Holiday Music: ‘Seasons Geekings’ by John Anealio

Looking for something new to listen to this holiday season? Tired of rockin’ around the Christmas tree? Bing Crosby not working for you anymore? Do you want holiday music that touches your inner geek?

Look no further. Give a listen to the E.P., Seasons Geekings by nerd musician extraordinaire John Anealio. You can stream it here, and if you like what you hear, you can download it from his Web site. While you’re there, check out some of his other songs. My personal favorites are his theme song for Mur Lafferty’s podcast I Should Be Writing; his ode to Steve Jobs Blue Lego (Steve Jobs Hates Flash); The “NaNoWriMo” Song, his tribute to masochistic novelists everywhere; and the iconic George R. R. Martin is Not Your Bitch.

I’ve heard John play live at the last two Balticons, and I’ve really grown to enjoy his music and the weekly podcast  he does with Patrick Hester, Functional Nerds. Give him a listen!

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My Christmas Rituals

Head’s up: This is another Christmas-related post, hot on the heals of the one I wrote a few weeks ago. We’re well into December now, and it’s time for those “rituals” (for lack of a better word) that I at least try to repeat every year at this time. I think a lot of people have these little holiday traditions. Here are mine.

  • Cut down a Christmas tree. This is a family ritual going back 23 years — I cut one down the week after my oldest son was born, and we’ve been doing it ever since. Traditionally, we go the day after Thanksgiving, as we always wanted to have it up for his birthday, and that was one day when we could get around work schedules, basketball games, etc. This year, we went a day later; we had to work around a schedule conflict on our usual work-around day. The tree is a beauty and it’s been gracing the family room for a week now.
  • Music: Messiah by George Frideric Handel. When I was in high school, I sang in a chorus that performed parts of this at Christmas-time. I try to listen to at least some of it every year since. I also love the CD We Three Kings by The Roches, several of the old classics (Bing, Andy Williams, etc.). This year I’m listening a lot to On Thin Ice by Pandora Celtica. This is not a Christmas album in the strictest sense, in that I don’t think the lyrics mention Jesus once. It’s more of a Yule album, but the harmonies are breathtaking (par for the course for them), the versions are different than those you’ve heard before (imagine Deck the Halls sounding sad,) and the original song Santa Claus Got Eaten by the Kraken is wickedly funny.
  • Books: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (natch — I blogged about this last year). A relatively new ritual is to re-read the fine stories in Connie Willis’ collection Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Thank you to Mur Lafferty for making me aware of this book. The stories have the holiday spirit without excess sentimentality.
  • Movies: Sure, I like It’s a Wonderful Life as much as the next guy, and I can quote several of the funniest lines from A Christmas Story. However, one of my favorites is a made-for-TV movies that most people don’t know about: The Gathering. This excellent 1977 film stars Ed Asner as a curmudgeonly successful businessman who, through diligent effort, has managed to alienate most of his adult children, not to mention his estranged wife, played to perfection by Maureen Stapleton. Shortly before Christmas, he learns that he is terminally ill and probably won’t see February. Reconciling with his kids suddenly becomes very important to him. When his ex-wife figures out what’s going on, she offers to invite all of the kids home for an old-fashioned family gathering. He agrees on the condition that his illness be kept secret. The story that follows warms my heart every time I watch it. One scene in particular, in which the man and his son (played by Lawrence Pressman) have a confrontation that’s been brewing for years, is very powerful. The film sends a wonderful holiday message without ever getting sappy. It used to get rerun on cable every year, but it seems to have been forgotten the last few years. For a long time, I was reduced to watching a recording I’d made on VHS on some long-gone cable channel back in the 90’s. However, when I finally found it on DVD online a couple of years ago, I had my credit card out before the screen refreshed. Now it’s a permanent part of my collection.
  • TV specials: Love me some Charlie Brown Christmas (“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown”) and I caught up with my old friend the Grinch last week. I have a soft spot for Rudolph, of course. Another of my favorites from childhood is Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town with the voices of Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney. I don’t get to see that one every year, as I don’t think it gets repeated as prominently as some of the others, but I look for it in the listings.
  • Watch the Christmas Eve midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Our local NBC affiliate carries this every year (tape-delayed, of course; Rome is several hours ahead of us here in the eastern U.S.). Most years, I don’t watch the whole thing, but I try to catch at least some and hopefully most of it. There is something about the pageantry of midnight Mass, especially when celebrated by the pope, that I love. We’ll attend Mass ourselves on Christmas Day, but it’s obviously not quite the same.

That’s my list. I’d love to hear what yours are. Fill up the comments with ’em — maybe I’ll end up stealing adopting some of yours.

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Review: ‘Realms of Fantasy’, October 2011

I’ve been a subscriber to Realms of Fantasy for a couple of years now, through two of its near-death experiences. A new issue in the mail is always a treat, and the current issue is exceptional. Unfortunately, it is also the last. The magazine’s death experience may be real this time. The publisher has announced that publication is ceasing effective immediately. To call this a shame is an understatement, but it’s just one more sign of the times. I wish the magazine would continue as an electronic-only venture, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

In the mean time, the last issue sparkles. The non-fiction sections (which, to be honest, I didn’t always read) covered the recent and current crop of movies and TV shows based on fairy tales, starting all the way back to the 1946 French version of Beauty and the Beast and continuing to the current TV series Once Upon a Time and Grimm. The Folkroots section, which every month covers the origins of some fantasy literature-related area, made a detailed examination of the influence of Greek and Roman myths on C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. (Another confession: I have not read these books, but this article got me wanting to.) Elizabeth Bear’s history of urban fantasy is essential reading for anyone who wants to write in that genre, and worthwhile reading for fans. There was also the regular assortment of book and game reviews.

The heart of every issue is the collection of short stories, and this is where this issue really shines. My favorite, hands down, is Scott William Carter’s The Man Who Made No Mistakes, in which a man with the ability to rewind time spills his story to a jaded priest in the confessional. This story made a flight from Atlanta to St. Louis pass extremely quickly, and I’d love to hear it in a future episode of Podcastle (are you reading this, Dave and Anna?) Betsy James’ Sweeping the Hearthstone is a variant on the Cinderella story (fits nicely with the discussion of fairy tales referenced above) in which the Cinderella character acts…not exactly as you’d expect.

In Second Childhood by Jerry Oltion, a woman’s long-dead mother reappears, looking as she did when she was in her 30’s. As you might imagine, this has a significant impact on the woman, her husband and daughter. It ends with a nice message, and it includes the immortal line, “A ghost of your mother gives my willie the willies.” Nick DiChario’s Barbie Marries the Jolly Fat Baker is about a toy, jilted by a Barbie doll, who decides he’s had enough. You need to read this for the conversations between the toy and the family dog alone, but the entire story is humorous and touching.

Lastly, Return to Paraiso by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz tells the story of a land and a people that are under the oppressive thumb of a military dictatorship. One young woman takes on the army. The army clearly has no idea who they’re dealing with.

This fine magazine is going out on a high note. I’m sad that it won’t land in my mailbox anymore, but this issue is a fine swansong. If you can find it on a newsstand, I highly recommend buying it or the PDF version.

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Halloween’s Over. It’s Christmastime!

I just read Mur Lafferty’s interesting examination of good and bad Christmas stories (well worth reading — check it out,) and it got me to thinking about a phenomenon we see every year, something that a lot of people complain about but that never changes: The ever-earlier start to the Christmas season.

I’ve made multiple trips to Lowe’s recently (there’s no home repair job so simple that I can’t find a way to have to do it three times), and it’s hard to miss all the Christmas decorations, lights, inflatables, etc. on display there. Maybe I’m just getting older (refuse to use the word “old”), but it seems like every year the stores start putting out Christmas merchandise just a hair earlier. I know that retailers make most of their profits in the fourth quarter of the year (the day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday because that’s the day they finally get into the black for the year.) From a business standpoint, it’s hard to fault them for doing this, especially as we wrap up the fourth consecutive year of a pretty lousy economy.

Of course, the merchants wouldn’t put this stuff up for sale in mid-October if people didn’t buy it then. So what does it say about us that people start stocking up for the holiday season two months in advance?

I think most of us (okay, me) have mixed feelings about the holiday season. I get to see my parents and siblings on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, and we don’t get to see each other that often, so it’s something I look forward to. And I love the movies and the books and the TV specials (some of them, at least), and the food (that’s a biggie.) For a month, the opening notes to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite will be stuck in my head, as will the harmonies from For Unto Us a Child is Born from Handel’s Messiah. I have certain Christmas albums that I love and turn to every December like an old friend. I love all of that.

Also, my oldest son was born in December, and that alone has made the holiday season special every year since 1988. And there are special readings and hymns at Mass, and all of the rituals that make up the holiday season.

So what’s not to like? How about crazed crowds of shoppers, the kind that trampled a Walmart employee to death on Black Friday a few years ago? Or TV commercials telling you that, if you really loved that special someone, you’d park a new car with a big red bow on it in the driveway Christmas morning or give her a diamond bracelet? Or the joyous sounds of people screaming at their kids in shopping malls? Or the letters to the editor (they should start any day now) decrying the “sudden” commercialization of Christmas or worse, the alleged war on Christmas? Christianity’s second most sacred celebration (Easter being the first) becomes just another battleground in the culture wars, egged on by those who know they can boost their television ratings by encouraging Christians to think of themselves as a persecuted minority. This in a country where some tried to paint a sitting President of the United States as an enemy by suggesting that he’s secretly a Muslim.

Why do we start the Christmas sales season so early? And why does it bother so many of us so? Probably for the same reason. We’ve bought into the myth of Christmas days of yore, of small towns with bells ringing and an inch or two of snow on the ground, families gathered around the tree to open a few simple but meaningful gifts, of serene churches filled with songs lifted up by the voices of angels, and without obnoxious commercials, ugly crowds, and crass consumerism. We long for that. We yearn for it. The last 10 years have been pretty rough ones for America. The shock of September 11 gave way to the endless wars in the Middle East and the collapse of the financial system that plunged us into an economic slowdown from which we still struggle to recover. In the midst of all this pain, who wouldn’t want to grab onto the good feelings of the holiday season as early and as often as possible?

Yet selling Christmas merchandise only a few short weeks after the autumnal equinox feels somehow wrong, like it cheapens the season and makes it all about buying and selling. It seems to mock a holiday that we love (or at least are told that we should love.) And that makes people irritable, even angry.

Here’s the deal. I guess I’m officially middle-aged, having reached the age of 50 and all. I was a little kid in the 1960’s, which means that I remember all the good Saturday morning cartoons but not The Beatles being together. And I also remember wanting lots of stuff for Christmas. The holidays didn’t become commercialized in 2011 or 2001 or 1991 or even 1981, for all that. It’s been that way for a long time. The simple, country Christmases that we think used to be the norm? They existed only in movies. Everyone wants to spend Christmas in Bedford Falls because it’s not real. It never was real. We want it to be real because it symbolizes love and happiness and peace and all those other things that seemed so far away with Americans in Baghdad and Kanduhar, in the rubble of the Twin Towers, during the height of the Cold War, in the jungles of the Mekong Delta, and in the blood-stained streets of riot-torn cities in the 60’s.

In the end, we all have the power to decide how to react to what we see and experience. I can let the inflatable Santa on sale at Lowe’s raise my blood pressure, or I can say “Meh,” and go on about finding the repair kit for a leaky faucet. I can rant about how Christmas has become all about the dollar, or I can focus on the image of shepherds on a hillside, in shock as they listen to angels tell them that their Savior has been born. I kind of like that second option better.

So, rather than fight reality, let’s face it with gusto. Halloween’s over. It’s Christmastime! But I’m still going to fast-forward through the commercials when I watch a show on TiVo.

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The First Draft is Done!

I neglected to post that I finally finished the first draft of my ghost hunter novel two weeks ago. As you might imagine, it was quite a relief to get it done. This book took much longer than the last two. I’m happy with what I have so far, but I also know that it needs a lot of work.

My plan now is to write a couple of short stories, then start the rewrite process on the book. Coming up with a good title is also on the agenda. I always have trouble with titles, so that will be a project.

Nevertheless, the first major step is finished. That’s one New Year’s resolution to cross off the list…

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To Self-Publish or Not? That is the Question

Ever since I got back from Dragon*Con, I’ve been mulling over the possibility of getting into the self-published ebook game. Ebooks seem to be growing more popular by the hour, and more and more of my peers in the podcast writing arena are dipping their toes in the market. I know Abbie Hilton has had some success selling ebooks of the Guild of the Cowry Catchers series, and Mur Lafferty jumped in with both feet last summer by self-publishing all five parts of her Afterlife series, which was wildly popular on Podiobooks.com.

Thing is, if I’m going to do this, I want to do it the right way. If I’m going to ask people to spend money on one of my books (even if the price is only $3.95 or something like that,) I have to deliver a quality product. That means hiring a professional editor to catch any remaining typos, inconsistencies, plot holes, etc. Because I recorded audio versions of both Acts of Desperation and Purgatory, I’ve caught a lot of the typos and missing words, but no way am I confident enough to say that I caught them all. Good editors do not come cheap, nor should they. I’m figuring between $1,000 and $1,500 to edit just one of the books.

Next comes the cover. Again, if I’m going to offer a book for sale, it needs a cover done by a professional illustrator. I happen to really like the covers I chose for the audio versions of my books, but the cover for Acts is a Creative Commons licensed photo that I found on Flickr. I gave the photographer attribution, but the license does not allow me to use it to make money. I did pay a license fee for J.R. Blackwell’s lovely photograph for the cover of Purgatory (worth every penny,) but using it on a book for sale is a different matter. I estimate a few hundred dollars for a cover illustration.

That brings the total bill to $1,500 to $2,000 even before I get into formatting, distribution fees, etc. That means, if my price point is $3.95, I have to sell around 500 electronic copies just to break even. Obviously, I want to sell way more than 500 copies, but if I’m the publisher as well as the author, then by definition I’m the marketing department. It will take a lot of time and effort to publicize the book enough to generate sales. I think I’m up for that challenge, but it will be a major commitment.

If I do this, I think I would start with Acts of Desperation, which has been rejected by a lot of agents and publishers but has also been downloaded a lot on Podiobooks. More than 5,000 people have downloaded the final episode, meaning they liked it enough to stick around to the end of the story. I have Purgatory on submission right now to a small press publisher, and I still have some hopes of publishing that the traditional way, so it will be some time before I choose to self-publish that one.

Publishing has changed tremendously just in the seven years since I first started tapping out novels on my keyboard. Self-publishing ebooks is becoming more viable every day, and it’s something every author should consider. Will it be right for me? Jury’s still out. I need to save up that upfront money, and I haven’t sold a freelance piece since July. Looking for new freelance gigs is occupying a fair amount of my time these days. But, if I can generate those funds and cover the cost before I sell anything, I very well may take the plunge.

Stay tuned.

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Atoning for Dragon*Con at the Gym

As I relayed in mind-numbing detail in my last post, I was pretty busy at Dragon*Con this year (kind of like I am every year.) Dragon*Con is full of interesting people, informative panels, good music, costumes, shopping, and chances to rub elbows with some accomplished writers and performers. It’s also full of fast food, not-so-fast but calorie-laden food, and drink. Lots and lots of all three.

I haven’t dared step on a scale since I got home.

I joined a gym last fall. That pesky 50th birthday was looming ever closer, and I had the sense that, if I didn’t make an effort to get in shape then, I never would. Also, a few friends who are active gym members actually got me thinking about a gym membership, something I’d never considered before.

Lastly, in June 2010 I was invited to play in a golf tournament organized by the local independent insurance agents association. It was a good time, a good chance to network, and I’m glad I went (my play was, shall we say, consistent.) One of the souvenirs of the day was a plastic coffee travel mug with photos of each player’s foursome on it, including shots of the individual driving the ball. The photos of me are not flattering. The word “blob” comes to mind every time I see that mug.

For these reasons, I decided to get off my ever-expanding derriére and hit the treadmill. I’ve been a regular since November 1, and the results so far have been decent. Prior to this year’s Dragon*Con, my weight had dropped 15.5 pounds from the time the travel mug photos were taken. According to the Body Mass Index charts, I need to lose another 20, though I think I’d look and feel pretty good if I lost 15. In any case, this work in progress is still a work in progress. And I didn’t progress much at Dragon*Con. I made it to the hotel’s exercise room on the Friday the con started, but that was it. The other three days: Fun, learning, food and drink.

Starting last Friday, I decided to workout every day for 14 days to undo some of the damage I did in Atlanta. That doesn’t necessarily mean the gym; I’ve mapped out a running route of 4.25 miles that begins and ends at my house, so if I get a nice day this weekend, I’ll do that again. However, I have hit the gym every day since Friday (for those of you counting at home, that’s six days.) My routine is to go after I get out of work, so today will be number seven. Barring any unforeseen events, I think I can meet the goal of 14 straight days. Then I’ll take one day off. One.

And maybe get back on the scale again.

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Dragon*Con Wrap-Up (Long)

Okay, since Dragon*Con 2011 has been over for a week now, it’s probably well past time for my report on the annual gathering that I like to call “Geekstock.” As usual, it was an incredible time, and it seemed to go even faster this year than in others. Not sure why that was; every con I’ve been to has been crammed to the gills with panels, meetups with friends, concerts, etc. But this one felt like — BAM! It’s over.

Rather than flying out of Rochester, as is my usual custom, I set out very, very early on Thursday morning for Boston. My oldest son has just moved there for law school, and my charge was to deliver a car trunk full of his stuff upon my return. Fearful of Boston traffic and unexpected roadwork delays resulting from Tropical Storm Irene (NOTE: Compared to what other people suffered from the storm, my problem was very minor), I hit the road just prior to 6 AM. The trip actually was very smooth, and I parked my car at Logan Airport more than two hours before my 1:25 PM flight. The flight itself was a piece of cake, and I was at the Atlanta Hilton and meeting my roommate Justin by 5 or so.

Last year, Dragon*Con’s registration process was a nightmare. I spent three hours in line coaxing a little more battery life out of my iPod. This year, they made some changes, and I’m happy to say the changes worked. I was in and out of there in about 15 minutes. My compliments to the staff and leadership — it was a much better experience this time.

Thursday night brought the first of three concerts I attended by the amazing Pandora Celtica. If you like Celtic music and/or you love tight harmonies, you owe it to yourself to give this group a listen. They are a five-part a capella group from Denver (it’s kind of ironic that so many of their songs are about the sea and they’re thousands of miles from the Atlantic Ocean.) I first heard them last year and bought one of their CD’s on the spot, then requested and got another for Christmas. Stalking them was one of my missions for the weekend, one that I’m happy to say I fulfilled. I bought their other two CD’s, got to meet them all, and collected a few autographs on the CD’s. As terrific as they are as musicians, they’re even nicer people. I hope they return to Dragon*Con every year.

Friday brought my one and only workout of the con, the arrival of the eternally awesome Christiana Ellis, and the kickoff of the podcasting track. John Lenahan, the author of two podiobooks but one who has actually gotten said books into print, was one of the panelists. As the author of two not-yet-in-print podiobooks, I was curious as to what he did that I did not, and he very generously gave me a big chunk of his time after the panel ended. He didn’t know me from Adam, and I really appreciated him taking the time with me. I then attended a couple of panels by game designers (game designing is a subject that’s started to interest me — stay tuned for a future blog post); a reading by best-selling fantasy author and writing instructor Tracy Hickman; another Pandora Celtica concert; dinner with Starla and Scott Huchton and their friends Jamie and Chris (who get my vote as the cutest couple I’ve met this year); and a special reading by Scott Sigler of brand new material. I ended up at a small party in Alex White’s room with a bunch of people I’d never met before, hung out with them for a bit, then finished the night in the Hilton bar with P.G. Holyfield and crew.

Saturday: Settled into my ritual of dropping off CD’s of Purgatory and business cards on the freebie table and got caught in the Dragon*Con parade while trying to get to Starbucks. Once I had coffee in hand, I went to a reading by mighty Mur Lafferty, where I heard excerpts of a piece she’s written for Scott Sigler, an excerpt from a new unreleased novel, and something from her forthcoming sequel to Playing For Keeps. Every con, I try to spend a little time with Mur because I love her I Should Be Writing podcast and she gives voice to so many of my writing anxieties. However, whether she recognizes it or not, she’s also something of a rock star, making it tough to get too much of her time, but I was glad for the time I was able to get.

Next were a couple of writing panels, including one where I met up with Abby Hilton and listened to Aaron Allston and Michael Stackpole discuss plotting. The high point of the day was the Parsec Awards, which honor excellence in podcasting. I put on a black suit for the occasion and went in style (practicing for the day when I might actually be a finalist for a Parsec; a guy can dream, right?). Several of my favorites won awards, including The Drabblecast, Nathan Lowell and Scott Sigler. A short party followed the ceremony, after which a small army of us descended on a Thai restaurant. No one left hungry.

Sunday: A good panel on writing in a world that another author has created, followed by a podcast writers roundtable. I had thought that I would be a panelist for this and was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t. However, within five minutes it became apparent that I would have been out of place. Every panelist had at least one book in print, and I don’t. It would have been awkward, so I’m glad it worked out the way it did. The discussion was excellent, and I’m looking forward to the release of the recording as a podcast so I can listen a second time.

I then jumped between a panel of best-selling authors (Kevin J. Anderson, Terry Brooks, Charlaine Harris, etal.) and a panel on favorite books, which gave me ideas for even more books that I will buy or borrow and not have time to read. Another Pandora Celtica concert preceded a panel on game design, leading up to a return performance by Scott Sigler in the role of his cousin Frankie in “Let’s Get Pissed With the FDO”. His interview victim was Dr. Pamela Gay, who gave as good as she got. As usual with these events, the true winner was Tuaca.

During all this, Starla was frantically tweeting about the amazing night she was having. When I returned to the Hilton, I saw her and Scott and immediately demanded to know what was going on. “Follow me,” was the coy answer. In a nutshell: Colin Ferguson, star of the SyFy Channel’s Eureka, Misha Collins of Supernatural and Nicole de Boer of Stephen King’s Dead Zone had ended up in Alex White’s room to record some episodes of his podcast Disasterpiece Theatre. Starla, Scott, Jamie and Chris had been among the lucky throng who attended the recording. However, that was not the end of the night. The three actors and a battalion of hangers-on joined us out on the street, whereupon we went back inside and joined the karaoke party taking place in the lobby (see Starla’s blog for all the details.) I didn’t actually get to meet Colin, but he seemed very personable and down-to-earth, and he clearly knows how to have a good time.

The evening (uh, early morning) concluded with a 4 AM breakfast with Starla, Scott, Jamie, Chris, P.G. and me at the Metro Diner.

Five short hours of sleep later, I was back in the game for the last day. I did some souvenir shopping (didn’t buy anything) and went to a writing panel featuring Terry Brooks, Mercedes Lackey, Timothy Zahn and Mark Van Name. I had every intention of returning to the hotel to say goodbye to Christiana and others, but I dropped by two more writing panels and was quite glad I did. I got to meet and talk e-publishing with Ridan Publishing’s Robin Sullivan and self-published author John Hartness. I learned a lot from the discussion, and it’s got me seriously considering self-publishing ebooks.

Promptly at 5 PM, the con ended. Within a couple of hours, the hotels were ghost towns. The 40,000 geeks were mostly gone. It was really quite a forlorn sight. Had I not saved $130 on airfare by staying until Tuesday, I would have regretted staying through Monday.

Tuesday was for packing up, bidding adieu to Justin, and flying back to Boston and checking out my son’s estate in a comfortable neighborhood straddling Brookline and Brighton. Okay, it’s really a studio apartment, but he likes it, and it befits a first-year law student. I delivered his stuff, we went out to dinner, and then I drove the five hours back to Syracuse.

Was it a good con? Put it this way: I’m already thinking about next year.

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Confessions of a Compulsive Book Collector

My name is Tim and I’m a compulsive book collector.

There’s no point in denying it. There’s a pile tipping over in my closet. There are countless more in the basement. When I pop into my son’s bedrooms, I eye their book collections greedily, wanting to snatch several volumes from their shelves.

And we’re not just talking books. My computer bag is stuffed with back issues of magazines I haven’t read yet, copies of Weird Tales, Realms of Fantasy, Asimov’s, Writers Digest, Sports Illustrated — they seem to multiply by themselves.

Some people have eyes bigger than their stomachs; I have eyes bigger than my ability to read quickly. There should be a restraining order against me setting foot in libraries and bookstores. I need help. The cycle must be broken. I can’t go on collecting books beyond my means.

The only solution is cold turkey withdrawal. I must resist the urge to buy more books. I must ignore the reviews on Goodreads, the write-ups in Realms of Fantasy, the recommendations I hear on podcasts. I must turn a blind eye to all those attractive book covers I’ll see next week at Dragon*Con. I mean it this time: I’m swearing off book-buying.

At least until the Liverpool Library’s used book sale next month…

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Dealing With a Setback

For those who might not know, I have a small freelance writing business. For the past three-plus years, I’ve written short articles for a web site related to my industry. It’s been a good gig, and it’s paid for me to go to conventions, not to mention the new roof we put on the house this summer.

However, in early June I got an email from my contact informing me that he had sold the company. I felt a little trepidation, but the new owner contacted me right away, I wrote a few articles for him, got paid right away, and more or less felt like it was working out. So, imagine my surprise when I opened my email yesterday morning and found a message from the new owner, informing me that there are “very good freelance writers willing to work” for 1/3 what he’s paying me, and times being what they are, he has to go with them. He did say that he will assign the more technically complicated topics to me, but clearly the flow of work from this site will slow down to a trickle. I may be able to pick up some work for another site he runs, again at a third of what I was getting paid for the other site.

Now, as you might imagine, I didn’t take this news all that well. I’ve spent the last day cooling off, and I sent a professional reply to him last night, expressing my disappointment but stating that I understand that he must do what he thinks is best for his business. After some reflection, I have a few thoughts about this episode:

  • It’s a free market. I’m competing with other freelancers, and in a price battle, I may well come in second. No one owes me work.
  • That said, expertise, experience and skill should count for something. I write about the industry in which I’ve worked for most of my adult life. I have industry designations that carry some weight. And I think I’ve shown repeatedly that I can explain industry technical topics in clear and understandable language. In my experience, there are people who have a lot of technical knowledge, and there are people who have the ability to write clearly about it, but there are relatively few who have both. That package of abilities is worth something in the marketplace to the right clients. My job is to find clients who need that package and who are prepared to pay accordingly.
  • This is forcing me to finally market myself more widely and look for a diverse client base, which is a good thing. Better to have 10 clients who give you regular work in small doses than two who give you big paychecks. This web site wasn’t making me rich, but it was going a long way toward financing my fiction writing and the costs that entails (again, the conventions; marketing materials I bring to conventions, such as CDs of my podiobooks, business cards, etc.; printing and postage costs when I send out manuscripts; software — you get the picture.) Losing that source of revenue presents a challenge. I don’t want to finance my fiction writing out of the income from my day job, so I have to replace the lost revenue from other sources.

Writing this now, a day after I got the email, I have a little perspective. When I was first trying to move to Syracuse 27 years ago, it took me from May until January to find a job. I was relatively fresh out of college, and the job I eventually got was as a mailroom clerk, but that led to a succession of other jobs in the company that launched my career. I spent 14 years at that company. When I was 37, the company eliminated my job and I spent seven months looking for work, eventually landing one for half the pay at a company outside my industry. Two years later, that company imploded in the wake of the dot-com bust and 9/11 and I was out of work for another seven months. My search took me to my present employer and a job that I love.

The point of this story is that: 1) I still carry scar tissue from those long days of job hunting, and even a minor rejection like the one I got yesterday awakens all those emotions I felt when I was unemployed. 2) I overcame those terrible setbacks (and they were terrible; I don’t wish unemployment on anyone) and came out better for it. If I keep my head on straight, the same will happen this time.

And this time, I’m not taking it personally. It’s business. I’m in business for myself, and I make daily decisions about how to spend my business’s money. That’s all the owner of this web site has done. Good luck to him. Good luck to me.

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