Welcome 2016

I love New Year. Christmas was my favorite Holiday as a kid, but New Year is my favorite as an adult. Partially, this is because my friends throw a fabulous Art Trade party, which has become a decades-long tradition that brings old friends back into town from across the country. I bring signed books and I go home with paintings and pottery, a belly full of great food and drink, and wonderful memories.

But even beyond my friends’ amazing house party, I just love the new year and what it represents. I love all the Year-in-Review blog posts and podcasts. I love hearing people’s goals and how they plan to achieve them.

For the past four years, I have set aside the first 2 weeks of January to do a detailed personal cleaning, inventory, and re-calibration. I guard those two weeks jealously, sometimes turning down lucrative work.

During this time, I go through everything I own and evaluate whether I should keep it. I ask myself three questions:

  • Do I love it?
  • Is it beautiful?
  • Have I used it in the last year?

If the answer is “no” to all 3, I need to get rid of it via either Goodwill or the garbage. This process does a lot of things for me besides eliminate clutter. It reminds me of good times, because I actually look at all my keepsakes and pictures once a year. Even if I all I do is take something out of a box, evaluate it, and say, “Yes, I’m keeping this useless class jacket,” it brings back fond memories. It also reminds me what I own and where it’s located. “Oh, yeah, I own a drill! Better not buy another one.” I can’t tell you how many rolls of tape, scissors, and Band-Aids I've saved myself from re-purchasing.

I also extend this process to computer files, external hard-drives, and cloud storage. I delete lots of excess Dropbox folders around this time of year. Again, I often find things I’d forgotten about.

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions if by “resolution,” you mean “a new habit I’m planning to acquire from a standing start.” However, I’m definitely a believer in reevaluating habits and processes that may have drifted off-course. I’m a believer in trying to do better something that I’m already doing. I’m a person who focuses intensely on projects, and sometimes it’s important to step back, look at the big picture, and adjust my trajectory.

2015 was not a great year for me, but no year is all bad, so I’ll start with the positive.

What I accomplished in 2015

I learned to cook! I’ve been a foodie pretty much since I lived in Asia at 21, but I was mostly a connoisseur of good restaurants. I felt frustrated and bored with the small number of things I knew how to cook. The constant struggle to come up with ideas felt exhausting, and I hate going to the grocery store.

So, I subscribed to a food service called Plated. I got my first box on 12/30/14 and cooked my first meal right about New Year’s Day, 2015. I loved it. I’ve continued to order weekly boxes whenever I’m in a position to cook them. I have made gourmet meals in hotels and hospital lodging with camping equipment. I’ve built up a folder of recipes that I enjoy repeating, and I continue to learn new things.

I attended the Smokey Mountain Writer's retreat, made friends with Katie Bryski, and then Lauren and I invited her to our yearly get-together in Orlando. We went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, recorded hilarious podcasts, and got excellent story feedback. I hope we do it again!

I didn’t do any big international trips this year, but I did work for two months in Fort Defiance – an extremely isolated location in Navajo country, right on the border of Arizona and New Mexico. I did some amazing hiking around there, and I traveled up to Monument Valley, which I missed last time I was in Arizona. I also got my New Mexico license and will be using it shortly.

Right about the middle of the year, I decided that I must pay off my student loan before I turn 40 in March of 2017. I’m not sure why I suddenly found this debt unbearable and began thrashing like a cat in a new collar, but I did. I made a plan, and I stuck to it. This had some unpleasant knock-on effects, but it did result in my paying off $40,000 worth of student loan debt in 2015, with plans to pay off another 60K and interest over the next 6 months. I really hope I can do it without making myself dangerously miserable.

I only released two books in 2015 – The Art of Cowry Catchers in March and Cowry Catchers Comic Issue 0 in December. Both of these were a lot of work in the layout and design department and very beautiful, but they weren’t novels, and that bums me out. More on that in that later.

I launched a Patreon in May, which coincided with the launch of the Cowry Catchers webcomic. I have been very pleased with the Patreon, which now has 49 donors. Those donors have covered the basic costs of the comic, as well as hosting costs for the podcast. I’m planning to add some additional incentives for donors this year. More on that in a different post.

The Scarlet Albatross was written in 2014, but it needed some careful editing, including some additional scenes, and that got done this year. The book also needed a ship diagram that required a lot of carefully collaboration with my designer/map maker, Jeff McDowall. In addition, I cast voice actors and began production on the audio version. I formatted the ebook and commissioned 2 covers, one of which is finished.

Most of my written words this year were on Jager Thunder, and that book gave me hell. It was frustrating, because The Scarlet Albatross came so easily. I wrote Albatross in about three months – the fastest I have ever written a novel. I brainstormed nearly the entire plot on a single walk in a glorious state of creative fugue, and the book unspooled almost exactly as I’d planned it, down to various key lines of dialogue.

Jager Thunder…did not happen that way. I fought for every scene. I was intimidated by the large number of complex characters, and the byzantine political situation I’d engineered. I felt certain that I would not do all of the characters justice or end up with a coherent plot. The whole thing just felt like a mess.

All this was aggravated by forcing myself to stay in unpleasant situations in order to meet my financial goals. I signed on for more work than I wanted, and I returned three times to 7,000 feet altitude at Fort Defiance even though it kept making me sick. In the midst of all this, my childhood home was being sold, and my parents were having an awful year. This contributed to depression and made it hard to write. Jager was bound to be a challenging book, but I don’t think it would have been quite so hard in other circumstances. At this point, I have 120,000 words, and it’s actually coming together. I’m still crossing my fingers on a few things, but I think it’ll be a good book in the end.

Also under accomplishments - this is the first year I’ll owe taxes on writing income. In spite of the fact that I did not release a single new novel this year, I made a profit – not the kind of money you could live on, but the kind of money that could pay the rent for four months and change. A lot of this is due to Audible.com putting Hunters Unlucky in the Hidden Gem Sale in August (and then Hunters proceeding to sell a lot of copies). That was lightning in a bottle. There’s nothing I can do to make it happen again except create good audio books and hope. The other substantial new source of income, however, was Patreon, and I do have a lot of control over that. So I’m going to up my game over there in 2016.

Finally, I learned Facebook Advertising this year and grew my mailing list from about 350 to 1000. I also learned how to use Facebook to market-test cover images, which may be its most useful function in the end.

The Bits I’m Not Happy About

Not a single new novel. Seriously? Not even a new short story! Not one single piece of new fiction released this year. That is crap, guys. I’m sitting on 220,000 words of new stuff that isn’t quite ready for release, but still… No excuses. That’s crap.

So, I did a poll from my Patreon donors in the last week of the year. They voted on a character they’d like to see in a short story. I wrote the story on New Year’s Day. It’s about Dakar - 1000 words, telling the origin of the name she gives herself when she and Gerard first meet. I sent it to my brother and a couple of friends for typos. It’ll be out to Patreon donors next week. So…a story! Finished! First day of the year! I’m already ahead of last year!

On a related note, I’ve been tracking my word counts since 2013, and these are the raw numbers:

2013 – 114,300 words

2014 – 121,490 words (and here’s the crazy thing; I didn’t start writing until July)

2015 – 97,294 words

Obviously I didn’t do an actual face-plant. It’s worse than previous years, but not vastly worse. In my best years, I’ve written around 250,000 – 300,000 words, but I’ve only had 2 or 3 of those years in my life. Mostly, I plod along at about 100K per year. I’d like to write faster than that. I know I can. I’ve done it before! But I need a consistent environment without too much upheaval, and I’m not good at giving myself that. I’m hoping that if I can get this loan off my plate, I’ll have more flexibility (I won’t need to work quite as much just to keep up with that giant student loan bill).

For instance, I liked just covering vacations for Tillamook, but I couldn’t afford to do only that with the student loan bill. I had to find a rotating array of supplemental jobs, some of which I really didn’t like. Then, in order to have a shot at paying off the student loan quickly, I had to accept a 3-4 month block in a new location for next year. This is not my favorite kind of travel work, but it’s the only way I know to make a pile of money fast. If it’s like all the other blocks I’ve worked, I’ll be fairly depressed by the end.

So I guess what I’m saying is: I don’t know whether I’ll be able to do what I want with my writing in the first half of next year. I can’t predict what effect the new location will have on my creative output. However, I can say that I’m working hard to build the life I want, where I get to spend most of my time telling you stories and not worrying about money. By the middle of next year, I should be in a better place than I’ve ever been before in terms of building that life.

I have one novel on the cusp of release and another almost drafted. I have a new short story. The comic is going well. I think 2016 will be a good year.