The Importance of Local Bookstores for Authors–and the Reading Public

Long ago, in the dark days of my early-to-mid-twenties, I was a bookseller at Books, Inc. in Sacramento.  It was an odd job; very “Empire Records”-like in the way the staff interacted.  I kind of miss it sometimes, even though I rarely worked more than 20 hours in a week and I had to eventually leave it for a better-paying job.

But what I loved was helping people find books they would love.  I eventually ended up in charge of the Science Fiction/Fantasy section, because people knew that I was the guy who knew the genre well.  So anyone looking for SFF was quickly pointed my way.

Even in these days of Amazon and other websites that let you buy books, physical bookstores are important.  For one thing, Amazon is good for getting the book you already know you want, but it’s utter crap for browsing.  It’s much easier to walk the shelves in a real store, perusing the titles and author names, looking for something to catch your eye.

In addition, bookstores pay attention to what sells, and they log requests.  If people make the time to come in and special order a book, there is a better-than-zero chance the store will order a second copy for the shelves.

If enough people request or order the book, the bookseller is more likely to read and then handsell the book to people who want something new, but don’t know exactly what. This is what I did all the time, and if the bookseller liked the book, they’re going to push it.  This is why my store sold completely out of Ian MacDonald’s Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone.  We had ten copies, and not one sold until I got intrigued by the cover, read it, and then hand sold it to nine other people who came in looking for good SF.

A book on the shelf has a greater chance of being picked up on an impulse buy than a picture online, thus widening the audience.

Finally, if you shop at a local, independent store, you’re adding money to the local economy and helping a local business stay open.

Support your local independent bookstore. 

The Widening Gyre Now Available For Pre-Order!

Exciting news!  The Widening Gyre, my debut novel coming in March from Flame Tree Press, is now available for pre-order (in some formats)!

NB: Only the hardcover, paperback, and non-Kindle ebook are currently available to order.  If you want it as a Kindle book or an audiobook, you’ll have to wait a bit longer to pre-order.

Hardcover, Paperback, and Ebook can be ordered directly from the publisher.

Paperback can also be ordered from Amazon in the US.  All other formats WILL be on Amazon US eventually, but of course you can also order them direct from the publisher.

Amazon UK has both the hardcover and paperback available.

You should be able to preorder from book stores, as well, but I’m not sure if it’s percolated that far yet.  The ISBN for the paperback is 978-1787581432. That might help. If anyone does successfully preorder from a brick & mortar, please let me know!

So far the book isn’t on B&N.com, Kobo, or iBooks, but as soon as it is I’ll post that information.

My First Worldcon

So I attended Worldcon 76, in San Jose, CA. It was my first Worldcon; the last one in my neck of the woods was Reno in 2011, and I was not in a good enough financial space to go to that one.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience, but as a baby writer whose book is not even out yet, it was … interesting.

I quickly learned that most of the writing craft-focused panels were not for me.  They were saying things I already knew. The sort of “theory”-based panels were much better, though I didn’t make it into a few of them due to overcrowded rooms.  C’est la vie.

I learned late on Saturday that the head of my publisher was in attendance, and I tried to arrange a meet, just to shake his hand and say hi, but we weren’t able to sync our schedules and get a minute.  Ah well, there will be other chances.

I attended a panel titled “The Revival of Space Opera,” which included among the panelists my Viable Paradise instructor, Teresa Nielsen Hayden.  I wanted to go talk to her at the end, but I didn’t feel like fighting my way through the press, and assumed I’d be able to find her somewhere else.  Sadly, I didn’t, so I didn’t get to talk to her, which I regret.  Teresa’s one of my favorite VP people.

I did learn that going to a con with my pre-teen daughter is difficult.  Tegan is 10, which presents a problem: the child-focused stuff was too young for her, and she’s not old enough to go hang out with teens yet.  So she spent much of her time being bored, though she did attend her first panel on her own at one point, and enjoyed that.  She felt better once her mom arrived on Friday evening, though daughter spent Friday night visiting her Bay Area-based cousins.  Tegan really wants to be my “assistant” if and when I ever do signings and the like, but I think we’ve both decided she’s not ready for that yet.  We’ll see what happens as she gets older.

What I really enjoyed the most about the Con was visiting my tribe members who came to Worldcon.  Through Beth Morris Tanner, who seemingly knows basically everyone in the SFF field, I also met Karen Osborne and Mary Anne Mohanraj, both of whom were delightful and I hope to see more of in the future.  I didn’t get to talk to all the people I wanted to, but that’s the reality of Big Social Events.  Dinner with my VP crew on Saturday was a high point, for sure.  Let me tell you, if you’re ever in need of some great SFF anecdotes, K.G. Anderson is the person to sit with.

I’m delighted that most of my Hugo votes were for the winners, and I gladly give my congratulations to all the winners, even the ones I didn’t vote for.

Now it’s time to get ready for the school year to begin, and keep plugging away on the writing projects I have going right now.

What it’s Really Like, Part 1: Getting an Offer

Ever since I got the offer on my novel, I’ve felt a mix of exhilaration and crushing fear.  I thought it might be fun to write a series of posts explaining the process and how I’ve felt during it.  I’m going to call this series “What it’s Really Like,” because when we’re working towards publishing professionally, many of us get an idea in our head of what it will be like, and while I’m only completely aware of my own experience, I’m willing to bet a lot of it is universal.

Despite that universality, however, there are some caveats:

  1. My experience is mine alone. While I know authors who are further along the path of pro writing than I am, some of them significantly so, and many of them have reported similar experiences, there are also some differences that are pretty important.
  2. I am publishing through a small press. By definition, this means my experience will be somewhat different than an author who publishes through a large publishing house, and it will also be different than someone who is working as an indie author, self-publishing their work.  None of these things are better, but they are different.

I’ll post each entry when it’s time, by which I mean as things happen.  Right now I’m in a sort of limbo, waiting for the next step in the process to begin.  So I’ll start by telling how it began–or, rather, how I went from “aspiring novelist with a finished book but no contract” to “author with a book contract.”

In 2016, Flame Tree Publishing, a company that had been publishing themed science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies for several years,   announced that they were going to open to novel-length works at the end of the year.  I submitted my novel, The Widening Gyre, on 10 December 2016.

And then I waited.

The response window had been claimed to be about four months, but I’ve been submitting works for publication long enough to know that was not going to be the case.  But eventually, I just about forgot about it.

In March 2018, I remembered I’d submitted the work, and I queried the publisher, expecting that I’d missed a rejection email in spam or something.  But I was informed by a helpful staff member that the book was still under consideration.

Then, on 11 May 2018, I checked my email at lunch.  I noticed an email from someone at Flame Tree, and I could see in the gmail list that it began “Thank you so much for letting me read The Widening Gyre, and please excuse the delay in getting back to you.”

Now, “Thank you for letting me read…” is how pretty much every rejection I’ve ever received began.  So when I saw those words, my heart sank a bit.  But I knew I had to read the rest of it at some point, so I clicked to open it.

The next words were “I enjoyed the manuscript quite a bit…” Now, you’d think that would be a good sign, but I’d had a couple of nice personal rejections (as opposed to form rejections), and some of them began with “Though I enjoyed the book,” so I was still convinced it was a rejection.  But then I read “… and I think it would make a great addition to the Flame Tree Press line…” and my brain went “Wait, what?”

And then the last part: “… And so I’m happy to make an offer for the book.”

There followed some business stuff to let me know the terms of the offer, but at that point my brain was still stuck on “make an offer for the book.”

In my reply, I tried to play it cool in my response, but the truth was I was practically dancing.  My mood had gone from sour in the middle of a bad day with my students to jubilant.  Someone liked my book–the same book I’d taken to calling the damned book when discussing it with friends–enough to buy it.  It’s really the ultimate “Yes, you are a writer” moment.

Next time, I’ll talk about the boilerplate and the contract.

The Panic of Having Sold a Debut Novel

So, I sold the book.  Began writing it in 2012, finished it in 2015, submitted it to the eventual publisher (among many agents and another publisher) in 2016, sold it in 2018.

Now what?

Well, as it turns out, what happens now is I panic.

I mean, not entirely.  But the book is scheduled for release in March 2019, and I’m expecting the edits in August or September 2018.  Maybe later. So now, I write book 2 and hope the editor likes it enough to add it to the schedule.  But… how can I? After all, I’m a fraud and I’ll never manage a book as good as the first one.  Look at these crappy words I’m making!  GAH!

Which is prime, grade-A bullshit, but it’s what my brain is feeding me lately.  I plotted the book out, broke it into scenes, wrote a synopsis, and then wrote 1300 words of the first chapter.  And then I deleted them, and wrote 1900 words that were marginally better, in both craft and structure.

Every pro writer I know has said at some point that they deal with this, too.  They fear not being able to write another book.  They feel the cold and nasty tendrils of Impostor Syndrome. So I know it’s not really unique.  But digging out of it?  It’s not easy.

In fact, the only thing I can think of to do is to keep my head down, ignore the news, and continue to write.  The first draft will be horrible, but the second will be better, and the third better than that.  And hopefully it, too, will become a book.

So for now, I avoid the siren song of video games and movies, and continue to plug away at this book.  I mean, I already plotted it out and broke it; I guess I ought to go ahead and write it, yeah? And I trust that eventually, I’ll break out of this stupid brainspace and be convinced my stuff is worth reading, again.

Stupid brains.

My Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison is dead.

It seems almost impossible.  I’ve been reading Ellison’s work for almost as long as I’ve been reading adult books–and I began reading them when I was about 9 years old.  I know I read Paingod and Other Delusions right after my 10th birthday, because that’s when I picked up the collection from where my dad had left it and began reading it. I was hooked from page one. The man who wrote “Repent, Harlequin!” said the Ticktock Man” can’t be dead… can he?

I don’t mean page one of the stories.  I mean the beginning of his introduction.  My edition is the one with “Your Basic Crown of Thorns,” which is a meditation on the nature of pain.  It’s glorious and heartbreaking and beautiful.  It brought me to tears, then and several more times over the years.  Harlan Ellison remains the only writer who has ever done that to me.  And I’ve loved him for it.

Harlan Ellison is part of why I don’t speed.  I read his story, from that introduction to Paingod, about having to go to traffic school, and seeing–and hearing–the scream of a mother who had just lost her young son to a traffic accident.  He said that five days later he could still hear it, couldn’t stop hearing it.  That imprinted on me.  I don’t speed in residential areas.  I get angry at those who do.  Because I read Harlan’s “viscera” in his introductions.

He was always a man who stirred up controversy.  Growing up in fandom means hearing endless stories about him.  I assume most of them are BS, but a few have the ring of truth.  He was acerbic, to be sure.  And that, too, I loved.  Harlan Ellison was a man who wasn’t afraid of telling anyone his opinion, even if he knew it would be unpopular or would anger those he was talking to.

When I found out that my father had died, my sadness was because it hit me that now I’d never know him.  It was the death of dreams. I feel a similar sense of loss regarding Harlan Ellison; I had so wanted to meet him, but could never get to where he was.  And in recent years, I’d begun to realize it wasn’t going to be likely–he was getting older, and had stopped going to cons.  But I held out a little hope.  Now I’ll have to make do with the words he left us. He’d probably think that was as it should be.

Of course, he made mistakes.  We’ve all heard, I’m sure, of the incident in 2006 with Connie Willis, which I won’t repeat here–Google is there, you know how to use it.  I’m sure he made many others–he was, after all, only human.  I’ve seen many people today focusing on those aspects of Harlan.  I don’t think that’s right.  Acknowledge them, yes.  But remember that this was a man who could smith words like very, very few can.  Let’s not try to take that away from his memory.  Let’s stop eating our dead, and instead honor what they did well, and resolve to do better than they did where they fell down.

As for me, “my” Harlan Ellison was a deeply honest man who wrote about the horrors and the triumphs of life, and made me think about who I am and what I’m doing here.  He taught me to know the facts behind my opinions, and if the facts didn’t fit the opinions, to change them, and not the facts.  He taught me principles.  Most of all, he taught me that I am not alone, and that sharing my fears and my very self with others would benefit me more than it would harm me.

He also, if I’m being honest, taught me how not to behave as a professional writer.

And now he’s gone.  Goodbye, Mr. Ellison.

The Problem with Psylocke: Sparked by X-Men: Apocalypse

This past weekend, I finally got around to seeing X-Men Apocalypse.  Sadly, I walked away relatively unimpressed, to the point where I’m not sure I’ll bother seeing another X-Men film in the theatre.

Understand: I have been a fan of the X-Men since I was fifteen years old, and a friend handed me issue #213 way back in 1986.  It’s near the end of the Mutant Massacre, and is coincidentally the issue in which Psylocke officially becomes one of the team.

That means I have been a fan of the X-Men for thirty years.

Holy shit.

Given that, you’d think I’d love the movies.  And I did, at first.  The first X-Men movie from director Bryan Singer arguably is the first good superhero movie that isn’t about Superman or Batman.  X-Men 2 was… well, it wasn’t as good.  And X-Men 3 had its moments, but ultimately failed.  X-Men: First Class brought back the magic, albeit under a new director, and I loved Singer’s return in Days of Future Past, even though it had some of Singer’s hallmark unnecessary character changes.

And then there was Apocalypse.

Oh, Bryan Singer.  Why?

First, let’s get this out of the way: For a guy who loves the X-Men, Singer sure seems to want to change things for little reason.  It’s like he thinks dumping a minor character into the film, but very different from the way they existed in the comics, will make fans happy.  But all it does for me is make me wonder why he couldn’t make an original mutant to run the German mutant underground.  Why Caliban? And why is Psylocke, the daughter of a British scientist, one-time Captain Britain, former caucasian supermodel and now-Asian telepathic, telekinetic ninja (more on that later), acting as a mostly-silent, thuggish, AMERICAN bodyguard to Caliban?  It just seemed like they couldn’t figure out how to introduce her, so they did it in the laziest way.

I get films can’t include the ENTIRE backstory of the character, but seriously, they couldn’t get Olivia Munn a dialogue coach and make the character British?  That much effort would have been rewarding.  But no, they make her American, then give her very, very little to say.  She’s all glowers and pouting.  And ok, I’ll admit Olivia Munn looked great, but… that’s really all she did.  And, honestly, if we’re going to make changes for the films, did she need to be that incarnation of Psylocke?

You know what? Many people have talked about the film’s failings, so I won’t rehash that here except to say: It was pretty, but lacking in character development.  But I want to talk about Psylocke, one of my favorite characters.

For those unaware, Psylocke is Elizabeth Braddock, originally a British caucasian.  She was telepathic, and wore a suit of purple and pink armor into battle.  It was awesome.  Then, in the 90s, someone decided they needed an asian character in the X-Men again, which was a good thing, but they went about it in the wrong way.  Rather than create a new character, they sent Psylocke through a mystical device, then had her reappear in an Asian body with slightly-altered powers.

The comics have flirted with making Betsy caucasian again, and for some reason they don’t.  Some have claimed it’s because they want the X-Men to be diverse, but that’s not working in this case.  Betsy, though in an Asian body, isn’t Asian.  She’s English, and not just English–she’s aristocracy, born and bred to privilege both in England and Otherworld, the mystic dimension her father came from and which her twin brother rules as King.

She was raised on money, tea, and scones.  She doesn’t have the experience of an Asian woman raised in Japan (where the original inhabitant of her body, Kwannon, lived); she doesn’t even have the experience of an Asian women raised in Britain.

In short: She’s a rich white woman in yellowface.

To be fair, the writers have, over the years, tried to make it work.  They’ve claimed that Betsy’s mind got “blurred” with the mind of Kwannon when the woman were switched (and don’t get me started on that name).  But it never reads as anything other than cultural appropriation.  The white woman has become the ultimate psychic ninja.

This is a Bad Thing.  I mean, okay, on a purely sexual level, yes, Psylocke is HOT.  And that’s exactly the problem. She’s the familiar melded with the “exotic” to create a “perfect” sexual fantasy for men.  That she’s British adds to the weirdness of it all, setting up a metatextual issue with British colonialism and “oriental” mystique.  And this is reflected in the way the character is drawn.  Here’s her original look: Note that while still sexualized, it’s also a bit restrained–not a lot of skin showing, but still sensual; one could even say it’s metacommentary on Psylocke, who was always portrayed as outwardly demurely British, but inwardly a steel warrior.  1351506701591

But once the character becomes Asian, the sex comes to the surface:

Psylocke

Now she’s all skin, going into battle in a swimsuit.  And to add to the ickiness of it all, there was a thankfully soon-abandoned storyline in which, once Psylocke became Asian, she also became the sex fantasy for Cyclops, the leader of the team, who would fantasize about her in his dreams for some time.  Think about that: A comic, written by a white British man (Chris Claremont), about a white British woman who becomes Asian and then is the sexual fantasy of the white man who leads the team. Layers of Ick there, folks.  Layers.

(I gather her costume has changed, but the change isn’t much–it’s a skintight suit, so yeah, no visible skin, but you can see everything anyway.  No less “sexy” than the swimsuit.)

Now, when this first happened, I was young.  I didn’t care so much.  But as I learned more about colonialism, and how race informs art and influences parts of our culture we don’t even think about, and once I realized racism isn’t just about being a dick to people of other races, this really began to bug me.  For years I had an original art piece of the Asian Psylocke hanging in my office.  I still own it, but it’s not hanging anywhere, because now, even though it’s not overly sexual in and of itself, it bothers me.

I know there are comics fans out there moaning about how “every conversation comes down to race.”  But guess what, dudes?  That’s the world we live in.  Like it or not, race influences things, and some of the art we love is problematic.  Tolkien had race issues, Lovecraft was a racist, and guys, Psylocke is problematic.

It doesn’t matter that this happened when an Asian guy (Jim Lee) was drawing the comic; it’s still problematic.  It doesn’t matter that it’s been this way for twenty-seven years (holy shit, really?–inner editor).  It needs to change.

Marvel needs to return Psylocke to her original body (yes, I know, it’s dead and buried, but it can be done any number of ways; her brother is the king of Otherworld, fer crissakes), and then, when that’s done, they need to create a brand-new Asian character who isn’t a walking stereotype, nor a White Man’s Fantasy, nor a Sexbomb-masquerading-as-Women-Power cardboard cutout, to join the X-Men.

Probably never going to happen, but I have hope.  And hey, Marvel–give me a few years to publish my book and get a track record, and I’ll be happy to write it for you.  Or I could recommend a writer who can do it well right now–Marjorie Liu might be free!

 

 

 

 

 

If You Want Them: My Reactions to This Year’s Cancellations/Renewals (TV)

Lots of Renewals and Cancellations are being announced now.  For those who care, and maybe for those who don’t but find me marginally amusing, here are my reactions to them.  Note that I’ll only really be talking about shows I watch, or tried to watch, and won’t have anything to say about shows I’ve never seen or cared about.  And because of who I am, this is mostly about genre television (Science Fiction and Fantasy), but not completely.

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In Which I Totally Steal a Blog Post Idea from John Scalzi

So, John Scalzi posted a link to this article in which Gay Talese comes off as either a misogynist or an idiot.  Then he posted a list, off the top of his head, of women writers who have inspired him.  I thought I’d do the same:

Molly Ivins

Melanie Rawn

Anne McCaffrey

Harper Lee

Elizabeth Bear

Robin McKinley

Ann Leckie

C.J. Cherryh

Lorraine Hansberry

Jane Austen

J.K. Rowling

Joan Didion

Agatha Christie

R.S.A. Garcia

Madeline L’Engle

Leigh Brackett

… and that’s just off the top of my head.

 

In which I get Cranky about language

Elseweb, someone said the following in a discussion on language, and because it would not be appropriate for me to make this comment there, as it’s not exactly the topic, I’m going to do it here:
Chaucer was as incomprehensible to [Shakespeare’s contemporaries] as he is to us, but we can still comprehend Shakespeare with a little effort, and the literature since then with correspondingly less effort.
I see this all the time, and it’s basically nonsense.
Chaucer wrote in Middle English, which is pretty weird to our modern eyes, but not actually all that hard to understand. If you learn how to pronounce the vowels, it’s pretty easy to read, and not too hard to understand.  Here’s a version with translations below the original Middle English lines:

 

1         Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
When April with its sweet-smelling showers
2         The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
Has pierced the drought of March to the root,
3         And bathed every veyne in swich licour
And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid
4         Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
By which power the flower is created;
5         Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
When the West Wind also with its sweet breath,
6         Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
In every wood and field has breathed life into
7         The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
The tender new leaves, and the young sun
8         Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
Has run half its course in Aries,

There are some odd words, such as the pronoun hir, which has been replaced with their in modern English, but overall, the general shape of the language isn’t that hard for us to figure out, even 627 years later.  We teach it to 12th graders, for goodness’ sake–it’s not rocket science (though, honestly, we teach that, too, in some classes)!

Shakespeare, by contrast, wrote in Modern English.  Here’s Shakespeare, completely as he wrote the lines:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Perfectly understandable.  Sure, in some of Ol’ Billy’s words there are grammatical constructions that are no longer done, and the pronunciation of words has changed, certainly, leading many of Shakespeare’s jokes to fall flat today if care isn’t taken.  I remember one teacher who told us that the weird construction in the final couplet of Sonnet 116 (above) was an example of an intentional “slant rhyme,” but I later discovered that in Shakespeare’s day, the words “loved” and “proved” would have rhymed perfectly.  Those pronunciation shifts also kill some of the imagery in this sonnet–for example, there’s a pun on “hours” and “oars” in the sonnet above, which links back to the imagery of a ship in line 7.  I’ll concede that understanding just what Shakespeare is saying may not be so easy–for example, this sonnet is often read as a romantic poem, but many scholars argue otherwise. So, sure, hard to analyze–but hard to understand as language, it isn’t.
This idea in our culture that Shakespeare is some kind of bizarre language we can only understand if we work at it is part of why his plays have gone from the everyday, for-all-people entertainments they were in his lifetime to supposed highbrow-only work today.
Every time I see some idiot waxing poetic about Romeo and Juliet being High Art, I want to smack them–fully half the first scene is a series of penis jokes, for crissakes!  And it includes rape jokes!
Anyway, I’ll do another post someday soon about the pronunciation changes, but for now, I just want to say this:  Shakespeare is not hard to understand, and if you have any part in fomenting the myth that it is, stop it.