First Annual Rongo Award #2 goes to …

I have on occasion been known to say that science fiction is the most human of literatures. On nearly as many occasions, this comment is received with weird expressions and an “oh, really” kind of response. But it is. Science fiction is about what it means to be human. That’s really it, at its core.

I can hear you now, though. Ron, you say. What does all this flock-flack have to do with the Rongos?

Yes, yes, the First Annual Rongo Awards. Nearly lost track there.

For the uninitiated, in response to the whole Hugo Award fiasco, I recently kicked off a new award process. You can read about it (and its first recipient) here.

And, yes, today I will announce another such recipient (I can feel you stretching to the edge of your seats now).

I admit I love gizmos and whiz-bang and techy science as much as the next guy, but for me the roots of science fiction are its characters and what they have to say about people as a whole. I like stories, you know? Setting is great, and prose is beautiful. But give me story and I’m a happy camper.

This view of story that I have is why I started as I did. It is important, because the piece I want to talk about now has bucketloads of this—or should I say it wallows in it like a fly in garbage … okay, perhaps that’s a bit too far, even given the story I’ll now name:

* * *

The second ever Rongo Award goes to …

* * *

Rongo Category: Short Story
Story: “The Region of Jennifer” (Analog June 2014)
Author: Tony Ballantyne

You can grab this story in audio version at Starship Sofa.

“The Regions of Jennifer” is an out-there, far future piece of science fiction that finds us humans—or at least what we have made of ourselves—having entered into a relationship with an alien culture known as Slavemakers (this may give you an idea of how this pact may eventually wind up…but we’ve not gotten to that point by the time of this telling, so perhaps there is time, eh?). It’s full of re-built people and strange, genetically altered humanity. It’s got real-life alchemy, or at least it has Jennifer, for whom so much of what she touches turns to gold.

In other words, it’s full-force SF at its deepest.

For those unaware of who Tony Ballantyne is (a problem you should quickly go rectify), let me say that he’s a British writer, and that this story is set in a world he developed in three earlier novels. It feels like it. The setting is deep and the people are well developed for a story this size. And make no mistake, it’s the people who carry the story here—not the technology, not the science of the moment, not even the mechanics of its plot. Instead it’s the heart of Randy, the leading male as he commits himself to success of the human spirit (even if the human race itself is lost somewhere in the mix of modern-day DNA hacking), and it’s calculating and comfort-loving nature of Jennifer who weighs her options.

The relationship of these two people come to its head here, and by the end of their time together we understand exactly what they are fighting for and perhaps even how that fight may end—though my guess is that what you think will happen and how you think of that message may well rely wholly on who you are rather than how the author expressly designed anything.

“Regions of Jennifer” is a sharp, biting tale with a kick. For that reason, I’m excited to award it a highly coveted “Rongo” as one of the best short stories of 2014.


***

RONGO AWARD OVERVIEW

Rongo Category: Novella
Story: “Unlocked”
Author: John Scalzi

Rongo Category: Short Story
Story:“The Region of Jennifer”
Author: Tony Ballantyne

A day in the life of a writer

When I left my day job, people I knew kept asking me “what does a writer do all day?” I wasn’t sure what to say, but I know I mumbled through it. I would report no that I’m still trying to figure that out.

Here’s how today went, though:

  • Breakfast
  • Drive Lisa into work
  • 40 pages of rewriting on a novel
  • Fiddled with a fun but senseless Facebook chat
  • Made a blog post
  • Lunch and Finish watching a BBC documentary about Kurt Vonnegut (started yesterday).
  • Boil eggs, fold laundry, and watch a documentary about Hunter S. Thompson (with a very cool cameo with someone I’m pretty sure is a very young Bill Murray). Fascinating, of course. (See below)
  • 45 minute walk-run
  • Adjust pricing of Vols 5-8 for 3-day special
  • Write a review of Noise by Darren Hawkins
  • Take a shower (I know, TMI)
  • 20 pages of rewriting a novel
  • Make salads for dinner (while listening to Night Vale Ep #33 … yes, I’m still way behind)
  • Drive to get Lisa from work (fill up her gas tank on the way)
  • 30 minute walk with my sweetie
  • Reviewed print proofs of “5 Days in May”!!!!
  • Grill shrimp and zucchini for dinner
  • Post this.



Purpose (a Venn diagram)

I saw a Venn diagram on another writer’s feed a few weeks back. It struck me as interesting, but I stuck it into my “think about this later” pile because, while it made an impact for me, it didn’t feel quite right. Not quite full enough. Here it is:



This morning, for whatever reason, I pulled it out again. Once I started stewing over it, I realized why it didn’t work for me. It needs, I decided, a touch more complexity. In order to be useful, it needs zones for three-levels of interaction rather than just place markers for the intersections of two and four.

So I created one.

It looks like this:



I like this one quite a bit better, not for the least because it shows a bigger sweet spot for “Purpose,” and hence makes such a thing seem perhaps a bit easier to achieve. A purpose, after all, should not be a needle in a haystack for most of us.

I also like it because it becomes a better barometer for how to view oneself at the moment, and hence maybe a tool for how to view movement between jobs (or other such stuff) in one’s future. I like the additions of the classification of jobs. I like how it differentiates between a good job, a great job, and a calling. I’ve heard people say they would do something for free that they were getting paid for, and this helps me get my mind around that idea better than the original.

I’m not sure why I pulled this out today. Perhaps it’s because yesterday I went back to my old place of work to attend the retirement party of an ex-co-worker. Along the way I spoke to a few folks about their current career situations and listened to how they were viewing their jobs. I liked hearing them. I’ve always liked helping people think about what they wanted to accomplish, after all. That said, I have no idea if that was why I fiddled with this diagram today. All I know is that I did.

And I know that after I was done with my doodling, I looked at it and felt pretty good.

Perhaps you might find it valuable in your own way.

Orphan Black’s Felix on acting (and Ron’s take on writing fast)

I went to lunch with a “new” writer last week. She’s very good but, being new, she’s still feeling her way around (which makes her just like everyone else, but we won’t tell her that now, will we? We’ll just let her figure out we’re all pretty much clueless on her own. Believe me, it’s just better this way).

We talked about her work at some detail. Along the way we eventually got to the topic of writing speed and quality—which I admit is a topic I almost hate to get into with any writer, better yet a new one. That said, my pet theory is that most people who think “fast writing must be bad writing” are confusing prose and storytelling. They’re pre-judging the quality of one’s prose. That also said, I also propose that there are writers who, when they write fast, require quite a bit of editing, and others who do not. None of that matters, though. Not to me.

The main reason that I am a proponent of writing quickly is that I find I am at my most creative when I’m “blazing along.” My stories move differently. They breathe in ways they don’t when I’m plodding.

In other words, when I think of writing quickly, I think more about “art” than about prose. These are two different things. Really, they are.

Let me try it this way:

Almost every story I’ve written that I’m deeply proud of has been fundamentally written in fast bursts. Some have needed considerable editing later, others have needed considerable re-drafting (which is different). Others have been pretty much fine as is, given basic copy-editing, of course. But the reason they are “good” to me is that they have the most of me in them. Not “me” as in my personal framework, but “me” as in I have felt like I was in the moment as I wrote them. I know the characters, and in fact, the characters are (to me) very real. Sometimes maybe too real.

I’m thinking about this because I recently read an interview of Jordan Gavaris. This is the guy who plays Felix on Orphan Black. I am a very big fan of the show and think that, while Tatiana Maslany deserves every accolade she’s getting, Gavaris has an equally interesting challenge playing such an overtly gay character and playing off multiple clones. I think he does a remarkable job. But that’s not why I’m talking about this interview.

I’ve taken at times to saying that good writing probably has at its root a lot in common with good acting. Both, I think, have to get into a headspace that matches the moment. Both, I think, require being able to let someone who is not you take over your inner self—but both also require your inner self then to rise up and make a statement in some way. It’s strange. But Jordan Gervais has a couple moments in this interview in which I went: um … yeah, that’s it.

Here’s the first:

But that scene in Cal’s cabin changed everything. “That scene was the beginning. That was the ‘Oh fuck,’” Gavaris said. “That was the door. That was the entrance. That’s when I knew it wasn’t about performing, it wasn’t about mechanics; it was about having an experience and the cameras just happening to catch it. The prospect of those experiences is why we [act]. The prospect of the moments where we go, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know I was going to do that.’ When the scene really works, you’re swept away. The scene plays you. You’re not there. You’re not in control. Half of what you’re doing doesn’t make sense. You’re telling a story with your instincts, your experiences, your impulses, your unbridled and uninhibited impulses; you’re telling a story with all those different things, and that’s what you hope for. That’s what I hope for with this show: more and more experiences that reveal something about me, to me, that I didn’t know.”

Here’s the second:

“For me, acting is not about lying. Yes, you’re playing pretend, we’re very aware that none of it is real, but it’s a series of psychology tricks to get your brain and body to believe that what’s happening is real. And when you believe it, you share a great deal of yourself in the process, because you’re sharing your own experiences, you’re sharing your own feelings, you’re sharing ugly truths about yourself — you know truths that are not always pleasant to reveal, you know something about selfishness, ego, narcissism, psychosis, anger, rage, and on the other end of the spectrum, you know something about love and joy and passion, and you get to reveal all of those things too.”

For me, this is the value of writing quickly. Writing quickly unclutters the brain of a bunch of stuff, and when I’m just plowing along, I often find myself in this weird headspace that matches the quotes above.

Which makes me quite happy.

I mean, who can’t like Felix, eh?

Found: happiness in a grocery store

In this post I will reveal to you a key to considerable happiness. It is, admittedly a strange key. It costs very little, and in the end never even allows you to know if it’s successful or not. Yet I find it makes me happy in its own serendipitous fashion, so it seems only fair to share it.

Setting the scene: Now that Lisa is the corporate breadwinner in the family and I’m the slovenly stay-at-home writer, keeping the house semi-operational is my chore. Specifically for today’s purpose, this means going to the grocery store—a task I’ve just completed (though, technically this is one of those tedious chores like cutting the grass that can never really be completed, the food goes away after all—another trip to the grocery seems pretty much fated). Generally, I admit this task is not all the glory it’s cracked up to be.

I have, however, I’ve found ways to make it a happier experience.

I’ve written before about using this time to catch up on my consumption of podcasts. Among today’s fare was Paul Hecht reading Max Steel’s “The Hat of My Mother,” a remarkably engaging story of an older woman, her relationship with hats, and the foibles that relationship gets her into. I shall not spoil it further for you other than to say that if you have 30 minutes free to do some mindless listening (like if you’re going to the grocery store soon) you should listen to it It starts at about 20:00.

This is not, however, the secret I intend to share with you.

This secret I intend to share has to do with coupons. Yes, those things you snip out of papers or whatever. Lisa snipped coupons when she was in charge of the groceries, and I snip them now. It takes only a few minutes here and there, and it saves us maybe $5 a week—which is about $250 a year (or about what I can make selling a short story—how’s that for a kick in the pants, eh? A short story is coupon cash…but I digress). I am not, however, here to tell you about how your life can be made happier by saving $5.00 a week.

Instead I want to say this: If you don’t clip coupons for yourself, consider doing it for someone else.

That is the secret. I have recently taken, as I clip my coupons, to noticing the occasional coupon for something I don’t need, and cutting it anyway. Coupons for cereal I don’t like, or for shampoo, or whatever. And then I take them to the grocery. Today, for example, I had about $10.00 in coupons separated out as I walked into the store. These were coupons I had no use for—they covered products I don’t use, or others that I do but were nearing expiration. And today, like I’ve done each time I’ve gone to the grocery the past two months or so, I walked around the aisles with an empty cart, placing coupons in places where my fellow shoppers might stumble upon them. As I placed each, I imagined them picking that coupon up and smiling as they realized they were now getting $1.00 off something they needed–or just liked.

It made me happy, strolling around quietly and unobtrusively spreading my grocery cheer.

When I was done, and only when I was done, I turned my cart around and headed to the produce section to begin my own shopping, smiling and listening to the voice of Paul Hecht as he read a story about an older woman, her family, and her hat.

The First Annual Rongo Awards

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been tempted at several moments to weigh in on the big brouhaha over this year’s Hugo Awards—an award which is of only vague import for the majority of the world, but is like life-blood to several people who are, perhaps, if such a thing is possible, the teensiest bit too deeply entrenched in the world of science fiction.

In the guise of preserving your sanity, I shall not link to any of it here. If, however, you have not heard of the issue, and you are interested in spending several hours of your time witnessing a community self-immolate, just go to Our Friend Google, and search on “Puppies” and “Hugo Awards.” From there on I figure you can create your own adventure.

I suggest, however, that the casual fan just stay out of the water.

Seriously.

There be sharks.

I, however, am not a casual fan. I am a writer working in the field, and have been for over twenty years. And on top of that, I tend to be a person who (as long as I can manage to avoid taking them too seriously) enjoys the whole concept of awards. As such, I admit that the Hugo Award does mean something to me.

So I have looked at the trench warfare going on within these waters (if I can be allowed to mix some metaphors) from a perch fairly close by, and have finally decided that while I am probably less intelligent than I look, I am not—and I repeat, not—a total sadist. Beyond that, I completely understand my place in this world. I understand I have no real mouthpiece or plank from which to give deep commentary that would have any chance of making a difference. (I am, however, also giving myself a self-serving pat on the back for thinking myself smart enough to assume there’s not a single person in this struggle who seems capable of providing any great commentary that has a chance to actually change anything. My opinion of human nature is that once a person digs a trench, it generally remains dug.) This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. Believe me. I’ve got plenty of ‘em. I just don’t see how me pounding the table can help in much of any way.

Still, I want to do something, and I would like that something to be pointed toward the positive.

And after considerable thought on the matter, I’ve decided that the best thing I can do is to spend some time highlighting pieces published in 2014 that I’ve read and enjoyed, and that were clearly “overlooked” by the slate-based approach the Puppy tandem either (depending on your point of view) rightly or wrongly employed.

So that’s what I’ll do.

My intention is, about once a week, to use my little platform here to point out a work I thought award-worthy. I plan to do this until the Hugos are actually announced, though perhaps I’ll go on longer. We shall see. I may touch on stories that are actually on the ballot, but probably will not. I assume folks who care are already exploring those works. My intention is to use my little place in the world of Science Fiction to talk about work I would not have been surprised to see on the Hugo ballot, but were not. They will be stories that should be on ballots somewhere (and maybe even be on ballots for awards not named “the Hugos”). Because I tend to be a weird reader, my selections will likely be all over the spectrum. Regardless, I hope folks will enjoy them.

This is the best way I can think of to address this ongoing strife, and to help these stories and the authors thereof—to talk about the work, to highlight it, and to hold it up for people to see and think about.

Focus on the positive.

Focus on what I think is quality.

Given this, I shall be awarding this collective of stories I highlight the High Honor of “the Ron’s Good Reading Award,” or “the Rongo,” for short. It is an award of high acclaim indeed, and sure to grow to extreme import–certain to change the very essence of the lives of those to whom my fickle finger of fate shall at point.

Perhaps I’ll even go so far as to create a logo for them in my copious spare time. Or not. Why cheapen such a thing with a brand, eh? Anyway … I digress.

With only a little further hesitation, I shall now proceed to use this post to identify the first story on the list, to bestow the first-ever “Rongo Award,” as it were. Before I go further, however, I must reiterate that this is a list of stories I think are fantastic. I am not including anything here for any purpose beyond that. I admit to feeling the need of prefacing my first selection here because I am distinctly aware of how the very first story I anoint with the title “Rongo Award Winner” will be perceived in context of the Great Battle Being Waged. I understand that John Scalzi is essentially the Anti-Beale to one side of this global battle that has become the Hugos.

That’s fine.

These are the Rongos.

In making these selections, I don’t care about the details that are being fought over one way or the other. This should, I expect, become more obvious as the weeks go by and the Rongos get passed around, but since this is #1, it has no context. Hence the disclaimer.

All righty, then…

With that out of the way, I am excited to point potential readers to my initial Rongo selection.

* * *

The First-ever Rongo Award goes to …

* * *

Rongo Category: Novella
Story: “Unlocked”
Author: John Scalzi

This is why I love novellas. Just flat-out love ‘em.

Here is a piece of Science Fiction that is everything science fiction should be. It is a story, written in an oral history narrative, that brings to bear science, technology, politics, community, and fundamental human nature in ways that let us look into the near future and view who we are. Given that its basic core is built around a health crisis, I suppose it’s fitting that as I read it, my wife, my father, my mother, and my daughter were all hacking and wheezing with a flu variant that apparently wasn’t in the vaccine this year.

Shrug.

“Unlocked” is a prequel to Scalzi’s novel Lock in, but it clearly stands on its own. It’s deeply technological, but does not bear gizmodic burden. It’s deeply political, but represents its politics in open and straightforward fashion, and often delves into our past to support its viewpoints. With an investment of an hour or so, I walked away from reading it feeling like I had looked at the very complex issue of a country’s reaction to an immediate health crisis with a visceral sense of being there, and from a shifting series of perspectives that left me both upbeat and chilled about human nature.

In Scazi’s world, human beings are not one-note creatures. In this world, there is no one “humanity.” There is only each of us, and each of our views on how we would like to be or how we would like to live. It’s a world that matches our own—a strange collective of individuals that gather together to make a culture.

Given its structure, the story unfolds in layers and waves, its real purpose hidden underneath the surface of the report until rising up and taking you by the shoulders to shake you first this way and then that. Life is complex, it says. And choices, therefore, are no less. This is a deft piece of work, well done.

I’m really pleased to tag “Unlocked” as the first-ever Rongo Award Winner for being among the best novellas of 2014.

Five Days in May – New Cover Reveal!

It’s getting close to May, which if you live in Indiana means that it’s getting on to Indy 500 time. This is special to me and John Bodin because it’s also time to release the latest edition of our anthology full of racing-related science fiction. These stories are great fun, full of pure skiffy stuff like bug-eyed aliens, time travel, neural nets, and other weirdness.

The original story we’re including this year is titled “Ghost of a Chance,” and is a powerful commentary on humanity and the value of racing. The piece sprang primarily from John’s mind–but with more than a bit of tweaking on my end. In other words, it (and the whole collection) is a great example of collaboration done right in that neither I, nor John, would have written these stories the same way all by ourselves.

The collection is in the final stages of preparation, but I’m expecting a release date in early-to-mid May.

Stay tuned.

Today, however, I’m excited to reveal the spiffy new cover we’ll be releasing it with. So, without further self-celebration, here it is …

RELEASE THE BUNDLES!

You ask, I respond. That’s how this works!

I’m really pleased to report that electronic versions of Saga of the God-Touched Mage are now available in bundles of four volumes each.

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

AVAILABLE AT THESE ONLINE RETAILERS!
Amazon: USUKDECAAU
Barnes & Noble (Available Soon!)
Kobo
Saga of the God-Touched Mage
(Volumes 5-8)



Pawn of the Planewalker
Changing of the Guard
Lord of the Freeborn
Lords of Existence

AVAILABLE AT THESE ONLINE RETAILERS!
Amazon: USUKDECAAU
Barnes & Noble (Available Soon!)
Kobo

Three friends, three books

As I’m getting my act together for the hundredth time, I think I should take a moment and note that three writer friends of mine local to the Columbus area have recently put out books that some of my readers might be interested in. Only one, Gregg Macklin’s, fits somewhere into the SF milieu, but I figure that it’s best to assume folks have as diverse of a reading interest as I do. Besides, I think it’s also good to realize there’s such a thing a gift-giving. [grin]

Anyway, here’s a little capsule on the three of them:

Albert Sisson: A Shadow of Death in the Woods

Albert is a guy I met in one of my roles as a corporate engineer. He was a better engineer than I, and was possessed of a sense of humor as dry as a 1950s martini–though I guess I should say he’s still possessed of that sense of humor! Regardless, he’s taken his love of motor cycles and road trips, and he’s taken his particular slant on the world, and he’s crafted an intriguing little story about murder, friends, family, and survival. Nice effort for a first novel. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

Note the nifty cover. It’s another done by the one and only Rachel J. Carpenter (who, of course, has done plenty of mine).

Gregg Macklin: White Hot Skies

This is Gregg’s second book, and shows a very nice progression from his first. It’s a post-nuclear apocalypse kind of story set in the middle of Indiana. The story itself is as much commentary on personal freedom and the politics of plenty vs. scarcity as anything else, and is full of characters defined and shaped by the area. For that reason alone, folks from around southern Indiana may enjoy reading over the setting. Overall, though, I suspect the book will probably be best loved by those whose views lean a little to the right. [grin]

Having now known Gregg for a couple years, I’m really excited for him as I think he’s just now coming into his art. I love it when that happens.

Debi Stanton: The White Sofa

Full disclosure here, I haven’t read this book–I haven’t had time to grab it, and Debi didn’t send it around before publishing it. Debi coordinates our Bartholomew County Writer’s Group (meets the second Thursday of each month, ping me if you’re local and interested), is the publisher of the independent Pen It! magazine, and has been writing for some time. I understand the book is a romance/mystery/thriller (or, as Debi describes it, “has a little bit of everything in there!”). So if that sounds like your cuppa, I say go for it. [grin]

Kazuo Ishiguro

Often, while I go about the routine portion of my days at home, I like to listen to podcasts. I have quite eclectic tastes in this area, but in general I focus on stories and people–stories in the vein of documentaries or personal narratives, stories the likes of historical studies or discussions of scientific breakthroughs or maths or whatever, and people in the form of … well … in the form of people I think are interesting.

I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into listening to podcasts, I find the pretty much everyone is interesting if I just sit back and let them be. People have viewpoints, you see? And they have backgrounds that you couldn’t begin to expect. Given those backgrounds, they put together pieces of information and pieces of society in ways that I don’t. Interesting ways. Informative ways.

Take, for instance, this podcast of Elenor Wachtel’s interview of Kazuo Ishiguro on CBC Radio’s Writers & Company. Ishiguro is a well-respected writer, of course. But I didn’t really know anything about him at all. I knew he was Japanese. I knew he writes things others would consider “literary.” This gave me a stereotyped viewpoint of who he might be. I’m interested in art and literature, though, and even though I knew nothing much else about Kazuo Ishiguro I figured I would spend an hour with him.

I suggest you do so, also. I suggest you listen to his talk and let his existence change you.

If you do you’ll hear different takes on what love means.

You’ll hear what it’s like to grow up “other” without really realizing it (which is perhaps stranger than that sounds–Ishiguro is Japanese, but grew up British, and speaks with a full British accent, for example). You’ll hear interesting takes about Japanese history, and what it means to be from Nagasaki (a place that cannot possibly escape being deeply informed by its history with the atomic bomb). You’ll hear about how songs and lyrics relate to short stories and literature–and in between the cracks you can pick out small slices of what it means to be an artist.

And who knows what else you’ll learn, or merely think about differently. You are a different person than I am. So if you do listen to Ishiguro speak, I’m sure you’ll carry away something I’ll miss.

So, yes, I admit I like listening to podcasts. I like them because to absorb them you have to give them time. You have to concentrate. I like them because you have to listen, to actually engage with their content. And I like them because when you do that, you can find really interesting people who can teach you really interesting things.

Strange dreams

A week ago or so, I had a long-running dream about a boy who drowned. Actually, no one really knew if he drowned or not because in actuality he had just disappeared. But everyone assumed he had drowned because he was last seen going into the waters. It was a weird, Twin Peaks-like thing that splayed out over a couple of dream rocks. You know how they go. I woke up feeling odd about it, but that went away pretty quickly. I had pretty much forgotten about it.

Days passed.

Then last night I dreamed of the search and recovery. I was a diver.

It was equally as strange.

Shrug. Perhaps this will sometime wind up in a story.

The complex system of companies, jobs, and people

Lisa dropped me this link to a PBS News article about Nick Hanauer’s viewpoint on wealth, its distribution, and its use. Hanauer is well known as a left-leaning billionaire, and was one of the few of the 1% who actively urge the country to tax him more. He’s also the guy who did the TED talk that was circulating a bit ago wherein he said the rich needed to wake up before the non-rich start coming at them with pitchforks.

So you might say he’s a little controversial.

That said, whether you are a person of the left-wing or the right-wing, I think you should read this. Inside lie several very important concepts that I haven’t previously seen put as clearly as Hanauer has done here. I’m writing about this because it’s been days since I read it, and the information withing continues to pick at my brain. So I figure if it’s got me thinking this long, perhaps you might find it interesting, too.

Here are some things I’m coming to as a result of thinking about things.

Concept 1: The economy is a closed loop system. It does not start at the top and trickle down, nor does is blossom from the bottom. It is, instead, a fully integrated system—and as any system engineer can tell you, this means that it almost certainly operates best when it’s in some form of balance.

Concept 2: Rich people (big companies) do not exist to create jobs. Hanauer puts this more in a more controversial fashion by saying that the rich do not create jobs, but this is not completely true. The rich (and big companies) do invest, and those investments do create some jobs. But the proper way to look at this is that big companies (and the rich overall) are doing the best they can to create the fewest jobs possible. That’s how one controls cost, after all.

Concept 3: There is one prevalent purpose that a company exists to accomplish. “Okay, Ron,” I hear you say. “What do big companies exist for?” To be blunt here, while big companies do a lot of things, and provide many values, they exist for one reason above all others: to return value to their investors (in the short term). That’s what they exist for. This fact lies in between every word of Hanauer’s article, and it’s also obvious when you look at what companies do. In that sense, I like that he spends considerable time in the article exploring the things that big companies actually do with their profits (rather than throwing that cash directly back into the business). I’ve been in the middle of corporate America for much of my career, and you cannot live in that zone for very long before you understand exactly how deeply this concept is true.

Concept 4: To understand a company’s priorities, you have to pay attention to lots of things. Let’s face it, it can be confusing to sort out complex entities. Big companies obviously create some jobs and they obviously do great things for communities. But that’s not their purpose.

Concept 5. The primary job creation force in this world is product demand. Bottom line, when people stop buying something, jobs dry up. This should be obvious.

Concept 6: Multiple things can create demand. Yes, sometimes, companies can create so much buzz they develop their own demand. Apple, of course, comes to mind. But those are more outliers than standard examples. A vast majority of new products come as disruptive technologies that are aggressively fought by the traditional market (can anyone say traditional publishing vs. indie?). Also, realize that when a big company puts everything on a truly new product, it’s often considered a “bet your company” kind of thing. When companies lose that bet, jobs erode. Anyway, the bottom line is that several things can create demand. This is essentially another way of saying that the economy is a complex system (see #1 above).

Concept 7: The laws of the land modify how big companies use people. (I use the term “use” there in both the positive and negative). We hear a lot about minimum wage, but the fact is that you can increase minimum wage by increasing employment…and I absolutely love the point he makes that the strongest thing that the government could do to help is not to raise the minimum wage, but instead to increase the limit for when companies need to pay overtime. No one really talks about that. But this dynamic of being on salary has lots and lots of baggage, and resonates strongly with the fact that people are working longer and longer hours (this is a problem that I was working on for the last year of my career in my corporate role…it’s a fascinating system unto itself).

I could go on, I suppose. But I figure this is enough to get you started. Read the article. Think about it. Ask yourself if it changes the way you see things.

Novellas, short fiction, making a living, and other fancy stuff

Two months ago I was in Detroit and sitting on a panel at ConFusion when someone had just asked the question. “Can you see a time when writers can make their living on short fiction?” I replied (paraphrasing here) that yes, I could envision that time, and that is now.

I don’t think any of the other panelists agreed with me, but that makes sense because they were reviewers and publishers of small press magazines. The fact is that there will probably never be a way you can make a living selling stories to magazines and whatnot in the classic way, but that is the environment they knew. It’s what they understood to be true, and so for them it was the truth. There is no way that short fiction could sustain them, nor would there ever be.

But I came into the room after going straight to the reader, and after marketing a very successful series of eight novellas. A novella, being considerably less in size than a novel, is certainly considered short fiction (and if you don’t believe me go read almost all my most negative reviews on Amazon—most of which say great story, well written, but I’m giving it 1-star because it’s too danged short … sigh). Anyway, given that, I came into that conference room with a balanced position—I sell several short stories a year into the traditional markets, and I’m publishing serial short fiction out of Skyfox, my own house.

This is important, because until I actually did it myself I’m not sure how I would have answered the question. But given the results that I HAVE SEEN MYSELF, I can say that yes, verily, I can envision a period where writers could live off short fiction, and that this period is right now. All you have to do is become a publisher. Take your time, write a good story, and publish it well (meaning invest in professional covers, editing, etc). This is a lot of work. And it’s actually quite complex.

But the fact is that the novella (or novelette, or whatever) can certainly bring in money to writers who are willing to do the work it takes to do it well. However, I think it’s fair to say that many, many, many writers do not want to actually be a publisher.

I’m thinking about this right now because a little while back io9 interviewed editors at TOR about their view that the novella was the future of the genre. This, they said, was specifically because the once mighty, but now over-looked novella, was perfect for today’s busy reader who may not have the time (or attention span) to dedicate to a novel. This created quite a stir, and caused many writers to weigh in on both the idea itself and the flavor in which the idea was presented.

Personally, I love the idea of the novella making a return. I’ve always liked novella length work. Not because it’s short enough to fit my time available, but because I just love the form. Its dimensions (17-40,000 words) are big enough to allow for complexity, but constrained enough to drive the writer to just get on with telling the danged story. Novellas are, for me, the movies of the book world. Give a novella two or three hours, and it will return to you a grand old time.

But, I also admit that I struggle with the idea of crowning the novella as the king of the hill. The novella is the future of SF, perhaps as Bruce Springsteen was once the future of Rock and Roll. For all the hype and heraldry of that iconic statement, and for all that Springsteen is and has been to the world of music, there’s still been lot of Rock and Roll that isn’t the Boss. Still, to my way of thinking, it’s good and fun to see the novella making a name for itself again.

So, anyway, back to the convention, and TOR, and the question at hand.

The issue, you see, is that to me what’s different today is not the novella, nor is it the question of time on hand for readers (though that may well help to some degree). I say this, though, because more readers read more things today than ever, including novels. So, no, it’s not time. The thing that is different is that the market is now direct to readers. It’s that the market is now not constrained to Analog or Asimov’s one novella per issue, or even TOR.com’s novella program (which I note is now already closed to submissions because it can only afford to pay for so much, right?).

You see, I posit that readers like me have always loved novellas. We’ve always loved those short 40-50K word novels. There has always been a readership (hence a market) for these writers to hit, but until the technology that enables today’s explosion of independent publishing became available, the only reasonable pathway to get to those readers was through the artificially constrained market of the magazines. Now, assuming you can write well, and assuming you publish well, you can make a reasonable cash flow with this short fiction because you can use the Amazons and other online venues to reach that readership directly. At that point, the market itself makes its decisions.

And if you can write enough of it quickly enough, you can “easily” make a living doing it.

Today.

To this, I will of course say, Yay! I love it as a writer, and I love it as a reader.

The thing I find most interesting about this whole situation, though, is the fact that so few people in the industry itself seem to actually see what’s happening. No one else on the panel did, for example. And the audience at that panel (which was mostly newbie writers), were surprised at my point of view. In fact, they pretty much discounted my position. This, of course, did not surprise me. Realize I said, after all, that I find the viewpoint of the industry today interesting, not surprising.

The reason for my lack of surprise is because I spent 30 or so years working in corporate America, and one of the most important lessons I took away from that experience is that unless something “destructive” happens, people do not change their thinking much. This idea seems so ubiquitous and so simple, but it slips away from me so easily that I find myself having to remind myself of it so often it’s embarrassing. But, the fact is this: people don’t give up their preconceived biases and opinions lightly, or easily, or perhaps ever.

No matter what is true, whatever you believe will always be foremost in your mind and will almost always crowd out what is real.

Think about that last statement. Think about it hard. Then go apply it to something important to you today. Tell yourself that something you believe in fully about the world is wrong. I bet you can get something useful out of it, because (and here’s the kicker, eh?) if no one else around you sees the world as it truly is, you have a great competitive advantage.

So, yeah.

Think about it.

A few nice reviews

So here’s what I call a set of very nice reviews (Note that I’m cutting story description in case you want to read them “clean.” Full reviews at the links):

First, Sam Tomaino at SFRevu says of “Good Luck Charm” (my short story in Abyss & Apex):

“Good Luck Charm” by Ron Collins -+- Brilliant story! I’ll put this on my Hugo Short List for Short Story next year.

That really does beat asharp stick in the eye, doesn’t it? I figure that a good rule of thumb is that any review that uses the word “Hugo” doesn’t suck.

But, wait, there’s more…Chuck Rothman, reviewing at TangentOnline has this to say about “Daily Teds” (My short story in the April Analog:

“…Ron Collins tells a light tale that considers the potential issue with the technology (both human and physical) that’s a joy to read.

And while I’m on the topic of “Daily Teds,” here’s John Lloyd, blogging at “There ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”

Excellent…

And Lois Tilton at Locus:

I’m reminded of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, if those brooms had really gotten out of hand.

And then around again to Sam Tomaino at SFRevu:

Good solid story.

#

Yes, folks, life is good.

The End – Volume 8 is Published!

Yes, this is an incredibly exciting day for me. It’s Friday, of course–which is always good. But mostly, it’s the day that Lords of Existence, the eighth and final volume of Saga of the God-Touched Mage, has finally seen publication.

Here are the particulars on where you can find it:


Amazon: US | UK | DE | CA
Barnes & Noble | Smashwords
Kobo
Print: CreateSpace

The story is now done. The work is out there, and on the whole it’s being well-received, and well bought despite the occasional dust up over the fact that they are novellas rather than novels (shrug). Sometime I’ll probably write up a “lessons learned” thing, and maybe even post a few bits of it here. But for now I’m just kind of sitting here and soaking in the whole project. I feel pretty danged good. Tired, but good. The whole thing has been considerably more fun, more work, more … well … everything … than I thought it would be at the beginning. [Note to self: remember that setting two-week deadlines is crazy silly]

Mostly, however, I admit to feeling pretty smug.

I’m immensely pleased with the outcome. I’m happy that this story is in the world. I’m giddy with the idea that people in India and Germany and Australia, and the UK, and a few other places (of course) are reading the story of Garrick and his struggles against a world that is not aligned exactly to his needs and desires.

There are several people I need to thank for their special help. My friend and sometime collaborator, John Bodin, for being a most-excellent first reader. Rachel Carpenter, of course, for her super work on the entire series of covers. David Coe and Amy Sterling Casil for their very kind commentary on the work itself and allowing me to use it on my covers. My daughter, Brigid, for great work as a copy editor (with quick turn around, too). And of course, Lisa, for her always being here and the intense work she did while reading this story over and over again for a … uh … considerable time. Then there are others who provided so much guidance … I know I’ll miss some, but let’s start with Vera Nazarian, JC Andrijeski, Tom Carpenter, Anthea Sharp, Michele Lang, Annie Bellet, who each gave me considerable chunks of their time to answer a boatload of dumb questions.

Anyway. I’m blathering along here, and I think I hear the music starting, so I’ll just shut up here.

So, yeah. Today’s the day.

Tomorrow I’ll hop on a plane and head west to a writers’ workshop, where I’ll work at becoming better and where’s I’ll talk to a whole bunch of more writers about all my future projects.

This is real life, you know? Not a book. And in real life things never really end, do they?

Lords of Existence Cover Reveal!

I’m so excited to reveal the cover to Lords of Existence, which is the the eighth (and final) volume of my Saga of the God-Touched Mage series.

If you’re interested in pre-ordering the book, you can find the links down below.

As a finale, this episode has some unique and intriguing aspects that I wasn’t sure Rachel was going to be able to pull off, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at her work. It is, of course, fantastic once again.


AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER NOW!
Amazon: US | UK | DE
Barnes & Noble | Smashwords
Kobo

Damsel in Distress

I’ve mentioned before the my daughter, Brigid is a writer. I know you’ll get tired of that as a lead-in, but hey … it works for this post, so I figure you’ll just have to deal with it.

What I haven’t talked about here is that, as luck would have it, her husband (hence my son-in-law) Nick is also afflicted with this thing that compels one to tell stories. I’ve avoided talking about his work here because he’s just now finishing up his first book targeted for publication, and who the heck needs that kind of pressure, eh?

However, Nick recently posted quite an interesting discussion on the use of the Damsel in Distress trope—a topic that is getting some play in certain circles these days. As background, he provides a good bit of history regarding the use of hostages, and goes on from there. If you’re interested in the topic, it’s worth a read.

I admit to two feelings about the issue. First and foremost is that, yeah, the root of the argument—the root of the pushback—against the weak and defenseless damsel being held by the dastardly bad guy while our heroic golden boy charges forward to save the day is one-hundred percent bang on. The history of this trope is crammed to the brim by lazy writers at best, something Nick captures in this snippet:

Often times the sexualization of damsels in distress isn’t intended but rather the by-product of lazy, half-assed, mindless writing.

I would add, however, that the key words in this part of Nick’s commentary are “often times,” and that we should not read “often times” to always mean a majority of times. Often times may mean most times, but does not have to. In addition, I think it’s equally important to note that often times (and in my opinion most times) the sexualization (or genderization?) of the damsel in distress is indeed on purpose, or is at least the case of a writer dutifully and knowingly playing along with gender stereotypes (they casually, but purposefully, decide to use shorthand they think the audience will understand)—which can be argued to be equivalent to doing it on purpose.

In the case where it’s being done on purpose, it’s tantamount to the writer being a bit of an ass.

And in the case of the writer being lazy, well … there is no real excuse for being lazy at any craft that matters to you. If you are lazy, then you’re saying you don’t care enough to do better work, and, really now, isn’t that pretty close to “being an ass” of a different kind? Just throwing that out there.

I suppose there are exceptions to this rule, exceptions where the story carries value from the fact that the damsel is passive, but I’m sure they are quite rare. I can’t really think of any off the top of my head. In general, if you are writing a female (or male, for that matter, but those are considerably rarer) with nothing much to do in the story except to be rescued and then carted away as a trophy, then you will almost certainly be lumped in with the writers who are doing it on purpose, even if you’re just being lazy. Consider it a writer’s equivalency with the old adage that you should never argue with an idiot because the bystander may not be able to tell the difference.

I also, however, admit to a bit of angst whenever folks shout “thou shalt not have such a [insert favorite issue here] in thy work or else thee shalt face the wrath of the gods of taste.”

At this point, though, I have to fess up to the fact that I’m in the process of casting a bit of a magic trick here. I’m going to spend some time discussing the Damsel in Distress storyline as a plot device, and laying out what I think is a reasonable argument for allowing the use of the concept. Then I’m going to make that argument disappear before your very eyes. We’ll see if I can pull that off. Feel free to tell me I didn’t. I’m open to discussion. [grin]

So, let me start by equating the use of the Damsel in Distress storyline to my view on the use of profanity. I live squarely in the middle of the mid-West. I personally know many writers who refuse to use profanity in their work on moral grounds. This is completely fine. But what that says to me is that those writers are committing themselves to never being able to write certain characters the way they need to be written. And when you decide you will not write a certain character (or, as is more relevant to the discussion, a certain storyline), you are limiting yourself in ways I think are unnecessary.

In his post, Nick spends time discussing historical uses of hostages and the behavior of those hostages. These are all completely correct, and should be used by writers whenever the situation calls for. And he brushes on the motivations of both the hostage takers and the hostages during these events.

In that light, here is probably a key point in this “Damsel in Distress” conversation as Nick makes it—and it is, to my mind, the most important thing to walk away with if you’re attempting to write something worthwhile, regardless of the storyline you’re following.

The main issue with sticking to the “damsel in distress” trope is that too often people forget that the damsel is a character too, regardless if the damsel is in fact even a damsel…

Let’s not, after all, throw the damsel (or dude) out with the bathwater. It’s important to realize that in the case of the Damsel (or Dude) in Distress situation, as Nick’s post touches on, it’s not fundamentally the hostage (or assault, or whatever) storyline that is at fault. People do actually take hostages, and stronger people do actually assault weaker people. Hence it must be okay for writers to make such plot lines. No, as Nick suggests, the problem lies in the fact that the writer in question has not written the hostage/victim or the hero to be believable characters. I completely agree with this thinking.

Ideally, of course, your damsel or dude in distress is going to actually try to do something to get out of distress. Show me what they are doing. It’s okay if it doesn’t work. Not everyone can be Sarah Connor, after all. It’s okay if a hostage can’t get out of their situation on their own if you show me why. Or, if a damsel/dude in distress is going to sit passively around and wait to be rescued (as Nick’s post suggests they sometimes did), show me why they do that, and show me in a believable fashion. Make it real. Give them something to do, and something they care about. And, If the hero (or heroine) is risking everything to rescue the dude/damsel, please, please, please, make it for some reason more complex and valuable than the desire to boost his own identity by taking home the fairest maiden in the land. Living happily forever is fine, I suppose, if it’s all consensual and you can make it make sense to me. (grin)

If you can do those things, then the Damsel in Distress storyline can, will, and should work just fine.

Of course … (he says, cuing up the magic trick finale) … this argument is more than a bit disingenuous.

This is because the phrase “Damsel in Distress plot” is misnamed. The discussion around this topic is not really about the plot at all. Oh, of course there are discussions about the specific plot line, but plot is a symptom. I can say this because plot stems from character, character (or lack thereof) is the root cause of plot. So, while the heated nature of the modern day discourse around this subject feels like it’s centered on a plot line, it’s not really so. The conversation is, instead, actually about the lack of characterization or the utter reliance upon worn-out gender stereotypes to substitute for true characterization that writers use to create their characters. People who argue against the Social Justice Warrior-ness side of the discussion seem often to attempt muddying the water by inserting this storyline question into the mix, but the fact is this: If you have written real characters actively pursing goals through all means at their disposal, you have not written a “Damsel/Dude in Distress” story.

So, Nick’s point about character is well made. The entire point here is that writers need to stretch themselves to write robust characters. The “acceptable plot line” argument is therefore just an illusion, a diversion that can catch on because (for whatever reason) folks aren’t thinking about “story” from the right perspective.

But this is an important differentiation for writers to understand. When you understand that plot springs from character, you must then see that character is spoken to by plot. An example as an aside: If you replace Sleeping Beauty with a shiny red corvette, does it make a difference to Prince Charming? Possibly. Possibly not. If you’ve read this far, I hope you get the point I’m making here.

If a writer is obviously trying to write a good, strong characters in a hostage/assault/victim situation, but doesn’t do them well, then I’ll probably give that writer a point or two for the effort but will view them as still learning how to write. But if that same writer doesn’t even attempt to do those things, or if they just hand-wave, then I’ll likely assume that writer is either completely out of touch or is being an ass on purpose.

2015 YEAG Arrives!

I know I’ve mentioned before and before and before that my daughter, Brigid, is a writer—and a danged good one, at that. As more proof of this, you can now see (in the form of a terrible mash-up I’ve done) that authors’ copies of the 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide have arrived.

For my Facebook and Twitter followers, I only partially apologize for the redundant use of that photo. Let me just say that if/when you have a daughter, you’ll understand.

Talking funny

Lately I’ve taken to watching videos during lunch. Interviews of people I think are interesting, or other things I think I want to learn about. Today, I stumbled upon an HBO thing titled “Talking Funny,” which has Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis CK sitting around and talking about how they view comedy under the hood.

It’s incredibly entertaining from moment to moment, of course. How could it not be? But I’m writing about it today because at its core because it’s a group of four very intelligent artists who know exactly what they’re doing, talking about how they do it and what they think about as they’re doing it. I’ll probably go back and watch it again next week some time.

Embedded in its conversational flow are things about what quality means to each of them (which is different), and how they judge their work. You’ll find thoughts on how they think about and develop their material, and how they each bring something unique and different to certain types of material that makes it fresh again. You’ll hear them discussing hack-work (though they won’t call it that). You’ll hear them talk about what it means to use controversial topics or words in their art. Jerry Seinfeld’s discussion of the use of the word “fuck” is fascinating … actually, hearing them all discuss it makes me think a lot about the use of language in my own work.

You’ll hear them talk about the relationship of the artist, his content, and whether their audience is there for the content or the artist–which is a particularly deep subject in itself.

You’ll hear discussion about when work is “done,” if it ever is. You’ll see them discuss composition of a bit, and even compare notes about the construction of an entire show.

These kinds of things fascinate me. It’s 50 minutes long, but I suggest that anyone interested in the idea of constructing art, and especially constructing performance art (of which writing is one type), will walk away thinking a lot about what they do themselves.

Here it is: (along with a bit of a language warning…expect to hear anything)

Lord of the Freeborn Cover Reveal!

The calendar marches toward the end of January and that means we’re nearing the launch of Changing of the Guard, which is volume six in my Saga of the God-Touched Mage series. As is my practice, though, today I get to reveal the cover of the next volume–Lord of the Freeborn. Definitely exciting. If you’re interested in pre-ordering the book, you can find the links down below.

As usual, Rachel J. Carpenter has done a spectacular job capturing one of the key characters in the storyline. I particularly enjoy the wicked little expression she’s carrying around with her–definitely fitting.

Enough of my jibber-jabber, though. Here’s the goods!


AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER NOW!
Amazon: US | UK | DE
Barnes & Noble | Smashwords
Kobo

Analog/Asimov’s readers polls!

It’s that time of year again–Analog and Asimov’s have now released their annual readers’ polls, and I’m terribly excited to be able to remind you that that I’ve got stories on both polls.

First, you might be interested in considering “Primes,” for best novelette in the Asimov’s poll. This is a tale that’s been reviewed quite positively, specifically including nice commentary in Tangent and a “Recommended” notice from Lois Tilton at Locus. I must also admit to having a particularly warm place in my heart for this one. [grin]

Then you might mosey on over to Analog’s poll, where you can consider my short stories “Survivors” and “Unfolding the Multi-Cloud,” of which, I must admit to a personal preference for “Survivors,” but of course your mileage can vary.

Whether you select one of my works or not, I sincerely hope you’ll wander over there and make your voice heard.

The super-secret key to ultra-productivity

Today I wore my Slitherin shirt to work, researched demons and Chicago in the 1920s, wrote a couple thousand words, and listened to Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday. So, yeah. Pretty typical.

When I left the day job a year and a quarter ago, I remember people asking what a writer does all day. I couldn’t answer them then, and to be honest, I can’t really answer them now except to say that there just isn’t enough time available to do it all.

I’ve been thinking about this since last weekend, when I found myself at ConFusion, talking to Karen Lord (who was the guest of honor), Tobias Buckell, Jim Hines, and Howard Tayler about productivity and how they create their work. Not surprisingly, there was zero overlap in our approaches–with perhaps the one central truism being that deadlines always work to create words. Tobias is a long-haul writer, a guy who can plant butt in chair and focus forever. Jim works around a day job, but has set times he works with. Karen is more fluid, but seems to roughly be in the 60-90 minute runs camp. Howard plans day-by-day, week over week, and manages to deliverables. Me? I’m all over the place, though I’m probably moderately consistent on creating in three standard session, two in the AM, one in the evening.

But we all agreed that none of of work the same way all the time, and we all agree that the only thing that matters is that you find something that works for you to actually prioritize the work you care about highly, and therefore, allow yourself to make the time you need to do it.

There it is.

The super-secret key to ultra-productivity.

I would assume that rule is universal. If you’ve got other ideas, I’m always interested in hearing about them.

I’ll leave you with this documentary on Billie Holiday, just because I thought it was interesting in about every way possible. Remarkable artist. Remarkably interesting life, especially given the times in which she lived.

A pleasant surprise this morning

So I’m working away on a short story and I get a twitter ping. I grumble at the interruption, but I am also struggling with a sentence, and weak. So rather than continue to struggle, I go check it out.

Turns out it’s a notification from Nicole Sweeny, who runs “The Bibliophile Chronicles.” This is a review site for fantasy and SF books, and she’s posted a very nice review of Glamour of the God-Touched.

For the record, you are welcome to interrupt me for this kind of news pretty much any time.

MLK Day – Letter From Birmingham Jail

Commemorating Martin Luther King day, a Facebook friend of mine posted a link to Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

I first read this in an anthology while I was probably a freshman in high school. I was a young white guy growing up Louisville Kentucky. It must have been 1975 or 1976. This meant two things: (1) I was pretty much oblivious to my possession of what is known widely today as privilege, and (2) I found myself swept up in Louisville’s first year of court-mandated busing. The last bit resulted in me being yanked from my essentially all-white middle school and made part of the distinctly integrated, inner-city environment of Manual High School.

It was in one of those school rooms where I first read Dr. King’s letter. I remember being quite disturbed by it.

I had other things to worry about back then, though. I was somewhat gregarious, and reasonably bright–bright enough anyway–but I was small and inexperienced and way, way out of my league in a 2500+ student inner-city school. Mere survival felt like a major challenge at times. So I absorbed Dr. King’s letter and I felt its importance, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand it beyond that importance.

I read it again sometime after graduating from the University of Louisville, which is a school on an urban campus, and which is tangled up in what can be pretty bitter local politics with its rival the University of Kentucky, a good deal of which is fueled by a fractured history of racial tension across the state. Louisville is considered “the city.” Everywhere else in Kentucky isn’t.

On this second reading, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” made more sense to me. It is a remarkably simple framing of the interactions between a collection of frighteningly complex issues, and I think it helped me understand that there truly was (and still is) so much of the world that lies outside of my inherent understanding. It helped me see that I needed to be careful where I put the weight of my opinion. It fed into my earliest views of things like leadership, and organization, and social constructs. The letter is, of course, written to Christian leaders, and being a church leader himself Dr. King relies heavily on biblical references. I am often made uncomfortable by such reliance. I consider myself spiritual, but can get edgy at the idea of these human constructs known as religions (as well as most other organizational constructs for that matter, most of which I figure are generally needed but mostly untrustworthy due to the all-too-human need for self-preservation and tribalism that infects their leaders and members). But in “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King, however, brings these stories to bear in ways that serve the spirit rather than attempt conversion, and he uses them to admonish and expose the failing human beings behind the church’s curtain of the day.

I don’t remember exactly when this second reading occurred. I was probably 25 or 30 years old. As I recall, though, I believe I saw it as a historical document. I had, at that time, this view that since the legal structure had “fully changed” in the United States, that it was now just a matter of time before the concept of a truly integrated world was at hand. In other words, I was oblivious. One of the most important messages embedded in Dr. King’s text flew right over my head. Since I had not actively thought things through, I assumed that if everyone just waited for enough time to pass, that things would stabilze. In other words, I still didn’t really get it.

So, with that said, thanks to my Facebook Friend, we run time up another two decades to the point of this morning when I read it again.

I suggest you read it too. If it’s new to you, I bet you’ll learn something important. If you’ve read it before perhaps you’ll remember something you forgot.

Or, maybe, if you’re like me (a white guy who’s lived a seriously charmed life of 50+ years), as you read along you’ll begin to see it as a scorecard that Dr. King projected into the future–maybe you’ll have moments where you think “well, at least we’re passed that,” and other moments where you cringe with the realization that 50 years later the human beings who live in and execute our system are still struggling to live up to the beauty of the idea that all people are created equal. Maybe it will rock your world, as it did mine this morning, to realize that you were not quite two years old when this document was written, and so it represents a true yardstick for the time period that you have lived. And in those moments when you cringe perhaps you’ll be struck with the idea–bolstered by historical data and recent headlines–that perhaps we’re not even really “passed” the parts you think we’re passed. That is, I suppose, how oblivion works, after all. We don’t see a problem or feel the ramifications of a problem, hence it does not exist.

And perhaps you’ll then think that maybe there is no being “passed” this kind of issue. Perhaps you’ll think that even if some uncertain optimum was achieved, that even then the work is not done. Entropy, as I learned in engineering school, is always increasing. Houses built require future diligence. Perhaps there is no being “passed” things when it comes to social groups. Perhaps there is no “finished.”

So, then, if there is no “finished,” no “passed,” no “through with,” does that mean there is only “now?”

Would that make a difference in how you thought or how you saw the world today?

So, yes, I suggest you read “Letter From Birmingham Jail” again. Or for the first time.

Whichever.

2113

When I was a younger man, my brother and I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time in the basement of one of my best friends, listening to rock, playing pool, and drinking the occasional beer. Among the bands in our routine was a little group from Canada. You might have heard of them. They were called Rush.

I am terribly stoked thise evening to be able to report that a story of mine is going to be included in an anthology titled 2113: Stories Inspired by the Music of Rush, an anthology edited by John McFetridge and Kevin J. Anderson.

This project will include some remarkable authors (the list of which you can find behind the link there). We’ve each selected a song to focus on, and as one of the other authors suggested, I think the whole thing would make a helluva playlist. My selection is “Natural Science,” which is a massive beast in three movements that I just couldn’t pass up. The story is about half-done, and I know where I want it to go. Now we just get to see if I can finish it off.

The anthology’s release date is still in work, so I’ll post that whenever I hear of it. In the meantime, here’s something to help you get into the mood.

SGTM Volume 6 ready for pre-order

Time continues to motor on by at its usual rapid pace. By that, I mean that we’re nearing January 15th, which just happens to be the relase date for the next volume in the Saga of the God-Touched Mage series. But first, of course, I get to do another cover reveal and announce that volume 6, Changing of the Guard, is now available for pre-order in all the usual places.

Thanks, as always, to Rachel Carpenter for her great work on the cover. Watching this series roll out has been a total blast.

Without further discourse, I present the cover!

Coming January 31th!
Now available for pre-order!

Changing of the Guard

Amazon: US | UK | DE
Nook (Link soon!)
Smashwords
Kobo (Link soon!)

Available in print 1/31!

I’ll have a double shot of Collins, please!

It was a very tight race, a photo finish as it were, but today I get the very distinct pleasure of reporting that the 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide is now available at Amazon and other online venues. This means that the 2015 YEAG has won the race by a nose, and is now officially the very first professionally published anthology in which Brigid and I have shared the table of contents. This is soooooo cooooooooool I can’t even begin to express it. The fact that the project is such a worthwhile one (supporting inclusion in middle-grade SF) just makes it that much smore special.

At one point we thought that Fiction River’s Pulse Pounders anthology would represent that milestone, but 2015 YEAG managed to eek it out at the end.

Of course, it would be nice if these two represented the first of at least a few more, but today if for celebration of the present and that is what I shall do!

So, in celebration, here are the covers to both!

My ConFusion Schedule

I’ve been a terrible person and not mentioned that I’ll be in Detroit, attending ConFusion, from January 17th-19th. This will mark the third time I’ve been at this convention, and it’s always a fun time. I get to see Brigid and Nick, and I get to see and spend time with a bunch of interesting people. What can possibly go wrong with that?

I received my agenda yesterday, and just got around to compiling “where I’ll be.” It turns out I’ll be quite busy–which is good, I think.

Here’s a listing of the sessions I’ll be participating in. Stop in and see me if you’re in the area:

 

Friday 6pm: Collins/Harriett reading Yes, I shall be reading something of my own. If you come, I shall not be alone! (Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to read, eh?)


Saturday 12pm: Secret Histories and Alternate Universes
How do you take our world and build out from it? Simply add dragons to the Napoleonic wars, or create a history of secret witches running the American Revolution? Ferrett Steinmetz*, Courtney Allison Mouton, Laura Resnick, Ron Collins, Jay S. Ridler

Saturday 1pm: Current State of Short Fiction
An update on the state of short fiction in the fantasy/SF world – who’s writing, publishing, and reading? Catherine Shaffer*, Scott H. Andrews, Ron Collins, Elizabeth Shack

Saturday 3pm: Mass Autograph Session

Saturday 4pm: Time Travel (im)Possibilities
Would 1.21 gigawatts get the job done, or would the flux capacitor even work? Time for our panelists and audience to debunk our favorite time travel devices in literature and popular media. Bill Higgins*, Philip Kaldon, Ron Collins, Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Saturday 7pm: Playing Solo vs. In a Band
Playing with other people is a very different dynamic from working alone. How do you adjust, and make it work? Cathy McManamon*, Jason Neerenberg, Ron Collins.


Sunday 1pm: The Kids are Alright
Blah, blah, greying of fandom, we’ve all heard it. But why are we still talking about it as an inevitability? What are kids into these days? YA and Middle Grade literature is filled with SF/F, as are tv shows and movies aimed at kids, while things like Tabletop encourages families to play more games. The kids are here, and they’re doing just fine. Jackie Morgan*, Ron Collins, Carrie Harris, Justin Howe

Sunday 2pm: Powersuits and Prosthetics
Science Fiction has long imagined a future when technology can replace or enhance human limbs. Join Science Guest of Honor Cynthia Chestek and our costume panelists to discuss how to design plausible robotics for your science fiction hero. Ron Collins*, Patrick S. Tomlinson, Cynthia Chestek, David M. Stein

 

 

 

Cha-cha-cha Changes

Why, yes, I was listening to David Bowie this afternoon. Why do you ask?

If you’re a regular reader of this place, it should be pretty obvious that I’m in the process of revamping the place a bit. This is going to be moderately routine thing for the next few days, I would think. So, yes, I’ll be move things about here and there. Hopefully this means it will be a bit easier to find things that matter to you, but if nothing else I figure that at least I may actually enjoy putting my eyeballs on my site a bit better.

In the meantime, sorry for the mess.

Oooo … what does it mean that Radio Paradise just kicked off Heart’s “Crazy on You?”

It’s a sign, I say. It’s got to be a sign!

The girls, can rock, I say. For all you young’uns, here’s what a real performance used to look like before all the laser lights and the dance steps took over. [grin]