A Vague But Official Pronouncement About a Thing

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

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

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

— JS

A Month of Biden

Original Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz.
John Scalzi

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

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

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

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

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

— JS

I’m Donating Blood Today So Here’s A Post About Blood and Organ Donation!

(Warning: Picture of me donating blood below, in case that will bother you.)

Athena ScalziOne thing you may not know about me is that I am a big believer in donating blood and being an organ donor. I have attempted to donate blood at least twice as many times as I have actually donated, usually because my iron is too low (one time it was because I’d been outside of the country within a certain time frame). I try to donate blood at least a couple times a year, usually I only get around to doing it (successfully) two or three times, but I figure that’s better than zero. I was going to donate a couple months ago, but I had COVID at the time of the blood drive at my high school (that’s where I always donate (except that one time I donated in Boston because Arisia had a blood mobile outside)).

Now that I no longer have COVID, but probably still have the antibodies, I find it more important now than ever to go and donate! So that’s what I’m doing today!

Due to COVID, blood donation rates have drastically decreased. Hospitals are desperately in need of blood donations more now than ever. If you’ve never donated before, but would maybe like to give it a try, there is no time like the present!

I know a lot of people that can’t donate. In fact, less than 38% of the population is able to give blood (though less than ten percent of that 38 actually donate annually). I’m sure part of this is due to the restrictions placed on LGBTQA+ people that are potential donors, but are turned away because of the FDA’s regulations regarding “men who have sex with men”.

I actually had to look up the restrictions, because my basic understanding of it was “gay people can’t donate.” While that is essentially the case, I learned a lot of interesting information about it from this Red Cross page.

While this is a deeply upsetting/unfair restriction and I do not support it, I still think it’s important for anyone who can donate to do so.

Also according to Red Cross, someone in the US needs blood every 2 seconds. There’s 86,400 seconds in a day! It’s very obvious that blood is in high demand, so I think it’s really important that if you’re able to, you help meet that demand.

Previous Blood Donation.

Basically, I see donating blood as a civic duty. Not in a ridiculous way, of course. Like it shouldn’t be mandatory to donate a certain number of times per year or anything. I mean like, if you have the chance to, you should totally take it. You could save lives!

Same thing with organ donation. I feel that is not only my duty, but a privilege, to be an organ donor. Knowing that so much good could come from me dying is a reassuring thought. Isn’t it incredible to know that you have the potential to save (up to) eight lives? Or give people sight? You can literally be the difference between life and death for so many people.

One of the most common arguments I’ve heard from people who are against donating is that their faith doesn’t allow them to. I have no personal faith, so I’ve never been able to argue this claim, however while doing research for this post I came across this page stating that pretty much every religion has decided it’s okay to be an organ donor! In fact, it’s encouraged!

Other than the religious aspect of it, a lot of people also believe that if they’re an organ donor, doctors won’t try to save them. This has been debunked by many many many doctors time and time again. They will do everything in their power to save your life, regardless if you are a donor or not. Oftentimes they don’t even know if you’re a donor until after you’ve died.

The way I see it, if someone you love was dying and needed an organ transplant, wouldn’t you wish desperately for someone to be generous enough to part with theirs after death so that the person you love may have a second chance to live? Also could apply to you! If you needed a transplant, wouldn’t you be grateful that someone was willing to have their organs donated after death so that you could continue to live?

You can be that person to someone else. You can be someone else’s second shot at life. You could save a child’s parent, somebody’s best friend, a mother’s only child, there’s so many people you could help. I can think of no greater honor than to gift life to someone in need.

Going back to blood donation, which is a much less serious commitment, I know that it can be a scary thing to think about, especially if you’re not a big fan of needles. The first time I donated, I mentioned to the nurse that was nervous about the seemingly giant needle going into my arm. She told me that the finger prick they do to test your iron beforehand is more painful than the actual donation part. She was totally right.

Not only did the finger prick hurt more than the needle in my arm, but it was sore for a couple days after, whereas my arm didn’t hurt at all. (Please do not let a little finger prick deter you from donating.)

There’s so many good parts about donating! You get free merch, like a cool mug or soup bowl, or t-shirts and whatnot, plus you get cookies and juice! Who doesn’t love cookies and juice? And, a few weeks after you donate, you’ll more than likely get a call that tells you that your blood was used to save a life that day. Sometimes they’ll tell you which hospital it ended up at, too.

Besides the cookies and t-shirt, there’s really no immediate benefit to donating. It’s honestly more about if altruism makes you feel good. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being happy that you did something good. Likewise, it’s okay to feel good about yourself after doing something generous. Helping others feels nice. Being generous is its own reward. But, again, cookies!

If you want to learn more about organ donation or register to be an organ donor, you can do so here! As for blood donation, you can find locations to donate and schedule an appointment here! I didn’t really talk about donating bone marrow specifically because I have never done so, however my friend has donated bone marrow and recommended Be The Match. Join me in joining the registry! (I’m honestly shocked I’ve never signed up before now.)

So, yeah, my thinking is basically, do what you can when you can. If you’re someone who is able to donate, just try to every once in a while and I think that’s good enough. If you can’t donate at all, that’s okay, too.

Well, I’m off to enjoy my thin, scratchy t-shirt and free cookie. Have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Rucker Moses & Theo Gangi

They say that parallel universes exist; what about universes that are pockets and echos? Authors Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi take you on a tour of their version of other realities in this Big Idea for their newest novel, Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found.

THEO GANGI:

A few years back, Emmy nominated screenwriters Craig Phillips and Harold Hayes and I decided to collaborate on this great idea they had for a portal-magic book series. The wind-up for Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found had me hooked. Kingston is a twelve-year-old Black boy determined to find his father, Preston—a famous magician who disappeared into a mysterious portal. He returns to his off-the-wall family of magicians and trick-builders in Echo City, a past-its-prime hub of Brooklyn magicians to uncover the mystery of the vanishing dad.

The one tiny detail of this portal-magic books series we hadn’t quite worked out was the portals themselves. Namely, where do the portals go?

There was plenty of story to tell without revealing what’s on the other side of these enchanted doorways. We had a name—The Realm. There were colors and crystals. But a concept? Not quite yet. There has to be some Chekov’s Gun sort of rule about portals introduced in the first act having to lead somewhere by the third, but we were stumped. Chekov’s Magic Portal was going nowhere.

Part of the challenge was squaring our own loves as readers and fantasy fans with what could work for this story, in this world, for this young audience. The three of us dug some really high-concept sci-fi, but were concerned about losing our target reader, who is age twelve and up. We were drawn to big, meta-genre ideas like what we were reading in NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and Johnathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four/Avengers run. Ideas that seemed fresh because they met the reader at their expectations and then took them further. Like, okay you know you’re reading a sci-fi series—so instead of one world-ending event, how about several? How about hundreds? How about a universe-destroying event every day? Or, instead of one alternate reality, how about infinite recurring versions of reality? Something about this kind of playfulness felt fresh to us. Why enter a portal just to go somewhere we’ve already been?

The first inkling of our idea came from the name of our invented Brooklyn neighborhood, Echo City. Turns out, the tag came from Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles where my cowriters were living when they came up with the series. But something about the “echo” concept kept repeating—pun intended—and grew.

What if these portals created echoes of reality, every time one was opened? They could be discrete moments, self-contained, and they could exist in perpetuity. So when you enter an echo, it’s a preserved instant in time—but it’s not time travel. You can’t change the past when you mess with an echo, only a copy of the past. So anywhere these magicians made portals, our heroes could visit. Even an echo of the night Kingston lost his dad.

So the idea came into focus, but could we pull it off? A multiverse story, with several realities existing in a single narrative, presents some unique challenges. Could we explain echo copies of characters coming through portals? Or how you could visit an echo of the past, without affecting the past? It was super fun for us, but was it just too confusing, too high concept for a young audience?

Then in 2018, a film called Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hit the public consciousness. It was like a revelation for us with the simple and fearless way they unrolled the concept. It had that genre self-awareness we craved and there was never any doubt that a young audience could follow.

Seeing the Spider-Verse on-screen gave us the permission to explore our own Echo-Verse, so to speak. We realized, maybe ages twelve-and-up was exactly the life stage where a multiverse concept might make sense. Who is more willing to go with the mental gymnastics of repeating realities and magic doppelgangers than a young reader? We reconnected to why we wanted to write for young readers to begin with. The impact an adventure book can have on kids is unique and extraordinary, and the imagination of a developing mind can exceed all our expectations.


Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Gangi’s website. Follow him on Twitter.

Another Installment of My Thoughts On “WandaVision”

Athena ScalziSince I posted about the first three episodes of WandaVision, I have decided to post about the next three, and in the future I will post about the last three! And that’s all you get because there’s only nine episodes. So let’s just jump right back in!

Of course, SPOILER WARNING.

In my previous post, I mentioned how frustrated I was with being in the dark for so long about what the heck was happening in the show. Well, episode four fixed that up right quick! We got a look at what was going on behind the scenes of Wanda’s world.

Kat Dennings as Darcy in Wandavision

EPISODE FOUR

I liked episode four because it didn’t show anything new in the show Wanda is putting on. Instead, it explained everything that is happening outside of that world, and gave us tons of much needed information. It was a total info dump episode, and it was about time.

I found the very beginning of episode four — when people were “blipping” back into existence because of the events of Avengers: Endgame — especially interesting. Seing people blip in and out of existence is kind of horrifying, but also kind of… neat? The sheer confusion of not only the people returning, but those that have been around the past five years, is fascinating. For blipee Monica Rambeau to learn of her mother’s death in such an abrupt way, especially after her last memory before blipping is the doctor telling her that everything was fine, is deeply saddening.

(It actually took me a minute to realize who Monica was, just because I didn’t really remember character names all that well. It was only when I saw Maria Rambeau’s picture on the wall at the S.W.O.R.D. facility that I realized she was her daughter, all grown up. I kind of forgot Captain Marvel took place in the nineties.)

Episode four was basically a bunch of side characters you forgot existed, like Thor’s Darcy Lewis and Ant-Man’s Jimmy Woo, coming together to solve the mystery that is WandaVision.

Vision and Wanda in Episode Five.

EPISODE FIVE

Episode five is a blend of the real world and “Wanda” sitcom, and I think it works way better than the episodes that were purely sitcom. In this episode we finally get to see a glimpse of how the real people of Westview feel, when Vision frees minor character “Norm” of Wanda’s brainwashing. They’re all trapped. As S.W.O.R.D. Director Tyler Hayward says, she’s taken an entire town hostage, .

Vision knows something is very wrong, and he knows now that Wanda is the cause of it. Not only does this big development happen, but not much later in the episode, Wanda comes out of her simulation and confronts the agents. It’s clear to us now that she can leave whenever she wants, and she knows what she’s doing. This is an active choice she is making to keep the town the way it is and control everyone.

This kind of puts her in a bad light, doesn’t it? We as the audience love Wanda, and care about her a lot. But this thing she’s doing is terrible, and we know it, even Vision knows it. He mentions that he believed she was doing it subconsciously at first, but now he knows that she is keeping him and everyone trapped here, and he’s mad about it. Rightfully so! He’s trying, like the S.W.O.R.D. agents, to convince her that what she is doing is wrong. These people she’s turning into her cast have lives and families and don’t deserve what is being done to them.

Monica chooses to defend her, though, claiming that she’s just handling her grief in a WILDLY unhealthy way, and that she’s not doing it to be evil. Which is probably true, but does someone doing bad things suddenly become okay because they have a reason such as grief or mental illness behind it? No. It does allow for compassion to play a role, though, when you know the reason someone is doing something bad is because they are hurting.

And at the end of episode five, Wanda’s brother Pietro joins the cast. Another dead person who Wanda loves. I like that they address the recast of Quicksilver. It’s always bothersome to me when shows change a character and act like it didn’t happen.

Of course, this only raises more questions, doesn’t it? We know Wanda stole Vision’s body from S.W.O.R.D., and is keeping him alive manually. Vision is basically a zombie just walking around. In Pietro’s case, though, it doesn’t make sense how she could bring him back from the dead. Not only is he not a machine that can be manually powered, but she doesn’t have his body even if she could literally resurrect the dead.

On the other hand, is it that far out of the question considering she alters reality to the point that she created life, aka her two sons? Did she create an entirely new Pietro instead of resurrecting the old one? If so, what matter within the “Hex” (as Darcy calls Wanda’s area of influence) is she altering to turn into living beings?

Quicksilver and Wanda in Episode Six

EPISODE SIX

Moving on to the sixth episode, this is where shit gets real. Vision seems to be back to acting like things are normal, and everything seems a-okay in this Halloween special. Minus the arguing between Wanda and Vision that one of the twins, Billy, mentions.

Again, the show addresses that Pietro looks different. There isn’t a super clear explanation, but we as the audience know it’s probably just because of certain contracts and rights to characters. It’ll be interesting to hear what the show comes up with as a reason.

Another interesting thing about this episode is that all the side characters in Wanda’s world seem to be more meta than before, mentioning that if Wanda wants something done differently they can change things for her, or if she wants them to act differently. Even Pietro explains his character’s role to Wanda, and says that that must be how she wants him to act. The characters seem to be shoving the fact that Wanda is controlling them in her face.

In this episode, we get a glimpse at perhaps the most horrifying aspect of the whole Hex situation. When Vision wanders to the edge of Wanda’s town perimeter, we get to see what happens to the extras of the show. Brainwashing an entire town must be hard work, so it makes sense that not everyone can be the full-of-life, fun, and quirky neighbors or side characters.

These extras are just shells of people, unspeaking, barely moving, meant to appear in the background and nothing more. One of the extras, repeatedly acting as though she is putting up Halloween decorations, is seen crying. It’s pretty horrifying.

Not long after Vision’s encounters with these seemingly soulless extras, Vision talks to Agnes, who is for some reason at the edge of town as well. He frees her of the mind control, like he did with Norm, and much like Norm she ends up freaking out and Vision puts her back into character.

Vision clearly wants to help the people of Westview, but how can he? He doesn’t even remember who he was before Westview. He doesn’t know about the Avengers. How can he be a hero to these people when he doesn’t remember that he was a hero to begin with?

Wanda then has a scene with Pietro where again he mentions that she is controlling everything, and she doesn’t deny it. He asks how she does this and she says she doesn’t know how it happened, which again makes us feel sympathy for her and wonder, is she really as in control as we previously thought?

Then, as I think we all could’ve predicted, Vision tries to go past the barrier, and can’t survive outside of the town. Because of this, Wanda expands her barrier even further, taking the entire S.W.O.R.D. base and tons of characters into her perfect little town along the way.

So not only has she turned an entire town into her little fantasy playground so Vision could live and they could have their happily ever after, but now she has expanded it even further and taken more victims than before.

This really is a bad look for Wanda! Yes, Vision was on the verge of death, but he was only like one foot outside the barrier, yet she expanded it exponentially more than what was necessary.

One thing that really stuck with me was Vision pleading for S.W.O.R.D.’s help. Though it wasn’t to help him, he was asking them to help the people inside. Vision is truly a good person, synthetic or not. Vision has always been one of my favorite characters, and this is exactly why. He’s selfless and wants to help people. He is genuinely good.

Vision’s intentions and actions are in direct conflict with Wanda’s current self. She is acting selfishly and doing cruel things to these innocent people. They wouldn’t need Vision’s help at all if Wanda hadn’t started this maniacal fantasy.

This whole situation is deeply saddening, not only because Wanda is only doing this to keep Vision alive, but because Vision is realizing the only person in the world he has ever loved is doing something very wrong and more than likely he’s going to have to stop her, which we can guess will probably re-kill him. This whole show seems like set-up for heartbreak.

As we’ve seen from the clothes Monica was wearing when she was thrown out of Westview, things that Wanda changes inside the Hex stay changed when they leave. But this doesn’t apply to Vision, since he clearly cannot exist outside of the barrier. What does this mean for the other things she’s created? What does it mean for the twins and Pietro when her world finally comes crashing down?

I complained about the first three episodes being a little too slow, but these past three episodes more than made up for it. These three episodes were so informative, exciting, and even eerie at times. I can’t wait to see what the next three hold.

Are you enjoying it so far? Do you sympathize with Wanda? Let me know what you think in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Michael Johnston

You know how it can feel like one day is like the next, one month like the next, and each year like every other year… until it isn’t? Well, author Michael Johnston’s about to take that to the next level in his newest novel, Silence of the Soleri.

MICHAEL JOHNSTON:

I wrote a novel inspired by the ancient Egyptian calendar. That was my big idea. I found the calendar fascinating, and I think you will too if you give me a moment to explain. I know that ancient timekeeping isn’t the usual inspiration for an epic fantasy novel. It isn’t usually the inspiration for anything. But this is different. It’s fascinating—I promise.

Let’s start with a little history.

Every year, before the annual inundation of the Nile, the star, Sirius, appeared on the horizon before sunrise. (This is called heliacal rising of Sirius, but you don’t need to remember that.) Over time, the Egyptian farmers took note of this little coincidence, and eventually, they started using the stars appearance to predict the annual event. Now, the flood was really important to the Nile Valley. The water enriched the desert soil and made the land suitable for growing crops. Without the flood to release nutrients into the soil, Egypt would starve, so they kept careful track of its appearance. They noted that Sirius rose, just prior to sunrise, every three hundred and sixty-five days. That cycle became the basis for the calendar. Simple enough, but here’s the interesting part: It didn’t work. They had twelve months with thirty days in each, which was three hundred- and sixty-days total. Are you following the math? They were five days short (six in a leap year).

I love this part.

They could have added a day here and there. We do that and it’s just confusing. They stuck with their perfect calendar of twelve perfectly equal months, and they made the extra five (or six) days a special time that existed outside of the normal calendar.

In the Amber Throne novels (Soleri and Silence of the Soleri), the Soleri calendar contains a festival that is something like the holiday they had in ancient Egypt. There are five special days that exist outside of normal calendar time. No one works or goes about their business. The world stops, and everything is put on hold. These five days exist in a place that is outside of normal time. A pause where nothing of daily importance transpires. How could it? There was no date! Think about that. Imagine having five of those days in your life. Days without names. Nothing to fill in the “date received” in your email. I love that. It’s fascinating, and I think there’s something really magical about it.

In my novel, the annual holiday isn’t timed to the rising of a star, but it is set to coincide with an annual eclipse, which is a bit more dramatic. Each year, the sky turns black as the moon eclipses the sun. The eclipse is their heliacal rising. It’s a sign that a new year has started. Now, in our world, eclipses don’t happen on a yearly schedule. This has to do with the mechanics of the earth, the moon, and the sun. But if a planet had a perfectly spherical orbit and the moon did as well and they both shared the same plane, the moon would eclipse the sun at regular intervals. Something similar happens in my book. 

The years are marked by an annual eclipse, and it’s been that way throughout recorded history. In the novels, we find out what happens when the cycle deviates. In Soleri, I explore that moment when the calendar finally stops working, and the things we thought were unmovable begin to change. That’s the moment when the story takes off. When there is no eclipse, when the very rock on which society is built vanishes, a crisis emerges and the story begins. It starts with a calendar and ends with an empire torn apart, and that was my first big idea for the novel.


Silence of the Soleri: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

 

Enter Snowmageddon

Actually it’s not going to be horrible here — we’re supposed to get something on the order of eight to ten inches of additional snow in the next twenty four hours to go along with the three or four inches we’ve gotten today — but a foot of snow is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s enough that things will be coming to a standstill. My sympathy goes out to the folks in Texas who are also getting snow and cold temperatures that they usually don’t get; it’s not great when entire metropolitan areas have no real plan for snowfall and the people who live there aren’t really used to dealing with the challenges cold and snow bring. As for us, we’ll be inside, under blankets. Seems the prudent thing to do.

— JS

Curateur: A Life Well Curated

Athena ScalziIf you’re like me (in this case that means chronically addicted to shopping, a major impulse buyer, and someone who loves surprises and bougie things), you probably get ads for subscription boxes a lot. And you’ve probably gone back and forth on giving them a try. Read reviews, looked at past boxes, and then talked yourself out of it time and time again. I know how that feels.

I unabashedly love subscription boxes. I have so many (probably too many, but who’s to say how many is too many?). Today I’m here to showcase the newest one I’ve subscribed to! I just got my first Curateur box not too long ago, and I wanted to show what came inside.

But that is not the only purpose of this post! I would like to take this opportunity to show you all my first attempt at product photography. Last week, I got a lightbox, specifically so I could take good quality pictures of things I buy, because let’s be real, I buy a lot of cool shit.

So these are all pictures I took myself of the products in my new lightbox. I tried to make them look cool and professional, but we’ll see if that’s what actually ended up happening.

First, I’ll tell you a little bit about Curateur. Curateur is a seasonal subscription box created by American fashion designer Rachel Zoe. Each box contains five fashion and beauty items selected by Rachel Zoe. If you are subscribed to the box, there’s also a members-only “Shoppe” where you can buy Rachel Zoe approved fashion and beauty items at a discounted price from their original retail value.

Moving forward, the first box I got from Curateur was the Winter 2020 Box. This box came with five main items, as well as a surprise freebie.

Each box (as far as I can tell) comes with an option item. This is where they present you with two items or one item that comes in two different styles/colors, and you pick which of the two you want in your box. For the Winter 2020 Box, I got to choose between a white and a black purse. I went with the black:

This purse is the “Understated Leather” Crescent Clutch in Onyx. It has a retail value of $110. I actually think its really cute, not to mention it’s vegan leather, which is ethical AND makes it feel buttery soft!

This bag was created as a Curateur exclusive item, but here’s a link to their other handbags if you’re interested!

Up next is the “Amber Sceats” Emery Cuff, valued at $169.

This 24k gold-plated bracelet is actually really unique in my opinion, due to its “crushed” metal look, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before! I quite like it, and though I don’t wear bracelets often, I think I will make a point to include this one in some of my more fashionable ensembles.

I couldn’t find this exact bracelet on the Amber Sceats website, but here’s their other bracelets if you want to take a look!

I also used the bracelet in this photo of two of the other products that came in the box, those being the “Talianna” Lilypad Catchall Tray (valued at $75) and the “Elaluz” 24k Lip Therapy ($28 value).

I have never been a big fan of catchall trays. I’ve always preferred to store my jewelry in other things rather than have it sit out on a tray, but I actually love this one! I love the 24k gold pattern, and it’s ceramic, which I think makes for an elegant look overall. After looking on their website, where you can preorder this adorable tray, I realized it doesn’t just have to be for holding jewelry or your keys, you can put super cute treats and baked goods on it!

On the flip side, I love lip products. I am a big fan of lip conditioners, lip butters, basically anything that will make your lips feel nice and soft. So I was enthralled to receive what is a basically a fancy lip balm. Not only does it contain 24k gold, but it’s vegan, cruelty-free, and free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and more! Plus it comes in recyclable packaging.

The picture I got of the lip therapy is not all that flattering, but you can see a much better picture of it, as well as purchase it, here! I actually really like this product, I think it works very well and feels super nice on the lips.

I have saved the best for last (not including the freebie which I will mention after this)!

This is the “Cushnie” Grey Horizon Ombre Scarf, valued at $150. This is another Curateur exclusive, and it’s actually what made me buy the box. Though I liked the other items, I couldn’t convince myself to become a member and get the subscription. This scarf pushed me over the edge, though. I adore the design, it’s so minimalistic, just a grey, white, and black scarf. Yet it’s so classy at the same time!

(I couldn’t decide which photo was better so you get both.)

It’s long, soft, lightweight, and elegant. I feel like you could pair it with just about anything. Though this scarf is an exclusive item for Curateur, I went looking for the website for Cushnie, but found this article about the founder having to close her business instead, which is pretty saddening.

So that’s all there is for the main items of the box. There was, however, a “free gift” included in the box, which was a sample pack of Rachel Zoe’s first ever fragrance line. You can see it in the top right of the picture at the top, because I totally forgot to photograph it on its own. I am for sure a perfume lover, but I didn’t really like any of the four in the pack. However if you’d like to try it for yourself, you can get it here!

So, yeah, all in all, I liked this box! It is the most expensive subscription box I get, but I don’t really mind since I like the products quite a lot. It’s definitely a bougie box, and meant to make you feel fancy, which I enjoy.

If you are interested in getting a subscription to Curateur, I’m going to go ahead and plug my referral link. Though feel free to get a subscription without going through the hassle of using my code and whatnot, I won’t be offended! It’s kind of a convoluted process of entering your email first and then entering the code at checkout and whatnot, yada yada, so no worries, but it’s there if you’re feeling generous.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this look into a “life well curated”. It was really fun setting everything up in the lightbox, if not a little difficult, but I’m hoping to improve in time with practice.

Let me know if you are also a fan of subscription boxes, or if you’d like me to do posts about some of my other boxes I get, as well! And have a great day.

-AMS

General Unstructured Thoughts On “Being Cancelled”

John Scalzi

Because it’s been in the news recently, enough that even though I’ve been lost in my own world this last week — a good thing, if you want a book from me — the various stories of people being “cancelled” in the last several days came onto my radar. What follows are thoughts not particularly well-organized or following any real thread of thought, other than “so, here’s what I’m thinking about ‘cancellation’ today.” This is not the entirety of my thoughts, merely what I’m mulling on at the moment. Which could turn out to be terribly wrong! Yay, pre-emptive qualified statements! Let’s get into it, shall we?

1. Being ‘canceled’ basically means learning that you’re replaceable. And apparently this is new to a lot of white people! Especially those who currently claim the “conservative” label for themselves (more on that in a bit). But I think everyone else knew that fact all too well: it turns out if the people with the money decide you’re more trouble than you’re worth — for whatever reason, not all of them virtuous — then you can be gone in a snap and someone else can easily (easily!) take your place. This is particularly the case in creative fields, which have always been and likely will always be a buyer’s market. There is always a new actor, director, writer, musician or whatever — or an established one who needs a gig and who is not going to be a pain in the ass.

And this is especially the case now, in an era where the franchise is the star, not the actor or the director. Disney, of course, has this down to the proverbial science — its Marvel and Star Wars universes are so vast and popular that, for example, a troublesome actor in a secondary role is not worth the hassle. Out they go, their character to be replaced with another previously minor character from the vast store of minor characters in those universes. Actors are the most visible replaceable people, but directors, writers, etc., are equally swappable.

Which is not great for creative people! We like to say, and not inaccurately, that we are not swapple widgets: If you want a John Scalzi story, for example, the best person to give it to you is me, I promise you. But — who is the best person to give you a Star Wars story? Or a Marvel story? Well, see, that’s the thing; almost from the very beginning, and as a consequence of their business model, those universes were made by multiple voices. When you have many voices building a universe, there are rules to the universe everyone must follow (the canon, the story bible and the style guide), but otherwise individual voices can be taken in and out when necessary — “necessary” having a very broad meaning here. Only I can give you a John Scalzi story, but I am a cottage industry, a veritable roadside kiosk next to the belching factory that is Disney or any other studio. Disney needs storytellers, but it doesn’t need any one story teller, or actor, or whatever.

As, again, everyone but certain white folks knew already. These folks are learning that bit now, and apparently it’s really difficult for them. But that does conveniently bring us to the bit about ‘cancelling’ —

2. ‘Canceling’ is certain people discovering that capitalism doesn’t love them as much anymore. I don’t want to say that capitalism is value-neutral, because, whoooooo boy, it is not, buuuuuuut it is pretty much 100% percent accurate that capitalism will always, always, follow the money. And where is the money? Well, in America two decades into the 21st century, the large capitalist structures have decided that the money will be multicultural* and socially inclusive* and politically liberal*, and all those asterisks are there because it should be understood that the capitalist take on each of these concepts is heavily modified and strained through the “to the extent we can make money off this” filter, i.e., don’t expect capitalism to lead us to a multicultural American utopia, just expect it to be happy to rent-seek inclusively on the way there.

But because this is the (current) way the wind is blowing for capitalism, it’s now slightly harder out there for a “conservative.” Which feels wrong! Conservatism is the pet political theory of capitalism! Conservatism is designed to protect capitalism! The venn diagram of a conservative and a capitalist is a perfect circle!

And, well. It was, but then the Republicans had to go and elect Donald Trump, and now American Conservativism is definitively a corrupt fucked-up cult of personality, unmoored from any recognizable economic ethos beyond “pay to play.” Look, America has its problems, but from the strictly capitalist point of view it was the best country on the planet because it was politically stable, and capitalism works best when things are stable. It’s hard to rent seek in chaos!

But then January 6th happened, and American Conservatism, which had been tromping away from stability for quite some time, thank you very much, finally served notice that it’s no longer on capitalism’s side: it would rather mob in chaos than make money in stability. There was a tiny window in the aftermath where American Conservatism could have come back to capitalism’s side, but then it decided, nah, it would rather kiss the ring of the insurrectionist criminal that lost it the House, the Senate and the Presidency all in four years, oh, and, also, to be more anti semitic, racist and completely awash in conspiracy theories than it usually was. So, yeah, that’s a thing.

(Hashtag NotAllConservatives, etc, but come on, at this point people with an actual political/economic conservative worldview should be aware that their movement has come to its final grifter form and they’re currently without a home in American politics. And I am genuinely sorry for them, and also, they need to look at who they walked with all this time. For the people who are the “fascist cult” conservatives, of course, they did this shit to themselves, deal with it, my dudes.)

So now capitalism is doing what capitalism do, which is to shrug, say, “fine,” start working with the people who will let it function more or less to plan, and start punting the people who won’t. Again, this doesn’t mean that suddenly we live in a Delightful/Horrifying Multicultural Dream/Nightmare — hey! Most of the hands on the tiller of capitalism are still attached to white dudes, y’all! Check out the billionaires list! — but if that means a “conservative” loses a gig because they talked shit on social media, well, son, that’s the free market for you. Which is another thing —

3. “Being Cancelled” doesn’t mean you never work, it means you work in the minor leagues. “Cancelled” means you publish with Regenery or Skyhorse rather than with Macmillan or Simon and Schuster. “Cancelled” means you make a movie with (ugh) Ben Shapiro instead of Disney. “Cancelled” means Gab, or — heavens! — your own web site instead of Twitter. “Cancelled” means being a talking head on Newsmax and not CNN.

Is this so awful? Well, yeah, apparently, it kind of is — but again, this is not anything that anyone who isn’t a privileged white person didn’t already know about how capitalism works in America. Entire commercial and political ecosystems exist and have existed for decades, created by and for the people who have otherwise found themselves shut out of or simply ignored by the commercial mainstream — marginalized economies, in effect. The idea that American Conservatism would have its own side economy (or in its case, grift) is not exactly new; it too has existed for decades. What might be new is the idea that it will possibly no longer be a stepping stone into the mainstream — that it is its own terminal destination, and that those participating in it might now be locked out of a wider appeal.

Which from an economic point of view is probably fine! There are lots of people in the American Conservative grift economy who do quite well for themselves financially — the “marginalized” market here is still many many millions of people, after all. You can still make as much money as any one person can make, and be as “famous” as any one person could be, and still never climb out of the right-wing media trough. But ironically for ostensible capitalists, merely making money is not enough. They want to be thought-leaders, too, and they want their views given the cultural currency that only comes through, you now, hanging with Disney or CNN, as much as they sneer at those organizations when it’s convenient to do so. You won’t starve not working for Disney. But you don’t get what working with Disney brings.

Like access to Disney money, you might say, and you’re right — the sort of high-end production values that come with mainstream studios are something they won’t have anymore. Which, well, again, welcome to what everyone else goes through. Almost no one gets $200 million for a movie! Or even $20 million! If you go in with the expectation that you are owed that $200 million movie, where are you coming from, culturally speaking?

But that’s really the thing about “canceling,” isn’t it:

4. When you’re privileged, consequence feels like oppression. I am not the first to make that observation, even among white people. But boy, is it ever true! And also, look, I do actually get it — if you’ve gotten away with shit for literally years with little to no consequence, getting called out on it and being judged for it and being penalized because of it, in what appears to you a sudden fashion, feels unfair, in no small part because, well, you did get away with it for years, and no one told you to stop (or if they did, you were able to overlook it).

That thing where certain people are looking through their lives and actions and social media posts, wondering frantically what’s there to trip them up in this new age where suddenly their actions do have consequences? This is not an unfamiliar thought to me! I’ve said before that when people say “Oh, but Scalzi is one of the good ones” my reaction is well, shit, I sure hope that’s true. I have three decades of being an adult and being in the public eye, one way or another, through my writing. That’s a lot of time and many many opportunities to show my ass, and I’ve taken advantage of those opportunities in the past, I’m sad to say.

The thing is, if did turn out I’m not “one of the good guys,” and I face the consequences for that, I am no different than many other people over the years — and still, weirdly, more privileged than most, because facing consequences for what I did is manifestly different than the people who have faced consequences for calling out terrible things other people did, and did to them. Yes! Being “cancelled” for being a shitty human being is an inherently more privileged position than being deprived of work or status for acknowledging someone did a shitty thing to you! And that has happened! I mean, shit, it is happening, right now, elsewhere.

When I hear or read “I have been cancelled” I mostly translate that to “I am facing consequences for something I got away with before and I don’t like it.” When I hear or read “I will not be cancelled,” I mostly translate that to “I refuse to change my behavior, it’s the rest of the world that’s the problem, not me.” Which, you know, okay. You do you. Enjoy Newsmax.

5. The age of (unmediated) celebrity social media is (probably) coming to an end. At least for some people, and that’s not a horrible thing. If you don’t have social media, you make it more difficult to inadvertently show your ass on it, and on the flip side, if someone wants to drag you into the social media mudfling du jour, it’s more difficult for them to do so when you’re not there. Several is the time where I’ve seen someone say something like “Why isn’t Scalzi talking about this, his silence is telling” about a thing I had absolutely no clue about, was not qualified to speak of in any way, and had no interest in volunteering an opinion on.

Both of these is why more people with any appreciable level of celebrity that is independent of their actual social media are handing their socials to staff, and/or sticking to the most anodyne of pronouncements and participation, and/or pruning their socials of inconvenient past posts and/or leaving social media entirely. Which is fine! Not everyone is good at social media, and social media is not good for everyone. Even the people who are “good” at it see it turn on them for various reasons, some deserved and some not. At some point people who are not endlessly argumentative or heedless have to ask themselves if what they get out of social media is worth the potential downside. For lots and lots of celebrities (and even people who are not), the answer is no.

That’s a valid choice, and I think more people ought to consider it, for their own personal emotional well-being, and additionally, for the well-being of their careers. Especially if they are worried about being “cancelled.”

— JS

Starts With “Z” and Rhymes With “Roomba”

Athena ScalziI am not an exercise-inclined person. It’s a well-known fact to my friends and family that I hate exercise. Like, a lot. I hate running, I hate bike-riding, I hate any kind of weight-lifting, planks, burpees, crunches, really anything that involves physical effort. This despise of exercise mixed with my love for pastries and sweets is what makes me so utterly marshmallowy, but that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about one of the only kinds of exercise I do like. Not just like, in fact, but I love Zumba!

If you’ve never tried or even heard of Zumba, it’s basically just dancing in a really fun, upbeat way to (usually, but not always) Latin music. It’s mostly just a lot of cardio, but if you hold weights in your hand while dancing it can also be for toning!

For the past few months, I’ve been going with my mom to the YMCA in the next town over to go to their (socially distanced) Zumba classes. When I first started back in October, I was having a really rough time with it. Even though it was only for forty-five minutes, I would get so totally wiped out from it that I would almost black out every time.

I had to continually take breaks or go get a drink of water in the middle of songs because I felt like my heart was going to burst. And I was always so sore the next day. All of my muscles were like, never do that again! But then I did it again, and again, and again.

Eventually, I stopped getting sore. And I stopped almost blacking out. And I stopped needing to stop in the middle of songs to catch my breath.

I started looking forward to going, I started putting more effort into the dance moves and started not minding holding weights in my hands. I started really loving Zumba.

This is in part because I have such a great instructor! I think any class, whether it’s an exercise class or an educational class, can be good, no matter the kind, as long as you have a good instructor. Lucky for me, my instructor is energetic, fun, smiley, encouraging, and dances so beautifully that it’s hard not to want to improve so you can dance just like her someday.

It helps that I’ve always loved Latin music. But that’s probably just because I like music that you can dance to. I also enjoy EDM and techno for the same reason, it just makes you want to move; it’s so hard to not just want to jump around and pump your fist along with the music. I feel like it’s kind of hard to dance to a lot of American music, especially pop, which is most of what I listen to.

Some days, I really don’t feel like going to Zumba, but I make myself anyways. When I’m done, I’m always glad I went, and I always have a great time! I haven’t lost any weight from it, probably because I eat like shit, but at least it gets my heart pumping! It has to be at least a little beneficial, right?

Not only am I noticing myself not almost die every time, but when we stretch at the end, I’ve noticed I’m way more flexible than I was just a couple months ago! Even though Zumba is only twice a week, I feel like it’s making a difference in my muscles, even if just by a tiny bit.

Throughout my childhood/teenage years/basically whole life, I have been in many different sports, clubs, activities, yada yada yada, and I have always been a quitter. Literally my whole life. As a kid I would always try something out, like gymnastics, track, guitar, 4-H, all the standard things, and I would always give up after just a couple times. I always think I’ll like things, and then when it doesn’t immediately bring me joy like I imagined it would, I drop it.

At first, I didn’t really like Zumba, and I wanted to quit almost immediately. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but it made me feel bad about myself; the fact that I couldn’t get through one session without almost passing out, the feeling of not being able to do the moves correctly, or like everyone else is watching you misstep and move your arms in the wrong direction.

If it weren’t for my mom going with me and encouraging me to get up off my ass and go, I probably would’ve given up in the first couple weeks, like always.

I’ve always liked dancing, but I never really thought of it in my brain as exercise. Now I know that it totally is exercise; in fact it’s good for a lot of things besides cardio! Coordination, toning, balance (depending on the move), and is really one of those exercises that’s an all-over body workout.

If you haven’t tried Zumba before, I highly recommend it! I think it’s so fun, and just a nice way to get moving if you’re feeling a little couch-potato-y lately.

Anyways, I’m off to Zumba. Let me know if you have any particular songs you like to dance to in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Mindy Klasky

Online dating has never been more popular — Especially since COVID hit, and dating in person is now kind of… dangerous. So how do you fall in love during a pandemic? Author Mindy Klasky tells us how love isn’t the only thing in the air in her newest novel, The C Word.

MINDY KLASKY:

About ten thousand years ago (or, er, during July 2020—one of the first victims of the coronavirus was my sense of time…) a group of romance-writing author-friends and I were chatting online about how to write contemporary romances set in 2020 and beyond. The group was almost evenly split. Half said that, going forward, they would include the coronavirus as an element in their plots. Half said their romances were meant to be escapist fantasies; therefore, they would never include references to a worldwide pandemic.

My new series is called Love in the Age of COVID. So you know where I fell in that debate. I actually decided to go all in—my contemporary romance is a romantic comedy. But my decision to include the coronavirus in The C Word launched a number of challenges.

First, and most easily solved, I needed to research basic timelines of real-world information about the virus. When, exactly, did it emerge in Wuhan, in the States, and in Washington, DC (where my story is set)? What advice did the Centers for Disease Control offer about wearing masks on which dates? How did various businesses—especially Major League Baseball (my hero is a pitcher)—implement safeguards?

I’m a plotter; I plan my books before I write them. I structure my plot with multi-colored Post-It notes stuck to a wall in my office, an arrangement that ultimately looks a little like a serial killer’s murder wall. For every book, I track the heroine’s story (green Post-Its) and the hero’s story (purple Post-Its), along with two or three major sub-plots (for The C Word, blue, pink, and yellow notes). Once I’d committed to writing about the coronavirus, I added two more colors to the mix—magenta for pandemic dates relevant to the general public and chartreuse for dates relevant to baseball. All of the notes included scribbled dates, so I could track, for example, how many days had passed since my characters’ first kiss, job loss, and mask requirements.

Second, I needed to integrate COVID into my storyline. Very quickly, I realized that the coronavirus functioned as a character in my novel. Each of my flesh-and-blood characters reacted to the virus in a different way. Some considered it an existential threat. Others thought it was merely a bogeyman and could be safely ignored. Those attitudes led to realistic conflict throughout my story.

In fact, the virus functioned somewhat like a villain in the structure and unfolding of my plots and subplots. The coronavirus “character” helped me solve one of the major challenges in writing a contemporary romance: keeping the heroine and hero apart for a reasonable portion of the plot. In the modern world, most people aren’t as shamed by societal expectations as they were in the Regency era. People are allowed to—indeed, expected to—discuss their emotions and desires, dissipating minor misunderstandings before relationships rock off their foundations. Omnipresent cell phones and computers obliterate storylines that hinge on missed connections. It can be close to impossible to keep a couple apart for 100,000 satisfying words.

But the pandemic allowed me to resurrect credible barriers. The need for social distancing replaced the ton’s aggressive social regulation. The danger of infection presented a threat as dire as a stalker or a determined ex-lover. The coronavirus gave my contemporary characters realistic reasons to act (or not to act) in ways that complicated their emotional relationship.

Third, I needed to thread a political needle, deciding how much to write about the government’s response (or lack thereof) to the coronavirus. Moreover, with a book set from March 2020 to June 2020, I needed to weigh addressing the Black Lives Matter movement. Too much political talk, and I risked alienating nearly fifty percent of my potential readers (more, actually, because even readers who agreed with my own liberal politics would likely rebel against having those beliefs shoved down their throats, page after unremitting page, in an otherwise-feel-good romantic comedy.) Too little political talk, though, and I would come off as a Pollyanna. Or worse, as someone who was intentionally avoiding the life-or-death implications of catastrophic governmental mismanagement of the virus.

I opted to let facts speak for themselves. At three different points in my novel, I included short chapters with facts and figures quoted from government documents—executive orders and coronavirus statistics and similar data. While my main characters don’t state their political affiliations directly, their actions convey their consistent belief in science and modern medicine.

After I finished drafting The C Word, I distributed it to my usual trusted beta readers, asking them, in part, to concentrate on how I handled the politics. Three betas responded, saying I’d struck a good balance. But one delivered a critique of how my characters, one in particular, reacted to George Floyd’s murder. That beta noted that one character’s inaction was an expression of white privilege; he could afford to do nothing because he was not directly affected by the death. Ultimately, I reworked multiple chapters, sharpening my approach while remaining true to that character’s essential nature.

Looking back at that March conversation with my writer friends, I can now see that both sides held merit. (There were good people on both sides…) Writing a contemporary romance—especially a romantic comedy—in the age of COVID was a challenge. Some readers may find The C Word too weighty, not enough of an escape in our challenging times. In fact, one of my usual beta readers declined to read it, in part because she found the book’s premise too stressful as she grappled with potential illness in her own family.

Nevertheless, real people have continued to meet and fall in love during the past year. Some of them needed to work harder than ever to achieve their well-deserved Happy Ever Afters. All the more reason, then, to celebrate Love in the Age of COVID.


The C Word: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Apple|Kobo

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

20 Years In Ohio

My house, in October of 2020.
Our house, October, 2020
John Scalzi

On February 10, 2001, I was allowed to sleep in, which meant that when I woke up, there was no one in the house. This was a problem, because I wasn’t in my house; I was in my in-laws’ house in Tipp City, Ohio, and the reason I was there was because I, Krissy, Athena, our pets and all our belongings, had just driven from Sterling, Virginia, to move into our new house in Bradford, Ohio. The fact that everyone else was gone, along with the U-Haul that we had packed our lives into, meant that everyone else was at my new house, unpacking things, while I was lying in bed like a lump. I swore, got out of bed, showered, got into my little white Ford Escort, and drove (carefully due to snow) to the very very tiny little town where our new house was.

When I got there, everything was already done. All my in-laws — aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters and brothers in law, you name them, had already unloaded and unpacked our stuff into our house. I literally had nothing to do except receive a buckeye nut on a string, which one of Krissy’s aunts put around my neck as a necklace. “You know what a buckeye is?” She asked me, and when I admitted that I didn’t, she said. “It’s a useless nut!”

And with that I was home, in Ohio, for the very first time, twenty years ago today.

Me in 2003, and me in 2021.
Me in 2003, and me in 2021.

I’ve mentioned before the story of why and how we moved to Ohio, but to briefly recap, we moved to Ohio because after our daughter Athena was born, Krissy wanted to live closer to her family, who had moved to Ohio a few years earlier after being in California for close to twenty years. They moved there because Krissy’s father’s family was there and he had wanted to be closer to them. I, who had no ambition to move to Ohio, stalled for a couple of years. When Krissy made it clear she really did want to move, I said, fine, but I want five acres of land. I didn’t, really, but I grew up in Southern California and was currently living in the Washington DC area, where five acres of land was well beyond what I could afford. What I didn’t know was that in rural Ohio, you can get five acres of land for just about nothing. Krissy found a place on five acres of land, almost exactly: the land survey has it as 5.01 acres in total. She won; we moved.

I was apprehensive about the move. Not so much that we would be living in rural America, in which I had never lived before, although that was an adjustment, but because in 2001 most of my work was in doing consulting for companies that were based in the Washington DC area, where I lived, or in New York City, which was an easy train or air shuttle ride away. In 2001, the idea of telecommuting was still newish, and I didn’t know if my clients would be willing to have me phone in from the middle of nowhere in middle America. It was a enough of a concern that I warned Krissy that for the first year at least, I might not make any money at all; if my coastal clients ditched me then it would take me time to find either full-time or freelance work in Dayton or Cincinnati or Columbus. I would find work eventually, but what “eventually” meant was something I didn’t know. It was a real concern.

Or I thought it was, anyway. What actually happened was my clients gave me a couple of weeks to get settled in and sent me emails that were pretty much, “Hey, can you work yet? We have work for you.” It turns out no one was actually concerned if I was in Ohio. I had email and I had a fax machine and I had a phone. Between those three, no one cared if they actually saw my face. Which I appreciated! Not that my face is a problem. More that they were happy to let me do my thing wherever I was.

(In fact the only real problem was Internet connectivity; in early 2001, the only local ISP maxed out at — get this — 9600 baud. I thought I had died and gone to Internet hell. I ended up paying a ridiculous sum to be one of the first people in my little town to have satellite Internet, which was faster, as long as it wasn’t too cloudy, or rainy, or snowy. Rural Internet has always been a pain in the ass, folks.)

The early years of life in Ohio for me were isolated, but not, I should note, unpleasantly so. Krissy, who actually left the house from time to time, found a job and made friends there and locally. I, who really didn’t leave the house all that much, mostly watched Athena during the day and worked when she took naps, and otherwise was social, to the extent I was social, online. Which was fine — I was working with clients and had started writing books, mostly non-fiction to start, and Krissy’s family was nearby and we saw a lot of them. And also, you know. I like spending time with my spouse more than just about anyone else. I was content.

With that said, I was aware I was a bit of an odd duck around town. We as a family were odd ducks, in the sense that we were new — Bradford is the sort of place where the families have been in the area for decades and in some cases, for more than a century. Until Athena started going to school, we were mostly known as “those people in the Yost place,” “Yost” being the name of the previous occupants of our house. It really did take having a kid in the school system for people to get used to the idea that we were a permanent feature.

Athena in 2003, and in 2021.
Athena in 2003, and in 2021.

Athena’s entrance into the school system coincided very nicely with another big event, namely, my life as a novelist, and my entree into the world of science fiction and fantasy publishing and fandom. When that happened, my profile around town rose slightly, because, hey, I actually had books in the library now, and I think people liked that an actual full-time writer lived in the area, even if he was a bit of a liberal nerd (Bradford, being rural, is both largely conservative and blue collar). Also, I started traveling significantly more, both to science fiction conventions, and on various business-related trips. When that began to happen, I appreciated my relative isolation at home even more. I’m a highly socialized introvert, but I am an introvert, and when I’m done with people I need time to recharge. Bradford, Ohio turns out to be a perfect place for me to be an introvert in.

It also turns out to be an okay place to get to other places from. Bradford is out of the way, but it’s out of the way in Ohio, which is the seventh most-populated state in the union, and in the general Great Lakes region, which is fairly densely populated as well. We’re 45 minutes from Dayton, 90 minutes from Cincy or Columbus, and just about two hours from Indianapolis. At three hours there’s Detroit, Lexington and Louisville; Cleveland is four and Chicago is five. For someone who grew up in Los Angeles, where it can take two hours to get from Silver Lake to Santa Monica, this is all doable. In 20 years we have not lacked for things to do or the ability to do them.

I’m not a native Ohioan, but it’s fair to say that my career as a novelist is; it was born and came of age here. Old Man’s War was written here in this house, in the same office where I’m writing this now, as was every other novel since Old Man’s War (not counting relatively small bits written while traveling). I’ve noted before how I like the idea that so much science fiction — so much thinking about the future — comes out of this small Ohio town where I can look out my office window and see corn grow and Amish buggies clop by. It’s incongruous but in a good way. I like writing here and I like thinking about the universe someplace where I can see the Milky Way at night.

It’s also fair to say that Ohio has been kind to me as a writer, too. The state acknowledges me as one of its own — most memorably by giving me the Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio in 2016 — but in other ways, too. When I won the Astounding Award and later when I won the Hugo, the Ohio House and Senate sent proclamations congratulating me; I’ve been a featured guest at the Ohioana Book Festival, and I’ve even had my birthday celebrated at the Governor’s mansion, complete with a cake. I like that Ohio likes me as much as I like it. I try to reciprocate. There’s a reason the state keeps showing up in my work, after all.

(Ohio’s been kind to me as a writer in another way as well: Folks, it’s cheap to live here, especially in comparison to places like New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco, the traditional US writer destinations. When I want to send writers from those areas into an apoplectic rage, I tell them how much my four bedroom house on five acres cost. Now, cost of living isn’t as simple as how much a house costs, and there are other factors you have to consider about where you live aside from cost of living. Not every writer is going to feel at home, for example, living in a small conservative rural community like Bradford, Ohio. But Ohio has cosmopolitan metropolitan places as well, and they are cheaper to live in, too! Come on down! Live cheaply! Relatively speaking!)

Krissy in 2005, and in 2021.
Krissy in 2005, and in 2021.

It’s been twenty years that we’ve been in Ohio, and people do occasionally ask us if we think about leaving and living somewhere else. And in fairness it’s a question we asked ourselves not too long ago. Athena is a grown person now, and much of Krissy’s family has moved away again, so the things that would have previously tied us to Ohio don’t have as much pull. So the question becomes: why stay?

For us, part of the answer is practical: Because we’ve already paid off the house, for one, and don’t necessarily want to take on the cost of another, different house elsewhere. We like our house, so the plan is to make it comfortable to live in and then travel to other places we want to see in the world. But part of it is also: We like Ohio, and we like our little part of it. I like seeing the stars, and taking pictures of sunsets and foliage, and being able to have a lot of space between my house and the next one over. After 20 years, Ohio suits us. Maybe some day that will change (and if it does it will be for practical reasons, like: stairs are tricky after a certain age), but for now, we’re content to stay.

Twenty years is a long time to be in any one place. What I am happy to say is, for me, at least, it’s been a very good twenty years. I don’t regret moving to Ohio twenty Februaries ago, and there’s not much about my life I would change since then. Almost nothing, in fact. Maybe that I should have woke up early in 2001 and helped unpack. Other than that, I’d keep it pretty much the same.

Ohio has been very good to me these twenty years. I hope in some small way I’ve been good for it as well.

Sunset clouds, 2020.

— JS

Learn More About Me: My Favorite Animal

Athena ScalziToday I’m back with another edition of “Learn More About Me”. This riveting series of posts is just meant to get all you lovely readers more familiar with me: the person you’re reading! I’ve already posted about my favorite movie, anime, and song, so today I decided to do my favorite animal.

Just like my favorite movie and color, this favorite of mine has been lifelong and unchanging, and by this point I doubt I will ever determine a new favorite. Anyways, without further ado, my favorite animal is a tiger!

Why is the tiger my favorite? I think there’s a couple different factors that contribute to that. One, I was born in the year of the tiger! Two, big cats are my favorite type of animal in existence (I know, I should’ve saved it for another “favorites” post, but that probably would’ve been too weirdly specific), and since tigers are the biggest and baddest TRUE kings of the jungle, they’re my favorite big cat.

I mean just look at them! Majestic.

Name one thing that could kill you that’s cuter than that. You can’t! They’re just so fluffy and adorable… and deadly!

I love the fact that tigers like water, even though cats are known for hating it. They’re unique, just like their stripes. I mean just look at this funky dude having a swim:

Look at those BEANS. They’re so big! This post is really just me fawning over how cute tigers are. Despite them being my favorite, I never had a single tiger plushie as a kid, or really anything tiger-related.

Also, Aladdin was/is one of my favorite Disney movies, and Rajah is by far my favorite Disney animal companion! He was so sweet and supportive to Jasmine, and just look at his face!

[Attempt to insert image of Rajah but get nerfed by Disney for copyright]

So, yeah, tigers have always been a personal favorite of mine. And no, I haven’t seen Tiger King. Let me know what your favorite animal is in the comments, or let me know if you’re a tiger in the Chinese Zodiac, too! Or if you have any suggestions what I should do next for a “favorites” post, that’s appreciated, too.

Have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Stephen Deas

The truth hurts. And sometimes, you’re not the only one hurt by it. Author Stephen Deas explores the consequences of telling the truth in the Big Idea for his newest novel, The Moonsteel Crown. Read on to see how some secrets are perhaps better off staying that way.

STEPHEN DEAS:

The Moonsteel Crown (Angry Robot, February 2021) will be approximately my twenty-second professionally published novel (approximate because of uncertainty in how to count collaborations and ‘that fringe publisher who in hindsight was possibly a mistake’). This is long enough for patterns to emerge that say more about me as an author than they do about my individual protagonists. I apparently have a penchant for female characters, for example, who will stab you before they ever allow themselves to be a victim (Zafir in the Memory of Flames series, Liss and Alysha in the From Darkest Skies trilogy, Myla in The Moonsteel Crown). My protagonists are, almost without exception, relentless motherfuckers who don’t stop digging at something even when they probably should. While this probably says more about the basic nature of protagonists than it does about me as an author, I’ve noticed a change in what they’re looking for. In my earlier works, there was a tendency towards seeking validation (Zafir again, Berren in The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice). Now, they tend to be looking for the truth (Keon in From Darkest Skies, William Falkland in The Royalist, Nicky in I Know What I Saw, and Seth in The Moonsteel Crown). 

Sure, there’s a whole bunch of other things going on. Everyone is a multi-faceted and complex three-dimensional human being, yadda-yadda… In The Moonsteel Crown, Seth might be searching for the truth, but Fings surely isn’t, and Myla is mostly looking for forgiveness. Nevertheless, the thematic shift is there, a reflection of my own growing alarm that the concept of “truth” is slowly being destroyed by lies, fake news and propaganda (we can get into one about how there’s no such thing as objective truth, only statistical truth, but neither of us has had enough beers for that right now). 

Of course, being a writer, I immediately undermine myself: the truth in my fictional worlds is a sword with two edges. In From Darkest Skies (which really is a story about confronting the unknown, although it’s very much a story about grief as well), Keon spends three whole fucking novels trying to get to the bottom of what happened to Alysha when, frankly, if she wanted him to know, she could just have left him a note. But he does it anyway, and even I couldn’t tell you whether he ends up in a better place than where he started. Nicky does better in I Know What I Saw. That’s probably down to me being kind: she really didn’t want to go on that journey in the first place.

These are stories of hunting for a deeply personal truth. The sort of truth that’s kept from you ‘for your own good’ by friends and lovers and partners because ‘you’re better off not knowing.’ Secrets kept out of a genuine desire to keep you from harm, but how often is that really the right thing to do? Is it ever? If I know something, and you’re my friend, and I know that that something will hurt you, do I tell you or do I hide it? If I hide it, is that a betrayal? I can say, from personal experience, that having to weigh up that decision, especially when the ‘thing’ is a big thing (an infidelity, say), sucks. The person I was twenty years ago would advocate a Policy of Truth. Now? Well, let’s just say I’m glad it’s mostly a question I get to explore in fiction rather than reality.

There’s another common kind of truth-hunter in fiction, though: the character who’s set upon unravelling an institutional conspiracy of silence. The journalist setting out to expose a government cover-up. The detective rooting out corruption in their own department. That sort of thing. Almost without exception, the secret being hidden is something dark that will bring powerful men crashing down if revealed. It’s the story of the plucky investigator who goes up against the system, threatened with overwhelming force as soon as they threaten the status quo. I suppose, the ‘big idea’ of The Moonsteel Crown and its sequels is… what if it’s not like that? Yes, there’s a vast, all-encompassing institution, and yes, there’s a secret they’re protecting but… what if it’s catastrophically bad for everyone for this secret to get out? What happens when your truth-seekers reach that final revelation? Do they turn their coats and join the conspiracy they’ve been fighting all this time? Or do they see it through, and risk literally ending the world?

It’s been done before. The movie Deep Impact explores this a little in its first act. I’m sure there are many other examples… Oh, wait, yes: Watchmen. Ah well, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, right?


The Moonsteel Crown: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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