Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Big Idea: J.K. Beck

Author J.K. Beck’s new paranormal Shadow Keepers series (of which When Blood Calls, above, is the first) is about law and order in the world of magic. It’s the kind of set-up that suggests that there’s not much there that could be derived from real life. Right? Well… as Beck explains here, it turns out that the line between the real world and the fantasy world is not always a bright and shining one — and that’s what makes it especially interesting.

J.K. BECK:

Popular wisdom says that truth is stranger than fiction, but I never really believed that.  The fiction I was addicted to had witches and genies and charms and elves.  Magic coins and time travelers.  And no one I knew in real life did that.

And, of course, there’s the old adage:  “write what you know.”  But when I first started scribbling out stories, I had no interest in writing about being a kid.  After all, wasn’t the whole point of writing to escape from who you were?

That’s not to say I haven’t pulled some of my life into my writing.  As Julie Kenner, I have a series about a demon-hunting soccer mom.  And while my day-to-day reality may not involve hunting actual demons, I do own a mini-van, have two kids, and understand the demonic nature of dustbunnies under the couch.

But it wasn’t until I began working on the Shadow Keepers series that I’m writing as J.K. Beck that I also realized that sometimes truth is at least as strange as fiction—and that inspiration can come from the strangest of places.

The series consists of three books being released in Sept/Oct/Nov (When Blood Calls, When Pleasure Rules, and When Wicked Craves), and three more coming soon, and centers on an ancient paranormal judicial system, the purpose of which is to investigate, adjudicate and punish those shadow creatures who break the covenant.  In the October release, When Pleasure Rules, investigators have convinced Lissa, a succubus, to act as a confidential informant, hoping that through her unique skills she can get information from a new werewolf in town.

It’s a dangerous world, full of people who aren’t what they seem, and whose motives are never completely clear.  Sort of like practicing law in Los Angeles…

I’ve done several interviews since the release of the first book, and invariably I’m asked about the premise—how did I come up with it?  And the truth is, I don’t remember the specific moment.  But with my love of all things paranormal and my background as an attorney, it seems the perfect fit.  And once my mind hit on that—boom, the series was born.

Those repeated questions, though, have made me think back.  Maybe there was a kernel.  Something that I drew from.  Some hint of inspiration.  Or even just something that shows that real life is always going to be a little bit freakier than fiction.

And you know what?  I found that spark—and having remembered the incident, I know—I just know—that there’s a connection between what happened in my second year of law school and what I’m writing about now.  See if you don’t think so, too:

So there I was interning for the local Assistant United States Attorney.  It was fun, and I learned a lot, because at the time, especially since I got thrown into the middle of a big case.  A Big Case.  Anyone out there watch Breaking Bad?  Well, RV’s may be the thing now for cooking meth, but back in the day, in that part of the country, caves and storage sheds were the thing.  And the government had its eye on one major player  because not only was he cooking and distributing a ton of meth, but he was doing it to fund his Satanic temple.  Yeah, you heard me right.  His Satanic temple.

Let’s pause a moment to let that sink in.

You should have seen some of the stuff in the evidence room.  Polaroids of the kinds of things you fear your kids will see if they click on the wrong thing on the Internet.  Bibles stained with blood and who knows what else. Guns.  And all sorts creepy nightmare-inducing stuff of the “not within the milieu of the nice girl from Austin” variety.  It was, in a word, freaky.

At one point, I drafted a response to the defendant’s Motion to Suppress—basically arguing that evidence the government had collected didn’t violate any Fourth Amendment strictures.  I don’t recall the details of the motion, but I recall the hearing vividly. I’d taken time away from my classes to attend and I was sitting in the front row of the courthouse.  The defendant was also present at the motion, and he sat there at the defense table, facing forward, posture stiff as a board, throughout the entire hearing.  When the arguments were over, the defendant stood, wrists and ankles in chains, his body covered by a prison-issued jumpsuit, and he turned and started down the aisle toward the back of the courthouse.   He was tall and scarecrow thin, his skin pasty.

And as he stepped into the gallery where I was sitting, he slowed, swiveled his head to look in my direction, and fixed freakish red eyes upon me.  And, yes, they were red, like the eyes of a demon.  I felt my heart clutch in my chest, and in the time it took me to blink, he’d turned back, his eyes no longer on me.

But I’d seen him, and I knew that everything he was about was real.  This guy was not only freaky, he was evil.  He was the personification of the scary things that hide in the dark.  They’re out there, you know.   Dark things, night time things.  And maybe some of them are good—maybe some of them don’t give a flip about the rest of us—but some of them are pure evil with nothing but malice on their mind.

I’m certain of it, because I saw it in that man’s eyes—and I’m not entirely sure that our system is enough to contain that kind of evil.  But it needs to be stopped, contained, adjudicated, and incarcerated.  And that’s where the core idea from the Shadow Keepers comes from.  One small incident that stuck with me.  One short moment that sparked the writer’s question of “what if” years and years down the road.

When Blood Calls: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt of When Blood Calls. View a book trailer. Read JK Beck’s Blog. Follow her on Twitter.

News on Agent to the Stars, Android’s Dream and The God Engines

A quick housekeeping post here to tell you news about books and stuff:

1. If you follow the Twitter feed, you may have noticed me retweeting a Tweet from Wil Wheaton, in which he announced that he was currently busy performing the audio book version of Agent to the Stars. What he didn’t reveal, but which I am revealing right now, is that when he’s done with Agent to the Stars, he’ll keep on going and perform the audiobook version of The Android’s Dream as well. Personally, the idea of Wil narrating Android’s first chapter fills me with unmanly squee. It will be awesome in a way few things are in fact genuinely awesome.

The best news out of all of this? That both Agent and Android are scheduled for release in audiobook form this December — yes, just in time for the holidays. So those of you yearning to hear Wil’s voice all over my words, and yes it does sound dirty when I put it that way, won’t have to wait too long.

2. But wait, there’s more! For those of you who yearn for the more familiar printed book form, I’m happy to announce that also just in time for the holidays, Tor will be releasing Agent to the Stars in mass market paperback, making it the perfect stocking stuffer and/or cheap Hanukkah gift and/general inexpensive gift for someone you love/like/are in some way obliged to. The specific release date will be November 30. Mark it on your calendar.

3. Those of you hankering for the electronic edition of The God Engines but can’t find it in whatever very specific store for your e-reader, here’s a good general solution: Buy it from Baen’s Webscriptions site, which offers the novella in various formats, for the same $4.99 price it is available elsewhere. You can download it in either ePub or Mobi formats and then upload it to your reader, whatever dedicated e-reader you prefer. So now you have absolutely no excuse for not owning it electronically. None at all.

While on the subject The God Engines, I’ll also note to you that the audiobook rights to the novella have been sold and the folks putting it together are laboring hard to get it done quickly; it’s possible that it may be available before the end of the year (Holidays! Holidays!), but I need to confirm that. As soon as I do, I’ll let you know.

There, now we’re all caught up. And now you know what to expect from me for the holidays.

25 Copies of Cherie Priest’s DREADNOUGHT to Give Away — Hurry!

UPDATE 10:05am – Giveaway is over! Thanks, everyone!

Yes, the title of the entry says it all. Or does it? Actually it doesn’t, because Subterranean Press’ Bill Schafer is here to tell you more — namely, how to get one of those fabulous new Cherie Priest novels, and how to pick up a brand new electronic version of another awesome tale in the Boneshaker universe — cheap! Take it away, Bill:

We have 25 copies of Cherie Priest’s new steamtastic — and yes, this is my attempt to coin a new word — novel, DREADNOUGHT, set in the same universe as her breakout novel, BONESHAKER. Take a cross country trip with an indomitable Civil War nurse and check out the scenery through the windows as you pass by, including steampunk war machines and hordes of zombies. Onboard, you’ll have to settle for high intrigue and even higher tensions, and don’t ask what’s being heavily guarded in the train’s rear car.

To snag one of the copies we have to give away:
1) Be a US resident.
2) Send an email to subpress@gmail.com with DREADNOUGHT GIVEAWAY as your Subject line.
3) The meat of your email should include ONLY your name and address.

We regret that we can’t send out emails to those who’ve won, or not, so the only indication you’ll receive is if a copy shows up in your mailbox in the next few weeks. The usual catch is included: By accepting DREADNOUGHT, you agree to read it within two weeks of receipt and post a reader review to Amazon.com — good, bad, or somewhere in between, it matters not to us.

In other Cherie Priest news, we’ve released the eBook version of her BONESHAKER-related short novel Clementine at the smashingly low price of only $2.99. This one includes dirigible dogfights, heavy armament, race relations, as well as a too-well-known former spy now working for the Pinkerton agency. (At the moment, it’s only available at Amazon. Other venues — and formats — are currently being uploaded.)

You’ve got everything you need to know. Enter — and good luck!

Yes, It Was a Very Good Year

Over at Filmcritic.com, I go into detail about the five years that changed science fiction film forever — 1977 (being the one with Close Encounters, pictured above, plus some other science fiction film almost no one’s heard of) being arguably the most important of those. See what other four years made the list, and as always feel free to leave your comments and thoughts over there.

Stargate: Universe Season 2 Debuts Tonight

Just a reminder to each of you that Stargate: Universe (aka That Show What Gives Me Money) is back for a new season of intergalactic wanderings, alien visitations, and other such drama, and on a new night: namely, tonight, moved from Friday night last season. That is, here in the United States; in Canada, it’s still on Fridays, so you’ll see it October 1. In the US, it airs at 9pm Eastern; in Canada, it’ll be on at 10pm Eastern. As they say, check your local listings. Also, for those of you who need to catch up, Syfy is at this very moment running an SG:U season one marathon, and the two-part season one finale airs right before the season two debut.

As with last season, as the show’s Creative Consultant, I’m way ahead of all y’all in terms of what’s going on with the ship and crew. Without engaging in any spoilers at all, I can say there’s a lot of  twisty stuff going down this year, and that each of the main characters has his or her moment in the spotlight; you’re going to learn more about each of them, and how they’re handling being stuck at the edge of known space. You’ll also learn more about what Destiny’s mission was (and might be again), and there will be other very interesting plot developments to keep you coming back. In short: it’s going to be a fun ride.

I’ll shortly be reactivating the SG:U discussion thread here as well as the links to the Syfy Rewind area for the show, so if you miss a showing when it airs, and didn’t snag it on the DVR (or otherwise view it the other three times it shows on Syfy’s schedule), and are in the US, you can catch it online. So now you have no excuse. More seriously, however, I do hope you enjoy what we have in store for you this season. We had fun making it for you.

The Big Idea: Sam Sykes

Is the perfect protagonist perfect? Because we all love heroes: Chiseled of chin and muscle, right in act and deed, easy to admire, always there when the chips are down and the forces of good have their backs against the wall. But in writing his debut fantasy novel Tome of the Undergates, author Sam Sykes learned a little something about perfect protagonists, something that changed the way he looked at his characters, in changed how he wrote his novel. I’ll let him tell you what he learned.

SAM SYKES:

When I first started writing Tome of the Undergates, it was my earnest belief that all protagonists acted exactly alike: their goals were noble, their methods were just, their affections were easy and anyone who didn’t agree with that was evil.  Reveling in these ideas, I finished the first iteration of Tome when I was eighteen.

And I had succeeded in writing a very boring story.

It was only after I had read it and realized it read like every other adventure story that I started asking why any of these characters were doing anything they were doing.  Why would anyone chase the noble goal when it’s difficult to reach?  Why would anyone take the high road when it’s so much easier to play dirty?  Why would anyone seek another person’s love and assume they’d get it right away?

People are messy, complicated creatures.  People in extraordinary situations are extraordinarily messy and complicated.  Things do not get any simpler when demons and magic are involved and that was what guided me in writing Tome of the Undergates.

The story wasn’t about monsters or quests or magic or mythologies anymore; those came as a byproduct of the characters.  At that point, I knew that I still wanted to write a fantasy, I still wanted to write about adventurers, but I wanted to write about people doing things in a manner that fit actual human behavior.

The end result?

A band of adventurers who had started, when I was seventeen, as masters of their crafts bound by their respect for each other, their desire to save the world and ultimately do good was dead.  Long dead.

In their place I found broken people: loathsome, opportunistic, easily-frustrated, occasionally-incompetent and frequently racist.

I found a priestess not convinced that Gods didn’t hate her, a wizard who abandons all the wisdom of his craft in a desperate bid for attention, a noble savage who at once wants to kill himself and is terrified to die, a wild woman who would dearly love a world where she could easily embrace a genocidal doctrine but can’t stop feeling sympathy for her ancestral enemy, a man desperately trying to cling to the idea that everyone gets a second chance despite his knowing that no such thing exists and a young fellow slowly going mad with his own desires.

There was no more common moral code to hold them together.  In fact, there was little reason they didn’t turn on each other at that very moment.  Some people have found this to be an issue in Tome, and I’m not quite sure I fully understood them myself when I started.

But I learned more about them as I wrote them.  I know this sounds like a traditionally cryptic thing a writer says to make his craft sound mystifyingly complicated, but it’s apt in this case.  I began to realize that these people were not normal.  And moreover, I began to realize I didn’t want normal anymore.  There is no such thing as a normal person.  They do not exist and I didn’t want to write about those fictional normal people.

I wanted to explore people who could hate each other and hate the idea of being apart worse.  I wanted to explore people who had a difficult time coming to terms with what they were supposed to think and what they knew.  I wanted to learn about people whose sole commonality was their fear.

It occurs to me that I may have just described The Breakfast Club, but bear with me a bit as I finish this.

Tome of the Undergates is about broken people trying their damnedest to cope with each other and themselves.  It’s about adventurers as they would act if they were human and not tropes.  It’s about a world that makes such people that can be bound together only by their own self-loathing and what they find in each other to keep going.

Tome of the Undergates is a story about people.

All head-eating demons, crotch-stomping and frank discussions of mutilation are purely side benefits.

—-

Tome of the Undergates: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt here. Visit Sam Sykes’ blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Interview of Me in Lightspeed Magazine

Lightspeed is a relatively new science fiction magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, and its fourth issue is out. Alongside fiction by Yoon Ha Lee and Geoff Landis and an appreciation of Robert Silverberg, you’ll also find an interview with me, in which I talk about the upcoming novel Fuzzy Nation, my gig as the Creative Consultant for Stargate: Universe, and Schadenfrude pie, among other equally intriguing topics. Give the issue a look, and if you enjoy what you see, support the magazine by buying a version for your eReader for just $3. That’s cheaper than a bar beer. Go on, get it.

Justin Coussoule Visits the Scalzi Compound

Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to introduce you to the Democratic candidate for the 8th District of Ohio, Justin Coussoule. As you know, last week Mr. Coussoule popped up in my discussion of the congressional race in my district and asked, since I noted I was planning to vote for him, if I would put up a sign of his in my yard; I said that if he showed up with the sign, I would. And thus, here is Mr. Coussoule, and there is the sign (signs, actually; he brought two. It’s a big yard). As he made the effort to show up with the signs, I’ll be a man of my word and will put them up in the yard, tomorrow, when it’s not raining. Speaking of which, he was a good sport to stand there in the drizzle whilst I snapped this shot.

I also took a brief moment to chat with the man, since, you know, I had him here. I have to say I was happy with what I saw: a smart and genuine guy who recognizes the uphill battle he’s got in taking on Boehner but is working hard on it anyway, because as he correctly noted, if you aim for failure, that’s what you’ll get. The rest of the specifics of our conversation are between us — I wasn’t interviewing him, sorry — but I will say that my sense of him in our brief chat was that this is a guy I’m happy to vote for, rather than him being someone who gets my vote because I’m voting against Boehner (which this year I feel obliged to do, although I haven’t always felt so in the past). From a practical point of view this may be a distinction without a difference, but from the point of view of actually voting for a person who will represent you in Congress, it matters.

So, good luck to him; I’ll be pulling the lever for him in November.

Just Arrived, 9/27/10

Spreading the love for some books that have showed up at my door:

* Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children, Trace Beaulieu and Len Peralta: My w00tstock buddies Len and Trace have joined forced with a very amusing book of delightfully gross rhymes which have given my daughter bad ideas — but the good kind of bad ideas, which is fine. Trace, if you don’t know, writes for and stars in Cinematic Titanic and wrote for/starred in Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Len is the mastermind for the Geek of the Week series. It’s soon to be available online, so bookmark this link and keep checking.

* Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon, Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (Random House): This is a true story: Just yesterday my daughter Athena marched into my office and said, “There is a new Babymouse book out. WHY WAS I NOT INFORMED?!?” And so I immediately called our local bookstore and special ordered it for her. And then today Random House sent a copy to the house. I will be spared over to live for another day. And the copy we ordered? We’ll be donating it to the school library. This is out tomorrow.

* Flaming Zeppelins: The Adventures of Ned the Seal, Joe R. Lansdale (Tachyon): We’re Lansdale fans here at the Scalzi Compound, so this book is good news. This book mashes up Anne Oakley (born just down the road from where I live), Frankenstein, Mark Twain, the Tin Man and the disembodied head of Buffalo Bill Cody — among others! — for all sorts of over the top adventures in a steampunkish alternate past. Stop salivating, man. This is out at the beginning of November.

* The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene (W.W. Norton): One of the most successful science books of the last decade or so gets a new paperback edition, with a new preface and epilogue. Out October 11.

* Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles, Merrie Destefano (Eos): It’s not only cats that have nine lives — in Destefano’s universe it works that way for humans, too — and when you get to that ninth life, you get a little antsy. Well, and you would, wouldn’t you. This is out tomorrow.

* Servant of the Underworld, Aliette de Bodard (Angry Robot): Campbell nominee de Bodard makes her novel-length debut with this murder-mystery fantasy that takes place in the Aztec world. I’m a big fan of de Bodard’s short work, and this is a great concept, so I’m looking forward to cracking this one open. She’ll also be by closer to release date to talk about her book in a Big Idea piece. Awesome. This is out October 26.

* Lord Lightning, Jenny Brown (Avon): She’s an astrologer with high moral standards! He’s a lord with apparently no standards at all! Their love is predicted in the stars — but could it possibly come true? Let me check the Magic 8-Ball here…. huh. It says “Oh, like you really have to ask.” Snarky little thing, that 8-Ball. Out tomorrow.

* The Tairen Soul Series, C.L. Wilson (Avon): Avon is doing a relatively unusual thing here at releasing a multi-book fantasy series with three books at the same time, and two additional books (at least) a month later. The first three books are Lord of the Fading Lands, Lady of Light and Shadows and King of Sword and Sky, and they’ll be out tomorrow. The story: He’s a fairy king, she’s a woodcarver’s daughter, evil is afoot, and battles are coming. Yup, that should keep you busy. A fourth book, Queen of Song and Souls, is scheduled for October but Amazon tells me it will be available tomorrow as well.

* Electric Velocipede, edited by John Klima: Oooooh, I just got sent the last four copies of this magazine, so lots of good reading in here. The latest issue features fiction by several new and rising authors (including Shira Lipkin, wife of frequent Whatever commenter Adam Lipkin, so we take certain distaff pride there) as well as an interview with Hugo and Nebula Award winner Paolo Bacigalupi. Good stuff. Learn more about EV here.

Tax Frenzies and How to Hose Them Down

A question in e-mail based on all the recent “rich people feeling not rich” nonsense, and the associated commentary online:

Why is it that the people freaking out the most about taxes on the rich are the ones who don’t seem to know how the tax code works?

The answer is in the question: Because they don’t know how the tax code works. The major failing seems to be an incomprehension regarding marginal tax rates, but people also seem to fall down on the matter of taxable income vs. gross income (i.e. how deductions can work for you!), how to apply tax credits, and other various and fairly basic aspects of the tax code here in the US.

If you don’t know that stuff — if you basically wander through your life thinking the government taxes all of your income based on the highest possible percentage — then I suppose it’s no wonder you freak out. But it also kind of makes you the financial equivalent of the people who think that Darwin said we are all descended from monkeys, or that the Bible says “God helps those who help themselves.” In short, it means you’re a bit ignorant. You should stop being that. It’s easily correctable. In any event, at some point in time, real live grown-ups should understand the concept of marginal rates. It’s not that difficult to grasp.

There is another answer as well, which can be paired with the above or stand on its own, and it’s that there’s a certain sort of person who believes that all taxation (or all taxation outside of one or two very specific things of which they approve) is theft. Naturally that sort of person will fly to the defense of any who bleat about their taxes being too high, even if in point of fact, the wealthy in the US are currently being taxed at historically low rates (“but they’re still too high!”).

I really don’t know what you do about the “taxes are theft” crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires. Sorry, guys. I know you all thought you were going to be one of those paying a nickel for your cigarettes in Galt Gulch. That’ll be a fine last thought for you as the starving remnants of the society of takers closes in with their flensing tools.

Getting back to the real word for a bit, I’ll be the first to admit that while understanding the basics of the US tax code is useful for not irrationally freaking out when there is talk of raising the marginal rates of the top few percent of income earners in the United States, in point of fact, unless all one is doing is filling in a 1040 A or EZ form, on a practical level the US Tax Code quickly becomes too complicated for most people to deal with, especially when the only time they deal with it is between April 10 and April 15 every year. This is why probably the single most important thing you can do for yourself financially, the moment your tax profile outgrows the 1040 A or EZ, is to get yourself an accountant. Because it’s the accountant’s job to know the tax code — not just a half a week a year but all year long.

In the now-long-gone blog entry of Professor Todd Henderson’s that started off this entire recent round of income-related nonsensery, the one thing in it that actually gave me pause — and which convinced me the man was something of a fiscal naif — was when he revealed that a) he didn’t have an accountant and b) that he was still using TurboTax for his taxes. And I was all, like, what? Dude, you can pay for a gardener but then cry that paying for an accountant is too dear? No wonder you’re all worked up.

I very specifically don’t want to start another round of Henderson-whacking — the man’s been whacked enough — but I will say that after a certain level rather below Professor Henderson’s income and taxation situation, you should recognize that what you don’t know about the US tax code is probably making you pay more than you have to and/or making you miss something you shouldn’t. Which will come back to bite you in the ass in the form of an audit, followed by late payment penalties and fees.

My own moment of clarity on this score came in 2001, when we moved to Ohio; we became landlords and I also started my own company. Both of these things, and other financial events, caused me to look at my tax profile and go, oh, man, I am so very over my head right now. Bear in mind that I said this when I had written a book on finance, and when I was currently writing a finance newsletter for AOL, and also working as a consultant for a number of financial services companies. I was not exactly innumerate. But then maybe that was the thing: I knew enough to know I didn’t know nearly enough. So we got ourselves an accountant, and she was (and is) very good at what she does, and her competence at her job means our tax situation is both well-managed and never a surprise.

So. If you’re freaked out about taxes, please make sure you actually know what you’re talking about when it comes to taxes. If you are a high-income earner and/or have a complicated tax profile, invest in an accountant. Either or both should help to calm your tax frenzy a bit. And if they don’t, accept that the reason you’re in a frenzy is probably because you want to be, rather than because the situation genuinely warrants it.

Your Saturday Placeholder Entry

Here it is. And for some reason, this song just seems really relevant this week.

Also, to keep people from trotting it out in the comments, the Shatner version, complete with animated Kirk/Spock slashtasticness:

Enjoy your day.

New Rule For the Internets, Six-Figure Income Division

It is:

1. If you make a six-figure income, you are not allowed to argue on the Internets that you are poor.

2. You are not allowed to argue that you feel poor, which as we all know is just like being poor.

3. You are not allowed to posit the argument that if you hang around with people who make more than you, then you are allowed to have your wee little heart sing the Poverty Song because, after all, you make less than all of them and your life is sad.

4. You are not allowed to use your own poor money management skills as evidence of how challenging life is for those, like you, with six-figure incomes.

5. You are not allowed to use New York City, San Francisco or Los Angeles as an excuse for your piteous cries.

6. If you do any of the above, individually or severally, when the Internets call you out for being clueless, entitled, ignorant and an embarrassment as a human being — and they will — you will not then complain how your words were misunderstood and/or taken out of context and/or that people missed the real point of your argument.

7. This rule applies equally to any defending the right of those with six-figure incomes to mewl about their awful lot in life.

Note to the Internets: This new rule is effective immediately. Please feel free to enforce it. Direct all complaints here. They will be dealt with appropriately.

The (Relative) Peace of OH-8

Election years are obnoxious times, with obnoxious people doing obnoxious things in order to get elected, but this year, at least, it’s a by-election year, which means that here in the 8th Congressional District of Ohio, things are pretty quiet. This is because after 1990, the first year he was elected, OH-8 Congressional Representative John Boehner consistently wins elections by taking two votes out of three. Prior to Boehner taking office, the district had already been in GOP hands since 1938; a Democrat hasn’t come within 10,000 votes of a GOP candidate since 1974, not even when Boehner’s immediate predecessor, Buz Lukens, had to resign because he was caught paying a 16-year-old girl for sex. This is as safe a district as it gets, and unless Boehner gets caught fondling a shaved badger named “Tito” on the floor of the House by C-SPAN’s cameras, the likelihood of him losing an election in OH-8 is roughly the same as the likelihood of me spontaneously changing form into a ginormous Taco Bell 7-layer burrito. As delicious as that possibility may be, it’s just not going to happen.

And so, things are fairly mellow here. There is a Democratic challenger for the seat, a nice young fellow named Justin Coussoule, and I like his platform just fine and will likely be voting for him this November. He has no chance. I have yet to see a single voter sign for him; I’ve not received a single mailing from him that I can remember. I don’t believe the Democrats are exactly pouring money into the district to boost his campaign. On the same token, while I have seen a few John Boehner signs, it’s been only a few, and the signs are exactly the same signs, in color and typography, that I’ve seen since 2002, which is the first election year I was here for. I suspect that people here might just take the signs they got once and pack them away for two years, plop them in the yard in mid-September and then put them back in storage on the first Wednesday in November. That’s Midwestern thriftiness for you.

Theoretically, I think it would be better if OH-8 were in contention every two years, and there was a robust debate between candidates, and I was flooded with mailings detailing every position and bone of contention between the candidates. Yay, participatory democracy. But as a practical matter, and entirely selfishly, I have to say I really don’t mind the quiet. 2012 promises to be an especially obnoxious election year already, and 2010 is bad enough everywhere else. I’ll take my mellow Midwestern island known as OH-8 for what it is.

Update, 4:45pm: Democratic candidate for OH-8 Representative Justin Coussoule pops into the comment thread to disagree with my assessment of his chances. That’s how local politics gets done, 21st Century style.

Athena Dabbles in the World of Comics

The scanner trimmed slightly at the bottom and to the right, but I think you can probably read it. And, it’s not an inaccurate assessment of current technology, which is even better.

What kinda surprised me? That she knew what a typewriter was.

Clash of the Geeks Updatery, 9/24/10

Some news for you about Clash of the Geeks:

1. First, so far we’ve raised roughly $12,500 for the Michigan/Indiana affliate of the Lupus Alliance of America. That is an awesome figure. You are awesome people. Thank you. But let’s not rest on our laurels, people — there’s still time to donate and make a difference. There’s also still time to tell folks about the chapbook and to encourage them to download, read and pitch in. Every little bit helps.

2. Hey, you know that Wil Wheaton guy? Yeah, the one on the unicorn pegasus kitten. That one. Well, if you go here and download the podcast that’s available there, you will be able to hear him perform an audio version of his story in Clash of the Geeks. And it is awesome. Because that Wil Wheaton guy? Rumor is, he can act. The story kicks in at around the nine minute mark, but if you skip ahead, you’re going to miss out on some excellent Wheaton-y goodness, and you don’t want that.

3. I don’t want to go into any details now, but I will say this: Hey, collectors, completists, fans and just plain general obsessives! We’ll have some exciting Clash of the Geeks news for you in the upcoming couple of weeks. And that news will be — anyone? Anyone? Yes: it will be awesome. So stay tuned for that.

Those are the updates for today.

The Big Idea: Nancy Werlin

Not every choice an author makes for his or her characters seems all that important when the choice is made — a small character note here, a little personality tic there — but as the story unfolds, the “small choice” made earlier can magnify in importance. Nancy Werlin encountered this fact in the writing of her latest novel Extraordinary, when an almost arbitrary decision about the background of her character blossomed into something, well, extraordinary. Werlin explains below.

NANCY WERLIN:

“Even good ideas [can] feel ‘thin.’ [But] in the tension between two story ideas you can often find the creative stimulus that leads to a story.”
–Orson Scott Card

I believe this quote describes how Extraordinary happened, even if my process was less than deliberate. Two unrelated ideas came together:

  • Idea #1 – Wicked, especially the song “For Good” from the musical.
  • Idea #2 – A Jewish heroine for a fantasy novel.

Originally I’d have said #1 was the “big” idea. There I was, watching the musical Wicked (from the novel by Gregory Maguire, musical adaptation by Stephen Schwartz, with book by Winnie Holzman). We’d gotten to the penultimate scene where Glinda and Elphaba sing their goodbye duet:

Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

I was in tears before they reached “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” For me, the play had gone beyond entertainment and arrived at that ultimate aim of all art: raw emotional truth.

Wicked and “For Good” made me want to try to write a novel that would go to that same core place. It would be about an enormously important friendship between two teenage girls, one more pivotal than a romantic love affair. This friendship would test both girls to their limits, and would force them to grow, not just into maturity, but into better selves than they could ever have imagined becoming alone.

For this to work, I felt, only a fantasy landscape would do.

Also, full disclosure. I wanted to repair what I saw as a tiny flaw in Wicked: in my view, Elphaba gave Glinda a lot more than she got in return. (And here I’ll reference Holly Black about all art being in conversation with previous art.)

But once I began working on my novel about the two teenage girls, one human, one fey, and of their friendship gone dangerously wrong because of some secret (what secret? I’d figure that out later), I had the “little” idea.

“Why can’t my human girl be Jewish?”

It was a hasty, almost thoughtless choice. I expected my human girl, Phoebe, to be largely secular in her outlook, and so I didn’t anticipate that her religious background would affect the story much. Truly, all I was thinking about was making some room at the table for girls who, like me as a teenager, loved reading fantasy but sometimes wondered wistfully why there was never anyone like them in it.

But then, as I worked, I discovered that the decision had put me into a strange place of vulnerability and fear, for reasons that I only later began to understand (see Michael Weingrad’s Spring 2010 essay, “Why There Is No Jewish Narnia,”).

And so a second and thoroughly emotional choice quickly followed: “I’ll not only make Phoebe Jewish, I’ll make her a Rothschild! I’ll make her a member of the most storied Jewish family in modern history!”

I wanted to protect her, I now see. It was pure instinct, because she was going where Jews didn’t go, and where they were—it seemed to my subconscious, which was suddenly demanding to be in charge—not known, not understood, and certainly not welcome.

And then my plot and my characters screeched off in a direction I would never have predicted, and Phoebe’s heritage gave me the answer to the pivotal question “what secret?” that I had taken on faith that I would somehow find as I wrote.

I hope you’ll judge for yourself how it all worked out.

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

Visit the book’s Web site. View the trailer. Visit the blog devoted to Werlin.