18 Apr

Cosmic Powers anthology is available! Features my story Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance

I’m really excited about this anthology. It features my short story Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance.

I really love the story. It wasn’t an easy write. Had to do a lot of edits, as I wrote it coming off another huge project and I was exhausted. Like, blurry screen exhausted. But I had come up with the title a few years back in a twitter exchange with Christie Yant and I really, really wanted to find a story that respected the title and did something really cool.

The seed of the story came out of my reading about some ugly, tough pieces of deep Caribbean history while also thinking about the Three Laws of Robotics. After selling this story, I told a friend it was something I was deeply proud of having written, though I wasn’t sure if would resonate with anyone.

Rich Horton at Locus Mag highlighted it as a must read story out of the anthology, Publishers Weekly did as well. Rocket Stack Rank also said kind things here, so I’m hopeful others find the story.

But enough about me, there are also a ton of other great stories in there. I know because I got to see the book early for copy edits.

07 Apr

Six Things I Learned in My First Month of Using Patreon

Last month at this time I launched a new experiment, a Patreon. What’s Patreon? Think of it like a subscription service to an artist. Some artists just post a Patreon that let us support something they’re already publicly doing, like videos on a YouTube channel. You sign up for a certain amount a month and you get the pleasure of knowing you’re helping them usher something cool into the world. I really like The Nerdwriter‘s videos, and he uses that model:

Other Patreons use more of a ‘subscriber’ model where you get access to content otherwise not available, which is what I’m doing.

Now that I’m a month into using one, here are some things I think have jumped out at me.

1) Conversion rates for paid art are low

I launched my Patreon by first pinging my newsletter of almost 1,000 people who have indicated they’re interested in hearing about upcoming fiction of mine. That created an initial surge of 17 patrons, with maybe some more coming in on the second day when I announced the link to twitter.

I have over 9,500 followers on twitter, which is where the bulk of the growing has happened since. The Patreon is currently at 94 subscribers.

Conversion rates for art are super low because money is a finite resource and it’s one thing to have people following you, but another to make the ask. For example, here’s an article about a band with 1,000,000 Spotify streams that shows their royalties as $4,955. They made $0.004891 per stream.

Sometimes you see frustrated artists online point out that they sell thousands of books/CDs/projects, when they have tens of thousands of followers. But that’s actually a super high conversion rate. And thinking that people following us online are the prime consumers is often a blind that doesn’t represent reality.

When I set out to launch the Patreon I had no idea what the conversion rate would be. I knew that my lowest Kickstarter, another form of crowdfunding, had 170 backers, and my best had 270. When I did a poll on twitter 6 months ago over 250 people indicated an interest in a Patreon, so I had some hope that between 150-250 would eventually end up on the Patreon. But how long would it take for word to filter out, or for people to jump on, I didn’t know. Kickstarter has a definite time limit, and Patreon doesn’t. The urgency isn’t as strong usually.

2) Asking for a monthly amount is a bigger ask than a one time project

Speaking of Kickstarter, my most successful Kickstarter was a $12,500 ($1,000 came in after the Kickstarter closed), 192 backer, total for my novel The Apocalypse Ocean. That’s kind of similar to thinking of a $1,000 a month Patreon, were I to do one novel a year and one Kickstarter a year.

But for the Patreon I launched we have half the number of backers so far. It’s a tougher ask to ask someone of their hard-earned money to commit to a subscription as opposed to a one time payment for a project. Which makes total sense.

That being said, at $550 a month for short fiction the Patreon is pretty close to matching the income of doing a single short story collection via Kickstarter (my last Kickstarter was a $7,000 Kickstarter for Xenowealth: A Collection). It’s wild that 100 subscribers are in for getting a short story a month.

However, writing is a wildly variable income stream. I’ve been super, super lucky to make over half my needed income from writing every year for the last ten years. But I can never predict when checks will arrive, when deals will strike, or royalties pay out. Royalties are paid out every six months. Contracts can take six months to fourteen months to pay out. I could strike a million dollar book deal tomorrow, and still run out of money in nine months if it takes twelve for the contract to get negotiated and a check to be cut. While Patreon is a harder ask, getting a monthly check for art is worth strapping velcro to myself and jumping against a felt wall for. Having predictable income is something of a brass ring.

3) I needed to not worry about failure

Rejection is hard. Jim Hines just wrote about the fact that even at this stage in his career he still gets rejections. I still do. But that rejection is private, between the editor, my agent and me. I have almost a thousand to date in my career.

But a crowdfunding project is very, very public. The first time I did a Kickstarter a few people reached out to me, worrying about whether I’d hit the amount I set. Failure in public, if the Kickstarter didn’t fund, would be a tough hit.

Setting up a Patreon is something similar. You’re going to reveal to the world how much support and interest there is out there for what you’re doing. Then there are your own expectations. You look at other Patreons, you wondered where you’ll fit within the rankings.

Then there are your own internal expectations to manage. I’ll be honest and open here, I was hoping to get to $1,000 in the first month because my big goal is the $1,500 before the year’s end (when I run out of savings) that I want to replace the freelance income that vaporized in January. I looked at Kickstarters and polls and thought $1,000 was attainable. While I’m sure people may compare my Patreon to others, or make judgements, I tend not to care what people think but am harder on myself trying to get to goals I set up for myself. I’ve learned to not worry about others but pay attention to my road. But missing my own expectations was still a pain.

But getting to 55% of a goal is strong progress. I’m over halfway to my own internal goal. I’m starting something new to me, so I’m learning a lot. I’m an egg again, and that means there’s work to be done ahead. Just because I was doing well at the novel career game doesn’t mean I automatically am given a platter on this crowdfunding thing.

4) Profile matters

Since I got knocked back on the health front in 2008 I feel like I’ve been playing catch up, or just struggling to stay afloat with my career. It may not look like that from the outside, but from 2009-2012 I had limited energy. I had to split that between writing, freelancing for money, and being a father. To get the writing done, I pulled back from being a part of the general community. I twitter, but not as frequently as others. I even took a four month sabbatical from social media to finish the last novel. I don’t interact as much as I would like. I certainly backed way off the daily blogging that had become a huge traffic item for me.

When I’m in survival mode I tend to go quiet and focus on the work in front of me.

As a result of that, it is a hard sell to come out of the cold and announce that you’re twittering again, blogging, and trying to engage and ‘oh yeah, there’s a new Crowdfunding project.’ I’ve also fallen away from the habit of being open, partially because my problems are problems some people would like to have (oh, you make half your family’s income writing novels and the other half freelancing, but want to shift that ratio more toward writing, boo hoo. Your novels haven’t sold quite as much as you’d like: boo hoo. etc). I’m easing back in, but as I said, I’ve been in survival mode now for almost seven years and focused just on the writing and less on the public sphere that I used to dwell in.

(As a complete aside, part of that reason is a conversation I had with Jay Lake, where we talked about how being open about sicknesses had caused us to lose projects. In my case it was a high value three book possibility that an editor told me I was being considered for but some of my conversation on the blog about having a heart defect meant I was passed over. Since then I’ve been utterly gutted about the idea of losing projects and harming my family due to that and my old instinct to share has been dulled, I’m trying to get it back, though.)

I’ve given some speeches on how I think there’s a three-legged stool to make a crowdfunding campaign work. That is a leg of having a strong social media presence and profile. A leg of haven proven that you can deliver on the project and have delivered in the past. And lastly, a leg of a project that is compelling in and of itself.

I knew I was going in one-legged. What I mainly had was proof that I could deliver (I write). I knew that the inherent project idea “I’m going to write a story a month” was old, as others were already doing it. And I knew that my profile was a bit weak of late.

5) I needed to offer something to $1 backers

One of the ways I think I failed at the start was not offering more to $1 and $2 backers. I looked at a lot of Patreons, and a lot of them offer the stories for $1 a month. Other Patreons don’t offer anything at $1.

I decided to offer a once a week ‘5 Things Monday’ blog post for $1. For $2, behind the scenes of what I’m working on. Then, the meat of the sandwich was the $5, story once a month level. But sign ups for the $1 a month level of the Patreon were pretty anemic compared to others doing the ‘everyone gets a story.’

I adjusted the Patreon so that $1 backers knew they would get all the stories as a collection at the end of the year as long as it was over $750 a month. So the basic value proposition for a $1 backer is that for $12 you get a short story collection, once a year at the end of the year. For a $2 backer, they get a story every quarter, and then the collection at the end of the year.

6) I am in it for the long haul

The mental model I’ve had for projects like this is one month of frantic activity, and then fulfilling it down the road a bit. There was a binary result, either I reached the amount needed for the Kickstarter to fund, or I didn’t.

With the Patreon, after the first ten days of patrons jumping on board, the Patreon remained essentially flat. For the next two weeks it remained flat, with even a slight dip in the middle. Not gonna lie, if you refer back to the ‘don’t be afraid to fail in public’ point, this was a moment where I started to wonder if I had, in fact, failed in public:

One of the things about the Patreon is that, while the extra money is nice, I’ve been careful not to set up too much extra so that I don’t end up working far, far harder for the money there than if I was freelancing. I can’t afford for the Patreon to take all my writing time away and then end up not working on novels. This has to be a thing that helps my career, not slows it down. I’m making an initial investment, hoping that it will get to $1,000 to $1,500 or more so that I can work more, and harder, on novels. If it remained stuck at $500 I’d have to shut it down and walk away.

And my ego could take the hit. After being in and out of the ER in 2009 and having tasting some near death experience I know for a fact that there are worse things than screwing up in public, or failing. I can fall flat on my face here. But, I was starting to wonder if I needed to shut it down and open negotiations with a couple leads for more freelance work.

However, after that slow period, growth started up again and we’re getting close to 100 patrons on the project. So I’m realizing this isn’t a one month and I see where things are. I’ve seen some Patreons hit the amounts people need in a month, but that isn’t going to be my path.

Judging by the growth I’ve seen in mine, it looks like it’ll take 12-24 months to see if I can get to the point I’m aiming for. Whether I’ll run out of money before then, or if it will grow enough that the money lasts long enough, I have no idea. This experiment is going to take at least nine months to play out for me, when the lines cross.

But that means taking a nine month view. I said in the beginning when I first launched the Patreon it felt like jumping off a cliff, doing something new. I’m still committed to falling for another nine months and not focusing so hard on the week.

Because if the growth of the last week continues out that long, I might look back at this and be ever so grateful to myself for taking this big, public risk.

Enjoy this? You can support more like it for as little as $1 on:

05 Apr

I Built a New PC Tower from Scratch

When I was 14 I started buying PC Magazine off the news rack back in the USVI. I used to go into the computer stores, where you would tell a salesman what you needed in a computer, and they would assemble it from parts.

My first computer was a 286 25Mhz beast that ran CIV 1 and let me type some papers I purchased from a buddy in school when he upgraded. The 286 died shortly after I purchased it. I parted it out and made enough to put some money toward a word processing machine that then died. Shortly after that I put summer money toward a 486 DX 66 (!) that could run video off a CD-Rom.

My stepdad had me buy that new, but what I really wanted to do was to order a used tower, and then all the parts from PC Magazine and assemble one to get what I needed.

In college, I babied a used tower and parts from my 486 to create a new machine. Eventually I switched to Apple laptops. I did some adding of parts to some Apple desktops, but my bucket list of just ordering all the parts and building a machine was something I never got around to.

Until now!

I have been recently obsessed with a game called Kerbal Space Program. It’s a space simulator. Basically it lets you pretend to be your own Elon Musk.

I tried playing this game on my old MacBook Air a couple years ago and it was fun, but the Air was underpowered. Last month I downloaded it to my Xbox One and got into it again with a few friends, blowing up rockets as we struggled to control them and then passing the controller to the next person to try.

It was fun, but the Xbox port was buggy, particularly the maneuver node visuals that help you prepare for burns that change your orbit kept breaking, requiring a restart. I looked at my MacBook Pro and realized it would run it better. Basically, Kerbal doesn’t depend on graphics cards as much as raw processor cycles (Ghz). So my 2.6 Ghz laptop would do better than the 800mhz Xbox One as Kerbal just requires a ton of physics modeling, not pretty graphics.

We tested it out, and it was WAY more fun on the laptop. Better graphics, and we could install some mods that made the game way better to play.

But I have a rule about playing games on my work laptop. Plus, my MacBook Pro is three years old now.

So my bucket list included ‘build a computer from parts, from scratch’ and I idly wondered what a decent Kerbal machine would cost and need to look like.

For one thing, we wouldn’t need a powerful video card. In fact, the on board graphics cards of most chips today would handle most of what Kerbal threw at it.

For another, I could use an older Intel i3 chip and get high Ghz out of it for cheap, and what Kerbal needed wasn’t tons of cores and raw power, but Ghz. So instead of the latest i7, a decent i3 with 4.2Ghz, vastly faster than my laptop or the Xbox for Kerbal, was $160.

Okay.

I’m on a tight budget these days, so I started building parts lists and playing around, just trying to see if what the least I could pay for a Kerbal Machine would be. I came up with a few builds around $350, one for $290.

I used this site, PC Parts Picker.

So first I found a good case and a motherboard. I’d just gotten $100 in reprint fees, and I had some points on a credit card. I was able to snag an MSI Sli Plus motherboard and a case for just a touch over $100.

When I moved my office down into my basement, I also found some stuff that I could sell off that I didn’t need. A spare router. Spare tablet. Etc. I sold off the spare stuff to clean out the office.

As I did that, I realized I could get the whole computer for about $100 out of pocket. I ordered the rest of the parts: an i3 4.2Ghz chip, some 2400mhz ram (8 gigs was all I could swing), the cheapest hard drive I could get (Western Digital, $16, a platter hard drive).

Here’s the whole part list. It’s a $475 computer that runs Kerbal pretty well.

I ended up spending $100 to get it. To make it cash neutral I’d considered getting a slower chip, but then splurged on the fastest i3 instead of a Celeron or Pentium.

For the OS, I installed the latest Ubuntu Linux.

Over the next year I’ll occasionally upgrade the ram or hard drive, maybe add a video card. But it runs Kerbal really well off the onboard graphics on the i3 chip, better than my laptop in fact.

So a $100 gaming computer that I can plug into the TV upstairs, or use as a backup for my office downstairs. Not bad. I picked parts that should work with OS X, except for the chip. I may turn it into a Hackintosh with a few tweaks if my laptop ever dies in the next year or so. Or just for fun.

The only hiccup was that I didn’t realize there was a separate power plug on the motherboard for CPU power. I went through a long dark despair for a day thinking I’d broken the chip or motherboard when installing as the CPU wouldn’t work. All the help forums recommended really complex stuff. It wasn’t until I saw a stray, sneering comment of ‘the most common idiotic newbie mistake is not plugging the separate CPU power in’ that I was like ‘lightbulb!’ The pictograph on the easy setup sheet showed an 8 pin connector, and my power supply had 2 4-pin connectors. Once I made that leap, I got it plugged in and running.

03 Apr

Why I Hope California Goes Ahead With Medicare For All

As part of my attempts to reduce anxiety-loops related to media consumption, when the argument broke out about Obamacare eight years ago I purchased a number of books about healthcare around the world to better understand the global context and options.

I find Americans tend to argue that there’s ‘market’ driven healthcare and ‘socialist’ healthcare. Europe has ‘socialist’ healthcare and that’s expensive, they use a high amount of taxes to support it. America has less taxes, and spends more on defense, so it uses ‘market’ healthcare that its citizens pay for.

Often, the argument between left and right Americans is between arguing for higher taxes and better healthcare, or using the ‘market.’ Many Americans who have healthcare via their jobs are also somewhat uninformed about what American healthcare looks like and how it works. The number of people I’ve talked to who have day jobs and healthcare through employers and who are upset about Obamacare market exchanges being forced on them when they’re not using it, is somewhat astounding to me.

Talking to Europeans and other folk around the world, I also noticed that people took it for granted and saw it as invisible, or talked about the downsides. It wasn’t until I would outline how it worked in the US that they got horrified faces (I knew it was bad, but fuck me, was one friend’s response via email).

As far as I can tell, the America system is an amalgamation of a number of different healthcare approaches all followed somewhat haphazardly. It actually uses elements of ‘socialized’ healthcare and ‘market’ healthcare. But those two dualities are not altogether right, as far as I can tell.

The book that laid it all out the best is The Healing of America, which I really recommend anyone who opens their mouth about healthcare options read.

Different Types of Healthcare Models

There are basically 4 approaches to offering healthcare in the world that humanity tries. Wikipedia summarizes them here:

The Bismarck Model

This is the model followed in Germany and in its rudimentary form was laid out by Otto von Bismarck. The system uses private initiatives to provide the medical services. The insurance coverage is also mainly provided through private companies. However, the insurance companies operate as non-profits and are required to sign up all citizens without any conditions. At the same time all citizens (barring a rich minority in the case of Germany) are required to sign up for one or the other health insurance. The government plays a central role in determining payments for various health services, thus keeping a decent control on cost.

The Beveridge Model

This model adopted by Britain is closest to socialized medicine, according to the author. Here almost all health care providers work as government employees and the government acts as the single-payer for all health services. The patients incur no out-of-pocket costs, but the system is under pressure due to rising costs.

The National Health Insurance Model

The Canadian model has a single-payer system like Britain; however, the health care providers work mostly as private entities. The system has done a good job of keeping costs low and providing health care to all. The major drawback of this system comes from the ridiculously long waiting times for several procedures. The author, T.R. Reid, would have had to wait 18 months for his shoulder treatment in Canada.

The Out of Pocket Model

This is the kind of model followed in most poor countries. There is no wide public or private system of health insurance. People mostly pay for the services they receive ‘out of pocket’. However, this leaves many underprivileged people without essential health care. Almost all countries with such a system have a much lower life expectancy and high infant mortality rates. The author gives his experience with the system in India, and a brief description of the ancient medical system of Ayurveda.

So by the writer’s estimation, the USA mixes in from all four of those models above in bits and pieces.

Healthcare Models the US uses all simultaneously:

  • The Bismark Model for people under 65 and in the workforce. Although not non-profit, as in cheaper and more successful Bismark models, for profit companies work with employers to get health insurance set up in US. 64% of the US population, according to the US Census, is covered by the for-profit Bismark model. Kaiser Family Foundation claims it’s 49%.
  • The Beveridge Model for Veterans, Active Military Personnel, and Native Americans. This is where the government directly hires the doctors, and builds the hospital. This is how the UK creates national health care (and is actually sort of what Americans think socialized healthcare is). .5% of the population is active military, 5.2% are veterans, and about .5% of the US population are Native American eligible for that coverage. Up to 6% of the US population is covered by this centralized government healthcare model.
  • The National Health Insurance Model in the US is used for anyone 65 or older. This is called Medicare and Medicaid. The government acts as the insurer, collected payments (either through taxes or straight payments) and negotiates with private hospitals and doctors. According to Kaiser, 14% of the US population is on Medicare. 20% of the US population is on Medicaid. 2% is on other public assistance (like CHiPs for children to get access to healthcare if their parents have none). Canada uses the NIH model, it’s even called ‘Medicare’ and it’s basically Medicare for all, even though it’s decried as socialism by the American right wing.
  • The Out of Pocket model is used in the US for poor folk who have slipped between all those other systems and is often advocated for by right wing folk.

So, 36% of the US uses some form of a system from the NIH model, 50-60% of it uses some form of Bismarck mode, but using for-profit systems that are lightly regulated, whereas every other place that uses the Bismarck model (some of Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Japan, and Switzerland) don’t actually do socialized medicine, they just highly regulate the companies that provide and demand they cover all citizens and offer minimum benefits.

Canada and the UK, which offer what some might imagine as socialized medicine, do it through two radically different mechanisms (Canada creates a national health insurance company via the government, Medicare, while UK government directly hires doctors and makes hospitals).

Few of the above, even in Europe, are actually truly socialized medicine, by the way. The UK comes the closest. Socialism is ‘seizing the means of production from private capital.’

What is ‘Single Payer?’

Okay, a number of debates are about ‘single payer’ and socialized healthcare vs ‘market’ healthcare.

Single payer means the government acts as an insurer and collects all the payments, whether via a tax, or via a set payment, and then pays private hospitals or doctors for your treatment. Having a single source means the government can negotiate down costs.

Medicare and Medicaid are single payer. The UK and Canada are single payer models. Canada is Medicare for all. A third of the US system is single payer. It is just that most Americans do not realize this, it’s a wonky term. Many people hear ‘single payer’ and they don’t think ‘Medicare’ they think ‘Canada’ or ‘Europe’ even though Europe has a mix of systems.

Who likes their healthcare the most?

Funnily enough, UK patients tend to self-report as liking their healthcare the best:

 

But that doesn’t mean the more socialized the healthcare the happier people are. Switzerland has a fairly lean Bismarck model that the US would recognize and is second on that chart up there. The difference is that they regulate the ever-loving hell out of it and require (mandate) that everyone buy some, something the US keeps shying away from.

Who lives the longest?

People in Japan live the longest. Switzerland is next, followed by Singapore, then Australia, Spain, Iceland, Italy, Israel, Sweden, France and then Republic of Korea for your top 10.

Now whenever I post that someone links me to a look at how much more they have public transportation, or a better diet. Sure, it’s not healthcare alone. But it’s the single largest impact on life expectancy of a civilization. The fact the USA is #31 on the life expectancy list  and dropping (one of the few or only developed nations to be reversing a trend in life expectancy growing in areas of the US) demonstrates the power of healthcare and quality and longevity of life.

But can America afford healthcare?

Often I hear an argument that goes “well, the US spends so much on defense we’d have to give up other things to have the government create socialized medicine, socialized medicine is too expensive.”

Well, arguments against the complicated amalgam of systems the US currently has isn’t an argument for socialized healthcare and also no other system is more expensive than the US system.

Here’s what countries spend, both in taxes via the public government, and via private systems, visualized on a graph:

You can see that just in government spending, the US spends as much as Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Belgium and more than the UK. So we don’t have to spend any more than we’re already spending, we just need to change what we’re doing.

Also, all of those systems get dramatically better results for longevity and patient-reported happiness.

Woah, why is American healthcare so expensive?

There are a lot of reasons. A big one is that America is one of the few countries that assumes health insurance companies should be big, profitable businesses. Most countries look at it as a service. Fire, police and teachers aren’t big, for-profit business, but are services for the community. They make assumptions moving back from there. America’s education system also puts a huge burden on medical professionals who take on a lot of debt, who then charge more. The US also has a legal system that allows big lawsuits, that means doctors take out expensive operating insurance.

There are many other pain points as well, but another huge one is this:

The entire US system is actually socialized, and it was socialized by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s with something called EMTALA. I have a long post about that here.

Short version: the US used to require payment or proof of insurance before you went into the ER. Reagan changed that to legally force ERs to take care of anyone who came in. Thus, the moral contract America legalized was that all people should be taken care of.

What Reagan never did was to decide how we paid for it. We’ve been arguing ever since. But hospitals are still admitting people. And since many Americans don’t have insurance for preventative care, they use the ER as their doctor. ERs pass this cost onto any American who has insurance by randomly fiddling with billing to make sure the hospital as a whole makes a profit.

I sometimes thus make the argument that American health insurance is a ‘socialist’ (using some right wing arguments about healthcare) unfunded mandate.

So what do I think we should do?

Funny you should ask.

This is of interest to me:

One of my friends who is a nurse retweeted this and it caught my attention because of the history of how Canada came to adopt the NIH model. In 1947 in Saskatchewan, a Canadian province rolled out an act that guaranteed free care, thanks to one Tommy Douglas. They couldn’t quite do universal health care, the original vision, due to funds at the time. Alberta came next with medical coverage for 90% of the population. In 1957 Canada’s Federal government created a 50% cost payment plan, and by 1961 all the provinces were using that plan to create universal programs. In 1966 it was expanded further.

That hints to me that all we need is one big state to do something similar in the US. Vermont had looked into it after Obamacare was passed, as that law has a provision allowing a state to take federal funds for health and pool them all into one giant pot if it’s creating a universal healthcare situation. That’s basically the Canada path.

I also think using Medicare as the vehicle is smart.

Medicare has a great brand. In the US, 75% of its users report satisfaction, making it one of the more well-liked American institutions.

Further, using existing Medicare program for growing would bring down older users costs in the program by healthifying the Medicare user base.

Lastly, Medicare, even though it’s for older folks and higher risk by default, is pretty damn cheap in comparison to workforce insurance and self employment health insurance. Part A is free (basic emergency stuff and hospitalizations) and Part B (doctors and preventative stuff) is $150/month and part D for drugs is $50. I’d jump on that.

And none of this means employers have to stop offering great healthcare plans to sugar employment deals. In the UK, and all throughout Europe, people who make extra money bolt on private health insurance plans on top of the public options so that they can the care they want in the style they want. Medicare has a part C, which is where you can get a more Cadillac private insurance set up added on.

But having the option so you can get out of a shitty employer healthcare plan, or move around, be portable? That sounds great.

One Canadian province setting it up got other provinces to look over there and say ‘hmmm’ and spread the idea. If California got rolling, it wouldn’t be too long before Washington and Oregon joined up, and the entire west coast was set up. They’d draw a lot of small business over there.

I’ll be rooting for California.

20 Mar

Game of Thrones as an allegory for climate change

I’ve been mulling this over in relation to a short story idea. I was recently approached to write a climate change short story for an anthology coming out early next year. While doing short story idea generation session I scribbled down the question “how does one create an allegory, a fairy tale, for climate change, that grapples with the lack of human political structure’s ability to deal with a slow-moving, future threat that is of little interest to the day-by-day drama of the polity?”

While I did come up with a story idea (it’s on the short list of first stories to be written for my Patreon readers), one of the things that jumped right out was how well Game of Thrones works as an allegory for climate change.

To wit:

There’s a distant, vast threat which could overwhelm the polity. The white walkers, basically ice-zombies, are currently contained by the fact that it’s summer in the long season of the world of Game of Thrones. The walkers and the magic threat they represent are basically a new threat for the kingdoms south of the wall.

But now that the entire environment is changing. It’s not just that winter is coming again (a natural cycle, so don’t yell at me about the metaphor going long here, I know I’m stretching it 🙂 it’s that the white walkers are coming because it’s a super long and new event in these character’s lives.

Realistically everyone needs to band together and make sure the wall is in good shape. Which was done in the past (much like we all banded together to stop ozone depletion using a form of market cap and trade, but which now conservatives claim can’t be used as a tool because it’s liberal, despite its excellent result on ozone and acid rain).

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Also, there are people trying to warn everyone that something freaky horrible is happening out there. 99 out of every 100 scientists is sounding the alarm, but folk are all like:

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This poor scientist is trying to warn everyone, but you know what they say about the bearer of bad news.

Anyway, there’s an army of bad shit coming slowly and inexorably for us, all like:

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Global warming’s coming for you.

And while that is building up, everyone in the polity is killing each other and fighting to realign their borders like:

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While refugees are not welcome, but heading to safer areas:

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You know nothing, Jon Snow.

How will it all end?

Probably not well for everyone concerned unless we all figure out how to join together and fight the larger common threat. But what makes Game of Thrones so applicable and why the metaphor really works is because humans refusing to band together against a larger threat is a very human trait. This story is all too recognizable, whether it’s white walkers or something else.

Hopefully we can set our issues aside some time to fight.

But sometimes I’m not so sure…

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Winter (isn’t) coming.

17 Mar

Quick Book Review: The Dance of the Possible

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I think this may be one of my favorite books about creativity yet.

One of the things that’s useful about the publishing landscape today is the ability to make books that are the size they need to be. I’m willing to bet in another time, there would have been pressure to bulk this book up, provide more anecdotes, to make it look beefy and solid on a bookshelf.

But this is an arrow of a no-bullshit, humorous book about how to nurture creativity without a lot of the woo-woo that turns me away from other books. Including the beginning that notices that by reading the book, you’re delaying on going and doing something, in search of the perfect tool.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Scott Berkun’s essays over the past years via his blog, and Ramez Naam mentioned how much he liked this book to me, so I snagged a copy right away.

This is a heavy practical guide to creativity by someone who makes a living teaching and talking about how to be more creative, and I made a lot of dog ears in the book for lines that are things I know I know, but often need reminded of. I may put a few of his choicer quotes around my office of reminders of how to get shit done.

I highly recommend it.

16 Mar

The Patreon passes the initial $500 mark, I will now be writing a short story a month for Patrons!

Holy Cow, the Patreon passed $500 and now I get to write a short story that will be delivered every month to Patron’s inboxes. That first story arrives on April 1st.

Let us pause for a moment and celebrate:

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Shit, guys, we did it.

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That also means we are now 2/3s of the way to the 2nd goal, the one where everyone gets a free copy of my next short story collection 6 months before anyone else can in PDF, Mobi and ePub.

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15 Mar

Plot twist: it turns out basements can be a bit chilly

One small act of miscalculation with a basement office: I did all the work to set it up during 40-50 degree temperatures.

A new wave of chilliness has swept across this area of the country. I noticed that as it fell below 30 outside, my basement fell down from 68 degrees Fahrenheit, where I could easily boost my new basement office space to 70 degrees and be comfortable typing and working, to 63 degrees where I’m just unable to get comfortable. The larger heater I have by the desk gets the temp up to 66.

Upping the humidity a little and making sure I have my shoes on means I’m comfortable, but my fingers just can’t handle anything below 70. They just lock up.

I tried moving the heater around to aim at the keyboard more, but it didn’t work. So I snagged these gloves online:

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Just basic fingerless gloves. I got red to make it harder to lose them in the office.

Next winter I’ll get a more powerful heater, but I’m not going to spend a big chunk on a solution there when winter is closer to over than starting and the gloves will do just fine.

13 Mar

Everything old is new again

As I’m taking this new jump into building out a Patreon I’m reminded of how similar this all feels. So I went back through my blog to 2006, the last time I affected a massive change.

Back then I’d been working hard for many years toward the goal of becoming a writer. I had started writing stories and submitting them regularly in 8th grade, so 1992 or thereabouts, which is why I have my first Writers of the Future rejection. I really turned the gas up on that in 1996, when I was a senior in high school (which is when I got my first personal rejection from Stan Schmidt, back then the editor of Analog) and a freshman in college. I attended Clarion 3 years later as a junior in college in 1999. Started getting my first pro sales in 2000. When the first novel was about to come out in 2006 it was the end of a 10 year cycle of blasting away pretty hard at the writing. Many hundreds of rejections, short stories written, and so forth.

Back on February 3rd, 2006, I learned that my day job was going to be ended (and I was to train my replacement), after 10 years of being heavily involved in campus life (as a student and then staff member). Looking back on my blog at that time, I realize that I then thought about what to do for a month, and then firmly decided the play was to become a freelancer even though I had no idea how. I had lined up about 50% of the income I needed when I jumped.

It wasn’t an easy schedule, but it was mine. I worked really hard 2006-2007, and I didn’t let up to something resembling a regular 40 hour workweek until 2008 when the freelancing money improved and I started working on Halo: The Cole Protocol. Since then, I have boosted or lowered the amount of freelancing based on how well the writing is going, but used the freelancing to create a reliable base as writing income is super variable.

When I found out the biggest chunk of my freelancing income had folded up I was facing a similar dilemma, though I didn’t make the connection until a few days ago. I started out by looking for the same kind of freelance work all over again (much like I started out trying to replace the day job with another), but then come early March I made a similar decision as I did almost 11 years ago:

JUMP!

Trust that you can build wings on the way down.

Which is why I then created the Patreon. Jump and trust that, as I fell through savings and kept writing, that I could cobble it all together and get the wings.

I’ve tried this before, actually. In late 2011 when I did the Kickstarter for the Xenowealth novel The Apocalypse Ocean. I used that money to write the novel, seriously lower the freelancing down to a minimum, and spend a year trying to build the runway in 2012, as Kickstarter had given me an 7 month runway. I accepted some contracts that I had estimated would give me another 12 months, but the money and contracts took so long to firm up that they came 2 months after I ran out of savings, a business line of credit I use to smooth over lump periods, and I had to blink and go back to freelancing.

But out of that 7 month runaway I got two books and a number of short stories. It was a success, even if I had to reengage bigger freelance gigs and slow down on fiction.

So this time, I’m in the same spot, but feeling like I did back in 2006. Nervous, but excited. Knowing that I could fail (I tasted that in 2012) but I spent the years after 2012 maniacally paying down debt to prepare for a moment like this. Knowing that I could get back into more blogging, more interacting with folks again after a long while away as I lost more and more time.

It’s hard not to look at is ‘the one shot’ but I know that it’s a process. I was just struck at how uncanny it was that it matched the timeline of the first time I tried to change my life and career in 2006.