So of the many events I created to preview my novel Flex for you, what I am finally happy to announce to you today is the most exciting thing. Literally every morning I have woken up and gone, “Is it up yet? Is it up yet?”
And it’s up now! And yes, this is even more exciting than the book tour.
And you can win a copy of Flex, if you somehow haven’t purchased it by now!
If you’re not familiar with the ‘pod network – that’s PodCastle for fantasy tales, Escape Pod for science fiction, and PseudoPod for horror – they are a loosely-run cabal of sites that find the most brilliant tales and have even more brilliant people read them out loud. I have been honored to have over ten of my stories appear on their site, which is no mean feat – try “‘Run,’ Bakri Says” on Escape Pod, “A Window, Clear as a Mirror” for PodCastle, or “Riding Atlas” for PseudoPod – and so when I asked them to work up a super-special promotion for Flex, well…
Dave and Anna delivered.
There is, as of now, no news of a Flex audiobook, sadly. But you can hear Dave read a chapter of it (along with discussion of said book) over on PodCastle right now, and Dave does some excellent goddamned emoting. (If you’re curious, this is also the chapter I’m reading on my book tour, specially edited for audio productions.)
I have always been a fan of old-time radio. To hear my words in someone else’s mouth has always been a special kind of magic. And now it’s here, so please! Go hear them do it! It’s the fun chapter where they brew magical drugs in a seedy basement, and things go horribly wrong!
I have now been doing the Flex West Coast Book Tour for nine days.
It feels like nine hundred.
I do not know how other authors do book tours. My book tour is a ragtag set of signings stitched together out of sheer will and a determination to say “hello” to people, and so it’s probably different. I suspect other book authors don’t say “Hey, you’re all awesome people, I can vouch for your most of your good natures personally, so let’s all go out to a bar afterwards and hang out!”
But I do. So the tour is like a series of mini FerrettCons, where every Saturday I haul twenty people out to a bar with me and I get to know some of them and others I get to hug people I’ve known on the Internets for years and they all meet and mix. I know friends have been made at my book signings already. That’s awesome.
And every time, before the signing, I have the exact same three fears, as predictable as Alexander Dane before the Galaxy Quest signings:
Nobody’s going to show up. Thus far, I have yet to play to an empty house. People are wonderful. I keep calling this the Chekov’s Gun Tour, because honestly? It’s going well only thanks to things I did years before this tour, with no understanding that it would help this tour. I’ve been blogging for years, so people show up to meet me because my words have touched them. I’ve gone to cons for years, so writers show up to show their support for me. Basically, when I look out over the crowds of people, I don’t see An Audience, but rather ZOMG, that’s my LJ friend from 2007, and that’s someone I haven’t seen since World Fantasy in 2010, and that’s that FetLife girl I have such the crush on, and who is that person? I bet I know them.
I usually know them.
Wearing this suit is so ridiculous. I change into The Italian Suit in the bathroom, which should feel like a superhero… but The Suit is awkward to put on, and requires not dropping The Suit in the toilet while I try to put my boots on, and when I stride out people go, “Oh, that’s Ferrett!” and so it’s like a superhero outfit. If you aren’t sure that’s Ferrett, look for the nails and the electric blue suit and the hat. You can always talk to me when I have this suit on. Promise.
This tour is fucking absurd. It’s an ego trip. You had one novel published, and who the hell do you think you are to go out on this tour for that? And it is, really. It’s a four-week celebration of Me, and by God how fucked up is that?
Yet how fucked up is it that people actually want to celebrate me?
People are happily picking up my novel, shaking my hand, eager to have me sign their books – I number every book I’ve signed, and I am at #196 now – and while I’d expect an indulgent smile, some of them are even more psyched than I am. They’re going out of their way to drive to me to say hello, and what kind of a schmuck would I be if I didn’t look ‘em in the eye and tell ‘em just how awesome this is?
Still, I remember Ian coming up to me at my first book signing. “Lemme see your hand,” he said. I held it out. “Yup,” he told me. “It’s trembling.”
My hands are always trembling, but somehow it never gets easier, and it never gets less awesome.
All this terror and happy confusion.
And yet I’m never quite anchored, on tour. I show up, crash at a friend’s house for a few days, learn how to work their shower, put in a new Wi-Fi password, buy them dinner. We’re always doing dinner. Or lunch. Or breakfast. Because there’s someone in town who we just gotta see, a friend or a writer or a friend who’s a writer who I need to steal a few hours from, so our bellies are always full. We’re gaining weight, such weight.
But it means that every day is like a three-act play, sometimes four acts. We do breakfast with someone in one side of town, drive madly to another side of town to meet up with another dear friend, meet a third person for dinner. Sometimes they come back to our hotel room and we talk until two in the morning. Then we do this again.
Did I say the events were like a FerrettCon? Hell, every day is a FerrettCon on the road.
And all the while, I keep getting notifications that Flex is doing pretty well. Not bestseller well. Not even well enough to pay off the meal expenses we’re incurring in one day on this damn thing. But for a debut novel from a nobody, it’s exceeding expectations…
…and most people who read it are digging it. Not all; a couple of people have legit complaints. But the signings, well, I expected them to be “people showing up to have The Ferrett sign a book,” and in fact some of them are “people who’ve loved the book who want Ferrett to sign it,” which is an entirely different experience. I’m getting questions about Valentine, about Aliyah, about what the hell happened to Europe, and you’re going to tell us all what happened to Europe in the next book, aren’t you?
….sure, he says, looking over the next manuscript, which doesn’t really.
(The third book does deal with Europe. Let’s see if Angry Robot wants it. But right now, Paul’s got bigger problems right here in New York City.)
And Gini and I will return to normal. Eventually. But I’m so glad she’s here. I hate meeting people without her. She’s such a part of my life that I don’t feel like people really know me until they’ve met her, and now they can meet her too and have her laugh at them and be all sexy and clever and smart in that Gini-way that Gini-does. And you’ll know exactly what portion of my smarts comes from her.
And this Saturday, is another signing in San Diego, and then San Francisco, and I go home. Which is fine. But the busy stuff starts now – I have so many friends in the Sans of California, and I’ll try to see them all, and some I’ll fanboy squee at and others I’ll just hug and ZOMG.
It’s so fucking good.
I can’t wait to see you.
So there’s an app called CleanReader out there that censors the filthy words from author’s books so that people can read them. And a lot of authors are very upset that someone would dare to change their words before reading their book, because they put those fucks in and there they demand those fucks stay. Those are artisanal fucks, hand-placed, meant for impact, and how dare you delete the fucks.
And speaking as a guy whose debut novel features the word “fuck” roughly once every three pages and features a lead female character who’s really into fucking pretty dudes up the ass with her strap-on, I have this to say about CleanReader:
Did you buy my book legitimately, so I get paid?
Are you presenting this bowlderized version as something I approved?
Are you posting it to a larger audience in some attempt to usurp the original content?
If the answers are “yes, no, and no,” then do whatever the fuck you want.
Mind you, it’s not that I think well of the tremulous parents who must scrub all the profanities personally from their children’s eyes. It’s just that to my mind, when I hand you this novel of mine, it is then yours to do with personally as you please. Wanna write fanfic where Paul Tsabo plooks a goat while filling out barnyard animal forms? Go right ahead. Wanna draw pictures of Valentine (who is specifically presented as a beautiful, plump woman) as some skinny anime figure? Hey, I dropped my book into your imagination, and though I find it distasteful you’d remove a significant portion of her description, it’s yours now. Wanna cosplay? Sure.
Once the book’s in your hands, you can tear up the pages and use them to make a papier-mache idol of Newt Gingrich that you then marry, for all I’m concerned. I made the words, my publisher helped put ‘em out there, and now how you enjoy the book? Is up to you. Judging any fandom of note, “What the author wanted” becomes a shriekingly marginal portion of how the fans slice ‘n’ dice their reactions to it.
I once had a post up here where I asked, “Hey, do you read prologues to a book?” A small minority – about 5% – said they skip all prologues because they’re boring. Nobody got their undies in a twist over that, and they’re skipping more of my book than stripping all the profanities there. They can read it however brings them the most enjoyment.
Read the chapters from back to front for a Memento groove. Read every other sentence. Gender-flip the protagonists. Make the magic system a virus inflicted by aliens from the planet Mars. Get creative.
Just don’t say I wanted that, is all.
And again; I swear a fucking lot in my journal, and in my fiction. I disagree with people who think that a book is better without all those fucks. I do, in fact, think less of you for such an opinion. But if it makes you happy and you are not trying to say, “This is what Ferrett’s book is!” then sure, go nuts.
Now, I’ve heard some rumors that CleanReader is actually not paying all its authors for the books, in which case I’ll quote Goodfellas and say “Fuck you, pay me.” But otherwise? I’ve got a big “meh” there. I think the folks at CleanReader are too Ned Flanders for me, and offensive in different ways (“bitch” to “witch”, fellas? Pagans count), but they can consume my book in different ways.
If you disagree? Well, Chuck Wendig has some instructions as to how to get your book off of CleanReader, and he really fucking hates it. And do so if the urge strikes you. Every author’s going to react differently. You may disagree here, and that’s another aspect of how I approach this: I made this essay, I tossed it out there, and now y’all can tell me how I’m wrong.
Me? I gave it to you. I may not respect the way you read my book, in the end, but by God it’s your right. Just as it’s my right to go, “What Star Wars prequels?” and ignore their very existence when discussing things. It pisses off George Lucas, but it makes me so much happier.
Well, you’re in luck! For I am on Daniel M. Bensen’s most excellent podcast The Kingdoms of Evil, and while we ramble most amiably on about a variety of topics, I discuss how the Internet’s relentless focus on things helped shape my approach to the magic system in Flex. I’m totes chattery, so go check it out if you’d like to hear me talk!
Untaken is an interesting blend of styles, combining Judy Blume-style coming-of-age stuff with the roughness of Stephen King. The one thing both of those authors share is their solid grasp on characters, and so you’ve got some interesting teens at the heart of a story of an alien invasion. The characters are so interesting, in fact, that I kept getting mildly annoyed when the aliens or the government squads showed up, because I far preferred the quiet scenes where they were toodling around on the road looking for shelter.
This is, to say the least, an interesting complaint for a book about a space invasions.
The two leads are sharply delineated: you have Gracie, a slightly spoiled ordinary teenager who bitches about Mom and Dad until they get vacuumed up into the sky by silver-tentacled space parasites. And you have Brandon, the son of an alcoholic and blatantly crazy father, who’s trying his best to live up to his Dad’s skewed ideals before again, whoops, space monsters.
The two make for a pretty good team. Brandon has the know-how to survive, but has his dad’s twisted dreams of AMURCA and no common sense. Gracie has a lot of common sense and a lot of school booksmarts, but not a whole lot of courage in dealing with the initial onslaught. They make a fine team, especially when they pick up a small kid who may or may not be an alien himself.
If you like Stephen King, some of the action sequences are superbly Kingenated in flavor, particularly the scenes where a) the aliens invade Brandon’s house, and b) the scene where the aliens stalk our heroes through a shopping mall. Anckorn has a really good sense of tension, and when you combine that with her natural gift for characterization, you bite your nails worrying that everyone will make it out okay.
And in fact, the biggest issues I have with the book is when she strays from Brandon and Gracie. The end of the book doesn’t tie into their personalities as much as I’d like – it’s an ending, but they feel a little ancillary. And there’s a romance in the book that felt a little YA-obligatory to me, because Brandon and Gracie are good for each other but I didn’t necessarily feel sparks flying.
Still, it was a lot of fun, and I gobbled it up in about three sessions in the bathtub, which is quick reading for me. The aliens were interesting, and they had actual motivation, which is something that’s comparatively rare in alien stories – quite often aliens are treated like deux ex machinae, doing whatever they in order to propel the plot, yet the aliens here actually had a pretty solid reason for their invasion.
I’d like to see where Gracie and Brandon go from here. Currently Untaken is only $4.99 on Amazon Kindle, so if you feel like being creeped out, I’d say it’s a good purchase.
I’m signing in San Diego next Saturday, and Mysterious Galaxy – one of the finest bookshops in the nation – would like you to RSVP at their Facebook page.
Now, I feel a little embarrassed about pimping my goddamned book appearances so much, but every stop thus far gone literally like this:
*two months before* “Hey, I’m going to be in Portland!”
*six weeks before* “Hey, I’m going to be in Portland!”
*one month before* “Portland! I’m going! You should totally show!”
*three weeks before* “Do you see my goddamned arms flailing? Here’s another blog post entirely devoted to my arrival in Portland!”
*one week before* “ZOMG I’M SO EXCITED TO GO TO PORTLAND.”
*one day before* “PORTLAND I AM IN YOU CONSENSUALLY”
*on the day of the event* “Ferrett, you’re in Portland? Why didn’t you say something?”
See this cracked skull, right above my eye sockets? That’s from the force of this headdesk.
So to reiterate: I do not know where any of you live. I am facing this metal box with an Internet in it, and you live in this Internet. I’m the one shouting my impending arrival, and unfortunately it is up to you to tell me your location.
So! If you are in San Diego, or within driving distance of San Diego, I am going to be there this Saturday. I will be right here. And if you’d like to see me, please mark your attendation of this event. Please inform any San Diego-close friends that BTdubs, Ferrett will be at Mysterious Galaxy, maybe we could all go to see him, for he will hug us and go out for drinks afterwards and laugh and chat with you. These signings are like mini-cons where I see cool people and hang with them, and I would like to hang with you.
But this only happens if you know about this, so please. If you’re nearby, note this impending wave of me-ness. Because when you go “Wait, Ferrett, when did you say you’re in town?” I will be very kind and not show you the goddamned list of seven fucking times I told you; I will merely retain an icy silence and not reply because my teeth will be fused together from intense grinding.
I love you. I want to see you.
San Diego’s where I’ll be.
If you can get down there, show up.
“Are you sure you want me to come?” she wrote.
We’d been friended for years on the Internets; we started way back before the gravestone days of LiveJournal, and had played tag on just about every social network possible. We’d texted, lightly.
And she had all of my social anxiety, and more.
I knew that even writing to me to ask if I wanted her to come had caused her tizzies of anxiety. Opening a window into her fears wide enough for me to peek in and see all of her turmoil was an act of supreme trust. And of course I emailed her back to tell her of course I wanted her to come, I’d wanted to meet her for years, if she came I would hug her and show her just how happy I was to see her.
And I thought: I don’t know if I could come, even with that.
Because I am a severe sufferer of social anxiety. I can just about do book signings, because there I am at least reassured that people came to see me; if they didn’t, all they had to do was stay home. But when I imagined going to visit an online friend of mine? Who’d immediately home in on all my physical ugliness, feel pity at my awkward jokes, would wince at my too-loud laugh? Who might actually look at me blankly and say, “I’m sorry, who are you again?”
I’d stay home.
I would so stay home.
And so she came out to see me. She’d had to enlist a friend to come with her, for strength. And it was a large crowd there, all milling, and when I saw her out of the corner of my eye she trembled a little sometimes, but of course I called out and gave her the biggest, warmest hug I had it in me to give, and whispered in her ear just how glad I was, so happy that she’d come.
Nobody but me would have known how scared she was. She looked completely normal – even beautiful.
But that’s the way we socially anxious work. We look good on the outside, and are as tight as hand grenades on the inside.
And when the signing was over, and I was trying to round everyone up into going out for drinks afterwards, she pulled me aside and told me, with a thin smile, that it was too much. She’d gotten overloaded. And though oh how she wanted to stay, all of these people had drained her introvert-batteries and now it was time to be escorted home.
I didn’t know that I could, but I gave her an even bigger hug than the first one and thanked her, thanked her, thanked her.
Thing is, she’s not alone. One of the reasons I have any audience at all is that I blog about my insane burblings of social anxiety, and how hard it is for me to go to conventions. I’d say about one out of every five people who’ve come to see me read from Flex and sign books has that hesitant smile when they approach me, and I know that the only reason they crept out into such a whirlwind social situation is because I’ve lent them strength at some point by sharing my own tearful fears, and that they and I are intertwined with the same terrors.
They’re braver than I am.
I couldn’t come out to see me.
And so when I see them, I ask to hug them, and I thank them, and I smile, and I try to tell them how fucking proud I am that they came. I know the cost. I know the fear. And yet they thought somehow, I was worth it.
I hope I’m worth it.
Two stops left on this tour. Next Saturday I sign in San Diego, and a week later I sign in San Francisco. Some of you are thinking of coming out. And I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t; the world is scary sometimes.
But if you do come, tell me. Tell me how hard it was. Because you deserve all the fucking hugs for battling that Godzilla of a terror, you deserve to see how proud someone is of you for coming out, because I know. I know how hard this is. I know how beautiful you are for trying.
You’re so magnificent for transcending your fears. And you get thanked so rarely for all that effort it takes to reach the level of normal. So tell me, and I will thank you, I will thank you endlessly, I will tell you how beautiful you are because oh my God you are.