Untaken, By J. E. Anckorn

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.

Hey, San Diego Peeps, Do Me A Favor? (Or Even You Los Angeles Peeps.)

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.

Love,
Ferrett

Thank You For Being So Goddamned Brave.

“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.

 

We Say “Thank You” For The Silliest Shit

I did a half-assed job cleaning the kitchen the other day.

Gini was out at court, and I had ten minutes between tasks at work, so I picked up around the kitchen.  I didn’t do any dishes, Lord, no, or even put them in the dishwasher; I just picked up the stray glasses around the house, scraped some food into the garbage can, tossed some old junk mail. The dishes were in the sink, filled to the brim with Bachelor Water, that miracle substance that all men believe will clean dishes perfectly if you just let them soak for long enough.

When she rushed in to the house, off to another meeting in an hour, she put her coat on the chair and sat down to check her email.

“Hey!” I said.

She looked up in confusion.

“Did you notice the kitchen?”

She squinted at the kitchen. Indeed, the kitchen had gone from “abominable” to “barely acceptable.”  She had not registered the change because while the old kitchen had made her wince at the mess, this new kitchen wasn’t clean enough to make her stop in wonder.  She actually had to mentally compare the two to note the difference.

Then she gave me a big, wide smile.

“Thank you,” she said, pulling me into a warm embrace.

And that was that.

Later that evening, my wife was hip-deep in a pile of work, and was drinking wine.  “Would you freshen my glass?” she asked, tapping the crystal.  “I’m swamped.”

I got up and poured her a fresh tipple.  When I brought it back, she took the glass and held it up proudly.

“Did you notice?” she asked.

I hadn’t.  I’m so used to asking for things that self-care doesn’t register.  If I’m busy refactoring a program, you bet your ass that I’ll ask for as much catering as I can get.

But Gini came from a very dysfunctional family where she played “mom” even when she was eight years old.  She did everything, and was punished when she asked her parents for help.  So Gini never ever delegates tasks, and she tries to do too much because she *will not* ask for assistance, and then she melts down.

So Gini asking me to get her a glass of wine was, in fact, a major breakthrough for her.

“Thank you!” I said, leaning down to hug her, and that was that.

And some days I think the reason we’ve been successfully married for fifteen years is that we thank each other for the dumbest goddamned things.  I mean, I’m thanking her for being allowed to bring her wine, she’s thanking me for doing the minimal amount of effort.

I thank her for not stepping on my punchline when I’m telling a story.  She thanks me for not leaving toothpaste in the sink.  I thank her for not taking it personally when I scream at a broken computer.  She thanks me for watching reruns of Say Yes To The Dress with her, even though I don’t mind it all that much.

Our days are suffused with gratitude.

And yet it is a genuine gratitude.  She’s put together my weekly regimen of pills for years now, coordinating the various prescriptions and putting them all into a single M-T-W-T-F-S-S pillbox for me.  And every time I see her do it, I hug her and thank her, because we don’t let “routine” clog our thanks.  It’s still special that she does it, even if it’s the hundredth week in a row.

It’s also a silly, specific gratitude.  Sometimes Gini thanks me for things I don’t do, remembering the stuff her ex used to take her to task for and just hugging me because I don’t blame her for stupid shit.  But she’s thankful for that difference, and I let her.

We say thank you probably eighty times a day.  For big things.  Little things.  Trivial things.  Insane things.  And we never say them because we feel we ought to, we say them because we feel this swell of love at realizing the little efforts we’ve gone to, and smile a quirky smile, and fall a little more in love.

And I wonder if there’s some study that counts the number and quality of the thank-yous.  I’ve been in relationships where expecting thanks for putting the pills together would be stupid, that’s your job here, I do the fucking laundry so you handle the pills.  I’ve been in relationships where asking for thanks for the half-a-job in the kitchen would have led to a gigantic WHY DIDN’T YOU DO ALL OF IT argument, and then in the future I would never do anything unless I had time for the whole shebang, and we’d have much dirtier kitchens.

I suspect relationships get harder where the thanks are thin.  But fortunately, our air is thick with healthy oxygen and healthy thanks, forever grateful, even grateful that we’re grateful for such absurdly stupid things.

I’m grateful Gini lets me post things like this. Gini’s grateful I gush about her.

It works out.

Just To Be Clear On This: On Flex, And Rebecca

The greatest sign of success on Flex, for me, is that I’m getting the right kind of feedback from my friends.  I’ve seen the hesitant, stiff-smiled, “Oh, yeah, your book was good!” look too many times not to know it when I see it.  Instead, I’m getting that wide-eyed, holy-shit look of “Flex was good,” followed by a pointed query as to when the sequel drops.

The reviews, too, have been kind.  My Goodreads rating still hovers between 4.1 and 4.2 stars, which is frankly amazing for a first book.  And the sales have been decent, and the first three stops in this insane book tour have been well-attended by people I love and don’t see nearly enough.

Judging it as a first novel debut, I’d put this in the top 10% of first novels.  Maybe the top 5%.  I am living a happy dream that I’ve worked for all my life, and it almost expunges the sad nights I spent stacking up rejections and writing with the sad realization that maybe nobody will ever read thisMaybe all this effort means you’re not good enough.

But let me be clear.

Last night, I was lying in bed, planning my trip to Seattle, for a two-week book tour, having just been tagged by an old friend on Facebook to tell me that I was, and I quote, “white-hot” as an author.

I would have given every bit of that up to have my dead goddaughter Rebecca walk through my bedroom door.

Every last fucking sale.

Every last fucking review.

Every last hope of being a writer.

Rebecca is deep in the DNA of Flex.  I’m not going to say that she is Aliyah, but when I wandered lost I asked, “What would Rebecca do?” and her riotous indignation was inevitably the answer.  And I wrote her not as a tribute, but as a triumph; when I started Flex, Rebecca was four years old, and healthy, and an adorable, unstoppable little thug.

We could not have known about the tumors growing in her head.

We could not have envisioned that someone so spunky would be gone.

Look at this kid, all this compassion and snarkiness and love in ten seconds, and tell me you can imagine she’s gone.

While I was on my book tour this weekend, hitting New York and Boston, some far braver people than I were shaving their heads for Saint Baldrick’s charity to raise funds in Rebecca’s memory.  To stop other families from going through what we did.  To find, as best as is possible, an end to cancer.

They are teetering on the edge of raising $100,000 in funds.  At $98,273 as I write this.

I ask you: if you bought Flex and loved it, I am grateful. I am.  But I would be more grateful still if you could reach deeper into your pockets and donate what you can to help assist the people who tried their best to save my little burning girl, my hope, my love, my loss.

I would throw my own book onto the bonfire, if God would let me, to bring her back; since I cannot, I will throw money into science to bar others from putting another child’s body into a tiny, tiny coffin.

Thank you.

How The New Star Wars Should Work

I haven’t read anything about the new Star Wars, nor do I really intend to; I’m going to be getting enough spoilers incidentally without seeking them out.  But I have a sneaking suspicion of how Star Wars is going to handle the introduction of Luke, Leia, and Han – which is to say, given JJ Abrams’ fondness for ancient gravitas and some of the teaser images from the trailer, I suspect we’ll have them hauled out of carbonite.

Not literal carbonite, of course, but script-carbonite – which is to say that after all their adventures, Han, Luke and Leia will have done precisely bupkiss since the films ended.  Some spunky younglings will have to haul their inert asses out of the ancient desert – just like Luke found Obi-Wan – where they’ll have curled up in isolation for years and have to be brought back out for one great adventure. Kinda like Spock in the Star Trek films.

That’ll be deeply disappointing.

For me, I want active old geezers – the kind of spunky folks who are smart enough to recruit a new generation when they realize they need fresh blood to handle to this challenge.  I don’t want hoary old guys being noble – I want Luke, Leia and Han as the cool uncles and aunts we all secretly wanted to have as a kid, the kind of people who grab us by the arm and go, “You’re more awesome than you think! Come on, let’s save the damn world!”

You know, like a squadron of lightsaber-wielding Doctor Whos.

And what I really want is the implication that Luke, Leia, and Han continued to have really cool adventures after the films.  The greatness of Star Wars is its implied backstory – remember when nobody knew what the Clone Wars were, but really wanted to? – making a movie seem like a snippet of some grand history.

So I think there should be plenty of conversations like this:

HAN, LUKE, AND NEW KIDS FACE DOWN UNTHINKABLE DANGER

HAN: This is just like when we had to wrangle Gundarks back on Ceta Tau!
NEW KID: What?
HAN: Long story.

And then, later, facing some other crazy Star Wars action sequence:

LEIA: Doesn’t this remind you of the starwheels of Apocrypha Seven?
NEW KID: The what?
LEIA (waving her hand): Old history. Not relevant.

And that becomes a running gag throughout the film, that Han and Luke and Leia have seen it all before but still need these new kids because these new kids are awesome, culminating in a scene where, I dunno, they have to swing across a chasm:

LUKE: Whoa, this is just like when we had to swing across that chasm in the Death Star!
NEW KID: Death Star?  Who the heck would name something as bombastic as “The Death Star”? Now I know you’re just making stuff up.
LUKE: You got me.

(NOTE: Yes, I know there will be like twenty novels documenting the adventures of Luke and company between the end of ROTJ and these new films.  If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know the films never give a rat’s ass about the novelizations, so no, those aren’t going to be referenced unless Abrams has really upped his game.)

 

Wanna Hear Me Discuss Flex? Wanna Hear An Advance Preview Of The Flux?

So the most excellent podcaster Brent Bowen interviewed me for his podcast Adventures In Sci-Fi Publishing.  If you liked my novel Flex, we get into an awful lot of discussion on how (and why) that was created – and in discussing the magic system, we get into a new branch of ‘mancy that pops up in The Flux, Flex’s sequel (due out in October), which may be the craziest magic I’ve devised as of yet.  (It’s not super-spoiler territory as far as I’m concerned, but it is spoiler-ish.)

There is about fifteen minutes’ worth of talk prefacing my appearance, discussing the “Sad Puppies” slate of the Hugo Awards, which may or may not be of interest to a general audience.  But considering that he asks me my take on the Sad Puppies – and it’s an interesting story to my mind, of a bunch of right-wing authors attempting to change the composition of one of science fiction’s most prestigious awards – it’s almost certainly worth listening to.

Anyway, as usual, I crack jokes, I say things I regret, and I use the term “basically” way too much.  Check it out.