Better enjoy it now. They don’t keep.
My daughter is at ranch camp this week — which is not a camp where everything has been covered in delicious ranch dressing but rather a camp where the campers take care of their own horse for a week — and while the camp does not allow the campers to bring electronic equipment with them, it does allow parents to send e-mails, which they will then print out and deliver to the campers. Here is the e-mail I just sent my child.
Hello, sweetheart! I thought I would drop you a note to let you know we love you and are thinking about you and hope you are having fun out there with your horses and new friends and everything.
Also, we don’t want you to worry if you hear news about super intelligent zombie badgers attacking Western Ohio. It’s totally not true. Yes, there are super-intelligent badgers. Yes, they are attacking, with their evil badger guns that shoot mini-badgers that have even smaller guns that shoot even smaller badgers. BUT THEY ARE NOT ZOMBIES, and that’s really the most important thing.
We are fine, since we (as you know) have been prepared for a super-intelligent badger attack for years. Some of your friends may have been eaten, however. Well, most of them have. In fact, all of them have and the school year has been cancelled and you will instead be tutored by a robot. It will teach you calculus and in return you will teach it how to love, and also to shoot super-intelligent badgers. That’s the deal, and I think it’s a fair one.
Oh, and when you come home, don’t tell your mother I told you about the badger thing. She doesn’t want to speak of it EVER AGAIN. It makes her a little crazy, actually; she runs around the house bellowing “DIE MUSTELID DIE!” until I give her chocolate. So don’t mention badgers, unless you have chocolate. But not dark chocolate. You know she doesn’t like that.
Anyway, to recap: Hope you’re having fun, horses, super-intelligent badgers, robots learning how to love, bellowing mom, chocolate (not dark). I think that covers it.
Oh, except: I love you and miss you, and also I love you.
And that’s what it’s like to have me as a dad. In case you were wondering.
So, as I have traveled and had deadlines recently, I am behind in noting which new books have arrived at my house — and with the volume of the books that are sent to me and the amount I travel, it seems unlikely that how I have been noting new book arrivals is going to allow me to catch up. The thing is, I like sharing what arrives with you folks, because it helps make you aware of books you might not otherwise know about, and I think that’s a good thing. So, that’s a conundrum.
My solution: I’m inaugurating a new Twitter feed to note the new books that come to my door, called “@NewBookIn.” It’s available both as its own Twitter feed (follow that previous link), and as a feature in the Whatever sidebar, under “Today’s Books Sent to Scalzi.” If you’re on the full version of the site, just look to the right and you’ll see it.
This works for me because it gives me a simple and quick way to log new books as they arrive and share those books with you. It works for you because a) it gives you a quick summation of what the book’s about plus a link to a bookseller to find out more, b) you can follow it either here, or on its own feed, meaning that it’s portable, which is good. Basically, whatever your busy, hectic lifestyle, I’m totally there for you, and your book-learnin’ jones.
Which books will I be noting? Basically, whatever books get sent to me that day, up to ten books a day (I don’t want to spam people’s Twitter feeds; any books left over may get bumped to the next day). Here’s the information on how to send me books. Please note that I will as a rule prioritize books published by presses over self-published work, and that (as noted at the publicity guidelines) sending me a book is not a guarantee I will write about it.
I’ve already filled in today’s books, so check out the new Twitter feed, and feel free to follow it if you like. I guarantee you that you’ll learn about a whole bunch of books that you might not have otherwise heard of. And that’s always a good thing, for you and for authors.
Titles: They can be simple. They can be difficult. They can be complex. They can be direct or mysterious. Sometimes they can be the hardest thing in an entire book to get right. But the right title can make a difference in how people see the book. When Chesya Burke decided on a title for her new collection of short fiction, she wanted one that would do some very particular things. Here she is to explain how the title Let’s Play White works for her, and for her work.
Let’s Play White.
The three words don’t exactly seem to inspire cozy, warm feelings of opened discussion. As Richard Wright knew when he wrote them in his 1940 novel, Native Son, the words “let’s play white” imply there is an expected conformity within society, a sort of acting on the part of many people—a role that some simply cannot fit into. ‘Let’s play white’ is itself is a play on words meant to taunt the reader, make them think.
With his novel, Richard Wright implied that being white is simply a game to be manipulated, and that perhaps people of color (and even many whites) do it on a constant basis (the idea wasn’t exactly embraced sixty years ago when it was published). If this is in fact true, however, and “playing white” is the idea that people of color in general sometimes feel they must change essential parts of themselves to conform to a society that doesn’t value their differences, what would that mean to fictional characters that live in a world not created for them? What would it mean for African American characters that play white in a world that doesn’t accept their blackness—in other words, what would this real life scenario mean for fictional characters in a speculative world.
As you can imagine, the stories in Let’s Play White aren’t about one theme, or one issue or topic. It isn’t even about racism specifically. Instead, like people themselves, Let’s Play White, is an eclectic array of stories about diverse people and topics and lives. It is a collection of short stories with characters who, much like real people, are affected by the society around them.
So when I decided to use this as the title of my collection, I wanted, as the originator before me, to open dialogue and create discussion. What happens when a well-known historical character in 1920s Harlem forces a nine year old girl into her deadly gang of forty thieves and then must choose between the child and her own survival? How does a mother sooth one child when another is dead? Everyone knows that the rats in housing projects can be vicious, tormenting the residents, but what happens when the rats are the only thing to offer relief from the pain?
Although each of the stories explores these questions and more, in many cases the answers themselves are left up to the reader to decide. Could you ever be complicit in murdering a potentially deadly child? What should two sisters do when the third’s addiction is threatening their lives?
With these questions, I want to entertain people, of course. But I also hope that these characters will stick with the reader long after they’ve put the book down. While I love reading for fun, I also love to read powerful, thought-provoking stories.
I grew up reading authors such as Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler. Both of these writers managed to entertain readers while touching on social issues and forcing a young girl like me to understand just a bit more about the world that I didn’t understand before.
I don’t imply that my stories will do this for every reader, but I do hope that just one of the stories relates to each of the readers. I hope that people are willing to slip into the skins of my characters, and come and play white with me.
Mostly, I hope that the title inspires discussion instead of fear as it did over sixty years ago.