Sunday, December 14, 2014

Release Party this Saturday!

The authors behind Sojourn volume 2 have decided to host a release party on Facebook. The way this works is that each author drops in with a post, a Q&A session, maybe a giveaway, at a scheduled time. The festivities run all day, but I'm not guaranteed to be there throughout. I will, however, be present; I plan to start my timeslot with a post explaining where my story, Winter Bride, came from, and thereafter I will be taking questions. You can also ask me questions in advance; this makes it more likely that I'll be able to give you a coherent answer!

Monday, December 8, 2014

We have released!

The anthology containing my first published story is now available from AmazonBarnes and Noble, Kobo and any bookstore which can handle ordering by ISBN: 978-0991487738

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The cover reveal

I have now been provided with the cover art for the anthology containing my first published writing. The current plan for release, assuming all goes well, is early December for Amazon, with other stores to follow as soon as possible.

Here's the cover:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

State of the Silas: 2013-14

It's been an eventful year. I became a father, I became a published author, and I discovered just how badly my brain had been screwing me over for about a decade. Anxiety disorders are really tricky to talk about; you're dealing with something that most people have no real referent for.

That said, there are some notable improvements in my mental stability resulting from being properly medicated for anxiety. I've lost my irrational fears of heights and of spiders. I've also, with the help of my therapist, been able to finally move past the panic reaction I used to have when someone touched my neck. That dates back to my schooldays, and the incident which prompted a rapid exit from one school: on the train home, one of the other pupils began strangling me. Naturally, such an event leaves an impression, but I've made good progress in getting away from the panic. I can lie down with my daughter crawling all over me, have her put an arm across my neck and her full weight on that arm, and I no longer panic.

Speaking of my daughter, she's now more than a year old and insists on walking as much as she can. She picks up something, be it a burp cloth, a tennis ball, or the Mog stuffed toy her grandmother sent as a first birthday present, and toddles around carrying it. Her current favourite toys are Mog, her stacking rings, and as of this Sunday, an empty tissue box. Her growth is frankly astounding; at her last checkup, she was over 22lb, or a bit more than four times her birth weight. She's also above average for height, and for head size, although that's now a little more normal; she had been high on the curve for head size compared to her other stats, she's now at roughly the same point for each.

Matters authorial are feeling wonderful. My short story for the anthology is now locked in; I have approved the final page proofs. I have also started a longer project; I've been plugging away on a fantasy novel for the last four days or so, at a nice sustainable pace. I know exactly what I'm stealing from in terms of influences, but it's still feeling fresh to me. I'm taking feel rather than content. As the setting I'm writing in richens, I'm looking forward to revisiting it.

Unfortunately, all these projects rather take away from my blog-writing time. I don't mean to neglect it, it just happens because there are other things I want to write more, or because I'm busy taking a little girl out to the park for some time watching the ducks and saying hello to friendly dogs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I've been busy.

Now that I'm properly dealing with my brain's chemical imbalances, I've managed to get things moving in my life. Among the things I've gotten moving has been my education and job skills; I have finally learned to touch-type, after twenty years of bad habits, and a couple of months of retraining. I have also begun to learn financial accounting, on the grounds that no matter what, there will always be a need for those who can count beans and make sure the business which employs them remains worth a hill of said beans.

Meanwhile, I have also made steps towards an income stream not dependent on a day job. The size of this income is currently indeterminate, since it consists of royalty payments, and I did not get an advance. One of the online communities I participate in published an anthology of short stories last year, and I bought a copy. When submissions opened for the second volume of the intended ongoing series, I came up with an idea, pitched it, and wrote the story. It then went through a few editing passes (and while I do have the original first draft, I won't be releasing it to the public; the story that emerged from editing is much more the story I wanted to tell) and was officially accepted, at which point it was time to sign contracts. I do know that authors in the first volume have made enough from sales to reach the publisher's minimum remittance, so I can reasonably expect some money from this, but I'm much more excited simply to be becoming a published author. Strictly speaking, that happened when I signed the contract, but I won't get a t-shirt printed until I have an actual copy of the book. Rest assured that when it does emerge from the process (submissions closed today, and proofing is the next stage in which I have any involvement) I will be shouting from the rooftops.

Meanwhile, the LA and I are grappling with an ever-expanding baby (over 17lb now, and into size 3 diapers!) and muddling through, as we do. The weather's been hot, and we've been busy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Normativity, or why everyone should be open.

Recently, causes I care about have been in the news. Sometimes for good reasons; the NFL now has its first active openly gay player (while numerous former players have been gay, none of them have been out while active; Michael Sam is out and has been drafted) and sometimes for bad reasons; the Supreme Court has expanded the scope of allowable ceremonial prayer, despite its previous acknowledgement that prayer endorsed by a government agency is unconstitutional. Both of these matter because of the concept of normativity. My friend Justin has written about heteronormativity over on Ninja Blues, with a particular focus on a controversy regarding a video game, but normativity extends beyond sexual orientation.

Bluntly, normativity is the assumption that everyone is exactly like you, except in the ways they differ from you. Everyone makes this assumption; I assume all the people I deal with daily are human, that they want to get things done, and that they're generally nice people. I also assume, with no rational basis, that they're probably heterosexual; that's heteronormativity at work. I try to avoid the assumptions with no basis, but I'm not perfect. Nor is anyone else, which is why the Supreme Court's decision matters so much.

There is a very strong assumption of Christianity in American culture. The language is soaked in religious references, and the default assumption of almost everyone is that any given person is a Christian. This leads to problems with trust; people distrust atheists, because they don't know who might be an atheist. We're invisible. That makes public prayer an issue, because now we must either fake a belief we simply don't have (and most atheists strongly dislike dishonesty) or expose ourselves and be vilified. That doesn't even touch the problems caused by religious people who aren't Christian being coerced into Christian prayer.

This is why atheists should be out of the closet. Silence in the face of encroachment is tacit permission. We need to speak up, to say "Actually, we do not believe as you do", and to be visible. Acceptance can only come when people know there is something to accept.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Things you don't get used to.

I've been living in the USA for six and a half years now, and I'm used to much of it. I'd have trouble driving on the left, for instance. There are some things that still get to me, though. Here are some of them.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The time I punched myself out

I've made oblique reference to this online a few times, and even told the story to people I know offline, but this is going to be the first time I've written it up. Technically, I didn't punch myself out, but it was unconsciousness as a direct result of body parts meeting each other violently, and so...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

An unnecessary headache.

Every year, I get a physical exam. Nothing invasive, just a quick set of questions about my health and how I'm doing. Usually, it comes with a request to get some lab tests done, which until recently hasn't been a problem; the umbrella organisation of which my doctor is a part ran its own labs, they had reasonably convenient locations, and it was all nicely joined up. Now, though; oy. Sometime last year, the organisation closed its labs. They now have a contract with a nationwide lab firm, and it's very difficult to determine whether my health insurance covers getting lab work done by these people, and with other changes that have been made, it's very difficult to determine if all their locations are what's known as in-network or not.

What this means is that I am now dealing with lots of new worries about my healthcare provision, none of which should be happening at all. The only thing I should have to worry about with respect to my healthcare is "Am I sick?". Any other question should be unnecessary.

Odds are good at this point that I simply won't get the lab work done because I don't have the spare time to call my insurance company and figure out if they'll pay for it. It is frankly ridiculous that this is the case, and yet another perverse healthcare incentive; it's in the insurance company's interests to make determining this sort of thing as opaque as possible, because then IF it even gets done (not a certainty; and if it's not done, no payout) then it's going to be a non-zero probability of getting it done at an out-of-network provider by mistake, which lets them get away with paying less. Once again, the quality of my care is distorted and lessened by the profit motive.

I keep hammering on this point, and it bears repeating again and again: healthcare is a public good and should not be subjected to the profit motive. Pay the providers fairly, but cut the insurance companies out of the loop. They yammer on about "freedom of choice" and arbitrarily restrict our choices to confuse us.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What I should have been doing...

The LA and No. 1 Daughter have been out socialising for much of the day, while I've been at home. I was supposed to have been writing, since I'm currently working on a piece which has a chance of earning actual money, but I've not had enough uninterrupted time all day, because I've been working through a backlog of laundry. Burp cloths and towels, adult clothes, baby clothes, and now sheets. It seems like every time I've sat down, a laundry machine has beeped at me again.

In other news, I've been feeling distinctly cold of neck recently, since I decided that the baby's habit of firmly grasping a lock of my hair and wrenching my head around was beginning to do nasty things to my neck. So the LA and I repaired to a haircut place, and as it turned out I had just enough hair and in good enough condition that it could be donated to an organisation which makes wigs for children suffering hair loss. Once that was done, some cleanup was in order, and my hair is now shorter than it's been since sometime in 2002. In the years of being long, it's apparently been trained towards the back, and so the short top sort of fluffs upwards away from my forehead - thus avoiding one of the things I disliked about my short hair in years past. My hair becomes greasy fast, and it would fall onto my forehead, clogging pores and resulting in volcanic acne. The cut I have now is very much a low-maintenance affair; every couple of months, I'll need to go back and have it cut again, but other than that I just need to shower regularly and it's good. I can even choose whether or not I want to comb it; it's too short to tangle. So my daughter has accomplished what her great-grandmother never could; she's persuaded me to get my hair cut.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A perverse incentive, illustrated.

Back in November, I suffered a mental health crisis, and wound up in my local county hospital's psychiatric emergency room. I'm still dealing with the paperwork and financial fallout from that, which is a distinctly suboptimal state of affairs, but I've just realised that there is in fact a perverse incentive operating here; it's in the hospital's interests to suck at accounting.

Now I should mention that part of the delay was due to their billing the wrong insurance provider (in most US states, Blue Cross and Blue Shield are in fact one and the same, while in California they are NOT the same; I have Blue Shield insurance, they initially attempted to bill Blue Cross, and naturally got an answer of "Who's he? Never heard of him." when they provided my name. The fact that they somehow managed to overbill by two orders of magnitude, leading me to suspect a failure to hit the button that puts in a decimal point, is a mere bagatelle) but still, one might expect things to be done promptly.

Not so, unfortunately; it's more in their interests to drag things out so that the patient wants this to just be over, and stops scrutinising the bills they receive. It's also in their interest to be distinctly less than wonderful at actually connecting payments to services.

You see, once they finally managed to bill the correct insurance company, they were paid promptly. Unfortunately, their accounting system is apparently a mess; the payment for $x-100 (since for this service, I have a $100 co-pay) didn't actually get applied to the account for my services, so when they generated a bill for me it was for $x, not the $100 it should have been for. Had I not been a good boy and kept my insurers' notifications of payments made, this might have slipped by me; they'd have ended up with $2x-100, instead of $x. When x is the thick end of a grand, it becomes clear that it's very much in the hospital's interests to suck at matching up payments with accounts.

I don't have a plan to fix the broken healthcare "system" in the USA, but I very much feel that perverse incentives like that are a big part of the problem.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I don't want sympathy, just help.

As most of you will know by now, I have some health issues. Well, a lot of health issues; at 33, my daily prescribed pill count (when things are going as they ought, which at the moment is not entirely the case) is 9 pills. Five to adjust my brain in various ways, and 4 to allow my body to avoid tearing itself apart.

And for all the pill-popping, sometimes I go out and have to deal with being visibly disabled. It's mild, but it's there; I sometimes have to use a cane to help me walk. Normally, I present as a relatively healthy youngish man, and so people see me using the cane and assume it's a transitory thing. I'm frequently asked if I've suffered a sports injury.

And that's where the trouble starts, because I'm now forced into discussing my medical history with strangers. I can be churlish and impolite, refusing to discuss why I need a cane; but this upsets people. I can fake it, pretending it's a sports injury; but I dislike lying. I can be honest, and say that I have arthritis; and that's the option I take most often, despite my distaste for the inevitable result.

Every single time, when someone finds out I have arthritis, the response is along the lines of "but you're so young!" Yes, I am aware that osteoarthritis at age 33 is uncommon, but that doesn't change the fact that I have it. All you're doing by saying that is making me feel ashamed of something I cannot control. I wouldn't have chosen arthritis; no sane person would choose a life of impaired mobility and constant pain.

I have similar issues if I have to go out while suffering effects of migraine, or side-effects of the medication I take to defuse them. I'm invariably looking unwell in those circumstances, and people will insist on trying to be sympathetic, usually by rattling off a huge list of helpful suggestions, of which I've invariably tried all the sensible ones and the nonsense ones are so incredibly off the wall that I can't imagine why people would bother.

I am, in fact, fed up to the back teeth with people offering sympathy. I have health issues; they suck; if you're willing, I'd accept your help in dealing with the consequences of said issues. Such as, if you're limber, fetching me up a jar of pickled jalapenos from the bottom shelf, because bending down is going to be excruciating for me. Or turning the music down so I'm not having to strain to hear while my brain is full of rotted wood. Words may cost nothing to you, but that means they're no fit substitute for deeds. If you must talk about my medical status in public, keep it to a "how can I help?"

Friday, February 7, 2014

What is Rogue like?

Recently, a friend gave me a gift copy of a Humble Bundle, described as "Roguelike games". Roguelike is a surprisingly widely-used adjective for games, and to listen to many people, often misused. I'll admit, I'm one of those who thinks it's often used incorrectly, but I really need to justify that. Let's get on with it.

I can speak with a certain amount of authority on what Rogue itself is like; it was, twenty-mumble years ago, the first computer game I ever played. I never did win it, but I played it a lot. It had a lot of things going into its makeup. I've also played a lot of games considered lineal descendants of Rogue: NetHack, with forays into SLASH'EM; ADOM; several variants of Angband; and many other roguelikes, most of which I can't even remember the titles of. Everything from a futuristic one set after the end to an educational one meant to teach the country top-level domains. Frankly, for as much as I love other games, roguelikes are the defining games of my life.

But which elements of Rogue make it distinctive? Here's where opinions diverge; the best I can do is give my opinion, and ask that you use your own judgement.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The lesser of evils

This morning, I was linked to an article (actually, a transcript; NPR is marvelous in providing transcripts of its radio pieces) regarding a campaign in California to increase the minimum wage. That article may be found here.

The campaigner is an unlikely one: a multimillionaire, generally held to be very right-wing (in America, remember; our "left-wing" candidates are, by European standards, a long way to the right of Michael Portillo), but he seems to have understood the fundamental issue at hand.

His point is that with the minimum wage not being a living wage, some means to support those relying on it is necessary. Minimum wage jobs are generally not exportable; that status only applies to middle tiers of jobs, leading to a large gap between minimum wage and executive-level jobs, but I digress. Minimum wage earners will be located in the US, and it is in the national interest for them not to starve, hence food stamps. However, what Mr. Unz has worked out is that food stamps are an unnecessary complication; the lesser evil, the lesser government intervention, is to require that employers pay a living wage. Regulations are cheaper than interventions.

Now, ideally, companies would be able to figure out what Henry Ford worked out over a century ago, and the CEO of Costco continues to espouse: that paying their employees enough to live well on results in more demand for their products, and thus more success for the company overall. Ideally, regulations to require a living wage wouldn't be necessary. Unfortunately, America's particular outlook on economics doesn't seem to look beyond the next set of quarterly results, or the share price (which is almost entirely divorced from any actual metric of results).

Friday, January 17, 2014

Three months

It's been a busy quarter of a year. Started with a lot of stress, then I had to take an enforced vacation in a psychiatric ward, and since then I've been rebuilding myself (with help, this time; I've suffered breakdowns before, and I strongly discommend attempting to rebuild oneself solo) and trying to make sure I properly bond with my little girl.

I think I've managed to.

Three Months

Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's a start.

Today, I took some time to myself, and wrote a 3000 word article that I'm now planning to attempt to sell. If it doesn't sell in a reasonable time frame, I'll post it here, because it really deserves to be out there, but I'll try to get paid for it first.