December 3, 2013

I've Moved

I've rebuilt my website with SquareSoft, and I finally have a site that meets my expectations. It costs more, true, but I've achieved what I never did with Webs or Blogger, satisfaction.

This is the last blog post at this location. You can read my latest (and first in a long time) blog post at http://josephlselby.net

July 29, 2013

The Darwin Elevator is Nigh!

A year ago I bid in the Brenda Novak charity auction on what I thought was a really interesting prize to raise money for Diabetes research. Jason Hough (pronounced Huff not Hugh) made available the opportunity to name a character or company/vehicle/whatnot. Fending off a last-minute challenger, I made sure the Selby Systems LTD (previously appearing in the figure game Iron Tyrants) continued it existence. I struck up an association with Mr. Hough and had the grand fortune to read his first novel, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, before its release1. As it comes out tomorrow, I wanted to share with you why you should read this book.

Concept: An alien craft deployed a space elevator in Darwin, Australia. A plague wiped out most of the population of the planet, a radius around the elevator the only safe spot to live. A have/have not dichotomy has formed with the oligarchy living in space and the chaff living in Earth-bound slums. Your main character and his crew of scavengers are all immunes, people unaffected by the plague, who gather resources outside the radius of the elevator. Politics, power grabs, gun fights, and the next alien spacecraft fuel this march to the second of a trilogy that will publish over the next three months.

What's great about this book: While one dystopian future is looking much the same as the other, Hough does a great job exploring the world outside of Darwin and up in space at the top of the Elevator. I wanted to continue reading immediately because the setting felt like a fresh take on old tropes. I like the post-catastrophic Earth he's built and I want to explore more.

What's good about this book: Hough handles aliens like Spielberg handled Jaws2. They're coming, but they're not running around Mel Gibson's backyard.

What's refreshing about this book: You'll hear a lot about the pacing. Everyone's all, fast-paced blah blah blah. The second half picks up the clip, so it's definitely a march from beginning to end, but the first half is paced exactly as it should be (and thus the second half is paced exactly as it should be). I kept thinking about how people kept commenting on the pacing, but really what they mean is "There's isn't any extraneous crap in this book". We don't get the history of everything. We don't get a description of every button on a character's jacket. Here's what you see. Here's what you hear. Here's what happens. Bam, let's move on. This is the opposite of a George Martin book, and that's not a bad thing3.

What's familiar about this book: The first chapter has a strong correlation to Firefly. Hough is aware of it and is pleased with the comparison. There is a strong "Why do my plans never work" vibe, but the Firefly comparisons chill as the book progresses and it does NOT read like fan fiction.

What's unfortunately familiar about this book: It had what I thought was a simple but awesome villain. He thinks he should do more, but he isn't as talented as he thinks he is. But he has the power to force himself on other political entities to increase his role. Anyone that's worked in an office has met (and suffered) under such a person. It was pinpoint accurate and I loved seeing him as the villain. Eventually he becomes the more traditional sexual sadist that we see so often, and that actually lessens the character in my eyes. He want from being selfish to being "Evil!" Thankfully, he's not the focus of the story, so there are long gaps between his Evilness.

What's unnecessary about this book: The primary female character suffers sexual violence. As it relates to the villain I mention above, I am of the opinion this was unnecessary for her personal arc or the establishment of the villain as villainous. I've wrestled with this kind of thing in my own writing, and you can here it discussed ad nauseum on the interwebs, but in this case, I take the position that this did not further the character or the story in a meaningful way4

What's really cool about this franchise: Book 1: July '13; Book 2: August '13; Book 3: September '13. If you like one, you only have to wait a month for the next one. That may limit the growth of the author or it may not, but as a consumer, it's cool not to have to wait six years between installments.

Something nitpicky that I liked: I read an ARC, which means it's not the final final version that you'll see printed. It's the mostly final printed version. Even so, the number of errors that slipped through copyediting was lower than what has been happening in years. It's a sorry state of publishing how lazy editing has gotten (either through less talented copyeditors, tighter deadlines, cheaper publishers, or all of the above) so it was nice to see a book that didn't have typos on every page.

All in all, if you're in the mood for some science fiction, pick this one up. When you get to the third book, you'll even get to see Selby Systems make its appearance! If you think to yourself, "Hey, I know a guy named Selby," BAM! That was no accident, fella.



1: Don't worry, I had already pre-ordered it, so the man'll still get his royalties.

2: Interesting tidbit, Spielberg had actually planned on showing Jaws much earlier in the film, but it was his editor who cut the shark until the end. For all those people who think they don't need an editor, even Steven Spielberg needs an editor.

3: I love Game of Thrones, so don't get your undies in a twist. It's book five. I don't give a shit what five courses they had for dinner each day of the week. Chop chop, motherfuckers.

4: There's also a shower scene that some reviewers5 have called male fantasy fulfillment. I don't think that's the case, but it did pull me out of the story as I rolled my eyes.

5: And for those of you that read Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, what was up with that review? "Read this book. Here's everything that's bad with it." Not the ringingest of endorsements. It's Hough's first book, and if this is the point at which he starts his career and grows, we will see some quality science fiction from him in the future. As for me, I'll be reading the second installment come August.

May 31, 2013

Did we put the cart before the horse?

I have a growing number of draft posts. It almost feels like I've been actively updating this journal because I have so many posts started that the interaction was initiated even if it wasn't completed. I've been journaling in one form or another for a decade now, opening my first LiveJournal account in February of '03. A writing journal is not a blog, and I tried to make that clear from the start. A blog is what you get reading Chuck Wendig, Roni Loren, or Janice Hardy, people who actively produce content in a professional manner on a frequent basis. Three years ago, all you heard on the internet was how writers needed to start building their platform even before they published their book. This isn't a bad idea, but what it didn't take into account is the transitory nature of the internet. Three years ago, writing blogs were all the rage. Kristin Nelson, Nathan Bransford, Rachelle Gardner, the Rejectionist, the Intern, Pimp My Novel, and on and on. How many of them are still blogging? Time constraints and new social media turned that messaging to new avenues.

I blogged like that for a while. A little while, and a lot of that information I would now have to revise to accommodate what I've learned. I don't follow my own Rules any more. The Rules need to be revised, but I can't revise them because I'm trying new things. Once I know what the New Rules are, I'll write those up.

So here's the kicker. I didn't want to be a blogger. Go read Chuck Wendig if you want your lists of 25 things new authors should know. I've read that messaging in one form or another for years now, so I find his voice interesting but his messaging not that new. I definitely don't want to write that. I don't want to tell you how to be a writer. Go read Chuck. He's great at that. But you'll eventually learn that lesson and then what? Then nothing. I've entered that in between space where I have no intrest in talking about the basics but have no news about publications to put here. When I started this journal, if you had asked me if I would be unpublished in 2013, I would have said "I don't think so." Mmmm ego. This place was to tell you about the experience of the process and of course news about my forthcoming work. My work is coming, just not forth.

This is NOT to say that I am retiring writing in this space. That's certainly not the case. I like you people. I think I need to redesign my site, however. I need to move away from blogger and make a static page the primary landing page again (like how it was when I still used LiveJournal). You don't want someone looking at your blog and seeing your last post was months before (this applies to you too, agents! A two-year-old unused twitter account does not advance your interests!). I have nothing new to talk about. Well, kind of new. I have all those drafts I need to finish. But most of them have to do with how I'm trying new things in my writing process. I've slowed things WAY down (I've spent three months on the first half of this draft where the entire draft before was completed in a month). I'm not overly investing. I've begun the experiment and when I have the results, I'll share it with you.

I've used WordPress before but I'm thinking of SquareSpace. I think their prices are high for hosting, but I like their tools. I had planned on paying for a guy to work me up a really awesome custom WordPress space, but money this year has been especially difficult with all my injuries and the resulting medical costs.

So, most likely, you reach this place through some kind of blog feed, in which case, I doubt you'll notice a change. But if you visit JosephLSelby.com, that may change in the coming weeks.

April 25, 2013

Where Did All My Free Time Go?

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted. Mea culpa. I tore a tendon in my shoulder and the recuperation (ongoing) has really thrown my routines for a loop. I've been working from home a lot or not working and going to physical therapy a lot. It may have been a good habit to write on the train every day, but once I stopped taking the train, writing became a lot harder. I also waited longer before starting a second draft. It was helpful, but dear lord I finished the first draft at the end of February and here it is back end of April and I'm not done with the second draft yet. What the hell? So lazy! :)

With the shoulder, I'm not allowed to roller skate. The risk of a fall may move me from physical therapy to surgery, and that's not something I want to risk because I watched a YouTube video of what they do in the surgery and hell no I don't want them perforating my collarbone so they can tie my tendon in place. Screw that! The silver lining in that situation is that I had to come to terms that this most recent attempt to start a men's roller derby team in southern New Hampshire has flopped. For that reason, I volunteered to officiate for the very successful women's roller derby league. Come out to a match! I'll be the guy in a pink shirt they announce as Charles Dickins.

Board games are really big in the Northeast, I've mentioned before, and I have a group that meets every week to play. But that was my big group activity. Usually I worked, I wrote, and I spent time with my wife. Now that I've added roller derby to the mix, my time has evaporated. It's amazing how popular the sport is and how much people need help. If you're at all interested in seeing what the modern derby is like, head to the Googles. It's a safe bet something is going on near you.

Now that I'm going back into work more frequently, I'm writing again, and the second draft is coming along. The first few chapters were a slog, but I've whipped them into shape and the next chapters have gone much faster. I'll give them another pass before sending them out to beta readers. Gonna get this thing to its fighting weight.

Because I'm commuting, that means I'm on the subway, which is where I traditionally read. I broke from my comfortable genres (fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or biography) and went with literary fiction, something I never read because BORING! I know I'm often told I write literary fantasy (another way of saying, your work is slow moving and focuses too much on character, where are all the explosions?), but I don't write literary literary because I don't want to focus on language and emotions and god aren't I see emo, tear. Or so was my perception of literary. But then I read Jamie Ford's HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET and holy shit, people, you have to read this book. It has cemented itself as a contender for my favorite non-fantasy/sf book of all time. I kept gushing on Twitter because it was just SO good. Even when it slowed down, I didn't stop reading, I just yelled GODDAMMIT FORD, WHEN DO THEY KISS? at my nook and kept on reading. If you're looking for something new to read, you HAVE to read this one. Have to. That's an order.

And once you're done with that one, keep an eye out for Jason Hough's debut sf THE DARWIN ELEVATOR. It comes out in July (I already pre-ordered), and I was lucky enough to get an eARC, which I'm reading right now. I'll offer my thoughts at greater length once I'm done.

For now, go read HOTEL and/or play roller derby. You'll thank me later.

March 29, 2013

Wind Sprint: Serenity

I tell Liz Poole all the time that I'm never going to write Urban Fantasy. But an opening line while I was driving from physical therapy gave me an idea for a character that turned an espionage thriller plot I had been ruminating on into a genuine urban fantasy.

The original espionage was inspired by a crazy lady I passed in the subway one day. She stood near a street musician, one whose music I really enjoy. He's a junky that plays a mean harmonica with a bean can shaker. He makes some great blues music. She was screaming, "SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Except she wasn't screaming at the musician. She had her back to him and was shouting at the escalator. I wanted to know what she was seeing. And wouldn't it be interesting if something was actually there?

Combine with that a separate experience where a less talented musician was there not actually playing at the time I passed. Someone threw money in her hat and she handed the person a folded piece of paper. Now, most likely, the paper was folded around drugs. But what if it wasn't? What if the musician was a CIA operative passing information to another operative? How cool would that be?

Mix those two together. What if the CIA isn't just your normal espionage spooks? What if it's a supernatural agency? Who can infiltrate better than a changling that can change his/her features? (Reminds me a little of Gail Carriger's work and some other urban fantasy I've touched on but can't remember at the moment. Lurker, ring a bell with you?) A small government program attempting to track the tidal wave of immigrants moving to America at the end of the 19th century (tracking Irish and similar "blights" on the country), discover supernatural beings living among us. The Cenosapian Identification Agency is formed to identify how pervasive the infestation is and to determine whether they're a biproduct of the Irish or something else entirely.

Fast forward a few decades when the government begins to fight the red menace and all of a sudden supernaturals are necessary to fight back communism. Stalin and Hitler both had their own cenosapian programs and if we give the reds the advantage, it'll spell the end of democracy for the world! Fast forward a few decades more and now the wall has fallen and post-War colonialism is winding to a close. Espionage isn't that useful with only one remaining super power. [Avoid all your overdone plots and think of something cool to go here.]

Now all you need is a main character. And that's today's idea, Serenity.

"My parents didn't name me Serenity because they were Buddhists or existentialists or anything like that. They were nerds. Big, cosplaying nerds, and they named me after a spaceship. Thanks mom. Thanks dad. Why couldn't you be hippies? Make love not war. Smoke weed. Wear hemp. If we had spent my childhood getting high and eating brownies rather than rolling for initiative, maybe I wouldn't be in this mess.

I rolled a three, by the way. Maybe that's the problem too."


(That last part might riff too close to GEEKOMANCY, but the point of a wind sprint isn't to show off a new idea, but to fastball pitch an idea against the wall and see what kind of Rorschach shapes come out of it.)

I'll puzzle around with this more after I'm done with my next draft of FAMILY JEWELS.

March 25, 2013

Sooper Groops!

Supers fiction is perhaps the smallest niche of sf/f. Supers can be fun or it can be incredibly cliche (if you grew up reading comics--which if you're interested in supers fiction is a good bet). I tend to think of supers creatively as graphic novels for that same background of comics reading. I can't think of a supers novel I've read, but I still collect Atomic Robo regularly through Comixology.

This morning I was riding the subway on my way into work. I like to see how people read on the train. Person to the left of me was using a tablet-type e-reader (backlit screen). I was using an e-ink eReader. And the guy to my right was reading a paper book. He was reading Arabian Nights, a book that's good in snippets but I found boring when trying to read all the way through at once.

The thing is, when I was young, I always wanted to have a super hero or a team of super heroes called the Arabian Knights. And that got me going this morning. A United Nations style organization that fields super teams from all over the world.

Canada - Heroes, eh? (via Nate Wilson)
Germany - Die √úbermenschen (via Nate Wilson)
Greece - The Furies
India - The Arms of Shiva (via Nate Wilson)
Russia - Politburo
UAE - Arabian Knights
UK - Her Majesty's Royal Champions (via Nate Wilson)
USA - Damage, Inc.


What groups would you create?

March 7, 2013

Novice Juggler

I know it's been a while since I posted. I've been meaning to for a while, but some "things" happened. I hate things. Rarely does one converse about things and speak of good news. Good news is "events" or even "news". "Things" mean shit's gone down.

For me that's my labrum. What's a labrum you ask? Good question. We all hear about rotator cuffs because pitchers tear them all the time. They're what make you rotate. The labrum is the tendon that sits inside your shoulder socket to let your bones do their thing without grinding together. I tore mine in 1997 but thought it was only a bad muscle pull, so I let it heal naturally. This was stupid on my part and made my shoulder for shit ever since. Well never fear, it's torn again so maybe this time it'll get fixed for real. Of course that means drilling holes through things and tying things and being in pain until all that happens. I've been on vicodin, which, I don't know why anyone would want to be addicted to that shit. Your brain is fuzzy, you can't comprehend, you're tired ALL the time, and you can't poop! And people take this shit willingly? No thanks. If I'm going to be fuzzy headed, it'll be from the pain. At least I won't be tired.

But I have accomplished some things. The first draft of FAMILY JEWELS wrapped up at the end of February. I spent my writing time finishing Peter V. Brett's THE DAYLIGHT WAR. If you're reading his Demon Cycle, I expect you've already picked this one up. If you're not reading his Demon Cycle, you're missing the best epic fantasy being written in the market today, so go pick up THE WARDED MAN (in the US, THE PAINTED MAN in the UK). Normally after that very brief break, I would jump right into a second draft, but I'm considering a revision to "The Rules" and as such am trying new methods to see if they improve my process. I started the second draft but immediately stopped. I'm going to write a short story instead. One with mermaids! And not the Disney mermaids either.

What I don't know is how my typing will be affected if they drill holes into my bones. I go for an MRI on Monday and things should become more clear after that. Until then, mermaids and future private detectives and lots of Aleve because my head remains clear on Aleve. Screw you, vicodin.