About Jim Hines

http://www.jimchines.com

Posts by Jim Hines:

Mock Cover Contest

Windycon was a great deal of fun, as always.  Got to meet some new folks and catch up with friends … I didn’t have much programming, so in a lot of ways this one turned into a social con for me.  Many hugs, lots of hanging out chatting in the lobby and elsewhere.  Met some new fans, but managed to keep the ego from getting too swollen (despite certain people’s best efforts). All in all, a good way to spend a weekend.

I learned that the steampunk theme brings out a lot of costumers, which was fun to see.  Got to hear Tom Smith in concert, ate way too much food, and made it to one and a quarter of my two panels.  (DAW vs. Baen was cross-scheduled with the Writing Workshop, so sadly I only caught the last 10 minutes of the panel.)

One of the most entertaining moments was when author Kelly Swails donned a Jig the goblin tattoo and decided to pose urban fantasy style, complete with a knife she swiped from the restaurant.  Naturally, this called for the full cover art treatment.  I’m obviously  not a professional graphic designer, but I’m pretty amused by what I was able to put together last night*.

Every good goblin-themed urban fantasy requires an equally good title, right?  “Goblin Killer Blues” was suggested by archivist Lynne Thomas.  Think you can do better?  Suggest a title in the comments, and I’ll put the best ideas up for a vote.  The winner gets an autographed copy of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].

Have fun!


*Because this is the Internet and I know someone will ask, the answer is no, I am not writing a goblin-themed urban fantasy book.

Windycon Schedule Tweak and Friday LEGO

• Looking at my schedule for this weekend more closely, I’m doing the writing workshop at the same time as the DAW vs. Baen panel, so unless we have last-minute dropouts from the workshop, it looks like I’ll be missing that panel.  I’m sad about this, because it had the potential to be … well, lively, if nothing else.

• Since I am doing the “What Kids are Reading” panel on Sunday, I thought I’d open things up to suggestions.  What do you think are the must-read kid titles of 2009?  I’ve got some ideas, but there’s always room for more.  (I may compile a full list of suggested books after the panel and post that next week, if folks would be interested?)

• My annual domestic violence book drive will be starting next week.  Details to come.

• Finally, dear NASA — please build this.  (Only, you know, out of genuine spaceworthy materials instead of LEGO.)  This is the Carl Sagan, a mindblowing collaborative project between Lego Monster and Mad Physicist.  It even has its own shuttles!  One picture does not do this sucker justice.  Click the pic for the full set.

Updatery

• First off, a quote from author C. C. Finlay: “The third law of writing: For every fiction there is an equal and opposite re-fiction. For example, if there is The Hobbit, eventually someone will inevitably write Goblin Quest.”  I am much amused.

• The SF/F Humor Roundup is up to 22 short stories and 12 novels.  So far, so good!  I’m working on guidelines to try to cut down on blatant self-promotion.  I don’t mind authors recommending their own work, but I don’t want a list of 30 stories from every online nook and cranny.  I’m thinking of limiting self-promotional recommendations to one short story and/or one novel.  What do you think?

• I’ll be heading to Windycon tomorrow.  I’ve got the Manly Baen vs. Womanly DAW panel Saturday at 10, an autographing session Saturday at 2, What are Kids Reading on Sunday at 10, and I’ll be reading my muppet werewolf tale on Sunday at Noon.  Hope to see some of you there!

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I realized I haven’t done an actual writing update in a while.  After finishing the revisions for Red Hood’s Revenge, I started back in on Snow Queen.  I struggled through the current chapter, but it was painful.  The whole thing felt like it was stuck, and I had no idea where to go from here.

Some of the more experienced writers probably know exactly where I’m at in this manuscript.  That’s right, it’s the dreaded 30,000 word slog.  Every book I’ve done for the past five years has hit this same point, where my outline falls apart and the story crashes and burns.

Fortunately, I’ve done this enough times to recognize it.  The solution for me?  Step back and rewrite the outline.  When I’m first planning a book, my brain can’t hold the whole thing.  So I outline and do the best I can, but by the time I’ve typed 25K-30K words, I’ve changed enough that the outline no longer works.

I’ve spent the past week outlining, and I’m just about ready to dive back in.  I’m not going to start over from the beginning, because I’ve found that just wastes time for me.  But I’ve made notes about what to change in the rewrite, and more importantly, I’m excited about some of the new ideas and directions I’m taking in the rest of the story.  I’m also surprised to realize I don’t know how this book is going to end.  I honestly don’t know whether or not certain characters will survive.  That’s kind of fun 🙂

So there’s where I’m at with the writing.  Book three is done, book four is underway, and the back of my brain is quietly percolating ideas for the next series.

Diabetes Details 5: Exercise

Last night I spent two hours at karate.  (Got my promotion form for 3rd brown belt — woo hoo!)  It was a good workout, but the class only meets once a week, so I’ve started trying to ride the exercise bike a few times a week too.

There are a few reasons for this.  My day job is very sedentary.  I spend all day sitting at a desk answering questions, and then I come home and sit at a different desk and try to catch up on writing-related work.  (If you’re going to do the writing thing, it’s a good idea to do something active, just to keep your body from atrophying altogether.  /Soapbox)

I’m also doing it for my mood.  Yesterday was a craptastic day at work.  Two hours at karate, and I was completely past it.  Today was worse.  A half-hour of pedalling and watching The Daily Show, and I’m in a much better space.

Finally, exercise is good for the diabetes.  The disease heightens the chances of trouble with the majority of your internal organs, so exercise is a good idea to help counteract that.

But there’s a problem.  You see, a good aerobic workout affects your metabolism for 24 hours or more.  In my case, it’s a very noticeable effect, because it means I need less insulin for at least 24 hours after riding the bike.

If I were to get the same amount of exercise every single day, I’d be all set.  I’d just need to adjust my baseline dosage for post-workout mode, and remember to take less insulin at meals.  But because I can’t do this every day, it means I get the joy of trying to manage two baseline rates, as well as calculating two dosage ratios at meals.

Add to this the fact that my insulin needs vary from day to day anyway, depending on stress, exhaustion, activity, the phase of the moon, and Shadowstar only knows what else.  So the exercise throws yet another variable into the mix.  I’m pretty good at estimating my needs, but it’s not an exact science.

The ironic part?  Exercise usually helps you lose weight, right?  Over the past month, as I’ve tried to sort out the new dosages, I’ve probably gained weight because I keep dosing too aggressively for post-exercise mode, which drops my blood sugar, which then requires the prompt application of M&Ms.

It really is a rude disease.  But the exercise has been a good thing overall, both emotionally and physically.  I may need to keep testing more often, but I’ll get this sorted out eventually.  And in the meantime, hey–how often do you get a medically valid excuse to eat chocolate?

Top 10 Books of 2009 (Girls Need Not Apply)

By now, I imagine many of you have seen Publishers Weekly’s roundup of the ten very best books of 2009, a list which just happens to only include male authors.  Sure, the girls made it into some of the secondary lists, but the ten best?  All boys.

I would also check out Lizzie Skurnick’s response at Politics Daily, which included this bit from PW: “We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration . . . We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz . . . It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.”

So here’s my question: What should PW have done when they realized they had come up with an all-male list?

We pause now for the predictable response.

“You keep your quotas off of us, you damn, dirty PC police!”

Right.  Moving on, the thing I don’t get is that the folks at PW say they were disturbed by this, but they don’t appear to have done anything about it.  Did they ever take that next step and ask, “Why, if we were truly ignoring gender, did we still come up with an all-male list?  We’re talking less than a 1 in 1000 chance of this happening purely at random*, which suggests maybe we weren’t as gender-blind as we thought.”

Our own biases are hard to face.  It’s easier and safer to turn the blame outward or make excuses:

  • It’s just one list, and we have girls in some of the others!
  • Maybe more men published good books this year.
  • It’s the story that counts, not the gender/race/etc. of the author.
  • Women helped to make this list, so it can’t be sexist!
  • Maybe women should be proactive and start writing better books!

I could go on and on listing reasons that basically amount to “It’s not my fault,” and “I’m not sexist!”  We could spend the whole month debunking most of those reasons.

But in the end, Publishers Weekly published this list.  They were aware enough to recognize something wasn’t right, and I give them props for that.  But that’s much easier than actually taking responsibility.  We can say, “Oh look, a list of all men.  That’s gonna be a problem, because those bloggers are going to raise hell that we didn’t include a token woman.

Or we can stop making excuses and try being accountable for our own choices and behaviors.  We can say, “I tried to be  gender-blind about this, but ended up with an all-male list.  Huh.  I didn’t consciously try to pick only male authors, but maybe I’m not as gender-blind or unbiased as I thought.

Nobody’s asking for quotas.  Me, I’m just asking people to grow up and take responsibility for their choices.  Yes, we’re talking about an industry-wide issue that affects publishing on many different levels.  But the industry is made up of individuals, and every one of us, myself included, has our own biases and prejudices. We can ignore them and make the same tired excuses, or we can face them and try to do better.

We all mess up.  I just wish more folks would own up to it when it happens.


*Assuming a 50/50 breakdown of male and female authors.

2009 SF/F Humor Roundup is Live!

Here we go!  This is the link for the 2009 roundup of humorous science fiction and fantasy.  Let this be the first step toward a new age, an age in which humorous books can walk proudly beside their literary brothers and sisters, an age in which puns and nose-picking jokes shall be treated with the respect and accolades they deserve!

http://www.jimchines.com/humor-2009/

If you’ve read some amusing science fiction or fantasy from this year, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

If you’ve written something funny, same deal–but please note that I’m only listing work that appeared in paid/commercial publications.  And no, that $1.00 advance from Publish America doesn’t count.

Finally, if you have feedback on the page itself, please let me know.  This is a work in progress, and will probably evolve as it goes.

Please feel free to spread the word to anyone you think might be interested, and thanks!

Friday Updates

• As insane as this week has been at work, it’s been a very good writing week.  I just found out that my German publisher is picking up both Mermaid’s Madness and Red Hood’s Revenge.  Excellent!

• Also exciting, Red Hood’s Revenge is up for pre-order on Amazon!  I’m told it’s been there for a few weeks, which shows how distracted I’ve been.  Normally my obsessive surfing habits would have uncovered that much more quickly.

• Neil Gaiman has given me permission to make T-shirts of my 20 Neil Gaiman Facts.  All that remains is to decide where.  I’m leaning toward Zazzle over CafePress, but I’m open to suggestions–any experiences with these or other online vendors, good or bad?

• Based on your responses, I’ll definitely be doing the 2009 SF/F Humor Roundup.  It shouldn’t take too long to put together; I just need to make the time to sit down and do it.  Hopefully by this time next week…

• Finally, your weekly LEGO.  Anyone who’s seen Howl’s Moving Castle should recognize this one, built by Imagine’s Brickzone.  (And anyone who hasn’t should go rent the movie.)  Click the pic for the full Flickr set, including a better view of Turnip Head there on the right.

The Enchantment Emporium, by Tanya Huff

Happy news!!!  The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] was the #1 paperback bestseller at both Mysterious Galaxy and Uncle Hugo’s–two wonderful and well-known SF/F bookstores–for the month of October!

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I just finished reading The Enchantment Emporium [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] the latest novel by Tanya Huff.  I consider myself a pretty big fan of Huff’s work.  She was doing awesome urban vampires when Stephenie Meyer was still learning to type. I love her Keeper series, her military SF … yeah, I’m a fan.

In many ways, The Enchantment Emporium feels like a typical Huff book.  You’ve got the strong female protagonist, Allie Gale, a witch who inherits her grandmother’s shop when grandmother disappears.  You’ve got fun, interesting secondary characters popping up.  You’ve got the snappy dialogue, the humor, the Canadian setting, and all of the little touches that make a good story even more fun to read (I loved the yo-yos!)  Allie is away from her family for the first time, trying to find out what happened to her grandmother while dealing with an immanent dragon invasion and worse.

Warning — minor spoilers follow!

I’m still thinking about this one, and would love to hear from anyone else who’s read the book.  I think my biggest hesitation comes from the intertwining of sexuality and magic, and the way that’s written.  The Gale family of witches is … let’s call them highly liberal.  Like the royals of old, there’s a lot of inbreeding, mostly to keep the magic strong within the family.  I’m okay with that part of the story.  It makes sense, and it’s hinted several times that the Gales aren’t 100% human.  Different species, different taboos, right?

But then you have scenes of group spellcasting, where the males go rather staglike from so much power, and have to be brought back down, sexually.  I.e., “That was a big ritual.  I’d better do Bob to keep him from exploding.”

Like I said, I’m still thinking about it.  The characters are all written to be open and comfortable with the situation.  So what happens between consenting adult mostly-human witches shouldn’t be a problem, right?  But I guess the fact that magic essentially forced them into sex troubles me, and I wish Huff had gone a little deeper into that.

I’ve heard complaints that there isn’t enough explanation or exposition about the magic system, other dimensions, and so on, but I didn’t have that problem.  I think most experienced fantasy readers will be okay, but newcomers to the genre might be better off starting with one of Huff’s other works.

So if you’ve read the book, what did you think?  If you haven’t but read the whole post anyway, I still want to know what you think 🙂

Annual Roundup of Humorous SF/F

October kicked my ass, but man, what a ride.  The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] came out at the start of the month.  I did my first-ever guest of honor stint at Icon.  There were signings and readings. I also did a final revision on Red Hood’s Revenge, which I turned in on Sunday (woo hoo!)

I’m probably going to be playing catch-up for a while longer, but wanted to talk about one of the panel discussions we had at Icon, about humor in science fiction and fantasy.  I’ve thought about this a fair amount, having published a number of rather silly stories over the years.  One of the things we chatted about was the style of humor in some SF/F stories and circles–the puns, the in-jokes, the puns, the Star Wars and Monty Python quotes, the puns…

One of the reasons I think a lot of us enjoy this sort of thing, whether it’s competitive punning or protesting, “You keep using that word–I do not think it means what you think it means,” is that it’s a group identity thing. It’s a shibboleth, a way to identify fellow geeks, to affirm that yes, I belong.  Every family has its quirks, its unique language and vocabulary.  Geek humor serves the same purpose.

Another thing we discussed is the fact that humor is hard to write well.  Trying to balance the funny with the needs of the story, learning where humor will have the most effect in a story, using it as a counterpoint to the serious moments to balance and strengthen both … there’s a lot to learn.

Sadly for those of us who broke in with bunny knives and nose-picking goblins, humor doesn’t get taken that seriously. (Go figure, right?) I’m not saying every pun-filled title deserves to be on the New York Times Bestseller List, but can someone explain to me why the heck Terry Pratchett hasn’t taken home a Hugo or a Nebula yet?

So I’m thinking about starting a roundup of humorous stories and books published in a given year, including links and information to make it easy for anyone nominating or voting on the Hugo and Nebula to read the funny stuff that’s eligible.

Sure, this is partly self-serving, as it gives me the chance to share my muppet werewolf story.  (On that note, if you’re in SFWA or registered for Worldcon, and if you’re interested, please let me know and I’ll e-mail you a copy of  “Creature in Your Neighborhood”.) But I think it would be good to build more awareness and recognition for the humorous side of the genre and the writers doing it well.

For now, this would probably be a page on my site that I’d maintain myself. I’m thinking of restricting it to paid publications–an arbitrary choice that would eliminate self-published stories, but something I’m willing to reconsider.

So, thoughts about humor in general or an annual humor round-up in particular?  Good idea? Lame idea? Pitfalls I should be aware of?

Deadline Crunch

Red Hood’s Revenge is not done yet.  Red Hood’s Revenge needs to be done. Ergo, I will be unplugging (mostly) until this sucker is turned in.  I probably should have done this a few days ago, but ah well.

Have a great Halloween, all.  In the spirit of the holiday, have a haunted house, courtesy of Starwarsboy5.  Click the pic for the full set, as usual.

Jim C. Hines