Where Do We Go From Here? 2017 in Review, Honest Look at 2018

Here we are nearing the end of 2017, and if you’re reading this, congratulations:

You’ve survived.

Surviving this year took a lot out of me. Like many of you, I feel tired and beaten down, consumed by anxiety by the government’s continued totalitarian direction. It turns out that being ruled by someone who is clearly cognitively impaired is pretty stressful. That’s the overall context for me this year.

Travel

Maybe that’s why 2017, for me, felt so much like a year in which I was barely able to do the minimum I needed to in order to survive. From the outside, it was an amazing year of travel. I was Guest of Honor at Swecon in May, went to the Hugos in Finland in July, survived a Florida hurricane with my family in September, did a client conference in Anaheim in October, and saw my sister-from-another-mister in ABQ in November.

But every one of those trips took a toll, not just financially, but also emotionally. Traveling is stressful. My spouse insisted we do the Hugos; it’s important to my career, but man, that trip just about wrecked us. The Florida trip? My family lives on the west coast, and I hadn’t seen them in more than two years. When I finally buckled down and paid the down payment, I got a really nice note from my dad saying how much it meant to him to see me. My parents are getting older, and my dad, in particular, is not in great shape. I worried I might not have much more time to spend with them.

I ended up cutting several career-related trips in order to make the family trips work: I didn’t do Gencon this year. I backed out of several appearances and deadlines. The year tried to swallow me whole.

The Work

THE STARS ARE LEGION came out in February. Yes, that was THIS year. I had to literally look up the date because it felt so LONG ago. It feels like we have survived SIXTEEN WARS SINCE THEN. Even as I typed that I thought, THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT IT MUST HAVE BEEN A YEAR AGO. The book did well, and people seemed to love it. So, I’ll take that as a win.

But there were a lot of setbacks, too, some I shared, and some I didn’t. I wrote 90k of THE BROKEN HEAVENS that… just wasn’t working. My agent and I decided to table it and get started on writing THE LIGHT BRIGADE, my next contracted book, instead so we don’t miss that deadline too. tLB is due in February and… whew. We’ll see. Every time I open up the manuscript I feel this wave of despair come over me, this DON’T FUCK THIS UP HURLEY OR YOU WILL BE A LOSER voice, and yeah… it’s hard to make words.

That means this is the first year in some time that I haven’t completed and turned in a book. That said, we were able to fill the gap next year with Apocalypse Nyx, a collection of novellas from my GOD’S WAR trilogy. Sometimes you have to forgive yourself and just move on and make the most with what you have. It’s been a shit year for many of us.

When it comes to short fiction, however, I killed it this year. I will have completed 12 stories this year for Patreon subscribers, one each month. Those stories are:

What I like about completing so much work is that there are many avenues in which I can sell it. Story collections to publishers, audio rights to various audio publishers, sales as Kindle singles, and H-wood money on occasion for options and etc. There’s lots that can be done with them. Which makes a nice segue to…

Patreon, and Diversifying Income

So Patreon recently screwed up by charging massive fee increases to those pledging at lower levels (a 40% increase to backers at the $1 level). It caused a huge bleed off from patrons (rightly so) and made me decide it’s time to look for other avenues for creating content. I’ve come to rely on Patreon not only for the income, but for the fact that because I’m so money motivated, it induces me to CREATE stuff, even during this terrible year where I mostly just wanted to lay in bed with my dogs and never get up again.

Kickstarter has a competitor, Drip, that will be launching publicly early next year. It’s also possible that I can do something that’s fully integrated into my website (which I’d prefer!). So that’s on my list for January, once we see how things shake out. Overall, I know I need to put more effort into consolidating all of my stuff onto my own website. I want fan forums, a public wiki, all sorts of things. I am also looking into merchandising for next year, something I haven’t done anything seriously with.

This is also the first year a got a small amount of money from H-wood, though nothing to get excited about. Just deepening interest in shopping my work, which is great. I finally got to sign a piece of paperwork this year. Amaze.

I also launched an Etsy store for select paintings and signed books. That said, I haven’t put much time and effort into stocking and promoting that venue, and looking at 2018… I need to get serious about that shop if I’m going to make life work.

Health Considerations

Last year my doctor cautioned me that in addition to continued weight gain, my blood pressure was now rising for the first time in, like, ever. I was stressed the fuck out post-election, and drinking too much on top of all the other bad habits I’ve gotten into since I started the publishing roller coaster. I knew that if I wanted to stick around (and fit into airplane seats for all the traveling I needed to do this year) that it was time to make some changes.

All of my changes have been small, but they are working. I have dropped about 20lbs, enough to ensure I was able to fit on a plane, even if not comfortably. My blood pressure is also normal now. I still have a lot of work that needs to go into this – getting more regular exercise, continuing to stick to the meal plans that ensure I don’t keep gaining and gaining (the constant gaining was getting scary, honestly). My doctor has also adjusted a few of my meds, which means the anxiety issues are no longer there except when, you know, our president threatens nuclear war and etc. You know, the normal anxiety one experiences living under a totalitarian-lite regime.

Mainly, I realized that writing full time and doing Patreon full time and doing my day job full time was killing me; the regime change was the last nail in that coffin. I couldn’t do everything and stay sane. While it felt like, to me, I took a rest this year with the writing, after writing about my work, above, I realize it was just… comparatively restful. I wrote a lot, but… I didn’t churn.

Going into 2018, I’m more hopeful about my health. After six years of grinding at the writing work, it’s time to prioritize it again before it’s too late. I’m on the right path with this again.

Ongoing Health “Insurance” BS

Speaking of health, well… there’s the cost. Like, the actual financial cost of keeping me and my spouse alive, and I won’t lie: it’s becoming untenable.

While my day job is great, and gives me a lot of flexibility I need, it had its stressors this year, too. There were a few months of nail-biting there waiting on a big contract renewal. And our already shitty health insurance plan increased it’s deductible another $3,500 to a whopping $10,400. Yes, that means I’m paying $10,400 on TOP of my month $300 premium BEFORE the insurance actually pays ANYTHING for me.

With meds running $1500 a month, I go through this fast, sure. But… it means coming up with $1500 every goddamn month. I can do it because – multiple income streams! – but it’s not fun, friends. That means that $1500 isn’t being used for other stuff, like paying down debt, or going into savings, or retirement. It means I’m shoveling like $2,000 into the overpriced, bloated maw of the healthcare machine every fucking month just to survive. On top of that, my insurer continually refuses to pay for drugs that my doctor recommends, so we have to go through like 2-3 alternatives that are cheaper, even when the one that works best is name brand, and even though I’m paying the first $10k out of my own pocket! It’s… nightmarish. I hate this fucking health insurance.

What this made me realize, finally, is that our country’s health insurance nightmare not only isn’t getting solved any time soon, but that just having an employer isn’t enough to protect me from the health insurance racket. The regime made some terrible executive orders this year that destroyed the market for everyone – employer or no employer – and I’m not confident it’s going to get any better. It’s fine and good to say, “Wait for 2020!” but the reality is, a lot of us won’t make it that far, and to be dead honest – the current regime is pulling us further and further right. What we consider a “moderate” candidate is going to be, like, a Regan. I’m not convinced we’ll see real, affordable care for at least a decade.

Where Do I Go From Here? 

It’s been a rough week for me, personally. On top of deadlines I’m struggling to meet, my house was broken into, I got that shitty news about the health insurance, and I maxed out the last credit card with anything on it to buy glasses because my insurance benefit expires at year end. We have a massive amount of traveling debt from this year – not unexpected, and it’s the choice I made by booking those trips, but it still hurts, and I’ll be spending all next year paying it off. Yay 2017!

But if there’s one thing that all this stress and the backing-off of my dead book taught me, it’s that I need to stop churning and start figuring out what the fuck I want to do with my life.

When the regime came into power I said to myself, well, shit, I’m never going to be able to be a full time writer now. It had been my goal to quit by the time I was 40 and write full time. I had this whole goal in mind. In some ways, I think all the traveling and debt pile up this year was also just me going, “What if we all die in nuclear fire tomorrow?” and “What the fuck else do I have to spend money on, it’s not like there’s a future.” And lo, she drank, and ate at Taco Bell.

Despite my rallying cries, most of the time these days I don’t feel like I have a future. Not one worth investing in, anyway. Why save money for retirement when your own government wants you dead? And not just them… honestly, it was this:

When we got hit with that extra $3,500 deductible at work, we were all offered the option to pay an extra $35 a month in premiums and go back to the old deductible, or pay the same as last year and get this much larger deductible. There was an informal poll at work on which we should do. I chose to pay the $35, obviously, and I’d like to think I’d choose to pay the $35 even if I wasn’t sick. Because this is what health insurance is: we all put money into the pot so that if something shitty happens to one of us, we’re covered.

Turns out I was alone in that. I was out-voted, and we got the extra $3,500 deductible. Or, rather, I did, and anyone else there who has a catastrophe this year.

I cried a little about that.

I cried because it reminded me that as things get worse, we may no longer be able to rely on each other. I’ve been hearing a lot of people I felt were in “the middle” making arguments for the regime now. They’re spewing back the same talking points. I’m reminded, again and again, of the Milgram Experiment. I’m reminded that my friends and neighbors all have terrible monsters inside of them, waiting to be unleashed.

I worry they’re already being set free.

Oh, Canada?

A colleague of mine reached out recently and recommended an immigration lawyer. They said the lawyer had helped them get into Canada. I had thought my spouse and I were barred from Canada due to our medical issues, so this had never been a serious consideration for us. But after talking with the lawyer, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Our conditions aren’t severe enough to trigger the “undue burden” medical clause, and being a writer, I’m in a business class that is actively encouraged to move there.

Simply applying for this isn’t cheap, of course, let alone retaining the lawyer. But… healthcare here isn’t cheap either. I look at my $2,000 a month in medical costs and I’m like… it’s cheaper, in the long run, to move for that single reason (the primary meds I take are $500 here… and $65 in Canada. SAME MEDICINE. Even having private insurance until Canadian healthcare benefits kick in, I’ll be paying less because their system is simply better regulated and more efficient).

After talking with my spouse, we decided it’s worth at least trying. The process takes 6 months/2 years, so it’s better to start sooner rather than later. That also means the costs will be spread out, which might make it possible. If we’re accepted, we still have a year to decide if we want to go through with it.

This wasn’t a cost I wanted to stare down right now, with the looming credit card bills, but royalty season comes in February, and it does give me a greater sense of urgency to finish those outstanding books. I realized that, for the first time in awhile, I had a tangible idea for a future I wanted to work toward. One that was possible. One where I didn’t feel I needed to be drunk all the time in order to endure it.

The more I look at my country, the less I see a future here for me. Again, not just because of the government, but because of the people. I look at my illness and I know I’m on the List, not “just” for being a woman, or liberal, or queer, but highest, above all for this: for this terrible thing that happened to me, over which I had no control, the very thing that health insurance was supposed to be for. And no one here is going to have my back, when the trucks comes.

What I see here instead of a future is a long slog of endless horror from my own government, of mounting anxiety, of skyrocketing medical costs, of working until I fall over because I don’t have a retirement, of never having savings, of never getting out of debt, of staying chained to that old Conan torture wheel forever.

I saw that future, and you know what?

I remembered my own words. I remembered my own heroines. I don’t have to just sit here and take it. I don’t have to fight it from here. I can work for another future in a place where I’m more likely to actually have a future.  I may still end up here, we may still get denied, or it may be too much money in the end, to go. It’s hard, and expensive, and we simply may not be able to do it. But at least now I can see a glimmer of something else at the bottom of my whisky glass. I can see something to work toward that isn’t this awful nightmare future where all paths lead to a black hole.

That realization was a heavy one. I’d become myopic, resigned to this increasing horror show of begging my government not to kill me. I was in some terrible abusive relationship with my own government, my own future.

Yes, there’s a better future on the other side of this one. But I have to survive this one to get there.

In the end, fascism is likely to eat Canada, too, but maybe I’ll have a few more years there.

Creating the Future

Having a goal in mind for the next few years that isn’t just “survive” is helpful. It makes me focus, again, on creating those additional forms of revenue, of paying down debt, of being smarter with travel and alcohol. Being able to see, again, a future for myself where I can actually become a full-time novelist someday – even if it means I have to move to another country – is giving me a little more life. I didn’t realize how dead I’d felt because of that, after the election. There were so many awful things all at once that that one personal one barely registered.

No wonder I drank away the last two months of 2016.

Now, I’m working to take that dream back. It’s not going to be easy, or cheap, but at least it’s a goal beyond survival. It may turn out it’s not even possible. But if 2017 has taught me anything, it’s that it’s worth trying. It’s worth doing whatever you have to do, to ensure that you can get out of bed in the morning and do the shit that needs doing. I’m tired of being afraid to believe in the future.

I don’t accept the future I was given. I’m going to keep working toward another one, even if I never get there. It’s 2017, and I’m used to disappointment.

But goddammit – I’m not dead yet.

And we have another banner year on deck.

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