Bluescreen Early Access: Sahara!

December 15th, 2015

Last week I talked about Marisa, the main character in my new series, called Mirador. Today we get to talk about Marisa’s best friend, Sahara Cowan. I’ll skip the long preamble and get right to the awesome character portrait:

sahara page

The art is, once again, by the amazing Santo Ibarra.

Sahara is one of my favorite characters in the series. Where Marisa is a hacker and a programmer, Sahara is a celebrity–or at least she wants to be. Her greatest goal in life is fame, and she has three main areas where she pursues this. First, of course, is Overworld, the virtual reality videogame she plays with Marisa. An Overworld team has five players, who play five specific positions, just like any other sport; Sahara is the General, who leads the team and calls the plays and coordinates all the action on the field. This is a great fit for Sahara because she is always in charge, even off the field. One of my great epiphanies in writing the series was to make Sahara the leader rather than Marisa–I assumed Marisa would be kind of the Queen Bee character, because she’s the main character of the series, but letting her take a social back seat to Sahara just made everything work so much better. Sahara loves the spotlight, and she loves speaking her mind. Marisa will often come up with the crazy ideas that carry the group forward and get them out of (or into) trouble, but it’s always Sahara who makes them happen, using everyone’s talents like the mastermind in a heist movie.

Sahara’s second path to fame is her vidcast. You see those two little thingies flying around above her head? Those are camera nulis, and they follow her everywhere, recording her entire life and streaming it to a real-time 24-hour video feed of Sahara’s life. Her vidcast is pretty popular–not enough that she gets recognized everywhere she goes, but enough to pay her rent and keep her dreaming of some major breakout moment that will make her a star. One of the things she loves about her friends are the constant trouble they’re always in–tangling with digital druglords is dangerous, but it makes for great viewing. Sahara is, in many ways, the answer I came up with when trying to imagine the future of privacy and social media: in a world where the sky is filled with nulis, where even the cars are watching you, and where everyone you meet has a computer in their skull, privacy just doesn’t make sense any more. Some people try to fight this, but Sahara embraces it, and lives her entire life online for everyone to see.

By the way: someone asked me last week if “nuli” was taken from Bernoulli, a famous physicist and mathematician. That’s a cool explanation, but nope. Nuli is an anglicized corruption of the Chinese word for slave, and has become standard (in my series) as shorthand for any kind of domestic or commercial robot. If it shoots you, it’s a drone, but if it folds your laundry or picks up your garbage or delivers your mail, it’s a nuli. I looked at a lot of words, trying to find the perfect one, and nuli was just such a great fit for what we wanted. I liked the connection to “null,” because they are not remotely intelligent or self-sufficient, but more than that I liked the sense of history in it. The word “robot” is based on an old Czech word for “slave,” and nuli is just the Chinese version of the same thing. It feels like an advancement of a familiar concept, plus it helps to underscore that the world of Mirador is wildly international, and dominated by Chinese ideas and culture.

Sahara’s third path to fame is through fashion. You can tell from the picture that she’s dressed much more elaborately (and provocatively) than Marisa; Marisa wears jeans and T-shirts and whatever it takes to get the job done, but Sahara wears fancy dresses with crazy flaps and folds and intricate patterns. She even has a kind of wacky floral bustle in her portrait, which I love. Fashion was another area where I really tried to sit down and predict the future; Go online, or on Pinterest, and look up “cyberpunk fashion,” and you’ll get a whole lot of black–cloaks and hoodies and goth-y, grungy, almost post-apocalyptic clothing. I wanted the clothes in Mirador to have a little more variety to it. A friend of mine is a fashion designer, and we had some long conversations in person and online trying to figure out what these characters should be wearing. One of the things she pointed out is that we already have, in the real world today, 3D-printed clothes; extrapolate that 35 years into the future, and every home could have a clothes printer right there in the bedroom. You find something you like online, you download it, and you’re wearing it in minutes. Not only does this make high fashion more accessible, but it makes complicated patterns and layers–once the hallmark of wealth, because they’re so hard to create–trivially easy to reproduce. That’s a world where fashion trends move so fast you can’t rely on major designers to do it for you–if you want to stay on the edge, you have to start tweaking those patterns you download, and maybe even designing your own stuff from the ground up. That’s what Sahara does. One of her fondest dreams is to see a dress she created on somebody else–that means people are not only watching her vidcast, they’re liking her stuff enough to steal it. And there is no greater honor in the world of fashion than having your ideas stolen.

There’s a lot more to Sahara than I have time for here–she’s emancipated from her parents, she loves math and accounting, she’s a lesbian–but you’ll have to read the book to find out the rest. For now we’ll just say this: she lives in a little apartment over Marisa’s family’s restaurant, right in the middle of the Mirador neighborhood in LA, and is one of Marisa’s only friends. Two of their teammates live on the other side of the world, but next week we’ll talk about the third LA local: the wild and crazy troublemaker Anja Litz.

Bluescreen Early Access: Marisa!

December 7th, 2015

Bluescreen CoverI am so excited about this.

Seriously, SO EXCITED.

I have a new book coming out in February–not just a new book, but a new series. It’s another YA science fiction series, like Partials, but this time instead of a post apocalyptic dystopia we’re diving into a cyberpunk world full of digital drugs, professional gamers, and computers planted in people’s heads. The series is called Mirador, and the first book is called Bluescreen, and it’s launching on February 16 from Balzer & Bray. And I am more excited about it than I’ve been about a book in a very long time.

Cyberpunk is one of my favorite genres, and I’ve always wanted to write in it. In very general terms, cyberpunk is near-future science fiction that focuses on things like the Internet, virtual reality, and human augmentation–cybernetic implants, mind-altering computer programs, and that kind of stuff. The roots of the genre lie in books like William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and the Budayeen books by George Alec Effinger, as well as anime and manga like Ghost in the Shell and Bubblegum Crisis. More recently we’ve seen a lot of American TV shows delving into cyberpunk themes, like 2013’s canceled-too-soon Almost Human, about lifelike androids trying to fit into human society. The TV show Person of Interest is kind of a proto-cyberpunk story about the early beginnings of a cyberpunk world, and the birth of a self-aware Artificial Intelligence. These stories use flashy technology and gritty crime stories and thrilling adventure to talk about some very basic, personal, thought-provoking questions: what does it mean to be alive–does an AI or a clone count? What does it mean to be human–does someone rebuilt with bionic technology lose touch with their humanity? What value does the real world hold, if a virtual reality can be made to seem infinitely better? When machines are doing all our work, and computers are making all our decisions, what purpose do humans have left?

The Mirador series takes place in the year 2050, in a sprawling Los Angeles that’s become larger than some states. Cars drive themselves in an endless web of activity, and above them the sky is filled with nulis–private and commercial drones that carry out a million little tasks that keep society running. China and India have surpassed the US as economic superpowers, and Mexico is strong enough that the border is essentially open, and in fact many people head south across it to look for work. Almost everyone has a device called a djinni implanted in their brain, which fills the role of a computer, a phone, a TV, a GPS, a game console, a wallet, and even a key ring; when you come home your house reads your djinni, recognizes you, and opens the door, and when you go out in the city the stores that you pass do the same, checking your djinni ID against a database and sending you real-time sales offers customized to your purchase history. Everyone is connected 24/7, and life is even more online in 2050 than it is now, and distance has in many ways become meaningless–maybe you live in Buenos Aires, and your best friend lives in Lagos, and you both go to a virtual school in Tokyo. Or maybe you’ve lost your job to a nuli, and you can’t afford to move, and you end up selling designer Russian drugs behind the bodegas in East LA. In some ways it’s a paradise, and in some ways it’s a hell.

Our main character is a 17-year-old girl named Marisa Carneseca, the second child of a large Mexican family in an LA neighborhood called Mirador. She’s a computer geek and kind of a gray-hat hacker–she doesn’t go out and destroy other people’s systems, but she’s not really saving the world, either; she’s just having fun, joyriding around in her digital world the same way her grandparents used to cruise around their city in cars, showing off and testing her limits and exploring the shadows. Her great obsession is a videogame called Overworld, a virtual reality MOBA-style game that’s become one of the most popular sports worldwide. Marisa plays on a team called the Cherry Dogs, and her four teammates–Sahara, Anja, Jaya, and Fang–are also her best friends. One of the things I love about Marisa is how connected she is: so many YA characters are on their own, with parents who are missing or dead, and only a handful of friends. Marisa has nosy parents, pushy siblings, and a whole world full of people who can use their djinnis to reach her anytime and anywhere–and because her phone is literally inside her skull, she can’t just tell her parents she didn’t have it with her when they called. She’s cheerful and frustrated and angry and loving and incredibly fun to write about. You want to see another picture of her? Of course you do:

Marisa Carneseca

That image is by Santo Ibarra, an artist based in LA that I met through DeviantArt. We spent a month or two this year talking about the characters, sharing early drafts of the book, and figuring out exactly how each character would look. Then Santo created a portrait for eight of the characters in the book–all five of the girls on the team, plus three boys they hang out with–along with a couple of other illustrations you’ll get to see later. I’ll be showing you one of these each week until the book is released, so buckle up! It’s going to be awesome.

One final note before I end this week’s preview. You’ll notice in that picture that one of Marisa’s arms is metal; this is not a sleeve or armor, it’s her actual arm, or rather it’s her prosthetic arm replacing the one she lost as a child. You see, when Marisa was two years old she was in a car accident–which is super weird, because nobody’s ever in car accidents anymore. There are a lot of questions about this accident, actually: the car belonged to Don Francisco Maldonado, the crime boss who runs Mirador, and who hates Marisa’s father more than anyone in the world, so…why was Marisa in it? And why had Maldonado’s wife disabled the autopilot, attempting to drive herself? The mysteries behind that accident, and the bitter family feud that lies at the heart of it, are tied into more aspects of Marisa’s life than she realizes….

I love this series. I love these characters. I especially love Mexico–I used to live there, and it was wonderful to be able to put that into a book. And, of course, I love the story of Bluescreen, which I haven’t even talked about yet. Come back next Monday for another Early Access preview, and I’ll spill some more details.

I wrote a new thing

December 4th, 2015

A while ago we did a crowdfunding campaign to help my brother get out from under some of his student and medical debt, and one of the perks I offered was called Official Fan Fiction. Whoever bought it could choose one of my books and I’d write a story where they got to be in it. I was totally expecting someone to want to hang out with Kira Walker, or get murdered by John Cleaver, or maybe go on date with one of them, but the actual request was way more interesting. A group of gamers got together and requested that I write their GM into the world of my dark historical farce A Night of Blacker Darkness.

Blacker Darkness is a ridiculous book, if you haven’t read it. It’s most famously about vampires, but more broadly it’s about intense passions pointed in absurd directions. The characters are thieves and poets and gravediggers and morticians and every one of them wants something desperately, and they’ll do whatever it takes to get it. That’s not the kind of thing you can just casually throw somebody into and make it work, but I had an idea. Years ago I’d started a short story about a man who goes into a police station and reports his own murder–not one that’s going to happen soon, but one that already happened, and no one will beleive him. I couldn’t make the story work, but I loved the idea of it, and I thought that idea’s dark, death-obsessed tone might work well in a farce about a mortuary.

So I wrote a scene where a man goes into a funeral home claiming to be dead and attempting to arrange his own funeral, and I liked it so much that I turned it into a full novella, and now you can read it. It’s called A Pear-Shaped Funeral, and you can buy it on my website. If you haven’t read Blacker Darkness it’s there too, down at the bottom of the page. Both are, at this point, ebook only.

You’ll see some other ebooks and short stories of mine up there as well, and I’ll be posting more throughout the month.

If I were in charge of the new Star Trek series

November 5th, 2015

So: I’m kind of a huge Star Trek geek. When Disney announced a bunch of new Star Wars movies I was ecstatic, but when CBS announced a new Star trek series I went BONKERS. I pulled out all my old board and card games, read through some of my old RPG books, and reinstalled some of my favorite Star Trek video games. And, of course, speculated endlessly about how the new series might work, and what it would focus on, and who would be on the crew. This speculation has absorbed an unconscionable quantity of my time this week, so as a defensive measure I’m going to publish it here, and get it out of my head, and then it will be your problem instead of mine, and I can get some actual work done.

I warn you that this post might get long.

The first and biggest question, obviously, is “Will the new series be part of the old continuity from the TV shows, or the new continuity from the recent movies?” We could talk about the various merits of each for hours, but I think it comes down to two basic facts:
1) The show is coming from CBS, not Paramount, so the rights they own are exclusive to the old shows.
2) Cinematic universes are the law of the land in Hollywood these days, and it would be foolish of any media producer NOT to take advantage of Star Trek in that way. Star Trek was doing Cinematic Universe storytelling decades before anyone else, so why stop now?

How do we reconcile those two facts? With a new show that builds on the existing shows, but can cross over to the movies if and when they want to. So there’s our first creative guide post. It’s honestly not really much of a constraint: at minimum, we can do a show that ignores the movies completely and then just link them together with time/dimensional travel when we decide a link is necessary. On the other end of the scale, we can make time/dimensional travel a major theme of the show, crossing into the Abramsverse and the Mirrorverse and so on all the time. My solution is somewhere between the two extremes.

Next we look at diversity: the original series was shockingly diverse for its time, not accidentally but purposefully and aggressively. Star Trek had the first televised biracial kiss, and indeed Uhura became a major Civil Rights icon. In the second season they added Chekhov, a Russian character, as a specific rebuke to cold war paranoia and the American hatred of the Soviet Union. “The future is a place where we can all get along” was one of, if not the, primary theme of the show, embedded deep in its DNA. Following that kind of model in modern America means pushing the envelope just as much in 2015 as Roddenberry did in 1967. I interpret that to mean not just a racially diverse cast, but finding diversity in other areas: who are our modern Soviet Unions, and how can we showcase them? So there’s our second creative guide post.

Lastly, before we dive into the actual concept, is our final creative guide post: hope. The original Star Trek leaked hope from every pore. Many of the episodes were bittersweet, and some outright tragic, but at its core it was a show about discovery, teamwork, and problem-solving. Modern media is much more grim and gritty than it used to be, but I think the pendulum is slowly starting to swing back toward hope again, and I want the new Star Trek series to reflect that. The success of The Martian shows this shift in our attitudes, and in fact that entire story is a direct homage to Star Trek’s vision of the future: people are fundamentally good, and when the chips are down the entire planet can come together to accomplish something great, using science and innovation to explore outer space. You can see this spirit of hope all over the place in modern media. Our superhero movies are about standing up for what’s right and making the world a better place; our dystopian books and movies, for all their darkness, are about fixing the problems we see in society. Even our post-apocalyptic nightmare movies have happy endings these days, and if Mad Max can finally get a happy ending I think we all can. American culture is finally starting to crawl out of our post-9/11 depression, and our storytelling is no longer about surviving but rebuilding. Our world isn’t perfect, and we still have a lot of problems to solve, but we’re actively trying to solve them. I want our new Star Trek series to reflect that.

So, taking all of that into account, here’s my pitch for a new Star Trek series.

STAR TREK: MERIDIAN

In 2387, as shown in the recent movies, a supernova destroyed the seat of the Romulan Empire. This forced them into a choice: to integrate with the rest of the galaxy, like the Klingons did in a similar situation so many years ago, or to start a war in a desperate bid for resources and supremacy. They chose war (partly inspired, no doubt, by the fact that new-movie Spock apparently caused the supernova with his wacky Red Matter), and for 24 years the galaxy has been wracked with conflict and torn to shreds. Old alliances crumbled, new alliances formed and fell, and all that was great and glorious about our vast space-faring civilizations was tainted or outright destroyed. Now, at the turn of the 25th century, the war is over by mutual accord: no side won, and everybody lost. The survivors use the uneasy peace to try to pick up the pieces and move forward.

nova classOur show follows the USS Meridian, a science vessel that was repurposed during the war for courier duties, supply, and search and rescue. I’m basing this on the general idea of the Nova Class, though of course we would want a new ship design to mark the new series. With the conflict over, the Meridian has been tasked with surveying the damage, reporting back, and helping out where possible. The crew consists of two distinct groups–the ones who served on the ship during the war, and the new wave who was assigned there when it received its new orders. Much of the character drama comes from their attempts to reconcile their differences and come together as a team. I don’t have names for the characters yet, but I do have dream casting suggestions for all of them.

Old Crew:
angela bassetCaptain: a human science officer played by Angela Basset. She hated the war, and the things it required her to do, but she did them anyway because they were her duty. Like the ship itself, her specialty is science; before she went into command she was a researcher, specializing in geology, ecology, and planetary survey, and she is thrilled to now be back in a scientific role, cataloging the vast reaches of space that have become, post-war, as unfamiliar as they were when the first Federation ships explored them centuries ago. She is a devout Muslim, and uses this focus on peace and discovery to keep herself focused. Her best friend aboard the ship is her first officer, who has served with her for years. She also feels a strong connection to the new helm/pilot officer, as they are both still haunted by the horrors of war. My plan is to make her a direct descendant of Uhura, and set up a potential movie cross-over that way. This might mean she has a little Vulcan blood, depending on how the movie decides to play out the Uhura/Spock relationship. Angela Bassett is absolutely my first choice here–she has a fantastic sense of presence and authority on screen, and could bring both gravitas and heart to the captain’s chair.

hiroyuki sanadaFirst Officer: a Cardassian tactical officer played by Hiroyuki Sanada. With the Klingon Empire fighting only for themselves, the Federation turned to the biggest ally they had left: Cardassia. Over the years they formed strong ties together, and shortly before the end of the war Cardassia joined the Federation officially. Now that the war is over, certain factions within Cardassia want the “alliance of necessity” undone, but others are happy to stay together. This character is a contradiction: duplicitous and underhanded with his enemies, but fiercely loyal to his friends. He and the captain have worked together for a while, and respect each other greatly. He has sharp conflicts with the new communications officer, a Bajoran who holds on to the old animosity between their people. He doesn’t trust the new Security officer, probably because she’s just as sneaky as he is. I love Cardassians dearly, especially the way that they looked like outright villains in the beginning and were eventually revealed to be just as noble, and with just as much potential for both greatness and evil, as any other species in the galaxy. With characters like Garak, Dukat, and the glorious arc of Damar, Cardassians are one of the most well-developed species in Star Trek, arguably the most well-developed, and I want to play with that potential here. A Starfleet Cardassian who embraces both Damar’s heroism and Garak’s cunning is a character I’ll follow to the bitter end.

paula pattonDoctor: a half Klingon, half Vulcan xenobiologist played by Paula Patton. Someone suggested a klingon/vulcan doctor on Facebook, and while I changed the casting I love the idea: someone calm and soft-spoken, but ready to explode when pushed to the edge. I think Paula Patton could kill this role, contrasting stately elegance with righteous fury. I want to break away a bit from the standard Star Trek trope of mixed race, which always shows them as struggling with an inherent conflict of identity: am I vulcan, or am I klingon? This character is comfortable with both, following the less common Vulcan decision to ignore the banishment of emotion (a ritual called Kolinahr) in favor of a more balanced acceptance of emotion and logic as equal forces. In many ways her klingon side helps to keep her vulcan turbidity in check. She has found new friends among the incoming crew of scientists, particularly the gregarious exocultural officer, and they serve as nice foils to each other: one warm and calm, the other effusive and bubbly. Her greatest personal conflict comes from their Romulan liaison.

ajay naiduEngineering: a Trill engineer played by Ajay Naidu. He’s been with the Meridian for several years now, in two different host bodies, and held her together through thick and thin. He’s not about to abandon the ship now that she finally gets to do what she was built to do, so he specifically requested to stay, and to bring his spouse aboard now that wartime restrictions have been loosened. This body is the Trill symbiont’s fifth host, and its first male, and while he’s determined to make things work with the previous host’s husband, the changes in circumstance–both physical and situational–create big problems the couple has to deal with. He takes to the new communications officer and the new security officer quickly, the former because they get along as buddies, and the latter because her empathic abilities help him to understand his own emotions better. In the future, the new host may even become attracted to one or both of them. I toyed with the idea of using a new kind of alien, instead of a Trill, partly just to be new and also because I think that Trill hosts are kind of an easy button for stories about gender identity, and well-trammeled territory for Star Trek already. I wanted to try a little harder. The more I thought about it, though, the more I loved the opportunities a Trill presents us for telling stories specifically about gender transition, which is an area that Star Trek has only hit in passing. The very first Trill story was about gender transition, but that was one episode, and then Jadzia (and Ezri) were both devoutly female, with most of their “previous host” stories focusing around the humor of a young, attractive female being friends with old grizzly warriors. This character gives us the chance to dig into something deeper, including fully fluid gender spectrum, and the various ways that he, his husband, and the entire crew can react to the changes. So I’m keeping him a Trill :)

New Crew:
ki hong leeAstrometrics: a young alien genius played by Ki Hong Lee. Every show needs a new alien–something we haven’t seen before, who can show us a reflection of ourselves in a new way. This character comes from a species that is, for lack of a better term, emotionally cold-blooded: they can’t regulate their own emotions, and instead take on the general emotional state of whatever situation they’re in. Kind of like an empath that only works one way, but I don’t want to get too Counselor Troi-ish with this, and instead want to play it as something that is primarily negative, like a crazy space version of bipolar disorder. He’ll surround himself with happy people, which will make him happy, but when something goes wrong and the people around him get sad or scared or depressed, he follows along, without any control over his own emotions. When he’s alone he becomes emotionally inert. This can be treated with medication, which is the only way he made it through the Academy–surrounding himself with a bunch of stressed-out science students made him an absolute basketcase, but the medication and proper social therapy helped, and his natural genius allowed him to graduate at an exceptionally young age with a massive array of mathematics degrees. He’s eager to be out on the Meridian, his first assignment, and see in person the kinds of things he’s thus far only studied in theory. Because of his emotional issues he finds numbers and theories to be simple and comforting, and spends long hours studying. He avoids the more emotionally volatile members of the crew, like the exocultural officer and the helm/pilot, and he doesn’t like who he becomes when he hangs around the darker, more intense characters such as the security, communications, and the XO. That leaves him with precious few friends aboard the ship, though he does like the doctor and the engineer. The net result is that he is drawn to the Romulan liaison, who seems to genuinely like him; the fact that he likes the Romulan back is, for the captain, the first and best sign that the Romulan might actually be trustworthy.

jewel staiteInterspecies Relations: a Bolian exocultural specialist and counselor played by Jewel Staite. She loves people: helping them, talking to them, getting to know them, being needed by them. She’s an extrovert in every sense of the word. Her field of study is primarily cultural, lying in the realm of “soft” science, but she has a passing familiarity with physiology and anatomy as well, particularly in how they relate to interspecies social interaction. She has become friends with the doctor, but tends to clash with the captain over disagreements in how alien contact situations should be handled–she will almost always side with her own feelings over Starfleet regulations, trying to help people no matter what the rules and the complicated web of political treaties says they can and can’t do. She’s kind of like a really bubbly female Captain Kirk in that sense, with just enough of that Kirk-like ego to be very angry when she suggests a course of action and the captain decides to do something else. Jewel Staite would be fantastic in this role, even covered in blue makeup and a bald cap, showing all the cheerful optimism of Kaylee from Firefly, mixed with all the self-confident ego we’ve seen from her in roles since.

diane guerreroHelm: a Human navigator and pilot played by Diane Guerrero. This is her second assignment: she graduated the Academy with top marks, looking forward to a glorious career as a pilot, but it was the height of the war, and in her first few years of service she went through absolute hell. She comes to the Meridian with a chip on her shoulder and a bad case of PTSD, which she does her best to hide from the others because she doesn’t want to admit her own weakness. Her previous commander will be an ongoing villain in the story, always trying to lure her back in to some of the more war-crimey stuff he got her tied up in before. She likes the communications officer, responding to his similar vibe of bitter anger, which doesn’t help her relationship to the XO. She also finds a kindred spirit in the security officer, whose “the end justifies the means” attitude seems to validate her own past actions and assuage her conscience. The captain is kind of trying to take her under her wing, which will be a huge boon if she ever decides to accept any help.

mitch pileggiCommunications: a Bajoran operations officer played by Mitch Pileggi. Loud and lovable and intense and determined and bitter and kind of a misogynist. He’s the Robert Baratheon of communications and sensors officers, grizzled by war and full of larger-than life stories, the first to buy a round for everyone in the bar, and the first to mouth off and mutter insobordinate things in the back halls of the ship. He doesn’t like the XO, and is in fact pretty racist against Cardassians; he doesn’t like the captain, and thinks he should have his own command by now. He gets along great with the engineer and the exocultural officer, and is a kind of father figure for the helm/pilot officer.

sela wardTactical: a Betazoid security and weapons officer played by Sela Ward. Most of the Betazoids we’ve seen have used their psychic powers to help people, but this character is all about manipulation: it’s her job to keep the ship safe, and she’ll do it any way she can, no matter how underhanded. Her empathic abilities make her an amazing negotiator and interrogator, finding all of her opponents’ mental pressure points and pushing on them with expert skill. Her tactical philosophy is simple: win before the fight starts, and she uses mind games and long-term plans to make this happen. That said, when it’s time to fight, she can fight with the best of them. She clashes with the XO, because they’re too alike to trust each other, but they do often see the wisdom of each others’ plans, and make a great team when they have to be. She works hard to earn the captain’s trust, but she does it so manipulatively that it’s hard to believe her motives are pure. The truth is that after so long, and after stepping over so many lines in the war, she doesn’t know how to come back to normal–she is in many ways just as damaged as the pilot, but she hides it so much better, even from herself.

Unofficial Crew:
matt bomerLiaison: a rogue Romulan gone AWOL from the Empire, played by Matt Bomer. They pick him up in the first episode, and distrust him instantly, but eventually realize that he can be valuable as a guide when dealing with areas the Romulan Empire occupied during the war. He is sneaky, manipulative, and full of secrets, but he’s also incredibly useful and has never actively betrayed them. They keep him around, but restrict his access aboard the ship, allow him no weapons, and work behind his back to figure out more about his past. Much like the doctor, he is a contradiction: a fun-loving scoundrel and a deceitful game-player; a loyal friend and a traitor. Everyone will instantly suspect him of divided loyalties, and the obvious move is to make him a member of the Tal Shiar, the Romulan intelligence agency, sent to monitor this Federation ship as it moves uncontested through former Romulan space. I want to avoid this precisely because it’s so obvious, but on the other hand it’s a great story, and I think we can use the audience expectations against them. We’ll make him a former Tal Shiar officer who was part of something terrible–a massive plot by certain factions of the Empire to break the peace treaty and win the war once and for all–and who went AWOL in a specific effort to stop that plan before it could go through. He doesn’t dare to tell the Federation, for fear that news of the treachery will re-ignite the war, so he has to solve it himself. This makes him act secretly and suspiciously, constantly trying to nudge the ship toward a location or situation that will allow him to do what he needs to do. He’s playing a constant mind game with everyone on the ship, but on the other hand he is a good person, genuinely trying to save the galaxy in the only way he knows how, and so the astrometics officer feels good around him, and the security officer knows something’s going on but can’t find any hard evidence of evil or betrayal.

So there you have it.

This is my proposal for a new Star Trek series. A group of people damaged by the past, but trying to work together to make a better future. They’ll explore, they’ll build, they’ll rebuild, and they’ll leave the galaxy better than they found it. They’ll use science to solve physical problems, and diplomacy to solve personal ones, and friendship and trust to solve their own problems aboard the ship.

Now I just need CBS to make it :)

Utah Auditions for A Night of Blacker Darkness

August 29th, 2015

As you may have heard: my sister and I have adapted my book A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS into a play! And we’re presenting two productions of it this Halloween, one at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, and one at Utah Valley University in Orem.

And we want YOU to be in them :)

I posted a link to the TN auditions two weeks ago, and those auditions have come and gone and we have an incredible cast. The UT auditions are just a few days away, on September 1 and 2, so if you’re interested please come and try out! This is a UVU production, but we’re opening the cast to the entire community: anyone who wants to audition is more than welcome, and we’d love to get as wide a range of people as we can. Here’s the information:

Tuesday, September 1: Auditions will be held at BYU, 4pm to 6pm, in room F-556 in the HFAC (Harris Fine Arts Center).

Wednesday, September 2: Auditions will be held at UVU, 4pm to 6pm, in GT 631 (aka “The White Box”).

1) Come prepared with a 1-minute comedic monologue.
2) Call backs will be on Saturday, September 5, at 10am at UVU.
3) The show will be the week of Halloween, Wednesday through Saturday, with TWO shows on Halloween.
4) We will perform in the Ragan Theatre on the UVU campus.
5) Rehearsals will be at 6-10 pm Monday through Friday, and 10am-1pm on Saturday, every week until we open.
6) If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the directors via email: Scott Twitchell (ScottETwitchell@gmail.com) and/or Landon Kraczek (LKraczek@me.com)

We will be casting the following parts:
1) Frederick Whithers, a Convict
2) John Keats, a Poet
3) Mary Shelley, a Novelist
4) Gwendolyn Gaddie, a Liar
5) Percival Gaddie, a Banker
6) Colin Gaddie, a More Important Banker
7) Inspector Tristan Herring, a Vampire Hunter
8) Chief Constable Barrow, a Chief Constable
9) Winston, a Carriage Driver
10) Sable, a Vampire
11) Gustave, a Gravedigger
12) Mr. Spilsbury, a Mortician
13) The Late Harold Beard, a Corpse
14) Vampire 1
15) Vampire 2
16) Vampire 3
17) Vampire 4
18) Constables

Not that you need another Hugo commentary, but…

August 23rd, 2015

Last night I posted this on Twitter and facebook:
“The Puppies obviously care a lot about the fiction they like. That’s good: they should use that passion to establish an award of their own.”

My friend Dan Willis responded with this:
“And here I thought the Hugos said for years that they were a fan award, representing the best fiction SF had to offer.”

I realized that my post sounded pretty exclusionary, which was not my intention. The Hugos ARE a fan award, and anyone can nominate and vote, and that needs to happen more, not less. My comments were mostly directed to the Rabid Puppy group, whose leader has stated unequivocally that he doesn’t want to change the Hugos, he wants to destroy them. Even Brad Torgerson has said in interviews that he doesn’t care about the award. They don’t like the way the award is being handled, or the kind of fiction it tends to celebrate, so I think it makes the most sense to take that energy and start celebrate the kind of fiction they do like–to creat something positive instead of tearing down something else.

It would be awesome if a single award represented the best that all science fiction had to offer. The Hugos certainly don’t: their refusal to consider most YA or tie-in fiction is a good example, and yes, they tend (at present) to swing fairly liberal and reward certain Chosen Ones. But the thing is, I don’t think a single award CAN represent the entirety of science fiction. That’s simply too big of a tent. The Hugo, and arguably every award ever, has an inherent bias, and that bias changes over time but it’s there, and it will always be there. If the Puppies want to celebrate old school, spaceships and ray-guns SF, as many of them claim, yay. More power to them–I like old school spaceship and ray-guns. So turn your creative energy and your obvious passion toward celebrating the fiction you love, instead of gaming and attacking and destroying an award that other people love. That way we actually gain something from this–two something’s, actually, because there would be two awards–instead of just losing everything and making people angry and sad.

I don’t want to exclude anyone from the Hugo: it should be, and needs to be, a fan-driven award. But the fans driving it need to be people who care about it. If people spent more time supporting the things they care about, and less time fighting over what they don’t like, the world would be a much, much happier place.

My WorldCon Schedule

August 19th, 2015

I’m going to WorldCon tomorrow! And you can come and see me at these many fine events:

Friday

11:00 – 12:15
Room 300C (CC)
Writing Excuses Recording
Sit in on recording of the popular podcast Writing Excuses
Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells

15:00 – 15:45
Room 302AB (CC)
Building a Better Tomorrow
Young adult science fiction is thriving, presenting an array of possible futures for humanity. While YA SF seems to be taking off, many of those stories feature dark futures. Why might teens be drawn to these types of settings that feature dystopic settings? Will there be a brighter or better tomorrow for us?
Laura Anne Gilman (M), Troy Bucher, Dan Wells, Fonda Lee

16:30 – 17:00
Room 303B (CC)
Reading – Dan Wells

Saturday

10:00 – 10:45
Room 303A (CC)
Podcasts for Young Adults
Adults love podcasts and podcasting, but what about teens? Is there a market for YA podcasts and where can kids find cool new content? What topics, guests and issues should podcasts for younger listeners address? What about kids who want to create their own podcasts? Your in luck! Our panelists will also share tips for teens who want to create their own podcasts.
Mur Lafferty (M), Jason Snell, Dan Wells

13:00 – 13:45
Room 401C (CC)
The Future of Video Games
Video games continue to evolve in many ways: sophistication, emersion of the player, story telling, graphics, and platforms, to name just a few. What’s next in the evolution of video games.
Catherynne M. Valente (M), Trina Marie Phillips, Maurine Starkey, Dan Wells, Warren Frey

16:00 – 16:45
Grand Ballroom: Salon III (Doubletree)
SpoCon Presents: Sub-Genre Games
Are you deep for dystopia? Crazy for cyberpunk? Feverent for urban faerie? Soft on steampunk? We’re pitting ten sub-genres against each-other to see which should shed its “sub” prefix and become a fully-fledged genre alongside the towers of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Does YOUR favorite sub-genre have what it takes to stand alone?
Jessica Rising (M), Tim Martin (M), Taiyo Fujii, Caren Gussoff, Frog Jones, Nick Mamatas, Alan Smale, Kaye Thornbrugh, Dan Wells

Sunday

11:00 – 11:45
Hall B (CC)
Autographing

Eric Flint, Eileen Gunn, Elizabeth Anne Hull, Walidah Imarisha, Cat Rambo, Dan Wells

12:00 – 12:45
Room 202B-KK3 (CC)
Kaffee Klatche – Dan Wells
Limited to 10, requires advance sign-up (online signup enabled until 6am on Sat 8/22). Coffee and snacks available for sale on the 2nd floor.

GenCon

July 30th, 2015

As you can see, I haven’t posted any new Poetry Summer stuff; it turns out I’m way too busy with work and travel to memorize any poems. As an example: I’m at
GenCon this week! Which is awesome, but makes memorizing and posting poems hard.

If you’re at GenCon, you can find me at the following panels:

Thursday
12: Atmospheric Writing, room 245
4: Killing Off Characters, room 245
5: Researching For Writing, room 245

Friday
12: Plot Design, room 244

Saturday
6: Writing Excuses, room 242

And if you happen to be here with a Warmachine army, an X-Wing fleet, or some Netrunner decks, so am I! Find me in person or on Twitter, and let’s play.

#PoetrySummer is back!

June 17th, 2015

A few years ago I decided to challenge myself to memorize a poem every week, and it was awesome. I worked with my friend Brian, a high school English teacher, and we put everything online to keep ourselves accountable. If you’re so inclined you can search through the archives of this very blog to find those old posts (look for “Poetry Summer,” or the hashtag #PoetrySummer). One of the things I loved about this was the way it helped me learn new things about the poems as I studied them and recited them out loud. My other favorite thing was how many people from the Internet jumped in and joined us, memorizing poems and sharing their thoughts in the comments.

So: we’re doing it again! The rules are simple:

1) You can pick a poem of any length, one per week, and must recite it out loud to someone on Sunday. Then you pick a new poem and start over for the next week.

2) This is all honor system: if you say you did it, we believe you.

3) No William Carlos Williams allowed. This is the only rule we will not bend on. Screw William Carlos Williams right in his stupid icebox.

I will start each week with a post, probably on a Monday, describing the experience of the previous week, presenting the full text of the poem I memorized, and announcing the poems Brian and I will memorize the following week. I will also try to recommend a short poem that newbie memorizers can work on if they don’t have any in mind.

This week I will be memorizing “Alone in Crowds to Wander On,” by Thomas More, because it’s the epigram of my new book, The Devil’s Only Friend, that came out yesterday! I always put a poem quote at the beginning of each John Cleaver book, and this is a great one. Brian will be memorizing “The Second Coming,” by William Butler Yeats.

Because we’re starting on Wednesday instead of Monday, I have an especially short poem for you, courtesy of the American poet Sarah Teasdale:

The Net

I wrote you many and many a song, but never one told all you are
It was as though a net of words were flung to catch a star.

It was as though I dcupped my hand, and dipped sea-water eagerly
Only to find it lost the blue dark splendor of the sea.

Good luck!

At Long Last: Brooke!

April 22nd, 2015

It’s been a month and a half since I was on set, and filming has wrapped, and I still haven’t posted the photos of Brooke and Lauren I promised to give you. Well WAIT NO LONGER! Here they are.

Lauren Bacall CleaverJohn’s sister Lauren is not a huge character in the first book, but she’s still an important one, and we are delighted to have Anna Sundberg in the role. Anna is a young actor with a handful of local MN credits, mostly in theater but some you might have seen, including an episode of Fargo. I got to watch her play a scene with Max–the two siblings together, not “close” but still relying on each other to navigate the world, and they were wonderful. She’s a fantastic Lauren, and if (knock on wood) we get a chance to do a movie of the second book, we’re going to be incredibly lucky to have her. Fingers crossed.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The deeper I dig into this series, and the more I write for it, the more I realize that Brooke is one of the most important characters, right up there with John and his mom as the top three. In the book I’m currently writing, #5 in the series, she’s a co-lead. Also, spoiler warning: Brooke survives until at least book 5 :) Even in the very first book, Brooke is a focal point for the story, and a great character that readers fall in love with. We needed to have someone awesome in the role, and Director Billy cast a wide net, looking at casting agencies, looking at local talent, looking everywhere he could. After a long search, he found Lucy.

Brooke1 No, I’m not going to tell you her last name, partly because this is her first real screen credit (she did a commercial once) so you can’t look her up, but also because she’s a sixteen-year-old girl, and I don’t want you to look her up. She’s going to be a big star someday, but let her have a few more months of childhood at least. My first thought when I saw Lucy was “Brooke is supposed to be blonde,” but Billy reassured me that she was perfect. “Don’t get distracted by stuff like hair,” he said, “just watch her act.” Her first day on the set she did a tiny little street scene: she met Mr. Crowley on the sidewalk, gave him some leftover pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving, and that was it. Twenty seconds of screen time. And she was PERFECT. She’s kind and cheerful and quirky and awkward and grounded and complex and believable and so overflowing with personality it’s amazing. I told Billy he was right. Lucy’s not just The Girl, she’s a character in her own right, ready to stand alongside John as an equal.

Lucy sat me down in the “stay warm between shots” room on her first day and asked me questions about Brooke: what is she like, what does she want, what does love and hate. I answered her questions mostly by turning them back on her: what do you think she wants? It was a fascinating experience to watch her pick the character apart, translating the tiny glimpses we get on the page or screen into a full person. At one point she asked me “Why does Brooke like John? I mean, aside from the fact that he’s a dark, dreamy loner?” I just laughed and told her she’d do fine.

In that same conversation I asked her if she’d read the rest of the books, and she said that she’d been cast so recently she hadn’t had a chance–she’d just finished the first one, and had the second in her bag, ready to start that night. I apologized in advance for the crap I put her character through, and we laughed, but that idea has stuck with me: I’ve met Brooke now, and I’ve met John, and I keep writing horrible, awful, nasty things that those characters have to survive, and it’s changed the way I think about it. Book 5, the one I’m writing right now, has a distinctly different tone than the rest of the series, and that’s partly due to my experience on the set: I’d had the plan for a very long time, but was never convinced that I could actually make it work. Now that I’ve met John and Brooke, I know that I can. And I’m very sorry for what I’m putting them through, but I’m just as inspired by the way they get through it. Very few people could do what they do, but the much bigger point is that very few people would choose to. John and Brooke do.

Meeting John and Brooke and the actors who play them was a highlight of my life. I can’t wait for you to meet them, too.