JoCo Cruise 2021 Virtual Panel: “Quarantine Creativity: How We Got Through 2020 & What We Learned From It”

As part of the virtual JoCo Cruise this year, I, Mary Robinette Kowal, Rebecca Roanhorse and Charlie Jane Anders talked about being creative in 2020 — or not! — and what we learned from the year that was. Here it is in all of its YouTubeable glory. It’s in fact very interesting, which is down to the other three participants, I think. Enjoy!

2021 Hugo Award Finalist Follow-up

Having now had a day to look at the Hugo Awards Finalist list and to think about it, I’m now ready to share some thoughts. With me for this examination of this year’s edition of science fiction’s premier award is my always reliable Fictional Interlocutor, to feed me leading questions that always make me look witty and wise.

I’m not comfortable with that description of my job.

I don’t care. Say hello to the people!

(sighs) Hello, people!

That’s better. You have questions for me?

Yes, they’re on these cue cards. First, congratulations on your Best Series Finalist placing.

Thank you.

That’s not really a question, though. More of a comment.

I see what you did there.

Here’s an actual question, though: How do you feel about being a finalist this year?

I feel pretty good about it. I’m really proud of the Interdependency series. It’s the first book series of mine that I wrote knowing it was going to be a series before I wrote it, and for which I developed a story intentionally meant to play out over several books. In that regard, getting a Best Series nod feels like huge confirmation of my storytelling skills at the series level. It’s the right Hugo nod for these books, and I’m pleased they’re being considered.

And how do you feel about the competition in the category?

I think it’s pretty awesome, actually. I’m up against friends and their terrific books, and I think the voters are going to positively agonize over how to rank the contenders. As they should! Hugo contenders should be tough to rank. It’s a huge compliment to have the Interdependency considered among these series. I’ve said for years that if you look at a category you’re a finalist in and don’t see anyone you’d be really pissed to lose to, you’ve already won; it means you’re with your peers, and with work that stands with your own. So I feel like I’m winning already.

Nice cover for if you don’t actually win, that.

Oh, hush. To be clear, I would still like to actually win, and I think the Interdependency series is good enough to win, and in fact may win. But if it doesn’t, then that’s all right too. Because that means something else awesome and deserving won instead, and how can you be angry at that.

Lots of people might be angry at that.

I mean, fair. I admit that I come to award contests having won my share of awards and already having a decent amount of success, so I have the luxury of being sanguine. I like to win! I want to win! But not winning will not crush me. And this year I know I will be very happy for whoever does win my category, even if it’s not me. Again, that counts as a win.

What do you think of the rest of the Hugo fiction categories this year?

I think it’s a fairly standard year for them, don’t you?

How do you mean?

Well, for example, take the Best Novel category: It features six novels and authors. Four of those novels (The City We Became, Harrow the Ninth, Network Effect, Pirinesi) are New York Times best sellers. Three of the authors (Jemisin, Kowal, Clarke) have won Best Novel before. Two more of them (Roanhorse, Wells) have won Hugos in other categories, and the remaining author (Muir) was nominated for Best Novel before. That’s a fairly standard distribution for the category.

Likewise the short fiction categories feature a mix of category bestsellers, previous award nominees and winners, and a smattering of new people showing up on the finalist list for the first time. The series category is much the same: Previous winners, bestsellers and some relatively new blood as well. Likewise for the Lodestar YA category. All very standard! Fortunately the quality of the work in each category is very high, so even if the distribution of finalists is something we’ve seen before, and frequently, there’s still quite a lot for voters to argue about before they make their final rankings.

But —

But what?

You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you.

Say what?

There’s a notable dearth of cishet white dudes in the fiction categories!

Is there? Huh. I guess there is. How about that.

Any thoughts about that?

Not really? The work is very good, and particularly in the novel-related categories, as an example, it represents the current commercial and critical sweet spot of the genre. To reiterate: Four of the six Best Novel finalists hit the NYT Bestseller list this year! You know how many did that in 2006, the first year I was nominated for Best Novel? One (it was from George RR Martin)! In fact it’s entirely possible this year represents the greatest proportion of NYT bestsellers in the Best Novel category ever. Add in the Best Series finalists, and you’ll find three of them (Wells, McGuire, me) have New York Times best sellers in them and sometimes more than one. And of course all these books and authors have starred trade reviews and positive press and reader reviews coming out the proverbial wazoo.

So, do you want the Hugos to be representing the best, commercially and critically, that the genre has to offer? If you do, well, guess what? This is that year! Take a bow, Hugo Award nominators, you nailed the shit out of your remit in 2021.

Now, this doesn’t mean that other people than the ones who hit the finalist list this year did not produce award-caliber work; obviously they did. You could swap out all the authors and works in the fiction categories with others and still have a top-caliber Hugo Award year. But looking at what we do have on the lists? It’s all good, and it all deserves to be there. It’s a very good year for fiction, Hugo-wise.

Yeah, okay, but you know some dudes out there are going to say you’re just on this year’s Hugo ballot because you’re the woke matriarchy’s craven pet.

Those dudes can go fuck themselves with a slotted spoon.

Why slotted?

So they can feel something for once in their sad and pathetic lives.

So for the record: You are saying you are not the pet of the woke matriarchy.

I’m not, but it sounds like a terrific gig. I’ll be happy to apply and I’m ready to learn!

Aside from the written fiction categories, other thoughts on this year’s finalists?

They’re also to me the usual mix of people and works — some established, some new — and there’s the usual clutch of finalist works that will give Hugo observers things to chew on and fight over during this year’s unusually long finalist season. I don’t have too much to say about those at the moment; I don’t know that it was obvious from the outside but I spent a lot of 2020 hunkered down with my own concerns and sat out a lot of things because I didn’t have the time or focus for them. Weirdly, the science fiction world went on without me.

You made mention of this year having an unusually long finalist period. Want to explain that?

Worldcons are usually held either in mid-late August or early September, but this year, thanks to various reasons, it’s going to be held mid-December, in Washington DC. So instead of a four-to-five month period where one is a finalist, this year it’ll be an eight month period. Which is a long time! I’m very curious to see if (and if, then how) this affects how people end up voting for the Hugos this year, and also what if any effect it will have on next year’s ballots. Could be good! Could be bad! Could be both! Or neither! We’ll find out!

That said, I’m kind of digging on the idea of a holiday-adjacent Worldcon. It will be different from all other Worldcons because of it, that’s for sure.

Okay, I’ve got other places to be, so wrap it up.

What do you mean you have other places to be?

I have a life outside of being your Fictional Interlocutor, you know.

No you don’t!

Look, just wrap it up anyway, all right?

Fine. First, if folks are interested in voting for the Hugos this year, they can get memberships at DisCon III, which is this year’s Worldcon. Memberships start at $50, which is good for an associate membership (which allows one to vote for the Hugos), and if you’d like to attend the event, they’re offering a special rate for first-time Worldcon attendees. Which is cool.

Second, congratulations again to all the Hugo finalists this year. I’m happy to be among you. Let’s enjoy this weird and exciting Hugo year.

That’s it?

Yeah, I’m done.

Good. You’re long winded, you know.

That’s a comment, not a question.

D’oh!

— JS

Greatness Adjacent

For as long as I can remember, people have asked me, “what is it like to have a famous father?”

Of course, it’s only ever people at conventions, or in my rural town, as my dad is what I like to call “Little League Famous.” This just means he is only well-known within certain communities, and not A-list celebrity famous.

Still, it’s some kind of fame, and that comes with pros and cons. Mostly pros.

What does that look like for me, though?

It looks like strangers telling me they’ve seen me grow up on the internet, in pictures my dad posts of me.

It looks like the kids in my junior high class talking about my dad’s books in our school library.

It looks like getting special treatment at cons because my dad is the guest of honor or has just won the Hugo.

It looks like getting to meet the coolest fucking nerds around.

It looks like me getting to be on stage performing alongside those cool celebrity nerds, on a boat in the Caribbean, even though I’m not a performer, even though I’m not one of them.

It looks like me worrying “how I can ever measure up?”

It looks like me wanting so badly to follow in my father’s footsteps, but thinking I’ll never be as good.

It looks like imposter syndrome.

And for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to do what my father does. I want to write. I want my books to fly off the shelves, my words to enter the hearts and minds of all those who read my work, and for people to be moved by the stories I have to tell.

But what if the torch is too heavy to carry? Can I really be a great writer like my father, or will I just get pity-published and never sell more than a few copies?

I mentioned this kind of thing before, in my post “The Anxiety of a Non-Writer Surrounded By Writers“, but that mainly talked about how I can’t seem to finish any of my writing. Which is still true. But now what plagues me more than writer’s block, is the fear that if I do manage to finish something, it won’t be good. It’ll never be as good as what my dad has put out.

It’s a weird mindset to have, because I’m not trying to compete with my father. I don’t really want to be better than him. I don’t want to sell more, or win more awards than him. So why do I have this fear that if I do end up finally publishing a novel, it’ll never measure up to all the amazing writing he has out?

I just want to be good enough, and I don’t feel like I ever will be.

And that is not at all my father’s fault. Or anyone’s, other than my own. My own insecurities. My own voice in my head telling me not to try, that I can never be like him. My dad has never made me feel that way, though. In fact, he’s the most supportive person to me in terms of my writing. I mean, he lets me write on this blog, he tells me I should submit work to magazines, and gives me writing advice all the time.

I know he believes in me, which makes it all the scarier to think of failing.

I am so proud of my dad, for all he has accomplished. All the work he’s put out, all the people he’s made laugh (or cry), all the book deals, tours, awards, all the support he gives his family, there’s so much to be proud over. And I want to give him a reason to be proud of me, too. To have my own book deals, my own tours, my own awards.

Aside from just wanting to make my dad proud, I do genuinely want to be famous, even if it is Little League Famous. The feeling of being adored, the feeling of being seen, is addicting. Getting recognized is addicting. Some people might think it’s weird, but I like when people know who I am at cons, when people stop me to ask “are you Athena Scalzi?”. Hell, I was elated when the guy helping me at Mattress Firm noticed my last name and asked if I was related to the author.

It feels… nice. It makes me feel like I matter. Or maybe it makes me feel like I’m well-liked, which is what I desperately try to be. I want people to like me, to support me, to care about me. I mean, who the heck doesn’t want that in their life?

Is it wrong to want to be famous? Doesn’t every youngster dream of being a world famous popstar or an actor on the big screen? Bruno Mars sang about wanting to be a billionaire, seeing a different city every night, standing next to Oprah and the queen. And you know who totally rocked that idea before him? Nickelback. Yeah, that’s right, I’m bringing Nickelback into this post and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

So, maybe it’s selfish or cliché to want to be famous, but I want it so badly. I want to have book deals, and tour the world, and be the guest of honor at conventions, and have signing lines. It’s all I’ve ever dreamed of. I don’t just want to be famous. I want to be great. But for now, I am just adjacent to so much greatness. Not just my father, but all of the amazing, accomplished, talented people I’ve had the honor of meeting.

I want to earn my place on that stage, not just be put up there because my father let me take his spot. I want to earn that VIP treatment, not just be the tagalong kid I’ve always been. I want to be successful, not just living off someone else’s success.

I am so grateful to all of you that read my posts, follow me on Twitter, and just honestly make me feel valued. Your readership means the world to me, and I hope that I have been at least somewhat enjoyable to read. I want to connect with you. I want to convey my thoughts to you, in a way that makes you feel something, and I’m so appreciative that you’re willing to listen.

I hope someday soon you’ll be able see me become this great person I want to be. For now, though, I will remain adjacent.

-AMS

2021 Hugo Award Finalists

Spoiler: I’m one! And very happy to be so.

Here’s the full list.

Best Novel

  • Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery / Saga Press)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tordotcom)
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)
  • Piranesi, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books)

Best Novella

  • Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom)
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo (Tordotcom)
  • Finna, Nino Cipri (Tordotcom)
  • Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom)
  • Riot Baby, Tochi Onyebuchi (Tordotcom)
  • Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (Tordotcom)

Best Novelette

  • “Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super”, A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2020)
  • “Helicopter Story”, Isabel Fall (Clarkesworld, January 2020)
  • “The Inaccessibility of Heaven”, Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny Magazine, July/August 2020)
  • “Monster”, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2020)
  • “The Pill”, Meg Elison (from Big Girl, (PM Press))
  • “Two Truths and a Lie”, Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com)

Best Short Story

  • “Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse”, Rae Carson (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2020)
  • “A Guide for Working Breeds”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, ed. Jonathan Strahan (Solaris))
  • “Little Free Library”, Naomi Kritzer (Tor.com)
  • “The Mermaid Astronaut”, Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 2020)
  • “Metal Like Blood in the Dark”, T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine, September/October 2020)
  • “Open House on Haunted Hill”, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots – 2020, ed. David Steffen)

Best Series

  • The Daevabad Trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)
  • The Interdependency, John Scalzi (Tor Books)
  • The Lady Astronaut Universe, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Audible/Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells (Tor.com)
  • October Daye, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)

Best Related Work

  • Beowulf: A New Translation, Maria Dahvana Headley (FSG)
  • CoNZealand Fringe, Claire Rousseau, C, Cassie Hart, Adri Joy, Marguerite Kenner, Cheryl Morgan, Alasdair Stuart.
  • FIYAHCON, L.D. Lewis–Director, Brent Lambert–Senior Programming Coordinator, Iori Kusano–FIYAHCON Fringe Co-Director, Vida Cruz–FIYAHCON Fringe Co-Director, and the Incredible FIYAHCON team
  • “George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition)”, Natalie Luhrs (Pretty Terrible, August 2020)
  • A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler, Lynell George (Angel City Press)
  • The Last Bronycon: a fandom autopsy, Jenny Nicholson (YouTube)

Best Graphic Story or Comic

  • DIE, Volume 2: Split the Party, written by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image Comics)
  • Ghost-Spider vol. 1: Dog Days Are Over, Author: Seanan McGuire,  Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa and Rosie Kämpe (Marvel)
  • Invisible Kingdom, vol 2: Edge of Everything, Author: G. Willow Wilson, Artist: Christian Ward (Dark Horse Comics)
  • Monstress, vol. 5: Warchild, Author: Marjorie Liu, Artist: Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
  • Once & Future vol. 1: The King Is Undead, written by Kieron Gillen, iIllustrated by Dan Mora, colored by Tamra Bonvillain, lettered by Ed Dukeshire (BOOM! Studios)
  • Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings (Harry N. Abrams)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  • Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), written by Christina Hodson, directed by Cathy Yan (Warner Bros.)
  • Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Sagawritten by Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele, directed by David Dobkin (European Broadcasting Union/Netflix)
  • The Old Guard, written by Greg Rucka, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Netflix / Skydance Media)
  • Palm Springs, written by Andy Siara, directed by Max Barbakow (Limelight / Sun Entertainment Culture / The Lonely Island / Culmination Productions / Neon / Hulu / Amazon Prime)
  • Soul, screenplay by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, directed by Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers, produced by Dana Murray (Pixar Animation Studios/ Walt Disney Pictures)
  • Tenet, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros./Syncopy)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon, written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, directed by Nida Manzoor (BBC)
  • The Expanse: Gaugamela, written by Dan Nowak, directed by Nick Gomez (Alcon Entertainment / Alcon Television Group / Amazon Studios / Hivemind / Just So)
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Heart (parts 1 and 2), written by Josie Campbell and Noelle Stevenson, directed by Jen Bennett and Kiki Manrique (DreamWorks Animation Television / Netflix)
  • The Mandalorian: Chapter 13: The Jedi, written and directed by Dave Filoni (Golem Creations / Lucasfilm / Disney+)
  • The Mandalorian: Chapter 16: The Rescue, written by Jon Favreau, directed by Peyton Reed (Golem Creations / Lucasfilm / Disney+)
  • The Good Place: Whenever You’re Ready, written and directed by Michael Schur (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group)

Best Editor, Short Form

  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • C.C. Finlay
  • Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Nivia Evans
  • Sheila E. Gilbert
  • Sarah Guan
  • Brit Hvide
  • Diane M. Pho
  • Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

  • Tommy Arnold
  • Rovina Cai
  • Galen Dara
  • Maurizio Manzieri
  • John Picacio
  • Alyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edotor Scott H. Andrews
  • Escape Pod, editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney, hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart, audio producers Summer Brooks and Adam Pracht and the entire Escape Pod team.
  • FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, publisher Troy L. Wiggins, executive editor DaVaun Sanders, managing editor Eboni Dunbar, poetry editor Brandon O’Brien, reviews and social media Brent Lambert,  art director L. D. Lewis, and the FIYAH Team.
  • PodCastle, editors, C.L. Clark and Jen R. Albert, assistant editor and host, Setsu Uzumé, producer Peter Adrian Behravesh, and the entire PodCastle team.
  • Uncanny Magazine, editors in chief: Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor: Chimedum Ohaegbu, non-fiction editor:  Elsa Sjunneson, podcast producers: Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky
  • Strange Horizons, Vanessa Aguirre, Joseph Aitken, Rachel Ayers, M H Ayinde, Tierney Bailey, Scott Beggs, Drew Matthew Beyer, Gautam Bhatia, S. K. Campbell, Zhui Ning Chang, Tania Chen, Joyce Chng, Liz Christman, Linda H. Codega, Kristian Wilson Colyard, Yelena Crane, Bruhad Dave, Sarah Davidson, Tahlia Day, Arinn Dembo, Nathaniel Eakman, Belen Edwards, George Tom Elavathingal, Rebecca Evans, Ciro Faienza, Courtney Floyd, Lila Garrott, Colette Grecco, Guananí Gómez-Van Cortright, Julia Gunnison, Dan Hartland, Sydney Hilton, Angela Hinck, Stephen Ira, Amanda Jean, Ai Jiang, Sean Joyce-Farley, Erika Kanda, Anna Krepinsky, Kat Kourbeti, Clayton Kroh, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Catherine Krahe, Natasha Leullier, A.Z. Louise, Dante Luiz, Gui Machiavelli, Cameron Mack, Samantha Manaktola, Marisa Manuel, Jean McConnell, Heather McDougal, Maria Morabe, Amelia Moriarty, Emory Noakes, Sarah Noakes, Aidan Oatway, AJ Odasso, Joel Oliver-Cormier, Kristina Palmer, Karintha Parker, Anjali Patel, Vanessa Rose Phin, Nicasio Reed, Belicia Rhea, Endria Richardson, Natalie Ritter, Abbey Schlanz, Clark Seanor, Elijah Rain Smith, Alyn Spector, Hebe Stanton, Melody Steiner, Romie Stott, Yejin Suh, Kwan-Ann Tan, Luke Tolvaj, Ben Tyrrell, Renee Van Siclen, Kathryn Weaver, Liza Wemakor, Aigner Loren Wilson, E.M. Wright, Vicki Xu, Fred G. Yost, staff members who prefer not to be named, and guest editor Libia Brenda with guest first reader Raquel González-Franco Alva for the Mexicanx special issue

Best Fanzine

  • The Full Lid, written by Alasdair Stuart, edited by Marguerite Kenner
  • Journey Planet, edited by Michael Carroll, John Coxon, Sara Felix, Ann Gry, Sarah Gulde, Alissa McKersie, Errick Nunnally, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Chuck Serface, Steven H. Silver, Paul Trimble, Erin Underwood, James Bacon, and Chris Garcia.
  • Lady Business, editors. Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan.
  • nerds of a feather, flock together, ed. Adri Joy, Joe Sherry, The G, and Vance Kotrla
  • Quick Sip Reviews, editor, Charles Payseur
  • Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog, ed. Amanda Wakaruk and Olav Rokne

Best Fancast

  • Be The Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer Mace
  • Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel, produced by Claire Rousseau
  • The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe, Jonathan Strahan, producer
  • Kalanadi, produced and presented by Rachel
  • The Skiffy and Fanty show, produced by Shaun Duke and Jen Zink,  presented by Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Alex Acks, Paul Weimer, and David Annandale.
  • Worldbuilding for Masochists, presented by Rowenna Miller, Marshall Ryan Maresca and Cass Morris

Best Fan Writer

  • Cora Buhlert
  • Charles Payseur
  • Jason Sanford
  • Elsa Sjunneson
  • Alasdair Stuart
  • Paul Weimer

Best Fan Artist

  • Iain J. Clark
  • Cyan Daly
  • Sara Felix
  • Grace P. Fong
  • Maya Hahto
  • Laya Rose

Best Video Game

  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Publisher and Developer: Nintendo)
  • Blaseball (Publisher and Developer: The Game Band)
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake (Publisher Square Enix)
  • Hades (Publisher and Developer: Supergiant Games)
  • The Last of Us: Part II (Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment / Developer: Naughty Dog)
  • Spiritfarer (Publisher and Developer: Thunder Lotus)

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

  • Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads)
  • A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
  • Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)
  • Legendborn, Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry/ Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)
  • Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko (Amulet / Hot Key)
  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Argyll Productions)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

  • Lindsay Ellis (1st year of eligibility)
  • Simon Jimenez (1st year of eligibility)
  • Micaiah Johnson (1st year of eligibility)
  • A.K. Larkwood (1st year of eligibility)
  • Jenn Lyons (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Emily Tesh (2nd year of eligibility)

I’ll have more to say later, but for now, this tweet will suffice:

— JS

The Big Idea: Caroline Hardaker

If memory serves correctly, it doesn’t ever really serve correctly. Follow along with Caroline Hardaker as she tells us just what that means in the Big Idea for her first book, Composite Creatures.

CAROLINE HARDAKER:

The Fallibility of Memory 

Have you ever told a story about something that happened to you, only for a friend to interject and tell you that it didn’t happen that way? They’re sure you have it wrong, and they go on to tell the same story with a different slant. But you’re sure too, absolutely sure, that it all happened your way. So why does your friend remember it differently? Who is right?

Perhaps you both are. Or perhaps you’re both wrong.

The fallibility of memory is something I’m hugely interested in, both in psychology and in storytelling. No memory is perfect. Memories filtered both through the emotional state at the time the event was experienced, and filtered again through distance and experience gained since the event. We remember things in a way that helps us cope with what happened. And sometimes we remember in a way that portrays us as the victor or victim, depending on how accountable we can accept ourselves to be.

Writing in the first person means that our lead protagonist – and in the case of Composite Creatures, this is 32 year old Norah – is telling the reader her story. Often I start a story in third person, but always come back to first. For me, a huge part of storytelling is the why. Why are we hearing Norah’s words? What is she trying to prove?

Writing in first person demands that the author take on a role. It’s like being an actor, without the stage costume. We think like them, we talk like them, and we see the world through their eyes. They only know what they know, and only understand what their intellectual level will allow. They also have emotional reasons for sharing their tale, and when the story is told from a point years down the line, you have to take into account the way time twists all memories. Our lives, real or fictional, are the stories we tell ourselves. And we like the sound of some stories more than others, don’t we? Are we a hero? Are we the villain? Very rarely will we remember ourselves to be the villain. I’m sure even the most fascist dictator would portray himself as the humanitarian star. In Composite Creatures, perhaps if Art, Norah’s fiancé, was to tell their story, it might sound quite a bit different, and we’d learn more about Norah’s choices than we do from her.

So you see, there can be some deliberate deception, too. Why is Norah telling her story at the point she’s at? What does she want you to think? Is she even aware that she twists her tale? Is she twisting her tale? And will we ever truly know? 


Composite Creatures: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Meanwhile, Back at the Scalzi Compound

What’s been going on in Scalzi land? Well:

Beast News: The Beast is currently at the local shop, being restrung and serviced. As I noted on Twitter, when I brought it into the shop the fellow there looked at it mostly with resignation, as if to say, yup, well, this is my life now, and then he wrote it up and and told me they’d start working on it soon. The only real change I’m having them make to the thing is that the bottom six string will now be strung like a baritone; it seems a good idea to have more playable options on the thing. I’m looking forward to it being fully functional.

The more astute among you will note that there are actually two (or seven) guitars in the photo above; I also this last week purchased a Squier Mini Strat, which is basically a 3/4 scale electric guitar, mostly cause I think it’s kind of cute, and I think it will be useful to have for practice and travel purposes. Also, it’s inexpensive so I won’t mind knocking it about. With that said, I now officially have Too Many Guitars and will not be buying any more any time soon, I swear.

Pet News: The dog and cats are now hanging around in the same room at the same time without too much problem, until and unless Charlie gets the zoomies, which, since she’s a pup, is not infrequent. In which case the cats get annoyed with her. But! This is very good progress, especially with Sugar, who goes out of her way to spend time with Charlie, which Charlie loves. Sugar is definitely driving the bus in that relationship, if you know what I mean. Anyway, it’s nice the pets are getting used to each other and even seem to like each other.

Other News: Everything’s fine! Also, I’ll have some concrete news about a few different things soon, which I will tell you about here when they become tellable. The short version is I’ve had a good couple of weeks, some of which will be revealable soon, and some of which will likely have to wait. I’m not trying to be mysterious, I’m just not in charge of when news comes out. Patience! It’ll be worth it. Maybe.

How are you?

— JS

A Trip to Stillwater

Hey, everyone! I hope your weekend is going well so far. This Saturday is a rainy one, but before it started pouring, I went to Stillwater Prairie. It’s a reserve/park with lots of nice trails, a river, and a pond. I wanted to see if I could get some good pictures of flowers starting to bloom or other spring-y things.

Here’s a couple of the shots I took!

This cluster of little flowers was close to the parking lot. Does anyone know what they are?

Mushies! These little guys were on the end of a log by the bridge. (Don’t worry I didn’t eat them.)

More flowers! These were closer to the river than the other set of them.

And of course, the river. I would imagine it will be much higher after the rain stops. It started raining right when I left, so I kind of nailed the whole expedition timing wise!

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed these photos, and I hope you have a good day, rainy or otherwise!

-AMS

The Beast Arrives in Bradford

Look at this ridiculous thing. It’s here, and it’s delightful. And also has arrived reasonablyish intact — one of the six string necks has two busted strings and one string on the seven-string neck has weirdly migrated to another string’s slot, and a strap on the frankly ridiculous gig bag has ripped away from the bag itself. But these are all fixable and quite honestly, considering everything involved in getting this from England to Ohio, perfectly acceptable.

I have some work to do on it before it’s entirely ready for an official public debut, including restringing and some other stuff. But, hey! It’s here! And it’s ridiculous. And I love it.

— JS

A Sweet Review For You This Friday

I feel like my reviews are just getting more and more random. Like, last time was toasted corn crackers, this time it’s honey lollipops. I buy weird shit, okay? I am weak to the powers of Facebook advertising. They just know exactly what I want! Before I even know I want it!

Anyways, today’s products, the aforementioned honey lollipops, come from a brand called Waxing Kara. Waxing Kara is a small company in Maryland that specializes in bee-related/inspired products, and states that they’re dedicated to saving the bees and promoting sustainability.

They’ve got tons of honey flavors, like blackberry, orange blossom, wildflower, and even seasonal ones like spring and autumn. All their honey is raw and unpasteurized. Other than the regular jars of honey, though, they also have honey lollipops. This is what I ended up buying!

I got four flavors, including just original honey flavor. The other three were ginger, vanilla, and bourbon. I chose these ones specifically because I knew my dad would enjoy ginger, and I wanted to get bourbon for my mom even though I’m not exactly partial to that flavor. And vanilla for me! Though I did consider getting lavender instead.

From left to right, there’s original, ginger, vanilla, and bourbon. These are the canvas bags they came in (nine to a bag).

These lollipops are certainly a treat! They’re perfectly sweet and flavored just right, not overpowering at all! The ginger was subtle enough to make itself known but not hog the show, despite it having visible chunks of ginger within the honey. Same goes for the vanilla, it was definitely vanilla-flavored, but without making a big deal of it, y’know? It tasted like I was drinking a cup of Twinings Chamomile Honey & Vanilla tea. It was definitely good enough to eat by itself, but my mom could not say the same for the bourbon flavor. She ended up mixing hers into her cup of tea, but then again she only likes sweet things in small doses. Eating honey on a stick by itself isn’t really her style (it’s totally mine, though).

So, overall, these honey sticks were super yummy! I would definitely try their regular honey, as well, which they have even more flavors of than they do the sticks.

Other than edible products, they also make candles, as well as tons of beauty related items like body scrubs, body butters, lip balms, lip scrubs, and bath soaks. After ordering the honey lollipops, I was really close to free shipping, so I decided to get a bar of soap. I ended up getting the Milk and Honey soap, to match the theme of honey I was going for.

Upon opening it and testing it out, I would not say it smells like milk and honey. I do like how it smells, but it smells very strongly of cloves and spices. It’s pretty strongly fragranced, and I guess I was expecting a more mild scent? But it’s a good size and feels good on the skin and whatnot, and it says it’s paraben and phthalate free (and uses no artificial dyes).

I didn’t order anything other than the four flavors of honey lollipops and the bar of soap, but they actually threw in a free Lemon Drop lip gloss! I couldn’t find it on their website by itself, only in this duo Lip Kit. It not only smells amazing, but is super soft and luxe feeling on the lips. It works really well! I can only imagine the lip scrub that comes with it is nice, too.

So, that was really cool of them to add that freebie in!

Besides selling all this neat stuff individually, they also sell honey gift boxes and spa bundles. These are perfect gifts for brides, moms, or anyone, really. I’m thinking I’m going to order more body products from them, they have so much variety!

So, now the bill comes due. How much did four bags of honey lollipops and a bar of soap cost? A hundred dollars! Each bag of lollipops was $24, and the bar of soap was $12. But if you go to the honey lollipops page, it tells you a code to use if you buy three bags that gives you 15% off the pops, so each bag only ended up being $20 for me. So my total was actually $93.

If we take the original cost of $24 for the pops, that puts the lollipops at about $2.50 a piece. Is it worth the cost? I mean, you have to consider that this is a small business that makes and produces everything themselves, and a portion of it goes towards saving the bees and all that jazz, so, yeah, it’s worth it.

I really recommend these lollipops! Especially the vanilla, super duper yummy! I’d really like to try the lavender or the blueberry next time, and get some body scrub while I’m at it.

Are you a fellow honey lover? Have you tried this brand before? Do you keep bees? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Oliver K. Langmead

When you think of things that may outlive you, do you think of your children, your students, maybe even your pets? In Oliver K. Langmead’s Big Idea, he tells you of something else that will outlive you: trash. These objects we throw away, as well as climate change, play a huge role in the concept behind his newest novel, Birds of Paradise.

OLIVER K. LANGMEAD:

Timothy Morton first defines “hyperobjects” in his 2010 book The Ecological Thought. Hyperobjects, he tells us, are humanity’s lasting legacy. Long after we’re dead, the plastic bottles we drink from will still be around. Hyperobjects are larger than we are; larger than we can comprehend; distributed so massively across space and time that they transcend us. A plastic bottle is a hyperobject, yes – and so is climate catastrophe. Anthropogenic climate change is so enrmeshed in every part of our lives, and so vastly distributed across time and space, that it becomes difficult to think about. Like Lovecraft’s great old ones, it can become a thing of unthinkable, unknowable, weird horror.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hyperobjects over the past few years. It’s a difficult term for an elusive idea, and I prefer to think about the spatio-temporal distribution of the plastic bottle first. I think about my brief encounter with one; picking it up off a shelf, unscrewing the cap, draining its contents, and discarding it into a bin. In the bottle’s lifespan, I have touched it for a mere moment. The bottle will sit in a landfill, or float in the ocean, long after I have died. The bottle will, in a sense, outlive me; an artefact hardier than many deliberate human monuments.

Climate change is a fact; scientifically irrefutable, and inevitably catastrophic. Its role as a hyperobject makes it difficult to talk about, though – it’s obvious that something about the weather is changing from year to year, but attributing it to a vast global shift in ecological systems caused in large part by wasteful anthropogenic systems makes it feel abstract and distant. It’s hard to reconcile drinking from a plastic bottle with hurricanes and forest fires. But this is where speculative fiction can be useful, because speculative fiction gives us tools to confront the weirdness of hyperobjects. 

For Birds of Paradise, the book I wrote in part to express how I’ve been feeling about climate change, I decided to apply hyperobject characteristics to its characters. They are all, much like the plastic bottle, distributed massively across time and space. They are immortals; leftovers from the Garden of Eden. My characters live plastic bottle lives: they are worn and scarred by their endless momentary encounters with the world, but are still recognisably themselves, embodying the characteristics given to them on the day of their creation. And among them is the first man himself: Adam, the first Earthly hyperobject, and the progenitor of Earth’s dominant species. 

What if, instead of thinking about climate change in terms of a global network of ecological systems, we think about it in terms of a garden (Eden). What if, instead of thinking about the effect of climate change on entire species, we think about it in terms of its impact on individual animals (Owl, and Rook, and Crab, and Pig). What if, instead of thinking about what humanity might do to prevent climate change, we consider what a single individual might do (Adam). Birds of Paradise has a story with hyperobject characteristics, but it condenses some of the most unfathomable aspects of climate change down to manageable thought-sized moments, in the ways that speculative fiction makes possible.

In the face of climate catastrophe, ecologically minded fiction is a means of finding useful ways to think it through. More often than not, it doesn’t present solutions – but it does offer perspective. Hyperobjects may provoke weird horror in the same way that Lovecraft’s great old ones do, but, just like in a horror movie, revealing the monster often makes it far less frightening.


Birds of Paradise: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

A Winter Wonder Worldcon

Discon III, this year’s Worldcon, is moving from August — when it was likely to be entirely virtual — to December, when at least some of it is likely to be able to done in-person, including the Hugo ceremony. Some folks are going to get rocket-shaped holiday gifts, for sure.

How do I feel about this? I think it’s fine. Most of the membership (who responded to a polling about it) seem to want an in-person Worldcon this year, and I can certainly sympathize with that; after more than a year of virtual events and conventions and conferences, there’s a pent-up desire for actually being in a room, and it seems by December enough people will have been vaccinated to make it feasible. So, why not? The only real downside will be for any potential Hugo finalists, who will have an additional four months of suspense, but if that’s the major downside, that’s pretty minor, really.

(The actual major downside will be trying to fit Worldcon in to a month already jammed with holiday events and commitments. But inasmuch as several conventions have perennially scheduled themselves alongside Easter and (in the US) both Memorial and Labor Day, nerds are used to accommodating holiday conventions.)

I have a membership for Discon III and assumed that it would end up being virtual, because August is still cutting things close (September is the earliest I’d be totally comfortable with an in-person experience, if it was handled correctly, and in fact I have concert tickets for that month). So now having the option of being there for the thing is nice. And I have a few more months to see where we as a nation are on the road to in-person events. I like having options, is what I’m saying. And if I go I may wear a Santa hat the entire time I’m there. Because why not.

— JS

The Big Idea: Leah Cypess

Sometimes stories aren’t really about the main character: it’s the side characters and their stories that make the main character’s world so vibrant. Author Leah Cypess gives one of these side characters a voice in the first novel of her Sisters Ever After series, Thornwood.

LEAH CYPESS:

Many years ago, I wrote a book that I thought had a Big Idea. The idea was this: what if Sleeping Beauty woke up after her curse, only to find that the curse hadn’t ended? Even though she was awake, she was still trapped in her castle by a forest of thorns. Somewhere in that castle was a vengeful fairy who still didn’t think they were even. Meanwhile, the prince who had woken her was super sketchy, and it seemed probable that she was actually in love with someone else. (An unsuitable but handsome commoner. I was in high school, okay?)

It was a pretty good idea, if perhaps not as original as I thought. I wrote a whole book based on it, in my typical floundering-pantser style, throwing problems and complications at the now awake princess… and then I lost interest in it. I made only a few attempts to revise the manuscript before I trunked it. It just didn’t have that spark that made me want to throw myself into it again and again.

Turned out, that was because it didn’t have a Big Idea yet. All it had was a starter idea. 

I figured that out years later. I was looking through my old unpublished manuscripts, partly out of nostalgia and partly in search of inspiration. (Not long after that, I would look through my old manuscripts much more intensely, in search of reading material for my children while all the libraries were closed.) I came across that Sleeping Beauty retelling and vaguely remembered a lot of what I had thrown into it. But my clearest memory was of one minor scene. In it, Sleeping Beauty walks into the kitchen and discovers herself faced by a group of kitchen maids who hate her. Because of her curse, they have been asleep for a hundred years. Their families are dead and their lives are destroyed, simply because they had the misfortune of being minor characters in Sleeping Beauty’s story.

In the original manuscript, I didn’t do much with that scene. But it struck me now because I had, for a while, been mulling over the question of main characters and what we require of them. What makes a person a main character? Is it just the fact that they’re the person we’re telling the story about? Is it possible to write a satisfying genre book about a side character who has no agency and no effect on the story?

And just like that, I realized why that original manuscript had never come to life. The Big Idea wasn’t about how Sleeping Beauty’s curse had messed up her life. It was how it had messed up the lives of everyone around her – the people the original fairy tales barely bother to mention.

So I invented a new character: Sleeping Beauty’s eleven-year-old sister, living in the shadow of her sister’s curse and not all that happy about it. She loves her older sister, but she also resents her. She wants to save her… but she can’t, because no one can.

In the end, I didn’t lift a single word from that old manuscript. I wrote the new book from scratch, in a mad rush, in the same floundering-pantser style that hasn’t changed much since my high school days. (Though now, as a professional writer, I don’t have to write a whole book before figuring out whether it will work. Twenty thousand words or so are generally sufficient). A lot of elements from that old book did wind their way into the new one: a castle trapped within a magical forest, a prince with secrets of his own, a creepy fairy godmother. Some of the romantic complications also came through intact, though they are much more fun when viewed from the perspective of a snarky eleven-year-old. 

But the core of the story, what made the whole thing work, what made me willing to revise it and re-read it dozens of times, was the character at its center: a powerless girl who is trapped in events not of her making, and who is really, really tired of being unimportant.

In other words: a main character.

I did not, I fully admit, overturn Western storytelling conventions in this book. My protagonist protags. She discovers that she does have agency, and in the end, it is her actions and choices that will determine her future.

And now that she’s realized the story is about her, what is she going to do about all the other people in it? The true side characters are still there: the other people in the castle – the kitchen maids and laundresses and blacksmiths – who truly have no power to affect their own fates. One of the choices that faces my actual main character is how to treat those people, the ones who don’t matter to the story. She knows what it’s like to be powerless, to be sidelined, to be a character the storyteller doesn’t even bother to mention. She’s raged against it – and now, she’s the one telling the story.

Her response to that choice is the core of my Big Idea. Because what we do when we tell stories is choose certain lives — and certain types of lives — to focus on. And in the end, as every writer knows, which person you focus on can change what the story is all about.


Thornwood: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Second Shot Down

And right on schedule, too. It’s been a few hours now and so far no side effects, not even soreness around the shot site (yet). My first one was likewise relatively symptom-free; I felt tired the day of, and went to sleep early, but otherwise no problems. Having now had my second shot, I’m now two weeks out from the full protection the shot will offer; I have not made any plans to celebrate by going to a crowd of people or anything, but, well, I still have time to plan.

I have words and thoughts for people who still see the vaccines as a political or conspiratorial issue, mostly revolving around variations of “For fuck’s sake, pull your head out of your asshole and get a goddamned shot, you mountainous pile of shit,” but I realize that is not me wearing my persuasion pants, as it were. At this point either you understand that getting vaccinated benefits you (good) and others (better) and can get us back to a more normal state of events (best), or you’ve decided that you want to make an effort not to understand that, in which case, neither I nor anyone else will be able to persuade you anyway. You’re just actively making it worse for the rest of us and dragging this thing out, and apparently some people these days don’t mind being the person actively making it worse for everyone else and dragging things out.

But, to the extent it may persuade: pretty please and with a cherry on top go get vaccinated, it would be lovely if you did. And in any event, now I have had my shots, and I feel pretty good about having it done and over with. I have a list of people I want to see. It’s long. I plan to spend a chunky portion of the rest of 2021 going through it.

— JS

A Look At the FabFitFun Spring 2021 Box

Welcome to another post of me gushing about my love of subscription boxes! Today, I will be telling you about one that I have been getting for quite a while now, just over a year, in fact. It’s called FabFitFun, and it’s a subscription box that contains a variety of items pertaining to beauty, fashion, home goods, accessories, fitness, skincare, the usual wellness lifestyle box items. Specifically I’ll be talking about the Spring 2021 box, which is pictured below. 

(Image courtesy of FabFitFun)

The boxes are seasonal, so you get four a year, and each one contains between 8 and 10 items. FabFitFun is definitely more tailored towards a specific demographic, but I think the boxes contain a lot of items that could be enjoyed by all sorts of people, not just who their target audience is. 

Personally, I’ve really enjoyed getting FabFitFun, I think they offer a lot of bang for your buck, being priced at $50 a box (or $45 a box if you pay for a year of boxes up front). Eight items is definitely a good amount for that price, especially considering how pricey the individual items that can come in a box can be! Generally, the goods inside the box are worth about $200 total, so getting all that at a quarter of the price seems like a pretty solid deal. 

Not to mention, each box comes with tons of customization options, so you can actually pick some of the items that you’ll be receiving (pick from several options they offer, that is). Even though you get more customization options as an annual member, you still get three customizations as a seasonal member, which I feel like is a pretty decent amount. 

So, yeah, I really like FabFitFun. So much so that this past box I decided to upgrade to being an annual member. I figured since I’d already been getting their boxes for a year and was paying the seasonal price and wasn’t getting the annual member benefits, I might as well just upgrade and get the boxes for another year since I like them so much. 

After becoming an annual member, I tried to make the additional customizations that annual members are promised, but the window of time in which you’re allowed to make the customizations had closed a couple days earlier. Obviously, I was bummed out. Part of why I had decided to upgrade right then and there was because there was a specific customization I wanted to make for the Spring Box, but now I wasn’t going to be able to. 

I decided to email them and try to see if I could maybe possibly still make the customizations. I ended up getting some very friendly customer service, in which the person assisting me said they would manually put my choices in the system for me, if I just told them what items I wanted. So, I told them my preferred options, said thank you (of course) and was very happy with how everything turned out! 

Skip forward a couple weeks, I get my box, and literally none of the items inside are the ones I chose. I picked five out of the eight items in customizations, yet none of them were right. Obviously, I figured the choices inputted in the system didn’t go through, or some technical error like that, so I emailed them again and told them my customizations were wrong. It wasn’t something I was super upset over. After all, they’re just accessories and skincare products, y’know? But I still wanted to see if I could send back the items they gave me in exchange for the ones I wanted. 

When I explained what happened, they replied that their records showed that I never made any customization options, and that’s why every item in the box was randomly selected. They offered to send me three of the customized items I wanted. As I mentioned earlier, there were supposed to be five, but three was a damn good compromise in my opinion, since I got to keep all the items in the box and was getting the three items for free. So, basically, I got eleven items in one box. This meant I was only missing two of the things I wanted, which honestly I can live with. 

I wanted to share this customer service experience with you, because I can sit here and talk about how great a subscription box is and how cool the items are (which I’m totally going to do still), but rarely does anyone talk about how the company treats their clients. Sure, they might send awesome stuff, but if they make a mistake, or you have a question, don’t you want to be assured that you’ll be taken care of by friendly, helpful people? How a company treats their patrons is always very telling, and is something that isn’t addressed enough in reviews, I think. 

All in all, I’m super satisfied with FabFitFun’s customer service! Even if things didn’t go exactly right or as perfectly as possible, what really mattered to me was their friendliness! 

So, now that we’ve got all that straightened out, I wanted to show you what I ended up getting in the box. If you go here, you can see all the different items that could come in a box. I’m going to be going through in order of each customization on the list and telling you what I got from each one!

In the first one, I was sent the Perricone MD Essential Fx Acyl-Glutathione Rejuvenating Moisturizer. I’m actually pretty happy with this item, because I really love luxury skincare items, and this one seems pretty bougie if I do say so myself. I have not tried it yet, though, because I’m currently finishing off my current facial moisturizer, but I’m excited to try it out very soon! 

What I had actually wanted, and ended up getting after I emailed a second time, was the Monré Solerosé Watch. This watch is probably my favorite item in the box. It is just so classy looking, and I really just like the timeless, simple look of it. 

For the second one, I got the Steel Mill & Co. To-Do Planning Bundle which is pretty great because I actually needed a planner and was going to buy one right before this came! I love the floral design, plus it came with STICKERS! Which I am just so stoked about. It wasn’t what I originally chose, though.

My original choice for this option was the Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil. I did end up getting this one, as well, just like the watch, it was one of the ones they sent me after figuring everything out. I’m so happy I ended up receiving this oil because it can help with split ends, which I have a ton of! 

Thirdly, I got this Joy Dravecky Chloe Ring. It is so cute! It fits me perfectly, and I love the color of it (though it is kind of color changing depending on the lighting/what way you angle it in the light). This is probably my favorite item that I received that I wasn’t supposed to get. 

What I was supposed to get, and eventually did get, however, was the Verso Super Eye Serum. This item is perfect for me because I have the worst dark circles under my eyes. I haven’t started using it quite yet because I’m using a different eye cream from another box I got, but I’m not having any luck with that one so I’m going to switch over to this new one. I’m very hopeful for good results!

For the fourth item, I received the Lark & Ives Hair Scarf Bundle. This is definitely my least favorite item in the box, mostly because I just don’t have any use for them! I literally only wear my hair down, and I don’t put accessories in my hair. Even if I wanted to put my hair up, I have no idea how to use a scarf to do that! I mean, they’re cute and whatnot, but totally not for me, so I’ll probably end up gifting them or something. 

The fifth item was the Summer & Rose Rose Tweezers with Pouch. Again, not something that’s super practical for me, since I get my eyebrows waxed instead of plucking, but it’s still pretty cute and is like, a perfectly acceptable item. 

Sixthly, these EACH Jewels Flower Hair Clips 2 Pack came in the box. Yet another impractical but totally cute item! I don’t wear hair clips! But these ones are so cute I might honestly have to start. Could I rock a flower hair clip? I guess we’ll find out. 

I actually am pretty happy with the seventh item, which is this Cali Cosmetics Islands of Italy Bath Gel (In Capri). It smells so flippin’ good, and it lathers perfectly well, so all in all a good item! 

Finally, I got these Saie Reusable Beauty Rounds. These are generally used in place of makeup wipes, but I don’t wear makeup, so while I love the whole sustainability thing and whatnot, I don’t have much use for these. But I’m sure I can find something they’re good for, like applying toner instead of using a cotton ball. 

So, there you have it, all the things I got in my Spring 2021 FabFitFun box! In terms of items, this box was not my favorite I’ve ever gotten, but this was definitely the most memorable box thanks to my experience with the customer service reps! 

FabFitFun also has an add-on shop where you can buy items at discounted prices that’ll ship alongside your box (they aren’t really unique in this feature, as I’ve seen a couple subscription box services that do this). I have never used this feature before but I did for this past Add-on Sale and I snagged this awesome Indie Lee Coconut Citrus Body Scrub for half the price, as well as a pair of Nectar Blue Light Blockers for only $12! (I also bought a ton more from the Edit Sale, but that’s probably enough links for you for now.) 

Anyways, like I said, I really like FabFitFun, it’s one of my all-time favorite subscription boxes! If it seems like something you’d like to try out, you can use this link to get ten dollars off your first box. If you want to sign up without the link, that’s okay, too! I won’t be offended. 

Do you also get FabFitFun? Do you like it? Are there any boxes you get that you think I’d like? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day! 

-AMS

The Big Idea: Nancy Werlin

Missing conventions in these unprecedented times? So is New York Times best-selling author Nancy Werlin. Follow along as Werlin takes you on a tour through her train of thought in creating her newest novel, Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good, which began with a convention.

NANCY WERLIN:

The Big Idea: I just want to hang out at the con with my friends!

Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good was born from love; from the memory of a con I went to a long time ago. I was planning to room with some other women I’d met online, on something called a listserv. (We later discovered our listserv was run by a fifteen year old boy on a file server in his bedroom, which is another story.)

My very first con! We called it a convention then. I’d kept my travel a secret from my parents. Sure, I was post-college, living on my own, but usually I told them where I was going—God forbid they should worry! This time I was cagey, though, because: You’re going to share a hotel room with people you met on the Internet?! (We capitalized “internet” then.) 

After that weekend, my therapist commented: “Nancy, I have to say, you sound like you’ve fallen in love.” 

“Not exactly,” I said, excitedly. “But I’ve met my people! We write books for kids! We read books for kids! We talk about books for kids! It’s—see—they’re my people! They exist!” 

It felt like a miracle then, and by now I know it really was, because those friendships are still going strong and deep. (Thanks, internet! Thanks, listserv! Thanks, Ryan, you super-competent teenage liar, you.)

I wanted to write about the feeling of that weekend and that first year with my new friends, my soulmates, my best beloveds. The shared obsession. The neurotic moments. The crazy random happenstances. The in-jokes. The sheer joy of getting to know each other and of belonging. 

“So this new book, it’s about a group of older teenagers. They’re fans of this TV show, Bleeders,” I told my editor. “They go to cons together. They stay up and talk all night. They geek out about their show, and they cosplay. They eat Twizzlers. They play Cards Against Humanity. They go to a panel about Princess Leia. They fret about college plans—some of them are already in college, but my main girl, Zoe, she’s a senior in high school. It’s going to be episodic—they meet at a different con every month. Zoe lies about it, though.” 

“She’s a liar?”

“And a sneak, but very relatable! She’s kind of neurotic. She’s ashamed of being a fan, for reasons having to do with her Lawful Good boyfriend. But she just can’t resist her show. Bleeders! The fans call themselves Bloodygits. It’s all spaceships and robots and very gory special effects. Female doctors on a ship called the Mae Jemison. Kind of a cross between MAS*H and Firefly.” 

“Go back to her being a liar.”

“Well, yeah. It’s very innocent to start with, I promise, or sort of—well, maybe not quite—she’s a control freak—but basically one tiny lie leads to another. You know how that goes? Anyway. Oh, also! There’s a cat.”

“Uh . . why?”

“I just really want to put a cat in this book.”

“I . . . see. You said ‘episodic.’ Is there a plot? At all?”

“Well, Zoe’s life gets messy because of her sneaking off to the cons—but the complications of that are offstage. I don’t really want a plot per se. They group is going to hang out and be themselves. It’s about that—hanging out, getting to know each other, talking about the meaning of life and being scared of the future, and your hopes and dreams and longing for love. Or not. And . . . just everything. They get together at con after con after con. They’re also trying to save their show from cancelation. That’s the plot, such as it is.” 

“It sounds pretty nerdy.”

“Exactly! Oh, did I mention the cat? She’s mad at the cat. Zoe is.” 

“You did . . . mention the cat.” 

Possibly I didn’t do such a great job of matching Zoe with that particular editor, but an entirely different editor, the right editor, totally got it. She laughed with me about my favorite line—a wail from Zoe’s chaotic heart: “Everything came down to this one truth: I had traded in my boyfriend for a TV show.” We started in on edits. 

Then the universe threw the Covid-19 curve ball. 

Of course, the pandemic affected my personal world, as it has affected everyone’s. As a writer, however, I was fascinated to see how it changed the way in which Zoe-the-book reads, and how it feels. The contents were the same but they had shifted in terms of emotional impact. For one thing, the thought of cramming into a hotel room with a bunch of strangers became nostalgic, wistful, a vision of the world as it used to be, and as it might still have been—on a timeline other than ours.  

Also, there’s something I didn’t mention before. The show within the book, Bleeders, concerns a deadly virus to which humanoids are uniquely vulnerable. The renegade doctors (also vicious fighters wielding stethoscope-garrotes) are trying to devise a vaccine. 

So there you have it. I wrote Zoe in one world of laughter and joy and innocence, in which such a virus was a plot point and togetherness was something I took for granted. But we edited the book for publication in an opposite world. 

Today, as Zoe publishes, the past world shimmers into possibility once more, thanks to our own medical and scientific heroes. Our new reality won’t be the same as the old; nor should it be, I suppose. And we can’t know exactly what it will be like. But I have lots of hope that it will be again be full of real-life togetherness. 

See you at the con, my friends. We’ll catch up and and laugh and cry and talk about everything. 

Fingers crossed. 


Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|BookShop|IndieBound|Powell’s| iBooks|Google Play 

Read an excerptVisit the author’s website. Visit the book at the publisherChat with the author on Facebook or Twitter.

Spoiler-Free Thoughts On Invincible So Far

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… an Amazon Prime original animated series about superheroes? Interesting.

I hadn’t heard of Invincible at all until my friend mentioned it, and I was shocked I hadn’t seen anything about it. Me, loving superheroes, immediately watched it. At the time I watched it, the first three episodes were out, and I binged all three in one night (even though it was like one in the morning when I started, and each one is forty-five minutes long).

Funnily enough, after I watched it, I started getting ads for it everywhere. Which I don’t mind, but it is odd. You would think the algorithm would know that I’m already super into it (haha SUPER).

Anyways, there’s only four episodes out right now, so it’s a little soon to be making calls about whether or not it’s a masterpiece or revolutionary or anything like that. However, I wanted to talk about some of the reasons I like it so far and why I think you should give it a try.

To give some context, Invincible is about a high school student named Mark Grayson, who is the son of the world’s greatest superhero. He, however, is a late bloomer coming into his powers. After finally getting them, he becomes a superhero known as Invincible.

Before I discuss the reasons the show itself is good, I wanted to take a minute to address how fantastic the cast is. Just looking at the lineup, you know you’re in for something special. Steven Yuen, J. K. Simmons, Zazie Beets, and Zachary Quinto are just a few of the amazingly talented people involved in this show. So, definitely a promising cast.

What I expected from this show and what I got were two totally different things. I can almost guarantee it will knock you on your ass within the first episode, which is something I can appreciate in a show. You think you have a standard, run of the mill superhero show on your hands, but you don’t know what you’re in for.

It’s fun, it’s colorful, it’s humorous, it’s all the positive things a superhero show should be. But it’s also dark, and mysterious, and more than a little disturbing.

The characters are relatable, and better yet, likeable. Invincible has Superman-like powers, but unlike Superman, he’s more human. I don’t just mean that literally, but in terms of character. He’s a high school kid, struggling with hormones and navigating bullies and crushes, and he can accidentally be a dick sometimes, but is all around a good guy. He’s human. Between Superman’s perfection and Batman’s unyielding brooding and moodiness, humanity is not something you see often in heroes.

On top of that, the secondary characters are so much more than just extras in the main character’s life. They’re more than the best friend that offers one liner advice, and more than the girlfriend that gets captured by a villain and becomes the “damsel in distress.” They’re their own, unique, fleshed out characters that are a lot of fun and have a lot of personality.

Aside from the characters, the fight scenes are pretty enjoyable. I really like the animation style, it’s very much like watching a comic book come to life. Seeing combat in this style is especially interesting. Fighting in comics has always been something I struggle following along with, just because I feel like a lot of the movements and punches can get lost in between the panels. To me, comic fights end up being hard to follow and it’s unclear what’s going on. Invincible does not have this problem, so you get all the pros of the comic style with none of the cons.

So, yes, I think this show is really great so far and I’m really enjoying it. But it’s important to address the issues it has, too. To be clear, this is not an issue that is specific to Invincible, but is something that seems to be an issue in almost all adult animation I see.

Not to be a total stick in the mud or anything, but adult animation consistently has the problem of trying to prove that it is for adults by being overly gratuitous in terms of gore, violence, sex, etc. Adult cartoons always seem to be trying too hard to show it isn’t for kids by putting in shocking amounts of blood and nudity, when it’s not really called for. Don’t get me wrong, I love violence and nudity! But I think there’s a line between tasteful and too much. And adult animation almost always crosses that line in an attempt to show that it is, in fact, adult.

Invincible seems to be guilty of this as well, but only in small doses. It’s not a constant or consistent problem, but it is note-worthy, at least. It’s not raunchy or full of sex or anything, but it can be gory. So much so that I was watching a scene through my fingers in shock and a bit of disgust.

So, aside from Invincible seeming to be afflicted with the usual adult animation curse of being overly graphic in one way or another, it’s really great! I do, in fact, recommend checking it out if you have Prime, since it’s free and whatnot.

I have high hopes for this show and am really looking forward to the rest of the season!

Have you seen it yet? What do you think so far? Who’s your favorite character? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

Reader Request Week 2021 #10: Short Bits

And now, some of the questions I didn’t answer at length, answered briefly:

Jim Randolph:

I gather one of the things that you get satisfaction from is the work (both art and music) that you have had the opportunity to commission on your own. I’d love to hear more about how you make that happen. And are you planning a music commission for the new novel?

Most I make commissions happen by contacting the artist and saying something along the lines of “Hey, I like your work, can I commission something?” Sometimes they’re too busy, but often they’re not, and when they’re not then we figure out if what they want to charge is what I want to spend, and so on. I enjoy being able to support artists with actual money, and also getting cool work, so generally it works out just fine. With regard to a music commission for the new novel: We’ll see. I don’t have anyone particular in mind, but we have a year before it comes out, so there’s time to think about it.

Paul Wiley:

Considering the current states of society, technology, and the Earth, what are your thoughts on colonizing the Moon, Mars, and/or other possible sites in the solar system? Yay or nay?

We have the technology now to do it if we really wanted, albeit not necessarily easily or comfortably or cheaply; the question is whether we really want to and what it would entail. And while it’s not an either/or thing, I think we’re generally better off working on this planet before going off to fuck up another one.

Richard Gibbons:

In the 2028 election, you vote for Republicans for president, congress, and senate. What has happened that has resulted in this outcome?

It’s more likely I bounce to the moon on shoes made of flubber than vote straight ticket GOP in seven years, so, yeah, I don’t see this scenario happening.

Penn Davies:

Have you ever tried out or trained in any weapons or martial arts, modern or historical, as part of research for a book?

As research for a book? No.

David Border:

Are you into Historical Sites, such as Lincoln Memorial, The Mall, Smithsonian Museums and such? Have you visited them?

I used to live in the DC area, so, sure, I’ve visited the various museums and historical sites there, and also in other places. Am I hugely into them? I don’t think so, but on the other hand if I’m there and they are easily accessible to me, I’m happy to go to them.

Gottacook:

How’s the Mini Countryman holding up?

Actually very well. This month marks the 10th anniversary of me taking receipt of it, and in all that time I can’t recall a major mechanical issue. Part of that is due to me maintaining it fairly well — for eight of those years I had it under an extended care contract where the Mini dealership would pick it up, service it and detail it, and then return it, all without me having to do anything. Also it has relatively few miles on it — not quite 80k after a decade. This is because I don’t have to commute for work, and also because if I travel further than, say, Chicago, I tend to rent a car for the extended trip. I actually need to go get it serviced soon, but once I do I expect it to chug along happily. At some point I’ll get a newer car, but I’m not in a huge rush.

Gregory:

You’ve mentioned you’ve suffered a miscarriage. What effect did this have on you? Do you feel it’s something guys can talk about freely?

I wrote a piece about it when it happened, which you can find here, and which still very well encapsulates what my thinking about it is. I can’t say whether other men talk about miscarriages openly, but I think they should be able to and I think it’s okay for men, and anyone else, to mourn the loss.

Pete L:

You’ve had your fair share of haters, but have you ever had to deal with the other side of the coin, e.g. stalkers?

I had a stalker a while back and had to file a police report about them. I’m happy to say that the situation resolved itself reasonably well for everyone involved; filing the police report helped convince the person they needed to get back on their meds, and since then I believe they have continued to maintain their mental health, which makes me happy. It was really a “best case scenario” version of a stalking, and as such I don’t tend to compare it to what many other folks, particularly women, have to go through when they are being stalked.

Rick M:

I can envision you as a mischievous grandfather. What plans do you have in place to subvert your daughter’s undoubtedly excellent (yet hypothetical) parenting?

To subvert? None, since I think parenting is hard enough without some relative getting in there and messing up how one raises their kid. But I certainly plan to have fun with any potential grandchildren. I think it’s possible to be a mischievous grandparent without making my kid’s parenting duties more difficult.

BenInIndy:

It seems you have opinions on most every subject and freely share your thoughts on multiple topics all across the spectrum. What is the topic you have least background to provide an opinion and what is that opinion?

I don’t actually know! In fairness to myself, I do tend to preface opinions on subjects I don’t know a whole lot about with “Here is me talking out of my ass” or something similar, or I skip them entirely. But it’s difficult for me to say accurately what I know the least about. That’s something someone else would probably have to identify.

Colonel Snuggledorf:

I wonder if you’d be interested in sharing your thoughts on the proposals for a $15 federal minimum wage.

Mostly a) that it should be higher than that to keep up with what it should be had it been indexed to inflation all this time, b) that whatever wage they set it should be indexed to inflation moving forward so we can stop having to try to drag it forward to what it would have been and should be. And then general thought that if we really believe as a nation people have to work to live, then we should make it so they can live on what we pay them to work. That seems pretty simple.

Tim:

Any updates for OLD MAN’S WAR on Netflix?

It’s still in development and I’m still getting option payments on it, and aside from that I can’t say much. When/if I can say more, you’ll know.

William Patrick:

Given your love for movies, why don’t you have a home theater?

I mean, dude, I have a 65-inch OLED screen hanging in my living room, how much bigger and nicer do I need the screen to be? I’m doing all right on this score!

Dan S:

You are given the authority to create a new monument representing 2020. You have unlimited budget and can place it anywhere in the United States (including unlimited eminent domain powers). What in your mind does it memorialize, what does it look like, and where would you put it?

An eternal trash fire at Mar-A-Lago sounds about right.

Thank you everyone for your questions this year! Let’s do it again, oh, in 2022.

— JS

Reader Request Week 2021 #9: Short Writery Bits

In which I quickly answer some questions of a writeresque bent. Let’s get started!

Chris:

What are your views/experiences with collaborations – whether in a book, film, or television setting or other? How have you dealt with conflicts in these situations? Compromising your vision say with another writer’s vision? How flexible have you had to be? What are the challenges? And have you ever been in a situation in which you were a “hired gun” so to speak and had to write what someone else wanted you to write and how have you handled this challenge ?

I don’t typically collaborate because I find it as much work if not more than writing alone, so why not just write alone? That said, I have written things where I have had to take input from other people, and in that situation, I just make the point to myself that I’m writing for someone else and therefore the goal is to make a final product they’re happy with. When you have that as a goal, taking direction is not that difficult. Also, in the future I don’t rule out collaborating with another writer, but if I do I will be likely to be the boss in that situation, so they will write to my specification, not the other way around.

Jeffery Otterman:

What words inspire you and what words do you despise?

I like “We’ll pay what you asked for this project,” and dislike “We’d like your work, but we can’t pay for it.”

Ctein:

Dear John,

Since you’ve got movie critic chops…

What did you think of TOMOROWLAND?

I personally enjoyed it, although I think in a general sense it was a movie in search of an audience. I suspect the reason it got made was because Brad Bird had done very well for Disney on the Pixar side of things, and they were willing to throw him a live-action bone to keep him in the fold (it paid off, too, as Incredibles 2 did gangbusters business). I wouldn’t have greenlit it as it was (at least, not for as much as Disney paid for it), but I’m happy it exists in the world.

Lazysubculturalgirl:

Do you think talent is more genetics, or does it come from being surrounded by certain influences as a child? I’m thinking in particular of sports greats who also have very talented children, but there are a great many acting dynasties, as well as writers who grew up in a family of writers.

I don’t think it’s an either/or situation; it could be either or both or neither. There were no professional writers in my immediate family nor any obvious genetic predilection toward creativity, and yet I became a creative and professional writer; Athena, of course, has a professional writer in her house with whom she share genes and who actively encourages her to develop her writing skills, but she might eventually decide to do something else with her professional life, which would be fine. I do think that if you are in an environment where a certain skill or profession is part of your everyday life, it’s easier to see yourself doing it, and also you’re likely to have “a foot in the door,” as it were, because of connections and knowledge. But I also know that for every kid of an athlete or writer (for example) who becomes an athlete or writer, there are others who pursue completely different professions.

Dan:

Do you have anything in place to make sure that your works are protected in the event that you are no longer able to look after your works?

Yes; it’s called a will. The disposition of my intellectual property is dealt with there (short version: Krissy controls it if I’m dead/incapacitated, then Athena). I’m not especially precious about my work after my death; as far as I’m concerned its job will be to keep Krissy and Athena comfortable through their lives.

Cesc:

Why is there so much human totalitarianism and monarchy in the novels of not so right wing authors as yourself?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me: Because it’s fun to write about. It’s certainly not an endorsement of those political systems, however.

Brown Robin:

There are literally a bajillion books out there, most of which are never read. In a world of diminishing resources and a culture of diminishing returns, why do we need even one more?

Well, first, I disagree with the assertion of diminishing resources and diminishing returns, especially as regards books, and second, why not? Writing a book is an accomplishment independent of anyone reading it, and if it gives the author satisfaction to have written it, then that’s a good enough reason for the book to exist. I mean, I play my guitar and will probably never be a professional musician, but playing the guitar makes me happy and therefore it has value in itself. Not everything has to be about someone else.

dchotin:

How should book titles be printed on the spine? Vertical, so that the title is easily readable when the book is properly shelved; or horizontal, so that we can easily read it where the book lies carelessly on the side table where we tossed it 2 months ago? 

I mean, I can read both equally easily, so… either way is fine with me? I have no real preference? The only real preference I have is for consistent cover/spine design across a series. That way when they’re in a bookshelf together they look nice.

Thomas:

Do you consider there to be a difference between writing for reading text and spoken text? i.e. do you feel there a distinct between in medium between the two?

The two are very distinct, in part because spoken text is as much about the voice delivering the text (or, if viewed, the body language of the person) as it is the text itself. Text meant to be read has a very different dynamic, even when it’s dialogue (i.e., acting as speech). As a writer you can really mess yourself up if you forget these are separate modes.

Charles:

Now that Athena is working for your blog in a non-term position, have you found any difficulties in reconciling being her dad and her boss? I totally understand if that’s more behind the curtain than you’re interested in getting, but figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Actually I’ve found being her boss pretty congenial. It helps I had an idea of who she was prior to hiring her, so that to some extent the job could be tailored around her as much as it was tailored around the things I wanted and needed in a staff member. To that end she’s being doing what I’ve asked of her, and she’s writing things for the site that I wouldn’t write about, either because I have differing interests, or because we’re in different life stages and have different life experiences. I have really enjoyed reading her work, and also watching her develop as a writer (and helping her do so). She’s good staff. I think I made a good decision hiring her.

— JS

New Books and ARCs, 4/2/21

No foolin’, April’s first stack of new books and ARCs has got something for just about everybody in it. What here is a book you’d like to have for your own this spring? Share in the comments!

Reader Request Week 2021 #8: Local Favorites

srs asks:

Whenever we visit family in Ohio, they like to take us to Marion’s pizza. As an Ohio resident, can you explain the appeal?

(I didn’t think it was bad, just completely unremarkable and not deserving the enthusiasm)

We have a Marion’s near me (they’re Marion’s Piazza’s, not “Marion’s Pizza”; it’s describing a place, not a food), and I would agree with the assessment that the pizza there is perfectly fine but not particularly memorable or exceptional in any significant way. Likewise the ambiance is not especially notable; the one near me has an interior that is meant to resemble a piazza, which is doesn’t, really, but it’s their thing, so fine. You order in a line and then you pick up when your order is called and then you eat and then you leave. It’s fine! But it’s not the greatest dining experience you’ll ever experience (and if it is, get out more).

It’s not great! But it’s local, and it’s what people grew up with and establish as their baseline of what pizza (or burgers, or burritos or whatever) are and should be. It’s their version, the version that looms large in their head. And therefore, it’s the best! And therefore, they want to share it with you.

And it get it — not with Marion’s, which I did not grow up with, but with In-N-Out Burger, which I did. To me, the In-N-Out Double Double (animal style, of course) is the platonic ideal of the fast food burger, the burger all other fast food burgers aspire to be, and largely fail at becoming. It’s not that those other burgers are bad, some of them are quite good, they’re just not the Double Double. They can’t be blamed for that. The only thing that can be a Double Double is a Double Double.

Then people who did not grow up with In-N-Out try a Double Double and… they think it’s fine? But not the greatest burger in the history of fast food burgers and perhaps not worth making an actual pilgrimage for, and waiting in either In-N-Out’s ridiculously long drive-thru lines or jamming one’s self into their famously crowded (in pre-COVID times) dining rooms. “It’s good but it’s not Whataburger/Culver’s/insert regional chain they grew up with here” is their take.

Which makes sense to me, because that’s what they grew up with. That’s what’s established in their mind as the platonic fast food burger. And they are no more wrong about that as I am about the Double Double being the best fast food burger, or srs’ family thinking Marion’s is the exemplar of pizza, or anyone thinking their own particular area’s specific weird food of choice is pretty amazing and worth sharing.

The last one, incidentally, is how Krissy and I found ourselves at Maid-Rite a couple months after moving to Ohio, because locals swore their loose-meat sandwiches were legendary and we couldn’t consider ourselves locals until we had some of our own. Well, we wanted to experience the local thing! So we went! And it was fine! But also I’ve never developed a fanatical love for loose-meat sandwiches in the time since. I missed the window in which the “it’s local and therefore awesome” filter would get passed over them. This is also why I am entirely immune to the so-called “charms” of “Cincinnati Chili,” which strikes me as an abomination of the word “chili” and also of the word “food.” But other people love it. I am content to let them love it. They can have my share. More for them.

The thing about local favorites is this: when people are taking you to the local favorite, what they’re doing is saying “this is a what I love, and is a part of how I see myself, I want to share it with you.” It’s not about the food so much as it is about the experience and what it means to them. And one can certainly honor that impulse, even if one finds the actual food underwhelming. And they will do the same, when you are sharing your personal regional favorite, if you have one, which you almost certainly do.

— JS

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