My January Fifteenth Author’s Note

book cover of a person walking down an alley with an umbrella and the following text: January Fifteenth, “Money Changes everything–except people.” Rachel Swirsky, “One of the best speculative writers of the last decade.” –John ScalziJanuary Fifteenth debuts tomorrow! This is my last post before it heads out into the world.

(ICYMI, check out some of my earlier posts about January Fifteenth, including my official announcement, the Debut Sampler, and meeting the characters. Preorders are available through several different online platforms, including Powell’s, Amazon, Indiebound, and Barnes and Noble.)

Here’s the author’s note I wrote for the beginning of the book:

Dear Reader, 

January Fifteenth takes place in a near-future America with a Universal Basic Income (UBI) program. If you’re not  familiar with the term, Universal Basic Income is a policy proposal for the government to provide an annual income to  its citizens. Details vary—like how much that income should be—but every citizen would get it, without condition. 

For me at least, any argument about UBI begins with one question: will it help people? 

Practical assessment follows, of course, but that’s the first thing we have to know. In its ideal form, if everything went  perfectly, would UBI improve people’s lives? I don’t have a definitive answer, although I pose a series of possible  questions and answers in this novella. 

During my research on American UBI proposals, most of the hypotheticals I saw concentrated on the traditional  concerns of the right versus left political axis. Would UBI open new possibilities for society, or encourage a culture of  laziness and dependency? 

I became more curious about other questions. For instance, some people dislike that UBI goes to people of any social  class—so whatever might (some) rich kids do with it? Some people are wary about the ways cults exploit contemporary  welfare programs—what might they do with UBI, and how might others try to stop them? Pervasive, systemic racism  has created an enormous disparity between the assets of Black and white American households—can and should we  brush over that history as if White and Black communities have an equal starting point? Money can help someone  escape an abusive relationship, but would Universal Basic Income change what happens afterward? 

The characters in this book have gone through hard things, from being orphaned to domestic violence to forced  marriage. Many of the scenarios in this book reflect situations that I or people close to me have gone through. Others  evolved through research and talking to people. So many of us have gone through similar tribulations, whether the more  common horrors like casual racism and sexual assault, or the more rarefi ed ones like cult exploitation. These things  impact our lives. They affect our happiness. They certainly affect how and why Universal Basic Income could change our  circumstances. 

Although I hope January Fifteenth is true to the characters and emotions, I can’t claim it’s an accurate prediction. UBI  could play out in lots of ways that are equally, if not more, plausible. For example, in January Fifteenth, the practical side  of running UBI is relatively smooth and easy. As a world-building choice, that allows me to let fiddly details fade into the  background while I focus on the characters. But is it the most likely scenario? Probably not—very few things seem to be  easy. 

Even within the world I set up, there are a ton of possible alternative and conflicting scenarios. I could have happily kept  adding more. In fact, a fifth thread ended up on the cutting room floor during an early draft, when the word count kept  relentlessly increasing.

If I can make any “true” predictions, I suppose they are these: 

  1. Money can make life easier, but it can’t solve everything. 
  2. Adding money to a system with underlying problems won’t fi x those problems on its own. 
  3. After any massive change, some people will be better off, some people will be worse off, and many people will be both better and worse off. 
  4. However the future unfolds, it won’t go according to my values. There will always be outcomes I don’t expect. Some of them will contradict my beliefs about the world. 
  5. I’m definitely wrong about something. 

Rachel Swirsky

image of people walking through a snowy street with the following text: January Fifteenth. A new novella from Tor.com. by Rachel Swirsky. Follow four women through January fifteenth, the day when they get their Universal Basic Income. Hannah, an abused mother on the run with her two sons. Janelle, an activist-turned-reporter raising her orphaned sister. Olivia, a wealthy college student celebrating “Waste Day”. Sarah, a child bride in a fundamentalist cult. Money changes everything—except people. “a fascinating thought experiment” - Caren Gussoff, Locus Magazine

Meet the Characters from January Fifteenth

January Fifteenth comes out next week! I can hardly believe it. Last week, I posted a short excerpt of Janelle’s story and linked to the Debut Sampler, which includes a longer one.

Today, meet all the characters!

Image of four people with the following text: January Fifteenth, A new novella from Tor.com by Rachel Swirsky. Follow four women in a future USA with Universal Basic Income: Hannah, an abused mother. Janelle, a broke reporter. Olivia, a wealthy student. Sarah, a pregnant teen. Money changes everything – except people.

(I’ve put some graphics in here, but all the information on the graphics is also in the text.) 

January Fifteenth takes place in a future USA with Universal Basic Income. The novella follows four women on January 15th, the day they get their UBI payments.

  • HANNAH, an abused mother on the run in upstate New York
  • JANELLE, a broke reporter raising her orphaned sister in Chicago
  • OLIVIA, a wealthy student celebrating Winter break at a Colorado ski resort
  • SAARH, a pregnant teen trapped in a fundamentalist cult in Utah

While I was reading all the various arguments about UBI, I noticed that most commentary centers on the traditional right/left political axis. That’s a great place for discussion, but I wanted to talk about the smaller scale, human effects. 

The story evolved to center around these four women from different places who have very different experiences with UBI. The money enables some of them to change their lives, but it can’t get rid of all their problems. Or, to put it like the tag line does: Money changes everything– except people.

UBI has the potential to ameliorate–or not–some of the most serious problems people have in life. This novella engages with a number of those, from the more casual horrors that many readers will have experienced personally like racism, domestic abuse, sexual assault and suicide, to more unusual situations like cult exploitation. I’ve experienced some of these things myself. To write about others, I read a lot and talked to people. (Thank you so much to anyone who shares their stories in whatever way they choose.)

I spent a lot of time with these characters (40,000 words is more than twice the length of the longest thing I’ve published before!) so I feel very close to them. I hope you find them compelling, too.

Meet Hannah, an abused mother on the run

Image of a person clasping her hands with the following text: January Fifteenth, A new novella from Tor.com, by Rachel Swirsky. In a future USA with Universal Basic Income, follow four women, including: Hannah, an abused mother, “Her heart pounded. She hadn’t expected Abigail to find them so fast. She took a deep breath to shout upstairs for Jake and Isaiah to start piling furniture against their bedroom door.” Money changes everything except people.January 15th is the anniversary of the day Hannah looked at her universal basic income payment and realized she had the resources to take her two children and flee her abusive ex-wife. Since then, Hannah and her children have been on the run, fleeing from Abigail as she stalks them from rental home to rental home. So far, Abigail hasn’t discovered their new place in Canasota, New York, but it’s just a matter of time. 

​​As the twanging faded, Hannah heard a distant, quiet shuffle from the back of the house. Something wooden groaned. Hannah’s mouth went dry. The ends of her scarf dropped from her hands, unwound, and fell loosely across her chest.

Her heart pounded. She hadn’t expected Abigail to find them so fast. She took a deep breath to shout upstairs for Jake and Isaiah to start piling furniture against their bedroom door.

A high-pitched giggle broke the quiet, followed by another. Hannah exhaled in relief. Thank God. It was just the boys playing.

Her heart hadn’t stopped pounding, though. Damn it. Damn it! What was she supposed to do when the boys wouldn’t listen? This wasn’t about sticking their fingers in their cereal or getting crayon on the walls. Did it really matter that it was developmentally normal for a seven-year-old to test authority if it ended up giving Abigail a way back into their lives?

Meet Janelle, a broke reporter raising her sister

Image of a person holding a microphone with the following text: January Fifteenth, A new novella from Tor.com, by Rachel Swirsky. In a future USA with Universal Basic Income, follow four women, including: Janelle, a broke reporter, “Janelle felt like a bee doing the same mindless task year after year, just like all the other bees. Get the honey. Do a dance. Interview someone who thinks her cats should get UBI.” Money changes everything except people.Since their parents were killed in a plane crash, reporter-turned-activist Janelle has been raising her little sister, Nevaeh, in their home city of Chicago.Their inheritance isn’t enough to cover all their expenses so Janelle spends her time scrambling to get as many gigs as possible. Unfortunately, legitimate news jobs are scarce, and a lot of aggregators won’t work with Janelle because of her former activism. Every January 15th, Janelle gets stuck doing the same boring interviews so she can keep their bank balance positive.

She felt like a bee doing the same mindless task year after year, just like all the other bees. Get the honey. Do a dance. Interview someone who thinks her cats should get UBI.

Interview a violinist who uses their money to fund lessons for disadvantaged kids. Interview a new mom about the savings fund she set aside for her baby. Interview a lawyer representing a class action lawsuit against a landlord for extorting his tenant’s disbursements. Interview a senior citizen who lost his home because of problems with the transition from social security. Interview the protestors wherever they are this year. Interview the protestors protesting the other protestors wherever they are this year…

The aggregators would probably love to run her story, too, if she wedged it into the right box. Sentimental: Chicago-based 28-year-old raises 14-year-old sister after parents die in plane crash. Political: Former activist relies on legislation she championed to care for orphaned sibling. Socially Responsible: UBI Keeps Black Families Together. 

Anyway. The upshot was that there was always work for two weeks in January even if you didn’t have a great relationship with the major aggregators…

So of course one of her buzzcams was broken.

Meet Olivia, a wealthy student on winter break

Image of a person drinking through a straw with the following text: January Fifteenth, A new novella from Tor.com, by Rachel Swirsky. In a future USA with Universal Basic Income, follow four women, including: Olivia, a wealthy student, “Don’t think about that. Don’t think about Brown. Don’t think about failing. Don’t think about Spring semester starting in ten days. Don’t think about talking to your parents.” Money changes everything except people.Olivia, a freshman at Brown University, has always been the scapegoat of her dysfunctional, grandiosely wealthy high school “friends” group. Things aren’t going any better for her at college where she’s isolated and failing out. So maybe it’s not too shocking that she’s doing badly at her friends’ reunion at an expensive Colorado ski resort. Drunk and preoccupied with her own worries, Olivia barely notices her “friend” William’s bizarre “Waste Day” celebration: a contest to see who can waste their UBI payments most extravagantly.

“How’s life at Brown?” Elsa pressed sweetly. “Does Brown have remedial classes?”

“I’m not in remedial classes,” said Olivia.

“So you’re failing out,” Elsa said.

The accusation caught Olivia like a blow to the stomach.

Don’t think about Brown, Olivia told herself. Don’t think about Spring semester starting in ten days. Don’t think about telling your parents. 

“Whoa,” said Leroy.

“Low blow,” said Freddie.

Disapprovingly, Pauline said, “Not nice, Elsa. We don’t hunt foals.”

Meet Sarah, a pregnant child bride trapped in a cult

Image of a pregnant person with the following text: January Fifteenth, A new novella from Tor.com, by Rachel Swirsky. In a future USA with Universal Basic Income, follow four women, including: Sarah, a pregnant teen, “Sarah didn’t keep sweet. That was her problem. She’d always been too angry. She said no. She didn’t smile.” Money changes everything except people.Fifteen-year-old Sarah is trapped in a cult, a fundamentalist offshoot of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Having been married off last year, she’s only a few months away from giving birth to her first child. Everyone knows that the heretical mainstream Mormons only force the prophet’s women to pick up their checks in person to harass them. But as she makes the annual pilgrimage on foot, pestered by her needy cousin Agnes and haunted by memories of her recently exiled brother Toby, Sarah’s starting to doubt what everyone knows.

Sarah didn’t keep sweet. That was her problem. She’d always been too angry. She said no. She didn’t smile. 

Her brother, Toby, was gentle, but the wrong way for a boy. He always let everyone else choose first. He was weak and he cried too easily. 

Her cousin, Agnes, was too smart, too needy, too scared.

They were all bent nails trying to keep tacked together. No wonder everything kept coming apart.

January Fifteenth is available for pre-order through several different online platforms, including Powell’s, Amazon, Indiebound, and Barnes and Noble.

January Fifteenth Reviews in Locus Magazine

book cover of a person walking down an alley with an umbrella and the following text: January Fifteenth, “Money Changes everything–except people.” Rachel Swirsky, “One of the best speculative writers of the last decade.” –John ScalziI am delighted to have January Fifteenth reviewed in Locus Magazine Issue 737 not once but twice! 

Here’s snippets of both:

Locus Looks at Books: Caren Gusoff Sumption

“If you’ve ever read any of Rachel Swirsky’s short fiction, then you’re familiar with her signature elegant prose and her very literary deconstruction of traditional plot. Swirsky’s style is instantly recognizable and widely appreciated, earning her multiple Nebulas, and, at the very least, enthusiastic nods from nearly all the award committees in genre.”

“January Fifteenth is a fascinating thought experiment. For two of the characters, the guaranteed income provides them the opportunity to escape conditions in which they are vulnerable. The other two characters, though they come from wildly different backgrounds, contend with how one lives a meaningful life when your basic needs are covered. Swirsky chooses not to show all the possibilities that UBI may have, but instead to linger within these two emotionally-resonant themes.”

Locus Looks at Books: Gary K. Wolfe

Image of Locus Magazine Issue 737, June 2020 cover depicting a soldier colored with red and yellow

“Swirsky, who has long been a profoundly character-driven author, spends little time depicting the political debates around such a policy or explaining the legislation behind it, but rather focuses on its impact on four diverse characters during a single blizzardy January 15.”

“Accurate predictions, as we all know, are actually pretty rare in SF, so that’s hardly the point, either. What is more to the point isthat characters as memorable, engaging, and sympathetic as Swirsky’s four women, each seeking ways to survive in systems that don’t really seem to like them much, are almost equally rare. By the time we’re halfway through their tales, we’re engaged enough to want to follow their fates, UBI or no UBI.”

As always, you can pre-order January Fifteenth from several different locations, including Powell’s, Amazon, Macmillan, and Barnes and Noble.

My New Novella, January Fifteenth, Excerpted in Tordotcom Publishing 2022 Debut Sampler

book cover of a border jumble of book covers with the following text: Tordotcom 2022 Debut Sampler, Scotto Moore, Marion Deeds, Malcolm Devlin, Rachel Swirsky, Joma West, Hiron Ennes, Aimee PokwatkaThe Tordotcom Publishing 2022 Debut Sampler includes a preview of my upcoming novella, January Fifteenth!

You can find the sampler at several online venues, including Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Google Play. It’s free! (You can pre-order January Fifteenth at the stores, too.)

The novella follows four women in a future USA with Universal Basic Income. The preview excerpts the first section about Janelle, a broke journalist worried about making enough money to raise her orphaned younger sister, Nevaeh. Every UBI Day, the news aggregators want her to do the same boring stories.

graphic of a microphone with the following text: January Fifteenth, A new novella from Tor.com by Rachel Swirsky, In a future USA with Universal Basic Income, follow four women on the day they get their payments, including: Janelle, a reporter from Chicago, “It had been interesting to report on UBI when the program started. Since then, she’d felt like a bee doing the same mindless task year after year, just like all the other bees. Get the honey. Do a dance. Interview with someone who thinks her cats should get UBI.” Money changes everything—except people

Here’s a little more, starting with that quote from the graphic:

It had been interesting to report on UBI when the program started. Since then, she’d felt like a bee doing the same mindless task year after year, just like all the other bees. Get the honey. Do a dance. Interview someone who thinks her cats should get UBI.

She felt like a bee doing the same mindless task year after year, just like all the other bees. Get the honey. Do a dance. Interview someone who thinks her cats should get UBI.

Interview a violinist who uses their money to fund lessons for disadvantaged kids. Interview a new mom about the savings fund she set aside for her baby. Interview a lawyer representing a class action lawsuit against a landlord for extorting his tenant’s disbursements. Interview a senior citizen who lost his home because of problems with the transition from social security. Interview the protestors wherever they are this year. Interview the protestors protesting the other protestors wherever they are this year.

It occurred to Janelle, not for the first time, that the aggregators would probably love to run her story, too, if she wedged it into the right box. Sentimental: Chicago-based 28-year-old raises 14-year-old sister after parents die in plane crash. Political: Former activist relies on legislation she championed to care for orphaned sibling. Socially Responsible: UBI Keeps Black Families Together.

book cover of a person walking down an alley with an umbrella and the following text: January Fifteenth, “Money Changes everything–except people.” Rachel Swirsky, “One of the best speculative writers of the last decade.” –John ScalziRead about Janelle and the other three women (Hannah, an abused mother on the run with her children; Olivia, a wealthy college student on winter break; and Sarah, a child bride trapped in a fundamentalist cult) by pre-ordering at any of several locations, including Powell’s, Amazon, Macmillan, and Barnes and Noble.

January Fifteenth launches on June 14, 2022.
graphic of person sitting at a table behind a microphone with the following text: January Fifteenth, A new novella from Tor.com by Rachel Swirsky, money changes everything—except people In a future USA with Universal Basic Income, follow four women on the day they get their payments, including: Janelle, a reporter from Chicago, It occurred to Janelle that the news aggregators would love to run her Universal Basic Income story, too, if she wedged it into the right box. Sentimental: Chicago-based 28-year-old raises 14-year-old sister after parents die in plane crash. Political: Former activist relies on legislation she championed to care for orphaned sibling. Socially Responsible: UBI Keeps Black Families Together. “Highly recommend for readers of political and social science-oriented SF.”—Library Journal (starred review)

Excerpt Sampler of Stories from 2022 Weekend Warrior

My exclusive Patreon content for February collects excerpts from the beginnings of five new stories.

As I do annually, during January and February, I participated in the Codex contest Weekend Warrior run by Vylar Kaftan. Participants write one piece of flash fiction each weekend.

The stories in the Example Sampler are:

“Thing about Timeline Collapse I Decided Not to Post” based on the prompt: write about someone moving who doesn’t want to.

“An Alphabetical Guide to Potential Building Materials for Aspiring Urban Planners” based on the prompt: what is your kingdom made of?

 “The Letters You Lost” based on a suggested title.

“Dear Awesomest Uncle Zarny” based on the prompt: write a letter to an imaginary relative for a special occasion.

“The Thing about Things,” theoretically based on the prompt: choose a random wikipedia page… although I ended up meandering onto an unrelated subject.

(I released the full text of my week two story, “An Alphabetical Guide to Potential Building Materials for Aspiring Urban Planners,” on my Patreon in January.)

These were a lot of fun. I seem to be playing a lot with humor right now! Maybe it’s reading all that Wodehouse and Adams.

Thanks to all my patrons. All of my Patreon content–including a substantial, patron-exclusive offering once a month of something like an original essay, poem or short story–is available to all my patrons, no matter how much or little they contribute. Every contribution is greatly appreciated and makes a big difference to supporting my writing career!

Check Out the 2021 Locus Recommended Reading List

image of a purse in a grassy field with the following text: 13 of the Secrets in My Purse "Number Five: The pearl from the sacred heart of the Earth. I keep it in a mint tin." a short story by Rachel Swirsky, Uncanny Magazine

Uncanny Magazine Issue Forty CoverLots of short story goodness on the Locus Recommended Reading List!

I’m excited to see my short piece, “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse,” in there. I’m really excited to see how much it’s resonated with people!

Sometimes, it’s just good to write something a bit silly. I know, pandemic-wise, I’ve been craving fun and ridiculousness.

If you haven’t read it, it’s up at the inimitable Uncanny Magazine:

One: My lipstick.

The shade is Heart’s Blood.

Morbid, if you ask me.

I wanted to know if it was really the color of heart’s blood so I bought beef heart and tried dabbing my lips.

Close enough.

I emailed to congratulate the lipstick company on their realism. They did not respond.

keep reading

 

An Alphabetical Guide to Potential Building Materials for Aspiring Urban Planners

This month, my patrons are receiving an exclusive flash piece, “An Alphabetical Guide to Potential Building Materials for Aspiring Urban Planners.”

I wrote this for the annual flash fiction contest I participate in every January/February. The goal is to write a piece of flash every weekend for five weeks. Last week was two of five. I had some trouble revving up my thought process until, with the deadline looming, I focused on the prompt, “What is your kingdom built of?”

As you might be able to tell from the title, it’s a bit (a lot) silly.

All my patrons receive an exclusive reward each month. There’s no specific amount required. I’m happy to share my creations with everyone who subscribes to my Patreon.  

A is for Alligators

Challenging for inexperienced planners. They will bite when you try to stack them.

B is for Barricades

Though barricades make good walls by definition, beware barricading yourself out of your own city. 

C is for Carbonara

Messy, but delicious. Do not continue eating your city after it’s been left unrefrigerated for more than three hours.

continue reading

Thanks to all my current patrons. Every dollar helps keep me writing!

photo of a lego with with people sitting at a bus stop and ambulance, cop cars, fire truck in front of city hall

Hello from Worldcon

Discon III Logo ImageThe anticipation, anxiety and excitement come to their fruition–It’s time for Worldcon!
 

I still find it hard to believe we can finally be around crowds again. I remember when everyyear was full of conventions for me and spouse. Things have been very different! It’s going to be really cool to see people who I haven’t been able to catch up with in person for a long, long time. And to meet new people, too. There are so many new, exciting folks around!

What are y’all planning to do at the con this weekend? I’m not on programming so I’ve got lots of time to hang out. I hope I see you around! Give me a ping.