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The great and wonderful John Cleaver contest!

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

The time has come, and tomorrow is the official launch day for Next of Kin, the new John Cleaver novella. This novella is a great way to get a head start on the new John Cleaver series, which starts next year with The Devil’s Only Friend, but you know what’s an even better way to get a head start? How about just reading the whole novel a year early? This sounds like a job for: a contest!

Here’s the deal: Next of Kin is on sale pretty much everywhere books are sold, and you can even get it Print on Demand if you really love paper. Buy a copy, take a screenshot of the receipt, and email it to NextOfKinContest@gmail.com, and you’ll be entered in a drawing; the winner, to be determined on July 11, will be chosen at random from among those emails, and I will send that winner an electronic copy of the manuscript for The Devil’s Only Friend.

Kindle: 2.99

Smashwords: 2.99

Nook: 2.99

Print on Demand: $6.99

If you happen to be in our near Salt Lake City, come to the live launch party at WesterCon, Friday morning at 11:30, in the con suite (room 1508). We’ll have free pizza, a reading, and several hard copies for sale which I will lovingly sign just for you. And if you really know your John Cleaver trilogy, you just might win another copy of The Devil’s Only Friend….

Spread the word! Tell all your friends! Buy fifty-seven copies and get your Christmas shopping done early! This new series is awesome, and I can’t wait for you to read it.

The cover for NEXT OF KIN

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Want to see the cover for Next of Kin? Yeah, me too. It’s beautiful, and I can’t stop looking at it.

 

NextOfKinCover-front

The cover was designed by Chersti Nieveen, and assembled for production by Ben Crowder. The book will be available on July 4, with specific purchase info coming soon.

A New John Cleaver Story Coming NEXT WEEK

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

As I announced a few months ago, I’ve started work on a new John Cleaver trilogy. The first book is called The Devil’s Only Friend, and it comes out next year, but I have ALSO written a novella, called Next of Kin, that leads in to the new trilogy. Next of Kin will be released next week, on July 4.

The Devil’s Only Friend picks up one year after I Don’t Want to Kill You, with John still struggling to deal with the horrible things that happened in the first trilogy. On the plus side, he’s working with a group of FBI demon hunters, but on the down side, that’s not actually a plus side: he’s spent his whole life trying not to think about killing, and now it’s his job. He feels trapped, he feels desperate, he feels his control slipping away, and then…well, I’d better not say anything else. There’s a war brewing between humans and monsters, and John’s trapped in the middle, and it’s not going to end well for anyone.

Next of Kin gives us a brief look at the other side of that war: a demon’s-eye view of what it’s like to live in our world, and hide in our shadows, and prey on our weaknesses. Elijah Sexton lives on other people’s memories, and does his best to stay out of trouble, but his fellow monsters are trying to recruit him, and his stolen memories are calling out, and then there’s that quiet young man he keeps running into….

Next of Kin will be available in all ebook formats, and in Print-on-Demand, starting July 4. If you’re online, keep your eyes peeled: I’ll be doing a giveaway with some fun prizes, including an advance manuscript of The Devil’s Only Friend. Better yet, if you’re at WesterCon or FantasyCon in Salt Lake City you can come to the launch party at 11:30 am, where I’ll be giving away free pizza, reading from both stories, and doing a bunch more awesome giveaways. You probably have the day off, and you’re family barbecue doesn’t start until the evening, so come on down and grab an awesome new book. I will even compliment your shirt.

People have been asking me for years to tell the rest of John’s story. This is it. The time has come. Kiss a corpse and smile sweetly at a cat: John Cleaver has returned.

I Am Not A Serial Killer, coming soon to a non-prose medium near you

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Let me tell you a funny story.

Back in January I was going through my spam folder, as I do every few days, and found an email with the subject line: “A Stage Play? John de Lancie.” John de Lancie, as you probably know, is the actor who played Q on Star Trek, and Jane’s dad on Breaking Bad, and a ton of other awesome things. I’m a fan, and have been for a while, and I figured I must have signed up for a John de Lancie newsletter or something. I do this a lot; I’ve been on a Barenaked Ladies mailing list for sixteen years, for example, and I don’t think I’ve read a single one of their emails. So I deleted it.

Yeah.

Two days later I got the same email again, and thought “This is a pretty aggressive mailing list. I’m delighted he’s doing a stage play, and I wish I could go see it, but I live in Germany and there’s no way.” So I deleted it again.

And then immediately I felt bad, because the email was just too weird to completely ignore. I don’t typically get a lot of emails from famous people, but I get just enough rights questions from Hollywood studios that I couldn’t let this one slide. I dug into my deleted folder, pulled out the email, and read it.

Turns out it was from the real John de Lancie, and he’s a big fan of the John Cleaver books, and he wants to turn I Am Not a Serial Killer into a stage play. So that’s pretty awesome.

I emailed back and forth with him for a few weeks, and then on my RUINS book tour I stopped by his house on my way through LA, and we talked about the possibilities and challenges of bringing IANASK to stage. He’s an incredibly nice, extremely intelligent and funny guy. The first half of the story would be easy–very minimal adaptation required–but the second half, where it starts to get really supernatural and action-y, will take a lot more work. He’s found a theater in LA that has the right facilities (run by Gates McFadden, who you may also know from Star Trek), and we’re taking a look at what we can do to make it happen. I have no idea how long it will take, or what will be involved, or anything–I did a ton of theater in high school and college, but it was all little stuff, community and black box things with friends, and I’ve never written for stage before so I’m going in completely new. Unlike a movie, where you sell the rights and the studio takes over, this stage play is something I’ll be doing in collaboration with John, working together to make this the best thing we can make it.

The other big difference between movies and stage is that movies are incredibly secretive, and I’ve been involved in the we-hope-it-happens IANASK movie production for five years now and there’s still nothing I can really tell you. That’s why I haven’t said anything about this stage play thing for four months: not because I couldn’t, but because I’ve been conditioned not to. John, on the other hand, has been talking about it at conventions all year, and most recently on the Nerdist podcast, which was pretty awesome. So yeah: this is a thing, and we’re working on it, and it might happen and it might not. I have high hopes. My sister and brother-in-law are also theater people (he runs the theater department at a college in Tennessee) and are working on adapting my ebook A Night of Blacker Darkness to stage, so if all goes well I could have two stage plays next year. We’ll see what happens.

Anti-Jump Muscles

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Let’s talk about OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. A lot of people say they have OCD because they, for example, like to keep things ordered or do things in a certain way every time–the kind of people who separate all their M&Ms by color before they eat them, that kind of thing. That’s not OCD, that’s just “being really organized.” Actual OCD, the mental disorder, is crippling and dangerous and potentially deadly.

When my brother was first diagnosed with OCD, and described the symptoms to me, I was shocked. His brain would tell him to do things, like throw himself down the stairs or punch the wall until his hand bled, and he was literally compelled to do it–as in, manipulated by an outside force. When your brain tells you to do something it’s every bit as un-ignorable as when your body does it. Imagine that you have to pee, and you try to ignore it, and it just gets worse and worse until you’re squeezing your legs together and dancing in place because if you don’t go pee RIGHT NOW you’re going to explode. Now imagine that instead of peeing, you get the same urge with the same intensity about making your head bleed. You have to make your head bleed RIGHT NOW or your entire life will be a disaster, and come on what are you waiting for you’re miserable and horrible and your head needs to bleed and why won’t you let it because it would make everything better just do it. You know, objectively, that making your head bleed is wrong, and harmful, and a bad thing. But your brain is sick, and it wants what it wants, and you have to live like that for the rest of your life.

I remember an old comic by the cartoonist R. Kliban, who did a lot of stuff in the 70s and 80s, including several about cats that you may have seen somewhere. The one that always stuck in my mind was “Anti-Jump Muscles”:


The idea of muscles that work in reverse is funny, but this is the reality that people with OCD live with every day. When my brother’s brain tells him to break his hand, or hurt himself or (on a couple of terrifying occasions) his family, it takes all his willpower to not act. His Anti-Jump Muscles are fully flexed, day in and day out, just to live a normal life. It is scary and lonely and utterly exhausting, and he is only one of millions of people in the world who have to suffer through that.

If you know someone with OCD, give them a hug or send them an email, and tell them you love them. Tell them you support them. Do what you can to help.

And if you’d like to help my brother, and to raise awareness for other people with mental health issues, take a look at our Altered Perceptions campaign that just opened today. Dozens of amazing authors have contributed alternate versions of their published works to an anthology, and none of us are getting a penny from it–every cent goes to help Rob and, if we reach our goals, others like him.

Altered Perspectives: the awesome anthology I’m helping put together

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

I finished my book! Or at least the first draft, but still: I am very happy. And now that it’s done it’s time to move on to the next project, which is what I’m here to tell you about today.

My brother, the illustrious Robison Wells, was diagnosed a few years ago with a severe panic disorder, was has since blossomed (or perhaps ‘metastasized’ is a better word) into depression, agoraphobia, OCD, and a whole host of other mental illnesses that make it impossible for him to live a normal life. I could talk about this for hours, and in future blog posts I will, but for now I’ll limit it to two main points:

1) Rob’s illnesses have put him into a lot of debt. He writes books, and they are excellent books, but this is not exactly a lucrative profession, and a panic disorder does not work well in an office environment. Watching Rob struggle with disease and debt made me want to do something to help.

2) Mental illnesses are WAY MORE COMMON than most people think. In the US alone, statistics suggest that most of you know someone with a psychosis, and all of you know someone with depression. If you don’t, look harder–you probably know two or three. This is a big problem, and we as a culture and society are not doing nearly enough to help. An American with a mental illness is ten times more likely to be in prison than in medical care. This needs to change.

I wanted to do something about these problems, but I didn’t know what. It was Brandon Sanderson, a good friend of both Rob and I, who came up with the idea: “let’s do an anthology,” he said, “full of authors who know Rob, and use it to raise funds. First we can pay off Rob’s debts, and then if we get enough interest we can keep going and try to help other authors with similar problems.” I thought it was an awesome idea, so we did it. And we put a cool spin on it that I think you’re going to love.

I am proud to announce the science fiction/fantasy anthology ALTERED PERSPECTIVES, which is kind of like a bonus DVD full of deleted scenes and alternate versions of some of your favorite authors’ books. Check out this amazing list:

Ally Condie, the foreword
Dan Wells, the introduction
Annette Lyon, An unpublished chapter from her retelling of the Finnish fairy tale, THE KALEVALA
Aprilynne Pike, TBA
Brandon Mull, Deleted scenes from BEYONDERS 2
Brandon Sanderson, five completely rewritten chapters from THE WAY OF KINGS, where Kaladin makes the opposite choice of what he makes in the published novel
Bree Despain, an alternate ending to THE LOST SAINT, and an alternate beginning to THE SHADOW PRINCE
Brodi Ashton, the first chapter from her YA novel about an unwilling alien fighter who has to rescue the boy she loves
Claudia Gray, a deleted scene from A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU
Dan Wells, the original John Cleaver free-write that inspired I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
Erin Bowman, a deleted scene from TAKEN
Howard Tayler, a creative non-fiction story about life with mental illness
J Scott Savage, three original chapters that led to writing FARWORLD
Jennifer Moore, a deleted scene from BECOMING LADY LOCKWOOD
Jessica Day George, a deleted scene from PRINCESS OF GLASS, where the main character plays poker with a witch
Josi Kilpack, the original opening scene to TRES LECHES CUPCAKE
Kiersten White, an original short story, set in a dystopian, sci-fi world
Larry Correia, a deleted fight scene from SWORDS OF EXODUS
Lauren Oliver, two deleted scenes from PANDEMONIUM, plus a hilarious scene about the plotting process
Luisa Perkins, a short story, “Seeing Red”–a modern-day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.
Mary Robinette Kowal, deleted scene from VALOUR AND VANITY (the scene was cut because readers thought the scene was trying to depict depression)
Nancy Allen, bonus scene from BEAUTY AND THE CLOCKWORK BEAST
Robison Wells, an epilogue to FEEDBACK and the VARIANT duology
Sandra Tayler, a creative non-fiction piece called “Married To Depression”
Sara Zarr, a story featuring characters from one of Sara’s previously published novels
Sarah Eden, “Farewells” for LONGING FOR HOPE and HOPE SPRINGS
Seanan McGuire, The original opening for DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON
Shannon Hale, “Ravenous,” a previously unpublished scifi short story
SJ Kincaid, the original first chapter of VORTEX, before it was entirely rewritten

You’ll also get to read personal essays and comments from each of the authors, explaining their own connection to mental illness and the many ways it’s changed their lives.

This anthology goes up on IndieGoGo on Monday, April 21, where you’ll be able to buy it in hardcover or ebook, along with a ton of extra perks like manuscript critiques, dinners with your favorite authors, and the ever-popular “die horribly in one of Dan’s books.”

We,re really proud of this anthology, and I’m incredibly grateful for the hard work and amazing kindness of the authors who helped make it a reality. I hope you love it as much as we do.

Entitled: The Disney Princess One-Word Title Game

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

A few days ago I mentioned on Twitter/Facebook my dislike of the new Disney movie naming pattern: instead of just giving the movie the same name as the fairy tale it’s based on (ie, “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), they’ve started using one-word titles like Brave, Tangled, and Frozen. Brave is an odd case because Brave was a) not based on an existing story and b) a really stupid title. The character was, indeed, brave, but that’s not what the story nor her character arc were about: she was just as brave in the beginning as she was in the end, so calling the movie “Brave” is about as descriptive as calling it, say, “Celtic,” or “Redhead,” or even just “Girl.” Tangled and Frozen upped the game by using their title to underline–in a cutesy way, of course–the exact emotional obstacle the main character needs to overcome. Rapunzel has severe mommy issues and feels tied down to her old life? Combine that with the hair motif and call it Tangled. The Ice Queen is emotionally stunted and needs to learn how to break free? Combine it with the snow motif and call it Frozen. So yes, they’re more clever than Brave, but they’re way too on-the-nose. You can’t just call out the exact theme of your story, reduce it to a past participle, and call it a title.

Or can you?

As a matter of fact, that is EXACTLY what we’re going to do! I joked online about retitling “The Little Mermaid” in the same style, and was flooded with delightful suggestions, including everything from Beached to Silenced, with plenty of awesome non-past-participle answers thrown into the mix (I suggested Speechless, and my brother-in-law made me laugh out loud with “Shellfishness”). So, that’s what we’re going to do: retitle all the Disney princess movies with one-word titles that wear the character’s main arc, or the movie’s main theme, as clumsily on their sleeve as possible. For the purposes of this exercise we are looking ONLY at Princess movies, so no Aristocats or whatever, and we are imagining a world in which each princess is actually the main character of her movie (in other words, your title for Aladdin will be about Jasmine, because if they made that movie today that’s exactly how they’d do it). You get points for describing the character, extra points for describing the character’s arc, more extra points for incorporating the movie’s visual theme, and even more extra points for making me laugh. Past participles are preferred (mostly that means ‘words that end in -ed,’ but there are exceptions), but don’t let that stop you from laying down a gem like Shellfishness. You can rename one or all, and enter as many times as you like, and–why not?–I’ll pick a winner and give them something awesome. Probably a book, or maybe a T-shirt, or maybe I’ll name a corpse after you in the new John Cleaver. MAYBE ALL OF THE ABOVE. The winner, by the way, will be chosen by me, based on whatever criteria I so desire. I can do whatever I want, because the title of my own personal movie is “Empowered.”

Without further ado, here’s the list of movies:


The Core Set:

Snow White
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
Aladdin
Pocahontas
Mulan
The Princess and the Frog
Brave (because seriously, it needs a new name)


Princesses Disney tries to forget about because their movies are dumb:

Eilonwy (The Black Cauldron)
Kida (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)


The BEST Disney Princess, who is totally a princess, even in-world, but who doesn’t get included in their marketing because even their marketers know she would never be caught dead in a lame-o Disney Princess product:

Megara (Hercules) (I kind of have a thing for Megara)


Other movies it might be fun to rename in this style, even though they’re not about princesses:

Pinocchio
Dumbo
Bambi
Alice in Wonderland
Peter Pan
One Hundred and One Dalmatians
The Sword in the Stone
The Jungle Book
Robin Hood
The Brave Little Toaster
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Lion King
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Tarzan


And why not? Disney owns this now too:

Princess Leia (Can you even imagine the Star Wars trilogy remade as a Disney Princess franchise? That sounds so terrible that I CAN’T HELP MYSELF I WANT IT RIGHT NOW.)

Welcome to Science Fiction! Here are some of my favorites for you to read next

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

I’ve noticed something over the last few years, talking with readers in person and online: in YA, people tend to use ‘dystopia’ as a general label for all science fiction. Not everybody does this, of course, but a big enough chunk of the audience that it stood out to me. This makes a lot of sense, when you think about it, because the average YA reader had never really read any science fiction before UGLIES and THE HUNGER GAMES came out and took over a market previously dominated by fantasy. I wrote a guest post for The Sci-Fi Chick, presenting a very brief history of dystopia, and explaining how I think the Partials Sequence fits (and doesn’t fit) into it, but today I want to do more. If you’re a YA reader who loves dystopian books and, through them, has become a science fiction fan, awesome! Science fiction has one of the greatest books around, and you’re in for a treat. Here are some of my favorites, to help you step out into the wider world of science fiction.

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
We’ll start with a YA book to help ease you into it. I assume you’ve already heard of Ender’s Game, even if only for the movie; this is one of the best science fiction books of all time, and I would argue one of the best ANY books of all time. A super-genius six year old is forced into space combat training, horribly manipulated by everyone around him, and tries to figure out who he wants to be and how to define his own morality. It’s a book that celebrates intelligence, and approaches kids on their own level, and I’ve read it three times and loved it more with each one.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Another one to help ease you in to the wider genre, this is a straight-up dystopian novel about a world where books are outlawed, and the government floods the people with a constant stream of television and other media to keep them stupid and complacent. Ray Bradbury is one of our greatest SF writers, and if you love books and/or dystopias–and if you’re reading this I assume you love both–you owe it to yourself to read Fahrenheit 451.

Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
Now we’re getting into some non-YA, non-dystopia (by most definitions) novels. If you only know Starship Troopers from the movie, forget it; the book is completely different in almost every way imaginable, aside from the names of some of the characters. The starting point is similar to Ender’s Game (bug-like aliens have attacked Earth, and now we’re training soldiers to go out and fight them), but from there it diverges into a completely different story, chronicling not a command school but an infantry boot camp. It’s partly a war story, and partly a philosophical exploration of what war is for, and why we fight, and why even an enlightened society might never be able to stop no matter how much we want to.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
This is the first of a five-book trilogy (that’s not a typo), and that description alone should give you a sense of the completely silly, ridiculous, hilarious nature of the series. A man named Arthur Dent discovers that his best friend is an alien, who helps him escape the planet Earth right before it gets blown up to make way for a hyperspace bypass. It’s funny, sometimes side-splittingly funny, but it’s also brilliant and inventive and surprisingly poignant in places, exploring everything from loneliness to friendship to the meaning of life (and the universe, and everything).

Dune, by Frank Herbert
This is my favorite book ever. It’s kind of science fiction, and kind of space fantasy, and kind of a political espionage story, and kind of a masterclass in theoretical ecology. The desert planet Arrakis is the source of the most valuable substance in the galaxy: a drug called Spice, that lets users see the future. Harvesting it becomes a deadly game of politics, religion, and warfare, and I love EVERY SINGLE DROP of this book. One of the early scenes is a dinner party where nobody trusts each other, and the conversation they have is as thrilling as any fight scene you’ve ever read, and it only gets better from there.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
A group of Catholic monks, deep in a desert, dedicate their lives to finding and preserving the last surviving fragments of an ancient civilization: ours, hundreds of years after we destroyed ourselves in a nuclear war. This book is told in three different sections, spanning almost a thousand years, as the post-apocalyptic survivors slowly rebuild a world, discover our lost secrets, and try to avoid falling into the same tragic pattern that killed us the firts time around.

Neuromancer, by William Gibson
This book hit the bookstores like a cannonball, changing everything people thought science fiction was or could be, and has probably influenced more of the modern genre and society at large than anything else on this list. A hacker-for-hire is paid to break into a secured file and find the identity of a mysterious figure, in a journey that takes him around the world and into orbit and back again, uncovering one world-changing secret after another. This book was so far ahead of it’s time that it still feels prescient, even thirty years later, and the writing itself is poetic and beautiful.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
The main character is named Hiro Protagonist, a samurai hacker who delivers pizza for the mob, and if that doesn’t make you desperate to read this book I don’t know what will. It’s a mind-blowing cyberpunk where governments have disappeared and private corporations rule the world, and an archeologist has discovered a language so ancient and powerful it can actually be used to infect a human brain like a computer virus. Trust me, you’ll love it.

The Mirage, by Matt Ruff
This the most recent book on my list, just a year or two old, about a parallel reality just like our own, but with one thing flipped: Iraq is the world superpower, and the USA is a squabbling collection of religious extremists. The prologue begins with Christian terrorists crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center in Baghdad, and just in case that wasn’t already fascinating enough, a few chapters later the Homeland Security agents investigating this find a copy of a newspaper from our world, explaining it as a Muslim attack on Manhattan. I’ve rarely ever read a book this audacious, starting with that basic premise and following the rabbit as deep as it goes.

Flatland, by Edwin Abbott
In contrast, this is the old est book on my list, written by a schoolmaster in 1884. It’s both a science fiction story and a mathematical thought experiment, telling the story of a two-dimensional person who slowly becomes aware of other dimensions, and what their existence means for him. This book made me think about the world beyond what I can perceive in a way I never had before, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s incredibly short, practically a novelette, and you can probably read it an afternoon.

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick is one of the greatest of all SF writers, and while some of his other novels are more famous (his most famous is almost certainly Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, on which the movie Blade Runner was based), this one is by far my favorite. A narcotics officer goes undercover to investigate a drug called Substance D, with effects that mimic schizophrenia, and over time realizes that the drug has broken his mind in half, and he is in fact investigating himself as both officer and dealer. It’s not only a great SF story, it’s an incredibly personal look at the author’s own experiences with drug addiction and mental illness, and presents those kinds of mind-altering effects from an insider’s perspective I’ve never seen anywhere else.

The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
Think of this as a single story split into two books: Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. Together they’re kind of like a far-future SF version of the Canterbury Tales, with a group of pilgrims visiting a mysterious planet and, each in turn, telling their own stories of why they’ve come and what they hope to learn. My favorite of the flashbacks comes in the second book, but all of them are wonderful, and together they add up to an epic story of humanity’s past and future and potential for greatness.

Contact, by Carl Sagan
Most people know this one from the movie, starring Jodie Foster as a SETI scientist who discovers a real message from aliens. The book does a lot of great things, including it’s incredibly plausible description of how our society might actually react to a message from outer space, but that’s only a part of it. The core of the story, the thing that makes me love it, is the way it presents the search for extra-terrestrial life as a parallel to religion and an expression of personal faith: we know that something’s out there, something bigger and greater than ourselves, that might help us to understand our world and our life better. This is the most spiritual look at science I have ever read, and I love it.

These are some of my favorites, and only a very small sampling of the amazing science fiction literature just waiting for you to discover it. What about you: what are favorites?

Some Quick Thoughts on Net Neutrality

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Last night I posted the following on Twitter:

Every anti-net-neutrality article said this would never happen: http://money.cnn.com/2014/02/23/technology/netflix-comcast-streaming-deal/index.html … THIS IS LITERALLY THE FIRST THING THAT HAPPENED

In the last 16 hours that’s been retweeted more than 350 times, and rising quickly. That’s not a huge deal, as famous people retweets go, but it’s a lot more than I typically get, and that’s kind of cool. The problem is, there’s so much more to the issue of net neutrality than can be contained in one snarky tweet, especially on an issue that continues to evolve. My own understanding of the issue continues to grow, even in the last 16 hours, and my thoughts are no longer perfectly aligned with the thing I keep getting quoted for. This post won’t be retweeted as much as really pithy thing I said last night, but I’ll feel better knowing it’s out there.

Net neutrality, put as simply as possible, is the idea that Internet Service Providers have to treat all net traffic the same, just like all phone service providers have to treat all calls the same: you can’t, for example, purposefully make one group’s service worse or less far-reaching than another’s, just because you don’t like them. This is a good thing, and none of us question it on phones, but when it comes to Internet some people (mostly ISPs) want the rules to work differently. In their defense, a lot of their rules already work differently, and when net neutrality was officially struck down last month it was because the FCC had pulled some classification shenanigans that made their version of it illegal. I’m not here to debate the legal grounds of the current situation, because I don’t understand it in full, and neither do almost any of you: we’re not tel-com lawyers or FCC officials, and while we may passionately defend the version of the story that we think is correct, that’s not the same thing as actually being correct. What I do believe is that net neutrality, whatever we have to do to make it work legally, is vital to the future of the Internet, which makes it vital to the future of everything. That’s not an exaggeration.

The people who support net neutrality often do it with some version of this: “If you let ISPs control the flow of information, they will do so in a way that serves their own ends, and not their customers.” That’s the basic version–most of the time it’s more of a scare tactic:

“Tel-com companies could hold certain websites hostage, demanding more money to let people access them.”
“Tel-com companies could influence elections by artificially hampering one candidate’s web traffic and availability.”
“Tel-com companies could artificially limit your access to certain web content unless you pay a premium fee.”

I call these scare tactics, but some of these things have already happened; the last one, in particular, started happening within hours of the net neutrality decision, with some ISPs purposefully throttling certain web services, including access to competitors. Let’s say you’re on ISP X and don’t like it, and want to switch to ISP Y; it’s now harder for you to get to ISP Y’s webpage through ISP X’s network, because they made it harder on purpose, because they don’t want you to leave and it’s legal to screw with you, so why not? To put that in perspective, imagine picking up an AT&T phone and trying to call Verizon, only to discover that AT&T decided your phone is not allowed to call a competitor. That sounds insane on a phone, but that’s where we’re headed with ISPs.

That’s why I freaked out when I read that article about Netflix, because it seemed like a clear case of an ISP (Comcast) shaking down a content provider (Netflix) for money: “you’ve got some really great content there, buddy, it’d be a real shame if nobody could access it over our network. Pay your protection money or we can’t be responsible for what happens next.” Let me reiterate: that kind of behavior is now legal, and it has already happened in small scale, and I full expect it to happen in large scale, probably sooner than we think. I suspect that I jumped the gun a little in this particular situation, though: Netflix is a massive force on the Internet, accounting for anywhere from 28-33% of all Internet traffic in America. Yes, you read that right. Let that sink in, and then ask yourself how a company like Comcast would possibly risk offending a company that powerful? They desperately want that traffic–providing service to Netflix is, in a very real sense, 33% of their business model. If they throttle it artificially, their customers will go somewhere else, somewhere their Internet access is not suddenly reduced by 33% for no good reason. So really, companies like Netflix are probably safe for now; this deal with Comcast is more likely an attempt by both companies to work together and try to get that 33% piece of the pie even bigger, though upgraded cables and servers and data centers. They need each other.

But they don’t need everybody, and I don’t think I’m being an alarmist when I say that we’re going to start seeing these big ISPs strong-arming smaller companies, and customers, in ways both subtle and direct. I don’t think this is a good thing. I want net neutrality reinstated, through whatever means are both legal and ethical. But I also wanted to clear up this particular point, since it irked me to have made such a broad generalization, including some facts I later learned were faulty, in such a public way.

The “Writing Advice” post that I’m just going to point people to from now on

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

A friend of a friend wrote to me today asking for advice about writing. I don’t typically have time to give personalized advice, as much as I’d love to, but this was a good friend, and I thought it might be a good chance to put my “aspiring author advice” thoughts down in one central place. If you’re a writer, or you want to be a writer, this is my very basic “how to get started” guide.

Note that some of this info, particularly the bit about cons, is specific to my home state of Utah, but the principles can be applied no matter where you live.

I wrote this for a man named Justin, who at the ripe old age of 32 decided he’d been wasting his time in marketing when his real love was writing. Whatever your age or gender or geographical location, it’s never too late for now.

Dear [insert your name here]:

The good news is, your story is common, and your solution is more or less what you already know it to be: write a lot until you’re good at it. I’ll be saying a bunch of other stuff in this post, but it all comes down to that. Write a lot until you’re good at it.

The other good news, and arguably the best news, is that you can make a living as an artist. Dave Wolverton told me that in college, and I realized–like you–that no one had ever told me that before. Our education system is not designed for artists, it’s designed for people who sit in cubicles and earn salaries and get retirement benefits, and that’s fine if that’s what you’re into, but artists have to make their own way. So let me reiterate: you can make your own way. It’s scary and it’s hard and it requires so much more effort than just going to work and getting a paycheck, but you can do it and it’s worth every hardship.

Don’t feel like you’ve wasted time in law and marketing and such, because there are very, very few writers in the world who got that way by studying writing academically. Anyone can learn writing just by reading a lot and then trying it on their own. By studying other things, you’ve filled your head with stuff to write about, which is often way harder. Look at how many “mainstream” novels are about literature professors who want to write books: there’s a ton of them, because those guys write what they know, and that’s all that they know. Take the time to study new things and learn new awesome stuff, and then you’ll have more to write about. I started in marketing and advertising, just like you, writing brochures and websites and stuff for a long parade of health and beauty companies (and one scrapbooking company), and right now my agent is shopping around a science fiction novel I wrote about a health and beauty company that destroys the world. The more you know, the better, so hooray. Particularly if you have a family and a house and all kinds of other stuff to pay for, having a “real” job before the writing takes off is pretty much requisite, and I worked that marketing career for eight years, writing in my off hours, before I finally started selling books at a level that allowed me to quit and start writing full time.

What advice can I give you? The first thing is to point you to my podcast, Writing Excuses, which I do with three other authors (Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, and Howard Tayler). It’s completely free–I’m not trying to sell you anything–and designed for aspiring writers, with fifteen-minute episodes on everything from dialogue and plot to editing and talking to agents. We’ve been doing it every week for years, and there’s hundreds of hours of it posted online, and frankly there’s not much I can tell you that isn’t already presented more usefully there. Jump in on the current episodes, cherry pick the archives for your favorite topics, or just start at the beginning and try not to get overwhelmed.

Second: check out your local writing scene, looking for conventions, conferences, writing groups, and so on. Depending on where you live, and what genre(s) you’re trying to write, there are a ton of options out there–far more than you think, I can almost guarantee. Go to your local bookstore or library and ask if there are any writing groups that meet there; if they have a bulletin board, start your own group and post a notice. Do a quick Internet search for writing conventions, or SF conventions that might have a writing track. If you’re in or near Utah you’re in luck, because there’s a ton of stuff: CONduit, LTUE, LDStorymakers, Writing for Charity, Salt Lake City ComicCon, and more are all fantastic places to meet other authors. Wherever you are, there’s bound to be some kind of local (or near-local) convention. If you’re writing SF or fantasy, also consider WorldCon, World Fantasy, and Writing Superstars, though those are going to involve much more expense and travel. If you’re really serious and have the time/money to spare, considering signing up for Clarion or Clarion West, or some of the similar conventions out there, which are intensive, multi-week writing workshops with big-name authors teaching the classes. A cheaper option, if you can’t make any of these in person, is to go online to a place like NaNoWriMo’s website and start clicking through their forum to find the one for your region; it might be kind of sparse this time of year, but in the fall it will fill up with like-minded aspiring authors, who often do local meet-ups and might be interested in joining a writing group.

Third, and this is a big one: allow yourself to write a bad book. Don’t insist that your first or second or even fifth book be perfect, because they won’t be–give yourself the chance to try new things and screw them up and learn from your mistakes and try again. Your first book will teach you how to write your second, which will teach you how to write your third, and so on and so on until your books are as awesome as you’ve always wanted them to be. I didn’t get published until my sixth book, and like I said earlier it took me eight years of working other jobs before I got to that point. Nothing worthwhile is free, and if you want to get good at something you need to work at it. The good news is, if you invest the time and effort, and really give it a sincere try, it will pay off. I see it happen every day.

I include this last section because I know people are going to ask about it: is it better to go traditional publishing, or self publishing? You’ll hear a lot of stuff on both sides, but the only true answer in my opinion is this: it’s better to not limit your options. They both have their ups and they both have their downs, so don’t worry about which one is better and just do everything. Write as much as you can, try different genres, try different publishing models, try all the new things you can find until you find something you love that works for you. “Write a lot until you’re good at it” applies to the business model just as much as the craft.

I hope this helps. Good luck, and please keep in touch. I can’t always write big advice essays, and I have a policy against reading people’s manuscripts–I used to do it, but I just don’t have the time and had to force myself to stop. What I can do, though, is cheer you on and exult in your successes. And if you have the chance to say hello at a con or a signing or whatever, please do. I’d love to shake your hand and share a…well, I don’t drink, so how about some hot wings?

Sincerely,

Dan