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/

Award Eligibility Post – 2015

So – awards and award eligibility – some people hate eligibility posts, but this is my blog, so they can deal. 🙂

Here’s what I did in 2015, and how it would qualify in award categories – Hugo, Nebula, Locus, World Fantasy Award, etc.

Best (Fantasy) Novel

Hexomancy cover

Hexomancy

The fourth story (third novel) in the Ree Reyes urban fantasy series, where fandom and love of SF/F is its own magic system. This is the novel I’m proudest of so far – I think it represents a leveling up across several craft elements, including capping off the first major story arc for the series.

 

Best Novella

The Shootout Solution cover

The Shootout Solution

Episode one of the Genrenauts series – about a group that travels to genre-informed dimensions to find and fix broken stories in order to protect their version of Earth. This kicks off the series which I hope to be writing for the next few years – it’s fun, its wacky, and it delivers both adventure and analysis of why and how we tell stories.

 

Fancast

skiffyandfanty4_banner_web

Skiffy & Fanty

 

SpeculateBanner9

Speculate!

In 2015, I joined the cast of Speculate! while continuing to work with the Skiffy and Fanty Show, which was nominated for Best Fancast in 2014. Both are fantastic shows, and, in my opinion, fill different but important niches in the SF/F podcasting community.

 

Special Award – Best Professional (World Fantasy)

Michael R. Underwood – For work at Angry Robot

In my experience, Best Professional almost always goes to a Publisher or Editor, but there’s nothing that says that a Sales/Marketing Manager couldn’t be nominated and win. I worked closely on supporting every one of Angry Robot’s 2015 releases, including two Phillip K. Dick Award nominees, the Campbell Award winner, and more. A long shot, but worth mentioning, since this is my blog.

 

Fan Writer

Most of my non-fiction in 2015 was more professional than fannish, but I leave it to you, the voter, to decide what you like. Here are some of the best of the best from me in 2015:

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.

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 New Landscape – Access, Discovery, and Media De-centralization

Several things popped up in rapid succession that got me thinking. The first was this announcement regarding YouTube Red, the new ad-free paid tier of YouTube. The second was the news of a new Star Trek series, to be aired (almost?) exclusively on CBS All Access, a streaming service. And then, just as I was writing this post, Amazon announced Amazon Books – a Bricks & Mortar test store.

So now, I’m going to put on my digital media scholar hat once more and talk about some high-level stuff going on right now. Some pitfalls and pain points I see, as well as opportunities.

YouTube Red has been some time in the making. January of this year, musician Zoë Keating got a lot of shares and chatter with her post “What should I do about YouTube?” on this very topic. I see this move as part of an overall shift in the landscape toward more and more de-centralization of content, where 1st-party streaming systems and subscriptions replace once-agnostic content aggregation-esque systems like YouTube, Hulu, etc.

Here’s YouTube creator Hank Green discussing some of the ins and outs of this move.

I appreciate him spending the time to talk about the positives and negatives, avoiding a hard knee-jerk reaction. I’m worried about the independent creators who had found an equilibrium between Patreon, YouTube, and other venues who now have to pivot and adjust in a big way. It’s the way of life, but any logistical interruption costs creators money, because have to spend spend more of their time on admin and strategy rather than the actual creation.

And then, just hours later, I saw the news about the new Star Trek show, and that it was going to be almost exclusively available on CBS All Access, a paid streaming subscription which currently costs $5.99 a month.

It looks to me (and others, from what I’ve seen), that this is CBS positioning the new show as a Killer App for their streaming service, which I’d not heard of before today (I’m mostly out of the Media Criticism game day-to-day, thanks to having two other careers).

It’s potentially a very smart approach – and one that most of these proliferating paid services are following. HBO, Netflix, Hulu, Kindle Unlimited, all of them are bringing in or commissioning exclusive content to serve as Killer Apps for their individual services.

But here’s the thing about that proliferation – if every service has its own killer apps behind their pay walls, most consumers are very quickly going to max out on the $ they can or choose to pay for these services.

 

Consumer Side

An example – I have a steady, middle-class day job and I have a writing career. I’m married to someone who also has a steady job, and we have no kids. So we have more disposable income than a lot of US families. Between us, we pay for Netflix, Hulu, and High-speed internet. I get my razors on a subscription, I subscribe to a fiction serial (Bookburners), I’ve been an intermittent subscriber to Oyster and Scribd, as well as supporting a half-dozen creators on Patreon and intermittent subscriptions to broadcasters on Twitch.tv. As a household, we’re probably in the top quartile of subscription service users in the US. And I’m very much at the point of ‘Okay, that’s all I can do’ when it comes to subscription services. If I add one at this point, it probably involves dropping another.

And there are *so many* of them these days:

Twitch, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, HBO Now, CBS Access, Spotify, Apple Music, Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, Amazon Prime, etc.

And that’s not even counting subscription boxes (L00tCrate, etc.) and subscription services outside of entertainment, like Harry’s, Blue Apron, StitchFix, etc.

Economic recovery in the US is happening, but it’s slow, and it’s accompanied by wage stagnation and income inequality (I can’t speak well to the economic situation elsewhere, so I won’t). So the % of people in the US that can afford numerous subscription services without seriously re-framing their budget is still not too large, from what I can tell. Whether this is part of an overall paradigm shift in how people budget and consume content is a different discussion (there are too many ways this could go – I have to focus).

 

Creator Side

Switching hats now – what does this look like on the creator side of the equation?

I see this proliferation of paid/gated services as a double-edged facet of the overall creative & commercial ecosystem. There are opportunities, but they’re potentially fraught.

Here’s what I see as the dominant progression for a creator trying to make money from their work (visual art, music, prose, comics, video, etc.)

Level 1 – Start small, give stuff away for free, sell some stuff. At Level 1, a creator is almost totally reliant on big systems, for both discovery and fulfillment/delivery. Basically no one knows who they are, so they join larger infrastructures and services to get the word out about their material through algorithmic and organic discovery.

Level 2 – Building Audience & Relationships — At this level, it becomes viable to sell some merch (T-shirts, mugs, stickers, patches, etc. Here, a creator can bring dedicated fans onto a growing mailing list. This level enables direct sales and stronger performance on retail sites, but the creator may still be largely dependent for discovery-enabled growth and a lot of fulfillment/delivery

Level 3 – Big Creators – Here, creators have a dedicated audience large enough they can get a living wage directly from their base, either totally direct or through Patreon/Kickstarter. Maybe they supplement their income speaking/appearance fees etc., being large enough that they are in demand not just as creators, but as entrepreneurs/thought leaders in their field. They may still use large systems, but if they do, they do so from a far stronger position – they are less dependent on any given system, since their base is strong, a base that is specific and mobilized, not platform-dependent.

This system is reductive, and by applying it broadly across media, I lose some nuance. Musicians can tour and get money from in-person appearances and sell merch there – novelists and poets largely cannot. Visual artists can sell commissions at conventions for solid income, writers have less opportunities in such situations. Etc.

Some take the pure indie path and are less reliant on the bigger systems, but then don’t have access to their discovery engine.

As the landscape moves toward more gated content, more push for exclusives as killer apps, more and more places to publish and publicize, creators have to have our eyes wide frakking open as we consider every new platform, every new distributor agreement, every new book deal, and so on.

Because things are moving fast, and these big platforms are only allies for as long as we’re useful to them. ACX changed its payout terms last February, and because ACX was the only real game in their town (self-publishing audiobook service), creators were forced to sign the new terms or walk from that service entirely. It’s the same type of choice YouTube creators have been forced into, though with notable differences (ACX was a flat-out rate cut, YouTube might come with additional payment, but requires more opt-in and cuts off other options). Any creator that relies on a single or small # of services/sites/retailers for a large % of their business is vulnerable to disruption, as Chuck says in the link re: ACX.

Anytime one of these big companies makes a shift, it causes huge ripples, and creators, especially those of us reliant on platforms for fulfillment, discovery, or other services/opportunities they offer have to roll with the changing tides.

In my opinion, creators right now have more to fear from Monopsonies and monopsonic behavior, than monopolies. Since so many creators are currently beholden to retailers and/or content services (writers and Amazon/B&N/Kobo/iTunes/Physical Bookstores, musicians and iTunes/Spotify/Pandora), if a creator wants to retail their work but doesn’t have enough reach/audience on their own, they use a seller/vendor. But if there are few enough vendors in their world, and those limited vendors exhibit monopsonic behavior, the result tends to be a major squeeze on the creators.

Paradoxically, the creators are the only reason the monopsonists can survive – if a majority of creators pulled out of monopsonic vendors, those vendors would collapse. But in the meantime, the lost income, the lost access could easily bankrupt a huge % of the creators pulling away from the monopsonist.

In a healthy market, there are a range of options, and creators can respond to a change of terms they dislike by removing their content from that platform. But for most video creators, removing everything from YouTube stands to present a loss of a huge % of their access and income, just as a prose writer would stand to lose a huge % of their access and income if they decided to not sell through Amazon.

Monopsonic behavior also impacts larger creator groups, like publishers – if one retailer or wholesaler gets too strong, it can create problems. It’s the WalMart problem. Wal-Mart pushes down prices, then makes up their $ in volume and by demanding better terms from their vendors, The vendors (publishers, manufacturers, etc.) then get to choose – pull out of the single-largest physical retailer, or accept the terms. Because individually, Wal-Mart doesn’t need most vendors. They need a plurality or majority, but as long as the selection adds up, individual vendors can come and go.

So when you’re one of those vendors, one of those creators, you end up in a really terrible situation. And that worries me. I want a healthy marketplace, where creators (authors, musicians, etc.) and the publishers/labels/etc that work with them have options, have recourse for if/when terms change in a way that becomes untenable.

The sky is not falling. But I will continue to point out rain clouds when I see them forming. Because then the smart folks can put out buckets and save on the water bill, or pull the lawn furniture inside before the storm breaks.

I’ll stop there before torturing the metaphor any further.

What do you all think about these streaming service moves – YouTube Red, and Star Trek on CBS All Access?

Mike’s latest book is Hexomancy, the fourth Ree Reyes urban fantasy. Geek magic squares off against a quartet of fate witches hell-bent on revenge.

Hexomancy cover

New York Comic-Con Schedule

If you’re heading to NYCC this week, here’s where you can find me doing official-type things! I’ll also be walking the show floor, attending panels, and scouring artists’ alley all weekend. Ping me on Twitter if you want to meet up!

Thursday, Oct 8th

Signing!
2pm – Booth #1828

In-booth signing with fellow Pocket author Kristi Charish. S&S is providing rare bound galley copies of GEEKOMANCY which we’ll have for me to sign and send home with readers.

Saturday, Oct 10th

Books to Movies Wishlist
4pm – Room A101

The Martian. Foundation. American Gods. Redshirts: So many iconic SFF novels are finally scheduled to hit the big screen, thanks to the rabid fandom of recent dramatizations of Game of Thrones, Outlander, The Hunger Games, Divergent. But what’s on the big screen wish list of this Panel of bestselling speculative fiction superstars? They all agree that the obvious franchises have been done already – and now, they want to discuss with NYCC Attendees what lesser-know/cult fave titles should invade theaters and march into cable programming! Join us for a nerdy-fun discussion about which science fiction and fantasy must-reads would really make celluloid magic!

Panel:

Charlie Jane Anders
Christopher Golden
Chuck Wendig
Jennifer Armentrout
Clay Griffith
Susan Griffith
Michael R. Underwood (Moderator)

Post-Panel Signing
5:15pm-6:15pm WORD Bookstore 1-B

Come and get books signed by the panelists, and me! We’ll have a very small # of the left-over Geekomancy galleys for people at this signing.

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.

 

Baltimore Links

Earlier this month, a man named Freddie Gray was arrested and suffered massive injuries (including a severed spine) in the van after being arrested. Freddie Gray died a week later, on April 19th, from those injuries.

This latest death of a black person as a result of interaction with the police has caused always-simmering tensions in Baltimore to boil over once more. There have been protests, and in the last two days, more extreme situations have occurred, largely separate from the organized protests.

Baltimore has had problems with police misconduct for years, and Baltimoreans are very aware of the tensions and dangers this history engenders to black Baltimoreans.

Are You Okay?

Meg and I are fine: we live literally across from an elementary school in a largely residential partially-gentrified neighborhood.

What To Read

I’m not a reporter, and I haven’t been on the ground in these protests, but here are some pertinent links I think may be useful for getting a sense of what’s really happening in Baltimore and why. First off, know that numerically, the vast majority of the activity has been peaceful protest, and several protestor groups and individuals have put themselves between opportunistic agitators/looters and their targets. If all you’re seeing is video of looting and fighting, adjust your inputs. And remember how you thought about and framed video of uprisings in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere in the world.

Here are some links to give context and food for thought:

Kate Briquelet on disparate groups allying to protest police violence.

Brandon Soderberg on Saturday’s violence after an Orioles game and re-evaluating the better-known images from that night.

This awesome dude in a Punisher shirt de-escalating.

Baltimore Sun expose on police brutality in Baltimore (from 2014)

Orioles COO on the cancelled game.

Baltimore-born Ta-Nehisi Coates on Nonviolence as Compliance.

Helena Hicks talking about Institutional Neglect in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood.

Tyler Reinhard on riot-shaming.

Link roundup and resources at Baltimore Uprising.org

10 images and videos from Baltimore from outside the dominant media narrative.

 

Where to Watch

Twitter is my best source of what’s happening. To start, follow @Shaun King, @Nettaaaaaaaa, @Deray.

And look here for a list of reporters, protesters, officials, and activists on the ground in Baltimore.

Read Baltimore’s City Paper (The Baltimore Sun is not doing a good job right now) and follow the sites of protest groups.

What You Can Do

The Maryland Food Bank is going to be facing a ton of demand this week as people’s lives and schedules are disrupted. Baltimore City Schools are canceled today, a place where many children get their only reliable meals. And many parents will have to miss work today to take care of their children.

Update 4/29/15

Here’s the text of the emergency curfew and other restrictions now in place for Baltimore for the next 5+ days – including a 24hr curfew for youth and a total suspension of the freedom of assembly for those without a protest permit.

Farewell, Spicy Orange

Last Friday, I donated my car, Spicy Orange, to charity.

Spicy Orange

I barely used the car anymore – my fiance has a car she uses for commuting, and I rarely need to drive anywhere, since we live near the center of town and I work from home. Parking in my neighborhood is a nightmare, and the car was approaching the point where maintaining it was more expensive than the car was useful. We also live less than .6 miles from no fewer than three ZipCar stations.

Spicy Orange had been with me for nearly 10 years, including around a year of very heavy use when I was a traveling rep. The car has driven entirely across the country – from Eugene to the coast, and then back from Eugene to Indiana, and Indiana to my house in Baltimore, mere blocks from the water.

This car, at times called Turbomobile Mk. II, the Xavicar, and most recently Spicy Orange, was the first car I owned. I was very lucky in that the car was bought for me outright by my parents when I went off for grad school in Oregon. It’s the car I drove to dance tango, my primary social outlet outside the house during my grad work. It’s the car that drove me to Clarion West in 2007. The car that drove me to meet Meg on our first date. It’s the first car that was mine, not a family car, and due to its bright orange color, it was always easy to find in parking lots, an asset which I cannot under-value.

I’ll probably get another car, at some point. I’d love to get an Electric car at some point, partially because they are one of the things that represents The Future in my head. In the meantime, ZipCar can cover me for whenever I need a car during weekdays.

So farewell Spicy Orange. You served me well, and I will miss you.