MJ-12: Shadows is with my editor

I am pleased — and relieved — to report that MJ-12: Shadows, the sequel to this year’s MJ-12: Inception, is now in the capable hands of super-editor Cory Allyn over at Night Shade Books.

Why relieved? This book kicked my ass.

MJ-12: Shadows will be my fifth novel, and it was the hardest one to draft. Part of that was due to the material, part of that was due to circumstances, and part of that was just…something else, that writerly thing where you gotta grab the story and drag it kicking and screaming into the light because it doesn’t wanna go.

The material was complex enough — there are two main storylines in the book, a couple of subplots and several POVs. It’s set in 1949, which was a very busy year for the Truman Administration, the U.S. intelligence community and the Middle East, where one of the storylines is set. One of the main historical characters from MJ-12: Inception died that year under mysterious circumstances, too.

So on the one hand, the history was an absolute blessing — you can’t make some of that stuff up. But there was a lot of juggling going on in writing MJ-12: Shadows. So there’s that.

Then there’s life. I was plowing through the drafting process while preparing for the launch of MJ-12: Inception and through the launch, which included events at DragonCon and in San Francisco, plus a ton of guest blogs, interviews, podcasts and assorted bits of marketing. I know some authors loathe the marketing stuff, but it’s kind of what I do for the day job, and I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it, so I don’t mind it. But it was all happening while trying to write MJ-12: Shadows, so I was moving between stuff quite a lot.

Oh, and I do have that day job, and I happened to have the busiest autumn in said job in my nine years here. It’s nice to be in demand and appreciated, of course, and let’s face it — the day job pays the bills. On Monday, I’m about to head off on my seventh business trip of the year, so yeah, they keep me busy.

And I do have a family, which takes precedence over…well, everything else, frankly. But it’s kind of unfair to list that here, because family isn’t a burden. To me, it’s a privilege.

But story and circumstance aside, this was just a tough nut to crack. Prior to MJ-12: Shadows, three of my past four novels kind of came together easily — as easily as a major project like a novel can happen. The Venusian Gambit, which I wrote in 2014, felt like a hot mess when I was writing it, but that was largely due to my mother’s passing that summer. Cory and the NSB gang were great about giving me extra time to wrap it up, and I had apparently done a better job than I thought in the end — Gambit got a starred review from Publishers Weekly. 

But MJ-12: Shadows was different than Gambit. Sometimes, the story is stubborn, and finding the right threads to follow and the right words simply takes longer. Getting the pieces in place and the characters lined up just took more out of me. It’s kind of hard to explain, really, other than it just took longer to get it right. 

With all that said, I’m happy with how MJ-12: Shadows came out. It’s got some mystery, some slow-burn intrigue, a bunch of cool action and the ending…the ending I’m rather proud of. It explores the nature of the Variants, the source of their power and the responsibility in using that power in the world.

And now? I’m holding off on getting the third book started until Cory finishes the edits on MJ-12: Shadows and we have a chat as to how best to approach the next one. But I have a few other things to work on….

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Nine hours to go on the Worldbuilders critique auction

UPDATE: The auction is over and the critique went for $340, which is incredibly awesome. Thank you to Worldbuilders for all they do, and thank you to all the bidders who jacked that price up!

That’s right — as of this posting, you have nine hours to bid on an opportunity to have yours truly read and critique up to 25,000 words of your fiction. Here’s the auction page. And it’s to benefit Worldbuilders, the fantastic charity that aids Heifer International in promoting sustainable living conditions for the world’s poorest. It’s good stuff.

So what’s the critique, exactly? Well, first off, you give me the words and I read ’em. I’ll mark up the text as I go, using comments in Word, with questions, concerns, encouragement, etc. I’ll also write up a fairly long review of the piece, separate from the text, in which I’ll go into the strengths and weaknesses of the work.

Oh, and if you wanna ping back with follow-ups, feel free. I’m happy to go back and forth a few times if it helps you. Just don’t, you know, camp out in my email. Or on my doorstep. Point is, let’s make sure you get your money’s worth.

Speaking of, as of this writing, the bidding is up to $255, which does my heart good. I have no doubt that the winner of this one, in addition to getting my opinion on their work, will reap untold karma points from whomever in the multiverse doles such things out.

One more thing: Tomorrow, I’ll be hanging out on Reddit r/Fantasy as part of their Worldbuilders charity week. It’s kind of an Ask Me Anything — because I’ll certainly answer questions and stuff — but I’m also taking the opportunity to ask the great r/Fantasy community a few things as well. And of course, we’ll be spreading the good word about Worldbuilders.

In fact, there’s still a bit more to come from me — each of my four novels will be up for grabs from Worldbuilders late this coming week. Signed, of course, which makes them the perfect Christmas presents. So stay tuned for that!

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Come and Speculate! with us on a mighty podcast

Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to have a most excellent chat with the hosts of Speculate! The Podcast for Readers, Writers and Fans. And now you can listen to said conversation online or via your favorite podcast download app…thing. Whatever. You should listen.

I joined fellow scribes Mike Underwood and Greg Wilson for a freewheeling 50-plus minutes of writerly goodness. We talked about MJ-12: Inception and the Daedalus trilogy, of course, then delved deep into research and worldbuilding in historical fantasy, and how I did what I did on those books. We also talked about my former life as a full-time journalist and how that enters into my fiction.

And we talked about the election, because it was the day before election day. Ah, we were so naive. Alas.

I’ve known Mike for years now, and consider him one of the good guys, and I very much enjoyed chatting with Greg as well. I would encourage you to check out Mike’s blog and Greg’s blog to learn more about their books, and definitely check out the rest of Speculate!’s excellent podcasts. They also have a Patreon, so if you wanna slip ’em a few bucks, I hereby grant you extra karma points for that.

My thanks to Mike and Greg for a great conversation. Hope you folks enjoy.

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Journalism in the Trump era

For the first fifteen years of my professional career, I was a journalist for a variety of publications, most notably three different stints with The Associated Press in Albany, Seattle and New York. Journalism is a tough, unforgiving career — low pay, long hours, soul-crushing deadlines and heaping helpings of disrespect from nearly every quarter. I admit, it totally burned me out, which is why I left.

Yet it’s an absolutely critical part of American society. The problem is, at a time when it’s more important than ever, the Achilles heel of American journalism has been exposed.

Get both sides. That’s been the mantra of journalists for more than a century now, when the notion of an impartial Fourth Estate began to take shape. This was, in large part, due to the growth and importance of The Associated Press. Back in the 19th century, newspapers were unabashed in their political views in reporting. But when five New York papers created a cooperative service to report on far-flung areas, there was a need for the AP to be impartial, so that a conservative paper and a liberal paper could use the same dispatch.

This grew into a general belief that news should be impartial, and that editorializing should be the purview of the editorial pages only. I genuinely believe this to be a Good Thing, and it transformed journalism into an active challenger of the status quo, no matter who was in power and who was on the outside.

Over time, though, the get both sides mantra has become bastardized. It’s allowed folks on the very margins of reasonable discourse — anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, all manner of conspiracy theorists — a seat at the table. And with the advent of social media, these fringe voices can find each other, organize and boost their signal, giving journalists a sense that the beliefs in question are more widespread than perhaps they realized.

And so here we are today, when we see journalists writing normalizing articles on the so-called Alt-Right and CNN has a ticker that says “Alt-Right Founder Asks If Jews Are People,” as if this can even be debated. (Meanwhile, you have The Atlantic, saving face for the rest of the Fourth Estate, covering an Alt-Right event where participants are giving the Nazi salute and shouting “Heil Victory! Heil Trump!” and calling it like it is.)

So where does get both sides end and the media begins to take a stand for the nation?

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It’s Worldbuilders auction time! Bid on a critique, make the world better.

Here’s some unabashedly good news: The Worldbuilders auctions are live! There’s so much good stuff up for bid this year — and for the fourth year running, I’m offering a critique of your SF/F manuscript, up to 25,000 words to the winning bidder.

For those of you who don’t know, Worldbuilders is a fantastic charity created by the incomparable Patrick Rothfuss to support the good work of Heifer International. Worldbuilders does a bunch of stuff all year, but the end-of-year auction is the big one.

Since I started offering up stuff in 2013, and with your generous support, together we’ve raised about $1,500 through signed books, critiques and Tuckerizations just with Worldbuilders alone. (And another $500+ to Con or Bust, charity:water and Kids Need to Read, so yay!) And all because I had the damn fool notion in my head that I should write some novels, and because there are some lovely generous people out there. How cool is that?

The critique auction page is live, so if you’re in the market for some writing advice from a real, live novelist (i.e. me), check it out. You have until just after 8 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27, to get your bid in. And let me tell you — the bidding goes up quite a bit in those final hours, so if you want it, be prepared to hang out online Sunday.

The Worldbuilders crew also has signed copies of all my books — the three volumes of the Daedalus trilogy, and MJ-12: Inception in hardcover. They’re not up for bid yet, but stay tuned. I’ll be sure to let you know when they’re live.

And of course, there’s a veritable ton of other stuff up for bid too — jewelry, signed books, critiques from authors/editors/agents, gaming swag, and yes…even a freakin’ sword. (I totally want that sword.) The eBay page for Worldbuilders has all that and more, so check it out. There’s also a Worldbuilders lottery, where you pay $10 per entry for a shot at glorious prizes — here’s the page for that.

I’ve found the SF/F community of writers, publishers and fans to be incredibly giving and generous, and I know y’all will consider chipping in again to help Heifer in its important work around the world. Thank you in advance for your donations. And thanks to Pat, Maria and the whole Worldbuilders team for all the good work they do.

Go! Get bidding!

#SFWApro

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A quick non-post

So basically I don’t have anything new to say, but I recognize that I’ve left the blog fallow for a week, and well, I feel somewhat obligated to at least say hello. Hi, there!

I’m crunching on the final revisions to MJ-12: Shadows, the sequel to this year’s MJ-12: Inception. You won’t get to see it until late next summer, of course. For whatever reason, this one was a tougher nut to crack, story wise. Or maybe it was just writing it on top of an unusually busy year for me. Hard to say. But I’m liking how it’s turning out. Hope you will too.

I’m also resisting the urge to work on something super-shiny that the Muse is incredibly excited about. Actually, she’s shrieking in my ears about it constantly, and I’m excited about it too. It only exists in about ten pages of notes at the moment. It’ll need to stay that way for a few more weeks yet. Shut up, Muse. I got stuff to do.

The whole election thing…yeah. Still sitting poorly with me, and it’s not like the incoming administration is inspiring confidence with its various gaffes and horrible appointments. If you’ve seen my Twitter feed, you’ve seen I’ve been more political of late. That’s not likely to change. As I explained to my kid, this is our time to stand up, just like the suffragists in the ’20s and the civil rights activists in the ’60s. And I’m gonna do that.

And otherwise? Planning a quiet Thanksgiving, then a work trip to Los Angeles in early December, followed by Christmas in a warm place with a beach. (Not Los Angeles, because who wants to vacation in a place you visit for work all the time?)

That’s where I’m at.

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Hope

My 12-year-old daughter was pretty wrecked this morning when we told her about the election results. Like many, we had told her that while Donald Trump was a bully who had leveraged people’s fears — fears about the economy, their values, the Other — but that there were many good people out there. We didn’t think he would win.

He did.

All the conventional wisdom and outdated polling methodologies told us he wouldn’t, but he leveraged those fears far better than we expected. The fact that more Americans voted against him than for him remains a comfort, and that isn’t a small comfort, at least to me. It means we’re not alone.

So what do you tell a crying 12-year-old?

You remind her that this nation was created with checks and balances, so that the Presidency does not become a monarchy. You remind her that many conscientious Republicans took a stand with us, and we need to support them in the fights to come, even if we don’t agree on everything. You remind her that we have freedoms unparalleled in the world, and that our voices and time and effort can make a difference.

And you promise to do better.

For the most part, I’ve avoided politics on this blog and in my public persona — whatever that is. I believed that others did a far better job, and that the backlash wouldn’t be good for me or my family, or that the time and effort wasn’t worth the potential return. But let’s face it…that was complacency. I wrote a check here or there and voted, and that was fine, right? Nope. It was not.

I am not a woman or a person of color or LBGTQ+, but I want to support everything that they’ll be doing. My friend and fellow scribe Mike Underwood said it best on Twitter:

In fact, Mike’s whole thread is pretty good and worth a read. Point is, folks like me can’t be Frodo. It’s not our job to carry the One Ring to Mount Doom. But we can help. We’re the Fellowship. We go to where we’re needed and say, “You have my bow. And my ax. What do you need?”

And so I’m going to try to do that. For starters, check out this post from Jezebel about organizations that need your help. I also encourage you to use the comments below to throw some links out there to worthwhile organizations and efforts, and to find folks in your area fighting the good fight.

And I’m going to continue to write. The MAJESTIC-12 series most certainly has relevant political undertones, and I may hit those a little harder in the books to come. Another idea, far more overtly political but still fantastical, may very well have jumped to the front of the to-be-written pile. You’ll see more thoughts on this blog in the days and weeks to come.

This election is hard, man, but there are reasons to be hopeful. The civil rights and womens’ rights movement began in the Eisenhower years and were cemented in the Nixon era. My hope — and I believe it to be a grounded, realistic hope — is that this election will result in a similar wave of progress in the years to come. But it’s on us to make that happen.

So I told my kid that’s what I’m gonna do. I want her to enjoy being 12, and to sew and draw and to create as she does so well already. I want her to focus on school, and to have fun with her friends. And I want her to know that I’m working for her future, not just by giving her individual opportunities, but by creating opportunities for everyone and to make the world a kinder place.

I have hope. Let’s do this.

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