GenCon

July 30th, 2015

As you can see, I haven’t posted any new Poetry Summer stuff; it turns out I’m way too busy with work and travel to memorize any poems. As an example: I’m at
GenCon this week! Which is awesome, but makes memorizing and posting poems hard.

If you’re at GenCon, you can find me at the following panels:

Thursday
12: Atmospheric Writing, room 245
4: Killing Off Characters, room 245
5: Researching For Writing, room 245

Friday
12: Plot Design, room 244

Saturday
6: Writing Excuses, room 242

And if you happen to be here with a Warmachine army, an X-Wing fleet, or some Netrunner decks, so am I! Find me in person or on Twitter, and let’s play.

#PoetrySummer is back!

June 17th, 2015

A few years ago I decided to challenge myself to memorize a poem every week, and it was awesome. I worked with my friend Brian, a high school English teacher, and we put everything online to keep ourselves accountable. If you’re so inclined you can search through the archives of this very blog to find those old posts (look for “Poetry Summer,” or the hashtag #PoetrySummer). One of the things I loved about this was the way it helped me learn new things about the poems as I studied them and recited them out loud. My other favorite thing was how many people from the Internet jumped in and joined us, memorizing poems and sharing their thoughts in the comments.

So: we’re doing it again! The rules are simple:

1) You can pick a poem of any length, one per week, and must recite it out loud to someone on Sunday. Then you pick a new poem and start over for the next week.

2) This is all honor system: if you say you did it, we believe you.

3) No William Carlos Williams allowed. This is the only rule we will not bend on. Screw William Carlos Williams right in his stupid icebox.

I will start each week with a post, probably on a Monday, describing the experience of the previous week, presenting the full text of the poem I memorized, and announcing the poems Brian and I will memorize the following week. I will also try to recommend a short poem that newbie memorizers can work on if they don’t have any in mind.

This week I will be memorizing “Alone in Crowds to Wander On,” by Thomas More, because it’s the epigram of my new book, The Devil’s Only Friend, that came out yesterday! I always put a poem quote at the beginning of each John Cleaver book, and this is a great one. Brian will be memorizing “The Second Coming,” by William Butler Yeats.

Because we’re starting on Wednesday instead of Monday, I have an especially short poem for you, courtesy of the American poet Sarah Teasdale:

The Net

I wrote you many and many a song, but never one told all you are
It was as though a net of words were flung to catch a star.

It was as though I dcupped my hand, and dipped sea-water eagerly
Only to find it lost the blue dark splendor of the sea.

Good luck!

At Long Last: Brooke!

April 22nd, 2015

It’s been a month and a half since I was on set, and filming has wrapped, and I still haven’t posted the photos of Brooke and Lauren I promised to give you. Well WAIT NO LONGER! Here they are.

Lauren Bacall CleaverJohn’s sister Lauren is not a huge character in the first book, but she’s still an important one, and we are delighted to have Anna Sundberg in the role. Anna is a young actor with a handful of local MN credits, mostly in theater but some you might have seen, including an episode of Fargo. I got to watch her play a scene with Max–the two siblings together, not “close” but still relying on each other to navigate the world, and they were wonderful. She’s a fantastic Lauren, and if (knock on wood) we get a chance to do a movie of the second book, we’re going to be incredibly lucky to have her. Fingers crossed.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The deeper I dig into this series, and the more I write for it, the more I realize that Brooke is one of the most important characters, right up there with John and his mom as the top three. In the book I’m currently writing, #5 in the series, she’s a co-lead. Also, spoiler warning: Brooke survives until at least book 5 :) Even in the very first book, Brooke is a focal point for the story, and a great character that readers fall in love with. We needed to have someone awesome in the role, and Director Billy cast a wide net, looking at casting agencies, looking at local talent, looking everywhere he could. After a long search, he found Lucy.

Brooke1 No, I’m not going to tell you her last name, partly because this is her first real screen credit (she did a commercial once) so you can’t look her up, but also because she’s a sixteen-year-old girl, and I don’t want you to look her up. She’s going to be a big star someday, but let her have a few more months of childhood at least. My first thought when I saw Lucy was “Brooke is supposed to be blonde,” but Billy reassured me that she was perfect. “Don’t get distracted by stuff like hair,” he said, “just watch her act.” Her first day on the set she did a tiny little street scene: she met Mr. Crowley on the sidewalk, gave him some leftover pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving, and that was it. Twenty seconds of screen time. And she was PERFECT. She’s kind and cheerful and quirky and awkward and grounded and complex and believable and so overflowing with personality it’s amazing. I told Billy he was right. Lucy’s not just The Girl, she’s a character in her own right, ready to stand alongside John as an equal.

Lucy sat me down in the “stay warm between shots” room on her first day and asked me questions about Brooke: what is she like, what does she want, what does love and hate. I answered her questions mostly by turning them back on her: what do you think she wants? It was a fascinating experience to watch her pick the character apart, translating the tiny glimpses we get on the page or screen into a full person. At one point she asked me “Why does Brooke like John? I mean, aside from the fact that he’s a dark, dreamy loner?” I just laughed and told her she’d do fine.

In that same conversation I asked her if she’d read the rest of the books, and she said that she’d been cast so recently she hadn’t had a chance–she’d just finished the first one, and had the second in her bag, ready to start that night. I apologized in advance for the crap I put her character through, and we laughed, but that idea has stuck with me: I’ve met Brooke now, and I’ve met John, and I keep writing horrible, awful, nasty things that those characters have to survive, and it’s changed the way I think about it. Book 5, the one I’m writing right now, has a distinctly different tone than the rest of the series, and that’s partly due to my experience on the set: I’d had the plan for a very long time, but was never convinced that I could actually make it work. Now that I’ve met John and Brooke, I know that I can. And I’m very sorry for what I’m putting them through, but I’m just as inspired by the way they get through it. Very few people could do what they do, but the much bigger point is that very few people would choose to. John and Brooke do.

Meeting John and Brooke and the actors who play them was a highlight of my life. I can’t wait for you to meet them, too.

Daredevil and Agent Carter and Bellerophon

April 14th, 2015

The Daredevil series on Netflix was awesome. I loved it, and it stands alongside Agent Carter as the best (ie, “my favorite”) superhero-related shows on TV. Flash is fun but uneven; Gotham is increasingly mired in flawed characterization; Agents of SHIELD can’t decide what it wants to be or how it wants to get there. Their quality fluctuates so wildly that I have essentially stopped recommending them to people. Daredevil, on the other hand, was tightly written, start to finish, with a clear vision of who its lead was, why we should care, and how best to present that lead in a story and style that brought all its themes together; the same can be said, pretty much word-for-word, for Agent Carter. Both shows were strong ideas executed well. And it’s telling that those shows worked so well while SHIELD continues to fail so shockingly; my guess is that Daredevil and Agent Carter succeed because they’re allowed, if not actually forced, to stand on their own. SHIELD is presented as “the TV version of the MCU,” while Daredevil and Agent Carter are “Marvel stories connected to the MCU.” That’s a key difference. SHIELD has to carry this giant banner and connect all the movies and it’s never allowed to be its own thing, while the peripheral shows can do whatever they need to tell the best story they can.

The other thing Daredevil and Agent Carter have in common, however, is that they started to fall apart at the end, brought down, in part, by weird villains. Yes, I know, I know, Vincent D’onofrio was amazing as Fisk in Daredevil–he’s a great actor who showed us a fascinating, vulnerable, even tragic take on the Kingpin. He was a great character. But he was a really crappy villain. Agent Carter’s ultimate villain, the goofy hypnosis guy, was weird for different reasons, but still didn’t work, and still managed to bring down a show that should have gone out on a much higher note.

Why do the villains matter? Because a hero’s heroism is directly proportional to the obstacles he or she overcomes. The Greek hero Bellerophon is the classic example of this: he was described as the greatest slayer of monsters in the world, primarily because the monster he slew, Chimera, was described as the greatest monster in the world. Bellerophon could have used exactly the same skills and talents and courage and cunning and fortitude to slay a lesser beast, but no one would have cared; he wouldn’t be the Greatest Monster Slayer Ever, he would have been That Guy Who Killed That Goblin.

Agent Carter the show presents us with a number of compelling conflicts for Agent Carter the person: she’s fighting a vast shadow conspiracy of spies and assassins, her colleagues don’t trust her, and (more than anything else) she’s a woman in a society dominated by men. One of the first shots of the series is a crowded street full of identical men in identical gray hats walking away from the camera, with Peggy Carter in vibrant blue and red walking directly toward it. Not only does the framing make the men faceless and ubiquitous, it highlights the idea that Peggy is moving against the current and making her own way. This is one of the greatest visual statements of heroic identity ever made, and the show follows it up with story after story hitting these same beats and themes, over and over again. When Dottie is finally revealed as a villain she fits this idea perfectly–a funhouse-mirror version of Peggy, with all the same skills but controlled by men instead of rebelling against them, and hidden under a veneer of stereotyped, airheaded femininity. This was awesome…and then that hynotist showed up. He didn’t fit the story we’d been told all season because he came out of nowhere, related to Hydra but never a believable crux to their plan; he was brought into the SSR not because Hydra had a brilliant scheme but because Peggy made a series of impulsive, unpredictable decisions, and if Hydra was relying on that to carry off their grand scheme then their plot was doomed from the beginning. More to the point, his powers of super hypnosis came out of left field both narratively and thematically–nothing he did felt like the satisfying culmination of a series arc, he was just a monster-of-the-week who hung on for a few extra weeks and turned out to be the Big Bad. Instead of watching Peggy pull it all together and strike a major blow against the secret organization she’d been fighting, they just personified that organization and let her beat some random guy, using skills that hadn’t mattered to the rest of the season. The climax showed her talking down a hypnosis victim flying a plane, which was a tense scene and a nice callback to her climax in Captain America, but what did it have to do with anything the show had promised us? They teased a Chimera, but delivered a goblin.

Daredevil’s villain problem was, as I said, different, but just as frustrating. Wilson Fisk stayed right in line with the established series themes of Inner Demons and doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, but he failed as a villain because he simply wasn’t villainous enough. His criminal organization ran in circles, accomplishing no crimes aside from a self-eating snake of nested cover-ups, and then slowly imploded just in time for Daredevil to punch it in the face. Matt Murdock didn’t actually defeat him as a vigilante or as a lawyer, he just did flip kicks for twelve episodes while the criminals defeated themselves. Showing Fisk as a damaged little boy was great, and watching him stammer his way through a puppy-love courtship was an audacious choice for a story about a mob boss, but without any real villainy to balance it out he came across as weak and inept. Instead of a terrifying mastermind we saw an incompetent recluse whose super-mob conglomerate started falling apart literally the first time we saw it in action; he had lackeys do all the grunt work, a chief lackey who came up with most of the plans, and then he sat back flirting while his mismanaged empire dissolved around him. His occasional forays into mastermind-hood, like tricking Daredevil and the Hand Ninja into killing each other, were born from anger instead of brilliance, and despite their cleverness never actually strengthened his empire in any way; that one, in particular, started its final destruction. His one and only moment of unfiltered awesomeness came in the last fifteen minutes of the season, when he finally embraced his role as a monster. That makes this season an origin story for Kingpin as well as for Daredevil, which is cool in its own way, but in the process it made them both look pretty useless: Daredevil never had to defeat his Chimera, because the Chimera kept biting off its own heads, and thus Daredevil never became the Bellerophon we wanted him to be. And since the fight choreography, gorgeous as it was, never got back up to the bar it set in episode two, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the anti-climax. The final fight was just two guys punching each other, drained of tension because we knew who was going to win, and devoid of the artistry that had marked most of the earlier fights.

I want to reiterate: I loved Agent Carter, and I loved Daredevil. Even with lackluster finales, they provided the best stories and the boldest visions in our current bumper crop of superhero TV. But they could have been so much more than they were. Going out on a high note has always been a problem for TV shows, and genre TV shows in particular, but those few shining diamonds who’ve pulled it off have shown us that it’s possible. I want every other superhero show out there to learn from Daredevil and Agent Carter and up their game, and then I want Daredevil and Agent Carter, in what I dearly hope will be their second seasons, to pull out all the stops and really fulfill on their promises. If these shows have a chance to live up to their potential, next year’s crop of superhero shows will make this year’s sea of plenty look like a drought.

My four cents on the Hugo thing

April 7th, 2015

Here we go. I don’t like arguing, especially not on the Internet, so I don’t intend to say much about this topic. The short version is that I am somewhere in the middle, seeing merit and fault on both sides. The longer version can be condensed to four main points:

1) Larry Correia is my friend. I’ve known him for years, and he is a good guy, a good husband, and a good father. I don’t agree with his politics in almost any category, and I don’t like the way he’s handled the Sad Puppies thing (which is why I asked to be removed from it after he nominated me last year), but I am adult enough to see two sides of a person at once. It makes me sad to see people calling him a racist, misogynist, homophobe, when in reality I know that he’s none of those things–he’s an a-hole online, I’ll totally grant you, but let’s cool it with the character assassination. I realize that a lot of people won’t bother reading past this paragraph, or will just straight up hate me regardless of what the rest of this post says, but there you go. If it comes down to disavowing a friend in order to impress my readership, I won’t do it.

2) The other side of the fight has plenty of its own a-holes. One of Larry’s first and biggest complaints about the Hugo crowd was the way they ostracized him right from the get-go: he was nominated for a Campbell, came to WorldCon in Reno, and was treated like a pariah because he’s very, very conservative. It’s only gotten worse since then, and a lot of that is his fault for hitting back so viciously, but a lot of it is just straight-up unwarranted, and I didn’t really understand how much until my own Sad Puppies nomination last year. I was on the slate, didn’t take it seriously, and then when I actually ended up on the finals list for novella I was attacked almost instantly. Bloggers who’d never met me or read my work were calling me out as a racist based solely on the fact that Larry like my story. I’ve been going to WorldCons for years, been nominated for multiple Hugos, and even won one the previous year, but all of a sudden I was an outsider, intruding onto sacred space, based not on who I was or what I did but simply on my association with an undesirable element. To be fair, a majority of people reacted more evenly, and I was delighted by how many reviewers described my novella as “much better than expected,” but the attacks were real and they were prevalent. I’m a big boy, so I can handle them, I’m just saying that we can’t assume either side in this is perfectly good and right.

3) I do not like what the slate-voting model has done to the Hugos–I think it has removed any legitimacy the award once had, and reduced it to a two-party system that will, in the future, only nominate a narrow subset of the field. You’ll have Sad Puppies and Anti-Sad Puppies, and we’ll pick our ticket and campaign for it for months, and anyone not on the ticket will be out in the cold. I honestly don’t see how that CAN’T happen next year, unless we change the voting rules. And no, that’s not what it was before: what it was before was a group of like-minded people who tended to vote for the same authors and themes every time, which is pretty standard for any voting award anyway, and a far cry from a curated ticket of “this is the slate we should all vote for.” I am sad that this has happened, but I hope we can find a way to fix it.

4) No matter how much I hate the slate, and how sad I am for the people and stories the slate bumped off, I think that voting against everyone on the slate regardless of merit seems like a terrible idea. Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, was a favorite for the category going in, and probably got just as many normal nominations as Puppy nominations, but now we’re all going to vote against it as some kind of protest? Kevin Anderson and Jim Butcher are excellent authors–giants in the field, and mentors to half the authors working today–but now we’re supposed to shut them out completely just because the wrong people nominated them? Toni Weiiskopf and Anne Sowards are exactly the kind of brilliant, talented editors the “recognize more women” crowd (in which company I include myself) has been trying to recognize for years, but now we’re supposed to ignore them just because some conservative white guys got them on the ballot? THIS IS INSANE. Some of the people on the ballot are terrible people, and some of their work is terrible fiction, and I’ll be voting accordingly, but punishing Anne Sowards because I want to punish the people who put her on the slate is misguided and cruel. These people did good work, worthy of reward, and I’m going to reward them. Let’s fix this problem in a way that doesn’t trample innocents.

As a final word: I will be at WorldCon this year, not wallowing in controversy but celebrating science fiction and fantasy. I love the genre, I love the stories we tell, and I love the spirit of hope that those stories express about the future. Let’s try to be as good as the heroes we write about.

Reader Mail #8 – I’m doing a stage play!

April 3rd, 2015

Several years ago I self-published a historical horror farce, in large part because “historical horror farce” is kind of a ridiculous category that no publisher really knew what to do with. It’s called A Night of Blacker Darkness, and mostly just to pitch it to people as An Extremely Ridiculous Horror Novel. The basic premise is this: in England in 1817 a young banker is jailed for fraud, and escapes by faking his death, but when he emerges from his coffin to try to steal an inheritance, somebody sees him and assumes he’s a vampire. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. The book has sold okay, nothing amazing because I don’t really promote it much, but I’ve spent the last few months adapting it for stage and I’m excited to announce that we will be debuting a play of A Night of Blacker Darkness this very Halloween, with one production in Utah and one in Tennessee. More details in this awesome video:

Yo respondo a sus preguntas de Partials

March 23rd, 2015

Dear English speakers: sorry, this post isn’t for you. Because I’m going to Argentina in May!

Espero que ustedes pueden entender mi espanol–estoy practicando para que pueda hablar bien cuando llego a Buenos Aires en Mayo, pero todavia necesito hacerlo mas perfecto. Aun asi, ma da mucho gusto a contestar estas preguntas, los cuales vienen del grupo de Facebook Saga Partials:

Reader Mail #7 – Creature Design with Todd Jones

March 18th, 2015

Another behind-the-scenes video! People have been asking a lot about the monster–how will the movie portray him, how will we do the effects–so while I was up in Minnesota I took the opportunity to interview Todd Jones, an absolute giant in the industry of movie creatures and effects. The lighting is terrible, and partway through a cell phone rings, but that’s just part of the charm of recording in a hotel ballroom movie-production headquarters. (Also, for continuity purposes: remember Jakk, from the last video? She’s just off-camera in this one, and at one point you can hear her laughing. We’re all a big happy family.)

Reader Mail #6 – Behind the Scenes with Jakk

March 7th, 2015

I’m on the set of the IANASK movie, and getting flooded with requests for more behind-the-scenes info, so here you go: Jakk is the Line Producer, which means she oversees the whole behind-the-scenes process. I was able to steal ten minutes of her time to ask a couple of questions about our movie, and movie making in general.