Love of Money

1 Timothy 6:10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Money is simply how we control exchange. It is neither evil, nor holy. It’s the love of money—of material wealth—that poisons us.


In the U.S., I was raised believing that money was the root of all happiness and power, that money reflects one’s work and value to society. If you had a ton of money, then you deserved a “better” life. This is what I learned.

When I was a kid, I learned this philosophy from my parents: Why buy something that you can make? If I saw a cool spaceship toy in a commercial; Mom and Dad would give me a refrigerator box and some crayons. I saw an awesome fantasy costume at a festival, Mom taught me how to sew. I saw delicious looking treats in the grocery store, Dad taught me how to cook.

That having been said, I remember being so envious of some friends in high school because they lived in a house that was twice the size of my family’s. They had great computers, camcorders, cars… I felt so poor. Then one day my friend mentioned how much his father got paid (his mom didn’t work), and it was the same amount that my parents earned. I realized then that we too could be living in a big house with great cars and computers and camcorders! But, my parents were helping their families—sending money to aunts and uncles, grandparents… We earned the same amount of money, we just shared ours.

Then as an adult, I met a man whose envy and coveting were so profound that it became infections. When I met him, lived a very humble life, and I was more or less content. He taught me to feel deprived, though. I lived in a little apartment, and not a spacious house. I drove a small, used car, and not a big, shiny, new one. I didn’t vacation. I didn’t throw weekly parties. I learned to hate my life, because I did not have the money to keep up with what became my expectations. My debt ballooned from $2,000 to $16,000 in just a few years. I became miserable.

Then I met a lady who (at the time) worked three jobs. She worked in the shop at the company that employed me, she worked as a maid, and she cleaned schools. All so she could live in a tiny apartment, feed and clothe her kids, and send money home to her parents in Mexico so they could get the food and medicine they needed to survive, with the hopes of relocating legally to the U.S.. I never saw her without a smile on her face. She always waved and smiled and greeted me, and even though we didn’t speak the same language, I felt happier around her than I did with my White and English-speaking coworkers. At least around her, I didn’t have to listen to people complain about not having enough money for a vacation.

Then, I met the man whom I would ultimately marry. He had some money saved up, some investments that were holding steady, but he was living an extremely frugal life. He offered to help me out of debt. He helped me start over, and bit by bit, I began to unlearn the nasty money habits I’d learned previously. Now, we are comfortable. We have a cute little house, no debt (unless you consider mortgage debt), lots of love and creativity, and jobs we enjoy. If we really want something, be it a neat piece of home décor, a type of exotic food, or a ren-faire outfit, we make it.

Sure, I occasionally hear a figure about “poverty level income” and “livable wages,” and I will feel sick to my stomach, but I can look around and see my life and remind myself that we’re just fine. We have stained glass in our front door, and awesome faux metalwork in my office window. We have a closet full of unique costumes. Our weekly home cooked meal plans include Tex-Mex, Stir Fry, Curry, and any-darn thing else we want to eat. We keep our rings in U.S.A.-Made, Lead-free stained glass trinket boxes. We have paintings (not prints of paintings—actual paintings) on our walls. We wash with luxury soap, burn hand-made scented candles and incense, and bathe in luxurious bath oils.

We are rich, even though we don’t have a lot of money.

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.

…silence…

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.

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.

Gallery

A Little Place in the Wasteland

The East Face I love this little place. It speaks to me of dreams not yet lost to the ages.

The East Face
I love this little place. It speaks to me of dreams not yet lost to the ages.

The North Face Nobody around for miles, and it's just standing here out in the open.

The North Face
Nobody around for miles, and it’s just standing here out in the open.

The South Face The damage to the roof is pretty extensive. This is going to take a lot of work to fix.

The South Face
The damage to the roof is pretty extensive. This is going to take a lot of work to fix.

The West Face A lot of dirt and sand has blown in through the windows over the years.

The West Face
A lot of dirt and sand have blown in through the windows over the years.

History in the Making

Ladies and gentlemen across the nation, get your cameras ready. Prepare for the signs posted in store windows. Prepare for the notifications pasted to bathroom doors. Capture these things you see, show them to the world, and let us remember this moment in history as it comes and goes–before it is rewritten.
Let us record these visions before corporations try to sweep them under the rug that keeps our memory’s feet from feeling the chill bite of true history. Let us record them before the News Media distracts us with filtered, comfortable visions of what will be our recent past. Let us record them for the sake of the next people who will feel this sting of bigotry.
This will pass! This will, in time, all go away; what we are witnessing now is merely the final tantrum of a dying beast. However, the claws of the beast, which break our hearts now, will not be destroyed. No! The corporations, companies, and individuals will go on, and will likely never feel the bite of our collective indignation. We will not run them out of business; we will not run them out of office. No. They will not suffer, nor will they hurt as they have hurt us. This is simply as it is.
We will boycott, but we will not bankrupt. We will unite, but we will not destroy. We will rally, but we will not convert the world, because we have already won. The world stands quietly with us, and we will all wait and watch as this monster draws its final breath, as it has time and time again in our nation’s history.
So get out your cameras! Show the world the face of desperation. Etch this moment in history, because soon it will all be over.