Cool Stuff Friday

Go forth and carpe the Friday!

Please note that cats or dogs pressing their heads against the wall can indicate a serious health problem:

Magical Words Guest Post: Inventing Nicola Pallas

I’ve got a guest post up at Magical Words talking about the character of Nicola Pallas.

Nicola has her own story in these books. She has to oversee a bunch of stubborn, overly bright magic-users, including my protagonist, librarian Isaac Vainio. She also has to deal with sparkling vampires attacking Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, werewolves in pickup trucks, and her least favorite thing ever: magical politics.

I had absolutely no interest in trying to show how she does all of this “despite” being autistic. Screw that. Autism, like just about anything else, can certainly present challenges, but Nicola is at a point where she understands and is pretty comfortable with how her brain works. That wasn’t something I wanted to focus on.

Click for more…

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has gone rather viral. You’ve probably seen the videos on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or the online social media site of your preference. I’ve also seen some people pointing out problems with the challenge, as well as people who are just flat-out sick of seeing everyone dumping icewater on their heads. (Though how anyone could get tired of that…?)

As I understand it, the original challenge was that if you were called out, you were supposed to either donate to the ALS Association, or else you could dump a bucket of icewater on your head. Alternate rules are that you either donate $100, or do the ice bucket and donate $10.

I want to address some of the points I’ve seen raised.

1. A bunch of people messing around and dumping icewater on themselves doesn’t do anything to raise money or awareness, or to help people with ALS.

It’s certainly true that some of the videos and postings don’t specifically talk about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. I’m sure there are a lot of people who have watched the video or joined in the icewater-dumping without ever having a clue why this all started.

On the other hand, the ALS Association has received $88.5 million in donations as of today, August 26. During the same period last year? They received $2.6 million.

In other words, the ice bucket challenge has raised more than $80 million in funding to for research and assistance to people with ALS. My understanding is that a great many people dumping icewater on their heads are also donating to the ALS Association.

I do wish more videos and posts would focus on the goal of raising money and awareness for ALS. And yes, maybe not everyone is donating, and maybe some people aren’t getting the point … but a lot of people are. I’ve seen a lot of people posting and talking about their own experiences with the disease as a direct result of the ice bucket challenge, and the financial results are about as indisputable as you can get.

Yeah, it’s a goofy fundraiser. (Says the guy who fundraised in 2012 by doing goofy cover poses.) But it’s also damned effective.

2. The peer pressure and shaming element is uncool.

Grumpy Cat - NopeI admit, I have an instinctive response to people tagging and challenging me online, whether it’s the ice bucket or blogging about a particular thing or whatever the fad of the week might be.

I got tagged for this one a while back, saw the icewater-dumping thing with no additional information or context, and said nope. Delete and move on.

I see this as a case-by-case thing. Some people have been very cool about “inviting” instead of “challenging” others — a small difference, but an important one, I think. Others have refused to tag anyone at all, and instead suggest that anyone who’s interested should jump in. And I’ve seen people emailing or checking in behind-the-scenes to ask before challenging someone, which is cool.

Short version on this? Don’t shame people for saying no, or for not answering at all. Some people don’t have a dollar to spare. Others choose to support different causes. Don’t be an asshole about it.

If you’re one of the people bullying and shaming others as a part of the challenge? You’re actually discouraging people from participating. Knock it off.

3. It’s physically dangerous.

I’ve seen several references to an article titled “Ice Bucket Challenge Sees First Fatality?”

18-year-old Cameron Lancaster was found dead at Prestonhill Quarry and had allegedly taken part in the challenge just beforehand … According to reports, the quarry is often used for swimming and plenty of teenagers have jumped in the past. However, they have not completed the challenge beforehand. It took four hours to find the teenager’s body, and it is believed that the shock of the ice water and then jumping into the quarry stopped his body from working properly.

Forbes has a follow-up with more information and discussion. There’s also a false report of a girl who broke her neck doing the challenge.

Is it dangerous? It’s hard to say whether or not Lancaster’s death was caused by the challenge, but it’s possible. The ALS Association notes, “The Ice Bucket Challenge may not be suitable for small children, the elderly, anyone in poor health, or animals of any kind, so please use good judgment.” The trouble is, we human beings aren’t always known for our good judgment. There’s also the temptation to crank it up a notch to make a more dramatic video. Author Patrick Rothfuss went with a tub full of dry ice.

I don’t have an answer on this one. It seems to me that the risk is minimal … but that yes, there may be a potential risk here. My daughter was tagged by her cousin, and if she chooses to do the challenge, I’d let her — but I’d also make sure it was supervised, and that she’s only using H20 ice.

4. It’s clogging up my newsfeed!

Welcome to the internet. Use your Mute and Block buttons. Or go look at some cats instead.


While not perfect, I see this as a surprisingly effective fundraiser for a good cause, one that’s raised an impressive amount of money as well as some awareness, and also produced some fun, entertaining videos. I’m also reconsidering participating… But if I do, there will be no dry ice! I like my parts without iceburn, thanks.

Stranger, by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Three years ago, Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith went public with a post about a post-apocalypic YA novel they had written together. During the submission process, they received a response from an agent who offered to represent the book, “on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.”

They refused.

Their post led to a great deal of discussion about the need for gay characters in YA literature. The agency in question also posted a rebuttal.

Stranger - CoverSo that’s the backstory. The book eventually sold to Viking Juvenile, with a publication date of November 2014. I’m happy to have gotten my hands on an advance copy :-)

Stranger [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] definitely has a western feel to it, as noted in the publisher’s summary:

Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, “the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. “Las Anclas” now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

I liked this one. There’s a lot of imaginative worldbuilding going on, particularly around the different powers people develop and the new forms of wildlife. The crystalline trees are awesome and terrifying. Also: telekinetic squirrels. They don’t get a lot of page-time, but just the fact that there are telekinetic squirrels makes me happy.

Smith and Brown rotate chapters through five (I think) different PoV characters, which was a little tricky to keep track of in the beginning, but I think it worked well. I’m less thrilled about the different font used for each PoV, but since I was reading an ARC, I’m not sure the publisher will keep that quirk in the final version. It might not bother you, but it distracted me.

There’s a lot going on here. You’ve got the eponymous stranger Ross Juarez, a loner with a bit of PTSD who finds a sense of community for the first time in his life … but there are those who don’t want him around, and others who just want to use him. There’s the larger conflict with a power-hungry king who’s been conquering neighboring towns. There are multiple romances. There’s internal political struggles between a family trying to create their own dynasty as leaders of Las Anclas and the changed sheriff who messed up their plans.

There’s also an ongoing story about discrimination and prejudice. You have open hostility and fear, and some of that fear is almost understandable, given the damage changes can do when people can’t — or don’t — control them. Poor Ross gets fear and suspicion from both barrels, as a stranger and someone with a suspected change.

I’m impressed by how well the multiple relationships, stories, and characters all come together. It did feel like there were some loose ends when I finished, and I’m hopeful those will be addressed in future books. But Stranger provides enough closure that I didn’t feel cheated. It’s a good ending, one that makes me want to pick up book two.

Oh, and yes, there are several non-straight couples in the book, and they’re treated with the same respect and variety as the straight couples. Surprisingly enough, I did not burst into flames, nor did my own heterosexual marriage immediately crash and burn. Go figure.

ETA: I’m told there will be a sequel, and it’s called Hostage, and it’s already written!

Writer’s Ink: Saladin Ahmed

Saladin Ahmed

Saladin Ahmed is the author of the award-winning Throne of the Crescent Moon [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] (reviewed here), in addition to a number of short stories. You can find some of those stories in his free collection Engraved on the Eye.

He also offers editing/critique services.

From Saladin:

My tattoo says “Hurriya” – roughly, “freedom” - in very stylized Arabic. It’s based on calligraphy by Nihad Dukhan.

It’s green because green is significant in Arab and Muslim cultures and in Irish culture (I’m Irish on my Mom’s side). It’s on my left arm for political associations and because I’m a southpaw.

The work was done by the late great Ann Arbor tattoo artist Suzanne Fauser. And it was a gift from my father for graduating college.


Detcon1 and Inclusiveness

I’m still thinking about Detcon1 and some of the things the convention did so well. One thing that stood out for me was the Fan Gallery in the dealer’s room. This was a collection of photos of fans past and present.

Included with the gallery was a note acknowledging that historically, white men have tended to be the dominant group in fandom and the genre, a statement backed up by looking through the faces in the photo collection. The note goes on to encourage people to help change that, to get involved and make fandom a more welcoming and inclusive place.

I really appreciate this approach. Rather than getting defensive about our history and the state of the genre, it acknowledges where we’ve been and where we are, and encourages people to join in the work of getting to a better place.

It’s hard to fix a problem you won’t acknowledge exists in the first place. It’s even harder when people actively mock you for trying to point out problems you’ve seen and experienced first-hand, or when the people you’re trying to reach take any discussion of said problems as a personal attack on them.

That knee-jerk defensiveness is an incredibly frustrating obstacle, often derailing and shutting down conversations before they can even get started. How many times have we seen exchanges that go something like:

“I really wish we had more non-white protagonists in the genre.”

“Ever notice how few non-straight characters ever get a truly satisfying romantic plotline?”
“I’m not homophobic because I once wrote a gay character!”

“It would be nice to see a wider range of female characters in–”

So kudos to Detcon1 for not only recognizing that fandom hasn’t been as inclusive as we sometimes like to believe, but also for understanding that acknowledging the historical problems of our genre doesn’t mean you’re a horrible, bigoted, sexist, racist, tribble-kicking jerk. Acknowledgment is the first step toward progress.

In a similar vein, Detcon1 created the FANtastic Detroit Fund to provide memberships for fans who might not otherwise be able to attend.

Here’s Detcon1 conchair Tammy Coxen talking about the program in her own words:

Even though we worked to keep our membership rates as low as possible, conventions are expensive, and Detroit has the highest poverty rate of any large city in the United States. We wanted to provide a mechanism for fans of limited means, from Detroit and beyond, to be able to attend the convention, so we launched a crowdfunded program to provide free membership.

The program was very successful. We received $1555 in cash and 28 donated memberships, which allowed us to provide 66 memberships to adults, youth and children.

I can say without reservations that we would strongly encourage other conventions to adopt a similar program. It was easy to implement and had big impact. We will be offering seed funding to the next WSFS-sanctioned convention to offer such a program (exact amount to be determined based on our final bookkeeping), and are happy to serve as consultants to those desiring to set up a similar program.

Bottom line, I’m very proud of the work my state did here, not only to create what was by almost all accounts an amazing convention, but also setting an example of how to work toward a more inclusive and welcoming fandom.

Writer’s Ink: Christian Klaver

Christian KlaverChristian Klaver has been selling SF/F short fiction since the early 80s. Some of his recent work includes several Supernatural Case Files of Sherlock Holmes, and the fantasy novel Shadows Over London [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. He lives in Dearborn, Michigan, with his wife and daughter and a group of animals affectionately known as “The Menagerie.”

Klaver’s tattoo is one of three dragons he wears, and apparently began a bit of a family tradition. In his words:

I got this tattoo on my 30th birthday. (I have a smaller version on my chest.) My daughter liked the dragon so much she ended getting her own version for her eighteenth birthday. She liked *that* one so much she wanted another one for her 21st, and talked both me and my wife into a family tattoo party, which is why I now have a much larger version on my back.

 Am now kicking myself for not asking to see the back tattoo. I mean, just because we were in the middle of a restaurant at the time…

Black and White in the U.S.

A few data points for anyone who thinks what’s been happening in Ferguson, MO is an isolated incident as opposed to an ongoing, systemic problem.

It’s not just Ferguson.

There’s a lot more data out there, but I hope this will help people who are watching events in Ferguson and throughout the country, and having trouble understanding where all of the anger is coming from.