A Talk With “Graveyard Child” Author M. L. N. Hanover

While “THE BLACK SUN’S DAUGHTER” series by M. L. N. Hanover is now one of my favorites, I can’t remember when or where I picked up its first installment, “Unclean Spirits”. What I do remember is how quickly I fell into the story, and that I finished it in record time. Fast forward five years. When “Graveyard Child” was scheduled to release on 30 April of this year, I refreshed my Kindle every fifteen minutes waiting for it to download – and inhaled it once it appeared.

I’m now on my second read. It’s that good – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

M. L. N. Hanover is Daniel Abraham, author of “A Shadow in Summer” (the first in THE LONG PRICE QUARTET series) and “The Dragon’s Path” (first in THE DAGGER AND THE COIN series), as well as co-author of “Leviathan Wakes” (THE EXPANSE) along with Ty Frack under the joint pen-name of James S. A. Corey.

To sum up: the guy’s prolific. (I imagine it’s nice work if you can get it.)

Daniel Abraham was gracious enough to chat with me last year about his life and work. I expected the polite but distant conversation that happens between strangers. Instead, I was treated to a warm, upbeat, sometimes funny, often thought-provoking, and totally engaging chat with another geek.

Keep reading…

MWEBSTER: All right, this is a geek interview, so…I’m going to ask goofy, geeky questions.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I will do my best to answer in an amusing and appropriately geeky way.

MWEBSTER: Excellent. You’re working on so many different projects; how does that work? Do you work on one book at a time? Do you write in one land for awhile and then switch over to another one?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Generally speaking, I’m working on whatever one is due next. If I get stuck, then I have other things I can go and work on and play with to kick things loose. The collaboration with Ty has its own rhythm, because I’m working with his schedule, he’s working with my schedule, and we have this kind of formal meeting thing going on. So I actually have to make deadlines and there are incremental things. I can’t put everything off until it’s almost too late and then try to catch up. That’s my pathological move. That’s what I do when I’m not paying enough attention, so Ty keeps me honest on the Jimmy Corey stuff.

MWEBSTER: What that tells me is that regardless of where your brain might want to be at a given time, sometimes the deadlines kind of get in the way of that.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Well, yes, and on the other hand, everything I do is fun. There’s none of these projects I’m doing that I don’t love.

MWEBSTER: One of the genres that you’re writing in – I don’t know if you want to call it a supernatural thriller or if you want to slap urban fantasy on it –

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I often describe it as the one with the girl in the improbable halter top looking over her shoulder with the tramp stamp tattoo. Then everybody knows what I mean.

MWEBSTER: Some of the books that I read fall into that whole urban fantasy, supernatural thriller, what I call “commuter candy.” A ton of it is regurgitated crap, and what I mean by that is that it’s not just formulaic, because formulaic sometimes works just fine. But I’ll often read something that I’ll never touch again, or I don’t get halfway through it, which is very rare. What I find with your work is that it’s fresh and it kind of goes against the grain. But it seems to me that in order to do that, you have to study some of the other work that’s out there. Do you do that? How do you do that, and how does that affect your workflow?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Most of the impetus for The Black Sun’s Daughter actually came from hanging out with Carrie Vaughn. She and I are friends, and have been for about a decade now, and she is so smart, and she has thought about urban fantasy so deeply when she’s doing her Kitty books, that I kind of get to shortcut it, almost. Because she can tell me which things are interesting and describe to me what’s interesting about them and why she finds it interesting, and then we can kick it back and forth. I’m also friends with Diana Rowland, who’s doing some work in that field.

MWEBSTER: You’re going to have to familiarize me with her work.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Diana Rowland’s relatively new. I’ll give you a list of the books she has out. She’s got a bunch of things going on right now. But I get to skip a whole lot of the stuff that isn’t worth reading, because I sort of piggyback off of my friends who are better read than I am.

MWEBSTER: You’ve talked a lot about that collaborative effort with other authors. I’m not talking about the work that you do in actually writing with them, but in discussing these grander themes within these different genres. How integral is that to the way that you write?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: At this point, it’s kind of in the bones of it. If that never happened again, if I never got to get together with these folks and chew something over, that would be very sad. That would make me very unhappy. But so much of it has already happened that there’s a lot that’s just who I am as a writer now. I’m really lucky because I’m some place where there’s this incredibly rich, live community. You can get together and have dinner with George R. R. Martin and Walter Jon Williams and Melinda Snodgrass and Ian Tregillis and Ty Franck. And that’s just the dinner conversation. That’s what you have over salad. That’s kind of amazing. It’s been tremendously useful to me, in part because I get to get the pre-distilled versions of what these guys have been thinking for the last 20, 30 years. Then I get to decide whether I agree with it or not, and I get to actually have that – probably from reading the how-to book. I like how-to books fine, but you can’t interrogate them. You can’t say, “So Walter, when you say that, do you mean…” Being able to be in that kind of live conversation is gorgeous.

MWEBSTER: Here’s why I find that so interesting: for so long I have thought of writing – and I mean the sort of grand career of writing – as such a solitary pursuit that I don’t know why I find it so shocking that people who write would get together with other people who write and talk about writing. I mean, I have gotten around the table with a bunch of physicists and talked about rocket science; I’ve gotten around the table with a bunch of geeks and talked about why it is that Joss Whedon really is better than George Lucas. That whole community hive mind, it’s easy to apply that to so many other fields, and yet it never even occurred to me until I read some of these interviews of yours that you would, of course, apply it the same way to what you do.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: There’s a narrative about being a writer. There’s this story about what it is that’s inaccurate, the way that any of these kind of stories are. It has a lot to do with solitude, it has a lot to do with being anti-social, it has a lot to do with being alcoholic.

MWEBSTER: Wait. You mean you’re sober and you have friends?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: You see? And that’s weird. It has to do with being unhappy. One of the things that’s really interesting – and this isn’t just writing; this is anybody who’s doing art of any flavor – there’s this theory that if you are essentially an angsty, miserable person, you will somehow be better. That is not my experience.

MWEBSTER: What? You get to be happy?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Yeah. No, I get to be happy. Many of my friends get to be happy.

MWEBSTER: Crazy.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: And really, even for folks who aren’t in a situation where they have this community around them, you’re still working with editors and copy editors and marketing folks, and there’s a level at which this is necessarily collaborative, even outside of having peer group interactions.

MWEBSTER: Okay, for Dagger and Coin, you already said that you got a few people together to talk in depth about what epic fantasy is intrinsically, right? What kind of concepts did you explore?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: We talked about nostalgia and the ways in which epic fantasy is looking back at a golden age that is past and unrecoverable. And it’s fixed. We talked about that in terms of politics. There’s an argument that epic fantasy is, at its root, conservative, because conservatism involves looking back to a golden age in the past and taking your cue from there, the same way that epic fantasy does. We talked about it as a developmental issue, where it is in part a longing for a remembered and probably fictionalized childhood or adolescence. We talked about it in terms of war. There are very few commercially successful epic fantasies that aren’t involved in war.

I’m going to rant for a second. The thing about Lord of the Rings that is fascinating is that it’s absolutely a story about war, and it’s a story about the morality of disarmament. It’s not triumphalist about war. The thing that’s interesting to me about Game of Thrones is that it’s about the futility of war and this tremendous petty bickering, fighting in the face of an overwhelming threat. It’s not war in the sense of – kind of like Conan the Barbarian, but in the sense of what you would think of, “We fight the war, we win, ha ha, that’s the end the book.” It’s actually much more ambivalent about it, and it almost always seems to be involved with it somehow.

We talked about that sense of wonder, that sense of being in an entirely different – this really immersive world, where the landscape itself is a character as much as any of the actual people in it.

And we’re all in the shadow of Tolkien. We also talked a lot about Lord of the Rings and its influence and its founding effect on all of these projects that have come after it, whether it’s folks who are aping it and trying to do the same thing again or people who are in reaction against it. Either way, it’s kind of in the marrow of the genre.

MWEBSTER: What kind of things did you and Ty talk about before you started the Expanse?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: The Expanse is kind of a different beast, because it’s science fiction, and science fiction is weird.

MWEBSTER: True that.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: The thing about it, it doesn’t have a basic story. With romance, there’s a basic story. With mystery, there’s a basic story. With fantasy, even, there’s a basic story. There’s a dark lord, there are the guys who are going to fight him, they fight him, they win, right? That’s kind of the uber story. There is no uber science fiction story. There’s mysteries in it, there’s explorations in it, there’s literalized metaphors in it – if you say “I’m going to read a mystery,” you know what you’re going to read. If you read a science fiction story, you don’t know what you’re getting. We started off by talking about what the subcategory was, what the DNA was we were putting in this Petri dish. Like you, we read a bunch of stuff in the ’70s. But what we wanted to do with the Expanse books was take the stuff that we read and loved in the ’70s and early ’80s, before cyberpunk, and redo it. Recapitulate that in a mindset that’s a little more modern. Because a lot of that stuff didn’t age real well. If you go back and look at – even Bester, even The Stars My Destination, which is absolutely one of the most important books for the Expanse, there’s a lot of the politics in that that seem kind of creepy now.

What we wanted to do was take this – we’d make up this ’70s science fiction writer and have that be our voice for this project. So we have this idea of who Jimmy Corey is and what he’s like, and where he sits at the bar. It’s totally made up.

MWEBSTER: What kind of concepts then did you and Carrie Vaughn talk about for what ultimately became the universe that’s The Black Sun’s Daughter?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: The Black Sun’s Daughter was an interesting project, and I see some of the flaws in it, but what I wanted to do with it was start off with something that looked exactly like everything else, and then – seriously. That has the heroine who gets tremendous power even though she didn’t ask for it, who is kind of defined by her romantic relationships, who isn’t surrounded by other powerful women, it’s just her and a bunch of guys. She has the tramp stamp tattoo. I wanted to take all of the things that you expect in extruded urban fantasy product and start there, and then rip it apart, book by book, until you’ve come someplace else.

The big issue that I think Carrie was talking about and I picked up, and we’ve been chewing on for years, is the difference between empowering women and weaponizing them. A lot of the idea – I mean, this goes back to Buffy.

MWEBSTER: I’m glad you brought her up and I didn’t have to.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I lived there. (laughs) The thing about Buffy is she has this tremendous power, right? And the power is violence. The power she has is violence. The story that we’re telling there is – the reversal that we’re doing is that we’re taking somebody who does not have a traditionally masculine power and giving her a traditionally masculine power, and then we’re kind of acting like we’re done.

I think Joss Whedon is a fascinating artist and has some really interesting stuff going on there, some of which makes me uncomfortable and some of which I really celebrate. But regardless of what he did with it, the genre that came out of it was this kind of uncritical idea that if you have a woman who can win in a fight, you have an empowered woman.

MWEBSTER: Oh, not so.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I grew up as a boy, and I am somewhat skeptical of masculine power. So what I’ve been trying to do with The Black Sun’s Daughter is have a kickass urban fantasy heroine who has all of those characteristics and has all of those things that we’ve come to expect, but that’s not actually where her power is coming from. The decisions that she makes are more important than how she’s going to break the next guy’s jaw.

MWEBSTER: Now that you bring up the whole issue of empowerment, I think that the exploration of okay, what happens when you take away some of these other trappings that the main character has come to rely on? Now I’m going to have to go back and reread them again and look at those, which was bound to happen, through the lens of what you just shared with me. Because then that whole “Okay, I’m on my own, but you know what, I can still get things done, and this is how I’m going to do it” – it’s another lens. It’s another flavor. I’m looking forward to that.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I planned the series out for a 10-book arc, and we are all at the mercy of the market to know how long it actually gets to go. But even if I only get to do the ones I already have on the contract, I think I get to get where I wanted to go, or make the points I wanted to make.

MWEBSTER: Okay, go ahead. Then that just brings up another point, but go ahead.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: What I really wanted was, at the end of the series, when you read the last book, whichever the last book is – I don’t even know. I don’t know that yet. Whatever the last book is, when you get to the end of the last book, I want you to be able to go back to the first book and have it read completely differently.

MWEBSTER: Yeah, that’s already happened.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Yeah, see, that’s what I was aiming for.

MWEBSTER: Well, I’m glad that it’s pleased you. Because I know after I finished Vicious Grace, that’s when it snapped and I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to go back to the beginning. We’ve got to look at this again.” It was enough that you were dropping Black Sun hints left and right. I’m not even going to go off on my theories about what’s going on, because they’re futile and you know the answers, and you’ll just laugh in maniacal glee.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: That’s my job description, yeah.

MWEBSTER: Laughing with maniacal glee?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Pretty much, yeah. That’s in the contract.

MWEBSTER: Speaking of contracts and speaking of 10-book arcs, how dangerous is that? Here’s how I want to phrase that: I want to talk about two authors, and I’m pretty sure you know who they are. Let’s start with Robert Jordan.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Right.

MWEBSTER: I jumped on the bandwagon early. I think I read the first three in a week and a half, and I came in on the series probably just before the fifth book came out. Then I got to probably about six or seven, and I’m like, I’m waiting on the last battle here. There is no last battle coming. I’m going to wait until it’s done, and then I’m going to read them all, because this is driving me nuts. I had to step away from it, and then when people suggested that I go and I read Game of Thrones, I said, “I’m going to wait.” Because my fear is, this isn’t stuff that came out 20 years ago and we know there’s a finite beginning and end; you know that you’re going to be able to get to the end of it. As a reader, I am now very hesitant to jump into things where I don’t know if I’m going to get to the end.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Yeah.

MWEBSTER: So how are you tackling that as a writer? I mean, of course, you want to do 10 books, and of course, you’ve got the arc planned out in your head. But you are subject to the market and the way that goes and the roll of the dice of the universe. How do you tackle that when you’re writing a story?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: There’s a couple of different things you can do. With The Black Sun’s Daughter, I’ve tended to end things with a teaser for the next book. I’m going to stop doing that, because I’m getting to the point where I want to be able to – if one of the books is the last book, I want it to be a satisfying ending. The thing I don’t want to do is have it end like Twin Peaks. But a certain amount of this is you just admit that it’s hubris and swing for the fences. The Dagger and the Coin series, that’s going to happen, because it’s a five book arc. I have the five books planned, I have contracts for the five books, so I’m solid on that.

With The Black Sun’s Daughter, I try to tell a complete story with each book, more or less. I try to give you some sense of closure, and then I try to get you to come back next time. I think the only one that I’ve done that is really just one story over multiple volumes is The Dagger and the Coin. Those I’m not trying particularly to have a deep sense of closure, because I know I get to do the whole thing.

I’m also a faster writer, though. The other thing that you can do is make sure that the next book is out next year. I hope – I may be wrong about this, but I’m hoping that people will come to trust me. I’ve got The Long Price Quartet; it’s all out. I’m going to have The Dagger and the Coin; it’s all going to be out. The Black Sun’s Daughter, wherever it ends, it’s going to be a complete thing, and I’m hoping that people will be able to say, “Oh, no, he finishes things up. I’ll go ahead and sign on.” Yeah, it’s a conundrum. It’s one of those things where if people wait for the story to be finished before they pick up the first one, the chances of the story getting finished go down.

MWEBSTER: What’s the good and bad to being compared with other writers in each of these genres? There’s a George R. R. Martin quote on the cover of your book; that’s good. What’s the flipside of that?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: The flipside of that is that people expect it to be kind of like a George R. R. Martin. They’ve already kind of – they’ve looked at you and their impressions of George, and then their expectations are set, and if you’re doing something different, you’ll disappoint them because you’re not. I think that a lot of how a book gets experienced and received has to do with the expectations going into it, which is part of why I have all these different names. But I’m not writing A Song of Ice and Fire. I’m writing other stuff, and I’m writing stuff that feels, I think, fairly different. If people are thinking that they’re going to get George, I’m not him. He’s not me. So I think there is the danger of that disjunct. Overall, I would rather have blurbs from George than not. I think he’s got great coattails, and I’m really pleased to be on them.

MWEBSTER: Separate from the discussions thematically with other writers and that you put together yourself, what kind of research do you do for a series like The Dagger and the Coin or for a series like The Black Sun’s Daughter? What does research look like?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Well, for Dagger and the Coin, research is “let’s go see everything that has really turned my crank in the last decade and put it all together.” There was no “Well, I’m going to have to know this in order to do The Dagger and the Coin stuff.” There was a lot of “Ooh, remember that book about the Medici bank? That was cool. Let’s throw that in there. Ooh, you remember Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit? That was a great story. Let’s put that in there. Ooh, remember how they structured Babylon 5? That was cool. Let’s do that.” All of that research has already been done because Dagger and the Coin is built out of stuff I like. That was its mandate. “Be stuff I like.”

For The Black Sun’s Daughter, a lot of the deep research, a lot of the “What am I doing here? What is the structure of this? What needs to be done?” was done right at the beginning of the series when I was planning the whole thing. Then what’s left is “Well, what kind of grocery stores are in Chicago? I don’t know.” Sometimes I’ve gone places, and sometimes I haven’t been able to, but it’s been, you know, get online and read about what hospitals are in Chicago. Find the history of Chicago in the kind of place I need it to be, and find out what I can insert in there that feels organic to it.

MWEBSTER: I’ve got to tell you, that book…as a general rule, I stay away from anything like the horror stuff, but “Vicious Grace” was deliciously creepy and claustrophobic.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: It was a haunted house story. …and I have a real thing for hospitals.

MWEBSTER: Have you talked to someone about this? (laughs)

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Well, no. But if you were going to have a place where creepy shit happened, it’s the place where people go into the world and come out of it. It’s where they go to be born and die, it’s where all – I mean, hospitals are really –and they’re all built like mazes. That stuff I used in the book, that’s because my wife works in a hospital, and it’s insane. There’s like floors you can only get to on certain elevators, and stairways that don’t stop everywhere.

MWEBSTER: And the long hall business, yeah, that always happens. That’s like a true story.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I’ve never been in a hospital that wasn’t kind of a maze. That’s where that came from.

MWEBSTER: My first experience with book inhalation, figuratively speaking, when I was about 16 – this friend of mine was sitting next to me, and he had a copy of John Varley’s “Titan”. I snagged it and read the entire series in less than a week. So when you were a kid, what were the books that you inhaled? What were the ones that just completely – I’m not talking about things that influenced your future writing. I’m talking about the kind of brain candy that you inhaled in your formative years.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: “The Belgariad.” You’re talking about “The Belgariad”. You’re talking about David Eddings. I read “The Belgariad” until the spines broke, and then I bought them again and read them again until the spines broke. I killed that series. There are still moments in that series I remember.

MWEBSTER: What’s the best story you ever tore up? Something you wrote and then you trashed it and then you thought later, “I shouldn’t have done that.” What’s the best thing that you’ve never published? You don’t have to tell me what it is, but I want to know why you kept it to yourself.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Probably the most accomplished story that I won’t publish was one I did about five or six years ago. People have read it. I took it to a workshop up in Taos. I think it’s an immoral story. I think I wrote an immoral story. I think I wrote a story whose underlying message and theme are something I can’t stand behind. I don’t agree with it. So I never submitted it for publication anywhere. I’ve never offered it up.

MWEBSTER: Interesting.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Yeah, it’s a story about people who can move through universes and kind of into alternate universes, and they’re trying to stay ahead of this catastrophe that’s destroying worlds. They displace whatever version of themselves was there before, and they try to convince people that it’s coming and they try to make the argument that they need to do things to get out and stop it, and then there’s this initial warning sign that it’s going to hit. From the time they have the initial warning sign to when they jump out to the next one is a very set period of time. What we find in the course of the story is that actually, the active leaving is what destroys the place they’ve left. And the story winds up being very forgiving of them, and I’m not. It winds up being this story that really champions this private life at the expense of others, and I can’t do it.

MWEBSTER: That’s very thought-provoking.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: That’s a good question. There are some other things that I think I’ve never sold or offered for sale because I remember them being very good and they probably aren’t. But the only one I can think of that I know is a salable story – it’s well enough written, it’s well enough constructed, I’m pretty sure I could sell it someplace – that’s the only one.

MWEBSTER: How much do you write that’s not for publication?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: These days, very little. These days, most things that I do, I can find a place for. It helps that I have three books a year under contract, because they kind of have to publish those because they already gave me money. That’s a lot of words to crank through in a year that you know are going to get out there. And I have a lot of editors who know me and who know what I do, so they will come to me if they want the kind of thing I do. It’s kind of already got a leg up, because I’ve already been preselected as being the kind of writer they’re probably looking for for this project.

Then beyond that, I’m working with Orbit, and they have this thing where if I write a short story and nobody else picks it up, they’ll put it out as an eBook and I’ll get royalties off of that. So anything I do at this point has a place to get published.

MWEBSTER: That’s a nice deal.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: It doesn’t suck.

MWEBSTER: Is this your only gig?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: This is my only gig.

MWEBSTER: Congratulations. Good to know. Okay, this one’s more of a philosophical question. A couple years ago, I read a poll on Slashdot. It asked folks how many books they read the previous year. That’s kind of hard for me to estimate, because I’m one of the sick people that reads six books at once. So I figure about 100. I’m like, “Yeah, I probably go through a couple, two, three books a week. Let’s just say 100.”

I was surprised to find out that I was once again the minority, and that most folks – and that’s like capital “M,” capital “F” – Most Folks, trademark, read less than 10 books a year. I don’t know who these people are. I mean, I’ve met and actually loved some truly intelligent people who don’t crack a book, but I figure it’s just an anomaly and there’s something wrong with those individual people. But apparently it’s endemic. Have you ever thought about why it is that some of us read and read and read and read and read, and why some of us don’t?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I have a theory. I don’t know if I’m right. I think some of us are good at it. I think that reading is an active thing. I have this essay of awhile back. I was really confused by reviews of my stuff because they were describing logically separate experiences that couldn’t be reconciled. Somebody saying, “The world-building is great.” “Oh, no,” the guy says, “world-building is terrible.” “Oh, this character’s great,” “Oh, this character’s stupid.” They can’t be describing the same thing.

What I’ve come to is, they’re not describing the same thing. Because what they’re describing is a performance. They’re describing a play that was put on, and they saw it, and they’re the only one who saw it because they were the ones who were acting it. They were the ones who were doing all of it. Some people are better performers than others. If you have somebody who’s read a lot and who has a lot of practice reading, has a lot of practice evoking those images and those senses and putting this together in a way that’s pleasing for them, it’s a lot more fun than for the people who are the reading equivalent of high school drama.

If you never build those skills, if you never find a way to take language and evoke sights and smells, if you don’t know how to be transported, if you don’t have practice being transported, it’s not actually transporting. They get frustrated and they get bored. You could have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and if the director is bad and the actors are crappy and the lighting keeps going off, it doesn’t matter how good the script is. The experience you have is unsatisfying.

I think there are a lot of folks who don’t have enough practice and who have been encouraged to take on things they shouldn’t, by God, be starting with. I was in high school drama, and we should not have done The Hobbit. We did. (laughs) It was a bad idea. It was crap. You have folks that have books they “ought to read.” “You should read this, for it is improving.” “You should read this, for it is deep and will make you a better person.”

All of those books, especially the ones that were given in college when we’re trying to prove to everybody that we’re smart and trying to read it in order to be the kind of person that people look at and think “Oh, they read that kind of book.” Those books, the ones that make us look sophisticated, those are the worst ones to start on because they’re hard. I bounced off Name of the Rose like five times. I went, “I will read this – no, I won’t. No, I won’t.”

They need to read – it’s hard to read for pleasure, because nobody tells us to do it. If we could get these folks when they’re 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, into their 20s, and give them something that they can practice on and be successful, and have a really evocative, powerful – even if it’s a crap book – if it’s something that can be a guilty pleasure… we need more guilty pleasures. If you can get enough guilty pleasures, I think you’d get the skill set you need to tackle stuff that’s harder to make rewarding. Even if it’s more rewarding once you get there. Even if it’s something that really pays off once you have the skill set.

Because a good performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, it’s amazing. A crap one’s going to be crap. I believe in beginner’s literature. I would like to be somebody who people go to as a guilty pleasure. That would be great. I would love that.

MWEBSTER: What’s the last book you finished?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Let’s see, what’s the last book I finished? I have a problem now that I start things and then I get distracted. What’s the last one I did…

MWEBSTER: Was it fiction or nonfiction? Don’t care.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Let me start with the ones I’m reading right now because I can remember them, because I’m reading them right now. I’m in the process of – I’m almost done. If you’d gotten me like two nights from now, I could tell you what the last one I finished was because it’s going to be “Freedom and Necessity” by Brust and Bull. Almost done with that one.

So I’m reading “Freedom and Necessity”. Also, I just picked up this book of – it’s a book link essay on death and wealth, “The Ideas of Death and Wealth” by Margaret Atwood.

MWEBSTER: Okay, I’m writing that one down. If you could share this with me, what’s the story that you haven’t written yet that’s driving you nuts? You’ve already got these three gigs that are going on, and if you don’t have anything in these three gigs, you’ve got this place to put the other stuff that comes up. But is there something that’s huge in the back of your head, these characters that show up when you’re trying to sleep? What’s undone? What’s something you haven’t done yet that you want to do next?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I have three crime novels. I have three crime novels, and I’ll tell you about one of them, because I don’t want to keep you all night. Here’s the opening scene. You ready?

MWEBSTER: Hell yeah.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Guy’s sitting in a restaurant and he’s watching the clock because he knows that the murder’s going to be happening real soon now. And he’s just going to stay there until it’s done with. He’s just going to stay there where everybody can see him, until it’s over and he knows it’s safe. Then the door opens, and the guy comes in. And he comes and he sits across from him and he says, “Look, this is my fault. I understand what you did. You hired someone to kill me, and I know why you did, and it’s my fault. And I know what you were thinking. I understand. I know what you were thinking. You were thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m being blackmailed. This guy’s going to be bleeding me for the rest of my life. I’ve got to do something about it.’

“And you’re half right. You’re half right, because I am going to be bleeding you for the rest of your life, but I’m only going to be bleeding you a little bit. What you haven’t thought through is, it’s in my interest that you be successful. Ten years from now, if you’re the janitor of a high school, you’re nothing to me. If you’re the mayor, if you’re running a business, then you’re in a position to do me favors. It’s important to me that you succeed. I’m going to help you. I’m going to help you do great things. And yeah, I’m going to bleed you a little bit all the way around. And you’re not the only one I’m working with. I’m in a position to do you favors. It’s going to be okay.” That’s the first scene.

MWEBSTER: You can’t tease me like that. That’s just – that’s – that’s –

DANIEL ABRAHAM: Right? (laughs) I’m sitting there with that teaser in my head all the time. The name of the book is “Riley’s Circle”; the epigram at the front is from an acting teacher, and the line is “Circles rise together.” Yeah, I totally want to do that. And I have three of those. I have three projects like that, just sitting there. I’ve got a graphic novel that I want to do that’s 1920s Chicago with the battle mechs that they come up with after World War I, when it’s clear they need something else for the infantry, so they build battle mechs.

Then of course, the mob gets hold of them, and we wind up with this street battle, the Eliot Ness vs. the gangs, with the Eliot Ness part being played by a thinly disguised Agatha Christie. I’d love to do that. I have a list. Seriously, I have a back burner list of things I want to have happen. I’m doing three books a year, because I’ve got all of this stuff to do, and life is finite.

MWEBSTER: This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I want to thank you very much.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I’m always pleased to be of service.

MWEBSTER: I hope I asked you at least one question you had not heard before.

DANIEL ABRAHAM: You did. You did, several, and honestly, there are few things in the world I enjoy more than talking about myself, so thank you.

(While my part of the original interview has been edited for brevity and flow, and some sections have been omitted, please note that Daniel Abraham’s responses have not been modified.)

Check back soon for a full review of M. L. N. Hanover’s “Graveyard Child”, the latest in THE BLACK SUN’S DAUGHTER series.

Diana Kapp in WSJ: Girls’ Building Toys Might Improve STEM Skills

When I was a kid, Legos were the coolest toy ever. I don’t remember anyone telling me they weren’t for girls, but even if they had, I probably wouldn’t have listened.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal featured an article by Diana Kapp, “Can New Building Toys for Girls Improve Math and Science Skills?” [Article has been subsequently locked. Check out the video tab instead.]

The article references several products on the market aimed at girls 4-10, from GoldieBlox to Lego’s own Lego Friends line. While the ultimate goal for some of these companies is to, of course, turn a profit, there is significant interest in getting little girls to love tech and learn a bit about basic engineering.

Important notes:

- while spatial differences exist between boys and girls at younger ages, these differences can be overcome by practicing and using spatial skills which are improved by building toys

- research cited in the article shows that preschoolers who can arrange blocks into sophisticated towers will grow into teenagers likely to perform better on standardized tests

- despite the large amount of pastels, the goal isn’t to just “shrink and pink” boys toys

Be sure to check out the accompanying video.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: One day after this was posted, Tim Ferriss posted an article that included a more in-depth exploration of the GoldieBlox product. See here: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2013/04/24/how-to-online-business/

AnnMarie Thomas Makes Blinkenlights Of Playdough

Watch this TED video from AnnMarie Thomas, a School of Engineering professor at the University of St. Thomas. Using two different kinds of play dough, she demonstrates basic electrical circuits in a format suitable for tiny hands to explore.

(If you can’t see the video, try clicking here.)

Want to try these out yourself? Visit the Squishy Circuits project page for more information.

World Science Festival Showcases Women In Science

Yesterday marked the first day of the 2011 World Science Festival. This week, as part of its 4th annual celebration, “the most anticipated annual science event in the world takes over New York City,” and “will celebrate women in science – both past and present – with special and unique programs and a plethora of women featured throughout the event who are pioneers in their fields.” Festival co-creator Tracy Day hopes to highlight breakthrough research that a few of the scientists in attendance are currently working on, and to honor pioneering women in science in an effort to promote science and math education to young girls.

Other festival presenters and moderators include (all quotes directly from the WSF site):

Faith Salie – a contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning and a panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. “The only Rhodes scholar who performs stand-up comedy, Faith earned her sci-fi cred getting beamed up as the genetically-engineered savant Sarina Douglas on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and will forever be immortalized on a DS9 trading card.”

Heather Knight – an electrical engineer and social roboticist who runs Marilyn Monrobot in New York, co-founder of the world’s first Robot Film Festival.

Joy Hirsch – a neuroscientist whose “ground-breaking studies of language, emotion, attention, and cognition are internationally known for advances in our understanding of how separate neural systems interact during these functions.”

Priyamvada Natarajan – a cosmologist and theoretical astrophysicist professor at Yale University whose research focuses on “exotica in the Universe — dark matter, dark energy and black holes.”

Corina Tarnita – a mathematical biologist with a PhD in Mathematics from Harvard who “applies her knowledge of mathematics to study evolution and evolutionary dynamics” focusing on “understanding how population structure affects the outcome of evolutionary processes”.

Elena Aprile – an experimental astrophysicist and professor of physics at Columbia University who is “internationally recognized for her experimental work with noble liquid detectors for research in gamma-ray astrophysics and particle astrophysics.”

…and many, *many* more.

Be sure to check the WSF site for summaries, blog posts and live webcasts.

DIY Revolutionary…Limor Fried

I’ll admit I’m late to the party on this one, but in case you missed it as well, here’s the latest on electronics geek Limor Fried.

Fried was recently featured in Wired magazine (April 2011, with an awesome cover photo). For geeky folks who make stuff – or aspire to make stuff – Fried is a superstar. With an engineering masters from MIT, a gadget and gizmo site that is both newbie-friendly and expert-useful, and a web series of engineering videos that is both nerdy and informative, Fried is a stellar example of doing what you love, sticking to your principles and making money doing the geeky stuff that you were going to do anyway. Mind you, all of that is in addition to driving the open hardware movement forward by leaps and bounds – even if she’s just throwing bounties to incite innovation.

Fried has been featured a few times here on dotFiveOne  and at least one other time in Wired. The cool thing about this latest article (besides the cover photo) is that its the lynchpin of the DIY issue, which includes over 21 suggested projects. This is great hacker fodder if you don’t already have a project list a mile long.

One of the best points of the interview, IMHO, is when Fried answers the oft-asked question, “what comes next?” with a well-placed, polite “we have no idea”. As was true with the personal computer revolution, we can only imagine how open hardware development will change the world.

January Giveaway: Got A Winner!

Been a long while since I gave anything away, so I – along with my trusty d20 – have remedied that post-haste. Congratulations to Jessica S., who won the following swag in no particular order of importance:

  1. A WordCamp 2010 T-Shirt
  2. An Ubuntu 10.10 CD (both 32-bit and Live CD versions)
  3. A Sony Digital Field Guide
  4. A Star Trek Online Guest Pass
  5. A WordPress Visual Quickstart Guide
  6. The Special Collector’s 200th Issue of Linux Journal

Geeky stuff for a geeky reader. Way to go, Jessica, and thanks for reading dotFiveOne!