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January 31, 2006

Anecdotal Evidence of the Long Tail

The Ghost Brigades bumped up into the 2000s in the Amazon rankings today but as far as I could tell no one was actually talking about it -- no new reviews, etc, so I wondered what was going on. I think I figured it out: Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds was pimping his own book An Army of Davids today, and on his Amazon page, TGB is listed as one of the books in the "Customers who bought this book also bought" category (as is Old Man's War). Glenn's book is currently at #66 (up from 23,000 or so yesterday), and all the books in the "also bought" category are also up in their Amazon numbers today as well (save the book Glenn himself co-wrote). It could be mere coincidence all these books are up, but I suspect not.

So, thanks, Glenn, for pimping your own book. It's working out well for me.

I added to Glenn's number, incidentally, by pre-ordering. It's the least I could do. Also pre-ordered: Crystal Rain, by Tobias Buckell. Sure, I could have scammed a free copy off of Tor when I was there. But I believe the best way to support new writers is with actual sales. Call me crazy on this one.

Posted by john at 07:48 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Just Because You're in Publishing Doesn't Mean You Can't Be a Moron

Here's a headline, in the wake of James Frey:

Publishers Say Fact-Checking Is Too Costly

Yes, but is it more costly than fighting off a $10 million class-action suit? Personally, I'd guess "no." Heck, even a lousy settlement will cost more than the salary of one poor bastard fact-checker, slaving away in the bowels of some publishing company's basement, calling up local law enforcement to see if their author was, in fact, charged with masturbating a parrot in front of schoolchildren, or whatever ridiculous thing you need to claim you have done in order to get Nan Talese to fork over the cash these days.

And, no, thank you, I'm still deeply unimpressed by the "but memoir is about emotional truth" line. Look, I could tell you what I think happened last week and someone else would say "well, I remember it differently." That's fine; we're not perfect data recorders and people tend to remember things in a way that allows them to live with themselves. However, there's a difference between remembering imperfectly and just lying your ass off because it makes a better story. You should know whether your arrest for onanistic avian encounters actually, you know, happened. It's not a thing one would forget. And one wouldn't confuse it, say, with a cite for jaywalking. And in any event, it's a relatively trivial thing for someone to check. An arrest for parrot masturbation is definitely going to make the local papers. It'd probably be the most exciting thing to happen in two counties that entire day. Thank God Oprah backed off from that ridiculous line of "emotional truth" thinking and ripped Frey a new one when she brought him back on the show. At least someone has a clue.

What I expect will happen is something which the WSJ story suggests will happen, which is that language gets introduced into memoir contracts specifying that the author is at least attempting to tell the God's honest truth; it's not as good as an actual fact-checker, but legal indemnity is good enough for the purposes of not being sued. As an author of non-fiction, I certainly wouldn't mind signing a contract with that sort of amendment, but then, I've never been unclear on what non-fiction is. Go ahead and fact-check that statement. You'll discover it's the truth.

Posted by john at 12:49 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Oh, Dear

John M Scalzi dies in head-on car accident.

Clearly, not me. Nor my father, for that matter, as the age is wrong and he doesn't live in Massachusetts. And as far as I know he's no direct relation to me. Very sad nonetheless. Also, of course, disconcerting to discover that someone who has your name right down to the middle initial has died.

Posted by john at 11:43 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Early Oscar Thoughts, 2006 Edition

There are a lot of things to say about this year's Oscar picks. First, among the best picture contenders, this is the most worthy, challenging, intellectually satisfying field in years. Second, this year's Oscar show may be the lowest-rated in the history of forever, because to date not a one of these worthy, challenging and intellectually satisfying films has done any sort of business in the theaters.

Numbers: At this moment, the three highest-grossing Best Picture nominees (Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Munich) have done less business in aggregate than the single Adam Sandler film The Longest Yard, and only barely edge out the terrible Superhero film Fantastic Four. All five combined made less than Madagascar -- or the 2000 Best Picture, Gladiator. The average domestic gross of the Best Picture films this year at the time of their nomination is $37.1 million; adjusted for inflation, I suspect strongly this is the lowest-grossing class of Best Picture nominees in the entire eight-decade history of the Academy Awards. Whichever film eventually wins is very likely to be the first Best Picture in a decade not to crack the $100 million mark  -- the last Best Picture to fail that was The English Patient.

Just how uncommercial is this crop of nominees? Consider this: a nominee for Best Documentary -- March of the Penguins -- has made more money than any of the Best Picture nominees. I guarantee you that has never happened before, ever. When Hollywood's best films can't compete with chilled, aquatic birds, there's something going on.

This is not to say that box office should be a factor in deciding which films should be most honored. The money isn't actually the point. The point is that the "best" movies of the year are profoundly alienated from what Hollywood is actually selling at the moment. When the highest grossing Best Picture nominee (Crash) is only 48th in terms of yearly grosses, what you're saying is that the film industry is failing at the task of marrying art and commerce -- or, at the very least, failing at the task of convincing moviegoers that art is worth seeing. Among the top ten domestically-grossing films of 2005, there's not a single acting, directing or screenwriting nomination; the most significant Oscar nomination among that pack is Cinematography (for Batman Begins). You have to go into technical and wardrobe awards before the films in the top ten show up in any appreciable quantity.

Maybe film companies don't care -- but on the other hand remember that the film industry (rightly or wrongly) perceived itself in a slump last year; the $8.8 billion total gross was the lowest since 2001, and 2005 was the first year since 1991 that there was a shinkage rather than an expansion of total grosses. The general chatter on the ground was that in 2005, Hollywood wasn't making films that people wanted to see; based on the Best Picture nominees, you could additionally say that Hollywood also recognizes that the best work of the film industry was not what it was actually busy selling to all of us. This damn well ought to be a teachable moment for someone.

Enough ranting. Here's a quick take on the nominees and front-runners.

Best Picture: "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "Munich."

In my opinion the Oscar race is pretty much already decided: barring a freakish mishap, it's a Brokeback year. Aside from the film's inherent quality, it's also got Hollywood social momentum going for it, as the relatively liberal Academy will consider it a fine poke in the eye of the folks who freak out about men loving men, particularly when those men are cowboys. However, I see two chances for wild card situations: Crash takes place in LA and is socially conscious, and its cast won the Best Ensemble award at the SAG awards the other night. Actors are the largest branch of the Academy, so that might mean something. I suspect it won't, actually, because the dynamic for a Best Ensemble award is not the same for a Best Picture award, but you never know. The other dark horse is Good Night, if the actors line up for George Clooney for Best Director and the rest of the Academy decides it's more important to send a message about government intrusiveness than about the right of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal to openly kiss. But I think that's a dark horse indeed. Capote and Munich are just there as filler -- very good filler, mind you. But filler.
Early Pick: Brokeback Mountain

Director: Ang Lee, "Brokeback Mountain"; Bennett Miller, "Capote"; Paul Haggis, "Crash"; George Clooney, "Good Night, and Good Luck."; Steven Spielberg, "Munich."

This is one of the very few years where all the Best Picture and Best Director nominations line up; usually there's an odd man out. I think Ang Lee will nab this, both as part of a larger sweep for Brokeback and also because he's due; he really ought to have won in 2001 for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, in my opinion. His only real competition comes from George Clooney, who aside from his fine work in Good Night is also primarily an actor, and the Actor's branch of the Academy is notorious for dropping director Oscars into the lap of its brethren, often at expense of more deserving directors (ask Martin Scorsese about this: He lost out to both Robert Redford and Kevin Costner this way, not to mention Clint Eastwood). Nevertheless I expect it to come Lee's way. Miller, Haggis and Spielberg are not actually in consideration this time around; even if Crash were to somehow come away with Best Picture, I would expect Director to go with Ang or Clooney.
Early Pick: Lee

Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote"; Terrence Howard, "Hustle & Flow"; Heath Ledger, "Brokeback Mountain"; Joaquin Phoenix, "Walk the Line"; David Strathairn, "Good Night, and Good Luck."

This is the hardest category to handicap. The only person I'll immediately vote off the island is Terrence Howard, with the notation that I'm surprised and pleased he got the nomination at all -- he truly deserves it. Hopefully he'll be happy with it as his reward. But after that things get iffy. I'd toss out Phoenix next, but since Reese Witherspoon is a genuine contender in Best Actress, and their performances are a matching set, I'm hesitant to discount him entirely. If David Strathairn gets the Oscar it'll blow up any predictions about Brokeback and suddently Good Night will look like a real contender. But in the end I think it's between Ledger and Hoffman, and I'll give Hoffman the slightest of edges because he's an actor other actors have admired for a while now. On the other hand, Ledger has achieved his ambition not to be seen just as a pretty boy, painfully biting back his emotions through Brokeback, and it's hard to ignore a great performance no one was really expecting. It could go either way; I'm with Hoffman now, but I reserve the right to change my mind later.
Early Pick: Hoffman

Actress: Judi Dench, "Mrs. Henderson Presents"; Felicity Huffman, "Transamerica"; Keira Knightley, "Pride & Prejudice"; Charlize Theron, "North Country"; Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line."

I bet you Keira Knightley is surprised as all hell this morning. Enjoy it, Ms. Knightley, because your big moment will be on the red carpet. Judi Dench: Not a chance, not in the least because six people saw Henderson in the theater. Theron's performance in North is Norma Rae all over again, and she's got that ill-advised Aeon Flux flick out there at the moment. It's down to Huffman and Witherspoon, really, and while Huffman's got the transsexual thing going for her, I'm really having a hard time imagining a universe in which the pretty, successful and driven Ms. Witherspoon doesn't get this statuette.
Early Pick: Witherspoon

Supporting Actor: George Clooney, "Syriana"; Matt Dillon, "Crash"; Paul Giamatti, "Cinderella Man"; Jake Gyllenhaal, "Brokeback Mountain"; William Hurt, "A History of Violence."

Interesting category. I'd throw out Hurt early, but it's nice to see him taken seriously again. If either Dillon or Gyllenhaal win you can take that as an early indicator of their films' fortunes, although the reverse is not true. It's possible Clooney could get this if the pals in the Actor's branch decide not to gang up on Ang Lee in the director category. Giamatti's presence is very interesting; I suspect he's here more because he was flagrantly ignored last year for Sideways than for his performance in Cinderella (which, to be clear, was very good), and if he wins it'll be one of those "we're sorry for not giving this to you when we should have" moments. I'd say for now Giamatti's in the lead, followed narrowly by Gyllenhaal and Clooney.
Early Pick: Giamatti

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, "Junebug"; Catherine Keener, "Capote"; Frances McDormand, "North Country"; Rachel Weisz, "The Constant Gardener"; Michelle Williams, "Brokeback Mountain."

Good category -- nice to see Amy Adams getting a nod, although I find it unlikely she'll get a win; McDormand I think is out of it completely. Catherine Keener, I think, deserves an Oscar on general principals, but ultimately the real competition will be between Weisz and Williams. Between the two of them I'm leaning more toward Weisz at the moment, but this is definitely one of the categories where it'll need to be revisited closer to the date to see how the wind blows. And don't count Keener out completely; anyone who can make an actual human character in a film like The 40-Year-Old Virgin deserves your love.
Early Pick: Weisz

Other thoughts: I'll be very surprised if Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana don't get Oscars for Brokeback's script and it's very possible that George Clooney & Grant Heslov will get script awards from Good Night as well, not just for the script itself but because Clooney and Heslov are both better known as actors, and I've already impressed upon you the mightiness of the Actor's branch -- in fact, let me go on the record with them as front-runners for Best Original Screenplay. I expect Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit to get Best Animated Film. Best Original Song will go to "Travelin' Thru" by Dolly Parton, because everyone loves Dolly. March of the Penguins is a no-brainer for Best Documentary, but Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room has a chance for political reasons, and Murderball has a shot because it's cool to see paraplegics who can kick your ass.

Your thoughts?

Posted by john at 10:42 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

January 30, 2006

Out of Print

Teresa Nielsen Hayden muses on the life expectancies of books:

We talk about immortal literature, but the vast majority of books are as mortal as we are. Who here has read John Cleveland? He was the most popular poet of his era, with numerous editions of his work published during his lifetime and just after. Then his style went out of style, as did his Royalist sentiments. Bye-bye, Cleveland.

It happens. You wouldn't believe how many authors were left gasping on the beach when the tide of 1920s experimentalism ebbed—not that you could tell, looking at a bestseller list, that they'd ever been in print in the first place. When I was young, paperback gothics and nurse novels and books of poetry by Rod McKuen were all over the racks, but they disappeared like the passenger pigeon. More recently, the collapse of the horror boom left a lot of authors with nowhere to go...

All gone, now. We shall none of us escape obscurity.

I'm six years into my book writing career and already I've had a book fall out of print: The Rough Guide to Money Online, which was published in November of 2000 to great expectations and was brutally sideswiped by both the bursting Internet bubble and a disputed presidential election that sucked all the media oxygen into itself, leaving none for my poor little book and my poor little book tour. Barring mere neglect, its term of life would have been limited anyway because of the relentless pace of change online; a short year after the book came out, half the online institutions listed in the book were gone, either merged with other companies or simply out of business, and the software noted in the book had already undergone revision.

Even if you could find a copy of this little book I could not in good conscience recommend you buy it -- it is no more useful today than an Internet book from a decade ago, which would tell you about gopher and archie and .plan files but nothing about blogs or VOIP or mp3s. I suppose it could be updated, but Rough Guides has exhibited no interest in doing so and at this point I would probably be more inclined to let someone else do the revisions and share author credit (as specified in my contract), because I have other things to do. I'll always hold a special place in my heart for this book because it's my first, and because it opened the door for me to write more books. It certainly was a useful book for me. But out in the real world very few people know it ever existed now, and in ten years it's not an entirely safe bet I'll be able to reel off the title of it myself.

As TNH notes: It happens. Books die. The new media promises that books that shuffle off the publisher's coil might now have a shadowy second life as "publish on demand" entities, but just as the real issue for today's authors isn't piracy but obscurity, so will obscurity be the main problem in this new second life -- as TNH notes: "the number of books we can hold suspended in book-mindspace will be smaller than the number of books whose text is stored in POD databases, ready to be printed out." Not all of us are going to be major authors, even in our respective genre, and even being a major author in a genre is no guarantee: All fans are slans, but have all fans read Slan? At least Slan is in print. Not so, with, say, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, another important book by A. E. Van Vogt. Beagle is available as an e-book, but looking at the Amazon sales rank at the moment (#1,072,413), being an e-book isn't doing Beagle a whole lot of good. If the source material for Alien (as Beagle was, at least partially) is out of print physically, what should I eventually expect for my own genre novels?

Does this worry me? Eh. I mean, I have an ego. I like the idea of people buying and enjoying my books for decades to come. Being out of print does put a hard cap on readership; at this point being available as e-book or publish on demand is like the Hawking radiation of publishing -- every so often something will happen and someone will buy a book, but you don't know when and as an appreciable event in itself, it won't be significant. I'll be sad that people can't read particular stories of mine, because they won't know they exist.

On the other hand, I've had a book go out of print already, and it doesn't really bother me. True, it's informational non-fiction as opposed to fiction, and that probably makes a difference. But from Subterranean Press I hear that Agent to the Stars is down to the last few dozen of copies (get yours now!), so when those are gone, the book will be out of print; unless someone wants to make me an offer, there are no plans at the moment to do a paperback or other printing. It'll exist again only in electronic form. And I feel fine about that, too.

Part of that is that unromantic business thing of mine -- in a career sense, any book I do merely has to make it possible to write the next book. If I can keep swinging that, then what happens to a book when it's in the wild is immaterial. I'd prefer it do better than that, of course; just as everyone hopes all their kids grow up to be happy and successful, I hope all my books connect with readers and make me fat pots of cash. But simply as a business matter, getting to keep writing books is the name of the game. So there's that. Another part of it is that at this point I still have other stories to write, and I'm focused on that. If there comes a time when I feel tapped out, I may be more concerned about what I've done than what I'm doing. Fortunately and thankfully, that time isn't now.

The other part of it is that once you realize the universe is going to end in a thin entropic soup in which all the energy-depleted atoms wink out of existence one by one, worrying about immortality through your writing seems a little silly.

Anyway, another useful thing is that I've gotten ample training in writing ephemera; it's called "newspaper writing." Magazine writing and online writing, too. I've written thousands of movie and DVD reviews (not to mention hundreds of music reviews and dozens of book reviews and columns and general articles) and unless you read them the day they came out, well, you missed them, pal. Yes, some of them exist somewhere in the Lexis-Nexis database, but the likelihood of anyone anywhere searching to discover my opinion about, say, 1994's Sugar Hill, starring Wesley Snipes, is roughly as likely as me sprouting feathers from my pinky toe. The majority of everything I've ever written -- at least a couple million words overall -- is deeply unlikely ever to be read by anyone ever again. I mean, if you want to track down all that stuff and read it for yourself, please, be my guest. Enjoy! I hope you get a BA thesis out of it. But you will be one of the very few. I'm all right with that. I'm in good company on that score.

Here's who I write for. Right now, I write for as many people as I can, in the various places that I write: in books, here, in newspapers and magazine. As noted before, I have an ego; I like for my writing to be seen. I also like to be paid. Toward the future, my ambitions are slightly more modest. I wouldn't mind if millions read me decades after my death, but what I'm aiming for is that my kids and grandkids and other Scalzis and other family yet to be born are able to find my writing and get an idea of who I was from it (I expect them to say, "he seemed kind of ranty." Damn kids). I've written before that if some great-great-neice or seventh cousin thrice removed comes across some of my words and has a glimpse into my world, that works for me. I wouldn't mind having what I've written passed down through the generations of my own folks. That seems reasonable. It's also not necessarily contingent on remaining in print.

If you are one of my far-distant family, reading this from the future: What, you guys couldn't clone me, or something? Jeez. I'm pretty sure being dead sucks. I hope you at least have your rocket cars to the moon by now.

Posted by john at 05:49 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Ahead of the Curve

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One of the nice benefits of being an author
and/or having a blog a few people visit is now I get advance reader copies of books I want before the rest of mass of humanity gets its grubby little paws on them; naturally I have to taunt the rest of you with them now. Here's the most recent batch, sent to me by publishers or acquired during my recent trip to Tor:

Vellum, by Hal Duncan: I met the estimable Mr. Duncan briefly at Interaction, at the Orbit party, and I've been hearing good things about this, his debut novel, so I was definitely pleased to see in my office when I rolled in late last night (via rental car; my flight was delayed so there no more connecting flights when I got to Detroit, but Detroit is close enough to home that a rental car option was not totally stupid). I know nothing about the book other than that it is nominally fantasy and that it's supposedly one of those things that you either love or you wish to strangle the author for committing to paper. If that's true, either way Duncan's already won, since people will talk about the book no matter what. As for myself, the promise of unconventional fantasy work always appeals to me on a theoretical level. I'll let you know whether I feel like strangling Duncan after reading it; in the meantime I commend you to his blog, where he writes quite interesting rants on writing and other subjects.

Farthing, by Jo Walton: As most of you may already know, Ms. Walton has contributed what I think is a truly excellent short story for the issue of Subterranean magazine that I've edited, so when I was in the Tor office and saw the readers copies for this, I startled an editorial assistant with the avidity with which I lunged for the stack to grab my own copy. This was described to me by Patrick Nielsen Hayden as a charming English late 1940s murder mystery, set in an alternate history England that is not nearly as nice as the one we ended up having. I'm very much looking forward to this one.

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge: I started this one last night and probably would have finished it on the plane to Dayton, had there been a plane to Dayton, which there wasn't. I ended up driving, and as much as I was enjoying this book, I chose not to read and drive at the same time, for which I think the entire driving population of Interstate 75 from Detroit to Dayton is thankful. As it is, I'm about two-thirds of the way through this one. Charlie Stross' comment about this being the new benchmark novel for near-current SF is pretty accurate so far; at the very least it's been immensely enjoyable and the first Vernor Vinge novel I've read so far that you could give to a non-SF reader without some ramp-up, and as you all know by now I think having good SF accessible to non-geeks is a good thing.

The Ocean and all its Devices by WIlliam Browning Spencer: This was sent to me by Subterranean Press in a box that contained my author copies of "Questions for a Soldier" -- which reminds me that shortly I'll make a post about that and the other Subterranean Press chapbooks for 2005. It's a short story collection. I'd not heard of Mr. Spencer before, but so far I'm liking the stories I've read. Spencer's prose is writerly without fumbling over into being ornate for ornate's sake; I like reading authors with that much control over their language. I'm also paticularly fond of the book's introduction, in which Spencer ruminates about fame, karma, obscurity and poverty, sometimes all in the same sentence. But then I'm unnaturally fond of forwards and introductions in books. In any event, if you're a short story fan, this is worth looking into.

In other writerly news, over the weekend I discovered Old Man's War was part of Locus Magazine's Recommended Reading List for 2005; it's there in the "First Novels" category, in excellent company with books from folks like Elizabeth Bear, Tim Pratt, Justine Larbalestier, Jay Lake, Charles Coleman Finlay, Sarah Monette and the aforementioned Hal Duncan among others. Yes, the class of 2005 does kick ass, thank you very much.

Not among the first novel selections is Scott Westerfeld, but two(!) of his novels show up in the YA list, and to top it off he's got a big ass article about himself in the Melbourne Age newspaper, which you can read here. There's a picture too, which looks good except for the shirt, which looks like it's been attacked by a flock of incontinent ostrich. But, hey, maybe that's hip in Australia.

Posted by john at 09:17 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

January 28, 2006

TGB in My Hands

My author copy of The Ghost Brigades. Excellent. Got it right from the editor while I was at Tor, where I had lunch and spent time chatting with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Irene Gallo and with Tom Doherty, and also had a long, useful chat with my publicist Dot Lin, who is super-cool. In all, a fine experience in the Tor environs. They should do tours.

Posted by john at 12:37 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

January 27, 2006

Philadelphia Feeling

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Philadelphia was lovely. Well, actually the part of Philadelphia we were in, Fishtown, had "character." I think that's the appropriate euphemism. But I and Ron Hogan certainly had a lovely time while we were there, especially at the event, which was nicely attended and went off without a hitch. My compliments to the folks at Germ Books, who, if you happen to be in Philadelphia, have a truly righteous collection of really interesting books.

The image you see here is my Rough Guide publicist Katy Ball standing in front of some WPA-looking public art representing "The Spirit of Transportation." Mmmmm... WPA art. Katy, incidentally, a superfabulous publicist, despite the fact that that she said the following line: "Wait. Danny Elfman was in a band?" Her excuse, such as it is, is that she's young. I'll be sending her this, stat. She'll thank me for it later.

Also, quick personal note to Chris Lehman: Dude. I just saw your e-mail today. D'oh!

I'd chat more about event and Philly (and will, later), but right now I have to hop in the shower and prepare to meet editors. Have a good friday, all.

Posted by john at 10:21 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 26, 2006

From Russia With Cats

My agent just sent me an e-mail letting me know we sold The Ghost Brigades in Russian. As they say: w00t! And to celebrate, I offer you this picture of a cat:

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The cat is not Russian (it is not even a Russian Blue), but its owner studied Russian in college -- I know that much because I once held her flash cards while she was studying. And that's a tenuous enough relationship for me.

Off to Philly a little later in the day. Maybe I'll see some of you there.

Posted by john at 11:14 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 25, 2006

Title Change for Writing Book

Just as an FYI for all y'all, I've made a change to the title of the writing book. It is now:

You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing

Yes, it's long. So what. I like it. Although I do like the runner-up, too: "Sailing the Ramen Seas: Notes on the Writing Life." If Bill thinks the first title is too much, I'll fall back on the ramen. Which really is a writer thing to do, is it not.

You may like the chapter titles as well:

1. Writing Advice, or, Avoiding Real Work the John Scalzi Way
2. Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Writer's Life For Me
3. The Schadenfreude Needle is Buried Deep Into the Red: On Writers
4. Science Fiction, or, Don't Skip This Chapter, You Goddamned Writing Snobs

Only four chapters. Each between 10k and 20k words, however. Total book length is 70k words.

Also, the book is compiled, sequenced and sent. January 24, and I already have a book done for the year. Only three more to go! Please kill me.

Posted by john at 02:24 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Philadelphia (and New York), Here I Come



Just a reminder that tomorrow I and Ron Hogan descend on Philadelphia like a biblical plague of smart-ass movie book writers, for an event at the aptly-named Germ Books + Gallery (308 E. Girard, 215-423-5002) at 7pm in the evening. We'll be talking specifically about science fiction films of the 70s (seeing as I've written a book on SF films, and he's written a book on 70s films), but I imagine that the discussion is likely to wander afield as he and I shock and amaze the good people of Philly with our sass and wit (not to mention humility). This is going to be a lot of fun, so if you're in the area, try to be there.

I'll tell you one of the reasons that I'm looking forward to the event, which is that while Ron and I have known each other for well over a decade now, we've never actually physically met. We "hung out" on the alt.society.gen-x newsgroup back in the day ("the day" in this case being around 1994) and while we've kept up with other since then and cheered each other on with our respective careers, we've never managed to actually be in the same state at the same time as far as I know. This is soon to be corrected, and indeed I have some reason to expect that other former members of the a.s.g-x tribe will be at the reading as well. We'll all be together again for the very first time. That's the online world for you.

Let me also take a moment here to sing the praises of Ron's book; his publicist sent along a copy and I would heartily agree with the Publishers Weekly review that calls it one of the year's most fun film books -- I had a lot of fun cruising through it (and dwelling particularly, as is to be expected, on the chapter on SF movies). It's smart and a blast to go through, which is a more difficult combination that I think many people would expect. But, yes, if you're a fan of 70s cinema (or know someone who is), this should be a no-brainer for the pick up.

Along with Philly, I'll also be spending some time in the NYC area over the weekend; I'll be doing the "visit Tor" thing on Friday and will otherwise be spending time with some college pals but I might have time to see folks. So if you know of anything particularly groovy going on this weekend in the NYC environs, by all means let me know. I'll have e-mail access and all that groovy stuff.

All this moving about the country means that updating here may be light over the next few days. Just a fair warning. Also, a quick note for all the folks who have sent me link ideas recently -- I've got them but haven't had time to follow up on them because I've been trying to jam a week's worth of work into three days (a week's worth of work that's included putting the finishing touches on the writing book). I'll try to track through your links soon.

Posted by john at 11:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 24, 2006

The Canadian Example

Knowing next to nothing about American politics has never stopped me from writing about that subject, so I don't see why it should stop me from writing about Canadian politics, about which I know even less. Those of you who live in the Great White North elected a conservative government last night -- bearing in mind that what passes for "conservative" in the lands above Minnesota would be generally described as "screaming pinko socialists" here in the US -- and now the blogosphere is alight with folks speculating about this sea change in Canuck politics (naturally Instapundit has a wrap-up).

My thought about it: Yeah, don't get too excited, folks. First, the Canadian conservatives have a minority government, which makes it pretty clear they're not going to get to do anything truly radical since all the opposition is on their left and they have to work with at least some of them to get anything done at all. Second, from all I've read about the election and recent Canadian politics, this election was less about Canadians pulling over to the right than it was Canadians punishing the now-former ruling party, which had been acting corrupt, idiotic and arrogant. Possibly that party, now humbled, will get its act together and return to its philosophical and political roots while in exile.

Naturally, if this is indeed the case, I'm delighted for the Canadians and hope that some of their good sense will filter south. As it happens we also have corrupt, idiotic and arrogant ruling party down here that needs a good kick in the ass and a return to some of its more admirable philosophical and political tenents, very few of which have been in exhibition recently. Perhaps a few years wandering in the desert is exactly what it needs as well.

In all countries I believe it is a positive thing when those who lead are reminded that they lead only as long as they are worthy of being followed, and I think it's a fine thing that our northern neighbors let their former leaders know they were no longer worthy. So good on ya, Canadians, for sending that memo. I'm hoping a little later in the year we'll follow your fine example.

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January 23, 2006

DragonPage Podcast Interview

For those of you who still haven't heard what I sound like, I'm interviewed this week by Michael and Evo of DragonPage, on their weekly podcast. We're discussing The Ghost Brigades, short stories and Internet stuff, and the other usual nonsense I blather on about. I show up around 7 minutes and 30 seconds in.

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PW Review of The Ghost Brigades

Oh, look. The Publishers Weekly review of The Ghost Brigades is in and it's not bad at all. The opening line: "This fast-paced interstellar military drama doesn't quite meet the high expectations set by its predecessor, Scalzi's acclaimed Old Man's War (2005), but it comes impressively close." That works just dandy for me. You can see the entire PW review on TGB's Amazon page.

One portion of the review that interested me was this: "Scalzi pays gleeful homage to Ender's Game, The Forever War and Starship Troopers, sometimes at the expense of originality. All he needs to make the jump from good to great is to trust in his own ideas." This is a fair cop -- the book, as with Old Man's War, is not only directly in line with the tradition that tracks through those books by Heinlein, Haldeman and Card, there's actually a point in the book where the characters in the story read those books and note how they relate to their own lives to greater or lesser degrees. And of course, in addition to concretely serving the story it's also me as an author making a nod to my honored predecessors.

As a writer, you can't do that, or openly revisit the themes explored by those books and authors, without opening yourself to comment and comparison. Or at the very least, you can't do it and act surprised when people note that you're playing the changes. The ideas in The Ghost Brigades are to a significant degree an expansion of previous explorations on sf military themes. As I noted on Old Man's War in my "Lessons From Heinlein" essay: "The flip side of so consciously appropriating such a well-known sf format... is that Old Man's War cannot be accused of being breathlessly original, either in concept or execution. I think that's a fair enough assessment. To speak of novel in musical terms, it's best described as a variation on a theme or an improvisational riff off a classic tune." As a writer I have no problem trusting my ideas; one of the ideas with these books is that because they're an extension of a particular tradition of SF novel, so some derivativeness is going to be baked right in. I expect The Last Colony will be open to more of the same observations, as tonally and thematically it's going to be in line with the other books in the series. I do think there are a number of original ideas in all the books, of course. You get a little from column A and a little from column B.

Having said that, I entirely understand the reviewer's point of "Yes, we know you can do Heinlein -- but can you do you?" One of the ironies here is that the book I wrote immediately after Old Man's War -- The Android's Dream -- is rather different tonally than Old Man's War or Ghost Brigades; and at the very least it can't be said to be Heinleinesque because Dear Ol' Bob never opened a book with a chapter-long fart joke. Indeed I don't believe any science fiction author of note has done so. Thus will be my claim to fame in the years to come -- when any future science fiction writer does something of a gastrointestinal quality, reviewers will say "it's rather Scalzi-esque, though, isn't it?" I don't know that I could ask for anything more. I don't know if Android's Dream will be the book to propel me from good-to-great territory -- one does not generally achieve greatness via flatulence, Le Petomane notwithstanding -- but I guess you never know.

In any event -- and aside from fart jokes -- I'll be interested to see what critics think of Android's Dream when it comes out (not to mention the Two-Book Project I'm Currently Secretive About, which won't be out until late 2007 in any event). I think both those will establish I have my own voice, for better or for worse. In the meantime, of course, there are worse things than being in the company of Heinlein, Haldeman and Card.

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ConFusion Writeup

athenalumberjack.jpgAs Samwise Gamgee once said, well, I'm back. Hope you enjoyed Nick and Eliani's story -- I see it's been noted online in several places, almost all positively. I'm glad people liked it as much as I did.

I spent the weekend up at ConFusion, where I did a reading, quite a few panels, more than my share of dancing, and got my ass handed to me at Dance Dance Revolution by this guy, after me talking trash to him about it for a day or so beforehand. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. People were making excuses for me by suggesting that I just wasn't used to the particular pads, but no. I just got whupped. Being a man means admitting when you've been totally pwned.

As a whole I thought the convention was quite successful, but the moment of pure anecdotal fun came during Friday evening's guest of honor desert reception, as I was chatting with the convention's Fan Guest of Honor, Chuck Firment. I asked Chuck if he was staying out of trouble and when he answered that indeed he was, I replied that well, then, he wasn't doing his job. At which point he asked me to stand at a particular point near a low ledge and then announced to the entire room that everyone had kiss the top of my head at some point during the convention. Whereupon I was rushed by at least a dozen geeks who grabbed me, pulled me off the ledge and began the process of cranio-labial osculation. One man -- in a kilt -- actually licked my skull. All the rest of the con random people were coming up to me, kissing the top of my head, and then just wandering off. Because when the Fan Guest of Honor commands it, it must be done. It's a good thing Chuck didn't command them all to kiss my ass.

Later I related this story to Vernor Vinge, the writer Guest of Honor, who found it amusing but unaccountably passed on the opportunity to kiss my skull. Be that as it may, I told him that I would say that he did, and that the story would grow in the telling over the years so that many years from now it would be like the heterosexual science fiction writers' version of Brokeback Mountain, featuring only kisses and scalps, and in which Vernor Vinge tells me, over dinner at a Carribean-themed restaurant, that he wished he knew how to quit my skull. Bear in mind that in reality, the only portion of this which is true is that the two of us had dinner at a Carribean-themed restaurant, along with Tobias and Emily Buckell, Karl Schroeder and his lovely family, and Anne KG Murphy. But it feels true, in that James Frey I'm-making-shit-up-because-being-honest-won't-get-me-on-Oprah sort of way. So, yes. Vernor Vinge kissed my skull. I'll write about it in my upcoming memoir, A Million Little Kisses.

Back in the real world (the one in which no Hugo winner has ever in fact gotten anywhere near my scalp with his lips, or indeed any other body part), Mr. Vinge was indeed a fascinating fellow and a fine dinner companion, as were the Buckells, the Schroeders and Mrs. Murphy. I also managed to break bread with Steven Brust, who is always a pleasure to spend time with, and with Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press, who handed over my author copies of "Questions for a Soldier," which looked great (this means that all you folks who ordered copies should have them very soon), and managed also to spend a few moments with David Klecha and his family and friends, who included Merrie Haskell (Dave's most excellent story "Refuge" will be in the Subterranean magazine issue I'm editing); Dave and friends also showed up at my reading, which was most excellent of them.

I also was happy to spend time with Confusion staff and fans, many of which I regret to say I know only by first name and/or LiveJournal nickname, which as it turns out seems to be a more frequent occurance as life goes on. On the other hand, since so many people online refer to other people online by their nicknames with no confusion (no pun intended as regards the convention), I suppose it's no crime to say it was lovely to see Rikhei, Rennie, Tammylc and Matt Arnold (whose LJ name is actually his name, so that's easy) among others.

I'll stop name-checking at this point because namechecking eventually gets boring, but before I do I did want to give mad props to Sarah Zettel, who moderated a couple of panels I was on and did a wonderful job of keeping panelists and unruly audience members in line. As most people know I'm a fan of highly-competent moderating, and she is indeed highly competent.

Overall, a fine time. This is the second time I've been to ConFusion and both times I've gone I've enjoyed myself beyond all reason. If you're the con-going sort, consider that a plug.

Incidentally, the picture above: Athena with the toy I got her from Confusion, which is a plush lumberjack that stuffed with a werewolf -- which is to say that you can yank out the stuffing and it becomes a werewolf, at which point you stuff the lumberjack into the back of the werewolf and it becomes that creatures stuffing. As one person noted: "It's a topological cylinder!" That it is, I suppose, although that's not the reason I got it. Athena took it to school with her today; I'm looking forward to the inevitable parent-teacher conference.

Posted by john at 10:33 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

January 20, 2006

Who Put the Bomp?

I'm away this weekend (I'll be here), and in my absence I leave you this special treat: A short story written by Nick Mamatas and Eliani Torres that I bought from them to showcase here. Folks who read the site know the background on this already; if you've wandered in from elsewhere, you can read the details of how and why I bought this fine piece of literature here. However, do allow me to repeat one thing I wrote in that previous entry, which is that I once again thank Nick and Eliani for letting me present their work here. It's an honor, and it's fun.

I hope you enjoy the story. Please do tell your friends, acquaintances and random strangers that it's here.

And now without further ado --


Who Put the Bomp?
By Nick Mamatas and Eliani Torres

I first realized something was amiss many years ago when the milky calves of the New York girls coming in on the train to Bennington for college vanished over the course of a single semester; after the winter intercession, the girls came back up here to Vermont encased in slacks, black wool tights, and sometimes they even wore men's shoes or boots.
   
The other day, at the Burger King off Route 7, I ate breakfast: coffee, French toast sticks (double order), and their hash browns (which resemble Tater Tots), but I couldn't get through my meal, because I heard the bah-hum-yeh-ha "Express yourself!" murmurings of one of the workers who made it a point to sweep the area around me of all the discarded drinking straw wrappers and spent salt packets.

I was three years old in 1946, when Paula Welden went missing on the Long Trail, near the Glastenbury Mountain, in what some people—generally very foolish people—call the Bennington Triangle.

When people on television end an utterance with the reflexive saying, "Y'know what I'm sayin'?" I wish that once, just once, someone would show the courage and will to say, "No, I do not know what you are saying.  Please enunciate clearly and avoid slang words and 'street' patois; not everyone knows what bing-bong or that other nonsense is!"

I do, however, know exactly what people mean when they say they wish to keep it real.

My father returned from the service … changed.

One time we went to the movies in Bennington proper (we lived in North Bennington at the time) because I had begged and pleaded for weeks beforehand, having been utterly beguiled by the posters for a film called Invaders from Mars, which intrigued me because a man, woman, and child were looking on in awe at the towering, fish-eyed Martian standing before them.

I am an only child. 

I happened to be on the bus, with my mother, when James E. Tetford, who had been mustered along with my father to fight in Europe, vanished while sitting two seats ahead of me.

I was only three years old; I didn't realize at the time that dematerialization, the dissolution of flesh and bone into a chalky fog, was an impossibility.

I heard of such things all the time, after all, on the radio.

They don't play radio plays on the radio anymore, unless the theme is a Christian one of alcoholism and loss, followed by a visit to a skid row mission, redemption, and then a course at a southern Bible college.

This is the left end of the dial I'm referring to here, you see.

None of the other passengers reacted to Tetford's slow communion with the chilly December air of the bus at the time, which further fortified the notion that what I was witnessing was an everyday occurrence.

My breath hung before me like a little cloud on a night illuminated only by a blue gibbous moon—that is how Tetford looked right before he disappeared.

That is my first memory.

I prefer trains to buses, but commuter service to the Bennington area ended before I was born.

I do not have a VCR or DVD player, and indeed, could hardly tell you the difference between the two of them, but I do have a contract for cable television, because I like to watch old movies, and the reception one gains from rabbit ears on the edge of the Bennington Triangle, where I have spent all but three months of my life, is terrible.

In old movies, women still wear dresses; in the real world, a woman who wears a dress two days in a row rather startles the males in her presence.

One would think that such reactions would lead to more women exploiting dresses, but this is not the case.

I was seven years old and Paul Jepson was eight when he, according to his father, developed a "yen" to walk up into the mountains.

My mother didn't like me to play with Paul, because his parents worked at the town dump, and she was afraid that I'd stumble upon some rusty nail and come down (though Mama always used the phrase end up) with tetanus.

Tetanus causes lockjaw; they'd like that, wouldn't they, if I were unable to speak out?

You bet they would.

Paul and I often went to the bus depot to watch the Bennington College girls come in to town on the great silvery vehicles; he liked the buses—the hiss of the air brakes, the glazed smiles and sharp uniforms of the drivers, the chirping manners of the passengers—I liked the girls, or rather the controlled swing and steps of the legs as they peeked out under casually swirling hems.

That was always in September; all the Bennington Triangle disappearances always happened in October, November, or December.

December's an odd time to take a hike in the woods in Vermont, don't you think?

The leaves have already fallen by then; trees are gray and skeletal except for the evergreens, alive and defiant.

During a shocking moment in Invaders from Mars, when David's father bellows, "I said it was barbed wire!" and smacks David across the face, my father gained my attention by tapping me on the knee with his forefinger; he then looked me purposefully in the eye and nodded toward the screen.

That was 1953.

In 1950, the disappearances stopped, though the body of Freida Langer, who disappeared on October 28 of that year, wasn't found until May 12, 1951.

Her remains were in a clearing that had been searched a number of times, and which was near a well-traveled hiking path.

She was not interfered with; the cause of death remains unknown to medical science.

Though I know.

In 1952, the most popular song was Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable."

In 1952, women still wore dresses.

Today, there isn't even a commuter train to Bennington or North Bennington, though the tracks and even the station house remain in good repair.

The grassy lot across from the defunct train station in North Bennington, where I used to sit and watch local girls, sometimes with Paul Jepson, is the green after which Shirley Jackson modeled the stoning grounds in her 1948 short story "The Lottery."

That's a tale of a mass-mind of sorts arraying small pathetic figures against a strong, forthright individual, simply to bring it down.

That's how I read the story anyway.

The mass against the one.

Freight trains use the tracks occasionally, bringing chemicals, lumber and … other things, into the area.

The North Bennington station house is still in use as well, as the town hall.

The Bennington train depot is a restaurant.

I used to eat there quite a bit, until a radio was installed, one that was always tuned to a station that played "blazin'" hits in the rhythm and blues idiom.

The year the girls changed, I overheard one, a Semitic-looking brunette with an aquiline nose, turn to a broad-faced blonde with curls and ask a question.

The question was "Who put the bomp in the bomp?"

That was 1961.

I was eighteen years old, a man.

I attempted to join the army, but was rebuffed due to what I was told was a pilonidal cyst near the top of my natal cleft.

In fact, that pilonidal cyst is what is referred to in the patois of the invaders as "a zipper."

You may remember that in the film Invaders from Mars, the "zippers" were visible to a sharp-eyed observer like young David because they were placed on the back of the neck.

When David noticed his father's zipper, David's father claimed it was an injury from barbed wire; when David pushed, insisting that there was no barbed wire for miles around, that is when his father shouted and slapped him across the face.

When I first noticed my father's zipper, I was standing out in the "Lottery" lot by the train station; it was a dark night, with nothing but a blue sliver of moon for illumination.

My father was nude, covered in near-freezing mud and the dozens of minor scratches suffered from his hurried rush through the woods.

I didn't realize it was him at first, but then he called my name in a hoarse shout.

"Kenny!"

It was 1951, right before the spring thaw.

In 1951, Albert "Sunnyland Slim" Luandrew recorded the Negro music hit "Sunnyland Train."

I do not recall exactly what brought me to the field that night; I suspect I might have been looking for my father, as I do remember the thrill of sneaking into the kitchen and stretching on my toes to the top of the Frigidaire in order to reach the flashlight, which I was not allowed to play with.

I remain unsure about my purpose in the field that night because I remember standing in that field any number of evenings, often without a flashlight, listening.

Music in the woods; music in the mountains.

I am told that people no longer use the term jive.

The carnival would come to Bennington in mid-May, right after the college girls would return to New York for the summer.

The carnies'd pitch their tents and construct their joints on the lot; I'd watch them and listen closely, as much of what the carnies said was in cant, and some of that cant was created via the introduction of the infix iz into otherwise ordinary words.

"The mission envision is going to whistle."

"The m-iz-shun in-viz-shun is going to w-iz-le."

"The Martian invasion is going too well."

If you have a television, I am sure you have heard the iz infix being used as part of popular slang for some time, thanks to its introduction into general society via contemporary Negro music.

You know what I'm saying?

Those who vanished within the Bennington Triangle were a diverse group: an elderly woodsman, a teen girl, my young friend Paul, a trio of hunters with rifles, my father's old wartime acquaintance, and several other people as well.

But none since 1950.

And then 1951, the modern era truly began in earnest. 

Negro music began to predominate on the hit parades; movies, pulp novels, radio shows, all expressed a zeitgeist that was a shallow reflection of real events: our minds were being manipulated by simplistic, pulsating rhythms and the vibrations of nonsense syllables and pistonized beats, the evidence obscured like a purloined letter by being placed right under our noses—it's in your head right now, likely, a bop-bop earworm from Olympus Mons, designed to beguile and bamboozle—the smoke screens of the Reds and our snipe hunts under beds, the chasing, recovery, and redundant debunking of strategically misplaced weather balloons, the gases of the swamps and the manipulation of the natal cleft of proper Angloid stocks; oh Vermont, little state that I love, that you carried such a viper in your bosom!

My father left my mother for a showgirl he had previously met at an uptown club near Columbia University during a business trip. 

He hopped a freight train to do so.

You cannot take a commuter train from Bennington to New York City.

Recently, bus service between Bennington and New York City was also suspended.

I am still here, and I am waiting. 



Who put the bomp?

I'll tell you: invaders did, invaders from Mars, if not other, occulted planets and planes from beyond this dimension; they put the bomp in our brains, enslaved us all without firing a single shot or screaming Z-ray beam, with their black music and fanciful ideas of a debased and sexually charged gender equality—there is nothing, nothing I tell you, sexually attractive about an overstuffed rump, and certainly not one that jiggles like a layer of fat stripped from hanging meat, not at all compared with a tender white calf only partially glimpsed—who deadened our watch with their own mocking portrayals of our very colonization, who bred us like animals and continue to do so to this very day (my own mother died bereft of grandchildren, as I Will! Not! Sully! Myself!, even though this broke her heart and mine as well), who stole my only friend away, they are the same ones who disintegrated a man in a show of audacity matched only by the bovine complicity of the bus passengers who saw, but who did not witness, said execution, and that, my friends, occurred decades ago, before their tentacular grip was so tightened that even our language sounds nothing like the dulcet screams of kindness and truth I grew up with but rather grates on my ears like the death rattle of a man who deserved his shameful death, and this is shameful, I tell you, and this plan, this scheme, this what-is-known-in-their-tongue as bomp, this all-encompassing, totalizing hegemonic xenocracy of thought, breath, and action, which was fait accompli for years before I recognized its existence on the way home from my pathetic failure of an army physical nearly four dozen of our Earth years ago, they are the ones who did this!

They put the bomp!

In my zipper, the bomp is in my zipper!

In me!

In you!

The bomp is in you!

Take it out, take it out, for the love of sweet Jehovah, take it out!


****

Nick Mamatas and Eliani Torres live in Brattleboro, Vermont, where they write and edit and presumably do other things as well.

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January 19, 2006

Selected Creatures from the Athena Collection, With Artist Commentary

"He's just a mixed up monster. Because he has crab arms, and an oval body and he has two ears that are, like, from an animal, I think? Is that right? Yeah. Probably a dog sticking up its ear, only it's not pointy. He's a monster, he destroys towns so his ears are always up because he's angry all the time. Well, he's not really angry, he's just really mean."

"He's two-headed, and they both have one leg to make two. The one on the left has really big eyes and is really freaky looking, and the one on the right side is really freaky too, but you can choose which one you like better. I think I like the first one better, because he's cooler looking, but the one the right looks dumber, doesn't he? There's a little town in front of them, it's so small that you can't even see it, and they're mostly just that kind of monster."

"A boy thinks this little girl is cute, and you can see little hearts coming from him, and I made an arrow so you know who he's in love with, and then he walks over (but I didn't put that on the board), and she turns HUGE and has razor sharp teeth and eats him! It's really cool in the picture. Because she's a monster, she was just in disguise. She has a little button to push her big and small and to disguise her mean eyes and razor sharp teeth. The boy will just live in her stomach and then he'll turn into poop. You can fall in love with this girl. Just don't get near her."

"Which one is your favorite in all of them?"

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Subterranean Magazine Update Plus Reminder

For those of you with a vested interest in the Subterranean Magazine issue I'm editing, I'm happy to say that the stories have had their first round of copy edits and have been sequenced, I've written my editorial afterward and sent the whole wad -- 59,300 words or so -- to the Subterranean offices (which to my knowledge are not, in fact, underground). From there the stories will undergo a second round of copyedits, after which other people do mystical, magical things and at the end of it a magazine appears. I think the process involves sacrifices to Chango, the god of Santeria. You never know. Anyway, that's where we are.

Reminder also to tune in here tomorrow for the world premiere of Nick Mamatas and Eliani Torres' short story "Who Put the Bomp?" You can only read it here. And if by some chance you read it elsewhere I want to you to go to the house of the people displaying it and beat them with a hammer.

Well, no, actually, I don't. That's just a lawsuit just waiting to happen. But at least glare at them disapprovingly. Maybe purse your lips, too. That'll make 'em crumble in shame.

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The Oldination!

webbday.jpg

Small signs from above that you're moving right along through the demographic python: Your seven-year-old wearing a twenty-year-old t-shirt that you wore when you were sixteen. Yup, that'll do it.

"Webb Day," incidentally, being the inter-class competition my high school does every year. Our class won that year. Because we rock, you see. Indeed, our rockination so saturates the shirt that Athena can't help but throw up the horns! Yeah, maybe I should wash that shirt. 20-year-old rockination does get a little gamy.

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January 17, 2006

Space Age Miracle Fiber Mattress

samf0117.jpg

Our new mattress arrived today, and as advertised, it is filled with some sort of space age miracle material that conforms to your body when you lie down on it -- it's so form-fitting, in fact, that the effect of lying on it is just a little disconcerting, particularly when one tries to move out of the space age miracle cavity the mattress has created to cradle to your body. You have to work up a little momentum to get out of it. Likewise, we've warned Athena that her days of bouncing on the bed are over, but as it turns out the warning isn't necessary because it's pretty much impossible to bounce on the bed because bed just sucks up all the kinetic energy into its space age miracle surface. I let myself fall hard onto its surface, and just stopped and sank (slightly). It was like falling into a king-sized square of whipped modeling clay. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this, but since the bed is in fact almost disturbingly comfortable, I don't suspect it will be a real issue.

One of the nice things about the mattress is that it comes with a removable top, so if the cover gets grape juice spilled on it, or the cat takes unfortunate liberties upon it, we can unzip the mattress and clean it off. This makes so much sense that one wonders why all mattresses don't do this, and not just the ones with space age miracle marketing. Perhaps it will catch on. In the meantime, I expect to enjoy the new mattress, which will hopefully allow me to reach new levels of space age miracle sleep. We'll have to see.

Posted by john at 02:31 PM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

Instructive

A little something for everyone who thinks there's some manifest difference between the struggle gays and lesbians are having for their rights, and the struggle blacks and other minorities have had:

Justice Albie Sachs of the South African Constitutional Court tackled the issue of same-sex marriage Wednesday afternoon in Swift Hall during a lecture sponsored by the Human Rights Program.

Sachs said that as he looked down from the bench of the Constitutional Court of South Africa at the crowds waiting to hear its decision in the Fourie gay marriage case, decided last month, Sachs reflected back on a Gay Pride parade he had attended in Cape Town in 1991.

“We were at a park I’d grown up near. Back then, there were signs up saying ‘Whites Only,’” Sachs said. “Now, there were invisible signs saying ‘Straights Only.’ The same signs that would prevent a black and a white from sitting in that park holding hands would prevent a gay couple from doing the same.”

Sachs cited his nation’s past experience with intolerance as a major influence in his landmark opinion in the case, which ordered the South African Parliament to equalize marriage rights for same-sex couples.


Sachs, interestingly enough, had been detained and forced into exile by South Africa's apartheid government, which also, in 1988, put a bomb in his car that caused him to lose an arm and an eye. He's walked the walk for equality, which I strongly suspect allows him to talk the talk. If he says there are parallels between the struggle for racial equality and the struggle for the rights of gays and lesbians, it's hard to gainsay him on the matter.

Of course, the US is not South Africa. Thing is, when it came to the rights of its citizens -- all of them -- this was something we used to have the right to be proud about.

Posted by john at 12:38 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 16, 2006

There is Always Another Way

I have a little bit of a mania for noting significant anniversaries, and right about now marks one of them: Ten years ago I got my job offer from America Online, and officially left print journalism for the online world -- and along the way learned an important thing about how the world works.

Bear in mind that leaving The Fresno Bee, where I worked before I went to AOL, wasn't something I had planned on. At the time I was very happy working for the newspaper -- but then, why wouldn't I be? I was the movie critic -- the youngest pro film critic in the US -- which meant that my job consisted of watching movies and then saying clever things about them, and then also occasionally going down to LA and interviewing people prettier and richer than me as they talked about their latest projects. And to boot, I had a newspaper column where I could pretty much write about anything I wanted. Life was good, and I recall mentioning to a friend that I was happy enough at my job that I could see doing it for many years.

And of course, just like in the movies, as soon as you mention that life is good, that means something needs to come by and sqaut one out on your life. In my case, it was one of those periodic newspaper revamps, in which people get moved about and reassigned for no particularly good apparent reason other than because sometimes editors like to redecorate, and the way they redecorate is with staff. Call it editorial feng shui. I was called into my editor's office and the two editors of the department told me that as part of their reorganization, my column was cancelled, they were going to cut back substantially on the number of movie reviews I would do, and that I would be required to do more straight-out reporting. In short, they were taking away from me the job that I loved doing, and asking me to do a job for which I didn't feel I was suited .

Was it malicious? Almost certainly not. The editors in question were good people, and I feel reasonably sure they felt that aside from any raw talents I might have had as a writer, I could use some polish in other forms of newspaper writing. This is was also one of those times where the paper was trying to do more with the staff it had on hand, and the fact of the matter was that what I did was expendable -- it's not as if they couldn't find movie reviews on the wire -- and then they could use me as a resource for doing other things. Having now been an editor (and having now spent more time in the corporate world), I can see perfectly well the logic of their decision, and also how the editors could have sincerely believed it would be to my benefit as a writer.

Be that as it may, at the time, it felt like a sucker punch to the gut, and what compounded the issue was that, whatever the logic behind the move, I was pretty sure my editors knew (or thought they knew, in any event) that there wasn't much I could do about it. Ten years ago as now, the number of jobs available at newspapers were smaller than the number of people competing for them, and the number of really cool jobs, such as mine, was much smaller. Unless I was willing to quit outright -- which they rightly suspected I wasn't -- then there really wasn't much I could do about it. Even if I went looking for another newspaper job, it could take months or even years to get.

What my editors didn't know -- and to be fair, what most newspaper editors didn't know at the time -- was that the print world was no longer the only way people could make money writing. By early '96, I had already been online for a couple of years (my very first Web page, in fact, went up in 1994, when one still had to hand edit html and learn unix commands to upload pages), and that was enough time for me to start getting freelance writing jobs online. One of the jobs was writing a weekly finance and humor column for America Online's Personal Finance channel (I got it largely because the person in charge of that area read something I wrote online and found it amusing). Over the several months I had written it, I had gotten to know the AOL folks pretty well, and knew they thought I was a clever enough person.

So as I was driving home that night, I decided to do something completely insane. First I signed on to AOL,  and sent an e-mail to one of the AOL Vice-Presidents (the one in charge of their Web programming), and asked her if she thought AOL might be interested in buying a straight-out humor column from me. The Bee has cut the column, you see (I explained), and I was now free to pursue other options for it. Then I sent e-mail and waited for the VP to IM me to get the whole story, which she did about five minutes later (yes, back in the day, you could get an IM from an AOL VP -- in five minutes, no less).

A few minutes after this Krissy came home from her job and walked into our bedroom to find me staring at my computer with scary, scary intensity.

"What are you doing?" she asked me.

"I'm waiting for something," I said, without taking my eyes off the computer.

"What are you waiting for?" she asked, and right then, as if on cue, the VP of AOL unofficially offered me a job.

"That," I said, and then turned to Krissy. "What would you think about moving to Washington, DC?"

Long story short, within an hour of being told that the Bee was changing my job, I had lined up another job. The next day I came in to work, and my immediate editor pulled me aside and asked, with real concern, if I was okay with my new assignments. I told him, honestly enough, that I had dealt with my issues and was ready to move forward.

Three weeks later I got my formal job offer (which I accepted via IM, to keep with the whole then-cutting-edgedness of it all), and called my editors into a meeting in which I told them I was leaving. They asked if there was anything they could do to keep me; I told them that it seemed unlikely. They asked if they could ask what I was going to be making; I told them. They both blinked; it was more than either of them made. It was their first real encounter with the online world, I suspect, and the first realization that major changes were on their way.

The move from the print world to the online world, and from California to Virginia, was immensely important to me in several ways: New work challenges and frustrations, a new crop of friends, many of whom remain quite dear to me, and of course my first full immersion into the online medium, where I still spend much of my time (heck, I'm still even working for AOL, though part-time rather than full-time). I miss working on a newspaper full-time, and I miss some of the people with whom I worked with back in Fresno -- remember I wasn't originally looking to leave the paper. I was happy there. But if I had to do it all over again, I'd do it again the same way. I like where I am now, and that required leaving the "nest" of my first real job.

The most important thing the move taught me was simply this: There is always another way. What is required is the will to confront change from without and roll with it so it becomes change from within. My job came crashing down on me, and I had a choice of accepting it or finding another way. I found another way and and took it. My editors forced change on me; I turned it around and worked to make it a change on my terms. In this particular case I was fortunate that work I had been doing had prepared the way, so I could move quickly -- but even had I started from zero, with work another way would have presented itself in time.

This was an immensely important thing for me to learn. It's been knowledge that I've had to remember more than once over the last ten years, most notably when AOL laid me off in 1998, and Krissy and I had to decide how to deal with it. We advanced rather than retreated and found a way to make it work. It made all the difference in the world then, and it still does today.

There is always another way. Remember that when your own challenges and changes show up and try to knock you back on your ass. Maybe they will knock you on your ass, but it's up to you how long you stay sprawled out. That's what I learned, a decade ago. I'm happy to share it with you now.

Posted by john at 11:37 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

SF Website Pimpin' -- Plus an Open Pimp Thread!

Two sf book sites to pimp to you today, neither of which has anything to do with me. First, Tobias Buckell has begun serializing the first third of his upcoming book Crystal Rain on the special Crystal Rain section of his Web site. The first three excerpts (and the following subsequent ones) are here; the book itself comes out on February 7. This is Toby's debut, and it's been getting good buzz from the folks who have snuck into the trap-filled vault in which the manuscript resides to get an advance glimpse (well, those who made it past the lasers and mines and zombie ferrets, that is). So here's a chance for a sneak peak without endangering yourself.

Second, writer David Louis Edelman is trying to get ahead of the curve for his debut novel Infoquake, which is described as a "science fiction business thriller"; his book isn't out until July, but the Infoquake book site is pretty well built-out, and includes the first three chapters as well as an author introduction and reference materials. It seems very much to be like a DVD extras disc for the book, which is not a bad way to do things.

Also, while I'm in a pimptastic mood, let me congratulate my pal Lauren McLaughlin, whose story "Shelia" has been selected for inclusion in the upcoming Hartwell/Cramer-edited "Year's Best SF" anthology. She rocks.

Finally, I now hearby declare this to be an open pimping thread, which means not only do I offer up the comment thread for this post for you to note your current and upcoming projects (or friends' projects), I actually demand it. Get your pimp on, my friends! Or get the hell out. Really, it's just that simple.

Posted by john at 10:49 AM | Comments (48) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

Click

Ahhhh. That's helpful. Yesterday, while driving to pick up Athena from school, the last three lines of The Last Colony dropped into my brain. This is excellent news because now that I know how the story begins and how it ends, and know a couple of the big scenes that have to happen in the middle, I can start writing. This is how I tend to write fiction: Know the beginning, know the ending, know a few scenes in the middle, and everything else a huge yawning gap of "how do I connect the dots?" This allows me some chance of free-form exploration and the opportunity to capitalize on interesting stuff I'm making up as I go along, while at the same time keeping me on track (i.e., if I can't see how I'm getting from where I am in my writing to the next big scene I know I have to hit, I'm on the wrong path).

I don't necessarily recommend this approach for every writer. It plays to my organizational and writing strengths (or lack thereof) which include an ability to improvise plot on the fly and indeed a need to do so to keep myself from getting bored during the writing process (which would likely mean you would get bored in the reading process). Other writers, on the other hand, need an outline to feel organized and relaxed in the writing process, which will mean a better book for you in the end. I think on of them trying my approach might be as unproductive for them as me trying their approach would be for me (this is for fiction, incidentally; I can and do quite happily work from outlines in non-fiction writing). The point here being that no one way works for every writer, save the final reductive step that your process has to end with you in front of some sort of writing medium, banging out words. What's important is that you find a process that works for you and then once you find it, you use it. This is my process. Your mileage may vary.

What's happy about having that last scene drop into my head now is that I'm not planning to start writing The Last Colony for at least a couple more weeks -- January is given over to finishing the editing of the Subterranean Magazine material (largely done, just a few tweaks) and working on Hate Mail and Utterly Useless -- so it allows me some more time just to think about what's going to happen in TLC and how I need to make it happen. I call this part "gestating": Not writing or even thinking about writing, just thinking about story and letting casual connections happen in my brain and seeing where they lead. It's difficult to explain to people sometimes that staring off into space and rarely blinking is indeed actually part of the work process, but isn't that like being a writer for you. The reward is when, as with the TLC ending, something drops in with a big, obvious click, and then suddenly the inevitable task of writing suddenly becomes a lot easier.

Anyway, off to gestate some more. And to edit. And to, uh, spend time in the real world, too. Have a good rest of your weekend. I'll see you on Monday.

Posted by john at 12:27 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

January 13, 2006

A Spin-Off

So, here's some news: I'm no longer putting together a collection of Whatever entries. I'm putting together two. I'm spinning off the writing entries into their own book.

The details: I was compiling the chapter on writing for Hate Mail, adding various pieces just like I did with the rest of the chapters. After a little while, I thought to myself that the chapter looked a little long; I'm aiming for each chapter to be about 8,000 words, and this one seemed a bit longer than that. So I did a word count, and I was right: I had about 25,000 words. Which -- I'm sure you'll agree -- is nowhere close to 8,000. And this was without actually adding my "Utterly Useless Writing Advice" entry, because it in itself was 8k words. There was no way I was going to be able to get all the writing pieces into the book that I would want or that you folks told me you wanted to see in the collection (The 120,000 word first draft estimate of Hate Mail I noted here is actually the book without the writing chapter in it).

So I thought, screw it, let's see if I have enough good entries about writing to make an actual book. By the time I was through collecting I was up above 60,000 words, which is more than enough. So I sounded out Subterranean's Bill Schafer about spinning off the writing entries into their own book. He liked the idea, so that's what we're going to do. I'm thinking of calling it Utterly Useless: Scalzi on Writing, but we'll have to see what Bill thinks about that. It may be a little too arch for its own good. Naturally, I am open to suggestions from the peanut gallery as well.

The current plan is to release Hate Mail and Utterly Useless simultaneously over the summer, a la Use Your Illusion I & II (or, for those of you who know Axl Rose only as a creepy washed-up has-been who used to be in a band with the guys from Velvet Revolver, a la Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn). However, while the books are being released at the same time, the two will have different release philosophies. Hate Mail is a wide-release trade paperback aimed at a general book audience, with a limited-edition hardcover for collectors. Utterly Useless, on the other hand, will exist primarily as limited edition hardcover release for a select audience (Whatever readers and/or folks interested in the writing life seem like a good core audience here) but will also be released freely as an e-book for people to check out and share online. Basically, if you're interested in one or both books, you can mix and match the formats to get a combination that fits your needs. Because I'm all about choice.

I'm very happy that we're spinning off the writing material into its own book. Writing about writing is a little "inside pool" for a general audience, so the Whatever writing entries weren't necessarily a good fit for Hate Mail. On the other hand, I think folks who are interested in the writing life don't necessarily want to have to wade through entries on politics or parenting or whatever to get to what interests them. So now there's a general collection for a general audience, and a specific collection for a specific audience. For me, it's not substantially more work because the compiling has already been done, and now I have a book on writing to my credit, which is something I wanted to have before I died. So it's the best of both worlds, both for me as an author, and, I suspect, for readers as well.

As always, I'll provide more details when I have more details to share. But those of you who were hoping there would be a lot of writing entries in the book: You're about to get your wish.

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

January 12, 2006

Blog-to-Books Award



Someone alterted me to this new award:
The Lulu Blooker Prize, in which print-on-demand publisher Lulu.com will award 1,000 bucks in three categories for books based on blogs or Web sites. The suggestion was that either Old Man's War or Agent to the Stars would probably be eligible for award consideration. I certainly agree that they would, but since Cory Doctorow is one of the judges for the award this year, I would feel hinky about submitting. After all, a blurb from Cory is prominently displayed on the hardcover dust jacket of OMW, and he's also a personal friend of mine. This would not suggest either book would be a shoo-in, merely that if one of my books did win, unneccesary questions about favoritism could be raised. Better not to submit this year, then.

However, you should submit, if you have a book that started out in blog or Web site form. Go to the link to learn more. They're accepting submissions through the 30th of this month, so you still have time to get something in.

Posted by john at 01:55 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Thinking Aloud on "Hate Mail"

The first pass of Hate Mail is completed, and clocks in at about 120,000 words. Given that I suspect I'm going to write between 5K and 10K of introductory and commentary material for the book, this means I'm going to have to trim off about a quarter of what I've selected for this first round. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's "kill your babies" time. Actually, some of the word reduction will come from editing the existing posts themselves. Some of the posts repeat information from earlier posts, which can be excised because those earlier posts will be there in the same chapter; other posts need to have information rearranged because to date hyperlinks don't work in paper form. Even so, some culling will need to be done, which is fine. Chop chop chop.

As I noted before I'm arranging Hate Mail by themed chapters. Here's an early chapter line-up -- I say "early" because I may merge some chapters later, depending on culling, and will almost certainly give each chapter a more interesting title than the one word descriptors you see below. In any event, the prelim chapters, arranged alphabetically (i.e., not in the sequence they will be in the book), are:

Birth
Bush
Clinton
Confederacy
Disclaimers and Declarations
Election 2000
Election 2004
Et Cetera
Fictional
Gay
Iraq
Jesus
Money or Lack Thereof
Parents
Reader Requests
Writing

Off the top of my head, I'd probably say the political chapters are very likely to be merged in some way; I'll probably lump Willie and Dubya together into one "Presidents" chapter, and probably the elections into a single chapter as well. The writing chapter, on the other hand, may need to be parted out in some way; I need to think about that one some more.

Within the chapters I think material will be presented primarily but not exclusively in a chronological order, which is to say that if there's a particular piece I think is a strong lead-off for a chapter, I'll bring it to the front regardless of where it is in the timeline of pieces in the chapter. For example, in the "Parents" chapter, the lead-off piece is likely to be "The Child on the Train," the piece I wrote about Krissy's miscarriage, even though there are several pieces that I wrote before those. But damn it, I'm not time's slave, and I think it's important to start each chapter strongly.

I should note now that even at 100k words there is a lot of popular material that's not going to make the cut. A number of pieces that rely on visuals (like the "Cracking the Flag-Burning Amendment") didn't make the cut because I'm pretty sure the book is not going to have in-line photography (and even if it's possible I don't know if I want to bother with the hassle). Also fairly scarce, and probably ironically so: pieces on ID and evolution. I don't know, they just didn't seem to work for the overall framework. Pieces on Athena are also likewise kept to a minimum in favor of parental articles of a more general nature (although, of course, she pops up in the context of those more general articles).

And -- this kills me -- I don't have any of the "That Was the Millennium That Was" pieces I wrote in the book yet, although I'm giving some serious consideration to trimming down the political pieces further to make room for a few of those. I'll have to give that some serious thought; I don't want to underweight the politicial pieces but on the other hand four chapters out of 16 does seem to be a lot.

Compiling these Whatevers does make me aware that online writing is indeed different from other sorts of writing. As I'm sure most of you are aware, I originally started writing the Whatever to stay sharp in the column-writing format for a newspaper, because I'd written a newspaper column before and hoped to again. And even when Bill and I were first discussing this book, the "book of newspaper columns" metaphor was the one we used to wrap our brains around it. Be that as it may, it's pretty clear that whatever intent I had in starting the Whatever, it outgrew that intent pretty quickly. The Whatever couldn't be a newspaper column, and especially not a newspaper column today. Newspaper columns are 800 words on a specific topic. The Whatever is 800 words, or 2000, or 350, or 60, on any topic. Newspaper columns are not particularly personal; The Whatever is (within certain limits) and I strongly suspect has to be. Newspaper columns are mediated; the Whatever isn't. Newspaper columns can't allow immediate reader response; the Whatever can.

Now, in all these cases, the differences are neither inherently good or bad; being able to write at any length at any topic doesn't matter if you're boring, for example. Likewise, and speaking from experience on both sides of the editing equation, good editing is a boon for nearly every writer, and the lack of it can be a detriment. Although I've obviously benefitted from writing online, I'm not pollyanna about its nature; indeed, on a sheer volume basis, I'd suspect that more bad writing has been made publicly accesible through the Internet (and specifically through blogs and their antecedents) than through any other media, ever. When you consider the first things we'd recognize as "blogs" crawled out of the primordial HTML swamp a mere decade ago, that's a fairly astounding rapid accumulation of crap writing. So yes: Online writing can be great. But let's keep a grip -- in itself it's not better or worse than other media.

What the differences between online writing and other forms present for the Hate Mail book is a challenge. We don't want to just market the book to people who already read online; we also want to get the book out to the (still) majority of people who don't read blogs or journals and say to these folks, this is an example of how people who are writing online are doing it. We want to give these unfamiliar readers a metaphor for the book's contents that will be useful familiar, but doesn't lead them to expect something the book is not. If you were to come to Hate Mail expecting a collection of newspaper-like columns, I don't know if you're going to be entirely happy with the book. But it's also not just a collection of observations about my cat and what I had for dinner last night, which I suspect some non-blog-reading folks still suspect all online writing is about (I had cabbage rolls for dinner last night, incidentally. And my cat's breath smells like cat food).

Anyway, these are the things I think about while I'm putting together this book: How to make it accessible and interesting to as many humans as possible while still keeping it a managable book. Hopefully we'll get the balance right.

Posted by john at 01:30 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 11, 2006

Backdoor ID?

I'm on record as saying I'm not opposed to kids learning about "Intelligent Design" in public school as long as it's not presented as actual science. But here's an interesting case: apparently a school in California positioned a class on ID as a philosophy course but then basically reeled off ID as science (with the help of videos that, the plaintiffs allege, "advocate religious perspectives and present religious theories as scientific ones"), without presenting much in the way of opposing views.

I'd like to know more about this, naturally, but given the information in the article this doesn't sound at all kosher. If you're basically offering a non-critical presentation of the ID material with noting else added, you're probably violating church-state separation regardless of which class you teach it in. There's a difference between describing and discussing ID as a social phenomenon, and just sitting the kids down and running a video. I mean, come on, ID people. At least try to pretend you're attempting something other than indoctrination.

A good question here: How would you design a class, philosophy or otherwise, that discusses ID intelligently (heh) and without violating church-state separation? Personally, I think I would design a class called "Concepts of Creation," which looks at the various ways humans have tried to describe the beginnings and progressions of things, including myths, history, and science. ID would fit in there as a modern creation story, but it would be in a context where it's not presented as science, nor presented in isolation. It could be an interesting class, in any event.

Posted by john at 12:55 PM | Comments (80) | TrackBack

My Daughter The Poet

homework0111.jpg

The muse visited my daughter last night, as the social injustice of a particular pedogogical institution moved her to free verse. Without further ado, I present Athena's first poem (edited for clarity; see the original in the photo above).

Homework

I hate Homework
Yes I do all kids
Do especially me
Kids have homework
Every [day] so give us a
Break let teachers do
Homework every day
And let them feel the pain.
And that is my poem called
Homework. Thank you.

After I read the poem, I asked Athena, "So, do you really hate homework?"

"Daddy, it's just a poem," she said.

We'll be publishing her chapbook real soon now.

Posted by john at 12:22 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

January 10, 2006

Learn by Doing

ouch0109.jpg

And what did Athena learn today? That merrily sliding down carpeted stairs feet first and on your belly is fun only until the rug burn catches up with you.

For the record, I didn't let her do this; she was doing it when I came out of my office (ironically, to check up on her because I hadn't heard her do anything for a few minutes).

"You really want to stop doing that," I said.

"Why?" she said. "I'm having fun."

"Wait about five minutes," I said. And what do you know, I was right. Let's just say I had a similar incident three decades ago.

The nice thing about this is that there's a pretty good chance Athena's a fast learner. Not that she won't do this again, of course. She's a kid. She will. It's just that next time, she'll wear overalls.

Posted by john at 05:27 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Alito

I think it would be just fine if Alito didn't get confirmed, because I don't trust him. Not about abortion, as I never expected to trust him on that one. He and I have differing opinions on that topic, but there's nothing exactly surprising there, and I would be confused if there were. I think it's a given that anyone Bush nominates will merrily work toward jamming the government's invisible hand as far up a woman's uterus as possible. Yes, today Alito is saying he'd deal with abortion cases with "an open mind," and I'm sure he will, for the values of "an open mind" that are immediately followed by the phrase "on how to erode Roe v. Wade to a useless nub."

(Oh, no, Roe v. Wade will never be overturned; the cover and fundraising opportunities it provides to conservatives is too useful. It's just that from now on South Dakota will be the template for "reasonable" access to an abortion. Women with unwanted pregnancies, be sure to say "thanks" to those Nader voters! Yes, it's still all their fault. As for the rest of you, well, just be sure to promote the advantages of abstinence and/or teenage lesbianism to your daughters.)

However, what I really don't like about Alito is the whole philosophical set up he has of the administrative branch of the US government being more equal than the others. One would hope that someone at the topmost perch of the judicial branch would choose not to promulgate the theory that the highest and best thing he could in service to the country and its Constitution is to bend over for the president. It's possible but unlikely that the Senate might agree to my innovative concept of co-equal government branches as well. We'll see.

Of course, in the unlikely event that Alito is not confirmed, does anyone actually think the Bush administration will offer up a new candidate whose judicial philosophy isn't mold-injected from the same factory as Alito's? If we know anything about the Bush administration, it is that it is remarkably resistant to learning. It has its bag of tricks and vengeful petulance for those on whom its tools do not work, but that's all its got. The administration got as close to moderation as it's going to get with Roberts. And it's pretty clear it'll keep doing what it's doing until 11:59 am, January 20, 2009. In that sense, not confirming Alito won't solve anything.

Which is not a reason to confirm him -- indeed not -- just a recognition that the next nominee isn't going to be any different.

Posted by john at 12:51 PM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

January 09, 2006

Personal Literary Events

A few minor things about what I've done with myself over the last couple of days:

* First off, despite overloading myself by skimming through some 425,000 words worth of previous Whatevers, I've got some good and solid work done on Hate Mail over this weekend. I'd been wrestling over how to organize the book, and what I've decided to do is to make chapters that focus on specific events or themes, since there are several that I come around to over and over. The five chapters I've collected up so far are: Birth (a collection of entries about Krissy's pregnancy and Athena's birth), Clinton, Election 2000, 9/11 and Fictional Characters.

These chapters lean heavily on Whatevers that were written before 2002, which are no longer on the site and which (consequently) many people who read the Whatever have not seen, since most of the expansion of the Whatever's audience has happened since March 2003 (which is when I switched over to Moveable Type. Comments and RSS feeds matter, people). I think it'll be very interesting for people who've only seen me bash on Bush to read my take on Clinton and the impeachment process; I call Clinton a pig at one point, which made me laugh out loud when I read it. It was one of those "it's funny because it's true" moments.

These chapters currently clock in between 5k and 10k words, which means some will have to be trimmed down because I'm currently planning 12 to 15 chapters, and I have 100,000 words to work with. I'm going to wait until I have all the chapters ready before that happens. But regardless, it's a good start, not in the least because now that I have the chapter structure locked down, filling in the rest of the gaps should be quick.

* After a year of apparently refusing to stock Old Man's War on moral and ethical grounds, my local bookstore finally gave in and shelved a couple copies of the trade paperback. Naturally I was quite pleased -- they've stocked all my other books so far and their not having OMW just always puzzled me. I didn't want to suggest to them that they should, because I didn't want to be the local author who whined to the bookstore about not carrying his book (especially when they were carrying the others). However, I did tell them that since they have it now, I'd be happy to sign the copies they had. Which I did. Go me!

* Speaking of OMW, a nice review of it on Bookgasm: "I’d recommend it even to people who normally shy away from the genre … like me," wrote the reviewer. Welcome to the gateway, my friend. Now that you're through the door we have many other authors for you to try.

* And speaking of other authors, as I was wandering around the local bookstore (because I actually went there to buy books, not to check up on whether they had OMW or not, honest). I noticed that the most recent trade paperbacks by Cherie Priest and Nick Sagan were shelved in the regular fiction area as opposed to the science fiction/fantasy area. Why might that be? My personal suspicion is: Cover art. Both Nick and Cherie's cover art lacks many of the visual tropes of their genres; Cherie's could work equally well with a mystery or general southern literary fiction book, while Nick's could be a contemporary tech thriller. I suspect the person shelving the books didn't see either swords or spaceships and assumed they should be placed in general fiction.

Is this good for Nick and Cherie? Got me: I guess people who only go to look at SF/F would miss them, but those for whom the SF/F section of the store has the weird cooties vibe will get a crack at them they might not otherwise have gotten. I suppose it's a toss-up. Both books certainly benefit from striking cover art and design, however; they both cry out to be picked up and looked at.

* Books I bought: The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History's Most Influential Battles; The Complete Peanuts 1957-1958; The Substance of Style. The first of these is for research for The Last Colony (which will be a tip-off for you that there will be at least one big battle scene there), the second because I am collecting the entire set as the books come out (it will be a twelve year process, as they are releasing two books a year, and each book features two years worth of strips), and the third because I kept meaning to buy it when it came out, and now I have (its author, Virginia Postrel, keeps a pretty interesting blog).

* Toward the last of these, I had an interesting thought I will share with you now, which is that as I picked up the book and resolved to purchase it, part of my brain was saying maybe you should buy it on Amazon, so her ranking will go up and she'll know someone bought the book. Because an Amazon ranking is really the only feedback authors have in terms of having any idea how well their book is selling. Being an author myself, it seems almost cruel not to give the author that feedback.

I fought back the desire because as much as I like feeding other authors' egos, I like supporting my local independently owned and operated bookstore more, even if it did take them a year to stock my science fiction book, harumph, harumph. But the fact I had that thought at all has to mean something.

Posted by john at 12:00 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

January is National Literary Fraud Month!

It looks like it's a shaping up to be a fine month for literary fraud, as two somewhat prominent authors are accused, in different ways, of not being who they say they are. The first is James Frey, whose millions-selling addiction memoir A Million Little Pieces may not be nearly as non-fictional as he's suggested, according to The Smoking Gun, which in a long investigative piece concludes that Frey either amped up or made up several of the events in his Oprah's Book Club-selected tome. The second is "JT Leroy," a young author whose tales of child prostitution and drug use were all fictional, which is good because it now appears the author may be entirely fictional as well, the creation of the couple who claim to have found him as a strung out-teen and helped whip him into literary shape. When Leroy makes public appearances, it's actually the sister of the male half of the couple. The author (if he exists) has issued a statement noting he uses stand-ins because of personal issues, but there are other things in the article to suggest he's vaporware.

I could not personally care less about whether JT Leroy turns out to be fictional or not. I find fictional people writing fiction no more or less objectionable than real people writing fiction, because it's fiction, after all. This looks to be a slightly more convoluted sort of ghostwriting thing that the people making the TV show Lost will be doing in the spring when they publish a novel "written" by "Gary Troupe," a passenger on that show's ill-fated plane (I believe he was the one that got sucked into the engine). Fake people writing fiction just adds another level of meta to the proceedings, if you ask me.

I understand some people who feel personally invested in the author will feel a bit betrayed to learn he doesn't exist. But you know, the nice thing is, the books still work, because they're fiction. I tend to be very results-oriented rather then process-oriented when it comes to fiction, which is to say what I care about is whether the book is interesting, not whether the author had to struggle up from drug addiction, or led a life of gilded ease, or was raised by ferrets or what have you. Maybe when I go back for my MFA (ha!) I'll care about the circumstances of the author and production of a book. In the meantime, really, as long as the book is good, I'm good.

I'm only barely more engaged with the James Frey fracas, possibly because I have a real antipathy toward the addiction memoir genre, which I find tiresome and self-pitying. Yes, it's nice former junkies have gotten both catharsis and a book deal. Doesn't mean I have to read the resulting book. Indeed, I have not read Frey's book; I feel pretty strongly that if you've read one "I'm a jackass junkie who abuses people, vomits on myself, gets hauled into rehab and comes out thankful I'm still respiring" tome, you get excused from the rest for all time, and I've read one, thank you very much.

(This should not be read as me saying I have no sympathy for people who were formerly addicted who have turned their lives around. I have friends and family who were and who have, and I'm immensely proud of them for having done so. I just hope they don't write a book about it. It's been done.)

Given my lack of interest in the book and antipathy for the genre, it's difficult to rouse myself into caring that the man defrauded millions of addiction voyeurs; indeed my first reaction reading the story was "well, he's sold three million. He's set anyway. Good for him." It's sort of the same lack of sympathy I'd feel for people watching "amateur" porn who might feel violated that the people making squishy noises there on their TV actually get paid to do it. Perhaps this makes me a bad person. I'm not sure, nor sure if I should care. I do know I'd rather watch amateur porn than read an addiction memoir, for what that's worth.

However, let's also keep focus on the fact that if The Smoking Gun's article is indeed factually correct (and the site's been pretty good at being factually correct so far as I know), then Mr. Frey is a lying liar who lies, and his "memoir," whatever its literary qualities, is thereby a piece of crap. One of the things I find absolutely henious in the various discussions of this incident I've seen online is invariably there's someone who shows up and says something idiotic like the "literary" truth of the memoir is more important than the "literal" truth -- i.e., it's okay to lie about events in a non-fiction book if it makes for a better story (see an example of just such a dumbass statement here).

In a word: Bullshit. If one purports to write a non-fiction account of an event, one is, by definition, enjoined from writing fiction. If you write fiction and claim it is non-fiction, you are lying liar who lies. Writing something that "feels" true does not make it true, and the fact that people will come forward to defend "truthiness" over truthfulness in non-fiction makes me want to go on a rampage with a shovel. The tolerance for what one wants to be the truth at the expense of genuine truth is why we currently have a government which is of the opinion that truth looks exactly like a urinal.

If you're going to write fiction, call it fiction, for Christ's sake. People love romans a clef just as much as actual memoirs; indeed, they feel naughtier because you know the sex scenes are going to be better written. Writing non-fiction novels only works when you are Truman Capote, or intermittently if you're Tom Wolfe. I may be going out on a limb here, not having read him and all, but I'm guessing Mr. Frey is in fact neither of them.

Update, 12:32: Mr. Frey comments on his site, and his comment is essentially "no comment." (No permanent link, so if you come to this entry after 1/9/06), the link may not go to the relevant entry.)

Posted by john at 10:37 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

January 07, 2006

Overload

Okay, you know what? I'm as egotistical a bastard as they come, but apparently even my self-love has its limits. After skimming through four years of Whatevers today for the Hate Mail book, I appear to have reached that limit, since by the end of it I was rolling my eyes at my own writing and thinking, boy, you're just one smug son of a bitch, aren't you? Yes, that's a pretty good sign to take a break for the rest of the evening. Hopefully I'll look better to myself tomorrow. Or maybe Monday.

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The Return of the 30 Second Socratic Dialogue!

One of the things about putting together the Hate Mail book is that I'm going through old versions of the Web site and finding lots of forgotten stuff there. For example, this cartoon, which was part of a philosophy book proposal I put together back in the days when I didn't have any books published, so no one would buy a book from me. The philosophy book proposal, incidentally, is not entirely ridiculous for me, being that I have a philosophy degree. Ironically, however, the illustrator of this piece, Richard Polt, is actually a professor of philosophy and has written a book on Heidegger.

But enough about that. Here, once again for your viewing pleasure, is the 30-Second Socratic Dialogue!

soc4a.JPG

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Rex in Repose

The lovely object you see here is an urn, done in canopic style, and made to hold the ashes of my cat Rex, who died in the past year. It was made for me by T. Dane Haggard, a frequent reader of the Whatever (you've seen him in comments as "Dane"), who I must say not only made a gorgeous piece of pottery, but rather exactly estimated the correct size of the urn needed to hold Rex's ashes: The ashes fit perfectly inside. Dane also provided the handsome satin-lined wood box you see behind the urn, in order to store and display the urn. In all, a beautiful and extremely thoughtful piece of work from Dane; there is no better place, I think, to keep the remains of my cat.



Here you can see the current resting place of Rex the Cat: On the top of my bookshelf. Appropriately for a canopic urn, just as the Ancient Egyptians had servants in the afterlife, so you can see the stuffed effigies of Socrates and Charles Darwin, tasked to serve Rex in the afterlife, to feed him tender bits, pet him at his request, and to pick up the vomit he so loved to hork in surprising places around the house, and is now no doubt continuing to do so in his new kitty heaven environs. Certainly a job worthy of great philosophers and naturalists!

Thank you, Dane, for such a fine piece of work. I am honored to have gotten it, to rest my cat in it, and to have it in my home.

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January 06, 2006

In Other News

This morning I had a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone for breakfast. Because who's gonna stop me? Exactly.

Posted by john at 09:53 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Preliminary Nebula Ballot

For those of you in the SF tribe, here is the preliminary Nebula Ballot, the long list of nominees for SFWA's Nebula Award. In all these categories, the nominees will be whittled down to five for the final ballot, but for now all of them can bask in their shinyness. Shine on, shiny writers!

I'm pleased to see that several friends and acquaintances have made the first cut, among them Kelly Link, Cory Doctorow, James Cambias, Jim Kelly and Benjamin Rosenbaum. I was also happy to see that Robert Metzger's book CUSP made the first cut for novel -- he had been kind enough to send along an inscribed copy of the book when it came out, and not only did I enjoy reading it, but then we had fun speculating about the physics of a moon made from cheese in the comment thread of the entry in which I talked about the book. I should have had him write a story on it for the Subterranean cliche issue. Still kicking myself about that.

Old Man's War is not on the prelim ballot; its eligibility window expired on New Year's Day, and it had two recommendations, which is eight short of the number needed to get on the prelim ballot. There's a small chance the book could still land on the ballot if the Nebula novel jury hauls it up and recommends it, but this is not at all likely, not in the least because the Nebula juries go out of their way to recommend works that are obscure for whatever reason but worth award consideration. Say what you will about OMW, but it's not exactly been unflogged. In the unfathomable situation where a Nebula jury were deciding whether to pick OMW or some excellent but unheralded novel, even I would tell them to pick the latter. So no Nebula for me. I'll manage to make it through the pain.

Overall I think the prelim selections are pretty good, although I have to catch up on my reading, particularly in the short fiction category. The only place where the prelim ballot is clearly falling down is in the first cut nominations for the new Andre Norton Award for Young Adult, of which there is only one: Holly Black's Valiant. This is not to suggest Ms. Black's book is not worthy of the consideration, but there are at least a few other books that also deserve to make the first cut: I would particularly recommend Scott Westerfeld's Mightnighters series and Peeps, and Justine Larbalestier's Magic or Madness. But then again, my criticism cannot be too sharp, since I am a SFWA member, and I've not exactly been industrious in my recommendations. I aim to fix that, probably later today. In the meantime, the Norton Jury can add up to three books to the slate; now they know what I think they should pick.

In any event, congratulations to those folks who made the first cut! That's pretty cool. And good luck for the final selection.

Posted by john at 09:50 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 05, 2006

One Other Thing --

While I'm talking about other people's stories that I've bought, allow me to note an upcoming experiment I'll be doing here on the Whatever. While I was going through the submissions to Subterranean for the cliche issue, I came across the story "Who Put the Bomp?" by Nick Mamatas and Eliani Torres. It made it past the first couple of cuts for the magazine but when it came time to make final cuts, I cut it because it didn't quite mesh with the other pieces I was planning to buy. The problem was that I really liked the piece -- I kept coming back to it, and to be entirely honest, it was just so unclassifiably weird that it grew on me each time I read it.

So I bought it. Not for Subterranean Magazine, but for myself -- paid the going rate I was offering the writers for Subterranean but paid for it out of my own pocket. And in return I get the right to post it here on the Whatever, which I plan to do in a couple of weeks: January 20, in fact.

I'm doing this because aside from liking the story enough to pay for it myself, I'm curious to see how something like this is received, and how effective the Whatever is in getting exposure for fiction (which is to say, someone else's fiction -- I'm pretty confident it's been good for my own). This site's daily readership is larger than the circulation of every science fiction magazine out there, save the big three of Asimov's, Analog and F&SF, so potentially there's a good chance of Nick and Eliani's piece getting seen widely inside the usual SF circles -- and being seen outside them to, since not everyone who visits the site is a hardcore SF reader.

Running someone else's professional-grade fiction on a personal site isn't the usual thing, but who's to say it can't be an effective way to show off the work, particularly when the site has a healthy and diverse readership? It's an interesting enough question that it was worth me investing some of my own cash to check it out and see what happens, and I'm grateful that Nick and Eliani gave me permission to personally buy the piece and use it for this experiment.

As for all of you, I hope you'll swing by on the 20th and check out the piece -- I'll post it in the morning and then keep it as the top post over the weekend (that's the weekend I'll be at the Synthetic Confusion convention) so there will be lots of time to read the piece and let me (and the authors) know what you think.

And thus we come to the end of a day of writing announcements and schedules. Thank you all for your indulgence.

Posted by john at 11:23 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Subterranean Magazine Cliche Issue Lineup

So, have you been staying up nights wondering what the story line-up for the Subterranean Magazine Cliche Issue will be? I don't blame you. But wonder no more. Now that I have everything in a minimally edited format (except one piece, but that'll be in this weekend, or my "boys" will pay someone a call), here are the stories, non-fiction pieces and authors you'll be seeing when the magazine hits the stands this spring. The list is alphabetical by title, although some titles may change:

"Cliche Haiku" by Scott Westerfeld
"A Finite Number of Typewriters" by Stuart MacBride
"Hesperia and Glory" by Ann Leckie
"Horrible Historians" by Gillian Polack
"The Inevitable Heat Death of the Universe" by Elizabeth Bear
"It Came From the Slush Pile" by John Joseph Adams
"Labyrinth's Heart" by Bruce Arthurs
"Last" by Chris Roberson
"The Last Science Fiction Writer" by Allen M. Steele
"Movie Cliches and the Sci-Fi Films That Love Them" by Ron Hogan
"The NOMAD Gambit" by Dean Cochrane
"Refuge" by David Klecha
"Remarks on Some Cliches I Have (by Definition) Known Too Well" by Teresa Nielsen Hayden
"Scene From a Dystopia" by Rachel Swirsky
"Shoah Sry" by Tobias S. Buckell and Ilsa J. Bick
"Tees and Sympathy" by Nick Sagan
"The Third Brain" by Charles Coleman Finlay and James Allison
"What a Piece of Work" by Jo Walton

All this plus book reviews, Bill Schafer's regular column (he's the publisher and usual editor, don't you know) and probably something non-fictiony by me as well. All told, you're getting a hell of a lot of excellent writing in one compact package. Indeed, I daresay that if we tried to cram in any more material, the entire package would reach critical mass, implode dramatically and crack the the earth's very mantle. See, this is my job as the editor: To save the planet through perfectly-calibrated science fiction entertainment.

I am, as you may imagine, almost unspeakably happy with these selections, not only for their writing, but also for their overall range. When you pick up this collection, you'll see stories featuring dramatically different tones and techniques, and you'll see them handle their cliches in all sorts of ways, from unapologetic stylistic homages to wildly orthogonal textual approaches. What's going to be fun for me is to sequence these stories and articles so that each one sets the stage for the next, so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. I'm looking at this like it's a playlist and I'm the DJ.

I'm also very happy with the breadth of contributors, who range from major award winners to writers who are being professionally published for the first time. A quarter of the fiction here -- four pieces -- is from first-timers, and I'm looking forward to being able to tell people, "Sure, they're bigshots now, but I gave them their big break." Followed, I presume, by me asking these same people if they want fries with that. But let's not talk about my inevitable decline and fall right now. Let me instead bask in the thrill of being able to introduce these writers to you.

I will undoubtedly talk about this issue of Subterranean Magazine more as we get closer to publication, and it becomes available for sale, so don't fear you won't hear about it again and it will slip by you. Trust me, I'll let you know when and where and how to get it. Although if you want to avoid the rush and make sure you get a copy, you can subscribe to the magazine right now and get four full issues of unstoppable entertainment (a year's subscription for this quarterly-released magazine) for just $22. Issue 3, which is the one just before this one comes out, features new fiction from David J. Schow, Lewis Shiner, Poppy Z. Brite and David Prill, and I think my pal Cherie Priest may be in there too. I suspect that will keep you occupied while you wait for this issue.

In any event, there will be more information as we go along. So stay tuned.

Posted by john at 10:56 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Coming to Philadelphia



Tremble, Philadelphia! For I am coming to you!

On January 26th, in fact, I will be doing an in-store event at Germ Books + Gallery (308 E. Girard, 215-423-5002) with Ron Hogan, whose rockin' movie book The Stewardess is Flying the Plane! got a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly ("In a few words or phrases about the plot or star, Hogan reveals quirky details on the making of the films... As coffee-table books go, this is one of the year's most fun"). Ron's written a book on films, I've written a book on films... what do you think we'll be talking about at our appearance? If you said "Most likely, film in some fashion," you'd be entirely correct. Good on ya.

Furthermore, most likely we will be specifically chatting about science fiction films in the 1970s -- which as it happens was a particularly interesting time in science fiction film. The plan at the moment is to have the two of us blab at each other for a while and then open up the floor to questions, comments, and spontaneous dance routines from the audience. But you never do know. Hey, it's a live appearance! Anything could happen. And both Ron and I are smartass know-it-alls, so I expect this to be fun. At the very least we'll amuse ourselves.

Not counting being trapped at the airport for 12 hours, this will be my first visit to the City of Brotherly Love, so naturally, if you happen to be in the area, it'd be swell if you could drop by and say howdy. I do believe the event will occur around 7 or so; I'll doublecheck with the Germ folks and give more specific time details the week of the event. But pencil in the date right now. Come on, what else are you doing on the 26th of January? Exactly. So you might as well come on down.

Posted by john at 06:10 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Something Nice; Synthetic Confusion Schedule

As a warning to all and sundry: Today is likely to be a day of schedules and announcements of a lit'ry sort, so if you don't give a crap about any of that, you'll want to run away until tomorrow, when I'm sure I'll find something unrelated to rant about.

First, as promised, something nice -- well, nice for me, anyway: the trade paperback of Old Man's War is on the top of the bestseller list for Clarkesworld Books, a specialty SF/F/H bookstore. This is heartening news not only because it is on the top of the list, but because the OMW hardcover was something of a creature of Amazon (i.e., we sold rather more than the usual percentage of books through that avenue), and while there's nothing wrong with that, it's good to get an indication that the trade paperback is making inroads with other retailers. And I'm happy when my book helps a specialty store make money; that's good for the genre I write in. Specialty stores and their staffs have been good to me (I'm particularly looking in the direction of Borderlands Books when I say that), so it would be nice to return the favor.

Second, I will be attending the Synthetic Confusion convention in Troy, Michigan later this month (January 20 - 22), and for those of you who plan to attend and wish to stalk me, here is my panel schedule:

January 20, 9pm: Political Correctness
Are we PC, should we PC, can we have fun having a non-PC discussion about it? Where is the line? When do we as writers ‘cross the line’? What happens when we do cross it?
Panelists: Sarah Zettel, Willian Aksel, Steve Climer, Marcy Italiano, Steven Brust and John Scalzi

Me and Steven Brust, together on a panel about political correctness? Holy crap! We'll all be lucky to get out of that one alive.

January 21, 12pm: Is SF Too Narrow?
Has science fiction become something just for middle aged Anglo Saxons and Jews?
Panelists: Tobias Buckell, John Scalzi, Sarah Zettel, M Keaton and Steven Brust

As I am not middle-aged, Anglo-Saxon or a Jew, I imagine I'll have some thoughts on this.

January 21, 2pm: Reading

For this I'll be in the con suite, watching people snack. I do believe I will read from the first chapter of The Android's Dream -- in which, you may recall mentioning at some earlier, one diplomat tries to fart another one into an irrational rage. It'll be fun. And then I might answer questions or whatever. Or perhaps an interpretive dance.

As a bonus for people who attend my reading, I'll be giving away lovely signed postcards for The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies. First come, first served!

January 21, 3pm: If This Goes On....
Intelligent design being taught in schools and evolution is not, pharmacists refusing patients prescribed drugs because of religious convictions... what is going on here, a Heinlein novel?
Panelists: John Scalzi, Vernor Vinge, Steven Leigh, M Keaton, Eric Raymond

Sadly, I don't have much to say on this topic.

(beat)

Okay, maybe a little. But who cares what I think? Look, Vernor Vinge!

January 21, 4pm: From Star Wars to Serenity
The last year saw some interesting science fiction movies. What was good and what just did not work and what stunk, could any be considered a classic or even notable? What does the future hold?
Panelists: John Scalzi, Alex von Thorn, Sandee Rager, Dierdre McDaniel

Yeah, I will definitely have some opinions here. Hopefully I won't get shot by the browncoats still angry with me for noting that Serenity was a flop in the theatres after its first weekend.

I don't have a damn thing to do on Sunday, and that's a good thing, I thnk.

As for when I'm not on a panel, I will usually be doing one of two things: watching someone else's panel, or hanging about the bar bantering with folk. If you see me there, do feel free to say hello.

Remember I will also be attending Boskone, Penguicon (at which I will be a "Nifty Guest") and Wiscon in the first half of 2006, so if you can't stalk me at Synthetic Confusion, you will have other opportunities to do so before summer arrives. Mmmm... stalking.

Posted by john at 09:04 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Bainbridge Reads TGB

Stephen Bainbridge, bless his heart, says some nice things about The Ghost Brigades:

A pre-release review copy of John Scalzi's new novel The Ghost Brigades arrived yesterday. I started it late last night and barely managed to tear myself away at midnight to go to bed. I polished it off today over a long lunch. Regular readers will recall that I was a huge fan of Scalzi's Old Man's War, which would be my pick for the best science fiction novel of 2005. But The Ghost Brigades is even better.

What really makes me happy is he notes the "stand alone" quality of TGB, which is to say you can read it without having read Old Man's War, its prequel. A number of folks who have read the book so far have picked up on this, which means that my plan to have TGB function as its own book seems to have worked. I'm pleased that's the case, although I suppose the acid test there would be to have someone who hasn't read OMW pick up TGB and work through it. It'll happen sooner or later, I reckon. In any event, follow the link above to get Professor Bainbridge's full thoughts on the book.

Posted by john at 12:52 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

January 04, 2006

Doin' it For the Kids

You probably didn't know this about me, but I have school spirit, yes, I do. I show it by conducting student interviews for the University of Chicago -- which is to say when an applicant to the university wants an interview but can't actually get to the school, they farm it out to alumni, and apparently I'm the alumnus they're farming it out to for rural western Ohio and eastern Indiana. The applicants will then make the trek to the Scalzi Compound, where, assuming Kodi lets them through the door (note to self: feed dog before arrival of interviewees -- we don't want a repeat of that unpleasant 2003 incident), I'll chat them up for a half-hour or an hour or so, and then talk about them behind their backs to the admissions committee. That's the way it gets done.

As it happens, I think I'm pretty good at doing these interviews, partly by professional training: when I was a film critic I did several hundred interviews with film stars and film makers and then had to craft their egotistical, drug-fueled "insights" into coherent newspaper articles; by comparison, interviewing generally polite teens is a positive delight, not in the least because the kids are being interviewed in the hopes of getting into college, rather than plunking themselves into a chair out of a contractual obligation. It matters. Sure, you might think it'd be fun to interview, say, Johnny Depp. But try dragging something useful out of him at 8:30 on a Sunday morning after he's clearly had a "busy" night (this was during his "let's trash the hotel room with Kate Moss" phase). The shiny glow wears off pretty quick. My understanding is that Mr. Depp is slightly more communicative now. Good for him.

Of course, it's also on point that I try to be useful to the kids I'm interviewing as well, because I remember the alumnus who interviewed me for The University of Chicago, and not to put too fine a point on it, he well and truly sucked at it. Not only did he ask boring and rote questions and didn't appear to be paying too close attention to what I was saying in reply, he also didn't exactly go out of his way to make the U of C sound like a place anyone would want to attend. Let's just say a man who explained his U of C social experience with the words "I didn't really make any friends until the last six weeks I was there" isn't the guy you want waving the flag for the place. Now, despite this fellow's ineptitude in the interviewing process, I did get in, and I did attend, so I guess he did no real harm. But still. One should hope for better than "did no real harm" in one's admission interviews.

(The best college interview I had, for comparison's sake, was the one with an alumna of Bennington College, who halfway through the ridiculously fun interview switched from saying "if you go" to "when you go" when referring to the school. And I almost did go, too -- aside from the school's arty reputation being appealing to a budding young writer such as myself, the school's 8-to-1 female to male ratio was appealing to my deeply hormonal 18-year-old self. But even being 18 and hormonal, I realized that Bennington's "build your own major" ethos was death for someone as fundamentally lazy and unstructured as I was. So I went with the U of C and its ramrod-straight classical "core curriculum." It made a man out of me, it truly did. And I avoided writing four years' worth of painful Bret Easton Ellis-esque stories about drug-addled dormitory bisexuality, which I think we can agree is all to the good.)

I do occasionally wonder if I am the most on-point ambassador for the U of C that the alumni committee could have chosen, because in a number of ways my U of C experience was not, shall we say, representative. In four years at the school, I think I spent a grand total of six hours in Regenstein, the school's main library, and I don't ever remember going into the Crerar, the science library, even once. I hear it's very quiet, just perfect for studying. Well, see, that's the other thing. This "studying" thing I heard so much about. Didn't do too much of that (that would explain the 2.8 GPA).

On the other hand, the fact that I was an atypical U of C student and yet still retain an almost insensible affection for the place suggests something good about it, and something that I intuited when I made the school my first choice: It's the sort of place that gives you the opportunity to make of it what you will, and which will let you do whatever you want if you show the desire to do it. I wanted a place where I could learn how to write, and the school gave me that both in the expected ways (via the school newspaper and the city's print media, who were always looking for cheap stringers) and in unexpected ways (via jamming so much damn information about the world into my head that I couldn't help but begin to make interesting connections with it all). And now I do what I wanted to do when I grew up. I don't doubt that being at the U of C is integral to that.

Which comes back around to why I like doing student interviews for the U of C: because I like the idea of helping to match up the school, with all its potential, with a kid who I see is looking for an opportunity to do more than grind out four years for the degree at the end of it. It doesn't mean I'm looking to see if the kids are like me; I don't think that would be useful. But I am looking to see how much they actually want out of their college experience. I think the U of C should get kids who demand a hell of a lot out of the place, and will go out of their way to get it. If that's there, I think that's a good match.

Posted by john at 01:17 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

January 03, 2006

How The Blogoverse Ends



So, the bad news is, according to this, I end my days homeless and pigeonholing passersby in increasingly desperate attempts to get their attention once the Internet collapses.

The good news is, all my online friends are there with me. Go me!

Posted by john at 12:20 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Photoshop as Time Machine

Author Cherie Priest, whose Flickr-based exhibition streak is even wider than my own, recently posted a set of potential book jacket photos which feature her in a really excellent dress of the sort that you'd see on an ingenue in an MGM musical. So I fired up the Photoshop and gave one of the photos the black-and-white 1940s glamor treatment, which you can see above. I think it turned out well, and I'm glad to see my Photoshop editing skills are not limited to turning dear family members into bloodsucking monstrosities. Ms. Priest liked it well enough to put it in her Flickr photostream, so that's a positive. All those hours of playing with Photoshop when I should have been writing are finally paying off.

Having said that, this is by far the best picture in the set, and needs not a bit of Photoshoppery. Hot redhead, great dress and a sense of humor? Hard to beat that (unless, of course, she also happens to write fine books).

Sadly, none of my author photos look as good as any in Ms. Priest's set. Clearly, I need to find a more fabulous dress.

Posted by john at 09:57 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

I Write a Lot Here

I was curious just much I wrote for the Whatever in 2005, so I checked. Leaving out July, in which this space was taken over by my lovely and talented guest bloggers, and not counting what I wrote in comments, I wrote about 220,000 words here in 2005. To put this in perspective, the two novels I have coming out this year, The Ghost Brigades and The Android's Dream, are about 95,000 and 110,000 words respectively. Or to put it another way, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded will be about 100,000 words, which means the amount of space I will have to cram in six years, three months of Whatevers will be half that of what I write here on an annual basis. Get the shoehorn.

Now, I don't think you can extrapolate from last year for the entire run of the Whatever; back in the old days, I would skip a couple of days here and there. But if I had to guess, I'd say I've probably written somewhere in the area of 800,000 words here since I started in September of 1998. This means that at some point in 2006, probably October-Novemberish, I'll have written a million words worth of Whatever entries. Which are a lot of words to devote to any one thing.

Writing 800k worth of words takes time, and so here's an interesting question to consider: Did the time I spend writing Whatevers take away from time I could have spent writing books? Between 1998 and right now I've written five nonfiction books and four novels; add those babies up and you've got probably another 800k worth of words. One could make the compelling argument that the opportunity cost of writing here over the last several years has been equivalent to nine books I could have written but didn't.

Fair enough, but I can think of two counterarguments to this. First, I'm not entirely convinced that the time I spend writing here would be entirely transferred to writing books if I weren't writing here. Of those nine books I written so far, six were written since 2002; that's two books a year. This year I'm putting three books and a new edition of an older book in the pipline. So, you know, I'm already spending quite enough time on books, thank you very much. I do this to no small extent to get away from the bookwriting. It's either this or Half-Life 2 deathmatches, and as much as I enjoy using a gravity gun to flatten some pimply 14-year-old's online avatar with a toilet, deathmatches don't do anything else for me other than stress relief.

Which brings us to the second counterargument, which should be familiar to most of you by now: Of those nine books that I've written, six -- including all four novels -- were sold either directly or indirectly because this site exists, and the three books I'm writing this year are also directly or indirectly related to this site. So rather than being an opportunity cost, this site has been an net opportunity benefit, and it's been an 800,000 words well spent, given the rate of return for my book-writing career.

Now, just between you and me, I'd like to believe that one way or another I'd eventually have sold my books and novels, even if I'd never bothered to build this site. But that alternate reality would have required a lot more organization and motivation on my part. So, really, it's hard to say. I'm just happy that in this reality, my farting around here has had serendipitous results.

That's 600 more words, incidentally. Well, 604, now. Actually, 607. 609!

Posted by john at 09:19 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 02, 2006

Just a Thought

Writers: Do you know of a word processor that has tabbed windows, a la Firefox? I'm in the process of organizing entries for Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, and I was thinking how lovely it would be to be able to cut and paste text into several different open documents, without having to clutter up the work space unnecessarily. If you know of a word processing program that uses tabs, I would love to know what it is. It would make my life a whole lot easier.

If there isn't a word processor with tabbed windows, shouldn't there be? I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm frequently working on more than one document at a time, and frequently cutting and pasting from other document/sites/whatever. Tabbed windows in a word processor would be very useful.

Indeed, the more I think about this, the more I feel it needs to happen. Somebody get on this, please. I'd do it myself, but I'm barely competent with html.

Posted by john at 12:48 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Testing Something

I'm checking out the new Performancing plugin for Firefox to see how well it works with the Whatever (I've gacked it from here). Consequently, this particular entry will be almost entirely devoid of any useful content whatsoever. But it will have this picture:



And now I will post it to see what happens. If the Whatever explodes, you'll know it was me screwing things up again. If it doesn't explode -- yay, me! Technology has not flummoxed and conquered me today.

Update, 2:50pm -- and now I'm fiddling the blogging tool on Flock, per Tobias Buckell's suggestion. It's interesting, too. Ooooh, and look, a spellcheck. Shiny, shiny.

Posted by john at 11:38 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The Full Extent of My Personal Award Pimpage for 2006

hugo0102.jpgI've actually gotten a couple of e-mails on this subject over the last several days, coinciding, I think, with a Hugo Award nomination ballot mailing, so I'll go ahead and address it here and use this to refer people to if it comes up again.

Should you be considering me for one of your Hugo/Campbell Award nominations, here's what I'm eligible for in 2005, so far as I know:

Best Novel: Old Man's War
Best Related Book: The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: "Alien Animal Encounters" (from Escape Pod)
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author: John Scalzi (1st year eligibility)

Some various notes on all the above:

* I'm pretty sure that aside from Old Man's War, Agent to the Stars is also eligible for Best Novel Hugo nomination this year; however, it has been on this site for six years now and I did make a reasonable sum of money off it before it was turned into a printed book, so there may be some sort of technicality in that which keeps it from eligiblity. Rather than try to guess what its fascinating backstory means for Agent, I figure it's just better to suggest the folks who are considering both Agent and OMW for the Hugo nomination vote focus on OMW instead. But, clearly, vote how you wish.

* If you're considering "Alien Animal Encounters" please note that you'll be nominating the folks from Escape Pod directly, not me. Which is, naturally, groovy by me. I would also suggest you check out their other podcasts over the last year to see if any of them is deserving of your short form nomination in addition to, or in place of, "Alien Animal Encounters."

* Re: Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies -- when the book began, it was known as The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film, the last part of which was shortened to "Sci-Fi Movies" partly to standardize the title with other books in the series, and partly for the sake of cover design. They asked me if I had any comments on the change, and I somewhat facetiously remarked that changing "Science Fiction" to "Sci-Fi" would lose us some Hugo nomination votes. This was immediately followed by me explaining what a "Hugo" was. Which then led to some serious thought as to whether to change it back to "Science Fiction Film" at no little expense. At which point I told them to relax.

* In addition to the Hugo, I believe that Old Man's War is also eligible for this year's Nebula, but to be entirely honest with you, the nomination process for the Nebula is so counter-intuitive that I'm not entirely sure whether this is now eligible, was elible but now is not, or was not eligible but will be at some point in the near future. And I was on a Nebula jury last year! So, I plan not to give the Nebula the slightest bit of thought from this point forward, at least as it regards me (I still plan to nominate a few books that aren't mine, mind you). If I get a Nebula nomination, however, I will wear an expression of happy befuddlement.

As to whether I want/hope/expect to get nominated or win any of the above awards: Well, look, I'm not going to lie. Being nominated would be cool, winning one even more so, and either would make the marketing departments of my publishers very happy (which is not a bad thing). If you want to nominate me, I certainly won't stop you, and I will thank you for your kind regard of my work. The fact I'm doing this sort of entry at all will inform you that I am not entirely disinterested.

But on the other hand I have my own Hugo nomination ballot on my desk, and I'm not planning to vote for myself. This is partly because, self-promoting egotistical twit though I may be, I have some limits, and nominating myself for an award is one of those limits. But it's also because 2005 was a fine year for SF, and there are people who I want to nominate for their work, and their number is already greater than the slots I have available for nominations. Given the amount of pleasure their work afforded me, I hardly see bumping any of them to boost my own tally. Yes, it would be ironic to miss the ballot by one vote. I can live with that. I plan to be writing a long time, you know.

In any event, that's where I am with awards eligibility this year.

Posted by john at 09:17 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 01, 2006

Perfect Ending to a Perfect Day

I just registered the domain name "Schadenfreude.us." Because, and maybe it's just me, I think the word "Schadenfreude" might become useful in 2006.

Posted by john at 11:29 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

OMW & TGB: SciFi Essentials Books for January

As many of you may remember, The Sci Fi Channel is promoting both Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades as their Sci Fi Essentials books for this month. This means that each gets a special page on the SciFi.com site, which includes an excerpt from the first chapter of each. So if you've not read Old Man's War yet, here's a chance to catch up -- and for those of you who can't wait for February, here's a taste of what's coming up in The Ghost Brigades. In both cases, enjoy.

Please note, incidentally, that the release dates for the books on both pages is incorrect. Old Man's War is now available in both hardcover and trade paperback, while The Ghost Brigades is officially available 2/21/06.

All in all, though, not a bad way to start off the new year.

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

Welcome to 2006!

So far I've spent the year doing entirely nothing. You?

Posted by john at 04:18 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack