Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Final Fuzzy Nation Giveaway

May is coming to a close and with it my month of releasing Fuzzy Nation and touring all across the country to support it. You all have been amazing in your enthusiasm and support, and to show my appreciation for you all, and in conjunction with my friends at Subterranean Press, are offering one last Fuzzy Nation giveaway. For this one, I have ten — count them! Ten! — copies of the novel to give away. You could win one! Yes, you!

Here’s how it will go down:

1. You post a comment in the comment thread. One post per person — multiple postings will disqualify you. If your comment does not immediately post, don’t panic; it may be caught in the moderation queue. I will go through and release them.

2. Post it by 12pm Eastern Time, June 1, 2011.

3. After that time, I will select the winners based on a number-based selection criterion that I have already explained to Bill Shafer, the publisher of Subterranean Press, who is sponsoring the contest. Of the selection criterion, Bill said, “Crap. That’s ingenious. I would have given them away for the most creative (but not obscene) uses of the word mutton.” So you know it’s good. In case of a disqualification (enter only once, folks), the comment at the number above the disqualified comment will win.

4. I’ll e-mail the winners and get their mailing addresses. We’ll then send off the copies! Happy reading!

So, really, all you have to do is post a comment. It’s just that easy.

Good luck!

The Big Idea: Mira Grant

Mira Grant (also known as Seanan Mcguire) is having one of those very good years. First, as Mcguire, she won last year’s Campbell Award for the best new writer in science fiction and fantasy. Then Feed, the first installment of her “Newsflesh” series (see last year’s Big Idea on it), was nominated for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel. And now Deadline, the second novel in the series, is in the stores, to pick up the neo-zombie goodness where it left off. And where do you go from zombies? Well. I’ll let the author tell you.

MIRA GRANT:

So here we are again. The last time I visited the Big Idea, it was for Feed the first book in the Newsflesh trilogy. Now it’s Deadline, otherwise known as “you’ve survived the zombie apocalypse. What are you going to do now?” Hint: we’re not going to Disneyworld.

The big idea behind Feed was “what if we survived the zombie apocalypse because popular culture told us what to watch for?” Well, in the year since Feed was published, the zombie has become ever more a part of the national consciousness. There’s a car commercial right now (it airs during Fringe, so I’ve seen it about eight times) that features a zombie businessman driving to work. They never say that he’s a zombie, but they don’t need to; we know what a zombie looks like. There’s a poplar line of fashion dolls called “Monster High” that features a cute zombie girl named Ghoulia Yelps—a character popular enough that this year’s San Diego Comic Convention exclusive is Ghoulia dressed up like a superhero. There are zombie jokes on our sitcoms and zombie comics in our comic book stores, and even zombie chocolate bunnies in our Easter baskets. The age of the zombie is here.

The big idea behind Deadline, on the other hand…*

(*As I write this, I can hear Professor River Song from Doctor Who saying “Spoilers!” in the back of my head. So please forgive me if I seem a little vague. There’s a great deal I can’t say.)

We have a zombie apocalypse; that’s been established. Once the zombies are here, they’re not going anywhere; that’s been established, too, at great and sometimes painful length. So what happens to society? What happens to technology? And what happens to science—which is, after all the reason we have zombies in the first place? Thanks a lot, science. You made the mess. Now what are you going to do about it?

Feed was a political science fiction thriller, centered on a presidential campaign. I didn’t have that option in Deadline; the results were in, we had a new man in the White House, and yes, that meant the campaign was over. Unless I wanted to skip forward four years, I needed another concept to build my frame around. Skipping forward four years would have given my rather traumatized protagonists too much time to recover, which would have made them a lot less fun to write. So I started casting around for other ideas…and my eye fell on all those lovely books about diseases and epidemiology and everything else that I’m not allowed to talk about at the dinner table.

See, the virus which brought about the zombie apocalypse in my world was genetically engineered from several completely different families of virus, the filovirus (lit. “thread virus,” or “oh, crap, my insides are rapidly becoming my outsides virus”) and a spiffy little rhinovirus/coronavirus hybrid (lit. “nose virus” and “crown virus,” respectively, or the “I’m sorry, I can’t come to work today, I hab a code” viruses). This means that while it is now one pretty little infectuous agent, it has the behavioral patterns and desires of several different types of disease. It’s a chimera, Frankenstein’s virus, and like most monsters, it’s always going to do something you don’t expect. If Feed was the story of a society, Deadline was going to be the story of a disease.

I am a research nut. My addiction to “Why?” was noted as early as age three, and has not lessened one little bit as time has gone on. I’ve just acquired more and better ways of learning things you don’t want me to talk about at the dinner table. I threw myself into researching the structure and behavior of disease, and the structure and behavior of the organizations which fight disease. I learned things I was happy about, and no one else wanted me to know, largely because I am also a fan of sharing. My editor, being a brave and valiant man, tolerated my gleeful burbling about yellow fever and patterns of infection, partially, I think, because he wanted to see how it would all come together.

What would a totally artificial disease do, given free run of the human race? What adaptations would our immune systems make as our bodies tried to deal with the virus? Would it make any difference that our immune systems no longer needed to deal with cancer or colds? And in the same vein…after a generation or two, would pursuing a cure really be in our best interests, as a species? Sure, having the zombie virus does mean that eventually, you’ll get up and try to eat your family, but that’s a relatively rare occurrence. Suddenly finding yourself free of zombie virus, but also free of inherited immunities, and surrounded by all those carcinogens that we stopped worrying about when cancer went away…that could be more of an issue.

Deadline also wound up being about psychological contagions, like fear, and paranoia, and greed. Who controls the spice controls life, according to Herbert; well, who controls the medical establishment controls everything, after the zombies start to rise. The surviving members of my cast from Feed aren’t exactly what you’d call “stable” these days, and playing with that gave me even more room to demonstrate the long-term impact of infection on a society. It’s just that this society happens to be ours.

The big idea in Deadline was one of disease, whereas the big idea in Feed was all about infection. It took a very different set of tools, and a very different set of driving situations, to make the ongoing damage of America’s long illness clear. On the plus side, it meant I got to have crazy Canadian scientists with big dogs and shotguns. On the negative side…

Actually, there really isn’t one.

—-

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

Follow Grant/Mcguire on Twitter. Visit her LiveJournal.

Housekeeping, 5/30/11

Some quick notes for today:

1. Yay! I’m home! I know, this is a repeat from the note last night, but I think it bears repeating. I’ve been on tour since the 10th, and actively away from home since the 13th, so being in my house with nowhere else I need to be between now and the end of the month just seems like a very excellent luxury. I’m wallowing in it, people. Wallowing.

2. During my tour (i.e., for the last three weeks), I’ve not been going through my e-mail as thoroughly as I usually do and thus have probably missed a number of e-mails. I’ll be going down the list of e-mails today (sort of) and tomorrow (more actively), so if you sent an e-mail to me that you were hoping to get a response for, and you don’t have it by noon, Eastern time, Wednesday, June 1, go ahead and resend it because by that time you can assume I have entirely missed it.

3. Likewise, as regards Whatever, as of now, I am off the “All Tour and Book, All the Time” programming and will actually start writing about stuff that’s not about either of those because, no offense to either the book and tour, but I’m pretty much tired of both at this point and wouldn’t mind about blathering on something else, and since I’m now back at home I can actually start paying attention to what’s going on in the rest of the world. That’s right, the tour bubble is officially popped! Now I can finally find out who won American Idol!

(Note: I don’t actually care who won American Idol. Don’t bother telling me.)

4. That said, let me offer my final appreciation and gratitude to everyone who did come to see me while I was on tour, and who picked up the book and made it as much of a success as it has been to this point. I had a grand time on the tour, going out and about and seeing everyone. Three weeks away from home is a lot of time, but it was also time very well spent in my opinion. I wouldn’t have missed it. So thank you. Really. Thank you.

And now I’m going to go wander the yard with the child. Catch up with you all a bit later.

The Last Interview

Not my last interview ever (uh, probably) but the last interview I did whilst out on my book tour, was recorded yesterday and is now up today on the Versus the World “Alpha Geek” podcast, which you may find here. In it I discuss the new book, working on Stargate, why I harp on financial matters for writers, and other such stuff. If you’re coming to this on a day other than the 29th of May, you should probably use this link to find it. In either case, enjoy.

Phoenix Bookstore Appearance Reminder + Phoenix Comicon Update

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man wishes to remind you that I will be making my final book tour appearance tonight at 5pm at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. Accompanying me will be Sam Sykes! It will be fun! Come or the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man might step on a church! And we can’t have that. I may be an agnostic, but even I think that’s rude.

Phoenix Comicon has been delightful so far. My time has been spent hanging about at my signing station and then occasionally going to panels, all of which have been very good so far — and I’m happy to say I remain undefeated in “Just a Minute,” a convention adaptation of a very popular British radio game show. Our version was hosted by the ever-genial Paul Cornell, who was fun to try to flummox in various ways. And while I won the game, it was Robert J. Sawyer who won the audience’s hearts with ability to discourse, encyclopedia-like, on any subject thrown his way. Seriously, the man’s like a Wikipedia with legs, at least on the subjects of science fiction and fantasy.

The highlight of the convention for me (so far, anyway) was watching Wil Wheaton perform a live and deeply amusing dramatic version of his “Clash of the Geeks” story, “The Last Unicorn (Pegasus Kitten).” Dude nailed. It’s almost like he was, you know, an actor or something. It’s also fun to be part of the Wheaton entourage here at the Comicon, since Wil knows a huge amount of really interesting people, so I get to meet them too while I’m here.

Today’s schedule: two panels (one on the Big Idea, one in which I do a reading for the Comicon attendees), one interview and then the reading in the early evening, followed by dinner, sleep and then a flight home, assuming the gods of Memorial Day Weekend Travel in fact let that happen. We shall see. But for the moment: Having fun.

Your weekend so far? Tell me everything. Omit nothing.

 

The Big Idea: Leah Cypess

In talking about her new novel Nightspell for the Big Idea, author Leah Cypess gets a little meta… about the concept of a big idea, and how it relates to writing books, and, of course, specifically this one. And while this sort of recursive examination of big ideas is interesting, considering the context, what it also reveals in a larger sense is how writers can change their approach to writing over the years, and how those changes can benefit the writing. Cypess takes it from here.

LEAH CYPESS:

When I was a teenager, I was not a believer in Big Ideas in fiction.  I wanted my books to tell me good stories and keep me entertained and that was enough; I had plenty of school time for, you know, learning things. When my English teachers talked about how books had to have themes, or even character development, I sighed, rolled my eyes, and went back to reading my father’s collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs books.

I did like intricate plots, though – I read Agatha Christie even more often than Edgar Rice Burroughs – so when I started writing Nightspell at the age of 17, its Big Idea was purely about plot. What if there was a society where murder victims came back as ghosts to try and solve their murders? What would a murder mystery written in that society look like?

I wrote about 50 pages of that book, longhand in a spiral-bound blue notebook, before I ran out of steam. The characters never crystallized and the plot spiraled downward in a series of unnecessary complications. Eventually I gave it up and started writing something new.

It took ten years for me to open that notebook again; and during that time, my tastes in fiction had changed. I still think the primary purpose of a story is to entertain… but I also think it can do more than that. I had been won over to the Big Idea concept.

Nightspell is a book that I probably would never have written if not for a Church & State seminar I took almost a decade after that first attempt. It was one of the best classes I took in law school, and only partly because the professor decided to hold it in his living room (with an awesome view of the Hudson) and provided doughnuts.  The class was small and discussion-oriented, and since it was on a Friday morning, the students who enrolled did so because they were sincerely interested in the subject.

My fellow classmates included Mormons, Catholics, agnostics, and undecided; if I recall correctly, two of them had formerly studied to be priests.  (I was the only woman and one of the only two Jews in the class; when we went around the room on the first day, I solemnly began my introduction with, “I have never studied to be a priest.”) One of the subjects that came up often was the mutual exclusivity of various religious beliefs, and the discussions were honest and unsparing. One of the agnostics maintained that the only way for Americans to live in harmony is for us to all agree on everything (not surprisingly, he thought we should all be agnostics). Others argued that it is possible – though difficult – to believe people are completely wrong, and that there are terrible consequences for their wrongness, but to respect their beliefs anyhow.

When I finally re-opened that blue notebook, these questions were still living in my mind. I didn’t intend for them to make their way into my fantasy murder mystery, but as I began writing the book again from scratch, I found myself being drawn deeper into the implications of what would happen to those ghosts who didn’t find vengeance, whose spirits were never laid to rest. Killers would begin taking care to hide their identities from their victims, so the legions of ghosts would grow larger and larger: a mass of unchanging, immortal people who didn’t fit into anyone’s beliefs about the places of the living and the dead.  Eventually, they would overtake and threaten the living, creating a two-tiered society with suspicion and prejudices on both sides. To many of my characters, ghosts are wronged creatures who shouldn’t be forced to exist at all… and here’s the thing: they’re not wrong.  Or at least, not entirely. So how do they deal with a society designed to accommodate beings who shouldn’t be there in the first place?

In the end, Nightspell is a combination of two ideas. The book is still set in the world of vengeance-seeking ghosts that stuck in my mind for over ten years, still a murder mystery with princes and swordfights and tangled family relationships. But it’s more than that, this time around; it’s about prejudice, and acceptance, and conflicting worldviews. And now that I see what it turned into, I’m really glad I closed that notebook at the age of 17 and didn’t reopen it until the Big Idea was ready.

—-

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

Read the first three chapters. Follow Cypess on Twitter.

The Pros & Cons of Book Touring

I’ve been on tour since May 10, and away from home (meaning, not going back home after an appearance but instead living out of a hotel) for two straight weeks. I will continue to be doing so until Sunday — assuming I’m able to get home without delay by taking a Memorial Day Weekend flight, which to my knowledge I have never once been able to do. When everything wraps up I will have been on tour for three weeks, which for a normal human is a long time to be away from home, and this particular instance if nowhere else, I happen to be a fairly normal human.

While I have been about on tour, folks have asked if I like touring, or if I’m having fun, or if I miss being home — or more generally, what it’s like to be on a book tour for an extended period of time. So to answer these questions, I’ve made a little list of the pluses and minuses of being on a long book tour.

To begin, let’s start with the pluses:

1. An opportunity to promote your book. This is of course the whole point of the tour, and it’s not an insignificant point. Lots of books get released every week, even in just science fiction and fantasy, and you have to work hard to differentiate yours from every other book and get people excited about it. Showing up in physical form in a place your readers can find you is one of the ways to do that.

In my case at least there’s some evidence that touring helped punt the book up and through that ineffable goalpost known as the New York Times Bestseller List — not wholly through the number of people showing up to the events but also through the second-order stuff like media covering the event and people talking about the tour and so on. It’s that second-order awareness raising that makes a difference in the long run and justifies a tour, even if the numbers of readers showing up at any particular spot varies significantly.

2. A chance to meet fans. I’m under the impression that it’s exciting for fans to meet authors, but it works the other way, too — it’s very neat indeed to show up at a bookstore and see dozens of people (or more!) waiting to see you and meet you and being excited about your work. Writing is a process usually done alone and staring into a computer, and most writers are not so well known that they are stopped on the street by the adoring masses. A tour is a nice way to be assured that indeed, all of our hard work and hair-pulling angst in writing a novel does not result in the book falling down a dark hole; people really do read it, and like it, and show up to let us know about it. I assume other writers are grateful about that; I know I am.

3. An opportunity to road-test material. In my case, when I’m on the road, I try not to read from the book I’m touring, since presumably people either have already read it, or will be reading it once I sign their book. Instead, I present material from upcoming works, and that serves two purposes: One, it gives me an idea of how that particular piece is working with people who are core fans of my writing; two, it both rewards people for showing up to my reading (they get an exclusive sneak peak!) and if they like it, at least, gives them something to be excited about for the future.

4. See friends and other places. I live in rural Ohio and most of my friends live a significant distance away, so a book tour gives me a chance to get out of my little hometown for a bit and at most stops to spend some time with friends who I would not otherwise easily see. At nearly every stop on the tour there were at least a couple of friends I had not seen in a while and was happy to be able to spend at least a little time with. Also, occasionally on tour you have an opportunity to meet with people you have always wanted to meet, but managed not to up until that point. That’s fun too.

5. Most everything is paid for by someone else. Hotels, airfare, dinners? Paid for by the publisher or expensible. That’s fairly awesome.

So those are upside happy things. Now here are the disadvantages:

1. Discombobulation. What day is it? Where am I? What’s on my schedule that I have to do this time? There’s an actual rest of the world outside my tour? After a couple of days it really does become a blur, because usually at each stop one is heavily scheduled. It’s not just the event — there’s meeting with booksellers, signing stock, being driven about, doing interviews and other work on the road, and so on… and doing that all while constantly moving.

When I did my first tour for a novel, I was told I’d have a media escort at each stop, and I thought, why on earth would I need one of those? By the second stop I knew: Because you’re doing so much, and usually in a place where you don’t know where anything is, that you really do need someone to guide you around and sometimes do the simple things, like, you know, make sure you eat and make it to the airport for your next flight.

2. Performance mode. This isn’t an actual minus, but it’s taxing, which is why I put it in this category. When I do an event, I am essentially doing a live and generally high-energy performance: I do a significant chunk of reading, which I try to deliver in something other than a pedantic monotone, because that would suck; then I do a fairly extensive Q&A session, which obliges me both to think on my feet and to be entertaining while doing so, and then I do a signing session, which is an hour or more of making sure that everyone who gets a book signed feels they get at least a moment where it’s just them and me talking. When all is said and done it’s two or three hours of being on.

As fun as that is for me — and it is fun, a lot of fun — it’s also very tiring. When I’m done with what I call my “Performing Monkey Mode” at the end of every tour event, I’m usually wiped out. Friends with whom I go to dinner after an event usually notice it — I am quiet(er) and appear a little withdrawn and tired, and slightly dazed. And you do that every day for a couple of weeks.

3. Time pressure. So, the good thing about touring is that you get to see friends. The bad thing about touring is that you often don’t get to see them as much as you like, and the fact is, you’re working, and you have to fit your friends around that work. So often that means that someone you’d really like to spend an hour or two with you end up being able to spend maybe fifteen minutes with, or even just a couple of minutes in the signing line. And while I expect most of those folks know you’re busy and working and don’t hold it against you, it’s still not the best circumstance. And of course sometimes there are people you want to see, but then your schedules just don’t match up. So you’re in a town of one of your friends and what you end up doing is waving at their house as you fly out.

4. Isolation. You see friends, you see fans, you meet people on your tour. But you’re still out of your usual circumstances and you are usually flying solo and you are generally only in any one place for a short period of time, and you travel around a whole lot. So you end up spending a lot of time alone, and not just alone but alone away from familiar places and people. Which leads to being (for me) a little isolated and out of sorts. I tell people that my usual limit for being away from my wife, child and pets is about three days, and after that I start being cranky and moody. So now I’m on day fourteen of that, with a few more days to go. I’m pretty sure I’m not letting my existential yearning for home show much — and to be clear I’m still enjoying myself quite a bit and am looking forward to the last few days on the road — but it’s there. I am very much ready to be home and not having to go anywhere or do anything other than be with my family.

So there are the ups and downs of the life of the touring author, at least when the touring author is named John Scalzi. Other authors may tell slightly different tales. But I think in general we’d all say: these tours are a lot of fun, we have a wonderful time when we’re one them, and when they’re done, it’s nice to be home.

The “Fuzzy Man” Remix Contest!

Surely you remember how Paul & Storm wrote me a simply magnificent power ballad for my novel Fuzzy Nation? You do? Excellent. Well, now Paul & Storm are taking it to the next level and asking you — yes, you! — to remix their awesome song for a contest in which fabulous prizes will be given, including but not limited to signed, personalized editions of Fuzzy Nation and other Scalzi books.

You want details. Well, I want to give you details. And you can find all the details here, at the Paul & Storm remix contest page. Download the raw files, work your remix magic, and offer up your own version by 11:59, June 14, 2011. I’ll be looking forward to your beats and bloops and other musical thingies. Good luck, and tell all your friends.

And for those of you who somehow have managed not to hear the glorious awesomeness of the original, feast your ears, baby. Feast your ears:

Phoenix Tour Appearance and ComicCon Schedule

Attention Citizens of Phoenix and Arizona! As of tomorrow I will be among you in your fair (and I assume at this point rather warm) environs, both to do a tour appearance and to be a guest at Phoenix Comicon. The tour appearance is open to the public, while Comicon memberships at the door will be $40. Come to one, come to both — either way I’ll be happy to see you.

Here’s information on both:

TOUR STOP:

The final tour stop on the Fuzzy Nation book tour will be Saturday, May 28 at 5pm at The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ. I will be there, as will Sam Sykes, who will also be reading and signing. Then he and I will fight to the death. It will be fun.

(Technical note: In this instance “fight to the death,” means “make a few snarky comments and grin stupidly,” more or less. You still don’t want to miss it.)

(Seriously, come on down — this tour has been great so far and I just know you guys can help end it on a high note.)

(No pressure or anything.)

COMICON APPEARANCE SCHEDULE:

Author Round Up – Come meet several of our author guests in an informal chat session to find out what they’ll be doing during the weekend.
When: Thu, 8:00-9:00PM (Room 122 Sci Fi)

Sci-Fi Authors & Social Media – Authors today spend a lot of time online conversing with fans about their work and everything under the sun. How do they keep social media from taking over their lives, while making their online presence a good experience for them and their fans? Panelists: Cherie Priest, Jack Mangan, John Scalzi, Paul Cornell, Sam Sykes
When: Fri, 10:30-11:30AM (Room 122 Sci Fi)

Sci-Fi and Fantasy on TV – With such shows as FlashForward, Stargate Universe, The Dresden Files, and Star Trek: TNG under their belts, panelists look at their series’ work and discuss how their efforts worked (or didn’t) with the realities of TV production. Panelists: John Scalzi, Morgan Gendel, Robert J Sawyer
When: Fri, 12:00-1:00PM (Room 122 Sci Fi)

Just a Minute With Paul Cornell and Friends – Join Paul Cornell and special guests for a fun round of the British radio game show Just a Minute. Panelists: Paul Cornell
When: Fri, 6:00-7:00PM (Room 121)

The Big Idea – The Big Idea, a regular feature on “Whatever” (John Scalzi’s website), gives authors the chance to talk about the “big idea” that went into their novels. Join John and several of those authors for a look at their big ideas. Panelists: Cherie Priest, James A Owen, John Scalzi, Jordan Summers, Kevin Hearne, Sam Sykes, Janni Lee Simner
When: Sat, 10:30-11:30AM (Room 122 Sci Fi)

John Scalzi Spotlight – Phoenix ComiCon welcomes back Hugo award-winning author John Scalzi! He’ll be reading from something new and answering questions about his work, life, pets and his plans to take over the world. Panelists: John Scalzi
When: Sat, 12:00-1:00PM (Room 122 Sci Fi)

Beyond this I will have an author table I will be at when I am not causing mischief elsewhere.

So come to either or both and I hope to see you soon.

The Big Idea: Ellen Kushner

For longtime fans of the urban fantasy genre, the Bordertown series of anthologies hardly needs an introduction — it was literally one of the foundations of the genre when it emerged on the publishing scene in 1986. Now Welcome to Bordertown, introduces a new generation of readers to that gritty, magical place — and in doing so will open the door for them to a larger gathering of writers and readers who have been there before them. As Welcome to Bordertown’s co-editor Ellen Kushner explains in her Big Idea, this is not at all coincidental.

ELLEN KUSHNER:

They didn’t make me write an introduction to Welcome to Bordertown.  My co-editor, Holly Black wrote one, and Terri Windling, who invented Bordertown and edited 7 books about it, wrote the other (after we’d told her, “Terri, we’ll take care of everything, don’t worry! Well, maybe you can just write a short introduction . . . And by the way, could you check all the stories to make sure the street names are right? And what are the rules about getting to Bordertown, again? And we know you’re busy but . . . . ”).  The idea was that Original Series Creator would talk about how it all started, and Next Generation Hot Young Writer would explain how Original Series had changed her life.  Which left me happily sitting back and writing jacket copy.

But maybe I do owe some sort of introduction to the new volume.  I was, after all, in every one of Terri’s Bordertown anthologies from 1986 – 1998.  And I was the one who cornered Holly in a bar at the ALA in 2007 and said, “Wanna start the series up again, if I can get Terri to agree?”

So here it is:

My introduction to Welcome to Bordertown.

In the 1980s, prominent young fantasy editor Terri Windling and I were sharing an apartment with a rotating cast of characters on New York City’s then-still-seedy Upper West Side. My first novel, Swordspoint, was still looking for a publisher, without much success. We were both nursing broken hearts, and the doleful strains of Brian Ferry’s “More than This” were heard more often than either of us really likes to admit (with Prince and the Eurythmics to cheer things up).

As she explains in her Introduction, a publisher had asked Terri to come up with a new Shared World anthology.  So she was inviting some of the authors she had been nurturing to write something that combined traditional, folkloric elf stuff with the kinds of cities most of us were actually living in:  a fantasia of black leather jackets, clubs where you sweatily danced all night, and maybe some motorcycles for the kick.

I had only just bought my first leather jacket.

And there I was in the kitchen, hearing all this Bordertown stuff going down, and feeling all uncool and left out.  And I got up my nerve and said, “Um, Terri, would you want me to write something for this?”

She looked at me wide-eyed, and said, “Would you want to?”

As if I was too busy or too important or too literary or something.  Which was quite a joke, considering I’d only ever sold two short stories.  So I said, “Well, yeah!” And she gave me a deadline.  I was in.

But it turned out that the stories were supposed to be about teen runaways meeting on the mean streets, kids who trusted only each other because adults were dangerous.  And I wailed, “But my family was nice!  Other kids were mean to me!”

“Write about a kid coming from that background, then,” Terri said.

So I did.

After the tightly controlled language and emotions of Swordspoint, writing in the voice of the angsty romantic teen Charis was a fabulous slalom down the slope of story.  For the next volume, Terri and I wrote a novella together – and into Linny of “Mockery,” I poured all the shit I’d taken for being a girl who wanted attention for being clever and different, and was told (by other kids) to be cute and nice, instead.  At Terri’s side – in communion with the other writers helping to create this outsiders’ paradise of possibility and art – like my character, I found a way to work things out.

And it kept on happening.  At a time in my life when I lacked both confidence and discipline, I managed to write a story for every single one of the four volumes of the original anthology series.

I could do this because Terri was with me every step of the way.  When I was out of ideas, she brainstormed with me.  When I was out of confidence, she praised me (as in:  I’d leave newly-typed pages on the kitchen table at 2 a.m., with Does this suck? scrawled at the top, and crawl out for my orange juice at 11 to find No! Keep going! written beneath it).  And when I was out of energy, she gave me a deadline.

Three drafts ago, I thought this piece was going to be about how I talked Holly into reviving the series; she has, after all, gone on record in several interviews claiming she said she’d chew off her right arm to join the Bordertown writers – whereas I distinctly remember that when I shyly asked her, “Um, would you want to write one?” her exact words were:  “I would walk over broken glass to write a Bordertown story!”  I thought this was going to be about how Holly and I then went about rounding up what was left of the old gang for one more ride to the Border, and how we cunningly uncovered (and recruited) the next generation of “Bordertown kids” without letting them know what was up  (yeah, very Seven Samurai) . . . .

But I now see that it’s really about community.  Terri has always known you don’t just stumble across it; you have to create it.  She wanted there to be a place for all of us to meet, a liminal space between the elfin lands and the life we actually lived.

In creating Bordertown she created a community not just of writers (as Holly’s introduction movingly explains) but of readers. Ever since the new anthology was announced, I’m stunned at how many people have posted about how reading Bordertown changed – or even saved – their lives.  Terri gave us all a place to dream of,  a vision of a town where, when you find something good, you pass it on to others.  Which is just what Holly and I are hoping to do with the new volume.

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Welcome to Bordertown: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the Bordertown series Web site. Read Kushner’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.

The 2011 Hugo Voters Packet — Now Live!

If I’ve done anything useful at all in the history of Hugos, it’s help establish the idea that letting the potential Hugo voters get a packet of the nominated works to read and evaluate is a good thing for the process and for the award. I wasn’t the first person to think of it, mind you, but I helped give it a push in recent years, and the Worldcons have taken my initial efforts in the area and taken them to new and better heights.

So it pleases me to tell all y’all that this year the folks at Renovation, this year’s Worldcon, have once again worked with the authors, artists and publishers of the Hugo-nominated works this year (and the Campbell-nominated works too! Let’s not forget those!) to offer Hugo voters a free look at many of the nominees and in most of the categories. This will help them — you, if you choose to vote — to make an informed decision about how they will rank the works when it comes time to vote.

What’s available? Go here for the content list of the packet, and the formats in which the content is available.

How do you become a Hugo voter? Why, you sign up to be a member of Renovention, this year’s Worldcon, of course! Which you can do right at this link. You can sign up to be an attending member — which means you plan on coming to the actual convention in Reno this year (in which case, see you there) — or you can choose a Supporting Membership, which means you won’t attend the event but that you may vote for the Hugos. A Supporting Membership is $50 — i.e., less than the cost of all the Hugo-nominated novels included in the voter packet (not to mention everything else). If you’re a reader and love science fiction, you can see how voting in the Hugos turns out to be a pretty decent deal for you.

So check it out, get a membership, have fun reading, and vote. The Hugos are better the more people participate.

Nebula Weekend Recap

It was the Nebula Awards Weekend this last weekend, and the first of these that happened with me as the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and it was that fact that, as you may understand, made me hope that everything about it ran smoothly and well. Thus I am delighted to say that in my opinion, just about everything seemed to run smoothly and well. I do not personally take credit for this — that credit accrues to Nebula Weekend coordinator (and generally spectacular person) Peggy Rae Sapienza and her hardworking staff of volunteers — but as president I can officially be relieved. And thus, I am.

My own weekend was hella busy, because while most of the folks at the Weekend is there for relaxation, education, and the doling out of the Nebula Awards, I was there for meetings — a couple with the rest of SFWA’s Board of Directors (about whom I cannot say enough good things), one with the membership in general, and a few others generally attending to SFWA business. This followed by, of course, lots of hanging about in the bar and talking up a storm with other members and Nebula Weekend attendees. A result of this was right now my voice sounds like a frog being run through a strainer; since I actually have to speak tomorrow for the NYPL event, I’m going to try to spend most of today not saying a damn thing. I doubt people will recognize me.

The big event of the weekend was the Nebula Awards (note the name), and the ceremony was really excellent, if I do say so myself, thanks in particular to toastmaster Michael Swanwick, who kept the ceremony light and quick, and to our keynote speaker Michael Dirda, whose speech was observations of his own life on the periphery of the science fiction field. As for those big, shiny Nebula Awards, you can see who got to take one home in this list of awardees. As an observer of science fiction, I am very happy with this year’s Nebula crop, which I think very clearly shows the width and breadth of the genre and the variety of people who are writing it. As a person, I was especially delighted to be able to hand a Nebula to Rachel Swirsky, who made her first professional sale to me a few years ago. I told her at some point in our shared history that one day I would be on hand to see her get a Nebula. I liked being right about that.

For all that I was busy with business and being president and just plain being oh so very important, huff puff puff, I don’t think it’s any particular surprise that the best thing for me about the weekend was simply being able to see friends, many of whom were at the Nebs. Just to be able to sink into a bar chair, surrounded by a group of very clever people saying very funny things, is one of the great pleasures of life for me. I got a number of opportunities to do that this weekend, and to spend time with old friends and make some new friends as well, of whom one hopes that in time they will become old friends as well.

Oh, and I did laundry. So all of you in New York and Phoenix, where I will be next, need not be afraid of my emanations. A huge thank you to Storm — yes! Of Paul and Storm! — both for the use of his laundry facilities, and for a few hours of chill time. He is awesome in awesomely awesome ways, which are awesome.

In all, and for many reasons, just a really excellent weekend. I offer my sincere and genuine thanks to everyone who made it possible, from the folks who volunteered their time and efforts to my friends who, although they showed up for reasons other than just to make me happy, made me happy nonetheless. I can’t wait for next year’s Nebula Weekend.

Dialogue and Writing Excuses

I blew out my voice yesterday after a weekend of near-constant talking, so today I’m trying to be as quiet as possible (I know! Me!). But that doesn’t mean you can’t hear the dulcet tones of my voice — I’m featured on the most recent episode of Writing Excuses, the Hugo-nominated writing podcast hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells. In the episode I’m on, I and Brandon and Howard discuss dialogue, and why it’s important to read outside of the genres of science fiction and fantasy to make your dialogue more interesting. It’s a fifteen minute (or so) podcast, and worth the time investment.

Still Alive

Been super busy at the Nebulas, which is why I have not been about this weekend. Not that I don’t love you all. But being president of SFWA has priority this weekend. 

But tell me: how are you?

Reminder: Mass SFWA Book Signing (Including Me) in DC Today

If you are in or around Washington DC today, and you love science fiction and fantasy, you will want to be at the Washington Hilton between the hours of 5:30 and 7pm, at which time dozens of science fiction and fantasy authors, including Connie Willis, Joe Haldeman, Paolo Bacigalupi and yours truly, will be on hand to sign your books and make your day. Need books to sign? There will be books on hand to buy. It’ll be more science fiction and fantasy awesomeness in one place at one time than you’re likely to see in the nation’s capital for a long time. The event is open to the public (that means you). So come on down!

Here are all the details on where, when, how and who. See you there!