Month: August 2016

Letter to the School

Dear school,

I’m glad that you have remediation programs which are designed to help students make up work when they don’t get it done. I like the focus on making sure that no assignment and no kid falls through the cracks. However I do wonder who thought that names like ZAP and CLAW were a good fit for these programs. Surely you could have thought up some non-punitive sounding name? Something where the kid doesn’t feel imminent doom the minute he’s notified that he’s been ZAPped or CLAWed? Something that sounds less like you’re going to tear a kid to shreds or electrocute him? Did no one stop to think, sure that’s a nice short acronym, but it doesn’t sound friendly?

The mother of a kid who already has an anxiety disorder which your names are not helping.

First Week of School in Review

So how did that first week of school go? Well…

Gleek spent most of the weekend asleep. I think she was short on sleep and needed to catch up. I also think that the brain work necessary to adapt to her new social environment was also exhausting. The week passed without incident, which lowers my level of alert.

We rearranged Patch’s schedule twice during that first week, but the current configuration looks to be a winner. It allows him some classes that I think he has a shot at really enjoying. It would be nice if he had something at school which he really wants to do.

Kiki likes her new roommates, has settled into her schedule, and gives me updates every so often. We have scheduled appointments for plot discussions about a story she is working on.

We hit the first argument with Link about drifting vs motivated progression. It was a lightweight argument, over quickly. Probably won’t be the last, but I can see him beginning to move forward a bit. His classes begin in October.

I spent most of my work time head down in the 70 Maxims book. Most of it has been handed off to the designer, though there are still some bits missing. My job during the first part of this week is to collect those missing bits. Then I need to dive into work on Planet Mercenary. That project needs to be rolling forward at a faster pace than we had in August.

After the first two days of school where I was astonished at the increase of quiet and order in my house, my brain has now decided that the long stream of early school mornings represents a slog. I’m working to convince my brain this is not true. I suspect that some of the dread is residual emotion left over from the fact that I’ve had four school years running when one or more of my children melted down in fairly spectacular fashion. I’ve forgotten that school year does not necessarily mean incoming emotional meltdown. Unfortunately I don’t think my brain will truly be able to let go of the emotions until we’ve passed through most (or all) of the anniversaries of meltdown.

Howard is scrambling to replenish the depleted buffer. This effort is not assisted by the fact that he’s currently in the climax of a story line, which means big fancy art with fighting elephants, armored polar bears, and many explosions. It also doesn’t help that I keep having to go to him and ask for bits of writing for Planet Mercenary or the 70 Maxims book. This has been such a long haul in getting these things done. I will be glad when I can have the 70 Maxims book off to print, bringing our ongoing book prep projects down to one. It won’t stay there long. I’ve got to start work on the next Schlock book. Also we need to come up with some new merchandise for the holiday shopping season.

On Saturday night at 9pm, Howard wandered into my office and discovered me working. His wander was just because he was taking a short break from his own work. “We really are always working.” he said. I had to agree. This is normal for us, working into the evening and on weekends. In theory we’ll be able to have more free time once Planet Mercenary is off to print. In reality, we’ll probably come up with another project, but I certainly won’t be ready to undertake something as massive as Planet Mercenary any time soon.

We’re poised to have a good school year, but what I really need to do is stop trying to consider the entire year ahead. I just need to do today. If I can make today a good place, and do the same thing for each today as it arrives, then the year will take care of itself.

Underwater Portrait

I acquired a waterproof camera because I expect the Writing Excuses cruise with my kids to include water-based events that I want to record. I took it to a local pool to test out how it works, the answer is: pretty well. Seeing the screen underwater was a bit of a challenge, as was aiming for moving targets. But out of 170 photos, a few turned out really well.
Underwater portrait web

On the Third Day of School

Yesterday I cleaned my desk, both the physical one covered in papers and the electronic one that was littered with files. Last week I had a vague awareness that things were messy, but I couldn’t even see the mess for what it was. Yesterday I didn’t even think about it. It was just obvious that this paper needs to go there and that file can now be thrown out. As easy as breathing I restored order, where over the summer the task would have been overwhelming. Obviously the difference has a root in the beginning of the school schedule, but it took me some thinking to figure out why. Just like putting an organizer into a junk drawer makes it easier for me to sort junk into useful categories, putting a school schedule into my week creates compartments of time and allows me to better separate out the different roles I need to manage. I always forget what it is like to have my days organized. It gets jumbled so gradually as my intended summer schedule melts under the pressure of late nights and the knowledge that since the structure is mine, I can alter it at will.

This is day three of the new schedule. My two live-at-home school kids have now been to all their classes. (Kiki has too, but I don’t expect daily reports from a college-going adult.) We’ve had first assessments of teachers and the result is 3/4 positive, 1/8 wait and see, 1/8 probably needs to be altered. That is a good mix for starting the year. Of course, day three is when getting out of bed begins being harder. My first thought this morning was “Ugh, I’m going to have to do this all year. It is going to be a long year.” Except that getting up early becomes less difficult when it becomes routine. And I do love getting to 10am with lots of work already done.

The 70 Maxims book project has developed momentum. I’ve been working hard to get it all done. The designer has done some amazing work for the cover. I’m excited to get to show it off in a few weeks. I’m also hugely relieved to have this project so close to going to the printer. Unfinished projects loom in my brain.

Drop Off and First Day

Pulling out of the driveway didn’t feel like an event, not really, not even with my daughter Kiki’s life packed into the back of the car so she could re-establish herself in her college apartment. We’ve done this before, enough times that I have to pause and think to count them. There was a subtle difference this time, I can feel that we’re nearing the end. She only has 3 semesters left to finish her degree. We’re nearing the time when her life will shift into its next phase, but not quite yet. For now, she gets to have another year with roommates and college classes.

We went out to dinner the night before departure, Kiki, Patch, and I. Patch is firmly of the opinion that there should be a trip out for sushi anytime that Kiki is at home. I sat at the table with my oldest and my youngest (the other two are less fond of sushi and Howard was out of town.) Somehow the conversation turned to school things, and Kiki began telling tales of her junior high experiences. Kiki freely confessed some of the ways in which she made life more difficult for me and for her teachers during those years. I watched Patch as he listened and absorbed the information that this adult sister of his was not-too-long-ago much less adult. I could see him recognizing that if she could be that bad and end up where she’s at now, maybe he could have good paths ahead too. Patch shared some of his stories as well. Kiki listened and laughed along with the various predicaments and adventures. I was so glad we made time for the dinner. I think it gave Patch a chance to re-frame his experiences and contextualize him. It gave him a better shot at having a good year.

The morning of the departure, Link was sad. He would have liked to ride with Kiki and I to drop her off. Link likes long car rides. Unfortunately Kiki’s belongings fill the entire back of my car. In an effort to help him feel better, we went out to breakfast. I’m not sure it worked, but the food was good. Link will be home with us this year because there are ways in which he needs to grow and learn before taking on higher education.

The drive to college was filled with conversation. You’d think that after a summer of living in the same house, we’d have used up all the ready made topics. Somehow the act of packing up the car and driving opened up new sections of thoughts in our brains. We talked about things that we haven’t really paid attention to for most of the summer. Life feels like it has a forward momentum again now that we’ve moved out of the eddy of summer. I didn’t stay long at her apartment. Other years I’ve lingered for hours because we didn’t quite want to let go. Neither she nor I needed that this time. Some of it is influenced by the fact that we’ll see each other again in only three weeks when we’re taking a big family trip together. More of it is because she’s in a good place, ready to face forward and learn new things.

That drop off was two days ago. This morning I dropped Gleek at the high school and waved to Link as he left for his bus stop. The house is quiet. I’ve been awake since 6:30 and working since 8am. I love the structure that school schedule provides to our days. Over time it begins to wear on me, but for today it is a breath of relief. I have more space in my day to really focus on the work I have to do. I don’t know why it feels that way, since my kids are old enough that they don’t really interfere with work anymore. But somehow having them in the house puts part of my brain on parenting duty, and that part can rest when they’re at school. By afternoon I’ll be checking in on the school kids and evaluating what else needs to be done today. I’ll find out how the first days went and whether we have any issues to manage. I don’t really expect any. The hard stuff doesn’t pop up until later.

Walking Into High School

I just watched my 15 year old Gleek walk into the high school building for her orientation day. There was this moment when she walked past the pep squad sent to greet all the incoming sophomores, where the bottom dropped out of my stomach because I could see all the way my daughter was visibly different from what is standard dress and behavior in our community. We live in a place with a predominant religion. In our town 80% of the students she meets will be LDS (Mormon). Since we are too, this is a little bit comforting. We have at least a baseline expectation for what priorities and values the people around us hold, even though there is a lot of individual variation in how committed people are and how they interpret doctrine. My daughter is a walking, visual variation.

The norm in our community is short hair for boys, long hair for girls, conservative dress, natural hair colors. Even the teens who aren’t Mormon tend to follow this norm. Utah is very clean cut, Orem especially so. This morning my daughter walked into the school building with bright blue hair cut into an anime style pixie cut, short in the back, long near her face. She wore flowered cargo shorts and a black hat. Her arms were adorned with sharpie marker flowers and swirls reminiscent of tattoos. Her surface defies the norms of our community. Her heart embraces our religion. She loves church, and she consciously examines its doctrines. She studies scriptures on her own. She has developed her own relationship with God which is part of how she navigates her personal challenges.

Mostly she’s gotten positive reactions from people at church. I get lots of women telling me that they love her blue hair, that she’s adorable. Thus far I haven’t heard from people who think her blue hair is a sign that she is drifting, lost, or not committed. I assume those people are out there, and I’m grateful that thus far they are keeping their judgements to themselves. What I don’t know is how her surface appearance will affect her relations with peers at school. High school always sorts itself into groups. I worry that she’ll be pushed into groups where her appearance matches rather than being able to find places where her heart matches, no matter what she looks like. She enters the school with a group of established friends who have long accepted her for who she is. I hope that continues. I hope she finds people who celebrate both her internal strength and her enthusiastic creativity. I hope she finds friends who will be there and support her on the hard days, because high school always has hard days.

There are so many things I hope and fear. Mostly I try to not let those hopes and fears leak to where she can see them. My emotions are mine, she shouldn’t have to feel the weight of them. In a few hours I’ll go pick her up and I’ll get to hear how everything went. I would love for this year to be more aligned with hopes than with fears.

Ten days to Start of School

Before GenCon we’re in the midst of summer. After GenCon, everything is propelling us toward the onset of school. This is true most years, but feels particularly true this one. I’m still wading through GenCon laundry and accounting, yet my schedule begins to fill up with school things. I filled out school forms, paid school fees, and set up appointments to meet with school counselors. I know that last one isn’t on the list for most parents. There is a part of my brain that wonders if doing it makes me helicopter-y. Except the universal response from the counselors is “Oh yes. We definitely need to meet.” School counselors are very busy people who are not shy about dodging meetings if they think the meetings aren’t necessary.

Tomorrow is the meeting for Patch. We will examine every class to determine how the teachers will affect him. Last year he had one teacher in particular who loved him very much and wanted to help, but the ways that she approached trying to help made him more anxious and shut down. We went several rounds of trying to help her help him. Ultimately we just muddled through. Sometimes it happens that way. There is a limit to the amount of change I can ask of another person in order to accommodate my kid. I can absolutely say things like “write down his assignments for him.” I can’t really say “Make sure that you aren’t projecting anxious concern when you speak to him.” It is easy to define “don’t corner him” when you’re talking about physical space in a room. But unless someone has an instinctive understanding of his internal landscape, they can emotionally corner him without even being aware they have done so. The school year will be much easier if we start by placing him in classrooms where student/teacher affinity already exists, then we can use the affinity to help education flourish instead of spending all our energy trying to create affinity.

Gleek’s school counselor is going to be more difficult to track down, which is not surprising for high school. She’s answered my emails enthusiastically and would have been happy to meet with Gleek today, except that today began with getting Gleek’s wisdom teeth removed. She’s not coherent enough to be out in public quite yet. The teeth removal was a last minute, lets-get-this-done-before-school-starts effort which was triggered by her complaining that her jaw hurt. She’s a teeny person with big beautiful teeth, so I was pretty sure that the removal of the teeth was inevitably going to be necessary. The other school preparation which was important to Gleek was refreshing her blue hair dye. I’ve been assured by two different school personnel that blue hair will not cause her disciplinary problems on campus, but until she’s been on campus for a week without problems, a little worry will linger in my head. Fortunately we already know exactly what classes Gleek has and which teachers. We tuned it carefully, but the rubber meets the road when she actually attends class.

Next week will be Kiki’s packing week. She has to decide which of her things need to be transported to her college apartment and which things can continue to live here until she returns for Christmas. She and I are both getting weary of this nomadic two-location existence. She has 3 semesters of work left, so we probably only have four relocations left to do. I’m feeling how much I’m going to miss having her around. That feeling has varied from departure to departure. This time is a bit stronger than most. Tangled up in the packing week is some frantic scrambling to help her pound a story into shape before she goes. It is getting there, but unfortunately she ends up waiting on me for feedback. Often. Because my brain is full of all the things.

Link is not headed back to school this fall. We’re entering a gap year for him. None of us feel like spending the money or stress pushing him into a college education that he isn’t emotionally ready to handle. Asynchronous development is very common for people with autism. Link is more advanced than his peers in some ways and less advanced in others. He’ll be hanging with Howard and I at the house, taking an evening class, working for me, and pursuing some personal projects. We’ll also have him doing some of the family cooking, life skills for him, dinner for us.

I would like to be super optimistic about the coming school year. I remember that beginning-of-school rush when I looked forward to all the cool things my kids were going to get to do and learn. The past four years have leached all of that out of me. Yes there have been some wonderful teachers, some beautiful moments, but they feel like flickers of light. I’m entering this year with plans already in place for adjusting schedules, pulling back from stress, and partial home schooling as needed. I’ve laid groundwork with allies, and I know who I need to talk to in order to make adjustments happen. I’m braced for emotion. I don’t know what emotions I’ll have. I don’t know when they will hit me. I just know that I’m afraid that the coming months will reveal even more hard things. I refuse to stand helpless if the school system that is designed for typical children begins to wear away at my kids. They are not typical. This is both a wonderful and difficult thing. Of course I’m also afraid that I’ll be too quick to declare “this isn’t working.” So I’m sure I’ll spin in tight stress circles trying to decide what to do.

For today, I’m working to not borrow trouble. I’m consciously recognizing that Patch is going to get to have a couple of computer classes, which have the potential to be amazing for him. Gleek is getting to take a health sciences class which will let her explore possible careers in psychology, therapy, and other medical sciences. I don’t know if she’ll ultimately move that direction, but I think she’ll find the class interesting. There are going to be good things. I need to consciously remind myself of this instead of just stewing in all my fears.

Thoughts on GenCon 2016

Conventions always contain a mix of emotions for me. Each one contains highs and lows. The fact that GenCon is by far the most expensive event of the year only amplifies some of those emotions. Some years the financial expense is offset by a large financial inflow, this year not so much. The combination of booth placement and the fact that we didn’t have very much new product meant that it wasn’t a particularly profitable year when viewed from a strict financial standpoint. We knew that going in. We’ve schooled our thoughts to think of this as a placeholder year financially. Next year we’ll have a game, the 70 maxims book, a new Schlock book, and we’ll put a lot of preparatory effort into ancillary merchandise. Next year should be really good. Yet I still had moments when I mentally ran through the math on this show and felt deeply discouraged.

The show has many important high lights. One of my favorite events every year is the crew dinner. We have a little GenCon family around our booth. It is always lovely to sit down for dinner with them and recognize how very different all our jobs are at the booth. Yet all the jobs are essential and we all are co-conspirators in making this thing possible. My attendance at the event both last year and this year have allowed me to build connections with the crew that I simply didn’t have when I was managing things at a distance.

I got to give two presentations this year, which triggered a series of emotions. Gratitude that the programming chair would trust me to deliver solid materials for two hours of his limited programming space. Then worry that what I have to offer isn’t what the writing symposium attendees would be interested in. That fear is naturally combined with anxiety that they will be interested in the topics, but disappointed with my delivery or expertise on the subjects. I’ve given enough presentations to know that once the event begins, I will fall into a flow of talking and it will all be fine.

There is a magic in giving a presentation to a receptive audience. It is far more interactive than the audience may be aware that it is. I look around the room. I see where they nod or write a note. That information feeds back into my subconscious and leads me to expand or elaborate on one point while letting go of another. My favorite moments are the ones where I say something and I see the face of an audience member change. There is electricity in that moment because I know that something I said connected with something in their mind. It happens more often in the Q&A section because people are bringing up concerns that are directly related to them. I love the part where audience asks questions. I have learned so much about my own thoughts by trying to give good answers. Sometimes a question causes a change in my head and opens up a new set of thoughts and connections. Then I get to say those new connections. This sometimes makes me look like a fount of knowledge, but really I’m just making connections between the current conversation and things that I’ve read, thought, or had conversations about before.

There were some really good thoughts that surfaced during these presentations. Those thoughts will be folded into my ongoing thinking and will inform presentations that I do in the future. The same is true of conversations which continued after we walked out of the classroom. I know that technically I’m the teacher in the situation, but I learn so much from these experiences. I learn from just sitting around and talking with other writers. I learn from not talking and listening while others talk. These interpersonal connections are a huge part of why coming to an event like this is worthwhile.

The connections with other people also feed into some of the hard emotions of the show. For every conversation where I feel connected and valued to the people in the conversational circle, there is a matching conversation where I wonder if I belong or if I’m interloping. My self doubts can eat at me during these events. I know how to short circuit those thoughts. I know how to stare at them, see them, and not let them stop me from joining in conversations. I also know that it is exceedingly unlikely that everyone is just putting up with me rather than actually wanting to be around me. Yet the more tired I become, the more plausible all of these self doubts begin to sound.

There were moments during this show when I just wanted to lay down and cry. Some of it is the self doubt. Some the mental math on finances. Some is overstimulation from being around thousands of people all the time and from my brain having to process all sorts of new input. Some is physical exhaustion caused by more walking than I’m used to, hauling heavy things, and sleeping less than is optimal. The down moments can loom large in my memory. I think this is one of the reasons that people post and tweet pictures of the shiny moments from conventions. There is a need to cement and document those good spots in memory because otherwise the good things get lost in the bleaker moments. Yet neither is a true representation of the entire experience.

High lights and happy moments are easy to gush about publicly. The lows mostly get acknowledged after they’re over. I was pondering on why I do my best to not let the low moments show on my face or in my actions. Some of it is because people are kind and they will want to fix it. They will want to do or say a thing to make it better. This is particularly true for people close to me because they’ll have an added twinge of guilt that they should have prevented the low. The thing is that the lows have far more to do with brain chemistry than with anything external. The real fix is a break to rest and reset.

One of the things I love about our booth team is that we all get this. We’re able to see the lows and call them out for each other. We send each other for breaks. And we speak reassuring words, not to try to bring someone out of a low, but just to counteract the negative thoughts that we know accompany a natural ebb in energy.

GenCon was amazing, hard, exhausting, surprising, fun, exciting, heart warming, lovely, brilliant, discouraging, important, enjoyable, and a dozen other things that slip out of my thoughts because my brain is very tired right now. Over the next week people will ask me “How was your trip?” and all of it will swirl in my brain. I have a hundred small stories about things that happened while I was gone. All of that will get summarized into a polite and brief answer of “good. I had a good trip.” Because to really dig in to how it was would take hours of sorting by talking.

For now I need to rest, and then I need to pick up the threads of life here at home. I was in the middle of many things and I must remember what they are. I’ll leave you a few pictures of the event.


Crew dinner

At the booth

GenCon Schedule and Locations

GenCon begins this Thursday, but my GenCon week has already begun. I’ve been prepping and packing since late last week. Today I’ll board a plane so that on Wednesday I can help set up our booth. We’re booth 1343. Here’s a handy map to help you find us.

If you are at GenCon, I hope you do take some time to stop by. One of the things I love about GenCon is that we have a fantastic booth crew. I seriously do not know how we would run this show without them. Because they’re amazing, I’m able to go and spend time with the GenCon Writer’s Symposium instead of being pinned to the booth.

The symposium has put me on some events and I’m excited about them. I believe the symposium space is all located inside the Westin Hotel. You can see the full schedule and info at

Thurs 10am The Business of Self Publishing. Location: Cabinet (which I assume is a conference room named cabinet rather than an actual cupboard.)

Friday 4pm Writing Author Bios. Location: Congress 1 (Again, pretty sure this is a conference room)

Saturday 5pm Structuring Life to Support Creativity. Location: Congress 1
This is a solo presentation about which I am excited and nervous.

Saturday 6pm Breaking Through Writer’s Block. Location: Congress 1
Another solo presentation right after the first one.

On those solo presentations, I’m torn between hoping that I won’t be speaking to an empty room and fear that the room will be dauntingly full of people who expect me to say articulate and useful things. Fortunately both presentations are ones that I’ve given before and they were well received. Some of my time on the flight to Indianapolis will be me refreshing and updating my notes.

This year’s GenCon will feature nine Planet Mercenary Demo games. Much of my work in the past couple of days has been to make sure our marvelous GMs have the info and tools necessary to run the games. And here is where I must sing the praises of our book designer Mike Brodu. He made beautiful character sheets for us.
GenCon Pregen-1
The games will be run at 9am, 1pm, and 6pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday. They’ll all be located in the JW Marriott room 202. You’re welcome to wander by and see the fun. Or you can stop by the booth and come get one of the spare character sheets. We printed up extra and there is a space on the back where Howard will draw you a sketch. The sheets are labeled GenCon 2016, so they’re collectible. I’m certain we’ll run games again next year, but the sheets will be different from these.

Another reason to come by the booth is that we have lots of fun things to look at and buy. Force Multiplication will be there with the bonus story that I wrote. We’ll have copies of Hold on to Your Horses and Strength of Wild Horses. Additionally, I’ve packed some of Keliana Tayler’s limited edition prints into my bag. They’re worth seeing.

As always, we’ll be sharing our booth with Jim Zub. If you haven’t heard of SkullKickers or Wayward, you definitely need to stop by and take a look. Jim’s work is fun to read. My kids have been asking for the next installment of Wayward ever since I brought home the first treasury. While you’re wandering the dealer’s hall, stop by the Crafty Games booth. That is the convention home for Patrick Kapera who is our editor for Planet Mercenary. His work is amazing and they’ve got a new Mistborn game out which is based on the work of Brandon Sanderson.

It is going to be a very busy week. If you’re not at GenCon, but want to follow along, I recommend checking my twitter feed @SandraTayler or Howard’s twitter feed @HowardTayler We try to tweet as we can during the convention. It is possible that I’ll blog as well, but often I’ve used up all my brain by the time I can sit down to write words.

And now I must go do all the last minute things to prepare.