A hearty dose of pop-culture

I hope this finds you all healthy and well, never a given these days. Especially for my West Coast folks. A friend of mine has been sending me pictures of what LA looks like, and while the dark fantasy author in me is deeply impressed with the grandiose hellscape, my concern for the poor abused respiratory systems of my friends is a little stronger.

I’m trying out Substack as a newsletter service because as much as I like Tinyletter’s minimalist design, they keep getting caught in spam filters, including my own. Finger’s crossed this service works better, otherwise I may have to use *shudder* Mailchimp, which I view as the newsletter equivalent of resorting to writing novels in Microsoft Word.

Hacker’s Key

My debut middle grade novel, Hacker’s Key, is officially out in the world from Scholastic. Or at least it’s out in the States. I’m not sure when the German and French translations arrive. Reviews have also started to come in as well. Kirkus, a trade magazine that is notoriously picky about children’s literature, had this to say:

“Skovron’s spy thriller reads at a breakneck pace, imbued with tech know-how, covert ops, and heart-pounding action scenes. Alongside the thrills, there is a hearty dose of pop-culture references from the ’80s and beyond, including retro Nintendo games and classic science-fiction mentions. Perceptive readers should be able to easily suss out the identity of the supervillain, but that doesn’t render this any less gripping ... Reads like Alex Rider meets Ready Player One.”

There most certainly is a hearty dose of pop-culture references. I promised my son (who was in middle school while I was writing the book) that I would find a way to fit in references to both Super Smash Bros and Dragon Ball, and I did, along with a great many other things.

This Thursday at 7pm, fellow author (and good friend) Diana Peterfreund and I will be talking about making real science and technology exciting in children’s books in a livestream sponsored by local indie bookstore One More Page. Go to their event page for more information.

Hope and Red, The Podcast

Orbit Books just released episode 11 of the Hope and Red podcast, “Soldiers and Blood”. If you’re a recent subscriber to this newsletter (hi!), my publisher is trying out something new. They’ve taken the audiobook for my novel Hope and Red, which was also narrated by me, and chopped it up into two chapter episodes. They’re releasing the episodes weekly as a free serialized podcast. You can subscribe wherever you normally get your podcasts.

The Goddess War

I’ve turned in copyedits for Queen of Izmoroz, book 2 of The Goddess War. I’ve also seen an early draft of the cover and all I can say it…if you thought the cover for The Ranger of Marzanna was beautiful, just you wait. Magali Villeneuve really outdid herself. My eyes nearly melted in my skull. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to show it to you. The book doesn’t come out until April, so probably not for a couple months.

I’m also hard at work right now on book 3, The Wizard of Eventide. I recently posted on Twitter about the challenges of writing the last book in a trilogy. It’s a tricky business primarily because I now have to make good on all the narrative and character development promises that I’ve been blithely making for the last two books. So many characters, so many threads, and the canvass for this last book literally spans the entire continent and beyond. But of course, that is the real magic of an epic fantasy trilogy: having the space to construct a story and a world so vast that you can’t see the edges of it.

Currently Reading

There are a few more projects that are already under contract that I can’t really talk about yet, one that will come out in the fall of 2021, and another in the fall of 2022. But I’m already starting to think about what will come after that. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the process, where I just poke around with a vague idea, following my gut on research topics, not even really sure where it will end up.

To that end, I just started reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. I already get the sense that this is a long and carefully constructed book that will consume a great deal of my brain, in a good way. I came across this interesting passage in the forward in which Rhodes argues for the inevitability of the atomic bomb:

Here was no Faustian bargain, as movie directors and other naifs still find it intellectually challenging to imagine. Here was no evil machinery that the noble scientists might have hidden from the politicians and the generals. To the contrary, here was a new insight into how the world works, an energetic reaction, older than the earth, that science had finally devised the instruments and arrangements to coax forth. “Make it seem inevitable,” Louis Pasteur used to advise his students when they prepared to write up their discoveries. But it was. To wish that it might have been ignored or suppressed is barbarous. “Knowledge,” Neils Bohr once noted, “is itself the basis of civilization.” You cannot have the one without the other; the one depends upon the other. Nor can you have only benevolent knowledge; the scientific method doesn’t filter for benevolence. Knowledge has consequences, not always intended, not always comfortable, and not always welcome. The earth revolves around the sun, not the sun around the earth.

This all makes intellectual sense, of course. But I do wonder about the moral culpability of such discoveries. If it was truly inevitable, does this suggest that the scientists of the Manhattan Project did not share some of the blame for Nagasaki and Hiroshima? Does it matter who open’s Pandora’s box, if it was bound to be open regardless? I look forward to the answer to these and other questions as I continue reading.

Now Listening

Something terrible has happened. Apple Music has stopped listing “Experimental” as a genre. I have a lot of sources for music. I follow Stereogum, I subscribe to KEXP podcasts, I listen to Radio Etopia. But until recently, my absolute favorite way to discover new music was simply to meander over to the “Experimental” genre listings in Apple Music and start randomly playing things until something clicked. In order to cover that same magnificent swath of audio weirdness, I would now have to search across “Indie”, “Electronic”, and “Classical”, looking for odd convergences.

Thankfully, there’s still Bandcamp, where I can stumble across a band like A Winged Victory for the Sullen to fill my dark ambient writing background music needs. If you need something gently sad and angsty to listen to, I highly recommend this Belgian duo that falls somewhere between electronic, classical, and a soundtrack to the human condition.

And that’s about it for me at the moment. Stay safe, stay well.

Talk soon,

_j