The Big Idea: Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson

When you introduce magic into a real-world setting, you don’t only have to deal with the problems that magic introduces — you have to deal with the problems that already existed in that real world setting. When Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson wanted to introduce magic to an American milieu in One Night in Sixes, she took all of those problems into consideration. Here’s how she made it work.

TEX THOMPSON:

All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“I’m tired of Euromedieval fantasy!” I thought. “I’m tired of swords and castles and straight white monocultures. I’m going to write a fantasy about MY country, and MY history, with eleventeen kinds of people rubbing shoulders – like in real life! – and it’s going to be AMAZING.”

And by “amazing”, I must have meant “an absolute landmine of racism, imperialism, slavery and genocide.” Because, y’know, we Yanks really don’t have any post-contact history that doesn’t involve somebody taking something from somebody else. And I don’t think it’d be very responsible to write historical American fantasy that doesn’t acknowledge that somehow.

“Well, okay,” I thought, “but I want all these different folks to have power and agency and hope for a better future. So maybe in MY magical fantasyland, this huge clash of cultures isn’t a relentless colonial tragedy. Maybe the settlers and indigenous peoples are more evenly matched.  Maybe they’ve actually fought to a standstill.  Because… because… well, because the native guys have magic, see!”

Also because there were fishmen acting as a disease barrier, but anyway – magic.

I was a pretty far ways along before I realized that that was capital-P Problematic, not to mention cliché as hell. Real talk, fantasy writers: why is it that we always give the native guys magic? Is it because we’ve inherited some 500-year-old fetishistic meme? Is it so we can even out all those Guns, Germs, and Steel, like we’re setting up some kind of DnD CR table and have to balance the fighters and the mages?  Why is magic always the antithesis of modernity?

And then it hit me.

“BECAUSE,” I said to myself, “in MY magical fantasyland, magic comes from cultural continuity. So the more you eat what your ancestors ate, work their land, speak their language, and live their lifestyle, the more powerful you are. So the settlers DO have magic – or rather they DID, until they started industrializing and spreading and changing so fast that most of them can’t even name their grandfathers, nevermind make the thousand-mile trek back to the old homestead. And – and and and! – the rich folks have actually hung on some of their magic, because they can afford to hole up in their big old ancestral plantations and estates, while the poor folks work in factories or pull up stakes to go do the wagon-train thing. My God – they’ve turned the proletariat into muggles!”

So that was exciting. And it made my brain happy, because not only did it address some of those tropey, icky stereotypes, but it also gave this 19th-century story a real 21st-century feeling. The settlers have given up their cultural continuity in the name of progress and opportunity. The slaves who had their culture forcibly stripped away are actively seeking to rekindle it. And the indigenous peoples who have fought to hold on to their land and lifestyles are having to decide how much of their old ways they can afford to keep in this new, changing world.

That set off a whole chain reaction of big mental bombshells. The possibility of creating new traditions, new magic powers, as people mix and adapt. The idea of a world in which violence and suffering cause a kind of mystical radiation poisoning that lingers for generations. The people and creatures – the children of the last generation’s horrific warfare – who have been literally, supernaturally altered by all this bloodshed and pollution. And a whole lot more that I won’t even get into here.

But even though I’m excited about all of this, I don’t want to give off the impression that now everything is hunky-dory and I’ve got it All Figured Out. This IS an interesting concept – dare I say, a Big Idea. However, part of what still has me scared absolutely gutless, even seven years after that first American epiphany, is that I’m fictionalizing and fantasizing about really serious real-world stuff that has a long history of being horrendously mishandled. And having a good idea isn’t the same as executing it well.  I think fear is absolutely the right emotion to have, of course, because being terrified of getting it wrong is a crucial step in getting it right.

But as nervous as I am about this Big Idea and how it will be received, the even-bigger one behind it – that is, the push for a more inclusive bookshelf, and the importance of being able to re-imagine our own history without sweeping the uncomfortable bits under the rug – is one that I am really excited about.  I hope you will be too.

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One Night in Sixes: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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

Athena Reviews “Peter and the Wolf”

Athena watched the 2006 animated version of “Peter and the Wolf,” which won the Oscar for Best Animated Short, and felt compelled to write her very first film review. Here it is. As a former professional film critic, I’m very proud.

(Also: If you’d like to see the film for yourself, here it is on Netflix).

Athena Scalzi:

Last night, I watched a short film called “Peter and the Wolf”. It is a thirty two minute Oscar-winning claymation short. Not only did it win an Oscar, but five other awards as well. This film is about a boy named Peter who lives in a small Russian village. He lives with his grandpa, he gets bullied by some townspeople, and Peter’s only friend is a duck.

This film was one of the most interesting I’ve ever watched. One of the things I found most interesting about “Peter and the Wolf” was that there was no talking throughout the entire film. It didn’t need words though. The film was fine with just facial expressions and actions to express thoughts. I’m not saying the film was silent, though. In fact, it had some of the most amazing music I’ve heard in a soundtrack.

I thought the animation was quite interesting, as well. Claymation is one of my favorite types of animation. I think claymation is just so much more captivating than any other kind of animation. The movement of the characters in the film wasn’t the smoothest, but I loved their facial expressions and how detailed everything was, especially the wolf.

Based on the title, I was expecting the story to be like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, but it was its own story and an original idea. It wasn’t what I was expecting, to say the least. It was funny at times, but I almost cried at one part. I would’ve never guessed how it ended.

Overall, I enjoyed this strange yet compelling film. It’s clear to see why “Peter and the Wolf” won an Oscar.

Dayton Appearance August 2nd; Hugos; GenCon

Some short bits for you folks:

1. A reminder for you Dayton area folks that this Saturday (August 2nd), I will be making an appearance at the Beavercreek Barnes & Noble at 2pm, at which time I will read from Lock In and other things, answer questions, and sign things, probably books, but hey, if you want something else signed, I’ll probably sign that too. I’m easy. If you’re in the Dayton area, come on by. I would hate to be all alone.

2. A reminder to all of you who have Loncon 3 memberships that you have only until 11:59:59pm Pacific Time on July 31 to get your Hugo votes in. If there’s something or someone you want to have take home a rocket, this is just about your last chance to help make it happen. Get to it.

3. As I’ve noted earlier, I’m not going to be able to make it to Loncon 3 this year, so I’ve been asked if I was going to be at GenCon instead, which happens the same weekend and is rather more conveniently located for my purposes (it’s in Indianapolis, which is just a couple of hours away). The answer: Maybe, but not in an official capacity. I have some friends who will be there I want to see, so I might come up for a day and see them. I won’t be there the whole weekend because I have a wedding to attend on Saturday. So most likely I’ll just pop over on Friday, if I show up at all. So if you’re at GenCon on that Friday and you see someone who looks like me: Maybe it is. Come say hello!

Help Kickstart Uncanny Magazine

My pals Lynne and Michael Damian Thomas (3-time Hugo winner and 3-time Hugo nominee, respectively), are hoping to start a new science fiction and fantasy magazine and are also hoping you’ll help them kickstart this ambition. They’re here to tell you about their plans, in the hope you’ll like what they have planned.

Also, consider this my official endorsement of the magazine. I’ve known Lynne and Michael for years and have every confidence they will make a fantastic magazine that you’ll want to read. And I’ve put my own money where my mouth is, as I was either the first or second person to back this Kickstarter. It’ll be good. Go ahead and kick in.

Lynne and Michael Damian Thomas:

Hi, we’re Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas. We are Hugo winning and nominated editors who have spent the past several years creating and sharing work that gets us excited. Whether it’s sharing true, personal stories of how the community that loves Doctor Who changes lives in Chicks Dig Time Lords and Queers Dig Time Lords , publishing haunting, lyrical, and devastating stories in Apex Magazine, or throwing a massive, Kickstarter-funded science fictional party through Glitter & Mayhem‘s stories of the dark side of night life and roller derby (what’s more awesome than aliens and roller derby?), we’ve done our best to bring you stories and images that stay with you, because they feel like they were made for you.

We’re taking our experiences and using them to create a new online magazine, funded via Kickstarter.  We’re calling it Uncanny, because we want to produce a sensational magazine that feels like you’ve been here before, in the best way possible. Uncanny will have stories, prose, poetry and cover art that stays with you after you’ve read the issue. Contributors for year one will include Charlie Jane Anders, Paul Cornell, Galen Dara, Julie Dillon, Neil Gaiman, Jim C. Hines, Kameron Hurley, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Scott Lynch, Sofia Samatar, Rachel Swirsky, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more. We will also have open submissions in search of new work.

These kinds of stories feel as rare as unicorns. Getting to share them with our readers is awesome like a space unicorn (hence our mascot).

We hope that you will support Uncanny.  Because space unicorns are for everyone.

The Big Idea: Nick Harkaway

Buckle in, kids. Nick Harkaway, the critically acclaimed, award-nominated, and best selling author of the brand new book Tigerman, is about to get deep on y’all — and also, tell you a little about his new book, which is already racking up envious reviews.

NICK HARKAWAY:

You know what’s really a big idea? Making life. I mean: wow.

Like Tom Strong in Alan Moore’s comic, I am mostly – I should say “I was” – the sort of person who is more awestruck by the possibility of neurologically gear-shifting a gorilla to create a quasi-human consciousness than by the more common business of having a kid. I mean, lots of people have kids. How many people tamper with the biocognitive structure of a great ape? Am I right?

No. I am not. Because I can not think of anything I have done that is more amazing, more educative, more brain-meltingly overwhelming and physically exhausting, more testing and exciting and rewarding than being a dad. And I am only three and a half years into that project.

I knew it would be this way, too. I knew that I would respond to becoming a father with everything I am, because that is what I do. I’m not great with half-measures. If something comes into my life, that thing has to be accommodated and welded into the rest so that it is part of the landscape, inseparable from what was there before. Everything is contiguous. I write about liminality; I wear it like a pair of sunglasses; I even love it. I do not live it.

So when I started writing Tigerman, before my first child was born, I was anticipating the turbulent, demanding, absolute loyalty of parenthood. I may even have been planning it, feeling my way to the massive shift in priority and self-perception. And that’s where this book has its heart: in the urgent, conditioned, biological, personal need to be a father, and—in the reverse angle—the reciprocal need to have or to adopt a father. To make the father you want, if necessary, from available materials.

I can feel myself, five years ago, reading this if it was written by someone else and saying “I am not sure I give a damn about any of this right now.”

So let me say that I am not dropping something leaden on your doorstep and calling it a balloon. My natural state of arrested development makes me uncomfortable with stories that are only about the heavy stuff. The unrelieved emotional angst of some writing that’s popular at the moment makes me want to go and play Masters of Orion 2 instead of reading. (Which I do, because: vintage video strategy games? My kryptonite.) So interwoven with this serious depiction of human life and the boundaries of love and whatever that I as a Brit am inherently unwilling to talk about anyway, there is a whole other story about a guy who puts on a costume and opens the world’s most enjoyable can of whop-ass on various people who richly deserve it. Because if there is one thing I do like to write, it is an action sequence.

And if you are going to whop, you need badness upon which to do so. Whop without badness is choreography. Fight scenes work when you care, powerfully, about who wins – when to be honest you want to throw a punch yourself. So I made up an island that is basically the nicest place on Earth and poured over it the contents of the cantina at Mos Eisley. Nowhere will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy – and these international bastards of mystery, these crooks and spies and torturers and bankers and brokers, who we know without being told are responsible for everything that sucks about the world: this is where they’ve all chosen to come and do the stuff they would be ashamed to do anywhere else. This is the place where they have created a little home for themselves. Here. In this really nice island that has managed, despite all the usual colonial baggage, to be a decent home to its inhabitants, to be the town where you leave your keys in your car when you go into the store.

So yeah, um. I may have gotten a bit geopolitical about it, which I suppose is also a big idea, in the more conventional sense of the term. I do have big ideas about governance and justice in general. But come on: who doesn’t feel that the way the world is run, the jigsaw of governmental and corporate-legal doublespeak that means however illegal something is some branch office somewhere is allowed to do it anyway, whether that’s a chemical company dumping or the NSA and GCHQ listening to our phone calls by offshoring to one another… who does not get angry about that? A government should serve, not dictate. A corporation is not a person unless I can punch it in the face for being a jackass.

And above all: these systems we make, support, empower: they should damn well do what they say on the tin, what they are clearly supposed to do, and not what is permitted by the loosest and most weasely reading of the documents of their instantiation. They should not engineer gaps in their own oversight, in the rules that create them, so that they can do the bad things they are supposed to prevent because that is the easiest way. When, in fact, did we stop reaching for the Apollo Program ethos in every big project, and settle for being Saul Goodman, slipping between the tiles of the global ethical bathroom?

Yah. I get a little heated. And I almost didn’t realize until I wrote this what my big idea was in the book. I feel slightly dumb about that.

This is a book about responsibility. Which is what good people feel, and bad people don’t.

—-

Tigerman: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s Tumblr. Follow him on Twitter.

“The Failure of Flappy Bird”: A Very Short Short Story By Me, in Popular Science

The magazine Popular Science asked me to write a very short story about the future, on the topic of technology, so I did. It’s called “The Failure of Flappy Bird” and you can find it at the Popular Science Web site. Oh, plus very short stories from Ian Tregellis, Ann Leckie, Melinda Snodgrass, Elizabeth Bear, Seanan McGuire, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Lynch, Daniel Abraham and Karl Schroeder. You know, if you want to read them too.

(P.S.: For you print fans, the stories are also available in the August 2014 issue of the magazine, on sale now.)

(P.P.S.: Or if you have an iPad and you want even more stories, you can get this! For $4! Cheap!)

What Happened After I Reported: Elise Matthesen, WisCon, and Harassment

My friend Elise Matthesen last year filed a report at the WisCon science fiction and fantasy covention, because she believed that (then) Tor editor Jim Frenkel had sexually harassed her. Harassment policies are not only about what those policies say, but how those policies are administered and those reports handled. Here’s Elise telling you how WisCon, which identifies as the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention, handled her report. The short version: It did so very poorly.

—-

Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment.  One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.

I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.

More than a year after I reported, following an outcry when WisCon revealed that they had lost other reports of misconduct — and after the person in question had not only attended WisCon 38 but had been one of the volunteer hosts in the public convention hospitality suite —  WisCon appointed a subcommittee to investigate my report, along with others they had received about the same person, and to determine what action would best benefit WisCon.

That subcommittee made their statement on Friday, July 18.  Their decision seemed to focus on the rehabilitation of the person, and to understate the seriousness of the conduct. I found their decision inadequate and troubling, and could not understand how they had arrived at it. A week later, on Friday, July 24, I compared notes with Jacquelyn Gill, a member of that subcommittee. (I am incredibly grateful that she made a public statement about her experience on the committee, which allowed me to reach out to her.) We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision. Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

I don’t know whether the relevant details were removed or summarized away from the report I made, or were never written down in the first place. As yet I have seen no evidence that the safety logbook itself contains them. I wonder whether the chairs at WisCon 37 were ever even given the details.

When the subcommittee was formed this year after WisCon 38, Debbie Notkin chaired it. While I can see the sense of having the Member Advocate – which was also Debbie — participating in the subcommittee, I was shocked to learn after the decision that the Member Advocate was also the chair of the subcommittee.  To my way of thinking, that was a clear conflict of interest which I would have balked at, had I been informed. Still, since she was present when I reported in detail, I can’t imagine why she didn’t see that the watered-down summarized version presented to the subcommittee was materially different than what I reported. Despite that knowledge, she allowed the subcommittee to base their decision on inadequate and frankly misleading information. And the subcommittee cooperated with that. The subcommittee performed no follow-up with me or the witnesses, or with other reporters and their witnesses.

What has happened here is beyond my comprehension.  People other than me will have to figure it out and do whatever needs to be done. I hear Ariel Franklin-Hudson has built improved systems for collecting information on incidents, and that’s needed, but what went wrong here is deeper than that.

A proper harassment investigation takes some thought and training, but it is well within the abilities of a good-faith WisCon committee to conduct one.  Experts who train people on harassment investigations emphasize the essential elements of an investigation:

(1) act promptly,

(2) gather all existing written information and reports,

(3) based on those, thoroughly interview the complaining witness, the accused, and any witnesses to the complained-of conduct,

(4) ask those witnesses for other witnesses or evidence (like documents) that might help illuminate the situation;

(5) document what you learn and maintain control and privacy of the documents, and

(6) make a decision based on all of the information that you’ve gathered in a methodical and effective way.

WisCon, instead, lost reports of complaints, selectively interviewed only the accused, failed to conduct follow-up interviews with complainants and other witnesses, and failed to probe whether the reports on which they relied were complete or accurate.  In other words, in addition to disputing the result, I think that the process was haphazard.

I will not blame Debbie for everything that went horribly wrong, because this isn’t just one person. Debbie made a grave error of proper investigation and decision-making, but this is not just Debbie. This is the safety chairs who didn’t investigate further. This is the con-chairs who didn’t follow up and didn’t ever interview me and Lauren. This is the subcommittee members who didn’t push further and contact me and Lauren and Mikki. This is lots of people, some unwitting, some just preferring not to look at the ugly stuff, not to learn something that would require that they confront someone — or confront their principles.

This is a system. And it is fucking powerful and it is fucking broken. I’m not the only one who’s said so. I don’t like putting these details out here. But this is all I have left to do, at this point: stand up and tell the truth.

I would prefer that what this has cost all of us not be wasted. If you care about WisCon, rebuild it. I wish I knew how. I’m at my limits. But as Kameron Hurley said,

“There’s a future that needs building, but somebody who’s actually courageous and principled needs to take up the fucking spade and build it.

“Is it you?”

A First Class Trip to Hell is Still a Trip to Hell

So, the good news about yesterday’s flight home is that I was bumped to first class. Yay! Extra leg room!

The bad news about yesterday’s flight home: It left 30 minutes late because they hadn’t finished (or possibly even begun) fueling the plane before we boarded; a dual line of thunderstorms diverted hundreds of miles out of our path, necessitating an unplanned stop at Dallas-Fort Worth in order to refuel; the refueling stop took more than two hours, at least 30 minutes of which came down to waiting for maintenance to say “uh, yeah, you can go, I guess,” that last bit of delay being the thing that caused me to miss my (already once-rescheduled) connecting flight, which was also the last flight of the day to Dayton; and when we landed in Charlotte, nearly five hours late, we had to wait an additional 30 minutes to get to the gate because it had rained too hard.

Yay! Extra legroom!

All of which is to say that I am still not yet home. I am in Charlotte, having gotten a couple hours of sleep at a (thankfully comped) hotel, waiting to see whether the presumably first flight out to Dayton will actually fly, or whether it will be delayed because, oh, let’s say, hamsters in the engines.

I am sitting with hoi polloi for this leg of the journey. Let’s see if it makes any difference.

Update, 1:41pm: Back at home and rested. Hooray!

Yesterday in San Diego

Walk to go get a hat and a Coke Zero. Walk back to hotel. Walk to go find out where my event is. Walk back to hotel to hang out at the Wired Cafe. Walk to event. Walk back to hotel. Walk to bar to hang out with friends. Walk with friend to his next appointment. Walk to the Balboa Theater for w00tstock. Walk from w00tstock to the LA Times Hero Complex party to give away books. Walk from Times party to the Geek and Sundry party. Walk from G&S party back to w00tstock. Walk from w00tstock back to G&S party. Dance a bit. Walk friend back to her hotel. Walk from her hotel back to my hotel.

Sleep until my feet no longer hurt.

Wake up. Get ready to walk to breakfast.

San Diego.

Hope you’re getting your exercise too.

San Diego Comic-con Addendum

I’m quoted today in this Los Angeles Times piece on San Diego Comic-con and issues of harassment. It’s an interesting article and worth reading if you’re not up to date on the issue. I have a couple of addendums to it which I think I worth noting briefly now (I will have some longer thoughts on the whole subject, but they will have to wait until after this weekend):

* The article notes that SDCC for the first time sent out e-mails to badge-holders pointing out that it doesn’t tolerate harassment. And you know what? That’s an excellent move and a good way to make the point to 100,000+ people that harassment won’t fly at the convention. I have nothing but positive things to say about that. So good on SDCC for sending those e-mails. I should also say I think SDCC is actively thinking about harassment issues this year, both as a matter of course and because others outside the convention (aside from me, I will note, and in a much more publicly active way than I) are making noise about it. That’s good too, and credit where credit is due.

* However, SDCC still doesn’t actually say on its site (or otherwise as far as I can see) what it thinks harassing behavior is. Which is a really big problem in my book — it leaves no guidance for attendees. Not all harassing behavior is as blatant as a grope; attendees on the receiving end of unwanted attention may not be aware that their harassment qualifies under SDCC standards — nor in the absence of guidance may they be convinced, if they feel harassed, that SDCC will agree with them. That’s a huge hole. I understand SDCC reasoning for not offering that guidance, but with due respect for the thinking behind it, it’s flat-out wrong in my opinion. Not having that language makes the convention less safe, not more. It’s the reason you won’t see me at the convention center or on the floor of the show.

* That said, I noted earlier that my event today, which is off campus (it will be at the Horton Grand Theatre at 1:30pm) was affiliated with SDCC in some way. Certainly the tickets to the event note that affiliation:

I think it’s better for me to put these tickets on the table, as it were, than have someone else do it. As I noted earlier, doing this particular event off-campus allows me to keep a closer eye on things (or as I wrote previously, “if someone acts like a harassing asshole at my event, I can have them bounced and reported”). I’m very sure SDCC knows my thoughts on harassment, in any event.

* What I hope is that all of this helps to make this particular SDCC the safest one so far — and thus the most enjoyable SDCC so far for a large number of its attendees — and keeps the momentum going for the convention to continue making improvements in this area. As I said earlier, the e-mails are a start, and a start I can applaud. There’s more to be done.

Hello San Diego

And you are looking lovely this evening.

I am in town. I have signed books for Tor to give away at its booth. I am going to get something to eat, and then I am going to go to sleep, because my brain is still in the Eastern time zone. See some of you, hopefully, at my reading tomorrow (details here). Or later today, since this is likely to go out with an Eastern time zone timestamp. You know what I mean.

Paul & Storm: Ball Pit is Out!

A friendly reminder to you all that my pals Paul & Storm have a new album out called Ball Pit, and it’s terrific and funny, and I’m not just saying that because it features two songs I commissioned from them (“Fuzzy Man” and “(The Shadow War of the Night) Dragons of the Night”), nor am I saying that just because they paid me a shiny penny to say it, although they did, and to be honest, the penny is only moderately shiny. Well, you should buy the album anyway. It’s available at BandcampiTunes,  Amazon, and Google Play as downloads, with physical CDs coming soon.

If you get it and you like it, Paul and Storm would be obliged if you posted a review of it and/or tell other people about it. Because that’s how people find out about these things.

And yes, they paid me another shiny penny to tell you that. And this penny isn’t shiny either. Damn it.

(Seriously, though: A fine album which I like a whole lot. Get it!)

Subscription Services and My Writing

People have asked me if I have any particular thoughts on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription plan, and whether my own work will be on it (and one presumes, on other similar subscription services, like Oyster and Scribd). So, some thoughts:

While one should never say never, I don’t anticipate any of my novels being on subscription services in the immediate future, no. One, Macmillan, who has published all my novels to date, hasn’t started working with any of the subscription services. Speaking with no direct knowledge whatsoever of their corporate thinking on the matter, it seems unlikely to me that they will, unless there’s a clear economic benefit to them in doing so. Two, even if Macmillan decides to opt in, contractually they’ll probably have to ask my permission first — at which point I have to decide whether there is a clear economic benefit in doing so.

And is there a clear economic benefit to me putting my novels on a subscription service right now? At the very least, some early analysis suggests there would be a better economic benefit for me than for many self-published authors, thanks to the fact I am “traditionally published” — an irony for those who still labor under the impression that publishing is an “us vs. them” sort of business — but I have to say I would want to see some actual, useful data on how writers actually get paid from subscription services before I’d want to jump in with the novels.

Part of that hesitation is based on the experience of musicians with their own streaming services, such as Spotify or Rhapsody — many musicians earn substantially less from streaming than from sales, and unlike musicians, most writers can’t really try to make money from touring (some could. Not many). Now, to be clear, early reports say that the subscription services credit a full sale after someone reads 10% or so of a work (although how much a “full sale” counts for seems to be contingent on several factors, including whether one is “traditionally published” or not — again, see the link above).

That’s not bad. But I’m less than entirely convinced that there won’t be near-immediate pressure to push that compensation downward; say, by trying to cut into the money credited for a “full sale,” or by pushing back the percentage of a book read before a “full sale” to 25% or 33%, or by any other number of ways which I can’t now think of off the top of my head but which the subscription model will in some way enable. For me the question is not if such a push will happen, because it will. The question is when.

So the question becomes: Why would I want to do that?

(Note: This question is asked not in the “why would I want to do something that stupid?” sense but in the “so, what’s in it for me?” sense. As is the next question –)

Why would I, as a writer and a businessperson, want to enable a model that introduces another layer of opportunity for others to drive down the amount I can make from my work? The uninformed may fulminate about how publishers are parasitic middlemen, but in point of fact my publisher does a lot of work for me: Editing, copy-editing, art and design, marketing and publicity and distribution. I argue with my publisher on what my cut of the takings should be (these are called negotiations) but there is an exchange of services. So what is the exchange of service a subscription model would offer me? Does it offer enough to compensate for another potential slice to be taken out of my income? Does it offer enough to replace or at least augment the distrubtion model which already exists, and from which I benefit?

If it does — and it might! — then that’s great. Let’s get to it. If it doesn’t, however, then we have a problem.

(This line of inquiry does not consider at all whether a subscription service might be good for readers. It may or may not; I suspect the answer will entirely depend on how many books one actually reads a month. Be aware that buffets make money because they charge you more for the food you eat than you the amount of food you can on average consume, and that this is a buffet, with books instead of crab rangoon. Also be aware, in the case of Amazon in particular, that the long term plan is to make it so you never ever have to go anywhere else to buy anything, ever, and that running Kindle Unlimited at a loss for a while would be fine if it serves that long-term goal. Neither of these things are particularly good or evil in themselves — once again Amazon (and other subscription services) is acting in its own self-interest, as businesses do.

However, none of that conversation is of interest to me when I have my “working writer” hat on. My immediate focus is my own interest — whether a subscription service is good for me, and my business, and my ability to make a living. And you may see this as immaterial or even selfish, especially if you like the idea of drinking from the book subscription firehose. But I gotta tell you, if the amount I can make writing fiction falls through the floor, so will the amount of fiction that I write, as my time will have to be spent doing things that pay my mortgage. We do not live in a glorious socialist paradise here in the US; I have to make money. So do other writers.)

The flip side of this is that every new distribution model offers opportunities tuned to that particular model of distribution — the question is whether one is smart enough to figure out what the strengths of any distribution model are, and then saavy (and lucky) enough to capitalize on them. For example, I think a subscription model might be a very fine way to make money from shorter works: short stories, novellas, less-than-book length short fiction and so on. That’s something I could definitely see pursuing aggressively, while (if necessary) keeping longer-length work in distribution channels that are more profitable for it.

The key is not seeing any distribution model as a threat, even as you’re looking at it critically, but in finding the way it can work for you, and how you can take advantage of it. Right now, I’m in the “still looking at how it can work for me” phase of things. We’ll see how it goes from here.

This Thursday (and Elsewhen) in San Diego

Yes, I’ll be in San Diego this week, and all my events are on Thursday, the 24th. Here’s where you will find me:

1:30pm: Reading at the Grand Horton Theater, 444 4th Avenue (between Island and J streets). I’ll read a bit from Lock In, or I might decide to do something else. You never know! Be on edge!

9:00pm: I’ll be making an appearance at the LA Times Hero Complex party.

Thursday evening I may also be making appearances at w00tstock and/or the Geek and Sundry party, depending on several factors. Twitter will be the best place to find out where I will be that evening (and if I know earlier than that evening, I’ll note it here).

I’ll also be in town Friday and Saturday. Much of that will be for private business — I’ll be having meetings, y’all — but I might decide to park myself somewhere and do “office hours” at some point. Again, Twitter will be the place to learn about that. If I do office hours I will be happy to chat and/or sign books.

I will not be at the convention center or on the SDCC floor. Here are the reasons for that.

If you can’t/don’t see me this week in San Diego, I will be back on September 8, 7pm, at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore as part of my Lock In tour. Details on my official tour schedule.

See you in San Diego!

My 80s Dance Set List from Detcon 1

I’ve been getting requests for the set list of songs that went into the 80s dance I DJ’ed at Detcon 1. I had a source list — songs that I selected as the ones ready to queue up — of 346 songs, with everyone from Africa Bamabaata to Cher to Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy to Ozzy Osbourne on it. Of those, I ended up playing 45 songs, or about 13% of the available playlist. Those songs (as best as I can remember them — I was busy DJing at the time) are listed below, alphabetically by song as opposed to by order of play.

For those wondering how I chose which songs I was going to play, the answer is outside of the first two songs (“Let’s Go Crazy” and “Dancing With Myself”) two songs at midnight (“Time Warp” and “Rock Lobster”) and the final song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”)*, I just read what the crowd seemed to be into, and also took requests. The overriding DJ philosophy was to give that particular crowd at that particular dance as much fun as possible over the course of three hours.

And now, without further ado:

The Detcon 1 80s Dance Set List!

Addicted to Love — Robert Palmer

Beat It — Michael Jackson

Bizarre Love Triangle — New Order

Blister in the Sun — Violent Femmes

Call Me — Blondie

Cars — Gary Numan

Dancing With Myself — Billy Idol

Dead Man’s Party — Oingo Boingo

Don’t You (Forget About Me) — Simple Minds

Genius of Love — Tom Tom Club

The Glamorous Life — Shelia E

Head Like a Hole — Nine Inch Nails

Hungry Like the Wolf — Duran Duran

I Feel For You — Chaka Khan

I’m So Excited — Pointer Sisters

I Want Candy — Bow Wow Wow

Jungle Love — The Time

Just Like Heaven — The Cure

Kiss — Prince

Let’s Dance — David Bowie

Let’s Go Crazy — Prince

A Little Respect — Erasure

Lucky Star — Madonna

Master and Servant — Depeche Mode

Mirror in the Bathroom — English Beat

Miss You Much — Janet Jackson

My Sharona — The Knack

Pour Some Sugar On Me — Def Leppard

Relax — Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Rock This Town — Stray Cats

Safety Dance — Men Without Hats

Sexual Healing — Marvin Gaye

Situation — Yaz(oo)

Sledgehammer — Peter Gabriel

Smooth Criminal — Michael Jackson

Super Freak — Rick James

Tainted Love — Soft Cell

Take On Me — a-ha

True — Spandau Ballet

Under Pressure — Queen with David Bowie

Walk Like an Egyptian — The Bangles

We Got the Beat — Go-Gos

* There were three songs not from the 80s that were played: “Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show (because it’s a Michigan SF/F convention tradition to play that song at midnight); “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s (because I thought it the best song to follow “Time Warp”); and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (because it was the last song of the dance, and I think the song pretty much closed the door on the 80s era of music).

Also, because I haven’t said it before: Thanks to the Detcon 1 folks, and particularly Detcon 1 head Tammy Coxen, for asking me to DJ the dance. I had a ton of fun doing it, and I think the folks at the dance had a lot of fun as well. It was a personal highlight of a convention that was already pretty damn terrific.