Monthly Archives: May 2013

In Case You Missed It On Twitter

Regarding the current issue with the current issue of the SFWA Bulletin:

Per my usual policy re: SFWA matters here on Whatever, comments will be off on this post. But, as noted above, your thoughts on the matter are solicited, at the “president@sfwa.org” email address. Thanks.

Headed Home

After three weeks, more than a dozen events/appearances, and having signed my name in books at least a couple of thousand times, I am on my way home.

Thank you everyone who came out to see me on the tour. I hope you had a good time.

Thank you every book store that hosted me when I was on tour. I hope I sold a ton of books for you.

Thank you to the staffs of both Nebula Awards Weekend and Phoenix Comic Con for the work you did on the conventions I attended. It was nice to be in one place for a few days in a row.

Thank you Tor Books, for touring me, and also Tor’s crack publicity staff for keeping up with me and tending to the minor bumps which inevitably happen on the road.

Thank you Purell brand hand sanitizer for killing a sufficient number of germs that I did not get sick on the road.

I think that covers the thanks for the moment.

You shouldn’t expect too much from me here in the next couple of days. I’ll be mostly busy reconnecting with wife, family and pets, and sleeping. Mostly sleeping. I’ll be back in the full swing of things Monday, I would expect.

And then, next week: events in Cincinnati and Lexington! Don’t worry, I’ll remind you beforehand.

Thanks again, everyone. Three weeks straight on the road is a lot. But you guys also made it a lot of fun.

For Everyone Who Ever Asked Me When I Was Going to Be On “Tabletop”: NOW.

Here you go. It’s me, Wil Wheaton, Bobak Ferdowsi and Jason Finn playing Forbidden Island.

And, yeah, it was tons of fun. Just like you always expected it would be.

Plus! Here’s the extended interview of me! Because you just can’t get enough me, can you.

(Actually you can. But never mind that now.)

The Big Idea: Michael Marshall Smith

It’s not unusual for authors to play with words in their stories. It’s slightly more unusual for authors to take chances with the meaning of their stories — and to see if the meaning of the stories will change if the words are changed, in a deliberate way. With The Gist, author Michael Marshall Smith is doing both. Here he explains how and why he’s doing it.

MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH:

I don’t actually remember when or how or why I had the idea for The Gist—which is odd, as it’s ended up taking about ten years of my life. As a writer, I’m normally a pretty direct kind of guy. I don’t do fancy. I distrust artifice. I may wrestle with a Big Idea in a novel once in a while but it generally winds up being subservient to character and plot, and the books themselves are as straightforward as I can make them. The Gist had a complex circularity embedded within it from the start, however, and the idea sits front and centre.

The underlying notion is a simple one—Chinese whispers. It occurred to me that it might be intriguing to write a story and have it translated through a series of languages, before bringing it back around to English, to check what had happened in the meantime—to see if the ‘gist’ survived. To make it more interesting I decided to make the original story about the process of translation, too… or at least, I think that’s what happened. It may be that I started writing a story which featured a low-rent scuffler, a loser in every respect apart from having an exceptional facility with languages, who’s given the job of translating a book out of a language no-one’s never seen before… and that’s what gave me the idea of the translation project. I’m not sure. It must have happened one way or the other, but I can’t recall which was chicken and which was egg. The question loops back on itself, as the gist often does.

Either way, the translation aspect remained a pipe dream while I wrote the actual story, which took an unaccountably long time. Usually I like to get a first draft down as quickly as possible, preferably in a day, two or three at most. A handful have taken a few weeks to shoo into the cage, in between working on other things. The Gist took about five years, adding a little here, and a little there, with several months in between re-opening the file. I’m not sure why this was and I’ve never written anything else that way, but it meant that I was a significantly older person when I finished than I had been when I started, which is rather appropriate, given how the story turns.

When the story was finally done, and edited, I rubbed my hands together and prepared to embark upon the fun part. Nine months later, by then somewhat battle-scarred, I finally had a chain set up. I had agreeable individuals ready to translate the original into Italian, then from Italian into Polish, and from Polish into French. The final part of the journey, from French back to English, had always been earmarked for my old and dear friend Nicholas Royle, a writer whose work I admire very much and who was a source of great inspiration and support when I started to write. I’d originally hoped the chain might pass through a language using non-Roman characters, like Japanese or Hebrew, but it proved too hard to get the ins and outs to work: one of many things this project has shown me is how lucky I am to write in English, as other languages are far more patchily supported when it comes to translation. This struck me again when I gave a presentation on The Gist at the Sharjah Literary festival in the United Arab Emirates last year, as I was dependant upon simultaneous translation to communicate and unable to even guess at the title of the panel on which I was appearing.

Eventually I lit the blue touch paper and withdrew. At which point… nothing happened. The Italian translation never materialized, and so the whole thing ground to a halt. After two years I regretfully gave up, and prepared to use the story as the centerpiece of a new collection instead. But fortunately Bill Schafer at Subterranean, who’d been an enthusiastic, determined (and patient) supporter of the project from the start, prevailed upon me to give it one more try. I did, shortening the chain markedly and going to people upon whom I knew I could rely—Benoît Domis and Nick Royle. In a surprisingly short period of time these translations were done. I blocked out the design in the style of the Roycrafters (to whom reference is made in the story), and handed it over to Subterranean, who have made a fantastic job of turning this idea into a reality.

And it’s not done yet. Later this year The Gist will make the leap into the virtual, courtesy of one of my French publishers, Alain Nevant. His company Bragelonne will be publishing the story as an ebook, deploying an innovative app model that allows you to tap on any given paragraph of the story to alternate between the original English, the French, or the translated version. If you wish, you can even mix and match throughout, setting the gist free of any particular writer or language.

We all translate, all the time. Any given word, each collection of letters, is merely that: an arbitrary jumble of black squiggles upon which meaning has been conferred by history and convention. A word is not a thing, but merely an agreed method of referencing a thing, and these vary over time and space: what is comprehensible here and now would not be comprehensible there, or then. Every time we use a word in any language we are using something concrete to evoke the intangible, like using your hands to capture air. That’s not possible, of course, and never has been and never will be—and yet somehow we still manage to communicate, and run our lives, and buy cars, and order complicated coffees, and tell people we love them, and have them understand.

That’s the everyday miracle of language, the way in which through art we are translated. The big idea with The Gist was to celebrate how astonishing that is.

—-

The Gist: Subterranean Press|Amazon

Read an excerpt (scroll down). Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Atlanta/Decatur: See Me Thursday! 7pm! Eagle Eye Book Shop!

Yet again, the pertinent information is in the headline, but here are additional details if you need them.

I will say this, however: The Atlanta/Decatur stop is the last stop in my three-week non-stop trek about the country — after this I get to go home and see my wife and child and pets, whoo-hoo!  — so I’m hoping to end this portion of the book tour on a high note. Will that happen? It’s up to you! If you’re in the Atlanta metropolitan area — heck, if you’re in Georgia — pack up every single person you’ve ever met in your life and bring them down with you to Eagle Eye. It’ll be a party down in Ol’ Nerdlanta.

In Which I Interview Matthew Stover

Orbit Books is releasing Matthew Stover’s “Acts of Caine” series in the UK in brand spanking new digital editions, and as part of the opening festivities, they asked me if I would interview the author for their Web site. Sure, I said, because I dig those books. A lot. The interview is here. Go read, and then go check out the books. They rock.

Raleigh: See Me at Quail Ridge Books, Wednesday, 7:30!

Yet again, the headline has the relevant details, but if you need more, follow this link.

I’m very much looking forward to coming to North Carolina again; some of my favorite people are there. If you come to the event, you may be one of them! So please drop by. Tell your friends to drop by. Tell the neighbors, too. Heck, tell random people on the street. In a non-creepy way, of course.

Priest, Sykes, Hieber, Dawson, Hearne and Me, Blathering Randomly for an Hour

We’re all writers. We all snark at each other on Twitter. The folks at Phoenix Comic Con gave us an hour to replicate that experience live, on a panel. Mission accomplished.

The Big Idea: Mur Lafferty

In today’s Big Idea, Campbell Award nominee Mur Lafferty takes on both the serious (Hurricane Katrina) and the less-than-serious (humor! Which is funny!) while writing about her novel The Shambling Guide to New York City. Hey, did I mention she’s a Campbell Award nominee? I did? Well, it’s true, you know.

MUR LAFFERTY:

I don’t know about you, but when disaster strikes, I often feel lost and impotent. The biggest fear for my area is hurricanes; we don’t get earthquakes or tornadoes and no one really cares enough about us for a terrorist attack. I’m not a trained EMT or part of the Red Cross or particularly good at a lot of manual labor. I’m also the kind of person who would show up, want to help, and completely mess everything up by getting in the way.* So I get the sense of, when shit happens, there is nothing I can do. Or should do.

When hurricane Katrina landed in 2005, I was writing for RPGs at the time. New Orleans went under water and I had my usual stress of unable to do ANYTHING. But a proactive RPG writer, Dave Wendt, came up with the idea of writing a sourcebook based on New Orleans and have the proceeds benefit the Red Cross. I was excited! This was using a skill I had that wouldn’t get in the way of anyone! Long story short, since this isn’t about THAT book, but about the book that birthed it, my mind came up with a little look at New Orleans from a tourist zombie’s eyes, and a visiting zombie is going to need what humans need: a tour guide. So I wrote a 4000 word piece called “The Shambling Guide to New Orleans,” which was just a look around the city from the eyes of a perky undead tour guide who loved her city so much she wanted to keep her job after her death. It told people where they could sleep, what bars and clubs were welcoming to monsters, etc. I had my friend Angi Shearstone do four paintings of the tour guide in her element, and that was our donation.

But the idea of what kind of travel guide monsters would need wouldn’t let me go. I started fiddling with a book about a human woman who discovers that a) monsters are real, b) they like to travel just like humans, and c) they need their own kind of travel guides. And there’s a publishing company forming with eager writers, but they have no editors with experience. She cajoles her way into the job and discovers some pretty weird stuff- even without the “monsters are in the city” truth.

She also learns about the office life of the undead and monster lifestyle, mainly that there are no sexual harassment laws when you work with succubi and incubi, the zombies keep their lunch in the fridge, and locked doors don’t stop nosey water sprites who can just seep under the door. There’s also the etiquette involved- they don’t like being called “monsters” – it’s “coterie.” And the people who build Frankestein’s monsters don’t call themselves Frankensteins, they prefer “zoetists” – those who work with the magic of life.

It shouldn’t surprise you that I was a rabid fan of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I was in high school.** The very weird thing is that I didn’t realize how much those books influenced me until I had finished Shambling Guide. I suppose that’s a good thing, else I would have been stressed about perceived similarities, but I’ve been very lucky that one review said my book was like, “If Douglas Adams*** had written an episode of Buffy.” When I did my re-read, I kept hearing Peter Jones (“The Book” from the radio play) in my head reading the Shambling Guide excerpts at the end of each chapter, although his voice is wholly inappropriate for my “The Book.”

I’m thinking Vincent Price for “The Book.” Maybe Bea Arthur. Only, they’re dead.

The book (The Shambling Guide to New York City, not “The Book” within the book, also called TSGNYC. I can understand the confusion) is dedicated to my husband. Not only because I love him, but also because he made me submit it to Orbit instead of just podcasting it, as was my plan. So, thanks Jim. But it’s dedicated in part to Douglas Adams, because without his heavy influence and ability to spark a girl’s mind this book wouldn’t exist.

Humor is tough. You can read Adams and Willis and Pratchett and think, well hell, that’s easy. Put funny words together in a sentence! Something hangs in the sky the same way bricks don’t! Instant humor! But it’s not. That’s like saying that all professional baking needs is the ability to mix flour and salt and baking soda together. Yeah, you can throw stuff into a bowl but that doesn’t mean it can rise. I enjoy writing humor but I wish I understood it better. It just sort of happens when I write, I have trouble articulating how or why. I tend to think if I could articulate it, I’d be better at it, but maybe not. Maybe I’d just be able to tell others how to do it.

I got a “how to write humor” lecture off of Audible once, and it was racist/sexist/homobphobic as shit. Dude was very proud of a time he used “fruit” to describe a gay person in a joke. I’m not kidding.

Women! Amirite? </macfarlane>

So my Big Idea- hurricane, zombie tour guide, deep-seated Douglas Adams influence, and wandering into the great vast unknown called “humor.” It’s been a very interesting trek getting here, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Footnotes:

* I’m good at this. Seriously. My husband was in an accident just this morning, and after urgent care, I ran ahead of him to prop open the front door so he could get into the house easily, and two birds flew into the house. Two.

** I’m still a fan, but at the time “rabid” meant listening to the bootlegged radio tapes over and over and over again. The stores in the NC mountains didn’t carry a lot of BBC radio back in 1991. I’ve since purchased many versions of Adams’ work, including the radio play, hoping to kill my pirate karma.

*** Being too shy to meet Douglas Adams is my biggest regret, by the way. He was on tour promoting the Starship Titanic video game and we were at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and we walked by his booth. He was tall. We were too shy to say hello. He went back to England and died three years later. Seize the day, guys. Seriously.

—-

The Shambling Guide to New York City: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Hear an audio version of the first chapter (limited time). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

The Human Division Hardcover Extras: Now Available Electronically (and Free!)

We told you this time would come, and so it has: The two extra stories in the hardcover/compiled eBook edition of The Human Division, “After the Coup” and “Hafte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today,” are now available to you for free, via Tor.com, which has all the details for download here. There is one catch, which is that you need to have a Tor.com account to download the extras, but getting one is both easy and free, and anyway Tor.com is awesome and you want to be part of that scene, trust me.

The release of these stories will catch up everyone who bought the serialized electronic version of The Human Division; now everyone in every format has everything.

That said, you don’t have to own The Human Division to get these stories; you just need to have a Tor.com account. However, be aware that “Hafte Sorvalh Eats a Churro” has a spoiler for the book. I’m just warning you in advance.

In any event: Enjoy, and welcome to Tuesday.

Memphis! Come See Me at The Booksellers at Laurel Wood TUESDAY 6pm!

Once again the headline says it all — I’m coming to Memphis, perchance to amuse you with my reading, signing and q&a skills. Here are all the details about my appearance. This will be my first ever visit to Memphis, so, one, I’m very excited to visit andalso very excited that Dyer’s Burgers is apparently walkable from my hotel, and two, I have no idea if anyone is going to show up to my event. So, Memphis folks, please come. And please bring a friend. Or two! OR SEVEN. Yes, definitely bring seven friends.

Please also note that the appearance begins at 6pm, not 7pm as many of my weekday events so often do. So don’t be late (but if you are I will still happily sign your books).

In Which Cracked.com Does a Follow-up On “Straight White Male”

Hey, remember a year ago when I wrote a piece talking about how being a straight white male was like playing the game of life on the lowest difficulty setting? And then a bunch of straight white dudes lost their minds about it? Especially when the piece was reposted to Kotaku, the video games news and opinion site? Yes, those were good times, good times.

Well, today, over on Cracked, writer Luke McKinney (whose metaphor in a previous article about how straight male being the lowest difficulty setting in sexuality inspired me to expand the concept  bit for my own piece), combs through comments in the Kotaku repost to come up with 5 Gamer Comments That Give Straight White Guys a Bad Name. And, surprise! He’s entirely correct about that.

The piece is written in the punchy, sarcastic Cracked manner the Internets have come to love, which means that both the style and content of the article assures that the comment thread will be full of the very same people that McKinney speaks of in the main article. It’s always delightful to have the thesis of an article so immediately confirmed in the comments. Obviously, if you despair of straight white men getting a clue, you may want to give the comments a miss — although of course it’s worth noting that the commenters do not represent all straight white men, many of whom really are aware of the breaks they get in the game of life, just for being what they are, aside from anything they may have done.

Because a) today is a holiday, b) I am traveling, c) and thus will be away from the site for most of the day and d) thus don’t want this site overrun by the sort of panicked gibbering ignorant who thinks that pointing out straight white males’ difficulty setting means I am racist against straight white males, and wants to refight that argument despite having nothing new to say, I’ll be turning off the comments for this particular entry. Although do feel free to comment over at Cracked. Because, well, yeah.

I do myself mean to do a (more or less) one year follow-up to “Straight White Men,” although it will have to wait until I am off tour; the actual one year date occurred when I was doing an event in San Francisco, when it was more important to be focused on the present real world rather than the online past. So look for that once I am back home, and can swing the Mallet more effectively.

 

 

 

Hello From Phoenix Comic Con

Having a fabulous time so far. Yesterday’s fun included embarrassing the heck out of author Kevin Hearne, having a limo ride with Grant Imahara, and sharing a dessert with Jewel Staite. You know, as you do. Plus hanging around with some of my favorite writer people and otherwise getting into all sorts of mischief. I plan to do similarly today.

Those of you in Phoenix and the surrounding area not at the Comic Con, please remember I’ll be at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale at 5pm today to chat and sign books. Come on down, it’ll be great to see you.

Phoenix/Scottsdale: I’m At the Poisoned Pen, Saturday, 5pm!

As most of you know, I’m heading to Phoenix to be part of the Phoenix ComicCon. But for those of you who are not attending that little soiree, you’ll be happy to know that I am also making a public appearance at Poisoned Pen Bookstore to chat a bit and to sign The Human Division (and other books you might have). Aside the information in the headline, here are all the details on that. Come on down, we’ll have ALL THE FUNS. Yes, I’ve arranged for all of the funs to be shipped to the store. They’ll be in boxes. Labeled “funs.” That’s how it works, people.

Madison! I’m at A Room Of One’s Own TOMORROW, 4pm! Note the Time!

I’ll be doing a rare afternoon tour appearance tomorrow in Madison because at 6pm, A Room of One’s Own welcomes the Guests of Honor at Wiscon, the (completely fantastic) science fiction and fantasy convention. So if you’re coming at 4 o’clock to Room of One’s Own to see me, stick around afterward for the GoHs, which include last year’s Nebula and Hugo Award winner, Jo Walton. And if you’re coming at 6pm to see the guests of honor, why not come out a little bit early to see me? It’ll be more speculative fiction writers than you can shake the proverbial stick at.

So remember, Madison: Tomorrow (Thursday, May 23), A Room Of One’s Own, 4pm. Don’t be late! See you there.

Amazon’s Kindle Worlds: Instant Thoughts

The Twitters are abuzz today about Amazon’s new “Kindle Worlds” program, in which people are allowed to write and then sell through Amazon their fan fiction for certain properties owned by Alloy Entertainment, including Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, with more licenses expected soon. I’ve had a quick look at the program on Amazon’s site, and I have a couple of immediate thoughts on it. Be aware that these thoughts are very preliminary, i.e., I reserve the right to have possibly contradictory thoughts about the program later, when I think (and read) about it more. Also note that these are my personal thoughts and do not reflect the positions or policies of SFWA, of which I am (still but not for much longer) president.

1. The main knock on fan fiction from the rights-holders point of view — i.e., people are using their characters and situations in ways that probably violate copyright — is apparently not at all a problem here, since Alloy Entertainment is on board for allowing people to write what they want (within specific guidelines — more on that in a bit). Since that’s the case, there’s probably a technical argument here about whether this is precisely “fan fiction” or if it’s actually media tie-in writing done with intentionally low bars to participation (the true answer, I suspect, is that it’s both). Either way, if Alloy Entertainment’s on board, everything’s on the level, so why not.

2. So, on one hand it offers people who write fan fiction a chance to get paid for their writing in a way that doesn’t make the rightsholders angry, which is nice for the fan ficcers. On the other hand, as a writer, there are a number of things about the deal Amazon/Alloy are offering that raise red flags for me. Number one among these is this bit:

“We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”

i.e., that really cool creative idea you put in your story, or that awesome new character you made? If Alloy Entertainment likes it, they can take it and use it for their own purposes without paying you — which is to say they make money off your idea, lots of money, even, and all you get is the knowledge they liked your idea.

Essentially, this means that all the work in the Kindle Worlds arena is a work for hire that Alloy (and whomever else signs on) can mine with impunity. This is a very good deal for Alloy, et al — they’re getting story ideas! Free! — and less of a good deal for the actual writers themselves. I mean, the official media tie-in writers and script writers are doing work for hire, too, but they get advances and\or at least WGA minimum scale for their work.

Another red flag:

“Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.”

Which is to say, once Amazon has it, they have the right to do anything they want with it, including possibly using it in anthologies or selling it other languages, etc, without paying the author anything else for it, ever. Again, an excellent deal for Amazon; a less than excellent deal for the actual writer.

Note that on its page Amazon makes a show of saying that the writer owns the copyright on the original things that are copyrightable, but inasmuch as Amazon also acquires all rights for the length of the copyright and Alloy is given the right to exploit the new elements without further compensation, this show about you keeping your copyright appears to be just that: show.

The argument here could be, well, you know, people who were writing fan fiction weren’t getting paid or had rights to these characters and worlds anyway, so only getting paid for their work once is still better than what they would have gotten before. And that’s not an entirely bad argument on one level. But on another level, there’s a difference between writing fan fiction because you love the world and the characters on a personal level, and Amazon and Alloy actively exploiting that love for their corporate gain and throwing you a few coins for your trouble. So this should be an interesting argument for people to have in the real world.

3. If this sort of thing takes off, I’m interested to see what effect it will have on the media tie-in market, and on the professional writers who work in it. Obviously it has the potential to greatly shift how things are done. If you are a corporate rights holder, for example, would you bother with seeking out pro writers any more, and paying them advances and royalties and all of that business? Or would you just open up the gates to paid fan fiction, which you don’t have to pay anything for and yet still have total control over the commercial exploitation thereof? Again, this is interesting stuff to consider, and if I were a pro writer who primarily worked in media tie-in markets, I would have some real concerns.

4. This won’t spell the end of unauthorized fan fic, and I’m very sure of that. For one thing, the Kindle Worlds program says it won’t accept “pornography” which means all that slash out there will still be on the outside of the program (Edit: to note not all slash is porn, although I wonder if Amazon won’t simply default it as such); likewise crossover fan fic, so those “Vampire Diaries meet Dr Who” stories will be left out in the cold. And besides that, there will be people who a) have no interest in making money and/or b) don’t write well enough to be accepted into the Kindle Worlds program (there does seem that there will be some attempt at quality control, or at least, someone has to go through the stuff to make sure there’s nothing that’s contractually forbidden). So if this was an attempt to squash fan fic through other means, it’s doomed to failure. But I don’t suspect that’s the point.

5. Speaking as a writer, I wouldn’t do something like this; I don’t generally like writing in other people’s worlds in any event (and when I do, I go public domain — see Fuzzy Nation) and I don’t like the terms that are on offer here. And of course I have my own things to write. Likewise, I would caution anyone looking at this to be aware that overall this is not anywhere close to what I would call a good deal. Finally, on a philosophical level, I suspect this is yet another attempt in a series of long-term attempts to fundamentally change the landscape for purchasing and controlling the work of writers in such a manner that ultimately limits how writers are compensated for their work, which ultimately is not to the benefit of the writer. This will have far-reaching consequences that none of us really understand yet.

The thing that can be said for it is that it’s a better deal than you would otherwise get for writing fan fiction, i.e., no deal at all and possibly having to deal with a cranky rightsholder angry that you kids are playing in their yard. Is that enough for you? That’s on you to decide.

The Big Idea: Rhiannon Held

Readers often have default expectations when it comes to their reading — default expectations that we call “tropes.” But where do you go as a writer when the tropes don’t take you where your characters need to be? It’s a question that Rhiannon Held explores today as she writes about her new novel, Tarnished.

RHIANNON HELD:

Tarnished is the second book in my series, and if I had to articulate an over-arcing big idea for the whole series, it’s that I love to explore emotional truths tied to situations that don’t come up in typical urban fantasy tropes. In the first book, Silver, those non-trope situations were born from the religion and culture that I created for my werewolves. In Tarnished, I decided I wanted to find the emotional resonance in non-trope leadership strategies, and romantic relationships.

At the end of Silver my two main characters, Andrew and Silver, were poised to challenge for leadership of the largest werewolf pack in North America. In the typical urban fantasy trope as I’ve encountered it, usually the protagonist’s resistance to being Grand Supernatural Poobah begins as internal: she wouldn’t be any good at it! No one would accept her! Then, when she agrees, the resistance switches to being external: the rock golems won’t listen to a meat bag! The shapeshifters won’t listen to anyone banging a golem!

But once they’ve set aside their initial internal objections, would protagonists really automatically be totally committed to leading? Obviously they have to learn how to win everyone over, but would the protagonists really be completely awesome at leading once everyone’s behind them? Book 1 ended with Andrew and Silver’s decision to try to lead, and I decided that Book 2 needed to explore exactly what it would take to get there. Do they have the self-confidence to do it? Is that self-confidence strong enough to withstand everyone else’s doubt? Can they make hard decisions and keep their cool when people question those decisions? Can they admit they were wrong when they make mistakes? Can they delegate and trust others to get things done?

And can they lead, as opposed to just shouting louder than everyone else? Often werewolf alphas are portrayed as being all about physical strength, or if not physical strength, at least strength of emotional bullying. Andrew is somewhat slight in stature and slow from previous injuries; Silver can’t shift and can’t use her left arm. If they want to win the alphaship, they have do something other than shout loudest and punch hardest: they have to court allies, they have to coax people, they have to lead by example. I really wanted to showcase different leadership strategies, because while stories are often about the underdog beating the muscle-bound alpha, the underdog too often uses mystical punching powers that beat the alpha’s physical punching abilities. Why does punching have to be the measure of success?

Tarnished also introduces a new POV: Susan. She’s human and has a child with John, the Seattle alpha. She also has her moments of going toe-to-toe in fights with stronger, faster werewolves, but with her I also wanted to explore a different kind of romantic relationship. In Book 1, Andrew and Silver were somewhat typical of urban fantasies: they met, they were attracted to each other, obstacles kept them apart, but they got together in the end. In Book 2, I show them working as a functioning, loving team, so the romantic tension switches over to Susan and John.

Whether in books, movies, or television, I’ve always wanted more opportunities to cheer a couple on to working out their problems. That’s what gets you through life, after all—not giving up after the first big fight. Work through the fight and the relationship often ends up stronger on the other side. Of course, that’s not to say that life isn’t also filled with truly irreconcilable differences or people who are assholes. Staying to try desperately to change things in those situations can make everyone miserable. The way I think of it is that you want to preserve and care for a precious connection between two people, rather than upholding some ideal of not splitting up for moral reasons even if you have no connection left at all.

The trouble is that in fiction, the relationships being “worked on” are usually only based on irreconcilable differences or assholery. In that case, of course you’re cheering for the couple to break up! That way, one can get with the other hot, passionate love interest introduced in this book who is clearly so much better for him or her. Or else you’re rolling your eyes while waiting for the couple who’s off-again every book to provide cheap romantic tension to get their laughable miscommunication straightened out so they can be on-again.

Susan and John are already together. They have a child. They love each other, but their relationship is on the rocks because John lets himself be ashamed of her and misguidedly tries to protect her by keeping her out of the werewolf world. That’s something that can be worked out—I hope it’s something the readers want to see worked out!—because why should love be sacrificed to social expectations? But reconciliation is something they both have to work hard to achieve.

Hopefully playing with non-trope situations can help knock aside a few of the most annoying tropes as well. If my characters can remind readers that natural charisma doesn’t mean you’re born knowing exactly how to lead; people who aren’t hot, single twenty-somethings fall in love; and protecting your love by keeping them in ignorance of the supernatural world is forgetting they’re a consenting adult… so much the better!

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

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