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My Newsletter

Last December I started sending out a monthly letter to the people on my newsletter mailing list. In the letter I give a progress report on my writing, information about upcoming appearances, and I write a long-form letter which is longer than most blog posts. In that letter I try to draw together and connect the thoughts I’m having that month. Some of them have been about being courageous, others about mental health or community building. If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while, then the letter is like the times when I’m thinking and writing deeply about a topic. I’ve posted last month’s letter below. If letters like that are something you’d like to receive by mail, you can sign up for my Newsletter by clicking this link or the link in the right hand sidebar.

I’ll be sending out my next letter this week, so now is a great time to sign up.

The letter:

Dear Readers,

Today I am tired. Some of that is physical because I was up in the middle of the night with one of my kids. Even more is emotional because when I’m awakened in the middle of the night by my 18 year old, the help needed requires more emotional heavy lifting than a snack and a snuggle. (Though snacks and snuggles were a piece of the resolution.) Mostly what they needed was a witness to their struggle and someone nearby to serve as an accountability check while they did small adulting things like washing bedding. Even small adulting steps are potent in taking back life from depression. When they came to wake me, depression was winning. Two hours later it had been pushed back and we could sleep again.

I once had a therapist tell me that feeling powerless is heavily linked to depression. That feels true to me. So true in fact, that when I feel down, one of my automatic responses is to clean or organize or dive into a project. I attempt to take control of my surroundings. Even if my area of control has very little to do with the source of my depression, I still feel better. This coping strategy is presenting me with some challenges as my children reach adulthood. I care deeply about their happiness and futures, but increasingly it is out of my power to make meaningful changes in their outcomes. They are the ones who need to claim control and take actions. No amount of hustle from me gives power to them. They have to claim it for themselves. At most, they need me to witness, watch the outcome without affecting it. Being a witness feels powerless… so my kitchen has been cleaner than usual lately. And I’m making great progress on some remodeling projects.

The challenge ahead of me is learning to be at peace with being powerless. The world is filled with things I can’t control, so I’m exploring the idea that powerlessness does not inevitably lead to depression. That for some types of powerlessness the answer is learning how to take power back while other types of powerlessness need to be answered with acceptance. That thought reminds me strongly of the 1936 sermon by Reinhold Niebahr where he said “give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.” This statement was later reworded and adapted as the Serenity Prayer for use in twelve step recovery programs. Insight to know the difference is the sticking point really. I feel like if I could just handle that part everything else would be easier.

With this goal in mind, I bought two books by Pema Chodron. I saw the titles and immediately thought “I want that.” The books are Comfortable with Uncertainty and Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. I’ve barely had time to crack the spines, so I’m only beginning to absorb what they may have to teach me. The first treasure I’ve found is an image of walking toward the stormy future with heart open to embrace the possibilities as well as feel the impact of the disappointments. “Insight to know the one from the other” isn’t me carefully studying each powerless moment so I can weigh and judge it as Things I can Control and Things I Can’t Control. That tight focus, with intent to judge, is part of the problem. It keeps me focused on the blocked path and whether I can get around the block or have to accept it. Wisdom is found in seeing wider. If I move forward with a broader perspective, I’ll be more likely to see that there are paths all around me and only some of them are blocked. A heart ready to accept powerlessness, that I am not in control, means being more willing to venture down the alternates. Particularly if I’m willing to venture to see the value of the path itself and not merely trying to use it as a detour to get around the block.

To bring this out of the realm of theory, I will grieve less over the struggles of my children when I recognize that being stopped, blocked, depressed is not an ending. It is an opportunity to take a different path and grow a different way. Depression means that something should change. We get trapped in it when we’re afraid of change or unwilling to let go of the familiar (but depression-causing) habits and coping strategies. Sometimes the depression-causing circumstances are outside of our control. (Like me watching my adult children flailing their way toward self sufficiency.) I can’t change the circumstance, but I can change my reaction to it. And I can look around me to see what opportunities are available that I’ve been missing.

My child had a better day because the distress from last night has motivated them to make changes. That would not have happened in the same way if I’d tried to fix, mend, rescue, meddle. I had to step back and give them more space to fail and suffer distress, and then learn from it and recover. This stepping back also gives me more space. Instead of filling that space with worry and grief, I will turn it to good use. I have a novel to write and many of the things I am learning about depression, growth, and powerlessness belong in that novel. It will be interesting to see how working on the concepts in fictional form alters my thinking on the topics. I’m sure my views will evolve yet again.

For today, I’m feeling calm and far less emotionally tired than I was when I began writing this letter. Which says to me that looking wider has already helped me. May it help you too.
Best,
–Sandra

Maryalise and the Singing Flowers

My mother is an inspiration to me. She raised seven children with steadfast optimism and unfaltering support of any creative endeavor that they wanted to undertake. There was an array of art lessons, vocal lessons, music lessons, and rides to debate clubs, sports events, and writing events. She was there making things possible for one kid after the other. Once all the kids were launched, Mom started taking herself to classes. While continuing to be a supporting Grandma and lately great-grandma, She developed considerable art and writing skill for her own creative work. She dove into writing conferences and applied herself to writing a trilogy. The first book in that trilogy is available today.

It is the story of a young girl who is more special than she knows and who goes on a journey of discovery to remember who she is.

I’ve watched my mom work on this book for years. I watched when she hired my daughter Keliana as a cover artist. So much work and love has gone into this book at every step. And the book is available now on amazon.com in both ebook and paperback versions. So congratulations to Rose Owens today on her book launch. And perhaps if you know a young reader who likes fairies, they might want to join Maryalise on her journey.

Four Days Left on our Kickstarter

We’re running a Kickstarter and it has only four more days to run.

This means we’ve been pushing on social media for the last three weeks and I’m starting to feel like a broken record. I do my best to be interesting and to vary the information in my streams, but the core fact is that if we don’t get the word out, the Kickstarter won’t meet the goals we need it to meet. As of this morning there are three stretch goals left and we’d like to hit all of them. There are things we’d really like the chance to create, but we don’t get to unless we hit the necessary stretch goals.

So I’m on social media being excited about my projects. And I’m trying to advocate for people to go vote in tomorrow’s mid term elections. And I’m trying to make sure that my social media presence is a net gain for people who read things from me. I always want to give more than I ask. Balancing all of that for every online place that I frequent can get tricky.

Friday at 4pm, the Kickstarter closes and I can step back from all of it for awhile. Until then: We have a Kickstarter. It has Schlock books and a short story collection. If we hit a stretch goal I’ll get to make the Howard Tayler Retrospective Sketch Book. If we hit the last stretch goal, Howard gets to write a novel. Perhaps these are things you’d like to help make happen.

See the Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/howardtayler/schlock-mercenary-books-14-and-15

My GenCon Indianapolis Schedule

I will be spending the next week in Indianapolis to attend GenCon. If you’re also at GenCon or at the GenCon Writer’s Symposium, I hope you’ll make time to find me and say hello.

I have a lot of scheduled events, but in between them the best places to look for me are either in the Writer’s Symposium common areas or in the Dealer’s Hall at booth 1649.

Thursday
5pm Freelancing Life
A panel discussion about freelancing that takes place in the Ballroom of the Marriott Downtown.

Friday
9am Breaking Through the Blockages
A solo presentation on overcoming writer’s block. Austin room in Marriott Downtown.

3pm Cover Design Principles
A solo presentation about the basics of cover design intended both for people who want to create their own covers and those who are working with design professionals on covers. Austin room in Marriott Downtown.

4pm Public Face, Private Life
A solo presentation about balancing the need to be public online as a creative professional vs maintaining privacy and emotional balance. Austin room in Marriott Downtown.

6pm Worldbuilder’s Party
Howard and I will be hosting a game of Munchkin Starfinder as part of the Worldbuilder’s party. We hope you’ll stop by and play with us.

Saturday
9am Structuring Life to Support Creativity
A solo presentation about ways to arrange your life to allow time and support for your creative pursuits. Austin Room in Marriott Downtown.

12pm AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Howard Tayler
Howard and I will be sitting in a room ready to answer questions. Hopefully some people will be there to ask questions. Atlanta Room in Marriott Downtown.

3pm Schmoozing 101
A co-presentation with Elizabeth Vaughn. We’ll be talking about social skills, introductions, starting conversations with strangers, tools for keeping conversation going, and how to gracefully exit conversations. Among other things. Austin room in Downtown Marriott.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Important Schlock Package Announcement

Unsketched Force Multiplication orders are in the mail. This is good news.
Unfortunately it has come to my attention that some of the packages were sent out with the wrong package weight. (Completely my mistake. I fumbled and types 1lb instead of 2lb when entering a batch.) At least one arrived to a customer Postage Due. (Which isn’t supposed to happen, they should send it back to me for more payment if I make a mistake like this.)

Please pass the word: If your Schlock package arrives Postage Due, email schlockmercenary@gmail.com with a photo of the postage due label. I will happily reimburse for any additional postage expense either in funds or in store credit.

The next thing I’ll do is check with the post office and see if there is any way to chase down packages and get them fixed before they arrive postage due.

Update 1:23pm: More than fifty packages were sent back to me. I’m spending the next hour or two getting the right postage on them and getting them back into the mail. This means that there are about 30 more packages which are either being sent to customers postage due, or are taking their time getting back to me. There is no way for me to fix the postage on packages already in the system. I have to wait until customers notify me or until they come back.

Update: 2:51 pm: I’ve identified all the packages that are likely to be affected. I’ve emailed all the people whose orders show either “Delivered” or “In Transit” I’m now diving in to compare the remainder of the list to the packages that were returned to me. Then I can send emails to other potentially affected customers. I’ve already gotten one response that indicates a package was delivered with no trouble at all, so hopefully most of the packages went through.

Update 4:40 pm: All packages have been re-postaged. I’m about to take them to the post office.

Upcoming Writing Events

This coming October I’ll be traveling to Canada to teach at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I am very excited about this. I’ve never had a chance to attend SIWC before, but I’ve heard that it is one of the best writer’s conferences around. it focuses on classes taught by individual instructors, and lots on interpersonal time with both instructors and other attendees. This is definitely one to consider if you’re looking to improve your writing craft and connect with other writers.

In September the Writing Excuses team will be holding its fourth retreat, and second cruise workshop. I loved being a part of this event last year. We formed a small group of about 150 inside the larger cruise trip. This meant fun conversations every evening at dinner, classes to attend, and excursions on port days. The price is no more expensive than a workshop plus a hotel bill. Only you get to travel to other countries and all the food is included in the price. The Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat is worth your time and money.

August has GenCon and I’ll be attending this year. GenCon hosts a fantastic writer’s symposium featuring many panel discussions on topics of interest to writers who want to improve craft or learn business. If you don’t want to pay conference-level fees, then the GenCon Writer’s workshop is an excellent choice. It comes with a bonus four-day gaming convention with all the tabletop games you could ever want to play. I’ll be on panels and attending panels in between helping out with the Hypernode Media booth where Howard and Zub will be drawing and talking with people.