Archive for August, 2011

It’s time again to play “Name That Thing In Dan’s New Book”!

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Remember when I asked you guys to help me come up with some fake swear words? I got a TON of responses, and they were all awesome. You’re very smart (and attractive). That’s why I’m coming to you again with a similar question. Anyone who gives me an awesome word or term that we end up using will absolutely get a heartfelt thanks on the acknowledgments page.

It’s the same book as before, and I can only give you the same basic notes about it as last time: it’s post-apocalypse SF, in which the world was destroyed by a virus. Beyond that, you’ll have to name things more or less blind. But that’s okay, because the name needs are pretty simple:

1) A name for the apocalypse itself. How do people refer to the end of the world when they look back at it? “Crash” is a pretty common one, and we liked that for a while, but again, it’s pretty common, and we want to do something unique.

2) A name for a group of rebels. There is a group that has solidified itself as the new city and the new government, and we’ve got that taken care of, but there is a dangerous offshoot of rebels that need a name as well. How would they refer to themselves? How would such a group choose to identify themselves? I will consider all angles on this: “good” names, “bad” names, cool-sounding names, official-sounding names, etc.

Any brilliant ideas? Any passable ideas we can tweak as a group? I won’t posit any of my own ideas because I don’t want to sway you in any specific direction. Let’s start throwing them out there.

Looking back at #PoetrySummer

Friday, August 26th, 2011

12 weeks ago (actually 13 now, I think), my friend Brian and I decided, more or less on a whim, that because we were both big fans of poetry we would memorize a poem every week over the summer: 12 poems in all. We did it, and a lot of you did it with me, and the experience was not only fun but surprising in a lot of ways.

First was the effort involved–this was hard, and it required a lot of work and sacrificed a lot of time we could have spent doing other things. It also–and this is the key–was something that we did on our own initiative, with no outside force looking down to make sure we did it. The memorization was all on the honor system, and the choice of poems was completely up to us. I told another friend what we were doing and he laughed, saying “if I were memorizing a poem every week I would just choose haikus every time.” And that would be legal, but it would be missing the point–we weren’t just trying to meet a minimum requirement, we were trying to challenge ourselves to go farther. We were exercising our own ability to set goals and pursue them with self-discipline. I didn’t just learn a bunch of poems, I learned more about my potential to act and excel. Which is maybe too heady of a point to make over a poetry experiment, but there you go.

The second thing I learned is how easy it became to memorize from week to week. By the time I got to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” it was far easier than I expected because I’d become a much better memorizer. It helped remind me that your brain strengthens and atrophied just like a muscle–use it, and push it, and it will grow more powerful. Waste it and it goes away.

The third thing I gained, and which covers a whole avalanche of other things, is a vastly improved appreciation for the poems I memorized. Even poems I’ve studied at length, like “Prufrock,” became so much greater once I learned it by heart. The extra effort of memorization taught me a ton about how the poems were structured, and how that structure worked, and what that structure meant.

For those who haven’t been following since the beginning, here are the poems I memorized:

“High-Waving Heather”, by Emily Bronte
“i carry your heart,” by ee cummings
“To Autumn,” by John Keats
“Here, Bullet,” by Brian Turner
“Puedo Escribir Los Versos Mas Tristes Esta Noche,” by Pablo Neruda
“Disobedience,” by A.A. Milne
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot
“The Walrus and the Carpenter,” by Lewis Carroll
“The Miller’s Daughter,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson
“Sonnet 29,” by William Shakespeare
“Mother to Son,” by Langston Hughes
“Plead For Me,” by Emily Bronte

Hugo/Campbell Retrospective

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

First, some quick housekeeping:

1) My old website, the Time-Waster’s Guide, is now officially defunct; nothing serious, it was just really old, and the code was really porous, and it became more trouble to maintain than it was worth. My new forums are now hosted at The 17th Shard, a Brandon Sanderson fansite, and my Community link in the left sidebar will point there soon.

2) Yes, I did do a poem for the final week of Poetry Summer, and you’ll get that post and my final thoughts on Friday.

Now: the Hugos. First of all, I live-tweeted the whole thing, and if you’re really curious and happened to miss that you can go back through. The winners are easy to find on any number of websites. The highlight of the evening, for me, was Mary Robinette Kowal’s well-deserved win in the short story category, a category Harlan Ellison called “The Big One,” because in the early days of science fiction that’s where all the energy was; all the excitement and innovation. I’m very proud of/excited for Mary, and I’m delighted that people are paying more and more attention to this excellent author.

Aside from Mary, though, Writing Excuses got slammed good and hard–not only did the hosts all lose, in every category where we were nominated, but pretty much everyone who’s ever been on the podcast lost (with the exception of Phil and Kaja Foglio). Even the Campbell winner, Lev Grossman, was the only Campbell nominee who’s never been on the show. Kind of hilarious actually. I talked to him about it, and we’ll get him on the show soon, and then he’ll never win anything again. Revenge! But no, I’m just kidding; I want to hate Lev, and everyone else who beat me, but they’re just all way too nice, and their writing is too good. Best of luck to all of them.

One thing the Hugos do every year, which I think is very cool, is post a full list of hard data after the awards are over: you can see not only who one, but how many votes they got, and how many nominations they got. Follow this link and scroll to the bottom to look at the nominations first, because there’s some really interesting stuff. This was a record year for both votes and nominations, and yet even with that it only took 78 nominations to get on the ballot for Best Novel. Take a look at what just barely didn’t make it: Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson missed by 18 nominations; Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay missed by 23. Never think that you nomination doesn’t count, because it totally does.

Interesting note about Writing Excuses: we got 63 nominations for Best Related Work, I got 59 for Campbell, Brandon got 60 for Best Novel, and Howard got 64 for Best Graphic Story. Just the same 60-ish people every time? Maybe. We had enough WE fans to get nominated in every category but the big one, which is interesting. I hope I’ve picked up a few more fans for next year in Chicago.

Also interesting: the short story category almost completely reversed itself from nominations to votes. Mary got the fewest nominations (out of the finalists) but the most actual votes. That’s also how she won the Campbell three years ago. This likely signifies that a core group of fans is nominating her, and then the wider audience of voters reads her stuff, likes it, and votes based on quality. Good for you, voters.

Now, let’s take a look at the voting itself. The Hugo voting system is kind of Byzantine, but easy enough to understand once you learn how it works. Scroll up in that document to the Campbell voting results, and we’ll walk through them. The top box, labeled “1st Place,” has several columns of numbers; the first column shows how many people voted each person in First Place. 263 voters marked Lev as first, 232 marked Lauren, 206 marked me, and so on down to No Award. (Quick aside about No Award: that’s the option you choose if you don’t think anyone was good enough to get the award in that category. It’s kind of sad that 67 people thought we all sucked, but I’m glad they voted. No Award is a vital part of what makes the awards meaningful, because they remind you that you’re not just comparing the nominees to each other, you’re comparing them to every past winner in the category. Sure, the novel you liked best might be better than the other nominees, but is it really as good as Ender’s Game? Does it deserve to win the same award as Neuromancer? Voting for No Award helps keep the Hugo a solid representation of quality.)

Okay, so: the first column is for first place votes. What are all the other columns for? What their system does is look at the nominee with the least amount of votes, drop it off the least, and add all of those voters’ second place votes to the first place tallies. In this case, for example, of the 67 people who voted No Award first, one of them voted me second, which is why my second column rose from 206 to 207. This one-vote bump happened to everyone but Saladin Ahmed. The voting system looks at the new rankings (which don’ actually change in this case) and once again drops the lowest nominee and adds all of those voters’ second place picks to the running tally. This was my biggest jump, because 60 of Larry Correia’s 175 first-place voters chose me for second place. This actually shot me up above Lauren, but I dropped back down in the next round, when Saladin’s votes were redistributed. That left me in last place, my votes we redistributed, and holy crap both Lev and Lauren shot up: Lauren gained 78 votes and Lev gained 90. This means that of the 206 people who put me in first place, 90 of them put Lev in second. See how it works? Awesome. Now let’s look at Best Novel, where things weren’t quite as straightforward.

Scroll to the very top of the document. As you can see from the first column of Best Novel votes, Feed has a clear lead on everyone else, with Blackout and The Dervish House jockeying closely for second. This doesn’t change much in the second round. In the third round, when The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms gets dropped, everyone shoots up in numbers but Feed maintains it’s lead; the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms fans were fairly ecumenical with their second place votes. Now it gets interesting. Cryburn is now in last place, and Lois McMaster Bujold shares a lot of fans with Connie Willis. When Bujold drops off the list and her votes are redistributed, Willis gains almost 150 votes and rockets into first place. The redistributed Dervish House votes are even more decisive, giving Blackout/All Clear nearly 200 new votes and sealing her solidly in first place.

Is this a good system? Yes and no. On the one hand, it stops what we call “The Twilight Effect”: rabid fans of a particular work can’t just jump in en masse and buy their favorite author a Hugo, or at least they can’t do it easily. By taking time to consider second and third and fourth place votes, the fan effect is normalized and extra weight is given to works that appeal to a broader base of readers. On the other hand, this system heavily favors better-known authors with a broad base of name recognition. The more people who say “X was best, but I’m putting Y in second because I like/know/have heard of the author,” the better chance Y has of turning around and taking first place.

Now I’m not saying Connie Willis won purely on name recognition–Blackout and All Clear were excellent books, and I’m happy to give them Hugos. But I am saying that people need to make sure to take their votes seriously: read everything in the category; rank every nominee instead of just voting for your favorite; use No Award the way it was intended. Consider that Connie Willis’s first place votes more than doubled by the time the second place votes were added in–that’s a pretty massive swing, and it says a lot about how the voting works. Remember that when you vote next year.

Speaking next year, let me pause a moment to talk about the Hugo voter packet: electronic copies of EVERY SINGLE NOMINATED WORK, delivered for free to every voter. (Credit where credit is due, this packet and everyone who uses it owes a huge debt to Kate Kligman, who’s spearheaded the project; thank you, Kate, for being awesome.) This packet is directly responsible for the record voting numbers, and every vote helps keep the Hugo award valuable and meaningful. Even if you can’t make it to WorldCon in person, you can pay $50 for a voting membership and receive hundreds of dollars worth of the best science fiction and fantasy in the world. That’s amazing. Every SF reader should be taking advantage of this. Just budget it in right now, and when ChiCon rolls around next year, you can be a part of one of SF’s greatest legacies.

Surprise! I have a new ebook that YOU CAN BUY RIGHT NOW

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Do you like screwball comedies starring famous historical figures?

Do you like both bank robberies AND grave robberies?

Do you like vampires, but kind of wish somebody would make fun of them?

Then dude: we should totally hang out.

I am extremely pleased to be announcing my newest book, available today for the ereader of your choice. There is no print version–this is an ebook exclusive, and honestly probably a little too niche-y to ever see print anyway (unless you live in Germany, where it comes out next year). After years of love and revision and polishing, I am exceedingly pleased to present:

An Extremely Silly Horror Novel

The basic premise is this: it’s 1817, and a man named Frederick Whithers is wallowing in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, desperate to get out so he can go and commit it for real. He fakes his own death and escapes in a coffin, but when he gets to the graveyard and crawls out of the coffin, somebody sees him and assumes he’s a vampire. It’s pretty much all downhill from there.

Frederick spends the rest of the book doing everything he can to steal a massive inheritance from a dead man, all the while running from constables, vampire hunters, ghouls, poets, proper young ladies, highly improper young ladies, morticians, mysterious figures, and the most pathetic collection of vampires to ever disgrace a work of fiction. The book is, as I mentioned above, Extremely Silly: imagine a horror story, as written by Monty Python, in the style of the old screwball comedies like The Producers, What’s Up Doc?, and Some Like it Hot, and then imagine that for some reason it’s also in the style of a Victorian frame story starring John Keats and presented by a fake historian. Some of you aren’t going to get it, but some of you are going to wonder where this book has been all your life.

Intrigued? Thanks to the miracle of Internet connectivity, you can download and read A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS right this very second:


This should cover just about everybody; I tend to use the Stanza app on my iPad, and the Smashwords link works great for that. If you use a different ereader, just open the catalog and do a search. It should be available pretty much everywhere.

Week Twelve of #PoetrySummer, and an Announcement

Monday, August 15th, 2011

This is it: the final week of Poetry Summer! My friend Brian and I–and many of you–have memorized a poem every week this summer. It’s been an awesome experience, and I’ve learned a lot; not only have I become much better at memorizing, but I’ve come to appreciate the poems so much more through the process.

I’m going to finish the summer like I began it, with a poem from my literature-crush, Emily Bronte. Stuff like “High-Waving Heather” and WUTHERING HEIGHTS made me love her writing, but the poem that made me love her, as a person and as a writer, was “Plead for Me,” a breathless, almost desperate poem about her choice to become an artist. Bronte’s work has a raw quality to it, a sense of boundless passion roiling just under the surface, and that’s a feeling a lot of writers can relate to: that your words and thoughts and stories are trying to claw their way out, and you are simultaneously excited to be writing and helpless to do anything else. Did you choose to be a writer, or did writing choose you? Bronte captures this perfectly by calling her art “My slave, my comrade, and my king;” she finishes by saying that in art “faith cannot doubt, no hope despair, for my own soul can grant my prayer.” As creators, we can create anything we want, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The poem is practically a manifesto to the joy and pain and inevitability of art, and I can’t think of a better way to end the summer.

I’ll put the full text at the end of the post for those who want to read it, but first: an announcement! Remember the ebook I talked about a few weeks ago? Well it’s done, and it’s ready to go, and I’m launching it this Wednesday. If you know what it’s called you can actually already find it online, but don’t buy it yet–we’re trying to focus as many sales as possible on Wednesday itself, to spike the book’s ranking on Amazon and B&N and iBooks. So: prepare yourself now! Gather your friends and prime your credit cards. There is an extremely silly horror novel coming soon to an ereader near you.

Check back Wednesday for more info, and watch this space. In the meantime, here’s the poem:

PLEAD FOR ME, by Emily Bronte

Oh, thy bright eyes must answer now,
When Reason, with a scornful brow,
Is mocking at my overthrow!
Oh, thy sweet tongue must plead for me
And tell why I have chosen thee!

Stern Reason is to judgment come,
Arrayed in all her forms of gloom:
Wilt thou, my advocate, be dumb?
No, radiant angel, speak and say,
Why I did cast the world away.

Why I have persevered to shun
The common paths that others run;
And on a strange road journeyed on,
Heedless, alike of wealth and power–
Of glory’s wreath and pleasure’s flower.

These, once, indeed, seemed Beings Divine;
And they, perchance, heard vows of mine,
And saw my offerings on their shrine;
But careless gifts are seldom prized,
And MINE were worthily despised.

So, with a ready heart, I swore
To seek their altar-stone no more;
And gave my spirit to adore
Thee, ever-present, phantom thing–
My slave, my comrade, and my king.

A slave, because I rule thee still;
Incline thee to my changeful will,
And make thy influence good or ill:
A comrade, for by day and night
Thou art my intimate delight,–

My darling pain that wounds and sears,
And wrings a blessing out from tears
By deadening me to earthly cares;
And yet, a king, though Prudence well
Have taught thy subject to rebel

And am I wrong to worship where
Faith cannot doubt, nor hope despair,
Since my own soul can grant my prayer?
Speak, God of visions, plead for me,
And tell why I have chosen thee!

Week eleven of #PoetrySummer

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Last week I asked for non-obvious sonnet suggestions, and then most of you suggested 130, “My lover’s eyes are nothing like the sun,” which is the most overused sonnet he ever wrote. So THANKS A LOT, GUYS. But to be fair, it is a great one. I didn’t pick it, but I did end up picking one of the other most overdone sonnets, so it evens out. Without going into needless detail, it was an unexpectedly horrible week for me: I spent the first three days flat on my back with illness, and the last four days scrambling like mad to meet a surprise deadline. When my friend called Sunday night to set up a recitation session, I hadn’t slept in 59 hours and hadn’t even started a poem. I didn’t want to drop the week, though, so I summoned the Internet and grabbed the easiest one (ie, the one I already knew four lines of) and memorized 29, “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”:

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope:
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed;
Desiring this man’s art, or that man’s scope;
With what I most enjoy contented least.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Happily I think on thee, and then my state
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen Earth, sings hymns at Heaven’s gate.
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my place with kings.

This week is Harlem Renaissance, and I’m doing Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son”:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now —
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

I’m a huge fan of Langston Hughes, and this is one of my favorites. If you’ve never read him, look him up–everything that man wrote is smart, brilliant, and completely original.

Week ten of #PoetrySummer

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

So I’ve been late every week on this, so I don’t know if it counts as late anymore, but at least this week I have an excuse: I am very I’ll. I’m mostly over it now, though, so yay me.

Sunday’s poem recitations went great. It was Tennyson week, and my friend Brian finally did Ulysses, and I did a nice short one: “The Miller’s Daughter,” which is surprisingly racy for a Victorian poem. Of course, the Lady of Shallot has a stealth-mode sex scene, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

This week is Shakespearean sonnet week, so…any suggestions? I don’t want to do one of the obvious ones, but I still want something awesome. Anybody have a favorite Shakespearean sonnet?

(By the way, for the many Lady of Shallot fans wondering where the sex scene is, remember that in Romantic-era poetry sex is often represented by flowers. Read it with that in mind, and the sex scene becomes pretty blatant.)