The big shipment of Planet Mercenary books arrived today. That means it is time to switch gears and start sending packages out the door. My thoughts have been running a mile a minute since the moment I pulled up at Hypernode Headquarters and realized that I wasn’t going to have to sit around waiting for the truck, it was waiting for me. Cue flurry of me rapidly shifting the last few boxes so that pallets could take up that floor space. Thirty out-of-breath minutes later the delivery was done and the truck drove off.
Since then I’ve been making lists and scrambling to get things done. These are things I am tracking right now:
Preparations for the first shipping day: including finishing the errata document, getting 800 books triple signed, ordering the necessary shipping supplies, and mentally pre-organizing the backers into batches.
Preparations for ongoing shipping: I’m going to have to do many shipping days across several weeks. My kids are going to get tired of working and so I may need to hire neighborhood teens and organize that. I don’t know what will be needed. I’ll have to figure it out as I go.
Combining Deluxe Handbrain screen orders with Planet Mercenary orders: The first rush of emails is done, but responses are still coming in. At least now I have a practiced system for handling them so nothing gets lost. (Creating that system was a source of some stress as I used my brain as a bridge between three incompatible systems.)
Fulfilling on the last Planet Mercenary Kickstarter items: The Planet Mercenary backers will be getting their packages soon, which only leaves the Game Chief Secrets PDF which we promised. So I’ll be trying to squeeze in writing and editing time around the shipments. If anything slides it will be finishing up this, but I’d really like to end July with having delivered everything. I want August to be fully focused on the big events scheduled there. And in September I’d really like to shift gears into doing something new.
Fulfilling on the Handbrain Screen Kickstarter: The pressing of the screens themselves has been scheduled. I’ll need to approve them, pay the bill, and then wait for a truck. Then a second wave of shipping hits. Also there is the Adventure PDF that needs to be written and sent out.
Preparing for GenCon: This one is made so much easier by the crew I have in Indianapolis. They’re such amazing people and make running the booth possible. However much of my work for GenCon happens before we even get to the event. I’ve already done the hotel booking, flight purchasing, insurance purchasing, and arranged for electricity at the booth. Our official convention schedules are done thanks to the amazing folks at the GenCon writer’s symposium. Yet to do: make a new banner that features Planet Mercenary, ship Planet Mercenary books so we can sell them at the booth, double check on-site inventory and ship to fill any gaps, prep the cash register with new products, get the GenCon adventure ready for players, assist in lining up GCs to run games at GenCon, communicate with booth partners to make sure they have everything they need, prepare two solo presentations to give at the convention, and make up flyers and other promotional materials for the show. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. There is always something.
Preparing for the Writing Excuses Cruise:
Completing the next Schlock Mercenary book:
Thing I am really looking forward to: being able to complete things in the list above and not have to worry about them anymore. I’ve been pre-planning the Planet Mercenary shipping for the last eighteen months and I finally get to do the thing.
The package was delivered while @SandraTayler was out running an errand. I opened it because I couldn’t NOT open it. Then I took pictures.
When she got back, I said “there’s a package for you on the counter.” Her reaction, which I only saw from behind, was fascinating.
I can only describe it as “There is a giant spider poised to pounce, and I’m in range, and it’s exactly the spider I always wanted.”
So I guess I’m glad I did the box opening because her having that reaction while holding a knife would have been scary for me.
Howard’s spider description was right on the nose. I was looking straight at the book for a moment before I realized what it was. We hadn’t gotten a shipment notification, so I wasn’t expecting them today. Then I froze and for a moment I was afraid to touch them, while simultaneously wanting to snatch it up and hug it. Because, what if it hurt me? What if I picked it up and found that there were huge errors that made the book unsellable and instead of being a triumph the whole thing was a massive failure? (Anxiety is not logical.) So it took an act of will to pick the book up. And to flip through the pages, but then I could breathe again. Because the books are beautiful both visually and to the touch.
I tweeted some replies to Howard’s spider tweet:
This is almost exactly what it felt like from the inside.
Brain wouldn’t parse and when it did I was almost afraid to touch the book, because what if it wasn’t right?
But then it was right, so I cried a little bit. And I’ve been carrying around the book ever since.
I’ve done so many pit-of-despair moments over this book, pushed so hard, gave up so many other things, and now it is real.
The bulk shipment can’t come fast enough. I want to send this out to the backers.
Naturally one of the first things we did was reach out to Alan Bahr and tell him to come get his copy. Until the bulk shipment arrives, we only have three. One for Howard, one for me, one for Alan. He came right over and we sat and talked for a couple of hours. Some was about the book we were finally getting to hold. Some was about GenCon coming soon. Some was about splatbooks and expansions that we’ll want to put out for the game in the next couple of years. And some about other stuff. As Howard tweeted afterward:
Me & Alan: Alan: “Ugh, now I’m going to have to write that.” Me: “No, the point is that—” A: “Stop talking you’re just making more work.”
*Alan flees* Me: “Wait, there’s more!” *Car won’t start* Me: “Ahem.” *waves distributor cap* Alan: “aaaaauuuughh” *dies*
Okay, those last two were comedic storytelling for effect, but Alan really does end up with more games to write. However I think that a trip to the grocery store might give Alan more games to write. His brain just works that way. Alan has been fantastic to work with. As were our artists, our graphic designer, and editors. It takes a lot of people to make a book like this.
I’m still carrying around the book and petting it occasionally. But as soon as I finish up this post, I need to find my focus and get back to work. There is still much to be done to bring this project to final completion.
I’ve spent the past week mired in words. Most of them were in emails as I was communicating with the 600ish people who backed both Planet Mercenary and the Handbrain screens to help them combine their orders. All that communication was rewarding because so many people expressed excitement and thanks about the impending shipping of the project. Also I know that every bit of organization that I do now will be less organization work that I have to do later.
The other words I’ve been wrestling this week are the words for the next Schlock Mercenary bonus story. I’ve hammered out the shape of the story and the cast, but I need to tune the details of the story. Then I have to fine tune the words. Focusing on it is hard because there are so many other things that I could also be doing with my hours.
List of other things:
I’m in the final crazy push to the end of July, when things should finally slow down.
It is a little hard to see, but from the floor the difference is significant. I now have space for up to ten pallets of books. Or I will once I haul off that stack of old pallets. With the shifting done, we got to work bagging components:
One of the secrets to an efficient shipping is to bundle things in advance. Every single order at the Company Commander and Commodore levels get a little white bag containing 4 pins, 1 coin, 1 set of dice, and 1 deck of cards. They also get a padded envelope containing their Seventy Maxims book and Game chief screen. So when time comes to box orders, instead of needing to grab ten different things for each package, we only have to grab three: book, padded envelope, little white bag. Additionally, the bundling also provides some useful padding making it less likely that things will get damaged in transit. Today we assembled almost 800 little bags. We need to assemble 1200 more exactly like these. Then we’ll assemble a pile of bags for the backers who included RiPP tokens in their order. The RiPP tokens fit into the little bag too. The bag itself is a bonus that we didn’t tell backers they are getting. It is a small thank you from us for supporting the project and being patient while we got everything done.
Lots of work still remains. I’ve only got a few weeks until the books arrive.
Another task which needs doing is pre-bundling components that will go into packages. Many of the packages have the same contents. It is much easier to grab a single bag that contains 4 pins, 1 coin, 1 dice set, and a deck of cards than it is to grab each of those things individually for each package. However it does mean that we have to sit down and make up the bags containing all the things. That work needs to happen before we can begin shipping in earnest, and I hope to get it done before the books arrive.
A related pair of tasks: The GC screens arrived flat and they need to be folded in order to fit into the shipping boxes. The Deluxe Handbrain screens will arrive as individual units and will need to be assembled into 3 screen sets with matching pins.
Invoices need to be printed and sorted as well. That process will begin first for the Handbrain Screen Kickstarter, because that is where I have the information about who might want to combine their orders. I have to collate that information before I can ship any of the orders. However I can’t get rolling on that quite yet. People need more time to fill out their surveys. I don’t know yet whether the Handbrain Screens or the books will arrive first. Ideally I’ll have a couple of weeks between the arrivals. Most likely they’ll arrive within a week of each other because those were the timelines I was given. Once both shipments arrive, all that remains is for me to ship things out.
I did preparatory accounting yesterday. I’ve got lots of shipping bills incoming, so the accounts need to be as prepared as the physical spaces. I’m tempted to run a sale to clear out some inventory and create more wiggle room in both the accounts and the warehouse. Yet running a big sale and triggering more shipping right in the middle of preparing for a massive shipping seems a bit crazy. The truth is that I have enough space in both places to get the job done, even if it will be a little tight for a while.
Time to get back to work.
School has only been out for a week and already my work schedule had been suffering. It isn’t that the kids cause any problems or distractions, at this point they’re self-sufficient. It is just that my brain knows I don’t actually have to get up when the alarm goes off. It knows that I can hit snooze multiple times without real consequences. So I do. And then it is 9am before I’m really moving on my day. Which means noon arrives before I’ve gotten much done. And then before I know it, I’m at 5pm. Focus is hard to maintain, the days have all gone ….mushy.
Howard is having the same problem. We have it every summer. I’m just getting a double dose because the urgent push to get a book off to print ended at about the same time that the kids got out of school. I’m cast adrift twice over, while simultaneously being very aware that if I don’t take care of non-urgent tasks during this space of time, they will become urgent right about the time when books and game screens arrive to subsume all my hours into shipping 3000 packages. I need focus. I need to make good use of my days so that I’m getting things done in advance of shipping.
So I’ve begun to schedule things on my calendar in new ways. During the school year the only things that go on my calendar are the fixed points: pick ups, drop offs, appointments, meetings. Then I let the other tasks flow around these fixed points. During the summer my calendar has almost no fixed points. So I have to take all those tasks which would usually flow and declare them to be appointments. Tomorrow at 8am I have an appointment with writing the bonus story. At 10am I have an appointment with the Planet Mercenary Game Chief secrets PDF. At noon there is an actual appointment with a child and an orthodontist. From 2-5pm I’m going to deep dive into improving our online store. By putting them on the calendar I’m trying to tell my brain what to focus on. Sometimes it works, other days I still get lost in the drift of the day.
The good news is that Howard and I had a conversation about all of this and we’re both going to be making a greater effort to help get each other up in the morning and to make sure that we have our morning business meeting where we talk about what we need to get done during the day. Hopefully that will help.
It is Sunday afternoon and in just over an hour five members of my family of six will be departing for church. The sixth stays home because he’s not sure he believes in God and he no longer wants to be at church. It took courage for him to state his lack of belief to his religious parents. It took much out of his parents to accept his statements and to allow him to stay home. I still have unprocessed emotions about this, some personal, some religious, some parental. I still have hours when my mind runs loose on all the ways I could have taught better, been better, chosen differently. The voices of self doubt tell me that his choices are my fault. Except, my religion teaches the importance of free agency. We all get to choose. Even my son. Even if he chooses to walk away from something that I hold dear.
This leaves me with a set of choices. I have to decide whether to make church attendance a battle ground. I have to decide whether my desire to have him at church supersedes his desire to not be there. I know there is a theory of belief which says I should make him come because if he comes the spirit has a chance to speak to him. I also know that an angry and resentful mind is not fertile ground for belief to sprout. Instead we have chosen to respect the choice that he has made about church attendance because belief can’t actually be forced. Outward compliance matters less than the inward experience of connection with (or disconnection from) God.
I’m now faced with the challenge of building family culture and connection that is not centered in a shared religion. It is possible that my son will find his way to belief. It is also possible that he won’t. Either way I want to have an ongoing relationship with him. I want him to be a connected part of our family. Connection is fostered by common values and interests. We still have many of those. It just requires us to stop assuming common ground based on a set of religious teachings and start having important conversations to find where it actually exists. Which, truth be told, is probably something we should be doing even if we all went to church together. It isn’t just my son I’m trying to discuss belief with. I’m talking with Howard, my other children, myself, God.
The discussions are ongoing and evolving. My son is in the middle of being a teenager and thus doing a lot of work to discover who he is, who he wants to be, and what he believes. I’m also doing a lot of work to build structures to help him face his choices instead of fleeing from them and to help him learn that sometimes the only way to get anywhere worth being is to do all the hard work. Naturally I hope that some of the hard work he will do will lead him to know God and get his own answers. But that is between him and God. Fortunately one of the things that God has been telling me lately is that He loves my son as much as I do and that I need to give them space to work things out. So I will. Even though it is hard.
We’ve reached the point in the school year where it is essentially over. My two teenagers will still go to the school buildings for four more days, but those days will be filled with administrivia and a last minute test or two. They’ve managed to not fail classes, which wasn’t a certain thing a week ago. This not-failing is because of a last minute scramble to turn in work which somehow didn’t get done or turned in earlier in the term. Four days from now we embark on summer.
I know some families whose summers are filled with extra trips and outings. They strive to keep their kids busy and engaged. This summer is packed to the edges with work for Howard and me. We will sneak in family activities around the edges, but for the most part summer for our kids means lots of free time rather than lots of structured activity. July will have some school in it, because both of my teens are doing some independent study work. I’ll probably reinstate my rule from last year where I don’t police screen time as long as the kids spend a pre-agreed amount of time either learning or making before they screen. But that is the limit of structure that I believe I can sustain while also sustaining the quantity of business tasks I need to do.
The learning and making is important because it requires my teenagers to stretch themselves. They begin to explore who they might want to be as adults. They begin to define who they are right now. I might add an additional requirement about getting out and doing things with friends. Perhaps I’ll even require that some of that friend time take place at not-always-my-house. I love having my kids’ friends here, but my kids need to learn how to navigate being a visitor at someone else’s house. They don’t do that often enough.
The other half of my children are both adults. They will be working, one at a job (once he acquires one) and one at setting up a freelance career. All four kids will get pulled in to the shipping work that needs to be done this summer. I suspect we will all be tired of packages before it is done.
With all six of us home all day, we’ll all have to participate in more household clean up. There will be more negotiation over use of space. There will be more times where we’re getting in each other’s way. For now I’m fine with that. By the end of August I’ll be longing for the structure that a school schedule supplies, but for now I’m glad to let it go.
We launched a Kickstarter on Monday, and it has been highly distracting all week. Some of the distraction is just watching and wondering if it will fund, but much more of it is the massive influx of email. Each time we update, that creates another comment thread where people can post questions or thoughts to us. Several times I’ve read a question and had to take a minute to carefully figure out which Kickstarter they were asking questions about. This is particularly important because in the last forty-eight hours I’ve gotten questions about the Challenge Coin Kickstarter that we ran four years ago, The Planet Mercenary Kickstarter that we ran two years ago, and many questions about the Handbrain Screen Kickstarter that is currently running. It fractures my ability to concentrate to manage all of this.
On the happier side, Kickstarters also provide a lot of positive energy. People are excited and interested in the results. People express kind thoughts and confidence in our ability to deliver a quality product. All the well-wishes are heart warming.
We have two and a half more weeks doing everything we can to make this Kickstarter amazing. After that will be a wait of a couple of weeks before we have the screens in hand. Then comes the shipping. The shipping will be big and complicated because the screens and Planet Mercenary books will both be shipping close together, but once it is done I will have a huge weight lifted. I will have finally delivered to the backers who trusted us two years ago. I’m really looking forward to that.
In the past six months my thoughts have turned into lists. They are endless lists of urgent tasks accompanied by a sense of impending failure. Yet lately the lists are shorter, and I begin to see the results of those lists in projects accomplished. The lists are going to last through July, but they now have some spaces between them. Those spaces are going to get larger. Occasionally when I am inside of one of those spaces I feel a little lost. I’ve forgotten what to do when my days are strictly constrained by urgent tasks. I know that I should begin picking up my own long-neglected projects, and I will, but not just yet. First I need to teach my brain that it is okay to not think in lists all the time.