The Big Idea: Stephen H. Provost

As many of you know, my first job out of college was as the film critic for the Fresno Bee newspaper in (surprise!) Fresno, California. Fresno doesn’t have a sterling reputation in-state, but I have to tell you, I had a great time, and among other things, it’s where I met my wife. So when also-former-Fresno Bee writer Stephen H. Provost queried about Fresno Growing Up, I pretty much said, “bring it.” And thus he has. Hello, Fresno!

STEPHEN H. PROVOST:

When Mr. Spock is your role model growing up, you don’t tend to think in terms of fate or destiny. Everything’s supposed to be logical. You know, as in traveling through time by boomeranging a starship around the sun at warp speed. As in visiting mirror universes, or hopping onto a “transporter” that scrambles your atoms and reassembled them in perfect precision hundreds of miles away.

Maybe life isn’t so logical after all. Maybe patterns can be scrambled and unscrambled again, and maybe we really can go back in time.

This would explain why I keep boomeranging back to my hometown, Fresno, the subject of my Big Idea book, “Fresno Growing Up.” At the age of 3, I spent a year in the land of kangaroos, Vegemite sandwiches and, yes, boomerangs, then back I flew to Fresno. There were six years in L.A. as a teenager, living next door to a major leaguer on one side and the assistant music director for the “Tonight Show” on the other, before I made another return trip. Then I graduated from college and moved down the road in world’s dairy capital, Tulare. Then, you guessed it, back again.

By that time, I’d spent a decade as a journalist, having entered the field because I figured it offered more security than being an author. I even spent 14 years working for my hometown newspaper, The Fresno Bee, before the recession left me out of a job and prepared to resume the author gig 30 years after my first stab at writing: a wannabe Tolkienesque great American novel that’s sitting in a shoebox somewhere.

Taking another shot at long-form writing was my first Big Idea. I churned out several CreateSpace books under a pen name (Stifyn Emrys) but, in the meantime, I found myself riding the boomerang again – right back into journalism. Talk about déjà vu. These days, I’m working for a newspaper that shares the same publisher as The Fresno Bee, and that’s even printed on the same press … in Fresno, of course. It’s as if my words are taken, via “transporter,” from California’s Central Coast and reassembled in my hometown, then “beamed” (actually trucked) back to San Luis Obispo County for public consumption.

It may not be Kauai or Tahiti, but the Central Coast is the next best thing, which explains why so many Fresnans end up here (it seemed like half the people I interviewed for my book about Fresno were actually residing here, not there).

Still, as I was basking in the cool endless summer on the California coast, strange as it may seem, I began to miss Fresno. Not so much the place I’d just left, but the place where I’d grown up – the Fresno of my youth. That’s when an idea started to take root. It started out as a small idea. Plenty of people had written stories of Fresno’s early history, but few had written about the Fresno I remembered – the quintessential mid-sized American city of the Baby Boom era.

Why not me? I thought. Why not attempt a little time travel? The endeavor took me through hundreds of old newspaper stories, books about the era and phone or email interviews with others who, like me, had lived the city’s story.

Instead of writing about founding fathers, politicians and esteemed ancestors, I wrote about the birth of the Top 40 Boss Radio format (yes, this happened in Fresno). I wrote about how Bank of America used the city as the test market for a newfangled plastic convenience called BankAmericard – the first national credit card and ancient ancestor of the modern Visa. There was a reason the powers that be at BofA chose Fresno for their grand experiment: It was smack-dab in the middle of California, the same way Peoria was at the heart of Middle America.

Fresno had its local celebrities (football letterman-turned-variety show king and pitchman extraordinaire Al Radka), its athletic heroes (big leaguers Tom Seaver, Jim Maloney and Gus Zernial), its clubs, hangouts and drive-ins. Every Friday night, kids would pile into their cars and cruise up and down the main drag in a ritual that, just up the road in Modesto, served as the blueprint for George Lucas’ breakthrough hit, “American Graffiti” and the nostalgia-heavy TV series “Happy Days” … which has now, itself, become a piece of nostalgia.

People love nostalgia; they love reminiscing, so I figured they might just love a nostalgic look back at their hometown during the era they had lived through. The small idea was starting to get a little bigger.

The original plan was just to publish “Fresno Growing Up” myself, as I had my other books. But as I thought about it, I realized that my “small idea” had already gotten too big for that. I’d taken scores of photos and had received permission to use a number of historical images. I couldn’t hope to do them justice in the confines of CreateSpace’s fine but limited format. So I pushed my way past the visions of rejection notices that were dancing in the mosh pit of my brain: I did some research, found a publisher I thought would do the topic justice, and fired off a query letter.

What I got back two weeks later was a slightly belated Christmas present expressing interest in the project – which the publisher proceeded to turn into the kind of work I could never have hoped to achieve on my own. The small idea that became a Big Idea was now a Big Reality.

In the process of it all, I managed to achieve a form of time travel without getting anywhere near a star. Turns out, it wasn’t science fiction at all; it was history. Eminently logical. Mr. Spock, I think, would have been proud.

—-

Fresno Growing Up: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Charity Drive for Con or Bust: An Audio Version of “John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular,” Read by Me

Short version: To benefit Con or Bust, a charity which helps fans of color attend science fiction and fantasy conventions, I will make an audio version of John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular: How SJWs Always Lie About Our Comparative Popularity Levels, a parody of an actual book by a certain obnoxious bigot who is obsessed with me, if $2,500 is raised for Con or Bust by 11:59pm (Eastern), Sunday, August 30, 2015. You can donate to Con or Bust here. To goose the giving, I will gift-match for the first $500 in donations.

Somewhat Less Short Version: So, there’s an obnoxious bigot who is obsessed with me who the other day released a poorly-edited ebook on the subject of “social justice warriors” and how generally horrible they are, and allegedly (as I have not read the work), I am featured in the ebook quite a lot, because, again, the obnoxious bigot who wrote the book is obsessed with me.

So “Theo Pratt” wrote a parody of the ebook, entitled John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular: How SJWs Always Lie About Our Comparative Popularity Levels. Here’s the writeup on it:

Everyone knows that SJWs always lie, but few know why they lie, or at whose bidding, or for whose benefit. While other books may claim to tell you how to take down the Thought Police, only one book is taking the fight right to the top.

Yes, from the mind that brought you the popular blog feature Sad Puppies Review Books comes this definitive takedown of the internet’s culture of Social Justice as embodied by the man who controls it all:

JOHN SCALZI.

Read this book to learn everything you need to know about Social Justice Warriors, their tactics, their treachery, their perfidious entryism. Topics include:

* John Scalzi’s blog is not that interesting and no one reads it.

* John Scalzi does not understand satire as much as I, Theophilus Pratt, understand satire.

* John Scalzi did not get me, Theophilus Pratt, kicked out of the SFWA.

* John Scalzi’s deal with Tor was not a very good deal.

And more!

I love it already.

Basically as soon as its existence was made public, people started asking me to do an audio version of it, because that would be meta, wouldn’t it. And (with the permission of “Theo,” aka Alexandra Erin), I said fine — if doing so could have a positive benefit. In this case, raising money for Con or Bust, a charity which works to bring fans of color to science fiction and fantasy conventions (and yes, donations are tax-deductible in the US).

So, the deal: If Con or Bust raises $2,500 by by 11:59pm (Eastern), Sunday, August 30, I will create the audio version of the John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular. And because I’d actually like to do it, because I think it would be fun and because I like the charity, I will gift-match for the first $500 in donations. You can donate by going here.

Questions!

Is this like a Kickstarter? 

No! You’re straight up donating. If we don’t make it to $2.5k, your donation will still go through. So you’ll want to encourage everyone you know to donate so you get the audio. There’s risk! But I suspect we can between us cough up $2.5k in three days, no?

If this succeeds, where will the audio be? 

I’ll post it up here. The ebook is fairly short (28 pages) so it’ll be a manageable file size.

How will you accomplish this mighty task?

I have a microphone and recording software. It’s not rocket science.

When will the audio be ready?

Probably very soon afterward, because it’ll be short.

Why Con or Bust?

As I said, it’s a worthy charity with admirable goals, and also it’s run by people I know and trust.

Blah blah blah something something just giving the obnoxious bigot oxygen blah blah.

Whatever. This is a fun way to help foster diversity in science fiction and fantasy fandom while making fun of a jerk. I’m in.

Thanks and let’s do this thing!

(Not a) View From a Hotel Window, 8/27/15: Bradford

Home is where your lawn is.

I’m off to get re-acquainted with my wife and child and pets. See you all later. But before I go, thank you to everyone who came to see me on tour these last three weeks. You were each wonderful and I’m so glad you spent some of your time with me. Genuinely honored.

(And don’t worry Dayton and Columbus, I’m still coming to see you. Promise!)

(Also, for those of you who are all “Hey he’s back home so I can send him email again — uhhh, maybe send it Monday? Thanks.)

My Lunch With Tom

If you follow me on Twitter at all then you’ll know that yesterday I had lunch with this fellow, who you humans know as “Tom Hanks.” Naturally, many people wanted to know how and why this meal appointment came about. The answer I can tell you about is that Mr. Hanks is a fan (and as it happens, I am a fan of his), so when he learned that I was to be in town, he asked if I would like to have lunch. And yes, yes I would.

I won’t go into the details of what we chatted about, but I will say that every single thing you’ve ever heard about Tom Hanks being a genuinely nice person appears to be 100% true, and I was not in the least surprised, but nevertheless still very happy, to discover that was the case. Genuinely nice people are rare in the world and should be appreciated as such.

So, anyway: Hi! My life is pretty neat sometimes.

View From a Hotel Window, 8/26/15: Scottsdale

Patio and pool instead of a parking lot. I can totally end this series of pictures on that note.

Tonight: The Poisoned Pen in fabulous Scottsdale, Arizona. 7pm. Final event of this tour (well, sort of — I still have Dayton and Columbus, but I’ll be driving to those from home rather than getting there by plane. You know what I mean, here). If you’re in the Phoenix area, come by and see me! It’ll be grand.

Tomorrow: Home! You’re not invited. Sorry.

View From a Hotel Window 8/25/15: Los Angeles

No parking lot. That would be the 405. But a nice view of the street.

Tonight: The Last Bookstore! 7:30! Come hang, it will be awesome.

Tomorrow: Phoenix and Scottsdale! The last night of the tour. Poisoned Pen, 7pm. Dress warmly! (PS: Don’t actually. It’s Phoenix in August, man.)

The Big Idea: Joe Beernink

You know what? You’re busy. Sometimes you miss things. Sometimes they’re important things. But in Nowhere Wild, author Joe Beernink posits what happens when you miss something really really really important.

JOE BEERNINK:

When I started writing what would become Nowhere Wild, I had one central theme in mind. What if civilization as we know it ended, and you didn’t know?

How could you not know civilization had ended? Were you in a coma? Well, that’s been done. Or maybe you were on a long trip to outer space, only to come back to a world devoid of life? That’s been done, too. A lot. But, what if the character, let’s call him Jake, has been in an location here on Earth which is so isolated, that he hasn’t even heard about the end of the world as we know it? What if that place wasn’t some remote desert island, or some deep jungle of South America? What if it were a place that regular people go to vacation—to get away from it all?

As it turns out, there are places right here in North America which are so isolated, where this might just occur. I spent a lot of my childhood reading about life in these types of harsh locations. Farley Mowat’s Lost in The Barrens, and Jack London’s Call of the Wild always top my list of books to give to people who want their kids to read great adventure stories. They’re written about a different time in history, but some of those remote places still exist, relatively untouched by man. To live there today, for most people, requires modern technology like airplanes and satellite radios. When those tethers to civilization go away, and go away suddenly, what would those people living there do?

What if Jake was in the wilds of Northern Manitoba when the world fell apart, and all he knew is that his ride home had never arrived and that no one would answer his calls for help?

That was the scenario I started with when I began the first draft of Nowhere Wild so long ago: a boy, alone in the woods, who knows exactly where he is, but doesn’t know where everyone else has gone. Besides the obvious physical challenges of survival–traversing hundreds of miles of bush, swamp and open water, finding shelter, food and water—Jake would have to deal with the emotional aspects of survival. Fear. Loneliness. Self-pity. Frustration.

As the author of this story, I often had to deal with the same emotional challenges: the fear that this story, one that begged me to be told, would never come together. The loneliness of spending months—years even—writing and rewriting the story until everything fell into place. The self-pity and frustration of having put myself in the position of writing a novel where there was but one character. No one for Jake to talk to. No conflict but Jake’s struggle against nature and his own body. Conflict of that sort is constant and relentless, but it can admittedly make for some slow reading.

In the earliest drafts of Nowhere Wild, I introduced a minor character in the last few chapters of the story. When I say minor, I mean really minor. Izzy had maybe five or six lines of dialog. But as it happens, everyone who read those early drafts wanted to know more about her. Where did she come from? How did she survive so long? They wanted her story told as well. At first I ignored those pleas. The story was about Jake and his struggles. But as more people read it, I realized that her story had to be told, not just for the mechanics of the book, but because her story, though much different than Jake’s, was also about survival.

What would Izzy do if she knew that society was gone, and there was nothing left to go back to, but that was still better than where she was?

That is Izzy’s struggle. She’s seen the worst of what happens after law and order disappear and society breaks down. She’s survived the initial struggle, and she’s not alone. But she’s not safe either. What if the one thing she knew could kill her, was the one thing she needed most to remain alive?

—-

Nowhere Wild – USA: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | kobo| Powells | iTunes

Nowhere Wild – Canada: Amazon.ca | Indigo

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

View From a Hotel Window, 8/24/15: Palo Alto

This parking lot is made of brick!

Tonight: Kepler’s! In Menlo Park. 7pm. Me in conversation with Tad Williams. Should be a ton of fun. You should totally come by.

Tomorrow: The penultimate event of the tour takes place in downtown LA, at The Last Bookstore, at 7:30pm. I’m very excited to be showing up to this bookstore, which is by all accounts a simply amazing space. I can’t wait. Hope to see you there.

Being a Jerk About the Hugos: Not as Effective a Strategy as You Might Think

(Warning: Hugo neepery. Avoid if you don’t care.)

As most of you know, at last Saturday’s Hugo Awards ceremony, the voters, of which there were a record number, chose not to offer awards in five categories rather than to give the award to nominees who got on the ballot because of the Sad/Rabid Puppy slating campaign. In the categories in which awards were given, in nearly all cases the Puppy nominees in the category finished below “No Award.” The only category where a Puppy nominee prevailed was in Best Dramatic Presentation, in which one of their choices was Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s not a lot of credit they can take for that one.

Why did the Puppies fare so poorly? There has already been much speculation and analysis on the matter, and there will continue to be for some time. But in my estimation (and leaving out issues of literary quality of the nominations, which is super-subjective), the reason for their massive and historic failure is simple:

They acted like jerks, and performed a series of jerk maneuvers.

Specifically:

  1. They created slates for awards that are meant to be about an individual’s personal tastes and choices. That’s a jerk maneuver.
  1. They gloated about the slates getting on the ballot, and the upset that this caused other people. That’s a jerk maneuver.
  1. They created an imaginary cabal of people and asserted without evidence that this cabal indulged in slate-making, and used this assertion to justify their own bad action. That’s a jerk maneuver.
  1. They spent months insulting the people they associated with their imaginary cabal. That’s a jerk maneuver.
  1. They spent months crapping on the writers they dragooned into their imaginary cabal, and crapping on the work those writers created. That’s a jerk maneuver.
  1. They spent months denigrating the award they went out of their way to build slates for. That’s a jerk maneuver.
  1. They spent months pissing on the people who love and care about the awards, and the convention that hosts both. That’s a jerk maneuver.
  1. They expected the people who they’d been treating with contempt to give them the respect they would not afford them. That’s a jerk maneuver.
  1. They pretended they didn’t actually care about the awards for which they put in months and sometimes years of effort to get work on the ballot. That’s a jerk maneuver.
  1. They had the poor grace to whine about people potentially voting “no award,” which is fully allowed by the rules, after gleefully pointing out that slating was not disallowed. That’s a jerk maneuver.

The first of these points in itself would almost certainly have been enough to motivate people to vote against the slates, and the nominees who willingly (or, sadly in a number of cases, unwittingly) found themselves on them. But the other nine points didn’t help, and a lot of the people who declared themselves Puppies or allied themselves with them went out of their way to do some or all of those points. Repeatedly, and with increasing foaminess as things went along.

Here’s the thing: If you perform a bunch of jerk maneuvers, people are likely to treat you like you’re a jerk.

Consonantly: If you perform a bunch of jerk maneuvers, you might, in fact, actually be a jerk. Not always. But the correlation is there, and that correlation gets increasingly significant the more jerk maneuvers you perform.

There is (usually) no crime in performing a jerk maneuver, or acting like a jerk. Everyone can, and has, acted like a jerk from time to time. It’s a regrettable but natural part of the human experience. But most people have the good sense to understand that acting like a jerk should not be a lifestyle choice, and that if you make it one, people will respond to you based on your choices.

As they did, in this case, with the Hugos. The Hugo vote against the Puppy slates was not about politics, or cabals, or one species of science fiction and fantasy over another, no matter what anyone would like you to believe — or at the very least, it wasn’t mostly about those things. It was about small group of people acting like jerks, and another, rather larger group, expressing their displeasure at them acting so.

Mind you, I don’t expect the core Puppies to recognize this; indeed I expect them to say they haven’t done a single thing that has been other than forthright and noble and correct. Well, and here’s the thing about that: acting like an jerk and then asserting that no, it’s everyone else that’s been acting like a jerk, is the biggest jerk maneuver of all.

(Comments on this piece off for now, because I’m about to start an event and have a super-busy day today. I might turn them on later.)

The End of All Things on the USA Today Bestseller List

Something I missed when it happened last week, because, you know, on tour and all that: The End of All Things debuted on the USA Today Bestseller list at #31, which is the highest a book of mine has ever gotten on the USA Today list. As comparisons, Lock In clocked in at #107, and Redshirts came in at #55. So that’s a pretty positive thing, I have to say.

Interestingly, despite this being my highest charting book on the USA Today list, The End of All Things did not hit the NYT Hardcover Fiction list for its debut week. How does that happen? Basically because the particular lists track different things — the NYT list tracks fiction hardcover sales specifically whilst the USA Today list tracks every book regardless of category (which is how the #30 book on the USA Today list is Felicia Day’s book, which is non-fiction), and also because both organizations also do a bit of sampling and filtering to build their lists. I’ve gone into how bestseller lists differ before, so I won’t dig in here; suffice to say that these lists are complicated beasts.

Nevertheless, I am delighted to see The End of All Things doing well and hitting a new height on the USA Today list. It’s nice when all that work pays off, sales-wise, at least.

The Big Idea: Felicia Day

Felicia Day is someone who for most geeks needs no introduction: Creator of The Guild, instigator of the Geek & Sundry video channel, television celebrity and of course a star of the immortal Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Now she has another descriptor to add to her title: New York Times best selling author, as her book You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) plopped onto non-fiction chart. That’s awesome, and she’s awesome, and here she is to chat with you — yes, you! — about her thoughts on the act of creating. Take it away, Felicia!

FELICIA DAY:

The whole point of creating is affecting other people.  (Effecting? Grammar sigh.)

I am plagued with perfection syndrome, anxiety and an acute self-consciousness that makes me convinced that I have a gob of mascara under my eye when I attend any public appearance. In general, hubris is something I avoid at all costs. (The internet helps reinforce it because someone is always willing to step up and tell you how much you suck. Thanks internet!) This reluctance to be braggy was a big hurdle for me to be able to get through writing my own memoir. I mean, talking about myself, TO myself for about year to complete the thing? Then recording the words aloud I wrote to myself ABOUT myself for the audio book?! Ugh. My constant inner monologue was, “Who the hell do you think you are, chickie?” But the thing that got me through was realizing that the point of creating is not about ourselves, it’s about everyone around us. How we change others in small ways or large with what we make. Basically, making stuff is not about you, damnit.

This is easy to say in theory, but hard to sink into the bones when you’re staring at a half-completed outline on your laptop and you don’t know how to finish it and there’s a deadline looming like a guillotine above your psyche. (And you’ve just stress-eaten a whole bag of Doritos Cool Ranch and your mouth smells like a trench.) Ego is a necessary first step in making things. There’s a story or a character in our heads that no one else in existence can tell, of a jaunty spaceship traveling through a universe or a hot highlander seducing a super mousey journalist. We’re the only one who can write that moors-seduction scene QUITE like we can, so let’s get to it! (Note to self, explore this Highlander idea, sounds hot.)

But after the initial seed is planted, all our emotional baggage arrives with a jolly, “Hey idiot, reality knocking!” to dry up the enthusiasm. Inhibitions show up. Second guesses. Procrastination-reading of five other works in a similar vein leads to crushing thoughts like, “He had a robot dog in his book, I can’t do that now or I’m a copycat! I have no other ideas. I’m the worst!” I went through it all. And it cost me weeks of my writing life. Yay! But as I plugged away and started to string together my life events, especially my love of connecting with people on the internet, I noticed a thread of where the joy of creating actually lay (lie? Double grammar sigh).

The satisfaction came from other people taking what I made, crushing it into their own a psychic ball and mashing around in their heads, only to come out later in a repurposed form for their own uses. Whether just to share “this made me laugh” in an internet comment, or spur them to create a whole world of their own, impulse sparked by what I’d shared. Channeling that feeling of helpfulness and joy of sharing allowed me to get through the writing road blocks a lot easier than it had been for me in the past. Because I reframed the way I thought about the material from all about ME, to all about US.

And I realized that’s the key to getting through the hard writer’s block times. It requires creating the way we did as kids. Back when we worked for weeks to create that perfect drawing for our dads to hang on the fridge, or built an elaborate Popsicle stick sculpture we couldn’t wait to give our grandmas. That joy of expressing ourselves FOR someone we love is so powerful. It overrides all the ego crap we’re plagued with that stops us up, that makes us put down the pencil or search YouTube for kitten videos instead of working.

If you’re blocked, the root of it is probably fear. I know I was for me. Of failing. Of being mocked. Of not immaculately conceiving the perfect tale on the first draft. This is why I never wrote those unicorn stories I wanted to as a teenager, or those angsty post-college ennui ones in my twenties. I couldn’t risk not knowing the perfect path to take in order to make myself look awesome. Now, I retroactively hate that I sabotaged myself like that, because I couldn’t realize that the things we create are just a deposit into our collective consciousness. Like a savings account for humanity. Fart jokes, political essays or deep contemplative novels, all of it should be considered our personal contribution to helping us understand each other better and changing each others’ brains in ways that wouldn’t have happened if we’d never spoken up.

So when you think about creating, focus on the idea of adding to the collective Borg consciousness, if only to get over your own road blocks and make it easier to get your voice out there. Seeing how the things we express give other people the tools to fertilize the gardens of their own minds is beautiful. It’s kind of the point of being alive. (Alternative theory: Tacos).

—-

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Hear excerpts on the book site. Read her blog. Follow her on Twitter.

View From a Hotel Window, 8/23/15: Aurora, Colorado

Ahhhhh, yes. Parking lot, I missed you so.

Today: As noted previously, Fort Collins at 3pm. Be there or be square. Seriously, you’ll turn into a cube if you don’t go, Fort Collins. An evil wizard has cast a spell on your town, you see.

Tomorrow: Bay Area, you have two  — yes, two! — chances to see me on Monday. If you’re in San Francisco and not doing anything in the noontime hour, come to Borderlands Books to see me do my thing. I’ll be very curious to see how this does as an event, being it’s at noon on a weekday, and presumably many of my fans have those whatchamajingies called “jobs,” but no matter what, we’re gonna have some fun. So come on down.

Then, in the evening, specifically at 7:30pm, I’ll be at Kepler’s in Menlo Park, and I’m sitting down with the fantastic Tad Williams for an evening of discussion and pie (note: the event is BYOP — bring your own pie). More seriously, this is a Kepler’s premier event, so you’ll have to splash out some money for a ticket. But I promise the discussion between me and Williams will make it soooo worth it. Come see us do our thing.

A Brief Comment on the Hugos

I remember, when the Hugo nominations came out, Brad Torgersen crowed that the Puppies had taken over the Enterprise.

So, to extend the metaphor, this is what happened to the Puppies last night at the Hugo Awards:

And if you remember, afterwards the Federation built the Enterprise back up again, just as good as, if not better than, before. So, yes.

I’ll have more and longer things to say on the topic, but right now I’m operating on a deficit of sleep thanks to George RR Martin’s epic Hugo Loser’s party, so I’m going to take a nap before my event in Fort Collins (today! At 3!).

In the meantime, if you want more detail on events, this Wired article (in which I am quoted) is pretty comprehensive, and this Wall Street Journal article features immediate post-Hugo reactions from me and several others.

Comments off because of nap, followed by several hours of me being busy at an event. My upcoming longer entry (probably within the next couple of days) will have the comments open. Hold your fire until then.

View From a Hotel Window, 8/22/15: Spokane

For Sasquan, this year’s Worldcon, I splurged on a penthouse suite (I’m paying for it, not Tor). It has a view not of a parking lot. Also, today the sky is actually blue, as opposed to being mainly composed of smoke and ash, as it was yesterday. A very pretty day to have a Hugo ceremony, which will happen this very evening. I am having a lovely Worldcon so far.

Tomorrow: Fort Collins, I will be visiting you for the first time. Come see me at the Midtown Arts Center at 3pm, sponsored by Old Firehouse Books. This is a ticketed event with the tickets being $5 (cheap), and the tickets also count as $5 off when you buy The End of All Things. See you there!

View From a Hotel Window, 8/20/15: Boise

Parking lot in the foreground, state capital in the background. Basically, this view has got it all.

Tonight! I am at the Boise Downtown Library! (I understand it has an exclamation point in its name) at 7pm, with the event sponsored by The Rediscovered Bookstore. I’m very excited, because this is my first time in Boise and my first time in Idaho. So I hope you’ll come out and welcome me to your state and city.

Tomorrow and Saturday: Sasquan bound! Here’s my schedule there in case you missed it earlier. I sincerely hope it is not consumed by fire before I arrive.

The Big Idea: Aliette De Bodard

Aliette De Bodard’s Big Idea piece for The House of Shattered Wings may have the best first line of any Big Idea piece yet. That’s all I’m going to say. Get to reading.

ALIETTE DE BODARD:

My novel didn’t come together until I nuked Paris.

After I finished Obsidian and Blood, my trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, I was a bit uncertain as to what to write. I finally settled on a urban fantasy set in Paris: I’d always wanted to tackle magic in a more modern setting, and Paris, as a city I’d lived in or around for years, felt like a natural candidate.

The novel, though, never really came alive for me.  I went through several drafts with increasing degrees of frustration–and finally realised that what I needed was better worldbuilding. My intended setting, of a 21st Century with magicians’ families fighting each other for power, had never really convinced me; because I felt, deep down, that the presence of magic should have a bigger effect on the city and its people.

At the same time, I was also taking the novel further back in time, to the 19th/early 20th Century, for a more old-fashioned feel. I was therefore reading a lot of books from that time period, all carefully set against the devastation wrought by WWI. And that’s when I realised that what I really needed was a magical equivalent of this–one whose effects wouldn’t so easily be shaken off. The kind of conflagration that still left the city devastated and bobby-trapped with spells, decades later. A war between factions that had grown too arrogant and powerful and tired of being at each other’s throats–except, of course, that even after the war they’d still be fighting each other on battlefields of intrigues and politics and magical influence…

Yup, that sounded about right.  

It turned out that nuking a city was harder than I’d thought. First, I needed a good idea of what life had been before the war: not only to assess what had been lost, but because my post-war society would be clinging to the idea of a golden age before the war, and modelling itself on its memories of it.

My pre-war society differed massively from the actual historical one, because it had Fallen angels–ageless and immortal beings who, with their talent for magic, naturally gravitated to positions of power. And it also had magical factions: the Houses, a quasi-feudal network of protections and obligations that turned into impregnable fortresses after the war. I imagined them as a loose cross between the Houses in Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series and the Chaosian Houses in Zelazny’s Amber; and I spent a lot of time coming up with their various characteristics, from philosophy to coats of arms and major magicians (among which was Lucifer Morningstar, because where would be the fun of Fallen angels without him?)

Second, I needed a good idea of the geography of the city, past and present. There I was fortunate, because I could do most of my research by walking and going to local libraries. In particular, I decided that the major focus of the narration, House Silverspires, would hold Ile de la Cité, one of the islands in the centre of Paris. I had to research a bit, in order to get an idea of the lay of the land before I completely nuked said land. By the time I was done, most of the island’s monuments were destroyed, Notre-Dame was ruins open to the sky, and the neighbouring Seine had become a dark and dangerous river, whose tendrils would snatch the unwary from bridges and quays.  Fun times!

Once I was reasonably confident of my Ile de la Cité, I extended the devastation further, into the rest of Paris. Some areas would be under the sway of Houses and enjoy a modicum of safety and resources, and others would be Houseless–in varying degrees of distress and poverty, ranging from lower middle class to working class, to areas beset by gangs of roving, starving youths who fought for scraps of food and magic.

As I delved deeper into this new, odd and bleak world and its politics of survival,  understood immediately that I’d been entirely right: this was something I felt passionate about, something that came alive for me when I was writing about it and begged to be explored further with every new chapter. This was the book I really, badly needed to write.

And that is how I ended up writing The House of Shattered Wings, and setting it in a universe that felt much more engrossing to me than the one of my abortive urban fantasy. I hope I managed to get some of that fire across in the book!

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The House of Shattered Wings: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

View from a Hotel Window, 8/19/15: Seattle

There is no place where the parking lots cannot reach!

Tonight: Seattle, at the Downtown Public Library, at 7pm. You know the downtown public library; it’s the one that looks all funky. Co-sponsored by the Elliot Bay Books. Come by, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Tomorrow: Boise! For the first time ever, I am visiting you! I hope you will visit me too, at the Downtown Boise Public Library, at 7pm. See you there!

The Big Idea: Charlie Fletcher

How to suss out the intricacies of a new idea, not just for a story, but for an entire world? For Charlie Fletcher, author of the Oversight series, of which The Paradox is the latest installment, the answer was simple: Go for a walk.

CHARLIE FLETCHER:

The setting for The Oversight and The Paradox began with a fragment that I wrote in my notebook without entirely understanding why:

On the benefit of Mongrels, and the perils of Cold Iron”.

It’s a fine near-sentence, full of atmospheric period capitalizations and so on, but it’s also maddeningly opaque, and needed unpacking. So I did what writers do when ideas need to be nailed down. I whistled up my terrier Archie, and went for a long walk up the hill in the driving rain.

Of course there was rain. It was summer. This is Scotland.

I set off knowing one thing: I wanted to write an adult supernatural adventure set in early Victorian London. I like the period, I know the history and the terrain of the city, it’s a good and numinous place to hunt story.

What the generous host of this blog calls The Big Idea, I call True North because once I’ve found it I can always navigate my way through a story: it stops me getting frustratingly lost and instead allows me to get interestingly lost, which is quite a different thing altogether, being where the fun and serendipity happens.

In the world I was beginning to imagine there were two groups of people: those with supernatural abilities kept strong by keeping their blood ‘Pure, living hidden and apart from the other normal ‘natural majority. The Pure have freedom to roam where they will, as long as they obey ancient prohibitions – ‘Law and Lore’ that protects each side from harming the other. Being disinclined to mix, the Pure have usually always kept to the wild places.

As I walked through the rain wondering how to dramatise this – and maybe because I was watching my dog trot ahead of me it seemed logical that this unseen picket-line between the natural and the supernatural was best policed in an even-handed way by mongrels those with the blood of both sides in their veins. From this the idea of the ancient Free Company for the Oversight of London was born.

The Oversight have thus never been pure, and have always been imperfect. Theyre real and fallible, doing the best they can with inadequate tools and limited resources – just like the rest of us. But like Archie my terrier, who is of course mongrel to the bone, they’re resilient, scrappy, a little unpredictable and totally don’t know how to back off, even when they’re losing. They have all taken a vow to uphold Law and Lore to the death: hence the ‘benefit’ of Mongrels.

Having discovered I was going to tell the story through a kind of uncanny border patrol, I had to think about exactly what those inadequate tools were that they would use to try and enforce the balance they were sworn to. And that’s where Cold Iron suddenly made sense.

Amongst the strongest and most widespread articles of old folk belief is that you can escape the pursuit of supernatural entities by crossing running water, and that if none is nearby you can defend yourself with ‘Cold Iron, which they abhor.

This idea of Cold Iron as a sure talisman against the power of the supernatural made me understand why I wanted to write this story at this particular point in time: the 1840s mark the transition between the First and Second Industrial Revolution, iron production has leaped forward, steam power is perfected, and the onslaught of the railroad, spreading its web of iron across the virgin lands of the world is just starting to bite.

So, if the Pure have always been free to move wherever they will as long as they don’t prey on ‘normal’ people, what happens when the ‘normal’ start caging the landscape beneath a grid of uncrossable iron rail track, and cutting new canals of flowing water across the traditional trails, rendering them unpassable?

What in fact always happens when you get ancient treaties swept aside, and the old world realises it’s time to fight a last stand against the unthinking rapaciousness of modern?

I think you get resistance…

Writers tell you walking helps, and it does: I came off the hill with my True North, my Big Idea: history in flux, players in motion, unintended consequences – a reason to tell the story I was drawn to, and a question that hopefully resonates forward into our own world.

And speaking of the wider world, I also knew London was now just the place where it all begins…

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The Paradox: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

 

View From a Hotel Window, 8/18/15: Portland

If you look closely, you’ll see a parking lot in the picture.

Tonight: Powell’s in Beaverton, OR, at 7pm. Be on time because the Doubleclicks are opening!

Tomorrow: Seattle! I will be amongst you, for my event at the Seattle Public Library, co-hosted by Elliot Bay Books. 7pm!

The Big Idea: Linda Nagata

In today’s Big Idea, Linda Nagata explains how short stories were the gateway to her “Red” series of novels, of which The Trials is the second. Short stories! Gotta keep an eye on ’em!

LINDA NAGATA:

Stories can be dangerous, demanding things.

The Trials is the middle book in a trilogy of military thrillers that took over my imagination. I had never planned to write a military novel—not until an alliance of small ideas infiltrated my subconscious and gained control, insisting that together, they were the Big Idea behind a new science fiction story world.

The first incursion came in the fall of 2012 when I was struggling to write a hard SF short story. The reason I was having so much trouble? This was a completely new story world, so everything about it had to be worked out: the state of the Earth, the level of technology, the extent of solar system exploration. All of this for a storyworld that I didn’t expect to revisit—until I found myself writing this odd bit of background about an AI antagonist known as “the Red.”

“…it bled through every aspect of life—a relentless tide of information and influence shepherding the thoughts and actions of billions along paths determined by its unknowable goals.”

Yeah…what does that even mean?

I wasn’t sure. Not at first. Nevertheless, I had a strong feeling I’d just found a key element of a new novel.

In fiction, AIs are often depicted as self-aware entities with relentless survival instincts and a hunger for power—a lot like people, just smarter and faster. But it’s narrow AI that’s used everywhere these days, non-sentient and focused on a specific task. Self-awareness is not expected, wanted, or required. So what if an AI of that sort—let’s say a marketing AI, one originally designed to gather data on individuals, to assess their wants, and to manipulate their behavior in ways both subtle and overt, simply evolved to do its task better?

I mean, we’re already on our way to that. I’m sure you’ve gone shopping online, only to be pursued around the web by whatever product you were looking at. If you have an Android phone, Google is certainly aware of where you are and often has a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for. Facebook presumes to know us well enough that its algorithms can decide what posts we want to see in our newsfeed. Amazon has our browsing, buying, and reviewing histories going back years.

The NSA may have a lot of cached data, but surely it’s the consumer programs that know us best—and when they chase us around with ads, they are trying to influence our behavior by matching us up with products we might want to buy. So in the classic science fiction tradition of “if this goes on…” I wondered what might happen if a marketing AI began to more overtly shape potential consumers. Instead of matching people up with a specific product, it begins to match them up with the life they would have chosen if only they’d had the opportunity—and the courage for it.

There is a special sort of excitement when I sense a novel coming on. I felt it as I finished up the short story (which you can read over at Lightspeed Magazine—it’s called “Nightside on Callisto”). But in the end this concept was just a nice bit of background. I didn’t have my Big Idea yet.

Then, several months later, I was ambushed by another short story.

(You see? Stories are dangerous. They are demanding. They mess with your head.)

“Through Your Eyes” (Asimov’s April/May 2013) is set in a very near-future New York City. It’s a tale of surveillance, civil rights, the corruption of corporate-controlled government, and the power of hidden cameras in the hands of citizens. Just like the earlier story, this one had a background element that intrigued me: the idea that the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about so many years ago has come to control US foreign policy, and war is a business decision.

This is another “If this goes on…” scenario. After all, the United States has been at war for a very long time, and is likely to continue to be at war on some scale for many more years to come. In a long-term market like that there is money to be made—a lot of money—and defense contractors stand to reap large profits.

Again, a nice bit of background, but still not the Big Idea I needed—until I put the two scenarios together: a paranoid defense contractor declares all-out war against an elusive, rogue AI with unknown goals. The two ideas combined in an explosive rush of writing that yielded the draft of a novel in only four months—record time, for me.

That was The Red: First Light, the story of US Army Lieutenant James Shelley, who finds himself a frontline player in a widening conflict that forces him to question who he’s really fighting for—and just how far a soldier’s duty will allow him to go.

As soon as The Red was done, I was faced with writing a sequel. I knew The Trials would open with Shelley and his squad of cyborged soldiers facing the consequences of the decisions made and the actions taken in the first book—even as they find themselves locked into the hero’s role.

And that, I realized, was the Big Idea behind The Trials.

In a world linked by cell networks, satellites, mass media, and surveillance, the subtle but far-reaching machinations of the Red have begun to turn the lives of individuals into real-life stories—some quietly heroic, and some harrowing, some that derail lives, and others that inspire.

I freely admit that I’m addicted to adventure stories, and I suspect many of you are too. Action, struggle, discovery, facing your fears, overcoming the odds, doing the right thing in the face of danger, in the service of others. It’s all great to read about.

But what if you found yourself caught up in one of those harrowing stories, actually confronted with the hero’s role? Would you want it? Would you take it, even knowing that your life was being manipulated—and that not all stories have happy endings? That’s the choice Shelley has to make. As the world is gradually redesigned by an entity no one understands, he has become an actor handed a plot whose end he can’t know.

So the Big Idea behind The Trials is that it’s telling a story about being caught within a story—and as we all know, stories are dangerous, demanding things.

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The Trials: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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