Trump Stealing Beats from Comedy

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Photo courtesy of CNN

Last weekend, Donald Trump met with members of the Central Intelligence Agency. With the CIA Memorial Wall which honers, excuse me, honors agents lost in the line of duty as a backdrop to his speech, Mr. Trump launched into a rambling tirade against the press, praised himself for winning the election, joked about reinvading Iraq in order to steal their resources, and generally acted like, well, Donald Trump.

Much to the horror and stunned confusion of the actual members of the intelligence community present for this spectacle, Trump’s boasts and barbs were punctuated by laughter and applause emanating from people no one recognized. As CBS and other news outlets later reported, there was a very good reason for this: Donald brought his own laugh track with him. The guffaws and clapping were all provided by a cadre of White House staffers and sycophants which had been brought along specifically to act as the President’s cheering section in order to make it appear the speech was being enthusiastically-received by the very people Trump had referred to as “Nazis” only days before in a tweet about the release about a damaging dossier linking him to a, ahem, stream of unsavory Russian entanglements.

Nor was this the first time Trump employed the tactic. On January 11th in his first press conference since July, (when he publicly colluded with Russia to hack his opponent’s email system, incidentally) the then President-elect stood at a podium next to a table full of manila folders said to contain all the legal paperwork he’d drawn up to divest from his businesses and went on the attack against the press sitting in the room, accusing CNN of “fake news” and refusing to answer questions while the “crowd” roared with approval. Now, it’s been a while since anyone has seen a press conference, however, applause breaks are not a traditional component. And it was a fake as the contents of the stacks of folders the press was barred from inspecting.

I recognize these tactics very well. Indeed, I strive to recreate them. I’m a stand-up comic, you see. Manufacturing laughs have been my bread-and-butter for four years and counting. And I’ve seen this play before, I’ve even used it myself. It’s an old trick among comedians, especially those of us who are still in the building phase of our careers, to bring in a ringer or two to pry open an audience. Family or friends, preferably ones with a loud or distinctive laugh. My friend Jason Punswick’s laugh can be heard from the International Space Station during certain points in its orbit.

Especially at the beginning of a show, audiences can be difficult to gage, and even harder to break loose. There’s a reason emcees and guest spots talk about “warming up” the crowd for the headlining acts. But fortunately for us, laughter is infectious, and once it gets going, it has a momentum of its own. Which is why a couple of strategically placed plants can grease the wheels and get everything moving in time. People pay to go to a comedy club to laugh, and we do our best to provide the supply for that demand. In the context of a Saturday night with a couple hundred people looking to be entertained, it’s a harmless little trick to get everyone rolling before the two-drink minimum starts doing its work.

In the context of a President standing before a group of national security professionals with the anonymous stars of their fallen colleagues and friends at his back, however, it’s a horrendously offensive abuse of power and public trust. It’s a naked attempt at emotional manipulation of the people present, and propaganda aimed at the people watching from home.

Almost everything about Trump’s public persona is performative. From his canned laugh squad, to his reliance on catch-phrases, to his over-the-top premises, to how he tries to deal with his many hecklers, any working comedian recognizes the beats. Except Trump only punches down, attacking the disabled, the sick, the disenfranchised, the oppressed. Our tired, our poor, our huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Donald Trump is a parody of the sort of cruel, misogynistic, often homophobic, exploitative comedy that dominated before modern sages like George Carlin and Bill Hicks came along to show comedians our purpose, and our power. We are the court jesters, the philosophers, the men and women tasked with speaking truth to power and twisting the screws.

Trump wants people to think he’s funny. But comedians across the country know genuine laughs when we hear them, and we’re busy sharpening our wit to lance this boil once and for all.

THE ARK & TRIDENT’S FORGE now in Braille & Large Print!

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Great news for sci-fi fans with visual impairments. My excellent publisher, Angry Robot Books, has made arrangements to make my first two novels available in either large print or Braille formats to serve the needs of an even larger audience.

I’m very proud to be able to offer my work to this new community of fans. If you have need of one of these alternate formats, or know someone who does, just follow the links below:

THE ARK

TRIDENT’S FORGE

Enjoy!

New Year, New Novel, New Worlds

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Hey gang. Patrick here. As you know if you keep up with the blog, I’ve recently turned over the manuscript for the third book in the Children of a Death Earth series to the publisher, and sold A HOLE IN THE FENCE to Tor. It’s going to be a little while before I get editorial feedback on those two projects, so I’ve got a couple of months of open space in my writing schedule to play with.

So naturally, I’m starting a whole new project set in an entirely new and different universe from the other two. This is raw, doesn’t even have a working title yet. I have an outline, but those are always subject to big changes so nothing is set in stone. What is certain is it’s going to be a military sci-fi novel with a Cold War/Corporate Espionage feel to it that is suddenly even more timely than I thought it would be when I first started fleshing it out a year ago. Above is a concept sketch of the main good-guy ship, a long-endurance cruiser named the Ansari.

Anyway, that’s about all I’m ready to share at the moment, but here’s a sneak peek at the prologue I wrote this week. Enjoy!

Prologue:

Hovering in the cold and dark and utter silence, it waited, and watched. It had neither ears to hear, nor a mouth to speak, because there was nothing to hear, and nothing to say.

It waited, and watched. That’s what it was good at. Best at. Its endurance was measured in years, and its eyes could see everything from the infrared straight through to gamma rays. It never tired. It never grew bored or distracted. It could differentiate units of time down to picoseconds, or distances in parsecs. It was vigilance given form in metal and polymer.

And it wasn’t alone.

It was the thirteenth of fourteen identical siblings, down from fifteen when the deployment began. One sibling had been lost to a micrometeoroid impact that had been below its detection threshold until it was too close to maneuver against, but the rest continued to function optimally. They floated within a sphere more than three AU in radius, each tasked with monitoring their own sectors of that volume, as well and providing overlapping coverage for one another. Whisker lasers kept them connected to each other and with Mother across the yawning chasm of space. It took two thousand, eight hundred, and eighty-seven seconds for its data stream to reach its furthest sibling, and the same time again for a reply to arrive.

Since arriving at its assigned station two thousand, one hundred, and forty-seven hours ago, it had tracked, identified, and catalogued more than seventy-three thousand objects inside its sphere of responsibility, eighty-six percent of which had been cross-checked and independently verified by a minimum of two other siblings. From protoplanetary dust grains only a few millimeters across, all the way up to comets and asteroids many thousands of meters wide, it tracked them all, assigned them log numbers, projected their trajectories, and assessed the threat level they presented to Mother’s navigation.

But insofar as it could experience satisfaction, tagging specks of dirt and balls of ice did nothing to fill that requirement. It was a machine of war. Its sensors were meant for spotting and tracking missile plumes, warship emissions, and intercepting clandestine signals. Its adaptive camouflage and meta-material skin, identical to Mother’s, was designed to fool or absorb enemy scans that went poking around looking for it.

It was intended to find targets for Mother’s weapons, resolve firing solutions, guide missiles into armor belts, and warn Mother of incoming threat vectors. It was not built to chart billion-year-old planetary rubble. That sort of task was supposed to be left to astronomical survey drones. If it had lungs and air to breath, it would’ve sighed.

An encroaching object set off its proximity alert, drawing its full attention. It reviewed the last six milliseconds of collision-avoidance radar data. The threat object was cylindrical, eleven-point-two millimeters across, moving at fifteen thousand meters per second on a direct intercept course. Projected impact in seven tenths of a second. A full emergency chemical thruster burn would be necessary to avoid a collision. Blackout protocols stepped in to stop the burn, projecting such an action would mean an unacceptable risk of detection.

After a fraction of a millisecond’s consideration, it overrode the protocols. Six hydrazine thrusters on its ventral surface erupted at once, expelling rapidly-dispersing clouds of scorching hot gasses that would light up like torches for any passive IR scanners within ten light minutes in every direction. The thrusters pushed hard to overcome the inertial momentum of its seven metric tons of mass to move it out of the threat envelope.

They were very nearly successful.

Its chassis shuddered under the glancing blow, sending shrapnel, electrical surges, and jarring vibrations throughout its internal structures. Fuses snapped open to protect delicate electronic components from burning out as its gyroscopes barked instructions to the thruster array to calm its chaotic spin and maintain station-keeping.

The violent gyrations came to heal with only seventeen percent of its hydrazine stores left in reserve. It could still maneuver under ion thrusters, or warm up its fusion rocket plant, but neither was capable of the short-duration, multi-gee acceleration of its chemical rockets necessary for collision avoidance.

Nor was that the end of the bad news.

Diagnostic reports streamed in from its peripherals. Six panels of adaptive camouflage were damaged. Two were still drawing power, but had been cut off from the data network. Two burst capacitors were offline. The portside gamma ray detector was out of calibration. Structural frame members three, four, five, seven, and eight had been compromised. But most importantly, its primary omni-directional whisker laser gimbal mount was frozen in place and unable to track.

It had survived, but would need a major overhaul aboard Mother to be brought back up to optimum functionality. It began the procedure to bring its secondary whisker laser mount online so it could inform its siblings of the impact and its diminished capabilities. At the same time, it turned an eye towards inspecting the debris cloud left over from the impact. Something about the incident nagged at its logic and pattern-recognition software.

It knew exactly what it had lost in mass down to the gram, and knew the chemical makeup of its missing constituents. Armed with this information, it turned a spectrograph towards the expanding junk cloud and scanned the particulates. After accounting for all its own damage and removing it from the analysis, all that remained was approximately twenty-nine grams of an unknown tungsten alloy refined orders of magnitude beyond the purity of any naturally-occurring meteorite.

A bullet.

Its proximity alert tripped again. Three more threat objects approached, arranged in a perfect triangle, tracking from an identical vector and velocity as the first.

It had been boxed in. Any evasive course it could had taken away from the first projectile had lead it inexorably into the path of one of the other three, and with such a paltry volume of chemical propellant left to burn, it couldn’t escape a second time.

In that nanosecond, it knew what had happened to its lost sibling, and knew it was fated to fall to the same unseen enemy. It had failed to spot the intruder, but there might still be time to get word to Mother and its siblings. With the tenths of a second that remained, it warmed up its high-gain radio transmitter, overrode half a dozen communications blackout and security protocols, dumped all the data and telemetry it had collected in the last few seconds into an encrypted burst packet, and maxed out the transmitter’s power output.

It managed to broadcast two and a half kilobytes of data before being obliterated.

2016: A Writer’s Year in Review

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Congratulations! You survived a mass-murdering, clown shoes, mile-high tire-fire of a year!

And so did I, somehow. Looking back on the last year at a purely professional level, it was actually my best year yet, not that I’m going to forgive it in any way for the rest of the carnage it inflicted.

In 2016, I published my second novel TRIDENT’S FORGE. I wrote and sold CHILDREN OF THE DIVIDE to Angry Robot, sold my very first novel A HOLE IN THE FENCE to Tor Books, wrote a great humor novella called THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING BA-427, and published twenty-five op-eds on The Hill.

All total, I put down around 180k words for publication, which means I’m still about 200k short of the mythical Million words mark where everything becomes amazing forever. So that’s a goal.

In the coming year, I’m already on the hook for editorial rewrites of two books, writing all of third, probably starting a fourth, and right around fifty op-eds if absolutely nothing gets added to my plate in the next twelve months.

Which is not likely…

Anyway, you’re probably expecting something inspiring for the new year, so here goes. In 2017, be absolutely relentless. If a short-tempered malcontent like me can make it as an author, there’s nothing keeping you from it. Like, literally nothing. They really shouldn’t be letting me do this. There are way more qualified people.

ConFusion Approaches!

Hello friends! As some of you know, every January I make the pilgrimage to Detroit, MI at the height of Midwestern winter to attend one of the best small cap cons in the country.

That’s right, it’s almost time again for ConFusion. I’ve snuck my way onto several panels this year that I’m pretty jazzed about. Here’s where and when you can find me:

Saturday 10am: Interstellar Colonies, a Hubristic Fantasy? I’m moderating this one. My series is about a generation ship starting an interstellar colony. No one else gets to speak.

Saturday 2pm: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? An exploration of near-future tech such as self-driving cars, AI assistants, autonomous armed drones, and thousands of Donald Trump clones.

Saturday 5pm: Autograph Session. Come buy my books directly from the source and let me scribble in them. Maybe dribble, too, if you’re lucky.

Saturday 6pm: Reading with Adam Rakunas. Wait, seriously? Oh, that’s going to be a disaster. No, seriously, a complete shit show…

Sunday 12pm: Here’s What They Did to My Baby! I’m moderating this one, too. We’re going to talk about all the shit our editors pulled on us before they’d publish our books. There will be lamentations.

So, if you’re going to be around the Con, stop by and see me. Say hello. Buy a book. Buy me a shot. I’ll never forget you. Unless a lot of people buy me shots.

Big Damn Announcement!

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I’ve been hinting at it for a couple of weeks, but the cat is finally out of the bag.

The very first novel I ever wrote, A HOLE IN THE FENCE, has been sold to Christopher Morgan at Tor. I am indescribably excited about this opportunity, not only to be able to partner up with an amazing publisher like Tor, but to be able to bring this book that got me started on this path to readers across the globe.

I’d like to thank my new editor Chris, my agent Russ, my many beta readers, and my girlfriend Niki for her unwavering support throughout this long process.

A HOLE IN THE FENCE is a sci-fi comedy that blends everything I’ve learned in the last six years about writing both fiction and stand-up. I hope you all love it. Here’s a little sneak peak of what’s in store…

Earth is in a predicament. The Magellan, a curious AI ship on a mission of exploration, has discovered an unknown object in deep space. Most intriguing of all is the mysterious signal the artifact is broadcasting to anyone who cares to listen.

The Magellan’s crew, captained by the intrepid Allison Ridgeway, strives to unlock the artifact’s advanced technology. They are assisted by a crack team of researchers back on Earth, headed by ultimate science geek and Moon native, Felix Fletcher. The brave crew and their Earth counterparts are joined by Earth’s first hyper-capable ship, The Bucephalus, and the questionably competent Captain Maximus Tiberius.

Together they set out to explore the galaxy, searching for the artifact’s maker. Little do they know, their mission will culminate in a high stakes staring contest with the powers that control the entire galaxy, with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance. Except some of the players have an unfair advantage – they have no eyelids. Some of them don’t even have eyes.

Look for A HOLE IN THE FENCE to hit the shelves in Summer, 2018.

#FindThirtyEight

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Hey everyone. I know I said we weren’t doing politics on here anymore, but well, this is wack. Anyway, as some of you might know, there is one more shot we can take. Despite what you may have heard, the results of the election are not final under the law until December 19th when the five-hundred and thirty eight members of the Electoral College meets and casts their ballots.

As it stands now, that vote would break 242-306 in favor of the man who lost the election by more than two million votes and counting. And who is going on trial for fraud in a couple weeks. And who was helped by Russian interference. And who is an admitted serial sexual abuser. And who just appointed a nakedly anti-Semitic white supremacist to be his chief strategist. And… you get the point.

If you’re happy with the way things are shaping up, stop reading. You’re all set. But if not, we need to find thirty-eight electors across the country to change their votes and represent the majority will of American voters.

Nothing is more effective at influencing our representatives at all levels than physical letters. So, I’ve written one. I’m sending it out to all of the electors in my state, and I would like you to consider doing the same. I’ve attached the letter as a DocX file below.

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Download it, fill out the open fields, print it, sign it, and get it in the mail to your state electors. If you have trouble with the file or don’t use MS Office, I’ve included the text below. Just copy/paste and away we go.

And share this post and the letter as far and wide as you can, using the hashtag #FindThirtyEight. Okay? Cool.

11/25/16 Update:

For my Wisconsin readers, here are the names and addresses of our Electoral College delegation:

1) Kim Travis, 457 W Geneva St., Williams Bay, WI 53191-9604
2) Kim Babler, 4575 Dennis Dr., Madison, WI 53704-6105
3) Brian Westrate, E11030 Deer Rd W. Fall Creek, WI 54742-5300
4) Brad Courtney, 4600 N Wilshire Rd. Whitefish Bay, WI 53211-1260
5) Kathy Kiernan, 1751 Scenic Rd, Richfield, WI 53076-9604
6) Dan Feyen, 962 Churchill Ln, Fond du Lac, WI 54935-6396
7) Jim Miller, 15611 W Lakewood Dr, Hayward, WI 54843-6401
8) Bill Berglund, 3870 Rileys Point Rd, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235-9438
9) Steve King, 3508 N Edgewood Dr, Janesville, WI 53545-9547
10) Mary Buestrin, 1000 W Calumet Rd, River Hills, WI 53217-3008

………………

Dear [Elector’s name],

I am writing today as a citizen concerned about the future direction of our state and the country at large. On November 8th, voters from all across this great nation came together to exercise their civil duty and voted for the President of the United States, Senators, Representatives, Governors, Judges, Sheriffs, and dozens upon dozens of ballot initiatives.

And while it was a close race which came down to thin margins, in the race for the Oval Office, there was a clear winner.

Hillary Rodham Clinton won the election of Nov 8th. As of the writing of this letter, her popular vote margin sits at over 2,000,000 votes. Projections indicate that lead will continue to grow to as many as two and a half million votes, a margin of nearly two percent of the total ballots cast.

The American voters have made their choice. Now, it’s time to make yours.

As an elector selected to represent the citizens of [your state], it is your duty to cast a vote for the President in line the judgement of the voters of our state. However, your greater responsibility is to the defense of our republic and the preservation of our Constitution. The founders made clear in their writings on the creation of the Electoral college that they wished to avoid direct election of the office of President out of concern for an underqualified, populist demagogue may come along and short-circuit the normal functioning of the democratic process.

As Alexander Hamilton himself wrote in Federalist #68, the Electoral College which you were chosen to represent was designed to ensure that “[T]he office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

In the last eighteen months of campaigning, Donald J. Trump has demonstrated in unending ways that he does not possess the experience, temperament, knowledge, humility, or compassion to sit behind the Resolute Desk. His scandals, outrages, insults, and appeals to our basest nature during this campaign are too numerous to catalog. At no point has Mr. Trump managed to win a majority of support from actual voters, not from Republicans during his party’s primary contests, and not from the national electorate during the general election.

The purpose of the electoral college was to prevent a man like Donald J. Trump from manipulating the fleeting passions and fears of the American voter and protect the nation from his dangerous excesses, not to override the popular will of the country as expressed by voters across the nation, regardless of the artificial boundaries of state lines and deliver such a man into the most powerful single position on the planet.

I beg you to protect our nation and its future. On Dec 19th, cast your ballot for the people’s choice, Secretary Clinton. Thank you for your time, your service, and your consideration.

Sincerely,

[Your signature]

So, You Sold Your First Novel. Now What?

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So, your years-long dream has finally come to fruition. You’ve written a great book, great enough to  land an agent. Now they’ve done their job and sold your plucky little manuscript to an honest-to-goodness publisher.

Now it’s time to kick back, put your feet up, and let the reviews, fans, awards, and royalties just start rolling in, right?

Oh, my sweet summer child. No… just, no.

If you thought writing the damned thing was time-consuming and stressful, you’re in for a real treat with everything that comes next.

Let’s start with the book itself. It’s not good enough. Sorry, I know you love it, it’s your baby, and you’ve gone through like seven rewrites already and the last thing in the world you want to do is crack it open and polish it again. Well, too bad, because that’s exactly what you’re going to do, except this time you’re going to be working with a real editor, and they’re going to have their own ideas about how your baby should turn out. And odds are, they’re going to be right, especially at this early stage in your career. An editor’s job is not just to make your book better by cleaning up formatting and spelling errors, it’s to make your book more accessible to audiences, more successful for their company, and ultimately to make you more money and more famous. And the odds are good that they’ve edited a ton more books than you’ve written, including quite a few very commercially and critically successful ones if they’re worth their salt. So for your first time through, just swallow your pride and do what they tell you.

I’m not saying you have to sacrifice your artistic integrity. Actually, scratch that. That’s exactly what I’m saying. You’re brand new. You barely know what you’re doing here. Artistic integrity is for closers. You barely rate a set of steak knives, nugget. And if you listen to your editor now, you might just stick around in this business long enough to really write what you want while your editor is busy spending all their time on another wet-behind-the-ears neophyte. Didn’t you know that’s the real reason books keep getting longer the deeper into a series they go?

There’s one other difference now that you’re working with an editor. Hard deadlines. See, your baby book has been placed in your publisher’s release queue. Between editing, rewrites, copyediting, cover creation, print runs, and distribution, it takes many months to get a book on the shelves on a specific date. Any delay in that process has ripple effects downstream that makes everyone else’s job that much harder, and in some cases more expensive. Significant enough delays can throw the rest of the publisher’s schedule into flux, pushing back or rearranging release dates and impacting the other authors on their list.

Don’t be that guy. You’re not George R.R. Martin. Your publisher is not going to wait with baited breath while you take your sweet time to turn in what was promised. You are a professional now, it’s your job to deliver a completed project on time and as requested. Clear? Good. Moving on.

A quick word on covers. No one cares what you think. Designing eye-catching covers that hit their market niche is high sorcery. It takes an incredibly skilled eye. As a debut author, you can expect to have some very limited initial input in the art direction, if only for very basic question of a character’s physical appearance, clothes, and background atmosphere. But after that, it’s off to the art department, which are themselves trained and experienced professionals in their field just as your editor is in theirs. Just go with it, okay? It’ll be fine.

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I mean, probably.

Moving on. The next thing your book is going to need is Buzz. You can help accomplish this in one of two ways. One, glue live bees to the covers and throw copies at people. This used to be the preferred method of debut novelists, but with our current pollinator shortage, it’s not very environmentally or socially responsible.

Two, get advanced copies in the hands of book reviewers before they publication date. These are known as Advanced Reader Copies, or ARC’s in industry parlance, and they come in either physical or ebook formats, depending on the publisher and the resources they’ve decided to invest in your release. Often, your publisher will have someone to help with finding popular book reviewers and getting copies into their hands, but there’s no reason you can’t help the process along. Start following book review websites and blogs. Find the most popular ones in your genre and jot down their contact information and any submission instructions they may have. When ARC’s become available, ask if they’d like to take a look in a short, polite email. Coordinate with your publisher so you’re not doubling up efforts or wasting copies.

Another popular method authors use to raise the profile of their book ahead of release is a “blog tour.” This is simply nothing more than a flurry of guest posts, interviews, flash-fiction, or podcast appearances that will get your name and the title of your book in front of new readers. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Genre blogs are always looking for new content, and you get to tap into their preexisting audience. There are dozens of websites, blogs, and podcasts that deal with the publishing industry and are happy to host debut novelists. Search them out just as you did with reviewers. Have suggestions for the sorts of posts you might like to write, whether about your inspiration for writing your first book, your process, research you did, etc.

Now, the really scary one. Securing the dreaded blurbs.

Blurbs are the little “Attaboy” quotes, typically from other authors, that grace the back, or even front cover of a book. Think of them as an endorsement in politics. They are a powerful marketing tool, a way of transferring the power and legitimacy of a more seasoned professional without all the messy Highlander-style decapitation.

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Although, that would be pretty badass.

A good blurb or two from top-tier authors can have a huge impact on the shelf appeal of your book and the odds it ends up in the bag. They are also notoriously difficult to get, and often incredibly awkward to ask for. But ask you must. Securing blurbs for a debut is largely left up to the author themselves. And being a debut author means you probably don’t have much in the way of a reputation yet to make the quest any easier.

So, how do you do it? Well, first of all, know who you’re trying to snag an endorsement from. As a general rule, you’re looking for blurbs from authors who have already made a name for themselves in the genre of your book, because you’re trying to tap into a similar audience niche. If you’ve written a sci-fi novel, you’re going to want to search out endorsements from sci-fi authors. A fantasy novel, the same. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. An endorsement from Brandon Sanderson or John Scalzi is going to be hugely useful no matter what kind of book you have.

Next, try to understand what you’re asking. To give your book a blurb, an author needs to take time out of their schedule to read your book. The more successful the author, the more of these blurb requests they’re going to get. The field can get cramped awfully fast. Yes, this is just like being thrown back into the submissions queue. Because of the time commitments involved, you need to be thinking about blurbs many, many months ahead of your publication date. They need to be turned in before your book goes to the printers. It’s entirely possible that you’re not even going to have a final edit finished by the time you need to start shopping around for them. The best time to start thinking about getting blurbs is as soon as you’ve signed the contract, or even once you’ve finished your first draft.

For example, my first book, THE ARK, is going back under the knife and getting a second edition with a whole new cover, expected to drop next July. This is unusual, and amounts to a relaunch. It also gives me a second opportunity to secure new blurbs. Despite not coming out for ten months, I’m putting in requests among the authors I know right now.

But, you say, I’m new. I don’t know anyone! Yeah, that’s the fun Catch 22. Sucks, huh? Here’s how to overcome that. First, go to conventions, shake hands with people. Attend or participate in panels. Ask questions. Buy drinks. Pick brains. Make friends. Then, exploit your friends for fun and profit. Don’t worry, they’ll do the same to you in time. It’s fine.

Conventions too expensive/stressful/you’re-an-introvert-which-is-why-you-became-a-writer-in-the-first-place? Okay, that’s fair. Switch over to social media. Follow authors on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Write honest reviews for their books. Interact with them in an organic, not-stalkerish way. Engage them with questions about their work, process, hobbies, etc. Joke with them. Figure out where they live and show up in your El Camino holding a boombox playing Peter Gabriel over your head.

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Okay, no, that’s getting stalkerish again.

Once you’ve established a natural rapport, as them in private if they’d be interested in looking at your book. Be polite, be genuine, and be humble. And above all, be ready for a lot of people to say “No.” What, you thought you were done getting rejections? Sorry, kid, but they’re part of your life now.

However, just like the gamut you ran through getting an agent, and getting a publisher, it’s all a numbers game. Don’t let the rejection weigh you down, keep pushing forward. That kind of determination got you this far. It will carry you a lot further if you trust in it.

 

 

Pack Your Shit for Proxima!

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Last week, news hit the astronomy world like an iron meteorite. Proxima Centauri is home to a rocky planet orbiting inside the Goldilocks Zone.

Known officially as Proxima Centauri b, the planet is at least 1.3 Earth masses, and orbits its parent star every eleven days, placing it inside the radius where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface, assuming it has sufficient atmospheric pressure to keep it from boiling off.

It is almost certainly tidally locked to the system primary, a red dwarf star only a fraction the size and output of our own. Meaning one side of the planet always faces the star, while the other side always faces away, just like the Earth/Moon system. One side bakes, while the other side freezes. Or so we thought, but more recent modeling shows that’s not necessarily a problem, as we’ve found that atmospheric convection can keep a tidally-locked world surprisingly habitable. However, Proxima Centauri is still a relatively young red dwarf that continues to experience quite a bit of flare activity, periods of electromagnetic instability that cause its output to spike, bathing the sunny side in a whole bunch of X-Ray and UV radiation.

So, no day/night cycle, probably no seasons, and a fair chance that every once and a while you’re going to get a lethal suntan.

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And very little chance of running into these awesome guys.

Sounds like a dud, huh? No. Not at all.

It would be hard to overstate how important this discovery is. Not because it’s a rocky planet in a habitable zone. We’ve already found those, and expect to find many hundreds or thousands more in the coming years. No, what separates Proxima Centauri b from the herd is, well, proximity.

You see, Proxima Centauri is the very closest star to our solar system, sitting as it does a scant 4.24 light years away from the Sun. In astronomical terms, that’s the house across the street. There is a very real chance that in a couple years we’ll be able to directly image the planet using the James Webb Space Telescope, or failing that, the Star Shade project.

And that is when things could get very fucking interesting. You see, with direct imaging, there is a pretty good chance we can learn an unprecedented amount about Proxima Centauri b, the sorts of things that only a couple of decades ago would have been limited to planets and moons here in our own solar system. Using spectrographic analysis, we could potentially determine not only if Proxima b sports the sort of atmosphere it would need to hold liquid water at its surface, but how thick that atmosphere is and even what kinds of gasses make it up and in what proportions.

What can that tell us? Everything. If we see certain gasses in high concentrations, such as molecular oxygen or methane, it will be the strongest evidence yet of life outside our own planet.

You see, oxygen is a real whore of an element. It tries to bond with everything. Carbon, iron, hydrogen, you name it, oxygen will fuck it. Which is why finding it in anything but trace concentrations would be such a big deal. The only reason Earth’s atmosphere is comprised of a fifth of it by volume is because untold trillions of hungry little photosynthesizing organisms are busy converting CO2, water, and sunlight into sugar, kicking out O2 as a waste product. Without them, the oxygen in our atmosphere would burn up in wildfires, rust onto exposed metals, and generally find a way not to be alone in a few tens of thousands of years.

Methane has the opposite problem. You see, it’s in an unstable relationship, which frankly shouldn’t surprise anyone with four hydrogen atoms all shacking up with one carbon atom. It doesn’t take much for a methane molecule to call it quits. Often, all it takes is one wandering oxygen molecule and a little energy imparted from sunlight. Methane in a dynamic atmosphere breaks down in a matter of decades or centuries. Coupled with the fact the most common ways to produce it are through a variety of active geologic processes or as a waste product of metabolism (either of which would be important revelations) and the discovery of significant quantities of methane on an alien world be a huge deal.

“Okay,” you’re saying. “So fucking what? It’s not like we can go there and look for ourselves.” Oh, ye of little faith, that’s the best part. This is where I’m going to get all nerdy fanboi on near-term future tech.

Believe it or not, there is an active program underway to do exactly that, at least in a remote capacity, and it’s got the backing of none other than Professor Stephen Hawking. It’s called Starshot (warning, autoplay video. Yes, I hate them too and if you know who came up with them we can murder their family together), and it’s being financed by a Russian oligarch in place of him taking up a career as a Bond villain, so let’s all be encouraging, yeah?

The concept is straightforward. Build a fleet of hundreds or thousands of tiny, postage-stamp sized space probes attached to giant solar sails and use ground or space based lasers to accelerate them to some 20% of lightspeed.

My opinion? It’s dumb. Maybe one of my super smarty pants techy friends like Ramez Naam can explain to me how they’re going to overcome the issues of bandwidth, computational capacity, power generation, and sensor capability in such a small package with enough spare mass for the ablative material they will inevitably need at the front of each of these microprobes to keep them from being eaten alive by interstellar dust particles, and still have enough signal strength to reach back the twenty-five trillion miles to our Earthly radio arrays or laser receivers.

No. If you ask me, which if you’re still reading this you implicitly did, what you need is a giant, nuclear bomb-shitting, pogo stick.

That’s right, long term readers of the blog or fans of THE ARK know that what I’m talking about here is a Project Orion starship. Not manned, certainly. At least not at this time. No, what we’re talking about here is a remote probe, built in orbit, and powerful enough to carry not only an ablative shield to protect all the fragile bits, not only the most sensitive suite of sensors and fastest computers ever mounted on a probe, not only the most powerful radio transmitter ever fitted, but an honest-to-goodness nuclear reactor strong enough to send enough juice into all of these goodies to power a ballistic missile submarine.

And while such a probe’s top speed would theoretically be limited to half that of the Starshot micro probes, merely 10% of lightspeed if we don’t want to flip it back around to slow down again, that would still put it on station in forty-five years or less after launch.

Forty-five years, you’re saying. But that’s a long time for something to survive in the harsh vacuum of space. Au contraire! You’re forgetting that, right now, we have an operational probe flying through the heliopause that has been in space since 1977. That’s right, Voyager 1 is still transmitting, still collecting data, and still communicating with engineers on the ground after thirty-nine years in space. And that was using tech we designed and built back when everybody though bellbottoms and platform shoes with goldfish in the heels were a great idea. I think we can do better today, I really do.

But, you’re saying now, I’ll be dead by the time it gets there! Yeah, well, shut up. Not everything is about you.

Sending this probe to Proxima b would be the greatest technological challenge mankind has ever undertaken, and it would be very expensive, there’s no doubt about that. But, if we could all take a breather on the war bullshit for like five years, we could pay for it. And just like the Apollo program, the technological advancements that would come bursting out of it could power a revolution in industry that could power our economy for decades to come while cementing our edge in not only technology, but human brainpower and ingenuity for a generation or more.

Mars is great. Europa is incredible. But, guys, c’mon, Proxima b is officially the brass ring now. It’s the target. Now we just need the will to build the biggest, fastest arrow humanity has ever carved.

Let’s get to work.