Raising the Stakes

I'm raising the stakes on my BN book, even included and faced and dealt with my Personal Stakes. What's hanging on it if I sell Magic in the Streets and get a good advance, or even a great advance, what happens if I fail. That was the last blog. I need to clear my name. Lot of energy behind that.

The gods must be laughing. Life raises stakes on Robert. If I didn't mention it a long time ago, I have a submission out at Tor, which pays the same small advance to all new SFF writers. It's been over there for about a year. I've waited so long that my writing is substantially better than it was when I sent it. In effect, the editor's looking at a rough of that novel.

At the time I sent it, I was completely disillusioned with the idea of going out for pro publication. I'd had a bad agent. I'd had a lot of rejections and most of all I didn't think I had the time for the slow process, least of all without a good agent. I was shooting for enough sales on Raven Dance to front the next one and planning to just shove them all into print one after the other till I built enough readership that I could make a living on it. I didn't care how. I just wanted off Welfare and I had thrown out the idea of "pro" as pretentious, it didn't matter. What mattered was to just break out of the system, which after those shelter years was pretty understandable. A friend who's a pro author twisted my arm to send my novel to his editor, whom he praised to the skies for integrity and his love of the field. Steve even wrote my cover letter for me, including his personal phone number and email so that his editor could check back with him to find out that yep, he did write that cover letter and I wasn't just some total stranger claiming the acquaintance.

Luck. Opportunity. A personal introduction to an editor. OMG, this starts to read like a Hollywood success story, right? Well, it's publishing, not Hollywood, so the exciting chase scene takes place in a mall parking lot at five miles an hour and nobody bothers speeding up the film. I went through great anxiety and personal conniptions over the submission. Submissions aren't as scary now. They still give me a bit of the butterflies, but I'm desensitizing myself to them and I made my first story sale. Sci-Fi Paradox will have High Goth in its first issue and I've got reason to know that if I put a lot of stories out on a trotline, one of them will get a bite, that playing the numbers is the way to go with it.

My plan was to do that with all my novels as soon as BN class is over, because I recognized I am a whole lot more serene when I'm taking multiple chances than when everything is resting on one. Much less distracting. Much easier to think "throw those lines in the water" and get back to what I'm doing and not worry.

That novel submission was out there so long I'd stopped worrying about it other than sending off a query that didn't get answered. Oh well, the personal tip thing didn't pay off. Eventually I'd get my rejection slip and when I did, cool, I'll rewrite the novel. I'm a better writer now than I was when I sent it. By a pretty hefty margin. I've learned a lot and I've learned a lot about presentation. With the little time machine telephone dingus I don't have, I would have phoned myself up back then and at the time I sent that in, talked me into doing a better job with the manuscript preparation, with my friend Steve's cover letter sitting on a nice synopsis even if I had to send it in on floppy because I didn't have the supplies to print it out. I was embarrassed, but Steve cleared that with him first. There was even some confusion when the first try, it didn't get to him and I had to send it again.

It dropped to background but not off the map. I planned to do the rewrite, kick it up to my current level of skill and then query. "I've done a substantial rewrite. Would you like to see the new version?" Just a polite note and then if he did, prep and mail the manuscript professionally. Well, my friend asked how it was going and found out I hadn't heard from his editor yet. He offered to call him and find out what's up. I'm emotionally prepared for another rejection at that point because I know that novel's not the best I could make it today. I don't care what it's about at that point, that part of it's done. I was thinking more about techniques that I've learned in the meantime.

Well, the upshot is that they did talk about it and the editor would like to see the rewrite. On floppy, he doesn't need a print manuscript, he just wants it convenient on his hard drive. Only the way my friend told it, that made it sound as if the rewrite was already done. Not next up on my docket, but done and I'm proud of it. Gee. I would be if I'd done it! I've got two or three other deadlines riding me right now and life cranks up the stakes.

Now add the economic stakes.

DSS and SSI have completely different policies toward working and trying to get off the system and up into a taxable tax bracket. DSS, Welfare, throws you in the deep end if you get a job. Your first payment, they cut you off permanently for however many months that payment is divided by your monthly benefits. Now that may be fine for a minimum wage worker, it's still a risk, but if you get any better job than that you'd better hope you can keep it because it can't be temporary. It's a barrier that keeps people from shooting any higher than a McJob and it hits another group of people too - the high tech people who may well get a short contract for a fairly hefty amount and then it vanishes into their debt and then they don't even get Food Stamps and are right where they were when they lost their job in the first place. It's a major problem, not just for me but for anyone who's taking risks in order to try to get out of the system. The system says "All or Nothing" and that encourages dependence.

Disability takes a much more pragmatic view. SSI will do anything possible to help a disabled person build up a life and get the resources to make a go of it in a real career, including self employment. I've known many disabled people who used the many programs available either to train into skilled jobs or build businesses of their own. Disability doesn't care what that business is as long as the person doing it has the ability to do what they thought of and will help financially with any special needs. They are also great believers in training. I'd been considering that when I finally get disability it might be a good thing to sign up for a course in small business management at the local community college.

If I got an advance the size of the Tor advance, I'd be cut off for 7-9 months from DSS unless I've already got the SSI, in which case they sure would understand why the third of it that goes to taxes does, the third of it that goes to my housing people does and the other third gets sunk into the business of being a writer. When I calculate it, there wouldn't be enough to get a car with two thirds of it gone. Not even the VW Bug of my dreams, and that is frustrating. But there are a lot of smaller things that I could do with it and stockpiling printing supplies and postage seems like a good direction, as well as taking care of things I've been doing without and a few important reference books. I could justify a small bookstore trip out of it.

The SSI thing hasn't come through yet.

The nibble on the Tor submission has. I have no reason to be mortally embarrassed that I haven't done that rewrite yet. I had a lot to do and it was definitely back burner since it was out on submission. But now that's the background project to BN Class project: do the rewrite on the first series book. Now it's front of the desk with its concurrent anxiety. I'm a lot more confident of making the scale, but I do not control the timing at all between SSI and my career.

It threw me into about 72 hours of career planning.

I had to face the worst best possibility - that I do the rewrite at pro speed, plow right into it and yes, post some delays on everything else I have to do - seize the day - and then SSI hasn't come through yet. I'm not holding my breath waiting for SSI, it's been five years for that so far. I can't count on that. Count on it when the check is in my hand. I don't even know they won't spell my name wrong somewhere in the bowels of bureaucracy and add a few months sorting that out, they did once.

So I made contingency plans for how to survive if I lose my food stamps and my Welfare money. I've got to stockpile nonperishables and just hang on to the apartment and hope the housing people mean it - that if I do get that advance and 30% of it goes to rent, they don't get surprised when the month after that I have zero income. The hospital's program is paying my electric bill, they would have to go on doing so or I'm completely sunk. This isn't a climate where I could live without electricity and I'm living alone up here, it's not like the jolly campout situation down in New Orleans when I lived without electricity for about six months and used the fireplace for heat. Down there I was trying to make it on art and I used daylight and drew by hand and someone in the house had a vehicle, actually two of my housemates did. Up here no housemates. And no work, because everything is on the computer. What used to be something I honestly could and did cut out of my life at times I couldn't afford it just became necessity. I do have to have power.

I have to stay up here to finish out getting SSI. I need to have the same address and contact with the same lawyer and continue with that. But the backup to the backup plan is that some people down South have told me that they won't see me go back to the shelter again - they are prepared to drive up with a U-Haul and relocate me. That's the contingency plan. It wouldn't kill me. It would rip my life to pieces for a while and I'd still be thrown in the deep end on the first novel sale. While it's still Welfare, I do not have the option of "hang on to the day job till there's enough in the bank to live for a year."

But when it comes to that, I can't not do it because of the risk of economic disaster. Even if the book itself wouldn't come out till a year later and the royalties only come in when the advance is paid up, the "sell-through" point. It's fish or cut bait and I came out here to fish, so I'm fishing. Doing the rewrite on book one of that series IS more important than whether I jump through all the hoops in the right order to maintain a dayjob as a cripple. I hope it's only a risk. There's a good chance that it is just a risk and that I will get the SSI fairly soon and then it'll be something to laugh at them as I head right on past, all the way to the bank.

It's also a renewal of commitment.

I didn't move to New York to get benefits, even if I couldn't get them in many other states due to lack of funding for the program (Single men are expendable compared to women with children, a natural triage), I came to New York to sell my books and get published. I am a whole lot closer to that today than I have ever been in my life, and the race is a turtle's race. That means moving forward one plodding little turtle step at a time and not giving up. That's what that's about. That's real opportunity, the chance to send in that rewrite.

And so I'm building courage to do it right.

Robert and Ari >^..^<