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The tale of woe I never told you

Filed under Can't Stop Thinking, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual

Rusty does all my talking for me

(I’m not sure how to tell this one briefly, or with much humor. Sorry about that. It’s just not a brief or funny story.)

In my twenty-some years on the World Wide Web I’ve read many, many tales of woe. People reach the end of their rope and appeal for help, and I don’t blame them for that: it’s just that I’m not sure it does any good. Not in the long term, anyway.

There’s probably a brief period when folks chip in whatever they can. But I’m always left wondering what the long term effect is, once you expose your vulnerable underbelly and admit that you just can’t make it on your own. Doesn’t that change the way people think about you? In a bad way, I mean? And, once they’ve helped, don’t they expect you to just be okay now?

This may be testosterone talking. But the result is that even though I have a Tale of Woe I’ve always kept it to myself.

That’s changed today. I can’t afford to care what you think any more.

It all started so well

Which is weird, because he doesn't speak

I left the games business earlier than I planned, back in 2005, because I simply couldn’t face another project. The games business really is a place for the young, and it could be I’d had a bad run of luck; but whatever the cause I was just too burned out to keep going on that treadmill of bizarre decisions and endless crunch time and, in my case, plenty of responsibility without any authority at all.

I had an exit strategy: to find an inexpensive home where I could live and build up my online business and pursue only those projects that no one but me was likely to create. This is a pretty good description of what I thought I was here for, but which I’d found so hard to do while working for other people.

So I bought a fixer-upper of a house and started to fix it up; not quickly, but steadily, since I was building up my business at the same time.

It wasn’t easy. But it worked! By 2008 it seemed like everyone on the web was linking to my Retropolis Transit Authority T-shirts and man, oh man, were they selling, that summer!

The thing I laugh about now is that I remember thinking that pretty soon I’d be able to afford health insurance.

I have a dark sense of humor, you see

Soon after I had that thought, I discovered that I had cancer.

The surprise was that it wasn’t lung cancer. I’d been a smoker for many years. But this was one of the other cancers, one that grows slowly, way down in your guts. You don’t find out about it for a long time.

Apparently you don’t find out about it until you start thinking about health insurance.

I seriously considered foregoing treatment. I really did. Though things were looking up, I couldn’t possibly afford the cost of my care. And I still argue with myself about whether that would have been a better choice.

Anyway, I was talked into treatment by medical professionals. The idea was that if I couldn’t afford it, there would be financial aid for me. And to some extent this was true.

But remember how business was looking up that year? It was, and in addition I had set aside the money for my income taxes. This is a thing that the self-employed do. And so, at the time I became sick, I was not indigent. I just didn’t have enough money to cover the costs of the tests, radiation, surgery, and post-surgical care.

We beat the cancer, which was great. (It’s still gone.) But first the bills wiped me out, and then they kept on coming.

The cost of beating cancer

But he's far more photogenic than I am

Even at this length I can’t describe to you the full horror of what it’s like to deal with the US health care system when you don’t have insurance. That’s a story in itself.

But in the end, late in 2009, I finally had a single medical debt on which I could make monthly payments. And I kept making those payments until just a few months ago.

I’d been wiped out by the just the first few months of bills. Since I was still uninsured, I now had to meet other monthly expenses as a result of my surgery. My income rose and fell, but those costs were consistent, and I always met them. That meant acquiring other debts along the way.

Obviously, I wasn’t fixing up the house any more. (You can tell).

For nine years I’ve been staying ahead of it all with some success. I even wiped out my non-medical debts once or twice.

But during those years my income has also been dwindling. There have been brief reversals, like the Pulp-O-Mizer’s fifteen minutes of fame, or the book advances for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. Still the trend has always been down, in a month-to-month,white-knuckled race toward the date when I’d qualify for Social Security.

This year I lost the race.

This is why I’ve been quiet

And he's a very personable, persuasive robot

Some of you noticed that I withdrew from the web once Patently Absurd was published. There was nothing I could say that wasn’t horrible, and of course I was trying one thing after another to turn things around.

It was rude of me to avoid responding to those of you who contacted me. But it seemed like the alternative was worse. I didn’t want to lie, but neither did I want to tell you the truth: so I’ve been saying nothing at all. That’s probably worried some of you, and I’m sorry.

As the year’s progressed I’ve defaulted on one bill after another. I’ve finally reached the twin hurdles of my property tax and my mortgage payment.

It seems certain that I’ll lose the house. I will likely try to sell it; but I don’t think I’d even get my equity back. And as for what I’ll do when I don’t have a house, that’s another difficult question. My mortgage payment is actually lower than any rent I might pay. So, yeah, there’s that.

I have to say… for a guy who’s worked on a hopeful future for the last twenty years I don’t seem to have any hope left for myself.

What does this all mean?

So he makes a pretty goos spokesperson

You can’t fix my problems. I don’t expect you to.

But this is still the best of all possible times for you to buy original art (especially!), merchandise from Retropolis and The Celtic Art Works, or copies of Patently Absurd.

I guess my hope is that if I manage to make it through the next few months, and I sell my house and most everything else, I’ll find some way to scale back and survive for a couple of years longer. The first tier of Social Security may not be much, but it’s a lot more than I have coming in now. That lowest tier is still two long years away.

So… this has been my Tale of Woe. I’m sorry I had to share it with you.

Please consider helping me to continue my creative work and deal with the financial aftermath of cancer
 
 
Original drawings & paintings for sale

Filed under Works in Progress

Death in the King's House (from Runestaff #30), 1985

It looks like I’ve reached the “Everything Must Go!” stage of my life; because the sad financial reality is that, one way or another, everything really must go.

So I’ve braved my scary storage room and come out again with twenty-six paintings and drawings from the 1980’s which you’ll now find for sale right here at my blog.

There are illustrations from the SCA/Barbarian Freehold Runestaff, the Leslie Fish/Rudyard Kipling Cold Iron songbook, and from a few other places.

Have a look!

Illustration for Rudyard Kipling's 'The Quest'
 
 
It’s a day at the races for ‘Patently Absurd’

Filed under Patently Absurd, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Patently Absurd

AVAILABLE IN PRINT:
AMAZON | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
EBOOKS AVAILABLE:
AMAZON | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Radio Planet
Amazon & Kobo links are localized

So it’s release day for Patently Absurd, and that means heavy drinking a release day race. Right?

Because even though A Day at the Races isn’t anybody’s favorite Marx Brothers film, it’s still a dang site easier to deal with on my blog than Duck Soup or Horse Feathers.

I mean, the last time I had Duck Soup over I had marching soldiers singing “Hail, Hail Freedonia” in here for days. Actual days.

So we’ll stick with the races this time.

Booklist was first past the post this time with their review:

It’s all lighthearted fun and wild invention, but Schenck takes a serious turn in the final story, which brings touching depth to his main characters. A great follow-up to Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom (2017).

But they were soon overtaken by SFRevu:

Patently Absurd may not be serious science fiction, but it’s great stuff, and it’s stuffed with the tropes that made the pulp era pulsate like a mutant alien squid, albeit with a nod towards modern sensibilities. Maybe, in its own way, it is serious science fiction, camouflaged as whimsy. No matter what you decide to call it, it’s fun.

And then, like a death ray out of nowhere, came Paul Semel’s interview with me:

I wanted to do something with ordinary people whose jobs made them interact with the mad scientists in the Experimental Research District. So I thought about accountants. I don’t think about accountants that often. I mean, you don’t, do you?

The field’s still wide open: it’s anybody’s race at this point. Look! There’s Utopia State of Mind, racing ’round the bend! And you can’t forget the Toronto Star, where they loved Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom; that review will be here on Saturday. (Hey, this is a marathon, not a sprint, okay?)

And of course the real main event on release day is that you can buy the book now in all of the usual places. And once you read it, don’t be shy: please, please, please review it at Amazon, and at Goodreads, and wherever else books are reviewed.

 
 
Year-end honors for ‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’

Filed under Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, Works in Progress

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom

AVAILABLE IN PRINT:
AMAZON | Barnes & Noble | Powell's | IndieBound
EBOOKS AVAILABLE:
AMAZON | Barnes & Noble | Kobo
Amazon & Kobo links are localized

It’s that time of year when people and web sites look back on the year behind us and draw some conclusions.

According to borg.com, ‘Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom’ is the Best Sci-fi Read of 2017.

I can’t say I think they’re right, but it’s awfully nice of them to see it that way.

Here’s how they justify themselves:

Imaginative, new, and fun, Schenck took us into a timeless world full of nostalgia and classic science fiction. Great tech, and a sprawling story. Interesting characters and great world-building, this novel will be a great surprise for sci-fi readers.

 
 
All new: An Emergency Relief Fund for the Secret Laboratory

Filed under Hodgepodge

Keep the Robots of Retropolis Running On Time!

Ah, just when things were going so well.

As we land in the worst shipping week of the year, the ten-year old computer that powers things here in the Secret Laboratory has finally sputtered and died. It was a faithful companion: I’m going to miss it. Especially because at the moment I’m typing on the creaky old laptop that I use downstairs.

That laptop really can’t handle most of the work I do. So I’m forced to build a new outboard brain.

I’ve been hoping to do that for a long time; but as important as my computer is to me, it can’t compete with things like groceries.

So this would be an excellent time to help me out, if that’s your inclination. You can always do that by purchasing merchandise from Retropolis or The Celtic Art Works; but in an extremity like this I’ll also mention that you can contribute directly through Paypal.

I’ve already ordered the things I need; I have to complete the fulfillment of my Kickstarter rewards and finish the promotion for Patently Absurd, and those tasks won’t wait. But anything you can do to help sponsor the Secret Laboratory’s new computer would be very, very welcome.

 
 
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Down in the Basement. Where it Strains Against its Chains and Turns a Gigantic Wheel of Pain, for all Eternity. Muahahahahaha.