The Big Idea: Claire O’Dell

A dash of fan fiction, a smidge of authorial inspiration and a dollop of a world-famous investigator adds up to a brand-new concoction in Claire O’Dell’s novel A Study in Honor. How did this all come about? As O’Dell will tell you, it was elementary.

CLAIRE O’DELL:

A Study in Honor is all Jim Hines’s fault. (Except for the parts that are all my fault.)

Back in 2014, Jim wrote a blog post about his experience writing fanfic. I’d never felt the tug of fanfic before, but after reading about how satisfying and involving it was for him, I decided to take a stab at writing some myself. After all, fiction is a conversation with itself, and what else is fanfic but a very intimate conversation?

Right away, I knew I’d want to write a Watson and Holmes story, but with a few changes. For one thing, I wanted to make them both black women. Why? Several reasons. Most (though not all) of the pastiches I’ve come across show Watson and Holmes as two straight men, or one man and a woman. And in those same stories, Holmes is always a white man.

So, Dr. John Watson became Dr. Janet Watson; Sherlock Holmes became special agent Sara Holmes. Both black. Both queer. One wealthy, and one who needed all her stubbornness to achieve a medical degree.

But the top reason is because of the other changes I made in the story. It’s the mid-twenty-first century when Dr. Janet Watson steps off the train in Union Station in Washington, DC. She’s newly discharged from the war–not the war in Afghanistan, though that would be plausible, but the New Civil War–a New Civil War that came about because the alt-right rebelled against equal rights for people of color, for gays, for women. The right viewpoint for such a war and its consequences logically belongs to a black queer woman.

I also wanted to do a deep dive in Janet Watson’s character, to make her more than an accessory to Holmes. This is a woman who has lost nearly everything in the war. Her parents died in a terrorist bombing. Her beloved abandons her. A sniper’s bullet shattered her arm when the enemy overran her medical unit, and the replacement prosthetic is unreliable.

A surgeon needs two reliable hands, she thinks. Not one of flesh and one of metal and false memories.

Her plan is to argue with the VA for a more modern device, so she can resume her career as a surgeon. She expects to stay in DC only a few days, a week at the most.

Her plans get upended the next day. The war has wreaked havoc with the economy on both sides, the VA tells her, and prosthetic devices such as Janet needs are scarce. She will have to wait her turn. Jobs aren’t easy to come by, however, and housing costs more than she can afford. When a friend tells her about someone who needs a partner to share the rent, Janet reluctantly agrees to meet the person.

That person turns out to be special agent Sara Holmes, a quirky, brilliant woman somewhat given to ignoring boundaries. The apartment in question is #2B at 2809Q Street, in an upscale neighborhood. Janet has reservations, but oh, the apartment would make a lovely refuge.

All of that poured out of me as fast as I could type. By the time I had three chapters written, I knew Janet would not let go of my imagination until I finished her story. She is stubborn and smart and defiant. The war might have left her wounded in body and mind, but she’s not going to give up. As she writes in her journal:

I will have my victory. I will have my life back. I swear it.

—-

A Study In Honor: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Whoops It’s Past 6pm and I Haven’t Posted Today So Here’s a Video of a Song I Like

The video itself is enigmatic (who are all these young people doing slightly odd things while looking miserable? Would they be less miserable if they, like, stopped posing and went to get snacks?), but the song is good and the band, The Naked and Famous, is one of my favorites to have come out in the last decade. Enjoy, and hope you’ve had a good Monday.

The Locus Award Arrives + Reminder About Hugo Award Voting

I was thrilled when The Collapsing Empire was announced as the winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, but was not present for the ceremony because one of my best friends on the planet was getting married, and, well, priorities. Fortunately the good people at Locus were kind enough to ship it to me. I arrived yesterday, and what a pretty award it is, too. The art on the award comes from Hugo and Oscar-winner Shaun Tan, so that’s another reason to geek out about it too. And Smudge seems to like it, as you can see here. And clearly that is the most coveted endorsement. Thank you to everyone who voted for the book — I’m delighted to have this award at home.

On the subject of awards, we are down to the final days to vote for the Hugo Awards, for which The Collapsing Empire is a finalist for Best Novel, along with some other very excellent works from NK Jemisin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Mur Lafferty, Yoon Ha Lee and Ann Leckie (not to mentionall the other excellent people and works in other categories). The final day to vote is this Tuesday, July 31st, and if you are a member of Worldcon 76, this year’s Worldcon, I definitely encourage you to cast your ballot for the work you admire. The link to the online ballot is here.

The End (Sort Of) Of the Landline

It sometimes amazed people that we here at the Scalzi Compound still have a landline. We do, basically because I receive (terrible, horrible, low-speed) internet service through my phone company, and it’s basically cheaper to bundle it with a landline than to get it by itself. And also, because if the power goes down, the cell phone towers go down too, but the direct phone lines (usually) stay up. Living in rural America, that makes some bit of sense.

With that said, in the last few years it’s become abundantly clear that the only people calling us on our landline were a) robocallers/telemarketers, b) dentists/medical offices reminding us of appointments, and c) my mother in law. And of those, the robocallers/telemarketers were by far the highest volume, even with the various laws, etc against them. Even though I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t answer the phone if I don’t recognize the phone number, the phone still rings and I still check. The rate of return on even that bit of action is super low.

So I’m not doing that anymore. As of today, everything gets forwarded to my Google Voice number (which I got, like, ten years ago or something). The legitimate callers can leave a message; the rest of them I don’t have to deal with, not even a ring (my mother-in-law will now just call Krissy directly on her cell phone). Google Voice emails me a transcription when someone leaves a message, so I don’t even have to check messages like a common schmoe. Simple, easy, and the end of the landline being a pain in the ass.

And! Since we’re not actually getting rid of the landline, we can still use it to make outgoing calls if we like (which I do when I’m doing phone interviews because the audio is generally clearer). So we get the few remaining benefits of a landline without having to deal with the negatives. Which is kind of the best case scenario.

(And as for the robocallers on my cell line — well, Google actually does a reasonable job letting me know who is likely to be a spam caller there, and soon will give me the option of not having suspected spam calls show up at all, so there’s that. Beyond that, at this point cell phones give one so much more customization regarding who gets to access you that once again keeping a landline in most cases is an exercise in futility.)

So if you were hoping ever to call me on my landline, sorry. That moment has now passed. I could call you, though. There’s still a chance!

Today’s Somewhat Unfortunate Event Involving a Kitten

Smudge is a curious fellow, and also, when I use the bathroom, if there is no other human in the house, I don’t always close the door entirely. The confluence of these two facts today is why, while standing at the toilet today, doing my business, Smudge barged in and, needing to see what was going on, leapt up on the toilet seat faster than I could direct certain things out of the way.

All which is to say that “pee on a kitten” is now something I can check off my Bucket List. What a relief, if you’ll excuse the pun, that is.

(Also, Smudge is fine, and has been cleaned up, which he disliked more than the actual being peed upon.)

Note to self: Close the door completely from now on.

Crab Cakes, Ocean’s 8, the Ferry, and the Republic of Booza

Hello, everyone! I hope you have all been having a fantastic week, I know I have been! New York has been awesome so far and it hasn’t rained nearly as much as I thought it would, so that’s a plus.

Honestly, I haven’t done too much. I’m generally a pretty lazy person, so I might go see/do one or two things a day, but I’m not one of those people that wakes up at 8am to cram in as much activity as possible. So far, I had spaghetti at a friend’s house, went to Battery City and saw the Hudson and Brookfield Place, had some awesome crab cakes at a place on the waterfront called Miramar, and took a ferry to Williamsburg, where I tried the Republic of Booza’s ice cream.

The ferry ride was great, I love traveling by water. The unsteadiness of the boat makes it fun to walk around, and the sun was setting when we rode it, so I got an awesome view of Manhattan and Brooklyn. I also got to see the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridge while on the ferry, which was a super cool perspective of them.

I saw a video for the Republic of Booza on Facebook like, two days ago, and really wanted to try it. In fact, that’s the only reason we even went to Williamsburg at all. Sadly, I didn’t like it that much. Ice cream is my favorite food, but I just didn’t like their ice cream that much. It was a cute little shop and the employees were super nice, it was just not the greatest ice cream I’ve ever had, y’know? So, kind of bummed about that, but the trip to Williamsburg was really cool, so it was worth it.

I also saw finally saw Ocean’s 8. I just have to say, that movie was so flippin’ awesome! I didn’t know what to expect from it, since I haven’t seen the other ones, but it was so much better than I ever expected. The cast is amazing, the plot is great, it’s super funny, not predictable at all, and the characters are all badass! It makes me want to watch the other films of the franchise, but I doubt they’re as good as this one. I highly recommend this movie. Also, the movie theater I saw it in was more than one story! Wild stuff.

Anyways, like I said, I haven’t really done too much, just been chilling and hanging out, which is really what I came to do. Today, I’m going to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and other than that, I’m not really sure, but I guarantee I’ll find something! Have a great day!

The Big Idea: Theodora Goss

For European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, author Theodora Goss considers a famous Victorian book, character and author for an extended thought on who and what can truly be called a monster. Grab your stakes and let’s hammer this one home, shall we?

THEODORA GOSS:

In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, I brought together a collection of female monsters: Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. They found each other, told each other their stories, and ultimately moved in together, into Mary’s residence at 11 Park Terrace, also known as the Athena Club. There, they live and get along as you would expect five women to: often bickering, sometimes fighting, but supporting each other when it counts.

It’s a good life in a comfortable home, decorated by Beatrice in the latest aesthetic fashion, to the extent a group of women who have to work for their living can afford it, presided over by the redoubtable Mrs. Poole. Right across Regent’s Park are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. I could have left them there, to live happily in late nineteenth-century London: Justine could have continued her painting career, Catherine could have continued to write pot-boilers about spider gods and dangerous femmes fatales, Mary could have gone to work each morning for Mr. Holmes, filing his cases and helping solve the occasional mystery. Diana could have continued to be a pain in the arse. But as a writer, I did not want to leave my characters in such peaceful circumstances! I had to make life harder for them . . .

And so, in European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, I send them off to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue Lucinda Van Helsing.

To be perfectly honest, there wasn’t a single big idea behind this second adventure of the Athena Club—just a collection of smaller ideas that added up to a big, long book. As you may know if you read my Big Idea post for the first book, it started with my doctoral dissertation on late nineteenth-century gothic fiction. While writing that dissertation, I realized that around the turn of the century, mad scientists kept creating female monsters . . . and destroying them. I thought that was not fair, not fair at all. Those female monsters deserved to live and tell their own stories, so I brought them to life in my book. But there was one late nineteenth-century novel that I could not include in my dissertation because it was so long, so complicated, that it would have taken another hundred pages (in addition to the four hundred I had already written) to discuss. That novel was Dracula.

Bram Stoker’s most famous novel is so difficult to write about because it takes all the themes of late nineteenth-century gothic fiction and incorporates them into one very long book. It’s about immigration, the British Empire, the power and importance of wealth, the New Woman and reversed gender roles, evolution and degeneration, the English gentleman, the criminal anthropology of Cesare Lombroso, the emerging field of psychoanalysis . . . even, obliquely, the Irish question. It’s a strange, ambiguous novel. The closer you look at it, the more its multiple narrations collapse, and the more you begin to question who is the monster.

My choice is one of its most complex characters, Abraham Van Helsing, the Dutch vampire-hunter whose first name is Stoker’s own, and whose last name is an anagram for English. He’s the hero of the story, right? After all, he saves civilization and Victorian womanhood by telling his group of male followers to stake and decapitate Lucy Westenra when she has turned into a vampire. That staking scene, which takes place on the night Lucy was supposed to marry her financé Arthur Holmwood, is described in all the lurid detail of a Hammer film, with orgiastic cries and splashing blood.

The problem with a straightforward reading of Dracula is that Stoker was a more complicated writer than he’s given credit for. You can see that in his short stories and less well-known novels, such as The Jewel of Seven Stars and Lair of the White Worm. He may not have been a Henry James stylistically, but he shared James’s tendency to turn stories inside out, so that you’re not entirely sure what you’ve read. The closer my students look at the final scene of Dracula, in which the vampire’s throat is sheared through with a kukri knife while the sun sets over his Transylvanian castle, the less sure they are that he’s been destroyed in the proper, prescribed vampire fashion. Although the Count disintegrates into dust, he’s done that before, on several occasions. And can we really trust the eyewitness account of Mina Murray, who is in Dracula’s power?

Here’s what I think: Van Helsing is a villain, the worst of them all. Dracula and Mina are in league together from the moment he first sucks her blood. And the book, compiled by Mina herself, is fundamentally untrustworthy.

So one of the ideas behind the second book was that I needed to write about the characters and events of Dracula. You simply can’t write about monsters at the end of the nineteenth century without discussing Mina, Van Helsing, his vampire-hunting groupies, and the Count himself. And where would they be, after the events of Dracula? Why, in Budapest of course!

The second idea was to take my characters from the British Empire, which was about to fall apart, to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, also about to fall apart. If I was going to write pulp metafiction about the late nineteenth-century, I had to pull out all the stops, and two of those stops are Vienna and Budapest. I particularly wanted to write about Budapest, the city where I was born, which seemed to be the logical place for the headquarters of a secret society of alchemists. After all, Budapest has been associated with both magic and science for centuries—and it is, itself, a beautiful, magical city.

The third idea was that once I had introduced these five young women to one another, they should go have adventures together. It was so much fun writing about Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine, not when they had just met, but when they had known each other for a while and were forced to work together under circumstance that were sometimes exciting, sometimes difficult, and sometimes just plain tedious, as travel can be. I had a lot of fun writing this book, going to Vienna and Budapest to imagine what those cities would have been like in the late nineteenth century.

But in the end, it was all about the central characters. Have they become friends? What do they think about each other and the Athena Club? Has anyone strangled Diana yet? Out of all these ideas came a novel that I hope will be a fun read for anyone who enjoyed The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and its cast of monstrous gentlewomen.

—-

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

A Little More On Recent Worldcon Stuff

I just did a tweetstorm about the recent contretemps involving Worldcon. As many of you know, there was a dustup about programming (among other issues) for which the head of the Worldcon apologized and took action on, including bringing in a team headed up by Mary Robinette Kowal to help fix things. Here’s what I wrote about that, formatted here in essay form.

Also, while I’m on the subject of the Hugo and Worldcon, I see some various turdlings out there are gleeful about the recent dustup re: the Worldcon program. “The SJWs are eating themselves!” is the basic line of the turdlings. In fact, something entirely different happened.

Which was: When the problems cropped up (and they did) and people started to complain (and they did), the Worldcon, within a day, acknowledged that various mistakes had happened and actively moved to correct those mistakes. Not perfectly or instantly, but it still happened.

Which is what you want to happen! In an ideal world, mistakes don’t get made, but we don’t live in an ideal world and none of us is our ideal self. The next best thing is, when mistakes are pointed out, you move to fix them and to learn from them.

The turdlings who are gleeful at the Worldcon’s temporary woes don’t care about anything other than an institution they dislike and tried (or are still trying) to sabotage having a stumble. That’s because they’re basically awful, whiny menchildren. No surprise there.

Many folks who like or feel invested in Worldcon weren’t pleased about the stumble, and moved prior to the Worldcon itself to help address the problem by offering up their programming slots to folks who didn’t have them. This exemplifies the best aspects of the SF/F community.

What is not laudable about people saying “it’s important that we have more and different voices in the mix, and I’m ready to share my time and space to make it happen”? Is this not what you would want to see?

“It’s just virtue signaling!” One, it’s okay to signal that you support bringing new people and perspectives into the genre’s mainstream. Two, giving up your space to make space for others isn’t just signaling, it’s action. Yay, virtue actioning!

Equally as important, the folks running this year’s Worldcon, the premier lit-focused convention in the genre, listened and followed up with action of their own, and took help offered to change for the better. Mistakes were made, but action to improve is worth noting.

This action is not caving or retreating or [insert other negative spin here]. It’s *learning*. There’s more work to be done, and not everything will be done perfectly, but the situation is already better than what it was a few days ago. Worldcon 76 wants to be better. Good.

We all stumble, and the test is what we do after. We’re seeing some people point and laugh, because that’s who they are. We’re seeing others use their position to help, because that’s who they are. And we’re seeing an organization trying to improve, because that’s what IT is.

So, yeah. A lot of people in science fiction and fantasy have revealed themselves in the last few days. It’s been instructive. For myself, I can say I’m supporting Worldcon 76 trying to be better, and supporting those working to make it happen.

The Big Idea: Craig DiLouie

One of the great questions in literature, genre or otherwise, is: What makes a person a monster? In One of Us, author Craig DiLouie takes a crack at the question… and the answer.

CRAIG DiLOUIE:

My novel One of Us began as a misunderstood monster novel and ended up a much more ambitious examination of prejudice.

What if monsters lived among us, but were only monstrous in appearance? If they had extraordinary capabilities, would they be admired or feared? If they were abused enough and responded with violence, would that violence be justified?

In One of Us, a disease in the 1970s produced a generation of monstrous children that years later are living as teenagers in orphanages throughout the rural South. Rejected and scorned, they are coming of age without rights or opportunity, while those exhibiting extraordinary powers are exploited by the government.

When they’re pushed too far, they finally react, with horrifying consequences.

The result is a visceral dark fantasy about human monsters and monstrous humans told as a Southern Gothic. Violent, dark, and excessive, this type of lit features prejudice, the grotesque, and a society in decay, making it ripe for this novel.

What I wanted to do with the story was pull the reader into a world where a fantastical, sympathetic group is victimized by extreme prejudice, and then let the reader process it with their gut, not their heads.

The idea behind using monsters was to create an extreme example of a group the reader might find threatening but otherwise have no preconceived notions about, allowing greater empathy as we get to know them as individuals.

Unlike typical monster stories in which the monster is innately evil, in One of Us the monsters turn out to be just like you and me. The story therefore becomes an examination of what makes a monster a monster, and what it means to be human.

One of Us had many inspirations, among them To Kill a Mockingbird, with its theme of prejudice making good people do bad things; The Island of Dr. Moreau, with its questions about what it means to be human or a beast; and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, with its violent, cathartic uprising against slavery. One of the things that makes these works great is a striking question lies at the heart of their big idea.

While the novel has several strong themes that include prejudice, the idea here wasn’t to preach or even put theme in front of the story. There are few clear-cut “good guys” and villains. Like the stories that inspired it, it doesn’t claim to have the answers. These will ultimately come from the reader.

In my view, a novel’s chief purpose is to entertain. But by the end of One of Us, I hope readers will ask: Where does prejudice come from? How does it affect my life? If I feel prejudice, is it based on reality or self-reinforcing myths? Is violence ever justified—either by a group oppressing another, or by that group pushing back? And then apply what they think and feel, with fresh eyes, to their lives and today’s America.

—-

One Of Us: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Love-Hate Relationship With Travel

Who doesn’t love traveling? Everyone loves a good vacation; so many amazing places to go, spectacles to behold, adventurous things to do, traveling is enriching and can be super awesome! Unfortunately, traveling is also expensive, and tiring, both physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Personally, traveling is one of my favorite things to do. It’s so nice to get away from Bradford, and in most cases, the farther the better. But one thing I loathe is packing. I don’t know why, but I seriously struggle to even function as a human being when packing is on my to-do list. After managing to pack, the stress of the airport comes next, and that’s really everyone’s least favorite part, I think.

Which is worse: waiting in line at security, waiting in line to board the plane, or waiting in your seat to take off? Trick question, they all suck. Even after you get off the plane, your stresses aren’t over yet, because then you either have to take a bus to the car rental place or get a taxi, and then check in to your hotel, blah blah blah, when does the fun part start?!

So, yeah, I can understand why someone wouldn’t like traveling very much, but I believe the stress is beyond worth it. It’s worth it when you’re standing at the top of the Freedom Tower, looking out over New York as the sun sets, every window gleaming and golden. And it’s worth it when you’re parasailing over water clearer than crystals, or when you see a 2,000 foot tall waterfall. It’s worth it when you try foods you’ve never even heard of before; at least, that part is important to me, maybe not so much to someone who isn’t totally obsessed with food.

The point is, there is so much to see in this world. There’s oceans and mountains and everything in between, and I intend to see as much of it as possible.

In case you didn’t know, I’m in New York right now! Brooklyn, specifically. I’m so happy to be here, but it’s also super overwhelming. Does anyone else have the problem of everything looking the same? There’s a million different shops and buildings, but I feel like every deli or corner store looks the exact same, it’s very disorientating. I can’t figure out the subway, the traffic is terrible, and there’s a thousand people to move out of the way of on the sidewalk. But I’ll be darned if I don’t enjoy every minute of being here!

Thank you to everyone who commented on my previous post about New York, your recommendations were super fun to read and I will definitely take some of them into consideration when planning what all I’m going to do while here. I will be sure to post about any amazing restaurants I try or spectacular things I see throughout the week.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever traveled to? Do you hate flying or several day long car trips more? Anyways, hope you all have a great day!

The Big Idea: Kali Wallace

City of Islands is author Kali Wallace’s first children’s book, and in writing it, she was thinking about where the balances were in telling a story for children, and still telling a story with some complexity. For her Big Idea, she’s here to talk about finding that balance, especially in today’s times.

KALI WALLACE:

Adults ruin everything.

It’s an abiding theme of children’s stories: to have an adventure, you’ve got to ditch the parents and guardians. It might be a trope, but it’s one I’ve always rather liked. It’s always seemed to me the closest a story can come to capturing the moments a uninhibited, unsupervised make-believe of my 1980s go-play-in-the-ditch-behind-the-house childhood.

Mara, the main character of City of Islands, is a plucky orphan in a children’s fantasy novel. She lives in an archipelago city where magic is sung in music, and she dreams of learning magic herself. But being an orphan doesn’t give her freedom. It means she has to take care of herself, in a world that does not spare a whole lot of compassion for struggling children.

You see, too much supervision is not the only way adults can ruin a child’s story. There is also literally everything else adults do.

This is the first children’s book I’ve written, and I wasn’t quite sure how to balance the lightness and the dark. My agent had to tell me that perhaps opening a children’s novel with a giant pile of corpses did not quite strike the right tone. On a bigger scale, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of villain I needed. I didn’t want an evil overlord. All I wanted was somebody who could get away with his schemes because the other adults were too obsessed with their own status to see a monster among them. But I worried about how monstrous was too monstrous. I worried that a power-hungry villain who tore families apart and locked children in cages might be a little bit over the top. A little too mustache-twirling. A little unbelievable.

I know. I know.

When fantasy writers talk about world-building, we talk about histories, political systems, belief systems, cultural mores, economies, geography. As I was writing, I made many world-building decisions to ensure the story would be welcoming to all kinds of children. The City of Islands is a multicultural port city filled with people from all over the world. There are a variety of skin colors, backgrounds, languages, and economic statuses among the primary characters; same-sex marriage is accepted and normal. There are no kings or gods, but there are imbalances of wealth and power. I wanted the world to feel wondrous and magical and strange, but I also wanted young readers to be able to imagine themselves going along for Mara’s adventures.

But there’s another aspect of this invented society that kept creeping into the story. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until the revision process, because I wasn’t used to thinking about it as a specific aspect of world-building.

I’m talking about the way a society treats its children.

The concept of childhood is neither universal nor static; it’s not even universal or static in the same place and time or in the same person. (Witness: people who demand their children be protected from harm at all costs while at the same time arguing that other children deserve the harm inflicted upon them.) The treatment of children in a society, contradictions and all, is always revelatory and rarely flattering. Through the process of writing and revising, it evolved into one of the central ideas around which I wove my story.

Twelve-year-old Mara must work to survive. She knows that parents and friends can vanish in the blink of an eye. She knows that adults lie, scheme, and betray. She wants to learn but education is largely out of reach for children like her. Experience has taught her there is little room for dreams in a world that considers children to be a cheap, easily replaceable labor force. She dreams anyway.

When I started City of Islands, I thought I was writing the kind of children’s story that can’t be told if there are responsible adults around to ruin the fun. A little dark, yes, and a little rough on its characters, but still a magical, exciting adventure. But it turns out I was actually writing the kind of children’s story that illuminates the ways in which adults fail children. That’s what I had been writing all along. It just took me a while to figure it out.

This is a surreal time to be launching a children’s book. Our world is dark and frightening, and children know that as well as anyone–or better, because they are too often treated as props in the grandstanding of cowardly, dishonest, venal adults. I wrote City of Islands to be a fun, exciting, and enjoyable story for kids, but I also want the darkness in the story to resonate with the children reading it in this very dark world in which we live. It seems like such a small hope, when the problems facing the world’s children are so huge, but I do hope they find a bit of courage and comfort in Mara’s story.

—-

City of Islands: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Beat Saber: AKA the Coolest Game Ever

Hey, everyone! Hope you all had an awesome weekend. This weekend, thanks to my friend, I got to try virtual reality. More specifically, I played Beat Saber for like, three hours, and my arms are extremely sore.

Beat Saber is this awesome rhythm game where you basically have two light sabers, red in the left hand and blue in the right, and boxes fly at you, and the goal is to slice the boxes with the correct saber in the correct arrow-direction. It has mostly techno songs, as those are generally the fastest, craziest songs with the most intense box-slicing.

If you’ve never tried VR before, it is a whole ‘nother experience. In Beat Saber, there are obstacles sometimes, like walls you have to dodge, and let me tell you, when the first wall came at me, I almost screamed. You really feel like you’re about to get hit by something, it’s so immersive!

I know it sounds kind of lame, just hitting boxes, but watch these videos and I guarantee it’ll change your mind.

Those are all on expert, by the way, so don’t be daunted if it looks too crazy to be physically possible.

Anyways, if you get the chance to play VR, you should definitely try it, if not for the game, at least for the experience.

Being Seen at Worldcon

A Twitter thread on the recent contrempts at Worldcon 76, where many newer writers (including some Hugo finalists) were not represented on the initial programming slate:

On the initial schedule, I was programmed for a panel and for a kaffeklatsch; I’ve written to the programming folks to let them know I was taking myself off programming to let other folks who were not previously on programming have a shot. I’ll still be around.

Update, 7:27pm: Read this Twitter thread from the head of Worldcon 76: “We will do better.”

That Tor Library eBook Lending Thing

Last week Tor Books announced that it would start windowing ebooks for libraries, which means that new ebook titles from Tor would now be available to libraries four months after their commercial release. So as an example, a book that’s released in August would be available to libraries in ebook form in November (print versions of the book will continue to be available on the official release date). Tor/Macmillan initially stated they’d seen some impact on retail sales because of ebook library lending, and is now participating in a study to dig deeper into the issue. Here’s a full writeup on this from Publishers Weekly, if you are interested in more details.

As I am a high-profile Tor author, people have been emailing me to ask what I think about the policy and/or to complain about it. I’ve been traveling for the last few days and doing events so I haven’t been able to dedicate any real brain cycles to it until last night, when I got home for good. Now that I have looked it over, I will tell you what I think, but I ask you to read completely to the end, as I will attempt nuance, and we all know how that goes.

My personal, first-blush reaction was that I’m not in love with this new strategy. I know my own personal sales, ebook and otherwise, and they’re perfectly healthy. Likewise as a supporter of libraries in general I like to see my work available to them, and to their patrons, in every format, on release day.

With that said, here are things to consider:

1. I am a bestselling author whose sales profile, length of contract and contractual compensation (both in amount and in scheduling) insulates me significantly from a lot of the immediate, first week/month sales pressures that most authors face these days. What works or is fine for me might not be what works or is fine for a new author who is trying to break into the field, or a mid-list author who needs to hit specific sales numbers to get that next book contract.

2. Tor says that it is noting a general impact on ebook sales because of library lending (its initial statement was more adamant about it, it appears, than some followups). I haven’t seen anyone’s sales numbers but mine, but I do know Tor’s data game is pretty strong — we use it to maximize my own sales and we’ve done a pretty good job there. Its data-mining history has some credibility for me.

3. Tor has not been a troglodyte either in how it proceeds with ebook tech (remember that it was one of the first major publishers to offer ebooks DRM-free) or in sales/marketing. It’s taken risks and done things other publishers didn’t/wouldn’t do, sometimes just to see what would happen. I have my own example of this: Tor’s ebook-first serialization publication of The Human Division and The End of All Things helped provide Tor with much of the data it used to build its successful Tor.com novella line.

So with all that noted, let’s go back to my first blush statement. I don’t think having day-and-date ebook library lending has had a detrimental effect on my own sales situation. I’m also aware I’m not in the same situation as most authors with regard to sales and attention. Tor has a financial and fiduciary duty to sell books, for itself and for its authors. If Tor wants to try a pilot program to window ebook library lending to find out what impact it has on its sales in general, as much as I don’t think it makes sense for me or my books, I also recognize I don’t see all the data Tor sees across its entire line. I’m also willing to believe, based on previous experience, that Tor is neither stupid, excessively greedy, nor unwilling to make changes if the data tells it something different than what it expects.

So: okay. Try it and see what happens. Then use that information moving forward.

In the meantime, things to remember: First, the print versions of books will still be available to libraries on release day, i.e., your library can still have the book(s) available when they come out. Let your library know you’re interested in the books so they can order print copies. Second, if you exclusively get ebooks from your library, waiting sucks but while you waiting there are lots of other books and authors to fill that interim. Read widely! Try new stuff! That time does not have to pass idly, I assure you. Third, whatever you think of this new tactic, remember at the bottom of this is a publisher trying different things so the authors whose work you love get compensated (and the publisher too, let’s be clear). Sales do matter for whether you get more books from an author, and whether an author gets paid enough for the books to write more of them.

Finally, a small plea: I get that people complain to me about Tor policies and practices, since I put myself out there and am accessible and I am basically a franchise player for my publisher. That’s totally fair, and I’m happy to be that; I’ve passed along the complaints and kvetches you’ve sent to me, and I’ve also shared my own thoughts on the matter. But if you’re contacting other Tor authors about this, please please please be kind to them. They didn’t have any say about this pilot program, can’t do much to change it at this point, and might feel they can’t respond for whatever reason. Not everyone feels, shall we say, as insulated from consequence when they open their mouth as I do, and making authors feel neurotic about things over which they have no control is not going to do them or you much good. Practice empathy, please.

Or, even better, let Tor and Macmillan know directly what you think. They’ve set up an email for you to do just that: elending.feedback@macmillan.com. That’s going to be so much more effective than making some poor author twitchy. Please tell Tor and Macmillian what you think! Straight to the source! Thanks.

Travel Itinerary Plus Photos

Hello, everyone! I’m here today to tell y’all about my upcoming travel schedule. On Tuesday, I leave for New York City, where I will be staying with my wonderful friends, Meg and Will. New York City is such an awesome place and I’m so happy to be going for the third year in a row. My last two visits there were so amazing, from doing tourist-y stuff to kayaking at a lake house, I had a seriously awesome time and cannot to go again.

I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures when I was there the past two times, but here’s a couple I really like.

Here’s a view of Manhattan from the Flatiron:

Freedom Tower:

Skyline across the water:

And here’s me and Meg splashing around in a waterfall!

So, after New York, I’ll be back home for a couple of days before I leave to visit my family in California. We went to Tahoe for Easter, and I visited them in January, so even though I’ve already seen them twice this year I just love them so much that I’m willing to make the five hour flight to Cali to see them yet again.

While I’m traveling I’ll be sure to post all about my adventures. This time, I’ll be sure to take a few more photos than I did the last couple times. Have any of you been to New York before? Or maybe you live there? What’s the best place to eat? What’s the most fun thing to do? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

News Books and ARCs, 7/20/18

Another week of summer passed, another summer weekend on tap, and a perfect time to catch up to these new books and ARCs that have arrived at Scalzi Compound. Anything in this stack that you’d enjoy reading on a warm summer night? Let us know in the comments!

View From a Hotel Window, 7/20/18: Cleveland

And what exactly am I doing in Cleveland? I have a private speaking engagement! Which, uh, means you can’t come unless you’re part of the organization I’m doing the speaking engagement for. Sorry, Cleveland. Know my love for you exists anyway.

Hope you’re having an excellent Friday regardless.

Learn More About Me: My Favorite Anime

One thing about me you should know is that I love anime. If you’ve seen any of my “What You Should Be Watching” posts, you’ll know that I love cartoons, too. Anything animated! Artists are amazing! But that’s a separate thing entirely.

So today I’m going to tell you about my all-time favorite anime, Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji). It was the first anime I ever watched, when I was twelve, and only because my friend recommended it so highly that I couldn’t resist. Also, it was on Netflix at the time so I didn’t really have an excuse not to watch it. I’ll admit, I was skeptical. I had never watched anime before, not even Dragon Ball Z or Yu-Gi-Oh! when I was growing up.

Despite my skepticism, I watched it. And I absolutely loved it. My twelve year old mind was blown. It was like a cartoon, but so much darker and violent. A little bit about Black Butler, it’s about a thirteen year old noble boy named Ciel Phantomhive in late 1800s England whose parents were murdered, so he forms a contract with a demon in order to get revenge on the people responsible. The demon poses as Ciel’s butler and together they solve mysteries, bust illegal drug gangs, find Jack the Ripper, etc., all while Ciel runs the company his parents left him in charge of and tries to maintain his appearance as a normal noble.

Black Butler is one of those “mainstream” anime, the kind that has merch in Hot Topic and F.Y.E, and you’re guaranteed to see at least a dozen Ciel cosplayers at any anime convention. Like I said, it was on Netflix at some point, so you know it’s pretty popular. Not only is the show popular, but the manga has sold around 25 million copies.

It has so many awesome elements to it. It’s action-packed, mostly because Ciel orders his demon to massacre the bad guys, but there’s more to it than just pure violence. Although, to be fair, it is pretty dark. I mean the whole premise is that a child who has lost everything sells his soul just to avenge his parents. The only person in his life who protects him and takes care of him is eventually going to devour his soul. So, yeah, it gets heavy sometimes, but it’s also really funny at times! The characters each have their own unique personalities, you’re sure to have a definite favorite. Another great thing about it being so popular is that the English dub actually has really good voice acting, and the demon, Sebastian, is played by one of my favorite voice actors, J. Michael Tatum.

One of the best things about Black Butler is the art. Though, this can’t really be applied to the first two seasons. The art is truly extraordinary in season three and the two following films, but the first two seasons are just average. I’m sure this is due to animation budget, as the show made more and more money after it got popular and whatnot. But the difference really is stunning.

I think my favorite part, though, without a doubt, is Sebastian. The greatest anime demon of all time. I just want to a take a moment to appreciate all of THIS:

 

Anyways, one thing you should know about Black Butler is that even though it’s my favorite anime, it has a ton of flaws. Like the second season. The ENTIRE second season. It’s terrible, and I hate it. Basically, they stopped following the manga and did something completely different for the second season, and then when the third season came out, it was back to following the manga and acted like the second season never happened. So, yeah, season two is basically not canon and like, never happened. There’s also a lot of episodes in season one that are different from the manga, and the second half of season one is basically as nonexistent as season two, canonically speaking. So, if you’re going to watch Black Butler, I recommend to stop watching season one after episode 15, and then immediately go to season three. However, if you want to stick strictly to how the manga goes, then you should watch episodes 1-6, and 13-15, and then onto season three.

I know that’s like, really confusing, but if you watch past episode 15 or any of season two, you will more than likely just be confused and unhappy; I know I sure was. And season three plus the two movies are so worth it! They are amazing.

To top off this post, I’m going to share some of my favorite Black Butler AMVs. I’ve actually posted one before to show where I first heard a song I recommended, but I’m going to post it again because it is a killer AMV! Of course, these AMVs contain spoilers, but they’re cool to watch if you don’t care about spoilers.

 

So, while this anime might not be the best anime in existence, and it certainly has its flaws, it is still my favorite and has a very special place in my heart. I’ve seen dozens of anime, and it remains #1, and Sebastian is still my favorite character of all time.

If you get around to watching this anime, let me know what you think! If you’ve seen it before, do you have a favorite character or a favorite opening? Openings are like, a key factor in any anime. Anyways, have a great day!

The Big Idea: Jason Denzel

Someone once said that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Jason Denzel can relate to that — life certainly happened to him between writing his previous book on his new one, Mystic Dragon. Here’s how he incorporated what was going in his life into the writing.

JASON DENZEL:

There’s that old saying writers hear all the time, “write what you know”, and I never really bought into it until I wrote my second novel, Mystic Dragon. To understand the Big Idea behind this book, you have to first go back to Mystic, the first book in the series.

I wrote Mystic during a secure, happy, and prosperous time of my life, and for the most part, the book reflected that. It showcased a young, bright-eyed protagonist named Pomella who, despite being dealt a rough hand in her culture’s caste system, uses her unrelenting tenacity, talent,  and enthusiasm to achieve her goals. (Sort of).

Before 2015, I could relate to Pomella’s youthful spirit. As a debut author, having an opportunity to be published with Tor was a dream come true. I’d been connected to them, and the entire fantasy community for a long time due to my work on Dragonmount, the ginormous Wheel of Time website, and for a while everything went beautifully. My publisher was excited for the book, there was positive buzz, a tour was planned, and early reviews were positive. Life was good, man.

Then a life-sized mystical dragon, breathing red-hot-fuck-it-all fire, burned my life down.

Mystic Dragon was written during a period in my life in which I went through a painful divorce after 15 years of marriage, was laid off from my tech job I’d been at for the same length, and unexpectedly lost my father to a heart condition. I had to sell my house, rebuild my life, find a new job, deal with a multitude of relationship issues, keep it together for my kids, and still find time to write the next book. A book which had to, in my mind, surpass the first one and also not buckle under the weight of being a middle book in a trilogy.

When life sucked the most, I channeled my pain and sadness into my story. I’d decided years before that I would set Mystic Dragon seven years after the events of the first book. This decision didn’t necessarily follow the standard advice given to writers in this genre, but it felt even more right when I began drafting the manuscript in earnest. Pomella and her childhood friend Sim aren’t teeangers anymore. In this second book, each of them have their own version of a mystical dragon breathing red-hot-fuck-it-all fire onto their lives. While they don’t deal with divorce and unemployment, they deal with their own versions of their worlds burning down around them. (Literally, at some points). And there’s a new character, Shevia, who’s centrally featured on the cover, who coalesced into existence during those inevitable days where I wanted to scream and smash and cry. If Pomella represented my last loss of innocence, then Sim was my sadness and perseverance, and Shevia was my anger at having to deal with it all.

Simply put, all of the characters in Mystic Dragon had to grow with me. We had to find our way out of the smoldering ashes of our old lives in order to find a new sun.

Now, several years removed from that difficult time of my life, and with the book finally complete and on shelves, I’m glad I had it as an outlet for my emotions. For better or worse, Mystic Dragon echoes what I went through during that time in my life. And as I write the concluding volume in the trilogy, Mystic Skies, I can already see that the events of the second book will stay with the characters in a similar way. The wounds might mostly heal, but the experience of it stays with you forever.

—-

Mystic Dragon: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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

 

You Deserve A Flower

View this post on Instagram

Summer blooms.

A post shared by Athena Scalzi ⭐ (@ascalzi98) on

Hey everyone, you all deserve a flower! What for? For whatever you think you did well on this week! Maybe you cleaned your room for the first time in months, maybe you did really awesome at your job recently, or perhaps you drew a really pretty picture. Whatever small or big thing you accomplished this week, I just want to say good job! Please enjoy this complimentary flower, and have a great day!