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Halloween

My social media feeds are full of costume pictures. This makes me quite glad. It is much nicer to have personal pictures that I can click to show appreciation rather than posts full of links where I have to click “hide” to protect myself from anxiety. I’ll take pumpkins and costumes.

We’re having a low-key Halloween here at Chez Tayler. None of my kids are interested in Trick or Treating. Only one of them put together a costume. The other three either didn’t care or didn’t have the energy to devote to thinking one up and making it. We even missed the neighborhood Halloween party. Not on purpose, it just fell in the middle of a working Saturday. We got to the next day before we realized we’d missed it.

I’ve been focusing my energy on Kickstarter management and getting my junior high kid settled into partial homeschooling. I’ve also been clearing the way so I can spend Friday retrieving Kiki from college. She’s coming home for a weekend visit and a doctor’s appointment. So Halloween happened all around me while I was not paying attention.

It is strange to shift from a life where Halloween was a major event requiring weeks of deliberation and planning to a life where we might accidentally miss it if there weren’t trick or treaters at the door. But that is where we are right now. Perhaps another year we’ll get back into the costuming groove, but for this year we’re spending our energy elsewhere.

Loose Thoughts

This afternoon I got to listen to myself say “Yes, I’ve made a bunch of extra work for myself, but the extra work is much less stressful than what I had before. Because I know at the end of the work I will feel confident that I delivered what the backers expected. That is a much nicer feeling than sick doubt.” All of which is true. Much of the piles of work ahead of me are tedious, but right now I’ll take tedious over complicated. So many of the things on my To Do list are complicated and require difficult decisions.

While I was at SiWC I got to sit down with a close friend and talk about the things in her life and the things in mine. We talked for hours. Several times during that conversation I spoke things that I hadn’t put into words before they came out of my mouth. This is one of the treasures about long hours spent with a friend. There are so many thoughts that I’ve buried deep underneath the surface pleasantries. I never meant to hide them. I’m not ashamed of anything that is in there. I just didn’t have time to pay attention to my thoughts as things happened. So I end up with layers of thoughts, so many layers that I’ve forgotten what the floor looks like. I write about the things as they happen, but fundamentally writing is like talking to myself. It does not spark the same insights that happen when my thoughts meet someone else’s thoughts.

Many of the thoughts buried in my head are sad. I’ve collected memories of many difficult moments over the past few years. The sadness doesn’t go away just because the thought is buried. It leaks. And it doesn’t magically get better even if the situations which caused the sadness are mostly resolved. Before I can let the sadness go, I have to find the source of it and see it for what it is. Only then can I move onward. All these layers of unprocessed emotion are part of why the anxiety gets bad sometimes. They are definitely a source of fatigue. It is hard to keep moving with so much built up in my head.

I’m trying to be better about seeing friends. I’m trying to spend time with people who don’t mind listening while I sort. There’s just so much that I worry I’ll wear out their patience. It would be very nice to start reducing the quantity of unprocessed emotion rather than watching it accumulate.

Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries

We will be releasing two editions of this book. Kickstarter backers are being given the option to choose which edition they want. This page is designed to give them information so that they can choose. If you are not one of the Planet Mercenary Kickstarter backers and are interested in pre-ordering one (or both) of these books, you can place your pre-order here.

cover-compare

The Pristine edition of the Seventy Maxims book has a cover that looks new and interior pages which are crisp and clean to read. The paper for the pages is actually off-white in color and has a nice texture. This is the ideal version for introducing friends to the maxims without confusing them with the character handwriting. It is also ideal if you want to do your own handwriting and notes either by yourself or with a group of friends.

The Defaced edition of the Seventy Maxims book has a cover which shows rust, gouges, and dents from bullets. The interior pages look aged and stained. There are handwritten notes around the maxims which were written by various characters from the Schlock Mercenary comic strip. The Defaced Edition is an in-world artifact. It originally belonged to Karl Tagon, was passed to his son Kaff Tagon, and also went through the hands of Captain Alexia Murtaugh and Sergeant Schlock. This version is ideal for the fan of the comic who wants to laugh at in jokes and gain additional insight into some of the characters.

Here is the front endpage of the Defaced version.
endpage-defaced

And here are some comparisons of Pristine pages to Defaced pages.
m44-compare

m27-compare

I personally love both editions of the book and am glad that we are able to offer both.

Progress Update 10/28/16: Kickstarter surveys have all been sent. I’ve written a Kickstarter Progress report. I’ll let replies collect over the weekend and start updating orders next week. That is also when I’ll take a count so I know how many of each book to order from the printer.

Progress Update 10/31/2016: I’ve gone through the Forward Observer pledges and either update the orders or sent email. This level has 173/340 backers responding. Next I get to do math to calculate how many of each type of book I should order.

Progress Update 11/14/2016: I’ve gone through all pledge levels to mark who wants Pristine and who wants to stick with Defeaced. The one exception is the Company Commander level (the largest number of backers) where I’m still working to update all the orders for people who’ve picked Pristine. For people who have requested to add to their order or split shipping, I’ve contacted the Forward Observer and Air Dropped Grunt Levels. This is, by far, the most complicated portion of the process. I’ll be tackling it in small to medium chunks. First priority this week is to finish the files for the Defaced edition and send them off to print. The Pristine edition is already approved and in process.

Surrey International Writer’s Conference

View of Surrey from the hotel window

View of Surrey from the hotel window


I spent my weekend at Surrey International Writer’s Conference in Surrey British Columbia. I had never before been to either that portion of Canada or to that particular conference. I found both to be a lovely experience. While at SiWC, I got to present The Power of Picture Books and Design Principles for Book Covers. Both presentations had fantastic audiences who asked really smart questions and shared pieces of information which added to the discussion.

The remainder of my teaching time was spent on Blue Pencil sessions where attendees would bring me a few pages of their writing and I would read it on the spot so I could give a quick critique. Each blue pencil appointment was fifteen minutes and a session was five of these in a row. It was mentally tiring, but also really invigorating. I love sitting with another writer and helping them find pieces they need to make their work closer to what they want it to be.

One thing I loved about SiWC was the breadth of genres that the conference embraced. They had teachers for romance, science fiction, fantasy, memoir, narrative nonfiction, picture books, middle grade, YA, non fiction, etc. Most of the writing events I attend have a heavy Sci Fi and Fantasy emphasis. This makes much of what I write tangential to the focus of the conference. It was lovely to attend an event where I specifically invited for expertise that other events don’t want.

Another thing that was different about SiWC was that the meal times were wrapped into the conference experience and made to serve as a time for writers to connect with each other. There were banquet style lunches and dinners with round tables and open seating. For each meal I got to sit with a different group of people. This was sometimes a little bit tiring for an introvert like me, but then the conversations started. We talked writing, the classes we’d been to, things from our lives, and about the conference itself. These meals were a chance for friendships to form. It was a beautiful thing.

On my evaluation form, the conference asked me about my best moment during the show. I’d have to say it was watching people who’d come into a class by themselves leaving the class in groups who were talking to each other and sharing contact information. I was so happy to be a part of that, because we all succeed better when we connect with and help each other. SiWC is a conference where being welcoming to new people is written right into their goals for a successful conference. It certainly worked with me. I was never left standing outside some in-joke where long timers were laughing and I didn’t know why. They brought me inside, invited me to laugh with them, and I did.

If you’re looking for a writer’s conference to attend in 2017, you should consider SiWC. It is worth both the time and money. I know I would be delighted to be able to go back again.

Reversing Direction

Ten days ago we made a hard business decision. Then I put in the work to release the PDF versions. Then we got emails from people who were just as sad as I was that the defaced version would not see print. And with each email, even the kind ones, my anxiety grew. It kept me up. It ate at me. We’d promised to deliver a thing and were disappointing people with our choice. A Kickstarter is a trust and we were not living up to it. The sick feeling inside sent me into printers quotes and research mode until I was able to present a plan that might let us print both versions of the book and let backers choose which one they wanted. So that is the new plan. It is the right one. It is going to cost us more money and me a lot of time, but at the end of it I will be able to look at both copies of the book knowing I did everything instead of stopping short of everything.

Now if I can just get my anxiety to wind down, that would be nice. It is roaring at me, telling me that I have already failed, that I’m doomed to fail forever. It howls around me making me want to huddle up an hide until the noise goes away. Only the noise tells me all the terrible things that will happen if I hide. Tomorrow I would like to get up and get back to work. I get to make the book I’ve been working hard at. I get to make companion book for it that I didn’t even realize we needed until twelve days ago. I get to put together a presentation. I want to be able to just do that work in peace and happiness and let failure happen (or not happen) somewhere off in the future instead of becoming a self fulfilling prophecy because stupid anxiety won’t let me concentrate today.

Updates

In the past four days we have relocated our wall mounted television, disassembled and reassembled our Ikea couch so that it is mirrored from its former configuration, pulled down our wall mounted media shelving, prepped half the room for painting (the other half got painted a month ago), and began repainting trim. The room is going to be so much nicer when all the things are done. The rearrangement makes much better use of the space. Also, we were really tired of the white walls which had 18 years of accumulated nicks, stains, and smears.

Other things I’ve been working on:
Prepping the annotated PDF of the Seventy Maxims book. I need to get that to backers this week.
Assembling a powerpoint presentation on cover design
Working on a presentation about picture books.
Shipping packages
Helping my two school kids track their homework
Taking my older son to his first class at Passages, which is a transitional program for autistic adults
Mowing the foot-high lawn so that it won’t kill itself over the winter

Even with all of that, I’m surrounded by things I ought to do, but haven’t managed to squeeze in. I need to catch up on laundry because tomorrow Howard needs to pack for his trip to ConStellation over in Huntsville Alabama. The Planet Mercenary book needs more attention (though I’ve spent significant attention aiding and abetting Howard’s editing time on that project.) I see cluttery spots all over my house, and then there are the spots which are outright dirty and need to be cleaned.

I haven’t had a whole lot of time for slow thoughts about big things. And some of my thinking time gets sucked into politics or into watching a hurricane slowly create disaster as it marches inevitably across homes. With something that huge, all a person can do is get out of the way and then hunker down until the storm passes. That last sentence applies equally to the hurricane and national politics. I’ll be glad when we finally get to the day when I can cast my vote. I’ll be even more glad when the noise dies down.

The good news is that it finally feels like we’re stabilizing into the school routine. We’ve finished clearing up the make up work from our trip. The days have begun to have a rhythm to them. That’ll be disrupted a little by Howard’s trip this weekend and then by my trip next weekend, but the routine is nice to have.

Starting Today with Beauty

I would like to start today with something beautiful, so here is a photo I took last spring of my apricot tree blossoming.
apricot-blossom-3

When a Project Doesn’t Work

mistakes

We made a really hard business decision this week. I’m still sad about it. Short version: Although I tried hard for more than six months, we can’t make the version of the Seventy Maxims books with handwritten annotations look anything but cluttered. The maxims get lost in the multi color handwriting and that is a problem because the maxims are the heart of the book.
Full backer announcement can be seen here:
Kickstarter Project Update #36

I’m sad because I fell in love with the stories and jokes created by those notes. I’m sad because I know that this decision disappoints some people. Yet I know that the clutter of notes would have frustrated and disappointed other people. I like the idea of creating clean, crisp books so that fans can add their own notes and experiences. I’d love nothing more than to see books that had been lovingly aged, scribbled in, and turned into expansive lists of additional notes and corollaries. Perhaps we’ll even set up a gallery so people can share images of what they have done. I’d kind of love that. There may be a time out there in the future where I’m able to be nothing but happy about the decision, but today I am sad.

Disappointing people is very hard for me. It punches huge anxiety buttons, or maybe very small buttons that are hooked up to giant, churning anxiety generators. I’ve spent a lot of energy in the past couple of days just trying to quell anxiety so that I can function. I’m also trying to figure out what I actually think and feel over the cacophony of “you have completely failed, you always fail, everything in your life is now permanently doomed.”

When I was talking with my daughter Kiki about this during one of her college check-in calls, she asked “Are you okay? I know how much time you spent on this.” And she is right. I spent more than a hundred hours getting all the handwriting, putting it into place, re configuring it so that I could hand it to our book designer (“re configuring” involved scissors, tiny pieces of paper, and double sided tape), then taking it back from the book designer when I realized the quantity of back and forth that Howard and I would need to do. There were the hours I spent prepping pages and sitting with my handwriters so that they would know what to write and where. I had each note written multiple times in different ways so that I had options for editing. After scanning the handwriting, I spent hours tweaking images for readability. I increased spaces between words, or decreased them. I replaced letters (or entire words) that were illegible with another version of that word written by the same person. I then went back to some handwriters and had had them re-write words, draw arrows, or write additional notes. Repeat all the editing steps. There are 320 images for those handwritten notes, each edited and placed individually.

So much work. Maybe I’m a little sad about those hours, but the thing that eats at me is we could have sent the book to print months ago if only we’d been able to see the solution before this week.

Ultimately the requirements of the project weren’t compatible with each other. We needed real handwriting because handwriting fonts are more sterile and far more difficult to tell apart. Unfortunately real handwriting always has readability issues. We needed multiple colors of pen so that readers could tell which character wrote what. But the multiple colors make the pages look jumbled up so that readers don’t know where to start. No matter what we did, we couldn’t make it so that the maxims drew the eye first. Which meant that people would read the handwriting before they’d read the text that the handwriting was responding to. Even while editing I had to train myself to read maxim first, then commentary, then notes. Some of the pages worked beautifully. Some were a mess no matter what we tried. Yet we couldn’t just eliminate the messy pages because some of them were key elements in a story through-line or a set up for a joke later.

Fortunately, all of the hard work is not lost. We’ll release a PDF version to our backers so that they can see what might have been, if only we could have made the different elements of the concept work with each other instead of against each other. And some of them will say “yeah, I can see why you chose not to print this.” Others will say “I’m so sad you didn’t print this, it is exactly what I wanted.” Both of those people will be right. This decision we’ve made is simultaneously exactly what needs to happen and also a disappointing creative choice. My brain keeps telling me that it is so close, surely if I just worked at it for another hundred hours I could make it brilliant. I don’t have those hours. I don’t have that energy. And the backers have already waited far past the delivery date we originally announced. I have a huge responsibility to deliver to them. I can’t let them down. Which means we’ve chosen the best path forward. I’m just sad that I couldn’t force there to be a better path.

Frustrating Conversations

Child: I am really struggling with Thing 1. How do I fix it?
Me (knows solution from long experience with both thing and child): Have you considered trying action X?
Child: That won’t work.
Me: I know it feels that way, but have you considered Supporting Evidence A?
Child: Evidence A has nothing to do with me because of Thing 2.
Me: Okay. Then perhaps we need to start with working on Thing 2. Have you considered trying action Y?
Child: That would work, but I can’t Action Y because of Thing 3.
Me: I don’t understand how Thing 3 is related to Action Y.
Child: Because of Random Idea 7.
Me still not understanding, but deciding to avoid the rabbit hole of Random Idea 7: Okay. Action Z can also help with Thing 2.
Child: I hate it when you tell me to do Action Z. Stop nagging me.
Me: But you wanted to solve Thing 2, and Action Z is very effective for doing that. Take a look at Supporting Evidence B.
Child: I reject Supporting Evidence B. Thing 2 doesn’t matter because Thing 3 is my real problem.
Me feeling completely lost now: Didn’t we start this conversation worried about a different Thing than that?
Child frustrated: Oh never mind. I’m done.

Then the child walks out leaving me with dangling threads of at least three rhetorical arguments that support my advocacy of Actions X, Y, & Z. I also have a lingering sense of frustration because Actions X, Y, & Z are foundation elements of adulthood and they’re being rejected as irrelevant. It’s like a person dying of thirst because the water they are given isn’t the color they want it to be. Autism bestows some advantages, but sometimes the disadvantages of it prevent the person from accessing the advantages. Bridging the gaps in between my basic comprehension of the world and theirs is complicated.

Looking Ahead

I keep looking at my calendar, mapping out the shape for the next few weeks. It is a necessary task because the cruise trip loomed so large that I couldn’t see past it. Now the trip is behind me and I have to figure out how to organize the next things. My two school kids have extra homework, but we now have all the papers we need to get that done. I’ve cleared out the shipping queue and done the accounting. The last loads of vacation laundry are running now.

That only leaves the giant projects which feel horribly overdue and which I can’t always wrap my brain around. There are moments when I can see exactly how it is all going to work. Those slip away from me when I get distracted. Then I am left with doing the next step, because I can see how to do that. The hope is that enough next steps in a row will eventually land us in project completion.

In the midst of building momentum for the big projects, I am also trying to use the lessons learned on the cruise trip to make small changes here at home. Over time small changes create massive shifts in trajectory.

We do have a pair of trips that land before the end of October, one for Howard, one for me. But compared to the cruise they are logistically tiny. Pretty much all we have to do for Howard is pack a suitcase and shove him onto a plane. My trip requires a bit more preparation because I have two presentations to fine tune. Yet once the presentations are done, I expect the trip itself to be a delight. Howard will have the kids so the only one to manage will be me. Also, the conference features several writing friends I am excited to spend time with.

It is nice to be able to see far ahead on the schedule without a massive anxiety thing in the way.