Mid-Weekend Update, 5/28/23
Posted on May 28, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 10 Comments
Balticon has been absolutely lovely and Krissy and I are having a fabulous time, both at the convention and in Baltimore. This weekend there is also a large Indian festival and a heavy metal festival downtown, so it’s quite the melding of cultures in the streets and also in the elevators of the hotel. Everyone seems to be having a good time no matter what they’re in town for, and that’s terrific.
Shown above is the medallion for the Robert A. Heinlein Award, which I got at the opening ceremonies of the convention. The head of the Heinlein Society joked to me that I would have to wear the medallion around my neck all convention long, and I replied that, oh, in fact, I was going to do just that. And I have, not only because, well, how often are you going to be able to wear a medallion and not have it be entirely out of place, but also because people at the convention are curious about the award, and I want them to be able to see it and interact with it. So yes, a fair number of people fondling my medallion this weekend, in a perfectly appropriate and acceptable way.
The convention runs today and tomorrow, and today I have two panels including Heinlein Award Winner presentation, and then tomorrow I have a reading where I’ll be reading a bit from Starter Villain and something else I have coming up real soon. It’ll be fun. And I hope wherever you are you’re having a fun weekend as well.
The Big Idea: Yukimi Ogawa
Posted on May 26, 2023 Posted by Athena Scalzi 3 Comments
It’s a special talent to write in a language that you’ve learned along the way. In this Big Idea for author Yukimi Ogawa’s new collection of short stories, Like Smoke, Like Light, she explains why this choice was an essential one for her.
Years ago, somewhere on the internet, I saw someone remark that they thought people in Japanese anime were all white, a very weird observation that does not make sense. My first reaction was, “What, do you think we Japanese people see white people as those who have pink hair and purple eyes?”
This was the very first spark of the Colorful Island stories, which constitute almost half of Like Smoke, Like Light, my first collection of short stories. (Most, but not all, of the other half deals with yōkai, beings from my country’s folklore.) On this island that I imagined, you can find all the beautiful colors of jewelry on human skin, and the nation as a whole survives by showing these colorful and patterned people off to the other parts of the world.
After I wrote the first story in this world, “The Colorless Thief,” I realized I wanted to create a place where the rarity of the skin colors and patterns is all that matters—where your gender, age, or the family you were born to won’t do anything for you if you cannot offer what the government wants from you. And if these colors and patterns are so precious, so important, then they must be genuine, I reasoned. Like natural gems versus synthetic ones, you have to be born with the colors or patterns, and artificially adding patterns to your skin or altering your patterns in any way should be very obscene, or even a crime.
In the earlier stories set in this world, “The Colorless Thief,” “Ever Changing, Ever Turning,” and “Blue Gray Blue,” I explored how the colorful and patterned people, who are supposedly the elites of their nation, have to deal with their fear of losing what they have. It was fun and heartbreaking at the same time to write about them—when your colors change, the way the whole society treats you changes, and then your world is not the same anymore. Then later on, the character of Kiriko came along. Kiriko is a completely colorless and patternless person, who has been forced to work in the “backcloth” of the city—an unimportant laborer employed at an atelier that sells patterned goods, like fabrics for furniture including curtains and table cloths.
That is not the only thing the atelier does, though; she and her partner can mitigate physical discomfort like headaches and allergic reactions by drawing patterns on human skin. However, in this island where it’s so important that patterns be “genuine,” she and her partner cannot fully exert their skills, at least not openly.. Despite the challenges, she cannot help but feel grateful that she found this job, doing what she loves every day no matter what others may think of her.
Through Kiriko’s eyes, I was able to add more texture to the island. Those first three stories were more about losing something you always took for granted, but Kiriko knows what it is like to have nothing in the first place. Conversing with her in my mind, she and I came to agree that there is only so much we can do about the world around us—but in her stories, I let her search for a shape of the world with which she can cope, even if she isn’t entirely comfortable with that shape.
I think one of the reasons I chose English as my writing language lies near this conversation. English is my second language, as you can probably see when you read this book, and I still fumble for command of it. I cannot speak it most of the time. I’ve been wondering why I do this; I’m a slow writer to start with, and engaging in the second language further slows the process. There are things I cannot express in English.
But after seeing my stories gathered in one book, the stories that I had to take so much trouble, to go so out of my way, to complete, I think I have a better idea of why. I did not, do not, like many things about myself and my life, and I needed a way to change it, even if in fiction: chiseling it and pruning it, and painting it over and polishing it.
As a writer, I needed a tool that I acquired, instead of something I’ve always had, always taken for granted. I still worry about not being up to the standards of the world, but I’d like to believe that the world shouldn’t have the ability to bend me. That I want to be the one who can choose the shape of the world around me. And the distance from the world that my second language gives me somehow became a sort of shield, when I need to deal with that world’s raw, unwanted shape.
Like Smoke, Like Light: Amazon|Amazon UK|Amazon CA|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s
View From a Hotel Window, 5/26/23: Baltimore
Posted on May 26, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 17 Comments
This hotel window shot has it all: A parking lot, yes, but also an impressive building in the federal style, and a pleasant downtown view in general. It’s a lovely day in Baltimore, and the part of the downtown I’m in is nicely walkable. Charm City, indeed!
Balticon starts this evening and I’m here all weekend doing panels and events. If you’re here, I’ll see you, and if you’re not here, a question: How are you planning to spend your Memorial Day weekend?
The Big Idea: Jean Marie Ward
Posted on May 25, 2023 Posted by Athena Scalzi 4 Comments
Sometimes, it takes more than one try to really nail down a story. In author Jean Marie Ward’s case, the third time was the charm, resulting in her new novel, Siren Bridge. Read on to see how each iteration of this story came together to form this final novel.
JEAN MARIE WARD:
I stole the first Big Idea for my novella Siren Bridge from my late writing partner, Teri Smith.
Shortly before her death, Teri began a series about a deliciously, cheerfully, unapologetically evil sorceress named Vivienne. Viv’s first adventure, “Dragon Bait”, was published in the 2009 anthology Under the Rose. But Teri left the second barely begun, with Viv’s big personality trapped in the body of a small calico cat.
I wanted to finish that story as a tribute to Teri. On a more selfish level, I wanted to figure out how Viv rescued herself. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the story to gel.
Which brings me to the second Big Idea I stole.
A few years later, an editor invited me to participate in a mermaid-themed anthology. As I sifted through potential story ideas, it occurred to me that, instead of trying to finish Teri’s story, I should write an entirely new Viv adventure—a funny one, of course. Viv was born for comedy. All I needed was a finny foil. How about a siren with the delivery of a Wagnerian soprano? Great! And she’ll sing about…
That’s when my muse went AWOL. I needed a profoundly silly way for my soggy Sieglinda to lure men to their doom, and I had nada. So I decided to consult an expert in the whole guy thing: my husband, “Honey, what’s the most ridiculous thing a siren could sing about would that persuade a guy to offer himself as lunch?”
He blinked at me behind his glasses. “Like what, dessert?”
“That’s it!” I cried. “Struuuuuudel!”
My husband immediately decamped to the basement. I didn’t see him again for two days. When he finally emerged, he pleaded with me to never ever yodel again.
The anthology got shelved. But flushed with pride at my achievement, I sent it to an editor friend who knew Teri’s work. As gently as possible, he let me know my protagonist. Was. Not. Viv. In D&D terms, my character was chaotic good. There were lines she wouldn’t cross. Viv had no such scruples.
He was right. But I liked the story. It needed a lot of work. Even so, the scene between Not-Viv and her siren nemesis? That was pure gold, worth every rewrite it took to raise the rest of the story to its level.
Which brings me to the novella’s third Big Idea, my Big Idea: What I wanted for my protagonist and her world.
I wanted a woman protagonist who leaned into her nature and fell into the exciting scrapes traditionally reserved for male characters like Han Solo and Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes. I wanted Oleander Jones, the character formerly known as Not-Viv, to live in a world I wouldn’t mind carrying in my head for as long as it took to write her adventures. A Steampunk/weird west world with magic, great clothes, and marvelous contraptions. A world where diversity is celebrated. A world where even the worst curse could hold the key to happiness if you own the courage to grasp it.
I admit it’s a fairy tale. The United States grew to greatness in the American West. But our forebears committed unspeakable acts in the name of that dream, and their legacy is one we have yet to fully confront. But I cling to the hope that Neil Gaiman’s wonderful paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton got it right: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Science fiction, fantasy, romance, adventure, mystery—all the genres we call fiction are simply fairy tales grown-ups tell themselves. This is mine:
Oleander Jones knew the rules for successful lady adventurers, and she broke them all.
Now she’s got a reward on her head bigger than the Logressan national debt. The New Dominion Territorial Militia, the full detecting might of Falchion Apprehension Services, and every no-good one-eyed snake who could read a wanted poster are on her tail. And there’s only one way to get where she needs to go—through the killing ground of the biggest, meanest, man-eating, avian monster Roche County has ever seen. Dead across Siren Bridge.
Siren Bridge: Amazon
Posted on May 25, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 17 Comments
Away from the computer for most of the day because Krissy and I are headed to Balticon, where, among the many other things I will do, I will be picking up the Robert A. Heinlein Award, which I am pretty jazzed about, I have to say. I’ll also be doing a reading, a signing, and several panels. It’ll be fun! If you’re in or around the Baltimore area this weekend and are looking for something to do, it’s not to late to register at the convention. See you there.
Krissy and I are actually driving to Balticon because once we looked at our flight options out of Dayton, we realized that the amount of time we’d spend traveling by plane (including travel to airports and time between flights) would be nearly exactly the same as driving by car, and this way, at the end of it, we wouldn’t have to pick up a car rental. So that was nice. It does mean we’ll be on the road a while. Good news is, Krissy and I are good at making conversation with each other.
I’ll probably pop in a couple of times over the weekend, but just in case I don’t: Happy Memorial Day Weekend, y’all. Enjoy your long weekend.
Tina Turner, RIP
Posted on May 24, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 17 Comments
Like many a young white teen in the 80s, this is the song that acquainted me with Tina Turner; prior to that I knew she existed, but I couldn’t have told you anything that she had done or why she was important in the realm of popular music. This lack of knowledge, I am happy to say, did not last, and in time I dug into her discography backwards and forwards. It was a rewarding experience.
Nothing I could write here could do justice to her life or her work, so I will simply say that she was, as her own song would say, simply the best. I’m glad I lived in a time with her. I’ll be listening to her for some time to come.
Posted on May 23, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 6 Comments
Of what? I don’t know, man, what ya got?
Busy day today. Cool doings are transpiring. I look forward to sharing them with you soon.
The Big Idea: William C. Tracy
Posted on May 23, 2023 Posted by Athena Scalzi 4 Comments
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, don’t judge a monster by its mushrooms. Author William C. Tracy’s Big Idea brings us back into The Biomass Conflux series with his newest novel, To A Fungus Unknown.
WILLIAM C. TRACY:
Forty years after landing on Lida, the colony still isn’t finished.
Agetha has survived many more battles than she anticipated when she first landed on her new home planet. She’s older and wiser, has gained family and lost loved ones. And yet her reward for four decades of service is to be pushed to the colony’s outer edges with the other aging Generationals.
But that was only the beginning of her adventure.
The biomass has spent years studying the intruders who landed on its surface, carving a new home from its very essence. Never satisfied in its attempt to communicate with this new and invasive species, finally it has found a way to express its intentions. The colonists may never be the same.
Discover the fate of the colony in the second book of The Biomass Conflux trilogy.
Life on a fungus planet, or “Oops, I accidently wrote body horror.”
This is the second book in my eventual trilogy about colonists landing on a planet covered by sentient fungus. Now that I’d gotten all the preliminary introductions and worldbuilding out of the way (which you can read about in my previous Big Idea post here), I was planning to have a lot of fun with this one!
I started writing it, and immediately introduced a new character—one who was already influenced by the sentient biomass. Thinking and writing about a loss of control is one of the scariest things for me, partially because my mother suffered with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and I’m potentially at risk for it as well.
Exploring this loss of control turned out to be cathartic in some sense, as I could write characters who either didn’t remember what they had done or didn’t understand why they were doing what they did, or in the worst case, could see their body doing one thing when they were desperately trying to do another.
To make it better (or perhaps worse?), the biomass doesn’t think like we do. It doesn’t understand human individuality. So, it simply suppresses the parts of the people who are screaming about the loss of control and makes them unconcerned about what’s happening to them. Everyone wins, right? People are mind-controlled, but don’t feel bad about it.
The whole book took on a creepy overtone as I started to flesh out this concept, but this horror aspect gave me a chance to lean into another aspect I like to write about: finding out the monster is not who you think it is. Humans, being human, will strive to their last breath to get out of any sort of confinement, even a mental one.
Once that happens in this story, the human colonists can be in direct contact with an alien being who thinks completely differently than them. I wrote three different avenues of contact at the same time. One unconscious, one very intentional and scientific, and another through rational realization and putting together pieces of a puzzle. Once we understand how to communicate with a monster, then those parts that are horrific start to become more reasonable, or at least understood, if still not desirable.
What does an intelligence that spans a planet think like? Does it have a concept of language or math when a gestalt mind can comprehend everything at once? When it drills down to specifics, is the whole intelligence concentrating on that one thing, or can such an intelligence even lose focus at all?
These questions are not answered yet, but I’m very interested to find out more about them in the third book. However, there’s another side to consider: the humans. There are a bunch of different ways to react to finding out the thing completely surrounding the colony is not only alive, but conscious of what the people are doing there. And that point will lead into the third book of the series, where people choose what side to take, and in return, which side the biomass chooses to take!
For now, I hope you enjoy the first two books of The Biomass Conflux, with the conclusion to come in early 2024. If you haven’t read the first book yet, you can find Of Mycelium and Men here and an intermediate short story, Down Among the Mushrooms, here.
To A Fungus Unknown: Amazon
The Winner of the Starter Villain ARC Contest
Posted on May 22, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 12 Comments
It’s George Berry, who was one of three who correctly guessed the number (“792”), and then was the one chosen by Alexa when I asked her to pick a number between one and three. His ARC will be signed and personalized and sent on its way today. Congrats to him and thank you to everyone who played along!
(And yes, I will remove any errant cat hairs before shipping.)
For everyone else: Remember that you can pre-order signed and personalized hardcover versions of Starter Villain via the fine folks at Subterranean Press; I’m going to be driving up to their warehouse in September to sign the whole bunch. That said, they’re at 70% of their cap already, so if you want to be sure you get one, go ahead and do that pre-order now.
I’m Giving Away a Starter Villain ARC! You Could Win It! Yes, YOU!!
Posted on May 19, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 2,134 Comments
They just arrived! And this one, modelled here with Spice, is the one I’m giving away!
Here’s all you have to do: I asked Krissy to think of a number between 0 and 1000, and her friend Karen heard the number as she said it. Guess the number in the comment thread here.
And now, rules:
1. Only one guess per person. Additional guesses, whether in the same comment or in subsequent comments, will be disqualified. Also, comments for this thread are only for numerical guesses; every other sort of comment will be removed. Only guesses in the comment thread for this post will be considered.
2. When you leave your comment, put an email in the comment form that I will be able to contact you at (in the part of the form that says “email,” not in the body of the comment itself, unless you want everyone to see your email address). If you don’t leave a viable email, I won’t be able to contact you to get a shipping address.
3. If more than one person correctly guesses the number, I will ask Alexa or Google Assistant to randomly pick a number in the field of how many people correctly guessed, and then go chronologically among the guessers until I hit that number. That person will win the ARC.
4. If no one correctly guesses the number, then I will pick the next closest number up from the correct number as the winner. If there are multiple people who have guessed that number, I’ll proceed per point three above.
5. This is open to anyone worldwide; yes, I’ll pay shipping for whatever country you’re in (note: If you’re in Russia at the moment I can’t guarantee arrival; I’m guessing shipping to there is weird and may not even be possible).
6. If you like I will sign and/or personalize the ARC.
7. Contest is open for the 48 hours after I publish this post, after which time the comment thread will automatically close. If you miss that window, sorry!
8. I’ll announce the winner after I’ve contacted them via email about their shipping address. So, probably early next week.
There you have it, good luck!
The Big Idea: Scott Fulford
Posted on May 18, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 8 Comments
How was the state of your wallet during the prime pandemic years? As Scott Fulford explains in this Big Idea for The Pandemic Paradox, for many Americans it was not nearly as bad as it could have been, and indeed, possibly the opposite.
The novel coronavirus suddenly seemed to be everywhere in March 2020. We didn’t know much yet about how to treat it, how it spread, or how deadly it was. To halt its spread, many businesses shut down, furloughing or sending employees home to figure out how to work remotely. Twenty-two million people were fired over the next month. Others had to keep going to work in person, facing terrifying new risks. As our workplaces, churches, schools, and daycares shut down, we were increasingly isolated, cut off from social connections.
My wife and I spent the pandemic juggling two full-time remote jobs and our two small boys who were four months and four years old at the start of the pandemic. We sewed (bad and uncomfortable) masks out of an old pillow case and baked (delicious) sandwich bread when we couldn’t buy any at the store. We worried about our kids who seemed to be growing up thinking grandma was an interactive video.
But I also worried about the financial misery that millions of families were about to experience. As an economist, I study the financial ups and downs that people face and how they deal with them. A survey I’d conducted the year before the pandemic found that 40 percent of families could cover their expenses for less than a month if they lost their main source of income.
As unemployment reached a level we hadn’t seen since the Great Depression, my research suggested that financial pain was soon to come. And it would spread, as unemployed families reduced their spending, causing more businesses to lay off staff.
But here’s the surprise and the big idea for my book: the financial health of the average U.S. household actually improved from January 2020 to June 2020 by just about any measure. Of course, some households were doing worse financially than before the pandemic and there was a great deal of unfairness—from essential workers who would have been better financially if they had been fired to small business funding that often bypassed Black-owned businesses but helped larger, less affected, white-owned businesses. But on average, most households were doing better financially.
How did this paradox arise? While the full story is more complicated, it largely comes down to two surprises.
The first surprise was the effective policy response. The federal government spent around five times as much in response to the pandemic as it did following the 2008 financial crisis. That money supported the newly unemployed, sent most U.S. residents thousands of dollars whether they were unemployed or not, and gave money to almost all small (and many not so small) businesses.
The second surprise was that many people spent less. They didn’t go on vacations or go out to restaurants or do so many other things that make life fun. Because of the effective policy response, most households’ incomes didn’t go down, so savings built up, helping protect more people from financial shocks. People later spent some of that money buying stuff, causing the epic supply chain snarls and inflation in 2021 and 2022.
My new book, The Pandemic Paradox: How the COVID Crisis Made Americans More Financially Secure, explains this paradox and the many other changes wrought by the pandemic. In the months following March 2020, I conducted more surveys and briefed government officials about what was going on so they could make informed decisions. Everyone was hungry to understand the rapidly changing world. I realized that the work I was doing—explaining what we knew, and often did not know, about the economic and social changes occurring—could help others understand the new world.
Economics has surprising overlaps with speculative fiction. Economics is most often asking the question: “What if?” For example, it’s impossible to ask: “What did the pandemic change?” without implicitly asking: “What if the pandemic didn’t happen?” And good speculative fiction is often built around the same question by imagining a world where different technologies or magics exist and asking: What would be different and how would society work?
Of course, good speculative fiction has to then tell a good story, while good economics does not. In my book, I wanted to bridge this gap by connecting bigger societal changes to individual stories. So I drew on the surveys I conducted to tell some of the individual stories that make up the big story of this crazy time. The story of Sofia (not her real name) whose finances were precarious after she lost her job in March 2020 and missed a mortgage payment but, with the help of expanded unemployment and other relief, was financially better off in June 2020 than before the pandemic. Of Marcus, who also lost his job, but who pandemic aid policies missed and ended up selling his possessions to make ends meet. And of Marvin, who retired early after being fired and was worried his savings wouldn’t last.
After all, the story of the pandemic is millions of individual stories, combining and interacting in surprising ways. Some stories were painful and sad. Other stories were about new freedoms, such as new financial stability, starting a new business, or the flexibility of remote work. We all had our unique pandemic experience and I hope the book helps us understand each other’s experiences, and the pandemic’s larger consequences for our economy and society.
The views expressed here and in the book are the author’s and not necessarily the views of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the United States.
The Pandemic Paradox: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | Princeton University Press
Author socials: Personal site | Twitter
Don’t Buy This Place
Posted on May 17, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 50 Comments
There’s this building in the neighboring town of Piqua (yes, home of Captain Underpants) that I pass by occasionally, and I’m a little obsessed with it, because it is slowly but inexorably being eaten by vines, and no one seems to be doing anything about it. The building is for sale by owner (you can just see the sign, off-kilter, in the window), but I don’t know who would want it, nor could I recommend in good conscience that anyone buy it except possible to tear it down. For all that, I want to know its story and how it got into the state it’s currently at. The house haunts me, basically. There’s a tale here.
Any buildings like this in your personal history – one that you have no connection with, but still have a powerful interest in?
A Quick Note On Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Posted on May 16, 2023 Posted by Athena Scalzi 23 Comments
Marvel has always had a bit of a tonal issue across their cinematic universe, and even within singular franchises, such as Thor. There was one franchise in particular though that I was positive I had nailed down in terms of what to expect. Guardians of the Galaxy was one where I was sure of what I was going to get: loveable assholes being funny whilst fighting in spaceships. There was never much more to it than space lasers, iconic music, and comedy, and that was fine. So I was extremely surprised when I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 last night, and cried about ten different times.
Vol 3. was so unlike what I was expecting. In fact, I had pretty low expectations since the most recent Marvel movie I saw in theaters was Thor: Love and Thunder, and it ended up being the worst Thor movie, the worst Marvel movie, and one of the worst movies I’ve literally ever seen in my life.
So, yeah, I wasn’t particularly excited for Vol 3., but I figured I’d give a shot. And I am so glad I did.
Vol 3. was emotionally complex, and managed to keep its comedic tone while being a real tearjerker and having some seriously serious moments. The characters were still their pain in the ass sarcastic selves, but without being wildly out of character for the sake of a joke (looking at you, Thor). They were also more three-dimensional in this one, and allowed to have more emotions than just sarcasm. The theme of “found family” was especially strong, and played in to pretty much all the conflict, and drove the plot and character motivations.
Of course, these are all positives and made for a really good movie, but it was also a hard watch. It was… sad. There was a lot of trauma, and a lot of grief, and it was painful. I went in unprepared for how much this movie would make me feel. For once, Marvel didn’t undercut the sadness with bathos. You get to sit in the sadness, experience the raw emotions of the characters, and really let it sink in. The stakes are high, the performances are powerful, and the tears are flowing.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy is a super fun, colorful, interesting new side of Marvel that was a classic opener of a series. The second one dropped the ball a bit and was pretty lackluster but at least contributed to some lore. And the third is a heart-wrenching story that wove together the past and present, showed so many forms of love and grief, and really proved that these characters love each other unconditionally and will go to the ends of the earth (or galaxy) for one another.
Overall, Vol 3. was a great movie, and did so many things well. It was unexpectedly sad, and I really recommend catching it in theaters if you haven’t already, but maybe bring some tissues. And be careful bringing children to this movie because there is a lot of nightmare fuel that honestly disturbed me.
Have you seen it yet? What did you think? Do you like the first, second, or this one best? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
The Big Idea: Jacqueline Vogtman
Posted on May 16, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 1 Comment
Some things are worth the wait, as Jacqueline Vogtman found out in Girl Country, her short story collection. Time and circumstance changed it from what it once was to something new, with a particular theme running through the whole thing.
My book, Girl Country, is a collection of short stories, and while the stories span many different settings and time periods (near-future New Jersey and Ohio, medieval Europe, and WWI-era Scotland, among others), one thing they have in common is they focus on the lives of women and girls.
I first began writing a very different version of this collection nearly 15 years ago. I was in graduate school in Ohio, unmarried, childless, a recovering poet who wanted to write magical realism. I was inspired by my fellow workshop-mates and professors, and I wrote a collection of short stories that I was happy with at the time but ultimately never published.
Fast forward to a marriage, a full-time teaching job, and a child: my writing had stalled because of the busyness of being a working mother, but the ideas hadn’t. Finally, I got to a place (read: kindergarten for the kid, tenure for me) where I found a little more time to write, and the first story I wrote was a magical, speculative, dystopian, near-future story that features breastmilk (you’ll just have to read it). In slow measure, and then more quickly, new stories came, and while I did not set out to do this, I noticed a pattern: they all focused, in some way or another, on the lives of women.
Some of the stories focused on childbirth and motherhood, others on the loss of children, yet others on women who are confined or oppressed by their society. When I made the realization that all these stories had this one characteristic in common, that’s when I realized I had a new collection of short stories. This one felt more publishable than my graduate manuscript (although three stories from that collection did make their way into this new one), and ultimately, I was elated when Dzanc Books awarded Girl Country their Short Story Collection Prize.
While it is important for me to show both the outer and inner lives of women, I wouldn’t say this book is exclusively “about” women—the wonder of literature, and the short story collection in particular, is that there can be such a variety of interrelated themes. As so many of the stories focus on women in the past, present, and future, time itself also becomes a theme of the book.
Class, too, figures heavily in my stories, as it was important to me for my characters to be working-class women, reflecting my own background and so many of the people I knew growing up, who aren’t featured enough in literature. Finally, in many stories, nature and the environment (a tree, the ocean, Midwestern farmlands, storms) are also featured prominently, and often the environment struggles against similar threats that the women in my stories do.
Ultimately, while my book focuses on women, I hope all readers, regardless of gender, can see themselves in these stories. Most of all, I hope that the wonder and magic my characters encounter in spite of their various struggles provides a porthole through which readers can see their own light.
Girl Country: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powells
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow her on Instagram.
Pre-Order a Signed and Personalized Copy of Starter Villain Through Subterranean Press
Posted on May 15, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 11 Comments
Yup, I’m teaming up with Subterranean Press once more to do the thing where, if you pre-order the latest novel (in this case, Starter Villain) through them, I will drive up to their warehouse and not only sign your book, but personalize it, to you or whomever you like. Pretty nifty! And yes, pretty sure they’ll ship wherever you like, as long as you’re willing to pay for the shipping. Check with them to be sure.
Here’s the link to get in your pre-order and to give them all the details for the personalization. There will be a cap on the number of books I will sign and they will ship, so be sure to order quickly so as not to miss out.
The Kaiju Preservation Society a Finalist for the 2023 Ohioana Book Award
Posted on May 15, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 6 Comments
And you ask, what is an Ohioana Book Award? Well, it’s the state book awards for Ohio, and there are several categories. The category I am a finalist for is “Fiction,” and here is the list of finalist authors and books in the category:
Hyde, Allegra. Eleutheria, Vintage
Ng, Celeste. Our Missing Hearts, Penguin
Okorafor, Nnedi. Noor, DAW
Scalzi, John. The Kaiju Preservation Society, Tor
Umrigar, Thrity. Honor, Algonquin Books
That’s a pretty formidable category, stacked with excellent books from fabulous authors. And me! I am delighted to have this peer group.
Here is the official announcement with all the 2023 finalists in every category. Ohio has some good writers, y’all. Congratulations to everyone!
Archiving for Posterity: A Twitter Thread on Book Blurbing, 5/13/23
Posted on May 13, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 37 Comments
Archiving here for the sake of posterity (and not relying on Twitter for it; they’ve gone wonky, alas, so this is a cut and paste job)
1. To reiterate this once again for everyone: If you see me blurbing a book, it’s because I have actually read the fucking thing and I liked it enough to say so in public. I (and I daresay Neil) don’t have to blurb a goddamned thing for self-promotion.
2. A blurb won’t make or break a book, but they certainly can have an effect on the margins – several is the time where someone has told me they found a new favorite book because they saw my blurb for it and that helped them to take a chance on it. That makes me happy. It worked.
3. I think it’s easy to be cynical about blurbs and I think it’s reasonable to take them with a grain of salt (the bit about good authors sometimes having bad taste is… not wrong). But the heart of blurbing is authors being actual READERS and being excited to share new books.
4. Can you understand that when I blurbed, say, Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars, I was trying to convey my actual *sheer delight* at a wonderful story told in a way that I as a writer never could, and I as a reader felt was something new under the sun? How cool is that?
5. Did I know Ryka before I blurbed the book? Nope. Did I feel I owed a blurb because Tor is my publisher? Ask the Tor editors how many books of theirs I pass on (spoiler: Most). Did I do it to spin a web of self-promoting obligation? Fuck, that’s WORK, and I’m lazy.
6. I get nothing tangible from blurbing (aside from having read a book); I want nothing from anyone for doing it; no author or editor is obliged to me if I do blurb a book. If a book I blurb succeeds, I may joke about my power, but the author and book did the real work.
7. I get tired of everyone suggesting blurbs are mostly just a quid-pro-quo activity. There absolutely has been logrolling, but the day-to-day reality of it is editors reaching out and saying “I have this book, I love it so much, I think you’ll love it too, can I send it to you?”
8. Mostly I have to say no. I have very little time and I always – always – have five or six books in my “read for blurbs” folder on my computer. Even when I say “yes, send it,” I bounce off most of the books – some bad, some meh, some very good, but not for me.
9. Beyond that, you know what? If my name is going to be on someone else’s fucking cover, then I’m not gonna have it associated with something (or someone!) I think is trash, just to be nice. I’m not that nice, people. My name means something to *me,* and I have standards.
10. You may or may not like a book I blurb; my taste may not be your taste. But if you see my name on a book, talking about it specifically, you’ll know this for sure: That book? I think it’s worth reading. Hopefully you’ll think so, too. That’s it, that’s all. Nothing else.
11. There you have it. And now, as always, I end this tweet thread on a cat. Thanks for reading.
New Books and ARCs, 5/12/23
Posted on May 12, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 12 Comments
It’s Friday, and what better time to be thinking about books for the weekend. What in this stack of new books and ARCs is calling to you? Share in the comments!
Universal Yums: April 2023 Review
Posted on May 11, 2023 Posted by Athena Scalzi 24 Comments
Yes, it is in fact May, but I only just now got around to eating the April Universal Yums Box, so here is a late April review!
This month was Belgium, and here’s all the goodies:
Right off the bat, this looked like a very promising spread. There’s tons of chocolate, which is to be expected since it’s Belgium, but still plenty of variety.
Obviously, I needed help to rank these snacks, and my dad was happy to oblige. He picked which one we would try first, and so we started with these Andalousian Sauce Potato Chips:
Our immediate thought upon eating these chips was that they tasted like animal style French fries from In-N-Out. Since we both happen to love getting everything animal style from In-N-Out, this was not a problem for us, and we agreed that whilst they were not life-changing, we could certainly eat an entire bag. We both deemed them an 8/10.
Switching to something sweeter, I chose this Cranberry Rye Cake:
Now, I totally messed up here and didn’t get a picture of it out of its plastic, so you cannot see all the cranberries that were in the rye cake. Take my word for it, they were there. This bread was sweet, dense, chewy, and full of tart cranberries. It was very unique, nothing like what Americans have, and we totally ate it all. My dad gave it an 8/10, and I gave it a 9/10. I would love a recipe for this because I would totally make an entire loaf.
Back to savory, we’ve got these Cheddar Nibbles:
I really liked the shape and size of these crackers, I thought they were kind of unique, but they ended up tasting rather mid. They weren’t very strongly flavored, and honestly just tasted like a Goldfish cracker or some other standard oven baked cheese cracker. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything special. My dad gave it a 6.5/10, while I opted for a 6/10. I would rather have Extra Toasty Cheez-Its.
Finally, we decided to try some chocolate, starting with this Raspberry Dark Chocolate Bar:
I love the combination of dark chocolate and raspberry, or really any chocolate and raspberry, so I was stoked for this bar. Unfortunately, the raspberry flavor was pretty subtle, and the chocolate was on the waxy side. It didn’t taste bad, but I definitely had my hopes too high and was let down a smidge. It got a 6.5/10 from my dad, and a 7/10 from me.
Onto another baked cracker, we have these Ham and Gouda Biscuits:
Don’t get me wrong, I love ham and gouda, I think it’s a great combo! But these were so icky. These tasted like hot dog water, and were without a doubt the worst thing in the box by a landslide. I dared not eat more than one. My dad was generous and gave them a 3/10, while I was harsher and went with a 2.5/10.
Sixthly, we tried the Violet Gummies:
I loved that these were in the shape of flowers, and that they had a sugar coating to contrast the gummy texture. What I did not love, however, was the taste. While my dad thought they were pretty good, I thought they tasted like a medicine I used to take as a kid, and I was not about it. I have to give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that the texture on these gummy candies was pretty good. While my dad gave it a 7/10, I could only give it a 3/10.
Back to more chocolate, we tried these Creme Brulee Bonbons:
The title alone made me excited to try these, as creme brulee is my favorite dessert ever, so putting that inside a chocolate sounded pretty great. As you can see, two of the chocolates came a little deformed, and we ended up eating those ones instead of the undamaged ones. These bonbons were so rich, definitely a one and done type of deal. They didn’t really taste like creme brulee in my opinion (I am a creme brulee connoisseur), and they were strangely gritty. Not the best but not bad either. My dad went with a 7/10 on these, and I gave them a 7.5/10.
The only non-candy food left was the Speculoos Cookies:
If you recall last month’s box, it also had Speculoos cookies in it, and I gave them a 10/10 last time. I am happy to report that these Speculoos cookies were just as good! I love Speculoos cookies so much. They’re super crunchy and have the best spiced flavor ever, I can’t get enough of them. How funny they came in back-to-back boxes! My dad also likes these kinds of cookies, so he gave them a 9/10, while obviously I had to bestow upon them a 10/10.
Onto the last of the chocolates, we had these Buttercream Truffles:
The box for these was pretty big, but inside there was just this monstrosity:
Obviously, my dad and I had a good laugh over this turd-like log of melted chocolates. It was so horrific, but here’s what it looked like when I separated one from the rest:
Not as pretty as they look on the box, that’s for sure. As for taste, they really didn’t have any sort of flavor, they mostly just tasted overly sweet and were very unmemorable. We both decided that all laughs aside, these were a 5/10.
Last, but certainly not least, these Melon Candies:
There were two types of melon candies, cantaloupe and honeydew. I tried the cantaloupe one first and oh my goodness, it tasted exactly like cantaloupe. Like if it weren’t for the texture I would literally feel like I was eating the fruit itself. They were sweet and just a little tart. Unlike most hard candies, they were super inoffensive, like they weren’t overwhelming at all. The honeydew one ended up tasting like Lowercase honeydew. Very subtle and nice. My dad gave them a 7.5/10, and I gave them an 8.5/10. I proceeded to eat like three back to back.
So, there you have it, another box down! Admittedly a little late, but yummy nonetheless! What did you think of this selection? Too much chocolate, or not enough chocolate? Do you like honeydew? Would you dare to eat the turd-esque chocolate log?! Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
The Big Idea: Jules Sherred
Posted on May 11, 2023 Posted by Athena Scalzi 11 Comments
Cooking is for everyone, and Jules Sherred is reminding everyone of that with his new book Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook, which aims to help make the activity more accessible to those who might have previously felt excluded from it.
If you were to ask my publisher, the “Big Idea” for Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook is, a comprehensive guide for disabled and neurodivergent cooks. I’m glad the great folks who packaged my book were able to distill it to a logline because to me it’s a Gordian Knot of ideas.
It is that and it is an affirming space. It is that and a deconstruction of the colonization of food. It is that and it is a big middle finger to ableism. It is that and it is a cookbook that has the word “bullshit” in it because the messaging disabled people get is just that. It is that and it is the first major change to how cookbooks, more specifically recipes, have been written in nearly 100 years.
It is that and it is a response to being tired of and angry about being erased from spaces and being told the tools disabled people need to survive are horrible.
And I think I should start talking about this Big Idea with being tired. Also, angry. Incredibly angry. Incensed is the word I use in the introduction of the book, with emphasis.
I’m a fan of anger. Anger is neither negative nor positive. Anger simply is. It is what we do with that anger that can be negative or positive or neutral. My anger spurs me to action that tends to lead to change for the better. In this case, it started with a website and then became a book.
I was angry because I was in year five of being completely unable to cook for myself because of how my disabilities had progressed. In the “before times,” I was a guy who would easily cook for five hours for myself and guests. Losing the ability to cook killed part of my soul.
It wasn’t the loss itself that angered me. What angered me is there was this tool—an electric pressure cooker—that immediately remedied one of the biggest barriers I had to cooking. All my previous experiences with it were people telling me to buy one, followed immediately by them complaining about theirs. I was angry because what little resources I could find were written by able-bodied people and none of them worked for me.
I had this experience a lot, with a lot of different tools that able-bodied people shat all over. They were tools that allowed me to reclaim the kitchen. The disabled people I knew had the same negative impressions about these tools because of this “common knowledge.”
I had created a huge knowledge base of Crip Up the Kitchen’s subtitle: tools, tips, and recipes that I developed with disability in mind. All because I was angry. Then 2020 came and we all know what that means. A whole lot of people were realizing they were neurodivergent as their lives were upended, and we were all experiencing a traumatic mass disabling event.
Then I got the lightbulb moment that there needs to be a cookbook — and not just any cookbook.
The next part of this Big Idea involves a little bit of autistic hubris. I was going to change the way cookbooks were written.
Cookbooks are difficult enough to write, never mind sell on proposal to a publisher, when there already exists a template that has been the template for close to 100 years. I decided that it would be I who would change this. I convinced myself I could convince a publisher to allow me to throw out the style guide and let me do my thing. Wild, I know.
Who do I think I am? I spent so much time during the last three years yelling, “Who do you think you are?!” The part of me which is informed by trauma was at odds with the autistic part of me who gave myself a Nobel Prize in research in the middle of a report in Grade 4/4th Grade. Because I know when I have a great idea but having those great ideas sure did get me into a lot of trouble at home. I’m still waiting to get into that trouble for this book.
It had a massive impact on my writing.
I was breaking so many rules. My journey to publication wasn’t what is considered the “norm.” This also bothered my autistic sensibilities. It still does. I’m waiting for someone to tell me they changed their mind because they figured me out.
I had to push against that while keeping true to the part of me who knows when I’ve got something worthwhile, who, like many autistics, also loves a good info dump when they are passionate about something. Somehow, I managed to convince a publisher to let me info dump a special interest and in a way that wasn’t done before.
It isn’t as fun as it sounds. Because as much as I would have loved to create a multi-volume encyclopedia with the most arcane knowledge and all sort of minutiae, an accessible and saleable guide that does not make. I had to spend a lot of time figuring out the five Ws plus the how. I had to figure out how to help the most people while keeping it at a page count that would be affordable to a target audience where money is often tight.
I had to do this pretty much on my own because I did an incredible job convincing a publisher that I was the person to write this book and I knew what I was doing. The solution, if you are interested, was to focus on common symptoms of disability, identify points of failure in the kitchen, and create solutions and strategies to manage those.
I love rules. I love guidelines. I love operating manuals. And I was foolish enough to convince someone to allow me to create much of it from scratch. It isn’t something I recommend if you are a “spoonie,” like me, who also has the same autistic sensibilities.
To complicate matters more, I have this quirk where I must write the entirety of something first in my head before I do the info dump into a Word doc. Plus, the revision process hurts my brain, real actual pain. I had to get it right the first download. I had a short window to write and submit the manuscript, create the images—because I was also the photographer and art director—and create the accessibility guide for everyone working on the book, knowing there would only be one quick round of edits.
It was a lot for the kid who gave himself a Nobel Prize on a 20-page report that was supposed to be 500 words because I was info dumping on a special interest. But who was also freaking out because, who the hell did I think I was to even propose this to begin with? My teacher loved the Nobel Prize by the way. My parent did not.
But I was the guy who got angry. I was the guy who then created a huge knowledge base of useful information. I was the guy who knew exactly how to turn that information into a lot of front matter and 50 recipes that teach skills that can be used beyond the book. I was the guy who was able to make it useful to the most people possible, while changing the way recipes are presented. And I was the guy who somehow convinced a publisher to let me do it.
Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Tricks for the Disabled Cook: Amazon Canada|Amazon USA|Amazon UK|Chapters Indigo|Barnes & Noble|Indie Bookstores in Canada|Bookshop|Powell’s
Whatever Everyone Else is Saying