View From a Hotel Window, 4/18/18: Iowa City

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2018/04/18/view-from-a-hotel-window-4-18-18-iowa-city/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=30566

My hotel room is overlooking a lovely patio area, which unfortunately is not in use because it is currently 34 degrees outside (although the weather app assures me it feel like 26 degrees). April, I gotta say, you’re kind of sucking right about now. But my room is nice and warm, at least.

Tonight: I am at Prairie Lights! Which is a lovely place to have a book event, I have to say. Everything starts at 7. Please come. Please bring along all your friends and relations as well. We can keep warm together.

(Hmmmm, that sounded bad. Forget I said that. But still please come, and bring everyone.)

Tomorrow: I am going to be in the Twin Cities at the Barnes & Noble in Har Mar! I do not know what “Har Mar” means. Is it a hipster shortened version of something else? Someone will have to let me know. Nevertheless, there I will be, and at 7pm! Once again, please come and please bring along every single person you’ve ever met in your life. It will be fun, I promise.

 

Happy Birthday Krissy

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2018/04/18/happy-birthday-krissy-4/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=30564

The only real problem with having a book release in April is that it increases the likelihood that I won’t be on hand to celebrate my wife’s birthday, which is today. And as it happens today I will be in Iowa City rather than home. Be that as it may, I want to take a moment to wish happy birthday to the person without whom my life would be far less bright and wonderful. There is not a day that does by that I literally do not take a moment to reflect on how much better my world is with her in it, and on this day above all, I think it’s a good thing to acknowledge all the ways I am improved by her presence and her wisdom and her love. She’s pretty great.

Happy birthday, Krissy. I love you!

View From a Hotel Window 4/17/18: Ann Arbor, MI (Plus: Release Dates in 2005 and Today)

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2018/04/17/view-from-a-hotel-window-4-17-18-ann-arbor-mi-plus-release-dates-in-2005-and-today/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=30562

To start off my travels, I am on a high floor overlooking a church. However, the brick building at the right of a picture is a parking garage, so I think we’re in good shape in terms of the “where is the parking lot” aspect of my travel pictures.

Tonight: I am at the Literati Bookstore here in Ann Arbor, and everything starts at 7pm. If you’re in the area, come be the guinea pigs for the rest of the tour, and hear everything first!

Tomorrow: I will be in Iowa City, at the famed Prairie Lights bookstore, also at 7pm. If you live in or near Iowa City, come on down, and bring everyone you know!

Etc: I got an email from a reader who noted that Head On is my 13th novel (which is true, uuuh, I think) and wondered how a book release day is different now than it was when Old Man’s War, my first published novel, was released back in 2005, and if it’s still exciting 13 years on.

Well, some of the things that are different:

* Old Man’s War came out on January 1st, so Head On isn’t competing with a major holiday where most people stay at home watching football and/or nursing hangovers. So that’s a positive!

* I was at home for the Old Man’s War’s release, not only because it was New Years but because I wouldn’t do a book tour for a release until The Last Colony in 2007. I’ve toured with every new novel since Fuzzy Nation in 2011, which means that for the last seven years, I’m usually somewhere else when the book comes out; like, for example, Ann Arbor, where I am today. This is not a complaint, incidentally. I like touring my books and it’s a thing not every author gets to do. But it is different from when I started out — now when a book comes out, I’m on the road.

* I’m a lot less stressed about the book release, in terms of sales. When Old Man’s War came out I was constantly checking Amazon rankings and wondering how the sales were and so on. These days and for the last several books, I don’t really check online sales rankings. One, because I know that they’re not exactly indicative of actual unit sales, and two, because as I go along and I understand the dynamics of my own sales profile, there’s less reason for me to sweat my opening numbers. In terms of sales, I’m generally a marathoner, not a sprinter, a fact that’s useful for backlist and royalties. Knowing that makes me less anxious about my opening numbers. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when I’m up near the top of sales numbers; that’s always nice. But I’m not constantly pinging my Amazon rankings.

* Likewise I worry less over reviews. I like it when they’re positive — who doesn’t? — but I don’t worry too much when they’re, shall we say, less than glowing. Part of that is simply having been a pro critic myself and remembering how the sausage gets made, and another part is simply always having had something of a thick skin. But the other part — the part I grew into, shall we say — is realizing that with very rare exceptions, an occasional bad review doesn’t hurt a book. The example I give for this is Redshirts, which got two of my worst trade reviews ever from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, but then went into the bestseller lists and won several awards including the Best Novel Hugo. Perhaps more accurately, if every review of a book is a negative one? There might be a problem. But the occasional pan that comes as part of a whole range of reviews? I don’t lose sleep over them, and they don’t bother me (or cause me to want to respond) as they might have when I was new out of the gate.

* What hasn’t changed is, simply, my fundamental excitement that something that started off in my brain is now out there in the world. And some people like it! And talk and think about it! And want more of it! I mean, how can that ever get old? It can’t. Well, I guess it could, but I’m glad it hasn’t for me. I still have what I think is the coolest job in the world. I felt that way in 2005, and I feel that way now.

Head On is Out! How to Get It, Where to See Me, and Introducing the Theme Song

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2018/04/17/head-on-is-out-how-to-get-it-where-to-see-me-and-introducing-the-theme-song/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=30558

The day has arrived! Head On, the stand-alone sequel to Lock In, is now officially out in North America! (UK, you will have to wait two more days.) “Stand-alone sequel” means that although the book follows the characters and universe of Lock In, it’s been written so that it can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read that book. The book has been getting some of the best reviews of my career:

“Scalzi expands his complex future with master strokes, balancing buddy-cop wryness with thought-provoking social and political commentary.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[Scalzi’s] prose flows like a river… his characters are beautifully crafted; and his future world is impeccably designed, at the same time wildly imaginative and wholly plausible.” — Booklist (starred review)

“Very clever, wonderfully satisfying fun.” — Kirkus Reviews

And, well. That doesn’t suck.

How can you get this book?

Print: It’s available at your local independent bookstore, and Barnes and Noble and other chains, as well as through your favorite online retailers, including, of course, Amazon.

eBook: Available through Amazon, BN.com, Google Play, iBooks, Kobo and other ebook retailers.

Audio: Available through Audible.com and in two(!) flavors: One narrated by Wil Wheaton, and the other by Amber Benson. They are both fantastic versions, you can’t go wrong with either (or both!).

“What if I want a signed copy?” I hear you ask? Well, there are several ways: One, Barnes & Noble has quite a few signed copies available. Two, Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local bookstore, has a couple dozen signed copies on hand. Three, come see me on my book tour or order the book from one of the bookstores where I will be appearing; even if you’re not there in person I will sign and personalize your book for you.

Speaking of the book tour: Yes! I am on tour! Staring tonight in Ann Arbor, and then heading to Iowa City, Minneapolis, Los Angeles (for the LA Times Festival of Books), St. Louis, New York, Washington DC, and then back home to Troy, Ohio. At every stop aside from Los Angeles, I’ll be brand new work; in LA, I’ll be having an hourlong discussion with Wil Wheaton. I hope you’ll come see me on tour; it’s going to be fun.

Speaking of fun! Those of you who follow my works know that I frequently commission songs to tie into the release of my books. For Fuzzy Nation, I had Paul and Storm write one. For Redshirts, Jonathan Coulton. And for Lock In, former The Academy Is… and current solo artist William Beckett provided a fantastic song. For Head On, which is a stand-alone sequel to Lock In, I asked William to come back for another song. And because Head On features a massively popular new sport called “Hilketa,” I asked him for a song that would be at home in an arena, blasting out as fans are cheering and the players are coming out onto the field.

Did he deliver? Why, yes. Yes he did:

Yeah, I’m pretty darn happy.

I hope you enjoy Head On. I had a blast thinking it up and putting it down into words. I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it.

See you on tour!

It’s New Shirt Time!

https://whatever.scalzi.com/2018/04/16/its-new-shirt-time/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=30555

So, remember when it was Back to School time, and you’d go shopping for new clothes for the year? Yes, well, I still do that, except Back to School is now Going on Book Tour. The new book tour starts tomorrow, so I went out and got all these shirts.

The rule of the shirts is simple: They have to be easy to pack (because they’re all going into the same roller bag), they have to look reasonably nice, for a very casual definition of “nice,” and they have to fit. The last one has been a bit of a problem recently as I have put on a bit of weight in the last year, boooooo. Working to bring that down is a goal I’m currently working on, with a small bit of success so far, which is nice. But that doesn’t change the fact that at the moment, some of my older shirts do not exactly offer me a flattering silhouette.

So: New shirts! Hooray! For certain values of “hooray” that correspond to “You let yourself go a smidge, middle-aged dude!”

The only possible fly in this “short sleeves in festive designs” ointment is that most of the stops on the tour are in places that still have snow on the ground, because this April has been goofy, weatherwise — I mean, it was nearly 80 degrees outside two days ago and right now I’m looking out the window at a snow flurry. Ann Arbor looks to have snow when I’m there, Iowa City will be in the low 40s, and then I’m going to Minnesota. When I’m in LA, it should be sunny and in the 70s. Thank you, California. The rest of the time, well. I’m traveling with a jacket, too.

In any event, I enjoy new clothes shopping in conjunction with a tour. It’s part of what makes a book release day feel “really real.” The other parts being, of course, the book coming out, and actually going out on tour to see all y’all. Not long now. Tomorrow, in fact.

The Big Idea: Catherynne M. Valente

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2018/04/12/the-big-idea-catherynne-m-valente-7/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=30551

Disclosure: I liked Catherynne Valente’s new book Space Opera so much I gave it a blurb. And as you read the Big Idea below about the book came to be, you might understand why the book appealed so much to me.

CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE:

Sometimes you plan a book. Carefully. Meticulously. You hone it, prune it, and shepherd it through the publication progress with all the gentleness you’d give to a particularly shy child.

And sometimes a book comes to you. And the book says: I’m happening. Deal with it. I’m happening right now. Just…hold on to something.

Space Opera, you may not be surprised to learn, was the second kind of book.

It’s a ridiculous book. I’m not even going to pretend it isn’t. I never had any intention of writing it. I was quite happily busy with other projects.

The trouble, in the end, always comes down to love. When I love something too much, it inevitably gets me into trouble.

In this case, what I loved was Eurovision.

I have spent a long time already in the trenches, explaining Eurovision to Americans. And now, I suspect, I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. Here’s the short version: the Eurovision Song Contest is a combination of The Voice, Miss Universe, and WWI. Every year, countries in Europe, and these days, several that are decidedly not in Europe, send a pop singer or group to compete in a musical extravaganza for which the costumes are unspeakably glittery, the special effects tend toward gouts of flame, and the prize is really very little but the right to host the contest next year, and if one is lucky, a middling summer hit.

It’s glorious.

Viewers can vote from home alongside a panel of judges, but the key element is that you can’t vote for your own country, so Eurovision ends up being a glam rock snapshot of the current European political situation in any given year, as alliances come together. The whole point of it in the first place was to unify Europe again after WWII. It’s a bright mirrorball of pop art, but it’s got darkness at its heart.

I love Eurovision. I genuinely believe it’s one of the best things humanity has ever accomplished, and no that’s not a joke. When else has our species ever looked around and thought: we’ve just annihilated each other for a decade. The whole continent is a smoking ruin.You wanna…sing it out?

So two years ago, I was livetweeting it, as you do when you just get so excited at the mere thought of an event that has a bigger global audience than the Super Bowl but no one in your own country knows or cares about it. And one of my Twitter followers joked that hey, I love this weird, bright, dumb, showy thing so much, I should write an SFF version of it.

Do not dare me to do things on Twitter when I am in the middle of a Eurovision drinking contest. I simply cannot be held responsible for my actions in such a situation. Especially when an editor slides into my DMs and offers to buy that book right now.

My agent refers to it as the fastest deal in publishing. It was done and I was committed before I could catch a breath. As I was signing the contract, my fiance asked: “Does it really just say ‘Eurovision in space’? Do you actually have any idea how you’re gonna pull that off?”

“Yes, it does,” I said. “And no, I don’t.”

And I didn’t. Part of me was terrified. How the hell do you even begin to write that? I mean, you can’t play it straight. It’s too absurd. It’s obviously a comedy. Ah, but if you try to write science fiction comedy, the ghost of Douglas Adams appears and asks you with a stern expression if that’s really necessary. And even if it was a comedy, the core of Eurovision is that political darkness and artistic light. You can’t play it totally camp, either. And given the politics all around me, I wasn’t sure I was actually up to singing it out just this minute. What had I agreed to?

But the deadline approached. And I sat down at a blank screen. I laughed nervously.

And then I stopped trying to worry about whether I could do this thing at all and wrote some shit about Enrico Fermi and I was off, and off at breakneck speed.

And that’s how Decibel Jones came to be.

Fast forward just a bit into our future, and Earth finally gets the alien invasion we always dreamed of. It didn’t go exactly as planned. It’s not about gunships and stern admirals and grim battles. There don’t seem to be any admirals at all. But there’s a whole teeming galaxy out there, and they’re extremely suspicious of us. They tore themselves to pieces a centruy ago during the Sentience Wars, and are thus very careful about newly-discovered species. They simply can’t afford any more monsters out there. And humans do have such monstrous habits. We’re a borderline case—we may be sentient, but given our behavior on our own planet recently and historically, we may simply be a particularly unpleasant invasive species.

Fortunately, they’ve got a way to sort this out. Mankind must compete in the Metagalactic Grand Prix, a contest of song and dance in which every sentient civilization performs its most staggering acts of punk rock beauty. All humanity has to do is not come in last, and we’ll be welcomed into the greater interstellar society with open arms.

If not, we’ll be quasi-painlessly exterminated, and Earth is welcome to try again in another million years with dolphins or something, no questions asked.

The trouble is, humans really are rubbish at music, comparatively. It’s embarrassing, honestly. They drew up a list of musicians they thought might have an outside chance at appealing to the finer sensibilities of non-primate cultures, but unfortunately, the Keshet, a race of time traveling red pandas in charge of intelligence gathering, fudged their landing a bit and everyone on the list is tragically dead. Except for one. Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, an early 2020s British glam-trash rock trio headed by a multi-ethnic genderfluid former glitter messiah who only ever managed one hit album when they were at the top of their game. But these days they’re aging into their 40s, a heap of bitterness, a lot of cheap wine and divorces, and particularly humiliating birthday party performances.

And now, they’re going to have to save the planet.

Space Opera is a headlong dive into a wormhole of music and idiocy and human failings and inhuman intelligences and a whole mess of awful costuming choices. It’s a comedy with a molten core of hardcore XXX feelings. And it’s got blue space flamingoes in it.

It’s as unlike what I usually write as it’s possible to get, and I’m so proud of it. I tried so hard with this book, you guys. I tried so hard to make it good enough for you. To pour my bitter, glittery, aging into my 40s on wine and divorces, dumb, hopeful, innocent, needy heart into a wormhole so it can fall out into your living rooms. To make you feel for a page the way Eurovision and Hitchhiker’s Guide and David Bowie and Prince and life on this stupid, terrible, gorgeous planet makes me feel. Even if it’s just one page.

Even if it’s just one paragraph.

So go on. Give my little tune a listen. Put the record on. Side one, track one. 3…2…1…

—-

Space Opera: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Ilana C. Myer

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2018/04/10/the-big-idea-ilana-c-myer/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=30544

It’s an adage that writers use everything for their writing. In the case of Fire Dance, the follow-up to Ilana C. Meyer’s fantastic debut Last Song Before Night, a trip to Spain laid the floor for her novel to dance upon.

ILANA C. MYER:

The heart of a story doesn’t always come first.

This one began with a visit to Andalusia, though I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew, watching torchlit Flamenco singers in a courtyard one night, was that I would use it. And had a similar thought on a garden tour in Cordoba, winding through hedge mazes. The palace in Seville with its stonework and grand spaces—I’d use it all. Writers can be obsessive in that way.

In Last Song Before Night I had written about magic based on the art of poetry and music, drawing on the lore of the Celtic poets and the troubadours. A second book could expand on this theme while incorporating another art—the art of dance, inspired by the rich tradition of Flamenco.

And what would the magic in a place like Al Andalus be? For this, I looked to historical sources and medieval Arab cosmology for clues. I decided on magic that would be centered on astronomy, with a structure and clear-cut rules. It would employ equipment such as an observatory, charts, astrolabes. Almanacs which foretell the positioning of stars through the year would be forbidden to the common people, so no one can idly get their hands on such power. Because their magic was never lost—unlike the poet’s enchantments in Last Song—centuries of development have resulted in a refined, sophisticated system in close alliance with the court.

Into this setting I would send Lin Amaristoth, in her new role of Court Poet, to investigate a series of mysterious raids.

The story moves back and forth, between the Academy of poets on its wind-torn Isle, and the exquisite court inspired by Al Andalus. Between lonely enchantments and political intrigue. I envisioned the structure of this book as a dance, back and forth between two worlds. Until those worlds collide.

But sometimes we can have all the elements we need for a book, and still search for its heart. Sometimes the characters must have their say before we know what the book is about. Until then, what you have is not a book, but trappings. I wrote several beginnings to the book, several thousands of words, in the course of that search. With the help of those draft beginnings, I came to realize what I had been missing.

This book is, above everything else, Lin’s story. Beyond war and political intrigue and even magic, Fire Dance is about Lin’s transformation. Being in power means making choices. It also means being tested, sometimes in unbearable ways.

In Last Song, Lin is a survivor. Trauma and depression are her constant companions, each day about staying alive. Finding meaning in the world is her primary motivation. In Fire Dance events have compelled her to move beyond this mindset: she has responsibilities that affect the lives of thousands of people. She doesn’t have time for herself. But she also knows an enchantment is stealing away her life—in a year she’ll be dead. The tension between desire and responsibility have replaced simple survival. The trauma of her past remains, but now there is also rage at the future. Because there is no future. She has been compressed in a sliver of time.

Pure transience—what is dance, if not that?

Once I found the heart of Fire Dance, the elements I had gathered coalesced, took shape in a narrative. The heart of the character, and the heart of the book, had turned out to be one and the same.

—-

Fire Dance: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.