All posts by John Scalzi

About John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

Posting For Posterity

A mini rant on politics and assholes that I just put up on Twitter:

My Social Media Center of Gravity

I’ve discovering, particularly in this last year, that the center of gravity of my online presence has shifted away from Whatever entirely and has moved more than a bit toward Twitter. The graph above offers some evidence of that — in the last 28 days, the things I’ve said or retweeted on Twitter have gotten eight million “impressions” (the term meaning “the number of times users saw a tweet on Twitter”). Meanwhile Whatever is on track to get something like six million views for this entire year — down from 2012, the peak year for the site with 8.1 million views recorded by the WordPress stats package (as always, see this caveat about stats here). Likewise, the number of followers I have on Twitter (currently 68k) is higher than the number of unique daily visitors the site gets (the high point number for August: 23.4k).

Breaking down what the stats mean after this point gets complicated — starting with the question of whether a 140-character-or-less tweet can be meaningfully compared with a 500-word-or-more blog post — but no matter how you slice it, it seems pretty clear to me my biggest online audience at this point is on Twitter, not here at the Whatever home base.

How did this happen? I have hypotheses, which include:

1. The relative decline of the blogosphere in a general sense, as blog writing and reading are transplanted for most people by easier-to-use social media like Twitter and Facebook;

2. The UI dynamic of newer social media, which makes it easy to Like/Retweet/Share what people write on them, making for an easier spread of posts;

3. My tendency to put short, funny bits (i.e., sharable) on Twitter that in earlier years might have gone to Whatever, leaving Whatever as the repository for longer, more thinky (i.e., less immediately shareable) bits;

4. My increased travel and work schedule leaving me relatively less time for thinky/funny Whatever posts, but apparently the right amount of time for snarky bits on Twitter;

5. My relative lack of political posts this year, which are traditionally drivers of traffic (why fewer political posts? Because my general feeling this election year has been fuck all these assholes, which doesn’t make for great writing);

6. The various ways of sharing material on Whatever has increased, not all of which show up on the WordPress stats — for example, RSS reader views, which show up in some places in the stats package but not others, and which can be a significant part of readership (40% of the recent “Get Out Your Bingo Card” entry’s readership, for example), but not reflected in the site stats — because, after all, it wasn’t read on the site;

7. I can write a couple dozen tweets a day (or more if I’m exercised) whereas I rarely most more than three entries a day here, so there’s more opportunity to run up numbers on Twitter as opposed to here.

There are other likely hypotheses as well, but this is enough for the conversation at the moment.

For those of you who might be worried that this means I’m about to announce that I’m abandoning Whatever for a full-time residency on Twitter, relax: it’s not gonna happen. One, not everything I want to write online can be encapsulated in 140 characters. Two, I’m a proponent of owning one’s own space online, so when Twitter/Facebook/Google+/Etc inevitably go the way of Friendster and Myspace, I will still have a place to be online, doing my thing. Three, because six million visits here each year isn’t a thing to sneeze at, either. Whatever’s not going anywhere, and neither am I.

But it does mean I’m aware that my online presence is spread out more than it used to be. It also means that I think about the ways the two platforms work for and with each other. I will use Twitter to link back to things I’ve written here, for example; conversely, if I have a particularly interesting set of tweets, I’ll post them here for posterity. I think about how they can complement each other, so that both are useful (and fun!) for me, and for the people who follow me on either, or both.

Speaking of which, now I’m off to Twitter to tell people I’ve posted about this topic here. See? That’s how it works, people.

The Big Idea: Mary Weber

Authors go into their books with what they intend to put on the page. But there are also the things that they put in there that take them by surprise — and sometimes those things add a new level to the work. Mary Weber talks about one of these things in Storm Siren — and how it got into the book in the first place.

MARY WEBER:

My big idea didn’t start out as big. In fact, I didn’t realize it was even an “idea” until a friend gave me feedback that went something like: “I love your focus on diversity. It’s cool you incorporated other races and special-needs characters into the book. What made you decide to do that?”

“Huh?” I frowned. She clearly didn’t understand. The big idea was supposed to be female empowerment. You know – slave girl with superpowers discovers her worth isn’t in her status or abilities but in who she is? Yeah, that.

Later, as my shaky hands slipped the story into a few more inboxes, the replies came back with more of the same: “Good job on how diverse it is. How’d you come up with that?”

Um… I didn’t. But I should have. I should have considered the importance of diversity in story. Been intentional. Yeah, that.

Now, in my defense, I did purposefully make my main character’s love interest a hot black man instead of a hot white guy. Because HELLO. He’s hot. But did I add the various individuals and special needs into Storm Siren to make a statement? No. Part of me wishes I had, because that sounds so intentionally awesome. But the truth is much simpler. Perhaps humbler.

I live in the real world.

I work with special needs individuals and their families. Some of my own family members have special needs. And those people and families are the most incredible, passionate, and hardworking that I know.

I also live in a California coastal community that’s a virtual mixing pot of cultures and ethnicities and beautiful beliefs. Rarely have I encountered any shade of skin copping an attitude toward another person’s shade of skin. We simply are who we are. People. Trying to get by as a community of college-agers, professors, lawyers, waste-removal truck drivers, plumbers, dentists, artists, photographers, middle-agers, parents, homeless, wealthy, elderly.

So, I’m not sure it’s really a big idea when those faces weave their way into a fictional story and are “represented” in romance or fairytale, or westerns, or, in my case, fantasy. It’s simply that they are in my community, and therefore, the people who influence my life story. I bet they’re the same type of people who influence yours as well – people who empower us.

In looking at it that way, maybe my earlier big idea wasn’t too far off. Because at the core of female empowerment – heck, at the core of human empowerment – is value. No matter what things make us different or the same, we are each valuable because of the very fact that we exist.

And we add value to each other by the fact that we choose to live life together, sharing with each other, caring for each other. We add value by standing up for the rights of anyone who has to fight harder to have her voice heard.

And if you ask me, that right there is what makes us powerful.

—-

Storm Siren: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Two Things I Would Like to Tell You About Today, Relating to Me

Here they are!

1. Next Tuesday, which is the release date of Lock In and also the start of my book tour (I’ll be in Houston that night), I’ll also be doing a Twitter chat with the folks at Apple’s iBook store. You’ll be able to ask questions (indeed, we’ll even be taking some questions in advance) about the book, the tour, life, the universe and everything. I’ll be offering up more details soon, but for now: 4pm Eastern, August 26, you should be near a Twitter client.

2. Over at Tor.com I am doing a two-part Quiz at the End of the Universe, and the first part is up now. There you will discover what I would take to a desert island, if I have a favorite unknown writer, what historical moment I would go back in time to change, and so on. Also, they spotlight William Beckett’s awesome new song for Lock In, so you’ll have that going for you as well.

“Lock In” by William Beckett: The Theme Song to the Novel

It’s been my thing over the last few novel releases to commission a song from musicians I admire to accompany the book release. For Lock In, I asked William Beckett if he’d be willing to do the honors, and I was absolutely delighted when he said yes — I’ve been a huge fan of William’s, both for his recent solo work and as the front man for the band The Academy Is.

I was even more delighted when William sent me the first rough mix of the song. I had sent him an ARCs of Lock In and its prequel novella “Unlocked,” so he could immerse himself in the world where a disease called “Haden’s Syndrome” had locked millions of people into their own bodies — alive and awake but immobile — and to discover how we and our culture had changed because of it.

William ran with the idea and turned in a song that could very easily be an anthem from and for those who have Haden’s — a shout out of the darkness, as it were, demanding to be heard. It’s a tremendous song on its own merits, but as a calling card for the novel, it’s simply perfect. I am fantasically honored William created this song for me, and equally honored to share it with you now. I hope you like it and share it around to everyone you know.

And now, for those who are coming into this entry with no prior knowledge or context: Links!

* The song “Lock In” is the theme song to the novel Lock In, by John Scalzi, which will be released on August 26, 2014. You can read the first five chapters of the novel as well as “Unlocked,” a prequel novella to the novel, over at Tor.com. You can also preorder the novel at your favorite local bookstore or online retailer (please do!). IT will also be available in audio through Audible.com. You can also see John Scalzi on his upcoming book tour.

* “Lock In,” the song, is also soon to be available to purchase on all your favorite online retailers. If you like the song, please buy it! William Beckett is a recording artist at Equal Vision Records. His most recent album, which I enthusiastically recommend, is Genuine and Counterfeit. William is currently out on tour, so go see him.

Get a Sneak Preview of the Lock In Audiobook by Amber Benson and Wil Wheaton

Where? At Tor.com! The audio clips are taken from the first chapter — Amber’s first, then Wil’s (they’re reading sequential bits, not the same bit).

I’ve listened to them. I am sooooo happy with these audio versions, I can’t even tell you. Except, uh, I just did, I guess. Anyway.

Also, remember that for the next four days (through the 22nd) if you pre-order one version of the audio, either by Wil or Amber, you can get the other one as well. Details are here.

Thoughts On the Hugo Awards, 2014

In no particular order (and for reference, the winners are here):

1. I am super-delighted that the Hugo Best Novel Award went to Ancillary Justice. One, because it’s fantastic, but two, because I feel entirely unwarranted pride in Ann Leckie’s career, because I gave her her first professional sale, and was delighted to give Ancillary Justice a blurb for when it came out. I had nothing to do with the book’s success, other than receive the pleasure of letting people know I thought it was great. I’m still super proud of its clean sweep of the major SF/F awards, and of Ann. This is just great.

2. I’m also giggling that Charlie Stross name-checked me and Lou Anders when he won for Equoid; I remember that fateful night in Denver in 2008, when the messy seeds of that story were planted with two words, the two words being “unicorn bukkake.” And now, Charlie’s got a Hugo out of it. That’s just about perfect.

3. Also: Mary Robinette Kowal! Who is one of my favorite people on the planet. Some of you may know that her Hugo-wining novelette was disqualified last year, despite having enough nominations to make the slate, because its first appearance was in audio form. It then appeared in word form, and here we are. I’m thrilled that it got a chance to be considered in another year, although frankly it should have never been disqualified at all. I do believe a proposed rule change would have audio-first stories considered in fiction categories along with print-first stories. I think that’s wise.

4. And generally I am delighted with the slate of winners in other categories as well. I think there was a fair amount of concern that the large increase of Hugo voters this year was going to be evidence of (for lack of a better phrase for them) “single issue” voters — specifically those voting only for Wheel of Time or participating because of the “sad puppy” slate of conservative writers. But the voting tallies suggest that if there were “single issue” voters, they were swamped out by people who did their homework and then voted from there. To which I say: Well done, Loncon 3 voters! You done good.

5. You’ve seen me snark about it, I’m sure, but now that the voting is over, what did I really think of the “sad puppy” slate of nominees championed by Larry Correia and others? What I thought at the beginning, which was: The folks pushing the slate played within the rules, so game on, and the game is to convince people that the work deserves the Hugo. It does not appear the voters were convinced. As a multiple Hugo loser myself, I can say: That’s the breaks, and better luck another year.

With that said, Correia was foolish to put his own personal capital as a successful and best selling novelist into championing Vox Day and his novelette, because Vox Day is a real bigoted shithole of a human being, and his novelette was, to put it charitably, not good (less charitably: It was like Gene Wolfe strained through a thick and rancid cheesecloth of stupid). Doing that changed the argument from something perfectly legitimate, if debatable — that conservative writers are often ignored for or discounted on award ballots because their personal politics generally conflict with those of the award voters — into a different argument entirely, i.e., fuck you, we got an undeserving bigoted shithole on the Hugo ballot, how you like them apples.

Which is a shame. It’s fine for Correia to beclown himself with Day, if such is his joy, and he deserves to reap the fruits of such an association. I suspect, however, there are others whom he championed for his “sad puppy” slate who were less thrilled to find themselves looped in with Day by involuntary association. Likewise, Correia is a good writer and his works are fun to read and easy to enjoy; others he championed are likewise fine writers, and their works deserving of award consideration. He didn’t do his work, or the work of these other writers, any favors by muddling his message with Day’s nonsense.

Now, I understand Correia will be happy to tell you that his Hugo loss doesn’t matter to him, which is fine. I do wonder if he considered how other people that were seen as part of his slate feel the same way, or whether he’d do them or their careers any damage by associating them with a bigoted shithole, or that if he really wanted to make the argument that a particular set of writers are ignored by award voters, that he went about making the argument in just about the worst way possible. Bad strategy, bad tactics, bad result.

6. About the entire Wheel of Time series being nominated, again, fully within the rules, so game on, and I would have been honestly happy for Brandon Sanderson if he’d picked up the Hugo with Robert Jordan. I think people underestimate the skill and talent required to do what Brandon did over the course of three books, which was to satisfy the long-term fans of the series, bring the series to a well-developed end with all the story arcs closed up and and emotions earned, and to keep his own ego as a writer in check as he did it. Think that’s easy? I sure as hell don’t — and as a writer, I couldn’t have done it. If Wheel of Time had won, Brandon would have earned every millimeter of that rocket, and I would have been cheering for him.

Likewise, I was never particularly worried about Wheel of Time voters being “single issue” voters — that is, voting only for Wheel of Time and then blowing off the rest of the ballot. Anecdotally, I know a fair sampling of Wheel of Time readers, and none of them only read Wheel of Time. Having the series on the ballot may have brought in new voters, but it seems like they took their voting seriously. So there you have it.

7. In sum: A very good year for the Hugos; indeed, a vintage year. Congratulations to the winners; congratulations to the nominees; congratulations to the voters. See you next year in Spokane.

Get Out Your Bingo Card

Meanwhile, somewhere on the Internet, I suspect there’s a tune going on right now that sounds a little something like this.

As they say, bless their hearts.

The 2014 Hugo Award Winners

This is one of the best slates ever. Info taken from here. Full ballot results are here.

The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, Loncon 3, has announced the 2014 Hugo Award winners. 3587 valid ballots were received and counted in the final ballot.

BEST NOVEL

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)

BEST NOVELLA

“Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)

BEST NOVELETTE

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)

BEST SHORT STORY

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

BEST RELATED WORK

“We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY

“Time” by Randall Munroe (xkcd)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM

Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films;Warner Bros.)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM

Game of Thrones “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM

Ellen Datlow

BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM

Ginjer Buchanan

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST

Julie Dillon

BEST SEMIPROZINE

Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki

BEST FANZINE

A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher

BEST FANCAST

SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester

BEST FAN WRITER

Kameron Hurley

BEST FAN ARTIST

Sarah Webb

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Sofia Samatar

Congratulations to all the winners!

Suddenly, Nostalgia

I was supposed to be writing in the novel this morning, but in the aftermath of Doug Lathrop passing away I found myself wandering through some of the archives of the alt.society.generation-x newsgroup and getting a little depressed and nostalgiac in a way that I don’t frequently get. I’m not a notably nostalgic person, in part because I don’t feel the best part of my life is in the past, but it definitely hit me this morning, and I had to spend a little bit of time figuring out why.

The closest I can come to it is that asg-x is the one thing in my past that is really in the past. My high school and college, for example, are still there and still have people running through them — they are living entities, and even though my time in them gets increasingly further away in the rearview mirror, I know each new group of people who have the experience of going there has some consanguinity of experience with me. Not exactly my experience, but we’re still connected by the same common thread.

asg-x, on the other hand, is tied into a very specific time — from 1993, when it was created, to about 1999 — during which the USENET was still a common place for people exploring the Internet to find and read and use. USENET’s moment is over; there are people who still use it, but they’re the people who’ve been using it. It’s hard to find now and it’s not bringing in new people. And asg-x, the newsgroup, is definitively dead — there’s nothing new there now but spam posts, either containing dance music lists or political rants.

There’s a finite group of people who experienced what asg-x was, when asg-x was something at all. There’s a finite group of people for whom asg-x was a community, and for whom it was their community, with all the little tics and quirks, positive and negative, that a community has. We’re all that there will ever be, basically. Doug’s passing is a reminder that this small and finite community is in the process of shrinking, inexorably, through the simple passage of time. There’s going to be a point, hopefully several decades from now, when the last person who ever attended a “tingle” will pass from the planet, and then that will be it. The end of the asg-x community.

To be clear, it’s a small thing, and a community that was significant mainly for the people who were in it. But even so, within that community, friendships were made, people fell in love (and some of them even got married and had children), laughs were had, arguments were posited, gatherings planned, memories created and milestones celebrated. It was real and it happened, and now its moment is gone and to a very real extent nothing will ever be quite like it again. There’s no way of getting back there. There’s no there there anymore.

And that’s fine. Some things are finite — well, in the long-term sense of things everything is finite, it’s just some things are finite faster — and asg-x is one of those things. I’m not going to wish it were suddenly 1996 all over again and everyone was back on USENET, with a flood of new newsgroups of their own (although I can just imagine what alt.society.THANKS.OBAMA would look like). I’m all right with asg-x having its time, and that time being over.

But now I understand why people are nostalgic. It’s your brain trying to express a moment, and recognizing that the only people who would ever truly get what you’re trying to express were the ones who were there, and they already know.

Douglas Lathrop, RIP

Back in the wild and wolly days of the World Wide Web, I hung around on a newsgroup called alt.society.generation-x, where I made a number of online friends, some of whom became real world friends, with whom I kept in contact, sporadically, over the years. One of those was Douglas Lathrop, a fellow writer who very recently sold a novel, not his first written (very few “first” novels are first novels), but the first to be picked up by a publisher.

Not too long ago Doug fell and ended up in the hospital, and in part because of other long-term factors relating to his health, he didn’t recover. He passed away today.

And I’m kicking myself because a couple of weeks ago I was in San Diego, during Comic-Con, and as I was crossing the street, he was crossing the street, too, going the other way. And we were in the middle of a cross walk and there were probably a couple hundred other people and we moved past each other too quickly, and I thought to myself, huh, I’ll have to tell Doug I saw him in the cross walk, and then I walked off to whatever it was I was doing next, which I can’t remember now.

I wish I would have taken that moment in the cross walk to say hello. It was the last time I’ll see my friend in this world. I should have said hello. I didn’t. I’m going to regret that forever now.

Take the time, people. Let your friends know you see them and are glad to see them, even if you’re just passing by in a cross walk. It’s important.

That’s all.

The Big Idea: Carol Berg

For her novel Dust and Light, author Carol Berg takes a look at some of the more mundane aspects of magic — that’s “mundane” as in “practical,” not as in “boring” — and shows how a story can build from the rules and traditions a writer places on its use.

CAROL BERG:

Going in search of the big idea that drove my new book, Dust and Light, into being got me running in circles. Every novel results from layers of ideas, and this one did so in spades. Here’s how it went:

For years I was convinced that the only way I could develop a novel was to begin with an impression of a character in a difficult situation and grow the story and its events and themes from there. As happens with many certainties, that conviction was eventually splintered. It happened on the day I heard a National Public Radio feature story called The Last Lighthouse. It wasn’t the meat of the essay that got my juices flowing, but the title.

A lighthouse is usually a warning. But it could also be seen as a guide to safe harbor. Or perhaps a house of enlightenment. Whichever kind my lighthouse was, why might it be the last? (You see? Already it was my lighthouse.)  That title also led me to recall a Rosemary Sutcliffe novel about a young Roman soldier in Britain, and the vivid scene where he is standing in the lighthouse at Dover watching the last Roman ship leave without him. And I wondered if anyone at that time in history had possessed the breadth of vision to foresee what Rome’s contraction would mean for Western Europe. And as all fantasy writers do at some point, I asked myself, “Well, what if someone did?”

As if it were a gift, here lay the foundation of the deliciously complex world of my Lighthouse Duet: Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone, and its central conceit. As Flesh and Spirit begins, the once prosperous kingdom of Navronne is facing a dark age caused by a disastrous decline in the weather and a raging civil war of succession. Roving bands of fanatics burn and murder, believing that leveling civilization will placate their particular gods. Amid this chaos emerges a group called the Lighthouse Cabal.

That concept simmered for a while, mingling with another that had been nagging at me. As I observed politics and popular culture through the years, I’d noticed how often the children of talented parents followed in one of their parent’s chosen profession/art/sport/industry. Think the Barrymores or the Bridges, the Mozarts or the Strausses, the Carters or the Kennedys, the Unsers or the Pettys, the Johnny Cashes, or Ravi Shankar and Nora Jones. And writer brain whispered, “What if that profession were a person’s only option?”

From this little question arose Navronne’s magical history. Magic is confined to a group of wealthy families, descendants of long-ago invaders. Those born into these families inherit either their father’s bloodline magic or their mother’s. They spend their lives in study and practice until their Head of Family deems them of age and ready for their first contract, for sorcerers have become a commodity made available via contract to the highest bidder – whether that be a city, a noble, a clergyman, a market fair, or even, in a stroke of strange circumstance, a city coroner.

So what are the implications of contractual magic? Marketing hasn’t changed over centuries. First, keep your product valuable; even better, build a mystique about it. Second, maximize customers, ie. keep it independent, available to all varieties of the political spectrum. And lastly, make sure you have a monopoly.

These pureblood families have created a mannered, disciplined subculture. They keep themselves detached from ordinary society and politics, wearing half masks and expensive dress to reinforce their unique position in society. Mystique!  They have forged a partnership with the crown that preserves their autonomy. And the contracts that bind them and their grown sons and daughters to clients are very strict – and very lucrative. In exchange for their wealth and comfortable life, their personal choices are strictly limited. From what to wear to whom to marry. From how they address each other to how and when they may express emotions. And most definitely the particular variant of their bloodline magic they practice and for whom.

All well and good. I had lots of ideas and lots of potential. But I wanted to start writing. Where was the story?

I love epic stories that deal with politics and religion, with events that challenge the boundaries of magic, science, and the divine, and mysteries of all kinds. But I also like to view these big stories through a very personal lens that can draw me – and my readers, I hope – right into the story. That’s why the start-with-the-character method had worked well for me. This time I had to search for a protagonist to go adventuring in this crumbling world – to unravel the meaning of the lighthouse and live with the ramifications of this kind of magic.

Fortunately, I found one I loved for the Lighthouse books, a cheerful, pleasure-loving renegade pureblood sorcerer, who despised the rigid life laid out for him so ferociously that he ran away from it. And rebellion is a high crime when magic is a commodity that enriches one’s little corner of the world so profoundly. Valen was so determined to escape what he called “slavery with golden chains” that he chose to abjure all use of magic (except one nasty little addictive enchantment). He was willing to take whatever low-life job he could get, eat whatever he could scrape together, and avoid entanglements that might reveal his past and get him sent back home. Freedom was enough. Choosing his own path was enough, even if that path was, by necessity, dangerous, rocky, and lonely.

I liked where Valen’s story took me – into mystery, adventure, and the mythology of Navronne. But to my chagrin, focusing on a renegade meant there were many aspects of the pureblood culture I never got to explore. Valen’s opinions were colored by the fact that he came from a particularly despicable family, yet I knew there were many worthy aspects of pureblood culture. The purebloods’ neutrality meant that anyone could have access to magic if they had the means to acquire a pureblood contract. If magical families were wealthy, then necessity could not force them into serving masters they deemed criminal or cruel. They had time for study and practice of their extraordinary gifts and discovery of new aspects of talent. Strict marriage laws ensured that magical bloodlines did not die out.

So, I decided that I wanted to go back to Navronne and do some more poking around, but not as a sequel to Valen’s story or a prequel. I wanted to create a parallel story, sort of like viewing the American Revolution from the British side after viewing it from the American side. Thus, for the second time, I started looking for a protagonist, maybe one who believed in the purebloods’ way and saw the benefits of their rules. Someone who valued the magic. I wanted to see the world of purebloods and ordinaries through the eyes of a person who was not a rebel. Rebels shake things up in a flawed world, but ultimately, someone has to have the discipline to know how to put matters right. And there, standing in a crowded street waiting for me, was Lucian de Remeni-Masson, an artist whose magic can imbue portraits with truth.

Lucian has grown up in a large loving family, believing in his bones that his gift for magic comes from the gods, and that it is his duty to learn of it and use it in service to the world. Magic is a glory that fills his life, and he believes that restricted choices are the rightful price for a future that is unique and marvelous. Though he slipped up once as a youth, he has become a model of self-discipline.

Yet, there is an inevitability built into human experience, especially for those brought up in safe, secure, environments where beliefs are so certain. Fate, the gods, perverse nature, or maybe just an ornery fantasy writer throws nasty things at us, forcing us out of the womb of childhood and into a harsher world where rules are not simple, certainties can be shaken, and choices are not clear. A matter of import can be simple justice for a murdered child or the fate of a kingdom. And what happens next comes down to a particular person and how his beliefs, experience, and personality shape his choices of how to deal with those nasty things. What remains of him when the foundations of belief are ground into dust? Yep, the choices will tell. The story still grows from the character after all. And Lucian’s story became Dust and Light.

—-

Dust and Light: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Find her on Facebook.

The Lock In Tour FAQ

I’ve gotten a number of questions from folks about the upcoming Lock In book tour, which starts in less than two weeks holy cow, so I’ve decided to post up this quick document to refer people to. Here are the questions I’ve been getting, in no particular order. All the responses are useful except possibly the last three.

1. Where is your tour going? Here’s the full tour itinerary.

2. Why are you not coming to [name of town I am not coming to]? Because the tour is already four weeks long and I will turn into pudding if I am out much longer than that. I will almost certainly be doing other tours in the future. Perhaps I will come then.

3. What about [name of country that is not the US]? If my local publisher there, and/or a local festival invites me to tour/appear, then I may do that. Ask them!

4. How much does seeing you cost? I am almost certain that every event on this tour is free — just show up at the bookstore at the correct time. That said, note that at least one stop on my tour is giving priority in the signing line to people who purchase Lock In at the store. So check with your local stop to see how they’re doing things.

5. Do we need to buy a copy of Lock In to attend your tour? No. BUT — you should buy a copy of Lock In from the store I’ll be doing my event at, to support that bookstore. You don’t have to wait until I show up at the store — you can pre-order the book from the store or buy it there when the book comes out. But please support the store that’s supporting me (Also note that every pre-order/first week purchase of the book — particularly the hardcover, but any purchase — helps in terms of placement on best seller lists, and that’s in fact pretty useful to me in terms of coverage, etc. So yeah, please, get the book early).

6. But I already pre-ordered/bought Lock In elsewhere! Then I would request that when you go to the bookstore to see me on tour, you buy another book at the store to show your support. It doesn’t even have to be a book of mine — any book will do. But give that bookstore some love, and by “love,” I mean “money.”

7. May I bring my spouse/significant other/friends/relatives/co-workers to your tour event? Please bring every single person you know or have ever met to my event. I promise you will all have a good time. I give good book tour.

8. What do you do at your tour stops? For the Lock In tour, I will be reading some new, exclusive material that you will only be able to hear if you come the tour, I will read a couple other funny short pieces, I will do a question and answer session which is usually entertaining, and then I will sign books. If someone brings a ukulele, I might serenade you. If someone brings hand puppets, I might do a puppet show. On a couple of stops, there might be special guests. And so on. And then I’ll be signing books.

9. Will you only be signing Lock In? I’ll sign (and if desired, personalize) any book of mine you set in front of me, and indeed probably anything you want me to sign. That said, depending on the size of the signing line, I may sign only three things at one time, so if you have more than that, you might have to go back and get in the line again for a second go round.

10. I am not able to see you on tour but I want a signed book! What do I do? If you live in a town I’ll be touring in, order the book (preferably Lock In, but any book) from the store I’m visiting and request that I sign/personalize the book. I’ll be happy to do so. If you don’t live in a town I’m visiting, just pick a store I’m visiting and ask for a signing/personalization, and I’ll do that when I’m in town, and then they’ll ship the book to you. I’ll also be signing book stock at each stop, so each store should have signed books from me after I go.

11. Hey, wanna hang out before/after your event? First, you’re awesome for asking and thank you. Second, at nearly every stop my time is spoken for either by business-related stuff or by friends in town who I already have plans to see. And then I have to get to sleep because most of my flights to the next town are early in the morning. So generally speaking I won’t be available for hanging out. It’s not you. You are lovely. It’s me.

12. I have a gift I want to give you! Is that allowed? Sure! Be aware that when I travel I pack very tightly (usually with just carry-on luggage) so depending on the size of your gift or the state of my luggage, I may ask the bookstore to ship the gift to my house. So if you see me hand it over to someone else, that’s likely what’s happening. With food gifts, let me request that you lean towards things that won’t spoil in a hotel room (cookies, etc).

13. Do people really give you gifts and food and stuff like that? Yup, and usually the stuff I get is pretty cool.

14. I WISH TO BE YOUR GROUPIE AND WILL FOLLOW YOU BACK TO YOUR HOTEL AND SLATHER YOU WITH UNGUENTS AND SCENTED OILS ALL THE NIGHT LONG. Please don’t do that.

15. BUT DIDN’T YOU SEE THAT I HAVE UNGUENTS? I did. Not interested. Thanks anyway.

16. ALSO I WILL BRING YOU A COKE ZERO. Well, why didn’t you say so. See you in my room.

The Big Idea: E. Catherine Tobler

History isn’t history to the people who are living it — it’s their present, their world and their lives. This is a thought E. Catherine Tobler kept in mind when writing her novel, Rings of Anubis. Here she is to explain what it means for you, the reader.

E. CATHERINE TOBLER:

My interest in all things historical started in elementary school when I discovered a National Geographic book called Secrets From the Past. The book explored tombs of the world, lost cities, and discussed how we could determine what people of the past were like by exploring the things that remained. It wasn’t until high school I heard about the marble Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, removed from the Parthenon in Greece. Many viewed Elgin as no better than a vandal and a thief–even Lord Byron took a position on the matter, the debate concerning the marbles long and fierce. The British Parliament purchased the marbles in 1816 and to this day, they remain in the British Museum.

I wondered, how could people do that? Had archaeologists carried such historical things away, knowingly or not? Surely they had. I knew I couldn’t write about Egypt of 1889 without keeping such events in mind. Within the time frame of Rings of Anubis, Egypt was occupied by the British and many treasures were accidentally and carelessly lost in the haste to discover what lay beneath the dirt. I wanted my heroine, Eleanor Folley, constantly mindful she was exploring a world inhabited by people who had been as real as she was. To make it as personal as possible for her, I placed her in both worlds: an Egyptian-Irish archaeologist, trained by her parents, both archaeologists before her.

Eleanor Folley wasn’t in the business of archaeology for the wealth or fame that came with it; while those who didn’t know her might consider her no better than a vandal and a tomb raider, she never profited from her discoveries. Eleanor Folley was always in search of something else–something more personal than gold or fame.

What would be like to face each tomb with the possibility of something personal beneath the stones? What it would be like to excavate a site and hold your breath as dirt parted to reveal bones that might belong to someone you loved? I wondered how a person might continue such a search in the face of never finding what they sought, how they might struggle if even their own family asked them to stop searching. How do you stop looking for part of yourself and what might you do if you encountered someone else on a similar quest?

The history buried beneath our modern lives isn’t only history. Living, breathing people called the fragmented walls we unearth home before we called them relics. The bones we carefully brush clean are someone who had a name, an occupation; someone who was loved or despised. Mummies aren’t just linen-wrapped bones–they were people who created and dreamed and dared just as we do. What we take from the dirt isn’t simply random debris to be swept away in the quest for wealth and recognition. I wanted to explore the idea that someone buried within the Egyptian desert could be greatly loved by someone still living, someone who, in the end, had no idea what she was about to unearth.

—-

Rings of Anubis: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Tour Travel, Whatever and Comments

In just under two weeks now I will begin my tour for Lock In, which will take me all over the United States for four weeks, with only a couple of short breaks back home to do laundry and sleep. My schedule for this one is unusually packed at times — there’s one stop where I have three events scheduled for one day — and besides that I will be hopefully seeing friends and otherwise while I am out and about. Naturally this will have some impact on what I post here and the amount of time I have to commit to dealing with it.

In the past I’ve solved this problem by having guest bloggers and/or having a substitute moderator (the ever-fabulous Kate Baker) sit in on the site and wield the Mallet in my absence. This time I think I’ll try something a little different. Primarily:

From August 26 through September 20, I’ll be turning off comments on most posts here.

What posts will have comments off?

1. Posts created before August 26, 2014;

2. Nearly all of my posts from 8/26 – 9/20.

Which posts will have comments on? 

1. Big Idea posts (to let the authors discuss stuff with readers/fans);

2. Possible occasional posts I create when I have a few hours free and feel like chatting with all y’all. These will be contingent on schedule and internet availability, and will likely be on only for those times I have the ability to actively sit on the thread, after which I will turn them off.

Why turn comments off at all?

1. So that while I travel I don’t have to daily wade through spam that somehow manages to avoid the automatic filters, which is, alas, considerable;

2. Because I’ve decided that I might want to write about things here while I’m out and about that usually requires thread moderation, which is the thing I know I won’t have time for;

3. Because I’ve never turned off comments here for a considerable amount of time and I’m curious what if any effect it will have on readership, etc;

4. Because Twitter/Facebook/Google +/etc give people the ability to more readily comment on what I write here than they would have had a few years ago, both to me and to each other (assuming they are using social media, which I suspect most people are at this point), and yes, I will probably be on Twitter a lot during the tour;

5. Because point 2 notwithstanding, based on personal experience, if I leave comments on I will be tempted to jump in and participate/moderate, which will distract me from what I really need to do: focus on the tour and the humans who have come to see me on it.

So that’s the plan.

For those of you wondering if this means I might be considering having comments off generally now: No. The site’s had comments for over a decade now, and it’s better for them. Come September 21, the comments will be back on across the whole site.

As for what sort of posts to expect here while I’m traveling, I think a few years of touring has gotten you used to what to expect — posts of events, reminders of where I am going next, scheduled Big Idea posts, and occasional other stuff as time/interest/sleep allows. You know. The usual.

In any event, I’m letting you know all of this now so it won’t comes as a surprise on the day of the tour. You have two weeks to prepare! Should be enough.

Thoughts? Put them — of course! — in the comments.

But Doctor, I am Pagliacci

Following Robin Williams’ death and my brief comments about depression in my entry about it, I’ve had some people ask me for some more detailed thoughts on the subject, and whether I myself have ever experienced depression. I wrote about the subject in 2010, as part of a Reader Request Week, so if you’re interested, here’s the link to that. The short version is that while I have had events in my life where I was almost certainly depressed (as most of us have, I suspect), I’m not someone who suffers from depression as a disease.

But again, I know a lot of people who do. I suspect that some of this is because I know a lot of creative people and the correlation between depression and creativity is well known and well documented. But I also suspect this is also because I know people, and I suspect that depression, as a chronic and persistent ailment, happens to a lot of people regardless of their creativity. One of the silver lining positive things about knowing many people with depression is that it’s gone a very long way to hammer against that bias against mental illnesses that I have as part of the background radiation of life — the bias that tells you that someone with a mental illness isn’t merely sick but is wrong in some ineffable way. I know that’s incorrect and actively unhelpful now; I hope it makes me a better human and a better friend for my friends who have depression.

On the tangentially-related topic of humor and depression, the world seems to be largely divided into two camps — the camp who is apparently oblivious to the idea that funny people, especially professionally funny people, might have a darker side to their life (“He was funny and seemed so happy! Who knew that other side was there?”) and the ones who are all too familiar with that aspect of the life of a “funny” person — they’re the ones who, after hearing of Williams’ passing, tweeted something along the lines of the quote I’m using as the headline (context, for those of you who don’t know).

With the former camp, it’s easy to be exasperated, especially if you write humor yourself. Where do these folks think the capacity for humor comes out of? If you don’t have an understanding of the whole wide range of the human condition, your attempts at humor are going to come across as insipid at best and cruel at worst; there’s a reason I note that the failure state of “clever” is “asshole.” People who are really funny — the sort of funny more complex than a banana peel on a slippery floor — are funny because they know people. They’re smart. They’re observant. And, very often, their own life experience, with all its ups and downs, is the reason why know which keys turn the lock on the funny.

It’s easy to become exasperated with people who don’t seem to know this, but it’s also at least slightly unfair, because it’s process — it’s backstage matter. Most people don’t live with a professional comedian or humorist, they’re merely entertained by them, and they’re entertained by the output, not by the process. We laugh at the joke, not that the work that goes into it. Likewise, humor feels easy and light; we laugh at it, and laughing seems like the simplest thing in the world to do. If people don’t know about the darker parts of the minds that create humor, it’s at least in part because it often ruins the humor to dwell on it.

On the flip side of this I personally get exasperated by the “but doctor, I am Pagliacci” response as well, because I think in many ways it trivializes depression. Humor needs knowledge of humans and empathy; it doesn’t need depression. From everything that I know about it from friends who have it, depression doesn’t heighten your access to the human condition, it deadens it — takes you out of the place where you can create and where you can say anything about life, funny or otherwise.

I get that tossing about the Pagliacci quote can be an attempt to be understanding — or at least be an attempt to explain — but I think it just ends up being the equivalent of a mental shrug. Of course that funny person was doomed. That’s just what happens to funny people. That’s no more correct or helpful than being surprised a funny person wasn’t happy all the time.

I’m not saying a comedian or humorist can’t take their depression and make it funny. Of course they can — it’s in the heart of humor to make you understand something by making you laugh about it. But the depression isn’t why they’re funny. Depression isn’t helping them be funny. Depression is a thing they have to route around. Sometimes they can’t. That fact deserves an acknowledgment more than a shrug and a quote about a sad clown.

I don’t have any answers about depression, in no small part because my own direct experience of it in my own head is (thankfully) limited. What I do know is that for my own part I want to be done with people being hesitant or ashamed about a disease that happens to them, despite the fact it takes place in the part of the body where who they are lives. Treating it differently than other ailments of the body doesn’t do anyone any good and does active harm if it keeps people from getting help.

I also want to be done with thinking that depression is anyone’s fault. This piece in Slate, addressing the people who wondered why Robin Williams didn’t know that people loved him, speaks to that. This piece, by Erica Moen, speaks to that. Countless pieces out there by people who deal with depression speak to it. They know what they’re talking about, because they live it.

For my part, I’m listening. I think we should all be doing that.