May/June Big Idea Update

For the Big Idea, I’ve now scheduled all of May and all but the last three slots of June. If you queried about May but haven’t heard from me, a) sorry, I thought I got responded to everyone, b) I’m full up. If you have a June book that comes out in the last two weeks of that month, you may still query for those slots, but I would hurry if I were you. Thanks.


Barnes & Noble & Microsoft

People are asking if I have any thoughts about the just-announced partnership between Barnes & Noble and Microsoft in the eReader market. My major immediate thought about it is: Oh, good, a robustly-funded competitor for Amazon in the eReader market. That makes for three major eReader portals/ecosystems (the other being Apple; there are four if you count Google, but I don’t think they’ve quite got their act together yet). This offers choice for consumers and a little breathing space for the publishing industry that’s still freaking out about the idea of an Amazon eBook monopsony.

On the monopsony score I would still very much like to see a better way for independent booksellers to be able to enter the eBook market, because whether we’re talking Amazon, B&N/MS, Google or Apple, we’re talking huge companies carving up an emerging market and effectively shutting out retailers that aren’t on the Dow Jones. But that’s really another matter entirely. For now: Yay, more competition. Let’s see how it works from here.

Toby Buckell has some more thoughts on the matter here.



My New Toy, 4/30/12

It’s called a tenor guitar (specifically this one). Which means that it’s a guitar, but it’s got four strings, and naturally those four strings are the highest ones. It’s also tuned like a ukulele, which means that all the chords I’ve learned on the one transfer to the other, which is in fact very useful. I got it when I was in California, at the Folk Music Center in Claremont (which for music trivia fans is owned by the family of musician Ben Harper; I believe I was rung up by his mother).

I went in with my friend Natasha to get her a ukulele for her birthday (this one, in fact), and one of the folks behind the counter was fiddling around with the tenor guitar. He gave it to me to try and about three minutes later I was calling Krissy to let her know I was about to drop a non-trivial load of cash for an early birthday present to myself. The store had to ship it; it arrived today.

The quick verdict after a couple hours of playing it: Well, I like it very much. I had no idea tenor guitars existed before I walked into the store, but had occasionally thought that it would be cool to have a guitar-sized uke, so this obviously fits the bill. My history with guitars has not been sterling; I have a couple but I have difficulty with some chords (mostly the ones that require laying one’s finger across the entire fretboard) so I’ve never been able to get a good sound from them. This one has fewer strings and requires less effort to play, which suits my general relationship with musical instruments (i.e., very casual and not inclined to put in the large amount of effort required to be excellent).

That said, I can already tell that the tenor guitar is far less forgiving than the ukulele. One of the things that I like about the uke is that even when you screw up a chord, it still sounds winsome; it’s an instrument that affords the play a huge margin for error. The tenor guitar is more like a guitar in this regard; when I screw up a chord I notice it. It also reminds me that my strumming is completely crap. So if I want to actually sound good with this guitar, I will have to put in more effort than I do now. Maybe not as much as with a six string guitar, but more than I do with the uke.

Which is fine; it’s good to have a challenge and I think I will make the effort. First task: Toughen up the fingertips on the fretting hand. These are metal strings. Ouch.

Incidentally, if you live near Claremont or happen to be going through the area, I do recommend the Folk Music Center to you. There’s a huge number of very cool instruments there, stringed and otherwise, and the folks who work at the store are knowledgeable, nice, helpful and, clearly, able to spot someone who wants a tenor guitar even before he knows he wants one. Give them your business.


And Now, My Penguicon Guest of Honor Bio

As many of you know, this last weekend I was Guest of Honor at Penguicon, the open source and science fiction convention, held this year in Dearborn. I was asked for a bio to put in the convention’s program guide, and at this point you may imagine I am deadly bored of writing bios for myself. So I decided to do something silly. So below, please find the bio I wrote for the Penguicon program book. You may be amused.

Future conventions, please note: I do not intend to put forth this much effort every time I am Guest of Honor. I really am lazy.


John Scalzi is your Guest of Honor this year. He’s the New York Times best selling author of eight science fiction novels, winner of two Hugos and the proprietor of Whatever, one of the longest running and most popular personal blogs on the Internet. But you can find out any of that information by looking through Google and Wikipedia. What don’t you know about John Scalzi? Here is an exclusive list of facts you won’t find anywhere else but here.


1. The word “Scalzi” means “barefoot” in Italian. But it also means “lightly salted” in Czech, “full of mucus” in Romanian, and “unspeakably gifted in the erotic arts” in Catalan. Scalzi himself often wears shoes, has clear nasal passages and is rarely to be found in a salted state, lightly or otherwise. He does not, however, contest the Catalan definition.

2. Scalzi, a precocious lad, wrote his first short story at the tender age of two, a story about how the moon had gotten unusually bright, heralding the end of the world. Coincidentally Larry Niven published the Hugo-winning short story “Inconstant Moon” that same year, with exactly the same theme. This occasioned the toddler Scalzi challenging Mr. Niven to a duel at LACon I, which Mr. Niven, unable to understand the soft-palate pronunciation of Scalzi, did not accept. The challenge remains unaccepted to this day, leading to a life-long enmity between the two men, much to the confusion of Mr. Niven.

3. The members of the Scalzi clan are known for their flowing, Fabio-like manes of hair, yet Scalzi himself gives every appearance of being short-haired and balding. How can this be? The answer is that at the age of fifteen, Scalzi selflessly and courageously donated 80% of his scalp to an unfortunate child who was tragically born without follicles. After a sixteen hour operation involving three teams of doctors, the hair transfer was successful, and the child went on to a full recovery. That child is Scott Lynch.

4. Scalzi was a world-class bocce player, tipped as “the next Umberto Granaglia” by both Sports Illustrated and Bocce Monthly, but abruptly left the sport while still an amateur competitor. When contacted by ESPN about his departure, Scalzi said only, “it used to be about the game, man,” and would give no further comment. He has not picked up a bocce ball since.

5. Scalzi was born with three nostrils. The third nostril is not on his nose. It’s still somewhere on his body. However, contrary to rumor, Scalzi does not give out prizes if you can guess where it is.

6. In 1989, Scalzi found the Rainbow Connection, but his attempts to notify the Muppets of the discovery have been fruitless. Scalzi has said that he will not reveal its location to anyone but Kermit, but notes there is already a Starbucks there.

7. Scalzi is a master of the following things: Stealth, surprise, disguise, deception, kung fu, puppets, large herbivores, cupcakes, the letter “e,” stealth, and redundancy.

8. Scalzi invented the term “Ninja” in 1998, then invented a time machine and went to the Sengoku period of Japanese history to give the idea to a group of spies who were ambitious but lacked marketing skills. He was paid a pound of gold for idea, which he then placed in a bank to earn compound interest, and then came back to the present. He is now the richest man in the history of the world, with a net worth of sixty quadrillion dollars.

9. No, Scalzi will not buy you a drink. He’s got to save those sixty quadrillion dollars for when he really needs them.

10. If you say Scalzi’s name three times, he is likely to appear somewhere near you. Because, hey, he’s the Guest of Honor at this convention. It’s not like he’s going to be hard to find.


Traveling Home

Keep yourself amused; I am heading back home. More updates to come when I get back. That is all. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves whilst I am away.


I’m Busy Today, So To Keep You Amused, Here’s a Clip of Me on Oprah in 1996

Yes, it really happened. I was on the show to rebut the women who wrote that odious book The Rules. No, I was not actually AOL’s Relationship Columnist; Oprah’s people made that up. Yes, that is a very Cosby sweater I’m wearing. Yes, that’s my real hair. It was the 90s, man. Enjoy. See you later.


Industrial Toys and Me

So, here’s a bit of secret news that I can now share with you: I’m part of the team at Industrial Toys, a new video game company that’s going to be bringing some jaw-droppingly awesome games into the mobile space. I can’t tell you what precisely I’m working on there at the moment (except to say, hey, remember when I said “jaw-droppingly awesome”? Yeah, that), but I can say I’m working on the story and… other things.

Here’s the announcement in the Industrial Toys newsletter (sign up for it! Enjoy it!). More details about the work I’m doing with IT coming up when it comes up. I can promise, however, you won’t be disappointed.


View From the Hotel Window, Dearborn Edition

It’s not the most interesting view I’ve had outside my hotel window, but the “halo” effect by the reflection of the camera lens by the glass is kind of interesting. And the hotel I’m actually in, the Regency Hyatt Dearborn, is interesting because it is huge, the sort of place you could easily get lost in and never be seen again.

In other news, hello, I am in Dearborn, Michigan, all the better to be the author guest of honor at Penguicon, the science fiction and open source computing convention. It’s the right place to be the owner of an Android phone. If you’re in Michigan and have nothing to do with your weekend, it’s not too late to join us — between the panels and the liquid nitrogen ice cream and the fabled Chaos Machine, you’re certain to have a weekend full of nerdtasticness. Come on down.


Redshirts ARC Winner + Other RS News

Yesterday’s Redshirts ARC contest is over. The word I was thinking of was “abundant,” which no one got. However, Dave Danielson did guess “absurd,” and since that word shares the first two letters in common with “abundant,” I hereby declare him the winner.

Dave, send me an e-mail from the e-mail address you used to comment from, put your mailing address in there and I’ll send it along right away. And congratulations!

Also, if you didn’t win, don’t panic. I’ll have a few more of these in the next couple of weeks.

In other Redshirts news:

1. The official Redshirts tour is in the final planning stages — we’re just waiting on a couple of confirmations — and it’ll be a fifteen (or so) stop tour which include some cities I haven’t been to before. Expect the final Redshirts itinerary to go up here next week.

2. Redshirts is included on io9’s Summer Beach Reading list (along with Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell, Blackout by Mira Grant and Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, among others), and the folks there had nice things to say:

This is the Scalzi novel we’ve all been waiting for — one in which his wry wit and his clever insights into human weirdness could be deployed to the absolute best effect.

Yeah, that’s a keeper quote. And “insight into human weirdness” is going on my resume, under “Special Skills.” Because, hey. It is.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Chuck Wendig

One day, an unwelcome and unsavory character started stalking Chuck Wendig. Well, maybe not so much stalking him as Wendig suddenly becoming aware that the dude was there, has always been there, and wasn’t going away. Who was this disturbing entity that Wendig became obsessed with? And how does said entity figure into Blackbirds, Wendig’s new novel? Here’s how.


I’m dying.

Don’t get excited. You are, too.

We’re all dying. Perhaps not presently. It’s likely that we have not yet met the thing that will take us down. But something, someday, is going to drop-kick us into our graves. It’s part of the common experience. Everybody poops. Everybody dies. (Though I haven’t seen that children’s book yet.)

This did not occur me as a young man because young people are a little bit stupid.

At that age you’re gilded with the fool’s gold of immortality. We drive fast, eat shitty food, smoke, drink, take drugs, pretend we can do parkour, shack up with dubious sexual partners, fight hungry pandas bare-handed. Okay, maybe we don’t do all those things, but we take risks. We play fast and loose with reality. We see an infinite journey with an always-escaping horizon.

We’re little kids jumping off the roof with a blanket-cape on our back. Thinking we can fly.

We can’t fly. The ground hurts.

I was in my late 20s when the ground zoomed up to meet me and knock the breath out of my chest. People around me started dying. People I loved. One grandmother succumbed to mesothelioma (AKA “Hey, sorry, an infinitesimal speck of asbestos lodged in your lung-meat and gave you cancer”). Another fell to a series of strokes, each worse than the one before it. A beloved aunt died; doctors diagnosed her with muscular problems and didn’t see the cancer until she was too far gone, until the cancer was up in her brain. Another aunt died as they cut away parts of her bowel. A few folks from high school and college passed away—car crashes or too-early heart attacks or breast cancer.

Then my father died. Prostate cancer ran through his body way roaches overtake an empty house. You saw one tumor, that meant there were dozens more hiding in dark spaces.

Like it or not, events like these make us selfish. The people who die? Hell, they’re gone. My Dad’s up in his happy hunting ground somewhere tracking ghost-elk. I’m left down here.

And what I was left with upon his passing was the duh-how-did-you-not-realize-this revelation that I and everyone around me was one day going to suck the pipe, take the big ol’ dirt-nap, and die. Some sooner than others. Eventually the calliope music was going to stop and the carousel would stop spinning and we’d all slump forward on our lacquered horsies and—well, game over, man. Game over.

I became obsessed with death. I never realized I was a control freak but, oops, I was. And death was outside my control. I read books, religious and scientific, on the subject. (May I recommend Death: The Trip of a Lifetime, by Greg Palmer? Or Spook and Stiff by Mary Roach?) I became overly focused on my own death, the hydra of hypochondria rising in the back of my mind. Maybe I had cancer. Maybe my heart had a tiny little hole in it and one day it would collapse like a ruptured soufflé. Flesh-eating virus? Bird-flu? Sumatran rat-monkey bite? (I recalled then as a child perusing a Reader’s Digest medical guide that offered a series of flow-charts to help you follow the trail of symptoms to a rough diagnosis. It always went like this: “Toe Pain?  Joint discomfort? Headache? YOUR HEART WILL EXPLODE IN MOMENTS GO MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR GOD.”)

Maybe it wouldn’t be disease. Maybe a van would hit me crossing the street, tearing me in half like a wandering whitetail. Or I’d be flying in a plane that dropped out of the sky like a shotgunned goose—or I’d be below the plane as a chunk of frozen fecal matter fell from the underside, a sky-born dingleberry that would crush me underneath.

Death was everywhere I looked. The Grim Reaper dancing his unstoppable jig.

And from that, the protagonist of Blackbirds—Miriam Black—was born.

I wrote a hasty, I dunno what you’d call it, vignette maybe. It was called “Poor Miriam,” and it talked about how much it sucked to be Miriam Black, a young woman who could upon touching you see exactly how and when you were going to die. It was her burden, and what made it all the heavier was the fact she seemed unable to do anything about it. Attempts to undo the coming deaths would only help them to occur. She was my Cassandra. Death was everywhere she looked as it was where I looked.

We became close psychic friends, Miriam and I. Different people. Similar problem.

From there, over the course of a couple years, I wrote (and re-wrote, and re-wrote) her tale, and it mirrored my own struggle with death. Miriam could see death but had little control over it, and every death she saw mirrored the deaths I felt could happen to me or folks I knew. Her tale evolved to be one where fate and free will squared off in the Thunderdome that was the written page.

Blackbirds is the story of her deciding on which side she truly belongs, whether she accepts the inevitable or fights the impossible.

Through the story, Miriam gains control over herself, if not her world.

And through Miriam, I gained a little control back, too.

Over myself, if not my world.


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

Read an excerpt (scroll to the bottom). Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.


And That’s How We Finally Found Jimmy Hoffa

Okay, so Jimmy Hoffa isn’t probably actually in my back yard. But a lot of landscapers are, doing some heavy duty landscaping with back hoes and tractors and stuff. This is how I know I’m a grown-up: I pay people to ride tractors around my backyard, because I don’t want to do it myself. Shut up, I’m still fun.


I’m Giving Away an ARC of Redshirts, April 25th Edition

And all you have to do to win is guess the word I am thinking of RIGHT NOW.

I have told it to Krissy, so she will make sure I do not change my mind.

It’s a relatively common word in English, not some weird technical term or anything.

Here’s how it will work:

1. First person to guess the word wins.

2. If no one guesses the word, then whoever thinks of the word most like the word I’m thinking of (via process of elimination through the “Word Find” function of the Chrome browser) wins. If two people think of the same word (or alternately a different word with the same letters), then whichever is first wins. Note that my decision of what word ends up being closest to the word I am thinking of  is non-contestable.

3. One guess per person. Don’t bogart the dictionary.

Contest open until 12pm Eastern time, April 26th.

So: What word am I thinking of RIGHT NOW?


Prognosticating the Summer SF Movie Hits & Misses

Contrary to what you may have heard from those Stark people, Summer is coming, and with it a whole stack of science fictiony films, some even not based on comic books! Over at, I go through the entire list of summer sf films and place my bets on how successful they will be (or won’t). This is my very last summer prognostication piece for the site, so get on over and enjoy it. WHILE YOU CAN.


Redshirts eBook to Be DRM-Free From Day One

By now, you have probably read that Tor Books (along with the other divisions of Tom Doherty Associates) will be releasing all their eBooks DRM-free by July of this year. But some of you have wondered what that means for my upcoming novel Redshirts, which comes out June 5. Will it have DRM on it when it comes out? Or will it be DRM-free from the very moment of its release? Here comes the official notice:

Yes, the Redshirts eBook will be DRM-free from the day of release.

Therefore, you eBook lovers will have absolutely no reason not to buy the book the very second it is available, thus driving my sales through the stratosphere, making my publisher very happy and showering me with precious, precious coin that I can convert into my daughter’s college education, and also maybe a hot tub. For the cats. Hey, some cats like hot tubs. This is what I hear.

(My thanks to Hillary Veith and all the other cool cats at Macmillan Digital for letting me get just a tiny bit ahead of the curve here. You guys rock.)

Also: The print edition will be DRM-free, too! So that’s an option for you as well, don’t forget. We like the stores that have the physical version as well. They make great gifts, as well as objects for me to sign when I am on my book tour this June (the dates of which are being finalized as I type this). Camp out at your favorite local bookstore! It’s not too early to get in line!

Point is: No matter in which medium you buy Redshirts, it will be totally yours to do with as you will.

And there you have it.


Tor/Forge to Go DRM-Free By July: Immediate Thoughts

This is pretty big publishing news: Tom Doherty Associates, an imprint of Macmillan and the publisher of most of my science fiction work, has announced they plan to ditch DRM (Digital Rights Management, i.e., the stuff that keeps you from moving or copying your eBooks) entirely. Here’s the release that’s going out about it.

Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, today announced that by early July 2012, their entire list of e-books will be available DRM-free.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

DRM-free titles from Tom Doherty Associates will be available from the same range of retailers that currently sell their e-books. In addition, the company expects to begin selling titles through retailers that sell only DRM-free books.

About Tor and Forge Books

Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is a New York-based publisher of hardcover and softcover books, founded in 1980 and committed (although not limited) to arguably the largest and most diverse line of science fiction and fantasy ever produced by a single English-language publisher. Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is also the home of award-winning Forge Books, founded in 1993 and committed (although not limited) to thrillers, mysteries, historical fiction and general fiction. Together, the imprints garnered 30 New York Times bestsellers in 2011.

I called Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Senior Editor of Tor Books, to ask what going DRM-free will mean for the publisher’s efforts regarding online misappropriation of author copyrights, because I know that this is a very real concern for many writers. This was his response to me, which he allowed me to post here:

Just in case anyone is worried: I can tell you with complete confidence that Macmillan and Tor/Forge have no intention of scaling back our anti-piracy efforts in the e-book realm. We expect to continue working to minimize this problem with all the tools at our disposal.

As you know, we already have a legal team in place that pursues major infringers. We don’t expect that to change at all, and we hope we continue to get the kind of cooperation from infringed-upon authors that’s been such a big help in the past.

Now, thoughts. Please understand this is me speaking personally, for myself, and only for myself.

As an author, I haven’t seen any particular advantage to DRM-laden eBooks; DRM hasn’t stopped my books from being out there on the dark side of the Internet. Meanwhile, the people who do spend money to support me and my writing have been penalized for playing by the rules. The books of mine they have bought have been chained to a single eReader, which means if that eReader becomes obsolete or the retailer goes under (or otherwise arbitrarily changes their user agreement), my readers risk losing the works of mine they’ve bought. I don’t like that. So the idea that my readers will, after July, “buy once, keep anywhere,” makes me happy. I had been planning to ask Tor whether or not it would be feasible to offer my e-books without DRM; now I won’t have to have that conversation.

Does this mean it’s easier for someone to violate my copyright? It does. But most people don’t want to violate my copyright. Most people just want to own their damn books. Now they will. I support that. And I believe that most readers who like my work will support me. They get that if I don’t get paid, they won’t get books — and more than that I really do believe most people who can support the artists whose work they like will support them. So personally I don’t think ditching DRM will mean people will stop buying what I and Tor have to sell.

That said, I know that there are people out there who don’t give a crap about me or my career and are happy to put up anything I write for other people to copy and take. These are the folks on whom I am happy to bring down the hammer. I have informed Tor/Forge before of people and sites who have violated my copyrights; they have done an admirable job sending their legal strike teams against them.

So Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s very quick and public assurance that Tor/Forge is not abandoning the principles of defending its authors’ copyrights is heartening to me. One reason I stay with a large publisher is because it has the people, resources and experience to do any number of things I find difficult to do myself, from editing to page design to, yes, legal action. If Tor/Forge (and by extension, Macmillan) continue to back up their words as they have done in the past, on my behalf as well as on behalf of other authors, then that’s a cogent argument for authors to continue to work with them, and for readers to support their wares.

What will be interesting is to see how other publishing houses will respond to this action. I won’t speculate in detail at this point, but I will say that I strongly suspect this is just the first of many changes we’re going to see in how business gets done with major publishing. I’m watching, both as a consumer and as a writer.

Tell me your thoughts in the comments, please.

Update: additional thoughts on today’s announcement from Charles Stross.

Update 2: Redshirts, my upcoming novel to be released on June 5, will be DRM-free from Day One.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Suzanne Johnson

Fantasy novels can and do take place in the real world — and when they do, there’s a special responsibility the writer has to reality just as much as to the fantasy she places within it. So former New Orleans resident Suzanne Johnson learned when it came time to write Royal Street, which takes place in the Crescent City, a setting Johnson had reasons for wanting to get right. She’s here to explain the process of keeping it real, for the sake of her fantasy.


The big idea behind Royal Street, an urban fantasy set in New Orleans during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina, came about—to use a bad pun—as a “perfect storm” of things happened in my life in late 2008.

It is a deceptively simple “what-if” that turned out to be complex in the writing, both structurally and emotionally: What if, when Hurricane Katrina’s winds and storm surge destroyed New Orleans’ fragile levees, it also destroyed the “metaphysical levees” between modern New Orleans and the world Beyond? How could the fantasy genre be used to explore the aftermath of August 29, 2005, and the way New Orleanians learned to come back from the catastrophic flooding that covered eighty percent of the city?

When Hurricane Katrina blew ashore on that August morning, I had been living in New Orleans more than a decade. The next few years of rebuilding eventually blurred into a confusion of heartbreak, anger, cynicism, fear, despair, frustration, elation, and love. A day without tears was a rarity.

So what happened in 2008, when I began writing Royal Street? First, I’d moved away from New Orleans for family reasons. I was horribly homesick. I also had “Katrina withdrawal,” realizing with naïve surprise that people in other parts of the country had moved on. My every day for the previous several years had been preoccupied with nothing but the aftermath of the flood, and suddenly I went days, weeks, months without hearing the word “Katrina.” I was still wrangling with mild post-traumatic stress (which I knew because my employer in New Orleans had us tested periodically). And, finally, I read a fantasy book that tried to take on Katrina, at least in a tangential way, and got it very, very wrong.

I wanted to get it right. And after spending every day of the previous three years writing about Katrina for my day job, I thought I could get it right.

“Getting it right” meant plundering my own memories—some funny, some very painful; reading every issue of the New Orleans Times-Picayune during the days leading up to and the months following the storm; and talking to friends who’d been trapped in the city during the flooding and knew what conditions were like before I came back from the mandatory evacuation.

Where should my characters live? What would the damage to their homes be like? Would they stay in town or evacuate? How could they get back into town with a mandatory evacuation in effect? When did certain neighborhoods drain of floodwater—what could only be reached by boat? What neighborhoods got electricity back first, and when? When was the water deemed potable? How could my characters get food when stores and restaurants were closed?

Even though I was writing urban fantasy, I wanted my characters grounded in life as it was for most people in New Orleans immediately after Katrina, so my worldbuilding—which involves magic and wizardry—needed to severely limit the degree to which my characters could circumvent the real post-flood conditions. I wanted no easy Harry Potter-esque wand-waving to conjure up magical food and water. My characters needed to live as their (unaware) human counterparts had to live—without electricity, reliable water, working traffic signals, or cleared roadways. They needed to find boats to take them into flooded areas, and they needed to get past National Guard security checkpoints to travel around town. Hurricane Rita blew through the city and shut everything down again three weeks after Katrina, reflooding parts of the city, so my plot had to be timed to grind to a halt while yet another hurricane raged.

Most of all, my main character was a New Orleanian at heart. She needed to not only be dealing with the urban fantasy element of missing mentors and voodoo gods and rampaging undead pirates. She needed to feel the gut-wrenching emotion of coming back into a city she loved and seeing it virtually destroyed, because I knew myself that no amount of media coverage could prepare one for seeing it firsthand. She needed to reflect the heart and whacked-out sense of humor and unabashed love of New Orleans that all of us who lived there experienced during that time.

Finally, I faced the challenge of striking the right tone between telling a good story and being respectful of the real-life tragedy going on in the background. More than a thousand people in the Greater New Orleans area died during Katrina and the post-Katrina flooding—many bodies were never identified, and several hundred people were never found. More than a million people were displaced in the metro area alone; it’s estimated that upwards of three-hundred thousand homes were damaged or destroyed in the metro area. The Katrina flooding exposed difficult issues of politics, poverty, class, and race that had to be acknowledged but not exploited.

I knew from the outset there would be readers for whom this setting will be uncomfortable, that it might provoke some controversy. I had a lot of folks in NOLA read the book as it progressed, and talk to me about whether it hit the right notes. I wanted my love for the “hometown of my heart” to show through. I wanted to do it with respect.

I think I got it right. I hope I got it right. Only time will tell.


Royal Street: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read a sample. Visit the author’s website. Follow her on Twitter.


Of Interest Primarily to Norwegians

Regarding the upcoming publication of Old Man’s War in the country of Norwegia, or “Norway,” as it is more commonly known, among the vulgar. It’s here. And in Norwegian, suitably enough.


Cat, Computer, Cola

Three necessary items for the production of the written word. Well, actually the cat’s not strictly necessary. Unless you ask the cat about it. In which case the cat’s the only necessary thing.

In other news, I am now home. Yay! And have work to catch up on. Boo!


Sunday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

A photo of me waiting in the Green Room of the Bovard Auditorium before the “Nerds Will Inherit the Earth” panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which along with me featured Pamela Ribon (who took this picture), Maureen Johnson and Amber Benson.

I’m not gonna lie to you: The panel kicked ass and was easily one of the best panels I’ve ever been on, which is saying something because my previous panel of the day, “World Building,” with Lev Grossman, Frank Beddor and Charles Yu was one of the best in recent memory as well, not in the least because Lev and I got into it on the subject of whether an author’s worldbuilding counts as canonical if it doesn’t end up on the actual page, which is now in my top five panel exchanges ever. It’s rare to get two truly excellent panels in a day, each with really engaged, smart and interesting co-panelists, but today was that day.

That said, the “Nerds” panel was pants-wettingly funny to be on, and gauging from the audience reaction, it was even funnier out there than on the stage. All credit goes to Pamie, Maureen and Amber; I was along for the ride on that one.

Sadly, there was no official taping of the panel. If you missed it, you missed it. Which is a shame, really.

Other highlights of the day included hanging about with my good friend Mykal Burns, getting redshirt cookies from fans, a comically low-speed golf cart race across the USC campus, seeing fellow Webb alumnus Robert Takada briefly in my signing line, walking about with former newspaper mate (and new YA author) Arthur Salm, briefly speaking with Anne Rice, hanging out in the author lounge with Jennifer Ouellette, and then Richard Kadrey (and then Pamie, Maureen and Amber and all their friends), re-meeting Elyse Marshall, and generally just having more fun than a single person should have.

To be quite honest this entire Los Angeles trip has been fantastic start to finish. I wish I could go back in time to do it again. But instead I’m going to bed because I have to be up ridiculously early to catch a ridiculously early flight back home. Thanks to everyone who made my trip such great fun.


Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

Saturday was a pretty good day at the LATFoB. The weather was gorgeous and the place was packed with people, and I wandered around looking at the booths and the books. I met Libba Bray for the first time and learned of her butter sculpture of me, talked with Barry Goldblatt about kids and geeks (not necessarily one and the same), signed books at the Mysterious Galaxy booth alongside Les Klinger, and met both Richard Kadrey and Kami Garcia (who took the picture above), both of whom were very cool folks. In the afternoon I hung about with my friend Sumana, whom I had not seen for a while, and she and I had seafood and walked to the ocean in Santa Monica.

Then it was off to a festival party at the LA Public Library, where I got to fanboy Susan Orlean and hung out with Lev Grossman, Matt Ruff, Amber Benson, and a friend of Lev’s whose name escapes my brain this early in the morning but who kept goading me to steal a large cartoon cat from the children’s books room of the library, because she was delightfully wicked that way. For the official record, I resisted. For now.

Then I came back to the hotel, lost consciousness and then it was Sunday. Funny how that happens.

Today: A 10am panel on world building with Lev, Charles Yu and Frank Beddor, and a 3pm panel on how geeks rock with Maureen Johnson, Pamela Ribon and Amber. Signings after both. If you’re in LA, I’ll see you there. If you’re not in LA, you’ll just have to wish you were there.

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