19 May

I traveled to Bermuda to launch ‘The Stories We Tell: The Bermuda Anthology of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Back in late September of 2014 I was the Writer in Residence for the island of Bermuda, where I taught a 3 week long science fiction and fantasy workshop for island writers. Dr. Kim Dismont-Robinson, Folklife Office from the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs invited me to head this up, and it was one of those amazing life moments. I got to bring together both my Caribbean roots and experience and my genre writing credentials all together. It was like ‘this is the moment I’ve been waiting for!’

Out of that project came a follow-up discussion, would we be able to create an anthology of Bermuda speculative fiction out of the writers we had, plus an open call?

I thought we had enough talent and agreed to the project, and we’ve been working on it in the background throughout 2015 and 2016.

On Tuesday, I flew out to Bermuda to formally launch ‘The Stories We Tell’ for the island of Bermuda.

When I left, my little palm in my basement office had just died due to spider mites:

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So I enjoyed camping out next to the palms near my room at the Grotto Bay hotel in Bermuda:

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My room faced northish, so I got both sunrise and sunset from my balcony. I woke up each morning just drenched in sunlight. I live off sunlight, so it was welcomed. I was up each morning for a swim and wrote nearly a thousand words of fresh fiction each morning. The sunlight cleansed me off some weariness and post-winter blues I was still struggling to shake.

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Wednesday morning I met ‘The Captain,’ a local radio personality, and talked about the important of Bermuda voices in genre and about the book launch. He shared a quick island ghost tale from his childhood, which was perfect:

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Kim, who noted how much I loved Graham Foster‘s artwork, which we used a great deal of to illustrate the stories in the book, took me to Bermuda College library so I could visit the Brian Burland Centre (Burland was a Bermudan writer who became rediscovered by the island in the 2000s, just before he passed) and see the mural he did for that.

I also spent a lot of time looking over Burland’s poster board outline for one of his books, which was amazingly cool from a process standpoint, I might write a whole other post about that.

On Thursday we had the actual launch, but before that I visited Prospero’s Cave, an underground cave right near my hotel room. Just a few hundred feet away.

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Sketchy looking entrance. Then you squeeze through these rocks:

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And bam, you are here:

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and from above a bit:

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I’d explored it the day before, but I came back on Thursday to swim it. The water was brisk, Bermuda is at the same longitude as North Carolina and out in the middle of the Atlantic. The water is still cold out there right now. But I got this snap of me jumping in and swimming right back out:

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The book launch, Thursday night, was great. It was held in the National Gallery, with the Hon. Nandi Outerbridge JP, MP, Minister of Social Development giving opening remarks, and then I gave a few notes about how the anthology came to be and how honored I was to be a part of bringing these voices together. Here we are before opening doors, getting sound and video set up:

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Many of the writers were there, and for many it was their first published story. Reading here is Nikki Bowers. Her story opens the anthology:

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and here is Damien Wilson, who also has a story in Karen Lord’s anthology of Caribbean SF ‘New Worlds, Old Ways.’

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The anthology is ‘The Stories We Tell’ and here is the cover:

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And here is the table of contents:

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The launch was successful. I got to have a last dinner with the director of the department: Heather, Kim (Folklife director) and her husband Jay (we bonded of Seagulls, small outboard engines, air cooled), Veney who runs many things behind the scenes and worked hard to make sure I got to my hotel room and settled in well and got where I needed to go, and the Minister. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone after great conversation.

So the question everyone on twitter has asked is ‘how do I get a copy?’

Good question!

Right now the book is for sale at bookstores (and in the libraries) in Bermuda, so if you’re passing through look for it. There are some conversations about how to make it available elsewhere, so I’ll pass that on when I can. Distribution throughout and around the Caribbean is complicated with books, it’s something being worked on.

So now I’m packed up. I’ve had one last swim in the ocean (it’s still very cold here, out in the middle of the Atlantic, but I wanted the salt water in my hair), and I’m waiting for a taxi to take me back to the airport and back home.

I return curiously refreshed, excited about these stories, excited about telling more of my own, having gotten more writing done here sitting on my balcony looking at the ocean and enjoying soaking up sun like the little lizards that were scampering about underfoot.

I also return with an amazing gift from the people who worked so hard to put all this together, a Graham Foster painting of my own:

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Now to navigate that through airports and customs back to Ohio!

16 May

The First Time I Had Pneumonia I Thought I Was a Medical Miracle

This essay came to me while I was feverish and unable to sleep at some point over the last week and a half. I woke up the next morning convinced that I’d written it, as I could remember the outlining, the main points, and the title.

Alas, I had not actually written it.

But, having remembered writing it in such vivid detail, I thought I’d give a stab at rewriting it and fulfilling a feverish prophecy, as such.

The first time I caught pneumonia I was somewhere between 1st and 3rd grade. I suspect 3rd, for reasons I’ll cover in a moment. But there’s a difference between US and Commonwealth school numbering, so I’m always getting it mixed up.

I was elementary school age for sure.

That morning I woke up feeling pretty horrible and tried to convince my mother that I was sick and didn’t want to go to school. Now, my poor mom, a single mother basically by that point, was the Attila the Hun of parents that forced you to go to school. Unless I had a compound fracture, major blood loss, a fever that was causing visible sweats, you were going. to. school.

To be fair, I was mobile that morning and deteriorated later in the day. She rowed me in our small fiberglass dinghy to shore and I caught the taxi that took me and a few neighborhood kids to the school.

I don’t remember much about the morning. I do recall slipping into a sort of daze. But I’m ADD and that wasn’t all that unusual for me. Most mornings featured me slipping off into my own little world in elementary school. It’s one of the reasons I never fully learned my times tables until college, or the order of the alphabet until late high school, or the order of the months of the year until my mid-20s.

I do remember staring at beams of sunlight outside.

See, one of the things I remember fondly about the Caribbean is that when I got sick I basically turned into a cat: I’d find a warm puddle of sunshine, curl up in it, and sleep. I’d lay out on the deck of the boat we lived on and sun. I even swam to shore when sick and just wriggled into the sand like a turtle and waited for the sun to bake the sick out of me.

All morning long, I just waited for a chance to get out in the sun as I started to shiver.

At recess I ran out with all the kids. But instead of heading to the grass to play soccer, I veered off next to the steps out of the building where the concrete was toasty and warm in the high sun. I curled up there, hugging the concrete, and then… just passed out.

I woke up because all the kids had come back inside, and class had started up and I’d gone missing. The teachers, standing on the steps and looking out over the field hadn’t seen me. A search had begun. I was found, passed out hard, feverish, soaking up sun.

If I recall right, it was the teacher a year or two ahead of us that shook me awake. They realized I was burning up and not doing well, so it was decided I would be driven home.

Now, this was where my unique living situation caused some confusion:

“We don’t seem to have a number for your mom.”

“We don’t have a phone.”

“Why not?”

“We live on a boat.”

“Oh, where is that?”

“Lance Aux Pine Harbor.”

“Can you get home if one of the teachers drives you there?”

“Sure?”

“How will we contact your mom then?”

“Shout.”

Which is how I, while out of my mind with fever and wanting to do nothing more than sleep, ended up navigating my teacher toward the harbor we were anchored at. I’m not sure they really believed I lived on a boat, there was a lot of adult humoring voice, from what I remember.

I was also a little bummed, because this teacher had what I considered a ‘sexy car.’

I don’t know what it was, but it was the first car I ever saw that didn’t have ANY RIM around the window. The doors opened, and there was just glass window over the door. Madness!

I’d wanted to ride inside a car that cool for so long. But instead I napped, and then woke up when asked where to turn.

But I got us there! Stood on the water’s edge and shouted until my mom rowed out to get me and the teacher filled her in. I was too tired to even be triumphant about being right.

I later trucked along with mom for a trip to get diagnosed. I think I was on antibiotics. Maybe X-rays? It’s fuzzy. But I do remember one thing. The doctor mentioned how serious pneumonia was, impressing on both of us how serious it was. I somehow, tired, got the idea that pneumonia was a killer and I completely failed to scale in my head how deadly it was. I thought it was like, Black Death deadly. Or Cancer deadly. Like, I was very likely to die.

I certainly felt shitty enough.

So when pneumonia broke and I got well again, I, elementary kid, was convinced I was a certified fucking medical miracle.

My school librarian explained it was quite survivable a few weeks after I came home. But for those two or three weeks, when playing soccer, or climbing trees, I threw all caution to wind.

Because I was just about fucking immortal, I knew, from having beat pneumonia.

15 May

Feedback: what would you like to see me talk about at a convention?

So the nice folks at NASFIC have asked if there are any panels or events I’d like to do. They asked this a while back, so I’m criminal here in that I am just now unburying myself from months of backlog and then being sick the last 10 days or so, but, I thought I’d throw this out there in case I’m missing something obvious before I reply with some ideas.

Anything you’d like to hear me talk about? Or chair a panel on? Or have heard me chair a panel on and enjoyed? I’d love the feedback…

03 May

Yes Virginia, It’s Highly Probably ACA Cut Bankruptcies in Half. Possibly, actually, even more!

Yesterday I posted a link to a Consumer Reports article that suggested that the implementation of ACA likely cut US bankruptcies half.

I posted the following tweet:

That leads to a Consumer Reports article that has this chart of consumer bankruptcies:

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And the internet blew up for me. At first I was impressed with the clip of retweets, over a couple hours the tweet hit a few hundred retweets. Which is about as far as a tweet of mine has ever gone.

Logged back in after dinner and I’d crossed a thousand retweets and climbing rapidly.

That was when I realized the damn tweet had gone viral. Right now it’s near 7,500 retweets and I’ve lost a lot of time trying to filter through angry responses and have read a lot of truly devastating stories of people summarizing their own bankruptcies due to medical debt.

People that I watch on TV or follow online have retweeted me, which is a surreal experience (geek squee when Adam Savage retweets you, right?), and I’ve had the opportunity to mute all sorts of new and exciting people who are really ANGRY with me. Not angry, but ANGRY. That special kind of online anger that REQUIRES ALL CAPS.

There have been basically two ANGRY replies to my tweet. They break down to positions:

1) You’re cheating by showing a shorter date range of 2010-2017, try 2007-2017 instead, it totally proves you’re wrong!

Here’s it is more politely expressed by Twitter user @weel than by the many, many, MANY folk after him:

To be utterly honest, when I read Consumer Reports articles, I didn’t spot the 2010-2017 framing, and I can see why that would look like axis manipulation. I’ll give the opposition that. And the first thing you find if you hunt for a larger bankruptcy date range, are graphics from the American Bankruptcy Institute that seem to disagree. Take a look:

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What a look at bankruptcies from 2007 looks like is that bankruptcies climbed up because of a big event. We know that 2008 and onward was the financial crisis, so it wouldn’t seem a big leap to pair those up. Then the rate fell down. That seems like a very different story than CR reported.

I was accused of manipulating data and being a liberal stooge.

Okay.

But if starting the axis from 2010 is manipulating data, then why does the ABI start its data at 2007?

See, because I considered personal bankruptcy in the eye due to overwhelming medical bills in 2008 and I did some research back then. I found out that the bankruptcy laws changed dramatically for 2006 onward due to legal changes championed by Republicans who saw consumers as skipping out on too many of their debts and hurting debtors.

The 2005 changes in the bankruptcy law had a dramatic impact on bankruptcy, and were major headlines back then. How soon we forget.

Q: What is the new bankruptcy law, and when did it take effect?

A: The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, a major reform of the bankruptcy system, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in April 2005. Bankruptcy was reformed in a number of ways, including tighter eligibility requirements. The majority of changes instituted by this new law took effect on October 17, 2005 (180 days after the law was signed), although a few changes took effect immediately after the legislation was signed by the President.

So, let’s look at bankruptcy before 2007 and see what our chart looks like:

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Oh dear.

2006 and 2007 were the lowest years of bankruptcy on record because the Bush Administration sided with debtors complaining about the fact that bankruptcies reached a high of 2.1 million bankruptcies. The Bush administration was able to artificially reduce bankruptcies quickly, but they didn’t go after the root cause, but merely made it harder to declare bankruptcy. With a stroke of a pen, they cut bankruptcies. But after that they pop right back up again.

But it’s quite clear that throughout the 90s bankruptcies were rising steadily as well. And after a couple years of the new bankruptcy laws, the rate of bankruptcies began to return to right where they were prior to the late 2005 law to make it harder.

Then, in 2010, it abruptly and dramatically reverses.

The question is why the inexorable march upward?

Well, as many angry GOP twitter folk noted, ‘how can we ever know how many of those bankruptcies are medical?’

We don’t know for sure, but there is research and data. A commonly accepted amount among many folk in the industry is simply ‘more than half.’ Consumer Reports, who are well known for their digging around to focus on just data, also had a rate of roughly half.

Snopes dug into it and found some studies that went as low as 18-25% of bankruptcies being medical in 2015 (after ACA went into affect).

So, there are studies that show somewhere between 62% prior to ACA and as little as 25% post ACA are US bankruptcies related to medical debt pressure.

2) Correlation doesn’t imply causation!

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Well sure, aren’t you clever. This, after complaints about the axis, was the next ‘zinger’ that everyone deployed to make my uncomfortable retweet go away.

So, just as the same time, The Oatmeal posted this awesome comic called “You’re Not Going to Believe What I’m About to Tell You:”

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It’s about the BackFire Effect, where people who believe something deeply will see someone like me posting charts and data and that makes them twice (!) as likely to insist on believing what they believe and dismissing evidence. It’s why facts don’t win arguments.

So, sure. I can point to that chart that shows the inexorable march of bankruptcies up to 2.1 million, the temporary dip down to 600,000 bankruptcies due to a GOP rules change to make them harder, and then the fact that the line pops right back up. Then, in 2010, it reverses.

I can point out that the dip in 2006 was only for two years, but the dip since 2010 has show a 7 year strength in it.

All of those indicate a stronger case for my narrative: that what we’ve been doing for the past 7 years is dramatically reducing bankruptcies.

In fact, I’d argue the bankruptcy rate was climbing to get right back to its natural 2.1 million a year that it hit in 2005 and ACA didn’t just likely halve it, but prevented a shit ton of oncoming bankruptcies.

But, sarcastically, sure, dismiss it all out of hand because it makes you angry.

It doesn’t make that chart go away though. In fact, having looked into the data deeper, worried that I would have to issue a mea culpa, it looks rather likely that bankruptcies on that chart from 2006 to 2010 were rising faster than they had been previously. They freaking tripled in 4 years!

And if most bankruptcy is medical, than rather than saying ‘correlation isn’t causation’ please, one of you, for the love of anything, please explain what halted a 100% a year runaway bankruptcy growth and reversed almost as dramatically? Because so far everyone tossing that phrase out there just runs away and doesn’t offer up a counter-theory.

3) I shouldn’t have to pay for other’s medical expenses

Though a lot of people have explained that they shouldn’t ‘have to pay for other’s medical expenses.’

Now we’re at least being honest, because that isn’t arguing about whether bankruptcies are being dramatically cut. The idea of socially pooling costs upsets you. Never mind that we do that for fire, police, etc, it’s a fundamental issue.

Buddy, welcome to being part of a civilization. I pay for your military defense out of my taxes. We pay for other people’s house fires to get put out. Ever been in a car accident? I haven’t, but my money pools in to pay. That’s how insurance works. We all pool in.

And you don’t have a choice in that. You haven’t since Ronald Regan passed EMTALA, a law that made it illegal for emergency rooms to turn down medical care. That socialized US medicine. What we’re arguing about since then is how to pay for it as a society because people refuse to approach it like any other society with good health and riches has.

And yes, ACA still cut bankruptcies.

26 Apr

Halo: Envoy launch week!

Hello everyone. I have a new novel out!

I know, right? This is the thing I’ve been working on over the last year and a bit.

It’s called Halo: Envoy.

Check out the amazing cover by Chase Toole:

I love the new look.

So what’s this about? It’s a continuation of the story ‘Oasis’ that I wrote in Halo: Fractures, but not a direct follow up. Oasis sets up the world of Carrow where Sangheili and humans live side by side in a very tense peace. A peace that you can sense failing in Oasis. Melody Azikiwe has been sent to keep the peace as a United Earth Government Envoy, but things are falling apart pretty quickly.

Toss in Gray Team, a new threat buried deep under the sands of Carrow, and everything is going to end up in chaos.

If you’re interested in a deep dive into my story Oasis, there’s some scholarly level thought and detail about Oasis here in this essay:

The main theme of “Oasis” is survival.

It opens with Dahlia surviving the dangerous fever, it continues with Dahlia recalling the times she and her family survived the Covenant assaults, and its main conflict is Dahlia fighting to ensure that her family survives.

The introduction of the Sangheili Jat at first appears to derail this theme.

It’s a very deep dive into the obsessions and themes I play around with in that story.

I’m always deeply honored by how seriously Halo readers take what I’ve done and how deep they dive in.

Sometimes people assume that because I’m writing a game-related book or short story I phone it in, but I spent as much time on Oasis and Halo: Envoy as I do on any of my other fiction. I hope they reward close reads, while also being hella enjoying with enough explosions to satisfy fans of the games.

After all, I’m a player first!

Halo: Envoy came out yesterday. I hope Halo fans get a treat they weren’t expecting in it (chapter 12 you all) and that the book does well.

I’d love to get another chance to slip back into unleashing Gray Team into the universe.

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.

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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.