Happy Book Day

-Interview – I talk about Mermaid’s Madness over at Sci-Fi and Fantasy Planet.

-Fantasy Discussion Panel – I’ll be at the Delta Township Library tonight from 6:30 to 8:00, talking fantasy with local authors Daniel Hogan and Phil Kline.


The first Tuesday of each month is a big day for a lot of publishers, marking most of the new SF/F releases.

First up we have Rosemary and Rue [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], the first of many books I’m expecting to see from new DAW author Seanan McGuire.  I blurbed this one, and what I loved the most was the way McGuire blends a complex fairy society into modern-day San Francisco.  (Okay, really my favorite part was the rose goblin, but I’m biased.)  If you’re into urban fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy this one.  Also, she does nifty promo comics.

Next up is The Storm Witch [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Violette Malan.  This is the third book in Malan’s series about mercenary partners Dhulyn and Parno.  I reviewed book one, The Sleeping God, back in June, and I’m currently reading the second.  Swords and magic and kick-ass mercenaries, and a much more … mature relationship between our two protagonists than I usually see.

Also out today is Witch Craft [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], the fourth Nocturne City book from Caitlin Kittredge.  I met Caitlin at Fantasy Matters a few years back, but I’m afraid I haven’t gotten the chance to read her work yet.  (No reflection on her books; I’m just slow.)  I’m betting some of you can fill us in on this series, though?  Caitlin also has excerpts of her books at her site.

Finally, we have Other Lands [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by David Anthony Durham.  This is the sequel to Acacia, which is sitting in my TBR pile.  Unlike the other three, this one doesn’t come out until the 15th, but I include it here anyway because David is just that awesome.  Excerpts on his site.


So go forth and read, or hang out here and chat about books.  It’s all good.  And maybe I’ll see at least a few of you at the library tonight?

TBR: Twilight

-I finally got the web site updated with goblin and princess fan art, including a wonderful new princess/zombie piece by socchan.

-Still taking questions for the one-question interview for Mermaid.  I’ll be picking one interviewer to receive a free copy of Strip Mauled, which includes my muppet/werewolf story.  E-mail your question to mermaid@jimchines.com if you’re interested.


So I’ve decided I have to read Twilight.  This started the other day with the book love graph.  I included “At least it’s better than Twilight” because, well, it’s funny.  But it also felt like a cheap shot, and I had mixed feelings about taking it.  The Twilight books are an easy target these days.

Then over the weekend, Google Alerts brought a fairly negative review of Stepsister Scheme to my attention.  I clicked over to read the full review, because that’s what you do when you’re a masochistic writer who can’t help yourself.  The first thing I saw on this person’s site was a countdown to the next Twilight movie, and proclamations of Twilight love.

My immediate response was relief.  “Oh, good.  They didn’t like the book, but who cares — they’re a Twilight fan.  That doesn’t count.”

All this Twilight hate when I haven’t even read the book.  Not cool.  I’m the guy who writes nose-picking goblins.  I’m not in a position to be snubbing.

So I’m adding the book to my TBR pile.  Based on discussions from people I trust, I fully expect to have problems with the story, but we’ll see what happens.  And even if I hate it, the fact is, Stephenie Meyer has done something right.  She’s written a book with the same sort of breakout appeal as the Harry Potter books.  As a writer who would love to have even 1% of her sales, it might behoove me to actually read the book and see what she did.

I still love Buffy vs. Edward and Blade vs. Edward and the rest.  But Twilight is going into the pile, and you know what?  I’m actually looking forward to reading it and finding out what all the fuss has been about.

The Radio Magician & Other Stories, by James Van Pelt

I picked up James Van Pelt’s first short fiction collection, Strangers and Beggars, way back in 2002 at World Fantasy Con in Minneapolis.  Even then I was impressed at how much power he could pack into a few thousand words.  His latest collection, The Radio Magician and Other Stories [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], is even better.

It’s easy for fiction to become formulaic: Protagonist wants X.  Protagonist tries to achieve X by doing Y.  S/he fails, tries again, fails again, tries a third time, and either wins or loses it all in the climax of the story.  It’s a perfectly serviceable formula, one which produces perfectly serviceable fiction.

Van Pelt does so much more.  In “Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go?” our protagonist and her friend don’t stop the bad guy.  They’re not active characters at all, being mere observers to the SFnal drama unfolding in their classroom.  Yet it’s still a tense, gripping story.  And the ending, in which they learn the truth and are left with one terrifying and unanswerable question, has more impact than many full-length novels ever achieve.

“The Inn at Mount Either” packs a similar punch, making the SF idea more central to the story as our protagonist explores a resort situated at the intersection of parallel universes.  Van Pelt doesn’t give us the easy ending another author might have written; he adds one more page, turning an interesting story into a full-strength gut punch.

He’s also playing with fascinating ideas.  What if artificial intelligence was not only possible, but became so cheap that everything could have AI chips?  What if space exploration could be outsourced, not to private companies, but through children’s collectible toys?  (Gotta find ’em all!) What if the universe were ending, and all that remained were two sentient machines orbiting a star?

Like any collection, some stories worked better for me than others.  I wasn’t as fond of “Of Late I’ve Dreamt of Venus,” mostly because I didn’t feel as connected to the characters.  “One Day, in the Middle of the Night” was an interesting premise, but I felt like Van Pelt was working too hard to fit the gimmick of the story.

But these were the exceptions, and even with these stories, I was still impressed by the ambition, the purpose and power of Van Pelt’s writing.  Let me put it this way: reading this book made me completely rethink the potential of the short story, and the things I want to accomplish the next time I sit down to write one.

The notes on my ARC say the book comes out in September, though Amazon lists it as already available.  I definitely recommend this one, both as a reader and a writer.  And while you’re at it, check out James Van Pelt’s home page, or go visit him on LiveJournal at jimvanpelt.

The Stages of Book Love

Just something I’ve been playing with as I dive into the new book.  I suspect some of the writers can relate?

(Click here if the graph gets truncated and you need the full view.)

The Stages of Book Love:

ETA: Also see this graph and blog post by Maureen McHugh.  I honestly don’t remember whether I’ve seen McHugh’s graph before, but it’s very possible I saw it reposted somewhere, and that it was hiding in the back of my mind as I worked on my own graph.

Welcome New Readers, and Mermaid gets Klausnered

I wanted to say hello and welcome to all of the new readers who’ve found this blog over the past month or so.  Please make yourselves comfortable, and feel free to say hello or to just hang out and lurk if you prefer.

It’s interesting to see the pattern play itself out.  I’ll post a rant or weigh in on a current controversy in the genre, and the readership grows.  A few days later I’ll post a day-to-day update on the writing, and the friends list starts shrinking back down.  C’est la vie.

To be clear, this is not an all-rants, all-the-time blog, and I hope people will feel free to friend or defriend, and read or not as the mood strikes.  The only real theme here is “Stuff Jim Felt Like Writing About.”  That might be sexism in the Hugo Awards or it might be a kick-ass LEGO wheelchair.  With my next book coming out in a month, I’ll probably be talking about that too, because even though it’s my fifth book with DAW, I still get excited and freaked out about this stuff.  I hope to keep things interesting and entertaining most of the time, but if you don’t think so, that’s okay too.

So hey, speaking of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], I’ve seen my first public review of the book, courtesy of reviewer savant Harriet Klausner.  It’s a pretty standard Klausner review, which means spoilers, strange details that don’t completely match the book, and one or two spots where she tries too hard to be clever.  (A “regal coma”?  Really?)  Review is here if you’re interested.

On the other hand, it’s the first review of the book.  Klausner is kind of like the first robin of spring.  Her song might be a little off-key after the long winter, but that doesn’t matter because you know there will soon be an entire flock chirping up a storm outside your window.  (Or, to extend the metaphor, leaving their droppings all over your beautiful book.  But I’m not going to think about that today.)

Hugo Awards: Shaped that way for a reason

“If in the written fiction categories, no selected nominee has a female author or co-author, the highest nominee with a female author or co-author shall also be listed.”

This is a proposed amendment to the Hugo Awards introduced at a Worldcon business meeting earlier this month.  The amendment was immediately nuked from orbit.  (It was the only way to be sure.)

Today I came across a post by Yonmei, talking about why she proposed the amendment.  Two of the points she makes:

“Books by women are less likely to be reviewed by than books by men (this applies even to Locus – in fact, it was Locus that was offered as a specific example at the Broad Universe panel on Sunday morning at the Worldcon.) …  So a book by a woman is less likely to become known because of a good review.”

“In the overall pool of readers, there is still a bias by men against buying ‘women’s books'”

She also points out that every year from 2000 through today, one or more of the Hugo award categories has ended up with an all-male shortlist.  Never in this time period has there been an all-female shortlist.

This leads to two questions:

1.  Is this actually a problem?

2.  If so, how do we fix it?

Regarding #1, I’m reminded of the all-male Manthology, and I can already hear the same arguments being prepared.  Yes, it’s statistically possible to get an all-male (or an all-female) list at random.  I believe the fact that it keeps happening so consistently, and so one-sidedly, is a problem.

#2 is harder.  Yonmei’s amendment would have guaranteed no more all-male shortlists.  However, I’ve read several female authors already protesting that they wouldn’t want to be on the shortlist simply because of their second X chromosome.  (On the other hand, how many male authors make the shortlist thanks to that Y chromosome?  Not that their stories weren’t good, but would they have made the final cut in a truly gender-blind situation, or would they have been the runner-up while a female author took their spot?)

Changing the Hugo rules has the advantage of being quick.  If that rule had passed, 2009 2010* would be the last year to have an all-male shortlist.  But as I look at this, I don’t necessarily see a problem with the Hugo rules; I see a problem with the genre as a whole, with readers and editors and reviewers and so on.

I do believe things are moving forward, but it feels like a slow change, requiring an awful lot of work and discussion and awareness.  And sometimes we do have to change the law first so the culture can follow.  (Desegregation being the first example to come to mind.)

I don’t have an answer, except to keep pointing this stuff out when it happens.  Keep challenging the assumption that it’s normal to have male-dominated award ballots, anthologies, and so on.  Keep ridiculing the fact that so many projects purporting to represent The Best of our genre are still dominated by the White Boys Club, because The Best of our genre is so much better than that.

For myself, keep expanding my own reading.  I grew up reading white male authors, and those habits are still present, which means I need to make a deliberate effort to break them.  (This list on the Tor.com site is a good start.)

As always, I’m very much interested in hearing what the rest of you think.

*Thanks to Steven Silver for the rules clarification.

One Question Interviews

Yesterday was my day to blog at SF Novelists.  This time I talk about the ups and downs of starting a new novel: That New Manuscript Smell.

Some of you might have seen this already, but Nnedi Okorafor’s My Response to District 419 — I mean District 9 is very much worth reading.  Go.  I’ll wait.


Five weeks until The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] comes out.  Anxious?  Me?  Not at all.  I always spend this much time Googling for pre-release reviews.

I’ve also been trying to figure out how best to promote the release online.  I’ve talked about writers and promotion a fair amount over the years.  It’s always a balancing act between wanting to sell the book and getting so obnoxious you just turn people away.  Some lines are pretty clear cut.  Others less so.

For a while, some of the SF Novelists group were doing interviews to be posted when one of us had a new book out.  I did this with Stepsister, and looking back, I don’t think that worked too well.  Authors interviewing other authors can be effective, if it’s a good interview.  But in this case you still ended up with the same interview being posted multiple times all over the place, and I suspect that got old quick.

I wonder how many people even read these lengthy interviews.  Maybe if it’s a big name like Terry Pratchett, but how many of you actually read author interviews from random midlisters?

So here’s the deal.  I’m going to try the interview thing again, but we’re doing it differently this time.  You’re all invited to play along, but you only get one question.  You can ask anything you’d like, serious or silly.  Just make that question count.

What I ask is that you post your question and my answer on October 6 when Mermaid comes out.  If you want to say a little about Mermaid or Stepsister, that’s wonderful, but not required.  The only requirement is that you link back to the index of questions.  (I’ll provide that URL.)

Questions should be sent to mermaid@jimchines.com any time between now and 10/2/09.  I’ll answer every question I receive.  (Please note that I’m not guaranteeing a serious answer to every question.)

What do you think?  I’m hoping this will lead to a lot of fun and interesting posts without being overwhelming or repetitive.  I could always toss in a free book for a random participant, or let people vote on the best question?  Maybe a copy of Strip Mauled, which should be coming out the week before?

Just a Geek, by Wil Wheaton

It was early 2004.  I had just signed a deal with Five Star to publish Goblin Quest.  This would be my first published fantasy novel, hopefully bringing me one step closer to actually Making It As A Writer.  With Five Star being a small specialty press, I was on my own when it came to blurbs.  So I e-mailed a few people I knew.  On a whim, after reading one of Wheaton’s blog columns about gaming, I wrote him a quick e-mail.

Six hours later, I bounded away from the computer, grabbed my wife by the arms, and said, “Holy @#$%, Wil Wheaton said he’d read my book!”

Not only did he read it, he provided my favorite blurb ever, calling Goblin Quest “Too f***ing cool for words!”  He also hooked me up with John Kovalic, who went on to provide another blurb.

It’s hard to put into words how much that meant.  I was a nobody in the writing world. I had friends signing deals with major publishers, and I was with a press that might sell 500 copies if I was lucky.  I felt like a fraud, and I was terrified people were going to find out.

Having Wil Wheaton agree to read the book, and his follow-up e-mails saying how much he enjoyed it … well, it didn’t make the crazy go away, but it helped.  It helped a lot.

So now it’s five years later, and I finally got my hands on Wil’s book Just a Geek [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], a collection of blog posts and original material chronicling Wil’s decision to leave Star Trek, his efforts to find work in Hollywood, the struggle to balance career and family, and his eventual decision to give this writing thing a try. 

I’ve read his blog for years, so I knew he was a good writer, and I fully expected to enjoy the book.  What I didn’t expect was how much I would relate to the stories he shared.  How many of you writers out there can connect to this:

The hundreds of adoring fans I’d hoped to see did show up . . . when people like Kevin Smith and the cast of the short-lived Witchblade took up temporary residence at tables near mine.

Yep.  That could be me at one of several group booksignings I’ve done next to folks like John Scalzi or Mike Resnick.  Or how about:

I would often be one of the final two or three actors to be considered.  But consistently coming in second or third was actually worse than not making it past the first round of meetings.  It was like scaling Mount Everest, only to die within sight of the summit . . . over and over again.

I think every writer goes through this stage, where we’re getting “Almost, but not quite” rejections and going bugnut insane trying to figure out why we can’t make the cut when we’re so freaking close.

There were other pieces that jumped out at me.  Wil mentions legal battles with his stepsons’ father, and the overwhelming lawyer bills that come with them.  (Been there, done that.)  He writes about choosing bewteen going with his family on a vacation or staying home in order to make it to auditions.  (Some of you might remember when I missed half of my family vacation in order to make the deadline on Mermaid.)

The point is, it’s an aptly-named book.  There’s a blunt honestly to the writing.  You don’t feel like you’re reading about a celebrity; you’re reading about a guy who, like most of the folks reading this review, is just a geek (albeit one with 10,000 times as many Twitter followers as most of us).  If writing is about creating a connection between author and reader, then Wheaton is a damn good writer.

If you’ve read his blog, you know Wil Wheaton can write.  Just a Geek shows he can do it at book-length, tying individual stories and blog entries together into a larger story, one which starts with Wil Wheaton trying to Prove to Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn’t A Mistake, and ending with Wil Wheaton, Author.

The book comes out in paperback at the end of this week.  Check it out.

Overnetworked (Now with 100% more Twitter!)

I’ve said from time to time that I wasn’t going to join Twitter.  It turns out I lied.  https://twitter.com/jimchines  This is entirely the fault of my publisher, who have their own Twitter account at @dawbooks.

I’m officially at the point where I’m overnetworked.  I think I’m going to try to balance this out by closing out my MySpace page.*  I don’t use that one, and this way I can pretend I’m not adding yet more online timesuckery to my life.

I don’t know how much I’ll be doing with Twitter yet.  I understand that social networking is the Big Thing, but I find the more I try to do, the more … diluted I feel.  Trying to follow everyone on LJ and Facebook and my Google RSS feed already means I find myself skimming most entries.  There are days I realize I’m more intent on “catching up” than I am on actually reading or interacting with folks.  Twitter looks like it has the potential to make that even worse, especially since a lot of the people on Twitter are folks I’m already reading elsewhere.

For the moment, I’m only following people on Twitter if I don’t already read them on Facebook and LJ.  Hopefully I’m not violating any Twitter etiquette by not automatically following everyone who follows me.

We pause now as Jim reboots the computer, losing half the blog post he had composed.  Grumble.

I’m probably overthinking it all.  I’ve got two goals, the first of which is to be accessible.  If someone wants to check out my web site, great.  If they prefer LJ or Facebook or Goodreads or whatever, no problem — it all gets mirrored there.  Goal #2 is to keep in touch with my community — other writers, readers, fans, and randomly cool people.  Oh, and it would also be nice if I could still do things like write the next book, see my family, keep the day job, and so on.

Hm … maybe if I signed my kids up for Twitter, I could–

Ahem.  Anyway, how do other folks handle it all?  Do you use one site differently than another, or is it all basically the same stuff in different formats?  (I do like the @ and # functions in Twitter, from what I’ve seen so far.)  Help a Twitter newbie out here.

*Does anyone use MySpace anymore?

Snow Queen: Day 1

Cry havoc, and let slip the plotbunnies of war!  Today I wrote the first 660 words of Scourge of the Snow Queen!  (Title may change between now and 2011.)

I had hoped to post a celebratory snippet.  Unfortunately, anything from today’s writing would completely spoil the ending of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Stupid ongoing plot threads.

This is the first book in the series where I feel like I need a prologue, or at least some sort of “Previously on the Princess Action show…” introduction.  I did that sort of thing in the goblin books and had fun with it, but I’d really rather not do it again here.

Ideally, I want brand new readers to be able to pick up the book and dive into the story just as easily as those who have read the first three books.  That means no introductory crap that will bore new and old readers alike.  Just start the story and give the background details as they become necessary.

Whereas the first three books have their own storylines, this one relies more heavily on what came before.  It’s a new challenge, one which I’d like to say I look forward to conquering, but to be honest, right now it’s a pain in the ass.

Fortunately, I’ve got 13 months and change to figure it out 🙂  For now, I’m just enjoying that new-story smell and looking forward to everything I get to play with in this one.

Jim C. Hines