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September 29, 2003

Pro Blogs and Editing

I'm so far behind the blog news cycle on this story that the New York Times managed to publish a story on this before I did, but I've been asked by one of my readers to comment on the "edited blog" fracas involving the Sacramento Bee and a blog run by one of its reporters. And you know how I am about reader service. I love you guys.

But first, a quick recap for those of you who aren't blog geeks: the Sacramento Bee newspaper has a politics reporter named Daniel Weintraub who in addition to the regular stuff also writes a blog for the Bee called California Insider. For the first part of the blog's life, it was unedited, but a week or so ago, the Bee's ombudsman announced that the material in the blog would now be edited before it was put up. The ombudsman's column seemed to imply the reason for the editing was that the unedited Weintraub had written something that upset some prominent Latinos, but later iterations of the explanation seemed to move the reason internally, suggesting that other Bee reporters were upset that the blog was unedited while all their stuff had to be passed through a human filter.

The blog world went nuts about this, proclaiming it was in a blog's nature to be unedited and unmediated, and generally proclaiming the Bee's move as unwanted editorial intrusion/a bad political move/various other stripes of the sky is falling. That's pretty much where it stands at the moment.

I suppose I might have an interesting perspective on this story, having been at one point or another in my life a newspaper man, an employee of one of the Bee newspapers, a professional blogger and (yes!) an ombudsman, although for the University of Chicago rather than for a newspaper. But to be honest I couldn't find it in myself to get all worked up about this story. I pretty much side with the Bee with this, although (of course) I'd like to note a few caveats.

First, let's state what should be the obvious: If Weintraub is writing a blog as a Sacramento Bee employee, on the Sacramento Bee Web site, located on a Sacramento Bee Web server, and using information collected in his duties as a Sacramento Bee reporter, that blog can reasonably assumed to be associated with the Bee and the newspaper is entirely within its rights and obligations to be concerned about the editorial content and to edit such content. Just because what Weintraub is writing in "blog" form doesn't give it some sort of special immunity from editorial insight or oversight, and I think suggestions that the "blog" form is inherently meant to be unedited are kind of stupid.

Blogs have been traditionally unedited because blogs are typically written by (in the best sense of the following words) blathering amateurs in their own homes or dorm rooms, who don't have access to editors, even if they wanted them, which they don't. However, there is a manifest difference between a blog written for amateur purposes and one written explicitly as an adjunct to one's professional life on one's employer's Web site. If I write something stupid on the Whatever, for example, the only person who gets blamed for my stupidity is me. But if Weintraub writes something stupid (or even worse, legally actionable) on his blog, the Bee is also on the hook, both in reputation and in legal fees.

From my point of view the question should not be "Why is Weintraub being edited now?" but "Why wasn't he being edited before?" If the Bee just sort of let him wander off and do his blog without oversight, then may I suggest it was being somewhat negligent in its duties. At the very least, Weintraub should have been made aware by his bosses that the unedited nature of his blog was strictly provisional and could be revoked at any time for any reason.

To go even more into it, I don't know that it's in the best interest of news organizations to let their reporters and staffers blog unedited. This is not the same as saying they should not let their reporters and staffers blog. If the kids wanna blog, why not let them? It solves one of the great editorial quandaries that everyone on staff wants to be a columnist, right? So instead of listening to Joe Schmoe, ace cub reporter, beg and wheedle and whine for 20 years about having a column space, you give him a blog space on the Web server and tell him to have a ball, so long as it doesn't mess with his real job of putting high school sports scores into agate type. Everyone's happy.

Also, and more to the point, such blogs could be a distinct advantage to the newspaper or news organization, since one of the real reasons you can't get the "kids these days" to read a friggin' paper is that all the newspapers have the personality of Pablum. A Web site full of actual personalities might encourage readers to feel allegiance to their favorite writers, a strategy straight from the golden age of newspapering (and the reason you have columnists in the first place). Blogs can work to the real advantage of the news organization.

But at the end of the day, a news organization is responsible for everything that goes onto its Web site, particularly from its reporters and staffers. The first newspaper lawyer who tries to suggest to a judge that her news organization had no idea what one of its reporters was saying on its own Web site because, after all, it was in a blog, is going to get laughed all the way to a very expensive settlement. If a news organization wants to trust its reporters and staffers not to say or do something stupid on their organization-provided blogs, well, I think that's nice. But if I were a newspaper editor, I don't know that I'd go that route.

Much of the hue and cry about Weintraub's editorial oversight is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how newspaper editing works. I suspect a number of the complainants believe that the editors are going to hover over his shoulder and challenge every single word and thought that comes out of Weintraub's fingers. But, you know, news editors usually don't have the time for that sort of crap, even if they have the inclination, which they usually don't. Editors aren't thought police.

Look, back at the Fresno Bee, I wrote a weekly column where I wrote some pretty wacky stuff, like calling the Congress of the United States a "hideous bloated mass of cane toads." I can think of only a couple of times where the editors actually came over and told me to re-write a paragraph, and in both cases they were perfectly reasonable requests. Most of the time, however, all they did was catch my inevitable spelling errors and edit for space (which is a consideration at papers).

Every newspaper editor I've worked for (as well as most of the magazine editors and online editors) assume a certain level of competence on the part of the writers. This is why Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass got away with as much as they did. This being the case, most of what writers write stands as is. Therefore, I would imagine that Weintraub being edited in his blog will mean very little to the final product. There may be a couple of times where someone says to him "is this the best way to put this?" and that would be that. Now, you may think that I'm being naive about the editorial process as it exists. But on the other hand, this belief is based on actual past experience (and current experience, since I write freelance on a weekly basis for the Dayton Daily News), so may I humbly suggest this naivety has some basis in personal experience.

As a pro blogger, would I want to be edited? Well, I wouldn't mind having someone else looking for my spelling errors, that's for sure.

Let's also go back to what's at the core of this fracas, which is that blogs are "supposed" to be unedited and unmediated. My question: Why? As far as my understanding of blogs go, they're not "supposed" to be anything -- the whole appeal of the blog form is its infinite flexibility. Blogs typically haven't been edited, for the reason noted above: It's primarily an amateur medium. But as more "pro" bloggers arrive, you're going to find more edited blogs. I suspect eventually those who edit blogs will need to learn to adapt to a blogger's capricious disregard for 9-to-5 updating (newspapers are actually well-suited for this, since a large percentage of the not-small ones do have a "night desk"), but otherwise I don't see why or how editing impacts the nature of a blog itself, as the nature of a blog is to be whatever those who create it want it to be.

Likewise, I think the other observation of bloggers on the subject of editing -- "the blog world edits its own" through the use of comments and entires on other blogs -- to be looking at the editing process ass-backwards. No offense, guys, but you're largely confusing kvetching with actual editing, and it's not the same thing. Also, given the amount y'all fisk edited newspaper columns, there's an interesting potential hypocrisy here, since clearly the point of a fisking is that the column in question has not been edited enough. Yes, fact-checking someone's ass is all very fun, but in the case of professional writers, it's on balance more efficient to have the editing done up front. An ounce of editorial prevention beats of a pound of haphazard blog-world cure.

If a professional writer wants to write a blog without being edited, the solution is simple -- don't write the blog for one's employer. The Web is rife with journalists with their own personal blogs, and good on them. Occasionally that journalist's employer will tell them to can the personal blog, which is something to which I am adamantly opposed. Journalists, like everyone else, are more than their jobs, and I'm firm in believing that your bosses can't tell you how to live your own life, particularly if it has nothing to do with your job. If, for example, Weintraub decided to do a personal gardening blog and the Bee told him to quit it, I think he'd be perfectly within his rights to tell them to stick it -- and bloggers would be perfectly right to raise a ruckus about that.

But it comes down to this. You write a blog on a news organization's site, you're writing it on their time, in their space, by their rules. You play by their rules, or you go somewhere else. It's pretty simple stuff.

Posted by john at 10:11 AM | TrackBack

September 24, 2003

Liars

If this isn't the most-linked article at Blogdex by this time tomorrow, I suspect I'll have to eat my hat: It's an alternate history of the Iraq conflict, culled from various proclamations of Bush administration members (I wish it had been annotated). From a purely rhetorical point of view it's monstrously unfair, but frankly it feels right on target regarding the Bushies' modus operandi, not simply about the war, but regarding everything.

The Bush administration is really the first presidential administration to wholeheartedly embrace the talk radio concept that truth should not get in the way of the larger picture of absolute victory, however that victory may be defined. Other presidential administrations have lied, of course. They all lie. And some lie really, really big -- look at Nixon. But at the very least Nixon and his cronies lied because the alternative was jail time. Members of the Bush administration appear to lie because it doesn't occur to them that they might simply tell the truth. Or to put it another way, they don't appear to affirmatively decide to lie; rather they appear to have to affirmatively decide not to lie.

The difference between those two states is both rhetorically and cognitively massive -- so massive that one reflexively shies away from considering that one's leaders actually process information in this way. We assume rhetorical good will in our leaders, even the ones we don't like. We accept that they are going to spin the truth -- that is, find a version of facts which best support their claims and goals -- but fundamentally we assume they are starting from a ground state of honesty.

If eventually we decide they are not coming from that ground state, our first assumption is that we are in error -- there is information we are lacking or that we are not processing information correctly or at the very least someone has been provided bad information, and they'll eventually rectify the mistake. We cut our leaders a tremendous amount of slack, because we want to believe them, we want to believe we are being told the truth and we want to believe those we entrust to lead us have enough respect for us as a body politic to default to truth (and don't think they don't know it).

But none of this works with the Bushies. They lie so consistently and so often about so many things that eventually you just have to accept the fact that telling the truth is not in their gameplan. Who knows why. Perhaps it is because this is the first president provided his position by the Supreme Court rather than definitively elected by the traditional process. Perhaps knowing that the majority of Americans intended the other guy to be in the White House has freed this administration of a sense of responsibility to all Americans, and allows it to pursue the interests of a distinct minority among us: The wealthy and the evangelically Christian. Perhaps the goal here is simply to grab as much as humanly possible and to hobble the system as completely as possible so that the next administration, one which actually feels obligated to the people and their long-term welfare, has to spend all its time on damage control rather than pursuing the goals which Americans have elected it to perform.

Such is the Bush administration's alienation from the truth that my first inclination on hearing anything from it regarding policy is that it's a lie unless specifically proven otherwise. This doesn't mean I believe that everything that Bush and his administration does is wrong -- I've consistently said that invading Iraq was the right thing to do, for example. I still believe it, and there are a few other points of policy in which my point of view lines up with the Bush administration (not many, but a few). But even on those goals with which I agree, I assume that the public reasons this administration gives for pursuing them, or the facts it provides to outline its case, are suspect or simply false. At this point, it doesn't occur to me to assume the Bush people are telling the truth.

This is the fundamental problem with this Bush administration. I dislike a number of its policies, some more intensely than others -- but I disliked a number of the policies of the senior Bush administration and still felt, on balance, that the administration members were tolerably honest. You can live with an administration whose goals you oppose if you believe you're working from the same baseline reality, because then at the very least you can believe it means well -- that at the end of the day it honestly believes it's making a better America for all of us.

This administration is not working from the same baseline reality as I am, or which I suspect most of us are. As a consequence, not only don't I think this administration believes what its doing is best for most Americans, I sincerely doubt it cares about most Americans at all. This isn't a Republican or Democrat thing, a Liberal or Conservative thing. It is a truth or lie thing. This administration doesn't care to default to the truth. Therefore I cannot believe it is telling the truth. Therefore I cannot trust its motives or its goals.

And I hate that. I don't mind that I disagree with my government. But I hate that I don't trust it. I hate the fact that whenever I see my president (because he is my president) I immediately brace myself for a lie. I hate that whenever I see a member of my president's administration open his or her mouth, I assume what comes out is prevarication. I hate that when I see this administration promote any program or action I happen to agree with, my first inclination is to wince and wonder how its going to be twisted to benefit of a select few and a select few goals, at the expense of the rest of us. I hate that for the first time in my adult life, I believe that my government looks at me -- and too many of my fellow citizens -- with something akin to contempt, and the intimation that our job is not to be partners in the stewardship of our country but to be ruled.

This is why Bush and his administration has got to go. Replace them with an administration with exactly the same policies if you must -- but give that administration a basic sense of accountability to the people of this country and a desire to start from, to begin with, the truth. Before anything else, that's what I want from my leaders. Without it, the rest of it simply doesn't matter.

Posted by john at 05:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 23, 2003

Small Note

Two, actually.

1. I have subscriptions to both Electronic Gaming Monthly and Smithsonian Magazine, which I suggest puts me well in the running for the hotly-contested Most Cultural Distance Between Two Magazine Subscriptions Award. Feel free to discuss this or challenge me with your own subscription quirks. I dare yas!

2. Speaking of EGM, the article in the November issue, in which they give 11-year olds Atari games to play, is an instant classic in Making You Feel Old. Money quote from 10-year-old Brian, on the Mattel Handheld Football game, which was the accessory of the fourth grade:

Brian: What's this supposed to be?
EGM: Football. It's one of the first great portable games.
Brian: I thought it was Run Away From the Dots.

Also, this line on Space Invaders: "You can get this game on a cell phone. Why would you want to pay for it in an arcade?"

Kids these days.

Posted by john at 12:19 PM | TrackBack

September 22, 2003

Radio, Radio

I did a radio interview for CBC Radio while I was at Torcon, and a snippet of it shows up in this radio program (Real player required). The segment I'm in starts at about the 17-minute mark, so you can fast-forward to that part if you like. I'm the guy making the comment about the football player. The segment also features Cory Doctorow and this year's Hugo winner Robert Sawyer.

Posted by john at 02:55 PM | TrackBack

Happy Birthday, Heather

My sister is 29 today! And yet she's my older sister. She's been 29 for a while. Anyway, wish her a happy birthday, why don't you.

Posted by john at 06:57 AM | TrackBack

Fast Reader

I read fast. I've never specifically clocked myself at a words-per-minute rate (there's something a little too needfully MENSA-like about doing crap like that), but it's fast enough that in college I was able to read every single book (but one) assigned in my class on Joseph Conrad the night before the final, a total of something like 2400 pages. Ironically, since the final was passage identification, I was able to to guess which passage was from the book I didn't read because I didn't recognize it at all. That's some funny stuff. It also suggests (as my ex-girlfriend was fond of telling me at the time) that I may have wasted significant portions of my college career. But never mind that now.

Reading quickly is obviously useful but it has its downside as well. This afternoon I purchased Neil Gaiman's new graphic collection The Sandman: Endless Nights (well, Gaiman's as well as a host of illustrators; I'm sure Gaiman himself would want me to acknowledge their input), and looked forward to spending a number of hours with it; about 45 minutes later I was done, and that included a break halfway through to do a couple of errands for my wife, who is sadly nursing a head cold. I thought the collection was really well done (I especially liked the one with Dream himself in it, although the one featuring Desire was very well done as well), but still, 45 minutes. I'll go back and re-read it, sure, but you know. There's only one first time. This is not Gaiman's fault; he gave good value for the time. It's mine.

Well, you say. Read slower. Yeah, but that doesn't solve the problem. And anyway I can't do it. I can't make myself read slower than I naturally read. That would be like trying to make yourself talk at half speed. Eventually you'd go insane because you'd be spending more time thinking about how fast you were talking than on what you were actually saying. I read as fast as I read; any faster and I miss stuff; any slower and I get distracted. In this respect I'm pretty much like anyone else.

It also doesn't help that I'm a book glutton, in that if I'm reading something I like I won't do anything else but read that book until I'm done, so the trick of reading just before you go to bed doesn't really work well with me -- well, that's not true. There are lots of books I read that I can put down. But that doesn't say much nice about the book, I'm afraid. The problem with a book that I can put down is that often I don't feel inclined to pick it back up. I have a couple of dozen unfinished books loitering around the house right now, in fact.

There's only been one book I've ever really been able to pace myself with: Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, and it was a special case: The writing in that book was so wonderful that I literally but the book down half-way through about ten times before I actually finished it, because the idea of finishing the book (and therefore having nothing else to read in it) was just too sad. I believe what finally got me to finish the book was the fact Helprin had written another book. But even in this case, it wasn't a matter of reading slower as deliberate self-deprivation.

So here's a thought for all you not-especially-fast readers. I've had several of you note to me over the years that you wish you could read faster and that you envy people who do. But you should note that sometimes I (and perhaps other fast readers) envy you. You get spend more time with the first time with wonderful things to read. It seems like a fair trade, at least when wonderful books are involved.

Posted by john at 12:21 AM | TrackBack

September 19, 2003

My Other Online Self

No less an august personage than my own wife has noted that in the By The Way... blog, I have a distinctly different voice than I do here on the Whatever. Her full realization of this came when I posted an entry about someone criticizing me and rather than laying into him as I might here in the Whatever (or at least criticize him for a distinct lack of interestingness in his slam), I turned it into a learning moment for the AOL Journalers. Krissy actually called me to complain. Damn it, she wanted blood on the floor! That's one of the reasons why I love her: she's always encouraging me to express myself.

But I can't. Scratch that -- actually, I probably could. AOL has been an absolute gem of a corporate master and has placed almost no restrictions on me in terms of how I conduct myself in the AOL Journal. And, I should note, I didn't ask for near-total editorial independence, they just sort of gave it to me. So they're very good eggs for that.

So it's more to the point that I won't. Not in the AOL Journal, anyway. One of the reasons I suspect AOL gives me such editorial independence is that they assume I'm going to act like a grown-up and actually be useful to the many members who have started AOL Journals in a rush of enthusiasm but then have no idea what they're going to do next. So in addition to straight-ahead blogging on a number of subjects, I do a fair share of explaining how to use the Journal tool, introducing the Journalers to basic blogging concepts and (this is the relevant thing here) conducting myself in a responsible way so that when they wander out in the big blog world, any bad habits they may have picked up won't be because of AOL not presenting a good role model in the form of me.

To put it another way, if I slam on an AOL Journaler and thousands of AOL Journalers see it and they're new to Journaling and blogging (and I'm being touted as this great Blog Expert), what's to stop them from thinking performing gratuitous blogslams aren't standard operating procedure? And, by extension, what's to stop anyone still itchin' to criticize AOL for being AOL to point at me and say -- "Look! He's being a dick! He's teaching them to be dicks! It's the September That Never Ends!"

So, essentially, a lot of it boils down to the fact I feel a sense of responsibility, and that sense of responsibility comes in from a number of different angles. I feel responsible to AOL to help it look like a good Internet citizen and to help it succeed in making AOL Journals a good place to write online. I feel responsible to AOL Journalers to be useful and to be a guide by example in terms of how to present one's self in a blog. I feel responsible to the larger Blogoverse in terms of making sure that AOL Journalers integrate well with the rest of you, through the example and information I provide. And of course, I feel a responsibility to myself to actually do a good job at all of that stuff. Somewhere along the way I developed this thing where it's important for me to do well at the things I've accepted responsibility for. It's kind of annoying, but what are you going to do. At least it helps me pay the mortgage.

I wouldn't say that the way I am at my AOL Journal is me when I'm restrained, since as I noted no one's restraining me but myself. I will say that it's me when I have a different set of priorities in effect. Here at the Whatever, as I've famously noted many, many times, it's all about me me me, and I don't feel obligated -- or indeed even interested -- in considering the needs, wants or requirements of anyone else. I pay $30 a month for all the Web space and bandwidth I need to run the hot and cold faucets of id at full, firehose-like blast. At By The Way, it's not all me, all the time. It's a lot of other things, too.

I don't think the difference is horribly dramatic -- I think I'm still recognizably myself -- but it's a different iteration of me than you'll get here. It's the way these things work.

Posted by john at 01:35 PM | TrackBack

September 18, 2003

Radio Interview

Wanna hear me on the radio? I'll be on tomorrow (that's Friday, 9/19) at 5:20pm (Eastern) on KFTK, St. Louis (97.1), on the Dave Glover show. I'll be talking about Book of the Dumb. Streaming audio is here.

If you miss it, I'll be doing several more interviews over the course of the next month, ahead of the release of the book in the last couple of weeks of October; we've got four more lined up already and quite a few more in the pipeline (and I did one earlier this week that I didn't tell any of you about. Sorry). I love the publicist for this book; she's really busting her hump. Of course, it helps that stupidity is a perfect subject for talk radio.

I should also note that it's available for pre-order on Amazon right now, and that, no, that's not the actual cover of the book on that page, and thank God for that.

Posted by john at 02:47 PM | TrackBack

September 17, 2003

Five Years

As of this week, I've been writing the Whatever for five years, which makes it the single longest writing "gig" I've ever had, if you can believe that. I began it in 1998 with the intent of keeping sharp for writing newspaper columns, because I'd been a newspaper columnist once and was hoping to be again at some point in the future. But along the way some interesting (and ironic) things have happened and I'm come to realize certain other things. I'd like to share those with you now.

First, there's some measure of irony that what the Whatever was actually keeping me sharp for, professionally speaking, was writing online. I am a professional blogger, a term which still sounds vaguely dissonant to me, as I'm sure "professional rock-and-roller" sounded to musicians doing that job in 1956. But there's no doubt that what I was doing here gave me the preparation for what I'm now doing for AOL. It is, to use a word I dislike, serendipitous.

One of the additional ironies of me being a pro blogger, as I am, is that over the course of the Whatever, it can be legitimately said that I've taken a hostile attitude regarding the professional potential and uses of writing online. In one of the earliest pieces I did on the subject, in February of 2000, I commented that "Writing an online journal is good practice for one thing: Writing an online journal... If you're writing an online journal explicitly for 'practice' to become a paid writer, there's a really good chance you're wasting your time."

I've also famously suggested that everyone who writes online needs to get a day job, although I also note "if you can make money putting content online, well, good God. Grab that cash with both hands and run to the bank as fast as your little legs will carry you. I'll be applauding you every step of the way." That was in 2001. In 2002, I was even more (in)famous for pointing out that the "huge" numbers of visitors bloggers like Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan were getting were not really all that big, for reasons technical and otherwise. That column that earned me a couple of enemies, although thankfully neither Glenn nor Andrew were among them. That year I also questioned whether blogging would ever be profitable for anyone, saying, "Blogging may never be profitable, but it is already useful, to some extent it is influential (not as much as bloggers like to think, but more than mainstream media gives it credit for), and in any event it is usually pretty fun."

Now it's September 2003 and the following has happened:

* There's a small but real group of paid bloggers, many of whom got their gigs (in whole or in part) as a result of their unpaid but popular blogs. This population includes one (Sullivan) who has managed to extract around $100K in pledges from readers.

* Instapundit recently logged its 25 millionth page view and 20 millionth visitor.

* Bloggers frequently show up in traditional media stories, tv shows and in magazines.

* And, of course, AOL has jumped on the blogging bandwagon, simultaneously recognizing and validating the mass-market appeal of blogs -- the affirmation the blogoverse was both dreading and hoping for.

What does this mean? From my end, two things.

1. I've been wrong about a lot of things.

2. I don't really mind, 'cause I'm getting paid.

Having said that, I would like to qualify the first of these conclusions. I was wrong in special cases. Speaking generally about blogging, however, I was (and am) still largely correct. Here's why:

* Paid bloggers are a vanishingly small percentage of the entire blogging population, and will almost certainly continue to be so. I would suspect at this point in time, there may be 100 to 200 people around the world who take home significant pay from blogging ("significant" being defined as "you can actually pay bills with it"). There are probably a million people who blog. Even if the number of paid bloggers expands tenfold in the next year (and why not?), that's still a 1000-to-1 ratio of amateur to paid.

* Nearly every paid blogger is now concurrently or was at some previous point a pro writer, and those who weren't primarily writers previously often had some training in formal writing (Glenn Reynolds, for example, is a law professor but also wrote a book in 1997). This is true even when they got their paid blogging gigs through the exposure of their own unpaid blogs.

Coincidence? No, because nearly all of the organizations that pay for blogging are media companies, who have certain baseline expectations of professionalism. There are indications that a generation of "pure" bloggers -- i.e., writers who were known only from blogging -- is breaking into the pro blogging ranks: Matthew Yglesias, as an example, has started a gig at Tapped (I don't know if he gets paid for that, but I sure hope he does). But given the nature of the pro media beast, I'd suspect that for the short term, pro bloggers will be nearly exclusively previously pro writers.

* With the exception of Andrew Sullivan, blogs as blogs still don't make money to speak of. Most of the pro blogs are adjuncts to larger media entities who don't view the blogs they have as revenue generators in themselves. These entities do blogging for more nebulous corporate strategy reasons, like "reader retention," because they're "cutting edge" and because their competitors are doing blogs, too. Outside of the occasional Café Press t-shirt or a tip jar, there's still no clear concept of a revenue stream for most bloggers, or even if there were, how most bloggers would be able to profit from their blog in a significant way.

* The number of "big" bloggers has expanded, and the diversity of the "big" bloggers is fabulous. But if you rented a convention hall for all the bloggers who get more than 5,000 unique visitors a day, you'd have a big, empty convention hall and a small clot of guys near the punch bowl, talking about the Dean campaign and shuffling their feet.

Fundamentally, blogging remains an amateur, small-scale endeavor -- and for the vast majority of those who do it, it will continue to be so for as long as they do it. The fact of pro bloggers does nothing to change this any more than the existence of pro baseball players changes the fact that your company softball team exists primarily to give the guys in marketing some much-needed exercise.

But the thing to remember about blogging is that by and large it should be an amateur production -- indeed, it needs to be and remain an amateur production. It is blogging's fundamentally amateur nature that makes it utterly unique in the history of human expression. There has been no other medium in the history of the world that has allowed a single human's thoughts to be (potentially) perceived by as many other human beings as blogging allows through the simplicity of its interface and its accessibility through the Internet (and, equally as important, through Web search engines and links from other blogs).

It is, to use another word I dislike, but which again is entirely appropriate, revolutionary. Up until blogging/journaling hit its stride, the potential for mass dissemination of ideas was limited to certain classes, most recently the professional classes of journalists, published authors, published musicians and the like. The exclusivity of dissemination no longer exists. To be clear, this doesn't mean that 100 million readers around the world are going to click through to read your thoughts about your cat. But they could -- the mere potential of this action is where this revolution has its genesis.

If the blogosphere becomes professionalized to a great extent, all we're doing is handing the freedoms this new informational architecture provides back to a smaller, restricted class, which is basically pissing away what makes it valuable in the first place. It shouldn't be done. Now, none of this is news to anyone who thinks about blogs; I won't even pretend that I'm sharing an original thought here. But it bears repeating from time to time, and now is one of those times.

Again, don't get me wrong: I'm glad I'm getting paid to blog; I'd like to keep doing it, and I think it'll be swell when more people get into my sort of position. But I'll tell you now that if I stop getting paid to blog (it could happen, since my contract with AOL is merely short-term), I'll just go back to writing online for no financial value, just like I'm doing right now.

So there you have it: Probably the greatest irony about the five years I've been writing the Whatever is that even though I began writing it to stay sharp for paid work, the most important thing I've gotten out of it is understanding the value of writing as an amateur.

Thank you all for reading me over the years. I plan to keep at it.

Posted by john at 12:45 AM | TrackBack

September 16, 2003

Old Man's War Release Date -- An Update

Okay, my fiction agent chatted with Tor and got the new release date for Old Man's War, which is

(drum roll)

November 2004.

Yes, 14 months from now and 23 months from when the book was initially acquired. That's publishing for you.

Again, let me stress I'm not in the slightest nonplussed about this; the book arrives when the book arrives, and anyway, I've already been paid, so I don't know what else to say about that.

But it does mean that I still won't have a SF book published when Noreascon rolls around next September. That's two Worldcons at which I would show up with nothing for, and I just can't have that. People would think me a fraud. So I'll definitely be attempting some short fiction between now and next September. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It also means that Android's Dream (or whatever I end up calling it) won't be out for at least another two years. Wild, considering I'm supposed to have it done by the end of this month. That's a lot of "hurry up and wait." But I'd much rather have it this way than all the time in the world to finish it and no publisher. I'm just silly that way.

I should note that as a contrast to the long gestation of Old Man's War, there's Book of the Dumb, for which I signed the contract in April, wrote largely between June and August, and which will be out next month. But I'll also note this is also somewhat quick for the publishing world. It's interesting to be an author experiencing both ends of the publishing time scale.

Posted by john at 09:20 PM | TrackBack

My Secret Vice

I like reading online personals.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. My marriage is fine, people. Better than fine, even. You don't purchase a new automobile (a minivan, no less) with a spouse if you're looking to trade them in. If I had purchased some sexy expensive two-seater convertible despite the facts of child, large dog and a wife who likes to actually have some place to put purchases from the store, that might have been a subliminal signal something was amiss. But, again let me emphasize: minivan. Come on.

"Way to cover your tracks there, John."

Thanks. I think so, too. Let's move on.

What I like about the online personal is that it's inherently personal writing that is also inherently advertising -- people are looking for other people and they're largely looking for other people that in the best of all possible worlds they'll spend large chunks of the remainder of their life with. It's performance and yet it has to be performance rooted in reality (let's assume most people are not pathologically insecure and are at least attempting to make a fair representation of themselves). So the question: What do you present? How much is too much? How much is not enough? How to people manage this Powerpoint presentation of the soul?

I think a lot of people don't, to tell you the truth. And the reason is simple: It involves writing -- and it involves writing for effect (the effect being: I want to know this person). And while most people can string together a sentence if their life depended on it, not everyone can be relied upon to make that sentence sing, i.e., grab someone's attention. This is something of a shame, because I'd be willing to bet at least half the people out there are more interesting than their profiles; as a writer I look at some of these profiles and kind of see an interesting person trying to break out of the mangled syntax and inarticulateness (to use a not-quite-on-point word) of their profiles.

I think online personal companies are aware of the fundamental communication issues of their clients, which is why they provide them with a base of stock questions which don't require a great deal of cleverness to answer, merely the ability to list favorite places, music or whatever. Even so, it's hard to get over blandness. Unless (of course) one's picture is very attractive -- it's an extension of "pretty people don't have to try as hard" into the online world.

It's not terribly surprising to me, therefore, that the most interesting/effective profiles often come from people are professionally creative in some way because (duh) part of their job is expressing themselves to other. By way of an example, allow me to present two profiles I found on Fark Personals, of people who live reasonably near to me: sweetlatinmtf and top_of_the_fold.

Both of these lovely ladies are writers, and both use their personal comments in really effective ways. Both are humorous, and use that to express opinions and personality quirks ("Excess, slavish devotion to any one religion creeps me out worse than Marie Osmond's new facelift," "I'm goofy and catty and I have a penchant for run-on sentences that don't really make much sense when you stop to harvest the bumblebees, Admiral.") . In other words, they know how to provide information about themselves in a way so that you don't feel like you're (merely) being forcefed a laundry list of personal trivia. You don't have to be a writer to pull this off (This profile is not from a writer, yet manages the same goals), but it clearly doesn't hurt.

It doesn't mean that any of these women is actually as interesting as they come across in their profiles, any more than the poor illiterate unfortunates dutifully spitting out their top five bands are as uninteresting as they come across; indeed, since creative people are often laden with fabulous and exciting neuroses, they're really not for everyone (and vice-versa, of course). But at the very least, you have the strong suspicion that your date with these people could be a lot of fun. And that's the short-term goal of a personal, isn't it.

I'm always tempted to post a personal myself -- not to get a date (see the paragraph above on marriage, solidity of) but to see if I could attract interest. It's very much part and parcel with the urge I have to apply for jobs which I have absolutely no intention of taking just to see if I could make it past the interview and get an offer. I wouldn't do either, because it's just not cool to waste people's time like that (and in the case of personals, to string people along), but I wonder about it from time to time. I generally sublimate the urge by editing the online personals of friends. So if you ever need a few tips on your online personals, just let me know. Clearly I think about them. That's why they're My Secret Vice.

(BTW -- if you go and read those profiles and come back to ask me if I missed a certain interesting aspect about one of the ladies I linked to -- nope. I saw it.)

Posted by john at 04:14 PM | TrackBack

September 15, 2003

The New Car

Here it is. It is a 2003 Honda Odyssey EX. The color is called "Sandstone Metallic," which is Honda's way of trying to avoid the word "beige," and sure, if it makes them happy, fine, whatever. However, I know it is beige and will thus refer to it that way. There were other minivans that we looked at, and we could have picked up a Windstar or a Venture for somewhat less. But the Odyssey is generally regarded as the best minivan out there, and being a Honda, it fits well with our stated vehicular philosophy of "drive it for decades." And we did get a good deal, what with it being the end of the model year and whatnot. So we're happy with it. Actually, I'm happy with it. Krissy is, like, over the moon with it. She lobbied hard for the minivan, which is why we now have one instead of an Element or a Prius, in case you were wondering.
After I went and picked up the minivan this morning I drove over to her place of work and presented her with a soccer ball and said "Congratulations! You're a soccer mom."

With the purchase of a minivan, of course, comes the admission that our Days of Coolness are now officially behind us. We face this fact with nary a complaint; indeed, we have applied for the personalized plate "NOTCOOL" for our new mode of family transportation. Because, really, why fight it. Get Shorty notwithstanding, there is nothing cool about minivans, nor will there ever be. Minivans are relentlessly practical vehicles, and practical is the bitter enemy of cool. I suppose one could gamely try to advance the theory that practical is the new cool, but that is as likely to be successful as suggesting receding harlines are the new cool, or that adult obesity is the new cool. You can't change the goalposts of cool just because you've been shoved off the field.

Anyway, I'm okay with no longer being cool because, honestly, I never was cool. No, no, I can admit it now. Let's go to the record, here. Elementary school: Went to school with a teddy bear through the sixth grade (yes, really). Junior High: Dungeons and Dragons. Freshman year of high school: Five foot one, 80 pounds. Senior year of high school: Took dance instead of sports. College: Actually, I was moderately cool in college. BUT I attended the University of Chicago, so this is a case of the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. Today: I live in the country and write science fiction novels. Really, I don't see how much clearer I need to make this. Just. Not. Cool.

Now, I recognize cool when I see it, which is useful when one is a film or music critic. Just today I was driving around -- in my spankin' brand-new minivan -- listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and marveling at just how cool Karen O sounds blasting out of the speakers. But it does not follow that because I recognize cool, that I am cool thereby. Possibly the fact I'm blasting YYY in a minivan means I am the coolest minivan driver in Ohio. But then we're back to the whole "one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind" thing again, aren't we.

Krissy, on the other hand, was legitimately cool (it comes with the territory when one is in fact gob-smackingly gorgeous) and ironically enough, dead set against minivans when we were younger, to the point of demanding that if she ever became a person who wanted a minivan, that she should be taken out and shot. I have of course not done that; if I did so I'd never be able to find anything in the house. Also, and more to the point, Krissy's concerns about coolness have taken a backseat to more practical issues of what she actually needs in life, and at this point in life, what she needs is something like a minivan.

Krissy was admirably angst-free about this realization; for her it was one of those "that was then and this is now" sort of things, which is why I was able to give her the soccer ball without getting the high holy crap kicked out of me. It's also one of the reasons why, formally "cool" or not, my wife totally rocks.

Last note: Power sliding doors. You don't realize how awesome they are until you have them. That's all I'm going to say.

UPDATE: We've been informed that the plate "NOTCOOL" is indeed available for us to get. You can color me four different shades of Not Surprised.

Posted by john at 03:28 PM | TrackBack

Cars

We're buying a new car today. No, I won't tell you what it is. You'll just have to wait. However, one word: Capacious.

I'm off to handle the actual purchasing of the car, since I'm the bum in the family and Krissy has to go off to work. However, as promised, she was the one who haggled the price with the dealer and informed them that if they so much as deviated a dollar from the price agreed over the weekend, I would get up and walk away. Which makes today's session easy for me, as I have my instructions well in hand.

I'll have more to say about the purchase after it's completed, so stay tuned.

Posted by john at 07:37 AM | TrackBack

September 11, 2003

9/11/03

I write about it on my AOL Journal.

That's all I have for you today.

Posted by john at 06:42 PM | TrackBack

September 08, 2003

A Coke Out of Nostrils Experience

"Romeo and Juliet is a Goddamn timeless template. I saw it set in Ireland with an all female cast and it still worked, one family was all lesbians and one was all dinosaurs. You just can't fuck it up. You dab your eyes at the end and wonder what is so wrong about the love of a lesbian for a dinosaur."

Every once in a while someone tells me my writing reminds them of Tycho's from Penny Arcade. And you know what? I take it for the huge compliment that it's intended to be. The only reason I can think of that the dude hasn't written a novel yet has to do with attention deficit disorder. Too many years playing video games or something.

I'll tell you what. The guy writes a novel, I am so there for the first copy.

Posted by john at 11:06 PM | TrackBack

Expungable

I just expunged a comment on the previous post where someone posted an advertisement for themselves which was totally irrelevant to the post in question, and then about a week ago I expunged a comment that was nothing more than hyperlinks to porn sites (made somewhat less effective because I've turned off html in comments), so this is a not-so-gentle reminder to everyone:

Comment threads are for comments at least tangentially related to the original posting.

If the comment doesn't have anything to do with the post, I'll yank it. I say so in my Comment Thread Rules, so I don't feel bad about doing it. And if you keep at it, I'll ban you from posting, because clearly you can't learn and therefore must be treated like a dumb animal.

I rather regret to say I suspect that comment threads are the next frontier for spam, and it'll be another example of assholes ruining a good thing for the rest of us. All the more reason for all spammers to be dismembered, painfully, and spitted upon pikes as a warning to other spammers. Nothing like crows feasting on the rotting flesh of a penis-enhancement pill salesman to make an impression. But short of that, I'll police my comment threads rigorously.

Posted by john at 07:45 AM | TrackBack

September 07, 2003

The Death of a Car

My 1989 Ford Escort Pony (i.e., the low-end variation of the low-end model of Ford's line-up) has 150,150 miles on it and has chosen this auspicious mileage number to pretty much die upon. Its death has been anticipated for weeks if not months, but today was the day it signaled that the end is near, primarily by stalling out as I started the engine, stalling out as I backed out of the garage, stalling out as I reached the end of the driveway and then stalling out at the end of the road I live on. It was at this time I realized that actually trying to drive the poor thing any further would be cruel, so I gently turned it back around and put it back into the garage, where it stalled the minute I put on the brake. I don't imagine I'll try to drive it again any appreciable distance, "appreciable" being defined as "the distance down my driveway or greater."

I want it to be known here and now that I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this car. I've had the car now for twelve years, and in those twelve years it has served me remarkably well. I got the car in 1991, actually in this very same week in September, when I came to California to start my job at the Fresno Bee newspaper. I had no car, and I needed one; the only money I had was a few thousand dollars I had as an inheritance from my grandfather. The Escort, with 28,000 miles on it, was $4,000. I drove it around the block to make sure it ran and then bought it. The purchase was so sudden that the salesman was actually unprepared; I think he expected to try to ease me into a more stylish and expensive car model. Unfortunately for him, I'm one of those very few guys who honestly doesn't give a crap about having a really bitchin' car; I want a car to run and cause me no problems and get me from point A to point B. That's all I want from a car.

And that's all the Escort gave me. In the course of a dozen years, it broke down on me exactly twice -- both times because a timing belt snapped. Each time, the repair cost was minimal and I was back on the road in a couple of hours. I did minimal maintenance on the car, and I mean minimal -- I do believe there were entire years where I didn't change the oil -- but the car never stopped running.

Indeed, it was something of a profit center at times: For the first few years I had the car, I would use it to zoom up to San Francisco or Sacramento to see movies (per my job with the Bee) and zoom back in the same night. The Bee paid me 26 cents a mile every time I used my own car for company business, so that was $100 every trip. Two trips a month, and I made my car payment. Considering what the Bee was paying me at the time (read: diddly), that was not insignificant. During this time the car has seen various indignities, ranging from a damaged passenger door, when someone gouged out the lock for mysterious reasons (considering there was a laptop in the car at the time that was still there after the door damage), to the day my sister borrowed the car and returned it minus three hubcaps and no good explanation for their disappearance.

In the last couple of years, our use of the car has slowed tremendously. We bought another car six years ago which is the "primary" car for the family, and I work at home and have very little need to get out of the house, so its been used comparatively little except for this last summer, when it would make the round trip to Athena's day care and back (round trip: 29 miles almost exactly). This light use probably prolonged its life by that very same number of years. Recently I looked down at the odometer and noted it was crawling up on 150,000 miles; I figured if it made it to that figure, I couldn't rightly complain if the car up and died. Well, it made it, just barely. Fair is fair.

Friends who have seen me drive up in my Escort who also have a vague inkling of my annual income have asked me why the hell I continued to drive around in such a piece of crap car when I could clearly afford a better car. My answer was always the same: It runs. I'm a firm believer of the idea that any time you buy something, you buy the best you can afford to buy, and then, having bought the item, you use it until it dies on you. You use that item down to its very bones, and then you suck out the marrow and then and only then should you go out and replace it. It's an extremely practical outlook for someone such as myself whose income fluctuates wildly from month to month, since it keeps down one's debt load (we have no debt at the moment except for our mortgages) and it also keeps you focused on the idea -- occasionally glossed over in our consumer society -- the the point of owning things is to use them rather than to have them. I used that Escort. I used it right into the ground.

The question now becomes what car do I buy to replace it. I am still very practically-oriented about cars; I admire a nice sports car but I can't imagine ever actually wanting one, and Krissy, bless her heart, gets the hives at the idea of spending more than $20K on an automobile of any sort (she drives around a Suzuki Sidekick we bought six years ago for $13,000 and she got a little twitchy about the price even then). A while ago I had talked about the idea of getting a Honda Element, which is both practical for my life (wife, kid, large dog) and sort of cool-looking. But recently I've also been thinking about the 2004 Toyota Prius, not because I'm a crunchy environmentalist sort of guy (I am an environmentalist when it's convenient and slightly guilty when it's not), but because the things very nearly gets 60 miles a gallon, which will save me hundreds of dollars a year on costs.

The early Priuses (Prii?) were dinky little things, but the 2004 model is larger, has more horsepower and still costs in the $20K range. Right now it's the top contender -- if I can actually find one in Ohio. We'll have to see. And of course, it's a fine time to be looking at used cars, too -- new cars are selling for so low that used cars have to be driven even cheaper to move off the car lots.

Whatever we buy, I'll be letting Krissy handle the haggling -- in one of those nice stereotypical role reversals, she's extremely tight with the pennies when it comes to cars and woe be unto the car salesman who tries to slip a hidden charge into the negotiations. Back when we got the Sidekick, the finance guy tried to slide in an extra $800 charge into the financing, and Krissy sniffed it out, fixed the guy with a gaze that would have frozen lava, and pretty much told him that if the charge wasn't excised right that second, we'd walk. The guy actually cringed. My wife rocks.

Dunno what we'll do with the Escort. Kelley Blue Book tells me that the trade-in value for my car is $170, which is kind of mind-boggling; a PlayStation has more value than my automobile. You can't say I didn't get my money's worth out of it. It was a good car. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

Posted by john at 08:47 PM | TrackBack

September 05, 2003

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I'm making a fairly substantial change at IndieCrit. If you're at all interested, swing on by.

Posted by john at 01:59 PM | TrackBack

September 04, 2003

Old Man's War Stuff

A couple of things I learned about Old Man's War while I was at Torcon:

1. Its release has been rescheduled for sometime in the second half of 2004, once again for marketing purposes related to the Tor line in general. I am almost entirely unconcerned. It's been sold, I've gotten paid, and I trust Tor knows what it's doing regarding marketing. I'm sure it makes my fiction agent twitchy, since the longer I'm unpublished, the longer he has to pitch my work as being from an unpublished fiction writer, but that's one of the reasons I have an agent: To be twitchy about these sorts of things while I bang away at work. He's a good agent, I'm glad I have him.

My only real regret is that there's a chance that OMW won't be on the shelves by the time of NorEasCon next year, should I decide to go. Not sure if people will buy my "Oh, the book's not out yet" line two years running. I'm giving some serious thought to writing some short fiction to give myself a thin veneer of legitimacy (assuming, of course, that anyone will want to buy any short fiction I might write). But if that's my largest worry, I'm in good shape.

2. I discovered that the cover art for Old Man's War is being done by Donato Giancola. When Tor's art director told me that, I provided her with a politely blank expression, since, alas, I am not up on cover artists' names. But later I was able to head over to his Web site and discovered that he's done several book covers which I have really enjoyed (like this and this and this), and learned during the course of the con that he's indeed very highly regarded among authors and illustrators. So I'm looking forward to seeing his take on the story.

And no, I didn't offer him any suggestions on what I think should be on the cover. Aside from the fact that when I've thought about it I've had no idea what I'd put on the cover, I also figure the guy knows his business. It's that whole "assumption of competence" thing I have going. Anyway, I like surprises. I can't wait to see what he's come up with.

Posted by john at 12:00 PM | TrackBack

September 02, 2003

All About Torcon

So, Torcon.

To begin, I almost didn't get there. Stupid, stupid me, I forgot that Canada was in fact a foreign country, so when I showed up at the airport without a birth certificate and/or a passport, they wouldn't let me on the plane. The good news was that Continental was so kind as to credit me for the cost of the ticket for transport at some point in the near future. The bad news is that I needed to be in Toronto from Ohio by 3pm in the afternoon (I was on a panel), and it was already closing in on 7am.

I raced home and went onto Mapquest, at which point I discovered Toronto was a mere 425 miles away. Suddenly I was breathing easier. Anyone from California knows that 425 miles is right around the same distance as San Francisco from Los Angeles, and if you're from California and can't drive that distance in six hours or less, I do believe they actually take your driver's license away in sheer disgust. So I hopped into the car, averaged about 80 miles an hour in the US and 130km in Canada, and even factoring Toronto weekday afternoon traffic, made it into the hotel and thence to the convention center with about an hour to spare. Had I known Toronto was only 425 miles away to begin with, I would have driven on purpose and saved myself a lot of pain.

Toronto is a lovely city, at least the half a mile of it that I saw. I am told that most people who come to World Science Fiction Conventions (as Torcon was) don't really get out much beyond the primary hotel (where all the parties are held) and the convention centers (where panels, readings and big events are held), and that certainly seemed to be the case here. There were 4,000 people almost continually engaged in the process of walking back and forth between the Royal York hotel and the Convention Centre, and I have to think that every business along that path did gangbuster business while the business right off it probably didn't see any action at all. Certainly I didn't deviate from the path. Be that as it may, every Toronto native I met (Torontite? Torontonians?) was uniformly pleasant; even the occasional pan-handler was well-spoken.

Torcon was sort of bifurcated into two spheres: Fans and Pros. Fans are just that -- primarily enthusiasts of either science fiction/fantasy or the various "fandom" activities that go on at a Con (these include masquerades, filk singing ("filk" being folk music on SF/F themes), and various fan-related parties), while the pros include the writers (of course) but also editors, publishers, booksellers, agents and publishing house staff members. There is substantial interplay between the spheres -- SF/F fandom folk jump the fence and become pros with some regularity, and of course writers and other pros are all about the fan service (the pro who sets himself or herself above fandom is asking to get beat). But at the same time, I definitely got the feeling of two parallel conventions going on at the same time.

I didn't have too much interaction with the fandom side of it, primarily because while I'm technically a "pro," my book isn't out and may not be out for more than a year. My name has a slight bit of currency because of the Whatever and (more recently) the stuff I'm doing for AOL, and there is SF/F Geek and Web Geek overlap. But by and large no one in fandom has the slightest idea who I am. I went to a number of parties and chatted with a reasonable number of fans and passed out my specially-made Torcon cards, which listed my books and also my convention schedule. By and large, though, I was an invisible man to the fans.

I spent most of my time hanging out with the people on the pro side of things. This was a great deal of fun for a number of reasons. One, despite having sold an SF book and being a great reader of SF, and also not a novice to book publishing, I nevertheless know fairly little about the dynamics of SF/F publishing and bookselling, so this was sort of a "diving into the deep end" experience for me, getting to know more about the minutiae of the processes involved. Of course, I learned about them primarily at parties, so it's drunken information. But I do believe that's the best sort of information there is.

Also, and primarily, hanging with the pros allowed me to meet a number of people whose work I have admired for years and also to hang out with a number of kind folks who didn't seem to mind overly that I was butting into their well-established social groups, as well as meet other new(erish) authors with whom to bond.

People from all these groups included (deep breath): Cory Doctorow (with whom I am pictured above), Nick Sagan, Charlie Stross, Scott Westerfield, Justine Larbalestier, Kelly Link, Irene Gallo, China Mieville, Allen Steele, Jim Kelly, Melanie Miller Fletcher, Walter Jon Williams, Harry Harrison, Robert Silverberg, Mary Anne Mohanraj and Jed Hartman, Paul Levinson, Lesley Livingston, Lucienne Diver, Geoffrey Landis, Jerry Weist, Allan Beatts, Jude Feldman, and of course Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I spent most of my time hanging out with Nick and his lovely wife Clinnette, both of whom made me feel like I knew both of them for years and years, or glomming on to Cory and/or Irene and whomever they were with (a bold and closely-connected group) down at the Royal York bar.

In addition to being a spectator and partier, I also participated in two panels and gave a reading. The panels I thought were okay, but it was the reading that I was the most juiced up/nervous about. Also, as I have mentioned previously, as I don't have a book out and none of the fans know who I am, I was also wondering who if anyone would actually show up. Thus I was relieved/gratified when six people actually attended: Nick, Cory, Justine and Scott, Charlie and an actual person who I didn't know and who seemed to be there for me. They all laughed in the places at which they were supposed to laugh, so that felt good. Afterwards Charlie (who helps other people in public speaking) gave me some advice for future readings, which boiled down to: Talk slower and don't put an hour's worth of reading into half an hour. Which is, of course, excellent advice.

My understanding from people who had been to numerous conventions was that Torcon was not especially successful as far as WorldCons go -- its programming was disorganized, and that it was not going to end up in a very nice financial situation when all was said and done. I can't speak to the financial end, although on the programming end it did seem disorganized: I did hear about panelists schedule for two panels at once, and people's readings and appearances were continually moved around -- and then of course there is the mystery of me being scheduled for a reading when I hadn't asked for one. My utter lack of Con experience helps me here since I have way to compare. I noted to the Torcon organizer that this was my first con, and he said, "Oh, so this is will be your yardstick to compare all other cons by." I couldn't tell if he thought this was a good thing or not.

It was a very good con for me regardless. I met quite a few very interesting folks with whom I hope to remain in contact and for the first time actually got a sense of a community of professional writers, which is not something I've had much of before: I like journals and blogs, but many of the concerns blog/journal writers have are not the same concerns of pro writers, and it's nice to have people to bounce things off of. Also, of course, all these people were just plain fun people who I'm glad to have met and spent some time with. I don't want to give the impression that all I did was sit there and talk about business -- that would just make me an asshole when everyone else is at the bar to drink. Most of the time it was just nice to kick back with people who do the same thing I do.

Be that as it may, by Monday, I was ready to go, and it seemed most of the other people at Torcon felt the same way: The Convention Centre was sparsely filled and most of the panels I looked in were lightly attended if at all. I stuck around long enough for lunch with Nick and Clinnette, and then got in the car and drove on back. I had fun, but it's nice to be home, too.

And now I have to get back to the actual business of writing: I have a novel due at the end of the month. So much for rest and relaxation. I have to earn my excuse to go to the NorEastCon next year.

(Note: Picture of me and Cory is taken from this lovely blog. Go! Go now!)

Posted by john at 03:49 PM | TrackBack