We Interrupt This Broadcast…

On any given day, we spend some time here chatting about bariatrics. We talk about surgery, about obesity, about trials and tribulations, diet and exercise. Folks keep coming back to read more, so apparently there is some interest in the subject matter.

However, there are actually other things happening in my life that are not directly tied up in my “weight loss journey” (as the cool kids on the bariatrics websites like to call it.) Most of the time, they sort of happen off camera, unless they are directly tied up with my weight, i.e.: nearly falling off my roof because I was too heavy for my old ladder to hold me.

Today’s subject has no relation to weight whatsoever, but is kind of a big deal to me anyway, so I am going to talk about it. Most of you know that I have been writing to supplement my disability income for several months now. I write reviews, blog posts, Twitter feeds – whatever is available from contractors on any given day. It pays almost nothing, but it keeps me off the street ūüôā

However, for several months now, I have been working with the folks over at Fiction Vortex to produce a serialized novel. They are the leading online source for serialized fiction, and when I proposed my dark fiction world to them back in June, to my astonishment, they agreed. We’ve now got 4 authors (3 of them great, one of them me) working in my bleak fictional city of Ash Falls. The Ash Falls “Serial Box”, as Fiction Vortex calls them, is scheduled for weekly release in February of 2017.

To back up – what is serialized fiction? If you are of a certain age or geek-like disposition, think comic books. Otherwise, think of things like soap operas/Novelas instead. We have an overarching storyline that switches between groups of characters, all operating in the same environment. Comics, think the Marvel Universe. Soap Operas, think Port Charles of General Hospital. Lots of different storylines whose characters are maybe marginally aware of each other, but all operating in the same place/time.

With me so far? Each of our authors is producing a novel-length story – about 100,000 words, which works out in the neighborhood of 300 pages or so. However, these novels are being written in episodic format, like your favorite TV show. Each novel, then, works out to the equivalent of a “season”, with a new episode being released every month. These episodes are then released on a staggered, weekly basis for each author. Since we have an assortment of authors and storylines happening, this means you get a new story/episode in this shared world every week.

Short version – you will never run out of things to read again. New content is being delivered every single week.

Now, after the conclusion of a certain storyline, you can purchase the book in its entirety, like a novel or trade paperback, if you prefer. I have done this for several wrapped up storylines myself. The authors are excellent, the stories are compelling, and the writing is at least as good as anything you will find available in the science fiction/fantasy section of Amazon or your local bookstore, and I am flattered and humbled that I have been invited to participate in their project.

On Monday, Fiction Vortex opened up a writer’s contest to entice new talent into the fold. Prospective writers can submit a 3,500-word story that would fit into any of the currently existing “serial boxes”, and winners will be given the opportunity to write a novel of their own within that shared world.

Ash Falls, the setting I created, is one of those potential serial boxes. And, as an introduction to the setting, the editors at Fiction Vortex have released Episode #1 of “Inheritance”, my serialized novel, to the world.

As of the opening of this contest, I am not only a contract writer, but a published author as well.

If you have any interest in dark fantasy (vampires/werewolves/things that go bump in the night), feel free to read through Episode #1. If you have the slightest interest at all in science fiction or fantasy, I would encourage you to take a look at the other existing storylines and serial boxes already out on Fiction Vortex and try a few. We have over 30 authors producing premium content, and I can hardly wait till my stories start selling next year, so I can buy out the entire library at Fiction Vortex as my first “I am being paid to be an author” purchase. The stories and settings are that good.

Thanks for sharing my excitement with me! I’ll be back to health-related news tomorrow.

You Have Now Been Returned To The Normal Internet,

– Hawkwind

The 15-year Itch

Only 9 years later than the rest of the world, I am working my way through The Name Of The Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. Frankly, the book is astonishing. Equal parts epic fantasy and fictional biography, it contains beautiful language, a magic system based on scientific principles, and a story so captivating that, 500 pages in, I find I do not care that the protagonist is only 15 years old. It is the kind of story that makes me wish that I had written it.

As I frequently do with writers whose works I admire, I have spent some time researching Mr. Rothfuss as an author. As it turns out, The Name of the Wind is his first novel, and he began writing it in college. He had “completed” the trilogy it is a part of 6 years later, but continued working on the books for another 9 years, until the work was published. While I admire his dedication to the¬†development of his story, I freely admit that there is not a whole lot here for me to learn from and apply to my own writing career.

The problem is, unlike Mr. Rothfuss, I do not have 15 years in which to write my first novel.

Consider the problem: In 15 years, I will be 61 years old. Nothing wrong with that, many people have made great contributions in their sixties. But now, in 2016, Mr. Rothfuss has yet to complete his trilogy. Following his example, at 70 years old, I would not yet have completed my novel. (Remember, this is a trilogy we are talking about). Fifteen years after that, I will be 85…I am sort of running out of time to produce anything more than one “masterwork” if I am to emulate his schedule.

Now, I run into a difficulty here. Do I desire to produce something beautiful, like “Name of the Wind”? Or, in the name of time management, should I merely be settling for good enough? Right this moment I am working on my first serialized novel for Fiction Vortex, which is actually due out at the beginning of next year. Every day I re-read the story I have created so far, and am terrified: What if this is just “good enough”, but not great? Do I really want to produce a novel that isn’t great, in the name of expediency?

This is my dilemma. So far, the only solution I have found is to distribute the episodes as I write them in order to get honest criticism back from picky readers, hoping that the friction of critique will rub off the elements that do not contribute to greatness. My greatest fear is not to crash and burn spectacularly. My greatest fear is that of a reader opening my book, reading a few pages, and then shrugging and going on with his or her life – completely unaffected by what I have created.

 

  • Jeremy C. Schofield

 

5 Reasons TextBroker Doesn’t Suck

Photo Credit: Roo Waters via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Roo Waters via Compfight cc

Spend just a little time out in the forums and message boards of Internet freelance writing, and you will begin to see common themes. “How do I earn a living writing from home?” is a recurring refrain. “Why doesn’t my blog get any traffic?” may be a close second. But no question seems to produce polarizing opinions quite like “Should I use¬†TextBroker? Are they any good?”

What the heck are they talking about?

For those not already “in the know”, TextBroker is a service that connects lower-end writers up with clients wanting lower-end work. 500-word blog posts, multiple copies of product reviews, sometimes even 160-character Twitter posts – they all show up on TextBroker. It is commonly referred to as a “content mill”, and this is not a term of endearment. The pay is astonishingly low (about a penny a word) and the turnover is very fast, with most clients wanting smaller articles completed within 24 hours of accepting an assignment. Think day-labor, for writers instead of construction workers.

Many of the best-regarded writers out in the blogosphere will tell you to avoid TextBroker like the plague. It¬†has been referred to as a waste of time, a scam, or a way to take advantage of new writers. One blogger went so far as to say that TextBroker “can sap your love of writing.” The general consensus is that you would be far better served by spending your time polishing your resume and sending out pitch letters instead of writing a 500-word biography on someone you have never heard of before.

With all due respect to those that have come before me in the freelance writing business, I must disagree. Where are my top 5 reasons why you should be using TextBroker.

1. TextBroker pays you to hone your craft.

A great resume, a stylish web page, and a perfected pitch letter are all necessities to become successful as a freelancer. But, at some point, you are going to have to learn to write – not just the blog posts that only your Mother and Aunt Edna read, but articles for clients who have their own ideas about what makes a great piece of writing. TB (because I am getting muscle fatigue from writing TextBroker) will give you a list of assignments that you can pick from, so you can choose the one(s) that you like best. You write it, submit it, and wait. Within 3 days you will have a response from your client, asking for revisions. Don’t be discouraged – this is great! You are learning how to tailor writing to the needs of a client – an absolute necessity for a freelance writer. If you don’t get a request for revisions, awesome – you just got paid to practice writing.

2. TextBroker teaches you to work under deadlines.

Those of us moving from blogging to freelancing are usually in for a rude shock. While we were working on our own blogs, we were able to meander around, putting up a post here and there – sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening, whenever the mood struck us. TB will teach you to throw that idea right out the window. When you evaluate an assignment, you have ten minutes to decide if you want to write it or not. Upon accepting the assignment, you have only a few days in which to get it done (usually only 24 hours for shorter pieces.) You will learn quickly, as I did, that it is time to start using a calendar app of some kind, and to force yourself to write during a specific time, every single day. Early in the morning, late at night, whatever – you will find out quickly that you are going to have to treat this professionally. And turning writing into your profession is the whole idea, isn’t it?

3. TextBroker forces you to embrace research.

If there is one common complaint about TB, it is that the subjects are so weird. I have written articles about record companies, about funeral homes, about the subject of “crowdfunding” real estate investments. One of my most memorable articles was 3,000+ words on Egyptian Cotton sheets. ¬†The common factor is that, in each of these cases, I knew nothing about the subject when I accepted the article. It forced me to go out hunting across the ‘Net, looking for reputable sources of information on these subjects. There is nothing that will trash your reputation as a writer quicker than the research method of “making stuff up.” As long as you are writing for other people, you will be performing research. TB gives you a great apprenticeship program for doing exactly that.

4. TextBroker fills in the gaps in your schedule.

Right this second, I have several pitch letters out, a couple of articles being reviewed for publication, and no actual writing assignments due. So, after I finish up my weekly blog post here, I am going to head over to TB. Why? Because spending time earning something is better than earning nothing. Being a freelance writer means leaping from assignment to assignment like a frog between lily pads, trying to keep your head above water. TB can create a series of smaller landing spaces between each of your “real” writing jobs.

5. TextBroker can springboard you to bigger and better things.

At the beginning of this month, I made about $200 writing 3 short blog posts for a TextBroker client. The client liked my writing well enough on a small project that he approached me about writing the first 3 posts for a new business website, with the promise of more work like this to come in the months ahead. TextBroker has built-in support for individual client/author relationships completely outside of the “pick an article and write it” model. I had a good looking profile with good writing samples, and the client liked them enough that he was willing to pay my “personal” rate of 25 cents a word to have me craft these pieces. This is not as uncommon as you think. TB can also invite you to “teams” where you will be collaborating with other authors and editors on steady streams of articles for regular clients. The opportunites are out there, if you are willing to invest a little time and effort to go find them.

Despite the many negative reports about TextBroker, I think it provides a powerful springboard for those of us getting started as freelance writers. Maybe we should be happy that there are so many writers out there working on “polish” instead of working on writing. That way, TextBroker can remain our little secret.

  • Jeremy

Disability Strikes

Photo Credit: nicoletowles via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: nicoletowles via Compfight cc

One day, you are carrying on your life like any normal person. The next day you wake up and discover that your life is no longer your own: you are in the grasp of an adult-onset disability. You have no context Рyou have not been dealing with this your whole life. All you know if that the life you have known is gone, your freedom is gone, and most of the people you thought were loved ones are somehow gone too.

Welcome to life as a disabled adult.

This was me, back in 2004. I had spent over a decade developing a successful career as a database developer, specializing in converting old, worn-out databases into shiny new relational databases. (The years around Y2K were amazingly good for this kind of work.) In a single car accident, I went from a job worth over $75K a year to moving back in with my parents, who began attempting to figure out how they were going to provide continuous care for me for the rest of my life.

But wait, there’s more!

Now, this is not where my story ended. I was able to get some treatments that restored at least a part of my ability to function. I was able to get married, and take a stab at living without constant care. Thanks to the SSDI I had been paying into my whole working life I was able to provide at least a little income into my household.

I began living by the “box” philosophy: instead of living in a wide open space, I was now living in a box, created by my disability. But there was nothing keeping me from finding out exactly how big that box was, or from pushing against the sides in an effort to make the box bigger.¬†And that is where I thought I would remain for the rest of my life – clinging to the top half of the lowest rung of the Great American Success Ladder.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

At the end of 2015, a new specialist made some recommendations for treatments I had not tried before. Within weeks of starting the new meds, I began to notice changes. Big ones. I was no longer constantly depressed. My health stabilized¬†and began improving. Most importantly – my brain function, so long destroyed by my previous medications, began to return. I was suddenly in possession of nearly the same mental faculties as the people around me. I was still not stable enough to return to the “normal” workforce, but surely there was something I could be doing from home, right?

I had been maintaining my blogs for years, mainly as a means of demonstrating to myself that there was still a person locked inside this body. Every article was a defiant gesture against my disability – there is still a person locked in here! I began looking for anything I could do somewhere on the ‘net that involved¬†writing. Earlier this year I discovered TextBroker – a site that would pay authors for small¬†“ghost written” pieces. I tentatively accepted an assignment from their website, worked on it for a bit, then turned it in. Astonishingly,¬†it was accepted. I had found a way to begin contributing to my family again that was not only sitting around the house and waiting for the Social Security check to arrive every month. I was, suddenly, a freelance writer!

Wrapping Up

So far, the months have been good to me, and places like TextBroker and Contena are providing new clients and venues for my writing. My fondest hope is that maybe (someday?), I will be able to turn off the SSDI trickle, and create a better life for my family somewhere North of the poverty line. Only time will tell.

If you are a prospective employer, you now know where I was during my 13-year absence from the workforce. If you are another disabled person, the most important thing I can say is: Don’t give up! Keep looking for solutions, keep driving your medical team crazy, keep reminding yourself that you are still worth something, even if the evidence says that you aren’t. And if you just dropped by to say hi: Hi, yourself! Thanks for dropping in.

– Jeremy

Seeking: One Fat Hero

Photo Credit: Tolagunestro via Compfight cc

In the time when I am not gaming, creating blog articles, or reading, I write fiction. Like, quite a bit. Since being fitted with a C-PAP a couple years back I tend to have incredibly vivid dreams, and the last ones before I get up in the morning always seem to involve the same set of characters. So, I have created a mythology of sorts around these characters, and write little vignettes involving them. But, after I woke up and wrote down my notes this morning, it struck me – there are no overweight characters in these stories.

For that matter, I am hard pressed to think of overweight central characters in any story I have read, and I read a lot. I can think of fat and jovial innkeepers, large menacing bikers, and a bunch of lazy and obese programmers Рbut not a single overweight hero. It is as if the burden of carrying the story forward is so great that it acts like a constant cardio workout for these people, ensuring that they stay slim (or, in some cases, muscular.)

Even the oversized secondary characters in most stories aren’t treated well. They are frequently used as a kind of comic relief – a mental visual gag if you will: Let’s all laugh at the fatso as he tries to run away from danger. (Example: Any “slasher” horror film ever made.) Other times heavy individuals are used as more sinister characters: the overweight person is too lazy to achieve his goals as normal¬†folks do, so uses treachery instead – the mercenary programmer from Jurassic Park¬†is an excellent example. Very rarely, obesity is treated as a threatening quality – the previously mentioned “huge¬†biker” would qualify. The original “Kingpin” character from Marvel comics comes to mind in this category. (Though a fine actor, Vincent D’Onofrio can hardly be described as obese, so his depiction of the Kingpin does not qualify here.)

In a sense, I get it. When we experience stories, especially when we read, we want to idealize the characters. We want to take their positive characteristics and find them reflecting off the fractal planes and edges of our own lives, hoping to recognize something “heroic” in ourselves. We do not necessarily¬†want to see that which we don’t like about ourselves highlighted in our entertainment. But seriously – in the “real world” of the United States more than half of us are overweight. Why don’t the demographics of our entertainment reflect that?

More to the point, why don’t my demographics¬†hold up? Why are my stories filled with active, muscular men and size 6 women? In real life I like large women – I do not prefer the body style that “looks like a teenage boy with plums in his shirt pockets.” (Spider Robinson) So, why am I not creating these characters? What flaw lies in me, and apparently in other authors, that does not allow for the creation of more realistic body types?

I am still troubled by this, and still don’t have an answer yet. But, the next time I sit down to write, I know I will be aware of my previous failures here, and hopefully can begin to correct them. Maybe spotting this weakness now, before any of my fiction is ever published, is the best outcome I could have hoped for.

Still Angry At My Subconscious,

– Hawkwind

PS – Just thought of an obese central character: Don Corleone, from The Godfather. But he isn’t exactly heroic, is he?