A Dragon’s Pitch – DFWCON 2017

Well, I didn’t “knock it out of the ballpark” as far as my face-to-face query session went, but I sure didn’t choke this time. Most notably, I managed to speak with a quiet mind. No inner monologue paralyzed me this time; I just sat down with the agent, and told him about my novel.

Two days before my pitch, on the day before I left for Dallas, I settled on pushing Saundra as a super-hero novel. She gains specific magical powers, her friends and enemies do as well. There’s a costume change involved; it all works.

After some meditation and prayer, I came to two decisions. The first was to heed the advice that the incomparable Ru Paul regularly gave to students on Drag U: ask yourself what your inner drag queen would do. Well, my inner drag queen is a dragon (and not much of a queen per-se, but he sure is fabulous!). Every time I got nervous, I just reminded myself, “I’m a dragon, bitches!” The second decision was to remember that I am a pretty damn good customer service rep / salesperson, and the agent is my customer. So, rather than imagine that I was putting my heart and soul on the table to be judged, I put my novel out there to be bought.

Bolstered, I found that I could pitch to my husband with courage and charisma, when previously the mere thought of it petrified me. “Keeper of the Worldgate is an offbeat super hero story about a plus-size, pacifistic woman who must defend an extra-dimensional portal from a sociopathic computer hacker, who would use it to bring the most horrific nightmares from the internet to life.” Bam! There it is.

When my time came, I stood up tall, reminded myself to be a dragon, and strode into the meeting with strength and confidence. If saw the shade of doubt flutter across my customer’s expression, I dropped an attractive tech-spec on the table: “My test readers and editors have praised my suspense as being genuinely suspenseful.” If I saw his brow quirk with interest, I reinforced the topic that so moved him: “This manuscript definitely passes the Bechdel test.”

We had only ten minutes, and while it’s tempting to think that I could have landed a full manuscript request given just a few moments more, the truth is that my approach was scattershot. I spent far too much time experimenting with how to best describe my novel in superhero terms, and far too little driving home the uniqueness of its story. By the end of my sit-down, I think I confused the agent more than interested him.

My approach was clumsy, but he invited me to query him anyway. While I expect this was just a courtesy, he flinched when the time-over gong cut him off. He was still speaking, and looked like he wanted to know more. Did I detect a hint of dithering? Curiosity?

Whatever the case, I walked away proud in the knowledge that I’d not made a fool of myself. I will be querying him, and not unsolicited. Will my writing stun him and reverse his decision not to request a full? I doubt it. It’s a great story, and it will appeal to pacifists, and feminists, and big people. If that’s not his usual fare, though, he might not have the best connections to push Saundra out as far and wide as she needs to go. He may know someone who is, though, and I may get a referral out of this experience.

The agent hunt continues, and as the weather in central Texas has taken my day job offline, I’ve nothing to do today but write, research the next batch of agents, and compose another set of queries.


Expensive, expensive, humble pie

In the beginning…

When I was a kid, I loved to tell stories. Mostly these took the form of of weekly Dungeons and Dragons games, short fiction I only ever shared with Mom, and video game plots I dreamed up when I should have been studying. Back then, magic and wonder defined my world, and teachers praised the rareness of my “talent.”

Now, I put the word talent in quotes, because I have since come to realize that there is no such thing as the unique God-gift that I was raised to believe in. Talent is an illusion. What we as creative people have is dedication to a craft. I really wish they would have evangelized dedication instead of talent.

I grew up and marched into my early adulthood thinking that I had what it took to be a great author, just because I had a “talent” for “storytelling.” Sure, I wasn’t a big reader, and I’d not gone to college to study Lit and Writing, but I felt positive that the quality of my stories would earn me an extra little bit of attention from agents and editors. I was to be discovered.


People in the know don’t talk about talent and vision any more. These days, their message is all about work, experience, and expenses. “Buy memberships to renowned critique groups,” they say. “Hire qualified freelance editors.” “Join unions and alliances.”

At last weekend’s Permian Basin Writers’ Workshop, during Kay Ellington’s and Barbara Brannon’s lecture entitled, “Your Manuscript on the Flip Side: What Your Editor’s Looking For, and Not,” we were given this rule of thumb regarding the cost of preparing your manuscript for publication: “Expect to spend as much money as you would on a used car.” That’s… a lot of money.

I’ll tell you: it’s discouraging. A soul can write a novel, and then spend more money getting it publishable than they can ever expect to earn from it after publication. How could it possibly be worth the cost and effort? But, I’m beyond all that, right? I’m a bad-ass, amazing storyteller, right?

So, changing gears…

In all things outside creativity, I was raised to look at the concrete facts in the world around me. What is, is. What isn’t, isn’t. The proof, as the cliché goes, is in the pudding.

I spent a few years working as a paranormal investigator, which really taught me to be objective. I learned to test every tiny way to disprove hopeful assumptions. Orbs are most commonly dust, water, and bugs. Vortexes are usually camera straps, motion artifacts, and breath-fog. There is usually a mundane explanation for everything we interpret as supernatural.

As a supervisor in an office setting, I learned to look at peoples’ self-proclaimed credentials with some skepticism. A computer programmer who has authored exactly zero useful computer programs, is not a computer programmer. A sales guru whose numbers lag behind the rest of the team, is clearly no sales guru. A bad-ass, amazing storyteller who has not, by the time he is forty years old, published several acclaimed novels is not, in fact, a bad-ass, amazing storyteller.

To borrow from Fight Club, “[I am] not special. [I’m] not a beautiful or unique snowflake.” Man, this hurt to figure out. And, it’s scary too! How the hell am I supposed to get there? I’m forty, and I might as well have never written a word in my whole life! What have I been doing all this time?!


Well, that’s all my fixed mindset crumbling down. If you’re not familiar with Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset, then you need to check out the book: Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, PH.D.

I, like most other cis male white people in my generation, was raised on a diet of “You can do it!” “You can be anything you put your mind to!” and “You are unique and talented with gifts from God!” They told me I could be anything I wanted to; they just never told me how.

This brings me to the now.

I have finished Saundra’s manuscript. It has gone through at least 7 revisions–two complete rewrites, countless edits. I have busted my ass to make this novel publish ready. I printed draft copies for test readers; I submitted first chapters for critiques at expensive conventions. I’ve done a lot!

For the past few months, I have been hunting for agents. I stalked my favorites on Twitter, Facebook, and their personal blogs. I read their wish lists, their advice posts. I learned what they read, what TV they watch. Armed with this knowledge, I sent out a batch of well-researched, carefully-crafted queries, and have heard a lot of nothing for it.

No worries, it only takes one acceptance! I will keep working, keep learning, and keep attending workshops like last weekend’s. I learned a ton about query crafting from Seth Fishman’s class, “How to Write a Query Letter and Find an Agent.” Sunday afternoon, I sat down to apply a new coat of polish to my query letter, only to find the original clunky and ugly to read. Yikes! Embarrassing! But, I fixed it–made it better.

Then, I set to converting Saundra’s manuscript into a more easily modified format. I imported her into Scrivener, and that’s when I saw it. Page one, paragraph three, word one—uncapitalized.

Holy. Crap. Nick. How did you miss that?

Well, I missed it because I only had two pairs of eyes on the manuscript for the past several edits. We just overlooked it—an honest oops. Sure, I felt like a complete moron for a while, but I know I’m not an idiot; I was just excited. I jumped the gun.
This brings me back to the Used Car analogy. After two conventions, one conference, and six text copies of my novel, I have spent over $900.00 getting Saundra ready to publish. That’s a pretty crappy used car, to be sure. I’m positive a professional editor would do me a world of good, but the fact of the matter is, I just can’t afford one at the moment: something to save my day-job monies for.

I’ll keep trying, of course. Every batch of query letters I send out will be better than the previous. With every class I take and critique I receive, I will reevaluate my manuscript to see where I can tighten it up. I’ll keep trying, and eventually, Saundra will get out there.

fixing house - east

Surprise!! The Permian Basin Writers’ Conference

Yesterday afternoon, just as I had gotten home from my shift at the Co-op, Chris calls me to tell me about the Permian Basin Writers’ Workshop that’s going on today. The event started with a catered dinner, at the local library where he had just performed with his quintet, and dinner started in an hour! No time to change–no time to get ready. Get back in the car, and get out to the library now!

Now, I am a faithful person, but I don’t usually believe in “God made it happen.” I believe the world works the way it works, and we were put here to enjoy, protect, learn from, and improve the world. I do not necessarily believe that God, or angels, or saints drop things in our laps, just because we pray occasionally.

I mean, seriously, how can anyone believe that when there’s still so much starvation, disease, and violence in the world. What kind of god would bless a middle-class white dude with unprecedented opportunity, while leaving whole other communities to starve?

Sorry… no.

Anyway, all of that having been said, it is pretty weird how this opportunity came to me. See, Chris and his quintet were playing a gig at the library. When the recital ended, he learned about the conference from the events coordinator. He called me, and, bam! I’m on my way to the conference.

Now, I didn’t have a perfectly stellar experience with the DFWcon. It was a great convention, and I am scheduled to attend next year, I just feel that I let myself down by choking so hard on my pitch session. I wasn’t looking to repeat that experience, so for this conference to pop up was a complete surprise. I had nothing prepared; I’d done no research. I just tossed myself in.

So that was last night. After dinner and the opening presentations ended, I decided that I should head on home (skipped the meet and greet and fled with my tail between my legs). Chris was waiting for me and we both squeed a little bit and got to talking about the event. He wagged a finger at me jsome for running away from an opportunity to speak to an agent (again), but instead of nagging, he sat with me and walked me through my pitch to help me build up some confidence about delivering it for real.

I did not sleep well last night. I think I woke up about … ninety-teen times. I don’t remember my dreams except that they were about people I used to know. I dragged myself out of bed an hour earlier than usual and did a tiny amount of research about this weekend’s agent (turns out he was already on my “to query” list).

I didn’t plan any of this! I intended to hang out with some friends today–take a day, off and easy. I wanted to put together some ideas for our D&D crew. But instead, I’m getting ready for a writing conference.

Sure, I know I said that I don’t believe God gives free opportunity to the privileged, while leaving the majority of humans to go hungry, but I have been praying for guidance–saying prayers like, “Please help me see opportunity, and help me find the courage to jump on it like a rabid, half-starved wildcat pounces on an overfed and quite slow-moving turkey.” And now here I am, gearing up for a last-minute event, bolstered by Chris’s coaching and the all-new pitch he helped me come up with. I’m nervous and hopeful. Wish me luck!

Oh, and in case I choke again this afternoon, my novel is an 80,000-word adult fantasy about the return of magic to earth, and the effect this has on a small apartment community in Midland, Texas.

DFWcon2015: Day 1

The official Day One began with (no surprise here) a hangover—it wasn’t terrible, just a bit of a headache and some drymouth. I got cleaned up and headed into town for the official first day of the DFW writers’ convention. Now, I am not a fan of driving, especially in cities, especially in big cities I’ve never driven around in before. So naturally, I was a bit frazzled upon arrival, but I found the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre without any difficulty, and parking was a snap.

Inside, I grabbed my name badge, bought my official DFWcon coffee mug (they were green this year), and spent the next 45 minutes riding the elevators, trying to figure out where everything was.

I had signed up for a couple of limited-seating workshops that I was pretty excited about. The first was called “Read and Critique,” presented by Harry Hall and David Goodner. The group would be reading the first several pages of our manuscripts aloud for comments and advice from the presenters and our peers. I attended a similar workshop last year, and it was pretty painless, so I was feeling really good about this one. The other workshop I signed up for was “Query Letter Workshop,” presented by Jenny Martin, Julie Murphy, Rosemary Clement-Moore, and Janet Taylor. This one had me a bit more nervous, because I didn’t know what it would entail, but I knew my query needed a lot of help.

The first open-access workshop I took part in after the opening remarks, was “Pitching Practice,” presented by Jenny Martin, Julie Murphy, and Rosemary Clement-Moore. Now, I wasn’t going to go to this workshop at all, because I didn’t want to terrify myself before my real pitch session. But, I decided at the last second that maybe if I humiliated myself early, I would be looser and a little more relaxed. Nowhere to go but up, right?

So, the room was packed. We were given a pep talk—some pointers and encouragement, and then told to break up into groups, pick a professional, and make our pitches! I got to sit down with the absolutely lovely Julie Murphy, and I delivered my pitch at about 900 words a second.

Bam. Done.


She asked a few questions, was very generous with her complements, and gave me some great advice. And then, like a robot on autopilot because my organic pilot had passed out from sheer terror, I thanked her, shook her hand, stood up, and left. Zerrt zerrt! Thank you very much! I will excuse myself now!

Okay, so, I’m not psychic. I’m not in her head, but I’ve done some face-to-face selling in my time, so I know what it looks like when I’ve made an impact, and when the shutters of disinterest come down.

I failed to make an impact, but she never shut down on me, so that’s good! This was a dry run, and I walked away with some great pointers: describe how magic works in the story—name the characters; give them some personality. Relax. Great advice! I wrote it all down. I even made myself a cheat sheet with bullet points so that if I choked, I could just pull it out to remind myself of critical topics and discuss.

I’ve been working on this story world since 1999; I know it like the back of my hand. All I need to do is start talking, and it will all flow. I even wrote down a catchy “elevator pitch.”

Confident! Excited! Ready.

Immediately after the workshop: my pitch session, for which I was late. Yeah, somehow I had convinced myself that my end time was actually my start time, and I was prepared to walk in at 10:10—exactly when my session should have ended. Fortunately, I caught my mistake a few moments after my group was sent in to make their pitches, and the gentleman at the door allowed me to skulk in after them. And skulk I did.

I tiptoed over to my scheduled agent, sat down, and proceeded to forget everything. I forgot my notes, my bullet points… that perfect elevator pitch. Poof. Big purple head of cotton candy.

She was so patient. She smiled and asked me questions about my novel, but I drew nothing but blanks. Hell, she could have asked me what my main character’s name was and I would have forgotten! So, I just stammered and laughed. Oh yes—my fatal nervous laughter. My skull is empty of brains but filling up with the sweat of a thousand terrors. Let’s laugh.

Anyway, after much effort, I managed to squeak out a hint about my plot, so she asked more specific questions. “Why is the world of magic coming back into the real world? Why is it coming back now? How will your villain do spoiler with spoiler?” My brain collided with itself again and again.

I know the answer to this,” it said with glee.

But what does she care about how the world got the way it is? None of that information is in the actual book,” it retorted. “To carry on about details that are not actually present in the manuscript would be downright irresponsible.”

To which my brain replied, “Yeah, but I know the answer! It means I know my world! I’ve thought all this out! All I have to do is get the mouth to start, and then charisma can take over and everything will work out.”

And then, “Charisma is being able to answer the question without this kind of one-man debate gumming up the works, so that’s right out. Besides, look at her. The shutter’s come down. She doesn’t care how well you know your stupid fantasy world.”

My brain actually sputtered then, “Then why the hell would she ask?!”

The response being, “Probably just to shut you up.”

That doesn’t even make any sense!”

YOU don’t make any sense!”

Now you’re just being juvenile!”

And she’s just being nice!!”

“… yeah, probably …”

Now, chuckle like a good little idiot, and let’s get out of here.”

And, what comes out of my mouth is, “Uhhhh *nervous chuckle*”

In the end, she said it sounded a little too quirky for her. Heh, yeah. How else could it sound coming from a big fat, purple-headed doofus? She invited me to send her five pages and a query anyway, (which I did last week, but of course I’m not holding my breath).

As I walked out, I remembered my cheat sheets, my elevator pitch, my bullet points—all of it. I just wore my best smile and chuckled, and when my buddy outside asked me how I did, I told the truth.

“I choked like a joke.” One of these days, I’ll look back on this and laugh for real.

Anyway, I know that I’m supposed to be all up-beat professional with my blog, but this is the way it happened. I’m not the only person whose brain turned to tomato aspic when it was needed the most. Maybe next year I’ll do just a little better.

But, I couldn’t mope around! I had a day and a half left, lots to do, and there were far too many people around to go about looking like the family dog who got left out in the rain on meatloaf night. So I hopped on the elevator and rode it upstairs, where I was just in time for my next workshop.

“Read and Critique.” Two pros and a handful of peers—read for a few minutes and we all critique each other. Man, there were some neat stories around the table, and some very useful critiques, too! I was still reeling just a little bit from my pitch session, so nerves got the better of me when it was my turn to read. I went way too fast, and I stumbled a little bit, but everyone was very kind and gave some great advice.

Then came lunch, catered by Wolfgang Puck. Two tables stood outside the lobby, piled with boxed lunches. I had no idea which one I had originally signed up for, but I was pretty sure it was the turkey option, so that’s what I grabbed. Lunch was… cute. It comprised a sandwich, a sliver of dill pickle, a chocolate-chip-esque cookie, and a bag of potato chips. Well, it was free, and it was food, and the flavors were on point, so I can honestly say I had no complaints about lunch.

Some of the ladies from the workshop invited me to sit outside with them, which was pretty intimidating, because I’m not very used to being invited to have lunch with other people. But, DFWcon is about networking as much as it’s about learning the craft and grabbing an agent, and how will I ever build up the courage to attend the receptions if I can’t even hang out with other writers? So, I put on my brave face, joined them, and we all ate and talked about our writing and inspirations. After that, we all exchanged cards and Twitter information.

I felt good, had some food in my belly and some caffeine in my blood stream—I felt pretty excited about my next workshop. Well, I guess it was just time for a brain fart. I ended up in the wrong room and sat through10 minutes of a class about writing creative nonfiction before I realized my error. So, I snuck out and tiptoed over to the “Query Letter Workshop,” but it was already going in full swing. I didn’t want to interrupt. So, I headed back downstairs to relax for a little while.

That was when I saw that Tex Thompson was giving a presentation called “Comma Sutra.” Now, if you have never had the opportunity to attend one of Tex’s classes, you absolutely must! She is brilliant and funny! I never don’t learn something from her. I attended, and I have to say I am happy I got mixed up previously, because I learned a ton! And, I laughed a lot too, which is what I really needed.

After this, I attended the class, “What to Expect when Publishing,” presented by Kendel Lynn. This was another eye-opening experience. *Big sigh* I tell you, this changes every year, it seems. I was just getting used to being responsible to organize signings and press releases and all that, but now there’s a huge focus on social media and… Blog tours?! I’d never heard that term before Saturday!

Well, as I sat in the class, trying to cram of this new information into my tomato aspic brain, I found myself wondering what I would write next—now that Saundra was finished. Our instructors said—and this was definitely not the first time I’d heard this—that once we get published, we are done with freedom. Our job is marketing and writing what our agent and publishers ask for. So, we are advised to write anything and everything we can before then—find what we really love.

I got to thinking about this after the class ended. I’ve written fantasy, both high and urban. I’ve tried my hand at sci-fi. While I thought about writing other things, I realized that I am finally done with Saundra’s story. There will be tweaks along the way, and I am sure that an editor some day will ask for edits, but the novel is finished, and I am finally ready to move on to something new. At that point, I had reached maximum brain capacity and was ready to shut down.

There was time for one more class before the dinnertime break, and the keynote and agents’ reception followed that. I was exhausted though, and while I felt bad for skipping the speech, I just did not have the fortitude to attend (or even run away from) the reception. So I called Chris to come get me, and we joined our friends for dinner at El Corazón de Tejas, where we shared the Sizzling Beef Parrillas, and I got a little tipsy with a Madria Rita. Fantastic dinner!

After all that, we headed back to our friends’ place, played a little WiiU, and then I crashed early with the hope of getting enough sleep before day 2.

DFWcon2015: Day 0.5

Chris and I rolled out of bed at about 6:00 am Friday morning. We’d packed most of what we needed the night before, so all I had to do was to make some last minute edits to my query letter and print out all the paperwork I’d need for the convention. We loaded up the car, grabbed snacks and breakfast on the way out of town, and hit the highway.

I can’t say much for the drive, mainly because I slept most of the way. Chris was so kind; he let me snooze as long as I needed, because he knew I was pretty anxious about the convention.

Dallas is a bit more humid than Midland, so I was pretty miserable outside in the 90+ degree weather. The Sheraton was, more or less, air-conditioned, but the skywalk—which I took to grab some Tex-Mex across the street—was not. By the time I descended into the Plaza of the Americas, I felt like I’d just jumped out of a sauna.

I ordered the Julio’s chicken flautas, beans, rice, and beef fajita tacos at J Pepe’s. It was pretty good—quick service and a good amount of food for under twenty bucks. Afterward, I mozied back to the Seminar Theatre where critically acclaimed author Steven James presented “Story Trumps Structure : How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules”

I was a little bit intimidated by the title of this presentation, because I feared it would be a 4-hour grammar and punctuation lesson. It was actually a great presentation about free-style writing. He described a set of creative tools for writers who are happiest writing without outlines, to help create punching, active, accessible fiction. Fantastic stuff! I haven’t taken this many notes since college. (Look below for links to his website and book)

The DFWcon pre-con mixer took place after the seminar, and I originally intended to be there, but nerves got the better of me. I called for evac minutes before the event kicked off, and Chris arrived with our hosts to whisk me away. Yeah, I chickened out, and I fear Friday evening would not be the last time that my nerves got the better of me that weekend. But that’s a story for another blog entry.

We began our evening with cocktails at VH. I tried the Flying Mule, the Cinco Pico, the Peach Julep, and the “El Chefo.” Man, that’s a lot of cocktails, and they were all fantastic! My favorites were the “El Chefo,” and the Flying Mule, as I’m a sucker for Campari and ginger.

After tying on a little bit of a buzz, we then headed into the Bishop Arts District for dinner at Hattie’s. We visited the bar while we waited for our table, and I enjoyed a Key Lime martini, which—oh my god—was pretty much key lime pie in a glass. With booze. It was really loud inside the restaurant, but that just made it easier to pay attention to my Low-country shrimp and grits. Fantastic.

We wandered around the art district for a little bit after eating, but the evening was just a bit too warm to enjoy, so we piled into the car and headed back to our friends’ place. I’d like to say something about the Dallas city lights at night, but I was pretty much asleep before the engine turned over. I’d also like to say that I slept like the dead, but with the convention—and my one-on-one pitch session—looming on the horizon, I barely slept at all.


Here are the places where I ate on Friday,

And, here are links to Steven James’s website, and his book: Story Trumps Structure.

Query and first 250…

So, I am taking part in Michelle4laughs’s July 2015 Critique Blog Hop. The first part is my Query, to be critiqued, and the second, is the first 250 words of my manuscript.  Here goes!

Title: Keeper of the Worldgate
Word count: 79,700
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy

Saundra Cole has been defined by her dress size—ridiculed and alienated by the world’s unrealistic ideals of beauty. She takes comfort in the solitude of her apartment and shares a secluded life with her cats, until the very fabric of reality fails and, in mere days, her whole world comes to an end. Keeper of the Worldgate is an 79,700-word, adult-urban-fantasy about a body shamed woman’s fight to prevent two worlds from descending into chaos when the veil separating them disappears.

In the beginning, small things—strange things—occur when Saundra’s back is turned. The views outside her windows appear subtly different each time she looks, and her apartment seems to grow when she’s not paying attention. As the days pass, other tenants abandon their homes with no explanation. Curious letters and frightening messages arrive, foretelling the end of everything normal, and those few people who do remain treat her as strangely significant to their own ambitions.

The very rules of reality break down when the rational and fantastical worlds begin to merge. Saundra discovers her mystical ability to create beauty with just a touch, and to banish her enemies with but a word. Strange and terrifying beings appear to protect and guide her, to teach her about her new role as gatekeeper between realms, but there are others who would take advantage of the inflow of magic.

A young man with supernatural control over technology makes a play for power that threatens to give physical form to all of mankind’s most deviant and horrific imaginings. If he is allowed to prevail, then he will bring about a era of living nightmares. It falls to Saundra to stop him and maintain order in the merging worlds.

As a large, gay man who grew up in small-town Texas, I understand the depression that comes from being a social punch-line. Saundra’s battle directly and symbolically mirrors the emotional struggle that we outcasts face every day. Age, body type, gender—things over which we have no control—our enemies use these as weapons, and like Saundra, we must transcend what society expects of us. Saundra, and beautiful, magical people like her, must serve as inspiration to those who’ve not yet found the courage to love themselves and let their own beauty shine.

I have a degree in visual design, and I have one published novel entitled Piggy Moto: All-Star Boar Band,which was published in June of 2011 by Argyll Productions.

[Report User]

Saundra Cole stared at the link on her screen, and her finger hovered over the mouse button. Her chest felt hollow, as if SuperiorBrain97 had reached right through her monitor and pulled her heart out. He’s just a kid, trolling me. She scolded herself. It’s just a stupid prank!

“I don’t want to get him in trouble.” Her voice barely came out at all. She sniffled and frowned, reading the comment for what felt like the hundredth time.

SUPERIORBRAIN97: Stoopid fat dress 4 stoopid fat bitch.

He had left a one-star rating, thus relegating Saundra’s item–one handmade Victorian-inspired fantasy woman’s gown, size 22—to the sixth page on the auction site. 197 other dresses claiming to be fantasy, handmade, and costume, were listed before hers. Most of them were imported–a fraction of the price, and a fraction of the size.

Nobody will even see it until it’s too late, she realized. She set her jaw, and clicked the button.

“Prank or not…” she sighed, trembling slightly. “No! I need this money. I’m sorry if this gets you in trouble… Superiorbrain… but no. That’s just abusive, and I need this money. This is how I make my living.” Saying this did nothing to make her feel better about reporting him. She reminded herself that this was the only way to get the comment and downvote removed from her auction, but that didn’t help either.