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.

—-

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.)

How I Sold My Books

Over on Twitter, author Wesley Chu has been leading a discussion on how authors sell their books — whether by submitting the full manuscript, by submitting a partial, or by proposal. This lead me to think about how I sold my own books. So, for informational and educational purposes, this is how I’ve sold each of my books to their respective publishers. I’m going to divide these up into fiction and non-fiction categories, and list them (mostly) in order of publication.

Non-Fiction:

1. The Rough Guide to Money Online: Sold by my agent selling me to Rough Guides as a suitable author, them telling me what they wanted from the book, and me writing an outline that satisfied their needs.

2. The Rough Guide to the Universe: Sold via outline.

3. Book of the Dumb: Publisher wanted this particular book and wanted me to write it; we discussed what should be in it and I went off to write it. Note the publisher did not come to me out of the blue; I had contributed dozens of pieces for their “Uncle John’s” series of books by that point.

4. Book of the Dumb 2: Publisher: “Hey, let’s do a sequel.” Me: “Okay.”

5. The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies: Sold via outline.

6. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: Brief proposal (the material already existed).

7. You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop Into a Coffee Shop: Book specifically of pieces on writing, spun off from Hate Mail and actually published first. I basically said, “Hey, would you like these as a separate book?” and Subterranean Press said yes.

8. 24 Frames Into the Future: I was the Guest of Honor at Boskone and NESFA, the organization that runs the con, likes to published a limited edition book from their guests. I pitched a book of my film columns; they said yes.

9. The Mallet of Loving Correction: Me, to Subterranean Press: “Hey, wanna do another Whatever collection?” SubPress: “Yup.” This proposal-to-acceptance process took roughly 15 minutes, making it the quickest I ever sold a book.

Fiction:

1. Old Man’s War: Wrote it, put it up on Web site, it was discovered by Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor, who made on offer on it.

2. Agent to the Stars: Wrote it, put it up on Web site, it was discovered by Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press, who made an offer on it.

3. The Ghost Brigades: Patrick Nielsen Hayden: “So, you should write a sequel to Old Man’s War.” Me: “Okay.”

4. The Android’s Dream: Part of a two-book deal I signed when I signed with Tor for Old Man’s War. Pitched it on the sentence “man solves diplomatic crises through the use of action scenes and snappy dialogue.” Patrick Nielsen Hayden said, more or less, “Sounds good, go write it.”

5. The Last Colony: Patrick Nielsen Hayden: “So, you should write a third book in the Old Man’s War series.” Me: “Okay.”

6. Zoe’s Tale: Me, to Patrick Nielsen Hayden: “This sequel I’m writing to The Android’s Dream isn’t working and I’m shelving it. Would you take another Old Man’s War book as compensation?” Patrick: “Why, yes. Could you write it kinda as a YA?” Me: “Sure.”

7. Metatropolis: Audible director Steve Feldberg wanted me to do an anthology; I fleshed out an idea with him, recruited the other authors, and acted as editor. Originally published in audio; Subterranean Press expressed interest in the limited hardcover rights; Tor asked for the paperback rights.

8. The God Engines: Me: “I want to write a dark fantasy in which really terrible things happen.” Bill Schafer: “Dude, sold.”

9. Fuzzy Nation: Wrote for my own amusement with no intention of selling it; my agent Ethan Ellenberg declared he could sell it and did, to Tor.

10. Redshirts: Me, to Patrick Nielsen Hayden: “Hey, I wrote this thing. Want it?” Patrick: “Why, yes.”

11. The Human Division: Tor wanted to experiment with online distribution; I’d been wanting to go back into the Old Man’s War universe. We agreed the two aims could work together. There was no proposal in terms of the content, but there was definitely a roadmap created by all the interested parties in terms of how the thing should work, theoretically. THD was in fact probably the most intentional and built-out, in term of design and distribution, of all the fiction books I’ve written to date.

12. Lock In: Brief proposal to Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

13. The Human Division 2 (not actual title): I think we all just assumed this would happen; I don’t recall directly pitching it or being directly asked for it. Both Lock In and THD2 were part of a two book deal with Tor.

There’s additionally the novella I wrote earlier in the year which I’ve sold to Tor (e-book), SubPress (limited hardcover) and Audible (audio), the details of which I will announce a bit later. That one I wrote up and then offered up to each publisher; each then accepted it for publication.

In addition to all the books I have published (and THD2, which is not written but will be, soon), there are three projects I specced out to a greater or lesser extent but didn’t write. One was the sequel to The Android’s Dream, which I sold after the first book came out; that contract is unfulfilled to date. I plan to get around to it again at some point. Another was a two-book series which I sold on proposal; it was shelved when another very similar book became a bestseller and I didn’t want to appear to be cashing in on that book. The contracts in question were applied to Zoe’s Tale and Redshirts. The third was a YA proposal that I wrote at the request of the publisher; the proposal was accepted but we couldn’t come to terms financially, so there are no contracts to fulfill.

Looking at all the projects to date it’s clear I sell either on full manuscript or on proposal (with or without an outline). I have never sold a book on a partial manuscript, and it seems to me anecdotally that selling on a partial is an unusual circumstance, although I could be wrong on that (see the word “anecdotally”).

If I were advising someone on selling a first novel, I would suggest — and I believe most editors would back me up here — that you have the full manuscript in hand before you go shopping. Having a partial in hand when you are an unpublished author doesn’t suggest you know how to finish a novel, and for a publisher, having a finished novel is actually key. Yes, this means doing work without a guarantee of a sale, but, well. If publishers want to buy from partials, there are a lot of already-pubbed authors who they know can produce that they can worth with. So I would have the whole thing ready to go. It’s what I did, in any event.