View From a Hotel Window, 10/26/18: Charleston, WV

Perhaps one of the great “view of a parking lot whilst on tour” photos: I mean, look at that! That immense parking structure! All in one place!

Tonight: Nothing! My plan is to camp out in my hotel room. Maybe go to sleep early. I am exciting!

Tomorrow: I’m at the West Virginia Book Festival at 11am! I’ll be doing my thing and then signing and otherwise loitering about. Come see me, please!

And on Sunday, I’ll be in Austin, Texas (yes, I know about the boil water alert), at the Texas Book Festival, also at 11am, but this time I’ll be in conversation with Victoria Schwab. We’re going to be amazing together. Come see us!

Notes and Advice From a Book Tour

The book tour for The Consuming Fire only has a couple more stops (that is, not counting the week I then spend in France after I am home for a day…), and I thought it might be fun to note a few things about life on the author tour road, and offer a few tips as well. These are not big revelations and/or tips, but are things worth considering, if you’re on the road as an author, or are hoping to be at some point.

1. I eat a fair amount of room service on the road, and it seems to me that in general room service food has gotten better over the last few years. This might be because the hotels now often have an actual (i.e., not just Sysco’s Greatest Hits) restaurant on board. But even when not, it just seems better. Last night I had very serviceable pad thai and better than average pecan pie. I’m pleased about this development and hope it continues.

2. You can put two weeks worth of clothing into a carry-on if you know how to maximize space, but at least a couple times in the course of the tour you will have to reorganize your carry-on so you can easily access the clean stuff. I just did that again this morning; I don’t want to have to go exploring to find the clean underwear (small tip for telling apart the clean and dirty clothes if you don’t put the dirty clothes in a bag: Turn the dirty clothes inside out).

3. My largest cash expenditure on tour? Tips. Everything I can put on a credit card I do (so that there’s a clean record for taxes or reimbursement from the publisher), but for people like hotel staff and drivers, cash is best. I should note that most of the costs of the tour are shouldered by the publisher, but (and this is a personal choice) I usually handle tips myself, because I am the direct recipient of the service;. This is where I insert the usual complaint that the tipping society we live in is inherently unfair, etc, etc, but the fact is we live in a tipping society, so I tip.

4. I use a carry-on when I tour because there’s less chance of being separated from my luggage forever, BUT because of contemporary luggage policies, a lot more people are doing carry-on these days. If you aren’t in the first couple of “zones” to get seated on a plane, you’re probably going to have to end up gate-checking your luggage. It used to be that if you were seated in premium economy (or its equivalent on your airline), you’d automatically be in one of those first few zones, but at least some airlines — I’m looking at you, United — appear to have decoupled the two. The moral of this story is probably to fly Delta, which still does pair their premium economy to getting on the plane relatively early.

5. This is matter of personal taste, but for most domestic flights, I do find “premium economy” or its equivalent perfectly serviceable for plane rides. This is no doubt because I have relatively short legs and also don’t drink alcohol, so two of the major attractions of business/first class are wasted on me. I did get an upgrade to first class on one flight of the tour and it was lovely, but (and aside from a bit of Twitter comedy about it) not so much that generally I’m willing to spend a couple hundred dollars more (or a couple hundred dollars of my publisher’s money) to make the upgrade. I make exceptions for this — if I’m on a red-eye flight I will often opt for business class in order to sleep a little better — but generally I don’t find it worth the money, mine or my publisher’s.

6. Authors: Want to make friends with the bookseller hosting you on the tour? At the end of your presentation, just before the signing part, encourage the people at the event to buy a book from the bookstore (even if it’s not your own book!). Most people at your event have probably gotten a book from the store already (and probably your book, because they want you to sign it), but some haven’t, and some people forget that there’s a high correlation between a bookseller hosting future events, and the bookseller doing well with the current events. So remind people to buy books from the bookstore at your event, and to support them the rest of the time as well.

7. Authors (and anyone else who travels a lot), if you have a decently long tour and also a favorite airline, I suggest either getting an American Express platinum card (uhhhh, if you can) or an airline-related credit card, which allows you access to the airlines “clubs.” Especially if you have a long layover/wait at an airport, they tend to be places that are less frantic than the rest of the airport, where you can get something to eat or drink and otherwise depressurize for just a bit. I have the platinum Amex, which means I get access to the Delta Skyclubs (when I fly Delta) and Amex’s own “Centurion Clubs,” and it makes a difference for my airport experience. The annual fee isn’t cheap, but for the amount I travel in a year (and factoring in other benefits, like the fact I have automatic “Gold” status at several hotel chains), it’s been worth the cost overall.

8. General rule of thumb for a tour, but also I think for life in general: Try to be kind and decent to everyone who is supporting you on a tour, from the people who drive you places to the booksellers to the hotel staff to (if you have one) media escorts, and especially to the people who come to your events to see you. Sometimes this is less easy than others, if you’re tired or you’ve had an aggravating day or whatever. But, aside from the fact that when you practice kindness, kindness is often returned to you, the fact is that everyone remembers how you treat them and everyone also talks. A reputation for being a decent human will take you a lot further than a reputation for being a difficult turd.

9. One of the best things about touring for me is the fact I often get to see friends either before or after an event. I highly recommend trying to book a little time to see people if you can, not only because touring can be isolating and people react poorly to being isolated, but also because friends can keep you grounded and happy. If you have a lot of friends you won’t be able to see them all (and you may have to remind them that you probably won’t be able to go off and do some hours-long thing because you’re actually working, and you’ll probably have to stay near your hotel and/or event), but make the effort to see at least one or two. It actually makes a difference to your quality of life.

10. But also make sure you have some time for yourself! Most authors are introverts and can use some recharge time. One of my favorite things is to do when I have a day when I have an early event (or if I get into a hotel room early) is to nap, or to order room service, fire up Netflix and do a little bingeing. You will have to be “on” nearly every time you’re in front of someone else on tour, so having time where you can be “off” is actually really important. Make sure you schedule time to do that. It’s important.

And those are today’s tips.

The Big Idea: Dan Koboldt

Science Fiction writers love science, but we don’t always get the science we already know 100% correct. Fortunately, Dan Koboldt is on the case, with his book Putting the Science in Fiction.

DAN KOBOLDT:

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Apex Magazine called “Eye-based Paternity Testing and Other Human Genetics Myths,” mostly because I was irritated at how frequently I encountered misconceptions about genetic inheritance in books, television, movies, and other media. I’ve worked as a genetics researcher for fifteen years, and it surprises me at how often people get this stuff wrong.

One frequent myth is the idea that physical traits like (like eye color) are inherited in classic Mendelian (i.e. dominant and recessive) fashion and can predict family relationships. The rock song “All I Wanna Do” by Heart is a great example. A woman has a one-night stand with a young man who apparently is hitchhiking. Years later, they run into each other and she’s got a child. “You can imagine his surprise,” the song goes, “when he saw his own eyes.”

It’s a great song but also not very realistic. Having similar eyes doesn’t make two people related. While it’s true that blood relatives often resemble one another, most physical traits that we think of as “genetic” are influenced by multiple genes and environmental factors. Eye color is a spectrum, and appears to be influenced by at least 15 different genes. It doesn’t always follow predictable inheritance patterns, either. People with blue eyes can have brown-eyed children and vice-versa.

In other words, eye color, like most physical traits, is not a good paternity test.

Another common myth is the idea of a “advantageous” mutation that changes an ordinary person into a superhero. It’s true that exposure things like radiation, carcinogens, and some classes of viruses can cause genetic mutations. However, a mutation occurs in the DNA of a single cell. Our bodies have millions of cells by the time we’re adults. Most mutations have no effect. Some may be deleterious, causing the cell to die. Even fewer mutations confer some kind of advantage to the cell, allowing it to grow and divide. If this happens, you don’t become a superhero; you’ve got cancer. Sorry, Spiderman.

After I wrote the article, I thought it might be fun to have an ongoing blog series to educate authors about scientific and technical aspects of science fiction. The problem was that many of the relevant topics were outside my area of expertise. We may not like to admit it, but scientists don’t know everything. We tend to specialize in a given field, and outside of it we may not have any more knowledge than the average person.

I wanted my blog articles to be written by true experts. After all, someone who works in a relevant field on a day-to-day basis can provide depth and nuance that you won’t find on Wikipedia. Also, their information tends to be more up-to-date, because not all of us get around to writing books or updating the relevant wiki page.

So I started to collect experts in other subject areas. The SFF community, as it turns out, is full of them. Most writers have day jobs, after all, and a lot of them work in science, engineering, medicine, and other technical fields. This was the genesis of my Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy blog series. Each week, I invite an expert to discuss their real world expertise as it applies to science fiction. Most of the contributors are SFF fans themselves, so they offer some lovely examples of works that get things wrong (or right).

Fast forward a few years, and the blog series had collected something like 150 articles representing a wide range of disciplines. Eventually, someone smarter than me had the idea to collect this useful information into a book. I thought that Writer’s Digest books would be the ideal publisher for such a reference. Luckily, they agreed.

Putting the Science in Fiction includes 59 chapters from a wide range of technical experts who collectively have endured more than 200 years of graduate school. Two thirds of the book’s contributors identify as female, by the way, so we’ve kept the “mansplaining” to a minimum. There’s also a hilarious foreword by bestselling author Chuck Wendig.

Our goal is simple: to help writers add a dose of realism to their science fiction stories. Every chapter is short and to the point; we address common pitfalls and misconceptions, and then offer some tips for getting the details right. With a bit of expert guidance, anyone can write stories that are realistic and compelling (even to readers who know a lot about the underlying science). And that, my friends, is the big idea.

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Putting the Science in Fiction: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.