Because with clouds like these, we’re no getting a sunset tonight. Enjoy.
Because with clouds like these, we’re no getting a sunset tonight. Enjoy.
Years ago, like any new writer, I was working through ways I might portray tragedy and loss in my stories. Strengthening new muscles, as it were. To the young writer it may seem as though death itself is the ultimate tragedy, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that the actual death isn’t what matters most. It’s the grief left behind, the feelings of loss and impotence and anger. What death leaves in its wake matters so much more than the death itself.
Like a prick from a dirty needle, tragedy can infect the tissue surrounding it, and this got me to thinking. What other types of loss might have the most impact on a reader? Like ticking off topics on a list, my mind worked through the most obvious. Betrayal. Personal failure. Drifting slowly but surely apart from someone you love. Robbing a child of the potential to be great.
Like so many, I’ve been affected by the events of 9/11, the War in Afghanistan, the Iraq War, Arab Spring, the civil uprisings in Syria, and on and on. Society marches forward or backward on those events. They are the hinges of our history. But I cannot think of those larger events without also thinking of the terrible human loss wrapped inside them. I’m fully aware that I’ve grown up in a place where my way of life is protected. I can only wonder what it would be like to live in a place where so much that I take for granted is threatened.
That, in a nutshell, is what I wanted to explore in Twelve Kings, not merely individual or personal loss, but familial loss, societal loss, cultural loss. What grows in soil sown with so much grief? What pain might that new growth lead to? Are there things that might be saved even in terrible tragedy? Things that might be reborn? Is there joy to be found?
When I was first embarking on Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, I had already decided it would be set in a vast desert, that there would be wandering tribes who sail every corner of the desert on sandships, that there would be a melting-pot metropolis ruled by twelve cruel kings. I also knew it was going to be a series, and I wanted a through-line to help guide me toward the end of the first book and beyond. I didn’t want it to be about only big canvas stuff, though. I wanted the larger events to be felt in a such a way that it speaks to the things we all share. Something recognizably human. I wanted, in other words, to marry the the broader, earth-shaking events with deeply personal ones.
The main character in Twelve Kings is a woman named Çeda. She loses her mother at a young age when she’s killed in vicious fashion by the twelve immortal kings of Sharakhai. Çeda vows revenge, but revenge is a short-lived thing if not fueled. Years later, now a pit fighter in Sharakhai’s seedy west end, Çeda finds that fuel in the form of riddles hidden in the book of poems her mother left her. They open the door to much larger secrets, secrets the kings tried to bury on the fateful night long ago when they made a dark bargain with the gods of the desert to secure their power. Their desperation to keep those secrets hidden gives hint to just how terrible that bargain was. And yet the kings have had centuries in which to alter history. It won’t be easy for Çeda to uncover the truth.
As the story moves on, Çeda’s initial thirst for revenge is replaced by a desire to uncover what was lost, and in this I finally felt like I’d found what I was looking for. Çeda’s hopes and fears became very personal for me in the writing of this tale, but I also broadened the lens to give some sense of scope to the things she’s playing with. It made the story so much brighter for me, and I hope it does for you too.
Ten years ago today, I put the essay “Being Poor” on Whatever. I wrote the piece, as I explained later, in a rage at the after-events of Hurricane Katrina, when so many people asked, some genuinely and some less so, why many of the poor people didn’t “just leave” when the hurricane smashed into the Gulf Coast and New Orleans flooded. I wrote it not to offer a direct explanation but to make people understand what it was like to be poor, as I had been at various times in my life, and could therefore speak on with some knowledge. The piece wasn’t about how people became poor, or why there were poor — simply what it was like to be poor, and to then try to get through one’s life on a day-to-day basis.
I posted it because I had to. I was in a rage at what was happening in New Orleans in 2005, but I was also sick, literally physically sick about it, and for days I couldn’t understand why. I had no direct connection to New Orleans and there was no one there I considered a friend, and other, equally terrible disasters had hit the US before and had nowhere near the same effect on me. Ultimately I began to realize the difference this time was that I was aware how differently the disaster affected people along economic lines, and how the lack of useful planning and response to the disaster essentially punished New Orleans’ poor.
I was not of New Orleans and I was not of New Orleans’ poor. But having been poor in my life, I remembered the difficulties being poor imposes, the lack of options it offers, and circumstances it presents, when no way through is a good one. I had been there in my life, and the lack of understanding I saw radiating out from people about the situation made me sick almost to the point of vomiting. I had to do something or I felt like I would explode.
We had donated money, of course. But it wasn’t enough. So I sat down to write something, anything. What I came up with was a list of things from my personal experience and from the experience of people I knew in my life about poverty and what it was like to be in it. Later some people said the piece was a poem, and I can see that, and they might be right. At the time that wasn’t part of my thinking. I just wanted to get what was in my brain out into the world. I cried as I wrote it, putting the rage and sickness I felt into words. Then I posted it up on Whatever.
And it ended up going everywhere.
It was reprinted in the Chicago Tribune and the Dayton Daily News and dozens of other newspapers. It was linked to and pasted onto hundreds of Web sites. It was read out loud on the radio. It was shared in emails and mailing lists. Eventually it made its way into textbooks and other teaching materials. Churches and religious groups by the score asked permission to use it. In an age before Facebook and Twitter (and even MySpace, really), the piece went massively viral. I encouraged this, of course. As famously “pay me” as I am, “Being Poor” is one piece I have never taken money for. I allow it to be freely distributed and when people ask about payment, I tell them to donate to a local hunger or poverty charity. It’s meant to be shared and read, and read as widely as possible.
It continues to be read, a decade on. There hasn’t been a year since it was posted that it hasn’t been one of the most visited entries on Whatever; this year, it’s currently the third most-read piece on the whole site. Year in and year out, people find it, or come back to it. This makes me very happy.
Which is not to say that people didn’t find ways to try to pick it apart. When the piece came out, I didn’t go out of my way to note that the piece was based on my own experience, so a number of people questioned the veracity of the piece, and my right to write it. When I did make it clear that the piece was largely based on my own experience, some folks then wanted to maintain that I hadn’t really been poor, or that “American” poor is not really poor compared to the poverty elsewhere in the world, or they would focus on one particular bit in the piece and declaim how it was in some way inauthentic, therefore throwing out the whole piece. Others simply wanted to blame the poor for being poor in the first place.
There is of course not much to be done in those cases. I lived my poverty; I don’t need other people to decide whether I was poor enough for them. The American version of poverty may be “better” than poverty elsewhere, but it’s bad enough, both objectively and in context. And while I understand some people prefer to believe poor people deserve the poverty they’re in, I know it’s not true, or at the very least, is such a small part of why people are poor. I didn’t deserve to be poor when I was a child; I just was. The people I know now in poverty aren’t there because it’s some sort of cosmic or karmic justice; they work hard and try to better their lives. But the fact of poverty is: It’s a rough climb out, and a steep fall back, and it’s not as if everyone starts out in the same place.
That said, I admit to being an imperfect vessel to speak to poverty in America. I have been poor in my life. I am not now, nor have I been anything close to poor for my entire adult life. In fact I am on the opposite end of the spectrum. You can even say that in many ways my life encapsulates the Horatio Alger “rags to riches” American Dream narrative that we have embedded into our national DNA: Scrappy ambitious kid takes his chances and makes a few breaks for himself and comes out on top. It can happen to you too!
Except the thing I know that gets elided here is that I’m one of the very few “rags to riches” tales I know of. Anecdote is not data, and the data says that it’s tougher to move up the socio-economic ladder here in the US than it is in most other industrialized nations. Not impossible, and I am here to speak to that. But tougher. And I am here to speak to that too — because I know the breaks that I caught, including the fact that I got a scholarship to attend one of the best college preparatory high schools in the country, which I attended while simultaneously living in a trailer park. I was launched into the ranks of the socio-economic elite and I haven’t come back down. But I also know that not every kid in a trailer park gets the break I did, a break contingent on one school deciding to let me in, not a state or national will to make things better for poor children in general.
I have been poor, and am not. That makes me not the best spokesman for poverty. But I continue to see poverty, where I live and in the lives of people I know, and I am in a position where when I talk, people often listen. So this is a thing I will continue to speak on.
And it is a reason why I’m glad “Being Poor” continues to be part of the conversation on poverty. For what it’s done and what it continues to do, I’m proud to have written it. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written.
Writing can be an adventure or an escape, and it can also be a way of dealing with events around you, and to explore what they mean and do. Ask author Rebecca Alexander, author of The Secrets of Blood and Bone. She’ll tell you. And does, just below.
Ten years before I began working on the Secrets trilogy, I dealt with a number of personal losses, and death was a force of nature that I couldn’t understand. I decided to explore the “big idea” of death through my writing. As a result, most of my main characters are poised on the edge of death, like people often are after desperate illness or trauma. Only in my books, that precarious state is actually connected to the magic of 16th century sorcerers like John Dee, Elizabeth Báthory and Edward Kelley, which modern day practitioners use to artificially extend their lives on “borrowed time.”
I started The Secrets of Life and Death (the first book in the trilogy) a dozen times, trying to find my central protagonist Jackdaw’s character. Jackdaw was balanced on that edge between death and the magic that keeps her alive, sustained by an ancient, bloody ritual but unable to truly live. She stayed in the shadows, afraid to get too close to anyone (besides her trusty wolf-dog) in case they found out about her past, and so in some ways it was as though she was already dead. Now, in The Secrets of Blood and Bone, she has decided to really live. She’s looking after Sadie, a feisty teenager, and she’s begun to fall in love with her scholarly friend Felix. In living a fuller life, her personality emerges to a much stronger degree than ever before. I found I loved her loyalty and compassion, her warrior instinct. Felix is the brains of the group but Jackdaw’s the hero.
My ideas for the life-extending magic that Jackdaw and other’s use first sprung from my research into the Elizabethan alchemist Dr. John Dee. Dee was a remarkable intellectual, widely published in mathematics, astrology—and the ‘science’ of magic. As faith in religion had waned, the earliest books of science included what we would now think of as magic—alchemy, reanimating corpses and creating life. According to John Dee, he had succeeded in raising the spirits of the dead to tell him about the nature of death. I found John Dee’s necromancy experiments in his books about magic, which ultimately led me to his contemporary Elizabeth Báthory, a Hungarian noble who is reputed to have killed dozens if not hundreds of young girls—all in order to push back ageing and death.
When Dee’s trickster associate Edward Kelley proved more interesting than Dee himself, I started writing from Kelley’s point of view, explaining the magical systems revealed from their channeling angels, as well as consulting many of the other sorcerers and alchemists in Europe. They travelled through Poland and into Transylvania. Here the landscape was influenced by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, one of my favorite books. In Eastern Europe at the time, death was difficult to define precisely—you were only completely dead when your corpse had a stake through its heart and your head was cut off.
The magic that evolved from Dee’s and others’ writings used sigils and signs, and mathematical equations that they believed evoked aspects of angels. They sought to save people who were dying, and if their magic worked I think people would still try to find that knowledge. In fact, wouldn’t pharmaceutical companies be interested (including the one run by a centuries-old Elizabeth Báthory)? By the time I wrote The Secrets of Blood and Bone I knew Jack, Sadie, and Felix well enough to test their relationships with each other and with the magic they’ve used, and to bring Edward Kelley face to face with the consequences of his actions in the first book. Re-animating the dead has consequences, for the revenant and those around them.
With The Secrets of Life and Death I played with the idea of being dead/undead at the same time, and in The Secrets of Blood and Bone I explore the idea that people could access a more savage, primal version of themselves as a way to fight against this binary and try to stay alive. Years ago, when my two surviving children and I fled to an island after a family disaster, the only house I could afford had a garden that was growing into the walls itself. That green, brooding inspection through every window of the house left a mark, and I re-invented the garden as a character.
When I wrote the trilogy, we were living in a house high up a hillside, surrounded by a couple of acres of wilderness filled with foxes, deer and badgers. Brambles grew under the back door and trees leaned in to the bedroom windows to tap leaves on the panes. The constant cawing of rooks, jackdaws and crows all made it into the book. They became the soundtrack to the story, very alive yet so associated with death.
And now I’m caught up with the new books and ARCs that came in while I was on tour! See something you like here? Tell me about it in the comments.
And if you are in or around Columbus tomorrow, remember that I am coming to the OSU bookstore for my final tour event. I’ll be there at 7pm. You could be there too! And as always, remember to bring every single person you’ve ever met in your life. Thank you.
I’ve had a few people express a desire for an open thread here to discuss this year’s Hugo Awards, to touch on some topics I haven’t specifically addressed; separately, Charles Gannon, who was nominated for the Nebula year, and was just below the cutoff for the Hugo Best Novel award this year, noted something I said in a previous entry about his work and had some thoughts he wanted to post. In both cases I thought it would be useful to give space for folks to comment and discuss, before we (quite properly!) put the Hugos to bed for another season.
So: Here you are, an open thread for discussion whatever you like about the Hugo Awards this year, with Gannon’s long-but-worth-the-read piece in the lead-off comment position. Agree, disagree, add your own thoughts, careen off the thoughts of others, it’s all good.
That said: Remember the comment policy here and keep it wholly; while my plan is to keep my own commenting to a bare minimum in order to let folks have room to discuss, I won’t hesitate to wade in to Mallet people getting out of line. Be polite and respectful to each other and keep the frothing down to a bare minimum, please. I thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Now then. Last call for Hugo Award 2015 thoughts and feelings. Don’t be shy, step up and let’s hear what you have to say.
Pineapple juice in paradise inspires science fiction! That’s the first thing you need to know about Windswept and its author Adam Rakunas. But if you would like to know more — and you do! — Rakunas goes into further detail below.
It started with a bar.
I was in Hawaii to officiate a wedding, and I had arrived two hours before the rehearsal dinner was supposed to start. We were meeting in a hotel restaurant in Waikiki, and the open-roof bar had a marvelous view of the Pacific Ocean. It was also crammed to the gills with tourists, just like me. Well, not just like me, because I was wearing a suit. Everyone else wore shorts and sunburns, including the cover band and the bartenders.
I looked around, drinking my pineapple juice and wondering: where did everyone come from? Not just the tourists, but the people who worked at this hotel bar. What brought them here? What made them stay? What did they do to make ends meet?
That idea bumped into a story from Carrie Sundra, a college friend who grew up in the US Virgin Islands. When Carrie she was a kid, some tech company tried to set up shop in the VI. I can see the pitch meeting now: “The Islands are beautiful! Our workers will be so happy and productive, and we’ll be a roaring success!”
It was a not a success, roaring or otherwise. The workers were on Island Time, which meant they would get around to stuff when they got around to it. They weren’t lazy. They were just relaxed. The tech company was not relaxed, because it relied on things like schedules and deadlines and people getting to work when they were supposed to. After a year, they had to admit defeat and move to some place where they had a little more control over their employees. The people on the island shrugged and went back to their lives.
I kept rolling those thoughts together as the band murdered “Hotel California” and the bartender brought me more pineapple juice. If you lived in an amazing place, would you get anything done? What would motivate you beyond your basic needs? What would you do all day?
The answer hit me: you’d hustle until you didn’t have to.
And I don’t mean “hustle” as in “running scams” (even though some people would certainly find their calling in the time-honored tradition of ripping off suckers). I mean you would work like mad for a short period of time until you had earned enough to cover your nut. Then you’d travel or write a book or spend your days contemplating your navel, secure in the knowledge that you wouldn’t have to go back to work until you had to. If you were frugal, you could go months, maybe years, without having to seek gainful employment.
But you’d still like to have things like fresh food and clean water and the occasional untainted antibiotic. People need food and medicines, and those come from long supply chains that rely on a whole lot of people and expertise. Even if someone invents replicators and Med-O-Tron 3000s, those machines will need people to fix them. At least, until someone invents AIs to do all our work, though those AIs will probably also need someone to keep them in tune. Our level of civilization requires work, and someone’s got to do it. And that someone would probably want to spend as much free time as possible in a bar as nice as the one I was in, albeit one with much lower prices.
I pulled my phone and my battered Bluetooth keyboard out of my jacket and started writing about a woman who had left her rat race job to come to paradise, even though she still had to work. Everyone still had to work, because this was the broken-down future. The only way to get by was hustling. What was her hustle? What did she want? Who was she? What would she drink? I sipped more pineapple juice, and, by the time the dinner party arrived, I had met the character who would become Padma Mehta. Now it’s your turn.
I imagine this will be pleasing to the large majority of you.
And remember, if you are in or near the Dayton area: Tonight! Books & Company at the Greene. 7pm. Be there! Because I will be, and I don’t want to be alone.
First: Look, the last stack of new books/ARCs of August, and there’s some very fine work in here. Tell me which things trip your trigger in the comments.
Second: A reminder that tomorrow, September 1st, I will be at Books & Co in Dayton (the The Greene Shopping Center) for a tour stop. 7pm! Come on by and see me actually rested for an event for once! And Columbus, remember I’ll be visiting you at the OSU Bookstore on the 3rd; more details on that to come.
Musician Marian Call, who is currently Kickstarting her upcoming album, has written a long piece on her blog about what it takes to Kickstart a project, and — critically — throws in numbers and figures to back up her thoughts and comments. The result is a genuinely super-useful piece that should be required reading for anyone thinking of crowdfunding a project, no matter the size. Marian is very smart and very on point. Go learn from her.
On a personal note, Marian confirms that the amount of work involved in successfully pulling of a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding project is immense, which is a primary reason I have to date avoided doing anything like it. I can barely get it together to put on pants in the morning. To deal with the sustained effort of everything a successful Kickstarter project entails? Well, damn. I’d curl up in a ball and cry. There’s a reason I’m happy to be working with a publisher.
Also, did I mention that Marian’s most recent Kickstarter is still in play with just under two days to go from the posting of this entry? She’s a pretty awesome singer and songwriter. Maybe you should get in on this action, is what I’m saying. I have.
I said I would post the audiobook version today, but we got to our stretch goal of $10,000 so fast I posted it over the weekend to thank people. So for those of you who don’t loiter on the Internet during the weekends, the complete audio, including the downloadable version, is here. Go get it!
I’m also super-pleased to say that as of 7:45 this morning, we raised $10,987.59 for Con or Bust, which funds conventions memberships for people of color. That’s a lot of convention memberships, and I’m really proud that of that accomplishment.
(Also, for those worried about it, an update on Con or Bust’s tax-deduction status; the short version is that it’s pretty likely you’ll be able to take that charitable deduction come tax time. So yay!)
My thanks to Alexandra Erin, who (as Theo Pratt) wrote something that it was a joy to narrate, and to Kate Nepveu, who as the administrator of Con or Bust kept track of incoming donations. I had the easy part; I just had to speak into a microphone. They did all the work.
And thank you, if you were one of the folks who donated to Con or Bust. It’s good to do good. And also, it’s not too late — you can still donate if you like.
In the various recent kerfuffles surrounding science fiction and its awards, there have been a couple of people (and their spouses, declaiming about their beloved) who have been slapping down Mensa cards as proof that they (or their spouse) are smart. Let me just say this about that:
Oh, my sweet summer children. Just don’t.
If you want to be in Mensa, that’s fine. Everyone needs hobbies and associations, and if this is the direction you want to go with yours, then you do you. Not my flavor, but then, lots of hobbies and associations aren’t my flavor.
1. Literally no one outside of Mensa gives a shit about your Mensa card. No one is impressed that you belong to an organization that has among its membership people who believe that because they can ace a test, they are therefore broadly intellectually superior to everyone else.
2. Your Mensa membership does not imply or suggest that you are the smartest person in the room. Leaving aside the point that the intelligence that Mensa values is a narrow and specialized sort, a large number of people who can join Mensa, don’t, for various reasons, including the idea that belonging to a group that glories in its supposed intellectual superiority is more than vaguely obnoxious.
3. Your need to bring up the fact you have a Mensa card suggests nothing other than it’s really really really important to you for people to know you’re smart, and that you believe external accreditation of this supposed top-tier intelligence is more persuasive than, say, the establishment of your intelligence through your actions, demeanor, or personality. Which is to say: It shows you’re insecure.
4. Your Mensa card does not mean you know how to argue. Your Mensa card does not mean you do not make errors or lapses in judgment. Your Mensa card is not a “get out of jail free” card when someone pokes holes in your thesis. Your Mensa card does not mean that you can’t be racist or sexist or otherwise bigoted. You may not say “I have a Mensa card, therefore my logic is irrefutable.” Your Mensa card will not save you from Dunning-Kruger syndrome, and if you think it will, then you are exactly who the Dunning-Kruger syndrome was meant to describe. You Mensa card will not keep you from being called out for acting stupidly, or doing stupid things.
5. Your Mensa card does not immunize you from being a complete, raging asshole.
In short, it’s not actually smart to flash your Mensa card, and if you were smart, you’d know not to do it. If you have to resort to waving your Mensa card around to establish your intelligence, you’re signaling that you have no other way to do it. And you don’t have to be a genius to know what that actually means about you.
Quick thoughts on touring and etc.
* First, here’s a video of me and Tad Williams doing our thing at the stop at Kepler’s, in Menlo Park. This was two days after the Hugos, and if you’re curious to hear my thoughts on that event, they start at at 28:42. But most of it is about writing and kids and not being a goth in high school, and other such things. It’s atypical of most of my tour stops, because I don’t do a reading, but it was a lot of fun, and I think you’ll enjoy it. It was recorded by Deborah Beale, Tad’s wife. The first two minutes are a little blurry but then it focuses up (visually, I mean. I and Tad are all over the place).
Also, if you get a chance to have a conversation with Tad Williams, do it. He’s a lovely guy and a great conversationalist.
* I technically have two stops left in my tour — Dayton and Columbus — but inasmuch as they’re drivable and I’ll be back at home when I’m done with them, my brain thinks of them as “one-offs” and that the tour ended on Thursday, when Krissy picked me up from the airport. I’ve spent most of the last several days sleeping (although I did record an audiobook, but that was easy and fun and I did each chapter in a single take in any event).
This was my sixth book tour and by now it’s not surprising to me how wiped out I am at the end of it. Tours are draining experiences — you travel in the morning, arrive in the early afternoon, do interviews or other work until the event, do an event which lasts three hours from the arrival to the bookstore until the last book is signed, go to your hotel, order room service, go to sleep and repeat another sixteen or seventeen times. It’s (mostly) fun and it’s great to see fans and friends on the road. But it’s a lot of work, and it’s also performance; I have to be “up” whenever I see people. So: Draining. Enjoyable and worth doing, but draining.
* I used to say I wasn’t sure how musicians do it because they’re constantly touring, but then it occurred to me that at this point in my career I’m on the road almost as much as a touring musician. This last tour was three weeks long, but I also did another three week stint last April, when I was in Australia for two weeks followed by a week in Los Angeles, doing business meetings, interviews and the LA Times Festival of Books. This October I’m doing events three weekends out of the month (The Iowa Book Festival, Nerdcon:Stories, and a workshop event in Tacoma). So, at this point, I think I get it just a little bit.
The one difference between tour as a writer and touring as a musician, I suspect, is that musicians always understood touring and appearances are part of the gig. For writers, I don’t know if it’s always in their worldview. And true enough, not every writer does as much of this stuff as I do (and not every writer should; super-introverts, for example, are not the people to put on tour). But at this point I make sure that when I speak to writers coming up, I let them know that touring and appearances are part of the gig, and that the should be prepared for it — or if the idea fills them with horror, that they should find a publicity/marketing angle that works for them and do that instead.
* One of the things I do like about touring is that it gives me a chance to “workshop” new material — in the case of this last tour, I read from “The Dispatcher,” which is the upcoming novella I wrote for Audible. Reading the first chapter was useful for a few reasons. One, it got people excited for upcoming work, which is never a bad thing. Two, I got to sense from an audience what was working about it and what wasn’t, which is important because this is meant to be an audiobook, and the listening experience is key.
Third, in the particular chapter I read, I made a few errors of fact and people in the audience would come up to me or email and say “Uh, the reading was great, but there’s this one thing…” And then I would fix it before the next stop. So, yes! Reading new stuff is useful.
* Whilst on tour I spent two days at Sasquan, this year’s Worldcon, and aside from the fires in Washington turning the sky a pale hickory-smoked gray, it was a very nice time. My panels went very well, my reading was very nicely attended, and I got to see a bunch of friends and members of my tribe who I don’t always get to see anywhere else but the Worldcon.
I also went to the Hugo ceremony, which I thought was generally very well done considering the potential for a lot of drama. And, well. There was a lot of drama, but it didn’t come from the ceremony itself. The ceremony was upbeat and inclusive, thanks to the work done by David Gerrold and Tananarive Due as the cohosts. I’ll note that David told me I’d be the punchline to a number of jokes at the ceremony, and I told him I would be delighted to be so. It’s always fun to get namechecked at the Hugos.
Finally, I had the good fortune to attend George RR Martin’s post-Hugo party, which was doubtless one of the best parties I have been to in my life. George gave away “Alfie” awards to certain people he thought deserved them in the wake of the Puppy nonsense, including to Annie Bellet and Marko Kloos, who had removed themselves from the ballot this year for their own reasons. It was a big-hearted gesture on the part of George, who continues to show himself to be a person of class and kindness. I genuinely admire him.
* So what will I do now? Well, first I will do the final two events of the tour (Dayton on Tuesday and Columbus on Thursday), make some edits to “The Dispatcher” and do some work on the new novel — the first on the new contract — which will be a big ol’ space opera-y thing that I think you’ll enjoy. But mostly, continue to catch up on sleep. Yes, sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep.
Quick recap: John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular is a parody of an ebook by an obnoxious bigot who is obsessed with me, and I said (full details here) that if people raised $2,500 for Con or Bust, which funds science fiction convention memberships for people of color, I’d create an audiobook version of it. That happened. Then I said if we hit a stretch goal of $10,000, I’d also commission a song about me not being very popular. And that just happened! Whoo-hoo!
It will take me a bit to organize the song (update, 9/1/15: The song is commissioned! It’ll be a few weeks before it’s ready! Patience! It’ll be worth it!), but because you lovely people got us to an amazing $10,000 for Con or Bust in under 48 hours, I decided not to make you wait any longer for the audiobook. Here it is, with my love and appreciation.
First, the complete book, in one 40 minute chunk!
And now, the individual chapters:
Chapter 1: How it Begins
Chapter 2: John Scalzi’s Blog is Not That Interesting and No One Reads It
Chapter 3: John Scalzi Does Not Understand Satire as Well as I Understand Satire
(Note: This chapter contains reference to a piece I wrote about rape, and despite its humorous nature as parody, may be triggery for some folks.)
Chapter 5: John Scalzi Did Not Get Me Thrown out of the SFWA
Chapter 5: John Scalzi’s Deal With Tor is Not a Very Good Deal
Chapter 5: John Scalzi is Not a Very Popular Author
(Update, 9:09pm: Kate Nepveu of Con or Bust has created an Audible-like audiobook file of the complete book, which you may find here.)
And if you did enjoy this, and have not already done so, may I suggest you donate to Con or Bust, and help people of color attend science fiction conventions? That would be awesome. Thank you! And song to come!
(Warning: Hugo neepery, possibly the last of the season. Avoid if you don’t care.)
It’s late, and I’m experiencing a bit of insomnia, so, hello, now that I’m home, here are some disjointed thoughts about the Hugo results and the post-award freakout about them that the Puppies appear to be having at the moment.
1. What did the 2015 Hugos teach us? Well, basically that slates are the fucking kiss of death, Hugo-wise. If you create them, it kills your credibility with the voters; if you’re on them, it kills your chances of winning — indeed, it kills your chances of winding up above “No Award,” unless you happen to be a movie that grossed $775 million worldwide. The moral of the story really is: Slates! Not even once!
Have the various Puppies learned this very simple and obvious lesson? Apparently not, since the response from those quarters appears to be “We just didn’t slate hard enough! We’ll be back next year and we’ll slate even harder!” Which, well, you know. Bless their hearts.
The Puppies’ problem is that, inasmuch as everyone now knows being on a slate is a hard and fast ride south of the “No Award” line, it will be very difficult for them to find anyone who is genuinely award-caliber who would want to be on their future slates. My understanding is the Sad Puppies, at least, plan to solve this problem by not actually alerting their future sub-No Award victims that they’re going to be on the slate before the slate is announced. Given what we know of the results of slating at this point, if they go ahead and follow through on this plan, it’ll be a monumental asshole move on their part.
2. The Puppies continue to appear genuinely flummoxed that the Hugo voters rejected everything and everyone they slated (except Guardians of the Galaxy, which as previously noted they can hardly take credit for), arguing on one memorable occasion that if The Three Body Problem, the eventual best novel Hugo winner, had been on the slates, it would have finished below “No Award,” thus proving the bankruptcy of voting for “No Award” in the first place.
This is a bit like saying that if the person who didn’t get on the bus you then proceeded to drive off a cliff were on the bus, they would probably be dead now — it’s trivially true, but misses the point that you drove the bus off the cliff. The Puppies knew that slating was anathema to the large mass of Hugo voters — they had a dry run the year before, proffering a limited slate with Sad Puppies 2, and saw their nominees largely finish in fifth place or below “No Award” — but they did it anyway and now want to be shocked, shocked that their antics predictably resulted in their nominees doing very poorly indeed.
The going line in those quarters at the moment is that the blanket “No Award” just proves the Hugo Awards are corrupt. Well, no, that’s stupid. What the blanket “No Award” judgment shows is that the large mass of Hugo voters don’t like people trying to game the system for their own reasons that are largely independent of actual quality of work. In the Sad Puppy case the reasons were to vent anger and frustration at having not been given awards before, and for Brad Torgersen to try to boost his own profile as a tastemaker by nominating his pals (with a few human shields thrown in). In the Rabid Puppy case it was because Vox Day is an asshole who likes being an asshole to other people. And in both cases there was a thin candy shell of “Fuck the SJWs” surrounding the whole affair.
The shorter version of the above: You can’t game the system and then complain that people counteracting your gaming of the system goes to show the system is gamed. Or you can, but no one is obliged to take you seriously when you do.
3. And did the Puppy nominees deserve better than to be consistently slated below “No Award”? Surely some of them did, in my opinion. I myself put several slated nominees above “No Award” because, consistent with my stated philosophy on these things, I thought they were deserving nominees and I didn’t want to penalize them simply because they were (largely) being used as unwilling pawns by jerks. But as I’ve also said elsewhere, voting against all the slated nominees was a perfectly valid action, if you believe slating is in itself inherently inimical to the Hugo awarding process. It turns out a lot of people decided that was a thing they needed to do.
And yes, that sucked for a number of nominees who got put on the slates either unawares or not fully briefed on the heavily-politicized aspects of the slate (not to mention the fact that they would also in many cases be unwittingly associated with the bigoted shitheel who used the Sad Puppy slate like a parasitic wasp uses the hollowed-out husk of a tarantula). They deserved better than to be used, and I hope many of them realize that their ranking below “No Award” was not a reflection on them personally, but was instead a referendum on the mechanism of slating for the award. Many of them deserved to be Hugo nominees for their work, and I suspect they will be again, although hopefully not on a slate.
(But then there were the ones who didn’t deserve to be Hugo nominees, in my opinion, and/or the ones who were just assholes regarding the awards, the people voting for them and the entire process. With regard to these folks, fuck ’em. I didn’t have a problem in the slightest ranking them below “No Award,” and I won’t have a problem doing it again, should they ever slime their way back onto the ballot.)
4. With the exception of Vox Day and a few of his pals, who were just straight-up assholes, I feel a small bit of pity for the Puppies. I don’t think they actually knew what they wanted out of this whole mess, and I still don’t think they know. Yes, they can vomit up astounding amounts of wounded verbiage about SJWs and conspiracies and blue collar cracking good tales with their nuggety nugget-ness or whatever. But their love-hate act with the Hugos and everyone one else voting on them was just incoherent. It didn’t help that pretty much every argument they offered for their slating action was shoddily-constructed and easily disprovable, based largely on conspiracy thinking or assertions that could have their feet kicked out from under them by a trip to Wikipedia. Which didn’t keep them from offering them over and over. Epistemic closure was not the Puppies’ friend.
In the end, the meat of the Sad Puppy argument was “Brad wants to nominate his friends so let’s fix that and we do mean fix,” and the meat of the Rabid Puppy argument was “Ha ha ha fuck you and also buy Castalia House product oh God I’m still a failure in life aren’t I.” These arguments were painfully obvious, and not easily swept aside by the interrelated Puppy camps’ poor arguments or resentment-laden rhetoric. This is why, aside from the fundamental problems with slating, which were considerable, very few people outside the Puppy camps were persuaded by them.
5. And also, you know. The Puppies acted like jerks the whole way through, which is another, uh, questionable tactic. Look: even if the Puppies weren’t largely slating friends and/or work from their own publishing houses, and then trying to justify those choices by creating a conspiracy of liberals arrayed against them, the fact that largely every bit of rhetoric coming out of their quarters could best be described as “high screech attack” was not going to make them friends with the general Hugo voting electorate, and isn’t making them friends in the aftermath, either.
What’s the deal? Vox Day is a grasping sociopath, in my opinion, so that’s that. But the rest of them? It’s been suggested that in the case of Brad Torgersen, at least, this is an intentional career move, being unpleasant to “liberals” (which in this case seems to mean anyone outside the Puppy camp) to help lock in a conservative audience. And, I guess, maybe? But I know a lot of conservatives — no, really — and as a class they have no higher percentage of jerk among them than does any other political stripe. Catering to the conservative jerk audience seems like aiming fairly low. And in any event, I don’t see the Puppy phenomenon as really being about conservatism so much as being about other things, with conservatism (or reactionary nonsense) thrown on top to mask and/or justify the actions.
But other people were jerks to the Puppies! you might say. Well yes, many people were. But those people were not attempting to argue for the validity of slating or of specific nominees to a vast number of voters. Leaving aside the schoolyard logic of “they were mean too,” it’s not actually smart, when you are trying to convince people to take your slate and nominees seriously, to shit all over them and the awards they care about, for months on end. They should try not doing that. That’s, like, basic marketing.
6. That said, I think it’s too late to change the Puppy brand. This was the third year of the campaign and the second year that it incorporated Vox Day, bigot — and the year that Vox Day actually ended up controlling the Puppy brand and using it for his own goals, much to the unconvincing, backtracking “he’s not with us” surprise of the Sads. Now when the general population thinks of “Puppies” in the context of the Hugos, sad or rabid, they’re thinking of bigoted self-promoters pushing questionable work. Is that fair? It’s totally fair to some of the Puppies, not to others, and far less fair to the people who might be put on the slates in future years without their knowledge or against their will.
And again: Who on Earth at this point would choose to be on a Hugo slate? Either people who crave a nomination by any means necessary, which is tantamount to admitting one cannot get on the ballot any other way, or people who want to get on the slate only to block other people from being on the slate. In other words: The talentless and the assholes. Anyone who wants an actual shot at the award will do their damnedest to stay off a slate — any slate, but especially a Puppy slate, which now has a certain whiff of anger, resentment and most of all failure about it.
7. Will the primary Puppies suffer for their participation in slating? In terms of selling books, I suspect not. The vast majority of book readers neither know nor care about the inside pool of the Hugo Awards and apparently contrary to some beliefs, no author has sole claim over their readers. The overlap in readership between me and Larry Correia, for example, is probably not trivial, and it would be silly for either of us to claim those readers as “ours” exclusively, or to expect them to know or care about any of this. Likewise the very silly attempt to paint Baen and Tor as opposing camps, which again most readers don’t know about and wouldn’t care about even if they did (also, the recent attempt by the Puppies to claim Dragon*Con as their home turf seems, well, ambitious). Will Brad and Larry lose readers who might otherwise have given them a shot? Sure. And so will I, and as will a few other writers too. We’ll also gain some readers. Overall it’ll be wash.
Reputations among fandom? Well, it’s pretty clear that the fandom that votes for Hugos, at least, is not pleased with the Puppies. But in this matter the Puppies are correct: The Worldcon-attending fans are only a small slice of fandom in general. There is lots of fandom, and audience, to go around. Contrary to some heightened rhetoric out there, it seems very unlikely that anyone’s being run out of town on a rail, no matter how much being run out of town might fulfill their persecution complex.
8. So what happens next year with the Hugos? Well, the Puppies have already declared that they will be back, so there’s that. The difference between next year and this last one, however, is the nearly 6,000 people who voted for the Hugos, only a small minority of which are Puppy-affiliated. If next year’s Worldcon folks are doing their job, they’ll attempt to make sure a sizable portion of this year’s voters will nominate next year as well, in all categories. The more people who nominate, the less successful slating by anyone will be, including the Puppies. And I expect people are motivated to nominate next year in any event.
So, while I expect slating, I don’t expect slates to dominate categories like they did this year. I suspect we’ll see a couple of nominations in each category being slate nominations, with the rest hitting the ballot by normal means. I likewise expect that slated nominees will continue to be punished, although possibly not to the extent of this year. I imagine at least one of the “anti-slating” proposals will be enacted for 2017, which should cut down on this specific nonsense, but don’t kid yourself that it will reduce gaming the system entirely. I expect the Puppies will continue to grump about how awful everyone else is to them, because they like feeling, evidence to the contrary, that they are being persecuted for something (aside from being jerks, that is).
Which is not to say people should relax about this. Hell, no. If you have a the ability, then nominate, damn you. In every category.
9. On a personal note, it’s been observed that if the Puppy slate nominees had not been around, my novel Lock In would have made the Hugo ballot this year. People have been curious if I feel like I was cheated out of a rightful spot in the limelight.
In a word: No. For one thing, I’m not sure you can say that if there was no Puppy campaign that all the categories would have sussed out exactly as they would if you simply eliminate the Puppy nominees. Also, I think it’s possible that some Puppy nominees could have gotten onto the ballot on their own steam — in the novel category Chuck Gannon has been nominated for a Nebula two times running, so I think he could have had a decent chance at the Hugo. Likewise Annie Bellet and Kary English I think might have made splashes under their own power (as examples). So I don’t see it as a given I would have been on the final ballot, regardless.
For another thing, dudes, I already have a Best Novel Hugo. One of the nice things about having one of those is that it takes the pressure off, you know? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t mind getting some more Hugo nominations, and it’s always nice to take home the hardware. But if I never win another Hugo in my life I am fine. I have three, including the one (fairly or unfairly) considered “the big one.” I’m good.
Note my sanguine feelings about not making the ballot are not necessarily shared by others who finished under the cutoff, who might feel that otherwise they’d have been nominees. But for myself, meh.
10. As a final note, while I am opposed to slating, and I think the whining and self-justification and more than occasional spite that foamed out of the Puppy camp was and is childish and silly, I am 100% behind the idea that people who believe that the type of science fiction or fantasy they love is not represented at the Hugos, should participate in and vote for the awards. They should do it like everyone else does, which is to say, by voting their own choices, not the choices of someone else who has constructed a slate of nominees for reasons.
If every Puppy did that rather than voted a slate, you’d not hear a peep out of me. Their ballots would reflect their own individual tastes, which might not be mine (although you never know!), but you know what? That’s fine. Honestly, it is.
Ditch the slate, vote your taste. Really, it’s just that simple.
It’s an annual tradition for me around here to post a picture of Athena on her first day of a new school year, but this year I was on tour when that day rolled around. So Krissy took a picture instead, and now I’m posting it for the record. Here is Athena, on the first day of her junior year of high school. Sorry to have missed, but happy to see it now. We’ll do this again on the last day of school as well.
Back after three weeks of touring and these books (and two other stacks, which I will post later) were waiting for me. See anything here you’d put on your own shelves? Tell me in the comments!
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.
UPDATE, 8/29/15: Donations top $10,000! The audio is up!
UPDATE, 8/28/15: As of 1pm today, the donations to Con or Bust — not counting my $500 matching gift — are $6869.17. Which is, uh, more than the $2,500 goal! Whoo-hoo! The audio has been recorded, and will be released Monday.
Now we are going for:
STRETCH GOAL: If the donations to Con or Bust reach $10,000 by 11:59 (Eastern) Sunday, August 30, 2015, I will commission or write a ditty with the title “John Scalzi is Not Very Popular,” in which my various perfidies and shortcomings are to be enumerated — in song! You know you want this to happen. So keep donating!
Plus: If the $10k is reached today (Friday, 7/28), I will release the audio as soon as we hit that goal line.
And now, the previous version of this entry, which explains everything prior to the update:
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:
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.
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.
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!
* It’s been suggested that the Carl Brandon Society, under whose umbrella Con or Bust works, let their tax-deductible status lapse. I’ll check into that. That said, Con or Bust is run by Kate Nepveu, who I’ve known for years and who I know has the best of characters. Your money will go to where she says it will. Remember, I gave $500 of my own money. I have no doubt it will be well spent.
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.)