Monthly Archives: May 2013

Gosh, We’re All Really Impressed Down Here I Can Tell You

Me last night at the venue for my reading, which was the Methodist church right across the street from the University Bookstore in Seattle. Here I am looking at the patron of the establishment, hoping he would not strike me down, in my naughtiness.

He did not.

Thanks to Daniel Christensen for the photo.

Seattle was lovely. On to Portland now — or more accurately Beaverton, where I am at Powells, tonight, 7pm. If you’re in the Portland area, I hope to see you there.

Portland! Brace Yourself, For I Shall Arrive! Tomorrow! 7pm! Powell’s in Beaverton!

Yes, Portland! I am returning on Tuesday, May 21st! To feast upon your Voodoo Donuts and other local comestibles! And to read, answer questions and sign books! Largely in that order!

You will find me at Powell’s Beaverton branch at 7pm! Please come and bring everyone you have ever met in your life. Because if I don’t get a good crowd, I’m not allowed to have any Voodoo Donuts. Voodoo Donuts are for closers, you see.

Tell me you’ll come. The donuts, they are calling.

 

Seattle! Come See Me TODAY, 7pm, University Temple United Methodist Church!

That’s right, Seattleites — as you read this I am lurking about your town, preparing for my event tonight, May 20, at 7pm at the University Temple United Methodist Church — which, in case you don’t know, is located at 1415 NE 43rd St in Seattle.

What will I do there? Read! And talk! And sign books! And maybe play a ukulele if someone brings one! Who knows! What I do know is that it will be fun fun fun. And also, fun.

Please note: This is a ticketed event, and you can get tickets one of two ways:

1. Buy tickets for $5 at the door (cheap!)

2. Buy The Human Division from University Bookstore and get the ticket free with your purchase. Since I will be signing books at the event, this is probably the best possible way to go for this particular (I will sign your other books of course).

I always have an insanely good time in Seattle and I’m looking forward to more of the same tonight. Hope to see you there!

The Big Idea: Madeleine Robins

Anyone who reads fairy tales knows that things happen in the tales for seemingly no reason at all. But just because there’s no reason in then doesn’t mean something interesting can’t happen when reason is added to them. Just ask Madeleine Robins, who mined a classic fairy tale when imagining Sold for Endless Rue.

MADELEINE ROBINS:

It started with a conversation. Or rather, an idea about a conversation.

When my kids were small we read a picture book of Rapunzel, gorgeously illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.  You know: pregnant wife craves rampion, sends husband out to get it; he steals it from the garden of a witch, who catches him and demands his unborn child in return.  The witch locks the child in a tower, where the girl grows her hair long enough for a passing prince to climb up.  Merriment ensues.

Zelinsky’s art sets the story in an early Renaissance could-be-Italy, and the central spread, chock full of drama, is of the witch taking the baby.  There’s a rumpled bed with the mother, post-partum, lying exhausted among the sheets. There’s the young husband, sitting with his head in his hands, horrified at what he’s given away.  And there’s the black clad sorceress, a classic old hag, stealing from the room with the newborn babe in her arms.

Well, that musta been a hell of a conversation. Imagine the husband coming home: Honey, I got you your vegetables, but there’s a catch: the witch gets the kid. What would his wife say to him? And why does the witch want the baby? In fairy tales motivations don’t matter: the witch wants the baby because she’s a witch.  But I am contrary and difficult and I want a real motive for taking that child.  Sold for Endless Rue is, among other things, my attempt to do that.

As happens with these sorts of bolt-from-the blue notions, it sat around gathering dust-bunnies and stray factoids while I wrote other things. I began cursorily reading up on daily life in the Renaissance, thinking of ways to rehabilitate the witch. Maybe she’s a midwife?  At least that would give her a reason to be in the room when the baby was born.  But why take the kid?

I had nuthin.

And then I stumbled across a factoid that rewrote my whole idea of the middle ages and, by the way, this story.  The first medical school in Europe, the Scuola Medicina Salernitana, not only had women as students, but women instructors.  One of the most famous, Trotula di Ruggiero (immortalized in the Jack and Jill rhyme as “old Dame Trot”), specialized in women’s medicine–what we’d call OB/GYN.  Her texts on the subject were in use for centuries.  Dame Trot was not a damsel or a peasant.  She was a professional woman. How cool is that?

One of my secret vices: I love medical history, medical mysteries, medical technology.  Now I had an excuse to research the Scuola and dig deeper into medical theory of the time. Boy, did they have theories. Most of them are scary-laughable, but some of them were solidly sensible (for instance, the Scuola recommended a moderate diet, clean living, and lots of sleep).  Pretty quickly it was clear to me my witch wasn’t a witch but a doctor, and that her reason for taking the baby was rooted somehow in her ambition.

I hate the sort of historical fiction where the heroine is a 21st century soul in a 13th century houppelande.  Unless you show me why that character is an outlier from her own culture, you lose me.  How would a peasant girl even think of becoming a physician, a profession overwhelmingly male, occupied by those wealthy enough to have the education required to enter the Scuola?  Where would she get, for lack of a better word, the balls?

Then, among the dust-bunnies and factoids I’d been collecting, I got this image of a child running up a hill, trying to escape someone very scary who is as determined to catch her and beat her to death as she is to escape.  She reaches the top of the hill and is stopped cold by her first sight of the sea, stretching out from the bay of Salerno. It overwhelms her with its vastness and strangeness, the sight of the city spilling down into the harbor, the newness of things she’d never imagined. And then she hears the sound of her pursuer and runs again.

That’s where Laura’s story begins.  Everything she is comes from one moment when even terror can’t stop her curiosity, and when determination is all that keeps her alive.  That’s how she can go against the grain of her time and place.

There are things Laura loses in gaining what she wants.  There are people she loses.  Just like now, devoting yourself to your profession can have very personal cost.  Taking that baby, in Laura’s mind, evens old scores.

But of course, taking the baby is only half the story.  Babies, even babies raised in the towers of academe, grow up, and make plans of their own…

—-

Sold For Endless Rue: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Nebula Award Winners!

The winners are in bold. Also noted: The Norton and Bradbury awards, as well as the Solstice and the Kevin J. O’Donnell Service to SFWA Award.

Novel:

  • 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
  • Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
  • The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
  • Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)

Novella:

  • After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
  • On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
  • “The Stars Do Not Lie,” Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
  • “All the Flavors,” Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12)
  • “Katabasis,” Robert Reed (F&SF 11-12/12)
  • “Barry’s Tale,” Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet)

Novelette:

  • “Close Encounters,” Andy Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories)
  • “The Pyre of New Day,” Catherine Asaro (The Mammoth Books of SF Wars)
  • “The Waves,” Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/12)
  • “The Finite Canvas,” Brit Mandelo (Tor.com 12/5/12)
  • “Swift, Brutal Retaliation,” Meghan McCarron (Tor.com 1/4/12)
  • “Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia,” Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 8/22/12)
  • “Fade to White,” Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/12)

Short Story:

  • “Immersion,” Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12)
  • “Robot,” Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12)
  • “Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12)
  • “Nanny’s Day,” Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12)
  • “Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream,” Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12)
  • “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species,” Ken Liu (Lightspeed8/12)
  • “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” Cat Rambo (Near + Far)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (director), Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Abilar (writers), (Journeyman/Cinereach/Court 13/Fox Searchlight)
  • The Avengers, Joss Whedon (director) and Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (writers), (Marvel/Disney)
  • The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard (director), Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (writers) (Mutant Enemy/Lionsgate)
  • The Hunger Games, Gary Ross (director), Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray (writers), (Lionsgate)
  • John Carter, Andrew Stanton (director), Michael Chabon, Mark Andrews, and Andrew Stanton (writers), (Disney)
  • Looper, Rian Johnson (director), Rian Johnson (writer), (FilmDistrict/TriStar)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

  • Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
  • Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
  • Black Heart, Holly Black (McElderry; Gollancz)
  • Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
  • The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
  • Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
  • Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
  • Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
  • Every Day, David Levithan (Knopf)
  • Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
  • Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
  • Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

Solstice Awards were awarded to editor Ginjer Buchanan and astronomer and entertainer Carl Sagan, the latter of which was accepted by his son Nick Sagan.

The Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service Award was awarded to Michael Payne.

(The list above borrowed from this Tor.com posting. You may also see results on SFWA’s own site.)

Also, of course, we formally invested Gene Wolfe with the title of Grand Master. He was gracious and touching in his speech, which is of course no surprise at all.

I am delighted to say that my final Nebula Award ceremony as president went along swimmingly, with Robert Silverberg as our emcee. I got to introduced Bob and give him some good-natured ribbing; he got up and dropped a house on me, which may go down as one of the highlights of my time as SFWA President. If you ever get a chance to get zinged by Grand Master Silverberg, I highly recommend it.

Congratulations to the winners, commiserations to the other most worthy nominees, and many thanks to the volunteers and other who made the Nebula Ceremony, and indeed the entire Nebula Weekend, possible. It was a great time. As a fan, I was thrilled. As the President of SFWA, I was relieved.

RT Book Reviews Video Interview; IGMS Review of THD

Welcome to Saturday. 

First: Look! A video interview with me from RT Book Reviews, taken during the Booklover’s Convention a couple of weeks ago in Kansas City. I talk about The Human Division, the RT convention and some SFWA matters:

Second: Jamie Todd Rubin reviews The Human Division in Intergalactic Medicine Show, and has nice things to say about the book. For example:

The Human Division is not just John Scalzi at its best, it is science fiction at its best.

Yup, that’s a jacket blurb right there.

Third: Nebula Weekend fabulous so far. Wish you were here.

View From a Hotel Window: San Jose

And to answer the age-old question, no, I don’t know the way to San Jose, on account that for the last two days I was driven around by other people and have no idea, navigationally, how I got here. Thank God for GPS.

Nevertheless I am here, in San Jose, and about to formally embark on my last ever Nebula Weekend as president of SFWA. It’ll be fun. Those of you who are in or near San Jose, remember that there is the mass signing today at 5:30, with me and dozens of your favorite science fiction and fantasy writers; here are the details. See you there!

Hey! Mass SF/F Signing! Tomorrow! San Jose! 5:30 – 7:30! With Me!

Want to see literally dozens of SF/F writers in one place at one time? Who are there to sign books? For you?

Then come on down to the San Jose Hilton (300 Almaden Blvd), from 5:30 to 7:30pm tomorrow (Friday, May 17) for the SFWA Mass Signing. It’s free and open to the public. Come see me! Not just me: Here are the some of the others signing books:

John Joseph Adams
Saladin Ahmed
Catherine Asaro
Kate Baker
Terry Bisson
Leah Bobet
Sonja A. Bock
Chaz Brenchley
Jason V Brock
Tina Connolly
Grania Davis
Aliette de Bodard
Jon DeCles
William C. Dietz
Sarah Beth Durst
Cynthia Felice
Jim Fiscus
Susan Forest
Steven Gould
Karen Haber Silverberg
Joe W. Haldeman
Marty Halpern
Maria Dahvana Headley
Howard V. Hendrix
Vylar Kaftan
Alethea Kontis
Mary Robinette Kowal
Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
Edward M. Lerner
Brit Mandelo
Lee Martindale
Michael J. Martinez
Jack McDevitt
Mike Moscoe
Eugene Myers
Mark Niemann-Ross
William Nolan
Diana L. Paxson
Michael H. Payne
Cat Rambo
Kim Stanley Robinson
Deborah J. Ross
Stanley Schmidt
Lawrence M. Schoen
Robert Silverberg
Bud Sparhawk
Rachel Swirsky
Joe Trela
Connie Willis
Gene Wolfe

Honestly, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to show up. It’s science fiction/fantasy Nirvana. Borderlands Books will be on hand with books to buy, or you can bring your own. We’ll be happy to scrawl in them.

See you there!

Brace Yourselves, Internet, For the Unremitting Onslaught of SEXY

Oh, yes. My “just woke up” hairdo brings all the girls to the yard. And yes, of course, I am seriously considering this for my next author photo. Because, obviously, why wouldn’t I.

My Thursday will be spent in SFWA board meetings, followed by my appearance tonight at Books, Inc., in Mountain View, Ca at 7pm. If you are in the vicinity of Mountain View, come on by. I promise what little remains of my hair will be under control at that point.

 

South Bay: I Am At Book, Inc’s Mountain View Store Tomorrow at 7pm!

The headline says it all, but in case you need more information, here are all the details, including the address of the store.

This will also be useful for those of you who are in San Francisco but for some reason can’t make it to see me tonight. Yes, it’s an extra jaunt for you, but that will make the appearance all the sweeter, I think. Right? Maybe? Hmmmmm?

Come on by. We’ll see you there.

Paul Di Filippo Writes Up The Human Division for Barnes and Noble Review

And it’s a very good read (and also a positive review — the two are not always related), looking at THD in the context of the military science fiction genre, and giving readers a useful overview of that storied sub-genre. Here’s the takeaway, which hearkens back to the overview:

Entertainingly exemplifying the maxim that “All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means,” The Human Division is the type of intelligently crafted and inventive military-political science fiction that reminds us that though we might be able to pinpoint a genre’s takeoff point, nobody can predict how far it it will fly.

I’ll take that. Check it out.

My Superpower, Which Happens to Be Useful For My Book Tour

It is: I am almost always able to wake up within five minutes of when I need to wake up.

Today is a perfect example. I wanted to be at the airport in time for my flight, which is at 10:20 am. This being LA and me needing to travel on the 405 and return a rental car with a full tank of gas, and me generally preferring to be early than late, I decided that I needed to be up at 6 am.

I woke up, wide awake, at 5:56.

This is a very useful unearned talent.

It impresses my wife, who does not have a similar talent, and who in the morning hits the snooze button enough that the poor thing probably had PTSD at this point. There have been at least a couple of times where she has not wanted to be woken up my the alarm and has just asked me to take her up at a specific time. I think this shows maybe a little too much faith in my innate abilities to wake up in a timely fashion, but on the other hand I haven’t yet failed to get her up at the requested time, so you tell me (note: when I do this, Krissy does not hit me repeatedly, in snooze button fashion).

Please note that this talent is not infallible: about five percent of the time I manage to sleep until my own alarm goes off. This is why, I will note, I actually do set an alarm. It’s nice to have backup (and not to miss important things). I’m confident in this brain quirk of mine, but I also have a healthy respect for the fact that human brains are less than perfect machines. What it ultimately means is that nineteen times out of twenty I don’t have to wake up to a harsh buzzing in my ear, and that is its own reward.

This is actually my second superpower; the first one was that when the phone rang, I could pick up the phone and tell the person on the other end who they were. This was not because I was psychic (I’m guessing) but because I was good at making educated guesses as to who would be calling me at any particular point in time. I was rarely wrong. However, these days, announcing to people on the phone who they are does not mean you have a superpower, it means you have Caller ID. Thank you so much, march of progress.

Reminder: Tomorrow, San Francisco, Borderlands Books, 7pm

And I’m very excited about it, because Borderlands is one of my favorite bookstores in all the land, and it’s always so much fun to be there. Will you be there? You should be! That is, if you’re in the San Francisco area. If you’re, like, in Idaho, it’s okay if you sit this one out. One day I will come to Idaho, I’m sure. But if you’re in or near San Francisco, Borderlands is going to be the place to be.

The details are on Borderlands Books events page; scroll down a little bit.

See you there!

Reminder on Getting Signed Human Divisions + Thoughts on Dan Brown

First thing’s first: If you wanted to get a signed copy of The Human Division and are not able to get to one of my tour dates, here’s what you do:

1. If you want it signed and personalized, order the book from one of the stores on my tour I have yet to visit and they’ll be happy to set aside a copy, which I will be happy to personalize to you (or whomever you wish to have it personalized to).

2. If you just want it signed, the better to sell it on eBay when I am smothered in a tragic kitten avalanche, then check with the stores I’ve already been to, they probably will still have signed books in stock. For example, Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego has tons of signed Human Divisions, and after tonight, so will their Redondo Beach store, and so on. Alternately, my hometown bookstore, Jay & Mary’s Book Center in Troy, Ohio, has signed stock on hand and would be delighted to send one along to you.

Of course, if you can come to the signings, please do come to the signings. They’re fun. And I don’t want to be alone.

Second thing’s second: A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist who was doing a story about authors who have a book coming out on the same day as Dan Brown’s new book Inferno, presumably because it will be amusing to hear us wail and gnash our teeth about that particular juggernaut crushing our books. I wasn’t home when he called and he never got back to me about it, so I will not be in that article. But if I had been, what I would have said is this:

I am in fact entirely unconcerned. I have no doubt that Inferno will sell rather more copies than The Human Division, but I doubt seriously that it will take away any sales from my book; which is to say I doubt that someone is going to walk into a book store, see Brown’s book and mine, and have a great existential crisis about only being able to choose one or the other. There may be overlap between our audiences, but I suspect that the overlap we have would choose to get both.

This would be the place to say something snarky about Brown, but I have nothing snarky to say about the dude. I read one of his books; it was entertaining and I was entertained and if there was anything about the book that was supposed to be deeper than that it went right past me. Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature is like yelling at a cupcake for not being a salad; it’s really missing the point. You don’t want the cupcake? Don’t eat the cupcake. Apparently lots of people like cupcakes. They don’t care that you want them to eat salad. You eat salad, if it’s so important to you.

But beyond this, I suspect that the article this journalist fellow was writing might have been predicated on a zero-sum thinking, which is that the money spent on Dan Brown today takes money from other writers. It doesn’t actually work that way. There are a certain number of Dan Brown readers who read one book a year, and the book they read this year is his. Bluntly put, that’s not money taken from me or other writers because we were never in contention for that cash. There is the another category of Dan Brown reader, which are the sort of people who love to read books, and also read Dan Brown. Someone in that category is going to cruise through Inferno in a couple of days and be on to the next book — perhaps mine, perhaps someone else’s. The point is in this scenario Dan Brown doesn’t take money away from any other writer in any significant way, because people who love reading read a lot of books.

And then there’s a third scenario in which people who didn’t know they like to read, read a Dan Brown book, enjoy it and then say “what else is out there?” In which case Dan Brown just did me and every other author a favor, because now there’s a new reader to shop our wares to. This is one reason why you won’t hear me gripe about Dan Brown, or E.L. James, or Stephenie Meyer or [insert frequently maligned author here]. They don’t hurt my career, and have the potential to benefit it.

So good luck to Dan Brown on his sales today, not that I think he will need it. And good luck to me, too. I suspect when the day is over, both of us will be perfectly happy with how it’s turned out.

The Human Division Hardcover (and Compiled eBook and Audio Editions): Now Out!

The hardcover (and compiled, DRM-free electronic edition, and also the compiled audio version) of The Human Division, the latest novel in the Old Man’s War series, is officially out today, May 14, here in the US and also (because Tor owns the rights worldwide) in the rest of the world as well. You can buy it at your local booksellers (which I encourage if you like your local bookseller) or online at just about any major online book retailer; please note that not all online retailers will turn on the “sell” button at the stroke of midnight. The hardcover/compiled eBook edition includes a couple of extras not (yet) available separately. People who bought the individual episodes online need not fear, however, as those extras will be available online in the near future (i.e., you won’t have to buy the rest of the book, again, to get them).

In addition to being the fifth novel in the Old Man’s War series (after Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale) this also my ninth novel in total, and my nineteenth book overall, all published since 2000 (and all the novels since 2005). Time flies when you’re busy writing. I will say that although The Human Division is the fifth book in the OMW series, it was intentionally written so that people new to the OMW universe would not have to read the rest of the series to know what’s going (and to enjoy the proceedings). I’m a big believer in getting every OMW book to stand on its own, even as they form a series.

This book is unusual in that it comes to the print market not just a bestseller, but a multiple best seller — in electronic form, each of the book’s thirteen episodes made it onto the USA Today bestseller list, one after the other, for thirteen straight weeks. I don’t mind telling you that when “Earth Below, Sky Above,” the final episode, made it onto the list, I breathed a sigh of relief. The book stuck the dismount. Thank you, those of you who bought the book in the episodic form.

I’m also happy to say the book has been getting some really excellent reviews, which is also an occasion for a sigh of relief. You never quite know how people are going to respond to you, as a writer, returning to your best-known universe, even if they have been clamoring for you to go back into it. By and large, people seem to have taken to this new installment, for which I am grateful.

I’m also grateful for having gotten an opportunity to go back into the OMW universe in this way. Over the last couple of years, I knew I wanted to tell more stories in this world, but the stories I wanted to tell wouldn’t necessarily fit comfortably into the convention novel format. The fact that Tor not only allowed but actively encouraged me to aggressively play with the traditional structure of the novel is the reason this particular novel works and (in my opinion) is something special. They also did an amazing job with book — everything from art to advertising. I have never been happier to be a Tor author than I am with this book.

As most of you know by now, I am on tour to support this book; the official tour, which starts today in Redondo Beach, takes me to fifteen different cities throughout the USA. If you are in or near one of these cities, I hope you will come down and see me on tour. I promise you a fun time.

I’m really proud of this book, folks. It’s already done some amazing things, and I’m looking forward to where it takes me next. I hope you’ll read it and like it as much as I do. I think you will. I hope you will, anyway.

Dear Los Angeles: My Tour Officially Starts in You Tomorrow, 7:30, Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach!

Yes, Los Angeles, the major metropolitan area of my youth, where I was raised on In-N-Out Double-Doubles and Thrifty ice cream scoops, listened to KROQ and yearned for checkerboard Vans. You are the perfect place to begin my tour. And so I shall, at the Redondo Beach branch of Mysterious Galaxy, tomorrow, May 14. The festivities kick of at 7:30 (which will give you enough time to trek from wherever it is you are to the store, because LA traffic remains an enduring joy, does it not) and of course I will be reading, doing a Q&A and signing the books you care to bring (although if you buy The Human Division at Mysterious Galaxy, that would be best. Support the stores that support me, and all that). Once again, the rumor is that there will be cake! There was cake at the last event, so I think this is a positive trend.

One thing to be aware of is that this is a “numbered event,” which as I understand it means that you’ll be given numbers to signal where you are in the signing queue. Or something. The details will be on at that link above. Don’t worry about the numbers. You can totally show up. I totally want you to show up. Please please please please please show up. Yes, I still have that anxiety that I will do a signing and nobody will come, and I will just sit at a table, increasingly fake smile on my face, while the customers who are in the store do everything they can to avoid eye contact with me. It’s the author equivalent of the that dream where you come in late to that final test in high school, have no pencils and somehow skipped wearing your pants.

I assure you I will be wearing pants tomorrow. Promise.

So: The Human Division Tour kickoff, tomorrow, May 14, 7:30 Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, Redondo Beach. See you there!

 

The Big Idea: Chelsea Pitcher

A bad thing happens, and we want justice for it. How far would we go for that justice? And what happens if in the pursuit of justice, we are tempted to act injudiciously? It’s the question that confronts author Chelsea Pitcher in her novel The S-Word.

CHELSEA PITCHER:

I’m a pretty pacifistic person. I don’t shoot guns or get turned on by knives. I’ve never even been in a physical fight (outside of sibling roughhousing). But once in a while, I dream of being a vigilante.

Vigilante-me sits atop a darkened high-rise and looks down at the city below. She scours the alleys for murderers and rapists, fingers twitching at the thought of revenge. She doesn’t wear skin-tight leather or a cape, but she does have a penchant for black, and there are probably boots involved. She makes the world a better place, picking up the justice system’s slack.

She’s a heroine.

It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Deep down, I think we all have vigilante versions of ourselves hovering just beneath the surface of our skin. We see injustice in the world, we feel horrified, and we don’t know what to do to make things right. But the hero-inside knows, and she is ever vigilant, waiting for the right moment to break free and save the day.

I started writing “The S-Word” with this real-world vigilante in mind. Seventeen-year-old Angie is strong, determined, and wicked smart, but she isn’t a masked avenger bringing villains to justice in the dark. She’s a high school student living in a world where bullying is commonplace and suicide is seen as a viable escape. When her best friend, Lizzie, is bullied by the entire school and takes her own life, Angie stops playing the bystander and starts taking action.

That inner vigilante comes out.

After that, everything should be simple, right? The villains are caught, and the hero lives, if not happily, at least contentedly ever after. But trying to pinpoint villains in a society where everyone contributed, through action and passivity, to a teenage girl’s undoing, was harder than I anticipated. Where, even, to begin?

What followed were a series of interrogations, where both Angie and I attempted to uncover the events leading up to Lizzie’s demise. Who participated in the bullying, and why? Who tried to intervene? Who did nothing? Slowly a tapestry revealed itself, made up of dozens of interwoven threads. Angie was able to see, through careful sleuthing, not only who contributed directly to Lizzie’s torment, but also whose silence allowed the bullying to flourish. Now, all she had to do was take that information to the school administrators, and justice could be served…

Except, she didn’t.

Angie, in fact, had very different plans. That’s the problem with vigilantism: you can only work around the law for so long before you feel like you’re above the law. And Angie had done such a good job interrogating her suspects…Why shouldn’t she be the one to punish them? Why shouldn’t she take an eye for an eye, and make them sorry for Lizzie’s suffering—

Wait. What was happening to Angie?

Suddenly, my big idea shifted to something much darker than I’d expected. I was no longer dealing with a heroine’s noble attempt to bring justice to a broken world. I was dealing with the very real possibility of Angie losing her humanity and becoming a villain. After all, how many times can we exact vengeance before our sense of right and wrong becomes blurred? How many times can we be cruel, even to cruel people, before we forget how it feels to be kind?

So my big idea morphed, and mutated, and had little idea babies of its own. “The S-Word” stopped being a story about vigilantes, and became a study in that oh-so-flimsy line between good and evil in us all. And, by the end of it, I couldn’t help envisioning a vigilante and a villain crouching inside of me, each holding the other’s hand, two sides to the same coin, whispering: Let us out, just for a moment… 

What could go wrong?

—-

The S-Word: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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