Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I said something like this on a panel during ConDFW, and I think it merits repeating somewhere else.

Books and video games are uniquely positioned to be the best horror.

TV and films and comics have a separation in your mind that comes from the aspect of observation. By becoming an observer, the horror is not truly as horrifying, because it is always happening to someone else. The dread of what might happen is sympathetic.

In books, and in games, it is simulacratic dread. The veil of the real falls over the overmind, and the door at the end of the hall - you know the one - that you aren't supposed to open. Behind that door is something awful. It's going to try to hurt you. Annie, get your gun. Granny, say your prayers. There's that awful door. The sounds are coming from the other side of it. The washing machine-like sounds. The squishing noises. The strange moans. Or - worse - utter, and complete silence!

Don't open the door, you'd say in a movie theatre. That's what you'd say. You'd shout. You'd close your eyes. The event would happen whether you were looking or not.

In books, if you close your eyes, nothing happens. You can't wait for the bad parts to finish. You would only lose your place. In games, you can't just walk away. You need the silver key. You need the magic serum that's shimmering in the corner. You have to open the door.

Open the door.

Open the door.

Instead of shouting at someone else not to open the door, you have to shout at yourself to open the door.

(Bioshock is awesome! But, it's a little *too* awesome, and it's time for me to get my pulse down a little and read a while. Palimpsest is next. Then, I'll probably write a new story.


I love octopi, and cuddlefish in all shapes and sizes.

I'm particularly fond of stories like this one.

I need to write a story about intelligent escaping octopi interact with wild, mean, gangster squirrels in a completely non-childish, non-corny way. Like, mutant clone mosnters merged with human DNA struggle to reconcile their muddled instincts or something...

Right. Add that to the list of things to write. And, move on to the things I've already started...

quick congrats

Quick congrats to David Schwarz for acquiring the Nebula Novels Jury nod, to get his book "Superpowers" onto the final ballot.

To say that kind of decision is daunting would be a understatement. To put this honor in an appropriate light, we on the jury received nearly every book that was published in SF/F, and also went out of our way to find the ones we were missing. And, four very divergent intellects all had to find something we could all unanimously agree on. It wasn't a majority rule, but a unanimous vote.

Good job, David!

Right... I'm off to the store. Now that I'm moved and settled in, I need to add to my book collection.



So, it's going to be a great day!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Learning cool words

One of the fun parts of writing fantasy stuff is you can always - in the back of your mind - justify that you are doing important research by learning cool, new words.

Weir... Kiddle... Basket Weir... Hackle Weir...

Cool stuff!

Also very cool: The Shambles in York.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Motel Story

While driving across country to move to Atlanta, we stopped at a motel for the night just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. Between my mother, my sister, and myself, we picked up just a two bed room and asked for a cot.

We go upstairs, and the lady at the desk calls up to say that she can't lift the cot up the stairs. It's too heavy for her. Could we send me down to get the cot.

So... I go downstairs to get the cot. It doesn't have wheels. Apparently it's supposed to have wheels, but it was new, and it didn't have wheels. And, it's too heavy fo rher to get upstairs.

I go down to get it. I pick it up. It's light as a feather. Weighs about as much as one of those hammock chairs in a bag.

I take it up, easy enough, and get it inside. I open it. Parts spill out across the floor, including the wheels. They are still in little bags.

Some assembly required.

So, we don't have tools on us. We do our best to make it work for the night.

My sister gets the cot.

It caves in the night, crashing in the middle where the parts were supposed to hold the whole thing together.

I swear to god we were laughing the whole time about this stupid cot. I mean, how often do you go to stay in a motel and have to move, and assemble, your own furniture?

Ah, service.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


And in Atlanta.

Talk to you soon.

Your pal,


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quick Shout Out!

Krista, thanks, for showing that to me! I think it's cool that the ARC found a good home!

Right... Bed... Drive to Georgia... Etc...


अवार्ड्स... अवार्ड्स... अवार्ड्स...

Hugo Awards:

You are running out of time to vote for a Hugo or a John W Campbell Award.

I know that I want to win a Campbell. But, in all seriousness, if I were voting, I'd vote for David Anthony Durham.

I think that not only did he produce a kick ass novel, full of a combination of "literary"-ness, as well as "Fantasy Geek!"-ness, but he shows every sign of being a prominent, consistently talented, and meaningful presence in the field for decades to come.

So, this is who I would vote for, in the John W. Campbell category, if I were eligible to vote:

Writers are eligible for a Campbell for two years. This is David's last year of eligibility and my first.

(I can win next year. I'm cool with that.)

Good-bye Texas

As excited as I am about my new job, I am very sad to say good-bye to everyone here in Tejas.

But, since each and every one of you crazy geeks would do exactly the same thing I'm doing at the drop of a hat if the opportunity presented itself, I don't feel bad.

Also, I'll be back. All I have to do to find you all is attend a Texas Sci-Fi Convention, right? You're all there, already. Heck, I bet I'll see a bunch of you at WorldCons and World Fantasy Cons.

I should write something poetic and beautiful about this place, but I can't. Texas has been my home a long time. It's my definition of what normal is, in my head. I write about strange things, which means I write about things that are "not Texas" in my head. I couldn't tell you one thing about this place. I know too many things. I know too many people.

So, good-bye, everyone! Since we all live in the future with internets and planes, I know we'll all still be in touch!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Last Post Until I Unpack and Turn Internet On At New Place Next Week, or later

I will be at ConDFW this weekend. I will be hitting the road Monday morning, for Alpharetta, GA, and moving next week.

So, here's a video found courtesy of Jeff Vandermeer that I think sums up exactly the right way to approach writing these days, and a notion I've put in action with my new day gig.

If you've met me, you know I want to write everything. Video games. Comic Books. Movies. Short stories. Novels.

I just happen to have gotten really good at novels and short stories first, because you need no fancy tools, and require no one else's design budget.

Wish me a safe journey, and I'll see some of you this weekend. I'll be back on-line sometime next week or the week after.

Your Pal,

J M McDermott

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fascinating MRI Study of People Reading:

Thanks go to Erin Hoffman from the Writer's SiG.

Readers build vivid mental simulations of narrative situations, brain scans suggest

By Gerry Everding

A new brain-imaging study is shedding light on what it means to "get lost" in a good book — suggesting that readers create vivid mental simulations of the sounds, sights, tastes and movements described in a textual narrative while simultaneously activating brain regions used to process similar experiences in real life.
"Psychologists and neuroscientists are increasingly coming to the conclusion that when we read a story and really understand it, we create a mental simulation of the events described by the story," said Jeffrey M. Zacks, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences and of radiology in the School of Medicine, director of the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory in the Department of Psychology and a co-author of the study.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is it just me, or does news like this seem strange and meaningless...

In Publisher's Lunch today, we learn this news:



S&P Downgrades B&N Shares, Upgrades Amazon Credit Rating
Standard & Poor has downgraded Barnes & Noble stock from "hold" to "strong sell", noting that B&N shares "have risen about 40% over the past 3 months and are now trading well above" S&P's target price. The firm also expects further weakening in sales over the next fiscal year and is "also concerned by the long-term trend of declining adult readership levels."

B&N's Board of Directors also declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.25 per share, payable on March 31 to stockholders of record at the close of business on March 10.
Business Week

Amazon's Credit Upgraded; Kindle Expansion Hitch
S&P also bumped up Amazon's credit rating one notch to 'BBB-' from 'BB+', citing the company's "strong brand, robust performance, and improved credit-protection metrics" during a "difficult retail environment."


So... Books are apparently not as strongly rated as the toxic housing bubble that nearly collapsed Western civilization on your watch?

One product created in America, with the labor of Americans, and an industry where America dominates is book media. Want to talk about American values, and American workers, producing real, tangible products of value all over the world, politicians?

Well, it may not be as sexy as Philadelphia steel, but I think books are tops.

Also, I don't believe S&P's ratings in the slightest. They have a long way to go until they earn my trust again, after rating a repackaging of toxic mortgages in the AAAs.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Just some books I'll be reading very soon...

Anybody take a crack at any of these books? They're all pretty much "next" in my TBR pile, on account of that pile being shoved into a box... Which should I read first?

Which one should I read first?

You tell me.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Almost done packing...

The great thing about taking time to really pack out the right way is that you discover things.

I found something that I had assumed was lost forever, which I will now hang onto forever.

When I was first working on Last Dragon, it took me a long time to find the right "voice" to carry the story. I had all these ideas, and I kept starting over, searching for the right vehicle for those ideas.

Then, one day - likely after a marathon session of playing Icewind Dale, whose soundtrack was an important influence on me when I was working on the book - I sat down and "got it".


In a flash, I had seventy some-odd pages that didn't suck, and that got it just right. It was still a rough draft, and it still needed a lot of work, but I had the voice.

I did the smartest thing a could have done. I immediately printed it up, and filed it away, in case my computer exploded.

I had assumed it was lost in the mysterious vortex old papers go when they are neither thrown away nor held on to. While cleaning out my old files from the cabinet so as not to take anything I don't need anymore, I discovered the old manila folder, shoved between two useless files.

If you're ever hanging out at my place, ask me nice and I may show it to ya.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

थिग्न्स that make me mad, because they are dumb, dumb, dumb... AND CRUEL!

I read this article at CNN, and it ticks me off. I know it was chosen because it will tick off dog lovers everywhere. Still, I want to take a moment on my personal megaphone - my blog - to explain exactly why spay and neuter programs are vastly superior to brutal cullings of this nature.

If you kill a dog, you make the resources that dog would have consumed available to other dogs who were smart enough not to get killed by the guys with shotguns and tainted meat.

So, what's going to happen, is dogs that are fearful of people in extreme will survive, and consume the resources left behind by the dogs that were killed. Those dogs will breed, and raise larger and larger groups of fearful dogs.

Fearful dogs are more likely to attack humans. Fearful dogs are *way* more dangerous than a dog that would run up to take a handout from a friendly-seeming human, while that human is hanging around and watching.
Dogs get real big in about a year and a half. Give this program five or six years, and the dogs will be meaner, scarier, and harder to catch.

That's bad.

Spay and neuter programs work because the dog population, initially, does not stop consuming the resources of the area. Dogs are forced out of hiding, searching for resources where the dog can be caught, spayed and released again, creating a cycle that solves the problem. Three or four years later, the dog population will reduce dramatically on its own as dogs stop breeding, but do not stop consuming the resources that would otherwise be used to create more dogs. In fact, they are more likely to leave human communities in search of food, because the sterile dogs have too strong a hold on the resources of the city.

Running around with a shotgun and blasting the shit out of animals is not only horrifically cruel, it will encourage a system that will lead to an increase in the problem, and an increase in the fear that people will have for dogs.

The best solution is the mobile spay and neuter teams. The resources that dogs survive on don't go away if you kill the dog.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

About steroids and professional sports...

It is no surprise to me to hear that the Texas Rangers struggled with steroid abuse. Individual players racked up killer numbers, but the team never came together to achieve a victory.

Baseball is a team sport, and requires working together every day to master drills and practice defensive plays and work together to improve batting and pitching and all the tiny little details that separate pros from everyone else.

Steroids give an individual player a boost in their stats. They hit more home runs. They run faster. They throw harder.

They get a bump in their testosterone levels that makes that individual harder to work with day in, day out.

Team sports don't need individual stars. They need a team that plays to its strengths and compensates for individual weaknesses.

Players juiced themselves to boost stats and improve their income-level. They did this, knowing it would destroy their long-term health for short-term gains.

They did this, and diminished their ability to play as a team of players, instead of individuals chasing stats and paychecks.

Why would you play the game if you aren't trying to win the World Series? How can you not see the 'roid rage tendencies diminishing your ability to get to the World Series?

Jocks can be so dense sometimes.

I want to write a story about symphony orchestra players "juicing" themselves to improve their performance with mind-roids...

SF Signal's Mind Meld Feature...

I got invited to SF Signal's very cool Mind Meld Feature. They ask a bunch of different writers the same question, and get lots of diverse and interesting answers.

Here's the link:

Check the comments where Mike Resnick gives, perhaps, the best answer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Important Research

Fun day. Been working, and whenever I get stuck, YouTube helps me with what I'm working on...

Zhug zhug! (Orc for "Now I shall go back to work, master!")

Monday, February 9, 2009

Over at Writertopia...

Apparently, and in thanks in no small part to my constant haranguerizing:

Now, I just need a horde of minions at WorldCon to help me defeat my nemesi: Felix Gilman, David Schwarz, David Anthony Durham, and... like all the other folks that wrote awesome books that qualify for the Campbell.

Fly, minions! FLY!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Video game storytelling annoyances

Look, I love video games. I mean it. And, to play good video games is, all too often, to forgive them for their major, gaping plot errors.

Case in point: Fable II.

A fantastic game, that's extremely fun, with lots of wonderful characters to meet, and a high concept that is fantastic and neat and fun to watch extending. The character design, and world-building are excellent. The game has so many good points that the gaping, tractor-trailer-sized, implausible plot holes just... just...

It's just so disappointing.

So, at two points in the game, the major bad guy shoots you in thr face, to kill you. The first time, you are flung out of a very high window, to plummet down to the earth, brain-bouncing off a roof.

You survive, somehow, with the gentle nursing of Darth Traya. Which is a little mind-boggling, but suspension of disbelief isn't lost because it's so early in the game, and you feel, as a player, that it was a horrible, awful, painful thing from which it took years to recover.

Then comes the second bullet to the face. Many, many years have passed. The enemy has gotten better at his nefarious evil. He is determined to make his bullet-to-the-face deadly this time. He's got awesome magic powers, an army of enslaved warriors, and states, deliberately, that he is going to make his bullet-to-the-face work this time, at any cost.

Yet, it doesn't work.

Bullet-to-the-face by madman megalomaniac? Twice, unsuccessful.

Other small pet peeves in plot and story linger in my craw, but I won't go into detail. No spoilers are needed here.

What's most annoying about it, is how easy it would be to fix them all with a line of dialogue, or a line of text, or a design decision one way or the other.

What the game seemed to want to suggest as solutions to many of the plot befuddlements were bungled too much to merit any mention here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

File under: YES!!!!!!!!

A Fanfic so awesome, it had to be a T-Shirt!

Yes! Yes! YES!!!!!!!

(It also sums up my reaction to the whole Twilight thing.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

*cough* May I make अ suggestion...

Go here.

And read the instructions carefully so your vote can count.

Right... Back to work...


Thursday, February 5, 2009

when i was a boy...

when i was a boy, five aliens,
their bodies thin, short, gray
their heads mostly black eyes,
big as clown shoe footprints
entered my room one night

my brother never woke up
everything was frozen
i couldn't move

i was frozen

they shined a light in my face,
my eyes, and it reached into me
into my neurology
my spine arched backwards
i couldn't control anything

the light was in me
i was theirs
i was scanned
maybe i was changed

i don't know

i told no one
i was so scared
whether it was real or only a dream

when i was a boy,
it was real to me
now that i am a man,
it is still real to me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Somedays writing is...

Somedays writing is like drinking water, and some days its like pulling teeeeeeth.

Today was a tooth day.

And, it's not done, by any means.

Right. Dinner quest complete. New Quest Objective: Quiet, secluded place for the finishing of stuff that should not have taken all day.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Locus keeps attributing my book to "J T McDermott"

I don't know who that J T McDermott person is, but if I ever find him/her, I will punch him/her in the nose. Stealing cred for my book on the very awesome Locus Recommended reading List is enough to merit a knuckle sandwich!

(Seriously, I've dropped more than one e-mail to Locus editors about this in the past, and I've pretty much accepted that it will be a long time before I'm famous enough for everyone to get my initials right...)

(Hey... Maybe I do have impersonators out there, calling themselves "J T"? Is it a clone? Did someone clone me when I wasn't noticing? I know I've been to some skanky hostels in Europe last winter, especially that one in East Berlin, but I never woke up in a bathtub full of ice with a cellphone set to dial an ambulance, so I assumed I was okay. I only ever woke up hungover. I need to be more careful next time.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hey, Just so we're ll clear on my schedule...

Howdy folks!

I've gotten a couple e-mails about this from unnamed sources. I thought I'd take a moment to make it all official-like with a full blog post about it.

Yes, I'm moving to Atlanta.(Alpharetta, to be precise).

I will be in attendance at ConDFW.

All other conventions are off the table until I get a solid handle on my new gig, and my new digs.

I will try to make WorldCon, and World Fantasy.


Probably not.

Assume no, unless I actually, physically show up. Even then, it might not be me. It might be a J M Mcdermott impersonator. I've noticed an uptick in fan mail. (Which is awesome!) I'm still anxiously awaiting the level of fan devotion that Cory Doctorow has, wherein there is an officially-sanctioned costume and mode of transportation.

In other news, a re-issue of a frikkin' INCREDIBLE book is coming soon. I'm very happy to see this title coming back into print. I read it via the library, and I've been looking for a copy to add to my permanent collection for future reading enjoyment and study.