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The View on the Ground in a Swing State

I’ve lived in Dayton, Ohio since 2007. Elections are, understandably, a big deal here. It’s a swing state. The divide here is sharp, and fairly stereotypical. I live very near downtown, where you are highly unlikely to see a sign up for the Republican candidate. We live in a traditionally black neighborhood, and Dayton itself is split when it comes to race, with about 46-48% of the population nonwhite, and growing as we welcome new immigrants who are kickstarting businesses all across this once dead manufacturing town.  It’s Hillary/Kaine all the way down.

But drive up the hill into Oakwood (where convicted rapist Brock Turner went to high school), and the houses get bigger, the tax rate jumps up, and it’s white folks on every corner. When you see someone not white, it’s likely they are being pulled over by police (dead serious. They are THOSE kinds of police). Oakwood is that kind of place. And, predictably, there at the base of the hill, you start to see the signs for the Republican candidate pop up. It always reaffirms my insistence on not living in Oakwood.

We have representatives from every Dem group imaginable coming to our door every day now, reminding us to vote. I tell my spouse to just stop answering the door, but he is endlessly polite. I joke often that I think he’s secretly Canadian. We vote every time at a church up the street. At this point, I’ll likely just be voting Dem all the way down, and approving every single measure that requires us to pay more taxes to fund more services. Voting in Ohio takes on an extra urgency that I never felt in any other election. The first presidential election I could vote in was in Alaska, the infamous Gore/Bush darkest timeline Florida recount Jeb Bush calling the state for his brother crazy times. Even knowing that Alaska would go red, I voted (it always goes red. Tho I’ll note that right now it has a 1/3 chance to swing to Hillary this time, which is wild).

Voting for Obama both times was a far more satisfying experience. He was able to churn up positive emotions for hope and change in a way that I hadn’t seen since Regan (tho it turned out Regan’s “change” began the rapid dissolution of the American social services and safety nets, alas. Emotion still works). This time around all I feel is fear, which is the other side of the emotional spectrum and which does, alas, work just as well. Fear is driving all voters this election cycle: just toward different candidates.

As many have noted, this election is the Sad Puppy fiasco writ large. The media has given a voice to extremist wank because reporting extremist outrage causes reactionary outrage, which causes more extremist outrage, until we have no actual idea of what anyone really thinks in the middle. The fact that I read a lot of news and still have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on in real life is pretty fucked up. The media has become one big comment section, literally, as news stations now make entire stories out of people’s tweets and comments. The more extreme the view, the more the clicks, the more they get paid, the more skewed our view of what’s “normal” out there.

The only real I see these days, then, are in the neighborhood signs. The clear demarcation there at the bottom of the hill shows me the expected slice. The fact that I see no Republican signs downtown, but do still see Hillary signs up there in Oakwood amid the Republican ones, tells me more truth than the news. Not everyone has taken the extremist train to racist-sexist-xenophobia land.

Let’s just hope they all show up to vote the way they did at the Hugos.

Fresh Fiction: Hammers on Bone

In March of this year I got a DM from Cassandra Khaw asking if I’d take a look at her novella, Hammers on Bone. I get a lot of blurb requests these days, so stuff really needs to hit my buttons to keep me reading. I am a fan of Khaw’s short fiction (there’s plenty to check out, but here’s “Breathe” and “When We Die on Mars“) and she was first on my Campbell nomination list this year.

Khaw’s fiction runs the gammit of science fiction, fantasy, horror, urban fantasy, and weird. Hammers on Bone is a creepy Lovecraftian urban fantasy weird (?) novella that I read all in one gulp poolside in Orlando (some TW’s for violence against women). As I am short on time these days, I will simply share the blurb I wrote with you, and urge you all to check it out:

Cassandra Khaw’s explosive, evocative prose is a treat to read. Khaw’s ability to transform the mundane into the deeply phantasmagorical is nothing short of magical. Prepare to take a long leap into the gory, the weird, and the fantastic in the hands of a fresh new voice in fiction.




Westworld: Who We Are When the Lights Go Out


I’ve watched the first two episodes of Westworld, and like many of you, I watched in fear and trepidation, because we have seen this show. Remember Dollhouse? I was imagining Dollhouse done by HBO, and I admit I had my hands over my eyes the first time through, hoping they didn’t fuck this up. Because basically, you know: tits and explosions and sexual violence as titillation, because women are robots so you can do anything to them, just like real life and man, that sounds awful.


Here was the first tell: the co-writer/creator/executive producer is Lisa Joy (Nolan).  She has a lot of great writing credits under her belt, including Burn Notice, Pushing Daisies, and Battlestar Galatica. So yay, a woman co-creator on the show! Good. The second tell was this: the first two actors in the credits are Evan Rachel Wood and Thandi Newton. Not Anthony Hopkins and James Marsden. You generally give top billing to the main characters, right? No matter how they are listed in IMDB, that’s how they are listed in the opening credits.


It appears so, yes.

Fittingly, this is a show about bodily autonomy, and our most sympathetic heroes are the women in the show, and it’s setting up really well for this to be their story. Oh, there are some mis-steps in this: there’s a shot of a woman getting dragged away as seen in the reflection of a man’s eye, right there at the outset. We should have stayed in her POV throughout, and felt what she felt in a way we did later on in the episode, when she’s sobbing over her dead lover, and there at the beginning, when we see the man in black looming over her. But having watched that first episode twice now, this appears also to be part of the redirect.

When we are dropped into Westworld, we assume we are getting a certain type of show. I certainly did, anyway. We were going to follow Men Being Bad and Men Being Good and the robots would go crazy and kill everyone, probably, and have to be put down.

But the reversal of this expectation happens almost immediately. And it keeps getting better from there.

If “….(CHARACTER) is the oldest model in the park” doesn’t make your skin crawl at the end of episode one, you are dead to me.

I tried to write a more detailed analysis, full of spoilers, after writing this part, but I’ve found that I still can’t get all my thoughts together. The imagery here: the piano that plays according the script, the incredibly beautiful vistas hiding the darkness, the way the bodies are shot not as sexy but in this cold dead lighting that makes them look so sad, the cut aways from the worst violence (sexual and physical, except when one guy’s head is blown off), the incredible acting (holy fuck Louis Herthum’s performance with Hopkins), and of course, the obvious but necessary black and white hats. And I love the puffed-up gaming writer, the visibility of bisexual and lesbian characters (even in passing), the fact that the world wasn’t all white (tho still mostly so, alas). The quest givers and the little moments of beauty amid the horror, and OMG WHEN SHE WAKES UP ON THE TABLE HOLY SHIT THIS IS SO GREAT.

This is indeed Dollhouse meets Jurassic Park meets Groundhog Day, only seemingly far more aware of issues related to humanity, bodily integrity, and dare I say: women. I am watching this show for the same reason I watched Spartacus, and that’s because I CAN’T FUCKING WAIT for THE DAY OF RECKONING. You are just so ready for the robots to burn all this shit down.

Every monologue Hopkins gives makes it clear there is a heavy meat beneath the promise of this show, and by god, it better fucking deliver. Hope springs eternal because of that second episode, and the choice they made with the man in the white hat. I am used to nihilistic, dark, mean TV, and expected them to go what has now become the tired grimdark route, but this is promising to show us a far more varied place than that.

I will say it now: if this show actually delivers on the promises it makes in these first two episodes, we are in store for some fine, fine television. This whole show is right up my alley.

5 Years a Novelist: A Retrospective on the Writing Life

In January of 2011, about five years ago now, my first book, God’s War, was finally published after being bought and sold and sold again, since about 2007. That was a long and exhausting time, that publishing carousel.

But God’s War will always have a special place in my heart, as selling that series twice enabled me to get out of the poverty hole I’d been in, pay off the three credit cards I’d been living on for a year, and move out of my friends’ spare bedroom into my own apartment.

Five years later I have published six books, with two more coming out next year. I own a house and make a decent salary, so decent I was able to pay an unimaginable amount of money in an attempt to save my dog. Which is… something I could not have ever imagined doing five years ago. Five years ago I couldn’t even pay my own medical expenses.

I have experienced the best and the worst that publishing has to offer, in those five years. I had a bankrupt publisher (that still owes me thousands!) sold to another crappy publisher, and another publisher sold off that stalled the reprint of another book. I have won some awards. Critical acclaim! Great reviews! Drinking with authors! Blurbs!

It’s a bit astonishing to look back and realize all that has happened in just five years. I mean, shit, no wonder people drop out after a decade. Just five years in the business feels like a thirty-year career.

Last year was the first year I made what I’d consider a living wage via novel writing and Patreon dollars alone. This year, I made much less, which is why I still have a day job. The writing life is, as ever, fickle. You never know what the year will bring.

It’s very strange to meet newer/younger writers who look up to me these days, or who think I’m an established pro. Because even tho, gosh, I guess I am, if you look at the year count here, I’ve only been publishing novels for five years. Hardly a lifetime. But maybe that IS a lifetime, in publishing? The thing is, I spent fifteen years prior to that just working on craft, writing other novels that didn’t sell, publishing short stories, trying to break in. So even if I only start the publishing clock at “novel published” I’m really twenty years in.

I know so many writers who don’t make it past a debut book, or a debut series. And I don’t blame them. There’s a lot of disappointment in this industry, mainly driven by flawed expectations. To be a novelist is to be a glorified freelancer, with all the benefits and drawbacks of that type of life. You write and license your content to third parties. If you’re lucky, the content makes you some money beyond the initial advance. If you’re really lucky, it takes off and becomes your lottery ticket. But most books do just well enough to get you the next deal. The next shot. The next step in your career.

Whenever I get frustrated at the grind, I remind myself that I’m just five years in, and it’s going to get tougher. Oh, certainly, some aspects are more fun, as well. Conventions are better, now that I know more people. My writing is better, even if it doesn’t come any easier. And I know myself and what I want much better, which makes negotiations and expectations better, too. I’m learning more about structure, and more about what a “Kameron Hurley” novel really is. I have a lot of ideas for future work.

When I was a teenager, I expected to be making a living writing by the time I was 24. Today I do make a living writing, and actually have been doing so, since 27. Just… not as a novel writer. As a marketing writer. It’s not a bad gig. But it’s certainly not what I expected. The novel money is the gravy. The novel money gets me to conventions. Helps pay off debt. Pays those vet bills. But it’s still not what covers the mortgage or the food.

And, you know, maybe that’s better, five years in. Five years in, I still get to write the books I want. I think about the market, but I don’t worry about it, because if I have a book that tanks, I won’t starve. Maybe that is the freedom one gets, freedom one doesn’t have later unless one has already written that one-book wonder that pays the bills forever.

For now, I am redoubling my efforts to focus on the writing itself. It’s easy to get discouraged by the business, far too easy, to the point that you forget about the work. When you realize that the money from the work saved me from a deep hole of poverty just five years ago, you can see how it can be hard for me not to worry about the money. But to worry over that is to give up one my true north, and what I’m here for. To worry about that is to worry about something I can control only marginally. Readers do the rest.

So here’s to the next five years of the writing life. I expect them to be just as exhilarating, horrifying, hilarious, disappointing, and hopeful as the first five.

And yes, I intend to be here for them. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

More Books I Have Been Reading

When you find yourself casting about for ideas, it means it’s time to refill the bucket. So I have been. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of what I’ve been reading the last few weeks.

Writing How-To’s

I Give You My Body: How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon

51swfw1xiul-_sy346_As those who’ve read my work know, while I do have the occasional sex scene in my novels, it’s generally only a few lines. My books aren’t romances, so this isn’t something I’ll dwell on for pages, but sex is still an important thing to my characters, and I have wanted to have more emotional turning points in the bedroom (or wherever) than I have. I’ve read a few primers on writing sex scenes, but this was the first I’ve read that I actually found useful. Gabaldon’s note that the more senses you can engage in a scene, the more tactile it becomes was a really helpful and practical way to think about these scenes.


Take off Your Pants: Outline your books for faster, better writing

5100lvz-oql-_sy346_This was NOT about writing sex scenes, of course, but novel outlines and creating master plots so that you can write faster, more efficiently, and of course, write better page turners. Unlike 2K to 10k, it didn’t really change my life or anything, but it provided some good outline suggestions (and noted, once again, that if you’re REALLY interested in structure, head over to those screenwriting books. Screenwriters are obsessed with structure). I wouldn’t pay for a paperback of this, but three bucks for it on Kindle is fair (it’s only 100 pages).


Book Research

Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer

51nmwmxnxtl-_sx328_bo1204203200_This was one of those books that fundamentally changed how I view the world. Seanan McGuire recommended it to me on Twitter, and I AM SO GLAD. I’ve become very interested in how tied humans are to the organic systems here on earth. We need bacteria from this planet, something that we need to keep in mind if we choose to leave said planet. This book goes a step further and posits that we need those wormy parasites, too, and that many of them, in fact, have been integral to our own development. I’d read a lot of other studies about hookworms curing or reducing the symptoms of chronic immune disorders like lupus and type 1 diabetes, and this book points out that the rise of immuno-disorders like these can indeed be tracked to the elimination of parasites. As the parasites are destroyed, these types of diseases increase. So do allergies. Our immune systems are incredibly powerful, because they have been driven by parasites to become that way. So when you remove the parasites, they are more likely to go haywire and start attacking the body itself. Introduce some worms, and the chemicals that the worms put out suppress your immune system. All this time I thought my problem was I had a shit immune system. It turns out it’s actually very good. So good that it’s trying to kill me. If you want to bend the way you think of humans and how “great” the miracle of life is in the world, check out this book. Halfway through reading about all the terrible things parasites do to animals and people, I decided that it was totally OK for life everywhere to go extinct and all these barren rocks are actually the pinnacle of civilized existence, because for fuck’s sake, life is fucking CRUEL AND AWFUL. I mean, in a fascinating way.

Grunt by Mary Roach

41snvmsomkl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Because I clearly can’t get enough Mary Roach books, I also read Grunt, her examination of some of the less talked about and less glamorous sides of the military. Lots of interesting details here about sleeping, eating, and shitting on a military campaign, and the bazillions of dollars in wild studies that go on (polar bears think used tampons are delicious, but other bears aren’t interested, so hey, don’t run around naked in Alaska while menstruating. Read and find out!).  There is plenty of heartbreak in here, as well. The roundtable of medical professionals who go over the deaths of soldiers in the field and point out how they could have been better treated on the field so that they survived their injuries was sobering.


Death’s Acre: Inside the legendary forensic lab the body farm where the dead do tell tales by William Bass

41z4p5lu2fl-_sx324_bo1204203200_I’ve heard about The Body Farm on Bones, of course, so I had to check out this book. It’s a great long look at this life of forensic anthropologist William Bass, who got started doing forensic anthropology back in the 50’s before there really was such a thing. There are some shocking truths here, among them that he and his team spent many summers in the 50’s digging up, literally, thousands of Native American graves before they were covered by water by a dam project. How they find the cemeteries is interesting, and the science is cool, but we’re talking about cemetaries that really aren’t that old, belonging to ancestors of people still alive, and the sheer number here was staggering. What I did appreciate is that he does not look away from these terrible truths of how forensic science was developed. The bodies of the poor, of slaves, of those with less power in society, had their skeletons pulled. For years the body farm actually used corpses from the local morgue of poor people whose bodies were never claimed by anyone. I mean. Wow. This is a wide-eyed look at what has been done to advance forensic science, dark and gray and everything in between. It doesn’t pretend it’s not messy and morally messed up.

The Red Market: On the trail of the world’s organ brokers, bone thieves, blood farmers, and child traffikers by Scott Carney

51low0njnql-_sy346_So, with Death’s Acre, the narrator dug up thousands of Native American graves. That’s… pretty atrocious, despite how “great” it was for “science.” He also sticks to a lot of assumptions about skeletons and race while admitting that actually a lot of those markers can be wrong. But he was not, overall, painted as an unlikable person, if that makes any sense whatsoever. At the end of the day, I respected what he did and found plenty of other admirable things about him. That’s not true of the narrator of this book, who came across like a privileged whiny white kid shocked SHOCKED at the state of the “third world.” A lot of stuff here that got presented felt like rumor mongering. He didn’t question many of the reports, and appeared to do a very small surface level of actual reporting. The book has a great title, but I wouldn’t say it presented anything new, to me. Worse, it starts out with him giving us this personal story of how one of the young people he was leading as a tour/teaching guide committed suicide in a foreign country, and his narrative about it is so self-reflective, so narcissistic (and creepily sexualizes her in death) that it was really tough to get through the rest of the book with this guy as my guide. It’s got a great title and cover, tho. So, there’s that.

Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Francis Larson

61e-odigl6l-_sy346_Another book I was recommended via twitter and yeah, wow, this one is great. If you ever doubted that Europeans were bloody weird scary conquering nutjobs, this book will put you straight. I read an amazing book back when I was working on my Master’s thesis called Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa, which talks about all the seemingly “crazy” myths about Europeans that many Africans in the Congo in particular had about Europeans. That they were vampires, that they kidnapped people for their blood, and all sorts of other stuff, and you know, after reading about Europeans actually did in Africa, this shit is not crazy at all. Not in the least. Horrible shit went down. This one also points out how seemingly “barbaric” practices like headhunting were actually driven by European demand (much like scalping). The human obsession with heads across many cultures is explored, and it’s grim and gruesome. For instance, did you know that American GI’s took home Japanese soldiers’ heads in WWII as trophies? You know whose heads they DIDN’T take home? Nazi heads. Why? Racism. This, too, is explored in depth.

Life Hacks

Purple Cow by Seth Godin

514fkvz8z9l-_sx361_bo1204203200_This is a classic Godin book with some outdated examples and such, but the premise of the book still holds up. No matter what business your in, the market is most likely oversaturated. As an author writing in a world clogged with trad and self-pubb’d books, and movies and games and TV and social media and VR fighting for people’s attention, getting eyes on your project is a fucking struggle these days. Godin notes that if you want to stand out, you need to offer something truly and absolutely exceptional. You need to come up with a purple cow. Figuring out what your purple cow is, of course, is the problem. Worse is figuring out how to come up with the NEXT purple cow once everyone else is making purple cows like yours. The gosh-wow treadmill we’re on these days makes me wish I could have built a writing career back in the 80’s.

Stop Saying You’re Fine by Mel Robbins

51bdmtwyrl-_sx322_bo1204203200_One of those self-help books for folks feeling stuck in a life rut. Am I in a life rut? Well, I’ve certainly been cruising along here for five years or so without a lot of massive leaps in forward momentum. My career is ticking up, but slowly, so slowly, the long author marathon, and sometimes it moves forward so slowly so sure do FEEL like you’re standing still. Some good ass-kicking here, some strategies. It did get me to finally institute my sticker motivation calendar. Baby steps.



Elektrograd: Rusted Blood by Warren Ellis

41qqumeoovlSome good Weird fiction. Don’t expect to get pulled in by the vague plot or enticed by the interesting characters, but gosh-wow worldbuilding, etc. The apartment blocks are these living things that get up and move. Took me a bit to get through, but… worldbuildling.


I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas


I read this one in… like, two days? It was a surprisingly light, easy read from Mamatas, which was not quite what I expected. A murder goes down at a Lovecraft convention, so you’ve got a murder mystery to drive the “plot,” but the book is mostly an excuse to poke fun at the convention community as a whole. Having been to my fair share of conventions now, I recognize all of these types (there is a disclaimer in LARGE LETTERS at the front of the book insisting that these are all fictional characters, but you know…), and I admit to rolling with laughter at many scenes, especially the ones of panels (“But I AM the moderator!”) because it was a lot like being there. There’s a lot of in-jokes and nods to real SFF controversies. My main issue with the book was that I couldn’t figure out the protagonist’s motivation to solve the murder (and the police weren’t terribly convincing, but hey, Cthulu’s influence can work as an excuse for everything). As a newcomer to the convention scene who barely knew the guy who gets killed, she does things that make sense for the plot, but I never figured out her personal stakes. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter. It was a breezy popcorn read, which I admit is not something I ever thought I’d say about a Mamatas book. My spouse eagerly grabbed this from me after I was done, and I think he’ll enjoy it as well. This was published by Night Shade Books, who I hate supporting because they still owe me a shitbrick of money, but it was a fun book.

America’s Long Hangover

Good morning, America. Are you hungover? Honestly, I think I’ve been hungover since the 2000 election, which was a whopping 16 years ago. Two timelines diverged in a wood, and lo, we took the darker one, and here we are, America, perpetually drunk or hungover.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why nobody cared to show up to that election. We’d come off the prosperity of  Bill Clinton’s 90’s, artificially created by the deregulation of the banks that would eventually undo us all. While the Silicon Valley bubble had already burst, credit was still cheap and easy to come by (and would be until the great crash of 2008).  I know someone who was able to consolidate their student loans during this period at a 1% interest rate. I didn’t have a credit card with more than an 8% interest rate, with most of them coming in at 3-6%. It was a freewheeling time to be alive in America if you could get access to credit. But that bubble was set to burst. And when it did burst, we’d be at war, a war that still wages today.

When everything fell apart we didn’t have somebody at the helm smart enough to figure out what to do. War, instead, would have to solve everything for eight long years. No president is perfect, but Obama helped many of us dig out of that hole. Are things better for everyone? Well. They are better than they were in 2009, say, and they are better for pretty much everyone, though they may not remember it. At the very least, every American now has access to health insurance, whether they have pursued it or not. We are no longer barred from it for financial or medical reasons. But the war continues under Obama, as well as the nefarious spying on Americans, the dubious “war on terror” fought at home at abroad, blowing up kids in foreign countries and inciting anti-Muslim sentiment from coast to coast.

There continue to be “no more manufacturing jobs” which really, we haven’t had since the early 80’s, but my god, so many people continue to mourn them. There are far too many cities trying to woo them back instead of investing in something else. Invest in cell phone towers, IT startups, solar plants, fucking anything but fucking dead manufacturing jobs. We want an America that our grandparents had without the 90% tax rate on the rich that made that America possible. How do you think they paid for World War II? Taxes. It was still patriotic to pay taxes, then. We want that idea of America without making anyone pay for it.

Drunk or hungover, that’s America.

Many elections are characterized, in truth, by a lackluster amount of emotion. Nobody got excited about Bush or Kerry, or Bush or Gore (in part because Gore never talked about things he was passionate about but also see: false sense of prosperity. When you are mostly comfortable, what’s there to get excited about?). The second round Bush made, he was able to drum up the “war on terror” fear-mongering, and hey, that works. But so does Obama’s tact of going with hope. He ran on hope, and he won twice (legitimately, without having to call his brother in Florida to ask him to call the race for him). Hope can win, too. It’s why it’s so aggravating to watch an incompetent bankrupt narcissist run on fear, the oldest playbook, and use that emotion to pull so many people into his orbit. Worse is to watch him go up against the most qualified presidential candidate – maybe ever – who has been knocked down so many times she should not have kept going, but who is going anyway, and fuck you for getting in the way.

We forget that it was Hillary Clinton who was heading that first tentative effort at universal healthcare in the 90’s. And the GOP destroyed her for it. After that failed bid, she went back to safer “first lady” type things, like doing stuff for kids. Even though the very best thing anyone could have done for children and families in America was create universal healthcare (they did manage to expand coverage to cover a lot of kids). So she backed off, but she was not out. She was never out.


Hillary Clinton’s dogged perseverance is a thing to behold. Whenever I’m feeling shit about my own life, and my own challenges, I remember that she’s fucking 68 years old, and has weathered the very worst that an entire political party can throw at her, and here she is, still going. The fact that she had to share a stage with some mediocre white man after literally dedicating her life to political service and the political game to prepare her for this moment is fucking insulting to women everywhere. Like, everywhere. Everywhere. Because we have all been in that place, where we’re more qualified than the dude talking over us, where we have better ideas, better work ethic, where we are simply better in every way, and we keep waiting for folks to see it while he froths and gesticulates and jacks off at a meeting, and you can’t lose your shit, even though he is, because while he will be called “passionate” for spitting angry shit at everyone, you’ll be called “emotional.” So you sit on your hands, and you wait for him to wear himself out, and you start again with reason and logic, even knowing that it’s emotion that wins arguments, not logic. And you do all this knowing that no matter how smart and logical you are, it’s very possible he could still win out, because people are fucking stupid. People are emotional. And yes, “People” includes men, there (a VP at a company I worked for threw a cup at a woman once. He was not fired, suspended, anything. Zilch).

That’s America, too, and that’s my own long hangover. Trying not to yell in meetings. Performance reviews where I’m told I’m, “too smart” and come across as “arrogant,” and all I could think was, “Shit, if I was a dude I’d be getting a huge raise right now.” Oh, certainly, things have worked out for me, too, as they have for Clinton. She’s a fucking major presidential nominee, after all. You don’t get there without moving some large mountains. But you remember the bullshit that wouldn’t be in your way if you were a dude. And she and I would have had a greater mountain of bullshit if we weren’t white, or cis.

Yet there is hope, here, for me and for her and for many of us, because even if this turns into some squalling nightmare, the dark-er, darkest-er, timeline… no, stop. Let’s not even go there.


AS KC Green says:


(updated comic here)

This is not fucking fine. Not one bit of this. Our perpetual drunken hangover is not fine. It’s no way to live. Being angry and scared all the time when we live in an era of unprecedented technological and social change, with a lower crime and murder rate than pretty much ever, is not fine. Falling for the same old fear-mongering bullshit, in every era, is not fine. Repeating the same old far-right hatemongering decade after decade, even and especially when people are still ALIVE who remember fighting against a people whose far-right xenophobia made it possible for them to systematically murder over 6 million people is not fine (and people are still ALIVE who were PART of this murdering).

As a student of history, I find that watching the same historical wheel turn again and again, watching humanity make the same mistakes again and again, really tiring. I get that Hillary Clinton does not represent a passionate positive emotion for people. She is not hopey-changey stuff. She is a tough politician. She will give us a continuation of Obama’s policies. We are voting in the current status quo. Which is SUPER better than the status quo of 2008, yeah. But the status quo is not super exciting. Sure, the path we’re on now is messy and taking forever and change is hard and mean and exhausting, but it’s happening. Because I’ll tell you what’s WORSE than the road we’re on, and that’s the road that leads to murderball, The Handmaid’s Tale, nuclear war with Russia, and internment camps.

Are we living in a dystopia? Sure. We are living in the 80’s Robocop future where corporations control everything because the government is too afraid to tax them and use the money on infrastructure, which would in turn create tons of jobs and improve not only the economy, but working class morale, too. Regan put us on this road in the 80’s, and we’ve never truly jumped back and realized the error of our ways. Deregulation, busting up unions, closing mental health facilities… none of those things was great for the middle class. They were great for rich people.

Yet strangest of all (or not, if you know history) we are living in a Robocop future where dissatisfied white people, in particular, put the blame for this future on immigrants, welfare fraud, and uppity non-white people instead of people like the millionaire running against Clinton who hasn’t paid his taxes in 14 years. I know how we got here, because it’s how we’ve always gotten here. What I want to understand is how we fix it, and how we fix it is the same way we did before:

We pitch hope instead of fear. Change instead of nostalgia.

Sure, the world is a big, scary place. Shit is moving incredibly fast. Snapchat has sunglasses that you can use to record things now, and it will succeed where Google Glass failed because the glasses actually look cool (also you can call them “specs” or “snap specs” and how cool is that). Also there are no more jobs with pensions and no job security but you can freelance any old fucking thing and telecommute from almost anywhere. Healthcare is expensive and can still put you into debt, but everyone can be insured now, which means you won’t get turned away. Also, we don’t have hookworms or other parasites anymore, most of us, and that’s pretty cool.

I mean, take what you can get.

But I’m not going to pitch more fear of the DARKER-EST timeline here, America. Instead, I’m going to tell you to stop drinking and wake the fuck back up (especially you, fellow white people). Wake the fuck up and start doing shit,and be brave, like these folks and these folks and her and fucking her, for God’s sake. And if you can’t fucking DO shit, then at least vote for an actual future. Show up and do the bare minimum and cancel the apocalypse.

There is a better world out there, but achieving it requires good people to actually do something. All it takes for the worst to come out in all of us is for good people to do nothing, and just keep drinking.

So which will you do?



The Madhatter Teaparty: Rescuing Your Characters from Endless Cups of Tea

Plot kicks my ass. It kicks my ass up one end of a story and down another, because honestly, all my characters want to do is snark at each other over tea. Or whisky. Or coffee. Or bug juice. Whatever. Any excuse for them to sit around flinging zingers at each other and discussing what they are going to do next works for me.

This over reliance on tea-and-conversation scenes is a hallmark of discovery or gardener writers like me. When we get stuck on what happens next, we just sit the characters down for a chat and let them figure it out. Needless to say, this is a time consuming bit of lazy writing, because while it may get us where we’re going eventually, we can spend literally thousands upon thousands of words over the course of a novel having the characters explain the plot to each other, and then we have to go back and remove all those scenes or make them more interesting in their final form (I spent a lot of time in Empire Ascendant in particular going back and making talking scenes more interesting. For real: in the first draft, the first 150 pages of that book was just people talking).

Since I started writing the Worldbreaker Saga, my goal has been to work hard on how I plot and draft novels so that I can write faster, stronger, and more readable stories. But when I was up last night putting in my 500 words for the new Nyx novella dropping on Patreon this month, I immediately caught myself falling into my old routine. After Nyx and her mercenary companions apprehend a rogue Death Magician in a nice action-packed opening, I wrote this:

Khos sat under a tattered awning, mouthing the words on the menu as a scrawny Nasheenian kid peered over his shoulder like a bird. Nyx saw a cup but no tea, nothing that looked remotely wet in that damn cup, sure as fuck not her either, and that annoyed her. He was always coming up with slim excuses to shirk off his work.

            He raised his big head, and had the sense to get up when she  came over the low fence surrounding the tea shop.

            “The fuck, Khos?” she said.

            “You found her?” he said.

            “No thanks to you,” she said. “I’m splitting this bounty with Anneke, cutting you out.”

            “I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said.

            “I don’t give a fuck what you think. Why are you always late to the game, Khos?”

            His glacial face moved into a frown. For all his bulk and careful movements made him seem slow, he wasn’t. Oh, sure, he wasn’t the best to pick up on social cues, but he wasn’t completely stupid. She didn’t like stupid people on her team, and she certainly never fucked stupid people, so he must not be stupid, even though she hated his face in this moment. 

            She reached for the teacup only to have her hand spasm. She shook out the tingling numbness and gripped the cup purposely. If anyone noticed, they said nothing. 

            Falling apart, she was.

            “Get me whisky,” she said, shaking the empty cup.

            “This is a dry town,” Khos said.

            She loomed over the scrawny kid. “Whisky,” she said.

            The kid took off.

            Nyx slumped into the chair across from Khos. “She had two death head beetles on her,” Nyx said.

            “Like the last one,” he said.

            “Want to get them back to Rhys,” she said. 

It just goes on and on like this. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this scene, the truth is I have written tea-and-plot scenes so many times that they bore the crud out of me. And I can’t imagine how much they bore readers, at this point, even with the hints of conflict and tension woven in here.

And while the scene achieves several things: we get a pause after the opening action to regroup; we cover next steps; we get some character moments – I found myself a couple hundred words in before realized I was leaning on my old go-to scene just to churn out a few hundred words and call it done for the night. It repeats information about the beetle, and the fact that they have apprehended the suspect. While I like that it sets up Nyx’s usual distrust of Khos – conflict is always good – I feel I can do this in a scene with a cooler setting that ties into the plot. This could be a shooting range, or a public pool, or a kitchen where Khos is learning local recipes, you know, something that does more than the invisible “tea and whisky chat.” While sometimes you DO have to have a “talk plot” scene, it’s far better to have a “walk and talk plot” scene (or sex-and-exposition scene, which the GoT TV series has become famous for. That’s their own lazy writing go-to for these sorts of scenes).  Better is to have this scene happen somewhere that ties into the overall plot/theme of the book: this scene should happen at or near a crematorium, or in a morgue where Khos is searching bodies to see if any of the recent dead are among the girl’s gang. Fixing this is a classic “pope in the pool” technique from Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat ( was watching Mr. Robot recently and laughed uproariously at the first episode, because the main character literally saves a dog and I was like, Wow I can see how that conversation played out. “This character needs to be more likable. Have him save a cat or something!” And lo, the dog was saved. That likability probably could have been better achieved without inserting a dog into the show that then has to be mentioned again and again throughout; unless one is setting up the dog to serve some other purpose).

Leaning on your go-to lazy writing techniques happens even more when you’re writing fast, in short bursts. This is the trouble with giving myself short evening writing goals, and one of the reasons I prefer Saturday binge writing sessions when I can set everything up and write out what comes next. But I’m reserving my Saturdays for working on The Broken Heavens, and this novella won’t get done if I don’t carve out time for it. What this scene reinforced for me is the necessity of sitting down and writing out a couple of sentences about the scene I’m going to write before I write it, even if it’s only 500 words. Otherwise they are all going to end up like this. And while I can go back and fix it later to a morgue or crematorium scene, that’s a pain in the ass. Better to catch myself before I do it and fix it then. The more I write, the easier it is for all the writing to sound the same. Writing in a state of flow doesn’t always mean you write the best ideas, only the ones easiest for your brain to latch onto. While the may be great for the first couple of books, at some point your go-to stuff starts to feel like old hat. You have to start working harder, thinking the scenes through, figuring out how every piece works together and becomes resonant instead of just relying on your brain stew.

Remember that this is not BAD, to do. Plenty of people write the same book over and over and do well doing that. But I don’t want to be OK or even just Good. I want to be GREAT. And these days, with the competition that books have with other sorts of media for readers’ time, I don’t feel that I can afford to be “OK” or even “Good.” More and more, I see that there is only room for great, and everything else.

I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke

This, from Merrit Tierce, has been making the rounds:

I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke

My first thought: yeah, well, welcome to the club.

Ha ha, just kidding: I kept my day job. I kept my day job – I keep my day job – even though some days it pains the hell out of me, because yeah, I’d be broke immediately if I quit. Like, no contest. And I’ve published five novels and an essay collection in the last 5 years, with two more novels coming out next year. So.

My straight talk about writing and finances is what I get the most pushback about. Everybody wants this to be the million-dollar Scalzi blog, but yanno: there is the 1% of writers, and then there is… everyone else. Not that I don’t intend to be the 1% at some point (DON’T WE ALL!) but you have got to be real in this business about where you are and where you’re headed and how you plan to get there. Because you are going to be spending a lot of time grinding your way up in this biz, and you need to be prepared.

A lot of aspiring writers call these finance posts “depressing” and “brutal,” and yes, it may be those things, but it’s also the truth. Seeing it get a lot of play at larger venues just makes me roll my eyes and go, “See, kids, I’m not making this shit up.” Yes, this is real. This is the hustle. Huge numbers of “acclaimed” books sell a few thousand copies. Selling 12,000 copies in your first year as a debut author, as Tierce did, is pretty good! I think my first novel, God’s War sold like 10,000 its first year, and was also nominated for and the winner of a couple awards. We can’t all be The Girl on the Train, mmmkay? That magical shit that sometimes happens to books is pretty out of our control. The most you can do with your own marketing push is stay afloat in the midlist.

But this isn’t what the media would lead us to think is pretty good, and from the sound of it, her advance was so great that she hasn’t earned it back on those numbers yet, so I dunno, I would not be boo-hooing about that. Sounds like a good advance for a debut novel. Next time, tho: snap up that two-book deal. You only get to be a debut, with debut-risk dollars, once.

But of course, Tierce isn’t complaining about this so much as she is marveling and noting upon the difference between public perception of what it is to be an “acclaimed” writer and the financial reality, a dissonance I’ve been struggling with myself for some time. It’s a weird place to be, where people scream with joy when you walk into a room and burst into tears at your signing and swoon when you give them a blurb, but you’re cashing a royalty check for $800, which you’re dumping into your dead dog’s old medical bills before heading into your day job. You often feel like you’re a hamster on a wheel, or a ditch digger who’s been employed to dig out and fill in the same hole day after day, book after book.

I have seen this sudden, shocking realization – that writing is a job, a hustle – destroy a lot of debut writers. Many of them, like Tierce, have trouble with that second book. I was lucky enough to have already completed my second book by the time my first came out. Yet I too have stared down the barrel of reality, and found it wanting. It gets to me sometimes, too, when it’s not just “Breaking in for a few years” but “Breaking in for a few decades.” Dedicating oneself to a singular purpose with that sort of passion and stamina is rare in any field. But in writing, as in any field, the longer you are in it, the harder you work, the more chances you have to break out, to get lucky. Writing a novel is still better odds than playing the lottery, but only just. If you are looking for your self-esteem in your sales numbers or the size of your royalty checks (if you get them) you are on a fast road to disappointment.

This is why I encourage folks to have writing goals that aren’t tied to bestsellerdom or advance numbers. Oh, sure, HAVE those goals, too, but look for goals that are things you can control. Stuff like: write a book every year, or every two years. Or write a comic book. Or write a screenplay. Something you can do on your own, not something that relies on the goodwill, opinion, or marketing dollars of someone else. You will go mad in this business if you tie your business success to your self-worth. Writers who have spouses with solid day jobs, or trust funds, or connections from rich parents, are always going to be better positioned to get opportunities than you. But again: it’s like that in any industry. All you have is your unique voice, and your ability to persist.

If you’re a fan, knowing how much even “acclaimed” authors make is good to know for you, too. Writers don’t want to be jerks about going to events, but if you can’t pay them to go, you know: a lot of us can’t make it. Hell, even if we’re making good day job money, we are often limited by how much time off we’re allowed to take. One of the things that will shock you when you start going up through the pro writer ranks is how little money everyone makes from writing. Many award-winning writers live in poverty, living hand to mouth on freelance projects and praying they don’t have a health disaster because they have shit health insurance (or none at all).

Making a living wage as a writer is not a given. It’s not the norm. The year you spend working on that novel might net you $5,000 if you’re lucky. Add up those hours at minimum wage and let’s be real, you’d make way more working a minimum wage job than writing a novel. That’s the reality. That’s the odds. You do it because you enjoy it, because you’re good at it, because you like it better than flipping burgers.

But don’t expect the world to coddle and support your inner artist any more than it would coddle and support your inner grillmaster. The hustle is the same. The grind is no prettier. Writing is not a get-rich quick scheme. Fans, media, and aspiring writers need to stop positioning it as one.

Going Dark ’til January 9th to Prep for EPIC 2017

I’ve cancelled the rest of my appearances for this year, which I know surprised and worried a lot of people, but frankly, there is a lot of writerly-shit on deck right now, and I keep falling further and further behind. You have to know when to cut off promo and shift into writing hermit mode, and this is that time. So: no more appearances til next year, and no more hours spent being chatty on Twitter until January, which I am announcing here so I will hold myself to this pledge. You may get the occasional post if I feel up to ranting about something, or if I have some announcements, but that’s it.


Folks know that I pride myself on hitting my deadlines, but since we sold GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION last year and slipped it into our existing contracted publication schedule, I have just never been able to catch up. Dates keep sliding: a couple weeks, a couple months, and now four months for BROKEN HEAVENS. Note that we have pushed back this release to later in 2017 as well: it was running too close to the release date for THE STARS ARE LEGION and creeping deadlines for that book have interfered with my writing of tBH. I had to push that date way out or risk pushing it out again at the end of every month and then looking flighty. I want to get back to hitting my deadlines like a pro instead of doing that wishy-washy “artist” thing.

When I look out at the crazy that is my life in search of more hours in the day, I find them on social media, where I can easily waste 2-3 hours a day or more. That’s great during promo times, but right now in deadline mode, those are hours I should be writing or reading books.

Lots of folks are like, well, what else are you doing? And folks, you know: I have a day job on top of this wild publication schedule, which eats a lot of time and which I’ve also gotten behind on these last few months. I also have a pilot script I’m working on with a producer (don’t get excited. 99% of these never go anywhere, but it’s a good exercise). I have Patreon stories I need to produce so we can finish paying off Drake-the-dog’s vet bills by the end of the year and still have Christmas.


If you want to help with the vet bill backlog, you can contribute here or via Paypal Donate button below:

I’m also going to take some family trips with my spouse and the dogs and just enjoy life here during my favorite season, because shit, I need a real fucking vacation. I have been grinding hard for the last two years, figuring that a break out was just around the corner. But a novel career is a marathon, not a sprint, and you can’t full-out sprint for two years without injury. So less sprinting, more living.  I intend to take a week or two off through the end of the year for actual rest and vacation instead of my usual working-writing vacation, too.

A lot of folks don’t realize what kind of costs come with trying to build a novel career while holding down a full-time day job. I work constantly, no joke. People always want to know the secret, and working constantly is pretty much it. But you can’t get up at 5:30 a.m. to do promo projects and posts, go to a day job from 8-5, do a couple more writer-related hours in the evening with contracts or reprint markets, spend 10 hours writing on Saturday, and then write columns on Sunday and expect to keep that pace going for years on end without repercussions. I have heard of too many writers burning out, and doing that for years on end is a great way to court burn out. No thanks!

So, my next public appearance will be ConFusion in January of 2017, and that will kick off an epic year of traveling. I’ll be a Guest of Honor at Swecon in Uppsala, Sweden and am attending WorldCon in Helsinki, as well as Gencon. I also have TWO books out next year, so hey, wow, yeah. I need to prep the fuck up for what is going to be a wild 2017.

To sum up: 2017 IS GOING TO BE EPIC.

So I will be largely absent from Twitter and ye olde blog, but you may find me making appearances on Instagram or posting scheduled content. But I won’t be interacting as usual.

That said, if there are any GRAND NEWS REVEALS, or new Patreon stories, I’m sure I’ll pop in and let ya’ll know.

Now, to the word mines! See you in January, unless there’s some good news before then.

Need to contact me urgently? Well, you know where to go. 


P.S. Also we have this new dog, Indiana! And who wouldn’t want to spend MOAR TIME with this cute hamface of a dog?


Why Being a Writer is an Exercise in Cognitive Dissonance

Being a writer is a weird thing. I guess any time you live publicly, it’s like living in an abusive relationship. You’ve got a bunch of people publicly and simultaneously declaring that you are the most talented and humane person in the world… and also the biggest jerk hack that ever lived.

This is one of the reasons why I encourage people to have a very firm internal compass. It helps to have good friends and colleagues to reach out to when you’re feeling low, sure, but if you don’t have a firm grasp on who you are and what you want to express, it can be really easy to lose yourself. This is one reason why I’m glad I’m seeing the success I am seeing now at 36 instead of 26, because I have a much better handle on who I am. I can stand taller and firmer in the onslaught.

There have been many times when my editors or agent made a suggestion that I decided not to go with and was happy about. Other times, I wished I would have taken their advice instead. But at every turn, I trusted myself to make the right decision… even when it was wrong. More often than not, having a firm internal compass ensured that I made the book I wanted to make. Better, it continues to ensure that I’m making the books I want to make even after the reviews come up and people even higher up on the food chain start asking for changes. I know when to bend, and when to pass.

Living publicly can be very strange, as you have people reacting to your work like they know you, and can Intuit All. For the most part, I just roll my eyes at this, but I can see how reading some of the things people say about you and your work in public can get to you if you don’t stay the course. When a bunch of people say you are a hack, it can be super easy to stop and wonder, “Gee, am I a hack?” and veer off course. I’ve been reading about some very interesting studies where people who check a box on a questionnaire that says, “I am altruistic” are more likely to do something altruistic in the days and weeks that follow. This is because our minds don’t like to live in a state of cognitive dissonance. Unless you are a sociopath, your brain really wants to align your actions so that they gel with who and what you say you are.

This is one reason why imbibing toxic images and statements is so very bad for us. The more we internalize negative statements about ourselves, the more likely we are to become those things. “I am a shit writer,” or “I am a bad human being,” are not good things to make a part of your internal litany. Instead, for instance, when I get rejections my internal monologue is, “FUCK YOU I AM A GENIUS YOU WILL RUE THE DAY YOU SLIGHTED ME.” And yanno, that’s worked pretty great for me so far.

If you’re a newer writer coming up through the field, or a pro struggling to keep up the slog, I urge you to formulate your career and ego compass as early as possible, and to stay your course. I’ve had a couple of opportunities recently that I had to weigh carefully against what I wanted my career to be, and whether or not it kept me on target. If I am here to do good, to change the world, to make it easier for those to come after me, to advance my original work to get the message to a broader audience, then knowing all those things makes it easier to decide which projects to pursue and which not to. It also keeps me grounded when angry people yell that I’m a hack, because I often see myself in them. I am The Machine, and they are the Rage, now. I have been the Rage. I have needed a Machine to rail against, to push at, to use as my guidepost and inspire my own work. I’m OK with folks who hate on me because it inspires them to do better. I’ve been there. Some of those writers I railed against are my favorite-ist colleagues now. Other haters, you know, the trolls: they don’t bug me at all. Again, not sure why, I just… I guess I know too many real life trolls. I know that it’s not me they hate, but their own place in the world. Some use hate to drive them to do better; those ones I get. But the ones who hate just to wallow in it, those I just throw out, because living successfully in public means not only drawing legitimate criticism, but drawing the ire of those afraid to get off the couch. Being able to tell the difference, and adjust or throw out accordingly, is a public person’s greatest skill. It’s one I encourage you to cultivate early.

Most importantly, though, is that no matter how many voices plague you – well-meaning or no – you have got to stick to your path. In this world, not everyone is going to love you. Nor should they. You aren’t here to be liked. You’re here to change the world. Adjust your internal monologue accordingly. At the end of the day, yours is the only one you have to live with.