Scammers and Fixed Pots

Lots of news in the last couple of weeks about Amazon Kindle Unlimited scammers, who are creating 3,000-page books filled with mostly garbage because that’s what lets them take advantage of the way Amazon pays authors participating in the KU scheme: Amazon tracks the last page synced and pays out by how far into the book someone’s gone (as opposed to read).

This is bad news for actual authors with actual books, because a) actual books are generally much smaller than three thousand pages, and b) Amazon doesn’t pay a set rate per page — it defines a KU “pot” of money for each month and then pays out to authors by the number of pages they register readers as having gotten through, as a proportion of total pages read on the service that month. So if (purely as an example) Amazon defines the payout pot for KU as $1 million for a month, then all the authors participating have to split that $1 million — and the scam artist with the fake 3,000-page book is going to get a larger chunk of that $1 million than the actual author with a 300-page book.

Bear in mind that no matter what compensatory scheme Amazon does for its KU system, someone is going to find a way to maximize it. Before the current “pages read” scheme, Amazon paid out when a certain percentage of a book was gone through, which drove authors to create very short books that would hit their payout percentage with just a couple of page flips. It was this gaming, presumably, that caused Amazon to change how it did its payout. If and when Amazon changes its payout scheme (again), people will find out how to game the system under the new rules. It’s what happens.

(Nor is adjusting one’s work to take advantage of the market a problem; publishers have always done this. Is the money is cheap paperbacks? They will make cheap paperbacks. Is the money in hardcovers? They’ll make hardcovers. What, novellas are the next big thing? They’ll all make novellas! Likewise, if Amazon is saying to self-pubbed authors (and, by extension, scammers) “[X] is the way we decide to pay you,” then it’s rational to do [X].)

The problem with the Kindle Unlimited scammers isn’t really the compensatory triggers of KU or the fact that everyone, legit author or otherwise, is looking for the way to squeeze as much money as possible from it. The problem is: who bears the immediate economic brunt of the scammers taking advantage of whatever scheme Amazon decides upon? Well, it’s not Amazon, that’s for sure, since its financial exposure is only what it wants to pay out on a monthly basis; scammers in the system or no, Amazon only pays what Amazon wants to pay. The readers also get off lightly; their economic exposure is only they flat fee they pay to access KU.

So that leaves the actual authors, whose share of a fixed amount of money is being diluted by bad actors who see how the system can be gamed and are cheerfully gaming it as fast as they can. It is the authors’ problem because Amazon doesn’t pay out like it has to pay out for printed books, where each unit sold has a contractually-defined royalty that is independent of any other book or author and how well they are selling. Again, Amazon pays from a pot it defines and controls and which is limited; in effect pitting authors against each other, and all of them against the scammers. In this case the scammers are winning because it takes almost no time to create a scam book, assign fake accounts to “read” it, and profit; meanwhile writing real books actual people would invest their time in is still the same time-intensive effort it always was.

Is this fair? Well, life’s not fair, and in business (which this is) you get what you contractually agree to. Kindle Unlimited authors presumably know that they are only going to get what Amazon is willing to give them for their participation; they also presumably know that their marketplace is “fair,” with regard to scammers, to the extent that Amazon wants to make it so; they also presumably know that their ability to force Amazon to do anything to deal with scammers is exceptionally limited because the KU agreement privileges Amazon over individual KU participants to an extraordinary degree. KU participants, by participating, have agreed to let Amazon shift the financial risk over to them.

(Well, some of them. It’s my understanding that there is a tranche of authors — generally hugely best-selling, generally not self-published — whose participation in KU is through other deals where their compensation is not tied into an Amazon-defined pot. Good for them! And another reminder of the issue of “fair” in publishing — nothing’s fair, everything is what you agree to in contracts.)

That being said, if Amazon doesn’t eventually deal with the scammers, then it will become their problem: Authors, quite reasonably, won’t want to participate if scammers are taking money that should be going to them, and readers won’t see the value of the KU subscription if authors stay off the service. Humans are bad-experience avoidant, and it doesn’t take many bad experiences to keep people away. It’s in Amazon’s best interest to fix this. Eventually. I’m pretty sure it will.

But only to a point. Amazon is very very very unlikely to ever make Kindle Unlimited a scheme that doesn’t rely on a fixed payout, defined by Amazon itself. And that is why, at the end of it, KU (and, to be clear, other subscription services with a service-defined payout pot) will always disadvantage authors in terms of how much they can make, and why these authors will always suffer first and foremost from scammers — because there’s only so much money for authors in the scheme, and that’s the money scammers are taking. There will always be scammers and people who will game the system; so as long as the KU scheme pays out from a fixed pot, authors participating in it will always be the most vulnerable to their actions.

Amazon should deal with its KU scammers. It should also compensate KU authors for their work independent of how other authors are doing, or what they are doing, or what scammers are doing. The first of these is rather more likely than the others. If you’re an author participating in Kindle Unlimited, know what you’re getting into, and the fact that it’s you whose money is on the line when the scammers game the system.

Puffball, 4/24/16

I’m occasionally reminded that I don’t know the name of every plant around my house. This is an example: I call this one the “puffball shrub,” because, well, here’s a puffball. I’m sure someone has told me what kind of plant this is. It’s just that the information rolled out of my head after they told me. Nevertheless, it is pretty. So here you go. Have a puffball.

View From a Hotel Window, 4/22/16: Columbus

Columbus has clouds!

My event in Westerville went well, and now I’m kicking back in my hotel room here in Columbus, where tomorrow I’m a featured author at the Ohioana Book Festival. If you’re in the area, come on down. It will be lovely to see you. If you’re not in the area, well, enjoy the clouds in the picture.

Off to Westerville and Columbus

I’m heading east today, slightly, to participate in two events: Today, at 1:30 pm. I’m appearing at the Westerville Public Library for a reading and a signing. I’ll be reading not-yet-published material, so if you want new stuff from me, that’s where to go. Then tomorrow I’m at the Ohioana Book Festival all day, where I will be doing a panel and signing books. Come see me at either! Or both! Both are entirely free to the public. See you there!

Jesus, 2016, Let Up Already

This is not a good day.

Let’s go crazy anyway.

A New York State of Mind

Do I have a couple of thoughts on the New York primary? Why, yes! Yes I do.

* Hey, remember when Ted Cruz decided to mock “New York values” back in Iowa, a nicely-coded way for him to say that the God-fearing conservative white people of Iowa could trust him because he wasn’t down with minorities or gays or liberals or Jews? Turns out New Yorkers remembered too! Which is why, out of that delegate-rich state, Cruz pried out exactly zero delegates. Meanwhile, Trump has won at least 89 of the 95, with John “Ha Ha Ha Suck It I’m Still In It” Kasich receiving at least three, while outpolling Cruz by a double digit margin.

To put it another way, New York just gave Trump more than eleven times as many delegates as Iowa gave Cruz. I understand why Cruz made his “New York values” snark — Iowa’s the first caucus in the nation, Cruz wanted momentum out of the gate, and he figured in his gormless, delusional way that he’d be much better off in the delegate count by New York than he is, and possibly even that Trump would be out of the running by now. But in retrospect, Cruz bought those Iowa delegates dear. Cruz was probably never going to win New York, especially with Trump in the race, but it’s possible he might have shaved off a few to several delegates by not losing so badly in assorted districts. Guess not!

Which is to say that Cruz, a gross and despicable avulsion that yet managed to sprout opposable thumbs, just murdered any realistic chance he had of ever catching Trump in the delegate count, while at the same time giving Trump a hell of a boost going into next week’s primaries. FiveThirtyEight’s delegate tracker, which measures how many delegates each candidate needs in each primary to win the nomination before their party’s convention, currently has Trump at 95%, which means in the future he has to do only slightly better than he is now to get the nod. Cruz, meanwhile, has merely 57% of his number — he would have to basically run the board at this point to catch up.

He’s not going to. Cruz comes out of New York looking like a loser, I mean, hell, Kasich won an infinite multiple more delegates in New York than he did. Next week’s primaries don’t look good for Cruz — Trump has double-digit polling leads in Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and Cruz is neck-and-neck in polling with Kasich in the latter two states (I don’t have polling data for Rhode Island and Delaware, which also go next week). Four of the five states are “Winner take all” or “Winner take most” in terms of delegates. Next week is when Cruz is absolutely, positively mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright, while Trump is positioned to win the nomination before the convention.

* But Trump still might not get his delegate numbers! I hear you say. True enough; after next week he’s got Indiana, which might be friendlier to Cruz, and there are a few other states like Nebraska or South Dakota that might go toward Cruz  rather than Trump. But, thing is, even if Trump doesn’t ring the bell, he’s going to come really close, while neither Cruz nor Kasich is getting anywhere near it. It’s not just about who makes it to the nomination, I think, it’s also about the margins the remaining contenders have coming in if no one does.

I mean, let me be clear in case there’s confusion on the matter: I don’t want Trump to be the GOP’s candidate in the general, because humanity deserves better. I don’t want Cruz either, because he’s a necrotic self-regarding blight on the face of American politics — but I’d be happy if the GOP fielded him because once he lost, and he would, oh my, how he would lose, then he’d be done as a serious presidential candidate and would nevermore potentially darken the door of the White House. But I can’t see how the GOP can realistically deprive Trump of the nomination if he’s substantially ahead of his competition and reasonably close to the finish line.

They might want to, and they might still even say fuck it, we’re not going to win this year anyway, so the hell with Trump, and then give it to Cruz or even someone else not currently in the mix (sorry, Kasich). But this really is 2016, not the 1920s, and having the party boffins override the will of a plurality of the party member votes is a dangerous game, especially with some Trump folks open to basically harassing delegates to keep them in line. Bypassing Trump is not going to end well. And if Cruz does get the nomination over Trump despite coming in with hundreds of fewer delegates, well. There’s not enough popcorn in the world for what comes next.

In the end, I think New York effectively buried Cruz’s presidential chances. He’s going to be firing up sneaky parliamentary tricks from now to the convention, but yeah. In terms of making the Oval Office his own, Cruz is a political dead man walking.

* Which makes nice segue for another candidate who I suspect lost the White House brass ring in New York: Let’s talk about Bernie Sanders, shall we? My Facebook feed last night was basically a wall of denial talking about all the ways that Sanders could still pull this one out of the bag, with added imprecation aimed at New York for having a closed Democratic primary, which shuts out independent voters, i.e., the folks these Sanders supporters believe would have carried their man to victory.

Let me address the second part of this first. To begin, speaking as an independent voter, I actually find it entirely unobjectionable that a political party might decide, hey, let’s actually let party members pick our candidate. Is it nice when non-members get a vote? Sure; I took advantage of that myself with this last Ohio primary, when I voted on the Republican side of the fence. But had Ohio’s rules nixed that, I would not have griped about the unfairness of it, because I am not a party member, nor do I want to be (ugh, junk mail), and that’s a choice I willingly made.

I get that it’s cool and hipster to be independent and keep all your options open (or whatever), but the price for that is that you only get to go to the party if the party lets you in. New York keeps the indie rabble on the street side of the velvet rope. Them’s the breaks. If you’re an engaged voter — and you should be! — you should know your state’s primary voting practices, including when you need to register to be participate in party primaries — which, in New York, is very early.

(But we didn’t know about Sanders back then! comes the cry. Okay, but, so what? You know, Sanders launched his campaign in May of 2015, and as I understand it the deadline for changing one’s party affiliation for the New York primaries was in October. So that was four months at a minimum to get on it. And while I certainly will not defend the deadline as reasonable, it also wasn’t a secret, nor was it particularly difficult to register for a party. There was timeIn my mind this doesn’t rise to the level of actual disenfranchisement.)

To continue, the idea that the potential flood of independent voters an open primary might have engendered might have turned the tide for Sanders is kinda suspect. To date there have been thirteen open Democratic primaries, and of those thirteen Clinton has won ten, and of the three that Sanders won, one was a virtual tie (Michigan), and the only blowout Sanders had in the format was in his home state of Vermont. Sanders’ best format for wins is actually the caucuses, which reward the especially fervent — he’s won six of nine closed caucuses and all three open caucuses. Meanwhile in addition to the 10 of 13 open primaries, Clinton’s won three of the four closed primaries (the one of these Sanders won: “Democrats Abroad”).

(In addition, Clinton was a senator from New York and actually, you know, lives there.)

So, no, I’m not hugely convinced that allowing indies to vote would have resulted in a Sanders win in New York. Sanders narrowing the gap of the loss? Sure, maybe, but it should be noted that Sanders narrowing the gap wouldn’t have done him much material good if Clinton had walked away with a net gain of delegates on him; she was already up by a couple hundred delegates.

* Which brings us to that first thing. People, and particularly Sanders supporters, seem to forget that Clinton has margin to burn, and thanks to the proportional delegate allocation of the Democratic primaries, Clinton doesn’t have to win another state. All she has to do is keep her losses close, so that Sanders can’t trim up the (now) 230-some-odd pledged delegate gap he has and get ahead. To be clear, for her own sake and the sake of optics, she should win some more states between now and June 14, when the last primary (DC) happens. But she doesn’t have to.

And I get that this may be frustrating for Sanders enthusiasts. Also frustrating for Sanders fans: Sanders has closed the gap with Clinton in national polls and has recently been within the margin of error, meaning that statistically speaking the two of them are basically tied in terms of popularity. But unfortunately for the Sanders folks, for the primaries, it doesn’t actually matter how many states you win or whether you’re up in a national poll. What matters is delegates, delegates, delegates. Right now, Clinton has more pledged delegates, and there’s a very good chance she’ll add to that number next week, as she has polling leads in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut, all of which (and Delaware) have closed primaries.

(Also, and this is not trivial, according to the FiveThirtyEight delegate tracker, Clinton is overperforming in terms of the delegates she will need to reach the nomination before the convention — she’s at 108% of her number, whereas Sanders is currently at 92% of his number. Note that before NY, she was at 107% and Sanders was at 93%, so the gap there is widening, too.)

With that all that said, look: Clinton isn’t snatching this primary season from Sanders by legerdemain, pulling a Cruz and trying to sneak up on her opponent’s delegates to knife him at the convention. Currently she’s won more contests (21 to 17), gotten more votes (10,387,916 to 7,699,652), and again, won more pledged delegates (1,444 to 1,207). She also happens to have a lock on the superdelegates, by a 10-1 margin, in fact, but she doesn’t need them at this point (and Sanders’ folks, it should be noted, are looking at them hungrily). She’s winning the primary season the same way Obama did in 2008: By grinding the damn thing out, delegate by delegate.

I personally like that Sanders has given Clinton a run for her money — I think he’s driven her out of her political comfort zone a bit and in any event having a Clinton coronation in the primaries would have made her more of a target in the general, even if the GOP is doing her a huge favor by blowing up — but ironically (or perhaps not so ironically) the vibe I get off of Sanders and a large number of his supporters is the thing I think they would like to accuse Clinton and her supporters of: Entitlement. Their own fervor plus the fact that Sanders has done better than the oddsmakers would have predicted has meant that when Sanders has not won a state there must be a reason the state was taken from him rather than simply, you know, lost by him. Thus in New York, the cry that independents were somehow disenfranchised by not being allowed to vote in a primary of a political party they don’t actually belong to.

The shorter, more accurate answer is: Dudes, he just plain lost. He’s likely to lose some more states next week. Even if he does win, if he doesn’t win by enough, he’s still going to be behind in delegates and over time Clinton may well cross that delegate finish line before he does. It’s rather more likely she will than not.

Sanders supporters should not stop grinding it out — please don’t — but they should entertain the fact that the reason Clinton is winning right now is because she is actually winning right now. And that maybe if she takes the nomination, and I expect she will, it will be because she actually earned it — just as if Sanders takes it, it will be for the same reason.

The Big Idea: Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi has made a career out of imagining the some of the less pleasant futures that are possible given humanity’s current path, written brilliantly enough to keep you turning the pages even as you realize to your horror he might turn out right about these things. The Water Knife, a hardcover bestseller now releasing in paperback, is no exception, and in this Big Idea, Bacigalupi writes about when he was writing the book, the present was influencing the future world he was creating.

(Disclaimer: I liked this book enough to blurb it.)

PAOLO BACIGALUPI:

When I began writing The Water Knife in 2011, the Texas drought was in full swing: record-breaking temperatures, low reservoirs, dying cattle, and a governor who was encouraging people to pray for rain.

As I worked on The Water Knife in 2012, I attended a drought conference in Colorado, my home state. Snowpack in many areas was nearly non-existent. Tourism and agriculture were hurting. Reservoirs were at historic lows. Forest fires were tearing through parts of the state, and those places that burned then turned into mudslide zones when rains finally did come. And at the drought conference, no one could utter the words “climate change.”

By the time The Water Knife was published in 2015, the western United States was in the grip of a new epic drought. The Sierras had no snow. Hundred year-old orchards were dying. Reservoirs throughout the state were draining dry.  Above Los Angeles, they were pouring plastic balls into their reservoirs to slow evaporation. Desalinization plants were once again under discussion, despite the costs and environmental complications.  In Nevada, Lake Mead sank to to historic lows, and Las Vegas finally completed a multibillion megaproject to dig Intake Number Three, a last bid attempt to allow them to pump from a reservoir that had been sinking for a decade. In the Northwest, fires raged through tinder dry forests, and a heatwave seized hold of Portland, Ore.

When I conceived The Water Knife, I was aiming to create a visceral experience of a future that I feared was rushing toward us. I thought I was being sober and serious when I set the Big Daddy Drought of the novel some decades still into the future.

By the time the book actually came out, snowpack in the river drainage where I live was at 1% of normal.

In some ways, the droughts of 2015 made The Water Knife seem prescient.  The news was stuffed full of stories of wells going dry, battles over water rights, farmers watching worriedly as dry cities turned their thirsty gazes on farmers’ water rights.  And then of course, there was Syria, collapsed into a civil war that looked a lot like what a model for a real water war might look like. Not a war over water, but a war sparked and exacerbated by drought and food scarcity, that was already starting to put domino pressure on other countries as refugees began to flee the horror of their collapsed country.

There it all was: fires, scarcity, refugees.

It made The Water Knife seem, if not predictive, at least entirely reasonable.

But the feeling I really had was that I had missed the story. Even though I had been trying to write a future of water scarcity that would seem both real and believable and imminent, as I went out on book tour, I realized that I had been deluding myself as much as an idiot climate denier like Rick Pray-For-Rain Perry.

In attempting to make the book seem reasonable and “realistic,” I had set my climate disaster a comfortable few decades still in the future.  But the the uncomfortable reality that even I don’t want to honestly face is that we simply don’t know when climate disaster will come. Science tells us that that climate disaster is out there, looming—more and more likely to occur—but no one can say exactly when. And as I toured the parched western states last year, it was a little frightening to realize that even someone like me—who spends most of my time being anxious about what tomorrow may bring—would prefer to delude myself into believing that while the risk is out there, it won’t come yet.

Not Yet.

That’s our problem. The same problem we humans always face.  Our human instinct is to pray and hope that even if  bad things are coming, that they aren’t coming yet.  I make fun of Rick Perry because hides from the data that says his state will increasingly become a desert, but really, we’re all in denial.

I certainly was in denial, even as I wrote The Water Knife, even though I couldn’t see it.

Not Yet.

We want to keep flying around the world, and driving our cars and expanding our cities into deserts. We want to keep buying gasoline and importing our gadgets from around the world, and enjoying the fruits of our technological age. We want so desperately to keep going with our immediate comforts, that we willfully avoid the fact that Not Yet might turn out to be Right Now.

Right now, El Nino has been kind enough to dump some rain on California and some snow in the Rockies, and so we might be tempted to think that today really will turn out to be Not Yet. But down in Australia, where drought has run for the last decade, the reservoirs outside of Perth aren’t just low as they are here in the States—they’re empty. Syrian refugees continue to swamp Europe, people desperate to get away from the conflict in their own land, and the dams and rivers of the middle east are strategic assets for the warring powers. And of course, here in the United States, we see demagogues and fear-mongers gaining in popularity, the politics of fear of outsiders who might need desperately to move as their own parts of the world become uninhabitable.

One thing I do think I got right in The Water Knife is that climate crisis and collapse won’t come all in a rush. It will be a slow accretion of problems, accidents, and missteps. A steady accumulation of stressors and shortages that finally trigger political and social unravellings, that then cause further domino effects. The Water Knife isn’t about a lone hardy band of survivors after a climate apocalypse, it’s a story about millions of people, all trying to adapt and shift, after spending too much time believing that Not Yet meant Never Will, and I think I got that right, because I see my own instinct to keep making bargains with against my son’s future, telling myself that I still have time before a true catastrophe. Telling myself that we all do, even if it’s just another decade or two.

Some people say that a story like The Water Knife is unrealistic. A broken future that will never be, because we won’t ever be that stupid, or selfish, or lacking in foresight.

I do hope they’re right.

—-

The Water Knife: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (expand on the page). Visit the author’s site.

 

The First Bumblebee of Spring

The crab apple blossoms this year are a little on the underwhelming side, due to a late freeze killing a fair number of them, but there’s enough for this bumblebee to work with, and she’s working on them indeed, in the late afternoon sun.

Hope your weekend was a good one.

Zeus, 4/15/16

Because it’s been a while, and while the Scamperbeasts get most of the photographic attention these days, Zeus is still a mighty beast. Enjoy him in all his majesty.

Other than that, for those of us in the US, celebrate that today isn’t tax day (for federal, at least), and that you get the whole weekend to try to jam through your forms and deductions. If you haven’t already filed, I’m wishing you the best.

(Yes, we filed before. And yes, we owed. I, uh, made some money last year. The taxes on that income were not trivial. It actually hurt to see the sums. But we paid them, because on balance we’re not overtaxed and also the roads don’t pave themselves, etc.)

Have a great weekend, folks.

Boycotts Are Supposed to Hurt

In North Carolina, the legislature passed an absolutely appalling discriminatory law, and the effect was that companies started rethinking upcoming business in the state and some notable creative folk, including Bruce Springsteen and Sherman Alexie, pulled out of upcoming events. This has prompted articles like this one and this one, where people are making the argument that when creative folk pull out of doing events in North Carolina, innocent people like children and business owners are punished.

My thought on this is: Yes? And? Boycotts are by their nature designed to cause economic and social distress, are they not? In order to create economic and social pressure to change whatever it is that is being protested, in this case an absolutely unjust law that among other things singles out a particular group of people for discrimination? And if in this case the boycott is of the state of North Carolina, because the state itself passed the law, then yes, causing distress to the children and businesses of North Carolina by depriving them of things that they would otherwise have if the state didn’t have that unjust law is pretty much directly on point. Children have parents who vote. Businesses are owned by people who vote and who can also pressure state legislatures.

This is what a boycott is and does. The bookstore owner in the NY Times article says “we’ve had authors’ backs when their books were challenged or their events protested. We need authors to have our backs, too.” As much as I sympathize with the bookstore owner who complains that she’s being punished for a law she personally abhors, the target of the boycott is the state, not her. The state will be happy to fill its tax coffers equally from the people who have the “right” sort of views as it is from the people who have the “wrong” ones. If the state can look and see that a boycott is having no real net effect, economically and socially, it’s not going to be particularly effective. As a tool of change, it’s a failure.

Boycotts are meant to hurt. Strikes, which are a similar action, are meant to hurt, too — and again, that’s the point. These sorts of tactics are not designed to spare the people who don’t think they’re involved (or shouldn’t be); they’re designed to remind them that they are involved, whether they like it or not, and that their participation is required, again, whether they like it or not. I’m sorry for the bookstore, and for the kids of North Carolina, but Bruce Springsteen, Sherman Alexie and anyone other creative who decides that their conscience does not allow them to go to North Carolina are not wrong.

I understand the bookseller would like their boycott to pass her by; I understand why the other writer wants authors to think of the children. Let us also make space for the argument that those authors are thinking of the children and are leveraging what they have — their notability and the desirability of their presence — to make sure some of those children are not actively discriminated against by the state. Let us also make space for the argument that they are using their influence so that they can “have the backs” of people who the state has just declared to be second-class citizens, and that at the moment, those backs have priority.

And yes, in both cases that might hurt. But again, that’s the point.

A Slow Week In My Brain

I’m having one of those weeks (so far, anyway) when I sit down to write something here and all I come up with is… meeeeeeeh. Which is to say I don’t feel I have anything of particular interest to say on any particular subject, so I’m unmotivated to try to pretend that I do. Even that thing about Stephen Hawking and the Russian billionaire planning to send tiny robots to Alpha Centauri using lasers has me all “I’ll wait ’till they actually build something to get excited.”

This would have worried me more in the past, but these days I’m pretty sanguine about it. Have nothing to say? Cool, when I do have something to say I’ll post about it. In the meantime, I’ll post a cat or sunset pic, it’s all good.

On that note:

I’m not saying I got the Scamperbeasts so that I would have pictures to post when I couldn’t be bothered to think of things to write here. But I will admit they do come in handy.

The Big Idea: Gillian Murray Kendall

Who dares to broach The Book of Forbidden Wisdom? And who dares to write it? Gillian Murray Kendall, who has done the latter, talks about what that book means and represents in the world she’s created for it.

GILLIAN MURRAY KENDALL:

The evil brother of Lady Angel Montrose interrupts her wedding and threatens her life in order to get information from her about the location of The Book of Forbidden Wisdom.  Lady Angel, her sister, Silky, and her best friend, Trey, flee in the night on their own quest to find The Book, which all believe contains great power and the access to great wealth. On their journey, they are joined by an itinerant Bard—the same one who played at Angel’s ill-fated wedding. Angel, whose marriage was to be one of convenience, finds herself drawn to the dark allure of the Bard—at the same that her friend, Trey, makes it clear he has always loved her.

The Book of Forbidden Wisdom is a tale of wild adventure that explores the nature of good and evil as well as the power of art to transfigure life; it is about a quest for wisdom and power that becomes, too, a quest for love.

Enough stuff?

Well, no. At the heart of the book lies a big idea: in the land that Angel and her sister, Silky, are forced to flee, the Great Aristocratic Houses are built on the sweat and tears and lives of the casteless and of vagabonds. And when Angel and Silky run from their evil brother, they are leaving behind a crushingly oppressive set of social mores: men and women cannot so much as touch before arranged marriages; the aristocracy and the casteless live in different worlds—one of unimaginable wealth, and one of poverty.

Once on the road with a Bard, however, Angel finds herself questioning everything she has been taught. Bards are landless, almost vagabonds, but traveling with the Bard makes it clear that all of her stereotypes are false. And the time comes when rules have to be broken.

Because Angel drowns. Or so it seems. After she groggily comes to after being submerged in flood waters, she notes that: “This thing is this. If an arrow pierces your heart, or a horse stomps on your head, you’re dead. Sometimes, though, with drowning, a person has a second chance.”

That second chance comes from the Bard—who she realizes is neither vassal nor freeman. Neither caste nor casteless. He saves her.  Even so, Angel’s best friend, Trey, is horrified that, to bring her back to life, the Bard must actually touch Angel. Angel’s sister, Silky, on the other hand, seems to understand that the rules are changing:

“’That man,’ said Silky to Angel, ‘took you to the bank and squished the water right out of you. Trey was going to punch him for touching you, but I wouldn’t let him.’”

Despite the fact of saving Angel, the Bard wants no part of the Great Houses. But circumstances throw the characters together.

Angel is glad that the Bard will accompany them, although at first she sees him as others might, as belonging to “a caste so low it almost didn’t count as a caste, a caste forbidden from marriage to the landed, from carrying weapons, from fraternizing with nobility.” After hearing the bard sing, however, she has to acknowledge that he carries his own kind of power and a kind of magic—that of art, of song, of fiction. Bards, she realizes, are not “below” the Great Houses, but “beyond.” And Angel knows now that it would never be enough to thank the Bard for saving her life by giving him the tokens of the Great: by “paying him off with jewels” or “giving him the freedom of [her] lands.” And as the Bard travels with Angel and Silky and Trey, slowly the differences between the landed and the casteless erode.

The Book of Forbidden Wisdom, after all, opens with a prophetic dream, in which Angel sees “the casteless rise where the Great had been.” And it ends— well, I’m not going to tell you how it ends, except that major plot elements are resolved, while inroads are made into the caste system. And the power of literature lies behind the changes.

The quest, after all, is after a book—The Book of Forbidden Wisdom—which is something not just forbidden but subversive.

Perhaps all books are so.

The firemen of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 would agree.

So would those everywhere who burn and ban books.

Luckily, one can’t burn or ban the ideas in them.

Someone who read The Book of Forbidden Wisdom asked me: “But what’s next?  You make it sound as if there might be some kind of revolution in your next book.”

Well, maybe.

—-

The Book of Forbidden Wisdom: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound

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

Sunset 4/11/16

It’s dramatic!

In other news, I’m back from LA, where I had a lovely time and saw many fabulous friends and fans. How was your weekend?

A View From A Hotel Window, 4/7/16: Los Angeles

There’s construction going on, the president arrived today, there was a car chase that locked up the freeways and it was raining. All of this explains why it took me a better par of an hour to travel fifteen miles from the airport to my hotel, and why it would have taken longer if I hadn’t taken surface streets. Los Angeles, I’m telling you.

Anyway: Hello, LA! I am here, for three days. My first order of business: A nap.

Doing the Travel Thing

I’m on the road as of tomorrow morning through Sunday so it’s likely I won’t update here until I get home. Sorry. Hopefully this picture of a kitten will be suitable compensation:

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And remember, if you are in Los Angeles, I will be among you soon!

The Big Idea: Alethea Kontis

“TEHETHJO” is one heck of an acronym, but Alethea Kontis knows what it means, why it’s important, and how it relates to her new novel Trix and the Faerie Queen

ALETHEA KONTIS: 

In my fairy tale books of Arilland, Mama Woodcutter always says, “Everything happens for a reason.” She does that because my own mother has always said, “Everything happens for a reason.” (We writers do tend to write what we know.)

But we all know that’s a load of crap, right? People say, “Everything happens for a reason” in an attempt to make you feel better about The Exceptionally Horrible Event That Has Just Occurred (TEHETHJO). Like, for instance, when you splatter turmeric all over your vintage white shirt with the handmade Belgian lace, but the red top you’re forced to change into is the one that catches Prince Harry’s eye and WHAMMO. You’re sipping tea and eating eggs with the queen because reasons.

Yeah. Right. No. Things in life just happen—good or bad—and those things become the reasons for whatever happens after. It’s plain-old scientific cause and effect. Now, how you decide to act in the aftermath of TEHETHJO is the sort of thing that defines you as a person. There’s fate, and there’s free will.

I am all about forging one’s own destiny.

Maybe it’s because I started out as a child actress, or because I did a lot of improv in high school, but all my TEHETHJOs typically turn out pretty great. I don’t make lemonade, I make limoncello. Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t automatically turn life into sunshine and baby otters while I’m standing at ground zero during global thermonuclear war.

Like, for instance, when my boyfriend and my publisher dumped me in the same 24 hours a couple years ago. (Small spoiler: Prince Harry doesn’t show up at the end of this, so don’t hold your breath.) You know that thing where a person’s soul metaphorically shatters into a million pieces? That. TEHETHJO. All over the inside of my poor Firefly-class Volvo.

But if TEHETHJO hadn’t occurred, then the book that’s releasing this week would never have existed. NEVER. And it’s the best book I’ve ever written.

Trixter was meant to be a stand-alone novella that told the story of what happened to Trix Woodcutter while his sister Saturday was questing about in Hero, since the publisher had politely asked me to remove his entire subplot. At the same time, it was my tribute to Andrew Lang’s Crimson Fairy Book. It was not meant to be Volume One of The Trix Adventures. That fey scamp of a little brother was not meant to find a companion and traverse continents and chat up all sorts of legendary beasties and save the world. He was not meant to become my fairy tale Doctor Who.

And yet…there I was, writing a scene at the end of Trix and the Faerie Queen that was not in my outline, giggling and weeping over my keyboard at the same time. Because reasons.

The Trix Adventures are beautiful books, and the rest of the Woodcutter Sisters will be better for me having written them I have become better for having written them. I have been made whole again, regenerated, and Alethea 3.0 is fantastic. I did that. TEHETHJO might have been the inciting incident, but I’m going to stand up and take credit for this one.

If everything really does happen for a reason, the reason Trix and the Faerie Queen exists is me.

And I am so incredibly proud of that.

—-

Trix and the Faerie Queen: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|Kobo

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

And Now, an Incomplete List of Women Writers Who Inspire Me

Click on the picture to be taken to the story on Jezebel.

“Incomplete” because I’m doing it off the top of my head. Also, in no particular order. Ready? Here we go:

Dorothy Parker
Molly Ivins
Elaine May
Madeleine L’Engle
Nora Ephron
Susan Cooper
Hannah Arendt
Ursula Le Guin
N.K. Jemisin
Beverly Cleary
Sheri Tepper
Jenny Lawson
Kelly Sue Deconnick
Emma Thompson (Yes, she’s a writer. Won an Oscar for it, too)
Caroline Thompson (no relation to above)
Amy Wallace
Melissa Matheson
Erma Bombeck
Mallory Ortberg
Pauline Kael

There are more, but as I said: Off the top of my head. And these are just the ones I find inspiring — that is, the ones whose work I looked at some point or another in my life and came out of the experience wanting to write and/or to have my own work to be better. If you were to ask for the list of women writers who I like, enjoy or admire, well. We’d be here all day. And that, again, would be for the ones I could list right off the top of my head.

Which is the point. Gay Talese couldn’t think of a single woman writer who inspires him or whose work he loves. That unfortunate man. Maybe he needs to read more widely. For a start.

Update: Mr. Talese attempts a clarification.

What I’m Doing in Los Angeles This Next Weekend

Los Angelenos! This next Saturday — that’s the ninth — I will be in your fabulous town, not just to eat all the In-N-Out animal style Double Doubles that I can shove down my gullet but also to do a few events tied into the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. What are they and when can you see them? Well, let me answer those questions right now.

11:30 AM, Ronald Tutor Campus Center, USC Campus: I and Charlie Jane Anders are in conversation. Among the things we’ll no doubt talk about are Charlie Jane’s fantastic new book All the Birds in the Sky, the new things I am working on, the state of publishing, life, the universe and everything, and of course cupcakes vs. muffins. Our conversation is ticketed, and the tickets have a $1 service charge (sorry) but otherwise it’s free. Here’s where to reserve your tickets.

Immediately after our conversation, Charlie Jane and I are signing books! And probably anything else you want signed. So bring your signables!

3 PM, Mysterious Galaxy booth: Miss the signing right after my conversation with Charlie Jane? I’ll be here to sign some more books — and as it happens Mysterious Galaxy will have lots of my books on hand to sell as well. Convenient!

7 PM, Nerdmelt Showroom, 7522 Sunset Ave, Los Angeles: I’m one of the featured performers at The Objectively Hottest Authors On Earth LIVE!, which is being presented in association with the Festival of Books. During the show, hosted by artist and comedian Sara Benincasa, I, Maris Kreizman, Cecil Castellucci and Isaac Fitzgerald will be saying and/or doing funny things, and being interviewed by Sara. It’s going to be fantastic. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door, and if you want to show up, don’t wait — the room is, uh, not huge, as I understand it. I can’t say what anyone else has planned but I will be reading an recently-written funny piece that hasn’t been published anywhere yet (although I’ve read it in a couple of places and it killed), so the only place you’ll be able to enjoy it is live, and the only place I’m planning to read it live in the foreseeable future is here, at the Nerdmelt Showroom.

See you there! I apologize in advance for the Double-Double breath.

The Tesla 3 (and Why I Probably Wouldn’t Get One)

Like nearly every nerd I know, I’m excited that the Tesla Model 3 has been unveiled and that in about 18 months it will be a reality. Between it and the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt, reasonably affordable all-electric cars are becoming an actual thing and not just a weird quirk for eco-geeks, and/or status symbols for rich people. The nation needs electric cars that can go reasonable ranges, aimed at people who have less than six figure incomes. Now we’re on that path, and it makes me happy.

But this doesn’t mean I’ve plunked down $1,000 to reserve my own Model 3, either. For as much as I like the idea of the Tesla 3 (and the Bolt, and other electric cars), I’m not their market, their market being people in relatively dense urban/suburban areas, whose driving needs allow them to do all sorts of things within the 200 mile recharge radius of the car. I live in rural America, and my driving needs are generally a) almost nothing because I work from home, b) long trips because I’m going somewhere far beyond my usual environs. I have almost nothing inbetween. Also it means that right now, “fast-charge” stations near me are very few and very far between.

Which means that a car like a Model 3 or a Bolt, both with an about 200-mile range (longer if you pay more, less when it gets cold), fits perfectly into my “range anxiety” sphere. Driving the thing would probably make me twitchy all the time. In ten or fifteen years, when the average electric car has a 450-mile range (i.e., enough to get me to Chicago and back, Chicago being the furthest I would drive before buying a plane ticket instead) and fast charge outlets are at every gas station, this won’t be a problem. Right now, though, it’s a big nope for me.

Here in 2016, the perfect electric car for me isn’t a Tesla model or the Bolt, but the Chevrolet Volt. It has an electric engine with a range of about 50 miles and then fires up a gas powered generator for a 400+ mile total range, which means that it works perfectly as an electric car for my local travel, and then doesn’t make me freak out about finding a place to charge when I’m on a long trip. I’m not going to get one of those right now either — we have two cars and they run just fine — but I’m pretty certain the next car we get won’t be gas-only. Unless something else comes out to fit our driving profile, the Volt’s in pole position for the car I’m most interested in next.

Which possibly means I need to turn in my Nerd Card, as Tesla is the official automobile manufacturer of the Nerd Nation. But that’s fine. I’m a nerd, but I also live in the non-nerd world, out in the sticks. Here in the sticks, for how I live, the Tesla’s not practical. Until and unless it is, I might be a Chevy man.