Speaking is Believing (article on The Astounding Analog Companion)

Read my article on the short story in this magazine! It’s free (the article, not the story).

As I’ve mentioned, my short story “Applied Linguistics” is currently for sale as part of the January/February issue of Analog Science Fact and Fiction magazine. As a companion to my story, I wrote a little blog post for the Astounding Analog Companion all about how language influences and even defines our sense of self and purpose. I’m fairly proud of it, and it’s always nice to get the opportunity to wax philosophical about what I’m trying to achieve or explore in any one of my stories. I thank Analog a lot for the opportunity!

Anyway, if you’re interested, go ahead and check it out. I now return you to your regularly scheduled internet.

 

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Actually, just one more thing!

I’m going to be appearing at Boskone this February 15th-17th in my home town, Boston! Me and hundreds of other professional writers, editors, agents, and so on will be converging for what promises to be a great convention! I’ll be posting my full schedule for the event closer to the date, but I’d love to see you there!

Join me at Boskone (February 15-17, 2019) in Boston, MA for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s going to be a fun weekend filled with discussions of books, art, games, film, music, and more. For more information, visit the Boskone website: http://www.boskone.org/

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Fargo and the Power of Community

Brilliant performance by Thornton

My wife and I just finished watching the first season of Fargo (the TV series). I enjoyed it immensely, especially the spine-chilling portrayal of assassin Lorne Malvo by Billy Bob Thornton. Much like in the Coen brothers’ film of the same name, the show juxtaposes the wide-eyed provincial innocence and “folksiness” of the people of North Dakota and Minnesota with the absolute horrors humanity is capable of. One thing I enjoyed about the show, though, was how much more thoroughly the series was able to explore this theme. (Spoilers below, obviously)

The central antagonist of the plot is the aforementioned Malvo, who moves through the small cities and towns of the frozen north with terrifying impunity. He can kill who he likes, he can do as he likes, and nobody is able to stop him. These back-country yokels are wildly unprepared to combat a menace of his dimensions. They can’t even imagine him in any real way – he is the boogey man, Lucifer, and Death astride the Pale Horse. Malvo’s every utterance is filled with malice and threat, to the point where everyone in Bemidji instinctually recoils from him.

This appears to give Malvo power. Likewise, those who Malvo corrupts also are afforded a measure of perceived power. Herein lies the tale of Lester Nygaard, hen-pecked loser turned murderer and alpha-male. Lester’s chance meeting with Malvo in the hospital changes him; Malvo demonstrates how the world as we know it – the world of rules and morals and laws – is an illusion. You can have what you want, Malvo implies, by just reaching out and taking it. Malvo even demonstrates how this is done by going out and killing Lester’s high school bully. Lester, taking these lessons to heart, kills his wife, covers it up, frames his own brother, and goes on to find himself a better wife, professional success, a bigger house, and his own name on a salesman of the year award. By leaving the rules of society behind, Lester achieves everything he ever wanted.

Molly Solverson – the only competent officer on the Bemidji police force – knows what Lester has done and even has almost enough evidence to convict him, but the bull-headed, dull, and plain old sexist police chief will not listen. His world is the traditional one, based upon commonly accepted values. He cannot accept Lester’s guilt because the crime exceeds his own limited imagination and won’t listen to Molly because of her status as a woman and as his inferior. This is all against “the rules;” things like this don’t happen in Bemidji.

Doomed

One of the brilliant aspects of this show is that it makes you yell at the screen a lot. You are howling for Molly to press her case. You are terrified at the threat Malvo represents and so, so anxious that these people – these poor, good, stupid, guileless people – are totally, completely at his mercy. When Molly backs down and walks away from her poster board of evidence, it feels like a defeat. But then the show pulls another turnaround on us: it isn’t a defeat. It’s a victory. Molly made the right choice.

Fargo is playing upon our expectations as people living in an increasingly individualistic world. We see Malvo’s skill and Lester’s cunning and we think we have identified the true power in the story. But we’re wrong! This becomes clear when Malvo follows Gus Grimley home from his aimless investigation and sits in his car outside Gus’s apartment building, where he and his adolescent daughter sleep. They are in grave, grave danger, yes? Then there’s a knock on Malvo’s window – it’s the neighborhood watch. No one of great authority, no one of any actual power – just a concerned neighbor. He sees Malvo. He knows he’s up to no good. I half expected Malvo to kill him right through the door of the car, but he doesn’t. He growls something antisemitic, but he leaves and never comes back, warded away as surely as Dracula from a church.

And that is the true power in Fargo. Community, family, society – these things are juggernaut like powers in this film. Those who remain within the safe confines of a caring community are safe, immune from Malvo’s power. Those who choose to step outside the bounds of the “normal” are doomed. When the Supermarket King digs that money up and uses it to build his business, he is in metaphysical trouble. This trouble, however, grows exponentially worse as he gets further and further from the caring bosom of family and small town life. Isolated and wealthy, he is cosmically punished for his hubris and greed. As for Lester, his end – riding a snowmobile across cracking winter ice – is preordained the moment he refuses to accept responsibility for his actions. Indeed, when he denies the existence of any such responsibility. There is no one to save him not because those people don’t exist (Hell, the cops chasing him are yelling for him regarding his safety! “Come back,” they yell, “it’s not safe!”), but because Lester has left the fold and will not return.

Malvo, then, for all his pretensions, is not the powerful one in the story. It’s Molly, and always has been Molly. It’s Molly because she recognizes that going it alone leads nowhere good. No matter how stupid the chief is, he’s the chief. She gets married, has a family, moves on. When she tells Lester the story about the man running for the train and losing one glove and then dropping the second, in that metaphor she is the passenger and Lester is the gloves. She is saying “I cannot save you; you have killed yourself.” The arc of justice in Fargo is long, but it is inexorable. Those lone wolves? Those dashing villains and dramatic scoundrels? They die, are destroyed, and are forgotten. And Molly?

She gets to be chief.

 

Read “Applied Linguistics” in this month’s Analog Science Fiction and Fact

Hi, everybody!

I’ve got a new story out! Check out “Applied Linguistics” in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of Analog! It’s available online or in print form, and I’m pretty damned proud of it – it’s about language and learning and how cultural context can change, inform, or even create behavior and self-knowledge. And shape-shifting aliens on alien prison planets, so that’s cool, too!

There are a lot of other very cool stories by very talented authors in there, too. I especially liked “Ring Wave” by Tom Jolly and Adam-Troy Castro’s latest Draiken tale was a lot of fun. Check it out – you won’t regret it!

Doing Research Wrong

When I teach my expository writing students to do research, I usually tell them something along the lines of this:

Do not enter a research project with preconceived notions of what you will know when you are done. The point of doing research is to learn. It is your duty to read widely and get as full a picture of what you are studying in order to formulate an opinion about that topic. Your thesis (your argued point) comes after the research is done, not before.

This, I think, is good advice for scholarly research of all stripes. Don’t go in with preconceived ideas. Keep an open mind. Read deeply and widely.

Then, when I write novels, I don’t do anything of the kind.

I hasten to note that I’m not writing historical fiction, here – I’m writing speculative fiction. Scifi, fantasy, time travel – stuff like that. Everything I’m writing is, on some level, verifiably false.  I’m making shit up all the time. So, the extent that I’m interested at all in actual facts – whether historical or scientific – is somewhat limited. That limit is the very low bar that is suspended disbelief.

Basically, if I can fudge some actual aspect of history without knocking the audience out of the story by violating their suspension of disbelief, then I can totally get away with it. Because, sure, they didn’t have potatoes in medieval Europe. But they also didn’t have magic or elves or gnomes. And this also isn’t medieval Europe. So what’s it matter, anyway? They’ve got potatoes in their stew – deal with it.

Now, of course, some audiences are going to be more sensitive towards this stuff than others and, furthermore, certain kinds of stories are going to require you to meet a higher standard of suspension of disbelief than others. For instance, I’m currently writing a time travel novel and, since it involves my character traveling back to actual places and times in actual Earth’s history, I have had to do a variety of research to make those places seem authentic. I’ve done research on 18th century American currency, military honors of the Roman Empire, card games played in Port Royal Jamaica in 1670, and who the Lakers were playing on December 8th, 1976 (the Pacers – the Lakers lost).

Ummm…no. Not unless absolutely essential.

This research, though, takes a different form than what I would call actual academic research. I don’t need my answers to be correct, exactly – I just need them to be plausible. Furthermore, when I’m doing research like this, it’s to establish a very specific effect in a very specific scene that often happens only once in the whole book. I do some research online for a little while and, if I can’t find an answer that looks suitable, I change the scene so that I no longer need that specific answer anymore. I’m not going to sit down and read a whole book on the urban development of South Boston in the 1950s just so two paragraphs in the novel are 100% accurate, nor am I about to subscribe to a special research service or trek to some distant library just to know what color Ben Franklin preferred to wear when out about town. It just isn’t that important, ultimately.

So, in other words, I do research for books like this in the exact wrong way – the way I tell my students not to. I go in with a preconceived goal in mind (“I need a cool card game for my protagonist to play against pirates”), I do the barest minimum of responsible research (YAAAAY Wikipedia!), and I glean just enough information to make it look like I know what I’m talking about without, you know, actually knowing what I’m talking about.

I am bringing this up mostly because, in the last few weeks I’ve asked some people some relatively minor historical questions and received, well, rather extensive details that, while appreciated, aren’t really necessary. This has been from friends of mine who are academics and librarians and historians for whom I have the greatest respect, and therefore I kinda feel bad telling them “well…actually…I really don’t care what the answer is anymore. I’ve changed my mind.” Because I’m not really an academic or a librarian or a historian. I’m a showman. All writers are, ultimately. And while we might enjoy doing research about this or that, the research is not the end we seek. We’re telling a story. And story always, always comes first.

 

 

Riker is Down With It

Why hello there,

My name is Commander William Riker and I just want you to know that whatever you’ve got in mind, I am down with it.

Honey, you don’t even know…

Don’t believe me? Well, buckle up.

If I’m your second officer, I commit to going on every away team and running toward the danger. In fact, I won’t let you come along. Even if you do come along, I will do my absolute best to be shot instead of you. “Sure, sure, it’s what every Starfleet officer would do,” you say.

But I’m not done.

Need me to eat something gross? Like, seriously anything? A bowl of wriggling worms? Delicious. Weird alien food? Bring me seconds. I will seriously put anything whatsoever into my mouth, chew, swallow, and smile. My dietary habits are so flexible, I convinced a species of insectoid parasites that I was one of them.

Okay, okay – that’s grossing you out? What about this:

I have no personal space limits or boundaries. You can implant alien organs on my face, send me into a riot, and I promise to have sex with the alien nurse if she’s got a fetish about that shit. I’m not even shy about it. Want me to dress like an idiot? This I will do and have done on many occasions.

My real dad wants to pummel me in a blind-folded stick-fight? I am SO there!

You can pawn me off to some alien warlord as a sex slave, and I’m cool with it.

Want me to live among bloodthirsty violent aliens and sleep on a slab of steel for a month? I’m in.

Got a whole scheme where I pretend to go rogue and work with a pirate crew trying to rip off my own ship? Sounds fun – where do I sign?

Hell, I even play the trombone. In public. Often.

Danger? Don’t even get me started.

Need me to climb inside an experimental spaceship built into an ancient ICBM and go on a ride while listening to Steppenwolf? I’m already smiling, baby.

Is my captain and father figure currently trying to destroy the Earth because he’s an evil cyborg? Give me a ship and I will fuck him UP!

I work with an android who tries to kill us all every couple years or so, and me and him still play poker.

Once I let a twelve-year old fly Starfleet’s flagship and I didn’t even blink.

Hell, I’m so down with whatever you need, I even went and made a separate version of myself who’s running around and being a terrorist and shit. And yeah, I’m cool with that, too.

So yeah, baby – I’m Will Riker, and I’m down with it.

Just don’t give me my own ship, okay?

New Story Published: “Upon the Blood-Dark Sea” in Stupefying Stories!

Hey, gang!

Check it out!

I’ve got a new story released! You can find it in Stupefying Stories #22, currently available on Amazon!

The story is called “Upon the Blood-Dark Sea” and its a kind of in the vein of (and a response to) the Conan stories of Howard and other sword-and-sorcery stuff, but with a healthy dollop of dream magic and boiling oceans and weapon-symbiotes and stuff. Yeah, it’s bad-ass and I’m very glad it’s in print.

And also, when I get a chance, I really have to go back to Nyxos (the world in which this place is set) and do some more world-building and storytelling, because it’s just so damned cool.

Anyway, do go and check out the anthology. Editor Bruce Bethke always puts together a great collection and he’s been a good friend and ally over the course of my (still fairly new) writing career. Support his magazine!

Be back soon with more posts, I promise. The Thanksgiving week was crazy, with copy-edits and paper grading and hosting my family and so on, so I missed.

Which reminds me: the copy-edits for The Far Far Better Thing (Saga of the Redeemed #4) are in and everything is done. The grand conclusion of Tyvian’s epic journey will drop on March 5th, 2019. Pre-order now!

World Fantasy 2018 Baltimore: Con Report

Last weekend I had the immense pleasure of traveling to Charm City for the 2018 World Fantasy Convention! I had a blast. Unfortunately, this meant I barely took any pictures, so I guess a lot of what I’m about to relate you’re going to have to take my word as having happened. One of these days I’ll go to one of these things are remember to document stuff. Anyway:

The Location

The view from my hotel room

The Con was held in the Renaissance Harborside Hotel. It was a nice hotel with a fairly sizeable convention space so that, if I hadn’t wanted to, I could have never left the hotel. As it stood, I barely did anyway – one dinner trip a five or ten minute drive away, a couple trips across the street. It does look like I was missing a lot, given the view out my window: dockside attractions, wooden tall ships, and naval vessel, etc..

Also, just by luck of my arrival, got upgraded to a suite for free since they didn’t have any rooms with king-size beds. I hadn’t really needed a king size (it was just me, after all) and had only selected that so that people who were sharing rooms could have one with two beds, but the hotel seemed to think they had made a grave error and so gave me a room with a slightly smaller bed, but with about three or four times the amount of floor space, for which I had absolutely no need whatsoever. It was weird, sleeping alone in a room that big. I don’t know how the crowned heads of Europe managed it without getting fat heads. (is handed note) Oh.
Oh, I see.

The Event

Most of my convention was full of professional meetings with my agent and others, so I didn’t attend as many panels as I usually do. I went to three:

You Got SciFi in My Fantasy! You Got Fantasy in My Scifi!

This was a panel about genre bending. It was evidently set up to be a fight, but nobody felt much like fighting – everyone basically agreed that bending genres was fun and exciting. The issue, it seemed, was only one of marketing: how does one get the powers-that-be in publishing to buy a manuscript they can’t figure out how to label and sell. Judging that Aliette de Bodard was on the panel as well as Scott Edelman, I think it’s safe to say doing so is very possible.

The Future of Fantasy

This panel was a discussion on what the Fantasy genre has in store for the future. It was, in essence, a panel about representation of marginalized groups in the genre, in which a panel of women and persons of color trumpeted their arrival as key players in the future. This is, of course, excellent news for the health and diversity of fantasy fiction, though the panel didn’t much delve into speculating what kinds of stories or conventions would be popular so much as the authors’ identities. They did name a wide number of antiquated, colonialist, and male-centered tropes that they wish would go away forever (fridging the girlfriend, for instance, or anything having to do with rape), to which I add a hearty hear-hear. We can all do better.

Monsters in Fantasy

This panel discussed the role of the monstrous in fantasy fiction and was my favorite panel of the convention. The discussion circled around monster-as-metaphor (“we want the monster to represent the terrible things in the world as that makes the story, ironically, safer for us”) versus monster-as-actual (war, fascism, humanity as monster). Line of the panel goes to my friend, Teresa Frohock:

People want to humanize Hitler by saying he liked dogs. Hitler only liked dogs because they were something he could control and dominate and train. Liking dogs didn’t make him less of a monster.

Like I said, it was a fun one.

My Reading

Then I had my own reading! Previously, such readings have been, shall we say, sparsely attended, but this time I had

From left to right: Teresa, Ruth, and me

a pretty full house! Maybe 20 people (15 at least!) showed up to hear me read “The Lord of the Cul-de-sac,” a short story I published in the May 2016 issue of Galaxy’s Edge. It really went over well! People were laughing and enjoying my performance (I do voices, by the way. Weird, I know, but I can’t help it) and the rest of the con I had people coming up to me to shake my hand and tell me how good they thought my reading was. It was great!

I also got to meet another writing friend of mine, Ruth Vincent. Unfortunately she had only come out for the day and we were headed in opposite directions at the end of the reading, but at least she got a photo of me, Teresa, and her!

The People

This, of course, leads me to the best part of the convention: the people. I ran into so many people I knew and had so many good conversations with new friends that this was one of the best conventions I’ve been to thus far, and certainly the best World Fantasy since I started going about three years ago. I saw Sarah Beth Durst several times (and got her to sign my daughters’ copy of The Girl Who Could Not Dream, which they loved). I chatted Dungeons and Dragons with BCS editor Scott Andrews. I met Mike Mammay and introduced him and his wife to the wonders of the Cheesecake Factory. I was taken to dinner by my agency, where I talked with a lot of very interesting people, including Neil Clarke and Aliette de Bodard. I hung out with my editor a bit and got to sit at the Harper Voyager table with SA Chakraborty and her family while we waited to hear if she’d won the World Fantasy Award (she didn’t, but we all had such a great time it scarcely mattered). If making friends and connections are what conventions are about (and that is what I think, anyway), this one was a resounding success.

I also met a lot of new and upcoming authors and a lot of people trying to get published or who are just fans. I had a lot of good conversations with them (at the Beneath Ceaseless Skies 10th anniversary party, for instance, we talked about race and gender in fantasy and it got pretty heavy) and walked away feeling like my world was a little larger and me a little less alone. I hope they felt the same way, and I look forward to seeing them at the next con.

See you all at Boskone this February!

World Fantasy Con 2018 – My Schedule!

Hello, lovely people!

I’m headed to Baltimore this weekend for the World Fantasy Convention! I’m super excited about this one, especially since it is a very short plane ride away, which means more time at the con! I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and getting business done.

Now, on the odd chance you want to meet me, I’ll be about at the Mass Signing on Friday night (I *think* I’ll have a seat – I hope so, anyway) and I have a reading on Saturday at 5:30pm. I’m planning to read one of my short fiction pieces (hopefully I can fit it into the half-hour!), and it should be a lot of fun.

I’ll see you there!

The Benefits of Distance

One of the things I always tell my students is that proofreading right after finishing something is a waste of time. You just can’t see most of the stupid typos and awkward sentences you just wrote because you just wrote them. Your brain (your lazy, lazy human brain) just kind of handwaves it all away – yeah yeah, it’s fine, pal. C’mon, lets get some pizza or something…

“Jesus, is *this* ever a pile of crap! Wow.” ~Ernest Hemingway, probably

Well, this doesn’t just apply to college undergrads, as any author or writer will confirm. Hell, it’s the whole reason editors exist – you, the writer, are just too damned close to your own work to be a good judge of it. You need distance and objectivity. There are only two means to accomplish this that I know of. One is the aforementioned editor, and the other is distance. You’ve got to put the story down, move off, let it set, and ideally forget all about it. That way, when you come back, you can look at the work with clear(er) eyes.

Of course, this means all works of writing exist in this kind of Schrodinger’s Cat-Box space where what you wrote is simultaneously brilliant and terrible until, at long last, you open it up to check, at which point the quantum wave function collapses and you’re suddenly cursing yourself for not having a keen grasp of syntax. This is painful – acutely painful, actually – but it’s also a necessary part of the writing process. “The first draft of everything,” says Hemingway, “is shit.”

But then there’s that other possibility.

You write the draft. Heck, you revise the draft. You revise it again. And still it’s garbage. You don’t know why it’s garbage (if you did, you could fix it), but you know it is. You put it in a drawer in disgust and resolve never to look at it again. But then, one day, you do anyway.

Or this version:

“By all the gods…this…this is freaking GREAT!”

You write a story. At the time, you think it’s pretty good and, whaddya know, you actually sell the damned thing! It’s going to be published! But, of course, the publication sits on the story for a while – maybe even longer than a year – and you, of course, have been writing other stuff. Better stuff, you think, because you’ve been working hard at leveling up your craft and pushing boundaries. And sometimes you think back to that story you wrote and assume it probably wasn’t that good after all – it was so long ago, and you are a different writer now, and you kinda-sorta dread it coming out. But then…then the copyedits come in and you read it again for the first time in over a year…

And it’s actually pretty goddamned awesome. Like really awesome. Like “wow, I actually pulled this off, didn’t I?” awesome.

That right there, friends, is among the best feelings you ever get in writing. Because what it means is that, despite all your insecurities and doubts and bouts of impostor syndrome, it means that you, author, actually have some idea of what you’re about and, by all indications, maybe you always have. That makes you feel like a million bucks, let me tell you, because if there’s one thing – one consistent thing – that all writers have to struggle with, it is fighting that never-ending, nagging possibility that you are out of your goddamned mind and living in a deluded fantasy world where your stories are worth the paper they’re printed on.

Now, it just so happens that this very thing happened to me just today. I got the copyedits back for a story I sold a good while ago to Stupefying Stories. They have a new anthology dropping soon and I’m in it, and the story I’ve got in there – “Upon the Blood-dark Sea” – is honestly a really solid tale about pirates and dream magic and boiling oceans, an homage to the work of guys like Robert E Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’ll announce when the book is out, but for now you can check out the table of contents on their website.  Bruce Bethke, the editor, always manages to put together a hell of an anthology and I’m looking forward to this one. Go and check it out!

The Far Far Better Thing: Pre-order NOW!

Pre-order now!

Big news: the final book in the Saga of the Redeemed, The Far Far Better Thing, is now really (for serious) coming out in March of 2019. You can pre-order it now from everywhere fine e-books are sold! At long last, the dramatic conclusion of Tyvian’s journey is at hand! Check it out:

Auston Habershaw’s epic fantasy series, The Saga of the Redeemed, which began with The Oldest Trick, comes to a powerful conclusion in The Far Far Better Thing.

War has come to Eretheria.

With Tyvian Reldamar feigning his death, the forces that still carry his banner are left to fight a vicious battle against the warlord Banric Sahand and the noble houses that flock to his side.

Led by Myreon and Artus, this band of freedom fighters and angry rebels is faced with an enemy the likes of which they’ve never faced before: one who will do anything, no matter how brutal, to secure victory.

Having had his fill of death, Tyvian tries to run away from the war fought in his name, but it just isn’t that simple. With his mother held prisoner, Artus and Myreon in grave danger, and Xahlven pulling the strings in the background, the ring drags Tyvian to return and set things right.

But how can one man fix a world this broken? And what will be left behind when the smoke clears? No one can say for sure.

Least of all Tyvian.

 

Sounds grim, right? Ominous? Yes! But it’s also fun and wonderful and I daresay I’m very proud of it. I can’t wait for you all to get a chance to read it, and thank you to everyone who’s supported me and gotten me this far!

Oh, and did I mention pre-orders really help my Amazon ranking once the book releases? It’s true! And, for those of you who have read the previous books but haven’t told anyone – tell people! Word of mouth is the best way to sell books there is, and these books of mine could use some attention, so if you liked them, recommend them to a friend! Write a review (anywhere! Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, your blog, Twitter, whatever!)!

Thanks again, everyone, and pre-order Book 4 today!