Personal

Ten Year Anniversary

This week marks ten years since Amy and I got married. That’s a quarter of our lives we’ve been together. If you look at how long we’ve been friends, we’ve been a part of each other’s lives for more than half the time we’ve been alive.

I don’t even know what to write here. I do know that I’m incredibly fortunate. Amy has put up with an awful lot over the past decade, from living with a struggling writer (and all of the emotional roller coaster rides and derailments that entails) to my struggle with undiagnosed depression to my obnoxious insistence on making her watch one geeky show after another. (In my defense, she loved Buffy, Doctor Who, and most of the other things I introduced her to. Because she has excellent taste!)

Amy, when you read this — and yeah, I’m gonna make you read my blog again — I know there have been some unexpected … let’s call them challenges. But I love you, and I wouldn’t trade these past ten years for anything. I can’t imagine doing all this without you, and I wouldn’t want to try. I’m looking forward to at least 60 more years. Yeah, that’s right, you’re stuck with me for a good long time.

Happy anniversary, love!

I wanted to share a few of my favorite pics of the two of us from years past…

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Diabetes Details 11: Doesn’t That Hurt?

A quick recap for newer blog readers: I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 13+ years, and I blog about it occasionally for several reasons:

  1. Because I know other writers read this, and it makes me cranky when stories get the details of my disease wrong.
  2. I’m comfortable talking about it, and I think helping people understand this stuff is a good thing.

Previous diabetes posts are, shockingly enough, tagged with the diabetes tag.

Anyway, one of the questions I get fairly often is “Doesn’t that hurt?” People asked that more back when I was taking 6-7 injections every day. Now that I’m on the insulin pump, all they see is the fingertip blood tests. But they still ask, and understandably so. Diabetes is a pretty needle-happy disease. (So if you’re needlephobic and don’t want to read about ‘em, this is your cue.)

The answer is … yeah, sometimes. It depends.

Let’s start with a picture I’ll call Jim’s Collection of Stabby Things. On the left is a typical insulin syringe. I keep some around just in case I ever have trouble with the pump.

In the middle is a spring-loaded tool designed to insert the catheter for my insulin pump. That white thing on the end is an adhesive sticker and a metal needle threaded through a teflon (I think) catheter. The spring jabs it into my belly, I pull out the metal needle, and the sticker holds the catheter in place for 2-3 days at a time, allowing the pump to deliver insulin.

I love technology.

On the right is the finger-stabber I use to draw a small drop of blood from my fingertips to test my glucose levels. I’d describe it as essentially painless. I test my blood without thinking, and I can’t remember the last time I noticed any pain. Which is odd, considering that this was the hardest thing for me to do that first time back in 1998. I remember holding that thing for several minutes, sweating as I tried to make myself press the button. These days, I don’t even think about it.

The ones they use for finger checks in the hospital, on the other hand, are the real-world equivalent of a gom jabbar from Dune. They’re one-size-fits-all, designed to pierce cave troll skin. Thankfully, mine’s adjustable, meaning the needle goes just deep enough to draw blood.

Diabetes syringes weren’t usually painful either. The needles are very thin. Every once in a while I’d hit a nerve or a blood vessel, which stung like hell, but that was the exception.

Getting the pump catheter into place … yeah, that hurts sometimes. It’s a slightly longer needle, and the spring shoots it in quickly to prevent the teflon catheter from kinking. I’d say about half the time it goes in with little-to-no pain, maybe 30-40% of the time it stings, and 10-20% of the time I shut the door so the kids don’t hear me swearing.

Beyond that, it’s been a fairly painless disease so far. Every once in a while someone at karate will forget and punch me in the insulin pump site, which isn’t fun, but it’s not crippling pain. More like getting whacked on a cut or bruise. And there are potential complications that could change things for me eventually — nerve damage being a big and nasty one. But considering this disease would kill me in days if I stopped treatment, I think the occasional painful jab to the belly is more than worth it.

I should point out that my experiences aren’t universal. Some people find the fingersticks very painful. (There are meters now that will let you test a blood sample from the forearm, which has fewer nerve endings to irritate.) I have a harder time with the pump than some people. I had to try several different styles before finding one that worked, for the most part, with my body. So take this as Jim’s Diabetes Experience, not The One True Path of Diabetes Pain.

Questions are welcome, as always.

In Which Jim Whines

Two weeks ago, I took time off of the day job so I could be with my wife during a surgical procedure and the first part of her recovery. Everything went smoothly, and I brought her home on day two.

For the next week and a half, I played stay-at-home Dad. I got up with the kids, fed them breakfast, and got them off to school. I took care of dishes, meals, laundry, lawn-mowing, pets, shopping, and so on. I refereed bedtime and got the kids tucked in.

Yesterday was my first day back at the “real” job. It only took a few hours for me to hate it.

Before I go any further, let me emphasize that I’m grateful to have a decent job, a steady paycheck, and benefits (despite ongoing erosion of the latter two). Given the economy in Michigan and the various health issues my family shares, I know how fortunate I am to be able to support us.

But for the past week and a half, in addition to all the housework, I was able to write for 2-4 hours every day. I added 20,000 words to the current draft of Libriomancer, more than double what I would have normally been able to do. I slept in until 7:00 every morning. I had time to use the exercise bike more than once a week.

I want that life. I want to be able to write in the mornings, and to jump up when the iPhone buzzes to let me know it’s time to walk down and meet my son at the bus stop. It was nonstop busy, but it was a busy that I loved.

If last week were my normal routine, I could pretty much write two books a year. Assuming a proportional increase in my writing income, we could probably live on that … if not for the lack of health benefits.

I’ve ranted about this before, I know. It’s the health benefits that trap me. My diabetes is the least of it. My daughter is the only truly healthy one in the family. Thankfully, my son’s asthma is under better control these days. But we need a full-time wage-earner with benefits, and unless something huge changes, that’s me for the foreseeable future.

I’m okay with that. I would love to work one job instead of two, but I’ve accepted that this ain’t gonna happen. For the most part, I love my life, and I know how fortunate I am. But these past two weeks have been a taste of what could have been, and while I’ve enjoyed it immensely, it feels almost cruel to have to go back to the old routine.

I’ll get over it. I’ve done writing + day job for more than a decade now. I don’t regret the choices I’ve made, and I’m not asking for advice or sympathy.

But I decided to give myself permission to wallow for one day. To envy all of my friends who have gone full-time as freelancers, either because they don’t have the ongoing health costs or because they have a spouse who is able to cover that. To mourn the lost time with my family, as well as the books and stories I could have written.

And now that the wallowing is over, I’ve got work to do. I hope this post wasn’t too much of a downer, but just in case, have a picture of Flit hanging out in the desk.

Surgery Update

Thanks for all of the good wishes on my wife’s surgery yesterday. The surgery went great — in some ways, better than expected — and we’re hopeful it will take care of this particular underlying pain. If all goes well, I should be bringing her home later today.

I was able to get a First Book Friday post prepped for tomorrow, and I started writing a new rant this morning, so regular blogging service should resume soon.

Until then, here’s a peek at a cover sketch for my next collection, Kitemaster & Other Stories. (I’ll be sharing more soon!)

Surgery Break

Later this morning I’ll be taking my wife in for surgery. It’s not an emergency, and should be fairly straightforward, but she’ll be at the hospital for a night or two. So my online presence may be a bit spotty.

On the bright side, I should be able to finish up Mira Grant’s Feed [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] while hanging out in the waiting room…

Hines: Wrong on Piracy, Wrong on Batman

The title is a reference to this Shortpacked strip, and probably made no sense to anyone else.  But it amused me, so I kept it.

I received a great deal of feedback on last week’s post about book piracy.  My thanks to everyone who jumped into the discussion.  While I still believe much of what I wrote to be true, I also find that some of my assumptions were either overly broad or flat-out wrong.

Legality: I was going to start out by saying at least we can all agree that downloading copyrighted books without permission is illegal, right?  But maybe not.  While it’s illegal under U.S. law, Corinne Duyvis was kind enough to translate copyright law in the Netherlands, which gives broader allowance to make copies for home use.  The uploading/file-sharing part appears to be illegal, and you can only download small portions of books … except for “works of which you can reasonably assume that no new copies will be sold to third parties in whichever form possible.”

In other words, downloading out-of-print (which is not the same as out of copyright) books in the Netherlands is currently legal if those books don’t look like they’ll be coming back into print.  Thus blowing away my “simple and obvious” assumption.  Oops.

Americentrism: Another friend messaged me privately to ask who my audience was for my piracy post, which was a tactful way of pointing out that I seemed to be assuming everyone downloading illegally had convenient, cheap, legal alternatives.

I started up a very informal survey in the comments.  Take a book that costs $7.99 in the U.S., or $8.99 in Canada.  In Australia, that same book might sell for about $20.  Another commenter said SF/F paperbacks in Ireland generally run about 25 Euro, or roughly $35 U.S.  And these aren’t generally considered to be poor or third world nations.

Does the fact that something is expensive mean it’s okay to steal it?  No … but it makes me less willing to level an across-the-board charge of dickishness.  If you’re sitting at home with your high-end computer and smartphone and are downloading because you’re too lazy to go to a nearby library or too cheap to shell out $8 to buy the damn book, then the charge stands.  If you’re living in Malaysia and a book costs as much as eight meals?  Maybe not…

Marina on Dreamwidth takes this a step further, asking “I’d like to see how many of these authors who complain about their books being ‘pirated’ would still have the libraries they do if every paperback cost them 25$+ and took weeks to acquire.”  She goes on to say, “the places where ebook … ~piracy~ is most widespread are not developed, Anglophone countries, and there are reasons for that.”

I wish I had a source for that last claim.  I follow the logic of why readers in less developed countries might be more likely to download books and other media, but I’m not sure I accept the claim that piracy is most widespread in those countries.  It could be — I don’t know.  I just want more info and haven’t yet been able to find it.

The publishing industry has problems to address, no argument there.  A number of people expressed frustration at the way regional limitations prevent them from being able to legally buy e-books.  While I somewhat understand the basis for regional sales/publishing restrictions, I also recognize how frustrating it is that someone from the U.S. can click and buy an e-book in 30 seconds, while someone in another country can go to the exact same website, click the exact same links, and be denied.

Deconstructing the Western Foundation of Intellectual Copyright Law: Colorblue has another good post which points out various abuses of copyright law, and goes on to challenge the entire western foundation and assumptions behind intellectual property.  As an author currently working within that intellectual property system, this was a challenging read, one I’m still processing.

Links: Tobias Buckell has a long, thoughtful piracy post today.  He does a nice job of addressing various arguments for and against piracy, and I’m hard-pressed to argue with most of his conclusions.  In addition, Charles Tan and Fantasyecho both did link roundups of the discussion, which are worth checking out.

I’m still sorting this out.  I do think that for people like me, piracy is pretty much a dick move.  But of course, I’m privileged as hell.

Does that mean it’s all right for someone to pirate my books if they’re poor, or if they’re in a country where it’s harder to get books or where books are too expensive?  I don’t know.  But I’m not convinced they’re doing me much harm, if any, and I’m no longer comfortable with across-the-board condemnation.

Your thoughts?

What I Did on my Winter Break

What I did:

  • Built LEGO Star Wars kits with my son.  (He did about 90% of the work, which was great!)
  • Introduced my daughter to Scorched Earth, then spent some quality time blowing each other up.
  • Watched Doctor Who with my wife on New Year’s Eve, and went to bed ten minutes before midnight.
  • Saw my parents, my in-laws, my brother and his wife … pretty much every family member in the state.
  • Read two Peanuts collections.
  • Trounced three young children at Mario Kart.
  • Unpacked and assembled my son’s trampoline, then ran around using the foam packing material for swordfighting with the children.
  • Assembled my daughter’s art easel, which turned out to be missing One. Single. Screw.
  • Ate way too much.

What I didn’t do:

  • Work on the short story that’s due March 1, or the book that’s due at the end of the year.
  • Write or plan any new blog posts.
  • Catch up on all of my backlogged e-mail.  (I did get through about 50% of it, though.)
  • Get into an argument with a certain individual about e-books.  (I’ve now been informed that the reason I’m not doing better with my DAW e-books is that $6.99 is too expensive, and the reason I’m not doing well with Goldfish Dreams is because $2.99 is too cheap, and I should be charging $9.99.  I give up.)
  • Write up reviews for any of the books I’ve read recently.

I feel a little weird about this.  I’m not terribly good with the whole vacation concept.  My annual leave time at work is pretty much maxed out, because I so rarely use it.  But we had two days off the day job each week for the past two weeks, and for once, I didn’t want to spend the whole time working.  I had to deliberately and consciously say “You know what?  Screw it.  I’m going to spend this time playing with my kids and relaxing with my wife and sleeping in and having fun.”

It’s not something I can do long-term.  Those deadlines aren’t going away, and there’s always going to be too much work to do.  But it’s been a very good two weeks.

E-book Experiment, Part 2

I’ve updated the Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F page with a link to the Geek Feminism Wiki’s Sample Convention Anti-Harassment Policy.  I particularly appreciate the internal guidelines for convention staff.

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Months ago, when I was talking about how my e-book sales were about 3-5% of my print sales, a champion of self-publishing said my problem was that my $6.99 e-books were too expensive, and if I dropped the price to $2.99, I’d have better sales.

So in mid-October, I put my mainstream novel Goldfish Dreams [B&N | Amazon] up for sale as a $2.99, DRM-free e-book.

I posted my first week’s results, and said I’d follow up in a month or so.  Well, over the past weekend I came across a post that mentioned the “great success” authors like Jim Hines and others have had putting their own work out through Amazon, which told me it was definitely time for a follow-up.

I’ve got about six weeks worth of data now.  Are you ready to see what my great success looks like?  B&N doesn’t give a nice week-by-week breakdown, but here are my weekly Amazon Kindle sales.

All total, I’ve sold 21 copies through Amazon.  Add in the 4 copies sold through Barnes & Noble, and I’ve made about $70, selling an average of about 4 copies a week.

For those keeping score at home, this would not even cover the conversion costs for having the files prepped.  (You can do this yourself, of course, if you have the time and the know-how.  I suspect I could have taught myself the tech side, but time is another issue…)

I should note that I’ve done nothing to promote this particular book.  I’ve been busy attending cons, working on short stories, revising Snow Queen, and also doing the day job and taking care of the family as my wife recovers from knee surgery.  But it’s pretty clear to me that simply putting a book out there isn’t enough.

By contrast, I haven’t really been promoting my books with DAW very much these past weeks, either.  In those same six weeks, my books with DAW sold around 2000 print copies (averaging about 300/book), which translates to about a thousand dollars in royalties … $850 for me after my agent takes his cut.  (I have no access to the weekly e-book sales for the DAW books.)

I know there are people making self-pubbed e-books work for them.  My friend Sherwood Smith has been successfully selling some books this way.  I suspect that if I released one of my fantasy titles, either a reprint or an original goblin/princess book, I’d do a lot better.  But Goldfish Dreams is a mainstream title, so doesn’t necessarily tap into my preexisting audience.

I also know that an ongoing, persistent sales effort can drive sales.  I have friends who keep up a pretty constant sales push to sell their e-books, and it does seem to help them sell more books.

But I barely have time to keep up with the blog.  I’d rather keep writing new books and the occasional short story, and let my publisher do most of the work to actually get my books into the hands of readers.

I’ll keep checking in with further data, but my conclusions so far?

  1. Simply putting an e-book out there ain’t going to accomplish much.
  2. Having a preexisting audience helps, but may not do much for cross-genre e-books.  Brand new authors with no audience — you’ve got a steep climb ahead of you.
  3. You are your own sales force.  You can improve your sales, but it will take time away from something else.  (I would advise you to make sure you’re not being obnoxious about it, as author self-promotion can get annoying pretty fast.)

Thoughts and comments are welcome, as always!

T-Day

Thanksgiving in the U.S. bugs me.  I love the idea of taking time to recognize and appreciate the things we have, but the holiday has some troubling history and associations.  I winced when Jackson came home from Kindergarten wearing a paper bag “Indian vest” and headband.  Of course, he’s also convinced the Pilgrims’ feast included Crescent Rolls, because that’s what we had with our meal.  We’ll work with him and his sister on their history.

This has been a rough month.  My wife had her seventh knee surgery on Friday, so I’ve been going non-stop as caretaker and mostly-single parent for about a week now.  Work has been rather hellish; I’m sometimes taking more than 100 e-mails and phone calls a day.  The writing … well, it’s been a lot harder to make the time I need to get everything done (which is why I’m falling behind yet again on blog comments and e-mail and such).  Add in two conventions in three weeks, along with several other signings and appearances, and I’ve been burnt out pretty good.

This is where I really appreciate the reminder to step back and recognize the good.  It’s too easy to get caught up in the stress and the frustration.  I’ve got a wonderful family, even if the kids have been a little overtired and cranky today.  I’ve got a steady job, one which lets me support my family (not to mention providing benefits to pay for those seven knee surgeries).  As for the writing, it is stressful … but it’s also the best job in the world.  I may not be able to make a living at it (not in this country, at any rate), but I’ve been remarkably successful, and I love it.

So yes, I’ve got an awful lot to be grateful for, and I am.  Despite the stress of the past weeks, life is pretty darn good.  And of course, on top of everything else I’ve got going, I have a wonderful online community of friends, colleagues, random passers-by, and fans.

Especially fans who do wonderful art like this.  Thanks, Richi!  And thanks to everyone who’s read and enjoyed the books and stories.  Heck, thanks to those who didn’t enjoy them, too — I appreciate you giving them a try.

Happy turkey day to those celebrating.  And to everyone else, have a happy Thursday!

This is What Asperger’s Looks Like

During the sexual harassment discussion, one commenter said certain elements of SF/F fandom simply lack social graces, and you’re going to run into these drooling Asperger types.  It’s not their fault. All you can really do is avoid them and try to warn others.

I’m not linking to the comment, because several people have already confronted the commenter (including an excellent post by Mrissa here).  I’m certain it wasn’t intended to be hurtful.  It’s the kind of comment I’ve heard many times, and I know it’s not malicious.

But it hurts.

I’m having a hard time being my normal, “reasonable” self about this.  My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s early this year.  He’s high-functioning, but there was no question about the diagnosis.  It’s been months, and I’m still adjusting and learning.  But I know one thing — my son is Fucking Awesome.

Let me show you one example of what Asperger’s looks like:

That’s my son Jackson in his Halloween costume, vanquishing one of our neighbors.  (Everyone knows the gorilla is the natural enemy of the Italian plumber, right?)

Jackson does struggle socially.  I remember picking him up from preschool last year, asking how his day went, and fighting tears when he said, “Nobody wants to play with me.”  Most days I’d find him playing by himself in a corner. He has meltdowns when routines get broken without warning.  He can also be overly physical and affectionate sometimes, and we’ve had to work with him on that, but he’s learning where the boundaries are.

He struggles physically as well.  He’s 5 and a half, and still can’t ride a bike.  He’s in physical and occupational therapy every week.  He runs laps in the house most nights.  Lately, he’s started whipping his hands around as a form of self-stimulation.

He’s Fucking Awesome.

He’s in kindergarten now, and he’s making progress.  He’s starting to learn how to get along with other kids.  We visited some friends a few weeks ago, and he spent four hours playing with their five-year-old, with only a few minor, typical squabbles.  I don’t know how to explain how much that meant to me.

The harasser from WFC?  That was someone who knows to behave one way in public and another when he has a woman alone.  That’s someone with social awareness.  Hell, many abusers and harassers have very advanced social skills.  I remember the first time I sat in on a batterer’s group, and how terrifyingly charming these guys were.  These are not people who simply lack social skills or don’t know how to behave due to autistic spectrum disorders.

I’ve heard it before.  Cons and fandom are full of Aspies who can’t communicate save through Monty Python jokes.  Really?  Because Asperger’s Syndrome is an actual diagnosis, with fairly strict criteria that include more than simple social awkwardness.  Like sensory issues.  (Jackson sometimes asks me to squeeze him, because the physical pressure is comforting.)

I had a rough time in school.  My social skills sucked.  But I didn’t have Asperger’s.  I was just a geek.  Smart and awkward and doing my best to get through the day without having my books knocked out of my hands.

I’m not sure when or why it became “cool” for people in fandom to self-diagnose as Aspies, or to misuse that label as shorthand for the awkward, unwashed masses, but I wish it would stop.  It’s hurtful.  It reinforces attitudes and false stereotypes that make life harder for those who actually have autistic spectrum disorders.

My son has Asperger’s.  He’s not some filthy, drooling fool.  I don’t believe he’s going to grow up to become a harasser.  He’s a brilliant, energetic, loving little kid.  He remembers passages from books and movies, and can recite them word for word months later.  He loves superheroes and Mario and Transformers, and watching animated LEGO videos on YouTube.  He’s excited about coming to his first convention with his Daddy this month.

And he’s Fucking Awesome.