Stars Fall Out takes place in a small coastal city dominated by the most prominent university in the northern provinces. The city is under occupation by a vast empire with extensive resources, including people with magical abilities. The catalyst for the bulk of the book’s events is the creation of a new form of magic by one of the university’s professors.

This snippet comes from a scene in which Tirsan ends up listening to that professor’s conspiracy theories. While the professor doesn’t convince him to join him, he does end up being the last straw for Tirsan, who soon writes to his grandfather and asks for a change in the terms that will allow him to inherit land only after he’s finished his studies and found a wife.

Tirsan shrugged, and edged down the street a bit again.

Ghordaa only came closer. “If we come into our own magic, finally, that’s one less way they have to control us. But now, my creation is missing. Even my pencils are missing!”

“Your—you think he took your pencils?”

“Yes! Even those! But it makes sense. How am I supposed to do work of the mind without proper tools?”

I’ve come to the point at which it doesn’t make sense for me NOT to learn the stealth and hacking skills I would need to fix the music at the Dunkin Donuts where I spend too much of my writing time.

When I was in college, I had a PDA with infrared capabilities that allowed me to use it as a TV remote once I installed the right app, although we didn’t call programs apps back in 2004.

Remembering this prompted me to use Dunkin Donuts’ wi-fi to search for “use smartphone to change music at Dunkin Donuts,” though not with any success.

Dead electronics and the serious writer

I consider it one of my good qualities that I hang onto my electronics as long as possible. In part, this is because I want to do as little as possible to contribute to an industry that destroys the planet and uses questionable labor practices*. I buy refurbished most of the time. I repair things when I can. I tolerate screen issues that literally make other people gasp in horror and ask if my computer is going to be ok. (It’s not. Oh, it’s not, it’s not, but you are so sweet and innocent, we can pretend that a repair will be possible.)

A laptop with a screenful of aggressive static
My laptop has been in several low-budget horror films.

Anyway, this is normally a good thing. But sometimes it lands me in a situation in which my two vital electronic tools go on the fritz at the same time.

My phone shuts off randomly, many times per day, while still at 90% power, sometimes dying in an endless loop of battery deaths. It’s kind of like this:

I must have died one thousand times. The goth in me will never not love this song, and the copyeditor in me will always question if I want to leave that double negative in the final draft.

My laptop will act completely normal and then lines of static will burst across the screen and defibrillate my eyes. It’s kind of like this:

Yeah, I posted this song like a month ago. It’s still awesome.

Anyway.

Everything breaking at once sucks.

It’s also a strategy.

Or rather, it’s part of a strategy.

I’m keeping my overhead low.

Times are always tough economically for artists and freelancers, so define the sort of lifestyle you want to live, budget for your expenses, and draw the line between what you will and won’t do for money.

And remember: If you want maximum artistic freedom, keep your overhead low. A free creative life is not about living within your means, it’s about living below your means.

“Do what you love!” cry the motivational speakers. But I think anybody who tells people to do what they love no matter what should also have to teach a money management course.

“Do what you love” + low overhead = a good life.

“Do what you love” + “I deserve nice things” = a time bomb.

Austin Kleon, Keep Going

Keep Going came out recently, but this is a strategy I’ve been living for a few years now. It’s intertwined with the fact that I work part-time in large part to make sure I’ll be able to do my writing. These two parts of my Master Plan are so inextricably linked that I had to cut an entire post’s worth of material about what it’s been like to give up the only full-time job I’ve had in my life.

The Alone in a Room With Invisible People podcast aired two episodes on perfectionism, in which they also discussed the concept of making financial trade-offs to gain more time to do what you really want with your life. In this case, writing.

It’s not that I have any more time than you. It’s that I spent my time specifically doing these things. I have made sacrifices in my life to sit down–and I have less money, less security– we have less security, we have more worries because of our sacrifices. In order to help me do what I want, like we did for him. And people don’t understand. They just think, “Oh, you’re lucky.” No.

Rebecca Galardo, the Alone in a Room with Invisible People podcast, Episode 56: Perfectionism–First Draft

In the podcast, Rebecca goes on to talk about having less stuff, and less nice stuff, than other people, and not being able to go out to bars or shopping with friends all the time because of her commitment to writing. We live in a time and place in which it’s possible to live on fairly little money, and end up with way too much stuff (Hi, Dollar Store!), but that’s besides the point.

The point is about making choices. Trade-offs.

In one of my earliest posts, Paper, Flip Phones, and Anvils, I wrote about not making other people justify the things they own:

If someone prefers physical books to ebooks, don’t make them justify it.
If someone doesn’t have a smartphone, don’t make them justify it.
If someone doesn’t have internet access at home, don’t make them justify it.
If someone doesn’t have GPS and, to all appearances doesn’t need it, don’t make them justify it.

It doesn’t matter if they are poor, or old, or technologically illiterate, or made a choice that you don’t understand and don’t give a shit about. Don’t make them justify that they don’t own an item, just like you wouldn’t make them justify not owning designer jeans or not owning a home aquarium or not owning a BMW*.

Kris Bowser, Paper, Flip Phones, and Anvils SELF QUOTES ARE SO CLASSY

I wrote the above quote right around when I came up with my Master Plan. The idea of making trade-offs and not compromising on my dreams and goals was one and the same as my reasoning for not upgrading my phone, my car, and my laptop until I absolutely needed to.

I had a flip phone until December 2016, and I got a ton of shit for being a Luddite (even though I design websites!) because people didn’t understand the nature of the choice. I upgraded only when the smartphone choice became pragmatic as well as shiny, like a unicorn with a sensible rain coat.

We don’t have a microwave either. Same deal. That, too, was a choice.


One night at my old job, when I was training a fellow security guard, he brought in his new computer, an $1100 HP laptop. Awesome graphics card! Fast processor! Huge hard drive! Tons of RAM! Can make paninis and will sing you to sleep while gently stroking your eyelids with delicate little machine hands!

What did he do with this awe-inspiring machine?

He watched Youtube videos and typed Word documents, two things you can do on absolutely any computer.

In other words, he could’ve saved $900 if he’d taken a few minutes to think about what he’d actually use the laptop for. That’s all it comes down to: taking a little time to think.

Who are you? What do you do? Will the new shiny thing help who are you and what you do?

I’m Kris. I write. I go outdoors. I try to take care of my family, even though I’m only about three-quarters of a functional person.

Between the first draft and these final paragraphs, I upgraded my phone. It’s not as important to my writing process, but I don’t want to be left at the mercy of its treacherous battery if I’m out hiking and get some kind of injury.

I find myself examining my new phone’s case and screen protector over and over again to make sure they won’t betray me after I finally spent the money to upgrade.

And the laptop? The laptop is like the terminal cancer patient who is given one month to live, and lasts another ten years. Or, more literally, one year. I’ll replace it as soon as I can’t write on it because writing is what I do.

This is what it means to make trade-offs for for my work.

It’s not about asceticism; it’s about an honest accounting.


*To put it diplomatically, which I probably shouldn’t do.

Worldbuilding pinch hitters

While writing my secondary world fantasy story, Stars Fall Out, I figuratively referred to a character as a pinch hitter. But in order to have a pinch hitter, you need to have baseball. My options here:

  1. A. Delete this line. It’s not that important.
  2. B. Find a similar term that doesn’t involve baseball.
  3. C. Worldbuild a secondary world sport with a position that would be equivalent to a pinch hitter, incorporate this sport into earlier scenes with references to the pinch hitter position, all so I can use this line here.

So, probably A or B. It’s a line-level issue that doesn’t impact the larger story. Unless I’m in a procrastinating mood when I do my revision, or suddenly think it would be fun to create secondary world baseball. Because if it’s fun, I’ll do it.

Here’s the excerpt in question:

On the countertop, loaves of seed bread formed up in marching order.

My father was telling Vilari how [name of innkeeper] the innkeeper had called him in at the last minute. A secret hero, a [pinch hitter]. Reliable, dependable, known for quality. Between this honor, and the fact the Vilari had kept showing up at the bakery, my father was in fine spirits.

“He came to see me at my class,” he told her. [Some other bakery] is right there, down the hill. Practically in the basement.”

“But who wants bread from the basement?” Vilari laughed at her own joke.

“Who indeed?” Then he ripped off a chunk from one of my loaves. “You slipped on the seeds,” he said.

I tested an end bit as well, and it was pointy in my mouth and throat. “The imperials like more seeds. It seems more authentic to them.” I shouldn’t have said that last bit, but this whole surreal thing with Vilari laughing and joking had disoriented me.

Father opened his mouth, but apparently decided not to lecture me on manufactured authenticity. Not today, anyway. He’d let it stew in his head for a bit.

I could be sure of that.

Fun fact: I’m using the post-by-email feature for this post since I don’t yet have the WordPress app set up on my new phone. This is how I discovered that Gmail now has an autofill feature for email subjects.

This post got the subject “Joke of the week.” Just like a 20-year-old email newsletter!

The Phantom Gourmet tries Salad Fingers

I started writing a Halloween short story and there’s a spirit creature that I realized is basically a cross between Salad Fingers and the Phantom Gourmet, a local restaurant review TV show that is a staple of those times when you just happen to be in front of a TV in Southern New England and it comes on. Here they are talking about a hamburger joint in New Hampshire, which I have actually been to:

And for a welcome counterpoint, here’s Salad Fingers:

As weird as it was to realize the origins of this particular character, I’m going with it.

Needless to say, I’m playing both videos at the same time for inspiration, but they’re being cancelled out by the 90s alternative being played at this Dunkin Donuts.

Read and listen to “A Cold Glow”

The Alone in a Room with Invisible People podcast recently announced that they will be doing their second annual Halloween Special, and you know what that means!

It means that I just remembered I never bothered to post about the fact that my story “A Cold Glow” was one of the flash fiction pieces included in last year’s episode. I have a history of doing this.

Yes, that is my “handwriting.”

You can listen to it here. “A Cold Glow” plays at 24:25, but if you’re in the mood to overload on Halloween flash fiction, this episode is filled with all types of Halloween stories. Case in point: “A Cold Glow” is a sci-fi story about a kid on a space station who butts heads with the station’s computer in his quest to carve a jack-o’-lantern.

I forget how many other stories are in the podcast, but I had a lot of fun listening to a bunch of them last year while driving out to various Halloween adventures. Werewolves, witches, vampires, hauntings–they’re all present and accounted for.

The text version of the story will have a permanent home here.

We’re a month-and-a-half out from Halloween, and this post is scheduled for Friday the 13th. Works for me.