Pictures From JoCo Cruise

Morning! This post services as a test of my terrible, terrible Internet connection here in the middle of the Atlantic, and as a way to make you jealous of all the fun you’re not having here on the cruise right now. So please to enjoy the following photos.

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Yesterday’s sunset as we left Florida.

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Jonathan Coulton and band performing “Re: Your Brains”. The crowd, naturally, has turned itself into a pile of shambling zombies. As they would.

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This morning out at sea. There looks to be a little rain on the horizon.

The online Internet connection is in fact as terrible as advertised. I tried simply sending these pictures to Flickr and the Internet connection choked on them because the files were too big. In order to get them to you I had to sideload them from my phone to my laptop via bluetooth, make smaller versions in Photoshop, and then upload those to WordPress’ media tool. There’s probably a simpler way to do things, which I will figure out presently (before anyone notes it, I could just make them lower resolution when I take them, but I’d actually like to have decent-sized pictures of the trip, not just ones I can immediately upload), but at the moment it’s kinda silly complicated, so, again, don’t expect too much this week (also, and again, I expect to be busy here on the boat in any event).

Before I go, however, check out this awesome shirt from Deirdre Saorise Moen, based on my Twitter reputation as a “Universal Blame Accepter” (i.e., if you need someone to blame for something, go ahead and blame me, since I already get blamed for a lot of ridiculous things anyway). You better believe I’m getting one when I get back to the world.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Farewell From Florida

Hello! Just a quick reminder for everyone that for the next week or so I will be on a the Nerd Boat (i.e., the JoCo Cruise), on which a) I will be running a writing track for the amusement and edification of the seamonkeys, b) will be busy with the pleasures of various Caribbean paradises, c) will have terrible, terrible Internet connectivity in any event, so my appearances here will be pretty sparse. There will be a Big Idea on Tuesday, and I will be promoting the heck out of Midnight Star (the video game I worked on) on Thursday. Other than that, I might post a picture or two if the cruise’s terrible, terrible Internet connectivity allows it. But mostly? I’ll be on a boat, on a nice working vacation. I figure you’ll be okay with that.

Enjoy your next week! I know I will.

(P.S.: Because I’ll be on a boat with terrible, terrible Internet connectivity, I’m also trimming back commenting here for two days per article. This will close up commenting on some previous entries, obviously. When I’m back I’ll return commenting to the usual two week window.)

The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout

Look! Greg Van Eekhout is going to quote a famous person at you! For reasons! Oh, and also tell you about Pacific Fire, the follow-up to California Bones, which I liked quite a bit (I blurbed it, you might recall). And don’t worry, that famous person quote has a point.

GREG VAN EEKHOUT:

John Milton writes, “The child shows the man as morning shows the day.” Indeed, one presumes the child shows the adult of any gender. And here I am, kicking off a Big Idea post about a book that features cannibalism and dragons with a Milton quote, not because I’m trying to fool you into thinking I’m classy like that, but because the relationship between the children we were and the adults we become is one of the central themes of Pacific Fire.

I should probably backtrack a bit and put the Pacific Fire in context. It’s the second book of the trilogy that began with California Bones and will conclude later this year with Dragon Coast. These books are about wizards who get their powers from consuming the remains of magical creatures. Eat dragon bones and you get some of the abilities of a dragon. Eat a wizard who’s eaten dragon bones and you get the wizard’s abilities. The world is an alternate California ruled by the most successfully voracious wizards, or osteomancers, and our protagonists are people both magic-using and not who get caught up in the osteomancers’ power struggles.

In California Bones, Daniel Blackland is the son of a wizard and a spy. When his father is killed for the magic contained in his bones and his mother returns to her native Northern California, Daniel is essentially orphaned. He grows up in hiding, trying to avoid his father’s fate while being used by his crime lord guardian for his magical skills. Ten years later, in Pacific Fire, Daniel finds himself trying to father and protect Sam, the osteomantic sort-of clone of the chief wizard of the Southern Californian kingdom and the man who, all those years ago, killed and ate Daniel’s father. In trying to save Sam, Daniel’s also trying to save the exploited and abandoned boy he was himself. But when the powers in charge come after Sam to fuel the patchwork dragon super-weapon they’re building, Daniel sees history repeating itself.

The first book of the trilogy is, among other things, a heist story. Pacific Fire is, among other things, a sabotage caper, as Sam sets out to destroy the firedrake before the bad guys can use it. Daniel, meanwhile, sets out to intercept Sam before the bad guys use him.

And that’s where the Milton quote comes in. Amid the fisticuffs and magical and spider assassins, rock monsters, a narco sub built from the ribcage of a sea serpent, a water mage, a scary chef, and the aforementioned Pacific firedrake, is Daniel’s struggle is to prevent his own childhood from repeating itself in Sam. And there’s Sam’s struggle to become the man he wants to be while knowing he started life as an artificial creation, a treasure to be plundered.

What Milton states poetically boils down to this: adulthood is the consequence of childhood. Osteomancy is the practice of gaining magic by consuming the remains of the past. Our today is built from the stuff of our yesterday. And in their own ways, Daniel and Sam are fighting to craft their own tomorrows.

—-

Pacific Fire: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Midnight Rises, My Graphic Novel, Out NOW on iOS!

Today’s the day: Midnight Rises, my first ever graphic novel, is out today, for iOS devices, via a downloadable app. I wrote it, and Mike Choi illustrates it. It also includes music by Serj Tankian (System of a Down). The first chapter of the graphic novel is free, with the subsequent two chapters available in-app for just 99 cents (and for fans of Mike Choi’s fantastic artwork, alternate covers are available for $1.99). I’m super proud of it, and of the world it introduces, which will be further explored in the video game Midnight Star, which debuts very soon. But Midnight Rises doesn’t just introduce the characters and situations of Midnight Star — the choices you make as you read Rises influence what happens for you in the game.

You have questions. Let me answer them.

What’s going on in Midnight Rises?

It tells the story of Charlie Campbell, the character you will play as in Midnight Star, and the crew of the science vessel Joplin, who support Charlie and share their knowledge and skills with him. Before the events of the game, Charlie and the crew have another adventure — a race against time to solve a mystery involving the Joplin and a shadowy group that will stop at nothing to disrupt the ship’s mission… a mission that could change humanity’s understanding of its place in the universe.

Why is Midnight Rises its own app, and not in one of the online comics stores?

Because Midnight Rises was designed from the ground up to take advantage of the mobile computing interface and all the things it can do. We’re not just talking about “motion comics” — we looked at all the advantages the mobile platform could provide us for visual storytelling and baked that into how we designed the graphic novel. Which meant giving Midnight Rises its own app — its own environment to do everything it can do.

What do you mean that choices you make in the graphic novel influence the game?

This is one of those “capabilities of the mobile platform” things — In the story we’ve put places for you to explore and to make choices for Charlie Campbell. If you play Midnight Star, the game will talk to the graphic novel, see the choices and explorations you’ve made, and tweak things in the game to reflect those choices. There’s no downside to any exploration — you’re not penalized for one choice or another, including the choice to simply read through the story. It just means that when you play the game, it’s personalized for you. Which is kind of cool, and again, something that reflects that both the graphic novel and the game are built for the mobile experience, not just on phones and tablets.

Why make a graphic novel at all?

When we did the initial worldbuilding — me and Alex Seropian and Tim Harris and all the folks at Industrial Toys — we knew that we were creating more than we could put into the scope of a single mobile experience. The motto of Industrial Toys is “Mobile to the Core” — and we didn’t see why that motto had to be confined to video games. We wanted to give people more things to explore in this universe we created. So when we started developing the game, we also started developing the graphic novel. Which is to say one was not the offshoot of the other; they were developed concurrently, with each informing the development of the other.

Also, personally, I’d never done a graphic novel before, and so this was a chance to try something new, with folks who knew what they were doing. Mike Choi in particular has tons of experience in comics and graphic novels. There’s a special joy in working with people who are at the top of their games.

Do you have to read Midnight Rises to play Midnight Star?

Nope. We designed both Midnight Rises and Midnight Star to be unique standalone experiences. You don’t have to experience one to enjoy the other. That said, if you experience both, you know more about the universe we created, and the characters who live in it. Like I mentioned before, we did a lot of worldbuilding. I think you’ll have a blast exploring both the graphic novel and the game.

When will Midnight Star be available?

Soooooooooon. I’m waiting for clearance to tell you the exact date. But! Soon!

Any other thing you want to tell us about Midnight Rises?

Yes!

One, that as a project I rank this right up there with one of my novels, in terms of its importance to me — this is something I’ve been working on for a couple of years now, with Mike and with the whole Industrial Toys crew, so finally having it out in the world is something that makes me very happy.

Two, if you have an iOS device, please download it and check it out! As noted, the first chapter is entirely free (and the two subsequent chapters are pretty cheap!) and the more people who download and experience it, the happier I will be.

Three, please feel free to tell every single person you know about it. It’s fun and it’s cool and I think people are going to love this story. Let them know! And thank you.

Four, it’s been an honor and a privilege working with the Mike, Alex, Tim and all of the Industrial Toys crew on the graphic novel, and also on the game (which I did a lot of work on too, but more on that… later). Midnight Rises is Industrial Toys’ official first release, and I’m delighted that something I wrote gets to carry the flag for the company. They’re good people.

So: Midnight Rises! Out now! Check it! And thanks.

The Big Idea: Heather Webb

Author Heather Webb knows what people think of creative folks, and their overall mental fitness. But as with nearly everything, there’s more to the story — literally — than common perception. Webb explains why and how her exploration of the theme influenced her novel Rodin’s Lover.

HEATHER WEBB:

Aren’t all creatives a little bit “mad”? This is what many of us assume from centuries of stereotypes and tales of artists and writers doing nutty things. Where is the line drawn between fervor, obsession, and madness—and who decides? Several studies have been conducted to explain the creative’s so-called high proclivity for mental illness. As expected, it’s a difficult tendency to measure, and there aren’t any real answers.

Perhaps artists are “special” or gifted and see the world without filters, with a fine lens that is a constant stimulus to the brain.

Perhaps artists use their gifts as a coping mechanism, a means to expel that which torments them.

Perhaps only a fraction of artists are truly mentally ill, and must overcome their limitations to create because of some inner need, some drive to capture their inspirations.

Or maybe it’s a bunch of hog wash because we’re all a little bit mad.

This is one of the Big Ideas I tackled in my new novel, Rodin’s Lover. My protagonist, Camille Claudel, is the collaborator, student, and lover to the famed Auguste Rodin. (For those of you who don’t know anything about him, he sculpted The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, and dozens of other ground-breaking works during the 1880s.)

Not only was Camille as brilliant as Rodin, but she made waves in the art world with her sensual pieces—women didn’t sculpt from nude models and they certainly didn’t create portraits of naked men and women dancing! (See The Waltz by Claudel, my absolute fav) The ups and downs of garnering reviews and commissions, her kooky family, and her tumultuous love affair with Rodin prompted her mental unraveling. So here we have it—a classic story of an artist going mad. Or is it?

How did I go about this sticky, yet compelling topic?

I peeled back layers of my characters’ psyches to expose their deepest desires. Next, I heightened their motivations by accessing their emotional lenses—the way they viewed their world around them in relation to their pains, hopes, desires. During my revisions, something “crazy” happened. Each character revealed their own bent of madness.

Rodin was driven to create and could think of little else…until he met Camille. Her passion for sculpture flamed his own, and soon, his feelings for her eclipsed his reasoning. What could be a stronger force than love to drive us to distraction? Paul Claudel, (Camille’s playwright brother) found God, and his zeal turned caustic, condemning, and downright punishing. Camille’s senses became heightened, she lashed out irrationally in fits of rage, then inner voices begin to torment her…

Do their unstable moments, their passions and inner demons, make them crazy?
The bigger question is, does it matter? Their obsessions don’t detract from the beauty they’ve created and left behind. I, for one, and thankful for whatever muse inspired them to such masterpieces…But then I’m a writer with my own obsessions. Perhaps you should be the judge.

—-

Rodin’s Lover: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Myke Cole

War changes you, and in the case of the protagonist of Gemini Cell, the new novel by Myke Cole, the changes are more drastic than they are for others. But as drastic as they are, they have their root in a common affliction for those who have gone into combat. Cole explains below.

MYKE COLE:

When you sign up for a hitch in the military, you understand that you might get hurt. Warfighters exist to kill people and destroy property, that’s what they do. You’re ready for privation, for injury.

But it’s one thing to suffer. It’s another thing to change.

You tell yourself that won’t happen. Sure, you may experience horror, but you know who you are. After months in the suck, you take pride in maintaining your sense of self. War is hell, but you haven’t let it make you into a demon.

Then you come home, and something’s off.

It’s in the little ripples you make in the world, the complex web of interactions that extends from the store clerk who bags your groceries to your own spouse and children. You’ve had this experience, and even though you lived through it, it broke something lose inside you, something that can never be put back. The isolation grows and you realize with dawning horror that you have changed in a way that those who’ve never gone to war haven’t, that the change is permanent, that it separates you from everyone else, even those you love the most, forever.

This chasm, this permanent isolation is what we call PTSD, and it’s the big idea behind Gemini Cell.

Warfighters don’t have a monopoly on PTSD. It affects everyone who experiences trauma, from victims of abuse to those raised in poverty, but Gemini Cell is a book about a warfighter, and it’s that brand of PTSD I’m focusing on here.

The protagonist, James Schweitzer, is killed on an op. The story would normally end there, but Schweitzer is summoned back from the dead and put back on the line serving his country. Death has given Schweitzer a lot of advantages: near-immortality, super strength and speed, heightened senses, but it’s also permanently cut him off from the people he once loved and lived alongside. Schweitzer is still a man in every sense save one: he lacks a beating heart.

That’s enough.

Schweitzer left a wife and son behind, and his efforts to reunite with them throw his permanent change into stark relief. The dead can be reanimated, but they can’t be brought back to life. Schweitzer may be able to rejoin his family, but he can never be a husband and father again, not like he was.

Schweitzer’s unlife is a pretty bald stand-in for life with PTSD, the permanent shift that sets you apart from those you love. The challenge of first accepting the change, then charting a new course, a way forward now that the goal posts have all moved, is enormous. For many, it’s insurmountable. It is as if, dead, you walk among the living, who must force a smile and pretend that nothing is wrong.

Many return from war superpowered, able to complete challenging tasks under immense pressure. They are stronger and fitter, undaunted by the fear of death that they have faced so many times. They are disciplined and focused. They get up early. They notice things others might have missed. But these benefits only serve to set them further apart. The loved ones they left behind still want to sleep in, still want to spend their Saturday nights at the loud rock concerts with drumrolls that sound far too much like gunfire.

Those returning from war find themselves swimming upstream, having to navigate job markets that have no use for those whose primary occupation is killing people and destroying property. They are forced to grapple with a world that suddenly has too many choices, a world that looks and smells and sounds familiar, but no longer makes any sense.

It may seem as impossible as a dead man rejoining the living, but military service members do impossible things all the time. The skills that set the warfighter apart in the first place are the same skills they must leverage to cope with being set apart. You can never return life to how it was, but a new life can be built, and it may not be until many years down the road that you realize that it is better than the one you left behind.

Raised from the dead, Schweitzer has plenty of work to do. He must serve on his nation’s front line against a resurgence of magic that threatens to bring destruction to all. But his toughest challenge is in finding a way to exist in a world where he shouldn’t, where his every step is a violation of natural law.

It won’t be easy, but it’s not surprising. This is war, and war is hell.

—-

Gemini Cell: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

John Anderson, RIP

John and Amanda Anderson, and Bruce Springsteen.

I met John Anderson close to nineteen years ago, when I started working at America Online, back in the day when the company was the very cutting edge of social media. I had moved across the entire country for the job, my wife had to stay back in California for a couple of months to finish up a semester of school, and I was literally at loose ends, lost, with no friends and very little idea of what to do with myself. John Anderson was part of a close circle of friends who took me in for trips to the Vienna Pub, late night games of Marathon, arguments about science fiction books and films, and more house parties than I can sensibly remember. When Krissy joined me in Virginia, I think she was glad I had fallen in with this particular crowd. Years later I would dedicate a book to these friends, John among them, in commemoration of their drawing me in and and being friends to me.

John held a special place in the group — the pop culture guru, especially when it came to music. His love for the stuff was simply immense, particularly when it came to Americana, that strain of muscular rock of which Bruce Springsteen was the patron saint (and boy, did John ever love his Bruce). Through him I was introduced to dozens of musical acts, many of whom I still listen to today, and many of whom became friends with John after the fandom wore off (I’m thinking particularly of Matthew Ryan here, though there were others).

What was great about John was that he wasn’t a snob about music when he talked to you about it. He wanted to share the stuff, and he wanted to share it with you, and he was genuinely pleased when you liked what he liked. He was the sort of appreciative, loving and intelligent fan any musician wished they could have.

He was also the sort of friend anyone would wish they could have. He was kind and smart, could talk trash while playing foosball or have a long conversation until the sun came up. He excelled in joy — through music, through reading, through friends and through living, and most of all with through his marriage with Amanda, his wife of nearly a decade.

Some years ago John was diagnosed with ALS, and he shared that news with his friends. The ALS took a physical toll but as far as I can see John continued to excel in joy. He was reading, listening to music and enjoying the company of friends right until the end.

That end, which came yesterday, is not, I suggest, the end of that joy in which John excelled. Those of us who had the joy of knowing him, and of sharing in that joy, will feel it whenever we listen to the music he introduced us to, or the books we read with him, or remember the conversations we had or are in the presence of those who knew him and were known by him.

My heart breaks that John is gone, and for Amanda, and all our friends. But how happy I am we each got our time with him, and shared songs and words and days and nights. I will miss my friend, but I will not miss his friendship. That remains and will remain for as long as I do, or any one of us will.

Thanks, John, for the music, and the company, and for you. Peace be with you, and to everyone who loved you and called you their friend.

John & Amanda, watching Matthew Ryan perform at their home.

John was a guest blogger here a few years back. If you would like to read his post — which make clear his love of music and pop culture — here they are.

Lock In a Lariat Top 25 Book for 2014

Well, this is a nice thing to discover: The Texas Library Association has put Lock In on the TLA Lariat List for Recommended Adult Fiction, with 24 other eminently worthy entries across several fiction genres. Other science fiction-y entries on the list this year include The Martian from Andy Weir and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel among others. Congratulations to everyone on the list, which I’ve included below from the TLA press release (arranged alphabetically by title):

  • After I’m Gone ~ Lippman, Laura; William Morrow/ HarperCollins Publishers.
  • All the Light We Cannot See ~ Doerr, Anthony; Scribner.
  • Archetype ~ Waters, M.D.; Dutton.
  • The Book of Unknown Americans ~ Henriquez, Cristina; Knopf.
  • The Enchanted ~ Denfeld, Rene; Harper/ HarperCollins Publishers.
  • Everything I Never Told You ~ Ng, Celeste; The Penguin Press/ Penguin.
  • The Girl with All the Gifts ~ Carey, M.R; Hachette Book Group/ Orbit.
  • A Guide for the Perplexed ~ Horn, Dara; W. W. Norton & Company.
  • The Husband’s Secret ~ Moriarty, Liane; Putnam/ Penguin.
  • I Am Pilgrim ~ Hayes, Terry; Atria/Emily Bestler Books.
  • The Invention of Wings ~ Kidd, Sue Monk; Viking Adult/ Penguin.
  • Life After Life ~ Atkinson, Kate, Reagan; Hachette Book Group/ Reagan Arthur Books.
  • Lock In ~ Scalzi, John; Tor Books/ Macmillan.
  • The Martian ~ Weir, Andy; Random House.
  • Neverhome ~ Hunt, Laird; Hachette Book Group/ Little, Brown & Company.
  • Night Film ~ Pessl, Marisha; Random House.
  • The Pearl that Broke Its Shell ~ Hashimi, Nadia; William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The Queen of the Tearling ~ Johansen, Erika; Harper/ HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The Sea of Tranquility ~ Millay, Katja; Simon and Schuster.
  • The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing ~ Jacob, Mira; Random House.
  • Stars Go Blue ~ Pritchett, Laura; Counterpoint/ Perseus.
  • Station Eleven ~ St. John Mandel, Emily; Knopf.
  • The Steady Running of the Hour ~ Go, Justin; Simon & Schuster.
  • Terms & Conditions ~ Glancy, Robert; Bloomsbury USA./ Macmillan.
  • To Rise Again at a Decent Hour ~ Ferris, Joshua; Hachette Book Group/ Little Brown & Company.

Many thanks to the TLA folks who sat on this year’s task force committee. You’ve put my book in some excellent company, and I am deeply appreciative.

 

The Next Couple of Weeks Around Whatever

Just as a heads up:

This week (defined as through Thursday) posting is likely to be light because I am trying to finish things before I head off on the JoCo Cruise. But! I’ll be blathering about Midnight Rises (and maybe other things, hint hint), and I’ll have a trio of Big Ideas for you to sink your brains into.

Next week (defined as Friday through February 8) posting is likely to be even lighter as I will be on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean, and honestly, I will have better things to do. No offense. That said, unlike previous JoCo Cruises, where I disconnected entirely, this year I will for business reasons be keeping an Internet connection. So I may — MAY — post some pictures to make you all jealous. Also, there will be one Big Idea piece during this time.

While I am on the boat, I will also be turning on my “I’m ignoring emails” autoresponder, and indeed most emails, excepting certain ones relating to business, will be gleefully not paid any attention to. So, yeah, if I were you I’d either send me a note before Friday, or after the 8th.

Quick Ghlaghghee Followup

First, thank you to everyone for their kind thoughts and notes yesterday, here, on Twitter, in email and in other places. I had a sad day yesterday, and you folks helped get me through it. And it was also nice to have a day where I didn’t do anything but process. I’m still sad today, but I also have things I need to do. So onward.

But I did want to show you where Ghlaghghee is and will be. That’s the backyard maple tree in the picture above; where the small pile of logs is a temporary wood cairn under which you’ll find her. The logs are there both to note the spot (we’ll probably put a small marker of some sort later) and also for the practical matter that there are coyotes and stray dogs in the area and we would like to thwart any of their possible ambitions. Life in the country.

Ghlaghghee unintentionally did us a small kindness by passing away when she did rather than any later, because yesterday morning the ground was clear and it was still warm enough that digging wasn’t a problem. It started snowing almost immediately after we finished burying her. This morning her resting spot is looking very pretty.

In any event, there she is and there she will remain and it’s nice to have her with us. I’m not generally a huge fan of burials — I doubt I will be buried myself — but as I noted yesterday it made sense for this little cat. To the extent that she would think about it at all, I suspect this is what she would prefer. Her whole life was what I can see out my windows. It’s a good thing to be able to look out the window and still see her.

Ghlaghghee, 2003 – 2015

Glaghghee came to us in May of 2003 when my then next-door neighbor Jerry knocked on my door, said, “here’s the kitten your wife said she wanted,” thrust a small, furry thing into my hands, and then walked off. I looked at the small puff of fur, literally no larger than my hand, said “okay” to myself and then took it upstairs with me.

Then I called my wife, who was at work, and the conversation went like this:

Me: You didn’t tell me you ordered a cat.

Krissy: I ordered a what?

Me: A cat.

Krissy: I didn’t order a cat.

Me: Jerry just came over with a kitten that he said you wanted. He mentioned you specifically.

Krissy: Oh, lord. I was talking to him the other day and he said that his cat had had kittens and that he thought that one of them was an albino. I said, “Oh, I’d like to see that.” I didn’t say I wanted it!

Me: In that case, surprise, we have a new kitten.

Also, as an albino cat Ghlaghghee was a bust, because she had markings that made her look like a Himalayan; for all of her life when people saw photos of her they complimented me on what a lovely example of the breed she was. She wasn’t. Her mother, who lived next door, was a mixed breed cat with tortoiseshell markings, and we strongly suspect her father was a Siamese mix feral cat who we would see wandering about the first couple of years we were here. Ghlaghghee, despite appearances, was a common moggie, genetically speaking.

But she was just about adorable, I like cats, and I sensed a real “no takebacks” vibe from Jerry. Deciding to keep her was not really a problem. We also decided that we would let Athena, age four, name the cat. More accurately, Krissy decided it, and I went along, with caveats. Specifically, that we would ask her to think of another name than something dreadfully boring, like “Fluffy,” because, honestly, we were a creative people, we Scalzis, and we could do better.

And this is how that went down:

Me: Athena, we have a new kitten and we’ve decided to let you name it —

(produces kitten)

— but before you do, I want you to try to think of a creative name, not something like —

Athena: I WANT TO NAME IT FLUFFY

Me:crap.

I was not really down with the name “Fluffy,” but you try getting a four-year-old child to change her mind about a new kitten name and see how far you get. In this moment of domestic crisis, I turned, as I so often did, to the wisdom of George Bernard Shaw, who once commented that the English language is so nonsensical in its rules regarding pronunciation that one could spell “fish” as “ghoti” and it could still sound the same.

Well, I could live with “Fluffy” if it was spelled “Ghlaghghee,” so that’s what I did. And thus our cat was named, and also twelve years of people asking how “Ghlaghghee” was pronounced and/or trying to pronounce the word as if their epiglottis was spasming. Which amused me, at least.

Ghlaghghee quickly decided that I was her human, which was fine with me because I like cats and she was both a pretty cat and an exceedingly well-tempered one. She was one of those rare cats who enjoyed being rubbed on her belly, and never complained when she was picked up. I would frequently cradle her like a baby, and she was fine with that; indeed, she often had an expression that I translated as “why yes, I should be carried around and spoiled. I am surprised this is even a question.”

That said, her cuddliness was highly contingent on who you were; she wasn’t much for strangers and even Athena she would sometimes treat as a person below her station. As for the other cats, well. She was the smallest of the three cats we currently have, but there was no doubt which cat ran the household. A prime example of this was the fact that Ghlaghghee had claimed my and Krissy’s bed as her space; if Zeus or Lopsided Cat tried who share it with her, she would make her displeasure with their presumptuousness clear almost instantly. For a decade, the bed was a no-go zone. She got along very well with the other cats, as long as they remembered who was boss.

Ghlaghghee was always popular with Whatever readers, because she was a handsome cat who I would frequently photograph, but she became famous to the entire world in September of 2006, when I taped bacon to her, posted a picture of it here on the site, and for two days that post with a picture of bacon taped to a cat became the most popular thing on the English-language Internet.

Looking back now, it’s difficult to believe that in all the time prior to that moment, no one had thought to tape bacon to a cat, and then put that picture on the Internet, but apparently no one had. The Internet loves bacon; the Internet loves cats. Combining the two was perfect synergy.

For a brief period of time, Ghlaghghee, aka BaconCat, was one of the most famous cats on the Internet and substantially more famous than I was. I had more than one conversation that went like so:

Person I Don’t Know, Who I’ve Just Met: So, what do you do?

Me: Well, I write books. Science fiction books. My most famous one at the moment is called Old Man’s War.

Person: Sorry, I don’t know it.

Me: I also once taped bacon to my cat.

Person (visibly excited): Oh my God! That was you?!? I love that cat!

Ghlaghghee was written up in the New York Times and Wired and several other places; she was unimpressed with them all because she’s a cat and it’s not as if she actually cared about any of that stuff ever, and it never really occurred to me to try to keep my cat’s moment going. Ghlaghghee’s celebrity has long since been eclipsed by the Grumpy Cat and Lil’ Bub and other such creatures, which is fine. Ghlaghghee didn’t seem to mind. A quiet country life, with a few fan club members frequenting Whatever and a Twitter feed, seemed to suit her.

Ghlaghghee always slept with me and Krissy on our bed, and then one morning in December we both realized that she hadn’t come up to sleep with us at all. I went looking for her and she was lethargic and wheezy. I took her to the vet soon after and she told us that Ghlaghghee had suffered from congestive heart failure. Ghlaghghee was not, on balance, a particularly old cat, but congestive heart failure can happen in cats at any point, and more frequently after middle age. Our vet gave us some medicine to help her clear out her lungs, which had been experiencing fluid backup, and let us know that we should be preparing for what comes next.

Cats with congestive heart failure can sometimes live for a couple of years with the condition, but Ghlaghghee was not one of those cats. Literally overnight she went from active to feeble. It was hard to get her to eat or to do anything other than sleep. We did what we could to make her feel safe and loved.

Yesterday it was clear that prolonging her life at this point made no sense. We made an appointment with the vet for Monday. Last night I made her as comfortable as I could, wrapped a towel around her to keep her warm, kissed her on the head and told her good night. I went to sleep and in the night had a dream that she had come to bed with me and Krissy again, sleeping between us as she often did.

I woke up and she was gone.

We buried Ghlaghghee in the back yard, by our maple tree there. She had lived literally her entire life, from the moment of her birth to the moment of her death, within two hundred yards of our house. She belongs here in death, too, in the place she knew, to become part of the landscape and to still be with us.

I’m taking her death badly. I’ve had a month to prepare but as Krissy told me today, preparing isn’t the same thing as being in the moment. Pets are part of your family; you love them and in their way they love you back. Ghlaghghee was indisputably my cat, and I’ve spent a dozen years with her, every day, as part of my life. I knew this was coming and I thought I was ready to say goodbye.

I was, but I wasn’t ready for how much saying goodbye to this particular cat would hurt. I suppose it’s just that I loved her a lot. And it hurts when those you love go away.

Midnight Rises: Out January 29th!

Most of you know by now that for the last couple of years I’ve been working with game studio Industrial Toys to help create a mobile-based video game called Midnight Star, and an accompanying graphic novel (also for mobile devices) called Midnight Rises. During that time we created, and tweaked, and beta-tested and tweaked some more. And people asked: When? When will we see these for ourselves? And I always said: Soon, I hope!

Well, in the case of Midnight Rises, “soon” now has an actual date attached to it: I’m delighted to announced that Midnight Rises will be available for iOS devices on January 29th, i.e., less than a week from now. In less than a week you can meet Charlie Campbell and the crew of science vessel Joplin as they prepare for a secret mission! There will be spaceships! Fights in bars! Sarcasm! And also, technologically speaking, a very nifty way of making a graphic novel work with the mobile interface, not just in it. Midnight Rises was written by me and illustrated by Mike Choi, who did a fantastic job.

Midnight Rises will be available as its own app, and the first chapter of the story will be free for the reading. My understanding is it’ll be available worldwide, but I’ll need to double check with Industrial Toys on that (they will have their own post up about it soon (Update, 12:37pm: Here it is!)). We’re doing iOS first, but I believe other formats will follow.

I’m excited for you to see this graphic novel. It’s my first, and I had fun with it. I think you will too, when you see it next week.

And Midnight Star? When will it be out?

Soon. Really soon now.

Ghlaghghee Update, 1/23/15

Folks have been asking how Ghlaghghee is. In brief: Fading. She’s lost a lot of weight, is unsteady on her feet, and spends most of her time sleeping in this particular place (under an end table in the living room, next to the love seat). I’ve taken her to vet and the verdict is: Not getting better, and not likely to.

We’ve had the discussion about if and when to put her down, and our general thinking is that unless Ghlaghghee is showing obvious signs of pain (which she is not), our plan is to keep her warm, keep her loved, and let her end her days here at home if at all possible rather than at the vet’s. In the meantime, we go on.

So that’s where we are with Ghlaghghee.

The Big Idea: Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Sometimes a book’s big idea is a risky one. And sometimes writing a book and getting it to publication involves one risky idea after another. Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith’s new novel Stranger has risky ideas in it from start to finish — and beyond. They’re here to assess their risks for you.

RACHEL MANIJA BROWN and SHERWOOD SMITH:

We knew it was risky when we started.

The heart of science fiction is the tension between the familiar and the different, between new ideas and much-loved themes. Our post-apocalyptic YA novel, Stranger, features our favorite tropes— mutant powers, colorful alien wildlife, building a new civilization from scratch, man-eating plants, desperate treks through the desert, swordfights, attacks by mutant creatures, towns under siege— but in an unusual context.

Young prospector Ross Juarez comes stumbling through the desert, wounded and delirious, and is rescued by the citizens of Las Anclas, a frontier town whose walls are guarded by armed townspeople and carnivorous roses. He brings with him a hidden treasure, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

Our risky idea was to base the characters of our post-apocalyptic town on the people of modern Los Angeles. Its real teenagers aren’t the straight white culture-less heroes who inhabit most YA novels. They belong to many races and cultures and religions. Some are gay or lesbian or bisexual. Some are disabled. And few of them ever see people like themselves as the heroes of sf novels.

We knew it was a risk to write a YA novel with protagonists who didn’t fit the mainstream publishing mold. Sure enough, Stranger got caught up in a controversy before it even sold, when an agent offered to represent it on the condition that we make one of the protagonists straight or else remove his romance and all references to his sexual orientation.

We refused. Then we put out a call to other writers to see how common it was to be told to change the identity of their characters. We heard many similar stories from writers who were asked to make gay characters straight or to make characters of color white; you can read them in the comments to this article.

To this day, it is a risk to write protagonists who belong to current minority groups. (It is even more difficult to be a writer who belongs to one or more of those groups.) We were lucky to find a publisher and editor willing to take a chance on our book: Sharyn November at Viking.

But the identity of our protagonists wasn’t our only risk. Most recent YA set in the future is dystopian, and explores our worst fears of what our world might become. In these books, love is outlawed, children are forced to murder each other on television, Big Brother watches everything, and hope is at best a wistful notion and at worst a cruel joke.

We took a chance on a more optimistic future. We chose a post-apocalyptic setting not to explore how grim and cannibalistic life can get, but as an opportunity to create a new landscape here on Earth, full of danger but also full of wonder.

Our creatures and plants came from the Rule of Cool: we first invented whatever we thought would be fun, then created an ecosystem that could encompass them all.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if squirrels could teleport sandwiches out of people’s hand? Absolutely! And if they exist, probably other creatures have psychic powers too. Bring on the mind-controlling giant lobsters and illusion-casting rabbits!

Wish-fulfillment is often used as a dirty word. But we took a chance on a world where some prejudices have died out, so two gay teenagers could have relationship angst that has nothing to do with homophobia, and an African-American girl who joins the town’s elite military Rangers wonders if she’s their token… telekinetic.

We enjoy such wish-fulfillment for ourselves; books about the difficulties of being a real-life minority are important and necessary, but they shouldn’t be the only books out there. Sherwood’s wish-fulfillment was a world where old women are respected rather than dismissed and menopause can bring badass powers. Rachel’s wish-fulfillment was a world where the Jews fight invaders and monsters rather than anti-Semitism. And we both enjoyed the chance to create a society without gender stereotypes or sexism, where the sheriff is a woman whose Change gave her super-strength and a skull face, and the male protagonist is the one who gets a makeover.

It’s not a perfect world, even apart from the deadly crystal trees, the chance that a mutation will kill you rather than giving you cool powers, and the nearby tyrant looking to expand his empire. Rachel is a PTSD therapist, and Sherwood has spent a lifetime observing the effects of trauma in the classroom and out of it. We used our experience to make the aftereffects of trauma and battle realistic. PTSD isn’t something you can shrug off, power through, or cure with love. But neither is it something that will destroy your life forever.

Our book is fiction, but we don’t want it to convey messages we don’t believe in.  We created a hopeful future because we believe in hope. Nowadays, that may be our most radical idea.

Life imitates art. Our book started with a risky idea and was bought by an editor willing to take a chance on it. Now it’s embarking on yet another risky journey. We decided to self-publish the rest of the books in the series. Sherwood explains our reasons in full in this post.

In short, staying with Viking would mean a minimum of two years between the release of Stranger and its sequel, Hostage, with the likelihood of a similar gap between all subsequent books. We decided to prioritize releasing the books in a more timely fashion and being able to control their price, over keeping the prestige and resources of a traditional publisher. So Stranger is published by Viking, and Hostage is published by the writer’s collective Book View Café.

This risky strategy seems fitting for a series that, from the beginning, has been all about taking chances.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Visit Brown’s blog. Visit Smith’s blog.

 

New Books/ARCs, 1/21/15

Continuing to catch up on all the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound since the turn of the year. Here’s today’s batch, and there are some excellent finds in here. What looks good to you? The comment thread hungers for your input.

Author Event This Friday at the Montage Cafe, Greenville, OH, 7pm

The headline says it: I’ll be doing my first stand-alone event of 2015 locally, at the Montage Cafe in Greenville, this Friday. The doors open for the event at 6pm, and I’ll start my part of the thing at 7.

What will I be doing? Well, I’ll be reading brand new stuff that I’ve never read before, and I’ll also be probably going through the archives a bit for funny stuff. I’ll also be answering questions and generally chatting. If people bring books, I’ll be signing them. And so on.

The event is open to the public, so if you live in or around Darke and Miami counties here in Ohio, come on by. At the moment, it’s my only scheduled public appearance in Ohio for 2015 (although that may change when we schedule the book tour later in the year). Come on around; I’ll be looking forward to seeing you.