View From a Hotel Window, 10/26/18: Charleston, WV

Perhaps one of the great “view of a parking lot whilst on tour” photos: I mean, look at that! That immense parking structure! All in one place!

Tonight: Nothing! My plan is to camp out in my hotel room. Maybe go to sleep early. I am exciting!

Tomorrow: I’m at the West Virginia Book Festival at 11am! I’ll be doing my thing and then signing and otherwise loitering about. Come see me, please!

And on Sunday, I’ll be in Austin, Texas (yes, I know about the boil water alert), at the Texas Book Festival, also at 11am, but this time I’ll be in conversation with Victoria Schwab. We’re going to be amazing together. Come see us!

Notes and Advice From a Book Tour

The book tour for The Consuming Fire only has a couple more stops (that is, not counting the week I then spend in France after I am home for a day…), and I thought it might be fun to note a few things about life on the author tour road, and offer a few tips as well. These are not big revelations and/or tips, but are things worth considering, if you’re on the road as an author, or are hoping to be at some point.

1. I eat a fair amount of room service on the road, and it seems to me that in general room service food has gotten better over the last few years. This might be because the hotels now often have an actual (i.e., not just Sysco’s Greatest Hits) restaurant on board. But even when not, it just seems better. Last night I had very serviceable pad thai and better than average pecan pie. I’m pleased about this development and hope it continues.

2. You can put two weeks worth of clothing into a carry-on if you know how to maximize space, but at least a couple times in the course of the tour you will have to reorganize your carry-on so you can easily access the clean stuff. I just did that again this morning; I don’t want to have to go exploring to find the clean underwear (small tip for telling apart the clean and dirty clothes if you don’t put the dirty clothes in a bag: Turn the dirty clothes inside out).

3. My largest cash expenditure on tour? Tips. Everything I can put on a credit card I do (so that there’s a clean record for taxes or reimbursement from the publisher), but for people like hotel staff and drivers, cash is best. I should note that most of the costs of the tour are shouldered by the publisher, but (and this is a personal choice) I usually handle tips myself, because I am the direct recipient of the service;. This is where I insert the usual complaint that the tipping society we live in is inherently unfair, etc, etc, but the fact is we live in a tipping society, so I tip.

4. I use a carry-on when I tour because there’s less chance of being separated from my luggage forever, BUT because of contemporary luggage policies, a lot more people are doing carry-on these days. If you aren’t in the first couple of “zones” to get seated on a plane, you’re probably going to have to end up gate-checking your luggage. It used to be that if you were seated in premium economy (or its equivalent on your airline), you’d automatically be in one of those first few zones, but at least some airlines — I’m looking at you, United — appear to have decoupled the two. The moral of this story is probably to fly Delta, which still does pair their premium economy to getting on the plane relatively early.

5. This is matter of personal taste, but for most domestic flights, I do find “premium economy” or its equivalent perfectly serviceable for plane rides. This is no doubt because I have relatively short legs and also don’t drink alcohol, so two of the major attractions of business/first class are wasted on me. I did get an upgrade to first class on one flight of the tour and it was lovely, but (and aside from a bit of Twitter comedy about it) not so much that generally I’m willing to spend a couple hundred dollars more (or a couple hundred dollars of my publisher’s money) to make the upgrade. I make exceptions for this — if I’m on a red-eye flight I will often opt for business class in order to sleep a little better — but generally I don’t find it worth the money, mine or my publisher’s.

6. Authors: Want to make friends with the bookseller hosting you on the tour? At the end of your presentation, just before the signing part, encourage the people at the event to buy a book from the bookstore (even if it’s not your own book!). Most people at your event have probably gotten a book from the store already (and probably your book, because they want you to sign it), but some haven’t, and some people forget that there’s a high correlation between a bookseller hosting future events, and the bookseller doing well with the current events. So remind people to buy books from the bookstore at your event, and to support them the rest of the time as well.

7. Authors (and anyone else who travels a lot), if you have a decently long tour and also a favorite airline, I suggest either getting an American Express platinum card (uhhhh, if you can) or an airline-related credit card, which allows you access to the airlines “clubs.” Especially if you have a long layover/wait at an airport, they tend to be places that are less frantic than the rest of the airport, where you can get something to eat or drink and otherwise depressurize for just a bit. I have the platinum Amex, which means I get access to the Delta Skyclubs (when I fly Delta) and Amex’s own “Centurion Clubs,” and it makes a difference for my airport experience. The annual fee isn’t cheap, but for the amount I travel in a year (and factoring in other benefits, like the fact I have automatic “Gold” status at several hotel chains), it’s been worth the cost overall.

8. General rule of thumb for a tour, but also I think for life in general: Try to be kind and decent to everyone who is supporting you on a tour, from the people who drive you places to the booksellers to the hotel staff to (if you have one) media escorts, and especially to the people who come to your events to see you. Sometimes this is less easy than others, if you’re tired or you’ve had an aggravating day or whatever. But, aside from the fact that when you practice kindness, kindness is often returned to you, the fact is that everyone remembers how you treat them and everyone also talks. A reputation for being a decent human will take you a lot further than a reputation for being a difficult turd.

9. One of the best things about touring for me is the fact I often get to see friends either before or after an event. I highly recommend trying to book a little time to see people if you can, not only because touring can be isolating and people react poorly to being isolated, but also because friends can keep you grounded and happy. If you have a lot of friends you won’t be able to see them all (and you may have to remind them that you probably won’t be able to go off and do some hours-long thing because you’re actually working, and you’ll probably have to stay near your hotel and/or event), but make the effort to see at least one or two. It actually makes a difference to your quality of life.

10. But also make sure you have some time for yourself! Most authors are introverts and can use some recharge time. One of my favorite things is to do when I have a day when I have an early event (or if I get into a hotel room early) is to nap, or to order room service, fire up Netflix and do a little bingeing. You will have to be “on” nearly every time you’re in front of someone else on tour, so having time where you can be “off” is actually really important. Make sure you schedule time to do that. It’s important.

And those are today’s tips.

The Big Idea: Dan Koboldt

Science Fiction writers love science, but we don’t always get the science we already know 100% correct. Fortunately, Dan Koboldt is on the case, with his book Putting the Science in Fiction.

DAN KOBOLDT:

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Apex Magazine called “Eye-based Paternity Testing and Other Human Genetics Myths,” mostly because I was irritated at how frequently I encountered misconceptions about genetic inheritance in books, television, movies, and other media. I’ve worked as a genetics researcher for fifteen years, and it surprises me at how often people get this stuff wrong.

One frequent myth is the idea that physical traits like (like eye color) are inherited in classic Mendelian (i.e. dominant and recessive) fashion and can predict family relationships. The rock song “All I Wanna Do” by Heart is a great example. A woman has a one-night stand with a young man who apparently is hitchhiking. Years later, they run into each other and she’s got a child. “You can imagine his surprise,” the song goes, “when he saw his own eyes.”

It’s a great song but also not very realistic. Having similar eyes doesn’t make two people related. While it’s true that blood relatives often resemble one another, most physical traits that we think of as “genetic” are influenced by multiple genes and environmental factors. Eye color is a spectrum, and appears to be influenced by at least 15 different genes. It doesn’t always follow predictable inheritance patterns, either. People with blue eyes can have brown-eyed children and vice-versa.

In other words, eye color, like most physical traits, is not a good paternity test.

Another common myth is the idea of a “advantageous” mutation that changes an ordinary person into a superhero. It’s true that exposure things like radiation, carcinogens, and some classes of viruses can cause genetic mutations. However, a mutation occurs in the DNA of a single cell. Our bodies have millions of cells by the time we’re adults. Most mutations have no effect. Some may be deleterious, causing the cell to die. Even fewer mutations confer some kind of advantage to the cell, allowing it to grow and divide. If this happens, you don’t become a superhero; you’ve got cancer. Sorry, Spiderman.

After I wrote the article, I thought it might be fun to have an ongoing blog series to educate authors about scientific and technical aspects of science fiction. The problem was that many of the relevant topics were outside my area of expertise. We may not like to admit it, but scientists don’t know everything. We tend to specialize in a given field, and outside of it we may not have any more knowledge than the average person.

I wanted my blog articles to be written by true experts. After all, someone who works in a relevant field on a day-to-day basis can provide depth and nuance that you won’t find on Wikipedia. Also, their information tends to be more up-to-date, because not all of us get around to writing books or updating the relevant wiki page.

So I started to collect experts in other subject areas. The SFF community, as it turns out, is full of them. Most writers have day jobs, after all, and a lot of them work in science, engineering, medicine, and other technical fields. This was the genesis of my Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy blog series. Each week, I invite an expert to discuss their real world expertise as it applies to science fiction. Most of the contributors are SFF fans themselves, so they offer some lovely examples of works that get things wrong (or right).

Fast forward a few years, and the blog series had collected something like 150 articles representing a wide range of disciplines. Eventually, someone smarter than me had the idea to collect this useful information into a book. I thought that Writer’s Digest books would be the ideal publisher for such a reference. Luckily, they agreed.

Putting the Science in Fiction includes 59 chapters from a wide range of technical experts who collectively have endured more than 200 years of graduate school. Two thirds of the book’s contributors identify as female, by the way, so we’ve kept the “mansplaining” to a minimum. There’s also a hilarious foreword by bestselling author Chuck Wendig.

Our goal is simple: to help writers add a dose of realism to their science fiction stories. Every chapter is short and to the point; we address common pitfalls and misconceptions, and then offer some tips for getting the details right. With a bit of expert guidance, anyone can write stories that are realistic and compelling (even to readers who know a lot about the underlying science). And that, my friends, is the big idea.

—-

Putting the Science in Fiction: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.

View From a Hotel Window 10/25/18: Athens

Finally! A proper parking lot! They’ve been hard to come by this tour.

Tonight: Cine Athens at 6pm, sponsored by Avid Bookstore, which is awesome. Come by and say hello, and maybe stay for the event, and maybe buy a book! Or two! Or six!

Tomorrow: Travel day! I got nothin’. But Saturday I’m in Charleston, West Virginia, where my event will be at the Civic Center at 11am, with signing to follow. Come see me!

 

The Big Idea: Beth Cato

Magic is powerful and can change the world — but in Beth Cato’s new novel Roar of Sky, magic also has consequences, especially for those who wield it.

BETH CATO:

In my books, I write about women who are strong in realistic ways. In my first series, The Clockwork Dagger, Octavia Leander is a medician who is defined by her compassion and her courage to make a stand, whether in a battlefield surgical tent or against drunken punks pummeling gremlins for their amusement. I wrote her the way I did because I was sick and tired of waiting for someone else to write books about my favorite role-playing game archetypes–white wizards and clerics–as the main heroes, not as convenient doctors there to keep the big burly warriors alive.

I had a different idea in mind as I started Breath of Earth, the first book in my Blood of Earth trilogy. Ingrid Carmichael is a smart and savvy woman of color in an alternate history version of 1906. America and Japan are allied as the Unified Pacific and in the process of dominating mainland Asia. The economy and technology of her world is driven by geomancy: energy harvested from the earth and stored in crystals called kermanite. This harvesting is perilous business. Geomancers take in the power of an earthquake and hold it as a fever. This means that in a big earthquake, the lash of power could kill a geomancer almost instantly if they don’t break direct contact with the ground or channel the energy into kermanite.

When I describe the plot of Breath of Earth at conventions, I like to say, “Spoiler alert! There’s a big earthquake.” There’s no hiding that the climax of the novel is the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, but in this version of history, it happens for very different reasons.

Did I mention that Ingrid happens to be a geomancer? A really, really, powerful geomancer? Something women aren’t supposed to be–and certainly not women who look like her.

The second book, Call of Fire, takes the action up to the Pacific Northwest. To save herself and countless others, she must risk holding a whole lot of geomantic energy.

Some people insist that fantasy writers have it easy because magic provides an easy solution to problems. Not in my books. Magic carries consequences and Ingrid is a human woman channeling demigod-level powers. Her body is irreparably damaged. As I already established in my other series, I don’t believe Ingrid should be conveniently healed and sent on her way.

The cover of my trilogy’s finale, Roar of Sky, shows Ingrid standing amid the lava fields of Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island. She holds a guandao, a halberd-type weapon, but not to wield it in battle. She now relies on various aids to help her walk, climb stairs, and perform other basic functions. The events of the previous two books have left her in constant, nearly debilitating pain.

Even though I write a lot about magic, I see my books as fundamentally realistic. The women I know embody a quiet kind of strength that isn’t readily depicted in genre novels. They deal with pain on a daily basis, but they endure. They have trouble walking. It takes them several tries to get up from a chair. They cope with migraines that stab their eyes like ice picks, yet they get kids ready for school, drive, and do what needs to be done with one eye open. They endure. The women I know wouldn’t work well for some motivational feature on the nightly news; their lives are too normal, too boring. But you know what? They endure.

Ingrid is a gifted geomancer, but what enables her to stay alive isn’t her godlike power. It’s her endurance, her willingness to adapt, to find a way to stand up even through sheer agony. That’s what makes her a strong character, like so many of the real women I know.

—-

Roar of Sky: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s

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

The Consuming Fire: A New York Times and USA Today and Audible Bestseller!

Got the news last night, just before I was about to go do an event, so now I’m catching up here on the site:

Hey! The Consuming Fire is a bestselling book!

Specifically, it’s #15 on the New York Times Combined Print & Ebook Fiction List (and the only SF/F entry on this particular list), #35 on the USA Today list (which tracks sales of all books, fiction and nonfiction), and #8 on the weekly Audible bestselling fiction list (which tracks sales on Audible, which is roughly 90% of the audiobook market at this point).

That’s a pretty excellent showing, and better than where its predecessor, The Collapsing Empire, showed up on each respective list (it wasn’t on the NYT list at all), which is what you like to see when you’re dealing with sequels. This is also now fourth fiction book of mine out of the last five to make it onto a NYT bestseller list of one sort or another. I’ll take that very much, thank you.

Thanks are in order, including the very fine people at Tor, starting with my editor Patrick and moving on down the list there, the equally fine people at Audible, not neglecting my narrator Wil Wheaton, all the booksellers, indie, chain and online, who helped sell copies, and of course and obviously, every single person who went ahead an either pre-ordered the book, or got a copy of it in its first week. Every single one of you is pretty darn awesome.

I’m delighted my book is doing so well out of the gate. Thank you! Let’s see where it goes from here.

(Update: It’s also #10 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list for eBooks, and #23 on the Publishers Weekly list for Fiction Hardcover Frontlist — “Frontlist” meaning new books. Not bad!)

View From a Hotel Window, 10/24/18: Raleigh

Ahhhh, a parking structure. Perfect.

Tonight: Quail Ridge books in Raleigh! 7pm! Be there or live forever in regret! Well, probably not forever. I’ll probably be back, eventually. But for a good three or four hours for sure!

Tomorrow: I’ll be in Athens, Georgia, at the Cine Room at 6pm, hosted by Avid Books. Please come, and, per my usual request, bring along everyone you’ve ever met!

View From a Hotel Window, 10/23/18: Chapel Hill!

I’m overlooking a backyard today, which is, uh, a little weird.

Tonight: Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill! 7:15! Be there or be somewhere I am not! But serious, be there. I don’t want to be alone, especially on a book tour.

Tomorrow: 7pm at Quail Ridge books in Raleigh! So if you miss me tonight, but are in the general Raleigh-Durham area, you’ve got another chance to see me. Heck, since I’m doing the “rolling the die” thing to decide what things to do at my event, come to both! They will (statistically speaking) likely be different shows! And, of course, bring along everyone you’ve ever met.

The Collapsing Tour: One Week In

The tour is a little bit past the halfway point (my last event in the US is Sunday), and here are some quick thoughts on how it’s going so far:

1. So far, so good! There’s been a nice turnout at each stop, and people seem to be enjoying the set-up of rolling a die to find out what I’ll be doing that evening. I do a few variations of this; for example, last night in Chicago, because I was at the American Writers Museum, I talked writing process (and then rolled for the other things), while in Fort Collins, because the event was at a church, I actually did a sermon, complete with Bible reading, because, come on, how could you not? But the goal of making it different and fun each night is working, it seems.

2. The book also appears to be doing well — reviews are positive and the sales are very good. We’ll see if it shows up on bestseller lists, although so much of that depends on factors entirely out of my or anyone else’s control, and doesn’t necessarily track with total sales. The Collapsing Empire sold the most units in the first week of any book I’ve put out (so far) and it didn’t hit the NYT hardcover list, sooooo who can say? It does look like Fire is doing at least as well as Empire, however. Can’t complain about that.

3. I wish I hadn’t’ve booked so many early morning flights (today I was up at 5; when I went to LA, I had a 2:40am car pickup, which was kind of hellish), but seeing fans and friends has been worth getting up early for (although I usually call it a night early). And I’m pretty sure today is the last early flight! It’s sleeping in from here on out.

4. I’m doing more walking this tour — a couple of stops where the event was a mile or so from my hotel, I elected to walk over rather than take a car. Between that and the usual airport walking (especially at big airports), I’m actually getting exercise. I kind of need it, I have to say.

5. After Sunday, I get to go home for one whole day, and then I’m off to France. Wheee!

In all, everything is groovy so far. Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Athens, Charleston and Austin, I’ll be seeing you soon.

View From a Hotel Window, 10/22/18: Chicago!

I love this town. But most of you already knew that.

Tonight: I am at the American Writers Museum at 6:30pm. They just tweeted about me playing the ukulele, so I guess I have to do that now (that is, as long as someone’s brought one to the event).

Tomorrow: North Carolina! I am in you for two — yes, two! — dates, and the first is at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. The event starts at 7:15pm, so don’t panic if you’re running a smidge late — you’ve got a 15-minute margin built in. Please come and bring everyone you know!

View From a Hotel Window, 10/21/18: Fort Collins

Parking lot? Check. Rocky Mountain foothills? Check. Football stadium? Apparently! Fort Collins it is.

Tonight: The event is at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 7pm, and hosted by Old Firehouse Books.We’re going to have a grand time, so please, come on by and bring everyone you know!

Tomorrow: Chicago! And I will be at the American Writers Museum. That will be at 6:30pm (i.e., slightly earlier than most evening events), so please plan accordingly. I’m very much looking forward to being in Chicago again.

View From a Hotel Window, 10/20/18: Salt Lake City

Well, it’s not the most inspiring view, but the room is lovely and the hotel is delightfully hipsterish.

Today: I’m at Weller Book Works! At 2pm! It’s a matinee showing! Please come see me do my thing.

Tomorrow: It’s Ft. Collins, Colorado, and I will be at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 7pm, hosted by Old Firehouse Books. Also please come see me do my thing here, and bring along everyone you’ve ever met.

How’s your weekend so far?

View From a Hotel Window, 10/19/18: San Francisco

And look! A parking lot! That’s a first on this tour.

Tonight: Borderlands Books! Tonight! At six! Which is an hour earlier than the usual evening event. Plan now!

Tomorrow: Salt Lake City and an afternoon event at Weller Book Works! 2pm! Be there!

Quick First Impressions of the Pixel 3

My phone died on me the other day, which was no good, but it gave me the excuse I needed to get a Pixel 3, which I wanted anyway. So while the phone death was inconvenient, happening as it did on the first day of my book tour, I was also not entirely displeased. This is what happens when you’re a tech geek: “My phone exploded! Oh boy, new toys!”

The primary reason I wanted the Pixel 3 was that its camera is supposed to be even better than the one on the Pixel 2, which was far and away the best phone camera out there, thanks to Google’s devotion to “computational photography,” in which the physical aspects of the camera take a backseat to how Google manipulates the information that comes in. The Pixel 3 does more of the same.

And does it work? I’ve taken a few pictures now and it seems to me that indeed the photo quality has improved a bit. I was in a Mexican-themed bar last night and took several pictures in low light, and they all came out pretty impressively (for example, the one above, which is as shot, right out of the phone). Other folks were hauling out their phones and taking comparison shots, and were agreeing the Pixel 3’s photos just looked better.

I also tested the portrait mode, which computationally blurs the background, and it seems to do a pretty good job, although it can still find things like clothes edges and eyeglass frames and arms a bit of a challenge. Nevertheless the blur looks natural, and also you now have a slider, so you can have more or less of it. Here’s what it looks like behind my friend Jon Shestack (I turned this one black and white):

There are some new features of the camera (like “Top Shot,” which helps you pick the best shot of the thing you were taking a picture of), mostly because I just got the phone and haven’t had time to run it through all the paces. But for straight-ahead photo shooting, it really does look like it’s better than the Pixel 2, which was already great.

Is it so much better that someone who owns a Pixel 2 (or other high-end smartphone) should rush out to get it? Probably not? Most flagship phones at this point take generally excellent photos, and for Pixel 2 owners, some of the new tricks are going to be ported into that phone as well. So you’ll probably be fine! That said, I’m glad I have a Pixel 3, because I really like taking photos, and it does an excellent job. And if you have a phone a couple of generations back and are looking to upgrade, with an eye toward picture taking, I definitely can recommend.

Otherwise so far it’s a perfectly good phone. I got the smaller one, which has the same physical form factor of the Pixel 2, although a bigger (and taller screen). It looks great and works fine so far. I’m sure I’ll have more to say later. But: So far, so good.

View From a Hotel Window, 10/18/18: Los Angeles

Dig that crazy sculpture down at the bottom left. I got in to my hotel SUPER early and they had exactly one room to give to me. Fortunately, one room was all I needed.

Tonight: Los Angeles! Downtown! The Last Bookstore! 7pm! Be there and bring everyone you know. It’s easily reachable through public transportation! Right by the Pershing Square stop!

Tomorrow: San Francisco, and the event is at Borderlands Books, one of my favorite bookstores in the country. Come on down and see me!

The Big Idea: K. Bird Lincoln

In today’s Big Idea, we learn of the tomb of a surprising person in a surprising location, and how K. Bird Lincoln used it to think about the world and characters she created in her new novel, Black Pearl Dreaming.

K. BIRD LINCOLN:

I grew up Lutheran in a mostly white church in Cleveland, Ohio. Imagine my surprise twenty years ago in Tokyo when my then-boyfriend’s kooky uncle leaned across the dinner table, bathing me in whiskey sour breath and said, “Hey, I’m from Shingo-mura, the town in Aomori that has Jesus’ Tomb.”

Right. For sure. Smile. Take another sip of beer.

I’d been told weirder things before, so I brushed it off. Only, the whole “Jesus’s Tomb” thing wouldn’t let go of me. Once Google became popular around 2002 that drunken phrase niggled at my brain cells until I caved and dropped down a rabbit hole of weirder-than-fiction history.

Kooky uncle’s surname, Herai, is actually quite unique in Japan. The Google rabbit hole revealed the theory it’s a Katakana-pronunciation version of “Hebrew” in Japanese. Regardless of what you believe, TripAdvisor lists “Christ’s Grave” as the number one “Thing to Do” in Shingo-mura. The city has a page that explains the whole history in English. TLDR: Jesus escaped Golgotha across Siberia, went to Northern Japan, changed his name to Daitenku Taro Jurai, married a farmer and had three daughters.

Huh. That wasn’t in my Sunday School class. My first instinct was affront, derision, disbelief. How could a country like Japan presume to claim Jesus? They couldn’t just steal him from centuries of Western tradition, culture and religion with an absurd story!

Fast forward a decade and I’d lived in Japan, had children, traveled widely, and experienced many ways in which U.S. culture has appropriated Asian cultural heritage in equally absurd ways. My children are biracial Japanese-Caucasian, and at the time I wrote the Urban Fantasy Dream Eater, there weren’t many multi-racial heroines represented in fantasy genres I read the most.

Believe me, I know exactly how fine a line I would walk presuming to write about Japanese culture from an insider perspective. So, I didn’t. The Portland Hafu series is based in “third nation” cultural identity: the shared habits, experiences, and traditions created at the intersection of two or more peoples.

Like my daughters who must feel awkward and guilty both at the Hiroshima Memorial and Pearl Harbor. Like Koi Pierce Herai in Dream Eater’s sequel, Black Pearl Dreaming, who is both U.S. and Japanese, and a mix of human and creature of the myth-based Kind.

The Big Idea is this: The people who wrestle every day with what to take and what to ignore from their cultural heritages, whose outside perspective even in the country of their birth, are the ones who will save the world.

Claiming Jesus is buried in a small town in Aomori may be absurd, but it does not perpetuate derogatory stereotypes or bring moral harm in a racist or sexist manner to Lutherans (or even Jews.) In Black Pearl Dreaming, Koi travels to Aomori and rightly ignores the Grave of Christ to focus on bigger issues. She contends with tricky, racist wounds still festering from the World War II Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the U.S.’s use of the Atomic Bomb. What do we owe those we’ve harmed in war? What if the harm inflicted allows the survival of a people? Who is qualified to judge the balance of good or evil? Or forgive.

When the stakes are high, it is those who are fluid with their identity, who cannot force their round pegs into one solid square nationalistic shape, that have the meta perspective necessary to empathize with all sides.

Regardless of your politics, the times are calling for more empathy, more understanding of disparate points of view. It’s the interstitial and the third nation folks who may hold the key to humanity’s ultimate survival.

—-

Black Pearl Dreaming: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Kobo

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

View From a Hotel Window, 10/17/18: Portland

It feels very Portland-y to me.

Also, this is the first photo from the TempPhone™, the phone I’m using for a couple of days until I can get my grubby little hands on a Pixel 3. The TempPhone is basically the cheapest phone they had at the Verizon store, which two generations back would have been a perfectly respectable little phone but now is, well, cheap. I needed a phone for things tomorrow. Let’s just say I’m not getting super-attached.

Tonight: Portland! I will be at the Clackamas Barnes and Noble at 7pm! Come on down and bring everyone you know, it will be more fun than possibly you will know what to do with.

Tomorrow: Los Angeles! I will be at The Last Bookstore in downtown LA at 7pm! It is one of the great urban bookstores! You will love it! And also I will be there. Come on down!

Housekeeping Notes, 10/17/18

Just a couple of brief things:

1. My phone’s hotspot was acting odd last night so I reset my phone to see if it would fix it. Not only didn’t it fix it, but the phone completely refused to turn back on. Various emergency procedures were enacted (including cursing, begging and bargaining) but to no avail. So I am currently without phone. Fortunately Verizon wireless stores are everywhere (including near my hotel in Portland today), so I’ll get this addressed, BUT for the short run you’ll likely not see pictures, etc from me, and once I leave the friendly confines of wifi I’m unlikely to be updating social media, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

2. While I’m on tour (ie, basically for the next three weeks), I’ve made the executive decision not to make an effort to get caught up on what’s going on out in the world. I mean, I’ll be in airports so those damn TVs will be on, and I’m not going to turn my face away from newspapers or the occasional bit of news I get from other sources. But I’m not going looking for it either. My point is I’m unlikely, because of time and travel constraints, to delve too deeply into the news of the day until mid-November at least. Also, I’ve voted already and therefore feel I’ve earned a little break. Don’t expect much political/topical content here for a bit, is what I’m saying. (Mind you, I reserve the right to change my mind. But I probably won’t.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, either.

The Big Idea: Steven Erikson

Call Steven Erikson a radical, a rebel or just someone who watches too much TV, but the fact is: Right now, a particular trope of fiction has him fed up. And he’s doing something about it, as he explains in this Big Idea for his latest, Rejoice, A Knife the Heart.

STEVEN ERIKSON:

I have a confession. I watch a lot of television. When it’s not sports that I’m watching, it’s dramatic series, be they mainstream or Netflix or any of a number of available networks. And I go to films. A lot. Sometimes I wonder why I bother, since my disaffection grows. What’s bothering me about all these television shows, series, and all those films? In a lot of them (okay, in most of them), at some point, somewhere, a certain expression of power shows up. I’m not talking the superhero flicks here. I’m talking about something rather subtler, so commonplace we barely notice, even though it drives plot after plot.

It’s this: men with black sunglasses and wearing suits and driving black SUVs show up. They chase down the hero, truss them up and whisk them away. Or the hero escapes a few times, only to eventually confront whatever hidden hegemony is behind all the secrecy, and it’s the black-suits all getting gunned down in the white heat of righteous rage (because, really, who wouldn’t?).

Or: a SWAT team kicks in the door and basically does the same thing. Or maybe it’s a Special Forces squad. Or how about the classic combination: SWAT team and some guy in a lab coat wearing wire-rimmed glasses who’s always last to arrive.

The point is, time and again, some hidden authority barrels into the story, and we’re off and running. Now, for entertainment purposes, sure, it’s what we’re kind of used to these days: secret cabals of government/corporation/whatever are out there messing with the lives of innocent people, and the plot often boils down to an almost Western motif: the lone individual against corrupted nodes of concentrated, above-the-law power, be that a monomaniacal rancher, robber-baron, or the Illuminati.

Well, all of that leads me to a second confession: I am having a growing problem with authority. I am not so naïve as to not understand the notion of secrecy (or even privacy if one wants to swallow the illusion that corporations are people, at least legally, and that successful competition demands the hiding away of knowledge); and I get that nations play the same game. But, you see, film and television are showing us a world, and in that world anyone who has a secret will by default erect enormous organizations devoted to keeping that secret, and that organization must, of course, not only be heavily armed, but also justified in killing to defend that secret. Until the hero arrives to tear it all down.

When I watch the eponymous scene – that SWAT team charging in, faceless and guns bristling, to tie up and whisk our hero away – a small but steely voice in my head speaks to those anonymous soldiers: “What gives you the right to do this? See how you revel in your power to terrorize someone, hiding your humanity there behind your face-shield. See how readily you take orders, even when those orders can destroy the lives of your country’s own citizens. How eager must be your salutes to that great cold-eyed spider at the heart of the web, that the sovereignty of a single person should mean so little…”

Yeah, I know: Steve, take a breath. It’s only a silly show, after all. And we watch with nary a blink of the eye. This is the modern world, after all, one where abuse of power is so common we barely take notice of it. It’s just how it is, and Hollywood is simply reflecting that reality. Yeah, I get it.

I’d been meaning to write a First Contact novel for well over a decade. I’d made researching such a novel into a hobby. I had an inkling that I didn’t want to create a novel that sat easily within the sub-genre. I wanted to dismantle a few tropes, the first one being how so many First Contact stories involve, a priori, an Earth-based authority as humanity’s first point of contact: a secret Majestik-style cabal deep inside the government, the ubiquitous Men In Black; or an astronaut settled deep into the quasi-military realm of NASA; or a scientist (collected up by men in black suits wearing black sunglasses and driving big black SUVs) acting at the behest of the People in Power, and more crucially, that ET’s willing to play along.

Instead, and I think this qualifies as a Big Idea when it comes to First Contact SF, I wanted an ET arriving that then set about doing what it does, while utterly and completely ignoring the usual list of suspects (presidents, men-in-black, scientists, the military); and to then not only ignore them, but bring them down. An end to secrecy. An end to hidden power-blocks and all the vicious games they play to stay in power. Wake up, world, to a brand-new day.

Sometimes an idea for a novel only comes alive when two entirely disparate elements suddenly come together. That synergy is the fuel every writer looks for. It launches the rocket, does all the heavy lifting, and before you know it, you’re floating in orbit, looking down on the whole shebang.

Rejoice, A Knife to the Heart is my thought-experiment, my ‘what if’ followed by ‘then what?’ Sometimes, the only way to kick back is through art. Anything else and suddenly the black SUV’s pull up outside your house and, well, you know the rest…

Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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View From a Hotel Window, 10/16/18: Seattle

Running a little late because I got into room late! But very pretty. No parking lot, sorry.

Tonight: I’m at the University Bookstore at 7pm! If you hurry you can still make it!

Tomorrow: Portland, Oregon and I’m at the Clackamas Barnes & Noble! Come see me please! Bring everyone you know!