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September 30, 2004

How I Know Autumn Has Begun:

Today is the day I flicked the thermostat from "Cool" to "Heat."

Stupid autumn.

Posted by john at 09:25 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

September 29, 2004

Stupid, Ignorant or Hypocritical Update

Documentary evidence for my point of view:

As the nation prepares to watch the presidential candidates debate foreign policy issues, a new PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll finds that Americans who plan to vote for President Bush have many incorrect assumptions about his foreign policy positions. Kerry supporters, on the other hand, are largely accurate in their assessments. The uncommitted also tend to misperceive Bush’s positions, though to a smaller extent than Bush supporters, and to perceive Kerry’s positions correctly. Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: “What is striking is that even after nearly four years President Bush’s foreign policy positions are so widely misread, while Senator Kerry, who is relatively new to the public and reputed to be unclear about his positions, is read correctly.” (emphasis mine)

Stupid, Ignorant or Hypocritical. You heard it here first.

(On an unrelated note: This is the 600th entry since I switched over to Movable Type. Yay, me.)

Posted by john at 08:37 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Today's Fountain of Ridiculous Crap From Antonin Scalia

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says he believes "abstract moralizing" has led the American judicial system into a quagmire, and that matters such as abortion and assisted suicide are "too fundamental" to be resolved by judges.

"What I am questioning is the propriety, indeed the sanity, of having value-laden decisions such as these made for the entire society ... by judges," Scalia said on Tuesday during an appearance at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

-- "Scalia: Abortion 'too fundamental' for judges" 9/29/04

Well, excellent. I invite Antonin Scalia to philosophically back up this contention by recusing himself the next time abortion or assisted suicide comes up in front of the Supreme Court.

A show of hands of everyone who thinks he will. No rush.

For the edification of all, let me give my estimation of Judge Scalia's thinking on what matters are too "fundamental" for the courts:

Scalia personally supports it: Not too fundamental.

Scalia doesn't personally support it: Waaaay too fundamental.

Now, personally, I think picking a president for the nation is probably a task too fundamental for the courts, but I don't recall Scalia exactly rushing to the moral barricades on that one.

Note to self: If ever President, remember not to nominate to the Supreme Court someone who has such clear contempt for the American federal system.

Posted by john at 01:29 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

September 28, 2004

I Love the Smell of New Books in the Morning

newbooks928.jpgSince the Science Fiction Book Club will be promoting my book in January, I figured it would be only fair to actually join the club, so a couple of weeks ago I did just that, and as a result got a small pile of books with the club's "5 books for $1" introduction thing, plus the second additional book for $4.95. So now I have a pile of books I can use to drop on something deserving, like a really large spider who forgets the Spider Smack Rule ("If a spider indoors stays where I can't smack it, it will live, because spiders are useful. If the spider strays into the smack zone, it shall be smacked, because useful or not, spiders creep out my wife").

Joining the club comes with a mild authorial tension in that Book Club editions of books usually generate a smaller royalty rate to authors; i.e., they get paid less for the books than if you go and buy them in the book store. In my particular case with Old Man's War, I'm not in the slightest bit worried about this, so if you have a SFBC membership, I don't want you to feel conflicted about picking up my book in Book Club form when it's promoted in January. For my purposes, any sale is an excellent sale. So please, select away! But when I buy books, I do like the idea of maximizing author profits whenever possible. At the same time, I'm also aware that sometimes I'm feeling cheap or am on the bubble with a book, and in those times, cost is a factor. With that in mind, I've generated my own little internal template of rules regarding when to get something in the bookstore and when to get something in the Book Club.

1. New and/or recent(< 5yrs)books from authors I know I like: Bookstore.

2. New books from writers I haven't read yet: Okay to buy from Book Club, since it's a "first taste" thing. If I end up liking the book, I'll buy the next one in the bookstore. This does not preclude buying that first book from a bookstore, of course. I imagine where I buy these books will be a matter of where I am when I see them.

3. Old (> 5yrs) books from authors I know I like: Book Club's okay. Hey, those omnibus editions save shelf space, and it's nice to have them in hardback.

4. Books I've already purchased before, the copies of which have gone missing and/or have been permanently "borrowed" by people who shall go nameless today but who will be punished at a place and time of my choosing: Book Club.

5. Books by dead people: Book Club. Because, you know, they're dead.

6. Short story collections/anthologies: Book Club. Because -- no offense to short fiction writers -- there's something about books of short stories that genuinely repel my need to purchase books. I have no idea what my malfunction here is, since I do like short stories. All I know is, prior to this Book Club spree, I haven't bought short story collections at all. So if the Book Club gets me to buy them, it's adding to the overall royalty pot for some author, not taking away from it.

7. Writers who I've liked but whose previous couple of books have been, you know, disappointing: Book Club's okay. It's like probation. If the book is good, then the next purchase will be in the bookstore. If it's not, eh. I'll get to the next book when I get to it, if I get to it.

Let's see how this little collection of rules applies with my selections, shown above:

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke: First time author who I've not read before, but about whom I've heard good things, primarily from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who writes about the book here. I'm inclined to trust PNH's taste in books (he bought mine, you know), and if it's as good as I hope it is, Ms. Clarke can expect full royalties the next time out.

For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, by Robert A. Heinlein: Heinlein's dead, baby. Also as a practical matter, as much as I like Heinlein, I don't know that I would have been inclined to pay full-price for this book anyway. It's not so much a novel as a political lecture, with the words "he said" put in every now and then to give the tang of fiction. Heinlein in lecture mode is my least favorite Heinlein. Still, for Book Club prices, I'm in. Call it the completist in me.

Endangered Species, by Gene Wolfe: Whoops. This isn't from the Book Club; it was sent to me because I'm on the Nebula short fiction jury this year. Note to short fiction writers in Tor anthologies or who have collections from Tor -- they're doing an excellent job putting your work in front of me for my consideration this year. Other book publishers: Not so much. At some point in time I'll discuss how I read short fiction for consideration for the Nebula jury; I'm sure it will appall and frighten you.

Succession, by Scott Westerfeld: This is the Book Club selection that violates my rules about buying from the Book Club, since this book is an omnibus of two of Scott's novels (The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds) which were released in the last couple of years, and I've read enough of Scott's work (notably his faboo YA titles Midnighters and So Yesterday) to know he deserves the full royalty treatment (so follow those links, people). However, I know Scott personally and I'll be seeing him in the reasonably near future, and when I do, I'll make royalty restitution in kind, probably by way of beer. So I felt okay with the purchase.

The Time Quartet, by Madeleine L'Engle: I've bought each of the individual books in this series (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters) at least once, and in most cases three or four times (for myself and as gifts), so, you know. Maddie's sucked a lot of cash out of me over the years.

I'll share a moment with you here: Athena saw the book and I mentioned to her that I read it when I was a kid, so she opened it and said "It's not a kid's book. It doesn't have pictures!" To which I said "Nonsense! You could probably read this book." And then I opened the book to the first page of text and had her try it. And she read that first page just fine, and she had a big grin on her face when she was done. Some people get through high school without ever reading a book without pictures, so I'm glad we got that out of the way.

The John Varley Reader, by John Varley: A short story collection. Interestingly, at the moment, the thing I'm enjoying most about the book are not the stories (which are generally pretty good), but the introductions to the stories, which give a little commentary I find fascinating.

Stories, by Ray Bradbury: Another short story collection -- many of which I had already purchased in paperback at one point or another, Ray Bradbury being the only writer whose short story collections I've ever bought (often because some of his "novels" were simply short story collections with connective tissue, e.g., The Martian Chronicles). Most of those books are God knows where, however. So now I have a bunch in one place. Convenient.

And now you know two things: I have a lot of excellent books to read, and I'm a master at silly rationalizations. It's possible you knew these things about me already.

Posted by john at 09:35 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

September 27, 2004

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Blogging I Learned From the New York Times

The New York Times Magazine's cover story this week is on political bloggers (it features Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox looking Jodie Foster creamy and dreamy in front of a keyboard while R.W. Apple and and Jack Germond look clueless and old behind her), and now having read it, I have a few comments:

1. While I suppose it's just the nature of an election year, I still find it remarkable that when the mainstream media thinks of "bloggers," it's almost exclusively political bloggers. I can't help think of sites like, say, Penny Arcade, whose daily visitorship is higher than all but four or five of the top political sites, and which I would argue is at least as influential in the video game industry as Kos is in politics (if not more so; both sites have raised hundreds of thousands for their respective causes -- Kos for political candidates, and Penny Arcade for its Child's Play charity, but PA was able to create its own successful gaming conference (PAX) to boot, with an attendance, I think, of over 1,500 (Update: A couple of people (including at least one attendee) tell me the actual number was closer to 3,000. Which just makes the point more relevant)). It's not that political bloggers aren't important or interesting, but they're definitely not the only blogging game in town. If the mainstream media is going to cover blogging, I wish the coverage was more varied and included sites that aren't all about getting the White House for their side.

2. This was the first article I've seen that actually discussed how much some of the paid bloggers were making -- it notes that Wonkette's base salary is $18,000 (although apparently she gets performance bonuses based on visits), and that Josh Marshall's advertising income can be as much $10K a month. Speaking as a paid blogger, I find this sort of thing very interesting -- now I know where my own blogging income fits into the grand scheme of things (higher than some, apparently lower than others). I think it would be interesting to have someone do a survey to find out what paid bloggers actually make -- the number of bloggers who are supporting themselves and/or have a sizable percentage of their income from blogging is still small enough that it's doable. I would suspect that that overall, it's still not something that you'll be doing to get, you know, rich, or (for the most part) even comfortably middle class.

3. By and large, I think the relationship between political bloggers and legitimate media is pretty much the relationship between a taxi driver in the Middle East and the United States: They'll bitch and moan about it and go on about how evil it is, but when push comes to shove, they'd probably give a testicle to get in. The Times story shows the higher-end bloggers clearly conflicted as to what their relationship is with the more established forms of media -- and the New York Times writer who put the story together seems more than happy to note that even the high-end bloggers have mid-level profiles at best in terms of the traditional media. For whatever gains bloggers have made in the last few years, there's still definitely a major league-minor league dichotomy between it and and traditional media.

Which is ironic, because many newspaper writers I know look longingly at the "freedom" of blogging, in which one is not confined by piddling annoyances like newshole or editors. The grass is always greener, and so on.

I'm ambivalent about either side. On the issue of the personal economics and fulfillment, at this point in the game, I don't see much advantage at looking longingly at the grass on either side of the fence since the fence isn't really there; i.e., there's no reason writing in on medium excludes you from the other. I make more money as a blogger than I do as a novelist or a magazine columnist; I make more money writing Books of the Dumb than I do as a blogger. A little here, a little there, and eventually you're talking real money. Sometimes I make more from online writing, sometimes I make more from traditional publication. It all depends on what day you get me. Print offers some advantages to me as a writer, online writing offers others. Ultimately, I don't feel allegiance either to bloggers or to the ink-stained wretches; I feel allegiance to my mortgage and to my own sense of curiosity as a writer.

Having said that, traditional media does have a distinct institutional advantage -- it's got a lot more money and influence. This is why blogging to this day largely triangulates off traditional media; traditional media has the resources to set the news agenda. And this is probably why most of the most ambitious bloggers still wouldn't mind "graduating" to traditional media -- they want a chance to set the agenda too, not just react to it, or (in the recent case of the CBS screw-up) throw a well-deserved spanner into the works. And this is why traditional journalists can still feel safe feeling smug toward bloggers; by and large they're still back benchers -- it still takes hundreds of them to bring down a single Dan Rather. The fact bloggers glory in "fact-checking" the media in itself describes who is dominant in that relationship.

I think it's doubtful that overall this relationship is going to change much over time, unless the economics of blogging somehow get a heck of a lot better, or the economics of traditional media somehow get a lot worse -- or the open-source distributed model of journalism the blogosphere can provide (lots of people, each contributing one small bit of the puzzle) can somehow be made to be as consistent efficient as the proprietary, exclusive model of investigation the media can provide (one or a few experienced people doing most of the work). I suppose either is possible, but I'm not betting on either as likely.


Posted by john at 02:23 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

September 26, 2004

Cubism is Alive and Well and Wants a Juice Box


"Look, it's a train," Athena explains, and damned if it isn't. The question is whether it's a train because she intended it to be a train, of if it's a train because she was just doodling and that's the closest actual object to what she's doodled. I'd ask her, but that seems like an imposition on the creative process, if you ask me.

Posted by john at 09:36 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

September 25, 2004

A Bracing Moment of Market Reality: The Class of January 2005

For anyone out there who believes that once you've sold a book, you've got it made, may I present to you the following list of the science fiction and fantasy books that are being released in January 2005 (i.e., the same month as Old Man's War) in the US, UK and Canada. I get to compete with all of these for the science fiction reader's dollars and pounds. And of course, these are just the books in the genre. Also note that from what I'm told, January is traditionally one of the less-crowded months to sell a book.

Am I worried? Not really. But it's a reminder that selling a book to a publisher is just the beginning of the life of a book, and in many ways the easiest part of its life.

To all the authors on this list, of course, I wish tremendous success, equal to (or perhaps just one book less) than my own.

(List nicked from here -- a SF bookstore which is, alas, going out of business. It may or may not be entirely up-to-date or accurate.)

Anonymous (ed), Horrorscape, Book 1, paperback
Anonymous (ed), Star Trek: S.C.E.: Wildfire, paperback
Piers Anthony, Unicorn Point, paperback
Sarah Ash, Prisoner of Ironsea Tower, UK paperback
Robert Asprin & Eric Del Carlo, War Torn, paperback
Steve Aylett, Karloff's Circus, UK paperback
L.A. Banks, The Bitten, trade paperback
Elizabeth Bear, Hammered, paperback
Anne Bishop, Dreams Made Flesh, paperback
Ben Bova, Powersat, hardcover
Rachel Caine, Chill Factor, paperback
Adam-Troy Castro, Just a Couple of Idiots Reupholstering Space and Time, paperback
C.J. Cherryh, Mercedes Lackey, Nancy Asire & Leslie Fish, The Sword of Knowledge, omnibus hardcover
Greg Cox, Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volume Three: To Reign in Hell, hardcover
Peter Crowther (ed), Constellations, paperback
John R. Dann, Song of the Earth, hardcover
Charles de Lint, Trader, trade paperback
Marianne de Pierres, Parrish Plessis #3, UK paperback
Sara Douglass, The Wounded Hawk, US hardcover
David Drake & Eric Flint (ed.s), The World Turned Upside Down, omnibus hardcover
S.L. Farrell, Mage of Clouds, paperback
S.L. Farrell, Stone's Heir, hardcover
Pauline Fisk, Sabrina Fludde, UK ya trade paperback
Alan Dean Foster, The Hour of the Gate, paperback
Leo Frankowski & Dave Grossman, The War with Earth, paperback
David Gerrold, Alternate Gerrolds, trade paperback
Terry Goodkind, Chainfire, hardcover
Mitchell Graham, The Ancient Legacy, paperback
Robert A. Heinlein, Rocket Ship Galileo, ya paperback
Barb & J.C. Hendee, Sister of the Dead, paperback
James P. Hogan, The Anguished Dawn, paperback
Graham Joyce, The Limits of Enchantment, UK hardcover
Michae P. Kube-McDowell, Alternities, trade paperback
Katherine Kurtz, In the King's Service, paperback
Mercedes Lackey, Burning Water, trade paperback
Robert Mayer, Superfolks, trade paperback
Todd McCaffrey, Dragonsblood, hardcover
Alex McDonough, Scorpio, paperback
Patricia A. McKillip, Something Rich and Strange, paperback
R. Meluch, The Myriad, paperback
Robert A. Metzger, Cusp, hardcover
L.E. Modesitt Jr., Ordermaster, hardcover
Stan Nicholls, The Covenenant Rising, US trade paperback
Michael Paine, Steel Ghosts, paperback
Paul Preuss, Arthur C. Clarke's Venus Prime 2, paperback
Alastair Reynolds, Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, US omnibus trade paperback
Justina Robson, Natural History, US paperback
Jeff Rovin, Dead Rising, paperback
Fred Saberhagen, Rogue Berserker, hardcover
E. Rose Sabin, When the Beast Ravens, hardcover
Al Sarrantonio, Hayden of Mars, paperback
Robert J. Sawyer, Action Potential, hardcover
John Scalzi, Old Man's War, hardcover
Robert Silverberg, The Man in the Maze, paperback
Bram Stoker & John Shirley, Constantine, paperback
Judith Tarr, Queen of the Amazons, trade paperback
Sheri S. Tepper, The True Game, omnibus trade paperback
Mark W. Tiedemann, Asimov's Chimera, paperback
Harry Turtledove, Homeward Bound, hardcover
Harry Turtledove & Martin H. Greenberg (ed.s), The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, trade paperback
Peter Watts, Behemoth, Book Two: Seppuku, hardcover
David Weber, Bolos!, hardcover
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Midnight Harvest, paperback
Timothy Zahn, Star Wars: Survivor's Quest, paperback

Posted by john at 03:58 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Selling Agent

I've been asked this question a couple of times in the last few days, once from a reader, and once from an interviewer: Now that I've sold other novels, am I going to try to sell Agent to the Stars?

For those of you coming very late to this party, Agent is the very first novel I wrote, back in 1997. I wrote it primarily to see if I could write a novel (yup), but then made a half-hearted attempt to sell it (nope). When I lost interest in that, I popped it up on the Web site in 1999 as a "shareware" novel, in which people could read it for free and if they liked it, could send me a buck or whatever they wanted. I wanted to see what would happen, basically. In the time since I've collected about $4,000 from it, in individual amounts ranging from 65 cents (a one dollar donation after PayPal gets done with it) to $200 (I sent that fellow a free copy of Old Man's War, because, well. $200 is a lot). The book is still available to be read, and it still gets downloaded a hundred or so times a month, and people still send me money.

The answer to the question of whether I'm now going to try to sell Agent: Probably not. This is not the same as saying I wouldn't mind seeing Agent in book form. It's a pretty good story, and I think it'd be reviewed and sell reasonably well, and if someone from a legitimate publishing house wants to come on by and make an offer, I'm willing to listen (it's happened before, after all). But I'm not going to go out of my way to make a sale.

Why not? Well, basically, I think Agent has value doing what it's been doing for the last five years: Being an advertisement, if you will, for my other writing. I think people who read Agent and enjoyed it will probably be more likely to consider shelling out for Old Man's War or other novels because they're dealing with a novelist they know they like already, not a debut author who is an unknown quantity. When it comes out, Old Man's War will cost anywhere from $16.77 to $23.95 to pick up -- a fair amount to consider spending (although about the same cost as a DVD, a CD, or a used video game, so, you know. It's still a bargain for your entertainment dollar). If giving away Agent makes someone more comfortable investing in OMW (not to mention recommending it to friends, family and total strangers), that's a net benefit for me.

Now, by the same token, if they hated Agent, they'll be less likely to pick up other work of mine. So maybe I'm losing some sales this way as well. But I'm okay with that, actually. One, as a writer, I'd rather have readers make an informed decision; if you've read my stuff and don't like it, that's fair enough, although hopefully you'll be in the overall minority. Second, I imagine the reader who didn't spend any money to find out he or she doesn't like me would be less inclined to dissuade other readers from me than the one who shelled out $20 and felt he or she got burned. It's the difference between "Well, I didn't like him, but maybe you will" and "I wasted money on him, and you shouldn't bother." I'd rather lose the reader who knows he doesn't like me than the reader who might like me but has been warned away.

By and large, however, I think having Agent out there for the reading has been a net benefit for me, and I expect it will become even more so when I my fiction books are finally on the streets, and people come to the site who didn't know me before. I think this "loss leader" aspect of Agent is important enough, in fact, that if a publisher did want to put out the book in traditional form, I'd make the deal only on the condition that there would still be a freely accessible online version on my own site. My own feeling on this is that it would make publishers hesitant -- perhaps less so than a couple of years ago, thanks to Cory Doctorow's experiment with free online versions of his novels, and also to Baen's free library, both of which seem to have resulted in a net gain of sales and/or notoriety for the authors, but even so.

I certainly wouldn't fault a publisher for that position; publishers are in the game to make money. But so am I, and as I've mentioned elsewhere, the economics of publishing from the point of view of the writer and the point of view of the publisher are related but they are not the same. Unless someone's going to offer me hundreds of thousands of dollars for Agent -- and they're not -- in the long run I judge that it's better business for me to have the novel out there as "shareware" than to lock it up in bound form. Again, if a publisher can live with an electronic copy living on this site, then by all means, let's chat. But I won't be holding my breath.

Another reason I'm not likely to make a big effort to sell Agent: I'm pretty much done with it. I wrote it almost six years ago now, and since then I've had a fair number of other projects to attend to, and I'm working on making sure I have a fair number of projects to attend to after these projects are done. I'd prefer to spend time thinking about what's coming up next than worrying about what I've done in the past; it's more fun. Fiddling with Agent after all this time just doesn't strike me as very productive.

Final reason to keep Agent where it is, and this is kind of a gooshy reason: As far as my books go, it's my firstborn -- the first book-length thing I'd ever written. When I was done with it, I was tremendously relieved; I could write something that long. And as a bonus, it wasn't bad. My first inclination then (and now) wasn't to sell it, but simply to show it off: Hey! Look what I did! In a very real sense, it's a joyful creation, whose existence is its own rationale (OMW, while no less good and in some ways better, was in fact written with the market in mind, as were all of my non-fiction books). Anything else it does is just an extra.

So that's the final reason that I don't make a huge push to sell it: It's just more fun to share it. So I do.

Posted by john at 12:01 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 24, 2004

PayPal Gets Inexplicably Snippy

Bill Quick sends notice that he's apparently run afoul of PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy. The company writes:

Your account has been limited for violating PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy regarding Offensive Material. The Policy prohibits the use of PayPal in the sale of items or in support of organizations that promote hate, violence, or racial intolerance; items which graphically portray violence or victims of violence; or items closely associated with individuals notorious for committing murderous acts within the last 100 years.

The implication being, since Bill's been using PayPal for donations, that something on his site fulfills any of these categories.

What on his site does this? Got me. At the moment, Bill's promoting intolerance of John Kerry and CBS News, but since about half the politically-oriented blogs in the country are doing the same, if this is the problem, then PayPal is about to lose a significant chunk of its donation business. The only other thing which I can find that is potentially offensive is that Bill keeps up a picture of the World Trade Center being hit, emblazoned with the exhortation to "Never Forget!" If that's what's bugging PayPal, I expect it's going to be walking into a buzzfan of bad publicity. Bill also promotes libertarianism in a general sense; I guess maybe someone at PayPal finds that intolerant, which given the libertarian ethos ("do what you want, just do it away from me") is mildly ironic.

Basically, it's hard to see what's gotten into PayPal's fool head. I'm genuinely curious to know what on Bill site is actually in violation, because aside from Bill's own distinctive editorial voice, the content is not at all different from hundreds of not thousands of blogs out there. If he's in violation, so's a significant percentage of the blogosphere.

As an aside, this is one of the reasons I don't have a "tip" button on the Whatever -- I don't like the idea that anyone should feel they have the financial right to tell me what's acceptable on my own damn site. That's a decision I get to make, thank you. I accept PayPal donations for Agent to the Stars, mind you, but that's neither here nor there regarding the Whatever. In any event, if PayPal ever came back and told me that I would need to make a change to Agent because it was in violation of their Acceptable Use, I'd point them in the direction of Hell and tell them to have a nice trip. I don't need PayPal's stamp of approval.

My assumption, barring the discovery of an entry where Bill genuinely advocates genocide or baby-strangling, is that PayPal's made some sort of stupid error; a spider crawling through his site came across some combination of words that sends up a red flag and/or an automatic "violation" letter. Like I said, I'd be interested to know what triggered the letter; it would be instructive to know how PayPal thinks, in any event.

"My initial inclination is to tell these little tin gods to take their attempts to dictate the nature of my content elsewhere," Bill writes, and I'd concur. Life is too short to have to worry about whether one violates PayPal's acceptable use policy. I'm pretty sure that Amazon will be happy to process Bill's donations.

Update: in the comments, Patrick Neilsen Hayden writes:

"Jeralyn Merrit of the excellent TalkLeft has received the same threatening notice."

It's related to a video of one of the recent Iraq beheadings, which I believe Bill also linked to. As I said in the comment thread, nice to see it's bipartisan stupidity on PayPal's part.

Posted by john at 02:25 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 23, 2004

Busy, Busy -- An Excuse for an Open Thread

Athena spent half the night hacking like a smoker, so I've decided to keep her home today. Add her happy but intensely distracting presence to an already full slate of work which includes my first interview for Old Man's War (yay!), and what you get is a day where I don't have much time to hang around here. See you all tomorrow.

In the absence of my saying much, consider this an "open thread" entry. Go nuts, you crazy kids.

Posted by john at 09:55 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

September 22, 2004

A Terrifying Thought

As I was dropping off Athena at her school, which due to the small-town nature of where I live, houses all the schoolkids in the town from Kindergarten through high school, it occurred to me that the kids who are graduating this year, class of '05, were mostly born the same year I graduated from high school -- 1987.

And I realized, to my horror, not that I've been getting old -- thanks to my hairline, I've been aware of that for a while, thank you very much -- but that there's now an entire generation of Americans for whom U2's Joshua Tree has the same historical distance as I had with Abbey Road. And who don't know a world before ALF. The first of these is kind of interesting; the second, horrifying. Clearly we need to build a time-traveling robot to go back in time and kill ALF. For the sake of the children.

Posted by john at 08:34 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Hello, Thunderbird

My migration toward all things Mozilla continues apace; I've just dumped AOL Communicator for my e-mail client in favor of Thunderbird 0.8, the e-mail (and RSS and news)reader from Mozilla. The reason for this is simple: AOL Communicator made a ridiculous imposition on my ability to send mail.

Specifically, it refused to send mail from one of my scalzi.com accounts because it was unable to get in touch with AOL. One of the things Communicator does is make contact with AOL everytime you use it; I don't know why, it just does. However, this evening, it was unable to access AOL, or at the very least unable for some reason or another to verify that my AOL password was correct. So while I could receive mail, I couldn't send it, nor would I be able to until the software was able to recognize my AOL password.

I'm sorry, that's just stupid bad UI. If I'm not directly accessing AOL mail, I shouldn't have to supply my AOL password for anything. You all know how much I love AOL (they give me money, after all), and up to this point I've had nothing but good things to say about the AOL Communicator software. But this is ridiculous. Life is too short to get a permission slip from AOL to access my non-AOL accounts. As it happens, Thunderbird works almost exactly like AOL Communicator (given the recent ties between Mozilla and AOL, this is not entirely surprising) and will allow me to access my AOL accounts as well. That works for me.

Migrating my saved mail, however, was easier said than done. AOL Communicator makes zipped backups for you, but saves the e-mail as .txt files, which are no good. Thunderbird, for its part, has an import wizard, but it appears to believe that the only e-mail clients out there are Outlook, Eudora and Netscape Browsers. I ended up having to go to my Documents and Settings folder, hauling up the .sbd e-mail documents from Communicator, and move them bodily over to the Thunderbird folder. But now I've done so and I have all my mail where I want it. I feel so, oh, I don't know, computer competent or something.

So far I like Thunderbird a lot -- it looks clean, runs well and hopefully won't cause me too many headaches. I'll let you all know what I think of it as time goes on.

Posted by john at 12:07 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 20, 2004

Holly Lisle's Egregious Breach of Online Etiquette

Author Holly Lisle takes exception to my recent declaration that people who want to vote to Bush are either stupid, ignorant or hypocritical, and makes a few of the ad hominem swipes at me she accuses me of making at Bush. My favorite ad hominem at the moment: "But the writer of the post cited above appears to believe he is in sole possession of the truth. That any opinions different from his must be wrong."

See, now, this is the problem when you swoop in and don't bother to read the site disclaimer, or, for that matter, the entry directly after the one you're kvetching about, in which I say "Also, as a reminder -- just because I personally believe something doesn't make it so," and also, "I allow for the possibility that I could be wrong." When you don't read, you miss stuff. But since apparently you can't rely on people to read more than one thing at a time, allow me to reiterate again, for the thousandth time: This site specializes in my opinion. Take it or leave it. Allow me also to suggest that if you're swooping in, please look around at least a couple of essays before making grand pronouncements about what I think about the world. Seems the polite thing to do. And you'll look like less of an ignorant ass.

I'm not particularly troubled by Ms. Lisle's difference of opinion; just as I'm entitled to mine, she's entitled to hers, and if she wants to believe that a Vietnam-avoiding, medical-skipping mediocre jet pilot who couldn't be bothered to fulfill his National Guard duty and whose father-vindicating revenge fantasy takes resources away from actually fighting terrorism and has killed 1000 American soldiers to no good effect is somehow more trustworthy than Kerry, who by all official indications served honorably in Vietnam although she vaguely accuses of him causing POWs to be tortured by his actions in Vietnam, that's her prerogative. I admit I find the ability to be morally outraged at Kerry's apparently tenuous connection to torture in Vietnam while apparently sanguine to the 1,000 verifiable American military deaths in Iraq that are Bush's dance card, well, puzzling (not to mention Abu Ghraib, if we're going to get all aroused about people's actions being the causative vector for torture). But since Lisle maintains she's not stupid, ignorant or a contemptible hypocrite, I'm sure she has her reasons.

No, what really gets my cheese is that she writes an online rant about all this, whacks on me -- and then leaves no good way for me to respond directly. The entry has no commenting ability, for one thing, but I can't get too worked up about that, since I didn't implement comments here on the Whatever until last year. But she also doesn't leave an e-mail open to the public. Not even a lousy Web site guestbook. She did have one of those at one point, but apparently took it down because she's busy writing a book. Well, you know. As someone who will have at least two and possibly three books to write between now and next June, Ms. Lisle's situation ain't exactly breaking my heart. I'm especially less impressed with the "I'm busy with my books" excuse since she has time to write 1,700 words of self-righteous "more in sorrow than in anger" twaddle with me starring as her incorrectly-designated spank monkey.

Really, if she's got enough time in her terribly busy schedule to whack on me for that long, she's got enough time to peruse an e-mail from my self-same person. If nothing else, it would save me the time of writing an entry with just enough snit and bitch to assure that someone will go running off to tell on me to her, and she will come and take a look, per my Law of Internet Invocation. Honestly, this is so inefficient. All I wanted to do was tell her that I don't think I'm always right and everyone else is wrong, and in fact, I've written words to that effect multiple times on the site. Instead, I have to do this. Don't you see? I'm the victim!

Yeah, yeah, I know. You're crying me roughly the same river of tears I'm crying for Ms. Lisle. And to be honest about it, no one is more surprised at how annoyed I am that I have no simple online avenue of communication with Ms. Lisle than I. Ms. Lisle of course has the perfect right to be left alone electronically -- if she doesn't want to hear from the chattering mass of potential e-mailers and online commentors, she shouldn't be made to, even when one of those potential e-mailers or commentors is me.

And yet, here I am, irritated as all hell. Guess what: I apparently firmly believe that if you're going to write something about someone online, and put it up for the world to see, if you don't offer them some avenue of public or private comment, there's something basically chickenshit about that. One of the great innovations of writing online is that response is immediate, and (once you chop the occasional moron off at the knees) it's intelligent, compelling stuff -- reading to be encouraged, not feared.

I point with pride to my own commentors, almost all of whom are class acts, and almost none of whom have shown evidence of being either fawning parrots or antagonistic jerks. Even the commentors who don't actually like me typically leave comments worth reading. I take pride in the fact I trust my readers enough to let them have free run of the place; they repay my trust by making the place a more interesting to be. E-mail is slightly more wild and wolly -- people are more inclined to make asses of themselves privately than in a public comment thread -- but even then it's no great hardship to ignore the idiots and engage the interesting. Hiding from that sort of exchange -- the innovation that truly differentiates online writing from print -- is pretty bogus. Particularly when you go out of your way to criticize someone else.

So, note to Holly Lisle and anyone else who writes online but doesn't bother to leave a point of contact: Don't be such a damned coward. Have the tiny sliver of personal courage it takes to allow people to respond to you online, particularly the folks you choose to beat upon. Be a part of the online medium, instead of merely taking advantage of it.

And Ms. Lisle, if you're reading: the e-mail address is john@scalzi.com. Or you can leave a message in the comment thread. Try it! You may like it.

Posted by john at 10:04 PM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

The Mosh Pit Eats Its Own


Sure, the mosh pit at a Puddle of Mudd concert looks cute and harmless from a distance. But you get inside, and, well, it's bruise city. Fair warning.

Krissy says: "You should see the other guy." What's left of him, anyway.

Posted by john at 08:21 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Happiness is a Warm Advance

Apropos to the recent entries about book advances -- and just in time for October's onslaught of bills -- comes the most recent installment of my advance for Book of the Dumb 2. How do I feel about it? Not bad. I felt that way when the first installment came in, and I'll feel the same when the third installment come in after the books hits the stores. And then you'll say: Shut up! But it's true. That's just the way I feel.

Posted by john at 01:04 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack


One of the side effects of writing a book about science fiction film is that I have to revisit (and in some cases, visit for the first time) a lot of pre-Star Wars science fiction film, and I've discovered that by and large I have a prejudice against these flicks. The reason is simple: Pre-Star Wars science fiction film are cheesy more often than not. Until Lucas whacked that box office ball right out of the ballpark, science fiction films were basically marginal programmers; you might get a The Day the Earth Stood Still or Invasion of the Body Snatchers here and there (and in 1968 you got the 1-2 punch of 2001 and Planet of the Apes), but by and large they were the "B"-movie on the double feature program, and for modern eyes, they're difficult to watch.

Not that they're not fun, in their way: I spent part of the weekend watching Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers, the DVD release of the 1936 serial, and I enjoyed it -- and to my surprise so did Athena, who uttered the memorable quote: "I liked it so much, I didn't mind it was in black in white." But, man alive, is it bad: It's like a community theater production, and it's hard to tell what's more wooden, star Buster Crabbe's delivery or the rocketships themselves. It's the sort of film where a civilization capable of moving a planet through space fights with swords, one character locks another in a spaceship by kicking away a step stool, and eternal alliances are created by this sort of dialog:

Professor Zarkov: Flash, this is Prince Barin! He hates Emperor Ming, too!
Flash: Well, that's good enough for me!

And yet, this sort of unripened cheese is indisputably canonical on the science fiction genre, if for no other reason than a young George Lucas had the top of his little head absolutely unscrewed by the tripe, and the first chance he got, he used it as a foundation upon which to build Star Wars, from which the modern age of science fiction film sprang, for better or worse. It's bad, but it's important.

This isn't to say the main run of SF films after Star Wars are necessarily any better than the ones before it: Alien Vs. Predator, say, makes no more sense than Flash Gordon does, and I know which of the two I'd want to watch again, and it ain't AVP. The difference is that the genre is taken more seriously now by Hollywood, so when you do get crap in the genre, it is at least a highly polished pile of crap; you don't see the seams as often as you do in science fiction films from the 30s through the 60s. But I believe the best of today's science fiction is better than the best (or most significant) science fiction films prior to '77.

Naturally, I try to correct for this prejudice of mine. Particularly on the technical level -- practical and special effects -- it's ridiculous to hold films from the 30s or 50s to the standard since the 70s (it's unfair to hold films from the 70s to standards of today, too, which is why Lucas eternally fiddles with his first Star Wars Trilogy). And to some extent, you have to handicap for writing and acting as well; not as much, and especially not so much with some of the high-end canonical films (some mentioned above), but on a general level, yes, the handicap kicks in.

But it's also worth noting that science fiction is the only genre where you have to handicap. The best comedies of the 30s or 40s are as good as the best comedies today, or even better, depending on your tastes: I wouldn't trade The Philadelphia Story for the entire Farrelly Brothers filmography. Dramas don't suffer; film lovers can skip from On the Waterfront to The Godfather to American Beauty and not skip a beat. Gone With the Wind is still the gold standard for epic melodrama, with Titanic taking a distant silver; Wizard of Oz has only recently been supplanted by the Lord of the Rings series as the best fantasy, and it took Disney 50 years to equal its animation run of Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. And despite the (relatively) recent Oscar successes of Chicago and Unforgiven, the past owns the musical and the western.

Among all film genres, science fiction stands alone as the one whose present is incontestably better than its past, at least at its highest levels. It's one of the things that makes writing a book about science fiction film interesting -- and at the same time a very tricky prospect. I don't want to undersell early science fiction films; doing that would be inaccurate and wrong. At the same time, however, I want to make sure that people understand that if there's a golden age of science fiction film, it's probably now. Take a good look -- this is what a golden age of film looks like.

Posted by john at 11:55 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

September 17, 2004

Publisher's Lunch People

If you're coming over from Publisher's Lunch to find the "Real World Book Deal" entry, it's here. And there's a followup here. And of course, I invite you to poke around otherwise.

Posted by john at 04:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Roger Ebert

Not that it needs my help to promote it, but Roger Ebert's new site is up, and it's awesome, since it features Ebert's film reviews going back to 1967, as well as his various other writings on film. I've personally been using Ebert's previous site for research and enjoyment for a while now -- I often bounce my own film opinions off of his to see if I'm missing something (or, alternately, if he's missing something) -- and this new site is that much more useful to me.

I don't think I've made any secret that I consider Ebert to be one of the best film criticism writers; he's often maligned as shallow by the people who only know him from the "thumbs up!" rubric promoted by the various Siskel & Ebert shows and now on his current show with Richard Roeper (speaking of shallow film criticism), but these people need to actually read Ebert's reviews, through which three things become apparent: One, Ebert is very smart; Two, Ebert knows film; Three, Ebert realizes that the best way to review is a film is to talk across to moviegoers, not down. Ebert is a film geek who can speak the language of normal people. He's a fine model for writing popular film reviews.

Which is not to say he's always right. Ebert can be as clueless about a clever film as anyone, and he's a sucker for pretty lights and cool design. In the former case, this is what caused him to give Fast Times at Ridgemont High a one-star review; in the latter case, it's what caused him to declare Dark City the best film of its year. Dark City's a fine film, but it definitely ain't "movie of the year" material. But in both of these cases (and by in large in his reviews in general) reading Ebert's review lets you understand why he thinks like he does; you don't have to agree, but you understand where he comes from. That's good criticism.

One of the sad tragedies of film criticism in newspapers is that much of the criticism is done by people who can't write well and don't have a point of view, i.e., the review is useless as a piece of criticism, and as an entertaining piece of writing. The really excellent newspaper critics can be counted on two hands (two of my picks would be Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post and Elvis Mitchell, late of the New York Times, although rumor has it he may go over to the dark side, which is to say, film production), and after them there is a regrettably sharp drop in quality; the gap between the first tier of newspaper film critics and the second is abysmal.

This means, alas, that chances are good that your local film critic is pretty bad. Do yourself a favor and check out Ebert in a form unrelated to TV. Whether you agree with him or not, it'll show you what good newspaper writing about film can be.

Posted by john at 10:06 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

September 16, 2004

Reminder: My Whatever

A Bush supporter, taken somewhat aback at my estimation of his being either stupid, ignorant or hypocritical, has this to say in the comment thread in the previous post:

"Are you still going to be like this next year after Bush wins?

Do you really expect me to come back? Do you really expect me to buy your books?"

My response to these questions: Possibly to the first, and I really couldn't give a rat's ass to questions two and three.

Let's expand on these in backward order. First, if you think I'm going to watch what I say here to possibly preserve a book sale or two, you're out of your hollow gourd. For one thing, I don't want readers who think they can presume to tell me what I should or should not say by holding the cost of a hardcover over my head; it sets a bad precedent. Y'all can just take a leap off a highway overpass, as far as I'm concerned. For another, I've been writing this sort of crap long before I had book sales; strangely enough, the books seem to moving out from the bookstores just fine. By personal inclination and by experience, there's no advantage in me shutting myself up. So quite obviously I don't intend to.

Besides, only a moron buys books -- particularly fiction -- on the basis of the author's politics. Author Mark Helprin has written what is far and away my favorite book of contemporary fantasy: Winter's Tale. He's also an unregenerate neocon, which has been my least favorite political flavor for some time now. Orson Scott Card, who has written two of my favorite science fiction books, is a conservative member of the LDS Church and views gay marriage as a terrible threat to our nation. As we all know, I think that's pretty silly. China Mieville, who writes lovely fictions, is so socialist (speaking of lovely fictions) that he ought to be salmon-hued. I wouldn't vote any of them into office. But I will buy their books.

I'm sure if I essayed all my favorite fiction writers, the vast majority would have politics I view as impractical, immoral or flat-out insane. And in nearly all cases, I could not care less. What I care about is whether they tell a good story and I am entertained. I can say the same thing, translating for medium, for musicians, artists, architects, actors, dancers and, hell, I don't know, circus performers. I mean, if you want to limit your cultural consumption to only the people who agree with your politics, go right ahead, and then prepared to be bored out of your gourd by Thursday.

Moving on to whether I want people to come back to my site -- I remind everyone once again to read the site disclaimer, and to pay particular attention to the part in which I discuss why I'm not particularly interested in being "fair" to people whose views are different from my own. Read them. Learn them. Love them. They will save you the sort of sputtering indignation from which this fellow is suffering.

Also, as a reminder -- just because I personally believe something doesn't make it so. Yes, I do believe that generally speaking you have to be stupid, ignorant or a hypocrite to vote for George Bush in the coming election. But I allow for the possibility that I could be wrong. I don't really see how, mind you. But there it is. If you genuinely believe you aren't stupid, ignorant or a hypocrite for voting for Bush, you're welcome to try to impress me with your intelligence, knowledge and sincerity. I'm willing to be persuaded you are the exception that proves the rule. Good luck with that. Here's a hint, though: Suggesting that you'll just walk off in a huff because you don't like what I write here or how I write it isn't a good way to do that.

But of course, if you don't like what you see here -- move on. I mean, that's what I do; I'm currently on a break from most political blogs because at the moment I'm finding the lot of them generally profoundly irritating. Therefore, if you find what I am writing equally irritating, shouldn't you stop reading me? I don't want to be a cause of pain in your life. Please, scoot, with my blessings. It's not like I'm getting paid here, you know. It's all the same to me whether I have 50 people visiting the site a day, or 5,000.

As for going after Dubya -- well, why wouldn't I? He's already the most incompetent president we've had in eight decades, and at this late date I don't suddenly expect him to get any better -- indeed, since second terms are almost invariably worse than first terms, I expect him and his administration to get a great deal worse, alas for us all. It's bad for us in general, but it'll make for good writing. So, yes, if you're going to demand a Dubya-free Whatever, you might as well bail out now, because it ain't gonna happen. So long.

I hope this clears up any lingering confusion.

Posted by john at 12:29 AM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

September 15, 2004

Bush Voters v. Voight-Kampff

Dubya's up in the electoral vote count, which means the GOP Alternate Reality Field is in particularly fine shape this week; those all-too-dubious Dubya National Guard letters didn't help matters either. This is Kerry's big problem at the moment: When people go after him (i.e., Swift Boat), he takes the hit. When people go after Dubya and do it badly, he also takes a hit. It's an interesting dynamic. We'll see how the GOPARF fares in the next six weeks, but for now, it's on full power.

I don't wish to be uncharitable to the folks who will eventually vote for Bush, but at this point I do have to say that I do strongly believe that outside the GOP hacks who would vote a dog into office as long as it was Republican dog ("Checkers in '08!"), people who are planning to vote for Bush fall into three primary categories: The stupid, the ignorant and the hypocritical. I'll note that I imagine there is significant overlap between the stupid and the ignorant categories, but not so much overlap between those two categories and the hypocritical category. To be a hypocrite suggests an awareness of facts on the ground, and the commensurate intention to totally ignore said facts; the former of these conditions means one can't be ignorant, the latter means one can't be stupid. It takes brains to be a hypocrite.

However -- and I think this is an important point -- it's possible that some of the hypocritical Bush voters have been so indoctrinated by the GOP party line that they are utterly incapable of consciously realizing that they are hypocrites. It's not that they lack self-awareness; I'm sure they possess it, in some rudimentary "dog in the mirror" form. Merely that this self-awareness has been channeled so as not to delve too deeply into certain lines of personal inquiry. Basically, they learn not to think about certain things too much.

You can't do anything about the stupid Bush voters; stupidity is a not correctable issue. You have more leeway with the ignorant; while some of the ignorant are indeed stupid, there's a sizable percentage of ignorant people who have functioning brains. They can be taught, and that's an encouraging thought. With the hypocrites there is, alas, nothing to be done about the hypocrites who know they are hypocrites, except to attempt to make them acknowledge that they are, in fact, contemptuous hypocritical bastards. But perhaps some of the unknowing hypocrites can be saved.

How to do this? Well, I'll tell you. In the film Blade Runner (with which more people are familiar than its literary forebear, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), there's something called a Voight-Kampff test, which is used to winkle out replicants walking among the humans. It measures empathy by asking a series of questions designed to evoke an emotional response. Get too many of the questions wrong, and you're a replicant, and the next thing you know Harrison Ford's on your ass. It's always something.

Polling hypocritical Bush voters for empathy would be a fool's errand, of course, so I won't even bother. However, what I would like to do is set up a series of questions which I feel will rather effectively bring the hypocrite issue to the fore. So, if you're planning to vote for George Bush, believe you are reasonably smart and informed, and in fact are not aware of being a contemptuously hypocritical waste of meat, please answer the following questions as truthfully as you can.

1. Is it more important to judge a president on his party affiliation or his policies?

2. A Democratic President promised to deliver 6 million new jobs during his candidacy for president; four years later the economy has had a net loss of 1 million jobs, and the president is the first in 70 years to have lost jobs over the span of his administration. On the basis of job growth, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

3. A Democratic president inherited a federal government that was running a surplus and within four years presided over a federal government which, in raw dollars, ran the highest deficits ever recorded, and which the CBO estimates will add $2.3 trillion to the US deficit in the next decade. On the basis of budget management, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

4. During his party's convention, a Democratic president outlined a second term agenda which outside analysts estimate would cost $3 trillion to implement, in an environment in which no new government revenues were expected and the federal government is already running large budget deficits. On the basis of fiscal feasibility, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

5. After a massive terrorist attack on America's soil, a Democratic president diverted troops and supplies from the military effort to find the perpetrators of the attack in order to attack a second country which, while hostile to the United States, was not involved in the terrorist attack in question. To date, the masterminds of the terrorist attack on America's soil are at large. On this basis, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

6. In justifying the attack on this second country, the Democratic president and his advisers presented a particular justification and several other lesser justifications for invasion. In time it is learned that this particular justification was erroneous as were most of the lesser justifications. The Democratic president and his advisers have recently admitted that their reasons for attacking this second country may have been in error. Meanwhile, over 1000 American soldiers have died in the country we attacked. On this basis, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

7. Citing national security, a Democratic president and his administration have attempted to detain American citizens without regard to their constitutionally-protected rights, an action sharply rebuked by the Supreme Court of the United States. Given this attempt to circumvent the Constitution of the United States, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

8. A Democratic president has declared that he supports a constitutional amendment stripping all Americans of personal rights a sovereign state court has determined that they have. On the basis of attempting to curtail already-determined personal rights, should this Democratic president be given a second term?

9. If the phrase "Democratic president" is changed in the above questions to "Republican president," would your answers change?

10. Does the answer to question 9 invalidate your answer to question 1?

11. If the answer to question 10 is "yes," please explain how this does or does not make you, in fact, a contemptible hypocrite.

Have fun with the quiz!

Posted by john at 01:00 PM | Comments (93) | TrackBack

Talking Contracts

In the comments thread to "Why a Shitty Deal is a Shitty Deal" someone asked about what new writers do when they negotiate with publishers; Michelle Sagara fielded the question at her LiveJournal. Here's what she has to say. In general, in conforms pretty well (with certain personal variations) to my experience with negotiating the contract for Old Man's War.

Posted by john at 07:31 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 14, 2004

The Most Amusing Back-Handed Compliment of the Month

From Demolition Woman:

"Actually, I like John Scalzi. He's young, terribly earnest, somewhat cute, and obviously kissing all the right ass. A writer to watch, if you're into that kind of thing."

This is sort of compliment I can get behind; it's not too nice. Anyway, this makes up for no one looking at my ass at Worldcon.

Posted by john at 08:45 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Why A Shitty Deal is a Shitty Deal

A small press publisher named Jeremy Lassen, who is clearly not getting enough hugs, took exception to the Real World Book Deals definition of a $3,000 book advance as "shitty," and responded with a comment which I'll elevate here for you to admire as much for the spirited use of profanity as the content itself. In it, Lassen also tries to suggest that authors really don't want a $20K advance, or above. Follow the logic, such as it is:

$3000 advance = the expectation of selling at least 1,200 copies of a $27 hardcover at 10% royalty.

That's 2,400 copies of a trade paperback at $13.50

For a small publisher with a first time author's fiction book, those are pretty respectable numbers. Shitty deal my ass. Particularly if you still have a piece of paperback or foreign language, or British rights.

A $20,000 advance = "not bad?" Fuck that. A $20,000 advance could mean the end of your fucking career. If you don't sell 7,500 copies of your book in hardcover, or 15,000 of your book in trade paperback, you didn't earn out. If you don't earn out, chances are your publisher just lost money on your ass, and your editor is getting heat from above. Chances are that editor is telling everybody in town what a bad investment you were...

Now if that had been a $5000 advance, and you sold half that --- 3,200 copies, you book would have earned out and made a bit of money, and would have been a good investment, and would probably get another contract.

If you actually sold 7,500 copies after a $5,000 advance, you would have been a long shot that paid off big. Your editor would look like a genius, and you might get a 2 book deal, and... AND YOU WOULD HAVE STILL ENDED UP EARNING $2OK on the first book, after royalties were paid.

Lets be realistic people. If your book sells, you get paid. If your book doesn't sell, and you still got a big fat advance up front, chances are you won't ever get a contract with that publisher again. If you think you can sell more copies then your publisher thinks they can, don't sell it to them, or self publish it, if there's so much demand.

Fucking unrealistic expectations are part of the problem in this industry. Arbitrary lists like this perpetuate this shit. Its more important to understand the economics of your trade (advances, royalties, trade discounts, distributor discounts, returns, Pay-for-placement in chains, etc etc), rather then memorizing some arbitrary range of "advances" and weather it was a good deal or not.

The problem is most writers don't know shit about the business they are in. and assfucks like Publishers Lunch don't seem to be interested in helping them learn anything about it.

Aside from the clear contempt Lassen has for writers, whom he apparently assumes are too stupid/ignorant to follow basic publishing economics, Lassen misses two critical points about the Real World Publishing Deal list:

1. It's primarily supposed to be funny and satirical (although as with most funny and/or satirical things, there's a small bit of truth to it). For the purposes of my little essay here, however, let's go ahead and treat it seriously.

2. It's a list from the perspective of the writer, not the perspective of the publisher -- as befits its creation by a bunch of writers hanging around at a bar. And here's a fact, for writers and publishers both: When the cost of your bar tab from a night of carousing with other writers is an integral percentage of your book advance, that's a pretty shitty advance, no matter how you slice it.

Likewise, if Lassen doesn't think $3,000 is a shitty deal for writing a book, he's welcome to try to live off it. I doubt he'll get a good Internet connection from an underpass.

To be clear, the "shitty" aspect of tiny advances as described in or little list relates to one thing: The raw amount of money involved. The small press publisher who offers you $3,000 or less for your book may sincerely be offering the most amount of money he or she can offer; likewise, a writer may be eminently pleased to take that dinky sum for a number of reasons. Money is not the only thing involved in a book deal.

Be that as it may, here and now, in the year 2004, $3K is a shitty amount of money. It's shitty in exchange for the amount of labor involved in writing a book, and it's shitty in the real world of paying rent, buying groceries and keeping the lights on. $3K is a nickel a word (or less, if you write more than 60,000 words). If you live in New York City or San Francisco and don't have rent control, $3K is a writer's monthly "nut" -- i.e., your cost of living (note to writers: Get the hell out of NYC and SF).

Lassen's exhortations of paltry book economics aside, no author wants to make $3,000 or less from their work. It's "I won't bring up what I was paid to the parents who wanted me to be an accountant" money. It's "I'll never be able to give up my day job" money. It's "I'm glad I've got a tolerant partner" money. An author may take $3K (or less) for an advance, and may even be happy with the deal -- but dollars to donuts they're not actually happy with the raw money. And why should they be? To repeat: it's a shitty amount of money.

(Let's not also fall for Lassen's intimation that authors will make more money on the backend through royalties; most books don't earn out, even the ones with the small advances. And unless the book in question is a wild success, the royalty money will be hella slow in coming -- it can be years before authors see a royalty statement. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to an author is to think of your advance as all the money you will ever get for your book. It keeps you from the credit card mentality of "I'll do 'X' when 'Y' money comes in." And it makes the royalty money you do get even more pleasant.)

Lassen's frantic handwaving about how a $20K advance could torpedo your career, incidentally, is a load of crap. He's doing what he accuses us writers of doing, which is plucking a more or less arbitrary number out of the air and declaring it good or bad. As it happens, I got a $20,000 advance for my very first book (The Rough Guide to Money Online). I've gotten contracts for six books since then -- some whose advances are more, some that are less. In my case, $20,000 was a perfectly reasonable amount for an advance. For some people $20K will be too much; for others, not near enough.

And in fact, the story of Money Online is a fine example of how both publishers and authors view advances. At the time I was contracted to write Money Online, Rough Guide's Internet guide had sold hugely -- more than a million copies -- and from what I was told, the company was expecting pretty large sales of Money Online as well. Because of that, the $20K advance the company extended was viewed as a safe -- nay, cheap! -- bet. But as it happened, the book came out in November of 2000, i.e., just in time for the popping of the Internet bubble. The book's sales were in the thousands, not the hundreds of thousands, and I didn't earn out my advance. It was bad timing.

Yet my second book sale was to Rough Guides as well -- The Rough Guide to the Universe. Why did RG go with me again, even though my first book was a clear financial disappointment? Well, for a number of reasons, I imagine. First and not insignificantly, the number of books an author needs to sell to earn out an advance and the number of books a publisher needs to sell to turn a profit (or at least avoid a loss) are not the same number, which is a point of fact Lassen doesn't bother to point out (but then, why would he). It's my understanding that RG didn't actually lose any money on the book. So that's good. Second, despite the first book's failure to thrive in the marketplace, the folks at RG liked the book's content and liked me as a writer; they were not shy about working with me again. Third, the Universe book filled a hole in their offerings. So there it was.

As it happens, the advance RG offered for Universe was less than for Money Online. I didn't squawk -- the step down was not huge, and in light of the Money Online sales, not at all unreasonable. Also, I really wanted to write a book on astronomy. Everyone was happy with the deal. Universe sold well and was reviewed well; now I'm writing another book for Rough Guides, and the money involved has gone up.

Point here, to borrow from William Goldman: Nobody knows anything. Great books can fail, bad books can thrive; your advance money may seem like a bargain to your publisher today but arterial flow tomorrow, or vice versa; the small press publisher who offer you $1,500 for your book and then takes a bath on it may never work with you again; the large publisher who offers up $150,000 for another book may chuckle quietly into his bourbon about how he got the book for silly cheap. The idea that a writer should be content with a paltry advance, however, is a load of crap; the advance a writer should be content with is the one that is the happy medium between what the writer thinks he or she is worth and what the publisher think it can sell. Any other advance is someone screwing someone else.

This much is true: The economics of publishing from the point of view of the writer and the point of view of the publisher are related but they are not the same. The publisher looks at the economics of publishing from the point of view of needing to create and market product; the writer looks from the point of view of eating. To some extent the publisher's costs are fungible -- how many books to print, where to advertise, whether to fund a book tour and so on. The writer's costs, on the other hand, are fungible across a much smaller range (a gallon of milk costs about the same wherever you go). A publisher's view of economics is institutional; the writer's, personal.

Lassen suggests, in a rather obnoxious fashion, that writers need a dose of reality when it comes to publishing economics. The subtext message in his bloviation is clear: The only legitimate point of view for the economics of publishing is that of the publisher. This is of course entirely wrong. We writers are not ignorant of the economics of publishing; we are, if anything, only too well acquainted with them. Our point of view matters and is indeed singularly relevant, since without writers, publishing has a real supply problem.

This is why a gaggle of writers, only slightly in their cups, unanimously declared certain deals "Shitty," "Contemptible." "Meh," and so on. From our point of view, that's a fair referent for the money involved and what it can do for us. I can buy shit for $1,000, so a $1,000 deal is pretty shitty. I can pay my mortgage for a year on $20,000. That's not bad. And the day I get a deal worth $100,000 or more, I'm definitely buying the next round. Really, I don't know how much clearer this can be.

It's probably that Lassen doesn't like the amount of money he can (or is willing to) offer as an advance referred to as "shitty." Well, I can sympathize, but only up to a point. If the economics of publishing are such that shitty or contemptible pay is what writers can hope to expect, then there's no point pretending otherwise. At the very least, everyone who wants to be a writer will know what they're getting themselves into.

Posted by john at 09:20 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

September 13, 2004

Happy Birthday, Whatever

Did you know (and its immediate corollary, do you care) that today marks the sixth anniversary of the existence of the Whatever? Well, it does. No one is more surprised about its longevity than I. The Whatever has been very good to me; directly or indirectly it has been responsible for the existence of four of my books, and a fair proportion of my income since 1998. Again, no one more surprised than I.

As it happens you can no longer read the very first Whatever entries on the site; I took them (and many others) down a couple of years ago when I did an overall revamp of the site. However, for the sake of archaeological amusement, allow me to post the first week of Whatever entries again, so you can get an idea of how much -- or how little -- the Whatever's changed since 1998. Enjoy.

(NB: I'm also going to try out the "extended entry" function here. If you don't immediately see a link to the first week of Whatevers, blame my technical incompetence. Yeah, I know. Even after six years, some things never change.)

Week of September 13, 1998

Hey, there. I’ve decided to try something a little new for me here at this website -- for a little while, at least, I’m going to try to update this front page on a regular basis with new text; the idea here being to give folks who come to the website a reason to come back on a somewhat regular basis.

This isn’t a new idea, by any stretch of the imagination. The internet is nothing if not a fount of unbridled egos splooging their opinions out to whomever is within browsing distance, regardless of the quality (or coherency) of those opinions my pal Ivan Brunetti’s cartoon comment here says it all.

A number of people out there even keep “online diaries”: One of my personal favorites is from James Lileks, who updates his site on a daily basis. It shows a certain stick-to-it-iveness that I admire, although I’m not sure that this own space will be updated with the same frequency. I am inherently lazy and will, whenever possible, avoid doing more work than I have to.

Be that as it may, I have several reasons for deciding to do the regular online update. As a writer, one of the things I have done most regularly, and which I think I am pretty good at, is write columns. I’ve been a columnist on various subjects off and on for most of the last decade, and it’s something that I enjoy.

Right now, I’m sort of between columns—I write a music column once a week for MediaOne Express (there’s a link to it, right over there to the left, in fact), and I’m extremely grateful that MediaOne folks have seen fit to pay me to write one; please visit the column several times daily to inflate the hit results, if you wouldn’t mind. Still, there’s only so much you can comment on in a music column (hint: It’s mostly music). In the absence of having another column at the moment, I’ll just use this space as my own little soapbox to comment about other things that are going on in the world.

I hesitate, however, to call anything I write in this space a proper column—that would bespeak of a certain amount of organizational structure that I can’t really seeing myself applying (it’s that laziness thing, remember). Nor would I really call it an “online diary”—Starr report notwithstanding, I think there’s a certain line beyond which personal lives ought to remain personal; I don’t plan on using this space to foist my deepest, darkest secrets on the internet. I can’t imagine most people would care all that much (especially as there won’t be pictures).

Probably the best thing to call this is a “.plan”. Plan files, for the blissfully technologically ignorant, are small files that reveal who a holder of a particular internet account is (by way of the “finger” function. Don’t ask). Plan files generally hold very basic information, but a few folks who have them use them as a place to jot down their thoughts on their life, world events, sports, movies, what have you. In short, a place to muse, somewhat publicly. It’s not about anything in particular, just what that person is thinking at that moment.

That’s what I figure this will be. Nothing especially deep, just a random thought or two I feel like sharing. My expectation is that I’ll update this every couple of days; drop by when you feel like and see what the hell is going on in my brain. E-mail if you like, or go on in and look at other parts of the site. Hope you enjoy it.



Sammy Sosa caught up with Mark McGwire yesterday when he slammed in home runs 61 and 62. The Washington Post, which is my hometown newspaper, played it up almost as big as they did when McGwire hit 62. I thought that was nice -- outside of Chicago and the Dominican Republic, Sosa is baseball's equivalent of Buzz Aldrin. Sure, he's made it to the moon, but he made it there second.

The Post's decision to play up Sammy's 62nd may have also been partly influenced by the fact that otherwise, they'd've had to have gone with another banner-sized headline about the Lewinsky mess. The decision to go with Sosa above the fold rather than Starr/Clinton/Cigar shows a bit of editorial wistfulness, as if the good that Sammy did on Sunday can somehow counteract all the gutter crud that the Starr Report has kicked up. I can't say I disagree: I know I'd rather hear about the home run race.

My expectation is that at the end of it all, McGwire will probably keep the lead over Sosa in the home run race; so far, every time Sosa draws up, McGwire whacks an entire clutch and pulls forward again. He's the co-dependent slugger; I guarantee that if Sosa hadn't been there dogging his heels the entire way, we'd still be wondering if Maris' record would ever be broken. Everyone knows it, which is why, in the future, McGwire's record will hardly be mentioned without Sosa being in it. What will be interesting is what will happen if Sosa actually is the one who ends up with the record -- how will McGwire timeshare that?

My personal wish would be: McGwire gets the home run record, Sosa gets the World Series. It's been that kind of season. And everyone would agree it'd be a fair trade.


John Holliman died over the weekend; he was the science reporter for CNN, who was going to co-host CNN's "Glenn Returns to Space" coverage with Walter Cronkite. Holliman got into a car accident when he tried to pass in a no-pass area and rammed an oncoming truck. The people in the truck appear to have escaped more or less intact, which is what keeps Holliman's death a tragedy rather than a stupid act -- Holliman was doing something he shouldn't have done, after all, and it's fortunate that no one else had to pay the price (other than a wrecked truck) for his impatience.

I liked Holliman as a reporter; he was genuinely interested in the stuff he was covering. As a science buff, I appreciated that; there's nothing more annoying than watching a science report delivered by some blow-dryed moron who looks good in front of a camera but clearly has no idea what he's talking about. Related to this, I also liked the fact that Holliman looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy in a grey suit. He was pudgy, fleshy, and not an especially good-looking man. It gave me hope that, yes, occasionally people can rise to positions of (relative) prominence in media by being good at the job rather than by being good to look at.

Actually, CNN has a number of unattractive but undeniably competent reporters in its stable; besides Holliman, the most obvious example is Candy Crowley, who may be the only female reporter in any televised news organization that actually has jowls. The first time I saw her on CNN I was stunned that someone like her had managed to get past what was undoubtedly a phalanx of image consultants and makeup artists. It's another reason to respect CNN. Of course, CNN has its share of pretty but vacuous talking heads, and being ugly doesn't automatically mean you're a competent reporter. But the fact that Crowley and Holliman were (and are) there at all says that CNN's priorities are, at the very least, not as out of whack as other news organizations.

I'll be interested to see who CNN picks as their next science reporter. If it's Jim Moret, someone may have to be killed.



Today is invoice day, the day of the month that I remind the people I write for how much they said they were going to pay me for my work, and then hope that their accounting departments will deign to actually cut me a check. In my short life as a freelance writer, I've learned that the writer's natural enemy is not the editor, but accounts payable. It appears to pain them physically to send off a check, or even to acknowledge that it, in fact, exists in our world. What check? This money is ours. I don't see your invoice. I'm plugging my ears now so I won't have to listen to you. Nyah, nyah, nyah.

Of course, if you're the writer, there's not very much you can do but wait -- you've already given over the writing, so you have no leverage. Meanwhile your mortgage and bills crop up. There's some irony in my situation. As a freelancer, I'm making more money than I ever have before. But I can't tell you when my next check will arrive. It's no wonder that banks and credit cards are reluctant to extend credit to people who are self-employed.

Not all my clients are tardy on the payments. One, in fact, often pays well ahead of schedule. Alas, they're only about 20% of my monthly income. The other 80% arrives when it arrives, like a dinner guest without a watch. You're hungry and you've got other things to do, but you can't do anything until your guest arrives. Frankly, I'd quit this gig right now, if it weren't for the fact that any other attempts to make money would probably involve, you know, actually working.


Took the dog for a walk this morning, as I always do. It's one of the mild ironies of my life now that, unencumbered as I am from the corporate lifestyle, I now wake up earlier than I have at any time in the past decade, just so the dog can go out and poop. If nothing else, it's good training for the other mammal I will soon be taking care of during the day, mainly my upcoming child.

Along the way this morning we met up with another dog, who as it happens has the same name as mine: Kodiak. My Kodiak is an akita; the other Kodiak is an Alaskan malamute. There's something about spitz-type dogs, apparently, that brings to mind images of large, angry arctic bears.

And not unreasonably, I suppose. Akitas are large dogs, and by nature are alpha-dominant; if you don't spend time socializing your Akita, the thing might eventually go off and eat their neighbor's cat (or the neighbor, depending).

They're particularly aggressive toward other dogs, although the females less so than the males. This is mildly worrisome to me, as almost all the other dogs in the neighborhood are literally bite-sized. And aggressive, which is a bad combination; the other day while walking Kodi, a dachshund tried to rush my dog -- Kodi could have simply lowered her jaw to the ground and swallowed the thing without so much as a blink. We've been fortunate that Kodi's generally good disposition means she's not interested in eating the other dogs, but I also wonder if she has come to the conclusion that other dogs, dinky and excitable, aren't much of a challenge.

This is why it's always interesting to meet up with the other Kodiak. Kodi is a big dog, but Kodiak is huge -- we're talking close to 200 pounds. The thing has a head the size of a manhole cover. The thing is elephantine. Polyplodial. You want to get a blood sample to check just how much rhinoceros DNA the damn thing has. God forbid Kodiak should ever become rabid. It would make Cujo look like the Taco Bell rat-dog.

When the two met up today, my Kodi was clearly in the mood to play and wrestle, and Kodiak went along agreeably enough, while I and his owner chatted. I used to be worried that Kodiak might actually eat my dog, but that doesn't seem likely -- the dog is pretty mellow. I'm also now of the opinion that, should Kodiak get tired of Kodi's tomfoolery and decide to put her in her place with a quick growl and a nip, it might not be a bad thing. If nothing else, it'd let my dog know that there are other dogs that are bigger and stronger, and all too happy to sit on her to make that very point.

Anyway, it never got to that. They played, we parted ways, and that was that. Kodi appeared to enjoy herself, which I suppose lends credence to my wife's assertion that Kodi wants another dog to play with. The problem with this is, my wife's solution would be to get a dinky dog -- Lhasa Apso or some such mop-like object. I'm worried that Kodi would watch the new puppy's winsome antics for a few moments and then think, I wonder what that thing tastes like.

The worst part is, I don't know that I'd blame her for trying a bite.



For the second time since I've had Scalzi.Com, my service provider went down; considering that I've had it since March, this isn't too bad a record. Anyone who spends any amount of time online realizes by now that outages and brownouts are part of the territory. They're not fun, and it's annoying to try to pull up your very own site and get nothing but a dialog box on Netscape, but, hey, it happens.

I probably have a little better attitude about it than most people, because among other things, I worked on the other side of the equation for two years. In fact, I was at America Online when the Great Outage of 1996 happened. I remember it very well -- got into work, sat down at my desk, couldn't sign on. Asked everybody else if they could sign on. Nobody could. Couldn't do any meaningful work without signing on, so we all waited. And waited. In the meantime, we all chatted, and socialized (we were the people who put up stuff on the service, not the poor bastards down in the technological boiler rooms, frantically trying to fix the pipes).

It was a strange day, a Lost Weekend, if you will -- there was nothing to do, and an entire office full of mid-20-somethings to do it. In the absence of work, but the requirement of physical presence, we reverted back to college; the atmosphere was like being in a dorm after classes were done for the day. Looking back, the OL members obviously weren't happy, but we as non-tech workers had had worse days.

Anyway, I called up my service provider's tech support, and just said "What's wrong?" I figured he'd know what I was talking about, since I couldn't pull up their home page, either. I was right. Apparently their connection to the backbone had somehow been corrupted; they were switching nodes (or something) and hooking up with another backbone while they fixed the issue. Everything should be back up soon. Nice enough guy, and this is here now, so I guess he was right.

Later last night I did a quick reflection about the fact that the conversation the tech and I had was another one that simply would not have made sense 10 years ago (unless he was working for Arpanet, and I was system administrator at a major university). Being online a lot, I get a reasonable number of these, and they're always fun -- shows progress (or at least movement) is in fact occurring. A decade from now, I'll probably have a similar conversation about something else (I'm expecting biotech).

By then I'll be 39, an age when distrust of new technology has begun to creep in; if someone catches me bitching about how things were better when we had open, invasive surgery instead of cellular nanotech 'bots, I hope they'll kill me right there.


Cat went out yesterday morning around 11 and didn't come back until 12 hours later. This is unusual for my cat, who doesn't go out often and tends to stay near the house when he does. By about 5, I was concerned enough that I actually put on shoes and hiked back to the wooded area behind my house to look for the damned thing. I figured that was where he would go. The wooded area seems deep, but it's a suburban scam; 80 feet beyond where the treeline begins behind the house is another, heavily traveled, street. I thought I might hike through and be greeted with the sight of my cat splooied all over Lincoln Street.

He wasn't; eventually he came back, as cats always do. His adorable fluffy white paws were yellow with dirt and grime, and he was clearly irritated that we weren't home when he returned. He had to wait until we came back from our dinner party, which was an imposition on him. We opened the door, and he went through without so much as a pro forma "golly it's nice to see you" rub on the leg.

That's my cat. Ever since we got the dog, he's been distinctly cooler to me and my wife; the addition of another pet was obviously a betrayal of something. Of course, he's still in a bind. Every now and again, he needs his recommended allowance of affection, so he comes over to be petted. It pains him, you can tell, but he's gotta have his fix.

Last night was not one of those times. I got him food, and I was holding it in my hands. I was asking him: Where've you been? What have you been doing? Why are your fluffy white paws yellow with crud?

He just looked up at me as if to say, Hey, are you going to feed me or what?

Cats. I tell ya.

Posted by john at 01:41 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Albert and Cthulhu, Sitting In a Tree

alandc.jpgI have to say, I wasn't entirely surprised when plush Albert Einstein and plush Cthulhu decided to become an item. After all, the two have tons in common: The love of water, the enjoyment of naps, a fascination with non-Euclidean geometry and a dislike of quantum physics (Al because it engenders spooky action at a distance; Cthulhu because quantum physicists tend toward the gamy side; it's that whole "I'm too busy thinking about the Higgs Boson to bathe" thing). People have gotten married who have had less in common, and at least this way if it ends up that Cthulhu drives Albert crazy, well, you know. He can't say he wasn't warned.

For all the obvious compatibilities, I was still worried. Let's face it, Dubya's America is a difficult place to conduct a plush same-sex interspecies relationship, even if the two participants are stuffed representations the father of 20th Century physics and an elder god of madness and chaos. People will still talk. Even here at home, I worry about some of the other less tolerant plush toys; I've seen Felix the Cat giving the two of them the stinky eye, which is pretty rich coming from a plush toy whose history includes an acknowledged "bag of tricks."

And what about outside the home? When Athena takes Al and Thu out into the world, will she get stares? I mean, they stare already -- after all, how many five-year-olds walk around with a plush physicist and/or foul slumbering creature from the briny depths. I mean, will they stare more. Will the average person be able to divine the passionate vibe emanating from these two cloth-wrapped bags of fun-shaped batting? And if they do, will they understand? And will they condone? Or at least tolerate? It's made even more difficult by the fact that some people still haven't forgiven Albert Einstein for the social fallout surrounding his theory of relativity, or Cthulhu for being, well, a homophagic instigator of insanity. They just can't see that at the end of the day, all these two want is to be loved.

Well, to hell with the lot of them. I for one applaud Al and Thu for their devotion to each other and for being willing to suffer the slings and arrows of those who misunderstand their relationship. If anyone can make a plush same-sex interspecies relationship work, it should be these two. Let's hear it for a grand unified theory of love. They say you don't have to be a crazy elder god to be in love, but it doesn't hurt. That's wisdom, my friends.

Posted by john at 12:51 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Good News, Bad News

So, the good news is that I wrote 12,500 words this weekend in Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film. That's 15% of the book's contractual length.

The bad news is that the chapter I wrote all those words for is supposed to be 6,000 words long. Whoops. Gotta reel myself in.

On the other hand, I'm very happy with the chapter. It needs some trimback, clearly, but it's packed with information, and having tossed off one chapter, the rest don't seem particularly imposing. This is more of the whole "once you get started, that hard part's over" thing.

I also want to note how cool it is to be able to use myself as a primary resource for research. The particular chapter I'm working on is on the actual science in science fiction film (there's not much), and so I'm using the Rough Guide to the Universe to double-check some of the things I'm writing. Whee!

Also, as a completely unrelated side, I really like the look of Movable Type 3.11, in terms of how it looks from the inside. The text-editing window, for one thing, is substantially larger -- I no longer feel like I'm writing in a cramped little space any more. I can breathe! Also, of course, lots more control over comments, which should trim back the comment spam. At the moment I'm considering whether to initiate some sort of authentication for posters -- MT 3.11 works with Movable Type's "Typekey," which allows people to leave messages at any MT blog with a single password -- and perhaps later I'll do something with that. For the moment, though, I'll leave comments wide open and see if MT can let me control spam effectively without having to resort to making y'all sign in.

Sleepy, sleepy. Must go rest.

Posted by john at 02:08 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 12, 2004

Testing, Testing.

This is me trying out my 3.11 install. Can you see this?

Posted by john at 05:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 11, 2004

Note About Comments

Some jerkwad is depositing several hundred comment spam messages a day on the Whatever, and I can't run MTBlacklist because my friggin' hosting service hasn't updated its version of Perl since 1997. So I did the next best thing, which is to close comments on every entry except this month's entries. So if you wanted to add a comment to something I said in July of 2003, it's too late now. I will shortly be on MT 3.11, which should solve many of my comment spam problems (cross fingers), but until then, let's just say that after about three weeks, I'm likely to close entries to comments. So if you've got something to say, say it early and often.

On a bright note, I also went through and deleted all the spam comments I could find. So the chances of you running across spam comments touting hot anal lesbian grandmas (or worse -- not that there's anything wrong with hot anal lesbian grandmas, if that's what you are) is now dramatically lessened. And I think we're all grateful for that. It does somewhat increase the likelihood that active comment threads will gather spam, but since I'll actively police those, what spam does accrue will be quickly removed. As I said, it should allow me to hold the fort until my 3.11 installation.

Posted by john at 08:39 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Books & Stuff, 9/11

The ever-rocking Lucy Huntzinger has passed along this picture of me at my Noreascon reading, holding up Old Man's War. Actually, it's not really Old Man's War; it's the cover to OMW wrapped around another Tor book whose dimensions are near exactly what my book's will be. But it's more impressive to hold up a book than merely a cover. Yes, I'm all about appearances.

I got one bit of good news about Old Man's War recently: It's been chosen by the Science Fiction Book Club as an Alternate Selection for January 2005, which means that if the members aren't pleased with the main selection for that month, they can just check a box or something and get my book instead. I don't know how many will opt for that, but on the other hand now my book will be waved in the face of the many thousands of SFBC members, and, you know. It's hard to beat that. These people are already motivated to buy science fiction novels, so that's one less battle to fight.

There is the drawback that contractually, what I get for books sold through the Book Club is less than I get by way of non-Book Club royalties. But let me provide you with a bracing moment of honesty, here. I am a first time novelist. At this point, it's really more important for me and to me to get read. If the Book Club does it, well, bring it on. I'm not hurting financially, and the potential long-term payoff (more readers hopefully willing to shell out for my books) is worth it.

So, if you're a member of the Science Fiction Book Club, you know what to look forward to with your January selection card. Tell the folks you know.

The folks at Tor have been strongly hinting that they want the followup to OMW sooner than later, which is a nice fuzzy feeling, if you ask me. So depending on how quickly things fall together, the second novel you may see from me could be The Ghost Brigades rather than The Android's Dream. Is this possible delay to TAD's publication good or bad? Honestly, I don't see it as either; it's simply of matter of my publisher trying to fine-tune things to get the maximum result. This is, mind you, manifestly better than one's publisher simply plopping the book onto the market. It's comforting to know other people have a strategy to make me a popular writer.

As long as we're on the subject of books, I'll also note that Book of the Dumb 2 is now available for pre-order on Amazon; if you're hankering to get a fresh load o' stupidity hot off the presses, you know what to do.

I'm banging away on Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film right now; I'm slightly behind but I'm catching up. One thing I keep forgetting is how quickly I write -- I banged out about 6,000 words yesterday (most of a chapter) and I'm polishing it today before going on. Be aware that I'm aware writing fast is not the same thing as writing well; still, this book is on a tight deadline and it's nice to remember that one I bother to get going on writing it comes pretty quickly. It's always the starting of the writing that's the annoying part.

It's 9/11; I'm remembering, as should you. I made a brief entry about it on By The Way, check it out if you like.

Back to the Science Fiction Film book...

Posted by john at 11:55 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 09, 2004

Note of Possible Nonfunctionality

Remember that update to Movable Type 3.11 I was talking about the other day? Yeah, well, I screwed it up, so I'm having a more tech-enabled friend do it for me, and he may do it later today. If the Whatever suddenly goes down, you'll know why. This is just a head's up.

Posted by john at 09:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 08, 2004

My Grandfather's Eulogy

I thought I had already posted this somewhere on my site, but apparently I had not. And since I had thought I had lost it and only came upon it while searching through my computer for something else (my wife's resume, still lost), I figure I'll post it now, so that even if I lose it again and I very likely will, it will nevertheless be committed to the world memory that is known as Google. It is the eulogy I delivered for my grandfather in June of 1991. Those of you who know me know the high esteem in which I held (and hold) my grandfather; those of you who don't know me should know I consider him the most important male role model in my life. So there you are. And here it is.

Eulogy for My Grandfather.

My grandfather and I had a number of secrets between us. Most of these, I can't tell; the salient feature of a secret is not the matter contained within the secret, but the trust implied.

But I'll tell you one secret, because I think it's important, and because I think that my grandfather won't mind. It's a little secret, without much drama to it: My grandfather once told me that he would have liked to have been a history teacher.

Like I said, it's a little secret. It's a little dream. But ever since he told it to me, four years ago now, the image of my grandfather in front of a class, teaching history, has stayed fixed in my memory. It is something that seems right and true.

Part of this may have to do with the fact that, in a very real sense, my grandfather embodied history to me. I have only just now come to that point in my life where time has loosed itself from its moorings, and memory has begun to develop an appreciable depth. But to me, my grandfather always seemed to have that depth.

We can all remember asking our grandparents about their lives; it's fascinating to a young person, because here is someone talking about a time and a place that never existed or could exist for that young person. Here, before you, is someone who has traveled through time.

And as you reconstruct the past with a grandparent, you also reconstruct the person. My grandfather had always been my grandfather: Older, balding, and grumpy. But he was also once a child, who didn't speak English until he was five years old. He was a teenager who used to play baseball. He was a young man who was dragged to a USO dance by a buddy, there to meet the woman he would marry. There's a richness of a life that can only be told though a recitation of its history. My grandfather came truly alive to me when I knew his life.

A place and its history are meaningless unless there is a context in which to place it. The proper context for my father was within his family. Families are also the embodiment of history: The individual elements change as the men and women of it pass though time, but the family remains. My grandfather told me that in the little Italian town from which our family came, there is a book that lists the names of our family back hundreds of years. It's a staggering thing to know there is so much history there.

But it is easily lost. On my mother's side of the family, there is a box that contains the portraits of a dozen or more of my relatives who lived during the 1850s and 60s. All we have are those photos; names and knowledge of them simply does not exist. I know nothing about them. The photos stare back at me when I look, but they do not speak.

Grandpa spent countless hours tell me about the Scalzis and their kin and their friends, reaching into the past and bringing it forward into the present day. I didn't know why it was so important to him that I know about you all, many of whom I am meeting today for the first time as an adult.

But I think I understand part of it now. Your family is more than a historical context. It shapes you and colors you and binds you. You can feel the tangible connections between us, linked through time from the past and fading into the future. My grandfather wanted me to know about those who had acted within his life, because they would play a part in my life as well, if only indirectly, as their attractions pulled at my grandfather during his path through life.

Grandpa loved his family deeply, although he did not always understand it. There is much that my grandfather has done that he knew was wrong, much concerning the route the path of his life took through his family that he wished he could change or alter, some pains he wished he could take away. You must believe me: At the core of my grandfather's soul was love for his family. It is simultaneously his greatest pride and disappointment, and he loved you all with a mixture of love and resignation.

What a small dream my grandfather had, but what a powerful dream as well. I look at most of you now through my grandfather's eyes and memories. Who you are to me must spring from the foundation of knowledge he gave me, from the sense of history that he tried to instill within me, about you. It is a good foundation, a good history, and my grandfather's life was a good life.

My grandfather was a teacher of history, although he did not know it. It is a history that is still living, as we compose its elemental parts, as we create our world in our own time, linked together and stronger for it.

I thank my grandfather for his lessons, I love him, and I honor him. And as befits a teller of history, I shall not forget him.

Posted by john at 04:06 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

The Real World Book Deal Descriptions

Now, if you've read the previous entry about Noreascon, you may have come away thinking that most of what writers do at conventions is drinking and carousing and then possibly drinking some more. And you'd be right. However, I don't want you to think that nothing of value was accomplished there -- or indeed that nothing of value can be accomplished even while drinking.

As proof of this, it gives me great pride to introduce to the world the Real World Book Deal Descriptions, as formulated at Noreascon 4 at the Sheraton Hotel Lobby Bar by a group of only somewhat inebriated writers including Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Kelly Link, James Patrick Kelly, Lauren McLaughlin, Eliani Torres, Shara Zoll and your humble narrator. A couple others were there as well (if you were there for it, feel free to chime in in the comment thread), but the point is, this is group wisdom, based on decades of collective writing experience.

Now, some background. One of the most widely-read e-mail lists in publishing is Publisher's Lunch, in which various book deals are announced with certain euphemisms to describe what sort of money was involved. For example, book deals that get the writer up to $100,000 are known as "a nice deal." $100K to $250 is "a good deal," and so on up past the $1 million point, at which you have "a major deal." And well, yes, if you're up at that point, it certainly is a major deal, you bastard.

Thing is, for most writers (and I include myself here), about 80% of those levels never get used: The vast majority of book publishing deals are "nice." However, using one adjective to describe both the $1000 book deal someone gets from a teeny university press and the $90,000 book deal from the major New York publisher is obviously ridiculous. A $1K book deal and a $90K book deal are quite clearly not equivalent; one is, oh, 90 times better than the other. If only for sheer honesty's sake, there needs to be book deal rankings that accurately reflect what deals really get done and the financial quality of those deals for the writer.

So, after another round of beers, this is what we came up with.

$0 to $3,000: A Shitty Deal. Because that's what it is, my friends. Possibly the only thing worse than a shitty deal is no deal at all. Possibly.

$3,000 to $5,000: A Contemptible Deal. The deal you get when your publisher has well and truly got your number, and it is low.

$5,000 to $10,000: A "Meh" Deal. It's not great, you know. But you can pay some bills. Get a few of these, and a tolerant spouse with a regular income, and you can tell your day job to piss off. This year, anyway.

$10,000 to $20,000: A Not Bad Deal. Note that "not bad" here should be said with a slight appreciative rise of the eyebrows and a small approving nod -- this is the level at which the money begins to look not embarrassing both to writers and non-writers. A couple of these, and you'll definitely be punting the day job (I did, anyway).

$20,000 to $100,000: A "Shut Up!" Deal. This needs to be said in the same enviously admiring vocal tone as a teenage girl might use to her girlfriend who is showing off the delicious new pumps she got at Robinsons-May for 30% off, or the vocal tone (same idea, lower register) Jim Kelly used when one of our number admitted to having at least a couple of deals in this range. With this kind of money, you don't even need a supportive spouse to avoid the Enforced Top Ramen Diet (although, you know. Having one doesn't hurt). But it's not so much that the other writers actively begin to hate you.

$100,000 and above: "I'm Getting the Next Round." Because if you're at this level, you can buy and sell all the other writers at the table. Get 'em a friggin' beer, for God's sake (ironically, this is the only level not thought up at the bar, but in the cold hard light of the next morning, by Shara Zoll).

Think how much more interesting and useful the Publisher's Lunch would be if these rankings were used:

"Joe Wannabe's THE FIRST NOVEL IS THE MOST ANNOYING, a coming-of-age story about a not particularly interesting 20-something graduate student who is eventually dumped by his girlfriend for being a mopey, emo-listening sack of crap, to Random Small Press, in a shitty deal."

"Susan Midlist's THE MARY SUE CRITICAL MASS, the story of a world thrown into chaos when large numbers of bookish women spontaneously appear at critical events of historical importance and passively-aggressively demand to play a role, to Not Insignificant Genre Press, in a meh deal."

"Neil Popular's A DARK UNIVERSE FULL OF CASH, a tale of a man who wakes up one morning with fame and fortune but then must tolerate being accosted at random intervals by strangers who want to be his best friends and/or to have him blurb their own work, to Big Respected Publisher. He'll get the next round."

See, that's much better.

The floor is now open to comments.

(Note: Those of you coming over from Publisher's Lunch (hi there!) may also be interested in the follow-up entry you can find here.)

Posted by john at 12:31 PM | Comments (74) | TrackBack

September 07, 2004

Noreascon Wrapup

So, except for the fact that I went through a large percentage of the Tor Books party with a massive zipper malfunction (helpfully pointed out to me by the Tor editor who pointed directly at my crotch and said something along the line of "You're looking a little loose, there"), I have to say it was a very successful Worldcon. Noreascon 4 was my second Worldcon, and the difference was striking. My first Worldcon (Torcon 3) had me wandering about amongst strangers -- kind strangers, mind you, but strangers nonetheless. This time around, I had friends and peers, the sort of people you can, say, make an ass of yourself with in an elevator (in this particular case, Kelly Link, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Lauren McLaughlin and Shara Zoll (wielding the camera)), not to mention hanging out in a bar until the security people come to boot you the Hell out. It makes for a more relaxed and enjoyable time.

Which is good because I worked a hell of a lot more at this Worldcon than the last one. In Toronto, I had two panels; this time I had eight (not counting my reading). I spent a lot of time rushing to panels and figuring out what I had to say. But most of the panels went well. Two in particular I thought really rocked: The panel about the 20th Century featured the convention guest of honor Terry Pratchett, who is very amusing and who was gracious enough to to set me up with a huge laughline -- Pratchett mentioned to the crowd that archaeologists in Jerusalem had recently uncovered a 2,000-year-old cloaca, otherwise known as a latrine, and thanks to the anaerobic conditions in which it was preserved, the contents were still as the depositors had left them. To which I replied, "Holy shit."

Thank you, I'll be here all week. Try the kabobs.

The other really excellent one was the one in which we discussed all the bad science you found in science fiction films. Since I was the guy on the panel who had actually written a science book, I was the de facto expert on the subject, which was mildly amusing, since I know for a fact there was at least one actual physicist in the audience. Be that as it may, the crowd was into the panel and all the panelists were rather amusing, and a good time was had by all. I had only one panel which I thought was less than spectacular, but I'll avoid mentioning that one since I don't want to make enemies.

Sadly, being on all those panels precluded me from attending from many of the panels I wanted to see; far too many of them were scheduled against the panels I was on. But the ones I did see were memorable, particularly the one on literary clichés, in which we learned that apparently a substantial number of readers really really really like wheat, and are prepared to defend it against all those who would seek to expunge it from the various fantasy worlds. So those writers who yearn for a gluten-free universe, beware.

In addition to panels, I also had a reading (this picture is also from Shara); here you can see me reading from Old Man's War, which is my upcoming novel. In this picture, I may or may not be speaking in a bad, fake southern accent, which I was using to distinguish one of the characters in the chapter. This particular chapter was interesting to read, since it required me to be fairly dramatic. The reason for this is that there was a lot of profanity in it, and you can't just read a line full of expletives in a calm monotone. That would sort of rob the urgency of the text, I would think. I thought the reading was reasonably successful, but of course, I would. You'll need to check with the actual people in attendance to see what they thought. But I will note that I gave away candy and a book, so even if they hated the reading, at least they got a sugar rush.

Once again, I didn't get to nearly all the readings I would have liked to get to, but I did get to the readings of Nick Sagan (who made me very very jealous with the totally awesome audiobook version of his most recent novel, Edenborn, which he played at the reading. I want an awesome audiobook, damn it), Justine Larbalestier (who read from Magic or Madness, her upcoming, hemisphere-spanning YA novel) and Scott Westerfeld, whose newly-released YA So Yesterday includes the concept of the "Missing Black Woman Formation" -- The idea that in movies there's always a white guy, a black guy and a white woman, but that the symmetry-providing black woman is missing (NB: The Matrix, with Neo, Morpheus and Trinity). I'm kicking myself for not thinking of it first.

But mostly, Worldcons are about hanging out with friends at restaurants, bars and parties -- you know, like college, except without classes (if you don't count panels as classes). I hung with the aforepictured-and-mentioned Scott, Justine, Nick (and his fabulous wife Clinnette), Shara, Kelly and Lauren (and her posh bastard hubby Andrew), but also spent some quality time with Karen Meisner, Cory Doctorow, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Liz Gorinsky and (briefly, because he had something on the order of 37,000 panels) Charlie Stross.

I also made the physical acquaintance (and re-acquaintance) of a number of blog and e-mail friends including Chad Orzel, Kate Nepveu, Marissa Lingen, Tobias Buckell, Rob Wynne, Lucy Huntzinger, and Columbine as well as Eliani Torres, who in one of those strange coincidences you'd never write because it's just simply not believable, went to the same elementary school I did and even saw me play the Artful Dodger in the school play version of Oliver. She somewhat jokingly accused me of stalking her until I managed to convince her that I really did live in Covina, California, all those years ago. Well, and who can blame her. Aside from these folks I did the quick chat and smile and wave to bunches of other people as well; as I noted, catching up with is is what Worldcons are really for.

So that's how I spent the last several days.

Posted by john at 05:24 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Upgrade Day

After going away and coming back and having to remove 500 pieces of comment spam -- and still not being done -- I've decided today is a fine day to upgrade Moveable Type. So that's what I will be attempting today. If everything suddenly implodes, you'll know why.

Provided the upgrade is successful, I'll soon regale you with Tales From Noreascon! I know you can't wait.

Update 11:04 AM: Gaaaah. Not going well.

Posted by john at 08:55 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack