But First, A Word from My Sponsor (A.K.A. My Husband)
Before I begin on what I hope is both a funny and maybe a little bit enlightening post, I want to make sure I’m clear about the incredibly privileged position I’m in.
In September of 2014, I was able to make the decision to step away from my decades in retail—I managed a bookstore—and dive into writing Triad Blood. The reasons were many, not the least of which being that my first novel took me three years to write while working full time, and I wanted to (and was contracted to) deliver Triad Blood in a year. There was a lot more to it than that, obviously (it had a horrible commute that didn’t show any signs of ending and was affecting my already tenuous sleeping habit, etc.) but that was a kind of tipping point.
I do have a (very) part-time job as well at my local LGBT bookstore/gallery, but for the most part, I can (and do) devote daily time to writing. Laundry, dishes, the dog and other chores take up the rest, and I cannot tell you how amazing it is to finally, after a decade of marriage, actually have time with my husband on the weekends to spend together.
The biggest thing, though is this: my husband has a job with income enough to keep us both afloat, and our fluffy lordship in kibble. This is huge. I could never have afforded to not work a full-time day job without him, and I am freaking blessed to have him. My writing pal Jeffrey Ricker talked about this recently, and after a couple of online interactions with Jeff Mann, Sassafras Lowrey, and Jeffrey, I realized how many of us were discussing how various writerly income translated to “a meal out” and I jokingly referred to it as “eating our words.”
Which brings me to this post.
What if I did eat my words?
I’m very much a beginning writer. I have one novel, one novella (in a collection of four novellas), and a few dozen short stories out there in the world. A second novel is on the way, a third is being written. These are products I’m selling. So far, that’s not a whole lot. I have had what I’d say is a very lucky start in that my first novel, Light, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award (which was fantastic and an amazing honour to boot), as well as a helping to make me a finalist in the Saints & Sinners Emerging Writer Award (also awesome and also an honour). Happily, both of those things generated noise, and one is always hopeful noise turns into sales.
If you don’t know how writers get paid in traditional publishing, here’s the (very) short and simplified version: You pitch a book. Assuming the publisher likes it, you get a contract. Said contract comes with an advance, and in most cases you get half upon delivering the manuscript, and half upon publication of the novel. You earn royalties on the sales of the book—first, against the advance. When you have earned enough royalties to offset the advance (for a truly large advance, that becomes an “if” a lot of the time, rather than a “when”), you start seeing quarterly royalty payments. It’s called “earning out.”
Generally speaking, in short fiction, this is not the system at all. Instead, you get a flat rate (sometimes X cents a word, sometimes a lump $50 or $75 or some other set amount). That’s a one time payment, though you also generally can then go on to re-sell the story elsewhere, which is something I haven’t explored yet personally. I have a dream of releasing a collection of short fiction, and I’m constantly dithering on which previously published stories to include in said potential collection. I didn’t have any short fiction income in 2015 – I’ve got some heading my way for contracts I signed for stories sold in 2015, but they didn’t arrive in that calendar year.
It is also possible for other income to occur from writing. In my case, in Canada I qualify for the Public Lending Right I was talking about yesterday. 2015 was the first year my first novel had been in the library system for the full year and thus qualified. I got a check from that.
I was also paid an honorarium to speak at a Pride event in Montreal. I count that as writerly income because the entire reason I was there was writing related.
So, if I tucked all those payments into my wallet, what will I be eating?
First, I’m sure not dining out or ordering in. I’m heading straight to the farmer’s market and the grocery store, and I’m definitely eyeing what’s on sale, in-season, and what can turn into filling (and fulfilling) meals without a big price tag. I’m going to aim for a week, and then take a tally.
(I’m already having student life flashbacks.)
How Long Can I Eat My Words?
I’m a pretty boring breakfast guy. I’ll generally have cereal or toast. A bowl of granola or two slices of toast with butter and jam is a typical breakfast for me. I’m going to go with the toast and jam, though, because I know I can measure out a loaf of bread (14 slices) to last me the full week of breakfasts. I’m not going to assume I already have margarine or jam, though, so into the cart they go. Bread, Margarine, Jam. No-name, of course. If it turns out I have free cash at the end of the week, I’d probably add a box of cereal, but not for this run-through.
With breakfast, I drink tea. Specifically, I drink a decaf tea, because it turned out the caffeine in tea was one of the triggers for my headaches, so I try to avoid the caffeinated teas more than once a day. I take milk in my tea, and honey. Milk (1%), Honey (no-name), and Typhoo go into the cart. (Honey, by the way, is freaking expensive. I’m always hoping it’s on sale. Right now? It’s not.)
I have a couple of different “go-to” lunches, and I’m not often a big eater at lunch, either. It’s more often leftovers from previous dinners, and I’m really bad for eating the same damn thing for a whole week in a row, but let’s pretend for a moment I got my act in gear and actually made different (and decent) lunches for a week.
What are seven typical lunches for me? Let’s go with: A grilled cheese sandwich; Beans on toast (it’s a British thing); Roasted beetroot hummus with baby carrots; A beetroot and cheese sandwich (what? I like beetroots); a box of Mac and Cheese; and, let’s say, Cream of mushroom soup (from a can, because: lazy. Also probably with toast). I’ll drink more Typhoo tea, as that’s my usual go-to. Sometimes I might have a glass of milk instead, and I’ll follow up lunch with a banana. The Mac and Cheese will repeat, because I can never finish a whole box, so if you’re counting and saw only six lunches, that’s why.
Into the cart goes another loaf of bread, a block of no-name cheese (mmm, taste the orange!), a can of beans, a bunch of bananas, beets, tahini, chickpeas, a lemon, salt, a three-pack of garlic bulbs (on sale, woohoo!), pepper, olive oil, a bag of of baby carrots, a box of no-name KD equivalent, and can of cream of mushroom soup.
Now, anyone who knows me knows I am not a chef. I love baking, but I’m not a good cook. The two require different skill sets, and I definitely come down on the “follow instructions” side of kitchen work. But I have a few good meals I’ve learned to cook and I like my slow-cooker a lot. I generally make the same meals over and over (much to the chagrin of my husband, who often sighs when he asks me to cook and I ask him which of my three memorized meals he would like). I’m also a firm user of the freezer. Things you heat on a tray in the oven or shove into a microwave? That’s totally my speed. But, again, let’s argue that I’m going to make meals more often than I usually would because in all honesty it’s generally cheaper (and leaves you with leftovers).
Dinners, then, will include: that Chicken stir fry I make; that Hamburger casserole I make; Chicken breasts with rice and (frozen) sweet corn; Chicken burger, oven fries, and (frozen) peas; Potato ash (basically a potato stew with ground beef and carrots); Meat lasagna (the from the freezer-to-the-oven kind because, again, lazy), and because I know myself way too well, we’ll add a microwave dinner. Probably butter chicken, because yum.
Into the cart goes: Chicken breasts (sometimes they’re on sale, like right now, which is a win, so I’ll nab one of the big packs and freeze some), two green peppers, two onions, a red pepper, rice, ten mushrooms, no-name chicken broth, ketchup, corn starch, brown sugar, soya sauce, curry powder, two tomatoes, two packets of ground beef, a can of diced tomatoes, another can of cream of mushroom soup, egg noodles, frozen chicken burgers, oven fries, frozen corn, frozen peas, bag of potatoes, three large carrots, frozen lasagna, and a microwave butter chicken.
I snack. Part of the reason my breakfasts and lunches are generally small is that I munch while I write or edit, and I have wobbly blood sugar, so it’s better for me to eat more often and less than it is to have big meals. Most of my snackage would be covered by some of the meals I’ve listed above. The baby carrots are a go-to, as is the block of cheese (I have been known to just spread margarine on warm bread and eat a chunk of cheese for lunch and shut up like you have no bad habits), and the beetroot hummus. To round out my snacking, I’ll add a box of gingersnaps (because I’m human, damnit).
At the end of that first week I’d have eaten 60% of my writing income. Now, if I look at the meals I make, the next week I could likely skip half the lunches, since some of the dinners make leftovers, and I wouldn’t need some things I bought the week before (like tea bags or honey or ketchup or soya sauce), so I’m willing to say the rest of the 40% would likely cover me through the next week. I’d very likely get a box of cereal, too.
So, my answer to “Eating my words”?
And damnit, now I want gingersnaps. Time to go write a short story.