The headline says it all: The Dispatcher is an Amazon Deal of the Day, so you can get it for under a buck on the Kindle. What a deal! But it’s only for the day (October 19, 2017), and it’s for the US and Canada. I’m not sure if the price applies on other retailers today, so you’d have to check it out for yourself. Regardless, if you’ve not picked up this novella yet, today is a good day to do so. Enjoy!
Hello fellow humans! I am not dead. I am slowly making my way down the length of California toward my high school reunion.
Life is good. I hope also that your life is good.
Tell the class about your day in the comments.
Today Tor Books is releasing Old Man’s War in a spiffy new “mini”-format hardcover edition: All the benefits of a hardcover book, miniaturized for your convenience! It’s available at your favorite bookstores in the US and Canada, and it’s no coincidence that it’s being released just prior to the holiday season. Stocking stuffer, my friends, and/or a nice little gift for, like, day four of Hanukkah. But you don’t need to wait for the holidays to get it. You can get it today. For yourself! And pick up several copies for friends! Distribute them like Pez! It’s the Covandu version of OMW, if you will, and if you get that joke, thank you for being a fan.
I’m delighted at this new mini hardcover of OMW because, among other things, the original hardcover run of the book, almost thirteen(!) years ago now, is actually pretty small: about 3,700 for the first printing, and about 7,700 overall. OMW really took off in the trade paperback edition a year after the initial release. As a result, the hardcovers have always been hard to find — great news for collectors, to be sure. Not so great for anyone else.
So, dear everyone else: This edition is for you. Enjoy!
Hey, you know how irritated you get when your internet access goes down? Elizabeth Bonesteel gets you. And so does her latest novel, Breach of Containment. She’s here to explain — provided your connection doesn’t suddenly go out…
We live in the woods, and that means, among other things, we have the crappiest internet service in the state*.
(*This almost certainly isn’t true. I’ve heard rumors there are towns in the western part of the state that still rely on dialup. I keep hoping that’s an ugly rumor spread by Verizon to keep us all compliant and grateful.)
People in town rely on a mish-mash of solutions. Ours is a T1 line. It’s slow (1.5 Mb up/down), and when it drops it drops for days. There’s nothing quite like the sensation of seeing Netflix give up the ghost, and then pulling up your web browser to see that progress bar just…stall.
It amazes me how much I’ve come to depend on the net—not just for news and cat videos, but for a sense of connection to the rest of the world. When the line goes down, it’s so easy to imagine there’s nothing out there at all anymore—that the silence will go on forever, and we’ll sit here alone in the woods, never discovering what’s happened to the rest of the world.
Within my lifetime, society has become dependent on instant communication.
Breach Of Containment is set roughly a thousand years in the future, where we’ve colonized a (still pretty damn small) part of the galaxy. Despite the distances, everything is elaborately connected. In addition to a network of government and military communications channels, all monitored and encrypted, there are entirely unregulated data streams over which both reliable and unreliable information fly unfettered. Most of my characters live aboard Galileo, a military starship, and they’re never disconnected from the officers giving orders. Neither are they ever free of consequences when they get creative about interpreting those orders (which happens far more often than it should).
At one point, as I was assembling this book, I thought: what if all that gets cut off? What if I dump them in the soup, and sever their access to intelligence, orders, even news of their families?
Structurally, that idea both simplified and complicated the plot. Breach Of Containment is, in many ways, your traditional are-we-preventing-or-starting-a-war adventure story. Galileo is working in an atmosphere of uncertainty and deceit at this point: some of their orders are legit, some are distractions designed to keep them out of the way of internal government intrigue, and they don’t always know which are which. When the communication channels back to Earth are lost, it suddenly stops mattering which commanding officer is trustworthy and which is a seditious traitor. Losing communications meant my characters didn’t need to waste time figuring out whether or not a bunch of tangential folks we don’t care about are on the right side or not.
But severing communications also let me play with people’s heads, and it’s no secret I love the messy character stuff. I’ve got three principals at this point, and Breach Of Containment begins with all of them stretched thin. Elena, formerly Galileo’s chief of engineering, has been out of the Corps for a year, and is feeling rootless and without purpose. Greg, Galileo’s captain, has been dutifully following orders, but is feeling less and less like his years of service have resulted in making any substantive difference for real people. Jessica, Greg’s now-seasoned second-in-command, sees most clearly the tightrope they’re walking between following potentially erroneous orders and dealing with a massive conspiracy that is almost certainly beyond their ability to stop.
Basically, I made sure everybody was tense and cranky, and then I cut their T1 line.
On top of that, I put them on a timer. There’s an armada headed toward Earth, and the big question is whether they’re intending to help, or to invade the vulnerable planet while nobody can warn them. And the only sources of information my happy crew has got? A retired Admiral who’s a gray-hat at best, a rival government’s starship and her relentlessly cheerful captain, and a nervous emissary who’s delivered a cryptic message that she seems convinced makes perfect sense. (Oh, and a talking box. I always forget the talking box.)
When you have no news and you can’t Google, how do you make your decisions?
Here in the real world, I didn’t have a smartphone until last December. (I’m not a Luddite. I’m just cheap.) Since then, the T1 outages have been far less unnerving. It’s comforting to be able to check Twitter and verify the outage isn’t part of some apocalyptic event. Sometimes I’ll even waste some data on a cat video. But every time, in that few seconds before my Twitter feed comes up, I feel that disorienting sense of being unmoored from the rest of the world. It’s not a great state of mind in which to make important decisions…but it’s not a bad catalyst for a plot.
I’m in Sacramento, California. Here are some pictures from where I am.
Hope your day is fabulous, wherever you are.
A couple weeks on, a brief follow-up to this piece, in which I noted how much 2017 was messing with my word count.
It turns out it was really useful for me to write that piece. Not necessarily because I’ve increased my writing speed since then — I’m still slogging away at a slower pace than I’ve done in previous years — but because, basically, in naming my problem I’ve lifted a fair amount of the psychic weight of it from my shoulders. I’m not kicking myself for writing slower right now, and as a result, the writing is easier. Which ironically means the writing is more regular, and because of that, there’s at least slightly more of it. Who knew.
I’d also like to acknowledge the folks who wrote me or linked in to the piece, saying, more or less “Yes I have been feeling the same thing I’m glad somebody finally said it.” One, you’re welcome and I’m glad the piece accomplished at least part of its intended effect of letting folks know they weren’t alone in their creative miasma at the moment. Two, your chiming in also helped me, because as much as I strongly suspected I wasn’t the only one in the spot I was in, getting actual confirmation of it was heartening. I was right! Alas! But the knowledge meant a bit of fellowship, and that made the burden a little easier to bear. Which made the little readjustments I’m making now easier to do. Thanks, folks.
(Mind you, I had some of my usual suspects out there pointing at me at going ha ha Scalzi has writer’s block, because they’re sad little dudes like that. While I could push my glasses up on my nose and say well, actually I was never blocked I was just writing slower, which you would know if you could read, in point of fact they read perfectly well, they just have a pathological need to see me as a failure. And to be honest, that cheers me up a little too. I like enraging these sad little dudes so much just by existing that they have to create voodoo doll versions of me to stab stab stab stab. They want to be enraged, and it literally requires no effort from me to oblige them. Keep at it, sad little dudes! It’s good for you to stay busy.)
And now, back to it.
The first review of Don’t Live For Your Obituary is out and it’s a good one! The full review is here, but the pull quote is thus:
“[Scalzi] writes accessibly and so commonsensically that this book should appeal to writers in all disciplines.”
Yes! Yes it should!
Remember that Obituary will be out in December (i.e., in time for holiday gift-giving) and that you can pre-order the signed, limited hardcover edition directly from the lovely folks at Subterranean Press. It will also be available in eBook format.
Speaking of eBooks, Subterranean is now directly selling ebooks, so you can get them directly from the publisher. The first batch of eBooks available through SubPress’ story includes The Dispatcher. Here’s the full list of the first set of eBooks. So while you’re pre-ordering the hardcover of Obituary, you can pick up the eBook of The Dispatcher to keep you company. Convenient!
So, nine years ago this week, I switched the Whatever blog over to the WordPress VIP service, after months of access difficulties with both previous blogging software and previous providers. And in the nine years since switching over to WP VIP, the amount of time the site’s been down can be counted in minutes, and on my hands. That’s some pretty great uptime. Since the time I switched over, WordPress has also expanded the types of hosting services it offers bloggers and sites, so even if you don’t need the full VIP service, there’s probably a level of service that could work for you, and your site’s needs.
In almost a decade, WordPress has never asked me to make an endorsement of their software or services, but every year near the anniversary of my switch I make an endorsement anyway. I do it for the simple reason that WordPress just plain works, and it works for me, and I’ve never regretted using their service or software. There’s not much in the world I can say that about. If you’re looking to create and host your own site, I hope you’ll give WordPress a look. I’m one happy customer.
The phrase “science fiction” has two relevant parts to it. In Blockbuster Science, author David Siegel Bernstein delves into the science of the fiction, and separates out the fantasy of the genre from the fact. Here he is to tell you process of his exploration.
DAVID SIEGEL BERNSTEIN:
Science fiction is driven by fear or hope, while science is driven by necessity or curiosity. The overlap between their motivations is huge. Science fiction has always had the power to inspire scientific and technological breakthroughs that change our world. Companies used words like “robot” and “android” after they were popularized in fiction, and today’s STEM experts often say they were first inspired by stories they read when they were young.
To me, what could be a more fun way to explore the world of science than through its use—accurately or fantastically—in science fiction entertainment: movies, books, and TV shows? This question is the big idea behind Blockbuster Science: The Real Science in Science Fiction. So as you may imagine, this book was born from my geeking love for both science and science fiction. This made it incredibly fun to write. How could it not be? I got to explain the science behind popular narrative concepts like time travel, AI, genetic mutation, asteroids, cyborgs, alien invasion, the zombie apocalypse, and more. I also created lists of songs (consider it science and science fiction mood music), movies, and books that highlight chapter topics.
The entire experience of writing this book was different from my fiction writing, where I’m mostly locked inside my head. Blockbuster Science was much more an external journey. I scoured research journals, textbooks, newspapers, and magazines to learn what is old news, where cutting edge research is heading, and new outcomes possible from widely accepted theories. I made my best attempt to explain key scientific principles in jargon-free, easy-to-understand narratives. For the creators of hard-science fiction, I hope this book draws the boundaries that cannot be broken and teases those that are begging to be broken with the right what-if.
I like questions—even ones for which we have no answers, yet. I made sure to season in a lot of question marks throughout each chapter. A lot of recent discoveries have led to questions that scientists never thought to ask before. Curiosity about our world drives fiction authors and filmmakers to explore the realm of possibility. Besides, isn’t science itself all about asking questions? Questions such as, what caused the big bang? Consider how cause comes before effect. In the standard big bang theory, as described in the book, there was no before (i.e., time) before the big bang. Think of searching for the cause of the big bang as being like searching for north while standing at the North Pole. Don’t worry, I address on a few of the newer theories that may provide you with a more satisfying theoretical answer to that question.
Every chapter of Blockbuster Science covers a different topic. Time and space, which are so interwoven that they are cleverly coupled under the moniker spacetime, and quantum mechanics start the learning process. The weirdness of string theory, the origin story called the big bang, parallel worlds, black holes, evolution and biology provide truckloads of building blocks for fictional worlds. Interconnectivity, AI, extraterrestrial life, interstellar communication, energy sources and rocketry buttress those building blocks. Substance, materials, invisibility, the holographic universe and technology spin up more possibilities until everything ends in the chapter that covers the end of everything (the sun, the universe…everything). Is it really the end? I offer up a few “workarounds” based on the science described throughout the book, but I warn you, it will sound like science fiction.
Blockbuster Science isn’t only for science fiction fans who want to know more about the science behind the plot. This book is for the curious—anyone who wants to know more about the natural world and the universe of which they are a part. It’s for the science geek in everyone, especially those who smirk at jokes such as: Schrödinger’s cat walks into a bar, and doesn’t. My kind of people!
Writing alternate history is fun and interesting, but here’s another interesting thing: Every day, we’re making a history too. What happens when the latter crashes into the former? Author Felicity Banks has some thoughts on that and how it affects her new novel The Antipodean Queen.
Every time there’s a crocodile attack in Australia’s Northern Territory, tourist rates go up.
That should probably make me fear for humanity, but it just makes me smile. We Australians often laugh at over-the-top depictions of our deadly animals and even deadlier landscapes. I’m a city girl myself, so I know how silly it all is.
Okay, so there was that one time my grandma killed a snake. And the kangaroos hopping around the major roads at night are a bit of a hazard. Sure, there’s that one playground I always check for brown snakes these days. The annual bushfires aren’t great, either. Yes, my backyard has a little bit of a red-back spider breeding program. And it’s a teensy bit creepy that huntsman spiders are so common that the ones living inside have a shared nickname (Fred).
In Australia, nature is constantly reminding us that humans aren’t as impressive as we like to think―and we love it.
I’m quite patriotic, for an Australian. Ever since Europeans invaded, Australian culture has been a curious mixture of British, American, and other cultures. Our manners are more straightforward, and our suspicion of authority runs deep. Most Australians are uneasy with national pride, and not just because it’s a favourite tool of racists. Sometimes we do awful things to try to keep ourselves safe from a perceived threat―and we know it.
A love for one’s country is a curious and complicated thing, and the more history I learn the more complicated it gets. How can I respect the unique prehistory of Australia when my university sprawls cheerfully over a sacred site? How can I be proud of my country when the white middle-class life I know was built on attempted genocide? How can I enjoy Australia’s excellent lamb when I know that flocks of imported sheep permanently devastated vast areas of once-productive land?
These are the questions that flutter around the edges of my writing, dipping into a half-sentence here or there as I write a story that looks like it’s all fun and fantasy.
Here’s the thing: I write with hope, and magic, and optimism. Sometimes it’s not easy, and sometimes it feels closer to outright lies than fiction. But if I can write something better than real life, I believe the power of my imagination can haul that version of Australia closer to reality. If I didn’t believe that, I couldn’t go on.
I had my Big Idea of writing Australian alternate history back in 2011, not knowing then that important parts of my history are only now coming to light. As I began to read more deeply about Australia’s colonial era―smiling sometimes, and crying often―I found a few things to be proud of. Part of Australia granted the right for women to vote in state elections in 1861. Back in 2011 I had a vague notion that the second book of the trilogy would be something to do with women’s suffrage. The question was how to make it relevant to modern readers. Surely any character who wanted to silence the political voice of half the population could only come across as cartoonishly evil.
Speaking of cartoonishly evil. . .
Right now, in Australia, our government is risking the safety of thousands of vulnerable LGBTIQ people by making the entire population take an expensive and non-binding postal plebiscite on gay marriage, even though it’s already well established that the majority of Australians support equal rights. I’m bisexual but married to a man, and cushioned by the appearance of heterosexuality. In recent weeks even I have felt the sting of half-heard conversations, advertisements that would usually be classified as hate speech, and an email telling me that as a Christian I should vote ‘No’.
So here I am writing a fantastical version of history while being haunted by the uncomfortable knowledge that real-world history is still being written. I’m heartbroken over the real mistakes of both the past and the present, but I choose to believe that my country can grow to better deserve the love I give it.
Oh, and there’s a crocodile in the book too.
If you don’t mind me saying so, I think we have a particularly tasty stack of new books and ARCs this week. What here is calling to you? Tell us in the comments!
Hey! It’s Elizabeth Bear! She’s my Hugo-winning pal! She’s awesome! And she has a new fantasy series beginning with The Stone in the Skull! That’s aweseome! She’s here to tell you about it! And that’s awesome too!
I’m here under false pretenses.
Let’s just get that out of the way. I’m here under false pretenses, because I’m not sure that The Stone in the Skull actually has a single unifying big idea so much as it’s stitched together out of a patchwork tapestry of little ideas that all play off one another, and the story arises from the consequences of those decisions. It is actually natural that it would work that way, because it’s my attempt to meld two of the great traditions of fantasy into one whole. This is a story with sword-and-sorcery roots, and an epic destination.
There are four protagonists in The Stone in the Skull. They include (in the order their points of view arise), the Dead Man, raised from infancy to be the personal guard of a Caliph long since deposed; Mrithuri, the young and brilliant but inexperienced rajni of a small but wealthy kingdom that was once the capitol of a now-fractured empire; the Gage, a brass automaton constructed by a wizard who replaced each piece of a living body with metal, in turn; and Sayeh, the widowed middle-aged rajni of another and poorer empire-remnant, ruling as regent for her young son and desperately trying to cling to power for his sake.
These are disparate people, set in motion by circumstance–or manipulation–faced with questions both of natural catastrophe and political disaster. But they have something in common, and so does the fractured political structure that they’re moving through: they’ve all in the process of facing and dealing with the aftermath of disaster, and the necessity of putting together something new out of the broken fragments of the old. A mosaic. A resurrection.
Which is why I say that the Big Idea of The Stone in the Skull is a lot of little ideas stitched together, I suppose. Because that’s how things–big things, things too huge for one person to do by themself–get built, isn’t it? One piece at a time. One mismatched fragment stitched to another. One fragment in the mosaic, and then another, and then another.
The Big Idea of this book is that you can build big things out of little things–small actions, small choices, small loyalties.
Small people in a big world, with difficult pasts–but all of them, rising up out of some shattering. All of them, in search of a future, and hope.
(For those who need it, a warning: I’m talking rape and sexual assault here today.)
First, the latest on Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse of women, from the New Yorker and the New York Times. There are more news stories out there — lots more — but those two cover a lot of ground on the present state of things.
And now, some thoughts, not necessarily in order of importance.
1. Harvey Weinstein is by all indications a rapist and general piece of shit. Just to put that out there up front, so there’s no confusion. He deserved to be fired by his company (as he was) and should almost certainly be in jail.
2. He’s also solely responsible for his own actions. Which apparently comes as a shock to the scads of people who, when the news got out, started wanting to blame prominent film people who knew him (particularly women) for their silence, and the people who worked for him for not taking a stand against him. I’ll get to both of these things in a minute, but look: Harvey Weinstein intentionally and systematically sexually abused women, sexually harassed women and targeted them for sexual coercion. He promised professional advancement and threatened professional oblivion in order to compel sexual compliance, and bribed and threatened women for their silence. And he did this, it appears, over three decades. He owns it.
3. But what about the systematic problem of harassment in the film and television industry, you ask? Well: Yes, it is there, and yes, Weinstein both participated in it and furthered it for his own pleasure, and yes, it needs to be addressed and rooted out, and anyone who sexually coerces another person should be punted hard on their ass. But let’s be clear that Weinstein was not compelled against his will to participate in it and to further it. He did that on his own. He was the author of his own moral story, and his moral story sucks. Acknowledging that Weinstein is solely responsible for his own choices neither ignores or exculpates the systematic issues of the entertainment industry. He raped and assaulted women. He owns that.
4. While we’re on the topic, let’s dispense of some other nonsense. Weinstein tried to imply that coming of age in the 60s and 70s meant his moral compass was pointed a few degrees off true. Well, that’s bullshit; I know lots of people who came of age in the 60s and 70s who know perfectly well sexual coercion and rape is immoral. Pretty much all of them, in fact. Donna Karan (who is apparently one of the few who does not) just made news by sort of airily suggesting that issue with Weinstein was more that he was a symbol of various sexual issues than a real live man who raped and sexually assaulted numerous women, and well. No. It’s possible he is both, but any story framing that attempts to keep his personal actions from being front and center is crap. He wouldn’t be a synecdoche for these issues if he wasn’t a coercive assaulting piece of shit. Any explanation of Weinstein’s behavior that does not center his own choices is a bad one. He’s a grown man. He knew what he was doing, and he knew what he was doing was wrong. He did it anyway.
5. What about the staff at Miramax and The Weinstein Company who knew — or at least could guess — what their boss was up to but did nothing about it? I’m not here to excuse them, and we are all responsible for our moral choices. I am also aware it’s easy to judge when your career and income aren’t riding on the necessity of not looking too closely at what your boss is doing. Bear in mind that the film industry is the industry that perfected blackballing — one day you’re fine and the next no one’s returning your calls. At the height of his powers there’s no doubt Harvey Weinstein could make working in the industry very difficult, and the further down the food chain you were, the more difficult he could make it.
I am fortunate that when I was working for others, I never had a boss whose moral baseline (as far as I knew) substantially conflicted with mine. I was never put in a position of having to cover for, or look away from, a bosses’ actions. I would like to think that if I had been, I would have done the correct thing, even in the face of losing my job. I’d like to think that, but it’s easy to think about what you would do when you’ve never been confronted by that actual decision point.
Again, I’m not here to excuse the moral choices Weinstein’s employees made — or didn’t make — and they’ll have the burden of their choices for the rest of their professional lives. I do know that the burden of their choices was placed on them because Weinstein chose to sexually assault and coerce women. His actions had consequences beyond him.
6. As for the issue of very famous people apparently not knowing what Weinstein was up to, I’m going to tell you a story. In my line of work there was an editor named Jim Frenkel, who worked for Tor, my publisher, and who as it turned out was a harassing piece of shit. It also turned out that he was very good at hiding that fact from his bosses and fellow editors and from authors, like me, who did not fit the profile of the sort of person he liked to harass. I was male, I was already published and successful, and I suspect Frenkel knew I would talk if I found out anything. I found out because Frenkel finally harassed a person who was more than happy to talk out loud about it, and who had people who would amplify her voice. Lots of people lateral to or above his status were shocked. Lots of women below his status asked how the hell the rest of us did not know.
We didn’t know because we didn’t see it personally; we didn’t know because the “whisper network” didn’t reach us. And why didn’t it reach us? Maybe because the women were scared about what Frenkel could do to their careers. Maybe because they assumed some of us already knew and were doing nothing about it. Maybe because some of us were men and the women didn’t want to have to deal with the emotional burden of trying to make us believe harassment was a real thing. “Whisper networks” can be useful, but as my friend Naomi Kritzer noted on Twitter, they’re full of holes. And more than that: They propagate downward and attenuate upward. After a certain height, you don’t hear many whispers.
No one knows a food chain better than a predator. Harvey Weinstein was not going to prey near or above his station; doing so served none of his purposes and represented risk. He wasn’t going to prey on (say) Meryl Streep or Hillary Clinton, and the chances that someone he would prey on would be able to tell either of those two women — or other women of a similar stature, or men on the same level — was pretty slim, and what reaches someone at that level is often spotty and inconclusive, for all the reasons noted above.
(Please note I’m not originating these observations; check out this Twitter thread yesterday from a woman screenwriter which makes basically the same point. It’s not the only thread like it out there.)
This doesn’t mean no people above certain level didn’t know. But it does mean predators are good at hiding their tracks, or at least making their path confusing. It also means that predators know how to leverage their power — and in the case of Harvey Weinstein, he was very powerful indeed.
And for the women of power who did know and who kept quiet, or at least quietish: Surprise! This is where the systematic sexism and harassment in the film/TV industry raises its head. You knew it would show up sometime!
7. Anyone who voted for an admitted sexual predator for president who is now blaming women for not knowing or not confronting Harvey Weinstein: Sit the fuck down. You don’t even have the veil of plausible deniability to cover the fact that you helped make Mr. “Grab ‘Em By the Pussy” the President of the United States. You knew and you didn’t care. To go after Clinton because she knew Weinstein after you cast your vote for Trump, well, shit. Got a Bible passage for you, son.
And, not that I’ve seen it, but in case it’s out there (and it probably is, somewhere): Anyone defending Weinstein on the basis of his ostensible politics or because of the great art he’s helped produce, you can sit the fuck down, too. The correct politics and the ability to spot good films and filmmakers isn’t a pass for being sexually coercive and a rapist. I’m happy to cede this piece of shit human has very fine taste in cinema. He’s still a piece of shit human.
8. I’m all for condemning both Trump and Weinstein, and any other man who uses his power to sexually coerce other people. Weinstein is a liberal and Trump is, well, whatever the hell he is (white supremacist authoritarian populist masquerading as a conservative), but both are men who have decided that they get to force themselves on women, and women should be happy or at least quiet about it. There’s no political angle to it; or more accurately, certain men of any political stripe seem happy to be predatory pieces of shit. Nor should there be any political separation to the solution to this problem: Kick all that shit to the curb.
9. And of course some of the backlash from this is that some men in corporate settings are now avoiding women, which makes me want to smack my head and wonder what the fuck is wrong with my sex. The solution is not to cut women out of your professional life, you assholes. The solution is to fix your goddamned corporate culture and root out the sexual harassers and predators so neither you nor any woman have to worry that a closed-door meeting means a quick two-step to the HR department. Redlining women from professional advancement because you don’t know how else to deal with the issues of harassment and predation means you are the problem, not them.
10. Harvey Weinstein is a piece of shit, but he’s not the only piece of shit out there. The film/TV industry has a sexism and harassment problem, but it’s not the only industry with a sexism and harassment problem. Today is Weinstein’s moment in the barrel, and he should be shot to the moon for it. But there’s a whole line of dudes waiting after him, starting from the president and working on down.
All of which you would know already, my dudes, if you listened to women and believed them. I’ve been working on that one myself a lot recently. I’m not perfect, but I like to think I’m getting better at it. We’ll see. Maybe you should make an effort at it too, if you’ve not done so already.
This whole thing started because of Einstein.
I know the date exactly, because I take notes on such things. It was 21 April, 2013. I was looking for a little light reading material during my lunch. I scanned the bookshelf, picking up my wife’s copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Einstein. By the time I finished my sandwich, I decided I must somehow be more than a complete idiot. Even with the helpful explanations and jokey sidebars, I still couldn’t grasp the Theory of Relativity.
But flipping through the book gave me an idea. If they can explain something as difficult as theoretical physics to people, I mused, what if they could do the same thing for something impossible? Something that doesn’t exist, like Monster Hunting, or Time Travel, or Magic?
Magic. The concept hit me like a falling apple approaching the speed of light. Enchantments for Morons…Spell Casting for Dummies…okay, so the title doesn’t work yet, but a how-to guide that explains how to do magic, real magic? There’s something there.
I spent the next couple of days fleshing out the story — a lazy teenage protagonist whose parents had just divorced, a mysterious bookseller, a group of bullies tormenting our hero. I also changed the title to Sorcery for Beginners, realizing that ‘Dummies’ might not be the best way to address a potential audience. High on the fumes of a new idea, I pitched the concept to my then-agent—as a screenplay.
“Love it,” he said with the tooth-cracking enthusiasm only an agent can muster. “Great idea, fantastic, just one problem — no one’s buying spec screenplays right now. If you told me this was based on a book, it’d be an immediate sale, six figures easy. But since there’s no book …”
I was frustrated. I’d been repped in Hollywood for a few years at this point. I’d had a couple scripts optioned; an indie movie I wrote had been made and gotten distribution; I’d written projects for some big producers, but nothing had taken off. I was still working a day job and writing on nights and weekends. The time had come to try something new.
So it’d be an immediate sale if it was based on a book, huh? I fumed as I hacked my way back home through LA traffic. Guess I’ll just have to write Sorcery for Beginners as a book and sell it, then. Easy!
This wasn’t completely unknown territory for me. I had actually started as a prose writer, way back when I was a middle-grader myself. My first ‘novel,’ The Great Girl Chase, was written in seventh grade. The title alone should tell you how terrible it was.
Then I focused on plays for awhile, then journalism, then in my sophomore year at Ohio University I took a film analysis class and got hooked. For the next ten years I wrote screenplays and made movies. I had some minor success (see above), but when a good friend of mine got a three-book publishing deal, it inspired me to take up prose again.
I began outlining my first real novel in 2008. I thought it’d be fun to do something in the vein of the books I’d loved as a kid, like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Dark is Rising sequence. Unfortunately, while my finished novel had some cool details and world building, it ultimately wasn’t good enough to get me a lit agent.
But Sorcery would be different, I vowed to myself as my car crept past the Hollywood Bowl at 0.1 mph. I was a better writer now than I was five years ago, and I was more excited about this idea than I’d been about anything in a while. How hard could it be to crank out another book? I threw myself into it with the ferocity of a kirin, and two months later I had a first draft. I sent that off to lit agents, got multiple offers of representation, and a big publishing deal soon followed.
Just kidding. My first draft was only okay. And I had learned enough by that point to realize it was only okay. I sent it to my good friend, got notes, and I started to rewrite. I beefed up the secondary characters. I added more obstacles to the plot. Halfway through the third draft I realized it would be kind of fun if my story about kids finding a magical help guide was formatted like a help guide. That required adding about 15 thousand words of sidebars, spell pages, and fake magical history. Cue additional rewriting.
Somewhere during draft seven, I realized that what I was going through with this book was a perfect theme for the story. We all want things to be easy, but doing anything of value takes work. Owen, the main character, wants sorcery to fix everything in his life. But he needs to realize that only he can change his circumstances, and doing that takes effort. This led to more rewriting.
Finally, I had a draft I felt pretty good about. I queried agents and got a lot of good responses, even a couple offers of representation. Ultimately I went with Inkshares because the CEO Adam Gomolin really believed in this book and vowed to push it as hard as he could.
But even then, the work wasn’t done. My editor at Inkshares suggested increasing the presence of the bad guy Euclideans (who didn’t even have a name until the sixth draft). That required more rewriting, adding a few scenes, and putting a whole new chapter in the beginning. Even the captions for the illustrations went through some finessing. (I should stress here that all of this contributed to making a much better novel, and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who helped me through the process.)
Now, four-and-a-half years, 11 drafts, many tossed pages later, my debut novel Sorcery for Beginners is complete. And I’ve learned the same lesson as Owen: that no matter how easy something seems, doing anything of value takes work.
Also, that Einstein was a pretty smart guy.
Really, that’s it. If you send me story ideas, I immediately dump them unread into the trash, and I won’t acknowledge I’ve received them.
The reasons should be obvious, but in case they aren’t:
1. I have lots of ideas of my own, thanks;
2. Seriously, I have more ideas for books and stories than I will ever actually be able to write;
3. We live in a litigious society what I don’t want to be doing is spending time or money defending myself from some random person claiming I took their story idea, and yes, there’s past precedent of people sending writers ideas and then getting angry when they’re used.
Also, bluntly, I don’t need help. I’m pretty good with this whole “think up cool concepts to write stories about” thing. By all indications, it seems to be working out for me.
I suspect the vast majority of the people who want to give me story ideas mean it as a compliment, as in, “Hey, you could do this better than I could.” A rather smaller number mean it kind of in the other way, as in, “you’re not very good at this writing thing so I will graciously deign to help you out.” And some people mean it in another way, as in “the tin foil hat slipped and the voices are telling me to send this to you.” Regardless of the reason these ideas are sent, however, they all end up in the same place: The trash, unread and unacknowledged.
So might as well just not send them to me at all. Keep them! And maybe one day write them yourself. And then maybe I’ll read them, and go, “Hey, that was a cool idea. Glad I got to read it.”
See point four here. I should probably sue! For millions!
(Please note: I will not sue.)
Also I hope the actual film is better than it appears in the trailer, because the trailer appears fairly… meh.
There were deer in our yard this evening and then suddenly there weren’t, because our neighbor’s dog decided that he really needed to chase them. I managed to get a couple of pictures of them as they sprinted away — this was one of the less blurry ones. Those deer move fast.
In other news, hey, rural and suburban North America, it’s now deer migratory season. Be careful driving out there. Deer are cute but they’ll wreck the crap out of your car if you hit one.
One of the things we and our visitors did this weekend was pick up pumpkins for ourselves and our kids. They got pumpkins. I found this magnificent gourd and decided to call it mine. It is… wartlicious.
Are you enjoying decorative gourd season?
Historic Bear’s Mill, October 7, 2017.
Hope you’re having a very fine weekend.
This is a book that began with an ending.
Not the ending of the book–No, that took me a number of drafts to actually know. But the ending of magic.
It’s a word so archaic that I had to add it to my computer’s dictionary. I don’t even precisely remember where I first read it – maybe it flashed across my twitter stream or maybe it popped into my inbox as a word-a-day offering. It’s a kind of disenchantment, done by a countercharm. Magic to end magic. I read that definition, and my hair stood on end, and I knew I had a book. A book about an ending of magic.
Except a book isn’t only an ending. I needed a why: why would magic be ending? I thought about what I knew about magic, about what made magic real and true, about what made magic matter. Magic, I thought, should take work. It should have consequences. To paraphrase Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, magic should not be something you can get by tearing out someone else’s liver.
An Unkindness of Magicians is about what happens when magic is paid for with someone else’s liver.
And not just by one person. By an entire society, for multiple generations.
There is, of course, more to it than that, because even with the why, An Unkindness of Magicians is about more than simply an ending of magic, more than the abomination of magic that led up to the events of the story. People tend to not be happy when their power is taken away, particularly when they see that power as something they deserve.
An Unkindness of Magicians is about many kinds of endings:
- Of friendship, when you discover a person is not who you thought they were.
- Of familial bonds, when you learn that who you are matters less than what you could be used for.
- Of a place that is a prison made sentient.
- Of a terror that has stalked a community and of a system that simply looks the other way.
And yes, about an ending of magic.