When The Fire Dies

If you’re a writer, there are times in your life — career reverses, physical illness, financial insecurity,  horrible things happening to those you love — when you’ll feel like the fire within you has died and has left nothing but cold in your heart and a taste of ashes in your mouth.

You’re not alone.  Professional or amateur, fiction or non-fiction, good or bad, rest assured all of us have crossed similar barren and lifeless landscapes.  And gone on.  At least most of us go on.

I’ve talked here before about how it’s really hard to keep from writing. In fact, I’ve given up on writing dozens of times and once it last two weeks – but I drove my family nuts, because I cleaned everything. And I mean, everything. When you find yourself toothbrush-scrubbing the detergent bottle, it’s too far.

But there have been times when the fire died, when there was nothing.

Not quite now – though last year was bad. Now I’m starting to come back. Slowly, and I often get impatient, but I’m coming back.

The time I remember as impossible was when my first career tanked and we were skirting the fine edge of being broker than broke.

It lasted over a year, and every word, every story, every book, were all from the brain which is a fine instrument, but not all when it comes to writing.

I didn’t want to sit there spinning words. As it happened, though, I was broke and I had to keep writing. I actually did a lot of writing for hire because it was my easiest way to make the money I needed.  Not the writing for hire — the writing.  (Though the writing for hire was good at that time, I’d probably turn it down now.  I’d rather do something for Baen or even Goldport.)

It still is.

So, what do you do when you feel you’ve hit a wall and that the desire to write is gone?

Write.

No, trust me on this. Just write.

Eventually the fire comes back. The embers you thought were doused for good retained a spark, and that spark catches again, and you find yourself riding the cyclone with breath suspended and enjoying every minute of it.

But what if you’re so tired, so ill, so out of it that you are sure everything you write is dreck?

Just write.

Some of my stories from that year, when it seemed like I was lifting a heavy weight with each word or like I was passing words out through a small slit in a brick wall, one by one, in slips of paper the size of a fortune in a fortune cookie, are the best writing I’ve done.

It didn’t seem like it at the time. I was sure I was writing boiled cabbage. I was shocked when the fans loved it. But now looking back they were right. I was wrong. Some was better writing than I’d ever done.

I know it’s hard when you don’t have the immediate pressure of needing money (and sometimes when you do, because there’s too much at play) but trust me, and even if you feel you’re done, and you’ll never write again, keep writing.

I don’t know what happens if you stop, but I suspect you remain a little maimed. I know people who stopped and they seem sad, lost.

But if you keep doing it, even if in the evening, in a few minutes, even with strength you don’t have, the desire and the joy come back.  Eventually.

You’re going to have to trust the lessons of twenty years of ups and downs. It comes back. And what you’re doing is not dreck.

And I have to trust it too.

When the stress passes, when the fear is subdued, when you find yourself in a better place, your writing comes back too.

And you wouldn’t trade that moment for all the world. Not even considering what you had to go through to get there.

Write. Just write. No one is requiring genius or perfection.

Just that you write. And trust the flame to rekindle.

 

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The Road to Indie

adjustment2It would be so easy to do anther post about Hugos this morning. In fact, I considered it, especially after seeing how one of the editors posted a diatribe of sorts on the Tor site. However, since I know Kate is fisking the situation Thursday and because Dave did such a great job looking at what’s happening yesterday — and the fact I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more until the Awards are announced, I’ll leave off on it for now. Instead, I think I’ll discuss my foray into self-publishing and the reasons behind it.

Let me start by saying that I am still firmly behind Naked Reader Press, both as an employer and as my publisher. I thought long and hard about taking Vengeance from Ashes indie. But I’m a firm believer in the adage of not putting all your eggs in a basket and, since VfA is not related to anything I already had with NRP, I figured this was the book to strike out on my own with. That doesn’t mean NRP won’t get more of my books because it will. It just means this particular series will be under my own imprint, so to speak.

So, the process. Oh the process. Even though I can do the process of publishing an e-book in my sleep, it is very different when suddenly you’re doing it for yourself. Suddenly things I was used to just emailing to another member of NRP had to be figured out or farmed out to someone else. Then I had to decide the best way to get the novel out to the widest market. Despite doing this for years, I found myself fumbling some as I looked at new aggregators and tried to figure out if I wanted to go that route or upload directly to the different stores, etc.

But before I did that, I had to think about the novel itself. I knew I needed to build at least a little interest in it before it came out. So, as I finished the first draft, I began posting snippets of it on my blog. The response was positive and enough to convince me — with a few kicks and shoves from Sarah and the others — to keep at it. Then the unthinkable happened. I realized that there were a couple of major plot flaws with the book. So, I went back, did some major rewrites and prayed I was doing the right thing. I waffled and whimpered and whined and Sarah did some more kicking and shoving. She reminded me that I’ve gotten comfortable writing the urban fantasy and paranormal books. But science fiction was different, especially since it is my first love when it comes to reading.

I listened — she was making sense, even if I didn’t want to admit it — and finished the novel. I let it sit for a bit and then did my first round of edits. That’s when I realized I needed someone who could check the book for consistency and proof it for me. Hmmmm. Oh, and I needed a cover. Hmmmmmmmm. So, I thought and talked and everything got done. With a few hiccups along the way. There are always hiccups, whether you realize it at first or not. The edits turned up a couple of minor plot points that needed to be tied up. So, back to the keyboard I went. Yep, that helped. The story was stronger. The cover was done and I heaved a sigh of relief. Everything was ready to start the publishing process.

Or so I thought.

The Amazon account was set up. No problem there. Amazon has a very simple interface for setting up your KDP account. Quick, easy and no sweat. Whew. On to B&N and the rest. No real problem, although the banking confirmation on a couple of them seemed to take longer than necessary. But soon, the accounts were set up and I was ready to move on to the next stage.

Except there was a problem. Or at least there was something I had to ask myself — because Sarah asked me. Damn her ;-) — I use a pen name (Ellie Ferguson) for the paranormals and my own name for the urban fantasies. If I published Vengeance from Ashes under either of those names, would my readers buy it expecting shifters and/or romance? So, after some back and forth, a new pen name was born. Ashes would come out under the name Sam Schall. The name has family ties and has the added benefit of seeming to be male for those who still think women can’t write sf. But, as I pointed out to someone, it is also a name that can be seen as the shortening of Samantha. So, the reader can decide for themselves if the author is male or female. The only problem is that I hadn’t told folks ahead of time that the book would come out under a pen name — head meet desk. Desk, sorry for the dent, but this is my head.

So, title page changed.

Now, finally, I was ready to convert the manuscript for uploading to the different sales sites. I followed my usual process and took the DOC file and converted it to ePUB and then fro ePUB to MOBI. The MOBI file was uploaded to Amazon without any problem and all I had to do was wait as it went through the review process. So, on to B&N where everything came to a screeching stop. I uploaded the ePUB file and checked the converted file. WTF?!? There were formatting errors all over the place. Okay, maybe I mucked something up. Tried another ePUB file. More formatting errors, but not the same ones. Huh? Fine. I uploaded the DOC file. OMG, now the entire book was italicized. I started banging my head against the desk again.

Grumbling and grousing, I decided that I’d use an aggregator. That meant I had to look at Smashwords or one of its competitors. Since I hate Smashwords with a passion because of the meatgrinder and the lag in payments, I started looking around. After spending more time that I wanted to on the problem, I settled on Draft2Digtial. I liked several things I read about them. First, there was no arcane formatting required like there is with Smashwords. So I didn’t have to go back and make a different DOC file to get rid of section headings, replacing them with bookmarks. Nor did I have to add any odd legal language and disclaimers like Smashwords requires. Then there is the monthly payout and a much quicker post time to B&N, Kobo and — hopefully — iTunes.

So far, I’ve been very happy with the experience with D2D. It’s been extremely easy to use. I can see daily sales and updating the files is simple — or it was once I figured out where the “edit” button was on the page.

Which brings up the two problems I had after Ashes went live. The first happened when Sarah pointed out that I’d accidentally uploaded an earlier version of the cover. Okay, no biggie. I went through and uploaded a new cover image on each of the three sites — Amazon, Smashwords (for their site sales only, not as an aggregator) and D2D. I edited the book file to include the new image and uploaded those files as well. No harm, no foul. Then I sat back and waited, sure that was the last of the problems.

Nope. I’d jinxed myself. It turns out that I’d managed to mangle the names of two characters and it had been missed through all the edits and review process. Yes, the dent in my desk is now the size of a small crater. But, after my head quit hurting and my eyes could focus again, I went back to the manuscript, made the corrections and uploaded the new copies. And I thanked the kind reader who’d pointed out the problem to me instead of posting a scathing review.

Now, like so many other authors, indie and others, I’m watching my sales figures. And trying to figure out how to get the word about the book out to a wider audience. And hiding under the kitchen sink. And, well, being a writer with all the fears and neuroses that attach to it.

So, I guess what I need to do now is give you the links to the book and ask you to spread the word — and ask the if you’ve already read it, you leave a review on Amazon or wherever you purchased it.

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

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As you sow, so you shall reap

Or if you’re going to push a pendulum, either pick on a light-weight one (ie. not Larry Correia), or not nasty sharp spiky ones (ie. not Vox Day) or don’t push it very far. Because it surely will swing back to whack you against the side of the head.

http://io9.com/announcing-the-2014-hugo-award-nominees-1565144494

All hail the International Lord of Hate. The cries of ‘Racist, Sexist, Evul LGBTBPN hater’ must be sweet music to your ears ;-)

And to think I actually thought Larry was being a bit conspiracy theorist about Damian Walter and his loser attempt at character assassination in a UK rag, putting it down to possible happenstance. I was wrong, I admit that, and apologize. The evidence strongly suggests there’s a dishonest snitch in the inner circle of LonCons’s Hugo crew, who was trying to poison the well. Cons sadly no longer draw from as broad a spectrum of society as they did, and the sort of person who reads, and — heaven help us — takes the Grauniad drivel seriously are likely to be numerous at LonCon.

For more here is the MHI link. I gather the internets are a-throb with lots of butt-hurt – from all the usual suspects — those who have been relentless in their kissing up to powers-that-be in traditional publishing/arts circles. Yes, we know, that was the only way into publishing barring pure luck and lots of talent, and you were right out of luck, and somehow not picked up on talent (strange. But then one man’s talent is another woman’s drekk). But it’s over now and you can compete just as if there was no PC barrier. How is the change working out for you guys? Believing in it yet? The funniest part was some wobbly lip squalling about ‘speaking-truth-to-power’ about these bad noms. Yeah, I kid you not. For years their dahlings have engaged in overt lobbying a la John Scalzi. No one said boo (baring a few guys like me who said ‘this will end in tears’) because near-absolute power and its friends are allowed to be corrupt. Only now Traditional publishing — on the far left side of the political spectrum — finds its power and influence disappearing. Anyway, moral of the story — the tide always changes, and probably will again one day. I think a Fox News lesson lies in this – to my jaudiced eye the MSM in the US became so obsessed with being a left-wing propaganda tool and indoctrinating with their version of what people ought to think that they lost sight of what they needed to do. Actual news, actual entertainment became secondary if not tertiary. And lo, along came an upstart with a different point of view, and they’re now many times bigger than the old powers. If they go the same direction, or at least too far in it, they’ll have same happen to them.

It’s worth noting that all the squallers – including a TOR editor – have made no comment about the other very corrupt and unfair area: interested parties being able to vote for books/works in which they have a material interest. Just the staff and authors beholden to Tor, for example, are quite large enough in number to successfully get a book/story nominated, and seriously compromise the final voting. Joe’s One-man-and-one-book Publisher have no such shoo-in voting block. But as it’s working for them right now, they’re keeping schtumm. Fine. But don’t whine (as you’re busy doing now about lobbying – which you and your friendies engaged in for years without once complaining) when someone else does it to you. Like voting ‘No award’ as a spoiler, it’ll come back to bite you. Judge the books as fairly as you can and you won’t go wrong, because even if you can’t manipulate the awards – as I firmly believe has been done in the past — at least it can’t be done to you. Apply the dirty reality test – yeah I know. That about writes most of them off, except the ILH. Maybe traditional publishing ought to try harder. Take books because they are good, not preaching ideology.

It’s something we’ve preached a lot here on MGC Story first. Entertainment first. If the Hugo Awards got reformed, made a serious effort to find the best sf/fantasy — most of the squallers (including those who seem to think character assassination of competitors is ethical. Kudos to Larry, who did not. I can’t say the same about the usual suspects.) have about as much chance as me. And I have none. I’d love to read ‘the best’, but the Awards process has not provided a clue to what it was for a long time.

I’m off to Conclave II on Wednesday, and frantically trying to finish my edit of the latest Heirs book to send to Eric. So alas, my loves, I must go and leave you, this morning’s tempest I have to cross…

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You guys can’t possibly expect a post on Easter

(UPDATE:  Have an Easter egg!)

What?  You do?

Okay fine.  I have one half written, but the demands of the roast and the cheesecake have kept me from finishing it.

I suppose I should feel guilty.  Sort of.  But instead my only thought is…

Look at this bunny, eating a banana!

How can you not like bunny eating banana?  I can’t have carbs, and the adorableness is putting me in sugar shock.  You need more?

Look at the expression!  “I can has banana!”  Lookit.

What, not enough?

Tough crowd…

Well, as you can see from the pictures above, my brain is mush, so you don’t WANT that chapter anyway.  I SWEAR I’ll resume next week.

Now, go do something fun!

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Characterization and the Bunny

I was trying to come up with a good topic to amuse and entertain you all, and as I am wading through final edits on Trickster Noir, after a long week of school, my brain had run a bit dry. So I put it off, and fixed dinner, and as we sat and chatted over the meal, we got to talking about favorite cartoon characters. Mine are Pepe LePew and Marvin the Martian. My First Reader likes Yosemite Sam, Sniffles, and Taz. Of course we both like the old gray hare, and neither of us like Road Runner or Tweety in too large a dose. Funny how the oldies are still golden, when I introduced the Looney Tune set to my kids, they adored them too.

We got to talking about what makes these characters endearing, and what it is that keeps them fresh and alive for new generations. Even the ‘villains’ are enjoyed, like Marvin and Sam, as we mentioned above. So what is it? And how can we incorporate it into our storytelling? I’ve talked before about reading profusely to make our writing better, and my personal preference not to use film, but in this case I’m making an exception, because I think there is much to be learned, and besides, it’s fun!

I think that as a culture we root for the underdog. So Tweety, the tiny helpless bird (and of course Granny, alongside her little pal) fending off Sylvester, and Jerry backing down Tom, fit into that niche. Neither of us, talking about it, are fond of these characters. Tweety can be a bit saccharine, and we’re both farm kids. In our worlds, mice are not a good thing and cats are supposed to earn their keep. Rabbits are equally destructive, mowing the garden as fast as it’s planted, but Bugs himself is endearing and earns our cheers as he galumphs through ridiculous scenarios.

Perhaps it’s a combination of his take on life – devious, snarky, and not a little irreverent – with his intelligence. We all like smart heroes. Even if occasionally they are smart by accident, and especially if they are smart without smacking us in the face with it. Bugs can make accidents happen in his wake without ever seeming to try.

Pepe LePew, on the borderline of clueless, and I don’t mean this side of the border, is charming in his relentlessness. He reminds me of Wooster in PG Wodehoouse’s classics. He means well, but oh! the chaos that follows him around, to his perpetual bewilderment. Marvin has a bit of this, too. He has a plan, and just can’t quite understand why it’s not working.

The Martian cartoons are very Human Wave, you know. It’s Bugs’ planet, and he’s not apologizing for it, he’s just doing his darndest to protect it against being blown up or covered in inflatable alien dog-things. Marvin in turn is only doing his job, like the wolf in one of my all-time favorites, the by-play between the sheepdog and the wolf: “Mornin’ Ralph. Mornin’ Sam.” It’s a job… the separation from reality, the sheer surreal transition between everyman commuting to work, to wolf-eat-sheep while the dog tries to make him dead, there’s a brilliance to it.

The thing about these cartoons is they are classic comedy, but they last, and work, because they capture human truths in them. As a metaphor for life, we can all look back at our paths and muse ‘shoulda taken a left turn at Albekerkey’ even if we have never been to Albuquerque. They have become embedded in the American psyche. It’s worth some time on my part (and no small pleasure) to delve back into them, watching them for characteristics that encapsulate humanity, that I can weave into my own tales. And, of course, the humor is worth learning to add to my work, something I already try to do, but can always improve.

We may not write comedy. Some of us do, Kate Paulk’s Con series are brilliant and well worth the read if you haven’t already. You will laugh yourself silly.  However, adding some humor to any story alleviates the human suffering, keeps the tension from drawing too taut, and a good laugh is a wonderful thing. My favorite movie, Singing in the Rain, has the absolute best song-and-dance routine in it, and I take it to heart. Make ‘em laugh!

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Train Your Brain Train Your Hands Work Your * Off – by Pam Uphoff

*I must re-send the invite to blog with us to Pam and Peter, and maybe this time the gods of wordpress will let it through, who knows?  Or maybe i have to drive to TX and put it up on her computer, myself. :-P  meanwhile, I’ll post for her.  So, please, welcome Mad Genius Pam Uphoff.  (And I vouch for both mad and genius in her case!)*

Train Your Brain

 

Train Your Hands

 

Work Your * Off

 

by Pam Uphoff

 

 

 

Writers and artists of all types try to take the ideas in their minds and bring them out into the exterior world in a form that other people can see. To get it down in some fashion so that the readers, viewers, and listeners will feel their emotions blossom, will understand new ideas, and maybe even change their own interior worldview.

 

For this they need techniques particular to their craft.

 

For the writer . . . it involves brains, hands, and a lot of hard work.

 

 

 

What do you need to train your brain to do?

 

Apart from the basics—a reasonable grasp of spelling, punctuation, and grammar and so forth—I can think of three things.

 

Train yourself to have ideas. No, don’t sit there with an open mind waiting for something to pop up like a mushroom. Think of your favorite character. Or better yet, your least favorite. What was his childhood like, or worse, his teen years? What would he have been like if his childhood had been different, if his parents hadn’t died, if he hadn’t been traumatized, or spoiled?  What about that book that went sailing across the room to impact the wall? What would a different sort of hero do in the same situation? And the romances! She fell in love with the wrong guy? Play Fairy Godmother. File off the serial numbers and hand her a difficult choice. Teleport her into the kind of world you like the best and start thinking about how she’d deal with that, not to mention those new fellows around. Not good enough? Grab your dictionary and pick five random words. Now logic out a story using all five words. Now throw logic to the winds and think up a strange story.

 

Train yourself to let go of logical thought and let your subconscious take over. Logic and plotting and being reasonable can get in the way of spontaneity. Role play like a gamer. Get into the main character’s head, like a Method Actor. Let out your inner B**ch and put some edge into that argument. Release your inner hero, and do what needs to be done.

 

Train yourself to shut off your inner editor while writing. Slide into writer mode, and out of editing. Put on your writer’s hat and hang up the editor’s. Lock the editor in a cage or a closet. Whatever imagery works for you, do it, and do it completely. _Do_ _not_ _listen_ to that internal editor—or worse—his evil twin, the internal critic.

 

 

 

Now, what about training those hands? Typing. The better you type, the faster you type, the better you can keep up with the thoughts in your head. Not to mention the lower numbers of typos. And while you’re at it, try to get into good hand position habits to help avoid carpel tunnel down the road. But the biggest trick is to type so much that it becomes effortless, automatic.

 

And yes, training the hands is inseparable from training the brain. But when you’ve got it, it’s like driving a car, it’s a combination of mental and physical coordination, divorced somehow from your immediate thoughts. Some odd zen state where the ideas flow though your conscious mind and through your hands.  Driving is a good analogy, since in both situations you can wind up at a destination different than the one you planned on. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes you have to backtrack and head the other direction.

 

That’s when the Inner Editor is released from his cage, and you logically analyze where you went wrong. _Then_ _lock_ _him_ _back_ _up_ _again._

 

And by the time you’ve trained both mind and hands, you’ll probably find that you have already worked your * off, and will think nothing of a few thousand words a day.

 

So get out there, train the brain and hands, and get to work. I need more books to read, and so do a lot of other people.

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There’s Something in the Air

And it’s not – alas – spring. Not here, anyway. It frigging snowed last night. In bloody mid-April. That’s just wrong.

So anyway, something in the air. It would seem that there’s been yet another rampaging outbreak of Bloody Stupid (and not, alas, Bloody Stupid Johnson whose inverse genius is at least entertaining… ahem) or the last one hasn’t died down yet. Regardless, some prat by the name of Damian Walters opined in The Guardian  on the topic of a “queer” future – and sadly he didn’t mean queer as in “strange” or “unusual”.

No, he meant in blatant violation of biology. Now sure there will always be a small percentage of folks who don’t fall into the circles of that wonderful triangle I posted a while back  but there are damn good reasons why that number will stay small. Starting with X and Y chromosome-linked characteristics and including gene switches that are more or less the “on switch” for a Y chromosome. The vast majority of people will be XX or XY in purely genetic terms. Anything else is a disorder. It might be possible for someone who has the wrong number of chromosomes to have kids, but it’s bloody difficult. Some (a very small number, percentage-wise) people with XY chromosomes have malfunctioning gene switches so they don’t develop external genitalia and may go through life thinking they’re “just” odd females. In some cases the switch malfunction is such that at puberty the kid changes apparent sex. Yes, there’s actually an island somewhere where damn near all the kids are born apparently female and half of them become male during the course of puberty. That’s one hell of a testicle descent. Apparently they’re all descended from one person who had a problem (small population – after a few generations everyone is descended from the same set of ancestors).

The basic mechanics (in thoroughly unscientific terms) are genes plus gene switches plus hormonal surges plus hormonal balance equals base sexuality. Culture determines the acceptable ways to express that base sexuality. Still, I suppose it’s a bit much to expect a literary writer to know anything about basic science.

Of course, said literary writer made the mistake of slandering (or libeling – I can never remember which one is which) Larry Correia, who took an indecent amount of glee in correcting the fool’s folly – and providing facts, something the original piece was rather short on. I guess in the hallowed halls (or should that be harrowing halls?) of the Guardian, facts don’t matter, particularly when you’re running down some (horrors!) commercial author. You know, one who doesn’t give a shit if the lead character of a story is gay, straight, or an alien with heretofore unknown sexual proclivities (come to think of it, that could be fun. Just imagine the poor alien looking at human mating with an appalled expression on its facial appendage because it’s utterly obscene to only have two participants! There must be at least five, one of each sex. Anything less is… Oh, sorry. My imaginary alien just fled on its psuedopods to do whatever its equivalent of throwing up is. Apparently it’s just that sick to only do it with two). Er. Getting back on topic, one who doesn’t care what or who the lead characters prefer to do in bed so long as the story is good.

And Larry proclaimed himself the International Lord of Hate. Well, damn. Sarah and I are going to have to work harder if we’re to live up (or is that down) to our titles of Worst Person in the World. And damn it, Amanda and Cedar need to share these titles. They’re just as much Worst People as me and Sarah. It’s plain not fair they didn’t get the title too.

Then, ah then the inimitable John C. Wright proceeded take the smoldering corpse of Damian’s alleged argument and flay it with loving care and a side of acid rubbed ever so carefully into the raw flesh. I stand – or sit – in awe of his mastery. Seriously, go and read it. It’s magnificent.

I’m sure that if he’s actually paying attention poor ickle Damian is wondering why everyone is being so mean to him. Well, sweetie, if you are actually reading this, here’s a hint. I’m one of a number of writers who don’t care what the mainstream thinks. We’ll do what works and we’ll cheerfully mock (aka take the piss out of) anything that’s excessively stupid. So, sweetheart, if you want us to stop being “mean”, you’re going to have to start showing evidence of a functioning brain. Stringing together pretty words that express the approved point of view doesn’t cut it.

You want us to follow the approved point of view, you show us the logic, and science, and – yes – math that makes it a good thing for us. You’re going to have to get past our actual experiences so it had better be bloody good. Remember, you’re dealing with people who’ve lived under communist governments and don’t believe anything that smacks of Marx, people who’ve done hard, grueling manual labor (and in some cases still do it), people who’ve spent their entire lives outside that nice comfortable left-leaning bubble you’ve lived in all your life where the worst thing anyone can tell you is to get your hair cut and man up.

Shit, I got worse than that every frigging day, all through high school. So, Damian darlin’, that’s your challenge. Explain your precious beliefs in a way that respects us and don’t lie about us. Then we might stop mocking you.

Even better, stop being so damn mockable and we won’t have anything to mock. Unlike some of your fellow travelers we don’t make that shit up.

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