Daily Archives: June 27, 2008

Internal Book Workings

Answering a couple of questions I’ve gotten recently about the mechanics of the book-related stuff here:

* First, for those who were wondering about the disposition of the Duck and Hate Mail contests: The winner of the Duck contest will be declared on Monday. The Hate Mail winners, I suspect, will follow shortly thereafter, because I have to compare notes with the other judge. Hey, you guy spewed some excellent bile. It takes time to digest it.

* Several people have asked me how I got book companies to send along their books (presumably so they could do something similar). The short answer is I didn’t do anything, other than letting it be known I was happy to get them, and once having gotten them, perhaps to talk about them here. I’m not entirely sure this is an effective tactic for others. Hell, I don’t even know if it’s an effective tactic for me, since not every science fiction publisher — not to mention publishers in general — sends me stuff (I don’t think I’ve seen anything from Eos or Bantam Spectra, for example, and now that I think about it Tor’s been erratic as well, which is ironic).

And this is fine: Publicists are generally good at what they do, but they’re not psychic, and if I don’t actively ask to be put on mailing lists, they can’t be blamed for not putting me on them. It’s not like their Scalzi-sense is tingling, or anything. While it’s not out of the question for me to ping a publicist (I’m sorely tempted to beg for an ARC of the new Neal Stephenson), I’m mostly content to just sit here and see what comes my way. Because I’m lazy, you see.

* Given that this is my method of procuring books, you may be unsurprised to learn that my method of procuring participants for The Big Idea is basically the same: I wait for authors to ask. Now, sometimes if I’m at a convention and I see an author and I know they have a book coming out, I’ll remind them that I run the Big Idea feature here, and that if they want to participate, they should ping me. But that’s about it. Otherwise it’s mostly about others asking me, and me looking at the schedule. This keeps things relaxed and fun, for me at the very least.

* Do I read every book I am sent? No, nor do I attempt Klausnerian feats of speed reading in order to do so (Harriet Klausner, incidentally, just wrote her review of Zoe’s Tale, which was mostly positive; I was unaware there were shapeshifters in the book, but in her copy, apparently there are). If I did nothing else, I could read one book a day enjoyably, but I don’t do nothing else; rumor is, I occasionally write books myself. I typically read a couple a week.

* What do I do with the books when I’m done? Some I keep, some I give to friends, and sometimes, after a suitable time has passed where I’m no longer concerned that I’m interfering with author sales, I’ll give them to the local library, which will incorporate a few into their holdings and put others into their library sales. Seems a good way to do things.

You ask, why don’t I give them away to Whatever readers, hint, hint? It’s a nice idea, but unless you’re all planning to make a pilgrimage to my house to pick up your books (note: please don’t drive to my house with the plan to pick up books; Kodi will eat you), sending books out by mail costs me money, and I’m not sure why I would want that.

That said, I’ve toyed with the idea of putting together a mystery box of books I’ve received and auctioning it off, with the proceeds (minus shipping costs, naturally) to go to Reading is Fundamental or some such. It’s a thought; maybe I’ll do it when I’m more organized.

Any other (book-related) questions?

The Book Haul, 6/27/08

What came in this week?

Quick notes:

* I’m really excited to get Cycler, which is the first novel of my good pal Lauren McLaughlin, and which has a hell of a premise, which you might be able to infer from the cover, and the apparel of the model — and if you can’t infer it, I’m not going to spoil it for you, not in the least because Lauren is going to come back to pen a Big Idea piece on the book this August. But come on. It’s all there on the cover, people! Figure it out!

* Ghostgirl started off online, became hugely popular, got a book deal, blah blah blah… yes, yes, all very nice, well done you, Tonya Hurley. What impresses me about the book, actually, is the actual book design, which includes a transparent panel in the shape of a coffin and is otherwise fairly gothtastic, up to and including the liberal use of pink (which, I have been assured by people in the know, is an advanced goth color. I know my daughter made a beeline toward the book when she saw it, which suggests the people packaging this thing know how to appeal to an audience. This is also an August book.

* First thought on seeing Shadow of the Scorpion, aside from “cool, new Asher,” was “holy crap that’s the biggest flea I’ve ever seen.” This is a Polity novel, so fans of the series have something to live for this July. Arriving at the same time, and from the same publisher, Incandescence, by Greg Egan, which also comes out in July but is already available in the UK. Man, I hate having to wait, just because I’m American. I know, the rest of you out there in the world are not sympathetic. Of course, I don’t actually have to wait, because I have the ARC. But still.

* Busted! isn’t actually a book, it’s the first issue of Fray, which is, as it describes itself “a quarterly of true stories and original art.” This particular issue has as its subject people getting caught doing things, mostly things they probably ought not to have been caught doing. Their web site contains excerpts. I recommend this one as choice bit of stupidity and well-deserved comeuppance. It’s interesting stuff. Mind you, I remember Fray.com from back in the day. Those were times, I will tell you, once you get off my goddamn lawn, you damn kids.

* The record for ARC sent furthest in advance for 2008 goed to Alembical, an anthology of four novellae written by Jay Lake, Bruce Taylor, James Van Pel and Ray Vukcevich, which won’t be out for another six months (technically it will debut at World Fantasy, which is in late November, but still). Haven’t gotten into the book yet, but the fact that Jay Lake has extruded yet another story causes me to fear him even more. He’s a perpetual motion writing machine. You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him. In, uh, pages. Yes, that’s it.

Thoughts/comments on any of the books here?

The Big Idea: David J. Schwartz

If Spider-Man – and indeed the entire Marvel canon — has taught us anything, it’s that being a super-hero isn’t as easy as it looks. But if you think that’s difficult, try writing one… especially when you’re aware of all the inherent flaws of the genre, no matter how much you love it. In Superpowers, author David J. Schwartz writes up not one but five newbie superheroes, and decides in working with them to zig where most writers (and readers) zag, just to see what would happen. What’s the zig — and what happens? David J. Schwartz uses his super-typing powers to explain.

DAVID J. SCHWARTZ:
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point I became a person who has a lot of skepticism about the things I love. Pulp fiction? Love it–aside from the bits where women always bring trouble, the mysteries rarely make actual sense, and the bewildering etymology of the word “gunsel.” Latin American literature? Transcendent, if you’ve got a tolerance for metric tons of macho, the dominance of Catholic themes, and a fascination with incest. The Lord of the Rings? It still gets me–except for the part where it’s all about buttressing flawed monarchies, defining good and evil along racial lines, and, well . . . elves.

Which brings me to comic books, specifically super-hero comics. I can’t get enough of these stories, and I have the long boxes to prove it. I love the discovery of weird abilities, the monthly struggle to do the right thing, the last-minute victory against overwhelming odds. This despite the rampant sexism in comics which presents women as ornaments or victims in order to appeal to the fantasies and insecurities of adolescent boys; despite the fact that I worry that heroes with unlimited power and unimpeachable virtue make some readers complacent about the state of truth and justice in the world; and despite the fact that the struggles between costumed figures often seem too mythic to say much about the mistakes and choices made by normal humans.

I like mythic, too, but for Superpowers I made a decision early on: no super-villains. No silly men with overly complicated plans, no giant monsters, no shadowy government organization pulling strings. In a way super-villains make it easy on heroes; obviously _someone_ needs to do something about Dr. Unpleasant, and who better than the ordinary sanitation worker who’s just received the strength of a gorilla from a radioactive plantain? This is how writers and editors avoid having decent, hard-working Captain Banana beat up on normal civilians, which is all well and good except for the part where crime becomes something perpetrated by archetypes instead of people.

That wasn’t going to work for me, because what I really wanted to talk about was power–political, military, and personal–and how we use it. The story is about how these five college kids in Madison, Wisconsin wake up one morning with new abilities, and how that changes their lives. It’s about their good intentions and the bad decisions that follow. In a way, power itself becomes a villain, because the thing that they discover is that once you have that sort of power, it’s very difficult _not_ to use it.

Which is all well and good, but there’s one thing that villains do really well, and that’s drive a plot. My Rule One for writing–hopefully every writer’s Rule One–is DON’T BE BORING. The challenge for Superpowers was, having decided to forgo the slug-fest, not to go to the other extreme and write a full-bore angst-fest. How to avoid that? My personal crutch is humor, and there’s a lot of comic potential in not knowing your own strength, or having no control over when you’re going to turn invisible. Keeping it light works until the point where it’s necessary to knock that crutch out from under the reader and beat them with it. Hey, you don’t need a villain; you’ve got me!

Did I say that I love superhero stories? I do, and as much as Superpowers is about Big Ideas, it’s also about the sheer fun of being able to fly, or to run the two-minute mile in less than a second. Yeah, these are power fantasies, but I think we’ve all imagined what it might be like to do those things. I also had a lot of fun referencing–both openly and in ways that only the true geeks will pick up on–the characters and stories that I obsessed over in my teens and twenties. Many of which did the sort of thing that I’ve tried to do with this book–tell a good superhero story with full awareness of the problems inherent in the genre.

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Superpowers: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Superpowers here. Visit Schwartz’s Livejournal here.