Self-Employed

So for the last while, I’ve essentially had two jobs. First of all, I worked for GRACE, a non-profit devoted to bringing the faith community together to work on social problems. Second, I’ve been self-employed.

Honestly, I’ve thought of myself as self-employed first of all for a while now. My income from self-employment has regularly equaled or exceeded my income from GRACE. Also, I’ve sometimes found that my employment at GRACE has interfered with my ability to respond to my clients as quickly as I want to. Thus, for the last few months, I’ve been wondering when or if I should quit GRACE and concentrate on technical support and web development (programming and web hosting) full time.

I’ve had a little hesitation about doing so, however. Largely it’s because being fully self-employed scares me a little. I’ve enjoyed knowing that I would get paid for something even if my business work wasn’t coming through.

Here’s the thing though… My self-employed work has never slowed down. At the moment, I have projects lined up for at least two weeks worth of work (full time) and that doesn’t include the unanticipated random emergency interruptions that typically occur.

Thus, two weeks ago I ended up leaving GRACE.

I wish I could say that it was due to my own choice. As things happened, I was laid off. GRACE just became smaller by one person with an idea towards saving money. It’s a good thing for the organization, but a little frightening for me. I wouldn’t have chosen this moment to go because my wife left her job in December and just started a new one. Also, of course, we’re currently in the middle of the worst economy in years.

I like security, I guess.

Well, it’s a moot point now. I’m fully self-employed.

Now to start seriously thinking about how to build a business.

Back from the Dead

Recently my wife told me that I “never write in my blog.”

She’s right about that. Mostly. I have written stuff sort of recently. Well, I wrote something in November of last year. That was only um… three months or so ago. That’s recent. More recent than my last dentist appointment anyway.

Most of my “writing for the internet” time has been spent with my fiction blog which is currently being using to tell the story of Nick, a teenager who ends up being a superhero more because of peer pressure than any other reason.

I’ve also ended up using twitter and Facebook more than I’d thought possible.

I originally started using twitter purely for the purpose of posting when my story got updated. I’d seen a number of webcomic and web serial writers using them for that reason and it seemed to work pretty well. Then something changed. A number of web serial writers connected with Web Fiction Guide started using it for personal purposes. Now I use it to let people know about updates, but also to comment on my life.

Facebook: I got into Facebook largely because it seemed like everyone I knew suddenly had a Facebook account. I’m still not completely sure what to think about it. It’s been very cool in that I’ve suddenly become aware of the lives of people I hadn’t seen in years. Many of them are from high school. Surprisingly few of my friends from college are on Facebook.

So far though, it seems as though I’m meeting a bunch of people I hadn’t known before through Twitter and reconnecting with people I already knew through Facebook.

I’m not sure if that’s most people’s experience, but that’s how things have happened for me.

In the meantime, I’m tempted to refocus this blog. I’m not sure what I’d refocus it to, but I’m tempted to do it anyway.

It may be that I’ll focus it on whatever happens to appear once I actually start writing regularly in it again.

That sounds like a good idea.

Life, the Universe and Everything

This blog has been highly neglected lately. That’s unfortunate because I really do enjoy writing in it and have things to say.

If you’ve been wondering waiting for me to update and wondering why, the primary reason is my story blog (link to to be found along the side). Secondarily, you can also blame my related duties as an editor of Web Fiction Guide, a website that lists and reviews free online novels and serials.

Between the two of them, they take up the time that I would ordinarily use to write blog entries.

Which sucks.

On the bright side, I’m producing 2000+ words of fiction on a regular basis on the story blog so I am happy about that.

Outside of that, I’m looking for interesting programming projects (as in not work related, ones that I’d find fun for their own sake) to improve that area of knowledge.

Also, Kristen (my wife) is looking for a new job. If you want to hear more about that, I’d talk to her (or to me by email), but I’m not going to write too much about that here. If you want to help, let us know if you know of a place that’s looking for a social worker.

Umm… What else to say? Here’s one: Even though Obama wasn’t my first choice during the primaries, I was quite happy to vote for the guy and am happily surprised to watch how he’s handling the transition so far. Hopefully, that’ll carry over to the actual presidency.

I Was Talking to My Dad About the Presidential Campaign…

My parents went to my kids soccer games this weekend and I ended up talking about the presidential campaign with my dad a bit.

My dad (for those of you who don’t know) recently retired from being a political science professor (for 41 years…). According to him, pretty much the only way McCain has a chance at this point is if we get into a war — and even then it’s not a done deal.

That being said, a lot can happen between now and election day, but if I were betting, I’d bet on Obama at this point.

Number One Election Cliché

I’m watching the debate.

In pretty much every profession, experience is useful. In national politics, the people with experience have been elected and work in Washington D.C. While it’s understandable that people would have negative feelings toward government, I’m heartily sick of people running as outsiders who are going to change Washington D.C.

I am especially sick of this from people who have been in government for years.

That’s all.

Cable Television (AT&T U-verse)

My general thoughts about cable go like this:

It costs far too much for the amount of TV I actually watch. That would be about 0 to 2 hours per week (about the cost of going to a movie every week when you divide it up).

So anyway, you know what happened today? We got cable.

Here’s why:

AT&T offers a package that’s a combination of internet/voice over ip/cable and can include cell phones. We had all but the cable through AT&T already. Here’s the thing though… With the standard prices for U-verse, the cost drops by about $40 for us and the cable comes for free for the first month. After that, I can cancel the cable and keep the rest of the package. Alternately I can drop down to a more affordable cable (they give you top of the line for the first month) and end up paying roughly the same as I do now.

We’ll see what happens.

Web Fiction: The Slowly Coalescing Community

Once upon a time, most of the fiction on the web sucked. Well, I should take that back. There are novels by published writers online. Classics also.

Stephen King once serialized part of a novel online except that people didn’t meet the minimum number of donations or something and he didn’t finish it. If I remember correctly, it was called “The Plant.” Project Gutenberg continues to publish any classic novel they can publish for free.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that until recently much of the fiction I found on the web was pretty bad. I’m not talking about fan-fiction here because I haven’t read it and thus can’t judge it. I’m talking original fiction that I mostly found unintentionally on people’s personal websites.

Mind you, not all of it was bad, but I’ll just say that Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is crap) was in no danger of being proven wrong.

Part of the problem, of course, is that there weren’t any sites that gathered that fiction, indexed it and pointed out the stuff that was worth reading.

Stories Online
Okay… Well, that’s not completely true either. There were sites that gathered it. One example is StoriesOnline. It illustrates a basic truth of the internet: everything starts with porn. Well, maybe that’s not fair, but in this case, it might be a little fair. Though not all of the stories are erotica, each story in the listing includes a section called “codes” that indicates what sorts of acts one might find within. For example, “inc” is probably short for incest. I haven’t read much in it, but having taken a look at a couple of the highly rated non-pornographic stories, I wasn’t impressed.

Tales of MU and Monetizing the Story Blog
Within the last year, however, something happened that changed the whole situation. That thing is called Tales of MU.

Tales of MU tells the story of Mackenzie Blaise. She’s a half-demon who’s attending college in what’s essentially a high fantasy world superimposed upon twentieth century culture and values. That doesn’t sound all that impressive in some ways, probably because we’ve all seen that done unintentionally and badly.

In the case of Tales of MU it was done quite intentionally and well, managing to be a character based story with gripping arcs. The result was that Alexandra Erin currently makes her living off of writing Tales of MU. Some 10,000 people (or more) hit the site daily.

She makes money off the same combination of revenue streams that web comics do.
1. Advertising
2. Merchandise (t-shirts, books, etc…)
3. Donations: In Alexandra Erin’s case, she has the incentive of writing a bonus story if donations equal more than $300 in the course of a week.

One other thing about Tales of MU. It includes sex. Even if sex isn’t happening all that often, characters are talking about sex (one of the characters is a fertility spirit). The sex seems to happen in the service of the story, making it possible for me to read it, but sometimes end up wishing that there were less of it and even skimming the sex scenes for the character development.

Similarly, another writer Mei-Lin Miranda (author of An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom seems to have written a good story and has good business sense as well. Apparently she’s a blogger and web developer under another name and has experience making money off blogs. As you might guess from the name, An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom also contains a fair amount of sex.

I don’t know for sure because I haven’t read it, but I’m told the story is quite good and that again it’s sex in the service of a story.

Still, I can’t help but find it interesting that the fiction blogs that seem likely to be making the most money also contain more (and less typical) sex than average. I’m not meaning to demean the writers by that, I’m just wondering if (for example) les/bi/gay/transgendered sexuality appears so rarely in traditionally published fiction that online fiction fills a niche. On the other hand, it could just be that two people with good business sense happened to be writing stories that include a fair amount of sex.

I can’t think of any relatively traditional stories that enjoy similar success. Still, that doesn’t stop people (like me) writing more typical stuff from trying. Lately sites have begun to spring up listing the stories and reviewing them.

Pages Unbound
Alexandra Erin (abbreviated AE) started Pages Unbound to promote writers and the demand for online fiction. It was a major step forward both in making people (such as AE’s multi-thousand person audience) aware of other online serials and in making serial writers aware of each other.

Pages Unbound allows readers to review serials and serial writers to list and promote their serials. It also includes a forum where the writers discuss issues related to online writing.

Web Fiction Guide
Recently a group of authors that first became aware of each other on Pages Unbound (and even more so later in the Novelr forums) have started another review site called Web Fiction Guide. I’m one of them. It differs from Pages Unbound in that a group of editors reviews fiction, trying to create consistent standards for online writers and make it harder for “fanboy” reviews to dominate a listing. Readers can still review on Web Fiction Guide, but the editorial reviews are more prominent.

Web Fiction Guide also includes articles and interviews in addition to reviews — or it will at any rate. It just opened a couple days ago.

Community Voices
Finally, I should include community voices/critics in this article. The most important/visible of them at present is Eli James of Novelr. He writes about issues related to writing, writing online, and on issues of the online writing community. Novelr also includes a forum for writers to discuss various issues.

DustinM of Blog Fiction covers similar issues.

Both of them were writing about online fiction before the most recent growth in it.

A newer community voice is Wibblypress. Wibblypress is a group of writers, but the group also writes articles about online writing and does interviews with writers. It will be interesting to see what Wibblypress becomes.

With all the stuff appearing, it reminds me of the early days of web comics. The major difference being that I’m inside this one to some degree — which is kind of cool.

It’s Like They Were Saving It Up For a Big Finish

What follows a seriously fossilized post from earlier this spring that I never quite got around to finishing…

My kids were on spring break the last two weeks. Their school goes all year round with a few longish breaks. They’ve been home for most of that time with care being provided by Kristen and I, their grandparents, and daycare.

They’ve been good for the most part, but after a while at home kids get bored. Thus, here’s what happened on the last day of spring break:

1. Despite not being allowed to watch TV (due to an incident I will not reveal here), they turned on the TV anyway and started watching it. In response, I added another day on to their “no TV” sentence.

2. While bored and trying to find something to do they started messing with the computers. We have password protected our computers in an effort to limit their total TV/computer time to no more than two hours a day. As of this year, however, they can read. Our oldest daughter read the password hint. Our youngest daughter then asked Kristen to spell the name of one of our cats–and then they were into the computer (briefly).

3. When Kristen and I were sitting at the computers doing things that we found interesting, one of our daughters started walking downstairs and asking us questions. What sort of questions? “What is our street name? What state do we live in? What zip code do we live in? And finally, “What does V-I-S-A spell?” That was the point at which we discovered that they were trying to order butterfly larvae through the mail.

4. I ran to the grocery store later that night. When I came back, one of my daughters announced to me that “Abby S. is in bed already.” Here’s how she knew: Kristen taught them to use the phone that day. As such, one of our daughters had decided to practice. Practicing in this case meant that she had called people out of her school’s directory, some of them multiple times.

And told at least one girl chicken jokes (or so we heard from her parents later).

I was so very glad that Spring Break was over by the end of that day…

Sexism, Racism and Politics

You’ll hear both Obama and Clinton supporters arguing that their favorite candidate has it worse than the other. I don’t know whether sexism or racism causes you more problems. As someone who’s trained in social research, I’m inclined to think that that would hard to measure (though I can think of some avenues that I might try).

That being said, if I were a presidential candidate and I had to choose whether people would shout things like “iron my shirt” at me or whether news anchors would joke about killing me, I’d choose the laundry.