John Scalzi, Award-Winning… Meteorologist?

No, I haven’t started a sideline business for when my writing career craters under me. There’s a John Scalzi (no relation, or at least no relation that doesn’t go back several generations), who works as a meteorologist for WWSB down in Sarasota, Florida, and he just won the “Best Weathercast” award from the Florida Associated Press Broadcasters. So that’s excellent for him! As I noted when I congratulated him on his Facebook fan page, the name “John Scalzi” always looks good on an award.

One day the two of us will meet and it will be confusing but fun for everyone involved.

In any event: Congratulations to John Scalzi, from John Scalzi.

 

A Series of Tweets Regarding My Own Personal Sexism

Apropos to a discussion on Twitter about this Slate article, a discussion of sexism, specifically, my own:

And then, the conversational addendums:

The Droid Maxx, Two Weeks In

I’m two weeks in to owning the Droid Maxx, and I gotta say that I love love love the thing, and the reason is almost entirely down to the battery life, which for me at least lives up to its advertised claim of lasting up to 48 hours. The acid test was me taking it to Emerald City Comicon and keeping it off a power tether from the moment I woke up until I put my head on the pillow. I simply never had to worry about how much battery life I had left. That’s literally the first time I could do that with a smart phone.

For those about to ask, I will note that I am not a “power” smartphone user, which is to say I don’t watch a lot of video or play many processor-intensive video games on it. I’m mostly text-based: I check Twitter and email, hit Facebook occasionally, cruise around the Web and read books, text every now and then and even (rarely) make a phone call. If I used the phone as a primary screen for Netflix and HBO Go, I could see possibly running out of juice at some point before midnight. But how I use the phone? Really, not a problem at all.

The phone is otherwise more than sufficient for what I use phones for — it pops up apps quickly, doesn’t get bogged down, processor-wise, and so far I haven’t once cursed at it, which may be a record for a smartphone. The screen is lovely (it’s not 1080p, which I understand some people hold against it, but it’s more than hi-def enough for me) and the no-touch commands Motorola and Google have baked into it work like a charm for me. My only real complaint is with the camera, which is inconsistent, particularly with auto-focus. But then I don’t think I’ve ever had a phone that has been more than barely adequate on that score, so I don’t really count it against it.

Also, while the five-inch screen is bright and lovely, I think I now know the maximum size I want my phone to be — I can only just get my thumb all the way across the screen while holding the phone with one hand. I can’t imagine wanting a larger phone. I mean, the thing is big enough as it is.

But really, again, for me what it comes down to is battery life, and this phone’s got it. Tons of it. Scads of it. The Droid Maxx is now my benchmark for that particular aspect of a smartphone. In the future, if a phone can’t match its battery longevity, I’m probably not going to get it. Likewise, if battery life is as much a consideration for you as it is for me, take a look at the Droid Maxx. So far, at least, I’ve been very happy with it.

The Big Idea: Geoff Rodkey

Some stories are easy. Others fight you, pretending to be one thing but then turning into something else entirely. Geoff Rodkey knows about the latter — for his Chronicles of Egg series, of which Blue Sea Burning is the final installment, he had to play his story like a marlin before reeling it in. Here he is to talk about how made it all work.

GEOFF RODKEY:

Crooked Pete was a pirate. And all the other pirates thought he was cursed, so they wouldn’t let him on board their ships.

In the end, the only job he could get was working as a waiter in a pirate-themed restaurant.

He didn’t like it much.

Then one day during the lunch shift, a lawyer came into the restaurant. He had a proposition for Pete, on behalf of a mysterious client…

Crooked Pete and his employment problems–not a Big Idea so much as a punch line–popped into my head one day for no apparent reason, and eventually became the inspiration for the Chronicles of Egg trilogy, the final volume of which, Blue Sea Burning, came out this week.

But while the series is full of a lot of things–adventure, comedy, mystery, romance, political intrigue, and a whole lot of mutilated pirates–one thing it DOESN’T have is a character named Crooked Pete.

Or a pirate-themed restaurant.

Or even a lawyer. (No, wait…there’s one lawyer. But it’s a different lawyer.)

Because in the two years I spent thinking about the story before I started writing it, all of those things fell away. As a character, Crooked Pete turned out to be a dead end. The island full of rival pirate crews who’d blacklisted him became too realistic (and economically primitive) to accommodate a restaurant, let alone a pirate-themed one.

And the mysterious client, who I’d initially envisioned as an obnoxious 13-year-old rich kid with a family that had recently disappeared under suspicious circumstances, leaving him in sole control of their island plantation and possessed of a manic grandiosity that led him to hire Crooked Pete as muscle in a clumsy attempt to intimidate people…well, at first, I thought that kid was going to be the main character.

But he was kind of an asshole.

So he became a hapless, dirt-poor kid with the unfortunate name of Egg, who bears no resemblance to the original rich kid except in his core predicament: that his family’s accidental disappearance was no accident…and the sinister forces behind it are plotting to kill him next, even though he has no idea why.

In the end, almost nothing survived of my original idea except the setting, the tone, and the intent: to write the kind of funny/thrilling/emotionally resonant story I wanted to read.

(The fact that The Chronicles of Egg wound up being marketed as middle grade seems to indicate that I have the literary taste of a sixth grader. I’m not sure what to say about that, except possibly “sixth graders have awesome taste.”)

In my experience, which includes film and TV as well as books, the best stories are often like this–whether they’re the product of a Big Idea or not, the end result can look very different from its original inspiration.

You start out with one thing. And it seems kind of cool, but it doesn’t quite work, or it’s too slender to support a story. And if you try to write it, it falls over dead.

So you put it aside. But there’s a core element that’s compelling enough that you can’t let it go. It keeps percolating in your mind, sometimes for years, slowly morphing into something that’s unrecognizable except for some basic DNA it shares with the original thing that inspired you.

And one day, something clicks, and you can finally start writing it.

This was true not just of the Egg books, but of the first screenplay I ever sold. It started out as an idea for a novel about a small-town English teacher in Indiana who gets put on trial, Socrates-style, for corrupting the young.

By the time I sold it as a screenplay five years later, it had become a story about a shady sports agent who arrives in a small town in Texas to recruit the high school’s star quarterback and, in a convoluted turn of events, winds up coaching the football team, loses the big game, and gets hung under the goal posts by an angry mob.

Which had nothing in common with the original idea except the arrival of a stranger in a small town who, by the end of Act Three, finds himself hanging from a rope. But it was a fun script. (The townspeople cut him down before he actually dies; it was a dark comedy, but it wasn’t THAT dark.)

Unfortunately, since it’s currently buried in the underground facility in the San Fernando Valley where Universal Pictures stores all their unproduced screenplays, nobody can read it.

But that’s not true of the Egg books! Now that Blue Sea Burning is out, all three of them are available. If you want to check them out, it’s best to start at the beginning, with Deadweather and Sunrise (here’s an excerpt, to catch you up).

It’s a fun read, even if it doesn’t actually contain a disgruntled pirate waiting tables in a pirate-themed restaurant.

—-

Blue Sea Burning: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

And Now, For No Particular Reason, a List of My Top Ten Favorite Coen Brothers Films

Because why not. Note I use the word “favorite,” not the word “best,” although I would argue for the movie in my number one position being, if not the best, at least in the top three.

1. Miller’s Crossing

2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

3. Intolerable Cruelty

4. Raising Arizona

5. Barton Fink

6. The Hudsucker Proxy

7. Fargo

8. The Big Lebowski

9. True Grit

10. Burn After Reading

For those wondering what’s at the bottom: The Ladykillers. 

Discuss.

The Big Idea: Robin Riopelle

Our pasts shape us, build us and sometimes haunt us. So when part of our past is obscured from us, it creates a tension in our lives — the sort of tension that can, naturally enough, make for great stories. Robin Riopelle’s novel Deadroads looks at pasts, hidden and otherwise; Riopelle’s here to explain how they matter to her tale.

ROBIN RIOPELLE:

The Department of Motor Vehicles clerk was very helpful. “Would she have changed her name?” she asked me, peering at her computer screen. I nodded dumbly, elated and terrified.

I had been searching for years. My parents had given me my original paperwork; I had been Robin Riopelle for my first five days. I’d plied with wine the lawyer who had handled my adoption and he’d let slip my birth mother’s name. Deep in the stacks of the Toronto Reference Library, I had meticulously sifted through city directories, tracing her easily until 1983. Then, she’d vanished.

“She’s got a rural address now,” the clerk continued. “Here you go!” She tore the sheet of paper from the dot-matrix printer, and passed it over the partition. “Anything else I can do for you?”

I held the key to my past in my hand. Now what?

A character in my novel Deadroads faces the same dilemma, albeit via a demon rather than a nice smiley clerk at a government office. For that character, and for me, for anyone trying to make contact with their past, comes the moment of decision: Do I follow through? What the hell happens if I reach out into this unknown?

Reconciling the past with the present—or being unable to do it—is at the heart of a lot of fiction, my own included. Deadroads finds siblings reluctantly reuniting after a lengthy and possibly supernatural separation. I took that step into the unknown. I have now been in contact with my birth family for more than 20 years. I know how weird and wonderful—and awful and ferocious—getting in touch with the past can be.

Writer William Faulkner famously claimed, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Almost all of us consider this big idea at some time or another. Our self-identity depends so much on what we know about our past, and when the story is muddy or missing bits, well—it’s the stuff of myth and legend.

Adoption in Euro-cultural fiction usually results in one of three outcomes: the happy adoption of an orphan; an unhappy reunion with a birth family; or a happy reunion, usually after the adoptive parents have conveniently expired. Rarely does the tale end with the adoptee having it all, with two sets of functioning parents.

Take the Old Testament hero, Moses. Set adrift in a basket, scooped up by a fetching Egyptian princess, raised as a pharaoh’s son. Moses is an adoptee who chooses birth family over adoptive family. There’s lambs’ blood on lintels and rains of frogs and a final, brutal, parting of seas.

If I gave you 30 seconds, you could probably come up with a healthy list of orphans/bastards/adoptees in Western pop culture: the “bad seed” or conversely, the “chosen one”—heroes and villains raised by people who aren’t their “true” parents, growing into their inevitable “destiny”. A cage match between biology and upbringing.

Some are stupendously messed up by separation and reunion such as the Greek king Oedipus, who unwittingly kills his birth father and marries his birth mother (yikes). For other characters, like Oliver Twist, adoption provides the double-rainbow happy ending. I swear to god, Charles Dickens is responsible for an entire orphanage of displaced literary children.

Some characters overcome murky starts to embrace their destiny, such as Luke Skywalker and sister Leia (complete with icky “romance”, which is an entire sub-genre for both tabloids and adoption researchers). I haven’t read ahead in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, so don’t spoil me, but I’m betting Jon Snow’s mother isn’t exactly a nobody. Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora is another puzzle, stymied by what he doesn’t know about his past.

In most of these cases, separation, discovery, and reunion drive the story, but there’s one striking similarity: The two sets of parents, birth and adoptive, rarely meet, and the adoptee doesn’t integrate them, either by choice or circumstance. Moses parts that sea, and doesn’t look back.

My experience tells me something else is more emotionally true: we are a fantastic mix of biology and circumstance, and we make our own destiny when we reconcile our divergent pasts.

In Deadroads, a sister reunites with her long-estranged family. It’s not easy for anyone. She doesn’t fit in. She’s grown up with a different worldview. There are ghosts, and disagreements about the best ways to deal with them.

Ghosts are nice, easy shorthand for “the past”. They are the chewy center of the unfinished business chocolate. Deadroads is full of them. The ghosts and demons haunting the now-grown children are an inheritance, the awful unclaimed baggage of parental misadventures. The problem of how to cope with this inheritance is what fuels the story.

As the characters in Deadroads struggle with both literal and figurative ghosts, they finally acknowledge that the past exists hand-in-hand with the present. When people ask me if I think adoption reunions are a good idea, I can only tell them what I know to be true for myself: by knowing both my families, I know myself better.

It’s what many literary heroes want, when you boil it right down: to discover who they truly are, and to know their place in the world.

—-

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

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

Twitter Thoughts, April 2014

I see a lot of people obsessing about Twitter these days, with particular emphasis on who one should follow, or not follow, and why. Occasionally these conversations touch on me, sometimes as an positive example, and sometimes not (such as the random person purporting to be a writer attempting to lecture me on not following everyone who follows me — he’s been blocked, because, really, fuck off, dude). So I thought it might be useful to offer up a few thoughts on how I use Twitter these days, and why.

Obvious note: This is what works for me, and may not work for you, etc, blah blah blah. As a general rule, please note that anyone who tells you that you are doing Twitter wrong is probably an asshole who you can ignore (exception: When you use Twitter specifically to troll and attack people. It is almost always you who are the asshole then, and you should probably fall down some stairs).

The salient rule for Twitter and any other social media is: Are you using it in a way that you enjoy and makes you happy? If the answer is “yes,” then keep doing it that way.

Now, then:

I use Twitter largely for three purposes, and they are, in roughly descending order of importance: to keep up with friends, to blather in short form about topics which interest and/or amuse me, and to inform both fans and overly-committed haters what I am up to, careerwise.

Although I use Twitter to keep up with friends, I am well aware that the vast majority of people who follow me are people who I don’t know, and who follow me because they are fans/interested in my work/decided I was amusing on Twitter — in other words, that for the majority of people who follow me, I am entertainment, to a greater or lesser degree (my friends may also be entertained by me, but that’s secondary).

This does have some bearing on my Twitter presence, and is also of value to me as someone who is in fact a professional entertainer of the writing sort. My twitter presence is largely a public-oriented performance; save when I am talking to a friend through a direct message, I am always aware there is an audience for my tweets, regardless of who I am speaking to and what I am saying. I suspect many of the people with whom I regularly chat on Twitter are also aware of this “public performance” aspect.

Does this make our Twitter chatting “inauthentic”? I don’t think so; it merely means we’re aware we’re in public and that when we’re having a conversation on Twitter, that people are listening in over our shoulders — and will feel free to comment or repeat what we’ve said to others.

As a result, when I am on Twitter, I do what I do here on the blog, which is to be “personable but not personal” — I have a voice that is familiar and friendly, and will share stuff I deem to be amusing or pertinent, but I will rarely if ever share anything from the sphere of topics I deem to be too personal. I don’t share everything, and have no interest in sharing everything — not everything needs to be shared to or known by people who I don’t, in fact, have any relationship other than that I exist as entertainment for them.

For all that I am aware of the public nature of my Twitter feed, and that for the large percentage of my followers I exist as entertainment, I don’t generally go out of my way to strategize the commercial application of my Twitter feed as a writer, i.e., how to convert every single follower into a paying customer of my books or whatever. The reasons for this are simple. One, that sort of thing bores the shit out of me. I have things I want to do with my life, but obsessing whether my Twitter feed is selling my work is not really one of them. Two, overthinking that sort of thing makes one’s Twitter feed boring, because you’re not doing it to enjoy it, you’re doing it to manipulate people. Three, I think a lot of the people who do spend too much of their time worrying about how their Twitter feed is working for them give off an unpleasant, metallic whiff of desperation, and why would I want to be or do that?

This is why the jerk who tried to upbraid me for not following everyone who follows me found his way into my block queue: What he was saying was YOU ARE NOT OPTIMIZING YOUR TWITTER FEED TO MAKE EVERYONE ON IT MARGINALLY FEEL MORE SPECIAL AND THUS MORE LIKELY TO BUY YOUR THINGS HOW DARE YOU SIR. And well, you know. That’s not how I use Twitter, nor is it how I want to use Twitter. My career has gotten along fine without having HOW WILL THIS MAKE YOU WANT TO BUY ALL MY THINGS as the guiding principle for every single human interaction I have, online or off. Seeing every other human being as a mark is no way to go through life. It’s tiring, it’s insulting, and it’s no fun on either side of that exchange.

In terms of who I follow on Twitter, it susses out something like this: People I know in the real world as friends or colleagues (I’d say about 90% of my follow list), friends of friends who I find to be particularly clever, who I (happily) then often later get to know in real life (about 8% or so), and the occasional person who I don’t know but of whom I am a fan of their work (the remainder).

Note that the vast majority of people I follow are people I actually know. That’s a personal choice; I’m interested in the goings-on of people who are friends. One reason for that is that my friends tend to be far-flung — or more accurately, as I live in rural Ohio, I am far flung from them. Another reason is that my friends are entertaining and I like playing with them on Twitter. A third reason is that while I have my own (small) list of people I follow because I am a fan, at the end of the day my primary interest is the people I know and care about because of my personal history with them.

(Now, as it happens, because of who I am and the circles in which I run, some of the people I am friends with happen to be notable to one degree or another, particularly in geek fields. However, I don’t follow them on Twitter because they are notable. I follow them because they are my friends. It’s a difference which may mean little, looking in from the outside, but means a fair bit from the inside.)

It’s theoretically possible for me to follow everyone who follows me, but then I would have a Twitter feed that that would be useless for what I want it to do, which is to keep me up to date with my friends and what they are doing. There are 319 people on my follow list now, and I have a hard time keeping up with all of them as it is. Moreover, and this sounds a little mean, but come on, we’re grownups here, just because someone is interested in following me on Twitter doesn’t mean I’ll be interested in following them. Because I usually don’t know them, nor am I a fan of them or their work. It doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful, interesting people with cool lives, etc. But I don’t know them, see. And that matters to me for my follow list.

This doesn’t mean I don’t interact with the people who follow me, or who directly address me on Twitter. I do a lot of both as people either respond to what I’ve written or want to ask me something. It’s fun and part of Twitter’s conversational style. But I think that’s to the point, here — you don’t need to follow someone to talk to them on Twitter. You just ping a comment to their handle. Follow who you want to; don’t follow the people you don’t. Simple enough.

On the flip side of following, there are the people I block or mute (“mute” being a function where they are not barred from following you or even responding to you, but you don’t see what they’re saying). I block real people rarely (as opposed to spambots, which I block all the time), but I do block, because some people are real shitheads and I don’t mind letting them know I think so.

I mostly mute people, because it’s quieter (people don’t know that they’re being muted) and because it’s flexible — the Twitter client I use, Janetter, allows you to mute people for times ranging from 30 minutes to forever. That’s useful when I post something contentious and someone follows up with something I find dumb; I (usually) put them in the timeout box for a day rather than snark at them, and the next time they comment to me, I’ve forgotten they annoyed me, which benefits both of us. There are some people I’ve permanently muted; I don’t miss them.

Muting is useful not only for people who annoy me, but for people I genuinely like but who are on a momentary hobby horse I don’t want cluttering up my follow feed. When that happens I’ll mute them for an hour or three while they rant and then later they are back to their usual selves. Or when two friends are being contentious to each other, I’ll sometimes mute them both for an hour, because watching my friends argue all over my Twitter feed is awkward. Muting them while they argue is the Twitter equivalent of seeing friends argue at a party and deciding to go into the next room and chat with other people, who are currently not arguing.

(Do people who follow me mute me? Oh, probably. I can be annoying on Twitter from time to time.)

As much time as I spend on Twitter, there’s no way for me to respond to everything, either on my Twitter feed or when people tweet at me. I can’t imagine how my friends who have substantially more followers than I manage it.

Twitter is a fast-moving stream, basically. I enjoy it — a lot — but I also know there’s only so much I can do with it. So I do with it what I enjoy, and which makes me happy. You should do the same, however that is for you. Again: Simple enough.

The Big Idea: Emily Jiang

I don’t often get a chance to do a picture book on the Big Idea, so I’m pleased that one of the rare examples happens to be by a friend of mine, Emily Jiang, who wrote Summoning the Phoenix, illustrated by April Chu. The book received a coveted starred review by Kirkus (“[an] informative and gracefully illustrated twin debut.”] and covers an unusual topic (for here in the US, anyway): Chinese music instruments. How does one make this subject sing? Jiang is here to tell you.

EMILY JIANG:

I had always envisioned my first published book to be a novel, not a picture book. Writing a good picture book is difficult because of the need for economy of prose, the craft in conveying a ton of information in very few words. Plus, I’d been immersed in writing and rewriting young adult novels after graduating with my MFA in Creative Writing. I was certain something was going to happen with the novels, but somehow the picture book Summoning the Phoenix just caught fire.

The spark for Summoning the Phoenix came from researching and building my magic system for my YA fantasy novel, for which I had started world building a few years ago when I was in grad school. High fantasy is one of my favorite genres, yet as a reader I was over-saturated by fantasy worlds that were set in an alternate medieval Europe. I wanted to create a ancient alternate fantasy world that was All-Asian-All-the-Time, and I wanted my magic to have a uniquely Asian logic to it. Yet as an English major, my knowledge of European culture and history vastly exceeded my knowledge of Asian culture and history. So I researched.

My world building consultant and confidant in grad school was a renegade Buddhist nun who is the most unlikely nun anyone will ever meet. Instead of projecting a calm, pious aura, she is bubbly, irreverent, and sassy, always ready for a good laugh. Plus, she loves young adult fantasy, especially Harry Potter, both the books and the movies.

It was my renegade Buddhist nun friend who helped pick apart my magic system that I had designed to be All-Asian-All-the-Time. When I informed her that magic in my world would be based on Asian medical concepts and incorporating ideas like qi, or life force, and acupuncture points, she remarked that it sounded similar to Naruto, a popular manga and anime series. No, I replied, not bothering to let her know that I had never seen or read Naruto. My magic system was different and better because it would also incorporate the Asian elements layered on top of qi and acupuncture points. That’s when my unlikely nun friend started laughing, stopping only to tell me that now my world sounded like a cross between Naruto and Avatar the Last Airbender, the television series, not the movie.

She insisted I watch those shows, and I did, reluctantly, only to discover that she was right. My magic system was eerily similar to those found in Naruto and in Avatar the Last Airbender. It’s always a mildly horrifying experience to realize that you’re being derivative without even knowing that you’re being derivative. Or, to be more accurate, I was somehow in synch with other creative worldbuilders, but because my stories weren’t published yet, I needed to revise my All-Asian-All-the-Time magic system so it wouldn’t seem derivative. After a lengthy brainstorm, I decided that I would add a musical aspect to it. Some of my favorite genre novels featured musicians: Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, Archangel by Sharon Shinn, and most recently Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Why not create magical musicians who were All-Asian-All-the-Time?

There was one problem. While I am a classically trained pianist and singer, my education was all Western music. A few years ago, I had very little actual knowledge about Asian music beyond the 1960s Tawianese pop music my parents loved to listen to while cleaning the house. A few years ago, I couldn’t name any of the traditional Asian musical instruments. So I researched.

During my research, I chose to focus on musical instruments from China because it would more directly reflect my cultural heritage. After reading books and countless articles, I gained a sense that perhaps traditional Chinese music was not considered as good as classical European music. I found this quite ridiculous, since Chinese music has a tradition of thousands of years compared to European music, which was only a few hundred years old. After acquiring all this interesting knowledge about Chinese musical instruments, I wanted to share what I’ve learned, to celebrate the creation of traditional music from China. Driven by this enthusiasm, I pitched this idea to an editor, who, coincidentally, had always wanted to publish a picture book about Chinese music.

It was not an easy path. I had to continue to research, rewrite, and revise my manuscript at least six or seven times before my editor gave me a contract to sign. Even after an illustrator was brought on board, I was still refining my words of the picture book until Summoning the Phoenix was ready to go to print. In the end, it was worth the work.

Now that my picture book is finally published, it’s time for me to return to writing novels, especially adventures of magical musicians in my YA fantasy world that’s All-Asian-All-the-Time.

And that’s Two Big Ideas for the price of one!

—-

Summoning the Phoenix: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound

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

This is No Way to Run For Congress, Matthew Guyette

The good news is that John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives and my congressional representative, has a Democratic opponent this year: A fellow by the name of Matthew Guyette. This is good news in that last election cycle Boehner ran unopposed, and generally speaking democracies are healthier when their elections are contested. Whether one intends to vote for Guyette or not, having a choice for one’s vote is a good thing.

The bad news is that at this point, it appears that the way Matthew Guyette is planning to run for the position of the Ohio District 8 Representative to the United States Congress is to put up a Facebook page and fill it with a bunch of snarky memes dedicated to the proposition that Republicans generally and Boehner in particular are, like, bad, and you should totally hate them. In other words, a page largely indistinguishable from umpteen million other snarky liberal and/or Democratic pages on Facebook.

What I can’t find on Guyette’s Facebook page: Any real information on who he is or any useful, detailed articulation of what his political positions are and how he plans to implement them if he gets to DC, or why he, in particular, deserves my vote over Boehner this November. The best I get is a sentence or two at the top of the various links and memes, most of which do not offer any substantive food for thought. Beyond that: Nothing useful.

So I thought, well, maybe all that is on Guyette’s Web site. I scrolled back to the top of the page, looking for the official “Guyette for Congress” Web site link. And didn’t find it. Fine, okay, I went looking for it on Google — which is already, incidentally, more than most people in this same situation would do — and came up with nothing. What I get is the Facebook page. I will note that at the top of the Facebook page there’s a link to an ActBlue page to collect contributions, but that ActBlue page is almost devoid of any information about Guyette beyond the “I am running against Boehner! Send me money!” sort. ActBlue has a $30K goal for Guyette; as of me writing this, he’s at $484.

And no, I didn’t donate. Why? Because, for starters, I know nothing about this dude, nor is he making it easy for me to learn anything. Facebook pages filled with memes, snark and links are not a substitute for a serious campaign Web site with serious and useful information for voters. Look, I’m deeply unlikely to vote for Boehner, this year or any other. But I’m not going to vote for Guyette — or anyone, for that matter — just because he’s running on the “I’m not Boehner” platform. You know what? I’m not Boehner, either. Not being Boehner is not that special. You have to give me something more. I’m perfectly happy not to vote for a Democratic contender for OH-8 if I don’t think he or she is worth my vote. Maybe Guyette is, but I don’t know. He’s not telling me.

Boehner, incidentally? Very nicely put together campaign Web site, with all sorts of details on his positions, what he’s doing, who he is and his engagement with his district. His facebook page? About his accomplishments and positions, not so much with the snark and memes. And, it has a link to his campaign site right where I can find it. If I was voting strictly on coherent social media messaging, this race would already be over, and Boehner would get the vote.

Mind you, this is part and parcel with how the Democratic party does things around here in OH-8. Boehner is basically unassailable in the seat until or unless he decides to retire and so the Democrats don’t appear to want to make that much of an effort. On one hand, this is understandable — why throw money and effort into a race you’re simply never going to win? — but on the other hand, come on, guys, throw me a bone, here. At least make me feel like if Boehner got hit by a truck and the Democrat was then the only living candidate in the race, that I could feel like whoever was running would do a better job in the role than Boehner’s flattened corpse. There’s more to being a Representative than being against one’s opponent. In Guyette’s case, I have no idea what more he brings to it.

So: Convince me, Mr. Guyette. Because otherwise, while Boehner won’t get my vote, you won’t get it either. You can start with a site — a real one, away from Facebook — that actually tells me what you are for, not merely who you are against.

Update 5:45pm: Commenter John Mark Ockerbloom notes another Democratic contender in OH-8, Tom Poetter. And look! He has a Web site with information about him and his positions! It’s just that easy!

The Big Idea: Katherine Addison

The worlds of fantasy offer up ample space for the imagination to play… but do they also and simultaneously constrict those same imaginations? Author Katherine Addison fears they might, and when it came to her novel The Goblin Emperor, Addison decided on a new world with a difference. She’s here to explain how, and why.

KATHERINE ADDISON:

By the time you finish writing a novel, it’s frequently somewhere between difficult and impossible to remember how you started, but in the case of The Goblin Emperor, I remember exactly: I wanted to write a story with both elves and airships. Because there was no reason I couldn’t, and it seemed like an awesome idea.

Once I’d thought of airships, it was inevitable that I would think of the Hindenburg. Although I love and write science fiction and fantasy–and don’t want to stop!–down at the bottom of my heart, in the darkness among the spiders and ghouls, I’m a horror writer. I tend to be interested in how things go wrong, and I’m drawn to catastrophe.

Everything else in the book came from that first decision to combine elves and airships and catastrophe and trying to think through the ramifications of each subsequent domino as it tipped to knock the domino behind it. As a part of this process, I found myself thinking a lot about science and technology and the conflicted relationship epic fantasy has with both of them.

By “epic fantasy,” I mean what Tolkien called “secondary-world fantasy” (which is a better name, but much more awkward): fantasies that take place entirely in made-up worlds with no reference to the real world at all. Tolkien himself is a prime example, and the genre continues to thrive. To give you some living practitioners, just off the top of my head: Kate Elliott, David Anthony Durham, Martha Wells, Scott Lynch, N. K. Jemisin, Laurie Marks, Ellen Kushner, Saladin Ahmed.

I love this genre and have since I was very small, but I do find its attitude towards science and technology frustrating. Somewhere along the line, we got it into our heads that any society with magic would, for some reason, stop advancing somewhere shy of the Industrial Revolution. The implicit (or explicit) assumption often seems to be that magic trumps gunpowder, like some weird game of Rock Paper Scissors. Or there’s been some sort of giant mysterious cataclysm that destroyed all the technology and (apparently) made everybody stupid. And we’ve all been brainwashed by Tolkien into believing that only evil people have (or want) technological advancements past the Spinning Jenny, and that a nostalgic pastoral technology-rejecting Arcadia is obviously better than, oh, I dunno, flush toilets. Or flashlights. Or fire alarms.

So we end up, most often, in some stagnated Hollywood version of “The Dark Ages” with castles and people in robes and no interest in science–because magic!–and the most technology you’ll see is maybe a catapult. Diana Wynne Jones’ brilliant Tough Guide to Fantasyland skewers this cobbled-together mess of assumptions and lazy thinking like it was a shish-kebab. The very fact that she could do so tells you just how codified this generic fantasy setting has become and how many writers use it.

The thing is, this set of assumptions and valuations becomes a cage. So even if you’re trying to write a society that has both magic and technology, it can be really hard to remember that the cage door isn’t actually closed. I had to keep reminding myself as I was writing The Goblin Emperor that technological progress is not bad, that scientific inquiry is awesome, that I wasn’t violating any genuine taboos by having steamships and factories and astronomers and clockmakers and gas lamps. And the enormous steam-powered drawbridge that the characters spend the whole book arguing about.

I don’t deny the appeal of a pastoral world, one without air-pollution or global warming or oil spills, and I think fantasy does provide a much-needed outlet for that craving of the imagination. I don’t want to do away with that. But fantasy can do so much more. There are so many other ways to imagine our relationship with scientific and technological progress than this Manichean either-or we’ve saddled ourselves with. I would love to see fantasy, as a genre, explore that, instead of cowering in the cage we’ve built ourselves, as it gets smaller and smaller every year.

As well as being a wicked satirist, Diana Wynne Jones was a brilliant fantasist (a propos of this discussion, I believe she was the author who introduced me to the radical idea that you could have magic and trains in the same world). In her short story, “The Sage of Theare,” set in a world hemmed about with rules and restrictions and lists, the anarchic Sage of Dissolution chalks this slogan on a wall: “IF RULES MAKE A FRAMEWORK FOR THE MIND TO CLIMB ABOUT IN, WHY SHOULD THE MIND NOT CLIMB RIGHT OUT, SAYS THE SAGE OF DISSOLUTION.”

Fundamentally, that’s what I want to say. These unwritten rules are a cage, and there is no reason we should not climb right out.

And that’s my Big Idea.

—-

The Goblin Emperor: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Three Things on a Monday Morning

They are:

1. I’m traveling back home today, so once again don’t expect too much here. Don’t worry, you’ll get a full blast tomorrow, even if I don’t in fact get bored and write a post on the plane. Seattle was lovely; Emerald City Comicon was a blast.

2. Today is the VERY LAST DAY to nominate for the Hugos, so if you have not done so (and can), now’s the time to do it. You have until 11:59pm Pacific time. Get to it, folks.

3. Tomorrow will be the last day to get the latest edition of the Humble e-Book Bundle, the drm-free set of excellent science fiction and fantasy works which includes “The God Engines,” i.e., “The Most Cheerful Thing John Scalzi’s Ever Written” (note for the sarcasm-impaired: It’s not actually cheerful at all, quite the opposite in fact). Remember that you can name your price and that a portion of the proceeds go to charity. Can’t lose on this one.

Have an excellent Monday, folks.

 

Reminder to Emerald City Comicon Attendees: Reading/Q&A Today, 5pm

It’ll be in room 3AB, which I’m told seats about 350, so there should be pleeeenty of room. Please come by and do your best to fill it up. To entice you, I will be reading from Lock In, my upcoming novel. Yes! Get a sneak preview before nearly every other human on the planet! And then will be answering whatever questions folks can think up. It’ll be fun. And the rest of the day I will (mostly) be at my table, TCC Level 3, Table JJ-23. Bring your books from home or get new books from the University Bookstore, which has set up shop in room 309. I will sign them all.

An update for everyone else: Emerald City Comicon has been lovely and crowded so far (I expect today will be even more crowded), and I’m having a pretty good time. I’ve managed to get away from the Convention Center a couple of times and see the city with friends, so that’s been a good thing, too — Seattle is a great city, even when it rains. And some of my favorite people are at ECCC this year, so that’s been making it even better. So, generally, a good time. The only drawback is my body is still on east coast time, which means that by 10pm I turn into a pumpkin. I’m sure that will fix itself just in time for me to go home on Monday.

The Big Idea: Elle Cosimano

13424949823_462cc3db3c_z

 What’s in a name? If you’re author Elle Cosimano, it turns out quite a lot. The name of her protagonist in Nearly Gone was a key to unlocking the character — and the novel itself.

ELLE COSIMANO:

I don’t really feel like I know my characters until I know their names. The early stages of writing a book often feel like walking through a crowd at a party, trying to identify smiling faces that look only vaguely familiar across the room. There’s a comfort in knowing someone’s name, an implied closeness. So when my little brother turned eighteen and changed his name, I questioned whether I’d ever really known him at all.

Shannon had always been small, a wisp of a boy with a mop of hair that was bigger than he was. He was picked on mercilessly for years, for his too-petite size and his too-feminine name. He was the smallest kid on the wrestling team—hell, he was the smallest kid in all of his classes—and yet somehow, he managed to be the loudest and most troublesome, like he spent every waking hour trying to prove to the world that he was big.

The day he left for college must have felt to him like a fresh start. A way to become someone new. Someone stronger. He wrapped himself in the name Sean, burying Shannon inside him, expecting someone larger than life to come bursting through. And while I quipped to him that I didn’t know this boy named Sean, I don’t think I truly understood Shannon—his most deeply rooted fears and insecurities, or the acceptance he yearned for—until he chose to become someone new.

My main character’s name wasn’t always Nearly Boswell. Finding her name was a journey that seemed to mirror my brother’s search for a name that fit him inside. Thumbing through old journals and outlines, I could show you pages of ordinary names I considered: Rachael, Kate, Samantha—but none of these names called forth an image that fit the character I was creating. The girl I pictured in my head was inspired by a former co-worker, a single mother of two adrift in the aftermath of a painful divorce, who spent her lunch hours obsessing over the Missed Connections in the paper. She poked fun at the ads, as though it were only casual entertainment, but when she thought no one was watching, all that humor slipped away. She struck me as deeply lonely, as if she secretly hoped one of the ads had been written for her.

This image in mind, I tried on name after name, hoping one of them would ring true and help me see this character more clearly, but none of them fit. Who was she? What was she looking for?

Determined to find the right name, I started with a character sketch, a loosely scribbled outline of physical and personality traits. Her features were similar to, but not quite the same as her father’s, and while her hair was curly, it wasn’t as curly as her mother’s. She was good at math and science, almost top of her class. And she might have felt pretty sometimes, were it not for her second-hand clothes.

I ended up with a list of glass-half-empty words: almost, not quite, just about, sometimes. I found her name at the bottom of this glass. Here was a girl who was nearly.

Nearly. The word held a heartbreaking connotation that made me feel and relate to her more deeply. Because I’d felt nearly at points in my life, too.  I remembered the frustration of being a B+ student, the shame of being only worth kisses in secret but not being cute enough to date, and the pain of being loved, but not enough to hold my family together when it was tearing at the seams. Nearly became real, because she existed inside me.

Finally, my character had a name. And yet, something still didn’t fit.

Like my brother, I knew Nearly would never be satisfied to wear a name that mirrored her own sense of inadequacy. She wanted to be more. She ached to be enough. This girl, who dreamed big and set goals for herself despite odds and obstacles, would choose her own nickname, maybe even change it if she could.

And she did. As I wrote, Nearly took the nickname “Leigh”, a name that made her feel stronger and less ashamed. That choice helped me know her more deeply, just as my brother’s choice helped me to understand him. Nearly’s vehement rejection of her own name revealed her motivations and self-doubt. She wasn’t just looking for someone. She was looking to fill the void inside her—to feel whole.

My “Big Idea” revealed itself in this almost-missed connection between the significance of a search in the personal ads and the search for Nearly’s identity: that we are all, in some way, nearly—not just looking for someone else, but seeking to be someone else.  Like my brother who wanted to be bigger, Nearly who wanted to be more, and my co-worker pouring over the Missed Connections, we are all searching for our own missing piece.

—-

Nearly Gone: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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