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Pictures from Yesterday

The fabulous Mary Robinette Kowal and me, slightly grainy, at my event yesterday. (Photo from Antmuzic)

And now me doing my best Mary Robinette Kowal imitation, with her hat and fan and sunglasses (note: it wasn’t a very good MRK imitation. It was however, a strangely passable Truman Capote imitation). (Photo from Milkdud148.)

Me and my dinner date, the generally spectacular Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess). She’s awesome. (Photo from TheBloggess)

Hope you had a good Sunday, too.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Rhiannon Held

I’ve often mentioned to hopeful writers that doing something else with one’s life than just writing is often very useful for one’s writing. As a cogent and very interesting example, here’s debut novelist Rhiannon Held, talking about how the knowledge and experience gained in her day job made a material difference in how she crafted her new novel Silver.

RHIANNON HELD:

Silver started with werewolf religion. What would it be like? That question created the spark of a character for me, a werewolf who had been injected with silver nitrate, so she hallucinated…or saw the spirit realm. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be absolutely ambiguous about whether what she saw was real or not, in the terms of the novel’s world. Readers seldom have incontrovertible proof of any religious force in their own lives, so why should the characters? With that character in my mind, I started creating the details of the religion and world that shaped her.

I’ve seen werewolves linked before to female lunar deities, or more generalized Gaia-like Earth-mother figures. I work as a professional archaeologist, so my academic training is in anthropology, and that sort of generality felt vacuous to me. To use the religion of my childhood upbringing as an example, that’s like saying Christianity is based on an omnipotent force who had a son. Period. What about Esther and Solomon and Moses and the disciples and burning bushes and turning into pillars of salt and threatening to cut babies in half? What about “love thy neighbor” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” So much of real religions lie in their stories, their parables, their prayers, their songs, their rituals. That’s what I set out to create for my werewolf culture.

As I went along, my academic training sneaked farther out of my hindbrain and started working on the other key aspect there: the culture. The werewolves wouldn’t just have religion, they’d have social etiquette and traditions and holidays and slang and games. There, I made another key choice that’s different from what I often see with urban fantasy creatures: I made my werewolves a species. They are only born, not turned. I made that choice for a very specific reason. Turned creatures such as vampires lend themselves more to metaphors about lifestyle choices, whether consensual or not, than cultures. That’s cool, but it’s been done, so I wanted to do something different. I wanted to offer a metaphor for people in non-dominant cultures. People like immigrants who are faced with a decision about how much to identify as part of the culture they were born into, and how much to identify with the culture they find themselves interacting with every day, as my werewolves do with humans.

Having my werewolves be a species also scratched a scientific itch for me in other ways. It bothers me in urban fantasy when the heroine happens to be the only female of her magical creature type. That’s no way to have a breeding population! Involuntary shifts to another form bothered me too. If you couldn’t hold back a shift when the mob was approaching, you and your genes would get pitchforked to death, leading to a clear evolutionary pressure for at least some control over shifting. I subjected all of my werewolf traits to the test of whether it would make sense for a species to survive when it worked that way.

Of course, working out all these details in abstract is one thing, but you have to consider how an audience will react to them. I once heard a costumer express this most succinctly. When discussing the historical accuracy of costumes in a movie, she said that sometimes you had to ask yourself: do you want your characters to look attractive to modern audiences, or do you want them to be completely accurate? You can substitute anything for “attractive”, whether it’s “villainous” or “cunning” or “naïve”. What she was getting at is that people’s modern assumptions will unconsciously influence them to read a different meaning into a historical costume than it might once have had. For my own uses, I expanded the concept to include a splash of “pick your battles”. You can counteract people’s unconscious assumptions with extensive work through the other avenues available to you, but you simply don’t have space or energy to accomplish that on every front.

If, for example, I’d wanted my werewolf characters to be sympathetic but I made their culture dismissive of human lives, I’d have had to work ten times as hard to show them as moral in other ways, to overcome the reader’s automatic reaction of “these people would kill me! I don’t like them!” I didn’t use that particular aspect for my werewolf culture, but I stumbled onto plenty of other aspects that made my first readers react differently to my characters than I’d intended. Then I had to choose whether to change that aspect or pick it as one of my battles where I worked against people’s unconscious assumptions.

So like the complexity of any real human group, my werewolf world-building started simple, but ended up expanding to many aspects of their lives and even biology. It’s my hope that that makes them feel even more real, and makes the metaphors they can provide for our own lives even more interesting.

—-

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

Read an excerpt. Follow the author on Twitter.

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Why Mary Robinette Kowal and I Should Not Be in the Same Vehicle of Any Sort

She explains why on her site. It involves fire.

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Dear Milwaukee: Hey! Remember Me?

Hi, Milwaukee!

Hey! Remember that time I came up and visited you? Back in 2007? For the tour for The Last Colony? Sure you do!

Didn’t we have fun? I complemented your groovy art museum, you told me I looked pretty good for a science fiction writer, we both avoided any reference to Happy Days and/or LaVerne & Shirley, and just plain had a good old time. Didn’t we? Of course we did! At least that’s what you told me, and why wouldn’t I believe you? Milwaukee wouldn’t lie.

Well, guess what? I’m coming back! Tomorrow, June 11! At 7pm! At the Boswell Book Company! Is it possible we’ll have a good time together again? I’d like to think so. Just two old pals, hanging about, having a good time. Maybe having some cheese. I understand there is cheese there. Yes, and also beer, but you know I don’t drink. But you can drink, Milwaukee! Drink yourself silly! I’m happy to be your designated driver.

So what do you say, Milwaukee? Let’s make some new memories. All you have to do is say yes. And also: Show up. See you there!

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Dear Chicago: I’M BACK, BABY.

Oh, Chicago (by which I mean the larger Chicagoland area). You know I love you. Those four years we had together in college? Magical. All the conventions and concerts and weekend getaways? Even more magicaler. The fact I will be back at the end of August to be Toastmaster of Chicon 7, this year’s Worldcon? Perhaps the most magicalist of all.

But for all the things we’ve done together, there’s one thing we haven’t done: An actual, bona fide, heavens-to-Betsy book tour appearance.

How did we miss doing that? Given our history, it just seems silly that this is something we haven’t done. I say, time to make that happen. And make it happen we shall. And it will be full of magicalosity.

So be there, tomorrow, Sunday June 10, 3pm at the Indian Trails Library in Wheeling. It’s free but you’ll need to register (so they know how many chairs to put out). Bring everyone you know. We’ll have the sort of fun that that only you and I can have, Chicago. Because of our shared history. Our shared history of magicalationess.

Baby.

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Houston, We Have No Problems

The view from the hotel window here in Houston. They put me up in a very trendy place; no Domino’s advertisements on the room keys! (No, seriously, it’s super trendy and cool. I don’t know if I’m actually cool enough to be here. But I have a room anyway. Ha!)

I have a couple of hours to rest and relax before heading out to Brazos for my appearance today. If you’re in Houston, come on down. It’ll be fun. See you there.

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Dear Houston: We’re About to Have a Blind Date

So, Houston. Let’s talk.

See, I am coming to you tomorrow, June 9, at Brazos Bookstore, at 4pm.

And the thing is, I’ve never been to Houston before; I haven’t even flown through your airport as far as I know. So I am considering this something of a blind date, you know? As in, you know who I am — I write books — and I know who you are — you’re the fourth largest city in the US by population — but we don’t know who we are together, right? I mean, we could be great, and have one of those days where we just click and talk and tell each other all our secrets and wonder how it was all our lives had lead up to this point… Or we could just make awkward conversation for an hour and mutually decide to skip dessert.

Which will it be? I don’t know. All my friends say you’re pretty awesome. But that just means that if it doesn’t work out, it’s probably me.

So, yeah, Houston. I’m a little nervous.

But that still doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time.

So meet me, Houston, at Brazos Bookstore, tomorrow at 4. I’ll be the one in the red shirt. I’ll tell you stories and answer your questions and even sign a few things for you. It could be a lot of fun. I think it will.

I can’t wait. See you soon.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

I have a shameful confession to make: I owe Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan some books. See, many years ago, they won a Web award of some sort for Go Fug Yourself, their righteously snarky fashion blog, and part of their prize package was a couple of books from me. And I never sent them. Because, apparently, I am the worst human being who ever lived.

Somehow, the two of them managed to pull their lives together in the face of this complete neglect, and write not one but two young adult novels about the lives of Hollywood teens, the second of which, Messy, hit bookstores this week. Here they are to talk to you about it. And Heather and Jessica: Come to one of my LA area tour stops next week. I’ll totally give you each a copy of Redshirts. I SWEAR.

HEATHER COCKS and JESSICA MORGAN:

In many ways, our Big Idea was born eight years ago. By day, we write Go Fug Yourself, a lighthearted blog about celebrities’ red-carpet fashion missteps, an endeavor that lets us exorcise our pop-culture demons while referencing everything from Judy Blume to that time poor, until-recently-deaf Regina Morrow snorted coke in Sweet Valley High No. 40 and immediately died (subtle moral: don’t do drugs, kids). So when we got the itch to write fiction, it seemed smart to stick to the voice we’d spent so long honing, as opposed to glancing at the bookstore shelves and trying to copy whatever we saw. It would be a strange swerve for us to pump out a Very Important Adult Work about suburban ennui or murder most foul, and although as readers we respect and enjoy the limitless creativity in the fantasy and paranormal genres, as writers we are self-aware enough to know that is not where our strengths lie — Twilight’s sales numbers be damned.

So we stuck to our guns and set our novels, Spoiled and Messy, in a universe we’re more familiar with: Hollywood (although in its own way, this town is as otherworldly and peopled with supernatural bodies as any). One of us grew up near L.A. and the other is a transplant, so it made sense to channel our experiences into a tale that touched on a relatable emotion for both our young-adult target audience and beyond: the fear of change, and struggle to decide how that change should or should not redefine you. Doing it through the prism of gentle Hollywood parody, which is second nature to us at this point given how absurdly acquainted we are with things like Jessica Simpson’s gestational period, was a natural way to keep our books in the Go Fug Yourself family tree.

Sure, it was occasionally tough to resist the impulse to throw in a scorching hot psychic ghost centaur — at a recent author event at Torrance High School, all the kids toted books with spooky supernatural covers, rather than something like Spoiled’s cheerful makeup-centered design – but we had faith that there was room in people’s hearts for the living as well as the mythologically dreamy. Especially because epic battles can be so stressful. Sometimes, a reader needs a break from being constantly afraid a character they love is about to bleed out on the rug (oh, hi there, Gray Hairs Ron Weasley Gave Us).

Specific to Messy, our challenge was deciding between a direct sequel to Spoiled or something more anthologized. Spoiled tells the tale of Indiana transplant Molly Dix, whose mother dies right after revealing Molly’s her father is not only alive but also the world’s biggest movie star. Molly goes to live with him in L.A. and meets her flashy half-sister Brooke Berlin, and the two co-narrate their exploits while dad Brick pops off to Key West to shoot Avalanche! in front of a green-screen with as many real polar bears as he can muster (“White fur is the apex of fear. Everyone knows that”). The emotions in that scenario are universal even if the circumstances aren’t: You don’t have to have been spawned by a Schwarzenegger clone to understand what it feels like to be the new kid, or to be ignored, or to have half-hearted bangs , and we’ve all had to figure out how to present ourselves so that we can soldier forth and be happy. Molly was the ultimate outsider, and the perfect vehicle.

But the closer we got to Book Two, the more we worried that Molly’s journey might dry up a little once she stopped being a true fish out of water. People might get sick of two incessantly warring protagonists, yet bored of a pair of happy half-sisters who only fight over who gets to drive the car. How could we weave new identity struggles into this bizarre universe without it feeling like a retread?

Ultimately, we hit on the idea of a partial sequel, shifting to a self-made outsider rather than an accidental one. Messy became the story of Molly’s best friend, the green-haired misanthrope Max McCormack, whose dire financial straits lead to her taking a job ghost-writing Brooke Berlin’s fame-mongering “personal” blog. It was a way for us to wink at the Web site that brought us here, without being grossly reflexive about it (“Read this book about a girl who’s just like us!”), plus it afforded us a fresh perspective. In Spoiled, Molly is marooned without her beloved mother and her familiar surroundings; Max makes herself an island by choice.

And where Molly’s version of self-preservation is figuring out how much of herself (if any) she had to change to survive in her new life, Max’s approach is to push violently against her social opposites so that the rejection she expects from them won’t hurt her. Plus, using Max let us check in with Molly, kept us from fully resetting the universe, and let us retain the juxtaposition of opposites – and a more taut connection to Spoiled itself — by remaining in Brooke’s head for part of the book. Brooke defines who she is by what she wants her father to see, and in that sense Messy is very much a continuation from her arc in Spoiled. So we call Messy a follow-up — not a sequel, but closer than a cousin. You could suggest we ended up having our cake and eating it too, but Brooke Berlin would never endorse the public consumption of baked goods.

And as a bonus, Brick Berlin still acts like a horse’s ass, which means he’s as close to a centaur as you can be without having hooves. Huh. Maybe we’re more supernatural than we think.

—-

Messy: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound

Read an excerpt. Visit Go Fug Yourself. Follow the authors on Twitter.

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Dear Cincinnati: Save Me From Abject and Total Humilation Tomorrow

See, Cincinnati, here’s the thing: I’m coming to do an appearance at Joseph-Beth Booksellers tomorrow, June 8, at 7pm. Coincidentally, a friend of mine from college is coming into Cincinnati and she offhandedly noted she heard I was going to be in town to do my performing monkey bit, so of course I told her she should come. She, probably just to be polite, said yes.

And then it hit me: What if she shows up to this thing and no one else does? After years of me pretending to be a big shot author, she will think I am finally revealed to be the bloated gasbag of empty brag that everyone in college always suspected I was. And then she’ll tell everyone we know on Facebook, and then, well. It’s all over then.

So, Cincinnati. Normally I wouldn’t ask you for something, especially since I never did pay you back that $20 for gas money back in ’93, and I know that’s still a thing for you (which you should let go of, man, seriously. It’s been, like, two decades). But even so: Hey, could you all just come down the the Joseph-Beth at 7 tomorrow? Please? All of you? Like, the entire city of you? Because that would really get me out of a jam.

Come on, don’t look at me like that. You know I would do it for you. Because that’s the bond we have, Cincinnati. And anyway, you don’t want me to look bad in front of my friend, do you? Do you? No? See.

So see you tomorrow, Cincinnati. Oh, and when you see my friend from college, totally don’t tell her I begged you to come. Just, you know, be chill. Like you do. Thanks.

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What Happens in the Acela Quiet Car Stays in the Acela Quiet Car, Unless Twitter is Involved

Yesterday I traveled from New York City to Philadelphia on the train, specifically Amtrak’s Acela high-speed train. The comparent I ended up sitting in was the “Quiet Car,” i.e., the one in which you don’t use your cell phone to make calls and otherwise keep things down to a murmur. Naturally, I went on Twitter to joke about it:

But then something strange began to happen:

And then, my friends, it got nuts:

Seriously.

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Philadelphia in the Books

Photo by E.C. Myers

Last night was the first public night of the tour, at the Barnes & Noble in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. The place was jammed, which makes me happy, although I suppose that’s no fun for the people who had to stand. Sorry, folks.

As Philadelphia is the first stop of the tour, the folks who showed up got to be guinea pigs for me as I tried out a new short story (for which I swore them all to secrecy), and then also tried out a comedy piece related to Redshirts, for which I enlisted the able help of Paul Sabourin, of Paul & Storm fame. Both pieces went over very well, so I’ll probably keep them in the rotation.

I also read a piece that will be exclusive to the Philadelphia stop: “There Will Come Soft Rains,” by Ray Bradbury. It was important to me that I mark the day by reading something of Bradbury’s, and thankfully the audience went with me on this one. Thank you, fans of Philadelphia, for indulging me on this one. I really do appreciate it.

In all it was a really wonderful way to start the book tour: Good people, good bookstore, good time. Dear rest of the tour: You will have a lot to live up to.

 

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Dear Dayton, Ohio: YOU ARE SO VERY NEXT

Just a reminder to people living and and near the Dayton, Ohio metropolitan area: Tomorrow, June 7 at 7pm, I will be at Books & Co in the Greene. I will be browsing for books! And also reading and answering questions and signing books and attacking random passersby with spoons, and, you know, stuff like that.

Are you coming? You’re totally coming. And you’re bringing the whole family! Because I am wholesome family entertainment. And you’re bringing all your goth friends! Because I am super-pale moody and brooding (well, super pale, at least). And you’re bringing a giraffe! Because you know what, I’ve never seen a live giraffe in a bookstore, and I think that would be cool.

So: Dayton. Books & Co in the Greene. 7pm. Thursday. Families! Goths! Giraffes! Spoons! You will so very be there.

Cincinnati, don’t get cocky: You’re next after Dayton.

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On the Passing of Ray Bradbury: “Meeting the Wizard”

As many of my readers know by now, Ray Bradbury, science fiction grandmaster, has passed away. To note the day, and what he meant to me, Subterranean Press has graciously allowed me to reprint here my introduction to its edition of Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. It’s called “Meeting the Wizard”.

—-

When I was twelve a wizard came to town.

And immediately I have to explain that comment.

First: Quite obviously, the wizard under discussion is Ray Bradbury.

Second: Understand that when you are the age you are now, and the age I am now, an author coming to town to talk about his work is no magical thing. The author may be your favorite author, and you may be genuinely excited to hear him or her speak—you may even be nervous and hoping you don’t act like a complete fool when you get your forty seconds of conversation with them  as they sign your book. But you know them as what they are: an author, a person, an ordinary human who happens to write the words you love to read.

But when you were twelve—or perhaps more accurately, when I was twelve—things were different. To begin, authors were not just common schmoes who happened to string words together. They were, in a word, mystics. When I was twelve I had been a reader for a decade and a writer for about a year, and in both cases at a stage where I was old enough to finally understand that writing didn’t just happen; it was an expression of both will and imagination.

What I didn’t know—and honestly at age twelve couldn’t have known—was how to put the two together. I would walk through the stacks of my local library, where I spent a genuinely huge amount of my time, running my hands along the spines of the books, wondering that each book represented a single person. How did they make it happen? I could barely manage four pages in a lined composition book before I began to sweat. Here were whole books of dense, close-set, unlined words, spanning hundreds of pages.

I simply couldn’t grasp how it could be done, and I think now that I believed something at age twelve that I would describe as a literary consonant to Clarke’s Law: that any sustained effort of fiction writing was indistinguishable from magic. Magic was the only way people could possibly write as long, and as well, as they had to in order to make a book at the end.

Therefore: Authors were wizards.

And Ray Bradbury, to my mind at least, had to be the top wizard of all. Because of all the wizards practicing their craft—or of the ones I was reading at the time, which is possibly an important qualification—he was clearly the one most in control of his magic, the one who again even at the age of twelve I could see was doing something with his words that no one else I was reading was doing.

I should pause here to note that my introduction to Ray Bradbury had come the year before, in Mr. Johnson’s sixth grade class at Ben Lomond Elementary, when I was assigned by my teacher to read The Martian Chronicles. Now, understand that being assigned a book is no positive thing. It’s a well-known fact that if you wish to inspire in a child a vast hatred of any single book, all you have to do is assign it to him in school. This generally works like a charm, and is why, for example, I to this day loathe George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss with the sort of passion normally reserved for ex-spouses or whatever presidential candidate it is you’re damn well not voting for.

Fortunately for me and for the book, there were two significant mitigating factors. The first was that I had already been inducted into the cult of the science fiction geek; the door had opened in the fourth grade, with a copy of Robert Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky. I had wasted little time getting myself over the threshold, burning through the school library’s rather meager collection of science fiction—mostly Heinlein juvies and a few poor imitations of Heinlein juvies, their titles and authors now lost due to pre-adolescent critical expunging from memory. I was primed, basically, to receive the book.

The second factor was that the book came, not from an approved curriculum list, but from Mr. Johnson himself. Every student has the teacher who looms in memory, and Keith Johnson is mine—a fine, handsome and fearfully smart man who didn’t take any crap (which is an excellent trait in handling sixth graders) but who also saw each of his students as an individual (which is an exceptional trait in handling sixth graders). Mr. Johnson gave me The Martian Chronicles to read and said this to me as he handed it over: “You should be reading this.” He also said it was one of his favorite books.

To get the book, vouched for in that way, felt like an intimacy between the two of us. I realize using the word “intimacy” there opens things up to an unseemly interpretation, which would be, mind you, ridiculous. What it means is that while in no way stepping out of the teacher-student relationship, Mr. Johnson was treating me as a confidant, and even in a small way as an equal: This book means something to me, he was saying. It might mean something to you, too. It was, in other words, a powerful recommendation.

And Mr. Johnson was right. It meant something to me. The Martian Chronicles is not a child’s book, but it is an excellent book to give to a child—or to give to the right child, which I flatter myself that I was—because it is a book that is full of awakening. Which means, simply, that when you read it, you can feel parts of your brain clicking on, becoming sensitized to the fact that something is happening here, in this book, with these words, even if you can’t actually communicate to anyone outside of your own head just what that something is. I certainly couldn’t have, in the sixth grade—I simply didn’t have the words. As I recall, I didn’t much try: I just sat there staring down at the final line of the book, with the Martians staring back at me, simply trying to process what I had just read.

I could tell you now about all of it—I’m a good enough wizard on my own now—but that would take more space than you would have tolerance for in an introduction. I know you are eager to get through this and start re-reading the book you love.

But I will give you one example: The Martian Chronicles was the first book to make me understand that words themselves, and in themselves, had power. The genre of science fiction vaunts itself as the literature of ideas, which seems a bit much. It’s more to the point that it’s the literature of engineering, originally springing forth from the minds of proto-geeks fascinated with the technical potential of the future. These men (and occasional women) used words as fine-tooled machines to work those ideas into print, practically rather than poetically.

There’s nothing wrong with this. I largely stand in this tradition myself. What it does mean, however, is that much of science fiction prose reads flat. Great colorful playful ideas, packaged in a big cardboard box.

Ray Bradbury’s words are not a cardboard container for his ideas. His words have weight and rhythm and pace and form; they are a scaffold of filigree for his ideas to weave themselves in and around, taking form through them. Bradbury’s people did not exist for the sake of exposition or simply to have things happen to them: He sketched them in what they said (or didn’t say), and how they said them or not. Words gave rise to  character, economically but fully revealing a spaceman disgusted with his people, two strangers from different times meeting on a road, a man who learns he’s okay being alone, a father teaching his children about who the Martians truly are.

The Martian Chronicles was the first science fiction book to make me feel a character’s righteous rage (not to mention the concept of ironically literal death, both in the same chapter) and the first science fiction book to make me feel loss and loneliness in my gut, doing it without featuring a single human, save as a shadow on a wall. And more than the first science fiction that did all these things: the first fiction, too.

The Martian Chronicles, in short, showed me what words can truly do. It showed me magic.

And now you might understand how, at age twelve, I was amazed beyond words that this wizard was coming to town, and would be somewhere I could meet him and see him, in the flesh, for myself. Because I was geek enough to be well-known to all the librarians, who were hosting this wizard’s appearance, I managed to wheedle my way into being in the group that would welcome him to the library and would get him ready to meet his public in our library’s common room, which we grandly but not wholly inaccurately labeled a “forum.” I would meet this wizard of all wizards, I would spend time with him, and perhaps I might even get him to show me some of his secrets. It was an excellent plan.

Which didn’t work. Ray Bradbury’s magic is strong, but the black magic of the 210 Freeway at rush hour is stronger—Bradbury arrived only minutes before he was set to speak. Nevertheless, the librarians, knowing how excited I was to meet him, pushed me forward and introduced me to him, and gave me a prime opportunity to talk magic with the wizard.

At which point my tongue, previously full of questions, fell out of my head, and all I could do was squeak about how much I liked his books. As I recall, the wizard tousled my hair, said something I don’t remember except that it was kind, signed the copy of The Martian Chronicles I had in my hand, and then went up to our forum to do another kind of magic, which was to entertain a room full of admirers for an hour.

I would say that I never got another chance to have the wizard show me his magic, but that’s not quite true. I never have met Ray Bradbury again in person. His magic, however, is there in his work. When you read it, if you pay attention, the wizard shows you all his magic and power. If you’re smart, you see how it works. If you have some talent, you might be able to pull off a trick or two. Will you become a wizard? Well, that depends on many things, some of which will not be under your control. But you won’t be able to say that this particular wizard has not been generous with his magic.

What I have never gotten another chance to do, however, is to thank the wizard, for what he’s showed me and taught me and how he’s inspired me to use my own magic. This seems as good a time and place as any. So thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for all of it.

And now, like the rest of you, I’m off to read The Martian Chronicles another time. I suspect this wizard has more magic to show me here. I want to see it.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Warren Hammond

And now, for some perspective on the perspective of science fiction, here’s author Warren Hammond to talk a little bit about his latest novel, KOP Killer.

WARREN HAMMOND:

The big idea for the KOP series is science fiction from a Third-World perspective.

If there’s a weakness in our genre, it might be the fact that science fiction writers tend to focus on the history makers. The writer builds a vast and compelling world and focuses on the most consequential people in that world. Add in some big, impactful stakes, and you find stories of deliverance. Protagonist delivers the oppressed to freedom. Protagonist delivers humanity form a horrible disease or technology. Protagonist delivers people from threat of meteor or alien invaders or environmental collapse.

All powerful themes for powerful stories.

But I chose to go a less-travelled direction. I built an insignificant backwater planet. A failed colony world damned by a resource-poor environment and a collapsed economy. A world riddled with corruption and strangled by the cycle of poverty. A world with no future. A people with no hope.

And on this shattered world, I chose to focus on ex-cop Juno Mozambe, a man who is just as broken. He’s lost his job. His best friend. And his wife.

He’s no innocent victim of circumstance. Each of his losses was the direct result of his own actions. He wasn’t a good cop. No, he was the dirty chief’s enforcer, a master of beatdowns and frame jobs. He wasn’t a good friend when he selfishly testified against his old partner to save his own interests. And he wasn’t a good husband to the wife who killed herself.

You see, I’m more interested in failures. The wounded souls who get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other despite their circumstances. The people who strive for a better life even though they have every reason to believe they’ll never achieve it.

Juno Mozambe is one of those people.

At the start of KOP Killer, he’s a man on a mission to take back what was once his, the Koba Office of Police. But not for himself. He wants Maggie Orzo to become chief. She has the smarts, and she’s plenty tough. More importantly, she’s not dirty like he is.

She could make a difference. He needs her to make a difference.  Because despite a lifetime of violence and corruption, he has hope for a better future. Establishing an honest police force could be the first step in creating a better world for his people. He’s questing for redemption he can never obtain.

This is science fiction from a Third-World perspective, where corruption has been institutionalized, poverty is the norm, and the value of human life has been marginalized.

There are no easy solutions. In fact, there may be no solutions at all.

But with stubborn resolve and blood-stained knuckles, Juno marches forward anyway.

—-

KOP Killer: Amazon

Read an excerpt.

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And In a Fabulous Ending to the Day

Wil Wheaton and I just won an Audie Award for the audiobook of Fuzzy Nation.

That’s fantastic, and I am absolutely thrilled to share the award with Wil. He’s such a fantastic reader and friend. I should, like, dedicate a book to him one day. That he might then narrate.

Or would that be too meta?

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A Quick Followup to Today’s Redshirts Madness

Today has been flat-out the most interesting — and ultimately the most gratifying — book release dates I’ve had, and a lot of people are responsible for it.

As a recap for the folks who need recapping: My new book Redshirts came out today, and in its eBook format it was supposed to go out without digital rights management added to it. But when the book was released we found out that several of the major online bookstores had (for whatever reason) swaddled the book in DRM, contrary to our desires. Readers informed me, I informed Tor, Tor’s digital folks went into overdrive, both talking to the retailers to get the DRM switched off, and offering DRM-free replacement files for the people who had bought the book with it switched on. All within the space of hours.

Redshirts going out with the DRM switched on had the potential to be, bluntly, a major screw-up, but at the end of the day I think it turned into a textbook example of how to address a potential problem head on and fix it quickly and fairly for readers and buyers of the eBook.

To that end, I have people to thank.

First, thank you to everyone, here and on Twitter, who quickly reported about when and where they found DRM’d copies of Redshirts. It allowed me to give a usefully complete picture of the problem to the folks at Tor.

Second, thank you to my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who found about the problem for me pretty much at the moment he woke up, and who started working to fix the problem roughly half a second later.

Third, thank you to Tor/Macmillan’s digital folks, and in particular Hillary Veith and Daniel Schwartz, who made contacting the retailers and offering an easy e-mail fix to affected readers their priority for the day.

Fourth, thanks to those retailers who helped to resolve the issue on their end and especially those who will follow up with their customers, so they can have the DRM-free experience they were promised.

Finally, thanks to Tor and to Macmillan for moving at unheard-of speeds to fix the problem. From my point of view, this wasn’t just a technical issue, this was my book, bought by my readers, on its release day. To have the problem recognized, addressed and solved within hours was a huge relief to me, and also showed that Tor/Macmillan are serious about this DRM-free initiative of theirs. That makes me happy, and I think should make readers happy.

And now I am going to have a cookie. Maybe even two. I deserve them, damn it.

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Three Reviews of RS

I’m no longer at the Javits Center with its horrible dystopian wifi, and after a small break I’ll be off to have dinner with friends. Because friends are cool that way. So to keep you busy, and because by now I’m sure you’re not tired of me talking about Redshirts, here are three new reviews for you to look at.

First, at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow (disclosure: friend of mine) says this:

Redshirts both realizes and transcends its premise, and is at once a tribute to, and a piss-take on, the best and worst that space opera has to offer.

Awesome.

Then, over at the Bad Astronomer blog, Phil Plait (disclosure: friend of mine) says this:

I sat down and did something I almost never, ever do: I read the whole thing through. I mean it; I found myself voraciously consuming the book. It’s a science fiction novel that in many ways is a parody of “Star Trek”, but to think it’s just that is pretty unfair.

Also awesome.

Finally, over at The Secret Liar (disclosure: I have no idea who these dudes are), there is this:

Redshirts is a quick read that’s full not only of humor, but also real emotion and thoughtful commentary.

Lovely.

I’ve had an interesting day; hope yours is going well too.

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What to Do If You Got a DRM’d Copy of Redshirts

Some retailers did not get the memo that Redshirts was meant to be drm-free and as a result some of you got drm’d ebooks. Well, we can’t have that. So if you got a drm’d copy, here’s what to do:

1. Send a copy of your receipt to “redshirtsdrm@macmillanusa.com” and specify if you prefer mobi (kindle) or epub (everything else) format.

2. They’ll send you a drm-free replacement copy in an email.

3. That’s it.

I’d say more but I’m in the bowels of the Javits center with almost no Internet. But this gets to the point.

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Reminder to Philadelphia: I AM COMING

Today and tomorrow morning I am doing Redshirts-related things at BEA here in New York City, but tomorrow evening, June 6 — at 6:30! — I will be at the Barnes & Noble at Rittenhouse Square for the first public appearance on my book tour. There will be readings of upcoming work, special awesome guests and if someone dares to bring a ukulele, I may even sing “Redshirt,” although I probably won’t then mime being consumed by a Borgovian land worm. Probably. Also, of course, I will sign all your books. Even the ones I didn’t write. Because, you know. Why the hell not.

So, Philadelphia: Come see me! You’re going to come see me, right? Oh god please come see me. And bring every other single person you’ve ever met in your life. We’ll have fun. Promise.

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A Quick Bit of Customer Service re: Redshirts

Folks, I’m getting some feedback that some online stores are slapping digital rights management on Redshirts, which I am assuming is the fault of some apparatchik in the bowels of their organization not getting the memo. I’ve already alerted Tor about it; I assume once someone gets into the office there that it will be dealt with. In the meantime:

1. Tor Books (and my) intent is to sell the Redshirts eBook DRM-free.

2. If you have a Redshirts eBook that has DRM on it, it’s not something that we asked for or want.

3. If for some unfathomable reason your preferred vendor has put DRM on your copy of the Redshirts eBook, I’m just gonna leave this here for you.

4. Feel free to complain to the retailer in question about adding DRM, and point them to this entry as evidence that their DRM is going against my and Tor’s wishes for the eBook.

At the moment, it does appear Amazon is selling the eBook DRM-free; it’s nice that the largest online retailer in the world, at least, has clued in.

Sorry about the glitch. Please do remember that Redshirts is the very first book from Tor meant to be sold without DRM on it; there are bound to be kinks in the pipeline. We’ll get them worked out. Have patience and a little faith. Thanks.

The irony here is that when I talked at Tor’s presentation yesterday, I noted that one of the problems of DRM from a writer perspective is that we have to act as frontline customer service about it. This is exactly what I’m talking about. I won’t miss it.

Update, 7:30 am: A note from Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Tor telling me that this will be the first thing that’s addressed by Macmillan’s digital publishing folks today. He also says, and this is a direct quote, “This will be fixed and that we’ll make this right with everyone who’s been affected by it.” Told you we were on it!

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