New Books and ARCs, 5/31/19

As May winds down and June begins, here’s a stack of new books and ARCs to help you greet the new month. Which of these would you like to welcome June with? Share in the comments!

The Big Idea: Anna Kashina

In today’s Big Idea for her novel Shadowblade, author Anna Kashina reminds us that behind all the swashbuckling, there’s often a serious purpose.

ANNA KASHINA:

During my Shadowblade blog tour, I have written several posts emphasizing the fun I had writing this novel, and I hope that readers picking up this book will experience the same fun. There is indeed a lot of fun elements in the story that made this book a pleasure to work on, including the blade fights, characters, politics, and of course, the romance.

But let me get serious for a moment.

Shadowblade is a story of a young orphan girl with uncertain heritage, Naia, growing up in the Jaihar Order that trains elite blademasters for the Empire. The Jaihar pride themselves on treating both genders equally, especially in their advanced training. But to get to that level Naia must first pass the lower grounds, dominated by drill masters whose role is to initiate young trainees into the Jaihar ways. Here, bullying is a norm, and incidentally all the superiors somehow tend to be male… Is it beginning to resemble any familiar situations?

Studies show that in male-dominated environments, girls and young women tend to experience subtle but very effective forms of bullying that target, and often destroy, their self-esteem. Fighting for emotional dominance, their peers often label them as incompetent, or negative. This is especially hard to deal with because a lot of this behavior is subconscious, based on such deep stereotypes that neither the bully nor the victim tend to realize them. For someone in training, these issues can permanently affect their future. Naia, a young and attractive girl whose major talent involves weapons, has to fight her way through all this, for a chance to rise to the top.

My big idea behind this book is perseverance. It’s the story of a person who doesn’t give up, no matter what the odds are. It’s about those people around her who recognize this, and help her break through all the stereotypes and bad attitude to come out as a winner. Naia’s life is threaded with challenges, all the way up. First as a trainee, where she has to find her way out of very deep trouble and face different tests at each level of her training. And then as a warrior, whose unprecedented assignment plunges her straight into the grinder of the imperial politics, with a low chance of survival and a very large target on her back.

Perseverance has been very important in my own life and career. It’s definitely the only thing that carried me through to where I am today. When I wrote this book, Naia continued to surprise me. She tackled her challenges in ways I never would have thought of – or so it seemed to me. Getting to know her enriched me as a person. I don’t believe that I’m anything like her, really, but I can relate to her in so many ways. I’ve learned things from her that I never expected to.

Layered underneath all the fun – the glittering medieval setting of a rich Middle Eastern empire, the highly technical blade fights, the food, the romance – this big idea is what drove the story for me.

—-

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

Read an excerpt (click on “Excerpt” tag). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

In Which I Learn That I Live In Me

A map with place names replaced by the most notable people from there (according to Wikipedia).

There’s a site out there that scraped Wikipedia entries from the last few years, and then put up a map of the United States where the place names were replaced with the person associated with that place (in apparently whatever capacity) whose Wikipedia article was looked at the most. For Bradford, Ohio, and perhaps not entirely surprisingly, that person happens to be… me. Yes, that’s correct, on this map, I live in me.

I say “perhaps not entirely surprisingly” not because I am in fact hugely notable but a) because the set of people associated with Bradford, Ohio who also have Wikipedia pages is small, comprising as it does of six people, only two of whom, including me, are still alive, and b) of the six of us, I’m the only one with a significant online footprint, and who is still active in the field for which he is notable. I do wonder who came in second, however. In any event, the competition for “the most wikipedia’d person” is much less fierce in Bradford, Ohio, population 1,800, mostly farmers and blue collar folks, than, say, Chicago, or even Dayton.

The map renames also tell you a little about general Wikipedia browsing habits, since there’s a statistically high preponderance of serial killers (see Cincinnati’s new name on the map) and celebrities, and not necessarily the ones you would expect, which is why Boston, as an example, is currently named “John Cena.” Clearly Wikipedia readings tilt toward currently living and currently famous people. Also some folks have more than one city named for them. Stephen King is all over Maine, for example, which is not a surprise, but he’s also the new name for Fort Wayne, Indiana. Apparently he lived there briefly as a child. He’s also the new name for Sarasota, Florida. Pick a state, Steve.

Finally, some people are not where you would expect them to be. Max Yasgur, upon whose farm the Woodstock music festival was held, is neither the new name for Woodstock nor Bethel, New York, but the former Marathon, Floria (and who is the new Woodstock? David Bowie. Who was not at Woodstock! Go figure).

Aside from me I was amused to see a few cities renamed for friends: Sandra Lee (aka “Dr. Pimple Popper”), who I went to school with, gets a city, as do Wil Wheaton, Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson and Neil Gaiman. I suspect there may be more, but the site is not searchable so finding them is not easy unless you already know where to look.

If you want to have a place name named for you on this site, it appears the secret is generally to be alive, currently famous or at least notable, and to live or have lived in a place that is very small and/or has not had any other famous or at least notable people from it, ever. Seems easy enough, and I wish you joy in the work.

In the meantime, I’m happy living in me, existentially and otherwise.

E-Mail Issues Today

My mail provider is telling me they’re having a major outage regarding mail services today, so if you’ve sent me email today it may be a while before I see it and/or am able to respond.

Update, 2:04pm Eastern: email is back up. If you sent me mail between about 6am and 2pm and it’s important to you that I see it, you might want to resend it.

Agent to the Stars, Fuzzy Nation and The Android’s Dream: Now Out in Trade Paperback

Today’s the first time I’ve ever had three books out on the same day: Tor is re-releasing my stand-alone novels Agent to the Stars, Fuzzy Nation and The Android’s Dream in spiffy new trade paperback editions. These new editions come with spiffy new covers, which all share type treatment with Redshirts, my other stand-alone novel in Trade Paperback dress. There’s something to be said for consistency. And I like the new cover treatments, too, so there’s that.

These books are available in most bookstores, both in the real world (if they don’t have it in stock, you can special order) and online. If you’ve never picked up any of these books, now is a very fine time to do so.

Also, if you’re in the Denver area, I’ll be signing these and any other books you like at the Denver Pop Culture Con, Friday through Sunday. Come on down and see me! My panel and signing schedule is here. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you all about that again in a couple of days.

Good Morning, Moon

Moon, just before sunrise.

Here was the moon just before sunrise today. Not bad.

Also, and somewhat unrelated, some of you may have heard there were tornados in my area last night. There were, but none of them hit anywhere around me. I’m fine, the house is fine, the cats are fine. We’re good. Not everyone can say the same, unfortunately, both here and across the Midwest. Keep these folks in your thoughts today, please.

Smudge the Ninja Claims Another Victim

It was brutal. Brutal.

(Actually Smudge and Roxy, the shih-tzu in question here, are very good friends. But brutal interspecies carnage sounds so much more interesting than “and then they booped noses.”)

Hope your Memorial Day is going well.

Oh, Hey, I Had an Impossible Burger Finally

I had it when I was in California. It was fine! And I would eat another one.

For those of you unawares of what an “Impossible Burger” is, it’s a burger made with plant-based “meat” made by Impossible Foods. It’s mostly soy and a few other ingredients, including “heme,” which is what gives it that meaty, vaguely bloody taste. The company is on iteration 2.0 of its product, which is supposed to be even meatier than the original, and various places which serve burgers are beginning to put it on the menu, most notably Burger Kings, which tested it in St. Louis earlier this year and plans to go wide with the burgers later in 2019.

Where I live is not exactly close to anyplace currently serving Impossible Burgers, but when I was in LA, I went to lunch with friends and the bistro we went to had them on the menu. So I tried it.

My verdict: on a scale of 1 to 100, where 1 was “White Castle at 1am” and 100 was “That Aussie burger I had in Melbourne that almost made me cry with its deliciousness,” this burger was a solid 45-to-50, i.e., a perfectly cromulent burger that was not particularly distinguishable from the general mass of foodstuffs that are understood to be “a burger.” It was slightly dry but not horribly so, and could have used a little more seasoning on the patty. But as part of the whole burger (including cheese lettuce, tomato and condiments), it was… perfectly fine! If I had not known it was not beef, I wouldn’t have thought it wasn’t beef. It was unremarkable in terms of a burger experience, and I suspect will get better as cooks learn how to cook the patties better.

Which I think is the whole point. At this point in time a patty made with Impossible Meat (or the fake meat from Beyond, another producer) probably isn’t going to replace your high-end angus burger made by a chef who knows what they are doing, but in a high-volume, fast-food context — say, Burger King — this is an absolutely serviceable variation. I would totally buy an Impossible Whopper without hesitation, or get an Impossible Burger when I was at Red Robin or some similar casual dining chain.

I’m not someone who is planning to go vegetarian any time soon, but I also wouldn’t have any problem switching a substantial portion of the meat I do eat to plant-based substitutes, particularly when the plant-based substitute is largely indistinguishable from the stuff made from animals. On the “ground meat” level of things, it looks like we’re mostly there already. It’s just a matter at this point of widening production and distribution.

So, yeah: I had an Impossible Burger. It was fine, and I would eat another. And I’m looking forward to them (and other similar options) becoming widespread soon.

The View From Harris Creek

Here’s a view I’m not sure I’ve shared with you before: a picture of Harris Creek, which more or less parallels the street I live on, from the bridge that goes over it. I took the picture as I was taking a walk yesterday (I pulled a leg muscle last week, so I’ve been walking outside at a moderate pace rather than running, until it gets better). Late May is a verdant time here in rural Ohio. Also there are fish and turtles and crawdads down there in the creek. It was a nice walk.

How’s your weekend?

Marketers Hate This One Weird Trick, Discovered By a Dad, To Keep Your Gmail Inbox Uncluttered!

Which is:

Make a filter that takes any email with the word “unsubscribe” in it and punts it directly into archived mail, rather than sending it to your inbox. Since nearly all marketing email has a footer that explains (in very small type) how to unsubscribe to the mail, all of it will now bypass your inbox and you’ll mostly only see the mail you actually want to see, from actual humans you care about. You can still see the marketing email (and anything else that might have been sent to the archive) by clicking on the “All Mail” tab, so you won’t miss anything; you’re just prioritizing what you see.

“Why not just unsubscribe to marketing email when you first get it?” Well, see. I often do, but a) sometimes I do actually want the marketing mail, I just don’t want it cluttering up my inbox, b) this is easier than unsubscribing to each thing.

(Mind you, what I really want it what Inbox, the alternate mail client from Google, used to do, which is to figure out what emails were marketing and put them all into their own daily single-line category in my inbox, where I could look at them, or not, or archive them or not, at a glance. But Google decided to can Inbox and hasn’t ported that functionality into GMail, so this is the next best thing.)

This is a really simple filtering trick which honestly I should have thought of at least a decade ago, and now that I have, it’s almost shocking how much it’s improved my email experience in general. If you’re using GMail I genuinely suggest you try it. I suspect you’ll be glad you did.

The Big Idea: Bryan Camp

Cover to Gather the Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Even when you write fantasy, the real world can influence your work. So Bryan Camp discovered when recent events caused to rethink the design of his latest novel, Gather the Fortunes.

BRYAN CAMP:

When I sold my first novel, The City of Lost Fortunes, I was lucky enough (and had a savvy enough agent) to sign a two book contract. I knew that I wanted this next book, which came to be titled Gather the Fortunes, to be set in the same world as its predecessor, but I wanted it to be a new story, a second, stand-alone novel, not a sequel. In fact, my main concern in the early stages of this second book was that I would repeat myself. That I would simply put a new coat of paint on the first book and call it something new.

Thus, my early decisions were a series of sidesteps from the first book: death deities instead of tricksters, a search for a missing person instead of a murder mystery. I knew what I didn’t want Gather the Fortunes to be—and so had a handful of things that it could be—but much to my dismay, I still had no idea what the book would be about. And then in late 2016, things, as they say, took a turn.

The aftermath of that election was a weird time for everyone, but doubly so for someone trying to create art. How do you cheer on the good guys in your fantasy world when, in the real world, the bad guys win? I felt split, torn into two people, one of them a pacifist who had always been cautiously optimistic about the future, and the other a rage-filled cynic who wanted to burn everything down. Eventually I managed to boil a significant portion of my inner turmoil down to a single, difficult question, “how can anyone be a positive force for change if the world fills them up with hate?”

And suddenly I had an idea big enough to build a novel around.

What I didn’t want, though, was a basic good vs. evil dichotomy. “Choosing love over hate” is a story that’s been told many times before, and the question I was grappling with wasn’t that easy to answer. More to the point, humans aren’t that simple. There’s no alignment chart in the real world. We aren’t either all good or all evil, but a walking, conflicted, contradictory capacity for both. What felt far more accurate to me was the idea of the Rada and the Petro nations of loa in voodoo. The Rada are generally seen as benevolent and good, but the more accurate description is that they are “cool” in the sense of calm. Likewise, the Petro, the “dark” side of the family, aren’t evil but “hot” in the sense of angry. That, for me, is a better representation of what people are like. Compassion and forgiveness and reconciliation are all positive forces, and we should all strive for them. But to quote my boy Zach de la Rocha from “Rage Against the Machine,” sometimes anger is a gift.

This big idea led to a lot of fun smaller ones. Gather the Fortunes is a novel filled with doubles and twins and mirrors. There are storm deities and psychopomps and zombies and gods who fill the scavenger part of the supernatural ecosystem. There are themes of violence and power and taking a deep, long look at your place in the world. But at the core of the book is this question of rage, of the desire to destroy.

I won’t tell you how I answered it (I had to write the whole book to figure out how I felt), but for me, part of the answer is that there are two kinds of destruction: necessary and natural destruction like, say, a forest fire, and self-indulgent and artificial destruction, like arson for an insurance payout. We don’t always get to choose our moment in history, or how the world treats us. We don’t get to choose whether our blood runs cold or hot. We don’t get to choose whether we are, a creator, a preserver, or a destroyer at heart. We do, however, get to choose how we act. How we use the capacity for change within us.

And some things, quite frankly, deserve to be destroyed.

—-

The City of Lost Fortunes: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (scroll down on the page). Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Facebook.

New Books and ARCs, 5/22/19

Here’s a very excellent mid-week selection of new books and ARCs that are available for your perusal. What here would you want on your own shelf now or in the near future? Share your thoughts in the comments.

I Had an Overnight Flight and Then Slept Until 1pm and My Brain is Mush, So Here’s Smudge, Posing Dramatically

I figure that will hold you until my brain comes back.

Also: What a great weekend at the Nebula conference, and not just because one of my best friends won the Nebula Award for Novel. It was good enough that I don’t actually mind my brain is mush today.

The Big Idea: Maurice Broaddus

The cover of "The Usual Suspects."

Honestly, Maurice Broaddus had me as a reader of The Usual Suspects when he described it as “Encyclopedia Brown meets The Wire,” but as this Big Idea shows, there’s so much more going on here.

MAURICE BROADDUS:

The Usual Suspects is a bit of a departure for me. It’s a middle school detective novel (think “Elmore Leonard for kids” or, as it was pitched, “Encyclopedia Brown meets The Wire”), because I work a lot with children who want to read what I write and, frankly, most of my stuff isn’t “age inappropriate.” In fact, I originally wrote the book to both entertain my oldest son and chronicle some of my children’s antics (it’s the only thing of mine he’s read and he still refers to himself as my original editor). The premise of the story is The Big Idea: when something goes wrong in the school, they round up The Usual Suspects.

Fun fact: I have always shadowed my children through school as a substitute teacher, as sort of a backup for both my children and the staff. When I wasn’t working in either of my sons’ classrooms, I volunteered for a class the school referred to as “Special ED.” That was where they corralled the children with “emotional dysfunction.” Other words that could be used to describe the room include: quarantined, warehoused, or otherwise isolated from their classmates as someone else’s problem.

What I learned was how easy it was to get trapped in a story that follows you. How going through life under the constant haze of suspicion conditions people. But also, that those boys were amazing. They weren’t saints and they got up to some chuckle-headed nonsense, but they were smart, easily bored, and talented, yet as early as fifth grade, the system was letting them know it was giving up on them. They inspired this story, because being considered “usual suspects” was far too many of our everyday lived experience.

The Usual Suspects explores what it means to be a young black boy caught up in the system. To be dealt with under what Thelonius explains in the book as “the spider syndrome”: “when people see a spider, their eyes light up and their heart races because they’re scared. They’re so panicked that they forget that the thing that’s terrifying them is often like one hundred times smaller than them. All they know is all of the bad stories they hear about them, how deadly a bit from one of them can be even though that only applies to a small fraction of them. Spiders look strange to them, different and ugly. Their ways confuse and alarm people like them, the way they skitter across a room, lower themselves on a strand when they don’t expect them, how they leave messy webs wherever they go. So when a person sees one, they’re conditioned to smash it. It’s easy to believe bad stories and let them color how you see things.”

My favorite line from the (starred!) Kirkus review: “Readers will love watching these two uniquely gifted black boys explore the complicated tensions between impulses and choices, independence and support, turnin’ up and getting through.”

Every year I have a new Thelonius and a new Nehemiah to work with (fun fact: when the cover was revealed, one of my current students shaved his head because he was a dead ringer for Thelonius…in more ways than one). Also, I look at my own sons. My job as a parent is to help them learn how best to navigate their way through the world (on their terms). Their fingerprints are all over this book. And my life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

—-

The Usual Suspects: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Sunset, With Wife and Cat

Seriously, this photo has everything (photographic-wise, anyway) you come to Whatever for!

I’m traveling tomorrow and will be in Los Angeles through Monday, taking meetings and also taking part in the Nebula Weekend, where among other things I will be participating in the mass autographing on Saturday afternoon, which is totally open to the public. If you ever wanted to get your entire science fiction collection signed, this is when and where.

Tim Conway Gone

Comedian Tim Conway passed away today, and I posted a thought on Facebook which I’ll share here as well:

“It occurs to me that one day every celebrity I ever loved growing up will be gone, and it will feel a little bit like being orphaned.”

I will add that at age 50, their ranks are already somewhat depleted.

Farewell, Tim Conway.

 

The Big Idea: W.M. Akers

In novels, detectives follow the “big cases” — but what about the other cases, which need solving? W.M. Akers considers them, and the person who would chase those down, in Westside.

W.M. AKERS:

You will probably never solve a murder mystery. You will probably never personally investigate arson, a hit-and-run, a kidnapping, a bomb threat, insurance fraud, an assassination, or any of the other thrilling crimes that preoccupy most fictional detectives. You are a real person, and though the mysteries of your life are never a matter of life and death, they often feel that way.

That’s what tiny mysteries are all about.

I created Gilda Carr, the hero of Westside, because I wanted to give tiny mysteries their due.

Gilda lives in a twisted version of 1921 Manhattan, in which forces unknown have caused the disappearance of thousands of citizens living west of Broadway. Blocked off from the rest of the city by a massive fence, Gilda’s Westside is overgrown, empty, and bizarre. It is a neighborhood teeming with huge questions, and she has decided to answer none of them.

Her reluctance is a correction to the excesses of her father, a former cop whose obsessive chasing of the city’s largest mysteries ended his career and broke his spirit. To avoid his fate, Gilda chases bits of lost clothing and meaningless personal effects, solving the niggling questions that keep us up at night, no matter how pointless we know they are.

A detective preoccupied with tiny mysteries is something that first came to me after I lost a book. It was, appropriately enough, a book about writing mysteries—a rather good collection of essays edited by Sue Grafton that I checked out from the Brooklyn Library, read a few words of, and lost almost immediately.

It took me some time to realize it was gone. I didn’t see it for a week or two and thought nothing of it. In an apartment like ours, which crams six bookshelves into three rooms and features countless piles of half-read books and unwanted papers, objects tend to wander away and come back of their own accord. When the loan came due, I launched a half-hearted search. On finding that the book wasn’t anywhere within arm’s reach, I renewed the loan and spent another couple of weeks not wondering where it had gone.

This went on for over a year.

Every time the loan came due, I combed the apartment in search of Writing Mysteries, checking over the same six shelves, the same two desks, the same piles of junk, and finding, again, that it was nowhere at all. I kept renewing it—if no one places a hold on a book, you can renew it endlessly—feeling so guilty about my deception that an automated email from the Brooklyn Public Library was enough to make me feel ill. As the year wore on, my searches grew more frantic, until I found myself rooting through kitchen cabinets, looking under furniture, and going through old suitcases in search of a book I’d barely read.

Finally, paranoia took over. Heeding Sherlock Holmes, I decided that the improbable must be the truth: I hadn’t lost the book. The library had. Although I had no memory of doing so, I suddenly and desperately believed that I must have returned the book at some point, only to be thwarted by some filing error that marked it still checked out.

I took this theory to one of the endlessly patient librarians at the Central Branch. They politely explained that what I’d imagined was impossible, and told me that I would have to pay an $84 fine to make up for the loss of the book. I decided $84 was worth it to be rid of the stress, apologized to the librarian, and ponied up, happy that, at last, I could forget the mystery.

And then my brother-in-law threw a bottle of detergent into our storage closet.

My wife and I came home from a trip and found the entire apartment polluted by a horrible chemical smell that my brother-in-law claimed he hadn’t noticed. The source was the far reaches of the closet, where he had celebrated the completion of his laundry by hurling an entire handle of detergent, which had leaked all over the wall, the floor, and everything else in its path, destroying several cubic feet of the unwanted junk that filled our closet to the brim.

As we threw out three trash bags of stuff we should have gotten rid of years before, I felt the same relief that I had when I paid off the library fine for the missing Mysteries. When you have been carrying around something useless and awful for a long time, it is beautiful to simply chuck it. And with that happy thought, I reached the bottom of the pile of newly-minted trash, and saw Sue Grafton’s name.

These are the kinds of mysteries I created Gilda Carr to solve: the kinds of questions, like, “Where the hell did I leave that book?!” that are totally unimportant and yet have the power to get under our skin. She lets the other detectives take the big cases. It’s the tiny ones, she thinks, that matter most of all.

I have absolutely no idea how that book ended up in the back of our closet, piled under so much junk that the detergent couldn’t reach it. But I kept the book—it cost me $84, after all—and put it on a high shelf as a reminder to be more careful with books borrowed from the library.

At least, I think I put it there. I haven’t seen it in a while.

—-

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

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

Krissy and Athena, Mother’s Day 2019

My two favorite people on the planet, but of course you know that already.

Happy Mother’s Day to you, if you are, or have ever had, a mother.

Smudge is Here to Announce the Results of the Birthday Pledge Drive

Smudge in the yard, walking toward the camera.

Two days ago I encouraged people to donate to RIP Medical Debt, a non-profit that wipes out medical debt here in the US, and in return I would (if pledge goals were met) write a short story and do an audio version of the story as well. This pledge drive was in commemoration of my 50th birthday, which was yesterday.

The donation window is now closed, and when I tallied everything up, plus or minus processing fees, and including employer matches to donations, you folks donated $16,600. Which is amazing. When we add in the $2,000 that Krissy and I also donated ($1k at the outset, $1k when we hit the $10k goal), the entire drive netted about $18,600. Because RIP Medical Debt buys outstanding medical debt for pennies on the dollar in order to forgive it, that means our $18.6k will erase up to $1,860,000 worth of medical debt.

Let’s say that again: One million, eight hundred sixty thousand dollars of medical debt, erased. The folks at RIP Medical Debt said to me (in a tweet) that our donations will wipe out the medical debts of hundreds of US families. And I have to say, making life easier for hundreds of families is a pretty great way to spend one’s 50th birthday. Thanks to every one of you who made this possible. You’ve given me what is genuinely one of my best birthdays ever.

So, now, on my end, here’s what I owe you:

  • A brand new short story of at least 2,000 words (and probably more);
  • An audio version of said story;
  • And because we passed $15k, some other probably goofy thing related to the story above.

Making good on my pledges will be my first priority after I finish writing The Last Emperox, which is the final book in the Interdependency trilogy, and which is scheduled to come out next April. That absolutely has to get done or else my editors will strangle me. But! The second it is done (and, uh, I get some sleep), this story is next on the agenda. Look for it, the audio and whatever the third thing is, some time in June (probably) (hopefully).

In the meantime, please enjoy the above picture of Smudge, and also, the warm satisfaction of knowing you did a very good thing for people who could use the help. Again, thank you. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift than this.

50

What I look like at age 50. Surprisingly okay. This was actually taken a couple of days ago, but I look the same today, I SWEAR,

You didn’t know this because I didn’t say anything about it, but I recently had a brief mid-life crisis, which I thought was about turning 50. And because I was efficient about it, I had it last year.

What had happened was, after I was done with my book tour for The Consuming Fire in October, I spent most of November and December in a funk, seemingly for no particular reason. I was spending most of my time laying on the couch and/or being snarky on Twitter rather than writing pay copy, which is intellectual equivalent of laying on the couch. I wasn’t aware of this funk for a bit, because it’s not unusual for me to spend a couple of weeks after a tour, in which I am on all the time, in a bit of an introverted recuperative phase. But it eventually got to a point where even I realized this laying around thing had gone on too long, and maybe there was something more to it than just being “peopled out.”

My brain, being my brain, offered me a simple and attractive solution to my issue: It’s because you’re going to be 50! It said. In, like, half a year! And then you’ll officially be old! You’re finally having your midlife crisis!

Which, at first blush, seemed to make sense. After all, when you’re fifty, even if you contend that you are not in fact old, you have to accept that by no reasonable consideration are you young anymore — “Too Old To Die Young,” is the way I’ve been phrasing it to people. With the realization that you are too old to die young comes certain other realizations, not only of banal mortality (actuarially speaking I am likely now to have more years behind than ahead, although I definitely have years ahead) but of what the rest of one’s life will be like. The saying “Today is the youngest you’ll ever be” means something different when you understand that the next 20 or 30 years will bring a diminution of physical and mental strength and ability.

At best you’ll be able to manage the decline; at worst, your ability to manage that decline will be taken from you. Some things that you always wanted to do you’re likely never to do. Some paths you could have taken you can no longer turn onto. You’ve become who you are and for better or worse you’ll be living with that person for the rest of your life.

So, yes: being somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty seemed like a really good excuse for a midlife crisis that I never managed to get to before. Time — finally! — for that convertible sports car and that twenty-three year old!

Except.

The thing about midlife crises is that, in my experience, they’re not about age but unhappiness — unhappiness about some aspect or aspects of one’s life, along with a feeling of helplessness about ever being able to change that thing without (intentionally or otherwise) blowing up a large portion of your life, which you probably don’t want to do. And “midlife” is a fine time to feel that, because by that time you’ve had enough time to become unhappy, and to see those feelings of regrets and missed opportunities pile up until you can’t avoid them anymore.

So before I could officially declare I was having a midlife crisis about becoming fifty, I had to ask myself: Leaving aside the possibility of clinical depression (which is a whole different can of worms), am I actually unhappy? And if I am, what is it that I am actually unhappy about?

(And yes, it’s a telling aspect about me and my personality that I can’t just have a funk without examining the root causes of it.)

I was, in fact, unhappy.

Okay then, but about what? Career? Well, no, my career is going along great — I’m happy with the work I put out in the world, and I’ve been fortunate to have bestsellers, awards, adaptations, fans and travel and all the money I need for my life. Marriage? Again, no: I’m as in love with Krissy as I’ve ever been in our lives together, and still happily amazed I get to be with her. Kid? My kid is great and remains the perfect kid for me. Friends? I have many, and they are terrific people, and every day I feel fortunate to know people who are good and kind and talented. General quality of life? It’s very high, and more importantly I am satisfied with it on a day-to-day basis. There’s not much I would change about my life and the people in it.

Physical shape?

Ahhhhhhhh, yes. That’s it. Here we go.

I was unhappy both with the way I looked and felt physically — and, with respect to becoming 50, I was also aware that how I decided to treat my body today was going to set the bar for the next fifteen to twenty years and beyond. I was finally at the age where, as an otherwise healthy, able-bodied person, I had to decide what physical quality of life I wanted to have, essentially, for the rest of my life.

Well, my brain said, the good news is that you can fix this. You’ll hate it, but you can fix it.

This is why, the day after Christmas, I started exercising and counting my calories. And it’s worked: As I’ve noted elsewhere, my weight is down twenty pounds since December, I’m close to my weight goal, and my overall physical health is better than it was. I feel better.

And along with feeling better, that “midlife crisis” of December appears to have fizzled out entirely. I’m 50 today, and today I’m happy. Not just because it’s my birthday, but because in looking forward to the next decade and beyond, I’m excited about the potential for it. I’m happy today and if my life stayed as it is now, I would be delighted to write books, put them out there into the world, and to see and cherish friends and family. But right now there seem to be opportunities to do all that and more, in my personal life and in my career, and to keep growing and moving forward and seeing what happens next. And that’s pretty great.

And yes, all that stuff I mentioned before still applies — I’m getting older and I’ll be getting older faster as I go along. Some things I’ve idly wondered about will always have to be idle wonders. And who I am now is likely to be who I’ll be moving forward. Beyond that, life is almost never a best case scenario. In the next decade life will throw me curveballs and potholes, because that’s what life does. You never do know what’s next, until it happens. I could be consumed by the proverbial bear tomorrow.

But that’s what life does in every decade, truth to tell. In my twenties, I expected to work at a newspaper all my life. In my thirties I thought writing novels would be a side gig at best. As my forties begun I had yet met some of the people who have become some of the most important in my life. My life is not what I expected, save for the simple idea that I always knew I wanted to write (which in itself isn’t entirely true; when I was ten I wanted to be an astronomer. Writing turned out to be the backup gig). I don’t know what my fifties have in store for me either, except that so much of it will be something I can’t expect today.

What is important is how you approach moving forward. And today, on my birthday, turning fifty isn’t a crisis for me, midlife or otherwise. I feel good physically and mentally. I’m happy with my life today. I’m looking forward to all the rest of it.

It’s a good place to be when one is starting a whole new personal decade. Let’s see where things go from here.