Creative Networks

I spent the day with an artist friend. She has mentored Kiki many times over the years and this trip she gave Kiki some advice which may put a significant dent in Kiki’s upcoming college tuition bill. She also added both Kiki and me to a Facebook group full of illustrators and graphic designers.

Recently I finished reading a book and, as is usual when I don’t quite want a book to end, I scanned my way through the acknowledgements. I was surprised to realize that I recognized almost half of the names in there. Many of them were people I’ve met in person. Which I guess shouldn’t have surprised me since I’ve spent time with the author on multiple occasions.

On Twitter I watch the conversations of other people. They laugh and share photos. Sometimes in the photos I see two or three friends standing together and smiling, but the thing is that I know them from very different areas of my life and I had no idea that they even knew each other.

This evening I finished reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and (again) read the acknowledgements. They were full of people whom I have not met in person (Nor have I met Ms. Gilbert) but I was surprised at how many of the names I recognized as writers whose works have had critical acclaim.

In my high school and college Humanities classes I learned that renaissance painters communicated with each other. Impressionist painters gathered together both to paint and to hang in galleries. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were friends.

There is this myth that creation is solitary, the lonely artist or the reclusive writer. Perhaps there are some people who create that way, but it is not what I see. I see tightly woven communities of mutual support. The communities may be somewhat detached from each other, a literary network is different than a genre fiction network, but within a network the connections weave tightly. Everyone who creates needs someone who will listen when the creation is going badly. They also need someone who will rejoice when things go well. They need someone who knocks them out of their comfort zone and helps them think new thoughts.

I remember a time when I did not yet have a creative network. In 2007 I attended a concert and had the first inkling of creative community. Now I have hundreds of connections. I spent a long time feeling outside and on the edges. I took a long time to learn how to grow an introduction into a professional contact and sometimes into a friendship. Back in 2007 Howard and I had barely begun attending conventions, social media was just beginning to alter the online landscape. I was soon to learn that the best connections I could possibly make weren’t with the established creators I could see in the distant center of the creative community. My best connections were made with the people next to me on the edges. Thread by thread I extended my network until I was not on the edge anymore.

I know creators whose networks of support are entirely online. I know others who connect in person because they avoid the internet. There are so many ways to support others and to gain support. This is how creators survive and succeed.

We have a strange job

“I just need you to verify information on some people you made payments to.” The guy asking was from the Utah Department of Workforce Services. His job was to make sure that I was paying Utah unemployment taxes for any Utah residents who might be considered employees.
“Who is X, and what does she do for you?”
“Ah that’s one of our artists, we contract work from her. She lives in Canada.”
“Okay.” He checks her off the list. Not a Utah resident, not his concern. “Tell me about W.”
“He’s an editor we hired to help with a book. He lives in California.”
“What about G?”
“He helps us with website design and management. He lives in New Zealand.”
“Oh.” This time there is some surprise in the man’s tone. “And K?”
“Artist, lives in China.”
“Artist, lives in Brazil.”
The man paused. “Wow, you really work with people all over.” This surprise came from from a man who spends all of his work hours interviewing business owners about their employees and contractors.

I was standing in a copy shop waiting for color prints of the latest Schlock book when another woman came to stand in line next to me. The first pages were delivered and I began to turn them over and look for errors.
“That’s really cool looking.” The woman said “What is it?”
I’m always a little stumped to answer this question, because I don’t know where to start or how to summarize. I can talk for hours about what I do and what Howard does, but casual conversation isn’t supposed to turn into a lecture. Yet any answer I give that is short of a lecture tends to provoke more questions, not fewer.
“It is a comic that I edit and publish. My husband is the artist and author.”
“That’s really cool. He drew all these pictures?”
“But he must draw on a computer. people don’t draw on paper anymore, do they?”
At this point I recognized I was talking to a person for whom a creative career is so far outside her worldview that she literally did not have the necessary knowledge to comprehend the work we do. She asked three times, in three different ways, what our real jobs were, what did we do for money when we weren’t working on the comic. The idea that a comic book was our full time job simply did not compute.

I so often forget what a strange thing it is that Howard and I do. We live in this strange little niche that only exists because of the internet. Sometimes we’re not sure ourselves how all the things combine to bring enough income to pay all our bills. I try to forget about that, because when I contemplate it, anxiety rises up to remind me that it could all go away. I forget that most people don’t have plot conversations over breakfast, and copy-edits over lunch. For us it is routine to answer fan mail and to sign a contract to print 5000 books. It is routine to communicate with people on far flung portions of the planet about things that we are creating together. Then there are these moments where someone reacts to our job description and I remember. What we do is weird and we’re really lucky that we get to do it.

Administrative Things

Administrivia took over this week. My time was eaten by unexpected small tasks relating to the following.

Home refinancing: The details of why this had to be done right now are personal and financial. Also with rates due to go up, sooner is better than later. Yet I’ve been providing paperwork, fielding phone calls to answer questions, and doing some household repairs so that the place shows well for an appraisal. I also had to call the county registrar because somehow they had our property address listed on the wrong street. The fix was simple, but it took me thirty minutes of time.

Shifting Link’s educational path
: Because we were changing the plan, I had to communicate with the WIA Youth program and put the new plan down on paper. We also had to change the schedule for his tutoring appointments. There is still a website we need to go register on and some practice tests for him to take. None of it is difficult. All of it takes time.

Communicating with Patch’s teachers: We seem to have full-on panic attacks under control, but Patch is still frequently shutting down and not communicating well with his teachers. This means I have to communicate with them more. We have to make plans for how to handle his behavior and how to make sure that avoidance doesn’t get him out of doing work. He needs both sympathy and expectation. Because the teachers and classes are different, I have to communicate with every teacher who is having troubles. I also have to spend a lot of time talking with Patch. He has to be part of the process. He also needs to know what the concrete goals are for each classroom. I also talked with him about the efforts he needs to put out to make friends instead of passively waiting for friendships to find him.

Health insurance snafu: The good news here is that we’re covered, we’ve always been covered. The bad news is that over the past week two doctors appointments and five prescriptions were bounced because the system said we weren’t covered. I spent time on the phone talking to the insurance company and they are fully aware that this is an error. Unfortunately the fix will take a few days. Then I’ll have to call all the places again and have them re-run the insurance. Further details of this snafu may become a cautionary post later, but I want the story to be complete before I write it. The truly frustrating part is that nothing I did caused this problem. it was caused by other people and it has cost me at least three hours of time and associated stress.

Project Management: The acquisition of an outside editor has shifted my role in Planet Mercenary a bit. Right now my primary job seems to be making sure that everyone has work they can be doing. Ideally none of the creatives are sitting around and waiting for a piece so that they can be working on it. This means I have to track where everyone is and make sure they have work queued up. This includes me since some of my tasks on the project are also creative. And Planet Mercenary is not the only project I’ve got to manage. There is also a new site design for the Schlock page, the next Schlock book, the 70 maxims book, convention preparation for LTUE, and other things that I can’t think of off the top of my head, but inevitably pop up at inconvenient moments.

Email: There is no end to email. Ever. At least much of it has been nice email, but the quantity still nibbles at my brain.

I do not like administrative minutia, but if I don’t do it everything falls apart. Hopefully I’ll be able to have solid blocks of creative time next week before LTUE.

Planet Mercenary Funded

The Kickstarter closed at noon today. I was watching when it happened. How could I not watch those final seconds count down? It tipped over into Funded and there was this pause in my head. For a long few seconds I looked at the number of backers and the number of dollars. Well now I know. It was the first clear thought in the pause. I know what the budget is for all the things we must do. I know how many people to whom I am responsible for spending that money wisely. Hitting funded is a solemn and awestruck moment as much as it is a happy one.

I have so many fears going forward. I know some of the stressful things that are ahead. I know that there will be other stresses that I do not expect. It seems that every project we do has some huge and potentially disastrous problem hidden in it. Thus far we’ve always avoided the disasters, but it felt really close many times. (Some day I really should give a full account of how the Massively Parallel bonus story was rescued from a major misprint at the very last minute.) I’m also very excited for what we get to make.

So this first few days after hitting funded is a time for Howard, Alan (our partner and game designer), and I to breathe. We need to pause and reset our minds for the new tasks ahead. We need to pick up some of the tasks we let drop. I need to give my youngest child some attention as he nears the end of his last year in elementary school.

But while I’m pausing to breathe, I should use some of that breath to say thank you to all the people who backed our project. Thank you to the people who spread the word. Thank you to the people who wished us well. Because of all of you, we get to make Planet Mercenary, and it is going to be amazing.

Designing the Planet Mercenary RPG Book

Designing books is an art. The presentation of the physical book must be pleasing and enhance the transfer of information from page to reader. For some types of books, such as novels, this is fairly straightforward. Put the words on the page, pick a good font, add a few graphic elements, copy edit, double check for widows, orphans, and rivers. (Note: Straightforward is not the same as easy.) Other books, such as textbooks are a bit more complicated. They include more graphics and a need for extensive indexing. A good RPG book, like Planet Mercenary intends to be, presents a real design challenge as it needs to incorporate elements that are similar to novels and elements that are similar to textbooks.

In facing this challenge I found it helpful to list out my design goals. There are four.

1. It needs to be a useful instruction manual for people learning how to play the game.

2. It needs to be a reference book filled with easy-to-find information for people who are playing the game.

3. It should be fun to read and have a narrative flow from beginning to end so that people who don’t really want to play, but want to know more about the Schlockiverse, can enjoy it.

4. It must be visually attractive on every page.

To show how I’m attempting to meet these design goals, I share with you the following page spread. It is a work in progress and will likely change before we got to print, but it allows me to show what I’m reaching for.
Web Sample

Instruction Manual
This spread is from one of the heavily instructional sections of the book. The pages before it explained how to go about creating characters. These pages are designed to give a player enough information so they can choose which type of sophont they want to be in the game. There is text about the advantages and disadvantages each sophont brings to the table. There are stats so players can do quick comparisons. Design wise, I’ve turned the stat information into easily recognizable blocks. All of the instructional information has to be carefully planned so that we’re answering questions in the order they come up, or we’re indicating that the question will be answered. It is very important that a learning player not feel confused.

Reference Book
Note that the outside edges of the page are clearly labeled with the section of the book. There is also color on the edge graphic. Each section of the book will have a different color and texture. This means that players can look at the edge of the pages and quickly find a section they are searching for. Chapters will be clearly labeled on the upper corners of the pages. The page numbers are on the bottom corner to make finding a specific page is easier. The primary point of the narrow outside column on the page is to be useful reference. There will be page numbers for additional information, definitions of terms, and other reference type material. The book will also have an extensive index, which will be a giant task all by itself.

Fun to Read
This is a tricky piece to fit into a book whose primary purpose is instructional and reference. Fortunately the source material has humor built into it. Also working in our favor is the concept that this book was created by a company inside the Schlockiverse as a way to trick low level military personnel into learning important information. This is the origin of the CEO comments that also show up in the reference column. Those CEO comments will form a story of sorts, starting with the belief that the comments would be removed before the book went to print. (They weren’t, which is why we get to read them.) Much of the world information will be told with the same humor as can be found in the footnotes under Schlock Mercenary comics.

Most of the attractiveness of this book will come from the art that is contracted to fill its pages. My design job will be to make sure that the pages are organized in ways that display the art to advantage. I need to pick fonts and elements that work well together. Since the art for each page will be different, I will have to arrange the words and images on each page individually. Sometimes we’ll have to re-write text so that everything fits and no information is skipped. This is a long and tedious process which requires a rough layout so we know what art to commission and then everything has to be adjusted for the art we receive.

The animated gif below gives you an idea of how things shift around during the design process. Images change, text gets nudged. The shift at the end shows when we decided to swap the pages because the Fobott’r art looked better on the left. There are probably three times as many iterations between where the page is now and where it will be when the book goes to print. I can already see half a dozen things I want to nudge and make better.


This is such a big project. I’m really excited to be working on it.

Scattered Attention and Updates

When I wrote about how noisy it was in my head and in my house I thought the noise would subside more quickly than it has. The internet noise shifted tone, but did not cease. Which doesn’t surprise me. The internet is always noisy and outraged about some thing. It just bothered me more this time around because the arguments punched some of my personal anxiety buttons. The construction work we were having done to finish a room for my boys is complete. We now have a room that will be ready for occupation as soon as carpet is installed. The quieting of these things has been significantly offset by the fact that we launched our Kickstarter. Then it funded in less than 24 hours. Now I’m hoping very much that we reach the $150,000 stretch goal so that we can afford to create and print the in-world book 70 Maxims for Maximally Effective Mercenaries. I’m also buried under huge piles of email and the more people who back the project the more email rolls in. My email response time has gone way down and I feel bad about that because the backers deserve better.

On the parenting front, we appear to have reached a stable place. I’m no longer having to respond to emotional crisis multiple times per week. I feel a bit cautious saying that, we haven’t been stable long enough for me to feel secure. I’m also aware that this stable place is not a place we want to stay. There is a big difference between “not in crisis” and “living a full and growth-filled life.” Even with the increased quiet my time and attention are being impacted with extra meetings, managing homeschooling, and figuring out how to switch everything over to a summertime mode. Meanwhile my other son’s teacher seems determined to squeeze in all the assignments she didn’t get done earlier. The onslaught of homework is significant, particularly for my son who has been feeling overwhelmed. Also my teenage daughter has had some standard issue teen drama to work through. (Can I say how light and fluffy that felt to me in comparison to what I’ve helped kids through in the last two years? I kind of want to hug her emotional drama and shout “It’s so fluffy!” like that little girl in Despicable Me.) My college daughter comes home in two weeks and I’m really hoping the carpet is installed in time for me to move the boys out of the room where she’ll be staying.

One of the exciting things this week was that Howard and I decided that I need to be at GenCon this year. We’re running and RPG Kickstarter and then I’m helping make the book. There are things about a community that can only be understood by participating in that community. So off to GenCon I go. Hopefully sometime between now and then I’ll find a way to re-open the writer portions of my brain which have been shut down since some emotional stuff slammed me the first week of March. If nothing else, I’ll get to hang out with all the writer people at GenCon and I’ll get to see our booth crew whom I’ve only had the chance to meet once. I’m really looking forward to it.

Preparing for Planet Mercenary


As the picture says, next Tuesday we’ll be launching our Kickstarter funding drive for Planet Mercenary The RPG. We’ve been excited about this project for quite a while. The thing about running a Kickstarter is that you do all the work to prepare for it, so you can do all the work to run it, so that you can do all the work to create the product, so you can do all the work to deliver on your promises. The whole thing is made out of work and worry. Yet we love this idea. We love the game mechanic that Alan Bahr has created. We love the art that we’ve already got. We’re really excited to see the rest of the art when we have the money to fund it. We’re excited by the stretch goals we’ve got planned. I am really looking forward to holding a book in my hands and knowing that I helped to make it happen.

Today my part of making it happen meant I had to go clean up space in our warehouse/office so that Howard and a crew can film the Kickstarter video. So I spent several hours collapsing boxes and putting things away. I found the piles left over from running a booth at LTUE in February. And some of the stacks of boxes were still sitting around from the massive shipping in November and December. Cleaning was definitely overdue.

Warehouse before

The good news is that most of what was jumbled around is recyclable cardboard. Even better, there is a transfer station down the road which is glad to see all the cardboard we can bring. The warehouse hasn’t looked this good in a long time.

Warehouse after

Tomorrow morning Howard and I will go dress up the front office so that tomorrow afternoon friends can help us film. I’m quite glad we have experienced friends to help, because last time for a Kickstarter video we had me, a camera, Howard in the front room, and no editing. We’ll do better this time.

Shipment Delivery: Complete

It was all lined up. Delivery of books and slipcases on Monday. I had a crew to help. Tuesday I’d help Howard sign book covers and then fetch Kiki home for Thanksgiving in the afternoon. Wednesday would be shipping prep and Thanksgiving prep. I’d done my necessary advance preparation. I’d done some preliminary sorting of invoices. Our cat “helped.”

I also ordered shipping supplies so I could begin mailing as soon as my delivery arrived.

It went sideways on Monday morning at 9am, when the trucking company called to tell me that their lift gate truck was broken. They were hoping to borrow one for the afternoon. This sent me scrambling to reschedule my volunteers. The company wasn’t able to borrow a truck, so Monday was spent waiting for a truck that did not come. This meant Tuesday was delivery day and fetch Kiki from college day. I was told the truck would be there around 11:30. I pulled up to the warehouse a comfortable 45 minutes early, just as the truck also pulled up. So I had to ping my helpers saying “Truck is here!” Fortunately some of them were able to jump and come right away. The truck had 22 pallets, double stacked.

As the stacks came off the truck, we organized and put things where they went. Books in one place, slipcases sorted according to type. Fortunately the slipcases are very light. This meant that four people could easily lift and entire pallet.

Stacking was important because there wasn’t enough floor space for everything side by side. I’m very grateful to my helpers who willingly stacked slipcases three pallets high.

They also hefted a load of books over to my house where Howard could sign and sketch them. Once the truck was unloaded it headed out to go and fetch the remaining twelve pallets. We were told it would be back in about 90 minutes. I was glad. It meant we could be done unloading by about 2, which would give me comfortable driving hours to go fetch Kiki. (Three hours there, three hours back. She doesn’t have a car and the bus schedule is really inconvenient.) So my crew waited with me for 90 minutes, which is when we got a call letting us know the truck would be another hour. So we went out to lunch, came back and waited some more. The truck finally arrived at 3:30. We were done unloading in about 30 minutes. I finally had all of my shipment.


I went home to take care of some family things. Because family things do not always wait conveniently for business things. Link had had a rough day. I took him with me for the six hour trek to Cedar City and back. We stopped at the warehouse so that Kiki could see the things she will be helping me ship.

We have a lot of work ahead of us in the next few days. I still haven’t had a chance to form a new schedule. We need to get shipments to customers as quickly as we can. But first, Thanksgiving.

Book Design Success and Feelings of Competence

Three weeks ago I looked at Howard across the kitchen counter and told him that we either had to have Massively Parallel done by August 30 or we needed to push it off past Christmas. We decided to make a run for completing the book even though it looked nearly impossible. Howard had GenCon. I had the kids starting school. The bonus story was not complete, none of the marginalia was done, and the cover was only drafted. On my end was all the copy editing, layout editing, and frequent book iterations. We shouldn’t have been able to do it, yet this morning I uploaded the files on the completed book.

It seems like by book eleven we would have figured out how not to have a last minute rush, yet we always do. I think some of it is just the nature of nearing the finish line. Suddenly we can see it and everything moves faster. The rest is just that we always have so many projects running that it takes an impending deadline to bring one into focus.

Some things have gotten easier. As I worked, I kept noting the places where I used to panic or fear that I was failing at my job. This time I knew it would be fine. I used to bite my nails any time I tried to use ftp. I don’t anymore. I no longer have a gnawing fear that I’ve made some horrible mistake that will render the whole project useless. I’m still very aware of the limits of my expertise, but for the familiar format of the Schlock books, I know how to do this.

To add to the challenged of this particular book printing, we’re reprinting the first slipcase and printing a second one to house books 6-11. Designing a slipcase is not something I’ve ever done before. Howard made the first one. Yet I sat down Saturday morning with the template for the first slipcase, a ruler, a calculator and my design tools. Within a few hours I had a draft of the slipcase. We refined it over the weekend and that too is ready to go once the printer confirms that my calculations are correct.

While I had my design tools out, I also made a flyer for Salt Lake Comic Con, and a pamphlet that contains Howard’s story “No I’m Fine” along with my essay “Married to Depression.” We’ll be giving these out at SLCC. I dropped these things off at the warehouse, where I walked around and tried to picture how we would fit the shipment of Massively Parallel along with both slipcases. Fortunately the slipcases are light and can be stacked high. We’ll have to because we don’t have enough floor space for the probable 15-20 pallets that will arrive. Much of that will go right back out the door again, but we need to be able to fit it all inside and shut the doors against the weather. There are times when I’ve laid in bed at 2am being panicked about not having enough warehouse space. Today I looked around and knew we could make it work. We’re going to have to do some shifting around. I may have to purchase some industrial shelving, but there is space enough.

It feels good to have the book under weigh. The rest of this week will be devoted to SLCC. Then it will be time to dive in on the 2015 Schlock calendar and the necessary preparations for book pre-orders. After SLCC my life should slow down for a while. I’d like that.

Reasons Why Blogging is Sparse Right Now

I’ve got Massively Parallel to complete by Monday so that I can upload files to the printer. This must happen so we can have books before Christmas.

I’ve also got a new slipcase to design. This involves nudging things around on my computer, then printing it out on multiple sheets so I can tape it together into a sort-of box shape to see if it works. Then I’m back to the computer to nudge again. This also has to be done by Monday.

I’ve got Salt Lake Comic Con next week, for which I am a panelist. Also we’re running a booth there. And I’ve not even begun all the packing up of merchandise and gear that is necessary.

I’ve got kids with homework who are still in the process of adapting to the demands of school. Also I have to plan ahead so that they have food to eat while I’m away at the convention. And one of them has a birthday that is directly impacted by the convention. We got it wrong last year, so doing better this year is very important.

I’ve put some final touches on the CC PDF. Now I need to find time to put it in front of Howard so that he can put pictures in it.

I’ve got a kid at college, who kept watching for me on Skype so she could talk to me about her first week of school. But I have Skype on my laptop and all my hours have been spent on my desktop design machine. We caught up this evening and she told me all the things, which were lovely to hear about. Only it was already late so the conversation was short.

All of these things fill up my brain. Hopefully there will be more writing in the wake of the convention.