Monthly Archives: January 2012

P.S.

Because thinking about starving kittens actually made me a little sad, I just donated some money to the Humane Society of Greater Dayton. Now maybe some actual kittens will be rescued and fed and given to good homes.

Yes, I’m a sap. Sue me.

How Extraordinarily Subtle Online Self-Promotion Is Done

Two days into Tor.com’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards voting, and my novel Fuzzy Nation is doing just fine — it’s number nine in the Best Novel listings at the moment, so thanks. But I gotta tell you, the Tor.com 2011 Readers’ Choice Award I’m coveting — we’re talking 10th Commandment level coveting — is the Short Story Tor.com 2011 Readers’ Choice Award, for which my story “Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” is totally eligible. Totally.

Now, I’m not saying that you should stop whatever it is you are doing right this instant and nominate “Shadow War” over at the Tor.com 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards. I know that wouldn’t work; you are all too smart, and independent-minded, and attractive, and smell too much of warm, fresh baked bread and victory, to be swayed by such a crass and transparent exhortation by me. I would ashamed to even suggest such a thing. What I will say is that I have strong evidence that every time someone nominates “Shadow War” in the Tor.com 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards, a small, wee starving kitten is fed a bowl of fresh cream.

Not that this should sway you in any way, mind you.

I’m not even sure why I brought it up.

So, if you just happen to nominate “Shadow War” in the Tor.com 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards, after serious thought and consideration for its artistic merits, I would be grateful. And so would the kittens. Those poor starving little kittens, just hoping against hope for a fresh bowl of cream.

Thank you for thinking of the kittens.

(Oh, and if while you were there you wanted to vote for other short stories — and novels, and art — by other people, that’s cool too, because the rules of the Tor.com 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards allow you to nominate as many stories, novels and art as you want. It won’t do anything for the kittens, mind you. But you might make the story authors happy. And I guess that’s okay.)

The Big Idea: Daniel O’Malley

There’s an observation, made by humorist Robert Benchley, that says that a man may do remarkable things, so long as it’s not the thing he’s supposed to be doing at the time. Daniel O’Malley has put that into practice — from a series of boring meetings has come the idea that animates his novel The Rook. And the idea? Well, let’s just say it’s something like identity theft, only much cooler and with more intriguing implications. O’Malley will explain it to you now.

DANIEL O’MALLEY:

How well could someone fake being you?

Put aside the issues of looking like you, or having your fingerprints, or matching your voice. Those things are taken care of. But how well could they walk into your place of employment, wearing your clothes (and your body), and conduct your business, without anybody suspecting that there was something extremely suspicious going on?

The reason I initially asked myself this question is that, in the course of my education and my career, I’ve had to attend a lot of meetings. And I tend to get bored during meetings. Not every meeting, you understand, but a lot of them. And when I’m bored, I will occasionally pretend that I’ve just been placed into my body, and now must pass for myself. It’s not necessarily the most professional of pastimes, but it keeps me entertained for a little while. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that, in order to take someone’s place as them, to take over their life, you’d really, really need to plan ahead.

Now, personally, I like to plan ahead. I don’t enjoy flying by the seat of my pants. I’m not the kind of person who, on a vacation, will just breeze into a town, and assume that a bed will present itself. This may be the result of my once failing to book accommodation in New York City during a layover, and ending up sleeping in the airport. I was woken up by a security guard who ordered us to move on (‘us’ being me and the homeless gentleman who had apparently curled up next to me while I was asleep), and I spent the rest of the night drowsing fitfully in one of those chairs where you sit when someone is polishing your shoes.

In any case, I like to plan ahead. The idea of planning out everything you’d need to take over someone else’s life seemed like a cool idea to me.

In my novel The Rook, a woman with no memories takes on the identity of her former self, a woman named Myfanwy Thomas. Myfanwy Thomas (the former) knew that she would be losing all her memories. She also liked to plan ahead. She has left behind letters and files and dossiers, prepping her successor for the mission of, well, being Myfanwy Thomas. Also for the mission of figuring out who has betrayed her and stolen her memories.

This was the big idea, out of which everything else spiraled. It kept prompting questions. How could Myfanwy Thomas know that her memories were going be stolen? For that matter, how can you steal someone’s memories, anyway? And how many suspects can there be wandering around for whom memory theft is a viable modus operandi? And who the hell are these people? And why don’t we (the normal people) hear about them? And what do they do all day?

Seriously, I had no idea what the answers were going to be when I started writing this book. The first question in particular, gave me some real problems, even though it ended up defining what sort of book it was going to be.

So, Myfanwy Thomas (the one with amnesia) has to come into work, pretending to be her former self.  Naturally, work ain’t a normal place of business. When you’re Myfanwy Thomas, you’re a high-ranking commander in the Checquy, a secret Government organization that fights (and is staffed by) the supernatural. If you’re masquerading as her, you’ve got a lot of high-level responsibilities. Plus, you also have those first-day-at-work nerves, compounded by the fact that you’re faking pretty much everything. Which is a feeling that everyone has probably experienced at one point or another. I was able to tap into some pretty gut-churning memories when writing those parts.

And it isn’t just the big things, like dispatching troops, or briefing the Prime Minister. It’s trying to keep track of the multitude of little things that make us who we are. How you like your coffee. How you interact with specific people. How you sign your name. How you activate your supernatural ability to control others. Can you stay in character all the time? And for how long? And really, what proportion of who you are is defined by what you remember, by your experiences? And how long can you angst about all that while Belgian alchemists are invading the nation?

In the course of answering all these questions (and many others, which insisted on presenting themselves), I wrote The Rook.

—-

The Rook: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf link). See the book trailer. Read the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

 

 

I’m DJing a Dance at Capricon XXXII, or, BWA HA HA HA HA HAH HA

Last year, when I was the Guest of Honor at Capricon XXXI, I made the offhand and not especially serious comment that I would come back the next year and DJ their 80s dance for them. To which Sondra De Jong, the convention chair for Capircon XXXII, said “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED” (more or less, I may be paraphrasing).

And thus, I have indeed been roped in to DJ a 80s-themed dance at Capricon XXXII, which takes place February 9 – 12. And this is what I have to say about that:

ZOMG YOU GUYS IT’S GOING TO BE SO AWESUM.

Seriously.

Also: Cory Doctorow’s the Guest of Honor. So there’s that too.

More details about the dance (like, which actual night of the convention) to come. And yes, I’ll probably be doing other stuff at the convention too. But I’m mostly there for the dance, man.

Clarion Workshop: Now Accepting Applications for 2012

Hey, weren’t you just saying to yourself, “Damn, I wish I could take part in an awesome, intensive six-week workshop in science fiction and fantasy, taught by amazing writers like Jeffrey Ford, Marjorie Liu, Ted Chiang, Walter Jon Williams, Holly Black, and Cassandra Clare, in a fantastic San Diego setting?” I’m pretty sure I heard you saying that. Because I was over here when you said that. Lurking. As I do.

Well, I have excellent news for you, because, in fact, this year Clarion, the amazing six-week science fiction and fantasy workshop, taking place on the campus of University of California, San Diego, is being taught by none other than Jeffrey Ford, Marjorie Liu, Ted Chiang, Walter Jon Williams, Holly Black, and Cassandra Clare. I know! The coincidence, it is astounding.

And in even better news, the application period for this year’s Clarion class is open and runs through March 1st. So now is the time to get your stories together and submit them. Here are the details.

As most of you know, I taught at Clarion last year, and I’m here to tell you that it’s a great experience for developing writers. You get up-close and personal instruction from some of the best writers in the genre,  and get the benefit of both their skills in the craft and their real-world publishing experience. And you spend six weeks with fellow emerging writers, developing a bond and friendships that last for years. Talk to any Clarion grad and they’ll tell you that it is one of their foundational experiences as a writer. This year’s faculty is pretty damn awesome, with more award winners, New York Times bestsellers and cross-media experience than you can shake any number of proverbial sticks at. 

Also: Dude. San Diego. I could eat fish tacos every day, man.

Thus endeth my sales pitch. Except to say: If you want to write good science fiction and fantasy, and a workshop is what you’re looking for, I don’t see you regretting the Clarion experience. Get to it, people.

Tor.com Reader’s Choice Awards: Nominations Open!

Irene Gallo, who rules Tor.com with an iron fist (no, no, really, she’s awesome) has let me know that the site has started the 2011 edition of its Reader’s Choice Awards, and they want you to nominate in four categories: Best Novel, Best Short Story, Best Comic and Best Book Cover. Follow the link above for all the details and to nominate your favorite works of the last year.

Need help jogging your memory about what was published last year? Tor.com’s compiled some lists to jog your memory at the link — and of course there was the Award Awareness thread here as well (see, you knew it would come in handy). Also, you know, there are these things too.

Have fun nominating!

Fantasy Films 2012 and (Separately) 3D

This week over at FilmCritic.com I’m answering mail and talking about the fantasy films of the year I’m looking forward to, and what it means that Hollywood is re-releasing some of the 90s’ most popular films to theaters in 3D. You want to know the answers to both of these. You cannot live without knowing the answers to both of these. Seriously, if you don’t go over and read this column right now, I’m pretty sure your lungs will collapse. So go read the column. Your alveoli thank you in advance.

How I Feel About New Hampshire

Meh. Romney’s going to win it, someone else will come in second place (why not Huntsman?) and then it’s on to South Carolina, where Romney will win it and someone else will come in second place, wash, rinse, repeat through the rest of the primary season. It’s amusing that the remaining candidates, particularly Gingrich, are castigating Romney for being a rich corporate suit, but, you know. In the particular case of Gingrich, when you’ve got a six-figure line of credit at a high-end department store Tiffany’s, get paid millions to be a “historian” and have billionaire pals willing to slip you five million here and there to run nasty ads about your opponents, there’s only so far the outrage can go before it gets clubbed to death by the irony.

That said, as an outside observer it’s fascinating to watch Gingrich go Full Gingrich at this point. I give him credit for trying to be nice for a while there, which suited him about as well as a vegan smorgasbord suits a hyena, but now he’s giving full throat to his petulant rage and he is imperial. In his tiny black heart he knows the presidency will never be his and now he’s set on Romney with the philosophy “I may not win but I can promise you will lose.” And of course the rest of the field is doing the same, because, hey, dogpile.

Too late. Romney isn’t likely to lose the nomination at this point, and if he did there’s no one left in the GOP field who could beat Obama (I’d say Huntsman could strictly on policy, but since he actually worked for Obama, I think that’s poisoned the well among the core “Obama’s a Nigerian Socialist” demographic). It’s possible Romney could beat Obama, but inasmuch as Gingrich et al seem devoted to hamstringing him as much as possible between now and the end of the primaries, the Democrats are seeing about half their job being done for them already. Mind you, Romney’s not helping himself either, with utterances like “I like firing people,” joining “Corporations are people” as Lines That Make Your Opposition Gleeful. Yes, in context it makes more sense. It’s still a pretty clueless blunder.

(Bear in mind that come the general election, the GOP will be doing their damndest to suggest that it’s Obama who is the clueless elitist, not Romney, despite his being the scion of a political family, a business history as a corporate raider, and a personal net worth of $250 million dollars. Obama’s not exactly hurting for cash, I would note (he’s a very successful author, you know), and I’m not going to suggest that the former editor of the Harvard Law Review and former senator of the State of Illinois (not to mention, you know, the President of the United States) has not, in fact, ascended into the ranks of the nation’s elite. And lord knows that the GOP did a fine job of framing George Bush, scion of a political family with a personal net worth of millions, as an ordinary guy. I just think that job’s going to be harder with Romney.)

Still, at the end of the day, things are as they were. Romney’s going to win New Hampshire, and I strongly suspect the nomination, because deep in their hearts GOP voters actually want a chance to win the White House. Gingrich is too toxic. Ron Paul is too out there. Santorum is too unapologetically bigoted. Huntsman is too late. It really is Romney or electoral oblivion.

What Romney really needs to do at this point is win New Hampshire and the next several primaries in a convincing enough fashion and quell all dispute, before Gingrich and the rest of the GOP field stab him enough to bleed him out before the general. Despite the Republican delusion of Obama as a stumbling buffoon, let’s remember that a black man named Barack Obama doesn’t get to be president in the United States, even now, without knowing a little bit about how to win an election. If the GOP field spills most of Romney’s blood before he even gets to the general, that will suit Obama just fine.

The Big Idea: Marissa Meyer

Fairy tales have been around for centuries — and will be around for centuries because their core stories are adaptable to changing times and circumstances. If you doubt this, take a gander at Cinder, author Marissa Meyer’s new take on the Cinderella story. What changes does she make and what do they mean for the story of the girl with the slipper? Meyer explains how moving Cinderella out of the past and into the future has given the story new life in the present.

MARISSA MEYER:

My Big Idea for Cinder might just be the smallest idea in the book.

“Cinderella… as a cyborg.”

Four little words that still epitomize the novel, describing its general concept just as succinctly as they did three years ago, when I first heard them. They came as I was falling asleep, floating in that delirious state between waking and dreaming, when practically anything can seem like a novel-worthy idea. Cinderella… as a cyborg.

It clicked, immediately. The character filled up my head as I lay there in the dark—a girl oppressed by society and her step-family. A girl slaving away on robots and hovercars, using her built-in skills to earn her keep. A girl with one mechanical hand and one mechanical foot, her identity forever trapped between human and machine.

Her story began unfolding so fast I had to get out of bed and jot it down before I lost it, and though I found my notes mostly jumbled and nonsensical the next morning, the Big Idea lingered. And grew.

Though that night may have knocked the dominoes over, I’d been setting them up for months, since the first Slightly Smaller Idea had come to me: I’m going to write a series of futuristic fairy tales. I’d been brainstorming since, making lists of my favorite fairy tales and beloved space-opera tropes. Things like evil regimes and high-tech weaponry, androids equipped artificial intelligence, and sexy spaceship captain. I kind of have a thing for spaceship captains. I’d been toying with visions of Rapunzel trapped in a satellite rather than a tower, or Snow White in a suspended animation tank instead of a glass coffin.

Little ideas—little dominoes in a neat little line—until Cinder came stomping through and kicked them all over.

It seemed almost inevitable at the time.

Cinderella, as a cyborg. Obviously.

But those four easy words that dropped into my brain that night, in such a tidy little package, don’t begin to touch on all the ideas that shoved their way into the story afterwards.

They make no mention of the deadly plague sweeping my futuristic Earth, creeping ever closer toward the major cities. Or the cyborg draft that’s been instated to find an antidote—whatever the cost.

They say nothing about a beloved sister or a spunky android or a wise doctor who’s slowly losing his mind.

They do not even hint at an entire race of evolved humans with mysterious powers of mind-control, residing on the moon and waiting for the right moment to strike.

It’s impossible to look at those words and see how they’ve been transformed into a story that’s taken up so much space in my head, it required not one book to write it, but four. Each inspired by a different classic fairy tale and introducing new heroes and heroines to a cast that includes misfits and royalty, soldiers and thieves, computer hackers and genetically-modified mutants.

And, always, a cyborg Cinderella.

It is a Big Idea. One that’s easy to pitch and fun to say and translates well to a cover with a mechanical foot inside a glass slipper. But it pales in comparison to all those other ideas that have fused together to make up Cinder, a novel that has refused to stay confined within four simple words.

Thankfully, my publisher has given me four whole books to do the story justice. Challenge accepted. Let the Lunar Chronicles begin.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. See the book trailer. Visit the author’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.

I Has a Duh

Today is just one of those days when my brain leaves a note that says “Unnnnnnnnghhh” tacked to the mental corkboard in my head, and then is out for the rest of the day. I spent most of the morning trying to be clever and failing miserably, and then most of the afternoon trying to just write coherent sentences and blowing that, too. So I’m giving up for the rest of the day and will just watch movies with explosions in them. Let’s try this again tomorrow, shall we?

One Additional Thing For You to Consider For a Hugo, Not From Me

This:

I believe the correct category for this would be “Best Related Work,” and it’s related, obviously, because it was inspired by (and commissioned by me for) my novel Fuzzy Nation. Paul Sabourin and Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo (otherwise known as “Paul & Storm“) are the songwriters.

Note: For everyone else wanting to suggest things (not from me) for awards this year, I’ll have a fan suggestion thread coming up, probably in the next few days. Patience.

In Which I Meet Some Authors

Because it amuses me, allow me to recount my encounters with authors before I was a published author.

* At 10 (I know it was this age because it was the age I broke my leg), a moderately famous YA author came to speak at my elementary school, and upon seeing my leg cast, proceeded to sign it, which was nice of him. Later in the day, one of my classmates licked her finger and moved to pretend smudge it out, but then actually connected with the cast and smudged the name. So now I can’t remember the name of the author. As a small bit of irony, the kid who smudged the name off my cast would spend the entire fifth grade in a full-torso scoliosis cast. If I were back in elementary school, I would call it justice, but at age 42, I recognize that a scoliosis cast just kind of sucks for any kid.

* At 12 I met Ray Bradbury not once but twice, once at a book fair at a local community college, and once when he spoke at the Glendora Public Library, where I was a junior aide. A good friend tells me he was slightly rude to me at the community college event, but I have no memory of that myself; at the library event, which I do remember, he was in fact quite nice to me. I would later write about the Glendora event in the introduction to the Subterranean Press super-deluxe edition of The Martian Chronicles.

* In 1991 or ’92, when I was at my first job at The Fresno Bee newspaper, I pitched a story to my editor about graphic novels being the new hip thing, mostly so I could interview Neil Gaiman on the phone. And indeed he and I had a nice 30 or 40 minute chat, and then I filed the story. I mentioned this to Neil not too long ago; I believe he was amused.

* When I first got on the Internet in the early 90s, I sent Allen Steele my very first piece of fan mail, in e-mail form, and noted to him that he and I both went to Webb Schools, although I went to the one in California and he went to the one in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. His response was polite and friendly and non-committal, which is a skill I have since learned for many of my own fan letters.

* Not too long afterward, I sent an e-mail to Steve Boyett. I had picked up a used copy of Architect of Sleep, since it was out of print, and asked him if he’d like to be paid for it anyway. He very politely declined. It took me years to figure out one of the reasons he might have declined, aside from it just not being important to him, is that in the days before PayPal, you’d have to give people a physical address. And maybe it’s not a good idea to let random people on the Internet know where you live (it’s still not a good idea, incidentally).

* While at AOL in the mid-90s, I once instant messaged AC Crispin out of the blue to ask her a clueless newbie writer question. She was polite with me but annoyed at the random intrusion, as well she should have been. I have since apologized to her for it, although (again quite understandably) when I told her about it she had no memory of it whatsoever.

* Additionally, at AOL in the mid-90s there was a science fiction forum on which Orson Scott Card hung out from time to time, and in it, he posted an early electronic version of his novel Children of the Mind, which I downloaded and read with glee, and then sent him an e-mail swearing that I would actually pay for the thing when it came out. He politely thanked me. For the record, I did pay for the thing when it came out. In hardcover, even.

* One of my jobs at America Online was being an editor of a humor area, which gave me a perfect excuse to contact James Lileks, whose newspaper columns (and books thereof) I was a fan of, and ask him if he wanted to write some stuff for me. He did! It’s amazing how writers will want to write for you if you offer them money. This same tactic also worked with cartoonist Ted Rall. And one of the writers who submitted work to my humor area was David Lubar, who would also later become a published author, most prominently of the “Weenies” series of spooky stories for kids.

* In 2000, I thought about creating a site where I would interview science fiction authors about their latest books, called “OtherView,” and created a beta version of the site so I could show folks who might be interested in funding the site (don’t laugh, I created a very successful video game review site called “GameDad” just this way). I interviewed two authors: Orson Scott Card, with whom I had already once chatted, and Paul Levinson, who at the time was the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I remember asking him it was like to be the president of that particular organization. Now, of course, I know.

* I sold Old Man’s War in 2002, so after that I started interacting with rather more authors and they knew of me as a writer, and that my book had been sold (if not yet published), so that changed the dynamic of things a bit. That said, I will recount one final story, which I think is amusing. My very first science fiction convention ever was Torcon 3 in Toronto in 2003; while there, I want to the Tor party, which was (as always) massively packed, so I walked into a side room for a breather and stood next to this older fellow, who either was not wearing a nametag, or was and I didn’t look at it. He was quite avuncular and charming and amusing, so he and I chatted for a decent amount of time, after which he excused himself to wander off. When he left, I turned to a guy who was standing nearby and asked him if he knew the name of the fellow I’d just been chatting with. He looked at me like I was an idiot, and said, “yeah, that guy? That was Robert Silverberg.”

And there you have it.