A Disturbing Trend Post-Hugo Slate, and Why “Merits” Is Not a Valid Thing to Say

As I posted yesterday, I didn’t quite share the outrage about certain nominations on this year’s Hugo slate, mostly because I’m too jaded and cynical about the Hugos already, and intensely problematic nominations have, to be honest, felt somewhat inevitable to me.

But other people have been doing a good job making me think, and making me wonder if we can and should be better as a genre.  People like Natalie Luhrs, and Rose Lemberg, and Kameron Hurley, and Kate Nepveu.  I appreciate their criticism, and I appreciate seeing outrage from those expressing it — it’s intelligent and well-placed and it makes me reconsider my own indifference, to question why I think so little of a genre that I love so much that I expect this sort of thing out of its popular awards process.  (And combine that with the fact that there is much to love on this awards slate — I find I don’t want the Hugos to be tarnished, because people I think should be recognized are getting recognized this year.)

Anyway, as I’ve been reading and thinking, I’m becoming very, very disturbed, because the trend I’m seeing online — even from people who usually have nuanced things to say on these subjects — is to dismiss what critics of the nominations are saying, to abuse them, or to brush off the fact that there is any problem and say, “Just judge the work on its merits!”

This angers me far more than the slate itself.

Why?  Because as cynical as I am, I still want to believe that the truly horrific people are outliers and are not going to be considered, in any manner, acceptable by those I respect.  Because there are no words for how vile it is to read, say, Natalie Luhrs’ comment section and see the toxic abuse thrown her way for daring to criticize the way a person who was thrown out of SFWA on his ear got on the ballot.  Because it infuriates me that people will rally to the dialogue about problems in the genre, and thoughtfully listen even if they disagree, except the Hugos are somehow sacrosanct.  No!  If you believe the Hugos are important — especially if you believe the Hugos are important — then be a party of the conversation to fix them.

And even if you disagree with the critics in this case, how can you possibly be okay with the kinds of things that are being said to them?

Also, don’t get me started on the, “Just judge it on its merits!” exhortation that is making the rounds.  The idea that it’s somehow the ethically proper decision to give my audience to a writer I despise — to give my time, my eyes, my thoughts — just because he got his name on the Hugo ballot is ludicrous to me.

Allow me to metaphor.

Let’s say you’re hiring for a very prestigious job.  There’s a guy who’s indisputably well-known for going around punching people in the face, including you.  Every time he sees you he punches you!  You can’t even hear his name without remembering his fist flying at you and thinking, Not again.

Somehow, other people at your company passed him through the application process to the final tier of the job you’re hiring for, along with four other people.  These five are the people you’re supposed to call in to interview.

You say to your (white, straight, male) colleague, “I think we should just cut this guy without seeing him.  He punches people in the face.”

Your colleague: “Well, yeah, I know.  But what if it turns out he’d be really good for this job?”

You: “But he punches people in the face.”

Your colleague: “Maybe he won’t in this context.”

You: “It doesn’t matter!  I don’t want to hire someone who goes around punching people in any context — people including me!”

Your colleague: “But he got through the application process, right?  We really should give him a fair shake.”

And then you sit there stymied, because you know, know, that there’s almost no chance, if you call this guy in for an interview, that he isn’t going to punch you in the face.  Your colleague won’t get punched — he’s not one of the people this guy targets.  He’ll have to watch you get punched, and he’ll cringe and agree that this isn’t the right guy for the job, but hey, now you can feel good about the fact that you called him in to make sure, right?

And you’ll be sitting there with blood streaming out of your nose thinking, I was already fucking sure, you asshole.

How can you tell someone who experiences microaggressions every day, all the time, everywhere, to purposely read something they know will sicken and anger and trigger them — to give audience to an author who has publicly derided people like them as less than human — to get themselves punched in the face — because “merits?”

Personally, I am perfectly comfortable not reading the entire awards slate before voting this year.

The 2014 Hugo Nominations

First, let me say that there are many names on this year’s slate that make me terribly excited.  I like it when people I read and respect get public recognition for their amazing work, and there are a lot of people I read and respect on this year’s ballot.  Yay!  Congratulations to them!


There are people who are upset over another aspect of this year’s Hugo nominations, namely, that certain people who are known in fandom for . . . let us say, shit-stirring . . . campaigned for their fans to get them on the ballot, and succeeded.

I can’t speak as to whether their works were nominated by their fans because their fans love their writing — entirely possible, as fans do tend to enjoy things written by the people they fan on — or whether their works were nominated because their fans love them.  Either way, I’m not sure it matters.

Because you see, though I sympathize with the outrage, I can’t share it in this case, because I think that an author’s ability to do this is a feature (or, depending on your point of view, a bug) of the Hugos themselves.  People with large fandoms do, often, notify their fans of their eligibility, and do, often, end up on the ballot.  However perceived-appropriately they frame the advertisement of their own work, authors mobilize their fanbases to vote for them, and the authors with large fanbases leverage those fanbases — de facto or overtly — come Hugo season.  In this age of blogging, sometimes people in these fanbases will vote for people they like best rather than people whose writing they like best.

This is in the nature of the Hugos.  They’re a popular award.

Just because someone is known in fandom for shit-stirring — and let’s be clear, such shit-stirring makes me very tired, when I’m aware of it, which I try not to be — and just because that person has also campaigned for a Hugo does not make the nomination (in my eyes, at least) substantively different from the nomination of any other popular online personality or property.  I just don’t think we can draw those lines.  We can judge the way someone campaigned as distasteful or inappropriate, sure.  But personally, I’m no more angry at what happened here than I am at what’s happened in any prior years when I felt a nomination, for whatever reason, was unjust to what was actually quality in the genre, which I feel pretty much every year (ha!).[1]

But there’s nothing I can do about that, because that’s what the Hugos are, for two reasons: (1) they’re a popular award, and (2) despite being a popular award, a very small number of people votes in them, relative to SFF as a whole.

Seriously, a devastatingly small percentage of SFF-dom votes.  I checked the numbers for last year’s Hugo categories, and it took less than 40 nominations to get a novelette on the ballot.  If I wrote a crap novelette and wanted it on the ballot, I’m pretty sure I could do it — I have forty people in my life who like me $40-worth, and I’m betting if I took to my real-life social media — the one filled with meatspace friends and family — that’s something I could make happen.  I wouldn’t even have to have the appearance of crossing any lines, I am guessing — it could be a reasonably tasteful campaign, one that never (horrors) asked anyone to nominate me without reading the novelette first.  And, you know, they would probably all mean to, and they would know it was good because I wrote it, or because they liked my other fiction, etcetera, etcetera, and I could pretend I didn’t know they were nominating me just because they like me.

I wouldn’t do something like this — it’s not particularly in the spirit of a writing award, and more importantly it’s anathema to my personality.[2]  But I’m not sure I see a substantive difference (an etiquette difference, sure, but not a substantive difference that would matter to the integrity of the process) between that and what people did this year, nor between either of those things and what other bloggers have done in previous years, successful or not.  They all seem like the same cuppa to me.[3]

It’s the nature of the Hugo Award, a nature that is very easy to skew because of the low number of voters.  I think the only reason slates have tended to reflect quality in the genre is that the people who bother to vote usually intersect with the people who are well-read in the genre — but there’s nothing in the structure of the award that would guarantee that, at all.

To be honest, I don’t think most of SFF-dom even knows they can vote for the Hugos.  The process is not particularly well-publicized.  I know I thought it was a juried award until I started following writer blogs (which most of my friends don’t), and if people are finding out about the Hugos from their favorite writer’s blog, that’s some selection bias right there already that’s inherent in the lack of notoriety the voting process has (selection bias toward writers who blog).  And there’s no critical mass of popularity about the Hugos as an award, the type that makes people excited about it because their friends are.  I have a staggering number of friends who are rabid SFF fans, and I don’t think any of them vote.  Yet they’re all voracious consumers of SFF literature: they’re the people the Hugo is supposed to represent.

Less than 2,000 people voted in the Hugos last year.  That’s nothing.  That’s two orders of magnitude below the number of people who spring for the expense and time to go to Comic-Con.  And yeah, there are lots of non-book things happening at Comic-Con, but there are also non-book things on the Hugo ballot.

The fact that people can move the Hugos through a cult of personality rather than their writing is a problem, given the awards’ prestige in the genre.  But I think it’s a problem with the robustness of the award rather than any particular non-rule-breaking campaign.  Personally, I would like to see the Hugos become something casual SFF fans talk about: friends comparing their nomination slates, people making bets and predictions, everyone gathering in a Hugo Party to watch the ceremony.

To that end I wonder if rather than pushing for less campaigning, the answer is more.  What if every publisher put a leaf in the back of SFF books informing readers how to vote for the Hugos, if they should choose to do so?  What if the process was made easier and more visible to attendees at other cons?  What about greater exposure for the lesser-read categories?  (I don’t know how that would be done.)  Does anyone have the power to build up the popularity around the Hugos so that no particular faction unknown to the casual fan can impact the vote?

Maybe, maybe not.  But the prestige of the Hugo Awards has always struck me as vastly out of step with the way they work in practice, and this is just another reminder, to me, of how much that disturbs me.

We’ll always get people who try to game the system — which people may think has happened here to some degree, or may not.  The fact that the most prestigious popular award in all of SFF-dom is so gameable, however, is a very sad thing to me.

So perhaps I do share the outrage after all, but for me, it’s a frustration that one of the top two most prestigious awards in science fiction and fantasy is so poorly supported as to allow even the appearance that a personal following rather than the quality of the writing can so affect the vote.  There will always be assholes who approach a campaign for a popular award distastefully, and to me, the best revenge would be to make the awards so powerful that those campaigns would wither in irrelevance if the author’s fiction does not measure up.

On that note, I’m going to go now and email a bunch of people to tell them they can get the whole Wheel of Time series for $40 if they vote in this year’s Hugos, and that by the way, there’s a ton of other awesome fiction on that list too, and wouldn’t they like to be part of SFF’s Academy going forward?

ETA: Here’s the place to sign up for membership.  If you don’t want to go to the con, a supporting membership that allows you to vote (and gets you the digital voter packet) is about $43.

  1. Seriously, I love Doctor Who, but that many nominations?  And the novel I thought should have won last year didn’t even make the slate.
  2. Not to mention that most of my RL friends and family don’t even know I write, so I’d have to tell them about the book first.
  3. Assuming there was not actual vote-buying going on, which I don’t think there was.  I just don’t think there is the need for it to get on the ballot, if one has a large enough following.

State of the Blog 2^8

Here we are at post #256!

Things that happened between SotB 27 and now, not necessarily in this order:

  • This blog started to gain quite a bit of traction — or at least, it feels like it has.
  • I stopped checking my blog stats.  Like, pretty much completely.
  • I spoke a lot about the the SFF controversies that went on during 2013 (and the beginning of ’14).
  • I released my first book!

Some of these things are related to each other, I am sure!  To analyze a bit more closely:

Against the advice of some who tell writers not to be opinionated, it’s always been important to me to speak out on this blog, particularly about issues that matter to me.  I’ve also always been determined to blog as myself, and to be stubbornly and opinionated-ly genuine — not to be a persona, a brand, or a salesperson.  I think it’s because of this that I’ve been able to build up such wonderful relationships and friends through blogging and Twitter.  (A lovely side effect of all of this was that I realized I truly love my online interactions for themselves, and that if I’d never published my book, I wouldn’t have stopped.  I value the online relationships I’ve built too highly!)

And you know what?  I’ve already been floored by the number of people — people I didn’t know — who have expressed interest in my book because they like my blog.  And also by the number of people who do know me — who got to know me through the Internet, through my blog or through Twitter or through Absolute Write (where I am also very opinionated) — who’ve been excited about my book, or reviewed it, or helped me promote it.

It was never something I expected, and still not something I expect — I mean, I just don’t think that way, the “what can this person do for me” way (something I’m very grateful for!).[1]  It would feel like I was bending my brain in half if I tried to think about people like that, particularly people I know and respect.  I’d so much rather just talk to people I like about things I like to talk about!  But from the response my book has gotten so far, it appears that by being, I don’t know — a real person and whatnot — that I have accidentally Done Social Media Right from a business perspective.

Which makes me want to say IN YOUR FACE to those people who preach about exactly how one must construct a Social Media Promotional Persona. ;)

And the reason I’m talking about it here is to encourage authors who are just starting to blog: Be yourself.  Talk to other people, and listen.  Interact.  Have opinions.  Engage with other people about their opinions.  Be thoughtful, and sincere, and passionate, and talk to people you like about things you like, and make friends you will have such a gangbusters time laughing with on Twitter that you won’t know or care whether they bought your book or not.  In other words, you don’t have to be a one-person Promotional Machine of Social Media Blitzing — and perhaps, speaking with my own humble experience as a Twitter user, it’s entirely possible that is exactly what you don’t want to be. ;)

Incidentally, as social media began to feel much more like a conversation and much less like essays being thrown into the wind, I stopped checking my stats.  I just . . . didn’t really care anymore?  The quality of my interaction became so much more important than the quantity that I just sort of stopped thinking about it.  Which has been kind of wonderful for my sanity, and also wonderful training for my book release, because I have so far been surprisingly successful in parlaying that attitude into not checking my Amazon numbers.  (How many books have I sold so far?  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve been working on Book 3!)

Since I suspect it will interest people, however, here are the top nine most-visited posts of all time (everything that ranks higher than my “About” page):

The SFWA ones are not a surprise, and the gun guide posts always get a fair amount of love.  I honestly didn’t know the one about actor backup plans was that popular — it must have gotten linked somewhere, but I have no idea when or where!  The story about my afternoon of being hopped up on a Sudafed/Synthroid combination has always seen a slow and steady stream of search engine hits.  I wrote it for exactly that purpose, as something people could find when they searched for it, but I’m still surprised to see it ranked that high; perhaps it got linked somewhere as well.

Now, elephant in the room: I kind of have to talk about my posts regarding SFWA, don’t I?  Several of them went viral at the time, and as you can see, half the top-posts-of-all-time are related to those issues.

Thing is, if we’re talking blog stats — as far as I can tell, those posts matter, and they also don’t.

The two posts that went viral didn’t give me an uptick in overall hits or subscribers.  My blog certainly got visibility from people linking to it, and eventually the length of the ongoing discussion gave me a certain amount of name recognition, but I don’t think those links, in isolation, matter terribly much if we’re aiming the discussion at the staying power of my blog.  Instead, I think what matters to my overall traction is that I write consistently about issues of representation, and I have since I started blogging.  I didn’t write about SFWA to sensationalize; I wrote about it because it fell in the intersection of two things I care about deeply, the SFF community and problematic institutional prejudice.  And I write about both of those things a lot, independent of each other, because I do care.

In other words: I do not think that one can from two viral posts a blog make. ;)  Having a post go viral was surreal — that was back when I was still checking my stats daily — and I was glad that particular post had impact, but as far as impact on the overall blog goes, I’m extremely skeptical a viral post is something that it matters for bloggers to strive for.

Now, in checking my stats page, the really interesting thing is that my subscribers number — which had stayed pretty static for a long time — seems to be climbing since my book release a week ago.  But you’ll have to wait for State of the Blog 29 to see how being a Real Live AuthorTM is affecting my status as a Strange Mad Blogger!

  1. Yes, I did start this blog because I wrote a book, but I was vaguely thinking in terms of general . . . visibility . . . or something, not starting out of the gate surrounded by wonderful people who really do want to see me succeed.  Having the latter instead of the former is a marvelous and humbling feeling!

Ten “Favorite” Books

I was talking to a friend today about making a list of our top 10 favorite books.

The decision is so impossible it almost feels meaningless.  I’ve read thousands of books in my lifetime.  Once I sat down to list how as many titles as I could remember reading, and I hit 500 without breaking a sweat — just of titles I could remember off the top of my head.  I have over 600 paper books just in my personal library.

And my favorite books have not always been the best books I’ve read, either.  And the ones I like to reread the most are not even always my favorites!  Sometimes I have sentimental attachments.  Sometimes a book pushes every button I have while still having problems I could write a thesis on.

So I thought, here’s an interesting exercise: try to think of the first 10 (fiction) books that might land in the “favorite” category.  The books that reached in and twisted my soul around.  The books that spoke to me so personally that I felt they were written just for me.  The books that I reread, over and over and over again, for no particular reason.  Write down the first ten of those that come to mind.

10 Books That Touched Me

  1. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman The one paperback in my library I took with me across the country.  I don’t know if it’s my favorite book, or even the one I’ve reread the most.  I just know that it’s like warm blankets and white rice and hot cocoa.  Comfort food.
  2. Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones I’m cheating a little by putting these in the same line item, but they’re in the same universe and remain connected in my mind.  Everything I love about fantasy is wrapped up in these perfectly-written books, and I’m a little embarrassed to say how much I related to Nick.
  3. Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler The first Octavia Butler I read and still my favorite.  Unbelievable how much some of the stories made me think.
  4. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury I don’t actually remember much of this book, to be honest.  What I do remember is almost crying at the beauty of the prose.  Multiple times.
  5. 1984, by George Orwell It’s the ideas behind Orwell’s dystopia that push this one onto the list.  1984 is the sort of book that simultaneously terrified me and engaged me.
  6. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare Okay, I’m definitely cheating by putting this all as one line item, especially as there are still some histories I haven’t read, but otherwise once I thought of Shakespeare he would’ve taken up the whole rest of the list.  I’ve read, studied, and performed so many of his plays, and they’ve spoken to me in so many ways.
  7. V, by A.C. Crispin I wrote about my relationship with V here.
  8. The Story Girl, by L.M. Montgomery I owned most of L.M. Montgomery’s books as a kid, and this was my favorite.  I can’t count the number of times I reread it.
  9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams Spaceships that hang in the sky the same way bricks don’t!  I’ve only encountered one other writer with Adams’ sheer mind-blowing creativity, and she isn’t published yet. ;)
  10. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle I used to reread this book every two years like clockwork.  I still remember explaining proudly to my second-grade teacher what the fourth and fifth dimensions were.  And of course there were all the sequels . . . (Many Waters has made me quite snooty about my Noah’s Ark knowledge in the context of the recent movie release.)


It’s an interesting mix.  Half male authors, half female authors.  Staggeringly skewed toward books I first read as a child (8), with only one book I discovered in college (Deep Secret) and two books I discovered post-college (The Merlin Conspiracy and Bloodchild).  Three fantasy, six science fiction, one contemporary (for its time), and Shakespeare.  (Oddly, most of the books I thought of but didn’t feel “favorite” enough were contemporary, like The Joy Luck Club and The Twinkie Squad — there’s something about speculative fiction that hits my kinks much harder, that makes me think much more.)  One media tie-in book (for a series I never saw).  Seven adult books, and four books that would probably be considered young adult.  Only one author of color on the list, which I think is indicative of the fact that I made little effort to diversify my reading when I was young, and most of these books are books I read young.  (Oddly, I can name a plethora of authors of color I did read as a kid — in particular, I know I read quite a few books by Asian-American and African-American authors — but most of those books were contemporary, which we’ve established does not speak to me quite as loudly for some reason.)

Ender’s Game would have been on here if I’d been able to reread it since I found out about Card’s homophobia.  It’s not that I hold it against the book; I just . . . don’t pick it up anymore.

How correct does this list feel, if I weren’t naming the first ten books that felt like favorites off the top of my head?  Well, about half of them feel like books I’d kick and scream at if something else pushed them off the list, so I’m going to go with about half right. ;)

What about you?  What are the first ten “favorite” books you can think of?

Conversation of the Day: In Which I Earn the Right to Tell People to Get Off My Lawn

My student: And then my mom had to drive my car home from the mechanic, and she was all nervous about it.

Me: Because it’s a strange car?

My student: I don’t know why!  I told her, “Mom, it’s easy!  You just make sure your foot is on the brake and push the button.  And then make sure it’s turned off when you get out, because people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning otherwise.”

Me: …button?

In Which I Appear On Other People’s Blogs

I did a “Five Things I Learned” post over at Chuck Wendig’s blog today. Come by and give it a read!

And then this made me want to hide under the blankets . . . Thank you, kk.

Zero Sum Game has been uploaded to retailers and is just waiting for the gears to turn and for the carrier pigeons to lift the bits through the tubes. I’m only saved from refreshing repeatedly as I watch the sand trickle by the fact that I’m working tonight, thank goodness.

It comes!

Fun with Numbers: 1066

I went to get a mailbox last week for my self-publishing venture, and the employee let me choose my own number.  Math nerd that I am, I stood there for a solid ten minutes looking at the bank of mailboxes and figuring out which number I would prefer.

1729 would’ve been my first four-digit choice, but they didn’t go up that high.  The obvious choices like 1024 were taken.  I started scrolling through this site, looking at what interesting mathematical qualities each of the open mailbox numbers had.

And then I spotted 1066.  Damn.  That was the one.

The Historical

When I told my friends I chose 1066, they immediately said, “Normandy?  Why?”  After rolling my eyes at having such smarty-pants friends, I explained that it wasn’t the Battle of Hastings per se that I was into, it was the Bayeux Tapestry.  Ever since I studied it in art history, something has tickled me about the Bayeux Tapestry — as a piece that has been so remarkably preserved, as a piece of craftsmanship so grand in scope, as a piece of such extensive narrative storytelling — and I just get a kick out of it.  I’ve never seen mention of anything else like it in the art world.

And I always associate 1066 with the Bayeux Tapestry.  So there was that.

The Numerical

From the “What’s Special About This Number?” list, the following happens to be true about 1066:

2\phi(n) = \phi(n+1)

Since I’ve done some work with the totient function before, and since it gets a shout out in Zero Sum Game when my main character is hallucinating (yes, she hallucinates math, what else would she hallucinate!), that seemed rather perfect.

The Historical / Mathematical / Personally Significant

There’s this game called 24.

I first learned it with cards.  You set out four cards, and you try to use each of them exactly once and end with a result of 24 (with the face cards being worth 11, 12, and 13).  So, an ace, a three, a five, and a jack could form (11 – 5)(1 + 3) = 24.  If you’re the first person to come up with a working combination, you win that round.

Some people claim the rules say you can only use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.[1]  I think it’s FAR more fun — and more challenging! — to allow any operation.

Anyway, I’m addicted to this game.  I play it solitaire-style with anything that has four numbers.  Like license plates when I’m stuck in traffic (CA plates have four numbers and three letters).  Or dates.  And 1066 is one of my favorite 24 combinations ever:

(6 - (6^0 + 1))! = 24


I liked that solution so much that I put it in a story I wrote when I was in high school.  In the story, the character couldn’t remember what happened in the year 1066 — only that it was “something important,” and that the combination of the digits to make 24 was a cool one.

So, there you have it.  1066 became my new mailbox number.

  1. I know some people claim this, because they’ve tried to disqualify my creative solutions!

Zero Sum Game Book Updates

Zero Sum Game is on Goodreads!  Thank you to the librarian who put it up; in my cluelessness I had not realized I could add it pre-publication.  Oops.

You might notice I’ve reorganized the website a bit, and now have a books section where you can see the blurb. After release, the vendor links will be posted there permanently as well.

I’m about a week out from publication (official release date is March 31, y’all, though I will probably upload a few days early to guard against delays).  Wheeeeee!

Ebook Formatting Woes: Remember Trying to Be Compatible With Netscape? Yeah, That.

My book is done and has been going out for review this week (if anyone wants an eARC, let me know!), which means I am finally through the formatting process.  And, let’s see — do I still have any hair left?

Not because it was all that bad, mind you.  On the whole, the formatting process was reasonably painless — I used Guido’s excellent guide, and I have good knowledge of HTML and CSS already, which made it much easier.  The reason it was so frustrating was that it ended up literally impossible to get perfect thanks to the differences between devices, and for a diehard perfectionist, this kills me.

I very quickly realized the best strategy was to format as simply as possible and make even the least bit of fanciness something that would degrade gracefully if it didn’t work.  But dear Lord, does anyone remember trying to design websites that would still be compatible with IE4 and Netscape Navigator?  I started designing in the late 90′s, when there was still a concern people would be using those godawful dinosaurs, and I remember wanting to put my head through a wall whenever there was that one thing that would break spectacularly in Netscape.  And even the latest IEs were only half standards compliant, so ninety percent of the time I would design a clean page that would open beautifully in Opera and Mozilla (yes, Mozilla — this was before Firefox, I’m old!) and then it would look like a Picasso in IE and I would have to write “if IE” workarounds for half the code because Microsoft couldn’t freakin’ design a browser that bothered to comply with the standards.

Coding for ebooks is almost worse, because as far as I’ve been able to find, there aren’t really workarounds or “if Sony . . .” clauses I can add if I want things to look a certain way.  It’s a good thing I’m down with simplicity anyway, and “degrading gracefully” became my mantra of the month.  But there were two things that had no good solution, and I am still incredibly bugged by them.

No Love for Paul Erdős

My book has a passing reference to the Hungarian mathematician Erdős, who has a double acute accent over the o in his name.  This has an HTML entity — ő — but it’s not a named one, and it broke for at least one of my formatting checkers.

What to do!  I appealed to Absolute Write, Twitter, and my RL friends.  Do I Anglicize his name?  (Ick!)  Do I use a common misspelling, such as the umlaut over the o?  (Also ick!)  Do I leave the character and accept that it will break for some people?  But — but — but my readers!

I ended up leaving the name spelled correctly — in my informal poll, about half the people thought I should Anglicize it (possibly with a note in an afterward) and about half the people said I should leave it, but nobody had terribly strong feelings and everyone agreed it was a hard choice.  What decided me was that if I had an ereader that didn’t work on the character, I’d still prefer the author spell it correctly, even if it broke for me.

But the fact remains that I have some readers that will see “Erd?s” in that paragraph.  And that freakin’ sucks.

Orphaned Em Dash: My Worst Nightmare

Amazon Kindle has a problem with orphaning em dashes that are at the end of a line.  In other words, if the line falls on the page in an unlucky way, “What do you mean, he’s —” would become

“What do you mean, he’s



(I don’t know enough to consider myself a typography geek, but maybe I would qualify as an armchair typography geek, and this makes me go into spasms.)

And there’s no solution!  The worst part is, HTML has a solution to this, a character you can put between the em dash and the word in all of those instances to make sure no break happens, but Kindle doesn’t recognize it.  And I sure as heck wasn’t going to put it in and risk having it pop up as a question mark on some devices.

Aaaaaand of course, in my book, I have one paragraph which, in the default font size on Kindle, orphans an em dash at the end of it.  Motherfucker.

(My friend laughed at me.  “Is this your worst nightmare?” she said.  “YES!” I cried.)

Now, I could alter the text of that paragraph, but that doesn’t solve the underlying problem — in other font sizes on other devices, this orphaning will still happen.  And I’m really stubborn about changing the text of a book to make the formatting work better.  That doesn’t seem right to me.

So in the Kindle default font size, there’s an orphaned em dash.  And I sit here, grinding my teeth, and can do nothing.

Kills me, folks.  Kills me.