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September 29, 2005

Okay, One More


Sunset tonight.

Very pleased with this camera.

I'll be traveling tomorrow and will likely be busy over the weekend with my Chicago adventures, so if you don't see me here until Monday, you'll know why. But I may pop in. You never know.  

Posted by john at 07:56 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Photoblogging as Threatened

Well, that didn't take long. Behind the cut you'll see more photos from the first batch of camera craziness with the Nikon (behind the cut because some of these pictures are reasonably large, and not everyone wants to see, I'm sure). Enjoy!








Posted by john at 04:01 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

First Shot


Behold! The first shot from the Nikon D70s. It's of my front yard, for those of you not already familiar with the sight. And with the publication of the shot comes to the end a long and sad story. As most of you know, I bought myself a new camera to celebrate finishing The Ghost Brigades (I actually bought it in anticipation of finishing TGB, but did finish the book before the camera arrived), but when I unpacked my shiny new toy to play with it, it was, alas, broken; apparently some Nikon cameras recently have had problems with their shutters, and mine was one of them. Off it went, back to the camera store, which sent me another one. This one, as you can see, works just fine. I'm deeply pleased about the camera arriving today since I wanted to be able to take it with me to Chicago this weekend. And now I will! And as coincidence would have it, the same Fed Ex fellow who brought me this camera carried off my copyedit of The Ghost Brigades to Tor, so that connection is still there.

In terms of an initial evaluation, I'm very pleased with my new camera, now that I have one that works, and the camera is indeed far more camera than I know what to do with at this point, since my photo experience to date is entirely of the "point-and-shoot" sort. Mind you, that's one of the reasons I bought this particular camera -- to learn how to use it -- but at the moment it vaguely frightens me with all its buttons and options and f-stops. The prior camera, the Kodak EasyShare, will not be entirely retired, since it's a perfectly fine camera and in some situations it'll be easier to reach for it than the Nikon (also, the Kodak makes groovy little movies, which the Nikon will no do). But I already promised Athena she could play with the Kodak more, and I also additionally suspect Krissy wouldn't mind prying the Kodak out of my grip every now and again. It's the chain of photographic command! This means the cat gets the old Olympus:

Won't you be interested to see what she comes up with?

Incidentally, with the advent of the new camera, don't be entirely surprised if I do slightly more photoblogging around here. Hey, I've got a new camera. I totally have to justify the expense.

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

September 28, 2005

My Copyediting Sins

Forgive me, father, for I have sinned against my copyeditor.

I'm going through the copyedit of The Ghost Brigades and I am appalled -- appalled, mind you -- at the sheer number of immensely stupid grammatical errors I have made in the course of the writing. Things as fundamental as the "that/which" grammar rule -- which I know, by the way -- are wantonly peppered through the manuscript. My only saving grace is that at least I was consistent in my screw-ups.

One does wonder if the copy editor sits there reading, clucking sadly to him or herself at the monstrosity of grammar which (that!) lie (lay!) before them (him! Or her! Pick one!) and thinking I'm gonna have to waste an entire blue pencil on this one before bringing said pencil down in a savage orgy of correction, correction, correction.  And then the manuscript is returned to the author, silent (but not wordless -- oh, no, not wordless) rebuke on every page. You know, I know a nice freshman composition teacher who can tutor you, it seems to say.

Yes, I'm reading too much into it. But you should see how much blue is on this manuscript. It's as if it came back from the editors with the note: "Congratulations! It's a boy!" 

To all copyeditors everywhere who will one day have the misfortune of receiving one of my books to edit: Sorry. I'm really not an idiot. Thank you in advance for making me look good. And naturally, this goes double for the copy editor of The Ghost Brigades. When the finished book comes out, you won't see his hard work, because that's the nature of the copyediting gig. But let me assure you: Oh, it's there.

Post Script: The first person who copy edits this entry in the comments is so going to get deleted. Yea verily, and the second one, too! And so on! Don't tempt me, man.  

Posted by john at 10:54 AM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

September 27, 2005

Mac, He Dead

Well, that was interesting. I came upstairs a little earlier today to discover that my Mac had entirely died on me: Black screen, couldn't get it to reboot, and so on and so forth. The good news is that it's under warranty; the bad news is that, well, my Mac is dead, and with it some stuff I've been working on. As they say: Arrrrrrgh. But at least The Ghost Brigades was finished and sent off. Had the Mac died before then, all that would be left of it right now would be tiny shards of metal and plastic.

Anyway, if you've e-mailed me anything of any import in the last couple of weeks, you might want to resend. I can't guarantee I have a copy anymore.

Posted by john at 06:19 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Copy Edits and Cherie Priest


Here's what's arrived in the mail today: The copy-edited version of The Ghost Brigades, which I need to go through and see if I agree with all the copy-editing (which I'm sure I will, mostly. The same fellow did the copy-edit for Old Man's War and did a fab job of that; indeed, aside from a difference of opinion regarding the serial comma, it was perfect). As the production cycle of TGB is on an expedited pace at the moment, which may or may not have something to do with someone turning in the manuscript so late, he said in a tiny wee voice, I'll be banging through this in the next couple of days.

Also arrived: Cherie Priest's Four and Twenty Blackbirds, which I ordered a couple of days ago off Amazon, which apparently now has a warehouse in Cincinatti, which suggests most of my orders with them will now arrive in two days no matter what shipping I pay for. Location, location, location! As well most of you may know, Ms. Priest and I have been jointly fighting the forces of online stupidity in the wake of the hurricanes, me with the "Being Poor" piece and she with her famous LiveJournal piece on why the poor didn't leave New Orleans, which was to a not at all insignificant degree an inspiration when I sat down to do the "Being Poor" piece. As it happens, Ms. Priest is a Tor author as well. Coincidence? You decide. Be that as it may, having found her LiveJournal to be thought-provoking and readable, I was eager to try out her fiction, and here we are.

This reminds me that at some point I want to do a think piece about which is better for a novelist: posting a novel online or having a really interesting blog. The two aren't exclusive, of course; but I suspect one is more useful than the other, and at some point I'll explain why. In the meantime I'm frustrated that Four and Twenty arrived the same day as my copy-edit; I have to do the latter before I can reward myself with the former. As they say: Waaaaaaah! I'll be taking it with me this weekend, however, as I trundle off to Chicago to shill for Tor at the Great Lakes Booksellers Association convention.

Another reason I'm interested in Four and Twenty, incidentally, is that it was edited by the most excellent Liz Gorinsky, who is one of those hypercompetent folks who assure you that one's own generation doesn't have the lock on brains and talent, and I'm not just saying that because I strongly suspect that one day she'll be running a publishing company and I want to be among the first in line to toady and fawn. I'm interested in her seeing mad hot editing skillz in action, and this book looks like a good opportunity for that. Yes, I realize it's very book geeky to be interested in a book for its editor as well as for its author, but come on. As if I'm not a book geek.

Posted by john at 11:48 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Taunting the Tauntable, Part 17,443

My existence in the world, as well as the newsworthiness of my "Being Poor" article has apparently sorely affronted this person, who has many bad things to say about me. Apparently what's provoked her ire is that the AP piece about me ran in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I suppose no one should tell her the piece ran in several dozen other newspapers worldwide, and that the entry itself was reprinted in the Chicago Tribune, the Dayton Daily News and several other papers. Her poor little apoplectic head might pop right off.

If I remember correctly, this is the same person to whom I gave a "C" grade to in the original Being Poor comments for her flamage, and whose posting I used as the baseline for reasonably adequate contemptuous jackass snark, warning others that additional flamage below that level of competence would be deleted (and was). At the time, she didn't seem to appreciate being the standard-bearer for that particular rhetorical category, which is a shame if you ask me. Her rhetoric hasn't improved, but I certainly appreciate her enthusiasm. Anyway, I do invite you go over and watch her spin around in tight, angry circles. It's entertaining! At least, I think so.

Posted by john at 09:02 AM | Comments (53) | TrackBack

The Mother of All Bad Ideas

You know, there is very little in the world that makes me more objectively terrified than the idea of George Bush and his den of incompetent hacks fiddling with the Posse Comitatus Act. Indeed, if you were to ask me what one thing would get me marching in the streets, this would be it. I'm entirely serious.

Posted by john at 12:03 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

September 26, 2005

The Actress

Okay, watch this:

Athena looks happy... until I tell her that we've sold her for medical experiments!

Now, now. I'm just kidding about the medical experiments. We'd never sell you for medical experiments, sweetie. Unless, of course, we could get a really good deal. But I see I've distressed you. What say I get you some ice cream?


Did I mention it's Kitten Ripple ice cream?

I jest! I jest! They haven't made kitten ripple since the 1930s. It's actually Chunky Kitties and Cream!


All right! What an amazing performance! The pathos! The pain! The kittens! Come on honey, take a bow.

Thank you, and good night! 

Posted by john at 01:06 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Yet Another Subterranean Magazine Submissions Reminder

All you short story writers, here's yet another reminder that as of Saturday, I begin accepting submissions for Subterranean Magazine's Spring '06 issue, with the theme "Big Honkin' Science Fiction Cliches." The details are here, and once again I remind you to learn and love the submission requirements, as they do apply to all.

Allow me to note also that while the reading period for submissions begins October 1 (and ends November 1), I am probably not actually going to begin actually reading submissions until October 3, on account that I will be in Chicago this weekend at a bookseller's convention, promoting the heck out of my own work. Let me also note that getting stuff to me the very first day will not make any sort of difference in terms of acceptance/rejection; you'll have just as much chance selling me a story if it arrives a week in, or two weeks in, or on the last day of the reading period, as you will the very first day. So please, don't rush your story just to have it be the first piece in my mailbox. Take an extra day or two for revisions and such.

In case you're wondering what the schedule here is going to be for production, it'll be something like this:

October: Reading submissions, making first cuts, (possibly) asking for revisions.

November: Final selections based on revisions and another sweep through submissions to find anything I missed the first time around.

December: E-mailing of rejections; mailing payments. Initial layout and production.

That's the plan, anyway.  

Remember also to read this, regarding the mechanics of submission rejection. And if it's any consolation, I've already written a short story for the magazine that I then rejected (it seemed amusing enough when I started it, but when I was done with it? Eh, not so much). Since I've already rejected a submission from myself, this should be an indication I'll not be playing favorites.

Of course, you should be happy I've already rejected myself: More space for the rest of you. I'm looking forward to seeing what you have.

Posted by john at 07:37 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

September 25, 2005

Being Privileged

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn's riff off of the "Being Poor" entry is out in the newspapers and online: Katrina opened eyes to poverty--and privilege. In the piece he encourages folks to add to the list on his blog here (I linked to that yesterday as well). Naturally, if you have something to add, I encourage you to head over there are make a contribution.

However, I'll note my own "being privileged" markers here:

Being privileged is not knowing how much you make, because you know you make enough. This is my own particular situation; I'm a freelance writer so my money comes in on an irregular basis as it is, and when it does come in, I simply sign over the checks to Krissy, who deals with the bookkeeping aspects of our little endeavor (it's where her practical and academic experience lies). I know how much I make every year when we tally up our taxes; in the interim I know I'm making enough that I don't have to worry about.

Bear in mind this ability of mine to be oblivious of how much I make is predicated not only on making enough to not have to worry about my income, but also because I have a spouse who has an almost unearthly level of personal and professional organization. I don't know how much I make, but I assure you Krissy does, and if she doesn't have the exact figure on the top of her head, she can get out the information and tally it up within a few minutes. More to the point, not only does she know how much I make, she also knows how much all my various income sources owe me. And trust me, if you don't pay up what she knows you owe me, you'll hear from her. And you're not really going to like it. Being privileged is being able to trust someone else to watch over your needs.

It's also to the point to note that the ability to absorb and tolerate the variability of my income is also predicated on the fact that Krissy has a "real" job, one that provides a certain stable bedrock of income and benefits, above which my income floats. At other points in our marriage, I was the one with stable income and benefits, which allowed Krissy the freedom to go to school and do other things. And right now -- as with most of time before this -- me working at home allowed me to be the caretaker of our daughter, saving money on daycare, and allowing us not to worry about what happens when our kid is home sick, or has a doctor's appointment or whatever. Being privileged is being able to have the flexibility to build your family's security.

Between Krissy and me, we do very well for ourselves, and have done very well for ourselves for some time now. Among the many other things this allows us is the ability to help our own; when family and friends find themselves in the position of needing something, we are often able to pitch in without worrying about whether it puts us in a pinch. Given that a great deal of the reason that I am where I am today is the selflessness of people who reached out to help me over the course of my life, the fact I can return the favor is very happy one indeed. Being privileged is being able to help.

What is the upshot of all this discussion or being poor and being privileged? Having been both, for me its largely the awareness that while the perceptual differences between the two states are great, the real-world differences are razor-thin indeed. I can tell you almost to the minute when I crossed over from being poor to being privileged: It was during the interview for my first job out of college, when the interviewer told me how impressive it was that I had a philosophy degree from the University of Chicago, and I realized that yes, indeed, sometimes just where you went to school makes a difference in the jobs you can get. Going to the U of C wasn't the deciding factor in getting that job, but I strongly suspect if I had a philosophy degree from Cal State Chico, it would have made getting that job substantially more difficult. Being privileged means knowing that sometimes life is unfair --and it's unfair in your favor.

Having come to privilege from poverty and knowing how thin the real-world margin is between the two also makes me aware of how little it would take to go back to that state. We're not rich, and while we'd be able to take one major hit and absorb it, two major hits in a short time would knock us on our asses like nearly everyone else. It's entirely possible we could lose it all, and find ourselves, like those who live in poverty, facing an oncoming wave of crises, with few options to shield ourselves from them in an immediate sense. What's different is that no matter what happens in the short term, in the long term I have faith I can do well for my family and myself. I've been heard to say that if it came down to it, I'd take a greeter job at Wal-Mart to provide for my family; one of the reasons I say that is because while I would, I can't actually imagine the set of circumstances that would lead to that being the best financial option for me. Being privileged is having the skills to make opportunities -- and the faith that you can as well.

Those are some of the things that remind me I am privileged. If you've some ideas on the subject, don't add them in this comment thread -- instead, add them here.  

Update 1:40 -- Blogger Matt Barr has a somewhat snarky list about "being normal" here. Like him, I'm looking forward to the inevitable "Being Green" parody list.

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

September 24, 2005

Giving Direction for "Being Poor"

If you're here because you read the AP story on my "Being Poor" essay, the entry in question is here, and the thread for additional comments about it (on account of the original thread got up to 350 comments) is here. Also feel free to wander around and see what other things I write about here.

In the last couple of weeks since I wrote "Being Poor" I've been finishing up a novel and then letting my brain slowly reinflate from the effort, so if you want to catch all the stuff surrounding the "Being Poor" piece, you may want to pull up the monthly archive from September and start from the beginning (the "Being Poor" piece I wrote on 9/3, but there are a couple pieces previous to that to give it context, starting on 9/1). The monthly archive is in reverse chronological order, so scroll down to the bottom to start.

The entries between September 1 and September 11 are particularly relevant to the whole "Being Poor" thing (and on 9/11, I have a reprint of the entry I wrote after the actual 9/11). After that I start focusing on writing stuff, which is still interesting but not really related.

If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about here, a reporter from AP did a story on "Being Poor," which you can see here.  

Also, as a point of interest, Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune has a "being privileged" counterpoint column running tomorrow in that paper, but an early and participation-friendly version is available on his Trib blog here. Check it out and if you have something to add, do.

And now we're all caught up! 

Posted by john at 01:14 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 23, 2005

Conventioneering -- Warning: Geekery Ahead!

Given that I'm still giving my brain a rest from thinking about anything of any importance for at least the next couple of days, in the absence of actual thought I'm considering which science fiction conventions to attend in 2006. If all goes according to plan I will have no fewer than three books hitting the stores in 2006 (The Ghost Brigades in the first part of the year, The Android's Dream in later part, and a non-fiction book project I can't tell you about yet but probably will soon smack dab in the middle), and being as I am a great big schmoozing publicity ho, I want to do the meet-and-greet thing amongst my demographic, and also (and not coincidentally) see some friends who are likely to be at some of these shindigs.

At the moment I'm focusing on the first several months of 2006, and here are the conventions I am thinking of making an appearance at. Bear in mind this is still in the thinking stage; I'm unlikely to go to all of them because as it happens making conventions one's primary source of amusement is expensive, even when it's tax deductible, and contrary to rumor, I'm not actually made out of $100 bills. Clearly, I need to get me some of that hot and sweet "Con Guest of Honor" action, but I think I need more of a paper trail than two in-genre novels to get that. Oh, the tribulations of the neo-pro. Anyway, here's what I'm thinking.

January: Synthetic ConFusion -- This is pretty much a done deal as I've already been chatting with the programming folks about which panels I will be on and what have you. Also, I had a big bundle of fun at it last year, so, you know, why not do it again.

February: Boskone -- Old Man's War is apparently going over pretty well with the NESFAns, so that's definitely a point in Boskone's favor, and as two of next year's guests of honor blurbed OMW and another did the hardcover jacket art, it seems almost fated that I should attend. Fate! We'll have to see what airplane tickets are to Boston a little later in the year, however, to see how expensive fate is. Extra point in Boskone's favor: it's the weekend before Ghost Brigades officially debuts (according to Amazon), which means in reality it should be fresh in the stores. Mmmm... that new book smell.

March: Lunacon -- I can combine this with seeing publishers, agents and business clients for maximum business bang for the travel buck.

April: Penguicon -- Another possible repeat engagement, since I had a fine time at it this last year.

May: WisCon -- Another one that's very likely as nearly all my favorite SF people plan to be there, and the Governor's Lounge is a veritable font of love and beer. Should I go to this, Krissy will be coming along with me, since most of my favorite SF people actually want to spend time with her instead of me. No, I'm not bitter.

July: Confluence -- the Confluence people very nicely asked me if I'd like to attend this year and unfortunately I just couldn't get it into my schedule, so I'm going to see if I can get it on my 2006 schedule. However, I also hear good things about CONvergence, and it has the added benefit of being in Minneapolis, home to (or at least conveniently located near) a number of dear friends, some of whom have been trying to drag me in that direction. So we'll have to see.

August: L.A. Con IV -- This is a definite. It's a Worldcon, I'm an LA native, and on the off-off chance I'm nominated for anything Hugoesque in 2006, I want to be able to lose in person. Also: In-N-Out Double Doubles. Enough said. This will probably be a family affair, with the whole Scalzi clan, and my mother-in-law in tow for Athena wrangling.

Post August 2006, I got nothin'. If anyone wants to suggest a con for the latter months of 2006, the comment thread's the place to do it.

As for the rest of 2005, it doesn't seem very likely I'll get out to any other conventions. There is a very outside chance I (or we) might get to World Fantasy, but if I were you I wouldn't be holding my breath on that, particularly since I don't actually write fantasy. I know, it's a piddling detail, but what are you going to do. Have fun without me, kids. I'll be thinking of you.

So those are my con thoughts for right now.

Posted by john at 11:54 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

How to Tell your Sick Child is Feeling Better


1. She kicks your ass at Soul Calibur II.

2. She trash talks you while she's doing it.  

Posted by john at 05:11 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

September 22, 2005

Sunset 9/22/05


The first autumn sunset. That's worth recording.  

Posted by john at 11:28 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Another Uncle John Book!

Look! It's another Uncle John book that I have contributed to that you can rush out and own: Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges Into New Jersey. Perfect for the ten million or so of you who live in the Garden State, and those of you who have some sort of unnatural attachment to the state in question. This is actually the first of four Uncle John books I've contributed to that will be coming out this year, and of course I will let you know when the other ones come out as well. Because I know you care.

Posted by john at 05:16 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Questionable Popery

Not to question the Pope on these matters -- he's got an in with God and all -- but after the Catholic Church bans even celibate gays from becoming priests, where does he honestly think the Catholic Church is going to get priests? They're not exactly running a surplus on priests as it is, and it's not the 16th century anymore, when primogeniture laws left a surplus of disenfranched sons running about looking for something to do with themselves.

I'm not Catholic and never was (I was baptized in a Lutheran church, if you can believe that, largely because it was close by to where my parents lived -- which, incidentally, is a terrible reason to get baptised into a particular denomination), so I don't really get a vote here, but in my opinion, any man who can keep it in his pants for Christ is showing a level of devotion that deserves merit. I do also wonder what the Church is going to do after it's booted all the gay priests and discovers it still has pederasts in its ranks, as pedophilia doesn't significantly map to sexual orientation. But these are things for the Church to work out, not me.

One other question, though: Given the shortfall the Church already has in recruiting priests, particularly here in the US and in other first-world countries, how much longer will it be before the Church, by necessity, begins to allow married priests? Personally, I don't think it's likely at all, but again, I'm on the outside looking in, and if it comes down to married priests or none at all, it'll be interesting to see what transpires.

Posted by john at 12:08 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Google Books

Peter Pociask asks me what I think about this: Authors Guild sues Google over library project. The gist of the issue here is that Google wants to scan the entire contents of the libraries of University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, the New York Public Library and Oxford University, which means, more or less, that most significant books written in the last several hundred years would have digitized counterparts that people on the Internet could search and access. The Authors Guild is worried this will impact the sales of current members, apparently, and the rights of authors to say how their work can be copied and transmitted.

My take on it is pretty simple, which is that so long as an author can dictate the availability of his/her work outside of fair usage (presuming it is still under copyright), I think having a digitized, world-wide accessible database is pretty damned cool. I certainly don't feel the sales of my work is threatened in any relevant way by something like this, and I don't suspect the sales of anyone else's work is particularly threatened either -- especially if protections for copyrighted works are in place.

That said, the onus in protecting copyrights here should be on Google (or any other maintainer of a database like this) not on the author. When in doubt, Google should assume a work is under copyright and the copyright owner does not want the public to be able to read the entire text. Google should also be able to quickly verify and accomodate copyright owner requests regarding the display of their work; that's part of the cost of a project like this. From what I know about the project on the Google end (which is admittedly not a whole lot), Google seems to be taking steps in that direction, so provisionally I'm of the opinion to let them move forward with this. If Google was all, like, "we're going to do this and there's nothing you can do to stop us bwa ha ha ha ha," I might be annoyed. But on practical grounds -- which is to say, the impact on the sales of my books -- even then I would doubt it would be a particularly negative thing. As noted before, I'm not nearly popular enough to truly worry about piracy.

Indeed, I think the large majority of current author fear regarding digitized, accessible versions of their work is based on two primary factors: Ignorance and ego. The ignorance is the lack of understanding that for the vast majority of authors, the ability to pop up in an Internet search on a subject would be a good thing: It's free publicity and also acts as a taster for people who (very likely) have no idea who you are and what your writing is like. The ego is the assumption that a whole bunch of people are just gagging to steal one's work at the slimmest opportunity. Well, you know, look: They really aren't. Most authors are flatly unknown to anyone else, and being unknown means you have little value. Stealing your work would be a waste of time. Stealing JK Rowling's work makes much more sense.

No one likes hearing that their work is of such inherently little value that people don't even want to steal it, of course. But this isn't about the quality of one's work, it's about the celebrity of one's name. Most authors have none. Simple as that. Most authors have to as much to fear from online pirating as they have to fear from actual pirates coming to their door and making them walk a plank, arrrrr. I mean, I am walking proof of this: Two of my books are available online, one officially (Agent to the Stars) and the other is available through various archival services (Old Man's War). But being online hasn't stopped Agent from very nearly selling out its print run, or stopped Old Man's War from cycling through several printings in hardback -- because I'm not important enough to pirate. The day I actually have to worry about online versions of my book cutting into my sales is the day I know I've arrived.

Getting back to the Google suit, I think it's reasonable to the extent it serves notice that authors and copyright holders really are the final legal arbiters of what happens to their work. Copyright is about control. But I think the vast majority of authors who would choose not to have their text significantly searchable and readable will be doing themselves a disservice: These days, most authors need all the publicity they can get.  

Posted by john at 10:02 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

September 20, 2005

A Thought Exercise

Here's a question for you to ponder:

If there had been a Constitutional amendment that said that any war undertaken by the United States, in which the US was the aggressor, had to be financed with current federal revenues (i.e., by taxes levied today, not by borrowing), would the War in Iraq have been approved -- or even considered?

Does your answer suggest to you that a Constitutional amendment like this might be useful in the future?

Posted by john at 10:17 PM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

In the Beginning

In one of the comment threads, Scott writes:

I have a request that I think many of us would be interested in. There is obviously some history behind the creation of this site and your independent launch.

It is clear that at one point you worked for various publications, while now you work for yourself. What inspired you to start all this?

To whatever extent you feel comfortable sharing, perhaps you could fill us in on the origins of Scalzi.com.

I know I've written about this before, but since the first three or so years of the Whatever are not currently online, I suppose there's no harm about doing a quick recap.

Scalzi.com was registered in March of 1998, about a week after I had been laid off from AOL. AOL had let me go because the group I was working for was dissolved and no one wanted to be responsible for my full salary, so out on the street I went (it wasn't all bad; about a week later a number of AOL departments signed me on as a contractor, which meant more money for less work anyway. I maintain a relationship with AOL to this day, so clearly there aren't too many hard feelings there). With the loss of my AOL employment came the loss of my previous AOL screenname, and the little personal Web site I had there; clearly I needed a replacement site. Scalzi.com was available to register (because, honestly, why wouldn't it be), so I took it and coded up a the Scalzi.com Website.

The main advantage to the Scalzi.com domain at the time was simply that from this point forward I would never ever have to change my e-mail address again, and, so long as you knew my name, you knew my e-mail address. Interestingly, this last point turns out to be less true than you might think, since people who should know better, including family members, continually ask me what my e-mail address is. But what are you going to do.

For the first several months Scalzi.com acted largely as my previous Websites had -- as a repository for some of my previously published work (film reviews and columns I had written for The Fresno Bee, and columns from America Online as well). But in summer of '98 I started reading various online diaries, and in particular I was dropping by James Lileks' site on a regular basis. I had known of James previous to finding him online: I started reading his newspaper columns off the wire when I was with the Bee, and at AOL, when I was editing a humor area, he was one of the two "pros" I specifically asked to contribute stuff to me, which he graciously did (the other: cartoonist Ted Rall. Yes, it was a funny pairing then, too).

I liked what James was doing and more to the point writing something daily online seemed like a good way to stay "in shape" with writing column-length material. At the time my ultimate goal was to get back into newspapers as a columnist. So I started the Whatever in September of '98, and the "wanna write a column again" thing dictated the form and length of the writing I did there. To a very large extent it still does; the Whatever has never been a short-form, link-oriented experience. I sometimes wonder what a truly "bloggy" blog from me would be like; "By the Way" gets close but I still blab on quite a bit there as well.

As noted a few entries ago, the Whatever has taken on a life of its own, a life that has been very useful for me in terms of my writing career, so these days I write it for itself, not as practice for any other sort of writing. I wouldn't mind a newspaper column, however, and the Whatever, I think, has kept me sharp for that sort of thing. So if you're reading this and you just happen to be a newspaper editor: Hi. I can be bought.

Scalzi.com over the years has had other features to it aside the Whatever, including archives and pages for my consulting business, but at the moment it's largely a shell for holding the Whatever, with Agent to the Stars on the side. I imagine at some point I will expand it more, but of course I am famously lazy. Maybe I'll hire someone to expand it for me instead.

Anyway, that's the Scalzi.com story in a nutshell.  

Posted by john at 12:13 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Why Daddy is not Allowed to Dress Athena


Any questions?

Actually, though, today Athena's school is something called "Clash Day," in which all the children are encouraged to dress in clashing clothes. Also, the school intercom is playing selections from Sandinista! all day long. Okay, not so much with that last part. But the first part of that statement is certainly true. So she's supposed to dressed this way, honest.

Be that as it may, I can't say I was entirely pleased to overhear the following conversation yesterday:

Athena: Tomorrow is clash Day at school. We're supposed to wear clothes that don't match.

Krissy: We'll have daddy dress you, then, sweetheart.

Look, I understand my role is to be the befuddled sitcom dad. But that's not to say I don't have style.

Oh, shut up. I do.

Posted by john at 08:51 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

September 19, 2005

In Honor of a Special Day



Yes, that's all I have for you today. My brain feels like it's collapsed like the proverbial flan in the cupboard.  


Posted by john at 03:54 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

September 18, 2005

An Unusual Request for Help

Readers of the Whatever, I need your help! I have to verify a very unusual thing, and if you've bought Old Man's War from Amazon at any point (or just even put it into your shopping cart), perhaps you can aid me in my hour of need.

It all began yesterday, when Kari of Inkgrrl.com sent me the following message:

Attached is a screenshot of Amazon's recommendation for my purchasing pleasure - when I clicked on a link which would supposedly tell me why this amazing artifact was recommended to me, well, the screenshot pretty much says it all.

Draws some interesting corollaries between book-buying habits and other habits... I'm not sure how I feel about this one.

You'll have to follow the cut see what it was that Amazon supposedly recommended, because, well... you'll see.

This is what Amazon supposedly recommended.

The recommendation is apropos to this Whatever discussion of Amazon's new Sex Toys shop.

Naturally, I assumed that this was simply some clever Photoshopping, so I wrote Kari back thanking her for the picture, which I said was the best thing anyone's sent to me ever. She replied:

Now, if I hadn't already admitted that I still have your book on my wishlist instead of happily digested in my head, you might wonder why I continue to probe... but I gotta ask - do you go into detail about prostate issues in older men in combat or something?

Suggesting, of course, that she didn't actually Photoshop up this baby. So I wrote her back:

You're not seriously telling me that this is a real Amazon alert.

Kari responded:

As God is my witness, not only will I never go hungry again, but this is what popped up. No pun intended. I sent to my SO and he recognized your name from reading your blog (he lurks there) and told me I should let you know about it. An author friend of mine came back insisting it was a hoax, too. But no, it's still there - if I go to Kari's Store, then look under the Recommendations column and click on Health and Beauty, I get the attached.

And now this has gone from the realm of the best thing ever sent to me to just about the best thing ever, period, end of story. Because it suggests that someone at Amazon reads this site, and also has a wicked sense of humor.

People, I don't think Kari's lying here, but I need -- need -- independent third party verification of this thing. I've gone ahead and put Old Man's War into my own Amazon shopping basket, and clicked my own personal recommendations set to include their Health category and their Beauty category, and I'll be going back to see if I can replicate Kari's findings. However, if you've already bought Old Man's War from Amazon at some point, and have those categories already set for recommendations, well, if you wouldn't mind going in and seeing if there's a butt plug suggested for you because of my book, I sure would appreciate that.

For the record, I cannot personally recommend the SeaKap medium-sized black butt plug, as I've never, you know, tried it. However, I invite the SeaKap folks to peruse my Guidelines for Publicists.

Also, while I have no opinion one way or another on the butt plug, I would suggest that, should you purchase both Old Man's War and the toy in question, that you don't use the two in conjunction. Seems to me that either of these objects should engage your full attention. Moreover, I refuse to be held responsible if you do not heed my advice and attempt to use the two in some ill-advised biblio-anal play. And that's all I'm going to say about that. To contemplate it any further would induce images that not even CIA-strength industrial brainwashing will ever get out.

But about that Amazon recommending thing: Let me know, folks. Because, damn. If this can be verified, it doesn't get much funnier than this.

Update, 6pm: The actual programmer of the window that features that recommendation above chimes in the comment thread. Look for Mike A.'s comment at 2:11pm, 9/18. 

Posted by john at 08:26 AM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

September 17, 2005

Play Ball, Part II

A couple more pictures from the other day. Because I feel like it, that's why.

Off for a day o' family fun. See you all later. 

Posted by john at 01:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Catching Up on News

Aside from the "Being Poor" piece, I've largely been out of the news commentary business around here for the last couple of weeks, so let me catch up on a couple of things briefly:

The Roberts Confirmation Hearings: I don't really have anything useful to say on this matter, largely because I'm of the opinion that Roberts is the best we're likely to get out of Bush in terms of a Supreme Court candidate, and because I think he's a reasonable choice for the bench -- probably not my top choice for Chief Justice, I suppose, although anyone's preferable to Scalia, who would have been my next guess. I'm not at all convinced he's anything approaching the stealth fundie boogyman some of the more fervent of liberal set adjudge him to be, so my opposition is correspondingly lower; so low, in fact, that I guess I would actually have to say I don't oppose him at all.

Bush and Katrina: Bush wants to spend $200 billion to rebuild the South, which is good in theory, but I expect his administration to do a good job at the effort about as much as I expect my cat to whip up a light and tasty souffle. Word has reached my far province that Karl Rove will be in charge of the reconstruction, which I find as appalling as can possibly be, since it just about assures that everything related to the rebuilding will be turned into an exercise in ideological fealty to the administration. Which means that my cat-fashioned souffle is actually more likely than this reconstruction being done in any way other than the most petty and political way possible.

I also note the Bush doesn't expect we'll need to raise any taxes to pay for the $200 billion. This is not in the least bit surprising, since the current crop of tax jihadists would try to rescue a choking man by giving him a tax cut instead of the Heimlich maneuver, and then when he's dead would try to comfort the grieving family by assuring them they're working to repeal estate taxes. But it does remind me yet again that anyone who still actually believes that the Republican party is the party of fiscal intelligence needs a 2x4 upside the head. There hasn't been a day in the last five years that Bush adminstration has shown even the slightest bit of fiscal acumen, and when Bush says the answer to finding the $200 billion is to slash through the federal budget, if you think those slashings are going to be balanced across the ideological spectrum, you need another wood kiss from that 2x4. Leave it to this administration to take a national tragedy and turn it into an opportunity for some nice political ball-cutting.

"Bush Doesn't Care About Black People": I don't think this is true at all. He cares about black people just fine, as long as they make more than $100,000 a year. His concern for white people runs at roughly the same level. Outside of interns and a few lackeys, one does wonder if Bush has ever spent any useful amount of time with people who makes less than that amount. Certainly growing up as a scion of the Bush family he did not, nor does anything in his work life suggest that he did, either. He's got a blind spot at the 100 large line, which is a real shame because that's where most people live, including the vast majority of the people who voted for him, being as they were under the impression that he "got" their needs.

Mike Brown Resigns: Well, yeah. He may have been dim and incompetent, but was not so dim and incompetent as not to realize the Bush administration couldn't been seen firing him, because that would be an admission that they'd hired a moron. One does wonder what would have happened had Brown not resigned; whether he would have been actually fired, or whether the administration would have simply kept routing around him, leaving him to stare at empty walls for the next three years. Naturally, I would hope for the former and honestly expect that eventually the Bush folks would have pulled the trigger, but one does wonder how long it would have taken.

Pledge of Allegiance Ruled Unconstitutional: I find it deeply amusing to see so many conservatives get so worked up over a bit of doggerel that was written by a rock-ribbed socialist, but other than that I find this a true waste of time. I have no more objection to the "under God" portion of the Pledge than I do the "In God We Trust" saying stamped on my coins, and God knows that hearing "One Nation Under God" thousands of times over the course of my educational career did absolutely nothing to endear Him to me, as evidenced by the fact I am entirely agnostic, and will likely be so up until the moment before I die, at which point I might believe it to be prudent to hedge my bets. But even if I do that it won't be because of the Pledge.

There, I think that gets me all caught up for now. 

Posted by john at 11:20 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

New Amazonian Sickness

Because the people at Amazon are sadistic bastards, they've implemented yet another way to drive authors (and other people who have thing stocked at Amazon) absolutely insane: They've implemented daily tracking of the Amazon ranking, so you can see where the ranking is today and you can see where it was the day before.

For the twitchy bags of neuroses that are known as authors, who already track their Amazon numbers with unhealthy zeal, this means that everybody else now knows if you're selling more or less than you did the day before. Sometimes this may be good (for example, the ranking of Old Man's War is #3,992 as I write this, up from #6,381 as of yesterday) and everyone can see you're on the way to the top, you big success, you. But tomorrow, when the sales of the book inevitably dip, it'll be clear to everyone that one's career is in a flaming death spiral, and who will want to buy a book that is going to take them down with it?

And yes, dear readers, authors are just the sort of people who will think that a visible slide in sales rankings will turn you off from our books. We are silly that way.  

One thing I find interesting about this new and sadistic Amazonian tool is how it makes you aware of how much noise and jostle there is in Amazon rankings. For example, today's ranking for my very first book, The Rough Guide to Money Online, is #1,365,312, which is several hundred spots higher than it was yesterday. Of course, in real world terms, this means nothing: No one bought the book yesterday, no one's going to buy the book today, and it's highly unlikely anyone's going to buy the book tomorrow (and for good reason -- it's five years out of date). Any ascension or decline of this book is simply the Brownian motion of Amazon's vast collection of salable items. Among the books that are selling, a book could sell exactly the same number of copies on two adjoining days but have vastly different Amazon rankings, because the rankings are relative to what other books are selling as well.

If Amazon wanted to drive authors to the ragged bloody edge of madness, in addition to the Amazon Rankings, it would also post the number of units any particular book sold in a week or month. The reason they won't is that no one is that cruel, and also it's not in anyone's interest to expose just how low-volume a business bookselling is: A public that thinks a movie is a failure if it doesn't have a $50 million opening weekend or that an album is underperforming if it doesn't go double-platinum is not going to be impressed that a book has sold, say, 20,000 in hardcover (which would be absolutely fab for most books). Shhhh. Don't tell.

Nevertheless, this new wrinkle will be sufficiently maddening that you can expect authors to begin fretting about it... well, about now. No, no. I'm not fretting about it at all.  

Posted by john at 10:06 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

AdvancedEntryEditing Plugin

Ah, this is much better. One of the small but annoying things about Movable Type is that the editing window for the main entry is tiny, so it's difficult to see much of what you're typing at any one time. However, I just installed a plugin called AdvancedEntryEditing that, among other things, allows you to expand the size of the editing window, so you can see a much larger amount of your actual text at one time. It also institutes a WYSIWYG interface, so that people who don't want to hand-roll their own html code don't have to do it anymore. I've been using html code in MT entries for so long I don't even really notice I'm doing it anymore, but even so, it's nice just to be able to see the entry closer to what it's actually going to look like once you post it. The only minor inconvenience I can see so far is that there's a tiny pause when one backtracks.

Anyway, if you're using Movable Type, this is a plug-in that might be worth your while to check out.  

Posted by john at 09:46 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 16, 2005

Recent Books, 9/16


As I've been jabbering about these things, a quick look at four books I've recently acquired:

* Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop, by Kate Wilhelm (Small Beer Press): I actually bought this one, since I was interested in it anyway and because I wanted to support Small Beer Press, co-run by the excellent Kelly Link (Small Beer also published last year's Nebula finalist Perfect Circle, by Sean Stewart, which I enjoyed). Wilhelm, if you can't guess from the title of the book, was intimately involved in the creation of Clarion, the premier writers' workshop in science fiction, and taught there for years.

I bought it because frankly I find the whole writers' workshop thing fascinating. Many excellent SF writers have gone through Clarion's guts over the years (here's an incomplete Alumni list, upon which, if you are an avid SF reader, you will see several familiar names), and there is no doubt that the workshop setting is extremely beneficial to many of them. However, I could never wrap my brain around the workshop concept, at least from the point of view of being a participant, either before I was published or especially now. Earlier in the year I was at convention and chatting with another science fiction writer when he mentioned that he participated in a workshop and casually (and in a very friendly manner) offered me a place at that table. I think he was surprised when I declined rather strongly, and I expect I could have declined the offer in a more politic fashion. The fact is, the problem is with me, not the workshop concept in general. Generally speaking the person I want telling my how to improve my writing is the editor who bought it. Yes, yes, raging egotist who will be one day put in his place, I know, I know. What can I tell you. Welcome to me.

For all that I think one day I would be interested in teaching in a workshop setting. At Penguicon this last year I rather unexpectedly got thrown in to a workshop teaching session (Literally, it happened like this: "So, John, thanks for agreeing to help teach our workshop this year!" "Uhhhhh... I didn't agree to that, actually. This is the first I've heard of it." "D'oh!"), and I found it to be an interesting and positive experience, and I think the people who I critiqued got something out of it as well. Although you'd have to ask them about that. Left unargued here is whether someone who does not see the value of a workshop for himself as a writer has any business trying to teach writing in a workshop setting. One day either I'll find out or I won't.

In the meantime I found Wilhelm's experiences very interesting, both as a personal history of the Clarion Workshop over the years, and also, by way of that personal history, lessons in writing well. People who are interested in workshops, either as writers or as readers, would probably benefit from checking this book out -- consider it an extended brochure on whether Clarion (and its various offspring, and other writing workshops) are going to be a good idea for you.

*Remains, by Mark W. Tiedemann (BenBella Books): Fun fact: on the Amazon page for this book right now, the top listing on the "People Who Bought This Book Also Bought" list is... Old Man's War. Make of that what you will.

This was sent to me a couple of weeks ago and I still haven't had time to do much with it, because of writing The Ghost Brigades, but I was exceited to see it nevertheless because it's the first book I've seen from BenBella, who is a relatively new publisher, going back only a couple of years. The company seems to be carving out a niche with their "Smart Pop" books, in which folks contribute essays that blather on in an educated fashion about various pop culture things, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to NYPD Blue, but they also have a sf/f line, which include originals and reprints. I've been interested in seeing how they did in terms of the production of their books, because I'm just a geek that way.

As it happens, as a matter of design, Remains seems slightly off to me. It's a little wider than most of the trade paperbacks I have, and the paper is different quality, and that combined with some of the interior design (including too-wide text columns) makes the book feel vaguely like vanity press. Bear in mind that this has nothing to do with the quality of the story itself, which appears to have been well reviewed, in Booklist at least (its review is on the Amazon page), so if the book sounds interesting to you, don't let that stop you from checking it out. But like I said, visually it was a little off to me. I contrast this with Chris Roberson's Here, There & Everywhere, which was put out by Pyr, another fairly new SF publisher. His book (which I did read, and enjoyed) had a somewhat friendlier design, which made it easy to read, and gave the book a professional feel; you wouldn't question that it came from an established publisher. Maybe these little design things shouldn't matter, but they do.

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to reading Remains; if Tiedemann and I share an audience, I suspect that means something.

* The Road to Dune, by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (Tor): Think of this book as the DVD extras disc for the original Dune series of books: It includes cast off chapters from Frank Herbert's original set of books plus some of Herbert's notes and letters. For people like me, who dig this sort of thing (I'm one of those people whose favorite Tolkien work is The Simarillion), this stuff is catnip.

The book also includes a new short novel based off Frank Herbert's notes, from Brain Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, who have recently been writing all those Dune prequels. I'm not a fan of the new Dune novels at all, largely because Herbert fils and Anderson have a combined writing style that is just all too underwhelming for the Dune universe; Frank Herbert's writing had a sort of stentorian majesty to it, and that style richly permeated the Dune universe just as much as the melange spice. Herbert/Anderson's prose is like a stick of Big Red by comparison, and continues to be so here. This makes me sad, as I've enjoyed Anderson's writing in other settings, but I wish they'd found a writer whose writing style would have been more appropriate for what had come before (A China Mieville Dune novel -- now that would be fun).

But if you do like the Dune prequel novels (and given their healthy sales, apparently many do), you'll have no reason to complain. For me, the Frank Herbert bits are what make this well worth looking at.

Trivia note: The Road to Dune is a "SciFi Essential" book, which is a distinction that OMW and The Ghost Brigades will have in January 2006.

Starwater Strains, by Gene Wolfe (Tor Books): Another book I've not been able to get to yet, alas, although the day Gene Wolfe puts out an underwhelming collection of short stories is the day either the fourth or fifth seal is cracked, so I don't worry about this not being worth my while (it got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, for what it's worth). In the meantime, I'm enjoying it just for its very whimsical cover:

Yes, I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover and all that, but come on. How could a book with a dog wearing a virtual reality helmet not be worth your time? Impossible, I say!

Posted by john at 01:44 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Guidelines for Publicists

As threatened, I've written up guidelines for people who want to send things for me to mention here in the Whatever. If that's you -- or if you're just interested in what I have to say on the matter -- the guidelines are here. I've also put in a permanent link on the sidebar.

Left hanging in the air here is why anyone would want to send things my way. You know, I wonder that myself, sometimes. On the other hand, I have been a professional critic for a decade and a half, so they could do worse.

Also, and specificially relating to science fiction, the daily readership of the Whatever paces or exceeds the monthly circulation of some of the most significant science fiction-related magazines (including Locus and Fantasy & Science Fiction), so for the SF genre, getting exposure here might actually be significant. And yes, incidentally, I find that the Whatever having comparable reader numbers to these magazines is disturbing (note, however, that circulation is not the same as readership, since more than one person may read from a single F&SF or Locus subscription; even so). But that doesn't mean I'm not happy to exploit it if it means free books. I mean: Free books! It's every geek's dream come true.

Posted by john at 01:02 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Shelby's New Album

Hey! One of my favorite indie bands, Shelby, has finally released their latest album, The Luxury of Time, and it's choc-a-block full of snarly guitar goodness. The band is previewing three of the tracks here: I'm particularly fond of "The Golden Boy" but every track at the preview is worth the listen. And if you're in or near Philly tonight, apparently they're playing at the North Star Bar. Solid.

Posted by john at 10:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Seven Years

Completely (and appropriately) lost in my wild textual stampede to complete The Ghost Brigades was the fact that Tuesday marked the seventh anniversary of the Whatever. As I've noted before this makes it the single writing thing I've done the longest at one stretch (I've been reviewing movies longer, but that comes in chunks, first as the film critic, and then as the DVD critic (both five years each)).

In the year, I haven't done anything different in terms of how I write the Whatever -- indeed, the whole "write whatever the hell I feel like writing about" concept has been remarkably robust since 1998 -- but I will share a few observations about the whole writing online thing here that have come to my mind in the last year.

* First, I've reconciled to the idea that the Whatever is a blog. The Whatever, mind you, predates the common use of the word "blog," so I've never been entirely comfortable with the word -- when I started doing this thing, the most common description of this sort of thing was "online journal," which I also didn't like, for various fairly stupid reasons. I could go into all the reasons why the Whatever is different and special from all the other things people write online and how it is so singular it deserves its own category, but aside from the fact that it really isn't notably unique in form or content and I'm getting tired of finding new and exciting ways of maintaining the fiction that this isn't a blog and everyone gets what you say when you say "I have a blog" so do you don't have to say anything else about it, the fact is, there are worse things than writing a blog. So: Fine. The Whatever is a blog and I'm a blogger, and however silly a word "blog" is -- it's exactly onomatopoetic for the sound of a toad dropping a turd -- it's the word everyone has for things like this. Let us now move on.

* I've also given up the illusion that I am doing the Whatever in a manner that is either completely carefree or unrelated to the rest of my writing life. The latter, frankly, is obvious: The fact that something I wrote here appeared in one of the largest newspapers in the country yesterday demonstrates the permeability of the wall between this amateur writing and my professional writing (not to mention those two novels I sold off the site). The Whatever has been useful enough in this regard that recently, when discussing a book project with a publisher, he actually suggested serializing the writing here before he published the book in order to increase the value and visibility of the book. These are interesting times, writing-wise.

The flip side of this, however, is that first point: The Whatever is important enough to me now as marketing that it's also something that's worth maintaining, even when I feel like taking a break. One of the reasons for the fabulous, fabulous guest bloggers in July was the simple fact that I didn't want to leave this place fallow for a month; I didn't want readers to break the habit of checking in on a daily basis. In the blogsophere, regularity matters. It's better to write something banal, say, "my cat's breath smells like cat food," than to write nothing at all (especially if you also then post a picture of said cat).

It pays off: This site is now clocking in at between 10k and 20k unique visitors a day -- it fluctuates wildly between those poles on any given day -- which makes it one of the better-read personal sites out there, especially when you consider that the Whatever is not a mono-topic site (i.e., all about the politics or geekery), or a link farm, nor is it written by a pretty woman (this makes Wonkette the perfect storm, Internet-wise). But on the other hand, I don't just want to write one line about my cat and pride myself on very basic audience maintenance; I do prefer the delusion that people who read the site would like me to write about something. And now you see why it's not entirely carefree. These are constraints and obligations I place on myself, mind you, but it doesn't mean they are any less there.

The one thing that has remained constant during all this obsessing is that I still do write about whatever the hell it is I want to write about; I don't bother to ask myself "hmmmm, is this something that's going to alienate my audience" because then I'll get sulky and petulant (stupid audience! They won't let me write what I want), and that's just silly. Also, honestly, I figure anyone who comes here on a regular basis knows I'll write what I feel like; to some extent, that's why they drop by. This is an unabashedly egotistical site. And God knows, when I want to write about my cat, I do.

For the record, her breath does smell like cat food.

* I am also increasingly aware that it's not just me who regards the Whatever as a quasi-professional space; having a deserved-or-otherwise reputation for being a "prominent blogger" means I now get press releases sent my way (eh), and also books (yay!). One of the more interesting recent anecdotes of this type is when the publicist for Annie Jacobsen's book Terror in the Skies contacted me about the book, wanting to know whether I'd be interested in looking at the book for possible inclusion in the Whatever. Ms. Jacobsen, you may remember, is the writer who lost her composure on an airplane last year after she noticed a large group of swarthy fellows sitting together; I wasn't particularly impressed. The reason I was contacted, I think, was simply because I did write about Jacobsen at one point, even if not in a particularly complimentary fashion. I told the publicist to go ahead and send the book, although I made no promises regarding reading it or mentioning it, which is the appropriate thing to say at a time like that.

Although, look, I did just mention it. And here's the link again! And somewhere, another publicist earns his wings (no, I haven't read the book yet. I was busy writing one of my own, remember).

I am now getting enough books and swag and publicity releases that I will very shortly create some guidelines for publicists as to what's appropriate to send along to me. If you were to ask me if I ever thought I'd get to a point where I'd ever write publicist guidelines for the Whatever, you would hear me engage in a nice, hearty laugh. And yet, here we are. Not that I mind. Hey: Free books! Whoo-hoo!

* One minor interesting thing I've noticed is that in the last year, thanks I suspect to the combination of Old Man's War, the AOL Journals gig and the growth of the Whatever, I'll occasionally get the "internet celebrity" thing, where I'll drop a comment on someone's blog and their reaction is "OMG!!! It's Scalzi!!" I find this deeply, deeply silly. Being a minor Internet celebrity is like being the second most popular steel drummer in the Netherlands. Yes, it's nice, and people who share your enthusiasms know you, but really, that's about all it's good for. Anyway, even though I've been doing this for seven years and I blog professionally and I've sold not one but two books to publishers from this Web site, I never get invited to speak at Ivy League blog conferences or panels. So clearly, I'm not a real Internet celebrity anyway. It stings, it does.

* One thing I've definitely noticed in the last year -- and has been noted by others -- has been the "community" activity around here, by which I mean a strong and vibrant set of both regular and infrequent commentors. I remember a few years ago, before I had implemented comments (and before I knew the following), I read Teresa Nielsen Hayden's comment on her site that said something along the lines of "if you're not reading the comments, you're missing out on half the fun." I was, shall we say, rather skeptical of the observation. But as it turns out, she was absolutely correct: the community of commentors at Making Light matters, in no small part because they are smart, engaged and passionate, and because TNH also serves as an able moderator -- any person who can think up and/or popularize "disemvoweling" as a punishment for comment stupidity deserves a medal for Service to the Blogosphere.

I do not judge myself as facile a comment moderator as TNH, but I do think the Whatever community of commentors is one of the best out there, tending toward thoughtful and diverse enough in opinon to make the comments less like an echo chamber and more like a round table of people talking. And, they tend to be grownups to boot: Usually the least-mannered person in a comment thread is me.

So to the folks who hang around the Whatever: Thanks. I appreciate it.

Posted by john at 05:19 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

September 15, 2005

The Shiny New Toy


As promised, here's the shiny toy I bought myself the other day: a Nikon D70s, along with a bunch of various ridiculous trappings (lenses, filters, tripods, etc) which I may or may not ever end up using, but I decided that if I was actually going to get a camera like this, I might as well dive into the deep end. Also, since I don't actually expect to buy another camera after this one, like, ever, I might as well get the bells and whistles.

I initally had my eye on the D50, which is a slightly less expensive version of this camera designed for people graduating from point-and-click cameras to SLRs, but I decided -- per the "never buying another camera ever again" bit -- that in all it was best to get something I was less apt to outgrow. The reason I wanted a new camera at all is that I was bumping up against limitations on my otherwise perfectly excellent Kodak EasyShare (which I still recommend for people who just want snapshots). A camera that gives more options than I will probably ever use makes rather more likely I won't have an expensive upgrade twitch a couple of years from now.

Two things make this purchase especially sweet. One, I bought it with a royalty check I wasn't expecting, so it was "free money" (i.e., money not in the budget), and therefore it's psychologically like getting this bitchin' camera for free. Two, because I do a photography thing for "By the Way" every week -- and I get paid for writing "By the Way" -- this is quite legitimately a tax-deductible business expense. Sometimes the life of a writer rocks, I tell you.

The one fly in the ointment: The camera package I was sent was missing a lens, the 18-70mm jobbie that one would actually use on a daily basis (the lens here is the 70-300mm lens, perfect for seeing into the next county). I called and they're shipping the lens to me even as I type this. And when I get it, oooh boy. Picture time down at the Scalzi's.

Posted by john at 12:21 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

TGB Post-Mortem

The two hours of sleep I got between five and seven am have apparently ruined me for sleeping for the rest of the morning, so in lieu of that, let me me do a little bit of a writing post-mortem for The Ghost Brigades. Don't worry, I won't give away plot points.

* As I initially noted here, writing The Ghost Brigades was actually somewhat difficult. I set the bar fairly high I wrote by attempting not to write it like a sequel (i.e., you could read this without reading Old Man's War), by changing the viewpoint from first person to third person, and also by delving into the social structures of the universe I created. While other people will have to judge how well I did on all these things, I have to say that I'm pretty satisfied with the book, although as it happens what I set out to do and what I achieved are slightly different things.

The place I notice this the most is in The Ghost Brigades' "stand alone-ability" -- which is to say, the ability of someone to read this without first reading OMW. I think that I've achived that to a fair degree; the book refers to events and characters in OMW and in a couple of cases uses them to further the plot (particularly relating to the Consu and the Battle of Coral), but in those cases TGB in itself contains the information you need to know about them, so one can keep going without missing anything relevant. However, what I didn't expect, because I'd never written a sequel before, is how much the two books "talk" to each other.

In my opinion, you can read either book without having read the other, but if you've read both, you'll have a richer experience overall. As an example, one of the entirely valid criticisms of OMW was that even though it's clearly set in the future, the America that John Perry comes from could easily be our own, right now (and, additionally, the non-US readers of the book were a little annoyed with the US-centrism of the soldier). TGB makes the answer to that question a plot point for the novel, so people who read TGB after OMW will get that answer, while those who read TGB in a standalone way will simply take it as a matter of course.

I was surprised and pleased as both a writer and a reader to see how much the two books are in conversation with each other, while (in my opinion) still standing up on their own.

* When I was discussing writing The Ghost Brigades with Patrick Nielsen Hayden (who is my editor at Tor, for those of you who don't know), one of the things I said to him was, "now, you know this one's going to get dark." And he said he was fine with that, for which I bless him, but I don't think even I realized how dark parts of this book were going to get. If I may make a flawed analogy here, if Old Man's War was my Star Wars, then The Ghost Brigades is very definitely my Empire Strikes Back. Now, personally, I'm good with this, since Empire is in nearly all senses a better film than Star Wars. But no one suggests Empire is exactly cheerful.

To be clear, it's not all about the moodiness and dark dark darky darkness. I'm still me. There are funny bits and there are a lot -- a lot -- of action sequences, as befitting a book of this type, including one in the middle that I am particularly proud of. But I do imagine that folks expecting a light skip through the OMW universe will wonder if my pharmacist has been fiddling with my anti-depressants or something. The answer is no, because among other things, I'm not actually on anti-depressants. People who prefer the lighter touch will definitely want to check out The Android's Dream, incidentally, when it finally sees the light of day in late 2006. All I will say about that book is: It's got sheep.

If OMW is my Star Wars and TGB is my Empire, does this mean that any possible thrid book will be my Return of the Jedi? All I can say is that to each and every one of you, I make this solemn vow: Not. One. Goddamned. Ewok. Ever. Unless it's to do unspeakably horrible things to them. In which case, I'll have many.

* And yes, as I've mentioned before, if Tor comes knocking asking for a third book in this universe, I'd probably say yes. I have a vague idea what I would do for that book, and also, as I was writing, some portion of my brain I call the Evil Plotter was slipping in sequel fodder. The Evil Plotter and I would have our moments, many of which went as below:

Me (reading something I just wrote): What is that?

Evil Plotter: What, that? It's just a little something I thought I'd put in. You know, add a little spice to the mix.

Me: It's an open-ended plot point, isn't it.

Evil Plotter (defensive): Maaaaybe. So what? It resolves your textual issue! Look! You need it!

Me (putting hand on forehead): We've talked about this, man.

Evil Plotter: Aw, come on! Look at it! It's so cute and useful! You know you want to keep it. And then, later, if there's a sequel, maybe it will come in handy. I'm just saying.

Me: Another sequel, you say.

Evil Plotter (snappish): Hey, one of us has got to put that kid of yours through college, you know.

Me (throws up hands): Fine. We'll keep it. For now. But that's it, do you hear me? No more.

Evil Plotter (holds up shiny, useful open-ended plot point): So I guess that means you don't want to know about this baby, then.

Me: Gaaaaaaaaaah! (head explodes)

Yes, this is actually how my writing process works. Look, don't ask. Just enjoy the end result, okay?

* I've been avoiding talking about specifics regarding the novel, but I will say this: I think you're all going to enjoy Jane Sagan in this book. She's my wife's favorite character that I've written, and it's easy to see why: Like my wife, she's a tough, capable, results-oriented woman, and if you get in her way she will eat your friggin' heart. It's no lie, people. Don't piss off my wife, or Jane Sagan.

* What am I going to do now? I'm going to relax, damn you all. I have a short story I have due by the end of the month, but other than that, bookwise, I'm tapped out; nothing officially on the schedule for the first time in three years, during which time, I'll remind you, I've written eight books and contributed to several others. A month from now, not having a book on my schedule will begin to bug me. At the moment, it's excellent. I could use the break.

Posted by john at 10:05 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

In the Trib

The "Being Poor" entry was published today (edited for space, looks like) in the Chicago Tribune op-ed section. I'm very happy about that. Seems like it's just a good writing day all the way around.

Posted by john at 09:12 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

The Ghost Brigades, Completed

At 3:28 am 9/15/05. 95,000 words exactly.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a sequel.

Posted by john at 03:30 AM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

September 14, 2005

TGB Update

The damn book has gone and sprouted an additional chapter. I hate it when books do that. Fortunately, this means the penultimate chapter is going to be action-packed. And then there's the final "we wrap everything up with a bow" chapter. Yeah, it's all getting done tonight. Or death!

I was so excited about being so close to being done that I almost couldn't get to sleep last night. But if I had tried to write straight though, the final chapter would have been mostly non-sensical strings of consonants. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just not my thing.

Posted by john at 08:30 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 13, 2005

Pathetic Writer Motivation Trick #459

With the unexpected but reasonably healthy royalties from one of your other books (which counts as free money because you've already budgeted all your bills, etc), buy yourself a shiny, shiny present. Have it shipped Fed Ex ground. See if you can finish the book you're working on before it gets to your house.

It shipped at 10:55 am this morning from Brooklyn. I figure it'll get here on, what, Thursday? And me with one and a half chapters to go.

I can do that.

See you when I'm done. And then I'll show you my present!

Posted by john at 12:22 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

September 12, 2005

Typus Interruptus

So close to being done with The Ghost Brigades that I can taste it.

So naturally, I have to spend the morning in the car dealership, getting the car fixed.


(Yes, I could bring the laptop. Trust me, I can't focus.)

Posted by john at 07:51 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 11, 2005

A September Moment


And you know what? She can hit.

Posted by john at 07:02 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Comment Donations

This fellow says:

I've decided to send a dollar to the American Red Cross for every person that leaves a comment to this entry by next Sunday. I'll also send two dollars for every literary agent or person with a published novel who leaves a comment, because you folks have fans/large readerships, and fans like to participate with the objects of their attention. To the same effect, I'll donate $10 if your last name is Nielsen-Hayden or Scalzi. :)
Mention this on your blogs, drive the comment numbers up, and donate money without spending any. I'll post a PDF of the Red Cross receipt after I donate.

If you're so inclined, go over and leave a comment. I did (hey, it was worth a sawbuck). Do be understanding if eventually the fellow cries for mercy and puts a cap on his contribution -- I know how many people visit here on a daily basis, and if all of them went over and left a comment, he'd be in trouble. It's a good thing he didn't decide to name check Instapundit or Kos. On the other hand, it'll be interesting to see how long it takes before he institutes a cap. Go on over and leave a comment and let's see.

(Helpful hint -- if you're not a LiveJournal member and you have to leave a comment signed on as "anonymous," let the guy know who you are in the body of your comment.)

Posted by john at 02:10 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

The Speckless Sky, Revisited

It occurs to me that since I haven't bothered to reinstall my archive of entries written prior to March 2002, my piece "The Speckless Sky," written on September 12, 2001, is not currently on the site. Today seems like a good day to put it back. Here it is.

September 12, 2001

Yesterday, where I live, the sky was perfect: A huge blue inverted bowl, set on top a horizon of trees and rolling hills, and the only things in it were birds and the sun and half a moon. This is notable for two reasons. The first is that my view of the sky is largely unimpeded; from most points on my property, if I wanted to, I could see clear into Indiana. That's a lot of sky to have nothing in. The second is that my property is directly below one of the major flight paths into Dayton International Airport (to say nothing of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). Combine these two factors and you'll understand why on most days, my sky is never without a plane in it and usually two, and sometimes as many as four or five, punctuating the sky like silvery hyphens.

This is not entirely unusual in my experience. When I lived in Virginia, I lived less than five miles from Dulles International Airport; again, there was never not a plane in the sky. Before that I lived in large to medium-large metropolitan areas -- LA, Chicago, Fresno -- where again planes were a permanent feature in the urban sky. Nor do I think my experience is notable or unusual. At any one moment, there are typically three to four thousand commercial planes in the skies above the continental United States. Given a reasonable amount of sky to observe, nearly anyone anywhere in the States will spot a plane sooner than later. And if you don't see a plane, wait five minutes. One will pop over the horizon, contrails of ice crystals agitating behind it.

Not yesterday. For the first time in my memory, the sky was absent contrails and the steady, implacable progress of airplanes as they crossed the sky, heading from one faraway place to another place equally distant. For the first time I could remember, I saw the sky of my ancestors, the sky of every human but the last three or four generations preceding my own -- unimproved by human technology, absent a human presence, unmarred by the human tendency to take the sublime simplicity of nature and yoke it to his own mundane needs. Horizon to horizon, not a thing in the sky but blue, birds and a sun that was only now accepting the end of summer with good and cheerful grace.

Ironically, the thing one really notices about an empty sky is the absence of sound. As frequently as we see airplanes, we hear them even more so; my daughter, who loves to watch planes traverse, knows to look up to see a plane not because she's caught a glimpse of it in the corner of her eye, but because she hears it move -- the hollow cavitation of a jet engine, the sound lagging behind the aircraft as if inexpertly dubbed by a bored sound technician. Listen sometime and you'll hear the plane that's above, behind or in front of you in the sky. You hear it so often you don't hear it any more. Planes create the white noise of a mobile society. Standing in my yard, I was overwhelmed by not hearing the planes.

Eventually you get over the idea of not having your sky echo back at you, and you just stare and stare, your eyes looking for the flying machines that aren't there, since you know that even though you won't find any, it's still not normal not to see any at all. I thought that surely my daughter, who (remember) loves planes, would notice that there weren't any in the sky. But she didn't. She was more interested in putting her basketball through her toddler-sized hoop. But then, she's two and a half years old. She doesn't know how exceptional a sky like this was. She doesn't know how very unlikely it is that there will ever be another sky like this, another day like this.

Nighttime eventually fell, and I went out into my yard again. The half-moon set before the sun and wouldn't rise again until well after I went to sleep; the sky was dark and stars were splayed carelessly across it. My wife came out with me, and I showed her the sights: Mars, not as bright as he was earlier in the summer, but still clear and red, an angry horsefly on the constellation Pegasus. Scorpio floated nearby, pincers pointing in the direction into which the sun and moon had fled.

My wife asked me to find the Big Dipper, so we cruised north, and I pointed it out, noting the fact that the Big Dipper is not a constellation at all, but merely an asterism, a smaller chunk of the larger constellation of Ursa Major. We followed the Dipper's guiding stars north again, to Polaris, the star which never sets. Across it all spilled the Milky Way, the cloud of stardust and just plain old dust, a mottled glow that hints at the majesty at the core of our galaxy. It's hard to turn away from a glorious night sky like that. But I did, to go back inside, put my daughter to bed, and reimmerse myself in the horror that was the price of this priceless, speckless sky.

I have to ask myself -- and I did ask myself, several times over the course of the day -- if it was selfish to celebrate the beauty I have found in that singular sky, that perfect, unblemished sky that I know I will never see again in this life. Was it wrong to appreciate its blue depths, when the cost was gray dust and black soot and red blood, mingled in the Hell mixed up hundreds of miles away? Did the peace this sky brought me mock the pain of thousands, and the pain of the untold number who loved those people? Would the mothers, fathers and children of those who have been lost find it unspeakable that on their cloud of dust and death, I found this sky-blue lining?

I don't know. I think it may indeed be selfish to celebrate that sky. But I can't help myself. Pandora unleashed terrors upon the world when she opened her famous box, but she also released hope, the one thing that was to give people the courage to go on with their lives. In this time, in our time, a new box has opened with all the terrors and pain and suffering we have the capacity to imagine, and more beyond those. You can go insane thinking about them. I spent the day angry and distracted, wobbling between the barely-contained desire to crack dark jokes and the barely-restrained need to bawl like a child. What kept me together was the sky. The one perfect thing on this shattered day. It was my hope.

How I wish I had never had to see that perfect sky. How grateful I am it was there.

Posted by john at 09:58 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 10, 2005

Reaffirming Christianity

One of the more gratifying things about the aftermath of the "Being Poor" piece I wrote a week ago is how often I've been seeing it pop up on Christian-oriented Web sites, blogs and journals, followed by a sincere examination by the poster of what one ought to do about poverty, as Christians and as members of a larger community. By this I emphatically do not mean that all of a sudden these Christians are thinking about poverty seriously thanks to me, and that I should get a shiny medal or something like that. That would be a wildly stupid and arrogant assumption on my part, and while I've been known to be both wildly stupid and arrogrant, this isn't one of those times. No, I believe these Christians were already grappling with issues like poverty, and this was just one more data point for them to consider.

What's gratifying about these Christians using "Being Poor" to discuss poverty is not so much that they are talking about it but that I am seeing them discussing it, reminding me -- as I do need to be reminded from time to time -- that however much I rail against people I see as mouthing Christ's words and ideas and yet living a life apart from the ideals they claim to profess, there are as many if not more people who genuinely struggle to follow the example Jesus set and stay on the path that He walked. It's a reminder that the question "What Would Jesus Do?" is not just a snappy catchphrase on a bracelet, but also and hopefully foremost a genuine question that cuts to the core of how one should live one's life and how one should approach others.

Because here's my thing about Christians: I expect more from them. If you step up and profess to Christianity, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect you to make a creditable effort at following in the footsteps of Christ. Expecting people to do this flawlessly is of course ridiculous; if even Jesus had his moment of doubt, we can hardly fingerpoint when a Christian stumbles off the path. What you hope to see is the determination to get back on the path and to go where it leads. If you make a commitment to Christ and you follow His teaching, I will celebrate you. But if someone claims Jesus and then ignores his precepts of mercy and compassion, I don't see any point in letting them use Him as a flak guard for their own wholly unchristian attitudes.

I am not a Christian, but I know Jesus. I've studied the Bible; I know the history of Christianity and Christian thought. Unlike three out of four Americans, I know the Bible does not say "God helps those who help themslves." Unlike sixty percent of Americans, I know more than four commandments, and unlike half of Americans I can name more than one author of the Gospels (hint: look at the name of the books). None of this makes me better than anyone who professes to follow Christ. It does mean, however, that I am familiar with what it takes to know Christ. I know Him well enough to expect quite a lot from His followers. And I do.

What do I expect from Christians? What Jesus did: For them to love their neighbor as themselves, which is a simple phrase but a monstrously difficult thing to do. Who is one's neighbor? Jesus answers that in Luke 10:25-37, and explains why even the least among us deserve compassion in Matthew 25:31-46. I often wonder if many of those who profess Christianity will be surprised where they are placed on the latter day. On my more irritable days, I sometimes wonder if it won't be most of them.

But today is not that day. Through the last week I've gone through Web sites and blogs and journals that remind me that so many who claim Christ do indeed walk the walk and put their Christian spirit and principles on the line and try live by them, difficult as they may be. And there is a gentle irony there: I wrote the "Being Poor" piece to help other people see what it means to be poor in the US. What it helped me to see, through the many of the people who chose to write and think about it, is what it means to be spiritually committed and engaged in the US. It reminds me what Christianity can be at its best, which is sometimes also when it is at its most questioning.

So for those Christians who allowed the "Being Poor" article to be part of their conversation with Christ and this world, let me say: Thanks, and thank you for showing me what Christianity can be.

Posted by john at 11:15 AM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

September 09, 2005

Katrina: Messages of Hope Blog

Some of you may recall that last week over at my AOL Blog, I asked AOL members to take pictures of themselves airing messages of support for Katrina victims. AOL liked the idea enough to run with it, giving the message pictures their own blog and opening it up for anyone to contribute their own picture. It's here:

Katrina: Messages of Hope

If you feel like putting in a picture, by all means, please do. And feel free to share that link with anyone you think would be interested in it.

Posted by john at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 08, 2005

Migrating Blog Posts; Raisin Bran

My book editor is watching the Whatever to make sure I'm not slacking off -- and he's right to do so! -- so let me just dash off a couple quick notes before he brings down the whip:

* The "Being Poor" piece has started to show up in local newspapers around the US, sometimes due to editors asking me directly if they can run the piece and sometimes due to editors picking it up through the newswire (it's being distributed by Cox, which owns the Dayton Daily News, for whom I write a DVD column and which is running the piece on Sunday). Naturally, I am delighted to see this migration from the blogosphere to the print world. I've sold reprints of Whatevers to alternative weeklies and as one-offs to the DDN before, but this is the first time one of the Whatevers looks to be getting a wider print distribution.

In case anyone wants to point out the irony of me making hot, sweet reprint money by writing about poverty, I'll note in this particular case I've been waiving my reprint fee. Please know that you will not see me do this on a regular basis; I am a true believer in the principle that money flows to the writer; also, I have a mortgage. But I didn't write this piece for money, and I can afford not to charge for it. If letting papers have it for free gets those particular words in front of more people, Then I say, go, take it and print it. This information wants to be free.

(By implication, this means that I'm also okay with all all the folks who have been cutting and pasting the entire list on their own blogs and journals, so long as theire's attribution and a link. What I've been very pleased to see is that in nearly every case I've seen there has been attribution and a link back to the Whatever, which wouldn't have been the case even a couple of years ago. Yay! Link etiquette has reached critical mass!)

On second thought I should have asked for the papers to take what they would have paid me and donated it to the Red Cross. I'm sure that would have thrown their accounting people into a fit, however. Well, maybe next time.

* One of the things I find interesting about when people quibble with the stuff in the "Being Poor" list, they'll hold out a particular detail as an example of artifice over experience. The one I've seen a lot is the example I gave using Raisin Bran: people have noted in several different places that Raisin Bran is relatively expensive as cereals go, and someone who is poor would choose the bagged cereal on the bottom shelf, or some other, less expensive brand of cereal. By citing Raisin Bran I'm making an observational error proving I've never actually been poor and/or was trying to write trenchantly with disregard to the facts, etc.

I don't actually know what to do with the criticisms of this type. I certainly won't deny trying to write for effect; I am a writer, and I did want to evoke a reaction. This is what I do. But without getting into the details of a story that would undoubtedly depress you for the rest of your day, allow me to assure all and sundry, from personal experience, that a poor parent might indeed choose Raisin Bran, possibly because she was at a convenience store where the selection was limited, and possibly because events led her to be in a state where comparison shopping took a back seat to getting through the purchasing process before she lost her composure in front of some random convenience store clerk. In other words, in this particular case, writerly artifice would have been in replacing the box of convenience store-bought Raisin Bran with a bag of Generic-Os cereal.

The "being poor" list I generated is by no means complete nor universal; as I've said a number of times in the comment thread, one of the interesting things about being poor in the US is that there are so many ways to do it. One's mileage may vary on any or all of the items in the list, and in the items in the string of comments that followed. If some portions of the list seem shaky to you, that's of course perfectly fine. I would simply ask that you entertain the notion that there are some values of "poor in the US" for which those details might apply.

Posted by john at 10:21 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

September 07, 2005


Good friggin' lord:

FEMA Chief Sent Help Only After Storm Hit

WASHINGTON (AP) - The top U.S. disaster official waited hours after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast before he proposed to his boss sending at least 1,000 Homeland Security workers into the region to support rescuers, internal documents show.

Part of the mission, according to the documents obtained by The Associated Press, was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims.

He waits until the storm hits, and then he actually has the gall to suggest that part of the mission should be to try to make the government look good.

Michael Brown shouldn't just be fired. He should be shot. Even better: He should be turned over to the survivors.

Also, you may recall that I earlier noted that one difference between Iraq and New Orleans is that this time the government isn't able to hide our American dead. Surprise! but That doesn't mean that the administration isn't going to try to hide them. Because, after all, all those dead people won't exactly convey a positive image about the government's reponse for victims, now, would they. And we can't have that.

Posted by john at 10:09 AM | Comments (55) | TrackBack

September 06, 2005

Going Meta for a Moment

I'm going to plunge myself back into the cone of silence I should have been in for the last several days, because I am behind on something I have no time to be behind on. Before I do, I want to give some answers to people who have asked, via e-mail and other ways, why it was I wrote the "Being Poor" piece.

The short answer to this was because I had to. I had made the sorry mistake in the last week or so of actually looking up from the deadline I am up against and watching news and current events and basically getting myself so wound up that by Friday I was genuinely about to vomit in anger. This had a detrimental affect on my actual work, not surprisingly; I was writing was crap because I was preoccupied (looking back, I would have benefited from this advice, had it been posted earlier).

Aside from being work-stoppingly angry, I was also somewhat personally alarmed. I know no one personally in New Orleans, as far as I know, so I didn't have an obvious personal connection to the disaster there. To be blunt about it, I'm not the sort of person to get wound up about things; yes, I'm rather boisterous when it comes to my writing here, but this is also a generally effective heat sink for my irritability (or perhaps it brings it out) and most people who know me would attest I'm not the overly angsty on a day-to-day basis because, really, who has the time. New Orleans had me worked up beyond reason and I had to figure out why, because I wanted to get my head back.

What I eventually figured out is what prompted me to write "Being Poor," which was that I had gotten myself into a state watching the people who stayed behind in New Orleans struggle and die, and listening to people wonder -- some genuinely, some derisively -- why they just didn't get out when they were ordered to get out. There were enough people going "you idiots, they couldn't leave, they're poor," including me, but if you don't have experience being poor, ultimately that's not helpful. I wanted to provide some context for what it's like to be poor. "Being Poor" was my attempt.

I've been gratified that by and large people have taken it in the spirit in which it was written, but there has been interesting bits of pushback. I've already noted people pointing out that being poor in America is different than being poor in other places on the globe, which is of course an absolutely accurate and valid point, even if it doesn't make being poor in the US any easier.

Other folks in the comment thread and elsewhere questioned the appropriateness of my writing about poverty, as I am manifestly not in poverty now, nor do I usually give any indication of having been poor. And this is also true enough: Point of fact is, there's a whole bunch of stuff I don't write about here, and growing up poor is (or was, anyway) one of them. And the "Being Poor" piece doesn't necessarily suggest in its construction that any of those things happened to me. This is intentional, mind you: I didn't want the piece to be about me in particular. Nevertheless, most of the things in that list happened to me or immediate family or the people we have known. It was genuinely difficult to write the piece, because I'm not keen on being confessional to people who are not of my inner circle of friends. But as much as I don't like being confessional, I don't like having my brain all pretzel-twisted, either.

So, yes: I grew up poor. Now you know. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of the fact of having been poor; it is what it is. But I will note that having been poor in some sense never leaves you. I was and am appalled that so many people were basically abandoned to the hurricane and the floods largely because they were poor; in another place and time and under not dissimilar circumstances, that could have been me as a child or people that I knew. The state and local governments failed them by not helping to get them out of harm's way or adequately preparing and organizing the shelters they did set aside; the national government failed them in its criminally disorganized disaster relief. You don't have to have been poor to be outraged at what happened with Katrina and its aftermath, but if you have been it provides an extra dimension of horror.

The third bit of pushback came from the folks who saw this as just another bit of liberal white guilt twaddle defending the dumb and lazy poor, and had a bit of sporky fun making fun of it and me. Well, you know, you have fun there, kids.

Overall, writing the "Being Poor" piece and seeing the response has been one of the moving writing experiences that I've had in a very long time, and much of that I owe to the commentors who stepped forward to add notes from their own lives and experiences. There have been over 350 comments to the entry, which is a record, and the overwhelming majority of them have been from people who had added something to the pot, as it were. Having a comment thread of any length not descend into flaming anarchy is rare; to have one go 350+ comments without doing so is a minor miracle. Thank you everyone. I have long believed I benefit from some amazing readers and commentors, and here is the proof.

Before I submerge again, one final thing: It's never too late to donate.

Between now and finishing the book I'm working on, I may make some one or two sentence "bloggy" link entries, but don't expect too much substantive here for several days. I've had my catharsis; now it's back to work. See you soon.

Posted by john at 10:11 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Being Poor Additional Comments Post

Because the original Being Poor comment thread has gotten so long, making the page itself a very large download (and is threatening to get larger), I've decided to cap the comments there and shunt all the new comments here. If you have your own experiences to add to the Being Poor list, or want to add any other comments relating to it, this is now the place to do it. Thanks --

Posted by john at 08:26 AM | Comments (311) | TrackBack

September 05, 2005

Noted Without Comment

Rescue 'ticket'

Posted: 6:24 p.m. ET
CNN's Drew Griffin in New Orleans, Louisiana

I am stunned by an interview I conducted with New Orleans Detective Lawrence Dupree. He told me they were trying to rescue people with a helicopter and the people were so poor they were afraid it would cost too much to get a ride and they had no money for a "ticket." Dupree was shaken telling us the story. He just couldn't believe these people were afraid they'd be charged for a rescue.

Posted by john at 10:08 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 04, 2005

Quick Followups

A couple of quick follow-ups to posts from earlier in the week:

* First, someone might want to show FEMA director Michael Brown this article from the Washington Post" "Living Paycheck to Paycheck Made Leaving Impossible." It explains some of the economic realities of the people who stayed behind. Pay attention to the sums of money these people have and recall Cherie Priest's comment that if most of these folks had had $300 and a car, they would have been out of there. Ms. Priest's comment, it seems, was spot on.

* Second, CNN pair-growing continues, as you can see here:

Defending the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff argued Saturday that government planners did not predict such a disaster ever could occur.
But in fact, government officials, scientists and journalists have warned of such a scenario for years.

I like that the press is beginning to remember that its role is not merely to reprint the mouthings of people in power. An adversarial press is exactly what we need now -- and what we need, in fact, all the time.

* The response to "Being Poor" has been both phenomenal, in the number of links and visitors, and humbling, in the additions that people have added to the original list, most of which it's clear come from personal experience. I will have more to talk about with my experience writing and posting the piece, but that will be for later. For now, I'll note one thing: Some folks out there have pointed out the being poor in America (and the first world in general) is a different proposition to being poor in the third world: There's Nick Mamatas' pungent commentary, which I linked to in the original thread, and also this piece, which I found earlier this morning.

My response to this is: Of course. As Nick points out, there's "relative poverty," which is by and large is what we have here in the US, and "absolute poverty," which is what you get in places where the vast majority of the population could live immensely comfortably on $300 a month (individuals in the population, mind you, not the entire population itself). The latter link in the last paragraph is written by someone who seems to be angry at the American poor for not knowing how good they have it, and with me for suggesting the American poor are genuinely poor. I don't want to address that in any extended sense, since I think having a "poorer than thou" pissing contest trivializes the plight of the poor, whether they live in the first world or the third. I will suggest that going hungry feels the same wherever one might live. But by all means, follow these links and get a perspective on what being absolutely poor entails.

* Given the volume of posts in the last few days that are explicitly or implicitly political in nature, and the sheer volume of recent comments, this is a good time to remind people that a) I actively moderate comments, b) I'm not shy in expunging ones I don't find appropriate (this is manifestly different than expunging ones I disagree with), and c) I'm also not shy expressing my opinion when I respond to comments.

All of those being the case, I heartily encourage everyone here, both long-time residents and brand-new visitors, to examine both my site disclaimer and my comment thread rules. In them you will discover that in regard to this site, I am indeed a petty tyrant, but generally a tolerant petty tyrant. Have fun.

Posted by john at 12:35 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Oh Boy

Chief Justice Rehnquist has died. Now things get really interesting.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

September 03, 2005

Being Poor

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they're what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there's not an $800 car in America that's worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won't hear you say "I get free lunch" when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn't mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can't leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don't have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn't have make dinner tonight because you're not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid's school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don't give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger's trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can't find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she'll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you'll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid's teacher assuming you don't have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn't bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that's two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you're being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn't spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won't listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn't go away.

Being poor is making sure you don't spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.

Posted by john at 12:14 AM | Comments (349) | TrackBack

September 02, 2005

An Adversarial Media

So, when was it exactly that CNN grew a pair? This slapdown of the official administration line on New Orleans versus the reality is pure creamery goodness.

Also, if it wasn't clear to everyone by now, FEMA head Michael Brown is the designated whipping boy. Don't expect him to be around for too much longer. And good riddance.

Also, anyone wondering when the state and local authorities were going to take their share of the blame is advised to go here, where Nick Mamatas posts a message from a New Orleans refugee. Yes, there is more than enough blame to go around here.

Posted by john at 04:53 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Condi's Shoes

Having spent the previous two entries banging on the Bushies, let me take a moment to say that I don't particularly care that Condi Rice was buying shoes and taking in a Broadway show the other day. She's Secretary of State, which if I remember correctly means that she deals with the rest of the world. One doesn't want to excuse the "it's not my department" sort of thinking in a general sense, of course, but in this case it really isn't her department. Also, she probably had those Spamalot tickets for weeks, since before Katrina was even a tropical depression. Basically, there are so many legitimate things to be outraged about with what's going down South that this just seems like an unnecessary expenditure of bile.

Posted by john at 02:08 AM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

September 01, 2005

Stupid, Stupid Poor

I want an administration that won't hire a jackass to run FEMA:

(CNN) -- The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday those New Orleans residents who chose not to heed warnings to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina bear some responsibility for their fates.
Michael Brown also agreed with other public officials that the death toll in the city could reach into the thousands.
"Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Brown told CNN.
"I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans," he said...

Michael Brown, meet Cherie Priest:

New Orleans and Biloxi are not rich cities. They are poor southern cities disproportionately filled with poor southern people -- people who may not have reliable transportation, people who live hand-to-mouth, people who have nowhere else to go, even if they had the means to get there.
And the evacuation was little more than a vague order to get the hell out -- under your own power and at your own expense. If you have, at your immediate disposal, reliable transportation, money for gas, and either distant family OR money for shelter, then this isn't a big deal. Of course you leave. You pack up everything you can and you head for higher ground. But it is somewhat less easy to do if you are lacking any one of these things, AND you have been informed that what little earthly lot you may claim is about to be destroyed. Do you hang on and try to save what you can? Do you let it go and return to less than nothing?...
If every single person in New Orleans had a spare $300 and a car, most of them could have run. Now turn on the TV again and look at how many stayed.

This afternoon I had a conversation with a friend of mine in California who wondered why the hell so many people stayed in New Orleans after the evacuation order, and implicit in this was the idea that if you stay when you're told to go, you shouldn't be surprised when you end up dead. I pointed out that a lot of the people who stayed were poor, a lot of them didn't have cars or anywhere to go, and neither the city nor the state was lining up transportation to take them out of the city. Greyhound had rather notoriously closed shop on Saturday, so even if they wanted to get out and had the money for a bus ticket, surprise! Most people who stayed didn't stay for the lark of being able to say they weathered the storm. They stayed because they really didn't have much other choice.

Does the director of FEMA honestly think that most of the people who stayed whould have chosen to stay had they better options? If one is unable to leave, by whatever combination of poverty, age or infirmity applies, and the government isn't there to help you leave, how much responsibility should that person bear for being in the path of a goddamned hurricane? And what the holy living crap is the director of FEMA doing, wagging his finger at these people? It's not like FEMA was in a rush to move its ass anywhere, either. I knew two days before Katrina hit where that storm was going: a little government department called NOAA told me. Seems to me FEMA might have been able to get the memo too. And, you know, maybe packed some snacks and a couple cases of bottled water. Just in case someone needed them five days ago.

Oh, but, don't think Director Brown is blaming anyone:

Asked later on CNN how he could blame the victims, many of whom could not flee the storm because they had no transportation or were too frail to evacuate on their own, Brown said he was not blaming anyone.
"Now is not the time to be blaming," Brown said. "Now is the time to recognize that whether they chose to evacuate or chose not to evacuate, we have to help them."

We don't blame them. It's just that they need to share some responsibility. They should have figured that being poor and carless was a bad move from the start. But what the hell, we'll help them anyway.

Here's a passage for you from a New Orleans Times-Picayune story, about a woman from New Orleans' 9th Ward, which I am led to understand is one of the poorest in the city:

Lucrece Phillips’ sleepless nights are filled with the images of dead babies and women, and young and old men with tattered T-shirts or graying temples, all of whom she saw floating along the streets of the Lower 9th Ward.
The deaths of many of her neighbors who chose to brave the hurricane from behind the walls of their Painter Street homes shook tears from Phillips’ bloodshot eyes Tuesday, as a harrowing tale of death and survival tumbled from her lips.
"The rescuers in the boats that picked us up had to push the bodies back with sticks," Phillips said sobbing. "And there was this little baby. She looked so perfect and so beautiful. I just wanted to scoop her up and breathe life back into her little lungs. She wasn’t bloated or anything, just perfect."

I don't want to blame that baby. But she bears some responsibility.

Posted by john at 10:51 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

New Orleans

Christ. I have nothing to add to the chorus of voices out there discussing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, except to yet again wish that I lived in a country whose top administrators weren't so malignantly incompetent. If I actually told you what I thought about the President saying that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" on national television when FEMA had it as one of the top three worst things that could happen to the US all the way back in 2001, the Secret Service would be required to come to my door in order to investgate me. Suffice to say that my longtime hedge of suggesting that George W. Bush is only the most incompetent president of the last 80 years is no longer in effect. As it stands, only James Buchanan now guards the way between George Bush and the black abyss. Bush's appalling statement wasn't just another example of the man's personal obliviousness, it's an encapsulation of his administration's entire ethic: It doesn't know anything it doesn't want to know anything about.

My heart is sore that New Orleans has been literally wiped off the map, but what enrages me is that the reason it's been wiped off the map is not Hurricane Katrina (which, you may recall, it actually survived, thanks to Katrina's last-minute jig to the east) but because of a conscious decision by the federal government -- originating with the current administration's budget proposal -- not to fully fund the programs that would have improved the levees that held the water back.

Yes, it's entirely possible that even improved and fortified levees would have failed, faced with the punishment even a deflected Katrina heaped upon them. But it's absolutely certain that not improving them has had disastrous consequences. The areas where the money diverted from the levees has gone (the New Orleans Times-Picayune noted that "the federal government began reducing Corps of Engineers appropriations in 2001, as more money was diverted to homeland security, the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq") have not exactly been shining examples of administrative competence, either. "Penny wise and pound foolish" has been an operating maxim for this administration from the start.

No doubt the adminstration will do what it always does when confronted with its own incompetence: Attempt to change the subject, question the motives of those who question them, and work to conceal the proof of their incompetence. I doubt it will work. This is an American city that's sunk beneath the water, and this time the administration can't keep the press from showing pictures of our American dead.

No, damn it, it's not about them being Republican. A competent Republican adminstration would be like ice cream on a summer day compared to these people. There's nothing inherently Republican or Democratic about making sure one of America's major cities -- and our major port -- doesn't get erased under the water of a nearby lake. You're not suddenly paying over $3 for a gallon of gas (when you can find it) because George Bush is a nominal Republican. You're paying that much because he's completely goddamned useless, and he's dragged the government down to his sorry level.

(Having said that, when I hear that both Dennis Hastert and Donald Rumsfeld have expressed doubts about the utility of rebuilding New Orleans, you have to wonder if being Republican in today's world means intentionally signing up for brain damage. Seems that port down there isn't just used by the folks in New Orleans. It could be that not having it around might cause trouble. If one of my Republican readers (or leaders) would like to assure me that they'd prefer not to leave New Orleans as a rotting abscess at the end of the Mississippi River, I sure would appreciate it.)

New Orleans is a physical embodiment of something I've thought for a very long time: That it's going to take years to repair the all the totally unnecessary damage to our country that this adminstration has seen fit to wreak upon it. The good news is that more people seem to be waking up to that. The bad news is it took the destruction of New Orleans to bring it home.

(Incidentally: The American Red Cross. Donate. I did.)

Posted by john at 04:08 PM | Comments (55) | TrackBack

Subterranean Magazine Submissions Reminder

A quick reminder to everyone: In one month I open to accept submissions to Subterranean Magazine's Spring 2006 issue, with the theme "Big Honkin' Science Fiction Cliches." All the submission requirements and details are here, and mere words cannot express how strongly I suggest you read that entry and follow its dictates (also read through the comments, in which I answer additional questions -- and if you have any new questions, leave them in that comment thread as well).

Please note that the submission period for the issue runs from October 1, 2005 to November 1, 2005. Submissions and queries submitted before 12:00am October 1, 2005 will be deleted unread. Submissions and queries submitted after 11:59:59pm November 1, 2005 will be deleted unread (all times Eastern US). If you think I'm kidding about this, fine, go ahead, get your submission deleted. See if I care.

Let me also address the theme of the issue, which is "SF cliches." Let me be very clear that what I don't want to see are stories that take science fiction cliches and use them in the very manner that made them cliches in the first place. What I very much do want to see are stories that take science fiction cliches and use them in highly original, incredibly memorable and utterly expectation-confounding ways. You know you can do it.

I also rather strenuously suggest you check out this entry, about how and why I reject submissions. Yes, I know it won't apply to you. Nevertheless, you might read it in order to share it with someone else.

I'm really excited that this is coming up so soon -- I'm looking forward to seeing submissions!

Posted by john at 12:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rare By The Way Plug

This week's Weekend Assignment at By The Way is something I think more than AOLers might want to get involved in: I'm asking people to write messages to victims of Katrina and then post a message with them and the picture. The entry is here, and for the folks who don't have an AOL/AIM account, I've crossposted to my LiveJournal account here.

Posted by john at 12:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack