Summer Con at the Fairgrounds!

I’ll be with Books & Chains this weekend at the Washington State Summer Con in Puyallup, WA at the Fairgrounds, June 15-16!

We’ll be at Booth #284 in the Showplex, so come say hello!

Map of Showplex
Click on map to view larger.

Last Cities of Earth

If you remember, last year I was part of a potential anthology entitled The Last Cities of Earth. While an amazing project based on the art and concepts by Jeff Sturgeon, its Kickstarter didn’t make last year.

This year, the project is back and reorganized and best of all–the Kickstarter has funded! In the first 24 hours no less!

I will have a story in the anthology, alongside Kevin J. Anderson, Brenda Cooper, David Gerrold, Mike Resnick, Andrea Stewart, Jody Lynn Nye, Steve Perry, J.A. Pitts, Cat Rambo, Peter J. Wacks, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Steven Lee Sears, and Todd Lockwood, with editing by Manny Frishberg and Jennifer Brozek.

I would LOVE if you could help us out and back it or even spread the word about the Kickstarter. You can find out more about the project here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/182358062/the-last-cities-of-earth

Last Cities of Earth

Chenata Update

If you saw my post several weeks back about my new dragon, Chenata, you saw him in his unfinished state. This past Sunday, I went into Two Birds Tattoo for round two and had him finished up. You all–Suzy is amazing. The level of detail work on Chenata is amazing, so I had to share.

Chenata, my dragon
Click to see Chenata larger.

He makes an amazing companion. <3

“Eat a Salad”

Eat a Salad, aka Dear Non-Fat People of the World,

CW: eating disorders, discrimination, fat-phobia

If you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame, you’ll get the above reference (“eat a salad”) and by the end of this post, you’ll hopefully get why it bothered so many people. But that isn’t what this post is about–not really.

While I’m going to be blunt and honest in this post about some issues I’ve had throughout my life, I want to start off by saying that this is not a post to thin-shame or make people feel badly about being healthy. I no more want to do that then I would wish to fat-shame someone, trust me. Nor am I saying that being overweight is synonymous with being healthy. There are unhealthy, thin people and healthy, overweight people. Health is complicated. That being said, this is a letter to those who haven’t walked this world and this life as a fat person in hopes that I can erase some of the fat-phobia of society.

Prejudice isn’t anything new to this world, but there’s one form of prejudice that spreads across skin color, sexuality, gender, and nationality–people’s disdain for fat people. For reasons beyond my understanding, one of the worst things you can ever be is fat. We’re hired less often, promoted less often, paid less, and worse, we’re believed less by everyone from our family members to our doctors. What’s worse is that this fat discrimination is considered socially acceptable.

I’m fat. It’s not news to me. I didn’t wake up one morning with this revelation, as it’s something I’ve dealt with for as many years as I’ve dealt with pain. Maybe longer. I’d like to say it began with a serious knee injury in middle school that crippled me for a time, but my genetics says it began before that as I’ve never been average weight.

Me, age 5
Me, age five.

There’s nothing wrong with the photo above, yet family and friends referred to me as “chunky.” Being called chunky at five isn’t healthy for anyone, and it certainly wasn’t for me. When puberty hit, my father’s way of dealing with my newfound curves was to make me run laps around our apartment building before I could come inside for the evening. As if running would somehow undo puberty’s affects on my body. Instead, I learned to abhor running. (Still do!) Growing up, I was constantly reminded that I didn’t want to “grow up to look like [my] grandma,” because she was overweight and that was the worst thing I could be.

My grandmother
My late grandmother and me (age 3)

This fear of fat permeates everything in our culture, and it gives people unrealistic expectations about their bodies and whether those bodies are worthy of love. When my grandmother died, she hated her body. She died feeling like a useless burden to everyone around her. She suffered when her husband died, and it never once dawned on her that she might find love again because who could love a fat woman? These are the lessons that I learned growing up, which is part of the reason why when I look at the picture below from Halloween, I’m not surprised that child me chose to wear a skirt. After all, it hid my thighs and belly better. (Never mind that a ten-year-old shouldn’t be worrying about this.) Even then, weight was a constant mental companion.

Me, age 10
Me at Halloween, age ten

My first experiences with fat-phobia in the medical field came during middle school–that injury I mentioned earlier. In 7th grade, someone pushed me down the stairs at school. My right knee-cap bounced down metal-capped steps for two flights before I came to a stop. The doctor provided to us by our crappy-HMO plan explained that my continued knee pain post-fall was because I was overweight. He said if I lost weight, my knee wouldn’t hurt anymore, because even at thirteen, being overweight was the reason for every plague I ever had and ever would have. The second opinion doctor called them “growing pains” and wrote me off as well.

Me, age 14
Me, age fourteen

By high school, we’d moved and thus, had better insurance. My knee was a hot mess, which set my body up to move wrong. Everything I did was in reaction to pain and hyper-mobile joints. (I’d later learn these were due to auto-immune disorders.) This new doctor agreed that something was wrong, and I was sent to surgery to fix it. Most of my cartilage was damaged or gone, knocked out of place by the fall and continued physical activity post-fall. In many places, I was bone on bone. My pain finally had a reason that made sense.

My mom and me, age fifteen

I spent most of high school like most teenaged young women–unhappy within my own skin. In fact, I spent most of my senior year struggling with anorexia. Every judgement about what I ate and utterance of fat-shaming words made me desperate to fit in with my peers. It wasn’t until long after my husband and I began dating that I conquered my eating disorder. It was many years after that that I learned to accept my body.

Despite a husband who loved me, doubts about myself crept into the oddest places in my life. Every job I ever interviewed for, I second guessed myself during the interviews. Would they hire me, or would they assume I couldn’t do the job because I didn’t fit their ideal of how a woman should look? Just visiting the doctor’s office was a chore. I had to fight for a flu test because the doctor wanted to refer me to a nutritionist to “help me lose weight” instead of treating the actual reason for my visit. I could be running a 103-degree fever, and the doctor would want to talk about my home exercise program. Back when I taught, students would leave me notes telling me how amazing I was as a teacher…but I’d be even more amazing if I were thin. If you ask any overweight person you know about this, they can tell you horror stories–especially women.

Me, Circa 2009
Teacher Me, Circa 2009

People think they mean well when they ask if you’ve recently lost weight or want to tell you about the new diet fad that worked for them, despite overwhelming evidence that diets don’t work. People also mean well when they tell people with depression to just “go for a walk outside” or when they tell folks with auto-immune disorders to “do yoga” or snort some essential oils. What people don’t realize or think about is how deeply rooted prejudice is in our words and actions. What people don’t do is think about how much “meaning well” costs others–like telling your son to “eat a salad” as a way to deal with his PTSD. As an author, I’m well aware that words have power. I’ve lost people to suicide because of the power of words. Even when we mean well, we have the power to do great harm. As creators, we have an obligation to be cognizant of our true motivations for “meaning well.”

Me, age 9
Me, age eight or nine.

In March, I developed a rather gnarly case of bronchitis after catching a viral crud. Bronchitis is never simple with me, because I have asthma (specifically allergy-induced asthma) and Sjogren’s Syndrome, which can lead to interstitial lung disease among other things. Spring is also the worst season for my allergies, which tend to attack my lungs and make me feel like I’m breathing through too many comforters. When April rolled around and the congestion stuck around, I visited my primary care physician–as most people would.

Knowing my long history with allergies and asthma, and my more recent history with Sjogren’s, my doctor ordered an x-ray to rule out pneumonia. Totally acceptable course of action. My lungs were clean. Rather than refer me to my allergist, she decided to order an echocardiogram. Not an EKG, but an actual, expense echocardiogram.

While I may be fat, I’ve never had a history of high blood pressure or high cholesterol. I’ve been a vegetarian for over twenty years and generally eat healthy. My big sin is Dr. Pepper and chocolate, but other than that, I’m pretty good. I enjoy broccoli too much, but I think that’s okay.

Me, age 16
Me, age sixteen, making an odd face for reasons I don’t remember

I felt like my own doctor was jumping to conclusions, something I’ve dealt with most of my life. When trying to get my auto-immune disorder diagnosed, I lost track of the “specialists” who told me all my symptoms would go away if I lost weight. I lost track of the number who ignored serious symptoms (like the fact that I had a fever for over six months) because I’m fat and female.

I’m not going to list out every instance–we’d be here all year–but with my PCP, I expected better. Still, I’m not a doctor. Sjogren’s can impact the heart and while I’ve never had any symptoms of heart problems, I decided to keep the appointment with the cardiologist just in case. It took insurance a month to approve a “STAT” appointment because they didn’t think it medically necessary, and for once, I agreed with them. Still, they eventually approved it.

The cardiologist looked over the past seven years of my medical records and said, “I honestly don’t know why your doctor sent you here.” He did a standing, sitting, and lying down EKG–all of which were normal. Unlike my PCP, the cardiologist knew enough about Sjogren’s to know about its impact on internal organs, so he suggested we stick to the echocardiogram in order to get a “base line” established. That way, as I progress through the disease, we could ensure we caught anything before it became an issue. He also suggested I get a new primary care physician.

When I asked why, he said he didn’t enjoy speaking ill of colleagues, but he felt my PCP was ordering unnecessary tests due to discrimination rather than an actual worry about my health. You know it’s bad when the cardiologist sees it, folks.

College Years
Slightly blurry image of me from college.

While I knew there was nothing wrong, anxiety is a bitch, folks. It didn’t matter that an echocardiogram is nothing more than a super-fancy ultrasound. I was fighting a panic attack the entire way through the day. It didn’t help that I had to go to a major hospital and walk into a cardiac unit to get the procedure.

Everyone in the waiting room was a good 20+ years older than me. They stared at me the entire time I waited for my name to be called, probably wondering what I had done at so young an age to be there. Or maybe they didn’t have to wonder. Maybe they just assumed like the rest of the world that because I’m fat, I’m a walking disaster. It’s taken a long time for me to love myself, especially post-auto-immune diagnosis, but this one moment threatened to undo all of that.

It was mortifying to sit there beneath their judgement, like there was something horrifically wrong with me.

Watching my heart beat on the screen was amazing, I’m not going to lie. Seeing it pump blood to the rest of my body…it’s something we take for granted. The technician and nurse both tried to make it a learning experience for me since they could see my panic. For example, I learned quite a bit about what Hollywood gets wrong in regards to a pulmonary embolism. During an echo, they pump tiny air bubbles into your heart, which worried me until they explained the science. But not even science couldn’t keep me completely calm and once done, I retreated to my car where I burst into tears.

The entire procedure took two hours–straight through lunch–and as I sat in my car, I realized I didn’t want to eat. The idea of food was embarrassing and felt…wrong. It wasn’t until I was half-way home that I realized why. This one moment made it easy to slip into an unhealthy style of thinking. People rarely tell you that eating disorders never truly go away. Like an addict, it’s a one-day-at-a-time type ordeal, and many find it easy to relapse.

Me, college
Me again, late college years

It’s not something I bring up often, but the truth of it is it’s a battle I fight more often than I realize. It’s easy to stand in a room full of strangers as a fat woman and subconsciously choose not to eat, despite being hungry, for fear of judgement. Worst part is, many people probably think skipping a meal is good for a fat person, but it isn’t. Starving yourself plays havoc with the metabolism and messes with the body’s ability to be healthy. It makes it harder to lose weight and easier to gain it.

My new cardiologist didn’t wait long to call me with the results. In fact, I’d barely walked in the door at home when my phone rang. My heart?

Perfect.

No signs of cholesterol issues–no narrowing of arteries or veins. Strong heart muscle and excellent blood flow to the walls. Valves excellent. Everything about my echocardiogram was perfect. As we expected. My former-primary care physician had ordered a $3000 test for absolutely no other reason than I’m fat.

I can hear some of you grumbling though. I mean, fat people carry an increased risk for heart disease, so isn’t it proactive of her to have done this test? The problem is I had no other indications. None. Insurance will receive the results and use that as an example of yet another doctor ordering an unnecessary and expensive test. They’ll use it as leverage of why they should be the ones deciding what is medically necessary instead of my doctors.

That right there is how we end up with people with cancer not getting diagnosed early enough because insurance didn’t want to pay for the tests or countless other issues that have sprung up as a result of for-profit health care. But that’s another post…

So known issues aside, I’m healthy and my heart is, too. It took me two days to recover anxiety wise, which of course sent my Sjogren’s into a flare up due to stress levels, but I’m bouncing back. I have a wonderful support system via my husband and friends. <3

Even though I’ve left my former PCP behind, how many others will she harm? Folks who might not have the support network that I do? It’s not just her, and it’s not just doctors. Society believes fat people are better left hidden in the shadows–better unseen and unheard.

To those that aren’t fat, please, please examine your own prejudices. Before you “mean well,” think about your motivations. To everyone, be an advocate for your health. You know your body better than anyone else. You might not be a doctor, but you live with yourself every day.

On that note, I make this vow to the world:

I will not be silent, nor will not hide myself from view.
I will not allow society to dictate my health decisions, and I will advocate for better healthcare.

And no, I won’t go eat a salad…unless I want one.

May the 4th Be with You!

If you’re looking for something geeky to do this weekend, otherwise known as Star Wars Weekend (May the 4th, Revenge of the 5th, etc.), then drive down to Puyallup for the Geek Craft Market!

Geek Craft Market Sign

I’ll be there with Books & Chains on the first floor with all the new books as well as Elise’s awesome chainmaille jewelry and some of my art. Come check it out and have a geeky time!

The Writer with the Dragon Tattoo

Everyone discovers the realms of science fiction and fantasy through different means. Some of us by way of a blockbuster film or bestselling novel, and others by way of a friend or a teacher. For me, it was a mix of all of the above, though I didn’t really fall head-over-heals in love with the genres until 6th grade when a friend recommended Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels to me.

Ruth of Pern
Ruth, the white dragon of Pern. Image (c) Michael Whelan.

At first glance, the books appear fantasy as their covers bear dragons and dragon riders. In fact, it was the dragons that drew me into their stories as I imagined the world full of dragonriders fighting evil thread that dropped down on their planet from the nearby Red Star. Honestly, it wasn’t until I was four books in that I realized I was reading science fiction, and that the dragons had been created from their cousins, the fire lizards. Not that this knowledge changed anything for me. If anything, it opened another door into more stories.

I devoured the Pern novels first before branching out into other SF/F works. They were the stories that spoke deep into the recesses of my brain telling me that one day I would be a writer. One day, I would write stories that held others enraptured, and these readers might find themselves in the same position I was in at age twelve, that of aspiring writer.

If you’ve followed my blog, you’re probably familiar with the fact that twelve-year-old me didn’t wait very long to turn that “aspiring writer” into “writer.” One day into summer vacation had me drawing maps and world-building what I thought was a brand new world. In reality, it was a modified version of Pern, complete with dragonriders and odd names. By the end of summer, I’d written over 350 pages of my first novel, and while it will never see the light of day, it taught me a great deal about character and plot arcs, among other things. Fan-fiction though it was, it displayed my love of dragons and fantastical worlds. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

My love of dragons lives in the very pores of my skin (literally now!) and is a reminder that on days where I struggle to string together a sentence, let alone a page, I have a world of magic and mystery waiting for me between the pages of a book. A world worth the struggle. Because of this, I recently chose to have a tattoo of a dragon done on my upper arm. Like that first novel, this dragon is slightly modified with a bit of fandom. It’s styled after the Pernese dragons through the face and body, but rather than rough, leathery wings, we gave it feathers, both to mark my name (Raven) and as a nod to the writing tools of old—a quill pen. 

Writer with the dragon tattoo
This is the unfinished, round 1 of the tattoo. I go in for the rest next month.

Part of the rationale for my tattoo comes from my auto-immune diseases which some days cause my body to be much older than it is. On these days, it’s difficult to remember that I am more than my body, that my mind is powerful and the inventor of great things. With my dragon looking over my shoulder, I have a constant reminder that Chenata (my dragon’s name, taken from an awesome short story) is crouched on my shoulder as a reminder that I am tough. As the story says, I am all…the wind, the clouds, and the water. As such, I can weather this. 

Imagine my surprise this morning when I received an email from a librarian on behalf of a twelve-year-old aspiring writer who loves dragons. (This sounds so familiar!) While working together to learn how to write, they had stumbled across my website, particularly my WRITING RESOURCES section. Like this young man, I, too, escaped to the library to discover worlds my father would’ve have preferred I not read (had he known!), and like this young man, it was these worlds that gave me the writing bug.

In their email, the librarian included a great resource the young man found on dragons that I wanted to share with you all. The article by Molly Schwichtenberg has a nice wealth of both myth and etymology in its links, and I anticipate getting lost in the readings. If you’re a dragon-lover like us, perhaps you’ll enjoy exploring this resource too: https://www.halloweencostumes.com/all-about-dragons.html

The librarian wished to reach out to me to let me know how helpful and influential I’d been to this aspiring writer, which made my morning. There’s fan mail and then there’s fan mail like this. It’s a glorious reminder that what writers do matters. 

The stories that we tell matter.

We are the creators of worlds and changers of the world. We give people an escape. We give them hope and delight; we cause terror and sadness; and we take them on adventures they will never forget with characters who become their best friends.

There’s a power to words, a power I hope this young man finds as he creates his own world of dragons! Welcome to the ranks of writers, Nick! May your adventures be everything you hope them to be!

Dragon flight

Norwescon!

While you’re reading this, I’m away at Norwescon, one of my favorite SF/F conventions!

Norwescon 42
See you there!

I’ll be back next week! Otherwise, I hope to see you there. 🙂

Dear Former Homeowner,

This post is a part of a new series on my site entitled “Dear ______,” where I plan to write letters to sometimes specific and other times general people. If you want to read more of these, you can see the ones I’ve written thus far here.


Buying a house is definitely one of the most stressful parts of adult life, especially when facing down a seller’s disclosure. Did they tell you everything they know about the house? Are they hiding something or lying to you? Will you be walking into your dream home or a genetically-modified lemon?

I knew from the moment I walked into our current house that it would be the one we’d purchase. Rather than the typical cookie-cutter homes we’d seen before, ours was a unique home–one of two with this design. The back side of the house is a semi-circle of near floor to ceiling windows, and in the main level, we have vaulted ceilings with original wood beams. But what really sold me was the huge telescope sitting near a window.

Semi-circle room
Semi-circle living room

I think you, seller, were counting on this to sell the house, and like many people, we fell in love. What we didn’t know was that you were a liar and a cheat.

semi-circle basement
The daylight basement is also a semi-circle to match the top floor.

We did our due diligence and hired an inspector. Even though we later found out the hard way that they’d missed several things they shouldn’t have, we thought ourselves safe. The inspection came back & the only major issue with with the breaker boxes. Both boxes had major code violations that could burn the house down at any moment–from double lugged circuits and faulty wiring to being located within inches of the hot water heater.

Imagine our relief when you agreed to have these repairs fixed. I mean, we were talking $7,000 in repairs, so it made us breathe easier to know it would be taken care of as part of our contract. You agreed to fix it with a licensed, insured, and bonded electrician, and shortly after, you sent us a receipt as “proof” the repairs had been made.

Despite being a beautiful home, the house had sat on the market for two months because you’d refused to lower your price or agree to fix the electrical. We thought ourselves lucky when you did both for us, though it should’ve been a warning sign that everything was about to go wrong.

Sunset
On a good day, we can see Mt. Baker

I don’t know how other potential buyers knew or if they knew at all, but somehow we’d missed whatever warning signs were present. At closing, we heard you complaining to the title company about how much money you’d lost bringing the price down and fixing the breaker panels. I learned through the thin walls that you’d been a teacher and were recently divorced, and for a moment, we felt bad for you. I was a teacher for 12 years. I remember what a teacher’s pay is like.

A few days after closing, one of the lights in the basement stopped working, and it wasn’t the bulb. We called out an electrician we trusted, who thought it might be old wiring. When he opened the breaker box to turn off the circuit, he whistled. Then he sighed. And then he pointed out that not only had you NOT performed the work you’d promised, your “electrician” actually made things worse. Now we had wires connected with other wires in a manner that had damaged the box. Black scorch marks marred the both breaker boxes.

That day, we learned that both boxes would need replacing, along with all of the wiring connecting the two. Further inspection showed most of the wiring in the basement to be faulty and installed by someone who had no idea what they were doing. Now it’s possible that the people before you were responsible for the wires in the wall, after all, you didn’t “finish” the basement. How could you know what was inside the walls? But the breaker boxes were on you and you alone.

My office
A small corner of my office

We immediately emailed our realtor, who emailed you and your realtor. You claimed it wasn’t your problem as you’d already “repaired” the problems. We did a little digging and discovered that the man you’d hired wasn’t a real electrician at all. He had no license to do anything, let alone fix breaker boxes. He had no business in the State of Washington. We pointed this out to you, along with the fact that your refrigerator door was literally being held on by velcro (I wish I were kidding), but you stood your ground and your realtor invited us to take it up with an attorney.

Perhaps he knew what we’d soon find out.

We made the decision to sue you–mostly because the damage done by you and your “electrician” friend came to the hefty tune of $15,000 in repairs. Unexpected repairs I might add. We consulted with a real estate attorney, prepared to take you to court for violating our contract. It was around this time that we noticed your mail wasn’t getting forwarded. Conversation with the postman uncovered that you never put in for them to forward it. Odd. Shortly after, our attorney was unable to locate your new address.

We hired a skip tracer–their job being to locate people in order to serve them–and he traced your movements out of Washington State and into California, where your former parents had lived before they died. You’d also lived there for a time and had siblings in the area. Your trail went cold at the California / Mexico border, and the skip tracer informed us that pursuing you beyond the United States would get costly.

As we were deciding what to do, we started getting notices from various credit bureaus and the IRS, addressed to you. Then the phone calls. People looking for you. People wanting proof that we were the new house owners and that you didn’t live here. A marshal showed up looking for you too.

The kitchen
Part of the kitchen

You can’t get blood from a stone.

At this point, we let it go. We let you go. But this house keeps biting us in unexpected ways. For instance, any improvements that have been made to the house, have been done wrong or half-assed. You didn’t keep up with general house maintenance so there’s some wood rot on the exterior siding and deck. Even worse, it looks like you might have known the deck was in trouble and rather than pay to have it fixed, the deck was shored up completely out of code. Now it’s collapsing and has to be completely ripped out and redone to meet code.

Everywhere we look is another cut corner, another spot where you or someone before you didn’t care about those who came after you. It makes me sad to think about it until I remember that we’re putting it right. It’s left cobwebs in our savings account but at least we can rest knowing that whoever owns this home after us, won’t have to worry about it violating city code, or worse, falling down around them.

Gloomy day
Foggy morning on our street

So wherever you are, former homeowner, I hope it worth it. I hope someone taught you a lesson or two about honesty and integrity. But most of all I hope you aren’t teaching anymore because the lessons you have to teach, no one deserves to learn.

Dear Home Restoration Co.

This post is a part of a new series on my site entitled “Dear ______,” where I plan to write letters to sometimes specific and other times general people. If you want to read more of these, you can see the ones I’ve written thus far here.


Where to begin. As an author, I’m supposed to be good with words, but holy smokes folks, this story is so #$%&#* that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Fair warning: This will be long, but worth the read.

Dear Currently Unnamed Home Restoration Company,

I truly hope that what happened with my home was a rarity, a fluke that will never, ever happen again, but your business model says otherwise. There’s nothing better than playing games with friends in your game room, an experience that is ruined when you set foot in several inches of water in your stairwell–bare feet slapping around in the puddles as I stared in shock.

Where was the water coming from?

It wasn’t the hot water heater. A hand to the wall discovered wet and brittle drywall half my height tall. Several steps worth of carpet held water. The only thing on the other side of that wall was a bathroom shower, so it had to be that. Though why was it leaking? How?

Like most people, I called my insurance company, who were quick to tell me I had two options while I awaited an adjuster:

  1. I could research and find my own contractors to use for all the repairs and restoration, or…
  2. I could use the restoration company contracted with Metlife. They would send out a crew to clean up the mess and then handle all contractors needed to fix the damage to my home.

I’m a busy person, so like most, I opted for the second choice–something I regret to this day.

Stairwell to Hell
Soon, this would become the closed-off stairwell to hell.

On the plus side, your restoration company immediately scheduled a clean-up crew to come out the following day. They deduced that the water was indeed coming from the shower. As long as we didn’t use the largest and best shower in the house, everything would be roses. Until then, the company would clean up the mess and await the adjuster. They moped up the water, tore up the wet carpet & padding, cut out the ruined dry wall, removed a lot of wet baseboard, removed parts of the shower, and hooked up the loudest fans we’ve ever heard. (Unfortunately, this was not our first experience with these fans…) This is also where everything went down hill…

Partial removal of damaged bathroom
Removal of damaged parts of the bathroom.

Our game room was off-bounds for several days while everything dried out. When the insurance adjuster arrived, she determined that we needed to gut the downstairs bathroom (new shower lining, new tile, new paint, etc.); replace the carpet in the downstairs stairwell and bar area, plus the staircase itself; replace the baseboards in the stairwell; and replace the drywall in the stairwell, bathroom, and closet. Insurance would cover everything except our deductible.

A note that will be important later, our insurance company paid your restoration company directly for the emergency service. Having both companies in constant, easy communication made life easy for us. We loved that you, the restoration company, would “handle everything.” I laugh and cringe to think about that now.

What no one tells you about these “all-service” restoration companies is that they hire sub-contractors to do all of their work, often at the lowest possible bid. I’ll be honest when I say that most of the people who traipsed through my home were grossly incompetent at best.

I was told in writing that the complete repair and renovation would take 3-4 weeks and cost me nothing but my deductible and some time away from work. What a sweet summer child I was to believe you. Your case-worker assured me that this would be an easy restoration. <insert laughter track here>

The first sub-contractors arrived an hour late. Their job was to gut the work areas and remove the debris, which took two days. During this, they disclosed to me that the bathroom wasn’t built to code. We both called my insurance company, who approved additional funds to fix the out-of-code bathroom build. When the next sub-contractor’s crew arrived, their job was to rebuild the entire walk-in shower from studs out and prep it for tile.

Post-demo shot.
This is what most of my bathroom looked at this point.

Upon purchase of our home, we discovered that the hot water and cold water were backwards in this particular shower. Since the walls were open, we decided to have the restoration company correct this issue while they were already there, at our expense. We felt that insurance would cover it under the same “code violation” that covered the rest of what was found, but your contractors refused to contact our insurance company and ask. We felt pressured into making a decision then and there due to time and ended up paying $900 for something that might have been covered. Worse still, the piping was installed with the wrong height, something we wouldn’t discover until the tile went in.

New plumbing/routing going in.
New plumbing/routing going in.

Speaking of that tile, I needed to pick out replacement tile–a decision that sent me into an actual panic attack. The project manager sent me to a store you “work with,” and told me that based on the amount paid by insurance, I could purchase tile costing up to $1.20/sq. ft.

If you know anything about bathroom remodels in 2017, you know that it’s near impossible to find tile for $1.20/sq. ft. Not unless you go to a massive clearance warehouse, which is not where they sent me. They claimed I would get my tile at the “contractor price,” but the store they sent me to couldn’t tell me what that price would be, so I had no idea what my budget really looked like. Was I getting 15% off? 35%? Part of the problem with the budget is that they also got it wrong–something the shop person and I figured out after I burst into tears at the fact that there was NOTHING in the store in my price range.

Because my original shower, built in 1979, had bullnose all over the place and bullnose is hella-expensive, the cost of it had killed any budget I had for tile. But the reality of construction in 2017 is that few people use that much bullnose in a shower. Instead, most use schluter. These strips cost $8 for 10 feet, meaning that if we used these instead, my tile allowance would shoot up to $6/sq. ft. before any discounts.

When we called the case-worker aka project manager, he argued with us that we couldn’t use schluter for a good thirty minutes until we finally convinced him that he was needed at the store. The store employee had to teach him about schluter–what it was, how it’s used and installed, and why it had replaced bulldoze over a decade ago. The case-worker finally acquiesced, but even with him there, neither the store nor he could tell me what % off the discount would be for contractors and thus, I still had no idea what my true budget was. (Turns out, it was much higher than $6/sq. ft. and I could have had a much nicer tile than the one I picked.)

Ready for tile.
Ready for tile.

I thought once I’d picked the tile and flooring, things would be easier, but I was wrong. First, it took over a week for the tile to arrive, despite being “in-stock.” Then, there was the chaos of tile work. Here I was, trying my best to write Amaskan’s War while contractors came in and out of my house. Every ten minutes they needed my input on something. Did I want the tile laid this way or that? Did I want this grout color or this one? Was I okay with the tiles being sloped in this direction towards the drain? (Um, yeah!) It was constant questions by contractors who needed their hands held every step of the way. It took this crew two weeks to tile the shower. At one point, they’d made so many mis-cuts that they had to go buy more tile, which of course took time to arrive.

New tile
New tile. Empty space without the glass.

In our previous setup, our shower had a built in seat and a glass window since it was a large, walk-in shower.

Error in tile work
You can probably already spot the problem…

Despite “sealing” off the basement, tile dust was everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE in our home. Despite being summer and thus, no HVAC system running through the house, we managed to have a fine layer of tile dust on every service of everything in every room of the house.

This is upstairs in my dining room, far away from any construction. Those are my footprints in the tile dust.

You didn’t offer to clean any of this either. Imagine breathing that in for the two weeks it took you to finish cutting and installing tile. We ended up paying a cleaning company to come remove the layer of dust from everything. Also, if you’re keeping track at home, we’re now at the 4 weeks mark. So much for 3-4 weeks.

I noticed something off immediately once the tile work was done, but I couldn’t test my theory without the glass in place. A new sub-contractor came out to explain that the glass would have to be custom made to fit into the new space. He took measurements and sent them off to a glass company. He also removed a chunk of custom baseboard we had in the garage, so he could have more made to replace what had been damaged. (

While we awaited the glass, another sub-contractor came out to paint the bathroom walls. Now, I realize that there’s no such thing as a perfect paint job, but these two spent more time smoking outside than actually painting. What painting they did was sloppy and horrific. They didn’t use protective tape or drop clothes and as such, got paint on the light fixtures, the towel racks, the toilet, the sink, the wall with an accent color, and of course, the new tile. They also damaged the door frame and tried to place the blame on us despite photo evidence showing otherwise.

When the case worker arrived to check out the damage, he was “disappointed” in the paint job and sent them back to fix it. They did a half-assed job at best, which I pointed out next visit. He wanted to send them back a third time, but I refused. Someone else came out–a man you called your “fixer.” You told me he was the guy you sent out to fix it when “sub-contractors mess up,” leaving me to believe this was a common enough issue that you needed someone on the payroll to fix things.

Another week goes by, then two, and the glass arrives. A sub-contractor installs it with caulk. And there are gaps in it. I waited the 48 hours requested for the caulk to dry and decided to test the gaps. I turned on the shower and low and behold, water flowed between the glass and the tile. Because I could turn on the shower, I was also able to test another theory I had about a potential problem.

Remember that photo with the bench? If you look at it, the drain is off-center. When I turned on the shower, the water didn’t drain properly. The water pooled off to the side, away from the drain. Even worse, the water that hit the bench ran backward towards the wall instead of running towards the drain. Also, the water that hit the glass ran towards the glass rather than tilting towards the inside of the shower. In other words, all of their angles were wrong.

Enter Mr. Fixer again. He used a level to show the case worker and me the wrong angles. Your restoration company wanted the same sub-contractors to fix it and I refused. If they got it that wrong to begin with, how could I trust them to get it right now? You grudgingly agreed and sent out another set of sub-contractors to work with Mr. Fixer. They had to rip up the bench, the floor, and the tile under the glass, which also meant removing the glass. But removing the glass was already a must because:

  1. you don’t use caulk to hold glass in place
  2. it wasn’t even tempered glass, meaning it didn’t meet code
  3. the glass was the wrong size, which is why there were gaps in the caulk.

Seven weeks in, and here you were reordering tile.

Nine weeks in, they’re redoing the tile, this time with the correct slopes. After they finished, they took great pains to show me the slope with the level and after 48 hours, we tested the tile together with the shower on. Sadly, the tile where the glass will be is still slightly off. They set about to fixing it, before sending off for the custom tempered glass to be made.

While we wait, another crew comes out to redo the dry wall in the stairwell and closet, which goes rather quickly. Then they have to texture it to try and match the texture on the other walls. If you’ve ever done texturing, it’s a lot like painting artwork. You’ll never get a perfect match because no two people paint alike. Despite knowing this, I expected that it would at least get semi-close. The first attempt was so different that walking into the stairwell looked like two halves of two different homes. It took them five attempts to get it passable and even then, it’s obvious one wall has been redone. Our insurance company wouldn’t cover redoing the texture for the entire stairwell, so we’re stuck with it that way unless we want to pay out of pocket.

By this point, we’re up to 5 months on a project that was supposed to take 4 weeks. I’m so far behind in my work that the stress makes me cry, yet I know we still have more to do. It’s around this time that I stop hearing from my case worker. I wait three weeks (we’re up to 6 months at this project now) for word on the glass with nothing but crickets. When another week passes, I contact your restoration company, only to be told that my case worker no longer works for the company. No one bothered to inform me of this.

Your company finally assigns me a new case worker who’s now drowning in the previous guy’s cases in addition to his own. He visits our house briefly to see what’s been done and what’s left, but it’s another month before we get going again (7 months now).

It takes a while to find out where the tempered glass is, but eventually someone comes out to install it to find that it’s the wrong size (again). New glass is ordered (again).

Now that the wall texture is done, another crew comes out to paint all the new walls and proceeds to get paint on the carpet (the good parts) and hand rails. Someone’s sent out to scrape the paint off of everything. *wince*

Eight months in, the paint is dry and it’s time for the carpet. Since we’re eight months into a project that was supposed to be one month in length, I decide that I don’t want them to replace the entire basement carpet. To do that, they’d have to pack up everything down there (which is all our books, video games, games, etc.), move everything out–including an 8′ pool table, redo the carpet, and then move everything back, unpack it all (which you know they won’t do correctly), and re-felt the pool table. Honestly, I didn’t trust you to not steal from me or break something in the process. You were insulted when I told you this, but how could you blame me after all of this?

I pointed out that we had large scraps of leftover carpet, and you assured me you could “make it work.” The crew that came out was excellent at laying out the new padding, but when it came to the carpet scraps, they had no idea what they were doing. Carpets have a direction to their weaves and if you don’t lay them down properly, the seams are visible.

Carpet seams visible
You can see the seams in the carpet very clearly. (Click the image to see it larger.)

I took the above picture not even 5 minutes after the carpet folks left. Note the construction dust tracked all over it by their boots. *sigh* Later that evening after sending this image (and others) to the new case worker, I was walking down stairs and managed to snag my toe on the seam.

For someone like me–a disabled person with auto-immune disorders that cause some loss of sensitivity in my right foot, this raised seam was a serious trip hazard. I called my case worker again and updated him to this issue. Several days passed with no word, so I called my insurance company. I knew they wouldn’t want a trip hazard, and once notified, they reached out to you. More money was given to the claim to ensure that the carpet would be completely fixed.

Problem was, I still didn’t want to redo the entire carpet. The amount of time it would take to do that was too much. We were sitting at nine months on the project and honestly, I’d lost too much time and energy to it. Besides, the carpet people had taken all of our scraps and there should have been plenty to fix this with. That’s when my case worker called to inform me that the carpet had been “thrown away,” and thus, we had nothing to fix this with.

Another set of carpet people arrived to attempt to fix it. They discovered that the carpet’s unevenness came from using too much padding. It didn’t match what was already there. Replacing the padding removed the majority of the trip hazard, but the seam was still visible. Seams like that lower the value of my house should I resell it. My case worker told me no one would ever notice. I pointed out that I would and had when I was house shopping. We’d passed on several houses because of issues like that. I suggested that we remove the carpet at the base of the stairs and replace it with the hard wood we have upstairs. A transition strip could be placed in the doorway, which would smooth over the seam and solve our problems.

Now remember, my case worker was assumably overloaded with too many restorations (and apparently stopped working at 3 PM), so the carpet resolution didn’t happen fast. After another month of back and forth, plus two weeks of the winter holidays, I was informed that my idea could work and would be dealt with after the glass in the bathroom. The glass was finally finished and installed correctly, though it took another three days to cure and set.

Almost eleven months into this, I was informed that the restoration company didn’t have a sub-contractor who would take on such a “small” flooring project. At this point, I was ready to pull all my hair out. A restoration company’s job is to ensure that everything is put back in such a way that:

  1. You don’t realize damage has ever been done and thus, everything is restored to what it was or better
  2. You don’t lose value in your house due to sub-par repair or replacement

I called our insurance company, who informed me that I could have a contractor of my choice do that portion of the work and not pay your company for it, which is what we ended up doing in the end. (Keep this in mind for later.)

My case worker called at this point informing me that everything was done and they were ready to settle the bill. I couldn’t help but laugh when him reminded him of the baseboards that still needed replacing. Problem was, you had no idea where the base board I’d given you was. The previous sub-contractor under the previous case worker had “done something” with it, but no one knew what.

It was twelve months–ONE YEAR–in when the case worker told me the baseboard had been lost by the sub-contractor. You had to tear up good baseboard from my home to send off for custom work to be done. Two weeks later, the case worker arrived with our base board, only to find that it was wrong. It didn’t match the design work at all (we have nice molding on it). We waited another two weeks while the base board was made, pushing us into thirteen months.

Once the baseboard was painted, it was installed and finally, we were done with the renovation, but our hell was still in full swing as the case worker visited our home regarding the bill.

NOTE: We later discovered that what the adjuster and renovation team had called “custom baseboard” was actually crown molding from Home Depot. Someone had flipped it upside down and applied it where traditional baseboard goes. Odd, but it worked. The stuff is mold resistant meaning the cleanup team didn’t need to throw it away. All they needed to do was clean it with bleach and reinstall it. If they didn’t want to risk that, they could’ve purchased it new from Home Depot for $11.55 a piece. We discovered this on accident while going through the store with my very handy-inclined father.

See, here’s the deal. We didn’t have to replace the entire carpet downstairs, which included packing everything up, refelting the pool table, etc. So in reality, while the claim was for $21,000, when you subtracted the bits for moving, packing, etc., you were only owed $16,000. You agreed to this amount in a notarized document required by our mortgage company. But really, we owed you less than that because we didn’t use all the money allotted for the tile and flooring. We didn’t have any bullnose and the glass made for us was cheaper than the replacement cost of what we lost. In reality, we probably owed you closer to $13,000. So imagine my surprise when my case worker claims that I owe more than the $16K because your company “had to redo lots of the work.”

I am not responsible for your mess ups. 

If your sub-contractors fuck up, that’s on you–not me. I don’t pay for you to make right what was done wrong. I told the case worker this, and he made excuse after excuse as to why I was wrong. I emailed you, the owner, directly, attaching not only the notarized document bearing your signature but also my rationale on why I didn’t owe you a penny over the agreed upon amount. It only took one phone call to our insurance adjuster for you to agree with the 16K. Honestly, that’s still more than you deserve, but we paid it. Fourteen months later and we were finally free of you, or so we thought.

Six months later, or twenty months into this entire fiasco, we get a phone call from your restoration company saying that we had not “paid our bill.” When I explain to you that yes, we had paid the $16,000 and had the checks to prove it, we were asked for proof, which we provided. Then you came back and said this call wasn’t about the 16K, but the initial $2500 of the emergency cleanup. I laughed when I said that had been paid as well and sent you the letter from our insurance adjuster stating this bill had been paid directly from insurance. I contacted insurance, who also backed up that yes, you had been paid. You claimed you never received the check but agreed to take it up with the insurance company. Again, we thought we were done.

Four months later–a full two years from when our house flooded–we get another phone call. Another secretarial-hand-not-talking-to-the-foot who claims we didn’t pay our bill. When I ask the amount, I am not surprised that it was in the amount of $2500. I explain to you that this has been paid and sent you the letter. Again. You claim you weren’t paid.

I call insurance, who proceeds to send you a copy of the check–the original check from almost two years ago–where you not only endorsed it but deposited it in your account.

In other words, you were very, very much paid.

Two years of contractor hell to restore damage from a relatively small leak. I shudder to think of how long it would’ve taken for something serious, say full-house flood from a hurricane or a house fire.

In the end, our bathroom isn’t as good as it was, but at least it’s not leaking and at least we aren’t still dealing with you.

We’re currently taking bets on how many months it’ll be before you claim we haven’t paid you, at which point, you’ll be hearing from our attorney.

________________________________

Note to Readers: This experience taught me some difficult lessons for sure. Some of them I already knew but wasn’t as diligent on because I trusted our insurance company to have our best interest in mind. Nope. Big mistake. Here’s what I learned:

  • Even if your insurance company and ten nextdoor neighbors recommend a place, always thoroughly vet them. Check your state licensing board. Check Yelp and other review sites.
  • Always watch the contractors. They will mess up. That means don’t schedule writing time or a book release while undergoing home improvement and/or restoration. It won’t happen and you’ll only cry.
  • Hire places that do their own work or have their own employees vs. hiring sub-contractors. Local is often better for this.
  • Everyone is out to get your money or cover their own ass. No one is watching your ass but you.
  • You get what you pay for.

If you ever have need of a restoration company, hopefully your experience goes better than ours. Honestly, I hope you never need one to begin with.

Award Season Reminder

This is just a reminder about award nomination/voting times and eligibility… Consider it your Award Season Reminder!

Last year in 2018, I released two books:

So what can you as a reader vote for? Quite a bit. First, voting for the Locus Awards has opened up. Anyone can vote, so if you enjoy science fiction & fantasy, head over and vote! If something you’ve enjoyed isn’t on the list, you can write it in!

Locus Awards

Just an FYI that Amaskan’s War is eligible for Best Fantasy Novel or Best YA Novel (don’t vote it in for both) so if you really loved it, feel free to write it in. 😉

Locus Awards Poll/Nomination Survey

Also open until June is the Dragon Awards from DragonCon. Again, Amaskan’s War is eligible for Best Fantasy Novel.  Click the link below to nominate!

Dragon Awards Nominations

Also now open is the Fresh Fiction Awards, where you can nominate Amaskan’s War under Science Fiction/Fantasy OR Young Adult. You’ll need the ISBN, which is: 9780990815716. You don’t have to be a member of anything to nominate either.

Fresh Fiction Awards Nomination Form

If you’re a SFWA member, Amaskan’s War is eligible for the Nebula. Last day to vote is soon!

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