Monthly Archives: March 2012

Last Two Days to Nominate for the Hugos

As the Toastmaster of this year’s Worldcon, I feel it is incumbent upon me to remind you that you have only until Sunday, March 11, 2012, 11:59pm Pacific, to get in your Hugo (and Campbell!) Award nominations in for this year. If you are able to nominate but don’t, I’m pretty sure that the rest of your life will be lived with the bitter taste of regret ashen in your mouth. Yes, that’s exactly how it will be.

Here is the online nominating ballot. You will need your membership number and your Hugo Voting PIN. Check your e-mail queue; there’s likely to be an e-mail about it in there (presuming you are a qualified nominator).

Here’s a list of works/people eligible, from authors/creators. Here’s a list of recommendations from fans. And, if you need it, here’s what stuff of mine is eligible this year.

Go forward and nominate, my friends!

Tor is Looking for a Senior Publicist

I don’t generally post job ads on Whatever, but on the other hand I think the people in the Tor publicity department are generally awesome people, and they’re looking for a new senior publicist who gets the kind of world they work in (i.e., Nerds! Lasers! Dragons!) and it seems like, I don’t know, some of you might be into that, or know someone qualified who is.

So here’s a job ad for a senior publicist position at Tor Books. If you’re interested and(!) you meet the job requirements, you can contact Patty Garica, Tor’s Director of Publicity, at torpublicity@tor.com.

Position Description:

Tor/Forge Books seeks a highly-motivated and creative Senior Publicist to join its publicity team. The ideal candidate will have four to five years publicity experience, possess excellent writing and organizational skills, have relationships with key print, broadcast and electronic media, and have a successful track record in publicizing a variety of genres, including gaming. Knowledge of WoT a plus.

Major Responsibilities:

  • Develop and execute publicity plans and work closely with high profile authors
  • Securing media coverage (broadcast, print, online)
  • Liaising with and writing press announcements for major gaming properties
  • Booking and coordinating author tours and events
  • Active role with monthly #Torchat on Twitter; includes topics for discussion, releases and moderating

Required Skills / Knowledge:

  • Strong relationships with key broadcast, print and electronic media
  • Active Twitter presence and/or social media outreach
  • Ability to prioritize, meet deadlines and work independently
  • Experience multitasking while working in a fast paced, energetic environment
  • Exceptional organizational skills and interpersonal skills
  • Superior verbal and written communication skills
  • Occasional travel one to two times a year
  • Knowledge of gaming industry a plus

Experience Needed:

  • Minimum of four years book publicity experience

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.

Speech and Kirk Cameron

Kirk Cameron, former child star and current subscriber to an apparently particularly uneducated brand of evangelical Christianity, is shocked and appalled that when he makes public statements on a nationally-televised talk show about homosexuality (and thus, the people who are homosexual) being “unnatural” and detrimental to civilization, there are a large number of people who will react to such a public statement by taking it upon themselves to mock him for it. He says:

I should be able to express moral views on social issues, especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years — without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach ‘tolerance’ that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I’m in the public square.

Well, Kirk Cameron, here’s the thing. You are correct when you say you should be able to express your moral views on social issues, and as a staunch defender of the First Amendment, I will defend to the death your right to say whatever ridiculous, ignorant and bigoted thing that has been fermenting in that cracked clay pot you call a brain pan. But the First Amendment also means that when you say such things, other people have the a right to mock you and the silly, stupid words that have dribbled out of your skull through that word hole above your chin. If you call someone “unnatural,” they might call you an “asshole.” That’s the deal.

To put it another way: The First Amendment guarantees a right to speech. It does not guarantee a right to respect. As I am fond of saying, if you want people to respect your ideas, get better ideas. Likewise, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence. If you’re going to parade around on television engaging in hateful bastardry, then, strangely enough, people will often call you out on it. They may also call you out on the hypocrisy of maintaining that when you say that the way someone else lives is unnatural and detrimental to civilization, you mean it with love, but when they call your words bigoted trollspeak, they’re crossing a line or engaging in slander — the legal concept of which, incidentally, you don’t appear to understand very well, nor libel, which generally speaking is probably more applicable in this case, you crazy public figure, you.

(You’re also wrong about homosexuality being unnatural — birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it! —  not to mention, of course, that the imputation that “unnatural” means “wrong” is one of those stupid things people say when they haven’t thought through the implications of the assertion. I mean, you’re aware television is “unnatural,” right? So are pants. So are eyeglasses, cell phones, indoor plumbing, the Growing Pains complete second season on DVD, and just about any weapon more complicated than a rock. The rule I would like to apply moving forward is that anyone using “unnatural” as an intrinsic reason for something being bad or wrong must commit to a life of Rousseauean simplicity in a location untrammeled by the unnatural accoutrements of human civilization. I recommend the forests of Papua New Guinea or any place in Siberia, so long as it is above the Arctic Circle.)

Kirk Cameron, I fully support your right to speak your mind about moral views. I also fully support the rights of other people to criticize you and those views, and also their right to be mean to you while doing so, and not just because, in my opinion, it’s mean and not in the least bit loving to suggest gays are detrimental and destructive, simply by existing and loving who they choose to love and refusing to accept your desire for them not to be who they are. You’re entitled to your stupid, petty, awful, hateful bigoted opinion. Everyone else is entitled to call it exactly what it is.

Lopsided Cat Would Like to Welcome You to Whatever’s 7,000th Post

“Hello, you talking monkey things. I have been informed that we have arrived at the occasion of the 7,000th entry on Whatever, and that as is custom with you incomprehensible monkey things, this occasion must be marked with some special event. So here is the special event. First, I will sleep. Then I will doze. Then I will nap. Then, I will come to your house and deliver a disemboweled but still living creature onto your doorstep. As is the custom of my people. Then I will stare at you, unsettlingly, for several minutes without blinking. This is also the way of my people.

“What is that, incomprehensible talking monkey things? You do not wish for a living but eviscerated creature to be delivered to your door? Well, fine. Refuse my gifts, then. I will speak no more to you, monkey things. You go now. I have napping to attend to. It’s serious business. Clearly you wouldn’t understand. Incomprehensible talking monkey things understand so little.”

He’s Not Winning, He’s Just Not Losing

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikinews

Super Tuesday come and gone and Romney is doing what Romney apparently does, which is gather to delegates to himself in the least impressive way possible. It takes a special presidential candidate to outspend his main rival four to one in Ohio and yet win the state with only a 1% margin — correction, it takes a special candidate to outspend his main rival who is an unmitigated public bigot in Ohio and yet win with only a 1% margin — and it appears that Romney is that candidate.

Meanwhile Santorum, the unmitigated public bigot in question, won three states and led in Ohio for a substantial portion of the evening before dropping only a single percentage point behind Romney in the final tally. That’s more than enough for him to stay in the race, particularly because the next stretch of primary states are in the South and Midwest, i.e., not Romney’s best territory in that they’re full of evangelicals and/or blue-collar folks. Looking at the primary calendar, in fact, it’s not until April 24 that Romney gets a batch of states that look generally friendly to him — that’s the day a bunch of Northeast states vote — and even then Pennsylvania’s in there to mess up his math.

My predictions in this primary season have been atrocious, so no one should actually rely on my opinion, but it looks to me like Romney, despite all his cash and the fact that Santorum is objectively terrifying to people outside the Conservabubble, might not actually wrap this up until the whole damn primary season finishes up in June. Santorum is running strong enough to pick up some of the more conservative states, and, hey, who knows, maybe Gingrich will pick up another pity primary or two down there in the South. Or maybe Romney doesn’t wrap it up at all, and we have that fabled brokered convention that makes all the politinerds squee with delight. And then what? A brokered Romney/Santorum ticket? Man, I get the twitchy giggles just thinking about that one.

(Dear GOP: A Romney/Santorum ticket would be like handing Barack Obama the largest, most delicious fruit basket ever created. Delivered by a pony. A sparkly pony. With ribbons in its mane. Named “Buttercup.” Just so you know.)

Now, those of you with a sense of memory may point out that Obama didn’t wrap up his nomination until June 2008 (and that before then, there were 20 debates between the Democratic candidates, nearly as many as the Republican candidates had this electoral season), and that the partisan rancor between the Obama and Clinton camps was pretty impressive. Didn’t stop Obama from taking the White House. This is a fair point. It’s also a fair point to note that 2008 was a year with no incumbent in the White House — and the incumbent being reasonably popular and currently benefiting from a (slowly) growing economy — for whom an extended primary season is beneficial, since it keeps his eventual opponent busy beating up and spending money on someone else. And as Santorum is to the right of Romney, it will also make it harder for him to pivot to the center later, to pick up all those independents he’ll need to actually win.

It’s also fair to note that on the GOP side in 2008, McCain locked up the GOP nomination on March 4. This year’s primary calendar wouldn’t have made locking up the nomination entirely likely, but there’s no reason that by this time someone couldn’t have been a prohibitive favorite for the nod. Romney, who was supposed to be, still isn’t.

And, I don’t know. In a way that’s heartening, I suppose. If Romney has shown us anything this year, it’s that you can have nearly all the money in the world it’s possible to have thrown into your campaign and still be fundamentally unattractive to a large number of the people you need to convince to be the GOP nominee. Money isn’t everything in this campaign, although so far it’s been just barely enough to keep Romney in the winning column. I do wonder what’s going to happen when Romney finally gets to the general election and has an opponent that he can’t outspend four or five to one, with the hope of eaking out another low-single-digit victory.

Actually, I’m lying — I don’t really wonder. I in fact have a pretty good guess what’s going to happen to him. I don’t suspect he’s going to like it.

The Big Idea: E.C. Myers

Fair Coin, the debut novel is from E.C. Myers, is about wishes, and the complications that come from getting your wishes granted. This is interestingly coincidental for me because just the other day I was talking to my daughter about “The Monkey’s Paw,” the short story in which one’s wishes are granted… badly. I was trying to explain to her that wishes have consequences. She looked at me like I was speaking Martian. Fortunately for you, E.C. Myers is somewhat better at explaining this concept.

E.C. MYERS:

“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” – Spock, “Amok Time”

I’ve always been fascinated with stories about characters finding a magical item that grants their wishes. My favorite Disney movie is Aladdin. One of the most memorable books from my childhood is E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, in which “it” is a Psammead, a fairy who grudgingly doles out a wish a day from his sand pit. And I’m a huge fan of The Twilight Zone, which is largely populated by hapless souls who strike deals with devils/djinn/angels/shopkeepers to get what they’ve always wanted.

Wish fulfillment stories are often predicated on the idea that you can’t get something for nothing, and they often feature surprising twists, even outside the far-reaching borders of the Twilight Zone. In Nesbit’s book, wishes only last until sunset, which is fortunate because they never turn out quite the way the children expected. Edward Eager’s Half Magic is about a coin that only grants wishes halfway. In stories like W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” wishes come true in a dark and tragic way. If you wish you can turn invisible, as a guy did in one episode of The X-Files, you might get hit by a truck. Basically, you were probably better off before you made the wish.

These stories are cautionary tales about… What, exactly? The danger of wanting things? It’s not inherently bad to want something, but the point seems to be that everything has a price, and the going rate for wishes is pretty steep. Though most of these stories end in similar, even predictable ways, we continue to be fascinated by magic lamps, magic coins, wishing wells, shooting stars, angels, demons, wishbones, creepy wishing machines at amusement parks, and so on.

If a character is lucky enough to survive an experience with a wishing fill-in-the-blank, it’s likely because he or she realizes that lasting change only comes from within. The experience of getting what you wanted, living with it for a bit, and then losing or giving it up is better than having had the thing. You can go somewhere over the rainbow for a little while, but there’s no place like home.

In Fair Coin, the coin that Ephraim finds is just as tricky as you’d imagine. When he makes a wish and flips it, his wish comes true. If the coin lands on heads, his life becomes puppies and unicorns. But if it comes up tails, those puppies and unicorns bite. And they might have rabies.

But unlike wishes granted by the Psammead, the intended and unintended effects of Ephraim’s choices don’t go away at the end of the day. The conflict isn’t that he wishes for himself to change, but that the coin seems to be changing other people and the world around him to conform to his wishes. At first it seems harmless enough to wish that his crush likes him back, but soon Ephraim wonders: Is it wrong to alter other people’s lives this way? What kind of person does it make him? Ephraim struggles between his growing sense of responsibility and the unlimited possibilities the coin offers, as the differences mount and his problems spiral out of control.

The real danger in using an unknown object like Ephraim’s coin lies in the temptation to make just one more wish to fix everything that’s gone wrong. Magic can be a terrible addiction, right, Frodo? And of course, there’s a twist.

If I can play Rod Serling for a moment, ultimately, wishing is about hope, but hope is wasted if you don’t use it for encouragement, consolation, and motivation if your wishes don’t come true right away. (They seldom do.) We make idle wishes every day. “I wish I had a better job.” “I wish I had time to write.” “I wish I could help you.” “I wish…” Sometimes when you make a wish, you’re really making an excuse for not taking action.

We might wish for things we never expect to happen without magical or divine intervention, but that might just be taking the easy way out. There are plenty of things we have no control over in life, but we all have the power to grant some wishes for ourselves or others—no strings attached.

And what if your wishes could come true? I’m sure most people have thought about what they would ask for given the opportunity, and they’re certain they know how to game it so no there are no unwelcome tricks. You’ve probably heard the phrase “be careful what you wish for,” but is it possible to make a wish with a positive outcome? Perhaps, Disney tells us, if your wish is selfless. But even Aladdin’s last wish (spoiler!) to free Genie at the end of the movie had dire consequences: There were two dreadful direct-to-video sequels.

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Fair Coin: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

See the book trailer. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

How Red Shirts Are Like Bacon

As I am soon to be releasing a book called Redshirts, people are now taking it upon themselves to e-mail me, or tweet me, or send messages via Facebook, G+, etc, any thing that relates to the “red shirt” concept, including pictures, articles, shop links, news about various media, vague references to the idea and so on. In this manner, it is like bacon, in which anything involving bacon on the Internet is immediately forwarded onto me, because clearly I must know.

So this is where I say: Thanks, guys, but you really don’t have to forward me every red shirt-related thing. Because a) I almost certainly already know, b) you’re almost certainly not the first to send it to me and thus my e-mail/Twitter/Facebook/G+ queues already have it in there, c) if you feel obliged to preface your message with “you probably already know this, but” or “this has probably been sent to you a thousand times, but,” please consider what you are actually saying. I know you’re excited and want me to know. Trust me, I know.

Now, if you find something related to Redshirts — you know, my actual book, which was written by me — then sure, send it along. Because I’m a raging ego monster, you see. But at the moment, with the exception of these ginchy t-shirts, the only red shirt-related thing I am associated with is my book. Anything else red shirt-related is unaffiliated to me. And yes, that’s entirely fine. The reason the title of my book is Redshirts in the first place is because it’s an easily recognizable concept. It’s unsurprising other people are exploiting the same concept as well.

So, to repeat: Thanks, but no need to send that stuff on to me. I’m good.

The Big Idea: James Renner

It’s not easy to write a time travel novel — all those timelines to keep track of, to start — so when you set out to write one, to whom should you turn for inspiration? James Renner knows; his new novel The Man From Primrose Lane travels all around the time stream. To make it work, Renner looked to more than just the usual suspects to guide the structure of his work.

JAMES RENNER:

The Man from Primrose Lane began as a Big Idea. Forever a fan of science fiction—and, more specifically, time travel stories—I wondered what it would be like to be a minor character in some time travel adventure. Not the time traveler, not his companion, but someone tangentially affected by the time traveler. After all, we know already what happens to the Terminator and Sarah Connor and Marty McFly and the Doctor. We’ve seen that. But what about the cop that comes across some dead time traveler at the end of that story? Wouldn’t a good detective want to figure out where this guy came from and why he was here?

That idea became the prologue to the book and it was the easiest part to write. Figuring out who killed this man—and why—was harder.

There’s another problem with telling a time travel story from the point of view of someone who does not travel through time—your structure gets all jacked up. In order to follow the action, to explain the motivation of the time traveler, it forces the writer to tell a non-linear story. This can be quite jarring for a reader, unless the author follows sets concrete narrative rules and sticks to them (chapters will alternate between the present and future; all flashbacks will be in italics; the past will be in the past tense, the present in the present tense). It took a long damn while to figure out the structure of the Man from Primrose Lane and ultimately what helped me was the loose way the writers of Lost played with past/present/future. By the end of that series, it almost didn’t matter if you were aware of when the present really was, anymore.

Note to the reader: For another Big Idea, look into the current quantum theories that suggest all of history is happening at the same moment.

Remember that noise in Lost that clues the viewer into a shift in time? I came up with a visual cue for the reader that serves the same purpose, a line drawn between paragraphs when a time shift occurs. I also divided the book into three parts of equal length, to cue the reader into the idea that in the first section we’re going to the past, in the second we’re more concerned with the present, and that we will ultimately visit the future in the final third. As an added bonus, it’s further divided into 18 “episodes” in homage to Ulysses, a book that was written to be read beginning at any random chapter.

Another influence was Stephen King’s underappreciated novel, Lisey’s Story. Though it’s not about a time traveler, the narrative is very trippy and non-linear and lends itself to scifi quite well. In that story, King jumps back and forth through time to tell a love story. But get this: everything that happens in the past is written in the present tense; everything that happens in the present is told in the past tense. While I didn’t mess with tense changes, King’s gall gave me the freedom to shift POV at a dramatic point in the story.

Once I was able to build a structure to contain this Big Idea, it was only a matter of creating some believable characters to populate this universe. I created them, I let them go, and I watched as they went about solving the murder of the Man from Primrose Lane. The whole process kind of reminds me of another big idea: the discovery of the shape of DNA. Once the scientists figured out the structure of DNA, everything else became clear.

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The Man From Primrose Lane: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. See the book trailer. Follow the author on Twitter.

Tomorrow’s Ohio Primary

A question from the assembled masses:

Are you voting in tomorrow’s Ohio primary?

No. I’m not a Republican (I’m registered as unaffiliated), and I’m not inclined to “make mischief” and vote for someone just to sabotage the GOP’s chances at the White House. The GOP has been doing a fine job of that itself; it doesn’t need my help.

If I had to vote in tomorrow’s Ohio primary, however — say, the forces of evil threatened to strangle my cat if I did not — then I would likely vote for Romney, for the simple reason that the zany kicky fun of the idea of Santorum being the GOP nominee has drained away, and I’m left with the existential horror of that feculent bigot of a man actually seriously being considered a viable candidate to lead our country. The Onion did a piece today titled “Voters Slowly Realizing Santorum Believes Every Deranged Word That Comes Out Of His Mouth,” and as with all of the best Onion pieces, the hell of it is that it is absolutely true. And while there’s a part of me that enjoys chaos, there’s the other, larger part of me that wants to make sure that dude is nowhere near an actual presidential ballot because you never know.

The good news is that it does finally seem like the GOP is waking up to the fact Santorum is a hot mess of a candidate; the bad news is that it’s still possible he could win Ohio or other significant states tomorrow, and then, well, it’s oh shit time in the Romney camp, not to mention for all the rest of us.

And you may say, I could go tomorrow and vote for Romney. But just as it’s not my place to “make mischief” for the GOP, neither is it my job to inject sanity into their primary, either. If you’re an Ohio Republican, that’s your gig. I mean, I’m not exactly thrilled with Romney, or Gingrich, or Paul, but any of them would be preferable to Santorum. Please keep that in mind when you vote tomorrow.

(Actually, just for the hell of it, you should all vote for Paul. Man, wouldn’t that mess with everybody’s head if Paul took Ohio! Yes, yes. I’m liking this scenario the more I think about it.)

Working Schedule Activated

I’m now elbows-deep into the current project, the one I am giving the public (but entirely unrepresentative) title of The Spank Chronicles, Part One: The Spankening. I’ve been working on it for a bit now, but we’re in the serious, “okay, this thing actually is going become something” phase now. This means that I am also now officially on the “I’m Working” Internet schedule. How this manifests for the rest of you is that every week day between now and when I am done, I pull the DSL out of wall until a) I hit my daily quota of words (which is 2,000 words), or b) it becomes noon. This keeps me focused and means that at the end of it all you’ll have something new to read.

(And you ask, well, why are you posting this at, like, 9am, then? The answer: Today I’ve shifted my schedule a bit because I have a reporter coming to the house at 10am for an interview. That’s why. SO THERE.)

So, basically: for the next few months, if it’s the AM, don’t expect to see too much of me online (or to get e-mail responses, or Twitter/G+/Facebook comments, or blah blah blah). If you do see something here in the morning, I either scheduled it the night before, or I got to my quota really fast that day.

The good news is that I think you’ll enjoy The Spank Chronicles when you see them. Krissy read some of it last night. She was happy. And you know how she is about quality control.

Going to Comic-Con

They’ve finally announced it, so I can finally announce it: This July I am a special guest at Comic-Con in San Diego. I’ll be there doing panels and other exciting excitingness, I’m sure, including some things I can’t tell you about yet but which you will be all, “Oh, dude, I am so there” when you find out about them. This will also be my first time at Comic-Con. Rumor has it that it’s not small in terms of attendance. Well, we shall see, my friends. We shall see.

In any event: July. Scalzi. San Diego. Now you know.

Nebula Award Voting Open + Nebula Voters’ Packet

Among Others by Jo WaltonEmbassytown by China MiévilleFirebird by Jack McDevittGods War by Kameron HurleyMechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve ValentineThe Kingdom of Gods by N. K. JemisinAkata Witch Nnedi OkoraforChime by Franny BillingsleyDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorEverybody Sees the Ants by A.S. KingThe Boy at the End of the World by Greg van EekhoutThe Freedom Maze by Delia ShermanThe Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae CarsonUltraviolet by R.J. Anderson

A Notice for SFWA members about Nebula Voting (and here I’m nicking directly text from SFWA’s site):

From March 1, 2012, to March 30, 2012, 11:59pm PDT, SFWA Active members may vote on the final ballot for the 2011 Nebula Awards (presented 2012), the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book.

Voting is open from March 1 to March 30, 11:59pm PDT.  The final ballot is available here, and paper ballots may be requested before March 15, 2012, by contacting nac@sfwa.org.  Active and Lifetime Active members will receive an email containing instructions on accessing the ballot.

The Nebula Award rules are available here.

We are pleased to announce that, for the first time, SFWA is offering Active and Lifetime Active members a Nebula Voter Packet containing the nominated works in electronic and paper format. This is an initiative we hope to continue through the coming years. Information on accessing this will be contained with the voting information.

For assistance with the Nebula Voter Packet, please contact Kate Kligman at  NebulaAwards@sfwa.org.

I’m gonna take a moment here and give a note of appreciation to all the SFWA volunteers who have given their time and effort into working on the Nebulas to this point — SFWA is built on volunteer effort and they have really been making a difference here. They make me proud to be the genial figurehead at the top of the organization.

Comments off, per my standard practice regarding SFWA announcements on this site.