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.

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One Response to Meet the Characters from January Fifteenth

  1. 1
    Görkem says:

    Your decision to make the abusive spouse another woman is very interesting.

    Not that I am saying that your artistic choice is not valid, but i do wonder if there was a particular reason you felt that portraying such an atypical situation would work well with your message?

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