Got a big stack of new books and ARCs this week for you to peruse and consider. What here looks like something you’d enjoy? Tell us all in the comments!
Got a big stack of new books and ARCs this week for you to peruse and consider. What here looks like something you’d enjoy? Tell us all in the comments!
When the Oscar nominations came out this year, I did my first-pass guesses as to who and what would take the statuettes home, and noted I would follow-up closer to time, because things change. And this year, yow, did they — A Star Is Born, the film I suspected would take the win, appears to have faded considerably in the last few weeks as it was passed over again and again by the various other awards ceremonies. At the same time, no one film has emerged as a frontrunner in any of the run-up awards.
Which means: Surprise! No one knows anything, least of all me. So for this year, I’m officially announcing that I don’t have much confidence in my predictions — use for your home Oscar pool at your own risk. That said, here are my best guesses as to who will in this Sunday:
Best Picture: I think Roma has the best chance, as everyone at least seems to like it, a lot of people love it, and at least a few think it’s stunning. For an award that is decided by instant runoff, that should be enough to get it over the line. It’s possible Green Book will come up from the outside, but if it does, expect a lot of post-ceremony kvetching about it. Maybe A Star is Born will still pull it out? But it really does feel as if its star has fallen.
Best Director: Still think it’s Alfonso Cuarón, although at this point the only director I’d say I’m absolutely sure won’t take it is Adam McKay. I’d personally give it to Spike Lee both because the film merits it and as a career award, but then again no one’s letting me vote (I think Lee still has a chance at an Oscar, however, in the screenplay category, screenplay often being the consolation Oscar for directors).
Best Actress: Still think this is Glenn Close, although outside shots from Olivia Colman and Melissa McCarthy (who I didn’t think had a chance when the noms came out) are still possible. Honestly, though, I don’t know why anyone would deny Close at this point.
Best Actor: Everyone seems to think Rami Malek has it, while my own previous guess (Willem Dafoe) doesn’t seem to be part of anyone’s conversation. At this point, unless Bradley Cooper makes a surprise comeback, I think everyone is probably right.
Best Supporting Actress: Buzz seems to be on Regina King, although I think Amy Adams still has a chance. Either is perfectly deserving.
Best Supporting Actor: Star’s fade means that the sure bet I thought existed in Sam Elliott may not be that great of a bet, and people seem to think Mahershala Ali might get his second Oscar in two years. As may be, but I’m not going to throw the towel in on Elliott yet. I think he might surprise folks. We’ll see!
Just posted a Twitter thread I want to save here for posterity, and also for those of you who don’t bother with that particular service. It involves people complaining about me!
1. So, one of my favorite Hot Takes on Scalzi is the one that goes “I *used* to like Scalzi, but then he went and got all SJW-y” as if this were a new and surprising (and, for me, opportunistic) turn after years of, I don’t know, modest silent neutrality. Well, here’s the thing…
2. I have literally been online for a quarter of a century — my first USENET post was in ’94, and my blog has been up since 1998. I have been spouting off my opinions ALL THAT TIME. I have an electron trail longer than some of these dudes have been ALIVE.
3. And before THAT, I was spouting opinions in print! I was a nationally syndicated newspaper opinion columnist for several years. I have a paper trail that goes along with the electron trail, dating back to ’91 (or ’87, if you want to count my college paper, which, why not?).
4. In all that time, my politics have been — surprise! — pretty much in same area they are now. A few things I’ve moved left on, a few things I have moved right on (no, really), but by and large I’ve been (for the US) mostly-leftish in a petit bourgeois sort of way.
5. And this is checkable because — again — I have a wide and vast trail of my opinions and verbiage going back literal decades. Try it for yourself! It’s all there, somewhere, if you want to bother. Incompleteness will not be a problem for any future biographers of mine.
6. So, when some dude complains that I somehow “went all SJW-y,” the question I’d ask them is: since when? Because I pretty much guarantee you whatever date they pull out of their ass, I can show I was saying largely what I’m saying now well before then. None of this is new.
7. What IS different, perhaps, is that — don’t laugh — I have slightly more humility now, in that I’m willing to accept I don’t know everything, I’m willing to accept that sometimes I show my ass, and I’m willing to at least try to make amends when I do my ass-showing.
8. But otherwise, yeah, this is me, and this has pretty much always been me, as long as I’ve been writing in public. If you think I’ve “gone SJW” it’s because YOU weren’t paying attention before. Which is fine! You don’t have to know my life story. But the issue is you, not me.
9. The thing is, after 25 years online and three decades writing publicly, I’m not going to stop having opinions in public. If this fact bothers you, mute/block me on social media and don’t buy my work. It’s fine, and I don’t need or want your patronage. Read other folks!
10. Just don’t pretend that who I am is something new, or manufactured for sales or cookies. This is me. My track record is long and clear. I’ve been this way for a long time, and will probably be for a while yet. It’s not a surprise, or at least shouldn’t be. Welcome to me.
HOWARD ANDREW JONES:
I think a lot of us are inspired by heroism before we really know what it is. I still remember tuning into an original Star Trek re-run for the first time when I was five years old. Before long I saw Kirk and Spock stand against a horde of angry miners after they discovered that the creature everyone thought a murderous monster was simply defending its young from genocide. Those two faced their own prejudices and changed their minds when exposed to new information, then risked their lives to see the just thing done.
I wanted to be like THOSE guys. Episode after episode, even if they didn’t always have the right answer, even if they sometimes made mistakes, they struggled to do the right thing when there might be no reward but death. They risked everything for their friends, their allies, and those who had no voice.
Of course, at five, I didn’t quite get the weighty stuff, I just liked the adventure of it all. And I sure loved swashbuckling, probably because I imprinted on The Four Musketeers when I caught it in the theatre at about the same time. It may seem worlds away from Star Trek, but that movie and its predecessor, The Three Musketeers (which I caught later) were similar to my favorite TV show in the way that its characters stood as one against their foes.
Nowadays, when fame seems easily acquired by looking good, possessing a lot of money, or shouting loudly, heroism can be taken for granted, or seen as quaint: often the most celebrated modern figures are those who get away with things they probably shouldn’t, or those who act the most outrageously entitled. These are cynical times, I get it, and sometimes it seems that facts and truth are dead (along with irony) and that heroes are just people whose dark sides haven’t been scooped yet.
But I don’t think I’m alone in remaining fascinated with heroes, and wishing we heard more about them. Heroism can supersede our cultural wars because it isn’t about defending a narrow set of beliefs dictated by a few who want to stay in power. It isn’t defined by ideology, but by the selflessness of those who protect others. Above all, heroism stands in stark contrast with selfishness, that most common of evils that creeps into a person or a society too self-indulgent to keep it at bay.
Now that I look back on all my touchstones, both those early ones and later discoveries, like the accounts of brave soldiers and civilians in the Second World War, I’m not at all surprised that I’ve ended up writing about heroes. For the Killing of Kings takes the perspective of a corps of veteran soldiers as they stumble into a conspiracy that may lead all the way to the throne. Truths have been twisted, facts invented, and the less powerful silenced and ignored. When two of these warriors, sworn to lay down their lives to defend the realm, ask the wrong questions, they’re framed for murder, declared traitors, and are forced to flee for their lives, their own friends in deadly pursuit.
Over the ensuing pages their bonds strengthen as they best terrible dangers and cross terrifying lands. They have to make agonizing choices and risk everything both to learn the truth and to seek a just future for all. In short, sacrifices must be made. Sometimes, because of their actions, they discover allies where others would see only enemies. And because I loved the weird world building and the layers within layers I discovered in The Chronicles of Amber (a major inspiration for this series) they see plenty of peculiar sites and uncover multiple secrets.
Of course good heroes need good villains, but given that I want the unveiling mysteries of this book to be one of its draws, the real villains and their plans probably ought to remain hidden here – although I think the back cover mentions that an enemy invasion is taking place just as Elenai and Kyrkenall begin their journey into the shifting lands. The greatest heroes need the biggest challenges to rise above.
I love characters swathed in gray as much as the next guy, from Conan to Corwin of Amber to the Gray Mouser, and yet somehow I keep ending up writing about heroes. I just seemed programmed that way. I have an honest love of adventure stories, and I surely hope my fiction amuses and even thrills readers. But if my words can provide solace and, dare I hope, inspiration for someone to stand tall in the face of adversity, and to take right action when wrongs are being committed, why, that will be a pretty grand thing.
As he should. Whoever woke you up was a real jerk, Smudge!
Don’t worry, he went right back to sleep. As cats do.
I suppose it was inevitable: I discovered a that I am listed as a contributor to a book that I was not aware existed. It’s a 2009 book from the National Geographic Society called The Backyard Guide to the Night Sky, credited to Howard Schneider, and for which I am listed as contributing essays. And when it was brought to my attention, I was all, “I did what now?” I had no memory of contributing to this book at all.
Mind you, I don’t think the National Geographic Society was trying to pull a fast one. The far more likely explanation is that I did contributed to the book and then, over the course of a decade, I had simply forgotten anything about it. And indeed, that was the explanation — a quick look through my email archives from the time unearthed not only the correspondence trail between me an an editor at NatGeo, but also the essays in question, about constellations, telescopes and UFOs (and all the things that are not them).
These essays were a throwback to a time where I was writing a lot more non-fiction than I do now, and also taking freelance writing assignments from folks for quick pieces on, well, just about anything. It wasn’t entirely out of my remit to write articles on astronomy, since by that time I had written an entire book on the subject and it had even gone into a second printing. Which may be why I don’t remember too much about these pieces; I could pretty much write them without effort.
In any event it’s nice to have this book back in my memory banks. Amazon informs me that there is a second edition of the book coming out in exactly a month; it has a new primary author, who has no doubt updated the book from stem to stern. I wonder if what I contributed will make the cut ten years on. I guess we’ll find out. And now I wonder what other books are out there that I’ve forgotten I was a part of.
In today’s Big Idea, author Tina LeCount Myers discovers that in writing Dreams of the Dark Sky, her conscious was writing one thing, and her unconscious writing something entirely different — and yet, it all came together in the same story. Here’s how.
TINA LeCOUNT MYERS:
Conscious Me: I wrote a story about invasive vs. native human-like species in a volatile environment.
Unconscious Me: Actually, I wrote a story about fate and free will, where I used my characters to work out my own existential uncertainty about these concepts.
Conscious Me: What do you mean? The story is about how humans and elves fail to coexist and the ramifications of their wars.
Unconscious Me: Perhaps on one level. But if you look deeper, you’ll see that both humans and elves must come to their own understanding of agency.
Whereupon, Conscious Me pauses, thinking, then appropriates what was unconscious, feeling self-satisfied with the deeper meaning it has come up with. Then, in a moment of insight, Conscious Me suggests: Really, Dreams of the Dark Sky is Freaks and Geeks meets Excalibur—the John Boorman Excalibur.
And both parts of me are right, except maybe for the John Boorman reference, which feels a little conceited and hyper-masculine even for the Conscious Me.
I started writing The Legacy of the Heavens trilogy with the idea to write a fantasy story with science at the foundation of the worldbuilding. Dark matter disguised as magic. Multiverses and string theory cloaked as portal realms in arctic Scandinavia. Evolutionary biology to posit the existence of sequentially hermaphroditic elves. But what I discovered was an even more profound interest in what makes us human, even if we are elves.
On the surface, Dreams of the Dark Sky, the second book in the trilogy, is about two human-like species struggling to coexist in a volatile arctic environment. But at its heart, the story is more concerned with how the two main characters, Dárja and Marnej, experience the complex love between parent and child, yearn to belong in their respective communities, and struggle to take control over their lives. They reflect the deep-seated, human questions that I have about my own life: my relationship with my parents, my sense of belonging—or not, and, most importantly, my conflicted experience with the concepts of fate and free will.
I have suffered the resentment of fate, where I must live with a decision over which I have no control. I have struggled with the paralysis of free will, where I am unable to make the “right choice”. I have no definitive answer on which is better or worse. So when Marnej, who is half-human and half-elf, asks, “Was I always meant to end up here? Or did circumstance and my own action bring me here?” it is me asking that same question of my own life. And when Kalek, the elf-healer, answers, “I do not believe the gods choose our actions. They may set the course of events, but it is we who decide what direction to go in,” it is my own unwitting compromise.
Dreams of the Dark Sky is about the aftermath of a struggle between humans (invasive species) and elves (native species). But it is also about the tension between conscious and unconscious choice and what that interplay reveals about not only the characters, but also the writer, and hopefully the reader as well.
She came home for the weekend so I was able to grab a few photos of her. This one turned out pretty well.
Still writing that thing, so back to it.
And on Valentine’s Day, too! Awwwwwww.
I’m out because I feel like it but also because I have a project to finish. So, unplugging from the Internet to get done. As one sometimes has to do. See you all next week.
Why would I bring this trailer to your attention? Oh, no reason. No reason at all. Still, you might want to block out some time on March 15 to see the series. Just because.
(Note: the above trailer is very noisy and probably NSFW.)
Yesterday I reached 160,000 Twitter followers and polled my followership with how they wanted me to celebrate: A preview from an upcoming work, a song, a cat picture or a “burrito.” The burrito won. This is what followed.
HUMANS OF TWITTER:
It is time.
Yesterday, having reached 160k Twitter followers, I promised one and all that I would make a VALENTINE BURRITO to mark this momentous occasion.
I have done so. And recorded its creation for you.
LET US BEGIN THIS BURRITO JOURNEY TOGETHER NOW.
Here I am, eating the thing.
WARNING: You are not prepared.
Immortality has been done in fiction, many times. But has it been done like Charlie N. Holmberg does it in Smoke and Summons? Holmberg is here to explain why the immortality found here may be unique after all.
CHARLIE N. HOLMBERG:
Once upon a time, my agent and editor got together behind my back, schemed, and then called me demanding I stop this standalone nonsense and write another series. This was in the middle of my California vacation.
I am a prolific writer (having no other hobbies, I have to spend my time doing something). I jump from idea to idea, and my brain likes to work in short and sudden chunks, thus the streak of standalones. I’d written one series, one time, and it was honestly a fluke. It started with a standalone that had more story to tell, so two more books almost accidentally happened. But that series outsold my standalones ten to one. So I wasn’t surprised to get pressure to do it again.
Problem was, I didn’t have any ideas big enough to encompass multiple books. And I needed a good, big idea, because I don’t like staying in one world too long. I needed to create something that could suck up about 300,000 words, be interesting, and be especially interesting to me.
I started going through my Pinterest boards, phone notes, and idea folders, pulling out literally anything and everything that sounded interesting. I’d figure out how to tie it all together later, hopefully. It was during this Frankensteining of creativity that I came across THE THING. Something I had written down about a year earlier. Something I didn’t even remember writing down. It was just two words in its own Word document.
And I knew I had my big idea. I only needed to look down at my hands to determine how I was going to create this immortality switch: fidget spinner. I was going to make a magical fidget spinner that let my character be immortal, but only for one minute each day.
This opened up a world of possibilities. What could a person do with one minute of immortality, where consequences were nearly moot? It could be used for crime, for gain. To save oneself at the last moment, or kept on hand as a safety net. It could be used to cure the terminally ill or mortally wounded. And how it would be used would depend on who was holding it at the time. Who would know about it? Who would have access to it? What happened if someone snatched the device from someone else mid-spin?
So I made it. I gave it a history and a value. And I gave it to a poor sewage worker who could use it to turn his life around. In fact, his new life depends on it, so when a woman on the run steals it, he’ll do anything to get it back.
The device is rare, ancient, and more special than anyone realizes; I was able to connect it to a bigger magic system, the secrets of which carry across a whole series. Eureka! And I called it an amarinth. An amaranth is an imaginary, undying flower; an immortal thing. But then my vegetarian friend told me amaranth was also a fancy grain and was likely to be the next hot and popping thing for healthy people, so I changed one of the vowels in my term. Super creative, I know.
Ultimately, when readers dive into the Numina world and learn about this device, I want them to ask themselves one thing.
What would I do with my minute?
It was big and bright and I had Krissy come out and look at it, and then I tried to take a photo of it with my Nikon, and you can barely see it in this exposure:
I also took a photo of it with my Google Pixel with Night Sight on:
Now, I should note that if I put my Nikon on a tripod and took a longer exposure, the ring would be much clearer, and I might do that a little later. But for now, Google Pixel to the rescue.
Night follows day, day follows night — or does it? It depends on where you live. And in The City in the Middle of the Night, award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders considers a world where neither follows the other, and everything that entails for her characters and their lives.
CHARLIE JANE ANDERS:
Five or six years ago, I became obsessed with tidally locked planets.
These planets, where one side always faces the sun and there’s a permanent day side and a permanent night side, were turning out to be incredibly common in our galaxy. And it was looking as if any exoplanet our descendents might colonize would turn out to be tidally locked.
And this image, of living on a planet with permanent chilly darkness on one side, and boiling hot sunlight on the other, captivated me and took over my imagination. In my novel, The City in the Middle of the Night, direct sunlight is actually toxic, so humans can only live in the thin zone of twilight in between the day and night sides.
(I thought about calling my novel Twilight, or The Twilight Zone, but apparently those titles were already taken? Also, the strip of twilight is called the Terminator, so I thought about calling my novel The Terminator—but turns out someone already used that one, too.)
I grew up in the country, with no street lights anywhere nearby. So the nights were incredibly dark, and if you wandered far enough from my parents’ house, you couldn’t even see your own hand in front of your face. I used to play flashlight tag with some of the neighborhood kids, and we would run around in total darkness until one of us ran into the electric fence around the horse field out back. Good times.
So I loved the image of endless, total darkness, which humans can barely even explore because we’ve lost all of our survival gear and all-terrain vehicles. The City in the Middle of the Night started to click for me when I thought of it as the story of a girl, Sophie, who gets banished into the night side of her planet, and learns to communicate with the creatures who live in the darkness.
These creatures, the Gelet, have their own science and technology, but humans decided they were just dumb animals because we couldn’t understand them. And they can’t live in our light, any more than we can live in their darkness.
That image of a girl getting banished into total darkness, colder than the South Pole, led to a whole story. Sophie is a shy girl, who doesn’t talk to you unless she knows you really well —-in fact, she’s the opposite of a lot of the other heroes I’ve written. She stays in the background and never raises her voice, and she definitely doesn’t stand up at any point and give a rousing speech. But she’s still the hero of the story, and her courage inspires people and changes the world.
And Sophie goes on an incredible journey—-not just wandering into frozen darkness, but also traveling from one human city to another. She has to journey with a group of smugglers from her hometown to the city of Argelo. They cross the Sea of Murder, which is a whole ocean that is a solid ice shelf on one side, and on the other side is a scalding wall of steam that will cook you alive if you sail too close to it. And did I mention the Sea of Murder has pirates? And giant sea monsters?
The other thing I kept thinking about as I wrote this book is just how weird it would be to live without sunrise and sunset. If you couldn’t look up at the sky and see the sun changing positions, along with the shadows moving around and changing shape, how would you know when to sleep and when to work? How would you even know how much time was passing if the sun never changed its position?
In my book, “night” and “day” are places rather than times, and I avoided using any words like “minute,” “hour,” “second,” “yesterday” or “tomorrow.” (Thank goodness the amazing copy-editor caught a few places where I slipped up.)
And this becomes a huge social divide for the humans living on January, as different societies approach the problem of sleep and time management differently. One human city has a rigid curfew, and everyone sleeps and works at the same time, because they believe that if we don’t keep a strict circadian rhythm, then we stop even being human. But another city, known as the City That Never Sleeps, has a much more chaotic approach (and way better parties.)
This debate is about more than just what time to go to sleep, or how to structure your life: at its root, it’s an argument over the nature of humanity, especially when we’ve gone to live on another planet where we’re an invasive species.
And I guess that’s the thing I was obsessing about in general in this book. My fascination with tidally locked planets led me in a couple of different directions: 1) Communicating with radically different creatures who live in an environment we can’t even visit, and 2) The debate over when to sleep and how to organize our time, without sunrise and sunset. And both of those questions come down to: what does it mean to be human? Who do we think of as people? How do we understand each other as equals, instead of trying to control each other?
When never-ending darkness lurks on the edge of town and the sky offers no clues as to how much time has passed, “human nature” is up for grabs. I had a lot of fun exploring this bizarre world and the questions it raises, and I’m so excited to share The City in the Middle of the Night with you.
Meanwhile, Spice, in the background, knows better.
Be descriptive and detailed, yet vague. For example:
“The transparent portal slid open and the creature, radially asymmetrical, used its ambulatory stalks to cross the threshold. The creature, covered in keratinous extrusions and small, dead plates, swiveled its perceptual array, hoisted on a third stalk, and used its electromagnetic sensors to locate what it was searching for: the anti-entropic chamber. It spotted the chamber and moved to it. Using yet a different stalk, which divided into smaller stalks at its terminus, the creature defeated the magnetic field employed to seal the chamber.
“Therein it found its prize: A pressurized cylinder of carbonic acid, mixed with bonded ethyl and hydroxyl groups. The stalk that defeated the chamber’s magnetic field acquired the cylinder and carefully manipulated it open. It placed the contents in a staging area, where cursorial perceptual tests were conducted, before conveying those contents to a connected cavity, designed to chemically process cylinder’s former cargo.
“There, in the humid dark, the desired reactions commenced.”
“A person opened a sliding glass door, walked through, located the fridge, opened it, got out a beer and drank it.”
Thank you for coming to my writing workshop.
Another week down. Enjoy the weekend!
Because I assume most people lead full, rich and happy lives that do not revolve around the Internet, some of you may not be aware that a couple of days ago Writer Twitter blew up because a writer and editor named Jason Heller wrote a thread about day jobs, the first post of which was this:
(click on the tweet for the full thread)
Writer Twitter blew up at this advice and thread because the general mass of writers on Twitter consider this absolutely terrible advice (including, in the interest of disclosure, me). Things got testy, as they do on Twitter, because it’s Twitter, and a bit of the plot was lost. But now, a few days later, I think it’s worth looking again to see why this is still pretty bad advice in most cases, and also to note the few circumstances when it is not.
Let me preface by saying I’m pretty sure that the place Heller is coming from is something along the lines of “don’t let fear keep you from the work you’re meant to do” and also “seize the day.” Which, if that’s indeed where he’s coming from, is not bad advice! The time you have now is all the time you will ever have in the world, so if you’re not making the time within it to do the things you want to do with your life, you’re cheating yourself. Don’t do that. Do the things, creatively, you want to do. It will take time to get to the level you would want to be at, so starting sooner is better than later.
However (and this is where Heller is giving bad advice, and why Writer Twitter blew up at him), not only are having a day job and following your dreams not mutually exclusive, much of the time a day job is the thing that allows one to continue working toward those dreams, because it provides the things people need in order to live life generally, including money, health insurance (in the US, at least) and the relative stability that alleviates stresses in one’s life. Stresses like “oh, shit, how am I going to pay for rent this month” or “I’m out of my medications and can’t afford any more, which means I might die” or “I can’t feed my children, what’s up with that, the state frowns upon starving one’s progeny.” All of which can, in fact, put a damper on one’s creative drive.
Now, Heller addresses this by noting that he was punk and had been poor and didn’t expect a middle-class standard of living anyway. Well, that’s fine for Heller. But not everyone wants to be punk, and not everyone romanticizes poverty as an acceptable lifestyle if you have the ability to make a different choice. As it happens, I also have stretches of poverty in my history, occasionally of the “we don’t have a place to live and also here’s a box of Raisin Bran, let’s try to make it last a week” sort. I find valorizing that sort of scenario as an acceptable lifestyle choice odious, especially if other people are involved and are essentially hostages to your choices. Desperation almost never leads to art (and especially, good art). It mostly leads to making poor choices to get through one’s life because poor choices are the options one has.
But at least you have time to work on your art if you quit your day job, yes? Well, no, not really. Speaking again from experience, poverty and desperation are really time-intensive. One still has to live in the world, and when you’re poor and have limited resources, navigating a world designed to cater to people who can solve problems with money takes effort, and time, and the willingness to thread through all the barriers that are put up against the poor in our society. At least if you have a day job, the hours that you aren’t able to fill with creative work are exchanged for money (and health care, and 401(k)s, and such).
(Not to mention that even people who are full-time writers and creators aren’t always exactly clocking in eight hours a day on art. I do four hours a day max when I write because after that my brain is like “I’m done being creative for the day.” Sometimes I’ll get two hours. Sometimes less. So what do I do with the rest of that time? Shit, I could do a day job with that time — and did, for years, because I was working as a freelance writer and consultant. It was fun making money after my brain turned into a flan!)
Heller says in his Twitter thread that “You can and should say ‘fuck you’ to conventional wisdom and throw yourself off the cliff and see if you can learn how to fly on your way down.” Okay, but here’s the thing about that: Never in the history of the world has anyone ever thrown themselves off a cliff and learned to fly on the way down. Physics is not conventional wisdom. What people who fling themselves off cliffs do is accelerate, falling faster and faster, until they hit the ground and die, or if they’re lucky, merely break every bone in their body and take months or years to recuperate, if they do at all. Jesus, Scalzi, it’s a metaphor, I hear you say. Sure, it is, but look at the actual metaphor and what it says: See if you can do the thing literally no one else has ever done. It’s gonna be awesome! Meanwhile, right here by the cliff is a trail that will lead you to the bottom safely — sure, it’ll take longer to get to the bottom, but your arrival will not be occasioned by a broken, shattered body, and along the way you may have time to think and plot and strategize, so that when you arrive where you want to go, you have a plan for where to go next. Sexy metaphors are sexy, but there are better ways to actually lead one’s life.
“It’s so fucking harmful that we’re instilling writers with this dull, gray terror of taking risks or hurling themselves recklessly into their passion,” Heller writes in his Twitter thread. But I think his position is, intentionally or not, disingenuous. First, and again, it’s not either/or — one can take massive risks and live dangerously in one’s creative life, and still have a day job, and a comfortable material existence. Indeed, when one’s basic physical and psychological needs are met, one does not have to expend mental cycles on those needs and has them available for one’s creative work. Second, it’s not actually “fucking harmful” to tell writers (or any other creators) it’s all right to acknowledge they live in the world, and the world is set up in a way that they have to navigate, and also, can navigate and still have time for their passion.
Third, as noted by Annalee Flower Horne in her own Twitter response, some people like their day job and find it a source of validation and inspiration. That’s right, you can actually enjoy your day job and find it fulfilling! You might even use it as a wellspring for your creative life! And even if you don’t, you might still decide that as a person, you are living your best life with your day job and a creative job. It’s possible! And for some people, even essential.
The short version of this is it appears either Heller doesn’t know you can live dangerously and passionately in art and comfortably in world, or is aware of it, but is kinda contemptuous of it. If the former, well, he’s been told now, by lots of people, over and over, and it’s up to him to internalize it. If it’s the latter — and it might be, as his thread comes off as dismissive of people who aren’t willing to throw themselves off a cliff — then, as he might say, that’s a choice. It’s also not a choice everyone else has to make, or is often the best choice they could make, either for themselves or for the other people whose lives are tied to theirs.
Mind you, Heller may also believe his advice is predicated on a ticking clock. As he declares at the onset of his thread, “The world is ending.” So, here’s the thing about that: The world’s not ending, either physically or with respect to humanity. Physically, the world will end in five billion years when the sun, as a red giant, expands to engulf the planet. You will probably not be around for that. Before then, the world will still be here.
Now, that’s probably not where Heller is going; he’s probably suggesting that “Creeping fascism + global climate change = end of the world for humans.” And to be sure, it’s not a great combination. But then, in the 1980s, “Cold war + Mutually Assured Nuclear Destruction = end of the world for humans.” In the 1930s, “Rise of fascism + economic ruin of nations = end of the world for humans.” In the 1910s, “The First Global War + virulent supervirus = end of the world for humans.” In pretty much every era the equation is “[social/political issue] + [existential threat to human supremacy on the planet] = end of the world for humans.” It’s not to discount that creeping fascism and global climate changes are serious problems we need to address. Please, let’s. It’s to say there is always a potential end of the world.
And yet in every era, people created and held down day jobs! It’s possible to do, even when staring down the gaping maw of nothingness and oblivion. You can do it! If you want to! Also, the world’s probably not actually ending — it’s changing, but that’s not the same as ending — so maybe don’t use that as a serious assessing factor. Even with global climate change, it will take several decades for it to suss out. You’ll probably be dead for the worst of it anyway. Meanwhile you still have bills and need to eat (and also, hey, maybe agitate politically against global fascism and climate change denial, that would be awesome of you).
So, in sum: Yeeeeeeah, you don’t usually have to quit your day job in order to throw yourself into your art. And in fact, most of the time it’s probably not a great idea. So maybe don’t.
After all this, you may ask, when should you quit your day job to throw yourself, recklessly and passionately, into your art? Well, alone or in combination:
1. As Nick Mamatas notes in his own Twitter thread, if your day job (whatever it is) is giving you a life no better than what you would get being a starving artist anyway, why the fuck not?
2. If you have a spouse/partner/family who has a stable income/benefits and is willing to support your freeloading ass while you whittle away at your creative work, then, sure. But also be sure to acknowledge, to yourself if not to anyone else, that you’re catching a hell of a break here.
3. If you hate your job with such a passion that it sucks your will to live no matter how well it pays or how awesome the benefits, then you should probably consider leaving that job regardless of any creative aspirations. However, maybe see if there’s a different job with similar pay/benefits you could move into, one that doesn’t make you want to collapse into a ball, before just ditching it all. It’s amazing how fast the money runs out.
4. If you’re already financially doing so well with your creative work that your day job is acting as a drag to your income (which can happen!).
5. You are independently wealthy and you’ve been keeping a day job mostly as an affectation and/or have been awarded a grant (or book advance!) large enough to cover your life expenses for years as you create.
6. You have no dependents, are of a social demographic where taking years out of the labor pool to fuck about on a creative endeavor will not be taken as inherent flakiness (hello, straight white men!), and think starving in a cold-water bedsit is a cheeky adventure to be experienced, not a fate to be avoided.
Otherwise? Consider your day job may be a positive, not a negative.
In the end, the enemy of creativity is not a day job, or indeed, anything else that might exist in your life other than your creative impulse (which includes but is not limited to family, friends, spouses, pets, hobbies, politics, entertainment and the world in general). The enemy is you — and your choice to use any of the above not to engage in the creative life you believe you should have. The world is not ending, but you will. You will not be here forever. You have to make the decision to throw yourself into your art, with whatever time you have. If you decide it’s important, then you’ll find the time. Even with a day job. And all the rest of the world, ending or otherwise.
KEITH R.A. DeCANDIDO:
Finding an urban fantasy novel that takes place within the confines of New York City is about as difficult, to quote that great philosopher Edmund Blackadder, as putting on a hat. Just in general, the Big Apple is a very popular setting for fiction, not just of the urban fantasy variety.
But when you say “New York City” to the vast majority of humans, what they think of is the Manhattan skyline. They think of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building and the Freedom Tower. They think of the Brooklyn Bridge and the George Washington Bridge and the 59th Street Bridge (and then they feel groovy). They think of Central Park and the Theatre District and Greenwich Village. They think of Harlem and Chelsea and Chinatown.
In other words, they think of Manhattan south of 125th Street. To most folks, that’s what New York City is. Maybe, maybe they might throw Brooklyn in there.
A Furnace Sealed is my attempt to remind folks that there’s a lot more to the Big Apple than that. The city has five boroughs. There’s also Queens to the east and Staten Island to the south. There’s Inwood and Washington Heights, the northern tip of Manhattan that is often forgotten.
And there’s the Bronx, my home borough, the northernmost portion, the home of the Bronx Zoo and the New York Yankees, the only part of the city connected to the mainland.
The Bronx has a long and fascinating history. It also has an image problem, as the only image most folks can conjure is the South Bronx forty years ago. Fort Apache, the Bronx was released in 1981, Howard Cosell famously said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning” during the World Series in 1977, and all too often when I tell people I live in the Bronx, they think it’s still like that. “Do you carry a knife?” (I used to carry a Swiss Army Knife, but post-2001 airport security has gotten me out of that habit.) “Is it safe where you live?” (Very.) “Are you the only white people?” (No, and also, even if we were, so the hell what?)
But the Bronx has Little Italy (the real one, not the tourist trap in lower Manhattan), the aforementioned Bronx Zoo, City Island (a New England-style fishing village off the east coast of the borough full of great seafood and adorable crafts stores), several huge parks, the New York Botanical Gardens, Woodlawn Cemetery (where many famous personages from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Miles Davis to Fiorello LaGuardia are buried), the Bronx Museum of the Arts, several great universities (Fordham University, Manhattan College, Mt. St. Vincent, etc.), and very soon an independent bookstore, the Lit. Bar. It’s where Edgar Allan Poe spent the last years of his life and where break-dancing and hip-hop were born. Alan Alda, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Neil deGrasse Tyson are all from the Bronx. And there’s so much more besides.
It’s because most of you reading this probably didn’t know most of what I just wrote about that I conceived The Bram Gold Adventures, of which the first book is A Furnace Sealed. Bram Gold is a Courser, a supernatural hunter-for-hire. He’s the guy you hire to wrangle a unicorn or babysit werewolves on the night of the full moon or get that pesky leprechaun off your lawn. And he works and lives in the Bronx. The first story I wrote with him appeared in the 2011 anthology Liar Liar, which had some fun with the history of the Marble Hill neighborhood, which used to be a physical part of Manhattan, then an island, and now is physically part of the Bronx (though politically still part of Manhttan).
The theme of the urban fantasy world I’ve created is that most of the creatures are not quite what you expect—much like the borough where the book takes place. Unicorns are, in fact, surly beasts any time they smell a male (which is why virgins can calm them—they don’t have man-funk on them). Vampires are total wusses who are pale and sickly and don’t like sunlight. Werewolves are mostly just people who turn into big dogs once a month.
And Coursers—and magic users, for that matter—are just people doing a job. In addition to letting people know that there’s a whole ‘nother part of the Big Apple to the north, I also wanted to make sure that I portrayed characters who need to feed and clothe and house themselves. Most people make decisions based on what they can afford, and fictional characters should do likewise. At one point in A Furnace Sealed, Bram has to put his investigation on hold because he’s working a shift at Montefiore Hospital. (In addition to being Bram Gold, Courser, he’s also Dr. Abraham Goldblume, who works two days a week as an ER doctor. He changed his name for the former job because if you want your nasty monster hunted, you’re not gonna hire a schmuck named Abe Goldblume. Bram Gold, on the other hand, sounds like he can get stuff done.) He has to work that shift, because he’s already called in sick too often, and if he does it again, he’ll get fired, and it’s hard to find more work when you’re fired for poor attendance at your only-twice-a-week job.
Back in 2009 and 2010, I worked for the U.S. Census Bureau, and I got to go to a lot of different parts of the Bronx. It was that work in particular that got the wheels turning about the manifold glories of the Boogie-Down Bronx, and I wanted to bring them to the world in a way that I hope youse guys (as we say in da Bronx) find entertaining. And if you do, rest assured, I’m already hard at work on Book 2 of The Bram Gold Adventures…
The Falling Joys, enjoyed by many Australians and maybe seven Americans, back in 1990. This song is “Jennifer,” which is pretty great. Hope you like it.