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Living my life and doing my job, despite tragedy

This has been a tough week for the country as well as for me. Kate’s been in the hospital all week and is scheduled for another round of brain surgery on Wednesday; the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five police officers in Dallas are all over the news and social media.

At the same time, Arabella of Mars is marching toward release next Tuesday. I still hope to do my reading at Powell’s Cedar Hills on Wednesday (yes, even if Kate has her surgery that day), and to travel to San Diego, Los Angeles, and New York for my readings there in the following week. I plan to be active on social media promoting it.

This feels wrong. This feels very, very wrong. How can I gallivant across the country and post excitedly about my book when there’s so much tragedy at home and abroad?

The answer is that it’s my job. I am a fiction writer, which is a species of entertainer. Tor pays me to entertain people, and as part of this arrangement I have made certain commitments to publicize the book in an entertaining fashion. I am a conscientious person and I will keep those commitments if at all possible.

If I were still working at Intel or McAfee I would probably not be sitting in the hospital with Kate all day the way I have been. I would probably be working at the day job, however distractedly, during the weekday. My “day job” with Tor is even more important to me than that was (though not so lucrative), so I’m going to keep doing it in the same way I would with any other day job. This may mean leaving town even though Kate’s in the hospital, as long as she’s stable and our friends and relatives are available to look after her, and it may mean tweeting and facebooking about the book, as long as it’s done with some sensitivity (for example, I postponed the scheduled release of a humorous video in the most grievous hours after the Sterling and Castile murders).

There may be people who are offended by book promotion tweets on a day when the whole Twitterverse is in mourning over the latest senseless deaths. There may be people who find it heartless of me to sing and tell jokes while my wife is in the hospital. But this is something I have to do, and not just for Tor or for Kate but for myself.

I have been working toward this day, the release of my first novel, for over ten years. If I had to pass it up, even for as important a reason as this, I would be devastated. Kate wants me to do it, and do it up right. And Kate’s psychologist told me just a few minutes ago that it’s important for both of us… that anything I can do to bring me joy and boost my energy will help me help her in the long run. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and if I have to take some time and energy for myself now I will have more to give her later.

So. I will be doing my very best to appear at Powell’s Cedar Hills in Beaverton on July 13, and Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego on July 15, and Shades & Shadows in Los Angeles on July 16, and KGB in New York on July 20. (There are more events planned after that, but this is as far ahead as I can see right now.) There will be singing and costumes and giveaways. I will strive to entertain, to bring some smiles and laughter into this time which is so very difficult for all of us.

I hope that you will join me.

Update on Kate, 7/7 1pm

Kate is still in the hospital. Her sister Sue is with us. We expect her to be transferred to St. Vincent (in Beaverton) for more tests today or tomorrow. There will likely be another round of brain surgery next week, but she should be up for visitors until then. If you’d like to come and visit, please txt me before coming over.

I still hope to do my reading at Powell’s Cedar Hills on Wednesday, but the rest of the book tour is an open question. Not canceling anything just yet.

Not the Westercon I had hoped for

Kate’s aphasia has been getting gradually worse for the past several weeks. We consulted with the doctor earlier this week and raised her steroid dose a bit, but it was still getting worse and we were looking forward to next Tuesday’s MRI with some trepidation.

On Friday, the first day of Westercon, Kate was having even more difficulty talking and was weak and wobbly. She attended my reading, but after the reading she fell over in the hallway — didn’t hurt herself, but had great difficulty getting up. After that she went to bed and dozed away the afternoon. I had friends watch over her while I went to my programming.

Kate had a pretty bad night and I called the doctor at 2am; he recommended doubling the steroid dose, so I ran home for more pills. At 4am I was awakened by a thud — Kate had fallen while getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. She couldn’t get herself up even with my help, couldn’t talk, and seemed panicky and confused; I called 911. The paramedics got her up onto the bed, but she was still very confused — they recommended taking her to the hospital, and I agreed. Kate’s sister Sue had arrived at the convention by now and she came along.

At the ER they took a CAT scan to check for brain bleeding from the two falls. There was no bleeding, but substantial brain swelling, for as-yet-unknown reasons (the CAT scan would not show tumor growth). They gave her IV steroids, admitted her to the hospital, and scheduled an MRI for a more detailed look at her brain. Sue sent me back to the hotel for food and sleep. That was Saturday.

At this point (noon Sunday) Kate is resting. Her steroid dose has been raised to 12mg/day to get the swelling down, and the aphasia has improved from “can’t talk at all” to “can often form partial sentences.” This is extremely frustrating for all of us. We have met with the on-call oncologist and the on-call neurosurgeon’s PA — our regular doctors are all on vacation. The oncologist is not a brain specialist and found the MRI ambiguous; we are now awaiting the neurosurgeon’s assessment of it.

If you are at Westercon and would like to visit Kate, please coordinate with Ruth Sachter. We don’t want to overwhelm her with too many visitors. Sue will stay with Kate so I can attend my autograph session at 2pm today. I am disappointed to be missing most of my Guest of Honor stint, and worried about my upcoming book tour, but Kate comes first.

Two recent publications

I have recently received author copies of two books containing works of mine. The Best Science Fiction of the Year, edited by Neil Clarke, has my story “Damage,” and The Usual Path to Publication, edited by Shannon Page, has my essay “How to Sell a Novel in Only Fifteen Years.” Both are full of good stuff, and are available wherever books are sold. Enjoy!

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My Westercon schedule

Westercon 69 will be held this coming weekend in Portland, Oregon. I am the Fan Guest of Honor and will be appearing on a ton of programming. Please note that my reading will be very early in the con — on Friday at 3pm — so if you can attend I would really appreciate it!

  • Fri Jul 1 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm in Ross Island: GOH Fan Guest David D Levine Reading.
  • Fri Jul 1 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm in Mult/Holl: Opening Ceremony. With Bobak Ferdowsi, Charlie Stross, David D. Levine, Lea Rush
  • Fri Jul 1 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm in Hawthorne: Going to Mars: What’s the Point?. With the release of the hit movie “The Martian” and the release of the latest NASA plan for the journey to Mars, a fundamental question needs to be asked, and answered concerning the “Why.” The panel will discuss the pros and cons of a Mars mission and how it can be presented in the non-science world in order to justify the endeavor. With Bobak Ferdowsi, David D. Levine, Gerald D. Nordley, Kristin Landon
  • Fri Jul 1 9:00 pm – 12:00 am in Jeff/Adams: Match Game SF. Get ready to match the fannish stars! In this re-creation of the classic 1970s game show, contestants are selected randomly from the audience to attempt to match the panelists’ answers to fill-in-the-blank questions like “Captain Kirk has the biggest ___ in Starfleet!” All contestants will receive prizes. With Andrew Fuller, David D. Levine, Debra Stansbury, Jim Doty, Kevin Standlee (m), Lisa Hayes, Lynn Gold, Manny Frishberg
  • Sat Jul 2 10:00 am – 11:00 am in Multnomah: Saturday 10am Kaffeeklatsch. Small group discussions with authors, artists, and other interesting personalities (referred to as “hosts”). Sessions are limited to the host and a small group of attendees.
  • Sat Jul 2 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm in Lincoln: Contract Pitfalls to Avoid. Join the Chair of SFWA’s Contracts Committee and other panelists in discussing contract clauses writers need to avoid or modify. With David D. Levine, James Fiscus (m), John Lovett
  • Sat Jul 2 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm in Mult/Holl: The Scientist vs The Authors: Intellectual Brawl of the Century. 3 of our GoH’s having a free form discussion. With Bobak Ferdowsi, Charlie Stross, David D. Levine (m), John Scalzi
  • Sat Jul 2 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm in Mult/Holl: Masquerade. The Masquerade is an event where members of the convention have the opportunity to present their costumes on stage for the entertainment of the other members. With David D. Levine (MC)
  • Sun Jul 3 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm in Autographs: Guest of Honor Autograph: David Levine.
  • Sun Jul 3 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm in Ross Island: Toxic Masculinity as Villain. Fighting demons is clearly easier than fighting the cultural narrative of men as arrogant, emotionally repressed aggressors who refuse to accept advice or reconsider poor decisions. What would it look like if a male character became aware of that narrative and decided to take a stand against it? Instead of toxic masculinity traits being used to generate repetitive conflict, how can authors build the tension between what the culture wants a man to be and who he wants himself to be? With David D. Levine, Sara Stamey, Sienna Saint-Cyr
  • Sun Jul 3 9:00 pm – 12:00 am in Jeff/Adams: Match Game SF. Get ready to match the fannish stars! In this re-creation of the classic 1970s game show, contestants are selected randomly from the audience to attempt to match the panelists’ answers to fill-in-the-blank questions like “Captain Kirk has the biggest ___ in Starfleet!” All contestants will receive prizes. With Andy Trembley, David D. Levine, Jonnalyhn Wolfcat Prill, Kevin Roche, Kevin Standlee (m), Lee Moyer, Lisa Hayes, Lynn Gold
  • Mon Jul 4 11:00 am – 12:00 pm in Jeff/Adams: GoH presentation: Science Tourism Experiences. A slide show presentation by GoH David Levine showing a zeppelin ride, a NASA satellite launch, a short trip on a sailing ship, and a stay at a simulated Mars base.
  • Mon Jul 4 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm in Broadway: How the Hugo Awards Work. There have been millions of words tossed around for the past few years about the Hugo Awards, much of it uninformed, inaccurate, or simply wrong. Come listen to people who have actually administered the Awards and know the rules to hear some facts about the process. With Ben Yalow, David D. Levine, Kevin Standlee (m)

Arabella paper doll giveaway!

IMG 0007Clothing is a big thing in Arabella of Mars. At the beginning of the book, Arabella is a wild child, running around the desert in a warm, protective, and thoroughly scandalous Martian garment called a thukhong. When her mother finds out, she hauls her back to Earth and makes her dress like a proper English lady — which she hates. Later on she winds up running across the English countryside in her nightdress, and eventually she dresses as a boy and signs on to the crew of an interplanetary clipper ship.

To celebrate Arabella and her outfits, I commissioned a paper doll set from Rachel Cohen of paperthinpersonas.com. It’s done, it looks fabulous (printed in full color on heavy paper), and now, thanks to Tor, you can get one for yourself — free! Here’s how:

  1. Pre-order Arabella of Mars from Powell’s, University Book Store, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, or even Amazon.
  2. Submit your proof of purchase to torpublicity@tor.com with the subject line “ARABELLA PRE-ORDER PROMOTION.”
  3. Don’t forget to include your mailing address.

That’s all! But hurry — quantities are limited. Offer expires July 12, 2016.

If you want a paper doll but can’t pre-order the book, you might have another chance. I will be giving away paper dolls (and other goodies) at my readings to people who dress up, ask questions, or otherwise earn them. :-)

Join Arabella Ashby on her space adventures with this paper doll set. In this alternate history Arabella has grown up on the flourishing British colony on Mars and loves her wild frontier home. Packed off to the stiflingly civilized Earth, Arabella soon discovers that her family is in danger so she runs away and dresses as a boy to join the crew of the flying ship Diana. She must learn to sail the skies, weather the naval war raging between Britain and France, and deal with a mutinous crew if she hopes to save the day. From her Martian hunting clothes to her proper lady’s gown this paper doll features outfits from all of her adventures in Arabella of Mars, on sale from Tor Books July 12, 2016.

“Take the Air” with Arabella of Mars!

Last year at OryCon I saw a performance by the PDX Broadsides, who describe themselves as “a trio of nerd enthusiasts who sing about science, piracy, superheroes, robots, and other geeky topics with great vigor and harmony.” I knew that they had composed a custom sea chantey* for Portland cartoonist Lucy Bellwood’s Baggywrinkles, and I asked them if they were interested in a commission for Arabella of Mars. Well, they were, and it’s now complete! I’m just thrilled with how it came out.

You can listen to it using the gadget below, or click “download” to download the MP3 from BandCamp for a “pay what you will” price (which includes free!).

Here are the lyrics, if you’d like to memorize them. You may have an opportunity to sing along if you see me at Westercon or any of my other personal appearances this summer!

CHORUS:
Take the air, take the air
The wind is fine and fair
‘Tween the stars and stones I roam
Oh the sun feels fine
Up above the falling line
And I never want to see my Earthly home

Well I reef and hand and steer
Like the hardest privateer
And I never like my feet to touch the land
For if England’s shore I see
It’s the sponging-house for me
So I’d rather I was buried where I stand

CHORUS

Give the pedals all you’ve got
Till you’ve fin’lly earned your tot
Strike the spankers and sheet home the mains’ls now
We are sons of Kidd
So give thanks for what he did
From the moment the Adventure left the ground

CHORUS

John Company’s man am I
And I sail across the sky
In a Marsman of the finest honey-blond
We are skyward bound
So pass the rum around
We’ll drink his health to Venus and beyond

CHORUS

Now the rising’s underway
We won’t see the break of day
Til we walk upon the crimson Martian sand
And the bell’s struck eight
So for god’s sake don’t be late
For the cosmic tide she waits for no man

CHORUS

Oh the sun feels fine
Up above the falling line
And I never want to see my Earthly home

* I use the spelling “chantey” rather than the equally valid “shanty” because I want to clarify that we are talking about a sailors’ song here, rather than a shack.

Two chances to win a copy of Arabella!

Residents of the US and Canada have two ways to win a copy of Arabella of Mars this month!

  • Tor.com is giving away four galley copies through noon Eastern time on June 5. Just comment at this blog post to enter.
  • Goodreads is giving away nine copies of the final hardback through June 17. Go here to enter.

In case you are wondering why you might like to read this book, I recommend you check out this video trailer:

If that isn’t enough to convince you, Bookish.com named Arabella of Mars one of Summer 2016’s Must-Read Science Fiction & Fantasy Books, calling it “ideal for readers who want a good ol’ fashioned high seas (er, air?) adventure story,” and RT Book Reviews gave it a four-star review (subscription required), saying “Excellent, entertaining, humorous scenarios make up Levine’s latest. His storytelling will keep readers turning the pages with its slight edginess, light-hearted tone and clear, crisp dialogue. Arabella is strong, sassy and clever, and her journey, as she makes her way back to Mars on an airship, makes this story an engaging read.”

Kate’s progress: May

Not a lot of change to report, which is good! Kate continues on the same dose of steroids, 1.5mg per day; her aphasia and memory issues continue to be frustrating but not incapacitating, and her endurance, speed, strength, and balance are still much better than they were. She hasn’t used the walker in over a month and is getting around well with a cane. Sometimes she even forgets the cane and doesn’t notice for a while, which is a good sign although she should still use it for balance when walking outdoors. Her blood sugar is also well under control.

We have done a lot of travel this month, with both of us attending the Nebulas in Chicago and Wiscon in Madison, followed by a few days in Milwaukee with my dad. There was a lot of napping (for both of us!) on the trip, but otherwise she coped with the stress of travel quite well. I also spent a weekend in Seattle without her, and this time we did not have anyone stay with her while I was gone. This went well, so we’ll be doing the same for my solo travel going forward.

I’ll be contacting local people with more information about helping Kate while I’m out of town, but if you are planning a visit to Portland during June or July you should let us know — she (or we, if I’m in town) would love to see you.

I’m very glad Kate is doing so well now, because my first novel “Arabella of Mars” releases on July 12 and there’s a lot to do to promote that (plus finishing up book 2 at about the same time). I will be one of the Guests of Honor at the Westercon in Portland over the Fourth of July weekend, and I’ll be reading at Powell’s Cedar Hills on July 13 and the University Book Store in Seattle on July 29.

Other book tour stops include San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and beautiful Bainbridge Island. My full book tour schedule is here. Kate will be accompanying me on most of this travel.

Thanks to Mary, Mark, Melissa, Michelle, Sara, Geri, Rick, Marc & Patty, Bo, Anne, Ariel & Phil, and everyone else who helped out or shared a meal in May. We couldn’t do this without you.

Wiscon Ho!

I’m at the airport again (there is going to be a lot of this over the next few months), heading for Wiscon. Here’s where you can find me at the con:

  • Fri, 9:00 am–12:00 pm: Writers’ Workshop (advance registration required)
  • Sat, 4:00–5:15 pm: Polyamory Won’t Fix Your Love Triangle in Conference 5
    Debbie Notkin, W. L. Bolm, Ariel Franklin-Hudson, David D. Levine. We all get sick of love triangles in our fiction. We often find ourselves wishing the characters in these triangles, and other assorted shapes, would just go poly and love each other freely. But we also know that poly just doesn’t always work like that in reality. Not everyone has the propensity towards polyamory. Sometimes the genders and orientations just don’t match up. And very often, some of the characters who are in love with the same person couldn’t stand to be in the same room together even before they fell for the same person—much less attempt an honest and intimate relationship together. Are there good dramatic (or comedic) reasons to employ love triangles? What other ways could we attempt to fix them? Do they need fixing? How would making them poly change them?
  • Sun, 10:00–11:15 am: Dispatches from the GlitterShip! in Conference 2
    Claire Humphrey, Keffy R. M. Kehrli, Gary Kloster, David D. Levine, Gabriel Murray, Gabriela Santiago. GlitterShip is a podcast and magazine of LGBTQIA+ short fiction. Come listen to a selection of works by authors whose stories have appeared on GlitterShip!
  • Sun, 2:30–3:45 pm: Exposition in SF/F in Conference 5
    Ellen Kushner, Eleanor A. Arnason, Eugene Fischer, Colleen Booker Halverson, David D. Levine. From “infodump” to “the edges of ideas,” readers and writers of science fiction and fantasy have a number of ways to describe exposition. But how do we actually write it? What’s the difference between an “infodump” and a well-written description? What does “show, don’t tell” actually mean? What are the specific exposition challenges that we face as writers of speculative fiction–and how do we solve them?
  • Mon, 11:30 am–12:45 pm: The SignOut in Capitol/Wisconsin
    Come and sign your works, come and get things signed, come and hang out and wind down before you leave.