Month: January 2017

A Weekend of Ordinary and Unusual Things

Email. There is always email. This weekend much of it was about tweaking Planet Mercenary art and fine tuning some of the design elements for Planet Mercenary layout.

Reading twitter and the news while being simultaneously pleased that people are stepping up to protest because of their convictions, and being appalled at how my country currently appears to the world at large. I have a Facebook friend in Australia and watching her react to the news from America has been painful. There was an entire thread of Australians saying “well, guess I’m not going to visit the US ever again.” The things happening in my country are too scary for them to want to risk coming here.

Buying groceries at the store where prices are unchanged, people are calmly picking up food they need and luxury items they want. No sense of panic or urgency, just people doing their regular shopping.

Waking up Saturday morning with a crippling sense of self-doubt. It suddenly seemed obvious that I had failed at everything I’ve been trying to accomplish and that anything which seemed near completion would actually prove to need total, massive revision. Howard talked me through enough so I could function. The feeling faded by late evening.

Church was utterly normal. People gave talks on kindness and service without any reference to politics or world events. This was both a relief and a frustration. Events in my country are big enough that they should be changing everyone. We could use reminders about Christ saying “I was a stranger and ye took me in.” Yet I know for a fact that my church congregation has people on both sides of the ideological debates and I really did not want heated discussion to chase away the solace of church worship. I dearly love some people on the opposite side of ideological divide from me. I do not want to fight with them. Bridges not walls.

Laying on the floor next to my teenage child’s bed because she is currently curled up in a ball underneath that bed. She can’t come out because her left eye feels all hollow and everything in the world is poking at her brain. So I keep her company until the noise in her head calms down enough for her to emerge. Down there on the carpet I pondered what to do to help her, whether her medicines need to be changed, and the fact that the carpet really needed a good vacuuming.

It is all such a mix of things heartbreaking and things boring, things complicated and things simple, things routine and things unprecedented. I’m worn out with it all. So I drag myself out of bed each day like tiny Steve Rogers standing back up in the alley saying, “I can do this all day.” Sometimes winning comes from just refusing to stay down.

A Peek Inside Editing an RPG Book

I found a sentence which said “Esspererins can only use pistols and longarms.”
The trouble is that “longarm” is a term that the game used to use to mean all rifle-shaped weapons. Since then we’ve clarified that we have Carbines (rifles), Long Guns (snipers), and Scatterguns (shotguns). All of these could be called longarms. So I send an email to Alan asking him to remind me which one we intended.

The answer was Carbines. So I made the change to the sentence that I found. I also made the same change in two other places in two separate chapters where the same information was duplicated. (There is a lot of duplication of information to prevent players from constantly flipping to go look for it.)

I also added the word “Longarm” to the list of words that I have to search and replace in every single chapter I come across. There are one or two occurrences that will stay because it accurately describes all three types of rifle-shaped guns. The rest are supposed to be either Carbine or Long Gun.

That was one incident of wording correction. I exchanged fifteen emails with Alan today over similar little issues. I routinely have 5-8 documents open because each chapter is its own document and I need to be able to reference between the chapters. I have handwritten notes and post-its all over my desk to remind me to do things.

Yet painstakingly this book is taking shape. The first four chapters were handed off for layout. I’ll hand off the next three by this weekend. At around the same time chapters 8-10 will likely be back from our editor and then I’ll have to prep those for layout. Chapters 11-14 are getting a once over from Alan over the weekend, then I’ll hand those off to the editor. Though he may get chapters 20-21 first since those are already essentially done.

Mixed in with all of this is me being an art director. I’ve built a spreadsheet and identified exactly what art we still need. I’ve been exchanging emails and instructions with artists. Gorgeous art is coming in. I’m currently managing 5-7 email chains with various artists.

I check and double check everything because I want to make sure all of the pieces are in place. I want this book to be amazing enough to justify the time we’ve spent working on it. I think I can have most of the 22 chapters into layout within the next three weeks. That’s what I want. I’m pushing hard, but my brain is beginning to wear out. I hope I can do it.

The Importance of Geek T Shirts

My son has been drowning in the social swamp of junior high. Today he was finally able to put words to the fact that he doesn’t feel like anyone at the school is like him, that he has nothing in common with any of them. I know for a fact this is not true. That school is full of geeky boys who love video games and would be happy to be friends with my son. The trouble is that my son can’t pick them out of the overwhelming crowd. Even when he does admit that there is this one kid in his History class who he likes being around, my son’s anxiety stops him from asking “Do you like to play video games?” My son is terrified the other boy will say no. He’d rather not know that risk asking.

I sat there with my son in silence, finally recognizing the scope of the problem my son has with making friends. His anxiety makes him incapable of reaching out, asking the simple social questions that foster connections. Instead he has to wait until he’s around someone enough that they become familiar to him. Then he has to wait until there is a conversation he feels comfortable joining. Even then he often shuts down, retreats inward, is unable to speak. He needs potential friends to come to him, repeatedly, even if he retreats from them. Only they have to approach him without alarming him. All of which is really hard to expect in the social milieu of a junior high.

So I shrunk the problem smaller. What thing could we do to help my son have a conversation about video games with the one kid who might become a friend? I realized my son needs props. He needs simple conversation starters. He needs signifiers of what his interests are so that people who are also interested in those things will approach him. My son needed geeky t shirts.

I’d never before recognized the real social value of geeky clothes. They are the tool by which introverted people signal their tribe. The Zelda Triforce symbol says worlds to another Zelda fan, but probably goes unnoticed by those who don’t love Zelda. And if two folks wearing Zelda shirts meet, they already have a topic of conversation to start on. They can discuss the various Zelda games, characters in those games, which ones they like best, and on and on. From there it is easy to compare thoughts on other games, and then maybe agree to get together and play games sometime.

My son has had a smattering of geeky clothes over the years, but he’s grown a lot in the last eight months. He’s grown out of them, worn them out, or they represent things he used to love and doesn’t love as much now. He needed up-to-date clothes that represent who he is right now. He needs shirts that will make other geeks laugh. So I dropped a pile of money on t shirts today. They’re important.

Apologies for the Radio Silence

I’ve been pulling 10-12 hour work days to get the Planet Mercenary editing done. Also the Pristine Seventy Maxims book shipping. And we’re prepping some new merchandise for pre-order. Then there is the homeschooling and regular parenting. And I’m expecting the Defaced Seventy Maxims books the first week of February. At a minimum, I expect this state of busy-ness to last for the next three weeks until LTUE.

Have you heard about LTUE? It is a Science Fiction and Fantasy conference with an emphasis on teaching writing and art. If your near Provo the weekend of February 16-18. Both Howard and I will be there. I’m on some interesting panels and I’ve got a presentation about picture books on Saturday.

All the cracks between the stuff in the prior two paragraphs have been filled up with thoughts and emotions about American politics and world politics. Howard and I have been married for 22 years. We’ve had more political conversations in the past six months than in all the prior years combined. My head swirls with thoughts and fears. Some of them rational, some of them less so. I’ve done a fair bit of writing about all of it, but until I’m certain of what I want to say, I hold off on saying most of it on the internet.

This I am certain of: If you are an American citizen, please be actively engaged in making sure that your representatives are representing you accurately. Pay attention to how they vote so you can be informed next election on who you want to vote for. I don’t just hope this for people who agree with my opinions, but also for those who oppose them. We need an era of civic engagement when the average person is paying attention and holding elected officials accountable.


My amaryllis is blooming. It sits on the edge of my tub right by the bathroom door. I can’t see it until I enter the bathroom, then it is right there, a giant beautiful flower. I keep being surprised by it, “Oh that’s right. I have a flower.” Life needs more big beautiful surprises in it, particularly in mid winter.

Getting a Handle on January

Outside the weather is cold, gray, wet. That is not helping the moods indoors. I range from determination to anxiety as I contemplate all the tasks I must do this month in order to keep all the necessary business things moving forward at the pace required to meet deadlines. There are external factors in all of those deadlines. I already know which deadlines to let slide if I have to in order to meet more critical deadlines, but I don’t want any of them to slide. They’re there because I want things to be complete.

This week I get to ship packages containing the Pristine Seventy Maxims book. It is the first taste of completion. For some people their Kickstarter will finally be complete. Others will have to wait until next month when the Defaced Seventy Maxims books arrive. Still others will be waiting a bit longer for the full Planet Mercenary book. Fulfilling our promises to all of these people is the primary business task of the year. There are lots of moving parts to making sure that happens.

Sometimes I look at the calendar and despair because a week of the year is already gone. Other times I have to remind myself that I am only just past the first week of the year. I’m not out of time.

Along side the business priorities I have priorities related to family and community. I must set boundaries around these things. I can’t let business swamp family or community, but I can’t allow other things to disrupt business too much. This calls for a hundred judgement calls per day where I have to decide what is most important for the next fifteen minutes.

A new semester begins for two kids on Wednesday. Their schedules are being shuffled around. They can shake off the stresses of last semester and start a bit fresh. For Patch it means three homeschooled classes instead of just one. We don’t know how that is going to work quite yet. The last bits of the old semester caused quite a lot of stress last week. Unpleasantness and disruptions all around. Hopefully we can soon develop a better rhythm.

I’ve also begun my new church calling. I’ve been asked to serve as part of the compassionate service committee. This is the core of service in our congregation. It is our job to identify who needs help, whether it be meals, rides, company, resources, or anything else. Then we try to connect people with the help that they need. Sometimes it means asking others to be the helpers. Occasionally it means being a helper myself. It is important work and it fits right in with my goal to grow my heart. I would argue that helping people directly around us is essential work, particularly when the country’s political landscape is poised for upheaval. Whether the results of that upheaval will be good or bad, it is impossible to say from this vantage point, but I can guarantee that the process will create personal hardship for individuals. Change always does. So I need to be watching and helping.

And the helping will help me. With my heart not feeling quite so tight, I will be less afraid.

I could do with less cold and with longer days. January always gets to me. So I just need to hunch up and plow on through. Each day brings tasks closer to complete. Each day is an opportunity to serve. Each day the sunlight lasts a little longer. I have 22 days left in this month. I need to use them well.

Normal Teenagers

I was reading a book about parenting autistic teens into a self sufficient adulthood, and in the book there was an entire section which laid out the differences between Neurotypical (normal) teenagers and autistic ones. I read the description of the motivations, drives, and behaviors of normal teenagers. They are the things I’ve seen in movies and society told me to expect. And the descriptions matched none of my four children in their teen years.

A group blog that I read had a post from a woman lamenting that her child had been taken away by a UFO and replaced with an alien teenager. She described the troubles she was having and asked “Am I the only one who feels this way?” She was answered by a dozen comments saying “me too. I’m right there with you.” Not a single thing she wrote sounded familiar to me. My teens don’t ignore me to run off with friends. They don’t assume I’m an idiot. They don’t date. In fact I have pretty much the opposite of every problem the woman listed. I have to work hard and negotiate to get them to leave the house or invite friends over.

In some things I am glad that my teenagers are not typical. They’re amazing people. They think big thoughts, say clever things, and are empathetic. It is just strange to realize that the vast majority of people around me are living an entirely different parenting experience. Or maybe they’re not the majority, because I know a lot of parents with kids more like mine than like thy mythological “typical teen.” All I can do is seek out the parents who understand my challenges and keep space from those who would judge me because they don’t understand the circumstances that drive my choices.

New Year Ahead

new-year-aheadI watched Jaws a couple of days ago. I haven’t seen it in years. There were moments when it really had me tense and other moments where I could see exactly how fake the mechanical shark looked. The scene that sticks in my mind is the one with all the people splashing and playing in the water while the music plays its ominous theme. The new year feels a bit like that to me. From this moment I have no way to know if I’m going to get a pair of kids with a shark fin that scared me for no reason, or if there will be blood and guts in the water. I don’t like feeling this way about the coming year.

Instead of focusing on the ominous feeling, I’m instead going to focus on other things. Another story that I read over the holidays was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I’ve written about this story before, but this year the thing which struck me was the moment when the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes. Before the growth the Grinch could not empathize. He could not love Christmas or the people who loved it. Then his heart grew and suddenly he did love all of the things which had been irritating before.

In order to make the world better, I have to start by expanding my own capacity to love and to enjoy. That starts with paying attention to the people immediately around me. In my neighborhood, my congregation, my kids’ schools. I need to notice who is vulnerable in the places where I spend my days. I must think about what I can do to befriend them, help them feel safe and welcomed. This will be difficult for me because in my day to day life I tend to avoid talking to people unless it is necessary. It takes extra effort for me to chat with a grocery store checker. I need to be willing to be uncomfortable. I need to be willing to speak up and to make phone calls. I need to ignore my financial stresses and make donations to good causes anyway. I need to sacrifice pieces of my day to reach out to others. I need to put people before my schedule. I have to be willing to turn my day upside down to defend others if the system turns against them or they have a bad break. This is the boots-on-the-ground work of changing society.

The fastest way to get a song out of my head is to consciously replace it with a different song, one I won’t mind listening to on repeat. So when I contemplate the new year and I begin to hear the ominous Jaws theme, I will instead sing the tune sung by the Whos down in Whoville, and I will grow my heart however many sizes is necessary to take on 2017.