Monthly Archives: December 2012

Meet the Mandolele

I enjoy playing the ukulele but sometimes wish for a robust sound than I can get out of one, while still maintaining a compact size. So I wandered into the local music store and took a look at this mandolin hooked up on the wall. After strumming it a bit, I turned to the proprietor and asked him if it would be possible to tune it like a ukulele, so I wouldn’t have to learn a whole new set of chords. His response was “if you’re buying it, sure.” And so the mandolin is now tuned like a ukulele, although the G-string on this one is tuned an octave lower than it usually is on a uke. I can make the same chord figures, and the chords sound right, so from my point of view it’s all good.

The mandolin does indeed sound more robust than a typical uke, an artifact of both its steel strings, and the fact there are eight strings on the instrument. To be clear, there are 8-stringed ukuleles out there, but they weren’t in the local music store at the time and I wanted something at that moment and I also wanted to support a local business rather than farm it out to the Internet. Beyond that, I do like the sound of the mandolin. So again, from my point of view this was the right choice.

I don’t know if actual mandolin player would find it heresy to tune a mandolin like a ukulele, but if they do I can live with it, and they don’t have to play my mandolele. Or perhaps “ukeolin”? I think “mandolele” sounds better. “Mandolele” it is.

 

Tech Notes on the XPS One (and Windows 8)

People always seem to be interested in my thoughts when I get a new chunk of technology, so herewith, some thoughts on the new Dell XPS One 27, and the Windows 8 operating system that goes with it.

First, a glitch report and how it was resolved: One the first day I had the new computer it had a problem accessing the hard drive after it had gone to sleep. Resetting the computer didn’t work. I ended up calling Dell about it and after a few transfers, got to the department that apparently exclusively deals with the XPS line of Dell machines. My problem was a known bug; apparently some combination of Windows 8 and my hybrid hard drive (it has an SSD component for fast startups) creates a problem. We went into the BIOS and fiddled with a setting or two and everything was groovy from there. So good marks on Dell for dealing with the problem quickly; on the other hand it would have been nice to have this known bug addressed before the thing was shipped.

That bug aside, the machine is very nice, speedy with lots of RAM and drive space. The screen in particular is lovely with a bright 2560×1440 screen. I had been hesitant to get a 27-inch screen before this point because it’s just so damn big, and there was no point in getting a screen that large without a commensurate bump in screen resolution; everything would just look worse. At this resolution everything still looks smooth and the extra real estate on the screen is useful. The video driver does perfectly well on the games I’ve played on it so far. On the audio side its built-in speakers are plenty loud and full for the home office. The touch screen I’ll address in a bit. The included keyboard and mouse are adequate but nothing to write home about; I’ll probably upgrade those.

The fact the machine is an all-is-one has some theoretical drawbacks but also real-world advantages. The theoretical drawback is that it’s difficult to upgrade if I want to do that; all-in-ones aren’t really built to be user-serviced. However, the fact of the matter is that even with towers I’ve had I rarely added into them, and when I did I had a tendency to break the machines one way or another; I just have bad luck with computers that way. So that theoretical disadvantage is not much of a real-world problem. The real-world advantages include having the whole computer on the desktop, rather than a tower having to be located on the floor, taking up space with cables everywhere, and the fact the all-in-one is much quieter than the vast majority of towers I’ve ever had. As I get older I appreciate not having so much ambient computer noise in my workspace.

As previously noted the XPS One comes with Windows 8, which requires a bit of a learning curve because of how it handles start up and accessing programs and apps, and also because it encourages touchscreen use with its gestures and swipes and such. The learning curve isn’t that onerous, and I’m adapting just fine, but three days in I’m still not finding a huge personal advantage in having a graphically-oriented start screen rather than just the traditional Windows start button. It’s neither particularly faster or more useful to me, and the start apps in particular make me wonder what advantage they have over, say, using a same feature inside a Web browser. For example, I’m currently using Livestrong to help me count my calories; there’s a Win8 app for it. It’s pretty, but I can just as easily access the Livestrong Web site, particularly as I am usually in the desktop mode anyway, on a browser.

I think what it comes down to is the Win8’s start screen is designed to help people consume what’s online and do specific discrete things through their computer, rather than help people create things on and with their computer. That’s probably fine for most folks, who are using their computers for Facebook, games, Netflix and the occasional e-mail. But for those of us for whom the computer is a creative work tool, its less useful. The good news is that it’s not in the least onerous to get to the desktop and just use the computer like we’ve always used it.

With that said, I’ll note there are things which I wouldn’t mind app-ed out and put into the Win8 Start Screen environment which are not there yet. I wouldn’t mind having a Rhapsody or Spotify app in that environment, so I could swipe in, set it up and forget it, but neither of them are there (they are available as standard Windows programs, of course, and you can put a shortcut on the Start screen to them, which will punt you into the desktop environment). There is an XBox Music app, but I already pay for two music services and am not particularly keen to add a third, particularly one that doesn’t play nice on a cross-platform basis, considering I have Android and iOS machines. I don’t doubt in time those apps will show up, but they’re not here now, and they’re examples of things that should be. Other apps that would be useful but not there as far as I can see: Twitter and Facebook (Google+ is there through the generally excellent Google Win8 app).

As for the touchscreen of the Dell and the touchscreen compatibility of Windows 8, both work very well, so long as the program you’re using supports the touchscreen in some manner. In a general sense it seems one may use the touchscreen to approximate mouse clicks and such, including right and left clicks (in a practical sense this is often imprecise and one is better off using a mouse or trackpad). I had noted previously that one obvious result of touchscreens is a smudgy computer, to go with one’s smudgy phone and tablet. We have entered the era of smudgy computing, and I think in general people are going to have to resign themselves to that. In the case of the XPS I have, it has ten-point touchscreen capability, so I have many opportunities to smudge up the screen to my heart’s desire.

And yes, I do find myself touching the screen more than I might have expected. Partly this is due to having spend enough time with touchscreens on the phone and tablets that it’s not an alien thing to do on a desktop, and partly because there are some things for which it really is just easier to reach over to the screen and touch it rather than reach for the mouse or keyboard. I’m pretty sure as things go along there will be more reasons to use the touchscreen, so I’m glad I sprung for one.

In all: I’m pleased with the purchase so far, and aside from that one glitch, I’m working with both the XPS One and Windows 8 perfectly well. We’ll see how it goes from here.

Some Thoughts on the Pose-Off Between Jim C. Hines and Me

You know. This one

1. The pose-off, while for charity, has its genesis in Jim taking pictures of himself in the poses that science fiction and fantasy book covers often put women in to call attention to the point that these positions are absurd (whereas the positions men are put in on covers are generally substantially less so). In the coverage of the pose-off, this point is getting a little lost, however, so Jim restates it here. Go take a look.

2. On the same subject, Think Progress’ Alyssa Rosenberg also has some thoughts. Also worth a look.

3. It’s fair to ask why I chose to do my picture in a dress and with a wig on; the answer is the woman in the picture is wearing a dress and has long hair, and I thought it was worth it to get as close to the original picture environment as possible. This also explains the crossbow, the bracelet and the heels.

4. Mind you, I was also aware of the humor possibilities inherent in me also having all those things and also being unshaven, which was another reason I chose to look as I did. Juxtapositions are fun!

5. That said, one of the side effects of that is some people wondering whether I was intentionally making a negative statement on transfolk. The answer: No. I am generally trans-positive because I believe people should be who they are, and they deserve love and support in becoming and then being that. I wouldn’t go out of my way to intentionally mock transfolk, because, among many other reasons, why be an asshole like that? We give transfolk enough burdens on a daily basis without me adding to their load. So if you’re a trans person (or love someone who is) and were wondering about intent, sorry if I made you wonder about that.

6. It was also not to make any statements about the other transfolk, i.e., transvestites, either. However, having briefly spent time in women’s clothing, I have newfound respect for the men who can rock that sort of kit, not to mention, of course, the women who wear it on a daily basis. That shit’s hard.

7. On the subject of whether the particular pose is ridiculous, my short answer is: Are you kidding? I just about popped my leg out of my hip socket holding that pose for roughly fifteen seconds. Some of that is down to me being a flabby, middle-aged dude trying to hold a gymnastic pose, but some of it is down to it being an entirely ridiculous position to put one’s self into.

8. Also, here’s a little bit of secret history for you: I did a little bit of gymnastics when I was a kid and could do a forward handspring without any real effort into my late 30s; I also took dance and can still cut a rug when it suits me. I’m flabby and middle-aged, but I’m not especially inflexible. That pose just about killed me getting into. Getting out of it was easy: I just fell forward. Anyone who wants to tell me that the pose isn’t really that ridiculous is invited to get into the position and hold it long enough to fire off a dozen photos or so.

9. I am happy my hip joint pain has been able to help contribute to the (so far) $6,700 Jim has raised for the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation, and pleased that so many of you have been generous in your giving. Thank you. There’s still time to give, incidentally.

10. There’s still one more pose-off between me and Jim to go. That’s not counting the mass pose with me, Jim, Pat Rothfuss, Charlie Stross and Mary Robinette Kowal. Consider both of these, why don’t you.

Gene Wolfe Chosen as SFWA Grand Master

One of the perks of the job as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is that I get to select — in consultation with the SFWA board and its past presidents — the recipient of SFWA’s Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award. It’s an award that may be given annually, but should be given only when the time is right (I did not name a Grand Master in the first year of my presidential tenure, for example, for various reasons). This year, the time is right to name Gene Wolfe, one of our greatest living SF&F writers, as this year’s award recipient. I was delighted to be able to ask him to be our Grand Master, and even more delighted when he accepted.

Here is the SFWA press announcement on the award, with quotes from me, Neil Gaiman, last year’s Grand Master recipient Connie Willis, and of course, Mr. Wolfe himself.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 2012 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Awarded to Gene Wolfe

SFWA has named Gene Wolfe as the 2012 recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for his contributions to the literature of science fiction and fantasy.

Gene Wolfe’s fiction first saw publication in the 1960s. He is best known for the novels The Book of the New Sun, Peace, and The Fifth Head of Cerberus, and received many awards, including the Nebula, World Fantasy and Locus.

Neil Gaiman: “It’s not that Gene Wolfe is, in the opinion of many (and I am one of the many), our finest living science fiction writer. It is that he is, in the opinion of the Washington Post (and of me, too) one of our finest living writers. He has been our uncrowned Grand Master for a long time, and now the rest of the world will know as well.”

In Gene’s own words: “There was a time – long ago to most of you, though it seems recent to me – when Rosemary, our children, and I were living from paycheck to paycheck and barely getting by. I’d had three not-terribly-good stories published in a college magazine before I went into the Army, and I thought I might just possibly write on the side and make us a little extra money. I sold a few stories. Then it was time for school to start again, and Rosemary began badgering me for money for school clothes. I would gladly have given it to her if there had been any. Another story, “Car Sinister,” sold, and instead of depositing the check I got the manager of the hardware store to cash it for me. I took it to Rosemary: ‘Here’s every dime I got for that story. That’s how much you have for school clothes.’  A few days passed, and I was sitting on the kitchen floor trying to mend a chair.  Rosemary came up behind me and said, ‘Shouldn’t you be writing?’

“That’s when I knew I was a writer.

“You’d better watch your step, folks; you’re raising me to a height I would never have imagined.  If you keep this up I’ll start thinking I’m a good writer.”

SFWA President John Scalzi, on choosing Wolfe: “You’d have to search far and wide to find a contemporary fantasy writer who has not been directly influenced by Gene Wolfe. His prose is a joy to read, his stories are dense and deep, and his worlds are dark and rich beyond compare. And to top it off, he is a genuinely delightful human being. It is well past time that his stories, his style and his contribution to our genre and to literature in general are recognized and celebrated with a Grand Master award. I am thrilled and humbled that Gene has graciously agreed to be our recipient this year.”

Connie Willis, 2011 Damon Knight Recipient: “Oh, how wonderful that Gene Wolfe is going to be a Grand Master, even though of course he already is in the minds of everyone who’s ever read his books or who’s ever known him!  He’s one of the loveliest people it’s been my privilege to know in science fiction–courtly, kind, frighteningly intelligent, and at the same time endlessly patient with us lesser mortals. I know everybody will be praising his books during the next few days, and deservedly so, but I also want to put in a word for his equally amazing short stories, like ‘The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories’ and ‘The Death of Dr. Island’ –even his titles are brilliant!– and ‘Golden City Far’ and ‘The Detective of Dreams’ and ‘Memorare.’ And especially ‘Seven American Nights,’ which served as my first–and staggeringly memorable–introduction to him.

“Congratulations, Gene!  SO well-deserved!  And such good news!”

The Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award is given by SFWA for ‘lifetime achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy.’ Wolfe joins the Grand Master ranks alongside such legends as Michael Moorcock, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Joe Haldeman. The award will be presented at the 48th Annual NebulaAwardsWeekend in San Jose, CA, May 16-19, 2013.

More information on the award’s history and the Nebula Award Weekend can be found at: http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/

Oh, And: Last Day to Get Signed Books From Me for the Holidays

Just remembered that. Don’t wait! Once more, here are the details. After today Jay and Mary’s will have signed stock from me, but I won’t be personalizing it, and it might not get to you before Christmas. So if you want your book personalized to you or someone else, today’s the day.

I’m Off Having New Tires Put on My Mother-in-Law’s Car, So Here’s the Cover for the Italian Version of The Ghost Brigades for You to Look At

I’m getting the tires put on because a) I am the sole adult in the extended family whose job lets him wander around aimlessly during daylight hours, and b) because, you know, I try to be a good son-in-law.

I think this cover looks nice in any event. Gaze into it and mediate on your life. I’ll be back later.

The New Toy, December 2012 Edition

You may recall that about a year ago my desktop computer crapped out, and my choice to replace it was at first nothing (I was using my MacBook Air) and then a Mac Mini. These solutions worked tolerably well, but in time I decided I needed a little more ooomph, both for the various graphics processing things I do and for the occasional zombie hunt. So after doing a bit of research I picked up this: The Dell XPS One. This is the tricked out version with a ten-point touchscreen and all the other bells and whistles. It came down to between this and the iMac 27-inch; I went with this one because of the touchscreen and it being marginally less expensive. The iMac would have slightly more power in the graphics processing arena (they both have NVIDIA GPUs, with the iMacs having a slightly higher number), but this one does well enough for what I will do with it. And here we are. In any event, if I still have a hankering for the Mac environment, I plugged the Mac Mini into one of the HDMI slots. It won’t be a problem to get at it.

The Dell came with Windows 8, which I am fiddling with now to see what I think of it; mostly I think at this point it adds another screen of things before I can get to the stuff I actually want to access, but I’m willing to give it a shot and see how it works. I will admit it’s nice to be able to touch the screen and get things to move about, although we’ll have to see how much I end up actually using that in the long run. I do intend to keep a cloth for the screen handy; it’s already smudgy.

And now I’m off to download Steam and some of the FPS games I’ve been missing. Excuse me.

My Dear Friends: You Will Not Be Able to Unsee the Unspeakable Terror That is the Jim C Hines/John Scalzi Cover Pose-Off

All I can say to you of it is:

PREPARE YOURSELF.

Are you prepared? Are you?

Then follow this link and see me and Jim attempt this pose:

BUT I WARN YOU: Whatever you think it will be? It is so much more than that.

I have done all I can to gird you. It is now in your hands. And eyeballs. And brains.

Edit, 10:53 am: There’s a poll over there in which you can vote for who does this cover best. I’m not saying you have to vote for me, but if you do, I’m giving five cents a vote to the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation, the organization Jim is fundraising for, up to $500. Yes, I am totally buying your vote! Don’t worry, it’s allowed. Bwa ha ha hah ha!

Introducing the Video Game I’m Working On: Morning Star, From Industrial Toys

As most of you know, for the last year or so I’ve been working on a video game with Industrial Toys, the new video game studio formed by former Bungie founder Alex Seropian. We’ve been quietly chugging along in the background putting the game together; my job has been working with them to create an overall game concept as well as the narrative that fits into that concept. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun, in no small part because my co-workers at Industrial Toys are some of the smartest and most creative people in the video game business.

We’ve been keeping the title of and images from the video game pretty close to the chest to this point, but today’s the day we officially announce the game, complete with trailer. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Morning Star:

As the trailer notes, the video game is a first-person shooter, but with a bit of a twist: It’s designed specifically for mobile gaming on tablets, which means that everything — gameplay, controls, story — was put together incorporating both the physical layout of tablets and the gameplay dynamic of mobile gaming. It’s not a port from another video game medium, in other words: It’s at home in mobile. Which is also very exciting.

There’s going to be more to discover about Morning Star in the coming weeks and months and I’m going to tell you about it here — but you can also visit MorningstarGame.com to sign up to be the first to learn more about the game. If you’re a gamer it’s worth the sign up.

I’m really excited to be showing off Morning Star to you. I can’t wait for you to see the whole thing soon.

Update, 9:10: Some more information on the game on the Industrial Toys web site! Also, check out this story on the game over at Polygon.

Reminder: Signed Books for the Holiday Orders in by December 12

Remember, folks: If you want to get signed, personalized books from me this fine holiday season, you need to get your orders in to Jay and Mary’s Book Center by close of business, this Wednesday, December 12. After that we can’t guarantee that your orders would arrive in time for Christmas. And then that would be the saddest Christmas of all. Seriously, they’d do a Hallmark Channel movie on it or something. So don’t delay: get your orders in today, or at the very latest Wednesday. Here are all the details

A Little More Re: Writing For Free

To address a few things asked to me in e-mail, comments here and out on the Internets, about my previous entry on writing for free (and why I don’t):

1. I was asked if I’ve ever worked for free, and the answer is: No, not really. I started getting paid for writing while I was in college, took a job at newspaper, then went to AOL, and then went freelance for corporations and non-profits, then started writing books. Pretty much through all that time I got paid because I didn’t see the point in writing for other folks if they weren’t going to pay me, because this is what I did to make money. Not taking on work that didn’t pay me left me time to look for work that did pay me.

Now, you could probably argue that I was fortunate in that I never had to take on work that didn’t make me money, and I wouldn’t argue the point; I’ve always acknowledged that I’ve been very lucky in my career. However, luck has a lot to do with the particular choices we make and the circumstances that arise from those choices. I made the particular choice to get paid for my work, and not to do work for people who won’t pay me. One result of that is that in my career I’ve moved through circles of people in which it is understood that when people work, they get paid for it.

2. But what about charity and/or friends and/or [insert what you think is a good reason not to take money here]? Well, what about them? I’ll note that when I approach friends about doing work for me, I typically pay them for their time. I mean, you don’t think Paul & Storm or Jonathan Coulton wrote those songs for me for free, did you? No, I paid them. Do you think Jeff Zugale did that awesome Unicorn Pegasus Kitten painting out of the kindness of his own heart, or the writers of Clash of the Geeks did it for nothing? No, everyone was paid. Why do I pay them? Because when I do work, I like to get paid, so I assume my friends who are creative people like to get paid too.

As for charity, well, if it’s the actual charity group, the organization probably has a budget, and my work falls under that. If I do the work pro bono, then I get a nifty tax deduction, which counts as compensation for my time, but a charity would be foolish to assume that I should expect that to be the entirety of my compensation. Alternately there are times when I’ll decide to do something for a charitable reason without getting paid for it, but that’s me deciding to do it, not the organization asking me to; typically the organization is surprised when I show up with money for them because they didn’t know it was coming.

As for any other reason you might think of, look: When I want to write for fun, then I do it. But when people come to me — especially people I don’t know — looking for writing, they’re asking for work. The work might have the potential to be fun, or interesting, or morally edifying or whatever, but it’s still work, and the bright line for work is this: You want work? You have to pay. Because it’s my skill and talent and expertise and time you are asking for, and they are all worth something.

3. Over at Metafilter, where there’s a thread open on this topic, someone asks: “I dunno, couldn’t he just write a form letter and send it to people?” The response: What do you think that entry was? I wrote it to point people at. It serves other purposes too (as people on that thread have also noted), but one very big reason to write it is to point free-seekers at later, so I don’t have write all this crap again, or at least, not for a few more years.

But of course the other reason to do it this way is that I have a voice and an audience, a non-trivial portion of whom are writers and other creative people, and I think it’s useful for someone who’s had a reasonable amount of success in his chosen creative field to say this sort of stuff out loud. The sort of person who expects work for free, and/or preys on creative people by trying to convince them that working for free “is how it’s done” benefits when creative people are publicly silent about this sort of crap. So this is me saying to creators: Guys, in fact this is not how it’s done, and you deserve to be paid for your work. It’s also me saying to people who prey on creators: Fuck you. Pay me. Pay us.

4. Also, of course, some people think that way I said it wasn’t nice. Bah. It’s as nice as it should be. You want me to do work but you don’t want to pay me? What sort of response should you expect? A hug? Fuck you! Pay me!

5. That “Fuck you. Pay me.” icon above? Feel free to take it; right click on it and save it to your own computer. Use it, love it, send it to people who want you to work for free. No, I don’t expect you to pay me for it. But that’s because I did it for myself, for fun, and now I want to share it with you. That makes a difference, it does.

A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free

Because apparently it’s that time again.

1. No.

2. Seriously, are you fucking kidding me?

3. Did you wake up this morning and say to yourself “You know what? A New York Times bestselling author who has been working full-time as a writer for two decades, who frequently rails at writers for undervaluing their own work in the market and who is also the president of a writers organization that regularly goes after publishers for not paying writers adequately is exactly the person who will be receptive, through lack of other work or personal inclination, to my offer”? And if you did, what other dumb things did you do with your morning?

4. If you didn’t know that I was that guy in point three, and just asked me to write for free for you because, I don’t know, you heard I was a writer of some sort, although you couldn’t say what kind or what I had done, then what you’re saying to me is “Hey, you’re a warm body with an allegedly working brain stem and no idea of the value of your work — let me exploit you!” I want you to ask yourself what in that estimation of me would entice me to provide you with work, starting with the fact that you didn’t do even the most basic research into who I was. Rumor is, it’s not hard to find information about me on the Internet! Just type “John Scalzi” into Google and see!

5. If you try to mumble something at me about “exposure,” I’m going to laugh my ass off at you. Explain to me, slowly, what exposure you possibly think you could give me with your Web site or publication. Please factor in that this Web site gets up to 50,000 visitors on a normal day — with spikes into the hundreds of thousands when I write something particularly clicky — and that it’s regularly ranked one of the top ten book sites and top 100 entertainment sites on the entire Web by Technorati (at this moment, number five and sixty four, respectively).

6. If you try to mumble something at me about “Huffington Post,” I might smack you. Yes, there are some people writing for the Huffington Post for free. They typically are a) People in the 1% who aren’t working writers who don’t already have a well-established way to get their meanderings out there on the Internet; b) Writers and/or other creators promoting a book/album/TV show/whatever. I’m not a) and when I am b) I have a publicist who handles my media requests; talk to her and be aware I am picky. You’re probably not Arianna Huffington in any event. And if you were Arianna Huffington and asked me to write for free, I would send you over to points one through three. I might let Huffington Post reprint something I had already written here, if it amused me to do so (I’ve let Gawker’s sites do that a couple of times this year), but something new and original? Fuck you, pay me.

7. If you try to mumble something at me about writing for free on this site, I might feed you to wild dogs. When I write here, it’s me in my free time. When I write somewhere else, it’s me on the clock. Here’s a handy tip to find out whether I will write for you for free: Are you me? If the answer is “no,” then fuck you, pay me.

8. If this is your cue to complain to me how this attitude of mine suggests I am selfish, you’re right. I am very selfish with my time. This is all the time I will get in this universe, and I’m going to spend it how I see fit, and this does not generally include writing for free for people who are not me. There are lots of people who will pay me to write, which allows me to eat, shelter my family and otherwise live a tolerable life on this planet. I’m going to write for them instead. This plan has worked pretty well so far.

9. If this is your cue to complain about how this makes me an asshole, ask me if I care. Go on, ask!

10. But now that you mention it, saying “fuck you, pay me,” to you does not make me (or anyone else from whom you are hoping to extract actual work from without pay) the asshole in this scenario. It makes me the guy responding to the asshole, in a manner befitting the moment.

Update, 12/10: Some followup notes, plus a free gift.

All Thirteen Episode Covers From The Human Division

Just in case you wanted to see them all in sequence. You can find them over here in this Flickr set. As a reminder, the cover art is all by John Harris. Enjoy!

(And if for some reason you’re all “Huh? What?”, here’s the most recent update on The Human Division and its episodic nature.)

So? Have a favorite of the covers? Let me know in the comments.

The Big Idea: Adrienne Kress

Hey! My pal Adrienne Kress has released her new novel The Friday Society, and in doing so, she’s not only put together a kickass YA adventure tale, but she’s also checked off some personal goals as a writer. Find out what they are right now.

ADRIENNE KRESS:

My Big Idea shouldn’t really be a Big Idea. It should be a really Boring Idea.  A common-as-muck idea.  An “Are-you-sure-you-want-this-to-be-the-subject-of-your-Big- Idea, Adrienne? sincerely-John” idea.

Alas, it is not.

Yet.

My big idea for my new YA Steampunk mystery adventure The Friday Society was “Write a story about girls in which they are strong and smart, but, more importantly, well-rounded individuals who are more than just token females (even as the leads of their own work), and, you know, likable characters.”

Which ought to be a given. But alas, again, is not.

A lot is made of strong female characters. To the point where panels are created at conventions to discuss the topic. Yet it is most rare to see a panel on strong male characters. And by “rare” I mean, well, I’ve never seen one. The reason? We are still working hard to promote female characters as characters and not as female characters. Look at Soderberg’s Ocean’s 11. No seriously, look at it. It’s a really fun movie. I’ll wait two hours . . . Okay, you back?  Notice anything? Each man in the film is a type. The sexy type, the nerdy type, the funny type – you get my drift. And then there is the woman type. A single solitary female. A bit like you tend to have a single solitary person of colour (POC). But that’s a whole other contentious issue.

Men are seen as people first, gender second. They are considered gender-neutral. They are the waiting forms into which you can pour your types. Women, on the other hand, tend to be seen as their gender first, people second. They are not a ready form for a dozen different types. They are all, inclusively, already a type.

If you make a film about eleven men robbing a casino, the story is about eleven people putting together a cool heist first and foremost. But switch the genders around. Do you see now how the film becomes first and foremost about women robbing a casino, not about a cool heist? The surprised audience questions why women would do such a thing. Why has the filmmaker chosen to cast all women? We don’t ask these same questions when a filmmaker casts all men. Men are seen as the default setting. The norm.

And until we can see female characters the same way, until we can see them as people first, gender second, this idea of writing female characters who are entirely their own people will remain rather Big.

So how did I attempt to address in The Friday Society the problem of not only making my girls people first, female second, but correcting some sexist tropes that have become so common in books that they aren’t all that necessarily noticeable?

Well, like this:

1. I made my female characters strong, yes, but, more importantly, fallible.

We’ve spent the last several decades attempting to compensate for years of representing women as being completely vulnerable and helpless (i.e.: the damsel in distress). But the problem is that instead of creating three-dimensional, interesting characters, we wound up going too far in the other direction and created characters of another type, characters who have no weaknesses, who never lose a fight (i.e.: the kick-butt girls). That’s not human. Because (here’s a secret:) humans have flaws.

And so I created smart, strong, kick-butt characters, yes, but people who also on occasion screw up. Who have fears and foibles. This is important for two reasons. One, it shows that women are just people too. And two, it also shows girls that – you know what? ­– you can screw up and get over it. I think a lot of girls these days have so much pressure put on them to be perfect that it’s nice to see that sometimes you can make a mistake and move past it. More importantly, that you can learn from it.

2. I wanted to show was that my girls got along.

This is something sorely lacking in most media today. Even when you have a strong, positive, three-dimensional female main character, she is often the exception rather than the rule. Other female characters with lousy character traits are put around her to demonstrate just how amazing our lead character is, and often our FMC has contempt for most women in the story. The characters the FMC does relate to tend to be male.

On the off-chance that the FMC does have female friends, they are often represented as frenemies (I really hate that word). Relationships between women are evidently supposed to be catty, manipulative, and just all-around unpleasant. By contrast, there is a beauty to men’s bromance. It is held up as an important and wonderful thing, whether it be a Fellowship surrounding, say, a piece of jewelry, or someone to whom you can say I Love You, Man. But the female bond is derided, considered a necessary evil. Something to mock. It’s actually why I believe so many women love bromance books and films. We so rarely see our own friend relationships represented as high-quality and fulfilling, that we relate better to watching the way male relationships are represented.

That’s not good.

So. In THE FRIDAY SOCIETY my goal was to create female friendships that I relate to. Similar to the bromance. Relationships based on trust, support, loyalty and congruency of interests. On having fun with each other and making each other laugh.  Of good communication and not letting misunderstandings fester. Relationships between reasonable and kind human beings.

3. Allowing one of my kick-butt girls to be girly.

It took me a very long time to realize that my having disdain for girly things did not make me a better person. In my early youth, anything that was associated with what a stereotypical girl liked was clearly bad (e.g. makeup). And anything that I liked that was liked by a stereotypical boy was good (e.g. action movies). You can imagine my shock when one day it occurred to me that my considering typically feminine things less important meant that I was perpetuating a pretty darned sexist attitude very common in our society. There is a notion that things that interest men are more worthy than things that interest women.

I decided to embrace the part of me that was more feminine. And doing so meant also embracing it in my book. Nellie loves being girly, loves playing dress-up, loves sparkles. None of this takes away from her ability to be strong, intelligent and get the job done. In fact, I truly believe her more girly qualities enhance these three powerful ones. Quite frankly I think she’s an utter delight.  If I do say so myself.

4. Writing a book that has girls as the main characters where romance is so secondary as to be almost non-existent.

There is nothing wrong with romance, and I love a quality romance book/film (see! I’m embracing my girly side – though I think men are just as romantic as women, so . . . I’m embracing my human side). But often the only reason a female character is introduced into a story is so that she can be the object of desire for a man, or, if she is the lead, her story is all about her search for a man. There are, of course, exceptions, and I very much enjoy those exceptions. But right now they really remain exceptions.  Not the rule.

I wanted to write a book about girls saving the day. In fact, no. I wanted to write a book about people who save the day. People who just happen to be girls. Now, there is a little romance in my book, because it made sense. Heck even The Lord of the Rings, which is about saving the world, had a couple romantic subplots in it. But mostly my girls are focused on solving a series of crimes.  And you better believe this means they therefore pass the Bechdel Test in spades. (For those not in the know, the Bechdel Test goes like this, according to Wiki: The Bechdel test is used to identify gender bias in fiction. A work passes the test if it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man).

I could go on. I could discuss my disdain for the girls-choosing-the-bad-boys trope, and how I attempted to subvert that. I could also discuss how I made my girls attractive, yes, but confident about that fact, as opposed to “What, me? I’m just so plain . . . why are these guys paying attention to me?” (which I won’t dismiss as just absurd, despite my disapproval of it – there is so much baggage that comes with women and how we view ourselves when it comes to appearance, is it any wonder we get confused?) But I won’t.

All I will say is that, in a way, it’s a pity I needed to be so focused on how I wanted to represent my girls in order to make them strong characters that were more than just their gender. But at the same time I think it’s a necessary thing to do. I hope that some day I won’t have to be so dogmatic. That female characters will be seen as gender-neutral in print as much as male characters (for that matter I hope the same for POCs as well – heck really for anyone who isn’t a straight white male), that stories about women will be stories everyone can enjoy that just happen to have women as protagonists. And I truly do think we will get to that day. But until we do, I’m going to put in the extra effort.  Because it’s really that important to me.

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The Friday Society: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

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

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2012, Day Five: Charities

For the last four days, the Whatever Shopping Guide 2012 has been about helping you find the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. But today I’d like to remind folks that the season is also about helping those in need. So this final day is for charities. If you’re looking for a place to make a donation — or know of a charitable organization that would gladly accept a donation — this is the place for it.

How to contribute to this thread:

1. Anyone can contribute. If you are associated with or work for a charity, tell us about the charity. If there’s a charity you regularly contribute to or like for philosophical reasons, share with the crowd. This is open to everyone.

2. Focus on non-political charities, please. Which is to say, charities whose primary mission is not political — so, for example, an advocacy group whose primary thrust is education but who also lobbies lawmakers would be fine, but a candidate or political party or political action committee is not. The idea here is charities that exist to help people and/or make the world a better place for all of us.

Also, informal charities and fundraisers are fine, but please do your part to make sure you’re pointing people to a legitimate fundraiser and not a scam.

3. One post per person. In that post, you can list whatever charities you like, and more than one charity. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on charities available in North America.

4. Keep your description of the charity brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about the charity and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a charity site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. Comment posts that are not about people promoting charities they like will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find charities to contribute to.

All right, then: It’s the season of giving. Tell us where to give to make this a better place.

Huge Ads With My Books In Them Make Me Happy

People keep sending me copies of the Audible.com ad that features Redshirts in it, and I have to admit that I think it’s pretty damn cool that Audible using the book as an example of the genre in their advertising. Yes, it’s advertising Audible primarily, but it’s advertising me and my book as well, and every time the ad goes up somewhere, I get to be there too. For example:

Hey, you know how often a science fiction writer gets a big-ass billboard in New York City advertising his latest book? The answer is: Infrequently! At best! So thanks, Audible.com. You know how to make at least one of your writers feel all nice and shiny.

While we’re on the subject of Audible and Redshirts, hey, look! Redshirts was listed as one of Audible.com’s best science fiction works of 2012. Can’t complain about that, either.

The Albee Agency Using Testimonials From Authors the Authors Did Not Give

The Albee Agency purports to be a book publicity agency that will get you and your book in and on all manner of media outlets, including TV, magazines and newspapers. To bolster those claims, it includes testimonials from authors, like these:

The problem? Chuck Wendig didn’t give that testimonial. Neither did Myke Cole. Neither did Maureen Johnson.

There’s a word for falsely attributing words to someone else in order to convince people to use your business: It’s called “fraud.”

I think if you’re a writer looking for a publicist, you might want to avoid the Albee Agency.

Update, 4:30pm: The quotes from Myke and Maureen and Chuck have magically disappeared from the Albee Agency site! Good thing I took screenshots!

Update, 8pm: Promoting this comment from Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware:

More detail on this mess at Writer Beware: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-albee-agency-book-publicity-faked.html.

One important point to make: even if there had been no testimonial fakery, this would still be an outfit to beware of. Red flags aplenty.

Indeed.

Whatever Careens Wildly Down the Streets of Social Media, Scaring the Cats

In an attempt to curry favor from those of you who live in the shiny new high-rises of Facebook or Tumble more than you visit the decrepit husk of the blogosphere, I have in the last week created accounts for Whatever on Facebook and Tumblr, which will alert you when new entries have been posted here for you to peruse.

Here is Whatever: The Blog on Facebook. Like it!

Here is Whatever Tumblr on Tumblr. Tumble it!

Both of these join Whatever’s Twitter feed, BlogWhatever. Follow it!

Or, you know, you can just show up here on the actual blog if you want to. Hey, I want you to be happy. Pop in however you like, I’ll be doing my thing regardless.