The Important Stuff

A Beginning

A story has to begin somewhere. If you've ever played a RPG then you know that many stories start in taverns. How else are you to gather...

Monday, June 24, 2019

Open Your Eyes

Haven't done much writing recently. I am blaming a broken brain and general life stress. Slowly getting back into the swing of things. I finished a scene in Strife's story. I've done a few edits and rewrites in Lucas's story but I still have a long way to go with that one. And because of a lucid dream I am working on a short story for Lucas set more than a year before book one. I will post it here when I'm done with it.

Meanwhile, I wrote this in response to a writing prompt back in April that used a different picture of the Angel Oak in South Carolina. I’ve been eyeing the Angel Oak as the visual for the Nexus in Strife’s story for a while. This may or may not be how it eventually goes down, but this is one version of how Strife learns about his Destiny.


 "It's a tree." Strife was tired of this shit and had better things to do than listen to some crazy bitch. He regretted leaving his smokes back on the porch, he needed something to do with his hands so he tucked his thumbs in his jeans pockets as he waited for the old woman to continue.

Mama Kee let out a long suffering sigh as she mumbled something about stubborn ass men. "This here ain't been just a tree for years boy. Now gimme your hand."

 His brow arched at the request, though in the few weeks he'd known the crazy old woman she had done nothing to earn his distrust. With an annoyed huff he stretched out his left arm, his palm up. "How can a tree be more than just a tree?"

"Your stubborn ass won't trust nothing you can't see for yourself. So I'm gonna show you." When she gripped his hand he could feel the rough callouses earned by someone who had worked all their life. As she looked at his palm he almost asked if she was going to tell his fortune, but then quick as a flash she pulled a short blade from her belt and sliced across the heel of his hand to leave a deep cut that bled immediately. The wound wouldn't last though, even as the beast howled within his chest at the violation, he could feel the wound start to stitch itself closed. It wasn't like her blade was silver after all.

"Mother of Fuck! What'd you cut me for?" He yelled as he tried to yank his arm back only to find her grip like iron and she wasn't about to let go. Instead she yanked him forward like he was a child to her until she could press his bloody palm against the rough bark.

"Hush boy. Stop your hollering and pay attention. Open your eyes to see what is real." Her hand kept his in place no matter how much he pulled. It shouldn't have been possible, she barely reached his chest standing up and was old to boot. He could have picked her up and broken her across his knee, or so he had thought before that moment.

"My fucking eyes are open and you need to let me the fuck...." His words trailed off as he felt heat beneath his palm. The bark was still rough and grey yet as he watched, light began to seep out from between the edges. The light traveled up into the branches and down into the roots. The moss seemed to sparkle as if permanently laden with dew and the leaves grew translucent and golden.

"Now your eyes are open boy." She released his hand so he could pull it back, but the glow did not stop. The glow spread out from the tree like veins beneath the soil. Hundreds of veins, some thick as the trunk itself, others thin as spider silk and they all joined together within the tree. "This here is what you call a Nexus point. Where ley lines come together... This here Nexus was formed over hundreds of years, from the time of the red man who first walked these lands, to when the white man came to conquer the land and was strengthened and hardened by the blood of the black man enslaved to work the land."

Strife had never seen anything so beautiful, nor anything that felt so powerful. It was like he could hear and feel the heartbeat of the land. "Why you showing me this?"

Mama Kee laughed, "Ain't you been listening to a thing I said boy? You're the Guardian of this land, of this Nexus. Within you runs the blood of the white man who conquered the land, the black man enslaved to the land, and the beast within you is from the blood of the red man who first learned of this place and knew it needed protecting. You were born for this boy. This here is your destiny."

Strife only had one response to that. "Fuck me."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

To Hunt A Rogue. Chapter 1

The billboard just said motel with faded numbers that declared the price just beneath it. Only 35 for a night, any room, no discounts. They offered free HBO, though if the TV worked it was a miracle. By the time folks pulled off the highway looking for a place to rest their head they didn’t care as it was at least twenty miles to another exit. The parking lot full of out of state tags, RV’s, and a handful of big rigs. There were more trucks parked behind the 24-hour gas station across the street. Only other establishment at the exit was a Waffle House and it did brisk business at all hours of the day or night.

The booths were full of tired families and even more exhausted truck drivers. The waitresses moved swiftly from table to table to ensure all drinks were full and orders taken. Even the stools at the counter were all occupied though those who sat there looked askance at the end of the counter where the occupant of the last stool looked over a menu as he flipped a battered zippo between his fingers. Words had been etched into the metal long ago, but years of use had worn most of them indecipherable. Only the name emblazoned on the lid was still easily read, Strife.

The waitress assigned the counter took the cash from a customer and wished them a good night. After she tucked her tip into her apron pocket she fished out her order pad and made her way back to the end of the counter. The tall man had ordered a coffee when he first sat down to peruse the menu. A pile of empty creamer container was piled up next to an equally large pile of empty sugar packets, his mug half empty. “You ready honey? This for here or to go?”

“Yeah, ta go.” The man’s voice was a deep rumble with an accent so thick molasses should have dripped off his words. When he looked up from the menu there was something unnatural about his eyes. The waitress hadn’t known that eyes came in that shade of yellow gold. “Two hashbrowns, one large smothered, covered, diced, and capped. Then a triple smothered and chunked. Steak, T-Bone, rare. Three eggs scrambled with cheese. Bacon, n’extra bacon. Two waffles, gimme a lotta them syrup packet things. ‘Nother order of eggs, sunny side up. Two grits with cheese, extra butter. And… ‘nother coffee ta go an’ some OJ.” He set the menu down with a smile that was more of a smirk.

Her pen worked across the page as she wrote down enough food for a table of four. “Sure thing honey. Want a refill while you wait?”

“Yeah, an’ some toast with grape jelly.”

“Coming right up.” Something about the way he looked at her, the way he smiled, made her face heat. She was a married woman with kids half grown and here she was blushing like she had at 16 when an older man smiled at her. She topped off his coffee and left more creamer and sugar within his reach as she put in his order. She made the toast herself and placed it in front of him before she went to check that everyone else in her area was doing okay.

A couple of kids stood at the jukebox before they ran squealing back to their table. Over the diner’s speakers some bubble gum pop song girl was chirping about kissing a girl and liking it. The man at the counter mumbled about crap ass music as he spread butter on his toast followed by the grape jelly he’d been given. As he ate his toast he watched the cook work the grill while others in the diner watched him.

He had the tan of a man who worked outdoors most of his life and was tall with a long-limbed build. The faded black t-shirt he wore did little to hide his muscular physique, or the sleeve of tattoos on his left arm. His hair was long, wild, and just barely contained by the pony tail he’d pulled it back into. He wore jeans that had seen better days with one knee ripped out. The combat boots he wore looked as if they had seen their own share of battles. A black leather jacket hung on the back of his chair. Obviously well cared for as the leather was clean and oiled.

By the time his order was ready he’d finished his toast and coffee and stood by the juke box. He pushed a quarter into the slot and made his own selection. As the waitress called that his order was ready Trent Reznor’s voice was heard over the speakers. While his order was being totaled he pulled his jacket on and tucked the battered zippo into a front jean pocket. From the other he pulled a roll of bills and handed the waitress enough to cover his meal and leave her with a nice tip. “Thanks darlin’.”

“Any time honey.” Her cheeks heated again as she completed the order and stuck the receipt with the others next to the register. She watched him leave with his bags of food and thought that her husband was gonna get lucky when she got off shift. Too bad his ass didn’t look so good in a pair of jeans anymore. With a bit of a sigh she turned away from the register as someone called out to get her attention. It was going to be a long night.

Empire of Shenendril: The Sapphire Chronicles One. Chapter 1

The sun had risen above the horizon only an hour before, but many of the denizens of the House of Sighing Shadows had just found their beds. As the most exclusive brothel in the Capital the courtesans who called the House home kept odd hours. Many of the clients who had spent the night with their favorite courtesan were already on their way home or to whatever other business they might have. The discreet staff of the House knew not to make eye contact with the members of the aristocracy as they exited the rooms that lined the upstairs halls. While they would not speak with the clients they would assure that horses and carriages would be ready to convey them from the estate in the style they were accustomed to.

As the head of housekeeping, Milly Snyder oversaw the large staff who kept the House in impeccable order. From clean sheets to polished floors. There was no part of the brothel which did not receive her attention. Normally the servants used the hidden passages in the walls to move from place to place, but Milly had an important message to deliver and did not have time to delay. As she strode purposefully down the hall on the second floor she marked in her mind what needed to be dusted and mopped. The floor would not be considered fully clean if she could not see her reflection in the dark tiles. Those who partook of the services of the brothel expected the very best. It was Milly’s job to see that they received it.

She pulled her time piece from her apron to glance at the face once more and with a sigh she shook her head. It was much too early to disturb the courtesans, but she had instructions to carry out and it could not wait till the courtesan’s normal wakeful hours. As she arrived at the last door she rapped lightly upon the heavy door, “Master Lucas? Are you within?”

With only a muffled groan as an answer she sighed a second time and tried the latch. As she found the door unlocked she bustled inside and made her way over to the windows that overlooked the gardens below, “Time to awaken, Master Lucas. The day has dawned, and the sun is in the sky.” She pulled the curtains open to flood the room with the bright spring morning sun. From the large four-poster bed, she heard a voice grumble and whine about how early it was.

“No more time to lay about, Master Lucas. You’ve been summoned,” she said cheerily as she made her way around the room to open all the curtains before she threw open the doors that led onto the balcony. “Do you hear that? Even the song birds are calling for you to awaken.”

A pillow flew from the bed, but Milly deftly sidestepped the projectile. “Now that was rude. You know I wouldn’t be in here to wake you if there was not a need.” She picked up the pillow and carried it back to the bed, dropped it on the foot of the bed so it couldn’t be launched at her again. “The Procurer sent me to fetch you and…. Oh, Hameb’s Tits!”

Her exclamation came as she grabbed the blankets to pull them down off the roused form of the courtesan, only he was not alone. Three others shared his bed this morning and now all four complained at the sudden influx of daylight on their rest. Milly stood there with her hands on her hips as she just shook her head, “Out! You, you, and you... out now. Back to your own beds you silly sluts,” her tone was a mix of exasperation with a touch of affection.

The other courtesans rose and grabbed up their discarded clothes as they complained about being driven from their rest. Only when the last of them were gone did Milly turn back to the courtesan she had been sent to awaken. “Didn’t you have a client last night? How did you ever have the energy to bring those three to your bed?”

Lucas Leander stretched, his arms over his head as his back arched and his toes wiggled. With a low groan, he collapsed once more then looked up at her with a sly smile. “My client was… disappointing,” he said as he held up his pinky finger.

Milly rolled her eyes and shook her head. She picked up the pillow he, or one of his bedmates, had tossed at her then she whacked him over the head with it. “So, you consoled yourself with an orgy? Silly boy.”

Lucas laughed as he grabbed the pillow, sat up, and rested it across his naked lap. “Well it didn’t start out that way. It started off with Gabriel and I arguing over who had the best oral technique while we ate a late dinner. Cosette and Adrienne volunteered to judge and since I have the biggest room we came here.”

“Do not tell me who won. I do not need the sordid details.” Milly said as she snatched up his robe from the floor and held it out to him. “You have been summoned so you need to get up and get dressed. You can nap on the way there.”

“Well, you know I won. I’m not the highest earner for nothing.” He said with a grin as he stood and slipped on the robe. “Who? It better not be Viceroy Devonshire. I told him he had to make his appointments at least two weeks in advance.”

“It is not Viceroy Devonshire,” Milly reassured him as she walked into his dressing room. She flung open the door of his wardrobe to look at the racks full of clothes and sighed. “You’ve been summoned by the Mistress. She wishes you to join her at the country estate and by carriage instead of your,” her hand fluttered in the air as she grasped for the word, “popping here and there, it will take you all day to travel. So, the earlier you start the better. The message said to pack light.”

“The Mistress?” The mention of that name was more effective than all the coffee from the Goddess Isles. It banished all thoughts of sleep from his mind. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” He scurried past her into the washroom and left the robe on the floor again in his rush.

“You weren’t awake enough yet,” Milly called over her shoulder as she pulled outfits off the racks to pack. She did not think there was a courtesan in the whole House who had as many clothes as Lucas did. He was on a first name basis with most of the finest tailors in the city. From talented novices to those who served the Imperial family.

“I’m awake now!” Lucas called as hot water filled his tub in the attached washroom. “Did the message say why I am being summoned? Is it for a party? A special client? What?”

“You’ll need to ask the Procurer those questions. He doesn’t share such details with me.” His travel trunk was tugged out of its hiding place in the young man’s expansive dressing room where she opened it at the foot of his bed. Milly carefully selected from his wardrobe of silks, velvets, and lace in every color of the rainbow. She made sure that each shirt had pants, vest, coat to match along with the proper shoes as she folded them neatly into the travel trunk. “Which cologne do you wish to take?”

“Ummm, Summer Passion for daytime and Darkest Midnight for nightwear,” He called as he splashed water in his rushed bath. “Is anyone else being summoned?”

“Just you, love. Which doesn’t surprise me as you are Her favorite.” Milly said as she placed the bottles of cologne in a small carrying case so they wouldn’t spill on the trip. “Anything else you absolutely cannot do without?”

“My ivory comb and new brush… oh, and my new makeup case… It is under the vanity.” He called out once more.

“You are more high maintenance than most of the girls in this House.” Milly chuckled as she retrieved the makeup case.

“I heard that!” Lucas answered with a laugh of his own. When he emerged, he had a towel around his slim waist and a second towel twisted around his blonde hair. “When did the message arrive?”

“Just after dawn I think. I was called to the Procurer’s office for morning reports and then came straight here when I was released to do so.” She held up two different shirts. “Blue or green for the trip?”

“Blue.” Lucas pointed as he sat down at his vanity and pulled the towel from his shoulder length hair so he could comb it out. “So, you’ve no idea what this is about?”

“If I knew, love, I would tell you, but I am just as much in the dark as you are.” She laid out the young man’s clothes. “Are you nervous?”

He laughed though it sounded forced, “Why should I be nervous? It is only the Mistress summoning me out of the blue: the person to whom I owe everything. Why, if not for Her I would still be picking pockets in the back alleys of the Gulch. Instead I am here servicing the high and mighty on the Zenith.”

Milly met his gaze in the mirror, “Master Lucas, you have nothing to worry about. There is no one else in the House who is as beloved by the Mistress as you.”

“I hope you’re right.” He smiled at her then returned to his preparations. With Milly’s help he was dressed in finely tailored clothes and his new blue rose broach was pinned to his coat. It matched his eyes. A jeweled clip was used to pull his golden blonde hair back into a simple tail at the nape of his neck. He stood before his wall-sized mirror to check his appearance. “How do I look?”

“Beautiful as always, my dear.” Milly said with a smile. It was hard not to be jealous of the courtesans, even boys like Lucas were beautiful to look upon. They made Milly feel plain by comparison. “You go on ahead downstairs. I’ll summon one of the lads to come and fetch your trunk.”

Lucas nodded as he gave his silk coat a final tug. “I’ll bring you something back from the countryside, Milly. I promise it won’t be just a clod of dirt.”

“If you bring me back dirt I’ll make you eat it.” She said with fire in her tone. They both shared a laugh before he hurried out the door. When he was gone, Milly shook her head then went to pull the bell cord to summon a porter. Head of housekeeping had its perks. To not have to be the one to carry the heavy travel trunk down the narrow back stairs of the House was one. As she pulled the sheets off the bed the door opened to admit the porter and two more maids. She pointed to the trunk, “Take that to the waiting carriage. And you two, clear everything. The next highest earner is moving up.”

As the maids set to work, they took knick knacks, books, and other personal trinkets that belonged to Lucas off the shelves. Milly walked out onto the balcony to have a moment with her thoughts. As she looked down on the garden she twisted the carved ebony bracelet she wore at her wrist like so many other employees of the Mistress. She did not know why the Procurer seemed so certain that Lucas would not return to the House, but it had been horribly difficult to hide that knowledge from the psionically gifted youth. The House already seemed a darker place without his light and laughter. She hoped whatever the Mistress had planned for the boy it was better than being a high-priced whore. She turned back to the room to see more servants had arrived with crates. It was time to get to work if they were going to have the next highest earner moved into this room by the end of the day.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Trademarks and intellectual property rights or how I learned to love Cock.

I've not been writing much recently. New job saps the creative will most days. But first draft of Lucas's story is done, and I wrote a little over 3k words on something for my werewolf Strife. Finally figured out how to make his story into a trilogy. But other than that, not much writing, but still a good bit of reading. Speaking of which...

Have y'all heard of #CockyGate?

The long and the short of it is that a romance author decided to trademark the word Cocky. She then went about enforcing her trademark by having Amazon take down other romance books with Cocky in the title, even books that pre-dated her series. Other authors were forced to change their titles, redo covers, websites, all of the things that self published authors do to market themselves. All of it had to be changed to remove the word Cocky.

Sounds like an asshole thing to do huh? Yeah, I thought so too. So did the Romance Writers Guild, some lawyers who are also authors, and a whole mass of self published and traditionally published authors. The author who filed the trademark is now being taken to court to have the trademark voided or whatever it is one does when doing away with a trademark. With so many against her it is doubtful the trademark will stand. But it certainly made authors more aware of how much a trademark can be used to screw people over.

I write primarily fantasy, but often with romantic sub plots. As much as I enjoy a thrilling battle scene, I also really get a kick out of romantic angst, drama, and love. I blame my Grandmother for letting me stay up late to watch the over the top dramatic night time soap operas of the 80s. It didn't matter where we were on a Friday night. Grandmother always made sure we were home in time for Dallas. But let's not forget Falcon Crest, Dynasty, Knots Landing, etc. They were also not to be missed TV. Glamour, drama, and steamy romance. Yummy! So I dabble my toes in the romance genre even if I don't consider the stories I want to tell primarily romances. Romance is just one part of the whole.

So while this is something happening in the Romance genre, that doesn't mean that writers of science fiction and fantasy are safe from similar things happening. Tonight I came across information that another author is trying to trademark some common words for the genres: Tamer, Star Justice, The Destroyer, & Dragon Slayer.

I don't know about you, but the only The Destroyer I'm okay with is Conan and he'll hear the lamentations of your women before he takes this lying down.

But y'all see how bad this could get? Those are very common themes in genre literature, themes that have been around for decade upon decade. Now imagine you write your own take on these common tropes and here comes along Mr Trademark Troll getting your hard work erased from Amazon because he got lucky with his Trademark. Now you have to get new cover art done, redo your website, your social media, redo any links you've got out there that led to your original book. You will lose all ranking you had previously so you'd basically be starting over trying to get your book noticed by the reading public. That's fucked up man.

And this is not the only area where Trademark trolls are striking. Just a few weeks before I learned about #cockygate I learned about something happening in the BJD world. BJD = Ball Jointed Doll. Very expensive dolls that can be customized. There's a whole industry. They are gorgeous. I want one made up to look like Lucas someday. Anyways! A person who is already infamous for recasting dolls. Taking dolls already created by the original artist, making a cast of the face and body parts, then selling the recast doll for less than the original artist who put all the work into creating the unique look in the first place. On top of their shitty business model, now they have begun to apply for Trademarks on the names of small time artists and BJD makers.

How could this hurt? With the official trademark he could get the original works taken down from various e-commerce sites, effectively driving the artists away and leaving only his cheap re-casts available to be purchased. And as many of the artists aren't exactly rolling in the cash, they wouldn't be able to fight against it. Which also explains why they wouldn't have applied for their own Trademarks. It takes money to go through the process, something small time artists and authors aren't going to have a lot of.

How do we combat this? Well for one, don't buy their shit. Don't support Trademark trolls with your hard earned dollars.

But Capitalism you say! Fuck Capitalism if this is something that is encouraged. This is about art and integrity. Not the means to pay for Trademarks to squash the competition. You want to prove your good? Then prove it. Don't cheat by taking others out of the running just because you got to the Trademark office first. That's as bad as the people who pay for fake reads on Kindle Unlimited.

Now the question is, would I ever Trademark any of my work? Yes. I won't tm the word Empire, but I will tm the name of MY Empire. I won't tm Lucas, but I will tm Lucas Leander. I won't tm humans, but I will tm the unique races I create. You get it? I'll Trademark that which is unique to my work, not that which is common across numerous authors. There are hundreds of fantasy Empires out there in the great wide world of media. But there is only one Empire of Shenendril. Y'all get where I am going with this?

In other words, if you are going to Trademark, do so the right way. Trademark what is unique about your work, not what is common just to take out the competition. Protect your intellectual property, don't use it just to squash competition. Don't be a bag of dicks.

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Story Of Creation

The white-haired priest adjusted his robes as he waited for the children to settle onto their mats. Orphans. Abandoned. Unwanted. Exploited by vile men and women. They were the children of a society that could not contain the rot at its core. The most vulnerable. The ones who suffered first and hardest when times were lean. May the eternal virgin, Rachiel, show mercy upon their innocent souls.

“Are we ready young ones?” He tapped the end of his staff against the floor as all eyes turned to him. “Thank you for your attention. Are you ready for a story? A story of life. Of love. Of betrayal. Of war. The first story. Without this story there would be no others. Good. Now listen well.”

“The Sleeping God awoke and thus reality was born. It was not yet as we know it though. There were no trees. No rivers. Not even so much as a pebble. No crawling insect. No flying bird. No dog nor cat. Reality was an empty place and the Sleeping God was lonely. But he was a God, he did not have to be lonely if he did not want to be, thus he created his first children. From the very essence of magic itself he created the Dragons.”

“They were beautiful the Dragons. Their scales twinkled like stars and sparkled like jewels even before such things existed. As bright as the sun, or as dark as the deepest shadow. They came in every color imaginable. There were Dragons beyond count. From ones small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, to mighty beasts larger than the largest mountains we now know. Each Dragon followers of the laws of Order, Neutrality, or Chaos.”

“The Dragons never knew deprivation for if they hungered they simply created something to hunt. If they found their situation dull, they shaped the reality around them to be entertained. If they needed to feel love, they were surrounded by their many brothers and sisters who would take one to the breast of the other.”

“Their Father watched his children grow and multiply. He was pleased with his creation and knew it would continue long after him. So, it was he resumed his long sleep. With their Father once more asleep the Dragons chose the wisest, strongest, and oldest among them to lead as a council. There were 8 Dragons on that ancient council and even you know their names children.”

“The Dragons of Order voted on who was to lead them. The gold Mage, the silver Scholar, and the copper Alchemist were given three seats. It was said the Dragons of Chaos did battle so that only the strongest would lead them. The red Antagonist, the green Leviathan, and the blue Defiler won their seats. No one knows how the Dragons of Neutrality picked who would sit upon the council from among their number. But in the end, it was the black Passionate and the white Stoic who stepped forth to take their reserved places.”

“You may ask how long the Dragons held dominion over all of reality. But what is time to immortal beings created of pure magic? Only know that it was time beyond mortal reckoning. Then, in the blink of an eye, they were no longer alone. They were no longer the only children of the Sleeping God. The Young Gods were born.”

“But how were they born I see the question in your eyes. There are some who say the Sleeping God dreamed them into existence. Others say they simply appeared out of the ether. And then there are some who believe they are all part of the Sleeping God still, only manifested outside of his divine form. The how does not matter children, we’ll save those theological discussions for when you are older, all that matters is that they appeared.”

“At first the Dragons and the Young Gods lived in peace. Some might even say they were friends. Were they not both children of the Sleeping God? But as you may well know, siblings do not always love one another as they should. And as such did the Dragons and the Young Gods grow distant. You see children, the Dragons were made of the very essence of magic. It was in their blood. They created life with just a thought. The Young Gods did not connect with the essence of magic as easily. Of course, they could touch it. They could channel it. They could create great wonders and often did. But they lacked the Mastery of Magic that the Dragons had.”

“In time, much as the Sleeping God, their Father, did. The Young Gods wanted more. The Emperor of the Young Gods, Anael did cleave to his consort Nalerah, and from their union the first humans were born. This is why you must always respect your fellow humans children for we all carry a touch of the divine within us.”

“Now, where was I? Ah yes, the birth of humanity. The Young Gods loved their creations. They each shared some of their divine knowledge with us. They lived among us to protect us, shelter us. Each of the Young Gods influenced and shaped humans in their unique way. In time the Young Gods realized that there were flaws in their creations. While they were immortal, flawless, powerful. We were weak. Our lives were but brief sparks compared to their eternal flames. We were populous, as the Young Gods had given us the gift of creation within ourselves. But just as we achieved wisdom, our lives ended.”

“The Young Gods wanted their children to live as they did. So it was, that they turned to the Dragons. They went to the Council of Dragons as they were the oldest, wisest, and strongest of all. The Young Gods asked of their elder siblings, teach our children magic. Teach our children how to extend their lives so they could live and love as one with their creators.”

“Now the Dragons had watched from afar since the beginning. They found humans intriguing, but were we interesting enough to make immortal? The Council deliberated for generations of the lives of humans. When they returned the Council was split. The Dragons of Order thought the humans could benefit from their gifts. But the Dragons of Chaos did not. To them humans were little better than the creations they themselves brought into existence when they wished to hunt. The Dragons of Neutrality sided with Chaos in this. Humanity was the creation of the Young Gods, if they wanted humans to be immortal, them let them find the way and means to do so.”

“This angered and vexed Anael. But what could he do? Even though by now humans outnumbered Dragons, they could not simply wrest the power away from the Dragons. Such was impossible. As he puzzled over this problem Anael went away. Where he went no one knows for certain. It is believed he went to the very edge of reality and there he gazed into the void which had been all there was before the Sleeping God awoke. What he saw there. What he learned there, we can only guess. For you see children, when Anael returned he was not alone. With him was the first and most powerful of the demons of vice. We shall not speak their names here today children, to do so would be to call their gaze upon your innocence and I will not have you so corrupted.”

“Anael had learned something from his time away. And one by one he took each of his siblings away to teach them as well. And one by one they returned with another demon. Where once there was only good and innocence, now there was the potential for evil and wickedness. But you ask, why did Anael, Emperor of the Young Gods, bring evil into the world? Well children, because only the demons could teach humans the next lesson they needed to learn. From the demons of vice, we learned how to hate. We learned how to make war. We learned how to kill in anger. Thus, did the first war begin.”

“I do not tell you this to frighten you children. We look to the Young Gods for guidance. We, in our innocence, think them infallible. But I tell you today children, even the Gods themselves can make mistakes.”

The Priest fell silent as he let the weight of his words fall heavy upon the shoulders of the children. He smiled when there were no tears or protests to what he said. They were strong these children who had known the evils of the world so well. There were adults who refused to accept that the Young Gods were not perfect. He cleared his throat before he continued.

“The Dragons were completely unprepared for war. In those first days it was a slaughter as the humans attacked many Dragons who had once been their friends. Humanity swarmed like ants armed with weapons crafted by the god Razot himself. Where we went, only death and destruction was left in our wake. But you ask, didn’t the dragons have magic? Didn’t they know how to hunt? Did they not know how to fight?”

He stroked his long beard, “There are differences in how one fights to feed their belly, and how one fights to take a life in anger. There are differences in fighting for dominance when you know one side will yield once they know they are beaten. But in war children, there is no mercy.”

“No mercy. Every Young God, but one, fought by the side of their children and the Demons of Vice. Sweet Rachiel could not watch so much death. So much destruction. She turned her light away from the war her brothers and sisters fought. She wept for every life lost, from human to Dragon.”

“Their bodies, the bodies of the Dragons fell like meteors from the sky. They piled one atop the other until there were so many you could not tell where one began, and the others ended. As their magic was extinguished their scales went dull. Their bodies created the land you see now. As more fell, the violence of their fall rent chasms into the newly made ground. When the largest of the Dragons were thrown down mountains were formed. Each life lost left a tear in the sky, the magical blood spilled the light of the stars we see now. Rachiel’s tears continued to fall like rain to fill the depressions in the newly formed land. Soon there were lakes, rivers, and oceans.”

“While all this death happened, something strange took place. Amid so much tragedy, life was created. As magic ran like blood from the bodies of the Dragons it met with the Divine Tears of the Eternal Virgin. Grass grew. Trees rose into the heavens. Flowers burst into existence. Soon insects crawled, birds flew, and creatures both predator and prey found their homes in the new world created.”

“The war raged for generations. Humans born, lived, and died knowing only eternal war. Yet even war between gods, man, and dragons cannot last forever. In time only the oldest, strongest, and wisest remained. The Council called for a parlay. It was either that, or the last of them would perish, and possibly magic itself, reality itself would be extinguished. They met with the Young Gods and it was a very different meeting since their last. They were forced to agree to the Young God’s demands and give humans magic. They could not give us immortality, but they were able to awaken the spark within humans that we could learn magic. We could harness and channel magic to a degree, of course we will never be as strong as the Dragons or our creators.”

“In exchange for the gifts the Young Gods allowed the last 8 Dragons to live. They were not to interfere in the lives of humans who had moved to the newly created world and claimed it as their own. It is said as the Dragons agreed to the terms of the surrender, somewhere atop the highest peak of the Sky Slicer Mountains, their tears fell until a new river was created. The very river which runs through the city to this day.”

“The Young Gods had won. Their children had the spark of magic within their breasts. A fresh new world to call their own. But there was one problem. The Demons of Vice. Emperor Anael knew he could not allow the Demons of Vice to roam free among his children. Their evil was too great. Their potential to do harm too great a threat. So it was that Anael conspired with his brother Razot and they prepared a trap. A giant maze deep beneath the ground where the fires of the world burn. A maze that no matter how much they tried. The Demons of Vice could not escape, for there was no escape.”

“Anael invited the Demons of Vice to a feast. A victory feast. They gathered at his table in the Emperor of the God’s own hall. They feasted on the delicacies of the gods, foods the Demons were not allowed at any other time. As they feasted Anael left the room and with Razot’s assistance they dropped a trap over the demons. A puzzle trap, for that is how you trap a demon children. Give them a puzzle and they can do no harm until they have solved it.”

“Razot had crafted giants made of metal and stone. Each giant picked up a cage which held one of the Demons of Vice and they were sent down into the depths of the world. When the last Demon was in the maze, Anael himself closed the gate behind them. It is said that even now he carries the key which would unlock it on his person as he trusts no other to keep the world safe from his folly.”

“This is but part of the story children. We all know there is so much more. We know about how the Antagonist chafed under the laws laid down upon them by the Young Gods. We know how he crafted an army bent on destruction of all of humanity and of life itself. We know that the half human child of the Mage brought the three human kingdoms together into one mighty Empire and defeated the Antagonist and his armies.”

“There is so much more story children. Every day a little more is added to it. Why even one of you may play a part in the story someday. But that is enough for one day. I see the Sister is here to take you all to supper and I think I shall join you for my throat is parched and my stomach growls. Off with you now children. You can’t grow to serve the Young Gods if you don’t get enough to eat.”

The Priest watched with a fond smile as the children ran from the room to follow the Sister of Rachiel to their supper. He could still remember his days in an orphanage very like the one he told his stories in. How he had longed to be a hero, so his name might one day be carved in stone, celebrations of his memory nationwide holidays. But that was a long time ago and he was a very old man now. No better time than to pass on his own youthful hopes to the little ones of today.

With a grunt he pushed to his feet and left the small open-air chapel. Just before he passed through the door he looked to the statue of Rachiel as she held out her hands to accept the souls of the innocent into her care. For a moment he thought he saw a tear track down her weathered stone face. But then it was gone. His eyes often did play tricks on him as he aged.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Let Them Eat Steak and Lobster! pt 2

Before I get into the discussion of SNAP there was another school shooting today. The 18th school shooting so far this year. It is February 14th. There is something broken with this nation. Do we care so little for our fellow humans that when our children are getting killed in their schools we offer useless ‘thoughts & prayers’ then move on with our lives? I’ve got more thoughts on this illness that our nation seems to suffer from. Maybe I’ll work on a gun post next. At least it will be added to the to-do pile. Now back to the matter at hand.

The current administration… I am not a fan. I’ve not been a fan of that Cheeto faced menace since the first time I saw him on my TV screen in the 80s. Why the hell was some New York con man national news? Why should I give two fucks about his infidelities? I still don’t beyond what his lack of morals is doing to my nation. He’s everything I despise. I can’t even listen to his voice without cringing. So yeah, I didn’t vote for him. Have you seen the shit show of a budget proposal they just released?

So, what has me pissed off? There are a lot of things, but let’s focus on how they want to change SNAP. They want to take away choice: low-income Americans who receive at least $90 a month — just over 80 percent of all SNAP recipients — would get about half of their benefits in the form of a "USDA Foods package." The package was described in the budget as consisting of "shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables." The boxes would not include fresh fruits or vegetables.

The administration wants to take away my ability to choose what I feed my family. They want to take away my ability to effectively shop sales and use my coupons. They want to take away my ability to minimize waste by only buying what we eat, by forcing us to accept boxes of food packed with preservatives that may or may not be things we eat. Remember food allergies? Food aversions? Restricted diets? Yeah. These boxes won’t take those things into consideration. Everyone gets the same box.

Mah Tax Dollahs! Is a common refrain in discussions of our country’s tattered social safety net. And what makes you think this new program is going to be cheaper? In part 1 I linked to information about the effectiveness of the current SNAP program. SNAP is a multi-billion-dollar government program with only 7% overhead. The rest of that money? Feeding families. Fraud is barely .01 out of every dollar. The IRS can’t even boast of being this effective and good at its job. Do you really believe that boxing up pre-packaged food and somehow delivering it to all the families on SNAP is going to be more cost effective than the current system? Though I am sure it will make some government contractor a tidy profit.

Is that what you want? Do you hate people in poverty so much that you would rather an effective program be dismantled just so some corporate crony of the current administration can increase their profits off the backs of tax payers? And this is just if they can actually implement it at all. They can’t even feed the hungry people in Puerto Rico properly after a natural disaster, what makes you think they can feed the millions of hungry people in the continental US?

I have seen some amazing posts on social media from people who have been in the trenches just like my family. People who know what SNAP is and isn’t. Who know how much it can help people. How it can be the only reason there is any food in the house. It is heartening to see so many others fighting to keep a program that has such a positive effect on so many lives.

We are all one disaster away from ruin. Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Some are lucky enough to have a little savings, but not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone is lucky enough to have family who can take them in if they lose their home. Not everyone can jump from one job to another and come out on top. Not everyone has the health, physical or mental, to deal with the everyday tragedies. When that happens we have the means to take care of our most vulnerable citizens. The SNAP program can do what thousands of charities can’t. Put food on the table of millions.

Now I don’t think this budget has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing Congress. But that doesn’t mean the GOP isn’t watching their base to see how they react as the different parts of the proposal are combed over and translated into layman’s terms. Paul Ryan already wants to cut social programs. They gotta pay for those tax cuts to the wealthy somehow. If they think they can get away with some part of the proposal, just worded a little different. I wouldn’t put it past them to try. Their only goal is to maintain their own wealth and power, often on the backs of their own voters. Not to mention there is probably some CEO somewhere salivating over the thought of that sweet sweet government contract to enact the program. Always follow the money. That didn’t make it into the budget all on its own. Someone saw an opportunity for profit and lobbied for it.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford to buy a politician. I’m just a wanna be author living in poverty with my spouse, kids, and pets. Maybe lightning will strike, and people will like what I write. Maybe I’ll become a world-famous author. But until then I do what I can to take care of my family. They are my one and only priority. The care and safety of my family supersedes all other concerns. They are why I have zero shame in accepting government assistance to keep food on the table. I will never be ashamed to ask for help if it keeps my family healthy. If it keeps my family fed. Clothed. Safe. I don’t see any shame in that.

Thanks for reading. Have a banana.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Let Them Eat Steak and Lobster! pt 1

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Political rant and some old-fashioned education incoming.

Hi! I’m your friendly neighborhood writer and my family is on food stamps. Call it by other names, EBT. SNAP. It is a government program to give food insecure folks the means to acquire food. The means are provided by the funds put on a debit card that is used only for food stuff. You can’t buy beer. You can’t buy cigarettes. You can’t buy toilet paper or medicine. In some places you can purchase seeds to plant a garden. There are very few exceptions to the food rule.

SNAP is a highly efficient program that does its job well. It is much more efficient than the physical paper stamps that were the original program. More efficient than its sister program WIC, Women Infants and Children. WIC is only for pregnant women, infants, breastfeeding women, and children up to age five. Unlike SNAP which uses a debit card you can swipe at the register just like you would a debit card from your bank. WIC is a voucher that much be picked up, usually ever three months. And you can only get what is specified on your voucher. This can lead to some annoyances at the check out line as you must run back to the dairy aisle to swap the cheese you thought was covered for the cheese that is covered. BTDT.

Not to diss on WIC. It is a useful program. But between the paper vouchers, the limited goods you can get, and having to plan an office visit every three months to pick up more vouchers, it is a pain in the ass to use. SNAP is much more convenient and easy to use. Plus, it is beneficial to the economy. How you may ask? Well let’s travel down that rabbit hole.

When the economy is in the dumps and jobs are few and far between SNAP will increase its spending. Cause, no job equals no money, no money equals no way to buy food. SNAP fixes that equation by giving those in poverty, either long or short term, a hand up so they don’t suffer needlessly. According to the USDA’s own figures for every $5 spent in SNAP dollars, it generates as much as $9 in economic activity. But how you ask.

The most obvious source is where the SNAP benefits are used. Grocery stores, some convenience stores, and there are some farmer’s markets that can take SNAP cards to pay for fresh produce. This benefits the user of the funds by giving them access to fresh food, it also benefits the farmer who has a purchaser for their produce. What happens when you put money in the hands of others? They can spend it. Stores need cashiers to run their registers. People to stock their shelves. If there was no demand, then there would be no need to schedule cashiers to work, and fewer people needed to keep the shelves stocked. Create demand, create jobs. And of course, the farmers can pay their bills with maybe even something left over at the end of the day. Trickle down is bullshit. Money trickles up, not down.

I won’t go into the issue of corporations using SNAP to subsidize their low wages which keeps their employees in poverty. That’s a rant for another day. I am here to explain the SNAP program to those who aren’t familiar with it. Still with me? Good.

With SNAP you sign up and if you are approved you must seek renewal of your benefits every 6 months in my state. And if your income changes over a certain amount you must report that change. You are limited in what resources you can have, how much money you can set aside to save, and other things to show you qualify for assistance due to low income. Many of the stereotypes you hear about people on SNAP driving fancy cars, wearing fancy clothes, having fancy phones, and so forth. That is all they are, stereotypes, and often harmful ones. The mythical welfare queen of the 80s does not exist. Reagan's story was a fabrication about one person who never was a representation of the whole of welfare users.

Who uses SNAP? Well, the poor obviously. Most people who receive SNAP benefits are children, the elderly, the disabled, and their caretakers. And yes, you can work and work hard while you still qualify for SNAP. What counts is your income. And if your income is low because your wages are low, you can qualify for SNAP. What about the able-bodied adults you say. Well what about them? Are you saying if someone lost a job they don’t deserve to eat? Or if they live somewhere with high unemployment which makes it even more difficult to find a job, they deserve to starve? If you think that then you have a problem with empathy and I think you might need therapy.

Keep in mind, just because you might have been able to do something. Or you had the resources and the ability to do something does not mean everyone else can do what you did to rise out of poverty. Someone might live in an area with high unemployment because that is where their family lives, and they can’t afford to live anywhere else. Or they don’t have a vehicle at all. Being poor often means either living without a car or having an unreliable one. And when you remember that mass transit is not a priority in many parts of the country, that only further hurts the already vulnerable.

You can be a smart, hard working person and still need SNAP to feed your family. Your intelligence and drive does not always mean your job pays what you deserve. Just look at adjunct professors at many colleges. There can be other factors as well. If you are the caretaker of small children or someone with a disability, or an elderly person, you might need a flexible schedule, so you can make doctor appointments for them. So, you can see to their needs, especially those who can’t be left alone to care for themselves.  Which bring us back around to low wage jobs not paying enough for someone to cover all their expenses.

One of the other good things about SNAP is that it takes into consideration your bills. What are you living expenses? How much is your rent? How much are your utilities? If you have a car do you have payments? Insurance? Medical expenses? All of this is taken into account to see how much you qualify for in benefits.

How do they find this out? Well if you get any money from the federal government, like say Social Security benefits, they know how much you get before you do. And there is also having to turn in pay stubs. If you have a checking account, statements from that. Medical expenses, better keep those receipts. A copy of your lease. Copies of your utility bills. If you share expenses, proof of that. There’s a lot of paperwork involved.

Speaking of paperwork. To receive SNAP benefits, you must prove your identity. They want copies of your state issued ID if you have one. Birth certificate for every member of the family. Social security cards for every member of the family. Marriage certificate if you’re married. You must be documented. Which means, drumroll please…

The American born child of undocumented immigrants may qualify for benefits, but their parents wouldn’t. There are exceptions for certain refugees, victims of abuse/trafficking, and other very limited exceptions. But all of these are documented in some way. You must have your documents in order. You must have proof of your identity. You must be in the country with some legal status.

What other stereotypes should I bust open tonight?  I’ve covered welfare queen. Able bodied adults. Immigrants. I’ve discussed how those receiving SNAP benefits often do work. I’ve discussed the economic impact of SNAP. Oh yes. Drug users.

Unlike what certain media outlets want you to believe, people on SNAP are no more likely to use drugs than those who don’t receive government benefits. Research has shown that those on SNAP use drugs at the same rate as the rest of society. Remember boys and girls, drugs cost money. And if you’re on SNAP it is because you lack money. Let’s drug test CEO’s who receive government contracts before we drug test the working Mom making minimum wage.

Oh, but they sell their benefits you say. Prove it. Fraud by users and vendors of SNAP benefits is .01 cents out of every dollar, and SNAP is a multi-billion-dollar program. Find another government run program with such results. You can’t. When someone says they know someone who sells their benefits I have one answer for them. REPORT IT! If you know someone is committing fraud, can prove it, and care that much about how federal money is spent. Report it. Do your civic duty and report the fraud. Otherwise you’re just spouting anti-poor propaganda.

“But but but! Steaks and lobsters!”

Are you kidding me? Have you priced steak and lobsters recently? Do you know how much people get in SNAP benefits? My family gets $357 a month. That’s it. My family of four gets what amounts to $2.98 per person, per day to use to feed ourselves. When that money is spent, it is gone. No more money until the next month. If I buy meat at all it is cheap ground beef, frozen chicken, and whatever is on sale. Exceptions made at Thanksgiving and Christmas when I find the cheapest turkey breast and ham I can find. There are usually good sales. If there is a steak in my cart, it is because it is my husband’s or son’s birthday. Or it was in the ‘nearly expired so here’s meat cheap’ section of the meat department.

“Oh, but junk food! Soda!”

Why are you paying so much attention to what is in my cart or how I am paying for my purchases? That $357 has to stretch. That means lots of generic brands. I watch sales. I use coupons. I am not the only person on SNAP who does this. If I get some soda, so? Are you saying your kids can have a coke but mine can’t? We don’t go out to eat. We don’t go to the movies. I can’t remember our last vacation. We stay home. If I want a Mtn Dew to wake myself up in the morning instead of coffee, that is what I will have to wake me up. When they are gone it is back to Kool-Aid and sweet tea until the next month. I’ve gotten more junk food from food banks than I’ve purchased with my SNAP card.

Oh yeah. We don’t have a car. That means if I’m lucky I get two trips to the grocery store a month. I can occasionally get a ride to a convenience store for milk, but I hate doing that as it is .75 more expensive there per gallon. Yes, I pay that much attention to prices of milk. So, two trips per month. That means I pack as much into my cart as I can get as it has to last about two weeks if not longer. You think I buy like that every week? If I could get to the store once a week, my cart would be a lot less crowded. But because without a car of my own I can’t guarantee when I’ll be able to get back to the store, I buy as much as I can afford. My anxiety demands it.

I doubt I am the only other SNAP user who must shop like this. If you don’t know when you are going to be able to make it to the store again, are you buying enough to last a couple of days? Or do you buy enough to feed your family for a couple of weeks? Use your brains people!

I’ve told you what SNAP is and isn’t. If you didn’t already, you now have a base understanding of the program. Please see part two of my post for a continuation of this discussion.