Who We Are Online, Who We Are Offline, How They’re Different and How They’re the Same

Over on Facebook, a person who claims to have met and interacted with me (and he may have! I meet and interact with a lot of people) suggests that he wouldn’t want to associate with me because, among other things, there’s a difference between how I present myself online and how I present myself offline, which this fellow takes to mean that I say things here, that I wouldn’t say there. Which means, apparently, that I’m false/dissembling/a coward and so on.

This is interesting to me! I have thoughts on this! I am going to share them with you now!

One: Of course, and I think obviously, people who don’t want to associate with me should not associate with me. Whatever reason you have for not wanting to associate with me — including having no reason at all! — is perfectly acceptable. It’s your life, and life is too short to associate with people with whom you have no desire to spend time, even if that person is me. Maybe I’ll be sad about that, if you are someone I like or admire or thought I might one day like to get to know. But I’ll just have to be sad about that. If you don’t want to associate with me, I celebrate your choice. Go! Be associative with others who are not me.

Two: Also of course I am quite happy to say in the offline world the things that I say when I am online — in point of fact I do that all the time, because frequently, in both public and private conversation, people want to talk to me about things I’ve said online. Why? Well, for one thing, that’s how a lot of people know me, either through this blog or through my various social media presences. So naturally that’s going to be an entryway for actual conversation, or, when I’m doing a public event, a way for people to get me to further expound on a subject. I’m frequently saying offline what I’ve said online. It’s actually quite common.

Three: But what I suspect this fellow means is that I wouldn’t say negative things I might say about someone online to their face offline. For example, upon meeting, say, Ted Cruz, I wouldn’t, to his face, call him “a jowly gobbet of tubercular phlegm,” or “a necrotic self-regarding blight on the face of American politics,” which are things I’ve called him here. And here’s the truth of it: If, in fact, circumstances required that I had to meet Senator Cruz, and I couldn’t get out of it by saying “I’d prefer not to meet him” or alternately by faking a massive head injury, when the moment came that I was required to speak with him, I would say, “Hello, Senator,” and try to keep it to that. But if Cruz then said to me, “Hey, aren’t you the fellow who called me ‘an odious fistula that walks the earth in a human skin?’ I would say, ‘Why, yes, Senator Cruz. Indeed, I called you just that thing.'”

But I wouldn’t lead with it, because, you know. I’m not that kind of asshole. Unless I am specifically and affirmatively going to meet someone with the intent of telling them how much I dislike or oppose them — which is very rare, because there’s usually something better to do — I’m happy to be courteous and civil with the people that I disagree with or have arguments with, online or off. Why not? It’ll let everyone get through the day without being pissed off (more). And, here’s the thing — if someone I’ve had arguments with online shows civility and courtesy to me offline, in the world, good for them. Rather than chalk it up to cowardice or hypocrisy, I’m going to give them credit for understanding that context has a bearing on discourse. It doesn’t mean I forget the things they’ve said about me, or the things I might have said about them. It does mean we both understand that going after each other with hammers in one medium does not necessitate all hammers, all the time. You get credit in my book if you understand that.

(“But Scalzi,” you might say. “Aren’t you the one that says that the person who is an asshole online and polite offline is still an asshole?” Yes! Yes, I did. That goes for me as well — if your opinion of my online presentation is “what an asshole,” then no matter what you think of my offline public presentation, it’s perfectly valid for you to continue to have “asshole” as part of the foundation of your opinion of me. I’m okay with you thinking I’m an asshole. But in public, in the real world, I do try to be a decently socialized asshole.)

Be that as it may, if you’re determined to have me say to your face what I wrote about you online, then yes, in fact, I will absolutely say it to you, to your face. Why wouldn’t I? I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t mean it — or at least, didn’t mean it at the time. It’s possible that over time I might have changed my opinion, and if that’s the case, I’d say that too. And if in time I decided that what I said was wrong, I would apologize, to you, to your face! (Yes, I’ve done that before.) But if I wrote something about you, and it still stood, and you asked me to repeat it to you, to your face, then, yup, that’ll happen.

Four: I should note that for my own self I don’t go out asking the people who say horrible things about me online to repeat them to my face. First, why would I willingly want to spend any time with people who say horrible things about me? I’m 47, man. More years behind than ahead. I endeavor to spend that time with people who actually like me. Second, in the cases where I am in the same space as they are for whatever reason, I generally try not to be the one determined to drop a turd in the punch bowl. Third, I don’t automatically assume that just because someone appears entirely jerky to me online, they will be the same way offline, because, again, most people understand context and are socialized, and who knows? Maybe we’ll get along otherwise. It’s happened before! Fourth, running around being an exposed nerve all the time is tiring. And fifth, generally speaking, people are entitled to their opinion of me, even if it’s not a nice one.

Five: This person who says he won’t associate with me rather proudly asserts his presentation is the same online or off. He seems to think this is a virtue, which is his right. I think it suggests an unsophisticated understanding of how people present themselves in the world, online and off, and how we tune ourselves for different contexts and different purposes. My online presentation, as I’ve noted numerous times, is a version of me tuned for performance — I’m usually telling you what I think, in a hopefully entertaining way. It’s me, but it’s me in a way designed for a specific declamatory purpose. If I used the same version of me in one-on-one conversation, it’d be fucking awful. The version of me for that context is tuned very differently — again, still me, but in a context that’s not all about me.

I have different modes: One for when I’m doing public events, one for when I’m at home with family, one for conversation with friends, one for meeting strangers one on one, one for when I’m collaborating with people on work, and so on. I don’t think this is a particular revelation for anyone, in no small part because I talk about it as a thing I do, but also because pretty much everyone does it; everyone presents differently in different circumstances. I suspect this fellow who maintains he’s the same online and offline is wrong about that, but if he’s not, then he’s a rare individual who perhaps should be studied by sociologists.

The larger point here is that it’s not (necessarily) insincere or bad if your presentation in one medium varies from your presentation in another. Certainly one can have a presentation of self that is false or hypocritical, or have such a wide variance between one presentation and the other that it gives the appearance of either (or both). But there’s a ways to go before you get to that point. I don’t tend to think my presentation in any circumstance is false, although I admit ego and self-interest keeps me from being a perfect observer of me (and sometimes I will willingly lie to people if I think it’s in my interest to do so. Hello, I’m a human and that means I’m complicated). But generally speaking, however I tune me ends up being me. I think this fellow who apparently doesn’t tune himself to circumstances may be making life unduly harder on himself.

Six: There certainly are people I wouldn’t associate with willingly but generally speaking I don’t make a public spectacle out of it. I just… don’t meet them. It’s a big world and one can do a pretty good job of avoiding people if one likes. One can even be at the same convention or in the same building or even at the same party and still do a good job of not spending time with people if one wants. Likewise, I have a (very) small list of people who, if they went out of their way to get into my face, I would tell them to fuck right off. The list is small because a) most people, like me, tend to avoid people they don’t want to associate with, b) my life is good and part of the reason it’s good is that generally I don’t let the assholes get to me. But it’s also small because, again, most people are reasonably socialized and can be polite to each other, even if they’re otherwise at odds. Civility! It can happen.

Seven: To sum up: I totally will in fact say to your face what I say online, but I’m also happy not to unless you decide to make a thing out of it. I suspect most people are that way, and that’s not a bad thing. Also, go ahead and avoid me if you must, I’m cool with that.

Thoughts?

New Books and ARCs, 9/23/16

It’s been a busy week for new books and ARCs here at the Scalzi Compound — he’s another stack of fabulous titles from excellent authors. Which ones will you be adding to your own “To Be Read” list? Tell me us in the comments!

The Big Idea: Miriam Libicki

What happens when you stop doing what people expect of you, and start doing what you expect of yourself? Miriam Libicki knows, and she’s here to tell you in this Big Idea about her new book, Toward a Hot Jew.

MIRIAM LIBICKI: 

Toward a Hot Jew is a collection of drawn essays, originally made as self-published zines over the course of ten years. “Drawn Essays” is my own term for a kind of nonfiction comic, where words and images are combined to make a point, but not always with panels, speech balloons, or direct transitions. As the title suggests, these essays look at culture, identity, and racial and gender roles through an American-Israeli-Canadian and very Jewy sensibility. Why did I make this book?

Like a lot of people, I discovered who I wanted to be by experiencing who I never wanted to be. And I started developing my true artistic voice by being immersed in the art I never wanted to make.

My first few months at art school, I thought I had reached the Promised Land. The kids in my painting class would hang out in the studios all night, layering glaze over glaze, bringing twice-life-size canvases to class worthy of renaissance masters (if renaissance masters ever painted themselves being eaten by dogs). I wanted to be a vessel for whatever these creatures could teach me.

My intro painting professor was even more awe-inspiring. She made tiny oil paintings on wood of impressionistically-rendered hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters. I could stare at these paintings for hours. Then she invited us to the opening of her solo show in a downtown gallery. This was it! The Art World!

Half an hour into the opening, I wanted off The Art World forever. My professor had put up an artist’s statement at the entrance, which was nearly as big as all the paintings combined. It was about taking disasters and turning them into kitsch, how the paintings were an implication of our consumerist tendencies, a commentary on how humanity makes our own terror cute. Which was bullshit. Her paintings weren’t cute, and they certainly weren’t kitsch. They were BEAUTIFUL. She did convey the terror, and she clearly got pleasure out of how lovely her tiny paintings were. But apparently The Art World wouldn’t let her say so. She had to be cynically dismissive of her own skill, in favour of the grand anticapitalist statement.

If I had to choose between the art and the artist’s statement, I chose the art. And if low, commercial art was the place where I could sell my art to people without an adjacent statement permitting them to like it (I could put my actual thoughts in text, right in the artwork), I’d take the low road.

I started to let figures from my comix-fan sketchbooks into my paintings. I got comments during critiques like “narrative” and “decorative”, which were not compliments. In third year, I incorporated the memoir comic I was developing into a big tapestry-like graphite drawing, and got the worst crit of my life.

Classmates said they couldn’t even think about the figures because they had big feet and floating hair. Sticking up for me, a girl said, “the crazy thing is, Miriam can paint amazing realistic portraits.” I was flattered, but confused when people started discussing my art going “in two different directions,” with the implication that the comic stuff was the dumb side, unworthy of someone who could paint a skin tone. The question I was left with was, “You seem like such a smart girl. Why do you draw comics?”

I was attracted to comics because I’d always read them. Comics were accessible and egalitarian. I like the idea that the “original” of a comic book is the mass-printed copy, not some fetishized Mona Lisa under glass. I mused in my journal that night, “maybe if I were more skilled I could stick it out, and make everyone love comics in painted form. But maybe that’s not my job? After all, I keep claiming I like comics for their accessibility, and if cartoony pathos is just not accessible to my classmates, maybe I should take a different angle.”

I did take a different angle that semester. I took the people out of my star drawing, and turned it into a monumental triptych in oils. People liked that a lot better. But I just couldn’t stop comicking. Although I could learn from classical and conceptual art, being acceptable to my peers was not where my heart was at.

In senior year, I spent months making a drawn essay about the Israeli soldier as sex object. It was kind of my way to deal with how I still romanticized Israel, after having gone there, served in the army, had a terrible time, and moved to Canada. Dreading crit, I wrote in my journal, “It’s another one of these projects I seem to like to do, that are ambitious, very close to my heart and…… have an element of combativeness.”

That piece ended up being the title essay of my book, the one I’m supposed to be telling you about. I camouflaged its comicky nature. Though the essay comprised twelve pages, divisible by four like a proper zine, I didn’t bind it.  I blew up the drawings at Kinko’s to 4×5 feet, and hung them around the classroom. Not a comic, an installation!

After my final senior crit, I wrote: “It was generally well received. Everyone thought the drawings were very beautiful. I know Canadians shy away from anything socially uncomfortable, and that was part of the reason I really wanted to make the drawings so attractive, to force people to read things they probably wouldn’t otherwise.”

That was, looking back, the final insight that allowed me to make this book, zine by zine, through marriage and kids and more school, over the next ten years. I don’t have to fit in in The Art World. I don’t have to fit in to The Comics Industry, either. I can make what I want, and if the subject is strange, accessibility can be achieved through proceeding with enough beauty, or humour, or pathos that any viewer can find something to hold onto. That’s my hope anyway.

—-

Toward a Hot Jew is available via the Fantagraphics Web site.

Visit the author’s web site. Follow her on Twitter.

Dispatcher Audiobook Cover Reveal

Less than two weeks now until October 4, which is the day my audiobook novella The Dispatcher is released into the world, so today is a very fine day to reveal the audiobook cover. And here it is!

Pretty cool, yes? Who is that dude in the overcoat? Why is he looking at concrete? Does he just really like concrete? Who knows the answers? Well, I do, since I wrote the thing. And very soon now, you will have the answers as well. That is, if you download the audio to listen to. Did I mention that it’s narrated by Zachary Quinto? Well, it is, and just after it was recorded I got a note from the producer that said, essentially, ZOMG IT IS SOOO GOOD. Which I think is a positive response.

Oh, and also, this is where I remind you that until November 2, you can download The Dispatcher entirely for free (and you can pre-order now, so it will be ready for you on October 4). Why are we just giving this story away? Because we like you. Yes, you. And don’t you deserve a free audiobook from me, read by Zachary Quinto, from Audible, every once in a while? Sure you do.

(Also, you know. If you try this and like it, maybe you’ll check out some other audiobooks too, which is what Audible is all about. Heck, and maybe even some of those other audiobooks will be from me. So we do have a tiny bit of self-interest in there, too. Hope you don’t mind.)

I say this every time I talk about The Dispatcher, and it continues to be true: I’m really excited for you folks to listen to this story. I think it’s a really cool story, and the thought of Quinto reading it to you all just makes me squee like the nerd I am. I think you will, too. It’s going to be great.

Not long now!

The State of the Living Room

In our living room we have a gas fireplace that is frankly dreadfully bad at all the things you might want a fireplace for, so after several years of having not used it at all, we decided it was time to finally just pull the thing out and replace it with an electric unit that would be more efficient and aesthetically pleasing. This would necessitate tearing up the wall to get it out, and redoing the carpet (because it would otherwise have bare spots where the fireplace used to be. So as long as we were going to have to do that anyway, we decided that now is the time to redo the whole damn room.

So: Here it is, the first day of the renovation, with (most of) the former carpet torn out and a big ol’ hole in the wall where they’re going to haul out the fireplace. After which we’ll patch up the wall and put up shelving and a wall mount for the TV and we’ll have a nice, cozy kinda-home theater setup. It’ll be great! When it’s done. Right now, well. It looks like my house is torn up. And it’s confusing the hell out of the cats. I guess we all make sacrifices. I will say I’m happy I woke up ridiculously early and hit my word quota for the day before the contractors arrived, because they are not the silent type.

In any event: This is what the next few days will be like around the Scalzi Compound. Whee!

The Big Idea: J. Lincoln Fenn

Can you get spooked by your own writing? J. Lincoln Fenn was, by what she wrote for her latest novel Dead Souls. What was the cause of the self-inflicted spooking? Read on… if you dare.

J. LINCOLN FENN:

It’s a strange thing to write a story intended to creep people out, but it’s a stranger thing when your novel creeps you out, and the fine line between art imitating life seems to disappear altogether.

Dead Souls is a “Deal with the Devil” story, a trope that began in the 6th century with an unhappy cleric called Theophilus who sold his soul when someone got a promotion he sorely desired (jealous much?). It was a story that, zombie-like, would not die, and went on to inspire Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, Benét’s famous short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, heck, even the movie Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny.

What intrigued me about such a well-worn tale was the way in which it paralleled a Buddhist idea called ‘klesha’, which is the way in which a negative thought can lead to negative actions, actions that then unravel your life in unexpected, and irrecoverable ways. The devil can’t just take a soul ad hoc—the protagonist has to create the opening through which the devil can enter.

In Theophilus’ case, it’s pure jealousy. In Dead Souls, Fiona Dunn suffers from anxiety and jealousy, a toxic klesha that makes her suspect her boyfriend is cheating on her, that leads her to a bar to drink her woes away, and settles her on a stool next to a man who claims to be the devil incarnate, Scratch. As an atheist and a career marketer who knows the many ways of manipulating human psyches, of course she doesn’t take him seriously. At least he’s a sympathetic listener. So when he offers her a trade—her soul in exchange for the power to be invisible so she can see what her boyfriend is really up to—I mean what the heck, why not? That Scratch also requires a favor (to be determined later) hardly seems to matter.

Of course it does.

She suffers the hangover of a lifetime when she wakes up the next day and finds that it is, unbelievably, all true, but at least she’s not alone—there’s a support group of fellow ‘dead souls’ who have also sold their souls on a whim, and they meet weekly in a bar converted from an old church. It’s an opportunity to commiserate, and speculate about which violent news items might actually be favors that the devil has called in. Drone strike that killed a family? Murder/suicide of a father and his three children? All possibilities, unnerving reminders that one day they’ll also have to give the devil his due.

After I submitted the manuscript, I watched the news footage following the November 15th Paris attacks that killed 128 people, and learned that a Frenchman whose wife had perished called the terrorists ‘dead souls’ on Facebook. The word choice gave me a shiver. Then came the 2016 shooting in an Orlando nightclub, which was similar to a favor that Scratch had called in. It began to feel like I had struck something a little too close, like that famous Nietzsche quote, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Then I got a note from my agent saying that, having finished the book weeks ago, she still found herself unable to do [CAN’T TELL YOU, SPOILER] without feeling creeped out.

What the hell did I write?

It’s not that I think I literally conjured the devil—hypothetically if he did exist, there wouldn’t be much need for him to muck about with humanity since we’re quite capable of violence on our own. But it did make me examine my own kleshas, the doors in which hell, especially the kind we create, could enter. I found a smattering of anxiety, and jealousy, and much more than a smattering of fear.

Where did it come from? How much of it was created by a marketer like Fiona, and fostered by the advertising, and the algorithms, and the constant stream of ‘curated’ stories so we will buy, and vote, and see what someone else wants us to? And how often do we exchange a bit of our soul in the form of data, a trade that doesn’t seem like a trade at all because where that data goes, and what it’s used for, is never revealed? A deal that could come back to haunt us one day in unexpected, and potentially unpleasant, ways.

Maybe Shakespeare got it right when he wrote, “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” Maybe we should all be a little more creeped out than we are.

—-

Dead Souls: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

New Books and ARCs, 9/20/16

I went to Hawaii for a vacation and to be a guest at HawaiiCon, and when I came back these new books and ARCs were waiting to me. What looks good to you? Tell me in the comments!

Also, hello. I am back home. My cats missed me.

Hawaiian Update

It’s a little breezy this morning. 

Otherwise it’s been lovely here on the big island. Today the the last full day I’ll be in Hawaii; tomorrow it’s back on a plane and flying against the time zones, so won’t be arriving in Ohio until Tuesday. Will be sad to leave but glad to see family and pets.

Aaaand that’s all I have for you today. See you all again in a couple of days.

18 Years + Bacon Cat 10 Year Anniversary

I’m posting this relatively late because I’m in Hawaii (where in fact it’s not that late at all): Today is the 18th anniversary of the first Whatever entry, back in the now far-gone year of 1998. My blog is now a legal adult in the United States and can vote (and if it could vote, would definitely not be voting for Donald Trump this year). As I often am on this date, I’m amazed that I have kept on doing the blog; eighteen years is a long time to be doing anything, much less writing more or less daily in a public fashion.

It’s an interesting time to be doing a blog, still, because I think it’s safe to declare the Age of Blogging well and truly over, inasmuch as personal blogging as been superseded in nearly every way by social media, including Twitter (my favorite), Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat and so on and so forth. I’m not planning on mourning blogs in general — as a phenomenon they had their moment and it was a relatively good one — but it is interesting to watch the blog tide recede, with just a few die-hards left to do them old-school, like I do.

Again, as I note every year, at the moment I have no plan to stop writing here, although this year in particular I have been writing less here as I have been wrestling with a pair of books for Tor, including the upcoming novel The Collapsing Empire. The books have been giving me fits and have been taking much longer than I expected (on the other hand, I’m having a hell of a lot of fun with TCE in particular, so the wrestling is worth it), and the result here has been relatively fewer posts, and a larger ratio of cat pics and sunsets. I think that’s okay. When I have been writing longform here this year, it’s been good; as good as it has ever been.

Which is why I keep at it. As much as I love Twitter (and tolerate Facebook), at the end of the day I want to say what I want to say, at whatever length I want to say it. The blog was, is and is likely to continue to be the best way to do that. I’m happy I’ve kept it up. I’m going to be keeping up for a while longer.

Today also marks another milestone in the history of Whatever: 10 years ago today I posted the infamous Bacon Cat post, in which I taped bacon to my cat and the Internet went entirely nuts for it. Today the Bacon Cat incident seems almost quaint, and would be good for a momentary trending hashtag at best,. But ten years ago apparently no one had thought to combine cats and bacon on the Internet before, and I was the beneficiary of this brave new combination, and my cat Ghlaghghee was, briefly, the most famous cat online.

Not that she cared; she was a cat. But I had fun with it. It was a moment in time, and I’m glad it was there, and glad the now-departed Ghlaghghee still shows up whenever people Google the terms “bacon” and “cat” together. Internet fame: Both temporary and forever.

Hawaiian Sunrise, 9/12/16

Looks like it’s going to be another pretty decent day in paradise. 

Hope you’re all doing fine. I’ve got a chapter to write, and then, you know. Hawaiian things to do.

View From a Hotel Balcony, 9/11/16: The Big Island

I’m in Hawaii! Which is good. I still have daily word count to hit, however, which is while bad is not great. On the other hand, this is where I get to do my daily words while I’m here, which is pretty great.

Back to it for me.

Vacation Week Has Commenced

Hey, I’m mostly gonna be out this next week. I might pop in briefly on the 13th (on account it’ll be the 18th anniversary of Whatever), but otherwise don’t expect too much; I’m planning to be mostly offline. I expect you’ll be fine without me.

See you later!

New Books and ARCs, 9/9/16

Some very fine books and authors in this week’s stack of books and ARCs. See something here that is begging for your reading attention? Tell us about it in the comments!

The Big Idea: K.C. Alexander

This Big Idea by K.C. Alexander, for her new novel Necrotech, packs a punch. And Alexander, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. Here’s why.

K.C. ALEXANDER:

In his Big Idea about his most recent novel, Jay Kristoff says it began (more or less) with an argument about vaginas. The anecdote is great. The context, on a broader scale, is the story of my life. As it turns out, having—or not having—a vagina informs the names, epithets, expectations and arguments set for me.

I don’t like boxes. And neither does Necrotech’s protagonist—a type of woman whole sub-sections of societally-minded folk remind us don’t and shouldn’t exist.

Riko is a splatter specialist (that’s Tarantino level of gory mess, in case the title wasn’t clear) with all the agency of a man—and in being this, she tests the boundaries of what a woman in a book is supposed to be in this enlightened age of women’s rights. She is not soft. She is not tender. She would prefer to put a boot in your teeth instead of “work it out”, she lacks all maternal instinct, and her flaws are loaded for bear. With all the swag of a street thug, a policy of pleasing herself first, and a piss-poor temperament for emotions, she’s nobody’s idea of a good girlfriend.

She tends to somewhat proudly think of herself as a bad boyfriend.

And she came from a space of deeply engrained social erasure.

I am Necrotech’s Big Idea. Me, and the people like me who are so often told that we can’t, don’t, shouldn’t. That what we are, what we present, is problematic for the greater society. The cause. The fight.

I am a person with a vagina who will not play the game. Whose choices are decried by those who demand I do.

I am a sexuality too straight for queer and too queer for straight.

I am a body too feminine for masculine respect and a mind too masculine for feminine acceptance.

I am caught in a tangled web of expectation. Whose behaviors and needs and identities are policed by a majority—or a very, very loud minority—and who has finally, finally decided that enough is enough. So I wrote about it.

The Riko we meet at the beginning of Necrotech is ten years past that epiphany, street-hardened and gleefully independent. She lives the life she pleases, and she rolls with the decisions she makes. She makes her choices with zero interest in what she is supposed to do.

It’s a lesson fifteen years in the making. A book informed by a lifetime, and wrapped in the trappings of a future I see coming; the bastard hate-child of Transmetropolitan and forward-facing remnants of vintage cyberpunk. It’s grit on grit, a world trapped in its own technology, a city teeming with the vermin of the human population, and busily enacting the terms of its own demise.

Maybe that much is fluff—albeit fluff made from shattered glass and razor blades. Maybe the scope of Necrotech is bigger than one woman, one Idea. Anyone reading it might think that the real Idea is one of humanity’s obsession with technology, with its own limitations, with the need to breed and squat and defile, or that it’s about our need to feel as if every day is an achievement, encouraged by apps that give gold stars every few moments for every step.

If you read Necrotech and think it has nothing to do with this woman-who-acts-like-a-man, that’s okay. There are enough Ideas in the book, in the series as it will be play out, to talk about, think about, embrace or reject.

Maybe you’ll hate Riko, maybe you’ll love her.

Maybe you’ll hate or love me for writing her, this person with a vagina who has been scarred by the expectations of the world she lives in and is giving a giant middle finger to it all.

I know why I started writing this woman who does not care what you think of her. Whatever else the overarching themes, I know why Riko is the heart of it, the voice of it, the eyes seeing it all unfold.

I am Riko—with my snarl in place to warn away any asshole who wants to tell me how I should behave, my finger upraised to everyone who ever told me I was doing it wrong, my heart wrapped in diamondsteel where nobody can reach it to re-program what is mine. Like Riko, I’m not exactly bulletproof, but I can take it with a bloody smile and still come back to kick ass.

My name used to be Karina Cooper. I wrote what was, in so many ways, expected of me. And when I started Necrotech, I defied every expectation. And because I did, it suffered every rejection—until I realized that the ‘me’ that had been cultivated was not the me I was. That I had spent my life thinking I was strong and individual and independent, only to learn that I was so very wrong. And most of all, that the book I’d written wasn’t Karina’s story to tell.

Now my name is K. C. Alexander. Riko may be me incarnate—cranked to 11—but I like to be called Kace.

My problem has always been that I was not womanly enough for the world that demanded I be.

My Big Idea is that it’s a feature, not a bug.

I’m genderqueer. Both and neither. I am feminine and I am masculine, pansexual and nuanced, and I know women like Riko exist. That they should be allowed to exist, encouraged to exist, written with authority and with sincerity by the people who understand what it is to cross the borders laid down so sternly by gendered gatekeepers.

One of Necrotech’s Big Ideas is that we don’t have to be what we are told we are.

I am an unlikable heroine. An aggressive protagonist. An irredeemable hero.

We exist. We have stories to tell.

Enjoy the bloody gonzo ride.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow Kace on Twitter.

In Which I Turn Out To Be a Surprisingly Poor Agent of White Genocide

So, yesterday, after engaging on Twitter with some particularly low-wattage racists who were exercised about, you know, jackass racist things, I made the following observation:

Which these fellows, because they are, as previously mentioned, low-wattage racists, who also apparently don’t understand how language works, took to mean that I was fully endorsing the idea of white genocide.

Well, this was news to me — as a general rule, I don’t endorse genocide of any sort, it just seems rude — but on the other hand I didn’t want to disappoint. So, today I thought I’d give white genocide a try. Here’s how it went (some of these are in reply to others’ questions about the white genocide; click on the tweet for the question).

Having scheduled the white genocide, I went off to attend the rest of the day.

And then it was time!

Seriously, I’m the worst white genocider ever. Sorry.

The Big Idea: Tom Crosshill

Speaking as a nerd who took two years of dance in high school, this Big Idea piece by Tom Crosshill, about his novel, The Cat King of Havana, speaks to me. Read on to find out why.

TOM CROSSHILL:

My YA novel The Cat King of Havana is a tale of salsa, lolcats, and revolution. There’s the Cuban secret police, there’s dangerous dancing, there are kittens with jetpacks. But the Big Idea that propelled the book had nothing to do with any of that. Here it is:

Geeks don’t have to be klutzes.

If only I had believed that as a kid.

In junior high, I read five SF books a week, spent my afternoons playing video games, and worked on a novel about a tribe of dwarf magicians who arrived through a portal in Stonehenge to address the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan. I was also a total klutz who sucked at every sport, didn’t know how to talk to people, and got bullied.

I bet that last sentence doesn’t surprise you. It certainly didn’t surprise me.

Society and mainstream media told me repeatedly that geeks were klutzes with no social skills. Geek-friendly media as well as well-meaning adults confirmed that geeks were klutzes with no social skills — and it was okay, because we were each a unique individual with incredible potential, and one day we might change the world. But almost no one seemed to question one key assumption — that geeks had to be klutzy and awkward.

I have friends who started out as nerdy, bullied kids and became not just accomplished runners, roller derby stars and parkour masters but also well-socialized doctors and lawyers — and even schmoozing politicians. Talking to these friends, though, I hear the same story a lot. How they had to fight against incredible opposition — from others’ stereotypes as well as their own self-beliefs — to achieve personal transformation.

I’m not saying all geeks need to get athletic or fire up their social skills. I support a broad spectrum of geeky life choices — whatever makes you happy. I wasn’t happy as a kid, though, and not just because of the (reprehensible) bullying.

I didn’t like sucking at sports. I didn’t like not knowing how to dress well or how to make friends.

I simply didn’t believe I could change.

Developing that belief took years, the encouragement of good friends, and many small, frustrating steps. With The Cat King of Havana, I wanted to help someone develop this belief a little faster.

I knew that preaching — well-meant advice to “just exercise”, “just go out there and meet people”, etc — wouldn’t work. Instead, I set out to portray one kid’s fumbling journey to change as frankly and honestly as I could.

Rick Gutierrez, the Cuban-American teenage protagonist of Cat King, is an SF-quoting, comics-reading cat video tycoon. His site http://www.catotrope.com gets 30% of all non-YouTube cat video traffic. Known as “The Last Catbender” online—and as “That Cat Guy” at school—Rick isn’t cool and he knows it.

When his girlfriend dumps Rick on his sixteenth birthday because she doesn’t want to stay indoors with him all day, he decides she has a point. He no longer wants to live the geek loner stereotype. He wants to be cool.

That’s a tall order for anyone.

In writing Rick’s journey, I kept three points front and center:

1) Change is hard.

Having resolved to try new things, Rick becomes obsessed with salsa dancing. And he really, really sucks. The kind of suck where you trip on your own feet. The kind of suck where girls look panicked when you invite them to dance. For months, he hardly gets any better.

How do you keep going in a situation like that? Everyone’s answer will be different. To me, the important thing was acknowledging that change can be painfully hard, and that it is still worth it.

2) Those around you will resist you.

Rick’s classmates make fun of his new interest. They mock him and post derogatory Facebook comments. If anything, the bullying he faces intensifies.

The people around him have their own idea of who Rick is, and they won’t let it go. It takes a lot for Rick to believe in himself in the face of that.

Well, in fact, he doesn’t always. But he manages to keep going.

3) You will screw up.

Physical klutziness isn’t a geeky boy’s only challenge. Rick also falls for a new girl. Ana Cabrera, smart as well as cute, is one hell of a dancer. And she’s not that into him.

Rick invites Ana to spend a summer with his family in Havana, claiming he just wants to be friends. Under the influence of his cousin Yosvany — a successful ladies’ man ready with a hundred Pick Up Artist tricks — Rick tries every ploy in the book to “get the girl”.

Ana’s tough and smart, and will have none of it. In the process, Rick realizes he’s becoming a dick. He has to deal with the consequences — and figure out what kind of man he wants to be.

I know from personal experience that this kind of growing up can be exquisitely painful (certainly this is not a problem limited just to us geeks). For a boy with limited social skills, figuring out how to form genuine and respectful romantic relationships can be far harder than getting in shape or learning to dance.

Mortifying mistakes are easy to make. These can quickly lead to frustration and self-protective anger. As we can see with the disturbing rise of Gamergaters, MRAs, self-styled “incels” and other men-in-denial, from there it’s just a few steps to objectification and outright misogyny.

In my book, without condemnation or moralizing, I tried to model a different path to male adulthood.

The Cat King of Havana is a story of salsa, lolcats and revolution. It’s also the story of a boy struggling to become a fully-realized, decent young man.

Nothing about Rick’s transformation is easy. Going against societal expectations and limiting self-beliefs is never easy. But if I’ve done my job well, my readers will believe it can be done.

—-

The Cat King of Havana: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Robin Talley

Shakespeare is often reinterpreted, reinvented and remade — but for her novel As I Descended, author Robin Talley discovered that revamping a tale from the bard was not as simple as just slapping on new clothes and modern language. There was a whole lot more going on.

ROBIN TALLEY:

As I Descended is the first book I’ve written that actually has a convenient elevator pitch. “It’s a lesbian retelling of Macbeth, set at a haunted boarding school,” I could say, were I ever in a situation where I was actually expected to describe my book in an elevator. Which hasn’t happened yet, but I’m glad this time around I’m prepared. My first two books both took a paragraph or so to sum up, so they didn’t lend themselves as well to elevators. Or tweets, for that matter.

And maybe this isn’t a coincidence, but this time around, the concept for the book came to me a lot faster than usual, too. I knew I wanted to write a retelling ― I’ve always loved retellings of classic stories, from West Side Story to Malinda Lo’s Ash to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries ― and once it occurred to me that the Scottish Play would work beautifully at a modern high school, the basic pieces of the plot fell into place quickly.

I almost couldn’t believe no one had already written a YA Macbeth with girls in both of the leading roles. The story is a perfect fit for today’s overachieving high school culture, in which so many girls consider themselves failures if they aren’t valedictorian, sports team captain, Prom Queen, student body president, and every other achievement they can dream up all rolled up into one ― while of course also maintaining a “perfect” body and a vibrant social life. And all while making crucial decisions about which absurdly competitive colleges will lead them into the highest-paid hedge fund careers available.

I decided early on that my main characters would be Maria, the second-most-popular girl in school, and her roommate and secret girlfriend, Lily, who dreams of a grand future for them both. Instead of witches, Maria would be manipulated by a team of vindictive ghosts who haunt the 17th-century Virginia plantation that has been remodeled into the exclusive boarding school the characters attend.

(I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts, by the way, but they terrify me all the same. When we moved into our old house, my wife had to actively work to convince me that the front bedroom wasn’t inhabited by the spirit of the old woman we’d been told died there a few decades before. To be honest, I’m still not completely sure my wife was right about that one, but thanks to her efforts I did manage to live there without panicking every time the bedroom door opened on its own. (Which it did, by the way. Constantly.))

Those elements came to me right away, but the rest of the book wasn’t so straightforward. I got tripped up on a lot of the specifics of retelling the original story. For example:

  • Macbeth is, obviously, an extremely bloody play. Before I started As I Descended, I’d never even considered killing any of my characters. I’d written dark stuff in other books, sure, but death is so final. Shakespeare was writing about a brave, accomplished medieval warrior who broke character by offing a few specific guys (after a career spent slaughtering presumably less important people). I had to take a contemporary 17-year-old girl whose previous experiences with violence had been limited to a few kicks on the soccer field and make her into a would-be violent criminal. I went through months of false starts before I could figure out how to get Maria (and, to be honest, me) into the necessary emotional place.
  • Shakespeare’s casts tend to be larger than your typical YA novel’s. So after much consternation I wound up combining characters here and there, and scaling others back where I could. In my favorite instance, I fused Banquo and Lady Macduff into one character named Brandon. That meant Brandon and my version of Macduff (I named him Mateo) were now a couple. Brandon and Mateo wound up forming a nice counterpoint to my Macbeth/Lady Macbeth (Maria/Lily) combo, in that their relationship is much less dysfunctional.
  • I also had trouble deciding exactly how direct my retelling would be. Should I match it up scene-for-scene? Did every character in As I Descended have to meet exactly the same fate as their parallel characters in the Scottish Play? I’m generally a fan of retellings sticking as closely to the source material as possible (cough, cough, Disney, yay for some degree of female character empowerment, but that’s still not how The Snow Queen goes), but my story’s setting wound up leading to some divergences. Some of the changes were big and spoilery, but others were smaller, yet necessary. (The porter scene, for example, simply had to go. It’s incredible on stage, but I just couldn’t get it to work in this context. So I named the local bar in the book “Porter’s” instead.)

For months, I carried around a paperback Macbeth that rapidly grew tattered as I constantly flipped through it, searching for relevant lines and pouring over dialogue and soliloquies to figure out exactly what Lady Macbeth was getting at what she muttered that aside, and what Greek myth that weird metaphor about blood referred to. This play has so. Many. Blood metaphors. Dude.) I watched adaptations, too, trying to wrap my head around the way various actors played Macduff, the character I had the hardest time connecting with in the play (though my version, Mateo, wound up being one of my favorite characters in As I Descended by the time I was done writing).

Of the books I’ve written, this one was by far the most fun. I got to indulge my inner lit-major geek. I got to go to the library and read critical essays interpreting the Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow speech. I also got to write scenes that scared me so much I had to turn on every light on the second floor of my house before I could force myself to edit them at night.

For my next retelling, though, I might stick with a comedy. Less blood. More banter.

Unless it turns out I’ve developed a lingering taste for my characters’ demises after all…

—-

As I Descended: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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

The Scamperbeasts at One: Today You Are a Cat

The Scamperbeasts came to us on November 1, 2015; at the time we were assured that they were eight weeks old, i.e., old enough, just barely, to be taken home to us. Working back eight weeks from November 1, took us to this week in September for them being born. So, somewhat arbitrarily within the confines of that week, we’ve decided that today would be the day we mark as the Scamperbeasts’ birthday. Happy Scamperday, you adorable monsters!

Today being their first birthday, it’s also the day the Scamperbeasts graduate from being kittens to being cats, with all the rights and privileges that accrue unto, which really are no different from the rights and privileges they had yesterday, since they already get free room and board and roam the Scalzi Compound at will. And honestly, the Scamperbeasts neither know or care that it’s their birthday. It’s just another day at the Compound for them. As it should be. They have a good life, and are good cats.

Be that as it may, I know that at least some of you will be excited by my kittens graduating into catdom, so I hope you celebrate this auspicious day in the manner that seems most appropriate to you. I suggest petting your own cats or other pets and telling them you love them. They may or may not care, depending on species and personal inclination. But it’s still a nice thing to do. The Scamperbeasts, I’m sure, would approve.