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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Monica Valentinelli

When Monica Valentinelli become annoyed with cliches in science fiction and fantasy, she didn’t get mad — she got creative. She’s here to explain how that lead to Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, the new anthology she’s co-edited.

MONICA VALENTINELLI:

I wish I could claim that I was brilliant enough to concoct the idea for Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling with no inspiration or prompting whatsoever, but sadly that was not the case. In fact, the idea didn’t originate from my head at all, but my heart. After reading a flame war about how sloppy tropes and damaging clichés didn’t need to be changed, that Chainmaille Bikinis were just fine the way they were and it didn’t matter if the Black Man Died First, I became increasingly frustrated. Wait a minute, I told myself after a heavy sigh. Surely, these readers wanted stories that were achingly honest and reflective of the people and our world around us? Surely, they didn’t want to read yet another plot detailing how Scientists Cause the Apocalypse or the magic of Talking Animals? Or the Catholic Exorcism? Or the Villain Had a Crappy Childhood?

Surely? Maybe? Hopefully?

My frustration quickly devolved into angst in mere minutes the more I read, because I believe that tackling tropes in the context of a story is neither unusual nor politically-motivated. Many, many authors have utilized tropes in their stories either on a conscious or unconscious level to varying degrees in order to comment on them and manage audience expectations. Thankfully, as soon as I turned off Twitter my angst was quickly replaced with inspiration. It wasn’t enough for me to roll my eyes, I wanted to zero in on tropes in my own work in order to satisfy my creative itch. Initially, I had planned to write a collection specifically geared toward flipping tropes and clichés omnipresent in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Not five minutes later, however, I realized how incomplete and misguided my efforts would be.

To do a proper job for the reader, I thought to myself, this wasn’t the sort of project that I alone should write. I recognized that if I were to approach the subject of tropes and clichés, I couldn’t ignore omnipresent and oft-repeated stereotypes about race, gender, sexual identity, etc. in addition to long-standing genre tropes. Excluding those tropes wasn’t an option for me. What’s more, I felt that my perspective would be so one-sided, the reader’s satisfaction would suffer as a result of my paltry attempt to satisfy my own ego. My big idea was bigger than me, and to pull it off I needed help.

After I came to this realization, I decided that my original idea would be best explored in an anthology filled with multiple authors. So, I asked Jaym Gates, who had worked with Jason Sizemore from Apex Publishing in the past, to be my co-editor. We pitched the collection to Jason, and it was approved contigent upon a successful Kickstarter. Then, we invited a core group of authors and asked them to write a story that flipped a trope they felt strongly about. Following an open call for submissions, we launched a Kickstarter in February 2016 and were able to buy more stories, bump the author’s rate per word, and incorporate more essays. As a result, we’ve produced a 400+ page, co-edited anthology filled with trope-smashing stories and essays penned by over two dozen writers.

Now that you’ve read how I got the idea for Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, you might be wondering if I feel I made the right choice. Was I correct in involving other authors? Or, should I have stuck to my original plan? Hands down, I absolutely feel I made the right decision. As a writer myself, I recognize that not all ideas I concoct are good or even great ones. Sometimes, though, good ideas evolve into something better when they involve multiple authors. Not only was this true for Upside Down, I am a different, kinder person after editing this project. I am very grateful I had the chance to work with such talented writers as Kat Richardson, Nisi Shawl, Maurice Broaddus, Anton Strout, Alyssa Wong, John Hornor Jacobs, A.C. Wise, Keffy Kehrli, and many others, because I learned so much. Together, our authors deftly accomplished a stellar commentary on tropes that, arguably, no one writer could do on their own. For, not only did every author choose a different trope, they tackled and subverted them in unique ways, too, through their art of storytelling and examination.

So there you have it. What started out as a feeling of angst, turned into a two-year successful project involving a few dozen people. The end result is a trope-smashing collection that — if we did our job right — will not only be satisfying for you to read, but thought-provoking as well.

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Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read “Super Duper Fly” from the anthology, by Maurice Broaddus. Visit the co-editor’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

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Athena, on the Occasion of (Probably) Her Last Day as a High School Student

Why is this girl smiling? Because today is probably Athena’s last day as a high school student. As you may remember, this year Athena has been attending the local community college rather than the local school, because Athena basically had only one more class she needed to complete her high school requirements, and it was easier to schedule it at the college than at the school. Today is the last day of the semester at the college, and with it, the completion of her high school requirements. Athena’s petitioned to be allowed to graduate early, and historically such petitions have been granted (we’ll know for certain next week). If it is, well, then, this is it. The end of Athena’s high school days. You can see she’s pretty pleased by this turn of events.

This also completes, I suspect, my annual tradition of “last day of school” pictures for Athena; after this she’ll be off at college, and I won’t be around for her final day at the end of each year. This is where one can get maudlin and start singing “Sunrise, Sunset” or something along that line, but I’ll go ahead and postpone that for now. We have other big commemorations coming up soon, and I want to save my thoughts until then.

Nevertheless, a big day, and I’m proud of my daughter. But then, there’s not a day that I’m not.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

And it’s always nice to find a cat under the tree. 

Hope your December is going swimmingly.

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So Who Won the ARC for The Dispatcher?

Photo by Valerius Tygart; used under Creative Commons license. Click on photo to go to original.

It was Nancy K, who was the third person (out of apparently fifteen) to correctly guess the animal I was thinking of, which was the pangolin. She wins because when I rolled my 20-sided die on my desk, the number that came up was “3”, and she was the third. Yes, the counting of the number was three. You may start making your Monty Python jokes now.

Thanks everyone who played along! It was fun to do one of these again. I might do it again soon. Nancy K, I’ll send you an email.

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Hey, I Feel Like Giving Away This Subterranean Press ARC of “The Dispatcher”

And I could give it away to you! Yes you, wherever you are in the world. I’ll even sign it (and personalize it, if you like).

Here’s what you have to do to enter:

In the comment thread attached to this entry, tell me what animal I’m thinking of right now

(Note: I have told Krissy which animal it is, so I can’t change my mind.)

Two hints: It’s a land animal, and it’s a vertebrate.

Only one animal per entry, one entry per person. Entries with multiple animals will be disqualified as will any additional entries from anyone aside from the first. When you comment, in the “email” field, leave an actual email I can reach you at (don’t leave it in the body of the comment, unless you want everyone to know your email). Only comments here on Whatever will be considered for the contest (i.e., don’t leave comments on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else).

You have until noon Eastern on Tuesday, December 13, 2016 to enter. I’ll close the comment thread after that.

In the case of multiple people guessing the same animal, I’ll tally up the number of the people who guess the animal (up to the first six TWENTY because I just found my 20-sided die) and then roll a die. The number that comes up will correspond to the number of the person who guess (for example, if the number rolled is a two, then the second person to correctly guess the animal wins, etc).

If you like, while you’re guessing the animal to win the ARC, you can also pre-order the final print version from Subterranean Press, either in the unsigned trade edition, or the signed, limited edition (only 400 of those). The print version arrives in May, and features awesome cover and interior art by Vincent Chong. And of course, it’s currently available in the audio edition, read by Zachary Quinto.

Good luck with your guessing!

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Miniatures Arrives!

And is looking very fine, I have to say. It showed up to my house while I was away this weekend in Chicago, so I saw it in the flesh when I returned yesterday evening. Which is a very fine way to have a homecoming, I have to say. The book itself is wonderfully well put-together, as Subterranean Press books typically are, and I especially love the cover and interior art, which is done by Natalie Metzger. They’re perfect for the book.

If I have a copy it means that other copies will be heading out soon. But there is still time to preorder from SubPress, and when you do, you’ll get the electronic version included in the price of the (limited to 1500! All signed by me!) hardcover. Go get it; it’s a fun collection of short stories, and a very pretty book.

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Out for the Weekend

Try to amuse yourselves somehow. I’ll see you on Monday.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Corie Weaver

Picture a mad scientist in your head. Got it? Now, here’s editor Corie Weaver explaining why that image should be a more diverse one, and how her 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology helps to make that possible.

CORIE WEAVER:

Mad scientist should be an equal opportunity career.

I firmly believe this. So when a friend mentioned that she was having a hard time finding science fiction books for her aspiring mad scientist daughter, I figured she just wasn’t looking hard enough.  (Sorry, Kim.)

How difficult could it be?  She wanted a science fiction book for an eight year old, with a female main character and no romantic subplot. A Wrinkle in Time, The City of Ember, Zita the Spacegirl – there were certainly stories that fit the bill, but not as many as I expected or desired.

Where were all the SF books for girls? I got curious and started digging. According to a 2011 study of 6,000 children’s books, only 31 percent had central female characters, and even fewer featured main characters of color.* The odds, apparently, were against me.

All of this happened about the same time I became aware of the Sad Puppies and their, shall we say, issues. I honestly don’t know how to argue with adults who are so convinced of their position that they can’t see outside their own bubbles.

But I do know how to reach children.

What better way to ensure the bright future of the genre I love than to encourage more kids to read science fiction? And not just great science fiction, but diverse stories where everyone is welcome?

In 2014, we put out a call for submissions for the first Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, an anthology of science fiction short stories for middle grade readers.  We didn’t just want great stories. We wanted stories that showed the universe was big enough for everyone – that anyone can be a hero.

A wide variety of authors responded to the call, from relative newcomers to the field to award winners such as Beth Cato, Eric Choi, and Nancy Kress. Nancy has sent us a story for every year of the anthology, and as our author with the most time working in the genre, I couldn’t help but ask what had drawn her to the project.

She answered: “When I was a child, the school library had a Girls’ Section, which included fairy tales, and a Boys’ Section, which included all the science fiction. Things have changed, of course, but not enough. There is a strong need for science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, aimed at girls, especially in the middle grades. This anthology is an important contribution to the effort to fill that need, and I’m delighted to be a part of it.”

I think about how much things have changed.  As a girl I read all the fantasy and science fiction I could get my hands on. The library wasn’t divided by gender. But stories I read then I’d be reluctant to pass off to a kid now, at least without some disclaimer, some explanation. “Things were different then,” I’d say. “You should come talk to me when you’re finished reading the story, and we’ll talk about how some attitudes have changed.”

Sally Ride, first American woman in space and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, famously said: “Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Girls need to read stories where any number of possible roles are modeled for them. Just as importantly, boys need to read stories where girls are active participants in adventures. And children of all colors and backgrounds need to know the future includes them.

Which means there needs to be space for those stories to be told.  Every year we get a great mix of stories, and we comb through the submissions to try to make a perfect anthology to get kids hooked on science fiction. What’s it like to be a space station detective or reluctantly hold your society’s cultural knowledge for your return to Earth? What do you do when your robot gets you in trouble or when you’re homesick for Mars?

What we want, what all of our contributing authors want, is for all kids to be able to see themselves as active participants in the future.

The 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide is the third year of our journey.

Science fiction is for everyone. Girls, boys, robots – everyone is welcome here.

* “Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters.” (http://gas.sagepub.com/content/25/2/197.full.pdf+html) The results of the study are also discussed in this Guardian article: (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/may/06/gender-imbalance-children-s-literature)

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2017 Young Explorers Adventure Guide: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks|Indiebooks|Kobo

 

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Four Weeks In

Original photo by Michael Vadon, used under Creative Commons license. To see original, click on photo.

Once more in a Q&A format. Here we go:

Hey, what about that GOP elector from Texas who says he’s not gonna vote for Trump because he’s unqualified to be president?

Good for him for voting his conscience. So that’s one down. You’ll need, I think, 38 more to deny Trump the White House via the Electoral College.

Think it’ll happen?

No.

But it could happen, right?

Sure. But there’s a lot of air between could and will. I think you should at least make contingency plans for if it doesn’t.

So you’re saying there’s a chance.

Yes. There is also a chance you will win the lottery when you buy a ticket. You shouldn’t have “win the lottery” as your retirement plan.

Also remember that even if the Electoral College chooses not to elect Trump (unlikely) and doesn’t give it to Clinton (they won’t), then it goes to the House. If you think the House won’t give it to Trump, you think more of the House than I do.

Hey, Trump voter here.

Oh, hello.

What you think of the polls that say that something like 60% of Americans are optimistic about a Trump administration?

Good for them. I hope their optimism is not misplaced.

What I mean to say is, maybe you and your pals are all moody and depressed and doom doomy doom-laden for no good reason.

You know, it’s not outside the range of possibility that despite all indications, Trump’s administration will not be the horrifying shit-show that appears it is going to be. In which case, great! At this point I would personally settle for “not a horrifying shit-show.” With that said, it’s easy for me to settle, financially-secure straight white man that I am. Bear in mind that even in the best-case scenario, I think the Trump years will be harder for a lot more people than the Clinton years would have been, both economically and otherwise. “Not a shit-show” is speaking generally. Specifically, a lot of people are going to be in the shit. Some of them will have voted for Trump.

You could be wrong!

I’ve been wrong before, certainly.

Any thoughts on Al Gore meeting with Trump?

If it helps us from baking in our own juices any sooner than absolutely necessary, I’m okay with that.

You heard that Ivanka was in on that meeting, right?

I did.

And?

I’m not Ivanka’s biggest fan, and I find the basic trend of Trump installing his children (and children-in-law) into (unofficial) positions of power appalling. With that said, a) Ivanka is clearly the smart one in that family, b) She’s possibly the only one that isn’t 100% an opportunistic grifter, c) she’s possibly the only one who is both vaguely liberal and capable of long-term thought. In the nepotistic shit-show that will be Trump White House, if she’s the voice of sanity that will keep Trump from pissing all over the Paris Accords and otherwise hastening our global climate mess, well, work with what you’ve got.

What happened to resisting Trump by any means necessary?

I’ve talked about the issues of pragmatic governance in the age of Trump before, and at the moment I’m no closer to a good answer about it than I was then. I can’t imagine there won’t be policies and practices of the Trump administration that should be met with anything other than pure and righteous defiance. But, look: If Al Gore (or anyone else) can get into the Trump White House to talk into the ear of, or to talk to Trump under the aegis of, the woman who Trump clearly trusts and loves and will take advice from more than any other, and the possible result is fewer policies and practices that should be met with defiance, I’m willing to not to castigate the person who realpoliticks that one out.

And yes, it sucks. It’s not how it should work. Welcome to the Trump years.

What about Trump picking fights with China?

I don’t know enough about the politics involved with that to make any competent statements about it. I will say that taunting China without cause seems a dumb thing to do.

Hey, Ben Carson. 

Yes, what about him?

Picked for HUD because, like, he’s black, yes?

I do expect that’s part of it. But remember last week, when I said that the criteria for Trump’s cabinet picks is that they are “rich, loyal and fundamentally disagree with the mission of the governmental department they will soon be in charge of”? There you go. That Carson is also fundamentally unqualified for the position is kind of a bonus (for the administration, not anyone dealing with HUD).

So it’s basically been a month since the election, yes?

Four weeks to the day, indeed. A couple more days until the full month. But close enough.

Still pissed off? Depressed? Annoyed?

Yes, although most of those are tempered at this point, because a month is a long time. I find it largely embarrassing at this point that Trump is going to be president. Also at this point I think I’ve got him pegged: Thin-skinned, crass, easily-persuadable, corrupt and contemptuous, all of which are confirmed on a daily basis by his personal actions and administrative choices. I’m not happy about a Trump presidency, but I think I’ve got most of the dance steps down.

There’s still huge uncertainty, of course — not in how Trump will react to things (horribly, because he’s horrible), but what things will be out there for him to react to. Friend and foe have the man marked, the same as I do, and soon we will find out how they play him, and by extension, play the US. Whee!

How else has the incoming Trump administration affected you?

On a practical level, not too much. As noted before, I finished most of my substantial work for the year prior to the election, and much of the work I had left was technical (i.e., editing, etc) which didn’t require creative muscles. Which is good, as I’m still unfocused on that front. I had a couple creative opportunities I had to pass on just because I couldn’t get my brain to buckle in. I strongly suspect that when I start in on the next novel (that will be in January, in case you were wondering), I’ll really have to enforce the “no social media until the day’s work is done” rule, because otherwise I’ll never get anything done. The election already dragged out the writing of The Collapsing Empire and contributed to me turning it in late (which I’ve made up for — slightly — by expediting edits), and I don’t want to make a thing of it.

On a planning level, it’s made a difference. I had a meeting with my financial adviser last week about where to put this year’s investments, a meeting which I had put off until after the election in part to see what happened to the markets (spoiler: They haven’t tanked (yet)). It also makes a difference in terms of what we’re planning for spending around the home and with family. We know we have a pretty large expenditure coming up — Athena’s college(!) — although how much that will be will depend on where she goes. That’s gonna get paid regardless, but everything else is up for discussion.

Mind you, don’t cry for us. Again, thanks to my extended book contract and our general financial policy of “save all the monies,” we’re gonna be fine, unless things get so bad for everyone everywhere that we’re dragged into the mess. I’ve mentioned before that we’re likely to be some of the people affected “last and least” by any Trump administration misadventures; that still stands.

Hey, Scalzi, anything else you wanted to say on the subject of “last and least”?

Ooooh, thanks for reminding me, fictional person asking the questions! In fact, I do. I’ve gotten some thanks over the last few weeks of writing these pieces on Trump, for being general calm and “sensible” (if swear-y). And while I appreciate that — I like being thought of as sensible! — remember also who I am, which is: financially-secure straight white dude. It’s easy for me to be calm and “sensible.” With respect to the incoming Trump administration, you really need to also be reading and hearing the folks who are not financially-secure straight white dudes, not all of whom are “calm” and “sensible,” and for very good reason, i.e., because the bigots inside and outside of the Trump administration have been emboldened to make life miserable for them. For starters.

Which is to say: Thanks for reading my thoughts about Trump and his party pals. I think I’m an okay starting place for such reading. But if your reading on it stops with me (or is otherwise limited to the folks who look/love/earn suspiciously like me), you’re not doing it right. Please get out there and read and listen more, and especially read and listen to the people for whom the incoming administration feels like a clear and present danger.

Are you going to keep doing these weekly wrap-ups of Trump?

No, actually I think this is the last one of these I have planned.

You’re not going to write about him anymore?

I didn’t say that. Merely that I’ll write about him and his pals when I have something specific to say about some foolishness they’re up to, and not necessarily in Q&A format.

But I like the Q&A format!

Well, of course you would, fictional question-asking person. You’re out of a job, I’m afraid.

The Trump economy claims its first victim!

Yes, I suppose it does. Sorry.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Ruth Vincent

Revenge: Is it all that it’s cracked up to be? Author Ruth Vincent asks this question, in relation to her new novel Unveiled, and also in a larger sense. What’s the answer? Read on.

RUTH VINCENT:

It’s often said that the role of the protagonist in a fantasy novel is to be the person we, the reader, wish we could be. But given how bloodthirsty this genre is, I’m not sure what that says about us.  It makes sense that our escapist literature is often about vengeance.  Speculative fiction is the genre of us “nerds,” and it sells us a feel-good fantasy of finally getting revenge on a realm’s too-mighty “cool kids.” We never tire of watching the scrappy hobbit/farmer/orphan defeat the slick, glib, arrogant monarch/mage/authoritarian; we cheer as they run this villain through with their sword, or shoot them with lasers, or light them up with fireballs, and we don’t stop to think about how horrifying we’d find these “heroes” if they were that quick to murder in real life.

Without giving away any spoilers for my novel, Unveiled, let’s just say that a bad thing happens to my heroine, Mabily Jones. In the end, she’s given the opportunity to kill the villain who wronged her. Because the bad thing occurred in the fairy realm, she will face no consequences for her action; the law of the land will be on her side, and she’ll probably be hailed as a hero for killing this character. But does that mean she should do it?

This was a soul-searching question, not only for my heroine, Mab, but also for me as an author. First, I had to examine if revenge would be consistent with her character? Mab is not at all prone to violence, but she’s been emotionally devastated, and revenge appeals to the emotions. What almost pushes her over the edge though, is that she won’t be held responsible for her deed. I’ve recently been riveted by the HBO drama “West World,” whose premise asks the question, who do we, as human beings, become when we think that our actions have no consequence? “The park shows you who you really are,” as one character put it, and the disturbing implication is that most of us are murderers, rapists, and generally horrible people if we’re given the chance.

The “Changeling P.I.” series exists partly in a realistic New York and partly in a parallel supernatural world. It’s an interesting thought exercise to realize that Mab probably wouldn’t have felt tempted to kill the villain if the crime had taken place in the “real world;” her temptation to violence is much stronger in the “other” world, especially since the would-be victim is nonhuman. Mab recognizes the primal pull of vengeance in herself, but is disturbed by what this says about her:

“I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this power, the power to hold someone’s life in my hand like the most delicate egg, didn’t secretly elate me.  But I stopped myself. If I killed him […. ] what did that make me?

It makes her no better than the villain, she realizes, whose own actions were primarily motivated by revenge. She knows if she crosses that line, she’ll no longer be the same person. She’ll be a killer, and no matter how justified, even heroic the other characters will view her action, it will forever change the way she relates to herself.

However, as a writer, I was afraid that if Mab didn’t kill the villain, even if he was satisfyingly punished in other ways, readers would look at my heroine as being weak for letting him live. Creating a “strong female character,” is often narrowly and superficially viewed as making a female character violent, as if that’s the only way to show strength. If I chose this path, so that I could make my heroine look like more of a badass, was that a tacit approval of an over simplified moral system where every “bad guy” must be given the death penalty? If I didn’t believe in that in the real world, why would I make those the rules for my fictional universe?

I won’t say whether or not there’s an alternative ending of Unveiled on my hard drive, where my heroine gets sweet, gory revenge upon the villain, but ultimately Mab and I both chose to forebear. This doesn’t mean I had my villain and heroine holding hands and singing Kumbaya at the end. While I’ve always striven to create empathetic antagonists in this series, some characters cannot be redeemed. Mab ensures through her actions that the villain’s evil is contained, that he faces justice for his crimes, and that he is prevented from harming anyone else. But she steers clears of the vigilantism that’s fashionable in urban fantasy.

The reason I chose to write urban fantasy was the genre’s potential for realism, even if that potential isn’t always utilized. After all, in urban fantasy, one doesn’t have to travel to other realms or universes to find magic; these stories take place in our world. It’s accessible, relatable speculative fiction. But the thing about the real world is we rarely get the opportunity to take revenge on those who’ve done us wrong. Even if we do get the chance to give those jerks their just deserts, it doesn’t mean we should. It might feel good to fantasize about, but if we’re grownups, we understand that it won’t change the past, it won’t even make us feel better once the moment of sweet satisfaction is passed, and the act could cause rippling harm to ourselves as well as victims unintended. Because in the fantasy of revenge the act of justice always occurs in a vacuum, and that’s seldom the case in real life.

Once the villain is no longer able to harm others, Mab knows she must walk away from vengeance, turning her focus to her own healing and moving on. It’s doesn’t give her the satisfying snick of closure she’s emotionally seeking, but it’s the adult decision. To some genre critics, her choice may make her look weak. To me, it makes her strength believable.

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Unveiled: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|iBooks

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

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I Was Going To Write Something Thoughtful and Meaningful Today But Then I Thought, Screw It, I’ll Just Put Up a Picture of a Cat, Really, It’s All The Same, Isn’t It

So here you go. Merry December 3!

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New Books and ARCs, 12/2/16

Whoa. It’s December, folks. How did that happen?

(Yes, I know. Go to November and keep heading on through.)

Here’s this week’s new books and ARCs. Anything here look tempting to you? Tell everyone in the comments!

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Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2016, Day Five: Charities

For the last four days, the Whatever Shopping Guide 2016 has been about helping you find the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. But today I’d like to remind folks that the season is also about helping those in need. So this final day is for charities. If you’re looking for a place to make a donation — or know of a charitable organization that would gladly accept a donation — this is the place for it.

How to contribute to this thread:

1. Anyone can contribute. If you are associated with or work for a charity, tell us about the charity. If there’s a charity you regularly contribute to or like for philosophical reasons, share with the crowd. This is open to everyone.

2. Focus on non-political charities, please. Which is to say, charities whose primary mission is not political — so, for example, an advocacy group whose primary thrust is education but who also lobbies lawmakers would be fine, but a candidate or political party or political action committee is not. The idea here is charities that exist to help people and/or make the world a better place for all of us.

3. It’s okay to note personal fundraising (Indiegogo and GoFundMe campaigns, etc) for people in need. Also, other informal charities and fundraisers are fine, but please do your part to make sure you’re pointing people to a legitimate fundraiser and not a scam. I would suggest only suggesting campaigns that you can vouch for personally.

3. One post per person. In that post, you can list whatever charities you like, and more than one charity. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on charities available in North America.

4. Keep your description of the charity brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about the charity and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a charity site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. Comment posts that are not about people promoting charities they like will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find charities to contribute to.

All right, then: It’s the season of giving. Tell us where to give to make this a better place.

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Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2016, Day Four: Fan Favorites

For the first three days of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2016, I’ve let authors and creators tell you about their work. Today is different: Today is Fan Favorites day, in which fans, admirers and satisfied customers share with you a few of their favorite things — and you can share some of your favorite things as well. This is a way to discover some cool stuff from folks like you, and to spread the word about some of the things you love.

Fans: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Fans only: That means that authors and creators may not post about their own work in this thread (they may post about other people’s work, if they are fans). There are already existing threads for traditionally-published authorsnon-traditionally published authors, and for other creators. Those are the places to post about your own work, not here.

2. Individually created and completed works only, please. Which is to say, don’t promote things like a piece of hardware you can find at Home Depot, shoes from Foot Locker, or a TV you got at Wal-Mart. Focus on things created by one person or a small group: Music CDs, books, crafts and such. Things that you’ve discovered and think other people should know about, basically. Do not post about works in progress, even if they’re posted publicly elsewhere. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. So focus on things that are completed and able to be sold of shared.

3. One post per fan. In that post, you can list whatever creations you like, from more than one person if you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on newer stuff. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on things available in North America.

4. Keep your description of the work brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about the work and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a sales site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. Comment posts that are not about fans promoting work they like will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting gifts.

Got it? Excellent. Now: Geek out and tell us about cool stuff you love — and where we can get it too.

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Hey, Looks Like It’s Time Once Again For Me to Talk About Writing On Politics

Because of the election and all, I’ve gotten a few people griping to me about the fact I write about politics here and in other places. It’s been a while since I talked extensively about me writing about politics, and also, about the more general topic of entertainers and creative people who talk about politics, and the people who tell them to shut up about it. So let’s talk about these things, shall we.

For ease of discussion, I’ve broken this up into ten points. The first five are about me specifically, and are short. The second five are more general, and rather longer. Ready? Let’s get to it.

I. The Short Points About Me Writing On Politics

1. If you tell me you’re tired of me talking about politics, or tell me to shut up about them, I’ll tell you to kiss my ass. I’ll write about what I want, when I want, where I want, which in this case happens to be about politics, now, here.

2. If you don’t want to read me opining on politics, you are presumably a grown human being with free will and the ability not to read things. Skip over the piece or stop reading the site entirely.

3. If you complain to me about my expressing political opinions in areas under my own control that you are not actually being forced to read, there’s a very good chance I’m going to be rude to you. This is actually covered in the site disclaimer, which has been up for years, on every page of the blog.

4. I don’t give a shit if you become unhappy with me for being rude to you.

5. Likewise, I don’t care if your dislike of my writing about politics and/or your being upset that I was rude to you when you complained about it means you no longer choose to read my books. Stop reading my books, then.

II. The Longer Points About Creators and Entertainers, Including Me, Opining On Politics

6. For the occasional jackass who opines that entertainers like myself should stick to entertaining and not write about politics or anything else that might possibly offend someone, a) fuck you, b) you’re wrong, c) independent of either of those points, long before I was an author I got paid to write about politics, and still do from time to time (as recently as last month, in fact, in one of the largest newspapers in the nation). So, yeah, actually, writing about politics is a thing I do professionally, thanks so much for asking.

Now, here’s a hot take for you: “Entertainers” are fully-dimensional human beings who don’t exist solely to entertain you, writers in particular write professionally and/or critically about many things over the course of their career, and you suggesting that people not express themselves about politics (or anything else) because they are an “entertainer” makes you the asshole in that scenario, not them. So maybe don’t be shocked when they tell you to sod off.

7. Likewise, this blog existed before I was a published author, and before I was a published novelist. I’ve been writing about politics here literally since the very first week it was up (that week I also wrote about baseball, journalism, my pets, tech stuff and sending out invoices. The site lived up to its name even then). The blog isn’t here to sell my books, although it’s done that incidentally, which makes me happy. It’s here for me to write about whatever I want to write about, when I feel like writing about it, and has been since 1998. Sometimes I will write about politics! And sometimes I won’t — there are entire years (see: 2014) where I pretty much didn’t, because I didn’t want to.

Which again is the point of the blog: It’s about me, writing about what interests me, when it interests me. It’s not about you, or what you want me to write about, or to not write about. Likewise, my Twitter feed, or anything else I control that I put my words out on. If you’re confused about the vector of impetus and control regarding these outlets, for any reason, you’re likely to have a bad time. Especially if you complain to me about it. Other entertainers and creative people may feel similarly about their own spaces, which is a thing you should consider as well.

8. With that said, if my politics make you itchy, then actually, you should probably consider skipping out on the next four years here. I can’t imagine I’m not going to write about politics on a regular basis. I mean, come on: whatever one thinks about Trump, that asshole isn’t boring. Nor are American politics or social issues going to be anything but a bumpy ride the next few years. I’m not going to say it’s going to be fun. But it’s not going to be something I’m likely to take a pass on as a writing topic. If you want a spoiler alert on the matter, this is it. Don’t expect me not to go off on politics, folks. And don’t expect other creative/entertaining folks to be quiet about politics either, the next four years. That’s just not gonna happen.

9. Why, yes, I’m cranky on the subject of people trying to tell me — or other writers, creators and entertainers — to stop expressing opinions on politics and other social issues. People have been trying to do this for my entire professional writing life, which is 26 years now, and much of which has consisted of me being paid to have a goddamned opinion on things. I imagine it will continue, as people with fragile worldviews and/or monstrous senses of entitlement and/or a wildly misplaced sense of my desire for their input and/or simple, virulent passive-aggressiveness decide they need to tell me what and how and when to write, or not write.

And, folks. One: Are you my spouse or my editor? No? Then feel free to fuck right off. Two: You may have noticed I’m doing pretty well for myself with this whole writing thing. One secret to that is not listening to various randos telling me what to do, or what not to do, with my writing career. Three: Do you understand how boring and exasperating it is for me — or any writer, creator or entertainer — to have to deal with various randos telling us what to do or not to do? It’s really goddamn boring and exasperating! And maybe other folks who have to deal with this bullshit choose to be patient or quiet about this because they’re earlier along in their career, or they’re still under the impression that their career can be hurt by some rando telling them to shut up or else, or because they’re nicer than me, or because they’re not, like me, a well-off straight white dude so they actually have to worry about their randos being terrifying stalkery bigot assholes, especially now, when actual fucking Nazis are cracking off salutes like it’s 1933. All of those are fine reasons for them to be quiet about this shit.

But I am not them, so I’m pretty comfortable saying the following: Piss off, rando yutz, you’re boring me. After 26 years, you’re not going to find a way to tell me to shut up that I haven’t heard before and haven’t already offered a middle finger to. And after 26 years, I’ve run out of fucks to give on the matter. Tell me to stop writing about politics? Fuck you. Suggest that I shouldn’t write about politics? Fuck you again. Whine to me that you’re tired about me writing about politics? Fuck you a third time. There’s the door. Go.

10. Seriously, people, what do you think you’re doing when you tell a writer (or musician, or actor, or whomever) that they shouldn’t talk about politics, or social issues, or whatever? Do you believe they will genuinely think, “My god, this random person I don’t know has entirely changed my mind about expressing an opinion in public! I am so grateful”? I can’t speak for all creators everywhere, but anecdotally speaking, I can tell you that most of the creators I know do not think oh wow, this random person is so right. They think, what an asshole.

And maybe you are an asshole! Certainly there are any number of people who send me notes along the line lol shut up dude no one cares what you think, which aren’t meant to persuade, but just to try to insult or belittle me, and, well. That’s adorable. But if you didn’t intend to be an asshole, maybe consider a different strategy.

For example, a couple of years ago there was a Scottish entertainer I admired, so I followed their Twitter account, which turned out to be nothing but blathering about Scottish independence. Did I tell this entertainer to oh my God will you just stop talking about Scottish independence I don’t even care? No, I just stopped following their Twitter account. Because you can do that! There are whole swaths of creators and entertainers whose work I admire who I don’t follow on social media, or read their blogs, or otherwise track their lives because I know they care about things I don’t, or that I disagree with. There are other swaths of entertainers who I do follow, but when they get a bug up their ass about something I don’t care about, I skip over those topics. A writer I admire has gone on for years about vaping. I couldn’t give a shit about vaping; I think it’s a dumb thing to invest any brain cycles on. But they disagree! Good for them. I skip over the vaping rants. It’s really just that simple.

It’s okay to disagree, sometimes vehemently, with people whose work you admire. It’s all right to think they spend too much time on things you don’t care about. It’s fine to think to yourself or to tell others ugh why can’t they just get over that dumb thing I don’t care about. But the minute you go out of your way to tell them to shut up, no matter how “politely” you put it, you’re the asshole. Yes you are. And some of the people you’ve told to shut up will treat you like the asshole you’ve become.

I will, in any event. Fair warning.

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