Resumption: Endings and Beginnings (1)

The last three years has seen a lot of changes in my life.

I had a stroke in early July 2014 that saw a variety of side effects that range from decreased tactile sensitivity on the left side of my body to difficulty writing. Six months later I lost a job I’d held for more than 22 years. I’d apparently outlived my usefulness for what I was paid, and if my job was filled again — which it wasn’t as far as I know — someone younger and cheaper could handle the duties.

I landed on my feet to some extent. I had a new job within two months, working as a salesperson with Art Van in Ann Arbor. Not the best paying job, but one with the possibility of a decent income, albeit one based on commissions. Our family made ends meet, though we had to dip into our retirement savings quite a bit to make up for the shortfall between my old income and my new one. I am grateful to Art Van, for taking a chance on someone with minimal to no sales experience, but lots of experience working with people (the aforementioned 22-plus years in the old job). I’ve met lots of great people, both coworkers and customers, and my life is richer for the experience.

But now it’s time for a change again, and I’m diving back into the tech support field in August, taking a job with Thomson Reuters here in Ann Arbor. I’ve two days left at the Art Van in Ann Arbor, with my last day being on Thursday as the store kicks off its late summer tent sale. I won’t get my farmer’s tan this summer as I’ve done in the past, working outside in 90° heat, but I’ll take being indoor pale and cool when that’s balanced against being hot and sweaty with no guarantee of success.

That latter point is one thing that motivated my decision to move on from Art Van. At least when you’re writing a story or novel, and an editor rejects it, you’re left with a finished product that has some value. You might find another editor who wants the story, and you’ve certainly learned something during its creation. You should learn how to interact with another guest from each encounter as well; sales is a craft as much as any other, and I’m certainly a better salesperson than when I hit the floor back in April 2015, but when you don’t make a sale, you’ve actually “paid” for that interaction with a guest, precisely because you’re working on commission, and the draw you’re taking each hour for the opportunity to work the sales floor is only recouped if you sold enough.

If I’ve learned anything, I hope it’s how to be more considerate of others. I’m hopeful that will help me as I move forward in my new position. That’s my plan.

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Resumption: Endings and Beginnings (2)

As part of my new journey, I’m resumed the “century push-up challenge” started by Kate Bachus at the beginning of 2017.

That involved doing 100 push-ups over the course of 100 days, adding one push-up to the total done each time. Day 1 saw you doing one push-up; Day 2, two push-ups, and so on. After we finished, some people kept up, and added other calisthenics. Squats was the first additional exercise suggested, and I was one of those “people” — doing 100 push-ups and then working my way through more and more squats, one and two and three at a time — until I let life intervene, as I’m not as disciplined as some people. Not as much as I should be disciplined, that wasn’t how I was raised, don’t you know; if there’s one thing you can say about a Catholic education and middle class roots, it instills the importance of a good work ethic. And that either takes or doesn’t. You either get with the program or you rebel against it, with “getting with it” and “rebellion” as individual as there are people; we’re not drones, all cut from the same mold.

So I’m back to the beginning, and it’s now Day 8, with eight push-ups, eight squats, and eight crunches knocked out before the day ends.

But that isn’t the end, not this time. My writing fell off following my stroke, and I’ve tried starting three novels and three short stories. I finished only one of the latter. That’s nowhere near the production I need. Time keeps passing, and I’ve stories to tell, and they won’t get out into the world if I don’t buckle down and apply myself. I’ve already wasted too much time since the first story I completed way back in 1998. Twenty years are a long time to sit idle, especially I know writing is a craft, and you only get better at it if you exercise. Just as you only get fit and stay fit by pushing yourself each and every day, turning the living of life into a habit.

I recently finished reading Stephen King’s IT again. I picked up the new premium mass market when I came out a few months back. The new movie version comes out next month, and I wanted to revisit the story again in time for the film. Afterward, I noted how the story touched on some aspects of King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower (which also has a film adaptation coming out in a short while), and I’ve considered revisiting those stories again. I knew I wouldn’t finish before the film hits the local cinemas, as eight novels comprise the main sequence, and many more King stories and novels radiate from the Tower in some manner. But contemplating this challenge, which is as daunting as 100 push-ups, squats, crunches, impressed upon me how much King accomplished since he started. He’s a man who never sits idle and lets life pass. Heck, even after his car accident, he penned a novel longhand to accommodate the physical restrictions his recovery presented to keep him away from his desk.

Look at the list of main Dark Tower books:

The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Wastelands, Wizard and Glass, The Wind Through The Keyhole, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower.

That’s eight books, written between 1982 and 2012, and that’s just those directly focused on Roland of Gilead. Eight in 30 years. Since Carrie came out in 1974, he’s produced nearly 70 novels and short story collections. Seventy-some in a little more than 42 years.

I’ve completed two novels and 17 short stories in twenty years. A molehill by comparison. I’m going to need to change something if I’m going to make my own mountain. While I doubt I’ll catch King, I should try to keep up with my peers.

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Venting, 10-26

I’m going to try something new here, specifically so I don’t keep negative thoughts in my head and also so I don’t unnecessarily present them within my writing (which I tackled again today) as the opinions and viewpoints of my characters. The first lets me chuck any negative thinking, which I need to do to keep on an even keel in this new stage of my life (post-layoff and post-stroke), while the second lets me make sure a character is unique in their own way rather than possibly being a poor reflection of my current “reality.”

So … venting, and today’s observational complaint relates to how people generally live within bubbles nowadays.

One guy sits in his car in the Kroger parking lot, focused on his phone, and doesn’t see me pull into the spot behind him. He doesn’t see me get out of my car, but does open his door just as I try to walk past so that I have to backtrack. He does shoot me a dirty look, because I’m an inconvenience to him now — because he’s dropped his phone into his car’s footwell, and I’m an inconvenience because he doesn’t have enough room at the back of his vehicle to stand comfortably and open his trunk to get out a jacket since it’s raining.

Another guy inside the store shoots me another dirty look as I wash and dry my hands after using the bathroom — apparently because he isn’t washing and drying his hands, and my action calls his decision into question, and people don’t like their choices called into question, don’t like being wrong as everyone (even villains) are the heroes of their own lives.

And don’t get me started about the other drivers on the road. The ones stopping at a green light before turning right, when the traffic going straight is already moving through the intersection and there isn’t any clear reason to pause. Then, after making the turn, driving at 10 mph below the speed limit, and stopping a good 15 feet back from the coming left-hand turn so that when the oncoming traffic moves past they have to still roll forward that distance before they can turn left instead of just turning left. This latter one almost always seems to happen where Liberty and Scio Ridge meet by the Liberty Sports Complex when there’s a car getting ready to turn left onto Liberty. It doesn’t happen every time, hence the use of “almost” in my description, but it does occur 95 times out of 100. I’m exaggerating for effect here. I don’t tally these types of situations; I vent, usually with an occasional tap to my car horn, a muttered profanity, or the ASL sign for “no nothing” (which I originally thought was the sign for a**hole until recently).

That all being said, I feel better now. I’ve cleared my head, and I’m going to put some words down on paper. I’ve struggled with that for a while now, blaming my new job and the odd retail hours I keep and my stroke from several years back (“my brain is different, so I’ve lost my mojo”) when the truth is anyone is capable of doing something if they set their mind to it. The new sales manager at work said something to me on Monday, explaining how to approach a guest and learn their objections to a purchase by asking them what was holding them back. It’s not a yes-no question, as those kinds of queries shut down a conversation rather than beginning one.

Which allowed me to ask myself what was holding me back. Answering that is something I hope you’ll find interesting, as I’ve wasted too much time over the last 20 years.

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New Reprint

Digital Fiction Publishing has put out a Kindle edition of “Ye Shall Eat in  Haste” as part of its digital fiction horror shorts.

If you’d like to see the story that sets the stage for my novel, Only The Dead — which I’ve recently rewritten — follow this link to pick up a copy.

The story garnered an honorable mention in Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 1, edited by Ellen Datlow, after its original appearance in Black Static #4 back in 2008, so I’m happy to see it available again for people to enjoy.

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Past, Present, Future

Last year was a year for transitions. Lost my job. Laid off because the new owner wanted to cut costs to increase their profits, and I’d worked there 22.5 years. Which sounds like I made too much money and was an easy out.

Found a new job selling furniture of all things, and I’ve been with Art Van since the end of March. I can’t believe I’ve been there for going on 10 months. You’d think retail work and hours, and straight commission pay would make things dicey (and it does to some extent), but it’s actually less stress than my old job. I still get to help people, solving problems, just in a different way.

Down side, however, is retail hours. I walk a little more than 5 miles a day the days I work, adding up to a marathon a week. While that means I’m healthier and stronger than I was, my weekends are now Tuesday and Wednesday, my day starts later and ends later, and I still haven’t figured out how to work gym time into the mix.

All of which means I need to tackle 2016 with a plan. I need to schedule schedule schedule, so I use my time as efficiently as possible. That way I’ll have more time for work around the house, more time for my family, more time for me to read and write.

First, I’m going to try my hand at the 68-day challenge promoted by Art Van, so I’m accountable for (a) exercise and (b) writing. That means that between tomorrow and March 13 I need to have gone to Planet Fitness at least three times a week for nine weeks and I need to have written between 275 and 300 pages. That’s enough time to get even more fit than a weekly marathon does for me now, and that’s also enough time to get a good start on a new book.

I’ve lost 52 pounds since I started tracking my weight in December 2014, but I’m at a plateau, and I’m ready to leave that behind. Hopefully I’ll have better numbers to report by this time next year. Or I’ll pleasantly surprise some of my peeps in Columbus when World Fantasy comes around.

Because if you do see me in Columbus, it’s going to be because I’ve succeeded, both physically and mentally.

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How To Fix The Hugos

I offer sincere congratulations to the nominees, but the list clearly illustrates the kerfuffle I’ve read about on Facebook.

Best Novel (1,827 nominating ballots)

 Best Novella (1,083)

Best Novelette (1,031)

  • “The Journeyman: In the Stone House”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog 6/14)
  • “Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner (Analog 9/14)
  • “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”, Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show 5/14)
  • “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra (Analog 7-8/14)
  • “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons)

 Best Short Story (1,174)

  • “On a Spiritual Plain”, Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2 11/14)
  • “Goodnight Stars”, Annie Bellet (The End is Now)
  • “Totaled”, Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge 7/14)
  • “Turncoat”, Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse)
  • “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons)

 Best Dramatic Presentation – Long (1,285)

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Interstellar
  • The Lego Movie

 Best Dramatic Presentation – Short (938)

  • Doctor Who: “Listen”
  • The Flash: “Pilot”
  • Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”
  • Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”
  • Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”

 Best Related Work (1,150)

 Best Graphic Story (785)

 Best Professional Editor Long Form (712)

  • Vox Day
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Jim Minz
  • Anne Sowards
  • Toni Weisskopf

Best Professional Editor Short Form (870)

  • Jennifer Brozek
  • Vox Day
  • Mike Resnick
  • Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  • Edmund R. Schubert

 Best Professional Artist (753)

  • Julie Dillon
  • Jon Eno
  • Nick Greenwood
  • Alan Pollack
  • Carter Reid

Best Semiprozine (660)

  • Abyss & Apex
  • Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Lightspeed
  • Strange Horizons

Best Fanzine (576)

  • Black Gate
  • Elitist Book Reviews
  • Journey Planet
  • The Revenge of Hump Day
  • Tangent Online

Best Fancast (668)

  • Adventures in SF Publishing
  • Dungeon Crawlers Radio
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast
  • The Sci Phi Show
  • Tea and Jeopardy

Best Fan Writer (777)

  • Dave Freer
  • Amanda S. Green
  • Jeffro Johnson
  • Laura J. Mixon
  • Cedar Sanderson

Best Fan Artist (296)

  • Ninni Aalto
  • Brad Foster
  • Elizabeth Leggett
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles

 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer [Not a Hugo Award] (851)

  • *Wesley Chu
  • Jason Cordova
  • *Kary English
  • Rolf Nelson
  • Eric. S. Raymond

*Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

There were 2,122 nominating ballots received from members of LonCon 3, Sasquan, and MidAmeriCon II.

***

I’ve seen at least one comment on Facebook that “No Award” will get a lot of votes in some categories, and I can understand the sentiment. But I also feel that if someone wants to encourage/advocate their friends/fans to nominate and vote for them to win the award that’s their right. It is a popular award, and reflects the choice of fans during a particular time period.

The novel category is interesting, and all seem worthy contenders. The novella category is a shambles and some of the chaos evident within it has filtered down into other categories. Again, this is a popular award. That some works earn support (and dollars for the works themselves and the cost of nominating and voting) is proof of a some value. Your personal mileage may vary, but the answer is always to express your opinion by voting.

So if the ballot does not suit you or represent what you want, fix it by voting. There were 2,122 nominating ballots cast to create this list, but there’s no reason more ballots can’t be cast to vote on the nominees. If you want No Award to win, buy a membership to the convention, even if you’re not going to attend, and vote for who (or what) you want to win. It’s that simple.

It doesn’t hurt anyone if you express your viewpoint. So if you’re unhappy with the ballot, fix it in the best way possible.

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Determination (or F The Ides)

I’ve reached the halfway point of March — those dreaded Ides of March — and I should feel a sense of panic, as the end of my severance pay nears with every tick of the clock. I’ve had a couple of interviews, one of which was clearly questionable, and I don’t have any job offers yet.

One of the interviews was clearly for a questionable job, well outside my bailiwick as a B2B salesperson. Plus, it was over in Troy, so the commute and extra mileage on the car wasn’t a good fit. But I’m actually feeling pretty confident, despite that block; when I went into the interview I realized I’m a good guy and a darn good catch, and that sort of understanding can only help me in the long run as I zero in on the right job. It certainly helped with the other interview I had early last week, and which is being followed by what the employer is calling a “final” interview tomorrow. I’ve also got a followup with another company later in the day, so I think things are looking up.

The only downside to everything is how much spam keeps showing up in my mailbox, so much so that I actually have to look through it for “real” mail, like email from both of tomorrow’s potential employers.

The first interview tomorrow is outside my bailiwick as well, but I’m not the same person I was at the beginning of the year. I can’t be the same person. When life hands you lemons, when you get knocked down, the clichéd responses are the only way to respond. Otherwise you’re apt to go crazy.

An upside to these changes is that I was able to go to a movie for the first time in probably a decade without worrying about a pager call. My old job had me carrying a phone to field after hours calls, and it’s a relief not dealing with the stress involved with always being on the clock. Even though I could handle the problems that arose, there was this sense that there was always someone out there in the world who might be angry with me just because they weren’t having a good day. That I was there to help them, and turn those frowns, wasn’t enough because when shit hits the fan you’ve got shit all over the place. Even after things are cleaned up, the customer still knows what happened and a polished turd is still a turd.

I’m done with shit. :-)

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