Website of Science Fiction Writer Ron Collins

Kobo cuts you deals for all my stuff!

Turning on the self-promotional voice …

It’s a happy Friday when Kobo decides to give 50% off for all my stuff! (Assuming, that is, you’re a reader in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, or South Africa, anyway). I hear you, my friends. I really do. You’re asking me, “Ron, how does one go about getting this fantastic discount?” And my answer is this: you fill up your sales cart by clicking on the links below, and then as you’re checking out you enter:

Promo Code: SALE50

You can use this code multiple times from now through August 31st, so if you’ve been waiting for just such an event, this seems like a great time to pick up a copy of work like:

Saga of the God-Touched Mage (Vol 1-8) The entire series!
Five Days in May (with John C. Bodin) if racy SF is your bag
Picasso’s Cat & Other Stories my early short SF
Five Magics short fantasy

And if you’re interested in deeper browsing you could check out pretty much everything I’ve got on Kobo. The discount offer applies to everything.

Something better to think about today

The Hugos that could have been

SF writer Tobias Buckell has posted an exercise wherein he uses data from the Hugo process to develop a view of what the Hugo ballot would have looked like had the Rabid Puppy slate not been pushed.

It’s an interesting list on the whole, and one I recommend pursuing. I was particularly pleased to see Kai Ashante Wilson’s “The Devil in America” included, as I thought that was a totally kick-ass story and was slated to be my next Rongo Award winner had I taken time away from my move activities to continue the process. It is a bit of a challenging story, though. Hard to read, but not due to any lack of skill from the author—no. Just the opposite. It’s a very “dark fantasy” rather than work of science fiction, set, among other places and times, in and around post-Civil War America. It focuses on non-white characters, and it has zero ray guns. Clearly not the kind of story the Rabids would enjoy.

But if you want a story that moves, a story with a sense of dark magic to it, a story that is (yes) entertaining, and a story that will make you think about a lot of things, my guess is that you’ll find “The Devil in America” to be a very worthy read.

The other story I was pleased to see here was Eugie Foster’s “When it Ends, He Catches Her” (Podcast Version, which if you like podcasts, I highly recommend). I admit I hadn’t read this until now, but it is both quite moving and represents the community’s last opportunity to award her work. This is a touching story, one that could not exist without its science fictional conceit, but a story that owes its power, its purpose, and its value to the power of what love means.

These are both remarkable pieces of work.

We can always just kind of shake our heads at what the Puppies have done, and we can say it will all work out in the end. It will, of course. But among the real costs of their shenanigans and tomfoolery is that stories like these two (and others) lost the opportunity to be recognized. For that, it would be nice if we were all saddened.

A room full of silence

Waiting on a train, top-down selfie


My beloved wife is a fan of music. I am too. But I think just as much, she’s a fan of noise. By this I mean she does not really like to be in a room full of silence. When she goes into a room, music comes on. When she is going to go into a room, she makes sure the room has music on before she gets there if possible (oh, the modern wonders of wireless devices!). Since the time that we have been together, we have always slept with music on and the volume set low.

And I’m always fine with that. I like music, too.

But I also like my silence, or I like having regular sounds around me at times, and that includes something that I’ll call silence. For example, I drive without the radio on often because I like to hear the traffic around me. This is even better with the top down in my little Miata. I like hearing brakes, and squeaking cars and squealing fan belts. I like hearing the thump of music coming from the enclosed compartments of cars filled with kids or whatever. And, don’t tell Lisa this, but sometimes I even turn off the music when I’m home alone. The sound of silence is a unique sound, meaning it’s different everywhere. There’s a strong cycle to it in the basement, focused on the ventilation system or the furnace (depending on the time of year). The sound of the kitchen is a low hum augmented by any breeze scrubbing against the window.

I’m thinking about this right now because I recently heard a simple, but really fascinating podcast from Here Be Monsters on the subject. It’s titled “Fear of Silence”, and it’s some 14 minutes long. The conceit of the piece is built around what happens when an interviewer has to spend two minutes in silence with another person (the interviewee) in order to get a background sound check.

I loved this podcast because it made me think of what silence is.

Not, of course, that I have any answers.

But I thought you might find it interesting, and I thought you might be in a place of your life where spending a few minutes thinking about silence would be helpful.

The Hugos

If you’re focused at all on the Hugo Awards, by now you know that the Sad and Rabid Puppy slate was soundly defeated by an avalanche of “No Award” votes, and that the fallout is beginning to spin in multiple directions. This is, alas, almost certainly not over.

For those interested in the two spins, here is the Wired article, that paints one story, and the Brietbart article that paints the opposite.

Looking back on it all, my own take is pretty much this:

  1. The Rabids pulled of a feat worthy of a high school Sophomore by legally, but idiotically, stealing the nomination vote. Most people, in moments of clarity, would call this “pulling a dick move.” To them, this was equivalent to stealing your rival’s mascot the night before the big game.
  2. The Sads have been horrifically tone deaf to every element of the situation (though I believe them a little when they say their primary goal is to return the field to its laser-gun roots).
  3. The Sads’ tone deafness allowed the Rabids to use them as their mouthpiece.
  4. The Rabids are anarchists at heart, and consider anything that increases entropy around a case to be a “win” (as such they are, of course, declaring victory today).
  5. Being human beings, the Sads have now defended their stupendously flawed logic by doubling down on their position so many times that it’s impossible for them to acknowledge they were wrong—even if they ever figure out they were.
  6. The magnitude of the numbers pretty much show how out of touch they are.

I have no idea what will happen going forward. I suspect this is not one that will blow over, though. Larry C., Brad T., and their gang have pretty much burned whatever bridges there are to burn, so if there are long term ramifications to them, we’ll clearly be able to find out. My guess is that their fan base will grow due to the Trump effect if nothing else.

In the meantime, I see the voting results as a firm response from the SF world as a whole, a world that despite commentary to the opposite, is a broad thing. Yes, the historical core is getting older, but Fandom is not “old.” And the historical core leans heavily toward white and male, but Fandom is not “white and male.” Fandom is changing. It’s hard to quantify, but it’s getting to be a bigger and different thing than it ever was. I was smugly proud of the folks in Spokane this week. I liked that they stood as a whole and made a statement that was a firm rebuke to the Rabids (and by association, the Sads). It was the community standing up and saying: “Go away, Dudes. This is not how we play the game in my house.”

Take 35% off on Collins fiction at Kobo!

Interested in my short work? You can now get 35% off a copy of my short story collection Picasso’s Cat & Other Stories at Kobo this weekend. And, if you want a double-dose of Collins, you can get the same 35% discount on Singer, the first book in Brigid’s Songbird River Chronicles–for which, a little bird tells me book 3 will be out in the next few months!

That should keep you in reading material for a bit.

Just enter code AUGUST35 at check-out (use it as often as you like).

Here are the relevant links:

Picasso’s Cat
Other Kobo titles

“Fun” moments in moving

Moving after being in one place for more than twenty years is a lot of work, but it’s not like there isn’t some fun stuff in there, too.

Stuff like how today I got to go all “Hulk Smash” over four ancient Palm devices we could no longer power up.

Stuff like …

Uh …

Okay, that’s the only fun thing about moving after being in one place for more than twenty years. But, admittedly that was pretty fun.

A morning full of crappy writing

A view front our front porch

A view front our front porch

Today, for the first time in over three weeks, I sat down to write for real. Three hours. That’s what I scheduled, and that’s what I pretty much did (with only a small interruption in the middle). I sat in my nearly empty basement and pulled up my Work in Process, and I started in on it.

Let me tell you how much I sucked. I mean. Really. Really sucked.

I felt clumsy. I felt lost. I felt as out of touch as Donald Trump a room full of intellectuals. The words, they just kinda stuck together, you know? All I could bring to the page were simple thoughts and a few cool sounding phrases that almost meant something reasonable, but, sadly in the end, merely just sat there waving at me like a five year-old calling out “Look at me, look at me! I’m writing here! Look at me!”

Despite that, I’ve got to say it was a great morning.

So great that after this writing session I was happily picking up stuff to drive to Sans Souci, and jauntily tossing stuff in the trash, and humming along with Radio Paradise as I ate lunch and loaded up the car. Then—after dropping stuff off and recycling a printer cartridge—I carried that little wave of joy with me right on through to give myself a reward: Ice cream at Ritters (Reese’s Cup glacier with chocolate ice cream, if you must know).

Yes, this moving thing is a monster. Yes, it’s a high stress thing for everyone around. But at the end of the day life is pretty danged good in the Collins household right now, and a morning of crappy writing can be fixed, you see. In fact, it’s moments like this that remind me of two important things—first, that most mornings are full of crappy writing that must be fixed; and second, that a morning filled with crappy writing beats a morning doing just about anything else.

2113 Anthology Cover

I’m taking a break to catch up on some stuff this afternoon, and I’m quite pleased to show you the cover to 2113, an anthology of stories based on songs by Rush. You may remember that this volume will include a short story of mine titled “A Patch of Blue” (which is based on the ultra-cool song “Natural Science”).

I’m totally stoked about this one.

How stoked? Well … so stoked that if I had a time machine right now, I would hop in it and go back to a night in, say, 1980 when I would invariably be down in Charlie Stonefield’s basement with my brother, playing pool and using the cues to play air guitar along with Rush (among others). And when I got there, I would open my laptop and show me this cover and just watch myself go into fits when I learned that I would have a story in this thing. I’m grinning just imagining that now. I can see the guys high-fiving and cranking up the record player.

So, yeah. That stoked.

Here’s the cover, naked guy and all:

Wanted, Dead or Alive: Info on the SF Community in Tucson …

A month ago I posted about my planning process. In it, I wrote this:

A plan is just a plan. It is, by its very nature, the one way you can pretty much guarantee your project will not actually happen. I mean, seriously here … something is guaranteed to go wrong. Something will happen in a way you did not plan. This is the way of life.

In my case, the something has turned out to be this: we’re up and moving.

That’s right, after essentially fifty years living in the great mid-west, Lisa and I are now deeply into the process of moving our home out to the mountainous drylands of Arizona–just north of Tucson, Oro Valley to be precise. We have several reasons for this, but the greatest by far is that the house we’ve picked out is a grand total of one mile away from my parents. It will be more than great to spend some time with them again. It’s been nearly a decade since we lived close enough to them.

You can guess the drill that’s been going on here in Columbus since we made that decision: close on one house, get another ready for the market. Since Lisa has the main day-job, she spends her weekends identifying things we’re keeping and things we’re not. Then most of the intense implementation process clearly falls on my shoulders. I break the stuff down. I move the stuff. You get the idea. And since we’ve been in this house for 22ish years, we’ve got a lot of stuff. What this means is that for three weeks, 100% of my effort has been focused on the house. Trashing stuff, donating stuff, selling stuff, organizing, planning, re-planning, reviewing and signing documents, making a gazillion decisions. All day. Every day. For three weeks.

It’s all quite daunting. Half priced books has seen me four times. The entire gang at Sans Souci welcomes me back every day.

This means I’m not doing much email (if I owe you a response, I apologize…I’ll get to it, I promise!). It means I’m barely skimming things like Twitter and Facebook. It means I’m not posting. It means I’m not marketing work. And mostly, it means I’m not writing. My plan has been shattered into about a katrillion pieces.

Yes, it’s been a long, long three weeks.

Our actual move date isn’t final, yet, but it’s earlier than later—maybe mid-September? Dunno. I’ll write more when I know more. The light is at the end of the tunnel, though. The path is now fairly clear, and I’m optimistic of being able to actually get back to a manuscript at least part-time by Friday.

We’ll see if there still exist words in my head. I hope the keyboard still feels right.

Once I’m going in the right direction again, we’ll go back and see about that plan. [grin] In the meantime, can anyone tell me something fun about the SF community in Tucson?

The Walking Dead

Perhaps the biggest change in my life since I started writing full-time has been the fact that I generally sleep 7-8 hours a night. It turns out that this is a huge deal. I mean, it’s a major, big-assed deal. Yes, back when I worked the corporate desk I read all the scientific studies that described exactly how much damage I was doing to myself when I didn’t sleep enough, but I did what pretty much everyone else I knew who read those studies did.

I ignored them.

If you’ve followed me for the 20+ years this blog has been in existence, you’ll know that back then I was one of those guys who got up at 4:30 AM to do my writing. The job I had was one of those full-time+ kinds of things—you know, the basic gig where 40 hours a week is just the starting point of the negotiation. And, let’s face it, I generally loved my job(s). The work was fun and I could see its value. It was mostly interesting. I was dedicated to the company and the people I worked with. I did not half-ass my work, so sometimes that meant 70 hour work weeks. Other times it meant 50. Others maybe only 42. You get the idea.

And I have a wife and daughter, who I have always known I could not deal with losing. Ever. Which meant my evenings were generally spoken for.

So, yeah. Four-freaking-thirty. The alternative was to not write at all, and the bottom line for me was that if I chose a path that didn’t include writing I would then be, for the most part, considerably unhappy. So in my days as a corporate guy, I probably averaged four-to-five hours of sleep a night, with the occasional six or seven-hour night.

Add it all up and it meant that for much of my life I’ve walked around in a state of sleep deprivation. I was, as the New Yorker article I’ll link to at the end of this piece would say, a member of the Walking Dead.

I’m thinking about that right now because all day long today my attention span has been terrible. All day long I’ve been physically incapable of concentrating for long periods of time. My brain fought my attempts to stay on task. It slithered away from the pressure of thinking about hard decisions on complex word choice or other elements of twisting words onto the manuscript page. Every now and again I would catch what I thought was going to be a solid word-wave (you writers know what I mean), but I would inevitably be disappointed when that wave faded away all too quickly. I just couldn’t stay on the board, you know?

Looking at the past few days shows where the root of the problem is.

Today is Tuesday. Sunday night, with the soldiers of nearby Camp Atterbury machine-gunning away throughout much of the night, I couldn’t sleep (though I did manage about two hours of a nap in the early part or Monday morning). Then, of course, last night in Indiana was full of dramatic thunder, gale-force winds, lightning, and hail—which meant we got to bed quite late (past 1:00 AM), and received uneven sleep. Getting up this morning was like trying to pull Excalibur from the stone.

This means that for the past two days I’ve probably averaged about three hours of sleep. This is a major dip from my now-normal seven or eight hours.

I felt it in my work today. I felt it in the way my brain slithered out of the pressure of thinking about hard decisions as I tried to twist words onto the manuscript page. A time or two I caught what I thought was going to be a great word wave, only to find that I couldn’t stay on the board for very long. What work I manged to get done was (I think … I hope) good, but I can attest to the fact that I did not get nearly my normal production accomplished.

Bottom line here: Overall, today felt a lot like I was listening to an old cassette tape that was on its way to getting stretched out. You guys of the 8-track age know what I mean. I could make out the music and all that stuff, but it felt like it should be backing something by David Lynch.

It made me think about my friends where I once worked. It made me think about Lisa, my gorgeous better half who still works there. It made me think about the articles that recently ran in the New Yorker (which I highly recommend, and which I’ll link to below—thanks to Srikanth for the links). It made me realize that I am no longer walking around in a daze like I once was, and it made me wonder about how much more effective I would have been at work if I had not worked so many hours. The almost certain truth is that I would have been much more valuable if I had cut my work time an hour a day (and given that time to sleep).

This issue I’m feeling today will go away because I’m sleeping well overall. But I’m happy to experience a day like today because it serves as proof that those stories are right—I was clearly less productive today, and it was clearly because of my sleep patterns.

So, my friends who are still sacrificing sleep to work major hours on a routine basis, you can take my word for it that these articles are as spot-on as they are interesting to read:

Why Can’t We Fall Asleep?
Why We Sleep
The Walking Dead

A walk in the rain

Yes, I took a walk in the rain yesterday.

Yes, in the rain. A walk. Totally. By this I mean that it was raining when I left the house and rained for pretty much the entire two hours I was walking around in it. I got soaked. Water ran down my face and into my eyes. Water seeped through the jacket I wore. I walked along a road where cars drove by, splashing, tires hissing against the wet pavement.

When she heard I had done that, Lisa asked “Why would you do that?”

But I have to admit I had a good time.

It was a nice summer rain, after all. No thunder. No lightning. Just water against a gray skyline. It was warm enough to walk in shorts, warm enough that the dampness built a thermal barrier between my shirt and jacket that kept me comfortable. I took a path away from the roads, and strolled along the “quiet” of a woodsy area and some farmland.

Things smell different when it’s raining. Heavier, and thicker. The taste of the rain is colored by the taint of your sweat in a different way. The sound of your footsteps are softer, the calls of birds are sharper, and the color of the grass is a deeper green.

Sometimes people driving by in cars would give me a bit of a skewed glance. There I was, after all, a thoroughly soaked oldish guy in soaked jacket and black athletic shorts. Probably looked a bit ragamuffinish, A bit strange. But what did I care? It was fun, it wasn’t hurting anyone, and it gave me a chance to look at things in a different way than I normally look at them.

With everything else going on in the world right now, I’m left thinking that maybe more people should take a break and go walk in the rain.

My somewhat insane work planning process

Brandon Crilley recently linked me into a post he did about planning his writing activity during the summer period (he supports his writing habit by being a teacher in the real world, so he has to use his “down time” as efficiently as possible). I responded that I would write a post about my somewhat insane planning methods. This is that post.

At one point, I used to plan like Brandon does—relatively short term, and focused on creating new words. Before I started doing this full time, and before I broke my “business” into traditional and indie publishing activity, that process completely worked for me. But once I started doing this full time, I felt like I should look at the problem differently. Then, once I started the indie route for some of my work, I quickly came to the realization that I needed to get serious about planning.

Part of the issue here is that I work in a squishy world where the product is an element of creativity, and sometimes that process is hard to truly predict (unless one has a very firm deadline). Another issue is that, while I know people who work serially (one thing at a time) I tend to have multiple projects going at any one time, and they tend to be in very different stages. I also write short stories and novels (and have a small degree of a life). But the real truth here is that life as a writer and an indie publisher can get pretty complicated at times. Everything is simple, but there are a billion moving parts and only one me, so the complexity of this process can get overwhelming if I’m not thinking clearly about where I am and where I’m going at any one moment.

I’m also a project manager at heart, which means I can handle almost any level of ambiguity as long as I can put it on a spreadsheet or a Gantt chart.

Anyway, here’s what I do.

Bottom line, I break my work into three separate plans:

1) Year-out Plan: a rolling behemoth that includes all projects I intend to get to in the next twelve months. This is updated every month, of course, with a new month added at the end.
2) Month-out Plan: Basically a focused look at the current (or next) month as defined by the Year-out plan.
3) A WIN (What’s Important Now) plan: A day-by-day plan for what I’m working on this week. I structure this based on things I need to focus on in order to meet the Month-out plan.

Let me touch on each of these in order.


I have evolved this approach over the past year. My goal was to find something fairly concise (fits on 1-2 pages) that can let me see all the work I want to accomplish, as well as the timing of when it needs to occur.

What I’ve come up with looks like this: (click to expand)

As you can see, to fit my goal for planning, I’ve abstracted the high-level tasks a writer does while writing short work and novels, and abstracted the high-level publishing tasks an indie publisher does to create, manage, and launch their products, then laid them all together as items on the vertical axis of a spreadsheet. I then used the horizontal axis as my time flow. This feels very much like a Gantt chart—which makes me happy.

In order to see my specific projects flow better, I color code each work I’m doing. My latest, for example, was completing a novel titled “The Knight Deception.” This book was color-coded in green. My next work is reconfiguring two SF novels (Stealing the Sun 1/2), this work is color-coded in orange and red. By using this scheme, I can see at a glance how projects should flow both through time, and the creation/production process as time moves along.

Month-out Plan:

My month-out plan is really just a focused look at the current month. For example, when I look at the July column of my Year-out plan, I see I really need to accomplish five things:

1) Review the plot and structure of my Stealing-the Sun project.
2) Get a serious kick-start on completing the first Stealing the Sun book (to finish in August)
3) Finish up work on my short story “Running Tribe” (itself another rewrite)
4) Develop the full concept (TOC, etc.) of the short story collection I intend to put out in November.
5) Make a final pass at the print design of the new print design I intend to use while releasing the print version of “Picasso’s Cat” from Skyfox.

WIN (What’s Important Now)

This is where the rubber meets the road. I call it a WIN plan in honor of my last boss’s boss (yes, Srikanth, I’m looking at you), who used this concept to focus the organization on things he thought were important to keep touch with. He used them for bigger, over-arching initiatives. I use the label to identify things that I truly must do now to achieve my longer term goals.

At the beginning of each week I break my tasks into what I intend to get done each day. Of course, I have a form for this. Sometimes, I break form, and just go with a blank sheet of paper, but I like the form because it reminds me of the various categories of my work, and (since I put “Word Creation” at the top) it makes it abundantly clear when I’m kidding myself about my writing. It’s very important that writers create new words on a routine basis, but I’m like most writers I know—quite capable of pretending that all sorts of stuff that doesn’t result in new words are actually “writing.”

Anyway, here’s my form: (click to expand)

On the whole, when I do this well, I find that I generally achieve my weekly expectations (plus more). In the cases where I miss my targets, I move them into the following week, which brings me too …

Managing the Process

Throughout my life as a project manager, some folks I worked with would give me grief about the basic idea of a plan. “It’s never right,” people would say. “You can’t plan for development. You can’t predict invention. You can’t constrain creation!” Or, for another example, I was once at a writer’s workshop, listening to another writer describe his planning methods (some of which I’ve cribbed for myself), when a pair of writers pointed out (with some gently hidden, but good-natured snark) that his plan didn’t include possible acts of nature in it.

Of course, they were all correct. But that’s not the point of a long-running plan at all.

A plan is just a plan. It is, by its very nature, the one way you can pretty much guarantee your project will not actually happen. I mean, seriously here … something is guaranteed to go wrong. Something will happen in a way you did not plan. This is the way of life. So you have to realize that by planning things, you’re not attempting to actually predict anything. Nobody, including me, cares if something happens exactly as I planned it or not. What I’m attempting to do is to think about things the surround my work, and manage them in whatever way is optimal for me at the moment. I’m creating a guiding framework that will let me control the way I adjust my course when change (positive and negative) occurs.

My experience is that I miss many of my specific daily plans, but just taking time to think about my goals and jot them down makes the process an exercise in swapping out work between days due to random issues rather than because I just didn’t do something. I also find that I have to adjust my annual plan about every two months to account for new projects or slippages that occur due to life changes (or due to my optimistic planning model—yes, I admit that I often think I can get more done in the big picture than I actually do, so I sometimes need to slip my “schedule” out).

This is just fine. No one ever really beats me for missing a deadline (and in fact, even in my corporate days, the fact that I could talk with my boss weeks and months ahead of a potential schedule slip made it all work out better). Of course, I want to hit my plan or exceed it. But to me the important part of having a plan is that it helps me make wise and proper decisions that lead me to my goals—not that it act as some kind of whipping device if I don’t.

A Final Word

So, there you have one writer’s semi-insane planning process. I need to admit that I don’t really stop here. I, like many other writers, I suspect, keep fairly detailed records on how I work. On another spreadsheet (naturally), I log the hours I work every day, and the words I write or rewrite. This is how I know, for example, that I’m working easily 50+ hours a week (even though it doesn’t feel like work a lot of the time). It’s how I know I’ve done about 680,000 words of work this year so far (130K new, 550K in some form of rewrite…there’s a whole ‘nother blog post waiting to happen there).

It’s important to me to track this level of work, too. It makes me feel better to know if I’m spending my time well–and, in fact, I find that when I’m feeling uncomfortable about life in general, I can often point to my charts and graphs and see that these moments correlate strongly to times when I’m not creating many new words…which is interesting enough, eh?

Perhaps, though, that discussion can also wait on its own long and boring blog post.

Five Things I’ve Learned, +1

A couple days ago, I found myself reading Martin Shoemaker’s blog, wherein he discussed what he’s learned over the past few years. I got to thinking about that question. I’ve been doing this for … well … a long while, now. My bibliography says I was first published in October of 1994. You can do the math.

So, what have I learned in this time?

Of course, there are the things Martin talks about: persistence, how to stop giving up, writing often. If you’ve read my blog here, you’ve seen that stuff come up a bit. But, yeah, those are kind of givens. I mean, if you’re going to make it out of the early years as a writer, that stuff is your garden variety ticket out. And I definitely like Martin’s second item, too: “don’t stop learning.” In the past, I’ve also blogged a lot about things as I learned them—a lot of specific stuff like how to think about and use story structure, the value of grammar, how to deal with information flow at both the micro and macro levels, etc., etc.

So, yeah, there’s always something to learn. But, you know what? You can say that about almost everything that has any meaning. For example, I was always learning something when I was in my string of jobs in Corporate America ™. I actually enjoyed that aspect of things quite a bit. Dealing with people means you’re never really sure of anything, and there’s always something to learn.

But still something seemed amiss.

While I liked Martin’s discussion, I got to thinking about it more deeply than those kinds of things. What, I asked myself, beyond these “basics” (ha!) have I really learned about being a writer? Seriously. It really got to me. I’ve been thinking about it since I read Martin’s post, and I think I’ve come up with the right answers. There are five of them. Five things I have learned. I will write about them here in my inimitable free-form style, and then see if I can summarize in the end (assuming I remember to, anyway).

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is this: When I sit down to write, I need to remember that I’m making art.

Yes. That’s it. The act of writing is making art.

Perhaps you think this is a stupid statement. Maybe you don’t think writing is an art (I know people, writers even, who don’t actually think this), or maybe you take it as such a given that writing is making art that I shouldn’t have to state it. Maybe you look at my statement and just kind of scratch your head and shrug. But for me this was an important realization, so important that I have to remind myself often.

It’s this realization, for example, that led me to completely understand my next learning, which is this: Words are not important.

That’s right. Words are not important.

All right, I hear you saying. Now I know for certain that I’ve had enough of this idiot. Words are not important? To a writer? Seriously? It’s time to put this Collins dude onto “ignore mode.”

And, you’re right. But, like Martin said, I’m a writer and writers lie for a living. So, this is a lie (except for the fact that it’s also the truth). What I mean here is that I’ve learned that the words I use as a writer are only important in that they are essential to the form. They are tools like colors or the selection of oils vs. watercolor are to a painter. Or, if I can go out on a limb, a writer’s relationship to words is like that of form and stance to a dancer.

You cannot be a writer without using words, but creating words are not the point.

The point is that you’re making art—or at least trying to. You’re working your ass off to create a series of impressions and thoughts and questions and emotions inside the people who are your audience. The words are just the things you’re using to create that series of things I just laid out. In this light, I don’t want to pick the right word just for the word’s sake. I want to pick the right word because I want to control the sense or image (or whatever) that I’m planting in a reader’s mind.

It’s a fine line of a difference, but it’s a difference—and, for me, understanding that difference has been a very important thing.

The third thing I’ve spent time fretting over is the piece of transitive logic wherein I say if writing well is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (which is something I’ve often said), and if writing is making art, then making art well is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I am here today, of course, to say this isn’t correct.

Actually, what I’ve learned is that doing art is incredibly easy, as long as you can actually let yourself do it. Making art is a strange thing. It requires only that you be brave enough to actually touch the things that are inside you, then get out of the way and make them happen.

This is the point behind Amanda Palmer’s quotable quote of her song “Ukulele” (Quit the bitching on your blog, and stop pretending art is hard…), which I totally love for everything strange and wonderful about it (and which I’ll embed below).

For me, “writing” becomes “making art” when I am able to let my characters say and do what they want to, regardless of whether I would ever actually say or do these things. It’s cutting into that vein of thought and existence that lets me write characters and events that might actually scare me if other people heard them coming from my mouth. It’s not letting concern for what people might say get in the way of making my points and my views filter through the work I do—letting ugliness in characters stand as they need to stand, or allowing pain to exist, or … well … whatever.

And, sure, it’s about words. Picking the right ones to create the right images, etc. But, screw it, you know? The words only matter if they create images, ideas, and other stuff that make a difference. The words are yours, of course. But, in a very real way, so are the images. In fact, in the end, you are your art’s own first audience. If your art doesn’t speak to you, then what’s the point?

The problem, of course, is your relationship to the rest of the world.

The surest way for me to get cranky and blocked up and unhappy with my work is to reach a point where I pull back merely because I’m worried someone might not like what I’ve done, or if I reach out and touch something important to me, but then decide not to include it because it’s too personal or too sensitive, or that I might somehow be embarrassed of it. This is death to me.

This learning then gets tied up with my fourth lesson, which is this: Stories that matter are about things that are important to me, and things that are important to me—even highly positive, bright and shiny things—can feel scary at their cores.

I have to constantly remind myself to be brave here. When I write about things that are important to me, I can let my fears about how the world will judge me keep me from making art that matters.

For example, these feelings of anxiety can show up all over the place when I write “the other” or write about cultural issues. As a white male I suppose it’s only natural that I can get tied up in knots when I attempt to write from the point of view of (let’s say) an African-American female (what if I get it wrong?). These feelings of fear and doubt can come out when I write characters who are not me in a billion other ways, too, of course. I have learned that I need to face these situations straight-up, and that I have to dive into them even if they don’t feel totally like me, and even if it scares me to put them out there (or especially if it scares me to put them out there).

Which leads me to my last learning, which is this: try as you might, you cannot control what reactions you’ll create in the people who consume the art you’re making.

Everyone is different. There will be, for example, those who will listen to Amanda Palmer’s “Ukulele” (which I referenced above) and absolutely hate it. But I love it. In that same light, I’ve had had stories what received both glowing reviews, and reviews where it was clear that the reader wasn’t certain if I understood what I was doing. Lois Tilton, for example, recently reviewed my story “Tumbling Dice” in Locus in a way that I really loved, even though she was clearly antsy about the work itself. “Tumbling Dice” is essentially a re-telling of the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, so it’s gritty and unflattering to its characters. They are not particularly nice people, even though they are working their way through their lives as best they know how. While other places reviewed the story quite positively, Lois wasn’t so convinced—but even as she was rubbed the wrong way, she pegged the characters well, and apparently walked away at least feeling something off-kilter about them, which was great, in an odd way. [I am, BTW, a fan of Lois’s reviews—I’m not here to say she was wrong or inappropriate in anything she said about this, or any other story of mine.]

So, yeah. That’s what I’ve learned about writing. Five lessons. Here they are again:

1. The words aren’t really what matters
2. Writing is really about making art
3. Making art is easy, as long as you let yourself do it
4. Stories that matter are about things that are important to you
5. You cannot control how anyone reacts to the impressions you create within them

Oh, and one more thing I’ve learned—which may even be the most important thing of all. When I sum it all up, I have to admit that even now (after all these years) I can rarely ever say if anything I’ve made is “good” or not (see #5 above), but I’ve finally come to the point where I always know whether I’m proud of it.

And in the end, I think that’s the whole point.

“The Colossal Death Ray” hits Galaxy’s Edge.

Very happy to note that my story “The Colossal Death Ray” is the lead story in this issue of Galaxy’s Edge.

This story is actually a bit of a favorite of mine because it came to me in what was essentially a single sitting (with another pass or two rub out some raw edges here and there). This kind of thing doesn’t happen too often with me, so I need to enjoy them when they arrive.

That said, this issue is also a favorite of mine, merely because of all the other really cool writers you’ll find inside its pages. It’s also pretty cool because you can read it for free and all that. So, uh, yeah … go forth and get to it!

Leadership, and the need to “prove yourself”

As we often do while we walk together, Lisa and I were recently talking about the framework that work happens in under in the corporate environment. At some point we talked about the fact that there is this need to prove oneself upon entry into a new environment before a person is accepted, and along the way I said something about what a terrible shame that is—that managers who set this kind of environment are making a mistake. She argued my point, though, saying it’s completely understandable that a new person needs to prove themselves before being fully included in a group.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit since then, and she’s right … except that I’m also right.

A team will never fully accept someone who doesn’t do the job, that’s true. This is the root of things like “probation periods,” or initiation rites, or other such things (dare I suggest this idea is the root of hazings?). That is the way it is, and most of us humans “get” it because it’s quite logical. “Sink or swim, buddy,” this concept says. “I don’t care what you did anywhere else, you gotta prove it here!”

But, seriously, a good leader does NOT think this way. A good leader sets expectation, of course, and a good leader delivers results. But a good leader assumes their selection process has found a valuable person, and then does everything they can to make sure the team member is safe and in an emotional place where they can do their best work. That’s it. It’s 100% of the real job description of leadership. When I was managing people, I cannot think of a time when I ever expected a person to prove themselves, unless we were already having performance problems (which is, of course, a different case).

The need to prove yourself is a stressful thing, you see? Stressful in a negative fashion. And a manager/leader’s role is to reduce negative stress (and increase positive stress).

In this light, this afternoon I watched a couple TED talks. One I thought was quite good, and the other I wish I had actually written, because it is almost word-for-word the way I think about things. (At one point, a boss of mine asked me to write a paper on what it would take to create a “job for life” kind of company. I don’t remember what I wrote about, but this is it). This has become one f my favorite TED talks…if you are a leader, I strongly recommend you watch it. As you watch it, think about how this concept pretty much refutes the whole “prove yourself” concept.

The first talk (which I felt was good, and also touched on the whole “prove yourself” concept) is here:

A day in the Northern Guard

Advance Notice
This is a very long post about my day with the Northern Guard—a supporter group associated with the Detroit City Football Club. Given the general tone of my blog and the readers I generally attract, I feel the need to tell you that, while it is certainly possible to write a post about the Northern Guard without the use of profanity, it strikes me (for reasons that may become more obvious as I go) as wholly inappropriate to do so. You may take this as a warning if you so desire.

The experience of a DCFC match has been described in other places as “electric.” And it truly is. If you live in Detroit, you should go see one.

As you may have been able to tell from my twitter feed, Lisa and I were in Detroit this past weekend for a football match. Or, more specifically, we were there to live a day as … uh … honorary members (if there is such a thing) of the Northern Guard Supporters, a collection of semi-hooligans (more on that word hooligans later) who cheer for their beloved Detroit City Football Club. The opposition on this day was provided by the Madison 56ers, who may as well have been wearing Washington Generals uniforms for all the chance they had.

We came across the Northern Guard because my son-in-law, Nick (who you might say is a football enthusiast in the same way that the cast of the Big Bang Theory are into comics), is deeply involved with the Northern Guard in pretty much all ways possible. He and Brigid have a great time at all the games … er … matches. [Please note: To be a proper fan is to use the proper language. The event that happens on the pitch (not field) is a match (not a game). We shall be clear on this, got it? And, yeah, for the record, it is truly “football,” and the Northern Guard are not “fans.” They are “supporters.” It’s important. Trust me on this, my American friends.]

What’s important for this post, however, is that you understand that the Northern Guard is a supporter base unlike pretty much anything else that exists in the US.

Oh, I’m sure there are parallels in other places—local groups that feel such ownership of their team that they attempt to bend the club to its own will a bit, groups who set and enforce expectation as if they are actual coaches or owners, folks who do the background work, collectives that serve to metaphorically ground the team itself into a specific place on the Earth, and make sure that folks realize that this is not just a team or a sport we’re talking about, it’s a goddamned, motherfucking way of life and unless you want a horn blared right in the old kisser you won’t pretend any different. Got that? The general family friendly section for casual supporters is fantastic and everybody loves it, but don’t come over to the Northern Guard’s side unless you’re willing to deal with 90 minutes of singing, cheering, chanting, drumming, smoke bombing, jeering, taunting, swearing, dancing, celebrating, and the general making of much noise. And that’s just during the match.

The experience of a DCFC match has been described in other places as “electric.” And it truly is. If you live in Detroit, you should go see one. The event, the actions in the stands as it is tied to the action on the pitch, is this weird, frenzied, spectral dance between players and fans. The Northern Guard is a lifestyle, however, that extends beyond the stands. It doesn’t start when the first pass is made and does not end when the final whistle blows. After hearing Brigid and Nick discuss the group for the past couple years, I was looking forward to finally experiencing the whole thing.

What I discovered was such an interesting, amazing, at times intimidating, and dedicated collection of people that I’ve felt the need to write a bit about them. So today I’m trying to capture something more than what it’s like to attend a game. Today I’m trying to capture the essence of what this community is about. What makes the Northern Guard work, how its tie to the city itself (above and beyond the team) makes it so, so unique. If you’re already aware of this group, this may be old hat, but the intended audience of this post are those folks on the fringe who might be interested, might be wondering just what all the fuss is about, or might be willing to put a toe in the water if they can get a handle on it. We’ll see whether I can do this justice, but I’m going to try my best.

So, what follows is a long and wandering discussion of what it’s like to be an “outsider” who enters into this world for a day. It’s going to go everywhere because I’m just going to let it sprawl, which seems like the only way to really do this right. For some it’ll be TLDR (or already has been). But for others—folks who want to get a feel for what it’s really like to step into something weird and wonderful and big and bold and maybe even a little obnoxious and threatening—this will give you an idea of how I saw the pageantry of what goes on both behind the scenes and out in the open over the course of the day. The NGS, you see, is a very complex beast, and what you see is not always exactly what you get—unless, that is, you truly see.

Since I suspect this post will be seen by a few folks who are not usual Typosphere readers, and since I’m not 100% sure exactly where this day-long diary will take me, let me start by noting that I am a 54 year-old Skiffy writer who spent a lot of time in corporate America, but also has lived most of my life with one foot squarely in the geek culture of software coding, comic books, science fiction, and other such silliness. I am an extroverted introvert by nature (take that MBTI). This means I’m a little stodgy, but also love things that are often seen as being off-kilter by friends and other folks who hail from the more mainstream lanes of life. It’s fair to say some of my acquaintances don’t totally get me, but that’s okay. I am an engineer, an IT guy, and a HR wonk, but one who understands the real purpose of old-school DnD. I get paid to write sword & sorcery. I get paid to write hard SF. I attend SF conventions and love watching my geeky fan-mates do their LARPing and their masquerades, and all their cosplay-like things. I like “the other,” even though sometimes I don’t totally get it. The fact that “the other” exists will generally make me happy.

Anyway…enough about me: Let’s get to the real stuff.

After driving up to Detroit the night before, the day started by donning my first official DCFC t-shirt, provided kindly for me by Nick.

It is important to note a few key things about this shirt. First, the colors. It is vital to understand that this shirt is NOT maroon and gold, nor is it burgundy and yellow. These colors are ROUGE and GOLD. The team is sometimes known as Le Rouge, not Le Red nor Le Maroon. Rouge and Gold.

It should also be noted that I still need work on the scurvy scowl. Brigid said I fit in fine, but clearly I’m a rookie in this department. Regardless, here were some of my poor efforts at pre-game prep:

Yeah, I know. Weak-asssed. Shrug.

So, the kiddoes pick us up in the morning and we head to the event. While the match won’t start until 7:30, the festivities begin much, much earlier. Nick, being a NGS big-wig, wants to be there to help set-up, and we’re worried about traffic due to road closings, so we go pre-lunch early. Along the way we talk about football in Detroit, and the various front office shenanigans that are working in the background. DCFC plays in the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League), but the US football terrain is changing rapidly as the sport takes real hold here. As is usual, the inner core of the Northern Guard has some pretty staunch views on how the team should pursue expansion. There are warring factions in these waters, and the Guard’s leadership intends to work their tail off to make sure the squad retains its flavor. It appears, however, to be a tenuous period with money (naturally) being a key question everywhere.

It’s clear, though, that the Guard’s presence makes a real difference in the business dealings of the team and the city. DCFC and the Guard have a well-correlated track record of consistent growth over three season—and, in fact, today’s attendance, which will register in at over 3,500 people and consist of the chock-full NGS section and a considerably full family section, is a new record. I note that the attendance number was barely buoyed at all by the scant few Madison players’ parents that they brought… hehehehe … inside joke there, which I can tell, since I AM an insider for a day.

Anyway, as Nick drives us to their place I get in my first dig at the opposition, a sly “Madison Sucks” slipped into an otherwise innocuous tweet. I almost feel like one of the crew.

After only a bit of a drive, we arrive:

Harry’s is hot territory because it’s close to where the Tigers play, and near the convention center (I guess). Regardless, one of the reasons we get there early is to reduce competition for parking. It works! It’s a great place, complete with a big ground-level room, pretty good food, and a cool open-air upstairs.

We get lunch while other, less-rabid supporters dawdle. I have to admit I wonder about the dedication. I mean, not a single over-night camper? Tsk, tsk, tsk. On the other hand, when I think back on the gathering of folks and the raw Detroitness of the supporter base, I actually wonder if perhaps many of these people don’t actually exist in real life., but instead slip out of the multi-dimensional quantum muck of time and space at the appointed time. Could the average NGS supporter be like a soldier in one of those old WWII comics I used to steal from my uncle, like ghost brigades that appear out of the mist of Detroit’s streets to slide fully formed into their personal bar seats at Harry’s with a pint of Le Rouge already poured before them. This would explain why no one actually seems to arrive at Harry’s so much as that the gathering just begins, then over the next couple hours ramps up to a solid buzz. All I can say for sure is that it’s not too long before the place is crammed full of people clad in Rouge and Gold, beer is flowing, food is rolling out of the kitchens, and the poor wait staff is hustling like mad. (Well, I can also say that the idea of the skull-clad NGS as lingering remnants who appear out of the bowels of the city in time for a few beers before the match could make for an interesting series of comics, but that’s not the point today).

So, to sum it up: First lunch

Then beer:

Along the way, one of my twitter posts get a pitch-perfect welcome from the gang:

A moment here to talk about that twitter tag (#DCTID). It stands for Detroit City Till I Die, and is the Guard’s motto. Truthfully, this motto says everything you need to know about this group. I mean, to give an honest opinion here, after spending time with them I would say the Guard is not really a football supporter group.

Yeah, I know how asinine that might sound. Sure, the NGS’s culture is completely built around a football team. But when I watch what’s happening here, I see the Guard is about Detroit first, this specific organization second, and football as a whole third. Perhaps I’m speaking out of school, but I also think it’s fair to say that the “football as a whole” part of this includes pretty much all of international football except other teams in Detroit. To the Guard, Le Rouge is Detroit football, but the NGS is Detroit. And I may be wrong here also, but I get the idea that some percentage of the Northern Guard shows up primarily because they love being with the Northern Guard, meaning that for this sliver of the crew, the existence of a football club who happens to play in the area is secondary to the feeling of being City Till I Die.

If you want to understand the Guard, this is important.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, perhaps because I see such similarities between the overall culture of the NGS and that of my science fiction fans. In order to truly “get” an SF convention, for example, one has to understand that Fandom embraces those who embrace Fandom, and can be quite pointed to those who do not. A writer is not always so embraced, for example, but a writer who can embrace fandom will always be included. Not to open another can of worms, but today’s whole Puppy/Hugo fiasco is deeply influenced by this behavior and the fact that assholery is a trait that is spread evenly across all denominations.

Anyway, as I was saying, though the Northern Guard is its own community with its own flavor that is different from my beloved Science Fiction Fandom, they are similar in that the Guard embraces those who embrace the Guard and will be quite content to ignore, ridicule, or completely shit on anything that rejects it. As they say, “You don’t like us. We don’t care.” Science Fiction fandom would generally not be as outwardly direct as that, but the basic concept probably matches.

So, I figure that in reality, while the NGS is crazy-passionate for their team, the Guard cares for its own before it cares about this football organization. I’m guessing that if push came to shove, and lines absolutely had to be drawn, the rank order would be (1) Detroit, (2) The Northern Guard, (3) DCFC (4) All of football (except, of course, other teams in Detroit).

Wow. I just did 450 words on a simple run-off from the #DCTID tag. You guys must be bored to tears. Sorry about that.

But the whole “#DCTID thing is, perhaps, the key to understanding this culture. For those who don’t actually pay attention or don’t completely absorb the essence of this motto, my guess is that the Northern Guard is a deeply confusing thing. The Guard (as you’ll see) is very loud. Its a rambunctious group. It is, by design, intimidating. There are big folks in this group. They are young and energetic. Like my Skiffy brotherhood, it’s tattooed and it has people with piercings and creative hair colors. People dress extravagantly. They flash colors. They bang on drums and get loud. They wear skulls.

As I was walking along in the march to the pitch (which I’ll get to later), I asked one of the founders if he got requests to help build a culture like theirs in other football communities around the league. He said, yes, but they never really worked well. This makes sense to me. The Northern Guard, you see, did not come about because of anything the DCFC organization did. It came about in the same fashion as SF Fandom did—it was built by this core of people who run it, and so it has their loves and their personality. That may change as it grows beyond their ability to “control,” but today, the Northern Guard is a strong, tight-knit group of folks who have a deeply personal flare.

In that same march, a few talked about their view of themselves. One of the guys addressed the issue of hooliganism and (I’ll paraphrase, here) basically said the Guard drew the line at physical confrontation. “We’re not hooligans like people think of when they imagine unruly supporters. No one here is going to hurt anyone.”

This completely fits them, but to stop there would be a disservice.

The Guard, in addition to being an imposing force that wills their team to victory (and helps destroy the opposition), is deeply about the community. They raise money for charities, sponsor inclusion, support the military, support schools, and champion LGBT issues. Before the match they will lead the crowd in a bellowed a Capella rendition of the National Anthem. This is a group of people who are committed to helping people—as long as you don’t wear an opponent’s kit (or, presumably, as long as you don’t get in the way of them doing whatever they want to legally do). So, yeah, I’m sure the ambiguity is hard for some to understand. But me, I’m a skiffy guy. I get nerdy, extroverted introvert, inclusionary groups of good-hearted, loud people who also defend their turf to the death.

Holy crap … I just did another 450 words on #DCTID. Seriously, Ron, it’s time to move on.

Deep breath …

So, somewhere in the afternoon, another cool thing happened. Some of the DCFC players stopped by the bar to be with the Northern Guard. This does not happen everywhere, you know?

“We’re expecting a goal from you today,” one of the Northern Guard told one of the players. The player gave a light-hearted response, and the supporter made sure he knew there was no joke there. “We expect six before the day’s out. Madison’s terrible.” Nick (I think) said the team should get ten goals today. “Yeah,” the other Northern Guard member said. “Ten or we riot.”

The supporter then talked about the individual chants they had for each player, and one of the players looked over his shoulder and said “I don’t know where you get all these chants, but I fucking love mine.”

Yes, my friends. The Northern Guard loves the team, and the team, in return, loves the Northern Guard. This kind of interaction is pretty damned cool. It’s the kind of thing a sports organization would die to create, but is always at a loss as to how it happens—mostly because they don’t understand that they can’t actually do anything to create it beyond just supporting the fan base and letting them do essentially whatever they want (which is, admittedly a bit dangerous in today’s modern, litigious society … still, that’s the magic IMHO, FWIW).

As I said earlier, though, Nick and the NGS leadership work hard to truly support the team. Key word there: work. This goes way, way, way beyond showing up at the match with a couple pints in them and screaming loud obscenities. It begins … well … it begins before it begins. About three hours before match time, I went to Cass Tech (the team’s home pitch) with the crew, where we proceeded to string up various banners and whatnot.

These are invisible things, you know? When the casual fan enters the stadium and sees the banners and signs across the fences and other barriers, they don’t think about how they got there. People don’t see the thought it takes to design the experience, or the work it takes to put it in place. Rituals like this don’t just happen because someone wakes up in the morning and drops a tweet to everyone saying “let’s do something cool today.” Through the walk to the stadium and throughout the set-up, the gang talks about the event, and other activity around the league. It’s like they are in the early stages of ramping up, too. For them, this part of the process is as important as any other. Setting up the stands engages a new gear for the day.

I should note here that the field itself belongs to a high school program. Its stands, it turns out are barely big enough to hold the entire crew that will show up today. One of the items on the agenda for both the owner and the Northern Guard is working on an upgrade. Regardless of all the other business gunk going on around football, the league, and the teams in Detroit, it’s clear that DCFC will soon outgrow its confines.

Bottom line on set-up: it was a great day and I managed to help get stuff put up without embarrassing Nick too much (that’s my side of the story, anyway). Much fun.

We then made our way back to Harry’s and …

Holy crap was it crowded.

Let me point out the dude with the scarf in the picture above.

Scarves are a big deal here. Never mind that it’s June and semi-warm, everybody wears them. If you look closely, you’ll see a few more. In addition to being quite fashion-forward and spiffy, the scarf is used as this weird combination of flag, uniform, and pom pom. They come in lots of Rouge and Gold configurations, with several phrases stitched into them (including, natch, things like “City Till I Die”).

They are also, it turns out, the primary defense against smoke bombs. I happen to be borrowing a gas-mask from Nick for this event, but as the day progresses, I will come to realize that the phrase “scarfs up!” really means “light the goddamned smoke bombs!”

The March

Okay, I’m nine pages into this thing, and I’m just now getting to the actual lead-up to the actual match. At this point, it’s clear to me that what we have here in the Northern Guard are your garden variety kind of crazy people. I mean, who in the heck does this kind of stuff for what is essentially an amateur football team? Seriously? What are these folks whacked-out on?

Of course, I’m the one who drove five hours to get here, so you should probably take my opinion for what it’s worth.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the match starts at 7:30, so the entire pre-show is leading up to the pinnacle of the process—the march to the pitch—which starts thirty minutes ahead of time. It begins in the street outside Harry’s, and comes together when the ringleader stands up on a car, and begins to wail into a bullhorn.

The bullhorn guy is named Sarge, BTW. He asks the downtrodden supporters to think back moments this work week when their bosses got on their cases unfairly, or when they got screwed over by a friend, or whatever, and he suggests that all that anger and fury get built up and unleashed on poor Madison. It’s all done tongue in cheek, btw, and there is much laughter and many smiles. But the crowd is wound up, and quite honestly, at this point Madison players are already metaphorically facing a two goal deficit.

Here is a Marcher, with smoke:

The march then proceeds.

Let me explain what the March feels like.

Take a drum, pounding, and place it inside your head. Take a couple hundred voices screaming in unison and put them in a ten-wide column. Put them all in a false valley made of concrete buildings on either side of the column, and then walk it through your neighborhood. When this kind of thing happens in a full stadium, people think it’s pretty cool. When it happens in the streets, it’s like nothing else. The only comparison I can make would be how I would imagine a jazz funeral march in New Orleans, but different.

As you might figure, the whole march is loud as Fuck.

For a small clue of what this sounds like, here are a couple crappy recordings I made (along with direct links for those whose browsers don’t support the shortcode player):

Here’s one we sang while we marched:
And another when we arrived: (content/language warning)
(On Arrival)

And there’s smoke. OF COURSE there’s smoke. The Northern Guard apparently will not take a squat unless smoke is involved.

You can tell this is a spectacle in itself because there are people lined up just to watch it unfold, and when the column makes it to the stadium, people line the top of the bleachers to look down and take it all in. This is apparently not unusual. The Northern Guard is a draw unto itself. By that I mean that there exist people who come to the match in order to watch the supporters as much as they do to watch the match. Interesting how that works out, eh?

Thinking about it a little, I suppose one could call this thing a funeral march, though, because after the ten minute march and a bit more dancing and stomping, the Northern Guard makes its entrance, drums drumming and voices screaming, and all there is to be making noise making noise. Madison’s team is on the pitch, warming up as this occurs. And as I look out over them, it seems to me they are wilting on the spot. This is, after all, Madison’s first time at CassTech. These players are young, college aged at best. It’s clear they are a bit shaken as the mass of Rouge and Gold settles in.

This is when the full truth dawns on them (and me, for that matter) as to what this event is going to be like.

It starts with number 2. At the beginning, he actually thinks he can just kind of joke around with the folks here. By the program, one can find that #2’s first name is Callum. This is the only name that he will NOT be known by for the rest of the night. Someone calls him Calcium. Then (I think) Crissy or Clarisse. And it spirals down (or up, depending on your view) from there. There are funny moments, but it’s clear to me that, were she here, poor Callum’s mother would be pretty peeved the rest of the night. It also becomes clear to poor Callum that when you wear an opponent’s kit, there really is no way to joke around with the Northern Guard.

Seriously, just don’t go there.

Just suck it up, take it on the chin, and get out of earshot. That is the only way to “win” against the Northern Guard. Of course, there is no place on the pitch out of earshot of either the guards’ voices or the piercing horns they will blow into opponents’ ears all night long. I suspect broken eardrums are the norm in the Madison clubhouse. But I am getting ahead of myself. The game has yet to start, and at this point the Northern Guard is kind of just warming up.

A very brief moment later, the players are announced. Keeping with the theme, when Madison’s players are being introduced, the Guard turns their back, and provides them with a special double-fisted salute of, uh, welcome. This is about as kind as they will be to the opposition, who probably don’t realize they should consider this a respite from the storm.

We are, of course, quite vocal when our own lads are brought forward, resplendent in their new black kits.

At this point the Northern Guard sings the national anthem (with complete and appropriate reverence). This is actually a pretty moving moment if you step back and really look at it. Here are the young people of Detroit, scarfed up and ready to pounce on Madison, without accompaniment, all signing loud and proud, and on-key and off-key in whatever way they can. They don’t miss a beat. It’s a beautiful thing, really. Hopeful in its own way. For me, the mere fact of the existence of this moment is somehow artistic in itself. It means something.

Give me this over some American Idol winner any day.

Then the match begins, and from this point forward there is noise.

The noise comes in the form of drums, and horns, and screams, and chants. The Northern Guard has an established playbook of chants that they title “Hell’s Hymnal.” Everyone on my side of the pitch knows them (except me, of course … I’m not that quick of a study).

For the record (and if it’s not already obvious), let me be clear that sitting with the Northern Guard is not going to be for everyone. It’s not for the delicate, nor for the faint of heart. It is not for the kinds of folks who are expecting to experience any kind of gentlemanly sportsmanship. If you’re looking for calm, rational rah-rah that exhorts your upstanding players to their well-deserved victory over a hardy and capable foe, this is not your place. Please feel free to go enjoy the family friendly side. If, however, you’re ready for a party that consists of glorifying your side over the other in every fashion, and that takes great glee in two hours of heckling, drubbing, and otherwise mocking the dastardly scum-buckets who dared to even show up at your home pitch, then this is the place to be. When the match begins, civility ends.

There are chants about the incestuous habits of the opposition (sung to the tune of the Addams Family), and there are chants about burning the opponents up in a bonfire. Chants about the city (which when placed in proper context are truly love ballads in their own right, eh?). Chants for the boys on the pitch. There are call and respond chants, chants that include the family-friendly side (but that take a few rounds to get going).

The man on the bullhorn (or woman on the bullhorn, as the device is passed around during the match) is the conductor, and in the micro-seconds between chants he’s exhorting his compatriots on the air horns and sirens to keep the fever pitch up. When Madison boys get too close, they get an earful of horn, and if they can still hear at that point all they’ll be able to make out are screams about his parentage, comparisons between himself and certain female sexual organs, and a hundred other such things you might imagine.

It is of interest, however, to note that while invectives thrown are quite personal and quite graphic, there is a wall around certain areas. I can remember no racial commentary, for example. No homophobic slurs, no group based ism generalizations that I can recall (unless you count Madisonism as such, in which case, all guns were blasting at all times).

Despite this mayhem, on the pitch itself today the first ten minutes pass fairly “gently.” No scores. The DFCF players are a bit tentative, and Madison actually controls the play a bit. But this breaks down quickly. The fans are singing:

Come on City score a goal, it’s really very simple
Put the ball into the net
And we’ll go fucking mental!

Indeed, the score comes. Indeed the crowd goes mental. There is smoke. There is celebration on the field. The players run to the NGS side, and receive their admiration.

Aside: I have an understanding that at one point a couple years back, a DCFC player scored a goal and did not come to the NGS to celebrate. After the game, the NGS leaders went to the team and told them this would not do, that when the team scores a goal, the players will come to the NGS to celebrate. I note that with each goal the team will score (and there will be many), the players come immediately to the stands. Since I am on the fence at the edge of the pitch, I will get personal high-fives from three goal scorers on this day, and high fives from several other players at the end of the game. Do not mistake my earlier comment on priorities as exclusionary. While the NGS is about Detroit first, the gap between its love for Detroit and its love of the DCFC football team is razor thin.

With each score comes smoke.

Something Special Comes

By the halftime break, DCFC is up 2-nil. The whistle blows, and the stands take a step back. The noise level recedes. People go to get refreshments or use the facilities or whatever. The stands are probably only 50-60% full as kids from the local Detroit football kids’ league take to the pitch to play an exhibition. The kids are maybe 9 or 10. One team wears yellow, the other red.

The NGS folks who remain actually watch the kids.

They cheer for them. I mean, seriously cheer. They root for goals, and they applaud good passes. Nick tells me that the Northern Guard is considering trying to sponsor a youth team in the near future (assuming they can manage it). This is all pretty cool.

Then a kid scores a goal. It’s a beautiful little play he pulls off to do it, too, and the NGS goes … uh .. mental. The cheering is robust, and includes smoke and everything else that such an event would include. Again, pretty danged cool.

Second verse, same as the first

Then halftime is over, and the utter mayhem starts again. It is as if the Norther Guard merely picks up directly where they left off. Madison keeps a stiff upper lip early, and actually gets a couple good runs on the DCFC goal, but they come up short.

The primary target for the second half NGS vitriol is a bleach-blond striker who is immediately tagged as Miley Cyrus (among, naturally, other things). The play gets a little ragged, and it turns out that the referees are not immune from the Guard’s calm and gentle methods of questioning. The drum beats, the chants rain down. The team will pick up three more goals, and then in the last five minutes of the match the Northern Guard will dump a cloud of rouge and gold smoke that will probably make outside observers wonder if the terrorists have struck CassTech.

The match ends with a 5-nil victory, and with the DCFC players parading by the stands to get their proper admiration from the Guard.

The end

The stands begin to empty as the Man of the Match is announced. Various pictures are taken. I help Nick and the rest of the Guard clean-up. “We always leave the place cleaner than it was when we got here,” Nick said earlier, and now he’s sweeping debris, and others are taking down banners. I wander around and pick up larger bits of trash. The night grows colder now that the sun’s been down for a while and I’m not surrounded by the body heat generated by the Northern Guard. Lisa and Brigid come over, and we hear how the match looked to them—Brigid in particular had an interesting perspective, seeing as she’s usually where I was. It was the first time she watched the Guard from the outside.

I look around and realize the reverse process of arrival has happened for departure—that, while I haven’t really seen anyone leave, the place is now growing empty. Again, like they are those ghost soldiers of my uncle’s old comics, the denizens of Detroit have slipped away back into the multi-dimensional rifts of darkness they came from. The whole thing gets a Twilight Zone sheen. It’s like the match is not really ended so much as if it has been a wave that passed up the beach and receded, and now the Northern Guard is already beginning to design the next wave. There are kits to be bought, situations to be discussed, adjustments to be made.

We walk to the car, and drive home. I can feel my throat tightening as it always does when I go to Louisville basketball or football games and scream too much and too loud. I didn’t sing the songs today because I really didn’t know them, but I cheered my DCFC guys on the pitch as well as the next NGS guy, and I screamed for the goals and I directed the play as I saw fit. That’s my right, you know? As an honorary member of the NGS, I get to tell the DCFC guys what they ought to be doing (though they listened to me about as well as the Louisville guys do when I direct them … shrug).

And that was it. The kids drove us home, and my day in the Northern Guard was done.

The next day, as I was talking to Lisa, I said that there is every chance that the Northern Guard is actually at their golden moment, their apex. By this I meant that they are still small enough to be really tight knit, and really able to define their brand of controlled chaos, which is the lightning in the bottle that makes this experience so “electric.”

As the world around them gets bigger, this will be harder to manage. And who can tell if the team will even exist in a few years? The football world is churning big-time right now as business models rise and fall. But regardless of all that, today is today. And today, the Northern Guard’s leadership does this remarkable job of setting expectation and defining a line of behavior that is so extremely hard to define. The flavor of the Guard is bold, aggressive, and firm. To some it’s probably too aggressive or abrasive in places. But at its root the NGS are about Detroit and about belonging. They are about fun, inclusion, and letting people be who they are (unless you wear an opponent’s colors and it’s match time, in which case it’s beyond fine to be loud, taunting, and obnoxious—in fact, that’s kinda the point of the match when it gets down to it). There are lines that should not be crossed, however—lines that are about respect of people type that are not always obvious in the heat of the moment. At the end of the day, the NGS gets this right.

As I sit here now, reflecting, I wonder about my comments to Lisa. I’m probably wrong. I suspect that the Golden Age for the Northern Guard is in the future, perhaps a few years away. But, then again, you never know. So I want to leave this piece with a little commentary and maybe even a bit of advice to the entirety of the Northern Guard Supporters—its leadership and its followers and its fringe.

I want you to realize you’ve got something unique. Something you love.

Work hard, of course. Keep charging ahead. You already know that nothing good happens if you don’t do it yourself, so you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that. But while you’re working, look at what you’re doing. Pay real attention. Revel in it. As often as you can, take a step back from the day-to-day stuff, and feel the pulse of what you’re creating. Because, while there’s every likelihood you’re growing toward something bigger, it’s important to remember at these times that life is short. There is a very real chance that what you are part of may never again happen in your life.

Golden moment or not, you’re making something remarkable. So this is your time.

Enjoy every minute.

Photo by @TheDukeNGS

5 Days, finally a NookBook

Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but now … only a month after its release date, 5 Days in May, the Indy 500 anthology of stories by me and John Bodin is available from Barnes and Noble.

Why so long?

Well … your guess is as good as mine.

Clarke’s Data, Part II

A few days ago, Neil Clarke released demographic information from a survey he took (which I then used to create this little discussion, along with a few comments). He’s now released the first wave of results. It’s interesting to see what he’s doing–I’m especially intrigued by the break-out of authors’ influences. You should look at it.

But I want to pull out one piece of information that shows up in his charts, but that he hasn’t addressed yet. It’s about gender and age, and I think it speaks to some of the conversations that are inherent in the cultural conversations rolling through the SF community today. It doesn’t cover everything, of course. But I think it’s interesting, and if real, relevant.

Here’s the chart in question. In particular, focus on the Published Writer “Gender by Age” break-out

While the overall split of male/female population (as we learned last week) is 54/44, this chart says this skew is very different in the world of published writers depending on what side of Age 40 you look at. If you look at writers over 40 years old, it’s man’s world. But if you look at the “next gen” you see females are the predominant gender. Again, this is published writers we’re talking about. (though the data is self-reported).

What does this mean?

I dunno.

One could say several things about it—including the idea that this is just one piece of data, and may not mean squat (though, again, 944 responders is pretty solid). But two things go through my mind:

First, the overall male skew in this data set happens because of the overpowering numbers of 40+ year-old writers. Did the 40+ skew roll through the ages, or did 40+ males just start their writing careers late? Like most of this, all I’ve got as an answer here is one big shrug. It would be interesting to see how this changes over time, though.

And second, I think it’s a truism that often (certainly not always) ground-breaking work (danger, danger, Will Robinson!) happens in the earlier years of life. If true (even more danger here, Will Robinson!), one could then take another tenuous step and suggest that Award Quality Work (and even more danger here, Will Robinson!) might skew a little younger. And if that’s the case, then it would be expected that award rosters should skew female.

As a rule, though, they don’t. Especially in the Hugo numbers this year.

Of course, you get to pick your own reason as to why that happens. The main thing I get through thinking about this is that I would love to see more break-downs like this. Data rules, doncha you know?

Epic Fantasy Bundle – Power to the Readers

So, the Epic Fantasy Bundle that Glamour of the God-Touched has been included in has been active for a couple days. It’s the first time that I’ve been involved in this kind of bundle, and I think the process is interesting as all get-out and a total blast to be a part of. Since I know I have blog readers who aren’t that close to the concept, I thought I would take a moment to talk about three things in particular, and in each of these cases I’m intrigued by the overall value and control this thing brings to readers.

1) The company

First, I have to reiterate what a total blast to be a part of a project that has such a powerful collection of names. There are a lot of award winners in this group, and the material shows it. The folks here have sold a LOT of books. Just clicking through the link and looking at the books you get in this bundle is enough to figure that out for just about anyone.


Being in this kind of company is always fun, but from a reader’s point of view it’s a great way to get material from a wide array of folks (personally, the first thing I read was the Anderson/Peart short story “Clockwork Lives,” mostly because I was fan-boying over reading SF by Rush’s drummer [grin]). My guess is that there’s someone you haven’t read in this package, so this bundle concept is a great way to pick up ne writers on the cheap.

2) The price

In reality, the most interesting thing of all about these bundles is how much of the cash flow is in the control of the reader. Yes, the baseline price is $15 (you have to pay this much to get the entire package), but a reader can scale down to as low as $5 for the primary collection of six novels. That’s pretty cool.
If you’re a fantasy fan on a budget, $5 gets you six great reads. If you’re a reader who is, let’s say, a bit better healed and who appreciates the bundle as a whole, you can pay more—like a Kickstarter funder who pays more for a great kick. It’s an interesting concept across the board, especially when you realize that the reader can influence the split between authors and publishers, and even because …

3) The social consciousness

The reader can decide to give 10% of the price two one of three charities (in this case, Mighty Writers, Girl’s Write Now, or Challenger Center). Of course, in the case of this bundle, you’re already contributing to a charity because the proceeds of One Horn to Rule Them, which is a part of the bundle, is going to help financially strapped writers attend the Superstars Writing seminar.

It’s a great idea to give readers a sense of value that’s outside the basic capitalistic thing all us writers are tip-toeing around when we ask you to “Buy my book.” It feels good to know readers people can read great stuff at the same time as they help save the world (or at least help make a little portion of it better, anyway).

4) And now something for you …

Since this is a post focused on readers, I’m interested in your thoughts. To entice you, I’ll make these two special reader-based offers.

A: The first to respond to this post will get a code for a free download of the Epic Fantasy Bundle.

B: Everyone who responds and also signs up for my newsletter will get a free book of my own work.

For the locals…

I should note that “5 Days in May” is available in print at Viewpoint, so you can save the shipping costs and support your independent book seller at the same time!

Epic Fantasy bundle!

I’m pleased to note that Glamour of the God-Touched, the first novella of the Saga of the God-Touched series is now available in an Epic Story Bundle with twelve other works. This is a really cool approach, and is available for only a limited time (22 days at this writing!).

Check it out.

The bundle lets you pay whatever you think the work should be worth, and even allows you to adjust how much the authors and publisher’s take should be (as well as donate to a few very worthy charities).

Thirteen books for essentially whatever you want to pay. What could be better as we move into summer reading season?

Neil Clarke’s SF/F writer demographics

I am one of the 944 writers who voluntarily participated in a survey Neil Clarke (editor of Clarkesworld) is in the process of taking. He won’t release the full information for another week or so (which I can’t wait to see), but a few days back he gave some demographic numbers.

These are spare bits, but interesting nonetheless.

Interesting because it’s answering questions like: How many people write SF/F? Like: what is their gender? And like: how old are these folks?

Here’s the simple raw data.

And here’s my overview …

How many?

First, the fact that the survey included 944 writers–a boggling number, perhaps. And that 81% of those 944 writers responded that they were traditionally published. That means there were something in the range of 750 writers in this pool who self-report having been published in a traditional market someplace. If we take this at face value, and also assume this 944 total writers is (1) not the complete set of SF/F writers, and (2) these 944 writers are a representative sample of the whole of SF/F writers … well … it seems like this is a very productive era as far as creating folks who write speculative kinds of stuff.

What gender are these folks?

Bottom line: 53.8% male, 43.5% female, and 2.6% who identify as other.

First things first, the question still remains about whether this is a representative sample. My raw guess is that given the total number of respondents, it probably is. But one never really knows–especially given my little perch on the world. But a few things strike me when I see these numbers.

(1) The gap has probably closed considerably since the day I started seriously writing. I would have purely guessed it was more like 60/40, but the purely biological break-down is more in the area of 55/45. If I’m right, this represents what I consider positive progress. (I would put the numbers 25 years back to be more like 70/30).
(2) In a homogeneous world, the biological numbers “should” be more like 48/52. But the world is not homogeneous. I’m wondering if the discrepancy in STEM fields is bleeding over into these numbers a bit, and if the factors that combine to create that imbalance are working to do the same thing here. If that is the case, then these numbers could well mean that the environment that the SF/F world is built around is actually doing even better than the numbers might show.
(3) If these numbers are truly representative of the actual population of writers out there, then the various Puppy slates that created a ballot with so few female writers has come about with some form of very clear intervention that makes the distribution non-random. This is a question I started thinking about because of a post I read on Jim Hines’ Facebook page.
(4) Clearly, there is more progress to make, regardless.

All, right, how old are these writers?

The answer (64% are 30-50 years old, with the majority over 40) is unsurprising to me, but could perhaps be a shock to outsiders who consider SF/F to be the free range of the ultra-young. I often run into “adults” who consider the genre to be for the immature. Sigh. Anyway, I find the tails to be interesting, too, since they swing to the elder side, with 23% being over 50, and only about half that number having lived less than 30 years.

My personal thoughts here are:

(1) Yes, my daughter Brigid (who sold stories at barely 25) is pretty far ahead of the curve.
(2) Yes, being now 54, I’m getting perilously close to the 85th percentile. Crap.
(3) I’m struck here how ageism is the more silent “ism” of them all. It was rarely discussed in the corporate world I was involved in, and it’s not heavily discussed in the circles I’ve been around as far as SF/F writers are concerned. This data curve, however, is very different from those I saw in the corporate world–which skewed quite a bit younger. I think I like that (though maybe it’s because I’m moving more and more rapidly each day along the axis [grin]).

Release Day!

I’m very pleased to report that the collection of the Saga of the God-Touched Mage novellas has now passed its final gate! That’s right–the omnibus collection of all eight novellas is available (complete with Rachel Carpenter’s latest cover work!). If you’ve been waiting these many months for this moment: now is the time!

The entire saga is available in print and e-forms at:

Amazon: US | UK | DE | CA | AU
Kobo | Barnes and Noble (in-process)
CreateSpace (Print only)

The launch of this series has been a total blast, and represents six and a half months of work. I’m quite proud of the work, and greatly enjoy the reaction it’s received. Thank you very, very much.

Rongo Award #3 goes to Kat Howard…

I’m dreadfully tardy in pushing my Rongo Award agenda. Sorry about that. To remind folks, the Rongo’s are my own personal attempt to deal with the weirdness that’s been caused by the various forms of puppies and their push on the Hugos (which are kind of like the People’s Choice Awards, only limited to those who go to the World Science Fiction Convention).

You can read this if you want a little more background on the incredibly important award.

Today I’ll reveal another winner–this time in the short story category. But first, let me remind you of our current “slate” of winners.

Unlocked: John Scalzi

Short Story:
The Regions of Jennifer: Tony Ballantyne Analog

The observant of you may note that there is already one short story winner, so why add a second? I mean, how can you have two “best” in a single category? Very good question.

The Rongo is not really hung up on categorization so much as it is on enjoyment. The Rongo goes to stories that are “among the best,” because the Rongo knows that quality is subjective and that it is impossible to truly measure “the best.” Beyond that, I guess, the Rongo heart wants what the Rongo heart wants.

And with that, let’s get to the big reveal


The third-ever Rongo Award goes to …


Rongo Category: Short Story
Story: “A Meaningful Exchange” (Published by Lightspeed)
Author: Kat Howard

Here are things I found admirable about “A Meaningful Exchange.”

First, it’s slippery. The story follows two characters, one is pretty much as he appears and the other is (in many ways) just the same. They circle each other, both wanting something from the other that isn’t quite obvious. Second, it’s very tight. Very simple. Kat Howard is a writer of short stories that I’m growing to really admire. She can take her time, describe things wonderfully, and still get to the point and keep the narrative growing. This story does that. Third, it is quite short (1800 words or so), and yet in those 1800 words, she plays with some very deep concepts of who we are as people. The story is about lies and love, and maybe even some element of the truth. It is quite evil in that way.

Finally, it’s a story with a punch, and a punch that’s strong enough that I can still get a sense of the piece today–many months after having read it. I figure that with the number of stories I read, when one stays with me like that, it’s clearly worth a Rongo.

So, for these reasons, I am more than pleased to present “A Meaningful Exchange” with the third-ever Rongo Award for being among the best short stories of 2014.


I should add here that I have become more than a bit of a Kat Howard fan over the last couple years. I recently read her collaborative novella “The End of the Sentence” (written with Maria Dahvana Headley). Have I mentioned I love novellas?

It was very nearly a Rongo Award winner, itself … which, of course, is saying something!

If you enjoy darker, contemporary/urban fantasy that plays with mythology and legend it would be well-worth the $2.99. [grin]

Learning something: Raymond Carver

As I’ve mentioned before, I spend lunchtime learning. I listen to podcasts or watch videos or do something that’s related to getting better as a writer by learning from others. I suggest it to anyone, and in any field. (When I worked in corporate America, I often listened to business history and behavioral sciences things during my lunches. They very much helped.)

Today, I want to point out that if you want to know why Raymond Carver was remarkable you could do worse than to pull up the video I’ve linked below, and listen to his prose as it’s being read from 16:35-18:20.

The whole video is interesting–to me, anyway–but if you’re a writer you really should listen to this little two-minute slice, this mini-story cut from the whole of Carver’s short story “The Bridle.” Let it flow over you. Think about its pacing, its tone, and the way its information rolls out in an absolutely perfect way to build itself up to its iconic and devastatingly sharp message. Look how it has (even enclosed within itself) a character/setting/problem, and try/fail cycles, and a resolution and validation. Listen to how it uses language and phrasing, how it uses “know what I mean,” and “you know” in such an invisible way.

I think I’ve listened to it fifty times over the last week.

It’s an achingly beautiful piece of prose.

Is this cool, or what?

So, this morning I have a lot of things to do. Yes, it’s busy being a self-employed writer, though it’s hard to explain how this is all the time. Among the things on my “To Do” list was to go through the galley proof copies of a future issue of Galaxy’s Edge, which will include my story “The Colossal Death Ray.” So, dutifully, I opened the file and went through it. I jotted down a couple things I found, and passed them back.

Very well. I’ve done this often, now. Processing galleys is … well … kid of oldish hat. Almost just work, you know?

Then, for whatever reason, before I shut the file down I took a scan of the table of contents.

Robert Silverberg is there. Right, I thought. My name is right there before Robert freaking Silverberg. And Jack McDevitt. Lawrence Person. Robert J. Sawyer, David Gerrold. Yes, him. And Jody Lyn Nye and Bill Fawcett. Gregory Benford, and Barry Malzberg are in there, too. And science fiction from Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin. Talk about names.

As I looked at this today it suddenly strikes me that, yes, I’m in a publication with these kinds of names.

Is this cool, or what?

And that’s before we get to a talent like Elizabeth Bear, who has a story in this magazine, too.

And flashy “new writers” (Ha! I laugh at the meaning of “new” here, but you get the point) like Dantzel Cherry, J.R. Vogt, and Alex Shvartsman, or recent Writers of the Future vet Leena Likatalo.

I’ve been doing this writing thing for … well … a few years. But I can honestly say that it never, ever, gets less thrilling to see my name on a table of contents–and especially one as remarkable as this.

Kobo discount on SGTM (Vol 1-4)

In my apparently never-ending endeavor to bury the blog in self-promotional fiddle-faddle, I should note that, if you’ve been waiting breathlessly for a deal on the Saga of the God-Touched Mage bundles, now’s your time. For only through Monday (5/18), you can get a special 35% discount on volumes 1-4.

Kobo Link Here
Promo Code: MAY35

That code will also work on several other books during this limited period. So, this might be a good time to fill that e-reader of yours, eh?.

It’s been quite fun watching the package claw its way up the charts on a service that isn’t Amazon. [grin]

All in One!!! (SGTM to be released in one package)

I promise to get back to regular posting soon…but there’s a lot of publishing news going on right now, and it only seems proper to focus on it for just a bit longer. Please be advised, however, that I realize there are other things in life that are probably just as important as my publishing news (snork!). Anyway …

After its very fun and successful run as individual novellas, I’m happy to announce that Saga of the God-Touched Mage is going to be available in a single collection. That’s right: all eight stories, one book. Yay! Even better, this omnibus edition will be available in both electronic and (finally) trade paperback formats. (Yes, it’s a goshdarn big honking block of print … much fun to hold onto and probably capable of stopping an onrushing train. Pictures to come.)

It is available for preorder now at the usual places (linkage provided below), and will launch officially on May 26th.

Electronic Version:
Barnes & Noble (Search me later today)

Print Version:
@ Amazon and CreateSpace on May 26.

Of course, this means it’s time for another cover reveal!

Once again Rachel has whipped up a very nice piece of work, gathering up images we’ve used in previous installments and setting them against a backdrop that scans quite beautifully and has a very nice wrap-around effect in the full print version.

The green flag drops on 5 Days in May

The Greatest Spectacle in Science Fiction is back with a vengeance, just in time for the Indy 500!

As promised, John C. Bodin and I have managed to get this machine out to the starting grid, so now it’s time to start the engine and put the right foot down. 5 Days in May, a collection of fun and furious short stories is available in both electronic and print versions today (what a great way to celebrate my birthday!)

You can pick up a copy here:

AMAZON: USUKDECA ($2.99 eBook/$6.99 in Print)
BARNES & NOBLE (Search me later today!)
CREATESPACE ($6.99 in print)

As I noted above, this also happens to be my birthday! (Yay me for living so long,eh?). As a special present to Typosphere readers, here’s a deal!

Bump Day $1.99 Special
at Smashwords
(33% off – Good Thru 5/17)
Use Coupon Code AN99P

As always, thank you so much for your support. Early sales are very important to the success of a new book, as is good word of mouth. If you pick this up and find our high-octane, pulpy SF take on racing is fun, please do let others know. Every little bit helps.

“But,” you say, “I already have Four Days in May!”

Since you’re a previous reader, this is an “update” from last year’s release wherein you get one more story (dare we call it a pit stop to take on more fuel and a new set of tires?). So let us help you out. Email me at and get a free e-version upgrade to 5 Days. (Be sure to note your preferred format!)

I think I can speak for John when I say that this is one of those pure fun, “for the love of the game,” kind of projects. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoy writing them. To give you a little flavor of how we think about it, I’ve pasted our Introduction below:


Pod racing in Star Wars aside, you don’t find much science fiction focused on racing. That is a shame, of course. Racing, you see, is about all the things that make for good science fiction.

It’s about technology, of course—ask any race team in the world what they are working on and you’ll get one of two answers, either an immediate flow of excited discussion about wind tunnels or horsepower optimization, or whatnot, or you’ll get a steely eyed stare that more than suggests you’re an idiot if you think he or she is going to spill the beans on anything that might give the other guy a leg up.

Racing is about time, and time is something that science fiction people have always found fascinating. Time is the ultimate gas, gas, gas, after all. It’s compressible, extendable, twistable, and moldable. Our memories change as we move through it. Science fiction plays with time as no other literature can, while racing measures time in ways that no other sport does. Time in the pits. Time behind. Time until the next race.

Despite all the advances in safety over the past fifty years, racing is still, of course, about danger. And fire. And screeching rubber and banging side-by-side runs. Racing is about playing on the edge of capability, the edge of what is known. This is what science fiction at its best has done since the days of Jules Vern.

And, finally, racing is about people who rise above themselves, and about teams of people, the lot of which—though totally reliant on those individuals—are stronger than any one of those individuals. Racing is about that perfect moment when all the work and tears shed in preparation come together to result in victory. And racing is about finding the message inherent in the human condition for when all that work and those tears do not result in victory. In this way, racing is life. And so is science fiction. In fact, science fiction is, perhaps, the most human of literatures. It is in science fiction that one can lift a person out of the mundane existence of the real world and explore the depths of who they are.

So we say to the world that there really ought be science fiction focused on racing, and since if it is to be, it’s up to me, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to create this little nook of the world. We hope you like it. When we began this three years ago, our intention was to add a lap to this race every season—and it seems we’ve managed to keep the wheels on and the car on the road well enough that now we’ve got five good ones under our belt. And we expect to go the distance—whatever that means for us. These Indy stories are great fun for us, and we still intend to write one new one story each season, a story set sometime in the past or the future or the whenever.

Will you like it?

We hope you will.

Or will the idea crash into the wall at 200 MPH?

Who knows?

All we can say for sure is that it’s going to be straight-out, pedal-to-the-metal fun. And that, too, can be said about racing as well as science fiction.

John & Ron
Updated May 2015

Me and a Wall Fish

Current Series

Saga of the God-Touched Mage
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
(Volumes 1-4)

Glamour of the God-Touched
Trail of the Torean
Target of the Orders
Gathering of the God-Touched
Barnes & Noble
(Volumes 5-8)

Pawn of the Planewalker
Changing of the Guard
Lord of the Freeborn
Lords of Existence
Barnes & Noble
More details and links to print versions and individual stories at the Series Page


Bookstore Profiles


Free Stories!

The Colossal Death Ray @ Galaxy's Edge
Good Luck Charm @ Abyss & Apex
Midnight at River's Edge @ Daily SF
Out of the Fire @ Interstellar Fiction

Rons Wayback Machine

September 2015
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Ron’s Wayback Machine for the Textually Inclined

Bits From The Stone Age

Every Entry From 1996-2005