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Life is Made of Minutiae

It has been a full week since I last had enough space to think writer thoughts. Shipping has consumed most of my hours for the past three weeks. There is one week more before I switch over into travel mode. In between shipping, I’ve had two doctor’s appointments and one medical test in the past week. Swallowing is harder for me than it should be. This is probably an after effect of radiation therapy I had twenty years ago. The difficulty was minimal and static for decades, so I adapted. It has felt a little worse lately, hence seeing my primary care doctor, an ENT, and going in for a fun test where I swallow barium sludge so they can x-ray while it goes down. Yesterday was a more specific test where they will ruin food by mixing it with barium and then took x-rays while I chewed and attempted to swallow. The most sadly terrible one was the oreo cookie with barium filling. I walked out of the test with a diagnosis of “dismotility of the swallow mechanism” some instructions for eating carefully and a referral to a speech therapist who will give me a set of exercises designed to strengthen throat muscles.

This is one way where life is not like fiction. Fiction is organized with narratives unfolding neatly, usually in chronological order. Plots and sub plots are clearly delineated. Life muddles everything together, tangled and overlapping. Pretty much everyone I know is caught up in a web of things that keep them busy, things they need to get out of the way so they can do other things that they want to do. I have to remind myself that the tangle is my life. This July my life is about shipping, swallowing, hauling my kids to work in the warehouse, watching them work, and preparations for my upcoming trip. It is also about fixing food, taking out the trash, going grocery shopping, negotiating for use of the big TV in the family room, replacing worn out clothing, and hundreds of other little tasks. What I have to remind myself is that all of the To Do items are in support of this life I’m living, and in the moments when I can clear away the stress of the To Do list, I recognize that the lifestyle I’m supporting is one I’m happy to occupy.

Seeing Past the Shipping

It is Sunday morning and for the first time in weeks, I have a space where I feel like I am allowed to set aside shipping thoughts for a day. I worked all last week and even more yesterday to make sure I had this space. Invoices for next Tuesday’s shipping are printed and sorted. I can’t begin printing postage until tomorrow. All the supplies are either in hand or enroute. I already know what lists I will ship on Thursday. There is email I could manage, but it can wait until Monday morning. I have space to breathe and to contemplate the fact that by the end of this week I will have shipped almost everything. What remains will be international orders and orders containing handbrain screens.

For the first time in months I’m able to contemplate my upcoming trip and make plans for it. Howard and I will be traveling to Europe to take part of the Writing Excuses conference and workshop on a cruise ship in the Baltic sea. I have never been to Europe before. It was always something that was out of reach both financially and in terms of schedule. But the Writing Excuses conference has made it possible. I don’t know what the trip will be like. I expect to see and experience amazing new things. I expect to have to eat unfamiliar foods some of which I’ll like and others I won’t. I expect to get homesick and to come home with my head full of new thoughts. It is going to be a good trip.

Howard’s trip will be more extended than mine. He will stay in Europe after the cruise to tour some castles and then attend WorldCon in Helsinki Finland. I’ll return home to check on the home front, answer emails, manage business things, likely ship some packages, deal with school registration issues, and dozens of other small management tasks. From Helsinki, Howard will fly directly to Indianapolis for GenCon. I will join him there for a week of convention. At the end of that we’ll fly home together and won’t want to leave the house for a good long time. I arrive home the day before my kids begin school and six days before I have to drop my college kid off for her (hopefully) final semester on campus.

I’ve watched these trips coming on the calendar. I’ve felt the pressure of them. I worried that I wouldn’t get enough shipping done before time to go and that I’d then feel guilty for running off on a big trip while backers were waiting for their packages. Now it looks like I won’t have to carry that guilt. I’ve got two weeks of hard work ahead to make sure that I have shipped everything I can possibly ship before departure.

Shipping and Fireworks

I’m halfway through the second week of Planet Mercenary shipping. The third big shipping day is scheduled for tomorrow. The postage is all printed, supplies are there, work crew gathers at 8:30 tomorrow morning. And I am tired. Some of it is physical tired. A six pound package doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re shifting 400 of them, that means we’ve moved more than a ton. Then there is moving supplies and boxes of books to keep the work stations stocked. But even more than physical tired, my brain is tired of all the tracking and pre-planning that is necessary in advance of a big shipping day.

Fortunately a good night’s sleep will help.

In the mean time all six Taylers took an hour to light fireworks in our cul de sac. It was only us out there instead of the forty or fifty people who gathered yesterday. Some years we like the energy of participating in a big group event. This year we were happier with our own little celebration. It was a nice way to finish off a long day of work.

Logistics of Shipping

The details of last week’s shipping efforts are detailed over on the Planet Mercenary update page. I’ll be posting similarly detailed updates over there each Friday until the shipping is done. The short version is that I need to ship 1000 packages (or more) per week until everything is in the mail. I’d take it slower except we have convention travel coming at the end of July. I really want the packages sent before that.

We’re starting to see pictures and reports from people who have gotten their packages. It makes me want to hurry and send all the rest so that no one has to wait for much longer. Unfortunately I keep hitting my physical and mental limitations and have to take breaks. Also there are other life things which have to be taken care of.

All of my thinking has turned into lists instead of long and careful thoughts. I will be really, really glad when Planet Mercenary is delivered.

Planet Mercenary Signing Day

We had our big Planet Mercenary book signing today. It took six people four hours to get 800 books triple signed and then re-boxed.

Space in the warehouse is a bit tight for this kind of project right now. Kiki and Patch had to climb up pallets of books and walk along top of them to get from one end to the other. Fortunately they thought this was kind of fun.

Alan and Howard were lightning fast on getting the signatures done. I was slower, in part because I just sign slower, but also in part because we could have used a seventh person so I bounced out of my chair to help with book shifting quite a bit. Now we’re all stiff, sore, and tired. There are still some Seventy Maxims books to sign, but those are small and light, so we’ve transported them to the house to sign at our convenience.

I will spend the first half of next week tooling up and preparing. A few packages will go out during the early part of the week, but the first big shipping day is likely to be Thursday. It is just going to take me that long to get all the shipping supplies and invoices ready to go. Start up is always slow, but once we get rolling the packages will go out steadily.

For now, I need to rest. Resting is as important a part of getting things done as actually doing things.

Creating an Errata Document

A Roleplaying Game is an extremely complex thing to make. It is guaranteed that your finished product will have mistakes. Thus comes the necessity of creating of an errata document, which is a piece of paper that ships with the product and issues corrections for the mistakes that you’ve found. (Also guaranteed: you’ll find more after you’ve issued the errata document.) The process of creating this document means combing through questions and concerns that are submitted by customers who have read the book. It means I have to look closely at why my text confused them or feels broken to them. And, according to my anxiety, it shows all the ways I have completely and utterly failed as an RPG creator. (In my head, the failure is always mine despite the fact that Planet Mercenary is a hugely collaborative project.) Which, for a few people, the game may have. No single game is going to work for every person. But the balance of evidence is that the majority of our Kickstarter backers are pleased with what we’re delivering.

Hopefully once I’ve gotten the document complete, I’ll be able to step away from the errors and re-capture a feeling of accomplishment. I would really like to sit with a feeling of triumph and accomplishment for a while, instead of letting those emotions vanish into errata anxiety and shipping stress.

Books Arrived, Time to Do All the Things

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:
It is in Europe this year. I’ve never been to Europe. There are packing preparations to make, power adapters to buy, flights to fret over, and planning for the adult kids who will be staying with the teen kids. The actual planning for this is not that hard, but the emotional footprint is big. Particularly since it has to be squeezed in between all of the other things.

Completing the next Schlock Mercenary book:
It can’t fall through the cracks. I really want to send it to print by early September so that I can have books on sale for Christmas. This means I have to finish writing the bonus story ASAP. I have to work with an artist to get the bonus story drawn. I have to get an introduction written. And Howard needs to do the cover and marginalia. Howard also needs to get way ahead on the buffer because of the upcoming travel.

Household stuff:
Apparently we’re out of groceries and this is a problem.

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.

Planet Mercenary Advance Copies

Howard Tweets:
Three copies of the @PlanetMercenary RPG book arrived just now. It’s now officially a real 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:
I’m not sure whether or not @AlanBahr enjoys coming over to my house because each time he leaves he has at least three new games to write.

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.

The Week’s Work

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:
Errata documents for Planet Mercenary
The Game Chief Secrets PDF
The 2017 GenCon adventure
Preparing for shipping out thousands of packages

I’m in the final crazy push to the end of July, when things should finally slow down.

Warehouse Day at Hypernode Headquarters

I showed you this photo the other day. It is how the warehouse looked before we put in hours of work today. Here is what it looked like after:

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.