Editor Mark Matthews has experience with the world of horror, and the terrors of addiction. In the anthology, Orphans of Bliss, both are explored, with the help of a host of authors who craft stories with both in mind. Here’s Matthews to get under the skin of the anthology.
Orphans of Bliss: Tales of Addiction Horror, the follow up to theShirley Jackson Award nominated, Lullabies for Suffering, is now out of the womb and breathing on its own. This is the third and final fix of ‘addiction horror’ anthologies, and as editor and a contributing writer, it’s been an exhausting, amazing, and cathartic experience.
What’s the Big Idea—Why addiction horror?
I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict, and spent years waking up needing a fix.
Now, as a substance abuse therapist, I’ve seen addiction on a daily basis.
Writing about addiction for me came natural. It’s perpetually part of my fiber. When I bleed on the page, it’s in the color of my blood. I didn’t set out to write horror, I set out to write, and as the addiction element was tapped from my veins, what came out was horror.
Horror felt the only fit, and horror tropes are apt analogies.
Imagine, someone just shot up heroin for the first time, and soon their body will be aching for more the way a vampire thirsts for blood. Someone right now is buying a half pint of vodka with shaky hands at the liquor store, trembling with terror. Parents live with children who seem as if possessed, and soon enough, identify their overdosed body at the hospital.
Truth is actually darker than fiction, and horror shines a revealing light onto the demons, the dark truths of addiction, in a manner no other genre can.
After writing my own addiction horror novels such as Milk-Blood and All Smoke Rises, the Big Idea was—What might other horror writers do with this topic?
And the addiction horror anthologies were born.
One requirement I had for inclusion in the anthologies is empathy and understanding for those who have lived with addiction. Last thing I wanted to do was stigmatize the condition, but rather, illuminate its impact and increase awareness. I wanted a deeper understanding of, and even compassion for, the sick and suffering addict. “Horror is not about extreme sadism, it’s about extreme empathy,” Joe Hill so aptly noted. Until you’ve had your mind and soul hijacked by addiction, it is difficult to comprehend. In the throes of a craving, the desire to obtain and use substances equals the life force for survival itself. Imagine yourself drowning and being told not to swim to the surface for air. Obsessions should be so mild.
Horror is a uniquely powerful genre to reveal larger truths about the world we live in. To hear about the nature of addiction in a story, putting the reader into the addict’s body, brain, and spirit as it morphs into something horrific, makes the larger crisis much more personal than simply citing a statistic. The stories inside these works, some of which include the supernatural, are true, even if they didn’t happen. More people will die of an opioid overdose in the time it takes to read the three anthologies, than actually die in the books.
While the works offer an unflinching portrayal of addiction and those it impacts, the goal is not to condemn those who use substances. God knows I wish I could join you, but I’m one of those who can’t. It’s impossible for me to drink or drug without leading to disaster. I’ve learned to live with the cravings, as so many in recovery have, and how to not feed the beast. It’s statement of the perseverance and power of the human spirit that people continue to fight, and recovery from addiction is something to celebrate.
Horror as a genre is a testimony to this ferocity of the human spirit that faces our demons. We love Jamie Curtis from the Halloween franchise because, like her, we all have to constantly fight monsters, often from our childhood. And even if the battle is won, the war’s not over. Michael Myers gets up from the spot on the lawn, after that cathartic moment when you were sure he was dead, and he runs back to the darkness from whence he came. Like addiction, the monster is not conquered, but only in remission.
In all, there are 15 different writers spread out over the three analogies. A few writers are in all three, most are only in one. Feels only right to name them, so pardon me this list, alphabetical by first name: Caroline Kepnes, Cassandra Khaw, Christa Carmen, Gabino Iglesias, Glen Krisch, Jack Ketchum, Jessica McHugh, Johan Thorson, John FD Taff, Josh Malerman, Kealan Patrick Burke, Max Booth III, Mercedes M Yardley, S.A Cosby, and Samantha Kolesnik.
Many stories are told from the perspective of family and loved ones who are impacted by addiction, rather than the substance user themselves. (and in fact, the addiction is not always just to substances.) Settings range from treatment centers, to deep space, to the rural woods, to dystopian landscapes. Many tales are as much speculative science fiction as horror.
This is my Big Idea and I hope these books bring people together through increased understanding and awareness, since there’s no better way to tell a dark truth than through a dark work of horror. Horror has the capacity to speak to this trauma in a unique fashion, and when readers journey through tales of trauma, it binds us together as if we’re part of a family, no longer living alone with our fears.
She’s totally not judging you, though (spoiler: She absolutely is).
Also, yes, I intend to write about the draft decision from Alito, but I have a lot of thoughts about it and I will need a little bit of time to organize them into something more than venting. Soon. In the meantime, you have Twitter for my unexpurgated thoughts on the matter. I don’t imagine they will surprise any of you.
When I decided to write science fiction, one of the things I thought was, well, I won’t have to do a lot of research because I can just make things up! I was, shall we say, quickly disabused of that notion. In fantasy, it’s a very much a similar situation, as Dan Koboldt, the editor of Putting the Fact in Fantasy, is here to tell us.
As fantasy writers, we get to make things up. It’s a great gig, really. We can write a story in a secondary world with elves riding dragons to a desperate battle against the nefarious serpent warriors, and no one bats an eye. It’s fantasy. We’re expected to tell lies.
Even fantasy stories have some grounding in the real world. Characters in fantastical worlds still need to eat, travel around, talk to each other, and fight the occasional battle. It makes sense to give them food, horses, languages, and swords to meet such needs. Writers can get into trouble because these things exist in the real world, and they have their quirks. Without a basic understanding of the topic, it’s easy to make mistakes that will throw a knowledgeable reader right out of the story.
A classic example is the most common food in epic fantasy, the bowl of stew. Countless heroes seem to encounter this hearty meal during long, cold journeys to far-off lands. It’s worth pointing out – especially for writers who may not do a lot of cooking – that making stew in a hearth or campfire takes at least two or three hours. It’s therefore a realistic food for the proprietor of an inn to serve. However, an army on the march would probably not devote three hours to food preparation, so stew would not be the most realistic meal.
We’ve all read fantasy tales with unrealistic elements. There are soldiers eating stew, horses galloping for hours at a time, and teenagers who master sword fighting in a week. In fairness, most fantasy writers are not horse-owning historians who minored in fencing. I’m certainly not. However, I am a bowhunter who spends a lot of time in the woods. And for some reason, the forests of fantasy literature are nothing like the places I know in the real world. A few years ago, I even wrote a blog post, 10 Things Writers Don’t Know About the Woods, in which I griped about some books and movies that featured woefully inaccurate woodland scenes. Soon after that, I wrote an essay contrasting medieval and modern archery, again drawing on my experience as a lifelong archer.
With those two posts I exhausted the limited expertise I could share with other fantasy writers. Yet there were so many aspects of fantasy worldbuilding about which I knew very little. So, I began inviting historians, linguists, martial artists, and other experts to my blog to discuss various topics relevant to fantasy writing. It was enormously educational for me. For example, I learned from equestrian Amy Perkins-McKenna that the joint between the upper and lower bones of a horse’s hind legs is called the hock. I found out from martial artist Eric Primm that in a knife-fight between two highly skilled opponents, everyone gets cut and they might both end up dead. And I was horrified to be told by Dr. Jen Finelli that to save someone with a stab wound in the chest, you might have to stab them in the chest a second time.
No writer can be a legitimate expert in anything. There are too many subjects you’d need to master and not nearly enough time. Nor is it necessary to have deep expertise in military strategy, economics, or political theory to write compelling stories. All you really need is advice from an expert. The purpose of my blog series (and the book that developed from it) is to provide writers with just enough information to be dangerous across a variety of fantasy-adjacent topics. This seems like a good time to mention that I’m always looking for new contributors who have relevant expertise.
Most chapters take a two-prong approach. First, the expert debunks common misconceptions that they see in books, television, and movies. For me, in the archery chapter, it concerns the amount of upper body strength required to even draw a bow that has killing power. Modern bows have a draw weight of fifty or sixty pounds (equivalent to lifting that weight with one arm). Historical weapons had even higher draw weights. Thus, I take issue when I read about a ninety-pound teenager using a longbow.
In the second part of the chapter, experts share some advice for getting the details right. Essentially, this part answers the question, how can I write about this and sound like I know what I’m doing? Most of my book’s contributors are writers themselves; they understand the need very well. They provide the basic facts and terminology to convince a discerning reader. In my discussion of archery, for example, I mention that one of the most difficult skills required for accurate shooting is judging the distance to a target. A character who gauged distance before shooting a bow would come across as realistic to me.
It’s surprising – and perhaps a little bit frightening – how competent you can make yourself appear with just a little guidance from a real-world expert. The best part about it? Once you’ve convinced discerning readers that you’re really an expert, it frees you up to tell even more lies.
After, of course, they ran around like puppies. That’s Charlie, obviously, on the left, and Buckley, the neighbor dog, on the right. They enjoy each other’s company, until one of them inevitably annoys the other. Then they get a time out until they’re happy to see each other again. This is also how people work a lot of the time, I’ve noticed.
To begin, first of May magnolias. Because they’re pretty, and that’s really the only excuse they need.
Second, I have plans for May! Like:
1. Appearances in Berkeley, Chicago and Gaithersburg, MD, which you can catch up with here. If you’re in any of those places, come see me. After May, I have no public events scheduled until Worldcon in September (save a couple of virtual events), and honestly, after giving over the last couple of months to promote Kaiju, I’m okay with that.
2. I’m meant to have a book done at the end of the month(ish), so guess where the focus of my attention will be this month?
(Shut up, it will be the book, seriously.)
To accentuate this point, I will be turning on my nanny software which will block news and social media sites in the morning, because I regret to say I am the sort of person who needs nanny software to block news and social media sites so that I can focus. This won’t mean much to you if you’re solely a Whatever reader (because these days I tend to update here in the afternoons anyway), but if you follow me on Twitter you may notice less of me there, particularly in the east coast AM hours. As the tradeoff is an actual novel in 2023 from me, I think you (and I) will survive.
3. Also in a more general sense I plan to ratchet down my social media use a bit in May (and hopefully beyond) because now 2022 is one-third gone and I have plans for the remaining two-thirds, and the place for me to best recoup that time for those plans comes from the time I spend mindlessly scrolling on social media. I’m not cutting it out entirely, because I live in a rural area and also on the Internet, and both of those facts means social media is where I hang out with friends. But I plan on better managing the time I am on it. A couple of years ago I made a guideline for myself of, if I spend more than five minutes an hour on social media scrolling mindlessly, to ask myself if there’s something else I wanted to do with my time instead. Usually the answer was “yes,” in which case I went and did that for the rest of the hour. I think I’ll get back to that.
(Mind you, sometimes the answer is “nope, social media is all I have planned for now,” which is fine, too. But I usually do have other things I want to do with my time, I have to say.)
4. Also, I’m feeling a bit sludgy these days, and the weather is finally nice, so I’m going to get back to exercising most days, which is a thing I’ve gotten a bit away from in the last several months because, well, I’m lazy and I default to not exercising pretty easily. This is not great, because I’m in my 50s now, and the eventual consequences of Not Actually Moving A Lot are going to be visited on me a lot sooner than I expect. Boo! Aging! Boo!
So: May! Events! Writing! Exercise! Non-Doomscrolling Activites! That’s the plan, and hopefully the last three will stick beyond the month of May as well.
As we head out of April and into May, here’s another very fine stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. What here makes you want to take it into a brand new month? Share in the comments.
I have had to turn down five(!) book blurb requests this week, so it’s worth making an official public announcement so people know it’s not personal. That announcement is:
I have a book due in about a month and I have a large number of works that I’ve already promised to look at with an eye toward blurbing. Because I both need to get my own work done, and need to work through my current potential book blurbing commitments, I cannot take on any more book blurb requests through the end of July 2022 at least. It’s neither fair nor ethical on my part to agree to look at something for blurbing purposes if I don’t know when I will be able to get to it, or whether I can give it a full and considered reading.
If this changes in either direction I’ll let folks know asap. For the moment, however: Blurbing hiatus until August. Thanks for understanding.
Most of you are aware by now that we bought a church in our town and are now in the process of renovating it, and and I know many of you are curious about how that renovation is coming along. So, here’s a brief update: It’s coming along pretty well! Let me walk you through three of the biggest things currently under renovation.
First, and perhaps most significantly, the church now has a whole new roof. The previous roof was not a disaster, but it needed to be replaced, as there was some leakage and other issues that ultimately would have presented long-term problems if left unaddressed. The new roof is, I am told by my wife, whose professional experience is directly relevant to this information, a 50 year-colonial slate dimensional shingle, which basically means that this roof will almost certainly outlive me. There are flat surfaces on the roof which have been resealed, and masonry work which has been updated. This was all not inexpensive. On the other hand, now that it’s done, I probably don’t have to think about it again, and if I do, it’s very likely our insurer’s problem. Which is great.
Second, we are redoing the balconies of the church. The previous balconies were multi-level, to accommodate tiered rows of seating, and also, thanks to a cantilevered overhang, not exactly structurally sound; when we got the church, the (too-low) railing of the balconies were peeling away from the wall. We are making the balconies all one level, removed the cantilevered part and are going to be putting on a taller, rather more secured railing. The balcony areas are going to be my combination library and chill out area, and are going to be pretty awesome when they’re done. I’m really looking forward to this area being completed.
Third, we are redoing the concrete retaining walls that surrounded the church property, elevating it up from the street — here you can see, by way of a retaining wall that’s already been removed, how far up from the street the church is (Krissy, five foot ten, presented for scale). The retaining walls were as old as the church and were not designed to let water drain out, so over the decades they degraded and tilted. The new retaining walls will have seep holes and better general design, and will again last for decades.
(You may notice that the area where new wall will go through also appears to go on the property of the house next door to the church. That is the old parsonage for the church, and we also bought that when we bought the church. Why? Among other reasons, so that we wouldn’t have to ask anyone else’s permission to, say, tear up a crumbling retaining wall and replace it something more structurally sound. No, you can’t come live in the parsonage; the previous owners were already renting it out and we kept the tenants. They’re lovely.)
There’s more going in inside the church, particularly in the basement area where we’re revamping the kitchen and putting in another bathroom, but that’s for another update. For now, a lot of big things are getting done, and the church will be better than ever because of it. I’ll be happy when it’s all done.
Current events have had a hand in Kali Wallace’s newest novel Hunters of the Lost City, but as Wallace points out in this Big Idea, some elements of it are taken from facts that are perennial, for better or worse.
You ever have one of those ideas that you really, really wish you didn’t have to think about? Like maybe one day you’re just minding your own business, plugging away at a your next children’s book that’s full of monsters and magic and adventures–you know, fun things–and you look up from your desk and you realize, oh right, oh no, the world outside is still a flaming garbage fire and somehow that has infested everything you write.
I don’t want to get into how this is my pandemic book. Everybody is tired of hearing about pandemic books. I’m tired of it too. It can be a bit wearying to look at a book and think, “Yup, I sure was feeling some kind of way about the world when I wrote that.”
Hunters of the Lost City is, in fact, a fun kids’ book full of monsters and magic and adventure. It really is, I promise. It’s about a brave girl gets into a lot of scrapes and trouble trying to learn more about her home, her family, and herself. There’s magic. Monsters. A bakery. A lost city. Scheming sorcerers. You know. Everything a fantasy book needs!
But amidst all that fun is the big idea that underlies the story, the one that wormed its way in as I was writing and revising, the one that I now recognize is unstoppable bleed-over from the real world. And that is the fact that the stories we tell ourselves and our children about the history of our communities and our societies are very rarely the complete truth.
I always knew this was going to be a book about an isolated community, but what the meant evolved throughout the writing process. My initial idea was more of an aesthetic than an idea: a peaceful walled town in the mountains, bright and idyllic during the daytime, but both surrounded by danger when darkness falls and shadows by its own secrets. The story is told from the point of view of twelve-year-old Octavia, for whom the past events that resulted in the town believing they are alone in the world are distant history. She is concerned about the here and now, not about tragedies that happened decades before she was born.
But part of growing up is learning that everything is connected to what has come before–and that adults often lie through their teeth about what that means. Sometimes they don’t mean to, as they are only repeating what they have been taught. Sometimes they do it on purpose. It’s not always easy to tell the difference.
I love writing middle grade fiction precisely because it’s for and about an age group that is starting out on the frightening, confusing, and wonderful journey of figuring out what it means to be a person in a big, messy world. This means learning that your parents are fallible. Your teachers are not telling you everything. There are people whose lives are nothing like yours. There are people in power who make terrible choices. There are times when people can believe they are doing the right thing and still cause so much harm.
Octavia’s story is both a journey through a magical land and one through the tangled quagmire of her home’s history, one that has been clouded for a long time under the lie of safety and protection. I wish this didn’t end up being such a timely concept. I wish I wasn’t having to say, “Well, this book is in part about how adults fabricate lies about history for their own personal gain,” while school boards and politicians across the US having full-on histrionic freakouts over the idea that schoolchildren might learn uncomfortable truths about the world.
And I wish kids didn’t have to deal with all that adult stupidity, but they do. Because the other thing about being ten, eleven, twelve years old is that kids see and understand so much more than grown-ups give them credit for.
(This is a lie, Spice is in fact very judgy, but she’ll still come back for pets and scritches, so that’s okay.)
Also, as I noted on Twitter earlier today, there’s a new Journey song! And it’s very Journey! None more Journey! Why not listen to it, and enjoy it, or judge it harshly, really, either is fine, Journey is gonna do their thing anyway:
Have a good rest of your evening. I’m gonna go pet my judgy cat.
Elon Musk is buying Twitter, apparently mostly just because he can, and people are — strangely! — worried about whether a thin-skinned ego monster of a billionaire who has problems relating to humans and appears to equate “free speech” with trolling is going to make a service already rife with trolls and and bots any better.
I have thoughts about this! And I will share them with you now.
So, is Elon Musk going to make Twitter better?
Probably not! Part of this can be understood by who appears to be genuinely excited by the fact that Musk is buying the service, namely the trolls and/or the bad actors who have been punted off the service because they were real dicknozzles to others, and are now deeply excited that they might be allowed to return and get right back on their bullshit again. Most everyone else is, at best, ambivalent about it, and a not trivial number of people are taking this as their cue to head for the exit; my follower count is down a solid 1,000+ since yesterday. Some of that may be bots being cleared away, but I suspect it may be folks going, “whelp, I’m out.”
Also, aside from the common trolls, everyone fully expects Seditionist-in-Chief Donald Trump to return to Twitter the moment he can; he’s out there saying he’s not going to, and that he’s going to be on his own service, but we all know that’s a lie. He’s another thin-skinned ego monster, purporting to be a billionaire, who has problems relating to humans, etc, and he will go to where the most people will find him, which is Twitter, and he’ll bring the shit brigade back with him. We all know how that worked out for the country last time.
Elon Musk buying Twitter will be resetting the service back to 2015, basically. Which is not great for anyone but Trump and the trolls.
Okay, yeah, maybe, but Elon Musk could make Twitter better!
I mean, it’s a quantum physics universe; anything could happen. But very little that Musk has said or done seems to suggest that he’s actually going to make Twitter better for anyone but trolls. His definition of “Free Speech” appears to be of the “I get to say entirely shitty things and face no consequences for it” variant which has made being on social media such a delight these latter years, so it seems likely that the new regime will just make Twitter swampier, not less so. Under this “free speech” rubric, reporting trolls and bots and fake accounts to the service seems even less likely to get a useful response than it does now, and it seems more likely than not that harassment and threats and general assholic activity will go way up, because the dude at the top thinks that’s just fine.
Now, Musk could do things to counteract the malignant shittery that by all indications he intends to let flourish on his site: As just one example, he could have Twitter offer finer-grained user-facing filtering and blocking tools that allow users better control of what and who shows up on their feed. He could also make them easier to find and use — put them up front, so people are aware right from the start that they exist and how to use them. Twitter does have filtering tools, but has done such a poor job communicating about them that really only the power users know they exist, much less use them, and even then they’re not entirely adequate. So if Musk gets the service to overhaul and improve user-side control, I’ll be happy to give him a thumbs up there.
But I’m not counting on that! Because, again, Musk doesn’t much seem to care whether people are shitty on Twitter, in no small part because he enjoys being shitty on Twitter. It also seems likely that he doesn’t care that the “free speech” dynamic he appears to tout emboldens the worst sort of people to attack, harass and threaten others, safe in the knowledge that there are no service-side consequences for doing so.
Maybe give a him a chance to prove himself before you criticize him!
Well, one, Musk doesn’t need for me to give him a chance: save a last-minute intervention from shareholders and/or the US government, neither of which I find likely, he’s gonna own the joint no matter what I think. Two: Why? Elon Musk is not exactly shrouded in mystery. He’s a very public individual and has clearly stated his opinions on many subjects, and has a verifiable history in terms of how he acts and what his positions are. It’s perfectly fine to make suppositions about him from existing evidence.
Could I be proven wrong? Absolutely! It may turn out that Elon Musk was the best thing ever to happen to Twitter, and that he will lead us into a new era of social media utopianism. But I’m not exactly counting on it. To the extent that Musk knows who I am (he doesn’t) or cares what I think (he doesn’t), he’s welcome to prove me wrong. And I would be delighted to be wrong! I just don’t suspect I will be.
You just hate him because he’s an outspoken billionaire, you socialist liberal snowflake!
I don’t hate him (I don’t know him, personally), and I don’t even think he’s been unfailingly awful, in terms of the products and services he’s had a hand in. PayPal has been useful to me for decades. Tesla has been a net good, I think, in helping us wean away from oil and fossil fuels. SpaceX seems to me mostly an affectation, but it’s an affectation that I have a personal and professional inclination toward, so, you know, fine. Starlink? Messing up the night sky for Internet, I don’t love it. Twitter? I suspect he’s going to fuck that one up, based on his public behavior over the years and stated plans for the service.
As for Musk being a billionaire: look, this might be surprising, coming from a rich straight white cis dude as this does, but I don’t really have prima facie antagonism of billionaires, and even if I did, that doesn’t stop me from doing business with them and/or their products when it suits me to do so, or when honestly there’s no choice if one wishes to interact with the modern world. I have taken money from Jeff Bezos, Rupert Murdoch and Stefan von Holtzbrinck, to name just three billionaires who have tossed proverbial coins at me, and I will very likely do so again, from them and other billionaires. I use Facebook and Instagram, whose billionaire leader Mark Zuckerberg is probably as delighted as it’s possible for him to be that Elon Musk has usurped him as the Tech Dude Most People Seem To Think Is Evil Today, and I used Twitter when Jack Dorsey was its eccentric billionaire leader. I use Apple and Google and Microsoft products on the regular.
But just because I take money from billionaires and/or use their products and services, it doesn’t follow that I have to be unfailingly fawning of them, or believe that they are peerless examples of humanity, whose glowing example we should all follow. They’re not! By their public actions, a lot of them are real dickheads. I understand there are oligarch fluffers out there, weirdly highly correlative to the sort of dude who thinks he’s a free-thinking libertarian but actually just doesn’t want to pay taxes or be obliged to care about anyone else. I’m just not sure why I am obliged to be one of them, even if I do continue to use Twitter, or buy a Pixel phone, or get something off of Amazon, etc.
You just don’t like free speech!
I like free speech just fine. I don’t think it has much to do with Twitter, however. Twitter is, and will remain, a private company, and what speech is there, is what whoever runs it decides is going to be acceptable. Musk’s iteration of it seems likely to encourage bad actors and decrease the signal-to-noise ratio; either Musk knows this and wants this, or thinks that this one time things will be different — in which case, bless his heart. But it will be his show; he can do what he wants, and everyone who continues to use Twitter will have to deal with it.
So are you going to continue to use Twitter?
Probably. It’s been extremely useful to me professionally, and a lot of my friends are there (still, at least for now), so it’s an important way for me to socialize with others during the day.
But you said Twitter is likely to get worse!
And it likely will! But the awfulness is also unlikely to be evenly distributed, and in my case I expect the awfulness to be manageable. Some of this is based on my own personality, which is generally reasonably well-insulated from the sort of bullshit trolls get up to on Twitter and elsewhere (having three decades of experience dealing with trolls going back to the USENET days helps). Some of this is based on being a rich straight white cis male and thereby getting rather less bullshit sent my way, and when I do it’s mostly losers punching up at me and hoping I engage so they can benefit from the exchange, and I’m happy to disappoint them. Some of it is based on being a Twitter power user, so I actually do know how use the service’s tools to shape my timeline, and for the places where that’s not sufficient I use Block Party, which, because Twitter is a legit marketing tool for me, is a tax-deductible expense. So in all I assume my Twitter experience will be only marginally more sucky than it is right now — again, more like it was in 2015.
That said, not everyone can afford $120 a year for a third-party filtering system for Twitter, or has familiarized themselves with the service’s tools, or, critically, is a straight white cis male who doesn’t mind that much when losers try to punch up at him, hoping that senpai will notice them. It’s lots of people not in that demographic for whom Twitter is likely to become a more degraded and difficult experience. Don’t worry about me. Worry about other, more vulnerable people.
Well, I am leaving Twitter.
As you should if it’s not something you believe you can or should participate in.
But I will miss you.
Awww, thanks. You don’t have to miss me. I’m also at Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn and Reddit and Mastodon and CounterSocial and Flickr and Tumblr and even at Ello. And, of course, I will be here, at Whatever, where I have been for 23+ years now, having seen off AOL and Friendster and LiveJournal and MySpace and all other manner of social media entities that existed in the before times and are now huddled in the “We Were Beautiful Once Too” bin of the Internet.
Do you think Twitter will be in that bin too?
One day, sure. Whether Elon Musk purchasing the site hastens that moment remains to be seen.
Is this where you rant about having the importance of your own space on the Internet?
It’s not a rant, and also yes. Look, scalzi.com has existed for 24 years now, and Whatever for almost as long, and I never had to worry about whether some damn fool other than me was going to come in and wreck it. And as noted I’ve seen several generations of social media come and go from the privacy of my own web site. No matter what happens, people will be able to find me here.
But you don’t own your own ISP or web host! You’re just as vulnerable!
You are technically correct, which as we all know is the best kind of correct, and also, in the real world my web host for scalzi.com has been unchanged for 20 years at least and if it suddenly went out of business I feel pretty confident someone else would host my site, I’m not doing a terrorism or a porn here. And if it really came down to it, I could just roll my own, although if it did come to that a) I would be miserable, since plugging directly into the Internet backbone is not my skill set, b) things are probably a lot worse than they are now in so many other ways that this site is not going to be high on my list of problems. So while you’re not wrong, also, you’re mostly wrong, and also, I’m not going to sweat it.
Nor should anyone else. Have your own site, people! Run a blog! Get an RSS feeder! Relive 2008!
Of all your various social media iterations aside from Twitter, which ones are you most likely to be on?
Well, here on Whatever, obviously; I update nearly every day, and I have comments open so there can be conversations here (and I moderate pretty seriously). After this, probably Instagram and Facebook. Depending on how things go and my technical acumen, I may mirror some or all of my tweets on Mastodon and CounterSocial. Tumblr runs a feed from Whatever, so there’s that. But again, I’m planning to stay on Twitter for now and I suspect that will remain my primary non-Whatever outlet.
What about doing a Substack or a Medium or a Patreon or a newsletter?
Substack and Medium and Patreon are basically blogs, are they not? I have a blog. You’re reading it. And (again!) unlike Substack and Medium and Patreon, this site is not dependent on anyone else’s business plan, nor unlikely to go away if those sites disappear and/or merge with something else and/or change their user agreement or whatever. I don’t worry about making money directly from the site, and it seems unlikely this will change any time soon, so I don’t need those various monetization options (and if I did, I believe WordPress, which hosts this blog, has options for that).
As for a newsletter: Hey, you can get the blog posts from this site sent to you via mail! If you don’t know how, look down at the very bottom of the site’s sidebar, you can put your email address there. Once you fill it in, presumably you’ll get an email confirming that indeed, you wish to subscribe. There, you have the Whatever newsletter!
Twitch? Discord? TikTok? Other site which has previously gone unmentioned?
I have accounts on quite a lot of social media sites but I also have only so much time in the day for being on social media and/or moderating and maintaining sites. At a certain point, the choice becomes: maintain a social media presence or get actual work done. I do have to prioritize work. It’s what keeps the cats from trying to eat me whilst I sleep.
Would you ever leave Twitter?
Sure, if being on it became more trouble to me than it was worth, or if it devolved into such a state that I didn’t believe I could reasonably be associated with the site. And also if it just stops being fun. I don’t own the site and I don’t owe the site loyalty. Or alternately I’ll just post career-related updates and leave it at that. Will it get to that point? We’ll see. I hope not!
But if it does, well, Twitter had a run, and that’s fine, too. Nothing is forever. And I’ll still have this site, probably. Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.
Do we learn from the past? And how does the past inform today, and the art that is created in it? These are questions Alma Katsu is confronting in this Big Idea for The Fervor, and is inviting you to confront them as well.
The Fervor is a novel about the Japanese internment. It’s about the lives of four characters during the waning days of WWII: Meiko, the Japanese wife of a U.S. fighter pilot, sent to one of the Japanese internment camps; Archie Mitchell, whose wife is killed at the opening of the book when a fu-go, or fire balloon, explodes near Bly, Oregon; Fran Gurstwold, a reporter intent on writing up the dangerous and mysterious fire balloon incidents; and Aiko, Meiko’s daughter, who escapes from camp and makes a dangerous solo journey back to Seattle when she’s told her mother has died. It’s all tied together by a forgotten episode in Meiko’s past: a trip taken with her researcher father to a remote island reportedly linked to the Japanese underworld.
On another level, though, it’s an exploration of racism in America.
I write historical novels with a horror twist. The question I’m invariably asked is why now? Why should we care about the Donner Party (The Hunger) or the Titanic (The Deep) or the Japanese internment (The Fervor)? Don’t we have enough to worry about today without dredging up the troubles of the past?
What I’ve learned is that the troubles of the past are still with us because we failed to learn our lesson the first time.
Nowhere is this more true than with The Fervor. While the novel centers on the internment, that event couldn’t have happened if prejudice against Chinese and Japanese on the West Coast hadn’t been allowed to ferment in the open for decades. And now here we are 80 years later, and violent attacks on Asians in America have jumped over 300 percent, directly attributable to politization of the origins of COVID. The attacks by these American nativists are disproportionately against elderly Asian women.
I know a fair amount about civil unrest. It was part of my beat as an analyst at CIA and NSA. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Sierra Leon—name a civil war in the 1990s, I was part of the team analyzing it. A campaign of demonization of “the other” is an important part of the game plan.
As aware as I was, I was shocked to learn during my research for The Fervor just how widespread white nativist groups were in the American Midwest and West in the decades leading up to WWII. Their hatred of Asians was sickeningly open. Except for the white hoods of the KKK, they didn’t bother to hide it. The white nationalist group I created for The Fervor is based on one of the most virulent of the time—and one that exists to this day. (I don’t know if they ever apologized for their antagonistic behavior toward Asians.)
I realize this post is a bit of a downer. I hope you’ll give The Fervor a chance, as it was written to entertain and I think it does, but it’s also meant to impart a lesson, one that is (depressingly) still relevant today.
To be short about it (because I’m at the airport, waiting on a flight): It was lovely. I saw friends, I had meetings and strategized about projects that are in various stages of development, and I hung out at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books with a bunch of writers I like and admire, and had a panel with Veronica Roth and David Duchovny, both of whom were delightful to be on a panel with. Everything was groovy. And now I’m very happy to be headed home, where I will get to spend two! whole! weeks! before heading out again, first to my event with Holly Black in Cincinnati, and then to the Bay Area Book festival. Travel is back, folks.
Some people seem to attract attention the moment they enter into the room. Then there are others who… don’t. In I Am The Ghost In Your House, author Mar Romasco-Moore explores what it means to be the latter, in ways that might surprise you.
Every day on the bus to school I’d eavesdrop. I carried a tiny notebook and I’d hunch over in my seat, dashing off hasty notes about what I heard and saw.
Some of these observations stick with me all these years later – the powder-pale girl in the pink velour tracksuit who insisted she had never once sneezed in her entire life, the enormous drug dealer boy who sat at the very back of the bus declaiming heavily embellished stories about his exploits.
I can still remember these people. But I feel confident none of them remember me. It’s likely they never even noticed me. There would be little reason to.
People, in my experience, are perfectly capable of maintaining directly contradictory desires. Back then, I desperately wanted someone to look at me and know everything about me, to understand and accept the darkest and most peculiar parts of my personality. I longed for someone to say “I see you,” or heck, even just for a teacher to look at me and be like “oh jeez, maybe that kid is not doing okay.”
But at the same time, that was my greatest fear.
I hid in as many ways as I could – dark eyeliner, sunglasses, silence, outright lies. There were things about me that might have drawn attention – being weird, being queer – so I kept them as shrouded as possible. I hovered around the edges of things, never quite fitting in, never fully belonging, but not outright ostracized either. Ignored.
I’m sure I’m far from the only teenager who felt invisible. When writing my novel, I Am the Ghost In Your House, I took this idea a step further. For the main character, Pieta (Pie for short), this feeling is literal.
She is invisible.
And not like a superhero who can turn it on or off as they please. She is completely invisible all the time. There are perks – all of which grew directly out of my teenage daydreams about invisibility. Pie and her mother, who is also invisible, can walk freely into places off limits for other people. They can go to a museum after hours and touch all the art. They can walk out of a fancy boutique with any expensive item they’d like. They live like ghosts in the houses of the rich, helping themselves to gourmet food and precious objects, scraps of luxury. Theirs is an existence unchained to the tradition rules of society.
But there are also downsides. Creating the character of Pie was ultimately a way for me to explore and amplify the loneliness I felt as a teenager – and to imagine what might happen if someone terrified of being seen was able to let go of that fear.
I don’t feel invisible anymore, but sometimes I still worry whether anyone truly knows me, truly sees me, and whether they would accept me if they did. There’s a good chance other people feel this way too – I hope that some of them find this book and recognize a little of themselves in the pages.
Not the most scenic of views — I daresay it feels kind of like a view you might get at a hotel in New York — but the hotel is lovely and I will be busy with meetings and events regardless. I’m here for film/TV stuff during the week and for Los Angeles Times Festival of Books doings on the weekend. Keeping myself busy, that’s me.
Knights and legends and the dream of the British Isles… but for author Nicola Griffith, something was missing. What was it, and how does Spear offer it to reader? Griffith explains in this Big Idea.
I’ve loved the Matter of Britain since I got my first library card. I dragged home every bit of Arthuriana I could find. What I loved most about books like Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave and Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset was the setting, the landscape of Long Ago: the scent of the forest, mist on the moors.
What I didn’t love was never seeing people like me moving through that landscape: no crips and no queer people, no women who weren’t tropes, and zero people of colour.
There’s a reason we’re not in these stories: the Matter of Britain is at heart a national origin story. Its nativist, class-ridden, ableist, manifest destiny is pretty much baked in. So in late 2019 when I was asked to write a story for a ‘race-bent, queer-inclusive’ Arthurian anthology, I said no; I didn’t think it could be done and still feel Arthurian. I went back to researching Menewood, the sequel to Hild. Then I got a second email about the anthology.
I opened the email intending to say no—my fingers were poised over the keyboard—when into my head dropped an image: half hidden by trees an exhausted figure in mended armour sitting on a bony gelding and holding a red spear. And I knew how to combine Arthurian legend with Welsh history and Irish myth—and lose all the nativist baggage. More to the point I knew it would be fun—something silvery and quick. So I set Menewood aside, opened a new document titled “Red,” and began.
Words roared out, a torrent leaping and tumbling with sheer joy. In just 17 days “Red” had become Spear.
Think of Spear as a cousin of Hild, but with magic—not just Hild’s wild magic of the landscape, and the magic of love and the human heart, but the sword-swinging, monster-killing magic of myth and demigods. It’s set a hundred years earlier than Hild, in Wales rather than England, so instead of Hild’s sturdy Anglo-Saxon sentences I let the language off the leash, let it run as it wanted, and what it wanted was to be throughly Celtic: rhythmic and rippling and periphrastic. Which makes sense because after all Peretur, the character at the centre of Spear, is Welsh.
Written mention of the Arthurian hero most people know as Sir Percival begins in Old Welsh of the sixth century. But the figure in my vision was not nobly born or a person of privilege. That bony gelding, for example, spelled poverty, or at least a sense of mend-and-make-do. And though their armour was red—like the fifteenth century Sir Percival’s armour—it wasn’t medieval plate but leather sewn with horn panels: something from a much earlier era. It had to be Peretur, from sixth-century Wales. Which was perfect—not only because it’s my favourite period but because I wanted Wales specifically. In the fifth century, after Roman legions withdrew, the Irish raided west Wales repeatedly, and eventually ruled it. So now I could link the story to legends of the Tuath Dé and their Four Treasures: the cauldron, the sword, the stone, and the spear.
The first three treasures, in the guise of the Grail, Excalibur, and the stone Excalibur is pulled from, fit very neatly into Arthurian legend. The spear, though? Not so much. But on one of those philological deep dives researching Menewood I’d learned that the name Peretur could plausibly stem from two Welsh words, bêr (hard or enduring) and hyddur (spear). Bêr-hyddur: Peretur.
If you’ve read Hild you know I’m a big fan of historical accuracy. Spear though, is stuffed with magic and demigods, so I approached historical realism from a different perspective. Queer people, disabled people, people of colour, poor people, women and the gender non-conforming are an integral part of the history of Britain—we are here now; we were there then. So we are in this story.
My Peretur, then, is born in a cave to a traumatised mother who has fled into hiding with almost nothing, who’s barely able to look after herself, never mind her child. Peretur learns to provide for them both, without being seen, via a kind of involuntary barter: she steals what she needs from isolated farmsteads and, in exchange, gives the farmers something they need. Although Peretur’s poor in material goods, she’s rich in experience: she revels in her physical strength, she loves roaming her valley, and she delights in protecting these people—who she thinks of as her responsibility—even though they have no idea she exists. And later, when she leaves home, her stance to the world isn’t wary and folded-in but wide-open and full-throated. There’s danger, yes, and loss and fear, but this isn’t a story of stress or angst. It’s a story of love, and lust, and fights to the death: Peretur lives large because Peretur’s a hero.
Having said that she’s not like the heroes in the Campbellian tradition, who are relentless in pursuit of their goal—which is to crush their enemies, heedless of the suffering they cause, and move on, unaffected by the wreckage and weeping in their wake. Peretur’s goal is not just to win fights and slay monsters—which she does, with great élan—but to find her people and a place to call home. And that’s what I want for this book: to find its people.
To me, it doesn’t matter whether Arthur or Camelot ever existed—because to me Camelot isn’t really a place. It’s a state of mind, a condition outside reality whose heroes fight not for power over others but the power to fight in service of a dream, a dream of justice and inclusion, a dream of belonging. Camelot could have existed, yes, and maybe some of us wish it had existed, but what makes it enduringly attractive is that it might yet exist. So this book is for people like me who want to be immersed in a time and place we’ve never seen—a past we’ve been told doesn’t belong to us. Spear is for those of us who long not only to see ourselves in that heroic past but to be the heroes—to not just exist, but to live large and to thrive.
It’s now been a month (and change) of The Kaiju Preservation Society being out in the world, so I thought this would be a nice moment to catch up with the book and answer some questions I’ve been asked about it, and also talk (very briefly) about what’s next for me. Because that’s what having a personal site is all about, yes?
So how did Kaiju do commercially in its first month? Pretty well, and honestly, better than I had hoped for. The book is a light romp, and I’d not put out a novel in 2021 (Kaiju was originally slotted for October ’21 and then Tor moved it, sensibly as it turned out, due to Omicron and paper shortages), and other publishers put out a number of heavy-hitting titles in the week of, and in the weeks immediately previous to, its release. I would have been content with it just being out in the world and selling to the usual crowd (hello!). So having it chart on two separate New York Times Best Seller lists (Combined Print/eBook; Audio Fiction), as well as a healthy number of other national and regional bestseller lists, was gratifying. The book has also hung in there through the month in terms of sales (doing the book tour helped), and the raw number of sales in this first month across all formats is encouraging in terms of the book having “legs” from here on out.
In short, it outperformed my expectations, and has made my publishers pretty happy. Hooray!
Okay, but how did it do with readers? Also pretty well as far as I can tell. I’ve gotten more fan mail about Kaiju than I’ve gotten for any of my books since Redshirts, so as an anecdotal barometer, that’s pretty encouraging. In terms of both the press and regular readers leaving reviews, it seems like the sort out has been 85%-90% positive and 10%-15% less so. The ones that have been positive have generally bought into the idea of Kaiju being a “pop song” of a book, i.e., light and fast moving and leaving you with a smile on your face and a spring in your step; the negative reviews seem to be of two varieties, with some overlap: Irritation with the tone and style of the book, and annoyance that a book that takes place during the height of the COVID pandemic might have a bit of contemporary political/social commentary to it.
Valid criticisms? Sure, for the person for whom these things are an annoyance. No one likes everything! My personal thought toward both these criticisms is: fine, this book isn’t for you, and that’s okay. Also, given your specific criticisms, you might skip the rest of my books, because, as Mike Wazowski might say, these are the jokes, kid. I like my schtick, and also it does well for me financially, so I’m inclined to continue it, for both personal and professional reasons. It’s not for everyone! However, clearly, it’s for enough people that I’m going to keep at it.
Can you talk about the thing you did with your protagonist? What thing?
You know, the thing. I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.
(Exasperated sigh) Jamie doesn’t have an obvious gender! I mean, sometimes people don’t have obvious genders.
But you know, right? I don’t! Also, I think it’s fine for people to decide for themselves what gender if any Jaime is; what they decide brings an interesting and personal spin to the book, and I like that. It’s also fun for people to interrogate their own defaults and what they mean for them as a reader and human. As a caveat, I’ll note that since the audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton, people encountering the book in audio may assume Jaime is the same gender as Wil; I would only remind them that Wil also narrated my Interdependency series of audiobooks, where two of the three main characters were women (as was the primary antagonist). Audible pairs Wil with me because, from a sales point of view, people seem to like the match; it’s not a hand tip to the character’s gender.
You also have clearly trans and/or non-binary characters in Kaiju. Yup, because I know trans and non-binary people, so I’m reflecting the world I know. Also, given the context of the characters — theater folks, academics, scientists — it makes sense to me for there to be trans and non-binary folks in the story, and for the cis people they know and work with to consider their presence non-controversial and commonplace.
Not everyone is cool with trans and/or non-binary folks. They wouldn’t last long in the Kaiju Preservation Society, then. Nor would any other type of obvious bigot, as KPS is clearly a diverse, international organization with no time for that sort of bullshit. It’s my world, I get to write it the way I want it.
Kaiju seems thinner than your other novels. It doesn’t just seem thinner, it is thinner! It’s 280ish pages where my novels are usually 300+ pages. And yet, the book has the same number of words, more or less, as the last several of my books. The thing is, there’s been a worldwide printing paper shortage, so Tor made the decision to design the pages to have the same number of words on slightly fewer pages. This is how the global supply chain issues of the last couple of years affected this particular book. I assure you, however, you have not lost word count. I am as wordy as I have ever been.
What’s the current status of the Kaiju TV option? It’s active and I’m happy with the choices that are being made so far, and other than that I can’t say anything, partly because it’s not the time or place, and partly because there’s not all that much to say at this point. I’m optimistic! But then, I always am.
Have you given any thought to a Kaiju sequel? Not at the moment, because I have other things I’m working on, and also, a sequel is not accounted for in my current contract. Which is not to say that a sequel is impossible, if there’s reader interest and if Tor wants another. I never say never about this stuff. But I’m also happy if this is a “one and done.” Standalones are fun too, you know?
What are you writing next, then? The thing I am currently writing is a) another standalone, b) not dissimilar to Kaiju in tone and feel and the fact that it’s a “high concept” idea whose gist will be easily grasped by the title alone. So if you liked Kaiju, you’ll hopefully like the one I’m working on now. That’s tentatively scheduled for next year (assuming I finish it in the next couple of months, which I am supposed to).
What else do we get from you in 2022? Well, has it happens, the third volume of Love Death & Robots was announced just yesterday. It will be on Netflix on May 20, and it’s already been long established that a sequel episode of “Three Robots” is part of that line-up, so: that’s one thing. Also, Dispatcher 3 has been written for a while, so depending on other factors a 2022 release is possible. You’ll know when I know. Beyond that, well. We’ll all just have to wait, won’t we?
Final thoughts (for this piece) on Kaiju?
First, at this point what’s really going to keep the book finding new readers is word of mouth, so if you liked Kaiju, please consider suggesting it to friends who are looking for new, fun things to read. I would very much appreciate it.
Second, and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Kaiju has a special place in my heart. It was such an unexpected book, coming out of the wreckage of a difficult year and writing process. It was a joy to write, and reminded me why I like being a writer. Is it a great book? Probably not, but is a really good book, and the book I needed to write for myself. So to see it succeed and become a joy to others is something that has brought me contentment in the last month. This book has my affection in a real and specific way. I’m grateful it has earned affection from others, too. Thank you for that, folks.
Some famous musicians once said that all you need is love. It’s a nice sentiment, but in this Big Idea for The Devil’s Dictionary, author Steven Kotler might instead recommend a different-yet-related emotional state as the one we all need.
I stopped trying to categorize my writing a long time ago. Still, if I wanted to slot my latest book, The Devil’s Dictionary, into a recognizable genre of literature, I’d call it two parts cyberpunk to one part climate fiction—with a twist.
The twist is this: The Devil’s Dictionary is not a dystopian novel. As a rule, cyberpunk and climate fiction are set in dark, post-eco disaster worlds. Now, for certain, the world I built is dark. There are menacing shadow corporations, creepy genetics experiments, and the occasional Blade Runner reference—it is a cyberpunk thriller, after all. There are also plenty of ecological nightmares with which to contend. Yet, the most familiar nightmare—impending climate disaster—has been avoided.
I wrote The Devil’s Dictionary to provide an alternative vision of our environmental future. If we can’t imagine this possibility, we’ll never create this future. I wanted to bridge that gap, but had no interest in creating a perfect utopian world. I wanted a near-term version of our world where we’ve battled back the worst parts of species die-off and climate change.
Yet my desire to create a non-dystopian future raised the question: How could this eco-friendly world come into existence? What changes in ourselves and society would be needed to create a greener tomorrow? And this brings us to “Empathy-for-All,” which is the big idea at the center of The Devil’s Dictionary.
“Empathy-for-all” is the ability to feel empathy for all beings. Sure, it means feeling empathy for humans. Really, it means feeling for plants, animals, and eco-systems—or what scientists call “cross-species empathy.”
To rise above our environmental challenges, we need a massive shift in consciousness. Technically-speaking, we need to expand what psychologists call “our sphere of caring.” We need to feel about forests the way we now feel about family. We need to love the planet like we love our children. We need empathy-for-all.
There’s no choice really, not if we want this better future. The problem lives in our brain. It’s an information-processing bottleneck.
Every second of every day, our senses gather millions of bits of information. Yet, the conscious mind can only process a few thousand bits at once. As a result, filtration is the first order of business for brains. We constantly sift and sort data, trying to tease apart the crucial from the casual.
So what gets filtered out? Anything not critical to our survival. Anything that doesn’t align with our goals and needs.
And this is an issue in the modern world. Today, we live in boxes. We spend our days staring at other boxes. Sometimes, we live in boxes while staring at inboxes. So the brain believes box-world is what’s most important and filters out all the rest. The natural world gets erased from our field of attention. Plants, animals and eco-systems become mostly invisible. Our values and lifestyles blind us to the web of life. This is to say, if you ask psychologists why we’re in the middle of a giant biodiversity crisis, one common answer: we can no longer see the very things we’re trying to save.
How do we reboot “ecological perception”? Simple. Empathy. This is the tool evolution designed for exactly this challenge. Empathy is perceptual bridge building. Empathy both tells the brain to pay attention and widens our sphere of caring.
If our species is interested in solving the ecological challenges we now face, empathy-for-all is the critical next step. And if you’re interested in what this world might look like, The Devil’s Dictionary is one glimpse of that future.
Also, there are killer robotic polar bears in the book. And, seriously, who doesn’t love a good killer robotic polar bear tale…