January 29, 2015


Now through Saturday morning you'll get 40% off and Early Access to my upcoming DIY book Junkyard Jam Band: DIY Musical Instruments and Noisemakers. That means you'll *immediately* get PDFs of three projects from the beginning of the book, and more chapters as we finish proofing, layout, etc. Plus you'll be among the first to receive your print copy this spring.

Just add Junkyard Jam Band to your cart and use the coupon code BRIGHTANDEARLY to save 40%--which is a steeper discount than Amazon is ever gonna offer you. Everyone's a winner! (except Amazon--who, come to think of it, are hella beating the crap out of all of us, in the grand scheme, so EVERYONE'S A WINNER!!! [sorta])

January 23, 2015

Being "Mixed" Means Always Being In and Always Being Out

I'm not a huge fan of "Shit X People Say" and "Awkward Moments Only Y Folk Understand," but this video really nails the In-Group/Out-Group nuances of being culturally "mixed"[*], and thus considered an "Outsider" to both your internally and externally identified cultures, while often also being asked (or obliged) to serve as spokesperson for either/both of those cultures.

[*] e.g.., the American-born child of Korean immigrants, a person of mixed race/ethnicity, etc.

January 22, 2015

Annual Not-At-All-Obligatory #HumbleBrag Award-Eligibility Post #scifi

I had two novelettes published in 2014; you may have read them and enjoyed them--or you may be about to read them an enjoy them. If either is the case, and if you'd like to register that enjoyment on some sort of ballot, it's your lucky day!


  • "There Was No Sound of Thunder" (Asimov's Science Fiction, June 2014)
  • "The Traveling Salesman Solution" (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014)

    These are both eligible for the Nebula and Hugo Awards in the "novelette" category.


    Anyone who is/was a voting member at the 2014, 2015, or 2016 Worldcons can nominate works for the Hugo Award. Any Active, Lifetime Active, Associate, or Lifetime Associate member of the SFWA can nominate works for the Nebula Award.

    Not a member of anything? Not a problem! "There Was No Sound of Thunder" is also in the running for the 29th Annual Asimov's Readers' Award (FUN FACT: This story is a sequel to "The New Guys Always Work Overtime," which tied for best short story last year.)--*Yikes!* Voting for the Asimov's Readers' Award closes February 1, 2015! Vote NOW!


    Still haven't read one of those novelettes? Lost your summer issues of Asimov's and F&SF when your roof leaked? The magazines in question will likely hook you up with copies of my stories if you ask, but I'm also happy to do so myself; just email me and we'll sort it out. Thanks!

    Request a reader copy:

    pick a story:

    Continue reading "Annual Not-At-All-Obligatory #HumbleBrag Award-Eligibility Post #scifi" »

  • January 16, 2015

    When the Machine Knows You're a Jew

    Yesterday I hit Amazon.com to see how steeply they were discounting my book, and was met with this home page:

    Check out that row of suggested titles above; they're all Jewish children's books. This stopped my heart. Because I am indeed a Jew, and I do indeed have small children.

    Just for comparison's sake, I switched my browser to Incognito Mode and reloaded Amazon. Here's what I saw:

    Still got Megan Trainor and the GEICO gecko, but now my above-the-fold pitch is for a bunch of HD movies that were big blockbusters that I'd never, ever watch. I.e., pretty generic.

    Maybe this seems like no biggie to you. After all, algorithmically suggested purchases are a cornerstone of Amazon's business model. I respect your position. I know that I've got more than a little paranoia and clinical hypervigilance informing my thought process. So, just to break down why this greeting from Amazon was so disturbing:

    1. *All* the titles are Jewish kid's books. The algorithm seems *really* confident that these would interest me (and, shit, it's right: We own an earlier edition of one of these books, and read it often).
    2. It's unclear how Amazon would have reached this conclusion based solely on my interactions with Amazon: I've never ordered much in the way of explicit Judaica via Amazon, or had Jewish-themed items on my Wishlist or in my browsing history. I've ordered more tools and owl pellets from Amazon than explicitly Jew-themed items. This leaves two possibilities:
      1. Their conclusion is based solely on my order size and timing--because I do indeed tend to place my big holiday order earlier than most, since I'm buying for both Xanukah and Xmas. But, man, that seems pretty thin justification to dedicate a *major* portion of screen real-estate to Jewish children's books--items that would have basically *no* interest to huge swaths of the buying public.
      2. Amazon can make some wicked-awesome inductive leaps based on buying patterns, the kind of stuff that you'll never notice with the small sample sizes normal humans experience, but become glaringly obvious when you have Big Data to crunch. Like, maybe all sorts of people buy owl pellets and read Ben H. Winters ebooks, but only bona fide child-rearing Jews buy the second-cheapest owl pellet package that includes a bone chart *and* wait for those Ben H. Winters ebooks to dip below $2.99 each?
    3. Since the sub-points under #2 seem pretty far-fetched, we're left to assume that Amazon is doing some very heavy-weight, semantically deep data correlation. Yes, it's certainly "public knowledge" that I'm a Jew--not only does Google tell you so, but I've donated to Jewish charities, am active in my congregation, have worked for Jewish organizations, and have published essays and columns about being a Jew--but still, that's some pretty granular cross-correlation for a site that mostly makes money off me by offering good deals on horror and SF ebooks and being able to quickly deliver the Slinkies my children adore and destroy at regular intervals. Which is to say that I'm left fretting not only about HOW Amazon determines I'm a Jew, but also WHY they bother, and WHAT might happen if someone else suddenly realized "Hey, I bet you Amazon's data could cough up a pretty complete list of every Jew/homosexual/trans person/woman/Asian/whatever in the US! Wouldn't *that* be a handy list!"
      1. 'cause, you know, there's never ever ever been a situation where a suitably motivated group of people with a pretty complete list of all the X-TYPE PERSONS in a geographic region has set their sights on killing all of them.
    4. As the kosher-market raid coordinated with the Charlie Hebdo massacre demonstrates, sometimes any old Jew is a good enough target.
    5. So, that's me, that's my paranoia and hypervigilance, my over-reaction to a perfectly innocent commercial gambit. It's just the free hand of the market, nothing more, nothing less. No one is coming to stuff me in a boxcar; I'm just a nervous guy with my nervous, paranoid fantasies (based on my relatives' and co-religionists actual lived experience, and my own personal experience of anti-Semitic [micro]aggression and threats).

      On the way out, I guess I just want to point out that this is an excellent moment to crystalize what "privilege" really means when we talk about "White Privilege." As I've written in the past, 99.999% of the time I'm as White as any other pink person, and enjoy all those privileges. But when I see a thing like this, history indicates I'd be a supreme fool not to take a moment to meditate on the ramifications. No American Xtian or Athiest has to do that when Amazon greets them with a big fistful of Xmas items. Simply put: "Privilege" means the privilege of not having to invest cognitive cycles in wondering who might be coming to hurt you and your children. This is why, when the fan starts getting shit-hit with things like Charlie Hebdo and Ferguson and GamerGate you need to be a little patient with us hysterical Jews and Blacks and women and whatever. We get a little worked up because, now and again we're just completely worn out waiting for the other shoe to drop.

      Anyway, this isn't just a pity party for those of us who live in a protected class. This party is for you too, for you in the majority, you who sleep easy, because it's instructive of the Shape of Where We're At:

      There are no more secrets.

      Yeah, sure, you'll get your little bullshit secrets--that you pooped your pants a little last week, that you kissed someone you shouldn't have in 7th grade, that you've got some naked pictures, whatever. But it's not like I got paranoid yesterday; I've been paranoid for almost forty years. I've sorta made a point at keeping the word "Jew" from being associated with my name whenever I suspected it might go into structured data (in my medical records, for example). But still, Amazon found me, and they weren't even really, really looking. They don't have some sort of ideology that rewards flushing me out, they have no demagogue promising that their God Thing will lavish them with heavenly rewards for hurting me and mine, they have no cosmology that holds that I've systemically dicked them over with interest rates and business shenanigans. Amazon saw it fit to sort me out and label me "Jew" in some arcane column of some totally banal, cyclopean spreadsheet because it means an extra $5 to $10 in sales a year to them, if even. That was enough to make it worth it to Amazon. And they did it on their own, without ever violating my "rights." And if tomorrow Amazon switches business gears, and becomes the world's marketplaces for demographic lists of people instead of the world's marketplace for SF ebooks and horror anthologies and owl pellets, well I just better hope that no one running a bomb lab in Yemen or Boston or Paris decides to buy a mailing list.

      Here's the thing: I was fine with being "David Erik Nelson, Jew"--because that's what I indeed am, what I've been my entire life. And for most of my life, when being a Jew has caused me grief, it has done so in association with being David Erik Nelson, as a response to something I did or said. Sure, it may not have been fair--when an Xtian gripes about Xmas, it's because everyone is stressed out; when I do so, it's because I'm a fucking whining Jew who should just be glad America tolerates me--but at least it felt personal and specific and, in some way, intelligible. When the threats came, it was because someone specifically disliked something I wrote or said or embodied.

      But in Amazon's datacenter, I'm a row in a table. The index on that row is something like "CUSTOMER #2045674" and the cells include "kindle-owner" and "SF reader" and "owl pellet buyer" and "Jew" and my mailing address. Just another row, among millions--until that table gets resorted by the "Jew" column, and then I'm a box waiting to be ticked off by God-knows-who for God-knows-what-reason. Maybe they want to send me free Xanukah candles! Maybe they want to send me a bomb disguised as a printer cartridge! I guess I'll have to wait for the mail man to come and find out then! Oh brave new world that has such things in't!

      All of which is to say: The data got smart faster than I did.

    January 15, 2015

    Early Access! Get a sneak-peak at the #DIY projects in JUNKYARD JAM BAND TODAY!

    My publisher is offering early access to projects from JUNKYARD JAM BAND (release date: May 2015). These are completed, fully illustrated musical instrument/toy projects that have been revised, tested, copyedited, proofread, and gone into final layout. The first batch of Early Access Projects drops *today(!!!)* and includes the Slinkiphone, Plasti-Pickup, and Scratchbox.

    Anyone who preorders the JUNKYARD JAM BAND print edition or ebook is automatically enrolled in Early Access. You get projects as soon as they're fit for public consumption, and have the opportunity to hit us with feedback. Pre-orders also get a 30% discount (use the coupon code EARLYBIRD ) and when you buy the print edition you get the DRM-free ebook bundle, too (no up-charge or additional fee). In short, order now and you get a few projects *immediately,* will be the first to get a print copy, and will have the finalized ebooks the day they drop--all for *less* than the steeply-discounted Amazon list price (and you get all that in addition to supporting indie publishers, the Maker Movement, DIY in the schools, the Youth of Today, the Future of America, my family, dog, dependents, and creditors, blah, blah, blah). It's a win-win-win-win-win…winn

  • Pre-order JUNKYARD JAM BAND and get FREE Early Access!

  • January 12, 2015

    Help Me Pick a New Author Photo!

    FUN FACT: Humans like buying books that they have reason to believe were written by actual humans like themselves. (*Pfff* humans, amiright?) Subsequently, if you write a book, the publisher is going to ask for a picture of you to put on the back. Since this picture is going to be used in offset printing, it needs to be relatively high resolution. When No Starch Press asked me for a high-rez pic to use as my author photo back in 2010, I had exactly *two* pictures to choose from, both taken at the spur of the moment on the same day. The one I used--shown at the left--is the one where you *can't* see that I'm holding a gun[*]

    So, that was the entire process for choosing my author photo: Let's go with the one with no visible guns. We in the biz call that "understanding the market." Fortunately, in the intervening years, phone-based cameras have gotten much better and I've met more photographers. I now have a plethora of options for my new author photo--and you can help us choose one!

    Please take a few seconds to finish this quick one-question survey. Help a brother out! Thank you, and Happy 2015!!!


    Continue reading "Help Me Pick a New Author Photo!" »

    December 24, 2014

    (Re)Watch Jim Henson's "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas," Appreciate the Subtle Narrative Trajectory

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I have no idea if this TV special is actually enjoyable or not; it was made in 1977, and screened several years running when I was little, and so I watch it not as a fully-functional 21st Century human, but as a larval 1980s proto-being sitting rapt at the foot of the broadcast-only television set that largely raised him. I believe that, when I first saw Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas our television remote control was still literally a clicker, in that it actually clicked. This was certainly in the days before VCRs, consumer-grade satellite television, or the cable company reaching our heavily wooded Metro Detroit suburb. On re-viewing, I've discovered that this "special" (as we then called them, presumably because they were advertised as "special broadcasts" or "special programming" in the TV Guide) left deep traces in the folds of my forming brain--for example, I realized during this recent re-viewing that the cigar-box ukulele I've included in my upcoming DIY book is quite clearly modeled on the cigar-box banjo the muskrat plays in Emmet's band.

    Anyway, maybe this show is only truly enjoyable through the lens of nostalgia, but watching it with my 21st Century children the other night, I realized that not only is this a weirdly inside-out "Gift of the Magi" (in that Emmet and his mother hock *each other's* prized possessions in order to get together the money to enter the contest to win some money to give each other presents--it's like O'Henry if it had been rewritten by Quentin Tarantino), but also really interestingly nuanced storycraft: Once the contest starts and Emmet and his mother realize they're competing against *each other,* there's only one outcome that *isn't* devilishly tragic, and that outcome is inherently a downer. Nonetheless, Henson pulls it off in a masterfully balanced way, making for a humane, moral, and powerful piece of storytelling.

    But what *really* struck me was how much this story reminded me of O'Conner's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"--not in an obvious way, as with the echoes of "Gift of the Magi," but in its overall mood, its sense of rural down-in-the-holler isolation interfered with by a briefly glimmering, chaotic criminal element that comes careening into the scene from somewhere far out of their normal ken--hell, out of their goddamned orbit, like malignant meteorites--just to fuck shit up and then zoom away again.

    And, of course, the thing that those chaotic, quasi-criminal "River Bottom Boys" do that fucks things up is insert actual rock into the prevailing old-timey folkery. I remember, as a kid, identifying with Emmet--who was the obvious Good Guy™--but also being uncomfortably drawn to and fascinated by the River Bottom Nightmare Band's music, which wasn't *good* music in the way that Emmet's and his mother's was (those are, in fact, perfectly sturdy little folk/bluegrass tunes), but was *powerful* music. I know that other folks my age had a similar experience back then, and was surprised when my wife looked up from her work as we all watched this (on our discarded dead-pixelated flat-panel TV that's hooked to no cable and can receive no broadcasts, but instead gets its signal from a half-broken laptop computer--a rig that is functionally a million times better than the TV I watched for, easily, 6-hours a day as a child, and which my children rarely even think to ask about turning on) and commented absently that she really liked the Nightmare Band's song and schtick.

    The Nightmare Band is dressed as arena glam-rockers, but they really are, truly and at their core, punks. And, of course, that punk got into me and all the other little footie-pajama-clad proto-humans staring into their family TV sets back then, when "Winter Break" was still called "Christmas Break," and everyone was a little less guarded in their seasonal microaggression and microinvalidation . I doubt this was Henson's intent, but we rarely end up actually accomplishing what we set out to do--which I'm pretty sure is the motto *actually* written on Lady Liberty's tablet.

    For those who aren't students of Hebrew or the Torah, I'l just note now that EMET translates to "truth." Just sayin'

    OUTTAKE (via @dhelder):

    December 19, 2014

    Dear Internet: I Made You These Xmanukah Songs

    I'm a mixed Jew who's lived in the American Midwest for his entire life. I think these songs, more than anything else I've ever written, are honest about that experience.

  • Another Dark Xmastime (FUN FACT: I wrote this during my first year as a fundamentally unemployable stay-at-home dad; my son believes it is an accepted part of the general Xmas Music Canon.)

  • Dreidel Bells (FUN FACT: The beat here is an original GameBoy running an early German Nanoloop cartridge. Both voices are obviously me, but the filters for the robot voice badly overburdened my iBook, causing significant lag--which is why Mr. Roboto struggles so badly to hit his marks.)

  • DreidelDreidelDreidel (FUN FACT: The beat here is a vintage analog Boss DR-55 once owned by POE, crammed through a heavy-metal distortion stompbox.)

  • December 18, 2014

    Get Yer Last-Minute e-Stocking Stuffers and Virtual Dreidel Loot!

    Maybe time has slipped past you, or you just need to get a little something different for someone a little different. These ebooks will put you back less than a cup of fancy coffee, won't languish in the US mails, and don't need gift-wrapping:

    The New Guys Always Work Overtime: An award winning time-portal short first published in Asimov’s last year. Taylor works for Just-in-Time Fabrication and Fulfillment. Instead of outsourcing production, his company is 100% MADE IN AMERICA—and keeps prices down by bringing in cheap labor through a time portal. Training these quaint temp workers seems like a good job—until Taylor meets the latest batch of New Guys. (Also available DRM-free, which might suit you better for gift giving.)

    The Giant Squid presents A Tahitian Tale: Chronicles of the Giant Squid – Volume 1: The first in a series of autobiographical two-fisted tales narrated by Poor Mojo’s Giant Squid–a sorta sinister, sorta steampunk squid just trying to get along in a world not of his making (and also recover Tycho Brahe’s cursed golden nose for his Nazi masters).

    Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate (Clockie American Steampunk Book 1): In this celebrated steampunk novella, a lonely veterinarian recounts a crippled, alcoholic, Confederate infantryman’s attempts to teach decommissioned clockwork soldiers to make nice (*wink, wink*) with their Mormon neighbors. (Also available in a pick-what-you-pay DRM-free bundle.)

    Need something more substantial? Check out this DIY toy book or celebrated steampunk novella.

    December 17, 2014

    Wanna Review My Forthcoming book: JUNKYARD JAM BAND: DIY MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS AND NOISEMAKERS? Drop Me a Line! #diy #maker

    Are you a READER OF THINGS? Are you interested in the MAKER Movement and DIY? Do you like FREE BOOKS? I'm wrapping up my second DIY book for No Starch Press: Junkyard Jam Band: DIY Musical Instruments and Noisemakers. This new book is focused entirely on musical instruments and noise toys (both traditional and odd-as-hell--see a few early prototypes in the videos below). If you're interested in a review copy, hit me with your contact info and a link to your venue (or blog, Tumblr, Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon account, etc.)

    Wondering what my books are like? There are SNEAK PEEKS and FREE SAMPLES from my first book at the No Starch Press website and on Amazon.

    Please feel free to pass this on to others you know who might be interested! Thanks!


    About the Author

    David Erik Nelson is an award-winning science-fiction author and essayist. His fiction has appeared in Asimov's, The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded.

  • Find him online at www.davideriknelson.com
  • Follow him on Twitter: @SquiDaveo
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  • Contact: dave[AT]davideriknelson[DOT]com
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    Make cool things (water rockets, cardboard boomerangs, a $10 electric guitar, a sock squid, etc.) while learning cool skills (basic soldering, sewing, carpentry, woodburning, etc.), and do it all on the cheap (most projects are under $10, many supplies are *FREE*).
  • Reviews, samples, and full table of contents: Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred
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