04 Aug

My Whirlwind July: NASFIC 2017, Puerto Rico Vacation, and then teaching at Shared Worlds

Sometimes life moves so fast you look up and a whole month has passed. Sometimes you look up and then you realize two whole months has gone by and you haven’t posted a single blog post. And then your mother is like ‘is your website dead?’ and you realize you have neglected the site.

I’m still alive!

In the last couple of weeks of June I tried to clean on the other side of the basement across from my office with intent to turn it into a gym when I got back from my July travels. I even rented a dumpster for this purpose. I got everything cleared out and most of it cleaned, but in the process of moving an old entertainment cabinet up the stair I twisted, turned, and blew my back out. I couldn’t get off the floor for a day, it was horrific.

When I told my doctor I was going to be driving eight hours to see my family in Virginia, then fly five hours with my wife to Puerto Rico, he all but laughed and said “do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

I did not.

But on July 1st drive out we did. Every couple hours I stopped to re-apply Icy-Hot to my back. I slept a lot at my parents, but in my defense, I was in a lot of pain.

Surprise ER VISIT!

The night before we flew out to Puerto Rico where I was to be the Guest of Honor at NASFIC 2017 (I mean, woah, right?), I was in a hotel near the airport trying to finish up edits to a story that was commissioned from me at the last minute. Halfway through the edits I was struck by a pain so intense I ended up curled up next to Emily almost unable to speak. It wasn’t lower back pain, but a kidney stone.

We went to the ER late in the night, with the flight scheduled for early in the next morning. I got fluids and painkillers, and thankfully, passed the stone while I was there and we got back to our hotel room with hours to spare before our flight!

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Exhausted, now with all sorts of interesting new residual pain, I flew down to Puerto Rico early the next morning. When we got to our hotel I did my best impression of a body pillow and spent my time watching TV.

Because… fuuuuuuuck.

I got to see Arecibo!

Early that Thursday I got up because I had tickets for a tour of the Arecibo space telescope set up by (if I can recall something that happened a month ago properly) Leane Verhulst. I’d really wanted to see this when I was in Puerto Rico with my family many years ago, but I was out-nerd-voted. Again, my back protesting much, I sat in a bus seat for the one and hour drive. Then walked up a ton of steps. Thrown out back wasn’t too happy about that, either.

It was worth it.

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As I said on twitter, this motherfucker is huge! I mean, you know it’s big from pictures and videos, and from seeing it in Golden Eye when Sean Bean is (yet again) killed.

But in person, scale can be appreciated.

What’s even wilder is that the telescope is not a giant concrete bowl. It looks like that. In the movie it even sort of acts like that. But it’s really a mesh suspended by wires over a giant sinkhole. In fact, workers who maintain it have to wear these giant snowshoe-looking shoes to not fall through it.

Underneath the mesh is foliage, and there’s this big gap between the very bottom and the ground.

I got lucky enough to be on a VIP tour and snag a photo of the underside:

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And here’s a video I took of that:

NASFIC 2017!

After some time to rest up, NASFIC 2017 formally began for me with a panel ‘Working toward Social Equity in Speculative Fiction’ which I moderated and shared with Diana Pho.

Opening ceremonies featured me walking in behind an honor guard of Puerto Rico’s own Starfleet crew with other guests of honor. Science GoH Guy Consolmagno joined my selfie here:

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It was really wild to be the Guest of Honor at a NASFIC. I never expected such a thing to happen. I was quite honored to both be in the Caribbean and at a major science fiction convention and to be the guest. I spent my high school years just ninety or so miles away to the east in the Virgin Islands. So to have known when I first started dreaming of being an SF/F author, that I would be honored by SF readers by being a guest of honor at a NASFIC just miles away from where I spent part of my childhood, that’s cool.

Here’s a Guest of Honor exhibit that Bruce Farr put together at NASFIC. He was very patient and quick to assemble this, as I had been struggling to finish a last-minute commission and deal with a thrown out back that left me on the floor when requests for material came in:

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On Friday I gave a reading which was a sneak peek of some stuff that would be coming out next year. Shaun Duke interviewed me for the convention, and also taped (we still use that word, which lives on after it’s literal meaning) it for his podcast, so hopefully I can link that sometime. I also gave a presentation on English language Caribbean Science Fiction that I hope gave the audience some new titles to read and avenues to explore.

Then, in one of the more unexpected, ‘this is really happening’ moments, went to a presentation where I was given a trading card of myself. Yes, I’m now a science fiction trading card:

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An early panel about the realities of living in extreme climate started my Saturday off. At lunch, ‘The practicalities of crowdfunding’ was accidentally chopped off the panels booklet, so we only had one person show up, but my 2pm ‘Space Access via the Caribbean’ panel, a history of space-related stuff that had happened in the Caribbean, seemed a hit. The projector and my laptop refused to talk, so the AV team was able to quickly get me a spare laptop, I pulled up pictures of the stuff I was talking about as we went along, and I used my iPhone as a hotspot to get us online.

I covered the HARP project which I wrote about for Tor/Forge’s blog here, talked a little about Beal Aerospace’s plan to launch rockets from Sombrero Island and headquarter out of the USVI for a little while in the late 1990s, back when my interest in private space launches was way out of the mainstream. I also talked about the Tektite 1 habitat in St. John, where underwater haps were built to let astronauts practice space missions.

Another panel about the singularity, and then to the last day of NASFIC where I was able to steal some time with Javier Grillo-Marxuach over coffee. I’ve been a fan of him since The Middleman, a before it’s time ABC Family show with all manner of inside geek references.

Then we held closing ceremonies by the pool, and it was all done. So thanks to con chair Pablo Vasquez (who also took us out to a Thursday night street party) and my liaison Debi Chowdry and all the other organizers and volunteers down in Puerto Rico.

EXPLORING PUERTO RICO

After NASFIC, I tacked on some extra time to re-explore Puerto Rico as an adult, as the last time I’d come through I’d either been with a class in high school or with my parents.

First things first, Emily and I passed through Old San Juan on our way to see El Morro, the great fort guarding the bay. Old San Juan has been around since the early 1500s, so the architecture is amazing. But even more amazing was that in Old San Juan, in a baker, I solved a puzzle that had been bedeviling me since I first moved to the USA.

See, in St. Thomas when I lived there, I enjoyed bread pudding that I purchased at local bakeries. It was usually cut into a cube, it was solid (you could pick it up with your fingers and none of it broke off) and almost cake-like. It was unbelievably dense. It was very tasty.

When I came to the USA and got bread pudding, it was like bread, with sweet stuff poured over it. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t USVI bread pudding.

But in Puerto Rico, I spotted BREAD PUDDING in the window of a bakery. It looked right. It looked like this:

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It’s called Budín in Puerto Rico.

I’m not sure if they gave it us or we to them, but I ate a piece almost every day I was in Puerto Rico from then on. I almost wept tears of joy, because it was the solution to a gastronomical puzzle I’d not solved in over 20 years. The consistency comes from soaking the stale bread in evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk.

And there are lots of recipes for the stuff on Puerto Rico sites, so when I get home sick and can afford the carbs, we’ll be able to recreate it.

On that note, I could have left Puerto Rico a happy man, but there was more excitement yet to be had.

We spent a day exploring El Morro:

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Which was great, because it had been a while since I’d been in a fort, and I had forgotten home much they dominate legends, landscape, and economics of an area, and it played in to some gaps I had for some worldbuilding I was doing. I’d wanted to use some of the symbology and setting of a castle, but re-experiencing El Morro helped shoot my thoughts down some new paths.

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We changed our hotels to a hotel closer to Rio Grande, near the foothills of El Yunque. I spent some time in a hammock nestled in between some rocks and near the ocean.

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We also went horseback riding on the beach, which was wild. It was my first time on a horse, I experience walking, trotting, and cantering. Cantering felt like a gallop!

Again, with the thrown out back, this was a reach, but it was fun nonetheless.

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I then worked on editing a short story:

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We also took the time out to rent a Jeep and go explore El Yunque, the rain forest. It was as beautiful as I remember from high school.

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The visitor center for the parks is architecturally amazing, built up so that it’s above the canopy:

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Lots of waterfalls and hiking:

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We finished our exploration of El Yunque with dinner at Luquillo Beach, where 60 or so kiosks run along the beach with all different kinds of food.

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I packed on a few pounds eating lots and lots of good food and lots of budín. We flew back to my parents in Virginia, exhausted. I was also pretty stressed, because at the airport in Puerto Rico a TSA agent accidentally dropped my laptop onto the tile floor, shattering the screen and warping the chassis. I spent the first day at home of a few days with my parents filling out claim reports for the TSA claim.

Because I had a non-working laptop I spent a day at the Apple Store buying a new one, which hadn’t been planned (but neither had an expensive ER visit, so there we go) because I had work to do.

After a few days with my parents, we drove home. I had three days to do laundry and find out that an electrical storm had knocked out the cable modem, our stove, and my monitor. Welcome home.

Then it was back on the road, to Dayton, to fly out to South Carolina where I taught at the Shared Worlds Writing Camp for the next week.

The campers were creative and amazing, as always, I was honored that I was invited back. This was the 7th time in 10 years I’ve been an instructor there. I did, as a result of all the travel right up to the camp, have a bit of a fight with exhaustion and dehydration through the whole week. That had a big impact on my energy levels.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed a little bit of social time with the other writers there this year. That included long time friends Gwenda Bond and Ekaterina Sedia. Kathe Koja was there, I’d met her briefly many moons ago at a Detroit event when I was a sprout of an author. Terra McVoy returned from last year and was fun to hang out with again, and I was super jazzed to get to meet Sofia Samatar for a longer set of chats as we’d only ever had a quick meeting a World Fantasy Con and it turns out that we share some social circles that overlap outside of science fiction.

I roomed with Will Hindmarch, the games designer and writer, as well as Jeremy Zerfoss, the talented artist behind the illustrations in one of my favorite books about writing, Wonderbook. I’ve known Jeff Vandermeer for so long, and it has always seemed like Jeremy was a great artistic collaborator of his. It was a total treat to spend time getting to know Jeremy.

And then, just as abruptly, as I was home and needed to finish a short story for my Patreon. I managed to get it posted just in time for the month, and as I did so I could feel I was coming down with a fever. A horrible fever. I could feel myself fighting it, that scratchy feeling on the back of the throat, since I flew out of South Carolina.

Once I had a new story posted I succumbed and spent most of this week in bed, sick, watching Netflix and catching up on a couple of movies on iTunes that I had wanted to see (neither of them, alas, adding insult to injury, were any good. I’m looking at you, Alien Covenant).

So that gets you current.

Hopefully I’ll start blogging again more regularly.

23 May

Not sure if crowdfunding is so much ‘resorting’ as pivoting

There’s a review of Xenowealth: A Collection floating around that’s nice to the stories, but starts off being saddened about the fact that many authors have to ‘resort’ to using crowdfunding, or Kickstarter, to get their work into print.

Of course I instinctively flinched that this was the framing around the review from the start. I felt it decentered the focus on the stories, the art around the book, or the quality of the book itself, and might have put off some readers by focusing on the nature of crowdfunding. But that was mostly my ego worrying about whether I was being perceived as ‘as good as’ and also I don’t think the reviewer meant to do that maliciously. I think they may have felt a collection of stories they enjoyed should have had more backing by the publishers they were used to buying from. The review said nice things about them, so I have to assume it’s my own ego getting a little defensive.

But once I let go of my ego I stopped to think about it, because this has been my most successful collection of short stories and I think that’s why I was a little defensive.

The collection’s backers and readers gave me $7,105 via that Kickstarter. It’s sold more via my website and Amazon, B&N Nook, and iTunes since then. A year later, it’s tailed off quite considerably. But I think I cleared a little over $7,000 in the first year. I still get a trickle of money off that collection each month. Usually I have charts and spreadsheets, but the last year was so busy, so deadline-filled, that I have barely been able to keep track.

In the general world of publishing no one was offering me over $7,000 for a short story collection. Generally short story collections (from what I hear) are getting advances more like $500 to $2,000. Larger amounts for super stars, or bundled in with exciting novels.

I’m not going over 100% to crowdfunding. I’m really enjoying writing a short short story a month for my Patreon, I may do Kickstarters again. But, I am trying to make a living as a writer, so that means I go where I can demonstrably prove the money flows to me.

If someone wants to pay me more than $7,000 for my next short story collection (with almost 70 in print short stories, I’d love to see a Best of Tobias S. Buckell some day), my agent’s name is Barry Goldblatt of the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency.

Until then, it’s not something I resort to, it’s something I pivot to because I make way more money this way and I have two kids to feed.

I know it’s dirty to talk about pivoting towards money. It’s not the only consideration. I wouldn’t be a writer if it was only about the money. I’d be a financial type, doing something with stocks. I knew becoming an artist meant money would be in short supply, that I was doing it for the art. I didn’t get into this for the money, or fame, but because I loved writing stories and reading so much that I could hardly imagine any other way to be.

But that being said, I live in a world where the mortgage is due, food comes when I pay for it, and I’m a father. Money is important. When I can do the same art, experience the same love for it, and get more money for the same art, you have my attention.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

IMG 0438

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.