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November 2018
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Hopes for a Good School Year as Expressed in School Supplies

We’ve had three days of school so far and three afternoon shopping trips. The first one doesn’t quite count as a “trip” because it was opening the box of a new school bag ordered off of the internet. My son carefully moved his pencils and folders from the ratty old bag that served him through three years of junior high. The new bag is a leather messenger bag, spacious and grown-up. Perhaps being able to see and quickly grab things will improve his ability to organize his work and plan his days. It has to be better than shoving things into and out of the string bag that was mandated by the (odd) rules of the junior high.

Day two came with a batch of fury for my daughter. She’d asked a school admin for an accommodation and been refused. I came to the school and asked then she got it. It was frustrating for both of us. Probably for the admin as well, because we’re requesting a non-standard usage of a class. But the fury wound down and then my daughter needed to go shopping for supplies for a particular class that she has already fallen in love with. The teacher was inspiring, and gave her a binder with pre-labeled dividers. A binder seems like such a small thing, but by giving the kids a tangible gift on the first day, this teacher has engaged them. For once I have hope that my kid will have a transformative experience in a class at school. I would love that. I would love to see her expanding, admiring adults outside her home, stretching to impress them, and growing.

The third day required socks. It was the need for a sketch book that sent us to the store, but it was socks that stole the show. Tossing the all of the old, welcoming the shiny and new. This school year is a chance for both of my children to re-define themselves. They can dress different. Be different. And wear socks with pumpkins on them because Halloween isn’t all that far away.

We’re poised at the beginning, hoping that this year will be the one where they fly under their own power and rescue themselves from their inevitable crashes only to take off and fly again.

Ready for Routine

Social media shows pictures of my friends at Worldcon. Howard is there too, along with my oldest daughter. They are being creative professionals, visiting with friends, making connections. It has been years since I’ve been to Worldcon, the last one I attended was Reno in 2011. That is seven years and ages ago. Some of those years I’ve been very sad about missing it, but Worldcon almost always lands right when my kids are beginning school. In the past seven years I’ve been anxious enough about the onset of school that I decide to stay home. The same was true this year. I am at home while people I’d love to see are at Worldcon.

This year I am not sad. I’ve been enjoying seeing the snippets shown to me by social media, but I’ve been quite happy to be here in my house finishing projects and providing stability for a pair of teenagers who begin high school tomorrow morning. One will be a senior, with all the extra importance that lends to everything. For the other, this is his first year in the big building.

I think the reason I am not sad is that I am ready for some quiet. I’ve been functioning with endless thinky tasks for months now. I have similar lists of tasks ahead of me. Yet by staying home I’m able to complete things. A task that is complete no longer takes space in my brain. I’m taking this week at home to clear away the clutter. I’m cleaning house both physically and mentally. So that this week as we settle into the school schedule, I will also have a new rhythm for work. I’m ready to shift into school mode.

An Accounting of My Past Week

A week ago Monday: Travel day for the first half, followed by unpacking, house assessing, business task triage, and hugging children. Had to do all the triaging, assessing, and unpacking while I still had a bit of momentum. Experience tells me that if I don’t get them done before I burn through the last of the convention energy, I will not get them done for a week.

A week ago Today (Tuesday): Crash day. Only not completely crash, because I had to go over to the school and talk to the counselor about my two teens’ schedules. On one hand it is really nice that she instantly knew me an was super ready to set things up for my senior girl. On the other hand, it might be nice to not have the school counselor know my kids because they didn’t need any extra attention. I also got to sit down and say “Now let me tell you about my kid whom you haven’t met yet.” I happened to be there at the time when the new school principal was also in her office. The same principal who used to be over the Junior High and who sat through meetings about my son. So when I asked for accommodations requiring administrative approval, he granted them instantly. Nice to be known and listened to. Maybe someday we won’t need that anymore and that would also be nice.

So super important meeting followed by brain sludge. I did manage to mail store orders that had been waiting a week for me to return from GenCon. I also began transcribing some of my GenCon notes. Or maybe I did that on Wednesday.

Wednesday: Had a business meeting with a friend I don’t see often enough. Then I printed out packing lists for shirt orders and sorted them. I think there might have been grocery shopping, but that might have been Tuesday. These days blur together a bit.

Thursday: Had a social event for much of the day. Spent the afternoon/evening printing postage for shirt orders.

Friday: Shipping day. Me and my helper went through about 100 packages. Currently the average temperature in the warehouse is around 80 degrees, so I always end up hot, sweaty, and tired by the time I’m done.

Saturday: 80 more packages into the mail. Then I came home to administrative tasks. I was still working through my post-GenCon to do assignments. I feel like I did some other admin tasks.

Sunday: Church, family gathering.

Monday: The morning was all about getting Howard and daughter out the door to attend Worldcon. They traveled over early because Howard has recording sessions for Writing Excuses. In the afternoon I prepared packing lists and postage for yet more shipping.

Tuesday: 90 packages into the mail. There are a few more lingering at the warehouse, but the remaining shirt packages are all ones that have problems of some sort. Mostly these problems are because the shirt company shorted me on shirts of several types. But some of them are error on my part. Others are a miss communication between me and the shirt company about which size/color combinations actually exist and which don’t. Sorting this all out is requiring a lot of organization and thinking on my part. I’ve reached the point where I have to physically set aside each order so that I can see what shirts I have left. That way I can work in batches and figure out which substitutions I can offer. For some of the shirts I’m waiting for the shirt company to give me their Fill Order which supposedly will give me all the shirts I’m missing. I still expect to have to do print on demand for some shirts in order to fulfill my promises to customers.

Thinking about shirts has filled my head up for more than a week. I’m hoping that by the end of this week I will not have to think about them as much, though I’m certain I’ll still have odds and ends that I’ll have to ship. I think it will be September before I’m done dealing with shirts.

What I want to be spending my brain on is new projects. I have things I’m supposed to be writing and things I want to be writing. I have Schlock books that I need to get complete and sent off to the printer. I’m not sorry to have done the shirts, but I will be glad when I can reclaim the brain space that they’ve been occupying. And I’ll be even more glad when we can set up Print on Demand shirts so that Schlock fans can have their shirts and I don’t have to touch them.

I guess an alternate title for the past week could be Post Convention Brain Mush Combined with Back-To-School, Convention Packing, and Shirts, Shirts, Shirts. An unwieldy title, but accurate.

The Valuation of GenCon

The value of GenCon is hard to measure, because so much of both the benefits and costs are made up of intangibles. The costs are measured in time, stress, and money. That last one makes it tempting to let money be the deciding factor, because it is easy to quantify while the other things are not. But a profit and loss sheet does not accurately represent the value of GenCon. We’ve never yet had a financial loss, but many years we don’t hit a hoped for dollar mark. That can be hard mid-show when we can see that we’ll miss. At that moment anxiety gets loud, fed by fatigue. It wants to spin tales of doom. When that happens we have to stop and recalibrate. We have to pull our heads out of the spreadsheets and focus on the intangible benefits.

What are the intangibles? Here is a list from this year:
Connecting with friends, catching up, hugging them, hearing about their lives.
Meeting new people who may become part of our expanding network of friends and business contacts.
Getting a line on a potential new printing partner.
Two contacts that might help me get Planet Mercenary distributed into game stores.
Seeing amazing cosplay, all the creativity and cleverness that is on display. All the mashups that delight.
Getting to play games for charity.
Reconnecting with a friend who has changed jobs and now works in a field where he may be able to greatly assist with a behind-the-scenes admin burden for the Writing Excuses cruise in 2019.
Figured out how to reconfigure our booth and business model to optimize next year.
Had ideas for at least three new creative projects.
Got information about applying for creative writing grants.
Got to teach and pay it forward.
Got to talk to people for whom our creative work made their lives better in some way.
Got to witness the ambient joy that is 80,0000 adults who understand that play should not end with childhood.
Got to see how the administrative work I do is critical to make this event happen for my team.
Got to have conversations with people who understand our business model and could sympathize with all the joys and frustrations.
Got to compare notes with others who ship products to customers and point each other at resources to make that job easier.
Participating in conversations where I learned interesting trivia that may someday inform a story or conversation.
Receiving creative respect from people who are supremely professional in their fields. That respect helps me recognize that I have become good at the jobs that I do even though I don’t have formal training for many of them.
Being told by my booth crew that we are worth investing in. That they willingly and enthusiastically build, haul, and sweat because we matter and what we create matters. This is from people I know are highly intelligent and who I know do not suffer fools lightly.
Listening to a comparison of how the RPG/game industry functions in ways that are fundamentally different from the literary publishing industry.
Got to be amused at Science Fiction and Fantasy publishing being called “literary publishing” but that is how it looks from the outside, all novels and stories are literary. Whereas from the inside “literary” is a specific sub genre of fiction writing.
Going out to dinner with groups of writers where we talk plot, travel, food, life, and then laugh uproarously at each others jokes.

I’m certain there are things which should be on that list, but which have slipped out of my brain.

Howard and I have this concept of the ten thousand dollar conversation. It is a conversation that opens a new possibility or improves a creative concept so that business revenue is improved by ten thousand dollars or more. We can never schedule these conversations. They always arise unexpectedly from the pool of intangibles. We figure out which things were critical only in retrospect. But I’ve gotten better at spotting which ones might be the ten thousand dollar conversations. This year at GenCon, I had at least three. They may not pan out, but the potential is there if I do the post-convention work that is necessary to make them happen.

I have six pages of closely written notes on the post-convention work I need to do in the next months. I said in a prior entry that GenCon prep begins in February. I’ve realized that is inaccurate. I’ve already completed the first preparatory task for GenCon 2019, I reserved our booth space. In the coming weeks I’ll have series of follow up tasks. Then there will be a lull. This coming year the lull will still have tasks in it. I’ll know more once I’ve had time to decipher my notes and assign deadlines for the associated tasks.

For today, I traveled home. I’m now trying to remember what my home tasks are. I’ve created a small to do list for tomorrow and a slightly larger one for Wednesday. These are only things that must be done, nothing that can be pushed off until I’ve recovered from the convention. By Thursday I hope to be back up to speed. I have shirts to ship, kids to launch into their school year, and notes to turn into tasks.

Onward I go, continuing this creative career that feels exhausting and frightening as often as it does exhilarating.

GenCon The Day Before the Show Begins

It is only when I arrive at GenCon that I remember why the stress is worth it. I arrive and my people are here. First and foremost my booth crew, who have done nearly as much preparation and advance work as I have. This year they had the booth completely set up before I even arrived.

This year our hotel is farther away than we prefer. This is a direct result of a brief mistake on my part on the day hotel booking opened. Thanks to the kind folks at the GenCon housing company, I was able to correct most of that error, but we’re further away. Because my crew did most of their work yesterday, Howard and I had time to teach me the route from the hotel to the convention center. The learning is necessary because something about downtown Indianapolis messes with my internal compass/map. I have to carefully learn my routes rather than trusting my instincts. One advantage of our hotel is that it is located on “The Circle” which is a beautiful historical section of downtown Indy. My learned path takes me past dozens of restaurants and interesting shops. Despite being further away, I’m glad I get to stay here at least once.

Another thing I did with my mostly free day was get extra sleep. I needed it after our 2am arrival at the hotel. Our plane got delayed four different times. The afternoon was spent on administrivia. I had to assemble and deliver the materials for our Game Chiefs who run the Planet Mercenary games during the show. I also had to double check the stock at the booth against my cash register to make sure everything matches up. There are always updates to make and things to do in order to optimize for each particular show. Then I had an hour or two to go over my presentation materials for the presentations I have ahead of me on Friday and Saturday.

Each thing completed is the culmination of tasks that have been hovering in my attention for months. I’ve fulfilled my obligation to my game chiefs and to the players who purchased tickets to our games. I’ve succeeded at providing housing for my crew, and merchandise for the booth. In the morning when we begin making sales I’ll have succeeded in preparing for the booth. Each thing done is a stress lifted. By Sunday evening I will feel lightweight. By then I will have traded those stresses for fascinating conversations, friends greeted, new people met, things learned, sights seen, and moments of joy. The net balance will be distinctly in the positive. It is every year. Sometimes when I’m paying out the stresses in advance I lose track of that.

The doors open tomorrow.

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.

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

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.

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.

The State of Things and Cats

Life is not slow in the weeks before GenCon. It is also not slow when I’m in the middle of Kickstarter fulfillment. Particularly not when the first batch of shirts arrives incorrect and my contact at the manufacturer seems to have a magical ability to answer questions I didn’t ask and not quite answer questions that I did. It is like every communication is a near miss. I’d already decided never to do another t-shirt related kickstarter, I’ve also decided not to work with this particular company again. Which is sad because when we used them a few years ago, they were great. However, as of Saturday I have all of the items I ordered and 5/6th of them are correct. At least I think they are. Monday’s job is to carefully count quantities of colors and sizes.

In between dealing with shirts, I spent most of my week scrambling to put together promotional materials for GenCon. The last several years at the booth we’ve said things like “I wish we had Schlock URL cards” or “It would be really good to have a single sheet about Planet Mercenary that people could look at.” It is a lost opportunity to spend so much time, effort, and money to run a booth and then not have these basic marketing tools. This year we will have them. finally. They’re done and I just have to go get them printed up on Monday.

On the home front, one of my kids has finally decided to take their medicine (literally,) and their world has gotten measurably better. Which is what medicine is supposed to do. I’m still in the emotional place where I’d really like for the solution to be that simple, but I’m not quite believing that it is.

It’s also been about a month since we added a third cat to our household. His name is Milo and he’s a littermate of Callie, who we adopted last February. Last February the people who owned both of them planned to keep Milo as an emotional support animal. But this summer they realized that the ways their lives are changing, Milo would be happier if he could be reunited with his sister. He came to us on July 3rd. We’ve spend the requisite few weeks acclimatizing all the cats to each other. Callie and Milo hissed and growled at first, but now they get along great.

It is interesting to watch how the differing personalities of the cats fit different emotional needs in our household. Milo is the one who is content to be held and snuggled. Callie continues to be charming and a creature of instinct. Kikaa is less grouchy about the intrusion of other cats now that the younger ones pounce on each other instead of attempting to pounce on her.

All is going well, and I have a busy week and a half ahead of me before I depart for GenCon.

Quick Thought About Today and Dreams

In preparation for my presentations at GenCon, I’ve been reading materials about breaking creative blocks and organizing a creative life. A thought I keep encountering is that my days should match my dreams. Any future with my words published begins with a today where I wrote those words. Any future where I am healthier begins with a today when I took time to tend to my health. I won’t have the life or dreams that I want unless I am willing to sacrifice pieces of today’s time and comfort in service of those dreams. The hard part is that every thing I want to do requires me to give up some other thing that I also want to do. Even worse, many of the things which carry me closer to my dreams require me to give up something that is comfortable/happy in order to do something that is uncomfortable/difficult. However if I just do a few things every day, over time they become easier to do, less uncomfortable, and I begin to see progress.

Switching Gears

I shipped out the last of the RAM books this morning. That concludes a Kickstarter that began last October. I was also notified that the big shipment of shirts will arrive on Friday. Once that arrives and is shipped out, I will have completed the second Kickstarter. It is possible that by the time I leave for GenCon I will have zero pending Kickstarters. Even if we pull of an amazing scramble to get the next two Schlock books ready, I’m not likely to launch that Kickstarter until I get back from GenCon.

Right now our business plan and personal finances have us going from Kickstarter to Kickstarter. The landscape of ways that audience, internet, and software tools interact means that we have to constantly be evaluating what combinations are best to supply stories to our audience while also being able to pay our bills. One of the next experiments on the list is to try out Print on Demand products like shirts. Because I am never again planning to do a shirt based Kickstarter. The logistics on this one have been convoluted at every step. In theory POD products give customers more choices and me less inventory to manage. It is a worthwhile experiment.

Through all the business experimentation and shifting, both Howard and I are constantly aware that pretty much all of our income is based in Schlock Mercenary. We’d like to have other income sources, other books, other worlds. Unfortunately it is sometimes difficult for me to shake free from all of the administrative work so that I can focus on the creative work necessary to make other income sources happen.

When I was young and trying to picture my adult life, Small Business Owner was nowhere on the list. I did not know that to be an author also requires me to run a small business.

GenCon is looming large in my attention. I only have three weeks until departure. Most of the organizational work is done, but the writer’s symposium schedulers expressed an enormous amount of faith in me. I pitched five presentations expecting them to pick two or maybe three. They put all five on the schedule. I’m excited about this, but I have to make sure that I am up to speed on all of the presentations. I need to do this well, and that means brushing up in advance and making sure I have the latest available information.

But first I need to get past this week, which has a cluster of appointments for family related things.

Thought Experiment

If I were not worried about money, how would I spend today? It is a thought experiment. It isn’t the question of unlimited money and how that would transform my life, but just one of current needs met. If I could maintain my status quo, bills paid, with no additional effort, what then? The exercise is designed to help me see my priorities. Which work would I step away from because it is motivated by the need for money? Which work would I lean into because it is work I truly want to do? My answers change depending on the day. For today, I would spend the day more like I do when I’m on a writing retreat. I would go for walks in pretty places. I would read. I would think thoughts. And I would write. Other days I discover more of a desire to organize and improve my spaces.

With the thought experiment complete, I now need to figure out how to shoehorn into my day some of the things I would do if my day were unconstrained.