Why Writers Need to Back-Up Their Work

Though it doesn’t happen often, I’ve seen a few (and very unfortunate) posts from writers on various networks wherein they detail a computer issue. My computer just stopped running, someone says. Or, My harddrive failed. Sometimes, people spill something on their laptops. Other times their property is stolen. Always, though, these posts are written with grief, and every time I see these posts, the question, Did you have it backed up? gets asked.

More often than not, that work isn’t backed up. It wasn’t saved. It’s gone–forever.

Let’s be honest: In today’s digital mecca, there really isn’t a reason for us to have physical copies of our manuscripts lying around. For one, they take up extra space. For two, it’s more convenient to have everything accessible in one place. And for three, we hold the false assumption that technology is infallible–that, somehow, someway, our work can be recovered even if something catastrophic happens.

That isn’t the case.

There’s a lot to be concerned about. Power outages, virus attacks, hardware failures, accidental damage–the list goes on. Most writers (me included) sit down at a computer and start writing. We don’t have the constant belief that we’re going to lose that work because our minds are elsewhere. And even when we do become concerned, we think, I’ll do it later.

Then you lose your work. Nothing you or even a professional can do can get it back. And it’s lost. Forever.

Thankfully, there are simple ways to prevent this.

Dropbox-Logo

I started using Dropbox after a computer virus nearly caused me to lose all my work. During the attack, the malware kept me from going online, so I couldn’t email The work to myself. Thankfully, a tech-savvy friend had just given me a Terrabyte harddrive and I was able to transfer everything over without issue. But I’ll confess — many people don’t have huge harddrives lying around, and even if they do, they don’t provide a complete failsafe.

So you might be wondering:

 What is Dropbox? And how can it help protect my work?

Dropbox is a cloud service. Without going into the technical details, it connects your computer to the internet via a background program and saves your work automatically whenever a file is updated.

How do you do it?

Below is my simple method on how to back up your work without hassle. Do note that this is written from the perspectives of a Windows user and operating system.

1. Locate your Dropbox folder under your user profile (which can be found by clicking your computer/username on the start menu.)

2. Create a folder (or drag a preexisting one) into Dropbox.

3. Right-click on your desktop and click ‘Create a Shortcut.’ Using the ‘Browse’ command, locate your User profile and then your Dropbox folder. Once you are in, simply click on the folder you wish to link. You will now have a functioning ‘shortcut’ to your Dropbox folder on your desktop.

By doing this, you will be able to click on your folder and access its contents as you normally would had you created the folder on your desktop. Now, however, your documents are saved to the cloud every time you alter them.

And there you have it: a simple way to keep your files backed up in a place other than on your desktop.

You can download Dropbox by clicking on the image below.

Dropbox-Logo

My Favorite Horror Movies of All Time

Halloween is coming up, and in honor of the spookiest (and my favorite) holiday, I have assembled a list of my favorite horror movies of all time. Though most (beyond the first) are in no particular order, each makes the list either for its world-building, its atmosphere, its character-development, or just downright scare factor. You’ll definitely want to check these out if you haven’t seen them!

Undoubtedly my favorite horror film, Ginger Snaps tells the story of two disenfranchised teenagers whom, at a young age, vowed to end their lives at sixteen. Their fascination with death leads them to pull a prank on one of the popular girls by faking her dog’s death. In light of the recent pet slayings by an unknown creature, it seems like the perfect way to get revenge. But when Ginger is attacked by the monster – and when she begins to change – the girls will realize coming-of-age is the least of their worries.

A deadly disease threatens to decimate New York’s population of children in the second installment of the Mimic series. Biologist and school teacher Susan Tyler has been working toward a cure. But when a mutated variant of an experimental cockroach escapes into her school, Susan must do everything in her power to not only save herself, but a student in her care.

Anyone who’s ever felt different will identify with this film by Lucky McKee. In May, we follow a young girl who – alienated from her mother – grows up without proper social skills. A chance encounter with a young man that appears to express interest in her ultimately leads to a downward spiral in this psychological thriller.

Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan guides us along a terrifying psychological journey for perfection. As she vies for the lead role in an upcoming production of Swan Lake, Nina struggles to maintain her sanity in the shadow of not only her overbearing mother and critical director, but also what may be the vengeful spirit of the play.

The conclusion to Romero’s world-famous Dead trilogy shows us a glimpse of what humanity may look like when pushed to its breaking point. Secured in an underground bunker with members of the military, a group of scientists struggle to develop a cure not only in the midst of the end-of-the-world, but also the presence of a madman. Day of the Dead is my favorite zombie film of all time, and boasts one of the most gruesome zombie scenes in cinema history.

This 2004 remake shows us Zack Snyder’s interpretation of George Romero’s classic. In Dawn of the Dead, we follow a nurse named Anna starting at Day 0 of the apocalypse – from the death of her husband, to her flight through a collapsing city, to her alliance with an assembly of everyday people as they take shelter within a mall. This vision is not Romero’s classic. These zombies run, and they are scary as hell.

The creator of The Exorcist brings us a horrifying vision of insanity in Bug. Helmed by Ashley Judd, the film follows a woman who lives in terror of her abusive ex-husband returning after a long stint in jail. A party meant to distract her from the troubles of life leads her to meet a man whose story of government experimentation – and the bugs that they’ve implanted in him – draws her into the road of madness. The question becomes too hard to discern. Are these bugs real? Or is this man simply crazy? And if he’s not crazy, is she?

One of the few movies I’ve screamed through in the theater, Sinister details the story of a true crime writer whose obsession with documenting ‘the next big cold case’ leads him into a foray with the supernatural. After finding a series of tapes that details graphic murders, he thinks he’s simply happened upon a serial killer and his next bestseller. But when the truth comes to light, it may already be too late for him and his family.

When it comes to ghost/demon/haunting movies, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is, hands down, my favorite. Told from a dual perspective, the film—inspired by horrifying true-life events—follows a young woman whose mortal body is possessed by a demonic creature. The fact that it is presented as both a character piece and as a speculative cold-case makes it extremely different from other haunting movies. Also—the the actress playing Emily refused to allow special effects to inhibit her performance. What does that mean? You’ll have to watch for yourself.

This cult classic is (in my opinion) one of the best, most terrifying found-footage films ever. Not only does it bring us back to the roots of the genre by creating tension and suspense over the course of the entire movie, its rich lore, use of lighting, and unnerving film style makes you feel like you’re actually there. While it does show its age (especially compared to other found footage films,) its sense of dread always keeps me on the edge of my seat, and searching for something new each time I watch it.

#LetYourVoiceBeHeard for #MentalWellness

Robin Williams’ suicide after a long battle with depression left many reeling. In the wake of the funny man’s passing, many were left to wonder: Why did he do this? What happened? Could it have been stopped? And what could we (his fans, his family, his friends) have done?

It is a sad and misinformed thing when people place illnesses and the feelings in the same basket. Though it is a given that we will each feel moments of grief in our lives, those with illnesses such as clinical depression suffer long-lasting, debilitating symptoms that can gravely affect everyday aspects of their lives — from sleep, to mood, to fatigue, to thoughts of suicide. It is a condition that, if left untreated, can lead to destructive and sometimes deadly behaviors.

As a patient undergoing mental health treatment, I can attest to the violence and horrors the mind can inflict upon a person. At your lowest, you can feel worthless. You can feel as though there is no point of living regardless of whoever cares about you. Unfortunately, depression is an illness that can make you believe that you’re not important. They’d be better off, it is apt to convince you, if I were dead. If they didn’t have to worry about me. If all their problems (me) would just go away.

I’ve been in that position, in that insufferable place they call rock bottom. And though at the time I was already being treated for my mental disorders, I began to question life and my importance in it. Thankfully, I was cautioned to visit an emergency psychiatric clinic, and because of that, I’m still here. But there are many who don’t make it out alive–who, by chance or circumstance, are never able to extend their hand for help just when they need it most.

In honor of Robin Williams’ passing, I would like anyone who is willing to share their story to post it in the comments section of this article. The stigma that exists over mental health is an aberration upon society. Not enough of us are talking about it, and in a world where silence kills, our voices need to be heard–if not for those who need to understand, but for those who need to know that others have suffered the same.

#LetYourVoicebeHeard for #MentalWellness. Let people know there is #Hope.

If you or a loved one are feeling thoughts of suicide, please seek help. A list of hotline numbers can be found by clicking here.

Rest in Peace Robin Williams. The grass may be greener on the other side, but the world is darker without you here.

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Have you tried not taking medication?

More often than not, people view mental illness as something that is attributed to the individual rather than an actual fault of their body. Unlike cancer, HIV, MS or any other debilitating illness—which people would automatically expect treatment to be administered—mental illness is brushed aside as something people can control.

You see things? someone may ask. They’re not real.

You’re having mood swings? another may inquire. Control them.

Or what about the most common, which is often ignored or cast aside as trivial because of the refusal to acknowledge its chemical realities?

What about when people ask if you’re depressed, then matter-of-factly tell you to to look on the bright side of life?

What about when people—who may or may not understand your situation, who may or may not be aware of your diagnosis and who may or may not know you are being treated by practiced, licensed professionals—ask the one thing anyone treated within the mental health system hears at least once?

It’s the one thing you never expect to hear when you’re sick, even if others can’t see it.

Have you tried going without medication?

I’ve heard it countless times over the four years I’ve been treated for PTSD, GAD and Bipolar Disorder. From friends, to family, to passing acquaintances, from people who aren’t even addressing me but who are speaking on the matter in general—to them, it’s something I’m able to control. Mind over matter, they might say. It’s something I’m able to just get over.

Except there’s a problem—a fault in their logic that crumbles the foundation:

No one wants to be sick.

Over the years I’ve been treated, I’ve undergone countless evaluations, rigorous therapy, multiple interviews with psychiatric and pharmaceutical professionals, and had more blood drawn than I can even bear to remember. I’ve been on ten different medications and suffered through each of their individual side effects (and withdrawals when I’ve gone off them.) I’ve laid in bed trembling, unable to move because the room shakes, because it feels like I’ll throw up. I’ve hallucinated. I’ve undergone complete personality changes. I’ve had allergic reactions that scared me to the point where I believed I was having a life-threatening side-effect. I’ve even had the government, and some medical professionals, believe that my problem was obsolete and that I am capable of ‘less demanding things.’

But most of all, I’ve cried.

I’ve felt sorry for myself. I wished there was something, some way, I could just make it all go away. I’ve rationalized behaviors to the point of idiocy and even wondered sometimes if my situation was real—if, perhaps, I’ve just created the delusion in my mind and, for some reason, have subconsciously continued the ruse without due cause.

There’s only one problem.

With all that going on—with all that acknowledgement, understanding, education and self-awareness—you would think that, if it was all in my head, I could just make it go away.

And that’s where it ultimately leads to.

I can’t make it go away.

Medication helps me feel better. It stabilizes the mood swings, keeps me from panicking over every little thing, allows me to venture beyond the scope of four walls to explore the world as I deem fit. It lets me feel the one thing I don’t without it.

Normal.

It doesn’t get rid of it. Sure. Like all ailments, there are bound to be aches and pains. Some things never go away. But the one thing it does do is help.

It’s hard to understand for some people. You can’t see it. It isn’t a mark on my skin, a flaw you can identify through voice. But when I hear things like that—Have you tried not taking medication?—I can’t help but wonder:

If it were that easy, would there be any point?

My Favorite Horror and Dark Fantasy Novels

As a writer, it’s not uncommon for me to be asked what my favorite books are. Do you have a favorite book? some ask. Do you like Stephen King? Have you read anything by Anne Rice? Dean Koontz.

The answer is: No, I don’t have one favorite horror novel, I have several. Yes, I like Stephen King. Love him, actually, and am eternally greatful for his undeniable influence on my writing. I’ve also read Dean Koontz and Anne Rice’s work. I like Poe, could never get into Lovecraft. Closer-to-home fiction scares the shit out of me, as does the idea of monsters you can’t see or don’t expect. Years of reading within the horror and dark fantasy genre have allowed me the luxury of escaping into worlds so terrifying, so engrossing and so atmospheric that I’ve been unable to pry myself from their pages. Some of the following might be familiar. Others may surprise you. Some you might not have even heard of. So, without further ado, here is my list of my favorite horror and dark fantasy novels.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones is undoubtedly my favorite novel by Stephen King, and my absolute favorite ghost story. Beginning with the pristine narrative of a novelist recounting his wife’s death, then subsequent decision to get away to a lake house in order to find peace and inspiration, we follow the story of one man’s quest for solace and then his need for a fallen ghost’s redemption, all the while dealing with the human aspect of newfound love and the entanglement that comes with it.

Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

Another King tale, and one many consider a mixed bag. Though ripe with inner turmoil, character development and complex backstory within the first hundred pages, Lisey’s Story is a gripping story about a woman living in the shadow of her dead husband–and upon delving into the labyrinth of undiscovered work, finds a world unlike anything she, and even her husband, have ever experienced. The ending is gut-wrenching and absolutely tear-jerking, as within the scope of a few dozen pages the story comes full circle, and how a tortured conscience can ultimately hide a past that would better be left behind.

Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

Under the name Poppy Z. Brite, Billy Martin was known for his gruesome imagery and ability to treat horrific occurrences as if they were no more than everyday events. Lauded as one of the most disturbing novels ever written, his novel Exquisite Corpse takes elements of the Dahmer murders and recreates them in the most unsettling ways imaginable. Drawing Blood is no different. Beginning with the graphic murder of a family, the story follows our main character as grows up to be a successful artist whose one great disappointment was never returning to the home in which he watched his father murder his mother, and how his subsequent decision to return opens a doorway to a world that threatens to drive him insane.

The Hollower by Mary SanGiovani

We all have things we regret. Things we are scared of. Things we would rather not admit to anybody. In Lakehaven, New Jersey, there exists a monster who knows everything. Who latches on to certain people and stops at nothing until they’re destroyed. The Hollower, by Mary SanGiovani, takes us into a world where the monster is something you can only see when it wants you to see it, and who uses everything we hate and fear to drive us insane. It is a novel that slowly creeps up on you with its ability to bring minor discomfort to a place of flat-out distortion–where, just when you think you’ve started to figure it out, turns everything around and throws it right back at you.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

There’s a place where everything normal is shadowed by the darkness beyond the wall. On one side exists the modern world–where technology has dominated the scope of human existence. But on the other side of the wall lies something entirely different–an ancient world, barred from humanity to hold back the encroaching dead and the magic that sustains them. Though written as a young adult novel, Sabriel follows the journey of a young woman whose encounter with a dark entity thrusts her into her birthright. As the Abhorsen–whose duty, unlike the Necromancers, is to lay down the dead–her journey will take her beyond the wall and into the depoths of the Old Kingdom: where she must not only find the spirit of her father who she knows has been murdered, but slay the creature that has ended his life.

Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater

We’re all afraid of the doorways that could be opened, that might be there, lying in the darkness, in places we can’t see because they’ve long been abandoned. In Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater, a grieving mother is sent into the depths of insanity when she unwillingly stumbles across a portal into an alternate universe. With little hope of escape, she must depend upon a man who claims to have repeated the exact same action–decades ago–and fight to free herself from an ever-changing world whose only purpose is to kill her. Capitalizing on everyone’s darkest fears, Dead Spots is chilling–not only in the horror that lies beyond the real world, but the horror within it.

Bad Wolf by Tim McGregor

Lara Mendes believes all her hard work has paid off when she is allowed the opportunity to join homicide detail, but what she doesn’t know is that she has unknowingly walked into what may be the most disturbing case she could ever imagine. No sooner has she joined is she called into the field. Human remains are found. And the suspect? He thinks he’s a werewolf. The only problem? Lara believes him. Bad Wolf is a police procedural unlike anything you have ever read. Crossing horror with crime and thriller fiction, it is undoubtedly the best werewolf novel I’ve ever read.

Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan

Jenny Morton is the girl nobody likes. She’s the girl that always wears mittens, who’s father is a hopeless alcoholic, who’s mother died during childbirth. She’s also the girl they used to call Jenny Pox after Ashleigh Goodling got a particularly nasty case of sores during a playground spat with Jenny in elementary school. But what they don’t know is that Jenny’s pox is a disease–a curse gifted to her upon birth. And what they don’t understand is how far it can go once Jenny’s pushed. Like its predecessor Carrie, but offering the destruction the novel did not, Jenny Pox goes beyond what King did in his first-published novel, and does so to an absolutely-terrifying degree.

The Seven Habits of Highly-Infective People by William Todd Rose

Most people wouldn’t expect to listen to the ramblings of a madman. But what if it could save the world, and prevent the collapse of humanity? In The Seven Habits of Highly-Infective People, William Todd Rose offers a glimpse of a tale told from two different sides of the fence–and points of time. Hinging on part apocalyptic survival tale, part paranoid prediction, The Seven Habits is a science fiction story that catches you off-guard early on, and latches onto you for a ride you won’t ever expect.

The Seance by Joan Lowery Nixon

You think it’s just a game. Play with an ouija board, try to contact the dead. Then a friend goes missing, and after that, nothing is ever the same. The Seance, by Joan Lowery Nixon, is a childhood memory, and one that is still fondly thought of. Almost ten years later, I still shudder at the monstrosities that can easily be found in Nixon’s fiction.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

A plane carrying a group of British schoolboys crash-lands on a desert island. Everyone survives–excepts the pilot. The boys are alone. The radio is busted. They are, beyond a doubt, trapped. The ultimate social experiment, the commentary that comes in William Golding’s classic is unsettling beyond all measures. Given I read it three times back-to-back in three different school years and always enjoyed it–and always felt that same sense of despair when a monster that may not just be supernatural rears its head–I can honestly mark it as one of my favorite, and most disturbing, horror novels.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

 There’s a reason truth is usually stranger than fiction, and while The Girl Next Door may seem like a nightmare unlike anything we could ever imagine happening, it isn’t far from the truth. Loosely inspired by actual events, it tells the story of a group of adolescents who become mad with power after a deranged socialite becomes obsessed with the power of discipline. It’s one of the most gruesome depictions of human cruelty I’ve ever read. Stephen King called Jack Ketchum a real master for a reason. This book proves it.

Why I’m Open

There’s a common thought when it comes to allowing people to know you’re sick. Most of the time, it’s to prevent the spread of contamination, or to allow the information necessary for others to know you might not be capable of handling certain circumstances. More often than not, these ailments manifest themselves into physical representations, and thus need no explanation. Someone with an upset stomach may be running to the restroom more often than usual, or struggling not to vomit; someone suffering a lung infection may sound hoarse or might not be able to stop coughing; and someone with cancer might appear more gaunt than usual, depending on the recommended treatment for their illness, or may be losing their hair or natural skin color. But with some conditions, symptoms might not present themselves in ways people are used to seeing.

For people like me, those symptoms are invisible.

They’re what many consider ‘the silent killers.’

My name is Kody Boye. Since the age of seventeen, I have been in treatment (sometimes successfully, others not) for a variety of symptoms related to my mental health. Initially diagnosed with a blanket-term ‘anxiety disorder’ when I was seventeen, I suffered debilitating panic attacks or crippling states of apathetic immobilization as a result of the proffered treatment until I removed myself from the medication. Almost two years later, and after a cross-country move, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1 by a primary care doctor. Three years later, I was rediagnosed by a psychiatrist: with Bipolar Disorder 2, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder.) To date, I have been on ten different medications. I have been in therapy on and off for four years. And at this very moment, I am adapting to that tenth aforementioned medication in the hopes that the brutal side effects that often come with mental health treatments with not afflict me.

I am, in essence, a child of the mental health care system—a stunning exposé of what happens when the body is predisposed to illness and life’s cruelty decides to make it worse.

The whole way through, I’ve been encouraged to keep quiet.

As someone who grew up without a positive example, it was impossible to think that I could ever close myself off when I could be that voice for someone else.

So, I made a promise: To be open. Because more often than not, people like me are called crazy—simply for being honest about the things they go through.

What people don’t tell you?

Crazy is a word orchestrated to disregard a problem that could easily be treated.

I’ve had countless people tell me that I was being too open, too personal, too honest; that I would kill my career and that it would make me appear off-putting if I were to be so blatantly open about my medical history. It’s not going to do anyone any good, one person once said. Especially not for you.

I would like to differ.

An advocate is someone who opens their mouth—who speaks the truth even when it’s ugly and no one wants to hear it: who believes in something so strongly that, no matter what, they will speak, even in the face of silence. You may fillet my flesh and break my bones, pin me to your cross and call me pariah, but I do not speak for me. My suffering is trivial compared to what others go through. I am loved. I have phenomenal health insurance. I have amazing doctors who help me regardless of predisposed notions of insanity. I, unlike many others, have had opportunity.

Sadly, there are so many who never get that opportunity. They die. They hurt themselves. Theyk ill themselves. They hurt others. They kill others. Families are destroyed, relationships torn apart. If I can help at least one person in their fight for survival—in their ever-desperate battle for mental wellness—then I will not be responsible for another skeleton slipped into that closet.

This is why I’m open.

This is why I speak.

Food for Thought

If you were to stop a random person walking down the street and ask them to access my perceived awareness of my body (based on behavior, dress, interactions with others and responses triggered by commercialized definitions of beauty,) they would never suspect that I had issues with my appearance. I am, what most people would consider to be, ‘the average person.’ I’ve been defined as many things—regular, normal, husky, ‘like everyone else,’ well-rounded, with a little extra, big-boned. I personally know that I am not: slim, muscular, thin, fit, toned, in-shape or am anywhere near possessing a body which could be defined by an athletic association (such as ‘dancer’ or ‘swimmers.’) A contemporary lifestyle based around an office job, with a diet consisting of everything from store-bought to fast food, and an as-of-now nonexistent exercise routine due to an ankle injury and depression (because let’s face it: who wants to work out when you’re depressed?) leads to the typical body shape you can find in the nearest metropolitan area.

This is, in all respects, normal.

Because of that, some are surprised when I admit that I have struggled with body dysmorphia since my teens.

Body Dysmorphia (defined by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is a chronic mental illness in which the affected individual is possessed by excessive concern over their appearance. This can range from everything to weight, to perceived flaws on their person, to the way they believe others perceive them due to their appearance. It causes those affected to experience symptoms such as depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and social isolation. It is believed that 1% of adults meet the diagnostic criteria for body dysmorphic disorder.

While everyone’s experience with the condition varies, my battle with dysmorphia began as a teenager—when, on a Thanksgiving close to my sixteenth birthday, I posted a video on YouTube and was almost instantly attacked based on my weight.

I was floored.

Until that moment, I thought those kind of opinions were limited to high school and the peer pressures surrounding it. I’d never imagined that a complete stranger (whom, to my ignorant conscience, believed wouldn’t care) would say something like that to me. I’d never even considered myself fat. I just considered myself ‘me.’

Whether it was due to the onset of various mental disorders or a creation born from the societal concept that being fat is bad, that single comment began (and still continues to be) my battle with dysmorphia.

I won’t go into detail over the events that took place between the incident and the age of seventeen-and-a-half. Naturally, I wanted to do whatever possible to lose the weight, and the faster the better. I immediately took action by cutting out things that were deemed to have adverse affects on your weight (junk food, non-diet soda, fast food, etc.) I lost ten pounds after quitting soda the hard way (and experiencing the withdrawal symptoms en force) and then switched to diet, and over the course of several months continued to practice what I thought was ‘safe dieting.’

What did ‘safe dieting’ include?

Ignoring hunger. Drinking water to ignore hunger. Sleeping to ignore hunger. Eating only 1000 calories a day.

This morbid fascination with losing weight consumed me to the point where I was counting calories via Excel—and not only counting them, counting them by labeled number, if I were to eat a chip or chocolate bar. I began to experience headaches, irritability, extreme anxiety, and suffered sugar crashes which I now wholeheartedly believe affect my ability to tolerate them as an adult. Doctors pale when I mention the atrocities I committed on myself. How do you not have diabetes? they ask. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s especially disconcerting given the fact that diabetes runs throughout one side of my family in a really agressive manner. At the time, I was only concerned with losing the weight. And let me tell you:

I lost that weight.

Eighty pounds of it.

The following is a diagram of my appearance, starting from that period when I first began to exhibit the severe eating issues (in 2007) until 2013, when this chart was last updated.

This is what I look like as of this posting:

Regardless of the affects that puberty have on the body, the physical change is astounding.

Over the past few years, my body has shifted in terms of structure and fat due to growth, hormones, and the varying application and adjustments of prescription medications to diagnose my varying disorders. I won’t lie when I say the medication’s made me gain weight. That can be seen from 2010 (when I first began taking medication) and on. And while I do have the occasional spell in which my weight becomes a pressing concern, it is current not a matter of which I obsess over. The mind runs the body, the body carries the mind: to allow the body to move, the mind must be nourished, and thus for me the mind comes first.

Which leads me to my reason for writing this entry:

As of the past few months, I have begun developing what many consider to be symptoms of anorexia—not wanting to eat, refusing to eat, ignoring hunger pains, substituting them with water. I even have developed food aversions which leave me incapable of eating (or even thinking about eating) certain foods without becoming ill. Please note that doctors (primary and specialists) I have seen have not diagnosed me with an eating disorder, nor am I of the mind that I can label myself in such a manner when my situation is far different than any I’ve seen associated with such labels.

Food is necessary for my wellbeing. Besides for the personal nutrition that each and every one of us need, I must actively manage when and how much I am eating in order to take medication that, taken improperly, would leave me with uncomfortable stomach pains. Prescription changes have fixed the abhorrent starvation I’ve imposed upon myself at times (and have, to a degree, helped settle my food aversions,) but they’ve not been able to stop one underlying and subconscious effort I’ve only recently identified.

I concern myself with food over its cost, its longevity, and how long I can eat it before I get sick of it.

This in itself is a quagmire of uncertain resolve—mainly because I have such a solid support structure around me that I have no need to worry about going hungry. I’ve been told Eat. Threatened to eat (who’d’ve thought that?) Told explicitly that if I didn’t eat and ended up in the hospital for lithium poisoning/malnutrition/anything else associated with it, that they would be so mad they wouldn’t know what to do with me. In this regard, I’m perfectly content. Yet every time I go to the store, I have a little voice in my head counting the dollars, waving them over a pit in which they will never come back out. Can the food crawl back? it seems to ask. Will just some be enough to satisfy your gluttonous desires?

I can only contribute this to childhood insecurities regarding money.

I came from the average family, average income, beautiful living, a childhood in which I did not have to worry about where food came from, how it got there, or what exactly it cost. Until financial difficulties hit my family around the age of seven, we lived very well—modest, though well. But when various factors came forth and began to affect the flow of income and the cost of modern essentials, it wasn’t uncommon to hear talk about money, even in my extended family (who also suffered what appeared to be a chain reaction.) Can’t buy that. Gotta watch our money. Can’t buy that. We can’t afford it. I sometimes see parents say this to their children while I’m out in public and I cringe—because in the back of my mind, I’m wondering if down the line they will be plagued by commercial specters such as mine. While I imagine my GAD is likely a heavy contributor to said anxiety, I can’t help but wonder if such intonations are spoken in passing if only because the speaker doesn’t believe it will extent beyond the present mindset.

As of now, this complex has become so apparent that I am forced to consider changing medication (a terrifying aspect unto itself, if you know of, are in relation with, or have even seen my own struggles regarding medication.) Lately I’ve been bouncing between fast food chains (because my subconscious impresses a toll upon assembling food, and that foods easily made like corndogs and sandwiches are disgusting because I’ve eaten them to the point of lunacy.) Even frozen meals (Stouffers Baked Cheesy Potato, Drive-Thru Cheeseburgers, Hot Pockets) have become so undesirable that I’m resorting to whatever I can stomach in order to take my medication, which more often than not come at the point where I am forced to eat because my body demands it.

The last time this happened (in a far worse degree, around November and December of last year,) I was literally eating only protein bars and shakes, with only the casual henpecking of regular food on the side.

Sadly, I realize that necessary medical change can’t reasonably come until after my disability hearing with a judge. Mental health medications are brutal on the mind and body. From stomach pains, to vertigo symptoms, to manic highs that keep me awake for three days to depressive lows that make me sleep for two—it’s no wonder people don’t admit themselves for adequate treatment, and even the consideration of the projected detox, introduction of new medication and then the recovery and stabilizing lengths are enough to make even the most stone-hearted veteran shy away.

While my situation and healthcare through the city of Austin allows me a far greater financial luxury than most could even dream of, the physical and mental strain is nightmarish.

Sometimes, when people ask me what it must feel like to even consider admitting oneself to antipsychotic and antidepressive treatments, I can’t help but describe it in the following:

You know how people complain about being stuck in tight places—somewhere they fear they can never get out?

I tell them they’re lucky.

In most instances, claustrophobia is temporary.

They can get out.

In my case, it’s completely different.

I can’t get out of my own head.

A Year with Jezabelle

To think that, right now, she could be dead, is most terrifying thing I can imagine.

But she isn’t.

She’s here, with me.

Alive.

And it’s all because I decided to look at the Craigslist pet section.

Right now, she’s cautiously surveying my basket of clean laundry and waiting for what she feels is the right moment to jump in. Paws along the plastic rim, tail swishing, ears alert–she’s acting like the cat you’d expect to find in any cat lover’s home. This isn’t unusual behavior for an animal who’s content and comfortable in her environment, but it wasn’t always like this. Bared fangs, guttural growls and a hunched posture weren’t uncommon a year ago — when, at the beginning of this story, she was shoved into a box and then dumped out of a moving vehicle at a veterinary clinic in Hutto, TX. She was just a little over a year old–the most beautiful green-eyed tabby you would ever see–and was abandoned, for absolutely no reason at all.

She wasn’t wanted.

No one would leave a pet to die.

1.

I discovered the posting in which her story was chronicled on a lark while pursuing Craigslist’s pet section. Knowing more than well that I was torturing myself with the fantasy of bringing my own pet home, I browsed through the listings with the sole intent of looking at pictures of healthy adoptees sponsored by Austin Pets Alive and the Austin Animal Center–knowing, wholeheartedly, that the creatures I came across would be safe. The high success rate of no-kill shelters in Austin, TX offered that sort of blind hope–that disconnect you could allow without feeling as though you were cheating an animal with a home, sort of like you feel when you see a homeless person on the street or Sarah McLachlan on your TV. It’s a hardwired predisposition to think that if you don’t help, someone else will, so many of us don’t think twice about seeing an animal on Craigslist and then leaving shortly thereafter. I saw a lot of animals on that page of listings. Dogs, cats, ferrets–even exotic birds and reptiles were displayed to the next potential pet owner. But it was when I came across a listing for Georgetown, TX that I came to a pause.

Though barely visible in the thumbnail displayed, a cat named Jezabelle looked out at me–scared, alone, and confined within a space she could not understand.

That was when I learned about her abandonment, which would inexplicably disappear the next time I checked her listing.

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There’s a saying among pet owners that animals find us–that, through some grand, cosmic scheme, fate, or divine intervention, we come into contact with a creature whose soul-breaking visage is enough to render us weak in the knees and leave us absolutely breathless.

I looked at this picture of this poor tabby and immediately felt a connection. Initially, I took it as a result of reading her story and considered that to be the basis of my underlying emotions, then closed the tab in my browser, knowing there was little I could do for her as a single, low-income individual whose medical necessities and small space would not allow for a pet.

But something hapened. I kept thinking about her–first for one day, then two.

On the night of the second day, I went to my roommates (whom I’d mentioned seeing Jezabelle to and then being touched by her story the previous day) and asked if there was any way I could take her in. The shelter was doing pay-what-you-want adoptions and I wanted to see if my feelings for her were true. They agreed, and the following day, I drove from Austin to Georgetown (roughly a half-hour drive) to see the cat named Jezabelle.

I was taken to where she was being kept at the time and advised that I might not be able to interact with her due to her trauma of abandonment. Growling at the volunteer’s approach, Jezabelle lowered her ears as the woman unlocked the cage and hunkered into her kennel as she doned a pair of oven mitts. The sight of the massive glove reaching into the cage sent Jezabelle into a panic. She yowled and attacked the mitt with such gusto that the volunteer immediately yanked her hand back for fear of the cat somehow getting out and causing damage. Guess she’s not coming out, the woman laughed, voice strained with caution. Then again, I wouldn’t want to either if that thing was coming at me.

No kidding, I replied. The volunteer removed the oven mitts and returned them to their perspective place. I, meanwhile, was captivated by this beautiful creature–who, though seemingly wild, held that fractured innocence of a person whose life has been reduced to ground zero, then kicked in the dirt. I started talking to her at that point. Hi Jezabelle, I said, noting the twitch of her ears at the sound of my voice and the ripple of tension along her back. Hey baby.

She turned to look at me–and at this point, looking directly into her eyes, I felt something that to this day I can’t describe: a warmth in my chest, coinciding with a weight in my brain, while struggling to maintain a breath that had passed from my lungs without fault. It could’ve been love, or it could’ve been anything

At that moment, I knew only one thing: she was mine.

I’ll take her, I said to the nearby volunteer, who’d no more than a moment ago been visciously attacked.

You’re… sure? she replied, her lingering caution of disbelief.

I’m sure.

I sat at the front desk in the minutes thereafter making small talk to an employee as I filled out adoption forms to an audience of three dogs crowded beneath her feet. The paperwork asked information about previous pet ownership. Did I have experience with cats? How long had I been around animals? Had I ever had animals as pets, and if so, how many. A childhood filled with cats and dogs (whom I rightly considered my ‘younger sisters’) had secured my indomitable love for any animal that might come after them, and for Jezabelle, that love was no question, regardless of her nature. I’d grown up taming feral kittens on my grandparents’ property with my little brother. Surely this wouldn’t be any different.

When my donation was given and the paperwork entered into the system, I was told six of the greatest words I’d ever heard in my life:

You can pick her up tomorrow.

She was to be spaid and given her shots to ensure utmost health.

On April 14th, 2013, my life changed forever.

I just didn’t know how much.

2.

I arrived at the shelter the following afternoon to find that not everything had gone according to plan. Previous delays that had kept me from retrieiving her earlier that morning were caused by an unexpectra pyrometra — or, in Layman’s terms, an infected ovary. Upon her arrival, the veterinarian who’d performed the procedure explained that Jezabelle would be fine. She’s lucky, she said before taking the carrier back to fetch Jezabelle. I later found out that pyrometra can kill cats if they’re not caught soon enough.

Jezabelle was placed in her carrier and handed off to me with little more than a kind thank you from the veterinarian. My roommates gushed over her as I returned to my vehicle. She’s so pretty, one said, while the other declared that she was, Absolutely precious. Jezabelle made absolutely no noise on the way back home. I promptly released her into my room when we arrived and allowed her time to recooperate in her own environment.

This was the first picture I took of her:

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Her healing was my greatesy concern, so I tried to make my room as comfortable as possible prior to picking her up. A deep clean, arranging my blankets, setting up the closet as a ‘safe space’ for her–all this was preemptively prepared with the knowledge that she would want ‘alone’ time, though the first place I found her was burrowed in my comforter. She was sleeping and so I, being tired myself, figured I would try to take a nap with her, though the moment my leg touched her she tried to attack me through the comforter.

She wouldn’t move out of my bed.

I wouldn’t–and realistically couldn’tmove her myself.

So… I tried an air mattress… on the floor… in my room.

I woke to growing the next morning and, fearing that she wasn’t eating or drinking because of my presence, hauled the air mattress down to the first-floor utility closet and slept there for a week.

Given that my room is also my office, she had a lot of time to interact with me during the day when I first got her. There was a lot of growling, some hissing as I passed by. I didn’t try to touch her at this point because I was well aware that she would not have that, so, with that in mind, I decided to just let her get used to my presence.

Here’s a few pictures of her during that period:

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I’ve always considered myself an animal person, so it was extremely difficult for me to accept the fact that I couldn’t help her. Touch was one thing (that I understood,) but even being near her caused anxiety. It was understandable, given her past predicament, but it upset me to no end.

A few days after bringing her home, I tried to find something that she might find more comfortable to sleep on/in (since she wouldn’t sleep with me on the bed, as I had to resort to spray bottles on the mist setting to get her off of my bed, and because she had an accident I was thankfully able to treat.) I went to Marshall’s and found a dog bed on discount. She was leery at first, but eventually went to investigate. My happiest moment at that point was when I caught her playing in her bed, which I captured here:

IMG_20130427_024414It was the first time I’d seen her interacting with her environment in a way that displayed actual content. Batting at the top of the roof, rolling about, digging her claws in and out–she knew that bed was hers, and when she caught sight of me smiling at her, we exchanged gazes and I think she knew that I’d given it to her.

Regardless of small victories, her transition continued to be extremely rough.

Over the course of the next several weeks, she continued to exhibit aggressive behavior that kept me from getting close to her. We developed a proximity–a ‘safe zone’–in which I could be away from her and she would be comfortable. At roughly four feet, she could lay and/or sit away from me and I could be on my computer or in bed without issue. She took to sleeping atop a refurbished dresser I’d purchased from Goodwill, but given that I was unable to devise a way for her to sleep atop it without sliding off, I ended up placing a blanket on the floor until later.

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She was, however, getting used to me. Despite having to use a misting bottle to deter her from my bed when I wanted to sleep, she continued to sleep atop and under my blankets regardless of her caution.

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But despite my frustrations, our bond continued to grow. She started letting me pet her while she was in prone states or asleep and started sleeping next to me about two months after she came home.

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Her willingness to approach became greater.

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She helped me do things on the computer (like brave the frigid, arctic wastelands in Guild Wars 2.)

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Late into September (nearly six months after I brought her home,) she continued to have issues with me touching her. It was still very much on ‘her terms.’ She had this habit I called ‘no touch’ in which, if I tried to pet her, she would bat my hand away. At the time, the doctors I was seeing became concerned over seeing my hand covered in scratches, but it was for reasons like the following. [Click for Video]

Her temperment, while playful, could be overwhelming at times. I wanted so desperately to interact with her in a more tactile manner, so playing games like ‘no touch’ with her (which she seemed to enjoy, as it was much like the ‘chase the finger’ game albeit a little rougher) was the most I could muster when she was active, which often resulted in scratches that, after healing, would leave scars.

She allowed me to hold her briefly during this time, when I could actually pick her up without causing major distress, but it wasn’t until October of last year that the major breakthrough happened–in which she not only began to let me (and requested I) pet her on a regular basis

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but also when she started cuddling into and sleeping next to, and on top of me.

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Six months after I brought her home from the animal center, we had developed a relationship in which I–and, most importantly, she–was comfortable.

I’d done what many were baffled by and even considered me fruitless for trying: I’d rehabilited an animal who, after being visciously dumped by her previous owners, had suffered severe emotional and psychological issues, those of which would have made many think twice about even laying their hands on her.

On April 14th, 2014, I celebrated what I deemed (based off her initial projected age of one-year-three-months upon her veterinarian analysis) to be her second birthday and, ultimately, her greatest triumph in her life. We woke up sleeping next to each other, snuggled in for some private daddy and kitty time (which included many snuggles, kisses, and, when she got rambunctious, played the crazy kitty game as she jumped on and off the bed and all around the room.) I showered her in kitty treats, continuously proclaimed her as the ‘Birthday Belle,’ and sat and watched in silent awe as she slept, played, ate, or cleaned herself the entire day.

It was enormous–to think that, had I not found her that day, she could’ve easily been put down. As previously mentioned, Austin’s no-kill statistics are astoundingly high in our state, but it doesn’t prevent animals whom shelters deem unadoptable for whatever reason from being euthanized and simply tossed away.

To this day, Jez still has problems with other people. It’s only been recently that she’s started allowing other people to touch her for short periods of time, and she rarely leaves the sanctity of my room. We call it ‘Her House,’ because truly that’s what it is. She’s not made friends with the other animals in the house due to her cautious nature and, while I’ve been allowing free reign of the home by leaving my door open now that she’s acclimated to her environment, she only occasionally ventures out into where the laundry area and my bathroom are situated. (She’s been infamously trapped in the bedroom twice so far.) The furthest she’s gone down the stairs is four steps, to which she immediately bolted upon seeing my roommates, and while curious of the outside world, she’s very grounded in the environment she’s been reborn in.

Whatever way you cut it, she’s undergone an amazing transformation. She’s gone from being deemed ‘semi feral’ to being like any other housecat. She’s my best friend, my little familiar, the one who makes sure I’m comfortable when I’m not feeling well, who jumps on me at random hours of the night while I’m sleeping and wakes me up by smelling my breath–and that, in the end, is all that matters.

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Thank you to the people of the Williamson County Animal Shelter in Georgetown, Texas, and to the veterinary clinic in Hutto, Texas (where Jezabelle was dumped) for taking such good care of my baby. It means the world to me, and while I know she didn’t understand what was going on, it’s because of you that she’s still here.

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Why do writers give away free fiction? (My thoughts)

There’s a universal question that is often asked whose answer lies across a broad range of spectrums. If you a writer, some people begin, and you eventually want to make a living off your work, why are you giving it away for free?

The answer, as I said, is different for everyone. Some may want to establish a fanbase; some may want to improve their work. Others, meanwhile, may simply crave the feedback from an unknown individual who, hopefully, will praise your work.

As a writer, I can tell you there is no greater high than having someone post a comment on your blog or email you saying how much they’ve enjoyed something you’ve written. Public writing collectives such as Writer’s Cafe and FictionPress allow for something that, in prior years, was nearly impossible to receive–the eventual (and, in some cases, instant) feedback on your work.

I’ll be the first to say that not all that feedback might be great. On sites like I listed above, this ‘instant gratification’ might simply be automatic responses tailored in an attempt to make you reciprocate them for ‘reading your work.’ Oftentimes, though, I’ve found that the people who are willing to reach out to you are truly genuine. When that happens, you’ve just established something between you and a reader: a bond.

It’s safe to say those bonds are sometimes lasting.

But, going back to the original point–I can understand the argument. Why give it away when you can sell it? I’ve been asked this multiple times throughout the duration I’ve been posting free fiction online, to which the automatic (and logical) response was: Couldn’t you just put it together and sell it? I bet people would buy it.

Well… that’s where it gets complicated.

In my experience, collections don’t sell. Over the past few years, I’ve attempted to sell (at least in part) several collection-themed works that’ve contained either short stories, flash fiction, or a combination of the two (with the occasional novella sometimes included.) The first was simply called Stories. That one didn’t last long (fairly certain it was the cover.) The second one was Love and Other Horrors–which, though its cover was my own creation, and while visually well received, went nowhere. And finally, my crowning acheivement: Amorous Things–which garnered much praise from several writers and even well-known publications, yet hasn’t gone anywhere besides being known as a ‘good collection.’

From my research, it all comes down to this:

  • 1. People don’t like short stories because they’re short.
  • 2. People don’t like short stories because they get too immersed in what they’re reading, then feel cheated when it ends. (The disconnect.) — via Stephen King
  • 3. People don’t like short stories because they’d rather save their money and spend that on a novel.
  • 4. There’s so many short stories online (for free) that there’s no point in buying a story collection.

Those are just the reasons I myself have come across in my research and various experience throughout the internet. I tend to give a lot of credit to King’s opinion due to how many short story collections he’s put out over the years–and how, admittedly, their popularity has dropped off a substantial degree.

Which brings me to my final point–the ‘big announcement’ about an older work that I’ve hinted over on Facebook.

I am releasing the contents of Amorous Things to my short fiction blog

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I love this collection. It has some of my absolute favorite stories in it and I’ve been told some of my best short work. Knowing that it’s resting in obscurity has troubled me for quite some time now. I held on to the idea that it would suddenly take off (or that the audio production which I announced way back when would actually be completed.) Alas, it didn’t, and while many might be content in allowing a work to remain static in the hopes that the occasional fish might bite, I’m someone who knows what kind of power free fiction can hold.

So, with that in mind:

You can read the contents of Amorous Things on my short fiction blog by clicking here

or

If you have a Kindle (or a Kindle reading app) and would prefer to download it that way, you can do so by clicking here

It has already been well-received in the short time it’s been available on Amazon. Other markets are forthcoming, though due to individual retailers’ specifications, I cannot promise it will be free everywhere (though if you do in fact find that to be the case, you may always go to my fiction blog and read the stories there.)

Thank you for all of your support. It is much appreciated. I hope that, if you do download Amorous Things, you will enjoy it.

Amazon Anonymous; Or, Why Authors Shouldn’t Read Their Reviews

The recent controversy regarding the given choice to remain anonymous on review sites like Amazon has been a staple feature in almost every writer’s mind for the past two weeks. With individuals such as Anne Rice making vocal their opinion on the matter (and trust me, Miss. Rice has a pretty strong one,) it’s easy to see why people are torn between the two possibilities.

It’s perfectly understandable why people would want to remain anonymous on the internet. From potential employment conflicts, to differing viewpoints between family members, for safety reasons regarding past or even present incidences, it’s easy to see why Jane Blaine would want to present herself online as KittyX123. For what it’s worth, the internet is not a witness protection program. Post the wrong thing and the suspiscious (or even curious) scriptkitty can get into your personal information. (Edward Snowden, professional scriptkitty, proved this to the United States government.) For some, though, anonymity can be used for control.

The dawn of the internet has created a period in which anonymity is both a blessing and a curse. For some, they use that anonymity to remain silent–to ensure that their identity is kept locked behind a steel veneer from which they can look out with their porcelain facade. For others, they use that influence to exert control over.

As a public figure who has had to deal with the scrutiny of such individuals, I’ve come to develop what most everyone in the entertainment industry refers to as the ‘thick skin.’ Designed to render you impervious from public perception, it’s meant to ensure that you don’t get emotionally involved with something someone else wrote about you and your product and therefor have an adverse reaction because of it. (Some people literally go crazy when this happens, I shit you not. Just ask the editor whose head was slammed into her steering wheel by a disgruntled writer.) It isn’t, however, a failsafe mechanism. Humans are, by design, emotional creatures, and when shown that some might be so vehemently hateful against them that they will say almost anything to get a rise out of you, there eventually comes a breaking point.

Herein arises what I like to call the double-a (the Amazon Anonymous issue.)

I’d mentioned previously that the internet allows for pretty much however much ambiguity you want. Consider this scenario:

Jane Blaine (AKA KittyX123) buys books off Amazon.

And she reviews them.

Under her username.

Knowing completely well that no one will ever know she is Jane Blaine.

The power struggle that is presented here is laid out in the matter of speaking: If you wished to say anything you wanted about anyone or anything and you would never get in trouble for it–either from friends, acquaintances, employers, potential strangers or even the law–what’s stopping you from doing it?

That is the thinking behind the anonymity quotient. In some ways, it works (as I’d previously described above.) In others, it allows individuals to attack you out of spite or merely for the fun of it for whatever reason they choose.

I stopped reading my Amazon reviews a long time ago. Save the one I read and then commented about on my Facebook page last night (which I promptly deleted out of the Why do I care about this? thought,) I don’t find much worth in trolling Amazon or any of the other sites for reviews. The few I do happen to read don’t come from Amazon at all (in this case, professional organizations or review sites,) but even then I don’t usually just sit there for hours on end reading what everyone has to say about me. Maybe it’s because I was so horribly bullied throughout my public school years that I’ve become numb to the paranoia that the bad people are out to get me (they are out to get me, and always will be, because I’m a gay religiously open-minded writer who is mentally ill and happens to write about such issues in my books.) Either way, it doesn’t help when marauding bands of these individuals go about attacking authors under pseudonyms, especially when those unverified rankings and heinous reviews can adversely affect a potential reader’s decision to buy the product.

I don’t believe that people should be stripped of their anonymity. Amazon presents a case in which unverified reviews can be posted willingly without any kind of validation system (though I can’t imagine how they’d do such a thing anyway.) I do believe that this sort of problem isn’t going to go away, and while I agree with many of the statements that people like Anne Rice have given, it’s ultimately up to Amazon to decide what they’re going to do. They are not the arbiter of our use; they are merely a mechanism within which we operate.

Either way, I think the moral of the story is this: Don’t read your reviews. They’re for purchasers, not authors. You put out the product you wanted (or at least you hopefully did.) You should, in that sense, be confident in your work. Not everyone is going to like what you write, do, support, etc. And whatever you do, do not engage with these reviewers. The internet is very much a digital jungle, and for those who happen to get snared within its nets, it’s usually impossible to get out.