Archive for General

Get Handsy

Our school is cutting back on traditional industrial arts programs and pushing more kids into heavier math and science courses, and it bums me out.

Not because math and science aren’t important, mind, but not every kid is looking to go on to college or to become an engineer. Even if that were the case, what good is an engineer who’s never put his hands on a wrench? Would you trust an architect who hasn’t at least framed up a shed?

Adults shouldn’t be afraid to get their hands dirty. There’s satisfaction to be had in a lot of this work, and in many cases it can save a few bucks.

The Workspace Tour

Yep, I built this. It’s not a work of art, but it works well and it’s the most comfortable desk I’ve used because it’s custom-made for my height.

“I’m not good with tools” shouldn’t be an excuse. If you grew up with cartoons, you have a pretty good idea how a hammer works. I’m not saying everyone should be able to turn a beautiful table leg on a lathe (I sure can’t), but hanging a shelf on a wall should be an easy job.

I’ve changed the brake pads on one car and on my motorcycle. I happened to have the tools for those jobs, and it wasn’t bad. All it took was a manual, a YouTube video, and the guts to tackle the job. Labor for things like that? Usually around $85.00/hour.

Car oil & filter changes are so cheap these days it’s worth it to go to a mechanic, especially when they top off fluids and perform other simple services and checks at the same time. However, I think it’s a job every car owner should be able to handle in a pinch. Tire rotations are too time consuming to do on my own (and most dealerships do it for free if you buy your tires there), but I’ve put on several spares. Nobody should have to wait for a tow truck for a flat tire.

Tinkering on the motorcycle is fun. Sometimes the narrow spaces in and around the frame and engine are frustrating, but I’ve swapped the battery, installed battery minder leads, changed the oil and filter, changed the brake fluid, and changed the brake pads, all because taking it to a motorcycle mechanic is inconvenient. Soon I’ll be handling the spark plugs and maybe the spark plug wires. The only thing I’ve paid for is tire swaps and a new chain and sprocket install. I just don’t have the proper tools or environment for those, and if I get them wrong, I could be in a world of hurt.

I first learned to get handsy with a water heater. It had a leaky overflow valve, and someone put a scare into me about possibly cross-threading the new valve and having to replace the whole thing, so I called a plumber. He was at the house for less than 15 minutes. The part? About twenty bucks. The total bill? $90.00.

Never again. When the bottom finally rusted out of that water heater, I purchased and installed the replacement myself. We had a misstep with the flux when we sweated the copper pipes, but one conversation with the owner of the hardware store put us in the right direction. Years later, thanks to that experience I was able to help a friend cut an old, broken water softener out of his water line and sweat new pipe in to close the loop.

In our new place, when the thermocouple quit on the water heater (which it did repeatedly until a recall had me replace the whole burner assembly), I replaced it myself. Not difficult at all. Another friend sweated turning the gas on and off when his thermocouple quit, so he paid a plumber. Once again, small job, big bill.

I’m not saying we should take money out of some working stiff’s pocket. We once had plumbers dig up and replace a sewer line to the tune of $4K because it was too big a job. But I’ve replaced toilets and kitchen & bathroom faucets without batting an eye. I’ve helped a friend install a countertop, and I’ve wrestled with a garbage disposal for an hour until I realized the gasket was upside down. These are sometimes annoying jobs, but they are not difficult or highly technical.

In fact, I think a great number of smaller mechanical, plumbing, and electrical jobs are done simply because the car/homeowner doesn’t want to deal with it. Meanwhile, we probably saved hundreds of dollars across all of those jobs, and the sweat equity and satisfaction made them worthwhile.

I paid out to have a furnace installed and several windows & a door replaced because they’re just too big a job. However, I’ll be tackling a laminate floor and building a soffit in the near future. First time for both, but the flooring just snaps together and I’ve helped with a small drywall job, so I have a pretty good idea what I’m in for. Wish me luck.

Now I include my oldest son in all of these jobs, and sometimes his younger brother, depending upon the job. Heck, the boys installed the last two brackets of my desk because I didn’t feel well. I want them to have the confidence to do some of this stuff on their own when they move out, whether or not they have the opportunity to take a shop class in high school.

And ladies, this applies to you, too. My wife may not have had the muscle to break the lug nuts loose on one of those tire swaps, but I’m sure she could have handled any of these other jobs with the same instructions I looked up.

We’re both looking forward to our daughter learning some of this stuff soon. If she ends up having to change a flat tire while out on a date someday, she’ll know she needs to dump his ass, won’t she?

Next time you have a small job around the house or on your vehicle, ask yourself, “Can I handle this myself?” Then dig in and get your hands dirty.

It’s worth it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Hit the Reset Button

I’m wrapping up vacation from the day job this week. Unfortunately, I’ve spent very little of that time on myself.

Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.
—Harvey MacKay

I’m not here to dwell on the negative. Most of the problems I’ve had can be summed up by the simple bad timing of my vacation time. One goal was to relax and take time away from the day job, and that part was mostly successful. The other, which I do want to talk about, is taking another look at my creative time.

For one thing, I often spend a lot of time sweating the time I don’t have. That kind of thinking gets counterproductive fast. So rather than pressuring myself to create create create, I spent mostly-idle time thinking about, well, time.

I did a lot of driving, for example. I did a lot of manual labor, such as housework, helping people move heavy stuff, or lifting weights. I did a lot of cooking, in particular grilling and all the prep work that comes with it. It’s mostly-idle time in the sense that I’m physically engaged, and thus unable to jockey a keyboard, but my mind is free to wander. So, when I wasn’t concentrating on preventing 265 pounds of iron from crushing my sternum to powder, I considered how I could best free up other time to jockey a keyboard.

Workouts are one of the problem areas. A karate workout is constant activity, but weightlifting includes rest periods. My bench and weights are in my office, and it’s convenient to sit in front of the computer during rest. I keep a timer running, but in trying to turn those rest periods into productive time and get something done, I created a monster: I got distracted, and my rest periods were blown. Sessions that should be an hour or less ballooned into long grinds, which are counterproductive in several ways. I need to refocus and bang out the workouts so I have more uninterrupted time afterward.

Only skipped a week, but yep, I missed deadlift day.

Fitness time is important, too, and not something to feel guilty about

I decided, during that mostly-idle time, that thinking, plotting, and research is not wasted time. It’s not as productive as cranking out the word count, but it’s still important. I’ve admitted I’m not a seat-of-the-pants writer anymore. Producing a series like The Pack takes more planning. Working on comics means plotting out the beats, the page breaks, the issue/chapter breaks. Putting all those pieces together is not wasted time, so it must count as creative time. Ignoring or skipping that time is foolish.

Next I put some thought into the best uses of my time. Family time is obviously important, as is time with friends. It’s selfish to deny them—and myself—that time. I also spent a lot of time this Spring and early Summer working out with an attack team to help a pair of nidan (second-degree black belt) candidates prepare for their test. I neither regret nor resent that time, but I have to realize next time around that “a couple of extra hours in the dojo” for me also includes a long drive. I alleviated some of that time by hitting a Starbucks to write before or after practice, but the overall time commitment is still there.

In short, I will need to say “no” more often.

I realized, too, that blogging is valuable. Not so much in the sense that it drives sales or interest (it usually doesn’t, especially these days), but in the way it affects my mood. I like the journaling aspect of it, and it helps both my mood and mindset. I haven’t made near enough time for the blog these past few months, and while it hasn’t affected my page counts and other minutiae a lick, it has negatively affected my mood. Ideally, I’ll blather on like this more often in the future.

I packed this thing with notes on the road trip. Lots of good stuff coming.

When I can’t do it digitally, I can still go old school

The vacation has also allowed me take a good, hard look at my routine. In removing the day job from the equation, I can see where I spend the rest of my time.

My morning routine has become a time suck. I roll out of bed and into the computer chair, which started with productive time but lately has become idle time. My inbox and social accounts were busy following the release of Lie with the Dead, but that’s died down. I also have to take a new pill every morning (more on that in another post) and I can’t eat for an hour, which compounded things by making me to feel like my morning’s on hold. I need to revamp that shit, and I need to work with that stupid pill, not against it.

Next I need to do another culling of my RSS feeds. Reading and researching is great when I’m waiting for a software install or virus scan or hard rive restore at work, but there’s no reason to keep up with all that crap the rest of the time. I’ve developed this weird anxiety over unread feeds, and it’s stupid. I’d get home from an event with the kids and look for some relaxing downtime, but what should be at most ten to fifteen minutes of surfing quickly becomes a major time sink. My delete button is my sword to battle the Feedly demons.

The good news is I resisted the television trap this week. Those new episodes of Hemlock Grove aren’t going anywhere. I finally have access to the HBO back catalog thanks to Amazon Prime, but I don’t feel the need to shotgun seasons at a time of Oz or The Sopranos. Cutting the cord continues to be one of the better decisions I’ve made in recent years.

Last but far from least, I’ve dumped the guilt. I still love writing, but I’m extremely busy. Yes, it’s damned difficult to make time to write, but it’s also not doing me any good to hate myself for not doing it. It’s even worse to hate the act of writing for my lack of time. This revelation (decision?) alone may be the most important difference moving forward.

I started my vacation in a foul mood, but in the end I was able to accomplish exactly what a vacation is meant for: I hit the reset button. I didn’t take a trip, I didn’t do anything fancy, I just used the vacation to reflect and analyze my time.

If you’re having the same problems, I suggest you take your own vacation. It will pay off.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

I’m Done Being a Tech Guy

At least, I’m done identifying as one.

When people ask me what I do, my response is automatic: “I’m the tech director for a school district.” This typically demands explanation, and I tell them, “I run the network and fix the computers.”

Without fail, this leads them to say, “You know, I’m having this problem with my computer…” Then they want to know how to fix their problem. I just don’t have the time, the energy, or the desire to deal with it, even if they wanted to pay me (which they don’t, especially after I tell them my rates). The conversation then ends in disappointment and frustration on both sides.

Instead, I’m going to go with one of two responses, depending upon the situation or the person: “I’m a karate instructor” or “I’m a writer.”

For starters, both are more interesting conversation topics and I can chat about them with a little more passion. Nobody wants to hear about my squashing a bug in our network configuration, but people are more attentive to the martial arts or what I write. On very rare occasions someone will turn their nose up at the mention of horror, but it still trumps their irritation if I assure them it will take a lot longer than five minutes to fix all the problems with their five-year-old Windows laptop that junior loaded with viruses.

I’m also hoping it will be better for my sanity and self image. In karate, I’m not as athletic as some of the teen-aged and twenty-something students at the dojo, and my skills aren’t as polished as those of the black belts with more experience, but it’s been good for me and I know I’ve had a positive influence on a lot of our students. In writing, it will be a good reminder that I need to hit the keyboard that night.

Finally, both conversations have a better shot at putting money in my pocket, especially over time. If I tell them I write, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll actually buy something (at the very least I can point them to a freebie). If I tell them I’m a martial arts instructor, then maybe, just maybe, they want to do something to improve their own fitness or learn self defense, or they have kids or know someone with kids they can send my way.

If they press and ask me what actually pays the bills (this usually happens at the dojo), then I can say I work for a school district. What do I do? “I teach the students to use Google Apps” (true) or “I help the teachers integrate technology into their classrooms” (also true). They can assume fixing the computers is someone else’s problem.

So goodbye, Mike the Tech Guy, long live Mike the Writer slash Martial Artist.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Fight Pediatric Cancer & You Might Win a Book

I ran the Warrior Dash as a St Jude Warrior in 2012, and I’m doing it again this summer.

My biscuits are burnin’!

Any Warrior Dash participant who raises $300 for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital is eligible for extra privileges including gear check, lunch, and showers. With your help, I was able to take advantage of those privileges in 2012, and I’m hoping to do so again this year.

As an incentive, I’ll be giving away an autographed trade paperback copy of Lie with the Dead. Anyone who donates $5 or more through my St Jude Warrior page will be eligible for the drawing. If we beat the $300 goal by April 15th, I will give away two copies.

The drawing will be held on April 16th.

For more information on St Jude, or to donate, please visit my St Jude Warrior page.

Thank you for supporting the cause, and good luck!

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

One Wipe Charlies: A Review

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off: One wipe? Not so much. But there’s a whole lot to like about Dollar Shave Club’s One Wipe Charlies.

DSC’s Mike bills the OWCs as a sort of extraction team. You’re a busy man, so you wipe once and you get on with your life. Problem is, I’m a big busy man, and my diet ain’t the greatest. If I subsisted on granola and greens, one wipe would probably be all it takes. Instead I eat a lot of meat and dairy. I’ve been known to burn through half a roll of TP in a sitting (pun fully intended), and I’ve even slain the jet-flushing industrial toilets in some public restrooms.

(Too gross? Too personal? I’ll just skip the hair issue. You’re welcome.)

Instead, think of the OWCs as a clean-up crew. You’ve handled the real business and the battle is over. Now it’s Charlie’s turn to kill off the survivors and stash the bodies. In those terms, all I’ve ever needed is one, and I’m much happier with the final result.

The next thing to consider is cost. One Wipe Charlies work out to ten cents a wipe, so I hit a couple of stores to examine alternatives. Some baby wipes are cheaper, but the thing to remember is they’re not all flushable. Unless you’re also keeping a diaper disposal station nearby, you want a garbage can loaded with crap-covered wipes, or you want to bring a plumber into the equation in the future, the Charlies still come out on top.

I also don’t want to go around smelling like baby powder or a “baby fresh” scent all day, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.

I did find some Kroger-branded flushable wipes which were far cheaper. I don’t recall the actual cost, but I got over twice as many wipes for a similar cost. Great, I thought, I get the same experience and save a few bucks even over Dollar Shave!

In the end, not so much.

First, the Kroger wipes are smaller. Not a lot smaller, but there are times those couple of inches count. Second, they smell like hell. To be specific, they smell like the witch hazel they’re made with. Witch Hazel isn’t really the image I need at that particular moment.

Looney Tunes Witch Hazel

“Trust me, I’m here to help.”

Now, are you really smelling what’s down there? Probably not while you’re walking around. However, it does make things easier on a significant other and on your laundry. And honestly, just opening the One Wipe Charlies package and handling the peppermint-scented wipes is a lot nicer than everything else going on at the time. And it’s a gentle peppermint, not an overpowering toothpaste or candy smell. Dare I say, it’s a manly peppermint: just enough to counter the biological stink but not enough to overpower you in the other direction.

Are there other, cheaper alternatives I haven’t seen? I dunno, maybe. The convenience of delivery, the one-click ordering, and the comfort and hygienic advantages, however, will keep me Dollar Shave-loyal for the time being.

Not a Dollar Shave member? Sign up now and give it a shot. I’d appreciate your using my referral link.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Notebook Nerdery

I still dig paper notebooks. Though I could tap notes into my smartphone via Evernote or a host of other apps, it’s much easier to write in a notebook. I also find it helps me think faster and make more connections. I’m more free-form scribbler than mind mapper. So, when I’m out and about, I tend to have a small notebook with me, preferably something that fits in a jacket or jeans pocket.

I finally filled a Piccadilly I’d been carrying for a while. It’s a cheap knock-off of the Moleskine pocket notebook style, and while I expected it to get beat up, the binding just didn’t hold together. I have Moleskines I carried longer, and though the covers around the bindings began to fray, the bindings themselves held.

I know there are a lot of other things out there, so I decided to do a little browsing. Here are the highlights:

  • Field Notes are pretty cool, but I prefer a hardcover and elastic strap. The hardcover is easier to write on without a table, and the strap helps contain anything I stuff into my notebook.
  • The Midori Traveller notebooks are gorgeous. For $50+, though, they can stick them in their ass. The passport size comes in brown for $28 on Amazon, which is still a bit much. However, I’d prefer the black passport size, and it’s $45. It might be a different story if I were an artist or a fountain pen nut looking for superior paper, but I’m just a pencil scribbler.
  • The Leuchtturm1917 intrigued me, and a video comparing the Leuchtturm1917 pocket notebook to the Moleskine got my attention, but I’m not convinced spending $8-10 more (including shipping) is worth the difference. Page numbers would be cool, but I could do (and have done) that myself.
  • I felt the same way about the Rhodia Webnotebook. Another comparison video suggested some advantages, but once again it’s paying $8-10 more for things that don’t quite make a difference in my needs.

A few other brands looked like more of the same. For all of them, I might change my mind if I wrote in pen or wanted sturdier paper, but I write with a pencil. Always a mechanical pencil, and always one with a retractable, non-stabby point. I still prefer to erase rather than scribble or cross things out (I have a different use for strike-throughs), so my eraser sees a lot of action, too.

I’ve considered the Evernote Smart Notebook before, and I looked at it again now that it comes in a pocket size. The extra cost comes with three additional months of Evernote premium, which adds value. However, I’m not convinced it will really do me any good.

For one, there’s no reason I couldn’t snap a photo any other note notebook page. The sticker tagging and the dot guidelines make it easier for Evernote, I’m sure, but I’d rather have straight text notes than photos. I also don’t think Evernote will make any sense of my manic chicken-scratchings, either.

I haven’t been motivated to test it, though, because the act of transcribing those notes into the computer helps keep the details fresh in my mind and often prompts new ideas, corrections, or improvements. It’s become part of my process. Transcription is also quicker with page numbers (whether pre-printed or hand-written), as I can leave a lot of the extra brainstorming notes in the notebook and just type a book and page number into an Evernote entry for quick reference.

On top of that, Moleskine’s Evernote design is not very enticing. I can live with the lime-green band, but the stuff all over the cover is ugly. A simple Evernote elephant logo embossed on the front, or a just few additional elements like on the Hobbit notebook would be much nicer. Not a deal-killer, just a nitpick.

In the end, I came right back to the standard Moleskine notebooks. I have two now: a standard, pocket-sized one and a larger one with my name on the cover (gifted from a friend). I could still be convinced by some hands-on with the other notebooks, but from what I’m seeing on the web I’d rather not spend the extra ducats. I’m good with a middle ground between affordability and premium features.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Dollar Shave Razors

My first real razor blade came courtesy of Gillette when I graduated from high school. It just showed up in the mail, and I fell right into the “give ‘em the razor, sell ‘em the blades” trap. I used that two-blade system for years, until it started to shred my face.

Then I took a marketing class in college, and we discussed how the best blades went into the newest, most expensive razors. In other words, the shiny, new, four-blade beast with the vibrating handle and the easy-glide aloe strip got the sharpest blades, while the blades with microscopic defects—just enough to hose your shave—went into the older, lower-margin systems.

I wanted a good shave, so I bought a vibrating razor, wondering if it would really make a difference. I called it the dildo blade, and every time I needed new blades I pondered how ridiculous it was, because that stupid vibration didn’t make a lick of difference.

I jumped brands to Schick. Got this Hydro thing with four or five blades. Sturdy, metal handle, nice grip, shaved well. New blades, however, approached eight bucks a box. I found myself milking enough shaves from those bad boys that I may as well have been shaving with a butter knife when I threw them out.

Enter the Dollar Shave Club, and their entertaining commercial and promises of “fucking great” blades.

Free handle, a buck a month for five, two-blade heads, and two bucks shipping. If I wanted to jump up to a four- or six-blade system they could hook me up for a few dollars more. After thinking on it a while, I used up the rest of my expensive blades and set up a Dollar Shave account.

My first package arrived less than a week later. I have to admit, I enjoy their packaging slogans. “Welcome to your better bathroom?” Righteous.

My first Dollar Shave shipment has arrived

They may not be the first to do this new “man marketing,” but they do it well.

The package came with my blades, the One-Wipe Charlies I ordered (and will be reviewing soon), and the free handle. They also threw in a single-serving application of their alternative to shaving cream, Dr. Carver’s Easy Shave Butter.

The handle is plastic with metal clips to hold the blade head, and it’s a bit shorter and lighter than my current Schick handle. My first shave with it didn’t go so hot. The blades are indeed sharp, and I sliced a small bump on the front of my neck and I finished with a few other cuts.

Round two didn’t fare much better. I took a lighter grip on the handle and found I didn’t get near as close a shave as I wanted. By shave three, however, I had the feel for the Dollar Shave razor down and things went great. I got a few more shaves out of the head before tossing it, and then went on to the second head. It worked just fine from shave one.

The verdict: a solid win. I like these blades. Now that I have a feel for the handle, I’ve been happy. While the handle is light, it doesn’t feel shoddy, and the metal clips get a sturdy grip on the heads. Every time the Wife or I would knock my old handle off its hook in the shower, the blade head would fly off. With the Dollar Shave handle, that hasn’t happened yet.

I was less taken with the shave butter. It felt fine, but I shave in the shower, sometimes without my glasses or contacts. Because the butter is transparent, I had a tough time telling where I had and hand’t shaved. Even more important, I’m not sure it did any better than my standard Barbasol shaving cream. The shave butter is eight bucks for a six-ounce tube, while a can of Barbasol costs about two bucks and lasts for what seems like decades. I even use it to clean my shaving mirror and prevent fogging, and it still takes forever to get through a can.

Now let’s talk about value. I’m told Dollar Shave gear is made by Dorco Pace, who also sells their own gear online. In a quick comparison, it looks like purchasing direct from Dorco is close to or cheaper than Dollar Shave, especially after factoring in shipping. This is assuming, however, one buys Dorco gear in bulk and has a drawer full of spare cartridges. I’d just as soon not have the clutter in my bathroom, but your mileage may vary.

Also, the Dollar Shave setup has a feature I wasn’t aware of at first: delivery every other month. I don’t shave daily, so I won’t go through five blades in a month. Now Dollar Shave Club will send me refills every two months, and I won’t have to worry about a drawer full of spares or having to run out to the store because I forgot blades. If I need to change something, then it’s just a couple of clicks in my Dollar Shave account to stop a shipment.

Cheap, convenient and effective is a trio of advantages I can get behind. It appears I could go even cheaper with an old-school safety razor, or just purchase a straight razor and leather strop and be done with refills altogether, but that can wait until I’m older and crabbier. Unless their blades turn to garbage, I’ll be with Dollar Shave Club for a while.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Some Creators Need a Smack Upside the Head

It’s okay to gripe about a job. Everyone does it at some point, and it’s good to get things off our chests once in a while. But to walk away from a dream job because it’s harder than one expected? That’s just stupid.

I have a lot of friends working full-time in the creative field. Some write books, some write comics. Some are artists, some are musicians. To many of them, this is the dream job. Heck, to me, this is the dream job. They’re realistic, though. They know there are pros and cons to this kind of work, and there are times they get pretty stressed out. Every so often, however, one of them wonders why he didn’t stick with a “real” job and avoid the array of troubles he’s dealing with.

This makes me want to punch them square in the face.

Let’s put these troubles in perspective, shall we?

Complaint 1: Money, or, “I miss a steady paycheck.”

Yeah. As if going back to the grind of a day job suddenly makes home improvements, emergency car repairs, and other unexpected financial hits go away. As if all of us can afford steak dinners and expensive bourbon every night of the week. Learn to manage your money as it comes in, rather than blowing it on books and bar tabs because you happen to have a full wallet at the moment.

Complaint 2: Insurance, or, “I can’t afford these medical bills!”

News flash: insurance is the single biggest hit on most of our paychecks, and it probably was on yours, too, back when you still had said “real” job. Even then, it doesn’t cover everything. Most affordable insurance plans are garbage. I’m still making payments on family surgeries from two and three years ago, just as you will have to do when you have that sudden unexpected medical crisis that wipes out your savings. (And you do have a savings account, right? Refer back to “learn to manage your money as it comes in,” above.)

Complaint 3: Taxes, or, “Holy shit, I owe the IRS a ton of money!”

Hahahaha! Yeah. You can move to a state without sales tax, or without property tax, but you’re still going to owe Uncle Sam. Our employers siphon Uncle Sam’s cash off our paychecks for us. Learn to do the same on your own.

Complaint 4: Working for The Man, or, “My editor’s a moron.”

Everyone is beholden to somebody, and that includes editors at major publishing companies. The bigger the company, the more stockholders and board members there are breathing down their necks. Congratulations, you’ve just figured out your boss is just as good or as bad as any other boss out there.

Oh, you’ve got deadlines? Poor baby. Remember inconvenient schedules, mandatory overtime, and someone watching your time card? Remember having to work holidays, or not being able to just take a break to work down at the coffee shop? Remember not being able to take a walk around the park when you feel like it to clear your head?

Work is a verb. It’s something you do, wherever and however you do it. Even if we start calling it “super happy funtime,” I’m sure there would be some part of it we hate.

Complaint 5: The Fanboys, or, “Man, they’re tearing me apart on this forum.”

Let’s take Superman for example. The problem is everyone knows who and what Superman is, what he represents, and how his story should work, but these things are not the same for everyone. When a fanboy says “Superman would never . . .” he means “My Superman would never . . .”

Now extend that same thing to any other character, or to a traditional monster like werewolves. Things are tough all over, precious. Many critics and reviewers write from the perspective of “I wouldn’t have done it this way,” and all you can do is ignore them and move on. If Stephenie Meyer lost any sleep over the “vampires don’t sparkle!” thrashing she received, she consoled herself with thick wads of cash.

Complaint 6: The Letdown, or, “This isn’t as fulfilling as I thought.”

Finally we have the Big One. It kind of ties back to work still being work, but part of it is perhaps reevaluating expectations, and why exactly you felt this was the dream job in the first place.

If a writer landing a regular gig at Marvel or DC thought that meant he got to hang around the hallways with his favorite superheroes all day, for example, then he had the wrong expectations. If a writer landing a tremendous contract with a New York publishing house thought book tours meant packed signing events and rivers of booze, then he had the wrong expectations. If a screenwriter thought his screenplay would make it to the screen without a million studio notes, directoral changes, and input from actors, then he had the wrong expectations. All you can do is do the work and hope for the best, and work work work until you reach a point that you have the juice and the trust to do it your way.

If the expectations of the work are in line, then maybe it’s time to ask what your expectations of satisfaction are. If you find fulfillment in the steady paycheck and the insurance, then fine, begone. Make room for the rest of us.

You have to find the work fulfilling.

Let’s compare two products: a fantasy book and a widget. Both bring in the same amount of cash for an individual, whether it was paid out through royalties, an hourly wage, or a salary.

The fantasy book gets mixed reviews. Some folks are calling it a Game of Thrones knockoff, but there’s also a group of people who really dig the book. It dips in the Kindle charts, there’s a modest movie option but no real traction, and the author moves on to his next project.

The widget, meanwhile, is just another product on the shelf. Whether we’re talking production or sales, it’s the same, day-to-day business: go to work, move widgets, go home, collect a paycheck. Once in a while the employee beats a production quota or sells a shitload of widgets and gets a pat on the back, maybe even lands a nice Christmas bonus. Then it’s back to business as usual. The industry slumps and rebounds, and pretty soon it’s on to the next widget.

Me, I’ll take the fantasy book every time. I’m not writing for fame and fortune, I’m writing because I enjoy it. Some parts of the business side are a pain the ass, but some parts are a lot of fun. I know not everybody is going to enjoy my work, and I know it may not bring in tons of cash and solve all my financial woes, yet I still find it fulfilling.

So again, every job sucks. Some may sound like the bestest gig ever!, but then you still have to deal with people, and with disappointment, and with financial hardship. It’s okay to bitch about these things.

Just don’t sit there and tell me you never should have taken on that dream job, or that you’re going to walk away because it’s too difficult, because you clearly haven’t considered the alternative.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Wisdom From Strange Places

Sometimes wisdom comes from places you wouldn’t expect. Take this Twitter gem for example, which has stuck with me since yesterday:

Applies to so many things we see in publishing, on the Internet, and more.

And it’s so much cooler hearing it in Grimlock’s voice.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

War Rocket Rugrat

My family inadvertently reenacted the worst portions of the Soviet space program yesterday.

That’s the problem with science kits: they promise so much, but give so little. The Rugrats received a simple rocket kit for Christmas last year. Little more than a plastic soda bottle and some tchotchkes, it’s supposed to shoot “up to 100 feet” into the sky.

Here is our sad little rocket:

Launch One: FAIL

Made by Acme, apparently

Now, to be fair, we weren’t all that concerned about looks. The fins are cheap balsa wood,  and the rest is flimsy, light plastic lashed together with strips cut from a sheet of silver foil tape. The Rugrats are still too young to cut and tape straight. End result? Something that could explode and we wouldn’t be too concerned about it.

The fuel for this simple rocket is vinegar and baking soda. When the two mix you get carbon dioxide, which is supposed to punch out a stopper at the bottom and propel this thing skyward. A simple chemical reaction. So we loaded the vinegar into the body, dropped the baking soda into the engine tube, and took them out to the field across the street.

Launch One: I mix the materials and the engine immediately blows off in my hands. The rubber stopper misses my face by inches.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

The Wife and Little Bird run home for more fuel, we clean up the rocket and reload, and we take it back to the center of the field. I put in the stopper (engine) and tighten it up more this time. The eldest Rugrat wisely flees the launch area.

Launch Two: Mix the fuel, set the rocket down, boosh! It all explodes out of the bottom before I let go.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

I know the chemistry is sound because we’re getting the reaction, and the stopper does pop loose. However, the paperwork says it’s supposed to take 8-30 seconds for pressure to build up. Maybe the designers of this thing should have read up on the Nedelin catastrophe. We load up again, this time using less baking soda, and I try to get the stopper/engine on good and tight.

Launch Three: Mix the fuel and it blows up all over my shoe before I can set it down.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

This thing writes its own premature ejaculation jokes at this point. Maybe the kit designers are trying to build empathy for their personal problems.

Though I suppose it could have been worse. The kids want to try a Mentos and Diet Coke launch sometime.

We had enough vinegar for one last launch. I examine the stopper and make sure it tightens as it’s supposed to (it has a screw and a handle that are supposed to compress it lengthwise to make it wider). I dry the stopper and the mouth of the bottle to make sure it will get a good grip. Prep the engine, return to the launchpad. Again, my assistant Rugrat flees the scene.

Launch Four: Mix the fuel, set the rocket on the ground. It immediately falls over on one of its flimsy balsa wood fins. I reach down to pick it up . . . Boosh! The stopper pops and the rocket shoots fifteen feet or so through the grass.

The Wife and two Rugrats laugh and laugh.

The Squirt hangs his head with a sad pout because the rocket “sucks” and we’re out of fuel, so he didn’t get to see it fly up into the air. Thanks, Science! You like making little kids cry?

Man. Science is a jerk sometimes.

And that’s why I didn’t get any real writing work done yesterday.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Brain Dump

Storms have rolled through here every day for the past several days. There’s a lull in one right now, so I’m outside with a small Sancho Panza cigar, pounding at the keys and enjoying the cooler weather. The bugs and toads are singing again, and everything is shiny and wet. The sky keeps flashing to the east and south, and a nice rumble will roll through several seconds later. There’s an ominous beauty about it all: serene and quiet, but it could all go to hell at any moment.

I should probably be working on a short story, but I’m physically exhausted and the mind is going a hundred miles an hour in different directions, so it’s not happening. I owe an editor and a collaborator some email, but those responses need more thought, too. Instead, I’m going to exorcise some of this other nonsense right here and clear out the works.

  • Cats are a pain in the ass. Ours has been missing five days, so we’ve been worried he got himself killed. Today, the Rugrats were fairly sure they spotted him in the field behind our back yard. They went to get a better look and he got spooked and ran, the little dumbass.
  • Today I snapped up The Baddest Ass, the latest Billy Lafitte book from Anthony Neil Smith. The first books, Yellow Medicine and Hogdoggin’, were some great reads, and I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time. I wrote a review of Hogdoggin’ for Indie Pulp a while ago, and you can see a book trailer for The Baddest Ass on Smith’s site. If you haven’t read any of these books, Yellow Medicine is free. No excuses.
  • Because I’m told I don’t mention it enough: The Pack: Winter Kill is only $4.49 on Kindle, my friends. Expect news on the sequel, Lie with the Dead, soon. If the reviews won’t sway your purchase, you can get a free extended preview with the purchase of the Pack short story “Bravo Four” for only 99 cents.
  • I’ve got some more comics work lined up. Score. It’s too early to share any real info, but this is going to be a fun one.
  • The Jennifer Connelly Writing Motivator is my new favorite Tumblr blog. Okay, second favorite. But I can’t link my absolute favorite because I work for a school district and it would not be a wise move.
  • Of course, the day job doesn’t stop me from pimping my first novel, Deadliest of the Species. Only $2.99 on Kindle and it will also be available in trade paperback. No reviews yet, but it’s the book that won a Bram Stoker Award when it was first published. Try it. You’ll dig it. Find out why Edward Lee called it a “big, plush, hot, creepy, erotic gem.”
  • This cigar went sour quick. Not a fan. Pretty sure it’s a cheapo, though, and it may not have fully recovered in the humidor, so it may not be fair to Smoke Blog it. Let’s just call it caveat emptor.
  • Some of you may remember me mentioning a book called Powerless. It keeps getting back-burnered for other projects. I’ve come to the realization that while I still dig the plot and characters, the approach I had taken with it is way off. Time to scrap it and start fresh with a real outline.
  • Speaking of outlines, I’ve revisited the one for the third Pack novel and it will be off to my editor soon. I’m itching to start writing it.
  • While I haven’t always been a fan of outlining, I now find they are a huge time saver and can help avoid major rewrites.
  • The tub of Italian beef I buy at Costco tastes better than the Italian beef sandwiches offered everywhere I’ve tried in Peoria. That’s sad.
  • Holy shit. Sick Day was supposed to be a NaNoWriMo project a while back. Time moves way too fast.

That’ll do it for now. I hope to have that Chromebook review for you soon. Given a few recent conversations, I may put together something about how I use Evernote to support my writing, too. Tomorrow, I rewrite and resubmit a short story.

I’m out.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Buttwipe Blog

Dollar Shave Club is now getting into the buttwipe business:

I’m in. I have one last disposable head on my razor and I was about to set up a DSC account anyway, so I’m going to throw a pack of Charlies on my order.

Dean Putney posted a cost analysis of a toilet wipe on Boing Boing, and he estimates it costs about a third as much to stick with traditional TP. But here’s the thing: it’s not about cost. His analysis is all well and good, and my family just purchased some TP in bulk from Costco, so the numbers are similar. Yet there are still, shall we say, issues.

I’m a big dude. My diet isn’t wonderful. There’s a hair thing involved. Do you smell what I’m shovelin’ here? Sometimes paper just doesn’t get the job done. Or it looks done, but later, well. . . issues. And I’ve been known to go through half a roll at times. What does the cost analysis say then?

Now, are there cheaper wipes out there? I dunno. Guess I’ll look. But if these are more durable than baby wipes and are biodegradable, that may be all I needed to hear.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.