After Thoughts

In 2009 Borders Books asked if I would do a two-week (!) guest stint on their fantasy & SF blog. To be honest, I can’t remember if they picked the topic of if I did. In any case, the posts centered around post-apocalyptic fiction and film.

Since these continue to flourish, I thought it would be fun to repost my Borders blog gig.  It’s a look at my favorite post-apocalyptic books and movies, and an examination of why they’re popular. (I didn’t address the popularity of post-apocalyptic scenarios in Young Adult fiction a la The Hunger Games because I’m not familiar enough with the market to write about it with any real authority. But its increasing popularity continues to fascinate me.) Anyway, here’s the intro. We’ll dive into the meat tomorrow.

Not with a blog but a writer

My first novel, Ariel, and its sequel Elegy Beach a quarter-century later, are a bit unusual in that they’re postapocalyptic fantasy novels. The Road Warrior of the Rings, or somesuch. Which was kind of unusual in 1983, when Ariel was originally published.

I grew up with a soft spot for postapocalyptic fiction & movies (and I suppose it’s worth mentioning here that the post aspect has always interested me more than the actual apocalypse part, so I dunno about playing favorites with the how of it all), and I’ve done a lot of thinking about what the appeal is for an audience. I’ve written a surprising amount of fiction that could be classified as postapocalyptic, and a surprising amount more if I’m allowed to include stories featuring characters making their way through desolated landscapes. It’s definitely one of my tropes.

I’m curious about the current resurgence of postapocalyptic fiction and films even as I’m clearly part of it. (Coincidentally enough my postapocalyptic zombie novella “Like Pavlov’s Dogs,” originally published in Skipp & Spector’s Book of the Dead, has just been reprinted in John Skipp’s magnificent Zombies anthology. So I have three postapocalyptic works in print at the moment. Hmm.) People always look for some deep sociological meaning behind such trends. Anyone want to theory up on this one?

Reading @ SF in SF

This Saturday I will be performing at the truly wonderful SF in SF series, along with writer Bruce McAllister (Dream Baby, Humanity Prime).

Mr. McAllister is a Hugo winner who has published in an impressive array of places, including Glimmer Train and the coveted Year’s Best American Short Stories. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing him. The subsequent Q & A will be moderated by Terry Bisson.

The evening is to promote The Urban Fantasy Anthology. My story in the anthology, “Talking Back to the Moon,” is an excerpt from my increasingly-long-in-the-making novel Avalon Burning. I’ll be performing a different section from the novel on Saturday.

Saturday, April 21, 2012
The Variety Preview Room Theatre
The Hobart Bldg., 1st Floor
(Entrance next to Citibank on Market St.)
582 Market Street @ 2nd and Montgomery
San Francisco, CA 94104 (map)

Doors open 6:00 PM; event starts at 7:00
$5-$10 donation at the door benefits
Variety Children’s Charity of Northern California

Cover Stories

One of the many great things about my experience with Subterranean Press regarding the publication of Mortality Bridge was the cover. Bill Schafer, Subterrranean’s publisher, asked me to submit cover ideas. That alone was pretty damned cool, as writers don’t get asked that very often. (To be honest, that’s usually a good idea. One look at most writers’ website designs is enough to verify this.)

I can’t draw worth a damn, but I’ve done a bunch of graphic design work, and I worked in advertising for years (something I’m glad to have done, and even more glad to be no longer doing). Thank goodness that the spiffy magic of photo editing & illustration tools helps make up for a lack of drawing ability. I hunted around online for images I could composite, and I turned in two rough concepts:

And cover artist (and horror icon) J.K. Potter turned in this cover, which shows you what can happen when a real artist gets hold of an idea:

For the e-book & softcover, I was again asked to submit ideas. (Yay!)  Conceptually, it was really just going to be a reiteration of the hardcover image. I set a die-cast Checker Cab and a plaster gargoyle in front of a textured wall and took a bunch of pictures. I picked one I liked:

Then I made a ton of changes to it.  I matched light sources & shadows’ replaced the wall with a rock cliff background and color-matched that; added a tunnel, shading, and rocky ground, and beat up the Checker Cab. (I use Paint Shop Pro X, which should make the spine of any professional designer curl like a question mark.) This is what I ended up with:

I really like it, and it’s a total failure. As an image I think it’s intriguing. As a design — blecck. Everything’s happening on the left side. Your eye goes straight to that huge flat blank space of cliff wall formed by the crescent of the inside edge of the gargoyle and the top right of the cab. Even worse, there’s no way to design around it. Putting the title in that space is hideous (trust me on this). Moving the elements around destroys the idea or makes it confusing. Wahhh.

I worked with the cover designer to see if we could preserve the idea, but any kind of monster or statue proved hugely distracting. A taxi cab parked in front of the gate of hell is really intriguing. It poses all kinds of questions and implications. Put a monster in it and you totally lose that. So we worked on keeping the feel while emulating the hardcover. This was the final result:

I thought it was okay, but then I got the actual softcovers, and I thought it looked great.  There’s still a blank space, but the artist made use of it by pumping up that white line of partly opened door, so that your eye follows it straight down from nicely art nouveau title to the cab.

Every book cover is a problem that someone found a solution for. The number of solutions is vast. I find this stuff fascinating for the same reasons I’m interested in logo design: How do you convey an idea, a story, a reputation, a service, in a simple and easily understood image? Art directors at major publishers have to do this dozens of times a month.

Audiobook as acapella

I was fascinated with certain sections of the audiobook of Elegy Beach because the narrator, J.D. Jackson, picked up on the rhythms, even while his interpretation was very different from my own. I’ve used a lot of spoken-word pieces in my Groovelectric dance-music series. They work really well over tribal, percussive tracks. I’ve used acapellas, movie dialog, poetry, etc. One mix, Body Slam, is devoted to slam poetry. So it’s surprising that it took me this long to look at my own work as a resource for adding to mixes, especially since I tend to put some effort into writing in rhythm.

Since the latest Groovelectric mix, “Cave Paintings,” was another tribal/percussive mix, I thought it would be fun to use something from the “vibe” section of the Elegy Beach audiobook. This is a kind of post-apocalyptic rave in which the narrative, at points, assumes the rhythms of the music at the event.

I copied out the audio sections I wanted to use and did some editing.  I finessed the phrasing to make it more on-beat. (It’s not as if Mr. Jackson narrated with a metronome going.) Then I lowered the pitch a bit, for effect and because it works well with heavily percussive music.

I auditioned tracks until I found one that had a nice, dark flavor that was insistent but not too busy. I dropped a lot of other vocals throughout the mix — gospel, chants, etc. I’m really happy with the result. It’s funny, but after a decade of utilizing spoken-word pieces in mixes, it felt very different to use something of my own. It was fun.

You can play or download “Cave Paintings” below. The Elegy Beach section starts around the 31:30 mark. If you’ve read Elegy Beach, you might enjoy this, considering what’s happening in the section of the novel that I used.

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Download “Cave Paintings” [01:13:28, 69MB]

Cool Recent Stuff

I am a bad blogger lately, I know. I will be better. Soon. Yes, soon.

So John Scalzi, bless him and his legacy unto the end of the universe, recommended Mortality Bridge for the Hugo and Nebula award. I am deeply touched, and especially stoked because the novel has had a relatively low profile, and John’s recommendation is enormously helpful in making it more visible, and hugely appreciated.

Last night I went to SF in SF, a monthly series of science fiction readings in San Francisco organized by Rina Weisman that is held in a wonderful venue, the screening room of the Variety Children’s Hospital. Readers were Rudy Rucker, Jay Lake, and K.W. Jeter. Rudy read from his new memoir, Nested Scrolls. Jay read from his Sunspin series, and Jeter read a steampunk fairy tale based on “The Red Shoes.” Quite a lot of variety, and the Q & A afterward was lively.

Rudy Rucker, Jay Lake, KW Jeter, Terri Bisson (photo by Dave Gallaher)

Dinner with the participants before the event was a terrific back & forth of good conversation. I had not met Jeter before, and I was impressed by how helpful and bolstering he was to writers just beginning to establish themselves. It was also wonderful to see Jay Lake’s amazing upbeat determination in the face of chemotherapy. I wish him all the best.

The event was nearly at capacity, which is even more impressive considering that the Chinese New Year parade was going on at Market Street just outside. What I saw of the parade was pretty damn cool, and there was a wonderfully charged feeling in the air.

I’ve just finished the next round of  revisions on Avalon Burning, wherein I sprinkled magic adrenalin dust on the manuscript to amp things up a bit and set up the final act. I’ll start making the changes on the computer tomorrow. I left myself a couple of [INSERT AMAZING SHIT HERE] spots, so there’ll be more work on the computer than simply transcribing my handwritten changes. I tend to separate my current self from my editing self, so that when I’m entering changes I sometimes regard them as having been made by someone else, and it’s not uncommon for me to stare at some note on the manuscript and say, “Why, you son of a bitch.” Perhaps my process is unconventional. Or maybe a lot of writers do this. I dunno.

In any case, I was glad to see that the book doesn’t seem the worse for the drastic cutting, which is the best evidence that it needed to be cut. A couple of scenes were too skimpy because I went overboard, but I left notes for the poor sap who follows me to restore some of the deleted material.

What I’ve been doing with my widdle self

Cutting 50% of Avalon Burning. Most pages look like this:


The revised page looks like this:


Multiply by 430 (the number of pages written). Repeat as needed. Revise again. Finish novel. Shorten new material. Revise the whole book one more time.

How’s your 2012 going?

Happy Birthday, Sam Clemens

Today is the 176th birthday of Mark Twain. My appreciation of Twain’s work deepens as I get older, and the work of his that I like best has changed as time has gone on as well. Twain not only wrote with eloquence, humor, charm, and passion about America, he did so on behalf of America. More than any other writer he seemed to embody the national consciousness, and he remains arguably the best articulator of our nation’s view of itself.

If you never saw Ken Burns’ documentary on Twain, I highly recommend it. It’s available at Amazon and on Netflix.

This seems like a good time to give Twain’s rules of writing, from his essay “James Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.” I often distribute these to students in my writing classes emphasizing craft.

Mark Twain’s Rules of Writing

1.  A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2.  The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

3.  The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4.  The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5.  When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6.  When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

7.  When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.

8.  Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.

9.  Events shall be believable; the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausably set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10.  The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11.  The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12.  Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

13.  Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14.  Eschew surplusage.

15.  Not omit necessary details.

16.  Avoid slovenliness of form.

17.  Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.

Mortality Bridge E-Book Is Out

The e-book version of Mortality Bridge is now available! I worked closely with the layout artist to be sure the digital version adhered as closely as possible to the printed version’s typographical quirks and conventions , and we found alternative solutions where it could not. It was a learning experience, and I am very happy with the results, as well as deeply appreciative of the time, effort, and consideration taken to achieve this.

As I described in my Big Idea post on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog, it took literally half my life to write and publish Mortality Bridge. It was an exhausting amount of work and I had to grow a lot — as an artist and as a person — to do justice to what the book wanted to be. I’m more proud of it than anything I’ve ever written.

I’m also aware that it’s one of the least commercial things I’ve done. I could not be happier with my publishers, and they have been stalwart champions and supporters of a novel that tries to be a beautiful book about terrible things (which can be kind of hard for a major publisher to wrap its head around).

But because they are smaller, indie publishers, there isn’t massive marketing muscle behind the book, and despite rave reviews from some very high-profile sources, it doesn’t have the visibility of the major players in the industry — especially here in the holiday season.

So I’m asking for your help in getting this scrappy pound puppy into good homes. If you enjoy Mortality Bridge, please:

  • Review it on Amazon or iTunes,
  • Forward this announcement to anyone you think would be interested in the novel
  • Tweet, blog Facebook, G+, and/or forum post about it
  • Link to the Mortality Bridge website and recommend the sample chapters
  • Write your congressman (okay, maybe skip that one)

Thank you for your support!

Amazon Kindle
Barnes & Noble
iTunes / iBooks
ePub (Nook)

LJWC – The Downloadable Deluge

Here’s the second class I recorded at this year’s La Jolla Writers Conference. Since this is the one where I claim some authority on developments in digital media, naturally the recording inexplicably cuts off with about twenty minutes left in the class. Most of my lectures & readings record without a hitch, but LJWC remains cursed for me somehow. I promise to work on that next year. Player & download links after the description.

The Downloadable Deluge: A Life Raft for the Digital Tsunami
Boyett’s popular, interactive Digital/New Media discussions at LJWC serve as: A catalyst to writers struggling to keep pace with the astonishing rate of change in an industry in transition; a fire drill to help writers prepare for, exploit, or avoid what may be headed their way; a wake-up call to writers entrenched in media and business models that are becoming increasingly limited, if not outright archaic. This discussion of the state of the art is a survey of the year’s significant events at the intersection of art and technology, and a look ahead to see what may be in store for writers in a digital world. We’ll talk about e-books, piracy, copyright, advertising, revenue, distribution, representation, and much more. These are always pretty lively sessions!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

DOWNLOAD [01:17:55] 105MB, 192K

LJWC – Revisionism

Here’s the first of two classes that got recorded at last weekend’s La Jolla Writers Conference. Player  & download link below the course description.

Revision: The Real Art of Writing
Sure, you make your first draft the best it can be. But it’s easier to make it great on revision than on the first try, and knowing that can let you give yourself permission to not be perfect out of the gate. Even if your initial draft is terrific, revision is essential to condense, clarify, and clean up a manuscript.Steve Boyett will revise his own first-draft copy on an overhead projector to illustrate common mistakes, solutions, aesthetics, continuity, and more to demonstrate that revision can be as creative as the original act of writing.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

DOWNLOAD [01:03:01] 88 MB, 192K

Home Again, Home Again

See, it's much better when I'm not the one taking pictures

Back from a ten-day jaunt around Southern California that included attending World Fantasy Con and teaching at the La Jolla Writers Conference, with readings at both and an all-too-short stay in Los Angeles inbetween, visiting favorite places and what friends I had time to see (and apologies to the friends I wasn’t able to visit). I met a lot of great people and participated in some terrific events, but I was definitely glad to be back home.

The La Jolla Writers Conference was wonderful. It was my third year here and the students were as sharp as ever. My classes were well-attended and I talked for three solid days until I sounded indistinguishable from Tom Waits.

Bad weather put a crimp in what is normally a nicely social event. Rain & cold kept everyone off the grassy courtyard and had them scurrying to classes and putting to bed early. I thought this sort of weather was illegal in San Diego. Luckily it didn’t put a dent in the LJWC scheduled activities.

I also met uber-selling writers Jan Burke and Andrew Gross and had a terrific time with them. The three of us held a reading on Saturday night and it was a blast. Jan & Andrew write myster/thrillers, primarily, and I was amazed at their sense of timing. Both of them stopped their readings at the exact right moment and left me wanting more. So next day I bought the books (Jan’s Bloodlines and Andrew’s Eyes Wide Open). Clearly they knows what they is doing. I’m looking forward to reading them.

As you can see from our hat-swapping, I have a teeny tiny head

I usually forget to take pictures at these things cuz I run around like an overcaffeinated mayfly, but this year LJWC had Alana Renfro as their official photographer. At dinner Saturday night I wore my brown porkpie hat and Alana had her oh-so-Irish cap (I dunno what they’re called; I always think of them as British Racing Caps worn by men who drive Jaguar XKEs). So we switched hats and took this picture, which even a camera-conscious pundit such as myself has to admit is chock full o’ coolness. Plus I’m wearing the studio-wardrobe brown pinstripe suit jacket I got for a steal in Los Angeles. I sez hellyeh.

Every year at LJWC I lecture on digital media and related innovations and developments as they apply to writers. Naturally this means that I always screw up recording my classes with my digital recorder. This year was no exception. Despite charging four AAA batteries before the event, two of them went dead on me in the middle of classes and didn’t record, and at the end of one class I hit “stop” and recording started — meaning I hadn’t recorded that class, either.

Fortunately some did get recorded, and I’ll be posting them here over the next week after I have a chance to clean them up.

Meantime, a big hollah to my LJWC stoodeez.

Cory Doctorow Reviews Mortality Bridge

Cory Doctorow has posted his review of Mortality Bridge on  Among other nifty things, he writes

…Niko’s race through Hell is one of the greatest supernatural adventure stories of recent memory…. It is not a mere allegory about sin and redeption, cowardice and nobility: it’s also a damned good story, which sets it apart from almost all existential allegories.

I’m pretty sure I owe Cory either Beer for Life or My Firstborn Child, which seems a perfectly fair bargain, considering his many kindnesses.

LJWC Schedule

Here’s my teaching schedule for the La Jolla Writers Conference.

Friday, Nov. 3

1:00 – 1:50 PM
Revision: The Real Art of Writing
Sure, you make your first draft the best it can be. But it’s easier to make it great on revision than on the first try, and knowing that can let you give yourself permission to not be perfect out of the gate. Even if your initial draft is terrific, revision is essential to condense, clarify, and clean up a manuscript.Steve Boyett will revise his own first-draft copy on an overhead projector to illustrate common mistakes, solutions, aesthetics, continuity, and more to demonstrate that revision can be as creative as the original act of writing.

2:00 – 2:50 PM
The Craft of Fiction
Save the Art discussions for Starbucks — this class will focus on the elements of fiction and the techniques involved in crafting them. Elements such as dialog, character, action, setting and physical description, tone and atmosphere, voice, and more will be illustrated to help students identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and approaches for improving their craft in all areas.

Saturday, Nov. 4

4:30 – 6:20 PM
He Writes Purty, Don’t He? The Wonder and Danger of Lyric Prose
Saying you’re in love with language is one thing. Proving it is something else. This workshop will look at what goes into creating beautiful prose — meter, image fusion and juxtaposition, “pure” narrative and soliloquy, indirect discourse,and other techniques and choices used by writers such as Cormac McCarthy, Jack Kerouac, James Joyce, Shirley Jackson, and others to create prose that is as musical and poetic as it is functional. We will also discuss potential pitfulls of lyric prose, including “purple” prose, obscurity, marketability, pretentiousness, and more.

9:30 PM
Steven R. Boyett leads off LJWC’s new series of fiction readings by faculty members.

Sunday, Nov. 5

11:00 – 11:50 AM
Revision: The Real Art of Writing
Sure, you make your first draft the best it can be. But it’s easier to make it great on revision than on the first try, and knowing that can let you give yourself permission to not be perfect out of the gate. Even if your initial draft is terrific, revision is essential to condense, clarify, and clean up a manuscript.Steve Boyett will revise his own first-draft copy on an overhead projector to illustrate common mistakes, solutions, aesthetics, continuity, and more to demonstrate that revision can be as creative as the original act of writing.

1:10 – 3:00
The Downloadable Deluge: A Life Raft for the Digital Tsunami
Boyett’s popular, interactive Digital/New Media discussions at LJWC serve as: A catalyst to writers struggling to keep pace with the astonishing rate of change in an industry in transition; a fire drill to help writers prepare for, exploit, or avoid what may be headed their way; a wake-up call to writers entrenched in media and business models that are becoming increasingly limited, if not outright archaic. This discussion of the state of the art is a survey of the year’s significant events at the intersection of art and technology, and a look ahead to see what may be in store for writers in a digital world. We’ll talk about e-books, piracy, copyright, advertising, revenue, distribution, representation, and much more. These are always pretty lively sessions!


WFC 2011

I’m in Los Angeles visiting friends & doing a whirlwind tour of favorite places to Get Stuff — lunch at Porto’s Cuban Bakery, clothes shopping at It’s A Wrap used studio wardrobe. I’m trying very hard not to visit a Del Taco. I miss Del Taco. I’m also glad there isn’t one anywhere near me in the Bay Area.

Not all that much to report about World Fantasy Con, to be honest. The location left a lot to be desired, being generic and extremely decentralized. Mostly I hung out and talked with people.

My reading was sparsely though enthusiastically attended, and notable mostly because when I opened my manila folder take out my stories for the reading, they weren’t in there. I told the audience this and then went ahead and did the reading anyhow, from memory. Once again all that overachieving OCD practice pays off.

I recorded the reading (or whatever you want to call it), but since it’s stuff that’s already up here, I’m not going to post it.

La Jolla Writers Conference this weekend. Looking forward to it!

Meantime, Happy Halloween, everybody!

Reading @ WFC

This year’s World Fantasy Convention in San Diego has finally published its programming schedule. I’ll be giving a reading on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 5:30 PM in Pacific 4/5.

Apart from that, the most likely places to find me are at the bar or in the hotel lobby.

If you’re at the con, come say hi!

E-Readers – Not Quite There Yet (pt. 2)

You can't call the ToC anything but "Table of Contents" on an e-reader

In the print version I called the chapter listing “Cantos” instead of “Table of Contents,” to emphasize the connection to Dante, cue the reader that the prose is often metered, announce something of my intent, and make the reader aware that there are 33 of them, as in Dante. Can’t call the ToC anything but “Table of Contents” in an e-reader.

None of these by themselves are that big a deal. And even in the aggregate they’re hardly cause for rending my garments and gnashing my teeth. So what am I bitching about?

I’m bitching because e-readers emphasize content. We use that word all the time. I need some content. It reinforces a view of a novel as information. And while a novel is information, the sequence of words isn’t the only way to convey it. The arrangement, look, feel, and placement of the words conveys information too. Having choices about layout and typography not only lets an author achieve an effect, it lets a publisher give a book its own identity. That’s why the job of Art Director exists.

Small-capped dialog from a nonhuman character? Not on an e-reader!

Let me hasten to say that despite what the above may imply, I am extremely happy with the e-book of Mortality Bridge. I worked closely with the layout artist to find other ways to achieve what I wanted, and by and large I do’t believe that the compromises we had to make compromised the integrity of the book in any way. What it loses is some of the fingerprint I tried to bring to the experience of the novel. It’s hardly tragic. It’s not even bad. But it does point up the fact that, in my book, e-readers are not quite ready for prime time.

What e-readers offer that’s unique to digital media is highlighting, search, markup, full-on wiki-zation, internal and internet hyperlinking. This is one of the things that makes them superior to the printed book as a device. But the truth is that e-readers aren’t quite there with this yet, either. Most of this functionality exists to varying degrees with different e-readers (the iPad probably being the most fully loaded). But it’s still pretty clunky. And that’s a shame, because I would absolutely love to be able to present a digitized copy of Mortality Bridge not only laid out as the author intended, but available in an annotated, wiki-enabled edition, easily searchable, with internal links to similar lines, images, and references, and external links to other author’s works referenced, Google Earth maps, source art, you name it.

Don't even think of trying this on an e-reader.

I have to say I was a bit surprised to learn all this. I admit that this surprise comes because I’ve read exactly one book on my Kindle: Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine (whose name did not fit onto my contents list, and it took about 8 steps to get to it so I could write it correctly here). Mostly I use it as a tool for proofing my e-books. (I wasn’t given the opportunity to look at the e-book galleys of Elegy Beach, and now I wish I had, considering some of the typographic games I play in that book.)

I’m not landing on the wheezing geezer side of “Print book real book. E-book not real book.” I’m saying that, for what I want from a reading device, the e-book hasn’t yet surpassed the print book.

Still, I give it five years at the very most before everything I bitched about above is resolved and surpassed with flying colors. Then I’ll be happy to settle down with a cup of coffee and an e-reader.

E-Readers – Not Quite There Yet (pt. 1)

A few weeks ago I proofed the “galleys” — the old term still has to apply, I guess — for the e-book edition of Mortality Bridge. I received them in epub format from the publisher and used Calibre to convert it to MobiPocket for my Kindle (which my friend Scott gave me some time back). I was startled at the limitations of this brave new form.

Let me back up a second to say that I’m no analog era holdover being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age. I have quite the digital presence, thank you very much. In addition to traditional writing classes and readings & suchlike, I give a decent amount of talks about digital media and intellectual property, mostly to writers over 40 or 50 who are nervous about all this new stuff. (It’s a totally unnecessary speech to anyone under 35.)

I’m not someone who loves books just because they’re books. I do love them as objects of art: the whole art-directed package can be quite beautiful as well as practical and convenient. But if the printed book were not practical as a device, it would not have lasted so long, and the truth is that it has retained essentially the same form for about 600 years because, until the advent of digital media, it was hard to even conceive how to improve on it.

Enter e-readers. E-books have been around a good 10 to 15 years longer than e-readers, but they mostly existed for use on personal computers and not on handheld devices, and it turns out most people don’t like reading novels at their PC. Quelle surprise. When the advent of portable e-readers (spurred by Amazon’s Kindle) liberated the medium from the desktop, the deluge of releases soon followed. This last year saw paperback sales taking a back seat to e-book sales for the first time.

If you regard the printed book as a device, it’s silly to insist on holding onto it when a superior device comes along. Or even an equivalent device that is much more portable. (Think you’re loyal to your printed library? Wait till next time you move to a new house and realize you could have transported all your books by putting your e-reader in your pocket.)

After dealing with the galleys of Mortality Bridge, I have to say that this superior device isn’t yet here.

Typeface changes -- you can't do this on an e-reader

For one thing, E-readers can’t change font. If I want to display a handwritten font for a note, or something that looks like an SMS text, or want to go from Times Roman to Helvetica (for a Q & A, for example), or switch to Courier to go to screenplay format for some effect or other — tough shit. I can have italics and boldface. Mortality Bridge is full of handwritten notes, SMS fonts, Helvetica road signs, small-capped dialogue with nonhuman creatures. Too bad, baby.

You can't keep space breaks together on an e-reader

You can’t control space breaks on an e-reader, only hard page breaks. This is because the software formats the text on the fly for the screen size and to accommodate the text size the reader has chosen (more on that later). So you end up with the ugliness of orphans that end sections (words that sit there by themselves on a page before a hard break). Or breaks that occur at the bottom of the screen and resume at the top of the next screen, with the reader unaware there was a break unless you either put in three askterisks or cap the first few words in the next section.No big deal, right? But Mortality Bridge has several sections that break mid-line and resume after a break to indicate an amnesiac interval. When one of those breaks at the bottom of a screen and resumes at the top, it’s just confusing. And the publisher has no control over how this occurs.

Specific alignment/placement -- you can't do this on an e-reader

Spacing is another issue. If you play any typographic games, you’re mostly S O L. One section in Mortality Bridge was laboriously worked on to right-align under a partricular word to heighten a dramatic effect. The typesetters at Subterranean were wonderful in working with me to achieve this. Now comes e-book time: sorry, no way. The best you can do is indent the lines.

In-line graphics -- you can't do this on an e-reader

In-text graphics are another issue. Mortality Bridge has a few — arrows on road signs, down buttons on an elevator. That’s a big no-can-do on your e-book, good buddy.

Line breaks can’t be controlled. Mortality Bridge opens with a poem by Mark Strand. Poets work very hard on line breaks. E-books don’t give a shit if you want to keep certain blocks of text together and they won’t let you control the size of the text for the epigraph. Not only can you not change the size within the text, but the reader can change the size to anything he wants anyhow. The best you can do is force a line break and indent the remainder to indicate its original intent as part of the original line. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not satisfactory, either.

Line breaks -- you can't guarantee the line won't break in an e-reader, and you can't control the font size to keep things together

Part 2 tomorrow.

Video – Mortality Bridge @ LitCrawl

Reviewer/editor/blogger and all-around cool person Susan Tunis has posted her video of my performance from Mortality Bridge at San Francisco’s LitCrawl last Saturday night. I’m delighted because it’s actually the first time I’ve seen myself do this stuff.

There’s about a minute of intro before I start. I admit that one thing I like is that at first there’s a lot of background noise, but as I go it just gets dead quiet despite the room being packed. That usually means either you are bombing horribly or you’ve got em. I’ll let you decide for yourself which it was. But let me keep my illusions, okay? (Other than my voice being about an octave higher than normal because I was nervous, I’m pretty happy with my little dog & pony show here.)

I’d like to thank Borderlands Bookshop owner Alan Beatts for inviting me to read at the event, and the Borderlands staff for their awesome friendliness, hospitality, and professionalism. And kudos to the organizers and volunteers of LitQuake — this event is as amazing for its DIY nature as it is for its scale.


All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
–Edmund Burke




Somebody said, “Brother-man gonna break a window, gonna steal a hubcap,
gonna smoke a joint, brother man gonna go to jail.”
The man who tried to steal America is not in jail
–Gil Scott-Heron, 1973

LitCrawl @ Borderlands

Everyone sez hey

Last night’s reading at Borderlands Bookshop Cafe for LitCrawl, the final event in the massive, week-long San Francisco LitQuake festival, was simply amazing. The room was packed out the door, and yet the audience was absolutely silent and attentive. I’ve never seen an audience that size be so focused at a reading. These people are serious about their literaychur.

I got some wonderful compliments and signed some books. I especially enjoyed hearing Tim Pratt read at the event. I haven’t read him before, and the breadth of gonzo imagination in his work, along with the lushness of his prose, was an absolute delight. The fact that he is a personable reader who is very comfortable in front of an audience made it even better. I’m looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

I recorded the gig but am not going to put it up because a wonderful woman named Susan Tunis videotaped it and says she will have it online tomorrow. I’ll certainly post it when it’s up! Beyond a few short clips I’ve never actually seen video of me doing a reading and I’m curious. I’m a fairly fidgety boy, and I was wired as hell before the Borderlands reading. I get nervous before any performance — reading, DJ gig, sometimes even convention panels — but lately I’m even more nervous before readings in particular,  because I’ve taken to doing them from memory, and that’s just plain nerve-wracking when you get up there in front of a bunch of people.

I think I channel nervous energy in a fairly positive way, though, so in a sense that nervousness works to my benefit. There are times when I haven’t been nervous before some performance and I’ve just blown it. Maybe overconfidence makes me less focused. I dunno.

LitCrawl in SF tonight

Tonight (Saturday, October 15) I will be reading from Mortality Bridge as part of LitCrawl, a massive pubcrawl-style series of readings that caps LitQuake, San Francisco’s week-long festival of readings, panels, and more.

The city shuts down a long stretch of Valencia Street for LitCrawl, and readings are held in three one-hour “phases” at many concurrent locations. People dash from one to the next, and apparently there are umpteen thousand of them. All to hear writers. This I’ve gotta see. I’ve been told LitCrawl is nuts, and I’m flattered to have been asked to participate.

I’ll be reading (well, performing, really — I memorize my readings when I can) at 8:30 at Borderlands Book Cafe, along with Mira Grant, Kirsten Imani Kasai, and Tim Pratt.

Here’s the deets:

Saturday, October 15, 2011 – 8:30 PM
SF LitQuake’s LitCrawl
Borderlands Books
866 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 824-8203

I’m not reading at the bookshop, but at the cafe next door.

Capitola Books

The reading and subsequent interview at Capitola Book Cafe on Saturday went very well, though there was some danger of there being more participants than attendees.

Writer Joshua Mohr read from his novel Damascus. He’s an excellent reader and I thoroughly enjoyed the selection he read. I’m looking forward to reading the novel. Like me, Josh likes to poke his nose into dark corners. Unlike me, Josh pokes his nose into dark corners accessible via BART. Which is all the more scary, really.

Following the readings Rick Kleffel interviewed us for his Agony Column podcast and website. Rick is an excellent interviewer. I was grateful for Josh’s eloquence and intelligence, because for whatever reason my focus knob was broken that night — I was all over the map.

I recorded the reading & interview but am holding off on posting them, because Rick videotaped the proceedings and it’d be much cooler to post that when he puts it online. And also because I’m going to be reading essentially the same piece from Mortality Bridge at several venues in the next few weeks, and I think I’ll be more “on” — especially at the upcoming LitCrawl reading at Borderlands.


What’s that Sound?

I consolidated the audio I have posted here and on my writing site to a new Audio page on this blog (see above). You can play or download any of my readings, lectures, classes, and interviews.

I’ll continue to post links on my regular blog posts as they occur, and I’ll update the Audio page accordingly.

Ain’t much video, really, but I’ll get around to it when it seems worthwhile.

My Steve Jobs Story

I was writing the second go-round of Toy Story 2 at Pixar. This was when they were in Point Richmond, before they moved to a much larger facility in Emeryville.

I used to wear a suit to work at Pixar. People would say, You know you can dress however you want, right? I’d say, This is how I want to dress. I think a lot of them thought I was wound a bit too tight.

I had two reasons for wearing suits. One was because everyone at Pixar dressed alike. Geek-chic hipster nerd. A CG studio is basically a cube farm, and everyone’s cube looked like everyone else’s cube: Toys and posters for animated movies. The one certain way to not look like everyone else in that environment was to wear a suit & tie. And I didn’t want to look like everyone else.

Animation studios are full of distractions. Pool tables, ping pong tables, pinball games, massive amounts of munchies. I wore a suit so that I would feel like I was at work. So that I would maintain some kind of professional demeanor and get a lot done. I’m not saying people who don’t do that are somehow not as professional as me. I’m saying that this is something I felt I had to do to crank out the amount of script I needed to. I got the movie written in three months, so it must have worked for me.

Okay, so:

One day they call everyone into the courtyard for a big announcement. Steve Jobs is there, in his jeans and turtleneck and sneakers. Pixar was a small company back then. They weren’t part of Disney. They’d made title sequences and short films.

Then they made Toy Story, and Disney had distributed it, and it had kicked box office ass. Disney was absolutely vexed. For the first time since their founding they’d been spanked in their home court, and spanked double plus good, too. Pixar was the Little Production Company that Could, and they were proud and a bit surprised.

So we’re all out there in the courtyard.  It’s a bright day and I’m wearing my shades and leaning against a post. Jobs is directly opposite me, and he announces that Pixar has just signed a co-production deal with Disney that will allow Pixar to make features as they see fit, and Disney would fund and distribute them. And they would split the revenue 50-50. This was huge: Disney had never let another company produce its films, and certainly not allowed any creative control (that lasted about ten minutes, of course).

So everyone’s psyched about how wonderful this is. Me, I’m thinking this is Disney’s first step in eating and absorbing a competitor before it can own the landscape.

Jobs is very excited. He’s pacing back and forth and saying, “So we did it! We went down there and we sat down with a bunch of suits and we were just as good as them. We got what we wanted! We beat the suits!”

He pauses. Clearly he’s expecting cheers, or applause, or some reaction. He looks puzzled because there’s this sort of awkward silence. He frowns and looks around. People aren’t looking at him. They’re looking at me. The guy in the suit. With the black sunglasses.

Jobs looks at me like, What the living fuck is this guy doing here? And I’m grinning, I just can’t help it. I write novels, I’m eccentric as hell, I’m a flaky artist, I’m writing their next movie, ferchrissake – but none of that matters, because all Jobs is thinking is that I’m a suit. Just as I’m supposed to think he’s some bohemian because he wears a turtleneck.

I do a pretty good Mickey Mouse imitation. So when Jobs had been staring at me an uncomfortable few seconds and it was clear the very presence of a coat & tie had put him off his stride, I waved and did a Mickey laugh and said Golly gee! And a few people laughed and Jobs went on.

And that’s my Steve Jobs story.

I have a great many problems with Apple’s business practices. The walled garden of their ecosystem, what I consider to be an illegal restraint of trade in preventing me from playing music I buy on whatever device I want, DRM, censorship.

But it’s very easy to set that aside and remark on the astonishing impact and influence Jobs had in his 56 years. Wholly aside from the obvious computer and smartphone innovations, he changed the music industry. He changed feature animation. He played a role in the change the publishing industry is undergoing. The only two people I can think of offhand who’ve had that kind of impact in the last hundred years are Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

It’s intriguing to think of what else Jobs might have affected had he lived another 25 or 30 years. I don’t have to like someone to respect and admire him, and even discounting the deluge of Apple fanboy eulogizing that’s already gushing forth, the truth is Steve Jobs deserves the praise he is receiving, and the place he secured for himself in history. We should be lucky enough to have a thousandth of the impact on the world that he had.

Reading & Interview at Capitola Book Cafe

I’ll be reading from Mortality Bridge at Capitola Book Cafe near Santa Cruz, California, next Saturday, October 8. Also reading will be San Francisco writer Joshua Mohr, who is promoting his new novel Damascus.

Following the readings we’ll be interviewed by Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column. Rick conducted the best interview ever after my SF in SF reading last year, and I believe he’ll be recording this for The Agony Column as well. I’ll link to it here if he does.

If you’re in the area, it’d be great to see you!

Capitola Book Cafe
Saturday, October 8, 6:30 P.M.
1475  41st Avenue
Capitola, CA 95010

Mortality Bridge Wins Emperor Norton Award

Photos by Ken Mitchroney

Mortality Bridge has won this year’s Emperor Norton Award. Woo hoo!

Two Emperor Norton awards are given every year, one for the best novel by a San Francisco Bay-area writer, and one to an individual who has contributed to Bay Area culture. Rudy Rucker won the latter award.

The Emperor Norton Award is named after a colorful San Francisco eccentric who proclaimed himself emperor of the United States and even had his own currency printed (which some shops would accept, including, apparently, the printer who printed the currency), and is given to works “for extraordinary invention and creativity unhampered by the constraints of paltry reason.” Previous winners include Cory Doctorow, Kage Baker, Doug Dort, Jack Vance, and more. (Nice company to be in!)  Judges are Alan Beatts (owner of Borderlands Books), Jacob Weisman (Tachyon Books publisher), and Richard Lupoff (terrific writer).

The award (a framed certificate) was presented at Tachyon Publications’ 16th Anniversary celebration at the wonderful Borderlands Books in San Francisco. The party was terrific, Borderlands staff is just great, and I was startled by how many people I knew there, considering how relatively few events I’ve attended since moving to the Bay area about a year and a half ago. I was also very moved by how welcoming and open the community is here, and my undoubtedly incoherent acceptance speech said words to that effect.

Thanks to everyone at Borderlands and Tachyon Press, and to everyone who came for the party. It was a terrific day.

With Rudy Rucker

Burning Truths

The Burning Man festival ended tonight (the Temple probably just finished burning as I type this; the Man burned the night before), and I’m a bit surprised to find myself missing it this year. Not that I don’t think it’s an amazing event — I definitely do, though interestingly I haven’t blogged much about its impact on me. It’s just that I found myself indifferent about going the last few years, and given the expense and level of commitment involved with the event, “yeah, maybe I’ll go” definitely isn’t the attitude to have. Ya gotta really wanna go.

I honestly think there is profundity to be found there. But I don’t want to make a habit of profundity (I know, I know: not a problem, Steve). As I said once about major hallucinogenics, you talk to God once and it changes your life. You talk to him every weekend and it’s not long before you’re both going, So what’s new? Ehh. Yeah, same here.

Given the scale of the event and the magnitude of its impact — individually and, I believe (with what some will probably regard as surprising idealism), societally — it’s weird to think of it going on as I type this. I get the feeling I should go next year. And that I should spend a bit of time here talking about why Burning Man was important and a bit transformative for me. (And no, it’s not cuz I did drugs out there. I didn’t. That seems kind of … redundant.)

Okay, so in future posts I’ll talk about why Burning Man was important for me. Meantime, enjoy this picture I took of the Temple burn from my first year (2007), from my Picasa web album.

What’s SRB Going On About?

The St. Petersburg Times & have a regular feature called Nightstand where they ask authors what they are currently reading. They interviewed me a few weeks ago and the feature is up today, prominently headlined What’s Steven R. Boyett Reading?

(I don’t know why, but something about the headline makes me grin and shake my head.)

Writer Piper Castillo spoke with me for at least an hour for this piece, and considering that she had the formidable task of condensing my ceaseless blather and invective into a 400-word article, I think she did a great job. I doubt I sold any books (any of my books, anyhow), but I don’t think I embarrassed anybody, either.

In case you are interested in what Steven R. Boyett is eating, I’m having a scrambled egg sandwich.

Mortality Bridge Limited Edition Sold Out

I just learned that the signed, limited hardcover edition of Mortality Bridge has sold out at Subterranean Press. Thanks so much to everyone who bought one.

And if you’ve been thinking about getting one, now’s the time! Subterranean’s books tend to quickly become quite collectible, which is fancy-talk for “it’ll cost ya to get hold of one after they sell out.” Amazon still has copies listed for sale at this writing.

I’m working on contracts, cover design, typography, etc., for the e-book & softcover throughout the week, and I should be able to give a publication date soon. More than likely it will be out before the end of the year, though, which is nice.

UPDATE: The e-book and large-format paperback are now available.  (Woo-hoo!) Please see here for more info — and thanks for your support!.


What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

A “word cloud,” in case ya don’t know, is a visualization of the most frequently used words in a given text. The total number of words are analyzed and then the most common ones are moved to the top of the list. A graphic is created that weights the words by size and color to demonstrate how often they occur.

Some people have gotten downright creative with wordclouds and offer wordcloud generators that let you pick a shape, colors, relative sizes, and more for your wordcloud. I like the Tagxedo website because it lets you do all that, has a ton of eye-pleasing options, and lets you omit words if you want. You can also give it a URL instead of pasting in a bunch of text.

Plus, on Tagxedo if you like the result you can share it on social networks or have it printed on a cup, shirt, or mousepad on Zazzle. (The products are all censored to be G-rated, though — if someone knows how to subvert this, please tell me.)

The image above is a wordcloud generated using the entire 134,000-word manuscript of Mortality Bridge. I omitted “Niko” because it owns the image otherwise (Niko being the protagonist and all like that). I like the color scheme a lot.

I find it interesting that a novel already garnering a reputation for its graphic and visceral intensity doesn’t have much in the way of violence- or profanity-related words in the cloud. In fact, “scream” is the only one I can see here. So I gotta guess it’s not objectionable language but how language is used that hits a nerve.

I find that reassuring.

Just for yucks I separately fed in several novels and looked for patterns — words that cropped up frequently in my work — thinking maybe it’d say something interesting about me. I was surprised to find that the wordclouds are pretty different for each book. The only common word among them (apart from character names and ignored common word such as “and”) was “looked,” which isn’t really surprising. The lack of commonality makes me think that each book has its own context, its own environment, in which different words thrive that contribute to the overall effect each book wants to achieve.

I find that reassuring, too.

There’s something cool about the idea of making framed posters and/or coffee mugs of all my published novels in themed word clouds. I might just do that little thing.

Hell “Not Pleasant,” Reviewer Complains

Sorry, couldn’t resist that headline. Mortality Bridge is garnering some wonderful reviews, but a common thread is that my depiction of Hell is violent, disturbing, graphic, and not for the faint of heart. To which I reply, Well … yeah. I don’t think the Land of Eternal Damnation and Torment comes with a PG rating.

That said, here’s some recent Net niceness. Benjamin Wald at SF Revu wrote that

Mortality Bridge has something for everyone: great character-ization, vivid description, pulse pounding action scenes. But it is also more than the sum of its parts. It is a story of human weakness and redemption, a story that is even older than the myths that the novel draws upon, a story we can all relate to. This is an incredible, touching, exhilarating work, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend.

Which I am certainly not gonna take issue with! Read the full review.

Kelly Lasiter at Fantasy Literature found it “Depressing. Disgusting. Brilliant.” Which I also ain’t gonna take issue with, and which my friend Scott liked so much he had it made up on shirts & hoodies at Zazzle. (I think it sums me up so well I’d consider it for my epitaph if I didn’t already want You Kids Get Off My Lawn.)

Ms. Lasiter also wrote that

Mortality Bridge is a very well-written book that made me feel intense emotion. I recommend it, but only to the strong of stomach.

Ms. Lasiter writes that the novel pushed her to her limits, yet she is considering reading it again. Which is a heck of a compliment, when you think about it. Read the full review.

Also in the review department, in a recent review of The Urban Fantasy Anthology the unimpeachable John Clute wrote that “Talking Back to the Moon,” my excerpt from Avalon Burning (which, yes, I’m still diligently working on, thank you for asking), is one of six “superb” stories in the anthology, and that it’s

set in an intricately characterized post-holocaust Los Angeles [and] told in a dense muscular what-next gonzo tone that (one hopes) will not flag in the full novel this tale must be a portion of.

To which I say, first, thank you, John, and second, I hope it won’t either.

I also quite like Mr. Clute’s stipulation that, if a story is to be classified as “urban fantasy” (a category I resist because I like to think I write a fiction that resists categorization), it must “be set in locations that mattered to the stories told. […] If it’s the same story wherever it happens to be set, it isn’t Urban Fantasy.”

As a writer and a reader for whom setting and sense of place are enormously important, I can only say Bravo, Mr. Clute.  Read the full review.



In Conjunction with the previously issued List of Words decreed Unlawful in the Titles of Works of Fantasy, the following Words are Hereby Decreed Unlawful in the Text of any Work of Fantasy Fiction:

Fair (as an adjective)
Well met

Overexposure symptoms include numbness, fatigue, loss of mental acuity, shortness of temper, and a fondness for the works of Terry Brooks.  Verbal kelation therapy via heavy doses of nonfantasy literary fiction are indicated. Withdrawal may be severe if exposure has been prolonged.

The Urban Fantasy Anthology is shipping

The Urban Fantasy Anthology (eds. Peter S. Beagle & Joe R. Lansdale) is shipping from Tachyon. Along with stories by all kinds of luminaries in the field, it contains my novelette “Talking Back to the Moon,” which is an excerpt from Avalon Burning, the Change novel I really should have finished by now.

According to the UFA the story is an example of “noir fantasy.” Who knew?

If I’m not mistaken from my reading of Joe Lansdale’s excellent introduction to the section, he doesn’t care all that much for such sub-subgenre labeling. Good for you, Joe. Neither do I. Or for such subgenre labeling. Or really even genre labeling. But clearly plenty of writers have no problem at all with such designations. I imagine they sleep better than I do.

Some rules for my reading & viewing pleasure

My cumulative fantasy, SF, & historical film viewing, coupled with my attempt to read the latest Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology, has made me adopt the following rules:

  • Stop reading a science fiction or fantasy story the moment it references other science fiction or fantasy stories. (This ruled out literally 75% of the Year’s Best anthology.)
  • Stop watching movies when the aliens, Romans, or Greeks have British accents (unless the movie is itself British, in which case it is merely on probation).
  • Immediately distrust a science fiction movie that begins with a crawl. (Crawls are the written-out exposition that opens Star Wars, Blade Runner, and a bajillion other SF movies.)
  • Immediately distrust a science fiction or fantasy novel that begins with a prologue in italics, or an ersatz chapter epigraph that ends in a future date and purports to be some kind of report filed post facto.
  • Stop reading any novel (especially SF, fantasy, or horror) in which the chapters end in separately paragraphed sentence fragments (Or so he thought.) or ellipses (So why not make two stakes…?)
  • For SF, if dialogue is heavily expositional (“As a physicist, Don, you know that the inertial dampers are subject to vibrational distortion within half an AU of a singulartiy,”), or if the page is chock full o’ made up words (Since the Hegemonic Coflation Gralf had been forced to manually grid the vidscreen upward to hi-rez the psy traffic on the prole monitoring apps), I put it back on the shelf. For a fantasy novel, if the dialogue is bullshit Medieval or Elizabethan (“M’lord,” he exclaimed, “the Fjordik barbarians are aswarm the battlements!”), or the page is full of capitalized words (“In the Fargone Lands lie the Darlk Wyrmholds deep within the ancient Fells, where the Scrolls of Nepthar were first beheld by Basalt the Agglutinator”), I put it back on the shelf.

Most of this means I don’t watch a lot of movies or buy a lot of books. And I feel my life is none the worse for that.

Mortality Bridge e-Book/Trade Paperback

I’m delighted to announce that Mortality Bridge will be available in e-Book and trade paperback formats fairly soon. Agreements are being drawn up now, and I believe the editions will be available within a month or two after the contracts are finalized — pretty speedy, considering the limited hardcover was published about six weeks ago.

If you’d like to be notified when the e-book & trade paperback are available, please visit this page on the Mortality Bridge website and enter your email address. (Your info will only be used to notify you — I definitely don’t believe in spamming my readers!

I’m gratified at the reaction the novel has received from readers. If you enjoyed it, please leave feedback on Amazon. (Well, if you didn’t enjoy it I suppose you can leave feedback on Amazon, too. But I cheerfully admit my bias here.)

My “Big Idea” Column on Whatever

My essay on what it took to write & publish Mortality Bridge is up on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. Take a look — and thank you, John!

On a related note, I’m delighted to announce that there will be a trade paperback & e-book of Mortality Bridge very soon, probably within a few months. Meantime, you can sign up to be notified when they are released at the Mortality Bridge website. And thanks!

Social Notworking

I have not & will not open a Facebook account because I take serious issue with that company’s privacy (or lack thereof) policies, and I basically feel that a fundamental disrespect of and disregard for their user base is ingrained in the company’s DNA. I’m sure that for many users — indeed, for most users — Facebook is helpful, useful, and valuable. That doesn’t mean it ain’t evil.

But to be honest, a more direct reason I won’t traffic with Facebook is that I absolutely don’t understand social networking. I already blog (hi!). I email and IM and SMS and phone my friends. I belong to a few forums. (I don’t Tweet because if you want to follow someone 144 characters at a time, or whateverthehell it is, knock yourself out. I ain’t that guy.)  So I feel that I’ve got a lot of ground covered.

I admit that some friend from third grade who’d be more likely to find me on Facebook isn’t connected to me in any of the above ways. But it ain’t exactly hard to get in touch with me on the web (Googling “Steve Boyett” and “Steven R. Boyett” gets you there pretty darned quickly, albeit from some different directions), and in any case, if my third-grade soul buddy can’t be bothered to look anywhere but on Facebook to find me, I figure he doesn’t really want to contact me all that badly.

So I don’t remotely feel the absence of Facebook in my life.

Enter Google+. I got invites and kind of shrugged, and then took one of them up and opened an account a few weeks ago. I figured, well, Google isn’t necessarily any more concerned about my privacy than Facebook, but they’re at least more transparent in what they’re doing with my information. A bit.

My misgiving is that Google’s motto is “Dont Be Evil.” Some people think that’s a very cool credo. It gives me the creeps. I mean, think about it. What does it tell you about a guy when has to tell himself every morning, “Hey, don’t kill anybody today”? Ya think maybe he kinda always wants to? Yeah, I think so too.

In any case, I opened a Google+ account and quickly ran across some friends & acquaintainces, current & from back in the day. But I find that I have nothing whatsoever to say on my own G+ account that I don’t already either say here or tell my friends. I find that I don’t give a gnat fart in a hurricane about adding “LOLZ — COOL!!!” to the pile of comments on someone else’s post. I find my day is in no way bettered by checking my stream to learn learn about the tasty egg sandwich someone in my circle just ate.  In fact I find the whole thing an enormous waste of time.

I also find it kind of stoopid that you have to have a gmail account to participate in G+ in more than an “I’m getting emails about this” capacity. Does Google want to compete with Facebook or don’t they? I have a Gmail account and I check it about twice a year, largely because I don’t especially like Gmail. I think it’s ugly.

So mostly I log on to G+, look at the thing a minute, and log off. Maybe somebody can explain to me what I’m missing. But I sorta think that what people get from online social networking is utterly absent for me. And I kinda get the feeling my G+ account is gonna get very dusty.

I Am Now a Citizen of Appistan

I have released Podrunner: Shift, an iPhone/iTouch app for my Podrunner podcast, which means I have joined the iNation of Appistan, an e-country with a clearly liberal immigration policy.

Podrunner: Shift lets Podrunner listeners change the speed of any Podrunner workout mix to whatever BPM they want, plus or minus 50% of the original BPM — opening up the entire Podrunner catalog to people who want more mixes at their own speed, and putting the mixes into the range of those whose workouts were previously outside of Podrunner’s offerings (e.g., slower walkers, speed runners, bicyclists, spinners, etc.).

Since Podrunner mixes are available from 130 to 180 BPM, Podrunner: Shift gives an effective range of 65 to 270 BPM — yikes.

Podrunner: Shift also has an “Intro Skip” button that lets listeners bypass the two-minute intro and go straight into the mix.

The free version is a self-contained manager for Podrunner listeners, letting users search, sort, download, & play Podrunner mixes directly, without any need to sync via iTunes.

Producing an app was an educational experience. Design- and function-wise it isn’t that huge a deal — except for the core function of beatshifting on the fly, which is pushing right at the limits of what the CPU of these phones can do (and that it can do it at all is amazing). That took forever.

The whole process has got me thinking about interesting ways I can implement apps as a writer. I got some ideas, I tell ya.

Sci Fi Magazine Review of Mortality Bridge

The latest issue of SyFy Channel’s Sci Fi Magazine has a review of Mortality Bridge. Mostly it’s a straightforward account of the story, but they also said that it’s a “mad mixture of Orpheus, Faust, and Dante” that’s “vividly rendered.” They also write that it has

expansive, gonzo encounters with the rulers and torments to be found in Hell–all of which are so vividly rendered, at such expansive length, that folks with a low tolerance for such things may want to forego this read entirely.

(That last is true, and though it seems obvious to me, I guess I should point out that there are indeed a lot of vivid and painful torments depicted in this book, its primary location being, you know … Hell.)

They compare it to Niven & Pournelle’s Inferno, saying

“Duh; it has the same source material, Dante. But it’s darker, funnier, and more heartfelt than the Niven & Purnelle work.

And the last paragraph:

Does it end happily? That would be telling. I will say that it ends with a killer-diller final sentence. Again, the language is all. Mortality Bridge is, you should only excuse the expression, a Hell of a read.

Thank you, Sci Fi Magazine.


John Scalzi, long may he wave, has posted a simply wonderful review/recommendation of Mortality Bridge on his ridiculously popular Whatever blog.

As I already owe John a lifetime supply of Coke Zero for his life many kindnesses to me, I have to think of some additional tribute and/or obeisance to make. I know that John just bought a BMW Mini Coop, and my mad scientist scheming wheels are now turning. Moo hoo, hah hah.

And thank you, John.

C’est Bon

Some quick notes:

  • The French edition of Ariel will be published by Bibliotheque in January 2012. No cover yet, but I will post as soon as I get it. Can’t wait to see it.
  • The French edition of Elegy Beach will follow in June 2012. Is it weird to have entire books full of something I wrote that I can’t understand? Yes. (The pundit in me feels compelled to say that my books in English are probably full of writing that no one can understand either.)
  • Mortality Bridge is apparently in print and shipping. This is six weeks ahead of what I expected and I’m caught a bit offguard, as I had geared my relentless media onslaught for the end of July. (Curse you for going off the air, Oprah!)
  • I am late turning in the next Mortality Bridge audio chapter for the website. Yes. I plead extenuating circumstances.
  • My Big Idea essay on Mortality Bridge for John Scalzi’s wonderful Whatever blog will be posted on July 28.

Mortality Bridge – Chapter 2 audio online

The audio recording of “Chapter 2: Crossroad Blues” from Mortality Bridge is online. I had to replace my normal audio player with a freebie version till I can figure out why my preferred one’s playlist functions aren’t working. Meantime this one seems perfectly spiffy.

In case anyone’s curious about how these get created, it takes me about an hour to record 30 minutes of spoken narration, and probably four to six hours of post-recording editing and audio processing after that. Because of my DJ career I have a decent little home recording setup. I use an MXL condensor mic connected to an ART Studio V3 tube pre-amp and an SE Electronic Reflexion Filter “portable vocal booth” (pictured). I record & post-process using Sony Sound Forge Pro 10 on my laughably large (21″) Acer 9800 laptop.

After the raw narration is recorded I do “gross edits,” which is a colorful way of saying that I delete the bad takes and pick the best of any alternate readings of lines. I mark any pops or clipping that will either need to be eliminated or re-recorded. I mark any lines that just plain didn’t work for one reason or another. Replacement recordings for these are called “pickups,” and are recorded in a later session.

I use a chain of Waves audio processors for post production — a noise gate to get rid of background hiss, a de-esser to squelch hissy “s” sounds that spike the meters & stand out, a de-breath plugin that figures out when you take loud breaths and mutes the volume on these so it isn’t distracting (what an amazing timesaver this thing is), a 16-channel EQ to enrich the lower end & add some sparkle to the top just a tiny bit, and the L3 Multimaximizer to normalize volume levels so that they are more consistent.

I get rid of any extraneous noise — swallows, smacks, pops, thumps, etc.; it’s always surprising how much of that there is even in ideal conditions. I do a “tightening” pass, which is simply eliminating longer pauses and finessing the timing so that it scans more naturally.

I don’t usually add sound effects or apply weird fx to the vocals, but it seemed like a good idea in Chapter One to add a short plate reverb to Jemma’s dialog while she’s in the CAT scan, and a “phone line” EQ to the med tech on the intercom. Since there are three people talking in that scene, it helped to differentiate them, and also to distract from the fact that I probably don’t do a woman’s voice very well. (For Chapter 2 I did some slight panning to add some subtle emphasis to one character interrupting another a few times — along with the different character voices, it helps to distinguish them. A little of that goes a long way.)

I do final volume tweaking and then another light normalizing pass to add a bit of compression and even out the volume levels just a little bit more. I save the file in stereo (most recorded books are mono) as an mp3 at a bitrate of 192K. A lot of the narration you hear online is recorded at 96 and even 48K, which makes for smaller files, but introduces a lot of distortion and artifacts — I can’t stand to listen to that for very long, and I don’t want to make anyone else listen to it either.

I add information & cover art to the ID3 tags on the mp3 file and upload it to the website and then update the site page.

Good lord. Seeing all of the above makes me wonder why I go to all this trouble. And truthfully I have no earthly idea. But then I’m not entirely sure why I write the things in the first place. But why make anything? Cuz it’s fun, it’s challenging, it teaches you, and it feels good to make stuff.

In any case, I’m very happy with how this turned out. is live

The Mortality Bridge website just went live. It’s got three sample chapters you can read online or download as PDF, ePub, or MobiPocket files for your e-Reader.

It also has playable/downloadable audio of Chapter One (with more on the way over the next few weeks), and some background information on the novel’s origin and history.

Following publication in July the site will have Google Earth maps of the routes taken at the novel’s beginning and ending. (The middle’s going to have to wait until Google’s mapping cars complete their survey of Hell — I’d say a year or two, given the rate at which Google is digitizing the universe.)

I’m considering putting up some deleted scenes after the novel’s release as well.

I like each of my books having its own website, but since my writing website and blog weren’t designed to be an umbrella over these, I’m starting to feel spread a bit thin. So over the next few weeks I’ll also be updating this blog and my website with a view to centralizing and consolidating a lot of these disparate sites. The book sites will remain the same, but the blog & writing site will be fused and better designed to act as a hub.

Meantime, please take a look at and let me know what you think!

Subterranean 2 is Shipping

Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2, edited by William Schafer, is in print after a slight delay due to a printer’s error attended to by Bill Schafer. He’s a stickler for quality control, which is why the books he publishes are highly prized — they’re gorgeous, and they just plain feel like great books.

Anyway, S:TDF2 (to be all cool-title-sounding) contains my novelette “Not Last Night but the Night Before,” which is in some pretty august company. Check out this table of contents:

Joe Hill, “Wolverton Station”
Jay Lake & Shannon Page, “The Passion of Mother Vajpai”
Kelley Armstrong, “Chivalrous
Glen Cook, “Smelling Danger: A Black Company Story”
William Browning Spencer, “The Dappled Thing”
Steven R. Boyett, “Not Last Night but the Night Before”
Caitlin R. Kiernan, “Hydraguros”
Bruce Sterling, “The Parthenopean Scalpel”
David Prill, “A Pulp Called Joe”
Norman Partridge, “Vampire Lake”
K.J. Parker, “A Room with a View”

S:TDF2  got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. You can pick it up from Amazon for a pretty darned good price. I just got my copies yesterday and it’s an awfully good-looking book.  I’m looking forward to reading it!

I should get out more often

So now whenever someone asks me, “What’ s the best meal you’ve ever had,” I get to say, “A can of Spaghetti-O’s and a vanilla pudding pack.”

Cuz then I get to follow it up with, “On the edge of a 2500-foot drop near the top of Yosemite Falls during a two-and-a-half-hour climb.”

Yessir. Best Meal Ever.

What a glorious couple of days. It was so fun to go alone and just explore. And I’ve heard rumors that there are several other interesting, memorable, and attractive geological features worth visiting in my very own country. I may have to investigate this further.


Off to Yosemite & Misc.

I’ve written here and elsewhere about how I have difficulty setting fiction in places I’ve never been. This is especially true for fantasy, which for me apparently needs to be solidly grounded in reality and concrete detail to give a firm foundation to the bullshit I must necessarily shovel.

Some of the sequences in the last act of Avalon Burning take place in the Yosemite Valley, which I’ve never been to. I caught myself trying to fake it through armchair research, and then said, Really, Steve? You’re going to fake Yosemite? Aren’t you the guy who said that the reason you go to these places is for the One True Thing you’ll find there that absolutely and unequivocally sells the rest — that thing you wouldn’t have experienced without going there? Plus, I’ve lived in California since 1984 and claim to love love love it, and I’ve never been to Yosemite? Yeesh.

So: Three days in Yosemite it is! Not purely research — I could definitely use a little getaway. I tend not to be very good at vacations. I always need to be doing something — making stuff, making stuff up, whatever. So making myself stop making stuff takes a bit of effort and some time to decompress. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve actually enjoyed my vacations until I come back from them. Silly, innit?

The Mortality Bridge website will be ready for launch in a week or so. I’m definitely looking forward to that. John Scalzi, bless his heart, sent in the most wonderful blurb ever for the book:

Luminously tragic, darkly funny and deeply moving, all in turns and sometimes all at once. Steven Boyett is one of the very few writers who will make you eager to go into Hell, and not worry about whether you return.

Yowza! John is signing at Borderlands in SF on May 16, and I intend to be there scattering rose petals before him as he passes by bestowing his blessings upon the gathered throngs.

PW Review of Mortality Bridge

Publisher’s Weekly has just given Mortality Bridge a Starred Review, saying:

Dark, grotesque, and eerie, Boyett’s behemoth reimagining of Orpheus’ descent into the Underworld blends Faust and Dante with Greek myth. Through unusual turns of phrase, violent and bloody imagery, heartrending introspection, and mythic tone, Boyett  explores themes of betrayal, redemption, and personal sacrifice in a tortured landscape of bedlam and pandemonium.

I think that’s Pretty Spiffy. Standout words for me are behemoth and heartrending.

If you’re curious, the entire review is here. I’m a smiling lad today.

More Sleeptalk Stuff

So after recording myself talking in my sleep (I have no idea why that sounds grammatically incorrect) for a couple of weeks now, I’ve learned some interesting things.

1. I don’t talk as much as I thought I did. A total of a few minutes a night, but I do seem to say something almost every night.

2. Half of what I say is totally indecipherable. Mubble zubbla wug wug, and out.

3. I seem to be a very nice and polite guy in my sleep. This threatens to make me the polar opposite of Sleeptalkin Man Adam, who is apparently very nice and polite when he is awake. (He is also far more articulate, inventive, and funny than I am in his sleep.)

4. I laugh a lot in my sleep, and I also say, “Oh, thank you very much” a lot. Maybe I’m just insecure and I give myself a lot of compliments in my sleep.

5. Sometimes I sound eerily like my father, who also talked in his sleep. My father was raised in Birmingham, Alabama and had a pretty strong accent. The other night I laughed at something in my sleep and then said, “Shee-it.”

6. I’ve read that sleeptalking does not happen when you are dreaming at all, but in hypnopompic states — that is, the sort of twilight consciousness when you’ve just gone to sleep and especially before waking. Supposedly when you sleeptalk you are actually responding to external stimuli being incorporated into your consciousness.

Far as I’m concerned this last one is bullshit. I’ve heard too many snippets now that caused me to remember a dream I’d had that I hadn’t thought of until the lines triggered it. Last night in my sleep I said, “What? A Samoan narrator?” and started laughing. I remembered that I had dreamed about my boss from back in the Internet Bubble days, Tasi Ponder, a very interesting woman who had been a competitive bodybuilder. Tasi’s mother was Samoan. (Don’t ask me where the narrator bit came from.)

Later in the night I said, “What the hell are you talking about? I never lived with her. She was an actress. She worked really hard.” Hearing that, I remembered that I had dreamed about an old girlfriend, Marilyn Chin, who had indeed been an actress (she was on an episode of Stargate, and I campaigned for her to play Deanna Troi when ST:TNG was in preproduction) and a model. Someone in my dream had been disparaging Marilyn as an actor in some way and I had leapt to her defense.

The best was a couple of nights ago when I not only sang, I sang in a weird voice with this huge vibrato. I realized I was imitating Anthony Newley singing “Candy Man.” Weirder, in my dream I had been telling someone how David Bowie had been influenced by Newley (which is true; even Bowie said so), and I was demonstrating by singing “Candy Man” as Newley but exaggerating the Bowie qualities. (I mashup imitations all the time. The other day I caught myself [not in my sleep, which in a way is weirder, huh?] doing Gollum imitating Christopher Walken, and then did Christopher Walken playing Gollum. It’s a percentage difference. It was pretty funny, though:  Five hunnrid yeeuhz … I carried dis ring … up my ass … an’ now it’s yours … little man.“)