On Nimoy, The World Shrinking, And Growing

So Leonard Nimoy died, and I almost called in sick and took the afternoon off.

And I worry about other people.

Me, I’ll be fine, though losing Leonard was a great loss to me.  I remember being ten and going to my first Star Trek convention – a shameful thing back then, to be held in back rooms of Shriners’ clubs, things only children and stunted adults would desire.  And my Uncle Tommy, ever fearless, went with me, and I bought Spock ears because Spock, like all of us, seemed baffled by these huge desires that swept through him.  Spock wanted to be calm and logical, but he wasn’t – and yet somehow, he was the most capable of all of the crew for that.

Now he’s gone, and that part of my childhood goes with him.

Yet I know too many people who attended those conventions, and never bothered to find anything else to love.  I have a good friend who only sees remakes of things she already knows, stuck in the past, endlessly buying deluxe versions of 1970s and 1980s movies and not acquiring anything new.

For her, Leonard Nimoy’s passing is a great loss because all her beloved heroes are so old, they can do almost nothing but die.

For me?  I’ve had lots of new and wonderful fandoms.  The Flash is a delight.  I adore Better Call Saul.  I’m still flying high on Avatar: the Last Airbender.  I am so ridiculously enamored of new shows and movies that yes, Leonard Nimoy’s passing is a great loss but I still look to the future, confident that there are still things as wondrous as Star Trek yet to be created.

For my friend?  Spock is a grave in a yard that will fill with nothing but more holes.  As she ages, the bottom will drop out for her – Shatner and Takei will pass, and she’ll complain bitterly that there’s nothing like the old days, and it’ll be like the world is crumbling around her.  Because it is.  Because she’s mired in a past where the only good shows where the ones she knows, and that sad land will only grow stonier over time.

But I think Leonard was delightful at embracing new things as he got older – he certainly seemed to love his time on Fringe – and me?  I’d rather be like Leonard.  It’s a huge world, full of wonderful things.  There are new characters to to fall in love with – maybe not filled with the same history of childhood nostalgia as Spock, but delightful nonetheless. And no one can replace Leonard, but I have far more fictional worlds to hold fast in my heart, some of them new and blossoming, all of them exciting.

When I think of Star Trek, I think to the future, and the future is one glorious now.

Don’t get me wrong: His loss is profound to me.  I haven’t stopped crying for half an hour.  But there is still such beauty in the world.

Thank God I have the eyes to see it.

Hear Me Talk About Books With My Friend Monica For 45 Minutes

I promised I’d remind you when that podcast dropped, so here it is:

In this episode of Rocket Talk, Justin is joined by authors Ferrett Steinmetz and Monica Byrne. They talk about their experience at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop in 2008, how genre classifications worry them as writers, and about how alt-sex influences their writing.

I make a lot of really awful jokes, and Monica is obviously fascinating to listen to or else she wouldn’t be my friend. So check it out, if you like hearing me say “I mean” every fifteen seconds.

How To Buy A Book To Benefit Your Favorite Author

My book Flex is coming out next Tuesday, and I’m getting asked the same question a lot:

“Where do I buy your book?  I mean, so you get the most benefit out of it?”

Now, I am no special snowflake among authors.  So let me tell you how it works for pretty much all authors, and give you an answer you can use to benefit any author who you deem worthy of earning a living.  And the answer to your question is this:

It’s not where you buy the book, but when

The sad truth of this industry is that pre-orders drive sales, and most sales of a book come in the first three months of a book’s release.  Buying a book before it comes out is a stamp of approval that can actually boost sales across the board, because it leads to conversations like this:

Representative to bookstore buyer: “You sure you want to lowball this one?  {$OTHER_BOOKSTORE} has 250 copies reserved against advance orders.  You might be missing out.”

Bookstore buyer: “All right, I’ll buy some more just to hedge my bets.”

(NOTE: Before you tell me this doesn’t happen, kindly recall I worked as a book buyer for Borders and Waldenbooks for half a decade.  This trick doesn’t always work, but it can make someone reanalyze a new book, sometimes favorably.)

And “having more copies in” can lead to better shelf visibility (customers are far more likely to buy a book from a stack of books “faced out” than a singleton spined), better promotion (hey, we bought in deep on this, we should do something to ensure it sells), better awareness (that book got advance buzz, I should check in on that one to see how it’s doing, oh, it’s out of stock!).

Basically, pre-orders are golden for any author.

If you can’t buy in advance, then if you want to benefit the author, buy as close to the release date as possible.  As noted, that first swell of sales is critical.  One of the reason classic “backlist” books are so treasured is because you don’t need a new Harper Lee book to boost sales on To Kill A Mockingbird – that book sold steadily, without a scrap of promotion, for decades.

Most books, however, are in and out, which is to say the author pretty much gets one initial flush of success and then the book slowly dwindles and isn’t reordered – so making the most of that initial boost means the author maximizes sales for the bookstore, which ensures the bookstore thinks more kindly of this author come their next book.  If you buy a copy ten months later, odds are decent that the bookstore is not thinking “Joy! A sale!” but rather “Lucky me, that’s one less book I have to return.”

So.  Order early, order often.

But then I get asked: “Should I buy it in ebook or physical copy?”  And there’s one overriding answer to that:

If you’re going to see the author at a book store – like, for example, some insane schmuck like me who’s doing a book tour – then buy the book at the store, if possible.  That ensures the book store goes, “Oh, this guy sells books!” and then they like us.

If not, well, let’s discuss ebooks vs. paper.  (NOTE: This is what I understand to be the case; if I’m wrong, I’ll correct in edits.  This is my first book sold, so I’m going off many publisher discussions here, not personal experience, and I could well be misguided.)

Like a lot of authors, I make more money on ebooks.  My royalties per book are way better, so on paper (heh) ebook would be the way to go…


Ebooks have two issues for authors.  The first is that when physical books get discounted, I get a royalty off the full price.  See that $29.95 Stephen King hardcover you bought at 40% off?  Unca Steven gets paid off that $29.95 price, no matter how much the store knocks off the front end.  (Unless it’s a bargain book, but those play by frighteningly different rules.)

But ebooks, I get a royalty off of whatever the bookseller decides to sell it for.  If Amazon decides to make Flex the Daily Deal and sell it for $0.99 (HINT: they won’t soon), I get the royalty off of that.  Hopefully the Daily Deal sells enough copies that I make up in volume what I’m losing on a per-book basis, which it usually does (I’m told), but there’s no guarantee.

Then there’s the fact that “counting eBook sales” is something of a dark art, because there’s no centralized reporting to track eBook sales.  So what can happen to an author – and it’s an edge case, but I’ve heard some rumors – is that they sell so many copies via eBook that it actually becomes difficult to sell their next book to another publisher, since they sold a lot of books but in a place that other publishers can’t verify the numbers.  On the other hand, “selling a lot of copies of eBooks” can be seen as a plus, because that means you’re appealing to a younger demographic and may have longer legs as an author.

So.  After that flurry of facts, do you know which is better?  eBook or paper?

Neither do we, so just buy it in whatever format makes you happy.  Seriously.  That’s the answer of almost every author I know.  We’re just happy you’ve opted to buy our book, man, so we appreciate the concern, but whatever is convenient for you.  And thanks.

A Thing I Have Waited For, Literally, All My Life.

So this happened yesterday:

If you’ll recall, it took me decades to write a novel good enough to sell.  I literally wrote seven terrible novels before finally uncorking this good one.  And so to have it in my hands, was…

Like touching a dream.

A box of me.

So this box sits on the counter, and Gini, who is usually Not A Fan of clutter, has said not a word about it, as she is as proud as I am.  Eventually it’ll go in a closet somewhere.  I have books to sign (and I plan to number the books I sign, a little personalized hashtag, just to see how many I do), and I know Gini gets my first signed book, and then I gotta figure out who gets the rest.

And yes, I know I’m being slightly ridiculous about all this, but it’s my first novel.  My absurdity extends to feeling a strange kinship with Brenda K, who so kindly packed these books for me. But I only get this opportunity once, so I’ll run wild through the fields of the Lord and I promise you when The Flux comes out in October, I’ll be more subdued.


Then there’s the dedication page:

It's here. In my hands. My debut novel FLEX, turned to paper.

Those of you new here probably know about Rebecca, my goddaughter.  But it occurs to me that most of you don’t know my Uncle Tommy, who passed on in 2005.  Which is a shame.  He was my best friend and savior when I was a troubled teen.  He had a basement full of books he let me read.  He was a frail hemophiliac who taught me how to be fearless.  He gave me Stephen King, and Dune, and the Belgariad, and Stephen R. Donaldson, and all the worlds within Flex would never exist if it were not for him.

I know Gini gets signed book #1.  But I think Uncle Tommy gets signed book #2.  I’ll keep it for him. On my bookshelf.

I really think he’d be proud of me.

Protect Yo Self Before You Wreck Yo Self

“I thought you’d be mad at me.”


“Because you’re a depressive.”

I wasn’t mad.

My friend had gone through a bit of a breakdown; after dealing with the stress of trying to resuscitate a severely depressed buddy, she’d bottomed out.  Couldn’t take supporting this person any more.  And so she’d retreated for a good long time, freaking out because she was a terrible friend.

Thing is, you have to protect yourself, too.

A lot of the posts and cartoons about supporting the depressed treat the caretakers like they’re some sort of Love ATM: Just get in my pillow fort with me.  Don’t question me when I’m too sad to do anything.  Support me unquestioningly. 

That’s lovely, but if you are the caretaker, then even just being in the pillow fort takes its toll.  You really want to leave this pillow fort to go out dancing, see a movie, fuck, just get out of the apartment… but the depressive needs you to stay with them, in quiet solitude.  You don’t want to exacerbate the depressed person’s problem by telling them to get over it, but sitting by while they cry in front of the television for twelve hours straight can be devastating to watch.  Spending weeks convincing them *No, you really need to get some therapy, please call a doctor* can be a low-grade tidal strain that can suck all the joy out of your life.

I am a depressive, and the ugly truth is that I can be really hard on the people I love.

This isn’t to say that I’m undeserving of that love, of course: this is a disease I can’t help, and I have other features on top of my depression that make me worth loving.

But it is true that when I’m mired in my worst moments, I can burn out my loved ones frighteningly fast.  Some people poured all their love into me, convinced they could fix me with the application of enough caring, and then left me when they discovered that no, I have an endlessly leaky bucket that cannot be patched.

And in truth, it’s better for me if my loved ones learn the times when they can leave me to stew for a bit so that they can recover.  Because they can’t be strong all the time.  And even if they could be, I love them, and I don’t want them to wreck themselves in some endless effort to lift me up; that just makes for two effectively depressed people.

Some days, I need to cry alone in my pillow fort while they go dancing, so they can take care of me far better in the long run.

So no, I don’t get mad when caretakers need to attend to their own well-being.  They matter to me, too.  And yeah, my life will be worse without them for a while, but it’s way worse for me if they spend years devoid of pleasure tending to me in my pillow fort prison, then eventually stage an escape because they can’t freaking take it any more.

When you’re the caretaker, you matter, too.  Take your breaks where you can.  It’ll actually make it better for everyone, even though it might not feel that way at the time.

How Can I Like A Racist, Sexist, Piece Of Crap Movie?

The thing is, viewed through the lens of the humorless Social Justice Warrior credentials that conservatives say I am unable to shake off, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an awful movie. It’s about the intense supremacy of white people shooting evil not-white people, with the ultimate goal of becoming an upper-crust Gentleman Spy.

It’s also hellishly fun.

Part of the great enjoyment of Kingsman is that depending on how you look at it, Kingsman is either an affectionate parody of James Bond films, or an updated take on James Bond films.  So I expect the sexism and racism baked in, because frankly, that’s part and parcel of the whole schtick.

Part of it is that Kingsman exudes style.  Colin Firth is the perfect choice to be our young lead’s mentor: he carries an umbrella, dresses in impeccable suits, and lectures people on the propriety of their actions before, reluctantly, kicking ass seven ways to Sunday.  And when he kicks ass, he does so in audacious fight sequences that somehow manage to straddle that line between “videogame cut-scene” and “genuine heroism.”

Part of it is that Kingsman is, in the end, a pretty welcoming message.  Anyone can be a gentleman, even a lower-class lout, if they truly want to better themselves.  And part of the joy is, of course, watching Our Hero show all the other recruits up as his instincts help him do what is truly right.

And part of it is the sheer thrills of watching all the gadgets. It’s like Matthew Vaughan said, “Hey, James Bond has gotten so grim and hateful and left all these cool toys on the ground in an attempt to be realistic. Can we pick up all the best toys and run around in circles with them?”  And so they did.

Kingsman is flawed, of course. I’m not entirely sold on Samuel Jackson’s portrayal of a lisping, hand-flailing multimillionaire (even as I know that Jackson based that lisp on his own former speech problem).  All the good guys are sterling-white, while the major bad guys are handicapped or flawed.  The women are semi-heroic in that weird modern action hero way where they do some kick-ass things, but are relegated in the end to support roles and a sex joke.  (A pretty damned good sex joke, which I loved, but… a sex joke.)  And strangely, despite there being a squad of Kingsmen waiting in the wings, not a one of them shows up to help anyone in the final chapter.

Yet I still loved the hell out of it.

I can, despite the spluttering complaints of conservatives, enjoy the fuck out of a movie and still acknowledge it’s problematic.  I can even recommend it to my buddies, as I do Kingsman – I just give them warnings so they can know what bits about it may annoy them past the point of enjoyment.  (Just as I give warnings for movies that take a while to get moving, or movies with disappointing endings.)

I can see flaws and still be thrilled.  My joy is not dependent upon a movie being perfect, merely having strong enough qualities to supercede those flaws.  And Kingsman, despite the litany of dings I could give it, was still cool enough that I cheered at one particularly audacious sequence set to “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a line of suits in the Kingsman mold. I have to go price them out, for I covet them.

Hey, New Yorkers! And Boston People! Do Me A Favor?

If you live in New York or Boston, you are no doubt aware that I am coming to town to do a book signing in just over two weeks!

I will wear my fine Italian suit! And bring donuts! And critique your choice of donuts, as happens far too much in my book! (One reviewer said she will always remember Flex as “The doughnut book,” which actually seems about right.)

And I will do a very dramatic reading from Flex, and be absolutely terrified that maybe nobody will show up to this thing. And perhaps they won’t!  But right now, the book stores who have kindly offered to host my novice-writer self don’t know how many people will be attending this shindig!

So.  If you are planning on showing up at either of my book signings, and you’re not averse to this Facebook thing, could you possibly click through on the appropriate links and tell all the social medias that you might placate a weasel in a cold and foreign land?

New York: Friday, March 13th, Word Bookstore in Brooklyn.

Boston(ish): Saturday, March 14th, Annie’s Book Stop In Worcester.

That would be awesome.  Thank you.


Random Reactions To Last Night’s Oscars

So there’s only one thing you need to see from last night’s Oscars, and it is this musical number that blew the goddamned roof off:

(EDIT: Fuck. LJ doesn’t appear to want to embed the video – why am I on LiveJournal again? – so you have to be annoyed and go look at it here.  It’s worth it, though.)

(I correctly picked, and enjoyed, the “Selma” track as the Oscar winner, but some things don’t win Oscars and are still fucking timeless. This would be one of them.)

For the first time in eight years, I did not win my Oscar betting pool. Jim Nauer now has the championship. I am shamed, but I accept my loss with dignity; I should have trusted that Birdman was a better movie than the awful, awful Boyhood instead of hedging my bets.

Neil Patrick-Harris was a good host – he kept things moving, and I loved when he took shots at the things we all knew should have been nominated. (Saying “Oh, now you like him” when David Oyelowo got a round of applause made me cheer.)  And he got the greatest one-liner of the night when he said Edward Snowden couldn’t be here “for some treason.”  The Birdman riff was classic.

Yet still, NPH was good but not great. A lot of his jokes fell flat, and NPH isn’t particularly good at letting a joke fail gracefully. You need that Carsonesque charm of being able to shrug it off and look gratifyingly embarrassed, and NPH just looked embarrassed.  The “locked suitcase” was too much buildup for too little payoff.  And the opening number – despite Jack Black’s awesome unforeseen interruption – was pretty tuneless.  So a solid B, but hey, what do I know? I thought Chris Rock was the best host in years.

Seriously, what kind of douche is Sean Penn?  Hey, let’s remind America the dude’s a fuckin’ Mexican just as he’s winning! I mean, Iñárritu took it in stride and may have even been amused (seriously, what’s he going to say if he doesn’t feel like trashing Sean in the press?), but I’m a little tired of presenters deciding to go “Oh, yes, and remember – this winner is a minority!” as opposed to, you know, “This person is a winner.”  Let the labels fall, you dumb motherfuckers.

My second-favorite Oscar moment was when the Polish director totally FOUGHT THE POWER by giving a lengthy acceptance speech through the sendoff music, and beyond.  Thus breaking their power. Note how the rest of the small-fry Oscar winners exhibited no fear of the music for the rest of that evening, now having proven that the Oscars had no control over them.

Jim Nauer – the man who finally bested me in the Oscars – says that the Ig Nobel awards handle overlong speeches by having a nine-year-old girl walk out on stage and yell, loudly, “I’M BORED.  IS THIS OVER YET? I AM SO, SO BORED.”  I would like to see this feature at all future Oscars, thanks.

Please. Please, let John Travolta’s mushy face and creepy wax-person demeanor fade from the Oscars stage.  I loved him as a movie star, but now his face-touching mauling is a liability.

Lady Gaga doing serious musical numbers strikes me as a way for Lady Gaga transitioning from “celebrity freak-pop-star” to “actual singer.”  And God. She can sing.  She sung so well that Julie must have been as proud as she looked.

In conclusion, Whiplash is the best movie of 2014 and you should all see it.  It was a tiny box office thing, so it had no real chance, but it’s coming out on DVD tomorrow and you should all own it.

Can It Be Okay To Be Irritated By Something Neil Gaiman Did?

Yesterday, author Kameron Hurley wrote about why she thought Neil Gaiman was unwise to name his short story collection “Trigger Warning.” Predictably, commentstorms ensued.

Now, before we proceed any further, let me be honest: I am largely agnostic on the “trigger warning” debate. I consider a trigger warning to be in the same class as spoiler warnings: nothing I would compel a stranger to do, but “not having them” is a perfectly valid reason to unfriend someone.  If there’s a low-cost way to avoid fucking up someone’s day by accident, then I think it’s nice for you to do so – even if there’s some legitimate debate in psychological circles over whether trigger warnings are actually conducive to long-term healing.

As such, I don’t have a strong opinion on whether Neil was right or wrong to name his book “Trigger Warning.”

Yet the point I’m making here is not whether “trigger warnings” are good or bad: as stated, I don’t have strong opinions on the topic, and I will remind you that it’s a perfectly legitimate choice to not have a strong stance on something you feel you don’t have enough personal experience to say.

My point is that a lot of the comments boiled down to “How dare a nobody like Kameron Hurley challenge the great Neil Gaiman?  She’s clearly out for the publicity.  She wants to ride Neil Gaiman’s name to stardom!  What an attention whore!”

And I thought, why is it so damned hard to believe that someone might be honestly offended by what Neil Gaiman did?

This construct of “You must be seeking out offense!” is one that I find baffling. I’ve written hundreds of essays, and not once have I ever sat down and said, “Hrm, what titan of the industry can I topple today?  Let me go scrutinize Neil Gaiman’s decisions to find something to generate mock-outrage about.  No, that’s too nice; nobody will care about that; that bad decision doesn’t have enough market share – ah ha!  The name of his book!  I’ll challenge that!”

No.  You know what happens?  A big author does something we hear about, and our first reaction is a flinch.  That squirmy moment of Oh, I don’t know about that.  And then, if this splinter sticks in our eye for long enough, we write about why it bothers us.

There’s no quest for fame: we are simply trying to explain why having this splinter in our goddamned eye hurts.

Mind you, I feel bad for Neil, because he is a titan, and every decision he makes influences millions of people, so he’s far more likely to accidentally jab a splinter into some schmuck’s eye without even meaning to.  His every off-hand comment gets broadcast far and wide, and that has to be a constant pressure upon Neil – who is a legitimately nice man.  If Jill Nobody had decided to call her short story collection “Trigger Warning,” then Kameron wouldn’t have written about it – because she wouldn’t have heard about it, and even if it did come to her attention, then it would be by someone whose unwise decisions didn’t make much of an impact.  So Neil winds up having some ridiculously tiny decisions dissected in the public eye – in some cases for not saying anything when people think he should have.

But it’s possible to legitimately disagree with Neil.  It’s even possible to disagree with Neil politely, as Kameron herself notes.  Neil does not have to be a demon for us to say, quietly, “Er, I don’t think that was your best decision.”

Yet I’ve gotten some flashes of that ugly behavior in other comments.  I write about polyamory a lot, and my writings are very popular with some subsets of the alt-sex crowds.  And some people have read an essay of mine and went, “Here’s why what Ferrett said will hurt your loved ones and destroy your relationship!”

I’ve caught some so-called “fans” of mine interrogating these dissenter’s rationale: Hey, why are you trying to tear down Ferrett, huh?  Aren’t you just trying to stir up trouble?  Ferrett’s such a good man, why are you trying to do to him?

And the proper answer is, This isn’t about me.  It’s about what I said, and whether what I said was justified.  My detractors aren’t not trying to vilify me, they’re not trying to crawl on my shoulders to try to capture this sad quasi-fame I possess – they are questioning a decision I made, and that questioning is entirely legitimate.

As noted, I don’t have a strong take on whether Neil Gaiman should have named his book “Trigger Warning.” Should the comments here degenerate into a civil war on The Legitimacy Of Trigger Warnings and Whether Neil Has Hurt Rape Victims, then I will start pulling the ban-trigger.  You can have that discussion over at Kameron’s column. Or go write your own rebuttal-rebuttal essay.

But what I am saying is that Kameron can write about something unwise she feels that Neil did, and do it without an underlying urge to raise her own visibility.

She’s writing about Neil Gaiman because she thinks that Neil made a poor choice.  That doesn’t make her right; it doesn’t make her wrong.  It makes her one more person with a strong opinion, and she has every right to express that opinion, just as Neil has every right to name his damn book what he wants.

He just has to live with someone disagreeing with him, is all.  Same as Kameron Hurley.

The Thrill Of Alternative Mythologies

My wife didn’t know a thing about the DC Universe beyond the obligatory pop-culture references.  She knew the Flash existed, but didn’t really have any knowledge about him beyond “he moves fast.”  She knew Green Lantern had a ring, but had zero idea that there were multiple ring-bearers, like James Bond, each with their own fan base.

Zatanna or Gorilla Grodd?  Clueless.

But then we watched the animated Justice League show together, which she loved.  And why not?  It’s one of the best animated kids’ shows ever, with some surprisingly deft plotting.  And slowly she warmed to the Flash’s naive charm, fell in love with the Martian Manhunter, discovered that Jon Stewart was her huckleberry and my God why aren’t he and Hawkgirl together 4eva.

Then we watched Young Justice, which isn’t quite the animated DCU – it’s clearly a different timeline from Justice League, but it’s kind of like Justice League.  Enough to crib off of.

And we were watching, and Amazo the Adaptive Robot showed up, and she clenched my arm and whispered, “Oh, shit.”

Now: Amazo had yet to do anything.  But Gini had watched all of the Justice League, and she had learned: whenever Amazo showed up, shit got serious.  Curb-stompings happened.  Amazo is perhaps the most terrifying opponent in all the animated JLA…

…and she now knew enough of the mythology to tremble at the mere appearance of Amazo.

And that’s a secret joy we comics fans don’t talk about a lot.  As I’m watching The Flash with my daughter and my wife, someone pops on-screen and I lose my fucking mind.  “That guy!” I yell, arms waving.  “It’s… that guy!”  And I don’t want to give spoilers, but That Guy is a very significant name in the DCU and I know some of where this is going, and I can’t wait to find out how they do it.  Likewise, there’s a Very Significant flirtation going on in this show between Barry and one other character, and on one level I’m totally BARRY AND HER FOREVER, but on another level I know that her name is the secret identity of another superperson, and as such this cannot work out.

That’s a secret joy of watching adaptations.  Yeah, the endless retreats get tiring sometimes.  But when a show gets it right, and fires on all gears like The Flash does, then I have that anticipation of going, “Professor Ronnie Raymond?” and having a brief window into knowing what sorts of stories are going to be told about this guy.

It’s not spoiler territory.  Not quite.  I don’t know if this universe will go that route, or if in fact Barry’s sorta-smoochy friend is going to become who she is in the comics.  They’re not obligated to.  Sometimes they don’t.

But that single name-drop generates excitement.  It’s a mythology.  And it’s so exciting to watch how this show unfolds around that legacy.