All posts by John Scalzi

About John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

Security Certificate Alerts on Whatever — Don’t Panic!

Every once in a while I get an email or other notification from someone about their browser (usually Chrome but occasionally Firefox) warning them that Whatever is insecure and asking them if they really want to continue onto the site. In the interest of quelling concerns and also not having to write this up every single time it happens, let me tell you what’s going on.

1. Whatever is housed on WordPress’ VIP service (and happily so) at scalzi.wordpress.com; the address whatever.scalzi.com maps there.

2. Whatever’s security cerificate, however, is to the wordpress.com domain, not the scalzi.com domain.

3. So, if you’re directing your browser to use https, it may throw up a warning letting you know the domain doesn’t match.

So, the URL isn’t being hijacked — unless you see on the warning page that the security certificate is going somewhere other than wordpress.com.

I’ll look into seeing what can be done about figuring this out. In the meantime, if you are getting these warnings, here’s what you can do.

1. Use “http” rather than “https” when you put in the URL (note this is nominally insecure) and you’ll be taken to Whatever without fuss.

2. If you see the security certificate for the site is from wordpress.com, go to the advanced settings and click through, it’ll be fine (and your browser will probably remember your preference in the future).

3. Alternately, if you use https, substitute “scalzi.wordpress.com” for “whatever.scalzi.com” and you’ll be taken to Whatever without any security alerts. Note that once you’re there, the URL will show up as “whatever.scalzi.com.” Mapping is wacky. This works for sub-urls as well (direct links to entries, etc). Update: Note that IT folks in the comments say that when you’re punted back to whatever.scalzi.com, you’re being sent back to the site without https enabled.

Update: 4. Another option I just enabled it to access Whatever via a shared SSL Encryption setup. The URL to use is: https://ssl.perfora.net/whatever.scalzi.com (it will also work with individual entry URLs). Note using this will strip out insecure elements of the page (usually things like embedded media).

Hope this helps.

Bart Blauser, RIP

I’d like to take a moment here to note the passing of Bart Blauser, who was Krissy’s uncle, earlier this month, and whose life we celebrated yesterday at a memorial service with family and friends. Pretty simply, Bart was a fine example of “salt of the earth”: A good and decent man who loved his family and friends, enjoyed working the soil in his garden and farm, who worked hard and who, in my experience, treated everyone with kindness and friendliness. He also threw an excellent July 4th party every year, complete with pig roast, volleyball and a late night fire, around which people would gather and bring guitars.

There’s more to him than those things, of course, but those things are enough to give you a glimpse of why there is one less good man on the planet, who was loved, and who will be missed. May his spirit rest well.

Best Dad Ever

So this happened tonight:

And thus:

Oh, yeah. Best dad ever.

New Books and ARCs 3/13/15

Been a busy week for new books and ARCs because, well, some weeks are like that. But on the other hand, it’s also been an excellent week, and today’s installment is no exception. See something you’re interested in here? Let me know in the comments!

The Next Month (or so) on Whatever and Social Media

So, I’m in crunch time on The End of All Things (which truth be told is running just a tiny bit late, which annoys me because deadlines are a thing I usually hit) and April is my Month O’ Travel™ this year. This will mean things for Whatever and my presence on social media for the next few weeks. Let me outline them for you.

From 3/16 – 3/29: Deeply limited posting here until the book is done. What I will likely do is what I’ve done in the past, which is, if the book is not yet done, to leave you with a question for the day that you may discuss amongst yourselves while I’m writing away (comment threads will still be moderated, although possibly not by me). There will also be Big Idea posts during this time.

Likewise during this time I will have almost no presence on Twitter and other social media until the book is done. Crunch time, folks. Book’s gotta get finished.

3/29 – 4/12: I will be in Australia, on Australian time, and busy with travel and two separate conventions. I’m likely to be posting here, but probably less than when I’m at home, time-shifted at that, and contingent on having access to wifi. I will probably be on Twitter more frequently, and again, contingent on wifi access.

4/13 – 4/20: In Los Angeles, doing business, attending the LA Times Festival of Books and slacking off when I’m not doing either of those two things. Again, less posting than usual here, probably, and you’ll probably see me on Twitter more.

4/21: Back at home! Hooray!

Also for those of you keeping track of it, the 2015 edition of the Reader Request Week will be April 27 – May 3. A little later than usual, but see schedule above.

And now you know what to expect here for the next few weeks.

The Big Idea: Catherynne Valente

For the fourth book in Catherynne Valente’s wildly acclaimed and bestselling “Fairyland” series, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, the author has made a slight change in the nature of the protagonist. And just why did she do this, and what does it mean for the world she’s created? We’ve got the answers for you today.

CATHERYNNE VALENTE:

Long before the fourth book in the Fairyland series came out, I knew I’d be writing this essay. I looked forward to it. I may be a silly person, but I am not a silly author, and I knew very well that The Boy Who Lost Fairyland would be a giant elephant in the room—an elephant in the series. There would be a Question most would be too polite to ask. Those are my favorite kinds of questions.

So here I am, present and accounted for, ready to ride that big beautiful elephant through the sofa set and the good curtains.

Cat, why, after three books about one plucky female protagonist that most readers think is pretty swell, would you suddenly start writing about a boy? And baseball? With a short title?What’s going on? Have you been replaced by a mirror universe Cat?

I think you can see by my lack of goatee that I am, in fact, this universe’s Cat. I have not lost my mind. Nor my protagonist. Do not be afraid. September has not decided to go on a coffee break. She is very much present and active in the fourth installment of her story. I will never give my girl up. But sometimes a story is bigger than one protagonist.

The simplest explanation is that I didn’t know how else to tell this part of the story than by moving the camera onto someone else. I never want to write the same book twice. I always want to do something new, something that shakes up the previous books and my own writing comfort zone. And I’d wanted to write about the Changelings for ages. Since the second book I knew that they’d be the key to the resolution of the whole series. The fourth book was always going to be the Changeling book, because those kids wanted to be heard.

The thing is, we’re all Changelings. Every child and every adult. We all feel alone sometimes, like no one can understand us no matter how hard we try, like we come from somewhere else and everyone has life figured out but us. Some of our bodies don’t match our hearts. Some of our minds don’t match the world around us. Some of us are isolated because of what we look like or how we talk or a thousand other reasons. We’re all the stranger in the house at one time or another.

And kids quite literally are Changelings. They are brand new. They don’t know the rules. They came from somewhere else and are making some stab at being a hero in this new land. Ever wonder why it’s such a common fantasy for kids to think they must be adopted? It comes from this feeling of not fitting into the world at hand. They are full of impulses they don’t understand and the world constantly tells them not to follow those impulses—but it’s plainly impossible not to. Everything is bizarre and magical and unbelievable because childhood is a foreign country where a child can only learn the language and the customs slowly, and with a lot of mistakes. And because the human world really is a bizarre and magical and unbelievable place. Part of the reason children love fantastic literature so much is that to them, it’s not really fantastic. It accurately reflects their experience—they’ve been dropped into a world of wonder and power, a world in which they are helpless, but growing stronger every day.

Adulthood is not very different, honestly.

So book four was always going to be a Changeling book. But for a long while the protagonist was female, because that was the nature of the Fairyland series, and the dominating mission of the series was to write about a girl who embraced the magical world rather than rejecting it, as Dorothy and Alice had.

But as I planned out the book, I turned it over and over in my head. There is more to feminism than turning the focus from boys to girls. We’ve presented so many new literary roles and places for women in the last few decades, and that’s been a huge part of my whole mission statement as an author. But boys need new roles and new places, too. We encourage girls to take on the mantle of the male hero—and I wanted to encourage boys to take on the mantle of the female hero, as well. A boy hero can be gentle and artistic and bookish and afraid of the world—and still be a hero while staying gentle and artistic and bookish and afraid of the world. He can be friends with girls without it being weird. He can wear weird clothes and his mother’s jewelry, he can have beautiful penmanship and talk to his stuffed animals well into middle school, and those can be heroic attributes just as much as punching and running and yelling and swinging a sword. Sure, I gave him a baseball. But it’s what you do with a baseball—and what it does to you—that counts. And maybe, just maybe, boys in the real world will find it a little easier to be gentle and wear jewelry and be friends with girls and ask their librarian for a book with Fairyland in the title.

September will be back in the driver’s seat (quite literally) in the fifth and final book of the series, The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is the story of Fairyland itself, and what it gets up to when September isn’t looking. Hawthorn the Troll and Tamburlaine and Scratch the gramophone and Blunderbuss the scrap-yarn combat wombat will join Saturday and A-Through-L and the Marquess and the Green Wind to make one giant king rat of a tale—a tale that couldn’t be told without every single one of them.

In the meantime, come be a Changeling with me, and I promise we’ll make some fine trouble together.

—-

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

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

RIP, Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett in Bologna, 2007. Photograph by Federico Giacanelli and used under Creative Commons license (original here)

It’s being reported that Sir Terry Pratchett has died. Which means that it’s a very sad day for lovers of fantasy and science fiction. Sir Terry (which I will call him here rather than “Pratchett” because, hey, have you been knighted?) had been dealing with Alzheimers for some time now, and his public journey with it, I think, did more to demystify the disease than anything else has in recent times.

More selfishly, he was the co-author of one of my favorite fantasy books of all time: Good Omens. I love that book insensibly.

I met Sir Terry only once and that fleetingly, but that encounter left me with a good story to tell, and I will share it now. It was at the 2004 Worldcon in Boston, where Sir Terry was the Guest of Honor. He was on a panel called “Looking Backward: the 20th Century,” along with Esther Friesner, Craig Gardner and me. I was definitely the junior member of this crew — Old Man’s War had not been published yet — and in retrospect I vaguely wonder whose idea it was to put a complete unknown on a panel with the convention’s GoH (whoever it was — thank you).

The discussion was far-ranging, and because we were talking about the 20th Century in the past tense, we started talking about what future archeologists would make of the century, with the notation that trash heaps were invaluable for acheological purposes; after all, everything everyone uses sooner or later is turned into trash. This prompted Sir Terry to note that archeologists in Jerusalem very recently came across two thousand year old cloacae (i.e., latrines), which, because they were in an anaerobic enviroment, their contents were perfectly preserved from when they were, uh, deposited, two millennia ago.

To which I replied, “Holy shit.”

And for which I was rewarded with still the largest laugh I’ve ever gotten at a convention, much less a Worldcon.

Mind you, the reason I got a laugh that large was because hundreds of people filled a room to see Sir Terry, not me. But for that moment, I got to share. And if memory serves, Sir Terry gave me a little duck of the head after I said it, as if to say, well played.

It’s one of my favorite moments of all my time in science fiction and fantasy, and it would not have happened without him. For that alone, he would be forever enshrined fondly in my memory. It is not that for that alone that he is fondly enshrined there.

My good thoughts and condolences to Sir Terry’s family, friends and fans. He is not replacable, but we were gifted by the time he was here. May his memory, and his writing, be a comfort to all.

Note to Businesses Following Me on Twitter

Please, please, please don’t just drop an ad/PR bit for your product into my tweet stream. One, it’s not nice, even if you didn’t intend not to be nice. Two, an ad/PR bit sent cold to my tweet stream will likely get you muted or blocked because you’ve shown me that you consider me a mark, which I don’t appreciate. Three, if you do it to enough people other than me, then you’re spamming. Which will likely get you blocked and reported by a number of people.

Which is to say that your ad/PR pitch will fail, which is the opposite of what you want.

This does not mean that your business account can’t tweet at me or talk to me — I get that all the time, and mostly it’s fun, and indeed a good corporate Twitter presence goes a long way with me (see: here, where a nicely laconic response to my frustration with a company’s product was on my mind when I bought the replacement product, also from that company (the replacement product works just fine)). But there is a difference between conversing with me — even while promoting your product — and just dropping an ad/PR pitch into my tweet stream.

If you’re a company who is hoping for me to promote a product of yours, via retweet or mention, first, read my policy on retweets, and second, outside of retweets the best way to reach me in terms of product awareness is through email. Yes, lots of businesses and publicists already do this, you won’t be alone. Dropping an ad/PR bit into my Twitter stream doesn’t work because I will mute it. I don’t mute PR pitches in my email. Email is where the pitches are supposed to be. In fact, I even have a publicity policy.

(Don’t send ads to my email, however. Those will just get shunted into the spam folder.)

In short: My tweet stream is not for company ads or pitches. Don’t make me mute or block you, it’ll just annoy the both of us. Thanks.

The Big Idea: Genevieve Valentine

So, how does one go from the swirly, chiffoned world of pageant dresses to the corridors of international diplomacy? In Persona, the journey is neither as strange nor as difficult as it might seem. Author Genevieve Valentine is here to explain why.

GENEVIEVE VALENTINE:

Once a year (or whenever Donald Trump remembers), they hold Miss Universe in a photogenic city, where photogenic ladies line up for swimsuit shots and candid footage of them laughing and embracing and loaded interview questions. And, somewhere between the golf outing and the evening gown competition, they hold a parade of national costumes.

The spectacle is sublime: the National Costume segment is particularly amazing for fans of sartorial patriotism and/or fans of watching people trying really hard to sell an awkward concept. (This isn’t just the fault of the inevitable collection of halfhearted capes; a few years ago, Holland sent its contestant out with a windmill strapped to her back, and America, one of the biggest repeat offenders, sent an actual Transformer across the stage last year.) Of course, some of the contestants decide to stick to more direct interpretations of national costume, and from saris to bunad, it’s a beautiful parade.

The trick is: It isn’t up to the contestants, is it? The national costume designer was selected by committee long before that contestant came along; she’s just the walking hanger on which it needs to be fitted. These contestants are a big deal to many countries, of course, and have to undergo all the usual rigors of being subjected to competitive public presentation, from swimsuit competition to interview answers. Even the pageant calls them ambassadors –  ambassadors who have to keep a flawless complexion, procure identical noses, and remain a size 2. They still have to take responsibility when pageant politics leaks into the real world (this year, Miss Israel appeared in a Miss Lebanon selfie and Miss Lebanon caught scandal for allowing it), but their actual power, of course, is – literally – slim.

Still, after reviewing the Miss Universe costume contest for a year or two, the question seems unavoidable: What if the world had made room for a celebrity culture of statecraft? What if the pageant never stopped?

The answer, of course, is that those who can’t deal openly would deal in the shadows, and get angrier by degrees. To me, one of the most interesting aspects of a spy story has always been how it overlaps in form and function with more visible statecraft; how, almost by default, everything that happened at royal courts were a series of spy novels overlapping. Every cabinet meeting was Operation Witchcraft; every marriage was a political contract; every public appearance was a chance to state your intentions and an obligation to reaffirm your alliances. (And what you wore did half the work for you: Red for England, blue for France, black and white to catch the eye of the queen. It’s a system that’s grown with us onto the red carpet: white for the virginal and young, black for the vampy, every premiere a chance to chat to the press that’s been instructed to be nice, and to reaffirm your alliances.) The idea of hitting the red carpet and grinning for cameras on your way out from negotiating someone’s death sentence is hard to shake.

Turns out it was so hard to shake, I wrote Persona, which folds not-quite politics into a not-quite United Nations with some not-quite celebrity culture to go with it. Suyana Sapaki, the delegate of the United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation, is a C-lister by diplomatic standards: the country’s still young (an uncomfortable marriage of two disparate states out of desperation to protect natural resources), and it’s had a little trouble, and Suyana is constantly at war with herself about how much to give in to the publicity machine – if that would even help; there’s no knowing if it will until you’ve already given in. And this is before she gets shot.

As it turns out, there isn’t any pageant in Persona – not technically – but there are definitely recognizable elements, right down to a glamour shot of Suyana standing amid the rainforest green, clearly meant to look approachable and absolutely unable to manage. (I’d never imagined we’d get a real-life version of that shot that so exactly captured the mood I imagined; the photo looks, if you discount her expression, exactly like the endless scrolling list of swimsuit shots on the official Miss Universe site. If you count her expression, of course, the game changes.)

There’s no shaking the inherent comedy of Miss Universe, which has managed to become its own real-time example of a good idea taken by commercialization to its logical conclusion. (This year’s national-costume winner, Miss Canada, showed up as a hockey game. Yes, the whole game. But some of those dresses were statements of pride, and some were just plain statements, and they’re all a reminder that those who control the image control the story; Suyana knows it, too, if she lives long enough to use it.

—-

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

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

A Book Sale at the Cost of Your Conscience

First, some context: These two tweets about an article in a Romance Writers of America magazine, in which the writer of the article counsels against taking a stand in social media on “controversial” topics:

Second, as it happens, and as it often happens when one has been writing a blog for almost seventeen years, I have a piece in the archive which touches upon this very topic, called “Why, Yes, I Should Write About Politics.” It’s worth the read, and my basic opinion on the matter is unchanged since then.

Third, new additional thoughts, and some other continuing thoughts, on the topic.

No one is obliged to speak on political or social issues if they don’t want, and no one is obliged to chip in their two cents on a topic that’s gathering pennies on any particular day. It’s perfectly fine to say, publicly or privately, “I don’t know enough on this and am reading up,” or “I’m on deadline and have to focus,” or “I have a lot of thoughts on this topic and 140 characters can’t express them” or even “addressing this topic right now feels like it would be sticking my head into a hive of angry hornets and why would I want to do that.” One’s participation is not required on every single topic, every single day.

But note well there is a difference between it being said that one is not required to offer up opinions, and that one should not offer them up at all — or, in this particular instance, that one should “take a more neutral approach.” The first of these is about the recognition that any individual writer has only so much time, energy and knowledge to commit to commenting on social issues, and the other is, frankly, about fear: you won’t sell books if you have an opinion a reader doesn’t like.

And that’s just terrible advice. It’s terrible advice in part because it’s simply not true — there are best selling writers in every genre who express opinions that outrage and annoy whole packs of people, and have since before they were best sellers, and yet they sell books nonetheless — and in part because it’s reductive. It’s an argument that posits that once a writer enters the stream of commerce, the most important thing about that writer’s life is their ability to sell books. Everything else about that writers’ life suddenly takes a back seat to that single commercial goal.

Speaking as an explicitly commercial writer — I write books that I plan to sell! To a lot of people! — I’m of the opinion that one of the worst ways to be a writer is to shear off or trim down all parts of your life that are not obviously designed to further the goal of selling tons of books. Why? Because then you’re cutting off the parts of your life that inform your writing, and which allow you to create the work that speaks to people, which is to say, to write the stories that people want to read and buy, and make you an author they wish to support. Being in “the business of selling books” doesn’t mean simply moving units of collections of words, any words at all. Those words have to mean something, to you and to potential readers, otherwise it won’t matter how hyperfocused you are on selling.

The author of this article notes “there are a million polarizing topics.” That’s correct, but it’s too limited. Any topic can be polarizing. I’ve been on the Internet for a quarter of a century now and have seen knock-down, drag-out, friendship-ending fights on topics I personally consider absolutely trivial. Turns out these topics aren’t trivial to many people — and it also turns out that “trivial” topics have social and political aspects to them that make them far less trivial than those outside those interest groups may initially expect (see: Gamergate). If one were to “take a more neutral stance” on any potentially polarizing topic, one would have to say nothing on anything, ever.

And you know what? It wouldn’t matter. Because whosoever writes a book — any book, in any genre — has written a polarizing thing. Entire genres are polarizing simply for existing; certainly romance writers, who have to deal with condescension and sexism because their field is predominantly woman-centered, know this, even though the genre is the single largest-selling genre of them all. Whatever the subject matter of a book is, someone can and probably will single it out for criticism, and that criticism can and often will be about the author’s presumed politics and social positions — which is why when Old Man’s War first came out, I got criticism (and praise!) for being, among other things, a conservative gun fetishist, which is amusing to anyone who knows me.

To write publicly is to be judged and to be criticized and to be polarizing. If one avoids speaking on public issues in social media only out fear of alienating readers, all one does is possibly delay such judgment. Judgment will happen for what you say and also what you don’t say. Judgment will happen for what you write in your books and what people assume you meant when you wrote those words, regardless of your authorial intent. Judgment will happen based on who people think you are based on the fantasy version of you they have in their head, which is almost always more about their own fears and desires than anything that has to do with the actual person you are.

So you might as well say whatever the hell you like, if you like. If nothing else, then the fantasy versions of who you are might be closer to the person you actually are.

Here’s the final thing I want you to think about: Advising writers to be publicly “neutral” on “controversial” topics is dangerous, because it gives those who want to silence any author who has opinions they don’t like a tool for that silencing. See? Even the RWA is telling you to shut up on this. Now shut the fuck up, or you will fail, and it will be your fault. RWA’s membership is as I understand it primarily women. I’m not entirely sure that it’s helpful for these writers to be given advice to be silent or “neutral”. For some of them, their just being a woman is enough excuse for some people to actively try to silence them, and threaten them, and to try to exert control over them. I don’t think that sort needs additional encouragement, intentional or otherwise, from a writer speaking to a largely women-centered audience.

Ever since I’ve been a published author, I’ve had people declaring that they will not buy my books because I wrote or said something they dislike. The intent was clear: You exist only to amuse me. I hold the key to your success. Do as I say or suffer the consequences. Whatever demanding or threatening I get is nothing compared to what others — different genders and ethnicities and sexualities — get. What these threateners, and apparently the author of this article, don’t understand is that the world is positively filled with people who will read my work despite of, because of, or independent of, my social and political thoughts. Those people will find my work and read it and enjoy it. They will find and read and enjoy the work of any author. Beyond that, I am not only the sum of my book sales. I write to sell and I write to amuse, but I don’t exist only for those things. I exist to be a writer, and a husband, and a father, and a friend, and a citizen of my nation and my world, and as an individual who is his own person, aside from the desires of others.

Which is why when people object to my positions on social and political issues, I say: Oh, well. And when they try to silence or threaten me, I say: Kiss my ass. I neither want nor need the sort of reader who thinks a book sale gives them the right to dictate how I live my life, or what I choose to speak about in the public sphere. As a writer, I believe that neither I nor any other writer, including ones giving advice in writing magazines, should be encouraging these sort of people to believe that they can or should tell writers what they can and cannot speak about publicly.

This is the long way of saying this: That advice? It’s bad. Don’t be “neutral” in public on the things that are important to you. Speak if you choose to speak. A book sale at the cost of your conscience is a very bad deal indeed.

The Big Idea: Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

It’s Monday, and what better day than this to explore the realm of the cranky? But as Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessley, editors of the Cranky Ladies of History anthology explain, “cranky” shouldn’t always be considered a negative. In fact, in this context, it’s meant to be pretty damn awesome.

TANSY RAYNER ROBERTS and TEHANI WESSELY:

Cranky Ladies of History was one of those projects that basically sprang fully formed into being. It began with a face, glaring out from an oil painting. Australian social justice and media blogger Liz Barr posted an image of Tsaritsa Sophia Alekseyevna of Russia on her Tumblr account and then, receiving a hugely positive response to Sophia’s fierce expression, wrote a short essay about the woman in question, calling her a “would-be usurper, all-around cranky lady”.

There’s something about that phrase: cranky lady. There was a time when it would have been seen entirely as a put-down, a dismissal of female strength and power. Yet the idea of celebrating women for their crankiness—rather than their beauty, their docility, their compliance—feels empowering and deliciously rebellious. It was a phrase that struck us immediately, and when we tweeted about how much we would love to read stories about cranky ladies of history by some of our favourite authors, the response was instant and immediately positive. Within hours, the idea had coalesced into a concept, and then into a plan, which continued to grow as the interest did.

From the start, when we talked about ‘Cranky Ladies of History’ as an anthology concept, people got excited. These days, when we give people advice about setting up successful crowdfunding campaigns, one of the first things we tell them is to choose the idea that sells itself—where people get excited from the first sentence, from the title of the project, before you’ve even explained all the nuts and bolts and rewards and payment options, you know you’re on a winner.

Cranky Ladies was one of those ideas. We found ourselves in a whirl of positive interest, not only from writers who wanted to pitch stories to us, but from mainstream media and many people who didn’t have the time or the inclination to write for the book, yet still wanted to support it, to promote it, and to help out with the campaign. So many people we talked to wanted this book to exist, even if they weren’t personally involved, and that turned out to be crowdfunding gold. We pulled in many of our most enthusiastic activists to help with the campaign, to blog about their favourite cranky ladies, and to spread the word.

We had chosen March (Women’s History Month) for the campaign almost on a whim, thinking it would be cute, but the further we got into the month the more we realised that people were hungry for these stories, not even just the fiction that we promised, but the anecdotes and essays about lost and misquoted and reclaimed women from history who were fierce, uncompromising and yes, cranky.

The positive response we received to the Cranky Ladies crowdfunding campaign was invigorating and inspiring—especially when International Women’s Day brought national media attention to a book that didn’t even exist yet. When you’re making art that you think is challenging, rebellious and potentially controversial, there is nothing better than the feeling of having a crowd at your back, putting their money where their mouth is, cheering loudly, and keeping you company every step of the way.

Twelve months later, the journey to publication is complete. We read so many pitches about amazing women of history who damn well deserved to be cranky that we could have filled three volumes. Though there was no way we could publish all of them, we can only hope this book shines some light on a few women who may otherwise be buried under the weight of the years, and maybe inspire our readers to seek out even more.

—-

Cranky Ladies of History: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBookstore|Kobo

Visit the book Web site. Follow the book’s Twitter.

A Visit to Mammoth Cave

My friend Monica Byrne (the author of the very fine novel The Girl in the Road, which I liked so much I blurbed it) had a hankering to visit the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, and since I was only a few hours away, asked if I would be interested in joining her. Well, I like a big hole in the ground as much as anyone, so I said sure, why not. And thus I spent a non-trivial part of the week roughly 40 yards underground, looking at fascinating geologic features and trying not to be eaten by cave CHUDs.

Naturally I brought along my camera to document the journey. If you like to see the photos of our trip, the photo set is up on Flickr. It contains many interesting pictures of the cave and its features. None of the CHUDs, alas. They are camera shy.

The Big Idea: Carrie Patel

When you build on secrets you never know what you’ll find. Just ask Carrie Patel, whose novel, The Buried Life, includes secrets literally built upon. What’s going on there?

CARRIE PATEL:

The Buried Life is about lost history, a forgotten catastrophe, and the city that springs up in its wake.

It started with the city: an underground metropolis where squalid, smoke-choked burrows nestle next to magnificent caverns framed with fire and stained glass. It was a place of glamor and grime.

I suspect that lots of speculative fiction begins with a setting. You take a mental snapshot of a new world that captures the atmosphere and the highlights. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. You need something you can walk around in.

So, you sketch the landmarks that exist just outside the frame—historical context and regional conditions. Things that anchor your new city and prevent it from drifting off into the stratosphere. Next, you sharpen the image to bring out the colors and details so that your snapshot will look just as bright and vivid to everyone else when you finally share it.

That leaves you with a fabulous backdrop, which isn’t the same thing as a story.

However, it’s the process of building the city up and out that can turn a Nifty Idea into a Big Idea. The Big Idea is what gives logic and context to the details that make up a vibrant, unique world. At some point, when you’re rooting around in the bones of your city, stringing all those tendons together and trying to get the blood flowing from one end to the other, you stumble upon its DNA.

Suddenly, you know what it’s really made of and where it’s really going.

That’s when you find your story.

For me, the “aha!” moment came when I saw Recoletta, my new city, for what it was: one civilization built in the hollowed-out corpse of another.

At that point, all of the cool flourishes and atmospheric touches were tied together by the inextricable bonds of context. Recoletta was built underground because it had started out as a city-sized bunker in more desperate times. A strict social hierarchy developed because, in the early days, people handed the reins over to individuals with practical skills—engineers, doctors, miners, and so on—and left the grunt work to the lawyers and politicians.

By the time events in The Buried Life roll around, people have stuck to their underground homes because old habits die hard. And the “whitenails,” the people with enough clout to keep their hands clean, are still at the top of the food chain. It’s the post-post-apocalypse.

But the most interesting detail for me was how these fictional citizens related to their troubled history. In the world of The Buried Life, they don’t reconstruct it. They hide it.

The widespread fear of history becomes a superstition. Ideas of the past are seen as dangerous and virulent—after all, didn’t they drive humanity to mass destruction centuries before?

And that’s where the story came from—the tension between a history that almost no one wants to face and the intrepid few who are trying to uncover it. The Big Idea is about constructing a city built on secrets and leading the heroes to its heart.

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The Buried Life: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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