Pikes Peak Writers Conference Schedule

This weekend, I’m off to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado, where I’ll be joining Chuck Wendig, Gail Carriger, and Hank Phillippi Ryan as Keynote Speakers for the event.

I’ll also be presenting a workshop on getting through your first draft, doing some panels, and chasing Chuck around with a cupcake gun I borrowed from Delilah Dawson. Supersonic chocolate cupcakes OF DEATH!

Anyway, here’s the schedule, for anyone who might want to stop by. And if you don’t want to stop by, that’s fine. I DIDN’T WANT YOU AT MY PANEL ANYWAY! ::Sniff::

Friday

  • 2:30 – Read & Critique 123, Aspen Leaf (with Terri Bischoff, Carlisle Webber)
  • 4:00 – Workshop: Getting Through Draft One, Salon BC

Saturday

  • 9:10 – Mythbusting Keynotes (Q&A Session), Aspen Leaf (with Gail Carriger, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Chuck Wendig)
  • 11:45 – Lunch and my Keynote Speech, Ballroom
  • 1:15 – Booksigning, Aspen Leaf
  • 3:10 – Diversity: It Isn’t Just for Breakfast Anymore, Aspen Leaf (with Chuck Wendig, Carol Berg, Amy Boggs. Facilitator:
    Patrick Hester)
  • 7 – Zebulon Awards Dinner, Ballroom

This should be a lot of fun. How do I know? Well, among other reasons, it’s because the bar will be serving Brass Goggles, Primetime, Goblin Wiz, and F-Bomb:

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From left to right:

  • Gail Carriger’s Brass Goggles: 1 1/2 OZ Scotch Whiskey, 2 dash bitters, 1 OZ club soda.
  • Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Primetime Martini: 1 1/2 OZ Vodka, 1 1/2 OZ Sweet & Sour, 1/2 OZ Grenadine
  • Jim C. Hines’ Goblin Wiz: 1/2 OZ Midori, 1/2 OZ Tequila, 1/2 OZ Sweet & Sour, On the Rocks
  • Chuck Wendig’s F-Bomb: 1 OZ Vodka, 1 OZ Red Bull, 1 OZ Cranberry, On the Rocks

As a general rule, I don’t drink, but I may need to make an exception this weekend :-)

Hugo Wars, Part CCXVIII

I debated whether to join the conversation about the recently announced Hugo Awards Ballot. I eventually said the following on Twitter, and figured that would be the end of it for me:

  • I know awards have always had an element of popularity contest to them, and that any system can be played. (1/5)
  • Likewise, there have always been people who want to cheapen them for jealousy, bitterness, politics, attention, or whatever. (2/5)
  • Call me naïve, but I want the Hugos to be about the best authors, artists, & editors in our field. That’s what I’ll be reading for. (3/5)
  • Yeah, there’s been some annoying hypocrisy and chest-thumping. There are also some amazing people and works on the Hugo ballot. (4/5)
  • I’m not interested in letting anyone turn the Hugos into their personal political statement. I’m interested in celebrating awesomeness (5/5)

I didn’t originally plan to say more than that, but I’ve been reading along, and feeling more and more bummed about the fallout. So I finally decided I needed to get a few more things out. I’ll certainly understand if you’re burnt out on Hugo-related posts and choose to skip this one.

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RAINN on Rape Culture

Will Shetterly wrote a blog post asking if I had addressed “RAINN’s refutation of ‘rape culture’” yet. I’m writing this less to respond to Shetterly and more because I think there’s some good conversation to be had around RAINN’s recommendations. But I should warn folks that by invoking his name and linking to his blog post, I’m basically guaranteeing that Mr. Shetterly will show up in the comments. To Will and anyone else, please remember that trolling, refusing to respect boundaries, and general dickishness will get you booted.

The Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) released 16 pages of recommendations to the federal government. In his blog post, Will chooses to quote a TIME Magazine article by Caroline Kitchens about “Rape Culture Hysteria” that references a few select paragraphs from RAINN’s recommendations. Kitchens claims that by blaming rape culture, we “implicate all men in a social atrocity, trivialize the experiences of survivors, and deflect blame from the rapists truly responsible for sexual violence.” She talks about the “thought police of the feminist blogosphere,” and how the concept of rape culture poisons the minds of young women and creates a hostile world for young men.

I’m glad to know Mr. Shetterly is looking for good, objective reporting to validate his crusade against those he dubs “social justice warriors.”

Let’s look at the primary source and talk about what RAINN’s recommendations actually said, shall we?

The paper opens with a discussion of how rape is alarmingly underreported on college campuses. Rape culture is mentioned on page two:

“In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming ‘rape culture’ for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”

I absolutely agree that it’s important to hold rapists accountable for their choice to rape. I’ve been saying and emphasizing and teaching that for decades. I think it’s absurd to claim an individual has no responsibility for their crime … but it’s equally absurd to claim that crime occurs in a cultural vacuum, or that these two ideas are mutually exclusive.

Most of the time, when I see rapists being excused with little more than a wrist-slapping for “cultural” reasons, it’s judges and police blaming victims, or the old “boys will be boys” attitude that minimizes the severity of the crime and the responsibility of the rapist. Which is exactly what so many conversations about rape culture try to point out.

RAINN says it’s important to remember that the rapist is responsible for the choice to commit rape. I agree. They do not say that the concept of rape culture is invalid, only that it shouldn’t overshadow the need to hold individuals responsible for their crimes.

RAINN recommends a three-tiered approach to reducing rape on college campuses:

  1. Bystander intervention education: empowering community members to act in response to acts of sexual violence.
  2. Risk-reduction messaging: empowering members of the community to take steps to increase their personal safety.
  3. General education to promote understanding of the law, particularly as it relates to the ability to consent.

Bystander intervention includes educating people about what rape is, helping them see beyond rape myths and victim-blaming narratives, sharing the research that explains how the majority of rapes are committed not by strangers, but by people the victim knows, and so on. (Strangely enough, a lot of the points I made in a blog post about rape culture a few years back.)

RAINN acknowledges the difficulty in separating risk-reduction from victim-blaming. Personally, I have very little problem with a risk-reduction approach. I do have a problem when that’s the only approach, which seems to happen all too often. When people focus solely on what women/victims can and must do to reduce rape, then we put the responsibility on them. If your only idea about reducing rape is to tell women what to do differently, you’re the one who doesn’t understand that rapists are responsible for their decision to rape.

I’ve been pushing for education for ages, including education about the laws. And for improvement in those laws, based in part on a better understanding and definition of consent. Unfortunately, a lot of people have a very poor understanding of consent. We encourage things like getting prospective sexual partners drunk, pursuing reluctant or uninterested partners, and the myth that you should just magically know what your partner wants. (It’s almost like we have an entire culture that doesn’t really get how consent works.)

On the legal side of things, RAINN stresses that college advisory boards aren’t in a position to be deciding rape cases. I agree. I worked as part of a student justice program at Michigan State University. Rape cases went to the police. We tended to work with things more on the level of catcalling from the street, trying to intervene with behaviors and attitudes before they escalated to more serious crimes. The goal was early intervention and prevention.

But there’s also a culture (oh look, there’s that word again) of secrecy around sexual assault and abuse, and I certainly understand that many institutions do try to bury rape reports and pretend it’s not a problem for them. Steubenville is a good, well-known example.

The report then goes on to talk about:

  • The need for more education for everyone about rape
  • The need for the legal system to respond more seriously to rape cases
  • The need to provide support services to victims
  • The need for more research

In RAINN’s 16-page report, we find a single mention of “rape culture,” which is part of a paragraph stating that rape culture shouldn’t be used as a way to remove responsibility from the rapist. Sorry, Will. I see no “refutation of rape culture” here, just a call for a balanced approach, one which I generally support and agree with.

I get that Mr. Shetterly is mostly just interested in scoring points against those he deems “social justice warriors.” My advice to him would be that if your knowledge and understanding of rape is such that you believe “saying no usually works” to prevent it, maybe you should try talking listening to rape survivors and learning more about the topic before you try to have this kind of conversation.

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal

I will be totally, absolutely honest with you here. I wasn’t really expecting to like Mary Robinette Kowal‘s Shades of Milk and Honey [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy].

It’s nothing to do with Kowal or her writing. I’ve adored other things I’ve read by her. I’ve nominated and voted for some of her work for various awards. She’s a good writer. But this one just didn’t look or sound like my kind of book. The description, “Like Jane Austen wrote a fantasy novel” didn’t hit any of my buttons, and I’m afraid the cover art didn’t help. (The newer editions of this series have different and much improved artwork, in my opinion.)

I tend to prefer more action in my plots, more humor and fun in my fiction … which I’m sure comes as a tremendous shock to anyone who’s read my stuff. So it took me a while to pull this one off of Mount ToBeRead…

…at which point I devoured the story, finishing the book in three days, and sacrificing a bit of sleep in the process.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

…an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

There are a few action-type scenes toward the end, but for the most part, this is a relatively quiet book. And I loved it. I loved the characters. I loved the relationships between them, and the way Jane’s insecurities crashed into those of her sister, and the conflicts that ensued. I loved the language, which was careful and formal without ever feeling stilted or stuffy.

The magic was particularly enjoyable. In a genre that includes Gandalf and Dumbledore, the glamours of Kowal’s world are relatively limited in scope: the manipulation of light and sound to craft illusions. It’s seen as a lady’s skill, like painting watercolors or playing a musical instrument. But Jane is very skilled and passionate about her art, and it draws you in until a scene about crafting an illusory birch grove is as thrilling as any battle between heroes and goblins.

Certain elements and twists in the story felt a little predictable, but I wasn’t reading for the plot twists. I was reading for the sheer enjoyment. And I was kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

You can read the first two chapters at Kowal’s website, and I strongly encourage you to do so.

Invisible is Live!

InvisibleAs of today, Invisible is officially a thing! In addition to the guest blog posts featured on the blog, the e-book anthology includes bonus material from Alex Dally MacFarlane, Gabriel Cuellar, Nonny Blackthorne, and Ithiliana.

It’s on sale for $2.99 at the following sites, and I’m hoping to add to this list as other retailer links go live. All proceeds will go to the Carl Brandon Society for Con or Bust.

I learned a lot from this project. I think these essays do a marvelous job of answering the question, “Why does representation matter?” and of looking at different types of representation in our genre.

I’m a big believer in the importance and power of story. The contributors to Invisible showed me new aspects of that power, things I hadn’t necessarily considered before.

If you’re a reviewer and would be interested in a copy, please let me know. And if you feel like spreading the word, I’ll send you a tray of fresh-baked karmic brownies (or another imaginary karmic goodie of your choice).

Commencing Decade Five

I’ll be turning 40 tomorrow, so I figured I’d take a few minutes today to look back at the decades…

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Jim - 10Age 10.

I finished up 4th grade and started 5th. I believe this was the year I broke my arm – the only bone I’ve managed to break so far. This would also be around the time I got published for the very first time, with a joke I stole from my grandfather that appeared in our elementary school newsletter.

I was a big fan of G. I. Joe, Transformers, and He-Man. You know – the classics. At that age, I was probably reading a ton of Peanuts and Garfield collections, along with things like the Hardy Boys, The Great Brain, Encyclopedia Brown … I think I had checked out A Wrinkle in Time and a few other SF/F titles by then as well. I remember being excited about seeing Return of the Jedi, though I missed the scene of Vader throwing the Emperor into the random Death Star pit, because the Emperor’s lightning attack on Luke was too scary, and I wasn’t looking. I played my first D&D games, run by a friend’s father. I was a thief, and the only one to survivor our encounter with a dragon, on account of being invisible and hiding while the rest of the party ran out to get fried. I had also joined Cub Scouts (my mother was our den leader), and would have been working on my Webelos badge.

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Jim - 20Age 20.

Sophomore/Junior year at Michigan State University, where I was working on a degree in psychology, fully intending to be a counselor or therapist when I grew up. I was in a not-so-great on-again, off-again relationship with a girl at MSU.

This was around the time I began volunteering at the Listening Ear crisis center in East Lansing. I ended up spending a lot of time and energy with those people over the years. I learned a lot and met some amazing people. I had become a full-on geek by this point, very much into SF/F, Dungeons & Dragons, etc. And right around this time, I sat down and started writing out some backstory for my D&D character … which eventually led to me writing a short novel about said character. At which point I realized, Hey, this writing thing is kind of cool. Maybe I should do more of it.

The picture here is of me and my future wife Amy. We had become friends around age 16. We both attended MSU and volunteered at the Ear, too. But it took me another decade or so to figure out I wanted to spend my life with her. Sometimes I can be a bit slow.

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Age 30.

I married Amy six months before my 30th birthday. We were living in a house in Lansing. She was finishing up her Masters degree, and I had been working for the state as a computer tech for about three years. My book Goldfish Dreams, a mainstream novel about rape and recovery, inspired in part by my work at Listening Ear, had come out the year before from a little press called Regal Crest Enterprises. I had 15-20 short stories out as well, most of them in smaller markets, but there were a few pro sales in there. Enough for me to join SFWA as an active member, at least. This was also the year my book about a nearsighted goblin named Jig came out from Five Star Press. I alternated between hope and despair that I would ever sell a book to one of the big publishers.

I was also writing a column for the MSU newspaper about sexual assault issues, and working at MSU Safe Place (a domestic violence shelter) as their male outreach coordinator.

I had built up a nice little library of SF/F titles, and was on a mission to get Amy addicted to this show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Jim - 39Age 40.

Okay, technically this picture is from age 39, but it’s close enough. After 10+ years of marriage, Amy and I have two kids, two dogs, two cats … each of us is technically working two jobs, too. We seem to have a thing for twos.

I’ve got nine books in print from DAW, with three more books under contract. I’ve gone from being a clueless newbie at my first conventions to being Guest of Honor at places like Millennicon, Windycon, Penguicon, and Continuum. I got a freaking Hugo award!

I’ve been working to get my depression under control for the past few years with therapy and medication. There are a few other health issues creeping up on me — I’m now taking pills for cholesterol and to regulate my thyroid function. The body still works pretty well overall, though.

On a sadder note, death has become more of a presence in recent years. Two of my high school classmates passed away in the past year. Some of the actors and celebrities I knew growing up have passed as well. I’m also much more aware of cancer and how many of my friends and colleagues it’s affected. Not liking this trend, but I also recognize it’s part of getting older.

I’m still working at the state, though I’ve switched departments, and somehow ended up in a management position. Life is very busy, but for the most part, very satisfying and rewarding as well.

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The Future.

I’m fully expecting to enjoy my 40s. There are aspects of getting older I’m not thrilled about, but in general, life has gotten better with age. I’m in a better space emotionally, financially, authorially, familially, and other made-up words like that.

Bring it on, 40!

Five Days as a Pre-Borg (Diabetes Related)

Last Thursday, I went in to get set up for a five-day run with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

Quick overview – with type one diabetes, the pancreas up and quits producing insulin, because it’s a LAZY SLACKER! Therefore, I take insulin via an insulin pump, which delivers a baseline dose throughout the day, and allows me to program additional insulin when I eat. I check my blood sugar about six times a day to help me keep it within a relatively healthy range.

The CGM is a device that automatically checks your blood sugar every five minutes. It automatically sounds an alert if your sugar goes too high or too low. (Sadly, it can’t be programmed to do the red alert klaxon from Star Trek, but some day…)

It works by measuring the interstitial fluid, as opposed to the blood, so the measurements aren’t quite as precise as the ones from my glucose meter. But it does a great job of showing trends (whether your blood sugar is climbing or falling or just chilling and hanging out). It also produces a graph to let you see what your blood sugar is doing over time.

I was hooked up with a Dexcom CGM, which involves a tiny flexible needle that goes into the side of the belly and is hooked up to what may or may not be a T-800 chip from Cyberdyne Systems. This made me a little nervous, since I’ve already got the catheter from my insulin pump stuck to one side of my belly, and the CGM is a little bulkier, as you can see here.

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Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis

Otherbound [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the debut YA fantasy novel by Corinne Duyvis, and comes out in June of this year. From the official summary:

“Nolan doesn’t see darkness when he closes his eyes. Instead, he’s transported into the mind of Amara, a girl living in a different world. Nolan’s life in his small Arizona town is full of history tests, family tension, and laundry; his parents think he has epilepsy, judging from his frequent blackouts. Amara’s world is full of magic and danger — she’s a mute servant girl who’s tasked with protecting a renegade princess. Nolan is only an observer in Amara’s world — until he learns to control her. At first, Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious. But to keep the princess — and themselves — alive, they’ll have to work together and discover the truth behind their connection.”

This is an ambitious story. Not only does Duyvis create a believable fantasy world (inspired in part by the Netherlands) with its own messy history, politics, cultures, geography, and rules, but she also grounds Nolan’s story in our own world, then successfully ties them both together. In some ways, Otherbound is a portal fantasy, but it’s a portal fantasy with a lot more challenges and complications.

For one thing, when Nolan’s mind is with Amara, his body remains here with no one at the helm. As a child, he slipped into Amara’s world while crossing the street, which resulted in an accident that cost him his leg. Now, Nolan not only has to deal with his missing leg, but in many ways, his connection to Amara is presented as a neurological disability, one he’s constantly working to manage.

Amara’s tongue was cut out as a child, part of her “preparation” to become a servant. Later, she developed the power to heal from any new wounds, and uses this power to protect her princess … a girl Amara can’t decide if she hates or loves. In the meantime, they’re constantly on the run, guarded by an abusive drunk of a man.

Reading through the past few paragraphs, it sounds like this is a grim, gritty, potentially depressing book, and it’s not. There’s plenty of darkness, but Duyvis presents it all without ever wallowing in despair or hopelessness.

I was particularly impressed with how she handled the growing connection between Nolan and Amara. At first, Amara isn’t aware of Nolan at all. But eventually he learns he can control her. The first time this happens, there are layers of assumptions and misunderstandings on Nolan’s part. Without going into details, Nolan is simply trying to communicate with this person, to try to do something about this connection that’s cost him so much. But in the process, he takes total control of Amara. It’s a violation that has echoes of sexual assault, both in the way Amara loses control of her own body, and in her reactions afterward.

That’s Amara’s first introduction to Nolan, and it’s a hard thing to move past. Duyvis doesn’t shy away from the pain and difficulties there, but she does a good job of making both characters sympathetic and understandable as they try to negotiate and learn to work together.

I did get a little disoriented in the beginning as we were going back and forth between worlds, and I would have liked a little more grounding in Amara’s world, but overall I’m very impressed with everything Duyvis accomplished in this book. There’s plenty of action to keep things moving, along with romance, a diverse cast of characters, and an interesting magical system.

It’s a good book, and doubly impressive for being Duyvis’ debut. I especially liked how she chose to end it … which I can’t really talk about without spoiling things. So you’ll just have to read it for yourself.