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February 28, 2005

The Winner of the "Let's Mock Scalzi" Contest, And Other Odds and Ends

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Krissy decided that she was the only one in the house qualified to judge who was mocking me the best in the little contest I held the other day, so after much pensive deliberation (see above), Krissy has named "CB" as the winner. The winning entry is as thus (and yes, the typos are intentional):

Interesting review of OMW in this months Geriatrics Health newsletter. (link)

"Scalzi's 'Old Mans War' is stimulating enough to to guarantee two movements a day"..."Makes getting old sound fun!"

I haven't been paying too much attention to how OMW is selling but it is interesting to note that twenty minutes after that review in the GH newletter, my Amazon sales ranking went up 0.0864 percent. Also, even though I haven't done much research into this but I do know that at this stage in its publication history, OMW is 5.26 percent more successfull then Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Anyway, time to go back to no worrying about the continuing success of OMW.

Yeah, I have to agree, that's a pretty scary likeness. Krissy also thought well of the entries offered up by Dan, Soni, Tim Pratt, RG and Dan Alvarez. I myself was taken by Jeff Porten's entry, in which "I" was revealed to be a 50-something schmoe from Brooklyn. Hey, it could happen.

Anyway, "CB," drop me an e-mail with your physical address and I'll send out that advance reader's copy of Agent to the Stars. And thanks everyone for playing along. You were all delightfully cruel.

Now let me speak truth to CB's wicked parody by noting some various book news.

1. Subterranean Press tells me that as of about 7pm tonight, Agent to the Stars is officially their best-selling direct sales book for February. Not bad for less than a day's worth of sales. You guys rock. Thank you.

2. The first foreign rights sale for Old Man's War is now a done deal, so I can tell you where it's for: Russia. That's right, OMW is gonna get all Cyrillic on you. I don't know when the official release date will be (or for that matter, why those of you who don't speak Russian would care one way or another), but I do know I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy. I am mildly curious as to what the cover art will be -- whether they'll license the art from Donato or come up with their own thing. I guess we'll see. My agent tells me there's interest in other foreign markets as well; if anything happens, of course I'll mention it here.

3. Speaking of Donato, it looks pretty good that he'll be on board to do the cover for The Ghost Brigades; I've just sent him some notes for cover art ideas and hopefully he'll be able to do something with them.

4. I'm told that Old Man's War is headed for a third printing. That's pretty good news.

5. My cat's breath smells like cat food. Well, it does.

That's where I am at the moment.

Posted by john at 07:10 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Agent to the Stars -- Available for Pre-order

Okay, here's that big announcement I mentioned the other day:

Subterranean Press is now accepting pre-orders for the limited, signed hardback edition of Agent to the Stars. When you pre-order this book, not only will you be getting a unique collector's edition of this novel, you'll also contribute to an excellent cause: Providing games and toys to children's hospitals all across the United States. And if you pre-order in the next couple of days, you'll be eligible for an exclusive gift from me and Subterranean Press.

For those of you new to the scene, Agent to the Stars is the first novel I wrote, which I then posted on this Web site for people to read. The entire novel is still available on the site (follow this link), but now those of you who prefer not to read an entire novel staring into a cathode ray tube, or have read it and want your own copy in book form, can get it in a handsome hardback edition that will be limited to no more than 2,000 copies. Once the run is sold out, they're gone for good.

The book, which will be released in July 2005, comes in two editions:

1. The limited hardback edition, individually signed by yours truly, for $30, and

2. The deluxe, really limited hardback edition, which is leatherbound, signed, lettered and housed in a handcrafted tray case, for $150. Only 26 of these will be available, so if you want one, now's a fine time to get it.

In addition to my writing, each hardcover of Agent to the Stars comes with an extra treat that I am thrilled beyond words to be able to bring to you: Dust jacket cover art from Mike "Gabriel" Krahulik of Penny Arcade. As most of you know, I've been a huge fan of Penny Arcade -- and of both Gabe and Tycho -- for years, so being able to get Gabe for the cover art is just about the coolest thing ever. I'm fairly certain this is the first book cover Gabe's done outside the Penny Arcade merchandising arena, so if you needed another excuse to own this as a collectable, there it is.

cp.jpgIn honor of Gabe's involvement, Bill Schafer, the publisher of Subterranean Press, has decreed that 10% of the cover price of each copy of Agent to the Stars bought from the Subterranean Press online store will be donated to Child's Play, the charity created by the guys at Penny Arcade. Over the last two years, Child's Play has distributed over a half million dollars worth of video games, toys and other amusements to children's hospitals across the US, to make the hospital stays of sick kids less stressful and somewhat more pleasant. I wish I could say that I suggested this to Bill Shafer, but he thought it up on his own; this inspired act of generosity on his part makes me additionally proud to see the novel in book form, and released through Subterranean Press.

And in that spirit, I'm making an additional pledge: If we sell out an entire print run of 2,000 copies of the standard hardback of Agent to the Stars by December 31, 2005, I'll donate $500 of my own royalties from the book to Child's Play. Mind you, I fully intend to contribute to Child's Play anyway, as I've done for the last two years. But this will be above and beyond that. It'll be my way of thanking Gabe for his cover art, and thanking you for buying the book.

Subterranean Press is giving me the honor of announcing the pre-order, and to celebrate I'm doing something special: If you pre-order from the Subterranean Store today or tomorrow (2/28/05 or 3/1/05), leave the following note in the comments field of the order form: "I came here from the Whatever." Folks who do so will receive an exclusive gift from me and Subterranean. And what is this gift? Oh, just you wait. It'll be my way of thanking you for getting your order in early. The book is also available for pre-order on Amazon, but if you pre-order from Amazon, you won't be eligible for this special offer and Child's Play won't get its 10%. So if you're going to pre-order, the Subterranean site is the way to go.

I'm very excited about Agent to the Stars finally becoming a real book, as you can imagine. I hope you will be, too.

Posted by john at 01:04 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

February 27, 2005

The Why of Writing

Charlie Stross, whose Accelerando you should have already pre-ordered because it's just that good, goes into some detail as to how it is he's able to write (short answer: life experience and luck) but is mystified as to the reason why he writes, and says: "If you find it, be sure to tell me?"

Well, Charlie, from my point of view, the answer is obvious: You write to entertain me. Perhaps this is not an existentially compelling reason, and if I am suddenly hit by a train you may be left in the lurch. But I feel confident that there will be numerous other people just as happy to have you write to entertain them as well. So you're covered. And isn't that a relief.

I am happy to say I do not have Charlie's difficulty in answering the question as to why I write. I write for the following reasons, which I present in no particular order:

1. I write because it's fun.
2. I write because I get paid.
3. I write because I'm pretty good at it.
4. I write because most other jobs I could do constitute actual work.

Chronologically, these reasons appeared in the following order: 3,1,4,2 -- Early on I realized I had the facility for writing, then I realized it was fun, then I realized I should probably get as good as I could at it because I didn't much like the idea of having to do anything else for a living, and then I managed to convince someone to pay me for it. These days all of these reasons are in play, in varying percentages at any one time.

These reasons don't answer the question of why I, of all people, should be able to write both professionally and with relative ease, which may be what Charlie was aiming at. As to that, well, who can say? Some people are naturally athletic, and a subset throw fastballs. Some people are naturally musically apt, and a subset play a mean guitar. Some people naturally have a facility for self-expression, and a subset exhibit that through writing.

I suspect I was born with a gift for writing; I don't spend much time worrying about the provenance of the gift, since that seems a little like tempting fate. I'm just glad I have it and I work to develop a measure of craft to go along with that gift. That way if the gift ever gives out (and who knows? It might), I'll have craft to fall back on.

But again, I don't spend all that much time dwelling on the philosophical aspects of why I write. Mostly I just write to have fun. And to make mortgage payments. But mostly, for fun.

Posted by john at 08:23 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Virtual Book Tours

Via S.L. Viehl, I note the existence of Virtual Book Tour, a public relations group which specializes in connecting authors with blogs to complement (or in the stead of) an actual book tour, for a fee ranging anywhere from $225 for a minimal "blogmatching" with three blogs to a three-day "tour" for $3000. Ms. Viehl seems skeptical that this service is worth the money, and I have to say I agree with her. Note that I am not skeptical that blog publicity is good publicity; I'd be a stinkin' hypocrite if I said that. But I wonder whether doing something like this is a good use of money, and a good use of the nature of blogs.

To address the former: I doubt rather seriously whether one should spend anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to promote one's self to bloggers, particularly if one is at all familiar with the blogosphere. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that if you're reading this entry right now, and you're a writer with a book from a genuine publisher (i.e., one that doesn't make you pay to send out review copies of your own book), you're probably competent enough to mount a "virtual book tour" at no cost to you whatsoever.

But how? Well, simple:

1. Identify 5 - 10 blogs you like, which are also reasonably well-trafficked and/or well-known to the kind of folks you guess would be interested in your book.

2. Call up the in-house publicist at your publisher and say "I'd like it very much if you'd send an advance copy to the following people," and then give them the e-mail addresses of the blogger in question or, if you really want to impress your publicist and make her/his life easier, the physical address of the blogger in question. Let your publicist know that you'd also be willing to sit for an interview with the blogger if they'd like, and also tell them to let the blogger know you specified that they should receive an advance copy of the book (it's flattering).

3. Let your in-house publicist do her/his job and then as you get closer to the release date of the book, follow up with her/him as to who among the bloggers has evidenced any interest.

There you go.

Your cost: $0, less the cost of your time to advise the in-house publicist as to which bloggers you'd like to have your work sent to. But even if you were self-publishing and had to bear all the cost and effort of doing the above yourself, your total cost would still be less than what this outfit is charging; the premium here presumably comes from their knowledge of the blogging field (i.e. what to send to whom). Possibly that's worth that much money, but I'm doubtful. It's not that hard to navigate the blogging world and see which bloggers might be useful to you, even if you're a complete newbie. And the barrier for entry into the blogging world, promotionwise, is almost laughably low at this point. Mining blogs for their promotional value is so new that most bloggers are still excited at the idea of getting free books and stuff.

So: Is this "Virtual Book Tour" business a scam? I wouldn't think so -- from what I can see, the folks running it do what they say they're going to do, and hook up authors with bloggers. If you want to spend your money with them, I'm sure they'll do a fine job for you. But again, why would you want to spend that much money, for something you could get (or do) for free? $3K is a pretty big chunk of any first-time writers' advance, and not an insignificant amount of most book advances on average.

Before you do anything like this, do check with your publisher's in-house publicist; you may be surprised at how open they are to trying to address the blog/online angle. For example, I had no problem convincing Portable Press, which publishes my Book of the Dumb books, to hook up with Fark.com for advertising purposes, or to send the Book of the Dumb to bloggers I selected. Neither did I have any problems at all when I offered up a small list of bloggers I wanted Old Man's War sent to. Subterranean Press, who will be publishing the hardcover of Agent to the Stars, plans to make the blog/online world a substantial part of its publicity push and indeed has already started to work that angle (see this piece at the Agony Column, from Thursday, as an example). In other words, it's not that hard to make your in-house publicist see the light, if in fact she or he still needs to be convinced. And once you point out the fact that doing this sort of thing costs nearly nothing (especially relative to mounting a real world tour), they may become even more enthused.

Now to the second point, which relates to the nature of the blog world itself, in terms of publicity. However you decide to address online publicity, remember to keep a realistic expectation of how successful it's going to be in terms of your book sales (or whatever else you're promoting). For example, with Old Man's War, I asked Tor to send advance copies to five different bloggers/online sites, all of whom I have had some personal familiarity with in the past, and could therefore not unreasonably expect might make a mention of the book. Two did and the others didn't. Any publicist will tell you two hits out of five is pretty good; I would have been happy with just one.

Also remember that blogs have their good points and bad points as publicity machines. The good news is that blog readers tend to have a more "intimate" relationship with the blogs they read than they do with, say, magazines and newspapers; I suspect the individual reader of a blog is rather more likely to pick up a book on the recommendation of the blogger than they would on the recommendation of a newspaper review. On the other hand, blog readership is generally tiny, relative to conventional media. The Virtual Book Tour folks, as an example, promise to connect authors with blogs that have readership of 500 and 1,000 daily readers -- an almost unfathomably small number of readers compared to even a modest-sized daily newspaper. The non-online publicist that promised to position a book to media outlets with 500 to 1,000 readers had better have a second job lined up to pay the rent.

On yet the other hand, there's a difference in that the 500 visitors to a blog are reading only that blog during their visit, while the many thousands of readers of a newspaper have a substantial number of articles vying for their attention. But on still another hand, a review of your book from a newspaper or magazine will get slapped on the paperback (or future printings) and helps to position your book and future work to booksellers and the public, while a review from Joe Blogger will not. We can do the pros and cons until you run out of hands.

The other issue to address is how professionalization of blog publicity will change the dynamic between the reader and the blogger. Right now we take it for granted that when a blogger says "I really liked this book/CD/movie/whatever," they're being honest about their enthusiasm. But when the "top" bloggers are regularly serviced by publicists, will this remain true? Many people feel professional critics are already compromised by their interaction with the publicity machine, regardless of whether that's true or not; why would bloggers be any different?

And once a blogger loses personal credibility, what does he or she have left to offer? If you're reading an entry by a blogger about a movie or book (or whatever) and part of you is wondering if the blogger is writing about it because they are genuinely interested in the work or just because they promised a publicist they would, then the reader-blogger dynamic is already broken, and the blogger is just another shill. That does you no good -- and as importantly, it spells trouble for the blogger as well.

These are the things to consider when you think about using bloggers for publicity -- and why the best way to do blogging publicity may be to offer your work to bloggers in a realistic, low-key way that respects the independent and curious nature of blogging, rather than mounting a highly-polished, highly aggressive drive for product placement. In other words, virtual book tours that respect the real dynamics of the blog world.

Posted by john at 03:22 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

For the Grandparents, Relatives and Various and Sundry Friends

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The rest of you can just move along to the next thing.

Posted by john at 01:19 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 26, 2005

I Know, I'm Weak...

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...but, hey, it's the first time I've seen my name on a bestseller list of any sort, so I wanted to share. And I'm next to Yoda, who is also short and balding. We're a matching pair, we are.

Krissy has been reading through all the entries in the "mock Scalzi" contest and has found several she likes. As for me, let me just say: You're all mean. Funny, yes. But mean.

Back to my non-Whatever-y typing.

Posted by john at 04:19 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

Let's Mock Scalzi: A Contest

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Yes, we are a very literate family.

Gotta take a few days off to get some work done. However, two things:

1. Be sure you're back here on Monday for a big announcement regarding Agent to the Stars.

2. In my absence, I thought it might be fun to run a little contest, in which y'all get to brutally mock me for fun and prizes.

The Let's Mock Scalzi Contest -- The rules:

i. Imitate me writing a Whatever entry, on whatever topic you want.
ii. Put it in the comment thread to this entry.

See? Easy. You don't have to write a full Whatever entry, incidentally; I think a paragraph or two will suffice, although I guess if you really want to go whole hog and do a whole fake entry, who am I to stop you. You can actually attempt an imitation, or just kneecap me with a vicious parody of my trite and hackneyed prose style. You know, whatever works for you. My only request is that in mocking me, you don't mock my family (i.e., you can mock me as much as you want, and even mock me in the act of talking about my family, but suggesting not nice things about Athena and/or Krissy isn't cool). Other than that, fire away.

I'll look through the entries and pick a winner on Monday. The winner gets a signed Advance Uncorrected Proof of Agent to the Stars (although probably not the one Kodi's reading; she's possessive). I'll personalize it if you want, or just sign it, the better for you to hock it on eBay one day, presumably after my tragic blender accident has driven up the price of Scalzi memorabilia (Note this is not a guarantee of a tragic blender accident; the details of the tragic accident may vary from its representation here).

Have fun and see you all on Monday, at which time -- remember -- there will be a big announcement. No, not the winner of the contest (though I'll do that too). Something else.

Posted by john at 02:23 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

February 21, 2005

w00t!

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0ld m4/\/z w4|2 is teh r0><><0r, d00dz!!!! I 4m 1337!!

Oh, don't mind me. I'm just trying to hang with the kids and, you know, speak teh language.

(For those of you completely out in the dark, the number "1337" -- which is the Amazon ranking in the picture above -- is an analogue for "leet," which is short for "elite," in "leetspeek," a kind of replacement code that gamers and others use for actual letters. It stopped being cool, oh, roughly the same time I started writing this entry. The first line of this entry, then, reads: "Old Man's War is the rock! I am leet!"

Please bear in mind that I am, in fact, not making any real representation of Old Man's War being the rock, or of me being, in fact, leet. The sentence in question is merely to be appreciate for the ironic value of a 35-year old man using the slang of 15 year olds. Please, go about your life.)

Posted by john at 11:57 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

I Never

(Warning/Enticement: Unseemly yet anti-climatically non-revealing sexual content follows)

A correspondent notes:

Your riff on 10 Things I've Done You Probably Haven't reminds me of a little parlor game we used to play that was almost the inverse: The "I've Never..." Game in which each person at the table, in the car, around the campfire, lounging around the dorm room tries to come up with something he/she has never done that everyone else in the group HAS done. Obviously not as satisfying for Web play as it requires a fairly limited group. (I used to win with the fact that, somehow, strangely, I've never read "Romeo and Juliet." I have no idea how that happened, as I took boatloads of lit courses and even a couple of Shakespeare courses in college, but... well, I won't go on.

Leaving aside the possible inverse relationship between "I Never" and "Things You've Probably Never Done," I think my correspondent grossly mischaracterizes the goals of "I Never," or at the very least is recounting an appallingly bland midwestern version of the game, a version you might play, if, say, you went to Wheaton College or otherwise hung out with folks well-marinated in a Promise Keeper-y sort of lifestyle (not that there's anything wrong with that). But allow me to suggest that if you've won "I Never" by declaring that you've never seen Romeo & Juliet, you're playing it so very wrong.

Here's how you really play "I Never":

1. Everyone grabs a drinkable.
2. You sit in a circle.
3. Someone says "I've never [enter thing you've allegedly never done here]"
4. Anyone who has done that thing -- including the person who said "I've never [thing they've allegedly never done]," since you don't have to tell the truth -- has to drink.
5. If you have done that thing, and someone playing the game knows you have, and yet you don't drink (say, out of a belated desire not to have your drunken friends know your licentious past), they can call you on it. In which case you have to drink twice.
6. Play until boredom/horniness/alcohol poisoning sets in.

Well, you say, what's the goal? Well, clearly, there are two:

1. To humiliate friends playing the game along with you by saying "I've never..." followed by some ill-advised sexual activity they have participated in (oh, don't worry, they'll do the same for you).

2. To get everyone sexually titillated enough that someone -- hopefully you -- is gonna get some by the end of the night.

And does it work? Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but the first time I played "I Never" I ended up fooling around with one of my high school teachers (don't worry, it was legal, by about 12 hours), and the last time I played it, someone (not me) got outed via the phrase "I've never had anal sex in a churchyard at midnight." So, yeah, it works.

Mind you, you have to ramp up. You can't open with midnight anal sex in a churchyard, because, really, where do you go from there? (Don't answer that.) Generally, the first couple go-arounds are things like "I've never kissed a girl," or "I've never gone skydiving," or, possibly, "I've never read Romeo & Juliet." By the third go-round nipple play "I Nevers" come out. Fifth go-round: Oral sex and bizarre masturbation -- "I have never penetrated a melon for the purposes of sexual gratification" is one I recall, and yes, someone had to drink (again, not me). After that, clearly, all bets are off, and you better hope whoever's playing "I never" with you that night doesn't know all the dirty, dirty things you've done, you sick little freak.

Yeah, I don't play "I Never" anymore. I don't drink alcohol, so that gives me an unfair advantage, both in targeting and (an important factor) in remembering. Also, sometime between college and now I came to the conclusion that of all the things I really needed to do, advertising the moist and squishy details of my sexual adventures to a bunch of vindictively drunken so-called friends was not one of them. And let's not forget that, being happily married as I am, I am reasonably assured of amorous activity without having to humiliate myself publicly to get it. So in all, the game has lost much of its early appeal.

Which is not to say that it couldn't be interesting these days. For one thing... well, never mind that. For another, I now know lots of science fiction writers and fans who I believe by law are required to be cheerfully and unapologetically sexually, uh, variegated. The problem with playing "I Never" with these folks, to the extent that you want to call it a "problem," is that everybody would be drinking all the time, and then if they were already enthusiastically libertine (as is not unlikely) they were probably scheduled to get some anyway, and possibly while wearing a vinyl corset and/or furry costume. One does strain to imagine the specificity one would drill down toward to make one and only one particular person drink in a group like this: Midnight anal sex in a churchyard simply isn't going to cut it. More like: "I've never had midnight anal sex in a churchyard dressed as as a transsexual elven princess while my partner, garbed as a Pokémon, recited passages from the Bhagavad Gita in Klingon."

Here's the kicker: You know what the other people in the "I Never" game would be offended by? That's right: The Pokémon costume. And, of course, rightly so.

No, I've never done that. The Pokémon costume was already rented out.

Posted by john at 06:08 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Hunter S. Thompson

Like every other guy who wrote for a college newspaper in the last 30 years, there was a time I wanted to be the next Hunter S. Thompson, until I realized (as we all inevitably do) that being the next Hunter S. Thompson wasn't merely a writing aspiration, but a lifestyle choice for which most of us simply didn't have the pharmaceutical tolerance, even if we had the inclination (which -- thankfully, in retrospect -- I did not). So eventually I gave it up and concentrated on being the first me, which, besides being a far less crowded field, aspirationally speaking, also turned out to be the better writing choice.

Now Thompson's dead; he shot himself in the head. At the moment I can't decide whether this is shocking or, given his public persona, somehow appropriate. I will note he is the second writer I've admired to suicide in the last year or so, the other being Spaulding Gray, who took the plunge off the Staten Island ferry in a death that was also shocking yet somehow appropriate. I don't claim that there's any theme to this; lots of now-dead writers whom I admire didn't suicide. One simply notices when they do. One also notices that the two were similar in a certain way -- they told confessional tales of themselves doing things: Thompson in drugged-out, balls-out fashion, Gray in his more buttoned-up New England asides. Both were storytellers, which is a facet of writing I admire and which I don't think gets enough attention these days. And I suppose you could say they both wrote their own ending of their own stories rather than waiting for life to do it for them.

I didn't become the next Hunter S. Thompson, which I think we're all grateful for, but did I learn anything from him? I did indeed. I learned a little hyperbole is a wonderful thing, although too much is, well, hyperbolic -- timing matters in its use. I think it's easy to enjoy his more whacked-out passages and miss how surgically he used them when he was on his form, which is why there are so many bad Thompson pastiches out there (even on the Web. Especially on the Web). I think it's easy to miss his lesson as a journalist, which was that a good story isn't always the one you're supposed to be covering. He also reconfirmed to me something I've been taught over and over by my favorite writers: that you can get away with a lot as long as you tell a good story.

Those are all useful lessons, and I thank Thompson for them.

Posted by john at 05:09 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 20, 2005

Just So We're Clear:

A guy who secretly tapes your conversations and then releases them to the public (and/or the New York Times)? He's a dick. Even if the guy who's being recorded is now the President of the United States.

Posted by john at 06:03 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Annoyed! Arrrrr!

Is it wrong for me to be annoyed at Naomi Kritzer for having a journal and not telling me, leaving me to find out about it completely by accident while snuffling through my server logs? Yes, yes it is. Even so: Jeez, Naomi. Thanks a lot. However, now I've found you out, so ha! Also, y'all should check it out, since among other things she has a far more reasonable take on the Newsweek "perfect mother" story than I do (no self-loathing Gen-Xery required). Also, check out her books, because she's a fine writer. I've been salivating for Freedom's Apprentice for a while now.

Also annoying: When your Amazon ranking suddenly spikes and you don't know why. This was an Instapundit-worthy spike, but he's not been talking about OMW recently (he's been busy blogging the Insta-wife's hospital stay, and I have to say I'm happy to see she's doing reasonably well -- He's much less of a wreck than I would be if my wife were in the hospital. As with everyone else, I'm hoping everything continues to be well and better than well for her). So now I have no clue. I mean, maybe there isn't an excuse; maybe six people simultaneously decided to pick up the book from Amazon for no good reason at all. But let's just say I'm an intelligent design proponent in this case: Someone's behind it.

See, this is the pathology of my Amazon Ranking mania (most authors have one of one sort or another). I don't particularly care whether the number is high or low (at this point, anyway; as I've mentioned before, as soon as Old Man's War went into the second printing, I declared victory and had a nice snack), but sharp movements in the ranking interest me. Call it my need to know.

Posted by john at 04:57 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The Problem With Parents

Those of you who come here often know that I'm no fan of the more obnoxious elements of the "child-free" community, and indeed positively delight in their snitty impotent rage at small children and the people who breed them. That being said, I will give the childfree folks credit for harping on one very important truth, which is that becoming a parent often turns people in assholes.

Which is to say: They weren't assholes before (or maybe they were and either they hid it well or were in such a way that they were generally indistinguishable from other non-child-bearing people), but later, in the performance of their child-raising duties, they somehow became sphincterfied. In other words, they're not assholes who happen to be parents, they are assholes because they are parents. Simply put, there are a lot of asshole parents out there, and if their numbers are not growing, then they at the very least drawing more attention to themselves.

I say this in the wake of reading the cover stories of last week's Time and Newsweek magazines: Time's cover story was on how obnoxious parents are making it difficult for teachers to teach, on account that they go ballistic every time junior comes home with a "B" instead of an "A"; Newsweek's piece was how today's mothers feel suffocated by "The Myth of the Perfect Mother" -- the idea that they can be great moms and great at work and great spouses and, oh I don't know, great at origami, too. Naturally, living up to this expectation is no fun and a lot of women are running around ragged and irritable at the end of the day, and secretly (but no so secretly they they didn't confide it to the author of this Newsweek article) enjoy childrearing about as much as they enjoy any other dreary household chore. And naturally they feel guilty about that. In the case of the Time parents, they really are assholes; in the case of the Newsweek mothers, they're worried they are assholes if they're not perfect, and making all the effort required to be perfect is likely to make them a bit of an asshole.

I'm an asshole, and I'm also parent, although I try not to be former because of the latter. Be that as it may, I feel I'm qualified to comment on both topics. So let me forward one theory of mine, which, while not the complete answer, is at least part of it.

This is the era of the Gen-X parent, and if we know anything about the Gen-X stereotype, it's that this cohort of Americans was shaped by Atari, Star Wars action figures, and divorce, divorce, divorce, divorce. Thereby, I suspect that many observers might say Gen-X parents are fueled by a desire to do a better job at parenting than their parents, and yet, given what a botched job their parents made of it, feel like they have no positive role models and/or ideas on how to go about being a good parent. So they overcompensate in their neurotically smothering way. If this essay were a Gen-X movie, this would be the part where a goateed Ethan Hawke would explain, between unfiltered cigarette puffs, how he and all his friends were raised by Bill Cosby and Meredith Baxter Birney on Thursday nights far more than their own fathers.

As attractive as this is as an excuse, it's a pretty crappy excuse, and I don't know if it's on point. For one thing, the majority of the Gen-X cohort is now on the far side of 30, and the unwritten rule is if you're over 30 and still blaming your parents for, well, anything, you need to be taken aside and told quietly to get a life (you get a pass if your parents are still actively trying to screw with your life, but honestly, that takes more effort than most senior citizens are going to make). Yes, yes, it's awful you were in the middle of that horrible divorce. Here's a hug. Now move on. And point of fact, most Gen-Xers have moved on, settled their issues with mom and dad, and I doubt are actively taking these dormant issues out on their kids thereby.

I don't think it's that Gen-Xers are asshole parents because they have issues with their own parents anymore, I think they're asshole parents because they have issues with each other. Allow me to posit a central truth regarding Gen-Xers: We don't much like other Gen-Xers. It should be obvious: We're all witty and smart, in that casual, pop culture-y way that makes for amusingly light banter at get-togethers that cleverly disguises the true purpose of Gen-X communication, which is to find that weak link in someone else's intellectual defenses that exposes them as a fraud, confirming that they're not really your equal no matter how much money, sex or prestige they have, relative to you. It's a generation of defensive egalitarians -- it's not "we're all equal," it's "none of you is better than me." And that's no way to run a railroad. As Gen-Xers get older, this approach to their cohort has expanded to deal with people who are older than they (because we're all adults now), and adults younger as well (because they don't know much).

How does this liberal (and, coming as it does from a Gen-Xer, self-incriminating) beating on Gen-Xers relate to parenting? In relation to the parents having issues with the teachers, simply enough: When a teacher suggests your kid is something other than your own personal conception of your kid, it's an implicit criticism of you, and that's not to be bourne, because what does the teacher know? If the teacher were actually someone important enough to be listened to, they wouldn't be a teacher, now would they? Fucking teachers, man. The problem lay not in you -- it couldn't -- therefore, the problem is the teacher, or the school, or the damn No Child Left Behind act that all those red state bastards rammed through Congress. And out come the knives and out comes the attack. Meanwhile, little Jimmy is over there eating his crayons and not actually learning much. But this is the point: It's not about the kid, it's about the parent. The poor kid, in this instance, is an extension of the parent's twitchiness in dealing with the world in general.

(This also goes back to the childfree folks' complain about parents in a general sense -- they've got these children completely off the hook in a public space and when someone calls them on it, the parents get monstrously defensive. But they're not reacting to the criticism of their children's behavior -- they're reacting to the criticism of them as a person. Again, the kid enters into the equation only as a tangential.)

With the "perfect mother" issue the "Gen-x self-dislike" factor is somewhat more muted simply because the expectations of mothers in general is a rather more complicated, and I think that in this situation there's a lot more concern for the actual children involved. At the risk of sounding sexist, I think "motherhood" is more child-oriented than "parenthood"; "Parenthood" is a slightly more dispassionate state that acknowledges the rest of the world, whereas "motherhood" is about what happens between you and your kid ("fatherhood," ideally, has the same dynamic). But naturally we compare how we handle out relationship with our child with how others like us handle theirs, and in the Gen-X, with its implicit undercurrent of antagonism, this is fraught with issues.

What to do? Well, naturally, I think the first thing for Gen-X parents to do is to get over themselves and whatever festering defensiveness they have regarding other people. Gen-Xers are capable of liking people their own age, of course: We all have close friends. It'd be nice if we didn't automatically question the competence and/or worthiness of everyone else we meet. In other words, try to reset our defaults to actually like people until and unless they go out of their way to prove they are, in fact, generally unlikeable. It's a thought, anyway. The end result of this is that parents then might be able to listen to teachers and other without feeling like it's a referendum on them as a person. It's not (generally). It's about your kid, and what your kid needs.

Which is the second thing. Your kid: A little person who is probably like you in a lot of ways and yet is not you at all. Despite your best efforts, your kids will turn out as someone who is not you, and who has their own agenda in the world. In my opinion, the goal of parenthood is to teach your kid how to explore the world and find himself or herself in it; this naturally requires that the focus is on the kid, and not the parent. The parent who is leaping in and mud-wrestling a teacher over a "B" or bribing the local daycare center staff to get their kid in is probably not focused on what the kid needs so much as what the parent thinks he needs to prove. The parent who gets her hackles up about someone complaining her kid is acting like a hopped-up monkey in a public place isn't actually doing her kid a favor if the kid is, in fact, acting like a hopped-up monkey.

What it comes down to is that when parents act like assholes, it's usually because they're thinking about themselves more than they're thinking about their kids. As parents, it's time to get over ourselves. It's probably better for our kids, and it's certainly better for how the rest of the world sees us as parents.

Posted by john at 12:52 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

February 19, 2005

Washington Post Review of OMW...

...Courtesy of Paul Di Fillipo. The review is halfway down the page. It's a good one, which is nice:

His speculative elements are top-notch. His combat scenes are blood-roiling. His dialogue is suitably snappy and profane. And the moral and philosophical issues he raises, while not as deeply plumbed as in Joe Haldeman's classic The Forever War (1975), still insert useful ethical burrs under the military saddle of the story.

What I found particularly amusing, given the brief discussion I gave it in a previous recent entry, is Di Fillipo addressing the question of John Perry's luck:

One seemingly inevitable tic of this archetype is that our hero ends up being uniquely valuable to the war effort, thanks to the strength of his character and the forces of chance. John Perry conforms to this pattern as well, as you know he will. Still, it's hard to complain about such predestination. The tale of a grunt who dies during the first engagement would be merely the stuff of journalism.

Ha! Yes, exactly. Also -- and not to be ignored -- I would imagine it would be far more difficult to sell a first novel (particularly in this genre) in which the hero was a bystander to history rather than in the thick of it. I think ten novels from now I might try that, though, and see what I can do with it.

As an aside, the very nice person who alerted me to the review suggested that I probably knew about it already. Despite my clear and obvious interest (read: obsession) in these reviews, it had in fact slipped past me. If you do see a review of the book somewhere, please feel free to send me a note about it. It will be most appreciated.

Posted by john at 03:44 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

10 Things I've Done You Probably Haven't

There's a LiveJournal meme floating around at the moment that asking people to list ten things they've done that other people they know probably haven't. I'm taking it from LJ and releasing it into the wilds. Here are my 10, in no particular order:

1. Scaled scaffolding on a church and touched the cross at the top of the steeple (very vertigo-inducing)

2. Proposed to Laura Dern (she said no)

3. Stepped inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and put a prayer in to the cracks of the Wailing Wall on the same day

4. Been on Oprah as a guest (refuting the ridiculous women who wrote The Rules)

5. Lost two wedding rings, one within 24 hours of getting it

6. Received an angry e-mail from the lead singer of The Cult

7. Been whacked in the head with a 5-iron by a family member (in her defense, it was a complete accident)

8. Borrowed an Oscar statuette for three days

9. Visited the studio where they were making The Nightmare Before Christmas, saw the sets, and watched Danny Elfman sing one of the songs live, while recently completed animation corresponding to the song he was singing played silently in the background

10. Discovered the fossilized jawbone of a previously unknown rodent species

That's a fair sampling.

Posted by john at 12:11 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

Jeff Gannon, Liberal Victim

Frankly, I'm surprised we haven't heard something like this out of right-wing radio, concerning the whole Jeff Gannon issue. Or maybe, we just haven't heard it yet.

(For LiveJournal/RSS feed gackers, there's a link to an mp3 file here.)

Posted by john at 03:13 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

A Vaguely Word-Related Post

athenascribbles.jpg

The school called today to let me know Athena had an earache and fever, so she's home today, and here's something to warm this writer daddy's heart: Athena sat down in front of her white board and started writing without even the slightest suggestion of such an activity from dear ol' dad. She writes words the way she thinks they should be spelled and then I'll check them for accuracy. She's beginning to learn English is bizarre in terms of spellings, which I think annoys her. And rightly so.

Unrelated but exciting: We've got our first foreign language offer for Old Man's War, and I'm pretty sure we're going to take the offer. I'll provide more details when contracts are signed, but suffice to say that I think it'll be neat to have a book in a language I can't even read. And of course, foreign rights are like free money. And who doesn't love free money? It's free.

And entirely unrelated to any of the above: A short article in the Dayton Daily News about the Book of the Dumb books, in advance of the appearance/signing I'm doing tomorrow at the Dayton Barnes & Noble. DDN is a "registration-required" site, so you'll have to measure your need to view the article against that (I tend to use bugmenot in those cases). But I'm happy with article. Hopefully this will help me net more than six people at the signing. We'll see.

Posted by john at 01:22 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 17, 2005

The S.L. Viehl Memorial Self-Pimpage Entry

A nice review of Old Man's War at Bookloons: "Think of the movie Coccoon, morphing into Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, and you'll have an idea of what Old Man's War is all about." Heh. That works.

Apropos to Old Man's War, I've seen a couple of reviews and comments that remarked on the fact that the book's main character seems improbably lucky (here's one). I hadn't really thought about it that way; speaking as the writer, I'd say it's not so much he's lucky as that if he were unlucky, he'd be dead, and then I'd only have, say, half a book. And there is that one incident at the end of Part II which doesn't strike me as him being particularly lucky. But as more than one person's mentioned it, there may be something to it. I'll have to think about it some more.

Unrelated: Someone seems to have put up a LiveJournal atom feed of Whatever here. No, I don't know who. It differs from Scalzifeed (which I also didn't set up) in that it actually sends along the entire entry rather than the first 100 words. Naturally, if you're a LiveJournal user, use it if you feel fit, although I would ask if you like a particular entry and want to link to it, link here, and not to a LiveJournal feed bearing my name. I like new visitors. Also, of course, making a comment on either of these LiveJournal feeds virtually guarantees neither I nor anyone else will see it, since I don't actually subscribe to either of these feeds. Even I'm not that narcissistic.

Well, okay, I subscribe to Scalzifeed on my LiveJournal friends page. But that's because I put it in there for testing purposes. Honest.

Posted by john at 08:56 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

PublishAmerica Douses Self in Kerosene, Lights Match

(Those of you not familiar with the recent PublishAmerica contrempts, about which I will now vent, go here for some background. If you are familiar with it, please continue.)

What an ass:

In an exclusive interview with SCI FI Wire, the president of PublishAmerica defended his company against charges by a group of SF and fantasy writers that his company is a "vanity press," despite falling for a hoax perpetrated by the writers. The writers, in response to PublishAmerica's criticism of SF&F writers, concocted a deliberately bad bogus novel, Atlanta Nights, and submitted it for publication to test whether PublishAmerica would accept anything; after the hoax was revealed, PublishAmerica rescinded its offer of publication.

Speaking for the first time about the hoax, Larry Clopper, president of PublishAmerica, based in Frederick, Md., said his company knew about the hoax before it became public knowledge and withdrew its offer of publication at that time... Clopper said many mainstream publishers similarly do not read the entire manuscript before making an offer of publication. "The hoax failed," Clopper said. "It was a very amateur gag."

In fact, of course, the hoax succeded brilliantly. Here's why:

1. Clopper's contention that publishers make offers on completely unknown first-time fiction authors before reading an entire manuscript is appallingly wrong; either Clopper knows this, and is lying through his teeth, or he doesn't know this, and he's a monumental incompetent. It is true that publishers of fiction will ask that initial submissions consist of, say, three chapters rather than an entire manuscript. But the point of that is that if they like the three chapters, they will ask for the rest of the manuscript. You know, to read. Then and only then will they take a chance on a completely unknown first-time fiction writer.

Why? Because -- to repeat -- you are a completely unknown first-time fiction writer. If you're Stephen King, they might be reasonably assured that you can carry off the whole manscript, since you have a track record of doing such things in a profitable manner. However, you can bet that whoever bought Carrie, King's first novel, read the whole damned thing before making the offer.

2. Even if we lived in an alternate world in which "mainstream" publishers did make utterly unknown first time fiction authors publication offers based on a partial manuscript, the fact of the matter is no reputable publisher would make an offer on Atlanta Nights, because no matter what part of it you read, it's all bad. Trust me: Writers who are regularly published know what it takes not to be published, for the same reason that, say, Eddie Van Halen knows what sounds like crap coming from a guitar. It is well within a competent professional writer's skill set to write so poorly that no reputable publisher would touch the work.

Speaking as a former acquiring editor, I'm here to tell you that Atlanta Nights is awful from the very first page. Indeed, I will now reprint for you the first page (or so) of Atlanta Nights to prove it:

Pain.
Whispering voices.
Pain.
Pain. Pain. Pain.
Need pee--new pain--what are they sticking in me? . . .
Sleep.
Pain.
Whispering voices.
“As you know, Nurse Eastman, the government spooks controlling this hospital will not permit me to give this patient the care I think he needs.”
“Yes, doctor.” The voice was breathy, sweet, so sweet and sexy.
“We will therefore just monitor his sign’s. Serious trauma like this patient suffered requires extra care, but the rich patsies controlling the hospital will make certain I cannot try any of my new treatments on him.”
“Yes, doctor.” That voice was soooo sexy!
Bruce didn’t care about treatments. He cared about pain, and he cared about that voice, because when he heard the voice, the pain went away, just for a few seconds, like.
“Report to me if there is any change,” the man’s voice said.
“Yes, Dr. Nance,” said the sexy voice.
A door closed, and Bruce heard breathing, and smelled the enticing smell of shampoo, and perfume. It was Chanel Number 5.
He opened his eyes.
All he saw was the roundest, firmest pair of tittles he’d ever seen in his life, all enclosed in a crisp white nurse’s uniform.
I’m in heaven, he said. No, he tried to say, but his voice wouldn’t work, his mouth was dry, and there was some terrible tube thing in his nose—and hey, what’s that thing in his dick? It hurts!
The tits bounced like Aunt Alice’s molded jello back at home, and then moved away.

I guarantee you by right about that sentence, any acquiring editor worth his or her paycheck would have thrown the manuscript in the trash, or at the very least stuffed it into a self-addressed, stamped envelope to send it back to the poor bastard who wrote it. It takes less than 300 words to know this thing is unpublishable; as they say in the industry, one does not have to eat an entire egg to know it is rotten.

What sort of editor reads those 300 words and says to him or herself: By God, this needs to be published? One of two people:

1. A monumental incompetent;
2. An editor whose acquisition criteria are based on something other than those of a "traditional" publisher -- which is to say, the need to sell the book en masse to people who have no relationship to the manuscript's author.

I'd be willing to buy into the idea that PublishAmerica's acquisition editors are incompetent, but let's be charitable beyond all reason and assume they are not. Call it a professional courtesy. That leaves non-traditional acquisition criteria, and that's pretty clearly PublishAmerica's scheme. Anyone who looks at PublishAmerica's practices gets the idea pretty clearly that the publisher is not in the business of selling to a mass market; it's in the business of selling to the writer and to the writer's immediate friends and anyone the writer can convince to carry the book. And of course there's a phrase that fits those kinds of publishers: Vanity publisher.

Assuming someone at PublishAmerica did actually read Atlanta Nights, what they thought to themselves was not "Damn, this is good," but "We're betting this guy has a lot of friends who will buy this out of pity." And so PublishAmerica made an offer. One can reasonably assume that PublishAmerica has done the same with many of its other authors. Not all, possibly. But many.

And naturally, this does all those poor authors a tremendous disservice. By implying that in the real publishing world, crap like Atlanta Nights is actually and genuinely publishable, Publish America gives these authors a heart-breakingly low benchmark of presumed competence for publishability. Authors who assume that being published by PublishAmerica means they've hit actual publication standards for competent writing will be confused when future work, written to the same level of competence, gets rejected in the real world over and over and over again.

And of course, that's possibly part of PublishAmerica's plan as well: To create a stratum of authors whose only publishing option is to go through PublishAmerica because they're not competent to be published anywhere else. The company doesn't see them as authors; it sees them purely as a revenue stream, and it's content to keep them hobbled as writers to do it. And if that's the case, PublishAmerica isn't simply a vanity press, it's also unspeakably cruel.

The hoax worked because it exposed one of two things: Either PublishAmerica is staffed by monumental incompetents, in which case you'd be daft to publish with them, or it's staffed by cynical, black-hearted bastards who purposely deceive and manipulate their authors, in which case you'd be daft to publish with them. The third option is that they're both monumentally incompetent and cynical, black-hearted bastards, in which case you'd be daft to publish with them and they should probably be taken out and beaten with the spines of their own books. For starters.

However you slice it, PublishAmerica is bad news. The only good news about the whole Atlanta Nights hoax is that no matter what PublishAmerica does, it makes itself look worse. To which the only thing to say is: Good.

Posted by john at 02:05 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

"Agent" Info and Appearance Reminder

a2s0217.jpg

Gaze upon the advance uncorrected proofs of Agent to the Stars, of which I was sent five. It's very nice to see the novel in actual booklike form.

Those of you who have expressed interest in owning a copy will want to make sure you're loitering about the site at the end of the month, when more information will be forthcoming. Remember that this will be a limited, signed hardcover edition with cover art by Gabe of Penny Arcade(aka Mike Krahulik), so ordering early might be a not bad idea.

Also a reminder: I'll be doing a chat/signing at the Dayton Barnes and Noble on Saturday, February 19 between 6:30 and 8:30 (pm) for Book of the Dumb 2, although I will be happy to discuss Old Man's War and other writings, and to autograph those books as well. If you happen to be in southwest Ohio this Saturday and have little better to do on a weekend night, come harass me.

Posted by john at 11:56 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Covenant Marriage is Stupid

Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and his wife Janet renewed their marriage vows the other day under Arkansas' more strict "covenant marriage" law, under which, according to this news story, "couples getting a covenant marriage agree to seek counseling before they wed and before they seek a divorce. A covenant marriage also requires a two-year wait before a divorce becomes final, except in cases of adultery, abuse or imprisonment for a felony." Huckabee is upgrading (or downgrading, depending on your point of view) his marriage into covenant status in part to draw attention to the concept of covenant marriage, which, to put it lightly, has not been a hit, even in Arkansas: just over two thirds of one percent of Arkansas marriages have been covenant marriages since the new variation of marriage was enacted into law in 2001.

Simple reason for that: As a concept, it's pretty damn insulting. "Covenant Marriage" implicitly suggests that people won't stay married unless they subject themselves to onerous governmental restrictions on their personal freedoms; basically, it's the state telling you that it expects you to get a divorce at some point, unless it makes it too annoying for you to get a divorce to make it worth your while. The State of Arkansas is banking on sloth, apathy and state bureaucracy to keep a bunch of bad marriages together, as if bad marriages are really better than divorce.

On the flip side, going for the covenant marriage seems to suggest that you feel you need that government intervention to make up for your own lack of marital will. And that's not really a positive attitude to have going into a marriage, is it? Here's a tip: If you feel you're going to need a covenant marriage in order to keep your marriage together, you might want to re-think the whole "getting married" concept in the first place. If you really want to bind your entire life to another person, it's going to be immaterial whether or not it's easy to get a divorce. It's like frosting on a cat.

Most people like to think they're getting married for life; most people don't want the government poking its nose into their personal business. Add it up, and it's no wonder covenant marriage is a big fat flop. I mean, it's nice Huckabee's renewing his vows to his wife -- I applaud that. I think it's mildly distasteful that as he did it, he tried to sell a brand of marriage that both implicitly demeans the marriages of the overwhelming majority of Arkansans and runs counter to the presumed conservative principles of a smaller, less invasive government. But isn't that modern conservatism for you.

You know, I got married in California, where getting a divorce is only slightly more difficult than saying "I divorce you!" three times in sequence, and where, of course, all those horrible liberal Hollywood types with their terrible loose morals live. And yet, a married couple in California is rather less likely to get a divorce than a couple from Arkansas. The state that has the lowest incidence of divorce in the US is Massachusetts, which as we all know is so flamingly liberal that they even let the gay people get married, to other gay people, even. What do California and Massachusetts know that Arkansas does not? Whatever it is, it's got nothing to do with covenant marriage.

If I wanted, I could walk away from my marriage. I could just get up, go, wait an appropriate time and whoomp, it's done: No-fault all the way. My wife, if she so choose, could do the same thing. And yet we don't -- and we keep not walking away from our marriage every day of our marriage, because that's not what we want. We don't want that for the obvious reasons that we love each other and we love our life together, but also because we both understand that marriage is supposed to be work, and that a marriage is a commitment to be renewed on a constant and continuing basis. We work on that, and it's good work. You could make divorce a 30-second act, as simple as clicking a button on a Web site, and I still wouldn't divorce Krissy, nor (I rather deeply suspect) she me. The strength of our marriage -- the strength of any marriage, I'd say -- is entirely unrelated to how easy it is to end it.

"There is a crisis in America," Huckabee told people at the rally that included his covenant marriage. "That crisis is divorce. It is easier to get out of a marriage than (to get out of a) contract to buy a used car." Well, yes. It's also easier to get married than to get a contract to buy a used car, too, so long as you're willing to marry someone of the opposite sex (and not even that in one commonwealth). But you notice Huckabee doesn't make mention of that. The crisis is not divorce, the crisis is marrying poorly: Marrying without expectation of what being married requires from both members of a couple, marrying without the appreciation of the consequences, marrying because it's what's expected rather than what's best for either (or both) the people in the couple. The only good thing about Arkansas' covenant marriage law is it requires couples counseling before the wedding; should covenant marriages actually have a lower incidence of divorce, I'd imagine you'd find the pre-wedding counseling was the key.

Making sure people who are getting married are ready to be married -- and married to each other: That's what's going to bring down your divorce rate. Do that well enough, you won't have to try to sell the rather insane idea that making it harder to divorce is going "save" a couple's marriage. It won't; it'll just make them suffer longer for no good reason at all. Making it harder to get divorced is like making it harder to open a fire escape: By the time people get to the point of using it, the damage is already done. Time to let them out.

Posted by john at 02:29 AM | Comments (170) | TrackBack

February 15, 2005

Conventioneering

Well, this is nice: Noreascon refunded me my membership fee, on account it made a profit (or some such). I have rolled it over for an Interaction membership, so now the net cost of the Interaction membership will be about $30. Thanks, Noreascon!

In other news, I just bought my Interaction membership and booked a room at the Best Western Glasgow Milton Hotel & Spa, so y'all can expect to see me in Glasgow in early August.

In other other news, I'll also be at Penguicon in April, mostly to see how jittery Cory will be ahead of the Nebula Weekend, which will be the next weekend in Chicago. I had given some thought to being at Nebula weekend -- I love Chicago -- but I'm going to skip out of that.

So, then, my convention schedule: Penguincon, Wiscon, Interaction. And then I suspect that will be that for 2005, except, possibly, Context. That's five conventions in a year, up from one for each of the previous two. That's more than enough conventioneering for one person, I'd say.

Posted by john at 12:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

2004 Nebula Nominees

As I was on the Nebula short fiction jury this year, it behooves me to post the final list of Nebula nominees (list gacked from Gwenda Bond):

2004 Final Nebula Ballot

Novels
Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Eos, Oct 2003)
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow (Tor, Feb 2003)
Omega, by Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov 2003)
Cloud Atlas: A Novel, by David Mitchell (Sceptre, Jan 2004)
Perfect Circle, by Sean Stewart (Small Beer Press, Jun 2004)
The Knight, by Gene Wolfe (Tor, Jan 2004)

Novellas
"Walk in Silence," by Catherine Asaro (Analog, Apr 2003)
"The Tangled Strings of the Marionettes," by Adam-Troy Castro (F&SF,
Jul 2003)
"The Cookie Monster," by Vernor Vinge (Analog, Oct 2003)
"The Green Leopard Plague," by Walter Jon Williams (Asimov's, Oct/Nov
2003)
"Just Like the Ones We Used to Know," by Connie Willis (Asimov's, Dec
2003)

Novelettes
"Zora and the Zombie", by Andy Duncan (SCI FICTION, February 4, 2004)
"Basement Magic," by Ellen Klages (F&SF, May 2003)
"The Voluntary State," by Christopher Rowe (SCI FICTION, May 2004)
"Dry Bones," by William Sanders (Asimov's, May 2003)
"The Gladiator's War: A Dialogue," by Lois Tilton (Asimov's, Jun 2004)

Short Stories
"Coming to Terms,"by Eileen Gunn (Stable Strategies and Others, Tachyon
Publications, Sep 2004)
"The Strange Redemption of Sister Mary Anne," by Mike Moscoe (Analog,
Nov 2004)
"Travels With my Cats," by Mike Resnick (Asimov's, Feb 2004)
"Embracing-The-New," by Benjamin Rosenbaum (Asimov's, Jan 2004)
"In the Late December," by Greg van Eekhout (Strange Horizons, Dec.
22, 2003)
"Aloha," by Ken Wharton (Analog, Jun 2003)

Scripts
The Incredibles, by Brad Bird (Pixar, Nov 2004)
The Butterfly Effect, by J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress (New Line
Cinema, Jan 2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, by Charlie Kaufman & Michel
Gondry (Anonymus Content/Focus Features, Mar 2004)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien (New Line Cinema, Dec 2003)

I'm personally excited for Cory Doctorow, who is a friend of mine, that he made the final list, and of course I wish all the rest of the nominees good luck as well.

If you're curious as to what I did on the Nebula short fiction jury, well, I and my fellow jury-mates looked through material to see if there was any story/novelette/novella we thought was overlooked, and if so, we had the ability to add one title in each category. Long-time observers of the Nebula process will see if we did, but otherwise I prefer not to note if we added a nominee or not; every Nebula nominee should be evaluated on his/her writing, not by the process through which he/she landed on the ballot.

Posted by john at 07:25 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Scalzi's Overloaded Minestrone

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Every now and again I get it in my head to make dinner -- not just phone in a pizza order or heat up some ravioli, but actually make something. In those cases I tend to make either chili or minestrone. I've already posted my Random Chili Recipe, so here is the recipe for Scalzi's Overloaded Minestrone. The basic idea is to take minestrone soup and pile on until its consistency is actually somewhat closer to a stew than a soup. This may or may not be heresy if you love minestrone. But, I'll tell you what, it's good.

Scalzi's Overloaded Minestrone

4-5 thick bacon slices, chopped (optional for the vegetarian-oriented)
3 large celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 medium to large onion, chopped
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped
3 large leaves of chard, chopped
28-oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes
1 1/2 cans pinto beans
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 spring rosemary
1 cup orzo pasta
8 - 9 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock if vegetarian)

Get a big pot. In that pot drizzle in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Dump the bacon in and fry the bacon until it is cooked but not crisp. Then add celery, carrots, onion, cabbage, chard, garlic, basil and parsley and cook until the green begin to wilt. Drain your tomatoes and then break them up into the pot; cook for about 3 - 5 minutes. Drain the beans and squish them with your hands before adding them to the pot; cook another 3-5 minutes. Add the chicken/vegetable stock and bring to a boil; then put to simmer. Add the rosemary spring and cover. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring only occasionally. Then remove the rosemary spring and then add the cup of orzo. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, depending on how al dente you like your orzo; stir occasionally. Serve. Makes 8 - 10 cups.

Like I said, this will give you an unusually thick minestrone. See if you like it.

Posted by john at 06:44 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day

(For those of you tuning in via RSS aggregator, there's a cartoon here.)

Posted by john at 12:28 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 13, 2005

HTML in Comments

I've long disabled HTML in comments, basically to help my readers avoid accidentally clicking through on comment spam. But now that I seem to be managing the comment spam well enough, there's no reason not to let real live human commenters use HTML when they want. So:

Comment HTML for everyone! (except spammers, of course.)

Naturally, I ask everyone who chooses to adorn their comments with links and html to show some basic common sense and courtesy to me and other commenters, and if I think someone's use of HTML in comments is egregiously bad, I go in and snip it out (though, as with general editing of comments, I can't see why I would do that very often). The good news here is that I think most you already have common sense, so this entire paragraph is redundant.

There you have it.

Posted by john at 10:55 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 12, 2005

A Link You Don't Get Every Day But Should

Personally, I think it's always a happy day when a professional dominatrix links to my writing advice, and suggests that much of the advice translates neatly into her of field of professional endeavor. Well, and I imagine it does. You can add your own "writing is a dominant/submissive exercise" allusions here ("Why do you think they call it submitting? Huh? Huh?!?"). But more seriously, I've seen a couple of other people link to the advice and say it tracks pretty well with their professions as well. Except possibly that, say, plumbers won't get any action showing off their pipe snake at a coffee shop (on second thought, maybe they will. Pipe snake indeed!).

Now, before anyone complains, quite obviously if I'm linking to a blog of a professional dominatrix, you may run across something on her site to which you object. Or, alternately, something that excites you. Or both! Funny how that works sometimes.

Posted by john at 12:01 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 11, 2005

My Musical Top Ten

Was scrolling through my computerized music collection today and thought to myself: Which bands to I have the most music from on my computer? And now I know:

1. Depeche Mode -- 157 songs (lots of remixes in here)
2. The Beatles -- 137 songs
3. U2 -- 126 songs
4. The Cure -- 110 songs
5. Kate Bush -- 104 songs
6. Metallica -- 100 songs
7. Tori Amos -- 82 songs
8. Nine Inch Nails -- 70 songs
9. Journey -- 68 songs
10. Tie: Tom Lehrer and They Might Be Giants -- 67 songs

Artists also represented by more than 50 tracks include Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Sarah McLachlan, Neil Finn/Crowded House/Finn Brothers, Iron Maiden, Billy Joel (I don't know why I have so much Billy Joel), Waylon Jennings, Howard Shore (the Lord of the Rings soundtracks), Pink Floyd, Oingo Boingo and Yaz(oo)/Alison Moyet/Erasure (oh, come on. Like Alison Moyet and Andy Bell don't sound the same).

What does it mean? Uhhhh, that I like all those artists? However, some of my favorite artists aren't on the list, including Daniel Lanois (36 songs in my collection), Brian Eno (47), kd lang (44), fairground attraction/Eddi Reader (36), Emmylou Harris (16), The Pretenders (36), and the La's (a mere three tracks on my computer). So I wouldn't necessarily call that top ten entirely representative of my personal tastes.

It's also not representative of, say, my entire CD collection, since I have a tendency to rip only tracks I want, rather than entire albums. So some bands are underrepresented on my computer, relative to their presence in my CD collection -- and newer bands are overrepresented, since I've stopped buying CDs as much and started buying more music online.

But it is interesting. As I said, who knew I had that much Billy Joel? It's not like my iTunes ever seems to play any. What does it know that I don't?

Who is most represented in your music collection? Because, you know, now I'm curious.

Posted by john at 04:07 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Moderated Comments

Since a couple of people have asked about it to me in e-mail, a quick reminder:

I'm moderating comments more than seven days old, because that's the easiest way to stop comment spam from actually showing up on the site. What this means is if you comment on an entry that's more than a week old, your comment probably won't show up right away; it'll show up when I go through the new comments to clear up the comment spam (comment spam still comes in; it just doesn't show up where you all see it). If a moderated comment is clearly from a human being, I'll let it through, so, no, I'm not moderating for content (and more than I usually do, which as we all know is not much). I'm just keeping the spam out for your total reading satisfaction.

I did put in a little note about this right above the comment function pages, but I understand that people don't always read the fine print (I don't always, either).

On a related note, now that spam doesn't actually show up on the site, it's actually kind of fun to clean it out. I enjoy looking at all those Viagra and poker spams stuck in limbo before I delete them into oblivion. It's the little things, you know?

The one small drawback is every once in a while I accidentally delete a real comment -- I deleted one of my own comments this morning, which is sort of embarrassing. So if one of your comments disappears, it's not censorship, it's just me being clumsy. Sorry about that.

Posted by john at 02:22 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 10, 2005

Propaganda

Science Fiction writer S.L. Viehl is apparently annoyed at my incessant pimpage of Old Man's War:

The book has been the topic 28 times in January, and 7 since the beginning of February. I can't count the book-related links, my calculator doesn't have that many places. The cover art for this book has been slapped onto the blog template as well, so it's in your face everytime you go there. Just in case you didn't read the last entry about how much [insert important reviewer entity name] loved it.

Really dedicated propaganda effort, too. Used car salesman quality. How the hell do you think of that much to say about your own novel? But the desperation is sad. Tempts one to post a comment on the blog, like Dude, we get that you published a novel and everybody loves it. You'll sell. Relax.

Heh heh heh heh heh.

Well, you know, she's right. I won't deny I'm writing about the book a lot (look! I'm doing it again! Somebody stop me!). You got me. I do think Ms. Viehl misinterprets my purpose for doing so. This is my first published novel, after all, and the first time I've had a book this widely reviewed. Simply put, the process is interesting to me, and I write about what's of interest to me here on the Whatever. It's why I'm not writing much about Book of the Dumb 2, for which I was paid a lot more than, was released at about the same time as, and -- truth to tell -- is almost certainly outselling OMW. I like Book of the Dumb 2 a lot, actually; I think it's overall a better book than the first book in the series. But I've already been through the process of releasing that kind of book, and the mechanics of that process are not as interesting to me at the moment.

In any event, I sort of doubt that there's all that much propaganda value in writing about OMW here. I figure most of the people who read the site who were going to pick up the book at all probably did so in the first couple of weeks, and those who didn't aren't likely to be moved one way or another to pick up the book. Pretty much everyone who reads this site is has been innoculated to Old Man's War's charms, and has been for a while.

Now, if I truly wanted to propogandize the book in the blogosphere, what I would do is frequent a lot of other blogs and find subtle ways to mention my book in the comment threads, whether it were germane to the topic or not. And yeah, I don't do much of that. Because then I would be a dick. I restrict my monomaniacal musings to this site, because where else would be better? This site is about me me me me me. Hell, I hardly even mention Old Man's War at By the Way, and when I do, I apologize for it, because that site's not about me (not all the time, anyway). I'm missing a prime propoganda opportunity there, since unlike here, I'm almost always on my best behavior, and most AOL Journalers seem to like me. Yet somehow I manage to resist the pimping opportunity.

You know, when I'm not writing books, I'm making most of my income writing advertising and marketing materials, and I do very well with that. Trust me, you would know if I was trying to propagandize the book. Instead, I keep most of my thoughts on the book confined to this one site, and avoid being a pathetic first-time novelist grasping for attention on other people's sites. I think that's entirely reasonable.

(As for redoing the site in the book colors: Oh, I don't know. I think it looks pretty.)

I do recognize that not everyone who reads this site is going to share my enthusiasm for noting the continuing adventures of Old Man's War out in the world, but to refer to the site disclaimer, this site is operated by me for the purposes of my own amusement. With the possible exception of myself, everyone who visits the site is going to find something of mine they're not going to like. And I'm just fine with that. If the site bugs you, the simple solution is to go away and come back when you feel like it, if you feel like it. Either the subject will have changed and be more to your liking, or I will have continued to drone on in my self-absorbed way about a topic that you couldn't possibly care less about. That's how it works around here.

However, I would like to thank Ms. Viehl for giving me yet another excuse to talk about the book.

Posted by john at 01:29 PM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

My Politics Since Bush

As long as I'm writing entries on reader comments and e-mails, I'll note a reader sent me an e-mail suggesting I've moved to the left politically since Bush came into office, and that my readership is far more lefty than it used it be, say, a couple of years ago.

My thoughts on both of these -- eh. On the issue of whether my audience is more liberal than it used to be, I don't know if I see it. Prior to March of '03, it's hard to judge, since I didn't have comments enabled, and since then the comments seem to break slightly more to the left than right. But there's plenty of representation from both ends as well as from the folks who prefer not to see their politics as being left or right but along "practical v. impractical" axis, which as it happens I tend to see myself along. I think during the run-up to the election things became a bit more polarized here, as they did on every site where people actually debated viewpoints rather than just doing a circlejerk with their ideological buddies. That's the nature of living in a political system that offers you two choices. Since then, however, I don't think the comments here have been particularly left or right, although that has as much to do with the fact that for the last six week's I've mostly written about writing, and not about politics.

As for whether I am more liberal than I was before: No, not really. I'm certainly less stereotypically liberal than I was, say, when Clinton was in office. As an example, in 1995, I was pretty resolutely anti-gun and held the opinion that the 2nd Amendment didn't specifically allow for a universal individual right to bear arms. Here in 2005, not only do I think that the individual right to bear arms is implicit in the formulation of the 2nd Amendment, I also recognize that with just about as many guns as people in this country, attempting to get rid of everyone's guns is unfathomably impractical and would likely start riots -- and armed riots at that. So for both philosophical and practical reasons, you can no longer call me anti-gun, even though I myself continue not to be a fan, particularly of handguns. I am also far more fiscally conservative than I was ten years ago, because I see the deficit as the single biggest impending crisis we have.

Socially, I am rightfully pegged as liberal, but I think that label comes down to two positions: Same-sex marriage, of which I approve, and the right of a woman to control her own body, of which I also approve. Why either of these positions are held as "liberal" is an issue for another time, but there you have it. The rest of my social positions are, I think, reasonably mainstream.

Politically, what I am, with a few notable positions both to the left and right, is a moderate, which is something you don't hear too much about these days. But in actuality, what I really am is anti-stupid, and I think this is where my correspondent might indeed believe I've gone to the left, because this administration has been so unremittingly stupid in its actions that it's all a thinking person can do not to have multiple simultaneous aneurysms trying to conceive how so much incompetence can be shoveled up in one place at one time -- and elected to lead a nation.

Here's my dirty secret about the Bush administration: I think it has some fine general concepts, but I'm appalled, over and over again, at how unremittingly awful it's been in the execution. Tax cuts when the US government is running a surplus? Well, okay -- I would prefer to pay down the deficit, but I won't complain. Tax cuts while the economy's struggling and we're in a friggin' war? Gold-plated stupidity is what that is. I like how Bush is running about, puffing his chest out about how austere his new budget is, but you know, I would have been rather more impressed with his fiscal-mindedness a couple of trillion dollars ago. Bush's wanting to get credit for fiscal toughness after he's spiraled up the US debt is like a drunk driver wanting to get credit for making it home without killing anyone.

Toughen security measures at home in the wake of 9/11? Absolutely. This is not the same as stripping US citizens of their constitutional rights, even if those citizens are brown and have an outside chance of being terrorists, or creating a Homeland Security department whose biggest security advance to date is color-coding and a one-time boost to sales of duct tape. Invade Iraq? Well, probably unnecessary, but for my own reasons I didn't complain. But who honestly believes the occupation of Iraq hasn't been one massive FUBAR-fest?

And now, Social Security: Who among us does not believe it should be overhauled? And yet I'd rather entrust my dog to come up with a workable plan to modernize it than the Bush Administration, because if there's a group of people who can plow the thing into the ground and leave millions of men and women starving and homeless in their senior years, it's this crew. Bank on this: If Bush somehow manages to push through his Social Security revamp, the USA is going to turn socialist in 2032 as all those dirt-poor retirees vote to start taking 70% of the younger generation's income for their own needs. You've got 27 years to prepare, kids.

And it's not just the administration. The stupid wing of conservatism is falling out all over the place, running about like untrained dogs, pissing on the constitutional furniture. To call the current crop of conservatives "unthinking" is too neutral -- they are actively anti-thought, and that offends me enough that I generally choose not to be silent about it. Sadly, most of the the anti-thinking branch of conservatism also claims to be the "Christian" branch, which, if I were a Christian, conservative, and owned a brain, would offend me to absolutely no end.

Look, it's simple: Give me a conservative who I can see engaging his or her brain to make argument and points -- even points I disagree with -- and that conservative will have my undying respect. Give me a conservative who thinks it's a perfectly legitimate tactic to simply lie, ignore or bully, and I'm going to get out my whack stick. I'm not stupid and I'm not going to be bullied, certainly not by a bunch of smug dicks who assume both that they're smarter than me, and that they have got God in their back pocket.

Yes, the left has more than its share of anti-thought folks, but a gentle reminder: The left's not in power. I guarantee you if Gore had won and his administration had been as despairingly dumb as Bush's, I'd have people wondering why I had suddenly swung to the right. However, in the real world, it's the Bush folks who are running things, and doing so very poorly. It's not about their politics, or at least, not all about them: It's mostly about their competence.

Part of me wants to cringe when I say this, but at this moment, ideologically speaking, I'm probably closer to Arnold Schwarzenegger than any other high-profile politician out there. He's socially liberal, apparently fiscally conservative, pro-environment and pro-business, open to compromise but also willing to take on the existing political structure (his current fight to de-gerrymander California's congressional and Assembly districts? Swoon). He's not a perfect match for me, and I loathed the way he managed to get into office (with the caveat that he was a far better person to have gotten in than the other grasping GOPers who manufactured the recall in the first place). But by God, he's awfully close to what I'd want in an ideal candidate. I wouldn't amend the Constitution on his behalf, but if it happened, oh the temptation.

That's where I am politically in the Bush era.

Posted by john at 10:49 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

February 09, 2005

The Money Involved

Someone asked in one of the comment threads: If the first printing of Old Man's War sells out, will I have earned out my advance? So I crunched the numbers and the answer is: Yeah, it looks like it -- the first print run was about 3,800 copies, and my math shows my break-even point at 2,700 or 3,400 copies, depending on what royalty rate you use (I could pin down the royalty rate by looking at the contract, but then I'd have to dig it out, and that would take too much effort) Even a worst case scenario (which has me signing a contract that offers a 6% royalty, because I was high on cough syrup or some such) would have me earning out after about 4,500 copies sold, and it seems reasonably likely at this point OMW will hit that target while still in hardback.

This is a good thing, obviously. One, it means paperback royalties go into my pocket, and that's likely where the majority of money is to be made; two, if I'm breaking even on the hardback that means Tor is almost certainly making money. And as a general rule, you want to make money for your publishers. It encourages them to publish you again, and I'm all for being published again.

Now, the fact that I will have earned out with such a relatively small number of books sold should indicate something to the more observant among you: either I have a truly extravagant royalty rate, or my advance was pretty small. Well, I don't have an extravagant royalty rate, I in fact have a rather pedestrian one, so that points to a small advance. And indeed, it's well within the "meh" range by this formulation. However, I should note I'm just fine with this, and I'll tell you why.

Meet Sam Lipsyte. Mr. Lipsyte is the star of the article I've just pointed to, in which we read about the Herculean struggle he had to get his second novel published here in the United States (he ended up having to get it published in the UK, to rave reviews, before someone would bite over here in the states). Why was it so difficult to sell his second novel? Well, it could be because, by all indications, Mr. Lipsyte is a writer whose prose one either loves or hates, which is a strike against him at least 50% of the time, and also his quirky style makes him difficult to quantify, which will drive the marketing people right up a wall. But more likely it was because the publisher of his first novel gave Lipsyte a $60,000 advance for his first novel, and the first novel stiffed. Big time.

Perspective: To earn out a $60,000 advance, Lipsyte would have had to sell 25,104 copies of his book at 10% royalty, or 31,413 copies at 8%. Any amount under that, he'd have to make up in the paperback sales, where the price (and thus the royalty) is lower. More perspective: for mainstream fiction, 25,000 copies is considered bestseller status (if what I read in the New York Times is correct).

While it is entirely possible for a first-time novelist to become a bestseller, the actual odds are pretty grim. It's even less likely if reviewers keep comparing you to somewhat inaccessible writers (Thomas Pynchon, for example) and warn readers that "the characters here don't so much converse as exchange obtuse epigrammatic non sequiturs and indulge in linguistic quips." Basically, Lipsyte probably got hosed because his publishers spent too much money for a book that was deeply unlikely to earn out its advance. And it didn't: It sold 5,000 copies.

And so his next book, Home Land, sold in the US -- when it sold -- for a quarter of what he got for the first one: $15,000. As it happens, the book came out the very same day as mine did, and by all indications is selling in numbers not dissimilar to my own: The article notes it's sold 2,000 copies to date, which is in the same ball park as mine. Here's the thing: If I sell 5,000 copies, I'm a success, at least as far as the rubric of earning out your advance is concerned. Lipsyte, on the other hand, is still underwater at 5,000 copies; he's underwater until he gets to 11,500 copies (presuming 10% royalty). If he doesn't get there, he's a two-time commercial loser, which would likely make it that much harder to get to book number three.

Bear in mind this has nothing to do with Lipsyte's talent as a writer. He may indeed be wonderful to read, and it's quite likely he should be read by a wider audience. What I'm saying is that if he and I -- both writers in our mid-thirties, both in relatively the same place in our writing careers -- both were to sell, say, 10,000 copies of our latest book, I'd be seen as a happy success to my publisher, and he'd be seen (whatever his talent) as a mild disappointment, and the only real difference between us -- commercially speaking, anyway -- is a few thousand dollars in advance money.

Which does bring up the question -- why did this guy get a $60,000 advance for his first novel, and I one a rather small fraction of that sum? Is he many multiples better than I as a writer? Alternately, is his fiction a multiple more salable than mine? As toward the latter, evidently not, and for the former, it's certainly possible, but probably irrelevant. I suspect a more likely answer is simply that Lipsyte writes literary fiction whereas I write genre fiction, and anecdotally speaking it appears that publishers are willing to pay more for literary fiction than for genre fiction.

One does of course wonder, if this is true, why that might be -- I would love to have someone slap down the sales figures for genre writers and for lit fic writers and show me whether the average and median sales for each justify either the high advances for literary fiction, or the low advances for genre fiction. I rather strongly suspect that what we'd find is that literary fiction is overvalued as to its commercial prospects relative to genre fiction, for no better reason than snobbery toward little green men (I can possibly accept an argument that literary fiction is, on average, more literary than genre fiction, but being "literary" is just one portion of being "readable," and as we all know there's a lot of literary fiction that's well nigh unreadable. Also, I suspect that China Mieville and Neil Gaiman, to name just two, are as resolutely "lit'ry" as anyone, and yet still readable, so there's nothing to suggest genre work can't be eminently literary as well).

In any event, I'm not entirely sure I want to take a position that non-genre authors ought to be dragged down to genre authors' rather meager pay scales; I'm pretty sure that won't make me a lot of friends. And God knows I'm not criticizing Lipsyte for taking the $60k when it was offered to him, because, you know, I'd not be likely to turn it down, either. I do think, however, that publishers aren't doing first-time non-genre authors any favors by offering them advances they're not likely to recoup and then branding the poor bastards as uncommercial when they don't. That really is blaming the victim. Either literary fiction editors are absolutely clueless about money, or they simply don't care and are happy to spend stupidly. Either way, I would probably fire these editors and replace them with editors trained in genre fiction; I suspect that after the shock had worn off in the lit fic community, the corporate parents of book publishers would find a modest uptick in their bottom lines.

My advance for Old Man's War was small, but as it turns out it's pretty much what it should have been for me, both for the short-term happy accomplishment of earning out my advance and for the longer-term goal of beginning to establish myself as a commercially viable author. Do I want to get a bigger advance next time out? You bet -- and, as it happens, for The Ghost Brigades, I got one. That's the way it's supposed to work, and so far it's working for me.

Posted by john at 10:44 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

The Trackback of the Beast

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For all of you who suspected: Proof I am the devil.

Posted by john at 09:46 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Other People's Books

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Someone recently asked me what I was reading, to which my immediate response was a quick laugh -- like I have time to read for fun right now. Nevertheless, I have been buying books, and here's some of the most recent. From the bottom up:

The Ancestor's Tale, by Richard Dawkins -- Dawkins is the current bete noire of the creationists and the IDers, mostly because he's able to break apart their tinny little "scientific" arguments with his mighty hammer of evolutionary biology knowledge, and they of course hate that, since their game is to muddy the waters enough to confuse the people with a bare bones understanding of biology, and thereby shoehorn their nonsense into science classes. This book traces back the evolutionary ancestors of humanity going back to the first single-celled organism, and (so far as I've read, at least) does so in a way that a reasonably intelligent person can find not too hard to follow. Should probably be required reading for anyone on a school board. I'll be donating my copy of the book to the local library after I'm done reading it.

Roger Zalazny, The First Chronicles of Amber; Robert Heinlein, Expanded Universe; Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle -- Clearly, I'm continuing to use the Science Fiction Book Club to stock up on books from dead guys. I used to own some Amber books as well as Expanded Universe, but in both cases that was in junior high and high school and God only knows where those books might be at the moment; time for a hardcover upgrade. And I'd never read High Castle before, and I figure it's better to read Dick from the era in which he wasn't communicating with aliens or ghosts or whatever it was he was hallucinating in his later years. What's really interesting is how short all these novels are -- I thought Old Man's War was reasonably short, but each of these novels are about two-thirds the length. When did all us writers become windbags?

Orphanage, by Robert Buettner -- The other recent debut novel that's getting compared to Starship Troopers and Forever War; it's a paperback release but the SFBC has a special hardback edition, and since I couldn't find the book in my local bookstore, I went ahead and got that version. I'm only a couple of chapters in but so far, so good; Buettner's writing more of a straight-ahead SF military story than I did, as far as I can see. I think I may be helping to move a few copies of this book, since every now and then Amazon has one of those "buy both these books!" links jamming the two books together, and elsewise I've noticed that when my Amazon ranking gets a bump for whatever reason, so does his. It's "The Long Tail" in action. If I am indeed helping him sell, that makes me happy; I'm a big fan of trying to lift all the boats in the water. Of course, it could be that he's helping me. In which case: Thanks, Robert.

Coyote Rising, by Allen Steele -- Got this at the local bookstore. I enjoyed Coyote, so this sequel is a natural purchase. Some of the reviews I've seen have given Steele flack for the political systems he's put in the book, the gist being people wondering why he's kicking socialism when it's already so obviously down. Well, it's not down in the book, and secondly, I don't know, I think people are spending far too much time these days obsessing over the political angles of things. I don't think Steele's making a huge statement about socialism, so far as I've read; I think he's working within the parameters of the story he's constructed. At the very least, I haven't felt like it's been annoying polemical so far, and I have a pretty good ear for annoying polemics.

Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, by Olivia Judson -- A really neat conceit: An evolutionary biologist/journalist who explains concepts about sexuality in the animal would by creating an "advice column" format and having various species write in with their sex problem. This is exactly how popular science should be approached: By making it fun and interesting even for people who get scared at words like "science."

The Good War, Studs Terkel -- I've somehow managed to get through 35 years of life -- some of which in Chicago, for God's sake -- without reading any Studs Terkel. Seemed like a good time to fix that. Also, I've recently become interested in oral histories as a form, and again, this seems like a good place to start.

That's what on the reading list, should I get the time to, you know, read.

Posted by john at 02:05 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

February 08, 2005

Finding Old Man's War

Well, the good news is Old Man's War is selling really well. The bad news is that it's selling well enough that the first print run is almost entirely sold through, and copies of the book are getting scarce. Amazon, BN.com, Booksamillion and even (gasp!) Wal-Mart are currently out of copies and are listing waits of a week or more before the book arrives.

Tor is rushing through another printing (yay!) and actually expanded the number of copies it's printing (yay! yay!), so more books are on the way. But if you want a book within the next week, you'll have to do some hunting.

Or, alternately, follow the links below, because I really, really, really want to keep people happy and satisfied.

Powell's appears to have five copies.

Mega Media Depot, which has a store via eBay, claims to have 29 copies, and not a bad price for them, either.

Total Campus (another eBay store) has two copies.

BookMarz II and More Movies Direct each have one copy.

And of course the Science Fiction Book Club has their own edition of the book still in stock. If you haven't already signed up for SFBC, you can sign up for their "5 books for $1" thing, with the catch being that you then have to buy four more books from them over (I think) a year. If you buy a lot of SF, and don't mind book club editions of books, then it's a pretty good deal.

I'm pretty sure that more than these 38 copies plus book club exist in the physical world -- no doubt there are still copies on the shelf. And in any event the second printing will be in stores very soon. But for now, that's where I've found it selling and in stock online. Have at them.

You can imagine how I feel at the moment: Pleased the book is selling well, and apprehensive that the people who can't get the book exactly when they want it (i.e., now) will forget about it later. I'm sure that won't be too much of an issue, but it's one thing to know it and another thing to feel it. So let's go, second printing! Assuage my petty fears, if you please.

Posted by john at 06:29 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Some Booksluttery, and Cover Art

A good review of Old Man's War at Bookslut:

The first half of the book could almost be read like a post-Vietnam Starship Troopers, complete with basic training, exotic enemies and first battle fears. But the tone shifts as the plot progresses. As Perry becomes less green (and there’s a pun here that only those who have read the book will get), the story shifts into a spectrum that feels like that of Heinlein’s later years, when he was pondering the meanings of love and family. But Scalzi succeeds where Heinlein failed. Instead of simply becoming one long, lusty fantasy, Scalzi digs to find how our connections influence who we are as well as who we become without them. It’s good, thought-provoking stuff. While not really “stunning,” as the cover tease proclaims, it is a delightful read that kicks the pants off of most of what’s out there.

Groovy.

The reviewer has two quibbles: first with the "Ghost Brigades," and second with the cover art, which she feels is not entirely representational of the book. I understand the quibble with the Ghost Brigades, because their existence on the surface seems to be in opposition to the rationale for recruiting 75-year-olds back on Earth. However, I do expect to resolve the apparent contradiction (or at least explain it) in The Ghost Brigades, which is the upcoming novel in the OMW universe. We'll see if I can pull it off.

The cover art is more complicated, and since it had almost nothing to do with me in its concept and execution (just because it's the cover of my book doesn't mean I was involved -- welcome to being a writer!), I'm happy to talk about it. It's an interesting topic.

I have to admit that when I first saw it I was not entirely sure about it myself; I liked it, quite a bit (as I've made no secret of), and I was glad it wasn't the typical "military SF" sort of cover, with a stern-looking toughie in space armor shouldering a gun so large that the center of gravity between the two would be two feet in front of the soldier's body. At the same time, I wasn't entirely sure if it hit the right tone. But since I myself had no idea what I wanted for the cover, I decided to trust my art director and publisher, like a good newbie author should.

This was a good decision on my part. Cover art isn't only a nice picture, it's also explicitly commercial art, with the intent of differentiating one's book from the thousands of other books in the store, while at the same time not alienating the intended audience for this book: In other words, you want to grab the eye, and then convince someone to pick up the book and read the jacket copy. In this regard, I think OMW's cover does an excellent job. I've described why earlier -- the cover retains certain "Space Opera" tropes (lead character, front and center, supporting characters in the back), with a couple of smart features: one, the color scheme of blues and greens, which stands out in a genre that uses a lot of "hot" colors; and two, an older man on the cover, which is also an unusual occurrence (at least, without a glowing staff).

I also think there's an interesting bit of oppositional psychology going on with the cover: The book's title and typeface promise WAR in big block letters, but our cover guy isn't slinging a rifle; he's standing there looking fairly thoughtful about something (possibly about war). I think this unobtrusively telegraphs to the potential reader that the book isn't just about the shootin' and killin', but may have some other things going on as well (whether it does, of course, is my department. No pressure there). This is where Irene Gallo, as art director, really shines -- she's aimed for a balance between the promise of the title (war!) and what's suggested by the artwork (thinking!) and I think she's hit the balance.

So: I agree with the reviewer that the cover art's not a direct analogue with the content of the book, and that's an eminently fair criticism. But as a piece of art with an explicitly commercial intent -- get people to look at this book -- I think it's doing a pretty good job. Now if we can just get bookstores to shelve it face out, we'd be set.

Posted by john at 03:53 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

February 07, 2005

Amazon Best Seller, Blah Blah Blah

A little bird tittered in my ear that Old Man's War has crawled onto the Amazon Best Seller list in the Science Fiction & Fantasy genre: At this very second it's #12 (this will almost certainly change quickly, this being Amazon), just slightly above The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Just below that: George Orwell, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Ayn Rand. Golly. This is probably the last time I'll be on top of all of these characters, and I resolve to savor this moment duly.

Aaaaaaaaaaaah.

Okay, I'm done.

Before anyone thinks that I've hauled myself onto a bestseller list by myself, even a narrow-gauge one such as this one, I'll note that yesterday Instapundit gave the book a nice mention once again, thus bumping up the Amazon rankings once more. He's definitely getting an acknowledgment in the next book, I tell you. Aside from that other bloggers have also promoted the book: here and here and here, for example (and there's a very touching testimonial here). This is exactly the grassroots sort of stuff that makes a real difference for a book like mine, and I'm genuinely humbled so many bloggers have chosen to read it and write about it. So: many, many thanks.

Update: Here's a good reason Old Man's War is guaranteed to fall off this best seller list -- at the moment, Amazon's down to its last five copies (they say more are on the way, however). Jeez. Talk about inconvenient timing.

Posted by john at 03:25 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

SF/F Novel Advances, Continued

No time for a long, involved entry today (I'm hip deep in Bon Jovi at the moment -- and it smells like creaky leather), but if you're at all interested in learning what science fiction and fantasy authors are really making, Tobias Buckell has compiled the current results of his genre advance survey for your edification, based on over 70 data points (otherwise known as "authors") who offered info both on their very first advances and on their current advances (if they have more than one book). I'm happy to say that my advances seem to be either at or above the median for my genre, so I personally have nothing to get moody or depressed about, at least on that score.

I'll also note that Tobias is looking for more SF/F writers to add their information so he can pare down the margin of error in the sample (which now stands at a not entirely acceptable 11%), so if you write science fiction and/or fantasy novels and get paid for it, why not add your information? Tobias will even allow you to enter your data anonymously. Seriously, Tobias is doing some yeoman work here, so help out the guy, already.

Posted by john at 01:56 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 06, 2005

A Review in the Chicago Maroon!

Oooh, I'm excited about this: A review of Old Man's War in the Chicago Maroon, which is the student newspaper of the University of Chicago. I myself was editor-in-chief of the Maroon in the 89-90 school year, so what can I say, I was hoping they'd get around to it. And the reviewer liked it, which is even better, although I get dinged for the sex scenes. I can live with that -- indeed, I propose more research in that area. Lots of research. And vitamin E.

The review does bring up one interesting thing, in discussing the name of the main character:

I couldn’t help but wonder if naming the hero “John Perry” (which bears a suspicious resemblance to the moniker of 2004’s presidential runner-up, everyone’s favorite junior senator from Massachusetts) was simply coincidence or, rather, some form of subliminal propaganda. After a thorough investigation (read: Google search) I found Scalzi’s blog, www.scalzi.com/whatever, which revealed him to be a liberal. I decided to forgive him, though, because Old Man’s War is a charming, engaging novel, and I imagine that Scalzi will eventually come around.

The fiction writers in the audience will know why it's highly unlikely that this would be the genesis of John Perry's name, but for everyone else, a little explanation is in order. Fact is, publishing fiction is almost always a painfully slow process -- it takes years for books to go from inception to publication. In the case of Old Man's War, it was begun in April of 2001 and completed in October of that year, long before John Kerry was the candidate, and long before I was thinking about him in any political capacity. So it's merely coincidence that Perry and Kerry's name sound alike.

If you want to know where the John Perry name comes from in fact, it comes from the first name of the keyboardist of Journey, and the last name of the vocalist. Further proof of the Old Man's War-Journey connection can be found on page 10, where there's a character named Steve Cain, which is the first name of the vocalist and the last name of the keyboardist. They are not named through a desire to immortalize Journey members so much as I am really bad with names and therefore tend to grab books, magazines and CDs and create names from the names I find in them. Looking for meaning in the names of my characters is likely to lead to error. The only character who is intentionally named something specific in the book is Jane Sagan, because I am a Carl Sagan fanboy.

The lack of knowledge about the incredibly slow pace of fiction publishing has popped up before in reference to Old Man's War; I've seen commentary about the book, for example, which has suggested that it was a book that could only have been written in a post-9/11 environment. While I would agree that book is indeed well suited for the current time, the vast majority of the book -- about 90% -- was written prior to 9/11, and the post 9/11 mindset had not quite jelled by the time I had finished the book in October. It's possible 9/11 affected the last couple of chapters, but by that time, the plot was already done and all that was needed was the typing, so whatever direct influence it had was minimal. If there is a post-9/11 sensibility to the book (and there may well be), it's a sensibility which I personally had before the event -- and the world, rather unfortunately, was compelled to catch up with my point of view.

It's rather more likely that a true post-9/11 sensibility will inform The Ghost Brigades, which I have yet to write (and which, in violation of the normally slow pace of publishing, will be published fairly quickly after I've written it -- although in being published quickly, it bumps the publication date of The Android's Dream back a year or so, which re-validates the point). But to what extent the 9/11 events and attitudes will affect Ghost Brigades I can't say. I don't really go out of my way to make parallels between what goes on in the books and what's going on in the real world. I figure my readers would prefer I not preach in their general direction. If they want to hear me rant and rave about contemporary politics, there's always this place.

Which is not to say I don't enjoy hearing these interpretations. As I think I've said before, I like hearing what people get out of the books, because sometimes it's vastly different to what I've put into it on my end. Nor do I think these interpretations are wrong, outside of specific naming and temporal issues noted above. Every reader comes to a book with their own point of view, so naturally everyone's going to take away something different. As a writer, I like the idea that no one reads my book in exactly the same way.

(Oh, and before I forget -- a ringing endorsement of OMW in the Library Journal: "A good choice for most libraries." Well, and it is.)

Posted by john at 11:58 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

February 04, 2005

Old News

A New York City judge says today New York has to let same-sex couples marry. Big news? Apparently not: It's only the third story on the New York Times Web site, and it's not even on CNN.com's front page, nor the MSNBC.com front page. Washington Post? Nah. LA Times? Zip. NYPost should have something, right? Guess again. The NY Daily News has it as the top story, though. That's one out of three of the city's big papers. Newsday.com has it below the "fold" on the Web page (i.e., you have to scroll down).

What does it mean? Dunno. But I suspect it means that it's no longer big news to anyone that same sex couples want to be afforded the same rights as everyone else. And perhaps that means that it's not too far off that they will.

In the meantime, the judge's ruling will almost certainly be appealed to the state's high court; let's see where it goes from there. I imagine New York City's wedding planners are already salivating.

Posted by john at 11:10 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Little Bits

Just a bunch of little things going on:

* I got my author's copy of the Science Fiction Book Club version of Old Man's War this afternoon, and I found the differences interesting. The cover is glossy where the Tor version is not; the book itself is black where the Tor version is blue; the texture of the paper is noticeably different. The words, of course, are the same. Which to my mind is the important thing, and why I would make a piss-poor book collector; I couldn't possibly care less whether I have a first edition of something so long as all the words are there. Having said that, I am looking forward to the special editions of Agent to the Stars, but those really are going to be rare editions.

In any event, should you ever see me at an event and want me to sign your book, don't worry if it's a club edition and not a bookstore edition. I'll happily sign either.

* Had a nice chat with the Tor folks today, in which I was told that the size of the second printing is getting bumped up. Go, OMW! We also chatted about the paperback and about The Ghost Brigades, and we all agreed that what The Ghost Brigades really needs is some Ewoks. No, no, not really. I'm just seeing if you're paying attention. Really, no Ewoks -- indeed, nothing Ewok-like. Unless, of course, I put them in just to have them brutally slaughtered and dressed out like rabbits to be stewed.

* Recently someone asked me in e-mail whether, given the success of OMW, I was tempted to lord it over all who opposed me over the years (the actual wording of the e-mail was different, but that was the basic sentiment). The answer is: Not really. First, let's note that success here means a good-sized handful of positive reviews and also a fair amount of publicity in the blogosphere (the latter as influential as the former -- if not more so -- in moving copies of the book), resulting in the sale of (to date) a few thousand copies of the book. This is all excellent news, of course: I'm gratified that reviews have been good, chuffed (to use an Aussie term) that the bloggers have had my back for this book, and very pleased that the hardback seems to be selling above expectation. So yes, I'm feeling OMW is successful.

However, I am not feeling that it is so successful that I can be a vengeance-taking dickhead and not experience a massive karmic whiplash. Maybe if I had gotten a million-dollar advance, sold a few hundred thousand copies of my book, gotten a big fat movie deal and had Katie Couric lobbing me softball questions on the Today Show, I could move from happily pleased to raging asshole without consequences. But I didn't, I haven't, I haven't and I don't, so I can't, because then there would be. Perspective is an important thing.

Second: Even if I wanted to wreak vengeance upon my enemies, who would they be? I regret to say that I haven't really made any enemies of consequence, and certainly not any in the writing arena. When I was in college, I took a creative writing class and the professor said in the first class that he wouldn't read any science fiction, so it might be fun to send him a book, considering no one else in that class (to my knowledge) has published so much as a joke in Reader's Digest. But I doubt if he remembers me, or would actually care, and that would take a lot of the fun out of it.

Outside of that professor, I can't really say anyone else rises to the level of a nemesis, either. There are people I know who dislike me and/or dislike my writing, to be sure, but none of them are of any real consequence in my personal life or my career, so I can't actually rouse myself to care what they think. And notwithstanding the occasional and generally pointless piss-fight I'll get into here on the site (which are usually ultimately of very little consequence in the real world), I don't think I go out of my way to make enemies, particularly of other writers; to do so would be to violate Rule #8 here. It takes a lot of effort to make enemies, basically, and I don't really have time for that.

So, no: No being a jerk for me -- or at the very least, no being a jerk because of Old Man's War. I guess that leaves me plenty of opportunities to be a jerk for other reasons, although I hope I'll avoid those for the most part as well.

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

February 03, 2005

Booklist Review

Well, this is nice: A review of Old Man's War in Booklist, which is the magazine of the American Library Association. I found the review in, of all places, the French version of Amazon (I just wanted to see if the French have access to my books, okay? Is that so wrong?). However, it's also up on the US version as well, albeit hidden on the "Editorial Reviews" page, so I hadn't seen it -- because, despite the clearly pathetic trawling through the various Amazon sites worldwide, I'm not actually obsessed about finding every single mention of the book. Honest. Anyway the review is pretty positive; here's the gist of it:

Scalzi's blending of wry humor and futuristic warfare recalls Joe Haldeman's classic, The Forever War (1974), and strikes the right fan--pleasing chords to probably garner major sf award nominations.

Hopefully, that'll convince today's tragically cash-strapped libraries to pick up a copy or two (I've already gifted my local library with a copy, of course).

As for the "major sf award nominations" thing -- eh. I definitely appreciate the thought in regard to how it speaks to the book's quality and readability, but I think worrying about awards of any sort is a fine, fine way to go insane. I'm still well into the "just glad to be here" career stage. Also, it's barely February, so the vast majority of the SF/F Class of 2005 has yet to arrive. Let's see what the rest of the year has to offer before we start stampeding toward the Hugos and Nebulas like Filene's Basement shoppers zeroing in on the sale bin.

Posted by john at 10:26 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

February 02, 2005

Athena's First Story

Being a writer myself, you can imagine how thrilled I was when last night, Athena wrote -- and illustrated! -- her very first story. Because there would be no point in having this site if I didn't share this sort of thing with you, here is that story, with subtitles (Athena has the creative spelling of a six year old) and textual commentary by yours truly.

"The Friends Went to Camp, by Athena Scalzi."

Commentary: Even at an early age, Athena is aware of the need for presentation -- thus, a title page. You can't teach that. You have to feel it.

"Two little friends went out [to] camp in the forest."

Commentary: We are introduced to our protagonists, two young girls. By placing these girls in a camp in a forest, the author is suggesting a return to a simpler time -- even for young girls, the complexities of modern life are overwhelming. The forest, of course, is a common symbol for a primeval eden; here, the author is placing her protagonists in a literal "state of nature," a Rousseauean paradise, as it were. Of course, Rousseau noted that the state of nature was often brutal and amoral, and so while our heroines are enjoying their idyllic respite from civilization at the moment, certainly conflict -- and danger -- is afoot.

"But one day when they went to camp, they saw a bear!"

Commentary: Nature, red in tooth and claw, shows its darker side to our intrepid heroines in the arrival of the bear. As we can see in the illustration, our protagonists are surprised by its appearance -- an additional commentary on how the civilized world alienates our senses from the natural world. After all, it is the bear who belongs in the forest primeval; our heroines, plucky as they may be, are the invaders here.

However, the bear symbolism is positive as well: Many aboriginal cultures symbolically equate the bear with primal power, cunning intelligence, and a nurturing, motherly spirit (who does not know of the protective ferocity of a mother bear?). The author is playing a subtle game here -- the bear terrifies the girls, yes, but it also represents aspects of natural femininity they would do well to incorporate into their urbanized, denatured world view: A symbol of the struggle every young woman must face as she turns toward womanhood.

"But the bear was getting tired..."

Commentary: But -- the author suddenly asks -- what are the limits of nature, and of primal power? In stark, graphic terms, the author lets us know that nature and its lessons can take us only so far. The illustration conveys the story here: after earlier pages filled with the color of the forest, the image is here stripped bare of everything but the essentials: The bear, its strength waning, retreating to the blackness of the cave. Just as the bear is filled with symbolic import, so is the cave: It represents death -- a natural crypt, if you will -- but it can also symbolize birth and renewal. Bears sleep through the darkness of winter, resting until the times are right to again engage the world.

What the author is saying is that while we need to integrate the lessons of nature, we are also more than what is given to us in our natural state. When nature fails or flags -- as it inevitably must -- our other talents must engage until such time as our natural states are refreshed again. A telling message for young women: Know who you are and be in touch with your nature, but be ready to use all the resources available to you, in all aspects of your life.

"And they were best friends forever, and their names are Becky and Britney."

Commentary: In a striking move, the author names the heroines of the story only at the end -- only after they have gone through their metaphysical exploration of self. Only after we have faced the challenges of life and nature, only after we have encountered the danger of an unexamined life, and, yes, only after we have found strength in friendship can we say who we really are -- in effect, to "name" ourselves: A joyous "I am" to the world of nature and civilization.

It's no coincidence that the author has chosen two young girls to make the journey together: As the other symbols of the story suggest -- the nurturing bear, the cave representing rebirth -- this particular story of self-discovery in a womanly one, not about sexuality per se, but surely relating to sexual and personal identity. So many female coming of age stories through history have introduced an idealized masculine element in them, as if to suggest a women must have a man to complete her -- an idea that, tellingly enough, has few analogues in male coming of age stories (in which women are often prizes to be won).

This tale refutes the implicit diminution of the female in those earlier stories, suggesting an alternate way toward a sense of self: Encompassing, engaged and rooted in friendship. The reward for this journey is self-identity -- a "name" -- and through self-identity, a social identity as well: These two went into the forest as friends, but emerge as best friends, and best friends forever.

In all, a new, classic tale of growth, female empowerment, personal enlightenment. Not bad for a six year old, I'd say.

Alternately, it could just be story of two girls at camp meeting a sleepy bear. But I think that's really selling the author short. And I'm just not going to do that.

Personally, I can't wait for the sequel.

Posted by john at 09:07 AM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

February 01, 2005

Acting Like a Grownup

It says something about the pervasive inclination of our culture toward youth that I am now 35 years old yet still occasionally surprised when I do "adult" things. Case in point: We're refinancing the mortgage on our Virgina property. This will accomplish a number of things: because the value of the property has gone up, it'll rid us of the need for private mortgage insurance; it will lower our monthly mortgage payment on the house; and it'll get my uncle off the mortgage, my uncle having very graciously co-signed on the mortgage back in 1998 because I had just become a freelancer, and the bank wanted the mortgage backed by someone with an actual job (never mind that I was making more than my uncle at the time). And as a practical matter it will allow us to tweak more income out of the house without royally screwing our renters, who are a very nice couple that we like quite a bit. In all, a good outcome for everyone.

But as Krissy and I were talking about it, it occurred to me: A re-fi. On rental property. We're landlords, for God's sake. And then you get that moment of cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing that a few short years ago (actually not a few short years ago, more like 15 years ago, but it feels closer), you were driving your drunk friend's car down a San Diego road on the way to go bowling, playing a game called "Don't Fuck," in which one of your drunk friends tried to cover your eyes while you were driving, and your only defense was to yell "don't fuck!" as loud as you could.

And you weren't driving drunk, but then, given that drunk people were climbing over themselves in the back seat trying to obscure your vision, it wasn't all that much better. And you reflect that someone who would willingly play a game that stupid probably shouldn't have been given a mortgage in the first place. And then you also remember that the drunk friends in the back seat are now a doctor and a software executive, respectively, and you all have kids. Yup, that's a sobering moment, no pun intended.

No, I'm not getting nostalgic for stupid driving games (Krissy had a driving game that was far more worse than "Don't Fuck" -- so terrifyingly stupid and dangerous, in fact, that I won't even write about it for fear that my own child may one day stumble upon these archives and attempt to play it herself. Suffice to say, it's a miracle Krissy's alive and has all of her skin intact). I'm simply saying that the person who did the stupid driving games and the person refinancing the mortgage on his rental property don't feel that far removed from each other.

The older I get, the more I suspect that that occasional feeling of "who thought it was a good idea to make me an adult?" never actually goes away. My first real inkling of this idea occurred in college, when a good friend who was a decade older started grousing about her dating problems, which sounded rather disturbingly like my dating problems (no, we never dated each other); I said to her "so, it never really does get any better, does it?" and she allowed that it didn't, although now the both of us are happily married to our respective partners, so we could have been wrong. The larger point of age not necessarily or uniformly imparting wisdom and/or serenity, however, remains true.

I don't want to go back to being young. The fact is, I like being an adult, and generally speaking I'm very comfortable with it. I also like being a parent and being one of two default grown-ups for Athena; between me and Krissy, I think she's got pretty decent role models. Being young was fun, but being an adult is fun, too; more fun, in fact (mostly -- refinancing a mortgage isn't fun, you know, but the results are nice).

Thing is, you eventually realize that there really isn't a moment when you stop feeling young and start feeling adult. You're just always you. And that's oddly comforting, despite the occasional moments of cognitive dissonance.

Posted by john at 09:51 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack