Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Now-Standard Post-Travel EMail Post (That’s Not Quite Yet Post-Travel)

Which is:

I’ve gotten a ton of e-mail in the last couple of weeks while I was on tour, much of it very nice e-mails from folks who have enjoyed Redshirts, the rest the usual mix of stuff. I don’t often have time to respond to e-mails while on the road, so over the next few days (i.e., through Thursday), I’m going to try to catch up with mail. This may be a slower process than you might expect because I am still technically on tour; I’m driving up to Lansing tonight for an event, for example, and next Friday I’m off to Minneapolis both for 4th Street and for a Saturday autographing at Uncle Hugo’s. But I will try to get through it all.

If you sent me an e-mail in the last couple of weeks and wanted a response, if you don’t get one by Thursday evening go ahead and send me a follow-up (although I may not respond to that until next Tuesday. Yeah, I know).

Also, if you have sent me an e-mail about how much you liked Redshirts: Thank you. really. I have read them all. I’m very glad so many of you have liked it.

Dear Lansing: I Am Full of Anniversary Cake and Am Logy and Have Nothing Clever to Say at the Moment

I’m sorry. I wish I was more clever as I write this, but there seems to be an inverse relationship between my creativity and how much frosting I have consumed. And I have consumed an appalling amount of frosting today. Because my daughter made an anniversary cake for me and Krissy. And what could I do? I had to have some. And she does slather on the frosting. Mmmm…. frosting. Sweet, sweet forbidden sugary creme goodness.

But I promise if you come to see me tomorrow, June 18, at 7pm at Schuler’s Books, I will be so much more clever. Truly. And not just because I will be having a completely frosting-free day tomorrow. That will merely be a contributing factor.

Also, please do not bring any frosting to the event. That would just be wrong. Tasty, but wrong.

Sooooooooo tasty.

NO I AM NOT ADDICTED TO FROSTING I CAN STOP AT ANYTIME STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT

Uh. So, yeah. See you tomorrow, Lansing.

17 Years

Seventeen years ago today, Krissy and I got married. I love that we are still married, and I love that I love her more today than when I married her. And I love that she feels the same way.

If you want to give us an anniversary present, here’s all you have to do: Tell the person you love and who loves you how much, in fact, you love them. It’s always a good thing to let them know that, and to remind them of how happy you are that you share each other’s lives. At the very least, it’s worked for us, for seventeen years (and counting).

The Big Idea: Diana Peterfreund

Jane Austen has been a muse for more than one speculative fiction writer, in no small part because the world she lived in can echo into the future, amplifying what the author of a new work wishes to say. So it is for Diana Peterfreund and her latest novel For the Darkness Shows the Stars, which takes its Austen inspirations in new and compelling directions.

DIANA PETERFREUND:

Post-apocalyptic Persuasion. At first, it was just a fun tongue-twister. After all, in 2009, the book publishing world was in thrall to a little mash-up called Pride & Prejudice and Zombies. But as I started thinking on it more seriously, I realized the potential for a true re-imagining. Persuasion, for the unfamiliar, is the story of a nobleman’s daughter who, in her younger days, refused the hand of an ambitious but poor young Navy officer on the advice of friends and family who thought he wasn’t her equal. Years later, her useless father’s mismanagement has left the ancestral estate in a precarious position, forcing them to rent out their family home to up-and-comers of the middle class. Into her life waltzes her old suitor, now a rich and famous captain, and certainly still angry about her rejection.

It may be the most class-conscious of all Jane Austen’s novels, and deals directly with the failure of an indolent nobility to recognize how swiftly the economic and social landscape is changing thanks to the industry and success of a rising bourgeoisie. The world is changing, getting better, moving forward – and the old guard, who’d run the world in less-enlightened times, refuses to entertain the idea. How much more post-apocalyptic can you get?

Modern retellings of Austen twist themselves up like pretzels trying to formulate a notion of class that makes sense to young American readers, who generally consider class to be fluid (we’re all going to grow up to be rich celebrities, right?). Clueless, for example, recasts the minor class barriers in that story as the cliques of a status-conscious high schooler. In my case, I got to utilize science fiction to make my class divides durable and understandable to my young adult audience.

My husband and I spent a few enjoyable evenings with glasses of wine and important questions: What caused the apocalypse? What is the makeup of the class system? Fascinated by the idea of what the future holds in the realm of biotechnology and genetic engineering, we initially played around with a class structure arranged on those lines. But Aldous Huxley had that pretty well sewn up, and it didn’t necessarily jibe with my imagery of an upper class mired in the past.

Then it hit me: I could kill both birds with the same stone. What if overeager genetic engineering was actually the cause of the end of the world, and the backwards-thinking post-apocalyptic upper class were the descendents of the people who’d denied themselves this tragic genetic tinkering through religious objections, scientific skepticism, or just plain poverty? The meek who’d inherited the Earth.

Thus were born my Luddites, the survivors of a genetic experiment gone wrong that rendered the bulk of the population of the Earth severely mentally disabled. Fiercely anti-science and anti-technology, they plunge the world into a new Dark Age.

This backstory opened up all kinds of knotty moral conundrums. The Luddites aren’t actually wrong—genetic engineering was demonstrably dangerous to the human race. To this, add the fact that their ancestors faced attack from a dying society that would rather destroy the world than let other people have it, and that they spent countless generations as the caretakers of the helpless “Reduced” people left behind. That’s a pretty hefty chunk of indoctrination and duty to set on the shoulders of my heroine, Elliot, the teenaged daughter of a feckless Luddite lord.

Elliot, like a lot of teens, is trying to define her own beliefs about the world and decide how they differ from what she was taught growing up. What parts of her heritage are true and right, and what parts should be discarded as humanity moves into the future?

By the time of the novel, there’s a growing population of healthy humans born to the Reduced who, nevertheless, possess the same low status and lack of liberty. One of these “Post-Reductionists” is her childhood best friend, the servant Kai. Her relationship with him causes her to question Luddite values and the complacent and self-satisfied caste system that disenfranchises the Posts.

Kai is unwilling to accept the social status quo, and runs away to make his fortune beyond the confines of their Luddite estate. Years later he returns, wealthy, powerful and spouting radical, revolutionary philosophies of technological progress. But though he may be angry, he hasn’t forgotten about Elliot. And Elliot isn’t the woman society expects her to be, either. Together, they could be the start of a new age, a chance to move past the devastation the world has suffered – as long as they can forgive each another.

But how to tell this story of their fraught reunion while giving proper weight to the earlier relationship that made it possible? Again, Jane Austen came to the rescue. She loved epistolary novels as much as I do , and often incorporated letters into her works (Sense and Sensibility was originally an epistolary story called “Elinor and Marianne”). Persuasion’s own famous love letter gave me the idea to create a parallel epistolary narrative.

As childhood friends, Elliot and Kai sent each other letters where they debate the nature of their society and the potential of their star-crossed romance, following in long tradition of letter-loving lovers whose correspondence is as philosophical as it is affectionate: Heloise and Abelard, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and (my personal favorite) John and Abigail Adams.

These letters from my heroes’ younger selves are interspersed throughout the novel, showcasing the character’s changing views of the world and each other, and setting the stage for the world-changing trials they face when they meet again. The story is about love and second chances, both for Kai and Elliot and for the world they live in, which is finally emerging from its long, restless sleep.

—-

For Darkness Shows the Stars: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Read a prequel story (pdf link). Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

Dear Boston: Hey, You’re in the Book!

Did you know? It’s true: Boston has a cameo appearance in Redshirts. I call out the Freedom Trail and everything! That means we’re the best buddies ever!

And that’s why, when I show up the COOP tomorrow, June 15 at 7pm, it’ll be like we’re old friends. Because, hey, I don’t give a shout out to just any old city. It has to be special. It has to be fantastic. And that’s you, Boston. Full of fantasticosity. Yes, that’s a word. A word I just made to encompass everything about you.

So, what do you say, Boston? Will you come on down? I mean, I know that technically the COOP is in, like, Cambridge, which is not precisely Boston. But the love is still there! Honest. Remember: fantasticosity. I don’t just make up words for every metropolitan area I meet, you know. Think about that.

Think about it on the way to the COOP. We can discuss it when you get there. Right? Excellent.

Dear Brooklyn: YOU DON’T SCARE ME

Dear Brooklyn:

The last time I was in New York, I was in Manhattan and I got a whole bunch of tweets that went like this:

“If Scalzi was a REAL MAN, he’d come to Brooklyn.” Because Brooklyn is the crucible of manly manliness, apparently, where only the most testosteronic of humans can possibly survive, fending off man-sized rats, rat-sized cockroaches and cockroach-sized amoebae. And, of course, CHUDs, who came over to the borough because the sewer rents in Manhattan just got ridiculous.

Well, Brooklyn, you don’t scare me. I’ve seen the skinny jeans. I’ve seen the courier bags. I’ve seen the chunky glasses. Don’t think I haven’t.

(They were on the CHUDS.)

And anyway, Brooklyn, what’s the deal, thinking you have to impress me with your diamond-hard man-osity? It doesn’t have to be like that, Brooklyn. I like you for all of your awesomeness. Right down to the CHUDs.

That’s why, when I come to you tomorrow, June 14, 7pm at the WORD Bookstore, I’m not gonna come over to prove I’m a real man. I don’t have to do that (my mom says I’m a real man and that settles that). No, I’m coming over because you rock and I want to be part of all that rock.

Come rock with me, Brooklyn.

Even the CHUDs. Because, come on. CHUDs are awesome.

The Big Idea: Robert McCammon

The “bad guy”: Essential for many plots, fun to write, and fun to read. But what goes into making a bad guy bad? Is it more than malfeasance on the mind? In The Providence Rider, the latest Matthew Corbett book, set in colonial America, Robert McCammon brings the bad guy out to play. Here’s why, and how it makes this novel fit in with the rest of the series.

ROBERT McCAMMON:

I wanted to write about the “bad guy.” In essence, what makes a perfectly respectable and unassuming human being crack, and in cracking birth from himself an evil force that revels in power and will never—can never—go back to what he was before. I had introduced the character of Professor Fell first in The Queen of Bedlam. He keeps to the shadows in the next Matthew Corbett book, Mister Slaughter. But in the new one, The Providence Rider, he emerges from the darkness onto center stage…or, to be more precise, he always brings his cloak of darkness with him, but here he presents a picture of his past and how—as he puts it to Matthew: “You have seen part of my world. What I have achieved. And me…from academic beginnings. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it?”

Matthew has to agree that it does.

I have embarked upon a journey of ten books. The first “Matthew book,” Speaks the Nightbird, wasn’t meant to be the beginning of a series. It was the story of an earnest and intelligent young magistrate’s clerk in the year 1699, who finds himself acting as the champion of justice for a woman accused of witchcraft in a small Carolina colony town. I had no intention of taking him forward. I was going to do something entirely different next, and yet…

I left the ending of Speaks the Nightbird open. Matthew was out upon the world, facing “the century of wonders,” and who might know what he would find there? Well…how do these things happen? How does walking, or sitting on a balcony bench, or lying on a grassy hill watching the clouds move help create the magic that makes an idea work? I suppose it’s in the stillness. It’s in that inner realm all writers know…the mystic place where things from childhood and a hundred thousand memories and desires merge. And then you say, “Oh yes, I understand now.” And you may think you fully understand but you don’t, because nothing is born without effort and some books are kind to their creator and some are near killers, but suddenly you have an idea and a purpose. A challenge, too. And a whole lot of hard road to travel.

But…you know you have something that calls you, and pulls you, and in a way commands you. You can’t turn away from that. You must follow where it leads.

So…I’ve done four in this series and working on the fifth. I’m approaching the halfway point. I suppose my Big Idea is the series itself. There’s a larger story arc that connects all the books, and I’m hoping that when I’m done it will read as smoothly as one long book. It’s a challenging task, keeping up with so many characters, names and such…and the research is tough, too, but very rewarding. I know there’s an expert for everything under the sun, and you’ll be told very quickly when you make a mistake…but I’m trying to keep the series as historically “valid” as possible while having fun with it. No boring history lessons here! Trying to make them exciting, funny, suspenseful, sexy, wicked…but never boring!

And I suppose there are other Big Ideas at work here as well. I always like having a “motif” for my books. In Speaks the Nightbird, it was the idea of finding a place for yourself in a hostile world. In The Queen of Bedlam it was the creation of order from chaos. In Mister Slaughter it was the juxtaposition of civility and brutality. In The Providence Rider it is the hierarchy of predators. And in the Matthew book I’m working on now, The River of Souls, it is the flow of comedy into tragedy and back again. Kind of like a river, I suppose.

I intended the series to offer a respite from the modern world. Someone recently pointed out to me that, in spite of the fast-forward motion of progress and the subsequent quick-dating of modern novels, the Matthew series will never become “dated,” since it’s already set in the past.

I like that. I also like the idea of taking a break from cell phones, instant messaging and the frenzied pace of modern life. The Matthew series is a door to the past, and one I particularly like opening and living in for awhile. I couldn’t survive very long in that era, for sure, but it is fun to go visit.

Professor Fell makes his first physical appearance in The Providence Rider but of course there’s more to come. Actually, the seed of what the entire series is about is planted in this book. I am getting so much pleasure out of doing this. I don’t work from an outline, so the books occasionally surprise me in the direction they take and the choices they offer. I think that’s as it should be.

I am pleased to be able to offer a visit to another world. Neither supernatural nor science fiction, but a vastly different and strange world all the same, with that intriguing juxtaposition of civility and brutality at its core.

One thing I’m doing that’s particularly fun for me is…since my series is about one of the first “problem-solvers”, I’m dropping in each book the names of various fictional detectives. Some are out there for everyone to see, some are more hidden. But another Big Idea behind Matthew’s story is that it is my bow to the authors of the great detectives of history, and of one of my first loves…the mystery novel, starring the stalwart and indefatigable detective who never gives up until the last clue is deciphered and the case solved.

I hope I and Matthew can do our parts to carry that tradition into the future, even working as we are in the past.

—-

The Providence Rider: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

Visit The Providence Rider’s book page. Follow the author on Twitter.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden Explains eBook Territorial Rights For You

In a long and very worthwhile comment in the previous entry thread. If you ever wondered why you can get eBooks in some countries but not others (specifically as it relates to Redshirts, but also more generally) this is the post for you. For those of you who don’t know, PNH is the senior editor at Tor Books, and also my editor there.

I’m turning off the comments for this entry in order to funnel people into that comment thread – and thus implicitly allowing that thread to contain that conversation, even though it is not directly on point to that thread’s original conversation.

That said, please do attempt to avoid one of the common tactics of talking about the nature of current eBook/physical book territorial rights distribution, which is to ignore everything that was actually just said by a person who knows the real-world intricacies of the current state of the publishing market in order to ascend a soapbox and demand publishing should do things the way you think they should, regardless of your knowledge of the field or your appreciation of real-world complexities. I find this tactic tiring.

(This is not the same thing as noting you wished publishing did things differently, or asking why they don’t, but I will note PNH’s comment already explains that aspect pretty well.)

Dear Burbank: A NOTE FROM THE FUTURE

DEAR BURBANK STOP

THIS IS JOHN SCALZI STOP

I AM WRITING YOU FROM A FUTURE WHERE THE INTERNET EXPLODED AND THERE ARE ONLY TELEGRAPHS STOP

IT’S A HORRIBLE FUTURE STOP

BADGERS RULE US ALL STOP

BUT OUR SCIENTISTS (WHAT FEW REMAIN) SAY WE CAN AVOID THIS STOP

ALL IT REQUIRES IS THAT YOU ALL GO TO MY READING TOMORROW JUNE 13 AT 7 AT THE BURBANK CENTRAL LIBRARY STOP

YES ALL OF YOU STOP

IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE STOP

PLEASE I BEG YOU THIS FUTURE SUCKS STOP

ONLY YOU CAN SAVE US STOP

OH GOD THE BADGERS ARE COMING THROUGH THE WALLS STOP

AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH STOP

Redshirts One Week In

It’s chugging along very nicely as far as I can tell. I don’t yet have any actual numbers to report, but it’s been in Amazon’s top ten for science fiction for the whole week (both in physical and eBook versions) and the audiobook has been in Audible.com’s top ten of all titles since it came out. The turnout for the tour events so far has also been heartening too, and the people who have been showing up to the events have been making booksellers happy by buying books at the stores, so thank you for that, folks. I appreciate you supporting the stores who have given space to me.

So far the reader response has been roughly 90% positive, and 10% deeply annoyed. To that ten percent: Sorry, guys. No one hits your happy spot every time. To the ninety percent: Really glad you’ve liked it.

If you did like it, I hope you’ll suggest it to your friends and folks you know. Tor has been doing a bang-up job promoting this book (he said, from the middle of a month-long book tour), but when it comes right down to it what makes a difference is people telling people about a book they really enjoyed. So, please, consider doing that.

And now, off for a plane to Los Angeles, and then to Pasadena with me.

And Now, Wil Wheaton Losing His Mind as the Kings Win the Stanley Cup

Because he’s just that excited. And speaking as a man who owns a Kings jersey of his own (albeit from the Gretzky era), I can’t say that I am displeased, either.

Fun fact: The other fellow briefly seen in the video is our mutual friend Mykal Burns, who, aside from having been a guest blogger here a couple of years ago, is one of my oldest friends in the world, having known me since junior high. Hi, Mike!

Dear Pasadena: I Promise I Won’t Be Sticky This Time

So, Pasadena, do you remember that time I worked on a parade float for the Rose Bowl parade? When I had to take dried, halved peas and stick them to the side of a float which had been painted with glue, and then the glue got all over my hands, and then it dried and got all peel-y, and then I ran around sticking my gross, dried glue-y hands in people’s faces, going “AAAAAAH! RADIATION BURNS! RADIATION BURNS! AAAAAAAAAAH!”?

I’ve matured a lot since then, Pasadena. I swear.

And that’s why I hope, when I come to Vroman’s Bookstore on Tuesday, June 12 at 7pm, that you will choose to overlook my youthful indiscretions and come see me as I talk about a book in which people die by land worms, ice sharks and space badgers. As a mature person does.

And then afterward we’ll sip tea and talk about the tax code. That’s mature, too, right?

(Checks the “How to Be Mature” manual)

Right!

So, tomorrow then? Sound good? Yes?

Squeeeeeeeeeee!

(P.S. LA area people: I will also be in Burbank on Wednesday. So you have two chances to see me! Don’t worry, I’ll remind you about Burbank tomorrow.)

Mark Reads “Shadow War of the Night Dragons”

The story here: This fellow named Mark Orshiro, who has made a name for himself by doing stuff and recording himself doing it and then posting it online (at the logically titled MarkDoesStuff.com), did a thing where for $25 he’ll read anything you give him, up to 20 minutes in length. So someone (not me) paid him $25 to read the first third of “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue.” He does. And he does so completely blind — as in, he hasn’t read the story yet, has no idea of the story’s background, and has no idea who I am at all.

It’s quite amusing to see his reaction to the story. And he does commentary all the way through, which makes it even better. I may have him read all my things from now on. I imagine that if he were to learn the thing was nominated for a major literature award, his head might actually explode.

Enjoy. I did. The reading proper begins right around the 2:00 mark.