OMG, you won’t believe what a bastard I am

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Christmas was pretty great. Everyone was surprised and delighted by their presents to one degree or another, we got to spend a whole lot of time together, and the fact that we got new computers (and had terrible issues with Migration Assistant–come on, Apple, wtf) none of us had our noses pressed against glowing screens, which I guess goes back to spending time together. Nothing better than that.

However! The day after Christmas is my son’s birthday (the answer to the obvious question: 12). Since my wife has to work today, he blew out his candles and opened his presents first thing.

Boy was he disappointed. Here’s why:

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It’s been our family tradition that he gets toys on Christmas and books on his birthday; I always thought that was better than “half your gifts one day, other half the next” but let’s just say he feels differently.

Did I say he was “disappointed?” Because I meant that he asked us never to buy books for him again, and he told us books are only for when he’s bored, and he thinks I’m trying to force him to read books that he “ought” to read (the Myke Cole novel prompted that, because wut), that books are “okay, but…”, and why didn’t we get him something he would actually *like*, too. Of course most of those were chosen by me because I thought they’d suit his tastes so I’m the guy who ruined his birthday.

A couple nights sleeping in the yard should change his attitude, though.

For the record, the only books he was excited about were: The Minecraft history, The Oatmeal, Hyperbole and a Half, the Bacigalupi. The rest he views as work. I don’t even.

It’s a Cyber-Monday Non-surprise!

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The day when everyone, supposedly, starts their holiday shopping online. Try not to be surprised by what I write next:

I have a new book out that you can order.

The short version is that it’s the pulp adventure game tie-in I wrote. If you’re reading this on my blog, the cover is just to your right at the top of the sidebar. If not, click through that link: it’s full of pulp adventure nonsense like shrinking beams, infra-purple light, Aztec mummies, and a certain giant ape movie from 1933. Fun!

If you already have that one, don’t forget that I have a page full of books for kids recommended by my own son. Nothing in that list is there because I thought it should go there; everyone got the thumbs up from the incredibly fussy kid who sleeps down the hall from me. As they used to say: Kid-tested, kid-approved.

What’s more, there are new entries on the list. Check it out.

Want a free copy of one of my books?

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Are you a reader who writes reviews on your blog? Or maybe Goodreads? Or somewhere else?

Well, you can get an early copy of KING KHAN just for the asking, and when you do, you’ll also get a copy of Stephen Blackmoore’s KHAN OF MARS, the prequel to mine. That’s two books about the adventures of a fussy Oxford professor who’s also a gorilla.

All you have to do is sign up at the publisher’s site before September 30th. They’ll pick 15 names from the people who contact them, and send out both books.

You guys know Stephen Blackmoore’s work, right? His debut novel was one of Kirkus’s “Best of 2012.”

Free books, you guys. Check it out.


I know I keep promising to talk about the stretch goals for this, but I just need a little more time to nail things down.

New page on my site: Kid Reads

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You know how some parents are always talking about what prodigious readers their are? “My little eight year old just loved 100 Years Of Solitude! Now she’s moved on to Russian poetry, but that’s fine. She’s entitled to her beach reads.” What books their kids read and how many they consume are like ornaments for their parents.

My kid, he’s not like that.

He’s fussy, easily-bored, and emits a high, uncanny keening when forced to read something against his will. That noise isn’t a whine; it goes beyond whining into a kind of shared pain that only parents truly understand. He doesn’t impress people with his books. He just enjoys them.

So we often have people ask us what he reads. I’m guessing they think that, being the son of a writer, he will walk away from a Minecraft session of his own volition for his love of books.

Nope. He wants books that are fun, funny, and fast-paced. So when people ask what sorts of books we recommend for their own reluctant readers, those are the books we recommend.

Anyway, to make things easier on us, I’ve put together a page called “Kid Reads” which contains lists of books he really enjoyed.

Check it out.

Writing about PTSD and more than PTSD

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The Public Insight Network has posted a comic called Moral Injury, Beyond PTSD (well, they’re calling it an “illustrated story” but so what). It’s incredibly powerful stuff and I recommend everyone read it. I’d originally planned to drop it into a Randomness post, but it felt too big for that.

Seriously, you’ll want to read that.

I’ve seen this sort of thing addressed in fantasy before, but not in a way that satisfies me. Not in a way that breaks out of the hero/villain paradigm.

Part of it, I think, is the incredibly powerful appeal of the dehumanized enemy and the heroic capable figure. Is Aragorn supposed to have nightmares about all the orcs he’s killed? Is he supposed to change his most basic self-concept after all that killing? Frodo returns from his adventure a ruined man who can no longer live in his own community, but that’s due to the proximity to and temptation of the power of evil. It’s not because he recognizes that he did evil to an enemy that was very like him.

I’m also revisiting Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (by watching the dvds). The whole thing plays like a parody of the superhero genre written by someone who wants to call out its most fascist aspects. And yet, even while I’m disgusted by, for example, Miller’s contempt for peaceful protest, I’m also feeling the powerful pull of the narrative of justified violence.

It’s incredibly affecting and entirely artificial. Reading that comic I linked to above makes me a little ashamed of it. #SFWApro

Why does a reader pick one book over another?

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Chuck Wendig hosts a discussion on what gets people to buy a book and (this is one of those times when you should read the comments) the results are interesting. A lot more people rely on blurbs than I would have expected, and several people say that glance at the first page or paragraph to decide yay or nay.

I reminded me of kicking back with my son to watch movies from the 80′s. When ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK starts, there’s nothing but a black screen, synth music and the credits, because it was made for a time when you bought the ticket and sat down in a theater. Nobody was holding a remote in their hand, thumb over the FF button.

When I pointed this out to my son, he asked to skip the credits but I wouldn’t. “This is the movie,” I told him.

Anyway, I understand the value people place on first pages, but sometimes they can be misleading. I really enjoyed THE NAME OF THE WIND but I only persevered past the “three kinds of silence” opening because people assured me the style would change.

For myself, I buy books mainly because of the author, the book is a classic of a genre, or a recent(ish) book is so widely lauded that it seems likely to become a classic. I read very slowly, so I can’t just be grabbing stuff willy-nilly.

Internet Fast Still Ongoing

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In the meantime, check out this post from last weekend by Toby Buckell on the evolution of book blogging. He makes a good argument for the way our tastes and responses change as we read more and more.

Also, there’s a Kickstarter I’m involved with: the second volume of the WALK THE FIRE anthology. If it gets funded, I will be writing a story for them (and getting paid, which would be nice, too) but if it doesn’t, then no. It hasn’t been doing great in the way of pledges and I hope that changes.

Premise: there are certain people (Ferrymen) who can travel to anywhere in time and space. The far future on distant planets. The ancient past. Anywhere. What’s more, they can bring people with them.

The table of contents for the first anthology was all dudes, but I spoke to co-editor John Mierau about that and he said a number of authors begged off at the last minute, including the women they’d invited. Things would be different for volume 2, so I signed on. A quote:

The second Walk The Fire anthology will feature stories by two-time Campbell nominee Mur Lafferty, Hugo nominee Paul Levinson, Philippa Ballantine, Harry Connolly, JRD Skinner, Steve Umstead, Matt Iden, WJ Davies and more.

The interesting thing is that several of the authors in the first volume were Kindle bestsellers–basically, successful self-published writers. Me, I hadn’t heard of them before. It’s weird how many social groups can be like a parallel world.

Anyway, check out the Buckell post and consider a pledge, if you will. I’m writing this the day before the fast starts, so I can’t say how well it’s going. Hopefully, it’s so great that I can take a second week and really finish things up.

The #Womentoread hashtag on Twitter

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In response to the Strange Horizons analysis of male/female review statistics (spoiler: books my men get more reviews than books by women) a number of folks on Twitter have been contributing to a #WomenToRead hashtag. It’s meant to be a way to get female authors’ names in front of readers who have a habit of only buying books written by dudes, but I’m not sure how effective it is.

Reading through, it seems more like an exercise in frustration than genuine recommendations. In the better tweets, someone will say, “If you like [male author x], try:” followed by a number of names, or else writers will be listed by genre.

Unfortunately, while it’s great to point out what sort of books these women have written, they don’t really tell readers why they would fall in love with any particular writer’s work. When I see a laundry list of authors’ names scroll past, my eyes glaze over very quickly, especially when so many of them are Twitter handles.

Still, I understand the frustration: I personally feel invisible within the genre; I continue to get very nice emails from people who love my books but only discovered them well after the series was cancelled. My sales were so shitty that I don’t deserve to call myself “midlist.” To most people, I’m barely a hanger-on.

And yet I still got reviews in a number of places, and nice critical attention, too. Imagine how it must feel to not even get that much. Imagine how it must feel to work like crazy on a book for a year knowing that no magazine anywhere is going to bother reading it, let alone devote column inches to it.

There’s also this (please imagine replacing the word “math” with “writing.”)

From this page: http://xkcd.com/385/

People (mostly guys) have this weird idea that fiction written by women are all one sort of thing, as if it can all be lumped in as one type. There’s also the idea that, if a subgenre has a lot of women writers and readers, it has a yellow “Caution” tape around it to warn guys away.

For instance, two years after it was posted I still get traffic from this Tor.com article: Urban Fantasy and the Elusive Male Protagonist (let us turn away from the issues around the blog post itself, which I tried to address in the comments) and the comment section can be instructive/cringe-inducing/hope-for-humanity-destroying. To quote (copy & paste, so sic):

its come to the point where i wont touch a book with a female on the cover unless its been recommended by some friends or an author i respect.

it seems as if its all about alpha werewolves and master vampires in a three way relationship with an independant ass kicking woman, the majority of it could also be classified as soft-core pron.

For a lot of people, men write books in a genre (or in a tradition) while women all write the same book over and over with a few proper nouns switched out. What’s more, That Same Book is usually considered Someone Else’s Thing.

Anyway, I’ve been pretty up-front in the past that I don’t think reviews have much of an effect on sales figures, but it’s not just sales we’re talking about here. We’re also talking about the critical conversation within the genre (such as it is): how it changes, what’s becoming old hat, what’s offensive or wrong-headed. When women are left out of that conversation, their contributions become ignored.

So, to wrap up I want to make two points: First, if you’re recommending female authors, a long list of names, even if you break them down to five or six in a genre, are just going to make people skim. Pick one or two, give a good reason why for each. Make a specific pitch. Yes, that means people you know will be left out, but this isn’t a one-time thing, right?

(To that end, I’ll recommend Sarah Monette’s The Bone Key. I bounced off Monette’s epic fantasy series, but this story collection blew my mind. Kyle Murchison Booth is nothing like Ray Lilly, but the setting and tone of these tales are a fantastic antidote to the tentacle monster stories that dominate so much of the dark fantasy genre. And this shows why I’m crap at giving recommendations, because I’m always reading years–or decades–behind, so I’m never up on the current stuff.)

Second, if you’re one of those readers who glances at their bookshelves, sees nothing but books by dudes, then shrugs it off, it’s time to break a bad habit. There’s a wide world of great books out there to be enjoyed and no reason to hide from it. If you like awards, start checking out books written by women that win or get nominated for them. If most of your reading is off the bestseller list, start trying some of the female writers there.

The truth is, your results will be mixed just as with anything. Some writers you’ll hate, some will be meh, some will be new gotta-read favorites. Of those books by “gotta-read” authors, some will also have “a female on the cover.” Take chances. Grab things from the library or try the sample chapters on your ereader. It may take a while before you start finding new favorites, but if you’re like me, the favorites you have now took a lifetime to collect. Don’t give up quickly. Keep stretching.

Added later: As pointed out on LJ by user martianmooncrab, RT has a review section for SF/F but their numbers are rarely included in these surveys.

Added later: The Revenge: The author who started the hashtag explains her reasons.

Readers hated Ray Lilly because of his sex life, oh wait, no, he’s a dude

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In a post called, appropriately, Trigger Warning, about mostly-female reviewers unleashing a torrent of slut-shaming on sexually-active female lead characters. FYI: there’s a lot of pain in that blog post.

I came across that link through a public FB post by Mary Anne Mohanraj in which she tells of a book that was declined by Harper Collins because the editor believed a great many readers would not be sympathetic to a woman who has sex when she is not in love.

I immediately thought about Ray Lilly. He has sex in Child of Fire and Circle of Enemies, and he’s not in love with either of those women (he was once in love with Violet, but not anymore). What’s more, neither of those women are in love with him.

And not one reader has said boo about it.

Ray was written to be a likeable character (my first deliberate attempt at one, actually) and a thriller hero, so the narrative context of the sex is different. It turns readers’ attention away from the fact that these characters are living their lives and making these sorts of choices. For a social realist or coming of age novel, the whole thing is *about* those choices.

Plus, he’s a guy, and guys are welcome to get it on whenever they can without much risk of losing reader sympathy. It’s ridiculous bullshit, but it’s still there.

We’ve come a long way, but it’s not far enough.