Light a Candle

Things have been pretty scary the past few weeks, even within the hard year that 2017 has been. We had a family health scare just a little while ago (all better now), plus the ongoing garbage fire that is US politics.

So I wanted to spend a bit of time focusing on things that have been bringing joy and light into my life, in case these things could do the same for you. At the bottom, I list some resources I’ve been using to stay up to date on politics with a minimum of hassle/frustration.

Sources of Joy

One of the things I do to relax is listening to podcasts. I started listening to podcasts over ten years ago when I was out in Oregon doing my M.A. in Folklore. Back then, the only show I listened to was Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing. These days, I’m a part of two podcasts and subscribe to many more. The two below have been particularly helpful for me this summer:

Friends at the Table – A marvelous actual-play tabletop role-playing game podcast with great players, engrossing worlds, and amazing music by composer Jack de Quidt (who is also one of the players). The current season Twilight Mirage is especially engrossing, telling the tale of a far-future utopia in crisis.

Waypoint Radio – The home podcast of video game website Waypoint. They focus less on giving games scores and more on story structure, design, and the political dimensions of games. They sometimes also talk politics (esp. labor and health policy) and are clear and open in their progressive leanings.

When I’m not listening to podcasts, I am often chilling out with my wife watching TV or watching something in the background while I work on this or that. Here are some shows and video series that have brought me joy the past few months:

DuckTales – The original show was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid, and the 2017 remake on DisneyXD is very amusing so far. I am a total sucker for anything that plays in the ‘modern multi-genre pulp’ mode where mummies and vampire and Atlantis and so on are all real.

Breakfast & Battlegrounds – This is a video series on Waypoint comprised of recordings of the game Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. Breakfast & Battlegrounds is complete with a (funny, loose) continuity, special music (boat jazz!) and fun special guests. Austin & Patrick from Waypoint play as father & son team Crowbar & Sickle, in search of the elusive Chicken Dinner of victory. The most fun I’ve had watching a video game in some time.

Killjoys – A fun, sexy, space-based action-adventure series which starts with great episodic stories and builds to a cool metaplot. The showrunner is the same as the urban fantasy series Lost GirlKilljoys is about a pair of space-age bounty hunters called Killjoys who travel The Quad (four planet/moons bound together by a corporate-owned government).

And of course, since I’m a gamer, here’s a recent game I loved playing:

Pyre – The new game from Supergiant Games, who created Bastion and Transistor. It’s a cool fantasy combination of a visual novel/choose your own adventure and a magical sports game. The biggest draw for me in this game is the cool characters and their evolving relationships with one another. Also, you can complete a play-through in about 10-12 hours.

Podcasts
Pod Save America
 – Ex-Obama staffers break down the news and snark along the way. Unabashedly Democrat-leaning & progressive, a bit bro-y, though not gross.
Pod Save The People – Activist Deray Mckesson provides a grassroots view on politics, with a strong focus on the impact to and organizing by communities of color.

Website
What The Fuck Just Happened Today? – Trump-focused digest of American political news.

Birthday Reflections

It feels weird to have a birthday and focus on joy with the current political climate, but the concert I went to last night was 100% what I needed. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Pulse events present orchestral music in a fresh, accessible way, and last night they played alongside Lake Street Dive.

I listened to classical pieces (new and old) that I’d never heard and got to lose myself in the richly textured performances. Next was Lake Street Dive themselves, a band of classically-trained performers who have found solid success in popular music, thanks to technical skill, great songwriting, and a lead singer with a truly singular voice. This set was far more rocking than the festival show I saw several years ago as they were starting to break out. It brought me so much joy to see them pack and captivate a 2,000+ person room.

And then, after 100 minutes of amazing music performing each on their own, the BSO and Lake Street Dive combined for a short set of LSD’s songs with 20 performers on stage. Lake Street Dive’s music is already textured and dense, and with 5x as many instruments, the magnified effect was transcendent.

But it wasn’t just the music that made the night. Before the show, there were local food vendors and local performers, like a mini indoor festival.Food, drinks, and then unforgettable music.

But that wasn’t the end.

After, we got to go backstage.

The friend whose +1 I was knows one of the bandmates, and so we got to meet and chat with each of them. I found out that the guitarist and the guest keyboardist are both SF/F fans, so we talked science fiction, the differences between prose and music, writing across media traveling for work.

The whole night was a magnificent, life-affirming event that reminded me of the power of the arts. I’ve spent so much time these last few months on the day-to-day short-term resistance – calling, sharing info, etc. All important stuff. But to keep from burning out, I need to resist through art as well as the day-to-day. To celebrate & remember what we’re fighting for.

So the birthday gift I need to give myself is permission to rotate off the front lines and make art. I’ll still make my calls, but the last few months have been utterly exhausting, reacting to every new indignity and making dozens of calls per week to rouse my reps to action. I’ve been recovering from surgery, which has kept me from the protests, but I’ve been no less active for it.

It would be easy to focus entirely on art, but I want to fight the short-term and on the cultural level. As with many things, balance. So that’s my goal for this year. To find and maintain a balance. To live fully without burning out or hiding behind my privilege.

Kameron Hurley, a brilliant fiction writer and one of the sharpest, clearest voices in SF/F, has talked about her strategy for getting through the Trump era – she talks about how she imagines herself 30~ years from now, looking back on who she was and what she did to get through all of this. And then she tries to figure out what it will take to get through to that future.

What we do right now will be remembered. Not just personally, but by our families, our friends, our neighbors, and by the world. Most of us would prefer to live in peaceful times, to never know a massive upheaval. But that is not the world we live in.

So this year, I will fight, I will live, I will laugh, I will love. I will make art and phone calls, I will go to conventions and to rallies. I will geek out with my friends about comics and share information about executive orders or legislation.

This push for balance is not some revolutionary new idea – activists and civil rights advocates have had to find this balance throughout history. I’m just a bit late to the game, like many of us are. But we’re in this together, and there are people who have been fighting the good fights for many years, people we can support and learn from.

So if you need permission to take a break, like I did, this is me giving you permission. As the resistance shifts from the rage of the inauguration and the flurry of horrendous initial actions to the sustained opposition and campaigning for run-offs/special elections this year and the big races in 2018, we’ll all need to take care of ourselves and one another to make it through this.

Because we can do this. The DJT White House and the GOP have abandoned their duty to the American people, but we’re still here, we have the numbers and the tools to protect the vulnerable, and if we can survive to 2018 with elections about as fair as we had in 2016 (noting that the 2016 elections had major problems in voter suppression, gerrymandering, and voter intimidation), the resistance can win, and can hold DJT accountable where the GOP won’t.

What We Can Do

I just shared some thoughts on Twitter about what straight white people and other variously-privileged folks can do in terms of trying to help make our future better in the face of Trump’s election, Brexit, etc. I’m mostly talking from my own cultural frame of reference, but maybe this will apply beyond that as well.

EDIT: There’s a specific call for suggestions at the bottom, below the thread.

EDITED TO ADD:
If you know of advocacy groups that you think people should look into, please add them in the comments.
Aggregating here:
Southern Poverty Law Center
Holocaust Museum engage.ushmm.org/support.html
Council on American Islamic Relations cair.com/donations/gene…
Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund spj.org/ldf.asp
Immigrant Defense Project immdefense.org
The Trevor Project http://www.thetrevorproject.org/
Tras Lifeline http://www.translifeline.org/

Genrenauts Kickstarter!

The time has come! The Genrenauts Season One Collection Kickstarter is live, right here.

Kickstarter info card

 

Check out the campaign for information about the future of the series, backer rewards (including writing critiques and more), sneak peeks at upcoming episodes, and details about stretch goals!

I’ll be appearing on podcasts, giving interviews, and writing guest posts throughout the campaign.

The next chapter of the Genrenauts saga begins…now!

 

Ebook pricing Storify and the Cult of the Debut

Today just before lunch, I saw this story on Publishers Weekly. Which reminded me of other reports like this one from the New York Times. But there’s a lot to *why* these reported print #s are likely dropping, and a lot these reports leave out. Which is where this discussion started.

I’d also like to say a bit more about the Cult of the Debut. This is a huge thing in publishing. Authors, Agents, Publishers, Reviewers, Booksellers, nearly everyone in publishing is culpable here. We all participate in the Cult of the Debut. The shiny new author, the undiscovered gem, the instant phenomenon new voice that will Revolutionize Publishing, so on and so on. Houses get into huge bidding wars over debuts they think will be the Next Big Thing, spending millions and millions of dollars on an unproven author.

And as authors, we get so worked up about The Big Debut. We see our colleagues getting six, seven figure deals out of the gate, and we despair, thinking we’ll never have the career they’re going to have. We fetishize the Big Debut as the One True Path to writing success? When in reality, a lot of those big debuts fail, and a lot of authors that do end up becoming bestsellers do so by building an audience over time.

VE Schwab just hit the NYT list with A Gathering of Shadows, the second book in a series, and her ninth book overall. She built an audience over six years, bringing her YA audience to her adult series. She has put the work in over time, alongside her publisher, to make this success happen. Stories like Schwab’s are far more achievable, far smarter of a strategy (even with the extraordinary circumstances of her film and TV deals, which are impressive and laudable in their own right), in my opinion, than throwing big stacks of money at debuts and hoping to win the lottery. Schwab has proven her work to be a good investment, has fostered a strong fan base, and now she is reaping the rewards. This is how to succeed without the Cult of the Debut.

Some people do debut right onto the NYT list. My agency-mate Jason M. Hough did with his novel The Darwin Elevator, but that happened because he busted his ass writing all three books in the trilogy so they could be released back-to-back-to-back, so his publisher had all the ammunition in the world to push the book hard. And then? It hit the NYT list probably in no small part to getting a very strong NPR on-air review during drive-time. But there’s no way to guarantee that kind of buzz or support. You make your bets, you give books everything you’ve got, and you pray. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes, a big advance is the last advance you’ll ever see.

Me? I’m a career slugger so far. I do the work, I write pretty quickly, and I promote the ever-loving crap out of my work by being active online and at conventions. I refine my process, I look at what in my list is working and what isn’t, and I try to focus on writing to where my existing readers are – the pop-culture-savvy action/adventure kind of story.

A lot of writers carve out solid careers for themselves without ever hitting a Bestseller list, without ever getting a major award. They write, they make smart choices about what books to write when, and they find good publishing partners. They develop their careers deliberately, thoughtfully, and by making good bets. Publishers can and often do this, too. But publishers are still frequently distracted by the Cult of the Debut.

And this focus on debuts goes all the way down – Big Debuts get the budget, so they get the support. Which means they get more ARCs, more ads, more events. They get more time during presentations to buyers and librarians, which means they get more exposure to readers and reviewers. All the while, career writers, the long-term proven creators, just hammer out incrementally stronger books, trying to build their audiences organically because they’re not the New Hotness anymore.

We can all do better. Debuts are fun, and it’s exciting to be the person to spread the news about a brand-new author, but there’s a lot to be said for the experience and honed skill of a veteran writer. That’s what I’m hoping to become. It’s not as sexy a role, but it’s far more realistic.


My latest book is The Absconded Ambassador, Episode 2 of the Genrenauts series. The Genrenauts are a group of storytellers that travel to dimensions informed by fiction genres to find and fix broken stories in order to protect their home world.

The Absconded Ambassador

My Hamilton Reaction Post

Or: We Got to be in the Room Where it Happened

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So yeah, that happened.

Meg and I visited NYC over the weekend to celebrate my birthday and to take a short vacation. We visited old haunts, explored the vast halls of the Met, and played the Hamilton lottery, just in case.

We lost on Friday, twice on Saturday, but then on Sunday, emerging from the subway as we made our way to Caracas for lunch, Meg looked at her phone and said, in a surprisingly calm voice, “I won.”

I managed to not scream and shout with joy in the corner market where we stopped to buy tickets. There was dancing, however. And it’s really good we decided to hit lunch when we did, since we had a mere 11 minutes to spare when Meg got the lottery notification.

The first thing I noticed walking into the theater itself is that the Richard Rogers is not a large theater. It holds 1,319, but it looks much smaller.

The stage set up is modular and mobile, with rotating floor sections and moving stage fixtures and a balcony in the background:

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Since we had lottery tickets, we were in the front row, on the right hand side of the center section. This meant that we were looking up at the performance the whole time, which helped create a sense of epic wonder – that these performers were larger than life, as was their story.

Because it was a Sunday matinee, the title role was played by Javier Muñoz, rather than Lin-Manuel Miranda. Since I’ve listened to the show’s OST many times, having that major difference helped make the live show a wholly distinct experience. Muñoz’s performance is a bit more Broadway than Manuel-Miranda’s, stronger in the singing and a bit less fluent in the rapping.

Leslie Odom, Jr. is AMAZING as Aaron Burr. I’d already been really impressed by his work as Burr in the few videos I’ve seen and in the OST, but seeing him in person, the passion and polish in his performance totally blew me away. Daveed Diggs as Lafayette/Jefferson is even more hilarious than I’d imagined – Diggs fills moments and elevates scenes with his reactions and fantastic physical comedy. Also worth calling out for delight is Jonathan Groff’s King George, who uses a full range of comedic tools to make his numbers and scenes laugh-out-loud funny, including participating in “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” which I hadn’t realized was part of the show – he dances around the stage celebrating Hamilton’s self-destructive move, along with Jefferson and company.

And if there is any justice, Phillipa Soo will have a long and celebrated career in Broadway, because DAMN she is brilliant. The Schuyler Sisters (Phillipa Soo, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, and Renee Elise Goldsberry) have great rapport, and their number is incredibly fun.

Even having heard the soundtrack several times, the performances moved me to tears twice in act one, and three times in act two.

Other notes from seeing the full performance:

  • Muñoz and Odom Jr. do a great job of portraying the complicated friendship/rivalry/enmity between Hamilton and Burr. Muñoz’s Hamilton shows naked ambition and arrogance in key moments, showing how he alienates the people around him, including those in his closest confidence (Washington, Burr, and his own wife Eliza).
  • There’s much more b-boy and pop & lock in the ensemble’s dance pieces than I thought – it was really cool to see.
  • Jon Rua (an ensemble player and Hamilton understudy, who usually plays Charles Lee) has the most boss undercut I’ve seen. Like, seriously, Undercut Goals. He could be the rival-friend in a martial arts anime.
  • I got a T-Shirt. It’s the “Just Like My Country – Young, Scrappy, and Hungry” and it will be my new Writing Power-Up shirt.
  • If you buy drinks, they come in Hamilton cups. They’re cool, but they’e plastic. I would happily buy Hamilton pint glasses. Can you say strategic partnership with the Sam Adams Brewing Company?
  • OMG HAMILTON!

Of course, now I want to see the show again with Lin-Manuel Miranda, but I may be waiting quite a while. Even having seen the show, I still really want the original cast to do at least one weekend live-cast to movie theaters the way some operas have done. They could charge $25 a seat and make tens of millions in one weekend. The show has legit, Tumblr-level fandom, and a huge % of those fans cannot afford tickets and/or the cost to come to NYC to play the lottery, but are no less devoted. I’ll be interested to see how Miranda and the team continues to deal with the show’s phenomenon status.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled program of singing Hamilton songs to myself as I work.


 

Mike’s latest book is The Absconded Ambassador – Genrenauts Episode 2. Weird aliens, diplomatic wrangling, space dogfights, genre ruminations, and more:

The Absconded Ambassador

 

Goals and Resolutions for 2016

2016 is here, and looking at my schedule and list of projects on proposal and in development, this year is looking like a big one.

Books

 

For the year, I’m going to divide things into Resolutions, Goals, and Ambitions. Resolutions are personal principles I’m going to try to keep in mind to help make a happier, more productive year. Goals are achievable actions and projects under my control. Ambitions are Cool Things I would like to see happen this year that require other people’s/company’s buy-in.

 

Resolutions

Here are some principles I’m going to try to keep in mind for the year:

  1. Focus on Joy, and share that joy. Spend more of my free time on things that make me happy. Celebrate colleagues and creators that inspire me – from talking up things I’m enjoying, recommending books and movies and shows and music, and so on. Use my platform to spotlight awesomeness.
  2. Elevate marginalized voices. This means signal-boosting people of color, women, LGBTQIA/QUILTBAG persons, and other people marginalized across various social axes. This lets me put my Privilege Yahtzee to good use and helps me continue to learn how to be a better-informed and more empathetic person.
  3. When I read an opinion about media that I deeply disagree with: just walk away (unless it’s actively bigoted, in which case, I can allow myself to throw down for great justice). This will hopefully keep me from wasting as much time arguing about things on the internet.
  4. Do writing work every weekday and one weekend day wherever possible. Optimally, this means drafting, revising, and/or promotion work. Writer admin (website, accounting, etc.) comes after drafting/revising/promotion. I’ve noticed that I get antsy if I spend too long without working on drafting or revising, so I want to be more consistent in working on that part of writing.
  5. Do what I can to reach out to people in more substantive ways. I love Twitter, but it’s become a very large part of my social life, and I want to mix in more Skype and in-person socializing.

 

Goals

These are mostly writer and career things. I’ll note that these are things totally under my control, rather than things which require other people’s buy in (those are ambitions, they’ll follow below).

  1. Revise Genrenauts Episodes 3-6. (Winter-Spring).
  2. Promote Genrenauts: The Absconded Ambassador.
  3. Publish Genrenauts Episodes 3-6 with Tor.com or myself.
  4. Finish, revise, and submit the Cool Space Opera WIP.
  5. Plot and start writing Genrenauts Season 2.
  6. Proceed with Sekret Project #1.
  7. Finish revising Beacons and pitch it.
  8. Write more Business of Publishing Essays and pitch them to major markets.
  9. Pick one new way to earn readers.
  10. Do it.

A lot of these are penciled in due to the fact that I have three different submissions/proposals active right now, and my plans for 2016 will be largely dependent on what happens with those. I really want to get all of Genrenauts Season 1 out this year, so that’s pretty solid. And Beacons is, I think, pretty close to being ready to take the next step. And the Business of Publishing Essays thing can fit well with many of the other things. But if more than one of those submissions/proposals comes back with a buy/offer, I’ll need to make a lot of writing time for them.

 

Ambitions

  1. Sell a novel to a Big Five SF/F house for wide print & ebook distribution.
  2. Sell a TV option for Genrenauts to a reputable production company/creator.
  3. Sell Beacons and/or get a work-for-hire job writing for a major comics company.
  4. Have one of my works/projects nominated for a major SFF award (either a book or one of the podcasts I work on).

 

The New Year is here, now let’s make it a great one.

Year in Review – 2015

So, it’s the last day of 2015. That calls for some reflection.

Personally, 2015 was a big year for me. First and foremost, I got married to the love of my life, and we were so excited that we held two receptions! It was a ton of work to organize both, but getting to share the joy with family and friends that wouldn’t be able to travel was definitely worth it.

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2015 was a busy year in writing as well. I finished Season One of Genrenauts, revised the first three episodes, and developed other projects which are in various stages of secret activity even now.

 

Hexomancy cover

September saw the release of Hexomancy, the fourth Ree Reyes story, wrapping up the first arc of that series. It’s been met very positively by fans, and has me excited to move on to the next part of Ree’s story as soon as possible.

 

The Shootout Solution Final

And then in November, I launched Genrenauts season one, beginning with The Shootout Solution, from Tor.com Publishing. We were able to book Mary Robinette Kowal to perform the audiobook, and I couldn’t be happier. My agent and I partnered with Macmillan Entertainment to manage TV/Film rights for the series, which I think is by far my best shot so far in that field.

I’m very pleased with the series, and excited to continue it in 2016. And I have so many ideas of other things to do with the world – an RPG, comics, a board game, etc.

Work

AR Logo with Lettering

Angry Robot emerged from its Interregnum in March, and has been kicking ass and taking names once more. We had popular, buzz-worthy releases, award nominations, and strong sales. We signed up some incredibly exciting novels by amazing writers, and got the word out about our ongoing, beloved series. And for my own part in the team, I started writing art briefs and working with artists, as well as working on a new Thing that is currently secret but very exciting.

 

 

 

 

Geekdom

This was a big year in Geekdom. Just with Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we had two huge, impressive new offerings in genre-defining series, each bringing a breath of fresh air in terms of representation. I’ve spoken a lot about those films, so I don’t feel like I need to go on at great length here.

2015 was also the year I got into Steven Universe and Hamilton, it was the year of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Agent Carter, Supergirl, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and more.

 

I also joined Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans in 2015, and have been talking with Greg Wilson, my other active co-host, about cool things we can do in 2016, which has me very excited.

Favorite Things

Here are a few more things that rocked my world in 2015, just for fun – there’s a theme here:

Blades in the Dark

Blades in the Dark is a dark fantasy cloak & dagger RPG by John Harper, in the design lineage of Apocalypse World, but distinctly its own. It cites Dishonored, the Vlad Taltos books, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and the Thief game series as its major touchstones. BitD was Kickstarted to great effect this year, and the core book is due early 2016. It already has a very active Google+ community, so if an RPG about a group of scoundrels building a criminal empire appeals to you, check it out.

RPG Actual Plays

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Another thing that delighted and surprised me this year was the rise in prominence of streaming tabletop RPGs. From Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role to Actual Play Podcasts like Friends at the Table, produced RPG video like Wil Wheaton’s Titansgrave, and Roll20 Presents games like Apocalypse World, consuming RPGs as entertainment has become far more mainstream, and I love it. As a guy who wrote his M.A. thesis on Tabletop RPGs, one of the things I wrote about was how RPGs’ mass appeal was limited because the performers were also the entirety of the audience. With these streamed and recorded games, we’re seeing more attention for the form as performance, as narrative to be enjoyed by more than just the participants. It’s super-cool, and I can’t wait to see more.

 

Looking ahead

2016 is already shaping up to be a big year for me – The Absconded Amabssador releases in February, I’ve got stories in two anthologies that will be Kickstarting over the course of the year, and I’ll be attending a ton of conventions for Angry Robot and my own writing. Add my current Sekret Projects to that and it’s going to be a doozy. More on 2016 tomorrow.

Until then, thanks to everyone who bought my books, wrote reviews, talked my books up to their friends, hung out with me at conventions, whiled away the hours on Twitter or Facebook, and more. Thanks for everything you’ve done to make 2015 a great year in so many ways, and here’s to making 2016 even better.

What Star Wars Means To Me

I saw The Force Awakens again yesterday. And I loved it with every fiber of my being.

I am the person and writer I am in no small part due to Star Wars. I know I’m not alone in this. I’m not claiming to be singularly influenced in a deeper way than anyone else, yadda yadda. But here this is my story. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen Star Wars. Its structure and tone has left an indelible mark on me.

Continue reading

The Chirpening

So, it’s been a fun 15 hours. It’s late spring (basically but not officially summer) in Baltimore, and while I am generally a fan of fuzzy animals, as befits my role as a singing-and-dancing bouncy optimistic Male Disney Princess, being a magnet to fuzzy creatures presents a problem when one doesn’t actually have the ability to control them.

And so, I give you THE CHRIPENING, a story of birds, horror, and sleep deprivation.