Monthly Archives: February 2013

Gamma Rabbit T-Shirts Now Available

After I debuted Gamma Rabbit, the icon of friendly tolerance, here on the Web site, many of you asked if t-shirts would be in the offing. The answer: Why, yes! And now here they are, available to you from Sharksplode, which is run by Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue, the fellow who illustrated our rabbit friend here.

The Gamma Rabbit t-shirts are available in women’s and men’s/unisex cuts and the colors you see here (update: Black has been added for men’s and women’s, and pink in the men’s). The graphic is imprinted onto the shirt using direct-to-garment printing, which means it’s not just a cheap iron-on experience. What I’m saying is, hey, these are nice shirts. Because you deserve nice, don’t you? Sure you do.

I’ll also note that a portion of the sale of each shirt (specifically, any profit I make from them) will go to RAINN, which works to help those who have been sexually assaulted. This will be above and beyond any donations accrued through the pledge drive here.

And while you’re picking up your Gamma Rabbit t-shirt, feel free to peruse Sharksplode’s other fine geek offerings. Go on. You know you want to.

The Big Idea: Peter Clines

Superheroes are fun, but superheroes, defined as they often are by their powers more than personalities, can also be a little… bland. How to spice up their lives? Peter Clines has a couple of ideas on the matter, some more apocalyptic than others, which he explores in his latest novel, Ex-Heroes.

PETER CLINES:

When the chance to do this first floated past me, I jumped at it.  It was only later, when I sat down and had to come up with a Big Idea, that I realized I wasn’t sure what mine was.  I mean, I’d never really considered myself a writer of Big Ideas.

Of course, Ex-Heroes is about superheroes fighting zombies in post-apocalyptic Hollywood, and more than a few folks have told me that in and of itself “superheroes fighting zombies” is a big idea.  Except it isn’t.  Zombies have been showing up in comic books for decades.  And my zombies aren’t even anything special.  They’re the classic Romero shamblers.  I didn’t want to waste time making up new rules for no purpose except to have new rules (“It’s not like the movies– you have to shoot them in the spleen!”), and then waste more time explaining them.

So I suppose my Big Idea was the superheroes.  I’d been a big comic geek as a kid (back when that term wasn’t something to be proud of), and I’d created lots of heroes all through grade school.  Plus, as someone who still dabbled in comics now and then, I missed the classic superheroes I grew up with and wanted to write characters more like that.

Actually, on that note, I’d like to make a distinction.  Like I said, I wanted to tell a story about superheroes, not superpowers.  I think a lot of people confuse the two these days.  It’s like baseball and football, and you can hit a lot of problems if you run out on the field thinking you’re playing the wrong one.

Consider this—Stephen King’s Carrie, Firestarter, and The Shining are all about kids with psychic powers.  Steven Gould’s Jumper is about a young man with the ability to teleport, as is Alexander Key’s The Case of the Vanishing Boy.  In Arthurian legend, the Green Knight has healing abilities that let him survive a decapitation.  Robert Louis Stevenson and H. G. Wells both wrote about scientists whose formulas gave them superhuman powers.  David Cronenberg did an excellent remake of The Fly where Jeff Goldblum combines his DNA with an insect, giving himself great strength, speed, and endurance (along with some interesting digestive abilities).

Are any of these superhero stories?

No, of course not.  A character isn’t a superhero just because they have special powers or abilities.  Not even if they have a catchy code-name, a cool uniform, or two belts and a thigh-band with a hundred little pouches between them.  Tales of people with superhuman abilities go all the way back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, but a superhero story is a very specific subset of that very large group.

I think that a superhero is a person who makes a conscious decision to publicly use their powers for the greater good—for something that doesn’t involve them.  They aren’t doing it just to save someone close to them or to show off or to get even.  Superheroes feel compelled to use their abilities to help others, no matter how crappy it might make aspects of their own lives.  Obvious as it may sound—superheroes act heroically.

And I wanted to write about superheroes.

I also wanted characters who weren’t weighed down with a ton of neuroses, hang-ups, emotional baggage, and all those other elements that some writers use to add “realism” to characters.  They didn’t need to be flawless, but I thought it should be possible to make believable superheroes who fought for good and tried to do the right thing without being… well, messed up on three or four levels.  After all, somebody doesn’t have to be screwed up to be a solider, a police officer, or a fireman.

Of course, it was easy to see where having “boy scout” (or girl scout) superheroes in the middle of a major crisis could be tough, story-wise.  It’d either be ridiculous as said characters stuck to their moral code without wavering, or it’d become stock melodrama as they abandoned their code to “do what needed to be done.”  Neither of these was a very interesting option to me.

Except it didn’t take long to realize they weren’t the only options.  Being a boy scout doesn’t mean a character always does the right thing with no questions asked.  It doesn’t mean they don’t have struggles or second thoughts.  If anything, when someone has to go through those mental gymnastics because of their strong moral code, gets beat up physically or emotionally over it, and then still does the right thing… that’s when they become an interesting character.

To me, anyway.

So I wanted to have superheroes who were classic, but still realistic.  And realistic without being flawed to the point of melodrama.  And still be decent characters that the average reader could relate to and enjoy following.

No problem, right?

In retrospect, it’s not that I wanted to write about superheroes.  I just wanted to write about heroes.  Characters that people could look up to and be inspired by.  And heroism is a pretty Big Idea.  The one that’s sitting in plain sight if I’m talking about superheroes.

So I think I’m done now.  That covers everything, yes?

Oh.  And they also have to fight zombies.   Because let’s face it…

Superheroes fighting zombies is a pretty cool idea.

—-

Ex-Heroes: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s Google Plus page.

We Have Achieved Total Caturation

Which is to say, here are all three Scalzi cats in my office at one time: Zeus on the chair, Ghlaghghee on the chaise, and Lopsided Cat on the low window table. Collect them all! Also, Daisy the dog was in the room just before the picture was taken, but you only have my word on that. You can also see two ukuleles (one right-handed and one left-handed), a mandolin and a tenor guitar, and, of course, the Mallet of Loving Correction. Truly a busy picture. But, mostly: Hey, cats.

The Big Idea: J.A. Kazimer

Finally, someone — specifically, J.A. Kazimer — points out a fact about fairy tales that everyone knew but was too beguiled by Disney to say out loud. And used that fact to write a book — specifically, Froggy Style. Lean in and hear truth, my friends.

J.A. KAZIMER:

Envision a friend telling you a story about this guy he knows, a good guy; some might even call him a prince among men, a guy who is good-looking and rich to boot. Besides hating him instantly, you grudgingly listen, hoping like crazy it will end with the guy getting an STD.

Anyway, this prince among men is walking through a wooded area behind his house (a really nice, fancy house with too many rooms and a butler. What kind of douche has a butler, you wonder, but keep quiet for your friend is getting to the good stuff). In the middle of the woods, the prince stumbles on a dead woman, a beautiful dead woman with hair as black as sin and lips as red as blood, her breath smells of a heady mixture of apples, dwarfs, and decomposition.

Rather than do the right thing, and perhaps call a cop or summon medical help, this prince among men leans down to play a game of tonsils hockey with the decaying dead chick.

At this point you’re thinking, ‘That’s f***ed up’.

And there you have my Big Idea. Fairy tales are seriously f***ed up.

But why are they so f***ed up? What purpose do they serve, especially in our advanced society? I mean, it’s not like we need to worry about wolves dressing up in drag in order to eat girls in red anymore. Going to Las Vegas, drinking too much, and winding up in a bathtub full of ice with our kidneys missing, sure, but that’s completely different.

Or is it? Could it be urban legends are the fairy tales of our time?

Two hundred years ago when the brothers Grimm wrote their famous fairy tales were they actually warning kids not to get drunk on meade and wind up in an ice bath? Or suggesting chicks living with seven short guys shouldn’t take apples from strangers? Each a great bit of advice, but strangely enough, not always followed, especially by reality TV stars.

After reading a bunch of grim-ending tales, their equally sugary cartoon reenactments, and watching TV morons from sea-side shores, I asked, how hard could it be to write a fairy tale for today’s audience, something like Shrek, but for those old enough to worry about drunken-kidney-theft? It’s not like I could make fairy tales even grimmer. Not after those two twisted brothers, Disney remakes, and Easy-Bake Snookis.

But where to start? Maybe with a necrophilic prince?

No, been there. Snow White did just that.

A villain then.

After all, people may love a hero, but girls sleep with the bad boy villain every time. Think about it. The anti-hero has a long legacy in entertainment. Can you even picture Silence of the Lambs without Hannibal Lector? Or care to read Dr. Jekyll without Mr. Hyde? Why bother? It would be like watching reruns of Doctor Quinn, Medicine Women, after taking two Ambien.

From my way of thinking, people are far good or evil, black or white, and characters should be too. For too long two-dimensional characters ruled fairy tales, from the perfect Price Charming to a wealth of inter-changeable damsels-in-distress. Not anymore. My fingers flew across my keyboard; bring to life a villain cursed to be nice, a leather-clad ugly stepsister, and most recently, a jaded, former-fly eating prince with no choice but to marry a lazy princess he’s never met.

Why stop there, I asked? Why not shatter all of the fairy tale traditions, throw in a nursery rhyme or two, after, of course, I buckled my shoe? The end result, a series of irreverent F***ed Up Fairy Tales in which I’ve crushed Cinderella under a bus (you know she deserved it) nearly drowned Sleeping Beauty in a bowl of soup (Campbell’s Chunky works best for princessicide), and had the Old Woman in the Shoe arrested for breaking numerous child-labor laws.

Yet in the end, flattened princess aside, in true fairytale fashion, everyone must live happily ever after.

Until the princess-zombie-apocalypses.

—-

Froggy Style: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

It Appears It Is a Good Time To Remind All and Sundry of My Blurbing Policy

And it is thus (scroll down on that page just a little). If you’re an author who wants me to blurb your book — or an editor/publisher/publicist who considering telling an author to ask me to blurb a book — you really really really really really need to read that link. Because, and this is not a joke, I automatically turn down authors who ask me for a blurb, whereas I will at least consider blurbing if I am asked by editors/publishers/publicists.

Yeah, I know, this makes me a dick. Still this is the way I do it, so work with it, please. There’s a link to the policy on every page of this blog, so it’s not like I’m trying to hide it from you. Still, the occasional shout-out to it via front page post seems to help. Here it is.

Your 2013 SF/F Award Nomination Awareness Post: Readers and Fans

The nomination period for the Hugo Awards comes to a close in just under two weeks (March 10th, to be precise), and there are other awards out there still to be considered, so more people are beginning to think seriously about what works and people they should nominate as the best in the science fiction and fantasy genre. I’m a big fan of making sure people consider as many works as they can before putting their nominations down in a permanent fashion, so today I want to offer space here on Whatever to readers and fans to offer up their suggestions for Hugo Award nomination consideration. If there’s a work (or person) you as a fan and/or reader want people to think about, here’s your chance to let the 50K or so Whatever readers — many of them Hugo and other award nominators and voters — know about it.

If you want to participate, here are the rules:

1. Please make sure that what you’re suggesting, work or person, is actually eligible for awards consideration this year. Generally speaking that means the work was published (or otherwise produced) in the last calendar year (i.e., 2012). If you’re not sure what you’re suggesting is eligible, please check. Otherwise you’re wasting your time and the time of everyone reading the thread for recommendations.

Also, it’s helpful if, when making a suggestion, you identify the category the work would be eligible for; so if you were going to suggest a novel, writing “Best Novel: [name of work, author of work]” up front would be awesome. This is especially useful in short fiction categories, where there are short stories, novelettes and novellas.

2. If the work you’re suggesting is (legally) readable online, feel free to provide a link, but note that too many links in one post (usually three or more) might send your post into the moderation queue, from whence I will have to free it in order for it to show up. If this happens, don’t panic, I’ll be going through the moderation queue frequently today to let posts out.

3. Only suggest the work of others. Self-suggestions will be deleted from the thread. If you want to suggest something you created, use the creators thread instead, which I posted earlier in the year.

4. Don’t suggest my work, please. I’ve already posted here about what of mine is eligible; this thread is for everything else.

5. The comment thread is only for making recommendations, not for commentary on the suggestions others are making or anything else. Extraneous, not-on-topic posts will be snipped out of the thread.

So, readers and fans: This year, for the Hugos and other science fiction and fantasy-related awards, what (and who) would you suggest other people keep in mind when they fill out their nomination ballots? Please tell us in the comments!

The Big Idea: Francis Knight

Not every Big Idea works for a book — but just because a Big Idea fails in that way does mean it can’t inspire other big ideas, some of which might fare better. Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black, explains this concept further.

FRANCIS KNIGHT:

Fade to Black wasn’t born of one Big Idea, or rather it was, but that got shot down in flames fairly early on (and rightly so). But this book, which was one of the first I ever started, but which simmered on and off on a back burner for three years, is where I began to learn my writing process – that is, I write best with a cascade of small ideas that turn up organically as I go, born from what I’ve already got down.

The original Big Idea was fairly simple – I’d been reading a lot of Philip K Dick and other noiry SF, watching too much Bladerunner and The Crow, and thought, hey, I should give that a try. A futuristic dystopia, should be fun. With a cynical protagonist, yeah. SF, no problem. Ha blinking ha.

But I gave it a go, and wrote out my Shiny New Idea in the blaze of words that occurs at such times, and I gave it, with trepidations, to my writers’ group. Who quite fairly pointed out that my ‘future tech’ was…implausible. In a way that reduced at least one to stifled giggles.

Damn. So I put the MS on the back burner for a bit and wrote other things, but my mind kept coming back to it, turning it over whenever I was between projects. I mean, I had a setting, some basic tech I could use, and I had Rojan who’d turned up out of nowhere in a spew of bile and lechery and was actually quite fun to write.

And little ideas kept coming, a bit more each time I spent a week or so on it. What if…what if instead of the future, this was an alternate world? One where magic and tech had progressed simultaneously? How would that work?

What if the techies had grown tired of the mages lording it over everyone and in a sudden coup, egged on by the local church, executed most of them and banned the rest on pain of, well, pain?

What if the mages had been powering everything, so now the techies and their church friends had to find something else to power the city quick? What if the thing they came up with wasn’t quite as benign as they first thought and ended up poisoning everyone?

What if they tried to hide their mistake, or at least one of the results of that mistake?

What if the techies weren’t just techies now, but in charge and getting a bit power hungry? Not to mention twisted by the local theologists so that they could lord it over everyone.

What if some years later, Rojan, physical coward (he prefers to call it ‘Not Stupidly Masochistic’) and feckless womaniser, had a magic that he really didn’t want to use, because it would hurt, a lot? No to mention get him executed. But what if he then had to use it? Worse than that, what if it meant he had to be *gulp* responsible? Can a feckless womaniser, liar and cynic really be the guy to take the “hero” role when he’d rather be at home in bed with a warm woman and lots of booze?

And that’s when the whole story came together – when all those what ifs ganged up on me. Rojan the feckless met pain magic, and realised it screwed with his life in ways he’d didn’t realise he could be screwed.

Each time I wrote a bit more, a few more what ifs would turn up, and those what ifs would party and get drunk and do naughty things in the bedroom, or possibly in the Jacuzzi, and breed more what ifs. And with each one, the story and the world grew more alive. And lo, it came to pass that I realised, about half way through, that this is how I write best. Letting the writing carry me along and bubble up more ideas – that the act of writing begets ideas, and more writing.

It still took me a while to finish, between other projects, but those other projects went better and faster because I’d realised how to write the best way for me. Because, let’s face it, there’s as many ways to write a book as there are writers. Possibly more, because not every book works the same, but knowing your own basic process – I need to get words down to ferment ideas – helps tremendously.

So Fade to Black may have started with a Big Idea that died an early death, but it gave me a Big Idea that’s become invaluable to me. It taught me how I write.

—-

Fade to Black: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Human Division, Episode Seven: The Dog King is Now Live

This Tuesday marks the mid-point of The Human Division’s 13-week run, and it also marks the release of one of my favorite episodes in the series, “The Dog King.” Here’s the description:

CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson has one simple task: Watch an ambassador’s dog while the diplomat is conducting sensitive negotiations with an alien race. But you know dogs—always getting into something. And when this dog gets into something that could launch an alien civil war, Wilson has to find a way to solve the conflict, fast, or be the one in the Colonial Union’s doghouse.

That’s right, the story has a dog — an adorable Lhasa Apso in fact — as a major plot device. Because that’s how I roll, y’all.  I thought the mid-point of the series would be a nice place to have a bit of a lighter episode, while still moving the plot and characters forward. The work this one has most in common with is actually “After the Coup,” the first story I wrote to feature many of the characters that appear as principals in The Human Division. So if you enjoyed that story, this episode should likewise jangle your bells.

It’s one of my favorite episodes in the series mostly because I do one of my favorite things to do, which is to put my characters into a fairly ridiculous situation, and then have fun watching them get out of it. I love it! I think you’ll enjoy it too.

As always, there will be a discussion of the episode over at Tor.com; I’ll post the link for that as soon as it goes up (update: Here’s the link!). And if you feel like rating or reviewing the episode; feel free to do that on Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter or wherever you prefer — even on your own blog (you remember blogs? Man, those were the days).

Things get rather more serious again next week in “The Sound of Rebellion,” so remember to tune in again then!

The Dog King: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBookstore|Google Play|Kobo|Audible (audiobook) (All links US)

Charity Solicitations Policy

I’ve been getting a fair number of requests for charity donations recently, in the form of signed books and other considerations, so I’m going to post this now so people can refer to it later:

I am a big proponent of charity and charitable giving but I typically restrict my involvement in charitable giving into two categories:

1. Initiatives I begin and oversee myself (including auctions, pledge drives, etc);

2. Initiatives that people I know well directly oversee or play an active role in (Child’s Play, Worldbuilders and Con or Bust are examples of these).

The reason I tend to restrict my involvement to these two categories is simple: I don’t typically engage with charities I don’t know about, I don’t have a huge amount of time to research, and thus I prefer to focus on charitable initiatives I already know about and/or have someone I know and trust vouching for. Likewise, I have a limited amount of material to give away for charitable purposes, and I am legendarily scatterbrained when it comes to fulfillment.

For those reasons, if you solicit me for goods/participation for your charitable event, if I do not know you and/or your charity well the answer is very likely to be no. Indeed, assume that the answer is “no,” unless you hear otherwise from me, within a couple of days. This is entirely due to me, and not you; please don’t take it personally (although if you do take it personally, I’m not sure how you think that will convince me to want to have anything else to do with you).

If you are determined to get something from me for your charitable event/fund drive, the simplest way to do this is to come up to me during a public appearance and have me sign whatever thing it is that you want me to sign during the appropriate time of the appearance (for example, during the signing period would be fine). I typically have no problem signing whatever you might have for me then (although please don’t over do it — respect any signing limits we impose at the particular event).

Please be aware that if I sign something for your intended charity in this manner, it does not imply an endorsement of your particular charity. It means I signed something you put in front of me, which you then donated to the charity of your choice.

I recognize that this all sounds a little harsh but please recognize I do get a fairly high number of solicitations for signed books/objects, autographs and personal involvement in various charitable initiatives. I could not accommodate all of them in any event, even if I had the time to vet them all and decide which ones I am interested in supporting. Also — and please understand this is not meant to cast doubt on your request– I have been solicited before by people who claim to be doing something for charity who have then turned out to be scammers of some sort or another. This has made me doubly careful of who I am seen associating with, charity-wise. This is even the case with people who claim to be supporting a charity I have on my own personal “support” list; if I don’t know you, I don’t know that the money accrued from the donation I provide will go where you say you will. Again, this is about me, not you.

Thanks.

My Endorsement for SFWA President: Steven Gould

Photo by Ellen Datlow

As most of you know by now, I am stepping down as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at the end of my term, which concludes on June 30. On July 1, the organization will have a new president. Steven Gould has announced that he is running for the position. This makes me happy, and I fully and unreservedly endorse him for president of SFWA.

Steven brings to the position an impressive depth of knowledge of the field and of the genre. He’s been writing science fiction professionally since 1980, when his first story, “The Touch of Their Eyes” was published by Analog. His first novel Jumper was published in 1992; his most recent, Impulse, was published last month. His work has been nominated for Hugo and Nebulas, posted in the New York Times bestseller list, and has been adapted into film. He’s been in the field, and been notable in the field, long enough to develop an understanding of where the genre has been as a professional area, and is active in it now so he’s aware of the challenges that face writers publishing right now.

Nor is he a stranger to emerging areas of publishing or the concerns of newer writers. Steven understands the emergence of the self-published electronic market because he participates in it himself with his backlist. Steven teaches at the Viable Paradise writing workshop and has been the teacher of numerous writers who have gone on to publish and make a name in the genre, and to become SFWA members, including several Hugo and Nebula nominees.

If Steven becomes president, this will not be his first time on the SFWA board; he served as its South/Central Regional Director in the 80s. He knows the organization, knows its membership, and knows the challenges that each face moving forward.

All of the above are reasons why Steve Gould looks like a fine SFWA president candidate on paper: He’s got the knowledge base, he’s got the experience, he’s got the publishing bona fides. However, the accomplishments on paper are only half of the story. There’s the other factor to consider: The human factor — how a potential candidate works with and relates to not only the other members of the SFWA board but with the membership in general.

In this regard I can also unreservedly recommend Steve. This is because I’ve known Steve both as a friend and a colleague for the better part of a decade — we both taught at Viable Paradise, and during that time and after I have been able to observe him up close to see how he handles other people.

The answer is: Admirably. To begin, Steve is a fine colleague. He’s encouraging and supportive; he takes time to understand people and how they work, and then works to complement their set of skills. He’s measured and patient, and prefers consensus over confrontation — I’ve seen him work with people of all sorts of personalities and find common ground with them. This is extraordinarily important for working with the board of SFWA, which has a full range of temperaments on it, and with the membership at large.

Finally, Steve is very simply a person I trust: Trust to listen to any member of SFWA, hear his or her concerns without prejudice or assumption, and to make decisions and actions, in concert with the rest of the SFWA board, that reflect our organization’s mission and the needs of our members.

He’s a grown-up, in short. He understands people, sees the value in diverse opinion, background and perspective, and will, I am confident, put the needs of the organization first — and do the work so that the organization’s needs are addressed.

Steve Gould is my friend, but this is not why I’m endorsing him. I’m endorsing him because I have been president, and I know the set of skills that one needs to succeed in the position. Simply put, Steve has them. He is the right person for the job. He has my vote, and if you are SFWA member, I hope that you will give him your vote as well.

The Big Idea: Emma Newman

It’s ironic that authors can write entire books — but sometimes stumble in a short explanation of what’s going on in those books. Emma Newman knows this, particularly in reference to her newest novel, Between Two Thorns. Does she find a way to persevere regardless? Let’s find out, shall we?

EMMA NEWMAN:

I have a confession to make; I’ve been struggling to write this post for over a week. I wrote and abandoned three drafts because they sounded like academic lectures on the subject of the Split Worlds. I experimented with having characters from the book describing Aquae Sulis, the secret magical reflection of modern day Bath, and whilst it was fun it didn’t feel right.

It’s always been difficult for me to talk about my own work – something I think many fellow authors experience. That awful moment in any project when I have to come up with the pithy one-sentence summary always sends me into a fit of hand flapping and a sudden inability to describe anything about my book. It’s always too big to fit into one sentence. I get there in the end, but it’s hard.

I looked over previous Big Idea posts and realised why I was finding my own so difficult: Between Two Thorns – and the entire Split Worlds series – did not spring from one spark of inspiration. There was no light bulb moment or conversation or thought that popped into my head that launched me into writing this book.

It sneaked up on me instead. At first it disguised itself as a short story about a shopkeeper and a woman returning one of his products; a faerie trapped in a bell jar. The woman thinks it’s a frivolous gadget sent by her husband abroad, with no idea that she’s in possession of a real faerie which could destroy her life. The shopkeeper, feeling merciful, sends her away with a fruit cake recipe after casting a memory loss charm on her.

The idea took root and before long it was a weekly flash-fiction serial. I wrote for several months until it dawned upon me that what I was really doing was building a world for a series of novels. I developed a role-playing game and chucked my husband into it so I could explore it with a GM’s brain. It enabled me to flesh out the world, figure out the metaphysics and get a feel for the characters and the social mechanics of Nether society.

Thinking about it, a particularly big idea did hit at that point, but if I told you, it would spoil the entire series. Brilliant. So I’m keeping quiet about that one.

When I look back on the three books I’ve written set in the Split Worlds – and the fifty short stories set there too – I can happily say there are several big ideas. There are the Split Worlds themselves and how people deal with strict social systems kept isolated from the usual forces of change. There’s the pressure to conform to family expectations and the dubious privilege of being favoured by immortal beings. There’s the Fae and faeries as frightening forces of nature rather than cute. There are beautiful prisons – constructed by others and those of our own making.

Saying that any one of those was the starting point would be a lie. These themes emerged from the characters and the worlds they live in. So even though there wasn’t one that kicked it all off, I’m happy to say there are a plenty of big ideas in Between Two Thorns. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I did.

—-

Between Two Thorns: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read stories set in the “split worlds” universe. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

 

A Personal History of Libraries

The first library I ever remember visiting was the library in Red Bluff, California. I was five at the time, and living with my aunt while my mother was recovering from surgery. I remember the children’s area of the library, and in my recollection of the place today, the rows of books went all the way up to the ceiling. I remember specifically, although not by name, a picture book a pulled down from the rows, about children leaping for the moon. It was explained to me that I could take the book home — and not just that book, but any book I wanted in the entire library. I remember thinking, in a five year old’s vocabulary, how unbelievably perfect. I took home a book about stars, which started a life-long love of astronomy.

The second library I have a strong memory of was the Covina Public Library, in my then hometown of Covina, California. My mother and then-stepfather worked all day and I would walk or bike to the library most afternoons, and read magazines and look through reference and trivia books. I also remember specifically spending a lot of time with a book about dragons.

I remember the library at Ben Lomond Elementary School, also in Covina. It was there I first made the acquaintance of Robert Heinlein, in a library-bound edition of Farmer in the Sky. It was the start of a beautiful relationship.

At the West Covina library, I discovered that one could borrow LPs and listen to them at turntables in the library! I remember sitting in a chair, next to a turntable, headphones on, listening to Bill Cosby LPs and giggling as quietly as I could (it was a library) while simultaneously flipping through a Time-Life book called The Planets, written by one Carl Sagan.

The library in Glendora was where I stayed in the afternoons when my now-divorced mother worked. I would sit in the just outside the kids’ area, eating Jujyfruit candies (you could buy a whole big box for 49 cents at the Ralph’s just down the street), reading what were called “juvies” then and are called “Young Adult” books now. It was the first place I was exposed to a real live computer: A TRS-80 Model III. I remember programming the computer in BASIC to play simple games. It was there I met Mykal Burns, who was (and remains) one of my best friends. I also met — actually met, not just in a book — Ray Bradbury there, which to me was something like meeting a wizard.

The library at Sandburg Middle School is where I would be in the early morning before school started, reading science fiction and rushing through my homework. It was also the scene of some of my greatest junior high triumphs, as I participated in a school-wide “science bees” staged there, for the Red team (the school divided alphabetically into colors), and would single-handedly utterly slaughter entire opposing teams. All those years of checking out trivia and science books paid off with a vengeance.

At the Thomas Jackson Library at the Webb Schools of California I met Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Harold Ross — heck, the whole of the Algonquin Round Table — plus Ben Hecht, H.L. Mencken, P.J. O’Rourke, Molly Ivins and Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Stoppard and George Bernard Shaw. In the science fiction section I was introduced to Robert Silverberg, Larry Niven and Ursula K. LeGuin. Here was where I discovered many of the writing idols of my youth.

The University of Chicago unsurprisingly had many libraries; the one I spent the most time in was the Harper Library, where the University kept most of its fiction. The space these days would remind people of Hogwarts, I suppose; at the time I thought of it like a cathedral, filled with books, and also, very comfortable cushions to read (and, sometimes, nap) on.

When I left the University of Chicago, my relationship with libraries changed, because my position in life changed. I had a job and money, and for me that meant I could buy books. So I did: I bought new books by the authors I was introduced to in the library, and bought the old books that checked out so many times from the library, because now I could afford to own them. I bought books on the subjects I first became interested in by wandering through the library stacks. I bought as gifts the books I had grown to love and wanted others to love, too. I had become a fervent buyer of books because libraries made it easy to become a fervent reader of books — to make them a necessary part of my life. For about a decade I didn’t use the library much, because I was in the bookstore. It was a natural progression.

I remember the library in Sterling, Virginia, because that was where I lived when I got my contract for the very first book I would have published: a book on online finance. As part of my research for writing the book, I went to the library and checked out just about every book on finance they had, to see how those authors had written on the subject, and to make sure I didn’t have any obvious gaps in my own knowledge of the subject. When it was published I went back to the library and was delighted to find my new book there too. And it had even been checked out! More than once! I felt like a real author.

Finally I arrive at my present library, the one in Bradford, Ohio. It’s a small library, but then, Bradford is a small community, of about 1,800. For that community, the library holds books, and movies, magazines and music; it has Internet access, which folks here use to look for jobs and to keep in contact with friends and family around the county, state and country. It hosts local meetings and events, has story times and reading groups, is a place where kids can hang out after school while their parents work, and generally functions as libraries always have: A focal point and center of gravity for the community — a place where a community knows it is a community, in point of fact, and not just a collection of houses and streets.

I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete.  My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.

Every time I publish a new book — every time — the first hardcover copy goes to my wife and the second goes to the Bradford library. First because it makes me happy to do it: I love the idea of my book being in my library. Second because that means the library doesn’t have to spend money to buy my book, and can then use it to buy the book of another author — a small but nice way of paying it forward. Third because I wouldn’t be a writer without libraries, hard stop, end of story. Which means I wouldn’t have the life I have without libraries, hard stop, end of story.

I am, in no small part, the sum of what all those libraries I have listed above have made me. When I give my books to my local library, it’s my way of saying: Thank you. For all of it.

And also: Please stay.

To Take You Into the Weekend, Me Singing “Redshirt” With Jonathan Coulton and His Band

And I’m on key at least 60% of the time!

If you just want to see the part where I fall on my ass, fast forward to 4:15 and wait a couple of seconds. This was during the JoCo Cruise Crazy 3 trip, incidentally.

I had a blast doing this (which I think comes through), although the video reminds me that I am becoming increasingly pear shaped as I go along. I blame the cruise buffet. Yes, that’s it entirely.

Video recorded by Glenn Badsen.

The Big Idea: Miriam Forster

Sometimes you start writing with the idea of creating a small, intimate tale — and then the tale decides it has other plans. Such was the case when Miriam Forster started writing City of a Thousand Dolls. What happens when a story grows beyond your expectations? Let’s find out.

MIRIAM FORSTER:

The original idea for City of a Thousand Dolls arrived like a gift. I’d been reading a book about Guinevere (I believe it was The Child Queen by Nancy Mckenzie) and I came across the line “Who are you being groomed for?” That line dug into me and hung on, and suddenly, I had an entire setting in my head, an estate where girls would be groomed and trained for different roles.  It was lush and opulent, with different Houses that would raise everything from musicians and noblewomen to warriors and assassins.

But it was just a setting. I needed a plot, I needed characters, and most importantly I needed an idea of what the book was about.  In order for me to actually write a book, there has to be some sort of central human experience to orient the story around. It doesn’t have to be preachy, or obvious to anyone but me. But it needs to be there or my story wanders off into the weeds and gets lost.

I thought for sure that a story with such a setting as the City of a Thousand Dolls must be about expectations. How expectations shape people, what happens when you go against them, or worse, what happens when no one has any expectations of you at all. That was the story I set out to write. But when I finished the first draft, I discovered that wasn’t what I’d written at all.  Without meaning to, I’d written a story about different kinds of love: friendship, admiration, romance, and family. I’d made a character—Nisha Arvi—who had all of those kinds of relationships, a girl who was vulnerable and stubborn, impulsive and prone to make mistakes. Those mistakes had consequences, and the consequences affected her relationships.

That was the core of the story I’d written, a story about the way that different kinds of love and affection stand up under the pressure of human frailty.  It was a small, personal story at its heart.

But the setting was neither small nor personal. And it grew as time went on. The Empire had been cut off by magic. There was unrest, there was social injustice, there was a mystery surrounding Nisha herself. And that wasn’t even counting all the dead bodies. My little story was becoming epic.

That led to some problems. The stakes weren’t high enough. The world was underdeveloped and unsatisfying.  It took a lot of work to make the events of the story match the setting, without losing the idea of love and relationships that lay at its roots.

I could have abandoned the original core, but I didn’t want to. For me, fantasy, and especially high fantasy, is better when it’s grounded in the muck and mud of the human experience.  Fantasy is wonderful for exploring big themes of good and evil and writing vast, complicated stories about politics and prophecies and chosen ones. But the greatest fantasies, the most enduring ones, keep the human connection. The best example I can think of is Tolkien, who wrote a great, sweeping epic about the rise of a Dark Lord… and then hinged the fate of the world on two hobbits and a mad little cave-dweller.

So I hung onto the little story I’d created. All through the rewrites and the research and the development of the world and the stakes, I kept the personal heart of the book intact.  And even now, it weirds me out a bit to see City of a Thousand Dolls described as epic. “No, you don’t understand,” I want to say. “It’s really not that big, I swear.” No one believes me.

They don’t have to. After all, I’m not the only person writing the story; the reader has their part to play. Now that it’s out in the world, the book doesn’t belong to me,  anyway. It belongs to them, to make of it what they will. But to me, City of a Thousand Dolls will always be primarily about a girl who wants to do the right thing and sometimes fails, and the people who love her anyway.  And that’s the way I like it.

—-

City of a Thousand Dolls: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Follow the author on Twitter.

For the Record, I Don’t Do This

Via CC Finlay, how to spend a stupid amount of money to game your way onto a best seller list. Note the books being discussed here are business-related books, which appear to be used by their authors as calling cards to get speaking/consulting gigs, which are their primary bread and butter. So maybe for these guys it makes sense to spend tens of thousand of dollars to gin up a bunch of (likely) fake sales. For fiction writers, for whom the honorariums are harder to come by, and probably are already some shade of completely broke anyway, probably less so.

Mind you, now that the Wall Street Journal is reporting on this particular way to game the list, the jig is up and this avenue will be factored in and discounted for future list reporting. So it’s probably too late for you to use it. On the other hand, think of the tens of thousands of dollars you’ll save!

I’m happy to say that generally speaking I’ve gotten onto the bestseller lists by, you know, selling books to people who want to buy them for reading purposes. It’s slightly more complicated than that, in part because the most significant best seller lists have their own proprietary formula for determining list position that aren’t necessarily directly related to raw sales. But that’s the general gist of it. Thank you for reading my stuff in trackably significant numbers, folks. I really do appreciate it.

Oscar Prediction Update Post

When the Academy Awards were announced, I presented my immediate picks for the awards and noted that I would come back to the choices just before the ceremony if I changed my mind on anything. Well, here we are, just before the awards, and I have a couple emendations.

Best Actor: I boldly made my prediction that Hugh Jackman was going to get the Oscar this year and was roundly ridiculed, mostly along the lines of “dude, tell me where you get your drugs.” Fair enough. It does seem that neither Jackman or Les Miserables (outside of Anne Hathaway’s apparently almost inevitable Best Supporting Actress win) has gained any traction in the major categories, so I bow to the obvious and now slide Daniel Day-Lewis into the prediction slot. I hope you’re all happy. I would still love to see Jackman win this, mostly because I think he’d give one of the most charming acceptance speeches in history, because he’s just that guy.

Best Supporting Actor: I still have no idea who will win this category, I don’t think anyone else does either, and to be honest it’s totally without suspense because everyone nominated in the category has at least one Oscar already. So who cares? I don’t. I guessed De Niro before but now I just don’t know. They might as well award it by spinning a bottle.

Best Picture: I was pretty sure this was going to come down to Lincoln, and on paper, this still seems like a safe bet — but things have changed since the Oscars nominations were announced mid-January, and as a result we might be in for a semi-historic upset. What’s changed is the general feeling that Ben Affleck got shortchanged out of a director nomination for Argo, and then Argo and/or Affleck going on to win Golden Globes, the “Best Ensemble” SAG award (its equivalent of “Best Pictures” and the DGA Feature Film award). I noted in January that I thought Argo’s moment had passed, but I was clearly wrong about that, and I think it has a better than decent shot at becoming the first film since Driving Miss Daisy to win Best Picture without an accompanying Best Director nomination.

Here’s Argo’s secret ace in the hole: The actor’s branch of the Academy, which is the largest branch of the Academy. Affleck is still primarily known as an actor, and when well-known actors are nominated for the director they often find themselves winning the Oscar (See: Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood), even when up against superior talents (Redford and Costner were up against Martin Scorsese and Raging Bull and Goodfellas, respectively). This doesn’t always work — Tim Robbins and George Clooney have been nominated in the category but didn’t win, and it took Ron Howard a couple of tries — but it’s a factor to figure in to any calculation.

And you say, okay, but Affleck isn’t nominated for director, so where are you going with this? Well, Affleck isn’t nominated for director, but Argo is nominated for Best Picture — and the awards in that category go to the winning film’s producers, which in this case are Grant Heslov, George Clooney… and Ben Affleck. If enough actors feel Affleck was snubbed by the director’s branch of the Academy (which voted on the director nominations), they might vote for Argo best picture to give Affleck an Oscar anyway. The fact that both Heslov and Clooney got their start and are best known as actors (Heslov did comedy relief in films like True Lies and The Scorpion King) doesn’t hurt matters, either.

Admittedly, it’s a little strange to think of a Best Picture Oscar as a compensatory gift for a snub in the Director category (the screenplay Oscars are usually considered the make-do for directors: See Orson Wells, Quentin Tarantino and Jane Campion), but hey, this year, it could happen. And inasmuch as Lincoln is likely to walk away with director and actor wins, plus a smattering of undercard Oscars, Spielberg and company won’t be able to complain too much.

So, yeah: Argo. Really strong chance of walking away with Best Picture. Yes, I am surprised. But it’s been a strange Oscar year in any event. I’m gonna go ahead and get out there on a limb and say it’s my top pick over Lincoln going into Oscar weekend. It’s a very slim top pick — Lincoln is still the safest pick by all reasonable Oscar math and I would be utterly unsurprised if it eventually prevails. But I think maybe the Academy is ready to make a little history this year. We’ll see.