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.

Here's The Dumbest Thing About That Last Game Of Thrones

Everyone’s talking about That One Scene from the last Game of Thrones, which is egregious and stupid and redundant.  We knew that That Character was a villain. We knew that That Other Character was a constant punching bag for more powerful men.  So when we saw that it was dumb, because it was a gratuitously rapetastic scene that actually didn’t show us anything new about the characters and did little to further the plot.
But the dumbest scene, the one that didn’t even make sense in the fucking show, should have gone like this:
“My squire dresses me in armor for all battles, and tends to my wounds afterwards. My squire would be quite lax if he did NOT know of the birthmark on my upper thigh. Can we go now?”

Cleveland Locals! I Have A Box Of Free Books To Give Away At The Side Quest!

“We have this awesome nerd bar in Cleveland called The Side Quest, and they’ve chosen my book Flex to read for their monthly book group.  Can you give me some Angry Robot freebies to throw in their direction on June 2nd?”
And, look what Mike Underwood sent me from the Angry Robot vaults:
Free Books at The Side Quest On June 2nd!
Now, The Side Quest would be a great place to hang out anyway, as they have all sorts of board games for people to play, and screens playing Doctor Who reruns, and crazy drinks like this:
Free shit at The Side Quest!
But the truth is, there will be a discussion of my book Flex at 8:00 on June 2nd – a book that’s filled with bureaucromancers, obsessive magic, pudgy goth females kicking ass, and donuts.  I will be bringing both books and donuts to this discussion group – so if you’re in the Cleveland area, stop by and sample some great drinks and some great goddamned authors.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I have a theory: People go to movies to see things they’ve never seen before.
It’s a terrible theory on the surface, because sequels permeate the theater.  And a lot of people want comfort.  But when you look at the big blockbuster films, the ones that dominate, they’re full of sights you cannot get in any other movie. Say what you will about Avatar, the visuals are uniquely itself. Say what you will about Gone with the Wind, the spectacle there has never been beaten.
And Mad Max: Fury Road is like entering a whole other world.
You’d think the “dystopian post-collapse society” has been mined, but no – Fury Road is ablaze with bizarre concepts, ushering you into this car-worshipping nightmare where suicide bombers spray their face with chrome paint before entering Valhalla, where the flares are glorious puffs of dust like fireworks, where the conveys of killer cars bring their own musicians swinging from chains before walls of speakers.
If you’re looking for an experience you can’t get anywhere else, Fury Road is the only place to get this.
And the action is unrelenting.  Fury Road seems to delight in throwing such insurmountable odds at the characters that when the camera pans back to show you all the massive resources of each warlord setting out, you have zero idea how our heroes can survive.  And then the assault comes, and it’s overwhelming, and enough scars get inflicted every time that the resources keep diminishing, and how will they live?
Fury Road’s acquired some bizarre reviews, though, which I don’t get.  Some people have said that Fury Road has no story, which is bizarre because – like last year’s reaction to “Gravity” – they’re confusing “Complexity” with “Storytelling.”  Max is a simple story, basically a two-hour car chase, but in it there’s character growth and conflict and commentary buried in that pedal-to-the-metal plot.
Saying that Fury Road is some sort of abandonment of storytelling is like saying that Calvin and Hobbes had no meaningful stories because the linework was simple. You can tell great stories off of simple threads, and if you disagree, well, Old Man and the Sea would like to have a word with you.
As for the other criticism, people keep telling me that Fury Road is a feminist movie, and, well, I’m not seeing it. It’s ostensibly feminist in that Max is escorting some women out of a breeding facility, but we’ve seen that story before when Big Tough Man escorts women out of a rape factory.  Or one man, standing against a dystopia that has incalculable power.  In the end, it’s mostly women against men, but that’s just because the women aren’t in power.
No, to me, Mad Max is the lowest possible bar for feminism, and it sort of bothers me that this is seen as a feminist movie, when in a sane world having female characters with their own agendas would be, well, just a movie.  It’s kind of like how in America, Hillary Clinton is ZOMG SOCIALIST whereas in a sane society she’d be a slightly right-of-center politician – it’s just that we’ve shifted so far that actually not wanting to tear down infrastructure is a leftist attitude.
Mad Max is a very good movie.  Which happens to have female characters who get just as much (simple) characterization as the guys.  I wish that could be unusual, but it is.