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July 31, 2006

Tidbitty Goodness

What I'm thinking about a bunch of things:

* Mel Gibson's Anti-Semitic Meltdown: See, this is why I don't drink. Not that I harbor long-suppressed anti-semitic inclinations, or (perhaps more charitably) have a holocaust-denying anti-semite father who drilled his prejudices into me deep enough that they burst out when I'm stopped by the cops from driving down Highway 1 at 80mph with a bottle of tequila to keep me company. I mean to say that booze has a tendency to take one's least nice qualities -- the ones we have enough sense to keep stuffed into a hole -- and let them out for a run, especially when booze is consumed in quantity. I have enough bad qualities that I barely keep beaten down as it is. Also, I'm not a big guy. The first time I'm a jerk while drunk, I'm going to get flattened.

Alcohol isn't an excuse for Gibson's Jew-baiting tirade, and I think drunk or not he's going to have to well and truly answer for the outburst. People are rejecting Gibson's apology as not nearly enough to make up for the tirade, and while I think he's getting short-changed for the directness of the apology, I think the general consensus is also correct; the man's going to spend some time in desert, and how long depends on him. I'm not going to front the idea that I think the man doesn't harbor some anti-semitic prejudices, but I think would be tragic would be if Gibson, whose father, as noted, is a noted holocaust denier, had been generally struggling against that early-inculcated prejudice and had much of that progress wiped out, as far as the public is concerned, anyway, in a moment of drunken stupidity. Gibson can work his way back, but it'll be a lot of work.

Aside from the anti-semitic thing, I wonder what possessed Gibson to go on his drunken drive in the first place. My understanding is that he's struggled with alcohol for quite some time, and if that's the case, it's possible something stressed him out enough to hit the bottle. Again, not an excuse for doing and saying stupid and hateful things, but possibly an explanation.

* Call me crazy, but I think announcing that the FDA is re-considering letting the Plan B pill be sold to adults without a prescription a day before the nominee to lead the FDA gets grilled by the Senate is possibly the height of gross political cynicism. How will we know? We'll know if Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach gets confirmed, and Plan B goes back in regulatory limbo, as I fully expect it to.

* Men are like dogs -- they raise the pitch of their voices talking to men they intuit are socially superior to them. That's the idea being presented here, anyway. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that one myself, since I have a somewhat naturally high-pitched speaking voice, and there's not a lot of men I think are socially superior to me (equal? Sure. Better? Nah). On the other hand, maybe this explains why people always say they expect my voice to be lower, and possibly why I talk with a lower voice when dealing with annoying phone calls. Oddly, I sing baritone. I don't know what that means.

* Speaking of men, I found this NYT story interesting: It's about men who have decided that between not working, and working at a job they think is below them, some men will choose not to work. Max Weber must be twisting in his grave. I'm sympathetic to this impulse -- I've been known to leave jobs when I didn't like what I was being made to do -- but I'm not sure I could do it myself. I would be very reluctant not to have an income of my own, unless Krissy was doing so well in her work that we could comfortably survive on her single income alone. And even then, I expect Krissy would be saying to me "you damn well better be writing some pay copy," which of course I would be feverishly endeavoring to do. But in all seriousness, I can't imagine not working at something if it came to the point where the income was needed, or not working started eating into what we had for retirement. Fortunately it's theoretical at the moment.

Posted by john at 03:19 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Coffee Shop Rescheduled

A note for the folks who have preordered You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop Into a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing: Subterranean and I are pushing back the release date to February 2007. The pre-production took a little bit longer than we had anticipated, which would have pushed back the the release date to late September/early October, which would have been uncomfortably close to the release of The Android's Dream.

Rather than have two books pop out on the market at the same time, we moved Coffee Shop back a bit. Now it rests comfortably between The Android's Dream, which debuts on Halloween (w00t!) and The Last Colony, which arrives in May. This also gives us time to polish the book to a high sheen and to get it out to reviewers and what not. The content will likely remain the same, although it's possible I might add a piece or two. I will tell you I've seen an early design version of it, and from that I can say it looks really great. It's going to be worth the wait.

In any event, re-mark your calendars: Coffee Shop in 2/07. Maybe I should do a tour of coffee shops then, eh?

Posted by john at 02:46 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

July 28, 2006

One Last Hugo Plug

For those of you who are eligible to vote for the Hugos and the Campbells, Monday is the last day to vote. Please do vote. I go into detail why you should vote in another entry, but in sum, you should vote because you can. So vote, even if you don't vote for me. But if you do vote for me, for either the Hugo or the Campbell, thank you.

(NB: Please do not discuss how you've voted in the comment thread to this entry. Come Tuesday -- i.e., after the voting has closed -- I'll probably open a discussion thread on the subject. But for now, hold your fire. Thanks.)

Update: Been asked in the comment thread and e-mail how one becomes eligible to vote. The answer is that you need to be a member of this year's Worldcon. Memberships come in attending and supporting levels. Attending allows you to vote and attend this year's Worldcon; supporting allows you simply to vote. Attending memberships are $200; supporting memberships are $50. If you want to get a membership, here's the online registration site.

Posted by john at 12:29 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Athena Giving You The Word, Fresh For '06, Sucka; Plus, a Blogging Self-Pimp Thread

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I pity the fool who doesn't respect the Goddess.

Now, onto various random things:

* First, antipodean SF editor Jonathan Strahan has posted up a podcast which features Tim Pratt reading his original fantasy short story, "The Third-Quarter King." It's up here.

* Also landing on my desk from down under: Hal Spacejock, a humorous SF novel from Simon Hayes, who is in Perth. It's 11,157 miles from Perth to where I live (measured in a great circle), so this officially makes Hal Spacejock the originally most-distant object ever to land on my desk, so far as I know. Congratulations, Simon!

* And as long as I'm chatting up Australian things: Here's Aussie band Wolfmother, doing their song "Dimension." Honestly, it's as if the lead singer has warped back in time, snatched Robert Plant's voicebox straight from the man's golden throat, and brought it back to 2006. Frightening, really.

* Words arranged in a fashion I never expected to see: "Something you wrote on the Whatever may lead to me eating pizza on national television with Regis Philbin." Is this a good thing or bad thing? The details of this Whatever-originating adventure begin here and continue through a series of links.

I'd just like to note that all of this involves New York style pizza, which is inferior in every relevant respect to Chicago-style pizza. Inferior. To an appalling degree, really.

* Since you asked, The Last Colony writing is going well. I'm behind where I need to be (my deadline is in three days), but I like what I've written so far and I think you will too. I will say that thematically it's a bit different from the other two books; the other two were focused on the military aspect of this universe, and this one (as the title quite naturally suggests), focuses on the colonial aspect. It also deals quite a bit more with the political aspects of the universe, and I can already tell that people are going to daw parallels between what's going on in that universe and what's going on in this one. All I can say to that is that I plotted this out some time ago; I can't be held responsible if the real world begins to resemble what I long ago worked out in my own silly little head.

* I'm not going to be updating over the weekend, for reasons mentioned above, relating to being behind in the book. I don't expect I'll finish the book this weekend, but I do suspect I can close out the particular section of the book I'm working on. With explosions!

* To keep all y'all amused while I'm away, I hereby declare this comment thread to a blogging self-pimp thread: Link to a entry on your own site (or someone else's site) you think the readers here would find particularly interesting. Also, please make a quick description of the link, so people aren't shocked and appalled (any more than they would normally be) when they click through.

However, when self-pimping, do me a favor and please limit yourself to linking to just one entry. More than one link and your comment post will likely get tossed into the moderation queue, and I'm not making any promises that I'm going get around to liberating those over the weekend. Having your comment sucked into the grey netherworld of moderation will defeat the entire purpose of self-pimpery. So, you know, you have incentive to follow this direction (also, don't post multiple posts with one URL each. Honestly, if what you link to is good enough, people will wander around your site).

Have fun -- see you Monday.

Posted by john at 11:29 AM | Comments (70) | TrackBack

July 27, 2006

Because Apparently I'm Just a Chatty Cathy...

... Here's another interview of me, this time a short one at Meme Therapy.

Posted by john at 07:30 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Cincinnati/Covington Appearance

If you live in the Cincinnati area in Ohio or the Covington area in Kentucky, and you want to see if I actually exist, and you're not doing anything on August 12th, then you should know I'm making an appearance at the Mary Ann Mongan Branch of the Kenton County Public Library, In Covington, KY, on that date, at 2pm. I'll be there as part of an overall symposium on science fiction. The links have address information.

What will I do? Well, I thought I'd debut my acapella one-man musical about alien abductions, called What, The Anal Probe Again? Or, Once More With Feeling. But I'm having trouble with the bridge for the show centerpiece tune, "I've Got a Funny Feeling Inside," so I want to emphasize that the performance of this work is not confirmed at this time. Whatever I do, I should be reasonably entertaining.

Posted by john at 11:55 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

And Now, Another Exclusive Sneak Preview of The Last Colony You'll Remember For the Rest of Your Days!!!

Can you contain the excitement? No? Well, fine. Here's a bucket.

And now, your exclusive sneak preview:

It was raining werewolves.

Cryptic, yet inscrutable! Just the way you like your exclusive sneak previews.

Don't worry, I'm not giving away all the best lines.

Posted by john at 01:41 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

July 26, 2006

Wednesday Author Interview: Ellen Kushner

Over at By The Way, we've got the fabulously fabulous Ellen Kushner talking about her latest book, The Privilege of the Sword, as well as her radio show, her work with Interstitial Arts Foundation, and all other sorts of good stuff. Go read the interview and I'll love you forever! In that, you know, comfortingly Platonic sort of way.

Posted by john at 05:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 25, 2006

Did I Mention: House For Rent?

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I mentioned some time ago that our house in the Washington, DC area would soon be up for rent. Well, now's that time. We're posting the listing in other places, of course, but just in case DC-area readers (or, alternately, readers who know people in the DC area) are in the market for a house to rent, here's what we're offering:

A great home for rent in Sterling, Va (20164). Here are the details:

* 3 levels (house + full basement); house levels approx. 2300 sq. ft.
* 3 bedrooms (HUGE master bedroom is 22x12)
* 2.5 baths
* Living room is 14 X 14
* Dining room is 10 X 11
* Family room is 19 X 12
* Kitchen is 16 X 12
* Basement level includes three additional finished rooms plus full bath plus very large workshop
* Washer/Dryer, Microwave, Dishwasher and of course standard oven and fridge
* Air conditioning/heater plus vent fan
* Carpeted floors with hardwood hallway (kitchen is tiled)
* Working fireplace
* Located on family-friendly cul-de-sac (with good neighbors)
* Close to Rt. 7, Toll Road and tons of shopping and restaurants
* Pets okay with additional deposit
* House comes with gorgeous full-sized single slate pool table

The lot is small (.11 acre) but the back opens up on a .33 acre "common area" that effectively belongs to the house (you can't get to it except by going onto the property), so the back yard is pretty nicely-sized.

Rent: $2,000 per month (plus $2k deposit); year-to-year lease. No subletting. Renter pays utilities; we pay homeowner association fee.

If you or someone you know is interested, drop me an e-mail; I'll send along a rental application and give you a phone number to schedule a visit to the house.

Thanks!

Posted by john at 07:13 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Don't Stop Believin', Man!

Chad Orzel, who knows of my predilections, has pointed me in the direction of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Journey, which offers an album-by-album retrospective of the most radio-persistent rock band from the 80s. It's not a bad overview; I don't think any over the age of 25 really needs a recap of the Escape/Frontiers era of Journey, but most people are clueless about the band pre- and post- Steve Perry , and this is a useful way to learn a little about those eras.

In the circles I run in, Journey is looked on with something less than regard, which means that the band's cultural persistence irritates and terrifies most people I know. I remember ten years ago, when the Escape-era line-up reteamed for the Trial By Fire, Ted Rall declared that the reunion album would debut to massive indifference, so I bet him a fiver that the album would enter the charts in top five. In fact, it debuted at #3, and Ted still owes me $5. Look, people like Journey. It's like the multivitamin of rock: It's got the rockers for the boys, the ballads for the girls, Neal Schon's technically impressive fret work, Steve Perry's swoopingly expressive voice, Jonathan Cain's major-chord bell ringing keyboards, Steve Smith's thundering drums, and whatever the hell it was Ross Valory brought to the party (mostly, a droopy 'stache). Maybe it's not in the best taste, but name a multivitamin that tastes good. No, Flintstones don't count. So chalky.

The other thing, which is what I told Ted at the time, is that for the vast majority of Suburban Americans between the age of 14 and 24 in the early 80s, when it was time to make out and you put Escape on the turntable, you were automatically spotted two bases. Honestly, if you didn't have a hand under a bra or massaging a button fly by the end of "Who's Crying Now," Steve Perry would stop what he was doing, fly to your house and then beat the crap out of you for blowing a sure thing. God forbid you actually flipped the LP, because then, baby, you were going home. There's an entire generation of white 22-to-25-year olds walking around today whose moment of conception is largely coincident to the second chorus of "Open Arms." These people will be driving along with their moms, that song will come on that radio, their moms will get a small, wistful smile, and these people will spend the next three minutes, nineteen seconds uncontrollably shuddering.

Good times, good times.

Anyway, that's why all you snobs will never be rid of Journey; too many other people got lucky with Steve Perry yodeling in the background. Deal with it. It could have been worse. There's a whole bunch of 15-to-20-year-olds whose mothers were inseminated to Warrant. No amount of therapy will ever make that right.

To finish up, allow me to indulge in my own Journey-geek dorkiness by once again hauling to my own techno remix of "Don't Stop Believin'," named, appropriately, "Don't Stop." If you've not already subjected yourself to it, I assure you it's pretty much as terrifying as you might imagine. Enjoy!

Posted by john at 12:05 PM | Comments (80) | TrackBack

July 24, 2006

Interview in Some Fantastic

For those of you who don't already know what I think about everything, the SF zine Some Fantastic has a pretty long interview with me in its latest edition (note: 2.2 MB pdf download in that last link). In the interview you'll discover why Old Man's War protagonist John Perry is not my "Mary Sue" (and which character is), why the war in my books doesn't map to the wars down here, why I don't do media tie-ins, and why I work on novels more than short fiction. In sum, lots of interesting yabber yabber. Enjoy.

Posted by john at 05:59 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Yeah, I'm a Dork

The really interesting thing is that it's gotten to a point where Athena doesn't really blink anymore when I add an extra finger to her hand, or make her eyes the size of saucers, or give her vampire teeth. She's pretty much immune to the Photoshoppery at this point.

To forestall the inevitable "aren't you on deadline?" cracks, this was actually for something I was doing for By The Way. Yeah, I got paid for this. So there.

Posted by john at 04:17 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Every Night the ACLU Lawyer Will Have to Come Home and Scrub Scrub Scrub

The ACLU is defending the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to picket funerals. That gig's gotta suck. I think the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are hateful little worms who ought to fall down a sewer drain and receive an entirely appropriate demise therein; I also strongly suspect they have a valid First Amendment case. We'll see what the ACLU does with it.

However it goes, this will be a fine case to point out the next time someone blatherates about the ACLU just being for godless liberal freaks. Clearly it's for the fundamentalist conservative freaks, too.

Posted by john at 11:22 AM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

July 23, 2006

The Value of (Long) Fiction Online

Science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer and science fiction commentator Evo Terra are having a rather lengthy discussion on their Web sites about whether e-books are really a way to get one's self known as a science fiction author. This particular conversation began when Sawyer, who has his own book line in Canada, rejected a book from an author who had submitted a book, but then asked Sawyer to hurry making up his mind. Apparently the author had another offer on the table from a publish-on-demand publisher and interest from Web site which wanted to serialize the book. Sawyer passed on the book and futher noted that he believed the author was being foolish, because in his opinion neither PoD or Web serializing was likely to get this author any serious number of readers. Terra, who runs a site which serializes books as podcasts, disputed that serialization was not a useful way of getting one's name out there. Sawyer followed up in the comments and in a couple of additional posts on his own Web site, in which he and Terra dug into the numbers of who was listening to what and what the numbers meant.

Along the way the discussion turned toward the more general topic of selling and promoting one's writing online, and the names of myself and of Cory Doctorow were invoked, because Cory and I are arguably the best known examples in science fiction of people who have distributed texts online that have also been available in print (although I would argue that Charlie Stross deserves recognition in this arena as well). Sawyer argues, however, that Cory and I should be thrown out as data points in this discussion, because we are extreme outliers -- and anyway, there are no hard public numbers for how Cory and I are selling, so it's hard to discuss the topic in anything more than generalities.

Since my name was invoked, and since I have some thoughts on this topic, allow me to add my own commentary to this matter, some of which will echo what has been previously written by Misters Sawyer and Terra, and some of which will be new information.

To begin, everyone so far agrees that this unnamed author was a bit of a fool to try to rush Sawyer into making an editorial decision, and I agree with that. A first-time, unknown, unagented author really is in no position to push along the editorial process like that, especially when the manuscript has been at the editor's desk for only three months; response times for unagented manuscripts at publishers are often a year and sometimes longer. And simultaneous submissions are generally a no-no as it is, so Sawyer was being nice to this guy to begin with.

As a writer, I certainly agree it sucks that the submission process takes so damn long -- indeed, the lameness of the submission process in general was one of the major reasons I decided to serialize Old Man's War online in the first place -- but writers have to remember that the submission process is not for their benefit, it's for the benefit of the editor. And anyway, if you're annoying an editor at the submission stage, you're not making an argument for yourself being easy to work with at any other stage. So, in sum: don't piss off the editor.

Second, not only do I agree that Cory Doctorow and I are outliers, but we also exemplify one big problem with talking about the utility of putting writing online: there is no standard way of doing it, so relating the results to each other is not really meaningful. For example, Cory releases his novels online for free simultaneous to their release in bound format in the bookstore. In my case, I serialized my novel Old Man's War online, but after it was sold, I took it down. It was only available online for about a month, and in its entirety for less than two weeks. Cory uses his text as a way to sell the physical manifestation of the novel; I put my novel online because I didn't expect to sell it, and when I did, I took it offline. These are not equivalent methods; it's not useful to suggest they are.

To go further on this, I'm skeptical you can make much of an argument that the text of OMW being online did much to sell the book to readers. There was a two-year gap between when the book sold and when it was published; during that time the readership of the my site more than tripled, and has tripled again since then. Which is to say the number of people who could have read the novel when it was online is a number less than 2,000, and the number who did read it was probably less; not everyone who visited my site probably read the whole thing. To date, Old Man's War has sold about 20,000 copies (and we've yet to go to mass-market paperback, so the end number will -- cross fingers, knock on wood -- hopefully be a bit higher), so even if we assume that everyone who read my site in December of 2002 bought a copy (which would be a silly assumption), the vast majority of the people who have bought the book still simply could not have read it in online form.

What did sell OMW online? This site itself, for one, since I know anecdotally that many readers here who had not seen the novel online were curious to see if I could write one well. But the good reviews the novel got on sites like Instapundit and BoingBoing were critical too -- and those reviews came via the physical copies of the book, not the online version. After this, word of mouth kicked in, online as well as offline. But again, all of that was based on the printed, published book, not the online version.

Now, the fact I sold the book after I serialized it online is a great story, and God knows I've used it enough in interviews and articles. It's a grabber, something that sets the book apart from other books and gives reporters something for their lede. But again, the story of how I sold the book is different from having the actual text online.

A somewhat more useful set of data as to whether having the text online can help sell one's book can be seen by looking at Agent to the Stars, which is available online, and was so simultaneous to the book being out in hardcover form. I also, from 1999 through 2004, had the book available as "shareware," which is to say I let people know that if they liked it, they should send me a dollar. Now let's look at some numbers.

Between '99 and '04 I received about $4,000 from folks who read Agent, which is as anyone will tell you, a nice and tidy sum for anything written online. Since I asked folks to send me $1 if they liked it, you might assume that means I got 4,000 readers to pony up. In fact, the average person sent in something like $3.70 (which is to say most people sent $5 or $1, and clearly more people sent $5 than $1; this number doesn't count the guy who sent me $200, which still boggles my mind). So, more or less, about 1,080 folks forked over the dough. Over those five years, I estimate about 25,000 people looked at the Agent pages online or downloaded the text file. So we're talking about about a 4-5% conversion rate for people looking to people paying.

I sold Agent to the Stars into a limited hardcover edition in early 2005 and it became available for pre-order in late February; it came out in August and officially sold out its 1,500-copy print run in January 2006 (although Amazon claims it can still get it for you, if you're willing to wait 4-6 weeks). Between January 2005 and this moment, the Agent page on this site was visited about 60,000 times, so you could say there was a 2.5% reader-to-buyer conversion rate there, if you believe that the only way people found out about the book was through the Agent pages of this site...

... which would be silly. For one thing, I got Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade to do the cover of the book, not only because I knew he'd make a cool cover but because I knew PA fans would be interested in the book just because Mike did the cover, and I'm not too proud to bask in a little reflected PA glory. For another thing, people who had read Old Man's War and liked it hit Amazon or SF speciality sites to see what else I'd written and picked up Agent that way. For yet another thing, Subterranean Press, the book's publisher, promoted the book via its site and mailing list. And of course I chatted it up here on the Whatever. It's fair to suggest that some of the Agent copies were sold by having the text online, but most? I have my reservations.

(Did having Agent online for three years before I sold Old Man's War do anything for my profile as an SF writer? In a word: No. When OMW sold, the vast majority of SF fandom and SF publishing hadn't the slightest clue who I was, and those who did, knew me as a blogger. Which dovetails into the next point:)

Third, as I've noted before, given the choice between placing or serializing one's work online, and creating a kickass blog/Web site that draws people in and has them returning on a repeat basis, I think it's much smarter to build that kickass Web site. No one would have read either Agent or Old Man's War if I had simply put them up cold; the people who read them when they were online (and before I became known for any other sort of writing) were the people who were already reading me because of my site. They already knew they liked my writing. Overall, I feel very confident in saying that it is the blog writing, not the fiction writing, that draws people here. This is changing somewhat as I become better known as a novelist (people read the books and then come here), but even so, if all I had here was fiction, I can pretty much guarantee you that the number of people who visit here regularly would be a small fraction of what the site gets now. If you want to get your name out online, focus on regular, interesting slice-of-life writing, not fiction.

Having said all of the above, I do wonder what would happen now if I offered up a novel or novella as shareware, a la what I originally did for Agent. Part of me thinks I could do pretty well with it financially (because instead of being an anonymous schmoe with a blog, I'm a Hugo and Campbell nominated schmoe with a blog), and part of me thinks it would be a bust (because, after all, what does a Hugo and Campbell nominee need with money? He's rolling in it, right? Ah, if only they knew). Either way, however, whatever attention the novel/novella would get would be based on my existing notoriety, both as a blogger and as an SF writer.

And this is the real take home point, boys and girls: Online, your fiction writing doesn't increase your reputation; it relies on the reputation you already have.

Posted by john at 01:22 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

July 22, 2006

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Note to aspiring authors: Just remember that for everyone of these you get, you also get one of these. And you have no control over either. So don't fret over either. Just write as well as you can.

Posted by john at 06:36 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

NPR Does SF

Passing along this e-mail I got from Rick Kleffel, editor of The Agony Column:

Thought I might mention that my report on the Singularity for NPR is going to run this Sunday, near the end of the second hour -- Vernor Vinge and Cory Doctorow on NPR! If enough folks respond, NPR will commission more SF reportage.

Finally, a reason to listen to NPR!

No, I'm not a regular listener to NPR because I prefer my radio to have music on it. Which means it's hard times for me these days. Nevertheless, it's always a good day when SF gets a bit more attention. Here are more details on when Rick's piece will air tomorrow. And if you do listen, do give feedback.

Posted by john at 02:27 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 21, 2006

How Not To Market to Bloggers, Redux

Someone got fired. In the wake of this entry about a really bad e-mail pitch I received from a PR company on behalf of Napster, this popped up in the entry's comment thread:

Hi John,
I am the President & CEO of Guerilla PR and am quite disturbed by the email that was sent to you by Nadine of my staff and want to personally apologize.
Each of our outreach emails are crafted for a specific target audience and typically go through a quality control and approval process. As I'm sure you are well aware, mistakes occur within even the most strategic marketing campaigns and, unfortunately, you mistakenly received an email that was specifically developed for outreach to a database of comedic fansites (thus the affiliate-focused offer and tone).
Aside from containing messages that were not tailored specifically to you, the email you received was crafted by a Guerilla staffer who took it upon herself to make creative changes to the approved email copy, which resulted in language that was far more cutesy, “salesy”, immature, unprofessional and generic than any which Guerilla pr typically recommends using- with any audience. The copy in the email was not approved by anyone at Guerilla PR, nor by anyone at Napster.
At Guerilla PR, we understand that “guerilla” marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool, but only when well executed. The type of communication you received is NOT indicative of the communications that we send on behalf of Napster or any of our clients.
In all fairness, Guerilla PR and our employees have relationships which we have built up over 7 years and have succeeded in providing sites, writers and users with valuable digital assets, tools, story queries, interviews, videos, and more.
I am glad this was brought to my attention, as it enabled us to correct the situation. We concur with your assessment and strive to continually have our entire staff practice the recommendations you scribed. To reduce the risk of future similar incidents, this GPR rep’s employment has been terminated.
Please email me back if you have any additional needs or questions. Thank you.
With respect,
Michael Leifer

Two things here:

1. Very large kudos to Mr. Leifer and Guerilla PR for moving quickly to explain the situation from their end and to address the issue in a substantive fashion. It's always a good thing when errors are addressed, and the transparency here in dealing with the issue is also super smart. That is, indeed, good PR. So well done, sir. Apology accepted, with sincere thanks.

2. Holy crap, what I wrote got someone fired. Well, to be accurate, their own actions got them fired, although it does appear my entry was a contributing factor in the actions coming to light. I'm still working out how I feel about this personally, although from a business point of view it has undeniable logic: If someone went that far out of the chain of standard practices for a company and the result is that a client was put in a bad light, it's time to clean out a desk.

In any event, good to see this dealt with.

Update, 7/22/06, 9:30 am: As you'll see in the comments, many of the commenters seriously doubt the sincerity of the letter above, and suggest Mr. Leifer's explanation (and termination of his staffer) are largely the work of a marketeer trying to once again get a grip on his spin. I fully acknowledge he could just be telling me what I want to hear and letting me imagine that my immense blogger powers have crushed my marketing foes, when in fact they continue on unscathed. But inasmuch as that Mr. Leifer is putting the credibility of his shop on the line with a public apology, and that it would be simple enough for an industrious business reporter to verify the particulars of Mr. Leifer's letter (hint, hint), I'm willing to take him at his word for now. This does, however, accentuate how suspicious folks in the online world are of bad marketing, and how quickly credibility erodes when one's company does something dumb.

Posted by john at 04:55 PM | Comments (48) | TrackBack

Day of Play

athenabike0721.jpg

Here's Athena on her new bike (she outgrew the old one -- who knew that's what kids do), and now we're about to head off to see Monster House, which, as the title suggests, is about a house that's also a monster. So basically, no time to hang with all y'all. You kids have fun without me. See you later.

Posted by john at 11:48 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

July 20, 2006

Foil-Stamped and Embossed For Your Pleasure

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Tor sent me a few samples of the cover of the upcoming mass-market paperback version of Old Man's War, which I share with you now, in all its foil-stamped and embossed glory. And not just foil-stamped and embossed in one color, but two -- silver and gold. Truly, I am living the science fiction author dream. Indeed, I think it entirely possible that, however OMW fares at the Hugos this year (have you voted? Have you? Huh?), it'll be a true contender for the 2007 Gold Leaf Award for Best Foil Stamped/Embossed Book Cover/Jacket, handed out -- of course -- by the Foil Stamping and Embossing Association. It's not too much to hope for.

Seriously, though. It looks really good.

Posted by john at 03:55 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

La Guerra Del Viejo

This just in: Spanish-language rights to Old Man's War have been claimed. Excellent. That's the seventh language into which OMW will be translated (following Russian, French, Chinese, German, Japanese and Hebrew). My book is seeing more of the world than I have. I'll have to fix that one day.

Posted by john at 12:04 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

What to Call Me

I seem to have unintentionally caused some confusion in the last entry as to how is the proper way to address me, so in the interest of being helpful, let me attempt to clear things up:

My name is John Scalzi (actually, it's John Michael Scalzi, II, but that's not important now). I typically answer to "John" or "Scalzi," and have no manifest preference to either name -- which is to say I will respond equally to both. Which makes sense because both are my name. Please feel free to use either one that you prefer, when referring to or addressing me. If you wish to be formal (say, you don't know me, or want to borrow money from me), "Mr. Scalzi" works fine. I possess no additional titles, so calling me, say, "Admiral Scalzi" will only lead to confusion.

I have noticed that in casual conversation and in casual reference, most people -- even some of my closest friends -- seem to address and refer to me as "Scalzi," even when/if they are discussing other people by their first names (i.e., "we went to dinner with Paul, Jane, Joe and Scalzi"). I suspect that the reason most people use "Scalzi" rather than "John" is that a) generally speaking I'm the only Scalzi in any crowd, which makes it an easy identifier, b) "John" is opposingly generic, and c) "Scalzi" is fun to say; it seems to lend itself to all manner of dramatic methods of delivery (incidentally, I pronounce my last name "skaal - zee").

Indeed, so pronounced is the general tendency to refer to me as "Scalzi" rather than "John" that if I'm in a crowd and the name "John" is used, I have a tendency to assume that it is being used to refer to some other John. Be that as it may, my first name is "John," and if you feel more comfortable using "John" instead of "Scalzi," by all means please use "John." It's a fine name, and I like it.

On the matter of "John," incidentally, if you attempt to use "Johnny" in reference to me, I am not likely to respond to it, since I was never called "Johnny" at any point in my life; my family nickname when I was younger was "John-John" (yes, apparently like JFK, Jr). That nickname has since been retired by me (a 37-year-old man ought not be referred to as "John-John") and has since been passed on to a nephew. I won't hate you if you call me "Johnny," although it will merely serve to accentuate the fact you don't know me, so I'm not sure why you would want to continue using it anyway. Using "John-John" unless you're a family member is likewise right out. "Jon" or "Jonathan" are of course entirely incorrect (that's another name entirely). Calling me "Junior," because I am the second John Scalzi, is not going to be successful -- I was never called it as a kid and wouldn't find it appropriate now.

On "Scalzi," the last name itself seems to suffice just fine; I've not known people to shorten it in any way, nor would I be likely to respond positively to any attempt to do so. People have been known to adapt "Scalzi" as a prefix to any number of words by dropping the "i" and then jamming "Scalz" in front of any number of words, usually with an exclamation mark implied at the end ("Scalztastic!" "The Scalzinator!" "Scalztronic!" "Scalztacular!"), but these really don't seem to be enduring sorts of nicknames but rather some sort of variation on the "banana-fofanna" school of being silly. As noted eariler, "Scalzi" is distinctive enough that there's usually no need to embroider the name.

Possibly because "Scalzi" is distinctive enough as it is, I have no nicknames of any sort. I'm a little old to be gaining any, so unless you have Dubya-like pathological need to assert dominance over other by giving them a dimunitive name that is not their own, I'll thank you simply to call me by my name (if you do have that sort of pathological need, I'm likely to avoid your company anyway). My wife has terms of endearment for me, but I'm not sharing those, and you wouldn't be entitled to use them in any event. Sorry.

So, in sum: Call me "John," call me "Scalzi," or if you like to be formal, "Mr. Scalzi." Whichever you are most comfortable with is fine.

Posted by john at 10:49 AM | Comments (57) | TrackBack

July 19, 2006

How (And How Not) To Market To Me When I'm in Blogger Mode

As I think I've mentioned before, I am apparently enough of a high-profile blogger that I get people sending me stuff and wanting to do business with me in my capacity as a blogger. People sending me stuff is always fun (it's stuff. And it's free), and that's why I have my publicist guidelines over there on the side bar. Wanting to do business with me is a tricker proposition. This site is (until I am hard up for money, at least) resolutely not a commercial site, and I'm not particularly inclined to 'ho out my readership for a few shiny baubles or whatever. Also, as someone who makes at least part of his money crafting marketing messages for various clients, and has for the better part of a decade, it's not like I don't know how marketing works. I know the difference between a good pitch and a bad one, particularly when it's directed toward me. I get annoyed at the bad ones.

Now, as it happens, yesterday I received two e-mails from two different people, both of whom were trying to get me interested -- as a blogger -- in incorporating the businesses they're promoting into my site. One of them did a bad job of it, and one of them did a good job of it, both in the sense of promoting their services to me as a blogger, and (incidentally) promoting their services to me as John Scalzi. As an object example of each, I'm going to present these marketing messages to you now, and explain all the ways they do and don't work.

First, the e-mail pitch that doesn't work.

Hey
Napster is willing to pay you money, and all you have to do is keep your site lookin' pretty. Napster has taken their catalog of over 2 million songs and comedy routines and acquired the rights to provide sites like yours with streaming flash-based links to their library.
These cool links will add to your content and enable users to have a No-cost interactive audio experience.
Super-easy! Your users can cut and paste these audio links into their blogs, MySpace pages, etc. and you collect money. You get 5% for downloads and $10 dollars for each subscription. If you'd like to see an example of what it will look like on your site, checkout www.gumpop.com
Give us a call or email and say, "my site wants a sugar daddy", we'll hook you up.

Interestingly, this pitch came from an actual PR company (this one), which prides itself on being "guerilla marketing specialists." Yeah, well, no. Here's why it fails:

1. The Salutation Sucks. I understand it's meant to be cool and informal, but what it really says is "this e-mail is going out to a whole bunch of different people and rather than registering you as an individual, we'll go for a slangy, hip but impersonal salutation." The problem with this is that slangy and hip or not, bloggers as a general rule like to pretend what we're doing is individual enough that we deserve recognition as individuals (just like everybody else on MySpace or LiveJournal or wherever). An impersonal salutation sets the tone for the rest of the pitch to be impersonal as well, and an impersonal pitch is at a disadvantage when you're trying to shill your wares. "Hey John" would have been fine; "Hey Scalzi" would have been even better (since nearly everyone who knows me or knows of me calls me Scalzi, not John, and this would indicate the marketeer actually knows something about the blog). "Hey" by itself, however, gets nothing.

2. The rhetoric is appalling. The language of the pitch makes it sound like I'm some anorexic skank on the prowl for some easy cash, and that Napster -- the client here, remember -- is a greasy, sweaty pussy-trawler who's willing to toss a few coins my way as long as I'm ready to service him. I mean, really, it's soooo nice that Napster is willing to pay me money, you know, as long as my site keeps lookin' pretty. But what if my site's ass gets fat? What happens when the site develops those mouth wrinkles from all the cigarettes it smokes to ward off the pangs of hunger required to keep its ass from getting fat? What if my site turns 26 and its boobs begin to sag by a millimeter or two? What will my sugar daddy do then? Who will I have to blow then to get this sweet, sweet deal?

Oh yeah: this e-mail was signed by a woman.

Yes, I know it's all third-wave feminist to say that it's cool to be sexy and hot to the men and still be woman, hear you roar and all that. But this ain't third wave feminism; it's some idiot marketer under the impression that using language that equates to "suck this corporate cock for shiny, shiny pennies" is somehow ironic and fun. Well, it's ironic all right, in that Napster, once the symbol of rebellion against the idiocies of the mass-produced music industry, has now been reduced via marketing to the equivalent of a coked-out middle-aged dotcom jackass with hair plugs, hanging out at a strip club and trying to convince the new meat on the stage to do the squishy with him in the back of his C-class Mercedes. I'm not sure how that's fun.

3. It makes it appear like the client is doing me a favor. Let me see if I have this straight: I basically put a link on my site that funnels people to Napster's site, whereupon Napster will then attempt to get them to sign up for its service? And for this Napster is willing to pay me? Well, that's nice. The pitch does include a value proposition for me as the blogger -- i.e., that I can add all sorts of music to my blog, and that people can then cut and paste that into their own blog -- but this value proposition is not purely for my own benefit, and in any event, the value proposition to me is presented after language that makes it look like Napster is providing me some great benefit by allowing me to funnel my readers to it. Certainly a marketer doesn't want to make his or her client look desperate ("please lease us your readers! They're coming to take away our loft! Oh, God, please!"), but fronting a false sense of noblisse oblige is not the way to go, either.

4. Dead-eyed marketing jargon. If you barf out marketing-speak like "add to your content and enable users to have a No-cost interactive audio experience," which no normal human uses in the real world -- ever -- its soul-deadening qualities are not obviated by having the next thing you write be "Super-easy!" Also, bloggers don't have users, they have readers, and the fact that the former term is being used rather than the latter is further evidence that this particular message is being tooled out by people who either don't understand to whom they are marketing or who are so adrift in the becalmed sargasso of marketing-speak that their position of being "guerilla marketing" experts is only relative to those folks even more clueless about the blogging world than they.

5. Inconsistent tone. Related to the above, you can't really try to position yourself as offering something all hip and fun and trendy and then let slip in painfully square marketing speak. It's a rhetorical whipsaw, and it tubes the overall effectiveness of the work. It has to be all of a piece, otherwise it can't even begin to be read as authentic. Hell, it can't even begin to fake authenticity, and authenticity actually matters in the blog world. These people would be far better off simply to have an e-mail that says "hi, we're going to try to market to you, and here's the cool stuff we have for you," then this mess of a "We're hip beyond all reason, offering no-cost interactivity to your users" mashup.

My real question is not who wrote it, but, honestly, who approved it? Because this is crap. If I were running this particular marketing shop, I would have punted this back faster than you can say "bring me a skim half-caf latte." Maybe Napster likes it, but a marketer's job is not only to make the client happy but to save the client from its own ass-foolishness. This emphatically did not happen here. This is terrible marketing, both to me in particular and to bloggers in general.

What does good marketing to bloggers look like? Well, let's take a look at my next example:

John,
I am a big fan of your books Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades and have really enjoyed reading your blog the past few weeks. I work for Tower.com and was wondering if you’d be interested in working with us to save your readers a couple bucks in the process. Instead of linking to Amazon.com whenever you mention a book, CD, movie or video game, you can link to us. If you’d like, we can do a couple of things for your readers:
* I can give you a reusable coupon every month for either a percentage or dollar amount off of any order over a certain amount, plus free standard shipping. OR
* Whenever you're going to post about a CD, DVD or book, etc., I can set up an individual coupon for that particular item that would take a dollar or two off of our sale price.
You can also sign up to become an affiliate and put some change in your pocket while you’re at it. There's information about our affiliate program right here: http://www.towerrecords.com/affiliate.asp
I think it would be cool to work with you on this, so if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to get a hold of me anytime. Also, the Muse album is amazing. I thought that Showbiz was awesome and had totally forgotten about them too until this album came out.

Why does it work? Pretty much for all the reasons the earlier example did not.

1. The marketer knows who I am. Or at the very least gives the impression he does: He name-checks the books I've written and via the Muse reference gives an indication that he's aware of the recent writing on my site. In both cases I get the feeling that this pitch is to me, and based on awareness of what I do, both in my blogging and non-blogging life. This inclines me to give the pitch more serious consideration, because, who knows? Maybe it will be useful.

2. The language is good. This guy is not trying to be the hippest dude in the room, he's just got an idea that he thinks could work out well for the both of us. The language is simple, direct, friendly and pretty much free of marketing lingo -- note "readers" not "users" -- and is consistent across the board.

3. The offer is to be helpful, not to do me a favor. Napster is "willing" to give me money. Tower Records, however, is ready to save my readers a couple of bucks. You don't need a degree in rhetoric to see what a difference this makes. It's ironic that the hip, supposed-to-be-counter-culture approach in fact reinforces the supremacy of the corporation over the consumer, while this low-key and unhip approach gets what's important: That in the blog world, readers are incredibly important, and doing something that works to their advantage is going to be good for the blogger. In fact, let's pull this out as its own point:

4. This pitch understands its market. This pitch is from someone who actually seems to have a clue how the blog world works -- that it's about readers as much as the folks who write the blogs. And because the guy also seems to have a clue what I do on my site -- I recommend books and music on a constant basis, and I feel reasonably protective of my readers -- he pitches his offer to me on the basis of behaviors I exhibit, and spins the offer to put my readers first. That's all smart stuff for this guy to do, and it also speaks toward the interests of Tower Records in promoting itself online. Tower wants to be useful, and through being useful, hopefully successful as well.

5. This pitch isn't pushy. It knows what it's about -- it is trying to get me to link to Tower, after all -- but it lets the value proposition speak for itself, and the person writing it lets me know that if and when I want to talk to him more about it, he's ready to work with me (as opposed to "hooking me up," which again implies someone is doing me a favor). Speaking rhetorically, this pitch tells me that this guy is confident that what he's offering is a good deal and he's comfortable with me giving it some thought and seeing if it's right for me. This is a far better method of presentation for me, personally; I think it's a far better presentation in general.

What does this all mean?

First, not only am I not likely to avail myself of the Napster thing, but now I have a vaguely negative feeling about Napster in general; the image of Napster huffin' and puffin' at me from behind and then contemptuously slapping down a couple of soiled dollars for my time is one that is pretty much burned into my mind, thanks to this pitch.

Second, I actually am now thinking of sending links to Tower. I currently link to Amazon primarily because many of my readers are also writers, and writers as a class obsess over their Amazon rankings because it's the only sales feedback we usually get. But Tower's book prices, at least, are competitive, and while I'm not likely to do an affilliate thing, if Tower wants to offer a special deal to my readers for one of my books, that's well worth considering. Tower wasn't on my radar before for any of this, and now it is. And that's smart marketing, to me as me, and to me as a blogger.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Update 7/21/06, 5pm: The President/CEO of Guerilla PR responds in the comment thread. I have further thoughts on the matter here.

Posted by john at 03:42 PM | Comments (81) | TrackBack

Friendpimping 7/19/06

I kept meaning to mention this earlier but continued to get distracted by shiny bits of foil (and, uh, book writing) pal Deven Desai, who is awfully smart in a lawyerly way (and in other ways as well), is doing a guest spot over at the legal blog Concurring Opinions. Here's the entry saying a little bit about who he is; here's one of his entries about paternity, and another about Jerry Springer, and the poor bastard of a British judge who is required to watch his show for a case. Fun stuff. The rest of the blog is likewise enlightening, legally and otherwise.

Also: The comment thread is hereby declared a pimp zone. Pimp yourself! Pimp others! Go nuts! But tastefully, of course.

Posted by john at 12:27 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Die Movable Type 3.3 Die

Gaaaaah. I'm officially giving up on upgrading to Movable Type 3.3 because no matter what I do, I cannot convince the new install that there is, in fact, a bootstrap.pm right where any idiot can see it, and I am not nearly technically accomplished enough to fiddle with the scripts to make it work. Perhaps one day some geek will take pity on me and do this thing I'm clearly too lame to do, but until then you're all stuck with lousy Movable Type 3.2, and I'm left to mutter about how this is a conspiracy on the part of Six Apart to try to get me to move to TypePad or something. It's not going to work, Six Apart! I laugh at your one gig of disk space and 10 gigs of bandwidth! I've got 150 gigs of Web space, and 1.5 friggin' terabytes of bandwidth. Ha! I say. Ha! I don't need your lame, annoying, delicious, shiny upgrade anyway.

Stupid Movable Type 3.3.

Interestingly, as I was running the Perl script checker for, oh, the 13,000th time today, I noticed that my host is now offering Wordpress for its users; all you have to do is fill in a couple of lines on a form, pick a template and bam: You've got blog. See? Don't bookmark that, by the way, since I don't intend to keep it -- or, at least, don't intend to keep that particular set-up, because the templates my host provides aren't very flexible. You can't put in your own designs or anything. Also, I can't find the database that goes with the blog, and I find that, well, disheartening. But it's interesting that blog software comes standard now.

In any event, I've wasted too much time trying to update the site. I'll save any other major projects for after I'm done with The Last Colony. And that will give me time to plot my revenge against Movable Type 3.3. Oh, yes. Vengeance will be mine.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

July 18, 2006

Hello, Wisconsin!

The Oshkosh Northwestern did an interview with me that will be published this Saturday, but the reporter Bethany Warner also blogs, and has posted a version of the interview on her site. You can read it here. The telling line, when asked about my writing process: "There's a writing process? Why didn't someone tell me this before?" Man, I crack myself up.

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

A Telling Sign Things Are Not Going Well in the Marriage

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Yeah. It's subtle, sure. But if you look closely you can see some real tension there. You know, between the lines.

This is from here.

Note to self: Try not to inspire wife to put up embarrassing billboard.

Update: In comments, Nancy Nall thinks it's viral advertising. Defamer agrees with her. If it is, it's reasonably clever. Although it would be more interesting if it were real.

Posted by john at 11:17 AM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

Geek Loser

You know, yesterday the latest editions of Official US PlayStation Magazine, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Popular Science and PC Week came to my door, and I thought, look at all this nerdishness! I am a geek god! And then I tried to install Movable Type 3.3 and failed utterly. I am a geek loser, and just think about what it means when you can't even be a geek. I might as well hide in a hole. But at least I didn't destroy my existing install in the process. I'll try again at some other point.

I did, however, do at least one other geek-related thing, which is that I got an invite to join Vox, which is SixApart's new do-everything social network site, which is still in beta. I whomped up a page there, which you can see here. As far as generic blog-hosting goes, it's fairly attractive, with all sorts of various Web 2.0 bells and whistles, like the ability to host and stream mp3s, take photos from Flickr and so on and so forth. It's got so many nice bells and whistles, in fact, that I wonder why the blank-blankety-blank Six Apart offers them for free on Vox while my Movable Type install, which I paid for, thank you very much, has almost none of them. Perhaps they're all in the 3.3 upgrade. Man, I hate being a geek loser.

This also means that I have yet another blog-like extension online. Aside from here and my AOL Journal, both of which I actively update, I've got outposts on LiveJournal, MySpace, Blogger, Flickr and all manner of social and professional network sites which I've not visited in what seems like eternity (alas, poor Friendster. You were so 2003). Because I have life (and I am not a college student), I can't really maintain them all, nor do I really want to; I have the LiveJournal and Blogger accounts so I can use the comment functions, and the rest I have largely out of curiosity. Also, of course, if I do destroy Scalzi.com doing an upgrade, at least I'll have somewhere else to go, already set up. Even so.

All I really want is to set this place up exactly the way I want it. But then we're back to the geek loser thing again. Sigh.

Posted by john at 10:21 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

July 17, 2006

Danger! Danger!

I'm about to attempt an upgrade to Movable Type 3.31. Because I am of only questionable competence in these matters, the site may in fact vaporize. Don't worry, I've downloaded the database.

Posted by john at 07:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Shit Bounce

Prediction: Bush gets a 1-2 point bounce in the next poll taken after today's off-guard "shit" moment. The reason: because, among other things, "what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit" sounds amazingly sensible, and using the word "shit" in this context seems like earthy, folky wisdom, and Bush is supposed to be all earthy and folky. Now, whether having Syria tell Hezbollah to stop doing this shit would actually work is another matter entirely, and one I don't feel entire qualified to comment upon, except to say that it would be nice if it were that simple. But as I said, it sounds good.

As an aside, this is another place where I'll decline to take a potshot at the President. He was having lunch, he clearly didn't realize his mike was live, and I pretty much think he should be let off the hook for having an unscripted moment of frustration regarding the fact that things have gone to Hell over there along the Israel-Lebanon border. It's one thing to say something jackassed when you're at the podium, making a speech, and God knows I think Bush has done that more than once. It's another to utter a profanity and a not terribly controversial opinion when you're eating something and talking to a colleague, even if that colleague is the Prime Minister of the UK. It's not like he was saying "Dude, we're totally bombing the shit out of Damascus tonight, heh heh heh heh." In that case, there would be actual news, and the word "shit" would be the least interesting thing about it, instead of the most interesting thing, as it is here.

I know, I know. If I keep letting him pass on these little things, I'll be drummed out of the Bush Hata Playa Club, Local #655. But honestly. Like I give a shit.

Posted by john at 05:01 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

And Now, a Special Sneak Preview of The Last Colony You'll Talk About For Years to Come!

Because you deserve it. Here it is, a special exclusive sneak preview of The Last Colony! Prepare youself! Take a deep breath! Gird your loins! This is it!

"Wow," said Savitri. "This planet smells like an armpit."

And there it was, your special, exclusive sneak preview! Now I bet you can't wait to read the rest. Can you? Can you? Huh? Huh? Huh?

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

July 16, 2006

Agent to the Stars on "Unshelved"

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As the headline implies -- nay, explicitly promises -- the fine folks at Unshelved (America's favorite library-based Web comic!) have done a comic strip featuring my novel Agent to the Stars. It's pretty funny. That strip, that is. The book is, too. But that's not important now.

Posted by john at 10:30 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Discussion Topic

The food that requires the most amount of effort for the least amount of reward: The unshelled sunflower seed.

Agree? Disagree? If the latter, can you name an alternative?

Why yes, I am eating unshelled sunflower seeds at the moment. Why do you ask?

Posted by john at 08:23 PM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

July 15, 2006

Quick Change

Yeah, I decided that purple really wasn't me. Thus the change in the colors and pictures. Also, for those of you using the search page, the "dark-on-dark" thing should be fixed.

If you can't see the new design, you might need to clear out your Web cache.

Posted by john at 10:45 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Bits and Pieces 7/15/06

Little things:

* A literary notable named Nancy Pearl has plugged Old Man's War, which I think is awfully nice of her. I regret to say I'm not entirely sure who she is (curse me and my non-listening-to-NPR ways), but I've been assured this is a good thing, and she has nice things to say about the book, and I'm delighted to be read and recommended by people who are outside the usual circles of SF reader. So thanks, Nancy Pearl.

* I've been asked by folks if I have any thoughts about the latest round of fighting in the mideast; I don't, other than general worry. Anyone who knows me knows I've long been a supporter of the right of Israel to exist and defend itself; they also know I wish that the modern state of Israel had been founded in, say, Nebraska. I do wonder if there's a deeper strategy here that I'm not seeing; Hezbollah has been funded and armed by Iran, or so I've been led to understand, and I wonder if this recent action is not some sort of sock puppet action to draw attention away from Iran's own agenda and also a long-term attempt to sap US military strength (the US is obliged to help defend Israel but it's already fairly extended, as we all know, in Iraq and Afghanistan). This is the curse of knowing just enough about a situation to make one paranoid.

* Earlier this week Joseph Tranfo called me out to discuss same-sex marriage one his own blog Benedict; unfortunately I've been too busy writing and editing to discuss the issue substantively, but those readers who are interested in having a serious discussion with him on the subject should go over. Here's the first entry he did on the subject (with my quick and cowardly "I'm too busy!" response), and he's followed it up with a second right after it. I don't need to tell you this, but if you go over, please play nice. Ironically, this comment thread is still active; the recent comments have some folks trying to convince me that same-sex marriage isn't really marriage, and attempting to sell me the whole "there's still a debate!" line that I decry in the original entry. Needless to say I'm not buying.

* Book updates: My edit of Coffee Shop is back to Subterranean Press; hopefully we'll have ARCs to give out to folks. Most of the edits were due to my abominable speeeling and gremmar, although in a couple of places I needed to root out phrases like "you can click here to see more on this," because, after all, clicking on a book doesn't actually let you follow a hyperlink. Damn old-school media. The Last Colony proceeds apace. Did I mention it's got Mennonites? Well, it does.

Posted by john at 12:58 PM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

July 14, 2006

Black Holes & Revelations

So, for the last couple of days, I've been wallowing in Black Holes & Revelations, the new album from Muse, who are apparently stupid huge in the UK, but not so much here. I bought their first album, Showbiz, when it come out in (uh... I think) 1999, but then they fell off my radar. Well, now they're back on it. BH&R is ridiculously overblown; these guys give The Darkness a run for the crown of Most Histrionic Band Since Queen. That said, this album yet manages a sort of spacey grandeur ("grandeur" not being something The Darkness ever really managed), and one track ("Starlight") is probably my favorite of the year so far.

And as it happens AOL is streaming the entire album, so you can check it out for yourself. It's all one stream, so you'll be lacking the song titles, but if you're interested, "Starlight" is track two (it comes in about four minutes and 30 seconds in). I also enjoy the fourth track "The Map of the Problematique" to an insensible degree (it comes up about 12 and a half minutes in). It's all fun, in an unholy "What if Freddy Mercury mated with Martin Gore while Dave Gilmour watched, and their children knew of the world only what they read in Interzone" sort of way. Enjoy.

Posted by john at 12:20 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Note to Worldcon Members: Vote, Damn It

We're now about three weeks until the close of voting for the Hugo and Campbell Awards, and by and large (and like the other Best Novel and Campbell nominees, at least) I've kept quiet about my thoughts on the matter. But if you don't mind, I'd like to say something about it now, addressed specifically to those folks who are members of this year's Worldcon. It's a pretty simple statement:

Vote, damn it.

Here's the thing. The Hugo Awards aren't just about some chunky middle-aged white guy trundling up to a podium to get a rocket-shaped award (for one thing, nominee Robert Charles Wilson is fairly slender, and some nominees aren't actually middle-aged white guys at all). More than the individual accolade, the true value of the Hugo and the Campbell is that they are the manifest form of the conversation that science fiction has with itself. It is the community of science fiction readers and thinkers saying to itself -- and, incidentally, the rest of the world -- "this is who we are; this is what we're thinking; this is what's important to us now."

This conversation lasts through time; Hugo winners are, for better or worse, science fiction's common culture. Over the last month there's been a meme running through the blog world in which everyone checks off which Hugo-winning novels they've read; most people who identify as science fiction fans have read a significant portion of them. And a large reason for that is that people want to know for themselves why the Hugo voters thought those works were important to single out (we're curious that way. Who knew?). I'm singling out the novels because, among other things, that's the category I'm up for this year. But every Hugo winner becomes part of the science fiction conversation.

Which is why I think it's dreadfully important that this conversation hold a multiplicity of voices. The not-so-secret secret of the Hugo/Campbell awards is that only a fraction of the people who can vote do vote; in effect, a tiny minority of the science fiction community gets to set the conversational agenda SF has with itself for all time. I don't think this is right; if we acknowledge that the Hugos matter -- and they do for our weird little clan -- than we should make sure that what the Hugos say to us now, and to future generations of our geeky tribe, is a genuine and true statement about what we all feel is important in our genre, and what is important to our genre.

The administrators of the Hugos are doing their part: If you're a Worldcon member you can quickly and efficiently vote online; all you need is your membership number and PIN code. You don't even have to pay for a stamp. The authors who are up for the Hugos are also doing their part: For the first time ever, the majority of the Hugo-nominated novels are available for Worldcon members to read -- free -- in electronic form (they're available through this very site in fact), and all of the nominees for novella, novelette and short story are available to be read online as well. It's never been easier to make an informed and engaged Hugo vote. All you have to do is do it.

Having made a general argument as to why you should vote, let me make a personal argument as well. If I may put it bluntly, this year we've got a hell of a Best Novel ballot, precisely because it shows the width and depth of what science fiction and fantasy has to offer today. Charlie Stross' Accelerando is an appallingly good joyride through a wildly-imagined near future, and it has more ideas per square inch than most entire shelves of SF books. Robert Charles Wilson's Spin imagines an entirely different near-future, where the end times are nigh and humanity poignantly grapples with the possiblity of having no future. Ken MacLeod's Learning the World reimagines first contact in ways that are gratifyingly surprising and gives us a whole new volcabulary for such an experience. George Martin's A Feast For Crows continues and expands one of the hallmark series in all of fantasy. And then there's Old Man's War, which I think combines good old-fashioned SF storytelling with a modern style and sensibility.

The question before the voters is: which of these novel best reflects where we are, right now, as a community? I don't know, personally, but I'm really rather interested in finding out, and I suspect the other authors of the nominated novels are too -- not mention the nominees in other Hugo categories and the nominees for the Campbell. And as much as anything, whatever the final vote, I'd like it to reflect a broad consensus. One of the interesting things about Hugo voting is that the Australian ballot style it uses trends the vote toward consensus candidates. This runs counter to the typical American "winner take all" sensibility, but as an instrument of gauging where a community is as a whole, it's pretty useful. The voting mechanism is designed to sample the community; it just needs the community to participate.

Don't get me wrong: If I win either the Hugo or the Campbell (or -- gaaaaaahohsoverynotlikely -- both) I'll take them, and worry later about how many votes were cast, if I worry at all. Yeah, I want to win. Sue me. But, you know: Really truly, just happy to be have been nominated, and if I don't win I'll be cheering on whoever does, because I think my fellow Hugo and Campbell nominees pretty fairly rock. What I'd hope for is that whoever does take home trophies genuinely represents as much of our tribe as possible.

But it's not up to us, save to the extent that we vote. It's up to you, dear Worldcon member. So: between now and the end of the July, won't you please take just a little time to catch up on the nominated works and to cast your vote, online or through the mail? Your vote really does matter. It matters to us, the nominees; it matters to all the folks who read science fiction today; and it matters to all the folks who read science fiction in the years to come. This is your chance to take part in a conversation that has lasted for decades, and will last for decades, and if we're lucky, even longer than that.

Your voice is worthy. Use it. Thanks.

Posted by john at 02:55 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

July 13, 2006

Athena Mix '06

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Athena was complaining that she was getting bored with the music CDs I had made her earlier, and started hinting that she might want to start listening to those terrifying Kidz BOP CDs if I didn't do something about it. Thus, the Athena Mix '06, filled with a combination of music which, hopefully, will turn her from the terror of the sing-along empire of crap that the Kidz BOP CDs represent. Here's what's on the CD:

1. "Three Small Words," from the Josie & The Pussycats soundtrack -- Yes, I know what you're going to say. But, you know what? The songs for this movie were written by the guy from Fountains of Wayne and sung by the chick from Letters to Cleo, and they don't suck. This song is happy and peppy and that's fine.

2. "Starlight" by Muse -- from the band's brand-spankin' new CD Black Holes and Revelations. The entire CD is what you would expect from a band that's been fed nothing but Queen and space opera SF, and this song in particular is like Queen's "39" pumped full of Red Bull and ecstasy. Irresistable.

3. "Vacation" by the Go Gos -- Because if you're going to go 80s girl band, why not go Go Gos?

4. "The Rock Show" by Blink-182 -- a mildly inappropriate choice, because the band lays a big fat profanity right in the middle of the song, but Athena already likes Blink-182, and she knows that if she uses profanity, there's going to be trouble here in River City. There have been a couple other songs she likes that have bad words in them, and she's not taken to singing them with the profanity in them, so she's got a track record of being trustworthy about these things, and that's nice.

5. "Dreaming" by Blondie -- For my money, the best Blondie song.

6. "Love Cats" by the Cure -- Whimsical and slinky fun, and probably a better match for Athena's personality at the moment than other Cure songs. We'll introduce her to Disintegration gradually.

7. "Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson -- Yeah, Kelly Clarkson. Go on, make something of it.

8. "This is Holloween" from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack -- because how is she going to become a goth if you don't start her off early? This is actually one of her favorite songs.

9. "Celebrity Skin" by Hole -- Back when Courtney Love wasn't completely and entirely insane. Great noise.

10. "Enjoy the Silence (Reinterpreted)" by Depeche Mode -- A lot noiser and more aggressive than the original, and rather a bit better for it.

11. "I Love You Always Forever" by Donna Lewis -- Nice pretty song. I rather inexplicably have a soft spot for it. Really can't explain it. Afraid to try. Suspect that on that path lies madness.

12. "Polly Wolly Doodle" by Dan Zanes -- Hey! A song from an actual children's album! Because, you know. Why not.

13. "Run Baby Run" by Garbage -- Athena's been a fan of Garbage for a while now, and I can't say I disapprove.

14. "Song 2" by Blur -- When Athena was 18 months old or so, she used to stomp around the house screaming "Whoo-hoo!" whenever this song came on. Time for a reunion between the two.

15. "Everyday" by Erasure -- a cover of the Buddy Holly song. She'll like it better this way.

16. "Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)" by Icicle Works -- Catchy minor 80s hit. Athena's interested in drumming, and this has thumpety thumpety thump drums all through it.

17. "She Bop" by Cyndi Lauper -- Yes, I know what it's about. However, Athena doesn't.

18. "Jump Jive an Wail" by Brian Setzer Orchestra -- Gets you hoppin' and boppin', which is what your basic seven-year-old needs.

19. "Mr. Brightside" by the Killers -- So she knows early what depressed boys pining sounds like.

20. "Re: Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton -- Because there are frankly too few songs about zombies and corporate speak; also, she get a kick out of singing the chorus, which goes "All we want to do is eat your brains!" How can you not like that?

That's what I'm feeding my kid musically.

Posted by john at 07:06 PM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

The Missus

Krissy offered up the topic for the Weekend Assignment over at By The Way (that's a topic I offer up to give AOL Journalers something to post over the weekend), so I wanted to put up a picture of her to go with it. The problem is that most of the pictures I have of her are taken in my office, which is usually in various states of explosion, and that needs to be addressed; I don't necessarily want people to see what an unholy mess my office closet is if I can avoid it. So, it was Photoshop, Photoshop, Photoshop, until the unbridled feculence that is my office was reduced to a monochromatic blur, and then a little more fiddling to make sure Krissy didn't look just like a cutout photo in front of a smear.

Then when it was done, I sat back to admire my Photoshoppery, and it occured to me to actually take a look at who was actually, you know, in the center of the picture. At which point I said to myself, "holy crap, my wife is hot." It says something about how much of a geek I am that I could get totally engrossed in the minutae of photo fiddling that I'd miss that salient point. I'm making up for it now, though.

I sent the picture to Krissy at work after I was done. Her comment: "Book deadline?" Damn you all, you've infected her with your snark. I'll get you. I'll get you all.

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

July 12, 2006

When Ministers Say Goddamned Stupid Things

The Reverend Dr. Bill Lawson compared [Ken] Lay with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ, and said his name would eventually be cleared.

"He was taken out of the world right at the right time," he said. "History has a way of vindicating people who have been wronged."

-- Ken Lay's memorial attracts power elite, Reuters (via CNN), 7/12/06

10 Ways Ken Lay is Not Like Martin Luther King Jr. and/or Jesus Christ

10. When Martin Luther King, Jr., declared that he had a dream, that dream did not include a $200,000 yacht for the missus

9. Jesus' disciples not caught on tape snickering at the prospect of grandma baking to death during an induced power outage

8. Jesus did not blame his downfall on the national media

7. Odds that Ken Lay's birthday will be made a national holiday: really really really low

6. Ken Lay's letters from jail not likely to have been concerned about much aside from bitching that the warden refused to allow him his favorite French-milled soap

5. Jesus crucifed; MLK assassinated; Ken Lay dead of a heart attack in his comfy vacation home in Aspen

4. Jesus threw out the money traders; Ken Lay an inside trader

3. MLK oversaw the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Lay oversaw the California Energy Crisis

2. George Bush's nickname for Jesus unlikely to be "Christy Boy"

1. Neither Jesus nor MLK currently rotting in Satan's duodenum

Hope that clears things up for you, Reverend Lawson.

Posted by john at 08:48 PM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

Wednesday Author Interview: Alan DeNiro

Over at By The Way, I'm interviewing short story writer Alan DeNiro and chatting about his debut collection, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead. I think it's pretty groovy. Also, if you like you can check out a "fun size" version of the book; here's the link (that's a pdf download).

Also, as a follow-on to the earlier entry about Twenty Epics, it's now available at Amazon.

Posted by john at 04:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 11, 2006

The Best SF Book Art Advice You'll Probably Ever Get

First off, cool news: Irene Gallo, the magnificently awesome art director for Tor Books, has started a blog, appropriately called The Art Department. If you have a brain cell in your head, you'll add it to your favorite links right this very second.

Second off, Irene has done every aspiring SF book cover artist an immense favor by making her very first entry an exploration of how to impress an SF art director with your portfolio. Simply and plainly put, if you ever want to get work doing SF book covers, and you don't read this, you've just put yourself at a severe disadvantage. I am so not kidding. You need to read this.

Myself, I'm just basking in the glow of this observation, about painting women on SF book covers:

Yes, we constantly show sexy, big-breasted babes on our covers. But, there is a fine line between sexy and freakish. If you are using Hustler for your reference, you're on the wrong side of that line. Along with sexy, they usually need to look like they can kick-ass. Slave girls don't impress art directors. Book publishing does not use pin-up. And breasts are NOT perfectly spherical.

Bless you, Irene Gallo. For the rest of you, stop reading this entry and go read Irene's. Even if you're not an artist, you'll benefit getting a look from her point of view.

Posted by john at 08:57 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Insipid Thinking

insipid06.jpgIn the mail today: A copy of Jonathan Letham's new book, How We Got Insipid, from Subterranean Press; it's a collection of two of Lethem's short stories which have apparently been out of circulation for a while, even though one of them ("How We Got in Town and Out Again") was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. The link above is for the standard edition; there are also signed and lettered editions available via the Subterranean Press Web site.

What's interesting about the book is that, according to the press release accompanying the book, Subterranean is contractually obliged not to promote the work via the usual channels -- it can't send the book to newspaper or magazine reviewers or to the trade magazines like Publishers Weekly or Booklist. This is apparently an attempt to make sure Insipid doesn't cannibalize the sales of Lethem's big publisher work (although since Insipid has a print run of just 1500 copies it's hard to see why that's a real worry), or cause the newspapers and magazines in question not to review Lethem's other work because they just reviewed this. The end result of this is that Subterranean will be relying on Web reviews and commentary (like, uh, this) and word-of-mouth to move copies of Insipid.

I guess I'm a little confused as to what these restrictions are supposed to achieve. Speaking from experience, I can say that Web-only publicity can easily sell a small run of books; Agent to the Stars had only two trade publication reviews (PW and Booklist) and no print reviews otherwise, and we sold out the entire 1500-copy run of the hardcover in about nine months, based entirely on Web promotion through Web site reviews and commentary. And I'm just me; Lethem has got a number of major book awards and a MacArthur Genius Grant to his name. One also wonders what will happen if -- as is entirely possible, given who Lethem is -- a magazine or newspaper reviewer actually buys the book and then reviews it. You couldn't really stop a reviewer from doing that, if they wanted to. All that contractual effort, gone to waste.

Bear in mind I'm not a disinterested party here: I publish books with Subterranean Press, I've edited its magazine, and I'm pretty good friends with its publisher, Bill Schafer. Having plopped all that down, I think in general it's pretty silly for a major publisher to get its underwear in a wad over what one of its authors is doing with a small press. What small presses do, in my experience, is generally complementary to what larger presses do -- and if you'll excuse the lapse into corporate speak, all of it feeds into building the brand of the author. When Subterranean published Agent, it didn't detract from the novels I'm doing at Tor; indeed, I suspect it helped me capitalize on new readers looking for something from me in the wake of Old Man's War and helped set the stage for The Ghost Brigades.

Speaking personally, I also find a relationship with a small press (in my case Subterranean) allows me to try some things I wouldn't get to do with a major publisher. Later this year, Subterranean will be releasing Coffee Shop, my book about on the writing life. The audience for this book is somewhat specialized, but that's fine because "specialized" is part of Subterranean's business model. Next year Subterranean is going to print a fantasy novella I'm writing (although -- he hastened to add because he knows his next book's editor reads the site -- not at this very moment); again, this project isn't right for a bigger publisher but is right in line with what Subterranean does, and I get to play in the fantasy genre without the pressure of a full-blown novel pressing down on my brain. Everyone wins.

Now, it does matter that, in my experience, Subterranean is sensitive to what I'm doing with my career overall; it doesn't want its Scalzi books to compete directly with my books from Tor or other larger publishers, and not just because it knows it would lose (by, among other things, annoying me) but because it knows that success of its books of mine relies to a great extent on my success with larger publishers. This is what I think makes Subterranean one of the smarter small presses out there: its understanding that it's part of a writer's overall career, and its understanding of how it needs to fit in that equation, for its benefit and the benefit of the writer. Subterranean does other things right too, as far as I know its business, but this aspect is the part that is the most imporant for me. I'd be surprised if other small presses don't do it this way too (and if they don't, I feel sorry for them).

All of which may explain why I'm confused as to why Insipid has to follow a silent treatment. Its success -- should it be a success -- almost certainly won't impinge on any success that comes from Lethem's more mainstream work; indeed, its success would be a net benefit, since in keeping 1500 Lethem fans happy, it'll also keep them looking for Lethem's next thing. It's a little strange to see that as a threat.

Posted by john at 06:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Two Points About Gitmo

Two things about today's White House decision to, what the heck, give Gitmo detainees protections under the Geneva Conventions:

1. Real shame that it only took a Supreme Court ruling to get to this point.

2. The decision should give comfort to everyone convinced that Bush was going to go completely off the farm and tell the Supreme Court to take a hike because he was going to do it his own way. I've noted before that the Bush administration's thing was to be seen as legitimate, and ignoring the Supreme Court does not exactly scream "legitimate power." So two cheers for the rule of law! No third cheer, of course, because we needed the Supreme Court to get to this point. But what are you going to do.

Posted by john at 05:28 PM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

Speculative Literature Foundation's Mentorship Program

So, I'm going to be part of the Speculative Literature Foundation's mentorship program for this fall (it actually runs from August 1 to October 31). What this means is that I'll be talking shop about writing and the publishing industry directly (via e-mail) with a small group of novice writers. I will be joined in this task by fellow writers Leah Cutter, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Jenn Reese and Ben Rosenbaum, all of whom will be mentoring their own small group of writers.

If this sounds like something you might want to be a part of, I've included the SLF's full press release for the mentorship program behind the cut, where you can find the complete information on the author participants and also how to apply. Be aware that if you are accepted, there is a fee for participating, but the fee is awfully modest ($30 at most) and I suspect you'll get rather more than $30 worth of advice and information from any of the mentors, including me. Hey, I don't skimp. The deadline for applications is July 25, however. So snap to it.

Also, feel free to pass this info around; I'm sure the SLF won't mind.

SPECULATIVE LITERATURE FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES FALL MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

The Speculative Literature Foundation (SLF) announces the second session of its mentorship program. The program will take place August 1 through October 31, 2006. Participants will be able to gain valuable advice in the areas of business and craft from accomplished professional writers willing to share their experience. They will not be critiquing mentee work, but will be talking about the nuts and bolts
of writing.

This session's mentors include Leah Cutter, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Jenn Reese, Ben Rosenbaum, and John Scalzi.

Leah R Cutter is the author of three historical fantasy novels as well as several fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories. Her most recent novel is The Jaguar and the Wolf (Roc 2005). She's lived all over the world, including Hungary and Taiwan, and now resides in Seattle, WA with her cat and many books. She supports herself and her writing habit by doing technical writing for a California-based software company. Her website appears at http://www.leahcutter.com.

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu 's first novel, Zahrah the Windseeker, was published in 2005 by Houghton Mifflin. It will be published in Nigeria in 2007 by Kachifo Ltd. Her second novel, Ejii the Shadow Speaker, will be published by Hyperion Books for Children in 2007. Her short story, The Chaos Magician's Mega Chemistry Set will be published in Space and Time Magazine's 100th issue in 2006. Nnedi is currently finishing her PhD in English at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is also a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop (2001).

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles, where she studies martial arts, plays strategy games, and sits in traffic. She's a 1999 Clarion workshop survivor and her stories have appeared in Polyphony, Flytrap, and various DAW anthologies, as well as online at Strange Horizons and Lone Star Stories. Her first novel, Jade Tiger, is forthcoming from Juno Books. Her website appears at www.jennreese.com.

Ben Rosenbaum has been a finalist for the Nebula, Hugo, and Sturgeon awards. His stories have appeared in Asimov's, F&SF, Harper's, Nature, McSweeney's, YBSF, YBFH, and other publications.

John Scalzi is the author of 10 books, including the Hugo-nominated Old Man's War and its sequel The Ghost Brigades, the astronomy handbook The Rough Guide to the Universe , and the best-selling Book of the Dumb humor series. His work has also appeared in various newspapers and magazines, including the Washington Post , the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dayton Daily News, Jungle magazine, the Official US PlayStation Magazine and others. Scalzi Consulting, his writing/editing shop, consults for online and financial institutions such as AOL, Network Solutions, US Trust and Oppenheimer Funds. He enjoys pie.

We are accepting a maximum number of 25 applicants, as each of the five mentors will receive five mentees. If you are accepted, we'll ask you for a $15-$30 fee for participation in the three month program. The fee (as with all our fees) is sliding-scale; pay what you can afford. Fees go directly to supporting other SLF programs, such as our travel and older writers' grants.

To apply, please send a one-page bio and personal statement that includes an assessment of your writing experience and what you would like to get from a mentorship as an attached Word .doc or .rtf (Rich Text Format) file to mentorship@speclit.org. This will serve as your introduction to your mentor and the group, if you are selected for the program. Also, indicate if you have a preference for a particular mentor (preferences are not guaranteed, however). There is no fee for application or participation in the program.

Applications are due by midnight, July 25th, 2006

For more information, visit our mentorship website at http://www.speculativeliterature.org/Programs/Mentorship.php or email PR contact Ashley Gronek at press@speculativeliterature.org

Thank you!

Posted by john at 10:55 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 10, 2006

20 Epics

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I've been meaning to write about Twenty Epics for a while now, but I wasn't sure when it would be out. Well, now it's out (it's available on Lulu at the moment, and I understand will be out on Amazon and other books sites reasonably soon), so now I can talk to you about it. I was given a copy by its co-editor David Moles at Wiscon (the fabulous Susan Marie Groppi is the other editor), and I have to say that the book saved me from going absolutely bugnut insane while my plane was parked on the airport tarmac for three hours, awaiting its clearance for the 28-minute flight to Chicago.

The conceit of the book is that each of the stories is supposed to be epic in sweep: armies of the dead going off to battle, incredible travels through time, quasi-demonic creatures in a hard-fought battle for the fate of the universe, and so on and so forth. As promised, there are twenty such stories, and they run the full range of fantasy and SF tropes. Some of the stories take themselves seriously, some not so much (there's even a "choose your own adventure"-like story for those who like to build their own epics).

By and large I came away from the anthology quite satisfied; with a book of twenty stories there are bound to be a couple of them that don't work me, and indeed there were three that didn't. But that left 17 which I thought worked to varying levels of success, which is a good ratio. The one that worked best for me was Sandra McDonald's "Life Sentence," which put a particularly poignant spin on the karmic wheel; structurally it's like a snowball, starting off slow and accreting emotional weight until it bowls you over. I thought it was excellent. I also particularly liked Chris Barzak's "The Creation of Birds" and Tim Pratt's "Cup and Table," the former of which I found delicately designed and the latter of which was all X-Men-ny, but in a good way. Of course, with an anthology which ones work for you and which ones don't will depend on you, but as the editors, David and Susan have intelligently laid out a smorgasbord of stories; I expect there's something here for everyone.

On Lulu it's available both in a print version and as a pdf (the book is $20; the pdf $7.61); I think it's worth checking out, and if you're unsure the pdf is a good option, not just because it's cheaper but because most of the stories are short enough to be read comfortably onscreen. In any event, check it out and let me know what you think.

Posted by john at 02:50 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Jiggity Jig

I'm back home, and catching up on some work with which I am now behind (curse you, United Airlines!). I'll be back a little later. Until then amuse yourself. Here's a topic to start you off:

Italy: Great soccer team, or the greatest soccer team?

Posted by john at 12:10 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

July 09, 2006

Readercon Wrapup

It's entirely possible there is an industry that is run more incompetently than the airline industry, but if there is I don't have to deal with it on a regular basis. At the moment I'm at in Dulles International Airport, waiting to if and when I might get on another flight. I suspect I'll be here for a while; if nothing else, I'll be on a 8:30 flight tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I'm watching what looks to be an eight-year-old boy bang his head against one of the airport waiting area couches out of what I suspect is pure hyperactive boredom. I do sympathize with his plight, although I wish he would stop, because it's deeply aggravating.

My current travails cause me to propose a new law of airline travel, called Scalzi's Law of Airline Delays: Any airline delay will expand to precisely fill the amount of time between your connecting flights, plus fifteen minutes. I was actually on the ground at Dulles when my flight to Dayton left, but I was trapped on the plane because apparently the ground crew forgot how to extend a walkway. Clearly, the work of insidious beasts. In any event, when the revolution comes, I nominate airline schedulers to be the first up against the wall. If they are, I will take to ground travel henceforth with a song in my heart.

But enough about that. At least Readercon was a lot of fun, and not even the massive incompetence of the airlines can flout me out of my humor. As stated here earlier, one of the reasons I went to this particular convention was because shameless China Mieville fan boy, and I'm delighted to say that in addition to being a marvelous writer and a top-notch intellect, Mieville is also a hell of a nice guy and a lot of fun to chat with. It's always a nice thing when someone whose talents you admire is also a person you like.

But although China was one of the deciding factors in my attending, he was far from the only person I was thrilled to spend a little time with. Some notable moments for me:

* Meeting Infoquake author David Louis Edelman before my connecting flight with Boston and sharing much of the weekend with him;

* Having a cell phone war with Allen Steele and Peter Watts (no, I'm not sure what having a cell phone war actually entailed; nevertheless, we had one);

* Celebrating the birthday of Deanna Hoak, unquestionably the hottest copy editor, like, ever;

* Sharing secret code with Tempest Bradford;

* Discussing pirates and ninjas with Mary Robinette Kowal;

* Bribing Geoff Landis (twenty-six cents!);

* Delving into informational metaphors with Charles Brown, Gary K. Wolfe and John Clute;

* Exploring consciousness with R. Scott Bakker, his friend Roger (whose last name I didn't catch), and Gordon Van Gelder ;

* Discussing the intruiging/disturbing possiblity of Scalzi/Bear slash with Elizabeth Bear;

And generally meeting and/or catching up and/or having a meal with a whole bunch of delightful people including Karl Schroeder and family, John Joseph Adams, Nick Mamatas, Chad Orzel, Kate Nepveu, Lauren McLaughlin, Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, Amanda Beamer, Eliani Torres, Helen Pilinovsky, Scott Edelman, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Beth Meacham, Liz Gorinsky, Sandra Macdonald, Alan DeNiro, Kristin Livdahl, James Cambias, Ellen Kushner and tons and tons and tons of other people, pros, fans and con staff alike, whose names escape me because it's late on a very long travel day (forgive me), and also, it's not like I've not already name dropped enough. Anyway, this isn't even discussing my own progamming, which I think went reasonably well, especially my reading, at which people laughed in all the places where I hoped they would laugh.

Long story short: I had a great time at Readercon and I'm glad I went, even if I'm currently trapped in airport hell. It was worth it.

Posted by john at 11:36 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

July 06, 2006

The Feminism of Old Man's War

LiveJournaler Mosca has nice things to say about Old Man's War, and also makes an argument for it being a feminist novel:

This is one of the few military SF novels I've read that has women in it -- not just love interests or characters established as female, but women who act like women. It doesn't feel like Scalzi is trying for politically correct inclusiveness, because the women are too numerous and too diverse for that. There's also a major gay character, and he's treated with the same multidimensionality. But it's a feminist novel in a broader and more lit-crit sense, in the ways that Russ and Le Guin call for.

I have friends with a deeper knowledge of Russ' and LeGuin's positions than I do, who could vet this argument better than I could, though I don't see anything wrong about it in a general sense. I will say that Mosca is correct that I didn't go out of my way to be politically correct or inclusive. There was never a point in the writing of OMW where I said "hey, I need to put some women in there." They were always in there, because why wouldn't they be. Other than that I just tried to write all the characters as something more than cardboard.

One other comment is that I think the most interesting character in the whole Old Man's universe (for me, anyway) is Jane Sagan. I think of all the characters, she has the most complete character arc; you see a lot of that arc in The Ghost Brigades and it's coming to be a major part of The Last Colony as well. I don't think any of this qualifies me for a Tiptree Award, mind you. I'm just glad she's been such an interesting person to write about.

Posted by john at 07:55 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

The Top 50 Personal Blogs in SF/F, v. 1.0

Because my daughter is home today, precluding me from doing any real writing on the book because she's all daddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddy, I thought I'd waste my time and last remaining dregs of youth on the pointless exercise of ranking the the top 50 personal blogs in SFdom, as determined from their rankings in Technorati. Because you know you want to know.

First, selection details and trivia:

* Who was eligible for the list? SF/F writers, editors, agents, publishers, artists and fans.

* I made the decision to not to include "news" blogs or blogs whose material is not primarily personal and/or SF-related. This disqualified high-ranking sites like Boing Boing, Locus Online, SFSite, Futurismic, SF Signal, Emerald City and Meme Therapy, which are ranked by Technorati and would have otherwise been on the list. This also, incidentally, disqualified my own AOL Journal, "By the Way," which I booted because I write it for money.

* This list is likely less accurate as one goes down the list for the following reasons: Lack of Technorati stats for various sites, Technorati's "interesting" way of handling LiveJournal (i.e., some journals are ranked, some are not), the compiler being an idiot and missing a personal journal which should, like, so totally be in there, and so on. Consider this a "1.0" product, full of quirks and holes.

* Technorati's ranking criteria is based primarily on linking, not visitation; so some sites ranked higher than others may receive fewer visitors than lower-ranked sites. Also, of course, a high Technorati ranking (or a high ranking on this list) may not correlate to a quality reading experience. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

* These rankings are accurate -- to the extent they are accurate -- only for the day they're posted; Technorati rankings change over time. Indeed, the simple act of linking to the sites, as I will, is likely to change their rankings. That's the nature of the game.

* For entertainment purposes only. Don't hate me if I didn't rank your site, particularly if your Technorati ranking is below 149,618, which was the cutoff here. Alternately, put your site and its Technorati ranking in the comment thread; I'll keep track of it for the next time I put out this ranking list.

* The listings read: Name of blog -- name of author (Technorati ranking as of 7/6/06)

And here we go.

The Top 50 Personal Blogs in SF/F, v. 1.0

1. Neil Gaiman's Journal -- Neil Gaiman (318)
2. Making Light -- Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden (588)
3. Whatever -- John Scalzi (1,176)
4. Beyond the Beyond -- Bruce Sterling (4,798)
5. The Sideshow -- Avedon Carol (4,907)

6. Paperback Writer -- S.L. Viehl (5,288)
7. Kathryn Cramer -- Kathryn Cramer (10,930)
8. Contrary Brin -- David Brin (11,470)
9. Charlie's Diary -- Charles Stross (11,540)
10. The Mumpsimus -- Matthew Cheney (11,795)

11. Vanderworld -- Jeff VanderMeer (11,968)
12. Nick Mamatas' Journal -- Nick Mamatas (16,156)
13. The Early Days of a Better Nation -- Ken MacLeod (17,664)
14. They Must Need Bears -- Elizabeth Bear (19,322)
15. Tobias S. Buckell Online -- Tobias Buckell (22,306)

16. Shaken and Stirred -- Gwenda Bond (22,306)
17. Westerblog -- Scott Westerfeld (23,731)
18. Nalo Hopkinson -- Nalo Hopkinson (26,106)
19. Justine Larbalestier -- Justine Larbalestier (26,106)
20. The Slush God Speaketh -- John Joseph Adams (28,632)

21. The Prodigal Blog -- Charles Coleman Finlay (34,061)
22. Notes From the Labyrinth -- Sarah Monette (37,752)
23. Respectful of Otters -- Dr. Rivka (39,834)
24. It's all one thing -- Will Shetterly (40,594)
25. Lorem Ipsum -- Jed Hartman (42,184)

26. Lakeshore -- Jay Lake (43,932)
27. Et in Arcaedia, Ego -- Jennifer Jackson (46,797)
28. Robert J. Sawyer -- Robert J. Sawyer (48,950)
29. Goblin Mercantile Exchange -- Alan DeNiro (50,012)
30. Notes from the Geek Show -- Hal Duncan (51,129)

31. Arthur D. Hlavaty -- Arthur D. Hlavaty (55,145)
32. The Pagan Prattle Online -- Feorag NicBhride (56,584)
33. Holly Black -- Holly Black (58,064)
34. Anna Louise's Journal -- Anna Louise Genoese (58,064)
35. From the Heart of Europe -- Nicholas Whyte (59,661)

36. Notes From Coode Street -- Jonathan Strahan (63,319)
37. The Antic Musings of GBH Hornswoggler, Gent. -- Andrew Wheeler (66,874)
38. Avram's Journal -- Avram Grumer (68,950)
39. Kool Aid Underground -- Jeremy Lassen (73,417)
40. Guano Happens -- Maureen McHugh (75,763)

41. Deep Genre -- Group Blog (80,928)
42. 14theDitch -- Jeffrey Ford (80,928)
43. Chrononautic Log -- David Moles (86,593)
44. Cherie Priest -- Cherie Priest (92,930)
45. Bluejo's Journal -- Jo Walton (104,231)

46. Roberson's Interminable Ramble -- Chris Roberson (117,901)
47. Web Petals -- Marjorie M. Liu (129,028)
48. The Inter-Galactic Playground -- Farah Mendlesohn (129,028)
49. Out of Ambit -- Diane Duane (142,135)
50 (tie). David Louis Edelman -- David Louis Edelman (149,618)
50 (tie). Nick Sagan Online -- Nick Sagan (149,618)

There you have it. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by john at 03:43 PM | Comments (89) | TrackBack

July 05, 2006

A Sample Chapter of The Ghost Brigades

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This is another one of those "no one tells the author anything" moments: Apparently Holtzbrinck, the publishing multinational which owns Tor Books, has a blog thingie called Chapter Feeds, on which, as you might surmise from the name, are posted sample chapters from various books that are published within the warm and friendly confines of the Holtzbrinck empire, with the hope that you'll be so taken with the chapter that you'll rush out and buy the book.

And today, the chapter they put up was mine: The first chapter of The Ghost Brigades, right there for you to peruse. You know, if you want. Not that I was told this was going to happen, of course. Not like I might want to direct people there. Harumph, harumph.

Anyway, the Chapter Feed site is actually quite nice and friendly, and the chapters posted have a nice range of subjects to them (for SF fans, in addition to my chapter, there's a chapter of Toby Buckell's Crystal Rain up as well). My only complaint as an author is that the site doesn't provide a book seller link with the sample chapters, which seems to me a lost opportunity. I mean, if you're going to try to give the reader an itch, you might as well make it as easy as possible for her to scratch. But otherwise, nifty.

So you haven't already picked up TGB (or, for that matter, Crystal Rain), now's your chance to get a free taste. Entirely legally! Enjoy.

Posted by john at 07:33 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Book Report

Crunch time writing on The Last Colony is going well, I think; I've been setting some lofty output goals for myself and have been keeping them, which makes me happier, and the majority of what I'm writing is not crap, which makes me happier still. As I noted earlier, TLC was slippy at the start; it kept trying to get away from me. Well, now I've pinned the little bastard, right through the spleen, so he can't get away. The goal for me right now is to get as much as possible done in the next couple of weeks, so I have a little time at the end to buff and polish and argue with God before I send the manuscript off to the true highest authority, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor, hallowed be his name.

I think I've mentioned before that my method to writing novels is to have a few big events I know I have to hit, but have no clue how I'm going to get from one point to the next, and then I make things up as I go along. I do this because it's more fun for me than knowing exactly what's going to happen at every turn (and indeed, the TLC story has developed some twists and turns that I didn't expect, but which I think are advantageous) but because it allows me to be rapaciously opportunistic. If I make something up that works, I get to keep working with it without worrying too much about the consequences to my outline (so long as I hit those big events I'm supposed to). It's interesting to see what happens.

I'm not going to give you any real indication of what's going on in the book (except to say an adjudication concerning goats occurs early on), but I will say this: twisty, twisty. You can take that to mean whatever you like.

Back to it. I have a lot more writing to get to today and tomorrow before I can feel comfortable not doing a lot of writing over the weekend (because I'll be at Readercon). Off I go.

Posted by john at 10:43 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

July 04, 2006

Music to Slaughter Aliens By

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John Joseph Adams calls my attention to a Finnish metal band called Ghost Brigade, which plays the sort of music just right for shredding your face right off. Here, try some. Maybe if The Ghost Brigades ever gets made into a movie, these guys can be on the soundtrack.

And look: An album entitled The Android's Dream. Although I suppose that's not too surprising.

Posted by john at 02:45 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Prodigal Kitty

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I don't want to out myself as one of those crazy cat people. But Ghlaghghee disappeared the other night and spent close to two days away from the house, and when she came back this morning, I gave her a good talking to. Where have you been? I asked her. You think you can just leave when you want and come back when you want and not let us know where you are? Not while you live under my roof.

To which she looked up at me with her cute little eyes and said, I suspect, Dude, I'm a cat. I haven't the first clue what you're saying to me. Now enough with the blah blah blah. Feed me. I've got a nap to get to.

Note to self: No more arguments with the cat. The cat doesn't care.

Stupid cat.

I'm glad she's back.

Posted by john at 01:03 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

What I'll Be Doing at Readercon

I'm doing well enough with my book writing that I'll drop in here a day early from my self-imposed exile to give all y'all my Readercon schedule for this weekend. It's a relatively light schedule, just three things, but they're all fairly interesting:

Friday, 7pm
SF and Continuing Human Evolution
Charles Oberndorf , Jeff Hecht, Ernest Lilley, Beth Meacham, John Scalzi, Karl Schroeder

Most of the sf that deals with potential changes to human nature is about genetic engineering, but there is much scientific evidence that Darwinian selection pressures have been operating over the last few thousand years. The rise in Asperger's diagnoses among the children of geeks in Silicon Valley even suggests that such pressures may be growing as the environment changes rapidly, rather than rendered moot by the ease of survival. Whether we're still evolving (and if so, how) has to be one of the biggest questions we can ask about human nature. How is it being addressed by contemporary sf?

Notes: A good group of people on the panel (I've paneled with Karl before and can attest to his being fascinating) and an interesting subject, so this could be a lot of fun.

Saturday 10:30 AM
Reading (30 min)

John Scalzi reads "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story," a just-sold story. Note: some profanity and adult content.

Notes: "Wife" is my own version of a big honkin' SF cliche story, in this case (obviously) sex with aliens. It's not in the actual Subterranean magazine cliche issue, however; it's a bonus chapbook for the people who buy the special signed, hardcover limited version of the magazine (only $80!). So, at this point, the only way you're ever going to know about this short story is to buy the limited edition of the magazine, or show up at Readercon to hear me read an edited-for-a-half-hour-reading-slot version of it.

Personally, I think it's a fun little story, with lines like "I lubricated my undercarapace just in case," and "The worst part is that for the next two days, I smelled like gravy." Now, come on. You know you want context for those lines. So swing by, it'll be fun.

Sunday 12:00 Noon
Talk (30 min.)

How I Wrote The Ghost Brigades

Notes: I wrote it with a computer. There, I'm done. Somehow I've got to make that stretch over a half hour.

Actually, I'm very much looking forward to this talk, because there are quite a few things that were interesting in the process of writing TGB, both in the philosophical approach behind writing the book in the way I wrote it, in the actual writing process itself, and in working establishing the personalities of the book's main characters. I expect this to be a very wide-ranging talk, and I do think it'll be a glimpse into what the hell goes on in my head when I sit down to write. One caveat: This discussion is going to be super-mega-ultra-spoilery about events in TGB, so be prepared for that coming in.

Aside from that my plans are the usual: Hang about in the bar and lobby and harangue people as they wander by. Please do feel free to swing by and say hello.

I do have one question, for those of you with Readercon experience: Is there no hotel shuttle from the airport? The travel directions on the Readercon site seem to imply that the way you get to the hotel from the airport is to throw yourself at the mercy of the Boston public transportation system, and possibly sacrifice a waterfowl to Chango for good luck. Is there no better way, save for a $60 taxi ride? I'm not opposed to either burning cash on a taxi ride like a swell, or using the bus like a common troll, but both seem inconvenient in their way. I'm open to suggestions.

Posted by john at 08:49 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack