seanan_mcguire: (lycanthropy)
Nothing says "big American holiday" like planning a trip to a city you've never seen before, right? And what better way to start your trip planning than with a pair of travel guides showing two famous American cities from a...different...point of view?

I'm giving away two signed Mur Lafferty books: The Shambling Guide to New York City and Ghost Train to New Orleans. These fun, fascinating, unique urban fantasies follow the adventures of a travel guide publishing house for, well, monsters.

Yes.

One part urban fantasy awesome, one part Travel Channel enthralling, and all Mur Lafferty snark, these books make me happy. And now they can make you happy! (Although they could also make you happy if you bought them, so remember, all books are available through other means.) To enter...

1. Leave a comment on this post.
2. Name a city you've always wanted to see.
3. Identify your country of origin.

That's it! The winner will be chosen from qualifying entries via RNG on Thursday, July 10th, so you have a week.

Game on!
seanan_mcguire: (pony)
There's always a little bit of awkwardness when a friend says "hey, will you read my new book?" They are, after all, your friend, and while you might well have sought out that book on your own to get to know your friend a little better, once they actually know you're reading it, then they might find out if you hate it. You might make them sad. (There is no perfect answer for this awkwardness, and I have generated it in my friends more than once when asking for blurbs. So saying "hey, will you read my new book?" is not a bad thing. It's just a fraught thing.) Consequentially, when KB Spangler sent me a copy of her first full-length novel, Digital Divide, I was at once happy—my friend wrote a thing!—and nervous—OH GOD MY FRIEND KNOWS I'M READING A THING. I waited a while before I started reading, is what I'm trying to say here, and finally grabbed it to keep me company on my book tour.

I am so glad I did. Digital Divide is the best book I've read in 2013. It's smart, savvy, endlessly entertaining, and gloriously smart, with a protagonist who really explores the line between humanity and technology. Rachel Peng is a half-Chinese, ex-Army, lesbian cyborg who just happens to be blind (a fact which she compensates for and conceals using clever cyborg trickery). None of these things define her. They inform her, they shape who she is, but what defines her is her own fierce brilliance, stubborn independence, and unwillingness to back off when there's ass to be kicked. If I have any regrets about Rachel Peng, it's that we're unlikely to ever see her front and center on a multiplex screen, cracking wise before she shoots somebody's kneecaps off. And we should. Rachel Peng is a bad-ass for the digital age.

There is one word of caution I should put down at this point: Digital Divide is a tie-in to KB Spangler's ongoing webcomic, A Girl and Her Fed; the two share a universe and several characters, although the main characters of Digital Divide are only side characters in the webcomic, and vice-versa. Because I read both, I can't promise the initial setup in Digital Divide wouldn't be slightly confusing for the uninitiated. That said, I think any initial confusion would pass quickly, done in by strong logic and a solid story.

If you want a book with a strong woman of color protagonist who is never belittled because of or reduced solely to the trappings of her gender, with a diverse, engaging supporting cast, with people of all sexualities and identities, and with an incredible amount of snark that never crosses the line into feeling forced, I urge you to pick up Digital Divide. Still not sure? Like most webcomics, A Girl and Her Fed is free to read; you can start there, get a feel for the writing, and then pick up a copy (available both digitally and in dead tree form).

Digital Divide. For those who want their awesome to be open to everyone.
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
(I thought a lot about whether this needed a trigger warning, and decided that it was better to err on the side of caution. So...TW: very oblique and carefully worded mention of a suicide attempt.)

I don't think it's any secret that I am a voracious reader. I read constantly. My friend Michelle has commented on more than one occasion that she, as a lifelong reader, is still amazed by the way she'll turn her back for thirty seconds, look back, and find me with my nose in a book. Since I grew up very poor, I also grew up a voracious re-reader; my favorite books were likely to be read five, ten, twenty times before I moved on, and I still go back to them. There aren't many new books added to that shelf these days—I finally have more than I can read—but when I need a friend, those favorites are always there.

When I was fourteen, I read Pamela Dean's Tam Lin for the first through fifth times.

Tam Lin is based on the ballad (which I was already enamored of, and would become obsessed with somewhere between readings three and five), but only very loosely so; it shares a structure, and not the details. It's about a girl named Janet, who loves to read, and goes to college, where she can read as much as she wants. It's about growing up and growing older and how those aren't always the same things, and it's about the things she does while she's at school, about falling in and out of love, and Shakespeare, and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and festive elephants, and pink curtains, and growing apart, and oh, right, the Queen of Faerie and the Tithe to Hell.

The main character, Janet, was everything I wanted to grow up to be. She was strong and smart and living in a world where the magic was subtle enough that I could see myself in her. She loved all the books I loved, and she wrote poetry constantly. It was because of this book that I wrote a sonnet a day every day for my entire high school career. Some of them were terrible, and some of them were just technically clean without being anything more than homework I had set for myself...but all of them taught me about word choice and meaning what you said, and they sparked a lifelong love of structured poetry.

Books were my salvation when I was a teenager (they still are, although I've gotten better about knowing how to save myself), but very few of them had real people doing things I could relate to and understand. Not like Janet. She was flawed and fallible and exactly what I needed, and better still, she gave my friends and I access to concepts like saying something when you needed help, and knowing that phrase would get you what you needed instantly, no questions asked. Because we thought we were being terribly clever, we used the phrase "pink curtains," which had been adopted for that purpose by Janet and her friends.

When I was sixteen, I decided I was done. I was out of cope. I was finished. I took myself and my favorite book (not Tam Lin, IT, by Stephen King) and went to a place and did a thing, and it was supposed to make me not have to exist anymore. And somewhere in the middle of the thing, I changed my mind. I literally started thinking about the characters in the books I loved, and how disappointed in me they would be, and how they wouldn't do this to themselves. They had more important things to do than die, and maybe so did I.

I went to a pay phone. I called a friend. I told her it was pink curtains, and she came and got me, and she did not judge, and she did not yell, and she helped me, because we had a framework for friends who would do that. That, like so much else that was good in our lives, we had learned from a book. From this book.

I still love T.S. Eliot and I still write sonnets and I went to college as a folklore major partially because I wanted to read, and study "Tam Lin," and be Janet Carter for a little while. Tam Lin influenced so much of who I grew up to be...and it helped me know that I could ask for help. So it's part of why I was able to grow up at all.

I love this book so much. I always will.

You should read it.
seanan_mcguire: (pony)
The random number generator has spoken, and the winners of three copies of Mike Underwood's Geekomancy are...

[livejournal.com profile] alumiere
[livejournal.com profile] fullcontactmuse
[livejournal.com profile] sleightedge

Please email me via my website contact form within the next twenty-four hours to receive your download information and instructions. I can't trouble-shoot if there are any issues with this download, as it is not my website, but I'll get you as close to the castle as I can.

Thanks to everyone for playing!
seanan_mcguire: (pony)
I am a total geek. I have never tried to conceal my geekiness, choosing instead to embrace it for the wonderful thing that it is. Without my geeky pastimes, I wouldn't have the same friends, the same toys...the same life. I don't define myself by my geeky passions, but I can't pretend that they haven't defined me throughout my existence. Much like a bonsai is shaped by wire and scissors, I have been shaped by the X-Men and horror movies and roleplaying games and mythology, and I like me this way.

All things considered, it's probably not a surprise that when I was offered the chance to blurb Michael Underwood's Geekomancy, I said "sure, why not." A magic system based on and powered by the geeky joys that run my universe? Yes, please. And to no one's shock or amazement, I adored it. It's fun, it's peppy, it's about people I recognize, because they're the kind of people I voluntarily surround myself with every day of my life. The sequel, Celebromancy, came out recently, and is even more fun.

But here's the thing: these books are e-only, which means they miss out on bookstore browsers and surprise eyes, and too many of the awesome geeky people I know haven't encountered them or had the opportunity to give them a try. So I asked Michael's editor if I could do an e-book giveaway for the first book, to get people hooked on the series, and he said sure (after he finished blinking at me a great deal). And so I now present...

SEANAN GIVES AWAY SOMEONE ELSE'S BOOKS FOR A CHANGE!

This giveaway is for three electronic copies of Geekomancy by Michael Underwood. The limitations:

1. You will need to get the book through a specific channel (the publisher's website), because what I have are download codes.
2. The book is not going to be "Kindle ready," and may not be transferable onto a Kindle without evil magic.

To enter, leave a comment with your geekiest moment. No geek is too great! I, and the Random Number Generator, will select three winners on Friday, June 28th. Open to US residents only (sorry), please leave your comment on the entry itself; comments on comments will not be eligible to win.

Game on!
seanan_mcguire: (midnight)
Guys guys guys! The Traveling Circus and Snake-Handling* Show is tomorrow! For the eighth time, my band of merry wanderers will descend upon San Francisco, bringing music, chaos, and the excitement of a book release party with us! This time, we're actually not going to be at my beloved Borderlands Books, although they will be selling books at the event: thanks to an opening in the Variety Preview Room Theatre, we're going to be trashing someone else's house for a change! The party begins this coming Saturday at 6:00 PM, at...

The Variety Preview Room Theatre
Hobart Bldg., 1st Floor (use the entrance next to Citibank on Market St.)
582 Market Street @ 2nd and Montgomery
San Francisco, CA 94104

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE.

Delicious cupcakes! Free popcorn, for that circus feeling! A cash bar, including a signature cocktail designed just for us, The Snakehandler! Jeff and Maya Bohnhoff rocking the house, now with special bonus Paul Kwinn and imported bonus Vixy! And this time, I'm not the only author who's going to be taking her turn in the ring. That's right: I have AWESOME BONUS GUESTS. Sarah Kuhn, awesome author of the geek rom-com One Con Glory, will be joining the fray, as will Amber Benson, whose latest Calliope Reaper-Jones adventure, The Golden Age of Death, dropped just two weeks ago.

Three authors. A lot of music. Plenty of sugar. Accessible booze. NOW HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY?

I thought so.

Seating at the Preview Room is limited, so please show up early. We are a kid-friendly circus, although there will probably be swearing (I'm planning to show up, I swear a lot). The doors will open at 6:00 PM to allow for getting drinks and books, meeting people, and generally relaxing into the night; the Circus takes the stage at 7:00 PM. Here is the full schedule for the evening (subject to change):

6:00 PM: Welcome to our party! The doors will open for milling, schmoozing, hitting the bar, and finding seats. AND CUPCAKES!
7:00 PM: Would you like some music?
7:30 PM: Perhaps you would like to win things.
7:40 PM: Now there will be a reading! WHO WILL IT BE? NO ONE KNOWS! (Amber, Sarah, or Seanan.)
8:00 PM: More music?
8:30 PM: More prizes?
8:40 PM: Another mystery reading!
9:00 PM: Last music of the night.
9:30 PM: Q&A and book discussion.
9:50 PM: Thanks and final raffle before we move to the lobby for signing.

One note from the management:

"Don’t Drive—Seriously. Parking sucks in this area. Take BART or MUNI downtown, as we are directly adjacent to the Montgomery Street BART/MUNI station! Street parking ($3.50 per hour/coins or meter card, no charge cards) is metered 7 days a week til 6PM. If you have to drive, we suggest parking at the Folsom St. Garage at 3rd & Folsom (cheapest), across from Moscone Center."

See you Saturday!

(*No snakes will be present at the event, which is a shame, because I like snakes. I will content myself with humans. FOR NOW.)
seanan_mcguire: (zombie)
Growing up in the 1980s means that I can't remember when I first heard of Stephen King, because everyone had heard of Stephen King. I know I giggled with recognition and delight when I saw the shirt that Sean was wearing in The Monster Squad (1987). By that point, I had already seen the "Gramma" episode of The New Twilight Zone (1986), and Creepshow (1982; I didn't see the theatrical release, so you can stop freaking out about what kind of movies my family took the four-year-old to see). Stephen King was my background radiation. Bruce Banner got Gamma Rays. I got a baseball fanatic from the state of Maine.

(Had someone told me when I was eight that Stephen King loved baseball, I might have learned to give a damn about the game. Clearly, the universe missed a bet.)

The first really serious piece of writing I can remember doing was a twelve-page essay, when I was nine, explaining to my mother why she had to let me read Stephen King. It had footnotes and a bibliography. I slid it under her bedroom door; she bought me a copy of Christine from the used bookstore down the street. I had already read Cujo and Carrie illicitly, sneaking pages like other kids snuck looks at dirty magazines, but Christine was my first ALLOWED Stephen King. I devoured it. And then, like a horror-fiction-focused Pac-Man, I turned on the rest.

Stephen King, without ever knowing who I was, helped me through some of the hardest times in my life. I read IT all the way through a court case that seemed like it was going to destroy everything I loved, forever. I was nine. My grandmother bought me his new hardcovers every year for Christmas. I bought tattered paperbacks with nickels I had hidden in my pillowcase, where no one else could find them. I skipped meals to buy more books. I read them all, over and over, and I endured. He taught me that sometimes, dead is better, things change, and you own what you build. He taught me to read if I wanted to write, and to love the words, and to never be ashamed of loving whatever the hell it was I wanted to love.

In a weird way, Stephen King gave me permission for a great many things, and since those things are integral to who I grew up to be, I have to say that he, through his work, was just as big an influence on me as any other adult in my life.

He taught me you can get out.

Today is his birthday; he was born in 1947, and he's still writing today, which I appreciate greatly. I may never meet him, and that's probably a good thing, as I'm not sure I'd be able to speak English if I did. But I surely do appreciate the man.

Happy birthday, Stephen King.

Thank you.
seanan_mcguire: (rose marshall)
I think everyone is familiar with the Disney princess by now: a collection of boiled sugar girls in sparkly dresses and high heels who happen to resemble the spirited, interesting heroines of the movies we love, all of them posed to perfection in big groups of rainbow loveliness. They stare soullessly from bookstore walls and supermarket shelves, hawking everything from dress-up shoes to fruit snacks. The stories they come from may be exciting, or interesting, or educational, but the Disney princess shows none of those traits when she's on-duty. She's there to be a display, and that's all she's going to be.

(As a total aside, if you want to see these girls when they're off-duty, and hence more fun, check out Amy Mebberson's Tumblr for her Pocket Princesses. They're awesome, and they have the spunk, spirit, and personality that the official Princesses sadly often lack.)

It wasn't until I read the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter that I noticed the creepiest thing about the Disney princesses: they never look at each other. Get six of them in a group, and they will all strike independent poses, they will all gaze at independent points off in the distance. They never make eye contact. They never acknowledge each other in any way. Why?

Because if you're going to be the fairest in the land, you can't ever admit that anyone of comparable fairness even exists. To be the prettiest princess, you must also be the only princess. So all you other princesses can just step off; this is my spotlight.

Creepy.

As most of you probably know, I read a lot of urban fantasy, geared both at adults and the YA market. I enjoy it. It makes me happy. It features, as a genre, a lot of strong female characters doing strong female things. Yes, it has its flaws, because all genres have flaws, but on the whole, it's probably my favorite genre right now.

Only. I noticed a thing. This is a thing that I am not immune to. Nor is it a universal thing (so making long lists of exceptions to this thing is not necessarily helpful, although discussion of specific examples is, as always, awesome). But it's a thing I think we should be thinking about, both as creators and consumers. And it's this:

Urban fantasy heroines have a lot in common with Disney princesses.

The standards for "fairest of them all" are different when your kingdom is a city and your ballgown is a pair of leather pants. You need to be the best ass-kicker, the best snarker, the best crime-solver or magic-user, or whatever. But they're still high standards to live up to, and it's easier to do when there's no one else in your sandbox. If no one else is kicking ass in leather pants, you don't have to try as hard to be the best. Consequentially, we keep seeing urban fantasy heroines with no peers. No other women who kick ass. They might have sidekicks, or even other strong female characters in supporting roles, but it feels like a lot of them...well. Like a lot of them just don't have any friends.

In my daily life, I have a lot of friends who are, well, fairer than me in some ways. Vixy is an amazing lead vocalist. Pretty sure if we were auditioning against each other, she'd get the part. Also, cartoon birdies braid her hair. Cat and Bear and I write very different books, but we're all award-winners and best-sellers and Cat raises chickens and Bear climbs mountains, neither of which I do. Kate is witty and snarky and often faster on her feet than I am, as well as being a thousand times more organized. Meg is a natural redhead who makes her own clothes and bounces back after flying over the handlebars of her bike...and these are only a few of the amazing, incredible, bad-ass women who share my life.

It can be easy, as an author, to smooth and sand the story until all the unnecessary characters are gone, and I can see where that might mean you have to lose a few of the members of the Breakfast Club. At the same time, if that process leaves six male characters and one female, and only one of those male characters is Prince Charming, why are the other five all dudes? Can't we balance things a little? For me, female characters are more believable when they have friends. When there are other women around to talk to, trade tips on wearing leather pants without chafing with, and generally enjoy.

And if someone says that a story containing more than three characters "only needed" one woman, I sort of have issues with that. (In my perfect world, no one would say that about two or three character stories, either. But I'm willing to grant that some stories need two males and one female, if you'll grant that the opposite is also true.) Even Magic Mike, a movie about male strippers, managed to have two female characters with distinct and interesting, if brief, speaking roles.

I don't like that the Disney princesses have been frozen in place, never making eye contact with the only people who could really be their peers and understand the trials of the tiara. I'd hate it for that to happen to our urban fantasy girls, too.
seanan_mcguire: (sarah)
...take these broken wings and learn to fly.

So I read Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds. Which is being billed as urban fantasy, but which bears about as much resemblance to most urban fantasy as, say, Evil Dead bears to Saw. They're considered the same because the labels are too broad and too flawed, but they're very different creatures. And that? Is amazing.

Blackbirds is the story of Miriam Black, a girl who, by touching you, can bear witness to your death, whenever—and however—it might be destined to occur. Aneurism in five minutes or slow wasting away in fifty years, it don't matter. Death, like the honey badger, doesn't give a fuck, and Miriam, who can't control her powers, is trying her best not to give a fuck either. (Miriam is a lot like Rogue from the X-Men: embittered by a power she didn't ask for, trying to survive in a world that has every reason to shove her in front of the nearest semi.)

The story is simple: girl meets boy, girl foresees boy's death, girl is convinced that she can't change it, boy thinks girl is crazy, hilarity ensues. Only for "boy" read "trucker the size of a small mountain," and for "girl" read "psychopomp death-seer girl just trying to run the roads to her own extinction." I think Miriam would get along well with Rose Marshall; there's a lot about her world that feels like Rose's, but different, and in a wonderful way.

One of the fascinating things about this book is...well. Okay. So I was a really grumpy teenager, right? I felt alienated and lonely and like no one could possibly understand me except for my small group of like-minded friends. This turned into our "freaking the mundanes" phase, which not everyone goes through, but which I think most of us have at least seen. We used to sit on the community college quad at lunch (half my friends were students, the rest of us snuck over from the high school across the street) playing "Penis," where you just keep shouting "PENIS!" louder and louder until you crack up, so you can see the looks on people's faces.

Miriam is like that. Her life is one long game of Penis. She swears, she's inappropriately lewd (which is different from appropriately lewd, although she does that, too), she goes for the shock value, because she wants to keep people away. I think this book contained more instances of the word "fuck" than the unrated cut of Clerks. But here's the kicker:

Chuck Wendig isn't playing Penis with you.

He manages to write a protagonist who's all about the shock, but the book never feels like the author is trying to shock you. He's just telling you what happened. It's a travelogue of tragedy, and it's beautiful and terrible, and it couldn't have happened any other way.

Miriam is a damaged protagonist, and her story is a damaged story, and I loved it. It's like the bastard child of American Gods, Sparrow Hill Road, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and you should check it out if you like these things.

Really.
seanan_mcguire: (rose marshall)
I've spoken before about how much I read, and about how much I seek for representation in fiction, both for myself, and for the sake of the people that I care about. How much it hurts when you're the token, or invisible, or the person that doesn't exist. How hard it is to accept that somehow, often through no fault of your own, you're the sort of person who doesn't get to be the star of stories, or even a major supporting character. And about how wonderful it is when that somehow, against all odds, you open a book and see yourself, or your friends.

Yesterday, I read Silence, by Michelle Sagara. She's a fellow DAW author, a sweet, smart lady, and an all-around neat person whom I adore both personally and professionally. But before yesterday, I have never wanted to hug her for an hour and thank her forever.

Silence is a solid, interestingly-told YA novel that seems, superficially, to be just another wave in the current flood of YA supernatural. Being a wave isn't bad; I write urban fantasy, I am basically sponsoring a surfing competition. But there's something wonderful about diving into a wave and discovering infinitely more.

Emma, our protagonist, talks to dead people. She has several close female friends, including Allison, who would be a stereotypical geek in some stories, and Amy, who would be just as stereotypically a mean girl. Yet they work, and they make sense, because they are genuinely written as people. It's not presented as criminal to be smart, or to be pretty: it's just who you are. Emma's greatest asset is her niceness, a genuine generosity of spirit that is so very rare in heroines today. She reminded me of Vixy, and that's about the highest praise I have.

But really, where this book won me, and why I recommend it so readily, was when we met Michael. Michael, who is a high-functioning autistic who has been going to school with Emma and the others since kindergarten. Michael, who is in advanced math and science classes and doing just fine, thank you. Michael, whose friends care about him and look out for him, and who value his friendship and his place in their lives. He is presented with limitations, but so is every other character in the book. He's presented as a person, and for that alone, I will love Michelle forever.

Read Silence. Read it because it's awesome, and read it because any author who includes a complex, well-written, believable, believably autistic central character deserves our applause, and book sales are the best form of clapped hands, for an author.

My hat is off to her.
seanan_mcguire: (princess)
Voting for the 2012 Hugo Awards is now open for all Attending and Supporting members of the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention, ChiCon 7. ChiCon will be held this August in Chicago, Illinois, where attendees will be able to see such wonders as me tending bar for Barfleet, Amy fiddling for everyone in the known universe, and Cat and I in full-on flustered fairy tale princess mode. Super-fun!

Now, if you're not going to WorldCon, you may wonder why this is relevant to your interests. I have two words for you: voter packet.

All Supporting Members receive, in addition to Hugo voting rights, a copy of the Hugo voter packet. This includes all the nominated works for the year. Novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, graphic stories, and yes, related works (so this year, they had to figure out how to include MP3s of an entire filk album—I am a living complication). Strictly speaking, this is well over a $50 value. I mean, the Related Works category alone would probably cost you around $80 if you bought all the physical media, and that doesn't go into the fiction categories at all. So you save a lot, while getting a neat little packet containing electronic copies of what the community thought was best about the previous year. And oh, I forgot to mention there's also samples of the Fan Writer nominees, and art, and and and and...

And here's the thing. I can't pretend that I don't have a vested interest in this year's Hugos: I said last year that no one accepts a nomination when they don't want to win, and I meant that sincerely and without embarassment. It's even worse this year, when I'm on the ballot four times and terrified of losing four times. I want to win. But even more, if I'm going to lose, I want to lose fairly. I want to lose because the community spoke, and what they said was "this one over here should be the victor." That means people need to vote.

Every year, when the Hugo ballot is announced, some people say "these things, these things are wrong." Then, after the votes are counted, some people say "these wins, these losses, they are also wrong." But the only way to change the wrongness is to participate. That means nominating, and that means casting your vote. It's never been easier, and it's never been more...balanced, for lack of a better word. $50 isn't peanuts. There have been years where I wouldn't have been able to afford that. On the other hand, you get a lot of bang for your bucks, and you get to be a part of shaping our community's history. And if you register now, you may even have time to read everything before the deadline!

If you can afford a Supporting Membership, I highly recommend it. It's a fair value, and it lets you participate. Everybody loves participation, right?

This ends today's public service announcement.
seanan_mcguire: (princess)
First off: my beloved [livejournal.com profile] yuki_onna has written a heartbreaking essay about sexism in geek and science fiction/fantasy culture. You should read it, because it is relevant. Also because it is heartbreaking and true. Having been one of those female fantasy authors threatened with sexual violence because I dared to own cats who came from a breeder, and not a shelter, I can testify that things get really ugly, really fast, on Captain Internet.

And so...

Last weekend at Emerald City, I saw a sign that infuriated me. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. It was a big banner on the front of a self-published* author's booth, reading, "Finally, a book for BOYS that the GIRLS will enjoy reading, too!"

Oh. You mean unlike 90% of the well-regarded "classic" science fiction, fantasy, and young adult genre novels out there? And 98% of the horror? And 99% of the military science fiction? And, let's face it, the majority of anything that's not a romance, a story about princesses, or a horse book? As a girl who grew up reading Bradbury, King, Wyndham, Anthony, Asprin, Piper, Foster, Knight, Shakespeare, Poe, De Lint, Baum, superhero comics, and horror comics, I cry thee foul.

And no, this is not a case of me carefully editing out the female authors of my childhood. After wracking my brain, the only ones I could come up with who even managed to compete for my affections—who were writing stories with girls, rather than girl stories, and were thus worth reading in my twelve-year-old estimation—were McCaffrey, Kagan, Tiptree (who wrote as a man), Pini (whose writing still gets credited to her husband by about half the people I talk to), Jones, Duane, and McKinley.

I discovered more female authors as I got older. Emma Bull. Pamela Dean. Jody Lynn Nye. Women who were writing stories with girls, not girl stories; women who were building the foundations of a new genre, filled with interesting, clever, intuitive characters who yes, sometimes happened to have the same plumbing I did. And sometimes they didn't, and that was okay, too. But—and this is where we loop back to the beginning—it didn't matter. If I wanted to read, I needed to read books about boys. Books that were probably intended by their authors as being for boys. If I wanted to enjoy reading, I needed to enjoy books for boys.

If this has changed at all, that change has happened in the last eight to ten years, beginning with the publication of Twilight. People were writing books for girls before that, but there's always a trigger event, and Bella Swan making millions of dollars for her author (and publisher) was the trigger for a veritable flood of "girl books" hitting the shelves. These were books with female leads, with women on the covers, with a stronger romance subplot than had necessarily been required in YA before people figured out that hey, girls read, and maybe some of them will read more if you offer them female characters to read about.

Since then, the number of "girl books" has exploded, and while some of them are girl stories, some of them are also stories with girls. Some of these books are romances. Some of them are not. Some of them are medical thrillers, adventures, war stories, epic fantasies, distopian futures, cyberpunk, steampunk, mythpunk, modern day, anything you can think of. Because they are stories. And yet somehow, the fact that they have girls on the cover makes them not worth reading. The fact that the main characters have to squat when they pee makes them untenable to half the population. The fact that their authors grew up being told that real science fiction, fantasy, horror, and adventure starred men doing manly things in a manly way, and yet grew up to write books about women doing the same things, does not prove that literature can be a gender neutral experience where story matters more than anything else; it proves that we need more books for BOYS that GIRLS will enjoy, too. It means that the girls keep on coming second, that we keep being the deviation, and not the norm.

I do dislike the fact that right now, sexy girls pout at me from the covers of almost every book in the YA section, because I know that culturally, we discourage boys from reading those books, and damn, they are missing out. But I also dislike the fact that I'm expected to be totally a-okay with teenage girls reading books covered in muscular men with giant guns, while sneering at teenage boys reading books with thoughtful-looking women on the covers. We say "don't judge a book by its cover" like it's a Commandment, and then we turn around and tell boys not to read books with girls on them, or books with pink on them, or anything that doesn't look macho enough.

If I could read Little Fuzzy, you can read Partials. If I could read Myth Adventures, you can read The Chemical Garden. There will always be some stories that appeal to us more than others, but when we start saying "this book is for BOYS but don't worry, GIRLS can read it, too" vs. "icky GIRL BOOK is ICKY and NOT FOR BOYS," we create a division in our literature that doesn't need to be there, and frankly, upsets me.

Let's all just read the books we want to read, regardless of covers or the gender of the main characters, okay? Because otherwise, we're missing out on a lot of really great stories. And that would be a shame.

(*This is relevant only because it implies no editorial oversight. If I were to try using a slogan like this, my editors, and my agent, would politely make me stop.)
seanan_mcguire: (sarah)
My "to be read" pile is notoriously huge, to the point that I will not allow myself to configure the Kindle that The Agent gave me for our anniversary until the stack of physical books waiting to be read weighs less than I do (this might happen faster if I stopped buying books). I have no system for going through it; I basically dig until I find something that looks interesting and fits what I want to read right now, and then go.

Yesterday morning, I decided to go for some YA fiction, and grabbed Giving Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe, a contemporary paranormal about bullying, loss, grief, true friendship, and a girl who can talk to dead people. I enjoyed it quite a bit; enough that I looked up the author to see if she had anything else I could buy (like maybe a sequel). What I discovered was that her second book, The Way We Fall, had just been released. I made a note to look for it...

...and then last night, when I found it displayed on the "New Releases" shelf at Barnes and Noble, I picked it up. I am weak. And I am glad to be weak, because this book is awesome.

Told in diary entry format, The Way We Fall is the story of Kaelyn, a sixteen year old girl living in an unidentified island community somewhere off the coast of Canada. She's writing a journal of letters to her best friend, Leo, first because she wants to reestablish their friendship, and then because she wants him to know what happened while he was gone. She wants him to know how they all died.

Because see, a strange disease hits the island. Airborne, with a long latency, and a period of increased sociability during what should be considered the most infectious stage. So when you're at your sickest, that's when you want to hug the neighbors and tell them how much you've always appreciated them. And then you die. It starts slow, and gets steadily worse, as diseases of this type usually do.

Kaelyn is not a doctor; not a scientist; not a virologist; she's a teenage girl, and her view on the outbreak is both moving and unique. She just wants to protect her family, herself, and her friends. She wants answers. She doesn't get them—not all of them, not enough of them. Crewe has done enough research to put together a plausible progression and set of symptoms, without actually needing to pin down her virus and walk herself into bad science territory. Instead, she has real people, in a bad place, and she lets them deal with their circumstances as best they can.

Kaelyn is a strong, smart, believable female protagonist in an tense YA novel that focuses on character and situation, rather than romance. Her losses are genuine, and painful. Better yet, there is an excellent level of diversity in the characters. Kaelyn and her older brother are mixed-race, with a black mother and a white father, both of whom appear quite a bit. Kaelyn's niece, who is central to the story, is black. Her best friend was born in Korea. And her brother is gay without being a stereotype or defined purely by his sexuality.

I really can't recommend this highly enough. I'm excited to know that there's a sequel coming, because not everything was answered at the end...but then again, not everything needed to be. It's a beautiful book.

You should check it out.
seanan_mcguire: (zombie)
I read a book recently* that I should have adored. It had a great cover, an interesting premise, and blurbs by several authors that I idolized and trusted. If they were endorsing it, it should have been amazing.

It is currently at the head of my short list for "worst book I read in 2012." I want those hours of my life back.

It wasn't offensive; it didn't call me names or slap my hands or steal my shit. It wasn't poorly written, although it had some pacing issues; the words were in the right order and generally spelled correctly. I can't in all good conscience call it a bad book. But I hated it. Absolutely, empirically, and with very few caveats. It was not my cup of tea. It wasn't even in my cup of tea's time zone. So why did I pick it up?

The blurbs. They made me think this book and I would get along, thus projecting one of the Geek Fallacies onto an innocent piece of prose. Friendship is not transitive, and neither is readability.

This is the dark side of blurbs: this is why authors sometimes have to say "no," even if they like another author's work. Because when I put my name on the cover of a book, I am saying "I like this, and if you like the things I like, you will like it, too." But what happens when you don't? Suddenly everything else I like is questionable. What if Diet Dr Pepper, Monster High dolls, and carnage are all waiting to betray you, too? Where is the line?

We have to be careful. We are trading on your faith, and our reputations.

Have you ever read a book based on the blurbs, only to find your faith in the authors who provided them somewhat shaken? Not your faith in the author who wrote the book—presumably, if you bought it based on blurbs, you didn't have any—but your faith in the blurbers?

(*No, I will not name the book. Why? Well, one, I am not in the business of bad book reviews, unless it's a non-fiction book riddled with factual errors. Other people obviously enjoyed this book, otherwise the blurbs wouldn't have been there in the first place. Your mileage may vary, and all. And two, as an author, I wouldn't want to find someone ranting about one of my books like this. So since the book didn't murder my puppies, I will not name it.)
seanan_mcguire: (me)
Apparently, "December" is synonymous with "that month where Seanan is too busy and/or distracted to remember to update her journal, even when she thinks she really ought to." Super-fun! Also, I'm sorry. Also, I need a nap. So here are some bullet points to soothe your abandoned souls, while I try to find my head:

1. Human For a Day is available now at a bookstore near you! This awesome anthology contains "Cinderella City," my second Mina Norton story (the first, "Alchemy and Alcohol", appears in Tales from the Ur-Bar). I've read through the whole book, and it's excellent, easily passing my "should I keep this" test for anthologies even without taking into account the whole "I have a story in there" aspect. You should totally pick it up.

2. Speaking of picking things up, my beloved Borderlands Books has published their holiday gift guide, which is insightful and lovely, and lists my Mira Grant books as great presents, thus providing that it's also brilliant and worth listening to. If you're wondering what to buy for the reader in your life, or for yourself, check it out.

3. Also, I was three of the top ten paperbacks for November. Feed came in at number three, One Salt Sea at number eight, and Deadline at number nine. I am well pleased.

4. As of right this second (this will change), I have all the Monster High dolls (except for 2010 SDCC Frankie, and I'm not paying that much for a doll I wouldn't be willing to take out of the box). I'm missing one fashion pack, and that's it. Since there are six more characters confirmed on the horizon, and the eternal looming rumor of a basic Jackson Jekyll, I intend to enjoy this rare moment of completeness while it exists.

5. Geek Fest in Seattle was absolutely wonderful. I met awesome musicians, made music with some of my favorite people, and discovered how much cranberry sauce constitutes "too much" (hint: I multiplied the recipe by a factor of six). Also I got to see some of my favorite people meet and hang out with others of my favorite people, and a good time was had by all.

6. Still loving Criminal Minds, woefully behind on everything else except for Glee, New Girl, and Bones, probably going to get lynched by my housemate if I don't clear some things off the DVR soon.

7. You know what? Seriously, go pick up Human For a Day. It's my good friend Jennifer's first editorial job with a big six publisher, and I really want her to be able to do more of these, because she really does a fantastic job. She brings a degree of integrity and focus to the table that really shows in the finished product, and I want to see her wind up becoming a name on a level with John Joseph Adams or Ellen Datlow, where anthology construction is concerned.

8. The new Glee soundtrack has been released, with the end result that I now have "Red Solo Cup" so firmly wedged in my head that I would need a crowbar to get it out. I don't dislike the song, but I didn't sign up to have it permanently melded with my skull. Bah.

9. Oh, hey, skulls! Have any of you read Dawn Metcalf's debut YA novel, Luminous? Because it's about skeletons. And stuff. And I need to do a proper review, because it was awesome. And while we're all talking about diversity in YA, this book has: a Hispanic heroine (who is sometimes a skeleton), an Orthodox Jewish character not presented as being misguided or odd, at least one character who isn't skinny and doesn't want to be, real consequences, real concerns, and characters of multiple non-Caucasian races, apart from the protagonist. This is an awesome book.

10. Zombies are love. Anyone who tells you different is selling something. Probably anti-zombie security measures.
seanan_mcguire: (sarah)
I was asked recently if I would be willing to make a list of some of my favorite urban fantasies and paranormal romances. Because I am an amiable blonde, I am doing so. In the case of series, I will list the series name and first book, so you know where I at least think you should start. Format is as follows:

The Toby Daye Series, Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire.
Half-fae private investigator-slash-knight errant October Daye tries to solve magical murders and prevent more than the usual amount of chaos in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ongoing series, sequential, told in the first person. Five books currently available, two more confirmed.

Genre: Pretty unadulterated urban fantasy.
Recommended for: People who like my books, since I wrote them.
Romance level: Low so far. Sex not shown onscreen. Safe for teenagers and your mother.

For this list, "favorite" is defined as "I enjoy reading them, and am actively pleased to see another book in the series or by the same author," rather than "this is the highest quality that the genre has to offer." My books, my biases. This is by no means a comprehensive list, since my attention span is not that great right now.

With me? Awesome. Let's rock.

Click here for some of Seanan's favorite urban fantasy and paranormal romance reads. )
seanan_mcguire: (princess)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I read a lot of urban fantasy/paranormal romance. I mean a lot. Given that I read fast enough to get through a 300-page novel in a day, easily, and am currently trying to race through my to-be-read shelf like I'm being pursued by wolves, I'm basically binging on the stuff. I'm going to need to spend six months on Urban Fantasy Weight Watchers after I finish my current read-through, during which I'll be allowed nothing but bad mystery novels and non-fiction about things that make you die (diseases, parasites, Australia). This means that I am sensitive to tropes in UF/PR the way I'm sensitive to tropes in lousy horror movies.*

The majority of urban fantasy is written in the first person. I fight the monster, I open the door to the creepy crypt at the bottom of the hill, I try not to summon a snake god to Thanksgiving dinner. This creates a feeling of absolute immediacy, while also creating a feeling of safety, since most first person narrators are reasonably guaranteed to survive their stories. (I consider, say, Rose Marshall an exception, since she's already dead. Maybe this explains why she gets shot so much.) It also limits the perspective of the books. When you're reading a Toby book, the only information you'll get is what Toby has to give, and that information will always be filtered through her particularly Toby-esque way of seeing the world.

Third person gives you more leeway on the will she/won't she question where surviving is concerned, and also creates the option to provide the reader with additional information. Sure, the protagonist is bound by their own perceptions, but the author gets to play with omniscience. This is both good and bad, and the varying degrees of third person omniscience is a topic for another day. Suffice to say that sometimes this distancing serves the story very, very well.

I have just finished reading two third person urban fantasies, neither of which will be named here, because I'm looking critically at structure, not trying to compare-and-contrast their plots or the quality of their writing. In the first, the author took advantage of the third person structure and hopped from place to place, now following the villain, now following a secondary character, now returning to the primary protagonist. The omniscience was kept to a minimum, since otherwise, the plot would have turned boring for the reader; this is obviously pretty tricky, but the writer handled it well. I don't think this book could have been written in first person, and the tense never bothered me. It was a third person book because it needed to be.

The second third person urban fantasy stuck to an extremely limited perspective, following the protagonist at the exclusion of all else. At no point, did we get information that she didn't have, which made waiting for her to catch up occasionally a lot more frustrating than I expected it to be. I'm used to being forgiving when my UF/PR protagonists are a little slow, because I'm used to being so deep in their heads that I can see why they're not making the intuitive jumps that I can make. I know how they think. In the absence of that knowledge, I kept waiting for the heroine to be smarter than I was, and I kept being disappointed. It honestly left me wondering why the author didn't stick with the first person perspective that's standard in the genre. It would have been the same story; it would even have been a stronger story, because the immersion in the heroine would have made it much more urgent.

Choosing a story's point of view can be difficult, but I find that usually, I can tell which they need to be by looking at whether the story would even be possible in a tighter perspective. And I try to keep things as tight as possible, for the immediacy. Your mileage may, and probably will, vary.

So how do you feel about perspective? Does first person keep it tight and immersive, or is it off-putting and overly familiar? Does third person make things mysterious and flexible, or is it distancing and remote? Or does it even matter if the story's good?

Thoughts?

(*If the movie starts with people in the water, it's either an evil sharks movie, an evil alligator movie, or a sea monster movie. If you see a shark within the first five minutes, it's not an evil sharks movie. Etc.)
seanan_mcguire: (coyote)
Back to New York!

Tuesday morning found me oversleeping, since all that puking the night before had left me totally exhausted. I eventually staggered out of bed and made my way downtown to the convention center where BEA was being held. Luckily, it was in the same convention center as New York Comicon, so I was able to find my way with relative ease, and did not wind up wandering lost through Manhattan for the rest of time. It could happen!

Alex at Orbit had already given me my badge, so I swung by registration to pick up a lanyard (v. important, lanyards) and called The Agent to let her know I was on-site. She promptly swooped in, grabbed me, and whisked me hither and yon to see people that needed seeing—including Toni and Charlaine, which was a wonderful way to begin the convention. Hugging and happiness followed, and then they settled in to do a signing while The Agent and I ran over to the Orbit booth to acquire copies of Deadline for their enjoyment. Happiness is giving early copies of books to your friends.

With the hauling about portion of our program complete, The Agent freed me to wander where I would. So I wandered.

Book Expo America is a lot like New York Comicon, scale-wise, which probably explains why they fit in the same convention center. Only instead of toys, you have books. And instead of media goodies, you have books. And instead of scantily-clad booth babes, you have booth librarians, which is kinda more awesome. And did I mention the books? It's like lit-geek Disneyland, only without the teacup ride.

Which is sort of a pity.

All too soon, I had to leave the convention center and head for DAW. Because I was running late, I cleverly decided to take a taxi. Unfortunately, my streak of "always pick the taxi with the driver you have no languages in common with" continued, and my request for the PATH station resulted in my being dropped at Penn Station. Argh. I found my way to the PATH (only about three blocks away) and hopped on a train, which delivered me promptly and without fuss to the correct locale. Hooray for trains!

Better yet, hooray for DAW, which was exactly as welcoming and familiar and wonderful as I hoped it would be. DAW is one of my favorite places to spend a day, and not just because I can usually cadge someone into taking me to visit the "take" shelves of free books scattered around the building. I love everyone there, and I'm comfortable there, which is rare for someone as twitchy as I am.

I had a nice talk with The Editor, and got my revision notes for Discount Armageddon, which is next on my agenda for working on. Eventually, The Agent showed up, and we all went out for delicious Indian food dinner, where I ate goat and chicken and mushrooms and fish and naan and om nom nom Indian. Seriously, we ate so much Indian food it ached. I wanted to go home and collapse.

...which was naturally the cue for me to be hauled through half a dozen BEA after-hours parties. Good: I saw (and hugged) Cat and John Scalzi, who looked as terrified of the noisy crowds as I did. I also saw (and hugged) Tempest, who had a fan, and looked totally at ease. And I met Scott Westerfeld! Serious awesomeness.

Eventually, The Agent noticed that I was wilting, and I was loaded into a cab with a driver who understood where I wanted to go and took me to the PATH station. I returned to Jersey City, staggered home, and collapsed into bed too tired to die. Which meant, of course, that Wednesday was going to be the big day in town...

Next: Wednesday at BEA, mojitos in my eye, and signing Deadline.
seanan_mcguire: (me)
Aigh! How is it already mid-May? How is it already past mid-May? Seriously, this isn't cool, people. But since life marches on, here are some random updates about things you may want to know.

Wicked Girls T-shirts.
The spreadsheet has been finished and handed off to my lovely assistant, aka, "Deborah," who is now using our peachy-keen new merchandise email address to send out the order confirmations. So if you requested a shirt, you're going to hear from Deborah! She'll be asking you to verify that we have the right information, requesting shipping information, and setting up things so you can pay. Please, please, remember that we must receive payment to place this order. That's why the original post said "cash in the cookie jar." If you can't pay for your shirts, we may have to remove you from the spreadsheet, depending on how long it takes for everyone else to pay.

Welcome to Bordertown about to hit shelves.
The new Bordertown anthology is just about out, and it's amazing. Mia ([livejournal.com profile] chimera_fancies) will be doing pendant sales of special Bordertown pendants soon, and there are contests and giveaways and blog tours, oh my! It's an incredible book. If you love urban fantasy, you should absolutely buy this book. This is the city whose foundations informed us all, and it's finally opening its doors again.

Oh, right. Also, Deadline.
I, too, have a new book coming out. Deadline will be released on May 31st, which makes it technically a June book (ah, the wonders of reporting). So you'll be able to buy it from a bookstore near you, and you totally should, especially if you enjoy my cats being full of catfood, and not full of my delicious flesh. They eat a lot! I'll be in New York for the next week, which sadly limits the number of pre-release blog giveaways I can do (having no books as yet, the current number is "zero"), but I'll be doing fun things up until then. Primarily the ongoing, and increasingly grim, countdown to the Rising. You're welcome.

Book Expo America!
Why am I going to New York? For Book Expo America! This is going to be my first BEA, and I'm mad excited. I'll also be seeing friends, eating artisan frozen treats, and visiting both my publishers for an entire day, thus guaranteeing that they'll be sick of me and give me things in order to make me go away and leave them alone. I'm basically an animate mixed blessing. I'm planning to have a fabulous time, because I always do, and when I leave, I'm heading for...

Wiscon!
It's my first time. Be gentle. I'll be mixing drinks at the Whedonistas party, which is good, since I don't like trying to mingle at these things, but I loooooooooooove making mai tais and mojitos. Donations of strawberries gratefully accepted, because I always need more than I think I will. If you're over twenty-one and planning to be at the convention, you should come see the gleeful mania that is me with a cocktail shaker.

Cats.
Blue. Also, fluffy.

Monster High.
New dolls should be hitting the shelves ANY DAY NOW, and the search is driving me batty. The universe needs to stop taunting the happy fun blonde and gimme already, before my already strained patience decides that the time has come to snap.

...and that's my status for the day. How's by everybody else?
seanan_mcguire: (wicked)
For all that I argue constantly that urban fantasy is one of the oldest genres, and that those of us who write it are the descendants of Lily Fair and should be afforded the same respect as the children of her better-known sisters, Snow White and Rose Red, the fact remains that urban fantasy as we know it right now, today, is a relatively recent beast. It developed slowly, lurching and slithering its way out of the jumble of general fantasy and into its current position.

A lot of the classics* of the urban fantasy genre were published during the 1980s, and many of them fell out of print during the same time period. They were like thieves in the night, only instead of sneaking into your house and stealing all your stuff, they snuck into your head and planted ideas like seeds. Maybe they didn't germinate overnight. Maybe they took years, or decades, to begin sprouting. But they did sprout, and the flowers they grew into spread more seeds, until the genre itself began to grow.

I was too young to really appreciate what was going on during those beginning days, but I already read voraciously, and several of those strange flowers have been a part of my mental landscape for as long as I can remember. Jack of Kinrowan. War for the Oaks. Gossamer Axe.

Bordertown.

Bordertown was a modern-day Neverland, a place where the lands of humanity and the fae collided, with magic and science at continual war with one another. It was a place for teenage runaways, filled with music and madness, and there were times when I, as a pre-teen nerd girl who never felt like she really belonged anywhere, practically ached with the longing to find that magic doorway that could get me there. In Bordertown, I would find friends, and adventures, and stories, and maybe I'd get hurt, but I'd do it in a place that hurt everyone, not just the ones who didn't quite fit in. In Bordertown, I could make the rules, and break the rules, and take the rules for whatever they were worth. All I had to do was find the door.

I knew even then that Bordertown was just a story, but it was a beautiful story, and stories have power. I read every Bordertown tale I could find with the same voracious need, and when they stopped coming, I started looking further afield. When I met Ellen Kushner last year in Australia, I told her that I wrote urban fantasy because I'd come too late to write Bordertown, and the genre as it exists now was as close as I could get.

Those original books are sadly out of print now. For thirteen years, the doors to Bordertown have been closed.

The doors to Bordertown are opening again on May 23rd. Welcome to Bordertown is a gorgeous, glorious anthology of all-new stories and poems set in that magical place, written by an incredible assortment of authors, and because the authors and editors are clever, you don't need to know anything but what I've told you here to appreciate it. Bordertown is where the magic is. Bordertown is where the music is. Bordertown lives.

In the meanwhile, you can read three of the original stories on the website; you can begin exploring this world; you can fall in love the way I did when I first heard the city's name, and the way I did again when I went to Boston and was handed an advance copy of the new map. Bordertown lives.

Now step into the story and find out why so many of us have loved this world so fiercely, so cleanly, and for so very, very long.

Bordertown lives.

I missed it so much.

(*Defining "classics" as "things without which the genre would not occupy the shape it occupies today," not based on popularity or staying power or even, in some cases, quality.)

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