Quick 2014 Hugo Nomination Thoughts

Because, I have them!

* Nope, I’m not on the ballot this year. It will happen. As I won the best novel Hugo last year, I am perfectly fine with that. It’s nice to spread around the joy.

* I think it’s an interesting slate this year: Lots of stuff to like, a few things to puzzle over, and as always lots of fodder for discussion. On the novel ballot it’s particularly interesting to see Wheel of Time (the complete series) there — it’s a quirk of the Hugo rules that if any individual book of a series hasn’t been nominated, the entire series can be. So here we are with the whole series. Quirky Hugo rules are fun.

* I just know you’re all dying to know what I think of Vox Day’s nomination in the Novelette category. I think this: One, I haven’t read the story in question, so I can’t possibly comment on it. Two, the Hugo nomination process is pretty straightforward — people nominate a work in a category. If it gets enough votes, it’s a nominee. If the work’s on the ballot, it’s because enough nominators wanted it there. Three, the Hugo rules don’t say that a racist, sexist, homophobic dipshit can’t be nominated for a Hugo — nor should they, because in that particular category at least, it’s about the work, not the person.

In sum: Vox Day has every right (so far as I know, and as far as you know, too) to be on the ballot. You may not like it, or may wish to intimate that the work in question doesn’t deserve to be on the ballot, but you should remember what “deserve” means in the context of Hugo (i.e., that the nominators follow the rules while nominating), and just deal with it like the grown up you are.

* Apropos of nothing in particular, however, I will note that in every category it is possible to rank a nominated work below “No Award” if, after reading the work in question and giving it fair and serious consideration, you decide that it doesn’t deserve to be on the ballot and, say, that its presence on the ballot is basically a stunt by a bunch of nominators who were more interested in trolling the awards than anything else. Just a thing for you to keep in mind when voting time rolls around.

* Also, remember when I said that one of the drawbacks of announcing the Hugo Awards on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter was that it means that the stories the media will pick up on during the week will be the outraged reactions? Yeah, this is very likely to be another year that it works that way, I think.

* On a related note, and to get out ahead of what I suspect will be a talking point, I think people may wish to suggest that aside from Vox Day there are other writers on the Hugo ballot who are there more for political and/or trolling purposes than for the quality of the nominated work, and in particular writers who are known to be more on the politically conservative side of things.

Here’s what I have to say about that: You know what? Don’t do that. Instead, take a look at the work, read the work, and if you like the work, place it appropriately on your ballot. Because why shouldn’t you? Regardless of how a work got on the ballot (or more accurately in this case, how you think it got onto the ballot), it’s there now. Read the books and stories. If you like them, great. If you don’t, there’s plenty of other excellent work on the ballot for your consideration.

Let me put it this way: In the last year, Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen have teed up on me several times in blog posts and comments, for their own various reasons. They don’t have my politics or my world view in a lot of things. But I’m looking forward to reading their nominated works, and if one of them really catches my fancy, and I don’t see why I wouldn’t vote for it. Correia and Torgersen disagreeing with me or trying to score points off of me for their own purposes isn’t really enough to dissuade me from giving their work a fair shake. It’s a pretty simple thing as far as I’m concerned. Your mileage may vary, of course. But this is my mileage.

* I noted on Twitter that I was delighted that yet again the Fan Writer Hugo category will have a new winner this year — no one nominated this year has won it before. It really does make me happy this has been the path of this particular Hugo category.

Aaaaaand those are my immediate Hugo thoughts. Your thoughts on my thoughts?

The 2014 Hugo Nominees

Here are the nominees this year!

1923 valid nominating ballots were received and counted from the members of LoneStarCon 3, Loncon 3 and Sasquan. (1889 Electronic  and 34 Paper.)

BEST NOVEL (1595 ballots)

  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
  • Parasite by Mira Grant (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Baen Books)
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books)

BEST NOVELLA (847 ballots)

  • The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
  • “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  • “Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
  • “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)

BEST NOVELETTE (728 ballots)

  • “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)
  • “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com / Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
  • “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
  • “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)

BEST SHORT STORY (865 ballots)

  • “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
  • “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
  • “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
  • “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

Note: category has 4 nominees due to a 5% requirement under Section 3.8.5 of the WSFS constitution.

BEST RELATED WORK (752 ballots)

  • Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It Edited by Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)
  • “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)
  • Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss (Abrams Image)
  • Writing Excuses Season 8 by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson

BEST GRAPHIC STORY (552 ballots)

  • Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who” written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
  • The Meathouse Man adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  • Saga, Volume 2 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics )
  • “Time” by Randall Munroe (XKCD)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (LONG FORM) (995 ballots)

  • Frozen screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  • Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  • Iron Man 3 screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  • Pacific Rim screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (SHORT FORM) (760 ballots)

  • An Adventure in Space and Time written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Televison)
  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot written & directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space / BBC America)

Note: category has 6 nominees due to a tie for 5th place.

BEST EDITOR – SHORT FORM (656 ballots)

  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams

BEST EDITOR – LONG FORM (632 ballots)

  • Ginjer Buchanan
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Lee Harris
  • Toni Weisskopf

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST (624 ballots)

  • Galen Dara
  • Julie Dillon
  • Daniel Dos Santos
  • John Harris
  • John Picacio
  • Fiona Staples

Note: category has 6 nominees due to a tie for 5th place.

BEST SEMIPROZINE (411 ballots)

  • Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore, and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
  • Interzone edited by Andy Cox
  • Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki
  • Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Sonya Taaffe, Abigail Nussbaum, Rebecca Cross, Anaea Lay, and Shane Gavin

BEST FANZINE (478 ballots)

  • The Book Smugglers edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
  • A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher
  • Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
  • Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Christopher J. Garcia, Lynda E. Rucker, Pete Young, Colin Harris, and Helen J. Montgomery
  • Pornokitsch edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin

BEST FANCAST (396 ballots)

  • The Coode Street Podcast Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
  • SF Signal Podcast Patrick Hester
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, David Annandale, Mike Underwood, and Stina Leicht
  • Tea and Jeopardy Emma Newman
  • Verity! Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • The Writer and the Critic Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond

Note: category has 7 nominees due to a tie for 5th place.

BEST FAN WRITER (521 ballots)

  • Liz Bourke
  • Kameron Hurley
  • Foz Meadows
  • Abigail Nussbaum
  • Mark Oshiro

BEST FAN ARTIST (316 ballots)

  • Brad W. Foster
  • Mandie Manzano
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles
  • Sarah Webb

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER (767 ballots)

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

  • Wesley Chu
  • Max Gladstone *
  • Ramez Naam *
  • Sofia Samatar *
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew

*Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

Congrats to the nominees! I will have more comments on the slate later. Feel free to discuss the nominations in the comment thread.

Today is International Kristine Blauser Scalzi Appreciation Day

On account that it is also her birthday. Allow me to go first and to simply say that I can’t imagine what my life would be without her; probably it would me being alone in a small apartment, eating cold cereal from the box and weeping, every day, all the time. And, yeah. Don’t want that. So thank you, Krissy, for being my wife and making my life a joy every single day you are with me. I love you.

If you wish to leave my wife birthday greetings, by all means feel free to do so in the comments.

(Photo: Kyle Cassidy)

The Four Levels of Discrimination (and You) (and Me, Too)

I’ve been talking about sexism recentlymy own and others — and I have to say I’ve found it increasingly exasperating to see the massively defensive response of “not all men are sexist” that inevitably follows. One, because it’s wrong (more on that in a bit), and two, because the more I see it, the more it’s obvious that it’s a derail, as in, “Holy shit any discussion of sexism makes me uncomfortable so I want to make it clear I am not sexist so I’ll just demand recognition that not all men are sexist so I can be lumped in with those men who are not sexist and I can be okay with myself.”

(I also note a fair correlation between the men who demand acknowledgment that men are not all sexist and the men who show some general hostility either to women or to the idea that they are being actively sexist through their own words or actions. But then, I don’t really find this correlation all that surprising.)

The silver lining to this exasperation is that it’s been making me think about sexism, and the more general concept of discrimination, more carefully. At the crux of the “Not all… ” formulation, it appears, is the (honest or otherwise) assertion that in order to participate in discrimination, one has to actively and with malice aforethought choose to discriminate — in order to be sexist, one has to be a sexist, in other words (or to be racist, one has to be a racist; in order to be homophobic, one has to be a homophobe, etc).

And, well. No. In fact, you don’t actively have to go out of your way to discriminate in order to participate in discrimination — that’s kind of the point. Some of that is already built into the system that everyone is part of. You get it, positively and/or negatively, no matter what; everyone does. You may then also decide to support discrimination in one way or another, and that’s the thing that changes you from being (for example) sexist to being a sexist. But to deny that baseline discrimination we all deal with because you’re not by your own lights actively trying to promote that discrimination is silly. It’s there, it’s real and it’s measurable, and you take part in it, one way or another.

But where does the line get drawn between being [x]ist and being an [x]ist, as it were? Let me posit what I think are four (very) general states of discrimination, as a way to suss out my own thoughts on the matter.

(And here is where I add the following disclaimers: One, these are my own thoughts, not rigorous research. Two, people who routinely and rigorously study discrimination may find this delightfully naive. Three, I acknowledge that the following framework is both very general, simplified and “chunky,” as in, reality is a great deal more subtle than four easy-to-conceptualize levels. Four, this is a work in progress. Got it? Okay, then:)

So, here are four basic levels of discrimination as I see them, each building on from the other, each with generally increasing negative effect on those discriminated against:

Level One: Ambient – This is the discrimination that is given to you, by society in general, by the particular groups you participate with in our general society, and by immediate influences (i.e., family, friends, teachers and authority figures). Your own ambient mix of discriminatory things will vary due to all of the above, as you drill down from the general to the specifics of your own life. But that doesn’t mean you avoid discrimination (or its effects); it merely dials in what particular discriminatory things you are more strongly influenced by. Everyone is influenced by the ambient discrimination, which is why, in fact, everyone is sexist, racist, classist, etc — we all got given this stuff early, often and before we could think about it critically. This is the baggage we deal with.

Level Two: Advantageous – This is the level where you realize that sometimes discrimination works for you, and you take advantage of it… or at least, are willing uncritically to accept the benefits of it. You may or may not wish to acknowledge that you have these certain advantages, and when you do acknowledge it, you may or may not try to assert that those advantages don’t apply to you specifically, i.e., that you didn’t get an automatic benefit due to discrimination and instead what benefit you’ve accrued is due to something intentional about you (“No one ever gave me anything! I worked for it all!”). But your recognition and acceptance of this advantageous discrimination is neither here nor there about a) whether it works for you, b) whether by participating in it, you’re helping to reinforce that discrimination.

Level Three: Argumentative – This is the level where you take on board the idea that discrimination is desirable in some way (usually in a way that benefits you directly, or benefits a group you belong to, so you accrue general and indirect benefits), and as a result you argue for and/or defend discrimination. This can take on a number of forms, from the relatively benign (the “not all…” argument) to the not at all benign (arguing that being a slave in the US was not so bad, or that women aren’t mentally composed to do math or physics or computer programming, or that Muslims are naturally inclined toward violence, as examples), and the use of rhetorical process to drive a discussion of discrimination either away from recognition of discrimination, or toward a different topic in order to control and contain the discussion.

Level Four: Antagonistic – The level where you choose to actively set yourself against others due to their differences from you, by (as examples and not limited to) acting to obtain or calling for limits to their freedoms (or to maintain current, actively discriminatory practices), actively minimizing their participation in society, either in general or in a specific subset, threatening them by word or by action and/or encouraging others to do the same.

So: I am sexist in that I have a raft of general assumptions and expectations about women and men that I got just from living in the world that I do; some things seem “girly” and “womanly” to me while some other things seem “boyish” and “manly.” But I am willing to argue that I am probably not sexist, because I don’t, for example, believe that men have inherent rights and privileges that women should not, nor do I believe women’s roles are lesser or subservient to men’s, nor do I, say, threaten them with rape or violence when they say or do something I dislike.

But of course that’s an easy formulation, isn’t it. We don’t really do or say anything useful if we only acknowledge the most extreme examples of discrimination as evidence that someone is a bigot in one way or another. This is part and parcel of the “not all…” assertion — one, that the ambient discrimination in the world doesn’t count when considering someone’s discriminatory assumptions and behavior, and two, that somewhere along the way, there’s a big, bright line at which one can say “hey, now you’re being a sexist/racist/homophobe/whatever.”

And, you know, I don’t think it works that way. Ambient discrimination makes us discriminatory. We all do it; we’re all that way because that’s what we get all around us. What makes us not a sexist, or a racist, or a homophobe, or whatever, is what we choose to do when we recognize our discriminatory behaviors or attitudes (or have them pointed out by others). If you work to minimize them going forward, in yourself and in your larger world, then you’re probably not a sexist/racist/homophobe/whatever. If you sort of shrug, and go, yeah, well, that’s life, then, yes. You’re totally a sexist/racist/homophobe/whatever. You don’t have to wait to claim that title, or have it justifiably applied to you.

(And yes, before the angry straight white male brigade descends, this applies to everyone, not just straight white men. If you’re not aware of it already, please bone up on the concept of intersectionality. But let’s also not pretend that straight white dudes aren’t first among equals when it comes to these issues, please. You all know my thoughts on my own social group by now.)

So. Am I, John Scalzi, sexist, and racist, and other forms of discriminatory? Yup. That stuff got built in, mostly when I was young and/or wasn’t paying attention. It happened to you, too. Sorry. But I also try to work against being a sexist, and a racist and other such things, by seeing those things in myself and working to correct them, and to correct them outside of myself as well. Am I work in progress? Yes. I’m not perfect at it, either. I show my ass from time to time. But I’m happy to keep on progressing. It’s a lifetime effort.

What I hope is that because of that effort, the ambient discrimination that people will get born into and participate in will suck less in the future than it does now. That’s what I can do, and what you can do, too.

More On the Limited Signed Print Edition of Unlocked From Subterranean

Subterranean Press has has more news of the signed, limited edition of the “Unlocked” novella — and if you pre-order in the next couple of days, US shipping will be free. Free, I tell you! SubPress does excellent versions of my work, and this one will be no exception — I’ve already seen the layout and it’s lovely.

Remember that the printed version of “Unlocked” actually is limited, as in, once this signed edition is all gone, there will be no more. So if you want one, move fast. Here’s the pre-order page.

Also, for those of you interested in getting a signed version of Lock In, but are uncertain if you will be able to track me down on my tour, SubPress is also offering pre-orders of signed versions of the novel  – i.e., I will haul my carcass to the SubPress offices, sign a bunch of copies of Lock In, and then they will ship a copy to you, should you be inclined to have one. And you do! I know you do. I can see it in your eyes.

Damn It, I Can’t Make It to GaymerX2

I’m sad to say that for various reasons, including ones involving my personal (i.e., non-public) schedule, I’m just not going to be able to make it to GaymerX2, where I had been scheduled to be a Boss of Honor.

This makes me very sad, because, one, I was really looking forward to it, and two, everyone who will be there is certain to be having a whole bunch of fun and I won’t be there to have it with them. But some things you just can’t avoid, and this is one of them.

Before anyone asks, no, this announcement is unrelated to this bit of news. This was something else entirely, and I had been in communication with the GaymerX2 folks about it for a while. Tried to make it work, and sadly, just couldn’t. The GaymerX2 people were very cool during the whole situation, however, and I thank them for it.

Sorry to everyone who was looking forward to seeing me at GaymerX2 this year. If it means anything, I hope to be in the Bay Area for a public event at some point this year — perhaps on tour, or at another event if not. Either way, I’ll hopefully see you all before the end of the year.

And for those who are wondering: Why, yes, I totally encourage you to show up for GaymerX2, even though I will not be able to attend. It’ll still be a ton of fun. And that’s a lot of fun to be had.

Announcing “Unlocked”

As you all know, I wrote a novel called Lock In, which is a near future thriller, set in a time where a disease called “Haden’s Syndrome” has caused millions to be trapped in their own bodies. That novel is going to be out on August 26 (August 28 in the UK).

What you don’t know is that I also wrote a novella, “Unlocked,” that’s set in the same world. This novella is an oral history of Haden’s syndrome: How it started, how it spread, what it did to the people who contracted it and to the nation and the world as we scrambled to contain the disease and then help those afflicted.

I wrote the novella early this year, and for two reasons. One, while Haden’s syndrome is pretty well addressed in Lock In, the novel takes place in a time where the world has been living with the disease for decades, which means society has already made the changes that come with such a momentous event. I wanted to explore how we got there, and the novella let me do that. Two, I’ve been wanting to do something in the “oral history” format for years — I actually intended to do a two-book series in the format before World War Z came out and took the wind out of those particular sails — and exploring the progress of Haden’s syndrome offered a fantastic opportunity to let me finally get into that format.

So I wrote the novella, mostly for fun and my own curiosity. When it was done, I realized it would make for a great way to lead people into the world of Lock In. Tor agreed, which is why it’s releasing “Unlocked” as an eBook on May 7. All the details for that, including how to pre-order are here.

But wait! There’s more! For those of you who prefer a printed version, there will also be a limited edition signed hardcover version from Subterranean Press — more information on that (including for pre-order) to come. And if you prefer your novellas in audio, that version will be coming from Audible in the reasonably near future as well. More information on that one, too, as we go along. So, really: Whatever format you like your Scalzi, it’s going to be available for you.

I’m very excited that “Unlocked” is getting out to you. It was a blast to write and I think you’ll get caught up in how the world you know today changes into the world of Lock In. I can’t wait for you to experience it.

Write a Check, Get an Entirely Unrelated Check

Oh, boy, Tax Day! That’s when I find out how much my refund is!

(Checks paperwork)

WHAT?!??!?

(Writes check to IRS, grumbles)

Well, at least I got this check today:

That’s right! I am now verified on Twitter! It’s your assurance that whenever I write about gremlins, it’s really me, and not, say, Mary Robinette Kowal, posing as me for nefarious purposes. And what a relief that is. For all of us.

Women Characters in The Human Division

Question in e-mail today asks, of my book The Human Division: “What’s up with every one of the side characters being women?” 

My first thought was: Huh, a reader finally e-mailed about that.

My second thought was: Huh, it took a year and a half before a reader e-mailed about that.

My third thought is: In fact, not every side (or featured) character in The Human Division is a woman. If you were to take a pencil and write down the name of every named character, you’d probably discover that roughly half of the named characters are women.

I did consciously decide to include women characters roughly at parity to male characters, for two reasons. One, in the Old Man’s War universe, there’s no reason not to — thanks to genetic engineering and social attitudes (and other things), the OMW universe is one where there is no reason not to have parity between the sexes in the events related in the books. Since there’s not, introducing a disparity would be inauthentic to the universe I created.

Two, regardless of the world I created, we live in a world in which women are underrepresented in the media, relative to the numbers they exist in the real world. I also think that’s inauthentic, and I don’t see why I would want to be a part of that. So, unless there is a compelling reason not to (see: The God Engines, in which the lack of representation of women is there as a tell about the culture), I’ve decided in general to replicate the parity of the sexes that exists in the real world into my fiction.

I didn’t make a huge deal about it when I was writing THD; I just reminded myself to write women characters. I also didn’t generally talk about making an effort at that parity after the book was published, because I didn’t think something as simple as accurately representing male/female ratios in the real world (and how they would logically be in the universe I created) was a big deal.

I was curious if anyone would notice. I think there was one review that noted it (in passing, not as a central feature), I was asked about it in one interview, and now I’ve gotten this one e-mail about it from a reader. And pretty much that’s it.

What does that mean? Well, you tell me. I like to think that generally speaking it means that people who read my books don’t think it’s a big deal that women are at parity to men in terms of characters. I’m good with that.

To those who do notice and think it’s weird or indicative of some political agenda they feel suspicious about: Meh, get used to it. It’s not going away anytime soon.

The Big Idea: A.J. Larrieu

Things have a cost. You buy a coffee, you pay the price for it. You stay up all night drinking, you pay for it with a hangover. But what cost comes from using magic — and how do you pay the price? A.J Larrieu is here to tell you how tallied the cost for her novel Twisted Miracles — and how that price affects her story.

A.J. LARRIEU:

I’ve always been drawn to speculative fiction that requires power to have a price. The price can come in different forms, but without it, the world just won’t feel real. In the Harry Potter books, one price of power is the training witches and wizards need to harness their innate abilities. In the Game of Thrones series, no one gets away without paying the “iron price,” and often paying more than they owe. Giving power a price creates natural balance in a fictional universe—and it makes things a lot more interesting.

The world of my debut novel, Twisted Miracles, is populated by shadowminds, humans with supernatural mental powers. They aren’t strictly telekinetic—they’re actually energy converters, able to use their minds to create motion, light or heat. This makes for some fascinating possibilities, but I knew I couldn’t let their powers be limitless. To make their gifts feel real, I had to understand how they worked. Not on a detailed level—it’s made-up magic, after all—but in a practical way. What’s possible, and what’s not?

I’m a scientist by training, so I began with one of the most fundamental, unbreakable laws of the universe, the First Law of Thermodynamics. It’s a famous one—simply put, it states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. As I move my fingers to type this post, I’m using energy I banked this morning in the form of peanut butter on toast and some disappointing strawberries.

I wanted the same general rule to apply to my converters. They can lift things with their minds, sure, but they can’t go around tossing SUVs like used tissues. If they don’t have the power to do it with their hands, they don’t have the power to do it with their brains. They have limits.

Of course, some of them can go beyond those limits. My heroine, Cass, can lift anything she wants, no matter how heavy, but that energy still has to come from somewhere. If she can’t find it in herself, her gift goes looking for it somewhere else, and the cost of stealing energy isn’t always one she’s prepared to pay.

It was this cost that led me to the thematic core of the story, the one I didn’t know about when I started writing. As it turns out, the big idea behind Twisted Miracles is a question: What are the limits of forgiveness? Cass’s dangerous gift has led her to do terrible things, some of them by accident, some of them not. Over the course of the story, she’s forced to make soul-rending choices about the price she’s willing to pay for justice. In the end, Cass’s journey is about learning how to live with her personal tab of decisions and mistakes—and learning that forgiveness might be the one thing in life without a price.

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Twisted Miracles: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google|iBooks|Kobo

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

How I Keep Myself Amused on Long Flights, Part II: The Gremlining

(For those who missed the first in this series, posted almost a year ago (i.e., almost certainly on another long plane trip to Los Angeles), it’s here.)