View From a Hotel Window, 8/13/15: Atlanta

Parking lots are beautiful, man. My event tonight is in Athens, GA, but my hotel room is in Atlanta, in part because it’ll be easier to get to the airport in the morning this way. Ah, tour logistics!

As noted, my event tonight is in Athens, Georgia, and although it’s being hosted by the fabulous Avid bookshop, it will be taking place at the very nearly Cine Athens theater. All the details are here; show starts at 7pm.

Tomorrow (Friday): I will be in Lexington, at Joseph-Beth booksellers. These are awesome folks and it’s going to an awesome time. Again, at 7pm. Please come and bring all your friends, most of your family, and also that one guy you just sort of tolerate.

The Big Idea: Stephen Moore

 

As a person with some infamous ancestors in his family tree (ever hear of John Wilkes Booth? Yeah, he’s an uncle), Stephen Moore’s Big Idea for Graynelore speaks to me in several ways. Read on to discover why.

STEPHEN MOORE:

When I talk about a big idea in relation to Graynelore I find myself looking back to the very start of the project. Not to the main themes, or the twisting plot. No. Rather, I want to tell you about the big idea that set the ball rolling, so to speak, and ultimately changed the very direction of my writing.

A few years ago I had a revealing conversation with my mother about her family roots and discovered something amazing: my ancestors include links to the infamous 16th Century Border Reivers.

Who? The Border Reivers were inhabitants of the English/Scottish Borderlands; family groups who considered theft, kidnap, blackmail, murder and deadly blood-feud as all part of their day job. While the crown heads of England and Scotland were engaged in an endless bloody conflict over sovereignty that reduced the borders to a virtual no-man’s-land, ordinary folk were effectively left to get by as best they could. And if that meant turning up on your neighbour’s doorstep and beating the hell out of them to take whatever little they possessed (up to and including their lives) then so be it! Reiving, as it became known, was very much a way of life for close on three hundred years. The Reivers even gifted the word bereaved to our dictionaries!

What’s my connection? My mother’s family name is Kerr, and they originally hailed from the Scottish Borders. Let’s be blunt. The Kerrs were notorious Reivers back in the day. Blood-feud a speciality! If one fact about them tickles me! Unusually, the Kerrs were left-handed. It meant they fought with their swords in their left hand and built their fortified tower houses with left-handed spirals to their staircases. It just so happens I’m also left handed. I like to think it’s in the blood.

I was instantly intrigued by my infamous ancestors. Right there and then, the big idea was born! What author worth their salt would not want to write about them? I only had to find the right tale to tell.

So, I took the historical world of the Border Reivers; their way of life, their society, their homes, their landscape, their goods and their chattels. In true Reiver fashion, I stole it all, misused and abused it and made it my own. (With my family links, I’m just a little bit proud of that.)

Mind you, if I’m claiming that as my big idea, there was an issue to overcome: I’m an author of fantasy, not historical fiction. To satisfy the writer-within-me I had to combine the two; fantasy with my own version of Reiver society the bedrock to stand it upon. I like to think of it as twisting history.

Where did my fantasy tale find its birth? I’ll tell you. One hot summer’s day I was sitting in a beautiful garden overlooking the Welsh coast. In the middle distance, out upon the sea, I could see the Isle of Lundy. There were warm currents of air rising off the sea, and as is the way on hot summer days, they slowly obscured the scene, until at last Lundy Isle disappeared. There was only the sea and the endless blue sky. Of course, it was a simple trick of the eye. But in that moment I knew I’d found the idea I was searching for. This wasn’t Lundy Isle at all, but the Faerie Isle. Sometimes there, sometimes not, ever moving…

And so began a long and winding journey of research and development that ultimately lead me to my novel, Graynelore. You might call it a Reiver faerie tale. But believe me, not a faerie tale as you know it.

At the outset I had to make one further inspired leap of faith. You see, up until this point, all of my books had been written for children; and I’ve been writing for almost twenty years! However, I knew that if I was going to write authentically about Reivers, the story might well be a faerie tale but it could not possibly be for children (for me, a big idea in itself!) A Reiver’s world is naturally brutal, sometimes cruel, and often graphically blunt. If I could pull it off, Graynelore had to be my first novel strictly for grown-ups. And so it is.
—-

Graynelore: Amazon|Barnes&Noble|Kobo|iBookstore
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site and his blog.  Follow him on Twitter.

The Big Idea: David Nabhan

Energy is on author David Nabhan’s mind, and in The Pilots of Borealis, it’s on the mind of a lot of his characters too. What do they all know about energy that you might not? The author explains below.

DAVID NABHAN:

The Pilots of Borealis is many things: a study in athleticism and strength, experiencing a world of the future that still trucks in the sins of the past, and survival, by any means necessary. However, what I hope to tackle in this novel, the concept that drove me to explore a world fueled by dwindling Helium-3 and sub-zero lunar dog-fighting, is actually an idea that’s existed since the day the universe exploded into being: energy, and the things people will do to have it and to keep it for themselves.

Historians always a make a point to describe what exactly wars are fought over: fertile fields and plains, mighty timberland, mineral-rich terrain, rivers and oceans and more. However, one thing I always found interesting is that there is never any focus on what goes into those resources after they’ve been conquered, accrued, or won; how many hours go into plowing a fertile field? How much lumber will a lush forest reveal? How many fish can one catch in a given day?

Having the resources isn’t enough; one must work the resources and tame the land, in order to show any yield for a given material. The human race had a rough yet intrinsic understanding of the ways the Earth had to be fashioned to provide life, first with muscle power, then beasts of burden, harnessing wind, water and gravitational power. The greatest empire of the ancient world, Rome, at its height conducted its business on the backs of five million slaves, watered its cities with thousands of miles of gravity-powered aqueducts, employed tens of thousands of water-wheels and wind capturing devices for flour and saw mills, hydraulic mining, marble quarrying, irrigation for farming, and for transportation by sea.

It is said that coal and the steam engine produced the Modern Age, and that’s hard to deny.  But there is nothing that altered the world as dramatically as the incredible changes wrought by petroleum. One gallon of gasoline contains energy equivalent to roughly three weeks of human labor. There is nothing else like it on Earth, liquid power to be transported at ease, shaped to fit any container, making it the most strategic material in the world.  

The Pilots of Borealis doesn’t take up the story here though. It picks up after the horrific wreckage of four Petroleum Wars. It’s the twenty-fifth century, and gasoline is useless and primitive.  Humans haven’t changed much, even though their civilizations now stretch out to Titan. And instead of clashing arms over earth-bound material, the sabers are now rattling for a resource that is running low, one that feeds the countless fusion reactors that make everything go, from the Alliances on Earth, to the Jovian Colonies and further: Helium-3. Infused into the regolith of the Moon, this rare commodity now spawns a ruthless death struggle between the great powers, desperate to protect what they consider is their rightful share.

And yet, the big idea here, the underlying conceit throughout all of The Pilots of Borealis, is actually that, regarding energy, we’re utterly clueless. For the human race to wring its hands about the next great energy crisis is tantamount to fish worrying about when and how they might die of thirst. They are awash in a sea of water, and we are just so, but in an unfathomably extensive ocean of energy; aware of it, yes, but unaware of how to tap into it.  

Our very universe was born in a blinding flash of pure energy. Before there was anything, there was light in its most ferociously radiant essence. The characters of Pilots of Borealis exist in this beautiful, light-filled universe, fighting over a dwindling resource when the real secret exists all around them. These characters strive, fight, prevail, succeed, fail—and sometimes die—without ever realizing the truth around them.

Ultimately, they must come to realize the nature of the universe in which they live, but only after paying a price that makes all previous choices pale in comparison. But what will they do with this knowledge? And how will they move forward, and survive in an ever-changing universe?

We are, indeed, children of the universe. But that universe is not one of just matter, but also one of pure energy, too. And I think that deserves some more thought, don’t you?

—-

Pilots of Borealis: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the book site. Learn more about the author. Follow him on Twitter.

View From a Hotel Window, 8/11/15: Memphis

This part of Tennessee is apparently quite lush. 

Reminder to everyone: Tonight! I will be at The Booksellers at Laurelwood! Event starts at 6:30pm. Don’t be late! You’ll miss the puppet show!

(Note: There will not actually be a puppet show. Sorry).

Tomorrow: Raleigh and Quail Ridge Books. There are a lot of reasons I really like North Carolina. You could be one of them.

The End of All Things is Out! The End of All Things Tour Begins!

Today is the day! The End of All Things, the sixth novel in the Old Man’s War universe and my eleventh novel overall is now out and available at your favorite local bookstore or online retailer. Get it! Get a copy for your friends! Get a copy for the people you would like to be friends with! Get it for people who are currently your enemies but with whom you hope for some sort of détente! Get it for your dog! Your dog won’t be able to read it, but it certainly knows when you are doing something nice for it! It will appreciate the thought!

Don’t get it for your cat. Honestly, like your cat gives a shit about anything.

And while you’re picking up The End of All Things, remember that my book tour starts today! The first four stops are Memphis (tonight!), Raleigh, Athens, GA and Lexington. If you are in or around those cities, please come to my events and being along every single person you know. It’ll be fun. And, because you’re making the effort to show up, I’ll be giving you something special: A sneak preview of “The Dispatcher,” the new novella I just completed that’s coming out later this year. Plus other cool stuff.  And yes, if someone brings a uke, I might even play it. You’ve been warned (please make sure it’s tuned). The entire tour itinerary is at that link above, or (if you’re on the actual site) in the sidebar for the duration of the tour.

Want a signed copy of the book? Order it from one of the bookstores I’ll be at for the tour, or visit or call up Jay and Mary’s Book Center in Troy, Ohio and order one from there — I signed a bunch of them yesterday.

I’m very happy with The End of All Things — it’s not the last Old Man’s War book ever (my Tor contract specifies at least one more), but it’s likely to be the last one for a few years. I think it leaves the universe in a good place. I’m excited for you all to read it. And I’m excited to see at least some of you on the tour. We’re going to have fun. So much fun. Like, nearly illegal amounts of fun. See you soon.

The State of a Genre Title, 2015

Eighteen months ago, as Redshirts moved from its hardcover era into trade paperback, I did an examination of its sales to the point, across all its formats, and chatted about what its sales meant, or didn’t mean, and what we could learn from the numbers. Last week, Lock In, my most recent novel (until tomorrow), transitioned from hardcover to mass market paperback, and I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to do something similar with it. So I asked for numbers from my publishers. Here they are, up to July 31, 2015. The numbers are rounded to the nearest 100.

For those who choose not to whip out their calculators, that’s total sales of 87,500 copies in Lock In’s hardcover sales era, in hardcover, eBook and audiobook. Note the hardcover/eBook sales do not include the UK edition of Lock In, published by Gollancz, nor any foreign language editions. These are North American edition sales (Audible owns world English rights for its version, and so the audio numbers may include sales outside North America). Note also that the audiobook numbers are sales, not downloads, important because Lock In had two versions, and the pre-orders included both versions.

So, thoughts on these numbers.

1. 87.5k is a pretty healthy number for sales here. If you want to do a comparison to Redshirts, the total sales numbers are up (Redshirts sold 79.2k in its hardcover era), although Redshirts‘ time in hardcover was shorter, so in all it may be a wash. The distribution of sales is also a reminder that all sales channels matter — if I were to lose access to bookstore distribution, for example, I’d lose roughly a quarter of my total sales for this sales pass. If I weren’t doing audio, in this particular case (I’ll discuss this more a couple of points down), I would have lost nearly half.

This continues to be my major concern with digital-only self-publishing, incidentally: there’s money being left on the table if you can’t address all these sales channels. Most self-publishers (or micro publishers) don’t have access to bookstores, nearly all of which continue to operate on a “returns” basis. This is not about the ability to create a physical copy of a book; at this point that can easily be done with print-on-demand options. It’s about having the book already on the shelves, attractively packaged and ready to buy, when the customer walks into the store. If you don’t have that, you’ve largely lost out in that sales avenue. Likewise audio if you’re not there.

At this point in my career, I’m a four-quadrant author, which means that at the end of the day my income as a novelist comes out of four areas: print, eBook, audio, and foreign sales. For any one book or project, one of these might be significantly out of proportion to others, in terms of sales. But over the length of time, they’ve all tended to even out as backlist sales kick in and other factors come into play. At this time, and I expect still for a while to come, the best way to address all these markets effectively and consistently is to partner with publishers.

This doesn’t mean people can’t and don’t make money addressing only one or two of these quadrants — people do, and good for them. But I tend to think diversity in marketplace access allows both the ability to hedge when one sales channel underperforms, and allows for the happy possibility of overperformance in one of those quadrants adding to the bottom line — for example, several years ago The Android’s Dream outperformed in foreign sales (it was a hit in Germany, where it won the Kurd Laßwitz award), or The Human Division electronic sales (when you add in the sales of individual episodes) swamping the sales in every other quadrant, or, in this case, Lock In’s audiobook sales being a substantial sales driver for the novel.

Which is to say a writing career is not at all unlike a stock portfolio — diversify for long-term success.

2. So obviously the audiobook is a major factor Lock In’s total hardcover-era sales — 46% of total sales through the end of July 2015. As a point of comparison, Redshirts‘ audio sales during the hardcover era were 21% of total sales. So what explains the surge in sales, both in raw numbers and as a percentage? My guesses:

a) Audible creating a marketing event around Lock In having two versions, each with its own celebrity narrator (Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson);

b) Audible gaining the ability to pre-order titles and offering both versions of Lock In to people who pre-ordered;

c) Strong, consistent sales of my work in audio growing the overall audience for my work in that sales channel — an audience which has overlap with, but is not exactly the same as, my print and digital audiences;

d) General, overall growth in the audiobook segment of publishing, led by Audible, who is the segment’s market leader.

Also, you know. The book’s pretty good, and Wil and Amber’s narrations were just great. Which helped.

Add it all together and you get a solid hit for Audible, as my audiobook publisher, and for me as the writer. Most writers would be happy to get 41,000 copies their work sold overall in their book’s hardcover era; to have those come out of audio, in a nearly 1:1 ratio with print publisher sales, is I suspect unheard of.

What does this tell us (anecdotally) about audio? One, that genre work can sell very well indeed in the segment, which should be immensely heartening to authors in genre; two, that audio as a segment is growing and it makes sense to get into it if you can; three, that audio has its own audience, with its own sets of desires and expectations, and that’s something you’ll want to factor in as you create you work. At this point I absolutely give consideration to how my work sounds as well as reads — I’m starting to use substantially fewer dialogue tags (“he said,” “she said”), as an example.

This also goes to my argument of why working with established publishers can continue to have its advantages for writers. Audible (in my case, other major audio publishers in the case of other authors) has the wherewithal to get the best narrators, an entire marketing and PR staff and the ability to push a title in the space, in a manner and with the wide-band strength that it would be very difficult for me, as an individual, to do. They do it well, which is a thing, and they also do it better than I would, which is another, separate thing. I benefit, and reach an audience I wouldn’t otherwise, through their competence and expertise. Which is why I’m glad to be working with them.

Which suggests this is a fine place to bring this up: Last Friday I signed a multi-year, multi-book contract with Audible, who will be the audiobook publisher for the books that are to be published by Tor over the next decade. I’m going to skip over the fiddly details of that contract right, except to say that I’m very very happy with it, and also very happy to be working with Audible for the next decade. Like Tor, they are simply the best at what they do, and I like working with the best.

3. On the subject of Tor, how do I feel about the performance of Lock In, in the print and eBook editions? Short version: I am delighted with how the book did. Note well that the book is in many ways a departure from my standard science fictional remit, which is action-oriented space opera; even Redshirts has lasers and aliens and spaceships and explosions. Lock In: No lasers or aliens or spaceships. Relatively few explosions. Instead: a near-contemporary cop thriller with a gender-ambiguous lead and a heavy dip into issues of disability and social dynamics. And Tor’s marketing and PR helps it sell 46K copies in hardcover-era print, land on the NYT, USA Today, LA Times and Bookscan bestseller lists, get optioned for TV and earn a sequel? Hell, yeah, Tor rocked this one pretty hard.

I mean, I helped, too. Don’t get me wrong. But essentially I threw Tor a curve ball and asked them to hit it. They drilled it, and in the process both helped introduce me to some new readers, which is great, and to expand the parameters of my writing career, which is even better. Lock In was in many ways a case study of what it means to be John Scalzi, author. Now we’re sure that my name can sell more than just action-oriented space opera, and that Tor is good at selling me, not just a certain flavor of book by me. That knowledge is part of why Tor and I both decided that a long-term contract was in our mutual self-interest.

These numbers (along with the audiobook numbers) are also solid number to bring to the table when someone argues that science fiction “should” be about, or that the science fiction that really sells is [insert sub-genre of science fiction here]. I mean, guys: I sold nearly 90,000 copies, at a premium price, of a book that, again, has a gender-ambiguous lead and a heavy dip into issues of disability and social dynamics. Why? Well, because the book was fun, too, which doesn’t hurt. But also because the audience for science fiction and fantasy today is both diverse, in who it is, and diverse, in what it is happy to read.

This makes me happy as a writer. I love space opera, and trust me, you’ll be getting more of that from me — the 2016 novel from Tor, in fact, is currently scheduled to be a big ol’ epic space opera-y kind of thing — but I like the idea that I can write other things and that (with an assist from my publisher in marketing and PR) my readers will come along for those rides, too. It will keep my writer brain happy to mix things up. It also makes me happy as a reader, since it means that we have some more anecdotal proof that science fiction and fantasy doesn’t “have” to be one niche or another to sell. It can all sell. You just have to know how to sell it. Tor knows how to do that.

4. As a bit of inside pool, these numbers are again a reminder that Bookscan, the service that tracks book sales, is at this point a bit of rubbish when it comes to tracking sales across multiple formats and media. As of August 2nd, Bookscan has recorded 11,175 sales of Lock In, a number that is barely half of actual physical hardcover sales and a ridiculously small 12.7% of the book’s total sales.

Bookscan’s reporting of my sales is so wildly inaccurate, in fact, that it’s concerning to me as an author, because bookstores make orders based on its numbers. The general rule of thumb is that Bookscan captures roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of physical print sales, but in my case it doesn’t, and I have to suspect the same is also true of a number of genre authors, and not just science fiction or fantasy genre authors.

So, if you’re a bookseller: Hey! I sell pretty well! Stock all my books! Thanks. Genre authors: Check your actual sales alongside your Bookscan numbers. You may be surprised at what’s not there. And, finally, Bookscan: Please get your shit together if you’re going to continue to tout yourself as a reasonably accurate gauge of sales. Thanks.

(Also, and as an aside, the unreliability of Bookscan’s numbers mean that if you’re using them to snark on an author, you run a high risk of looking really very foolish. This comment goes out to all the Sad/Rabid Puppy partisans, who at the height of their silliness, waved around Lock In’s Bookscan numbers as evidence the book had failed and both Tor and I were in a panic about it, when in fact both Tor and I felt pretty damn good. We knew the actual number of units sold, and that Bookscan was capturing less than a quarter of Tor’s actual sales of the book.)

5. The really good news for Lock In? Everyone, including me, figures that its natural sales home will be in paperback. We’ll find out over the next couple of years if it’s true. In the meantime, these hardcover-era sales are give the paperback a healthy push out of the gate. Good luck to it.

“The Dispatcher” — DONE!

Hey, I finished a new writing project today!

It’s 23,000 words long, which means it’s a novella.

It’s called “The Dispatcher.”

And it’s —

wait for it

— urban fantasy.

YES URBAN FANTASY SHUT UP I CAN TOTALLY WRITE URBAN FANTASY Y’ALL.

Also? It’s pretty good.

Also also? Done before the deadline, which is tomorrow. Which is good because on Tuesday I start a three week book tour, and speaking from experience, writing fiction while traveling suuuuuuuuuuks.

When will you get to read it?

Well, that’s just it. You won’t. At least, not for a while. Because I wrote it for Audible. Which means it’s going to be an audiobook first. And then, later, we’ll bring it to print.

So when will you get to hear it?

That’s up to Audible. But the plan, as I understand it, is to have it out later in the year.

BUT! There’s a loophole to this. Which is, if you come see me on tour, and only if you come see me on tour, then you’ll get to hear me read the first chapter of “The Dispatcher.” Now you have a reason to come see me on tour! I mean, another reason. Yeah.

Anyway: Hooray! I’m done. Now to rest my wrists, eat celebratory sushi, and then sleep for ten hours or so.

Straight Outta Bradford

Beats (which means Apple) has created a page which lets you create your own album cover based on the artwork for Straight Outta Compton, the upcoming film about NWA, and one presumes also their debut album.

So, yeah, I played with it.

Yup. Life in the 45308, y’all.

That’s it for today. Have lots of stuff to do this weekend. Hope you enjoy yours.

New Books and ARCs, 8/7/15

The last collection of new books and ARCs for about three weeks, on account of my upcoming book tour. So enjoy this while you can! Anything in the stack that speaks to you? Tell me in the comments!

Ex’s & Oh’s

This is a fun song I’ve been hearing on the radio recently as I’ve been doing my travels. The video’s a little silly, but no less silly, I suppose, than many other videos have ever been. And the song is super-catchy in any event. Enjoy.

The Big Idea: Lexie Dunne

So, your favorite superhero? Yeah, Lexie Dunne’s novel Supervillains Anonymous isn’t about them. Or your second favorite superhero. Or your third. Maybe your fifth? or seventh? Yup, that’s about right.

LEXIE DUNNE:

Gail Godwin is what I like to call mid-sized. Not physically—she’s so small that I’ve chucked every short joke in the book at her and will keep going until my editor tells me to stop—but power-wise. Superheroes Anonymous was Gail’s origin story, moving her from the villains’ favorite whipping girl to a hero in her own right. That was fun; I can understand why Hollywood’s rebooted Spider-man 47 times now. It’s addictive! But after the origin story, what if the hero you’re left with isn’t the bottom rung or the top level? What if she’s decidedly middle of the line? This was the fun playing field I got to discover in Supervillains Anonymous, my new sequel.

Caped crusaders come with some super-evident truths: heroes with great chins and an even greater thirst for justice, “smart” villains that somehow take nine steps when four would have been fine, loved ones kept in the dark for their own safety. And it’s not any different in the world of Superheroes and Supervillains Anonymous, which has its own Gawker-like site to track superpowered social activity. In superhero fiction, you’re either the underdog or you’re the alpha dog. That’s why we have seventeen or eighteen different Bats-man (Batmen?) comics and movies all going at the same time. We like ourselves a good Batman.

But when you put Gail on a team, she’s neither. Her powers are strong enough to make her dangerous, but not deadly. Somebody on her level gets one or two jazz hands moments in a battle and then is relegated to watching the main hero’s back. She’s not the Slayer—she’s a Scooby (but a cool Scooby like Willow, not like Xander). In an ensemble work, these mid-sized characters add great flavor, but it’s not often we’re put in their shoes for longer than the moment it takes to release an outstanding quip and make the money shot. I, on the other hand, found myself writing an entire book in this “moment.”

I would call it an accident, but it’s probably fate. In movies, I’m always more fascinated by the background of the shots than I am by the principal actors. My favorite characters show up for a couple of chapters around page 47 and leave with some hint of mystery still clinging to them. I wonder at the actuaries and cleaning crew that have to assess the rubble after the dust has settled. It’s viewing what’s typically a macro-level world with megalomaniacal villains through a micro lens, and it’s always been a favorite hobby. So Gail’s a perfect fit for me.

Aided by the super-element Mobium, she runs faster, hits harder, and banters more mightily than your average human, but she can’t fly and she’s not invincible. Definitely mid-sized, especially when you consider everybody around her. Her boyfriend can fly. Her mentor decimates buildings and breaks the speed of sound. If Gail wants to get across town in a single bound, it’s either be carried or give in and take the El. I discovered early on in my outlining stage that there was no feasible way for her to be the one fighting to the death atop a building, not with the calibre of villains I’d created for the world.

Her place is on the ground, surrounded by dirt and with pebbles wedged in her boots. She takes out the mooks. Luckily, for the sadist in me, what mooks lack in quality, they make up for in quantity. So the stakes might be considerably smaller, but they still exist (and they’re just as likely to vaporize her). She’s still got challenges facing her and she’s still enhanced. This is especially great for me because I really like beating her up and now I can do that even harder. And with great enhancements come a great chance of having a front row seat for the important bits of the final battle.

When I was coming up with this series, it would have been easily to level Gail up and make her one of the heavy hitters. Instead of instincts and honed muscles, the Mobium could have made her invincible, light as a feather, faster than a speeding train. But honestly, where’s the fun in that? We’ve got enough Supermen watching the earth from space. Give me more mid-sized heroes, outclassed by everybody around them, doing what they can to help. I want to spend more time in the trenches, looking up.

After all, that’s what you do with superheroes, isn’t it? You’re always looking up.

—-

Supervillains Anonymous: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s

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

Tour Prepping and Notes

We’re just a few days out from the beginning of the tour for The End of All Things, so a few things about what will be going on here and other places whilst I am out and about.

1. First, the site won’t be going hiatus — I have seven Big Ideas scheduled while I’m out on tour and it wouldn’t be fair to them, and anyway, I like posting — but, as usual when I am out on tour, I’ll likely post rather less, and most of my personal posts are likely to be brief. Hey, I’m traveling and am likely to be slightly discombobulated most of the time I’m not at an event. If I go longer than brief, I’ll be babbling.

2. As usual with touring, the place where I’m likely to do most of my updating will be on Twitter. Because it’s damnably convenient, that’s why. If you’re not already following me and want to be as up-to-the-minute as possible on what I’m doing for the next three weeks, now would be a good time to follow me there.

3. Also as usual when I’m touring, for the duration of the tour (or more accurately, from mid-afternoon on the 10th until sometime early on the 28th) I’ll be stepping away from my email for the most part. Which is to say I might read email that’s sent to me, but probably not, and unless you happen to be my agent saying “everything is on fire call me now,” I’ll probably not respond (and if you were my agent, in that situation you’d be likely to call me anyway). So if there’s an email you absolutely want me to see before the end of the month, well, better send it soon. If you send it after the 10th, you’ll get my automatic reply reminding you of all this.

4. Finally, just a reminder: Please please please please please come see me on my tour, and bring a friend, or two, or seven. We’ll have fun like you wouldn’t believe. Believe it!

GamerGate Adds to Its Vast Warehouse of Stupid

So, this popped up in the “KotakuInAction” subreddit, i.e., “the place where GamerGaters who don’t realize GamerGate is sooooo 2014 hang out”:

Naturally, I had some thoughts.

Seriously, though. How these people get through life without poking their eyes out with spoons is entirely beyond me.

The Big Idea: N.K. Jemisin

If you’ve ever wondered how much thought goes into worldbuilding in science fiction and fantasy, you’re going to love this Big Idea, in which N.K. Jemisin goes into detail about what it took to make the world of The Fifth Season real and believable. But worldbuilding is not enough to build a novel. Jemisin goes into that, too.

N.K. JEMISIN:

A few years back, I had a dream of a woman doing a Badass Power Walk towards me, with a mountain floating along behind her. I knew she was about my age — early forties, that is — and I could see that she wore dredlocs as I do, but it was very clear in the dream that she was not me. She was angry with me, in fact, because of something I’d done or hadn’t done, and if I didn’t find a way to appease her quickly, I knew she was going to throw that mountain at me. Why was she so pissed off? No idea. How was a mountain following her around like a geological puppy? She was controlling it through some unknown means. I woke up from this dream in a cold sweat — and fascinated. That was the moment the Broken Earth trilogy, of which The Fifth Season is book 1, was born.

I made some immediate assumptions about this woman and her world. First, that she wasn’t unique; there were others who had the ability to control mountains and everything associated with them (i.e. orogenesis). Second, that her anger wasn’t something recent or new.  You don’t toss around mountains over one bad day.  This woman had a lifetime’s worth of reasons to be angry — like being treated as a second-class citizen and having her hopes for the future crushed again and again.  But what kind of society would discriminate against such an obviously powerful person, and why?  The trilogy is my answer to that question.

Right away I faced two major challenges in trying to tell this story: the worldbuilding, and the voice.

Now, I love worldbuilding. I do it for fun and profit. The worldbuilding for TFS was more daunting than usual, though. See, in the Stillness (the sole supercontinent of The Fifth Season) extinction-level volcanic winters and other seismic disasters occur on a frequent basis. This meant I needed to learn a lot more about seismology, given that I’d never even felt an earthquake, or seen a volcano or a geyser, before I started researching this novel. (I was so excited when we had a quake in New York right after I started work on this novel! Even though at first I just thought the subway was unusually rumbly that day.)

More challenging was the fact that nothing in this world could resemble anything in our own world. Why should it? No society on Earth, outside of a few “preppers” and religious extremists, is designed for apocalyptic survival. Yet the people of the Stillness are biologically and culturally adapted for periods of extreme, rapid, hostile climate change. The can detect impending quakes through the use of special areas of the brainstem that we don’t possess, and one of their races prides itself on its acid-proof, ash-filtering hair type. To them, it’s normal to speak of six senses rather than five, and to consider a woman beautiful only if she’s at least six feet tall, at least a size 16, and looks like she can wrestle a bear. (At least.)

This was where the other challenge, the one of voice, kicked in: how could I immerse readers in such a fundamentally alien milieu? Doing that might be a staple of science fiction, but it’s rare — and not always welcome — in fantasy.

I experimented with test chapters and a proof-of-concept short story to get a feel for things before I settled into writing the novel. I picked different tenses, voices, characters, sounds and feels. First person felt too intimate, somehow. Past tense lacked impact. I like the immediacy of present tense; it can feel odd when you’re not used to it, but it’s surprisingly easy to adjust. (Psst: you just did.) Makes for some really visceral action scenes.

But there was one character for whom third person present tense never worked: Essun, my protagonist. The story starts in a moment of extreme trauma for her: she comes home from work one day to find that her son has been beaten to death by his own father. This is thankfully an experience that few readers will have had in real life, and yet it’s something that any reasonably empathetic human being can understand: that moment of almost surreal shock, the disbelief, the mental reeling. I needed a voice that could convey these feelings, which would underlie all of Essun’s actions throughout the trilogy — because that kind of trauma never really goes away. You just rebuild yourself around it.

What worked best was second person. I’ve always thought of second person as distancing; after all, it’s impossible for the reader to ever truly be “you”. Yet I’ve read some incredibly intimate second-person stories, and as I actually tried writing it for the first time, I found that it’s sort of amazing and powerful — both distancing and intimate at the same time. You can’t be this person, but you can understand her. It was perfect.

…Aaaaaand here I had an artistic panic attack. I liked what was developing, but was it even remotely salable? It’s been five years and I haven’t stopped hearing complaints from readers about the first-person that I used in the Inheritance Trilogy. SFF readers are remarkably quick to declare that they “just don’t do [person/tense]”. Or they’ll declare a story pretentious without ever having read it, simply because it’s written in a style they’re not used to. I wish I could say that I don’t care what those readers might think. In a fit of anxiety I showed those first few chapters and an outline to my editor and agent and said, “OK, is this worth something or is it a hot mess?” They must’ve decided it was worth something; I got a contract for the whole trilogy a few days later.

Now I guess I’ll see if readers think it’s worth something, too.

—-

The Fifth Season: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Hey, I Did a “How I Work” Feature on Lifehacker

In case you’re curious how I do what I do on a daily basis. And I know you are! Here’s the link.

Also, if you’re coming over from Lifehacker on the promise that I am hilarious, here’s a link to what happened when I installed Windows 10 on my laptop the other day. If that is not sufficiently hilarious for you, I am sorry. I suppose I am not actually funny at all.

The Big Idea: Amy K. Nichols

Robert Frost wrote about taking the road less traveled, but what if the roads were equally traveled, just… different? And you could, in a way, travel down more than one? Amy K. Nichols have given this scenario some thought in her Duplexity series, of which While You Were Gone is the second book. Here she is to tell you about it.

AMY K. NICHOLS:

Have you every wondered what your life would be like if you’d chosen that other career? If that first date had led to a second? If you hadn’t been able to avoid that accident? If the doctor’s diagnosis had been different?

It’s an interesting thought experiment, right? Now take it a step further.

What if there are parallel versions of you living out the paths you didn’t take? Even better, what if you could walk for a time in their shoes to see how your lives turned out?

This is the kind of stuff I love to think about. It’s also the Big Idea behind the Duplexity series (Now That You’re Here and While You Were Gone).

I didn’t set out to write books about parallel universes. As with many stories, this one sort of landed in my lap, or rather in a chair in a high school English class. I’d started writing what I thought was a short story about a teenage girl and her nerdy best friend. The story began with the girl waiting for class to start when suddenly this loser in the seat next to her woke up scared and confused, not sure where he was or how he got there. He did recognize her, though, which I found interesting. I was curious enough about the situation to keep writing. Before long I’d completed the manuscript that eventually became the first book in the Duplexity series, Now That You’re Here.

The story follows street-smart graffiti artist Danny Ogden. When an explosion causes him to jump to a parallel universe, he gets the chance to see the life his parallel self leads. He quickly discovers it’s one full of pain and disappointment. His parents are dead, his friends are criminals, and he’s a ruthless bully. Straight-A science student Eevee Solomon agrees to help him figure out how he got there and how to get him back home. When he develops feelings for Eevee, though, he isn’t so sure home is where he wants to be.

My agent sold the novel to Knopf as a two-book series, with the second book following the other Danny and Eevee in the parallel universe over the same timeline. That second book became While You Were Gone.

When the explosion occurs in the first book and Danny jumps to our world, his parallel self jumps to his world where suddenly he has the life of his dreams. His parents are alive. He has a cool best friend. Girls actually like him, including promising young artist Eevee Solomon. The society he lands in, though, is a police state on the brink of collapse. When he discovers his parallel self has secret ties to an underground anarchist group, he finds himself faced with the prospect of losing everything he loves all over again.

Writing Now That You’re Here and While You Were Gone gave me the chance to explore that thought experiment in fiction. It was an intersting opportunity. The process, however, wasn’t without its share of frustrations.

I’d originally written Now That You’re Here as a standalone and threw in a bunch of fun and crazy ideas about Danny’s parallel world. The surveillance state. Censorship. Arizona having an ocean. An uneasy truce between the US and Mexico. Then, years later, I got the book deal and suddenly all of those passing mentions became the worldbuilding of While You Were Gone. Also, because both books occur over the same three weeks in April, the second book’s timeline and structure were dictated by the events of Now That You’re Here. Plotting the second book was like fitting the pieces of an extremely difficult puzzle. Often I felt like a companion on Doctor Who, begging The Doctor to go back and change the past (aka book one) only to be told some events are fixed points in time (aka sent off to production) and can’t be changed. If only I’d had my own TARDIS!

Still, writing the Duplexity books was an exciting and satisfying ride, especially for a debut author. They gave me the chance to create multiple versions of the same characters in parallel worlds. They allowed me to explore fascinating concepts like wormholes, chaos theory, and teleportation. They also gave me a crash course in writing a series. Mostly though, they allowed me to play with those thought experiment questions I love so much. It’s unlikely I’ll ever trade places with my parallel self or see how my life would have played out had I made different choices. Watching Danny experience that, though, was the next best thing.

—-

While You Were Gone: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Lock In Paperback Release Day + Tour Reminders + Other Stuff

Hey! I have things to say!

* First, today is the release day for the Lock In paperback (and associated eBook), so if you’ve been waiting for the novel to be released in this cheaper, more compact form, this is the day and you should get to it immediately and avoid the rush. You hate the rush! I know that about you. It also makes a lovely gift. Please buy it, is what I’m saying. Mortgage, etc. You know.

* Second, a reminder that on this day next week the hardcover of The End of All Things is released and I begin my book tour, starting in Memphis, Tennessee, thence to Raleigh, Athens, Lexington and many other cities in these fine United States of America (the link above lists them all). As previously promised, I will be reading new and exclusive material on the tour, which you will not be able to hear if you do not come to the tour stops, plus other bits. It will be fun and you will have a good time. Please come and bring along every single other person you have ever met in your life.

* Speaking of The End of All Things, here’s a fine review of it in the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog. “John Scalzi delivers a rollicking good time,” it declares. And it’s true! I think I am well known for delivering the rollick. And yes, “rollick” is an actual word. You can look it up.

* Still on the subject of The End of All Things, a note regarding the electronic release of the extra, alternate chapter included in the print edition of the book (and I believe the compiled electronic edition of the novel): It’ll be released electronically — and for free — a couple of weeks after the release of the hardcover. So if you purchased the episodes, you’ll still get the extra stuff. Free! Promise.

* A quick plug for a book I am associated with: The fabulous and multiply award-winning and nominated Paul Cornell’s short story collection A Better Way to Die came out yesterday here in the US and the UK (Amazon links there), and is well worth your time. I’m associated with it because I wrote the introduction. If you like good science fiction and fantasy — and I suspect you might! — then this is a short story collection you want to know about.

And with that I’m off, to sign a big ol’ stack of books for people who pre-ordered The End of All Things through Subterranean Press. See you all tomorrow.

The Big Idea: Jim C. Hines

I could do a long introduction to Jim C. Hines‘ Big Idea piece on his novel Fable: Blood of Heroes, based on the popular series of games. Instead I will simply say, with some wonder: It has armored chickens in it. I’ll let Jim handle the rest.

JIM C. HINES:

Albion is a land with a long history, developed over the course of the Fable trilogy of games. The forthcoming Fable Legends is set several hundred years before the first game, during a time of great change.

As it turns out, human beings—and nonhuman beings, for that matter—don’t always handle change well.

When I sat down to write Blood of Heroes, the companion novel for Fable Legends, my job was to tell an original story introducing new Heroes in a much older Albion, and to do so in a way that experienced Fable players, players of Fable Legends, and readers utterly new to the franchise could all appreciate and enjoy. There’s plenty of action, battles with ghosts and redcaps and armored chickens, and a bit of political absurdity, all part of a larger scheme by a villain with major dental issues, but underlying everything is the tension of societal change.

The average citizen of Albion might live their entire life without ever venturing beyond the boundaries of their village. It’s dangerous out there in the wilderness! As one villager correctly notes, “Did you know that nearly a hundred percent of forest-related deaths take place outside of town?”

The average citizen of Albion isn’t terribly bright…

Into this world come men and women with mythical powers. Heroes, or so they claim. But what happens when ordinary, everyday townsfolk encounter such people for the first time? How do those in power respond? And why is it that every time a Hero comes along, chaos and property damage soon follow?

As an old evil awakens and begins to spread its influence, a would-be king sees these Heroes as an opportunity to make a name for himself, and he’ll be damned if he lets a minor inconvenience like his untimely death get in the way of his grand vision. A nearby mayor sees only a threat to his power. Will the people really accept him as their leader when there are others with so much more strength and power and magic?

Others simply refuse to believe. “Heroes? Pah. Nothing but a bedtime story, a fantasy. Like dragons and hygiene. We don’t want none of that stuff around these parts.”

So not only did my protagonists have to fight bad guys, they also had to navigate a society that was completely at odds over how to deal with them. One villager might denounce them as frauds, while the next becomes an instant and hardcore fanboy: “Excuse me, Mister Sterling, sir? Would you mind autographing my pig? It’s for my wife. She’s a big fan. Her name’s Bacon. The pig, I mean. Not my wife.”

The same conflicts play out within the protagonists themselves. They struggle to understand their powers and abilities, to figure out who they are and where they belong. Some, like the aforementioned Sterling, believe it’s their destiny to save the land and receive the glory and rewards that are their due. (And if said rewards happen to include a romp with the best-looking man or woman in town—or both!—so much the better.) Others struggle to hold on to their idealism in the face of doubt and cynicism and an unusually large number of things trying to kill them. Then there are those who are just in it for the gold to pay off their bar tab.

In some ways, it’s a lot like the writing community…

Blood of Heroes shows a world in flux. Albion has emerged from what’s known as The Pitch Black Ages (like the Dark Ages, only much, much darker), and is moving toward an Age of Heroes. In the long run, this could be a very good thing, at least for those who survive.

In the short term, it’s gonna be loud, messy, and ugly, full of backstabbing and nastiness and a disconcerting number of chickens.

If I did my job right, it should also be a great deal of fun.

—-

Blood of Heroes: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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