Tales of the Stop

I am sitting on a mountain of awesome things right now, my friends. Things I have not yet told you about, but will be talking up in the coming weeks! And thing #1 is: Tales of the Stop. If I may steal a few words from the project creator as written over at Chuck Wendig's place:

A few years ago, I wrote a story called Azrael’s Stop. It’s a fantasy story about a teenager named Ceph who’s had to deal with a lot of death in his life—his whole family, a childhood friend, his best friend from school… And it’s kind of fucked him up. He thinks that everyone he loves is going to die, and so he won’t let himself get close to anyone.
Then a mysterious man brings him to a bar called Azrael’s Stop—said to be the watering hole of the Angel of Death Himself—and sets him up as the bartender. People start coming to the bar, people who are either ready to pass on from this world and just need someone to share their story with, or people who, like Ceph, have experienced death and need help dealing with it.

I have a short story in this volume called Changed and Changing. As with much of my short fiction over the last few years, it is thematically about the complexity of motherhood. I think it's a lovely, sad little piece, and I would enjoy it if you would read it and let me know what you think. (Note that it's also in my own collection of shorts Shiva's Mother and Other Stories if you've read that before, but I'd prefer if you buy Tales at this point. And if you liked Changed and Changing from the other collection, well! You'll definitely like the rest of the anthology!)

I know Lucas J.W. Johnson from way back in the transmedia salt mines, and I've always admired him for the way he thinks big and then acts on those visions of his. Azarael's Stop is a transmedia project start to finish; go and read that post at Terrible Minds to see learn more about its creative vision and implementation. It's worth your time, I promise. 

And then buy Tales of the Stop! This book is available in all the stores for the low price of $4.99! LOOK AT THESE BUY LINKS: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo or buy it from Lucas directly as a discounted bundle at Silverstring Media!

More awesome things incoming. Stay tuned!

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Fireside Fiction's 2015 Subscription Drive

Fireside Magazine was my very first fiction sale. That story was Children of Rouwen, published just a few weeks ago. It was overshadowed by the bigger release from a couple of weeks earlier, though, because Fireside Fiction was also my first (and so far my only) novel sale. That book is of course Revision.

Working with Fireside has always been a joy, even aside from that giddy halo of finding a publisher who believes in me; their processes are kind and collaborative in all the best ways. I've written about that elsewhere. These are good people, trying to do good things in the world.

And not just from where I sit, either. I'm not the only creator Fireside has done business with -- of course not. Fireside has brought us stories from celebrated writers like Daniel José Older, Elizabeth Bear, Chuck Wendig; early-career writers, like me and Sunil Patel; not to mention a never-ending stream of exceptional art from Galen Dara. Go on, look at the archives and see what they've been doing. It's wonderful.

One of Fireside's founding principles is fair pay for writers. As such, Fireside pays a whopping 12.5 cents per word for short fiction. That's twice what qualifies as a "professional rate" in this day and age.

And now Fireside needs me -- and you -- to keep the party going. This is the last few days of Fireside's funding drive. After years of stressful and funded-at-the-last-minute Kickstarters, Fireside is trying to shift over to Patreon and subscriptions to keep the lights on. 

On July 15 (that's Wednesday), they're going to have to take a good, hard look at the money coming in, and figure out what to do about a budget shortfall. It might mean lighter magazines, and so fewer stories for readers and less opportunity for writers, I don't know. It might mean Fireside starts slowly winding down, and a force for diversity and higher pay for fiction fades into the West.

Please, please, we can't let that happen. They need $21,000 to produce a full year of stories and art all-out. That works out to $1750 a month, and that funds a whopping 10,000 words of fiction, plus art and production costs. But as I write this, Fireside is only funded to about $8600 for the year -- that's less than halfway there. 

If you've read Fireside and thought the work was good, now is the time to step in with your couple of bucks. If you haven't, go ahead and do some reading back issues; I think you'll find Fireside is worth saving.

I'm putting my money where my mouth is, too. I'm a Fireside supporter on Patreon, and I've supported prior years on Kickstarter. You can contribute through Patreon too, or buy a subscription for three months, six months, a year. Join me in keeping this thing going, and maintaining a precedent where writers get paid in cash, not glory. It helps raise the bar for everyone else -- and you'll get some fantastic reading out of it, too.

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What Happens When You Don't Like a Friend's Work?

Over the years, I've become twitterfriends with quite a lot of writers: SF/F writers, games writers, transmedia writers, bloggers, and on and on. They are to a one funny, clever, insightful people. (Then again, if they weren't I wouldn't be following 'em, so there's that.) One of my ambitions for this year is to do a lot more reading, particularly the work of all these people that I love and respect from social media.

Which raises an interesting question: what happens if I read something written by someone I really, really like... and I really, really don't like it?* And of course there's the flip side of that: what if someone I'm friends with really, really doesn't like my work?

Various writers have talked about whether or not they should ever write negative reviews of another writer's work. These are often couched in terms of reputation and career -- negative reviews might rob you of a valuable connection, negative reviews might rob the reviewee of potential sales, etc. etc. 

But there's not a whole ton of attention paid to what I think is a deeper underlying issue. Genre fiction, in particular, is a fairly small community of creators. Many -- maybe most! -- of that peer group are friends, or at least friendly. So in a negative-review situation, the problem isn't just one of what's best for your career. Often the question is how to manage a potential source of conflict and tension in your relationship with somebody you really like a lot.

Even aside from outright reviews, if you simply talk a lot to another writer and find their work not to your taste, poorly executed, or otherwise lacking, do you tell them? Do you just keep quiet and hope it never comes up? Do you cherry-pick one thing you kinda liked and talk it up?

Whether to be open and honest about the not-liking is going to heavily depend on the nature of the relationship. In general the closer you are, the more honest you can be; there's not much point in going out of your way to tell a nodding acquaintance that their latest book just didn't rev your engine, or you think they must have been drunk on bathtub gin and battery acid to write so poorly.

In a closer or warmer friendship, it can be a lot trickier, to be honest. There's no one right way to handle it, because human beings aren't a one-size-fits-all kind of deal.

But one thing is absolutely clear: if you find you dislike something created by someone you really like, it's important to remember that taste varies. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you don't like something, it is unlikeable. That if you don't care for the writing or the characters or the plotting or the worldbuilding, it's because the writing is actively and objectively bad.

This is not the case. Let's say that again: Taste varies.

For my part, I'm totally fine when friends don't like something I've done; I've never thought I'd receive universal love and acclaim to begin with. My writing isn't perfect, nor will it ever be. And even if I were to execute perfectly on my vision, eh, different people enjoy different things. Sometimes, what I'm putting out there just isn't what someone else wants to pick up. And that's not just OK, it's to be expected!

A healthy separation between the creator and the creation is always, always important -- especially for the creator. It's tragically easy to feel like the way that someone reacts to your writing is a referendum on your worth as a human being.

But the fact is that no writer, no artist, has universal appeal. Taste varies, perception of quality even varies, and that's cool. We can all still be friends.

* ...And to all of my suddenly worried and more than slightly neurotic writer friends, I really, REALLY promise this isn't about you. It's not about anyone in particular. Relax, we're cool.

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The Cultures, A Podcast

A few months ago, I quietly began a new project with my long-time friends and colleagues Adrian Hon and Naomi Alderman. It's called The Cultures, and it's a podcast where we talk about art, music, money, religion, technology, and culture — you know, all the most interesting stuff.

So far, we've talked about why we hate advertising (and why we're all hypocrites about it); the relationship between routine and creativity; the cultural dynamics of talking in a movie theater; and of course much, much more. We're thirteen episodes in already, and having a lot of fun with it -- maybe you'll join us?

Follow us on Twitter!  Listen to the episodes on Libsyn! You can even subscribe on iTunes! Have a listen, and let us know what you think!

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A History of the Future in 100 Objects

If you aren't already familiar with Adrian Hon, you should be. This game designer and entrepreneur is one of the creators of the hit fitness game Zombies, Run! but that's on top of being a neuroscientist, a newspaper columnist, a TED speaker, and one of my co-podcasters on The Cultures. (More on that soon!)

I had the pleasure of helping to edit Adrian's latest project, A History of the Future in 100 Objects. It is by turns inspiring, frightening, thought-provoking, and touching. And its vision of the future is so clear and convincing that ever since I've read it, I see news articles daily in which his predictions are close to coming true, and sooner than I ever would have thought. Naturally, I asked Adrian if he'd do a Q&A over here at DeusXM to tell all of you a little more about this fascinating project.

For readers who don't know much about the project yet, can you talk a little bit about what History of the Future in 100 Objects is, and how it came about?

 My direct inspiration for the book was "A History of the World in 100 Objects", a radio series produced by the British Museum and BBC Radio 4. It told the story of human history, from 40,000 years ago to the present day, through a hundred objects chosen from the British Museum's collection, with each object being presented in a 10 minute radio programme.

Shortly through the series, I realised that this format would be perfect for exploring the future, as it could ground futuristic concepts in a tangible physical object. I've always been interested in the future ever since I was very young, reading science fiction by Clarke and Asimov, and I've continued that interest through school and university, where I studied neuroscience, and into my ten years of experience as a game designer and CEO.

 I knew people in the publishing industry so I definitely had the route of shopping the idea to an agent or a publisher, but I'm on the record as saying that I think authors should explore self-publishing more (I wrote a blog post called "The Death of Publishers" about which the head of Macmillan said "I disagree with everything he says but you should still read it") — so I decided that it would be more interesting to self-publish.

However, I still wanted to know if people thought the idea was good, so I went to Kickstarter in early 2011 to raise $2500 for a short print run and to pay for various bits and pieces. I raised almost double that amount and crucially established that people wanted to read such a book. Naively, I thought I could write the whole thing in a year. Of course, it turned out that writing 100 short stories while having a very demanding day job *and* also writing a column for The Telegraph was not easy, so it ended up taking two and a half years instead... 

The History is well-grounded in real and developing technology and the ways that people have adapted to new technology in the past. Did you have multiple views of the future fighting for supremacy, or was it really one clear vision to describe?

The book presents a single coherent world, but just like in our world, there's great variability between different places and between different people. That meant that I had a lot of flexibility in exploring different kinds of futures in different countries, or ultimately, planets and habitats. Still, it probably would've been much easier if I had fewer objects to write about!

 What do you think is the wildest prediction you're making? The safest?

The wildest: Probably 'Cepheid Variable', which is a story about AI communication with aliens via a Cepheid Variable star whose pulse-period has been modified by neutrinos. There's a lot in that story and I don't seriously think it would actually happen — but it's certainly a lot of fun to think about, plus it let me explore some ideas about conspiracy theories and the future of programming!

The safest: There are several very safe objects! One of the safest is '50% Unemployment', where I talk about the future of work. It's very clear to many thinkers and economists that the increasing rate of automation will eliminate a huge number of full-time, permanent jobs. It says a lot about our culture that this is not a cause for rejoicing.

Is there anything you really believed before you started writing, but that you changed your mind on during the process as you did further research?

About the objects or about the process of writing? I did quite a bit of reading about energy usage, and realised that it's going to take an awful lot longer to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It took us about a hundred years to go from wood and coal to oil, and it may take another hundred years to diversify beyond that. Thankfully that process is well underway right now, but the problem is that we're still going to see significant global warming anyway.

This was an enormous project, and took you over two years to complete. What's next for you as an independent creator? Do you have more to say about the future, or have you said everything you needed to say right now?

I have plenty more to say about the future and I'm looking forward to saying it in a more straightforward way! But I don't anticipate that being my next major project. I still have a reasonable amount of work I need to do on publicising the book, and then I want to take a break. I have a lot of ideas for non-writing projects that I want to think about, many of which are addressed in the book in various ways. I'm certain I'll return to writing properly at some point though.

The complete History is available on Amazon and Gumroad, but you can also read excerpts right now for free.

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