View From the Hotel Window, 9/2/14: Denver

I’m back on the road, and here’s what the road looks like today. Not too bad. The hotel room I’m in tonight has a jacuzzi. I feel like I should listen to some smooth jazz or something.

In any event: Denver! Come see me tonight! 7pm at the Tattered Cover Bookstore on Colfax. Here are all the details. Come and (you know this part by now) bring everyone you know. The more the merrier.

Tomorrow: Seattle, at University Bookstore, also at 7pm. Also will be a blast.

The Big Idea: Cherie Priest

You’ve heard the nursery rhyme, but do you know the real story behind Lizze Borden? Does anybody? This is the jumping off point for Cherie Priest and her novel Maplecroft, which follows the infamous Borden after the real-life events that made her notorious. Do you dare follow?

CHERIE PRIEST:

Like countless others in the last hundred years, I first heard the name “Lizzie Borden” via the jump-rope rhyme. Everyone knows it: Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her father forty whacks… And so forth. Whether or not she ever killed anyone is still up for grabs; she was acquitted of all charges in 1893, but that’s never stopped anyone from speculating about her parents’ murders – and once you’re canonized on the school playground, your legacy is pretty much set.

So what really happened? God only knows. Either she got away with murder, or she was falsely accused and thrown to the bloodthirsty public by an opportunistic media. Like they still say in journalism, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

There was a lot of blood in the Borden house. But that’s not The Big Idea.
The Borden murders were far more interesting, complex, and peculiar than is commonly remembered. Left out of the nursery rhyme are allegations of poisoning, an illegitimate son in search of an inheritance, and a crime scene treated like a theme park before the bodies were even cold.

And more, of course. Much, much more.

After Lizzie’s trial, she and her older sister inherited the family fortune; but rather than leave the state and start fresh someplace else, they bought a big house on the other side of town. Its name was Maplecroft, and there, they quietly lived out their days.

Except that maybe, they didn’t.

A quick google turns up a number of academic texts on the Borden case, as well as a handful of “true crime”-style popular retellings, but my novel Maplecroft isn’t about the murders. It’s about everything that happened afterward. Sort of.

The truth is, Lizzie never spoke to the press – and very little is concretely known about her life, either before or after the events that made her a household name. Oh, but there was plenty of gossip. Why, you should hear about the shenanigans that went down at Maplecroft: witchcraft! wild parties! lesbianism!

To quote the bard, two out of three ain’t bad.

The grand old house definitely saw its share of wild parties, largely at the behest of a young actress named Nance O’Neil. (Her real name was “Gertrude Lamson,” but you can hardly blame her for picking something else.) And there’s a fair measure of circumstantial evidence to suggest that she and Lizzie had a romantic relationship. There’s also plenty to imply that Lizzie’s sister Emma didn’t like it one bit, and they had a big falling out over it…but what can you do?

In short, the more I learned about Lizzie, the more I felt genuinely sorry for her. If she did kill her father and (step)mother, you have to wonder what drove her to it; and if she was innocent, she surely didn’t deserve the ensuing fallout from the media – or from the court of public opinion. So, having become quite comfortable tweaking history for my own nefarious purposes…I thought I’d make her guilty, but give her a damn good motive.

And that was The Big Idea.

I’d been itching to write a gothic horror piece for a while now, and Lizzie Borden collided with that itch, scratched the hell out of it, and gave me a framework for the story I wanted to tell.

Almost every book these days comes with a disclaimer, something like: “This is a work of fiction, and all historical places or people are used fictitiously…” Well, we should probably stick that on the front of this one, rather than inside the cover – because at its core, Maplecroft is about Lizzie Borden fighting Cthulhu with an axe. Or, if you prefer: It’s a 19th century epistolary love letter to Dracula, by way of Lovecraft.

This is the story of the aftermath – the aftermath of Lizzie’s trial, yes; but it’s also about the aftermath of a supernatural tragedy, and a gentle professor’s terrible transformation. This is about what happens when you pray to something terrible, and it hears you. It comes looking for you. And it finds you.

So after a fashion, Maplecroft is both an epilogue and a warning. It’s fiction, and any real persons are used fictitiously, of course.

But there’s truth to be found in the real life strangeness, all the same.

___ _

Maplecroft: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s blog. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

For Those of You Who Have Read Lock In and Wish to Discuss It

The good folks at Making Light have created a (spoiler-laden) discussion thread for it. Just click this link to go there.

Two things to be aware of:

1. The discussion thread there has several spoilers for the book, so if you haven’t read the book, don’t go there unless you’re willing to have the book spoiled for you.

2. The folks at Making Light are as militant about moderating comment threads as I am (if not better), so make sure that you’re full of good manners when you comment there or you might find yourself disemvowelled or worse. Not that I’m worried; you all know the drill. But I just want that out there.

I am not likely to participate in the commenting, because I think it’s good for people to discuss the book without the fear of me dropping in. So feel free to air criticisms of the book as well, if you have them (which some folks in fact already have done).

Enjoy!

Various and Sundry, 8/31/14 + Open Comment Thread

I’m home! For Two days! And so, a couple of things of interest:

One, here’s a power wall of science fictional art, here in my office:

From the left, that’s a black and white sketch of the French cover of Agent to the Stars by Paul Kidby (I also own the final color art), the John Harris art for the paperback versions of Old Man’s War, and the Donato Giancola art for the hardcover of the same title. I recently acquired the Harris art; my wife had it framed and then hung it in the office while I was out on tour. They’re all lovely and look lovely together. My wife also cleaned and organized my office, proving yet again that she is the best person in the world and I clearly do not deserve her, although I will continue to try to.

Two, catching up on some reviews of Lock In that came out this week, for archival purposes and for those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter:

* USA Today: “Lock In cements the award-winning writer as one of the best in today’s sci-fi community”

* NPR: “Once he’s gotten past the tricky part of building a near-future world and putting a dead body in it without getting bogged down in the details of either, the rest is all cake and hand grenades.”

* Toronto Star: “One of the best SF novels of the year, and one with substantial crossover appeal for non-genre fans as well.”

* Winnipeg Free Press: “Scalzi ably employs his usual smart plotting and sarcasm-infused dialogue in the service of the mystery thriller format. Lock In should please veteran whodunit readers and Scalzi fans alike.”

* Bookpage: “John Scalzi’s latest novel, Lock In, interweaves the threads of a number of familiar genre conventions to impressive effect.”

More reviews later as I find them and/or remember where they are in my Twitter queue. The short version is that so far the book is doing pretty well with the reviewers, and I am naturally pleased about that.

Three, for those who are curious, so far the tour is going very, very well. Good crowds at every event, people seem happy to see me and are enjoying the things I’ve been reading on the road, and there have been hardly any ninja attacks. The only real drawbacks so far have been the whole “get up waaaay too early in the morning to catch a flight” thing, and the occasional “you forgot to eat again” thing. I’ve been taking care of the latter with room service. I deserve it!

I’m home today and tomorrow and then I’m off again, starting with Denver, and then Seattle, Mountain View, Petaluma, San Francisco, Pasadena (CA), San Diego, Iowa City, Lake Forest/Gurnee (IL) and Lexington before I get another couple of days off (with an event even then, in Troy, OH). Full tour schedule, in case you’ve somehow missed it all this time, right here. Hope to see you while I’m out there on the road.

Four, because I am off the road until Tuesday, for those of you who need a Whatever commenting fix, the comments here are open and will be for the next couple of days. Comment your brains out! Consider it a mostly open thread, which means you can chat about whatever, although do me a favor and try to keep from being too contentious. I’m mostly tired from travel and prefer to keep things mellow if at all possible. Sound good? Groovy.

Lock In Through the Lens of Disability

Over at Huffington Post, writer David M. Perry takes a look at Lock In, with special emphasis on how disability matters are handled in the book — because, after all, the protagonist is someone who is “locked in” and uses technology to interact with the world. “To my knowledge, this is the first science fiction novel based largely around the complexities of providing reasonable accommodations for disability,” Perry writes.

I’m not sure I would make such a claim myself (the SF field is vast and someone probably has essayed this particular topic before), but I will say it was an aspect of the book that I, as someone who does not suffer from any disability greater than nearsightedness, was well aware was territory that would allow me to show how little I actually knew about it. I expect that there are subtleties that I’ve missed and things I’ve gotten wrong — and I expect I’ll hear about those and see the criticisms about them online.

Which, actually, will be fine, and for which I am ready to take copious notes for when (or if) I ever do a sequel to Lock In. This is a field which I am happy to know more about, from people who have to live in it. In the meantime, Perry’s article seems like a good first response to the novel from that direction. Check it out.

View From the Hotel Window, 8/29/14: Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill is just a short jaunt from Raleigh, so I didn’t have to get in an airplane, I just got into a car and was driven. Hooray! Not that I don’t love air travel, mind you. But a nice little trip in a car is good, too.

Afternoon: Catching up with friends. This evening. Me at Flyleaf Books, at 7pm. If you’re in Chapel Hill, won’t you please come by? And bring everyone you know? It’ll be fun. This is the fourth stop on the tour. I’ve got it all down now. You will be entertained.

Tomorrow: Decatur, and the Decatur Book Festival. My event will be 4:15 at the Decatur Recreation Center Gym. Should be fun!

The Big Idea: Kameron Hurley

Fresh off winning dual Hugos at this year’s Worldcon, Kameron Hurley is releasing The Mirror Empire, which is quickly garnering some of the best reviews for a fantasy novel this year, in part thanks to its startling and vibrantly original worldbuilding. But as Hurley explains, some of the most intriguing worldbuilding she’s doing here involves who she imagines at the books antagonists — and why it matters that she’s approaching them as she does.

KAMERON HURLEY:

Orcs. Mutants. Zombies. Demons. Monsters. Aliens. Undead. Robots.

Faceless evil.

Other.

The Other is always monstrous. Inhuman.

That makes it easier to kill.

Epic fantasy is often understood as a genre that pits good vs. evil, light vs. dark. Tolkien’s work became the modern template for this, inspiring numerous imitators that pitted the good merry few against the faceless hordes. Grayer-toned fantasy became more popular in the late 90’s with authors like Robin Hobb and George R.R. Martin removing the faceless horde (aside from those white walkers, perhaps…) and giving us a fantasy where all the good and evil of the world was contained in people, not faceless creatures. We saw all the light and dark, the grim and hopeful, in our own faces.

My academic background is in the history of resistance movements, in particular in Southern Africa. I know all about the horrific things we’ll do to one another – things we couldn’t even imagine some faceless evil doing.  But it was when I expanded the reach of my work into the study of genocide and mass violence – what makes ordinary people kill? – that I realized what my first epic fantasy series was going to be about, at its heart.

Because though we may seek to Other groups of humans to make it easier for us to kill them, the reality is that those who kill, and those being killed, are just the same.

We are all the same.

Oh, certainly, let’s not get too heavy, here. The Mirror Empire has blood mages and flesh eating plants and energy swords that sprout out of people’s wrists, satellite magic and semi-sentient trees, and all that cool, fun stuff we visit fantasy to experience. But the core of it, the big idea behind it, happened a few months after I returned from completing my academic work in South Africa.

Back then, I was thinking big – I was plotting my series arc without actually knowing who the Big Bad was. I knew I had a group of pacifist people fleeing from a force that wanted to destroy them, but I had no idea why this Faceless Horde wanted them dead.

While working out one morning, I had a vision of one of the protagonists traveling across the world, fleeing from these invaders who were wiping out his people, and he goes to a neutral country to sit down and work out a truce. He opens the door to the meeting room…

I remember the room. A stone room. A table. A bank of windows spilling white light, a cityscape with blue tiled roofs. He opens the door, and who does he see?

He sees his dead sister sitting at the table. He sees her rise. Smile. Hold out her hand. Perfectly healthy. Perfectly alive.

I realized who the Bad Guys were, in that moment.

My pacifist people were fighting themselves.

The questions this image provoked were many: how was she alive?  How had her own brother not known she was leading this army? And, most importantly: why was she killing her own people?

I could have made up something lazy, of course – she hadn’t really died, it was all a trick, a dream. But a far more interesting possibility presented itself in that moment: two worlds. Reflections of each other. Mirror images. One world is dying. The other sits on top of it, just a slide through the veil between them. But to escape a dying world means murdering all of those who share their faces on the other side.

Killing your doppelgänger. Murdering a world, to save yourself.

The catalyst for this event, I decided, would lie in the heavens. It would be a recurring catastrophe triggered every 2,000 years by the arrival of an erratic satellite in the sky which bestows strange powers on the inhabitants. This heavenly body, unlike the others orbiting the world more regularly, gave specific individuals a very limited power: the ability to open doors between worlds.

Who those newly powerful people turn out to be, who they side with, and who controls them, make up much of the narrative push of the book.

But at its heart, The Mirror Empire is about the Big Idea. It’s just this:

What would you do if you had to kill yourself to live? How much would you destroy to save your own skin? Who would you be, if you gave up your own morality, your sense of self, to survive? Would it be worth it? What would you sacrifice, what would you save, in the face of utter annihilation?

These are questions every single character must answer, in the end.

They’re questions many are faced with every day.

It’s not a good vs. evil question. A light vs. dark question. It’s a human question.

A vital one.

—-

The Mirror Empire: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

View From the Hotel Window, 8/27/14: Austin, TX

I am particularly pleased to have a view that overlooks newspaper offices, being a former newspaper person myself. Also, the Austin American-Statesman has been promoting the heck out of my appearance here, so it is now my new favorite newspaper.

Tonight’s event: 7pm at BookPeople. Tomorrow: Raleigh, North Carolina! Quail Ridge Books! 7pm! In both cases, if you are in the area, please come and bring every person you’ve ever met. Because, you know. It’ll be lovely to see you.

Today’s Thought Expressed on Twitter

Yeah. Moving on. I’m not saying you have to. Please, follow your bliss. But I’m already looking toward next year. Which should be very interesting because there are so many good sf/f books out this year.

View From the Hotel Window, 8/26/14: Houston

Hello, Houston! I made it into town more or less on time, had lunch at Goode Company BBQ, and am now relaxing in my suite with a view of the tennis/basketball court. Life is good. If you are in or near Houston, remember that I am having an event at Brazos Bookstore tonight at 7pm. Come be part of the first stop of the Lock In tour! Bring youself! Bring your friends! Bring every single person you’ve ever met in your life.

Lock In: It’s Out!

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Today’s the day: Lock In is out! And because it is, now, in one handy post, here is everything you could possibly need to know about this book.

The novel is getting some of the best reviews of my career to date, include starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist. Io9 calls it one of my best novels yet; others have also been nicely positive.

You can read the first five chapters at Tor.com. You can also read the related novella “Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome” at Tor.com.

I encourage you to buy your copy at your local bookstore. You can also buy the book at these online stores: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks|Indiebound|Google Play|Kobo|Powell’s. The electronic version of the book (in North America) comes without DRM.

The audiobook, published by Audible.com, comes in two versions: One read by Amber Benson, and one by Wil Wheaton. Both versions come with the full text of the novel and also include an audio version of “Unlocked,” read by a full cast. Click here to be taken to Audible’s Lock In page, which includes purchase links for both versions.

See Wil and Amber talk about the book in an interview here.

The book also comes with its own theme song, by William Beckett.

I am on tour supporting the book. Here are the tour dates, and a tour FAQ. Please come see me on tour!

I am super proud of this book, and I am so very happy it is finally out there in the world. I really hope you all like it as much as I do. I think you will.

 

The Tour Baggage This Time

The Lock In tour lasts for four weeks, but the good news is that Tor arranged the tour so that I come home about once a week for a day or two. Aside from being an awesome thing that will let me save my sanity by allowing me to see my family, and thus not turn into a gibbering, insensate lump two weeks into the tour, it also means that I can pack quite a bit lighter, secure in the knowledge that I will be able to do laundry within a reasonable span of days.

So above, please find my baggage for the first leg of the tour, which takes me to Houston, Austin, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Decatur, GA. The brown bag consists of clothes for six days (minus tomorrow’s clothes, which I have ready to deploy the instant I wake up), while the computer bag holds a computer (duuuuuhhhh), a tablet, cords, extra battery for tablet and phone, and pens. They’re both very small (the clothes bag is 17×9, and the computer bag is probably 16×4), which means that I will never have to check them or leave them at the side of the plane. This is key when you’re touring; never never never let them separate you from your luggage when you tour because if you do, you will be three cities onward when they finally locate it.

The flip side of this is that I am so tightly packed I have no room for anything else, which is why I warned people in my tour FAQ that if they give me a gift on tour (which does happen, and which is always very sweet), they may see me hand it over to a bookstore staffer or my media escort, who will mail it home for me. I will literally have to leave it in a hotel room otherwise, and nobody wants that. So please don’t be offended if you see me do that.

In any event: Thank you, Tor, for arranging my tour so I can travel light. I actually very much appreciate it.

On The Matter Of When to Buy Lock In and In What Format

Whenever a new book of mine comes close to a release date, I get emails and social media queries from folks asking me what format they should get the book in and when, in order to give me the most money/exposure/whatever. Which is very sweet. Okay, since you asked, here are some thoughts on the subject.

1. Buy it in whatever format you like, whenever you like. Honestly, you’re the customer. You want it in hardcover? Get it in hardcover. Want it in ebook? Get it in ebook. Want it in audio? Get it in audio. Want to wait until the price goes down? Get it in paperback or in ebook when then paperback comes out. As long as you pay for it, I will also get paid, and in every format I get paid a fair share of the money. The variations of what I get paid in each format are small enough that on an individual level (that’s you), it’s not worth your time to fret about it. So please, buy the book in whatever format pleases you, whenever it pleases you to do so. And thank you.

(Dead broke? Ask for it at your local library, because they buy the book, and I’ll still get paid.)

That said, if you want to be baldly strategic on my behalf about your purchasing and have not already pre-ordered a copy in the format of your choosing and/or feel like picking up another copy to give as a gift/to have for yourself/to use to prop up a wobbly table:

2. Buy the hardcover and buy it in the first week of release. Because that will be useful for the book scaling up the New York Times hardcover best seller list, which remains the gold standard for successful books, and which helps a book get immediate attention. When Redshirts plopped onto the list, I suddenly got lots of interest in the book in the media and in LA, and other opportunities opened up as well. So yes, as a practical matter, having Lock In show up on that list would be groovy for me.

And now, with that said:

3. You should still buy the book in whatever format you like. Because, one, the NYT best seller lists aren’t figured simply by raw sales (the Times uses its own secret sauce of an algorithim to make its calculations which includes sampling from specific bookstores); two, the Times also has ebook and combined print/ebook lists as well, so it all goes into the hopper; three, if I show up on any best seller list, you can be assured Tor and my agents (and I!) will be super-pleased and will promote the fact; four, you’re buying the book for you (or for whomever you’re buying it for, if it’s a gift), not for me. So come on, get it however you want to get it.

And finally, while getting onto the NYT hardcover best seller list would be useful and nice and something that would make it easier to talk about the book to people who have no idea who I am, including some who might adapt it for a screen near you, here’s a fact:

4. There’s more than one way for a book to be successful. Did you know that Old Man’s War has never been anywhere near the NYT best seller lists? Ever? It hasn’t. And yet, to date, it’s my best selling book. That’s because for ten years it’s sold, week in and week out, a solid, consistent number of books that’s nevertheless below the “best seller” threshold. In this case, constant and steady adds up, in sales, in reputation and in terms of being able to make opportunities (other factors, like the Hugo nod it got, helped too).

Nor is OMW the only book about which this can be said — I can reel off lots of classic books, in whatever genre you like, which were never “best sellers” except that they sold for a very long time, keep selling, and have developed reputations from years of readers praising the book to someone else. Meanwhile books that showed up on the official best seller lists one week have dropped off into oblivion the next, never to be seen (or cared about) afterward, the equivalent of one hit wonders on the music charts. There are no guarantees about anything ever.

Which is why I say that you should get the book how you want, when you want to get it. No matter when you get the book, or how you get the book, if you get the book, it’ll make a difference to me, and I will thank you. And while I do appreciate when people want to help me to make any book of mine a success, at the end of the day, what you should be focused on doing, if you are gracious enough to buy a book of mine, is enjoying the book. Leave the rest of it to me and my folks. That’s our job, and we’re pretty good at it so far.