The Big Idea: Jillian Boehme

First drafts are made to be edited. Author Jillian Boehme talks about the process of rewriting in her Big Idea for The Stolen KingdomRead on to see how a fresh take on an old work could end up being your next big thing.

JILLIAN BOEHME:

The first thing that needs to be perfectly clear is that The Stolen Kingdom, my second published novel, is a complete rewrite of my first-ever-written, very horrible novel, entitled The Seeds of Perin Faye. And the big idea behind that was, simply, that I could write a better novel than the one I was currently reading, a middle grade fantasy that will remain nameless. 

I didn’t believe that I could ever write a novel, you see. So the moment when I decided that, well, I actually could, if I tried, was the catalyst for my career. The Seeds of Perin Faye was everything a first novel usually is—overwritten, poorly structured, and trope-y. The story was told from two points of view—12-year-old Maralyth, who, along with her friend Alac, had all sorts of adventures with magic stones and a time-traveling great-grandmother and a rather Gandalf-y character named Soldan; and 16-year-old Nestar, Maralyth’s brother, whose storyline was far more exciting. He (lucky chap) discovered he was of the royal bloodline that used to rule Perin Faye, before the throne had been stolen by the current king’s ancestor. Nestar becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the king and his family and take the throne.

Fast forward at least fifteen years. Stormrise, my debut novel, was several months from hitting the shelves, and my editor at Tor Teen wanted three synopses to choose from for my next book. I had two solid ideas, but I had no idea what I could offer for a third choice. Then, while I was in the shower one evening, I had a sudden thought that maybe I could take The Seeds of Perin Faye and make it something brand new. I had always loved the setting (rolling vineyards in a sort of Renaissance-y magical world) and the characters, and I felt I finally had the writing chops to make something out of this poor first attempt at a novel.

I tried and tried to rework the story, but nothing came together. Finally, the big revelation came, and it changed everything. Nestar, as I’ve already said, had the more interesting storyline. What if, I thought, I gave his story to Maralyth? Instead of a young man learning that he could be king, how about a young woman learning that she could be queen?

This idea lined up nicely with my penchant for writing strong female protagonists (who aren’t whiny or embittered), and so the new tale was born. After weeks of frustration, I was suddenly excited about the new direction this story could take. And as luck would have it, this is the story my editor chose to publish next.

Maralyth grew from twelve to seventeen years old, and her brother Nestar became a secondary character. Alac, her best friend in the original story, became the other protagonist—second son to the king of Perin Faye. (Yes, I kept the kingdom name, too.) The next big idea, and one that proved challenging to write, was to pit Maralyth and Alac against each other, so that each would be the other’s antagonist. In theory, that sounds like a lot of fun, right? But placing two characters who had forged a relationship, albeit under a false premise, on opposite sides of a conflict was one of the hardest parts of writing The Stolen Kingdom. Taking an emotional arc from “I think I’m falling in love with her” to “I’m totally going to kill her” takes a deft hand, or it won’t be believable. To say that this stretched me is an understatement.

Now that The Stolen Kingdom has been birthed, I love sharing the story of its origin. Winking while saying, “Well, hey, this is actually the first novel I ever wrote!” is tremendously fun. You, of course, now know the rest of the story.


The Stolen Kingdom: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Kali Wallace

Science fiction often holds up a mirror to the present day when it imagines what happens in the future. For Deep Space, author Kali Wallace has imagined a scenario that, while specifically impossible in the here in now, involves personal and social dynamics which might feel very familiar to us anyway.

KALI WALLACE:

This book didn’t start with a big idea. My books never do. I start with very small ideas, and only in the process of writing and rewriting and revising and editing do those ideas grow into something more. I have to write a novel to figure out what it is I want the novel to say, which is very inefficient writing process, but it’s the one that works for me. 

So when I first started Dead Space, back in the ancient times of 2018, my only idea was that I wanted to write a creepy, exciting book about a lesbian cyborg space detective. A space detective requires a space crime, and a space crime requires a space setting, so I stuck a murder on an asteroid mine and ran with it. 

The other thing I knew when I started Dead Space was that it took place in the not-so-distant future, when the world is a bit different, but not too different. We have spaceships, but we can barely travel beyond the asteroid belt. We have better technology and advanced medical treatments, but they aren’t available to everyone. We have clever AIs, but they’re still built and trained by flawed humans. We have the ability to give people better lives, but those opportunities are largely reserved for the rich and powerful.

Sci fi writers are always writing about the fucked-up present when we write about fucked-up futures, but sometimes we don’t know what flavor of fucked-up we’re digging into until we get into the heart of the story. And the heart of the story is, always, its characters.

When I was in college, twenty-some years ago, I took a class about Mars. The professor, planetary scientist Pete Schultz, asked on the very first day, “Who would go to Mars if you had the chance?” Most people raised their hands. Then he asked, “Who would go to Mars if you knew it would be a one-way trip?” Nearly everybody put their hands down. 

Professor Schultz smiled. He knew exactly what he was asking and how a bunch of college students would respond. He raised his own hand and said, “I would. I would go even if I knew I would never come back.”

That’s what I was thinking about when I created Hester Marley, the main character of Dead Space. Hester used to be a scientist, one who eagerly signed on to what could have been a one-way trip to Saturn’s moon Titan. But a terrorist group attacks the mission en route, kills most of its participants, and leaves the few survivors stranded far from home and indebted to the powerful asteroid mining company that rescued them. So now Hester is working a shitty security job for a shitty company, trying to pay down her vast medical debts and figure out a way to get her life back on track, not quite wanting to admit to herself that her dreams and her plans and her ambitions have all been completely crushed.

Most of us haven’t been victims of catastrophic spaceship attacks that leave us stuck in a grim cubicle job 300 million kilometers from home, but far too many of us do know what it feels like to be forced to reckon with the fact that the universe doesn’t care about our dreams and plans and ambitions. It was this commonality that slowly evolved in the big idea in Dead Space

Fairly early on in writing Dead Space, I realized I was writing about how much corporate capitalism sucks. I was writing about how we place our trust into systems–governments, companies, economies, religions–that are deeply flawed. The most interesting sci fi is often about exploring and stress-testing our systems in new and exciting ways; in Dead Space I approached this as a sort of nesting doll of flawed systems. It’s all about surveillance systems inside of artificial intelligence systems inside of mining systems inside of law enforcement systems inside of corporate systems inside of economic systems inside of political systems inside of, well, the solar system. Living in space is dangerous. Communicating and traveling across space is not trivial. AIs are often kinda stupid and terribly biased. No life support is foolproof. In a world where everything is expensive, human life can be very, very cheap. 

Depending on who you ask, Dead Space is a sci fi novel, a thriller, or a horror novel, but I kinda think of it as mostly a crime novel. (It just happens to be one in which the crimes are science fictionally thrilling and/or horrifying.) The main character really wants to be living in a sci fi novel; she wants to be exploring new worlds and discovering new things and going where no one has gone before. But her life doesn’t work out that way. She did everything right, played by all the rules and met all the goals, and the universe didn’t care. 

I probably could have written a novel about a cyborg detective at any point in my life, but I could only have written this novel between 2018 and 2020, when every single day was an object lesson in how very badly things go wrong when the trust we place in our systems is so terribly misplaced. That’s why at the book’s heart, down in the gritty, grimy, angry center beneath all the cybernetics and spaceships and spacesuits and action, it is about desperate, damaged people whose choices are limited by the circumstances in which they live. 


Dead Space: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s|Signed copies from Mysterious Galaxy

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site or newsletter. Follow her on Instagram.

Making It Up As I Go Along

Like most twenty-somethings (if not all), I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life. And it’s hard as shit. I was supposed to do this when I was eighteen, but I’m a bit of a procrastinator, so I’m still trying to decide what it is that I want to spend my one and only existence on. It’s kind of overwhelming.

Not only am I trying to figure out what to do for the next (potentially) 60 or so years, but I’m also trying to figure out who I am as a person. Honestly, I don’t really know. I thought college would help me figure it out. It’s supposed to, isn’t it? But I think it made my identity crisis worse.

I think there was a time that I was so sure of who I was, but when I look back on it, I realize I was just a list of surface-level labels that I identified with to make myself feel special. I’m left-handed, an only child, a non-believer, far left, yada yada yada. When I was in high school, all these things made me different. After all, there were only two other only children and two other left-handed kids in my grade, and I was the only one that was both.

I was vegetarian from when I was 12 to 18, so basically all through junior high and high school. I remember one day one of my classmates said I was only doing it to be different, so I could feel unique. While that’s not exactly right, it’s at least partially true. Sure, like 90% of the reason I did it was for ethical/moral reasons, but I can’t deny the fact that I loved being different in that regard. I had another label to add to the list that made me stand out.

At the time, I thought all the things that made me different from everyone were what made me special. It’s who I was. I was the odd one out, and I liked it.

Now, I realize all these things aren’t who I am, they’re just things that I happen to be. And I don’t want to be defined by these attributes anymore.

At some point (I think in college, probably), I started defining myself by an entirely new set of attributes. My narcolepsy, my depression, my weight, my regrets, and my failures.

But I have seen time and time again that people are more than their disabilities. And I have been told over and over again that I am more than my mental illness. And that weight is just a number. And that I am not only made up of my mistakes. And I have been told repeatedly that I’m not a failure.

So then, what am I?

Who am I, if I am not these things?

What makes up me as a person?

If I could pick, I think I’d like to be made of the fun times I’ve had with my friends. I’d like to be made of the dinner party I had in high school, the weekly late night romcoms in my dorm’s basement, and the spontaneous iHop trips in my minivan.

I’d like to made of the places I’ve traveled. I want to be made of Puerto Rican sunshine and the crystal waters of Anguilla, Canadian castles and New York City skyscrapers, California palm trees and Grand Canyon rocks.

I want to be made of the things that make me happy. I want to be comprised of pins and stickers, old books and chai lattes, sweaters and cookies, rainbows and stars.

I want to be a writer, a photographer, a baker, an actress, a florist, a gardener, a painter.

I want to be kind, generous, friendly, helpful, nice, and most of all I want to be a good person.

I don’t really know who I am yet. Or what I’m doing with my life. But I hope that while I’m figuring it out, I manage to do some good things along the way.

-AMS

The Big Idea: E. J. Beaton

The pen is mightier than the sword. At least it is in E. J. Beaton’s newest fantasy novel, The Councillor, where one clever girl is capable of changing society entirely. That is, if she even wants to change it.

E. J. BEATON:

When you hear the term “Machiavellian fantasy”, perhaps you think of a courtier steepling his fingers under his chin in the shadow-dappled corner of a throne room. You might imagine a masked assassin, eavesdropping on her rivals, the slim hilt of a rapier jutting from her belt. You might even envisage a group of conspirators stalking towards their queen and plunging their knives rib-deep into her back.

If you do, you’re not alone. The term “Machiavellian” is associated with ruthlessness, cunning, and amoral pragmatism. It takes its meaning from the politics of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, a treatise which lays out instructions on how to lead effectively. In his practical book about feudal rule, Machiavelli claims that some things that seem like virtue will “lead you to ruin”, while some things that seem like vices will “result in your safety.” 

But the popular use of “Machiavellian” – for back-stabbers and double-crossers – tends to simplify The Prince. Machiavelli was living in a fractured country during a turbulent time. He sought stability rather than chaos. At the end of The Prince, he pleads for a leader to end the “devastation” and sacking, imploring them to unite Italy. In another book, he suggests that governments based upon the will of the people are better than autocracies. It’s arguable that Machiavelli was both a realist and someone who hoped for a better society.

My debut novel has been described as a “Machiavellian fantasy.” Titled The Councillor, it strikes up a dialogue with Machiavellian thought. The main character, Lysande, is a palace scholar who becomes elevated to the position of Councillor and tasked with choosing the next ruler of the realm. She grapples with the responsibility of power – what it means to make a choice that might keep the people safe or, in the case of a mistake, destroy the realm. 

As Lysande works to appoint the right ruler, she also investigates the death of the last monarch, her friend and confidante Queen Sarelin Brey. Along the way, she learns that some of Sarelin’s laws hurt the most vulnerable people: the poor, the working class, and the persecuted magical citizens. Lysande faces a dilemma. Should she buck the existing order and push for reform? Or should she enjoy her new power to the full? And can these competing desires for justice and power ever be reconciled?

For the first time, a ladder was hers to climb, its rungs not woven of fibers but fashioned of smooth and unbending metal. Who knew where she might scale it to?

I’m interested in characters who don’t quite fit in, protagonists who don’t come from the establishment, people whose identities encompass more than one thing. The Councillor explores how just a little bit of support for a less-privileged person can build confidence. Lysande wants to improve the conditions of people like herself who work for a living, yet she also loves her newfound popularity for its own sake. Gradually, she realises that a scholar with no aristocratic blood can draw a line straight through the existing rules. If she dares, she can even move the people in the margins to the centre of the page.

Machiavelli liked to sit in his study and “talk” to past rulers, immersing himself in their lives and deeds. Similarly, Lysande reads about history, thinks deeply, and imagines the past. There’s a reason that a quill and writing adorn the book’s cover – The Councillor is a battle of wits, as my early readers have noted, and it dwells in the world of strategists and thinkers. Lysande wields her deduction as she tries to unravel the mystery of Sarelin’s death and defend the realm. As a fan of complicated characters with an intellectual streak – from Patrick O’Brian’s Stephen Maturin to Hilary Mantel’s version of Thomas Cromwell – I’ve always yearned to read about female intellectuals navigating the halls of power Lysande’s story is my first venture into that field.

Staging the novel’s Machiavellian drama in a gender-equal, multicultural, queernorm world meant that I could create a range of characters with different backgrounds and desires. Lysande frequently butts heads with Luca Fontaine, a clever prince of illegitimate birth, who has no qualms about being provocative when he wants something. Dante and Jale, two princes who might share more than a passing affection, try to navigate their cities’ enmity. Lysande also befriends Cassia, a leader who does nothing by halves, whether she’s charging into battle or putting on a feast. Aside from these city-rulers, there’s Charice, Lysande’s ex-lover and a guarded black-market merchant; Litany, Lysande’s personal attendant, who nurtures affection for a captain of the guard; and other advisors and staff in the royal orbit.

These characters have their own ambitions, secrets, and desires. They all understand that idealism is difficult in Elira, but some of them strive to achieve their own version of justice nonetheless. And when they are forced to weigh their means against their ends, the waters of logic become muddier – and the fighting gathers pace.

So, must a Machiavellian story necessarily be “grimdark”? I’d argue no. The term “Machiavellian fantasy” can encompass both the ruthlessness of political intrigue and the tragic underbelly of conflict. It can expand the idea, rather than flattening it – a Machiavellian fantasy can question social structures, and remind us who pays the price for leaders’ choices.

And with a thinking woman at the centre of the story, it can explore what one quiet, calculating, determined person can do, when they apply their mind to the dangerously enticing tasks of reform and ascent.


The Councillor: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s 

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

Krissy and Smudge Have a Moment

Sometimes you boop the cat’s nose, sometimes the cat boops your nose.

That’s it, that’s the post. Enjoy the boopage.

— JS

The Big Idea: Emily R. King

Many of us grew up with the stories and myths of ancient Greece, but as Emily R. King muses in this Big Idea, there are the stories and myths we’ve been told… and the ones that have been left untold. Her new novel Wings of Fury considers the latter.

EMILY R. KING:

“In the Golden Age, when Cronus was Lord of the Titans, men lived happily and in peace with the gods and each other.”

While researching Wings of Fury, I read a line like this in a book that caused me to pause. Sure, the Golden Age was a happy time for men. But what was it like for women?

In Ancient Greece, women were viewed as possessions. They had very little autonomy, and even less control over their fate. They could not own property. They could not act in plays, or wrestle in stadiums, or attend school. Most of a woman’s life was spent within the walls of her home, in servitude to her family. They could do little without a man’s permission, but that didn’t stop them from telling stories.

At night, the women taught their children about the Titan king, Cronus, who ate his own children so they couldn’t overthrow him like he had done to his father, Uranus. Cronus’s consort, Rhea, grew tired of her husband devouring her babies, so by the time she gave birth to their sixth child, Zeus, she hid him away and fooled Cronus into swallowing a stone instead of their newborn. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to consider that given how monstrous a father Cronus was, that he was also a terrible ruler. After he was tricked into throwing up his children, the six of them united against him in a ten-year war that resulted in the end of “the Golden Age.”

The Titanomachy war was a revolution among the gods. Their big, messy family took sides, either Cronus’s or Zeus’s. The role of the goddesses and Titanesses during that revolt is vague. We know Poseidon, Hades, and Zeus fought with specialized weapons forged just for them. We know those same brothers divided up the world after Cronus was dethroned, each of them reigning over their own realm. Their three sisters—Hera, Demeter, and Hestia—were given no such spoils of war.

A story is missing here.

What we know about these sister goddesses is from the mythology after Zeus becomes King of the Gods. The tales about them indicate that these Titanesses would not have sat idly by while their brothers fought Cronus. Hera, the only goddess that Zeus truly feared, would have been front and center in battle. Demeter, who plagued the world with famine to retrieve her daughter, Persephone, from the underworld, would not have backed down from her father. And Hestia, the goddess of hearth and home, would have stood alongside her siblings to protect their family. These Titanesses must have been pivotal in the fall of Cronus, as they earned the honor of becoming Olympians. They stood beside their brothers, tall and proud with weapons of their own, motives of their own, and fates of their own.

How would the Titanomachy have been told differently from the viewpoint of these goddesses?

That’s the big idea for Wings of Fury.

This duology shows how Zeus was lifted into power, on the backs of women, goddesses, and Titanesses. These female warriors gained no prize or praise, yet they championed Zeus as his equals, and I believe, his superiors in victory and sacrifice.


Wings of Fury: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s  

Visit the author’s website. Follow her on twitter.

Return of the River

A week ago we had several inches of snow on the ground, the product of a winter storm, and now, thanks to higher temperatures and rain, it’s all gone. But it has to go somewhere. Fortunately for us it didn’t go into our basement; our land is such that in times of heavy rain and/or snowmelt, a stream forms in our yard that channels the excess toward a nearby creek. I jokingly call it the Scalzi River, and today marks its first appearance of 2021, as it channels away all the excess water.

The current 10-day forecast suggests we’re unlikely to see the yard covered up again anytime soon, although March is mercurial around here, so I’ve learned never to say never. With that said, if this is mostly the end of the snow for the year, I won’t mind. One heavy snowfall a year is enough; enough to enjoy what winter can do, but not sure much winter has to be truly endured. Seems like the right amount to me.

— JS

Krissy, Femme Fatale

Of course she’s going to ask you to do crimes! And you’re going to. Because you just can’t help yourself. She promises to write when you’re doing time in the stony lonesome, but you know better. And the hell of it is, you’d do it again in a heartbeat. You’re a sucker for a femme fatale.

(Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Krissy is neither explicitly nor by implication going to ask you to do crimes. Please do no crimes, but be aware that any crimes you decide to do, will be under your initiative. All members of the Scalzi family hereby renounces all form of crimes in any way, now and in the future, until the heat death of the universe. Kids, stay in school. And etc.)

— JS

Watching Despite Myself

I am not someone who has ever thought of anything as “too mainstream.” I am not someone who has ascribed to the stereotype of a hipster by refusing the things in life that other people enjoy. Or, at least, I thought I wasn’t that person, until I realized the other day that maybe I am that person, subconsciously.

Maybe I am that person that thinks there’s too much hype over a show that doesn’t even look that good, or maybe I do think that something is overrated, even if I haven’t seen it or even given it a shot.

This was certainly the case with Bridgerton. The moment I saw posts about it on social media, I thought, “well that looks totally silly.” I thought it seemed overhyped. It couldn’t possibly be as good as everyone was saying. I don’t know why I was so adamant in my thinking, considering I didn’t even know what it was about. All I knew was that it was a period drama, and I don’t like period dramas. They’re too… dramatic.

So I thought everyone was way too into their silly little historical fiction show, and I called it a day. I wasn’t even going to bother trying to prove myself right or wrong by giving the show a watch.

That was, until, I walked into the living room while my mom had the first episode on. It was already like halfway through, but I sat with her and started half-paying attention as I was on my phone. I didn’t really want to watch it, but I didn’t hate that it was on. It seemed okay enough, but like I said I really wasn’t focusing on it.

Until one of my favorite tropes of all time came into play. Then, I was hooked.

And now, five episodes in, I am so happy I started watching it. I can’t believe I had almost missed such a wonderful show. I really almost completely and utterly bypassed this show, because I thought, without any basis, that it wasn’t actually good and was just being overhyped.

Another show I did that with in the past was The Office. I didn’t understand why everyone liked it so much. It didn’t seem good to me. I didn’t understand what it was about, and I hated seeing so many posts and merch of it all the time.

It was actually a ten-minute blooper video I saw on Facebook that persuaded me to watch it. The bloopers were so comical and the cast seemed so fun that I gave it a shot, and now I love The Office, like any other stereotypical, white, young millennial (I say young millennial because I’m either the absolute youngest of their generation or the oldest of the Gen Z’s).

Anyways, I feel like there’s a lot of things that are popular that I don’t give a second glance because I assume they’re not good and everyone else is just making too big a deal out of it. But I should realize that they’re popular for a reason! There has to be something to these things if everyone likes it, right? Or at least I should give it a chance and check it out myself before jumping to the conclusion that it’s automatically terrible.

One thing I actively do this with is Hamilton. It’s just been so popular for so long, I figure if I haven’t seen it by now, why bother? It’s also another period piece, and I’ve always thought I didn’t like those, but maybe I’ve been wrong all along.

I felt the same way about The Queen’s Gambit, and while I didn’t watch that in its entirety, the parts I did see were enjoyable enough, and it seemed like it was in fact a pretty good show.

Back to Bridgerton, this is the show that made me realize that maybe I do have a tendency to shun things that are popular for no reason. I don’t know why I do this. I don’t think my taste in anything is better than anyone else’s. Like I know my taste in music isn’t exactly amazing, and my taste in movies can be even worse (cough, Gods of Egypt, cough), but I guess I’m just skeptical of what the masses seem to enjoy.

In conclusion, this was just a short examination of why I deny myself things that could potentially bring me joy. Like Bridgerton. I’m happy I’ve been watching it, and I’m excited to finish it. So please don’t spoil anything in the comments! When I’m done with it I might do a piece over it because I just wanna gush! So many feelings! So much drama! (Turns out I do kinda like drama.)

What’s something you didn’t really think you’d like but then you actually loved it? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

New Books and ARCs, 2/26/21

Another February is almost in the books — but not before we have time for another stack of new books and ARCs! What here is calling to you? Share in the comments.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate: Choose Your Character!

(NOTICE: This post assumes that you have played Super Smash Bros Ultimate or are at least up on the gameplay and characters.)

I used to hate Super Smash Bros Ultimate. In fact, I used to hate all Smash games. This was due to me only playing them one time, losing super badly because no one told me the controls, and then me rage quitting and vowing to never play again.

Fast forward a few years to 2019, when I discovered I loved Smash Ultimate after someone actually took time to teach me how to play instead of just beating the shit out of me while I button mashed and prayed.

Now, I’m totally addicted to Smash. Do I still rage quit? Yes. All the time, actually. But that’s usually only when I try to play online and the lag totally nerfs me. Or maybe I’m just not as good as I think I am.

Today I’m here to talk about my favorite and least favorite characters to play as in Ultimate, and basically just talk about who I main and whatnot. Though I will say my main has changed a lot over the course of the past year or so, and is never really constant, there’s definitely some characters that I can’t seem to stop playing.

First up, my very favorite character, Captain Falcon! He is by far the character I play the most, and also the character I consider myself the most skilled with. I love his character design, and his voice lines are so hilarious. Personally, I’m a big fan of his move set because I’m not really into projectiles, I like to run up and punch people instead, and he’s perfect for that! And what’s more satisfying than landing a Falcon Punch and killing someone? He is also a great character for spiking, which I love to do (though rarely succeed at).

Going along with the in-your-face kind of combat characters, I also like Donkey Kong, Bowser, really any heavy that can just beat the shit out of you. Heavy characters are easiest to learn how to play if you’re just starting out, in my opinion. When I first started playing, I stuck with Bowser as a main for a while. I think they’re especially good to play if, like me, you’re not very good at the game, because they can take a ton of hits before they die.

One more great character that has that same punchy punchy play style is Terry! He’s one of the DLC characters and I’m so happy I bought him because he is so much fun! I play him all the time, especially online.

Moving away from that type of character, let’s look at some characters that are more projectile based. I know I said I’m not the biggest fan of projectiles, but I think that there are some really great characters that have a healthy balance of projectile moves and regular moves.

For example, the Wii Fit Trainer has a move set that is a perfect blend of projectiles, regular attacks, and other special moves (like the healing move). The Wii Fit Trainer was actually the first character I ever played, and I had no idea what I was doing. It was a rough time, and I decided it was a stupid game and that I never wanted to play again. Now, I thoroughly enjoy playing as the Wii Fit Trainer! And I actually feel like I’m pretty good with her.

There is one projectile-based character that comes to mind when I think of characters I DESPISE. And that would be Mega Man. Literally all of his moves except like two are projectiles. He doesn’t even have a normal jab! I hate it. The only thing I hate more than playing as Mega Man is playing against him.

Fighting against characters with projectiles is super annoying. I hate when people just stand all the way across the stage and throw shit at you. There’s no pizzazz in that! Where’s the dramatic Warlock Punch type of flourish?! This is especially true when I play online and all I see is people playing Toon Link/Young Link (I would include regular Link but I have a soft spot for him so I don’t mind playing against him).

Another awful projectile-based character I especially hate fighting against is Snake. I hate playing him, too, but at least that’s better than fighting him. He has the slowest forward smash in the game! Can you believe that?

There are a bunch of characters I don’t particularly like simply because I think they’re boring, like Ice Climbers, Duck Hunt, or Olimar. Ice Climbers are literally children and Olimar is very unfun to play as. At least with Ice Climbers one of them can take the hit without taking damage. Same with Rosalina and Luma (another terrible one), if you hit the Luma, Rosalina doesn’t take damage.

There’s are also a lot of characters I’m indifferent about, like Robin, Inkling, Bayonetta, Ken/Ryu, Simon/Richter, Sheik, Shulk, R.O.B., these are all characters that could just not be in the game and I wouldn’t even notice. They’re fine to play as, I have no qualms with them, they’re just not memorable in any way to me. Especially since half of them are echo characters anyways (which just means they have pretty much the exact same move set as a different character).

I really want to talk about the DLC characters! I know I mentioned earlier that Terry is a great one, but honestly there isn’t a single DLC character I don’t like! Except Steve. But we’ll get to that.

One of my favorites of the DLC characters is Hero, despite my usual hatred of projectile-based characters. Hero is just so unique, and has sooo many different spells you can fuck people up with! I think the whole using mana thing is so cool, even if sometimes I get killed by not having enough mana to recover with. It’s interesting to me that they found a way to put a cap on Hero’s insane powers. Hero is a character that takes a lot of thought to use (or at least, use correctly).

Another of my favorites is Joker! I just love his character design; plus when he gets his persona, Arsène, his attacks are stronger, which I think is a really neat addition to his character. He’s fast, light, and tons of fun to play as. I’ve never played Persona 5, but I’ve seen gameplay of it and it seems interesting.

I know everyone hated the fact that Byleth got announced as a DLC character, but I kind of like Byleth! Definitely not my favorite DLC character, and certainly not my favorite Fire Emblem character in the game, but I like him. Out of all the Fire Emblem characters in the game (there’s a lot), I probably like Marth the best (even though Lucina is basically a better Marth). Byleth is cool, though, because he has the strongest down air in the game (even if it is incredibly fucking slow).

Banjo and Kazooie is another one of those rare characters that has two characters as one, like Ice Climbers or Rosalina and Luma, but unlike those two, Banjo and Kazooie cannot be separated, and you can’t hit one without both taking damage. I don’t play them often enough to have too much of an opinion on them, and same goes for Min Min, but they both seem fine. I think Min Min has a cool design, at least.

Now we get to one of the greatest DLC characters ever, Sephiroth. I am totally in love with Sephiroth, so my opinion of him in Smash is completely biased. I think he is so cool and has an awesome move set and I love his sword and his hair and ugh, I adore him. Bias aside, I really do think his moves are cool, and he is definitely fun to play as, plus his stage, music, and win screen are amazing! If you haven’t seen his announcement trailer before, you should totally check it out:

He’s just… so pretty.

Up next is the real MVP, Piranha Plant. This is the most underrated DLC character of all! You literally play as a potted plant! That’s so fucking cool. Not to mention Piranha Plant has an amazing recovery, and is just a ton of fun all around. You’ve got poison breath and fire breath! What more do you need?

Okay, so, let’s talk about Steve. I cannot figure out for the life of me how to play him, and at this point, I just don’t even want to bother. You have to mine the stage for materials to make better weapons to fight with! That’s so ridiculous to me. don’t like Steve and I think he’s a poor addition to Smash. There, I said it.

You know who we really need in Smash, though? Doom Guy. That’s right, the most ruthless, brutal, demon-slaying bitch out there. He would absolutely rock the Smash world. Yes, I did get the idea put in my head from memes, but the memes were right! He does belong in it. And maybe Dr. Samuel Hayden, too, while we’re at it.

Anyways, yeah. I have a lot of characters I like, and a lot I don’t like. Some I love, and some I hate. But isn’t that how it goes with all video games ever?

If you play Smash Ultimate, tell me who your favorites are! Do you agree with my picks? Is there a Smash game you like more than Ultimate? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The (LGBT) Numbers Are In

Polling company Gallup reports that the number of Americans identifying as LGBT is up to an all-time high, at 5.6%, and that this identification is especially high amongst the younger generations. Most surprisingly to a lot of people, I think, has been the rise in the number of (declared) bisexuals, which you can see from the numbers above has shot up considerably in recent generations. Likewise the number of (declared) trans folk is way up in younger generations than it is in previous generations. But in every case, the number of folks who are out in each generation is growing.

This will no doubt freak out some extremely conservative “family values” folks — the recruiting is working! — but I think the reason for the rise is pretty obvious: The number of LGBT people across all generations is almost certainly constant, what’s changed is the level of open social acceptance that comes with being LGBT. There’s a huge inflection point in identifying as LGBT that starts with Millennials, who are the demographic group who came of age when same-sex marriage started becoming legal in the US; Gen Z is the first group becoming adults in an era where it is completely legal.

Millennials and Gen Z are also the demographic groups who regularly see positive and varied LGBT representation in common culture, with, I think, trans representation being especially changed in recent years. As a Gen X person, nearly all my pop culture trans people were people with something to hide, played for comedy or disgust. Millennials and Gen Z get to see trans people in a far wider range of roles and situations, and sympathetically. And that matters. When you see yourself, you can be yourself.

Not that we live now live in a perfect world for LGBT folks, of course, particularly for trans folks. Transphobia is the new conservative hotness these days; having lost all the other culture wars, this is where they’ve decided to plant their flag. As someone who knows and cares for trans folk, it’s exasperating (to use the mildest possible term for it) to see the conservative outrage machine revving up on them. But that’s American conservatism for you, isn’t it. The American conservative prayer is Jesus Christ, let me have someone punch down on. Trans people are who they’re punching down on today.

Also, seeing the increase in the number of people identifying as bisexual, the thought I immediately had was I bet that’s driven by women. Anecdotally, the number of women I personally know who identify as bisexual is far higher than the number of men who do so. The Gallup poll seems to bear out that anecdotal observation of mine: “Women are more likely to identify as bisexual — 4.3% do, with 1.3% identifying as lesbian and 1.3% as something else. Among men, 2.5% identify as gay, 1.8% as bisexual and 0.6% as something else.” I personally don’t suspect women are actually more bisexual than men; I think men think they lose “man points” for coming out as bisexual. Patriarchy! It’s a hell of a drug.

(Also, not appearing in this poll: Non-binary, genderfluid and ace folks, who, again anecdotally, I see far more openly represented in Millennials and Gen Z than I do in older generations. I’d be curious to see the numbers there and how they interact with the other components of the queer spectrum, in terms of identity.)

We have more work to do before everyone feels free to be who they are. But it’s still nice to see more people feeling they can be so. If you feel more able to be who you are today, then I’m happy for you. And if you don’t well, I hope I can be part of making the world be a place where you feel you can.

— JS

Adventures In Banoffee Making!

I was thumbing through the pages of the newest Bon Appetit magazine, when I saw the most intriguing recipe. I stared in awe at the Chocolate-Biscoff Banoffee Pie and knew immediately I had to make it.

So, off to the store I went. I was shocked by how much of the recipe’s ingredients I already had at home. It’s a surprisingly easy ingredient list, though it looks long because it’s split into three sections: the crust, the ganache, and the pudding filling. But really the only thing I had to get from the store was the Biscoff cookies, heavy whipping cream, and a bar of semisweet chocolate. So nothing too unusual!

It was about one in the morning when I made this, so instead of using a food processor to grind up the Biscoff cookies, I just put them in a Ziploc bag and smushed the hell out of them. Then I poured the sugar and butter into the bag and just shook it all up and tossed it around until it was well combined!

Once I poured it out into the pie pan, I realized I maybe could’ve been a little more thorough in my cookie mashing, because I still had a lot of big pieces. Not a huge deal, though! Basically, I’d use a food processor if you can, but if you don’t have one or don’t feel like it, my method works just fine, too.

After I made the ganache and baked the crust, I poured the ganache on top and it came out looking like this:

A little rough around the edges, but tasty-looking enough!

So, that part of the recipe was super easy. Then came the pudding. I had never attempted to make homemade pudding before. I’ve never even made the Jell-O kind that you have to cook, I’ve always opted for the instant kind you just pour milk into and stir!

But, I thought I could do it. I believed in my culinary capability!

Turning the sugar into liquid caramel was easy enough. I took it off the heat and poured in the milk and cream, per the instructions, only for the liquid sugar to immediately harden into a rock. All that liquid just turned into a ball of rock sugar.

I figured that was not what was supposed to happen, and tried to think of how to fix it. I ended up just putting the pan immediately back onto the burner to re-melt the sugar, and that ended up working. After the sugar dissolved into the milk and cream, I just added the rest of the stuff and was happy I fixed my fuck up.

However, another fuck up shortly arose. After the cream mixture cooked and whatnot, I mixed the eggs and cornstarch and then attempted to temper the eggs by very slowly adding in the butterscotch. For a moment there, I thought I had done it correctly, but as you can see from this picture, there were tiny curds in the egg and butterscotch mixture:

I was worried, but continued to persevere! I followed the instructions and put it back on the heat to finish cooking. It said it would thicken up after five minutes, but it didn’t seem to change much at all in my opinion, but I chalked it up to, “eh, that’s probably good enough”, and then strained it. My lordy did that strainer catch a bunch of what was basically sweet scrambled eggs. I tried to smush everything down through the strainer with my rubber spatula but I kind of just ended up making a paste at the bottom of the strainer.

Okay, so maybe the pudding was a little bit… chunky. I was keeping my hopes high as I let it cool and poured it into the ganache layered crust. I told myself it would be all better after the six hour setting period.

Alas, after six hours, it was totally runny. I let it chill a couple more hours. Still completely liquid. Not only was it totally runny and didn’t set at all, but it was full of curds. YUCK.

So, I dumped the homemade pudding out of the crust and wiped everything off my beautiful ganache layer. I proceeded to fill the pie crust with Jell-O butterscotch instant pudding.

Now THAT’S some good pudding.

Honestly, thank the lord for Jell-O instant pudding. It’s so unbelievably easy and requires two ingredients, one of them being the fackin’ pudding packet. If you make this recipe, I encourage you to try the homemade version, but honestly, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with opting for the Jell-O version.

After decorating with bananas and chocolate, per the recipe, it ending up looking a little something like this:

Maybe it doesn’t look quite as neat and pretty as the Bon Appetit version, but honestly, not bad, I think!

My dad and I promptly tried a piece, and both agreed it was super good! Also, extremely decadent and should be eaten in moderation. All in all, not a total fail! Well, maybe it was kind of a fail, but it was salvaged, at least.

When I fail at cooking, it cuts deep. It honestly hurts me on a level it probably shouldn’t. I want to be good at it. I want to make everything perfectly. To fail at something that they make look so easy is just… awful. When I fail at cooking, my immediate reaction is to just throw everything away, get rid of any evidence I even attempted to make something that turned out poorly.

I’m so glad I didn’t do that this time. There was still something good in the mess I created. This was fixable. I knew I couldn’t just throw away a crust made entirely out of Biscoff cookies!

So, yeah, I’m glad I made this, and I’m glad it’s good. It’s okay if my first attempt at pudding didn’t exactly pan out. At least Jell-O will always be there to catch me if I fall.

Before I go, I’m going to mention one quick thing. The recipe says the chocolate you use should be at least 64% cacao. So I got a bar of 70%. That shit was BITTER. If you like darker chocolate, like really dark, that’s fine, sure. But if you’re like me and want your chocolate sweet, do not use that high of a percent. The ganache part was okay, but the chocolate pieces on top were just wayyy too bitter. So maybe you could opt for dark chocolate for the ganache and milk chocolate for the garnish.

Are you a fellow lover of Biscoff cookies? Have you ever made homemade pudding? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Canonical Sequel FAQ

Pretty much on a daily basis, I get asked on social media whether there will ever be a sequel to [insert one of my books/series here]. To reduce the amount of typing that I have to do each time this is asked, I now present The Canonical Sequel FAQ, which will tell you — at a glance! — whether you can expect a sequel to whatever book it is that you are hoping to have a sequel to. This will be updated from time to time.

THE BOOKS/SERIES I AM CURRENTLY CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGED TO WRITE SEQUELS FOR

I have to write these sequels, they’ve already paid me money for them!

The Old Man’s War Series (Currently includes: Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Human Division, The End of All Things, plus short works The Sagan Diary and Questions For a Soldier): There will be at least one more book in this series. No current timeframe for its release.

The Lock In Series (Currently includes Lock In and Head On, with the novella Unlocked): There will be at least one more book in this series. No current timeframe for its release.

The Dispatcher Series (Currently includes the novellas The Dispatcher and Murder By Other Means): There will be at least one more novella in this series. No current timeframe for its release.

THE BOOKS/SERIES I AM NOT CURRENTLY CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGED TO WRITE SEQUELS FOR

This doesn’t mean I will never write a sequel in these universes, because I am often persuadable by very large sums of money. It means that currently I am not under contract to write sequels in these universes and have no current plans to do so:

Agent to the Stars

The Android’s Dream (there is a short story in this universe called “Judge Sn Goes Golfing”)

The God Engines

Fuzzy Nation

Redshirts

The Interdependency Series (The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, The Last Emperox)

Literally anything else I’ve ever written, including short stories, anthologies, collections, non-fiction work, scripts, blog posts, reviews, essays, songs, tweets, etc.

BUT I REALLY NEED YOU TO WRITE A SEQUEL TO [INSERT BOOK/SERIES HERE]

I understand but I have other projects in development and/or no one has offered me very large sums of money for the title you want, including you and/or you’re not the boss of me, sorry.

I HAVE AN IDEA FOR A SEQUEL TO [INSERT BOOK/SERIES HERE] AND I WISH TO TELL YOU ABOUT IT

No. Never ever tell it to me. For legal reasons, and also because I find that shit annoying. You can go write that idea as fan fiction if you like. Never ever show that fan fiction to me, either.

YOU SHOULD MAKE A MOVIE/TV SERIES/VIDEO GAME/ETC ABOUT [INSERT BOOK/SERIES HERE]

Sadly I do not have the literally millions upon millions of dollars required to make a movie/TV series/video game about my works. Some of my work is currently under option for film/TV/etc, others not. It’s not up to me to have my work optioned, outside of saying “yes” or “no” to the people who ask for those options. Additionally, short of (again) someone giving me very large sums of money, I am not likely at this point to give up my job as a novelist to do any other line of work.

There, we’re all caught up now!

— JS

The Big Idea: Juliette Wade

Sometimes it feels like the choices we make don’t matter, and that in the grand scheme of things, the small things we do don’t make a big difference. Author Juliette Wade assures us in her Big Idea that even small things can ripple when we’re all connected. Read on to see how this plays a role in her newest novel, Transgressions of Power.

JULIETTE WADE:

In the nation of Varin, history is being made. 

The first book of The Broken Trust, Mazes of Power, introduced us to the ancient cavern city of Pelismara, and to the brothers Tagaret and Nekantor, whose opposing views about order and justice cast them into conflict when the noble caste chose a new Heir to the throne. Through their experiences, the book explored the stratified systems that make Varin’s society work the way it does, and looked at how those systems empower or confine the people who live inside them. 

In Transgressions of Power, Tagaret and Nekantor have become so entangled in their careful opposition that they have come to a near-standstill – and that means the people near them must push against Varin’s systems and create change. 

But what kind of change can people outside of power create, when Nekantor makes his move and everything starts to go wrong?  

Thirteen-year-old Adon, Tagaret and Nekantor’s youngest brother, has always felt like an outsider, but if he tries to change things, he’ll be in danger of becoming a pawn. 

Pyaras, Tagaret’s cousin, has spent much of his life being shamed for his friendship with a policeman from the Arissen caste; taking action will put himself and his friend in danger.

Della, Tagaret’s partner, has grand dreams of creating a new society, but she’s deliberately sidelined by the sexism of the noble Society, and her fragile health means she can become unable to act at unexpected moments.

Melín, a soldier, wants to be free to protect Pelismara’s food supplies from the wysps who make the surface uninhabitable, but because of her caste she’s required to take noblemen’s orders, even when they sideline her from her job and put her under Nekantor’s control.

In our own world, when we read about history, our eyes are guided to the roles of major players, great names whose heroism is laid out for us. When we look back on historical events with the advantage of distance, we know who heroes are and how they distinguish themselves. What happens, though, when we find ourselves right in the midst of historically significant events that are much larger than we are? Do we cope? Do we fight? What do we try to change, and how?

The big idea of Transgressions of Power is that a human being, in the moment of action, may not know what the significance of their choices might be; they might not be in a position of power that allows for drastic change; but their choices and actions matter. 

Acts may seem small when set against a huge societal system that was designed to self-regulate. However, because everything in the system is interconnected, small acts can resonate, and create cascades of influence with unexpected, often dangerous, results.

And the people outside the spotlight might become heroes.


Transgressions of Power: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

 

Showcasing My Collection: Stickers, Volume One

Welcome, everyone, to this sticker-tastic post! Today I will be showing y’all a little bit of something I recently started collecting, that being stickers (if you hadn’t already guessed by the title and the previous sentence)!

I started collecting stickers about three months ago. Since then, I have obtained over 170 stickers! I have a specific notebook I have dedicated as my sticker book, and I just put them all in there. Not all willy nilly of course, each page has a specific layout and each sticker is carefully arranged for peak viewing appreciation.

I mentioned not too long ago that I bought a bunch of stickers for my collection in this Small Business Saturday post, so I will not be showing off those ones in particular. But don’t worry there’s still plenty more I’m going to show to you today.

I went into multiple rooms in my house to try to get the best lighting, but how good of a job I did remains to be seen. Which is why I will be including links to where you can purchase these stickers for yourself, so you can see the photos the artists put up that probably look a smidge better than mine.

Without further ado, let’s look at some stickers! (Side note, each page of the notebook has a pink pineapple in the corner, it is not a sticker!)

All the stickers on this page are from a sticker sheet by Jou, an artist I found on Twitter. They’re all things that look like animals but aren’t actually! I think it’s such a funky concept. It really makes me think about how many things I see everyday that look like an animal but isn’t actually. This sticker sheet is currently unavailable but should be coming back soon, and here is where you can buy it!

This starry set is by Nynne, another artist I found on Twitter! Her shop is currently closed, so alas, these stickers are unavailable at this time. This was not the only set I bought from her, though, and I plan on showcasing the other page at a later date.

Which one of them is your favorite? I’m a big fan of the mantaray, but the whale shark is also charming.

(Ignore my thumb in the corner)

Finally, my newest addition to my collection: this set of alchemy vials by Sophiralou! How did I find them? You guessed it, Twitter. Thankfully, this set is actually available to purchase, and you can buy it here!

Which one of them is your favorite? Or least favorite? I’m quite fond of the one in the bottom right, or the skull one close to the top. As for least favorite, I’d have to say the jar of magma on the right side, or the yellow heart at the top. But honestly all of them are magical and unique.

I was hesitant to start collecting stickers because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. I couldn’t possibly place so many on my laptop, and I don’t have a Hydroflask to stick a bunch to like all the cool kids do.

I didn’t want to commit to permanently placing something on another object. What if I had to get rid of the object I placed all the stickers on? What if the stickers got faded or messed up as a result of being on said object?

It was too stressful! So I finally decided to just keep them all in a notebook where I could just open it up and look at them whenever I felt like. It keeps them in good condition, and I don’t have to worry about them getting thrown out with whatever I would’ve placed them on, like a laptop or water bottle.

I really love stickers now, and they bring me joy to collect. Thanks for indulging me by taking a look at some of them, I appreciate it! I hope you have a great day!

-AMS

A Vague But Official Pronouncement About a Thing

I know there is a thing! I know some of you want me to engage with the thing! I know this because you’ve sent me emails about the thing and I see the subject headers! I then delete the emails unread because I do not wish to engage with this thing! Engaging with this thing will not make me happy! I find myself looking at it and being glad it is not actually my problem!

So: Have fun with this thing without me! I’m not going to give it any serious thought or public engagement until I finish my current project at least, and possibly not even then! I know this will annoy/upset/disappoint some of you! That’s fine because I know where my focus should be right now! You are free to disagree!

You have now come to the end of this vague but official pronouncement about a thing! Thank you for your attention! Have a terrific day!

— JS

A Month of Biden

Original Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz.

It’s been a month and a day since Joe Biden became president, and I think the greatest endorsement I can make of the man in that role is that for most of that time I haven’t thought much about him at all, and when I have, it’s mostly to go, “Oh, yeah, makes sense why he did that, carry on, then.” Much of his work to this point has been backfilling; namely, reversing a bunch of genuinely terrible Trump-era executive orders with executive orders of his own, firing a bunch of Trump flunkies and otherwise putting the brakes on four years of terrible governance. I don’t think it’s a surprise I find much of that action personally congenial.

Likewise, he’s pushed forward quickly on a national strategy for COVID-19 — again, big marks from me — and right now he seems to be doing all the right moves dealing with what’s going on in Texas. His scandals, such as they are, are limited to having to make a dickhead assistant press secretary resign, having his dog criticized for being old on Newsmax, and having Tucker Carlson, the White Supremacist Who Knows Which Fork To Use For Salad, suggest he and Jill are faking being into each other. His approval rating has been perfectly fine, consistently between 53 and 55 percent. People seem to like Biden as president well enough. You can almost forget he’s up there, doing his thing.

Which I think is entirely intentional. There is of course still yelling and screaming and knifework going on in Washington, but in the last month it’s been on the Hill, where they did the impeachment thing again, and Trump was acquitted for obvious crimes by cowardly fellow travelers again. Biden’s general response to that was to let Congress do Congress while he did what he did, which, frankly, worked to his advantage whilst he was clearing the decks of Trump-derived nonsense. Most of the performatively-foamy folks were occupied elsewhere most of the time.

With that said, a lot of the deck-clearing is now done and Biden will have to start moving his own initiatives forward, so the honeymoon phase (or, at least, the “It’s so nice not to have to worry about what damn fool thing the president is doing today” phase) may be coming to an end soon enough. What seems unlikely to change at this point is Biden and his team mostly plugging away at their plans and goals in an unflashy way. Inasmuch as I generally support those goals, but otherwise have tempered expectations for what they can do if the Senate doesn’t actually chuck the filibuster, and don’t have to worry about Biden being an incompetent ego-driven racist grifter, Biden’s crew efficiently doing what they do works well enough for me right now.

As always, I reserve the right to complain anyway. But for the moment, and one month in — Hey! The Biden era is nice enough so far.

— JS

Winter Sunrise, 2/21/21

There are worse ways to start a day, and a week. Have a fabulous Sunday, folks.

— JS

Sugar Contemplates Winter

And winter, it seems, contemplates her back.

Hope you are safe and warm wherever you are today, folks.

— JS

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