A while back, the some folks contacted me and asked if I’d like to talk about monsters and stories and mythology and stuff for a show they were putting together for the History Channel.
(I’m paraphrasing, of course.)
It wasn’t a hard decision. I’m all about talking about stories and mythology. Stuff is right up my alley, too.
And… Ah… who are we kidding? I just like to talk. If I didn’t have access to the internet, I’d constantly be pulling Ancient Mariner bullshit on people.
Anyway, the first episode went up last week Friday. Here’s a little teaser.
You can watch the entire episode right here. Brandon Sanderson is there too, better dressed and more articulate than me.
Before you rush over there and get your hopes up, I’m not in much of the episode. Part of this is because I didn’t have much to say about things like the Jersey Devil or Hel (The Norse Hel).
But a contributing factor is the fact that I have trouble talking in soundbites. Anyone who has seen me on panels at conventions knows this. When I’m asked a question, your best case scenario is that I’m going to talk a paragraph at you. More often my answer will probably be a little story of its own with its own distinct narrative arc. It’s the only way I really know how to talk. That doesn’t translate well onto camera.
Also, I was so impressed with how shiny my name was that I wore this expression all the way through the interview.
Seriously though, I spent most of my interview telling stories, making jokes, and cussing with extravagant flamboyance. Which, in retrospect, probably wasn’t what they were looking for. Though I do remember getting good laughs off the camera crew…
There are going to be 3 more episodes. I’m particularly curious about how #3 turned out: Gods and Monsters. I remember talking at some length about Loki fucking a horse. Which… now that I’m thinking of it… they might not put that in the episode either.
Anyway, here’s the schedule:
Cannibals and Killers – Friday, October 16th, 2015 at 10pm EST / 9pm CST
Gods and Monsters – Friday, October 23rd, 2015 at 10pm EST / 9pm CST
Giants and Beasts – Friday, October 30th, 2015 at 10pm EST / 9pm CST
You could make a drinking game out of it. Every time they put me on the screen – take a drink. Every time I give a Midwestern pause in the middle of a statement – two drinks. Every time I laugh at one of my own jokes – three drinks. Every time they have to bleep me – do a shot.
As many of you know, a few days before San Deigo Comic-Con this year, the option on my books expired.
What this means is that ages ago, I sold some people the rights (the option) to make a TV show based off The Kingkiller Chronicles. They tried to make it happen, but it didn’t work out. Then, when the option period expired, all the rights reverted back to me.
Just so you know, this sort of thing happens all the time. The vast majority of things that get optioned never get made. The same way that most people that think about writing a book never get it published. Shit happens. People lose interest. Things get complicated. Projects lose momentum.
I don’t have handy statistics at my fingertips, but I’d be willing to bet a dollar that more than 98% of all book options end this way, with no TV show or movie or anything happening.
Anyway, my rights reverted. It didn’t come as a huge shock to me.
This, on the other hand, was a surprise:
(Click on the headline if you want to read the article.)
To say that I didn’t know what I was doing in those meetings is a bit of an understatement. In fact, I remember starting several of the meetings by saying, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do in this meeting.” I also dimly remember explaining to someone that there was no way you could turn The Name of the Wind into a movie. I explained it rather, well… emphatically for, like, 20 minutes. I’m pretty sure that’s fairly high on the list of things you’re not supposed to do in a meeting with someone who wants to turn your book into a movie.
I had fun though. It’s nice to be desired. For that brief moment in time I was the prettiest girl at the party, and everyone wanted to dance with me. (Only frequent readers of the blog can appreciate how clean I kept that little analogy.)
The meetings weren’t stressful for this simple reason: I wasn’t that interested in turning my books into a movie. I know for a lot of authors, a movie deal is like the holy grail. It’s kinda free money. And if a movie gets made? Well, then, you get a truckload of cash, a bucket of fame, and your books get to hang out on the bestseller lists for a while. Usually a long, LONG while.
But honestly? Money’s never been a huge motivator for me. And my books already sell well. And I’m already more celebritous than I’m entirely comfortable with.
Most importantly though, I’ve never been that interested in a straight-up movie deal. Pretty much every fantasy movie created so far has been an action movie, or plot centered, or both. And my books aren’t like that. My books are about the characters. They’re about secrets and mysteries and the hidden turnings of the world. My books are all about antici-
-pation. And a movie, even a long movie, simply doesn’t have enough time to fit all of that stuff in. That’s why my original option was for a TV show. I wanted space for the story to breathe.
So when I met with these people from movie studios, I told them that I wasn’t terribly interested in a movie deal. Not to be a dick, but because I prefer to be honest with folks. I’m happy to have meetings, talk about stories, listen to a pitch… As I said, it’s fun to be desired. It’s nice that you think my books are pretty. Let’s have a dance. But I wanted them to know that I wasn’t really planning on jumping into bed with anyone. (Damn. I knew the analogy was going to end up there eventually.)
There was one exception. When I met with Lionsgate, I said, “If you come at me with a movie offer, it’s going to be a hard sell. I’m not that excited about movies by themselves. But you guys are different from a lot of other studios. Those guys are huge. Monolithic. But you’re more agile and innovative. Your movie people and your TV people actually know each other. They could work together. Share resources.
I continued: “If you came at me with a pitch that involved a television show AND a movie, I’d listen to that. I’d listen really hard, because something like that would let us be big-budget while still giving my story room to breathe. It would give people the ability to spend more time in my world. I can’t think of anyone who has really done that, but it seems like we could have the best of both worlds that way. And it seems to me that you guys are one of the only places that could realistically pull something like that off.”
Yeah. I’m from small-town Wisconsin. But I’m not stupid. And it’s impossible to have 15 hours of meeting with Hollywood people without learning something about who’s who and how that world fits together.
But ultimately, I was just shooting my mouth off and I knew it. I was running on too much caffeine and too little sleep, but I still realized what I was saying was something along the lines of, “I see you guys are offering me the moon, but I’d really like the moon AND a chocolate cake with solid gold frosting. And you need to make the cake from scratch.”
So comic-con finished up. I went home. My coach turned back into a pumpkin and my pretty dress turned back into a geeky-tshirt and kinda grubby pair of cargo shorts. Which is probably for the best. As I’m not very good at important meetings or dancing. I’m way too beardy to be a princess.
* * *
Then Lionsgate got in touch. “About that whole TV-show-and-a-movie thing you mentioned,” they said. “If we’re going to do some sort of big narratively intertwined multi-platform development deal based on your books, wouldn’t it make more sense to do a video game along with the TV show and movies? Because seriously, why wouldn’t we want to do a video game too?” (I’m paraphrasing a little here you understand.)
I said, “What?”
* * *
Since then, I’ve been talking with Lionsgate kind of a lot. Going over particulars. Talking serious talks.
And when I say, “I’ve been talking with Lionsgate” I mean “Me and my team of skilled movie-smart people who do this for a living and some of them are powerful, hard-eyed lawyers.” Because like I said, I’m from small-town Wisconsin, but I’m not stupid.
And I’ll be honest, from the first moment I sat down at the table, I was ready to walk away. I liked the way Lionsgate was willing to dream big with me about adapting my books. They were willing to think outside the box. They were willing to make a whole new box just so we could go outside of it.
But… well… Hollywood is scary. The contracts are, to be quite honest, horrifying. And the power differential is immense. Even the smallest of studios is more powerful than some countries. And the biggest author ever is kinda not a very big deal at all.
So yeah. Silly as it might sound, from the very beginning of this process, I was willing to walk away from the deal. I was almost looking for an excuse to do it, because life is too short. I didn’t want to get a sack of money and pat on the head, then spend the next three years watching helplessly as they molested my books.
So we started to negotiate, and that’s where I received my biggest surprise of all.
You see, I never expected a studio would treat me like a human being. But through this whole process, Lionsgate has treated me with amazing respect. I’ve made what to me seem like reasonable requests, and they responded to them… reasonably. And I’m not just talking about pretty words here, they’re making contractual agreements granting me control of things. They haven’t just been reasonable, they’ve been kind, and understanding.
To be perfectly honest, it’s a bit disconcerting. I never anticipated that a Hollywood studio would treat me like a human being. Let alone want to work with me as a creative partner and respect the fact that I do, in fact, know a lot about how stories work. This story in particular.
So… yeah. That’s the news. Me and them, we’re gonna do a thing.
Lionsgate is making its own press release today and there will be stories in all manner of Hollywood news outlets pretty soon. It’s not a coincidence that my blog is launching up on the very same day as their big announcement. In the same hour, even. Lionsgate coordinated with me so I could share this news on my blog at the same time they’re launching their story.
This was important to me because if you read my blog or follow me on social media… well… you’re a part of the reason my books are a big deal. A lot of you have been a part of my team for years, and I wanted the chance to tell you about this piece of news myself rather than have you hear it on the street.
The fact that Lionsgate was willing to go to some lengths to let me launch this blog simultaneously with their press release is another good sign, in my opinion. It shows they respect me, and it shows they respect you guys, too.
Now I know some of you will be reading this news with fear in your hearts. You’ll worry about them screwing it up. I understand. I know you love these books.
But hear me when I say this: You cannot love these books more than I do. You can’t care about them more than I do. I’ve put twenty years of my life into them. They ride next to my heart. They are my tangible soul.
And I’m not stupid. I hope by this point you know me well enough that you can trust me not to rush into… well… anything. If I cut a deal like this, it’s only because I really think there’s a chance for us to make something beautiful.
I’ll talk about this more on the blog later. I’ll answer questions and explain things and give more details.
Later. We’ll do that all later.
For now. Just for the next couple of days. How about we just let ourselves be a little excited about this? There will be plenty of time to fuss and fidget in the days to come. But right now, I’m not going to worry. Right now I’m just going to spend some time being a happy geek, excited at the thought of getting to see the Eolian or the Fishery. There are some scenes I’d love to see somewhere other than inside my own head.
I’m guessing there’s some scenes y’all would like to see, too….
Novelties has become a lot of fun over this last year, mostly because we get to show off the cool new things we’re putting up in The Tinker’s Packs for charity.
As of now, we’ve pretty much finished shipping out the Geeks Doing Good fundraiser perks, with the exception people who never got back to us about t-shirt sizes. *HINT HINT* So that means we can finally start rolling some of those products out in the store.
These Geek-aWeek decks are cool, as each card has a geeky celebrity featured on the front with some of their vital stats on the back.
During the fundraiser we actually played a little game of D&D showing one of the best uses I’ve seen for these cards: namely, using them to generate off-the-cuff NPCs with more personality than is generally the case.
Here are some highlights from Season 1 and Season 5:
I’m guessing you can see a lot of familiar faces there.
Dear beloved Worldbuilders employees: Do not break each other. This is expressly forbidden in the employee handbook.
All four of the new t-shirts we made for the fundraiser are now live the the store. The team have been wearing theirs with pride, and Amanda, Jeff, and Rachel were all giddy when they saw some out in the wild at my recent signing in LA.
If you missed out on getting one before, or you suddenly thought of a friend who probably needs these, you can pick them up over here:
So apparently, this is what my team does when I’m not in the office to keep an eye them. They dress up and take pictures of their butts.
The hoodies were something of an experiment. They’re much more expensive than t-shirts to produce, so they’re more expensive to purchase, and we were worried no one would be interested in them. Or at least not enough people to make them worth the expense, not to mention the storage space.
They went over way better than we thought, and so even though we hadn’t intended to carry them in the store afterwards originally, you swayed us, and you can get your own over here.
Draccus for King of Tokyo and King of New York
As I mentioned before, King of Tokyo isn’t just a personal favorite game, it’s captured the hearts of the entire Worldbuilders team. They got together and played it a few weeks back, then posted a bunch of pictures up on the Worldbuilders Blog.
So imagine our delight when the lovely folks that make the game worked with us to create a special promotional character, so you can destroy Tokyo like the giant drug-addled cow-lizard you are.
When we brought this promotional Draccus card to GenCon, we only had about 400 of them, which we thought were plenty to last us the weekend. Even so, we limited it to 50 a day, so folks who only came on Saturday or Sunday still had a chance to pick some up. We sold out every day in just a couple of hours.
Fair warning: We have a limited number of these, and once they’re gone, there won’t ever be any more. So if you want one, you might want to grab it sooner rather than later. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sell out in just a couple of days.
For those of you who’ve never played the game before, I highly recommend it. So we’re selling copies of King of Tokyo and King of New York in the store, too. You can use the draccus in either game.
And, as always, all the money raised in the Tinker’s Packs goes to charity. So you’re not just buying geeky swag, you’re making the world a better place, too.
* * *
Three final notes before I sign off today.
I’ve decided that I’m going to be fewer events and less overall traveling in 2016. So if you’d like to see me in person, you might want to catch me in some of the following events coming up here at the end of the year, if that’s at all possible.
1. I’m doing a bit of a tour with Paul and Storm on the East Coast this week. There will be stops in Philadelphia, Alexandria, Brooklyn, and Somerville. (Which is not the same as Sunnydale. I checked.)
2. The convention I’ve been helping plan is fast approaching: NerdCon: Stories. It’s going to be a seriously awesome time.
3. Expect another post later this week on the blog. Odds are I’ll have some news to share….
Hey everyone, Amanda here! Pat, his family, some of the Worldbuilders team, and I are all out in LA for Beyond Hunger, a big charity gala that Heifer International is putting on. As is traditional, Pat wanted to mention everything he’s doing while we’re out here, and because of the Syrian Refugee fundraiser we’re running, we haven’t had the chance.
The fundraiser is going extremely well, and we have some pretty exciting news: another anonymous supporter has offered to match $10k. That, and the hint we just got that we’re going to get some really good press very shortly, has pushed us to make the decision to push back the fundraiser end date to Wednesday, September 23.
And now, on to Pat’s schedule for the next few weeks.
* * *
As I mentioned, we’re here for Beyond Hunger. Pat’s being awarded the Noble Globe award, which is a great honor. Worldbuilders has been in the world doing great work for Heifer International for almost 8 years now, and in honor of that we’re going to a fancy awards ceremony, where Pat is going to wear a tux and everything.
And then in about two weeks he’ll be doing a tour with Paul and Storm and Joel Hodgson.
It’s going to be an awesome time. They have stops in Philadelphia, Alexandria, Brooklyn, and Somerville. At the concerts, the above image will be available as a poster, but if you can’t make it, don’t worry.
We’ve got a bunch of these posters signed by Paul, Storm, Joel, and Pat. If you can’t make it, but want to look cool to your friends, you can buy your own signed Nerds and Music poster right here in the Tinker’s Packs.
Here are the details for the shows:
September 29, 2015 at 8:00 PM
Nerds & Music: A Night with Joel Hodgson, Pat Rothfuss and Paul & Storm
This event in Philadelphia is a little special, because it’s free. That said, you need to RSVP on the form linked above, and just RSVPing doesn’t guarantee you a spot. If you don’t RSVP you’ll be turned away, but they’ll only be seating people who *do* RSVP on a first-come first-served basis.
ALEXANDRIA, VA September 30, 2015 at 7:30 PM
Nerds & Music: A Night with Joel Hodgson, Pat Rothfuss and Paul & Storm The Birchmere
3701 Mt Vernon Ave
Alexandria, VA 22305 Facebook Event Buy Tickets
SOMERVILLE, MA October 2, 2015 at 6:30 PM
Nerds & Music: A Night with Joel Hodgson, Pat Rothfuss and Paul & Storm Thunder Road
379 Somerville Ave
Somerville, MA 02143 Facebook Event Buy Tickets
Just one weekend later, Pat and the rest of the Worldbuilders team I’ll be in Minneapolis for NerdCon: Stories, which we’ve both gushed about at length over here. It’s going to be a seriously awesome time.
Then there’s the con, which is only two days long. You can see Pat’s whole schedule right here, and you can see everyone else’s schedules on that website as well. There are still a few badges left for NerdCon, so if you’re interested, you’d better check it out quickly…
Edit: Milwaukee, WI
There’s one more thing in a couple of weeks that should be mentioned: Pat is going to be moderating a talk with Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the writers of Welcome to Night Vale, while they’re on their tour.
That’s everything on the schedule for the next few weeks. It’s a lot of stuff, so hopefully you’re able to catch Pat if he’s in your area. As for me, I’m going to go to a fancy dinner where I’ll mock Pat for eating the entire little cheese, including the rind…
Last Thursday, right before I launched the fundraiser, I took my son to a movie.
This is a rarity. He’s almost six, but over the years I’ve only seen two movies in the theater with him. (Three now.) But I knew this was going to be our last chance to see Shaun the Sheep on the big screen. And he’s been very good lately, patient and kind with his little brother, understanding when I haven’t been able to spend time with him. So. Movie.
As we were walking across the parking lot, he said, “Dad, what do you wish wasn’t real?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Is there anything you wish didn’t exist?” he clarified.
“Ah,” I said. Then, because the Syrian refugees had been on my mind lately, I said. “War.”
He nodded somberly. “I wish global warming didn’t exist,” he said.
I was surprised, but not too surprised. Kids are more aware than we assume, so they soak up more information than we think. And as a result, they worry far more than we ever know. And the worries of a child are huge, horrible fathomless things.
When I was a kid, I worried about nuclear war and running out of oil. The first because I was a child of the 80′s during the cold war, and the second because I learned in school that we only had 25 years of oil left, then we’d run out.
I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in those fears. Enough people were worried about nukes that these days we only have about 20% of what we had back in 1986 (Which is still way too many, but better…) Unfortunately, a bunch of people worried enough about the oil thing in the wrong way, figuring out how to get more oil, rather than how to make due with less. Now, as a result, my son is worried about global warming.
Anyway, we go watch Shaun the Sheep. It’s great, by the way. You should go watch it with your kids if you get the chance. The DVD shorts are brilliant too, if the movie isn’t playing in your area.
Then on the way back to the car, Oot asks me, “Can we play a game when we get home?”
“I’d like to,” I say, “but I’m busy tonight.”
“That’s okay,” he says quickly. Almost as if he’s embarrassed that he asked.
This is the part of my life I hate the most: constantly having to refuse my son’s polite, increasingly unhopeful requests for my time. But these days he’s old enough for me to explain why I’m busy. So that’s what I decide to do.
“Off in a different country, there is a bad war going on. There are bombs going off, and people with guns. A lot of people are scared. A lot of moms and dads have been taking their children and running away so they can keep their children safe.”
He just listens. I worry I might be doing nothing more than giving him worries for the future. But I’ve already started down this road, so I keep going.
“But when these people run away, they have to leave their houses behind. They don’t have a place to stay, so right now a lot of those families are just sleeping in tents. They don’t have clothes or food. They don’t have toys. There’s a lot of them, and they need help.”
He’s still tuned in, watching me seriously.
“I’d love to play a game with you, but tonight I’m going to try and help those people. Some of the families have tiny babies, but they had to leave everything behind when they ran away. A lot of them don’t have beds to sleep in or blankets to stay warm.”
Then Oot cocks his head and says: “Why don’t they just move in with somebody?”
This is astounding to me, given the fact that we kinda threw this together. Honestly, I was hoping that we’d manage $100,000, but even that felt like a lot to hope for…
What’s even more impressive to me is *how* the money was raised.
When y’all heard about the fundraiser, you stormed in to help. No hesitation. It was like a flood. It made me so proud, and it made me feel less alone. Amanda told me she cried four times that first day of the fundraiser because y’all were so awesome.
Me? I didn’t cry. I spent the whole day laughing. My heart was full of such joy. I laughed more on that day than I had for the whole month previous.
Worldbuilders offered to match the first $25,000 in donations, and I matched the second $25,000. Then, as many of you know, folks started contacting Worldbuilders to offer up money of their own so we could continue to match donations. By the end of our first 36 hours, four donors had given us another $55,000, enough so we could match all donations up to $105,000.
All four donors wanted to remain anonymous. But even if you don’t know their names, you know they’re awesome.
Thank you everyone. Thank you. Thank you. It sounds strange to say, but I really needed this. We’ve done some real good here.
And the fundraiser isn’t over yet.
* * *
Our fundraiser is running for a few more days until late Friday night. So if you haven’t donated yet, there’s still time.
What’s more, we’ve had two more anonymous donors come in and offer to help some matching funds for our final days: one for $5,000 dollars, and one for $3,000.
That means all donations up to $151,600 will be matched. And… Ah, what the hell. I’ll kick in enough to bring it up to a nice even number, and we’ll match all donations up to an even $155,000.
[Edit:Hey guys, Amanda here. Just for clarity's sake, all donations from the $141,600 we were at when this blog was posted this morning until we hit $155,000 will be matched.]
I’m pretty confident we can hit that in the next couple days. And I’m curious to see how much further we can go….
93% of their staff live in and are from the countries where they work – giving them unique insight into the recovery and building long term effects toward resiliency
They help when an emergency occurs, but then stay beyond afterwards to help with long term recovery
Mercy Corps has earned the highest ratings for efficiency, accountability and transparency from independent charity watchdog groups
Over the last five years, 87 percent of Mercy Corps resources have gone directly to help people in need around the world
That said, there are other charities I would have happily thrown in with if Mercy Corps hadn’t been around.
For example, Neil Gaiman’s support for the UNHCR is well deserved. Neil has been out to visit the refugees. He’s been supporting this cause for ages, long before it recently became popular in the media.
Because I live under a heavy rock sometimes, I hadn’t been aware that Patrick Ness apparently got fed up with all of this in much the same way I did, and ran a fundraiser for Save the Children. Tons of YA authors jumped in to help match funds with his fundraiser too. Folks like Hank Green, John Green, Maureen Johnson, Phillip Pullman, Cressida Cowell, Holly Black, and more.
Yeah. Further proof that people are awesome.
“So what will this money be doing?”
Many things. Because I think in terms of stories rather than factoids, let me share a couple people’s stories with you.
Houda, 13, was an excellent student in Syria with lofty dreams for her future. When the conflict became too much to bear, her family fled to Lebanon — where they’ve resorted to using a cowshed as their temporary home.
“I haven’t been to school in over two years,” Houda told us. “I loved my school and I miss going to class and seeing friends.” She attends programs at one of Mercy Corps’ Child Friendly Spaces, which provide play and psychosocial support for children who have endured trauma, but she hopes to return to school one day.
“I don’t know what the future will bring, but I have not lost my dream of becoming a doctor someday…or maybe an artist. I’m not sure yet.”
25-year-old Zeena was a university student with great aspirations until violent clashes erupted around her home in Syria. She studied philosophy and law and planned to become a human rights lawyer, but those dreams were put on hold when her family was forced to flee to Arbat Transit Camp, a tent settlement in northern Iraq.
There, her studying was replaced with daily chores like cleaning the family’s living space, collecting water and taking care of her brothers.
But Zeena has since found a positive outlet for her energy in Mercy Corps’ conflict negotiation program. She underwent training to become an official negotiator in the camp, and now helps settle disputes between its growing number of residents.
In Syria, 10-year-old Omran had a fun-loving childhood: He went to school, played with friends and enjoyed helping his dad with his construction work. When the conflict uprooted his family and sent them to Jordan in search of safety — they now reside in Zaatari Refugee Camp — Omran became distraught and angry.
“I miss Syria and my home. I miss school and playing with my friends,” he says. “I miss swimming. I played soccer with my cousins and friends in the field behind our house. I miss my house and the graves of my two brothers the most.”
In Zaatari, Omran plays soccer every day through Mercy Corps’ sports therapy program, which uses sports to give refugee children the opportunity to make friends and cope with stress. “That’s the only thing that relieves me,” he says.
“What the hell is happening in Syria anyway?”
To answer this question more effectively than I ever could, I’m going to turn to John Green, who made an excellent video about the history and current implications of the crisis.
“Why don’t they just move in with someone?”
This is a good question. But the fact that there are more than 4 million refugees make it hard to answer.
But the next thing we should probably admit is that it’s a very small step toward resolving the overall crisis.
It’s a big topic. But once you strip away all the outer layers, it comes down to the fact that there are families with nowhere to stay. People who left everything behind to to keep their children safe. Families that own nothing. Kids with no beds to sleep in.
If you were in that situation, you’d want someone to help you. To give you a place to stay. Helping people who have been screwed by circumstance is the humanitarian thing to do. It’s the human thing to do.
But the fact remains that even if everyone did suddenly, magically, have places to go. It would take a long time to sort it all out, and they need help now.
So for now, we’re going to do what we can to help.
Over the last year, I’ve been reading the Little House on the Prairie books to my oldest boy. I ended up reading the sixth book, The Long Winter, in the middle of a bitterly cold January at my father’s cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin.
I have to say, I’ve rarely been more caught up in a book. Without going into too much detail, it tells the story of how the Ingalls family lived through a truly horrific winter out on the frontier back in the 1880′s.
So there I am, in a Little Cabin in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. It’s 30 below outside, (-34 Celsius). Then, at 2:00 am, the LP tank runs out of gas.
For you city dwellers, an LP tank is like a big propane tank for your house if you live out in the country. It provides natural gas for your stove, your water heater, and… well, your furnace.
So the cabin starts getting cold, and my dad and I haul in wood and light a fire in the old cast-iron stove. We feed it all night, and make it til morning without much trouble. The place has modern insulation, after all. The kids stay warm with extra blankets and the water pipes don’t freeze. Still, it’s an eye-opener.
That night I read a few more chapters to my boy about a pioneer family trying to survive in a building that’s not much more than a wooden shack. No insulation. No electricity. Cut off from civilization due to blizzards. They have a stove too, but there’s no coal. No firewood. They keep alive by burning hay. All they have to eat is potatoes. Then even the potatoes run out and they have nothing to eat but grain.
It goes on for months, and while I’m reading, all I can think is: How can people possibly survive like this?
The next morning, I stumble onto an article about the Syrian refugees. Lebanon just had its worst blizzard in a decade. Feet of snow. And most refugees don’t even have a clapboard shack for shelter. They’ve got tents. Tarps. They have nothing. They’re freezing to death. Kids are freezing to death in the snow.
So I call Maria.
* * *
As many of you know, I have a charity called Worldbuilders. We raise money from the geek community and use it to make the world a better place. Over the last several years we’ve raised about 3.5 million dollars.
We work primarily with Heifer International because they offer the biggest bang for our buck. Heifer focuses on providing people with tools, education, and infrastructure so that they can become self-reliant forever. It’s the whole teach-a-person-to-fish thing. Except Heifer is actually better than that, because they also teach people to teach *other* people to fish. Which means the good they do is like an ever-growing avalanche rolling forward into the future.
I used to run Worldbuilders, but not anymore. These days Maria runs it, because she’s roughly 8000 times better at it than I ever was.
So I call Maria up and say, “Syrian Refugees are freezing to death. Can Worldbuilders give them some money to help?”
There’s a pause on the other end of the phone. Maria isn’t surprised. She’s just thinking. I call her like this all the time, saying things like: “I need a map of 18th century Ghent,” or “Why don’t we sell greeting cards in our online store? Can we get than ready by tomorrow?” or “Is it illegal for me to have a laser gun? And if so, how illegal? And also, can you find someone to build me a laser gun?”
It says a lot about Maria that she has never tried to choke me. Not even once.
So Maria is quiet on the phone for about 8 seconds, processing. Then she says, “We’d need to make sure the money goes to the right place.”
“There’s a place called Mercy Corps,” I said. “I haven’t checked them out completely, but they seem solid. Also, right now someone is offering matching funds, so if we hurry, we’ll be able to double up on our donation.”
“Okay,” Maria says. “I think that’s workable.”
Now I hesitate. “I worry that people might be upset if we support another charity,” I say. “We talk a lot about Heifer. I don’t want people to feel like we’re pulling a switch on them.”
“We’ve made donations to First Book,” Maria points out. “No one was bothered by that.”
“True,” I say. “But this isn’t the sort of charity we normally support. It’s not about education or sustainability. But long-term help isn’t appropriate here. These people don’t have anything. They need blankets. They need heaters and fuel.”
“I think we should do it,” Maria says.
“But when people donate or buy something in our store, they’re trusting us to put the money to good use,” I say. “I don’t want to risk that trust by changing charities on them all of a sudden. How about I give some money to Worldbuilders, then Worldbuilders donates it to Mercy Corps? That seems safer.”
“If that’s the way you want to do it,” Maria says. “I’ll look into them and make sure it’s a good charity.”
And that’s what we did. It was different for us. Worldbuilders usually tries to work for long-term change, but we knew this donation wouldn’t solve the refugee problem. It won’t give them homes and jobs. But you can’t teach someone to fish when they’re freezing to death. Sometimes all you can do is keep people warm. Sometimes all you can do help a little, and that has to be enough.
* * *
Fast forward to now.
Unless you’ve been living under a heavy rock, you’ve been hearing a lot about the Syrian refugees lately. I’ve heard there’s a picture of a little boy that drowned trying to get somewhere safe. I haven’t seen it, and I’m not going to go looking for it either. I don’t want to see it, and I wouldn’t put something like that in my blog.
Instead, here’s a picture of The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.
Its population is 79,900. Making it the fourth largest city in the country. There’s a lot of kids there.
I can’t imagine what it would be like, having to flee my country with my kids. I can’t imagine abandoning everything just hoping to keep my little boys safe. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a tent and just hope desperately that someone helps me.
Actually that’s not true. I can imagine what it’s like. I can imagine *exactly* what it’s like. I’m a writer. That’s what I do. I can imagine it and it’s horrifying.
This video touches on the edge of it. It’s a only a minute and a half long. You have the time.
My imagination is much worse than that. It makes it hard for me to sleep at night.
Every day I see more of this stuff. And every day it makes me feel more helpless. Hopeless. Angry at the world.
Then I saw this:
This woman is named Petra Laszlo. She’s a journalist. This picture shows her tripping a refugee carrying a child in his arms. (Story here if you like.)
It’s been days since I first saw this. And I am still so angry. I’m so angry I can feel it in my chest. My skin prickles. I’m so angry that I can’t even describe it to you. I have no words for it. Nothing is big enough.
I believe that people are good. I really do. It’s one of the truths I live my life by. It’s one of the things I cling to when I have trouble sleeping at night. I’ve seen such proof of it through the years. From my children. From my readers. From the fact that so many people come together to make Worldbuilders a success.
But this. It’s makes me wonder if maybe I’m wrong.
I hate that this is the world. And I’m so angry. And I’m tired of feeling like I can’t do anything to help.
What’s more, Worldbuilders will be matching donations for the first $25,000 of the fundraiser. So if you kick in 10 bucks, it turns into 20. Donate $50? We’ll turn it into a $100.
100% of the money from this fundraiser will be donated toMercy Corps, because they’re already on the ground, helping out the refugees. They have more than 30 years of experience doing this sort of thing. We’ve checked them out and they’re excellent.
I’m taking a flier on this one, folks. It’s an experiment. We haven’t planned this the way we normally do. We aren’t giving out prizes. There aren’t any stretch goals. We don’t have any media lined up to help us spread the word.
This is just about helping people who are in desperate need of help.
And honestly? It’s kinda ridiculous for us to do this now. Our big end-of-the-year fundraiser in November, we should be focusing on that. That would be the smart thing for us to do.
But the simple truth is this: I can’t just watch this happen any more. I need to do something to help. I’m guessing a lot of you feel the same way, so I thought I’d give us a chance to do it together.
I don’t want to feel angry and hopeless any more. I want to see more pictures like this:
If this isn’t your kind of charity, I completely understand. Rest assured that Worldbuilders will be doing its regular fundraising extravaganza in a couple months.
Thanks for reading to the end, folks. I appreciate it.
Edit 9:47 am:I posted this blog late last night, not knowing what the reaction might be. Whenever you reach out to people like this, it’s a risk. What’s more, I hadn’t done a lot of planning, and I was worried it might not go over well. Around 4:00 I finally managed to get to sleep.
A few minutes ago I woke up, blearily checked my phone, and saw that we’ve raised over $28,000. I’ve never been so happy to be awake after only 5 hours of sleep. And I’m going to give Worldbuilders another 25,000 dollars so they can keep matching donations. I’d love to see this thing keep rolling.
Edit 1:28 pm: We just hit $50,000 and within minutes, someone dropped us an e-mail, offering to provide us another $25,000 to help us continue matching donations. She would like to remain anonymous. But I salute her generosity, as it means all donations up to $75,000 are going to be doubled.
I am having the best day ever.
Edit 6:18 pm:We just hit $75,000, and another lovely human being has stepped up with $5000 dollars so we can continue to match donations. I’m not sure if he wants to remain anonymous or not, but until we know, we’ll keep his name private. Named or not, he’s the reason donations are being matched up to $80,000.
Edit 8:05 pm: Just when we were closing in on $80,000 we got an e-mail from someone who offered to match another $20,000 dollars. When I saw the e-mail I actually laughed out loud. I’ve been laughing so much today, and it’s all because of you guys.
Thanks to our newest citizen philanthropist, we’re now matching all donations up to $100,000 dollars.
If you read this blog (and I’m guessing most of you do) you know I tell a lot of stories about my older boy, Oot, who’s creeping up on 6.
I have another son, who’s a little over 18 months old. I don’t talk about him as much for the simple reason that when you’re that young, there aren’t as many stories to share. Babies are, to be completely honest, fairly useless. They can’t do much, either physically or conversationally.
But Cutie Snoo has been talking more lately. What’s more, he’s started saying “dada” again, after a few months of heartbreaking hiatus.
It’s a fascinating time in a kid’s development. He’s learning how to express himself, and if you’re good at interpreting, you can get a little window into how his charmingly unspoiled little baby mind works.
Tonight, I ended up having to do a fair amount of work (because that’s what Labor Day is all about, right? Working until 9:30 pm?) and as a result, I missed my kid’s bedtime. By the time I wrapped up the things that needed immidate attention and opened the door to my office, the house was dark and quiet.
Still, I crept into the room where they sleep with Sarah. It was dark and as I stepped close she said, “the end,” finishing what was no doubt their bedtime story.
“dada” Cutie said.
I crawled into the bed and lay next to him. It’s a big bed, but I still had to move carefully because he’s so tiny and it’s so dark.
I smooched him, and he squirmed around a little bit until he was nestled next to Sarah, then he said: “my mama.”
There’s only so much that text can do to replicate a baby’s speech. Most linguists agree that nonverbal communication (which includes things like tone, inflection, and body language) accounts for about 80% of the total information transmitted when we talk. But when you’re a baby and your entire sentence is two words, that number is pushed even higher.
Here’s part of what he was saying: “My mom is here.”
But he was also saying, “Look at me, cuddled up against my mom.”
But he was also saying, “Look, this is my space. There are boobs, like, right here, and they’re great, and that’s kinda my thing, and I’m going to sleep next to them. So just be clear, I’m glad you’re here, but don’t try to pull any shit with me. This is *my* mom. Okay? Okay.”
(In his defense, I do sometimes tease him by trying to steal the boobs from him while he’s nursing. So this is not an unfounded fear on his part.)
Last and not least, he was also saying, “Isn’t this great?”
It was clear as day what he meant. And now that I was closer to him and my eyes had adjusted a little, I could see him smiling. His tone was so contented that it was actually kinda smug. And his body language… he wasn’t just relaxed. He was deliberately and theatrically lounging.
It made me realize how awesome his life is. Think about it. How cool must it be to go to sleep next to the person you love without any reservation? The person who is, in effect, three quarters of the known universe? To know if you are hungry or need comfort or a cuddle, a boob is right there. Like, literally, right by your head. To know that you’re cared for. To know you’ll be taken care of. To not have any fears or worries that ride you into the night and make you wake up sweating?
What must that be like, to feel like that for days at a time?
I’m not going to lie. Thinking about it now, I’m more than slightly jealous.
But at the moment, I was jealous for a different reason. He’d said, “My mama” with such smugness and satisfaction, but he’s never said, “my dada.”
I should be better than that, I know. But I’m not. I’m not going to carry a grudge or anything, but still, I can be jealous.
“My baby,” I say, and I kiss his belly.
I say goodnight to him, and give more kisses, and promise that tomorrow I’ll try to spend more time with him.
“Bye,” he says. “Go. Go!” he pushes at me with his foot. This might sound like a dick move. But it was playful. Not mean. And there’s nothing wrong with letting someone know what you really want. If I was all geared up to snuggle with a boob as big as my head and someone was there who might ruin it for me… well… I’d kick them the hell out of my bed, too.
I get up and I say goodnight to Oot, too. (He’s on the other side of Sarah.)
Then I get up and start to leave. “Goodnight my family,” I say.
“My dada,” Cutie says, and I get all melty inside.
“My baby,” I say.
“He’s reaching up for you.” Sarah tells me, because she knows I can’t see him in the dim.
So I get down into the bed and kiss him again. A lot. On their deathbed, nobody ever says, “I wasted my life kissing babies.”
Still. Oot has school in the morning. I know I’m keeping them all from getting to sleep. So I get up.
“Mo,” Cutie says. This is one of his other few words: more.
“Mo dada,” he says. In the dark, I can see he’s reaching up again. “Mo my dada. Mo bebe dada. No bye dada bebe.”
I think it was Robert Bly who said vocabulary wasn’t important for a writer. He claimed you could write marvelous poetry even if you only knew 200 words, so long as you knew how to use them properly to get your point across…