Hoisted from the archives … it was National Novel Writing Month 2013, and I was at the Write to the End writing group in IHOP and should have been writing on my book MAROONED, but I was very near my goal for the month, I had an idea, and was depressed about various feedback I’d gotten from work and life and editors and AAARGH! so I wrote this anyway.

SO anyway, IHOP. The Write to the End writing group normally meets in the side room, but not that night, and it’s because another group was meeting there. Presumably, they paid for that. Which is sad, because as a volunteer drop-in group we can’t pay for rooms. Nonetheless, IHOP feels like home moreso than most places we have met, even though it isn’t a coffeehouse and doesn’t have an attached bookstore. But I’ve learned, from the writing group, not to assume anything is permanent.

Write to the End has met in places that should have lasted forever, but didn’t. Maybe we should have expected the small indie coffeshop Snake and Butterfly to dial back their hours (since they opened later as an experiment, for us), but who’d expect that Mission Coffee would come to an end? It was up the street from a college. People came in there all the time. But the signs were there, literally: walls and walls of pictures of a live music group that no longer met on the night we wrote.

But why should it be this way? We once met at Barnes and Noble, which was in the Bay Area before I came out here, which outlasted Borders, which might be out here after I leave (here’s hoping I don’t). Why couldn’t we have been meeting at Café Borrone, which was running long before I came out to the Bay the first time, when I fell in love with writing in quirky coffeehouses?

But things change. Who could predict that physical books themselves might implode? If the bookstore next to Café Borrone, Kepler’s, disappears, so might Café Borrone. That’s why Barnes and Noble didn’t let us keep meeting there: B&N’s business model changed, and they needed fewer community programs and more space for toys.

Even coffeehouses might end. Coffee could be made illegal. Alcohol was once. Seriously. Some people think that coffee is simply a drug with no stimulus benefits—the buzz you get off coffee is just withdrawal relief, and coffee has all sorts of health problems. I’m not sure the epidemiology supports that, but the researchers are out there that think that in all seriousness.

Perhaps there will be a new Prohibition. Maybe one day our grandchildren will look back on this and say, oh, how terrible it was that, during the Health Pogroms, coffee was outlawed for ten years. “Of course, we have coffee back now, but think of all the old historic coffeehouses were destroyed.” Or even if coffee is not outlawed, we could have a Nazi takeover or a Soviet revolution or a Cultural Revolution that wipes out all of these types of meeting places.

So there are no firm places to stand.

But in Japan, there’s a hotel that’s been running for something like 1500 years — 400 generations in the same family. I know it’s a small bed and breakfast like hotel, but there are taverns in England that have stood since the 1500s. Think of it: we could have been meeting there, for the last two hundred years.

And that gives me hope, that we’re writing in the first two hundred years of the Write to the End group.


Now THAT Was a Book Reading


So my book reading at Books Inc in Mountain View happened, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. We had a lot of people show up – more than at first I thought – and there was a lot of positive energy from the people in the audience which made it easy to read. (Note: I took pictures before the event, but not during, because I was the speaker, and that would be just rude).


I actually was less nervous and stuttery speaking to this crowd than I was when I was sitting alone in my great room reading the passages I had planned. The thing I’m happiest about, however, is that I planned what I was going to read deliberately.

Normally I read, by reflex, the first section of whatever new thing I’ve got. But sometimes the setup is not that interesting, so I’ve tried reading really exciting bits. But that doesn’t seem to work either – people demand context.


That led to a brainflash: I decided I should think not about what I wanted to read but what I wanted people to get out of the reading. I chose the first page and a half of FROST MOON to set the stage. At the last minute, I also decided to read a page and a half of BLOOD ROCK, filled with police, magic and vampires, to show progression in the world (and unabashedly to show off what I thought was a nice bit of writing). And then I chose to read the first half of a chapter out of LIQUID FIRE, tuning again at the last minute, to show off the action and adventure of “The Battle of Union Square.” People seemed to love it – I even got applause.

What’s more, the sequence of selections enabled me to talk about various aspects of the world I’d built – setting it in a time and place, making the action realistic, exploring consequences – and led into a really good Q&A session. Finally, I left a little time out to read the first chunk of THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, which also seemed to strike a chord. At the end, we had a line of people for signing, including one who bought a copy of the whole trilogy; many of those joined us for a victory dinner.

Wow. I am so happy that you all came, and that you all liked it. You really made my day. Thank you.

At first I thought just enough people showed up to fill half the seats, but I was wrong – there were actually many more people standing and watching who didn’t sit down because they were late. I didn’t see them because I was paying attention to the nearer audience, but I know this because some of them came up afterward to talk to me … and others took pictures and sent them to me.


What a wonderful event. I want to send my sincere thanks to Alex, the whole staff of Books Inc, and the staff of the upstairs Cafe Romanza, who have not only made this a great experience for me, but also have made this environment one of the best places I know to sit down, to get some good coffee, and to find and read a good book – or to imagine and write one.

-the Centaur

Reading LIQUID FIRE at Books Inc

So it’s crept up upon me: the first author event for Dakota Frost #3, LIQUID FIRE, this Wednesday the 26th at 7pm at Books Inc!


Well, as I recall, we had a small reading at Clockwork Alchemy, but this is the official premiere of the book! What’s more wonderful is that this reading will be in the bookstore that hosts the cafe where a goodly chunk of LIQUID FIRE was written!


Local author Anthony Francis shares his latest urban fantasy, Liquid Fire. Filled with spectacular magic, pyrotechnic action, and kinky romance, Liquid Fire is the action-packed third installment in the Dakota Frost, Skindancer series.


I’ll likely read a bit of FROST MOON to set context, then some of LIQUID FIRE, take questions, and finish up with a preview of something special coming soon!

So please drop in and support your local independent bookstore … and your favorite magical tattoo artist!

-the Centaur

An Outrage, But Hardly a Surprise


Recently one of my friends in the Treehouse Writers’ group alerted me to the article “Sexism in publishing: my novel wasn’t the problem, it was me, Catherine” in the Guardian. You should read it, but the punchline:

In an essay for Jezebel, Nichols reveals how after she sent out her novel to 50 agents, she received just two manuscript requests. But when she set up a new email address under a male name, and submitted the same covering letter and pages to 50 agents, it was requested 17 times.

“He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25,” writes Nichols. “The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me – Catherine.”

Catherine Nichols’ original article is up at Jezebel under the title Homme de Plume – go check it out – but the point of raising the article was to gather people’s opinions. The exchange went something like this: “Opinions?” “Outrage?”

Yes, it’s outrageous, but hardly a surprise. I’ve heard stories like this again and again from many women writers. (Amusingly, or perhaps horrifyingly, the program I writing this in, Ecto, just spell-corrected “women writers” to “some writers,” so perhaps the problem is more pervasive than I thought). Science fiction authors Andre Norton, James Tiptree, Jr., C.J. Cherryh, Paul Ashwell and CL Moore all hid their genders behind male and neutral pseudonyms to help sell their work. Behind the scenes, prejudice against women authors is pervasive – and I’m not even referring to the disparaging opinions of the conscious misogynists who’ll freely tell you they don’t like fiction written by women, or the discriminatory actions of the unconsciously prejudiced who simply don’t buy fiction written by women, but instead calculated discrimination, sometimes on the part of women authors, editors and publishers themselves, who feel the need to hide their gender to make sure their stories sell.

I am a guy, so I’ve never been faced with the problem of having to choose between acknowledging or suppress my own gender in the face of the prejudices of those who would disparage my existence. (Though I have gotten a slight amount of flak for being a male paranormal romance author, we got around that by calling my work “urban fantasy,” which my editor thought was a better description anyway). As a business decision, I respect any woman (or man) who chooses a pseudonym that will better market their work. My friend Trisha Wooldridge edits under Trisha Wooldridge, but writes under T. J. Wooldridge, not because publishers won’t buy it, but because her publisher believes some of the young boys to whom her YA is aimed are less likely to read books by female authors. The counterexample might be J. K. Rowling, but even she is listed as J. K. Rowling and not Joanne because her publishers were worried young boys wouldn’t buy their books. She’s made something like a kabillion dollars under the name J. K. Rowling, so that wasn’t a poor business decision (interestingly, Ecto just spell-corrected “decision” to “deception”) but we’ll never know how well she would have done had the Harry Potter series been published under the name “Joanne Rowling”.

And because we’ll never know, I feel it’s high time that female authors got known for writing under their own names.   

Now, intellectual honesty demands I unload a bit of critical thinking that’s nagging at me. In this day and age, when we can’t trust anything on the Internet, when real ongoing tragedies are muddled by people writing and publishing fake stories to push what would be otherwise legitimate agendas for which there’s already enough real horrific evidence – I’m looking at you, Rolling Stone – we should always get a nagging feeling about this kind of story: a story where someone complains that the system is stacked against them. For example, in Bait and Switch Barbara Ehrenreich tried to expose the perils of job hunting … by lying about her resume, and then writing a book about how surprised she was she didn’t get hired by any of the people she was lying to. (Hint, liars, just because it’s not socially acceptable to call someone a liar doesn’t mean we’re not totally on to you – and yes, I mean you, you personally, the individual(s) who are lying to me and thinking they’re getting away with it because I smile and nod politely.)

In particular, whenever someone complains that they’re having difficulty getting published, there always (or should be) this nagging suspicion in the back of your mind that the problem might be with the material, not the process – according to legend, one SF author who was having trouble getting published once called up Harlan Ellison (yes, THAT Harlan Ellison) and asked why he was having trouble getting published, to which Harlan responded, “Okay, write this down. You ready? You aren’t getting published because your stories suck. Got it? Peace out.” Actually, Harlan probably didn’t say “peace out,” and there may have been more curse words or HARSH TONAL INFLECTIONS that I simply can’t represent typographically without violating the Peace Treaty of Unicode. So there’s this gut reaction that makes us want to say, “so what if someone couldn’t get published?”

But, taking her story at face value, what happened with Catherine Nichols was the precise opposite of what happened to Barbara Ehrenreich. When she started lying about her name, which in theory should have made things harder for her … she instead started getting more responses, which makes the prejudice against her seem even stronger. Even the initial situation she was in – getting rejections from over 50 publishers and agents – is something that happens over and over again in the history of publishing … but sooner or later, even the most patient stone is worn away. Legendary writing teacher John Gardner had a similar thought: “The writer sends out, and sends again, and again and again, and the rejections keep coming, whether printed slips or letters, and so at last the moment comes when many a promising writer folds his wings and drops.” Or, in Nichols’ own words:

To some degree, I was being conditioned like a lab animal against ambition. My book was getting at least a few of those rejections because it was big, not because it was bad. George [her pseudonym], I imagine, would have been getting his “clever”s all along and would be writing something enormous now. In theory, the results of my experiment are vindicating, but I feel furious at having spent so much time in that ridiculous little cage, where so many people with the wrong kind of name are burning out their energy and intelligence. My name—Catherine—sounds as white and as relatively authoritative as any distinctly feminine name could, so I can only assume that changing other ethnic and class markers would have even more striking effects.

So we’re crushing women writers … or worse, pre-judging their works. The Jezebel article quotes Norman Mailer:

In 1998, Prose had dubbed bias against women’s writing “gynobibliophobia”, citing Norman Mailer’s comment that “I can only say that the sniffs I get from the ink of the women are always fey, old-hat, Quaintsy Goysy, tiny, too dykily psychotic, crippled, creepish, fashionable, frigid, outer-Baroque, maquillé in mannequin’s whimsy, or else bright and stillborn”.

Now, I don’t know what Mailer was sniffing, but now that the quote is free floating, let me just say that if he can cram the ink from Gertrude Stein, Ayn Rand, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Patricia Briggs, Donna Tartt, Agatha Christie, J. K. Rowling and Laurell Hamilton into the same bundle of fey, old-hat smells, he must have a hell of a nose.

But Mailer’s quote, which bins an enormous amount of disparate reactions into a single judgment, looks like a textbook example of unconscious bias. As Malcolm Gladwell details in Blink, psychological priming prior to an event can literally change our experience of it: if I give you a drink in a Pepsi can instead of a Coke can, your taste experience will be literally different even if it’s the same soda. This seems a bit crazy, unless you change the game a bit further and make the labels Vanilla Pepsi and Coke Zero: you can start to see that how the same soda could seem flat if it lacks an expected flavor, or too sweet if you are expecting an artificial sweetener. These unconscious expectations can lead to a haloing effect, where if you already think someone’s a genius, you’re more likely to credit them with more genius, when in someone else it may seem eccentricity or arrogance. The only solution to this kind of unconscious bias, according to Gladwell, is to expose yourself to more and more of the unfamiliar stimulus, so that it seems natural, rather than foreign.

So I feel it’s high time not only that female authors should feel free to write under their own names, but also that the rest of us should feel free to start reading them.

I’m never going to tell someone not to use a pseudonym. There are a dozen reasons to do it, from business decisions to personal privacy to exploring different personas. There’s something weirdly thrilling about Catherine Nichols’ description of her male pseudonym, her “homme de plume,” whom she imagined “as a sort of reptilian Michael Fassbender-looking guy, drinking whiskey and walking around train yards at night while I did the work.”

But no-one should have to hide their gender just to get published. No-one, man or woman; but since women are having most of the trouble, that’s where our society needs to do most of its work. Or, to give (almost) the last word to Catherine:

The agents themselves were both men and women, which is not surprising because bias would hardly have a chance to damage people if it weren’t pervasive. It’s not something a few people do to everyone else. It goes through all the ways we think of ourselves and each other.

So it’s something we should all work on. That’s your homework, folks: step out of your circle and read something different.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Some art by my wife, Sandi Billingsley, who thinks a lot about male and female personas and the cages we’re put in.

The Centaur at Dragon Con


So I’ll be at Dragon Con this year, the convention I’ve attended the longest. It’s where I sold my first book, it’s where I’ve served on endless panels, it’s where I’m an Eternal Member, of course, but this year, I’m a bit more: I’m an attending professional, which means I finally rate my own tiny, tiny little space in the program:

By day, Anthony Francis works on search engines and robots; by night, he writes science fiction and draws comic books. He’s the author of the Dakota Frost, Skindancer series including Frost Moon, Blood Rock, and Liquid Fire, and is the co-author of the 24 Hour Comic Day Survival Guide.

And the really good news is, I’ll be having a reading to celebrate the release of my latest novel, LIQUID FIRE, on Friday at 2:30PM! If you’re a fan of Dakota Frost, you should definitely come by, because I’ll read selections from LIQUID FIRE, answer questions, give away swag, and read preview versions of other future books in the series!

Title: Reading: Anthony Francis
Time: Fri 02:30 pm Location: Edgewood – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

From my perspective, however, what’s even more important is that because I’m an attending professional, I actually get to know my schedule in advance! (At least most of it!) That means I can not only show up at my panels with more than a minute’s preparation, I can actually, like, tell you all about them! I’m tentatively scheduled to appear on three panels:

Title: Steampunk/Magepunk/Dieselpunk?
Description: Steampunk branches out! Tips for the market for the Punk genres.
Time: Sat 08:30 pm Location: Embassy D-F – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Lisa Mantchev, Stephen L. Antczak, Gail Z. Martin, Anthony Francis)

Title: Steampunk and the TARDIS
Description: Victoriana and retrofuturist Steampunk themes are popular in Doctor Who.
Time: Sun 05:30 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Dr. Scott Viguié, Anthony Francis, That Darling DJ Duo, Ken Spivey)

Title: World Building, Part 2: The Multicultural Multiverse
Description: This Q&A covers the wide world beyond Britannia.
Time: Sun 07:00 pm Location: Augusta 3 – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Michael J. Martinez, Milton J Davis, Anthony Francis)

There’s a chance I may be on a few more, but for that, stay tuned. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you at my reading!


-the Centaur

Down to the Wire


So, just before the deadline last night, I completed my voting for the Hugo Awards. I was worried – what with trying to write my own novels and all – that I wouldn’t be able to squeeze in enough reading to be able to participate in good conscience, but as of yesterday afternoon I’d read enough to come to a judgment, and an hour and a half before the deadline, I submitted my votes.

For those not in the know, this year there’s a controversy over the Hugo Awards known as Puppygate. A number of authors who felt left out by past awards banded together in nomination campaigns, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, promoting “slates” of recommended candidates to save the Hugos from “boring message fiction”. They’ve tried this a few times, but this year, these slates managed to completely sweep some categories, which led to some serious outrage.

Why the outrage? Well, first, by sweeping entire categories in their desire to “include” work that they felt was left out, they created the opposite problem – excluding a lot of work of high merit. Second, there appears to have been some back-room dealings in how the slates were put together, and story put forth by the leadership of the Puppy teams keeps changing. And third, the very idea that they’re being excluded seems to be wrong – George R. R. Martin has written about this extensively.

And now we come to the point – because I wanted to see how far in this article I could get without addressing the real controversy – many of the authors sponsoring the Puppies are conservative or libertarian, and think that likeminded authors are being shut out of the awards by liberals and progressives (whom the Puppies call “Social Justice Warriors”) that they think are rewarding work for its inclusiveness or radicalism, not its quality or storytelling – and who, sometimes, are punishing work because it’s popular.

Unfortunately the political dimension of this is bullshit.

The “boring message fiction” and “popular exclusion” that the slate teams are complaining about? It’s not just a left-leaning problem. I’m a “Social Justice Warrior” – a left-leaning moderate who consciously works to make his stories more inclusive – and in the left-leaning circles I hang out with, filled with nontraditional authors with purple hair who write race, gender and culture-inclusive stories – we’re also worried about “boring message fiction” and the elitist disdain of the popular.

And much of what the slates put forward is also “boring message fiction”. As I was reading this year’s nominees, again and again in the material put forth by the slates, I came across paper-thin stories and articles which existed solely to serve a point or drive an agenda. And while no-one would accuse the slates of ignoring popular fiction, they had the opposite problem, sometimes nominating things just based on their popularity and not on outstanding merit.

Often … but not always. As I started reading through the packets and digging into the stories, I consciously threw aside the idea of trying to rig my reading against the slates, and just read what was there on its own merits. While I know the names of some of the people involved – Vox Day, John C. Wright, and so on – soon I was just reading, not knowing who nominated what. Some of it was good. Some bad. Some of it was just drek. And some of it stuck with me, probably for a long time.

Whodathunk – some of works nominated for the Hugo awards were actually really good!

There are some people outraged by the slates, and were determined to vote NO AWARD over any work nominated by the Puppies. The Hugos use preference-based voting, you see, so it is possible for NO AWARD to rank over some nominated work. This happened to Vox Day once, in which one of his works (I think a story) got sixth place out of five. He put a picture of himself as a Borg on his blog and joked his new name should be Six of Five – which I find hilarious, and I don’t mean in the “making fun of him” hilarious way but legitimately hilarious. Personally, if nominated for a Hugo I’d rather win one, but, God forbid, If that happened to me, I’d so put “Six of Five” on a T-shirt or banner “Totally Shut Out of the Hugos” on my blog. (Note: if you, the reader of this, are personally involved with a future Razzie award, and I’ve produced some film or screenplay that receives a Razzie for Worst Anything, please invite me to the ceremony. I’d be honored).

But the problem is, the slates nominated work I actually like for a number of categories, including for Best Novel. I realized, even if they’d swept the Best Novel category, then I shouldn’t penalize work that I liked just because they nominated it. I do think that there should be some penalty for gaming the system, but as I reflected further, I realized I shouldn’t penalize any work in any category if I truly liked it – even if it was nominated by some person who might deserve censure for gaming the system.

For example, In the Related Work category, I quite liked the article “The Hot Equations” by Ken Burnside. I think it should be required reading for anyone, like myself, who writes or is interested in writing military science fiction. (My YA story “Stranded” in the anthology of the same name, while not military itself, is the first novella in a longermilitary science fiction series set in a “hard space opera” universe – epic-SF with a hard-SF edge, so Burnside’s article was great food for thought for me). It’s in a collection called RIDING THE RED HORSE, edited by Vox Day, which I also liked.

I’m sorry. I can’t shoot down the article that struck me most among all the Related Work nominees just because it was nominated on a slate. And I can’t in good conscience not credit Vox Day’s co-editing job on that book – I’ve edited books and I know how hard a job it is. I was familiar with the editing work of a lot of other editors in the category, so he wasn’t my first choice – but he was my second, and I’m sure as heck not going to put NO AWARD down for the editor of an anthology I actually liked.

When I was done voting and looked back on my work, I realized the slates had done in themselves. I did put NO AWARD first in a number of categories, because the slates had managed to pack them with poor-quality drek and “boring message fiction” that didn’t maintain my interest – just, this time it was right-leaning message fiction, along with some very whiny-sounding articles. To be fair, there was a bit of whining on the left too, and some drek, and some experimental stuff that didn’t hold my interest. But in the end, I’d found a lot of good material in all categories, some of which were on slates. And that’s OK. If it was good, that’s OK.

No matter what happens, some people on the side of the Puppies will proclaim victory. It’s a classic technique: arrange to play the game in a way in which you can’t lose. Fail to get your work nominated? “See, we’re being excluded!” Fail to get an award? “See, we’re being discriminated against!” Get shut out of a category by NO AWARD? “See, we’re being shut out!” Get an award? “See, our work was great anyway?” So I congratulate them on their “victory,” no matter what form it takes.

But I think the slate teams have made a more important victory, one which is potentially a victory for everyone: they’ve made people care about the Hugos again. Now people left and right are talking about them in cafes and phone calls. People are debating the ethics of Hugo slates. And many people, like myself, who can’t vote in good conscience without considering all the alternatives in depth, suddenly got exposed to an entire spectrum of science fiction that, in my heads-down, get-my-books-done focus, I had been ignoring. I have now read stories and read articles and seen artists that I liked, both on the slates and off them, and I feel enriched, energized – and determined to participate more in the process in the future.

I don’t find Puppygate black and white, or symmetric. The creators of the slates made an important point about otherwise quality work being excluded – but the champions of the status quo had an even more important point: you shouldn’t game the system to fix problems in the system. Two wrongs rarely make a right. The impression they had about their particular political bent being excluded was wrong, the way they decided to address it was wrong, and they’ve been caught in a cascade of coverups and changed stories ever since which is not endearing them to the people they might otherwise convince. I’m not sure we need to “fix” the system, but I do know I’ll be participating much more actively in the future.

But, hey, the controversy led to an interesting and exciting slate of nominees, and I enjoyed all this reading, no matter who proposed it.

And, in the end, how did I vote for the Hugos?

By my conscience.

-the Centaur