How “Hard” Is Your Magic? (plus book giveaway)


I’m about to respond to a post that’s nearly a week old so that makes me totally behind the times, right?

I’m always behind on everything.

Anyway, last week N.K. Jemisin wrote a post about magic making sense (her take: it shouldn’t have to because it’s magic and not science). I think it’s a great post and I agree with much of what she says. There must be space in the genre for magic that is inexplicable, that is ill-defined or not truly understood.

Yeah, I know: the natural first response is to assert that magic needs limits because hey, if everything is possible, nothing is interesting (check out the first comment on Jemisin’s post). But that’s not the same thing at all. Yes, magic can be mysterious or non-rational without being omnipotent. It’s just a matter of how it’s written.

To be clear, I don’t think we should do away with so-called “mechanistic” magic. I haven’t tossed my Pat Rothfuss books into the donation bin, after all, and I certainly enjoy that Harry Potter fellow. But I continually see an emphasis on the rules and limits of this magic “system” or that one–or even the idea that there has to be a specific system–and I agree that too much emphasis is put on it.

The one place I disagree with Jemisin’s post is where she lays the blame for this at the feet of Dungeons and Dragons. First, the idea that magic was a super-complicated but vaguely-mechanical process where people drew certain symbols, said certain works, used certain objects with the plan to get a specific outcome predates Gary Gygax’s great-great-grandfather. Hell, Conjure Wife beat The Players’ Handbook by a couple of decades.

Which isn’t to say that D&D hasn’t had influence. It most definitely has. I mean, it’s a fun game and a lot of folks in the genre play it, how could it not have an effect?

But I think the real culprit here is science fiction.

SF and F have been lumped together for years, with science fiction getting most of the respect and cultural cachet while fantasy gets most of the sales. They’re in an odd relationship, with a lot of crossover among the readers and writers, and from what I can tell as an outsider to fandom, devoted science fiction fans largely holds fantasy in contempt.

Fantasy is “playing tennis with the net down”. It’s supposed to be anti-progress, pro-monarchy, reactionary, irrational… blah blah blah. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that, if that’s the tenor of the conversation inside that community, it’s no surprise that fantasy readers and writers would start to adopt the idea that the best sort of fantasy would be “hard.”

Since I’ve been online, I’ve seen two separate movements to push so-called “hard fantasy.” The first was fantasy that stuck close to the original folklore. The second was fantasy with world-building that felt so solid you “knew that the sewers worked”.

Both times it came up I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want to emulate a niche genre like hard science fiction. My best guess–once again, talking as an outsider here, so I am open to correction–is a version of Stockholm Syndrome.

Still: more of the numinous! Less talk about “magic systems.”

Regarding the book giveaway: The response has been amazing. Thanks, you guys. The winner, selected by a roll of many-sided dice, is Mark Martinez. Your book will be thrown into the U.S. Postal Service in a few days.

Thanks again.

Last Day for Book Giveaway (plus video games)


Today is the last day to eligible-ize yourself to win a free book–all you have to do is sign up for my I-have-a-new-thing-out newsletter. Details here.

For those of you concerned about being spammed with my newsletter, let me mention that later tonight, when I send out the message about the new book giveaway, it will be the first ever issue of this newsletter.

In other non-news, since my wife has to work on Sunday and my son has a tournament on Saturday, today is my Father’s Day. We’re celebrating by having breakfast at a restaurant (I love restaurant breakfast, for serious) and having burgers for dinner. With buns. I know, crazy, right?

I’ve asked to have the Chris McGrath prints of my Twenty Palaces cover art either framed or matted as my Dad’s Day gift–like most people, I don’t need more stuff. However, my wife and son have been eyeballing a flat screen TV for our Netflixing. Nevermind that I think our 19″ CRT still works just fine; they have the temptation and I may be the excuse.

Anyway, I’m going to do a bit of work in the Star$$ until they get here, then they’ll leave and I’ll work some more. Work! It’s what’s for dinner.

Also, having finished, sent off, and celebrated Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts, I finally felt as though I had permission to play a bit of computer game.

Now, I’m not exactly Mr. Moderation, so I don’t play all that much. I tend to get stuck in games, trying to do one more thing one more thing. Of course, the games are designed to make you do exactly that, which sort of sucks. As a result, I have to keep away from them for the most part if I want to create books, stay married, pay rent, move my body, and/or feed myself.

But sometimes, I say what the hell. Last night after I did the dishes, I turned on Neverwinter Nights. (It was an Oppressmas gift.) I turned it off at 4 am.

It’s possible that my wife is correct when she points out that these games aren’t good for me. And that I’m a boring husband when I play. Worse, I still couldn’t find that third werewolf. And why am I carrying around this troll head? I know someone wants it, but…

Anyway, I will now get back to formatting my son’s 10K comic fantasy for publishing on the blog while I wait for the fam. Have a great day, everyone.

Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts


As I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, I finished Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts yesterday and sent it off to my agent. This is a big deal for a lot of reasons and I have so very many things I want to say about it, but at the moment what I feel is a genuine relief. Anyway, let me skate over some of those topics.

1) No dull parts? God, I hope so. There’s one scene where they eat kabob that could maybe go, but…

1A) After sending to my agent, my son immediately found a grammar error on page one. It’s too late to do anything about it now, but, shit.

2) It’s 136,000 words long. That’s HUGE! Take a look at the printed manuscript with a life-sized Batman statue beside it!


I’ve never written anything that long before. All the Twenty Palaces books were 90- to 105K words. Weirdly, as I wrote, plot elements ended up taking way, way more space on the page than I’d expected. It’s epic, right? Epic is big? Well, I’d promised to make this a stand alone novel, but I’m breaking that promise. It’s going to be two books. (But no more! I’m serious!)

3) I started it on October 7th by doing the exercises in Adventures in Fantasy by John Gust. It was a homeschool project for my son, and he wouldn’t have done it without me. Actually, it turned out to be fun for us to do the exercises together. Being me, I had to mess around with the plot format, which I’m sure is a gigantic surprise to everyone.

However, when I sat down with my agent last summer, she told me that it would be good to be more prolific without a loss in quality. Two books a year, people, that’s what she suggested. That’s what I was aiming for.

Obviously I didn’t manage it, because this was just over eight months to finish. In my defense, the death of my father-in-law shut off all productivity for weeks and it was tough to get my momentum back. Still, only 8 months!

4) I was still late with it. Most of you reading this have probably watched Neil Gaiman’s 2012 Commencement Speech, in which he talks about freelancers staying in business if they have two out of three things: they do good work, they’re easy to get along with, and they meet their deadlines. Me, I’m afraid to admit that I’ve had problems with deadlines.

I’m not talking about externally-imposed deadlines, either. I find it incredibly difficult to judge how long a particular job will take. I promised my agent that I would send the revised manuscript to her in early May. This is mid-June. Not cool.

There’s no production schedule to ruin, no publishing slots to miss. This is just me, the pages in front of me, and my ability to sensibly judge how much time I need to finish a book.

To remedy this, I’m going to start carefully recording everything I do, writing-wise. Every day of the week, how many hours of writing, how many words I write, how many words I revise. It won’t be a goad to productivity; it will help me understand the way I work right now.

5) Last night, I celebrated the completion of a new manuscript in the traditional way:


My kid took the picture, and he didn’t know to zoom in so the freeze frame of Burn Notice would be cropped out.

Today is for reading and recharging my creative batteries. Maybe I’ll even (gasp!) get to play a video game! I know! Crazy!

6) You know how the latest big thing in fantasy is twisty grim pseudo-medieval political fantasy with very little magic? I didn’t write that. Whether that’s a smart choice or not, I dunno, but there it is.

Bonus last thing: My book giveaway is getting a lot of sign ups. If you missed the post yesterday, I’m giving away a signed copy of an anthology I’m in.

Time for a break from sitting and typing. Catch you guys later.

Update: These books have been released! Read more about them or pick up a copy here:

| Amazon (print & ebook) | Apple iBooks (ebook) | Barnes & Noble (print & ebook) | Books-a-Million (print) | CreateSpace (print) | IndieBound (print) | Kobo (ebook) | Smashwords (ebook) |

I give away a book.


Want a free book? Well, I have a free book and I intend to give it away.

My contributor copies for the Don’t Read This Book anthology have arrived, and I’m going to give one (signed by me) away. Anthology, you say? Here’s a list of the contributors:

Stephen Blackmoore
Harry Connolly
Rich Dansky
Matt Forbeck
Laura Anne Gilman
Will Hindmarch
Mur Lafferty
Robin D. Laws
Ryan Macklin
C. E. Murphy
Josh Roby
Greg Stolze
Monica Valentinelli

Chuck Wendig is the editor. The stories are set in the nightmare world (literally) of the Don’t Rest Your Head rpg. Oh look! A picture of the books!


I’m keeping two.

Anyway, if you want to be entered for a chance to win one, sign up for my newsletter by Friday. At that time, I’ll send an incredibly easy question to everyone on the list, and will randomly choose a winner from the responses.

Yes, this is a naked attempt to get people to sign up for my newsletter. Hey, I hope to have even more new books out soon, and I figure that anyone interested in this anthology would want to hear about them, too. Of course, after the drawing you can ask to be taken off the list again. Also, due to the costs of international shipping, this is going to have to be U.S. only.

You have until late Friday to sign up. Free book!

New contest!


We’re looking for a new potato salad recipe. The one we used out of Fanny Farmer didn’t really float anyone’s boat, and life is too short to make due with blah potato salad.

Please post or link to a recipe for your favorite potato salad. Entries should appear on the main blog or in my LiveJournal: Twitter responses and Facebook comments won’t count for convenience’s sake.

The winner will receive a signed copy of Circle of Enemies (once my author copies arrive). Alternately, you can ask me to send it to a third party–either an individual or an institution. Of course, it will take a little time for us to try the recipes, but hey, it’s all to the good. How will the winner be decided? Family taste test. I should warn you, my son is a picky eater.

Thank you for your suggestions. Carb heaven, here we come.

Con (mis)behaviors


Seen via Sherwood Smith: Steve Miller wrote up a list of dos and don’ts for convention attendees.

It’s not really my thing, since I don’t attend conventions, but I figured you guys might be interested.

And so… a contest! Since my favorite thing about conventions is the stories of awful misbehavior that flow out of them like water from a leaking dam, I would like to hear YOUR best (worst) story of awful convention misbehavior. It has to be something you personally witnessed, not just something you heard about second-hand or watched on video (like the Ellison boob-grab).

Also, I’d like to avoid stories of actions that could have/did earn the perpetrator prison time, because that can be upsetting to many readers (including me).

The winner will be chosen by me, based on my own personal social hangups and anxieties, will win a complete set of all three Twenty Palaces novels, mailed to the library system (or other institution) of your choice.

Post your horror story in comments.

Book giveaways


All the winners of the book giveaways have been notified. The last three should receive messages as of a couple minutes ago, including the winner of Game of Cages. I’ll mail my two books out the day after I get addresses for them, but the other books will be subject to the vagaries of wrapping and packing.

There are also two people who haven’t written back with their addresses to claim their books. I’ll be dropping them another line soon.

As for the unclaimed books… I’ll donate them to the library.

Thank you, everyone, I’ve had fun making room on my bookshelves sharing great books. Sorry for those of you who didn’t win.

The glamorous life of the writer


So! Yesterday was release day for Game of Cages, and how did I spend most of that day? Answering emails for one. Public transit for another.

Yeah, yesterday was one of those days when not having a car really hurt.

The mission was simple: sign books on the day they were released. Sometimes it can take a while for new releases to make their way out of the back room onto the shelves, and often the books are delivered late in the day. So I went into the store, introduced myself to an employee, offered to sign books, signed, moved on to the next one.

They were: the downtown Borders, downtown B&N, the University of WA bookstore, the University Village B&N and finally the Northgate mall B&N. The whole time, I had my 8yo son with me.

That took six hours.

Here’s another fun fact about yesterday: the weather was chilly and rainy, with blustery winds. It was cool even for a Seattle August.

And that’s fine. A little rain keeps you cool as you walk from bus stop to store, right? Same for a chilly breeze. It tames the humidity.

Then I would walk into the stores, where the air was hot and still but just as humid, and the sweat would start to bloom all over my body. (Sorry, ladies! I’m taken.) I did not greet a bookseller or sign a book without feeling all nasty and damp.

It was gross. I felt gross. My son? Behaved like a champ (partly because he knew there was a Nerf gun in it for him, partly because he’s a great kid).

And now I’m back at my day job, and I’m exhausted. I’m also way behind on my web/LJ reading. But hey, my book is out there, people are reading it, and one of the B&N employees recognized my name and told me how much she loved my first book. I also have a bunch of new books to read (you knew I couldn’t pop in a bookstores without spending a little money, didn’t you?).

Anyway, I’ll be announcing the giveaway winners for the collection of how-to writing books, Child of Fire and Game of Cages tonight around 6 or 7 PST (in other words, when I get home from the day job). Also, there are a couple of book offerings that have never been claimed. If you want to skim back through the entries, you might find something you like that you missed the first time around.

Hope you guys are having a great day.