I was just nominated for the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award! (!!!!!!!!) For those of you playing along at home, the Campbell Award is the Best New Writer award in Science Fiction and Fantasy. It’s not technically a Hugo, but it’s voted on by the Hugo voters, administered by the Hugo Awards committee, and presented at the WorldCon Hugo Awards dinner. So, um. This is a huge deal.
I’m blown away right now. Some past award winners and nominees include: George RR Martin, Jerry Pournelle, Felix Gilman, Diane Duane, Tad Williams (for Tailchaser’s Song!), Lois McMaster Bujold (!), Nalo Hopkinson, Jo Walton, John Scalzi, E. Lily Yu, Saladin Ahmed, John Scalzi, I’m going to stop now or else I’ll just re-copy the entire list. It’s here—one of those lists where you know almost every name. I’m honored, and awed, and really really excited to be nominated for this award. Thanks so much to everyone who voted. I’ve dreamed of being here.
For those of you who haven’t been here before, here’s a link to the book. I like it, and apparently a number of other folks agree with me! I hope you’re all having a wonderful weekend. I sure am.
EDIT 2: Since I wrote most of that blog post in a rush before the nominations were distributed, I didn’t actually know who else was nominated for the Campbell! Here’s the list, in addition to yours truly:
My wife and I caught a showing of Django Unchained last Friday, and rather than drone on about my editorial progress I thought I might talk for a bit about the Wagner in this movie. I don’t know how much Tarantino & crew kept Wagner in mind while making Django, but there are a lot of cool parallels, as @mattjmichaelson and I found when we sat down to compare notes.
The Ring Cycle first shows up in Unchained during the campfire scene where Django mentions his wife’s name is Brunhilde (or Broomhilde), and Dr. King Schultz labels him a “real live Siegfried.” Beyond that Wagner disappears from the script, but he does hang around in the air, present though not evoked, especially as the story deals with questions of Law.
Both Django and Wagner’s Ring Cycle revolve in a way around the nature of laws. Dr. Schultz has the ultimate power, to kill joyfully, without remorse or consequence, because of his position under the law. Each of his murders (up to the last) occurs within a carefully defended legal framework. When he offers Django the bounty hunter’s job, Django takes a new legal position, and new powers as a result. (These are the only new powers he gains in the film, in fact—while we do see him target shooting, we never see him miss!) Schultz’s power depends on his legal position—for all the lengths the movie goes to show him being a badass with rifle, shotgun, pistol, dynamite etc., it goes even further to demonstrate his skill at using the law to his advantage. He doesn’t even plan to steal Broomhilde from her owners; he schemes to buy her. His first explicit violation of law is Candy’s murder—also his last act in the film. By transgressing law, he has broken his power.
In Wagner, Wotan, the father (and King) of the gods, holds his position through law—at the beginning of time, he traded his eye for the knowledge of runes (writing, needed for contracts), and took from the World Ash Tree a shaft of wood from which he made a spear. On that spear, Wotan carved bargains and deals with all things. This was his law, the law of contract, and it binds everyone and everything. Including Wotan himself! And this is Wotan’s great tragedy. He is stuck inside the laws he made to build the world, the same laws that give him his might. He cannot break free without breaking the world—even when by breaking his promise he might stop a great evil, such as the Ring of the Nibelungs, which grants its holder absolute power provided that he or she renounce love. About a third of the Ring Cycle is dedicated to Wotan seeking a way around a promise he made—bound by his own spear—not to steal the Ring back from the dragon who holds it.
So here we have Schultz / Wotan, realizing the evil that exists in the world (Slavery as the Ring, which grants immense power to its masters if they renounce love / human compassion—we never see a normal loving relationship among the slaveowners in Django, even Candy’s sister is a widow), but that he can do nothing about it because of the Law. (In the opera, Wotan starts off desiring the Ring; in the movie, Schultz starts off saying he will ‘make this slavery business work for [him]‘. Schultz comes to despise slavery and slavers. Wotan’s story is less clear and explicit, though I think he does, in the end, want Ring and Spear both broken.) So in the end, he must break the law. In the opera Siegfried, Wotan opposes the hero with his law-Spear, which Siegfried breaks with his sword Nothung (‘Needful’; maybe this is the Will-Sword? Though that’s a bit of a reach), shattering Wotan’s power. In the movie, Schultz shoots Candy, shattering hisown power (and protection) under the law.
Opera and film both deal with the absence of law in their final acts. Maybe (and I don’t have a fully defended thesis here, just spitballing based on my knowledge of the opera) one goal of Wagner’s Goterdammerung is to show the world with no law but that of the Ring, which is to say cruel desire: the gods are silent, and the hero Siegfried falls into the clutches of the scheming Gibichung family, who abuse his faith in their hospitality to enchant him, steal his wife, and ultimately murder him. Brunhilde responds to Siegfried’s death by claiming the Ring and jumping onto Siegfried’s pyre, which consumes the Gibichungs as well as Valhalla, the abode of the Gods. The Ring breaks forever, and the world, cleansed, is free to begin again. (At least, this is one interpretation, very Schopenhauer-ish. Wagner’s a slippery fish, though. If y’all have your own opinions about what’s going on in the Ring Cycle, feel free to tell me!)
Obviously in Django Unchained our Siegfried does not die. But Schultz’s death does end of the world of law, and leave Django in the hands of tormentors and traitors who seem immune to the hand of God. (Who’s Hagen in this analogy? Maybe Samuel L Jackson’s Stephen, who, as the head house slave, is ‘pretty low’ in Django’s own words… Don’t know if I want to press the argument that far though.) Anyway, Django escapes, and returns—to destroy the Ring (at least part of it) and wreak destruction on the world that forged it. If we carry the symbolic logic out this far, I think it’s fair to equate the burning of Candyland with the burning of Walhalla and the Gibichungen Hall. I wonder how the movie would have felt if Django indeed died, leaving Brunhilde to finish the job / destroy Walhalla. Weirder, certainly, and less like a triumphant Western.
(Another parallel: we first see Brunhilde in the hot box; in Wagner we meet her on the mountaintop, surrounded by fire—hotboxed in a different way.)
This interpretation isn’t complete by any stretch. There’s a lot in the film that doesn’t fit here—especially the intertextuality between this film and Inglorious Basterds, in which the backwoods sumbitch and the hypercompetent German swap good guy / bad guy roles. (I wonder if Tarantino tried to get Brad Pitt in Django…) In addition to all the intellectual games above, I thought this was a great movie, well-acted, compelling, human in the depths of its inhumanity, accessible and complex in the ways it deals with questions of law, power, morality, and justice. Plus, Tarantino just keeps getting better at directing gunfights.
Today, after finishing up what may be the final readthrough of Book Three pre-editor, I did my traditional search through the text for words I know I overused. I got off easier on this book than usual, perhaps as a result of writing with focus rather than whenever I could squeeze a few hundred words in. That said, in case you’re interested in writer process stuff, here’s today’s self-generated tasklist for ‘delete words I know I’m using too often.’
Purpling (I used it twice in the book, and that’s once too many.)
Retreat (which should only be used if someone’s actually retreating, or if the notion of retreat is metaphorically valuable. Or if someone’s being given two desserts.)
yawning (in the sense of distance—again, used it three times, which is two too many)
dark (dark dark dark dark dark!)
shadow (which I used much less in this book than usually)
world (you laugh, but when your characters start talking about metaphysics and global economics, this word gets worn out.)
froze (as in, ‘in fear’)
shook (especially in the context of shaking heads, but in the general oscillatory context as well)
I’m probably missing others, but that’s the immediate list.
Some more statistics for you: first draft of this book: 159,000 words give or take. Third: 116,000. Current (which is draft 7 or 8): 100,300. Very pleased with what I’ve accomplished here. And trust me, you won’t miss those extra words. I don’t even know where they came from, and I wrote them all!
Thanks to all who have written in or commented to congratulate me on the Mass Book Award nomination! I’m still very excited, though turning focus to editing for the moment. I have, after all, a deadline, and a deadline past that, and a bunch of other story seeds that are sort of floating in my head, waiting to grow crystal.
While thinking in that vein (just keep swimming!) I ran across the Game of Thrones House Insignia generator. I do love the monochrome heraldry in GoT, and couldn’t help myself:
This is a huge deal for me for a few reasons. One, the slate is absurd. Three Parts Dead is on there with The Song of Achilles, which won the freakin’ Orange Prize, and is an amazingly awesome book that you all should read now, for the love of Pete what are you doing still reading my blog? Matthew Pearl’s The Technologists is on there. So are William Landay’s Defending Jacob and Maryanne O’Hara’s Cascade and B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger. In fact, if I’m counting right, the slate has three New York Times Bestsellers, one book by a New York Times Bestseller, a first novel Slate, the Globe, and People called one of the best of 2012, an Orange Prize winner… and my book.
This isn’t humblebragging. This is serious “honor just to be nominated” territory.
Also exciting is the category under which Three Parts Deadwas considered: Fiction. Not science fiction or fantasy or urban fantasy or books with zombies. Just, fiction. It’s a nice, simple word, and the umbrella of its definition shelters three different breeds of literary thriller, a Trojan War romance, a novel of art and desire in the Great Depression, and my legal mystery theological second world contemporary 21st century industrial capitalism fantasy explosion. I do love the genre section of the bookstore (especially when it’s nice and close to the front, as it is in Porter Square Books), but it’s cool that the Mass Book Award takes into account all books, regardless of immediate shelving. Because we’re all in this together, and after reading the descriptions of these novels, I want to read ‘em all.
Quick update before I disappear down the rabbit hole again, messieurs and mesdames. (Did I even spell that right? Who knows! I don’t speak French. Though I think I might try to learn using duolingo. It’d be awesome to read The Count in the original language. Or Arsene Lupin stories. I’ve even heard that Flaubert is good in French! [Silly literary confession—I really didn't like Madame Bovary when I read it back in the day. Probably due for a reread, though maybe my problem was the translation. Hence its mention here.])
Anyway, we rocked out at Pax East with a wide and wonderful clan, and I came away with a truly enormous haul of what I understand are referred to in common parlance as lewtz?
FLCL t-shirt. The only anime I want a t-shirt for, and now I have one. Hah!
Qin: the Art of War and GM Screen. I’ve been wanting to run a game with a bunch of Mo-ists running around during the Warring States period masterminding siege defense, and now I have a ruleset! Also, my god the Qin books are absurdly well researched.
Microscope. Fractal epic history world creation for maximum ridiculosity. Very excited to try this.
3:16 Carnage Among the Stars. Aliens + Sartre = space marines of existential dread! I’m also excited to try this, if by ‘try this’ I mean ‘inflict this on players.’
Milady also ended up with a copy of Dread, which OH MY GOD I am terrified to play that game when she decides to run it. Also, Dread’s writer, Epidiah Ravachol, has the coolest business cards I have ever seen: a card with a full SF roleplaying system on the back. Has me thinking about redesigning my I-didn’t-think-they-were-lame-at-the-time business cards with the book cover on one side & my name on the other. But how could I match that level of cool? Hmmmmmm… Might be time to explore flash fiction. Or even better yet, a full short story split up between many business cards… Muahaha.
Also, I had the pleasure of introducing Milady (who was a kickass Marathon player back in the day) to Golden Eye 64, which she missed somehow. And we all played JS Joust and had an amazing time. And burgers with Milady, the redoubtable @Rocketvan, and the inimitable @Mattjmichaelson. And basically the whole weekend has left me pumped and breathless and excited, and I hope y’all are having a good time too.
Because my life is awesome, the following package arrived in the mail on Friday.
For those of you without images for some reason, that’s:
Mass Effect 3, which I’ve opened but won’t get a chance to seriously devour before my book deadline at the end of the month.
Life Along the Silk Road, by Susan Whitfield, director of the International Dunhuang Project, the project dedicated to cataloguing the Dunhuang Manuscripts, about which more later I promise but trust me it’s awesome. Basically, Whitfield is one of (if not the) best qualified people (/person) on the planet to write this book, which is a series of short biographies of the life and times of different types of characters who wandered the Silk Road over a few hundred year span of history. SO excited to read this!
Religions of the Silk Road: Premodern Patterns of Globalization, by Richard Foltz, which if that title doesn’t make you salivate, well, you’re probably a more normal person than I am and that’s okay, you don’t need to feel bad. But OH MY I can’t wait to burn through this. There’s a chapter on each of about twelve different religions, analyzing their spread and codevelopment across the road. Incredible!
In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not really planning a book set on the Silk Road right now. I haven’t traveled the region enough (though one day…)—it’s just one of the most fascinating historical areas of the world, and it’s so hard for most Westerners to study. ’Lost’ civilizations galore! Nestorian Christianity as an important religious and philosophical force! International commerce linking China to the west! Intrigue! Scheming! Revolution! Genghis Khan! The Tang Dynasty! The spread of Buddhism! I spent a few years desperately wanting to become a Silk Road scholar, until I finally realized that even with (at the time) quite excellent Chinese I still could barely manage the primary source reading, and on top of Chinese I’d need about five modern languages at a similar level and somewhere between five and seven ancient languages, a few of which are insanely obscure (I’m looking at you, Sogdien). Ten years or so of pure language study was a daunting prospect, psychologically and financially speaking. Basically, the Silk Road is INCREDIBLY COOL and I have absurd heaping gobs of respect for Silk Road scholars, and insane gratitude for the ones who publish in English so I can reap the benefits of their linguistic kung fu badassitude. Only mid 19th century China rivals Silk Road studies for sheer mindblowingness in my eyes, and that has more to do with the sheer WTF-ery of the Taiping Tianguo .