Two Pieces Of Beautiful Art, And A Chance To Meet Me!

1)  Because my Mad Manicurist Ashley staunchly refuses to create her own web page, I’ve devoted a page on my site to all of the fantastic nail art she’s done for me.  If you wanna see everything from Ms. Pac-Man nails to Flex-themed nails to The Amazing Spider-Nails, well, Ashley has pretty much “nailed” all of them.

(Ah HA ha ha.)

Anyway, it’s a pretty astounding gallery of hand-painted nail art, so go look.

2)  Remember Tormented Artist, who did that amazing Flex fan art a few weeks ago?  Well, he’s inked it!  Here’s the updated version as it wings its way to a fully-colorized piece:

Inked FLEX Fan Art From Tormented Artist!

3) And a reminder: Next Tuesday, the most excellent Side Quest Nerd Bar‘s June Book Club Selection is my Breaking-Bad-By-Way-Of-Scott-Pilgrim book Flex.  I will be attending, and giving away a metric ton of free books from Angry Robot.  They’re really good books. You want them. And the Side Quest has really good drinks. You want them. And they’ll be discussing my book Flex, which I’m told is really good, but even if it’s not, well, that’s still two out of three awesome things, so you should totally show up.

How To Make Largely Correct, But Rage-Inducing, Assumptions

So there’s this great Buzzfeed article about Spotify: “How Hip-Hop Conquered Streaming.”

In it, we learn that this current generation of kids does not understand purchasing music at all – which maps to watching my various Godchildren interact with music.  When they want to listen to a song, they go to YouTube.  For them, music is something you get by going to the Internet.

And hip-hop, the music that appeals to the youngest of demographics, reflects that change.  Spotify’s a service that has an extremely young audience – their core listeners tend to be 18-24, right in the pocket of hip-hop’s most engaged audience.   So when it comes to the intersection of streaming + hip-hop, Spotify multiplies and dominates.

Spotify is, largely, a young person’s phenomenon.  Here’s the most fascinating bit, to my mind:

According to a study by GMI Market Research provided to BuzzFeed News, the average age of users of major music platforms is as follows: Spotify, 28; Pandora, 32; iTunes, 34; SiriusXM, 42; terrestrial radio, 43.

(I love the way “terrestrial radio” sounded all space-aged to me until I realized it meant “Car radio.”)

But basically, there’s a huge age gap in who Spotify appeals to. The average age of users is 28, but the Buzzfeed article indicates that the most engaged Spotify users are teens and college kids.  And that doesn’t even map the audience sizes of each: I’d be willing to bet that if you’re over 40 (and particularly if you’re not hooked into the Internet beyond checking Facebook), the chances you’ve heard of Spotify are comparatively slim, at least compared to the widespread brand-name recognition of iTunes and Sirius Radio.

So Spotify has a marketing challenge.

So on Saturday, Spotify made a (now deleted) Tweet that said:

Ahead of #MothersDay, how would you explain Spotify to your Mom? There could be free Spotify Premium in it for her!

…And the cries of #Sexist and #Ageist rang out.

Sexist? Maybe. I mean, it’s an advertisement for Mother’s Day, so it’s going to reference women, and maybe it inadvertently stomps on the societal (and erroneous) undertone that “Women aren’t good at technology.” It may also have been that they would have clumsily asked you to explain Spotify to Dad if Father’s Day had come up first on the calendar, so I can’t say definitively.

But ageist? Absolutely! This Tweet assumes that mothers who are old enough to have given birth to people following Spotify on Twitter don’t know how Spotify works.

The issue here: statistically speaking, they are probably correct.

On average, a woman has her first kid in her mid-to-late twenties.  Adding in the average age of a Spotify user, that means the average mother is going to be roughly fifty-five – twice as old as the average Spotify user, and hence a statistical outlier.  (Being charitable, and assuming this Tweet was aimed at teens, maybe we’re talking about mothers in their mid-to-late forties.  Still above the curve.)  They may understand streaming in some vague sense, but not in the concrete sense that they can stream music in their car, with their cell phone, on a fairly crappy connection.

Spotify’s in a bind here, because they’re trying to avoid stating their real reason for this Tweet.  A more accurate version would be:

Ahead of #MothersDay, how would you sell Spotify to your Mom?

But then people would go “Crap, I don’t want to be a shill for Spotify” and tune out. (Not that the original Tweet was a mastery of the form, but it at least had some plausible denial.)

There’s more tone-clueful ways to dance around this issue – “Make a Mother’s Day Playlist for your mom, send it to her, get her to download this software she doesn’t use, and maybe she’ll win free Premium!” – but none of that gets around the central problem that this “Ageist” assumption is, well, probably likely true.

Not true for everyone.   But a chronic problem people have is in conflating “Well, I know someone!” with “This statistical data is wrong!”  I mean, there was that new study that shows that on average, people stop listening to new music at the age of 33.  And as we speak, I have the Spotify top 50 station open, because I like to know what the kids are listening to these days, and so I listen to a lot of new music.  (Here’s my favorite song of late, BTdubs.)

I could easily go, “Hey, I’m 45 and I listen to new music! That study is crap! My experience disproves it!”

Whereas the truth is that my experience neither proves nor disproves that study.  Yes, I listen to new music, but the study isn’t saying no one listens to new music after 33, just that most people do not.  Yet if I’m the sort of person who does, chances are good I’m going to get insulted by that accusation.

My saying, “My behavior reflects the behavior of everyone in my demographic!” is not particularly logical… but lots of people do it.

Likewise, yes, there are plenty of older people who do listen to Spotify, and understand perfectly how it works.  I’m 45, and the reason I listen to all that new music is because Spotify makes it easy for me.  Yet I can acknowledge that even as I do listen, if you were to take 100 45-year-old men and say, “So do you listen to Spotify?” the answer would largely be “No,” with a considerable portion of 45-year-old men answering, “What’s Spotify?”

And people can get angry at that assumption, but that doesn’t make the challenge facing Spotify any less true.  If these studies are accurate (I cannot attest that any of them are, but I’d bet dimes to dollars Spotify believes they’re accurate), then most mothers – and most people who are in their late forties to fifties – may not understand streaming, and certainly do not listen to Spotify.

And they have to find a way to sneak around that truth, because God forbid they imply anyone is ignorant.

Implying someone’s ignorant in something they’re informed of thumbs their rage button quicker than anything.

Which is why I’m not saying that Spotify was right to say what it did.  It was a tone-deaf Tweet that pissed off users, which is never a good thing.  But what I’m saying is that the tone-deaf Tweet pissed off users not necessarily because it was inaccurate as a whole, but because it got taken specifically.  If the study is true, then what happened here was that the outliers got really mad because they hated the way this assumption was incorrect about their personal experiences, even if that assumption may have been largely accurate for people in their age group.

So Spotify – and every other company on the planet – is now engaged in this weird dance where they know the truth, but dare not speak it. Yes, most 20-year-olds don’t vote, but if we say that we’ll piss off the ones who do. Yes, most people don’t know how Obamacare really affects them, but if we say that we’ll piss off the ones who do. (And always, always, we’ll piss off anyone who is actually ignorant, merely by stating the fact of their ignorance.)

How do we skitter around this ugly truth to inform the ignorant without annoying the people who are actually informed?

I wish I knew.  All I know is that I’m 45, and outside many demographics. I’m a weirdo polyamorous young-listening hypersocial introvert writer, and I see ads that assume bad things of me all the time.

Yet despite knowing what a demographic weirdo I am, I still get mad when corporations make awful assumptions about what I like in life.  Because while there are many things I’m an outlier on, “Being immune to anger when I’m miscategorized” isn’t one of them.

The embarrassing truth is, I’m okay with Spotify miscategorizing me, but only because I take it as a quiet proof that I’m living my life as I want to live it: Hey, these other older people haven’t a clue, but you are hip and young!  If there was an advertisement that suggested men my age and weight were sexually unattractive, even if that was statistically correct, I’d be furious.

Just like the mothers who have just been told that their technological skills are insufficient are furious.

So maybe I’m wrong to be angry when Budweiser assumes I love sports and hate clothes shopping simply because I’m a guy – a majority of American men fit that profile, and they’re merely playing the odds. But Budweiser’s job isn’t to correct me; it’s to sell their products and services, and that means ensuring that “correcting my bad assumptions” isn’t a wise move on their point.  If I’m angry for irrational reasons, far better to tiptoe around that rage and find some other, more clever, way to sell me things.  Or just pretend they didn’t hear my complaints, because hey, there are plenty of men who do love sports and hate shopping, and why not focus on this profitable cluster of dudebros where all the money lies?

This is why advertisements don’t make the world better.  They just find ways to sneak around our irrationalities or to marginalize us. Because that’s what sells.

Oh Yeah: Flex Audiobook Rights Sold! WHO WANTS TO LISTEN TO DONUTS?

I mentioned it on Twitter, but then promptly forgot to note it here for posterity:

The audiobook rights for Flex have been sold to, my favorite books-on-audio site.

I have no details other than this. No, I don’t know who’s reading it. No, I don’t know when it’ll be out (though I hope it’s out by this summer).  No, I don’t know how much it’ll cost.

All I know is that it’s a two-book deal for both Flex and The Flux (Flex’s sequel, which drops in October), and someone will be tasked with reading that impossible prologue with all of the parenthesized numbers, and I’m as excited as hell to see how it sounds once it’s all out on digital.

So yay! Thanks for buying, and liking, Flex enough that they’re doing the audio production!

One Of My Favorite Stories, And Now You Can Read It Too: “Shoebox Heaven”

Yesterday, on Twitter, Alyssa Wong asked this:

To which I replied:

…which is a weird thing about writing that nobody outside the creative arenas quite gets: Popularity does not equal personal satisfaction. History is rife with musicians whose most popular song they wrote was one they couldn’t stand, and full of authors whose “best book” fell to dust while their toss-off novel went on to win awards.

Me, I’m lucky; as a short story writer, there’s two I’m known for, and I like them both. “Run,” Bakri Says is a great sci-fi time-travel story, and Sauerkraut Station (which I’m writing a sequel to) is a pretty decent riff on “Little House on the Prairie” in the stars.

But if I had to pick my top two stories, “Bakri” would be one of them, and “Shoebox Heaven” would be the other. Shoebox Heaven was printed in Andromeda Spaceways magazine, and then disappeared. Couldn’t get it reprinted, couldn’t get it put on one of the audio podcasts for a performance.  It’s like my hipster story in that occasionally my deep fans reference it, but mostly it’s vanished.

Yet when Alyssa asked about it yesterday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually reprinted that story on my site, even though the rights had reverted to me. And why not? It resonates with me.  I’m proud of it. It should be on the web somewhere.

So without further ado, I present to you: “Shoebox Heaven.” The story of a boy who flies to Heaven to rescue his dead cat.

I hope you like it as much as I do.

Why It’s Not As Simple As “Get Some Therapy!”

Gini and I were creeping up on a divorce, one angry fight at a time. “We need to get help,” we said, so we found ourselves a marriage counsellor.

Our marriage counsellor loved to watch us fight.

Every Monday after work we’d go in, and the counsellor would pepper us with variants of the same question: “So how do you feel your partner is being unfair?” And it would take a good twenty minutes before the room would heat up – but with unerring accuracy, the counsellor would home in on the exact places where I thought Gini was being a cold bitch and Gini thought I was being a whiny bastard.

Then, leading us on with quiet questions, he’d evoke all the ways we constrained each other. He’d ask Gini what her life would be like if she didn’t have to deal with my anxiety. He’d ask me how I’d feel if only Gini respected my feelings. His voice would never rise, but ours did, as he outlined all the crimes we perpetrated on each other.

We’d start yelling.

It’s not fair that you need me to call when I stay out late!

Yeah, well, how fucked up is it that all I need is a call and you can’t even pick up your fucking cell phone?

Maybe I don’t call because I know just calling won’t ever be enough for you! You’ll –

“Let’s bring this to a close.”

And just like that, our forty-five minutes were up. We were in the middle of a screaming fight now, but the counsellor had other patients in the waiting room, and we’d made some breakthroughs today, and we’ll continue this next week.

Like hell we would. We’d go home and fight for three hours, reiterating all the horrors of our marriage in detail until we were so tired all we could do was hold hands and try to remember what it was like not to hate each other.

We lasted four sessions with this counsellor. I don’t know whether he had a plan – maybe if we’d had more time, he would have guided us towards answers instead of raising all the ugliest of questions – but after session #4, Gini and I fought in the parking lot for an hour because the kids were home, and then finally said:

You know what? Fuck this guy.

Yeah. Fuck this guy.

And we left.

Now, I still believe in the power of therapy, and counseling, and professional aid. I’ve had friends who are still together today, only because they found a good therapist who gave them the tools to fix their marriage. Good therapy is empowering, brilliant, life-saving.

The problem is that you have to find good therapy.

And that’s something that doesn’t get discussed often enough. When someone’s in a suicidal depression, we tell them “get some therapy” like a therapist is a magic wand that gets waved in your face, and *poof!* your problems are gone.

And the truth is, therapy is a lot like dating. It’s not that there are good and bad therapists (though there are), but rather that there are good and bad counsellors for you.

Some therapists make a lot of suggestions, which is great for someone who bounces ideas off of people, but can be terrible for someone with poor self-esteem who won’t realize these suggestions are harmful to them. Some therapists are very hands-off, which is great for someone who’ll recognize their own problems if they talk it out enough, but can be terrible for someone lacking self-insight. Some therapists default to heavy medication, which can be great for someone who has a broken brain, but can be terrible for someone who simply needs to talk out a few issues and now is buried under a fog of medical side-effects.

Every therapist has their own approach, and not all approaches are compatible with yours.

And even that caveat ignores the issues you can run into finding a therapist who isn’t qualified to handle your lifestyle choices. There’s the obvious issue of a queer person getting a conservative therapist who thinks that homosexuality is a disorder, but it can be more subtle – a kink-ignorant therapist who sees all BDSM as self-harm, a polyamorous-ignorant therapist who quietly pressures you into finding a primary partner because she believes all relationships should have a core partnered center.

And it gets ugly. Because psychological professionals in all their stripes are good things, but often the people who need them most are folks who are dysfunctional enough that they can’t recognize a bad relationship when they see it. They’ll stay with a therapist who’s clearly not meeting their needs, maybe even a therapist who’s inadvertently doing damage.

I say this because I was talking to a good friend this weekend, and she told me how when she got therapy, she sat down with them and said, “Okay. I’m queer, deep into leather protocol, and polyamorous. Are any of those going to be a challenge for you?” And she could tell by the doctor’s reaction whether this was going to work out for her.

Which was, I thought, the perfect way to handle therapy. Those first few sessions are a job interview, to see whether this person gives you feedback that betters your life. If it’s not working, you leave, and find another therapist.

(An option that’s often sadly not available for the poor or those in court-mandated therapy or simply for those with narrow insurance policies, but in an ideal world it should be as simple as “Not this guy, find someone better.”)

Yet what happens in real life is that we often treat therapy as though it’s a singular thing – “Yeah, I tried therapy, didn’t work.” Whereas what really happened was that you went to two doctors, neither of which were helpful for your needs, and wrote off the entire approach.

That’s like saying, “Yeah, I dated two people, it didn’t work out, I’m not the sort of person who can handle intimacy.” Maybe that final statement is true, maybe it’s not, but there’s so much at stake here that you should probably try more than two people before writing off the entire process.

And like dating, you should be aware that while therapy is an awesome thing, a life-affirming thing, a totally transformative thing, it only really works when you find the right person to do it with.

We often say “Get some help” as though you get a therapist and it’s fixed. Yet the truth is that you need to get the right *kind* of help, and it *is* out there for you, but that getting help is the start of a process where you look over a bunch of options and try them out and see what you feel better after you’ve had a few sessions, and you keep trying until you click with someone who brings you to your happy space.

That marriage counsellor probably worked some miracles for some couples. He came highly recommended. And the fact that he didn’t work for us isn’t proof that couples’ therapy is worthless, it’s proof that we needed to fight the right person to help mend our differences.

And yes, it is totally unfair that when you’re at such a low point in your life that you need a professional to step in and aid you, you may need to do extra work to sort through various flavors of assistance to determine which ones are going to get you out of this mess. You’re tired. You’re depressed. You may not think life is worth living, and yet here you are having to put more effort into it?

But that’s how this works. It’s not a one-size-fits-all shop. It’s like shopping for clothing, and if you’ve got the psychological equivalent of stubby legs and a long torso, you’re gonna have to shop around.

Yet when you’re done, you’re gonna look fabulous. I promise.

My Memorial Day Traditional Essay And Donation: A Love Letter To Those Who Kill

Every Memorial Day for the past decade, I have linked to my Memorial Day essay: A Love Letter To Those Who Kill.

And inspired by Jon Stewart’s recap of our country’s long history of screwing over our veterans – seriously, watch it, it’s both amazing and damning how long we’ve called people to sacrifice and then abandoned them – I’ve decided to institute another tradition:

So I started thanking soldiers for their service with more than words, by actually donating to a charity that helps them.

This year I donated $75 to Fisher House (A+ rating on Charity Watch’s list of veteran’s charities), mainly because they fly families to injured soldiers and I think it’s important to help the folks in the field. If you’ve got the cash, it’s not a bad place to throw a few bucks.

A word on the essay: A few years ago, someone expressed concern about the gendered language of this essay, of the repeated usage of “our boys” when there are, in fact, a lot of women in the military risking their lives as well. She felt that using the term “our boys,” though traditional, renders women invisible. She asked me to revise the essay to change this.

Unfortunately, a combination of “this is a snapshot what I said then, no matter how dumb it may sound to me now” and “I’ve watched George Lucas edit his shit into horror” and “I’m not sure in editing I wouldn’t change the meaning/introduce other errors which would then also need to be edited” makes me have a rule that I don’t edit an essay at all once it’s been up for a day or two. (Otherwise, I would doubtlessly edit some of my more controversial essays into such well-reasoned processes that people would wonder what the fuss was about. And the job of this blog is not to always make me look good or enlightened.)

But she raises a good point. I also raise a glass (and lend a hand) to the women in our services.  Thanks to everyone, all genders and races and religions and beliefs, who serves.

In any case, flaws and all, here it is.

The Weird Thing About Shilling Your Books

So you prooooobably know my debut novel FLEX is out by now.  Probably.

There’s, like, a 40% chance you know the sequel, THE FLUX, is available for preordering as we speak and will be out in October.

Which is the weird thing about publicity, really: done properly, it punishes those who are paying attention. Because I’ve mentioned that the sequel is available for preorder at least five times on this blog, maybe more.  Those of you who were super-fans of me registered that fact, then committed that fact to memory.

Those who weren’t – and most of y’all aren’t – probably weren’t reading me on the day that I mentioned “Hey, the sequel’s dropping in October.”  Or you did read it, but you hadn’t read FLEX yet and didn’t give a crap about a sequel to a book you hadn’t even read yet.  Or you read FLEX and were vaguely interested in a sequel, but your cat was knocking over a glass of milk when you read me mentioning it and so you forgot.

The paradox of book-shilling is that to some, you’re talking about this book too damn much, and to others, you’re screaming PR at the top of your lungs and yet they have yet to hear you.  Yeah, it seems like The Avengers merch and advertisements were everywhere, but that’s because you were already keyed in to watch The Avengers movie: to the average joe on the street, they may not have even been aware the movie was coming out until the week beforehand.

And it’s not entirely a punishment, because if you’re Avengers-friendly, then you’re probably not too upset to see another Avengers trailer or another Avengers movie poster.  Still, the fact is, as an Avengers fan, you get pummelled with Avengers advertisements, all because someone who doesn’t care about the Avengers needs to see that damn trailer six or seven times before it triggers the “Oh, yeah, maybe I should see that” button.

(Truth: Most marketing studies show you need five to six impressions before you make a sale.)

So I try not to hammer on Mah Book overmuch – I talk about it a lot because it’s What I’m Doing these days, not as part of a marketing scheme – but there’s this weird conflict where I risk annoying the people who were paying attention in efforts of drawing the attention to those who weren’t.

Yet the weirder thing still?

That only gets people to buy your book, which is in and of itself pretty useless.

Thing is, I have a shelf full of books I bought from people I liked, and there the books sit.  And sometimes I even read the books and go, “Okay, that was decent,” and then I never mention it again.

The marketing these authors need, which only the quality of the book can create, is to have me going, “Oh my God, I am halfway through Ramez Naam’s Nexus and fucking loving every line of this book.”   There are only a few authors who have me handing out their books like candy, touting them on Twitter, recommending them to friends who I think I’d like.

The word-of-mouth where people spontaneously recommend your book without you nagging them?  That’s the key to long-term success.  And you can’t control that. All you can do is to write a good book that’s something you’d be excited to read, and hope that it catches fire.

Because I’ve written stories that I loved, but disappeared without a trace. And yet Sauerkraut Station, a tale I did almost no PR for, got handed around enough until it got nominated for multiple awards.  When you’re an author, you come to realize that only some of your tales stick enough that people tell their friends, and God, if you knew how to do that consistently then you would, but you don’t, so every story is a crap shoot where you go, “Okay, I can get people to read it, but are they going to love it?”

So when I see people recommending FLEX, I’m still a little weirded out.  I didn’t remind them that the book existed, I didn’t ask them to do anything, they just liked my book enough that when a friend said, “What should I read next?” they leapt to their keyboards and said, “Haaaaave you met FLEX?”

That’s how books really sell, though.  You can get asses into the theaters for Avengers. You can get them excited in advance. You can get a blockbuster opening weekend.

But when the people come out of the theater, they start to tell their friends. What they tell their friends affects how the movie’s going to do in the long run.

That’s the real marketing, and that’s why you get things like The Princess Bride, where it wasn’t a big success at first, but people kept telling their friends. And I’ll bet you dimes to dollars that Princess Bride has now made way more money than Three Men And A Baby (the #1 box office of 1987), but that took time.

So it’s weird. As an author, you do what you can to remind people that your books exist. Then they take on a life of their own, one where you find it growing into fanfic and fan theories and all these other delightful things I’m slowly exploring, and I’m glad someone’s liking it.

More importantly, I’m glad they’re liking it when I’m off doing not a thing at all to remind them that it exists.  That’s the sweetest thing of all.