JoCo Cruise 2016 Photo Set Plus Quick Nerd Boat Recap

Hey, do you like looking at pictures of other people’s vacations? Well, then you’ll want to check out my JoCo Cruise 2016 Flickr photo set, which is just that very thing! In addition to pictures of islands and such, it has snaps of the performers, concerts, two types of monkey made from inanimate objects, and, of course, a phalanx of waiters waving their arms about. As they do. Plus: Me in a hot pink tie! You don’t want to miss that.

I will note that all the pictures this year were taken with my cell phone camera, which is fine but which of course has close-up muddiness because of having a tiny sensor. Next year — because yes, I’m planning to be on the boat again next year — I think I will bring a proper camera, for proper photos, taken properly. We’ll see how that goes.

Yes, yes, you say, that’s all fine, but tell us about the cruise itself? Well, since you asked, it was pretty good! As many of you know, I am co-head of the cruise’s literary track (with Pat Rothfuss), and we were delighted this year to have N.K. Jemisin, Allie Brosh (who we shared with the main stage), Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction as participants. They were all, in a word, fabulous (plus! Michael Ian Black, who came to the boat for his comedy skills, nevertheless did a reading of his most recent work, Navel Gazing, and did a writing track panel, so I’ll claim him after the fact). With the exception of one thing, all the writing track panels and presentations went off without a hitch, which made the cruise an especially happy one for me.

(The one thing that hitched? The ship running crew drills during N.K. Jemisin’s reading, with means sirens blaring, messages coming up on the intercom, and crew members running around and slamming doors. This was frustrating for her and the audience, and embarrassing for me, and something we obviously will keep in min for future cruises. That Nora nevertheless gave a kickass reading that garnered her a standing ovation is a testament to her writing and presenting skills. Seriously, people, read her stuff, and if you can, see her read her stuff. It’s amazing.)

I was also happy this year that my family got to come with me on the trip. Last year because of scheduling issues I went on the cruise alone, which was fine but which made me realize how much better a tropical paradise is when you have people you love with you. Having Krissy and Athena (and Hunter, Athena’s beau) with me this year made it a much happier experience. Family! It’s a good thing.

Other personal highlights of the cruise (not all of them, otherwise we’d be here for hours):

* Almost missing the boat in St. Maarten because the excursion we went on ran late, which caused twenty of us to run the better part of a mile after the official “on board” time to make it before the ship cast off. We made it in part because Hunter, being young and fast, sprinted the whole way to tell them the rest of us were on our way. Because he did, Hunter was the hero of the day, we were not stranded in a foreign country, and the whole story, which is best told live and with gesticulation, goes down as an amusing experience rather than an “oh, shit” moment. Which is why it’s a highlight, and not its opposite.

* Having an “in conversation” panel with Nora where we talked about worldbuilding, writing, the culture of science fiction and fantasy today, and a number of other subjects. Nora is super-smart and opinionated and also I’m a fan of both her and her writing, so I was as much of an audience member for that as I was a participant. Okay, I’m going to stop fanboying Nora now.

* Staying up late to talk aliens with John Hodgman, John Roderick and Michael Ian Black, and, yes, it was just as awesomely nerdy as you might have expected it to be (I think Ted Leo might have been involved as well? It was late, man, and I was soooo high (note: I was not actually high)).

* Staying up late another night to do cryptic crosswords with Ted Leo and Aimee Mann and a rotating cast of contributors. I was, I should note, mostly a spectator, because it turns out I am really shit at these sorts of crosswords. But I did get one right, which earned me a smile of approval from Aimee Mann, which thrilled both the teenager version of me who loved the song “Coming Up Close” and the adult version of me who actually knows her as a person.

* Speaking of Mann and Leo, watching them rehearse with Jim Boggia, Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick was like getting a living room concert from some of my favorite musicians. I kept very very very quiet so they wouldn’t kick me out.

* Watching Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and John Hodgman geek out over Hamilton, the musical (and also the soundtrack). I mentioned to Hodgman I was saving my ears until I could see it on stage and he looked at me like someone who said he only breathes oxygen when he absolutely has too, i.e., he clearly thought I was daft. Well, maybe I am (holds breath).

* The goodbye concert, which is always great, but which this year featured an especially fine tribute to David Bowie. It was all amazing, but watching Jean Grae blow out “Moonage Daydream” is very likely going down in my personal list of Top Musical Experiences, Ever.

* Really, just getting to hang out with all the performers and their families and friends is amazing. But equally great: Hanging around and having conversations with the “Seamonkeys” (as the JoCo Cruise folks call themselves). Everyone is smart and kind and fun to talk and be with. As performers, one of the things which makes the JoCo Cruise such a great experience is the fact that the Seamonkeys are always willing to go with you, wherever it is you’re going. But also, as a nerd, the great experience is that wherever you’re going, you’re not alone. There’s always someone willing to nerd out with you. I love it, which is why I keep coming back.

Speaking of which: JoCo Cruise 2017 is open for booking. You really should go, if you can. It’s great. It’s always great. And next year we have a whole boat to ourselves! Which means it’s probably going to be especially great. Come along. You won’t regret it.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Jason LaPier

What’s the Big Idea for Jason LaPier and his novel Unclear Skies? It’s simple: Heroes! Who maybe aren’t so much heroes. At least, not at first.


In science fiction and fantasy, we often encounter a character who is somehow special, whether imbued with some extraordinary trait, endowed with a remarkable skill, or just plain abnormal. They may start off as a commoner, but over the course of the story their talents or gifts are unlocked. Sometimes they are portrayed as a “chosen one”, and sometimes they’re forced to become a leader by the nature of their advantages. While I love a lot of these stories, in my series “The Dome Trilogy”, I was looking for much less heroic heroes. I was looking to take an average person, an “everyman”, and drag them through the excursion of what is more or less a hero cycle without the advantages that a hero has.

While I absolutely appreciate speculative fiction with a message, I cannot deny that the entertainment value of SF/F largely lies in escapism. We read and watch to experience worlds, events, technologies, and people other than what we know in real life, other than what is possible in real life, to give ourselves a break from the day-to-day, and to allow us the fun of wallowing in full-blown imagination.

And yet, even if the fiction is an escape from real life, we find immersion so much easier if the characters are relatable in some way. In Young Adult fiction, the protagonist is often an odd kid, someone who feels like they don’t fit in, and then eventually discovers they have a special power or talent. Younger readers know what it’s like not to fit in, because every kid feels that way at some point; a search for identity is part of the process of growing up. And adult readers remember what that was like as well, which is why so many can enjoy YA as much as their own children do.

The challenge with making an adult character develop into a hero is that they’ve already grown past that age of discovery and identity establishment. Sure, one can always learn new skills, but it doesn’t feel the same as the bloom of a gift during puberty. It’s a lot more practice, with incremental improvements. It’s work. And yet, adults in the real world still go through identity crises just as much as teens. So when a story is able to take an adult who seems lost in their life and make them into a hero, even a Chosen One, it resonates.

Take Neo from the film, The Matrix, for example. At the start of the story, he is merely Thomas Anderson, a corporate programmer, a drone. Outside of the office he’s a loner, scouring the net for some hidden meaning to his life that he can feel but can’t put his finger on. When he’s rescued, he’s reborn. His whole world changes, and he has the power – and the calling – to save it. It’s a textbook hero’s journey.

Now let’s take a look at a classic anti-hero: Arthur Dent, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur is also a directionless, middle-aged adult. His reality is suddenly expanded by a thousandfold when he discovers his friend is an alien and they escape Earth’s destruction by hitching a ride aboard a spaceship. But Arthur never unlocks special powers. He never saves anyone or anything. He bumbles through a series of adventures wearing a bathrobe (the only clothing he owns), somehow managing to stay alive. His most remarkable trait is his unremarkableness.

In “The Dome Trilogy”, I wanted a couple of characters in between. “Jax” Jackson lives most of his life in a sterilized exoplanetary colony. He’s a drone like everyone he knows, a detached, late-20s adult. He has the aptitude to be better than he is, but not the drive. Like Arthur Dent, Jax has his world turned upside-down by events that are far beyond his control, practically beyond his scope of reality. In the first book of the series, Unexpected Rain, an entire block of dome inhabitants suffocates while Jax is on duty as a life support operator – a mindless, push-button job – and he is charged with their murders.

From there, Jax has to awaken the intellect that had been shelved – not locked away, not latent, not even undiscovered, but simply abandoned due to apathy. He’s paired up with the one cop who believes he may be innocent, Officer Stanford Runstom. By contrast, Runstom is driven, both by personal ambition and a sense of justice. He’s a wannabe hero who has been held back by the system and his heritage.

In the newly released second novel of the trilogy, Unclear Skies, this trend continues for these two characters. Jax is still on the run, eking out a living by finding odd jobs on a remote independent moon. Here the things that he finds run-of-the-mill – what would be outdated technology back in the domes – is remarkable to a population that is behind the times. His mundane skills at troubleshooting are mythical in this environment, and in fact could be life-saving.

Meanwhile Stanford Runstom, the officer that dreamt of becoming a detective, is “promoted” to a public relations post. Somewhat condescendingly, his new department praises his simple honesty, hoping to impress clients with a straight-talker. And yet even while working for the marketing department, Runstom can’t help but fall back on his detective aspirations when trouble arises.

My hope is that between these two characters, there is something of non-sci-fi life that readers can relate to. I personally remember what it’s like to be lost in my 20s like Jax, feeling as though I should have discovered my purpose by then, but still just trudging through each day. And likewise, to discover a passion for something as Runstom has, to put everything into it, only to see it diverted time and time again. These are the trials of adult life in the 21st century, extrapolated into the 27th century, with some murder thrown in for thrills and interstellar travel thrown in for escapism value.


Unclear Skies: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|iTunes|Kobo

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.


Back From the Boat, Plus a Couple of Housekeeping Notes

First, here’s what my view of the world looked like for much on the past week. The sunset, to be clear, was not always there. The water almost always was. And it was lovely. Currently I’m in the “it feels like the world is gently swaying” phase of getting back into the world; this is because for the last week the world was mostly gently swaying and my inner ear got used to it, and now it has to go in the other direction. I’ll be fine by Wednesday, but today and tomorrow if I’m not paying attention I’ll drift into walls when I walk.

I’ll update you all more on the trip a bit later in the day (or tomorrow, depending), as well as catching up on other things, including news of the world and kittens, but I thought you might enjoy this balcony view to get you started the morning. You’re welcome.

And now to a couple of “back in the world” notes: One, today is the day I triage all the email I didn’t see while I was on the boat and had no Internet. If you sent me email in the last week then you got my automated response telling you I wasn’t likely to respond to it. Most of it I still will not, just due to volume. So if you sent me an email you really wanted a response to, it’d be good to resend it.

Two, the comments on Whatever are on again, as I have returned to be able to moderate, etc. Note that I have made one significant change: The time that each comment thread is open has gone from fourteen days to ten. This is due to an uptick of spam on comment threads, and also the recognition that 90% of all useful conversation on comment threads happens in the first few days, after which most of the discussion appears to be three people snarking on each other about a minor point in the discussion, over and over again. In which case ten days is more than enough time to do that.

I hope your last week was a delightful one. I know mine was. Today’s plan: Sway slightly, catch up on email, post a Big Idea (we have one for each day of the work week this week!), but generally, take it easy. The day back from a long vacation is transition-y, folks. And it’s a leap day! Best to take things slow, I think.

Anyway. Hello!


Whatever on Vacation Until March 1

Because I’m gettin’ on a big ol’ boat down the Caribbean, that’s why, and I plan not to visit the Internet at all while I’m down there. Because that’s the point of a vacation, is it not? To get away from it all?

Please note that while I’m away all comment threads will be turned off (in fact, as soon as I’m done writing this, I’m turning all of them off except for this one, which will turn off on Saturday morning). They’ll come back up when I get back.

For those entirely desperate to eke every last possible bit of Scalzi out of the Internet, I’ll likely be on Twitter until the ship cruises out of cell range. After that, you’re on your own.

Now, now, don’t panic. You’ll all gotten along without me before. It’ll be fine. For all of us.


Have a great rest of your February. See you on the other side.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Dobromir Harrison

Vampires! Tokyo! Rachel! Dobromir Harrison! Not necessarily in that order!


I had just started writing my first draft of Rachel, but something bothered me:

I was writing a vampire book.

I mean, vampires are dead, right? Neil Gaiman said so, and he knows the publishing world a whole lot better than I do.

I was troubled but, when it came down to it, I had a story about a character I couldn’t stop thinking about.

For the most part, Rachel herself kept me going. She was so full of (un)life I had to keep writing just to see what new torments I could put her through.

But the story needed something else to make it leap off the page and feel real.

Rachel actually came into being in Thailand. I lived there for a while and just happened to drive past a karaoke bar called Sweet Vampires. The name made me laugh (it didn’t look in any way dark or gothic) and got me thinking about this woman who was a monster, and she lived in Thailand, a foreigner like myself, not quite fitting-in but not new to the place. What would she do there? How would she struggle to get by? Did she even speak the language? How would she avoid the sun? What dangers would she face? Who would she prey on?

Well, the idea went on the backburner until I moved to Tokyo. That was where she found her true home, and I actually sat down and started writing her adventures.

On the surface, it was perfect! The world’s largest city, a wealth of history and culture spread out for her to feed from. Neon lights and skyscrapers over a maze of old ramen shops and those little places that sell personal seals for stamping documents. But something was still missing. Rachel had yet to find her place there.

Sometimes, a single image can inspire. I remember going for a walk one night, somewhere on the city outskirts, and seeing a factory with a single light on in one of the upstairs rooms. Tokyo is full of abandoned buildings, and it set my imagination ablaze. I thought of someone living in a place like that. Maybe some kind of monster, creeping among the empty, decrepit buildings on the edge of civilized society.

It was the hook I needed. I started to see the city through her eyes: a place that was, paradoxically, safe to live in, but with enough dark alleys and abandoned buildings where a monster could hide and… well, not thrive, but just about get by.

If vampires were dead, Tokyo certainly wasn’t. But how to sell it to an audience who probably hadn’t been there? I didn’t want it to be a cliché, all samurai swords and Blade Runner aesthetics. It was a city I loved, and I felt the story would benefit from taking place in somewhere lived-in and real.

So I set it in places I knew, where I’d lived. I moved a lot of the action to the suburbs, like Tokorozawa, about forty minutes out of Tokyo by train. Or the little neighborhood of Otsuka, with its small foreign population and love hotels. Or northwest of the city, into the grey expanse of Saitama, places where monsters may really hide – poorer, industrial suburbs that I hoped would be alien, yet accessible to readers. And where would a monster like Rachel spend her time? Someone damaged and violent like her? Lonely, homeless and restless.

Getting excited about the setting helped the story flow, so then I turned to Rachel’s life in Japan. Like myself, she was an outsider, someone to explain things to the reader, but she wasn’t clueless. Early drafts were distinguished by her misunderstanding things, and asking for words to be explained, until I realized she would probably speak Japanese perfectly well after living there for a hundred years. That changed a lot of what I wrote, and also led to one of my favorite parts, when a Japanese woman starts teaching her the language back in the Meiji Era.

I had the character and setting, and the story was starting to take shape, but I struggled with how to explain things to someone who wasn’t familiar with the language or culture. Some of it was straightforward, like changing “Heiwa Dori” to “Heiwa Street”, though I left the street name itself untranslated (“heiwa” means “peace”, so it’s literally “Peace Street”, also where I used to live!) I left words like “geta” (traditional wooden shoes) just as they are, as I felt they added flavor and the writing makes it clear they’re a type of footwear. And a “love hotel” is pretty self-explanatory, right?

One of the biggest issues came during editing, when I realized people wouldn’t necessarily know how to pronounce the name of Rachel’s girlfriend, Yoshie. Someone unfamiliar with Japanese syllables might say “Yo-shee”, whereas it’s actually “Yo-shee-ay” and “Yoshi” is a nickname she uses. Going back and forth between “Yoshie” and “Yoshi” just looked like I was making typos, so I just kept it as Yoshi for the most part, hoping no one would think of the little green dinosaur from Mario (not the best imagery for a gritty horror novel).

It was a delicate balancing-act, spicing the text with enough flavor, and writing from the perspective of someone experienced and slightly jaded with living in Japan, but also bringing readers in with the sights and sounds and smells of a different culture. In the end, I feel it worked well and made the perfect backdrop to a story of alienation and revenge. The city as “safe haven and prison”, as the talented Lillian Cohen-Moore wrote for the back cover copy.


Rachel: Amazon|Barnes & Noble

Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Victor LaValle

There comes a day when writers discover that their idols can be… problematic. When that happens, is there a way back to understanding and appreciating them, without excusing or minimizing their problem? Victor LaValle has some thoughts on this topic, and how it relates to his novella The Ballad of Black Tom.


I fell in love with H.P. Lovecraft when I was eleven years old. I remember the exact sentence that did it. It’s from the opening of a story called “The Strange High House in the Mist.”

“In the morning mist comes up from the sea by the cliffs beyond Kingsport. White and feathery it comes from the deep to its brothers the clouds, full of dreams of dank pastures and caves of leviathan. And later, in still summer rains on the steep roofs of poets, the clouds scatter bits of those dreams, that men shall not live without rumour of old, strange secrets, and wonders that planets tell planets alone in the night.”

Picture an eleven-year old bookish boy reading in the little apartment in Queens that he shares with his mother, grandmother, and baby sister. His mother is a black woman from Uganda and his father is a white man from Syracuse. His father doesn’t live with them anymore, he returned to upstate New York and stayed there. Their son found a Del Rey paperback copy of The Tomb and Other Tales by some dude name H. P. Lovecraft; he turned to a story called “The Strange High House in the Mist” and read that opening. It was the last thirteen words that caused a seismic rumble in his imagination. “…old strange secrets, and wonders that planets tell planets alone in the night.” That night the kid stared at the sky and tried to imagine what those secrets and wonders might be. He read more of Lovecraft’s stories seeking answers.

That’s how I got hooked. I liked Lovecraft’s monsters, but I loved the ideas even more, the scale of his imagination. Cosmic as fuck. I devoured the rest of his fiction and Lovecraft satisfied me for years. “Herbert West, Reanimator.” A glorious and gross zombie story! “The Rats in the Walls.” Underground cities and revelations of cannibalism! “The Horror at Red Hook.” It takes place in Brooklyn! I know that neighborhood! It was all good until I hit sixteen.

I don’t know what happened in that leap from eleven to fifteen. I lost youthful innocence, I guess. Or I began to see things I’d once missed. Or ignored. Things that should’ve been obvious, but hadn’t been. This could be the ways my mother and grandmother were full of shit. (So it seemed then.) Or that my school did little to foster independent thought. (This still seems true.) Or that my beloved Howard Phillips Lovecraft was one hell of a racist.

At sixteen the stories I’d once breezed through practically curb-stomped me with their prejudices. In “Herbert West, Reanimator” the titular character comes across the body of a dead boxer, a black man named Buck Robinson. (Even that name!) Here’s the description of the corpse: “He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life—but the world holds many ugly things.”

In “The Rats in the Walls” there’s this: “My eldest cat, ‘Nigger-Man’, was seven years old and had come with me from my home in Bolton, Massachusetts” Lovecraft goes on to mention the cat, by that name, eighteen more times in the story and the story isn’t very long.

Last was one of my favorite of his stories, “The Horror at Red Hook.” Not one of his best, but it special to me because it took place in my city, in its descriptions I found something as familiar as my neighborhood in Queens. But now I deflated as I read this description of Red Hook: “The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and negro elements impinging upon one another, and fragments of Scandinavian and American belts lying not far distant. It is a babel of sound and filth…”

Here’s the funny thing though. When I think back on why these parts hurt me it wasn’t only the racism. (Don’t get me wrong, it was still partly the racism.) I was offended as a Black man. But I was also offended as a writer. This kind of stuff is bad writing, and not just because of the slurs. It’s bad writing because it shows poor thinking on Lovecraft’s part.

“The Horror at Red Hook” takes place in Brooklyn. The protagonist is an NYPD Detective named Thomas F. Malone. When the story opens Malone is on a long leave from his job because he’s suffered through a traumatic event in the hives of Red Hook. The rest of the narrative tells you what he survived. Malone stumbled onto a great and horrific conspiracy among the “hopeless tangle” of dusky ethnics, all led by a wealthy white man named Robert Suydam. By the end Malone encounter some otherworldly horror in the story’s confusing, hasty ending.

But here’s the problem, Lovecraft admits, right in the text, that he doesn’t understand the “Syrian, Spanish, Italian and negro elements” of Red Hook. He calls the population an “enigma.” Despite this Lovecraft ascribes them hideous motivations, all filtered through the perspective of Malone, an obvious Lovecraft surrogate. This turns into a bad feedback loop. Lovecraft doesn’t understand these people, but writes a character who investigates the very people the author admits he doesn’t understand. So who, or what, is Lovecraft really exploring here? Only his perceptions of that place and those people. Writing to corroborate what you already think is the essence of bad writing.

I’m not saying I understood all this, or could articulate it, when I read Lovecraft at sixteen or even as I continued to reread him into my twenties and thirties. My doubts and arguments grew over time. But they didn’t diminish my love for his ideas. They also didn’t minimize the pleasure of the plots.  But as an adult I wanted to find a way to write both a love letter and a critique of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction.

When I returned to “The Horror at Red Hook” last summer I could finally see a way into the piece, one that would let me have a conversation with Lovecraft, a way to express both my disappointment and admiration. I thought back to that eleven-year old living in a tenement in Queens. I thought of his mother and grandmother and baby sister. His friends from school, the old women who sat along the sidewalk in lawn chairs during the summer, the old men at McDonald’s nursing coffee and conversation. The working folks and the hustlers and the bums.

Where Lovecraft would’ve seen an enigma I could say these were people I knew. They were complicated by not mysterious. What if I reimagined Lovecraft’s old story from their point of view? What if I made one of them the engine of the tale? How much would change if the folks used to playing the background came center stage instead?

I sat at the computer and decided to find out.


The Ballad of Black Tom: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.


What I Want Out of Twitter

The Internet is having one of its periodic “Twitter is doomed” spasms, and this means that everyone and their sister has an idea of what Twitter should do in order to save itself. Well, this is what Twitter should do to save itself: Sell itself to Google, which will allow the company to do what it does well (be a place for people to yak about shit for 140 characters at a time) while Google does what it does (mine the shit out of the things people are tweeting in order to sell ads). Done and done.

What I’m more interested in is how Twitter can make itself better, which is a different question than how Twitter can be saved. Twitter’s major issue, as everyone except apparently Twitter’s C-bench knows, is that there are a bunch of shitheads on it who like to roll up to whomever they see as targets (often women and/or people in marginalized groups) and dogpile on them. That’s no good.

I get my own fair share of jerks trying to make my Twitter existence miserable, so over time I’ve developed some strategies to trim those down. The problem here is that they require me to be an expert Twitter user, and do things like use a Twitter client with more features than the native web/mobile interface, and also simply to make rules in terms of interaction that don’t involve Twitter at all (see: the Scamperbeasts Rule). It also requires me to have a certain level of “don’t give a fuck” attitude, which fortunately I have.

But then, I’m a well-off straight white dude, and I can laugh off some mouth breather saying stupid things to me. If I were a woman and getting a constant stream of rape and death threats, I’m not sure I could do that, and I’m not sure that I should be required to be an “expert” user not to have to see this stuff. More to the point, this shit exists on Twitter because the assholes know it’s hard to filter it out; they know their target has to see it first to block or mute it.

I think it’s fine if Twitter’s philosophy is that everyone, including complete shitbags, have a right to an account on the service. But I think it would be useful if Twitter also incorporated into its philosophy, far more robustly than it has, that everyone is allowed to decide who is allowed to impinge on their time, and timeline. There are things that Twitter can probably do, pretty easily, to both give their users control of their timelines and to make it clear to assholes that Twitter is not a great place for them to troll and threaten.

Now, as it happens, Randi Lee Harper (who knows from trolls on Twitter) has a long piece on what she would suggest to make this a reality, complete with estimations of the technical difficulty of making the changes, and she put it up here. I recommend you read it. I also have some thoughts, which I will detail below. Some of what I suggest will overlap with what she has to say; some will not.

So, if Twitter were asking me what I wanted out of Twitter to make it an optimal service for me, here’s what I would suggest, in no particular order:

1. Timed mutes. Before Twitter started being jerks to third party software, I used Janetter to read my timelines, and the thing I loved most about it was that you could specify how long you wanted to mute people, for times as little as 30 minutes to as long as forever. This was great because sometimes I had friends who’d go on a tweet-jag about something I didn’t care about, or one of the people I followed got into it with another and their back-and-forth jammed up my timeline, or just sometimes someone I usually liked exhausted me and I wanted to take a break from them for a week. Likewise, sometimes a random person would tweet something stupid at me and I didn’t want to see that tweet anymore but I didn’t want to exile them out of my timeline forever, because, well, we all say stupid things from time to time.

Neither Twitter’s main web/mobile interface or its Tweetdeck client allows timed mutes, which means I have to choose between muting someone (and then possibly forgetting I wanted to unmute them at some point) or putting up with their crap on my timeline. Timed mutes solve that problem.

2. Mutable phrases/hashtags in the web/mobile Twitter UI. Tweetdeck, which is owned by Twitter, allows you to mute words as well as accounts, and this is handy because most of the jackasses who try to troll me will “@” some account they look up to or want to impress, so by making that second account handle a mutable phrase, I substantially cut down on the amount of stupid I have to see. Having that in the main UI, both on the Web and on mobile, would be super-useful.

3. Make mute/block lists native to Twitter and shareable across clients. I use the Tweetdeck client on mobile through the Web interface, which is horrible and has all sorts of “quirky” bugs. Why do I do it? Because my considerable “mute” list is stored on the Tweetdeck client and not by Twitter itself — which means anyone I’ve muted on Tweetdeck is not automatically muted on Twitter. I’d have to do it all again. I’ve got 1,500 accounts muted (so far). That’s a lot of work to duplicate. If Twitter stored the list and shared it with any clients I used (including its own), that would be fantastic.

4. Make mute/block lists easily shareable through Twitter between followers. I’ve muted 1,500 accounts, as noted above. It would be really useful for friends who don’t want to handcraft a mute list to be able to use mine as a starter. It would be even more useful if they could do it right through Twitter. Now, there are block lists out there right now but they do require you to export/import them in order to share them; as far as I know there’s no way to share mute lists. So making the latter sharable and having it all done in the client is the goal.

5. Robust filtering. Here are some things I would want to control for, in terms of whose responses to me I see in my replies timeline:

  • Account start date: I’d specify that accounts less than two weeks old would not show up in my replies (unless I chose to follow/whitelist them).
  • Account follower number: I’d specify that accounts with less than 100 users would not show up in my replies (unless I chose to follow/whitelist them).
  • Account icon: I’d specify that accounts that haven’t switched their Twitter icon from the default egg icon would not show up in my replies (unless I chose to follow/whitelist them).

Control of just these three things, at those levels, would automatically get rid of probably 90% of all “sockpuppet” accounts, i.e., the supplementary Twitter accounts assholes make to make it look like there are more of them and/or to get around being blocked. It would commensurately likely reduce the number of people sockpuppeting because they would know there’s no point. The numbers above for the account start date and follower number are my own; I think Twitter should allow people to specify the numbers.

Other things to allow filtering of:

  • Profile keywords: If I could filter out every single account that had “#GamerGate” in its profile text, as an example, my replies would have been a lot quieter in the last couple of years.
  • Accounts based on who they follow: Right now I’m thinking of five Twitter accounts of people I think are basically real assholes. I suspect that if you are following all five of them, you are probably also an asshole, and I don’t want to hear from you. In this particular case I think it’d useful to have the filtering be fine-grained, as in, rather than just filtering everyone who followed one account, you’d filter them if they followed Account 1 AND Account 2 AND Account 3 (and so on). It would also be useful to be able to do this more than once, i.e., have more than one follower filter, because often it’s not just one group being annoying.

6. Muting in Notifications and Direct Messages. If you mute someone, you don’t see them in your reply thread. But! As Twitter itself notes: “@ replies and mentions by the muted account will still appear in your Notifications tab,” and “Muting an account does not impact the account’s ability to send you a Direct Message.” It seems to me that if you’ve muted someone, you don’t want to see them. So users should at least have the option to extend muting to notifications and direct messages.

7. The ability to see only replies/notifications from those you follow/whitelist. Twitter kinda does this via private accounts, where the only people who can follow you are those you approve, so the replies will be from those folks. But that’s an ass-backwards way of doing it. Much simpler just to have a “Followers Only” option, either for the tweetstream in general, or for individual tweets (or both! Why not both!). Twitter already does something like this; verified accounts have the option of seeing only the replies/notifications from other verified accounts.

Notice that none of this so far requires Twitter to penalize or punish the accounts being muted or blocked, so mewling cries of “censorship!” can be easily ignored. Leaving aside that Twitter is not the government and as a private entity is allowed to say who may and may not speak on its service (and has a user policy that spells this out in any event), nothing above stops anyone from saying whatever they want on Twitter. It merely means that others are not obliged to listen. No one is guaranteed an audience.

Does this mean that I think Twitter shouldn’t boot and/or report accounts that threaten other users, or use the steps above to ignore or minimize threats of violence? Nope! I think that incorporating the things above will make Twitter less attractive to assholes in a general sense, and that’d be great, but that doesn’t mean that it will stop them completely. More to the point, it’s entirely possible that it’s not safe for some folks to ignore the messages assholes send them. As I’ve noted above, muting really solves a lot of problems for me, but then again, people don’t actively go out of their way to threaten me with rape or death. Not everyone has that luxury.

So for the people who have more to worry about than I do, but also want to have their general timestreams not filled with assholes spewing hate:

8. An optional tab where muted/blocked account replies can go. Wait, if you’ve muted/blocked someone, don’t you not want to see them? Indeed, you don’t! Or at the very least you don’t want to see them in the stream of daily conversation. But if you worry that there will be substantive threats to you among those accounts you’ve muted/blocked, then it’d be useful to have a quarantined area where you can see them and report the worst of them to Twitter. And that Twitter actually did something about them, with respect to their presence on the service, and when necessary (and agreed to by the person being threatened) in reporting the threatening accounts to appropriate authorities.

So these are the things I want out of Twitter, and not, say, tweets being longer. Note that I think having tweets be more than 140 characters will really mess with the character of Twitter and will make it into a second-rate Facebook. We already have a second-rate Facebook, called Facebook. Rather than potentially doing silly things like that, just give users more control of their own timestreams. It’ll make Twitter better, and something that people will still want to be part of.


Various and Sundry, 2/16/16

In which I catch up, briefly, on all the things:

* Hey, did you hear that Antonin Scalia died? Well, he did. I heard about just before I did my book signing session at ConDFW (which was lovely, more on that in a second), and roughly every fourth person in the signing line took it on themselves to let me know he’d died! In Texas! While I was in the same state! Isn’t that odd!

(It’s not odd. Texas is a big damn state, and Scalia was 79. These things happen.)

I wasn’t a fan of Scalia’s interpretation of the Constitution most of the time, and oh yes, Scalia interpreted the Constitution as much as any “activist judge” could be accused of; “Originalism” in general is a bunch of happy horseshit, since it pretty much boils down to “I’m going to rule however I want and blame it on James Madison.” Nice try, Scalia (and others), but no. That said, he and I have a few points in common, typically as they related to free speech — See Texas v. Johnson, United States v. Eichman and so on — so I can’t say there haven’t been moments where I didn’t appreciate him being on the bench, even if on balance I saw him being on the wrong side of history rather more often than not.

Now that Scalia’s dead, Mitch McConnell and other Republicans are trying to float the idea that Obama shouldn’t be allowed to name Scalia’s successor because “the people should have their say,” as if a) presidents have not nominated (and the Senate approved) judges in election years numerous times before, b) presidential terms somehow magically end more than eleven months before the new president takes up the gig. Speaking as one of “the people,” and specifically one of the people who voted for Obama in 2012 and will vote in the election of 2016, I know I didn’t and don’t vote for a president to have three quarters of a term; I voted for them to have a whole one.

Also, you know, the Constitution, of which Scalia was reportedly fond of, does not say “The president shall nominate Justices to the Supreme Court, unless it’s, like, less than a year before he’s out of office, or Mitch McConnell doesn’t like him, in which case screw that dude.” In this situation, what would Scalia do? The answer, as noted above, is “whatever he wanted, then he would blame Madison,” but in this specific case, the Constitution is pretty non-ambiguous about what needs to happen.

Bear in mind that if the Senate really is going to try to block Obama from making an appointment, no matter who he nominates, what they are doing is giving him a bludgeon, with which to pummel the entire Republican party, during an election year. I think Obama, who since the 2014 election is definitely in the “no fucks to give” phase of his presidency, will be delighted to pummel the GOP all the merry day long. So, you know. Go ahead, Mitch! You did a bang up job of limiting Obama to a single term. I’m sure this spectacular new plan of yours could in no way fail.

* On the subject of Republicans, a friend wrote me to complain that I had not written on the Saturday GOP debate. My excuse is that I was at a science fiction convention so my brain was busy elsewhere, and also that evening given the choice of watching the GOP debate or not, I went with not and watched Bridge of Spies instead. Hey, my pal Tom is in that movie! And I suspected it was going to be more coherent than anything that could come out of that debate. And wouldn’t you know, having seen the “highlights” of that debate, I was entirely correct!

At this point I can’t even image what it’s like to be a potential GOP voter here in 2016, and knowing that your top three choices for the job of Most Powerful Human Being on the Planet are a racist buffoon, a fumbling empty suit, and The Most Disliked Man in Politics, Ever. I’m not saying the GOP doesn’t deserve this; this is the bed it’s been making for itself since 1994 at least. But the rest of the country doesn’t deserve it. We’re getting it anyway.

(Oh, and the spectacle of Trump threatening to sue Cruz unless he stops being mean and lying all the time? It’s perfect, in the sense of “perfect” which means “Bless both their hearts.”)

* Moving away from politics, I spent last weekend at ConDFW, a very nice convention in Dallas, where I was on a bunch of panels, did a reading, and played the spaceship simulator Artemis, acting as the captain of the USS Scamperbeast. The game had a 20-minute time limit, and before we started I was asked if I wanted the game to go longer. I said “no, 20 minutes is perfect.” And then we played the game, and literally as the USS Scamperbeast was out of weapons, energy and shields, and two enemy spaceships were literally seconds away from blowing us out of the sky — our 20 minutes were up. That counts as a win, people. Also I’ve learned that I am a competent starship captain for exactly 20 minutes. After that: doooooooooom. But until then, I’m your man.

* Traveling to a convention and back again meant I was scarce here the last several days. Well, guess what? I’m soon to get on a boat, and will not be going online at all unless absolutely necessary, for about a week. So enjoy me while you have me, people!


RIP, Bud Webster

A moment here to note the passing of Bud Webster, science fiction writer and fan, and a SFWA colleague of mine who ran the SFWA Estate Project, which helped editors, publishers and others find rights holders to the work of writers who had passed on. I was privileged while SFWA president to be on the board that commemorated his good work for the organization with the Service to SFWA Award. I know he was genuinely honored to receive it, and we were genuinely honored to give it to him. His good work survives him.

A longer obit for Bud is at File 770, and I encourage you all to check it out. And if you are a writer, I encourage you to read this piece by Bud, about why it’s important to get your estate in order. He would know. He was the expert on it.

Condolences to Bud’s wife Mary and to his many friends.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Randy Henderson

Warning: Randy Henderson nameschecks a lot of questionable movies in this Big Idea for Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free. But it’s for a good reason! Honest!


“Hey, what’s the Big Idea?” Finn asked.  “Didn’t we do this for Finn Fancy Necromancy?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “But this is to talk about your adventures since then.”

“Adventures?  Ha!  Excitement?  Ha!  A character craves not these things — or at least this character doesn’t.  Yet some sadistic author apparently gets his thrills by making me run from danger to dating to deathiness.”

“Oh, come on,” I said.  “If I’d just let you retire to Character Heaven you would’ve totally missed me.”

“Right.  I so couldn’t live without you.”

“Actually, if you want to get technical –”

“You know what I meant!”  Finn snapped.

“You act like it’s all bad,” I said.  “But if I hadn’t written Bigfootloose, you wouldn’t have gotten to reconnect with your family.”

“Have you met my family?  No.  You just created them, you don’t have to actually deal with them.”

“Okay.  How about catching up on that twenty-five years of pop culture you missed while exiled in the Fey Other Realm?”

“You only caught me up to 1989 in this book.”

“And you’re welcome!  You got to see Star Trek IV, Robocop, Willow, Die Hard — a ton of great movies.”

“And had to listen to ‘Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car’!” Finn shouted.  “1988 was, like, the Bog of Eternal Stench of music!”

“How about you just Don’t Worry, Be Happy then?” I said.  “‘Cause I’m never gonna give you up.”

“You suck, Henderson.”

“Fine.  What about this: if I hadn’t written you another adventure, you wouldn’t have gotten sexy time with your girlfriend.”


“Uh huh,” I said.  “Thought so.”

“Whatever.  Aren’t you supposed to be talking about the Big Idea of Bigfootloose, not my sex life, oh master of my fate?”

“Right.  Well, in book one, the idea was just to have fun.  So I guess the Big Idea for this book was: how do I take a novel I wrote just to be fun, and really build the basis for a series?”

“You could have just suddenly made everyone aliens, like in Highlander 2.”

“Sure!” I said.  “Or I could have stabbed my eyes out with a plastic spoon and saved some time!”

“Fine then.  So would you say Bigfootloose is more like Conan the Destroyer, or Beastmaster 2?”

“Very funny.  Actually, I was trying more for Empire Strikes Back.”

“A bit ambitious for you, don’t you think?” Finn asked.

“Wow.  Thanks.”

“I just meant this isn’t exactly an epic for the ages you’re writing here.  But it is good to dream.  I guess I should just be happy you didn’t say Wrath of Khan.  Not that anyone would mess with that.”

“Ummm …”

“What?  No!  Please tell me nobody dared mess with Khan.  Might as well mess with The Hobbit, or Clash of the Titans.  I mean, once it’s done right –”

I cleared my throat.  “SO, as I was saying, in Bigfootloose I wanted to take the world hinted at in Finn Fancy Necromancy and really dig into it, to expand on the cultures and rules of human magic users and feybloods creatures in our world, and the Fey in the Other Realm, and explore the relationships and tensions between the three groups.  And I wanted to dig a little deeper into the characters, and their relationships.”

“Oh, is THAT what you were doing?” Finn said.  “Because to me, you know, it felt like you were throwing me into the middle of a feyblood rebellion and expecting me to not only save the world but somehow find a date for that sasquatch, Sal, all while trying to figure out my own life.  Silly me for completely stressing out!

“I’m sorry, but people want the adventure, and drama, and sexy time.  Not that you’ve had much of the last bit.”

“Wow.  Just tell the whole world, why don’t you?”

“Finn, you do realize that your life is literally an open book?”

“Okay, that is totally non-non-non-non-heinous.  Just tell me you don’t plan to cut off my hand or freeze me in carbonite or anything crazy, at least.”

“Oh, look,” I said.  “We’ve come to the end of our broadcast day.”

“Dude!  Seriously?  Come on.  I’m, like, your brain baby.  You wouldn’t hurt your brain baby would you?”




Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.


Not Dead

Just traveling. Will be back here tomorrow.

In the meantime, how was your weekend?


A Request re: Jeopardy (Update: Found It!)


Apparently I’m a question (or answer) on tonight’s episode of Jeopardy. Can some record and screencap the picture for me? I’m at a convention and don’t have the wherewithal to do it myself. You can email me or put it in the comment thread (although if you do, the picture will be held in moderation until I clear it).


Edit: Here it is!


View From a Hotel Window, 2/11/16: Dallas, TX

I’m here in the Lone Star State for ConDFW, where I am the guest of honor along with Seanan McGuire, so if you you’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and have a hankerin’ to meet me (or Seanan), this is the time. The convention starts tomorrow. Right now, I’m likely to take a little nap.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Lindsay Smith

The folks at Serial Box have been mashing up genres and serializing the results, and thus we have The Witch Who Came In From the Cold: Cold War meets Urban Fantasy. Here’s series co-author Lindsay Smith to catch you up on what’s going down.


The Witch Who Came In From the Cold is a study in duality. Most spy novels are—a delicate game of cat-and-mouse, a waltz between equals, a low moment in which patriot wonders whether they’re fighting for the right side. But with ColdWitch, as we’re calling it, we wanted to go even further.

A political cold war wasn’t enough. We had to go and add magic, too.

Prague is an ancient city with plenty of mystical, magical legends swirling in its foggy streets. In 1970, it’s the iron edge of the curtain, newly absorbed into the Soviet Union but just European enough to safely host Western intelligence services, too. We have plenty of USSR-US conflict simmering over in 1970, from the tail-end of the space race to the delicate maneuvering of arms, technology, and knowledge. Our two leading CIA officers, Gabriel Pritchard and Joshua Toms, are eager to recruit new sources in the soviet Czech government and exfiltrate a Soviet scientist to America for debriefing.

But Gabe has other problems. He picked up a little something in Cairo, something strange and elemental and seemingly bent on making his life miserable. He longs to stay grounded in his mundane world of political chess and slow, steady spycraft, but if he wants to keep his edge, he must confront this magical side of the world, and the more he learns, the more the magic gets its hooks in him.

Problem is, there isn’t just one magical organization in the world. There’s two. And any witch—Russian or American, British or Czech, or more besides—could be aligned with either one.

The Consortium of Ice is a longstanding organization of right-thinking witches, staid and growing more entrenched by the year. They seek to regulate magic for the greater good. A precautionary measure. Keep things nice and organized so the rest of the world doesn’t uncover the magic latent in everything.

The Acolytes of Flame, on the other hand, want to watch the world burn. A good, cleansing fire is just the thing the world needs for their order of powerful witches to ascend.

Tatiana Morozova comes from a long line of Ice witches, and a slightly shorter but no less powerful line of Soviet apparatchiks. When your ritual magic requires witches to work in tandem at all kinds of geographical locales, it helps to be able to move freely, and the KGB lets her do just that. Now she’s got this American, this outsider to the magical world, meddling in her business, attracting attention from the Ice and Flame both. It’s tough enough coordinating with other Ice witches, some of them Westerners, without tipping off the chief of the KGB rezidentura. Now she has to manage this bumbling CIA operative, who assumes she’s just trying to pitch him to spy for the KGB.

Which, in fairness, she might.

The idea of these shifting loyalties, these intersecting and diverging causes really fueled our writing process for Cold Witch. What if the MI6 officer helping you defeat the Russkies is an Acolyte of Flame, waiting for his chance to burn your hard work to the ground? How can you trust your American counterpart in the Ice when he’d do anything to embarrass your government? And is there anyone in this snowy, elementally-charged city who isn’t a witch, a spy, or some combination therein?

And we’ve only cracked the surface of Cold Witch’s potential in Season One. Now that we’ve lined our players up on their chess board, it’s time for the spy games and rituals to really begin.


The Witch Who Came In From the Cold: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|iTunes|Kobo|Serial Box

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.


A Brief Note to Nebula Award Nominators

So, I was chatting today with Lois McMaster Bujold, as one does, and she mentioned to me that her latest novel, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, which officially came out last week, was also in the last couple of days judged eligible for the Nebula Awards currently being nominated for, which are for books released in 2015.

Why is it eligible now? Presumably because an eARC version (an electronic version, before all the copy-editing and other cleanup is done) was offered for sale by Baen in 2015, and that’s enough to qualify it for 2015 consideration rather than 2016 consideration.

All well and good, of course, but it’s also the case that there are five days left for nominating for the Nebulas this year, and some Nebula nominators might not know that the book is eligible now, rather than later.

So: Hey! Nebula nominators! Gentlemen Jole and the Red Queen is eligible for your consideration now. If you’ve read it and liked it enough to want to nominate it, this would be the time. And if you were planning to read it with an eye toward nominating, you have until the fifteenth to do that.

(Please note this is informational on my part and not an endorsement of this particular book, for the simple reason that I have not yet read it. But I am looking forward to reading it. What can I say, I’m a Bujold fan.)


The Rest of the Night in New Hampshire

Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

More thoughts on what went down in New Hampshire:

* First, that vaguely squelchy sound you hear in the background is the GOP pooping itself because, in fact, Donald Trump is real, and he is spectacular — or at the very least, he thumped the hell out of the rest of the GOP squad in New Hampshire. He outpolled his nearest competitor John Kasich better than two to one, and beat Iowa winner Ted Cruz three to one. Trump’s gonna come out of New Hampshire like the crowing cock he is, and he’s the favorite to win the next GOP primary in South Carolina (FiveThirtyEight says he’s got a 55% chance of winning there; Marco Rubio, his nearest competitor, is at just 19%) and he’s ahead in the polls in Nevada, too, which comes after South Carolina.

This scares the shit out of the GOP establishment — as well it should — but, as I’ve noted before, the rise of a populist demagogue was exactly what the GOP has been aiming at for years. Yet again, for the people in the back: If your party spends decades undermining the legitimacy of government, and of governance, and if you sublet your messaging to radio talk show hosts and news networks whose bread and butter is making old white people scared and younger white people angry at minorities, and if you’ve pandered to that scared and angry core to continue to undermine government and governance in a distinctly non-virtuous cycle, then a populist demagogue as your party’s presidential candidate is probably inevitable.

The GOP’s misfortune is that it comes in the form of Trump, who doesn’t need its money and doesn’t care about the Republican Party in any real sense, except as a rented mule he can whip when it suits him. Billionaires are supposed to fund, not run.  Trump is vulgar and racist and generally horrible but he’s not stupid, and he understands the moment, and the movement, the GOP has provided him. The GOP establishment gave him a car that runs on vitriol. He’s going to drive it hard until it falls apart under him, and he’s not going to stick around to clean up the exploded mess. Why should he?

In short, the GOP only have themselves to blame. They asked for Trump. They’ve been asking for him for years. And here he is.

* Trump is the GOP’s fault, but the rest of the field is the GOP’s problem. Kasich put nearly all his chips into New Hampshire and got a distant second place finish as a payout, but South Carolina as I understand it is likely to be less friendly territory for a Republican who actually thinks occasionally working with the other side is a thing that might be done, and anyway he doesn’t have many chips left. Bush left New Hampshire in fourth place with a plan to have his ads target Kasich and Rubio. Rubio has a fifth place finish and a reputation as a broken machine. Cruz has a third place finish and appeals to religious conservatives, of whom there are many in South Carolina, but if the GOP establishment fears Trump, it loathes Cruz. Everyone else in the race doesn’t matter at this point.

None of the above seem to be targeting Trump very much; they’re more content to snipe at each other for the silver, which works out great for Trump. But more to the point, Trump is vulgar and racist and generally horrible, but the people who like him really like him. Who really likes Jeb Bush? Or Marco Rubio? Or John Kasich? Nobody likes Cruz, but inasmuch as no one really likes any of the remaining undercard perfomers, this hasn’t hurt him as much as it should. So Cruz keeps at it. They’re like drowning men desperately trying to push themselves up out of the water on each other’s shoulders, while Trump is in a speedboat with a model and champagne, encouraging them to kill each other and float on top of the bodies.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in South Carolina. But it’s going to be a long ten days until then.

* On the Democratic side, you know, I’m not gonna lie, I was convinced that Sanders was going to have a larger blowout than he did. Not that 60% to 38% is anything to complain about, mind you. He did great. I just thought it would be more. I think it’s because my Twitter feed is full of Bernie supporters.

In any event, it was long known that New Hampshire was Sanders territory. I think Clinton’s people didn’t do a particularly good job of framing expectations there. For example, here’s a fun fact: Clinton’s 38.3% loss in New Hampshire this year is less than one percent off from her 39.1% win of the state in 2008. So her support in the state is pretty much the same as it ever was. The differences this year: One fewer candidate to slice up the rest of the voting pie, Sanders’ “hometown” advantage, and the simple fact that people in New Hampshire, at least, were more energized by Sanders than by her.

Sanders should capitalize on his momentum because it gets harder for him from here — the Nevada caucus is a question mark (Clinton’s got a big lead there but the state hasn’t been polled since December) and FiveThirtyEight gives Clinton a 95% chance of winning South Carolina.

There’s also this:

Clinton and Sanders have roughly the same number of pledges delegates at this point, but Clinton has substantially more “superdelegates” (i.e., party bigwigs) supporting her, so she’s far ahead in the delegate count. In fact, thanks to superdelegates, Clinton comes out of New Hampshire with more delegates than Sanders currently has, even though he beat her 60%-38% in the polls.

So, yeah. Sanders absolutely should enjoy the moment. It goes uphill now, and he’s already way behind, and his big victory ironically ended up being a loss, as far as delegates go — which, for the purposes of the Democratic nomination, are the votes that matter.

* Given her structural advantages, do I think Clinton could eventually lose the nomination to Sanders? Well, I think it will be difficult for her to lose it, but then, she’s been a front-runner before and blown it, so I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. 2016 is not 2008, Sanders is not Obama (for a number of reasons), and Clinton, in my opinion, is a savvier politician than she was eight years ago. So I suspect in the end it’s Clinton. But you never know.

One of Clinton’s bigger problems is that people don’t like her, and there are all sorts of reasons for that, many of which are external to her — two decades of conservative revilement, for a start, down to the recent phenomenon of “Bernie Bros,” i.e., ostensibly liberal dudes who still think it’s fine to crap on Clinton for the unforgivable crime of being a politician whilst female. Sexism is still a thing. Sexism isn’t the only reason for people disliking Clinton — she has her faults — but it’s flat out a lie to say it’s not an overlay, just like it’s flat out a lie to argue that racism isn’t part of why Obama has been loathed by many for the last eight years. It does complicate matters.

For all that, if I were a betting sort, I’d still bet on Clinton. But again, from my point of view, whether Clinton or Sanders wins the nomination is immaterial, since both are so vastly superior to anything the GOP has on offer that I’m pulling the lever for whichever of them make it that far.

(But what about Bloomberg? He might enter the race! Sure, and if he does I’ll think about him then. Until then, I won’t).

And that’s a wrap for New Hampshire.


The Existential Angst of Jeb Bush Failing to Best Ted Cruz in the New Hampshire Primary, in Twitter Form (Featuring Jim Gilmore)

How I spent my New Hampshire primary night.

Postscript: Gilmore eventually cracked triple digits. Good for him.


Team Scalzi

Not long ago I was having a conversation about some recent business stuff going on in my life, and the person I was having the conversation with noted that I was using “we” instead of “I” a lot when I was talking about decisions. They were curious whether there was more than one person actually involved in my decision-making process, or if I just had a massively inflated ego and was using the royal “we.” Well:

1. Yes, I have a massively inflated ego, I mean, duh;

2. In this case, however, I regularly rely on other people to help me make business decisions concerning my work, and that’s who the “we” refers to. At this point in my life there is, in fact, a “Team Scalzi.”

It’s not an official team, mind you. We don’t have softball jerseys or anything (although, now that I think of it, this could be done…), and none of them work for me as an employee. Rather, there are people I work with on the business side of my life to get things done and/or to help me plan for the future and for future projects.

Nor is this especially unusual; many professional writers (and most pro authors) have a group of people who they listen to, or at least get advice from, in terms of their careers and business and futures. The people in these roles, and the types of role, vary from writer to writer, of course.

So who is my “team”? They are:

Spouse: This would be Kristine Scalzi, who, aside from being my partner in life, has a super-sharp business mind both naturally and by education (she has a business degree). She also handles much of the business end of things here, in terms of tracking and organizing various projects and contracts and such. Also, she handles nearly all the homefront issues, which is important when one travels as much as I do.

Smart authors will often compliment their spouses/spousal equivalents and assure you that they would be nothing without them; in my case this is actually also true. Krissy’s organizational and business skills, and willingness to hold down the fort, are nearly entirely responsible for the fact that we are solvent and that I am able to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can. Nothing gets done without her, and everything that does gets done, is made better by her.

Literary Agent: This is Ethan Ellenberg of the Ethan Ellenberg Agency. Aside from a spouse or spousal equivalent, this is probably the most common “team member” for any author. I figure most of you know what an agent does, but for those of you who don’t, this is the person responsible for helping me sell my books to publishers, not just here in the US but worldwide. To do this Ethan has his own team, starting with Bibi Lewis, who handles my foreign sales, and also including a large number of subagents from around the world, who help find buyers in foreign territories. Ethan is a very large part of the reason this happened, and why my work is now in two dozen languages worldwide.

Editor: This is Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor (there are others as well, notably Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press and Steve Feldberg at Audible). Aside from editing my novels, a job that’s he’s done pretty well for a decade now, he and I also strategize about which projects to write and when to put them out, and how to market them to booksellers and readers. In this, Patrick quite obviously has his own team to work with: It’s called Tor Books (likewise Bill and Steve at their respective companies). All these teams are pretty good at what they do.

Film/Television Agent: This is Joel Gotler, of Intellectual Property Management. He’s the one who shops my work to/fields offers from producers and studios in Los Angeles for possible film/TV projects, and given the number of projects we’ve had optioned, he’s clearly good at it. He also advises me on which projects are mostly likely to get interest at any particular moment, and helps me field non-literary-derived projects as well (not everything I pitch for the screen was originally a book).

Entertainment Lawyer: Hey, did you know contracts are tricky and you might want to have a lawyer look at them and give you advice about them? My entertainment lawyer is Matt Sugarman of Weintraub Tobin. In addition to vetting contracts, I also bend his ear about the entertainment industry landscape as he sees it, and where he thinks it might go from here. I also and independently use a local lawyer, John Marchal, to handle estate planning and other such issues not directly related to entertainment, but which have bearing on my business.

Accountant: This is Julie Boring, of Boring & Associates, who has handled our taxes since we moved to Ohio in 2001 and who has kept up with my (sometimes rather drastically) changing income and tax profile over the last fifteen years. She keeps me up to date on tax issues and concerns and helps me regarding how best to maximize charitable giving.

Financial Planning and Services: Dave Selsor of Fifth Third Securities is helping us here. I’m not a flashy investor and generally I follow the advice I give nearly everyone about investing, i.e., “shove it into an index fund and don’t think about it for thirty years.” But we have a few other (generally financially conservative) irons in the fire, and a few less-than-usual financial concerns that take a bit of planning.

Note that members of this “team” interact with each other to varying degrees: My agent interacts with my editor and my film/TV agent, for example, but not generally with my accountant or investment planner. The only consistent point of contact here for all of these folks is me. Nevertheless, information is shared one way or another (usually through me).

I will also note that all the members of my “team,” save my wife, are part of other peoples’ teams as well — my agent (and his agency) has many other clients, as does my lawyer and accountant and so on. It’s a little presumptuous to talk about them as my team, and I know it. Nevertheless these are people in a privileged position in regards to both knowledge of my career and their ability to assist me with it, and when they’re doing that, we’re working toward the same goal. Like a team! So there you are.

Additionally — this is my particular team, which has been built over the years based on my own career needs. Other folks have have some of these people and not others, or others that I don’t have. For example, I don’t have an assistant, which several authors of my acquaintance have (at least one I know has more than one). I also don’t have a manager, which some authors, particularly those who want to work in movies/TV, choose to have. In my case, neither of these make sense. I know other authors who choose not to have agents, a choice I would not be comfortable with personally, but which they seem to be content with. And of course, many writers are single, or might, for varying reasons, prefer not to have their spouses actively involved with the minutiae of their careers.

For what I do and how I do it, this is the team loadout that works for me (literally). In return, most of them get a bit of my income out of it — commissions and fees and such. Which is another thing to think about, incidentally: Whether what you get out of these services will be what you pay for it. In my case it’s a yes — I can’t even imagine trying to wrangle my taxes at this point, or attempting to sell books in Thailand or Estonia, or wherever. Each of these “team” members either helps me save or make money (in some cases both!) and give me good advice, in their areas of expertise, to make decisions. They are well worth what they charge. Again, your mileage may vary.

Do one, as a writer, need people in these particular roles? Well, I always think it’s nice to have a spouse, if you can manage it. Other than that a lot will depend on what your career goals are and how much work you want to take on. For example, if you self-publish primarily and don’t want or plan to approach publishers, either here or overseas, your need for an agent is lower than mine; likewise if you don’t publish books and/or freelance primarily for magazines and Web sites where you can query directly. Also, in many cases, it’s not just about you choosing who to work with. They also have to choose you.

In any event, when I say “we” when I talk about my business, one or more of the folks above are the people that are included in the word. They’re all good at what they do, and I’m glad that in what they do, they do it with and for me.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Tanita S. Davis

Sometimes people are uprooted and put in new circumstances. How do we adjust, and can we put down new roots that work well enough for us? In her Big Idea, Tanita S. Davis considers this question and how it relates to her YA novel, Peas and Carrots.


There is no super power greater than knowing how to gather friendly, open, likeminded people around us, to use our intention to make our own safe place in the world. But when our relatives are rotten, and intentional choosing isn’t a skill available to us, what do we do then? Eventually, we stop thinking in terms of family, and seek other bonds.

My first teaching job out of college was working one-on-one with students housed courtesy of the State. They were a mixed lot: entitled incorrigibles who had smarted off to a truancy officer one time too many; runaways from intolerable home lives who’d ended up in the sex trade as a means of survival; gang-affiliated kids who looked like hard-faced adults, serving time for being accessories to grand theft and drive-by shootings. They all shared the simple human desire to belong somewhere – for their families to take them back, for the tight group they’d left behind to arrive one day and rescue them from my classroom… Every day that I worked with them, I watched their counselors and therapists and parole officers try to impress upon them the importance of making new connections, of finding different stomping grounds and other things to hold dear.

It was not a message which found a receptive audience. Almost every one of my students had some piece of the past they held onto against all comers, some piece of the world which represented to them all that they’d lost, and all that they would need to make the world right again. And, for almost all of those students, that thing was a representation of family. A location which they defended with fierce neighborhood pride. A faded Polaroid taped to the headboard at every new placement. A ratty old cardigan or piece of baby blanket held onto since childhood.  A tattoo, stick pin applied with charcoal and baby oil; the name of a best-beloved boldly claiming the tender skin of a wrist or forearm. A piece of a past, real or imagined, and long vanished.

Could they realistically be asked to let go of that? Obviously, no. And yet, how could they move into the future if they weren’t willing to let the past go?

What I saw work, during my brief years with these kids, was encouraging them to change perspective. Maybe they couldn’t have the crew they used to run with, but they could find literal running mates elsewhere. Some left the group home and get involved with long-distance running, basketball, tournament teams traveling and learning the feel of that inclusivity in teams. One girl embraced her love of arguing and took a semester to first observe, then begin to participate in her new high school’s debate team. We didn’t always get to see the next chapter in the lives of those with whom we worked, but sometimes we’d get a card or a call, or a social worker would bring back word. The kids who survived the destruction of their networks and didn’t return to the scene of the disaster were those who found and formed new connections, and new ways into what they ultimately wanted the most.

The world can be puzzled by these deliberate connections, these bonds we seek to supplement biology. Your new home may not be where any of you live, and your new family may be made up of what other people would consider strangers on the internet. I remember wheeling my through a crowded Costco shopping center when my sister was less than a year old, and encountering the crooned, “Oh, she’s precious! She looks just like you two!” It was, in this case, both ludicrous and …ludicrously wrong, as my youngest sister is an American of Cambodian ancestry, I’m an American of African ancestry, and my husband’s ancestral leanings are English, Scottish, and Irish. Sooo…maybe not just like us? But, I’m pretty sure that between her eye rolls – she’s nineteen now – and her general mien of disaffected snarkiness, there’s at least a family resemblance.

Peas and Carrots is a book marketed to middle grade/young adult readers and explores intentionally choosing people to love, and accepting each other in spite of our differences. At the end of the day, peas and carrots don’t go together because they grow together –  legumes and umbeliers are vastly different plant families – nor do they look alike or taste alike… They go together because we put them together. And so can we put together a family, too. Maybe blood shapes our earliest parts, but the choices of who we invite into our circles define us further down the road. It’s an absolutely huge idea that we can have some power over our own happiness in finding good, true, family-tested-friends. Love – and family, however we assemble it –  can be a lot simpler than we make it.


Peas and Carrots: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.


The 2016 Audie Award Finalists for Fantasy

The Audie Awards are the big award in audio books, celebrating both the words of the author and the performances of the readers. Having won this award myself with Wil Wheaton, I can assure you it’s a thrill to be a finalist with your audiobook reader and even more fun to win.

This year I’m delighted to announce the Audie Award Finalists for 2016 in the category of Fantasy. That’s right! You’re reading it here first!

If for some reason you can’t read the graphic above, the finalists are:

  • Ascension: The Trymoon Saga, by Brain K. Fuller, read by Simon Vance
  • The Cycle of Arawn, by Edward W. Robertson, read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
  • The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin, read by Robin Miles
  • Nice Dragons Finish Last, by Rachel Aaron, read by Vikas Adam
  • Son of the Black Sword, by Larry Correia, read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Winners will be recognized at the Audies Gala in Chicago on May 11, 2016.

Congratulations and good luck to all of the finalists!

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