The Limits of My Knowledge, Professionally (and Otherwise)

Someone asked me about “impostor syndrome” today on Twitter, so I linked over to the piece I wrote about it a couple of years back. Not surprisingly, this being Twitter, some folks had criticisms of the piece; one of the most cogent came from Lindsay Ellis, who essayed it in a multitweet thread which begins here, and which I encourage everyone to read. Among other criticisms, Lindsay says the following:

Scalzi talking about why he thinks he’s never suffered from Impostor Syndrome is a separate issue from people overcoming their own. I’m sure he gets the question “how do I overcome impostor syndrome?” a lot – but here is the thing; if he’s never had it, he doesn’t know.

This is, in fact, entirely accurate. I can say that I believe people shouldn’t have it, because (in the case of writers) if you write, you’re a writer, and that’s a thing in itself. Hopefully that’s encouraging to some people. But as Lindsay and others noted, me saying that doesn’t actually essay the issue for lots of folks, or even come close to addressing the root issues of impostor syndrome for many people. It’s not something I’ve ever experienced, and the closest I’ve come to experiencing it manifested itself in a different way: not “They’re all going to figure out that I’m fraud” but rather “Look at me I’m totally getting away with this,” and even that in a mostly transitory way.

I don’t feel bad about this. I’m not going to pretend I’ve felt something that I haven’t, and by and large I’m pretty happy not have experienced impostor syndrome. It doesn’t seem like a good time, although Lindsay notes that one can harness it for one’s benefit. But inasmuch as I’ve not experienced it, I’m probably not the right person to give advice on how to avoid it, or how to deal with it when it happens to you. The best I can do is to explain why it’s never happened to me, which mostly boils down to privilege, encouragement and ego (the last of which substantially helped by the first two). These things are what allowed me, when confronted with naysayers, to say “Oh, yeah? Watch this,” rather than to wonder whether they were right.

The conversation on impostor syndrome also dovetails for me into a larger thought I’ve been having, about the overall usefulness of writing/publishing advice I might give people, particularly newer writers. I’ve been writing professionally for almost 30 years; I’ve been a published novelist for almost fifteen. There are certain things I feel comfortable talking about these days with regard to writing composition (I can tell you how to craft reasonably good sentences, paragraphs, chapters and stories), and I can give you a reasonable birds-eye view of the publishing world, because I’m high up enough in it that I see a whole lot of what’s going on, including the things that most people don’t see. And, I’m good about talking about all the fun ancillary things that could happen when a book takes off, like TV/movie deals and other such projects. There are things I know about all of these, and it’s contemporary information.

But — when I started off as a professional writer, newspapers were still a thing, and they were hiring journalists, not laying them off by the score. The Internet existed mostly as a communication system between universities and defense department outposts. When I got my start as a novelist, eBooks were barely a thing at all, and not even covered in contracts; audiobooks were mostly an afterthought. Amazon was still mostly about books. These days, my business is novels — I don’t do a whole lot of other writing for money because, bluntly, Tor pays me a shitload of money to keep my focus on books. Oh, and, also, I’m a millionaire now, which is a pretty good thing for me, but also means that I’m well-insulated from a lot of concerns and issues that affect other writers. And of course there’s the part where I’m straight, white, male and cis, so I get that complement of societal buffs for free.

So while there a lot of things I know about writing, and publishing, and creating and so on, there’s also quite a lot of stuff that I don’t have direct experience with anymore, because where I am in my career is sufficiently removed from those issues that they don’t affect me, and I don’t have to spend any great amount of time thinking about them. If you ask me about these issues, I will tell you what my experience was, and how I understand things work today, but do keep in mind that asking me about a lot of them is like asking your dad (or grandad! I’m technically old enough now to be one!) tips on the hottest upcoming bands. If you’re lucky you’ll get “Uh, I don’t know, that Imagine Dragons group?” before he throws up his hands (note: 40-to-60-year old men reading this, this is not your cue to drop the names of hip young bands in the comments to prove that you’re not out of touch). Likewise, while I do try to keep up with trends and events in my industry and community, there are now gaps in my knowledge. Things today are not like when I was coming up, and I’m not in the same place today that I was when I was coming up.

This is not a bad thing. It’s fine for creative people to go through stages in their career, where the knowledge useful to an earlier stage falls away and knowledge useful to their current stage takes its place. Time happens, whether we prefer it to or not. Experience likewise happens. My experience is valid, and the information I have can still be useful, but all of it exists in the context of this is who I am and where I am now in my professional life. Additionally, it should be viewed in the context of survivorship bias — which is to say, I have made it to a particular place in my career, and while I can offer you information based on my experience to tell you how I got here, it might be more useful to examine the careers of people who haven’t landed where I have, despite having similar starting points and early career arcs.

I think I’ve generally been pretty good at disclosing and disclaiming who I am and what my place is in the world, and I think I’ve likewise been pretty good at reminding people that one, what worked for me might not work for them, and two, that when I opine about things (including things relating to my profession), I might occasionally be pulling things out of my ass. And to be fair I think a lot of writers and creators near, at, and above my status do the same thing. Many if not most of us are happy to tell you that our experience is our own, and that you should take it with the same grain of salt that you should take any advice, opinion or claims of experience. Successful writers are no less full of shit than anyone else.

But in case you’ve forgotten this (or this is the first time you’re seeing it), well: Here it is. I can tell you what I know. But what I know isn’t always going to be on point for you. You have to make the determination of what value my words have for your experience. If they’re useful, great! I like being useful. But if not, I won’t be offended. I don’t know everything, and what I do know may be something you can’t use. It happens. It’ll happen to you, too, one day. If you’re lucky.

A Weight Loss Strategy I Can’t In Good Conscience Recommend

It’s called food poisoning! And if you look at the weight chart above, covering this week (I have one of those scales that records my weight every time I step on it), you can probably guess when I had it. I’m here to tell you it wasn’t pleasant.

Fortunately it seems to have run its course — sleeping most of the day yesterday helped — and today I’m better, if a little tired and hungry. I’ll mostly be sticking with simple foods and lots of liquids. Also, don’t be expecting mental miracles from me today, I’m still mostly in a lower gear. But it’s still nice to have the worst of it past me.

So that was my last couple of days. Hope yours were better.

Smudge Shot, Plus Internet Update

First, let’s get you all a kitten picture, stat:

Yes, he’s adorable. And an asshole! But also adorable. As most kittens his age are. And yes, he’s still a kitten until at least late April or early May, which would be our best guess for his birthday. Enjoy these last couple months of his kittenish glory.

Second: An update on my Internet, because I know you care. CenturyLink sent a truck over earlier in the day to work on the line and after an hour or so of fiddling, the Internets speeds are actually what I’m paying for — which is still a pathetic speed, to be sure (6Mbps, same as the last decade) but it’s there. Ironically it is 6Mbps to within .1Mbps; I suppose after all my complaining they really decided to make the effort there. The upload speeds are still awful — .2 to .5Mbps — but for the first time in months I could actually upload a photo larger than 5MB (the picture you see above) without the line crapping out. This is progress of a sort.

Whether the repair sticks is the question. Today was the second time they had someone come fix the line in the last week; the first time the line worked at half speed for a day before crapping out. So we’ll see how the line is tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. I’d like to be optimistic, but CenturyLink hasn’t exactly inspired confidence recently.

For this reason and for a few others I think I’ll be keeping my new Sprint hotspot. Having what’s essentially auxiliary Internet isn’t exactly cheap, but it will keep me from fuming angrily and impotently when/if the CenturyLink line breaks down, which is kind of its own reward, and in the meantime I can use its (depending on the time of day) two-to-five-times faster download speed (and ten times faster upload) speed for handing certain specific heavy loads. In a perfect world this wouldn’t be necessary, but I don’t live in a perfect world, I live in rural Ohio. I figure this will work well enough until 5G finally shows up here in a couple of years.

In any event: My Internet problems are solved! Sort of! Thank you for coming along on this horrible adventure with me. At least you got a cat picture out of it.

The Big Idea: Brett Frischmann

Author Brett Frischmann wrote a non-fiction book about the consequences of technology. But he wasn’t done with the topic yet, nor it with him — and that’s how his novel Shephard’s Drone came about. Here he is to explain what happened next.

BRETT FRISCHMANN:

Human beings have special powers. We can imagine things that don’t exist and communicate with each other in person, at a distance, and across time about imagined things. These powers allow us to develop shared culture, beliefs, laws, technologies, and others things essential to cooperation and modern civilization. What matters most is how we exercise these powers across generations to shape our world and ourselves.  This is how we engineer humanity.

Perhaps the most fundamental Big Idea we’ve engineered for ourselves over the past few centuries is the belief that despite the many environmental contingencies outside of our control that shape who we are and what’s possible, we can be authors of our own lives. We have some meaningful agency or degree of freedom. This freedom is not naturally given or inevitable. It is contingent. It can be taken. It can be lost. We can be drones.

In 2010, I began grappling with these ideas. I’m a professor who works at the intersection of multiple disciplines. So I was comfortable digging deeply into philosophy, artificial intelligence, and various branches of psychology, among others. What was new for me—and in hindsight, a bit insane—was deciding to write nonfiction and fiction books in parallel.

Last year, I published the nonfiction book, Re-Engineering Humanity, with philosopher Evan Selinger. We examine our digital networked world and the risks of outsourcing much of our lives to supposedly smart tech. Instead of worrying about the doomsday scenario of sentient AI enslaving humans, we focus on what we’re doing to ourselves. The more pressing concern, we argue, is techno-social engineering of humans who behave like dumb machines.

Throughout Re-Engineering Humanity, we use thought experiments to speculate about the near future. We tie ourselves to the mast of existing technologies and extrapolate carefully. For example, after discussing fitness tracking tech in my son’s elementary school (to be worn 24-7 mind you), we extend our analysis of techno-social engineering of children to hypothetical variations, including sensors that track mental attentiveness or mood. Our objective is simple: Help elucidate the path we are on so readers can determine whether they like where we’re headed and can consider paths to alternative futures.

Back in 2010, I sat in a bar with my friend Deven Desai. He’d written a short story and asked me to read it. It was excellent, and as Deven surely hoped, it got me thinking and after a drink that meant talking excitedly. I offered constructive criticism and suggested minor edits, but mostly I applauded his efforts. Then I told him, “You know what, Deven? I have a story you should write.”

I’d been reading a book about the ethics of genetic engineering after finishing a book about the philosophy of the extended mind. These books got me thinking about how people would choose between biotech enhancements (bio-mods) and digital tech enhancements (comp-mods). I imagined a near future world in which such a choice was necessary. Bio-mods on the East Coast, comp-mods on the West Coast, and unmodified humans in the Midwest. I began to see how such a world could come to be and what it would mean for the different societies. I explained all of this to Deven.

He listened patiently for a few minutes, but then he interrupted. “Dude, write your own book. It sounds cool. But I can’t write it. You have to.”

This seemed crazy to me. “I don’t write fiction,” I said. “You do, and well. You know how.”

Deven insisted. He gave me some pointers. I bought a bunch of books on fiction writing. I got up at 5am every morning and wrote for at least 2 hours. I did this for a few years. …

Initially, I thought Shephard’s Drone would be about the near-future world. In part it is, but not exactly in the way I anticipated. Writers and writing guides often say that stories have a life of their own, that things happen in stories that the author doesn’t plot or even intend. I always thought this was BS. But then I wrote a novel and realized I was wrong. Of course, I outlined, plotted, and planned intensely from the fine details to the macro themes. But as I wrote, some unintended things just happened. There was a push and pull between my control/freedom and that of the story and its characters. I was in the lead most of the time—at least, I think I was.

Shephard’s Drone is about Kate Genet and her struggles to understand her world and her place within it. Kate is a bio-mod geneticist, a superstar in her field. She’s always been in control and had a solid plan. That stable baseline changes in the first chapter when she witnesses the sudden death of an infant and knows something went horribly wrong, despite all evidence to the contrary. A tug-of-war between the rational and emotional parts of her mind ensues; it is both disorienting and liberating.

Kate is determined to figure out what happened. It’s a classic quest for truth, an adventure into the unknown, a road trip!

Kate’s journey leads to intriguing challenges and varied relationships in the different societies. It took a dozen or so rewrites to effectively describe her interactions with other bio-mods, comp-mods, and unmodifieds taking into account her own priors as a lens. This was probably the most difficult challenge for me in writing fiction. It is quite difficult to see, much less describe for others to see, how one’s prior experiences shape one’s perspective. This is especially true when it comes to the technological infrastructures and affordances we take for granted.

In Re-Engineering Humanity, Evan and I work hard to provide a nuanced framework to evaluate the relationships between technology and humanity. We deliberately avoid utopian and dystopian extremes. Often, we found that one person’s utopia is another’s dystopia. (Consider, for example, polling your friends about the quality of life for humans in the motion picture, Wall-E.) What’s important but quite difficult to identify and evaluate is when the world we’re building for ourselves, each other, and future generations fits one person’s or one group’s utopian vision at the expense of another’s.

For better or worse, Shephard’s Drone leaves it to the reader to decide what is utopian or dystopian. Kate’s experiences in bio-mod, comp-mod, and unmodified human societies provide conflicting perspectives and an opportunity to reflect on the Big Idea permeating Re-Engineering Humanity and Shephard’s Drone, which is the contingent nature of freedom in worlds governed by technology.

—-

Shephard’s Drone: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s|Kobo

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

Today’s Adventures In Internet Connectivity

After more than a month of dealing with substandard (even for me) internet connectivity through CenturyLink, in which my already-slow internet connectivity slowed by a two-thirds, and neither a “repair” nor a new modem did anything to fix it, I decided to try something else. Sprint, as it happens, has an “unlimited” plan that features 100GB at 4G speeds, after which the speed drops to 3G speeds, i.e., not any slower than what I’m currently getting out of CenturyLink. All of this is cheaper than what I’m currently paying CenturyLink, and cheaper (in setup and monthly costs) than what I would have to pay for satellite Internet, which would not be any faster and has similar data caps than Sprint, and also sucks, because satellite Internet is inherently laggy and drops out in a rainstorm.

So, hey, look, here’s the very cheap phone I got basically to act as a hotspot. The plan is to use it primarily for the television for streaming, and to see how that works, in terms of data usage and whatnot. If it works pretty well, then I’ll be ditching CenturyLink entirely, since I’ve become tired of giving them money for genuinely shitty service that has not improved in a decade. The only downside as far as I can see is that it means I’ll likely be done downloading video games for a while, as most AAA games these days are 15+GB downloads to start and their frequent updates are now multi-gigabyte affairs as well.

Now, in point of fact this is kind of a shitty way of having to do things. I should be able to have a decent wired Internet connection without data caps. But I live in rural America, and where I live CenturyLink doesn’t have any competition for providing wired Internet, so it hasn’t bothered to upgrade its services, ever, which is why I was already puttering along at 6Mbps at best before the connection went to hell. So here I am, testing a Sprint phone as a hotspot so I can maybe watch Netflix without it pausing to download every half minute or so. I’ll let you know how it goes.

New Books and ARCs, 2/22/19

Got a big stack of new books and ARCs this week for you to peruse and consider. What here looks like something you’d enjoy? Tell us all in the comments!

Follow Up Oscar Predictions, 2019

When the Oscar nominations came out this year, I did my first-pass guesses as to who and what would take the statuettes home, and noted I would follow-up closer to time, because things change. And this year, yow, did they — A Star Is Born, the film I suspected would take the win, appears to have faded considerably in the last few weeks as it was passed over again and again by the various other awards ceremonies. At the same time, no one film has emerged as a frontrunner in any of the run-up awards.

Which means: Surprise! No one knows anything, least of all me. So for this year, I’m officially announcing that I don’t have much confidence in my predictions — use for your home Oscar pool at your own risk. That said, here are my best guesses as to who will in this Sunday:

Best Picture: I think Roma has the best chance, as everyone at least seems to like it, a lot of people love it, and at least a few think it’s stunning. For an award that is decided by instant runoff, that should be enough to get it over the line. It’s possible Green Book will come up from the outside, but if it does, expect a lot of post-ceremony kvetching about it. Maybe A Star is Born will still pull it out? But it really does feel as if its star has fallen.

Best Director: Still think it’s Alfonso Cuarón, although at this point the only director I’d say I’m absolutely sure won’t take it is Adam McKay. I’d personally give it to Spike Lee both because the film merits it and as a career award, but then again no one’s letting me vote (I think Lee still has a chance at an Oscar, however, in the screenplay category, screenplay often being the consolation Oscar for directors).

Best Actress: Still think this is Glenn Close, although outside shots from Olivia Colman and Melissa McCarthy (who I didn’t think had a chance when the noms came out) are still possible. Honestly, though, I don’t know why anyone would deny Close at this point.

Best Actor: Everyone seems to think Rami Malek has it, while my own previous guess (Willem Dafoe) doesn’t seem to be part of anyone’s conversation. At this point, unless Bradley Cooper makes a surprise comeback, I think everyone is probably right.

Best Supporting Actress: Buzz seems to be on Regina King, although I think Amy Adams still has a chance. Either is perfectly deserving.

Best Supporting Actor: Star’s fade means that the sure bet I thought existed in Sam Elliott may not be that great of a bet, and people seem to think Mahershala Ali might get his second Oscar in two years. As may be, but I’m not going to throw the towel in on Elliott yet. I think he might surprise folks. We’ll see!

On the Subject of “Hot Takes on Scalzi”

Just posted a Twitter thread I want to save here for posterity, and also for those of you who don’t bother with that particular service. It involves people complaining about me!

1. So, one of my favorite Hot Takes on Scalzi is the one that goes “I *used* to like Scalzi, but then he went and got all SJW-y” as if this were a new and surprising (and, for me, opportunistic) turn after years of, I don’t know, modest silent neutrality. Well, here’s the thing…

2. I have literally been online for a quarter of a century — my first USENET post was in ’94, and my blog has been up since 1998. I have been spouting off my opinions ALL THAT TIME. I have an electron trail longer than some of these dudes have been ALIVE.

3. And before THAT, I was spouting opinions in print! I was a nationally syndicated newspaper opinion columnist for several years. I have a paper trail that goes along with the electron trail, dating back to ’91 (or ’87, if you want to count my college paper, which, why not?).

4. In all that time, my politics have been — surprise! — pretty much in same area they are now. A few things I’ve moved left on, a few things I have moved right on (no, really), but by and large I’ve been (for the US) mostly-leftish in a petit bourgeois sort of way.

5. And this is checkable because — again — I have a wide and vast trail of my opinions and verbiage going back literal decades. Try it for yourself! It’s all there, somewhere, if you want to bother. Incompleteness will not be a problem for any future biographers of mine.

6. So, when some dude complains that I somehow “went all SJW-y,” the question I’d ask them is: since when? Because I pretty much guarantee you whatever date they pull out of their ass, I can show I was saying largely what I’m saying now well before then. None of this is new.

7. What IS different, perhaps, is that — don’t laugh — I have slightly more humility now, in that I’m willing to accept I don’t know everything, I’m willing to accept that sometimes I show my ass, and I’m willing to at least try to make amends when I do my ass-showing.

8. But otherwise, yeah, this is me, and this has pretty much always been me, as long as I’ve been writing in public. If you think I’ve “gone SJW” it’s because YOU weren’t paying attention before. Which is fine! You don’t have to know my life story. But the issue is you, not me.

9. The thing is, after 25 years online and three decades writing publicly, I’m not going to stop having opinions in public. If this fact bothers you, mute/block me on social media and don’t buy my work. It’s fine, and I don’t need or want your patronage. Read other folks!

10. Just don’t pretend that who I am is something new, or manufactured for sales or cookies. This is me. My track record is long and clear. I’ve been this way for a long time, and will probably be for a while yet. It’s not a surprise, or at least shouldn’t be. Welcome to me.

END

The Big Idea: Howard Andrew Jones

In today’s Big Idea, Howard Andrew Jones muses on the nature of heroism, and what it means for his latest novel, For the Killing of Kings.

HOWARD ANDREW JONES:

I think a lot of us are inspired by heroism before we really know what it is. I still remember tuning into an original Star Trek re-run for the first time when I was five years old. Before long I saw Kirk and Spock stand against a horde of angry miners after they discovered that the creature everyone thought a murderous monster was simply defending its young from genocide. Those two faced their own prejudices and changed their minds when exposed to new information, then risked their lives to see the just thing done.

I wanted to be like THOSE guys. Episode after episode, even if they didn’t always have the right answer, even if they sometimes made mistakes, they struggled to do the right thing when there might be no reward but death. They risked everything for their friends, their allies, and those who had no voice.

Of course, at five, I didn’t quite get the weighty stuff, I just liked the adventure of it all. And I sure loved swashbuckling, probably because I imprinted on The Four Musketeers when I caught it in the theatre at about the same time. It may seem worlds away from Star Trek, but that movie and its predecessor, The Three Musketeers (which I caught later) were similar to my favorite TV show in the way that its characters stood as one against their foes.

Nowadays, when fame seems easily acquired by looking good, possessing a lot of money, or shouting loudly, heroism can be taken for granted, or seen as quaint: often the most celebrated modern figures are those who get away with things they probably shouldn’t, or those who act the most outrageously entitled. These are cynical times, I get it, and sometimes it seems that facts and truth are dead (along with irony) and that heroes are just people whose dark sides haven’t been scooped yet.

But I don’t think I’m alone in remaining fascinated with heroes, and wishing we heard more about them. Heroism can supersede our cultural wars because it isn’t about defending a narrow set of beliefs dictated by a few who want to stay in power. It isn’t defined by ideology, but by the selflessness of those who protect others. Above all, heroism stands in stark contrast with selfishness, that most common of evils that creeps into a person or a society too self-indulgent to keep it at bay.

Now that I look back on all my touchstones, both those early ones and later discoveries, like the accounts of brave soldiers and civilians in the Second World War, I’m not at all surprised that I’ve ended up writing about heroes. For the Killing of Kings takes the perspective of a corps of veteran soldiers as they stumble into a conspiracy that may lead all the way to the throne. Truths have been twisted, facts invented, and the less powerful silenced and ignored. When two of these warriors, sworn to lay down their lives to defend the realm, ask the wrong questions, they’re framed for murder, declared traitors, and are forced to flee for their lives, their own friends in deadly pursuit.

Over the ensuing pages their bonds strengthen as they best terrible dangers and cross terrifying lands. They have to make agonizing choices and risk everything both to learn the truth and to seek a just future for all. In short, sacrifices must be made. Sometimes, because of their actions, they discover allies where others would see only enemies. And because I loved the weird world building and the layers within layers I discovered in The Chronicles of Amber (a major inspiration for this series) they see plenty of peculiar sites and uncover multiple secrets.

Of course good heroes need good villains, but given that I want the unveiling mysteries of this book to be one of its draws, the real villains and their plans probably ought to remain hidden here – although I think the back cover mentions that an enemy invasion is taking place just as Elenai and Kyrkenall begin their journey into the shifting lands. The greatest heroes need the biggest challenges to rise above.

I love characters swathed in gray as much as the next guy, from Conan to Corwin of Amber to the Gray Mouser, and yet somehow I keep ending up writing about heroes. I just seemed programmed that way. I have an honest love of adventure stories, and I surely hope my fiction amuses and even thrills readers. But if my words can provide solace and, dare I hope, inspiration for someone to stand tall in the face of adversity, and to take right action when wrongs are being committed, why, that will be a pretty grand thing.

—-

For the Killing of Kings: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s|Books A Million|iBooks

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

Smudge Protests Being Woken Up

As he should. Whoever woke you up was a real jerk, Smudge!

Don’t worry, he went right back to sleep. As cats do.

Forgotten Books, Remembered (For Now)

I suppose it was inevitable: I discovered a that I am listed as a contributor to a book that I was not aware existed. It’s a 2009 book from the National Geographic Society called The Backyard Guide to the Night Sky, credited to Howard Schneider, and for which I am listed as contributing essays. And when it was brought to my attention, I was all, “I did what now?” I had no memory of contributing to this book at all.

Mind you, I don’t think the National Geographic Society was trying to pull a fast one. The far more likely explanation is that I did contributed to the book and then, over the course of a decade, I had simply forgotten anything about it. And indeed, that was the explanation — a quick look through my email archives from the time unearthed not only the correspondence trail between me an an editor at NatGeo, but also the essays in question, about constellations, telescopes and UFOs (and all the things that are not them).

These essays were a throwback to a time where I was writing a lot more non-fiction than I do now, and also taking freelance writing assignments from folks for quick pieces on, well, just about anything. It wasn’t entirely out of my remit to write articles on astronomy, since by that time I had written an entire book on the subject and it had even gone into a second printing. Which may be why I don’t remember too much about these pieces; I could pretty much write them without effort.

In any event it’s nice to have this book back in my memory banks. Amazon informs me that there is a second edition of the book coming out in exactly a month; it has a new primary author, who has no doubt updated the book from stem to stern. I wonder if what I contributed will make the cut ten years on. I guess we’ll find out. And now I wonder what other books are out there that I’ve forgotten I was a part of.

The Big Idea: Tina LeCount Myers

In today’s Big Idea, author Tina LeCount Myers discovers that in writing Dreams of the Dark Sky, her conscious was writing one thing, and her unconscious writing something entirely different — and yet, it all came together in the same story. Here’s how.

TINA LeCOUNT MYERS:

Conscious Me: I wrote a story about invasive vs. native human-like species in a volatile environment.

Unconscious Me: Actually, I wrote a story about fate and free will, where I used my characters to work out my own existential uncertainty about these concepts.

Conscious Me: What do you mean? The story is about how humans and elves fail to coexist and the ramifications of their wars.

Unconscious Me: Perhaps on one level. But if you look deeper, you’ll see that both humans and elves must come to their own understanding of agency.

Whereupon, Conscious Me pauses, thinking, then appropriates what was unconscious, feeling self-satisfied with the deeper meaning it has come up with. Then, in a moment of insight, Conscious Me suggests: Really, Dreams of the Dark Sky is Freaks and Geeks meets Excalibur—the John Boorman Excalibur.

And both parts of me are right, except maybe for the John Boorman reference, which feels a little conceited and hyper-masculine even for the Conscious Me.

I started writing The Legacy of the Heavens trilogy with the idea to write a fantasy story with science at the foundation of the worldbuilding. Dark matter disguised as magic. Multiverses and string theory cloaked as portal realms in arctic Scandinavia. Evolutionary biology to posit the existence of sequentially hermaphroditic elves. But what I discovered was an even more profound interest in what makes us human, even if we are elves.

On the surface, Dreams of the Dark Sky, the second book in the trilogy, is about two human-like species struggling to coexist in a volatile arctic environment. But at its heart, the story is more concerned with how the two main characters, Dárja and Marnej, experience the complex love between parent and child, yearn to belong in their respective communities, and struggle to take control over their lives. They reflect the deep-seated, human questions that I have about my own life: my relationship with my parents, my sense of belonging—or not, and, most importantly, my conflicted experience with the concepts of fate and free will.

I have suffered the resentment of fate, where I must live with a decision over which I have no control. I have struggled with the paralysis of free will, where I am unable to make the “right choice”. I have no definitive answer on which is better or worse. So when Marnej, who is half-human and half-elf, asks, “Was I always meant to end up here? Or did circumstance and my own action bring me here?” it is me asking that same question of my own life. And when Kalek, the elf-healer, answers, “I do not believe the gods choose our actions. They may set the course of events, but it is we who decide what direction to go in,” it is my own unwitting compromise.

Dreams of the Dark Sky is about the aftermath of a struggle between humans (invasive species) and elves (native species). But it is also about the tension between conscious and unconscious choice and what that interplay reveals about not only the characters, but also the writer, and hopefully the reader as well.

—-

Dreams of the Dark Sky: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound |Powell’s
Visit the author’s site. Visit her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

 

Portrait of Athena, February 2019

She came home for the weekend so I was able to grab a few photos of her. This one turned out pretty well.

Still writing that thing, so back to it.

I’m Out Until Monday, So, Here, Have Some Flowers

And on Valentine’s Day, too! Awwwwwww.

I’m out because I feel like it but also because I have a project to finish. So, unplugging from the Internet to get done. As one sometimes has to do. See you all next week.

Love Death & Robots Trailer

Why would I bring this trailer to your attention? Oh, no reason. No reason at all. Still, you might want to block out some time on March 15 to see the series. Just because.

(Note: the above trailer is very noisy and probably NSFW.)

Today In “I Regret Nothing”

Yesterday I reached 160,000 Twitter followers and polled my followership with how they wanted me to celebrate: A preview from an upcoming work, a song, a cat picture or a “burrito.” The burrito won. This is what followed.

***

HUMANS OF TWITTER:

It is time.

Yesterday, having reached 160k Twitter followers, I promised one and all that I would make a VALENTINE BURRITO to mark this momentous occasion.

I have done so. And recorded its creation for you.

LET US BEGIN THIS BURRITO JOURNEY TOGETHER NOW.

STEP ONE: The raw ingredients are purchased and assembled.tortillas, cherry cordials, gummi worms, raspberry preserves, marshmallow creme, heart-shaped cakes, butter.
STEP TWO: The individual portions are measured out and prepared.One tortilla, one cake, two cordials, six gummi worms, and the marshmallow creme and raspberry preserves.
STEP THREE: A generous base of marshmallow creme is slathered onto the tortilla.Fun fact: Marshmallow creme is hella sticky.
STEP FOUR: The raspberry preserves are added to the marshmallow creme.Fun fact: This tortilla now looks like a crime scene.
STEP FIVE: The heart-shaped snack cake is torn to shreds and placed on the raspberry preserves. Not symbolic or anything!This is all pink and red and white and oh Jesus what have I done.
STEP SIX: The chocolate cherry cordials are sliced, poorly, and added to the pile.Seriously, chocolate cherry cordials have no structural integrity to speak of.
STEP SEVEN: Gummi worms added for color and texture. They have nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, but sometimes you just need that extra kick, you know?Fun fact: We will all die and worms will eat us, except the cremated people, who never think of the poor, hungry worms.
STEP EIGHT: Tortilla folded into a burrito shape, and slathered with butter.Fun fact: This burrito is, like, eighteen million calories, all of them empty, like my soul.
STEP NINE: The burrito commenceinates its fryination!Fun fact: This technically makes this burrito a chimichanga!

STEP TEN: The burrito is golden brown and now ready to eat.

And did I eat it? Well…From the outside, you would not imagine this to be a hideous hellscape of mish-mashed sugary flavors!

Here I am, eating the thing.

WARNING: You are not prepared.

Another look at the inside of the Valentine Burrito.Fun fact: It looks like a unicorn barfed into a flour tortilla.

Thank all 160k of you for following me here on Twitter. You made me make this burrito. I do not regret it, and yet I will never ever do this again, unless lots of money is involved.

The end.Hey, want a bite?

Followup tweet:

The Big Idea: Charlie N. Holmberg

Immortality has been done in fiction, many times. But has it been done like Charlie N. Holmberg does it in Smoke and Summons? Holmberg is here to explain why the immortality found here may be unique after all.

CHARLIE N. HOLMBERG:

Once upon a time, my agent and editor got together behind my back, schemed, and then called me demanding I stop this standalone nonsense and write another series. This was in the middle of my California vacation.

GREAT TIMES.

I am a prolific writer (having no other hobbies, I have to spend my time doing something). I jump from idea to idea, and my brain likes to work in short and sudden chunks, thus the streak of standalones. I’d written one series, one time, and it was honestly a fluke. It started with a standalone that had more story to tell, so two more books almost accidentally happened. But that series outsold my standalones ten to one. So I wasn’t surprised to get pressure to do it again.

Problem was, I didn’t have any ideas big enough to encompass multiple books. And I needed a good, big idea, because I don’t like staying in one world too long. I needed to create something that could suck up about 300,000 words, be interesting, and be especially interesting to me.

I started going through my Pinterest boards, phone notes, and idea folders, pulling out literally anything and everything that sounded interesting. I’d figure out how to tie it all together later, hopefully. It was during this Frankensteining of creativity that I came across THE THING. Something I had written down about a year earlier. Something I didn’t even remember writing down. It was just two words in its own Word document.

“Immorality switch.”

And I knew I had my big idea. I only needed to look down at my hands to determine how I was going to create this immortality switch: fidget spinner. I was going to make a magical fidget spinner that let my character be immortal, but only for one minute each day.

This opened up a world of possibilities. What could a person do with one minute of immortality, where consequences were nearly moot? It could be used for crime, for gain. To save oneself at the last moment, or kept on hand as a safety net. It could be used to cure the terminally ill or mortally wounded. And how it would be used would depend on who was holding it at the time. Who would know about it? Who would have access to it? What happened if someone snatched the device from someone else mid-spin?

So I made it. I gave it a history and a value. And I gave it to a poor sewage worker who could use it to turn his life around. In fact, his new life depends on it, so when a woman on the run steals it, he’ll do anything to get it back.

The device is rare, ancient, and more special than anyone realizes; I was able to connect it to a bigger magic system, the secrets of which carry across a whole series. Eureka! And I called it an amarinth. An amaranth is an imaginary, undying flower; an immortal thing. But then my vegetarian friend told me amaranth was also a fancy grain and was likely to be the next hot and popping thing for healthy people, so I changed one of the vowels in my term. Super creative, I know.

Ultimately, when readers dive into the Numina world and learn about this device, I want them to ask themselves one thing.

What would I do with my minute?

—-

Smoke and Summons: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound |Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Visit her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

A Ring Around the Moon, 2/13/19

It was big and bright and I had Krissy come out and look at it, and then I tried to take a photo of it with my Nikon, and you can barely see it in this exposure:

I also took a photo of it with my Google Pixel with Night Sight on:

Now, I should note that if I put my Nikon on a tripod and took a longer exposure, the ring would be much clearer, and I might do that a little later. But for now, Google Pixel to the rescue.

Update:

The Big Idea: Charlie Jane Anders

Night follows day, day follows night — or does it? It depends on where you live. And in The City in the Middle of the Night, award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders considers a world where neither follows the other, and everything that entails for her characters and their lives.

CHARLIE JANE ANDERS:

Five or six years ago, I became obsessed with tidally locked planets.

These planets, where one side always faces the sun and there’s a permanent day side and a permanent night side, were turning out to be incredibly common in our galaxy. And it was looking as if any exoplanet our descendents might colonize would turn out to be tidally locked.

And this image, of living on a planet with permanent chilly darkness on one side, and boiling hot sunlight on the other, captivated me and took over my imagination. In my novel, The City in the Middle of the Night, direct sunlight is actually toxic, so humans can only live in the thin zone of twilight in between the day and night sides.

(I thought about calling my novel Twilight, or The Twilight Zone, but apparently those titles were already taken? Also, the strip of twilight is called the Terminator, so I thought about calling my novel The Terminator—but turns out someone already used that one, too.)

I grew up in the country, with no street lights anywhere nearby. So the nights were incredibly dark, and if you wandered far enough from my parents’ house, you couldn’t even see your own hand in front of your face. I used to play flashlight tag with some of the neighborhood kids, and we would run around in total darkness until one of us ran into the electric fence around the horse field out back. Good times.

So I loved the image of endless, total darkness, which humans can barely even explore because we’ve lost all of our survival gear and all-terrain vehicles. The City in the Middle of the Night started to click for me when I thought of it as the story of a girl, Sophie, who gets banished into the night side of her planet, and learns to communicate with the creatures who live in the darkness.

These creatures, the Gelet, have their own science and technology, but humans decided they were just dumb animals because we couldn’t understand them. And they can’t live in our light, any more than we can live in their darkness.

That image of a girl getting banished into total darkness, colder than the South Pole, led to a whole story. Sophie is a shy girl, who doesn’t talk to you unless she knows you really well —-in fact, she’s the opposite of a lot of the other heroes I’ve written. She stays in the background and never raises her voice, and she definitely doesn’t stand up at any point and give a rousing speech. But she’s still the hero of the story, and her courage inspires people and changes the world.

And Sophie goes on an incredible journey—-not just wandering into frozen darkness, but also traveling from one human city to another. She has to journey with a group of smugglers from her hometown to the city of Argelo. They cross the Sea of Murder, which is a whole ocean that is a solid ice shelf on one side, and on the other side is a scalding wall of steam that will cook you alive if you sail too close to it. And did I mention the Sea of Murder has pirates? And giant sea monsters?

The other thing I kept thinking about as I wrote this book is just how weird it would be to live without sunrise and sunset. If you couldn’t look up at the sky and see the sun changing positions, along with the shadows moving around and changing shape, how would you know when to sleep and when to work? How would you even know how much time was passing if the sun never changed its position?

In my book, “night” and “day” are places rather than times, and I avoided using any words like “minute,” “hour,” “second,” “yesterday” or “tomorrow.” (Thank goodness the amazing copy-editor caught a few places where I slipped up.)

And this becomes a huge social divide for the humans living on January, as different societies approach the problem of sleep and time management differently. One human city has a rigid curfew, and everyone sleeps and works at the same time, because they believe that if we don’t keep a strict circadian rhythm, then we stop even being human. But another city, known as the City That Never Sleeps, has a much more chaotic approach (and way better parties.)

This debate is about more than just what time to go to sleep, or how to structure your life: at its root, it’s an argument over the nature of humanity, especially when we’ve gone to live on another planet where we’re an invasive species.

And I guess that’s the thing I was obsessing about in general in this book. My fascination with tidally locked planets led me in a couple of different directions: 1) Communicating with radically different creatures who live in an environment we can’t even visit, and 2) The debate over when to sleep and how to organize our time, without sunrise and sunset. And both of those questions come down to: what does it mean to be human? Who do we think of as people? How do we understand each other as equals, instead of trying to control each other?

When never-ending darkness lurks on the edge of town and the sky offers no clues as to how much time has passed, “human nature” is up for grabs. I had a lot of fun exploring this bizarre world and the questions it raises, and I’m so excited to share The City in the Middle of the Night with you.

—-

The City in the Middle of the Night: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

In Which Smudge Is Convinced That He Will Get Food From the Dinner Table If He’s Cute Enough While He Reaches For It

Meanwhile, Spice, in the background, knows better.