Daily Archives: March 8, 2012

What Does a SFWA Election Ballot Look Like?

It looks like this. This is the one that was sent to me in the mail the other day; most SFWA members should have likewise received theirs in the mail in the last couple of days (or will receive it in the next few). As noted earlier I am again running for President, and am doing so unopposed, although other positions, including VP, are contested. All the candidate position statements are in the mailing and on the SFWA private forums, although for the curious (and the SFWA members who don’t always read what’s in the ballot mailing and/or visit the private forums), the VP candidates have posted their statements on the Web. Rachel Swirsky has posted hers here; Lou Antonelli has posted his here.

If you’re a SFWA member, you should vote; remember that these will be the people who will steer the organization for the next year at least. Make sure they align with what you want the organization to be and do. I thank you in advance.

(As per usual with SFWA-related posts, comments on this one are turned off)

The Big Idea: Seanan McGuire

Two years ago, Seanan McGuire found herself crowned with the Campbell Award as the best new writer in science fiction and fantasy; a year after that, writing as Mira Grant, she found herself nominated for the Hugo for Feed. That’s a steep and impressive climb for a new writer. The secret? In my opinion, it’s that McGuire is having fun with her writing, which makes it a kick to read. McGuire is having even more fun now with Discount Armageddon, a book that features lizard-men and other creepy-crawlies, ancient monster-fighting religious orders and a ballroom dancing heroine putting herself between both groups. But beneath the fun of this book there’s some serious thought involved, about women, choice, and whether or not superpowers are a crutch. McGuire explains more.

SEANAN MCGUIRE:

The first horror movie I remember in any detail* was Night of the Comet, a 1980s-era epic about two girls who manage to survive the return of the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs. They face loneliness, mysterious red dust, killer zombies, evil scientists, and eczema, all in the name of reestablishing the human race. It would be charitable to say that I was influenced by this movie. Really, I was warped by this movie, which featured, among other things, a fluffy-haired blonde cheerleader who complained when she couldn’t have an Uzi. As in, “Daddy would’ve gotten us Uzis.”

(*Important distinction, since the first thing I can remember watching on a TV screen was the original Alien, when I was three. I liked the pretty flowers that hugged people…)

I was pretty much unsupervised in my television choices, since I didn’t have nightmares or set things on fire, so what was the harm in letting me watch whatever I wanted to? Consequentially, Night of the Comet was allowed to set the tone of my entire childhood. It was an endless stream of monster movies, science fiction shows, and reruns of my three favorite shows: The Addams Family, The Twilight Zone, and most especially of all, The Munsters. They had things in common, but the most important—to me—wasn’t immediately obvious.

They all had female characters who were important to the story, who did things, who made choices, but who had no superpowers whatsoever. Marilyn could have left 1313 Mockingbird Lane at any time. She could have had a totally normal life, far away from her monstrous relatives. And she chose to stay, because that was her family, and woe betide anyone who messed with Marilyn’s family.

As I got older, I really clung to that ideal, the woman choosing to live amongst the monsters because that was where she was happy. And lots of other things got into my head, including several years spent trying to figure out whether there was a baby lake monster living in my local creek, and several more spent studying folklore at a college level. It was a good life.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, things shifted. It stopped being okay to be a girl and make a choice: not only were the choices made for the female characters in most of the media I had access to, but they all had superpowers now, like it was totally impossible to believe that they could kick ass without a magical boost. This made me sad. I stewed on it for several years, because I am like a slow cooker of annoyance.

My friend Kate has another term for me. She calls me the cat toy.

We were watching So You Think You Can Dance on Fox—a reality show based around ballroom and modern dance styles—and there was this little blonde named Chelsea who could kick higher than her head without even trying.  I liked her a lot. I opined that someone who could kick higher than her head was not someone you wanted to meet in a dark alley. And Kate, who enjoys nothing more than watching me start putting together a new series, said, “Prove it.”

I’d had this setting in my head for a while, something that was sort of half-ecological conservation of things that aren’t supposed to exist, half-my response to the sudden evolution of the Final Girl into a combination victim/McGuffin.  (“Can she fly or kick your ass with her brain? Then she’s dead.”) It was built around a family who used to hunt monsters, and now took care of them.

A footnote: if you look at history, humanity has always been fond of monsters, and of girls and monsters. Dragons and princesses, virgins and unicorns, the occasional sea-monster sacrifice or temple maiden who ticked off the Greek gods.  That’s not all that’s in the historical record. For instance, did you know that the first recorded cholera outbreaks came shortly after the last recorded instance of a monarch (the King of France, to be specific) receiving the gift of a unicorn’s head?

Unicorns supposedly use their horns to purify water, you know. And cholera is a waterborne disease. On that foundation was the ecology of a world based: everything exists, or did once, and nothing exists in a vacuum. Kill the siren that sinks a ship every generation, free the Colossal squid that eats your entire village. It was a setting I loved. What it didn’t have was a way for me to get inside and start strewing shit around.

Enter Verity Price, latest in a long line of cryptozoologists. That whole “ex-monster hunter” thing gave me the excuse to make her a ballroom dancer, and her brother a medieval recreationist, and a bunch of other things, because naturally, the people who stayed monster hunters aren’t too thrilled with them. To the monster hunters, Verity and her family are traitors, not just to their cause, but to the entire human race.  So that means learning how to do your job as stealthily as possible, and turning ordinary, harmless-looking things—like ballroom dance—into a mechanism for kicking a lot of ass.

The other big component of this world was the mythology. I have my October Daye series, and I love them, but they’re limited to one primary mythology, the European conception of Faerie. I can take aspects of other mythologies, but it’s all still narrow.  That’s good for the story I’m telling there, which needs borders. I wanted a story without borders, or at least with very few…and I got it. In this world, in Verity’s world, every urban legend and cryptid story is true, to one degree or another. Yeti and waheela and tanuki and Madhura and everything. It’s like having a huge toy box full of wonderful things, and I get to play with all of them, as often as I want.  It’s amazing.

So it’s about family and about girls who choose and about monsters and people who love them and finding true things disguised as stories. And it’s about ballroom dance. Because who doesn’t love ballroom dance.

Discount Armageddon is about all of the above. Verity Price is away from home for the first time, she’s trying to find her place in the world, she’s trying to make her choice an informed one—and she’s trying to do her job. She wants to take care of the monsters, like a modern-day Marilyn with a much larger 1313 Mockingbird Lane under her care. And there’s ass-kicking and snark and all the other components of a madcap romp across the rooftops and through the sewers of Manhattan, but really, it’s about a girl, and a family, and a world full of monsters, and a choice. I want to see more choice in fiction. I want the chance to choose.

Also there are talking pantheistic demon mice who view absolutely everything as an excuse for a massive religious holiday culminating in a cheese and cake buffet. There was no way I could pass that up.

—-

Discount Armageddon: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit McGuires’ Livejournal. Follow her on Twitter.

The Collusion Case Against Publishers

I was asked what my thoughts are about the US Justice Department telling Apple and five major publishers (including Macmillan, where my Tor books are published out of) that it plans to sue them for collusion regarding ebook prices. My immediate thought is that if all of them were in fact stupid enough to have colluded, then sue away, United States Justice Department. If they were dumb enough to collude, then they get what they get.

My next thought, however, is that I’ll be interested in seeing if the case can be proven, because I don’t think they had to act in concert. That Apple would be aware that publishers would be desirous of agency pricing in a general sense is not hard to imagine; Apple doesn’t enter a market without knowing the players and how to leverage themselves to make a maximum splash and receive a maximum benefit. Once Apple made it known it would accept agency pricing (but not selling books at a higher price than other retail competitors), the publishing companies didn’t have to act in concert, although one of them had to be willing to bell the very large cat called Amazon by moving to the agency model.

I’ve long had a personal hypothesis — not based on any inside information, but simply my own read on the matter, I should be clear — that the reason it was Macmillan that challenged Amazon on agency pricing was that Macmillan is a privately held company, and thus immune from being punished short-term in the stock market for the action. Once it got Amazon to accept agency pricing, the other publishers logically switched over as well. This doesn’t need active collusion; it does need people paying attention to how the business dominoes could potentially fall.

Again, maybe they all did actively collude, in which case, whoops, guys. Stop being idiots. But if they did not, I suppose the question is: At what point does everyone knowing everyone else’s business, having a good idea how everyone else will act, and then acting on that knowledge, begin to look like collusion (or to the Justice Department’s point, actively become collusion)? My answer: Hell if I know, I’m not a lawyer. I do know most of these publishers have a lot of lawyers, however (as does Apple), and I would imagine they have some opinions on this.

The Wall Street Journal article I point to above notes that there has been discussion of a settlement, and specifically that “One idea floated by publishers to settle the case is to preserve the agency model but allow some discounts by booksellers.” I would not be entirely surprised if in the end, for what everyone involved would claim is for entirely practical reasons, and with a canny rhetorical nod toward “creating a vibrant market and protecting consumer choice,” there is a settlement along these very lines. I suppose we will see.

The Justice Department is nominally working in the interests of the American people in this case, but this is also something of a proxy battle between these five publishers (and Apple) against Amazon; a continuation of the fight, by other means, regarding agency pricing, begun in 2010. With regard to that aspect, I know people wonder whose side I’m on, not with just this but in a wider “publishers vs. retailers” sense. I think this is a fundamentally silly question, because we’re not watching a football game here. People who view this somehow as a binary “us against them” argument likely have a view of the publishing world that is most politely described as “charming.”

Look: I have work at Macmillan (my Tor books) and at Penguin (my Rough Guide books), and at HarperCollins (an anthology I contributed to). I also have several works at Audible and Brilliance Audio, which are owned by Amazon (Amazon has also recently launched several publishing imprints, becoming a “traditional” publisher itself). Concurrently, a disproportionately large percentage of my sales (relative to authors in general) come through eBooks, and Amazon sells the majority of those, and sells a fair number of my print work, too. I also sell a very healthy number of books, electronic and otherwise, through Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, who have their own set of concerns about both Amazon and publishers. On top of this many of my publishers, large and small, also have direct retail sales channels complementing their sales through retail. My work sells through all of those channels.

I have obvious professional and economic interests with everyone above. From my point of view, who are the publishers of my books (and the books of others) and who are the retailers is already jumbled, in a way that’s not necessarily obvious to outside observers. No matter who “wins” a particular argument up there at the level of the corporate and governmental titans, there’s going to be fallout for me as a working writer. There’s also going to be fallout for readers and customers, since however you classify a corporate entity, as a publisher or a retailer, their corporate bottom line does not always (or sometimes even often) coincide with your own interests.

The question of whose side I am on is simple and obvious, to me at least: I’m on my side. My side wants my work available to readers in a way that that is affordable and easy to get in whatever format they prefer while at the same time allowing me to make a living doing what I do. In a larger sense, I’m also on the side of other writers, so that the end result of all this punching back and forth is not that authors are obliged to take contractual or retail positions that are detrimental to their interests, either as businesspeople or rights holders. Basically, my side doesn’t want anyone else to screw up what I see is the actual goal of all of this as a working writer, namely, connecting my words to readers, and their cash to me.

So my side is watching all of this with interest, as it does with every publishing event that has an impact on how it does business. If any of you thought the life of the writer was just sitting in a quiet room spinning stories, I say unto you: Ha. You crack me up.