Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Big Idea: Amanda Carlson

Every author has a voice — and that voice expresses itself in ways that aren’t always considered conventional by those on the outside. This Amanda Carlson learned about her own writing voice, in the process of writing her urban fantasy novel, Full Blooded. Carlson gives voice to her revelation below.

AMANDA CARLSON:

It seems I’ve been on my path to My Big Idea for years. There have definitely been a lot of semi-large ideas, things that have worked for me over the years. I’ve written my share of non-fiction, romance, wine and food columns, and humor. But it wasn’t until I found my voice in urban fantasy that everything finally clicked to become: The Big Idea.

Now that I’m published, people often ask: Why do you write urban fantasy? I’d been writing mainstream for years, why this? Why now? (Often with a polite…Does it even count as a book?)

I’ve found, during these authorly discussions, people tend to get lost in the prose of literary fiction and forget that writers write what they love. And all of it counts. Of course it counts. Especially if it’s great writing in a genre you love to read. As a reader, isn’t that what you require above all else? Great writing paired with an exciting story?

Before I became an author, I shared my love of reading fantasy with other fellow genre supporters. Why didn’t I scream it to the world? I have no idea. It never really came up, or if it did it was passed over quickly, many times to chat about the newest literary jewel. (Yes, I do enjoy those too. Like a shortbread cookie with a spot of tea.)

But I can’t shake the question no matter how many times I’ve answered it. It continues to surface. People want to know. Why urban fantasy?

Well, this is The Big Idea why:

The opening scene in Full Blooded played out in my mind like a movie. It came fast and furious, fully alive and breathing. It rammed itself into my consciousness and wouldn’t let go. When I sat down to write the story, I found, after never having tried it before—writing fantasy was the best thing ever invented. Ever. For sure since Nutella, possibly even potato chips.

My creative muscles flexed, words began to flow, I had a smile on my face, I liked my computer again, there was a bounce in my step that hadn’t been there before, and I yelled at my children much less often.

I was in love.

I’d found my voice.

And it was in the pages of an urban fantasy novel.

The “urban” part is the big draw for me. I’m writing what could happen next door, as in: What are your neighbors doing right now? Are they vampires? Are they witches? How about your kid’s teacher? Is she a demon? I get to invent the rules and create something going on in the world right now that wasn’t there before. It’s powerfully fun and deliciously intoxicating.

So, in a nutshell, authors write what they love. What gives them passion. And it all counts.

—-

Full Blooded: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

How to Be a Good Commenter

One of the things I’m proud of here at Whatever is that the comment threads are usually actually worth reading, which is not always something you get with a site that has as many readers as this one does. Some of this is down to my moderation of the site, and my frequent malleting of trolls/idiots/assbags, but much of it is also down the generally high standard of commenter here. I do a lot less malleting than I might have to, because the people who frequent here do a fine job at being good commenters.

And I hear you say: Why, I would like to be a good commenter too! Not just here, but in other places where commenting occurs online! Well, of course you do. You’re a fine upstanding human being, not some feculent jackass with a keyboard, an internet connection and a blistering sense of personal inferiority that is indistinguishable from common sociopathy.

So for you, I have ten questions to ask yourself before you press the “post comment” button. Yes, ten is a lot. No one said being a good commenter was easy. But the good news is that the more you’re a good commenter, the less you’ll actually have to think about being one before you type. It becomes a habit, basically. So keep at it.

Here are your questions:

1. Do I actually have anything to say? Meaning, does what you post in the comments boil down to anything other than “yes, this,” or “WRONG AGAIN,” or even worse, “who cares”? A comment is not meant to be an upvote, downvote or a “like.” It’s meant to be an addition to, and complementary to (but not necessarily complimentary of) the original post. If your comment is not adding value, you need to ask whether you need to write it, and, alternately, why anyone should be bothered to read it. On a personal note, I find these sort of contentless comments especially irritating when the poster is expressing indifference; the sort of twit who goes out of his way to say “::yawn::” in a comment is the sort I want first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

2. Is what I have to say actually on topic? What is the subject of the original post? That’s also the subject of the comment thread, as is, to some extent, the manner in which the writer approached the subject. If you’re dropping in a comment that’s not about these things, then you’re likely working to make the comment thread suck. Likewise, if as a commenter you’re responding to a comment from someone else that’s not on topic to the original post, you’re also helping to make the comment thread suck. On a busy blog or site, there will be many opportunities to talk about many different subjects. You don’t have to talk about them in the wrong place.

3. Does what I write actually stay on topic? As a corollary to point two, if you make a perfunctory wave at the subject and then immediately use it as a jumping-off point for your own particular set of hobby horses, then you’re also making the thread suck. This is a prime derailing maneuver, which I like to dub “The Libertarian Dismount,” given the frequency with which members of that political tribe employ it — e.g., “It’s a shame that so many people are opposed to same-sex marriage, but this is just why government has no place legislating relationships between people, and why in a perfect society government steps away and blah blah blahdee blah blah.” If you can’t write a comment that isn’t ultimately a segue into topics you feel are important, ask yourself why everything has to be about you.

4. If I’m making an argument, do I actually know how to make an argument? This I believe: Most people really can’t argue their way out of a paper bag. It’s not their fault; it’s not as if, in the US at least, we spend a lot of time training people in rhetoric. Be that as it may, if you are making an argument in a comment, it will help if the argument you’re making is structurally sound. It’s not my job to teach you the basics of rhetoric, but I will at the very least point you in the direction of this list of logical fallacies, for you to peruse and consider. I will also say that in my experience the single most common bad argument is the assumption that one’s personal experience is universal rather than intensely personal and anecdotal. Sorry, folks: you are probably not actually the living avatar of What Everyone Believes and Knows.

5. If I’m making assertions, can what I say be backed up by actual fact? I know you believe what you believe, and that’s nice for you, but if you want me or others to believe what you believe, then I’d like to see the data, please. Otherwise I’m just going to assume you are talking out of your ass, and I suspect most other people will make a similar assumption. The nice thing about the Internet is that facts, backed up by trustworthy sources — complete with references and methodologies! — are reasonably easy to find and link to. Wikipedia drives me up a wall sometimes, but the one undeniably good thing it’s done is to train a generation of nerds to ask: “[citation, please]“. As the obvious corollary:

6. If I’m refuting an assertion made by others, can what I say be backed up by fact? Because often comment threads are filled with the sounds of refutation. However, refutation without substantiation is not refutation at all; it’s just adding to the noise. Don’t add to the noise. Noise is easy. Be better than mere noise.

7. Am I approaching this subject like a thoughtful human being, or like a particularly stupid fan? I originally wrote “stupid sports fan,” but that was being unfair to sports fans, who are no more likely to be stupid and irrational about their favorite sports team than gadget fans are to be irrational about their favorite bit of tech or media fans their favorite series of books/shows/movies, or politics fans to be about their favorite ideology. The problem is when these sort of folks descend on a thread and get all rah-rah for their “team,” whatever that team is, and things get dreary and sad, fast. Look, everyone has their biases and inclinations and favorites, and that’s fine. This doesn’t mean you won’t come across as a brainless plumper for your side when you, in fact, plump brainlessly for them in a comment. If your comment boils down to “WOOOO GO TEAM [insert person/thing here] HELLS YEAH” then, again, you’re the problem with the comment thread, not anyone else.

8. Am I being an asshole to others? Yes, I know you think you’re being clever when you are being snide and sarcastic about that other commenter, or about the original poster. I would remind you what the failure mode of clever is. Also, being a complete prick to others in a comment thread is an easy tell to those others that you can’t make a sufficient argument on any other ground than personal abuse. Which is not a good thing for you. Now, it’s also important to note that not everyone starts off being an asshole to others — commenters can begin responding to each other politely and then as things go on become more and more frustrated and exasperated until one or both (or more! Because comment threads aren’t always or even usually one-on-one discussions) go Full Asshole. So it’s worth keeping a tab on things. Two things here: One, assume good will on the part of others when talking to them; two, just because the other guy goes Full Asshole doesn’t mean you have to follow his shining example.

9. Do I want to have a conversation or do I want to win the thread? Some people have to be right, and can’t abide when others don’t recognize their fundamental right to be right, and will thus keep making attempts to be right long after it is clear to every other person that the conversation is going nowhere and the remaining participants are simply being tiresome. When you get two or more of those people in the same thread, well, the result can be grim. I’m not saying that you are one of those people who absolutely has to be right, but, if you would, look at this. Does that cartoon resemble you? Be honest, now. If it does, then there’s a pretty good chance you have to be right, and you have to win the comment thread. Which, to be blunt, makes you a bit of a bore to have a conversation with, and means that there’s ultimately a really good chance you’ll eventually end up being an asshole to someone because you can’t let it go. Don’t be that guy.

10. Do I know when I’m done? I’m not saying you should enter each comment thread with an exit strategy, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt. It’s okay not to make a lifetime commitment to a comment thread. Likewise: If you’re having a conversation in a comment thread that’s going nowhere, it’s okay to admit it and get out. Letting the other dude have the last word will not mean you have Lost the Internets; really, quite the opposite, in fact. Similarly, if you find a comment thread is making you angry or sick or pissed off, walk away. If you find that the reason you’re still in a comment thread is to thump on someone else, go get some air. If the thread has stopped being fun and started to be something like work, seriously, man, what the hell are you doing? Go away. It’s a comment thread. In short, know when to say when, and if you don’t know, then pick a number of responses that you are going to allow yourself in a thread (five, maybe?) and then stick to it. And finally, if you announce you’re leaving a comment thread, leave and don’t come back. No one likes a bad faith flouncing.

Got it? Then comment away.

The Big Idea: Jay Kristoff

Is there anything new to say in the worlds(s) of steampunk? Perhaps, if you look beyond the usual settings and suspect. For Stormdancer, author Jay Kristoff broadened his horizons and listened to his dreams. this is what he came up with.

JAY KRISTOFF:

“Telepathic samurai girls and griffins in a Japanese-inspired steampunk dystopia.”

That mouthful is my elevator-pitch reply when people ask me to sum up my debut novel Stormdancer. It took me a year to get it that concise. I hang my head in shame.

It was a dream that started it all. I was in the process of querying my first novel, and meeting the kind of success fluffy bunnies meet when querying moving cars with their faces. In the midst of this blizzard of boiler-plate rejection letters, I dreamed about a boy trying to teach a griffin to fly in a field of dying grass.

This boy was yelling at the top of his voice, but the griffin’s wings were broken and it couldn’t get airborne no matter how masterfully the kid swore (friends who read too much into dreams have said the boy was me, and the griffin was my novel – flawed to the bone). I was looking for an idea for my next book, and the image lodged in my head.

But an image doesn’t make a novel – or if it does, it’ll be a gorram short one. Hardly the kind you’ll buy a castle next to Jo Rowling’s with. So the little boy became a teenaged girl who, instead of shouting into the griffin’s ears, could shout into his mind. The field of grass became a field of blood-red flowers, choking the life out of everything around them. And instead of the griffin’s wings being broken, they’d been taken away from him. By bastards. That’s how Stormdancer was born.

Stormdancer’s setting is a nation teetering on the edge of ruin. Shima is an imperium built on the backs of fantastical technologies – sky-ships and motor-rickshaw and thunder-rail, defended by Iron Samurai in lumbering suits of power armor. But the engines that drive the empire are ever thirsty, and Shima is being slowly consumed by the very technologies that once made it great. Fields of blood lotus flowers are cultivated for the fuel that drives their machines, but that same flower is killing the earth and everything on it. The magical beasts of legend are dead or gone, the air is choked with toxins, and a blast-furnace sun burns in a scarlet sky. When I first pictured the islands in my head, I imagined a high-speed collision between the epic settings of feudal Japan and the fictions of Verne, Moore and Gibson, smudged with a handful of soot and burned motor oil.

I wanted to take steampunk’s corsetry and rose-colored goggles and wide-eyed enthusiasm for the wondrous machine and make it ugly. Make the machine the enemy. Tell a story about a people so hopelessly dependent upon their technology that they couldn’t pull back from the brink, despite the awful truth that their technology was killing them. To me, that seemed a truth not so far from our own, and a sandbox worth playing in. As for the cultural touchstone, steampunk Victorian England had been done, and done well. But the world during Victorian times was an amazing place, and as far as I could see, not many folks had drawn inspiration from one of the most incredible cultures of the day – the Tokugawa Shōgunate of 19th century Japan.

Imagine it: Steam-powered samurai. Flying maru. Chainsaw katanas.

Steampunkery aside, and at its heart, Stormdancer is a book about an unlikely friendship between two even more unlikely characters – a girl with the ability to speak telepathically to animals in a country where animal life is virtually extinct, and the last griffin left alive. I wanted to write an epic adventure, full of battles and betrayals and chainsaw katana fights, with a kick-ass heroine who didn’t need to choose a boy by which to define herself. I wanted to collide epic fantasy with steampunk and see where it took me. But more than that, I wanted to write a book with heart; a book about a friendship that bloomed despite all obstacles. A bond that would grow to become a thing of legend in this nation on the edge of ruin – a friendship that challenged the might of an empire.

But it all started with a dream, and my life has felt a little like a dream since I first found out it was getting published. So, if you’re considering giving some of your time to this absurd little dream of mine, you have my heartfelt thanks.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

 

Hey! I Don’t Have to Pay Income Tax!

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

– Mitt Romney, at a fundraiser.

Okay, I’m confused. I’m an Obama supporter, have been for a nice long time now, and have never seriously considered voting for anyone else for president in the current election cycle — and yet yesterday I also sent in a big fat check to cover my estimated quarterly tax assessment, something I had to do because as a freelance writer, the federal, state and local governments think I’m not smart enough to pay my entire tax indebtedness in a single go. I also have private health insurance, a mortgage through a private lender, and pay for my own groceries.

Have I been doing this wrong the whole time?

Because I’m not gonna lie to you: man, if being an Obama supporter means you don’t have to pay income tax, well, sign me up. Because that would be sweet. I pay a metric crap ton of taxes — almost certainly more, as a percentage of my income, than ol’ Romney does, so more the fool me — and if all it takes to get out of them is voting for B. Hussein Obama, then that’s just fine with me. Honestly, if that’s actually the deal, and Romney is not just pulling a bunch of nonsense straight out of his ass, then I’m not surprised conservatives aren’t planning to sweep Obama to a 49-state landslide. Isn’t the holy grail of modern day conservatism never paying taxes for anything ever? You can do it! In one simple step! And, apparently, get a government-issue tub of cheese while you’re at it. Which just makes it sweeter (or, well, cheesier, anyway).

The converse of this is that as someone who actually pays taxes and doesn’t expect the government to pay his mortgage, I may be obliged to vote for Romney. But, yeah, that’s so not going to happen. So: No income taxes for me. And free housing! Hey, look, I don’t make the rules, here. I’m just doing what Mitt Romney tells me. You have a problem with this, you take it up with him.

I can’t wait to try out this logic on my IRS man! I see no possible way that this plan could ever fail. And if it does, then I will go to the federal pen — where I will get government-subsidized food, shelter and medical care, and won’t pay income tax! See. Mitt Romney was right all along.

Public Appearances 2013, Or Lack Thereof

Just to have it out there in case people ask: My 2013 public appearance schedule is very sparse at the moment, by intention. I don’t know how many of you folks have been keeping track of these things like I do, but basically for the last three years I’ve had a travel schedule that meant I was traveling close to a week out of every month, and some months — May in 2011 and June this year — I was on the road more often than I was home.

It’s been great, and great for my career, and it’s been totally worth it. But it’s also exhausting and disruptive to my writing schedule; at one point in the last couple of years I went from being a writer who goes places to someone who goes places and then tries to fit writing around that. Eventually that gets old. Dude, I’m tired, you know?

So for the past year (or more in some cases) I’ve been turning down 2013 invitations to conventions and book fairs and such, with an eye toward spending more time at home, staying focused and doing a whole bunch of writing. Not just science fiction novels — although, clearly, I’m going to be doing that — but also other sorts of writing I want to try and/or get better at.

So at this moment, here’s what my 2013 appearance schedule looks like:

Nothing.

And now, because this is how these things work, the fine print:

1. I’ll be at Immortal Confusion in January and may even participate in a little bit of programming, because programming head Dave Klecha is friend of mine and also, dude, check out the Guest of Honor lineup. That said, what I’ll really mostly be doing there is hanging out with friends in the bar.

2. I will be at the Nebula Weekend in San Jose in May, because I will still be President of SFWA at that point.

3. I’m likely to go to Worldcon in San Antonio at the end of August, because Worldcon. My current plan for that is to do very limited programming, if I do any at all.

4. I have let Tor know that if they want/need me to do promotion around The Human Division in 2013, that I would do it, because, and here’s a pro tip, you don’t leave your publisher hanging if you can at all avoid it. So there’s a possibility I might be doing stuff around the hardcover release date, sometime in mid-May. That said, there’s nothing planned at the moment.

Other than that, the travel I have planned for 2013 — and I’m not saying I do have travel planned for 2013 — will be as a normal human being, i.e., I’m not going to announce it to the world. So, for example, I may show up at a convention, but if I do I’m there to see friends and to enjoy myself, not be a performing monkey. Alternately, if I do travel on business, it’s likely to be the sort of business where I have a meeting with a couple of people about future projects, not the sort of business where I stand in front of a room of people and try to entertain them.

But as noted before, my real plan at this point is to stay home, relax a bit, and enjoy long stretches of time to write. And who knows? Maybe this time, that’s what will actually happen! One may hope.

So that’s how my 2013 stands, travel-wise, at least for the moment.

Capclave Calling

A reminder to all and sundry that in just a little under a month from this very day, I will be in the Washington, DC area for the purpose of being the Author Guest of Honor at Capclave, a fine and lovely science fiction and fantasy convention in Gaithersburg. At said convention, I will do readings! Be on panels! Have a kaffeklatch! Do an interview/dialogue/rant-filled bellow fest with Editor Guest of Honor Nick Mamatas! Here’s the preliminary programming schedule.

(I’ll note the programming people did a fine job of putting me on interesting things, considering that when they sent me the schedule and asked me what I wanted to be on, my response was “bwuh?” It is to their credit that they put me on cool stuff, rather than having me be the sole member of a panel entitled “When Guests of Honor are Lazy and Uncommunicative: A Case Study.” Bless you, Capclave programming people. You are better people than I am. I mean, obviously. Also, I may ultimately show up on one or two more things; we’ll see.)

I’ve been looking forward to coming to Capclave for a while now. It’s got a strong crew of participants this year and has an excellent reputation as being a place where good conversation happens. My plan is simply not to lower their standards. Also, for those of you who care about these sorts of things, it’s my last scheduled appearance in the DC-Baltimore area for a while, so if you wanted to see me, this would be the time. This is also my last scheduled public appearance anywhere for 2012, I believe.

Coming back around to Nick Mamatas for a moment, I’ll note that a while back Nick had asked Capclave what their policy was regarding harassment; the con responded and Nick has posted the policy on his LiveJournal. I recommend folks wander over there and have a look. Both Nick and I have decided that, should anyone decide to go out of their way to be a harassing assbag, we will express our displeasure at that person quite publicly. So please, don’t be that person! Instead, be one of the awesome people who will make Capclave awesome yet again this year.

See you October 12 – 14!

A Promise to Twitter Fulfilled, or, How I Ended Up Covered in Frosting by Roller Derby Girls on Neil Gaiman’s Lawn

First, the video, which explains why roller derby girls are covering me in frosting on Neil Gaiman’s lawn, and the subsequent photodocumentation. Stick around for the time-lapse photography!

Second, the image, which illustrates everything.

Three: The poster offer!

Yes, indeed, you can get this awesome picture as a poster, via NeverWear.net. When you buy it, 100% of the profits go to two worthy causes: The SFWA Emergency Medical Fund, which helps out science fiction and fantasy writers in times of medical crisis, and City Kitties, a non-profit going to help out the stray cat population of West Philadelphia. Kittehs and Writers! You can’t go wrong!

For those of you wondering if Neil himself was involved with the production, if you click through to the poster order page, you’ll see a picture of Neil preparing to plaster the last bit of frosting onto my face, right over my mouth. There’s symbolism there, I’m sure.

For more on this madness, check out photographer Kyle Cassidy’s post about it, and Kitty’s Neverwear post as well.

And what what is it actually like, being covered in frosting?

Sticky.

And that’s all I am going to say about that.

Seriously, though, this was ridiculous fun, and the idea of making a pilgrimage to Neil’s place to be covered in frosting by roller derby girls was just too awesome to pass up. My life is strange, but it’s the best kind of strange, i.e., the kind that’s really quite a lot of fun.

Now I have think up what I will do when I reach 40,000 Twitter followers. Hmmmmm.

(And yes, please feel free to blog, tweet and otherwise blab about this to everyone you know. We’re trying to save kittens and writers here. Through the mystical power of frosting.)

Update, 10:36pm: Our first delightful fan art, from Cameragrrl, taking off on a popular internet meme:

I can’t wait to use these in my arguments on the Internet!

 

Don’t Mind Me, I’m Just Testing Out Using a Keyboard With My iPad

Which is to say I am fiddling with technology again and seeing how it’s working. Obviously, so far, so good. In case you’re wondering, the keyboard I’m pairing with the iPad is the Mac keyboard at my desk, because it’s bluetooth capable and I just wanted to see how it wouldwork. I went ahead and ordered and actual travel keyboard/case for the iPad (one of the Logitech ones, because it came highly rated and because I’ve generally had good experiences with Logitech stuff), but it won’t arrive for a little while. But this suggests to me I won’t have too many problems when it shows up.

It’s also making the point that we are indeed beginning to move past the PC age, or at the very least, that am beginning to recognize that the PC age is getting past us. I’m not entirely sure I am ready to abandon the idea of a laptop, given how much I travel. But then again if with the addition of a physical keyboard I find that my new iPad can do everything I want a laptop to do (which is, generally speaking, to allow me to do writing and editing), there’s not the incentive to drop a whole bunch of cash on yet another laptop, is there. These options were not fully baked two years ago, but they might be doable now, and in another couple of years it probably won’t even be a question. We’ll see what the future brings.

In the meantime, here in the present the keyboard occasionally seems to lose the ability to type letters into the WordPress blog entry field, usually when I press on the iPad screen to move the cursor around. I have to save a draft to get the typing functionality back. Interesting, although not necessarily in a good way. I’ll have to try it with a couple of other writing programs and see how it does.

Someone Who Speaks Russian Needs to Tell Me What’s Going On Here

I’m pretty sure it’s a review of Old Man’s War. It looks like it could be amusing. I can’t tell if it’s ultimately positive or not, but on the other hand, who cares? I like that someone put in this much effort.

Saturdays Are For Finishing Up Woefully Overdue Anthology Stories

Which is what I did with my Saturday, anyway. Yours might have been different.

The story: Called “Muse of Fire” (yes, I know there was a Dan Simmons novella of the same name; no, it has no relation or resemblance to that; yes, it is vaguely related to the opening line of Henry V). Roughly 8,200 words, and best described as fantasy with a scientific bent to it. The anthology is forthcoming from Audible. Should be fun. More details later.

In the meantime, what the heck:

Steve Jobs Was Wrong

Yesterday, because I needed it for work*, and because my wife growls threateningly whenever I get near hers**, I went and got one of the latest iterations of the iPad. As advertised, it is a very lovely piece of kit; the retina screen is gorgeous to look at, the most recent iteration of iOS is perfectly snappy, and of course it has the sort of elegant design that makes you feel smarter just for walking around with it (which is of course entirely dangerous). I like it.

Also, the damn thing is still not the right size for me. I can’t really do anything with the thing with just one hand, typing on the thing means I am confronted with a too-large keyboard in profile and a too-small keyboard in landscape (not to mention that the people at Apple give us an onscreen keyboard whose layout continues to show that no one there apparently needs to type anything), the thing is just ever-too-heavy for long reading sessions, and ever-so-awkwardly sized for lying around in bed with. This is why, despite the iPad’s obvious charms and features, I suspect at the end of the day my go-to tablet will continue to be the rather more modestly-specc’d Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch tablet I bought in May.

Steve Jobs was famously of the opinion that the iPad was exactly the right size, but you know what? Steve Jobs was as capable of being entirely full of crap as anyone else on the planet. I am an almost exactly average-sized human male, and a seven-inch tablet is far better sized for almost every single thing I personally want to use a tablet for on a daily basis. This is why, among other things, the tabletized Kindles and Nooks have been so very successful, and why people continue to slaver over the idea of the iPad Mini, which allegedly will be released in October. Although I won’t be buying one of those — please note the actual purchased iPad — when it comes out (and I think it will), I will feel totally vindicated. Vindicated, I say!

 

* SHUT UP I TOTALLY DO NEED IT FOR WORK. No, seriously. The video game I am working on is being built for mobile platforms, and obviously the iPad is a target platform in that area. SO THERE.

** She doesn’t really. And I’m not just writing that because she is standing directly behind me now.***

*** She wasn’t really. It’s comedy, people! Keep up!

You Never Go Full McCain

Here’s the thing about Mitt Romney: He’s a Republican candidate for president in the unenviable bind of not being able to run on any sort of record at all. He’s tried to run on his record as a businessman, but that’s been no good. The Democrats have done a pretty effective job painting him as a robber baron lighting cigars with the pensions of little old ladies, whose companies Bain & Company just liquidated for the LOLs. He can’t run on his record as a governor, because then the GOP base has its face rubbed in the fact that Romney gave socialized medicine to gay people who could get married, and that just won’t do. He can’t go out there and articulate his economic plan, bolted on as it is by the good graces of his Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, because Ryan’s economic plan is frankly insane, the sort of plan you make when you apparently think that the oliganarchy of the Russian 1990s is something to aim for, not run away from.

Constrained as he is, he’s got nothing he can actually use to make a case for himself but himself — Mitt Romney, with that genial smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, that head of hair strategically left to gray at the temples, and that paternal aura of competence that says, hey, trust me, put me in the job and we’ll deal with all those silly fiddly details later. And you know what? With the economy still farting about and Obama still being as cuddly as a prickly pear, and Romney having a bunch of SuperPACs willing to shovel money until there’s not a swing state that’s not carpetbombed with ads, this had a reasonably good chance of working. But ultimately it only works if you actually trust Romney — or alternately, have no reason to distrust Romney — to make sane, responsible and intelligent decisions.

Which is why Romney blew up his chance to be president this week: He showed, manifestly, that he’s indeed capable of making horrible, awful, very bad, no good, terrible choices. First, by deciding that a foreign crisis, generally considered to be off-limits for bald, obvious politicking, would be an excellent time to engage in some bald, obvious politicking. Second, by making a statement slamming the president while the crisis was still in the process of developing and getting worse. Third, by blaming the president for an action he had no hand in (the press release from the under siege embassy) and which his administration had disavowed. Fourth, when after the facts of the events became clear, and it became clear that Romney’s statement had some serious factual holes in it, for doubling down at a press conference on assertions everyone knew by that time weren’t correct.

How appalling was Romney’s decision-making process in attacking Obama on the embassy attacks? So appalling that it took three whole days for the GOP to find a way to get its messaging to support Romney’s position (sort of). And in the meantime, everyone in the world was treated to diplomats, politicians and commentators on both sides of the aisle saying the somewhat more articulate equivalent of “What is this I don’t even” to Romney’s antics.

Was there a legitimate criticism to be made of the administration’s handling of the embassy attacks? Sure, although it would have been smarter not to release it on September 11. Did Romney make it? No. When presented with a fine opportunity to recraft and restate his criticism, did Romney take advantage of it? Quite the opposite, in fact. Has Romney’s refusal to walk back his initial screw-up compromised legitimate criticism about how the embassy attacks have been handled? Oh, my, yes. It’s amazing, actually. It’s as if at every turn in the crisis Romney had an opportunity to do something that wouldn’t make him look like a cat with a bag on its head navigating through a room full of bar stool legs, and chose instead the opposing course. It’s impressive in its way, but it’s a not a good way to be impressive.

What Romney has done here is in fact similar to something his predecessor John McCain did in 2008: Seize a moment in a crisis to take a bold step, without checking to see if one is in fact stepping into the abyss. McCain’s moment came when the economy started collapsing in on itself, and McCain decided to suspend his campaign, postpone the debates and generally attempt to make it look like he was already president already. This didn’t go over particularly well, as you may recall. It certainly puzzled me. For me it signaled the point at which Obama began pulling away with the election, because it made McCain look panicky and befuddled rather than decisive and in charge. As I wrote at the time:

I wish that this sudden, overwhelming concern wasn’t such a transparent attempt to continue to McCain presidential strategy of attempting to win the White House without being required to articulate coherently to the public or the press why he’s presidential material. McCain has missed more Senate votes this year than any senator not recovering from a massive stroke, so an active presence in the Senate is not something he’s put much of a premium on since beginning his campaign. He isn’t rushing to Washington to help, he’s running away from everything else. He is the Sir Robin of 2008 presidential election.

Fast-forward to 2012. Here is another crisis, of a different sort. Here’s another candidate, attempting to look bold and decisive, ending up looking like he has no idea what he’s doing and in the process stripping away the one item he has to base his campaign on: The illusion that he can be trusted to do the right thing. Here’s another place where there’s an excellent chance we’ll one day look back and say: This is where the GOP lost the presidency this time around.

Romney went Full McCain on this one. We see how well it worked for McCain. I suspect it’ll work just as well for Romney.

The Big Idea: Sarah Beth Durst

Often times reading a book is the closest you can come to an experience without being there yourself. But can writing the book pull off the same sort of trick? Let’s ask Sarah Beth Durst, whose latest novel, Vessel, took shape at first because of a yearn to travel — or at the very least, to be elsewhere than she was. It didn’t stop there, of course…

SARAH BETH DURST:

I chose to write Vessel because I wanted to walk across a desert.

Some people might have booked a plane ticket and packed a suitcase.  But I don’t like being hot, I don’t like sand, and I’m about as athletically inclined as a garden gnome.  Minus the beard.

I think of it like choosing the next travel destination on my armchair traveler itinerary.  I’d written about the Arctic a couple years ago and immersed myself in a world of ice.  This time, I wanted to live in a world of sun and heat and sand.

But not just any desert.  It had to be a fantasy desert (because that’s the way my mind works — I was the kid who would always check her closet for an entrance to Narnia, who would always put “magic wand” on her birthday wish list, and who would always memorize where she put her stuffed animals so she’d catch them if/when they moved…  I probably shouldn’t admit that last one).  So my initial brainstorming went a little like this:

ME:  I want to write about a desert.

MY BRAIN:  Sure.  So long as I can write in air conditioning.

ME:  But I want more than sand.  Beaches have sand.  Sandboxes have sand.

MY BRAIN:  How about wolves made of sand?  And dragons.  No, not dragons, sky serpents!  Made of unbreakable glass!  And gods and goddesses that walk the earth inside the bodies of humans!  And a trickster god!  And a young emperor in a glorious palace!  And desert horses!  And monstrous worms!  Mwah-hah-hah!

ME:  You know we need a story too, right?

MY BRAIN:  Oh.  Right.

I found the story one night.  It was the perfect night: a crescent moon, a cool breeze, and me snoring (or, as I prefer to call it, “breathing”) on my pillow.  Yes, as cheesy as it sounds, the key to Vessel came to me in a dream.

I dreamed about a girl dancing.  She had long, black hair and silk skirts that flowed around her as she swirled.  Her feet were bare, and she was dancing on sand with the moon above her.  I was the girl.  And I was dancing wildly, joyfully.  As I danced, I knew that when the dance ended, I was going to die.

When I woke up, I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl.  I didn’t know why she was dancing, why she was going to die, or why, knowing that, she would feel so joyful and free.

In answering those questions, I found my Big Idea.

In this desert land with wolves made of sand that hunt inside storms and sky serpents made of unbreakable glass that guard mountains, every clan has its own god or goddess.  Once every hundred years, the clan’s deity claims a human body and uses it to work the magic that fills the wells, revitalizes the oases, and increases the herds.  Without this infusion of magic, the clan will wither and die.

Liyana has been chosen to give her body to her clan’s goddess.  She doesn’t want to die, of course, but she is willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her clan and especially for the sake of her four-year-old brother.  She begins the ceremony to summon her goddess…

… but her goddess doesn’t come.

Vessel is a story about losing your destiny and what happens after.

For me, for Vessel, the Big Idea didn’t come as a lightning strike.  It came as sparks that fused together.   I think that’s how the creative process works a lot of the time – or at least that’s how it works for me.  You start with a stray thought, a whim even, “I want to write about a desert.”  You prod it, twist it, stretch it, add to it, tear it up and sew it back together, toss in a few dreams, mix it up with bits of your soul… and then suddenly, magically, after a lot of typing and a lot of chocolate, you have your story, and you are walking across a desert with a girl who’s trying to save a goddess.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

14 Years of Whatever, Plus Book Announcement

September 13, 1998 was the day I sat down to write the first Whatever entry, motivated by a desire to keep my column-writing skills sharp and also, let’s be honest about these things, to give myself a way to keep myself busy when my newly-launched freelance writing career hit its inevitable lulls.

I had the vague hope that the writing I put on Whatever would lead to other things; I didn’t — and really in 1998 couldn’t — know how Whatever would become its own thing. But it has. It has become the column I was keeping my column skills sharp to write, and also the launching point for my forays into other media, and a place of enough significance in its own right that I can lend it to other writers to talk about their own new work.

And its audience keeps growing — by the end of the week, in fact, as many people will have visited Whatever this year as visited it in all of 2011 (5.4 million officially, not counting RSS and other feeds, and remember my caveats about stats), and we still have three and a half months to go in the year. Considering how the buzz in the last year has been that blogs are dying as a format, I feel especially good about that.

There are times, in fact, when I wonder if, at the end of the day, and to the extent that I will be notable at all to future humans (or, hey, whatever follows humans — I’m not picky! Hello, intelligent roaches!), Whatever will be considered my actual life’s work, not the science fiction, or the non-fiction books, or the journalism that I did prior to any of that. There are reasons to suspect it’s possible. One, I’ve been doing it longer than I’ve been doing any one other thing in my life, save for breathing and being married. Two, it’s a record of life in the United States roughly contiguous with the rise of the Internet as a social force, and a constant commentary on the culture that’s grown up and around that particular force. Three, it is actually me — or a reader-friendly, public performance-oriented tuning of me — in a way that my other writing simply is not. In a very real sense, this is my autobiography and my collected letters, all the stuff that any poor bastard hoping to get a master’s degree off a study of my life will have to pore through (and if you are that poor bastard — dude, you got a lot to wade through. Hope you made a pot of coffee).

To be clear, I would be perfectly fine with being remembered primarily as the author of Whatever; when it comes down to it, given how quickly the evidence of our lives slide under the waves of history, it’d nice to be remembered for anything, now, wouldn’t it (well, not for being a serial killer or snuffing Presidents or such. You know what I mean). If one were to resurrect Samuel Pepys, he might be surprised that he was rather more famous for his diary than his turn as a minister of parliament or for his tenure at the admiralty; he might be surprised that he was remembered at all. You don’t get to pick how people remember you, should they bother to make the effort in the first place.

At least no one knows about the place in the basement where I render kittens down for felt. I’d hate to be remembered for that.

Hey, forget about that last paragraph, would you? Thank you.

Given our base-10 predilections as humans, the 14th anniversary of anything is not one that most of would consider particularly notable. Be that as it may, this 14th anniversary is still an important day for me, and I would like to do something special to commemorate it. For that reason, I’d like to use the occasion of the 14th anniversary of Whatever to announce that on the 15th anniversary of Whatever, September 13, 2013, Subterranean Press will release the second official collection of Whatever entries, entitled The Mallet of Loving Correction: Selected Writings from Whatever, 2008 – 2012. This collection will naturally include all the big hit entries of the last four years, plus a personal selection of favorites that I think are worth official enshrinement in the Library of Congress. Some of these might not even be written yet, because we still have time left on 2012, and you never know what the future will bring. Well, except for The Mallet of Loving Correction: Selected Writings from Whatever, 2008 – 2012, on September 13, 2013. We’re pretty sure about that part.

So, yes: Hey, I sold another book off of my blog! Turns out the thing has been useful after all. And once again I can say: thank you, Whatever. My life would quite literally — because there’s a book involved! Get it? GET IT?!? — not be the same without you.

And also: Thank you, dear reader. The not-so-secret secret of Whatever is I wouldn’t write it if I thought I was only talking to myself. I’m glad you’re here, that you read what I have to say, and also occasionally comment on what I have to say, too. Yes, even those of you I have to Mallet. Because, look! I got a book title out of it! See? Everything works out perfectly.

This is Exactly What Happens When I Pitch Television Shows

Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue has captured my VERY ESSENCE. And also my Coke Zero. Which is apparently my VERY ESSENCE. Now you know!

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I had pitched some TV shows to TV show types in Hollywood. As things do on Twitter, things quickly spiraled out of control. And involved a goat.

And that’s where Hijinks Ensue’s Joel Watson comes into with a cartoon retelling of my TV show adventures.

Every word of it is true. Except the nouns and the verbs, and most of the adjectives. But the conjunctions? They have the gritty tang of veracity.

Also, my wife says I am much more handsome than that cartoon version of me. Of course she is right.

I will note for completeness’ sake that Joel’s take on the titular character of my soon-to-be-in-production television show is actually the second version. Here is the first.

It’s fun when you think up weird crap and then The Internets just runs with it. Occasionally terrifying as well. But mostly fun.

The Big Idea: Sarah Rees Brennan

Look! A large, sinister manor! Filled with parapets and secret panels and whatnot! What sort of story shall we put in such a thing? Well, Sarah Rees Brennan knows, because there’s one in her latest novel, Unspoken. Draw up a Victorian-style chair next to the roaring fire in the large (and sinister!) hearth, and let her tell you about it.

SARAH REES BRENNAN:

Gothic novels are often referred to as the ‘girl meets house’ genre. This is pretty accurate: usually the girl meets a tall dark dangerous man and a tall dark dangerous manor at about the same time.

It’s like a love triangle, in the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot or Edward/Bella/Jacob vein, if brave Sir Lancelot or that poor werewolf guy was a house. A house that was on fire.

It’s very difficult to have relationships with a house, especially if it’s a Gothic manor.

MAIDEN: I just don’t know if I can trust you to be a good manor! You’re mad, bad and dangerous to buy or rent!
MANOR: Baby I can change.
MAIDEN: You always say that! And then I find another madwoman in your attic or God forbid, someone else buried alive in the walls…
MANOR: But we’re so good together. This bed is on fire, with passionate love!
MAIDEN: Yes, the bed is LITERALLY ON FIRE. That’s part of the problem!

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca starts with a lady having a woooooonderful dream about her house, and that house in the dream, it is lookin’ goooooooood.

And in Barbara Michaels’s Someone in the House… the house actually forms a, um, body at a Key Moment and makes sweet housalicious love to someone. Don’t look at me like that: I just report the news.

But, hey. Who doesn’t like an old manor full of family secrets? I like an old manor. (But not, and I want to stress this, in a sexy way.) I like an atmospheric mystery with all the underlying emotional business: that you’re trapped, that you’re in danger, that nobody will believe you and even you are starting to worry that you’re crazy.

So, I wanted to write a Gothic mystery. But I wanted to make it new: I wanted to make it mine.

So, first of all, I thought, the Gothic hero who comes with the house, the one who is keeping all those secrets? Here’s looking at you, Edward ‘Wife In The Attic Plus Fake Girlfriend Because That Situation Wasn’t Complicated Enough’ Rochester.

That boyfriend is a terrible boyfriend. Girls don’t have to put up with stuff like that nowadays, for God’s sake, there’s always match.com.

I started thinking, though, that children have to move where their parents bring them. And, since I love the reversal of a trope about as much as a gothic heroine loves a house, I decided to make my gothic heroine … a boy.

Now, I don’t mean I wanted to make him a gothic hero. Gothic heroes are always in the know about everything and keeping quiet, apparently to be annoying mofos, and also are always wenching around Europe (a fine time to be sure, but the poor lad’s only seventeen). I wanted to give the usual business of a gothic heroine, alone, unloved, transplanted into a sinister Gothic manor and kept in the dark about many a shady family secret, to a boy character. And well, yes, okay, I threw in a little brooding gothic hero business too for good measure. And lo, I got Jared Lynburn, lunatic, secret romantic and twitchy dude ready to deck you at a moment’s notice for asking the time.

But since he was going to be an outsider to the little English town which the Gothic manor overlooks, I wanted to write about an insider, someone who knew Sorry-in-the-Vale and all its inhabitants. (Think about it: the villagers clearly know there’s something up with Count Dracula. ‘He tips really well when he brings the castle linen to the drycleaner’s, but we are so tired of him kidnapping the children and feeding them to wolves.’)

And the heroine should be someone capable of unravelling a Gothic mystery. This is the point where two genres collided in my head with a glorious smash: Gothics and lady sleuths.

I like me some Lois Lane: I like me some Miss Marple. I like me some Nancy Drew, and the women behind these creations, and the women these creations were based on.

Girls who are indomitable, who like mysteries, who go toward the creepy sound in the cellars or the dark doings in the woods because they want to report on it.

The more Gothic mysteries I read, the more I thought we needed someone like that around.

Enter Kami Glass, brand new editor of the school newspaper, intrepid girl reporter, goofball (because what sinister mystery would not be improved by a little humour, this stuff is funny, you all read what someone did with a house…), becoming very concerned about a) actual screaming going on in the woods outside her town, b) everyone in town, including her own mother, acting fifty shades of shady, and c) how it all links up with the Lynburn family, who just arrived back in their ancestral manor after a 17-year absence.

Murder. Magic. Petty crime in the cause of great justice. Love, fear and live burial. Very embarrassing psychic links. Really suspicious architecture.

The big idea was to give you all of the above with Unspoken.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

A Further Crawl Into My Hermitage

Just as a head’s up for folks: I just put up an autoresponder on my e-mail letting people know that for the rest of the month until October 8, the chance of me responding to anything that’s not directly business-related (and specifically, business-related to the things I currently have on deadline) is likely to be responded to late or not at all, on account that holy crap I have some gnarly deadlines, and at this point I need to make sure the people what give me money for my brain emanations are actually getting what they’re supposed to get, which means focus. So, really, if you are reading this and were planning to send me any kind of e-mail at all — including requests for blurbs or new work — please consider waiting until I finally scrawl here that my work is done. When you see post “Yay! The Human Division is in the bag!” then it’s e-mailing time.

(The sole exception to this: Big Idea queries. I’m still taking them but will also probably respond late to them, so don’t panic if you don’t hear from me immediately.)

(Also, please don’t send me an e-mail just to get the autoresponse. One, it just restates what I posted here. Two, really?)

This is also the point where I sheepishly admit that the now-stated policy is in fact the same policy I’ve been using since I left for Chicon 7, I just forgot to tell anyone about it once I got back, so now I have a very large amount of unresponded-to mail — some from people who I am very fond of! — which is causing me to be awash with guilt. I’ll get to some of it, I swear. Maybe.

The good news: Work is coming along nicely so you will get some pretty tasty new fiction at the end of it. The bad news, such as it is, will be that until it’s done I will be progressively less responsive to the world, which includes here and you. Again, gotta take care of obligations. You know how it is, and if you don’t, well, I still have to do it anyway.

Look, Everyone! It’s the Tuesday Mantis!

Because is it really a Tuesday without a picture of a mantis? I don’t think so, either.

This one was on my rabbit hutch, about a half hour ago. This was shortly before it got exasperated with me and flew off, prompting both my wife and daughter to exclaim, in dismay, “THEY FLY?!?” Why, yes! Yes they do. And now you know.

A Little Something I Wrote on Facebook Earlier Today

On my private account (i.e., the one I use for people I actually know in real life), not my public page:

The closer we get to the election the more I am reminded just how incredibly awful Facebook is for communicating complex and in-depth political thought, and yet how perfect it is for reducing the political thoughts one has to the level of hollering for one’s favorite sports teams.

I would never tell anyone not to express a political opinion, here or elsewhere; I might ask you, however, to consider whether the opinion you’re expressing here is functionality equivalent to waving a pom-pom, and how much pom-pom waving is actually necessary for you to do, or for me to see.

I made a decision when I made this personal account to keep it politics free, because I find Facebook woefully inadequate as a vehicle for either deep thought or useful discussion, and besides I have a blog for that stuff. I also avoid getting into political discussions here for the same reason. It makes my time on Facebook much less stressful.

This is a personal choice, and I neither expect or desire for anyone to use Facebook just like I do, unless they have come to the same conclusions as I have. That said, if the large majority of political pom-pom waving disappeared from my Facebook thread tomorrow, replaced by pictures of friends, updates on their lives, and witty comments about everything but politics, well, let’s just say I would not be upset in the slightest.

It’s entirely true that on Facebook I avoid talking politics, not only because it is (as noted) just a horribly bad medium for it, but also because most of the people who are on that private facebook account are people who I have known for years, including family and friends going back all the way to elementary school. The idea of arguing politics with most of those good folks just makes me feel tired, very much like one feels tired when your uncle, after glass four of wine, starts talking conspiracy theories at Thanksgiving. It’s, like, hey, Uncle Ed, we love you, but could you just shut the hell up on the subject for six friggin’ hours, would ya? And then we can all have pie in peace for once.

When I’m on Facebook, I want to see pictures of my friends’ kids and their pets and hear how their day went. Facebook is really good with that. When I want to talk politics, this is where I do it. Because this place is really good for that.

Twitter I just use to be a goofball. This is not news, I suppose.

The Big Idea: Peter Adam Salomon

Very few people in the world are truly tabula rasa — a blank slate. So when you’re creating a character who is as close to one as can be, how do you keep it real… and compelling? That was Peter Adam Salomon’s task with Henry Franks. Sit down and find out how he did it.

PETER ADAM SALOMON:

When I began to write Henry Franks, my first thought was to start with a father figure, the man responsible for shaping the only world his son knew, and wondered how it would be possible to create a false reality for that child. For instance, if you were taught that the green stuff in front of your house was called ‘hair’ and the brown stuff on top of your head was called ‘grass’ then you would find it perfectly normal to mow your hair and cut your grass. I wanted to play with identity in the same way, to make the completely irrational perfectly normal due to the ‘training’ of the child.

However, what quickly became more interesting to me were the reactions of the son as his doubts weakened all he had been taught to believe about himself. So, I began again, this time from the son’s point of view. Of course, this meant that I was basing an entire novel on a character with some serious holes in his personality.

I struggled to create a character without a past, which turned out to be a great deal harder than I had expected. There’s no history to detail, no depth other than the immediate present. Taking that away forced me to explore other ways to share Henry with the reader and, most importantly, to hopefully make the reader care for this young man.

I kept returning to the same basic questions about identity: Where do you turn when you remember nothing? Who do you rely on to tell you the truth about yourself? If you can’t trust your past, is it really possible to be human?

That pervasive sense of doubt and suspicion provided an excellent backdrop for Henry’s search for identity. In the context of a horror novel with all the requisite “bumps-in-the-night,” where even the weather and the house he lives in become characters, every detail becomes a necessary component to the characterization of Henry. If the possibility exists that anything—a photograph, last night’s leftovers, a locked room—might be crucial to understanding yourself, then everything must be taken into account.

Finally, in order to help Henry, I introduced him to the only person able to see past his scars to the lost young man inside: his one friend, Justine. Originally I had envisioned Justine as the Watson to Henry’s Sherlock (in other words: a platonic friendship) as they investigated his past. But I ended up with something more powerful than I had actually planned for, something deeper and far more real than I had expected. Justine took over the book in so many ways. She grounded it, the way she grounded Henry. She allowed Henry to trust her, she earned that trust and, most of all, she repaid his trust with her own.

What started as the quiet story of a young man’s search for himself (if, by quiet, one includes serial murders and a hurricane) ended up becoming a story about one young man meeting a young woman and together, always together, solving the oldest mystery of all: Who am I?

—-

Henry Franks: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book site. Read the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.