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December 31, 2004

Bye Bye 2004

bye2004.jpg

2004: It's all a blur now.

Actually, it's not. Certainly a very strange year, although one that in many ways was very good for me personally. Having said that, I'm happy to let it go, and happy to move forward into 2005.

See you all on the other side.

Posted by john at 03:52 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 30, 2004

Ringing the Bell for Christ and the ACLU -- Again!

Recall, if you will, my call for lawyers who are Christian and work for the ACLU to come forward to refute the belief a correspondent of mine had, that there were no Christian lawyers at the ACLU. I've already rung the bell, but I'm ringing it again, because I've hauled in a big one:

Will the judgmental soul who doubted there were Christian lawyers with the ACLU please prepare to pony up another $50. I am a lawyer, law professor more precisely, and the immediate past President of the ACLU of Alabama. I am currently on the ACLU of Alabama Board of Directors and additionally serve on its Executive Committee. And, yes, I am a Christian.

I know of my own personal knowledge that the ACLU brings just as many lawsuits under the Free Exercise clause supporting various religious groups (including Christian churches as shown earlier in this thread) in their ability to practice their faith, as it does under the Establishment Clause attempting to prevent the overt endorsement of religion by government.

The true client of the ACLU is the Constitution of the United States. We represent specific, individual clients in order to promote constitutional rights. When we act to defend helpless individuals against oppressive government (a common scenario), I believe the ACLU acts in a truly Christian manner (although this is not intended as such, and my non-Christian colleagues on the ACLU Board would distance themselves from this). After all, Christ enjoined us to help the least among us, and often the ACLU finds itself representing the friendless and the scorned.

For myself, my beliefs are not so fragile that they require blaring public pronouncement, and especially public pronouncement by less-than-honest politicians. So what if there are no public statutes or monuments to any particular religious faith? Of what value is a belief system that needs such constant reinforcement?

I also ask myself what I would feel if I were a Muslim or a Hindu, living in the United States and constantly being made to feel second class by virtue of the religious prattle that comes out of the mouths of public officials. I would not want that for myself, and, as Christians, how can we possibly force onto others that which we would not want for ourselves?

David J. Langum

Whoever issued this challenge can please direct the $50 to: Office Manager, ACLU of Alabama, 207 Montgomery Street, Suite 825, Montgomery, Alabama 36104.

I'd already donated the $50 in question to the national organization, but I'm feeling good about this one, so I think I'll tip in another $50. It also covers the other ACLU Christian lawyers that popped up in the thread -- and my sincere thanks to them as well.

Anyway: Mission Accomplished. I feel good.

Posted by john at 10:06 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

On Rudeness as a Rhetorical Tool

For those of you who are interested, I put a comment here (it's the one dated 12/30/04 at 1:35 pm) on how I will occassionally be rude in online discussions as an intentional rhetorical maneuver. A snip:

It's no secret to anyone here that I can at times be rude and confrontational. I think what generally less known is I'm not *always* rude because I'm a hothead; I'm sometimes rude because I find it's a surprisingly effective rhetorical device that causes people to focus and clarify their arguments, and occasionally to understand how someone (and specifically, me) might find the formulation of their statements offensive and dismissive.

I think the assumption is that when you're rude online, people will automatically be rude back, but I've found much of the time that's not the case... Often times when I am rude to someone online, they take a step back examine, why I'm suddenly antagonistic and move to clarify.

You can read the full piece in the comment thread; if you have comments of your own on it, please leave them in that comment thread.

To clarify: Sometimes I'm simply rude because I'm as much a jerk as anyone else. I can't claim the "It's all a master plan!" defense every single time I act like an ass online.

Posted by john at 01:52 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Maxims for Believers

Not to distract you all from the spectacle of me and Mr. Duemer frothing at the mouth like angry mad dogs while putatively discussing tolerance, but on his own site Devin Ganger has posted a variation of the Seven Maxims for Non-Believers, modified for use for believers. I think he's done a fine job, and encourage you all to trundle over and check out his variation on the theme.

Posted by john at 11:54 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

December 29, 2004

Heh heh heh.

Apparently, in the conversation at Chad's place, someone got his feelings hurt.

I particularly like this comment about me:

"Obviously Scalzi is a genius in line for a MacArthur grant; obviously he is someone whose very cyber-presence confers beneficence. Though, actually, when you read what he writes he comes off as a sort of self-important creep. The kind of guy whose loud certainty makes you edge away from him in a bar, you know. He’s the big guy with the shaved head & a lot of opinions about tolerance."

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!

I have to imagine he thinks I'm a big guy because of the picture here. I suppose the camera does add about 40 pounds, and six inches.

But if you think he gets angry with me, check this out. He gets positively apoplectic over Patrick Nielsen Hayden. At least he's getting cardio out of it.

Update: Turns out the aggrieved party is a published author and a professor of creative writing. The mind positively boggles.

Update: Michael Rawdon wrote something very true in the comments, so I'm elevating it out of the comments for general consumption:

The Internet should come with a Surgeon General's warning. Something like:

"WARNING: The Internet may contain people and subject matter which you find offensive. Engaging in dialogues with other inhabitants of the Internet may expose you to ideas, comments and language which you find offensive. Further, you may be made fun of for being offended. You may particularly be made fun of for posting journal entries complaining about people disagreeing with or making fun of you."

Right on. So right on, in fact, that I propose this concept is henceforth codified as Rawdon's Law of Blog Retreat:

When you write on your blog how mean everyone else was to you on some other blog, you are officially the loser.

Update: Mr. Duemer, the fellow who generated that lovely quote about me that is excerpted above, has made an appearance in the comment thread. We seem to be playing a little more nicely. Scroll down to 12/30 at 8:48 pm.

Posted by john at 09:17 PM | Comments (64) | TrackBack

Maxims for Non-Believers

The other day Chad Orzel excerpted my post on teaching Athena about Christmas and did a compare and contrast with a comment about religion from another blogger who is a non-believer. This prompted a comment from a reader (who is, presumably, also a non-believer):

"I really can't approve of John Scalzi's Laodicean attitude. Believe, if you can. Disbelieve, if you must. But don't pick out just the pretty parts to pass on."

This naturally caused me to break out John Scalzi's Patented Hard Rubber Mallet of Agitated Clarification and apply it liberally. I won't post the messy, snippy results of this; instead, please visit Chad's fine, fine blog for the details.

However, in the course of whacking on folks, I did sketch out seven Maxims for Non-Believers -- seven heuristics that I use to reconcile my own utter lack of religious belief with the rather more religious world I live in. The maxims are:

1. Being a non-believer does not mean you have to be intolerant of those who believe.

2. Being a non-believer does not mean you have to be ignorant of the beliefs of those around you.

3. Being a non-believer doesn't mean you need to keep your children ignorant of the beliefs around you either. Withholding information from your children is a very bad way to help them make responsible decisions.

4. Being a non-believer does not mean you can't empathize with the religious impulse in others.

5. Being tolerant of belief, knowledgeable about beliefs and empathetic toward the desire for belief does not make one less of a non-believer. It makes one tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic.

6. I believe that my tolerance, knowledge and empathy makes my own non-belief stronger, because I know why other people believe, and why I don't.

7. I believe that in being tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic toward believers, I encourage those who believe to be tolerant, knowledgeable and empathetic toward me.

Note for the record that these maxims do not preclude thumping on people of faith who are also ignorant as paste and would try to make me and mine just as ignorant. Since I don't believe that faith requires adhesive levels of ignorance, I feel perfectly justified tolerating faith while whaling on active, aggressive know-nothingness. Jesus may love us all, even the morons, but that doesn't mean being a moron should be an aspiration.

But I have to be honest: I find arrogant, intolerant non-believers just as annoying on a personal level as arrogant, intolerant believers. Just as having faith doesn't require ignorance, neither does non-belief require sneering contempt. Ignorant believers, contemptuous non-believers: Both are equal in my eyes, since both should be laid upon hard with a shovel and put out of my misery.

Anyway: Tolerance. Knowledge. Empathy. They work for everyone. Believe it. Try them.

Posted by john at 03:26 AM | Comments (83) | TrackBack

December 28, 2004

Get Hammered

Congratulations to Elizabeth Bear, whose first novel Hammered is officially in bookstores today (five days before my own book, officially at least):

You can buy it here, or read an excerpt here. Or, read a review here. Don't have it yet personally, but it's on order, and I'm looking forward to the read.

Posted by john at 08:33 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 26, 2004

Whatever Best of 2004

The next week I'm likely to be very scarce here, so allow me to compensate for my absence by providing you with this: The Best Whatevers of 2004, in my estimation. These are arranged chronologically.

Why I Breed
My So-Called Writing Life
I Am Married
Leviticans
Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice
Easter
The Meaning of Life
A Quick Note to About-To-Be Married Gays and Lesbians
A Little Advice to Indie Artists About Their Websites
The Real World Book Deal Descriptions
Why A Shitty Deal is a Shitty Deal
Ignorance is No Excuse
Voting Christian
Online Friends
Why Christmas

In case I don't get back to y'all through the rest of 2004, have a very happy new year, and I hope your 2005 is everything you want it to be, so long as what you want it to be isn't "The Year I and My Implacable Robot Hordes Conquer the Earth!" If that's what you want, I sort of hope you're disappointed.

Posted by john at 12:15 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 24, 2004

Athena's Message.

Athena was happy to see all your birthday greetings, and made her own little holiday card for you fine folks. Here it is.

amessage.jpg

The writing on the side says: "Deep in your heart there is a sunlight so hot that it makes you love people. That's why you love people." Well, that works for me.

She also writes "I love you everybody." That works for me, too.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

Posted by john at 04:02 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Novelist Money

Justine Larbalestier, whose perfectly fabulous YA novel is coming out in a few months, asked some author friends of hers what sort of advance they got for their first novels, because she's curious and because enough people Googled her site to find out that she felt she might as well have the information there. The results of her informal polling are here; and yes, I'm one of the data points (I'm the 2002 entry, in case you're wondering). Add this to a rather more extensive list of what romance publishers provide for advances, and you get the general indication that very few people who are not already famous (or related to someone famous) get a whole lot of advance money for their first works, particularly in genre markets. But then, if you hang out here, you should have known about that already.

However, for me, this was the paragraph I found most interesting:

Of the 18 people I asked, only seven are full-time writers (no, Samuel R. Delany is not one of them, he earns his dosh as a university professor) and of those only two of them are doing fine (New York Times' bestseller, Shut-up! or I'm-getting-the next-round advances fine—definitely no longer worrying about where the next cheque is coming from). The rest are in their words "scraping by" or "barely comfortable" and depend overly much on their redit cards, except for Scalzi who is smart enought to also make money writing non-fiction.

Yup. Non-fiction and also corporate and newspaper/magazine work; if I had to rely only on the money I get for books under my own name, I'd be doing a lot less fine, both in terms of raw income and in terms of spreading out the income I did get throughout the year. Bills come on a regular cycle, even if book money doesn't. Although book-writing income has become a greater percentage of my writing income, at the end of the day it's still the minority.

And the income from fiction writing -- which at this point is purely advance money -- is a small enough amount that, to be quite blunt about it, I pretty much forgot I was owed an advance on The Android's Dream until Krissy (who manages the money around here, and thank God) reminded me and told me to pester Tor about it. As a functional part of my income (i.e., the part that pays bills, mortgages and other such things), my fiction advances are not a consideration, and at the level that I'm paid for fiction at the moment, if it did become part of my functional income, I imagine I'd be pretty concerned. I'd need to both lower my expenses and raise my income.

Would I like to get larger advances writing fiction? Well, sure, and I am; I'm getting more for The Ghost Brigades, for example (for Android's Dream I made the same amount as for OMW). But unless I become a major-selling author, and reliably so, it would be unrealistic to assume I will get eye-popping advances, and in any event it will take a few years to see where I stand in terms of moving books off the shelves. In other words, even if I do get to continue to publish fiction (and I hope I do), realistically I expect fiction advances to be one of the smaller segments of my income pie for some time to come.

And if it stays a small portion of my income, well, I'm fine with that. One doesn't get to the income level I'm at without being money conscious (and reasonably not-stupid about money)but neither am I wholly money-motivated, particularly when it comes to writing fiction; the fact I put Old Man's War on my Web site to begin with, rather than shop it to publishers, bolsters this point. I want to make money with my fiction, yes. But what I really want to do with my fiction is write some really good stories. If I make a lot of money, swell. If no one buys them and I post them here and get not a single red cent, that's fine, too. It's nice to be in a financial position where I can do either and not have to count my change walking away.

(Note to publishers: Please do not assume this means I'll be happy being low-balled. My agent is likely to correct such misapprehensions.)

Posted by john at 12:58 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

December 23, 2004

Six

Athena's six today. Here's what I wrote when she was born.

---

Christmas Eve, 1998 --

Dear Athena:

When you were born, God decided that it should snow. Not much, just enough to cover the ground with a powdery white crust that terrified drivers. Snow! They said. I better drive five miles an hour! And they did, somehow still managing to tip their minivans and sport utility vehicles into light poles, highway medians, mail boxes, and each other. It took me the better part of an hour to drive the five miles home from the hospital in which you were born, watching grown men and women slip and slide in their vehicles in front of me. I of course, drove perfectly. As you grow, Athena, you will discover that I do everything perfectly. Do not listen to those who would tell you your dad is a raging doofus. They are sad, sad people, even though most of them are among my best of friends.

You can't blame most of those people for being upset with the snow on the ground, Athena. They didn't know what it meant. You see, when you were born, the world was changed, permanently, forever. One minute you were not in this world, the next you were. This was a momentus occassion, one that should have been marked. God, being God, decided to note it in the appropriate way: Changing the world. One minute there was no snow on the ground, the next there was (well, technically, it accumulated. But it did so while your mother was laboring to bring you into this world. By the time you arrived, it covered as far as the eye could see).

I think God's choice was an appropriate one. Sure, he could have gone and done something flashy. Like a star in the sky. But he's already done that. And by all reports you have to actually be a blood relation for Him to make that sort of effort. But the snow was right: It was the first snow of the season, so it was new. It doesn't snow here often, so it was unusual, remarkable. There was just a little, so it was fragile. And as it blanketed the ground to the edges of the horizon, it was beautiful. It made everything else beautiful. It was, in short, like you.

You were not pleased to be brought into this world, Athena. From the moment you hit the air, you loudly complained to everyone in earshot. Hey, you said. I was comfortable in there! No one told me about this. I was not consulted. I was pleased to hear it. Both sides of your family tree have a strong sense of self, Athena, that is frequently confused with stubbornness. Your displeasure about being out of the loop on this whole birth thing is a good indication that the family traits are well in evidence. It won't make raising you easy, I'm sure. But it will make it interesting, which, in the end, is a better state of affairs.

Besides, Athena, take it from me: It's really not such a bad place. Yes, yes, it has wars, and hunger, and pain, and bad TV. But that's why you have parents. We're going to do what we can to protect you from those things (ironically, it'll be the bad TV that's going to be the hardest to save you from. If I'm lucky, the first you'll hear of the Teletubbies, Barney and Rugrats will be when you're a teenager). But it's also a place where wonderful things can and do happen, best evidenced by your own birth. I think you'll be happy here. We're going to try to make you happy.

Athena, I'm just rambling. It's been less than a full day since your birth, and still my emotions are so jumbled I hardly know what to do with myself. Writing is how I try to sort them out, but they're resisting. All I feel, all I have felt since you've been born, is an enduring sense of joy. After you were born, the nurses wisked you to your birthing station, where they did the things they had to do: Put air in your face so you would pink up (you were born a rather striking shade of magenta), put the band on you so you wouldn't be confused with one of the five other babies who shared your birthday, inked your feet for footprints, and so on. After they were done with that, they wrapped you tight in three blankets (which prompted me to turn to your mother and say, Congratulations, you've given birth to a burrito). And then you were handed to me.

Oh, Athena. Words don't come for what I felt then. Here you were. Here you are -- my daughter, the work of mine and your mother's conjoined souls. All I could do was cry, cry and hold my head against your mother's hand. It was overwhelming. It still is. I try to find the words that express everything I felt -- that I am feeling, even as I write this -- and I fail. I fail spectacularly. It doesn't translate in the world of words. None fit. Except for these: Athena Marie. Your name. And the word: Welcome.

Welcome, Athena. Welcome to this world, to our home, to our love. Welcome to everything. Your mother and I are so happy to see you. We're so happy. I thank God and your mother for you. The snow on the ground only told us what we already knew: Everything is changed. Welcome Athena. Welcome.

Welcome.

Posted by john at 04:54 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Ringing the Bell for Christ and the ACLU

The other day I asked Christians who were also ACLU lawyers to come forward to disprove a correspondent's mouth-gaping belief that there were no Christian lawyers at the ACLU. This morning someone came forward who was close enough for my purposes: A law student actively involved with the ACLU in Kentucky, and who (as entirely expected) can speak first-hand of ACLU lawyers who are also Christian. He also posts an excellent and cogent explanation of why one who is Christian might also choose the ideals of the ACLU, and I commend it to you all; read the full comment here (you'll need to scroll down; it was written 12/23 at 9:24am). A particularly good point I'll note here:

In the same vein, as a man of faith I am profoundly offended by the sanctimonious would-be demagogues who treat Christianity as if it were some kind of virus that spreads on mere contact. What has a Bible verse read over a school intercom to do with the teaching of Christ's love? We are told by the Bible to be fishers of men; finders of converts. It never commands us to do it stupidly. The best (and in my experience, the only) way to truly gain converts is to exemplify Christian ideals. Be kind to others. Help those who are most in need of help (without any proselytization involved). Strive to better yourself whilst leaving the judgment of others to God. Then when asked why you do these things that so few others do, you explain how you are driven by faith. Those who would have forced prayer in every classroom and the Ten Commandments on every public wall seem to be interested more in publicity and theocratic clout than in actually winning people's souls.

Amen to that.

To my mind this comment post presents the evidence I need to disprove my correspondent's assertion, so that means, as promised, the ACLU now gets $50 of my money, to help continue their efforts to safeguard the constitutional rights of all Americans. Rock on, ACLU! Rock on, US Constitution!

Posted by john at 10:22 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Winter Wonderland -- The Day After

Another foot of snow overnight, and now my front porch looks like this. Contrast this with the picture from the same place on my porch yesterday, and you realize this whole snow thing has gotten out of hand. In fact, we're in a Level 3 situation in our county, which means no one is allowed to drive unless what you're driving is a cop car, a fire engine or an ambulance.

For another perspective on the snow, here's the back porch:

I realize that none of this will impress those of you in, say Minnesota, Alaska or Canada. But jeez, for someone raised in Southern California, this is pretty serious stuff.

Here Athena and Krissy confer on the snow, which you can see piled up at the window. That's a second story window, incidentally. Fortunately, we are reasonably well stocked for the day, and should make it through until the snow plows come later this afternoon, after it's stopped snowing. And if it gets any worse, well, we'll eat Rex first. He's old and lived a good life.

Posted by john at 09:05 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

December 22, 2004

Winter Wonderland -- Or So They Say

It's been snowing, it is snowing, and from I am informed by others more knowledgeable about such matters than I, it will continue snowing at least through tomorrow. So naturally, some idiot took this opportunity to knock over my mailbox, occasioning me to go out into said snow. As long as I was out there, I got some pictures. You may see them after the cut (because they are large, and I don't want to burden those with slow connections).

Posted by john at 02:16 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Kristine Scalzi's Kahlua Cake: The Extended Director's Edition

Behold! Kristine Scalzi's Rather Tasty Kahlua Cake, none of which I will consume, alas, since she baked it for an office party tomorrow. Her office, not mine. Again, I say: Alas.

But wait, there's more! The creator of this mocha masterpiece has graciously deigned to appear for a motion picture interview, to allow special insight into her creative process and to share the secrets of successful cake making. Call it Martha Stewart meets Zelda Fitzgerald, if you will.

Do you dare discover the secret to successful cake making?
(Quicktime, ~2MB)

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 21, 2004

Why I'm an Independent

The Reason: Because unlike Kos, I don't have to wait until six weeks after the election to point out the obvious, which is that there was no way John Kerry should have lost to a president as monumentally incompetent (and, as Kos notes, as unpopular) as Dubya. Although I do think my suggestion of beating Kerry to death with own shoes beats Kos' suggestion of lining up folks and shooting them. It gives it just a little extra kick, as it were.

Posted by john at 10:28 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

The Author's Heart Thrills And Fears

This person walked uphill in the snow, both ways, to get Old Man's War.

Actually, she didn't really walk uphill, in the snow, both ways. But there was snow, she had to go to more than one store, and she did parallel park in a parking structure to get the book. Which I figure is the early 21st century equivalent. So thank you, dear reader, for making the effort. Thank all of you who make the effort to rouse yourself toward the general direction of a book store (or Amazon), to do the same.

Of course, now I'm paranoid that she'll get through the book, scrunch up her face, and think "I parallel-parked in a parking structure for this?!?" And will then find me and beat me to death with my own book. So here's hoping she does indeed find the book worth all the effort. And if she doesn't, that she will have to walk uphill in the snow, both ways, to beat me to death with it.

Posted by john at 04:41 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Merry Christmas, You Godless Jerk

I have a difficult time expressing how extraordinarily stupid I think this whole "Happy Holidays"/"Merry Christmas" thing that's going on this year is, not in the least because, for those of you who slept through remedial etymology, "holiday" means "holy day." Which is an awfully funny word to have representing secularism, if you ask me. People who complain that saying "Happy Holidays" somehow disenfranchises Christians are basically showing their profound ignorance of language, which is not exactly a reassuring thing when so many of these same folks also maintain that the Bible is literally true.

Here's the deal. Wish me a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Either way, I'll get what you mean, I'll take it in the spirit in which it is given, and in either case, you're likely to get the same response (i.e., "Thanks. You too."). On the other hand, wish me a "Merry Christmas" with that defiant air that means that you are driving your Christ-sticky foot into the ground and digging in against the godless forces of "Happy Holidays," and what you're declaring is that you are, indeed, a first-class idjit. It also signals that you're less interested in wishing me joy and glad tidings than in pimping the baby Jesus, in the guise of being nice. So not only are you a first class idjit, you're also rude. If you're going to wish me a Merry Christmas, try to mean it, for Christ's sake.

How will I know which "Merry Christmas" you will offer to me? Well, of course, maybe I won't. Being the sort of person I am, I'll assume you mean well. It's that "Golden Rule" thing you hear so much about. However, you will know which "Merry Christmas" you are offering, and, one imagines, so will the birthday boy in question. A thought to consider.

(So, you ask, which do I use? Personally, I tend to go with "Merry Christmas," because that's the holiday I celebrate, and also, as previously mentioned, I don't think you have to be Christian to recognize that Jesus' birth is worth celebrating. Also, in rural Ohio, it's a safe bet. However, for people I know who prefer not to be Merry Christmassed, "Happy Holidays" works fine, although sometimes I will get cheeky and say "have an enjoyable seasonal celebration of your preference!" which both celebrates and mocks the situation. But I only use that for special people. You know who you are.)

(Oh, and before I forget, Happy Solstice to one and all!)

Posted by john at 12:54 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

December 20, 2004

Yes Virginia, There Are Christian ACLU Lawyers

Someone who is very close to me (who will remain nameless for the moment) just presented the opinion to me that, for various reasons, she strongly suspects there are no lawyers who work for the ACLU who are also Christians, since she was also of the opinion that the ACLU isn't interested in the constitutional rights of Christians -- a theory which I attempted to pop by bring up two examples in the last year of the ACLU being very much interested in their constitutional rights. Nevertheless, she continued to profess her opinion that there were no Christian lawyers at the ACLU.

Naturally, I was appalled at this statement and told her that I would make it my mission to find her an ACLU lawyer who was also a Christian, and that upon finding such a specimen, that I would ask her to consider the possibility that one could be a Christian and a lawyer and consider as one's mission the constitutional rights of all Americans. I have a call in to my local ACLU branch, but I imagine they'll listen to the voice mail and suspect I'm insane, so:

If you are a lawyer who loves Christ and are either on staff or has worked for the ACLU, would you please come forward to say hello? Also, if it's not too much trouble, if you could explain how being an ACLU lawyer is consistent with your faith, that would be greatly appreciated. Just go ahead and leave a message in the comment threads.

To sweeten the pot, I make the following pledge: For every Christian ACLU lawyer who comes forward and leaves a message before the end of 2004, I will donate a dollar -- up to, oh, let's say $200 -- to the ACLU. And to start things along, the first one that shows up to comment will cause me to kick in $50 (which means a $50 minimum donation for the ACLU, with every additional one adding a dollar to that). Because, crazy me, I don't think it's inconsistent to be a Christian and a lawyer for the ACLU, and I'm willing to back up my appeal to counter religious stereotyping, to celebrate the cause of pretecting every Americans' constitutional rights, and to prove my point to this well-loved correspondent with my own hard-earned cash.

So work with me here, Christian ACLU lawyers! "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Let's make it comprehend, shall we? I thank you.

(P.S.: Everyone who is not a Christian ACLU Lawyer -- please feel free to spread the word.)

Posted by john at 02:25 PM | Comments (89) | TrackBack

Hateful Christmas Songs -- An Audience Participation Entry

Lots to do today, and not a whole lot of time in which to do it, so, a quick participatory entry for y'all, so you can make your own fun while I'm off slavin' for the man:

Your Christmas gift is the ability to expunge one highly annoying yet popular Christmas song from the history of the world. Which one is it?

The one I would expunge:

Words cannot express how truly annoying this song is. It's Guantanamo Bay torture technique annoying; it's the forced squat of Christmas tunes. It has nothing to do with its bilingual nature; it has to do with its utter lyrical and musical insipidness and the mad, crazed repetition of both, driving into your ear like a seasonally festive ice pick, stabbing merrily across your gray matter like a 1920s lobotomy scraper. Having said that, the fact the song is insipid in two entirely different languages does give it an extra lift above the many other truly annoying Christmas songs out there.

And of course I do suspect that --aside from the seasonal inertia of Christmas tunes, in which the same sixteen songs get played over and over and over again just because they always have -- its bilingual nature is the only reason it persists on radio playlists; this is some former frat boy radio programmer's lazy idea of diversity -- well, this and Christina Augilera's version of "O Holy Night," 'cause she's, like, hot and all. On behalf of my Hispanic family members, including my wife and child, I am outraged. For God's sake, someone pester Los Lobos to get out there and give us some Christmas tunage.

I am happy for Mr. Feliciano that the persistence of this particular tune one month out of the year means he can pay his mortgage the other 11, but I suggest we provide the man with a lump sum payment that will care for him and his mortgage for the rest of their natural lives and then incinerate every last copy of this tune. He'll still have his version of "Light My Fire" to fall back on if things get tight.

Anyway, that's mine. What's yours?

Posted by john at 10:15 AM | Comments (115) | TrackBack

December 19, 2004

Quick Note of Thanks

omwaustin.jpg

You know, I just wanted to say "thanks" to everyone who has been sending e-mails or comments about spotting Old Man's War at your local stores. It's really been heartening to get the heads up and especially the pictures from all over the place (The picture above, incidentally, is from Texas, courtesy of one of the Lone Star State's finest online diarists). As an author, it's very reassuring to see the book really is making its way into the stores (and also, making its way out of stores). So, again, thanks bunches. I really do appreciate it, and I additionally wonder how novelists in the pre-Internet age kept from going nuts when their books came out, and they wondered if they were actually in stores, or if their publishers were telling them another tall one. Documentary evidence -- the hallmark of the 21st century.

Posted by john at 06:42 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

On the Agenda

People have asked: What are your plans for 2005? Well, confining this discussion largely to work subjects, they break into two groups: Things I know I need to do, and things I'd like to do.

Things I know I need to do: Early in the year, I'll need to do revisions and editing for The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film. I have a series of articles to write for the Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series, on the states of New Jersey, Michigan and Minnesota. And then I'll start work on The Ghost Brigades, which you all know to be the sequel to Old Man's War (John Perry teams up with a talking dog! To fight crime! No, not really). And then, depending on a number of factors, there or may not be work I need to do for Book of the Dumb 3, or another project which I cannot discuss at the moment. Among all this will be some corporate writing (which as I've noted before is not glamorous but sure pays well), and hopefully I'll continue my writing associations with AOL, OPM and the Dayton Daily News.

Things I'd Like to Do: In no particular order:

1. Try my hand at writing some short stories. I've only written two over the course of my career, actually: This one for Strange Horizons a while back, and then this one which I used for my RIF fundraiser last year. At this point, I feel reasonably competent with writing novels and books, so I'd like to fiddle in the short story format and see what it gets me. Being lazy as I am, I don't know that I'll actually get around to selling any, but my wife keeps telling me that if I'd just give the damn things to her she'd mail them out for me and keep track of the submissions, so we'll see. What I really think would be fun to do is try to contribute to some short story collections -- they usually have a theme of some sort and I think at first I'd probably do better with an assigned subject matter than thinking one up myself. Of course, to start doing those it'd probably be useful to have already written some short stories. Stupid Catch-22.

2. Take a break. I keep meaning to take a few weeks where I do nothing, but then I keep not doing that, and it's really sort of annoying; for example, right now I'd envisioned myself kicking back in the house sleeping until noon and staring blankly at a phosphorescent screen. and while, yes, I *am* doing that, unfortunately I'm also doing work, too. This is partly my own fault and partly the fault of that nasty sickness I had in November, but the point is -- no rest for me now. And not likely through the first half of 2005, although I might just take off a week or two just to so it (say, March).

3. Travel a bit: I know I'll be in the UK in August for Interaction (this year's Worldcon), and I'll hit a couple of more-or-less local SF cons (book to promote, you know). Outside of those, however, I'd like to just wander with no particular reason to do so. I imagine I'll get to New York and DC a couple of times in the year to visit friends and do business and so forth, and I'd like to get a west coast trip together as well. Where I'll find the time to do this, of course, is an utter mystery, but who knows. Maybe someone in Hollywood will buy the book and I'll have to fly in for "meetings," which would, in my opinion, simply be cover for seeing friends and eating Double-Doubles.

4. New markets, and a couple of old ones. I keep meaning to write some non-fiction pieces for Strange Horizons; I queried them a couple of months ago and they responded back enthusiastically, and then the roof fell in on my bandwidth. Still, I want to get back to them as soon as I can. I now also have my foot in the door over at National Lampoon, and I'll be happy to try to exploit that as well. What I really want out of life at this point is a column, simply because writing at a regular interval is reassuring to me and my mortgage, but again, I've been doing my own thing for so long it's unlikely anyone's just going to hand one of those to me for free (well, I'm sure if I worked for free I could get one, but I don't want to do that). So that will be one of the goals for 2005: Get my work out there a little more, and see if a regular gig can come of it.

5. Prepare for the Random. Lots of stuff happens with my writing life that is simply out of the blue, and I think it might simply be worth it to factor that in to life at this point. Preparing for the unexpected is of course a contradiction in terms, but it's not so much preparing for anything, as simply accepting that things will happen for which one is not prepared, and one should be (heh) prepared for that. We'll see how I do with that.

That's the plan, anyway.

Posted by john at 01:47 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 17, 2004

John Scalzi's Utterly Useless Writing Advice

People wrote me: "Hey, as long as you're reposting old crap, why don't you repost your "Utterly Useless Writing Advice"? Well, okay.

I've made some minor changes to get certain personal facts up to date, but otherwise it's the same cranky bit of advice it was when I wrote it in 2001. I do have the urge to write something else about writing, but inasmuch as I actually have real writing I need to do, it's going to have to wait.

Anyway, here you go.

----


People are always asking me for advice on how to become a writer, because they assume (ha!) that I am a successful writer. My psychological and egotistical needs being what they are, I won't argue this point. I am, in fact, a fairly successful writer, if you define success as "making a good living doing nothing but writing." I do make a good living; I don't do anything else for a living but write. (If you define success as "being Stephen King," of course, I'm a miserable freakin' failure. But let's not.)

I've been a professional writer since June of 1990, when I got my first paid writing job as an intern for the San Diego Tribune, where I wrote music and concert reviews and other entertainment pieces. That was the summer before my senior year in college; when I got back to college, I wrote freelance entertainment articles for the Chicago Sun-Times. After college, I got -- far more through an amazing stroke of luck and the fact I was dirt cheap than by my own talents, let's be clear -- a job as the movie critic for the Fresno Bee. I did that for five years, after which I joined AOL as its on-staff writer and editor. AOL laid me off in 1998 (this is a polite way of saying I was fired, since it was a layoff of one) and I became a freelance writer. I've been doing this ever since.

Being a freelance writer is interesting and not really a good thing for people who don't enjoy a permanent sense of panic. Be that as it may, it's done very well for me both financially (as a freelancer I make a healthy multiple of what I ever made working full-time for anyone) and careerwise, since I now write fluently on quite a number of subjects, including entertainment, humor, personal finance, online media, science, politics and even food and gardening.

I write for online clients and for offline clients. I consult with marketing companies on writing and creative issues, and have worked on marketing campaigns for very large corporations and financial institutions you're definitely heard of. I've had several books published, contributed to others and have more in the pipeline, and I look forward to writing books off and on for the rest of my professional life.

In short, I've reached a point in my career where I do feel confident about my ability to make a living writing, and I feel confident sharing some of my thoughts and experiences on the matter.

So: What follows is exactly that: My thoughts on the writing life -- largely from the freelance writing perspective -- and how to live it. Bear in mind that these comments are based solely on my own thoughts and experiences and may not jibe with anything else you've heard anywhere from anyone else. Also bear in mind that I may be completely full of crap. On the other hand, and I say this as dispassionately as possible, I make a buttload of money doing what I do, so I must be doing something right. If you can figure out what it is, please be sure to tell me.

(So how much do I actually make? I'm not going to give a dollar amount. However, I will say that the $1.6 trillion tax cut and tax rate flattening George W. Bush proposed at the beginning of his administration would have profited me somewhat more than it would most people. That should give you the ballpark range (it's also not an endorsement of that particular tax cut, incidentally).)

This document is going to be in Q & A format, with questions arranged in the order they come into my mind. Therefore there's a possibility this document will be somewhat disjointed and rambling. However, you're getting all this information totally and absolutely free, so, you know, deal. If in reading this document you don't find a question answered that you would like to have answered, drop it in the comments, and I'll try to answer it.

1. I want to be a writer. What do I do?

DUH. You write, dummy.

2. No, no. I mean, I want to write professionally.

Oh, well that's a totally different thing.

Let's be clear. Anyone who is even marginally literate can be a writer -- all it takes is the desire to express yourself and the means to do it. One of the fairly neat things about the online medium, for example, is that it allows people to express themselves in writing easily to a bunch of other people, in the form of online journals and other such things. Even those folks who don't have such exhibitionist streaks can still sit down with a paper journal or even just a clean sheet of paper and write out their thoughts. There is no great science to being a writer; as I said earlier, you simply write. And hopefully you enjoy the process.

Writing professionally is something else again. The vast majority of the time, when you're writing professionally, you're not writing for yourself, you're writing for an audience -- specifically (most of the time) an editor who is looking for writing of a certain nature or function, and in a more general sense to a larger readership that is looking for something specific: A technical document or a science fiction story or a poem or a recipe or some erotica or a movie review or an investigative report on tires or whatever.

You may from time to time hear the line from writing instructors that one should always write for one's self, but I think that's just a load of crap when it comes to writing for money. A lot of times when it comes to professional writing, you may be writing something you have absolutely no personal interest in whatsoever -- you're writing what you're writing for someone else who has a specific need for the content you create. This is not to say you shouldn't have an interest in doing a good job or creating eminently readable content no matter what the context. It does mean that when you are writing professionally, you need to be aware of who your intended audience is and what they're looking for.

Or, to put it more succinctly: Writing professionally is a business. If you want to write professionally, you have to approach writing in a professional manner -- which is to say, you have to approach it with the intent of actually making money doing it.

This means:

One: It takes work. Lots and lots and lots of work.

Two: Sometimes, work sucks.

Three: But you do it anyway because that's your job.

The previous three rules, incidentally, work for all writers, whether they write on staff or write freelance.

3. But I don't want to write stuff I don't want to write.

Then don't become a professional writer. Keep being a waiter or executive or student or bum or whatever you do now and work on the Great American Novel or (anything else it is you want to write) on the weekends. There's no reason you can't write and do something else that pays the bills at the same time (I'll be coming back to this concept more than once) and just write whatever you want.

That crack about writing the Great American Novel on the weekends isn't really a crack, either, since that's exactly how I wrote my first novel. Writing on the weekends actually can work. My point is, if you just wanna write what you just wanna write, don't make writing your profession -- make it a side gig or an avocation or a hobby. Nothing wrong with that, honest.

If you want to make writing your profession, accept the fact that it's going to be easier to make a living as a writer if you're open to doing writing work that isn't romantic and appealing and exciting, but needs to be done anyway, and needs to be done to certain specifications that you may not have any personal interest in at all -- i.e., accept that sometimes writing isn't this holy and uplifting thing we've all hoped it would be, but just a damned job. Accept it, deal with it, and do it -- and do a good job.

Writers -- professional writers, even -- apparently have a hard time dealing with this. I'll let you in on a secret: One of the primary reasons I am as successful as I have been as a professional writer is I don't take my frustrations out on my clients and editors. My clients and editors tell me that one of the things they absolutely freakin' hate about writers is that they'll ask a writer to do something in a certain way, and the writer just won't listen. He or she will want to do it another way, and will then get all pissy and moody when they're told "no." Because they're creative, you see. They have this vision. And it should be respected.

No. No. No.

Not that I mind, of course. It just means more work for me, since I listen to my clients and I have no ego about the writing process -- save doing the job that needs to be done, and doing it right and quickly. I let the client know that I have opinions, and I offer them if they're interested, but when they're not, I don't take it personally. It's a job. It needs to be done.

Look. This isn't to say that you can't get professional work only writing what you want, and that you can't ever get writing work without sacrificing this idea of writing as a sacred mission. People do it. But typically, these people also eat a lot of Top Ramen, especially when they're starting out. And Top Ramen sucks after the fifth or sixth day (trust me). Making a living writing will be a lot easier if you're ready to approach writing as a business rather than (or at least in tandem with) a life mission. Suffering for one's art is all very romantic, except when it's actually happening to you.

4. You're just trying to scare us all off of writing.

Yeah, that's it.

No, actually, it is -- in the sense that I think those who want to be writers should have no illusions about the career track they want to engage in. People who aren't writers tend to think that those of us who are just farting around all day and then just bang out some text in fifteen minutes and then go out for coffee. Maybe other writers do that, but I sure as hell don't (for one thing, I don't drink coffee). I work, damn it. I work hard, I work a lot, and I do a lot of writing that's not typically what you'd call "fun."

Yes, it's my personal choice to do it, one that's not going to be right for everyone. But the compensation, monetarily and in terms of personal lifestyle, is worth it. And it's been my experience that those writers who have an outlook similar to mine tend to do better (i.e., make more money) than those who don't. Take it or leave it.

5. Okay, we got it -- writing professionally is endless pain and suffering.

Well, no. Sorry to sound so strident. Writing professionally, even at its worst, still beats the hell out of lifting heavy objects off the back of a loading dock for $10 an hour. Let's not kid ourselves, here: It's not a hard life, relative to what other people have to do. This is no doubt part of the reason so many people want to be professional writers.

And I don't want to give the impression that I don't enjoy myself writing professionally. I like most all the writing I get paid to do. Some of it is more creative than other parts of it, but most of it is interesting, and which is not isn't unbearable -- indeed I find it relaxing and enjoyable because the process of writing it is interesting in itself. I like most of my clients and editors, too. The vast majority of them are normal, reasonable people who are just trying to do their own jobs as best they can. Work doesn't have to automatically mean "drudgery" and a Dilbert-like corporate Hell mentality. It really is a matter of how you approach it.

To sum up this rather long-winded portion: Writing professionally is actual work, for better and worse. If you can accept this fact, you'll be better off mentally to do well as a professional writer.

6. Fine. I'm mentally prepared for being a professional writer. Now how do I do it?

Well, okay. Let me make the following assumption here: That, in fact, you can write your way out of a paper bag. If you're not sure you can actually, you know, write, you have no business trying to be a professional writer -- go practice or take a class or do whatever that you need to do so you feel comfortable actually putting your work out there for other people to see. This is not the document in which I bolster your fragile ego and affirm your status as a real live writer. Go deal with that yourself. Somewhere else. Preferably away from me.

I'm also making the following assumption: You're just starting out. Because, really, if you're already a professional writer, you know all this stuff already. Right? Right?

Okay. Let's start with beginning writer strategy number one, which works well for everyone, but especially those who want to be freelance writers:

a) First, buy a Writer's Market. This is your Bible, Koran and Torah from now on. This book features just about every single market for writing that exists.

b) Write an article on whatever you want to write about.

c) Open up your Writer's Market, find a magazine or other market that buys articles on the subject you've written on, format your article to that market's specifications, and send it off with a cover letter and an SASE (the Writer's Market will tell you how to do all this).

d) Forget about the article until it is either accepted or rejected.

e) Repeat steps a) - d) ad infinitum.

Alternately, you can switch steps c) and b) by finding markets that publish the sorts of articles you may be interested in writing, and then writing those articles according to their specifications. It's really up to you. The point is -- start writing, start sending out articles, and keep at it.

(You can give your material a slightly better chance of being accepted if you at least initially write articles on a subject you know something about; for example, if you're a veterinarian, write articles about pets. If you love to knit, write articles about knitting. If you're an accountant, write about changes in the tax laws. And so on.)

(Bear in mind that some magazines and sites prefer to be queried first -- that is, they want a proposal for an article rather than an article itself. This is not difficult to do, and again, your Writer's Market can show you how to do this. If a market wants a query, give them a query -- don't annoy them by not paying attention to their requirements.)

Here's why this approach is useful: First, it gets you used to writing on a regular basis. Second, it gets you used to sending out material and continuing to send it out (and sending it out according to specifications -- don't ignore this since editors throw out anything that's not to format specifications. No joke. You may think it doesn't matter, or that you're a special case, but you know what? You're wrong). Third, once you've started sending out work, assuming you're not an entirely incompetent writer, sooner or later someone is likely to accept something, and you can use that writing clip to help you get more work.

(What's beginning writer strategy number two? Show up at a local newspaper (that would be a dinky little paper, not like the Los Angeles Times if you live in LA) and offer your services as a writer and reporter, cheap. They may throw you some demeaning crap no one else wants to touch and gradually move you up from there. This technique is useful if you want to work as a journalist, as it will get you used to how a newsroom works, what deadlines are all about, and what sort of crap journalists have to put up with day in and day out -- which includes but is not limited to bad pay, a shrinking market and the ever-present specter of being bought-out, replaced, or shut down. It's actually a lot of fun once you get used to it.)

Now, let's answer some questions here.

7. What if I send something out and it gets rejected?

What do you mean "if"?

Take this now and engrave this in your brain: EVERY WRITER GETS REJECTED. You will be no different. The rejection is not personal. Unless he or she mentions something specifically about it, the editor is not rejecting you as a human being or your right to exist on this planet. He or she is merely rejecting an article you've submitted. That's all. That's it.

If you can't handle the idea of rejection, you're really in the wrong line of work. It's just part of the business.

Articles get rejected for the following reasons:

a) They're not suitable for the magazine or site, i.e., you didn't do your homework and submitted something off topic for the magazine. This is a rookie error and why you should buy and actually read your Writer's Market, you dumbass.

b) They're on topic, but not of sufficient quality.

c) They're on topic, and of sufficient quality, but the magazine already recently ran something like it or has another article like it in the pipeline. This happens not infrequently.

d) It's on topic, of sufficient quality, and the magazine hasn't run something like it before, but the editor is simply a butthead and doesn't want to buy it. This also happens not infrequently.

e) Everything is perfect and the editor loves it, he or she just has no place for it right now.

When an article is rejected by an editor, don't assume it's crap. Just find another market that accepts articles along its line, and send it out again. And when it gets rejected again, send it out again. And so on and so on until either someone buys it or you run out of places to send it to. Only then do you toss it out or put it aside to try again at some other time.

8. Should I send material out to the big, big markets, even if I'm just getting started?

I don't see why not. The worst they can do is say no, and if they don't say no, you've made a sale to a big market -- something you can use as ammo when selling articles to other places. And the big markets typically pay better, too, so that's always a benefit.

However, be aware that the bigger and better paying sites get correspondingly larger piles of submissions, so it's automatically a lot tougher to place material. Theoretically many of these markets are open to beginning writers, but there's a big difference between theory and practice. Sending an article to big markets may do nothing more than keep you from sending the article some place you might actually have a chance of being accepted. You need to decide whether it's worth the time.

9. Hey, an editor tells me that he'll accept my article if I make a couple of changes. What should I do?

DUH. Make the changes. An editor knows his magazine or site, and unless it drastically changes the thrust of the story (i.e., turns it from a positive to a negative review, for example, or turns you from a conservative to a flaming liberal), there's very little point in being difficult.

This last piece of advice is a lot more difficult to take if it's a creative or fiction piece, but suck it up and deal with it. Remember: When you're writing professionally, you're writing for an editor somewhere along the line. Editors exist (so far as you know) to ask for random and inexplicable changes to your work, and in return, they give you money. That's the drill.

10. I've sold an article! I've sold two! Should I quit my day job?

Hell, no. Don't be an ass.

People who want to be writers look on their current jobs like they're chaining them down. If only they could break free of these jobs! Then they could write all the time! And be free! Oh joy!

Crap on a stick. Fact: Most people couldn't write all the time, even if they were free to do so. Even full-time writers (i.e., reporters and such) aren't writing every single moment of the work day; they're doing other stuff, including (yes) avoiding writing -- because once writing is actual work, one desires to run away from it from time to time. I sure as hell don't write all the time, and this is my day job.

Another Fact: Most writing pays for crap (more on this soon). Quitting your day job to write full time, especially if you're writing freelance, means you take a HUGE salary drop, no matter how little you're making now. And if you're just starting off, it's hard to make sales -- so you'll be doubly screwed.

My suggestion: If you're starting off as a freelance writer, do it in your spare time -- after work and on weekends. Don't ditch your day job to become a writer; let your day job support you as you work on perfecting your craft. It's a risk-free way of building that writing career (also, if the writing career doesn't pan out, you don't have to come crawling back at reduced pay and status). Most beginning freelancers don't have enough work to keep them busy anyway -- they just spend most of their time worrying about how the hell they're going to pay their bills.

But, I hear you say, that's extra time I'm working! Yeah? So? If you weren't working on writing in the evenings what would you be doing? Watching Friends, or Survivor or playing video games or some crap like that. Yeah, you've got the time, pal. You just have to decide you want to do it.

So, when should you quit your day job? This is easy: You should quit your day job no earlier than when the amount of money you regularly and consistently make from writing exceeds your current day job income by 30%. That's right, you ought to be making more as a writer than you do from your day job in order to quit.

Why? Because the minute you quit your day job, you lose your employee benefits, your 401(k), and your employee contribution to your social security taxes. You have to pay for all of that yourself now. The minute you become self-employed as a freelancer, your tax burden jumps at least 15% (self-employment tax, don't you know), and you have to file quarterly.

You have to earn at least 30% more than what you make from your day job in order to live like you do did off your day job income. This can be ameliorated somewhat if you have a spouse or significant other whose health insurance or benefits you can latch onto, but no matter what, you're still taking a big hit.

Here's the deal: Unless you're working at Burger King getting people their fries, you probably won't make as much writing as you do at your day job. So unless the thought of continuing work at your day job fills you with such a suicidal horror that you want to slit your wrists the moment you slip into your cubicle, don't quit. And if you do quit your day job, think about getting a different day job that has all those cushy benefits and 401(k)s, one that doesn't make you want to perforate your skull with a power nailgun.

Don't ever quit your day job unless not quitting your day job starts cutting into your total income potential. Really, that's what you should consider.

Remember also that many famous writers wrote books and columns and whatnot while holding down day jobs. Grisham and King had day jobs (lawyer and teacher, respectively). Scott Adams kept his cubicle job until he was a millionaire. Wallace Stevens, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and my personal favorite example of day-job-ness, was an insurance executive until the day he died. And so on. Day jobs don't keep you from writing. In fact, in a lot of cases, a day job can keep you writing, building your craft and your clip file while keeping you and your family fed.

Give it serious thought before you let your day job go.

11. What's this about writers being paid for crap?

It's the sad truth. Typically writers get paid crap for their contributions to magazines and web sites. This is especially true for freelancers (actually, salaried writers, on a per word basis, also don't get paid so hot. But they get dental and stuff, so that makes up for it). Crack open your Writer's Market and you'll notice that most magazines pay 20 cents a word or less for articles, and often much less -- and if you're writing fiction, this pay scale drops dramatically.

Online sites are even more stingy; even top online sites like Salon pay only as well as mid-range print magazines or newspapers (don't even think of selling fiction online for actual money). If you're writing poetry, you can pretty much forget ever getting paid more than beer money, online or off.

Yes, there are a number of magazines that pay $1/word or more, but (no offense) your chances of getting into one of them as a new writer are pretty damn slim.

Okay, but what if you get a job as a real life reporter or journalist? Heh. Starting journalist pay is in the low 20s, and that includes for grads of Northwestern and other prestigious journalism schools. That's as of 1999, and trust me, that number hasn't moved much for years. I know this because my first full-time job at the Fresno Bee paid me $24,000 in 1991 -- and that was so far down the pay scale that on a week by week basis, they had summer interns getting paid more than me the first year I was there. Also bear in mind that most of the "best" starting salaries or journalists come at the larger papers -- if you're at a small local daily, you can expect rather substantially less.

From low beginnings, journalism salaries reach -- well, not exactly great heights. If you work in a large city and you have several years of experience under your belt, you can reach in the $50k to $80k range, but again, most journalists aren't working in big city newsrooms; their salaries are somewhat smaller: In the 30s and 40s for longtime writers. Again, this ain't bad, especially when you factor in benefits, but relative to other professionals, like lawyers and doctors and MBAs, this is manifestly lower.

Now, there was a brief shining moment when online sites pushed journalist salaries into the $80k and $90k range, and even starting writers were making $50k. But then investors starting asking when these sites were going to start making money, and when it became clear they weren't, all those nice journalists with their nice sky-high salaries suddenly found themselves laid off. You won't see those levels again anytime soon.

Here's a spot of good news: Once you've done your time and developed a reputation as a really good writer, you can see your income go up -- way up. Really. But it does take time, you really do have to do the work, and you really do have be good. You also have to work like a dog. However, until such time as that happens, you'll need to resign yourself to lousy pay no matter how you slice it.

(Bear in mind that none of this applies if you write for the Harvard Lampoon. In that case, you start making $360,000 a year as a writer on some sitcom as soon as you graduate. That Ivy League education is paying off!)

(Hey, yeah, I hear you say, what about screenwriters and TV writers? They get paid a lot! Well, yes, some of them do -- most of them, however, don't. At all. And unless you're already in Hollywood, sliding your script to a producer under a bathroom stall with a vial of coke as a bribe, you're probably already too late. Sorry.)

Why is writer pay so low? Supply and demand. There are more people who are writers, and who want to be writers, than there are writing slots to be filled, either in terms of articles or in terms of staff positions. This is of course especially true at the bottom, where as a starting writer you will be. Near the top, as previously mentioned, things clear out a bit. But it's a long way from bottom to top. In this regard, it should be noted, writing is no different than any other desirable business field, although the entry-level pay sucks more than most. Only actors and musicians get paid less and exploited more.

There's also the matter of the writer "mystique" which works to the detriment of writer's pay -- simply put, so many people are so desperate to be able to call themselves "writers" that they're willing to put up with low pay or even no pay in order to have that coveted title. This is again due to the idea that being a writer means you're part of something greater than yourself, that it's a calling, that your voice is being heard by the masses, blah blah blah, crap crap crap. Since you've got a lot of people who are writing-proficient willing to put up with lousy awful terrible pay, writing pay remains terrible.

Bear in mind that it's not only con artists who follow this theory: The New York Times famously pays a pittance to contributors to its op-ed pages, on the theory, presumably, that they should be honored to appear in the pages and spread their message to the World's Most Literate Audience. Yeah, whatever.

Again, this is a compelling reason not to quit your day job, since whatever day job it is almost certainly pays more than you'll be able to make from writing for the first few years -- even if writing was the only thing you did.

12. Well, if writers get paid crap, how come you apparently make so damn much? You're not, like, famous or anything.

Excellent question.

Reason Number One: I've been writing professionally since 1990. Years of writing does count for something. Also bear in mind that for the first six years of writing professionally, I wasn't making that much at all -- a newspaperman's salary during a recession (it wasn't bad, just not a lot). After that, I benefited to some extent from the wage inflation within the dotcom industry, and currently, I'm benefiting for a decade's worth of contacts within the industry and a solid track record of output all that time (i.e, I'm not generally known for being a flaky, temperamental sort, at least when it comes to work). So there you have it: Time and effort count.

Reason Number Two: As a writer, I'm very flexible: I have significant experience in a whole bunch of different writing areas. Writing isn't just "writing," after all -- just as doctors or lawyers specialize, so do most writers. This is generally an excellent strategy, but it’s also worth your while as a writer to expand your reach once you've developed a core competence. In my own case, I started off writing entertainment and humor, which lead to my position at AOL. While there, I got experience writing on online issues and also business-oriented writing, both in terms of personal finance and in terms of marketing. Those sidelines have since become an important part of my writing repertoire, enough so that while I am still actively involved in writing entertainment, it's now more of a sideline to these other sorts of writing.

More importantly, I'm still adding to my repertoire -- I wrote a book on astronomy, for example, which will add more opportunities to write in the area of popular science. This range comes in extremely useful, because when one sort of writing slows down, there are still opportunities to find work in other areas. So as a writer, flexibility helps quite a bit.

Reason Number Three: I'm not a writing snob. I won't just write certain types of writing -- I'm a slut, I'll write anything if you pay me. This is related to being flexible, quite obviously, and it's also rooted in my desire to try different things. For example, some of my most profitable writing gigs involve writing marketing materials. A fair number of writers get snippy about writing marketing stuff, but you know what? I actually think it's kind of fun. It's fun to try a new medium of writing, it's fun to set a goal and try to hit it, it's fun to learn how this stuff works. And of course, writing marketing material pays really well, so it's also fun to spend the money I make off it. Some writers may hold up their noses at my largely indiscriminate writing proclivities, but that's fine. More work for me, more money for my family.

So if you want to make what I make -- do your time, learn to write a lot of different things, and don't turn down work just because it's not "cool." See how easy it can be?

(Ironically, even "famous" writers don't make tons of cash. Sure, you've got King and Grisham and Rice and so on, and there's a nice patrician class of opinion columnists and what have you who are socking the bucks away. But that's the top 1%. Below that the upper ranks are comfy but not cushy. Even lower-rung best-selling authors aren't notably rich -- when your royalty rate is 10% or less, you have to sell a lot of books to see any real money at all (trust me on this). Well-known national columnists, while making more than the average Joe writer, don't get paid excessively either: high five figures or very low six figures. You can have a nice income if you're a writer (eventually), but if you want to be really super duper ultra rich, you might want to try being famous in some other line of work.)

13. Don't you worry you'll spend so much time writing for others that you'll never write the stuff you want to write for yourself?

Every now and then, sure. And to be very clear, I do think it's extremely important for writers to make sure they do some writing that's actually important to them. Because if all you do is write for other people, you'll probably become crabbed and irritable and no damned fun to be around. Writing what one enjoys keeps one mentally fresh -- and it's fun besides.

The important thing is to find the balance of writing for work and writing for one's own personal enjoyment, and it's something that can take some time to figure out. Certainly I'm guilty from time to time of piling so much work on my plate that I don't have time for fun writing, and when that happens I end of up feeling moderately miserable until I'm in a place where I've got all that work cleared out (on the other hand, if I didn't have paid writing work to do, you can bet I'd be pretty damned miserable then, too).

In my own personal experience, I've found that I'm happiest when I have a healthy amount of paid work and a couple hours a day to do personal writing. The reason for this is I tend to be "creative" a couple of hours a day, after which point my brain needs a some time to rest, recharge and think about whatever it is I'm writing creatively. So for the rest of the day, I do my paid work. The two don't interfere with each other, and indeed can complement each other, with what I'm doing creatively causing me to approach my paid work from a slightly different perspective and vice-versa. And of course, much of your "personal" writing can also have professional goals -- if you're writing a novel, for example, you'll probably want to try to sell it after you're done.

Your ratio of professional to personal work and the set up of how you write both will be different then mine, obviously. You'll figure it out eventually. In the meantime, I wouldn't advise obsessing about whether you're losing your soul by writing too much stuff for other people and not enough for yourself. When it comes right down to it, if you really want to make the time for personal writing, you'll do it.

14. Is there anything you wouldn't write for money?

You bet. I wouldn't never write marketing material for a product I found morally questionable, so, for example, no sweet rich cigarette money for me. I wouldn't write anything counter to my own political or personal ethics, so this means you won't see me writing direct mail for conservative politicians, warning their constituents about the evils of, say, gay marriage or pro-choicers. I won't write in a medium that I find personally offensive, which means you are unlikely to find me writing unsolicited e-mail marketing pieces. I'm unlikely to write porn, because I couldn't write it without busting up. I wouldn't write anything that I felt I clearly lacked the knowledge base for or, alternately, felt I wouldn't be able to pick up quickly enough to turn out a reasonable product. So there goes my career writing about cricket.

Bear in mind that I say this feeling relatively comfortable that saying "no" to any of these sorts of writing would not impact my overall ability to make a living and pay my bills. If I were a beginning writer and writing a unsolicited e-mail marketing piece meant the difference between eating Top Ramen or eating real food for a change, I might cave. But in a general sense, life's too short to do things that make you feel dirty or vaguely ashamed of yourself. There are other ways to make money.

15. Hey, you mentioned earlier that you had contacts in the industry. How did you get them? And more to the point, how can I get them?

"Contacts" is a term which calls into mind shadowy types that have mystical powers to get you writing gigs and hot dates with supermodels. It's not like that all, especially the part about the hot dates. My contacts are just all the people I've met along the way. Most of these people I met when both they and I were younger and in positions far less advantageous than the ones we're both in now. Over time, people move up, and they remember people they've worked with before. That's pretty much how it works.

If you're interested in cultivating contacts of your own for fun and profit, here's what you do: Be nice to everyone. Really, that's the best way to do it. When you work with someone, help them do their job (usually this is accomplished simply by doing your own job in a competent manner). Don't adopt a superior attitude to anyone -- you'll be surprised how quickly today's peon becomes tomorrow's boss (and how long their memories are). Thank people when they're helpful. Be useful. Don't talk about them behind their backs. Don't stab them in the back. If you think someone is good at his or her job and you're in a position to help them advance, do it. People do remember those who have done well by them, both professionally and personally. Being a decent human being pays off.

Being nice, incidentally, is not the same as being an ass-kissing yes-man. Insincerity has a pungent stench that will hang about you all your career, so be careful about using it. One can be generally nice and still not roll over and take it up the wazoo from some crap-flinging monkey of a co-worker or editor. Related to this, you should have a certain line beyond which you will take no more crap from anyone, nor let anyone take additional advantage of you. This line is useful for one's self-respect and one's ability to do work. No job in the world is worth taking more than one's fair share of crap. However, my experience has been that most people are in fact normal folks just trying to do their job. If you help them do it, and do so in a pleasant, professional and engaging way, it'll pay dividends.

(Also remember that being the nicest person in the world won't mean a thing if you can't, you know, actually do the job. So work on your professional chops first, and on being nice second.)

16. I have no contacts! I know no one! What should I do?

Please refer to beginning writer strategy number one back at question number six. Look, people, not having contacts doesn't mean you'll never get work. I didn't know anyone at the first four major writing gigs I had; the only thing I had going for me was the work I was able to show them. Work counts. It counts at least as much as contacts, especially at the beginning.

17. What do you think about writer's unions, associations and conventions?

I'm officially neutral on them. I think they can be very useful for new writers in learning many of the ground rules of writing as a career, and can be especially helpful when legal or contractual matters crop up. Local writer associations are useful as social and professional entities as well. Additionally, many national and local writers unions and associations offer useful benefits to members, such as health insurance. This alone can make joining a very good thing for freelance writers.

However, personally speaking, I've found very little use for them. For whatever reason, I've had very few problems negotiating contracts on my own or finding suitable work, both as a full-time salaried worker and a full-time freelancer, and I've not had problems meeting and cultivating contacts. Writing conventions and seminars haven't been very useful to me; typically I find a much more useful experience is simply to go out and get the actual professional experience in whatever field I'm curious about. And also, I'm cheap and I refuse to spend money for dues unless I feel I'm personally going to receive a direct net benefit. While I'm politically pro-union in a general sense, on a personal level I'm apparently not at all.

The above should be read with the understanding that I am exceptionally egotistical and confident in my abilities to the point being irritating to other writers, and also that I tend not to be a "joiner" of organized groups. The only writing organization I had any ambition to join is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, of which I am now a member. I didn't actually expect it to do anything for me when I joined, and to that extent I have been not at all disappointed with its performance. I get to vote on the Nebula awards, though, and that's nice.

So: If you think it's going to be useful to you, join a writer's union. I personally have not found them useful, but that's not the same thing as saying you won't find them so.

18. You write online and offline. What are the differences between them?

There are none.

I'm serious. A lot of people talk about how different the two mediums are, but it's mostly wishful thinking. Online writing tends to be shorter, and it has the ability to take advantage of hyperlinking, which print cannot. But that's it, and both of these cases, it's not a hard and fast rule, since I've read lots of Web writing which is not notably short, and a lot of articles that did not include hyperlinks. Lots of writers who work online also learn HTML or other web-based presentation systems, but that's not directly related to writing per se. One can get along perfectly well without learning it, especially these days, when word processing programs can format your text as a Web page for you.

In both the online and offline mediums, you ultimately have to do the same things -- you have to write coherently and intelligently, and you have to make your editor happy. If you can write in one medium, you know 95% percent of what you need to know to work in the other, and what little there is that is different is not difficult to learn.

A number of writers I know seem to prefer to work in only one medium and not the other. I think that's kind of dumb. Inasmuch as there's no real skill set difference between two, why not write in both? Woody Allen once joked about the great thing about being bisexual is that it doubled your chances of a date on Saturday night; the same thinking applies to offline and online writing. Currently (April, 2001), my income is derived 75% from online work, 25% from offline. I'm not willing to chop off a quarter of my income (or three quarters, if I go the other way) in some misguided belief that one needs to concentrate on one medium rather than the other.

(Why is my income majority online, you ask? It's simple -- I'm lazy, and online work is easier for me to find, thanks to contacts and online job banks. However, were the online world to vaporize tomorrow, I don't have any doubt I could begin building up my income writing offline, using writing skills and experiences I cultivated in my online writing.)

19. Do I have to go to New York or some other large city to write? That's where most of the writing opportunities seem to be located.

Oh, I don't know about that. Certainly the highest-profile magazines and writing outlets are in New York and other large cities. But magazines are located all over the map. And unless you're submitting to a region-oriented magazine or want to work for a local newspaper, you typically don't have to live where the writing market is located. Yes, there's something to be said about being able to have face time with editors and magazine and newspaper staffs, but it's not absolutely essential.

I think you should move to a large city to write if you actually want to move to a large city, period. If not, don't. Living in one particular place to write is becoming less necessary, especially now that the online world means people are just an e-mail or instant message away from each other. I speak about this with some experience; I currently live in a dinky little town on the far western edge of Ohio called Bradford, Ohio -- population just under 2,000. When I moved here I was worried that living here would have some impact on my ability to get work, but it really hasn't at all. I may be lucky in this regard, but I think anyone who is committed to finding writing work these days can find it now matter where they live.

Now, if I were 21 and just starting out, I'd much rather live in New York than Bradford, Ohio. Oh. MY. God. There's no debate on this. But now I'm in my thirties and I have a family, I'd rather live here. I have a brand-new 4-bedroom house on five acres of land, and what I pay monthly on the mortgage wouldn't even get me a crappy one-bedroom in Manhattan. My kid gets to play in a yard the size of a New York city block, which (for me, at least) seems like a better idea than her actually playing on a New York city block. No offense to New Yorkers.

Point here: You can write from anywhere, especially these days. So live where you want.

20. I'm a college student who wants to grow up to be a writer. What classes should I take?

Take whatever you want. If you know you want to be a writer, then you'll probably write at every opportunity anyway; taking classes on how to write are of secondary utility to actually writing. Given the choice between a class on writing and, say writing for the college newspaper, I'd suggest writing for the college newspaper and freeing up that class time for something else. Professors and other writing teachers may disagree, but you know what? I make more than almost all of them. Who are you going to believe. Now, if you have no clue how to put a sentence together, best hie yourself to a writing class, and that damned quick. But most people who really want to write tend to have that bit down.

Far more important than sitting around discussing your writing quirks with other students is actually learning about as much as you can about as many things as you can. Why? Because having a wide range of knowledge makes you a better writer -- it makes you more able to write about a number of topics, it allows you to make connections between disparate fields of knowledge and thus uncover new ideas (which you can then write about). It also makes you look more intelligent to the men/women you want to impress. But most of all, learning about a bunch of different things teaches you how to learn -- an utterly invaluable skill when it comes to writing, which often requires a lot of research and/or the ability to quickly learn stuff about a subject as you go along.

One of the things that they never tell you in high school is that your undergraduate college degree doesn't count for a whole hell of a lot -- if you're going to be a professional worker of any sort, you typically do more work on the subject in graduate school, and these grad schools like to have a nice range of students. This is why you'll often see English undergrads in MBA programs and biology majors in law school. If you want to pursue writing on an academic level -- which really is optional for a professional writing career and not at all necessary if you actually go and do real writing for real magazines and newspapers and such like (ahem) I did -- there are several very good graduate writing programs, and of course tons of journalism schools. All of these take students who have all sorts of undergrad majors. Worry about it then -- and in the meantime use your undergraduate years to learn a lot about a lot. It'll pay off in the long run.

(My major? Philosophy. Have I ever used it professionally? Yeah, right.)

Okay, I'm done talking now.

Posted by john at 09:07 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

December 16, 2004

There We Go.

Amazon has finally listed Old Man's War for sale. Also, it has reposted the customer reviews it had previously removed. I'm now a happy boy.

Posted by john at 09:21 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Another Appearance

omw1216.jpg

My pal Joe Rybicki sent this picture from Stacy's Bookstore in San Francisco, from his phone cam, no less (it's like living in the future!), and the note that this was the last copy in the store. Since Stacy's had three copies on hand as of 12/13, according to its site, this is good news, although of course I certainly hope someone at Stacy's had the good sense to reorder after two copies went out the door.

So that's two sightings of the book in California, and I know at least a few other people in the Golden State have picked up copies. Needless to say Amazon still has it listed as unavailable, because apparently in a past life I dumped a load in Jeff Bezos' shoes and he's yet to forgive me for it. I checked my local bookstore and it's not available here yet (although they do have a whole stack of Book of the Dumb 2, so I can't complain). So: If you're in California, you seem to be in luck -- if not, not yet. Naturally, I'll let y'all know when I see in on my own local bookshelves, at which point I'll stop yakking about its availability. God knows, if it's at my local bookstore, it's going to be everywhere else in the world.

Posted by john at 07:44 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Cultural Note

The Scissor Sisters version of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" is as close to a musical atrocity as we've had in the last year. I pronounce jihad on the lot of them, and after they're rounded up, they should be forced to listen to non-stop playings of Triumph and Fastway.

That is all.

Posted by john at 02:03 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Why Christmas

Yesterday Athena and I were chatting about Christmas and I asked her if she knew why we had Christmas, and she explained to me that we had Christmas so that we could be with family and get presents and have food and be thankful. To which I said, yes, those are things we do on Christmas, but do you know why there's a Christmas in the first place? To which she confessed she did not. So I explained to her how it was Jesus' birthday, and how many people believe Jesus was the son of God, and that celebrating his birth was important to them. This then moved into a discussion of how old Jesus would be if he were alive today, and also how old God might be, and then we watched Tom & Jerry brutalize each other in cartoon fashion.

We had this conversation for a simple reason, which is the same reason I've explained to her why people vote or how the sun is out there in space or why she can't stick her finger in a wall socket just for fun: I want her to actually understand the world around her and why things are the way they are. As most of you know, I'm not in the slightest bit religious personally; at the same time I think it would be wrong if Athena's only understanding of Christmas was as a jolly and secular gift-giving event. That's not why Christmas exists; it exists because some 2000 years ago, someone was born who a couple billion people on the planet believe is the son of God, and those people want to commemorate the event. Athena, being five, might not understand all the implications of knowing that Christmas is Jesus' birthday, not the least because she's a little shaky on the theological implications of Jesus being Christ. And that's fine; people who are considerably older have a difficult time wrapping their brains about it as well. But putting that into her consciousness now means that at some future point in time we can expand on it and explore it more. I see it as a building block.

And what will I teach her about Christmas as she gets older? Everything I think is important, and also everything she wants to know (which may not always be the same things). I'll read to her the Biblical stories of the birth of Jesus; I'll also explain to her one of the reasons we celebrate Christmas when we do was a matter of the Church co-opting Solstice observances to accommodate previously pagan converts. We'll sing Christmas carols; I'll explain the history of the Christmas tree and Santa Claus. I'll answer the questions she asks, and help her find the answers for herself. I think over time she'll get a good understanding of Christmas as a religious holiday and as a secular gift-exchange extravaganza. And in the end, if all goes as planned, she'll make her own decisions about the importance of each of these aspects to her. But it's critically important she understand that at the root of it all is the birth of a child many consider divine. As they say, it's the reason of the season.

As I'm not personally religious, some of you may ask why I would make the effort to teach Athena the religious aspects of the holiday. The reasons are several. The first is that even if one doubts the Christhood of Jesus, one may still admire him as a man, a thinker, and an icon of peace. You don't have to be a Christian to want your child to know that Jesus is at the heart of Christmas. The second is that it's my job as a parent to teach my child these things; I don't want my child picking up theology on the proverbial street corner because we don't teach her about it at home. That seems a fine way for her to pick up some dubious knowledge from dubious people who might eventually get her in trouble. Better that we introduce her to that sort of thing. Third, it's not a bad thing to reinforce the idea that when Athena does have questions about any subject, she can come to us, and we're going to tell her as much of the truth of things as we can.

Also, unlike a fair number of the non-religious, I'm not antagonistic toward religion per se, or Christianity specifically. As I've said elsewhere, I think Christianity is a fine religion, and I wish more Christians practiced it. And, not entirely separately, of course one reads a story like this, in which Christians were so incensed that a manger scene was taken out of a school play that they voted down much-needed funds for their school district, or that they've mandated teaching "intelligent design" in high school biology classes, and one wonders why so many Christians seem to believe that Jesus wants their children to be dumb as lard, as if there's some sort of natural opposition between accepting Christ as one's savior and increasing one's knowledge of the world to the limits of one's God-given abilities. But that's not about Christianity, or religion in general; that's about some people's thick-headed interpretation of it and the religious impulse. I don't blame Jesus for the stupidity of some of his followers; we don't get to choose our fans.

I am not religious, but I would not be disappointed if my daughter decided to become so, over the fullness of time and through a depth of knowledge, since it is not a failure of the either the human intellect or spirit to seek the divine. Where I would have failed her is if her religious impulse were to take on a close-minded, fearful and intolerant cast. I would have equally failed her if she were non-religious but also close-minded, fearful and intolerant of those who had such an impulse.

In the end, I want to teach my daughter about Jesus so she can understand him, understand those who see him as the son of God, and understand how he fits into her own view of the world. Making sure she understands why Christmas exists is a good starting point. It's early in her understanding of all of this, of course. But better early than too late.

Posted by john at 10:27 AM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

December 15, 2004

Favorite Science Fiction Authors, Circa 1998

When I first put Agent to the Stars online, I also put up a couple of additional essays, including one listing some of my favorite science fiction authors. I took down those essays when I transferred the site over to the new host and didn't resurrect them when I re-established Agent. However, I keep getting requests for my SF recommendations, so I'm posting it here, behind the link.

As you read this, a couple of things to keep in mind: First, the list is now over six years old, so it is somewhat out of date -- I still like all the authors on the list, but during the interim some of them have put out new works, and there are also several newer voices who I've particularly grown to like. Which are they? Well, that's the other thing: Since I've now joined the SF writer fraternity, I'm more hesitant to haul out a list of writers I like, basically because a number of them I now know personally, and a number of them are my friends, and I don't want anyone to feel implicitly (and wrongly) criticized if I don't put them on the list. See, I'm all political now. Also, and conversely, I like the writing of all of my friends, and I don't want to put out a list that's just me giving mad props to SFWA homeez, yo. Suffice to say I've found a lot to like in science fiction, particularly recently; it's an exciting time in the field.

In any event, here are some of my favorite science fiction reads, circa 1998.

---

Drop me in a book store (please!) and watch me head for the racks that contain the Science Fiction.

There are several reasons for this. First, while not a true nerd (I lack the math skills), I exhibit strong nerd-like tendencies: for one thing, I have a Web page. For another, I have a deep, abiding love and interest in science. For yet another, reading is my favorite leisure activity (and for yet another, I went to the University of Chicago). Everyone knows that science fiction is the preferred reading material of the Nerd Nation: In the future, you see, nerds will rule (and the future is here -- check Bill Gates' bank account lately?). It's not for nothing that a lot of science fiction has scientists, engineers and other nerd types as their heroes, and the SF that doesn't generally features other misfit types as the heroes instead.

Second, I like the fundamental basic requirement of Science Fiction, which is imagination. Authors in other genres imagine situations or particular circumstances; science fiction authors imagine entire worlds and civilizations. This is quite a step up on the confabulation scale-- to dream up a whole new space, and populate it with peoples and situations that make sense in that context. Of course, not every one who writes in the genre is up to the task (and that's why we have bad science fiction), but those that are produce work that is fundamentally more interesting to read, because what has to be imagined right at the beginning.

Third, and the flip side to number two, most fiction that takes place in contemporary time is boring. I remember when Back to Zero came out just as I was heading out of high school, and during my college years, the world was inundated with "searing stories of a dead-end generation" -- basically, a bunch of bored 20-year-olds having bisexual sex and doing drugs. While I was, in fact, a reasonably bored 20 year old at the time (it's perhaps the salient quality of 20 year olds), I didn't particularly want to read about other 20 year olds being bored and self-destructive -- why should I, when I could just look down my dorm hall? As I get older, I don't notice contemporary fiction getting any better; thankfully, we have moved away from the Bret Easton Ellis/Jay McInerny axis of literary ennui, but the replacement fiction has not been notably more engaging.

Now, this is talking largely about "literary" fiction, which is a genre to itself, even though it's assumed to be the default choice of reading material. Looking at the bestseller lists (which are an entirely different animal altogether) gives a slightly different view, although I have to say there's nothing there that really grabs me either. This week (3/15/98) sees Grisham at the top of the list, of course, and features some more of the Usual Suspects: Lillian Jackson Braun, with her "Cat" mysteries, and Jackie Collins, pitching her usual stew of sex, money, and fame. None of these particularly appeal to me to read, though I don't get snobbish about it; Grisham and Collins, for whatever their ultimate value, at least know how to keep the pages turning -- a talent that is woefully underappreciated (besides, Toni Morrison and Charles Frazier, Nobel and National Book award winners, respectively, are also on the list this week -- so who can complain?).

Fourth, no other genre has the same immediate appeal to me that science fiction does -- I suspect, because my own personality does not incline me toward those genres on a day-to-day basis as it does with science fiction. Most horror I read is laughably bad, though I except Stephen King (the original page-turner) and a couple others from this general tarbrushing. Romance fiction is a world alien to me; most of what I read makes me giggle. Westerns bore me. Erotic writing is especially tricky; too graphic and I get turned off (in the literary sense), not graphic enough and I wonder why I'm reading it in the first place. Techno-thrillers don't seem to have much place for character and dialogue; they mostly seem to be varying degrees of high-tech warfare porn. Poetry is generally silly. Historical novels seem to overlap romance novels rather too much for my taste. Medical thrillers are generally boring science fiction. So on and so on and so on.

Keep in mind that I'm speaking about genres as a whole; in each genre there are writers who I will read because I find their writing interesting, regardless (or in spite) of the genre they are working with. With science fiction, either I find a lot more writers whose work appeals to me in spite of the genre, or I mentally have kept the bar for being entertained somewhat lower than in other genres. It's hard for me to say objectively. The only genre that I seem to have either the same tolerance, or have found the same number of interesting authors, is the mystery genre, in which I enjoy Carl Hiaasen and Gregory McDonald on a regular basis.

But ultimately, it comes back again and again to the simple fact that I enjoy science fiction, both for what people write about in the genre, and how they write it. The fiction writers I'd prefer to emulate come from the genre.

Well, enough of that. Whose writing do I enjoy in the science fiction genre, and why? I've collected this list of my favorite writers in the genre, with suggested novels for each. Bear in mind that for the sake of convenience, I'm lumping fantasy in with science fiction; I understand quite vividly that they are two separate genres, although I think the distinction for most folks is the same as the distinction between country music and western music: There's a difference, though damned if most of us could say what it is.

And now, without further ado, my List of Favorite Science Fiction Writers. This list is in no particular order, excepting the first one, who is, reasonably enough, my all-time favorite.

Robert Heinlein: The most ironic thing about Heinlein's writing, I think, is how much of his science he (in hindsight) got backward. In Starman Jones, he has starship officers writing out by hand the sort of logarithmic equations that a hand calculator can crunch in a fraction of a second; in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, it's (almost) nothing for a computer to talk and think, but rather impressive for it to be able to create a convincing virtual office on a monitor. Heinlein's future is almost purely mechanistic in that stereotypical "rocketship to the moon" sort of way; technology qua technology either bored him or he simply didn't fret the details too much beyond the math.

Which is fine with me. I read Heinlein not for the hardware ("hard" SF generally bores me), but for the software: namely, the characters and the dialogue -- Heinlein, of all the Golden Age writers, had the best grip on both -- and for Heinlein's philosophical musings. Heinlein, as any SF reader worth his or her salt knows, was very much a proto-Libertarian; his general political philosophy appeared to be "most people are idiots, so why should we trust a government of the people?" Like Ayn Rand (who he share a large chunk of his audience with), Heinlein could get away with it because he populated his novel with characters who were independent and free-thinking, and thus could handle Heinlein's political set-up with a minimum of fuss. The real world, dare I say, is somewhat more complicated.

For all that, Heinlein's characters' streaks of independence, intelligence, and honor made a big impression on me as kid growing up; they were the sort of people I would have liked to have been. Jubal Harshaw and Lazarus Long would be two people I would love to have over for dinner, just to chat and expound (although one would probably do; the characters, philosophically, are pretty much the same). Heinlein had style, and he had influence on several generations of writers -- as you go down the list here, you'll notice some of his stylistic children popping up now and again.

Heinlein's work has aged reasonably well, particularly his juveniles, which I admire greatly because they talk across, rather than down, to the audience (I'm trying to write a juvenile myself, in the same vein as Heinlein's work). Ironically, it's his later work which I think fares worst of all: The Number of the Beast, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and To Sail Beyond The Sunset all are the work of a man trying to tie his fiction together in one big bow, rather than trying to create discrete works of fiction (for my money, Heinlein's last totally readable book was Friday). Also, Heinlein got a little sex-crazy near the end, which for me distracted rather too much from the stories at hand.

Still, for all that, Heinlein was the author who got me started reading science fiction, and the author I still turn to as the primary signpost of what I think of as "good" science fiction. A singular fellow, to be sure -- he could have been a character in one of his books. That qualifies as high praise.

Suggested Reading: Among his adult works, Stranger in a Strange Land is of course the place to start to get the gist of Heinlein when he was in full force: the story still reads like a rocket, despite some jarringly outdated moments -- the crack about women looking for trouble nine out of the ten times they get raped is one that wouldn't survive the editing process today. Speaking of which, I recommend the traditional version of the book rather than the "uncut" version which is also available; the book benefited from the pruning, from what I can see. Once you're done with Stranger, check out The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a rousing tale of rebellion and computers, and Time Enough for Love, the first and best capstone of Heinlein's universe, featuring Lazarus Long. He's the guy to whom Heinlein attributes all his pithy quotes. For late-era Heinlein, Friday gets the vote.

But don't neglect Heinlein's juveniles! Some of his best work is here -- and because these books were generally shorter, they're a quicker, more compact read. Starship Troopers qualifies as a juvy in my book (though aimed squarely at later teens), and serves as a good tract for Heinlein's political musings (it's nothing like the movie, by the way). Starman Jones, Citizen of the Galaxy, The Star Beast and Red Planet are also worthy reads.

Orson Scott Card: Card is probably the most empathetic author working in SF today, which is to say that he is passionately interested in his character's internal lives, how they think, feel and relate to the other characters. I can't speculate too much on why this might be, since I don't know the man personally, but I suspect that it has something to do with Card's own strong religious beliefs; Card is a Mormon and apparently unabashedly so -- he writes plays and stories about his faith. While not especially religious myself, I think that many people who are are intimately tuned to the internal dialogues we all have, possibly because that internal dialogue isn't merely self-directed, but also directed towards God. Whatever the reason, this empathy saturates his work form beginning to end.

This empathy helps Card pull off some incredibly tricky themes in his work -- genocide, murder, incest, spiritual and moral doubt all pop up in his work, and are dealt with amazing grace. Now, it's not that Card can do no wrong; the empathy that make his best work brilliant is also the thing that makes some of his more mediocre work pretty damned mawkish and hard to read. On balance, however, his efforts pay off, both in story and style; no one else writes like Card.

Suggested Reading: Card has two series you want to avail yourself of: The Ender series and Alvin Maker series. The Ender series, particularly the first two books, Ender's Game and Speaker For the Dead, are the books that made Card's reputation -- the story of an extraordinary individual who perpetrates the most unimaginable crime, and yet manages to atone for it. The final two books (Xenocide and Children of the Mind) are not essential, in my opinion (In these, Card pulls, quite literally, a deus ex machina), but the first two are must-haves for any serious SF fan.

The Alvin Maker series is fantasy -- an incredibly realized alternate history of the United States, one that features magic as reality. Card's revision of American history is fascinating in its own right, but the story of Alvin, a young man who has the power to move the world, is nothing to sneeze at either. As with the Ender series, the first couple of book are better than the later books (although as I write this, the final book in the series has yet to be written, so reserve judgment) -- in fact, the second book of the series, Red Prophet, I would rank as Card's best work to date (well, tied with Speaker, at any rate).

Outside of this series, two recommendations: Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, which is another alternate history, and Card's novelization of James Cameron's The Abyss -- perhaps the only novelization of a movie that actually reads like a full-blooded novel.

Sheri Tepper: Like Card, Tepper is a profoundly empathetic writer, and naturally enough, her empathy is a distinctly womanly one. This feminine viewpoint, coupled with Tepper's considerable story-telling expertise, is what I love about her writing: unlike most of the writers on this list, whose work I feel I could probably emulate, given time (and a jolt by God), Tepper is writing from a space I can't inhabit. Mind you, this isn't about writing female characters -- any competent writer can do that (and just about every writer on this list has). It's the overarching mental scaffolding we're talking about -- how Tepper creates her worlds as well as her characters.

Her take on the universe is fundamentally different than my take. But what makes her such a good writer is that she can make me see, feel, and believe her take on things -- through the deftness of her prose and the strength of her characters. It's like visiting a foreign land, and discovering to your delight that you can speak the language (or at the very least, the natives can understand you). Also, on a not entirely unrelated point, Tepper understands satire to be something more than broad lampooning; she's got some marvelous satire in her work that just about slides under the radar. No offense to SF, but most of the writers in the genre are not known for a delicate touch. Tepper's got it, God bless her.

Suggested Reading: Many of Tepper's works take place in the same universe but only tangentially touch on each other, thus avoiding the "sequel" feel. Of these books, the one I most highly suggest is Grass, which shows Tepper's mastery in several techniques: first, building a rich, complex and believable universe; second, creating a plausible crisis that can End Life As We Know It; third, creating a character, Marjorie, who is resourceful, willful, capable -- and human. Great book. Tepper followed it up with Raising The Stones, which is just as good in an entirely different way: this book gets to the heart of what makes us human, and whether it's something that an outside force can help us with. You can read either book without having read the other, but read them both for the full effect.

Dan Simmons: Dan Simmons is probably the best all-around writer out there in SF Land because, among many other things, he's merciless. This is a guy who will make you put an emotional investment into a character so charismatic and central to the plot that you can't help but think he or she is the main character -- and then kill that character half-way through the book. AND still pull the book off cohesively. Talk about a one-two punch: both the chutzpah to give the reader the unexpected, and the skills to pull it off flawlessly.

What makes Dan Simmons even more of a treat is that he's the rare writer who can pull off two separate genres completely: science fiction and horror. Simmons writes in each (and on more than one occasion, such as The Hollow Man, both at the same time), and has won the top awards in each genre (the Stoker for horror and the Hugo and Nebula in Science Fiction). Finally, for his masterworks (The Hyperion series), he shamelessly rips off everyone from Chaucer to Keats to Mickey Spillane -- and nails each one on the head. Basically, as far as writing is concerned, there's apparently nothing the man can't do. It's sort of disgusting if you think about it, so don't. Just enjoy the results.

Suggested Reading: Simmons' best work are the first two Hyperion novels: Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion. In these books, Simmons creates a fully realized universe that ranks up there with Asimov's and Herbert's in terms of complexity and believability, and does it while creating personalities you can really sink your teeth into (which, for what it's worth, neither Asimov or Herbert could really pull off in their respective universes). The first two Hyperion books, in my humble opinion, represent the best science fiction writing in the last decade or so; you'd be a fool not to run down to the book store and pick up copies right this very instant. The two books that follow these, Endymion and Rise of Endymion, ain't too shabby either.

If you want to try some of Simmons' horror work, two titles should work for you: Carrion Comfort, a massive tome that combines mind control, zombie-like creatures, the deep south, Nazis and Hollywood - and does it very well, thank you. Also seek out Children of the Night, Simmons' riff on the Dracula fable that includes a new and exceptionally well-realized spin on the vampire myth.

Susan Cooper: Cooper wrote the Dark is Rising juvenile fantasy series, which I think represents the absolute best juvenile fiction can be. It has a juvenile protagonist and is clearly written to appeal to younger readers (I first read it in the fifth grade), but it never, ever writes down. The characters are rich, the situations complicated and of earth-shattering importance, the references vivid, the themes never simplistic and the resolution satisfyingly consonant (for a fantasy series) with the real world. You'll notice I haven't even started to talk about the writing style here. It's even better than what I've described so far -- good enough that I can read the books again as an adult, and enjoy them as much as I did when I was a child -- without having to read them through a child's eyes. That's good writing, friends.

I understand the books have been optioned to be made into movies by the Jim Henson Studios. Here's hoping they don't screw them up.

Suggested Reading: The Dark is Rising Series, naturally enough: The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree. There is another book in the series, Over Sea, Under Stone, and it's actually the first of the series, but I've always found it the weakest of the series, and I found that not reading it doesn't detract over much from enjoying the rest of the series. I suggest reading The Dark is Rising first, to get a grip on the tone of the series, and then reading Over Sea later. Don't let the fact they are juvenile fiction stop you -- they really are worth the read no matter what your age.

Those are the biggies -- here's some quick notes on some of my other favorites.

David Brin: Brin is hit-and-miss with me, but when he hits, he makes an impression. Earth, his novel of the near-future (in which intrepid scientists fight against a black hole that has sunk into the center of the Earth) is his best work in my eyes -- a detailed and well-wrought vision of a world on the brink, not so different from ours (Brin also gets credit for nailing the concept of hyperlinks a few years before they actually showed up). Brin's Uplift Trilogies are so-so for me; I have to really work to get into them. The Uplift War is the one novel in the series that works best for me; the rest are ehhh in my book. I feel sorry for him about his novel The Postman, the movie version of which got the worst reviews of 1997. Fortunately for him, no one seems to blame him for it.

Neal Stephenson: The most readable author in the cyberpunk movement, mostly because he's got a hell of a sense of humor, and an ear for dialogue and hip description: the first couple chapters of Snow Crash, his (deservedly) most-acclaimed novel, are some of the best, funniest science fiction you'll read. What Stephenson has not managed to do to date, however, is come up with a serviceable close to his books; in Snow Crash and The Diamond Age (there's a third book, Zodiac -- actually his first published -- which I have not read), he creates these wonderful, funny, vivid worlds, and then doesn't know how to wrap them up. It's frustrating. Still, better half a loaf than none -- I still have more fun reading him than just about anyone else.

Steven Brust: Brust dabbles primarily in fantasy -- his best known work is the Taltos Series, in which short-lived humans live alongside Dragereans, who live for thousands of years-- and what I like about his work is his light hand with the dialogue and the humor. I've never been one for the somber, heavy-handed mumblings that come out of the mouths of most fantasy characters (the ones that aren't blatantly spoofy, that is -- which is just as bad), so the fact that Brust's Vlad Taltos is recognizably contemporary within his fantasy world structure is a breath of fresh air.

Allen Steele: Steele's work gets a lot of comparisons with early Heinlein, and in work like Orbital Decay and Clarke County USA, it's easy to see why -- both feature can-do folks in a mechanistic future (which is to say, one where people do more work with their hands than with computers), with some high-minded ideals thrown in for fun. I won't insult Steele by saying his work isn't original -- but I will say that yes, I do read him for the same elements I find in Heinlein's stuff. I figure that's a compliment.

Ray Bradbury: The best fantasist to work in science fiction -- or is it the best science fiction writer to work in fantasy? Either way, in a hundred years or so, I expect Bradbury's best work -- The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and especially Something Wicked This Way Comes -- will allow him to be favorably compared to folks like Edgar Allen Poe (don't laugh. No one thought Poe was really all that while he was alive). What I've read of his most recent work doesn't do all that much for me -- a similar situation to how I felt about Heinlein's later work -- but that certainly doesn't take away from what he's accomplished over the length of his career.

Mark Helprin: Helprin is not generally regarded as a fantasy writer; he's more of a mainstream literary fiction writer. But every person who loves fantasy owes it to him or herself to seek out his book Winter's Tale. It is -- bar none -- the best fantasy book I've ever read, an alternate history of New York that is both breathtaking in scope and in the sheer, unalloyed quality of Helprin's writing. One of Helprin's book jacket blurbs reads "Helprin writes like an angel." It's probably the only time such gross hyperbole is actually close to the truth. Great writing. Get it.

Neil Gaiman: Alan Moore and Frank Miller get credit for getting comic books to be thought of as anything more than kids stuff (here in the US, at least; they don't have as many hangups about illustrated work other places), but for my money it's Neil Gaiman's Sandman series that shows that not only can comic book writing hang with the best fantasy work out there -- it can be the best fantasy work out there. Over seventy-five issues of the comic book, Gaiman followed the character of Dream (the immortal character Cure lead singer Robert Smith always wished he could be) through adventures in this world, Hell, and beyond. Outside of some token bows to the DC comics universe near the beginning of the series, the series is wholly original stuff, fabulous in the literal sense, and occasionally more chilling (and more thought-provoking) than anything else out there. Best of all, Gaiman had the good sense to close the series while it was still strong. Smart man. If you've never thought of a comic book as being quality writing, this is the work to change your mind.

Posted by john at 09:19 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Online Friends

Writer Michelle Sagara has been thinking about the phenomenon of "online friends" on her LiveJournal (an appropriate place, that), specifically here and here. Even more specifically, she asks her readers the question: "How many of your best friends are online only?" Which is to say, I imagine, who among your closest circle of friends have you never actually communicated with except through e-mail/IM/blog or journal comments.

For me, the answer is simple: None. With really only one exception I can think of (and the reasons for that exception being personal enough that I don't particularly feel the need to share the details with the lot of you, save to say it's not what you think, you pervs), the circles of close and best friends are reserved for those I've actually spent an appreciable amount of time with in the flesh.

To explain this, let's take a moment to define the universe of People We Know, and explore how it relates to our relationships with people, online and offline. The universe of People We Know exists as concentric circles, which are, in ascending order of importance to the person at the center (and generally speaking with corresponding fewer people in each circle):

People We Know Of -- These are folks whose existences we are aware of, for various reasons, online and offline. The most removed subset of these would be celebrities; rather closer to home would be people like friends of friends (who are not friends with us), people who comment on the same newsgroups/chat boards/blogs we do, other parents of kids in one's child's class, people whose blogs/journals we read occasionally but without comment, so on and so forth. We have knowledge of these people, and we may even have positive or negative opinions about them, but our interactions with them are minimal at best. And although we may know of these people, it's not always the case they know us. There are thousands of people who read my site every day, for example, who never pause to comment; I am known to them, but the reverse is not true.

Acquaintances -- People who you know, who also know you, and with whom you'd had some amount of contact, but to whom you neither feel nor engender a certain amount of friendly obligation. Acquaintance is a "friend-neutral" term, as surely most of us have among our circle of acquaintances people we don't particularly like, both online and off. However, it is certainly possible to have friendly acquaintances, particularly online. Here at the Whatever, the vast majority of the commentors I group into the "friendly acquaintance" category -- they're interesting people, and I like most of what I see of them in terms of their comments, and I think by and large we'd probably get along if we ever met, and I certainly like the community that I see on the site. But most of them aren't actual friends. Friendly online banter and casual enjoyment of one's company is an excellent thing, but it doesn't cross that personal threshold.

Friends -- In my world, friends are people who you like, you find interesting, and whose company you actively seek, in whatever format. They are also people to whom you are inclined to feel obligation; as a small example, if a friend puts out a book, I will often buy the book not only because (thankfully) most of my friends who write are fine writers, but also because as a friend, I want my friends to succeed, and buying their books is a small way to do that (however, and I want to be very clear on this, I don't keep tabs of which of my friends buy my books. That's just neurotic). But more concretely for most people, the obligations of friendship include things like a sympathetic ear, a happiness in their company, and projecting to them (truthfully) a general sense that you like having them about.

I think it's possible to make friendships and maintain them entirely online: I can think of several people with whom I have friendships who I have not communicated with other than through words on a computer screen. For general friendship, I think that's a perfectly sufficient level of contact. However, by and large, this is the cut-off level for online interaction in terms of personal closeness.

Good Friends -- These are the people with whom you share a more personal connection; the folks you're comfortable telling some (but not all) the things you don't bother telling other people, and the people whose back you've generally got and who have generally got your back. If you go out with any friend and they run a little short of cash, you'll spot them; with a good friend, you won't bother remembering how much you've spotted them because you know over time it'll all even out anyway. Likewise, a good friend can piss you off from time to time (and vice versa) and it generally won't affect your friendship.

This sort of friendship, I think, almost always requires contact beyond words on a screen, because -- at least in my case -- I need to hear and see the people in action before I extend out that sort of personal trust. It's not a question of people online being deceptive, mind you. Some people are to their online friends, but (to be honest about it) since I'm not a really attractive young woman, it's generally not been the case that I've had to deal with people like that. It's more that people online are idealized versions of themselves -- as scary as they may seem considering what and how much people let hang out on their sites -- and to be a good friend, you have to see more of that person.

I flatter myself in being a very good judge of character, and I usually know within a few minutes of meeting someone whether I am going to want them as a friend or as a good friend (if I've already conferred friend status to them). But it's really the case that I have to spend some amount of time with you first. Now, I will say that there are friends that I have online who I fully expect will get Good Friend accreditation once I meet them in the real world; indeed, I can think of at least one person who went from online acquaintance straight to good friend because they were just that awesome a human being. But that just reinforces the point, doesn't it: Personal contact is essential beyond a certain level of friendship.

Close Friends -- People you can count on, and who know they can count on you, and basically you obligate yourself to putting up with a lot of crap from them if necessary. These are the folks who get the unlimited 3am crisis calls and emergency pick-ups from strange bars, and who you don't drop from your circle even if they start dating a real asshole (although you do get the privilege of telling them they're dating an asshole, if that's something you want). It's even possible not to like close friends for reasonably long stretches of time but still consider them close friends. Basically you'll put up with a lot because you get a lot, and you're willing to put in the work to keep it going.

Knowing these people in real life is pretty much non-negotiable because I think becoming a really close friend is very much falling in love with someone, in that there's something about the person that speaks to you beyond the rational and explicable, and while it's possible to feel infatuated with someone without ever knowing them, that real "God, I want this person to be part of my life" feeling by definition requires human contact, especially if you want it to last beyond the infatuation stage and deepen into a genuine and continuing relationship.

Best Friends -- simply put: You'd give these guys a kidney. Or a liver (a lobe, anyway). What's more, you wouldn't think twice about it (which is not to say you wouldn't remind them of it whenever you felt like it). Needless to say, best friends take years to develop, and they definitely take personal contact. I also suspect that the number of best friends any one person can have is limited, because the obligation is nothing short of a marriage (and so it goes without saying your spouse damn well better be one of these, and at least ever-so-slightly above the rest on the priority list), and it's difficult to invest the emotional energy, and the life obligation required for this.

Now, one of the interesting facts about good, close and best friends is that once you've spent some physical time with them, you don't actually need to spend a lot of physical time with them -- due to factors of geography and time, I haven't seen some of my best friends in a couple of years or more. But I've made that personal commitment to them, and that (plus phone calls, IMs and e-mail) keep things bubbling along. Still and all, they wouldn't be friends of that quality had I not spent time with them.

One of the reasons it's difficult to make new good friends as one gets older is that it's often the case that life keeps you from making the sort of contacts that allow that level of friendship to take hold. Conversely, I think that the online world makes it so easy to meet new people (in a fashion) and that people are always eager to make new friends, particularly new friends who share common interests (as they tend to do online, because one goes online where one's interests lie). In my case, I know over the last few years I've made more friends online than I have made in my little town, precisely because I have more in common with my online acquaintances.

However, of the same period of time, nearly all the people who have become good and close friends have become so from face-to-face encounters. It's axiomatic. Ultimately, no matter how you slice it, it's the personal contact that seals the deal with a friendship. Friendship is about contact, and contact is a tactile thing; the mind may write the contract between friends, but it's in the physical world in which that contract gets signed.

Posted by john at 12:55 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

December 13, 2004

OMW Store Spotting

omwspotted.jpg

We have our first Old Man's War spotting in stores. This handsome pair of OMWs were found in an LA-area Barnes & Noble by my pal Mykal Burns, who notes that not only did he see the book in the store, he also saw Brad Pitt. No word if Brad Pitt then purchased Old Man's War. Seems doubtful. Mykal also reports that he proceeded to place the book face forward, showing that he knows how to make authors happy. I think I'll put him in my book acknowledgments.

Meanwhile, Amazon still has the book listed as "not available," thereby wasting for me a perfectly good rave today from Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing. Stupid Amazon. All that love from Cory for nothing. Doesn't matter. Cory's still getting my Hugo vote this year (and will have deserved it, for Eastern Standard Tribe). He would have gotten it anyway, without the shoutout, mind you. Point is, Cory officially rocks, Amazon officially sucks. And OMW is officially live. Start pestering your book sellers for it now.

(And remember, notwithstanding Amazon, you can buy the book online here here here here and here. Just in case you want to buy online but don't want to wait for Amazon to get a clue.)

Update: Canadians can get their copies of OMW on Amazon.ca. Have I mentioned enough recently how much Amazon.com sucks for me?

Posted by john at 07:59 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Wallowing in ConFusion

Note to stalkers: I've made the executive decision to attend this year's ConFusion, a science fiction convention in Michigan, which makes it fairly close to where I am (i.e., drivable without pain). It's the nearest con closest to the release date of Old Man's War, and you know I'm all about the rampant promotion. Also, I'm sort of interested in seeing what a science fiction convention is like when it's not a Worldcon, Worldcons being the only conventions I've gone to so far. I'm just curious this way. I've let the programming people know I'm open to being on panels and to doing a reading, but as I've only registered today, so far the only thing I know I'll be doing there is loitering.

Other cons I'm considering attending this year: Wiscon, Interaction (this year's Worldcon) and the World Fantasy Convention, Millennicon, InConJunction, and ConText. With the exception of Interaction, which is across an entire ocean, all of these take place within a few hundred miles of me, the most distant being Wiscon/World Fantasy, both of which are in Madison, WI this year. Which ones I go to depends on my writing/life schedule, although at this point I'm pretty confident about both Wiscon and Interaction. I may also nip up to Chicago for the Nebula Weekend, seeing as I am on a Nebula Jury this year, but again, we'll just have to wait and see what life plops down like a dead wildebeast in front of me.

Posted by john at 11:09 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 12, 2004

Google Guessing: An Ego-Surfing Game

It's "Google Guessing": A new way to be neurotic about your popularity online through the new Google Suggest function, in which Google tries to guess what you want to search on while you're typing in the word. Here are the rules of Google Guessing:

1. Go to Google Suggest (it's in beta).
2. Begin typing your name -- first and last.
3. Count how many letters of your last name you have to type until your full name shows up in the suggestion window without scrolling. In the case that your full name shows up before you type in a letter of your last name (for example, if your name is "John Kerry"), use the number "0.5".
4. Note the number of results listed.
5. If you have a common name (you know who you are), click through and count how many pages of references go by before you personally get a mention (this is an updated step).
6. Divide the "results" number of step four by the "letters entered" number in step three, and then (if applicable) divide that number by the number in step five. This is your "Google Guessing Rank," or GGR for short.
7. Compare your GGR with others for sheer neurotic sport. A higher GGR suggests there are more references to you online and/or that enough people search on your name that Google has a good idea they're looking for you earlier than later.

In my case it takes three letters of my last name before I show up in the suggestion window, and "John Scalzi" is noted to have 108,000 results attached to it. Therefore my GGR is (108000/3) = 36,000.

How does 36,000 compare? Let's see.

George Bush (15,800,000/0.5) = 33,600,000
John Kerry (12,000,000/0.5) = 24,000,000
Glenn Reynolds (1,100,000/1) = 1,100,000
Josh Marshall (971,000/1) = 971,000
Neil Gaiman (460,000/0.5) = 920,000
Cory Doctorow (179,000/0.5) = 378,000
James Lileks (242,000/1) = 242,000
Patrick Nielsen Hayden (81,000/2) = 40,500
Dan Drezner (115,000/3) = 38,333

In other words: Meh.

Now, obviously there are flaws with the methodology. For example, not every "John Scalzi" referenced is going to be me, so there's some noise inherent in the system -- which would be even greater if you only tracked your last name (and the noise is much greater if you have a common name -- note some of the comments below -- which is why I added in step five). Also, this doesn't take into account name variations ("Daniel Drezner" instead of "Dan Drezner," for example -- and since "Daniel Drezner" has a GGR of about 90,000, maybe he'd want to go with that).

However, excessive picking apart of the methodology means that one is veering dangerously close to taking it seriously, and if one does that, one should probably step away from the computer for a decade or two. This is supposed to be fun. Good, clean, ha-ha-ha-my-GGR-totally-pwned-your-GGR -so-I'm-prettier-and-more-popular-than-you fun.

So, what's your GGR?

Posted by john at 05:12 PM | Comments (53) | TrackBack

Master of My Own Domain

I've been stocking up on domains. Clearly, I own Scalzi.com. But over the years I've owned several others, and as my hosting service charges a mere $6 a year to maintain domain names (a vast improvement over the $35 a year I'd been paying previous), I decided to do a little shopping. Forthwith, these are the domains I now own:

Scalzi.com -- Duh. However, Scalzi.net and Scalzi.org are not owned by me, they're owned by someone named Danielle Scalzi, who's had them for three years now and has not done anything with them. Maybe I'll ask her if I can buy them from her, since it would be nice to have all the major hierarchy domains. Not that I'd spend a whole lot on them, mind you, and in any event if you own the ".com" you've got the one everyone is going to try first anyway. Even so. Being denied the ".net" and ".org," I did pick up:

Scalzi.info, and

Scalzi.name. Dunno what I'll do with them yet. I suspect at some point I might give Scalzi.name its own place and then rent space out to all Scalzis who might want a Web site, and give them their own sub domain (so: kristine.scalzi.name), but that requires logistical planning that I'm not going to get into at the moment.

(Interestingly, Scalzi.it -- the domain for Italy -- goes to a law firm.)

Johnscalzi.com -- Since most personal site domains are usually comprised of first and last names, it just made sense to get this one and have it point to Scalzi.com.

Athenascalzi.com -- Because maybe one day she'll want it. A couple of years ago I had registered athenamarie.com, but I forgot about it and let it lapse, and then someone snapped it up ( a woman named Athena, whose middle name, I would surmise, is Marie).

Mencken.com -- I keep meaning to do something with this -- maybe a political group blog -- but again, time and effort and all that conspire against me. Be that as it may, I was somewhat amazed it was available when I checked several years ago; you'd think some libertarian or conservative would have snapped this baby up. Well, I have it, baby. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Bookofthedumb.com -- mostly to make sure some competitor didn't snap it up and use it point to their own books.

Oldmanswar.com -- Well, why not?

Indiecrit.com -- Late, lamented. I wish I had more time for it.

Blogcritics.com -- I actually bought this at the behest of Eric Olsen, who wanted it for the review site he was creating, but a communication mix-up cause him to construct the site at Blogcritics.org. I still own this domain, but it points to the other site. I keep meaning to transfer it over to him, but time, hassle, yadda yadda yadda.

While I was making my recent spree of domain purchases I gave some thought to purchasing scalzisucks.com and johnscalzisucks.com, but then I thought, hell, if someone hates me just that much, who I am I to stop them. Also, with a site name like ScalziSucks.com, it would be pretty clear it wouldn't be an objective font of Scalzi information. You can't get too worked up about crap like that (also, quite honestly, I don't really expect those domains to be snapped up any time soon).

Now I feel all domain-y.

Posted by john at 03:27 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

So That's Where They Went

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They found Amazon's missing copies of Old Man's War.

No, I didn't make this. It was sent to me. My readers have a twisted sense of humor. Not that I mind. That's some funny stuff.

Posted by john at 01:01 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Hotel Scalzi

Going to Verona? Stay at the Hotel Scalzi!

I am unaffiliated. However, were I to go to Verona for some reason, I suppose it would be difficult for me not to stay there.

Posted by john at 12:27 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 11, 2004

Old Man's War Availability Recap

As of 7:45pm December 11, here's which online retailers have Old Man's War in stock, and for how much:

Amazon: Not yet. Tick, tick, tick... However, as I mentioned before, it appears that people who pre-ordered the book from Amazon are having it shipped, so I expect it won't be too long now. When it does appear, the price will be $16.29.

Amazon UK: Now, oddly enough, Amazon UK is already selling the book (for about 12 pounds), but also notes there is a 9 to 13 day delivery time, which means those of you in the UK shouldn't necessarily expect to get it in time for Christmas. The site also seems to suggest that the first printing of the book will be 15,000 copies (see the synopsis), which -- shall we say -- varies from the information I've received.

Hey! Even Amazon in Germany has it listed as available! Stupid American Amazon...

Wal-Mart: $14.99. Sad that Wal-Mart has it officially available before Amazon.

Books-a-Million: $17.84.

BN.com: $19.26.

ValoreBooks.com: $17.56.

And there you have it. If you were to ask me which of these online institutions you should receive your book from, I would tell you that indeed, I have no preference. Wal-Mart is clearly the least expensive, but it means buying from Wal-Mart, and I understand many people have philosophic objections to that (I don't, incidentally, as we shop there fairly often. Remember: Rural Ohio).

If you really want the book more inexpensively and also have a bit of patience, then you can wait about a month and get it through the Science Fiction Book Club, which will have it listed as an Alternate Selection for their "Winter" offering (which follows January but is before February -- the SFBC has a 17-"month" year, you see). If the SFBC follows form it will sell it for something like $12.50. The catch is you have to wait six weeks (including shipping time) -- and, as a SFBC member, that you obligate yourself to purchase a certain number of books within a certain amount of time. Tanstaafl, don't you know.

But if that works for you, then by all means, book club it. I suspect a lot of authors will tell you (or at the very least would think at you very hard) they prefer you buy the books outside of a book club setting, but as most of you know, my philosophy for this book is that I've already been paid, and now my main concern is getting the book into as many hands as humanly possible, and the SFBC is certainly a good way to do that. Indeed, I suspect Tor thinks so, too, since Tor's first printing of OMW is relatively small -- I think they're hoping SFBC (which does its own book printings, from what I understand) will be effective in selling its own version of the book. And so do I. Go, SFBC, go!

In the perfect world, you'd buy the book at your local bookstore, which is independently owned and operated by cheerful people who have filled the store with comfy chairs and espresso machines and Maine Coon Cats sleeping photogenically in the picture windows, and have a vast and delightful science fiction section. But in the real world, lots of bookstore have questionable SF sections, no chairs, and Maine Coon Cats give rise to serious dander issues. So, honestly, I couldn't care less how you get the book.

Well, amend: Don't steal it. That's not nice. But short of larceny, it's all the same to me. I just want you to read it, and hopefully feel you've gotten your money's worth, no matter what you paid for it.

Update: A1books.com has it for $14.17. Man, that's just ridiculous.

Posted by john at 07:45 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

More Book Blah Blah Blah

A couple of things:

* I've created a new Books section to the Web site, which you can see here. Nestled within this new book section, in an understated way, is an Old Man's War Preview Page, which contains information about the book, some of the reviews, and an essay about the book, none of which will be news to recent readers here -- and also a sample chapter, which might be. The books page also links to Agent to the Stars. At some point, when I'm not feeling lazy, I'll put a permanent link to the book section here at the Whatever. But in the meantime it's linked off the front page of the site.

* The folks at Amazon, perhaps disbelieving that people have read a book that's not yet officially published, appear to have yanked down the customer reviews for Old Man's War. I am of course sad -- those were some fine reviews, and my thanks to those who posted them -- but the good news is that the Publishers Weekly review remains. I guess Amazon decided it was possible someone at PW had actually read the book. Hopefully once the book is officially out in the world the customer reviews will return.

* I hadn't paid attention to this until someone pointed it out to me, but back at the Amazon page, there's an interesting dichotomy between what other books customers who bought my book also bought, and the books that people who viewed my book also viewed. Among the books also bought are a number of science fiction titles from Neal Stephenson and Elizabeth Moon among others, as well as James Lileks' Interior Desecrations book. Among the books browsed were political books like Axis of Weasels by Scott Ott and The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century by James Bennett, as well as science fiction books Armor and Orphanage.

This is actually a residual illustration of the Instapundit Effect, because every book in the "viewed" category is one mentioned by Glenn either in conjunction with my book (in the case of Armor & Orphanage) or at some point in time close to when he mentioned my book (as is the case of the political tomes). I think it's interesting that there's not a huge amount of overlap between the two groups, but I have no idea what the implications of the variance might be. I do see Glenn's influence in the purchases; he's been a longtime booster of James Lileks' book work. Of course, as have I. In any event, it's an interesting testimony of how a mention on one Web site can leave a noticeable footprint on Amazon.

Posted by john at 02:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 10, 2004

The Glorious Appearing -- A Contest

I am reliably informed by one of my many spies that Old Man's War has begun shipping from Amazon, so those of you who have pre-ordered the book from that online vendor should be receiving it fairly soon. It is still not listed as in stock, although I imagine that will change fairly soon. Update, 9:55pm: BN.com has it available for shipping.

In one of the comment threads someone asked what one could get for being the first to spot Old Man's War in the wild (which is to say, in an actual bookstore). What an excellent question. To which I say, the first person who send me actual documentary evidence of Old Man's War out there in the world -- preferably by way of taking a picture of the bookstore employee ringing it up at the cash register -- will receive a CD from me of some of the various musical compositions I've banged together over the years. I used to have some of them up over at Indiecrit, but they went down the same time as Indiecrit did. However, if you're wondering if getting this CD would be a reward or a punishment, here's one of them as a sample. I make music about as well as an author should, I think.

Now, you can't just send me a note that says -- "Hey! I saw it!" and expect to get this oh-so-choice reward. Pictures, please. And don't think I can't tell a Photoshopping when I see one. Not that I expect anyone would actually go through the effort of Photoshopping for a CD of my musical stylings. Even so.

How difficult will this be? Hopefully not terribly so, although as a practical matter this first printing of OMW is fairly small: about 3800 copies, or so I've heard (ah, the life of a first-time genre author!) and so that may represent something of a challenge. On the other hand, if you are a book collector, better snap up a copy (or two!). Those first edition OMWs might actually be worth something one day.

In all seriousness, I'd love to know for sure when OMW hits the stores, so if you see it -- picture or no -- let me know. Thanks.

Posted by john at 04:42 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

2:42

Following up on Wednesday's Three Minute Perfect Pop entry, Chad Orzel observes on his site: "Of course, the real test is to see whether 3:00 is a more 'pop' song length than some other, so we need a control list to compare to." His control list is for songs that run four minutes and thirty three seconds, which aside from being 93 seconds longer than three minutes is a crafty little in-joke for music geeks. This time pops up some interesting songs for Chad, including "Mary Jane's Last Dance" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" by Steely Dan and "All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow, and a number of other people pitch in with their on Cage matches (as it were) including me. It's a good sampling, although based on what I see there I would have to say that for pure pop satisfaction, three minutes has 4'33" beat.

But let's approach the "perfect length for perfect pop" question from another angle -- let's start with a song that embodies perfect pop, figure out how long it is, and then see if other perfect pop songs are also that length.

As it happens, I have a fine candidate for pop perfection: "There She Goes" by The La's, which most people know better by its fairly recent remake by Sixpence None the Richer. For my money, "There She Goes" is nearly impossible to beat in its pop perfection: from the tips of its chiming guitars to the bottom of its blissful lyrics, it simply doesn't get any better than this. If aliens came down and said that we had just shade under three minutes to justify our existence or we'd be evaporated -- well, I wouldn't necessarily suggest playing this song, but I might suggest someone put it on in the background while we boot up Stephen Hawking's voice synthesizer.

"There She Goes" -- both The La's and SNTR versions -- clocks in at 2:42. We go to the iTunes again, and ladies and gentlemen, we strike gold:

* "Johnny B Goode" by Chuck Berry
* "Michelle" by The Beatles
* "Don't Do Me Like That" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
* "Breakdown," ibid
* "Help Me" by Concrete Blonde
* "Crazy" by Patsy Cline
* "Tears of a Clown" the version by The (English) Beat
* "Sunday's Coming On" by Marc Teamaker (no, you don't know who he is. Trust me, it's good)

Check it yourself -- 2:42 has got the perfect pop goods. I await your verification.

Posted by john at 12:01 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

December 09, 2004

Agent Back Online

Agent to the Stars, the first novel I wrote, and which had been online here at Scalzi.com until I changed hosting providers earlier in the year, is now back online. Folks who are familiar with it will note a few changes, among them that I poured the novel into a Movable Type blog, and that the downloadable version of the novel is now a pdf file rather than an rtf file. The former of these was done because Movable Type does all the hard work of putting in the links for me; the latter because I think the novel looks better as a pdf. It's not to keep people from stealing the work or anything, especially since someone could just cut and paste text from the Web site if they wanted.

The other major change is that I'm no longer promoting Agent as a "shareware novel" -- as I note in the new introduction, the novel collected about $4,000 over the space of five years online, which more than proved the point that people will actually pay for stuff they think is good, even if they don't have to. Be that as it may, corralling the money that comes in is a bit of a hassle -- I have some checks I never even deposited -- and more importantly, I just don't feel like asking people for money for Agent anymore. If they like it, I figure they'll track down Old Man's War or another one of my books and buy that. That works for me.

So Agent is now officially freeware. Tell your friends.

Posted by john at 11:39 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

December 08, 2004

Box O' Books

omwbox.jpg

Well, my Christmas shopping is done. Here you see 24 copies of the book, ready to be sent out in time for the holidays. They are all spoken for, so don't ask. By my contract I'm supposed to get another 15 sent to me (for a grand total of 40, counting the first one), but this will do for now.

Posted by john at 06:30 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Three Minute Perfect Pop: A Musical Meme

One of the highest compliments you can pay a songwriter or performer in this era of music is that they write or perform "perfect three minute pop songs." Which leads one to wonder: What songs do you have in your collection that are exactly three minutes long, and are they perfect pop songs? Let's go to the iTunes and find out!

Be Kind to My Mistakes by Kate Bush. A B-side from one of her singles. Not bad, but certainly not perfect (Bush's perfect pop song in my opinion: "The Big Sky") So, no.

Top of the World by The Carpenters. Insanely uncool -- the sort of track you immediately jab "fast forward" on if there is anyone else around -- but when no one's looking, you sing along. Yes.

When Will I See You Again by Erasure. Techno interpretation of the plaintive disco classic ballad in which a disco queen pines up for the coked-up, lame-wearing guy with whom she engaged in heavy frottage in a bathroom stall the night before. I like it (and having Andy Bell sing it, of course, just adds another level of fabulousness), but is it perfect pop? No.

The Fool on the Hill by The Beatles. Oh, come on. Yes.

The Kids Aren't Alright by Offspring. Sprightly tune about a bunch of screwed up suburbanites. A little, you know, dark for perfect pop. No.

Bright Sunny South by Alison Krauss. Decent bluegrass but nothing special. No.

Amanda by Waylon Jennings. Waylon discovers he's old and apologizes to his wife for it. Eegh. No.

Saturday by David Boyles. Indie white man funk. Not bad. Not even close to perfect, though. No.

The Distance by Cake. Too arch. No.

She's Got a Way by Billy Joel. Actually one of my favorite Billy Joel songs. It's a perfect song to have handy when you really, really need to apologize for some thoughtlessly stupid thing that causes your woman to question whether she shouldn't just kick your ass to the curb, but that's not exactly the same as perfect pop. No.

Semblance by Keith Jarrett. Somewhat like if you took the Charlie Brown theme, hacked it into 17 uneven pieces, and reassembled them at random. No.

Rock & Roll Band by Boston. The worst song on the first Boston album, in which the band congratulates itself for you, know, doing that rock and roll thing. The Hootie & The Blowfish of the 70s. No.

If it Were Up to Me by Rooney. What happens when your songwriting recipe includes the Beatles, the Kinks, ELO and the Replacements, but then you set the oven 10 degrees too low. It's a nice try, though. No.

Joker by Five A.M. For when you can't find that Matchbox 20 CD. No.

The Golden Boat (Turntable Mix) by John Zorn. Jazz freakster John Zorn couldn't write a perfect pop song if you put a gun to the head of his pet ferret and spotted him the entire Abbey Road album. No.

Time is on My Side by The Rolling Stones. Great song about abusive relationships. Gets creepier every time you listen to it. No.

One is Never Too Old to Swing by Girls From Mars. Sweet but generic swing. No.

She's Got You by Patsy Cline. If by crying in your beer after your ass is dropped is a popular activity -- and apparently it is -- then yes.

Can't Help Falling in Love by Elvis Presley. Make me an argument that this isn't perfect pop. You're wrong. Yes.

Honkey Tonk Woman by Waylon Jennings. Yes, the Rolling Stones song. When they do it, it's perfect pop. When Waylon gets to it, it wriggles like a wounded snake. No.

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce. Croce is waaay overrated by the people who still remember who he is, but this song does it all, baby. Yes.

Share the three minute songs in your collection (in the comments or if you have your own place, over there). Are they perfect pop?

Posted by john at 03:15 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

Oh, Goody.

The Publishers Weekly review of OMW has been put on the book's Amazon page, so if you'd like to read the whole thing, it's here. Thanks, Sue, for bringing it to my attention.

Friends who have had PW reviews before (including those with starred reviews) tell me the true value of the PW review is not how many units it shifts on Amazon but that it raises the profile of the work in the bookseller's industry and among general reviewers, which makes sense to me. Let's hope it works. But it's also worth noting that the book of mine that has sold the best so far -- Book of the Dumb -- has received absolutely no critical attention whatsoever; it's moved about 50,000 copies primarily through the publisher's ability to pile up a big stack of them in the middle of a Sam's Club traffic pattern. And God bless them for that. Knowing this datum keeps one's perspective on reviews, shall we say, firmly grounded.

Posted by john at 10:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sarah's Sister

Folks have expressed an interest in seeing some of the other writing I did for the Reading Is Fundamental holiday fundraiser I did last year, and so without further ado I present to you an actual short story, entitled "Sarah's Sister," which you may find here. It's about 5,800 words, so make sure you have a little time to commit to it.

This is emphatically not another snarkfest like The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time, by the way. Indeed, it is so completely the opposite of a snarkfest that after this particular story, my license to snark may be permanently revoked, and all the urbane sophisticates will laugh and point at me when they see me on the street.

But what can I say. It's a risk I'm willing to take. I wanted to write a heart-tugging Christmas story. You'll have to tell me if I succeeded.

Reminder again this piece was originally written for my RIF fundraiser last year, so if after this story you're so moved you want to send me money, send it to Reading Is Fundamental instead. Literacy is a gift; give it to someone who needs it.

Posted by john at 02:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 07, 2004

Writerly Thoughts, 12/7

Soon I'll stop writing about writing every damn entry. But not yet.

* If the events of recent days teach us (and by us, I mean me) anything, it is that for some reason, sloth continues to pay dividends for my writing career. Yet again, plastering something on the Whatever has led to people giving me money and (more importantly) opening up another potential writing market (i.e., yeah, I'd like to sell more stuff to National Lampoon, preferably without the intermediary step of putting it onto the Whatever first). I used to be worried that putting up stuff here would hamper my career (or simply not matter), but since the majority of my book sales and humorous freelance writing can now be traced back to something I put up here, I don't really worry about that any more. This is my self-marketing, and it's easy and fun, which self-marketing really isn't supposed to be (A good basic rule of thumb is if you're not feeling slightly desperate about your self-marketing, you're probably doing it wrong).

I would imagine there are lots of reasons why doing this works for me, but I think primary among them is simply I'm not worried about anything when I write on the Whatever; this site is meant to be my playground, and I don't have to amuse anyone but myself with what I write here. It's a no-pressure zone, so that allows me to do off on whatever topics I choose, however I want to do them. Most of it never goes further than the site (and rightly so), but every once in a while something clicks with someone who actually publishes things, and then I get that serendipitous moment. It beats the hell out of sending out query letters.

I can't in good conscience recommend this "be slothful and wait for people with money to find things on your site" as a strategy for others. For one thing, I don't know if it would work for anyone else because (outside the half-assed explanation in the previous paragraph) I'm not exactly sure why it works for me. Lots of clever smartasses put stuff up on their personal sites, after all. Also, to be honest, I suspect that if I did do things like query letters and the like on a regular basis, my career might be more... well, not more, but different and possibly contoured more like the usual sort of writing career. I'd probably actually know more people in publishing, instead of hanging out here in Ohio like a trap door spider, waiting to ensnare editors who come my way.

In short, I like that this strategy works for me, and it's possible it could work for you, but as a backup, you might still consider picking up a Writers Market and tracking down writing opportunities the old-fashioned way. And please do be aware that the second the "wait for things to happen" strategy stops working for me (as no doubt it one day will), I'll be hitting the Writers Market, too. I love my sloth, but I'm not stupid.

Also, be aware that once the sloth strategy gets me through a door, I work to keep the door jammed open, and a good thing, too. If either of my agents ever heard me say something like "I'm just waiting for work to come to me" I'd imagine I'd need new representation pretty damn quick. I am but slothful north-northwest; when the wind is southerly, I know how to work a sale.

* Author Gwen Zepeda is having a bit of a freakout over at her site: Her first book is out and she's discovered that to balance out the validation that having a book gives a writer, it also dumps a truckload of new things on you to worry about, among them whether or not anyone will know you've actually published a book. Moreover, as she notes: "And I'm starting to realize that having a book published is not at all the happy, life-changing, FAIRY TALE EPISODE I thought it would be - all it is, is a foot in the door for my potential second book."

I sympathize with Gwen quite a bit, not in the least because my first book was a pretty big stiff -- a book on money and the Internet that was released just in time for the collapse of the Internet bubble, and whose media tour coincided with the disputed 2000 presidential election, which meant that pretty much no one gave a damn about me and my little book (reading with one person in the audience? Check! Three minute appearance on a tiny business TV show that ran in a 4:45 pm slot when no one was watching? Check!). The book was good, but the timing for the book was just about as bad as it could be. On the basis of that book, both in the attention it got and the sales it pulled down (very, very little in both cases), it didn't seem like I'd be an obvious candidate for getting a second book.

So what happened next? Well, you know. Life happened next. I saw an ad looking for short historical articles, and I happened to have written a bunch on the Whatever (for my "That Was the Millennium That Was" series), so I followed up; that led to my association with the Uncle John's Bathroom Series, which in turn led to the Book of the Dumb series of books, the first of which, at least, has sold very well. Then the people who published the Internet book decided that it really wasn't my fault the book tanked and hired me to write the astronomy book -- which is going pretty well for them, too. That led to the book I'm writing right now. And then there's Old Man's War, and the novels which will follow it.

My point, and I do have one, is that as I sympathize with Gwen's freakout, I also know that life is pretty long and that for writers, opportunities come in unexpected places and in unexpected times. I don't know a single writer whose career turned out how they expected it to before they began the writing path -- this being an extension of the general rule that for the most part no one's life turns out how they expected it to. At the risk of sounding rah-rah, it really is true that the best thing to do in all circumstances is simply to keep writing and keep ready, and not ever to expect life to do what you want it to. It won't, but this is not always necessarily a bad thing.

Posted by john at 10:45 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

December 06, 2004

"Holiday Specials" is on The Move

If you'll recall the previous entry, I mentioned that I had sold the "Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials" article a couple of places. One of them is to National Lampoon -- and here's where you can find the piece now. Even if you've read it before, be a mensch and click through, won't you? They paid me a silly sum for it, and I want to encourage them to continue to do so from time to time.

While you are there you might also consider checking out their 2004 Safe Toy Shopping Guide, which is awfully damn funny as well.

Posted by john at 06:50 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Good Day, and an Ethical Question

krissyomw1206.jpg

So, today was a not bad day: I sold the "Ten Least Successful Christmas Specials" piece -- twice! -- and then, just before I went to pick up Athena, the Fed Ex guy showed up with my author copy of Old Man's War, which you can see Krissy grooving to in the picture above (she got to the part with the sex, I'd guess). As I've noted elsewhere, the fact that one of these is in my possession means that very soon other copies will be in the possession of Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders, Powell's and your small independent local bookstore which you really ought to support, damn you.

On the flip side, I'm still going bald. So altogether, the day is a wash, I suppose.

Incidentally, help me with an ethical question. Two people who have read Old Man's War have already gone and left reader reviews on Amazon, which I appreciate greatly (no less so because they are positive reviews). I'd like to get a few more in there in advance of the actual release of the book, and so have given some thought to handing over a small number of electronic copies of the book to readers on the condition that if they like the book, they post a review of it on Amazon (and perhaps BN.com). If they don't like the book, I wouldn't tell them to go out of their way to post a review, but if they wanted to, then that would be part of the risk I'd take. I wouldn't want people to post positive reviews if they didn't like the book -- I'd want the reviews to be actually useful to people thinking of picking up the book.

The question: Is it ethical to make a "books for reviews" deal like this -- even if I note that they should only post a positive review if they actually like the book? Clearly, doling out advance copies is what publishers do all the time to paid reviewers and established magazines/newspapers/Web sites. Would this be just another iteration of that? Or does the equation change because the people getting the books aren't "pro"? Note additionally that the "sample" of readers would be from my own personal pool of readers (as I'd be making the offer on the Whatever), so there is likely to be at least some inclination in my favor.

I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I'd like to hear some of yours. I haven't made a decision to do this yet; at the moment it's just a thought. I'm actually inclining slightly against doing it, but as I said, I'm looking for some thoughtful opinion from all y'all about it.

Posted by john at 06:28 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

It's Like Living in the Future

If you ever bother to go to my AOL blog By The Way, then you'll know that yesterday I gacked up a multi-monitor sort of set-up for here at home, in which my laptop is running two monitors: the laptop monitor and the monitor that came with the new computer I bought as a media server/Athena's computer (her previous computer's motherboard zapped itself into oblivion, making Athena very sad), and the they're both connected to my primary computer by way of a wireless LAN.

However, as I was congratulating myself for my ingenuity, one of the Whatever readers offered another suggestion -- a program called MaxiVista, which creates a virtual video card you can use to use your laptop as a second monitor for your desktop computer. I checked it out and after about 30 minutes, I went ahead and bought the software, and now I'm getting what I really wanted, which is a second screen for my desktop computer.

But wait, here's where it gets really cool (from the dork point of view). MaxiVista does not (as far as I can tell) have the capability to rope in the the third monitor I have (which I was using as the second monitor for the laptop) but while the laptop is running the second screen for the desktop, the third monitor I have is still usable as a monitor for the laptop. So I still have full laptop functionality even when the laptop's screen is slaved to the desktop. And since you can minimize the desktop second screen on the laptop (thus calling up the laptop's primary screen), functionally speaking, I get the use of two screens per computer, using a mere three screens. Now I feel like a friggin' geeeenius.

Aside from being just geek cool, this is very useful for me because at any one time I usually have about 40,000 windows open on my computer. Anything that gives me more real estate to do everything I have to do is okay by me. The only real problem is that sometimes I forget which keyboard I'm supposed to be using for what screen, thus leading to jerky comical movements as I correct mid-stream and lunge for the other keyboard.

Incidentally, this is the point where I throw any pretense of not being a full-on nerd right out the window. All the signs were there, of course: The geek education, the various jobs in the high-tech industry, the writing of science fiction and what have you. But since I can't actually, you know, code or do math, I never gave myself over to the full geek label. But I think wiring up a threeway monitor set-up qualifies, both as a minimum technical requirement and also for thinking it's so damn cool. I don't claim to be a secret master of nerd-dom or anything like that; I know some of them, and I know I don't rate. Even so, this has got to count for something. Can I be in the geek club now? Please?

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December 04, 2004

Leave a Comment

For some reason I can't see recently left comments. Please leave a comment for me so I can see if it's just a momentary glitch or indicative of some real screw-up. Thanks.

Posted by john at 01:01 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

December 03, 2004

The Publishers Weekly Review of "Old Man's War"

I've seen it, and to sum up: Wow. It's a starred review, which means they're singling it out for attention among the other books reviewed that week, and here's the first sentence:

Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Scalzi's astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master.

The rest of the review is pretty nice, too.

My two immediate thoughts after reading that first sentence were "Gee, I'm glad I thanked Robert Heinlein in my acknowledgments" (since this makes it abundantly clear I know my obvious debt to the man), and "I hope the reviewer means something like Starship Troopers and not The Cat Who Walks Through Walls." Fortunately, the two Heinlein works explicitly noted by the reviewer were Troopers and Time Enough for Love. Since the book is explicitly modeled after the first and the second is my favorite Heinlein book, you can imagine I am pleased with the comparisons. The review also notes that I'm not just channeling Heinlein, which of course also pleases me; one does like to have credit for one's own imagination.

Getting a PW review is good publicity, getting a starred review is better, and then having the actual review read as this one, I think, is the best of all. This is potentially good news for the sales health of the book, and there's no question I'm thankful for that. It's hard to get noticed as a debut novelist in any genre.

Now the real question is: Will a good review of the book in PW boost sales like a good review from Instapundit? Because take it from a guy whose Amazon ranking went up by a factor of over 100 after his mention, Glenn moves the goods. We'll see if PW can match that.

Now, being a critic and reviewer myself, allow me to be the first to add the moderating word of caution that reviews -- good or bad -- reflect a single point of view, which you as the consumer of entertainment may or may not agree with. And as thrilled as I am with the review, part of me is wary that people looking for a Robert Heinlein, Part II reading experience will come away somewhat disappointed -- or alternately, will expect me only to produce Heinlein knockoffs in the future, which I'm not sure is what I really want to do. And of course, other reviews of this book are likely not to be as kind. Someone somewhere is going to hate it, I can guarantee that already.

What I hope you'd do as a potential reader is take any review as a data point, not a guarantee. I hope you like Old Man's War as much as this reviewer appears to have done. But that's up to you, not me or this kind reviewer. I'll be interested in hearing what you think, too.

Posted by john at 01:26 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

December 02, 2004

Sleep Deprivation Delirium

Last night I needed to bang through about 6,000 words for The Rough Guide to Science Fiction. The good news is that I did it; the bad news is that now I've been up for 36 hours. The even worse news is that my brain is momentarily locked into one of the fatigue feedback loops in which you're genuinely tired and yet when you lie down you can't get to sleep, so I think I'll just blab here until my brain stem actually implodes and I can get some rest.

* Yes, I actually did write 6,000 words last night, most of them pretty good. This isn't a number record; the record there is the 12,000 or so words I slammed through in an all-night when I finished up The Android's Dream. However, I think comparing fiction and non-fiction writing is to some extent comparing apples to oranges; the non-fiction is usually more structured (and requires more actual research). Functionally speaking I think writing 6,000 words of non-fiction is close to equivalent to writing twice that in fiction. At least it is for me; your mileage (and writing) may vary. In any event, it felt good to power through that much work -- now all I need are about eight more nights like that and I'll be done. Or I'll be dead. But then I guess that way I'd be done too. Either way.

* Very pleased to see that the Holidays special piece has been met with such enthusiasm; it's nice to write stuff people like. And thank you to everyone who linked -- I hoped people would enjoy it enough to share it with others, and I love having new readers from time to time. Welcome, new folks! Feel free to put your feet anywhere; the entire site's been rubberized for easy washing.

However, I've been interested (and by "interested" I mean to say "mildly terrified") to discover that a small but significant percentage of readers appear to have managed to get through the entire thing and believed that it was piece of reportage -- and not only that, but I've seen at least a few comments from people apparently indicating that they remember seeing one or more of the holiday specials.

While it's nice to know I can write in a trustworthy declarative style that has the frank ring of veracity to it (definitely a plus for any government press secretary job I might take in the future), the fact is they're all fake. I made them up in my little head to amuse people who paid me money last year that I then turned over to Reading is Fundamental. I thought it was a reasonably good deal for everyone involved.

Now, if you remember actually seeing one of these specials, you've clearly entered this local universe from an alternate and somewhat more interesting universe. The inter-dimensional portal was probably disguised as Wal-Mart sliding door. They're sneaky that way. You should probably head back to your own universe as soon as you can, because the way this particular universe is going, you won't want to stay here much longer. Go -- and send back a copy of that Algonquin Round Table special. I'm dying to hear it.

Related to this, I've seen at least one comment elsewhere which bagged on me for writing up a bunch of fake holiday specials and then not explicitly telling people they were fake. Clearly I was being tricksy and false, precious. Well, you know. It didn't occur to me to put a disclaimer on the piece because I figured that no one could get through the whole thing believing it was actually true. I think the Algonquin Round Table piece is actually all too believable, but after that things get kind of hinky fast. But I suppose that being the writer, I may have been too close to the piece. So to those few of you who feel betrayed by the piece's lack of disclaimer, please accept my sincere apology and also my suggestion that you need both a few more nights out and perhaps a bigger metaphorical plate for your next hungry meander down the Great Cultural Smörgåsbord of these here United States.

* Having now freely published one of the pieces I wrote for last year's RIF fund raiser, I've been asked if I'm going to publish the other two as well. I figure that I probably will, although I should warn y'all that they are substantially different than the "Holiday Specials" one. One of them is a Christmas poem meant to be read to children, like this one I wrote a number of years ago, and which I posted on my AOL blog By the Way earlier today. The other one is a short story that I specifically designed to make the readers cry like little babies as they tried to get through it. Since I personally devolve in a big sobbing ball every time I read, I guess it works on at least one person. All I'm saying is that if you're expecting more of the same from the other Christmas stuff, you may be disappointed.

Of course, it's not as if I won't be snarky on my own over the next month. If it's snark you've come for, I expect you'll be amply entertained.

All right, time to try sleeping again. See y'all tomorrow.

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Back Online

Note to Self: Remember to murder my host provider for letting the server my site is on go down for eight hours on the day everyone and their brother links to my site. And make sure to use a small weight hammer to do it, so they suffer horribly before they die. Yes, yes. That would be cathartic.

Posted by john at 10:16 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 01, 2004

The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time

Update, 11/24/06: I wrote this piece three years ago as part of a fundraiser I did for Reading is Fundamental, then posted it on the Whatever a year later, after which it was bought by National Lampoon for its Web site. However, it doesn't appear to be available on that Web site anymore (the link I had went nowhere), so I'm reposting it here. Enjoy!


The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time

By John Scalzi


An Algonquin Round Table Christmas (1927)

Alexander Woolcott, Franklin Pierce Adams, George Kaufman, Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker were the stars of this 1927 NBC Red radio network special, one of the earliest Christmas specials ever performed. Unfortunately the principals, lured to the table for an unusual evening gathering by the promise of free drinks and pirogies, appeared unaware they were live and on the air, avoiding witty seasonal banter to concentrate on trashing absent Round Tabler Edna Ferber's latest novel, Mother Knows Best, and complaining, in progressively drunken fashion, about their lack of sex lives. Seasonal material of a sort finally appears in the 23rd minute when Dorothy Parker, already on her fifth drink, can be heard to remark, "one more of these and I'll be sliding down Santa's chimney." The feed was cut shortly thereafter. NBC Red's 1928 holiday special "Christmas with the Fitzgeralds" was similarly unsuccessful.
 

The Mercury Theater of the Air Presents the Assassination of Saint Nicholas (1939)

Listeners of radio's Columbia Broadcasting System who tuned in to hear a Christmas Eve rendition of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol were shocked when they heard what appeared to be a newscast from the north pole, reporting that Santa's Workshop had been overrun in a blitzkrieg by Finnish proxies of the Nazi German government. The newscast, a hoax created by 20-something wunderkind Orson Wells as a seasonal allegory about the spread of Fascism in Europe, was so successful that few listeners stayed to listen until the end, when St. Nick emerged from the smoking ruins of his workshop to deliver a rousing call to action against the authoritarian tide and to urge peace on Earth, good will toward men and expound on the joys of a hot cup of Mercury Theater of Air's sponsor Campbell's soup. Instead, tens of thousands of New York City children mobbed the Macy's Department Store on 34th, long presumed to be Santa's New York embassy, and sang Christmas carols in wee, sobbing tones. Only a midnight appearance of New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in full Santa getup quelled the agitated tykes. Welles, now a hunted man on the Eastern seaboard, decamped for Hollywood shortly thereafter. 

Ayn Rand's A Selfish Christmas (1951) 

In this hour-long radio drama, Santa struggles with the increasing demands of providing gifts for millions of spoiled, ungrateful brats across the world, until a single elf, in the engineering department of his workshop, convinces Santa to go on strike. The special ends with the entropic collapse of the civilization of takers and the spectacle of children trudging across the bitterly cold, dark tundra to offer Santa cash for his services, acknowledging at last that his genius makes the gifts -- and therefore Christmas -- possible. Prior to broadcast, Mutual Broadcast System executives raised objections to the radio play, noting that 56 minutes of the hour-long broadcast went to a philosophical manifesto by the elf and of the four remaining minutes, three went to a love scene between Santa and the cold, practical Mrs. Claus that was rendered into radio through the use of grunts and the shattering of several dozen whiskey tumblers. In later letters, Rand sneeringly described these executives as "anti-life." 

The Lost Star Trek Christmas Episode: "A Most Illogical Holiday" (1968)

Mr. Spock, with his pointy ears, is hailed as a messiah on a wintry world where elves toil for a mysterious master, revealed to be Santa just prior to the first commercial break. Santa, enraged, kills Ensign Jones and attacks the Enterprise in his sleigh. As Scotty works to keep the power flowing to the shields, Kirk and Bones infiltrate Santa's headquarters. With the help of the comely and lonely Mrs. Claus, Kirk is led to the heart of the workshop, where he learns the truth: Santa is himself a pawn to a master computer, whose initial program is based on an ancient book of children's Christmas tales. Kirk engages the master computer in a battle of wits, demanding the computer explain how it is physically possible for Santa to deliver gifts to all the children in the universe in a single night. The master computer, confronted with this computational anomaly, self-destructs; Santa, freed from mental enslavement, releases the elves and begins a new, democratic society. Back on the ship, Bones and Spock bicker about the meaning of Christmas, an argument which ends when Scotty appears on the bridge with egg nog made with Romulan Ale. 

Filmed during the series' run, this episode was never shown on network television and was offered in syndication only once, in 1975. Star Trek fans hint the episode was later personally destroyed by Gene Roddenberry. Rumor suggests Harlan Ellison may have written the original script; asked about the episode at 1978's IgunaCon II science fiction convention, however, Ellison described the episode as "a quiescently glistening cherem of pus." 

Bob & Carol & Ted & Santa (1973) 

This ABC Christmas special featured Santa as a happy-go-lucky swinger who comically wades into the marital bed of two neurotic 70s couples, and also the music of the Carpenters. It was screened for television critics but shelved by the network when the critics, assembled at ABC's New York offices, rose as one to strangle the producers at the post-viewing interview. Joel Siegel would later write, "When Santa did his striptease for Carol while Karen Carpenter sang 'Top of the World' and peered through an open window, we all looked at each other and knew that we television critics, of all people, had been called upon to defend Western Civilization. We dared not fail." 

A Muppet Christmas with Zbigniew Brzezinski (1978)

A year before their rather more successful Christmas pairing with John Denver, the Muppets joined Carter Administration National Security Advisor Brezezinski for an evening of fun, song, and anticommunist rhetoric. While those who remember the show recall the pairing of Brzezinki and Miss Piggy for a duet of "Winter Wonderland" as winsomely enchanting, the scenes where the NSA head explains the true meaning of Christmas to an assemblage of Muppets dressed as Afghan mujahideen was incongruous and disturbing even then. Washington rumor, unsupported by any Carter administration member, suggests that President Carter had this Christmas special on a repeating loop while he drafted his infamous "Malaise" speech. 

The Village People in Can't Stop the Christmas Music -- On Ice! (1980)

Undeterred by the miserable flop of the movie Can't Stop the Music!, last place television network NBC aired this special, in which music group the Village People mobilize to save Christmas after Santa Claus (Paul Lynde) experiences a hernia. Thus follows several musical sequences -- on ice! -- where the Village People move Santa's Workshop to Christopher Street, enlist their friends to become elves with an adapted version of their hit "In The Navy," and draft film co-star Bruce Jenner to become the new Santa in a sequence which involves stripping the 1976 gold medal decathlon winner to his shorts, shaving and oiling his chest, and outfitting him in fur-trimmed red briefs and crimson leathers to a disco version of "Come O Ye Faithful." Peggy Fleming, Shields and Yarnell and Lorna Luft co-star. 

Interestingly, there is no reliable data regarding the ratings for this show, as the Nielsen diaries for this week were accidentally consumed by fire. Show producers estimate that one in ten Americans tuned in to at least part of the show, but more conservative estimates place the audience at no more than two or three percent, tops. 

A Canadian Christmas with David Cronenberg (1986)

Faced with Canadian content requirements but no new programming, the Canadian Broadcasting Company turned to Canadian director David Cronenberg, hot off his success with Scanners and The Fly, to fill the seasonal gap. In this 90-minute event, Santa (Michael Ironside) makes an emergency landing in the Northwest Territories, where he is exposed to a previously unknown virus after being attacked by a violent moose. The virus causes Santa to develop both a large, tooth-bearing orifice in his belly and a lustful hunger for human flesh, which he sates by graphically devouring Canadian celebrities Bryan Adams, Dan Ackroyd and Gordie Howe on national television. Music by Neil Young. 

Noam Chomsky: Deconstructing Christmas (1998)

This PBS/WGBH special featured linguist and social commentator Chomsky sitting at a desk, explaining how the development of the commercial Christmas season directly relates to the loss of individual freedoms in the United States and the subjugation of indigenous people in southeast Asia. Despite a rave review by Z magazine, musical guest Zach de la Rocha and the concession of Chomsky to wear a seasonal hat for a younger demographic appeal, this is known to be the least requested Christmas special ever made. 

Christmas with the Nuge (2002)

Spurred by the success of The Osbournes on sister network MTV, cable network VH1 contracted zany hard rocker Ted Nugent to help create a "reality" Christmas special. Nugent responded with a special that features the Motor City Madman bowhunting, and then making jerky from, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree, all specially flown in to Nugent's Michigan compound for the occasion. In the second half of the hour-long special, Nugent heckles vegetarian Night Ranger/Damn Yankees bassist Jack Blades into consuming three strips of dove jerky. Fearing the inevitable PETA protest, and boycotts from Moby and Pam Anderson, VH1 never aired the special, which is available solely by special order at the Nuge Store on TedNugent.com. 

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Notes on the Hiatus

As promised, I am returning on a more or less full-time basis for December. I hope you didn't miss me too much.

Here's what's been going on.

Rough Guide to Science Fiction
Yes, I did quite a bit of writing on it. No, it's not done. A good half of my November was given over to being sick in a way that basically sapped me of my will to live, and also to write. So writing did get done, just a lot slower than I would have preferred. I'll be busy making up lost time this month. More I won't say because I'm a bit aggravated with myself for not having got more done. Regardless, it will be done soon, if for no other reason than I have no choice to get it done, or die trying.

Old Man's War
Lots of nice, positive developments here, including (as previously noted) a nice sales boost for the book via Glenn Reynolds and Instapundit last week (he also said nice things about it yesterday. Update 12/1: And today, too!). Folks have also begun chiming in on the Amazon page, which I've appreciated as well. Some early pro reviews have also begun to filter in, and they seem to be positive, including at least one fairly significant review which I've heard about from official sources but not seen, and must therefore be all mysterious-like about until I myself know more. The book is also beginning to make its way around movie studios from what I understand, although very clearly one needs to treat any stuff like that with a grain of salt the size of the Rock of Gibraltar -- it's one of those "I'll believe it when I get my fat slab 'o option money" things; one of the nice things about having been a movie critic for so many years is that I have a fairly clear understanding how the movie industry works. I won't be looking for a Santa Monica bungalow anytime soon, is what I'm saying.

I've already started doing some press for Old Man's War, and when some of that starts to appear in the world, I'll certainly link to it. For now, here's something: An interview for the Dragon Page radio talk show, based in Arizona but syndicated around the country. The page I just linked to has a schedule of when and where you can hear online streaming versions, although for a limited time you can also download an MP3 of the show for your Podcasting pleasure (that's an 8.5MB download). My portion starts about five minutes into the show. We chat about the book, military science fiction and also a bit about blogging, so it's a little of everything. Listening to it reminds me I need to curb the "ummms" and "aaaaahs" and make my interview voice more rich and manly -- my excuse is that when I did the interview my lungs were still 90% phlegm and my throat still shredded -- you can hear my voice crack in a couple of places.

In any event, things for this book are in the "so far, so good" territory of things, and that's always nice for one's debut novel.

Book of the Dumb 2
Out and seems to be doing well, although at the moment the first Book of the Dumb is outselling it, at least on Amazon. I'm not too terribly concerned about this since we haven't done publicity on 2 yet and it's still finding its way into the stores. And anyway, the more Book of the Dumb 1 sells, the more people will be primed for BotD2. I am pleased to see the first book selling so well a year after it was released; it seems to suggest these books could have a reasonably long shelf life. And I like that.

Other Writing Projects
In addition to wrapping up Science Fiction Film, I'll be doing a project for a business client and doing some pieces for an upcoming Uncle John's book on New Jersey, all of which will keep me busy for the first part of the month (this is why I said I'd be "more or less" back to full time). I'm pleased with all of this; it's nice to keep busy and it'll also end the year on something of a financial high note, and considering how much money we like everyone else hemorrhage over the holidays, this is definitely not a bad thing at all.

One of my big dreams is to take a month off where I do nothing except maybe update this and By the Way; I was planning that for December, but that was before the business gig kicked in. Now I'm thinking January (or perhaps the second half of January/first half of February). Point is, time off would be nice -- time off that doesn't involve sickness of some sort.

Life in General
Well, it's fine. You know.

Thoughts About the Election and Other Political Stuff
Eh. Like everyone else who voted for Kerry, I was depressed for a day, and then I got over it because no matter how depressed I got, Bush was still going to be President until 2008. I'll have more to say about it over time, I'm sure, but that's a basic snapshot of my reaction to the election: I voted, the other guy won, let's move on to doing what we can to minimize the damage. End of story.

I do admit to being deeply tired of hearing about the "red state, blue state" dichotomy, since as it's been amply noted that if about 1% of Ohio voters had voted the other way, we'd be talking about who was going to be in Kerry Cabinet. Look, I voted for Kerry in a county where 70% of the voters (including, I suspect, all my neighbors) went for Bush. The day after the election, they were still the good neighbors I had the day before. I'm not pleased they voted for Bush, but I don't imagine they're pleased I voted for Kerry, and aside from that we get along well. I still live in a pretty good place, with pretty good people.

Anyway, I'm sort of fatigued at the idea of seeing 58 million of my fellow citizens as the enemy, and I would imagine many of them feel the same way. I'm for the old idea of disagreeing and still being civil. We all make mistakes; let's hope in time Bush voters realize that they've made one (and that the rest of us don't pay too heavily for it). Having said that, if by some unfathomable twist of fate Dubya ends up presiding over a happier, better America at the end of his second term, I'll be happy to say that their vote wasn't the worst thing they ever did. Four years is a long time and much can happen. It's time to make it happen.

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