Finalized Flex Fan Art, AND Me Yammering On New Podcasts!

So if you’ll recall, my friend Bill has been perfecting some really awesome fan art based on my book Flex – well, specifically the character Valentine, everyone’s favorite kinky videogamemancer.  And he applied the colors, and I could not be happier.

Flex Fan Art: Final, Colored Edition!

He says he’s going to write up a post on the process of making this art, and I surely hope he does. (Or maybe he has; I find Tumblr maddeningly impossible to navigate, proving how wretchedly old I am.)

The only thing that threw me about this piece was the stray bits of garbage on the floor, until I realized this was supposed to reflect Valentine’s messiness. Oh, man, Valentine levels of messiness would make it so you couldn’t see the floor. But I love Valentine’s look so much.  (Go check out his other art.)

Also, the podcast New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy interviewed me, and it was awesome.  Rob went above and beyond the usual podcasting by actually transcribing excerpts from the talk, like so:

On why why a world with Flex also needs flux:

“Flux evens out the odds of magic…. I really hate novels where magic is this thing  you can do … without any kind of cost…. Frequently what I see is, ‘Oh, I’m a magician. I’ll raise an army of the dead and make my castle out of magic,’ and where is any challenge in that for your characters? Where do they have any stopping points to what they can do?… A big tension in the book as to whether the mancers should even use their magic.”

On his approach to writing:

“I’m what’s called a gardener writer, in the business. There are plotters who basically sit down and plot out all their books beat by beat and know their ending the minute they start their first sentence. And Flex, like every story I’ve ever written– basically I wrote an interesting first paragraph and followed it randomly until the end of the book.”

Anyway, I neep away about my process, and how I came up with some of the central themes of Flex (which is still available in bookstores, and the sequel is still coming out in October), so if you feel like listening to me talk for about half an hour, well, here I am.

How To Freak Out About The Right Stuff

When our daughter was twelve, she would shriek whenever we had plans for her. “I don’t wanna go!” she’d sulk. “I would feel so much better if I just stayed inside and played videogames all day instead of going out to this picnic laser-light show with fireworks and all the family friends.”

As an introvert, I sympathized. But she’d already been staying inside, playing videogames for three days straight on her summer vacation, and so it was time for a change of pace.

And just about every time she’d come home glowing, talking about how awesome that was, bouncing and recalling the way the sky lit up. When asked about her summer, she’d talk enthusiastically about all the things we dragged her to.

Then, when she was sixteen, we dragged her off to something else after a few days spent luxuriously hermiting and killing virtual Nazis. Except now she was fully teenaged, and what had been sulking turned into a full-fledged fight.

“I’m not going to this concert!” she cried.

“You are,” we said. “We bought tickets. Tickets that you agreed to at the time.”

“You never listen to me!” she said. “Why do you never listen to me?”

And we dragged her, and in fact she loved seeing “Weird Al” Yankovic live. On the way home, she was gushing about how amazing it was, watching him nail the tricky raps on “White and Nerdy.”

“Now,” I said, seeing she was in a better mood. “You wanna know why we never listen to anything you say?”

That got her attention.

“Because you’ve trained us to ignore you.”

“But… how?”

“Because you raise a big stink every time it’s time to go out of the house – and I mean every time – and we have this huge fight with you, and nine times out of ten it turns out that you really loved what we had planned. So by screaming ‘I DON’T WANNA’ regardless of the entertainment planned, you have taught us that in fact, you have no goddamned clue what you actually like to do. And so…” I spread my hands. “We ignore you.”

“But…” She pondered this. “Sometimes I’m really tired. Sometimes, I actually don’t want to go out.”

“And on those occasions, you make the exact same fuss as when we haul you out to tonight’s concert, and if we had listened to you, you wouldn’t have gotten to see him do ‘Albuquerque’.”

“But Albuquerque’s my favorite Weird Al song!”

“It is. Which is why we brought you. We want you to have a good time. We actually don’t want to bring you to places where you’ll be miserable. But if you want us to listen to what you want, then you have to teach us to respect what you say you want. And you do that by only complaining when it’s really bad enough to complain about.”

She chewed her lip and thought about that. “Does that mean you’ll listen to me more? About other things, too?”

“Yup. Because you train us to ignore you in one area, it kinda seeps into the others.”

“All right. I’ll try.”

And sometimes, when we had a balloon party with live unicorns and a gateway to goddamned Narnia set up for her, you could see her start to protest – and then she’d swallow, think about it, and go, “All right, lemme get ready.”

And sometimes we had a ticket to a choir of angels – literal angels, descending from Heaven in a sweep of snow-white feathers – and she’d say, “I’m really not up to that.” And we’d hand her the controller and let her kill some more Nazis.

The trick is, as an anxiety-prone person myself, I tend to kick up a lot of fusses. I’ll tell Gini I can’t write this next novel, I’m never going to finish it, my career is going to crash and they’ll banish me to the Black Hole of Calcutta and I’ll never be seen again. Except, of course, that I have been writing for several years since Clarion and I’ve found ways to finish my novels and I have yet to be exiled by the literary world. My opinions often have nothing to do with reality.

And some days, I start to whine at Gini about this dystopian future crashing down around my head, and I think: Do I really need this reassurance, or am I just training her to dismiss my opinions?

Some days I complain. But most days, I hold back my immense tides of writer-angst, saving them for the day I’ll truly need them.

Because what I want to teach her is that when I am freaking out about something, it’s something that matters.

Introducing The Newest Member Of Our Family

“So what’d you do on Father’s Day, Ferrett?” you may ask.  And the answer was this:

The Behemoth (maybe)

Yes, if you’ll recall, Gini and I needed a new television because the old one – which was perfectly good – simply had aged out. We bought it in 2003, in the days before HDMI had been invented, so we couldn’t play the PlayStation 4 on it without getting headaches from the wavery converter box.

And if we’re gonna go big, we went big. The old television, known as the Monster Penis System because I couldn’t stop talking about its size, was 55″.

This is 70″.

A comparison.

We did ultimately decide to get the 4K Ultra HD, because despite all the charts showing us how we could not possibly see the difference between that and the regular HD at ten feet away, we totally could. The colors on this are more vibrant, the darks darker. And maybe that was a trick of the showroom, or maybe it’s because this television attempts to interpolate pixels to give a sort of “HD-and-a-half” effect, but damn, the quality is nice.

We spent most of the day setting it up, because the installation had all sorts of problems: a large television already in place, a complex setup we didn’t want to tear down and recreate, the fact that the old TV needed no stand and this television needs a stand with, as it turned out, a mount.

Fortunately, all my days at StarCityGames had trained me how to deal with rollouts. I approached it like a programmer, ensuring we could roll back if anything went wrong with minimal fuss: first, we build the stand to put it on. Then, we’d turn it on and use its NetFlix app to ensure that wireless connectivity worked and the picture was intact. Then we hooked it up to our sound system to ensure it was compatible…

And when it was done, we had this:

The Behemoth (maybe)

It is incredibly large. Unfeasibly large. We are, sadly, getting used to its extreme width, but for now we’ll occasionally walk into the room and be surprised how this monolithic wall of black is dominating our space.

There was no doubt as to our first movie, of course.

The Behemoth (maybe)

And the thing is, watching Star Wars on Blu-Ray, we noticed details we’d never seen before – mostly in the background. The world is so delightfully dinged and scuffed that we kept pointing at wear patches on the hatches, places where the paint had rubbed off, and by God, notice how Threepio has some stray wires sticking out of his back that have pulled free? (And man, Alec Guinness in hi-def? Hot.)

And Erin brought me beer, with perhaps the sweetest card I’ve ever gotten:

A Father's Day card.

So we drank Radler and moved on to the bourbon and then whooped as we watched Star Wars and then I whipped her butt at Mortal Kombat and talked to Amy via FaceTime.

It was one of the nicest days I’ve had.

I Never Said “No.”

I was a great husband, early on in our relationship. Gini could be friends with whoever she wanted, no matter what manipulative shitbirds they were. Even if her friends made fun of me behind my back and quietly suggested she could do better, I wanted her to be happy.

And every time she went out with them, I’d get into an argument with her that lasted for hours. You were out too late. You didn’t call in. What’d you guys do? You went to see that movie you promised to see with me? Did they know that? They did? Why would you do that?

Thing is, I was an awesome husband, because I placed no restrictions on her! She could go out with whoever she wanted.

…as long as she was willing to endure an hour-long argument justifying her behavior.

I’ve also dated really awesome partners who never said “no” to me, either. I could flirt with whoever I wanted! And maybe I’d have to spend two hours reassuring them when I got back, handling their meltdowns because why would I want to chat with anyone else when I had them…

…But they never said “No!”

The lack of “No” is a great way to ensure plausible deniability. Because there’s this stigma in our culture: you should want to support your partner in whatever they do, no matter how much it hurts you. So much of the cultural expectation of love revolves around this fucked-up amalgam of self-sacrifice and compersion, where you should be happy about whatever your partner does.

Except healthy relationships involve saying “No.” You don’t get to thumb the “off” switch on your partner, of course – humans aren’t toys – but it’s entirely legitimate to say, “Crap, this thing you’re doing is hurting me, and it needs to stop.”

The problem with presenting dealbreakers like that, of course, is that the partner may well decide that what needs to stop is your relationship. And that would make you a bad person, because good partners don’t tell their partners to stop doing things that are wounding you. Good partners suck it up, adjust, endure. Even now, I guarantee you that you’ll see some folks complaining in the comments that they’d never place any restrictions on their partners, freedom is beautiful, how dare you be such an asshole by asking them to choose?

Who wants to be that freedom-strangling idiot?

Yet there’s a great way to split that difference: You can get your partner to stop their hurting-you behavior, and never risk them leaving, and if they do they’ll look like the jerk!

You don’t say “No.”

Instead, you quietly dissuade them from doing {$THING} by starting a big ol’ argument every time they do {$THING}.

And after months of realizing that doing {$THING} comes with the hidden cost of having to defend their actions for hours afterwards, they start doing {$THING} less! And it’s not that they’re not allowed to do {$THING}, but rather that you just need them to do {$THING} in this impossibly well-defined way, like tapdancing through a field of land mines, and while theoretically they could do it properly, realistically they’ve been trying to get {$THING} right for months now and have yet do it without triggering a shitstorm of arguments.

If they leave, you get to talk about what a great partner you were. Because you let them do whatever they wanted. They chose {$THING} and kicked you out, and what kind of jerk would do that when they could have both?

Mind you, this is rarely a conscious effort to gaslight; it’s just that internally, you don’t want to be That Person Who Says No, so to preserve your self-image you nod your head and then nitpick every last choice your partner makes.

And you get to keep them in your life. For a little while longer, anyway. A strenuous, argument-filled longer, but hey, stretching out this doomed relationship is worth it, amiright?

Yet after all this time, I’ve learned it’s better to say “No.” My wife’s friends at the time were in fact disrespectful of both me and our relationship – and despite all of my “Sure, go ahead”s, eventually it came to a drama-filled showdown anyway. My poly partners really did not like my flirtatious nature, and eventually it became clear that my relationship styles didn’t mesh with theirs.

It would have been better for them, and me, to say “Okay, I know you want this, but this is a dealbreaker; can you stop this behavior to make me happy, or do we have to split up?” But we’d all been told repeatedly that the only people who did that were controlling jerks, and none of us wanted to be a controlling jerk, so instead we became, well… a controlling jerk with plausible deniability.

What we should have been was an honest person: “Look, I have needs, and these interactions you’re having with these people are really doing damage to me. Can you stop?” And if the partner said “No,” then I would have had to reevaluate whether the benefits of being with them outweighed the pains of watching them do things that hurt my feelings.

That might have ended the relationship.

Yet the wisdom I’ve learned in the years since is that a healthy relationship can withstand a sprinkling of “Nos.” You can’t live on a constant diet of negation, hell, that’s ridiculous, but enforcing the occasional firm boundary with “I know myself well enough to realize I can’t be happy in the proximity of that behavior” is in fact a wonderful thing to be strong enough to do.

Maybe your partner will change, and you’ll come out of it stronger. Maybe your partner will go “Nah” and leave, and you’ll find someone more suited to you. In either case, the outcome is likely far better than stringing someone along, telling them “Yes” when you desire a “No” with all your heart, never quite standing behind the fullness of your convictions but nibbling them with quibbles until they give up out of exhaustion.

Me? I’d rather have someone who stays out of full-throated devotion, instead of being shackled by Pavlovian responses. So I say “No.”

The rest is up to them.

Shit Gini And I Say To Each Other

Gini usually gets up at 9:00 or so. However, she’s been sick, so she’s been sleeping in the other room, where the hard bed is easier on her back.

I am ridiculously paranoid.

She shambles out at 11:30.

ME: “I was worried you’d died in the night. But I figured the chances of you having died were low, and the chances that you needed rest were high.”

GINI: “It’s not like knowing I was dead any earlier would have done you any good.”

ME: “Are you kidding? I would have gotten the rest of the day off!”

In Which I Ask You To Share Your Gigantic TV Wisdom With Me!

So as noted, Gini and I need to buy a new television set to support Rock Band 4.  And, well…

…we don’t know much about televisions.

What we do know is this:

1)  We want at least a 65″ screen, preferably 70″.

2)  That is in my living room by my amazing birthday on July 3rd.

3)  I am mostly convinced that 4k Ultra HD isn’t worth it, because it’s a) $800 extra, and b) according to the viewing distance chart in this article, we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from the roughly nine feet away that we watch our television from.  Still, we intend this TV to last for many many years (we bought our current TV in 2002), and even though there’s little 4k content now, as such it might be a good idea to spend the money to futureproof it.  I’m probably 85% on skipping 4k Ultra, but damn does it look nice in Best Buy.

4)  We really hate most “high-def” televisions, as it takes most movies and makes them look as fake as videogame cutscenes.  I know there are settings one can use to make them look more movie-like, but I have zero idea which settings those are or which televisions allow you to fiddle with them.

5)  We’d like to not spend ten billion dollars on things, but we’re okay with spending quality cash for quality goods.

6)  It needs at least three HDMI ports – one for the PS4, one for XBone, one for the cable.

Now. If y’all have any recommendations – ranging from “Buy this television” to “We muck with this setting” to “ZOMG, YOU NEED THIS FEATURE LIKE WHOAH” – please share, so we can partake in your awesome wisdom.

I’m Not Social Enough, I Don’t Get Out

Basically, I see myself as an asocial loser.  I sit at home all day, staring at either my work screen or my career screen or my play screen, and curl up and do nothing.  I have these occasional waves of what a sad man you are, you’re going to die alone, you know.

Which is not at all borne out by the facts.

Let’s take a look at the last two weeks:

The weekend of the 5th: My friend Angie came to visit us for the weekend, before I went to Rebecca’s headstone unveiling on Sunday.

Monday the 8th: went to a local poly meetup.

Wednesday the 9th: Woodworking Wednesdays.

Thursday the 10th: Got my nails done by my mad manicurist and we caught up on her love life, then back to the house for a bourbon and cigar evening.

Friday the 11th: My friend Jess came to visit for the weekend. Hit the Velvet Tango Room.

Sunday the 13th: Went to see Spy with Gini.

Tuesday the 15th: Had gaming night (playing nasty Vampires slaughtering Werewolves, yeah!)

Wednesday the 16th: Woodworking Wednesdays.

Thursday the 17th: CostCo date with Karla and Anil, going out and looking at new televisions.

Friday the 18th: My friend Ananda comes to visit us for the weekend.

That’s actually a pretty damned full schedule. And yet somehow, my brain is in this constant mode of thinking I’m a loser who doesn’t get out, and even chastises me for not being social enough.

And I’m not sure why that is. By many people’s standards, including my daughters, this kind of constantly seeing people would be exhausting.  Especially when you plop at least ninety minutes’ worth of writing into every day.

Like, I have friends.  But at some point, a switch got triggered when I was deeply alone and fourteen, and literally no amount of evidence seems to be able to sweep away this identification I have as an asocial loser.

I mean, it’s not a terrible thing. I don’t weep and lament about my social life.  But occasionally I’ll make some off-handed comment about not getting out much, and Gini will look at me and go, “Fuckin’ seriously?!?” and I’ll realize that crap, yeah, literally every weekend this summer is now taken and September is damn near gone and how is that the schedule of a man who’s got no friends?

And I’m self-aware.  I think of so many other people who were, say, bullied as a child and they eternally identify as victim even when they’ve risen past that to have all the power and have, in fact, become bullies themselves.  But deep down, something triggered inside of themselves where they’re always acting from scarcity no matter how much evidence they have to the contrary, and wow, is it a miracle that we humans manage to function at all.