This is harder to write than any news post I've ever done, and it will probably be pretty hard for you to read.
Three times since the start of the year, my wife Linda has been sick with symptoms similar to stomach flu. She's also lost 20 pounds over the last seven months or so, without trying to lose weight. For many years, she's been dealing with chronic stomach problems. She saw her regular doctor in January, who didn't seem concerned about loss of weight and appetite. Linda then scheduled an upper endoscopy with her gastroentorologist about two weeks ago. Then on Easter Sunday, she couldn't eat. Her blood pressure seemed to be fluctuating. Just after midnight, we went to the Emergency Room.
The ER doctor suggested a CT scan, to see if her doctors were "missing something." Yes, they were.
The scan showed that Linda has multiple intrusive growths throughout her liver. She underwent a liver biopsy today, which is a fairly invasive and ugly procedure that took the whole day for prep and recovery. She's on full bedrest for the next 24 hours, but is doing okay. We will have her first meeting with an oncologist on Tuesday. Hopefully we'll have the complete results back by then.
But all three doctors who have looked at the CT scan have little doubt it's cancer. The purpose of the biopsy is mainly to find out whether or not it's contained solely in the liver, because that will determine a lot about her prognosis and treatment options.
We won't know more until we know more. But we know enough that everything about our lives and priorities has already changed.
It doesn't take much Googling to find some survivability figures for liver cancer. I don't have to translate those into dice for you to know that Linda needs to make a hell of a saving throw at this point.
If you've followed the news on this site over the years, you probably have some idea about this duo of Rob and Linda Balder. Linda was the first full-time member of Team Erfworld. She handles customer service and order fulfillment, and more other things than I could possibly list. She works with me around the clock. She has a full-color Nobby the Gobwin Erfworld tattoo on her shin (the nurses were admiring it today). At the Erfworld party at Gencon in 2014, I proposed to Linda. We were married at the Erfworld fan gathering in Helsinki, with readers from a lot of different countries in attendance.
That...was less than nine months ago. Fair is the funniest word in Language.
I can't speak to what "marriage" means to anyone else, but Linda and I have pledged our lives to one another. She holds my heart in a way that nobody else ever did, or could. For years now we've been living for one another, working as hard as we could for our future. That future was inextricably tied to the future of Erfworld and our whole team.
I just don't know about the future now.
We're still living for one another. That's the only part that still makes sense to me. Other big things are going to have to change. This problem is only a few days old, but I'd like to share some of our thinking so far.
At the start of anything like this, you have to look at finances (at least, you do if you are an American in 2018). I mentioned in a prior news post that we pay $1,100/month for a marketplace insurance plan to cover the two of us. That plan has a $7,350 out-of-pocket maximum for an individual ($14,700 for us both). If I don't also get sick this year, then the $7,350 (plus the other $13,000/year) probably marks the upper limit of our anticipated medical expenses.
That is steep, but it should be manageable. I don't see us needing to reach out for additional help, from what is already the most supportive audience in all of webcomics.
Next, there's Linda's job. That's primarily customer orders and email, although Linda does an awful lot else for the business. She really wants to keep working, and that's good. But whatever treatment, care, and recovery path we take, we're assuming that a (hopefully temporary) time will come when she'll be unable to box up books and plushies and postcards. (That time might be here already, although we're both hoping not. Certainly she's not doing anything for the next few days.)
So we're working on getting set up with a fulfillment center for Erfworld store orders, starting with Free Cards Day. In the meantime, email replies, postcards, and other customer service type things may take a bit longer than usual. We appreciate your patience and understanding.
Now the big one, as it relates to the comic: my own time.
The amount of time I have to spend on creating Erfworld needs to be reduced, probably by a whole lot. Depending on how things go, we may get to a point when most of my time is spent caring for Linda.
But just as important, trips to the hospital like today would not be the only kind of time I want us to spend together.
Last night, we went out to see Ready Player One. At a drive-in theater! It was the first time either of us had been to see a drive-in movie. (I tried to find a place we could rent a '57 Chevy, just to complete the experience, but no luck.)
This was also the first movie she and I had seen together in nearly three years.
What we have been doing instead of date night, gaming night, vacations and day trips...has been working on Erfworld things. To pick one example out of thousands, Linda and I sat together at the same screen for 4 long evenings in January and early February, looking at the colors for the gems and gem glows. We just wanted to make the gems pretty enough to be an Erfworld thing. So instead of a movie or mini-golf, our "date night" was trying a dozen different values for interior luminance and outline, debating the "real" color of a sapphire (Linda's partial to a very pale blue like the one in her engagement ring, but admits that most people think of "sapphire" as a darker blue), followed by deciding whether we needed both a powder blue and a baby blue (and if maybe that powder blue was really more of a periwinkle?)
I don't regret those times and I don't think Linda does, either. We had fun. I have never known any person whose company I enjoy more than my wife's, no matter what we're doing. If it's been tough work or drudgery or hand-wringing over this or that crisis, we at least have our dueling electric armchairs and our in-jokes, and half a pizza that is plain pepperoni and the other with ridiculous junk on it.
We can't afford four nights for gem colors anymore. We can't go to bed late every single night, having spent almost all our waking hours on emails and PMs and store orders and writing blocks and team meetings and art revisions and trying to hook up a laser light show to remind us to take our pills.
We must both drastically cut back on the time we spend working now. And I'm telling you, if Linda and I feel like we want to fly away to some island just to walk on the beach and hold hands at sunset, then that's what we're going to do.
So. What's the bottom line for the comic?
That's a good question, and one that's been worth several hours of discussion with Xin and Lillian on the art side, and John and Red on the dev side. (Brendan is out of the country for two weeks. He's been intentionally out of contact with this whole hemisphere, to spend some priceless time with his family. Considering current circumstances, that looks like a booping fine set of priorities to me.)
We thought about having another hiatus. We also considered just skipping "as needed," even if that turned into a de facto hiatus of a dozen skips in a row.
Nobody wanted that. Skips are murder on the story pacing, and everyone on the team knows it. Another break in updates would be horrible, especially when the end of the book is in sight. I really *want* to finish this book, as soon as possible.
And sure, let's not ignore the fact that missing updates would also be a financial hit (to Red and the artists in particular) that we could not really manage. I think we'd end up doing a GoFundMe or something anyway, just to get the bills paid.
So this is what we're going to do:
My old guiding principle was: "The comic is the most important thing." Every update had to be the best and the most that we could possibly put into it. Whatever else we were thinking about or working on, nothing ever took priority over making the story and art as good as it needed to be, and we put as much as we could manage into every update.
My new rule is, "Linda's life is the most important thing." Linda gets the best possible chance at the best possible outcome. No compromises on that, ever. We take whatever time we need, to be as okay as we can. Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, romantically, and personally. Nothing takes priority over that, including the comic.
What this means is that what constitutes an "update" is going to change.
For comic pages, we're going to do fewer panels on a page, and more splash art. The artists are not affected by this, and they want to step up and shine while Team Balder is fighting this other fight, and being Team Balder while we still can.
On texts, I've previously aimed for 1400 words, and set a hard upper limit of 3000 words. If I couldn't tell the part of the story I wanted to in that span, then I'd make myself split the text into two updates.
My new aim is 500 words. My new upper limit is 750. This is about the length of one of the Book 2 epilogues.
So we're changing what an update is. This is the best way forward we could pick, out of a bunch of bad options in this unforgivably shitty reality. It may still destroy the pace of the story. It may make the story impossible to follow. But our team consensus is that all other options are worse...for the story, the creators, and the fans. We don't really need suggestions for other things we could try. We are trying this.
So, anyway. We skipped today. But we didn't really have to.
Despite an all-day hospital ordeal, we could have updated. We have nice art. I could have posted a shorter text with Charlie in it. But—and I'm serious as cancer about this—I want to give you a chance to drop your pledge.
Our Tools have made a pledge for a thing, and we're changing that thing. If we'd updated tonight, then we would have collected the pledges on that shorter text. It doesn't feel right to do that, not unless you've had a chance to think about whether or not it's still worth what you're paying.
So you've got until Tuesday to modify or drop your pledge. After that, we stay on the same schedule and we're going to try never to skip again. No promises (because situation), but all the updates will be less meaty pieces of story, with a lot fewer hours of fussing and fretting by the author. I need to fret over something more important now.
However, there are positives even in this. The comics will have more space for Xin and Lillian's art to shine. And there's no need for the dev team to slow down. They're not the ones signing forms and talking to doctors and trying to find a parking space at a hospital that isn't reserved for transmetatarsal amputation patients only (all others will be towed). Red and John (and Brendan when he gets back) are going to step up. They'll keep us on our development trajectory toward unit collection and an eventual Erfworld game. There will soon be more things than gems, cards, and badges to collect, more things to spend Shmuckers on, and maybe some additional bonuses for being a Tool. That's up to them, though. I'm not going to think about it much.
Linda may occasionally be posting her thoughts and her experiences through all of this. She likes the idea, and I'm encouraging her to do it if she wants to (and I really want her to call it her "LIVERJOURNAL").
We'll also have new pinups coming, including some guest art I lined up in the past. And we may have a 3D sculptor joining to help with the collectibles and units. All in all, it's not going to go quiet around here. Erfworld just can't take as much of our time as it used to. We don't have it to spare.
Comments are welcome, but I'd ask you to go over to the forum thread and post them there. Please don't feel obligated to say or do anything in response to all of this, though. The Erfworld community has been our extended family, and this post is us letting our family know what's going on. If you do feel like sending a PM of support, please send it to Linda and not me. She's really going to be the one who needs it. She's in the ring. I'm just holding her towel for this fight.
We'll keep you up to date. Thank you as always for being here and reading Erfworld.