Smudge: Very Tired and a Little Bit Stoned

Krissy and Smudge

As you can see from this photo. Krissy had gotten in close to pet him, and he just plain snuggled into her arms and started to nap. It’s adorable!

Why is Smudge tired and a little bit stoned? Because today he took a trip to the vet and was relieved of a couple of small things, namely, his testicles. He won’t miss them much, and in exchange we’ll get a cat who won’t spray and otherwise go looking for trouble (or as much trouble, in any event).

He’ll be fine tomorrow, and in the meantime we get to watch him stand were, wobbly, with an expression on his face that says “what just happened?” We’ll tell you later, Smudge. Get some rest for now.

The New Thing I’ll Be Doing This Tour: The Element of Chance

A picture of a ten-sided die

This upcoming book tour for The Consuming Fire (here’s the link to the schedule) will be the tenth(!) book tour I’ve done, and over the course of time I’ve developed a strategy for my events: I read from an upcoming work, I read something short and funny, and then I read a piece from Whatever, usually about writing but sometimes about other things. It’s a good strategy because it works, but it also means that every event on the tour is the same. From the point of view of the people who come to see me, that’s not a problem, because they’re usually only coming to see me once per tour. But for me, I think it would be fun to shake things up a little bit, to keep the tour fresh, and keep me on my toes.

So for this tour, here’s my current plan: I have created a list of ten different things I’m prepared to do/read/perform on this tour, and at each stop, I will take a ten-sided die and I will roll it three times. Whatever numbers the die lands on, I will do the corresponding thing on my list.

And what is this list? I’m glad you asked!

THE TEN THINGS SCALZI IS PREPARED TO DO ON TOUR

1. Read from an upcoming work

2. Read from someone else’s new work!

3. Read some juvenalia

4. Read from Whatever

5. Speak authoritatively and persuasively for several moments on a topic chosen by the audience (even if I don’t know anything about that topic)

6. Read something that will probably make me cry

7. Lead an audience sing-along of an 80s pop song (if someone brings a guitar or ukulele to the event)

8. Give a Mini-Clinic on how to write a novel in just (mumble mumble) weeks!

9. Read something funny

0. REVEAL THE MEANING OF LIFE

So what does this mean, exactly? Let break each down:

Read from an upcoming work: This one is simple: I’m writing new work all the time, and I’ll read from one of those.

Read from someone else’s new work: Hey, you know how musicians will sometimes cover songs from bands they like? This is me doing the same sort of thing — I’ll read an excerpt from a current work that I like from an author I think is cool. The piece I’ve chosen is also something I think I can perform well, so that will make it extra fun.

Read some juvenalia: I found a piece of writing I did when I was fifteen years old. I think it’s a piece that people will find amusing, not only for its total fifteen-year-oldness, but also because I think in it you can pretty easily see the connection to that kid and who I am today. It’s proto-Scalzi!

Read from Whatever: It’s the 20th anniversary of the Whatever this year, so I will read pieces from the site. I have a piece selected but depending how ambitious I am, I may read a different piece each time this one comes up. There’s a lot to choose from, after all.

Speak authoritatively and persuasively for several moments on a topic chosen by the audience (even if I don’t know anything about that topic): I’ll let the audience pick a topic and then I will discourse impressively about the topic, showing my knowledge of and confidence in the subject. Whether I actually know anything about that topic will be another matter entirely, of course. But if you ever wanted to see how well I can spontaneously bullshit, this would be the time!

Read something that will probably make me cry: So, I’m a crier and I will cry at a drop of the hat about lots of things. This does not usually come up on tour because I intentionally do not read things I know are likely to make me cry — but this time, I will. I will not guarantee I will cry, only that in the past, the pieces I’ll read from have made me cry. We all take our chances.

Lead an audience sing-along of an 80s pop song: At some point in the past people started showing up at tours with ukuleles, asking me to sing something. I point out that I play the ukulele terribly, and the response usually is “we know, that’s why it’s funny.” This time around, if someone brings an already tuned ukulele or guitar (I can play either equally well! Which is not well at all) to the event, I will additionally perform a song BUT THIS TIME I AM TAKING YOU ALL WITH ME, which is to say I will make you all sing along. You have been warned. Also, seriously, make sure the uke or guitar is tuned. Stopping to tune kills the momentum.

Give a Mini-Clinic on how to write a novel in just (mumble mumble) weeks! I wrote The Consuming Fire just a little more quickly than I usually write a novel, for various reasons, and if this topic pops up, I’ll talk about why that happened, how I did it, and what if anything about my writing process for this novel you can take away and use yourself (and what things you really, really shouldn’t do).

Read something funny: I wrote a short new piece of fiction exclusively for the tour! I think it’s funny! I’ll read it!

REVEAL THE MEANING OF LIFE: Because I know! Sort of! And I’ll share it! Maybe!

Plus: The usual Q&A part and of course the part where I sign books for people.

Because what I read and do at the event literally depends on the roll of a die, every stop on the tour will be different and even I can’t know what I’ll be doing at any stop. I think this will keep the events unpredictable and fun, and that’s a good thing (hopefully).

Caveats: If after trying it out a couple of times this d10 plan turns out to be awkward/terrible/unpopular, I reserve the right to fiddle with the formula and/or discard it entirely, because the actual point of these events is to make sure people come to them have a good time. Also, if for some reason it’s not possible to do one of the things on the list (for example, if no one brings a ukulele or a guitar), I’ll just re-roll OR just pick something else to do. Also also, if time/interest permits, I may do more than three things from the list (or do something not on the list at all). Finally, at the Austin, TX stop, I’m not doing any of these things because instead I will be in conversation with the awesome Victoria Schwab about writing and life in general. But that’s going to be pretty great on its own, so come see us anyway.

Sound like fun? Alternately, want to see my flail about horribly whilst doing these things? Then come on down and see me on tour! And please bring along everyone you’ve ever met. The more people, the better. See you soon!

How to Get Signed Copies of The Consuming Fire: The Informational Post

Want a copy of The Consuming Fire signed to you? You have numerous options, all good. Here they are:

1. Come see me on tour! Which starts tomorrow in Seattle and winds through a significant portion of the United States. Aside from being able to get your book signed, you’ll also get to see me read new stuff and otherwise try to be amusing for you. This is probably the easiest way to get a book signed, since I will be there, you will be there, and it’s the reason we’re both there.

If you’re not going to be able to get one of my events:

2. Order the book from one of the bookstores I’m going to be touring at. If you order before I get to the bookstore, then I will happily personalize your book as well as sign it. But even after I am gone, you can still probably get a signed book, because I’m likely to sign their remaining Scalzi stock. Call them and check!

3. Subterranean Press still has a limited number of signed Consuming Fire copies you can get. (update: all gone!)

4. Jay and Mary’s Book Center, my local indie bookstore, will also have signed copies available, once I go down to the store today to sign them (along with the rest of their Scalzi stock). With respect to Jay and Mary’s, in November I will also be doing my thing where I sign books for the holidays, so even if they sell out of signed Consuming Fires while I’m on tour, I’ll be going there again in just a few weeks to sign more stuff. So you can still order from them and I’ll still sign them! Eventually!

There, now you’re all caught up!

The Big Idea: Ryk E. Spoor

The thing about trilogies is that they always have that “middle chapter” — the one that has to do its own thing while serving the arc it’s in the middle of. Writing one is always a challenge, and Ryk E. Spoor is here today to tell you how he’s managed it with Demons of the Past: Revolution.

RYK E. SPOOR:

The Demons of the Past trilogy (Demons of the Past: REVELATION, REVOLUTION, and RETRIBUTION) is probably the most complex work I’ve yet written. To an extent this is because I’ve spent more time on it than anything else – the first draft, originally simply titled Psionic! was written in 1978 and I’ve updated, redrafted, and enlarged upon it for decades since. It takes place in the same writing multiverse as Paradigms Lost and the Balance Sword trilogy (Phoenix Rising, Phoenix in Shadow, and Phoenix Ascendant), and is one of the most personally important stories I’ve yet published. The trilogy is a complex game of strategy and manipulation with the only chance for the good guys to win really resting on three words sent from one person to the other – and even that only gives them a chance.

That setup occurred in the first book, Revelation (from Double Dragon Press). At the end of Revelation, the main viewpoint character, Captain Sasham Varan (formerly of the Reborn Empire) was a fugitive from his own Empire because he knew that the Prime Monitor – right hand of the Emperor – was a monster with hidden and malevolent intentions, as well as viciously hostile psionic allies hidden across the Empire. Varan’s only allies were the mysterious trader called The Eonwyl, the R’Thann scientist Sooovickalassa (often called “Vick”) whose unique process had made Varan a psionic, and astrophysicist and warrior Guvthor Hok Guvthor. Varan’s best friend Taelin Mel’Tasne – a high-placed member of the Five Families that helped guide the Empire – had received and, to his horror, understood Varan’s cryptic, three-word message “Please trust me”, leading Taelin and his brother Lukhas (high in Imperial Security) to formulate a very desperate plan indeed.

In Demons of the Past: REVOLUTION (from Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press), both Varan’s group and Taelin’s have to come to an understanding of what they are dealing with, and how they can do so, all while Shagrath’s manipulations bring the Reborn Empire closer to the brink of a galaxy-destroying war.

The middle of a trilogy is always the hardest. In a prior Big Idea column, I discussed how I addressed some of those issues in Phoenix in Shadow, by essentially having a storyline for one of the major characters be concluded in that book, even if the true main plot couldn’t be resolved until the third book.

But I couldn’t use that approach for Demons of the Past: REVOLUTION. Unlike the Balanced Sword trilogy, the characters in Demons of the Past are all personally caught up in what is really one huge plot, which can be divided into three books based on the type of activity in each: Revelation is about recognizing the problems that are facing the characters; Revolution is about the characters coming to an understanding of those problems, their own capabilities and relationships, and how they must move forward; Retribution is about the characters taking that understanding and turning it into action. The separate character arcs are smaller, and contained within the overarching plot, in a way that prevents the admittedly more satisfying in-book resolution seen in Phoenix in Shadow.

Mechanically, Revolution is also the book where I had to make sure that all of the key clues to the actions the characters would take in the future were properly set up. The final confrontation in the third book is dependent on Varan and his friends pulling off a very carefully coordinated strategy, and. to be fair to the readers, all the aspects of that strategy must be set up in the three books, so that the reaction at the end is “Ohhh, yeah, that makes sense” rather than “what nether regions did the author pull THAT out of?”

To an extent, that meant that Demons of the Past as a whole had to be focused on the characters more than any other book I’ve written. Varan, the Eonwyl, Taelin, Guvthor, Sooovickalassa, and even Shagrath had to be not merely clearly different, but clearly defined in a way that would allow the readers to say “oh. That’s right, of course this character would have to act that way”, because the characters’ behavior, beliefs, and personalities ultimately determine the success or failure of the major action in the trilogy.

In a way, knowing the core purpose of the middle book, and the personalities involved, simplified the writing. I knew Varan’s group had to discover the nature of Shagrath’s allies the Kaital (the name they eventually learn), Shagrath’s true origin and name, and enough details about both to provide a foundation for defeating them. I also knew the characters themselves had to learn more about each other, and that key elements in that area were the Eonwyl’s secret past, the true history of the Thovians (Guvthor’s people) and of the R’Thann (Vick’s species), and Varan being threatened by a weakness (a phobia of Zchoradans and related species) that had been established early in the first book. In addition, we had to learn something about Taelin’s actions and plans, and about Shagrath’s true intentions, capabilities, and resources – and the latter should be terrifying indeed, or there’s not much tension to drive the book.

None of this, of course, offered the same type of closure as the ending of Phoenix in Shadow. There were some high dramatic points the book could end on, but all of them amounted to some form or another of cliffhanger. On occasion, I’ve referred to Demons of the Past as being “Star Wars, if Luke had gone on to the Academy and only learned how rotten the Empire was when he’d been in service for twenty years”. Revolution, then, is the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy. It has to end with the characters in it deep, no matter what they’ve learned. It has to tell us what the magnitude and nature of the opposition is. And it has to leave the characters in a situation where they will be forced to act decisively.

Ultimately, the latter drove the decision. The title of the book – Revolution – refers to the fact that Varan must accept that to save even a part of the Reborn Empire he will have to place himself against what it has become, and be himself a revolutionary, willing to bring down the star nation that he loves and that was his home and source of pride. This brings him full-circle back to his very first adversaries – the Zchoradan Meld, the only other star nation that can begin to rival the Reborn Empire. Varan must face his phobia and his own patriotism and overcome both to plead for the aid of his own people’s long-time enemies.

That is, in many ways, the high (or low) point of the book, the understanding and acceptance of Varan of the course he must take, regardless of the personal cost. He must accept the consequences of his past confrontations with the Zchorada, and the propaganda that Shagrath has created to make Varan out to be a true monster, in order to convince his former enemies that they have – that they must have – a common cause.

And that must end in doubt, not certainty.

Taelin’s course, too, must be moved forward, and it struck me that it would be symmetry that he would do as Varan did, sending him a hidden message, but where Varan’s had been a message of subtle terror, Taelin’s would be one of hope – that also showed how fragile the hope could be.

In the end, I think I succeeded as well as I might have; the course for our heroes is clear, if fraught with perils of many sorts, and the dénouement of the entire trilogy is (mostly) set up, in its elements at least. I hope readers will agree, and follow Varan through to the final volume (coming next year), Demons of the Past: RETRIBUTION.

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Demons of the Past: Revolution: Amazon|Ring of Fire Press

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