Month: March 2009

Monsters in my head

I spent most of the last five days very afraid. I have been working hard at not admitting it; at telling myself to just stop fretting and get back to work. But the fears lurk so that no matter which way I turn it feels like one is ready to claw out of the shadows behind me.

There is a reason that the makers of monster horror flicks try not to give the audience a clear view of the monster. The more time we have to examine the monster, the more we can see the seams in the rubber suit, or the aliasing around the edges of the cgi. The more the audience studies the monster, the less realistic it seems. The monster lurking and springing from the dark edges of the screen is terrifying because the protagonist does no know from whence the next attack will come, nor what shape the attack will take. The monster in the middle of the room can be observed, predicted, out maneuvered, or de-masked. Oh look it wasn’t a monster at all, it was just Mr. Smith in a monster suit. Scooby Doo had it right.

So this morning I took a high powered spotlight and shined it into the corners of my brain. I’m kicked those lurking fears right out into the middle so I could really get a good look at them. I sat down and listed in detail every stray fear that crossed my brain. Every fear about the kids. Every fear about XDM. Every fear about reprinting Under New Management. Every fear about the upcoming book shipping. Every fear about failure. I did not evaluate any of it. I just wrote it all down. Eventually I ran out of things to write down. It took awhile, because the list was long, but I did run out.

The next step was looking at each fear individually. Some of them were so obviously ridiculous that just looking at them banished them. Being afraid I won’t get the laundry done today is simply not worth the emotional energy. (Ha! I’ve demasked you laundry, you can terrorize the Tayler house no more!) Others were not completely ridiculous. These fell into two categories. Things over which I have control and things over which I do not. For the things over which I had control, I then thought through what each thing needed from me, what the worst cases for failure were, and how I would respond to the worst case. These monsters do have teeth, but if I have a plan I’m much less afraid that I’ll get bit. Then there are the things over which I do not have control. For those things, I have to choose as best I can and exercise faith.

The process did not banish all my fears, but they feel much more manageable. Even better, I’ve identified the fact that all sorts of factors in my life have been in flux over the past week. Tasks have been flying at me far faster than I could get them done. This was panic inducing. It made me doubt my ability to accomplish all of the tasks that I have agreed to undertake. But the furious pace will not continue forever. In fact the closing of Sketched Edition ordering has slowed things tremendously. And once I am able to stay ahead of my to do list, I will not be so afraid that I can’t handle the rest of work ahead of me. The settling will also give my inner financial squirrel time to inventory our storage and come to grips with the fact that we no longer need to be in scrambling mode. I keep trying to tell the squirrel that we have money now, but with all the other noise in my head, she doesn’t quite believe me yet.

So there are my monsters in bright light and I am less afraid.

Buried, but digging out

It is now approximately 1 pm. I have dug myself out from under the mountain of critically urgent tasks. This means I can now start on the mountain of urgent tasks. Only the kids get out of school early on Mondays and I no longer have focused business time. Instead I have fractured mother duties combined with attempts to reduce the mountain. I’m hoping to dig out by late tomorrow.

Eye of the storm

Today is Sunday. On Sunday I can hide from all the business tasks. This day is for church, and family, and solace of spirit. Last week was a storm of urgent business tasks. More urgent business tasks lurk and wait for me on Monday morning. Part of me wants to rush past Sunday so that I can get started. I want to tackle those tasks and get them done so that they will cease to plague me. Another part of me wants to huddle right here in the middle of Sunday. In this space I am excused from many of my every day tasks. I don’t want to leave the calm in the eye of the storm. Especially since all predictions say that this storm of busy is going to last until the end of April. Then it will change shape and last until June.

We reached sigh of relief on the pre-orders. Except then we realized that the production of the XDM project will delay the release of the next Schlock book. The profitability of XDM is a big question mark. We all think it is marvelous and that it will sell well, but there are no guarantees that a couple of thousand people will agree with us. This means that to truly breathe easy, we need to squirrel away 8-10 months of income rather than just 6. With the re-adjusted math, we’re not to sigh of relief yet. But we are definitely out of the bind panic zone, which is good. And pre-orders still have a couple months left to run.

I have too many things in my head and not enough time to sort through them.

It goes like this…

A customer emails me because they are having trouble with their Schlock order. Within minutes I email back solving the problem (or at least addressing it, not all problems are easy.) Then customer responds, pleased with how quickly I answered. My answering email is the electronic equivalent of the lazy hand-wave which implies that it was no trouble, I just happened to be at my computer. Because it isn’t like I am sitting at my computer obsessively monitoring the opening hours of the pre-order. I am certainly not refreshing reports and doing math to see if we’ve got enough to pay bills for the next six months. I’m also not checking the blog comments, and the forums, and email, afraid that there will be some huge glitch that will prevent thousands of people from being able to purchase our merchandise. I am calm. Of course I am calm. I’ve done this pre-order thing before. It doesn’t make me so jittery that I can only sit still if I’ve found something to distract me. Something like checking those reports another time. I am not rapid-fire answering email as a release for nervous energy.
Of course not.
Well, maybe a little.
Okay, that is totally what I am doing.

The good news is that we are halfway to sigh of relief and a third of the way to hallelujah. Now I need to get away from my computer and distract myself some more.

Creating a process

This morning I sat down at my computer to begin layout on the XDM project. It took me 30 minutes of mucking around to figure out that I did not know where to start. All of my options looked equally laborious and some of them looked flat out broken. 30 minutes more sorted things out and the process began to fall into place. Now I have a list of steps that I can follow. I have created the process by which everything else will get done. Now that the process is in place, everything afterward is just following through.

One of the things that was baffling me this morning is that the process that Howard and I have established for the Schlock books, does not apply well to the XDM project. Partly it doesn’t apply because XDM has so much more text. Partly it doesn’t apply because we have two additional parties to include. But the biggest reason is that we need to get everything done so fast. The short time frame does not allow the standard process for book creation.

If we were not pressed for time, I would use the following steps. First have the author write the entire book. Next an editor looks it over and makes recommendations. The author revises and resubmits. At this point the editor hands off the book for a rough layout and sends it out for continuity/copy editing. The layout person throws text onto pages and then tells the artist where pictures will be needed. The artist draws the pictures. While the artist is drawing, the rough layout is approved and final text is handed over for layout. Then the layout person puts everything together. The completed package gets further editing passes to catch any errors. Then the whole thing goes to press.

This will not work in the time we have. Tracy and Curtis are still writing sections the book. Howard needs at least 4 weeks to draw all the pictures. I need several weeks to do layout work. If we wait for Tracy to finish writing, there won’t be enough time for the drawing, let alone the layout. So, we’re going to have to work in sections. Each section of the book will go through the process individually. So on any given day Tracy will write Section 5, Curtis will write Section 8, Section 2 will get an editing pass, Howard will be drawing for Section 3, and I’ll be tweaking layout for Section 6.

It will all be chaotic madness that will gradually coalesce into a completed book. The last week of the schedule is supposed to be the time when we all comb over the compiled book looking for errors and things to tweak. There are going to be so many errors. It is impossible to have a process this crazy and not have errors. Many of the errors will remain unfound until after the book is printed. Hopefully this will make the first edition special and collectible. Hopefully there will be many editions after this one in which all those errors can be eliminated.

Time to get back to work.


Yesterday was a super effective day. Super effective days are always followed by days where I feel like I’m wading through a mire. Today has been a mire day. I still got stuff done, but it was a mighty effort to motivate myself to do anything at all. This evening needs to contain down time so that tomorrow I can be effective again.

Why Write?

The other day I picked up a book of essays and found a paragraph that made me cry because it so perfectly explains how I feel about blogging. The book is Leaping: revelations and epiphanies by Brian Doyle. In the section I read Doyle is trying to answer the question “Why write?”

Why then? Why do I write?
Because I see little stories everywhere and I like to catch them and show them to other people much as a child catches a moth and exhibits it with glee to friends and passersby.

Yes. That is exactly why I blog. I read that quote and my heart unfolded because Doyle’s words are exactly right. It fills me with joy to see the exact words that describe my experience. It also makes me a little sad, because I did not say them. Now that I’ve found the perfect words, to use other words feels paltry. This means that any time I answer the question “why blog” I will have to use Doyle’s words instead of my own. I wish I could have found my own perfect words.

I am aware that I probably will write my own perfect words in the future, because experiences evolve. Doyle’s words are perfect at this moment, but in a year, or two, or ten, my experience of blogging will have changed shape. It will need different words and Doyle’s words will not change. Then I will need to find new words to describe this different experience. I will make my own words again. Or perhaps at that distant juncture I will trip across another set of perfect words to describe my experience of writing. Or perhaps the perfect words will describe some other aspect of my existence. With all of these writers out there trying to explain everything, it is inevitable that someone has already wrapped words around my experiences. If I search hard enough I could find it. When I contemplate this, I begin to wonder why I bother writing at all. It has all been said before, hasn’t it? Even this question is not original to me. Doyle asked it and answered it with a quotation from the writer James Boswell who also asked the question then answered it thus:

Every size of readers requires a genius of corresponding capacity. Some minds are overpowered by splendor of sentiment, as some eyes are offended by a glaring light. Such will gladly contemplate an author in humble imitation, as we look without pain upon the sun in the water. Every writer has his use.

Every writer has her use. Sometimes the use of my writing is merely my own personal joy in finding the right words to wrap around my meanings. Sometimes my words become the perfect words to describe an experience for someone else. I must also contemplate the fact that not everyone is a writer. It is hard for me to picture since written words are so integral to my thinking and because the majority of people with whom I spend time are writers in some capacity. But there are out there people for whom words are difficult. There are people who depend upon writers to give words to their experiences. There are people for whom discovering the perfect words is a godsend because they can’t make the words themselves. Sometimes my words end up being those perfect words. This always astounds and awes me. It is not like I have given a gift, but more like a gift passed through me and I am merely touched by the passage. And so I scribble in the hopes that I will be similarly touched again as my words touch others.

And as I write, I discover things I did not realize I knew. I began this entry to talk about a set of perfect words which encapsulated my reasons for blogging, but in the process of writing I have discovered whole vistas of reasons that are not contained in the quote about capturing small stories. Already the words are no longer perfect.
But they are still good, and I will borrow them from time to time as I am speaking or writing about blogging. When I do, I will credit Doyle for writing them which is the only gift I can give him in return for the lovely words he shared with the world at large. I do not know if the rest of Doyle’s book will prompt as strong an emotional response as his prologue about writing, but I look forward to finding out.

Surviving the first day of six weeks of busy

I seem to have wended my way into the evening hours of a very busy day. Mondays are always very full of task switching because I have the post-weekend catch up along with any shipping and accounting. I may need to move my accounting day, but I’ll assess that after I’m done messing with tax paperwork. Regular accounting is routine. Tax accounting is annoying and urgent, particularly if the government changes the rules when I’m not looking.

Also in the category of “complaints” I would like to register it as unfair when a 10 second long power outage manages to kill a computer. We are hopeful that swapping out the power supply will solve the problem and we have someone scheduled to come do it at 7 pm tonight. This would be good because Howard really needs his machine for all kinds of important stuff.

Despite today falling firmly into the “insanely busy” category, I would like to note that I am in the process of cooking a not-from-a-box dinner. Rice is cooking. Meat is browning. Then there will be food. That Sunday planning really works. If I had not had a plan, then we would have defaulted to corndogs and frozen burritos, or buying food. Late. Because I would have dithered for at least 30 minutes as I tried to decide between spending money and saving time. I hate the dinnertime dithering. Doing the actual cooking is fine, but the pressure to decide quickly drives me nuts and delays everything.

Tomorrow should be less insane. I will have larger blocks of time to focus on a single type of task instead of switching rapidly. Also, I get to go out to lunch with fun people.

Looking ahead

I have been pondering the shape of the next six weeks. Howard is going to be insanely busy trying to get all the pictures drawn for the XDM project. I will be somewhat busy doing the layout, but my busy will have significant gaps as I am waiting for Howard, Tracy, and Curtis to give me things to lay out. Mostly what I will be busy doing is managing the family schedule as a mostly solo act. When Howard gets stressed it becomes critical for our days to have structure. Things like meals and bedtimes need to be very predictable. Unfortunately when I get busy and stressed the schedule goes all skiddly wampus. Bedtimes have been out of whack ever since the daylight saving time shift. I need to put them back. I need to get back to cooking dinner and enforcing homework times. I need to be aggressive about disallowing things that muck with our evening schedule.

I also feel like I need to be taking time to do my own writing. This is the opposite of last year when I felt like I needed to put it down and focus on other things. Fortunately keeping our schedule intact includes keeping the spaces in the schedule in which I can write. This is good. I should probably sit down today and plan meals for the week. It is much easier for me to execute an existing plan than to come up with one from scratch. Hmm. I think this should be part of my Sunday evenings for at least the next six weeks. I need to sit down and review the coming week and plan out how everything will fit. My planner is going to get heavy use for the next few months.

Business Deal

Frequently in our business there is a space of time when Howard and I already know something, but we’re not allowed to say anything about it yet. The delay is frequently caused by the need for paperwork of some kind. Contracts need to be signed, or nominations need to be accepted, or lists need to be compiled. The delay poses a challenge for blogging because my head is full of something and I have to work around it to put together something else to say. What I really want to say is “Baen is going to sell electronic versions of the Schlock Books!” (which we knew for 6 months before papers were signed) or “Howard has been nominated for a Hugo award” (which we knew for a week before we were allowed to say anything) or “We’re publishing a project for Tracy Hickman” (Which I’ve known for a month, but you didn’t know until right this minute.)

You heard me right. Tracy Hickman of the Dragonlance novels. He has a project he and his son Curtis collaborated on called XDM: Extreme Dungeon Mastery and The Tayler Corporation is going to publish it. I am going to be Tracy Hickman’s publisher and editor. This is a little bit surreal for us. Tracy needed a very fast turn around from a publisher who was willing to do the project his way. He also thinks that Howard’s art style would be perfect for the project. The bones of the agreement were laid down at LTUE in February. Last Tuesday’s Business Meeting was when we hammered out the contractual details and the schedule. The schedule is tight. The whole thing needs to be done inside 6 weeks so that we can get the books printed and delivered before GenCon.

This project is scary. We’re working with a Big Name, on a project where it is very important to get things right, with a very short amount of time to get things done. And yet, this is not beyond our capabilities. Howard and I really think we can pull this off. Tracy seems to think that we can too. Only time will tell if we were all deluded together.

By the way, I really recommend working with Tracy Hickman if you ever get the chance. Barely had he walked into our business meeting when he launched into an anecdote about how everyone is just making things up as they go along. Sometimes people pretend that they are not, occasionally they are right, but most of the time, on most projects, people are just muddling through trying to look like they know what they are doing. Tracy opened the meeting that way very deliberately because he knows that his project is pulling us into uncharted territory. (And yet the more we survey that uncharted territory, the more it looks similar to the ground we’ve already covered. We are only going to need a few new tools to make this work.) As we hammered out the contract, Tracy kept putting in clauses that protected us and we kept putting in clauses to protect him. We even told him right out that one of our measures of success for the project is that he is never sorry that he gave it to us.

So my relaxed month before book shipping has vanished into six weeks of being very busy. But I do not mind. This project opens up new avenues and contacts for us that simply were not there before. Howard will be going to GenCon with Tracy who will introduce him to business contacts and fans en masse. Not only that, but Howard is excited for the fun pictures he gets to draw.

So if my blogging felt a little lackluster or scattered this past week it is because my head was full of stuff I couldn’t talk about yet. My head is still full of stuff, but it is all loose bits that are flying about at random. Now that I’m allowed to blog about it all, I’m sure the thoughts will start coming together.