. The lack of gender can be part of the story (agender characters, distant characters communicating via text, a character whose identity is obscured and unknown) or it can be incidental. It can be a short vignette or dialogue, it can be a classic story with a beginning, middle, and end. It can be a story where the lack of gender is the point, or it can be a story where it’s incidental.

If you undertake this challenge and you post your story somewhere (your blog, Tumblr, a fic archive), please send a link to it to my email address blueauthor (Where? At…) alexandraerin (Neither Wakko nor Yakko, but Dot) com, with the subject heading “Gender Free Writing Challenge”. On July August 1st, I’ll post a round-up of links to the stories I have received by that point.

To encourage participation, let’s make it interesting. I will award prizes of $25, $15, and $10 to the story I enjoy the most, second most, and third most, respectively. Depending on how many responses I receive, judging and award of the prizes may not happen until later in the month. As English is the only language in which I am a skilled enough reader to judge stories, I can only provide prizes to stories that are in English or have an English translation. I know there are languages in which the challenge portion of this challenge is trivial, but to be considered for the prize, the English version must also be gender neutral.

You don’t have to be an author of any particular skill or career level to participate. If you are a creator with a Patreon (like me), I would encourage you to post your entry to your Patreon feed so that anyone reading the round-up will know where to go if they like what you have to offer and want more of it.

Update: After receiving initial feedback on what was a very spur-of-the-moment idea, I have extended the deadline from July 1st to August 1st in order to encourage more participation.

Update June 9th, 2016:

See this post for some clarifications regarding the rules and suchlike.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

Despite having had what is, by all objective counts, a pretty good week so far, I’ve been anxious and irritable, and I had the idea to do a sort of self-inventory post about what is bothering me, both to put it into perspective and to calm the voice that is telling me I have no right to feel this way when things are going well.

As soon as I started thinking about it, though, I realized that pretty much every item on the list would come down to the same thing: phone troubles.

Can’t easily have my calming soundtracks playing in my earbuds throughout the day when my phone is unreliable.

My phone’s Kindle app is the most comfortable and convenient way for me to read books.

I use my phone to stay connected to people in a way that’s more manageable than the computer.

Basically, my phone is an important part of my daily routine and my self-care.

If it had just broken outright or gotten lost, then I would have dealt with the problem immediately. Because it was in a downward spiral, though, I put off actually doing something about it until it got “really bad”, and as a result, I prolonged the experience. Dealing with it meant dealing with customer service and the insurance claims process, which is also stressful.

So basically, it’s a combination of one of my biggest anxiety/stress management tools becoming suddenly available/unreliable in a way that adds more anxiety and stress.

I did actually bite the bullet and deal with it this morning, and I just this moment got a notification that the new phone has already shipped. Super awesome, given that I was quoted a delivery estimate of June 10th-14th. There’s no delivery estimate on the order tracking yet, but it says it’s being overnighted, which means either tomorrow or Thursday. I expect I’ll still be on pins and needles until it arrives, and then I’ll probably have another anxiety spike when I have to deal with setting it up, but at least the end is in sight?

And, seriously, everything else is going well.


Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

One of the best things about the internet is that it’s a great source of information. If I need to know something about what brand of phone to buy, for instance, I can go to Google and type in any number of things, including “What brand of phone should I buy?” and find a plethora of information. I have a wide enough following on multiple platforms that if I feel the need to solicit custom-tailored advice on a topic, I can usually get it just by asking for it.

Another thing I like about the internet is that it gives me an outlet for me to talk about my life, to vent about things, process my feelings, document what I’m going through. I actually find this very useful for a variety of reasons. I mean, first of all, it does help me keep track of patterns and things, recognize problems, and give me a way to supplement my own brain when my memory is unreliable or my perception of time becomes more than usually subjective. As a writer, I also just find it very helpful to be able to get stuff out sometimes. Self-expression is the foundation of creativity, for me. When I start censoring or second-guessing myself in some fashion, it often makes it harder to write anything.

The thing is, these two things? They are not related. I know how to ask for help. I know how to find information. I know how to seek advice. If I make a post that is talking about a problem in my life—be it sleep-related, technological, emotional, dietary, logistical, whatever—I will not leave you in a position where you have to guess if I need or want something. I will say so. If I don’t, then consider the post personal. I’m processing, venting, documenting, something.

If you can’t tell what the point of the post is… well, does it really matter? It’s there. It’s doing something for me. You don’t have to know what that thing is.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

So, apparently some number of WisCon people have been complaining about things like the ConSuite (a salon room where food is prepared and served, for free, by unpaid volunteers who are giving up their own con time and energy to make sure that those who can’t leave the hotel or afford restaurants or who don’t have the time, energy, and wherewithal to figure out meals are served).

In the past two years, the ConSuite has gone from stuff like hot dogs and ramens to full kitchen meals and catered fare prepared and served by trained and certified food handling people who are still, I point out, unpaid volunteers who are members of the con who have actually, in fact, shelled out money to be there serving food when they could be making connections, hanging out with friends, or attending programming items. They are chronically understaffed and underappreciated.

These complaints go hand in hand with another set of complaints, that WisCon has become less “welcoming” and that it was “alienating” this year. Now, I don’t know who these complaints are coming from, because I’m hearing about them second hand. They’re apparently popping up on Facebook, and possibly on Twitter, but they’re coming from people I don’t know and am not friends with. Boy howdy, seeing the blistering air around the blogs of a lot of the WisCon folks I am friends with makes me feel like I have done an exceptional job cultivating my social media experience, that I don’t have to see what they see and put up with what they put up.

So I couldn’t put faces or names to these complaints, and yet… an image forms. And with that image comes a suspicion, that rather than anyone or anything making these people feel unwelcome, what is happening is that they are noticing that other people are being welcomed, and they feel that this is taking away things that are owed to them: the right to be centered in all occasions, the right to dominate any room, the right to behave as they please.

WisCon has always prided itself on being a progressive and inclusive institution, but to some people, inclusiveness is a treat that people who label themselves progressive are allowed to dole out, always in exchange for proper gratitude and obedience. Making other people—with a strong emphasis on other—is their privilege, with a strong emphasis on privilege. Seeing other people making themselves comfortable? Seeing other people making each other comfortable? Watching the formal power structures created to enable the con to function work to make everybody comfortable?

These things make the complainers very uncomfortable.

And the thing is: every year that we don’t coddle those kinds of complaints, we shake a few of the people who make them lose. Sometimes it’s an official action, when they react badly to being reminded that they have agreed to, for a period of 3 to 5 days, treat their fellow human beings as human beings. Sometimes it’s them stomping off in a huff and then sniffing noisily on Facebook about how a thing that used to be “theirs” was taken away by those people. Sometimes it’s nothing so melodramatic, but when the times come for them to allot their time and money for con travel, this one just doesn’t seem worth it anymore.

I spent a good portion of the weekend talking to newbies and other people I didn’t know, because as I mentioned in a previous blog post, this was the year when it hit me that I’m not a newbie or outsider myself, and I decided it was time to do what I could to help others feel as safe, welcome, and included as people had done for me. And my impression was that we succeeded in putting on a very welcoming con. Person after person remarked on how different it was from other cons, how much safer they felt to be themselves or to hang out in the public spaces. Three times during the span of the con, I heard one first timer say “I’m definitely coming back.” and another person peripheral to the conversation heard and agreed.

That seems pretty welcoming to me.

I mean, there were people who had negative experiences. There are still older white men who stand too close to people in empty elevators, and who clap hands on others without invitation. There are still white women who apparently think that everything is there for their benefit, even things purchased for private functions with private funds. There are people who think it’s their job to evaluate whether those who use assistive devices or make use of disability access resources are trying hard enough or really need/deserve the accommodations they have. There are people whose name tag always seems to be conveniently turned around when they lean in to say something awful before vanishing into the crowd.

But here’s a crucial point, for me: the people who related such encounters to me are people who also told me they had such a good time they’re coming back next year. And I suspect at least some of the people involved won’t be.

I told people all weekend long that my experience is that every year, WisCon gets better. I didn’t want to bring up negatives in a conversation that was mostly squee, but part of what I meant was: every year there are fewer of the people who see the Concourse Hotel as their grand feudal estate and everyone who isn’t in some exalted circle with them as their serfs, and more people who see it as a place where we can come together and be ourselves, to treat each other respectfully and be treated with respect.

And no one person should have to bear the brunt of putting up with bad treatment until the bad actors give up and go home, or transgress in a way that allows for an official response that sends them there. No. I would not for anything tell anyone, “Put up with creepy elevator dude. Put up with the invasive questions and rude assumptions. It will all be worth it when you’re still here and they’re not.” I have friends—good friends, dear friends—who will probably never trust WisCon as an institution or environment again, due to patterns of failure to welcome and protect, and I grieve for what they’ve suffered and what we have lost by their absence.

But it’s better, and it’s getting better, and it will continue to get better, and I for one intend to stick around to see how high it goes.


Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

So, until about two weeks ago, the notion of me attending WorldCon in August, when it’s hosted by Mid AmeriCon II in Kansas City, was a pretty distant dream. This weekend, I made tentative plans to attend WorldCon 75 in 2017, when it will be in Helsinki. This possibility was not even on my radar, to the extent that I told one of the chairs of WorldCon 75 that I had supported the Helsinki bid, even though there was a close to 0 percent chance that I could make it there. This turned out to be the most awkward thing I could have said at that moment, because it turned out she had approached me to extend a personal invitation for me to be there.

Now, before certain conspiratorial tongues begin wagging, let me explain a few things about how this works in the real world. When I say that she invited me personally, I mean that she said to me, as a person, “You should totally come!”, a statement which grants me no perks or privileges beyond those of any individual who is aware of the con and its attendance policies. When I say I was invited, what I mean is I was invited to purchase transportation to Finland, membership in the convention, and food and lodging while I am there.

I say this not to shame her for expecting me to pay my own way, but because I am an adult human being who understands how things work in the real world. The chair of a convention has very little power and very much responsibility. She cannot waive the con’s fees that pay for its existence and operation. She cannot access some bottomless pool of money to pay for things beyond the con’s control, like airfare. A literary sf/f con does not have the budget of a big media con, and even big media cons wouldn’t last if they paid for the appearance of people who do not bring in even more money for the convention in return.

Yet there are people out there who don’t know how the world works, but who imagine they do, and who imagine that these affairs are endless circles of cliquish nepotism where insiders pay each other to travel and lounge around and speak as experts. Two years ago there was a trumped-up tempest in a teapot “outrage” where people who had barely heard of me and only just heard of WisCon believed I was being paid to fly in and speak about “Social Justice” because I was on a panel about internet culture. This year someone interpreted my announced plans to be at World Con to mean that I was likewise a paid guest, and that’s the charitable interpretation where that rumor didn’t start as a deliberate lie.

Now, I want to mention the fact that a chair of World Con 75 personally invited me to fly out to Helsinki and participate because, heck, let’s face it… that’s pretty cool, isn’t it? She told me, in so many words, “You’re part of this. You’re part of this world, part of the community. You’re the real deal. You belong here.” That’s cool.  Now, I don’t mean to suggest that the chair of a WorldCon has the authority to act as gatekeeper for who belongs in sf/f fandom, because she doesn’t. The chair of a convention basically only has the authority to throw a convention, and that only just barely. But anybody has the power to give another human being validation, and I got some from a person who is helping to head up the 75th World Science Fiction Conviction in Helsinki in 2017, and that’s something worth mentioning.

It’s just a shame that I can’t mention it without translating for those who fevered imaginations have overcome their grip on reality. Just you watch, come next year or even as soon as WorldCon 74 is over and I begin firming up my plans for 75, there will rumors swirling about what I’m being paid or what’s being paid for. I’d give even odds that someone even links to this post with a claim that if you “read between the lines” it says this, or there’s a “clear implication” it says that… I mean, we’re talking about the people who took David Gerrold’s ironclad (and very proper) insistence that all nominees and winners would be accorded all decorum and respect at the WisCon 73 Hugo ceremony last year as an open promise to do the opposite.

This is probably the last time I’ll bother qualifying something neat like “a WorldCon head personally told me she’d be jazzed if I were there” by explaining the real world to dedicated denizens of a carefully constructed artificial reality, for the simple reason that I know it doesn’t work. It’s more my fascination with the disconnect between actual reality on the ground and the stories that swirl based on a few glimmers of that reality and much speculation that prompts this post.

What a different world we live in than the one that is ascribed to us.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

I used to have a lot of stress whenever I would notice two of my friends didn’t get along. I’d start wondering which of them I should be supporting, what each of them would think when/if they saw me retweeting/reblogging or talking to the other, stuff like that.

I’d see people about the internet get in these huge blow-ups around this kind of thing, and when I was younger I was certainly friends with people who would actively divide any community in which they entered into sides labeled “with me” and “against me”. Without putting it into words, I had internalized the notion that this is a thing that happens, that it’s part of the nature of friendship.

I recently came to a stunning realization that changed how I see the world and my place in it, though: I’m not friends with anyone who thinks this way. I actually have friends—good friends, very good friends—who have bent over backwards to avoid even the appearance of telling me who I can be friends with, who have kept their grievances against other people quiet around me out of deference for my friendship.

And the thing is, there have been cases where learning about the way one person I call friend treated other people (sometimes but not always other people I called friend) did change how I felt about that person to the point that it cooled or ended the friendship. But that’s me making the free choice about how my time and energy and affection are spent, not someone leaning on me to make me pick a side.

At WisCon this year, I spoke on a panel geared at “social justice newbies” about curbing the desire to pick a side and saddle up and ride when you see a conflict. Which is not to say don’t have principles or don’t stand by them, it’s simply to say: resist the temptation to reduce a situation to a battle between sides. I wasn’t thinking of this at all in terms of interpersonal relationships, but it’s there, too. Just because two people appear to be in opposition doesn’t mean it’s a battle and it doesn’t mean they need an army. They might just be two friends who have a difference of opinion or  a lot of feelings or even a friend who wronged a friend and who needs to make it right… but in that last case, what probably needs to happen first is for them to back away and get out of a defensive head space and the last thing they need is for someone to come along and join in just when it’s all dying down.

Or they might be enemies. They might have a deep philosophical difference that can’t be bridged. One or both of them might have wronged the other so badly they can’t possibly get along.

But if they’re not asking you to take sides, they probably don’t want you to and they certainly don’t need you to.

Nothing here against people who do ask for support when they’re having difficulty with another individual. Nothing here against people who point out that when you prioritize making someone’s abuser or attacker feel welcome in a shared/public space, you make them unwelcome and the space unsafe. Nothing here at all against the idea of making a stand or being choosy about with whom you associate based on how they treat others.

But, man… letting go of the idea that the world is made up of sides and the only way to interact with a situation is to pick one is just so terribly freeing.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

alexandraerin: (Default)

If you read my blog, you probably already know that. If you’ve read it for years, you might already know most of what’s in it. Here’s what you should know about me:

  • There is no minimum level of acquaintance or friendship you need to come say hi to me, sit by me, etc. None! I go to the con to be bold and sociable.
  • I have a fairly strong case of prosopagnosia, or face blindness. I recognize people by context clues and what Moist von Lipwig calls “the furniture”; hair styles, glasses, etc. This doesn’t work very well for people I see on an annual basis or less. All of this is to say: don’t take it personally if I look at your name tag every single time I see you, and don’t feel awkward introducing yourself or others in your group even if we’ve met before.
  • Because of this, I like to make sure that I’m plenty recognizable to others. When I go to events, I like to have a flag, basically, that people who think they might be looking at me can use to confirm it. My rainbow hair actually started as this, before becoming a year round trademark. The thing is, though, this year I’m planning on switching my hair out, possibly on a daily basis. Sorry for that, but if you see someone with brightly colored hair in a bob cut who is wearing a skirt, a leather collar, and some sort of hat, it’s probably me!
  • I have a mitochondrial condition that primarily prevents as chronic fatigue with some features of a seizure disorder. There is a good chance that at least once before the con is over, I will look like death. I assure you, I’m okay. You might see me goofing around and dancing one day, and then hobbling on a cane the next day. It happens.
  • Related, but my face and I are only intermittently on speaking terms with each other. A lot of the time, I don’t know what it’s doing, and I don’t know why it’s doing it. Please don’t try to judge whether I’m having a good time or not by looking at my face. It’s really just my face. And if you think you see me pulling sour or angry faces at something, it’s probably a tic related to the previous bullet point.

Now, a couple more things I’m adding.

I am a woman. My pronouns are she/her, and they’re likely to be on my name tag. You might think WisCon is a sanctuary for me, and in some ways it is, but it’s also the place where I get misgendered the most out of the entire year. Every year.

I think there are multiple reasons why this is so, but a big one is a thing that happens in liberal spaces where cis or mostly-cis guys feel comfortable playing with gender and doing things like wearing skirts and make-up: while they get praised for bravery, the trans women at best get lumped in with them. Cis people who are the first and loudest to say “Trans women are women!” still wind up treating us as men in dresses in the presence of actual men in dresses. I guess it’s the male default taking over. Most people I interact with in my day-to-day life never dream I’m trans, because absent some kind of prior knowledge or context, they see no reason to speculate otherwise. But WisCon is awash in that kind of context.

Someone can watch me on a panel where I introduce myself, refer to myself as female, and then point to me and say, “He had a lot to say about self-publishing.” People can be staring right at my name tag, with my name (Alexandra) and my pronouns (she/her) on it and then say, “I’m sorry, are you a boy? I can’t tell. Working with the GLBT youth taught me I should look for an Adam’s apple, but you’re wearing a choker.” My hand to gosh, I’ve had a person at WisCon ask me if I was a drag queen, and when I said no, I’m a trans woman, she said, “Oh, okay, because I know that drag queens like to be called ‘she’ and ‘her’ when they’re in drag.” and then she proceeded to try to refer to me by male pronouns.

And people like to say things like, “Well, people don’t know!” and “They don’t mean any harm!” And I’m sure they’re right. I am confident, 100% confident, that both of the people I quoted in the last paragraph were trying to show me how progressive, supportive, and open-minded they were.

But why is their “right” to try to impress a stranger more important than the stranger’s health, safety, and comfort?

This kind of thing always happens more and more as the con wears on and my voice wears down. People who interacted with me as a woman and referred to me correctly at the start of the con apparently hear my increasingly hoarse voice and decide it’s my “real” voice reflecting my “real” self and take it as permission to start misgendering me.

In the past? I’ve swallowed this kind of rudeness and ignorance out of a desire to not make waves. This year? Lolnope. You’re looking at my name tag. You will respect what you read there, or I will shut you down and walk away.

There are people I deal with every year at the con, whom I tell every year, “I’m a woman,” and they apologize in the hurt way that is meant to make you feel the need to reassure or apologize to them, and say, “It’s hard!” It’s not hard. I’m a woman. You don’t have to solve a math problem. You don’t have to do some complicated lateral thinking. You don’t have to memorize dozens of arcane rules. You don’t have to know anything about my body or my history or my thought processes or my life to figure out what to do.


The same thing happens in reverse to my partner Jack. He’s a man. He is at the start of the con. He is at the end of the con. He is when we go back to our hotel room or leave the hotel to eat.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.


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August 2017



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