I’m getting an uptick of these recently, and apparently people don’t read the policy I have linked on every page of this site, so:
Hey, you have a great idea that you think I would be awesome if I wrote, either something new or as part of an existing series I write, and you want to tell me about it in detail? Or — perhaps — even collaborate with me on?
Congrats! And also, I don’t ever want to see it or hear it or read it, and if you send it to me, I will delete it the instant I’m on to you (which is usually in the header to your email) and I will probably permanently put your email into my spam block so I never see any notes from you ever again.
Why don’t I want you to send me your ideas?
One, I am literally booked for the next decade. Remember that big ass contract of mine? It still has nine books on it! I’m sort of obliged to do those. I don’t need to add anything else to my plate.
Two, if I do decide to add anything else onto my plate, it will be from my own proverbial storeroom of ideas. I have more ideas than I will ever have time to write in this life, and I keep coming up with new ones all on my own, all the time. I genuinely do not need yours.
Three, legal reasons. I could go into detail here, but I won’t. “Legal reasons” should be sufficient for any of you.
Why don’t I want to collaborate with you? See above.
Also, if I ever want collaborative partners, I will ask for them. If you don’t see me actively and unambiguously asking, please don’t volunteer. Also, to be clear, the chance that I will ask for a writing collaborator in an open cattle call rather than contacting that person directly or in some specific professional milieu is pretty damn slim.
But I have a million dollar idea! That’s awesome, and also, unless you’re bringing that million dollars with you as an opening bid on my writing services, I don’t want to hear it. Write it yourself and make that million with it! I believe in you!
Is there any way to get me to listen to your idea or offer of collaboration? Sure: If you’re part of a legitimate publishing or production entity with verifiable and successful credits to your corporate name, and you’re looking to engage my professional services, then you can contact my literary agent or film/TV manager and query them with regard to my potential interest and availability (this is covered here, because of course it is, I’ve been doing this for decades now so obviously I would have an established process). Other than that? Nope!
As an aside, I really do get exasperated when people don’t read the various policies that I have on the site, which, again, are linked to on literally every single page of the site as it’s currently constructed. I have made the titles unambiguous! The policies have been around for years! I am very clear in the policies! And yet, people don’t read (or assume that they will be different). And yes, sure, people don’t always come to the Web site (although they should), but, here’s the thing — I get most of these solicitations through email. Where is the easiest place on the whole Internet to find my email? Why, it’s here on the site (thanks to a link on every single page on the site). I feel reasonably certain that most of the folks soliciting me have been here. They should have seen the policies, and then followed them.
(That said, as I’m posting this I’m simultaneously updating the contact page to note to people not to send me ideas or offer to collaborate, because clearly we’ve come to that point.)
In any event. Don’t send me story ideas or offers to collaborate. They make me cranky. Thank you in advance for your co-operation.
What’s in the brain of a brain eater?
Why on earth did I write Grave Secrets? I had been focusing on my children’s fiction, my financial writing, my magazine work… The bills were getting paid. I had finally landed a gig as a travel writer. The trouble was that these milestones might look all very well on a CV – but I just have this thing about zombies.
It’s hard to express, even though expressing myself is the thing I’m meant to be good at, but let me try. I’m the one who moved into a chapel with gravestones in the garden. I’m the person who’s filled it with skulls – ceramic, glass, real – scattered where most people put seashells and vases. (I’m also the ex-Goth with the spider obsession and all the Sisters of Mercy posters who is still kind of wondering when Andrew Eldritch will ask me out, but that’s a tale for another day.) I feel this odd draw to the dead. In a graveyard, I feel moved by the stones and what lies beneath them. Their occupants feel bewilderingly real to me, close, almost tangibly so.
I wonder where it came from? I see it at work on my library shelves. Nothing makes a book more enthralling to me than the feeling that the casual darkness of the world that we see hides an even darker otherness, and that if you tug aside the fragile veil of reality, the numinousness of that unfathomable realm will begin to ooze inside…
And nothing achieves that better than a healthy – or unhealthy – dose of the undead.
It’s the idea that shuffling off this mortal coil could maybe have a reverse gear that does it for me. You know, the concept that the final curtain could be raised again for an uncanny encore that’s neither truly alive nor dead. That’s the core of the underlying horror in Dracula – that if you try to cheat death, you are cheated in return. You get back this amoral creature who can only survive by draining the living to sustain what should be resting peacefully six feet under.
The thing is that vampires have been slightly sanitized since Bram Stoker penned his masterpiece. They are sexy, cool, sparkling (wasn’t me!) and wear a lot of black leather. Now, there’s nothing wrong with vampires in black leather (James Marsters in his duster coat is high on my inappropriate fantasy list, as is Alyson Hannigan in That Corset Scene). But – with the exception of the exceptional Rob Thomas – no one’s got round to rehabilitating zombies very much.
And that’s what I wanted to do; I wanted to write from the perspective of the zombie. I wanted to explore what it might be like to leave death behind and be raised from your grave, hungry for brainzzz and wondering why you aren’t in a comfy coffin any longer. But to do that, your zombie apocalypse can’t be truly mindless. They must have an inner monologue with a broader vocabulary than: “Grr. Argh.” So I created Bredon, the most courteous, loyal and charmingly attired famished revenant ever to be summoned to a graveyard near you. I was going to write (wait for it) a short story about zombies.
I know, but that’s all that I planned. It was going to take a week. I had it all mapped out. There was a short story competition I had been eyeing up and it would be just the thing. But the words kept coming, the narrative was flowing, the short story deadline passed unnoticed, the heads were getting ripped off, Toni was falling in love, the shambling hoards were marching across my screen… So I just kept writing.
I mean, I had to! No man is an island, be he dead or alive, so I had to populate an entire landscape for my reanimated corpse to stride across. There needed to be plot – a whodunit and a romance as it turned out – and some metaphysics about what goes on when the souls of the living hang around rather longer than their use-by date. As it turned out, there also had to be some shagging scenes, because my attention span is short. But most importantly of all, let’s not forget that this is a book about zombies. And I know the rules…so there had to be a fair amount of gore. I won’t add spoilers by counting up how many heads get ripped off, or hearts torn out, but rest assured there are plenty. I mean, we might be into double figures, and the book is only three hundred pages long.
So there we are, the big idea. And it kind of worked. I love the book even though I never planned to write a book. I love the romance, even though I really never intended to write chick lit. I adore the cosy crime plot twists despite them sneaking in almost unbidden because they just worked out like that. And I treasure my zombie, the one element of the story that was always going to be written. I’m also stoked that it’s been published, because that was never, ever in the plan, even the director’s extended cut.
I didn’t answer my own question, though, as to why I am so beguiled by the undead. But I have a lot of sequels to work on, so maybe I will work that one out too.
Howdy! I hope everyone had a nice weekend, and if you didn’t, I hope the next one is better. I don’t really have a lot going on in my head right now, so I thought I’d share some photos of mine for those of you who don’t have Instagram or don’t follow me (which, no hard feelings if you don’t). So here’s just a couple I think are pretty!
I took this at Stillwater Preserve, down the road from my house.
This one is actually over a year old! I took this at Cedar Point when I went with my friend last summer. Kind of funny I went to Cedar Point and the only picture I took was of leaves…
And here is the Atlantic Ocean! More specifically, Topsail Island in North Carolina.
I took this one over a year ago as well, while on a walk with my friend in the woods outside of Oxford.
It had just stopped raining when I took this one. I think raindrops on flower petals is just one of the most beautiful sights to behold.
Well anyways there’s your daily dose of nature pictures, if you hadn’t already gotten it today! Have a great day!
Oh, hello there! It’s the last day of August — I know, it only feels like a year since August first — and after this it’s two months and three days until Election Day here in the United States. Here’s what we know about that:
* The president and the GOP would be very happy for most of us not to vote.
* The president and the GOP are going out of their way to make it difficult for many of us to vote, especially by mail.
* If the election doesn’t go their way, the president and the GOP will make every effort to say that the vote they went out of their way to make difficult is somehow tainted.
Commensurately, to mitigate the points above, the following things need to happen:
1. If you’re a fully-enfranchised adult US citizen, you must register to vote, and if you are registered, you must check the current state of your registration to make sure you have not been purged from the voter rolls. Then you must encourage every other fully enfranchised adult US citizen you know to do the same thing. Do it today; registration deadlines are coming very soon.
2. You must have a plan to vote. Personally I recommend finding out if and when early voting is available in your state, and then showing up physically to vote early. Alternately, if you vote by mail, request your ballot today (or as early as possible), fill it out the day you receive it, and either deliver it physically to your local board of elections or mail it as soon as you have filled it out. Double-check it, sign it, make sure you use sufficient postage, and if your state has it, track the status of your ballot so you know it’s been received.
If you intend to vote on Election Day itself, look today to locate your polling place, know how to get there and how you will get there. Ask for help from friends, family or neighbors if you need it. If your state requires identification, know what ID is required, and if you don’t have it, use these two months and three days to acquire it. Again, ask for help if you need it. If you can, take the day off to vote; this year of all years you might have some vacation time you haven’t used (if you can’t take the day off, then see above, about voting early). Have a plan to stay in line for as long as it takes. If you are in line, you are allowed to vote.
The president and the GOP are hoping very much that you don’t have a plan to vote. It makes their job of keeping you from voting that much easier. So, today, make your plan to vote. Vote early if you can, but however you vote, make that plan and keep to that plan.
3. If you can vote, this year you must vote. You have two months and three days to learn about the candidates — local, state and federal — and the issues on the ballots. More than enough time to get informed and make informed choices and do your part for the country. This is not a year to sit out or to pretend that it doesn’t matter who you vote for. It matters. You must vote. Everyone you know who can vote must vote. All the people you don’t know who can vote must vote.
If we are all registered to vote, all have a plan to vote, and all vote, the harder it will be for anyone to (credibly) assert the election was not legitimate. It’s simple as that.
So: Are you registered to vote? Have you checked your registration? Do you have a plan to vote? And will you vote on or by November 3, 2020?
If the answer to any of the above is “no,” you have two months and three days to fix that.
Get to it.
Love Death + Robots came out eighteen months ago on Netflix, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. If you don’t know, it’s an eighteen episode anthology of science fiction and fantasy animated shorts. I was so excited for it that I watched it the night it came out, and have seen it several times since. Right away, I developed favorites, and those were the ones I rewatched the most. After it came out, I saw a bunch of people make lists ranking all eighteen of them in order of best to worst, but I figure I’d just tell you guys my top five for now. Slight spoilers ahead!
First up is Sonnie’s Edge. Not only is it the first episode on the list on Netflix, but it’s first in my ranking. In my opinion, they started off the anthology right with this one. It knocks your socks off right from the beginning, from the amazing visuals and insanely realistic art style, to the truly intriguing soundtrack, you’ll be entranced right from the get-go. I adore this one for so many reasons, interesting characters, pleasant on the eyes, and of course, the super cool monster fight scene. And that ending! Killer. I also like that it’s British for some reason.
Next on my list is The Secret War. Unlike Sonnie’s Edge, this one is actually the last one on the list of the eighteen. Though it is last, it is certainly not least. This one is horrifying, gory, full of cool fight scenes, and tells a super interesting story. The animation is superb too! That’s something that many of the episodes have in common, though.
Third on my list is Sucker of Souls. This one is spooky, fun, hilarious, and I love the drawing style! It has an interesting lore and I enjoy the characters. And I like the ending because it shows not everything has a happy ending, which I appreciate. This one feels like it takes itself less seriously than the others.
Next up is Beyond the Aquila Rift. I like this one a lot because of the mystery aspect of it, where something is off the whole time but you’re not sure what, and then you get that big shock at the end. It’s pretty quality. And why does everyone think that Greta (or whatever that alien thing pretending to be Greta is) is a bad guy?! Obviously it’s a kind creature trying to give the people that ended up there peace of mind in their final days before death. Why does everyone think it’s a monster?
Finally, one that’s a bit different from the rest and one I have never seen widely liked that much, Blindspot. I love this one for the wild bunch of characters, the fun style of animation, and the adorable main character newbie that you can’t help but root for. A cyborg heist gang? Who doesn’t love that? This one doesn’t get enough credit in my opinion!
Honorable mentions! Though these two aren’t in my top five, I thoroughly enjoy Good Hunting and Shape Shifters. In fact, there’s really only a couple of them that I don’t like, otherwise mostly of them are really great!
Oh, additionally, I decided not to put any of my father’s on this list, just because I don’t want to seem biased, not because I don’t like his.
Tell me about your favorites in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I hope you have a great day!
I enjoyed Bill & Ted Face the Music quite a bit, which is utterly unsurprising as I am both Gen-X, i.e., the generation of Bill and/or Ted, and also I used to live in San Dimas, home of Bill and Ted and the town in which almost all of this film takes place (fictionally; it doesn’t look like they did a whole lot of filming in actual San Dimas this time around). Also I am the fan of the first two films, particularly Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the first film in history to successfully reference both Ingmar Bergman and the glam band Poison. What was surprising to me was that I teared up a bit at the end of this one. I know why, and I’ll tell you in a bit.
But first let me talk a little bit about why the Bill & Ted films, including this one, work at all. It’s because, despite their silliness and Gen-X’s general reputation for being deeply saturated in irony, Bill and Ted are genuinely and guilelessly sincere. They’re happy when they’re happy, sad when they’re sad, they like who and what they like, and when they’re called upon to save the world, they square up their shoulders and get to it even when they’re aware that it’s improbable, and possibly irresponsible on the part of the universe, that they are the ones called upon to do it.
They’re holy fools, basically, second cousins to Chance the Gardener and Forrest Gump. They have to be; if they were any more self-aware than they are, these slender and conceptually fragile films wouldn’t fly. Bill and Ted would be too full of doubt and self-recrimination, especially by the time of the third film, when they have been trying to save the world through music for two and a half decades, and consistently failing. If they were more reflective, they wouldn’t still be at it. They’d be co-owners of a Pretzels & Cheese franchise since 2002.
Indeed, when the third film starts, Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter), are as close to self-reflection as they have ever gotten; their moment as the hottest band in the world is long gone, their careers are over, and their marriages and personal relationships are precarious because they still keep trying to plug away at uniting the world through song, even when their songs are, well, discordant. After a disastrous wedding gig, the two of them are seriously considering packing it in.
Then of course someone arrives from the future, with a new mission for them: Put together the song that unites the world, or the universe collapses. Oh, and they have seventy seven minutes to do it. Go. Off they go in their physics-bending phone booth.
The story wrinkle this time: They’re not the only ones crossing the time streams. Their kids, Thea and Billi (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine), who appear as sweetly aimless and musically obsessed as their fathers, get hold of their own temporal conveyance to put together a most excellent backing band for their dads, so that when they show up with a song, there will be people to play it. Things go awry, as they do, which occasions a family reunion in Hell, as one does, on the way to an entirely unsurprising and yet emotionally satisfying climax.
Bill and Ted are not enormously self-aware, but the film is and its screenwriters (Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon) are, and one of the most important things they are aware of is that times do change, and time does change us. Holy fools though they are, Bill and Ted do some learning over the course of the film, in a way that allows them to grow up while still keeping to the core of who they are. I figured out a particular plot twist in the film early on, so for me the question was how Bill and Ted would both earn that twist and respond to it. I was pretty happy with the outcome.
And with the film. The film is, bluntly and baldy, optimistic at its core, which feel likes a radical thing here at the end of August in 2020. The idea that there could be one song that brings the whole world together is nothing but a wish, but when the film makes a run at it, it feels like a good wish, and it feels good that people who are decent and kind, as Bill and Ted, and Thea and Billie, and indeed the entire Preston Logan clan are, stand up to be the ones to take that run at it.
Kindness, decency, optimism and guilelessness: That’s why I teared up a bit at Bill & Ted Face the Music. Which was not what I was expecting to do. But I was fine with it when it happened. Turns out I needed it, and a little bit of Bill and Ted, right about now.
Here’s an interesting assertion from the folks at SFFAudio, offered as part of a longer thread which I’ll not link directly to here, mostly because I want to focus on this particular point, but which you may find on their Twitter feed:
The reason HEINLEIN isn’t read more today is because almost all his stuff is still under copyright and being controlled by a trust that seems mostly uninterested in having HEINLEIN actually read
Drop it into the PUBLIC DOMAIN and u’d see interest fly sky high
That is a SURE BET
That is a set of intriguing assertions that I don’t think I agree with at all!
So, let’s unpack this a bit.
To begin, Heinlein isn’t in any danger of not being read; in particular his power trio of Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land chug along just fine, and will likely continue to do so for a nice long while. There’s a dropoff after that, but, so what? If you want your entire bibliography to be equally popular and acclaimed, write one book. Three Heinlein books keep selling well 32 years after his death and more than five decades after their initial publication; none of his books, so far as I know, is actually out of print. That’s a neat trick for an author.
What is true is that Heinlein is probably less generally relevant to newer science fiction readers and writers than he was to new SF readers and writers in earlier eras. I have essayed this at length before and therefore won’t go into it again now. I will say, however, that Heinlein’s work and the work of many of his contemporaries are at an awkward age: enough decades after publication that the underlying cultural assumptions of the work and the author are no longer consonant with contemporary times, but not enough decades out that the work can comfortably be considered a “period piece,” which means that consonance is no longer expected.
In other words: a lot of “Golden Age of Science Fiction” work currently lies in a sort of cultural uncanny valley, existing in a simultaneous state of being too distant from contemporary readers, and also not nearly distant enough. That’s not Heinlein’s fault, precisely; it’s a matter of time and culture. It’s going to happen to most creative work — well, most work that’s remembered at all.
(This literary uncanny valley is something I think about a lot and it’s something I want to write about at more length; I’ll get to it eventually. For now, just know I think it’s a thing, and that Heinlein and most of his Golden Age contemporaries are currently in it.)
Moving on to the issue of the Heinlein Prize Trust, which administers the Heinlein copyrights, snark aside, I strongly suspect that it is in fact very interested in having Heinlein read, inasmuch as the income from that helps to fuel the trust’s other interests. This is why among other things 2020 saw the publication of The Pursuit of the Pankera, a (mostly) new novel from him. One could argue whether the trust is being as effective as it could be in spreading the gospel of Heinlein to newer generations, and perhaps this is what the SFFAudio folks were getting at. But I don’t think the trust can be faulted for not making an effort to keep Heinlein relevant and in the public eye.
With all the above said, the assertion I find the most interesting is the “release Heinlein into the public domain and interest will explode” one. I am, shall we say, deeply skeptical of that assertion.
That skepticism is neither here nor there regarding how I personally feel about the concept of the public domain, which I support and believe to be an unmitigated public good. Moreover I think the current length of the term of copyright (life plus 70 years) is a bit much; my great-grandchildren do not need to be picking on the bones of my estate. The public domain! It’s good!
It’s also not a panacea for attention. Very few creators exist in the public domain with more fame and notability, or notoriety, than they had before their works entered it (or in the cases of the eras in which copyright was a much wilder field than it is now, while they were at least alive and still producing). Yes, occasionally a few — Emily Dickinson, please come forward to take your bow — but for every creator you could think to name, there are thousands, possibly tens of thousands, for whom the public domain has offered nothing but continued obscurity.
Heinlein would not likely suffer from public domain obscurity; he was arguably the most famous science fiction writer of his age, or at the very least on an elevated tier which also held Asimov, Clarke and Bradbury. But even in a world where Heinlein’s entire bibliography dropped into the public domain overnight, you would probably not see a massive upswing in interest for his work. You’d see some initially, I’m sure; an author of Heinlein’s stature (generally, and particularly among nerds) would cause a run at Project Gutenberg. But after that early rush to stuff his oeuvre into an ebook reader, I suspect you would see what’s already the case: a few of Heinlein’s works getting the largest percentage of the downloads and the rest more or less left to languish.
Nor would those currently popular works be any more popular than they are now. Look, Heinlein is already not hard to get for free — go to your public library, I pretty much guarantee you he’s on the shelf. Even my tiny local public library has a dozen titles ready to be checked out, and that’s without interlibrary loan. He’s not hard to get for cheap, either; go visit a secondhand bookstore sometime (wear your mask when you do, it’s 2020) and you can get an 80s edition paperback for $1.25. Go to a yard sale and you’ll find that paperback for a quarter. And, of course, all his books are in print, if you actually want to fund his estate. Heinlein is ubiquitous and accessible now; that ubiquity and accessibility is satisfying existing demand for his work quite sufficiently. Putting his work in the public domain isn’t going to unlock a pent-up demand; that pent-up demand doesn’t exist.
It’s not just Heinlein, of course. The demand for other golden age science fiction writers is equally being met by the market, and the public domain won’t explode their popularity, either. The golden age authors who are already in the public domain are testament to that. H. Beam Piper, of whose work I am fond (obviously), has most of his major works in the public domain. It has not been a notably huge boost to his reputation or his readership, here in the 21st century.
The public domain is a public good, not a promise of public awareness. It will not lead to a Heinlein renaissance (or an Asimov ascendance, or a Bradbury blooming, etc).
What would? As I’ve mentioned elsewhere before: a new movie or TV series based on a Heinlein novel would probably do the trick just fine. Asimov is about to get a boost from that upcoming Foundation series, and on a scope and scale that a release of the Foundation books into the public domain could never hope to have. The public domain does not have literally tens of millions of dollars in advertising budget to promote its new releases; Apple (in the case of the Foundation TV series) absolutely does, and that will drive interest in the books and do more to extend the reputation of Asimov and his work here in the 21st century than anything else. More than the public domain, certainly.
So, no. The public domain is not, in fact, a sure bet for the popularity of Heinlein and his work. Not now; possibly not ever. Should his work be in the public domain? Assuredly, and will be, in time (starting in 2058 at the very least). But the fame he has in the public domain will likely be what he had outside of it. If the Heinlein Trust wants that fame to be substantial, they should probably get to work on optioning his titles into other media as soon as possible.
Hello, everyone! I hope you’re all having a great Thursday, or whatever day it happens to be when you read this. Today I wanted to share with you something very important to me; my pin collection! However, since I have about eighty pins, I’m just showing you a couple of my favorites today, and save the rest for other days.
I don’t collect many things, but the things I do collect, I take very seriously. My enamel pins are some of favorite possessions, and I truly adore them. I don’t wear them on anything, though. I used to have them on my backpack for college when my collection was much smaller. Additional note before we begin, all these pins are enamel, I don’t really do button/safety pin type pins, just for aesthetic purposes.
This one is one of my most recent additions! I had wanted to buy something from this wonderful artist for a long time, and this pin was the straw that broke the metaphorical camel’s back. I’m so glad I ended up getting it (I also got a tote bag that’s super cute). It’s just a clover, but I think it’s so dang pretty. You can find the artist’s shop where I bought this pin here! Also you can follow them on Twitter!
This pin was actually one of the first in my collection, and remains as one of my favorites. I got this one at Gem City Catfe, a coffee shop in Dayton where you can drink coffee, play with cats, and even adopt one! It was such a fun experience, and I hope to do it again sometime soon. They have so many cute cats to interact with, and such a nice setting inside. If you’re from the area, I recommend it!
When I was seventeen I played this dating sim on my phone called Mystic Messenger, and if you’ve ever played it you know what I mean when I say it’s absolutely bonkers. Just wild as fuck, honestly. But one thing I got out of it was the knowledge that there is a Korean snack called Honey Butter Chips, and they are so fucking good. I absolutely adore this chip, and when I saw this pin, I just had to get it (though I can’t remember where I got it and that’s a bummer). If you’ve never graced your tastebuds with Honey Butter Chips, I suggest you buy them immediately.
Another very recent addition to my collection! I’ve liked Studio Ghibli for a while now, and don’t really have any merch of it, which I thought was a bummer. So I decided to get this absolutely adorable No Face pin, since he’s like the coolest character from Spirited Away, and one of the most widely recognized Studio Ghibli symbols. You can check out the artist’s shop where I got it here, and their Twitter!
Last, but certainly not least, is this gorgeous Lunar Moth pin my mom got me for two Christmases ago. This is one of the largest in my collection; in fact it’s so big it has two sharp things in the back to make sure it stays stuck into whatever you put it on. It’s so pretty, I was so happy to get it as a gift. You can find this artist’s shop here, but I don’t think this particular pin is available anymore! And here is their Twitter.
So, there’s just a glimpse at my pin collection! I hope you enjoyed.
Author Liz Williams has spent more than a little amount of time pouring herself into her contemporary fairytale, Comet Weather — more time, in fact, than she ever imagined she might. In today’s Big Idea, join her as she describes what went into crafting this female-led, Somerset-based series, and why it was worth the wait.
I wrote Comet Weather over the course of a decade – embarrassingly, since I usually write a novel in a year, and sometimes two novels. It was my ‘fun’ project: my publishing career had slowed significantly, so I decided to just write for fun. I made a bucket list of everything I’d like to see in a novel (comets, rocking horses, church bells, pirates, old houses, weathercocks) and put them into it. I was aiming to create the atmosphere of the books I loved when I was a young reader: Garner, Boston, Masefield, Cooper, Goudge. But I wanted to write that sort of book for adults: a novel that had the same dream-like quality, a touch of time travel, but also a feeling of reassurance, and one which drew heavily on British folklore. There were a few factors, however, which were consciously a little different.
Firstly, I think a lot of British Celtic mythology has been done to death. This kills me, since I am of Welsh and Scots extraction and I identify as a Celt. Also, the mythology around Arthur and Glastonbury – where I actually live – has been mined to the point of literary exhaustion, too. I wanted to move away from well trodden territory, so although I set most of the novel in Somerset, there’s no mention of Avalon or Merlin. I tried to draw on aspects of the folkloric culture that have not been so heavily explored, such as the Behenian stars.
Mooncote, the house in the novel, is haunted by the spirits of the fixed stars, the celestial bodies that were most influential in Arabic and later in English astrology – Spica, Arcturus, Aldebaran and their sisters. I drew on the stories around the white chalk figures of neighbouring Wiltshire and Dorset, and the lych paths, the old ways on which corpses are borne to the churchyard, and the spectral lore of Dartmoor. In the sequel, Blackthorn Winter, I’ll also be visiting Elizabethan demonology, grimoire magic, and late nineteenth century occultism.
It became clear as I was writing the book, and thinking about the rest of the quartet, that I wanted to set these novels specifically in southern England. This is a fascinating part of the country, and not hugely explored in fantasy. I wanted to do for the south of England – white horse country, the Jurassic coast, Cornwall and the great city at the heart of the south east, which is of course London – what writers like Alan Garner have done for Cheshire. Although I don’t have Garner’s intimate ancestral understanding of dialect, I come from Gloucester and most of my life has been lived in the southern counties: Sussex for many years, and now the West Country. My own ancestors are named in the Civil War (the English one) and I know exactly where, and from whom, my ancestry comes. This is a privilege, but it is one of which I intend to make full use.
And I also wanted to make this a very female-centric novel – by no means my first endeavour in these waters, since I’ve written a number of books which barely feature men at all. The men in this novel are supporting characters: the stories belong to the four sisters who are the book’s protagonists, and the men are along for the ride. Their role is to support the women, and romance, while present, is not a central theme.
I wanted to write a book in which women were unapologetic about being in the world, which all four sisters are in different ways, and in which they weren’t traumatised. I’ve written a lot of novels in which women have suffered some awful things, but this isn’t one of them. Bad things might happen, but the Fallows bounce back. They take the magic of their world for granted, but they’re not particularly ‘feisty’: the super-tough weapons-carrying urban fantasy heroine doesn’t make much of an appearance here, because I think she’s become a stereotype. I don’t walk down the street carrying a crossbow or a sword myself, though I might have a whack at a home-invading entity with a random golf club, as Stella does in the novel.
Some years ago a dinner guest remarked to my (male) partner: “You’re not much troubled by self doubt, are you?” Without making the characters too full of themselves, I wanted them to have a degree of self confidence, too. They’re OK with who they are; Luna, the youngest, is still gaining that confidence but learning from older women. Over the past couple of decades we’ve been getting into genre territory in which female characters are only respected if their behaviour follows enculturated expectations of male behaviour….yeah, no. There are lots of ways of being.
Writing the book was, as I mention above, a slow process: this was my escape pod from a number of factors, including the financial crash, trying to save a business, and my father’s final illness and death. Thus there were long gaps in between writing chunks of the book: I saved them up, rather as readers save up books that they love and try not to finish them too quickly (readers have reported doing this with Comet Weather, a huge compliment to its author). So this was a writing process which I actively enjoyed, and although I roughed out an outline, it changed over the decade and the plot was primarily pantsed.
And on a final technical writing point, in writing four protagonists, I had to key in to their voices: Stella’s is the closest to my own voice, although she’s a lot younger, and people who know me have picked up on that, probably because we both swear so much. Their voices are English, and contemporary: if you like the deeply organic growth of the language as it is spoken by modern Brits, you might like this. But the house, Mooncote, is also a character: my long term love of books about houses (Green Knowe, or Moonacre Manor, which Mooncote is named after) comes to the fore here, too.
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I Wrote a Deeply Not Good Piece Today, So Rather Than Inflicting It On You, Here’s a Binging With Babish About a Burrito
Seriously, I wrote it, scheduled it, reread it, went ooooooh, nooooo, trashed and deleted it, and now no one will ever know its contents but me. Also, inasmuch as this episode of Binging With Babish is about a burrito, it was on point. Also also, I would totally make this, except without the 2 million scoville unit hot sauce, because why ruin a perfectly good meat tornado that way. Enjoy.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a game I’ve quickly become obsessed with. Released earlier this month, Fall Guys is the newest and bestest version of a Battle Royale game. It is also the cutest and most colorful game I’ve seen in a while, and I am definitely one for aesthetically pleasing visuals. I mean, the little dudes you play as are just adorable Jell-O-like blobs with eyes in cute costumes! Who doesn’t love that.
Basically the goal is to run and jump your way to the finish line of an obstacle course and to qualify for the next race, which means finishing before a certain number of people. Other than the obstacle courses, though, there are also team games, which are extremely efficient at eliminating a lot of people in one go. There’s even a “logic” game (though it’s not very difficult, all things considered). My personal favorite of these is the obstacle courses, because I’m not much of a team player, and if your team loses it doesn’t matter how well you did individually, you still get the boot.
Though extremely fun and entertaining, this game is also pretty rage inducing (or maybe I just inherited gamer rage from my father). I’d say the most irritating thing is other people’s ability to fuck you up. If they bump into you, grab you, push you even a smidge to the right, it could be game over for you, all because someone knocked you off the edge or pushed you into a ball rolling downhill towards you. So while I’ve had to seriously suppress the desire to throw my controller, I’ve also had a ton of fun playing.
Also there are different colors and costumes you can unlock! I know if you download it on the PS4 you get a free costume; I’m not sure about Steam, though. The more you level up, the more neat stuff you unlock. Personally, I’m not much of a costume person, I’m more for the patterns on the skin.
Anyways, this is honestly just a fun little time-waster that kids and adults alike can enjoy. It’s free on the PS4 if you have PS Plus, otherwise it’s only twenty smackaroos, which isn’t so bad!
If you have played it, or end up trying it, I’d love to hear if you enjoy it as much as I do! Or if you’re as ridiculously addicted as I am…
And as always, have a great day!
Admit it: were you just not thinking to yourself, “Hey, didn’t Scalzi tell us he wrote a sequel to The Dispatcher? Whatever happened to that?”
Here’s what happened to it: It’s called Murder by Other Means, and it’s coming out on Audible in audio first, as an Audible Original and as part of Audible’s new “Audible Plus” program, on September 10.
And now, your questions!
Why in audio first? Because, as with The Dispatcher, Audible paid for me to write it (this is why it’s an “Audible Original”), so they get first dibs on it.
Is Zachary Quinto back on board as the narrator for Murder by Other Means? Yes he is, and I’m very excited about that. He does a terrific job.
What is Audible Plus? It’s a new program, announced today, that gives Audible members access to (I’m quoting from Audible here) 11,000 audio titles covering over 68,000 hours’ worth of Audible Originals and podcasts, with more on the way every week. It’s all included in the cost of the current membership — so no additional credits or payment will be required to listen to Murder by Other Means. You’ll get it as part of your membership. There’s also an Audible Plus-only option available (Murder will be available there too). Here’s a write-up about it all in Deadline, with more details.
Audible Plus is in preview now for members (from whom they will be taking feedback for updates), and new customers who want to get a look at the preview can do so starting on August 27th.
Are any other Scalzi titles part of the Audible Plus program? As it happens, The Dispatcher is also now part of the Audible Plus program. It should be available through the program very soon, if not by the time you read this.
Why do I have to wait until September 10 for Murder by Other Means? Because life is like that sometimes, and your patience will be amply rewarded, I promise. In the meantime, if you’re a current Audible member, there are literally thousands of Audible Plus titles for you to check out and listen to.
I know nothing about the Dispatcher universe. Catch me up: It’s just like ours, except 999 times out of a thousand, if you intentionally kill someone, they come back (and they’re probably not happy with you). This gives rise to a class of professional killers, called Dispatchers, licensed to end people’s lives in order to bring them back to life safely (if, for example, a surgery goes wrong — dispatching them lets them try the surgery again, hopefully more successfully). Our hero Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher, and in both stories he’s caught up in larger nefarious plots and situations.
Well, that sounds exciting! Thank you. It is. And it’s not just me who thinks so: The Dispatcher won an Audie award and was a New York Times bestseller, so. Also, I’m not gonna lie to you, I think Murder by Other Means is even better.
There are now two stories in the Dispatcher universe, will there be any more? In fact, and this is an exclusive you are getting here first, there will be a third Dispatcher tale, and it will also be an Audible Original, and also part of the Audible Plus program.
Soon? I mean, I have to write it first, and I have some other stuff I have to write before I can get to it.
UGH BUT I WANT IT NOW. I feel you. But again, at least between now and then you’ll have lots of other Audible Plus material to tuck into. You’ll be fine, promise.
And that’s my big news for the day!
I Was Writing a Piece About Six Months of Quarantine and Annoyed Myself as I Wrote It, So Here’s Zoe Keating Instead
Trust me, you’re getting the better end of the bargain here. Zoe’s amazing.
Here’s her site. Go buy some of her music.
The second generation of the Pixel Buds wireless headphones have been out for a while and I’ve been interested in picking up a pair, since I have the previous iteration and was looking to upgrade. However, I wanted to get them in the Oh-So-Orange color, which only became available this last week (they will match my current Pixel 4 phone, which is also in that color, for roughly two months, after which time I will probably get the Pixel 5 because I’m that guy). The new Pixel Buds arrived today and I’ve spent the day tooling about with them. Because I just know you’re curious, here are some first-draft thoughts about them.
1. To begin, they look pretty cool. Like the first generation, they come in their own little charging case, and when they’re nestled in there and the top is flipped open (which is a solidly satisfying tactile experience, by the way), it looks for all the world like a cute little robot with bug eyes (at least in the orange variant).
2. When you take them out, they have a bit that goes into your ear canal and a little rubber wing that sits in your outside ear to help make them secure, which for me worked very well and was pretty comfortable. The rubber wing is an improvement over the first generation, which used a loop of cord to secure it in your ear. I didn’t mind that at first, but after a while the cord became less secure, and I was always fiddling with them to keep them in my ear.
3. As with the earlier version, the buds have touch controls, and like the earlier version the touch controls can be, well, touchy — it took me a bit to get used to using them in the last set and I can tell that it will take time for these as well. Unlike in the last version, in which only the right bud was touch sensitive, both buds here are, which I’m not sure I like that much. It just means another hand to train.
4. But on the other hand you can do just about anything with the buds, since they’ve integrated Google Assistant into them and that is, by a significant margin, the most useful virtual assistant. I turned on the voice commands for it (I kept those off last time) and so far have looked up some things, sent texts, called Krissy and navigated through a Spotify playlist. All of that worked seamlessly.
5. They sound fine. I think I like the sound profile of the first Pixel Buds slightly better (it at least feels like there’s slightly more bass response), but that might change as I fiddle with the buds. Out of the box the highs and mid-range are good and the bass is more waved at then entirely present, which is not all that unexpected for earbuds. They are not noise cancelling, which I don’t really mind, but the part that goes into your ear canal a smidge mutes the outside world. That said, I definitely noticed when, while having the buds in while going for a walk, an entire fleet of motorcycles blasted by. However, I was able to crank the volume up enough that while I did not drown out literally dozens of Harleys, I could still hear the music perfectly well.
(Update: 8/26/20: The buds just had a firmware update which includes a “bass boost” option. The bass is indeed boosted, and sounds better.)
6. With that said, because I am doing so many “virtual” events these days — wear your damn masks, people, I want to see real live humans again sometime this decade — I was interested in these less for music than I was for doing these online events without wearing monster earphones. On that score, these things are a winner. Their size make them mostly unobtrusive in my ears (even with the bright orange color), and when I talked to Krissy with them earlier today, she both came through loud and clear, and also told me she could hear me perfectly well through their in-bud microphone. They pair almost instantaneously with my Pixel phone (of course), but also come with Bluetooth, so it will be easy enough to pair them with the laptop I use for events.
(I should note I did get a more-than-trivial number of volume dropouts while I was on my walk, although whether that was do to a poor connection to my phone or because I live in the middle of nowhere and the cell signal will randomly drop to one bar just for fun is hard to say. I’ll see if it continues.)
7. Things I haven’t checked yet: Battery life and their ability to wirelessly charge (still too new), the advertised-as-improved automatic translation feature (no one near me speaks a different language), and how they hold up to strenuous exercise (I went for a walk, not a run). If anything about any of these is hugely negative, I’ll probably update this post, uhhhh, eventually.
Should you get these? If you have an Android phone, particularly a Pixel, I suspect they will be a pretty solid investment. This will be especially the case if you’ll use your buds for more than just listening to music, are comfortable using voice commands for Google Assistant, and don’t absolutely need noise-cancelling. If you’re in the Apple ecoverse, have issues with Google or are perfectly happy with your current set of headphones and/or don’t want to pay a premium for wireless buds, you’re probably fine without them. I’m looking forward to using them more, myself, especially on all those virtual events.
It’s Ray Bradbury’s 100th birthday today, so to note the day, I’m reposting the essay I wrote about meeting him when I was twelve, which was featured in the Subterranean Press special, expanded edition of The Martian Chronicles. It was written while he was still alive, and I know he read it. It makes me happy that he knew what his writing meant to me.
Enjoy, and enjoy your Bradbury Day, here or wherever in the universe you may be.
Meeting the Wizard
When I was twelve a wizard came to town.
And immediately I have to explain that comment.
First: Quite obviously, the wizard under discussion is Ray Bradbury.
Second: Understand that when you are the age you are now, and the age I am now, an author coming to town to talk about his work is no magical thing. The author may be your favorite author, and you may be genuinely excited to hear him or her speak—you may even be nervous and hoping you don’t act like a complete fool when you get your forty seconds of conversation with them as they sign your book. But you know them as what they are: an author, a person, an ordinary human who happens to write the words you love to read.
But when you were twelve—or perhaps more accurately, when I was twelve—things were different. To begin, authors were not just common schmoes who happened to string words together. They were, in a word, mystics. When I was twelve I had been a reader for a decade and a writer for about a year, and in both cases at a stage where I was old enough to finally understand that writing didn’t just happen; it was an expression of both will and imagination.
What I didn’t know—and honestly at age twelve couldn’t have known—was how to put the two together. I would walk through the stacks of my local library, where I spent a genuinely huge amount of my time, running my hands along the spines of the books, wondering that each book represented a single person. How did they make it happen? I could barely manage four pages in a lined composition book before I began to sweat. Here were whole books of dense, close-set, unlined words, spanning hundreds of pages.
I simply couldn’t grasp how it could be done, and I think now that I believed something at age twelve that I would describe as a literary consonant to Clarke’s Law: that any sustained effort of fiction writing was indistinguishable from magic. Magic was the only way people could possibly write as long, and as well, as they had to in order to make a book at the end.
Therefore: Authors were wizards.
And Ray Bradbury, to my mind at least, had to be the top wizard of all. Because of all the wizards practicing their craft—or of the ones I was reading at the time, which is possibly an important qualification—he was clearly the one most in control of his magic, the one who again even at the age of twelve I could see was doing something with his words that no one else I was reading was doing.
I should pause here to note that my introduction to Ray Bradbury had come the year before, in Mr. Johnson’s sixth grade class at Ben Lomond Elementary, when I was assigned by my teacher to read The Martian Chronicles. Now, understand that being assigned a book is no positive thing. It’s a well-known fact that if you wish to inspire in a child a vast hatred of any single book, all you have to do is assign it to him in school. This generally works like a charm, and is why, for example, I to this day loathe George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss with the sort of passion normally reserved for ex-spouses or whatever presidential candidate it is you’re damn well not voting for.
Fortunately for me and for the book, there were two significant mitigating factors. The first was that I had already been inducted into the cult of the science fiction geek; the door had opened in the fourth grade, with a copy of Robert Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky. I had wasted little time getting myself over the threshold, burning through the school library’s rather meager collection of science fiction—mostly Heinlein juvies and a few poor imitations of Heinlein juvies, their titles and authors now lost due to pre-adolescent critical expunging from memory. I was primed, basically, to receive the book.
The second factor was that the book came, not from an approved curriculum list, but from Mr. Johnson himself. Every student has the teacher who looms in memory, and Keith Johnson is mine—a fine, handsome and fearfully smart man who didn’t take any crap (which is an excellent trait in handling sixth graders) but who also saw each of his students as an individual (which is an exceptional trait in handling sixth graders). Mr. Johnson gave me The Martian Chronicles to read and said this to me as he handed it over: “You should be reading this.” He also said it was one of his favorite books.
To get the book, vouched for in that way, felt like an intimacy between the two of us. I realize using the word “intimacy” there opens things up to an unseemly interpretation, which would be, mind you, ridiculous. What it means is that while in no way stepping out of the teacher-student relationship, Mr. Johnson was treating me as a confidant, and even in a small way as an equal: This book means something to me, he was saying. It might mean something to you, too. It was, in other words, a powerful recommendation.
And Mr. Johnson was right. It meant something to me. The Martian Chronicles is not a child’s book, but it is an excellent book to give to a child—or to give to the right child, which I flatter myself that I was—because it is a book that is full of awakening. Which means, simply, that when you read it, you can feel parts of your brain clicking on, becoming sensitized to the fact that something is happening here, in this book, with these words, even if you can’t actually communicate to anyone outside of your own head just what that something is. I certainly couldn’t have, in the sixth grade—I simply didn’t have the words. As I recall, I didn’t much try: I just sat there staring down at the final line of the book, with the Martians staring back at me, simply trying to process what I had just read.
I could tell you now about all of it—I’m a good enough wizard on my own now—but that would take more space than you would have tolerance for in an introduction. I know you are eager to get through this and start re-reading the book you love.
But I will give you one example: The Martian Chronicles was the first book to make me understand that words themselves, and in themselves, had power. The genre of science fiction vaunts itself as the literature of ideas, which seems a bit much. It’s more to the point that it’s the literature of engineering, originally springing forth from the minds of proto-geeks fascinated with the technical potential of the future. These men (and occasional women) used words as fine-tooled machines to work those ideas into print, practically rather than poetically.
There’s nothing wrong with this. I largely stand in this tradition myself. What it does mean, however, is that much of science fiction prose reads flat. Great colorful playful ideas, packaged in a big cardboard box.
Ray Bradbury’s words are not a cardboard container for his ideas. His words have weight and rhythm and pace and form; they are a scaffold of filigree for his ideas to weave themselves in and around, taking form through them. Bradbury’s people did not exist for the sake of exposition or simply to have things happen to them: He sketched them in what they said (or didn’t say), and how they said them or not. Words gave rise to character, economically but fully, revealing a spaceman disgusted with his people, two strangers from different times meeting on a road, a man who learns he’s okay being alone, a father teaching his children about who the Martians truly are.
The Martian Chronicles was the first science fiction book to make me feel a character’s righteous rage (not to mention the concept of ironically literal death, both in the same chapter) and the first science fiction book to make me feel loss and loneliness in my gut, doing it without featuring a single human, save as a shadow on a wall. And more than the first science fiction that did all these things: the first fiction, too.
The Martian Chronicles, in short, showed me what words can truly do. It showed me magic.
And now you might understand how, at age twelve, I was amazed beyond words that this wizard was coming to town, and would be somewhere I could meet him and see him, in the flesh, for myself. Because I was geek enough to be well-known to all the librarians, who were hosting this wizard’s appearance, I managed to wheedle my way into being in the group that would welcome him to the library and would get him ready to meet his public in our library’s common room, which we grandly but not wholly inaccurately labeled a “forum.” I would meet this wizard of all wizards, I would spend time with him, and perhaps I might even get him to show me some of his secrets. It was an excellent plan.
Which didn’t work. Ray Bradbury’s magic is strong, but the black magic of the 210 Freeway at rush hour is stronger—Bradbury arrived only minutes before he was set to speak. Nevertheless, the librarians, knowing how excited I was to meet him, pushed me forward and introduced me to him, and gave me a prime opportunity to talk magic with the wizard.
At which point my tongue, previously full of questions, fell out of my head, and all I could do was squeak about how much I liked his books. As I recall, the wizard tousled my hair, said something I don’t remember except that it was kind, signed the copy of The Martian Chronicles I had in my hand, and then went up to our forum to do another kind of magic, which was to entertain a room full of admirers for an hour.
I would say that I never got another chance to have the wizard show me his magic, but that’s not quite true. I never have met Ray Bradbury again in person. His magic, however, is there in his work. When you read it, if you pay attention, the wizard shows you all his magic and power. If you’re smart, you see how it works. If you have some talent, you might be able to pull off a trick or two. Will you become a wizard? Well, that depends on many things, some of which will not be under your control. But you won’t be able to say that this particular wizard has not been generous with his magic.
What I have never gotten another chance to do, however, is to thank the wizard, for what he’s showed me and taught me and how he’s inspired me to use my own magic. This seems as good a time and place as any. So thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for all of it.
And now, like the rest of you, I’m off to read The Martian Chronicles another time. I suspect this wizard has more magic to show me here. I want to see it.
Inasmuch as Athena wrote today about her experience at a spa, and has also launched an occasional series called Small Business Saturday, in which she talks about a small business whose products she has tried and enjoyed, and because I also review things here from time to time (mostly tech, but other things too), I think it’s both useful and transparent for Whatever to have an Official Product Solicitation Policy. It is thus:
1. As a rule, we have not and will not ask companies, large or small, for free stuff and/or for compensation (money or otherwise) for product appearances here.* Why? One, to avoid the impression of a “quid pro quo” set up when we talk about products. Two, because philosophically, and particularly regarding small businesses, we believe supporting businesses and creators starts with paying them for their work and product. Three, life’s too short to be one of those “Hey! Give us this thing for free! We’ll give you exposure!” people.
2. That said, if companies wish for one of us to consider featuring their product here, and want to send it to us, the site has a policy on how to do that. Please note that unless there is prior agreement on our end to note or review the product/material, your sending things for our consideration does not oblige us to note or review it. Note also that as a general rule we do not typically give that prior agreement.
3. Likewise, at no point will we agree to give anything we are sent a positive review or notice. If we like something, we’ll say so. If we don’t, we’ll say that too (more likely if we don’t like it, we just won’t note it at all).
4. If and when we note or review something that is sent to us for free and/or we accept compensation (via travel, lodging, etc) as part of a feature/review, we will disclose that, both for the purposes of transparency, and to avoid running afoul of various laws in various jurisdictions that require such disclosure. This disclosure policy will include the swag we are sent by PR companies, promoting other companies’ product. If we post about it, we’ll disclose where it came from.
The short version is: We don’t ask for stuff, but it’s okay if you send it, just don’t expect us to feel obliged if you do, and if we do anything with it, we’ll note publicly how and from whom we go it.
* Note that with regard to The Big Idea feature, I do ask the folks asking to do a feature to send a copy of the book, in order to have it on hand for reference. I do not, however, penalize the writer if the book does not arrive (or does not arrive in time for the feature).