I Had Such Ambitions For This Week On Whatever But Instead I Used My Brain To Write 12,000 Words on the New Novel, So, Look, Here Are the Scamperbeasts

Seriously, I had several topics I was planning to write on! But then there was the novel, and business emails, and that award thingie, and yesterday I was running errands, so, really, poof, where does the time go. At least the Scamperbeasts are still cute as hell.

Maybe I’ll write some stuff here on the weekend. You never know! Until then: Hey, kittens.

I’m One of the Recipients of the 2016 Governors Awards for the Arts in Ohio

Which is a nice thing to be able to announce after a morning of writing on a novel.

The official announcement is here, and I’m cutting and pasting it below for those of you who don’t want to link through, and adding with some personal comments.

Now, the announcement:

 

WINNERS ANNOUNCED FOR 2016 GOVERNORS AWARDS FOR THE ARTS IN OHIO

Columbus, Ohio: Nine winners have been selected to receive awards at the 2016 Governors Awards for the Arts in Ohio on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. The 2016 award recipients and categories, including city and county, are:

Arts Administration: Gary Hanson, executive director, The Cleveland Orchestra Cleveland (Cuyahoga)

Arts Education: Joe Deer, professor, Wright State University Dayton (Montgomery)

Arts Patron: George Barrett, chairman/CEO, Cardinal Health Dublin (Franklin)

Business Support of the Arts (small): First-Knox National Bank Mount Vernon (Knox)

Business Support of the Arts (large): Premier Health Dayton (Montgomery)

Community Development & Participation: Harmony Project Columbus (Franklin)

Individual Artist (two winners):
Janice Lessman-Moss, professor of textile arts, Kent State University Kent (Portage);
John Scalzi, author Bradford (Darke)

Irma Lazarus Award: James Conlon, music director, Cincinnati May Festival Cincinnati (Hamilton)

The Governor’s Awards Selection Committee, comprised of four Ohio Arts Council (OAC) board members and three members selected by the Ohio Citizens for the Arts (OCA) Foundation, recommended winners after reviewing 88 nominations submitted by individuals and organizations from across Ohio.

Award Ceremony and Luncheon | Wednesday, May 18

The award ceremony will take place during a luncheon Wednesday, May 18, at noon at the Columbus Athenaeum in downtown Columbus. Winners will receive an original work of art by photographer and visual artist Paula Kraus of Dayton, Ohio. The Ohio Arts Council and the Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation host the luncheon to honor this years winners and acknowledge continued support by Ohios elected officials. The Governors Awards luncheon is held in conjunction with Arts Day, a daylong arts advocacy event sponsored by Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation.

About the Ohio Arts Council
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Find us onFacebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit the OAC website at oac.ohio.gov

About the Ohio Citizens for the Arts/Foundation
Through the efforts of thousands of individuals and arts and education organizations, Ohio Citizens for the Arts advocates on behalf of arts and culture, and funding for the same, through the Ohio Arts Council. The Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation formed in 1990 as a companion organization, leverages additional support for the arts and arts education.

—-

And now, my thoughts:

Wheeee! This is pretty exciting. This is a definitely-not-trivial award in the state of Ohio, and to be entirely honest, when I was told that some folks here in the Dayton area wanted to nominate me for it, I wasn’t expecting much. To have it awarded to me is an actual and genuine thrill.

Also, and I’m not entirely sure about this so someone else will have to double-check, but: I do believe this is the first time that a science fiction writer has won this particular award. If that’s correct that makes this award doubly exciting for me. I’m delighted to see my particular brand of literature get recognition, and happy to be an ambassador of it here in Ohio, along with other writers of the genre here in the state, including Tobias Buckell, Kameron Hurley and Mike Resnick among so many others. It’s fun to think the future is starting off in Ohio.

(“But Scalzi,” I hear you say. “Didn’t you swear off awards for this year?” Indeed I did, for awards where the nomination was for work I did in 2015. This is something of a career award, encompassing my entire time as published science fiction author, which as it happens is contiguous with my time in Ohio, as moved here in 2001, and had Old Man’s War, my debut novel, published in 2005. It’s a slightly different animal, then, and I’m happy to accept it.)

I’ll undoubtedly have more to say about this as time goes on, but for right I’ll just say thank you to the Ohio Arts Council and congratulations to the other recipients, particularly Janice Lessman-Moss, the co-winner of the individual artist category. I look forward to seeing all of them in May.

How to Manifest a Kitten

For when you absolutely, positively need a kitten to magically appear instantly. This is an incomplete list.

1. Close an interior door.

2. Open an exterior door.

3. Use the toilet.

4. Run a bath.

5. Type on a keyboard.

6. Clean the catbox. (They will immediately poo in it)

7. Feed the dog.

8. Feed the other cat.

9. Feed yourself.

10. Click the button that activates the laser pointer.

11. Try to take a nap.

12. Have the adult cat try to take a nap.

13. Indeed, have the adult cat try to do anything, because the kittens are convinced that the adult cat really just wants to play with them every waking hour of the day, which I assure you, is an opinion at wide variance to adult cat’s own.

14. Leave your toes unattended.

And of course,

15. Tuna.

Scribble Scribble Scribble

So, I started a new novel on Monday and so far, so good; the writing is coming along nicely and it’ll be nice to keep it coming at this clip. For me, the major problem is not writer’s block or plot issues or anything structural involving the novel; I generally don’t have problems with those once I start, and with this new novel, thankfully, I didn’t have any real issues starting.

No, the problem is that the Internet is an attractive nuisance. And not just in the sense of that it distracts me when I need to be writing. No, as I get older, I find that actually plugging into it before I do any novel writing scrambles my brain enough to make it hard to get any appreciable progress made for the day. I think this is a combination of me getting older and the Internet just plain doing a better job of angrying up the blood or otherwise distracting me. I also think it also has to do with a certain amount of habituation, i.e., if I’m checking email, by brain just goes “Oh, we’re on the Internet now,” and just fires up those parts of my brain that work on the Internet. These do not, by and large, correspond to the novel writing parts of my brain.

How to deal with this? Well, I’ve made a new rule, which really isn’t a new rule, but kind of an update rule. And the rule is: before 2,000 words or noon, whichever comes first, no Internet at all. No blog, no Twitter, no Facebook, no email, no checking the news. When I sit down at the computer (usually around 8am), I disconnect it from the network. I leave the cell phone in the other room (and unless you’re my wife, daughter, editor or agent, if you call the landline, it’s not going to get picked up, either). No Internet. At all.

Now, this is similar to the rule I had before, which was no Internet while I was writing. The change is that previously when I woke up, I’d check email and Twitter and what have you, or before I started writing on the novel I might put up a blog post or a Big Idea piece. And I’ve found I can’t really do that anymore — off my brain will go, into a non-novel-writing mode. So: No Internet. At all.

And, well. So far, it’s working swell. The words are flowing, the plot is bubbling along, the characters are quipping and so and so forth, and when I get to about the 2k mark (or noon, whichever comes first), I pack it in for the day and do other things. The side effect, at least so far, is then I slide right into the other tasks pretty happily and efficiently, knowing that the thing I really have to do, i.e., writing on the novels, is already done for the day and not hanging over my head.

That said, I don’t want to get too excited, as it’s two days in to this particular novel writing session. There’s still lots of time to me to screw up my groove. But on the other hand, the more you do something, the easier it gets to do it. Also, and unsurprisingly, the Internet seems to get along just fine without me when I’m not there, which is a thing my feeder-bar subconscious wants to deny. Surprise! I’m just not a big deal on the Internet! Well, I’ll get over that one day, I suppose.

In any event: Hey, I’m writing a novel. Again. Let’s see how this one goes.

The Big Idea: Eric James Stone

Welcome to the first Big Idea of 2016! And while the title of Eric James Stone’s novel promises that it will be Unforgettable, Stone asks an opposing question: If you wanted to make a character who was destined to be forgotten, how would you do it, science fictionally speaking?

ERIC JAMES STONE:

When I came up with the idea of a hero who couldn’t be remembered after he was gone, I needed an explanation for what caused that effect.

I’ve had several stories published in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, a market that offers mainly hard science fiction, so I can come up with scientifically rigorous explanations for various story elements. But Unforgettable was not intended to be hard science fiction — it was really more of a superhero novel, albeit with a rather weird superpower.

I toyed with a biological explanation involving pheromones, but eventually decided to use quantum physics.  I’ve always been fascinated by some of the weirder aspects of quantum mechanics, like superposition and wave function collapse. My wife is a high school physics teacher. Before we met for our first date, I told her she would recognize me because I would be wearing a tee-shirt with a physics joke on it. She said, “OK, but if it isn’t funny, I’m leaving.” The tee-shirt showed a wanted poster with a picture of a cat, and it read “Wanted: Dead & Alive — Schrödinger’s Cat.” (Fortunately, she found that funny enough that she didn’t leave.)

I figure most readers of this blog are familiar with the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment (or are capable of looking it up on Wikipedia), so I won’t detail it here. Suffice to say that before the experimenter opens the box, the cat exists in a superposition of aliveness and deadness. After the experimenter opens the box, the probability wave function collapses, and the experimenter sees either a dead cat or a live (and probably very annoyed) cat.

However — and this is where we go beyond the original thought experiment — outside the lab is the experimenter’s colleague. From the colleague’s point of view, the cat’s aliveness is still in superposition, but the experimenter’s mind could also be said to exist in a superposition of two possibilities: having seen a dead cat and having seen a live cat.

All of that is still within the realm of current theoretical physics. But to provide a theoretical basis for my hero’s superpower, I needed to take it one step further. I wondered, what if there were some sort of glitch, and the wave function for the experimenter’s mind collapsed to the version where the cat is dead, while the wave function for the cat itself collapsed to the version where the cat is alive?

Nat Morgan, the hero of my novel Unforgettable, is the personification of such a glitch: he exists in a superposition of being there and not being there, and once he’s gone the wave functions of the minds of everyone he’s met always collapse to the version in which he wasn’t there.

Once I had my theoretical explanation in place, I proceeded to work out the implications of Nat’s superpower. Figuring out the rules for what happened when he interacted with people helped me to develop scenes that showcased the rules, so the reader would come to understand them.

—-

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

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

New Books and ARCs, 1/4/16

A new year and a new stack of books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound, including several novellas — the hot new format. What here looks good to you? Tell me in the comments.

The 2016 Awards Consideration Post

As is my annual tradition, here’s what I have in terms of work I produced in 2015, for you to consider for science fiction and fantasy awards here in 2016:

Nothing. 

Which is not to say I didn’t produce work in 2015. There’s a novel (The End of All Things) which was made out of four novellas (“The Life of the Mind,” “This Hollow Union,” “Can Long Endure” and “To Stand or Fall”) and I also wrote a graphic novel (Midnight Rises) and helped write and create a video game (Midnight Star). And it’s all really good stuff, if I do say so myself.

However, as I noted last year, this year I feel like taking a year off of the awards race and cheering on other people rather than competing for the awards spotlight. There will be other years to contest in and other work of mine to champion for consideration. In the meantime, 2015 was full of work I loved that other people made, and, independently, is well worth thinking about for awards. I picked a good year to take off and just enjoy other people’s stuff.

Again, to be clear: Please do not nominate the work I produced in 2015 for awards. If my 2015 work is nominated or becomes a finalist for an award, to the extent I am allowed to decline nominations/finalist status, I intend to do so. Please pick other work and people to consider.

What I do want to say to folks is that if you actually have the ability to nominate work for awards, then you really should do that, in as many categories as you have favorite work and people in. There are people who have made it their mission to troll the awards, and the way the trolls succeed (at least in the nominating stages) is to have relatively few other people nominate.

So your mission this year, should you choose to accept it — and you should — is to nominate a whole lot of things you love, and to learn about the categories you don’t usually nominate in, so you can make an informed, personal choice in those categories. And thus will the trolls be banished to the underneath of bridges, to mutter to themselves.

In the next couple of days I’ll put up a post for people to promote their own work, and another for fans to promote their favorite stuff as well, so hopefully that will help get people thinking of new stuff to consider.

So, thanks for reading the stuff I put out in 2015! Please don’t nominate it. Nominate other work instead. Thanks.

And Thus Do the Holidays End, As Ever They Do, With the Ritual Decapitation of a Snowman

What? You don’t end your holidays this way? Huh.

Krissy is in fact mildly annoyed with this, as this is in fact her favorite seasonal snow man decoration. But it’s not too badly broken, I think. Nothing that can’t fixed with love, and a little glue. Mostly glue, I think.

But yes, Krissy is putting away the Christmas decorations today. Welcome to January.

2016 Plans, Appearances, Resolutions, Etc

A quick update on the things I’ve got planned for the next year:

Work: I have a young adult novel I need to write, and an adult novel I need to write. So, uh, that’s two novels (as I have mentioned previously). That’s one more novel than I usually write in any given year, so that’s officially My Writing Challenge for 2016. You will get to watch me as I descend into writing madness! Bwa ha ha ha ha hah ha!

Seriously, though, I think it will be fine. One, these novels are pretty well baked, pre-writing, which is to say in both cases I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do and where the big story beats are. Which means at this point getting the books written will be the quotidian task of punching out a sufficient number of words on a daily basis. Which means, to use less fancy words than “quotidian,” putting my ass in a chair and typing.

Two novels in one year is enough work for me to undertake, in my opinion (if you can or want to write more novels in a year, that’s nice for you, but this isn’t a competition, friend), so I feel that if that was all I did in my year, work-wise, I could be excused for the rest of the year. As it happens, however, I do have some other things I want to try to stuff into the year as well. These include a few short stories; these are a near certainty to get done.

There are a few other possible things on my plate as well, but those fall under “secret projects” at the moment, so you’ll find out about them if they happen, and if they don’t, well. They’ll go to that sad place that all the other secret projects that didn’t pan out go to, and this brief mention here is all you’ll ever know of them.

It’ll be a busy year no matter what, is what I’m saying. The good news for you is that it means 2017 and after will have lots of ScalziProduct™ for you to consume.

Appearances: This year I currently have no book tour scheduled, on account that I don’t have a new novel coming out in 2016, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a chance to see me: as of this moment, I’m scheduled for appearances in Boston, Detroit, Dallas, Los Angeles, Columbus, Portland, Kansas City and Hawaii. I’ll also be on the JoCo Cruise once again. Here are the details on each of those.

I have a few other possible public events in the works as well and if they pan out I will make note of them and update the Scheduled Appearances page as well. I may also have announcements on how I manage my upcoming appearances and invitations soon. Stay tuned for details on that.

Resolutions: The two public resolutions I have for the year are: Focus more on important things and less on unimportant things, and try to see more of friends and loved ones in 2016. Not especially blockbuster resolutions, to be sure, but ones that if I manage to keep will improve my quality of life. Which, I think, is what new year’s resolutions are meant to do in any event.

And thus: Plans for 2016. Let’s see what happens to them when they meet reality.

2016 is Here

May the new year be filled with joy and delight and happiness, and with great blessings for those you love, and who love you.

2015 and Me

Surely the recitation of the facts of 2015 indicate it was a very good year for me. I released my first video game and graphic novel, both of which did pretty well; my novel The End of All Things was released and went into various best seller lists; my previous novel Lock In was a finalist for awards including the Locus and Campbell and won an Alex Award from the American Library Association (for adult books that are good reads for teenagers); I wrote a novel and a novella and a short story and toured the United States and Australia; I celebrated my 20th anniversary with my wife in London; and had lunch with Tom Hanks, you know, like you do.

Oh, and I got a book contract. So I have that going for me, which is nice.

What the recitation of facts misses is that in a great many ways, 2015 is the year that I stopped worrying about a whole lot of things. I could go into detail about this, but suffice to say that this is the year I recognized that so many of the things people worry about, in terms of their lives and careers and relationships and their place in the world, are things for me which are, for lack of a better term, settled issues.

To put it another way: This year it sunk in that I really did get to be the person I wanted to be when I grew up, and got the life I hoped to have, and in both cases that fact is even more fulfilling to me than I could have imagined when I was younger. If I were hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow, I couldn’t say my life wasn’t wonderful, with wonderful people in it, or that I didn’t do what I had wanted to do with it.

This does not mean that life can’t take its turns in the future; it doesn’t mean I won’t have failures and disappointments and annoyances; I have not ascended to some zen plane of perfect equanimity. Just last night I was irritated as hell that I bought a Blu-Ray at the store and then left it in the shopping cart in the store parking lot. I am still me; I am not anywhere close to perfect and I suspect I would rapidly become bored if I were. I continue to be a work in progress.

What I mean, simply, is that I am mindful of my circumstance, and that mindfulness allows me to choose not to worry much about certain things any more. I was going to say that this was the gift that 2015 gave me, but as I was typing it I realized it wasn’t actually a gift; it’s something that I built for myself — along with, to be clear, my wife and my child, and with a great deal of help from many other people. I’ve been building this edifice for a while, and this was the year it was habitable and I decided to live in it.

Another thing about 2015 is that in a very real way I think of it, with regard to my career, as a pivot point. I mark the start of my professional writing career as 1990; that was the year I began freelancing concert reviews and features for the Sun-Times newspaper and New City magazine in Chicago, and paid for my food and rent with what I earned. 2015, then, marked a quarter century of me writing for a living, and during that quarter century I learned how to write a lot of things, and I had a lot of fun, and I built a career that has gotten me to this place in life.

That contract I made with Tor this year represents many things, and I certainly understand why people have talked about it and what it means (I mean, come on. We wanted you talk about it. You knew that, right?). I’ve talked before about what it means to me, and to that I’ll note another thing: To me, it represents a foundation for the next 25 (or so) years of my career. I am after all in a different place with and in that career than I was 25 or 10 or even five years ago. I have different interests and opportunities and concerns now than I had then, and my contract with Tor, and all the books and writing and imagination it represents and requires, is what my career will build on from here.

And just what will happen from here? Man, you got me. I have no idea, other than, hey, I have some books to write. But here’s the thing: If all it means is I get those books to write, how cool is that? Thirteen new books and a bunch of new stories, characters and situations I haven’t even begun to think of yet, coming out of my brain into a computer and then onto a page which goes into a book. And then someone gets the book and opens it and what was in my brain is now in theirs. That’s nifty.

And it’ll happen, and will begin, because of what happened for me in 2015. It was a watershed year for me. A career year. Don’t think I don’t know it.

2015 in Scamperbeastery

Needless to say, the real big news of 2015 was the arrival at the Scalzi Compound of Sugar and Spice, aka Thing One and Thing Two, aka the Scamperbeasts. They arrived on the first day of November (which means tomorrow is their second monthaversary here)  and have made rather a large splash since then. I have taken many many many many many many pictures. For next year I suspect they will end up in the usual end-of-the-year pet roundup, but for this year, let’s so ahead and do a quick retrospective on their fuzzy conquering of the household. And remember that when you need a quick Scamperbeast fix, there’s an entire Flickr photoset devoted to them.

That last picture is from about 20 minutes ago, and is Sugar swatting at the camera, as if to say, “Enough with the pictures.” All right, Sugar. It’s indeed enough for the rest of the year.

What Passes For Snow, December 2015

Here it is: A light dusting in our forward landscaping area. Krissy and I are debating whether or not this qualifies as actual snow, on account that on the actual lawn, driveway and walkways, there’s not a single scrap of snow, i.e., it didn’t stick anywhere, nor will it, as it’s supposed to get over freezing this afternoon. Verdict: Meh. Go home, December, you are drunk.

I do believe this is the first December I’ve been in Ohio where there has been no snow to talk of, hasty last-minute pseudo-dustings not withstanding. The December weather nationwide has been weirdly enough that it’s made even climate change deniers delightfully defensive; I had a few yell “it’s weather not climate!” in desperation at me on Twitter before I muted their silly asses. It’s certainly true that one weird December does not climate make. I also understand that it’s been something like sixty or seventy degrees warmer at the north pole than it usually is and that 2015 is the warmest year humans have recorded on the planet, and that fourteen of the fifteen warmest years ever recorded have been this century. So I feel that climate change deniers have every right to feel defensive right about now.

Not that, on a purely personal micro scale, I minded the warm December at all; I’m California born-and-bred and grew up in a world where 72 and sunny on Christmas was the norm. I’m delighted to have gotten entirely through December without once having to haul out my winter coat. But then again on Athena’s birthday we had an actual tornado warning here in my hometown and not too far away people’s barns were spread across their neighbors’ fields because of those tornado warning winds. Weird warm December weather is not all standing in your yard in December with a t-shirt.

Predicted weather for the first week of January: Mostly high 30s and low 40s and no snow expected. If we get through January without snow I’m gonna maybe start freaking out.

Insulting Things I Called People on Twitter Today: A Collection

Why did I insult people on Twitter today? This is why:

And what did I call people today on Twitter, and in ALL CAPS to boot? Among other things:

  • UNWASHED SLOTH
  • DORKTWIDDLERS
  • CHUCKLESPLEEN
  • PIEBALD KITTENSNORFFLER
  • BEETLETOED JACKNEEDLE
  • TWISTED SACKS OF BUTTERKNUCKLES
  • CHRONIC FISHSPACKLER
  • MUCUSOIDAL FERRET
  • POSSOM-SPLAYED SOCKET-LICKER
  • CHEESESNORTING RHODE ISLAND NICKELHOARDERS
  • THE INSIDE OF CHEKOV’S GYM LOCKER
  • BARRELSCRAPING CUTICLE FUNGUS
  • PROCRASTINATING KEYBOARDFINGERER
  • OXYGENHOARDING WASTE OF MARZIPAN
  • PROTOZOAN NOODLESCRIBBLER
  • OCTOPODEAN KNISHSTUFFER
  • CRABFIDDLING BOOGER CATALOGUER
  • TIREPOKING BARKSTRIPPER
  • WANTON LAWN PUNCHER
  • EIN KATZENZUNGE
  • TIPTREE TIARA OVERFONDLER
  • PICTUREFRAMING OYSTERPUSHER
  • UPHOLSTERED BEERFOAMER
  • JAGGED-EDGED WALL CLIPPER
  • REVISIONIST MONKTRANSCRIBER
  • COD-BATTERING CHIP SHOVER
  • OVERQUALIFIED PIGEON RUFFLER
  • CRAVEN INSULTMONGERS

As a bonus, many of these make great band names.

You can’t say I don’t know how to keep busy between Christmas and New Year’s.

The Year in (Non-Kitten) Pets, 2015

This was a somewhat sad year at the Scalzi Compound, pet-wise, as two of our cats, Ghlaghghee and Lopsided Cat, left us — Ghlaghghee in January and http://whatever.scalzi.com/2015/11/07/lopsided-cat-2000-2015/. But then the two kittens we acquired, Sugar and Spice, have been making life interesting again as well. It’s a reminder that pets come and go and you love them while you have them. Here are the pets we had this year — minus the kittens, who will get their own retrospective — and suffice to say, we love, and loved, them all.

Finally, not a pet, but a creature I found in my yard this year, after a particularly heavy storm:

Never a dull moment here at the Scalzi Compound, I have to say.

Love your pets, folks. They love you.

The Big Idea: Erin M. Evans

The last Big Idea of the year! And a very interesting one too, as Erin M. Evans goes deep about what it takes to write in already-existing worlds, as she is doing with her novel Ashes of the Tyrant. Think it’s easy to write a tie-in novel? Think again.

ERIN M. EVANS:

I.

“If I had your job,” a writer friend of mine once declared, “I would lose my fucking mind.”

I had just finished describing a city I’d be using in my next book, Djerad Thymar, a hollow pyramid taller than Khufu’s, big enough to house 30,000+ people, and the only city described for a race in Dungeons & Dragons called the dragonborn. Given a series of new constraints, I needed a way for it to have been built in less than eighty years by people who only just got access to magic.  “A wizard did it” wouldn’t fly. “They worked real hard” wouldn’t either.

To some people, like my friend, that’s an intrusion, an impediment to their storytelling. To me, it’s a challenge I can’t help but accept.

Working with setting details you wouldn’t have chosen on your own is inevitability of tie-in fiction. Depending on what kind of media you’re tying in to the difference can be slight or stark. Role-playing games involve a lot of storytelling, a lot of backstory, so there’s often a lot to work with or around—but there are also a lot of cooks in this kitchen and they don’t always agree. Sometimes you get details that are there for the “cool visual” they provide. Sometimes you get hit with things there for mechanical reasons foremost—elves see secret doors because…someone should see secret doors! Sometimes there’s a hole where you’d expect to have answers and sometimes there are six books of background where you’d expect wiggle room.

Sometimes there’s this giant pyramid a bunch of dragon-people built because why not?

This works in a RPG game. It leaves room for the DM to shape the story they need to tell, for the players to find a niche for their characters. Here are the bones of a world. Build something around them.

You can’t always get by with just bones in a novel. It might be easier to lean on those sourcebooks, to only talk to the readers who play the game, but it’s not very satisfying. There’s such a lot of good story to be found between those immovable sourcebook details, and such a lot of inspiration in the contradictions that might otherwise make you lose your fucking mind.

And when it came to dragonborn, the shape around the bones was too wonderful to ignore.

II.

The first time I realized my degree was still good for something, I wrote a short treatise on orcish ritual scarification. I was editing a book for Wizards of the Coast called Sentinelspire by Mark Sehestedt. In it, Mark had created a tribe of orcs to live in the icy corner of the world he’d chosen, and given a half-orc character the ritual of cutting a mourning scar across his heart for his lost blood brother.

Except this is basically the Siberia of the world. Ritual scarification sends a message to the people we interact with: I have lost a comrade and a loved one.  Who’s he sending that message to if he’s bundled up against the cold all year long? (Mark moved the scar to his face and got a very poignant scene out of it).

Like most anthropology majors, I suspect, I thought for sure I was heading for academia. But an undiagnosed anxiety disorder pushed that dream out and out and out and by the time I had my brain back in relative order, I realized I didn’t want that life. But I still love it—and realizing all those books and studies and essays about ritual scarification and burial customs, proscriptions and purity and family structure, they’re all applicable to fantasy worlds. We’re social animals. We organize ourselves to perpetuate ourselves, and in those interactions lie so many of our truths and fears, our taboos and necessities, the pressures that quietly make each of us who we are.

Even if we’re elves. Or orcs. Or dragon-people.

Dragonborn are fairly new to the Forgotten Realms, mostly background players. So here was an excellent opportunity to flesh out those bones, which kicked the story into gear. For example, in the game, they were created by tyrannical dragons to be the perfect slaves, but they rose up and overthrew their far more powerful masters. Out of that, they were thrown into this new world by powerful magic and built a nation out of the rubble….and yet standard perception is they are friendly and curious and honor-bound to a fault.

Which makes sense, I figure, if non-dragonborn can’t read dragonborn facial expressions, if neither group understands the etiquette of the other, and if humans have no idea when a dragonborn is throwing shade, bless their hearts.

III.

From these two angles came the big idea of Ashes of the Tyrant, the fifth book of the Brimstone Angels saga.  In it, Farideh, my tiefling warlock, travels back to Djerad Thymar, the birthplace of her adopted father, Clanless Mehen. Mehen was exiled in his youth for reasons he doesn’t talk about, but now his father’s dead, the new matriarch of his clan wants him back. Mehen wants to be left alone, but at the same time he misses what he lost. For his daughters, Djerad Thymar is a puzzle—the place where all their family customs come from, but where they, as non-dragonborn, don’t belong.

This is a story about the past, about the way we mythologize the past, and what we can do to keep that from stymieing our future. A story about the roles our culture creates for us and how they harm or help, how we reshape ourselves or reshape our roles.  It’s a story about family—what we’re born with and what we build ourselves—and how these things ripple out into our communities.

Also it’s about a demon running around murdering people.

(Come on: it’s still a D&D novel. You build around the bones, after all.)

IV.

So how did the dragonborn build Djerad Thymar? Unfortunately, the answer spawned a major story point, so you’ll have to read Ashes of the Tyrant to find out.

—-

Ashes of the Tyrant: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

 

I Ruin Everything But Mostly Science Fiction

From Twitter earlier today: 

Seriously, words can’t express how delighted I am to vex and annoy bigoted turds like this one, simply by existing and publishing. Because I do exist. And I will publish! The contracts are signed! Barring death itself, there is no way to stop the decade-long flood of my ruination of the science fiction! Best of all, I don’t have to do anything other than publish to irritate this sad sack of crap. And I was going to do that anyway. It’s the perfect storm of least effort on my part.

Here’s the thing: If I ruin the genre of science fiction for you, or if the presence in the genre of people whose politics and positions you don’t like ruins the genre for you — the whole genre, in which hundreds of traditionally published works and thousands of self-and-micro-pubbed works are produced annually — then, one, oh well, and two, you pretty much deserve to have the genre ruined for you. It doesn’t have to be ruined, mind you, because chances are pretty good that within those thousands of works published annually, you’ll find something that rings your bell. And if you do, why should you care about the rest of it? It’s literally not your problem. Find the work you’ll love and then love it, and support the authors who make it, hopefully with money.

But if you’re determined that I or any author, or feminists or socialists or whomever are ruining the genre, then you’ve given those people the power to ruin the genre for you, whether they care what you think or not, or whether or not they even know you exist. And, speaking personally, if a sexist, bigoted cloacal squirt of a human wants to give me that power, then sure, I’ll be happy to ruin the genre for them through no additional effort of my own. Why, yes, I am destroying science fiction! With glee! And I’m going to be destroying it a lot over the next ten years at least.

So, you might want to pack a lunch, chuckles. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be here in science fiction a nice, long, productive time. I’m going to write what I want to write, how I want to write it, and I’m going to have a hell of a lot of fun while I’m at it. And if you think that ruins the genre, then that’s your problem, not mine.

The Big Idea: Lawrence M. Schoen

Here in the last week of December 2015 books are still coming out, and here’s a very interesting one indeed: Barsk, by Lawrence M. Schoen. For the Big Idea behind it, Schoen looks at memory, and what it has to do with you, me, and sentient elephant-like creatures on another planet.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:

I like to think there are lots of cool ideas in Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, from using prophecy to travel in time, to showcasing anguish via a character who cannot feel pain. It’s like I was saving up ideas to put them all in this book. But the biggest idea, the one that filters through all the others, is memory as a physical thing distinct from our bodies and yet bound by the laws of physics (even if I had to invent some of those laws myself).

I’ve been a cognitive psychologist for thirty years, complete with the terminal degree, a collection of peer-reviewed journal articles, and a towering stack of teaching evaluations to prove it. So bear with me a moment as I give you some background on a topic that fascinates me: memory.

Memory is more than just the place we put the stuff we later choose to call to mind. In part, because that stuff is actually a myriad kinds of things, that apparently get stored in different ways. Memory for faces is one type, and very different from memory for names. Ditto for the memory of how to do a thing (like riding a bicycle) and knowing what a thing is (ooh, look, that thing with handlebars and wheels, it’s a bicycle!). Memory for words obeys different rules than memory for sounds that are not words. I could go on and on like this for hours, but this isn’t my classroom and I don’t think John will let me give you all a test, so let’s move on.

My point is, psychologists have been carving up the memory pie since the late 19th century when Hermman Ebbinghaus kicked up a fuss looking at what affected his efforts to memorize nonsense syllables. For purposes of my Big Idea (and Barsk) though, I want to focus on two slices of that pie: what are typically called semantic memory and episodic memory.

Semantic memory is the stuff you know. It’s names and dates and facts that you can look up in an encyclopedia or google on your smartphone. It’s objective data. Whereas episodic memory is subjective; it’s your personal experience of something and includes not just the what of memory but also the who and the where and the how did you feel at the time. Knowing who John Scalzi is is semantic memory. Remembering the first time I met him at a Worldcon is episodic. The former type of memory is colorless, the latter is potentially filtered through all sorts of emotional and intellectual states-of-being present at the time the information was encoded, and prone to modification and embellishment each time it’s recalled. And because episodic memory is subjective, even if you were there, in the room at the same time, your memory of the event will be different from mine because we’re different people.

Consider for a moment that this kind of personal memory defines who we are as individuals; each of us is a unique organization of information, collections of experiences, that owe nothing to the basic physicality of our bodies or our longevity. To run with this idea, I only had to fudge a little bit and invent a new subatomic particle, which I named the nefshon, a “particle of personality.”

Imagine that every instant of your life you’re producing nefshons, representing every experience you have. Each particle is a cluster of information that tells your unique story at that moment in time. The people you shared that experience with also produced their own nefshons of the event. Now here’s the fun part: your memory of those people is made possible by sharing nefshons. You received some of theirs, and likewise parted with some of your own. Seen in this light, your identity is made up not just of your experiences but also contains pieces of everyone you’ve ever met.

That’s fine, but so what? Thanks for asking.

If who we are, if the essential thing that is you, is an elaborate and totally unique organization of information encoded on those subatomic particles — unreliant on your meat body —you transcend death. Breathing your last breath and joining the choir invisible does not mean the information that defined you is gone. Your nefshons don’t care about rigor mortis. At most, your being alive held them together in a common cluster, and your death just means they’ll disperse, much like other particles would. A handy analogy for this is starlight. The information contained in each of those points of lights has traveled vast spans of time and distance to reach you and be seen, even if the star they came from is long gone. Like those particles of light, each nefshon still possesses the information it did from its origin, unaffected by time or distance of the wetware from which it sprang.

In Barsk there is a drug that grants its users — let’s call them Speakers — the ability to perceive and manipulate nefshons, to reach out into the ether and summon the bits of information from a specific person. If a Speaker draws enough of your nefshons together, they combine to produce a simulacrum of the original you, one that has your knowledge and personality and in all respects is you, except for the minor fact that it lacks a physical body. My protagonist, Jorl, is one such individual, a historian who can actually conjure up figures out of history and speak to them, or more simply converse with his best friend whom he believes killed himself but won’t say why, and lo, we’re off and running with a major plot thread for the novel.

The Big Idea here is that we aren’t defined by our bodies but rather by our experiences, that each of us is a unique organization of information that transcends mere physicality. Considered in this way, death is not the end of us because it doesn’t unmake that organization. Moreover, like light from a distant star, the information of who we are still exists, just waiting for someone with the means of perceiving us as we spread out through the universe, each of us immortal, waiting to tell our story.

So, forget about aliens learning about us because they’ve watched our television transmissions; if they’ve worked out the technology they’re going to pass on reruns of Gilligan’s Island and zoom in on the highlights of your life. Whether it’s the awe and transformation of holding your child for the first time, or the warm memory of the day your grandfather came to visit and bought you that ice cream cone, or that night in the backseat of the limo after the junior prom when your world changed forever. All your memories will still be out there, long after you’re not.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s page. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Very Important News About My 2016 Novel Release (and Other Fiction Plans)

So, here’s the Very Important News about my 2016 novel release:

Currently, there isn’t one. Not a new one, anyway.

Which isn’t to say I’m not writing a novel in 2016. In fact, I’m writing two(!). Merely that Tor has decided to wait until 2017 to release the next new one.

Why the wait? Among other things, because Tor just dropped a ton of money on me so we want to make sure we debut this next novel, the first in the new contract, just right. I’m on board with this plan — note the “we” in that last sentence — since (again, among other things) I actually want to try to earn out the silly large chunks of money Tor has dropped on me. I also don’t mind the extra time it gives me to write/tweak the novels I’m currently working on.

Note that 2016 isn’t the first year without a new Scalzi novel: 2009 and 2010 were likewise new novel-free. And then came the nice run of Fuzzy Nation, Redshirts, Human Division, Lock In and The End of All Things. We did all right after the last pause, is what I’m saying. I think we’ll be okay with this one too.

(For those curious about the novels I’m currently working on: One is a YA, and the other is a space opera, planned to be the first in a new series, the latter being the one that will likely be the 2017 release. For more details on these, you’re just going to have to wait. I know, I know, waiting sucks. I’ll make it worth it, promise.)

Does this mean that there will be no fiction work from me in 2016? Not at all. Here’s what you’ll definitely see on tap for 2016 (i.e., done and awaiting publication):

* The paperback release of The End of All Things, currently scheduled for May 31st.

* The novella “The Dispatcher,” which will debut first as an audiobook through Audible, and then later in printed/eBook form through Subterranean Press. This is my first foray into contemporary fantasy, and I think you guys are going to enjoy the hell out of it. No solid release date yet but almost certainly in 2016.

* A short story called “On the Wall” which I co-wrote with my pal Dave Klecha, which is part of the Black Tide Rising anthology, co-edited by John Ringo, for Baen. Yes, that John Ringo and that Baen. Pick your jaws up off the floor, people. I’ve made no bones about liking Baen as a publisher, and I’ve noted for a while that John Ringo and I get on pretty well despite our various differences and occasional snark. Also, it was a ton of fun to write in his universe and with Dave. The BTR anthology comes out June 7th.

There’s also a strong likelihood I will have something else released from Subterranean Press in 2016. More details on that when everything’s hammered out. Plus! I may have a short story or two out in ’16, pending scheduling. Again, more information on that later if something positive happens in that direction.

All of which is to say that you won’t lack for fiction from me in 2016. It’ll be there.