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Sunspots

I was testing the solar filter for the camera, in preparation for Monday’s eclipse. We won’t be seeing the total eclipse, but I’m hoping to get some good shots of the partial.

As I was processing the results, I realized I’d captured sunspots!  (Those dark spots in the upper left.)

Sun with sunspots

Click to embiggen.

For those who wonder about such things, this was taken on the 100-400mm lens, fully zoomed to 400mm. ISO 640, f/10, with a 1/3200 shutter speed. I had to set everything manually, because the camera overexposed the shot if left to its own devices.

I think next time I’ll try to reduce the ISO down to about 100 and see if that gets rid of the minor graininess.

Processing involved cropping the shot, noise reduction, and an orange overlay.

Magic ex Libris: The Next Chapter

Some of you might remember me talking about a 15,000-word novelette I was working on between wrapping up Terminal Alliance and starting on Terminal Uprising.

That novelette is called “Imprinted,” and it’s the next Magic ex Libris story.

It’s about Jeneta Aboderin, and it’s set roughly eight months after the events of Revisionary.

I haven’t set a publication date yet. There’s a bit of work left to get everything ready, and with Terminal Alliance coming out in November, I’m guessing it will be available in January or February.

I also haven’t set a price. $2.99 would be ideal, because that’s where ebook royalty rates jump from 35% to 70%. What do you think? Does $2.99 seem fair for a 15,000-word story, or should I bump it down to $1.99 and take the royalties hit?

Finally, as long as you’re here, what do you think of the not-quite-finalized cover?

Imprinted Cover: Draft

Dragon Awards Refuse to Let Authors Withdraw

ETA: Dragon Con has reconsidered.

“[O]ver the last couple of days, we got an earful from our fans and others. The issue also caused a second author to ask us to remove her book from the ballot as well. We’ve reconsidered and changed our mind.”

ETA2: John Scalzi has also reconsidered, and will now remain on the ballot.

###

The Dragon Awards were created last year to recognize the best SF/F books, comics, games, TV, and films of the year. Nomination and voting are open to anyone and everyone, and the awards are presented at Dragon Con.

The ballot this year appears to be a mix of genuinely popular work and works where individual authors or groups campaigned hard to get nominated. File 770 published an analysis looking at Goodreads, Library Thing, and Amazon review numbers of the different nominees. I trust folks can draw their own conclusions.

On August 4, finalist Alison Littlewood posted that she was withdrawing her book from consideration. She notes:

“While this would normally be a great pleasure, it has also been brought to my notice that my book has been selected by a voting bloc who are attempting, for reasons of their own, to influence the awards outcome. Essentially, the same group who set out to fix the Hugo Awards are now encouraging their supporters to follow their voting choices in the Dragon Awards.”

Two days ago, finalist John Scalzi also withdrew his book from the award, saying in part:

“The reason is simple: Some other finalists are trying to use the book and me as a prop, to advance a manufactured ‘us vs. them’ vote-pumping narrative based on ideology or whatever. And I just… can’t. I don’t have the interest and I’m on a deadline, and this bullshit is even more stale and stupid now than it was the several other times it was attempted recently, with regard to genre awards.”

Rather, Littlewood and Scalzi tried to withdraw from the award. But according to a follow-up post from Littlewood, Pat Henry of the Dragon Awards is “declining” these requests. Both Scalzi and Littlewood’s books still appear on the ballot.

Henry’s statement, as posted on Littlewood’s blog, claims:

“We are aware of the rabid puppies and justice warriors efforts to effect the voting and we go through a number of steps to avoid ballot stuffing or other vote rigging behaviors.  While we didn’t start the Dragon Awards to foil these two groups, we believe that as we add voters, they will become irrelevant in the our awards.”

Note the false equivalence of rabid puppies, a self-proclaimed group created by Theodore Beale, with “justice warriors,” generally used as an insult against people speaking up for greater representation and inclusion. The rabid puppy slate was posted on Beale’s blog back in June. I’m curious where the equivalent “justice warrior” slate supposedly appeared…

Henry might be right that, when and if the awards add enough voters, slates might become irrelevant. Or they might not. But in either case, that hypothetical future doesn’t change the fact that right now, the awards are a mess, some of the campaigning is ugly, nasty, and hateful, and some authors don’t want to be dragged into that cesspool.

I hope Pat Henry and Dragon Con will reconsider their decision.

 

“Why Can’t I Write About __________?”

“As an author, I should be able to write about I want! Nothing is off-limits to art and creativity.”

I see this refrain again and again in conversations about everything from cultural appropriation in storytelling (and elsewhere) to writing characters of another race/gender/culture/orientation to writing about rape. It comes up in other contexts as well. “Why can’t I as a white person paint my face brown for cosplay?” or “Telling me I can’t use the n-word is suppressing my free speech!” But I want to focus on the writing aspect for now.

The thing is, you can write about anything you want. Nobody is going to come to your home and take away your computer because you wrote another so-called romance between a Nazi and a Jew. Nobody will revoke your Author’s License for adding another gratuitous rape scene because you wanted “historical accuracy” in your fantasy story about dragons and elves and talking swords. Nobody will drag you to jail for perpetuating stereotypes of magical negroes or mystical Indians. Yay, freedom!

“But no matter what I write, someone will choose to be offended!”

Y’all can see the underlying assumption here, right? That people are simply choosing to be offended — running around looking for reasons to be angry. The implication being that these criticisms aren’t things that any “reasonable” or “normal” person would get upset about. It’s generally just an excuse to ignore criticism and attack the critics.

It’s true that if you write and publish, odds are you’ll eventually produce something people take offense to. Not because there are hordes of people searching for reasons to be offended, but because none of us are perfect. As authors, we grew up in a world full of conflict and prejudice and stereotypes. We make mistakes. We step on other people’s toes.

We’re allowed to write what we want. And people are allowed to be offended. They’re allowed to be angry. Free speech works both ways. We get to write our stories, and others get to offer criticism.

“Well, art should be offensive!”

Being offensive doesn’t make something art. Being offensive doesn’t make you right. (See, for example, the KKK.)

One of the things that makes stories so powerful is their ability to challenge readers. Ask yourself, who are you challenging? Who are you offending?

I’ve seen people hold themselves up as the epitome of courage for daring to write “dangerous” stories. “Look at me, daring to be offensive!” And it’s weird, because most of the time if I read their stories, they aren’t challenging people in power. They’re attacking people who are already marginalized and oppressed. They’re going after those with less power.

That’s not daring and dangerous; it’s old-fashioned bullying.

“What if I didn’t intend to be offensive? Why are people still getting mad?”

I didn’t intend to step on my cat’s paw earlier tonight when he snuck up behind me in the kitchen. It still hurt him when I did. (He forgave me a few minutes later, and went right back to crouching behind my legs in case I dropped food. He’s not the brightest beast.)

The point is, whatever your intention, people are telling you they’re hurt/angry/offended/upset/dismayed by something you wrote. Maybe it’s a science fictional future that omits any people of color or anyone who isn’t straight. If you tell me you didn’t intentionally try to eliminate those people from your universe, I’ll probably believe you.

But intentional or not, you still erased large groups of people from your story. Believe me, you’re not the first. Authors have been writing that kind of exclusionary fiction pretty much forever. Which is part of the problem…

As authors, we’re supposed to be able to empathize and connect with different kinds of characters. Imagine being on the receiving end of this stuff. Of reading yet another book where it’s a few hundred years in the future, and apparently there was some unwritten genocide that wiped out all the black people. It gets really tiresome.

Here’s the kicker. Generally, people aren’t saying you’re a horrible human being who should be banished to the tenth circle of hell to have your giblets chewed apart by rusty robot parrots for all eternity. They’re saying, “Hey, I’ve got a problem with this thing you wrote.”

What you do with that criticism is on you. You can listen to it, and maybe learn something. You can take it personally and unleash your wrath in a Very Pointed Blog Post.

But if you’re so upset about someone criticizing your work, do you really want to double-down and escalate things?

“But we have Black Panther and a female Doctor and women are winning Hugo awards now and why are people holding on to inequity from the past when everything’s better?”

You realize a few victories doesn’t magically erase centuries of inequity and oppression, right? That the effects of institutionalized racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination last for generations? For example, here are some stats on racial inequality in America. Shockingly, things like a black actress playing Hermione Granger didn’t instantly fix it all.

In some ways, things are better than they used to be. Interracial marriage has been legal in the U.S. for a whole 50 years. Same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide two years ago. Women have been allowed to vote for almost a hundred years. (Of course, they couldn’t get their own credit card until the 1970s, and marital rape wasn’t outlawed nationwide until 1993…)

We’ve taken some steps forward. For every one, we’ve had people pushing back hard.

A lot of those dates are a hell of a lot more recent than I would have thought. These are things from my grandparents’ lifetimes. From my parents’ lifetimes. Some of them are within my lifetime. Inequity from the past continues to impact the present. So does inequity in the present.

“You’ve gone on for 900 words, Hines. Get to the point.”

You can write about ________. What you can’t do is prevent others from challenging or criticizing what you write.

Stories are powerful, and with great power comes great responsibility. And lots of rebooted movie franchises.

The point is, you’re responsible for your writing. You’re responsible for the stories you choose to tell, the characters you choose to create. You’re responsible for the assumptions you bring into the story. You’re responsible for choosing whether or not to educate yourself on the subjects and the people you write about.

You own your stories. When they’re brilliant, you own that. When they’re hurtful or offensive? You own that too.

It’s part of being an author.

Terminal Update and Next Newsletter

Terminal Alliance Cover Art by Dan Dos SantosCurrently working through page proofs for Terminal Alliance. Once I get the corrections sent back to DAW, I’ll be prepping an excerpt from chapter one, which will be shared first with subscribers to the newsletter. Subscribers will also get a little more info about that 15K-word novelette I’ve mentioned…

I’m hoping to get the next newsletter out by the end of the week. As always, I’ll be sending an autographed book out to one random subscriber as well. (Any requests for what to give away this time around?)

A Doctor to Dragons, by G. Scott Huggins

Doctor to Dragons - CoverI met G. Scott Huggins almost twenty years ago. We were both published in Writers of the Future XV, and we ended up in a writing group together for several years. He was one of the folks who helped me grow and improve as an author. I published one of his stories in Heroes in Training a while back.

In April of this year, his humorous fantasy novelette A Doctor to Dragons [Amazon | B&N] came out.

I love the premise and setup. Dr. James DeGrande is a veterinarian in a land that’s been taken over by a Dark Lord, and the whole thing is written with a kind of tongue-in-cheek humor. The book is made up of several distinct but related stories, showing the growth of James and his partnership with his assistant Harriet (a physically disabled almost-witch).

Here’s part of the publisher’s official description:

Everyone says it was better in the Good Old Days. Before the Dark Lord covered the land in His Second Darkness.

As far as I can tell, it wasn’t that much better. Even then, everyone cheered the heroes who rode unicorns into combat against dragons, but no one ever remembered who treated the unicorns’ phosphine burns afterward. Of course, that was when dragons were something to be killed. Today I have to save one. Know what fewmets are? No? Then make a sacrifice of thanks right now to whatever gods you worship, because today I have to figure a way to get them flowing back out of the Dark Lord’s favorite dragon. Yeah, from the other end. And that’s just my most illustrious client. I’ve got orcs and trolls who might eat me and dark elf barons who might sue me if their bloodhawks and chimeras don’t pull through. And that doesn’t even consider the possibility that the old bag with the basilisk might show up.

The only thing that’s gone right this evening is finding Harriet to be my veterinary assistant. She’s almost a witch, which just might save us both. If we don’t get each other killed first.

I appreciate writers who take traditional fantasy and flip things around to present a different perspective. Just as I enjoy clever protagonists, like James and Harriet. (And while this may come as a shock, I also like fantasy that tries to have fun.)

There’s one bit I need to talk about. About 80% of the way into the book, we meet Countess Elspeth Bathetique, an incredibly neglectful pet owner and generally unpleasant person, and we get this exchange:

“Dammit, my lady, you’re not even a vampire!”

“How… how dare you? I identify as a vampire, you filth! You cannot dream of the tragic destiny which is ours!”

“What? Suffering from vitamin deficiency, malnutrition, keeping out of the sun for no damn reason, and torturing your poor pet basilisk? If I dreamed of that, I’d seek clerical help!”

I don’t believe it was intentional, but seeing language generally used by transgender people played for laughs by a wannabe vampire threw me right out of the story. I emailed and chatted with Scott, who confirmed that wasn’t the intention. The Countess was meant to be a darker take on Terry Pratchett’s Doreen Winkings. But he said he understood how I or others might read it the way I did.

One of my favorite parts of these stories are the veterinary details. Huggins’ wife is a veterinarian, and there’s a sense of real truth to the protagonist’s frustration with neglectful pet owners and the various challenges of keeping all these magical animals healthy. It helps to ground the book and acts as a nice counter to the humor.

I couldn’t find an excerpt online, but there’s a promo video on YouTube.

Jim C. Hines