Much to my own surprise – in my capacity as The Guy Who Sees the Sales Numbers – Tor Books will release the trade paperback edition of my Slaves of the Switchboard Of Doom tomorrow. It’s up on Amazon already with a preorder price of $10.99.
They sent me a few copies last week, so I can tell you they’ve done a pretty good job on this less prestigious edition. You (naturally) lose the wraparound dust jacket, and you get just 50% of the endpaper art.
I was curious about how they’d handle that: you seldom see a trade paperback with printing on the inside covers. The way they approached it was to keep the side of each endpaper that features the book title, and although that means some important character vignettes are missing it’s probably as good a solution as any. Those characters are more likely to show up in the other illustrations anyway, I guess.
Still, it’s worth mentioning that the hardcover price is dropping with the new edition’s release. In hardcover the book has lovely, heavy paper, the ends of the cover art, and the complete endpapers. The hardcover would still be my first choice.
But whichever edition you choose, Slaves of the Switchboard Of Doom stands ready to serve all your humorous, retrofuturistic needs.
There’s the eBook version too, of course. I assume its price will drop once the paperback is released tomorrow, but I don’t know by how much, or when. The world is just chock full of things I don’t know. You get used to it.
I’ve spent the last two weeks on two projects: rebuilding part of my front porch (which you probably don’t care about unless you’re knocking on my door), and creating a phone-friendly redesign of my Retropolis web site.
I’m not crazy about the ways that phones have affected web page design – and I really miss my old page layouts – but because I am also not actually crazy I finally caved in to peer pressure and converted the site into something that works well on phones. Mostly.
The big exception is the Business Card Construction Kit. You still need a much wider browser window to do much with that one.
But in every other respect you can now shop quite comfortably even on one of those tiny, ridiculous devices that you all use.
So go do that, please, while I dart outdoors between the rainstorms and try to get my deck boards nailed down in time for Winter.
As always, you can find the Retropolis Transit Authority T-shirts, along with posters, greeting cards, postcards, business cards, and other things that are not cards. Like, uh, coffee mugs. And books. And other stuff. Go get ’em!
If you’ve read my last post you know already that I’m in a difficult situation; you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m trying out some creative solutions to my problems. The first of these is a page at Patreon where you can to subscribe to a monthly supply of content.
There are tiers at $1, $5, $10, and $15. The highest-level patrons will get something from me every week, while the $1 patrons will see just one of the updates.
The big benefits of the $15 level are (for the first year or so) print-resolution Celtic knotwork greeting card images. They’ve got transparent areas so that you can add your own images to sit inside the borders’ frames.
Whenever I run out of those (or when you get tired of them) I’ll come up with something else.
The rest of the content includes unpublished or obscure stories, some illustrated poems by me and by dead people like William Butler Yeats, and some first drafts (which I don’t usually share) with my own notes that explain what’s wrong with them. There are also some less-classifiable things that date all the way back to the 1970’s.
I hope you’ll have a look at the page and consider supporting my work at one level or another. I’ll try to make sure it’s worth your while!
(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
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
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
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?
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.
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.
As always when it’s quiet around here, I’ve been busy. This time I’m working toward the book launch of Patently Absurd. And you can tell!
In fact you can tell all over the place: at Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and at many of the places where books hang out. The print and eBook versions of Patently Absurd are available for pre-order in lots and lots of places, as you can see at right.
Review copies have gone out to those publications that have really long lead times, like Booklist and The Library Journal; I have two large piles of advance copies that are fated to go elsewhere (some to my Kickstarter backers, some to other reviewers, and some to booksellers). I have some smaller stacks of promotional materials and labels. Don’t even look at my dining room table. Please.
The rest of the world can see the book on March 13 of next year. But, like I mentioned, pre-orders are now a possibility.
For the print edition, I started out with a reduced price of $12.75 (that’s two dollars off the final price) but Barnes & Noble immediately marked it down again; so at the moment you can pre-order the book there for just $9.24. Don’t look at me: they’re wild and crazy over there.
The Ebook pre-order price isn’t discounted anywhere, to my knowledge, but I may run a special for my own pre-orders at Radio Planet Books. We’ll see.
Also, the book now has a presence at Goodreads for your adding and to-reading pleasure.
Radio Planet Books will be selling the eBook editions (you can pre-order there now!) and I’m working on a way to sell the printed edition there, too.
So these are exciting days for me and the UPS driver. I hope that yours are going well, too.
Well, it was uphill all the way for our first stretch goal, if by “uphill all the way” we mean up and down and up again; but we finally made it, and we’ve got just over a week left to hit the second stretch goal.
If we get there, this is what happens: I have the funds to arrange a Kirkus Indie review; and everybody who pledged over $50 will get a memo notebook with the Patently Absurd cover art on its own cover. These are nice little notebooks, as I can tell you from my personal scribbling experience.
It’s a harder goal to reach, at $1900, but we may have the urgency of the project’s end on our side. It’s coming up!
So if you have friends or if you see strangers who might like the book, this is the time to tell them all about it wherever you find them: on Facebook or Twitter, or at your own blog, or at GoodReads or LibraryThing or, in fact, anyplace at all.
It’s the larger pledges that will benefit from this stretch reward, so I’ve added a new set of ten “Collector II” rewards at $65. They’re just like the original Collector rewards except that they cost a bit more. That’s so you early adopters have a reason to look smug. If you need one, I mean.
(For the rest of you, that $65 gets you a signed, printed advance copy of Patently Absurd; a matching eBook of the same; an eBook edition of The Lair of the Clockwork Book; a pair of custom bookmarks; and a signed hardcover copy of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom; plus a memo notebook, if we hit the second stretch goal.)
In other news, today I should see my third proof copy of the book. The last one was pretty great, but I’m still fiddling with color profiles for the cover.
Back around the middle of July, the relentless T-Shirt engine of the Pulp-O-Mizer sputtered and failed.
I looked through it. I discovered that figuring the problem out was going to be both complicated and time-consuming. Then I just threw a tarpaulin over it and kicked it a couple of times. I had a lot to do, right then, and I was going to have to postpone the whole thing until my eyes had uncrossed and I could give it some thought.
That happened this morning. I wish I could say that I’d been brilliant, but the sad truth is that I tried a gazillion little changes and, once I got it running again, I had no idea which one of them did the trick. Or if it was all of them.
But it works now. Huzzah!
Once again you can get a custom T-Shirt with your very own Pulp-O-Mizer image on it. Just… don’t ask me how I did it.
First off, great news: the Patently Absurd fund drive met its primary goal on Day 3. That’s really unexpected, and welcome, believe me.
But it’s not over yet. In order to set an attainable goal for the project I moved some pretty important things out to stretch goals. We’re looking at the first of those right now.
What we’ve done
With the primary goal behind us I’ll be able to send advance copies off to book reviewers and the book buyers for some local bookstores. I’ll also be able to meet some other pre-production expenses, like ISBNs and some setup fees at Ingram. (Ingram Spark will be one of the two printers to produce the final books.) Review copies will be going out to trade publications like Booklist, The Library Journal, and Locus.
What we need to do
But there are a couple of other trade publications that are missing from that list. That’s because Publishers Weekly and Kirkus charge fees to review independently published books. They have their reasons. The barrier to self-publish a book is very low, now, and if they take everything… well, everything is a lot, these days. So one can see their point, even if it seems like there might be a better way to deal with what’s now a flood of indie books.
So, at the moment, we’re looking at the first stretch goal for Patently Absurd. At $1400 (just $200 more than the primary goal) I’ll be able to arrange a review for the book at Publishers Weekly. To celebrate, all Kickstarter backers who weren’t going to get a Lair of the Clockwork Book eBook will get one; and everybody who’s getting a print copy of the book will get a pair of custom bookmarks with art from my books.
Those are small bonuses, but it’s just another $200, right? And we have 27 days left to go.
The Kickstarter project for Patently Absurd is now live and it’s eager to talk to you. You can meet it here.
Tell your friends, your families, and strangers on the street.