Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Year in Review

But first, my final words on Obamacare. I did find a cheap plan and signed up for it ... until I discovered none of the major hospitals or doctors in my area accept it. No wonder it was so cheap. I ended up with a slightly better plan that's costing me over $100 a month with the same deductible as the crap plan (about $6500) and no co-pay, but if I get sick a doctor will see me and a hospital will take me in. If I'd been willing, and able, to pay $200 or more a month, then I could have gotten co-pay and a lower deductible. My last plan had all that, but it was discontinued.

I didn't use my insurance last year. Didn't go to a doctor. I may not need it next year, but that's the problem. You never know. It still would have been cheaper to not have insurance at all and pay the fee at tax time -- which, by the by, has doubled again. Even my insurance agent doesn't like this deal. She called it: it's not affordable health care, it's available health care. It's only affordable for a lot of us because our fellow taxpayers are footing the bill.

I'm going to say it again. This was not health care reform. This was a tax, under another name. This was a scam. I'd love to know whose pockets got lined at our expense. I suspect we'll all find out later in 2016 -- specifically, right after the election. I also suspect there will be major changes to the law right after the new President's announced. That's my prediction for next year.

One other prediction: somebody famous will die. See how easy it is to foretell the future?

# # #

As far as the rest of 2015 went for me ... well, it had its ups and downs. The car held up for another year. So did my aging body.  I still had to vacuum the house and mow the lawn. My first venture into self-publishing didn't go so well. On the other hand, I published under a pseudonym and that story did okay. I'm now convinced I can achieve success in publishing, but it won't be under my real name. Hey, that's okay. I'm fine with that. As long as the right name's on the check, I'm a happy camper.

Almost forgot -- I sort of got a job. It's freelance but it's steady, or at least it was until this month. I'm hoping things pick up again in January. Five hundred a month (on average) may not sound like much, but it covers a bunch of expenses. If I could get a second gig like this, I'd be fine. Or two or three, now that I need to pay for "affordable" health insurance.

I'd like to extend my sympathies to Serena for her plight. She sold a story to Ellora's Cave right before all the excrement hit the AC. I know how that is. My work history is strewn with incidents of me getting hired by companies that went belly-up soon afterwards. Most recent example: I applied to Samhain Publishing for freelance work as a proofreader/line editor. They turned me down. That was last month. I just recently learned Samhain has closed to submissions from all but their current authors and is "regrouping." They also fired the editor of their relatively-new horror line. Sounds like a restructuring's going on. No layoffs, but people who leave won't be replaced. Looks like my timing was off in that job application. The doomsday clock's still running on my current freelance job. I'll keep you posted.

So that was my year. Pretty much more of the same, only more expensive. I wish I could blame somebody. Okay, sure, I can blame the current administration for having to buy health insurance. Though if I have a heart attack tomorrow, bet I won't be bitching while I'm dialing 911. The rest of it's on me. You have to actually do something in order for good things to happen. I applied for the freelance job and I got it, and now I can buy gas and groceries. See? It does work out.

Don't worry about bad stuff. You don't have to do anything there. Bad stuff happens all by itself. If more good than bad happens to you in a year's time, consider yourself ahead of the game.

I'm not sure yet if I'm going to make resolutions. Those usually last about 48 hours after the clock strikes midnight. Let's see how I feel next week, with a whole new, fresh year looming ahead. And higher insurance bills. Prediction: I see job hunting in my future. Happy New Year, y'all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Starting the New Year Right

This just in -- J. J. Collins has a new release coming out January 12. PRICELESS is a futuristic M/M featuring a lonely antiquities dealer and a hot-to-trot alien. I'll be posting an excerpt on release day. Happy holidays to Jen and Chuck!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Dr. Phil Drinking Game

But first, my Obamacare update: I didn’t qualify for Medicaid. My IRA, the one I started back in the ‘80s when I had disposable income, tripped me up again. The good news on that front is that I’m finally old enough to make withdrawals. That account’s cost me any chance of state aid over the years, and there were times when any kind of aid would have come in handy. About time it started paying out.

So I readjusted my income projections and updated my Health Care Marketplace account once again. Wonder of wonders, I still qualify for assistance. I found one program for under $100 a month, and that’s the one I’m going for. It may be a piece of ka-ka. I don’t care. I’m hoping I don’t have to use it.

In the ACA’s first year I didn’t sign up at all. I paid for stuff out of pocket. I had cheap insurance last year and only used it once, to fill a prescription for an eye infection. I’ve been lucky in that I rarely get sick. Even when I do have problems, I tend to wait a while and see if they go away. My body could be riddled with cancer. I have no idea. Maybe if I write a bestselling trilogy I’ll buy some real insurance and find out. The ACA made it so you can’t be turned down because of pre-existing conditions. That’s about the only good it did.

# # #

Confession time. Maybe if I say it fast it won’t be so embarrassing. Here it is: I watch Dr. Phil. It’s like Jerry Springer, but without the flying chairs. As long as there’s reality TV, people will happily step in front of a camera and display bad behavior while defending same. Only God knows why.

After awhile these shows develop a formula. Guest A comes out and trashes Guest B, the host dispenses words of wisdom, cut to commercial. Lather, rinse, repeat. The Dr. Phil Show is no different. As a regular viewer—there, I said it—I’ve been noticing the set pieces for some time. Here’s some advice for you, Phil: you need to get new writers. The guests, sadly, are doomed to remain monotonously the same. Nature of the reality TV beast and all.

Winter’s coming on. If you find yourself snowed in and the power hasn’t gone out, here’s a little something you can do to while away the time. I call it “The Dr. Phil Drinking Game.” You may not find the answers to your psychological problems, but by the end of the hour you won’t care.

Take a shot every time Phil says:

“I’m going to put some verbs in my sentences.”

“How’s that working for you?”

“You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

“You do it until.”

“That dog won’t hunt.”

 “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior."

“We’re going to (talk to this guy/hear my opinion/solve all the world’s problems) right after the break.”

Take a shot every time a guest:

Says, “I don’t know what to do.”

Says, “That’s what I’m here to find out.”

Uses any of the following words: Liar, manipulator, narcissistic, bipolar.

Interrupts another guest. (Trust me, you’ll be drunk in minutes.)

Gets interrupted or talked over by Phil himself. (Ditto)

Take two shots if:

The camera cuts to Robin in the audience.

A guest throws a tantrum and/or storms off the stage.

Drink an entire beer if:

Phil plugs one of his books.

Phil gives everybody in the audience a copy of one of his books.

There you have it: a blueprint for writing your own Dr. Phil episode. Try it with your family or friends. By the end of an hour you won’t be speaking to most of them, but you’ll all be so wasted none of you will remember what was said. It’s a win-win, sort of.

Even easier to play is the Bar Rescue Drinking Game. Take a drink every time Jon Taffer reams out a bar owner, the bar owner or an employee acts like a total jerk, the bar and/or kitchen is filthy, or Taffer yells, “Shut it down!” Or you could turn off the TV and drink water, which is better all around, for both your physical and mental health. I tend to wind up reading books instead of writing them, so I still have issues to work through. Maybe I’ll pick up a bottle of Scotch and try to get on the Dr. Phil show.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Give the People What They Want

What follows is a tale of why being a pantser isn’t always a good thing.

I’m handling edits right now, for a story that, if all goes well, should come out sometime in January. It’s futuristic MM, set on a distant planet with aliens and stuff. Our Hero finds himself in possession of a man from a species whose entire focus is on sex. They end up falling in love, of course. It’s a romance.

Here’s where my pantserness tripped me up. As I was writing the scene where they dispense with their clothes, it suddenly occurred to me why these alien males are so popular. It’s because they’re hermaphrodites. AC/DC in both body and temperament. Whatever you’re in the mood for, even if it’s both at once, they can accommodate you. Tell this guy to go screw himself and he’ll say, “Be back in ten minutes.”

My lusty heroes consummate their budding relationship, using the guy’s lady parts. That’s where I left it.

Not good.

My editor wasn’t overjoyed. I was expecting that. I anticipated there might be some flak over the twist my pantser half threw in. She didn’t tell me to excise it, though. Instead she pointed out, “This is MM. The readers come to this genre for a certain experience and you’ve given them something else. You can fix it by adding some butt sex.” Not her exact words, of course, but that was the gist of her assessment.

And you know what? She’s absolutely right.

Every genre and sub-genre has its own conventions. Science fiction generally has some kind of tech. You can spot fantasy by the elves and the dragons. Put the elves and dragons in modern-day New York City and now it’s urban fantasy. Westerns have cowboys, horses and shoot-‘em-ups. Horror novels have monsters. If the woman falls in love with the monster, then it’s paranormal romance. Crime novels have killings or kidnappings or anything that would bring in the cops. Mysteries have, well, a mystery. Romances are about two people falling in love and working their way toward a Happily Ever After. Take away the HEA and it becomes women’s fiction with a romantic bent.

These are all valid genres, with their own particular audiences. People come to them with certain expectations. That mystery novel better include a mystery, and it damn well better be mysterious. Don’t give your orc a ray gun and try to tell people it’s SF. It’s still fantasy. Readers who expected the orcs to wield swords will give you a half star on Amazon.

For MM, it’s man love. Guy-on-guy relations. Not guy on pseudo-woman, which is what I did. If you’re writing MM, especially MM erotic romance, then somebody’s dick better find its way into somebody else’s butthole, or the readers are going to come after you with torches and pitchforks. And they’ll never buy a book from you again.

I knew this when I wrote it. I even considered adding a more conventional MM sex scene but didn’t know where to put it. I almost made the worst mistake a writer can fall victim to: misleading the readers. The audience for MM books is ponying up its cash for the guy/guy romantic experience. Either give them what they expect to get or suffer the consequences.

That’ll teach these e-book publishers to accept manuscripts without reading them first. It taught me not to screw around (no pun intended) with my audience. Mea culpa, folks. Your butt sex is on its way. And it’s gonna be hawt. I’ve thought of a way to make that original scene the prelude to the good stuff, the real MM sex scene, involving guys slamming guys into walls. That should wash the taste of girl cooties out of everyone’s mouth.

Writers, listen to your editors. They know what they’re doing. They know what’s good for the book. My next MM will be between two Earth guys, and butts will definitely get penetrated. One of the guys turns into a horse, so I suppose it’s paranormal. Just so you know that up front.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Obamacare Redux

So here I am again, a year later, once again dealing with the complexities that make up the Affordable Care Act. And once again, I’m totally PO’d.

For those who came in late: Last year this time I signed up for government-mandated health insurance through the government’s marketplace, which offers discounts for those of us with low incomes due to our jobs going overseas. And I did get coverage, at a very cheap price. I never needed to use it, but I had it. Thank you, taxpayers of America. I figured I’d be good for however long this ripoff ran.

Two things got in the way of my happiness. One, my insurance company isn’t offering my particular coverage next year, so I have to sign up for something else. No prob. I picked up a freelance job this year, but my income should still be low enough to qualify me for assistance.

That’s when I hit problem #2: my upcoming birthday. The big 6-0 is coming my way in January, and with it a whole new slew of government classifications. For starters, because of my age and low income, I might qualify for Medicaid, at small or maybe even no cost. Right now I’m waiting to hear back from the state to find out if I do.

I’d better hope I do. Because my income level is too low to qualify me for financial help through the marketplace.

Yes, you heard that right. If you make above a certain amount you don’t get any assistance. But if you make below a certain amount, you also don’t get any assistance. Which means if I don’t qualify for Medicaid I still have to have coverage because the government says so and they’ll fine me if I don’t. Only now I’ll have to pay full price for it, which will wipe me out financially in short order. The least expensive plan available to me would run at least $500-$600 a month, which effectively cancels out the income from my freelance job. That still leaves me to deal with my other expenses through my ever-dwindling savings.

Welcome to the world of Affordable Health Care.

I’ve been saying this since the law went into effect. The Affordable Care Act did not make health insurance affordable. It did not lower prices on either insurance or medical care. It did not standardize prices for medical procedures or deal with insurance fraud or hospital overcharging. It forced Americans to buy health insurance or get taxed if they didn’t. That’s it. It took the onus of paying for the uninsured’s health care off the hospitals and insurance companies and dumped it on the backs of the voters. It’s robbing Taxpayer Peter to pay the costs of insuring Taxpayer Paul. Last year I was Paul. That was before I turned 60. I’m about to become Peter, and Peter doesn’t have that much in the bank.

And before you start telling me to get a job, I’ve been looking. It’s not that easy to find full-time employment that offers a living wage and medical coverage once you’re over 50. I can apply to twenty jobs a day and it’s not going to help unless one of them actually hires me.

I spoke elsewhere of a former co-worker of mine who lost her job last year. She was abruptly laid off after working as a newspaper layout/ad designer at the same place for over twelve years. She thinks she was let go because her salary was higher than those of the two girls they kept, both of whom had been there half as long. I suspect the cost of health care might also have factored into it. My co-worker’s over 50 now. The price of her coverage would be higher than that for the 30somethings still working there. Who may not need coverage at all because they’re married, and might be covered by their husbands’ programs. Even more money left in the boss’s pocket.

I haven’t seen her since then. I hope she found another job, because she’s in the same boat I am: single, over 50, and expensive. She has training, skills and years of experience, but not in any job that couldn’t be done just as well by somebody half her age for less money. Which is what employers in the current economy are looking for.

I kid you not. I was cruising want ads and found what I believe was my old newspaper editor job. The description and location fit. Except the ad specifically stated, “Recent college graduates encouraged to apply. Lack of experience isn’t a problem.” In short, they wanted young and cheap. I clicked on the “Apply Now” button anyway, only to discover the job had already been filled. A second writing job, one I’d applied to way back when and could now do in my sleep, also ran an ad. Same thing: Over here, recent grads, this is the job for you. Experience not necessary. I did apply to that one. Never heard back.

A couple months back I applied for a freelance proofreading position with an online publisher. Just got the “no” yesterday. They recently fired one of their acquiring editors so they’re kind of in flux right now.

Meanwhile, my neighbors across the street hit a snag of their own last year. They’re in their 60s, retired, debt-free. Then the husband had a stroke. We live a mile from the local hospital. Cost for an ambulance to make a two-mile trip: $1000. Then he had to be airlifted to a better hospital because the local one couldn’t treat him. Cost for the helicopter ride: $27,000. That’s not even counting the cost of treatment, rehab and hospital stay. His wife, who has back and hip problems, took a pizza delivery job to help with the bills. She says they’re so deep in debt now they’ll never get out. And they did have health insurance.

So tell me, how is that “affordable”? Why didn’t Obama’s “health care reform” reform any of that?

I don’t even know how much I’m going to earn next year. I’m a writer. I send stuff out and three to six months later I get paid. I could always tell the insurance marketplace my income is whatever it needs to be in order for me to get government assistance. Who knows, I could even be right.

Otherwise, it looks like my most affordable plan for next year will be to not buy insurance, take my chances with the tax penalty (which has also gone up since the ACA’s inception; it looks to run $600-$700 next year), and hope I don’t get sick in 2016.

Well, this’ll all be over soon. I predict the Affordable Care Act will be abruptly repealed, either right before or right after the November presidential election. Obama may even kill it himself. Why not? It will have served its purpose of pouring money into his administration’s coffers and enriching the insurance companies. Let the next President figure out how to squeeze more bucks out of impoverished Americans.

Me? I’m voting for Trump. He’s got enough money he can buy health insurance for everybody. And if his mouth gets us blown up in a war with somebody, then we won’t need health insurance. I guess that’s the best win we could hope for.