The Big Idea: Kate Elliott

Change always happens, but as Kate Elliott explains in this Big Idea for Black Wolves, the opening novel in a new fantasy trilogy, not all change happens at once.


For years I’ve hung on to a rotary dial phone, one that plugs into the wall jack and needs no power to run. We don’t use it; it sits in a drawer in case of emergency. My daughter grew up in the digital age. When she was ten years old she found the phone, studied it for the longest time, then turned to me and asked, “How does this work?”

Change interests me. It can come as a convulsive explosion, a social earthquake that shatters, or it can rise like a tide in such slow stages that you don’t realize you’re drowning until it covers your mouth and nose.

I’m typing this on a MacBook that weighs less than many a book. It has 8 GB of memory, which is nothing special until I recall that my first hard drive (external, of course) had the mind bogglingly large capacity (for the time) of 20 MB. That’s a massive difference, yet viewed from this side it can be easy to flatten all the amazing leaps and startling bounds of the span between that hard drive and this MacBook into a gently inevitable curve.

Change happens in every society, even the most hidebound. No empire rules for a thousand years, static and unchanging. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it fell in pieces, over centuries, and fragments still remain with us. Imperial China has a hugely complex history of ebb and flow and significant change across eras. Ancient Egypt only looks like a monolith if considered across a gap of thousands of years. The most borrowed-from setting for fantasy, the European Middle Ages, was not one thousand years of credulously ignorant peasants who toiled in the fields below stone castles ruled by feudal lords; it was a vibrant period of social and technological change taking place across a vast and complicated geographical region. Talk to me about Al-Zahrawi the “father of surgery,” or the introduction of the heavy plough and its role in agricultural and economic change, or how the spinning wheel (which comes from Asia) transformed aspects of domestic labor, or the rise of mercantile capitalism in the thriving urban centers of northwestern Europe.

With Black Wolves I specifically wanted to explore the idea of change in a fantasy landscape, how a culture can start taking a new shape and losing its old boundaries and customs piece by piece so that often people don’t notice it slipping away as meanwhile new contours take form. New technologies influence economy and politics. Religious beliefs shift. Social interactions develop with greater openness or freshly-imposed constraints. Experience becomes memory, and memory turns into a variety of histories, each of which give a different account of the past.

I chose to tie the larger thematic story of cultural change into a personal story of how, as we get older, we may be required by circumstances to look at the past and untangle how much of it is lies we have told ourselves and how much a truth we may not want to hear, especially truths about the people we love who may not be everything our golden memories make them out to be or who we may have misunderstood all along.

And let’s be honest: I wanted to write a book whose main character is a snarky older woman in a position of authority who has had enough of your shit. Interestingly, of my beta readers, it was only women who asked if I might consider making Dannarah more “likeable.” The male beta readers were all cool with her personality.

59-year-old Dannarah is one of an ensemble of five point of view characters. Black Wolves features my (trademark?) method of introducing seemingly disparate character threads and weaving them together as the larger plot unfolds until you see why they are all necessary and inevitable and how their stories tie together. Besides Dannarah, Black Wolves also features a 73-year-old retired soldier called back to duty, a good girl and a bad boy (no, they don’t become a couple), and a polymath. You will also find giant justice eagles, demons who walk in human form, and the all important answer  to the question of whether Ri Amarah men actually have horns hidden beneath the head wraps that cover their hair.

An early reader reviewed the book as “a murder mystery at the heart of a political thriller wrapped up in an epic fantasy setting.” Another called it “Jane Austen’s Persuasion meets Dragon Age.” A reviewer described it as “the epic fantasy for someone who loves ladies, politics, the word ‘cock’, and dudes constantly embarrassed by ladies.”

Probably it is a book I could only have written now, looking back at 27 years writing and publishing science fiction and fantasy and seeing how the field has changed while wondering how it will continue to change. The thing is: We can make informed guesses but we don’t truly know. We live in the constantly flowing waters of change because change permeates our lives, and we can drown, or we can fight it, or we can delight in the prospect of discovery of what’s next and the flowering of each new generation. I wanted to write a fantasy novel that reflects this universal aspect of human life and culture.


Black Wolves: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Kobo

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

Post-Election Day Thoughts, 2015

Here in Ohio, aside from some local races, the only things I had on my ballot to vote for were state initiatives. Here’s how I voted:

Issue One: This one changed the state redistricting process so that it’s handled by a non-partisan committee rather than by whoever’s in the majority in the state government when redistricting comes along. Well, I’m a fan of not gerrymandering the shit out of districts for political gain, so I voted for it. So did 71% of the voters, so good for us. Note well, however: the Federal redistricting is still in the hands of the state legislature.

Issue Two: This issue was designed to keep people who are proposing state initiatives from gaining a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel through said initiative. This issue was a direct response to Issue Three, which was on the ballot as well. I think this is a perfectly reasonable thing, and I voted for it. So did 52% of Ohio voters, so it passed. Again, good for us.

Issue Three: This would have legalized marijuana use for medical and recreational use, but also would have created a cartel of producers who would be the only ones authorized to grow pot in Ohio. Basically, a bunch of rich jerks were trying to corner the pot market in the state by appealing to people’s desire to toke up. It didn’t work; 64% of the voters turned it down, including me. I’m not against the legalization of pot generally, but I was against this. That was some bullshit right here.

Aside from the Ohio issues, the other major election event I was paying attention to was the Kentucky governor’s race, because my pal Drew Curtis — who I supported both as a friend and through campaign contributions — was running for the job as an independent. He didn’t win — he got 3.7% of the vote, but neither was he a spoiler for the other guy who lost, Democrat Jack Conway, who garnered 43.8% of the vote. Add up their totals and it’s still less than what Republican Matt Blevin ended up getting (Drew, I know, believes he drew votes off both of them, which, if true, makes him even less of a spoiler). I’m not especially impressed with Kentucky’s choice for Governor, as Blevin seems like a real piece of work. But he’s not my governor, thank goodness (mine is John Kasich, who wasn’t my first pick, to be clear, but is what passes for a moderate in the GOP these days, i.e., he’s not entirely divorced from reality — and his Democratic opponent in the election was a real fuck-up, so, uh, yeah).

In Ohio, roughly 3 million people voted, out of a voter base of about 7.8 million, so that’s about 39%, which is an average off-year turnout; for comparison, 70% of registered voters showed up in 2012, when we elected a president. It does make me wonder what the hell the people not voting every chance they get are thinking.

Generally speaking nationwide this particular election looks to have been good for conservatives/GOP and less so for Democrats/progressives, which is SOP for election days where there’s not someone running for president. Note to progressives and/or Democrats: Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, you should think of going out and voting every single election day. Try it! It’s kooky fun! Also — another wacky idea! — you might think about trying to actually build local and state organizations that aren’t fumbly and get walked over by the GOP machine on those levels. Rumor is, there is actual government and law going on at that level! And you can’t expect a Democrat to win the White House every single time. Just putting that out there for your consideration.

All that said, for me, in Ohio, this election day went pretty much exactly how I wanted it to. I can’t complain.

Kitten Update, 11/4/15

Because we all need more adorable in our life. 

Thing One.

Thing Two.

Thing One and Thing Two, posing as if for a formal portrait.

Thing Two meeting Lopsided Cat, very briefly. It went reasonably well. It may have helped that Lopsided Cat is still maybe a little stoned.

People have been asking if/suggesting that the names “Thing One” and “Thing Two” be made permanent. This will be up to Athena, who has been assigned the naming role. So far it does not appear she’s terribly enamored of the Thing One/Thing Two names, so we’ll see what she comes up with.

The other thing we learned, from the owner of the kittens’ mother: The kittens are eight weeks old. This is good, because they have fleas, and the flea treatment I have is not for kittens six weeks and below. We’ve been using a flea comb on both assiduously in the meantime and it seems to be doing the job. Largely keeping them in one part of the house (my office) also helps. No, I haven’t picked up any fleas. In any event, flea treatments for all the pets will happen in relatively short order.

The Big Idea: Jason Denzel

In this Big Idea piece for Mystic, author Jason Denzel is about to tell you more about martial arts origin stories than you probably already knew. But don’t worry, it’s going somewhere — specifically, it’s going to tell you how his novel came about.


The Big Idea behind my debut novel, Mystic, is lineages.

Let me explain.

I know kung-fu. Or, more accurately, I study and practice Chinese martial arts. I was fortunate enough in my adult life to come across a studio in my hometown that focuses on a traditional form of Choy Li Fut, a very traditional form kung-fu. One of the first things you do as a student at this studio is to learn the names of the past masters, and the origin story of the system. Here’s how the origin story goes:

In nineteenth century China, a kid named Chan Heung learned Shaolin-style kung-fu from his uncle, Chan Yuen-Woo. By age fifteen, Chan Heung could defeat anybody in his village or the the neighboring ones. When he turned seventeen, his uncle, who could teach him no more, sent him to learn from from his own former master, Li Yau-San.  Young Chan Heung spent four more years soaking it up, quickly learning everything Li Yau-San could throw at him.

Amazed at the prodigy on his hands, the master sent Chan Heun to his former master, a man named Choy Fook, but better known as the Scarred Monk. But there were a few problems with this: first, nobody knew exactly where this master, the Scarred Monk, lived. And on top of that, local legend claimed he no longer taught kung-fu, having given it up for a life of solitude and meditation. Well, as you can imagine, Chan Heung had all sorts of great adventures tracking down his third master, and when he finally did, he had to do all the crazy things to convince him that he was a worthy student.

He succeeded in the end, and later in life he returned home and merged all he had learned into a new system, which he named for his three masters: Choy Fook, Li Yau-San, and his uncle Chan Yuen-Woo. The system lives on today: Choy-Li-Fut.  (His uncle insisted he not use his name in labeling his new martial arts system. So instead, Chan Heung used the term “Fut”, which is an honorific term for the Buddha.)

Stories like this fascinate me. The origin of Wing Chun–the kung-fu style Bruce Lee learned–is another good one. It’s named for a woman who learned the arts from another woman in order to defend herself from an especially douchey warlord. Even the legendary founders of the original kung-fu… the masters from pre-recorded history… are said to have originated in India, where they lived as reclusive monks in caves and meditated until the knowledge just came to them. These masters supposedly walked off their mountains, saw a need for teaching people, and decided to share their wisdom of self defense. So today, thousands of years later, here I am learning those same lessons every Wednesday and Friday night at a studio at my local stip mall.

Mystic is my take on telling a story similar to Chan Heung’s, or Wing Chun’s. Specifically, it’s about a young girl who defies her family, her society, and her culture’s traditions, to seek out and attempt to become an apprentice to the High Mystic living in the nearby woods. The book contain some familiar tropes you might expect from an apprentice tale, but it also has plenty of incident and unexpected happenings. For the setting, I chose a fantasy world that mixes Celtic and Indian traditions because they represent an interesting balance of Western and Eastern mystical ideas.

To be clear: this isn’t a kung-fu novel. Pomella, the protagonist, couldn’t throw a punch to save her life. (In fact, there are a few instances in her story where she’d benefit from knowing how to toss a good jab.) In place of martial arts, Pomella is seeking to learn to use the Myst, a pervasive energy that exists in all times and places. It’s a little like the Force, if you know what I mean.

Even though Mystic is classified as epic fantasy, the scale is intentionally limited. There are no marching armies. The fate of the world is not at stake. Instead, this is about a young girl having the courage to follow her dream. It’s about her seeking the master her heart is calling for so that she can fulfill the potential she knows she contains. There are stakes and consequences, but this particular novel won’t threaten all of this fantasy world’s existence.

I believe stories like this are worth sharing. The ideas behind them are timeless in a way. You can be the judge of whether you think Mystic is worthy of inclusion in that category. It’ll be followed up by two sequels: Mystic Dragon, and Mystic Skies. Perhaps those later books will contain marching armies and grander stakes. But one thing I will guarantee is that the entire trilogy will be filled with holy mountains, powerful masters, eager apprentices, and… okay, fine… maybe just a little bit of good ol’ kung-fu action now and then.

The past masters would be proud.


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

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

In Other Cat News

Here’s Lopsided Cat in a cat carrier, looking very mellow. He looks mellow because he’s stoned. He’s stoned because he just overnighted at the vet’s, where we booked him a room after we found him in the garage covered in detritus and drool, limping and looking like he’d been in a hell of a fight. We were worried he might have had a broken leg; the vet was worried he might have a dislocated hip.

As it turns out, he was perfectly fine — at worst, a little muscle soreness. He was definitely in a fight of some sort, but there was no fight damage or puncture wounds; the drool was the worst of it. He was apparently aggressively gummed. Which I expect means he beat the crap out of some neighborhood dog who thought it might be funny to go after a cat. We’ll have to ask around.

Be that as it may, it was an anxious moment or two there. Happy to say Lopsided Cat is still a badass. And, at the moment, a badass who is just so damn high.

Kitten Update 11/3/15

They’re adorably all kittened out here, probably because earlier they had round two of their cat fight:

That leaves things all tied up. Will there be a tie-breaker? Stay tuned!


“The End of All Things” an Opening Round Nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards

In the science fiction category, which should be obvious, and kind of nice. It’s there along with other excellent books from fine authors, as you can see above. It’s always nice to be nominated for this particular award, and last year in this category my book Lock In came in second, rather distantly behind The Martian, which was having a great year (just like it is this year, too. It’s nice to be Andy Weir right about now).

As always, my suggestion to you when it comes to voting is: Vote for the book you like, in this and any other category. Additionally, with this particular award, if the book you like isn’t on this initial list of fifteen for this round, you can write it in. Write-in nominees have made the second around of this award before, so it’s worth making the effort if you are so moved.

Here’s the link to the science fiction category. Happy voting!

The Big Idea: Adam Christopher

Adam Christopher has written a novel called Made to Kill, which features a robot private investigator in an alternate noir Los Angeles. Yep, that’ll do. Here he is to talk about how it all came together.


Ideas, as they say, come easy. Big ideas, small ideas; ideas that stand on their own, ideas that need to coalesce with others to make something new. Sometimes ideas are obvious, sometimes they are not.

And sometimes an idea will come, not out of nowhere, exactly, but out of something else entirely.

Like the idea of a robot hit man, working in 1960s Hollywood. An idea that became my new novel, Made to Kill—in fact, the idea that spawned a whole trio of books, The LA Trilogy.

A couple of years ago, I sold a scary space opera called The Burning Dark to Tor Books, and as part of joining that fine stable of authors, I was sent a big questionnaire to answer. There were dozens of questions, but I only had to pick a handful, which would then go up on as a Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, introducing me as a new Tor author.

As I read through the questions, one in particular intrigued me:

If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a non-living author, who would it be? Why?

The answer was immediately obvious: Raymond Chandler’s long-lost science fiction novel.

Now, I’m a huge fan of Chandler. I love crime and mystery fiction, old and new, but I have a particular affinity for what might be called the golden age of popular fiction, a period roughly from the 1920s to the 1940s which saw the birth of superhero comics, classic pulp science fiction, and what we would recognize as the modern detective story. Incredibly, during this period’s peak, reading fiction magazines was the number one leisure activity among adults in the United States. Pulp magazines devoted to detective and science fiction sold in the millions, each and every month. And sure, while a lot of it was of, shall we say, dubious quality, they were imbued with a spirit of adventure and excitement and really wild things, and from the pulp magazines came many writers who would define entire genres: Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, HP Lovecraft, Dashiell Hammett—and Raymond Chandler.

Chandler himself hated science fiction. Hated it. In 1953 he wrote to his agent, complaining about this genre—lamenting the fact that “they pay brisk money for this crap?”—and launching into a 150-word pastiche involving Aldebaran III, pink pretzels, and, amazingly, what appears to be a computer called Google. Of course, it’s pure nonsense, a throwaway to prove his point, but it’s Raymond Chandler nonsense. Even here, there is that rhythm, the cadence he is famous for.

If his agent ever answered, the reply has never been published. But it gave me a fun idea—clearly, secretly, Chandler really loved sci-fi. He sent that letter to fish for interest from his agent, having written a series of novels set in the near-future and starring a robot detective. Then he had a change of heart, and burned the manuscripts, not realizing that his housekeeper had saved them from the grate.
Raymond Chandler and robots. Wouldn’t that be pretty neat?

My editor, Paul Stevens, certainly thought so. Maybe he was joking, but when he read my questionnaire answers, he suggested that I write that long-lost Chandler story. I took him up on the challenge, and in July 2014, published Brisk Money, a novelette with a title borrowed from Chandler’s 1953 letter, written in a hardboiled, first-person style. Honestly, I didn’t know writing could be that much fun.

But it was only while I was actually writing that novelette that I realized my little idea had turned into a big one. As the story progressed, it turned out—much to my own surprise—that the electronic hero of the story, Raymond Electromatic, wasn’t really a robot detective.

He was a robot assassin.

In Brisk Money, we discover that while Ray is programmed to be a private eye, his supercomputer controller, Ada, has another idea. Ada’s prime directive is to generate a profit… and she works out that Ray can use his skills more lucratively as a hit man than as a gumshoe.

Suddenly, I had a whole new world waiting to be explored. This was 60’s Los Angeles, but in a skewed version of reality where the robot revolution had come and gone a decade earlier—mostly because people didn’t like robots, and certainly didn’t like them taking their jobs. As the last robot left, Ray uses the Electromatic Detective Agency as a front to hide his real work, knocking off people for, as they say, brisk money.

Except his activities have not gone entirely unnoticed…

From nowhere, I had not just a novelette, I had a whole novel—no, I had three novels. Brisk Money posed so many questions—what happened to the other robots? Why was the robot program really cancelled? What else is different in this world? And who are the agents tracking Ray’s every move?

Those were questions I was just desperate to know the answers to—and so did my editor. Without quite realizing it, I’d written a novelette and I found myself with a whole trilogy of novels, the first of which is Made to Kill. From out of nowhere, I had two characters—Ray and Ada—who had suddenly come to life, characters I fell in love with and I just knew I had to write more about.

Writing is a strange business—you can plan, you can set goals, have ambitions, work hard to achieve them. And sometimes that hard work pays off in ways you just don’t expect.

Like when a fun, throwaway answer to a standard pop quiz questions turns into a whole new adventure and a whole new world.


Made to Kill: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|iBooks

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

Your Kitten Pictures, 11/2/15

Don’t say I never do anything for you. 

Thing One, among the cords (and yes, I’m actively discouraging chewing).

Thing Two, mid grooming.

The two both seem to be adjusting well to life at the Scalzi Compound. I’m happy to say that both also took to the litter box with alacrity, so that’s one less worry. The dog has met them from the other side of a baby gate and wants to snuffle the heck out of their little heads, which neither Thing One nor Thing Two seems particularly keen on at the moment. Neither Zeus nor Lopsided Cat has made their acquaintance yet. I figure that will come in the next couple of days, when one or both decides to come upstairs for whatever reason.

There is much scampering.

And yes, you will be getting a lot of kitten pictures in the foreseeable future, here and on Twitter (and on Facebook, if you’re following me there). Don’t act like you didn’t know this would happen.

No, the Kids Aren’t Reading the Classics and Why Would They

Writer Jason Sanford kicked a small hornet’s nest earlier today when he discussed “the fossilization of science fiction,” as he called it, and noted that today’s kids who are getting into science fiction are doing it without “Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and Tolkien.” This is apparently causing a moderate bit of angina in some quarters.

I think Sanford is almost entirely correct (the small quibble being that I suspect Tolkien is still common currency, thanks to recent films and video games), nor does this personally come as any particular shock. I wrote last year about the fact my daughter was notably resistant to Heinlein’s charms, not to mention the charms of other writers who I enjoyed when I was her age… thirty years ago. She has her own set of writers she loves and follows, as she should. As do all the kids her age who read.

The surprise to me is not that today’s kids have their own set of favorite authors, in genre and out of it; the surprise to me is honestly that anyone else is surprised by this. As a practical matter, classic science fiction isn’t selling where today’s kids are buying (or where they are being bought for), namely, in the YA section of the book store. See for yourself: Walk into your local bookstore, head to the YA racks and try to find a science fiction or fantasy-themed book that more than fifteen years old. It’ll be a rough assignment. YA has a high audience turnover rate — kids keep aging out of the demo, don’t you know — and the new kids want their own books. The older books you’ll see tend to be a) ones assigned by schools, b) ones that had movies made from them.

Mind you, generally speaking, book stores stock newer books anyway; book stores, like other entertainment venues, rely on novelty (which in our line of work is called “front list”) to get people through the doors. If you’re doing well as an author, some of your backlist is on the shelf, too. But the shelf in a physical bookstore is only so long. These days, being someone who has been in a lot of bookstores recently, I note the shelf in science fiction and fantasy is mostly skewed to living, working authors, most notably their last couple of books. Some classic (i.e., now dead) authors are there but usually represented by two or three books rather than an extensive backlist.

Which is as it should be. All love to Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, et al., but they’re dead now. They don’t need the money from readers; living authors do. Moreover, Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, et al have been dead on average two to three decades and their best known work is half a century old. No matter how brilliant they were or how foundational they were to the genre, they’re going to be dated. None of the futures of Heinlein , as just one example, resemble a future that begins from today; they branch off from the 50s or 60s. Readers (in general) don’t want to have to go backwards a half century in order to move forward again.

Certainly you can’t expect new readers to the genre, including young readers, to backshift several decades — or, well, you can, but it would have the same effect as suggesting to a teenager today that if they want to see a movie about people their age, they should watch The Blackboard Jungle. Sure, it’s fine movie, and an important one. It’s just not especially relevant to the teenager of today. It wasn’t made for them, in any event. It was made for their grandparents.

Again, I’m not sure why it comes as a surprise to anyone that people might want entertainment aimed at them, which includes entertainment written by living people with a sense of what’s going on in contemporary culture. Most people aren’t approaching the genre as a survey course. They’re approaching it to be amused. And if they are approaching is as a survey course, then the good news is that it’s not actually that hard to find many if not most of the classics. There is infinite shelf space online, and you don’t have to sell that many copies of an ebook to remain in print. It’s there if you want it.

But — again — it’s okay if you don’t. I don’t expect new readers of the genre today to read much Heinlein or Clarke or Asimov. 60 years from now, and presuming I’m dead, I don’t expect them to read much of me, or Al Reynolds or Ann Leckie, either (to name just two other contemporary SF writers). They’ll be reading their authors, mostly. I hope they’ll enjoy them.

Introducing the Newest Members of the Scalzi Clan

Please say hello to:

Thing One, and

Thing Two.

Note these are temporary names; at some point we will give them more formal titles.

The story here is that my mother-in-law’s neighbor has cats who had kittens, and I’d been wanting to get another cat since Ghlaghghee had passed on. Now that I’ll be home for the rest of the year it seemed a good time. We couldn’t decide between Thing One and Thing Two, so we took them both; as they are siblings we figure they can keep each other company. We think Thing One is a girl and Thing Two is a boy, but it’s hard to tell this young. We’ll find out. They are eating dry food and we’ll find out how housetrained they are; so far everything looks good. They are quarantined to my office until our first vet appointment. More news as events warrant.

In any event: Welcome, Thing One and Thing Two. Hope you like it here.

New Books and ARCs, 10/30/15

It’s the last book and ARC roundup for October, and this stack has at least a couple of surprising and unexpected titles in it. See anything you like? Let me know in the comments!

In Which We Debate One of the Great Issues of Our Time

This is from Nerdcon:Stories, in which we debate the Very Important Topic of which is the correct way to put on foot apparel: “Sock, sock, shoe, shoe” or “Sock, shoe, sock, shoe.” Pay attention: What you learn here could save your life.

The $50 Fire Tablet: First Impressions

In its continuing bid to attempt to take over the world so no one ever will buy anything from anyone but them, Amazon a couple of weeks ago released a $50, 7-inch Fire tablet, designed, one presumes, to entice the curious, the cheap and those on limited incomes. Well, it worked on me; I was curious what a $50 tablet from Amazon would be like, so I got one. It arrived while I was away, so it wasn’t until yesterday that I pulled it out from its packaging and played with it.

My initial impressions: For $50, I don’t think you can really complain. This is by no stretch of the imagination a top-of-the-line tablet — it’s plastic-y, the power buttons are a little wobbly, the screen is a you-notice-the-pixels 1024×600 (171 ppi), and there’s only 8GB of memory on the thing — but, again, it’s fifty bucks. It’s got roughly the same basic specs as the 7-inch Samsung tablet I bought in 2012, and I thought that was pretty cheap at $250. One fifth the price in three years for these specs? Seems pretty fair.

If you accept you’re not getting the top of the line, you can also accept that what it is, is fairly decent. The screen is not great resolution but it’s an IPS screen so the colors pop. The 8GB memory on board is nothing great but it has a microSD expansion slot so you can expand the memory on board up to an additional 128GB (which will cost you the same as the tablet). In my playing with it, it’s perfectly responsive and had no problems with Web sites, email, and casual games. It’s for casual consumption of stuff.

And specifically, stuff from Amazon. The OS is Amazon’s fork of Android, so if you know Android, you won’t get lost here. That said, everything about the Fire is channeling you through Amazon. The app store is Amazon’s app store; when you turn on the tablet it advertises things on Amazon to you (you can apparently pay extra to have that turned off); the screens on the tablet are organized to help you more efficiently consume Amazon product.

I don’t think this should be huge shock. To be blunt, if you buy a branded tablet from a ruthlessly competitive retailer like Amazon, you shouldn’t be entirely surprised that you get a locked-down Amazon-only experience. But it’s also fair to point out that’s what you get, and to ask yourself if that’s actually what you want.

I went in knowing this tablet would be all-Amazon, all the time, so it wasn’t a problem (I suppose I could root the thing, but, really, why). Indeed, one reason I got the thing is that I have an Amazon Prime account and having a Fire tablet, as I understand it, allows me to access some features I might not otherwise be able to. So as a Prime user, this is the cheapest way to do that.

Would I recommend a $50 Fire tablet? Not for anyone who isn’t idly curious and/or has more than $50 to spend and/or isn’t already tied into the Amazon ecosystem. There are better options, including ones that don’t lock you into Amazon’s OS, app store and retail experience. But for $50, and for folks whole hog into Amazon? Hey, you know, it’s pretty damn not bad. So far I’m pleased with what I got in exchange for my money, which, ultimately, is the key metric.

On the Occasion of Reaching 90,000 Twitter Followers

I noticed I was less than 30 followers away from 90K Twitter followers a little bit ago, and said if we reached 90K in 20 minutes I would murder an 80s song (in retrospect I should have murdered a 90s song, but, well, whatever). I had barely tweeted that when I crossed the 90k threshold. So, fine. Here you go: Me murdering an 80s song.

I will note that live, the original singer of this song couldn’t reliably hit that high note, either. Enjoy.

The Big Idea: Ellen Kushner

If you’re a fan of Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, then you’re going to be very happy with Tremontaine, a prequel serialized story that takes place in the same world, fifteen years earlier. Kushner, who is spearheading the novelization with co-writers Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Defner, Racheline Maltese and Patty Bryant, is here to talk about the world of her stories and everything that sprung up because of that world.


I did not intend to invent the “Fantasy of Manners.” I wasn’t even sure that  Swordspoint was fantasy.  I began my first novel in my 20s, when “fantasy” still meant either elegant little antique curiosities like Lud-in-the-Mist, or great big outdoor epics involving treks through forests, snow and maybe a big cave that imitated The Lord of the Rings. My friends and I devoured them all.

But great fantasy must tell a personal truth: that’s what gives it power.  Tolkien’s Mordor was forged by his time in the trenches of  the Somme, and his Shire by his rambles in the sweet English countryside.  In the 1980s, many of us aspiring fantasy writers lived in black leather jackets and blighted cities, paying low rent in formerly gorgeous housing now crummy, run down and cheap; architectural splendor still hanging by a thread, and keep your keys stuck between your knuckles when you walk home at night, in case anyone tries to mess with you.  We desired Middle Earth and Earthsea with a great desiring – but when we tried to write our own versions, it came up false. They were our dreams, but they’d been dreamt by someone else. That wasn’t our real world.

Our world had sweaty rock clubs, and the Pre-Raphaelite art revival, a poster in every dorm room.  It had Sarah Crewe in a garret telling stories to a starving servant girl, and pre-AIDS glamorous outlaw gay men; Richard Lester’s Beatles movies and his The Three Musketeers, and it had Oscar Wilde, and Georgette Heyer’s exquisite, hilarious social comedies set in her world of Edwardian-inflected
“Regency Romance” (famously called by Cynthia Heimel “Bertie Wooster for girls!”); it had those boon companions Rocky and Bullwinkle, Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin,  Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Butch and Sundance . . . and it had Angela Carter and Joanna Russ.

Put in a pot, heat, stir, type it up on fancy paper – and expect no one to buy your novel or understand why you’d written it.

I hedged Swordspoint ‘round with warnings that I was messing with tradition.  The fairy tale scene it opens with is a sham, concluding:

But there is no one behind the broken windows . . . No king rules them any more . . . And already this morning more than one drop of blood has been shed.

And then, just to be sure, I mocked my style before anyone else could do it, titling my book:  Swordspoint: a Melodrama of Manners.

I was afraid it really was a melodrama, see, or that it would be taken for one: that because I felt passionate about my characters and they felt passionate about everything – much as they try to hide it – and because my novel featured petty evil rather than grandeur, little human drawing room interactions instead of great outdoor battles, I had somehow gone over the edge of what was acceptable.  I was afraid the book wouldn’t sell.

And it didn’t, really. Many editors, both fantasy and mainstream, turned it down. When it was finally published by David Hartwell at Arbor House, it was a critical success; it got amazing blurbs like “it’s as if Noel Coward had written a vehicle for Errol Flynn” (Gene Wolfe), it inspired heated debate on whether a “fantasy” with no magic could be considered fantasy at all . . . Swordspoint slowly grew as an underground classic, but I doubt it ever made any publisher much money.

I wasn’t the only such writer of my generation. I just happened to be the first to publish in what soon became a little genre all its own, with books written by Steven Brust and Emma Bull, Farren Miller and Elizabeth Willey and many, many more. We didn’t agree to do this; it just happened.

In 1826, Sir Walter Scott – the huge romantic sword-swinging fantastical historical novelist of his day – wrote in his journal:

[Jane Austen] ha[s] a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting . . . is denied to me.

We had, without meaning to, turned our backs on the Big Bow-wow, in favor of a sort of Chamber Fantasy, set not in an imagined middle-ages of armor and great halls, but in later periods, where wit and manners made or broke someone’s fate. Maybe because we’d been socialized in the 60s, we were fascinated with how that strange and alien thing, propriety, was like magic: learn its rules, and you’ll succeed in the grown-up world; break them, and you’d better be better than everyone else, or have powerful allies!

In 1991, my colleague Donald G. Keller decided to write a critical piece about us.  Instead of the term he initially used, which I disliked, I suggested he call the style “fantasy of manners”–which, when his piece came out, some wags quickly nicknamed manner-punk.

Now, of course, “Fantasy of Manners” is a recognized genre, even though people may disagree on its precise definition – which shifts with the tides of new novels and new influences, as it should.

And this is where I admit that I neither know nor care what Category my work fits into.  To me, a novel is a novel, and marketing is marketing, and the twain shall inevitably meet, and it has to be called something.  Although I yearned not to be ghettoized with my first novel, I realize now that I was insanely lucky to be published in genre.  The mainstream readers I lost because my work has Fantasy Cooties are nothing compared to the ones who devour the Riverside world and have an endless appetite for more; who still argue about what makes it fantasy (“the flavor!” someone once explained), readers who make drawings and write fanfic and even cosplay my characters.

Which is why I think the world is ready for Tremontaine – and why there are enough other authors I respect to join me in writing about my Swordspoint world.

The world of fantasy readers continues to get bigger – and less fussy about labels.  Even mainstream kids now grew up on the magic of Harry Potter – and on endless remakes of Jane Austen.  The world is a lot safer for us fantasists of manners than it was when our works were originally created.  I believe the existing fans will love Tremontaine, and will glory, as I do, in the opening up of my world to some of the sharp, funny, wise and insightful younger voices writing today. But it’s just as exciting for me to think that the groundwork has been laid, and that Fantasy of Manners has finally come into its own.


Tremontaine: Amazon|iTunes|Kobo|Serial Box

Read or listen to an excerpt. Visit Ellen Kushner’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

On My Way Home

Soon I will be on an airplane heading back to home, and when I get there, that is it for the year. Which is to say, no other public events and (for the moment at least) no other planned business travel. This makes me slightly giggly. I hardly know what to do with myself! Maybe write? Maybe. It’s an idea I will have to ponder.

In any event — off to fling myself across the country. If I don’t check in here again today, see you all here tomorrow.

The Big Idea: Lila Bowen

The author of Wake of Vultures, Lila Bowen, does whatever the hell she wants (so does Delilah S. Dawson, who is Lila Bowen when she’s not being Delilah Dawson). And what the hell does she want to do now? Tell you her big idea for her book.


Did you ever see that episode of South Park in which Eric Cartman shouted, “WHATEVA. I’M AN OUT OF CONTROL TEEN. I DO WHAT I WANT!” while wearing a tube top on the Maury Povich show? That’s basically the Big Idea behind Wake of Vultures. Not just for the characters, though. For me, too. I spent most of my life pretending to be normal, playing it safe, and afraid to offend anyone, but this book demanded noncompliance.

See, I’ve always been the do-bee. The good girl. The Valedictorian. The polite, responsible kid who’s never smoked a cigarette. I’ve always wanted to do the right thing, to please the people in charge. That goes for writing, too. But Wake of Vultures taught me that you can still write a great book while taking enormous risks, having tons of fun, and shaking your butt in the face of the status quo.

The thing about publishing is that right up until your first book sells, you have enormous freedom. But once you’re under contract and making a career out of your writing, you’re expected to adhere to certain rules. Your books are edited and marketed and sometimes neutered to appeal to readers according to the current publishing climate, and your agent and editor are invested in your continued compliance. Suddenly, there are all these guidelines you have to follow—what genres are selling well, what’s good for your brand, what the reading populace will find pleasant.

And… blech.

So when I told my agent that I wanted to write a Weird West adventure with a half black, half native, cross-dressing, bisexual heroine, she had a lot of reservations.

Westerns aren’t selling. Paranormal isn’t selling. What genre is this? Is it YA or adult? Your main character has a lot going on and can be pretty rude. This reads like an episodic monster hunt. And did she really cut off that werewolf’s dong?


Wake of Vultures is the first book that I wrote knowing it probably wouldn’t sell. It’s the book that made me decide that if I was going to flip one table, I might as well flip ALL THE TABLES. It’s the only book for which I got the tattoo BEFORE the book sold.

That tattoo inspired the book cover, by the way.

It was exceptionally freeing and exciting, writing something that was actively discouraged. It felt less like an acquiescence and more like a dare. At any juncture where I stopped to consider, “Is this too much? Is this too weird? Will people get it? Will it sell?”, I went with my gut, muttering WHATEVA; I DO WHAT I WANT. And my freedom allowed my main character, Nettie Lonesome, to take risks, too. She doesn’t follow the rules, and she doesn’t care if people like her or not. She’s here to kill what needs to die, not get a gold star for manners.

I was recently at an industry event, and a bookseller asked me what Wake was about. I gave my biggest smile and my elevator pitch: It’s Lonesome Dove meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a biracial, genderqueer heroine. The bookseller made a face—a face suggesting she wanted to vomit—and walked away. And I shrugged and muttered that same refrain in my head: YOU DON’T LIKE IT? WHATEVA; I DO WHAT I WANT.

I believe in this story enough to offend people and risk failure, and that’s enormously empowering. If you recognize that the world is full of heroes who don’t fit into neat, normal little boxes, you’ll dig it. If you love Westerns but wish women in that era could be more than slaves and whores, you’ll dig it. If you’ve ever had someone look at you and tell you that you don’t deserve the destiny you crave because of what you look like or how you dress or who you love, and you’ve wanted to flip a table on them and ride off into the sunset, you’ll dig it. Wake of Vultures is all about bucking the binary.

That vomit-miming bookseller didn’t pick up a copy, but plenty of other people have. It has stars from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal, not to mention 4.5 stars and a Top Pick rating from RT Book Reviews. My editor and publishing team believe in it. And it’s currently being passed around the band Gangstagrass, the creative geniuses behind the Justified theme song and the playlist I listened to writing and revising.

I always tell my writing students at LitReactor that they need to learn the rules before they break them. I’m glad I finally found a story worthy of my rebellion.

My suggestion: Find something you love enough to risk breaking the rules. Do it, hard. Then shake your butt and shout WHATEVA; I DO WHAT I WANT. I tell you now: It feels damn good.


Wake of Vultures: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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


Here’s the Egregious, Mealy-Mouthed Clump of Bullshit That is the 2015 World Fantasy Convention Harassment Policy

It is thus, complete with shoddy copy editing (which I learned about via this tweet by Natalie Luhrs, and subsequently confirmed via two WFC members emailing me copies of the program they had been sent):

As a compare and contrast, here’s the New York City Comic Con policy on harassment, which for the last two years has been visibly and prominently featured on six foot-tall banners at the entrances of the Javits Center, among other places. Note well that NYCC exists in the same state as this year’s World Fantasy Convention, and is subject to the same state laws:

I am not a lawyer, but I expect that ReedPOP, the company that runs NYCC (among many other conventions around the US) has maybe a few lawyers on its staff. If NYCC is utterly and absolutely unafraid to promulgate a harassment policy even though there is a legal statute defining what harassment means in the state of New York, I expect it might have been possible for World Fantasy to have done likewise, if they chose to do so.

Now, over on the 2015 World Fantasy Convention Facebook page, there’s an argument that WFC calling something harassment that is not exactly in line with the legal statute exposes the convention to the risk of libel. One, see the NYCC policy above — either all these things are covered under the NY harassment statute, or NYCC/ReedPOP’s phalanx of lawyers determined that it’s actually okay for a private entity to state that for the purposes of their own private event, the definitions of harassment for that event are thus, and that those found violating those definitions would be tossed from the event, even if the legal standard of harassment was not met.

Two, if you’re absolutely paranoid that calling harassment harassment is libel if it does not meet a certain statutory bar? Then fucking call it something else. And indeed in its statement the WFC already does: “incorrect/uncivil behavior.” Dear World Fantasy Convention: if you cannot or will not create a harassment policy, why won’t you create an “incorrect/uncivil behavior policy?” That almost certainly will not leave you open to a libel lawsuit! And as a template, please see the NYCC policy above.

This also, incidentally, solves the appalling and utterly pathetic rationale the 2015 World Fantasy Convention gives for punting on having an actual and useful harassment policy, i.e., that the staff isn’t trained on recognizing the legal definition of harassment in the state of New York. Leaving aside the cogent point that the staff had most of a year to get up to speed on the matter, if they so chose, especially considering that they were apparently already consulting with the county district attorney and the local police on the harassment policy, if instead there’s an “incorrect/uncivil behavior” policy, the convention can define that behavior however it likes. It’s a private event which can define what it deems incorrect and/or uncivil behavior without referent to the legal statute on harassment. And it can very easily train its staff to recognize and act upon those examples of bad behavior, and it can likewise very easily communicate to convention goers what that inappropriate and uncivil behavior is.

Let’s call the World Fantasy Convention’s decision to hide behind the legal statute of harassment for what it is: Cowardly bullshit. The convention is abdicating its responsibility to provide a safe environment for convention-goers by asserting that it can’t do anything to deal with harassment unless and until it reaches a specific legal definition of harassment — which the convention doesn’t even bother to fucking cite in its material.

When your convention harassment policy boils down to “don’t bother us until you have to call the cops,” you have completely failed. The World Fantasy Convention should be embarrassed and ashamed to have let down its members this way. I’m not a member this year, but if I were, I would cancel my membership. I’d have no interest in attending a convention that decides the best course of action when it comes to the safety of its members is to punt.

(Update: Natalie Luhrs, whose tweet was the means by which I found about this, has thoughts on the matter here. She’s not happy either.)

(Update, 10/28: Via Jon Meltzer in the comments, WFC is attempting to improve its policy. Let’s see what it says when it’s finally published.)