Friday, March 21, 2014

Reading this Sunday: The Time Traveler's Almanac

I am once again pinching myself. The Time Traveler's Almanac, the definitive anthology of time travel fiction, just came out via Tor Books, and I am honored to be a part of it. My essay, "Music for Time Travelers," is one of the pieces of nonfiction commissioned for the book by its award-winning editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and I'm pretty proud of it. To commemorate the release of this massive book, its three Colorado-based contributors--Connie Willis, Carrie Vaughn, and I--will be reading from and signing copies of The Almanac this Sunday, March 23, at Denver's Broadway Book Mall at 3 p.m. The event is free, so if you're in the area, stop on by and say hi. In the meantime, check out a couple interviews I did in advance of the reading for Westword and The Denver Post. You can also read the preface of the book, written by the VanderMeers themselves, over at The A.V. Club. Meanwhile I'll be over here pinching myself some more.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Some Interesting Facts About Words

-A word can grow only so long, but the largest word ever found was in South Africa and measured 22 feet.

-A word has no arms, legs, or eyes.

-Words live where there is food, moisture, oxygen, and a favorable temperature. If they don’t have these things, they go somewhere else.

-In one acre of land, there can be more than a million words.

-Slime, which words secrete, contains nitrogen.

-Charles Darwin spent 39 years studying words more than 100 years ago.

-Words are coldblooded.

-Words have the ability to replace or replicate lost segments. This ability varies greatly depending on the amount of damage to the word and where it is cut.

-Words are not born. They hatch from cocoons smaller than a grain of rice.

-Even though words don’t have eyes, they can sense light, especially at their anterior (front end). They move away from light and will become paralyzed if exposed to light for too long.

-Words are hermaphrodites. Each word has both male and female organs. Words mate by joining their clitella (swollen area near the head of a mature word) and exchanging sperm. Then each word forms an egg capsule in its clitellum.

-Words can eat their weight each day.

-If a word’s skin dries out, it will die.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

On Growing Up Geek and Poor

I wrote an essay for the new issue of Clarkesworld Magazine about growing up disadvantaged and also a fan of science fiction/fantasy. It was a hard one to write. But the issue of socioeconomic diversity in SFF is one I've thought a lot about over the years, and while I'm happy to see the issue get more traction lately, I also feel it tends to get discussed in abstract terms rather than human ones. In any case, thanks in advance for checking it out.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Flipping Ahead: SF/F Books I'm Anticipating in Early '14

Did I read even half of the new books I wanted to in 2013? Not even close. But that hasn't stopped me from looking forward to some of the most promising novels (by my humble estimation) in the speculative-fiction/science-fiction/fantasy realm that are due in the first couple months of 2014. Like these:

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee (Riverhead, Jan. 7)

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh (Crown, Jan. 14)

Red Rising by Pierce Brown (Random House, Jan. 28)

Hang Wire by Adam Christopher (Angry Robot, Jan. 28)

Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Feb. 4)

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals, Feb. 4)

The Waking Engine by David Edison (Tor, Feb. 11)

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun (Hogarth, Mar. 4)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Year in the Rear-View: 2013

Every December I sit down to write one of these end-of-the-year posts, and every year I’m floored. I didn’t do half the things I swore I would this year! I did twice the things I swore I would this year! At the same time! What makes this paradox possible is the fact that I’m crazy, the world is crazy, and writing is crazy. Amid those vectors of craziness, however, shit got done. Here’s some of what went down in 2013:

-In March, I was nominated for a Hugo Award in the Best Semiprozine category as part of the Clarkesworld Magazine editing team in 2012 (I served as Nonfiction Editor last year). And then, in September at Worldcon in San Antonio, WE WON—and I now have a shiny Hugo rocket sitting on top of a bookshelf next to my Lego pirate ship. I owe the win to Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, and Kate Baker at Clarkesworld, who continue to put out the best science fiction/fantasy magazine in the universe. I can’t thank them enough for having me along for the ride. During my twelve months as an editor at Clarkesworld, I launched a new monthly column, drew in a fresh crop of top-notch nonfiction contributors, and helped streamline some behind-the-scenes workflow. I’m extremely proud that I was able to play that small part in the continued excellence and success of Clarkesworld. Heck, I even squeezed in an essay for them this year about locomotives throughout the history of science fiction.

-I proposed to my girlfriend of six years, Angie, on New Year’s 2012. She said yes! In September, we got hitched. It was a small, quiet, beautiful wedding ceremony, and Angie is the best person I’ve ever known, so… that was pretty awesome.

-I wrote first drafts of two novels. The fate of them remains to be determined, but I’ve got some nibbles, and I’m currently in the midst of doing a massive revision/polishing job on one. It’s a science fiction book with a 12-year-old protagonist who lives in a peculiarly dystopian future. The revision should be done and sent off to some editors by the end of this month. So, yeah, fingers crossed.

-After four years of freelancing for The Onion’s A.V. Club (and three years of being their City Editor in Denver before that), I was promoted to Senior Writer of the site. It’s an honor I never could have imagined a dozen years ago, when I decided to quite my retail job and start writing for my local alt-weekly newspaper, let alone when I first discovered and fell in love with The Onion and The A.V. Club many years ago. Of all the stuff I wrote for A.V. this year, I'm most happy with the launch of Fear of a Punk Decade, a year-long series where I examine '90s punk, hardcore, and emo, year by year, mixing in a little memoir along the way.

-I began writing music reviews and articles for two other publications that I love: Pitchfork, the biggest independent source of music criticism in the world, and Decibel, the best heavy metal magazine in existence. Hell yes.

-I had my first byline on, for a book review I wrote of Nick Mamatas’s excellent new novel Love Is the Law. A year and a half earlier, when my own novel Taft 2012 came out, I was interviewed for NPR’s Morning Edition—so getting to review books for them kind of brought it all full circle.

-I was asked, and eagerly accepted, an assignment to write a chapter-length essay about time-travel-themed music for The Time Traveller’s Almanac, an epic compendium of short stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Not only did the British edition of the book come out in November (the U.S. edition will be published in March via Tor Books), I got to share a table of contents with some of my heroes—including Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, George R. R. Martin, and Douglas Adams (not to mention friends of mine such as Carrie Vaughn and Genevieve Valentine).

-And speaking of the great Carrie Vaughn: She and I recently co-wrote a creative essay for Jeff VanderMeers’s next anthology, The Steampunk User’s Manual. It was a blast shooting text back and forth with Carrie, and I think the piece came out beautifully. I’m not exactly certain when the book comes out, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be in 2014.

-A couple other random publication credits that I’m (still) very excited about are an essay on J. G. Ballard and post-punk for the British speculative-fiction journal Adventure Rocketship! as well as a more personal essay about being an erstwhile touring musician for the literary journal New Haven Review.

Of course, there were some things I wanted to do this year that I didn’t get around to, including finishing the first draft of my eternally-in-progress post-steampunk novel. Yes, you read that right: post-steampunk. What does that even mean, besides the fact that I clearly love the prefix “post-” too much? The book is still in progress, so I guess we’ll both see.

Actually, finishing a first draft of that book is my primary goal—call it a resolution—for 2014. Some other resolutions involve selling at least one of the nonfiction book proposals (of three!) I’m currently working on AND writing a first draft of a supernatural/science fiction book for kids that I’ve been turning around in my brain for a few weeks. And did I mention the anthology-editing plans that my friend S. J. Chambers and I are cooking up? Because there's that, too Oh, and Angie and I will be going on our honeymoon to Ireland in the spring, so that’s something to look forward to in 2014.

Along with more writing. Lots and lots of writing. Algebraically paradoxical shitloads of writing. Or something.

UPDATE: I almost forgot that one of my old bands, Red Cloud West, played a reunion show last month. It was fun as hell, especially seeing as how I (sadly) don't have time to be in a full-time band right now. Hmmm, maybe I need to add that to the 2014 to-do list. I clearly don't have enough stuff on there as is.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My MileHiCon schedule

Tomorrow I'll be headed to MileHiCon, Denver's longest-running science fiction/fantasy convention, which takes place in the Hyatt Regency Tech Center. I'll be there all weekend, but my programming will go down on Friday and Saturday. Here's the rundown of where I'll be... If you'd like to grab a cup of coffee, please say hi!

Panel: Are Writing Workshops Worth It?
With Jason Heller, Ian Tregillis, S.J. Chambers, Matthew S. Rotundo, Thea Hutcheson
3 p.m., Grand Mesa B-C

Readings by Jason Heller and David Riley
7 p.m., Wind River B

Panel: Beyond Brass And Goggles
With Jason Heller, S.J. Chambers, David Riley, Guy Anthony De Marco, Sam Knight
3 p.m., Wind River B

The greatest Table of Contents ever

I just got my contributor's copy of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's The Time Traveller's Almanac. Holy shit. I'm sharing the Table of Contents with a staggering array of writers, including heroes of mine like Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Not to mention George R. R. Martin, Isaac Asimov, Nalo Hopkinson, William Gibson, and writer-in-residence at Odyssey Writers Workshop (and all-around inspiration), Carrie Vaughn. My contribution to the book is titled "Music for Time Travellers," and it's a nine-page essay about how time travel has inspired all kinds of popular (and not-so-popular) music over the past few decades. The book comes out
on March 18, 2014 -- the week of my birthday, coincidentally. I'll consider it all the present I need. Um, no pun intended.

My first NPR byline

My first review for NPR
is up! I covered Nick Mamatas's excellent new novel, Love Is the Law, a rousing piece of punk-and-magick-spiked crime fiction set in the late '80s. But I'll let my review speak for itself.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I Married a Hugo Winner (and Other Things My Wife Can Now Say)

Okay, so. I have been lax lately. Not lax about doing writerly stuff, because I've been keeping crazy busy. Lax on blogging about all the writerly stuff. And the non-writerly stuff, like getting married.

Yes, I got married. On September 14, my girlfriend of six years, Angie, tied the knot with me during a small, quiet ceremony on the roof of our apartment building. It was beautiful and she is beautiful, and our wedding is by far the most important thing to happen to my since I blogged last. Heck, maybe even my whole life and stuff.

But there's something else pretty important that happened to me this month. On September 1, during the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, I won a Hugo Award.

I didn't do it alone. As the highest honor in the realm of science fiction and fantasy, the Hugo is reserved for really badass writers, artists, podcasters, and so forth. They also give them to editors, and that's what I won for -- as part of the 2012 editorial team of Clarkesworld Magazine. I won alongside publisher Neil Clarke and cohorts Sean Wallace and Kate Baker, with whom I served last year as Clarkesworld's nonfiction editor. The Hugo ceremony was amazing, although nowhere near as amazing as my wedding ceremony, I should hasten to point out.

What else? Oh, right. I started teaching a science fiction and fantasy curriculum at Lighthouse Writers Workshop here in Denver. I am truly lucky to be able to foist my warped taste on others, and to help guide them toward their goals as SF/F writers. Fingers crossed, this curriculum will thrive, and there will be a new place for aspiring genre writers in the Denver area to convene, workshop, and grow.

Lots of other incredible stuff has been happening here in the wide world of Heller, which is neither particularly wide nor particularly much of a world. More like the narrow cell in which I pace, laptop dangling from the ceiling by some cruel torturer, my sole source of both torment and commune with the universe. But I won't bore you with all that.

I'm much too happy at the moment. Happy, and just a bit lax.

Monday, August 19, 2013

My WorldCon schedule (plus some words about introversion and conventions)

In the midst of one of the busiest summers of my life, I’ll be heading to WorldCon at the end of this month. So I thought I’d post my schedule. As you can tell at a glance, it’s pretty scant: no readings, autograph sessions, kaffeeklatches, literary beers, or much else to promote my novel Taft 2012 (or much else of mine, really). There’s a reason for that, and it’s called introversion, and I’ll talk about that below. (I know, you can’t wait! Who can resist an introvert talking introvertedly about their introversion? But really, I’d appreciate it if you would indulge me. I will be brief. Okay, I’m lying about being brief. But anyway.)


My schedule for WorldCon 71 (LoneStarCon 3)

How Science Fiction Fandom Made the Sixties Happen: Origin of Rock Journalism

Friday, August 30 5:00pm - 6:00pm

U.S. rock journalism arguably came out of SF fandom, with Greg Shaw and Paul Williams inventing it at the same time on opposite coasts. Williams turned his fanzine Crawdaddy! into a professional music magazine, and went on to a career writing about rock music.

Panelists: Christopher J. Garcia (Moderator), Sanford Allen, Jason Heller, Mike Ward, David G. Hartwell

Hugo Awards Pre-Ceremony Sunday, September 1, 7:00pm - 8:00pm

Hugo Awards Ceremony Sunday, September 1, 8:00pm


Skimpy as it is, I’m excited by my schedule. As the nonfiction editor of Clarkesworld during 2012, I’m up for a Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine along with the rest of last year’s Clarkesworld staff: Kate Baker, Sean Wallace, and the magazine’s illustrious and visionary publisher Neil Clarke. It was an honor to edit Clarkesworld’s nonfiction section, and I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish during my twelve months there—including the launch of “Another Word,” an opinion column that alternates between Daniel Abraham and a guest columnist each month; the introduction of many great authors to Clarkesworld’s nonfiction section, including Chesya Burke, Lev AC Rosen, and Brian Francis Slattery; lots of behind-the-scenes tweaking and refining; and a continuation of the magazine’s high standards. And my rock-journalism panel seems like a lot of fun, especially seeing as how I spend a good portion of my professional life as a music critic.

That said, I’m almost overwhelmed by this barely existent schedule. The reason: I’m an introvert.

I actually typed the above sentence about three or four times, trying to find the right way to self-deprecatingly describe my introversion. The descriptors “crazy” and “weird” were bandied about. As in, “You know me, I’m just one of them there crazy-weird introverts!” Then I remembered that I’m trying hard NOT to be apologetic or preemptively self-belittling when I talk about my introversion. I’ve done that my whole life. It hasn’t served me well. It’s who I am, and lately I’ve been trying to be more straightforward and upfront about it.

In the interest of that straightforwardness and upfrontitude, let me briefly elaborate. I am introverted. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m shy. Sometimes I’m shy, sure, but so are most people. The thing is, I often get overwhelmed by groups of people—but only if I’m expected to try to communicate with all of them. Everyone becomes a blur. I feel panicked, like I’m going to say something wrong or stupid or stupid-wrong. Mostly that’s because whatever modicum of cleverness and eloquence I possess usually flies out the window when I’m around three hundred people. And sometimes when I’m around three people. (Hence my gravitation toward a career in writing, I suppose.) In those situations, I tend to just clam up, shut down, and listen. This gets taken as aloofness or even arrogance. I know this because people have told me this, many times, over the years. Decades of this cycle of discomfort, miscommunication, and misinterpretation have led me to a simple conclusion: I prefer being alone (or spending quiet time with my beautiful, understanding, and similarly introverted girlfriend) over throwing myself frustratingly to social situations time and time again.

Basically, I’m too old for this shit.

Only I’m NOT too old for this shit. Quite the contrary. Being introverted doesn’t mean you're a curmudgeon or that you don’t like being around people AT ALL. It means you can’t always control exactly when and where and for how long you’ll be socially on. And when your social battery runs out, no amount of putting on a fake smile can crank it back up again. You have to leave, be alone in a quiet place, and recharge. (Or you could get drunk. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish I’ll leave unopened in this blog post.)

None of this should be news to anyone. Most people have read about introversion or are even introverts themselves. If you’re an introvert, you don’t need me to explain any of this to you. But as someone who has been a self-loathing introvert for so long—who bought into the extroverted default setting of society, the one that tells you there’s something wrong with you if you’re not gregarious and outgoing—I know how much it helps to know that there are others out there like you. Especially at a convention, full of rivers and seas of people, where it’s easier than usual for an introvert to get swept away and overwhelmed.

The ironic thing is, we’re talking WorldCon here. A science fiction and fantasy convention. Not to be the one stereotyping here, but I’d say from my own experience as a fan for the past thirty years that there’s a higher percentage of introverts at a convention like WorldCon than, say, at a sales convention. Yet very little about WorldCon—or any genre convention—is designed with sympathy toward the introverted. Which is why I’m hoping some extroverts will read this post, particularly those I may know from real life or the Internet.

If I run across you at WorldCon, I may seem flustered, distracted, or even disinterested. I’m not. I’m just overwhelmed. Even if it’s at an event that’s on my schedule, like the Hugo Awards ceremony, I may be unprepared to process all the socialization I’m required to do. I sincerely hope you don’t take it personally, whether you’re an extrovert who just doesn’t “get” introversion or an introvert who doesn’t recognize one of their own (I often don’t). Honestly, I’d love to talk with you. I’d love to talk with anyone. If you feel the pressing urge to, pull me aside. Let’s sit down somewhere. Or ask me to coffee sometime later during the convention (I love the hell out of getting to know people over coffee, quietly, one-on-one). Also know that, despite all my wisecracking on social media and such, I can be very withdrawn in person. On the other hand, if I’m hitting a certain mood and I’m fully charged, I may be the life of the part. Probably not, but it’s happened before.

You may ask yourself, “If you’re so introverted, why even spend hundreds of dollars to fly to a convention, just to be uncomfortable for four days straight?” I’ve asked myself that, believe you me. The answer is simple: I love conventions. I love them for the same reason anyone does: It’s a chance to submerge myself in the atmosphere where I feel most at home, that of speculative literature. It’s a chance to see and hear writers whose work has changed my life (or simply made it more enjoyable). It’s a chance to meet likeminded people, renew old acquaintances, and, yes, network professionally (although I’m more liable to pass up such chances due to my introversion than lunge at them like an extroverted, go-getting self-salesman).

Above all that, though, I actually DO love getting swept up in the crowd at conventions. I love feeling part of the pulse of the concourse, an erg of that energy stream, a particle of the continuum that’s stretched from the inaugural WorldCon in 1939 until now, the farflung future of the year 2013. I'm happy here. Really.

I love all that, but the fact remains: I may not have a lot to say if you bump into me. But if we don’t bump into each other at all, that’s fine too. We’ll both be there, sharing the experience in our own specific and self-contained ways. And to an introvert like yours truly, that’s just as beautiful.