The Big Idea: Nick Mamatas

Nick Mamatas is a hustler; just ask him. As a writer, he’s always moving, always looking for the next gig or assignment, always finding a way to use what he’s got and push it to his own advantage. So it’s not terribly surprising that when he got a Big Idea slot to promote a new book, he went ahead and decided to promote two new books: Starve Better, his book on writing, and Sensation, a new novel. But Mamatas maintains that despite the difference in the formats of the books, the two works are tied together by a particular set of circumstances. Here he is to tell you what they are.


We can blame the current global economic crisis for the existence of my books Starve Better and Sensation, and two previous recessions for the way they were written.

I started teaching myself how to write in the mid-1990s, during the recession and subsequent “jobless recovery” of the Clinton years. I had a bit of a knack for words, but limited access to computers—I depended on the lab at the New School for Social Research, where I was studying media—and a great and growing need for extra money. When a professor asked me to write something for a special digital-themed issue of Artpapers he was editing, I cranked out a portentous little piece on TinyMUDs, and got a hundred bucks and five contributor copies for my troubles. I was hooked.

Being hooked on anything, especially in New York City where everything is possible, is bad news. I can write some short thing, then sell it, I thought, but really had no idea where to begin, despite already having begun. My friend Kap Seol and I took on a project we actually thought was commercial—translating and editing a first-person account of the US-backed Kwangju Massacre in South Korea—and yes, we were those doofuses who ran home to check the mail every day in case there was a big check waiting for us from whatever tiny left-wing publishers we had submitted the book to. I started writing sample text questions and answers for the TOEIC exam for a Korean publisher, and then drifted into the disreputable world of “academic ghost-writing.”

Term papers were short, and I could sell them. I was using an ancient 286 PC with a 2400-baud modem to research and write them. My life really changed in 1998 when I managed to save $300 to buy a used 386 that could actually run Windows.
Then the recession was over and the boom was on. I’d been online since 1989 as a college freshman, so I knew my way around. And I even had a clip thanks to that old Artpapers essay. I started writing the infamous Disinformation, and from there moved up to the Village Voice, Artbyte, and Silicon Alley Reporter. My little left-wing book even found a publisher, a division of the University of California Press. The peer-review letters referred to me as “Professor Mamatas”…if only they’d known about the term papers.

I was never a millionaire on paper (remember that term?), but I bought a house and made a dollar a word writing for SAR and other major magazines, got involved in the “punk publishing” scene of the Lower East Side to keep from vomiting all over my SAR checks, and things were going very smoothly. I even started dabbling in fiction, and blogging. Then the dot.coms all crashed, and then the World Trade Center was attacked and I spent a morning and an afternoon cleaning loose papers and cinders drifting over the Hudson River from my porch and nothing was left of either my business contacts or my political contacts. I did still have fiction, with its “pro rate” of three cents a word. Clearly, I was doomed. A doomed dabbler with a blog. War was in the air.

I had to move from dabbler to pro, and quickly. Luckily, I’d made some contacts at a men’s magazine called Razor, and wrote a feature for them. Fifty cents a word, baby, on Genesis P-Orridge, who told me that magick was being fifty years old and never having had a day job. When my contributor copies arrived, I was amazed to see that in addition to the usual “lifestyle” stuff, they’d published an actual short story from a prisoner. (It was about prison.) I knew I needed to write something for them that they couldn’t get from anyone else, so I combined everything I knew into a new set of stories. I nailed them four times with fiction—crazy “downtown” writing about art and punk and 9/11, but mixed with aliens and alternative universes and splatterpunk—for a thousand dollars a pop, and also wrote more non-fiction for them. I even did a political piece on the Iraqi election, and a less political one about crazy ex-girlfriends.  Suddenly, I wasn’t too concerned about cracking the Big Three markets for science fiction and fantasy. I’d found that thing writing teachers were all very concerned about their students finding: “my voice.”

I wrote and sold a short novel, to an independent press, of course, and started publishing stories in a variety of venues—horror, SF, porn, and offbeat markets of all sorts. Then I sold another novel, also short, to some old punk publishing friends who were straining to go legit. People even started reading my blog, where I’d occasionally work through some ideas I’d had about writing. There was another economic bubble, and it burst. Razor was long gone, the Village Voice editorial staff had turned over three of four times over the course of months, my new legit publisher’s distributor went bankrupt three days before my book was released, and I’d foolishly failed to choose a blogging platform that I could monetize with a million annoying ads.

But I’d spent fifteen years learning how to do that thing I woke up every day thinking about: I can write some short thing, then sell it. I’d also started co-editing Clarkesworld Magazine and decided to give every submission some form of editorial feedback, which helped me work out my own ideas on the nature and structure of short fiction. When I’d post my theories on my blog, or link to a new essay I’d published elsewhere, I’d get comments reading, “You should write a book about writing one day.”

In 2008, when capitalism shuddered and nearly collapsed again, a lot of people began asking me for advice on going freelance. They didn’t need advice on how to write a novel in a year, they had a car insurance payment due this month. They didn’t need subtle encouragement—write every morning before dawn in a cozy spot with a cup of tea and your favorite pen—they needed to keep the lights on. Basically, my friends and readers needed to know how to fix a story and sell it now; they needed to find some venue about a topic they were expert in, and get some kind of clip and some kind of payment from a magazine or journal, immediately. All stuff I was aces at.

Advice is always autobiographical, so Starve Better is a writing advice guide for people like me. It’s about short subjects, both fiction and non-fiction, and is comprised of pieces published in the Village Voice, The Writer, the fun Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw-edited fanzine Flytrap, various blog essays, and some new essays.  I’d found that a lot of traditional writing advice can lead to bad writing. “Hook the reader,” means “Write an exciting first paragraph, then get boring.” “Create a narrative dream, to make a movie in the reader’s mind,” boils down to, “Use scene breaks like they were television commercial breaks.” “Make sure to tie up loose ends,” ends up as “Write a story that there’s no reason to re-read, and thus no reason to publish.” Starve Better is a corrective. I also cover query and cover letters, finding freelance work, interviews and reviews, and content mills—non-fiction still pays better, and makes it easier to starve better, after all.

Then there’s Sensation. I wrote that novel as a lurch toward commercial respectability. My fiction often mixes the genre writing I love with the postmodern material I’d gobbled up in my New York days—Barnes & Noble was the state to which I’d pledged allegiance, but just two blocks away St. Mark’s Books was my church. My agent had a great idea: I should write a more serious novel, perhaps in the mode of Don DeLillo. What would be my version of him? I could take on the social questions of life after the Internet, show off literary technique, put in a married couple and a divorce, maybe. Make fun of capitalism, I thought, we can sell that for a lot of money! So I wrote it. I’m not actually a huge fan of novel-writing, so I decided to create a novel out what I do love: short subjects. Of what I’ve been doing for the past fifteen years.

Sensation is a mix of fictional blog posts, faux newspaper and magazine articles, text messages, police interrogations, personal correspondence and business letters, YouTube missives and performance art, the results of psychological examinations, you name it. It’s a novel as collage, as told from the point of view of another species struggling to figure out humanity, while both controlling our world and directing our potential as agents of history. Sensation certainly pokes fun at capitalism—China Miéville called me “the People’s Commissar of Awesome” in his blurb—but it was capitalism who had the last laugh by promptly falling over and playing dead. Sensation didn’t even get rejection letters. It got this-editor-no-longer-works-here letters. It got this-imprint-is-defunct letters. We got the occasional please-don’t-blog-about-this-letter letter too.

I’d moved to California and got my first ever full-time job at Haikasoru, an imprint dedicated to Japanese science fiction and fantasy in translation. Honestly, I suspect that I was the only person in publishing to get, rather than lose, a job in 2008. And out here I met some people who led me to some people who introduced me to PM Press. Anarchists! You might call PM a small anarchist publisher, but really it’s a huge anarchist publisher. And its owners are not doctrinaire at all, so PM publishes crime fiction by Gary Phillips and Benjamin Whitmer, science fiction by Terry Bisson and Ursula K. Le Guin, vegan cookbooks and anti-vegan jeremiads, and when the shit hit the economic fan they didn’t flinch. Almost as though they had been expecting another global meltdown all this time! Clever little buggers. I even ran into the publisher, Ramsey Kanann, in the grocery store. I’ve been to his house and he showed me all his spreadsheets. It was punk publishing all over again. I was hooked. I wrote something short, and sold it. Because of an economic crisis, not despite it. The struggle, and the hustle, continues!


Starve Better: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Sensation: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

See a preview of Sensation. See a preview of Starve Better. Read the author’s LiveJournal. Follow him on Twitter.

And Now, a Small Bit of Good News

Which is: Fuzzy Nation made the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list.

As the kids say: w00t!

No, not number one. Down the list a bit from there (I don’t know if I’m supposed to reveal the placing yet ; the list it’s on is slated for May 29th publication). But, hey: any place on the NYT hardcover fiction list is a good place for a science fiction novel to be. I am genuinely delighted.

While there are many people to thank, including everyone who bought a copy in the last week (thank you!), I’m going to give a special shout out at the moment to: Cassandra Ammerman, my publicist at Tor, who helped shake out a bunch of media interest and who set up my book tour; Kekai Kotaki, whose excellent cover for the book almost certainly dragged a few people across the bookstore floor to take a look at it; and of course Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Fuzzy’s editor.

I must also bow toward the ghost of H. Beam Piper. I hope he’s happy about where I’ve taken his fuzzy little creatures. I’d like to think he is.

Edited to add: Oh, and I have to thank Paul and Storm for this:

Because everyone knows the power ballad helps the box office. That’s why it’s there!

How to Make a Fuzzy

Over on her own blog, Mary Robinette Kowal goes into some detail — with pictures and everything — about how one makes a Fuzzy from scratch. As Mary has been a professional puppeteer for years and has some fame from her ability to create these creatures, if you are a crafty, make-y sort of person, this particular entry will be like catnip to you.

A Mid-Tour Mailbag

I’m on tour, so this week’s column goes to the mailbag to answer questions about super hero films, what films don’t teach you about writing novels, and whether it’s fair to talk about films before you see them. Basically, things you absolutely need to know right now. Yes you do. Check it out and as always feel free to leave comments there.

Seattle Surprises

I had promised folk in Seattle that since they had to pay money to attend my tour event, that I would bring them something special. I brought them two things (that’s value!). Here’s the first:

That’s musician Molly Lewis, on hand to do an acoustic ukulele version of “Fuzzy Man,” and who did an excellent job of it, especially considering the timeframe in which she had to learn the thing. Paul and Storm should be proud.

The second surprise:

Yes, that’s right, we brought an actual fuzzy to the event! Here it is, along with handler Mary Robinette Kowal, talking to the crowd about life, the universe and everything. Like it would. And you might also notice the absolutely adorable fuzzy plush toy it is carrying, a gift from a very nice young woman in the audience who did not know when she gave it to me earlier in the evening that it would soon be hugged and loved by a fuzzy. See, I told you the evening would bring surprises.

(For those who want a more serious answer to the above picture, I commissioned Mary, who is an experienced puppeteer, to make me a fuzzy. She did a simply fantastic job and I recommend her for all your puppetry needs.)

I need to take a moment to publicly thank both Molly and Mary for being part of the event and I really regret not being able to take them on the whole tour. They made a really good event into one of the best I ever had. And so did the crowd. Thank you, guys. I love me some Seattle.

(Photos by Jeff Slostad, who has pictures of the event up on Flickr.)

My Dear People of Seattle: The Quickening

You know how I said that because you have to pay $5 for the tickets to attend my author event tonight (or, if you buy your copy of Fuzzy Nation from the University Book store, you get the tickets thrown in free), that I would make it up to you by doing something special for you that only you would get?

I kind of lied.

You won’t get one special thing, only for you.

It’s possible there will be more. Oh, yes. SO MUCH MORE.


And that’s not including my interpretive dance tribute to the 90s grunge scene. You get that for free.

What will it all be? You just have to show up to find out.

Tonight! 7:30! University of Washington Campus, Kane Hall, Room 110! Buy your tickets and/or your copy of Fuzzy Nation at the University Bookstore! It’s not too late! I’ve now exceeded my monthly quota of exclamation points! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND CLEAN JUST COME TO THE THING WHY DON’T YOU.

And now, a special note to the people of Portland:

Dudes. You were awesome. I am full of love. And Voodoo donuts. Thank you for coming out.

The Big Idea: Maria Dahvana Headley

Author Maria Dahvana Headley, in her new novel Queen of Kings, essays one of the most famous women of all time: Cleopatra. But how does one approach writing about someone who has already been immortalized in words so many times? As you’ll discover, for Headley, it’s not about choosing just one way to come at the subject — or her story.


There are about five Big Ideas behind Queen of Kings. That’s one of the reasons it’s both oddly hard to market, and easy to talk about. It’s a mixture of history and dark fantasy, a dash of horror (perhaps more than a dash), monsters, classics, and Cleopatra. And there’s a vampire. Don’t stop reading. We’re not talking glitter, or luscious hotness. We’re talking hunger and blood, vengeance and battles.  The vampirism and shapeshifting are justified in this story (and in ancient Egyptian myth), I promise.

The central Big Idea is easy: What if Cleopatra didn’t die? She lived in a magical culture, after all. She herself was a living god. What would the ramifications on the Roman world be, in a story in which the Queen of Egypt became, through magic, something else? We know so little about her, truly, that there’d be lots of room for invention, to braid the facts together with possibilities.

As I began to work,  though, I realized that there was one gigantic moment of What If that drove the book, and the more I got into it, the more I realized that it was somehow the same thing that’d been driving me all these years.  What If I combined EVERYTHING I loved into one story? What kind of story would that make?

I grew up in a 500 person town in Idaho, making periodic pilgrimages to the Boise Library, an hour away. My dad raised sled dogs in the desert, and we were far from civilization, but my mom knew that without books, I’d become even worse to deal with than I already was.  (Pretty early on, I convinced everyone at my tiny school that I was a witch, and I got bitier from there, until there was a general assumption that I should go to both Special Ed and Gifted. Which I did, for a while.) When I got into the stacks, I’d skitter from shelf to shelf, plucking books at random from all the adult sections, History, Folklore, Romance, Literature, Irish legend, Egyptian Gods…

The books I got teleported me into a life I had no actual experience of, into cities filled with people who thought for a living, into myth and memory, into magic, and all of that taught me how to be a writer.

This isn’t a new story, I know.  It’s the story of small town readers everywhere.  My first loves were gods and monsters, sirens and Scylla. It was entirely disappointing to hit college, switch to the more boundaried Literary Fiction shelves, and realize that the stories meant for adults in our own time were devoid of such inventions. Instead of monsters, we had marriages. Instead of Gods, entire pantheons in all their spangled, irrational glory, we had only the one guy, unknowable and hungry for hymns.  It made me feel as though I’d lost a great deal of magic in my reading life.

Eventually, something became clear to me. I was going to write the magic back. This book just started to come out of my brain, and it became quickly obvious that it wasn’t going to be the kind of thing I’d written before. It was going to be a combination of all of my childhood loves, turned into one big, crazy adult novel.

I wanted to write a bloody, epic, secret history full of magic and witches and gods. An old-fashioned story – very old fashioned – like something Homer might have written, but with modern language and post-Freudian access to the hearts and minds of the characters.  I know. Don’t think I’m crazy.  I’m not saying I’m the writer Homer was. I’m just saying that those classical epics are amazing.  They’re surprising.  Things happen in them that are utterly modern – and when you’re reading them, you realize that we haven’t changed much.  Now, we substitute computers for Cereberus, and hospitals for Hades. The Superbowl for gladiatorial combat.

Still, there’s room for improvement. None of the original monster epics have female protagonists.  None of them have monsters as heroes, either, for that matter. But I loved the idea of mixing things up.  At one point, there was nothing off limits about this kind of thing.  Now we look at our history as sacred truth, containing only earthly forces, but two thousand years ago, people didn’t see things that way.  Histories were regularly rewritten, revised, lost and reconstructed.  Wolves raised the founders of Rome, and arrows tipped with the Hydra’s venom won the Trojan War. Reality mixed with poetry, and there were gaps left in the historic narratives of Suetonius and Plutarch, places where I could see the potential for invention.

As I wrote, I mixed Greek and Roman myth with the Egyptian Book of The Dead, Norse folktales, Herodotus, Ovid, the pseudo-Sibylline Oracles, ancient world propaganda, which refer to Cleopatra as “despoina” or Mistress of the End of the World, and Virgil’s Aeneid with its geography of Hades.  There were many more parallels between all of these things than you might imagine there would be.  All this got tied together with the history of Antony and Cleopatra and the fall of Egypt to Rome, and the rise of Augustus.

Even in the historic versions of that story, the ones that outline the battle strategies, Dionysus marches invisibly through the streets of Alexandria the night before Egypt falls, trumpeting and singing, abandoning Antony for a new position beside Octavian, the man who would soon be emperor.  That happens here too. Here, though, a Goddess comes into Alexandria and starts negotiating with the Queen for a precious item.

It’s a thing that is valued in all the abovenoted cultures, in all the aforementioned folklore, a thing without which you cannot make your way into the underworld and join your beloved dead.

The gods, of course,  want her soul.


Queen of Kings: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|INDIEBOUND

Visit Maria’s Website.   Visit Maria’s Blog.  Follow her on TwitterWatch the book trailer.

Boing Boing Joins the Fuzzy Nation

This lovely review of Fuzzy Nation, by Cory Doctorow, is on Boing Boing today and says, in part:

This is a perfect swinging-in-the-hammock, summer-weekend novel — and the perfect novel to give to a clever young person of your acquaintance to spark a lifelong love affair with science fiction and all it has to say about how we treat one another, how we treat the rest of the universe, and what we do when the circumstances offer us the chance to sell out our integrity for fortune.

It’s worth noting that Cory has a special place in his heart for Little Fuzzy, since it was the very first science fiction book he purchased on his own (when he was nine!), so the fact he took to this adaptation is genuinely gratifying. I’m glad he liked it.

Borderlands Books is Awesome

Seriously, now. I did my tour stop yesterday at Borderlands and it remains one of my favorite bookstores anywhere on the planet. Just great people and a great space (made even better now by the fantastic cafe next door). The next time you are in San Francisco I command you to make a visit. It is so very much worth your time. And if you are in San Francisco already, really: no excuse not to visit. Today, even.

My event at the store was just unspeakable amounts of fun. I had a great crowd, and they really seemed to enjoy the reading, plus as a bonus some of my family was there (specifically, my sister, niece and dad) so there were three generations of Scalzi in one bookstore. I also got to hang out afterwards with friends at the Borderlands Cafe, which was a fine thing.

And everyone seemed to forgive me when I accidentally said “San Diego” when I meant “San Francisco.” Sorry again, guys. I blame tour fatigue.

Off today to Portland and tonight’s appearance at Powell’s at the Cedar Hills Crossing store. It’s at 7pm and should be a ton of fun. And yes, before anyone asks, I’ll try to stop at Voodoo Donuts and have a maple bacon donut. At this point, if I don’t, I think people may beat me.

LA In Review

Los Angeles was entirely lovely, and at my reading, which was thankfully well-attended, my best friends from 2nd grade, 6th grade, junior high and high school all showed up. How awesome is that. It’s nice when your past catching up with you is a good thing.

This is a quick check-in before heading off to San Francisco, where I’ll be doing my shtick at Borderlands Books this evening at 5pm. If you’re in the bay area and are looking  for a way to spend your early evening, consider that a suggestion. See you there.

Everyone else: Hey, happy Sunday.

I Am Flying, With the Help of an Airplane

To be fair, the airplane is doing most of the work.

I bought inflight internet at extortionate rates, but then I get to write it off as a business expense because I’m on tour, so that downgrades the rate from extortionate to merely excessive. So, hi! How is your Saturday so far? Please tell me and don’t spare the detail, because I wish to get full value from this expensive wifi.

Off To Los Angeles

Barring the pique of the travel gods, in a few hours I will be on the west coast, having my first Double-Double in more than a year and then heading off to my event at 3pm. If you’re in southern California, I hope to see you there. I apologize in advance for my “animal style” breath.

Tour Update 5/13

First: Behold the shrine of signed stock at the Ohio State Barnes & Noble! For those of you who are not in the path of my book tour but would like a signed copy to call your own, I have been informed that if you e-mail the OSU B&N at “” and tell them you want one and give your contact information, they’ll phone you back and get your credit card and shipping information. So there you go (they ask you limit yourself to 3 copies at a time, which I think should not be a problem for most of you). Obviously this is a time-limited offer — if you’re coming to this post in, say, November, you may be disappointed.

Second, the airplane travel portion of the tour is already off to an interesting start. I got to the airport today and was informed by connecting flight into Lexington was canceled, but never fear, they would put me on the next available flight, which would get in at 6:39pm. Since my event starts at 7pm, this was a small problem. And thus I found myself in a hastily procured rental car, driving down to Lexington. The plus side to this is now I’m here several hours before I was scheduled to be. I think I’ll take a nap. Yes, this is the life of a touring author. Aren’t you jealous.

Interview With the Portland Mercury

In advance of my tour stop in Portland, Oregon, the Portland Mercury, that city’s fine alternative weekly, ran a short interview from me about Fuzzy Nation — but also then posted on the Web the nearly-complete interview I had with journalist Erik Henriksen. It’s actually just about the closet I’ve ever seen someone replicate in print form the drink-from-the-firehose complete hyperactivity I exhibit when I am an interview subject, so if you’re not completely burned out interviews of me by this point, I really recommend checking it out. Among the obvious topics (i.e., science fiction, writing, Fuzzy Nation, the OMW movie) we also touch upon why the new Star Trek movie sends me into a froth, burning effigies of John Adams, why books with messages usually suck, and novelizations of movies made from novels. It’s really everything you want in an interview and so much more. Drink-from-the-firehose more, in fact.

Travel Bags

I will be taking more than a dozen separate flights on this book tour, starting tomorrow, which means more than a dozen opportunities for an airline to lose my luggage plus several hours of loitering by baggage claim waiting for my bag to show up. For that reason I have packed everything I need for the next two weeks in these carry-ons. The green carry-on here has clothing for ten days in it; the backpack has everything else. Midway through travels a considerate friend of mine is letting me use his washer and dryer. Thus: No large bags. It does help that I am a science fiction writer and thus am allowed to show up at appearances in jeans and a funny t-shirt; no respectability required.

The only catch is that I have not packed my suit for the Nebulas; I’m going to have my wife mail that to my hotel when I get there. I suppose I should tell my wife I need her to do that for me.

For the Fans

No, not my fans. Hers:

This will be the last Ghlaghghee picture until at least the end of the month, so enjoy it, kids. Make it last.

The Big Idea: Catherynne M. Valente

Hey, I have an idea: Let’s talk about another fantastic book that came out this week! Specifically, let’s talk about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente. I could tell you how I feel on a personal level that this is one of the most genuinely magical young adult novels I’ve seen in a while, and how I’d put it up there with The Neverending Story, which is one of my favorite books of this type. Or I could how it’s been garnering tremendous reviews (including a coveted starred review in Publishers Weekly), or I could note that even before the book was conventionally published, it had won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

But then I remembered that in this case, you’re not here for me, you’re here for Cat, to hear her explain her book’s big idea. It has one, and in this case, it involves a very small word.


The biggest idea in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, the one that sits at the center of the book like a seed, is saying yes.

I’ve talked a lot about how this book came to be written–what was once a book-within-a-book in Palimpsest became a crowdfunded online serial novel became an Andre Norton Award winner became a print series published by Feiwel and Friends. It’s a great story, but it’s a story about the book, not the story of the book.

The literary purpose of including that little fragment of Fairyland in my novel Palimpsest, of dredging up the protagonist’s favorite childhood novel and creating a new one rather than just making her an Alice in Wonderland fan or a Wrinkle in Time enthusiast, was to talk about saying yes. It’s what November took from that book as a child, to always say yes to adventure and magic and things that seem strange or outlandish. And in our culture, we simply don’t have too many narratives hauling that line.

After all, saying yes is dangerous. It is frightening and unsafe. You never know what might happen. Saying no means nothing has to change, and the outside world can be kept outside.

A portal fantasy goes: a child (or adult, Farscape is also a portal fantasy, though still one about coming of age) discovers or stumbles into a magical world. He or she, while frantic to get home, ends up coming to love the magical world and saving it, often from its own worst impulses or native tyrants.

And the thing is, if at any point in my life, including this one, I found my way into another world, my first impulse would not be to reject it and seek a way home. It would not be, like Buffy, to elevate “ a normal life” beyond all other sources of power and awe. I just don’t know how to tell that story. It doesn’t interest me. As a child, I wanted magic, desperately. I would have given anything for a door to open in a wood and let me out of my life. I never understood the need to end the dream and get home–perhaps because I never understood “home” as a metaphor for “safe.” Not all homes are safe. Not all places of safety are home-like. But I would have run wild through a magical kingdom and never looked back. Talking animals? Yes. Witches and monsters? Yes. Dark queens? Absolutely. Give it right here. I would have said yes to all of it.

There are exceptions, of course. Portal fantasy is enormously popular. The film version of The Wizard of Oz, for example, is an exemplar of this mode, but the later books are altogether stranger and more interesting. But the film is what seizes our culture’s mind–because in it Dorothy would always choose our life over the Technicolor alternative. It butters us up, tells us that our lives are the better lives. Our world and the minutiae of it better than the most beautiful dream. It teaches us to say: no, thank you. Part of the reason fantasy is so reviled, I think, is because it gives us this idea that the world is more than what we’re given, that it can be anything, that the rough material of work and hard going is not the whole substance of this universe. Dreamers don’t make good workers. So you teach them that no matter how miserable, what they’ve got is the best, and the Other is terror and lies.

Well, to be bold, fuck that.

If I was going to write a portal fantasy, if I was going to get my Joe Campbell on and ship a kid to Awesomeland to do deeds of derring, I wasn’t going to roll like that. Especially since I was going to be sending a girl. Too often in books like this, (especially in the classics of the genre) girls are acted upon, rather than actors, their choices are few, reflecting the real world, where a girl’s power is often located purely in her ability to say no: to suitors, to her social inferiors, even to herself. I wanted my girl to choose, to find power in saying yes, to make her own story–and of course her own ship.

Yet September, the heroine of Fairyland, is not particularly “badass.” She’s a kid who doesn’t know who she is yet, as most of us don’t at 12 years old. But she knows what she wants, which is everything wild and magic. In many ways, what Fairyland and Palimpsest are both about is want and the satisfaction of it. Palimpsest is the very adult version. Fairyland is a more universal story, younger, more playful and innocent, but no less canny and feral. September is strong and loyal, and embraces everything she finds, even when it hurts her to do it. Her story is not even particularly about saving Fairyland. If the Marquess’s scheming managed its goal, Fairyland itself would go on. Without spoiling the end, what September saves is the possibility of saying yes, for herself and everyone else.

I wrote a book about a girl who never said no. When she first enters Fairyland, it isn’t because she falls through a hole in the earth or wanders through a closet or chases a rabbit. It’s a choice, and however dark her journey becomes, she never wishes to take it back. The Green Wind shows up at her door riding a flying leopard and asks if she wants to go. If she wants more than she’s been given. If she wants to leave this world and grasp for another, a mad and gorgeous place, sight unseen, results uncertain.

And she says yes.


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt of the novel. See the book trailer. Visit Valente’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

Three Reviews, One Different From the Others

Oh, look, some more reviews of Fuzzy Nation!

SFSignal gives the book four and a half stars, noting: “At the end of the day, Fuzzy Nation is exactly what a book should deliver: entertainment, escapism, and some commentary. This book delivers all in good fashion, and it’s a world and story that I hope we’ll see again in the near future.”

GeekMom gives it a 9.5 out of 10: “Fuzzy Nation took me on both an emotional and mental journey. I laughed. I fought off tears. I became highly disturbed. I was agitated and angry. I cared about the outcome. It is making me think deeply. Engaging me on every possible level is not an easy task. Scalzi accomplished this flawlessly.”

Excellent, on both counts.

But, as leavening for such praise, let’s tune in to the dulcet tones of Fuzzy Nation’s first one star Amazon review: “This author is a carrion crow picking at the bones of his betters. If you must, read it in the library. Better yet, read original Piper to wash the foul taste of this trash from your mouth.”

Well, can’t please everyone. I do expect more reviews of this sort as time goes by. It comes with the “reboot” territory. But I certainly agree you should read Little Fuzzy.

Update, 9:54am: John Ottinger of Grasping for the Wind points me in the direction of his review as well: “Fuzzy Nation looks like it is nothing more than a corporate legal thriller set in space that has cute, cat-like creatures. And it is that. Yet, Scalzi pushes us to think more deeply about some of these notions without preaching, entertaining us with queries, clever plot twists, and a roguish hero so that the Socratic prodding of the tale is fun to consider.”

My Dear People of Seattle

Hey, you remember when I announced my book tour and said that because you folks had to pay $5 for tickets to the Seattle event (or buy Fuzzy Nation from University Bookstore, at which point the ticket was free), that I would do something special and awesome for you to compensate for that required initial outlay?

Well, now I know what that special and awesome thing will be.

And let me just say:


You’re gonna love it.

And if you live in Seattle and you’re not at the event, after the event is over and your friends tell you about the awesome surprise, it’s possible that your life will feel empty and bad and maybe even a little bereft. You might want to pre-select a stuffed animal to hug when that happens. I’m just trying to help you out in advance, here. Probably best to avoid that whole sobbing, stuffy-clutching episode by just coming out to the event, though. Really, that’s what I’d do. I mean, if I weren’t already going to be there. Which I am.

See you in six days, Seattle!

Writing Lessons From Science Fiction Films

My novel writing style has been occasionally described as “cinematic,” and as this week’s column at makes clear, this is not entirely a coincidence: I picked up a number of writing tips over my years as a film critic and observer of cinematic storytelling, which I have incorporated into my own books. I detail three of those tips in the column; head on over there to find out what they are. And as always feel free to leave your own thoughts and comments in the thread there.