There, that should hold you. Hope you had a fine Thursday.
There, that should hold you. Hope you had a fine Thursday.
Book ideas can come from anywhere — but the time they take to get to an author can, well, vary. In the Big Idea for her novel False Hearts, author Laura Lam traces the path of the idea that became to dual hearts of her story.
Sometimes book ideas hit you in a sudden burst of inspiration. You want to yell “Eureka!” even if you’re at your desk in your day job, or in the middle of the aisle while shopping for food. All the pieces tumble into place and you have a plotted book sitting in your head within a couple of hours or a few days. Other times, it seems to come in frustratingly small dribs and drabs: you love this premise or this idea for a character, but you don’t yet know how to work it into a plot and what world it should take place in, so it ends up percolating for a while before finally coalescing into something you can work with.
False Hearts was more the second process. I had the Eureka premise hit me clear on the side of the head and I was really excited by it, but then the idea had to marinate a little. I can pinpoint to the exact moment I had the idea; it was lunchtime on February 25, 2013, less than a month after my first book, Pantomime, had been released. I’d finished the sequel, Shadowplay, and I was slowly working on the third book, Masquerade, even though it didn’t yet have a contract. I figured I should work on something else, too, just in case. This proved to be a good move, as the imprint of the publisher that released my first books folded a few months later.
That lunchtime, I read this article on io9 by Annalee Newitz about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Daisy and Violet were conjoined at the hip and famous on the vaudeville circuit. They were sadly treated badly by their family and various managers, and their lives were a series of ups and downs. When vaudeville started winding down, they ended up moving into cinema. The article had a clip from Chained for Life, where both twins have to go on trial for a murder one of them committed.
Wham. Book idea: what if your literal other half was accused of murder, and you weren’t entirely sure whether or not they’d done it? How far would you go to find out the truth?
I have identical twin nephews and see how close they are. They fight, sure, but at the end of the day, they are inseparable. I started researching conjoined twins, watching interviews, documentaries, and reading a lot of nonfic. But it took a while to figure out what I should actually do with that idea—what genre, where it should be set, how everything was going to actually fit. In little dribs and drabs, it came together. With each new snippet, I did more research (subjects included futuristic architecture, possible medical advancements, how mobs work, how cults work, neuroscience, how drugs and dreams affect the brain). In the end, I wrote a thriller set in near-future San Francisco. I grew up in the Bay Area, but moved to Scotland when I was 21, so it was a nice excuse to go home in my imagination for a while.
The San Francisco of False Hearts looks like a utopia at first glance. Poverty is all but erased. There aren’t any major world-scale wars. Health care is free and advanced. Crime seems a thing of the past. The SF bay glows green at night from the algae they farm to bolster the food supply, along with orchard skyscrapers and vat-grown meat. Everyone has ocular and auditory implants, streaming information directly into their cortex. When pent up emotions grow overwhelming, people go to one of the many Zeal Lounges throughout the city, plugging into the drug that lets you exorcise your dark desires in dreams. They come out of the trip refreshed and soporific. A little more tractable. A little easier to control.
The twins in False Hearts, Taema and Tila, were born conjoined at the chest in a cult set where Muir Woods is now. This cult, Mana’s Hearth, has been completely cut off from modern technology, and they essentially live like 1969 summer of love hippies. Like many cults, there’s a sinister undertone. Changing yourself in anyway is considered sacrilege—if you’re ill, you can use some rudimentary herbs, but otherwise you must bow to the will of the Creator.
At sixteen, when their shared heart starts to fail, Taema and Tila do not bow. They run.
In San Francisco, there is a pressure to fit into the narrow confines of what society considers perfection. Thanks to gene therapy and walk-in flesh parlours, people rarely let themselves age. Society has no idea what to do with conjoined twins, and, though the twins don’t really want to, they are pressured into being separated and fitted with mechanical hearts. Over the next ten years, the sisters subtly drift apart.
Then, one night, Tila stumbles into Taema’s house, covered in someone else’s blood. She’s arrested by the first murder from a civilian in decades. It’s all kept out of the papers, and soon Taema is given a proposal: they think her sister was involved with the Ratel, the underground mob of San Francisco that deal in a dangerous new dream drug called Verve. If Taema takes her sister’s identity and works with an undercover detective and finds out what’s going on in the Ratel, then SFPD might let her sister live rather than being thrown into stasis for her crimes.
Taema can’t stand that her sister has kept such a big secret from her. It eats at her. So she follows her sister into the dark underbelly of San Francisco, and ends up realising they didn’t leave their past as far behind as they’d hoped. At first, Taema is sure that her sister was not capable of murder. The father she falls down the rabbit hole, the less sure she is: and if Taema’s sister is capable of murder, what does that say about her?
Sometimes you get what you ask for. What then? It’s a question both for Bryon Quertermous and Dominick Prince, the protagonist of his new novel, Riot Load. Quertermous is here to go into slightly more detail about it.
Very rarely am I able to capture the entire Big Idea of a book in the opening sentence, but for my current book, Riot Load, it happened like this:
I was two hours into my thirty-minute lunch break and taking in a baseball game on a stuffy mid-July day in Detroit when it occurred to me that getting everything I ever wanted was the worst thing that could have happened to me.
I finished my first novel when I was 24 and was immediately ready for literary fame and riches to descend upon me. It didn’t matter that I had already blown a number of great opportunities in my life; I was certain I was ready. Luckily for all involved I was the only one who thought that and it took another 13 years for me to sell my first novel.
By that point I was married, had two kids, a stable job, and a decade worth of experiences and connections to draw upon. I genuinely was ready. Had I been published at 24 with that book and tried to write a Big Idea essay then, it almost certainly would have declared myself the voice of my generation and would have been insufferable to a weaponized degree.
Dominick Prince, the main character in Riot Load, is not so lucky. He was given a book contract and a lot of money before he was ready as a writer and well before he was ready as a person. When I started writing this book, I tried to put myself in his place and figure out what I would have done with more money than common sense and no direction in my life because the one single thing I had been striving for already happened. The answer of course is nothing.
That doesn’t make for a very good book though so I gave him one more dream he had been harboring: a marriage to his college crush. That’s when things really got going and I found myself working out a lot of issues of my own through Dominick’s adventures. The novel grew out of a short story I wrote years ago about a sperm bank robbery. The story itself was disgusting and when I pitched the idea to my publisher he was rightly concerned about the market potential of a disgusting book. But as I sold him on a new interpretation of the idea, I was also selling myself on it. A sperm bank robbery turned out to be a great forum to talk about my parenting fears and the weight of legacies humans have a tendency to saddle themselves with.
I did not take to being a parent easily. I was selfish and bitter and all-together insufferable about the whole thing. It wasn’t until my third kid I finally grew the hell up and stopped whining about it. But as I was writing about fatherhood with this book and weaving in this idea of having dreams come true too early I found myself also writing a lot about the idea of tying one’s identity to what they do.
Dominick achieved in a year everything he’d hoped to spend a lifetime pursuing and with that he lost who he was as a person. But with a new wife and an impending child he finds himself with the opportunity to recreate himself as a husband and as a father. He’s just as bad at it as I was, but he also has to deal with his wife being a bounty hunter and her family being in the middle of a struggle for control of their fading criminal empire. I had to deal with losing my dream job.
I’d been an editor for almost as long as I’d been a writer and those two pursuits made up the core of my identity so it was no surprise to me that in the space of three months I was hired to run the new crime fiction imprint of a respected publisher and then sold my first novel. I had absolutely no conflict in my life. I was enjoying two great careers, I had an amazing marriage and I was settling in and finally enjoying being a parent. That made the early writing of this book very hard.
The fates took pity on me though and ripped the job away from me after seven months sending me into a spiral of self-pity and anger. Suddenly I had no problem writing, but everything I wrote came out angry. I’m not an angry person I told myself. I’m easy going and optimistic. But it turned out Dominick was very angry. While I wasn’t looking this character I had created as an avatar for my wasted years had become his own person independent of the autobiographical traits I had created him with.
And he was exactly the right character for me to be writing at that time.
What happens when you achieve your dreams too early? You find new dreams. The same is true if you fail to achieve a dream. Or if your dream morphs into something else. How a dream is achieved is as an important to the identity of a character, or of a real life person, as the dream itself. I’m lucky the pursuit of my dreams has led to success and failure in equal doses on a time frame that I’ve been able to handle. Dominick Prince has not been as lucky.
But his story is far more interesting to read about.
Spice, discovering trees have birds.
Hope your day has been a good one.
We’re all connected — although perhaps not to the extreme the people in Adam Rakunas‘ new book Like a Boss are. In this Big Idea, Rakunas muses on the costs and benefits of connection… especially if someone wants to disconnect.
Three years ago, Paul Graham Raven posted a link to an essay by Venkatesh Rao, and it broke me. Rao’s thesis in The American cloud is that the everyday experiences of our lives are dependent on distant industrial-scale processes that might as well be high up in the sky. Flip a light switch, eat an apple, read a book: all of these are the end points of vast networks of raw materials passing through the hands of many, many people until they get to you.
What would happen if they all went on strike?
For the people of Santee Anchorage, the world of Like a Boss, it would be catastrophic. The little agricultural world is an Information Age outpost on the edge of Super Duper Future society. All of the supply lines are so compressed and interdependent that if one person quits, everything collapses overnight. If the woman who runs the local metal fabrication shop closes up, then the delivery company that depends on her parts will have to close when their carburetors fail, which means that the farmers won’t be able to bring their eggplants to town in time for the Baba Ganoush Festival, which means the family that just opened a pita bread bakery will have a pile of rotting product, which means the neighborhood garbage digester will overfill, which means a sudden increase in the rat population, which means a sudden uptick in ratborne meningitis, which brings the already-stretched medical system to its knees, et cetera.
And that’s just one shop. Imagine everyone walking out.
Padma Mehta, the book’s two-fisted labor organizing heroine, knows that there’s a time and place for a strike, and right now is neither. Santee Anchorage is still recovering from the economic disaster of having its space elevator blown up (by Padma, a fact that everyone is more than happy to remind her every chance they get), and, even though the new elevator has been up and running for the past eight months, people are still on edge. The medicine and technology that the citizenry gets in exchange for its industrial sugarcane is running low, and any disruptions to the local economy will empty those stocks.
Padma’s been too busy digging her way out of debt to want to do anything about it, though. She’s got what she’s always wanted: retirement from her gig as a Union recruiter, ownership of the Old Windswept Rum Distillery, and a life free of people bringing their troubles to her and expecting her to Do Something About it. She did that for long enough, and where did it get her? On the hook for blowing up the space elevator, that’s what. If the Union can’t do anything about fixing Santee’s current mess, then why should she bother?
Because it will get her out of debt, of course. That’s the deal the Union President offers if Padma can head off the looming strike. Everyone’s pissed off, everyone want someone to Do Something About It, and Padma’s just the person with the knowledge, the charm, and the ready right hook to get it done. Will she stop the strike in time?
No. Oh, God, no. Not even close. But you’ll have a hell of a time finding out how.
Mehta’s former employer.
A man goes into an immigration services center in Binghamton New York, blocks the exit in the back with his car, goes through the front door with handguns, body armor and ammunition. He shoots the receptionists and opens fire on a citizenship class. He murders thirteen. This is horrific. I offer my thoughts and prayers.
A psychiatrist trained to help others with the stress of combat goes to Ft. Hood, the army base at which he is stationed, and opens fire on his fellow soldiers and some civilians, too. Another thirteen people are murdered there. Three are killed charging the shooter. Words cannot express my sorrow. I offer my thoughts and prayers.
A professor is denied tenure at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. She goes to a department faculty meeting and in that conference room pulls out a nine-millimeter handgun and shoots six people, three of whom she manages to murder. Those people were just doing their jobs and what happened to them is terrible. I don’t want to have to think about it any further. I offer my thoughts and prayers.
A truck driver in Manchester, Connecticut comes out of a company disciplinary hearing for allegedly stealing beer and starts shooting up his place of work. He murders eight people, calls his mother and tells her about it, and then shoots himself. Gun control discussions are a mess in this country and they never go anywhere productive, there’s no middle ground, and they make me tired thinking about them. I offer my thoughts and prayers.
In Tucson, Arizona, a member of Congress is meeting with her constituents in the parking lot of a supermarket, and a 22-year-old man comes up and shoots her straight in the head. A representative to Congress, can you believe that! She somehow survives, but he murders six others, ranging in age from nine to 79. That’s quite a range. Surely the attempted assassination of a US Representative will start a substantive discussion by someone. In the meantime, I offer my thoughts and prayers.
Seal Beach, California, where a man and a woman are having a custody dispute. His solution: Enter his wife’s place of work, a hair salon, and open fire on anyone there. He murders his ex-wife and seven other people, including one man not even in the salon. He is in his car in the parking lot outside the salon. Bad luck. Here’s an interesting thing: there is a sort of magical power to saying that you offer your thoughts and prayers.
Oakland, California, and at a small Christian college, a man who had been expelled for behavioral and anger management problems decides that he’s going to find an administrator he has issues with. He doesn’t find her, so instead grabs a secretary, enters a classroom and orders the students there to line against a wall. Some refuse. He shoots, reloads and shoots some more. Seven people are murdered. The shooter later says he’s sorry. The magical power of saying that you offer your thoughts and prayers is that once you do it, you’re not required to do anything other than to offer your thoughts and prayers.
In Aurora, Colorado, a midnight audience of Batman fans are half an hour into the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s superhero trilogy when a man enters the theater, clad in protective armor, sets off two gas canisters and starts shooting. Some audience members think this is a stunt tied into the film. It’s not a stunt, and the shooter, armed with an assault rife, a shotgun and a glock, murders a dozen people, ten of whom die right there in the theater. When police visit the shooter’s home, they find it rigged with explosives. The shooter placed a camera to record what happens if the police just barge in. Saying “thoughts and prayers” is performative, which is to say that just in saying it, you’ve performed an action. Prayers leave your mind and go to God. It is a blessed, holy and as such apparently sufficient thing, to offer your thoughts and prayers.
Sunday morning, and in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, members of the Sikh temple there have gathered for services and meditation and are preparing a communal meal when a white supremacist and Army veteran starts shooting, murdering six and wounding a police officer before killing himself. Did you know that Sikhs are often confused by the unknowing and possibly uncaring for being Muslim, and that the excuse of “I thought they were Muslims” is itself a sign of racial hatred? Mind you, there are people who will say to you that it’s not enough, only to offer your thoughts and prayers.
In Minneapolis, a man is called into an office by his supervisor and told he is losing his job. The man replies, “Oh, really?” and pulls out a handgun, shooting the supervisor after a struggle for the weapon, eventually murdering five others before killing himself. Indeed, people particularly expect more from lawmakers, who have the ability to call hearings and allow government studies and even change laws, rather than only to offer their thoughts and prayers.
Brookfield, Wisconsin, another hair salon, another estranged couple. The wife seeks a restraining order when the husband threatens to burn her with acid and set her on fire with gasoline. He does neither. He does, however, murder her, along with two other women. Witnesses say the wife tried to protect the others before she died. But again, even if you’re a lawmaker, with the ability to do things that could have concrete impact, you might argue that your responsibility to women being murdered by husbands, workers murdered by co-workers, religious minorities murdered by bigots, soldiers murdered by other soldiers, innocents murdered by those who are not, ends when you, in a tweet, Facebook post or press release, offer your thoughts and prayers.
A man enters an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S carbine rifle, murders twenty children, all of whom are either six or seven years old.
We pause here a moment to think about that.
Twenty children. Ages six, or seven.
And here maybe you think to yourself, this is it. This is the place and time where thoughts and prayers in fact aren’t enough, where those who only offer their thoughts and prayers recognize that others see them in their inaction, see that the convenient self-absolution of thoughts and prayers, that the magical abnegation thoughts and prayers offer, is no longer sufficient, is no longer proper, is no longer just or moral, or even offers the appearance of morality.
We pause here a moment, and wait to see what happens next.
And then they come. One after another.
I offer my thoughts and prayers.
And it keeps going.
Five murdered in Santa Monica, California by a gunman. I offer my thoughts and prayers.
12 murdered in a running firefight through the Washington Navy Yard in DC. Like a ritual, I offer my thoughts and prayers.
Ft. Hood, Texas again, for another three murdered. Like a litany, I offer my thoughts and prayers.
Six murdered in Isla Vista, California. Violence against women is horrible, and I offer my thoughts and prayers.
Nine murdered in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s unspeakable that violence against black Americans has happened like this, and I offer my thoughts and prayers.
Five murdered in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Muslims should answer for the crimes of this person, even if they do not know him or would in any way condone the action, and I offer my thoughts and prayers.
Nine murdered in Roseburg, Oregon. I offer my thoughts and prayers.
Three murdered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Thoughts and prayers.
Fourteen murdered in San Bernadino. Thoughts. Prayers.
Fifty murdered in Orlando.
Fifty people, in a gay club, by a shooter who his father says was disgusted by the sight of two men kissing, and who news reports now tell us had pledged allegiance to ISIS.
And what do we do now, I wonder, when the victims are who they are and the perpetrator is who he is, the situation is ripe for posturing, and there’s a phrase to be used that allows one to assert maximum public virtue with minimum personal effort or responsibility?
What do we do now, when thoughts and prayers are easy, and everything else is hard?
Here is the thing: In the aftermath of terrible violence, offer thoughts, and prayers, if it is your desire to do so.
Then offer more than thoughts and prayers. Ask for more than thoughts and prayers. Vote for more than thoughts and prayers. Help those for whom thoughts and prayers are the start of their responsibilities, not the abdication of them. And as for the others, you may politely remind them of Matthew 6:5-6, and perhaps also Matthew 7:21-23. Perhaps they will see themselves in the words there. Perhaps not. They’re worth thinking on regardless.
“I offer my thoughts and prayers.”
It’s not enough.
It never was.
What more do you have to offer?
My piece earlier this week on Clinton and Sanders blew up a bit, with roughly 75,000 views over two days. This gave me an excuse to check my referrers and ego search on Google and see a bit of who was talking about the post and/or sending people my way.
What I found: Facebook was by far the largest mover of visits and the place where the largest number of people were commenting on the piece, on their own wall or in the comments of others. Twitter was the next highest contributor of traffic/discussion. After that, and a bit down the scale, a couple of political sites, community sites like Metafilter or Reddit, and Google Plus, which, yes, apparently some people still use. But, interestingly, almost none of the conversation about/traffic to the piece was coming from personal blogs.
This is not entirely surprising given the social media landscape these days, but it is a fundamental change in how traffic comes to the site. Even a couple of years ago, as an aggregate, personal blogs funneled a fair amount of traffic into Whatever. Here in 2016, however, personal blogs as a traffic driver seem to be a non-starter.
What happened? Anecdotally, it looks like two things, somewhat related: personal blogs have either died as people migrated over to Facebook and/or Twitter, or they have largely changed their character, becoming less about posting thoughts and commentary on a regular basis (and linking out to the stuff that inspired the entry) and becoming more about a place to have a permanent repository of information about that person themselves — news and updates about life and career, but much less interactive, and updated less frequently or in depth. Where did that chatty stuff go? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on.
Which is fine! As I’ve noted before, Facebook/Twitter/etc are generally speaking better solutions for most people — most people don’t want to have to deal with the backend of running their own site or blog, they just want to connect with friends. It’s worth noting that Tumblr, the one really blog-ish social media outpost, is basically a streamlined version of what blogs are (or used to be). You can’t blame people for not wanting to have to bother. The activity that fueled blogs is still there — it’s simply aggregated on relatively few social networks. Everyone, including those who still have blogs, go where their friends are.
I don’t think blogs are dead per se — WordPress, which I will note hosts my blog, seems to be doing just fine in terms of new sites being created and people joining its network. But I think the role of the blog is different than it was even just a couple of years ago. It’s not the sole outpost of an online life, although it can be an anchor, holding it in place. What a blog is today is part of an overall presence, with a specific role that complements other online outposts (which in turn complement the blog). I do it myself — longer pieces here, which I will point to from other places. Shortform smartassery on Twitter. Personal Facebook account to keep up with friends; public Facebook and Google Plus pages to keep fans up on news — news which is often announced here and linked to from there.
(I also still very strongly recommend that creative people keep their own blogs, preferably with their own domains, for the simple reason that no matter what happens to Facebook or Twitter or whatever, your blog will be someplace your fans and other interested folks will always be able to find you. I’ve owned Scalzi.com for 18 years, and run Whatever for nearly as long, on just this principle. This has been enough time to see the fall of several once invincible social networks, starting with AOL and moving forward from that once-mighty organization.)
That said, it does signal that the online world — or at least the part of it I interact with, and interacts with me — is different today than it was before. Better? Worse? I don’t think either; just different. Possibly a little less funky, though.
Thought it would make a nice break from the usual sunset picture.
In case I decide not to update again until Monday, have a great weekend!
Just in time for the weekend, a new set of book and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What in this stack rings all of your book-buying bells? Tell me in the comments!
My personal path to publication, in terms of novel writing, was to post my novel on this blog, where it was read by an editor, who made me an offer. Is this the usual way it’s done? No. But is it wholly unusual? Well, as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to be published. Editor Shannon Page has assembled some of these way in her non-fiction anthology The Usual Path to Publication.
I love writing workshops. I mean, sure, the internet is great and all, but the way I really learned about how the writing world works—not to mention how I made every writer friend I have—was by going to workshops, as well as their close cousins, conventions. Putting myself out there where lots of writers congregate, to talk about writing stuff, and everything else.
(I even met my husband at a writing convention. But that’s a different Big Idea.)
Imagine my thrill when I “graduated” from attending workshops to being asked to instruct at workshops. I will be the first to admit that I still have plenty to learn about the craft of writing; and as far as the business goes, I have quite obviously not become a household name, nor made even a small fortune. Even so, it was very encouraging to realize that I have learned a thing or two which newer writers might find useful. It’s a joy and an honor to be able to share that knowledge.
Last summer, I was an instructor at the Cascade Writers Workshop, a Milford-style small-group workshop. Cascade is a wonderful group of people dedicated to bringing writers together, giving newer writers a hand up, welcoming everyone into this great community. At one point during the workshop, all the instructors were gathered together in an open panel where the participants could ask us anything. One intrepid audience member raised their hand with a question about the “usual path to publication.”
It grieves me a bit to admit that we all laughed. In our defense, it was nervous laughter, startled laughter, uncomfortable laughter. And then we proceeded to seriously tackle this frankly impossible question. We spoke about the fact that there are as many answers to that as there are published authors. We told our own stories, both in that panel and for the rest of the weekend.
At some point, I realized, This would make a great anthology.
I shrugged it off at first. I had (still have!) too many projects on my plate already. But the idea wouldn’t let go. I talked to a few people about it. Tor editor Claire Eddy, another of the instructors, told me, “That’s a great idea. I’d buy that book. Everyone would buy that book.” By the end of the workshop, I’d decided to go for it. And this project was born.
Over the next few months, I put out a call to as many authors as I could get hold of, asking them for their unusual, amusing, inspirational, bizarre, even dreadful tales of how they actually got published. And, amazingly, so many of them responded. I got a little shiver of delight every time I opened my email to find another submission. The stories are great—charming, funny, painful, inspirational. There are missed connections, dead agents and editors, serendipity, technology woes, ignored advice, and deeply altered expectations. Most of all, there is persistence. If one thread unites all the essays I gathered, it is that these are people who did not give up.
As I began compiling the essays into a book, a second thread became clear: breaking in is only the start of the adventure. As the publishing landscape continues to change, seemingly faster all the time, once-comfortably established writers are having to adapt, often dramatically. Series get canceled, publishing houses merge or vanish altogether, agents and editors quit the business or move to other houses.
And then there is the bold (and terrifying, and exciting) new world of self-publishing. A few of my authors have dabbled there; one has jumped in all the way, and is doing far better than she had imagined possible. If there is ever a Usual Path to Publication Volume II, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find it brimming with successful self-published writers.
This is not a how-to book. It’s a how-this-person-and-that-person-and-the-other-person-did-it book, twenty-seven times over. Coincidence and luck and timing and the random forces of nature run strong in these stories. I hope readers find them as enjoyable, entertaining, and inspirational as I do!
So let’s talk about last night.
1. First and most obviously, Clinton had the night she needed last night: Decisive victories in the two largest states, New Jersey and California, wins in New Mexico and South Dakota, and a close loss in Montana that netted Sanders a single delegate. Sanders only blew out Clinton in North Dakota (a caucus, his favorite). Clinton ended the night netting two more states, 89 more pledged delegates and roughly 650,000 more votes than Sanders. She didn’t just run out the clock on Sanders, fending him off as he ate into her margin in a surge of populist enthusiasm, she legged on him, expanding her already sizable leads in every category. She won walking away, and is the nominee. Yes, there is one more primary (District of Columbia) next week, but it doesn’t really matter (and Clinton’s gonna win it anyway). Clinton won.
2. Conversely, Sanders lost, and he lost both convincingly and in a way that kicks the legs out of any cogent argument that he has for moving forward. The Sanders folks had pushed their chips on California, hoping a victory there would justify him taking his campaign to the convention. But in the end he was 13 points and over 400,000 voters behind. California didn’t deliver, and because it didn’t, he’s done. Sanders took to a stage last night and vowed he wasn’t done yet, but at this point it’s not really up to him. The Clinton train has left the station and he’s still on the platform, holding his hat.
3. Which I understand is hard for Sanders and many of his supporters to deal with, but I have to confess at this point I’m finding it difficult to be overtly sympathetic. My own politics lie ever so slightly more with Sanders than with Clinton, and had he prevailed over Clinton, I would have happily voted for him in the general over any of the candidates the GOP had in their field this year. For all that, it’s been clear to me since New York at least that Sanders wasn’t going to take the nomination from Clinton. The existential threat of President Trump is enough that I’ve been impatient to get to last night so everyone could stop politely pretending Sanders had some sort of shot at this and focus on stuffing Trump into a dark hole, electionwise.
I mean, yes, Sanders supporters, I get many of you are upset and even grieving about Sanders missing his chance. Sorry about that. Take a few days! It’s okay. But after those few days are over if you’re still trying to find some way for Sanders to win — or less charitably, trying to find some way to punish Hillary Clinton for the heinous crime of having won more states, more pledged delegates and more actual votes than Bernie Sanders — then you should really be asking yourself if you’re letting your own definition of perfect become the enemy of the entire world not becoming a rampaging goddamn trash fire, because that’s really the other option at this point.
This is not to say I don’t expect a certain percentage of Sanders fans to spin off and possibly join the Greens (who are openly trying to reel them in) or, somewhat less congruously, the Libertarians, or whomever, or just sit out in a huff. It’s a nice exercise of one’s privilege to do each of those things. But from my point of view, here’s the thing: Donald Trump is manifestly the worst and least-prepared major presidential candidate in modern history, and unlike some previous GOP presidents who come to mind, he’s not nearly tractable enough to be managed by a cadre of presumably more-engaged minders. He’s the walking manifestation of Dunning-Kruger, a racist and an increasingly-dangerous blowhard, and the fact the GOP is under the delusion they’re going to somehow keep him in line should fill every thinking human with terror (the GOP doesn’t really think they’ll be able to keep him in line, incidentally. They just need to convince you they can do it). As a practical matter, if you don’t want a President Trump — and I don’t — then Clinton’s your gal.
And, yes! It sucks that because the GOP has let a genuinely appalling human become its nominee, you might be called upon to be responsible for the welfare of the entire planet, and vote more practically and responsibly than the GOP did this year. But it really has come to that. I know many of you Sanders supporters will have rationalizations how this isn’t the case, but: Nope! It really is. Get your shit together, folks. It’s actually important.
4. Likewise, this week Sanders gets to show us whether he’s interested in implementing his actual ideals, or is just in it for his own bit of glory. Bluntly: Sanders is never going to be president, ever, so he can either help Clinton (and help save the world from Trump), or he can stay in her way. If he helps her, he’s got a good chance of pushing his ideas further into the working DNA of the Democratic party. Which I suspect will be good for the party in the long term, given Sanders’ popularity with younger voters. He can be the progressive Moses — maybe not getting to the promised land himself, but getting his people there.
If he doesn’t help Clinton, and she wins anyway, then both he and his agenda are done, because you don’t reward the people who fuck with you. If he doesn’t help Clinton and she loses, well. I’m not pegging Trump and the GOP as being on board with Sanders’ progressive agenda, you know? And while I know there are some people who believe things like “Four years of Trump is just what we need to bring on the revolution!” those people are wrong, and assholes besides.
If Sanders is smart, then sometime soon — I expect not too long after his meeting with President Obama on Thursday — he’s going to pack it in, endorse Clinton and get to work helping to get her elected. This would be, incidentally, pretty much what Clinton did in 2008, and her getting with the program has obviously paid its dividends. Sanders won’t get the exact same dividends — he won’t be the nominee in 2024, for example. But there will be a lot he will be able to do, if he wants. Or, you know, he can decide not to. And we’ll see where that gets him, and us.
5. Yes, yes, Scalzi, but what do you think of Clinton? Leaving aside the obvious historical aspects of her candidacy, which are really cool and probably deserving of their own entry at some point, I’m very okay with her. I understand a lot of people feel negatively toward her, with the range going from “mild dislike” to “fervent loathing,” but I’ve never been one, and the idea that she’s somehow corrupt doesn’t really seem to have panned out to any great extent, now, has it? We’ve had Clinton under the microscope for a quarter of a century, and either she’s innocent of all the crimes to which she’s been accused, or she’s such a genius at exploiting the legal and governmental levers of this nation that, honestly, it’s a miracle she wasn’t made dictator for life decades ago. Her only real “crime,” if you want to call it that, was marrying Bill Clinton, who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants and made everyone’s life miserable because of it, and then staying married to him despite it all. But, hey! Maybe she loves him.
Otherwise, we have a presidential candidate who has been a senator, a Secretary of State, a first lady and a first-hand observer of the politics in America for four decades. She’s had amazing successes and crushing failures. She’s smart and flawed and savvy and a politician and she’s neither as inspiring as her most fervent supporters want her to be nor as terrible as her most hateful opponents want us to believe she is. I don’t support everything she’s ever said or done but most of what she supports I can get behind. She’s not perfect! But neither am I. She is good enough on her own terms to get my vote for president.
And this year, also: Jesus fucking Christ, the GOP is nominating Donald Trump. I would vote a lukewarm bowl of soup into the White House before Donald Trump. Every day of the week and twice on Sunday (were it allowed by the Constitution, which it is not). So while I would be perfectly happy to vote for Clinton in most scenarios anyway, given her major opponent this year, voting for Clinton is in my opinion not only a perfectly good choice but also a moral necessity. Welcome to 2016! And since I live in Ohio — one of the vaunted “swing states” — my vote may actually help push the state toward electoral sanity. I’m perfectly all right with this.
So, yeah. As they say: I’m with her.
For today’s Big Idea, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun looked at how people like him are imagined to be, and for his novel The Root, how to make positive the qualities that are often perceived by others to be negatives.
NA’AMEN GOBERT TILAHUN:
A lot of the plot ideas in The Root are actually smaller ideas that become bigger and more expansive in the second and third books of the trilogy. Some deal with family or religion or betrayal or all three. I was struggling to decide which to talk about when I realized that with most of them it would difficult if not impossible to avoid spoilers. So I thought back to the ideas that got me writing The Root in the first place, the two ideas I thought were small and the idea that joined them together. In The Root many of the characters get a few scenes from their point of view, but the two main characters are definitely Errikos Sabastian Allan and Lilliana Blackthorn Johns, or Erik and Lil for short. Both of them started as a bare sketch, a broad idea for a character in response to something.
I’ve been a large black man all of my life and I’ve experienced the fear and suspicion that comes along with that. I’ve had people clutch their bags at the sight of me, tell me seats were taken when they were later given away, even cross the street to get away from me. These are just a few of the assumptions of anger and violence that I experience every single day. One day I thought: What if I wrote a black man whose power came from his anger? What if that angry black man was one of the heroes of the story? What if that angry black man was shown to be so much more than his anger? What if he was allowed to be smart and noble and vulnerable and all the things a hero should be? What would that character look like?
For me, it turned out to look like Erik. Writing him proved difficult because we have so much of the experience of a black man in America in common,, but in other aspects we are completely different. I often found myself having to go back and correct the story so that he would act in a way that was about what Erik would do in that situation, not what I would do. I hadn’t anticipated this problem but I should have, because not only was I crafting a character similar to me but also the kind of character I wanted to see more of as a reader. I also had to resist the urge to make him the perfect hero, because I had been so in need of characters like this. I wanted him to be everything to everyone which is impossible. I had to remember I didn’t want an idealized protagonist, I wanted a real one who was nuanced and could allow people to see him as a fully human person, deserving of all the respect that entails.
I’ve never been a black woman but I have spent most of my life around them as mothers, sisters, friends and cousins, as family who I loved and cared for and an intrinsic part of my community. I’ve also seen them called loud, obnoxious, ugly, stupid and far darker things. Black woman are not respected by our society at all, I’ve watched what we say they are in our media, how we erase them from history, how we ignore the things they contribute to society. And I thought: What if the black woman’s very power lay in her voice? What if you could not silence her no matter what? What if by voice I didn’t just focus on physical voice but also on the way she walked in the world, the things she thought were right, and would not be silent about? What if what she wanted more than anything was the truth? What would she do for it?
And so Lil was born. Writing Lil was challenging for different reasons than Erik. Unlike Erik, when the book opens she still has some bit of innocence left, she clings to her belief in certain people. I knew the first book was going to be a hard road for her because seeing someone lose that belief?
Both of my characters would have hard journeys because they were trying to save two worlds and that’s no easy task. However, Lil’s story had to be even more nuanced than Erik’s because of my lack of personal experience with that identity. I wanted to show the way she’s dismissed as so many women of color are, her intentions misconstrued, her protestations ignored. I wanted to show Lil’s strength, not some mythical black woman strength that meant she didn’t get hurt or could take more punishment because of her black womanhood, but the strength in knowing what she was doing was right. I had to show this without slipping into any of the tropes and horrors that follow the depictions of black women in our society. I didn’t want Lil’s story or pain to feel exotified of exploitative and the stories told and revered in our society encourage us to use women’s pain as window dressing, as something to spice up a tale. Luckily I have my friends to look to, all the black women in my life that counter this message simply by existing and telling their own stories.
Once I had the ideas for both of these characters the rest of the story began to grow out from them. I didn’t have everything worked out yet but I knew that these two characters, all too rare in speculative fiction for being black and queer and three-dimensional, would be the center of the story I was telling. Then around these two ideas/characters developed another big idea like some delicious flaky crust. These two characters, these reactions to real life stereotypes could and would exist between the covers of an adventurous, fantasy story that was not solely focused on their identity.
Maybe that’s why at first I didn’t think of these things as big ideas. First because it was born of all these smaller ideas coming together to form a story and secondly it’s what I’ve always wanted to write. For Lil and Erik, their pasts affect them and influence their decisions as with any good character, but their identities, the colors of their skin, their sexualities are not all that they are by any means. I wanted to see people like me and my friends concerned with surviving, with fighting bad guys, with saving the world, with falling in love, with living through an urban fantasy landscape that all too often didn’t look urban at all.
I sometimes still hesitate to call that a Big Idea because it seems so obvious to me but from a lot of the reactions I’ve gotten – the anger AND the thankfulness it seems like it’s more of a big idea than I ever thought.
Oh, nothing, just a reminder that there are two anthologies being released today in which I have short stories. The first (alphabetically speaking) is Black Tide Rising, set in John Ringo’s zombiverse, for which I and Dave Klecha have contributed the story “On the Wall”; the second being Mash Up, in which my fantasy/horror story “Muse of Fire” resides (Mash Up is the printed version of Rip-Off!, originally an audio-only anthology).
Both are available at your favorite bookstore, and if they are not, then tell them to special order! That’s right! You can do that!
To begin, this tweet:
To which I responded:
Which got me some “haa lolz sour grapes” comments which left me slightly confused, so I had do a bit of digging. Which, along with the desire to generally expand on this comment, led to the following.
“Assassin Queen” is the third and concluding book in the Majat Code trilogy, which was ultimately driven by one big idea: what would happen if immense power were to be confined by very strict rules? In particular in this series, what if you were an extremely powerful warrior, but in exchange for this power you had to live by a highly restrictive code, which would ultimately prevent you from doing what you believe is right?
This topic has fascinated me over the years, and weaves into a lot of my writing. In the Majat Code, I have finally satisfied my desire to explore it on the backdrop of a story set in medieval multicultural world featuring political intrigue, romance, adventure, and lots of fancy swordplay.
The central action in the series belongs to the Majat warriors: an elite guild of fighters that could be thought of as Eastern martial artists integrated into the medieval Western setting. The Majat Guild trains the best of the best, and then hires out their services to the highest bidder. Warriors of their top, Gem ranks, are valued the highest, especially the Diamonds that are few and far between. Each Diamond equals the fighting power of a small army, but like the rest of the Majat they are bound by the Code of their Guild. They must always follow orders and are allowed no loyalties of their own – in politics or in personal life. And, they can never leave the Guild. Once ranked, only death can remove them from their bond to the Majat.
Two of the main characters of the book, Kara and Mai, are both Diamond-ranked, and throughout the series their loyalties and their resolve to follow the Code are thoroughly tested in every possible way.
In Book 1, “Blades of the Old Empire”, Kara is thrown into a political conflict orchestrated by a devious enemy, where she is meant to become a pawn and ultimately bring about the downfall of the Majat. As the gambit comes into play, Kara is faced with a choice between duty and honor. She must kill a good man, whose magic ability is essential for the survival of his kingdom. To refuse would mean sealing her own death warrant. Once she makes her choice, Mai, who is similarly trained but slightly superior to her in skill, is sent after her – and it becomes his turn to make a choice between following orders and doing the right thing. The choices they both make lead to a revolt inside the Majat Guild (described in book 2, “The Guild of Assassins”) and eventually to a war that is the focus of “Assassin Queen”.
When I started writing these series, I expected it to be finished in one, maybe two books. But even though each book does have a satisfactory ending (or so I hope), some loose ends remained and needed to be tied up. Thus, I ended up with a series of three standalone but interconnected books. Each of them was a lot of fun to write, in all different ways.
Writing book 3, “Assassin Queen” felt very satisfying. I knew the story was going to be fully wrapped up, but having a whole book to do it gave me the luxury of doing it through very fun subplots that originally came up during my world building for the series but, as I believed, were never going to see the light of day. One of those subplots takes place in a desert Queendom of Shayil Yara, a matriarchal society modeled after the ancient Middle East. And yes, Kara has a mysterious far-reaching connection to that queendom – but of course you would have to read the book to find out more about this, and about the choices all my characters must make to find their peace.
And that’s what I have for you this Sunday, folks. Hope you’ve been having a great weekend.
I cried for Muhammad Ali when I was eight years old, the night he fought and lost to Leon Spinks, February 15, 1978. When I was eight years old Muhammad Ali was everywhere, the best known and most admired athlete in the world — he even had an animated television series, for heaven’s sake! — and everyone knew, without qualification, that he was The Greatest of All Time. I knew that too, took it as an article of faith. The Greatest of All Time, a living legend, was a man who simply could not be defeated, certainly not by Leon Spinks, who I had never heard of before and who I, in the depth of my understanding at the advanced age of eight years old, considered something of a palooka (had I known what the word “palooka” meant at that age, which I didn’t). But he did lose to Spinks, and I sobbed for hours. For Ali to lose to someone like that unmoored my understanding of the world. It was literally my first crisis of faith.
What I didn’t understand then, and wouldn’t fully understand for years afterwards, was that Ali was not called The Greatest of All Time because he was undefeatable in the ring. He was defeatable, five times in his career, even if the other 56 times he out-thought, out-fought, out-danced, and out-psyched the other men in the ring with him, his artistry in doing so becoming the foundation of his greatness for most people, including me. What made Ali The Greatest of All Time was the totality of who he was, outside the ring as well as in it.
The world doesn’t need me to recount the details of his life — there will be enough obituaries that will do that, and I can say with utter confidence that there are vast numbers of people better equipped, for all sorts of reasons, to eulogize the man. What I can say is that from that early crisis of faith at age eight to today, almost 40 years later, my understanding of Ali changed from him being a simple god on a pedestal, someone who was The Greatest of All Time by acclamation — and who was I at eight years old to argue — to him being a complex, difficult, imperfect and inspiring human being, a product of and a shaper of his time. What was true at age eight is true at age 47: He was The Greatest of All Time. What changed was not Ali. What changed is my understanding of him, and what greatness is.
Let me talk a moment about Ali being both a black man and a Muslim. In the wake of his death, you’re going to see people saying that Ali transcended his race or his religion, or both of them, to become someone who belonged to all people. I think two things about this. First, it’s undeniable that people of all races and creeds admired him, his life and his accomplishments. I loved him as a child, when my understanding of him was simple, and I honored him as an adult, when my understanding of him was more complex.
But — and this is the second thing — you cannot love or honor Ali properly without acknowledging that blackness and Islam are at the core of his greatness. It seems to me, and I think the events of his life bear this out, that the greatness of Ali — who he was — was did not come out to you, was not there for you, and in a fundamental way did not care what you thought of it. It was there, and you could come to it or not, and if you did, you had to take it on its on terms. On Ali’s terms. And Ali’s terms were: He was a black man, in America and in the world. He was a Muslim man, in America and in the world. He was who he was. He did not have to transcend those things about himself. You, however, might have to overcome your understanding of what you thought of both blackness and Islam to appreciate him. People did or did not; Ali went on regardless.
I think it’s important that when I was an eight-year-old child, one of my idols, one of my pantheon, someone whose greatness I accepted uncritically, was a black man. I’d like to think in a small, early way that my love for Ali made a difference in how I grew up thinking about race. As I grew up, and I learned about his experiences being black in the US in the mid-20th Century, his refusal to submit for the draft and his reasoning for it, and his conversion and movement through Islam — and the responses to all of these by others as they happened — Ali was an unwitting but invaluable teacher.
I can’t say I have a perfect understanding of race or religion or of blackness in America or of Islam. The imperfections of understanding of each of those is on me. But I can say that to the extent I engage in any of them with any measure of success, Muhammad Ali is part of the reason why. Because he was black. Because he was Muslim. And because he made me understand that both of those were fundamental to his greatness, not things he needed to transcend to be seen as great.
My friend and classmate Josh Marshall noted earlier today that the decline in interest in the sport of boxing over the last few decades makes it difficult for younger people — especially under the age of 30 — to understand the scope of Ali’s greatness in his time. I think it also means, particularly with regard to the sport of boxing, that Ali’s appellation as The Greatest of All Time is unlikely to be seriously challenged, ever. It’s not that other boxers won’t have better records; it’s not that other boxers won’t be great. It’s that for a moment in time, boxing had in its ranks a man who could and did shape his nation and his world with his athletic talent, his political courage, his devastatingly sharp mind, and his great heart.
He was Muhammad Ali and there will never be another like him. I cried for him when I was eight because I did not understand why he was The Greatest of All Time. I understand now. I cry for him again because I do.
Sometimes the Big Ideas of a book series can grow, and the author is left wondering, great, now, how do I make this work? With The World Weavers, author Kelley Grant considered the overall concept of the trilogy she’d written, and how to make the expansive big idea of it come to a satisfying conclusion.
While watching the local news one night I began considering the likelihood that we’d created God in our image, because if he’d created us in his image and this was how he acted, we were doomed. It made me think of the Greek gods and goddesses, their very human flaws and how difficult they made life for mere mortals.
My brain started clicking. What if there were truly a greater being, but not in our form? And it created humans, but found we couldn’t govern ourselves. That One being might create some deities in our image so they could understand us, to take care of us. But, if they were human-like deities with great power, what creature would protect humans from the deities’ envy and greed and selfishness?
My dog put his head on my lap, but he was too loyal, too kind. My cat lounged on my brand new sweater, depositing fur and claw holes and gazed upon me with contempt and ownership. That seemed like a concept to write about – a land ruled by dangerous, capricious deities who were held mostly in check by great cats loyal to the One-being who created all. Throw in some rebellious humans and that idea served as the basis for the first novel of this series, Desert Rising.
The World Weavers is the concluding volume of the series. I had to bring a human rebellion against the deities to a close. But how do mere mortals war against deities without being crushed like ants? How do you separate pieces of the universe and then weave them back into wholeness, when the pieces have minds and don’t want to be woven back in? I love David vs. Goliath stories where the little guy finds a way to triumph over incredible odds. As a little person who was bullied by larger kids in school, those stories inspired me with hopes of future revenge. In The World Weavers I’d created some pretty big, epic bullies for my heroes to cast down. Perhaps too big.
It was at this point that I realized I was too stupid to write this story. In the first novel I’d created something of epic scope; an entire religious system, powerful gods, and two territories living in peace with a complicated trade network. In the second book I exploded both the religious and trade systems (oops) and created war. In this third book I was left with war and lots of pieces I needed to reassemble in some meaningful way. I knew the conclusion I needed to travel to, only, there were so many pieces…and they didn’t want to go together. I’m a smart person, but my brain hurt thinking about it, and I couldn’t afford to hire Stephen Hawking to write it for me.
So I did what writers do. I drank…umm, just kidding. I put on my rainbow underpants and sat down and plotted. I put the characters together and learned through their eyes and personalities how to reel the deities in. Though I’m not generally a plotter, during writing I charted every essential action in every chapter because I knew I would be rearranging them. I realized that my characters could not win against the deities through sheer strength. So they had to be sneaky. Sneaky is fun. World Weavers is one large, carefully plotted trap with everything at stake and little certainty of success.
But maybe, just maybe, my heroes will score another victory for the little guys.
My wife texted me from downstairs to make sure I got a picture of the sunset tonight. Good call (or, uh, text).
Welcome to June.
Bob Defendi is a gamer who knows what it’s like to be trapped in a bad game session. But as the writer of Death by Cliché, Defendi decides to take that bad game session one step farther. It’s a big step. And it goes straight down.
Mel Brooks said. “Tragedy is when I stub my toe. Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.” The dark truth of comedy is that in every comedic situation, someone feels pain. Sad clowns have been a staple for far longer than people have been stapling clowns. Humor is a joyful, shining light, but it only shines because something burns.
Too morbid? How about this:
“You enter a room lit by flaming brassieres.”
Death by Cliché started with this image. A group of mature, experienced gamers gathered around a game table in a local store with a theoretically post-pubescent kid running the game. As the word “brassieres” spills from his mouth the adults exchange glances, and their stomachs sink. They know that they just sat down to play the worst game of their lives.
There’s a game designer at the table, however, and he is there to save them. He has turned his passion for games into a career, and he’s discovered that anyone who thinks work is a four letter word has a damn-poor vocabulary for swearing. There’s a dichotomy to the old axiom of “do what you love,” because turning your passion into a career irrevocably alters your perceptions of the form.
Did I mention that this is a true story?
You see, I once received a call from the marketing department of a major game company. A kid they knew to be a looney was about to demo their brand new game at a local game store. They knew it was going to be a train wreck. My job was simple: Go to the store, assess the game, and likely stage a coup because a bad game is far worse than no game, and they didn’t want complaints of “epic fail” to cost them the Salt Lake City market on the eve of a new release. I remember thinking that my worst case scenario would be to simply end the game and send everyone home before things got too ugly.
Here’s where it stops being a true story, and starts being a story filled with truth.
Our hero cannot have an easy out. He must be trapped, and so I, Bob Defendi set out to trap the semi-fictional Bob Damico in the worst game of all time. I would transform my—err I mean HIS—greatest love into the very embodiment of Hell.
That meant I’d have to kill him. The department of ironic punishments owns your sorry ass now.
Death by Cliché is about terrible storytelling. It’s about a man with deep knowledge of the form riding a train wreck like an Alanis Morrisette cover of an Ozzy Osborne song. It had to be painful enough to be funny, and funny enough to leave readers begging for more. It had to have the structural integrity of Buckminster Fuller’s bath house, built on a foundation of buckwheat pancakes.
Clichés are painful. They’re terrible. Under almost no circumstances do you want to let them into your story. You certainly don’t want to fill your story to the brink with them. You absolutely, positively don’t want to build the entire story on the bones of clichés and on the blood of bad storytelling.
Because that way lies madness.
And you really don’t want everyone to buy a copy, so you’re forced to do it all over again in a sequel.
Or maybe all of that is hindsight. Maybe I had no grand plans. Maybe I wanted to name a character Bob and start the book like this:
“Authors who write their own chapter quotes should be shot.”
Then shoot him in the head.
Death by Cliché: Amazon