Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2021, Day Two: Non-Traditionally Published Books

Today is Day Two of the Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2021, and today the focus is on Non-Traditionally Published Books: Self-published works, electronically-exclusive books, books from micro presses, books released outside the usual environs of the publishing world, and so on. Hey, I put my first novel up on this very Web site years ago and told people to send me a dollar if they liked it. Look where it got me. I hope you find some good stuff today.

Please note that the comment thread today is only for non-traditional authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors of non-traditionally published books only. This includes comics and graphic novels, as well as non-fiction books and audiobooks. If your book has been traditionally published — available in bookstores on a returnable basis — post about your book in the thread that went up yesterday (if you are in doubt, assume you are non-traditionally published and post here). If you are a creator in another form or medium, your thread is coming tomorrow. Don’t post if you are not the author or editor, please.

2. Completed works only. Do not post about works in progress, even if you’re posting them publicly. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. Likewise, don’t just promote yourself unless you have something to sell or provide, that others may give as a gift.

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books available in North America. If your book is only available in the UK or some other country, please let people know!

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting or URL. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Now: Tell us about your book!

Tomorrow (12/1): Other creators (musicians, artists, crafters, etc!)

The Big Idea: Ian Douglas

How to get readers to accept the impossible — or, at least, the wildly implausible? Author Ian Douglas has a technique for that, and in this Big Idea for Solar Warden: Alien Hostiles, he’s come to lay it out for you.

IAN DOUGLAS:

Solar Warden: Alien Hostiles is the second book in an SF trilogy, and the big Big Ideas in that entry are of course those that define the entire series. Big Ideas for the individual entries in the series are, perforce, based on the defining motifs for the trilogy as a whole. The Biggest Idea, then, for the entire Solar Warden series involves a rather strange series of suppositions:

What if one of the major conspiracy theory clusters of the 21st century is absolutely true?

What if Roswell really happened, and the U.S. government captured and reverse-engineered recovered alien spacecraft?

What if the government secretly established diplomatic relationships with those aliens, and received substantive help in creating a space navy with technology that would put Star Trek to shame, a navy out exploring the Galaxy right now, and not centuries hence?

And what if not all of those advanced alien civilizations have our best interests at heart?…

This is precisely the scenario suggested by Scottish hacker Gary McKinnon in 2002, who claimed to have discovered top-secret files and photographs when he broke into NASA and U.S. Department of Defense computer networks in what one government official called “the biggest military computer hack of all time.” I took his tale of giant human-crewed starships and an extraterrestrial Navy and flew with it. After all, one takes one’s inspiration where one can.

I was, of course, taking a marketing risk in pursuing this concept. UFOs still carry something of a giggle factor even in this day of inexplicable U.S. Navy camera footage made public, and many stories about them are just plain silly, to say the least. This often leads critics to dismiss books featuring alien visitations as just tired old retreads of the same-ol’ same-ol’.

One way I got around the familiarity of the typical UFO story was to join the scoffers’ club and debunk some of the ideas and theories within the genre. This allowed me to weed out some of the truly nonsensical ideas floating around out there… and to weave what remained into a more or less coherent whole.

For example, I trashed one wild story about a 1970s exchange program with Zeta Reticuli  in fairly short order, though I expect numerous True Believers will take me to task for such blasphemy. Zeta Reticuli is a real star—two stars, actually, orbiting some 400 astronomical units apart. In current UFO lore, Zeta Retic is home to an alien civilization, and a supposed diary kept by one of the human visitors to the planet described in some detail the double star in the sky—complete with a melodramatic vista like the one seen on Star Wars’ Tatooine. I discussed, in passing, how that description could not possibly be true in light of what we know about the actual system. By giving the lie to a self-evidently preposterous hoax in the narrative, I helped readers swallow other wild ideas that, at least marginally, seem a bit more plausible.

I was able to use this technique to expand somewhat pedestrian and often implausible ideas into more believable and less giggle-worthy scenarios, to mold and reshape the mad, discordant welter of existing UFO lore into a coherent whole. By debunking the obviously insane, what remained seems, by contrast, to be true.

And for me, it’s that feeling of truthfulness in the narrative that maintains its grip on SF readers from one improbability to the next, leading them into worlds and situations that are purely imaginal, the stuff of wonder.

While Alien Hostiles shares the overall Big Ideas of the trilogy’s story arc, it does have elements unique to it. Much of the book’s plot revolves around a character, a human from the far future slumming in the present, who became involved in helping the Nazis before and during World War II… though she saw it as a failed attempt to control them. During the course of my research, I learned of a historical person, one Maria Orsic, a mediumistic mystic who became a kind of high priestess to Himmler and other Nazi leaders obsessed with the occult and with information supposedly channeled from alien beings. As the story developed, I had the proverbial ah-ha moment and changed course in my writing, making my fictional time traveler and the historical Maria Orsic one and the same. The historical Orsic had written about the star Aldebaran and, before she mysteriously vanished, claimed to be off to join aliens there. This gave me the ultimate destination for Alien Hostiles’ journey and formed a solid foundation for the entire book.

Personally, I rather doubt Mr. McKinnon’s tale of Star Trekkian navies out among the stars today. And, damn it, the ubiquitous Gray aliens we’re always running into seem to me to be far too human than anything we’ll actually, and inevitably, encounter Out There. In Solar Warden  had a lot of fun coming up with an alternative explanation that, just maybe, makes more sense than truly alien creatures obsessed with human reproduction.

Well, I do try to get the science right in my tales, though this can make working with long-established cultural myths problematic. But ultimately, the goal in writing this sort of fiction is less about getting the science right or about “explaining” contradictory mythologies than it is about telling a taut, tightly woven story that feels true and which entertains the reader.And hey. If the story also makes the reader think—Dang! What if this stuff is true?—then so much the better.


Solar Warden: Alien Hostiles: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Indiebound

Read an excerpt.

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2021, Day One: Traditionally Published Books

Welcome to the first day of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2021 — Our way of helping you folks learn about cool creative gifts for the holidays, straight from the folks who have created them.

Today’s featured products are traditionally published books (including graphic novels and audiobooks); that is, books put out by publishers who ship books to stores on a returnable basis. In the comment thread below, authors and editors of these books will tell you a little bit about their latest and/or greatest books so that you will be enticed to get that book for yourself or loved ones this holiday season. Because, hey: Books are spectacular gifts. Enjoy your browsing, and we hope you find the perfect book!

Please note that the comment thread today is only for authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors only, books only (including audiobooks). There will be other threads for other stuff, later in the week. Any type of book is fine: Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, etc. If you are not the author/editor of the book you’re posting about, don’t post. This is for authors and editors only.

2. For printed books, they must be currently in print (i.e., published before 12/31/2021) and available on a returnable basis at bookstores and at least one of the following three online bookstores: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s. This is so people can find your book when they go looking for it. For audiobooks, they must be professionally published (no self-produced, self-published audiobooks) and at least available through Amazon/Audible. If your book isn’t available as described, or if you’re not sure, wait for the shopping guide for non-traditional books, which will go up tomorrow. 

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like (as long as it meets the criteria in point 2), but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books currently available in North America (if your book is available only in the UK or elsewhere, please note that).

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting or a URL. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Got it? Excellent. Then tell the folks about your book! And tell your author friends about this thread so they can come around as well.

Tomorrow (11/30/21): Non-traditional books!

The Big Idea: Jeremy Szal

Cover to Blindspace.

Authors often see themselves in their work. But sometimes, it takes a while for that to happen. This is a thing Jeremy Szal discovered while writing Blindspace. Here he is to delve further into that personal discovery.

JEREMY SZAL:

I’ve always infused intensely personal material into my work. If you know me well, you’ll see it immediately if you read anything I write. Still, for someone like me who’s scribbling about worlds filled with asteroid cities, psychopathic AIs, alien drugs, spaceships, galactic empires, my fiction isn’t exactly what you’d call autobiographical. Not at first glance, anyway.

Vakov Fukasawa, the protagonist of Stormblood and Blindspace, spoke to me in a way no other character has during the writing process. He’s a visceral, broken wreck of a man who’s brimming with barely-concealed rage and anger – someone who’s been damaged and wants to deal damage in return. He’s got the DNA of an extinct (and genocidal!) alien race running through his veins, making him addicted to adrenaline and aggression. But despite all his viciousness and anger, he’s someone who loves fiercely and intensely from the heart. He’s withdrawn and brooding, and while he doesn’t want to get close to a lot of people, to his friends he gives his undying, unequivocal loyalty.

But it wasn’t until Book 2 that I realized how closely I was writing about myself.

I’d poured so much of own rage, my own anger, into him. Injustices I’d suffered at the hands of people I believed were my friends, the way I was treated like dirt as a half-Polish, half-Lebanese kid in an all-Catholic school in the Austrian mountains. Moments of mistreatment, oppression, all oozing out of me like blood from a wound. 

I’d taken my own flaws, passions, aspirations and laid them bare through his voice and his flesh, warts and all. I’d given him my own personal damage, intensely magnified, and watched him claw and fight against his demons, igniting in me a hope of battling my own.

Vakov isn’t me, of course. If he was, I’m pretty sure I’d be in jail. Vakov is a soldier riddled with PTSD. I’m not. He’s has alien DNA running through his blood and bones; demons that are, in many senses, literal. Mine aren’t. Rather, it’s the essence, the approximation of a personality, we share.

Still. He couldn’t remain stagnant. His personality, and the way he responded to the alien DNA in his body, had to adapt to new challenges.

Blindspace was written over a three-year period in my early 20s, during a time where my personality and worldview dramatically evolved. My capacity for compassion and empathy expanded. I learned to read the room. I learned to stop and listen when people I trusted told me things I didn’t want to hear. I got out of my comfort zone and started being more comfortable in my own skin. I made no excuses for how much I’d tolerate bullshit, or those trying to sell it to me. I gave myself permission to fail, as long as I picked myself up and tried again. I understood myself, and my place among people I cared about.

And I was no longer ashamed of the fire burning inside me: burning for both rage and love.

See, it always felt so strange to me to see character growth that involved moving past anger. To learning to let go of your feelings, emotions. To remain stoic and unflinching. Because then, what are you fighting for if not the things you care about so much it hurts? What do you become if you loose the part of yourself that makes you, well, you? How could I take my character on a path neither of us wanted?

I couldn’t take away Vakov’s rage anymore than my own. I tried half-heartedly in the early drafting days, but Vakov wouldn’t let me. He knew that I, that we, had a fire that burned too brightly to just fade away.

But there’s been times where I’ve misused my anger, where I’ve hurt people I cared about, pushed friends away, burned bridges, and ended up with nothing but guilt to show for it. I’m not proud of it. But those moments taught me a valuable lesson, and showed me the path forward.

So I trained Vakov to weaponize that fire inside him. He was no longer someone who responded to his violent urges in a knee-jerk capacity, hurling himself into danger alone, guns blazing, risking the lives of everyone around him.

Sure, he was fighting to protect the people he loves. But in doing so, he’d push them away, but as a result, would push them away. It was a macho, toxic mindset masquerading as heroism, dismissing and disregarding the people he wanted to trust.

So he resisted the dark, adrenaline urges caused by the, quite literal, aliens inside him. He began standing his ground, trusting his friends, working in unison with a team, no longer allowing himself to get swept up in his body’s urges. Slowly, he started taking a step back. To admitting his wrongdoing, acknowledging his urges and flaws, but not allowing himself to get swept up by them as he tried to do better, even as he never lost the rage and anger that was forged by trauma and hardship. And in doing so, he’s found a richness, a depth, to his personality and his relationships with others he’d never knew was there.

Sound familiar?

In many ways, me and Vakov have evolved in tandem. Vakov has taught me a lot, not only about myself, but the person I want to be.

Getting this book down, and going through life while writing it, has been a bloody, difficult journey at times. I’ve wanted to give in, admit defeat, and run away from it all, but Vakov’s dragged me back, because the stubborn bastard knows I’m not done yet. He knows I’ve still got our stories to tell, to let those fires burn bright.

And it’s only the beginning.


Blindspace: Amazon|Kobo|Google Books|IndieBound |Barnes and Noble

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

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2021 Starts Monday!

Every year as the holiday season begins I run a gift guide for the holidays, and over the years it’s been quite successful: Lots of people have found out about excellent books and crafts and charities and what have you, making for excellent gift-giving opportunities during the holiday season. I’ve decided to do it again this year.

So: Starting Monday, November 29, the Whatever Holiday Gift Guide returns! If you’re a writer or other creator, this will be an excellent time to promote your work on a site which gets tens of thousands of viewers daily, almost all of whom will be interested in stuff for the holidays. If you’re someone looking to give gifts, you’ll see lots of excellent ideas. And you’ll also have a day to suggest stuff from other folks too. Everybody wins!

To give you all time to prepare, here’s the schedule of what will be promoted on which days:

Monday, November 29: Traditionally Published Authors — If your work is being published by a publisher a) who is not you and b) gets your books into actual, physical bookstores on a returnable basis, this is your day to tell people about your books. This includes comics/graphic novels and audiobooks.

Tuesday, November 30: Non-Traditionally Published Authors — Self-published? Electronically published? Or other? This is your day. This also includes comics/graphic novels and audiobooks.

Wednesday, December 1: Other Creators — Artists, knitters, jewelers, musicians, and anyone who has cool stuff to sell this holiday season, this will be the day to show off your creations.

Thursday, December 2: Fan Favorite Day — Not an author/artist/musician/other creator but know about some really cool stuff you think people will want to know about for the holidays? Share! Share with the crowd!

Friday, December 3: Charities — If you are involved in a charity, or have a favorite charity you’d like to let people know about, this is the day to do it.

If you have questions about how all of this will work, go ahead and ask them in the comment thread (Don’t start promoting your stuff today — it’s not time yet), although I will note that specific instructions for each day will appear on that day. Don’t worry, it’ll be pretty easy. Thanks and feel free to share this post with creative folks who will have things to sell this holiday season.

— JS

Happy Consume All the Calories Day

Here’s the spread at the Scalzi Compound today: Turkey, ham, two types of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato soufflé, green bean casserole, sage stuffing, deviled eggs, dinner rolls. That doesn’t count the opening round of appetizers, or the desserts (pumpkin and pecan pies, ice cream, sugar cookies). I can’t imagine I ate less than five thousand calories today. It’s a miracle I’m still awake to type this.

If you’re in the United States, I hope today was one in which you reflected on the good things in your life, surrounded by people you care about. If you’re outside the United States, I hope you had a satisfactory Thursday.

— JS

Things I Am Thankful For, 2021 Edition

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the United States, and while I think a lot of people these days see that holiday mostly as a turkey-spangled speedbump in front of the unstoppable juggernaut that is Christmas, I do think it’s useful to take a moment and reflect on the things that one has to be thankful for, especially over the course of the year. So here are things I’m thankful for, here in 2021.

I’m thankful for Joe Biden. Not in a creepy, “this is my man and I will follow him unto death” sort of way, because, come on, no one thinks about Joe Biden that way, possibly not even his dog. I’m thankful for him in the sense that for ten months now I haven’t felt a sickness in my gut wondering what damn fool, possibly unconstitutional, definitely self-centering thing our president is doing today. I can in fact go entire days not thinking about Joe Biden, which honestly is both refreshing after the previous four years, and should be my right as an American, with regard to the President of the United States.

Biden’s not perfect by any stretch, and clearly his current approval ratings are, uhhhhh, not great. That said, he is performing pretty much to my expectations, and as well as he can, considering the 50 Democratic senators he has for his majority are actually 48 Democratic senators, one clearly-a-Republican-but-pretending-to-be-a-Democrat-for-lulz, and one chaos agent, considering the opposing political party has lost its mind and would rather burn the country to the ground than do anything useful, and considering that, like every other Democratic president in recent memory, Biden’s first job out of the gate was dealing with all the disasters and time bombs the previous administration left behind. One works with what one has, and Biden’s doing all right with that. Even if he wasn’t, he’s still better than what we had. Thanks for letting me not think about you, President Biden. I surely appreciate it.

I’m thankful I wrote a novel this year. And a novella too, actually, but the novel was, career-wise, a smidge more important. 2020 was a bust on the novel-writing front, for various reasons, mostly relating to the fact that reality was continually pulling focus on me, and the fact that the novel I was trying to write last year was meant to be a bit grim and cynical, and 2020 wasn’t the year to write grim and cynical (or at least, it wasn’t the year for me to write it). So to be able to turn around from that disaster scenario and write a novel that’s a) really fun, b) that I really like, c) and that my publisher is pretty damn happy with too, was, bluntly, a massive fucking relief. There are other reasons to be thankful about it on the practical side of things (i.e., this is how I make my money, and I need money, because we live in a capitalist society, and also, I do ill-advised things like buy six-necked guitars), but mostly, I was just happy that after a year of grinding gears, creatively, 2021 saw me back on track in a big way. Related:

I’m thankful I didn’t release a novel this year. Fun fact: the novel I was writing in 2020 was supposed to be out this last October, and Kaiju was written quickly enough that Tor could have, in fact, slotted it into that release date. Instead, Tor looked at the publishing landscape of 2021 and said to itself yeeeeeeeah, let’s not, and bumped Kaiju into 2022 instead. Which was good! We’ve had more time to plot and plan for the release, and also, hey, you know that “supply chain” issue this year? It’s been particularly bad for publishing, and October was especially a not good month on that score. We dodged an actual bullet on that one, and didn’t make life worse for the authors who did have books out this October by fighting them for, like, paper. Also, hopefully by March we may be able to do in-store events and have a live-action book tour and all of that good stuff.

To be clear, in a perfect world I would have had a novel out in 2021, consistent with the plan to have a novel out every year to keep readers happy. But, well [motions to the imperfect world]. Given everything, waiting made sense. And Kaiju, I think, will be worth the wait for most of you.

I’m thankful for the COVID vaccines. In both the case of the initial set of vaccines and then with the booster, I signed up to get them as early as humanly possible because, I don’t know if you know this, but COVID-19 is a novel virus that is highly transmissible, kills a lot of people it infects — 775,000 in the US to date — and leaves lots of the people who survive the infection with long-term debilitations. It’s bad! And if you get the vaccines, not only does your chance of initial infection go down by a significant multiple, if you do get it, the chance of requiring hospitalization for it goes down by an even more significant multiple and the chances of dying from it go down by an even more significant multiple still. This is just basic math. I got vaccinated and boosted. So did my family.

I’m deeply thankful my family is now highly unlikely to die or be significantly debilitated from this now easily-preventable viral infection that is still killing thousands each week, those deaths now almost exclusively concentrated among people who will not take a safe and effective vaccine because people who should have known better made avoiding a horrible fucking disease and looking out for others by not being an active vector of infection a political litmus test, and counted on their supporters’ ignorance and tribal inclinations to weaponize those positions. “Be willing to get sick and possibly die to own the libs” is no way to go through life, and as it happens, at least some of those who chose that route won’t get through it.

Anyway, get vaccinated if you can, y’all. I’m thankful I did. You’ll be thankful you did, too.

I’m thankful we got a dog. Because Charlie’s cute, and a little bit of canine chaos in the house is fun. Well, mostly. She can be exasperating sometimes too, but honestly, that can be said about any of us, can it not. I do continue to be thankful for my cats, too, just to be clear. It’s not a contest. Don’t make it a contest! We love all our pets.

I’m thankful I got to see friends and go out into the world again this year. From March 2020 to June 2021, I went no further than about 25 miles from my house and saw almost no one in person who wasn’t family or an immediate neighbor. It wasn’t horrible, but even for an introvert like me, it got to be a little much. But then we got vaccinated! And friends got vaccinated! And the chance we would accidentally kill or debilitate our pals by giving them a hug went down considerably! Also, events started to happen again, because sensible “mask and vaxx” policies became a thing. And now I have a real world social life and an appearance schedule again. I appreciate it and don’t take it for granted. It’s nice to actually see friends, you know?

I’m thankful for the usual things too. A family that I love, who is mostly happy and mostly healthy. A job I like and a house that’s nice to live in. That I am doing well enough that I can buy silly guitars. That I just get to live and not worry about my own circumstances most days. All of these things are good, and I don’t want to elide them to note the stuff I have above. So, here they are.

These are (some of) the things I’m thankful for, here in 2021, coming into Thanksgiving and the holiday season. I hope that there are things you feel thankful this year as well.

— JS

The Big Idea: Patricia A. Jackson

Cover to Forging a Nightmare.

Authors often put a little bit of themselves into their characters. And Patricia A. Jackson is not different in her novel Forging a Nightmare. But what parts and into which character and why… therein, folks, is the Big Idea.

PATRICIA A. JACKSON:

As a Black woman I carry my own unique baggage. Even as I write this essay, I’m bristling—worried about readers’ reactions to this post. I’m usually braced for the worst in people, all while trying to keep that stiff upper lip and smile. Well, my face hurts.

Black people (and Black characters) are expected to react to situations the way White people do. Newsflash: we don’t! Reacting often gets us arrested, beaten, or killed. And when we don’t react, we’re not human enough, not educated enough, or worse, we’re hiding something.

Being Black in the United States of America is akin to living in a perpetual state of PTSD. A lack of representation in film, literature, and other media only exacerbates my feelings of self-loathing, restlessness, blame, and isolation. My experiences watching TV and reading books is that the perspective of Black people has been callously denied or suppressed. When institutions double down on this exclusion, it becomes a subtle, but pervasive kind of racism.

Still here, dear reader? Good, because I need to tell you I don’t want to be part of a master race. I don’t want to be superior. I just want to be included.

My father was born in 1934 in Alabama. The ghosts he saw in his yard were real. Evil men in white sheets and white hoods with evil agendas who burned crosses. Tattooed by the trauma of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow, he tried to escape by joining the military and fell victim to another form of institutional racism. He became angry, bitter, but unbowed, and when I came into the world… fiercely protective.

For our survival, we lived in enemy territory: all-White neighborhoods. I went to a private, mostly White school and rode show horses in a sport where very few people looked like me. Though it was never his intention, my father could not have White-washed me anymore than the society in which we lived. As a result, I never learned to be comfortable in my skin.

I wrote my first novel when I was eight. My early protagonists came to me blond-haired and blue-eyed with flawless white skin. That is what I had been taught to believe was beautiful. If there was a person of color, I glossed over the description. My father had taught me it was never a good idea to call attention to myself—to my Blackness. It wasn’t safe.

“And lo, a black horse…”

Enter a Nightmare. Anaba Raines was the first character that came to me as I pondered writing Forging a Nightmare. She was unapologetically Black and unabashedly fierce. I wear my hair in dreadlocks because of her. An unrelenting, badass Marine, she was a spirited warrior, who spoke her mind (even to me) and used her fists for punctuation. I had difficulty finding a ‘leading man’ strong enough to withstand her brutal candor.

Black women get a bad rap. We’re too loud, too opinionated, too outspoken. But no one talks about how fiercely we love, how unconditionally we commit, how loyally we cling to traditions of family. The Marine Corps didn’t teach Anaba how to be faithful. It was written into her genes from generations of stoic matriarchs who stood their ground in the Antebellum South, and well after its fall, so that their progeny would thrive.

But Forging a Nightmare was not Anaba’s story to tell. A fact that pissed her off. She was already comfortable in her skin. Her co-star, the main protagonist, Michael Childs was… not. If characters are born from a sliver of their creator’s essence, Michael was me, masquerading as something he was not meant to be. White. So, I fed him (and that part of myself) to the fury of a Nightmare, and Anaba took us to Hell and back again. Literally.

Michael Childs is a reflection of my awkward struggle to relate to a world that was unaccepting of me, even hostile at times. As if my Blackness was a tragic flaw. The immortal James Baldwin said, “You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.” Michael’s journey to accept himself became my quest to embrace my identity and project that image into the world, regardless of who liked or disliked it.

Reeling in my Black characters from the supporting ensemble, I set them center stage in the main roles, not as token heroes. I cast them as archangels, movers and shakers, making it evident that the diversity we deny on earth exists among the divine. I was forced to be comfortable in their skins, accepting of their Blackness. To define their purpose, I had to redefine who I was and how the world perceived me.

This journey has been a perilous one. I have stumbled, fallen, cried, and scratched desperately to crawl back under a rock, but Anaba would not let me. Through her and Michael, I learned to love myself and to be unrepentantly comfortable in my skin. The specters of a regrettable era in history and the ghost of this new one seek to psychologically lynch me to keep me silent. They will fail. Thanks to the antics of one wily, spirited Nightmare—Anaba. Thanks, gunny! For everything.


Forging a Nightmare: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Mermaids Monthly: Back For Year Two

Around this time last year I gave a little space to let my pal Meg Frank talk about the Kickstarter for Mermaids Monthly. This year, I’m doing the same, but with new editors and spokespeople: Miyuki Jane Pinckard and Noelle Singh. Here they are to explain why year two of Mermaids Monthly is worth your Kickstarter love.


Last year, the unstoppable powerhouses Meg Frank and Julia Rios launched Mermaids Monthly and built it into a premier, pro magazine of the mermaid-themed fiction, poetry, art, and comics. It was all made possible by fans, including many of you! This fall, they decided to hand off the project to me, Jane, and my co-publisher Noelle Singh. We couldn’t be more excited to take the helm.

So! Today we launch the Kickstarter campaign to fund Mermaids Monthly Year Two. It’s still mermaids. Only, more international. This year we’re focusing on sourcing at least 50% of each issue from creators outside the United States. We want to explore a world of mermaid lore from around the world, to the moon and back. We’re also building a community and events around Mermaids Monthly for fans to enjoy throughout the year: a space to share mermaids stories and art on a Discord server, poetry readings, watch parties, and Q&A sessions with our creators.

We really love how much Mermaids Monthly Year One supports queer, BIPOC, and disable writers, and we’re committed to keeping that a core part of our ethos, while exploring mermaid stories from around the world. We’ve solicited some wonderful art and words for the January issue, and the minute we hit our minimum funding goal, we’re excited to open general submissions to all creators.

We would love it if you would support us either by pledging to our Kickstarter or by helping to spread the word!

Let’s get to the fun stuff, the rewards!

  • For the first 48 hours of the campaign, we’re offering an Early Bird special, a full digital subscription to all twelve issues of Mermaids Monthly for the year, at $25.
  • At 400 backers, we’re going to host a watch party of Ponyo by Studio Ghibli! 
  • We’re thrilled to have a range of gorgeous and cute rewards for a range of budgets: pins, stickers, stunning sea-themed jewelry, a custom Spotify playlist, and more.
  • While physical rewards won’t ship until next year (and sorry in advance for any shipping delays!), we’re giving out digital gift cards for physical items that you can include if you’re planning on giving any of these rewards to someone.
  • Speaking of gifts, digital subscriptions make awesome gifts for the mermaid fan in your life! We have a special “Tails for Twins” pack that includes two of everything–for you and a friend, with a digital gift card you can send to your giftee.

Thanks for reading. We’re super excited to continue the Mermaids Monthly voyage. If you’d like, please check out our Kickstarter campaign, follow us on Twitter @MermaidsMonthly, or on Facebook at Facebook.com/MermaidsMonthly.

Miyuki Jane Pinckard is a writer, game designer, educator, and the co-publisher of Mermaids Monthly. Her fiction can be found in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and other venues. She likes wine and mystery novels and karaoke.

Noelle Singh is a multimedia artist and baking enthusiast, with a love of nature, specifically the ocean. She earned an art degree and double minor in environmental science and media, society & the arts. She got her SCUBA certification while studying coral reef biology and ecology abroad. She enjoys curling up in her grotto with her catfish and a good book. https://twitter.com/LibitinaSinistr

My Appearance Schedule Through The Kaiju Preservation Society’s Release Date

Hey, remember back when people used to go to science fiction conventions and hang out, and go to panels and get autographs and do all those things? Well, I do! And it turns out I’ll be doing that again, actually sooner than later. Attending DragonCon over Labor Day weekend convinced me it was possible to make conventions work so long as the conventions had and followed appropriate “mask and vaxx” policies, and also, I just got my vaccine booster shot so my immunological response to the COVID virus is topped up (I also recently got my flu shot, too, because flu sucks). So I went ahead and booked a series of conventions and events leading up to the release of The Kaiju Preservation Society in March. What are they? I’m glad you asked!

December 3-5: Emerald City Comic Con. I have a few panels and signings — here is the exact schedule. We may also have a few ARCs of Kaiju to give away, but we’re still working on that so don’t quote me as confirming that. It’s been several years since I’ve attended ECCC so I’m looking forward to seeing folks in the Seattle area again.

December 15 – 19: Discon III, the 79th World Science Fiction Convention — This year marks the very first time Worldcon has happened in December (you can thank COVID, of course), and I’ll be there because, among other things, my Interdependency series of books is nominated for a Hugo. Will it win? I have no idea! At this point my feeling is “Cool if I win, cool if I don’t,” because winning Hugos is fun and all, but all the other finalists for Best Series are pretty great, so if one of them wins, that’ll be just fine. Also, as I remind people, if I win, I’ll be “Hugo winner John Scalzi,” and if I don’t win, I’ll be “Hugo winner John Scalzi,” so. I will say that if I do win, the chances are very high I will accept wearing a Christmas elf suit, so if you want to see that, you should probably hope people voted for me (the Hugo voting is now closed). I’ll be on a few panels and doing some autographing and DJing a dance.

January 21 – 23, 2022: Rising Confusion — this Detroit-area event is my “home” convention and I’ve attended in person every year since 2005, not counting this year when they didn’t have it because, you know, plague and all. At this very moment I have not been scheduled for any programming (and as a general rule I keep my programming schedule pretty light for this one), but there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be doing some sort of thing whilst I am there other than just sitting in the bar. Stay tuned.

February 3 -6, 2022: Capricon 42 — This is in downtown Chicago, one of my favorite cities in the world. Rumor has it I may be DJing a dance, and who knows, I might do some other stuff, too. More as we go along.

March 5 – 12, 2022: JoCo Cruise — There has been no official announcement at this moment regarding performers, etc, and I’m not going to get ahead of those announcements in any way. But I can confirm that I will be on the boat, if for no other reason than I enjoy nerdery on the high seas, and I miss seeing friends there.

The Kaiju Preservation Society launches on March 15, 2022, and Tor’s PR folks are working on if/how/where promotional events will happen after that — well, “if” is already a foregone conclusion; we’re totally going to have events. It’s the “how” and “when” they’re working on.

Basically, the next few months look… almost pre-COVID in terms of me being busy with events! Which I am not going to complain about today. I like the idea that I, and we, are starting to go back into the world.

That said, you’ll notice (if you visit the sites of all of these conventions), that they all have pretty rigorous masking and vaxxing/testing policies, and indeed nearly all events in the science fiction/nerd world at this point have these policies. So if you want to go to conventions and nerd events: Go get that shot and mask up, okay? It would be lovely to see you out in the world.

— JS

Boosted!

The CDC and the USDA opened up COVID booster shots to everyone over the age of 18 yesterday, so guess what I did this morning? If you guessed “thought deeply about your mortality and your place in the universe,” then yes, in an rather abstract sense, I suppose I might have, but more specifically, I got a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine to ensure I have maximum coverage through the holiday season and beyond. Krissy went with me as well; it was like a morning date, to a CVS, to be jabbed with needles. And after I was done I bought myself a bag of gummi candies, because I was a very brave boy this morning getting a shot and all, and I deserved candy.

I got the booster shot because it was recommended by medical experts, and I have this thing where I actually do think it’s useful to listen to the experts about vaccines, and not, say, podcast hosts or virulently racist and/or performatively ignorant politicians. Beyond this, the holidays are coming up and most of us are about to spend more time indoors with more people, so a boost to one’s immune response makes sense to get right about now. Also, and this is specific to me, I live in a county where, still, less than 35% of the population is fully vaccinated. This number is unlikely to go much higher because this is a county that votes for and listens to virulently racist and/or performatively ignorant politicians, and unfortunately goes all in for the whole ecosystem of nonsense that comes along with that. Given these facts, it made sense to get an extra added layer of immunological protection once it became available.

I should be clear I didn’t worry too much about being significantly incapacitated by the COVID virus before this booster shot. I was already vaccinated and I don’t have any real comorbidities that would have complicated matters. I have been out in the world fairly significantly in this second half of the year, participating in major conventions and events. I regularly go into town for errands and shopping. It’s been fine. That said, I’m also well aware that “I’m pretty sure I have a good immune system” and “so far, so good,” are things people who are about to be unpleasantly surprised say. Plus there’s the fact that, at 52 years of age, regardless of my general physical health, I need to have a healthy (heh) respect for the truth that my body is, alas, less robust than it used to be. Getting a booster shot took a hour out of my day, during which I did errands I needed to do anyway. And now I am even better protected against a virus which is still killing people, and giving others who survive it substantial long-term health issues. There really was no downside. And it was free!

I regret that COVID happened at all, and that it first hit when we had a real chunderheaded dingus as president, who set the stage to politicize an effective treatment to end a pandemic. I also regret we live in a world where a substantial number of people seem to truly believe that there are microchips in a vaccine, and that a treatment designed to kill parasites in livestock will do anything against a virus. But it did, he did and we do, respectively, and now we just have to deal with it. The best way to deal with it, on an individual level, at least, is to get vaccinated if you can and have not done so already (or complete your vaccination if you’ve started), and to get a booster if you’re over 18 and it’s been six months since your second shot. It’ll make a difference for you, for the people around you, and hopefully in time for the nation and world. And then you’ll also be less likely to spend some portion of the holidays sick as hell, which is a not insignificant thing, either.

Go get that booster, folks. You’ll be happy you did.

— JS

Back From Cleveland

Krissy, Athena and I went to Cleveland to see the multimedia Van Gogh exhibit (it was lovely) and while we were there for that, decided to take a short family holiday. It was delightful and I really do recommend taking a short holiday with your own family now and then if you can manage it (and, you know, like your family).

Mind you, a side effect of a weekday holiday is coming back to business to attend to, which I’ve been doing since we returned, and will do more of once I’m done posting this. But I thought you’d enjoy the photos. Today is a good day for a couple of quiet bits of beauty.

— JS

Cake for Breakfast? Cake for Breakfast!

Look! It's breakfast cake!

Because don’t I deserve breakfast cake? Yes I do! And so do you! Probably. I mean, you could have been a real shit to someone recently, in which case, no cake for you. But otherwise: Cake away!

I’m doing a family thing for the rest of the day so I’ll see you all here tomorrow. At least you have cake to get you through until then.

— JS

Archiving an Answer From Reddit

From a deleted post on r/explainlikeimfive that asked, “What makes a book a New York Times Best Seller and how does almost every book I read have this award?” The answers there were not, shall we say, entirely informed, so I chimed in. The post was deleted because the person who posted it did not confirm to the subreddit rules in some way, so I’m reposting my answer here, for archival purposes. Here’s what I wrote:

So, actual New York Times best selling novelist here.

One: The New York Times list very generally tracks sales, but also employs other criteria in order to mitigate “gaming,” — so, for example, they tend to disregard “bulk buys” of a book and will otherwise asterisk books they think have manipulated sales. Gaming the list is a moving target, so the criteria change over time. The point of the list is to give a snapshot of what people are actually purchasing but also, hopefully, reading (or at least giving to others to read).

Two: The number of books needed to get onto the list vary from week to week because one’s book is ranked against other books selling that week. I have two books that sold a roughly equal amount of units, and one made the NYT list and one didn’t, presumably because of how other books were selling that particular week.

Three: There’s also more than one list, and the lists cover various criteria. I’ve been on the Mass Market Paperback, Hardcover, Combined Print/EBook and Audiobook lists (all in fiction). Some lists are more difficult to get on than others and some have more “prestige” than others (Hardcover being the most prestigious for various historical reasons).

Four: Rumors of publishers gaming the list are (generally) more exaggerated than not. Remember from point 1 that the NYT actively mitigates for gaming, so tricks rarely work (or work for long). Be that as it may, when I go on a book tour, often the first few stops are to bookstores who are known to be polled by the NYT regarding sales. I still have to sell the books, mind you, to actual people who usually then want to read it. That’s acceptable, where “bulk buying” is not.

The idea that publishers go out of their way to buy copies of their authors’ books in order to get into the lists doesn’t have much relation to reality. First, it’s not an efficient way to spend marketing money, especially on a world where publishers can micro-target their advertising on social media. Second, it’s a strategy that would lead to an escalation, because everyone would do it and then you’d need ever-increasing piles of “sales” to get on lists, and eventually that becomes self-defeating. Third, I think people outside publishing wildly overestimate the amount of money publishers are willing to spend marketing individual books in general. Outside of a highly rarified stratum of authors and books, most books’ marketing budgets are modest – including those of books which sometimes end up on the lists.

Five: It is absolutely correct that publishers use “NYT Bestseller” for marketing, because, bluntly, it works – people often like knowing that they’re not going out on a limb and that something they’re thinking of buying had the implicit endorsement of others. This is the “50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong!” angle. That said, no, something (or someone) being an NYT Bestseller is not an assurance of quality, other than in the most basic “this author was competent enough to sell to a publisher in the first place” way. Lots of crap is popular and lots of high quality stuff barely sells. It goes the other way, too, mind you. You won’t necessarily know by the “NYT Bestseller” bug on the cover.

Six: Finally, Bestseller lists, NYT and otherwise, are snapshots of what is selling at a particular time and under certain particular criteria, and lots of things are missed. Literally tens of thousands of sales I made of my last book were not counted for that book’s NYT Bestseller list placement, because they were in audio, not print/EBook (which was the list it ended up on). Likewise, my bestselling book of all time has never been on any major bestseller list at all. It just keeps selling a healthy amount, week after month after year, for a decade and a half. You can be a very very successful author indeed, and barely hit the lists.

Hope this is useful.

— JS

The Big Idea: Patrick Swenson

Music inspires us, moves us, and in some ways inhabits us and has the power to change our lives. It’s this power that Patrick Swenson draws upon for his new novel Rain Music — that, and something else as well.

PATRICK SWENSON:

When I began teaching over thirty years ago, it was to teach music. Some who know me may not actually have realized this. I trained in college to be a high school band teacher, and for the first nine years of my teaching career I did just that. During college I also took a concentration of courses in music composition. I had a few compositions performed in concert, including a concerto for trombone and piano. Later, I wrote a processional for brass quintet for a best friend’s wedding.

Music can be programmatic. It has at its heart an almost palpable need to be communicated, like a story. While teaching high school band, I wrote a long five-movement composition for wind ensemble called Memoria in Eterna, based on the classic SF novel A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, who makes the case that history is cyclical, alternating between creation and destruction. My own high school band performed Memoria at a final concert, and a fellow teacher had his students produce a slide show to project over the band during the performance. Like history, music is cyclical. The question is: can we change the cycle? Can we, as H.G. Wells once asked, change the shape of things to come?

Music’s long been in my blood. It’s something I’ll never let go of, even though I’ve now been teaching high school English for the last two-thirds of my career and haven’t touched an instrument (other than my piano) for a long time.

But still. It’s there. In my blood is the power of music—the magic of music—and this is something I wholeheartedly believe to be true. Music is uplifting and cathartic. It can also be harrowing and bring tears to your eyes. (Try listening to Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima by Krzysztof Pendercki and tell me you’re not shocked and moved by it.)

In my novel Rain Music, the music becomes my main character’s secret weapon against a coming darkness when he attempts to write his own symphony. His muse—a voice he hears only when it rains—sings a song that has him so enthralled that he uses it for his symphony’s main melody. There comes a time when he believes he can pull magic from it not only to defeat the dark mage of the story, but to regain his own memories.

I wanted to weave the positives of music with its darker possibilities to represent the uncertainty of one’s life. In music there are “accidentals”: markings that can quickly change the key and the tone of a piece for a short while. Then there are sudden stops (caesuras) and grand pauses. There are words—directions in musical scores—such as forte, and piano, and rubato, which can redirect the pace of music in an instant (or over several minutes).

There’s a phrase in music history: Diabolus in Musica, which means “The Devil in Music.” It refers to a musical interval (called the tritone) that clergy in the Middle Ages considered devilish. The idea came about when they attempted to represent, in music, the idea of the Holy Trinity. There was something evil in it, something corrupt, and the devil’s interval was banned from churches. Truman, my protagonist, must learn to harness the many facets of music, including its hidden, secret ones. He attempts to build his own trinity of music.

My first teaching job was at a small K-12 school on the Olympic Peninsula, in Quinault, Washington, smack dab in the middle of the rainforest, where it rains a good twelve feet of rain a year. (It was a good place to . . . ahem . . . get my feet wet.) It is also a place I’ve gone back and back to, and now is the site of my annual Rainforest Writers retreat. I started the retreat because it was important to offer a spot for writers to focus on solitary and community writing in an isolated environment, supported by a collective of contemporaries of like mind and pursuits.

I know how hard it is (particularly with a day job) to get time to sit down and let words pour out. Over thirty years ago, I breathed in the music of Quinault. Much of what happened during the years I lived there slipped into this book. There is something magical that drenches me each year out in Quinault during the retreat, and it keeps me plugging away on my writing, even as it moved me to finish this very personal book. When I started it, the story was going to be set in the Quinault of the 1990s, during the heart of the controversy surrounding the timber industry, old growth forests, and the spotted owl. So much time passed, and so much restructuring of this novel happened, that I had to summon the magic of friends and other writers to not only help set it firmly in the present, but also splice in the past, as if the story were set in two places at the same time.

There’s some of that in the book. If we listen hard enough, I know we can hear the music of the spheres. The echoes. We can cycle back. We can reset.

Who knows what magic the rain and music will bring?


Rain Music: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Sunset, 11/16/21 + Quick Status Check

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve posted a sunset picture here, so, hey! Look! It’s a sunset! And a lovely one, too, with orange clouds and the sun through branches and everything. You’re welcome. I’ll try to get in a few more before we finally roll 2021 up and chuck it out the window.

Also, as a general note, things are both good and interesting in my life at the moment, and the two don’t always sync up — “good” is often uninteresting, and “interesting” is not always good — but recently they have. I’m liking it. It does mean that for the moment a substantial amount of my attention is focused on the offline world, which has meant generally brief updatery here. This is how it sometimes is, which is why I’m letting you know: All is well! Pretty darn well, actually. Hope everything is well for you, too.

— JS

The Big Idea: Cat Rambo

The cover to "You Sexy Thing"

Writing a novel is often a journey, and in writing You Sexy Thing, author Cat Rambo discovered that their journey was taking them to some surprising but welcome places. Let’s retrace the journey, shall we?

CAT RAMBO:

For me one of the big ideas behind You Sexy Thing is its genre. I started it as military fantasy, but it turned into space opera along the way, which made me happy because space opera is big and beautiful and full of amazing sparkly bits. But beyond that, I strongly believe that it’s hopepunk, a newish name for a genre that has been around for a long time, narratives centered on the idea of found family, acceptance, and community, that also speak to a rejection of corporate-sponsored values and capitalism’s heavy handed stories. 

Hopepunk’s not anti-reality, but it’s trying to show a reality that highlights the parts that draw us together in our fight against the darkness. It’s a genre that practices what it preaches, by modeling acts of community and kindness. Hopepunk posits that being kind is one of the most revolutionary things a human being can do in today’s world of corporate callousness, performative cruelty, and divisiveness. Kindness, hopepunk says, is essential if we want to survive as a species.

I first learned about hopepunk from this essay by Alexandra Rowland. I ended up incorporating it in a class I was teaching, All the Punks, which covered cyberpunk, steampunk, biopunk, solarpunk, splatterpunk, and more. It was interesting, but part of the large crowd of “-punk” genres and so it only got a fraction of the class time.

But even after the class was over, I kept thinking about hopepunk and the ideas underlying it. I ended up turning the section on it from that class into a workshop of its own, Writing Stories that Change the World, which looks at length at the reasons for writing hopepunk, as well as some of the tools for doing so. By now I’ve taught that class a dozen times, and every time I come away having learned something from teaching it.

I employed some of those accumulated tools while working on the book, particularly in thinking about creating a cast that had plenty of places for readers to see themselves, as well as one whose members manage to be distinctive without ever becoming stereotypes. And I took one of the things that I always tell my students, to write the sort of story they’d joyfully devour, full of the tropes and tricks they love in other author’s writing.

I firmly believe that stories can change the world, but I also think that one of the main ways they can do so is by teaching joy and kindness and hope, and an attitude that venerates and valorizes, rather than sneering at, such things. Niko and the others are former soldiers who’ve turned their talents to something constructive, and it’s a goal that they continue to pursue even in the face of explosions, space pirates, and the destruction of everything they’ve created.

The story’s not set in the near future, but in the far far future, with a universe in which humans are only a small minority, contending with a few other species that have come from Old Earth, most notably chimpanzees and dolphins. Only two of my cast are human, and having a group that ranges all over the place lets me create a wide, distinctive and hopefully engaging array. Niko and her crew show that a group full of differences can work together as a team, and that the whole of that team is much more than the sum of its parts.

I’m working on book three now, and following the journey of You Sexy Thing has been one of the most joyous things in my life. I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I did writing it.


You Sexy Thing: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s  

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow them on twitter.

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