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Guest Post at GFTW

Welcome to all of the new people who’ve started reading over the past weeks/months.  Please feel free to say hi and introduce yourselves!  Or not, if you prefer.  It’s all good.

Today I’m going to point folks to the guest blog post I did at Grasping for the Wind.  From time to time, readers will ask me where they should go to buy an author’s books.  Does it really matter if you buy from Amazon or the local independent?  Click over to GftW for my response.

And just because I haven’t done it in a while, have another LEGO pic.  Many of you should recognize Crow and Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater.  These were built by Christopher Doyle at Reasonably Clever, which is a fun little site and worth checking out.  Click the pic for the step-by-step on the ‘bots.

Girly Books

From time to time, I get an e-mail or a comment from male readers who enjoyed my goblin books, but are hesitant to pick up Stepsister Scheme or Mermaid’s Madness because they look like they’re for girls.

My reaction to this is all over the place.  The goblin books went over well with younger boys, and I can understand why a teenage boy might be hesitant to walk around with a book that has three women surrounded by swirling pastels on the cover.  I also think it sucks that we’re still raising boys to think it’s shameful to be caught reading something “feminine,” but having been a teenage male myself, I can understand that reluctance.

I like the cover for Mermaid better, less because we lost the pastels, and more because I think it’s just a great image.  But I still get the questions.  This is obviously a book about three girls, so doesn’t that mean it’s written for girls?  (Much as Name of the Wind was written for red-haired boys, and the Zombie Raccoons anthology was written for decaying scavengers.)

I’ve said in multiple interviews that I wrote Stepsister for my daughter, in response to the Disney/Barbie princess infestation we went through at the house.  So in a way, these books are written for girls.  Or at least for one girl.  Which means … what, exactly?  I don’t even know what a “girly book” is.  I assume it’s shorthand along the lines of:

Boy Books = Action/Adventure; Girl Books = Romance
Boy Books = Plot/Idea-centric; Girl Books = Character-centric
Boy Books = Explody things on the cover; Girl Books = Chicks and pastels

There’s value in being able to find the kind of books you want.  If you’re into character-oriented fiction, you want to be able to discover those books in the store.  You don’t want to buy a book, take it home, and discover that what you thought was an action-packed vampire adventure is actually a 400-page relationship angst-fest.  I get that.  But trying to classify those preferences by gender, with all of the stereotyping and judgement that goes with that?  It doesn’t work for me.

Josh Jasper wrote a piece over at Genreville about genre shame, and about being male and reading romance novels.  “Why should I be ashamed of reading something fun when women aren’t?  The answer is that I’m afraid of being judged by people I don’t know, whose opinions don’t really matter, about something they have no real business judging me over.  Social conditioning is strange and stupid.”

When you ask me if Mermaid and Stepsister are girly books, the answer is that I don’t even know what that means.  I don’t want to know.  I can’t tell you whether or not you’ll like the books, but I can try to give you an idea what they’re about and let you make your own decision.  In a nutshell, the princess series is about:

Fighting and magic and family and fairies and revenge and unrequited love and requited love and hairy trolls and sailing and a three-legged cat and flying horses and wolves and drunk pixies and sewer goblins and enchanted swords and mermaids and friendship and ghosts and strong women and not-so-strong women and also some men and birds and rats and lots of ass-kicking.

It’s bad enough we still try to force people into fairly rigid gender roles.  Do we really have to do it to books too?

Monday Pics

Saturday was my wife’s birthday, so much of the weekend was spent doing things like making breakfast for her and the family, going out to birthday dinner with my parents, then going out to lunch the next day and watching a movie with just the two of us.  As a result, I spent zero time on things writing-related.  Nothing on Snow Queen, nothing on the new series proposal, and nothing for the blog.

Instead, have a picture of Flit with multicolored eyes beneath the Snoopy-infested Christmas tree.  (Is anyone really surprised by the Snoopy addiction?)

And as long as I’m posting pics, here’s the artwork Socchan did from my story “The Creature in Your Neighborhood.”  She drew this during my reading at Icon, and I’m most impressed.  That’s Rolly (after his breakdown), the Mall Rats, Peter the Pretendisaurus, and poor Tommy the Tuba.

Stop — Drama Time

I’m reminded once again that conflict and drama make popular blog topics.  Therefore, I feel it’s time for me to announce my newest project, an unauthorized anthology of Twilight fiction titled Fuschia Eclipse.[1. Russet Moon Summary – http://blog.fanhistory.com/?p=532]

The project will be published by Penguin Droppings, a revolutionary new self-publishing branch of Penguin.[2. See Jackie Kessler’s posts on the Harlequin self-publishing fiasco – http://www.jackiekessler.com/blog/]  Publishing is changing, and it’s time to do away with the gatekeepers of traditional publishing and make way for the new millennium!

I had originally hoped to be able to pay contributors a token rate of 1/20th of a cent per word[3. Short fiction pay rate conversation – http://jimhines.livejournal.com/479488.html], but after reviewing the Penguin Droppings contract, it turns out contributors will end up owing me $500 per story.  However, they will all receive one contributor copy and Valuable Exposure!

I’ll only be inviting white male authors for this volume.[4. Mammoth Anthology of Mindblowing SF – http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/08/toc-the-mammoth-book-of-mindblowing-sf-edited-by-mike-ashley/] [5. Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Books of 2009 – http://jimhines.livejournal.com/475502.html]  But I want to assure everyone I’m neither sexist nor racist.  I don’t see race or gender; all I care about is the story!  It’s not my fault the only truly great literature comes from white penises!

I’m already working on the cover art.  I’m thinking something tabloid-style, maybe Jacob Black fighting some vampire raccoons and zombie bunnies?[6. Zombie Rabbit Cover of Doom – http://jimhines.livejournal.com/469403.html]  All I know is that, for marketing purposes, Jacob will be portrayed by a pale blond kid.[7. White-washed cover of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar – http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/]

Why I Haven’t Written a 4th Goblin Book

At least once a month, I receive an e-mail or a comment asking if I’m going to do a fourth goblin book.  The answer has always been, “Probably not.”  I can think of only two situations wherein I might consider writing another goblin book:

  1. DAW offers to pay me a million dollars[1. Or any publisher, for that matter. I’m not picky.].
  2. I come up with an idea for a goblin story that is both new and exciting to me as a writer.

The thing is, in my brain, Jig’s story is finished.  I’ve shown him and his fellow goblins growing and changing over the three books.  I leave them in a very different place in book three, and I like that.  I like that we got to see Tymalous Shadowstar’s story as well.  I like that we got closure for some of the other characters and situations from book one.  It feels done.

Sometimes I wonder if I made the right call, if maybe I should have kept going with the series.  Jig has some wonderful fans, and he really was a fun character to write.  (Not to mention the goblins were making great money over in Germany!)  And then last night I caught the rebirth of Scrubs.

This is a show that “ended” after season eight.  I thought they had a wonderful series finale, and I was very impressed at how they handled everything.  It worked.

And then they decided to keep going.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know if it was a purely commercial decision, or if someone honestly thought they had more stories to tell.  All I know is that it was painful.  Many of the characters had crossed the line into caricature.  The stories felt repetitive–things we had already seen in earlier seasons.  The whole thing felt hollow.

I hope they’ll improve as the season progresses, and I’ll keep watching to see where they go with it.  But those two new episodes affirmed for me why I don’t just sit down and write a fourth Jig book.  If I wrote it because the fans wanted it, or for money, or for any reason aside from my own love and excitement over a new story, the odds are that I’d lose the heart of those stories.  I’d end up with the same kind of empty, repetitive caricature I watched last night.

I was disappointed when Scrubs ended, but I enjoyed the series, and I loved and respected the way they wrapped things up.  As a fan, I find myself wishing they had left it there.  And as a writer, I don’t want to do that to my own fans.

Tuesday Crud

• For a day or two there, I thought I might be lucky enough to dodge the cough/crud that had hit the rest of the family.  I was wrong.  Stupid crud.

• As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, check out Kate Harding’s slideshow of various BMI ranges.  (I particularly like Moxie’s pic.)  Thanks to @skyladawn for the link.

• Huge congrats to Michael Jasper and Niki Smith.  Their comic In Maps & Legends won Zuda’s competition for November, meaning my buddy Mike now has himself a publishing contract with DC Comics.  Sweet!

• If you’ll be buying any of my books for folks for Christmas, let me know and I’ll mail you one of the two autographed bookplates below to go with them.  (U.S. only, I’m afraid. While supplies last, and all that.)

Lincoln U’s Big Fat Fail

In 2006, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania instituted a policy that students with a BMI of 30 or higher must take a “Fitness for Life” class. The students affected by this rule are now seniors, some of whom may not be able to graduate, either because they haven’t gotten their BMI tested by the university or because they have a BMI of 30 or higher and haven’t taken the class.

James DeBoy, chair of Lincoln’s health, PE, and recreation department, explains:

“This country’s in the midst of an obesity epidemic … We need to address this problem directly with our students.  No student should ever be able to leave Lincoln and not know the risks of obesity.”

For reference, I’m 5’7″, around 160 pounds (which means I’m “overweight”, according to the BMI).  If I hit 200 pounds, that puts my BMI at 30.5.  I am now “obese,” and would be required to take the extra class in order to graduate.  (Presumably, I’m also required to pay the university for the privilege.)

My God, what would these people do without the rest of us to remind them how fat and unhealthy and generally repulsive they are?  It’s not like heavy people get smacked with this message every day.

The underlying assumption is that obesity is caused by a failure of willpower.  People are fat because they’re lazy, gluttonous, or both.  If they really wanted to, they’d lose the weight.  Ergo, they’re fat because they choose to be.

In some cases, there’s truth here.  When I switched from a job fixing computers throughout a six-story building to one where I sit at a desk all day, I gained weight.  I could have added exercise to my life to make up for the walking I wasn’t doing anymore, but for a long time, I didn’t.

However–and this may come as a shock–people are different.  Not everyone’s body works the same.  I know people who eat healthy and play high-intensity racketball for 2-3 hours a night, 3-5 nights a week, but are heavier than me.  My wife knows enough about dieting and healthy lifestyle to teach that Lincoln class, yet despite living a much healthier life than me, she struggles with her weight more than I ever have.  But she’s the one who would be punished by Lincoln’s arbitrary policy.

Do the folks at Lincoln really think fat people haven’t picked up on the fact that society thinks they’re horribly unhealthy and undesirable?  That’s not a problem.  To pick one study, “[o]ver half of the females studied between ages eighteen and twenty-five would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat.”[1. Gaesser, Glenn A., Big Fat Lies.  (2001).] (Emphasis added).

I’m sure Lincoln’s intentions were good.  They’re trying to help people be healthy.  Healthy = thin!  Everyone must be thin!  (By the way, an APA study found the death rate for eating disorders to be between 5 and 20 percent.[2. “Practice Guidelines for Eating Disorders,” American Journal of Psychiatry 150(2) (1993).] But at least they died thin!)

If you want to add a class on lifestyle and healthy eating, that’s one thing.  Having seen what people pay for diets and weight loss programs,  the class should fill up fast.  But to force everyone with a BMI of 30 to take your class, or else they can’t graduate?  Sorry, Lincoln.  Your bigotry and ignorance are showing.  Just ask the the Mayo Clinic:

“[O]verweight patients had better survival rates and fewer heart problems than those with a normal BMI. This apparently perverse result, drawn from data from 40 studies covering 250,000 people with heart disease, did not suggest that obesity was not a health threat but rather that the 100-year-old BMI test was too blunt an instrument to be trusted.” [3. “Body Mass Index (BMI) Badly Flawed.” http://www.preventdisease.com/news/articles/081806_bmi.shtml (2006).] (Emphasis added).

Can obesity be a health risk?  Sometimes, sure.  But if you think that gives us the right to judge, condemn, and punish everyone who doesn’t conform to our screwed-up ideal of human beauty?  Well, I’m planning a mandatory logic class for everyone with an HUA (Head Up Ass) score greater than 30, and you just qualified.

SF Novelists Day

• Interested in a custom-painted mini of Jig the goblin?  Garden Ninja has offered one for bidding here to benefit Tu Publishing, a publisher focusing on multicultural SF and fantasy for children and young adults.

• Mel Grant’s cover sketch for Red Hood’s Revenge showed up in my e-mail today.  My biggest fear was that switching artists in mid-series would mean book three wouldn’t be recognizable as a princess book.  While I did have some feedback on the cover, I’m feeling better about this fear now.  He obviously worked very closely from the earlier covers, and it shows.  I’ll share the finished art with you all just as soon as I can.

• Today was my day to post at SF Novelists.  I used this month’s post to talk about humor (and to plug the 2009 SF/F Humor Roundup): http://www.sfnovelists.com/2009/11/24/sff-humor-roundup/

Finally, your LEGO fix.  I went small scale on this week’s pic, which comes from LEGOWOW.  This is another set that you really need to see close-up to appreciate.  I don’t know which impresses me more, the guitars themselves or the detail on the amps.  Click the pic for the full photo set.

 

Why My Books are Not My Babies

From time to time, you come across authors talking about how their books are their babies.  I’ve been thinking about the release of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], and decided to see how well the analogy holds up.

Part 1: Creation.  It took me one year to finish the manuscript that would become The Mermaid’s Madness, and that’s without my editor’s revision requests.  It took me mumble minutes to finish … er … well, to finish my part in the creation of what would become my child.  (On the other hand, at least my wife didn’t ask for revisions!)

Part 2: Prepublication.  It takes roughly nine months for a human baby to develop and be born.  It took about ten months for finished copies of Mermaid to start showing up in bookstores.  In both case, you have some beautiful milestones along the way.  The first ultrasound and the first glimpse of your cover art.  Preparing the baby’s room, and redesigning the web site to make room for the new book.  The baby analogy holds up better here.

Part 3: Release.  Labor is not a fun experience.  We were back and forth to the hospital several times.  The doctors tried and failed to induce labor.  In the end, both of my children were born via C-section, basically cutting my wife open and tugging the kids out.  This is not a gentle process, folks.  It was like trying to remove a basketball from a too-tight package.  The books, on the other hand?  My publisher shipped ’em to me in a Fed Ex. box.

Part 4: The Real World.  Very few people will tell you your newborn baby looks like a cross between a bulldog and a California Raisin.  People have no such reluctance when it comes to reviewing your new book.  The real baby is snuggled, fed, burped, bathed, and rocked to sleep.  Your books will receive no such love.  Some will be forgotten in the back room.  Others will linger on the shelves, along with tens of thousands of others.  Those lucky enough to find a home will have their spines cracked, and after a brief relationship, will end up squeezed onto a bookshelf and left there for months or years to come.

Part 5: Letting Go.  Your baby will likely be with you for at least 18 years.  Your book?  You’ll be lucky if it’s still on the bookstore shelves to celebrate its first birthday.  Within a month, many of those books will be setting out on their new career: stripping.  Front covers are wantonly ripped away in an orgy of shelf reorganization, and soon you’ll find these prematurely aged paperbacks discarded in back alley dumpsters.

Part 6: The Next Child.  I’ll be honest, I rarely think about Mermaid these days.  I’m lavishing all of my love and affection on Snow Queen.  This will be my seventh book.  I hope to pop out at least thirty over the course of my career.  Forget octomom, I wanna be tridecadad!  Children, on the other hand?  I love both of my children dearly, but I don’t know whether I could handle a third.

In conclusion, myth busted.  A book is not a baby.  Tune in next week when I talk about how dingos ate my book.

DV Book Drive

For several years now, I’ve run a book drive around the holidays to collect books for a local domestic violence shelter.

On Tuesday, I wrote briefly about the value of books and stories as an escape, however temporary.  Going to a domestic violence shelter is never an easy choice.  It can be even harder around the holidays, especially if you have children.  It’s hard to think about presents when you’re worried about your safety and trying to figure out how to start your life over from scratch.

To my author friends, if you would be willing to donate one or more autographed books, those books will be given to victims of domestic violence and their children.  You’ll be providing gifts for people who probably don’t expect them this year, and more importantly, your books can give a temporary escape from the stress and fear.

I’m also accepting donations of unsigned, new books from anyone who cares to donate.  In previous years I’ve also taken used books, but I’m told we’ve filled the bookshelves at both local shelters to the bursting point (which is pretty dang cool–thank you!).  So for the moment I’m only asking for new books.

Please contact me if you’d be willing to contribute.

Linkbacks and retweets are also very much appreciated.

Thank you.

Jim C. Hines