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September 30, 2006

Another Fiddly Widget

Okay, this one plays music:

Yeah, it's music I put together (except for "I Feel Loved" which is a remix of a Depeche Mode Song).

Let me know if the player presents issues. This is all for figuring out what stuff is useful/interesting on the site, of course.

Posted by john at 04:47 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

"Big Posts" -- How They Work

(Warning: Blog geekery in the extreme follows)

From time to time I'm asked how I've grown my readership here on the Whatever, and whether anyone else can do those same things to grow the readership of their own blogs. In the main it comes down to four separate factors, three of which I or anyone can control, and one I or anyone else cannot. The three factors that you can control are these:

1. Update frequency: Updating daily matters in terms of readership.
2. Enabling comments: People who comment feel attached to the site; people who don't comment get updated content when they click through.
3. Quality of content: Putting in interesting stuff so people have a reason to click into the site daily.

I'm not going to talk about any of these in length right now. What I'm going to talk about is the factor you can't control: Big Posts.

A big post, very simply, is a post that more than the usual number of people link to, thus bringing in an entirely different audience of readers. Most of these readers will be one-time readers -- they click through to the link, see it, and click out, never to return -- but some small proportion will root around, enjoy what they see (due to you working on the factors you can control), and put you on their daily reading list. Bang, you've got new readers.

Big posts can happen when one or more of the following conditions exist:

1. You write or create something unusually well-written about a current news event or other hot topic.
2. You do something unusually stupid and/or funny on your site.
3. You are linked to by one or more high-traffic sites (Fark, Slashdot, Digg, Boing Boing, Instapundit, Daily Kos, etc).

The first two of these will often have the effect of making your already-existing readers link to that particular entry, bringing in their native readers, some of whom may then also link and comment on their sites. This will result in a lot of links, with (probably) a relatively small number of people coming in through each link, but making up a large number of new readers in aggregate. I call this the "LiveJournal Effect," because LiveJournal, thanks to its "friends lists" and community structure, is particularly good at creating cascades of many links among friends -- you can get several generations of links from this sort of thing. LiveJournal is of course not the only place from which this can happen: MySpace can create a similar effect, as can informal online communities not affiliated with any particular blogging software -- for example, my own community of science fiction writers and readers with blogs.

The third condition, of course, moves large numbers of people primarily from one or two sites. This phenomenon is well known -- people talk of Web sites collapsing under the load after being "Farked" or "Slashdotted" or having an "Instalanche." Very often, getting linked to a high-traffic site will also start an LJ Effect, so not only do you get the original flood of people from a high traffic site, you'll also get a second wave of visitors from personal sites linking into the entry.

If we know the conditions that cause Big Posts, then why can't we control them? Primarily because it's not up to the original poster to decide what's a "Big Post": that comes from others. In the case of the LJ effect, a whole bunch of people have to decide the entry is worth linking to; in the case of the high-traffic sites, whoever is reponsible for putting posts on the front page of the site -- usually a single person or a small group -- gets to decide.

You can lobby some of these sites to pick up on a post you think it interesting (most of the high-traffic sites welcome link submissions, formally or informally), but there's no assurance that the people running the site will agree. For example, I recently submitted a link to Boing Boing about my "Schadenfreude Pie," because I figured it was a Boing Boing-y sort of thing. It's not linked to on Boing Boing, however. I've queried Instapundit for links before and come up short as well. That's the way it goes. However, Boing Boing and Instapundit have also linked to my site when when I didn't solicit them for links. Which goes to my point: You never can tell.

(And of course, even if a high-traffic site links to you, it's not a guarantee that you'll get a rush of traffic, because there's another group of decision-makers involved: The site's readers, who have to decide whether the link seems interesting to them. This is necessarily also the case with an LJ Effect as well. In many respects a "Big Post" is the ultimate in the "Long Tail" phenomenon -- it relies on many people making the decision to link, many people deciding to click, and then on another group deciding to link as well.)

I do think it's possible to game the "Big Post" system somewhat, and generate a large amount of traffic, but I don't think gaming the system will result in the desired effect of growing a site's overall readership. As a hypothetical, I guarantee you that if I posted a picture of my wife naked (that's the vulgar "naked," as opposed to the arty "nude"), that this site would get (ahem) a fairly substantial traffic spike, both for the initial picture and then for the aftereffect of various people discussing what a scumbag I was for posting a picture of my naked wife purely to get a traffic spike for my site. But aside from my wife deservedly beating the crap out of me for posting that picture, I suspect that in the long run there would be no lasting effect, and that the site wouldn't gain any new readers; the sort of people who are going to click through for a picture of my naked wife are not the sort who are likely to stick around for the usual bill of fare around here, and the people who are discussing what a scumbag I am are not likely to stick aound either. Indeed, in the long run I would suspect I would suffer a loss of readers, as some of the current regulars, disgusted by my actions, take off for parts unknown, never to be seen again. So gaming the system is not a good thing. Also, there will be no naked pictures of my wife. Sorry.

So that's the theory behind a "Big Post." How does it work in the real world? As it happens, I have two good examples of how a Big Post works, and how it affects your overall readership. Let's start with one from September of 2005: My "Being Poor" post.

As of August of 2005, the Whatever was getting between 8,000 and 10,000 unique visits per day on weekdays (somewhat lower on weekends). 10,000 was the upper bound. The "Being Poor" piece was posted in September 3. For this piece, I didn't request any links from high traffic sites; I just put it up and people began to link to it (NB: there was some initially higher traffic on 9/2 for a piece I'd written the day before). What you're seeing here is the readership curve of a "LiveJournal Effect" -- which is to say that while there's a day where the readership spikes (September 7), there are a few days before and after where the readership of the site is significantly higher -- the curve encompasses six days, from 9/3 through 9/9. This is the effect of new links being added as the piece filters through the blogosphere. After 9/10, readership returns to a lower readership plateau -- but that plateau is higher than the previous readership level. Whereas in August of 2005, the readership was between 8k-10k, after the "Being Poor" piece the readership is between 10k and 15k, and never drops below 10k. What was previously the upper bound of the readership became the new lower bound.

That's a "LJ Effect" curve. Now let's look at how getting "Farked" can create a spike, as it did this month:

For August and the first nine days of September of 2006, the Whatever was averaging between 15,000 and 20,000 unique visits per weekday (and again, a bit lower on weekends). On September 10 through 12, the site experienced an "LJ Effect" when people started linking in regarding the entry in which I discussed my wife backing up a grabby drunk -- and indeed 9/11 was the highest trafficked day the site had had up to then, with 26.6K unique visits (NB: Instapundit linked into all this, but his site didn't drive most of the traffic -- evidence that even a high-traffic site won't always push lots of folks).

The wife incident would have been interesting in itself as a traffic mover, but then I taped bacon to my cat, and things got crazy. The event was linked to by Fark, and on 9/13, the site had in excess of 67,000 visitors, most of whom who wanted to see the miracle of the bacon-taped cat. Of those 67,000 visitors, 20K were "mine" -- that is to say, my regular attendance -- and 30K were from Fark. That leaves 17K coming from elsewhere: another "LJ Effect" that was swamped by the Fark spike. The next day had 56K visitors, of which only 6k were from Fark; subtracting my "own" 20k, that's another 30k readers. Some of these were from other high-traffic sites, notably Metafilter, but the majority were from smaller sites and personal blogs; Fark readers and others pushing people through.

The spike is significant, but it's also clear that the vast majority of "spiky" readers didn't stick around; by 9/16 the BaconCat spike was over. But once again there's a new readership plateau -- whereas before the readership bounds were 15k-20k, since the BaconCat spike the new readership bound is 20k-25k, excluding weekends (but even those are up commensurately). Some of that new readership can probably be attributed to the LJ Effect just prior to the BaconCat spike, however.

This suggests two things to me: First, that for growing a readership on your site, it's better to have an "LJ Effect" type of event than a "Farked" or "Slashdot" event; second, that a substantive post that is widely linked -- in this case, "Being Poor" -- is better for growing a readership than a silly/stupid post -- in this case, BaconCat. I'll also speculate, based on other "Big Posts" I've had here over the years, that there's a correlation between substantive posts receiving an "LJ Effect" and silly/stupid posts getting the "Farked" effect. In the case of Fark in particular, of course, this is nearly axiomatic, since that site specializes in linking to goofy/idiotic/asinine things. But other high-traffic sites also seem to best drive traffic when they're linking to some sort of "stunt" post.

Bear in mind, of course, that all this speculation is based only on my own experience here on this site; I leave it to others, possibly those gunning for advanced degrees, to do a more thorough examination of LJ Effects, Fark Spikes, and their overall effect on the growth of readership on personal blogs. However, I do suspect that my experience with these phenomena is not notably unusual.

Discussion?

Posted by john at 12:13 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

September 29, 2006

Here, Amuse Yourself

I'm testing to see if this Widgetbox thing works for me:

Do you see Pac-Man? Can you play Pac-Man? Let me know.

Posted by john at 10:57 AM | Comments (73) | TrackBack

Tales of Horror From Years Gone By

In a column in Asimov's magazine, science fiction writer Robert Silverberg regales us with stories of the bad old days of writing, when there were no computers, you made copies of what you wrote with carbon paper, retyping your manuscript to get it clean enough to send to your publisher took a month, and Silverberg protected his retyped manuscript by storing it in an old refridgerator, where he assumed it would be able to survive a fire.

Madness.

Contrast this, if you will, with my experience of writing The Last Colony, in which I finished the book on a Tuesday and by Wednesday afternoon had to my editor via e-mail. No "first draft," no retyping, no storing the original in a disused kitchen appliance to protect it from the flames. As soon as it was done, click, off it went. The experience of writing a book is mechanically so incredibly different than it was twenty five years ago that I actually hesitate to call it the same process at all. I constantly marvel that anyone ever wrote anything before computers.

I marvel about enough that I genuinely wonder if I would have been a writer if I had been born in the 1930s rather than in 1969, which allowed my desire to become a writer to coincide with the advent of the personal computer, and therefore, with the sort of ease of creation I have now. I suspect that I would have indeed become a writer, because I like to tell stories and because lacking a time machine, I wouldn't know that in the future the practice of writing would become almost absurdly simpler. But looking back, I'm appalled and terrified in precisely the same way I am about the practice of bleeding a sick person the relieve the phlegmatic humors vexing their bodies rather than, you know, giving them antibiotics. We live in an age of miracles and wonders, people.

Posted by john at 09:04 AM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

On Moral Cowardice

Re: The appalling new detainee trial bill that will undoubtedly be signed into law:

President Bush is a moral coward, and has always been a moral coward, since at no point has he shown anything other than incomprehension of and contempt for the United States Constitution, particularly when it comes to his pet projects of torturing people and sham trials. I simply can't conceive of a worse president than this one; and I can't imagine a scenario in which, if placed in front of him, I didn't express to him in no uncertain terms the depth of my contempt of him, his policies, and the low moral position he's placed my country. I find it appalling that the only good thing I can say about the man is that I can't imagine he won't be the worst president of the 21st Century, so in that respect the worst part of the my political life will be over in two years and change.

Senators McCain, Warner and Graham are moral cowards for making a big show of having problems with Bush's awful trial plan, and yet "compromising" with a deal that has no discernable practical difference from the president's original trial plan. These men postured as bulwark for the Constitution, and I for one gave them my faith, which is not something I'll be in a mad rush to do again. McCain in particular I hold out for special criticism, because he does have the moral standing to stop something like this in its tracks. Instead he traded that moral standing for a bit of political theater.

The Senate Democrats are moral cowards for not filibustering this bill as they ought to have, fearing Republican retribution at the polls and figuring that it'll be tossed out by the courts anyway. I simply cannot understand the sort of rank and pervasive incompetence Democrats have to have in order to allow themselves to be politically flummoxed time and again by the least popular and least competent president in modern political history. The Democrats ought to have stepped on this bill's head and killed it, not only because they could have, but because they should have. Someone should have stood up for the Constitution and for the moral standing of the United States and its practices. Someone should be up there calling Bush what he is: A tiny man so frightened of the terrorist boogyman that he's willing to shred our moral standing to keep him away, and so dead-eyed hateful of what it means to be American that he can't find a way to protect this country without urinating on what it is that makes us great. Merely pounding on a podium for C-SPAN is not sufficient to do this. This bill should have been stopped. It wasn't.

I'm proud to be an American, but I'm tired of being ashamed of my government. I'm tired of having to count the seconds until this bilious waste of a president is shoved out the door in January of 2009. I'm tired of hoping that some members of the president's political party might actually put principle over political expedience, particularly when it concerns the Constitution. And I'm tired of waiting for the opposing party to actually grow a goddamned spine and become an opposing party. I'm tired of wondering why the people we elect to lead us don't seem to actually understand what it means to be American, and to be moral, and to do what it right for us. And I'm tired of having to look so hard for genuine leadership as opposed to the sham idiot version we have now. I feel like Diogenes, and I'm coming up short.

I'm tired of being led by moral cowards. I want better for myself, and for my country.

Posted by john at 12:38 AM | Comments (194) | TrackBack

September 28, 2006

You Little Witch

athenawitch0928.jpg

Athena's been pestering me for a number of days to make a picture of her as the Wicked Witch of the West, so here we are. I do have a version where she has green skin, incidentally, but for some reason this works better for me. I'm oddly amused she wants a picture of herself as the witch but not as, say, Dorothy; this says something about my little girl.

Posted by john at 06:02 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Speaking of the Technorati Top 100...

You ever notice how few of Technorati's Top 100 blogs are actually personal blogs? By which I mean, a blog written by a single person, not for an employer or contractor, and about more than a single topic (i.e., not just tech/politics/marketing). There are damn few. Let me take the Top 25 to prove my point:

# 1. Engadget -- Pro blog, single topic

# 2. Boing Boing -- Group blog

# 3. 老徐 徐静蕾 新浪BLOG -- I have no idea what this blog is, I don't read Chinese

# 4. Gizmodo, The Gadget Guide -- Pro blog, single topic

# 5. The Huffington Post -- Group blog, single topic

# 6. Daily Kos: State of the Nation -- Group blog, single topic

# 7. Techcrunch -- Pro blog, group blog, single topic

# 8. PostSecret -- Single topic

# 9. Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide -- Pro blog, group blog, single topic

# 10. Crooks and Liars -- Single topic

# 11. 燕西的互联网生活 燕西 博客屋 记录我们的生活 -- Another one I can't figure out since I can't read Chinese

# 12. Think Progress -- Single topic, group blog

# 13. Michelle Malkin -- Single topic

# 14. Gawker, Manhattan Media News and Gossip -- Pro blog, single topic

# 15. Autoblog -- Pro blog, single topic

# 16. Instapundit.com -- Single topic (mostly, occasionally forays into tech and books)

# 17. Official Google Blog -- Single topic, pro blog

# 18. with no name -- Another Chinese blog.

# 19. Blog di Beppe Grillo -- Italian blog, looks single topic

# 20. Scobleizer Tech Geek Blogger -- Single topic

# 21. A List Apart -- Single topic

# 22. Topix.net Weblog -- Single topic, pro blog

# 23. Seth's Blog -- Single topic

# 24. Explosm.net Flash Animations, Daily Comics, and more! -- Single topic

# 25. dooce -- personal blog

So, out of the top 25 blogs out there on the Tubes (and excluding the ones written in languages I can't even pretend to read) only one of them is written by a single person, not for a paycheck, and on whatever topic it is she wants to talk about (Update: In comments, Mitch Wagner points out that Heather Armstrong does get paid for Dooce.com. However, she's in business for herself, which is different than getting that paycheck from someone else. And she still writes about whatever she wants). In the rest of the top 100, there's only another three or four personal blogs, depending on whether you figure a photo blog is sufficiently varied not to be a single topic blog.

This suggests a number of things. One is that the blog world is already pretty damn corporatized and politicized, as 8 of the top 10 blogs are either paid blogs or political blogs, and one of the other two is also pretty politically active. This should not be news. Another is that if you want to crack the top 100 without writing on a single topic, especially politics or tech, it helps if you are a pretty girl, or someone whose online nickname has become a verb. Short of that, you're pretty much on your own. Yet another is that all your personal bloggers probably need to rethink the idea of making a whole lot of cash off your AdSense deal.

I don't think this dearth of personal blogging in the Technorati Top 100 is either good or bad; I know I read Engadget every day like a junkie so I can get my new tech fix, so even if I thought it were a problem (and I don't), I'm part of the problem. I do think it indicates that on the high end at least, the blog world is wildly different than its popular perception -- and that it doesn't look all that different from the "old media" it currently augments and may one day replace.

I also think that personal bloggers probably shouldn't try to crack the Top 100. Personal blogs may have inherently fewer links and possibly fewer readers (which is not the same, incidentally, as I know for a fact that I more readers than some blogs on the Technorati Top 100), but this doesn't make those blogs any less interesting. Speaking as a reader, I prefer reading blogs where a person goes all over the board on subjects, because as it turns out I read for the voice of blogger, not the topic.

I would be very sad to see the diversity of personal blogs thin out because people thought they weren't popular enough. The world really does have enough purely political blogs and tech blogs; there are never enough blogs that see the world from a personal point of view.

Posted by john at 10:30 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Little Thought-Like Emanations

A bunch of little unrelated things:

* I've been getting hit hard recently by comment spam, and as a result ended up having to put a lot of keywords on my spam blacklist. This should not be a problem for you most of the time, unless you have a fetish for casually dropping the names of erection-producing pharmaceuticals into your everyday comment discourse. However, I've also blacklisted the word "casino" since it's appearing quite a bit recently, and that's a word that's not entirely outside the realm of regular usage. So if you use "casino" in a comment and it doesn't appear automatically, don't panic. When I made one of my moderation rounds, I'll likely release it into the wilds. However, if you write something like "there I was, in the Viagra Casino...." I may just leave it off. You damn pranksters.

* I was reading this article in the New York Times about people whose phone company won't provide DSL service because it's too expensive, and thus are stagnating in low-bandwidth hell, and I have to say I'm notably less than sympathetic. Hey, guys: satellite internet. Unless all that second-growth forest in Vermont is entirely blocking out the night sky, you can get high-speed internet that way.

I know whereof I speak: When I first moved to lil' ol' Bradford in 2001, the fastest local connection I could find was 9600 baud. The terror was complete and unimaginable. But did I bitch and moan to my local telephone company? Well, yes, I did. However, I also looked into my options, and satellite internet was one of them. It had its problems -- a small time lag when initiating a connection and having service blocked by storms among them -- but it was a damn sight better than 9600 baud. And remember, this was back in 2001, so it's not like this is untested, freaky technology. It suited me until DSL finally showed up here.

If anyone in Vermont is reading this, do let these folks know of the miracle of satellite internet. And show them your iPod, too. That'll really mess with their heads.

* Some nice news for me: I've sold The Ghost Brigades in the French language, where one assumes it will be known as Les Brigades De Fantôme or some such. Also, for all you Francophones out there, the release date for the French-language version of OMW will be January 2007, from Editions L' Atalante (who also bought TGB). Starting saving your euro-pennies!

* NPR is looking for a blogger. If I didn't already have my own pro blog gig, this might be attractive to me, except for the part about "being willing to relocate." Isn't part of the magic of blogs that you don't have to relocate? I mean, hell. I live among the Amish, people. I think that pretty much proves that you can blog from anywhere.

Also, this line in the job application seems a bit presumptuous: "a passionate desire to join the blogger 'A' list." Leaving aside the fact that being an "A"-list blogger is like being one world's elite kitten-jugglers -- a curious but strangely limited sort of fame -- who is on the "A"-list in the blog world is decided not from above but from below, primarily by who links to you and how often. So while I think it's groovy NPR has ambitions for its blogger, if I were applying for the job I wouldn't exactly exactly assume that if I got it I would suddenly be elevated to the oh-so-lofty heights of A-list bloggerdom. You've got to earn it, baby, through all the links and such and so on and blah blah blah. Then, and only then, will you take your place in the grubby, back-biting pantheon of bloggers.

* Speaking of pointlessly obsessive blog status mongering, here's something interesting: Technorati, which is the official repository of who is on the blogger "A"-list thanks to its dork-anxiety-inducing "100 Top Blogs" list, is massively underreporting my "A"-listyness, because it splits my links between a scalzi.com listing and a whatever listing. The Scalzi.com listing lists 1,192 blogs linking to me, while the Whatever listing features 1,140, which puts both listings in the 1000 range for most popular blog evar. But, since (follow the pathetic logic!) it doesn't make sense that people would link to both, just one or the other, in fact I have 2,332 blogs linking to me, which definitely puts me in the top 300, since Wil Wheaton's at 292, and he's only got a mere 2043 blogs linking to him! Ha, Wil! HA!!! Clearly I need to sue Technorati for underreporting my true blog awesomeosity, which is keeping me from making those six-figure book deals other bloggers are making, and getting the fabulous blog-groupie sex that I'm sure Kos and Ana Marie Cox are having on a regular basis (no, not with each other. With the groupies. Pay attention). Also, I will sue Wil Wheaton. Just to make the point.

Also, I think Technorati is not doing nearly enough to raise the anxiety of bloggers everywhere regarding their A-list status (or lack thereof), so I propose that rather than posting a mere Top 100 list, Technorati post a top 1,000 list -- or even better, a top 10,000 list. Because you know the people scratching it out for positions 9,999 and 10,000 will stop at nothing to kill all those who threaten their exalted position. Yes, yes. If Technorati does but implement my suggestion, soon the Blogosphere will have all the drama it deserves.

Posted by john at 08:26 AM | Comments (60) | TrackBack

September 27, 2006

Wednesday Author Interview: Jo Walton

Having finished The Last Colony and sufficiently depressurized therein, I'm back on the stick with my Wednesday Author Interviews over at By The Way. This week I've got Jo Walton talking about her superultramegafabulous new novel Farthing, which you need to read, like, right now, and also other topics of interest as well. Here's the link to the interview. Go!

Posted by john at 02:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Goodbye to the Free Phone

Sprint giveth and Sprint taketh away: I got an e-mail from the telephone provider letting me know that they are switching off my free service to their network next Tuesday. After that, if I want to use the superbitchin' cell phone they provided me, I'll have to pay just like every other common troll. I get to keep the phone, though, so the question becomes whether I'll go ahead and get a Sprint plan of some description.

The idea behind giving me a free phone was that I, as one of those "influencers" you hear so much about from those marketers you know, might talk about the various virtues of Sprint, and specifically its Power Vision service, which in addition to offering phone connection also offers things like streaming music and video, Web access and the ability to download all sorts of crap onto your phone. And, indeed, if you are the sort of person who wants his or her cell phone to be more than something you call people on, I feel comfortable recommending the Power Vision service to you; it worked as advertised, and it has all the bells and whistles people who love bells and whistles love. And personally speaking, I found the ability to use the phone as a modem to be pretty damn useful; it saved me a bunch of ridiculous hotel Internet charges over the last few months. So, yes: a good service that I think will make sense for a good number of people.

However, I'm not entirely sure that it's the service for me. As it turns out, I'm not one of the people who uses the cell phone for the bells and whistles. I don't use my cell phone for playing music, because my little music player does a rather better job of that. I have a nice portable camera for taking pictures. I don't use it to stream video because it's not like there's not always a TV blaring somewhere. I don't use it to play games because frankly I'd rather read a book. I don't text message because, duh, I can just call. I'm not a teenager; I don't have to pass notes in class. The two things this service does that are useful for me is make calls and connect to the Internet, and of the two, the only one that's actually essential for me is making calls.

And that's the other problem. I find the cell phone useful when I'm out and about, but the fact is I'm not out and about all that much -- not enough to justify spending, say, $55 a month on a service plan, which is the minimum I would need to pay Sprint for a service that offers both voice and data access. It's not even enough to justify $30/month just for the voice access. Frankly, my needs from a cell phone would be more than adequately covered by something like this -- a $20 cell phone with a pay-as-you-go plan. And I suspect that's the direction I'll be going in terms of my next cell phone. It's not a price issue, it's a utility issue. This is a shame because now I have this cool cell phone I can't use, unless Sprint offers some sort of pay-as-you-go plan, and it really doesn't, as far as I can see. That's a shame.

Here's what I want: Rather than a phone that also happens to have Web capability and the ability to play media files, I want a media player/wireless Web browser that also happens to have phone capability, and preferably a capability that allows me to pay as I go, rather than trying to suck $30 a month out of my pocket for no particularly good reason. That's the gadget and service that I could really use.

Posted by john at 08:03 AM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

September 26, 2006

How to Make a Schadenfreude Pie

My word, what is this dark and vaguely sinister-looking pie you see before you? Well, I'll tell you. It's the world's first Schadenfreude Pie, the pie to enjoy while you are reveling in the horrible misfortunes of others. Why is there a Schadenfreude Pie? Because after I wrote the headline for this entry, I wondered to myself, "what would Schadenfreude Pie taste like?"

My guess: Dark. Rich. And oh so bittersweet.

And you know what? That's exactly what it tastes like. Also -- and this is really just a perfect but unintentional extension of the whole schadenfreude metaphor -- you really only want a small slice; too much of this pie and it'll sit in the pit of your stomach like a rock of judgment, pulling you down. Small slice? Excellent. Big slice? You'll regret it. Just like schadenfreude itself.

Want a slice? Sure you do. Here's how you make it.

Let's face it, schadenfreude is a dark emotion. It deserves a dark pie. Here are your ingredients.

1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
3 large eggs (I used brown eggs in keeping with the spirit of things, but white eggs are fine)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 splash Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1 graham cracker pie crust (9 or 10 inches). Choose regular or chocolate graham cracker crust according to taste.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit). Melt butter in largish mixing bowl; add in corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix well. Melt chocolate; fold into existing mixture. Add eggs and Kahlua; mix vigorously until mix has an even consistency. Pour into pie crust (depending on size of crust you may have a little filling mix left over).

Shove into oven, center of middle rack, and bake for about 45 minutes. At 45 minutes, poke pie with butter knife. If butter knife comes out clean, your pie is done; otherwise give it about another five minutes.

Once you take the pie out of the oven, let it set at least 20 minutes before you dig in. It's really good when still warm, however.

Serving recommendations: small slices (this is an awesomely rich pie) and an ice cold glass of milk to go with it.

Got it? Groovy. And now, pictures of the production of the very first Schadenfreude Pie ever:

Athena mixes the pie filling ingredients while plotting the downfall of all those who oppose her.

Appearing as if the baleful eye of retribution, the pie awaits its cookination!

The darkest of all dark pies, fully cooked.

"From Hell's heart I stab at thee, Schadenfredue Pie!"

The unspeakable malevolence of the pie, in single-serving size.

Sure, it's a pie freighted down by the petty weaknesses of men, but how does it taste?

Excellent! And now, let us have a maniacal laugh of victory, if you please:

Joy at the misfortune of others -- and pie! Truly, the best of all possible worlds.

Posted by john at 10:39 PM | Comments (109) | TrackBack

The Winner of the "Why I Deserve an 'Android's Dream' ARC" Contest

It's "That Neil Guy," because he went and procreated during the actual contest, and it's hard to top that (although, to be fair, more credit for the actual birth work goes to the mom, now, doesn't it). I sense he'll have more than a few late nights in the reasonably near future, tending to new kid and all. Perhaps the book will help him get through the nights, and if not, then his fatigue will lend the book an extra hallucinatory quality. That can't be a bad thing.

Congratulations, Neil, and e-mail me your address so I can send it off in the mail to you.

For everyone else: Thanks -- I was deeply amused by the comment thread. I had enough fun with this that I might do it again in the future. ARCs of The Last Colony should be out in, oh, March or so.

Posted by john at 01:19 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Re: That Contest Thing

I'm running a little behind, on account I had to take my dog to the vet this morning (she's fine), and I have a couple other unexpected things to deal with. I'll have the winner up by, oh, five o'clock eastern or so.

The first one who complains is disqualified.

Ha!

Posted by john at 11:42 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sometimes I Live in a Maxfield Parrish Painting

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Yes I do.

Yes, I've photoshopped. But the real thing was close enough, I tell you.

Posted by john at 11:33 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 25, 2006

TAD Review at SFReviews.net

I noted the Publishers Weekly review first, but it's not out yet, so this is the first review of The Android's Dream that is publicly readable in full. And it says nice things about the book:

The Android's Dream reads something like an SFnal James Bond spoof by way of South Park. Scalzi isn't exploring anything particularly deep thematically here; the name of the game is satire, and he does some of the most spot-on political wit this side of the old British sitcom Yes, Minister... [it's] just the right gene-splicing of fast action and furious comedy SF has been needing for ages.

Excellent.

I'd also commend you to read it as an example of how to write a longish review without giving away too much of the plot; there are a couple of points in the book I want to keep as a surprise for the reader, and it's not necessarily a sure thing reviewers are going to keep those plot points under their hat. So it's always nice -- both as an author and as someone who reviews things -- to see people making an effort to let surprises stay surprises while at the same time giving enough information for a useful review. It's a skill, it is.

Posted by john at 02:24 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

The Old Media Toilers Help Themselves to a Heaping Slice of Schadenfreude Pie

You can just about sense the delight dripping off the words of this article from the Boston Herald: "Publishers say few hits on blog books". Apparently all those bloggers out there have been striking out when it comes to turning their blog celebrity into book celebrity, or at best hitting singles when they should have hit home runs. Case in point, for the story anyway, is Stephanie Klein, who was reportedly paid half a million for two books, but whose first book, Straight Up and Dirty, isn't justifying that sort of moolah in the sales department.

Yes, well. Let's have a moment of bracing honesty here and ask: How many books and authors could? If one is going to evenly distribute this advance across two books, Ms. Klein would need to sell 100,000 copies of both books in hardcover to get back that kind of advance money, or some other even larger number of the books in paperback (the publisher needs to sell rather fewer to make back its money, but isn't that how it always is). I don't think you can blame Ms. Klein for taking that sort of money if it was offered to her (I'd find it hard to pass up myself), but whoever offered her half a mil was having a true moment of fiscal brainfreeze. Likewise the person who ended up paying Ana Marie Cox $275,000 for Dog Days. In both cases, the issue is not the quality of the writing or even the sales, but that someone on the publishing end started shoveling money before engaging his or her brain.

This is something I've mentioned before, of course: Outside of genre, publishers get idiotic with their money. It makes perfectly good sense for an author to hold out for a lot of money, since then they can eat for a nice long time, and then the publishing company is obliged to spend a nice amount of money promoting the work in a desperate attempt to get back all the cash it's just thrown out a window. But honestly, I'm still mystified at the publisher who looks at the proposal from a first-time writer who is not already appallingly famous and thinks to himself, well, I just happen to have five hundred large burning a hole in my pocket, might as well spend it here. I try to model this sort of thinking in my head and it simply doesn't compute. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for publishers giving their writers a decent amount; eating is fun. But at a certain point things get silly, and giving an untried writer half a million for two books is way beyond that certain point.

Of course, a publisher could have this excuse: We thought being blog famous was the same as actually being famous. This is understandable, I suppose. If bloggers are good at anything, it's self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, and giving the impression that we're fighting above our weight class. But, look. Being a blogger is a bit like being that lady in the supermarket who hands out free samples. You see her, you stop and have the tiny piece of sausage she's got speared on a toothpick, you might chat for a second, and then you move on. You like the sample lady -- she's giving you free sausage! -- and you may even seek her out ("I could use some free tiny sausage right about now"). But no matter how much you or anyone else likes the sample lady and are glad to see her and her tiny sausage chunks, the number of people who actually reach behind the sample lady to buy the product she's offering you a taste of is a pretty low percentage.

Now, a really successful blog pulls in a couple thousand visitors a day. How many sales can you genuinely expect from that? You can expect some, to be sure -- I happily stand as testimony of that (thanks, guys!) -- and certainly having a popular blog is a plus in the long run. But expecting every visitor to a site, or even a significant proportion, to pick up a blogger's book seems to be wishful thinking to me.

Indeed, if you want to sell books online, converting your own audience into book buyers is a secondary tactic -- you want to have other bloggers recommend you to their readers. The person who moved the most copies of Old Man's War online was not me -- it was Glenn Reynolds, who the Instapundit readers saw as a trusted recommender, giving a thumbs up to something he really liked. A secondary cascade of recommendations came from other bloggers who picked up the book from his thumbs-up. My own readers were in the mix as well, of course, but I don't kid myself as to who sold more of my book, me or Glenn.

Going back to the article I'm linking to, one of the things I find interesting is that in all the gleeful whacking on bloggers' books going stiff, there's no mention at all about the fact that there are indeed bloggers whose books are doing pretty damn well -- and those bloggers are science fiction and fantasy writers. To roll out the (to us) usual names here, you've got Scott Lynch, whose Lies of Locke Lamora has been optioned for a movie and has been translated into scads of languages, Cherie Priest, whose fabulous new book Wings to the Kingdom is only a couple of weeks away now, and, uh, me. I'd also personally lump Jo Walton in here, because she came to the attention of editors through her online writing. Chris Roberson just sold a book he'd put up online. I know there are at least a few more now as well.

These authors and these books are doing perfectly well, thanks, but I suppose they're not on the radar because a) they're working in genre and b) their publishers didn't offer them incredibly stupid amounts of money for their books. And why let the skiffy geeks get in the way of a good story?

What we can say is this: Offer any first-time author a ridiculous amount of money for a novel or two, don't be surprised when you take a bath, regardless of what their writing experience was beforehand. Don't blame it on blogs; blame it on the bad business sense of the publishers.

Posted by john at 10:32 AM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

John M. Ford

Oh, dear. Science fiction writer Mike Ford has died. Making Light has more details.

I'd met Mike Ford on a number of occasions and had a panel with him at the most recent Boskone; we were friendly and he was a good friend to a number of my good friends in SF. I admire his writing and his whimsical spirit.

I have two of his books on my shelves. I think I'll read one today. That's the best tribute I can give to a writer, I think.

Addendum: Elise Matthesen, Mike Ford's companion, shares a remembrance.

Posted by john at 09:54 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

September 23, 2006

Weekend Update

This is it. I'm gone until Monday. Try not to eat all the jellybeans while I'm out.

Posted by john at 12:55 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

September 22, 2006

Publishers Weekly on The Android's Dream

The first review of The Android's Dream comes from industry bible Publishers Weekly, and it's good. They call it a "swashbuckling satire of interstellar diplomacy" and say "With plenty of alien gore to satisfy fans of military SF and inventive jabs at pretend patriotism and self-serving civil service, Scalzi delivers an effervescent but intelligent romp."

Mmmm... I romp. Effervescently! I mean, I always knew that, but it's good to see that others recognize it too. People often say as I walk by, "there goes one effervescent romper." It's what I always dreamed of being, as a little boy. But then, what little boy doesn't?

Remember that if you're in the mood for a bit of effervescent romping yourself, that I'm giving away a copy of The Android's Dream this weekend. It's not too late to make your claim on it.

Posted by john at 05:37 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Deliver Me From Temptation, Temptation Being Amazon

Dear Authors,

It has come to my attention that Amazon, the leading online bookseller, is now allowing comments on individual product reviews, including reviews of books (and therefore, your books). This means that now, finally, you can correct the views of all those poor unfortunates who gave your book less than the four or five stars it so richly deserved, and explain to them, in your enormously engaging way, why they were so very wrong about your book and should forever regret not understanding it sufficiently well to bask in its wisdom, and to give it more than three stars.

When the urge to correct an Amazon reviewer takes hold, and you find yourself reaching for the keyboard, here are some simple steps I suggest you do next:

1. Step away from the keyboard; go to the basement.

2. Turn on the bandsaw you have down there.

3. Run your hands through the bandsaw, at the wrists.

4. Turn off the bandsaw with your teeth. Safety first!

There! Thanks to the loss of your hands, you are no longer able to type your reply, and with the salutatory effect of massive blood loss, you are likely no longer in a frame of mind to respond anyway. Which is good, because not only are your readers entitled to their own wrong opinions, they're also entitled to share them with others without the author turning up like a neurotic harpy to make a snarky retort.

"But wait!" I hear you say. "What if I sign on to Amazon and post my retorts under an entirely different name? Then I have the satisfaction of responding, but no one will know it's me!" Yes, well. The term for using a fake name to respond to comments is "using a sock puppet," and if you're going to engage in sockpuppetry, this is how you should go about it:

1. Put a sock over each hand. You may decorate the socks to taste. You've made sock puppets!

2. Dip each sock, hands still inside, into the largest vat of honey you can find.

3. Feed sock-wrapped hands to the brown bear you have procured for just such an eventuality.

Once again, after the bear has finished its delicious little snacky-snack, you'll most likely neither have the means nor the desire to respond to those mean and nasty Amazon reviews. And what a relief that will be! Now you can turn to more important things, like plotting your next work, training your voice-operated word processor, and developing a Zen-like detatchment regarding reviews, particularly the ones on Amazon. You'll feel better. And they're doing amazing things with prosthetics these days.

Just thought I'd share,

Your friend,

John

Posted by john at 11:19 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Linky McLinkerson

Want some links to pursue? Sure you do. Here are some links I thought would be interesting/people have recently begged me to pimp/I've been paid big money for:

* The megafabulous Justine Larbalestier -- who finished the third book in her series just before I finished mine -- has an interesting interview with author John Greene on the subject of lying. Apparently Mr. Greene and Ms. Larbalestier both are in the practice of telling untruths. Shocked, shocked I am! Here's a telling quote from Mr. Greene:

I’ve always felt that lying can be perfectly noble: Say, for instance, that Sarah (my wife) got into a duel, and her opponent cut off her nose (as happened to the astronomer Tycho Brahe). Okay, so if a half-conscious and noseless Sarah said to me, “Am I losing a lot of blood?” And I would say, “No,” because I’d want her to stay calm and wait for help to arrive. That’s an ethical lie, I think.

I wonder what people said to Tycho Brahe. He walked around with a brass nose. "No, Tycho, you can hardly tell you have a metal honker." Poor Tycho. He smelled terrible.

* This is cool: Debut author Joe Schrieber's book Chasing the Dead comes out next week and got a starred review in Publisher's Weekly ("You're not going anywhere until you devour every one of its tension-filled pages" -- nice!), but Schrieber isn't happy just to give you a book -- he's also created an affiliated blog, also known as Chasing the Dead.

What's cool about the blog is that it's an entirely separate but related story, told in blog form, featuring a school teacher researching some terrible events in several New England towns, who gradually discovers (of course) that some weird and terrible things are going on. I've skimmed through the blog and it's totally get-you-sucked-in-able, and that's a good thing. Here's the first entry -- work your way forward from there. This is a very neat idea and I'll be reading to see how it pans out.

* My friend Doselle Young suggests that I pimp Seriocity, which is the blog of television writer Kay Reindl, and you know what? He's right, because in addition to being funny as hell in person (Kay and I totally bonded over Canadian hard rock bands of the 80s at Worldcon -- Hey! Kay! Triumph 4evah!!), she's got a really interesting blog full of wit and interestingbles. Doselle in particular wants to point out this entry on music and telvision and life and stuff. And he's right again! It's a great entry. Doselle, how does it feel to be right all the time?

* Jason Sizemore, the editor of sf magazine Apex Digest, has run into a bit of a financial scrape and is looking for new subscribers. Here's the whole story; check it out and see if it convinces you to drop a Jackson for a year's subscription. This is a paying story market, so SF writers, the story market you save may be your own.

* Apparently I'm not the only science fiction writer trying to make people jump around like monkeys in the hopes of snagging a book. David Louis Edelman is giving away five copies of his faboo debut Infoquake, just because he's that way. I'd accuse him of stealing my idea, but he actually posted his contest before I did. So, um. Yeah. Anyway, it's a fine, fine book, so why not try to get it for free?

* Look! A scholarly examination of Bacon Cat. Terrifying, it is.

Those are my links for you today. And now, I declare the comment thread to be a link-pimp: If there's something you want folks to read or see out there on the crazy tubes, go ahead and drop a URL or link into a comment. Please do tell us what the link is first; blind links aren't cool. Also, if you put more than one link in a post, it'll likely be held for moderation. Don't worry, I'll be springing those comments on a regular basis.

Yes, you may pimp your own links, but, you know. Try to share the love, too.

Posted by john at 08:47 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

September 21, 2006

Why I Deserve an "Android's Dream" ARC: A Contest

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The Goddess Kristine Blauser Scalzi is being the spokesmodel for The Android's Dream, here in its "Advance Reader Copy" form -- which is to say, the version that has all the stupid spelling errors I made. I've got a few of these, and so, in celebration of finishing The Last Colony, I'm going to give away an ARC of TAD to one of you faithful Whatever readers. That's right, you'll be able to read it more than a full month before the common rabble! Yes, you'll be uncommon rabble, and that's the best kind of rabble there is. But wait, there's more! I'll even sign it and personalize it for you! So when you use it to prop up a wobbly table, you can do so with pride.

But if you want the ARC, you're gonna have to beat back all the other people who want it with a stick (please note: this is figurative. Please do not actually physically assault anyone for this book). Forthwith, here's how to compete in the "Damn you Scalzi, Give Me That Android's Dream ARC!" contest:

Tell me why you deserve the Android's Dream ARC more than anyone else.

And now, the rules:

1. All responses should be placed in the comment thread for this entry.

2. When telling me why you deserve the ARC of The Android's Dream, do not feel that you need to limit yourself to the truth. If you feel it will improve your chances, make something up. Yes, lie. Lie through your ever-lovin' teeth, friends.

3. Apropos to point 2, if you are gonna lie, you know, make it a good one. Points for creativity, and all that.

4. You can enter more than once if you feel you must, but don't be silly about it. If you're entering for the fourth time, at least use a pseudonym so I don't get bored with seeing your name.

5. Remember the contest is why you deserve the ARC, not why other people don't, so don't run down any other folks who are playing. Because that would made me sad. And if you make me sad, why would I think you deserve the ARC?

6. Clearly, I'm meaning for you to have fun with this. If you actually feel yourself getting competitive, you should probably sit it out.

The contest opens as soon as this entry is posted and closes at 11:59:59pm Eastern, September 24, 2006. I'll announce the winner by noon eastern, Tuesday September 26. When I announce the winner, he or she can send me an e-mail with a mailing address, and I'll sign the book, personalize it and pop it into a book envelope I have right here at my desk, and then Krissy will escort it to the post office where it will wing its way to you. And then, of course, you can lord over everyone else in a truly obnoxious fashion. Because that's what winning is all about.

So there you have it: Tell me (truthfully or not) why you feel you deserve this Android's Dream ARC. I'm looking forward to hearing your tales of... deservation? Deservement? Deservoisty? Whatever you'll call them, I'm ready to hear 'em.

Go!

Posted by john at 10:21 PM | Comments (209) | TrackBack

Hugo Chavez Had It Wrong

devilscalzi2.jpg

I am the devil! George Bush is, at best, an imp.

Yeah, I'm letting off some post-novel steam. Why do you ask?

I have to say, there's something about my head that makes it particularly good for turning into your basic Photoshop devil. Personally I think it's all about the eyebrows. In day to day life my eyebrows are, at best, unremarkable, but when required they are capable of Nicholson-like arching. I'll note that the shape of the eyebrows above has not been Photoshopped in any way. That's all me, baby.

What I'm particularly proud of is that I did this Photoshoppery after I finished my novel, not before, thus avoiding the dread "how's the book coming along?" questions that would inevitably ensue. The book is done, damn you! And what I say damn you, clearly, I mean it.

Ironically, I did a photo shoot today for a magazine article. None of those pictures look like this one. So far as I know.

Posted by john at 06:49 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Public Speaking; Various Questions

So, I gave a talk last night at the public library in Marion, Ohio -- Hometown of former (and dead) president Warren G. Harding -- and I had quite a bit of fun, and hope those who were there did too. At the beginning of the talk I gave a rundown of all the sorts of writing I do -- novels, non-fiction, newspaper and magazine, blogging -- and asked the audience what they wanted me to talk about. Seems that most of them were there to hear me blab about science fiction. And so, that's what I blabbed about, for about 90 minutes, pretty much non-stop.

It sort of amazes me that I can blather in public for 90 minutes on a subject and keep finding things to say about it. At some point I wonder if people just wonder if I'm ever going to shut up, but then I remember they're actually there to hear me talk. So I just keep going. I didn't end up doing a reading -- I brought some work with me but I didn't get to it -- and part of me wonders if I should have. But the next thing I knew I was at the 90 minute mark, and I think I was only actually scheduled to speak for an hour. I'm just a wind-up toy, I am.

I think I did a reasonably good job; you'd have to ask the people who were there. I do know that I like doing speaking events. It's fun to get up and talk and to have a conversation with the audience and what have you. Aside from the actual writing, it's one of the most fun things about being a writer. Not all writers feel this way, incidentally. But I'm an attention hog. I eat this stuff up. So if you're looking for a speaker, you know where I am. And I want to thank the Marion Public Library for having me come by. It's a lovely library with lovely staff, and I had a great time.

On to another subject entirely: In the wake of finishing The Last Colony, I've had a couple of questions about it and writing, and I thought I'd go ahead and answer them.

Colin F asks: "Can you give us a hint when we might see TGB released in paperback?"

I'm not going to hint, I'm going to tell you: The Ghost Brigades will be out in mass market paperback in May 2007, pretty much when The Last Colony hardcover hits the shelves. Since Old Man's War will be out in mass market paperback in January, that means both of the previous books will be out there for people to grab along with TLC. Naturally, this makes me happy.

Those of you who are book nuts may note that while OMW had a trade paperback release, TGB is going directly into mass market; there are reasons for this involving advanced bookselling voodoo that I could tell you about, but then I would have to kill you. I don't know if there will be a trade paperback version of TGB; right now I don't think there are any plans for one, however. If this changes I'll let you know.

Chang asks: "Do you have any sort of ritual for finishing up a novel? Besides crashing into the bed and not moving for a few days?"

Hey, don't discount collapsing into a pile. It really does seem to be my post-book ritual. I finished TLC in the afternoon after having a nice long night of sleep, and I though well, at least this time I won't fall into a coma, and then plopped on the bed to watch TV and woke up at, like, 9:30pm. Apparently finishing a book takes something out of me whether I want it to or not.

Other than that, no, I don't really have a ritual. When I finished The Ghost Brigades I celebrated by buying myself a fancy-shmancy new dSLR camera, and this time around I thought about buying myself something else similarly expensive, but in fact I have not done so (yet). I'm itchin' to buy a new PC, but I want to wait until the first quad-core PCs hit the market later this year, because I'm just that way. Other than that, there's nothing expensive I really feel like buying at the moment (well. I would like one of those sweet new Mustangs. But I have no excuse).

I did change the look of the Whatever in tandem with finishing the novel; maybe I'll make that a ritual from now on (I really like the new look, incidentally. I'm always happy when I do something I like). But then again, maybe I won't. I don't know that fetishizing the completion of a book is a smart thing do, at least for me. For one thing, developing a ritual takes work. And you all know how much I am against that.

From e-mail: "I was just wondering what word processor and writing tools you use while writing. Do you have a Windows or Mac PC? Laptop or desktop? Do you use Microsoft Word or some other word processor? If it's MS Word, does the product handle a 90k+ word document well, or do you have to break it up into seperate files? Are there any special templates, tools, or funky font settings that you mess with, or do you just ignore all of that stuff and worry about it after you're finished and passing the manuscript on to your publisher?"

Well, it's interesting. I wrote The Last Colony on three separate machines using two separate word processors, and in the end I've come to the conclusion that whether I like it or not, I write better using Microsoft Word than any other word processing program. Part of the reason for this is familiarity: I know Word's quirks better than any other processor, and I know its format better as well. But part of it is that even if you save a document as a common format (I tend to use .rtf), different programs will open and format it differently. Eventually for the sake of sanity I had to choose just one program to use, and that ended up being Word.

Also, and sorry to say this, but all other word processors for the Mac just plain suck. I wrote The Ghost Brigades and part of TLC on the Mac using TextEdit, which was adequate but not optimal. Pages -- the Apple word processor -- is just plain useless; I ended up taking it out of my dock completely. In both cases you have to be careful about changing fonts globally because when you do both the programs wipe out various formatting, which is ridiculous and stupid (yes, it's possible this is just me not know how not to do this, but come on, people: If the default for changing a font wipes out formatting, it's clear the program was not designed to be used on a regular basis).

I ended up having to have two sets of documents for TLC: the ones I edited on the Mac and the ones that I edited on my laptop. Eventually I decided this was stupid downloaded the 30-day trial version of Word for the Mac, and then used that to collate all the files into a single document that I could then use whatever computer I was using. The trial version of Word:Mac is going to expire in a couple of days; I'm going to go ahead and buy the damn thing so I don't have to do this sort of ridiculous byzantine multi-format nonsense again (to answer the specific question: Yes, Word handles very large documents just fine. I sent my novel to my editor as a single file).

On the formatting side, when I write, I tend to write using one of two fonts: Optima or Times New Roman, in both cases because I like the look of the font and they're easy for me to read. I tend to use either 10-point type blown up to 125% view or 12-point type at 100% view -- if it's any larger it annoys me. As I'm writing I tend to use what has become the "Web Standard" formatting: no indent, single spacing, double space between paragraphs. The fact is I do the majority of my writing online, at least in terms of volume, and so this has become my default way of writing. Before I send the final document to my editor, however, I reformat it into standard manuscript formatting, because I want to make him happy, and reformatting is not difficult to do (in Word, anyway).

Other than the formatting I note above, which requires no special tools of any sort, I don't use any templates or fancy formatting or whatever. I just type. Fiddling with formats and templates in my opinion is mostly procrastination, ar at least it's procrastination for me. So I don't bother. I just type.

Posted by john at 12:25 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

September 20, 2006

The Popping Sound You Hear Comes From Conservative Heads Exploding Like Eggs in a Microwave

Hugo Chavez. Holding a book by Noam Chomsky. While he speaks at the United Nations. And calls George Bush the devil.

Man, I'm glad I'm not a conservative. Because I wouldn't even know where to begin with this picture. It's like Christmas, Hanukkah and Skull and Crossbones initiation night all in one picture. It's the gift that won't ever stop giving. Frankly, I'm afraid to wander over to conservative political Web sites at the moment. I can't even imagine what they're saying about this picture. I'm not sure I want to know.

Posted by john at 03:21 PM | Comments (117) | TrackBack

Thoughts on The Last Colony

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As I often do when I finish up a novel, I have a couple post-writing thoughts on The Last Colony. Here's what I'm thinking about it at the moment.

* First, I like this book, which was not a guaranteed thing, let me tell you. There was a fair amount of time at the beginning of the writing where I was sure I didn't like this book, and, naturally, that would have been a problem. This book ending up having to prove to me that it was worth liking, and worth me writing. I think eventually it made its case pretty well, and once it did, I had to make sure that I made the case for the book to the readers. I've been very lucky that Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades have been well-received, and I didn't want to trip up here at the finish line. I don't think I did.

* Spare a moment, if you will, for Sameer Desai. Who is he, you ask? Well, he's the main character of The Last Colony whom you will never meet. Originally, I was going to do in TLC what I did in OMW and TGB, which was to introduce a new main character and then have some recurring characters in the background. In this case Sam was going to be my new main character: A young American of Indian ancestry who through various turns of plot found himself herded onto a colonization ship one step ahead of the law and to a new colony, which would be headed up by John Perry and Jane Sagan. While there, he and Zoe Boutin (now 18 years old or so) would make a discovery that would threaten the safety of the entire colony, complete with a possible interstellar war. You know, like you do. Eventually he and Zoe would figure out what the Hell to do and off we'd go to the happy ending.

The problem was, the more I wrote Sam -- and I got about four chapters into the book with him -- the more I didn't like him. Fact was, he was something of an unlovable, whiny twit, and eventually I found myself pushing the plot along without regard to story quality just so I could get to John and Jane and Zoe. At which point I thought, well, crap, if I'm really interested in John and Jane and Zoe, what the hell am I doing with this jerk? So, as I believe I mentioned before, what I ended up doing is taking Sam for a walk to that old abandoned well I have on my property (metaphorically if not literally) and pushing him down into it. Then I went back to my office and wrote an e-mail to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor, which went as such: "My main character was an annoying putz. I've pushed him down a well and you'll never meet him. I'll need a couple of extra months to finish the book." To which PNH's response, to his credit, was: "Fine."

I don't know how much I should really blame poor Sam for this; in some ways he's the victim here, and not just because I've pushed him down a well. It's entirely possible that someone else could have written him better; it's possible that he was the right character, just in the wrong book. Whatever the reason, however, I just couldn't hang with the boy, and now he's gone. If you ever visit the Scalzi Compound and hear a muffled yelling, as if from a desperate voice somewhere underground, do try to ignore it. Don't want to encourage Sam.

* Once Sam was out of the way, I got it into my head to do something I thought was clever, which was that I planned to alternate first-person chapters, with John Perry as the main character, with third-person chapters, which would feature a new character, an alien named General Tarsem Gau. And I wrote four chapters of that book before I realized something, which was that if I kept writing the book like this, the book would end up being 200,000 words long. And there were two problems with that: The first was that I was contractually obliged to turn in a book about 100k long, and the second being that if I tried to write a book that was 200k long, I might have to murder myself (to give you perspective, the book ended up being 91k long, and both OMW and TGB were in the 94k-96k range). What I was writing was good, in my opinion; the problem was it was just too much. Thus, another craven e-mail to PNH explaining the situation, and then another overhaul of the story. Out went the third-person chapters, and in came a new focus on John Perry and his point of view.

This frankly turned out to be a blessing. One of the mechanical aspects of the book is that it employs just in time plot, which is to say that as John Perry goes along he keeps uncovering new information about his situation which gives that happened before new context (as I've explained before: it's twisty). If you keep yanking the reader around from one character to another, and from first-person to third-person narration, that sort of "reveal more" mechanism doesn't work as well -- or at least, it wasn't working as well for me. Once I settled down and stuck with Perry's point of view, things came rather a bit easier. And as a consequence, the book became better.

* And indeed, I think this is a good book. One of the things that I like about it is that although it has more than enough action in it -- ships blowing up, people bringing guns to knife fights and so on -- it's less of an action story and more of a poltical thriller. The first two books in the series have hinted at what sort of government the Colonial Union is and why; this book goes rather a bit deeper into that aspect of things. I won't go too much into it because I don't want to give away much about the book; I will say that I think the folks who wanted to learn more about the CU and how and why it does things will get a kick out of this book.

* As many of you know, when I wrote The Ghost Brigades I wrote it so that people who hadn't read Old Man's War would be able to read it as a stand alone. When I started The Last Colony, the intent was to do this again -- in effect, have three stand alone books in the same universe. But once John Perry and Jane Sagan became the lead characters, I rethought that philosophy. Also, when I was writing TGB, I was working under the assumption that not a whole lot of people would have had the opportunity to read OMW yet. Here and now, the assumptions are a little different; OMW was Hugo nominee, TGB is selling very well in hardcover, and when TLC comes out in hardcover both OMW and TGB will be in mass-market paperback. It's safer to assume some of the folks interested in TLC will have read at least one of the previous books, or that one of the other two books will be on hand from them to grab as well.

So: The Last Colony is a sequel. I think it's possible to read it without reading the other two and still have a good time with it, but this time around, reading at least one of the other two will help, and having read both will be best of all.

* Yes, this is the last book in the "Old Man" series. This is not to suggest I won't come back to this particular universe; I may. Indeed, I've been giving some thought to writing some shorter work in this universe, just for fun. But this is the last novel that will feature these particular characters, in this particular time, and, as it happens, I do something in the novel that pretty much assures that I can't go back.

Bwa ha ha ha ha! That's right! I did! And I won't tell you what it is! You have to wait until May! Bwa ha ha ha ha!

No, really, I did. No, really, I won't tell you now.

But even if I hadn't, three books is sufficient. I like this universe I've created, and I like my characters, particularly Jane Sagan, who is the only character to appear in all three books -- indeed, you could make the argument that these three books are about her journey in this universe -- but I think the secret of building a successful SF universe is like the secret of attending a good party: Leave while you're still having fun. I've had a great amount of fun in this universe. It seems like a good time to head to the exit, at least as far as the novels are concerned.

* For those of you wondering, the illustration above is the one which -- I think -- will be featured on the book cover. It's by John Harris, who did the trade paper cover of OMW and the hardcover for TGB. It's keeping with the theme and all.

Also, for all those who want to know, the current plan is to have The Last Colony in the stores in May 2007. It's a birthday present to me!

* What I'm going to do now: Take a break, man. I'm taking nap through the rest of September, and then it's time to start The Secret Project I Can't Tell You About Yet. But I will tell you this about it: It's complex enough that I'm going to do something that I've never done with a book before:

Outline.

Yes, boys and girls, when I decide it's time to outline a novel, you know things are getting weird. I hope you like it, when it comes out in late 2007.

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Where I'll Be and What I'm Doing 9/20/06

For those of you who care, a quick catch-up on everything I'm doing for the next couple of months.

1. Reminder that I will be at the Marion Public Library tonight at 7:00 to talk about writing, science fiction, being a dork and what have you. I've found that library appearances tend to be a lot of fun, so I hope some of you central Ohio folks can make it.

2. However! This will not be my only mid-Ohio area appearance this year. I will also be doing an appearance/signing/whatever at the the Barnes & Noble at 4005 Townsfair Way in Columbus on Thursday, November 9th at 7pm. That's the B&N in the Easton Town Center, for all you Columbus types (I'd call you Columbians, but I don't know how you'd feel about that). This appearance would be a lovely time for you to pick up The Android's Dream and have me sign it, hint, hint.

I'm looking in to doing at least a few other Ohio bookstore appearances this November; I'll let you now what pans out.

3. The folks at Philcon have extended their invitation to have me show up and blather, and I took them up on the offer. So I'll be there, November 17-19. Charlie Stross will be the guest of honor, so you know it's going to be fun. This will also be a good place to have me sign your new Android's Dream book.

4. Now some bad news: Because I'm a complete moron and forgot about a previous personal commitment from which I cannot back out, I will not be attending Capclave this year. This sucks for me in all sorts of ways, among them being that quite a few of my friends will be there, and the entire line-up of participants reads like a who's who of people I want to hang with. And of course I feel like a dick for backing out. But there's not much to be done about it. I hope the one or two of you who were thinking of attending Capclave because of me will join the hundreds of other people who are attending it for other reasons anyway; it looks like a great convention, and I'm sorry I'm going to miss it.

5. A couple of weekends ago I made an appearance at the Kerrytown Book Fair in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I spoke on a panel with fellow science fiction/fantasy writers Toby Buckell, Sarah Zettel and Anne Harris. We had an almost obscene amount of fun on the panel, and fortunately the panel was recorded, and turned into part of a podcast here. We are both amusing and full of useful thoughts on the science fiction writing life, which is a good combination. The panel portion of the podcast starts about 25 minutes in. Enjoy!

6. And now for something that's not entirely about me: I've been a little slack in the last month about my author interviews on AOL, mostly because, well, you know, I was trying to finish my own book. But I'll be ramping those up again, because they're fun and also because the response to them has been very good -- good enough, in fact, that I may be doing something new through AOL to highlight them (and writing in general) in the next few months. I'll have more on that when/if it happens, but in the short term you can expect the interviews to return, hopefully within the next couple of weeks. Folks I have on the deck for interviews include Jo Walton, Mark Budz, Sean Williams, Karen Traviss and Catherynne M. Valente. Now all I have to do is get them all their questions. Yes, I'm the weak link here. Kill me now.

Posted by john at 08:25 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

September 19, 2006

New Look 9/19/06

To celebrate finishing The Last Colony, I've gone ahead and given the Whatever a visual refresh. If you don't see it immediately, hit refresh a couple of times and you'll see it.

The funny thing is, I've got about a dozen of these sorts of announcements in the archives, and outside their immediate context none of them make sense. Welcome to the crazy world of blogs.

Posted by john at 11:20 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Avast! Here Be a Scurvy Lass

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Athena, apparently eager on Talk Like a Pirate Day to replicate the visage of a scurvy-afflicted 17th century sailor, went and lost two teeth today, one on top and one on bottom, the latter coming out after she went to bed and the previous tooth had been nabbed by the "tooth fairy" (while Athena was still awake, how sneaky is that). The tooth fairy's lookin' for a Hamilton now, since the current tooth bounty is $4, and you gotta figure there's a $2 bonus in a two tooth day.

Posted by john at 09:32 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

The Last Colony -- Done!

That's a wrap.

91, 250 words. More or less.

And for once, I didn't finish a book at the end of a 36-hour writing binge. I must be getting more disciplined. Or something.

Finished at 4:19, so all of you making bets in the previous thread, there's your magic number.

Off to tell Patrick.

Posted by john at 04:20 PM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

TLC Final Push

It's begun. No more updates here until it's over. Hopefully not more than a day. Talk amongst yourselves until then.

Posted by john at 01:04 AM | Comments (64) | TrackBack

September 18, 2006

The Other Cats Can Be So Cruel

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Lopsided Cat, having a good laugh over Ghlaghghee's recent online adventures.

Posted by john at 05:08 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Local Newspaper Love

Look: An article about me in the Greenville Daily Advocate, the local newspaper of Darke County, which is where I live. The article actually ran first in the Piqua Daily Call, which is the local newspaper of the city two towns over, but both the Advocate and the Call are owned by the same publishing company, so they share a newswire. The story was on the front page of the Piqua paper, which was nice; don't know where it was located in the Greenville paper, since I haven't seen a physical copy yet.

I think the article is very nice, although I would like to note that the opening sentence makes it sound like writing was my desperate refuge in a world gone wrong: "For author John Scalzi, writing was easy in a world where he found everything else so difficult." In reality it was not so dramatic; it was just that writing seemed pretty easy and everything else was, well, you know, work. And I'm lazy. What are you going to do.

Posted by john at 02:22 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Somewhere Popeye is Screaming in Terror and Confusion

FDA to consumers: Don't eat ANY fresh spinach

There's a headline I never would have suspected I would see in my lifetime. Now I'm looking forward to the one that says "FDA to Consumers: Smoke more, eat more bacon." Because nitrates and nicotine battle e.coli bacteria for supremacy in your body, you see. Yes, yes. I'll be expecting that headline presently.

Fortunately, you may still eat lima beans. Children everywhere shall cheer the news!

Posted by john at 12:03 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Step Away From the Political Blogs

It's getting to be about that time in the election cycle where for my own personal mental safety, I stop reading political blogs. On an average day I can handle the screediness, but now that we're less than two months out from election day, I find they give me toxic amounts of electoral anxiety, and I don't really need much of that. I already know for whom I am voting in November: Ted Strickland for Ohio governor, Sherrod Brown for US Senator and no one for US Representative, because I don't particularly care for John Boehner's politics, even if he's got a plum role in the House, and because Boehner's Democratic candidate, Mort Meier, is so damn hapless that his only real campaign position is that he's not John Boehner (note his political campaign Web site is not mortmeier.org but victimsofjohnboehner.org, which is like Pepsi selling itself as CokeSucks Cola), and that doesn't exactly inspire loads of confidence.

So my candidate shopping is done, settled and out of the way. All I need to do now is get my absentee ballot because that way Diebold can't change my vote I'll be away on election day, and I'll be set. That given, I'm not entirely sure what the benefit for me is in hanging out at a political blog and getting worked up over which candidates who are not mine are up or down on a minute-by-minute basis, or what latest campaign ad outrage is happening in Montana or whatever. This not to say I don't plan on keeping up with the news -- nor that I'll stop talking about politics here -- but there's a difference between keeping up with news and reading foam-flecked partisans seize with outrage over their keyboards. One is useful for me, one is really not.

Now, this should not be construed as me telling you not to read the political blogs of your preference. Really, do what you want. But I'm going to stay out of them until the first Wednesday of November at least. I expect this will keep me happier and more relaxed than otherwise.

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

September 17, 2006

Thinking About The God Delusion

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One of the nice things about doing a signing at a bookseller's trade show is that afterward you get to wander through the tradeshow floor and admire all the marvelous books that publishers are giving away to booksellers, and maybe snag one or two for yourself. I had to be careful to limit myself to just a few, on account I brought only my backpack with me, not a packing box; even so I walked out of there with five books. One of them is Richard Dawkin's latest book The God Delusion, in which the eminent public scientist enthusiastically takes a cudgel to the very notion of God, representing Him as unneccesary, something of a bother and a definite public health hazard.

And by "Him," we're specifically talking about Yahweh, the god who is the God of half the people on the planet. Indeed, Dawkins is cheerfully rude about Yahweh -- he calls Him psychotic, in point of fact -- and appears to relish the idea of getting the religious host entirely bunched up about it. One portion of his book has him airing some e-mail he gets from some of the more idiotic and intolerant religious folk; as I was reading it I wondered if he was merely excerpting a blog entry he did somewhere along the way. Much of the book has the informal "whacking the idjits" feel of a blog entry, just in printed form. Perhaps this is an intellectual atlas of stature: When you're student, grad student or associate professor, you vent in your blog; when you get tenure, you get to vent in a book.

I think The God Delusion is a very good and interesting book, but I have an ambivalence regarding Dawkins' delight in trashing God and religion. As far as things go, I suspect Dawkins and I are in the same boat regarding the existence of God, which is to say we're agnostic about it, roughly to the same amount we're agnostic regarding invisible pink unicorns. On the other hand, unlike Dawkins, I don't tend to believe the concept of religion itself rises to such levels of risibility that those who follow one must be apprehended largely as credulous dolts. Even if I believed they were, as long as they kept their credulous doltery out of my way, I would be fine with it. My quarrel with religion, when I have one, is when those who practice it wish to impose it on me, often in ways counter to the expressed beliefs and goals of the religion they espouse, or counter to the Constitution of the United States, the wisdom of the freedoms and rights granted therein I find myself progressively astounded by as the years go on. Enjoy your religion, folks. Just keep it to yourself, if you please.

Also, there's the nagging question in my mind of how much, on a purely practical level, the human condition would change if our species were somehow magically innoculated against the idea of God. In the book, Dawkins posits the idea that religion is a byproduct of some useful human evolutionary adaptation -- a byproduct that has gone awry, much as a moth spiraling in toward a flame is an unfortunate byproduct of the evolutionary adaptation that allows the moth to navigate by starlight. In this particular case, Dawkins speculates religion might be a byproduct of an evolutionarily advantageous adaptation that makes children susceptible to guidance by parental (or elder) authority.

(Dawkins is careful to say that he's just throwing out that particular possible explanation as an example, and that his real allegience is to the idea of religious belief as a less-than-advantageous offshoot of a more useful evolutionary adaptation, but I have to say that I find that particular idea intriguing -- I'm projecting onto Dawkins here, but when I read this hypothesis of his I couldn't help think about the idea that mentally speaking, dogs are child-like wolves; that is, as adults they have activities (wagging tales and barking being the obvious ones) that wolves outgrow. Grey wolves and dogs are the same species -- taxonomically dogs are a subspecies. Would Dawkins suggest that religiously-minded humans are to agnostic humans as dogs are to wolves, i.e., mentally suspended at a pre-adult stage in some critical way? Again, to be clear, this is my supposition of Dawkins' possible implicit argument; don't go blaming him for my trying to model his thinking process. But this is what my brain lept to, and I wonder if Dawkins had left that there for the biologically-adept to pick up.)

If Dawkins posits that religion and religious belief are merely an evolutionary byproduct, then the problem is obvious: Even if we flush God down the toilet and send the religions of the world swirling down with Him, the biological root cause of the God delusion is still extant, and will inevitably be filled by some other process, just as getting rid of all man-made open flames won't keep a moth from circling another sort of artificial light source, be it a lightbulb or a glowstick or whatever. God knows (sorry) that entirely atheistic authoritarian schemes have exploited the same human tendency toward obedience, and Lysenkoism, for one, shows that you don't need a religious doctrine to pervert science. Getting rid of God intellectually doesn't change the human condition biologically. It will simply create an ideological vacuum to be filled by something else. Which it will; nature abhors a vacuum.

Perhaps Dawkins is an optimist about humans and their ability to plug up the God hole with a more pleasant and useful alternate scheme; I regret I would not share such optimism. Indeed, if an agnostic wanted to make an argument for the continuance of religion, it would be the (no offense) "devil you know" argument: Most religions give at least lip service to the idea of love and peace, so clearing that out of the way is not necessarily a good thing from a practical point of view. Say what you will about Jesus, for whom I have nothing but admiration even without the "son of God" thing, but one of the things I find him useful for is reminding people who allege to be following His teaching just how spectacularly they're failing Him, in point of fact. The Book of Matthew is particularly good for this, I've found.

I don't doubt Dawkins could make a perfectly good rebuttal for this (possibly along the lines of if we're going to look at it practically, the cost-benefit analysis suggests that religions do more damage than the thin line of agnostics/atheists berating religionists to live up to their role models could possibly ever hope to repair through public shaming), but for the rest of us it's worth thinking about: one may argue that a belief in god or the practice of a religion is bad, but what suggestion do we have that what follows after God and religion will be any better? This may or may not be an argument against eradicating God, or at least attempting to do so, depending on one's taste; it still ought to be considered.

Moving away from this particular aspect of the book, one thing Dawkins notes is that here in the US, being an atheist is the worst possible thing you can be; people would apparently prefer you to be gay than godless (which means, of course, pity the poor atheist homosexual, particularly if he wants to marry his same-sex partner). Dawkins notes that the Atheist-American community (which would apparently include agnostics in the same manner that the gay community accepts bisexuals) is a pretty large community (22.5 million strong, according to the American Atheists), but that it's politically pretty weak, in part because atheists and agnostics in the United States don't have the same sort of strong lobby that, say, the Jewish community has.

I find this an interesting point. Personally speaking I have yet to feel marginalized or discriminated against because I am an agnostic. Part of this, I'm sure, is because I also happen to be a white, educated, heterosexually-bonded non-handicapped male of above average financial means, and those facts matter more in this society. Another part, I'm sure, is that I simply don't care what other people think about my agnosticism, and I also know my rights, so in general an attempt to marginalize me probably wouldn't really work. Another part is that, in fact, I haven't been marginalized or discriminated against for my unwillingness to adhere to a religion. I'm not suggesting it doesn't happen; I'm saying it hasn't happened to me. It may be possible that if I were to run for public office, my agnosticism would become a campaign issue; what I think would be more of a campaign issue is that I'm neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Which is to say I would have an uphill climb even before my agnosticism were an issue.

I'm an open agnostic -- ask me, I'll tell you -- but I don't spend a lot of time defining myself through my agnosticism, and I pick and choose my battles. Teaching creationism (disguised as "intelligent design" or otherwise) in classrooms? Fight worth having. Getting worked up about "In God We Trust" on the coinage? Someone else can shoulder that load. I suppose this triage might upset some certain segment of folks who self-identify as agnostics and atheists, but honestly, if I'm not going to get worked up about God's vengeance, I'm not going to get worked up about their pique.

Also, as previously suggested, I worry more about the religious when they want to impinge on my rights from the point of view of a US citizen than the point of view of an agnostic, because my rights as the latter are predicated on my rights as the former. This is an important distinction to make, because there are more US citizens than US agnostics/atheists, and because as it happens, when the religious-minded wish to impinge on my constitutional rights, they also usually end up impinging on the rights of others who are not the same religion as they, or if they are of the same religion, have beliefs that do not require they try to shove them on others. Therefore, I have common cause with religious people who, like me, do not wish their rights abridged by some noxious group of enthusiastic God-thumpers who believe their religious fervor outweighs the US Constitution. And I'm happy to make that cause with them, and I'm not going to go out of my way to say to them "thanks for your help, even if you are a complete idiot to believe in that God thing." I'll just say thanks.

I think that should be sufficient for anyone, including Richard Dawkins.

Posted by john at 01:28 PM | Comments (163) | TrackBack

September 16, 2006

Eight Years of Whatever

Thanks to the pointless insanity that was Bacon Cat -- enter the phrase "Bacon Cat" into Google, incidentally, and see where you go -- I completely forgot to note that September 13 was the eight-year-anniversary of the Whatever. Yes, eight years ago last Wednesday I posted my first Whatever entry, blabbing about how I was doing this to keep sharp for the newspaper column I hoped someone would give me one day (I had had one before, you see). To date, no one's given me that newspaper column, damn the luck, but then again I doubt any sane newspaper editor would have let me run a column that was entirely about taping bacon to my cat, so you tell me if this is a bad thing. And the rest of my writing life seems to be going okay. I'll survive.

(Bacon Cat addendum: Apparently the #2 blog post on the Web yesterday. Insanity.)

That said, I think it's some nice synchronicity that my highest-traffic day here was on the anniversary of my starting this thing going. It's coincidence, but it's a nice coincidence. It's also nice that the last several days have been just about perfectly representative of the "whatever" ethos of the site -- from the wife brushing back a drunk to book talk to politics to blogging issues to just plain idiotic silliness, we've pretty much hit it all. I think that's what makes the Whatever work, personally. Most of the other blogs with the Whatever's level of readership or above tend to be single-issue blogs (generally politics or tech), so it's nice to do things a little bit differently than the rest of them. As I've noted before, it pays off in me not being bored, and also in bringing in a diverse crowd of readers and commenters. Other sites may have more visitors, but I wonder if any of them the range of visitors. There's no way to know for sure, so I'm just going to say they don't. Hah! Prove me wrong!

I'll stop before I delve any further into pointless self-congratulating twaddle, but I do want to make sure I thank you all for swinging by. Maybe it's the fact that I'm geographically isolated in a small rural community and spend most of my day in a single room typing ceaselessly into a glowy box talking, but I'm glad you come by and comment, and check to see what damn fool thing I'm writing about today. It really is appreciated.

Onward into year nine, then.

Posted by john at 09:41 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Heading Back -- An Open Thread

On my way back to Ohio in just a couple of hours. You kids play nice while I'm away. Consider this an open thread.

To get the conversation started: What's your favorite font?

Posted by john at 10:40 AM | Comments (58) | TrackBack

September 15, 2006

Go, Senate Republicans, Go

Senate panel rejects Bush anti-terrorism plan

A rebellious Senate committee defied President Bush on Thursday and approved terror-detainee legislation he has vowed to block, deepening Republican conflict over terrorism and national security in the middle of election season... Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, normally a Bush supporter, pushed the measure through his Armed Services Committee by a 15-9 vote, with Warner and three other GOP lawmakers joining Democrats. The vote set the stage for a showdown on the Senate floor as early as next week.

A nice reminder for those of us who don't typically think well of the GOP that some of folks in that camp really are saying "enough" to the president when it comes to his fetish for pointless authoritarianism for the sake of pointless authoritarianism. We can argue whether they're doing it because of political triangulation away from an unpopular president in an election year, because they want to remind the administrative branch that the legislative branch is a co-equal branch of government, or because they believe that Bush's policies are morally repugnant and not at all in keeping with the national charater or Constitution. Or some combination of the three; it's rarely just one thing.

Thing is, on one level, I don't actually care which of these it is. What I care about is that we're steadily and increasingly moving away from the "president as king" model of government this administration has been cultivating lo these last six years. We're getting closer to what we're supposed to be: questioning our leaders, even and especially when they don't want us to. This is a result worth having. If certain Republicans are an instrument of this, all I can say to that is: Thank you, senators. I appreciate it.

Posted by john at 10:14 AM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

Denver at Sunrise

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Hey! Stupid buildings! You're blocking my sunrise!

Denver seems nice, although I don't think I'm going to end up seeing a whole lot of it other than the hotel I'm at, at which I'm signing books for booksellers and otherwise doing the whole marketing oneself and one's books thing. The hotel, part of the Denver Tech Center, seems designed for the purpose of not actually making it useful or interesting to leave; the only other things around here seem to be other office building and hotels; I think I saw a sign for a chain restaurant somewhere in the distance, but I'm not going to hike the better part of a mile just to see a Chili's up close and personal. I do know it was a $50 cab ride to get here. I may actually be in Utah.

One kvetch, if you don't mind. My personal feeling is that when you stay at a hotel that advertises itself as being part of a "tech center," it damn well ought to have free Internet. I think that makes sense. Because clearly you intend to cater to a geek crowd, and they do like their data teats. But this particular hotel does not -- it's the usual $10/24 hours gig you get any hotel that doesn't have the words "suites," "budget" or "express" appended to it.

I suppose I could just go ahead and pay for the connection -- it's not like I'm paying for the room, after all, my publisher is -- but the fact of the matter is I find this mildly offensive. If you're going to advertise yourself as a tech center, then be a tech center, damn it. My cell phone has a decently fast modem in it: I'm using that instead. Three cheers for technology that lets you get around stupid charges (you may say, yeah, but you're paying for the cell phone. Well, I'm not, actually. Yay! free stuff!).

Anyway. Hello, Denver! The part of you I can see out of my hotel window looks nice. I look forward to coming around sometime and seeing more of you.

Posted by john at 09:39 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Pretty Much the Last Thing I'm Going to Say on Bacon and Cats for a While, Honest

I think we've tapped the "BaconCat" saga for just about all of its comedy gold at the moment, but I do have to say I find this homage quite amusing (context, for those who need it).

Also, the original post of me taping bacon to my cat was apparently the 4th most linked to blog post on teh intarweebs yesterday. Given the composition of the other top posts in the top five, I think it's safe to say it confirms what we all already knew, which is that the blosphere is really about politics, tech toys and cats, and will continue to be for as long as it exists.

Whatever also made the top 10 in the Top Blogs. Mmmmm... "A list"-liciousness. Never fear, I'll be once more rootin' and snarlin' with the common blog trolls soon enough. There's only so much I'm willing to humiliate my pets for online popularity, and anyway, right now I'm in Denver, so they're not readily available. Nor is bacon, for that matter, although I suppose room service could take care of that.

Anyway, if you're just here for the Adventures of BaconCat, it's time to move on, and thanks for coming. We're going back our regular scheduled programming of whatever the hell it is I do around here when I'm not in possession of meat and cats. I can't remember, but I think it involves graphic decriptions of my enjoyment of cheese. Yes, that's it precisely.

Posted by john at 08:53 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 14, 2006

Two Quick Requests

All right, before I close up shop here for my Denver trip, two quick requests:

1. Those of you folks who went to the Hugo awards ceremony at LACon IV and/or the pre-awards ceremony and/or the Hugo loser's party: Krissy got all dolled up for the night in a (if I may be allowed to say so) really spectacular red dress, and because I was kind of out of it due to Campbell stress, I didn't think to snap any pictures of her in it. If some of you who were snapping pictures that night happen to come across any pictures of her in her red dress there, would you be so kind as to send them to me? I'd really appreciate it, and so would Krissy.

(Everyone else: this is not an invitation to send me Photoshopped pictures. Yeah, I know how the lot of you think.)

2. You know, at first, when people pointed out that it was a little silly for so much attention to be focused on a picture of me having taped bacon to my cat, I agreed, because I thought that somewhere in the 37(ish)-year history of the InterTubes, someone somewhere must have posted another picture of bacon on a cat. Hell, what is Stuffonmycat.com but a response to the natural tendency to place objects on one's pets, take pictures of them, and then post them online?

But here's the thing: A cursory examination of teh Intarweebs seems to show that, in fact, no one else have ever thought to post a picture of cat+bacon, much less bacon taped to cat. The closest I've come is a picture of a cat wrestling with a bacon-shaped chew toy. Even stuffonmycat.com is failing me here. This is making me increasingly disturbed. Call me crazy, but if it turns out that I am in fact the first person in the history of the online world to perform a cat/bacon mashup, I'm going to be a little weirded out. This is the same Internet that contains Goatse, Limecat and sharks attacking people in helicopters, after all. You simply cannot tell me I'm the first person to think "Bacon. Cat. Bacon on the cat. What could possibly go wrong?" and then document the result.

So: Help a guy out and go on this series of tubes we all call home, and find me a picture of some "bacon on cat" action that predates my own. Otherwise I may just go insane. Or more insane. You know.

This time I'm not going to tell you not to Photoshop, because, come on, comedy gold. But seriously. If you find a real "bacon on cat" picture, you let me know. Because really. Being the person to think this up? That's more evidence of my monumental freakishness that I really needed, you know?

Posted by john at 10:23 AM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

In Retrospect, I Suppose It Was Inevitable

Ghlaghghee (the cat what I taped bacon to, for those of you who don't actually know Bacon Cat's real name) apparently has her own blog, and relates her side of the story.

No, I didn't do this. And Ghlaghghee, who is napping here in the room with me, is studiously ignoring the computer screen. Hmmmm.

Posted by john at 06:50 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

A Lesson on Teh Intarweebs

Inasmuch as the traffic from Fark alone was 150+% of this site's daily average, it's safe to say that yesterday the Whatever had far and away its busiest day ever. All thanks to my idiotic work avoidance maneuver of sticking breakfast meat on the pelt of my companion animal. To commemorate the lessons that can be gleaned from this little event, allow me to present the following motivational poster:

Yup, that pretty much sums it up. And yes, it probably applies to me, too. Alas. Here's a larger version for those of you who need this salient fact of Internet reality rubbed into your face even harder.

I'm off to Denver today; hope you all have a fine Thursday.

And to everyone who's new and wondering what sort of idiot does something like this: Uh, hello. Feel free to look around the place. And swing by again sometime. I like visitors.

Posted by john at 12:01 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

September 13, 2006

Farked

It appears Fark.com is linking to the entry in which I have taped bacon to my cat. I've called my host provider to warn them. They seem confident that their series of tubes will be able to handle the madness. I suppose we shall see. In any event, if this site suddenly becomes difficult to access, now you know why.

Posted by john at 03:03 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Clearly You People Thought I Was Kidding

Well, who's laughing now?

cattapebacon2.jpg

And now, an actual phone call:

Me (to Krissy): So, would you mind if I tape bacon to the cat?

Krissy: That's a fairly interesting question. What's the purpose here?

Me: I put taping bacon to the cat on a list of things I said I was going to do today and people seemed to be skeptical.

Krissy: You said you were going to tape bacon to the cat on the Whatever.

Me: Yeah.

Krissy (audible sigh): Since you are going to do it, and take a picture of it, all I ask is that you take the bacon off right after. All right?

Me: Okay.

Krissy: You're a strange, strange, strange man.

cattapebacon3.jpg

Posted by john at 01:11 PM | Comments (267) | TrackBack

One Man's Agenda

Things to do today:

1. Try to answer all my damn e-mail, some of which actually is from people who have sent/are sending/will send me money, and thus should have some priority.

2. Resend the author interview questions from two weeks ago to Jo Walton, because continuing not to do so is a further testament of how much I totally suck.

3. Make minor amends to Jo Walton by noting to you all how much her latest book Farthing well and truly rocks: It's the best alternate-history parlor murder mystery you will read in this year, an enjoyably chewy fun read with a hard, frightening and all-too-close-to-reality core. Damn well deserves to be nominated for something.

4. Also note that The Last Days, Scott Westerfeld's latest foray into the vampire teenage wastelands, has been out for a week and that I suck for not pimping it earlier. Get it for the alienated teenagers you know, including the one which resides in your soul. Yes, I know you've got one in there. I sense it sneering at me even now.

5. Fight crime.

6. Enjoy some cheese.

7. Actually take a look at my trip itinerary for Denver, since I do believe I'm expected to do things other than fight crime and enjoy cheese while I'm there.

8. Shower. I've cultivated my manly author stench long enough.

9. Tape bacon to the cat.

10. Maybe write some of the book.

If you have any other ideas as to what I might choose to do with the day, I'm open to suggestion.

Posted by john at 10:31 AM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

September 12, 2006

Capped Off

Just a general notice: after 184 and 108 comments, respectively, I've capped the comments on the "Don't Piss Off Krissy" and "Follow-up on 'Don't Piss Off Krissy'" entries. I've done this primarily for my own benefit, as in, hey, I have a book to write, and I'm spending too much time commenting on what people are saying about my wife. And I think these particular threads have enough range of comments in them for pure future archeological and sociological value. Once I've finished The Last Colony which I hope for my own sanity will be soon, I may go back and open them. But for now, well, I'm too easily distracted by the urge to thump on people who I feel might have trangressed against my woman.

For those of you who have wondered what Krissy's reaction to all this has been, incidentally: amused is probably the best word for it. I noted to her that yesterday was actually the busiest day in Whatever history due to her bar adventure (the previous busiest day was right after I wrote "Being Poor"), which she found a little wacky. It's random what teh Intarweebs will have a fit about.

Incidentally, please please please don't use this entry as a continuation of the other two comment threads. I capped them off for a reason, the reason being that I don't want my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden to fly out to my house and stand behind me with a hobnailed plank and a stern look on his face. I'm sure you'll all understand.

Posted by john at 04:47 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Marketing Envy

A fellow author and I have become friendly and are in the process of doing an ARC swap, which means that we're sending each other the pre-publication version of our books that are handed out to reviewers and booksellers. Mine (The Android's Dream) is on its way; his arrived yesterday, and it's all I can do not to ignore everything else and read it, because I think the author is that good, and I've been lusting to read this book since I heard about it. I made the mistake of reading the first page and then nearly had to chew off my own arm because the hand would not let go of the book. But I have The Last Colony to finish first. Now I have a prod to get that thing done.

Yes, I'm taunting you by not telling you the name of the book and author right now. Never fear, I have no doubt I will discuss this book in the future. But right now the reason I'm not telling you the name of the author is because I'm going to engage in a moment of total shamefulness, and I don't want his good name sullied by association: Dude, I'm so totally jealous of my friend's book marketing campaign.

Not jealous of my pal, who is a great guy and who I wish to have the immense success that I think his writing deserves. I'm a sad, petty little man in many ways, but this way is not one of them. I like it when people I know do well. But jealous of his marketing campaign? Oh, my, yes. His marketing campaign, as detailed on the back of his ARC, has the sort of rich buttery promotional goodness that makes other authors want to reach for it, yearningly yet hesitatingly, in order to pet its silky perfection, coo in its precious ear, and whisper to it they wish it were theirs.

So what does this marketing campaign have that's so damn special? Well, and you should by no means think this is a complete accounting:

* Interactive website, with audio and video
* Floor display with special riser
* Soundtrack (?!!?!?) on iPod Shuffles
* Streaming video trailer on YouTube
* National advertising campaign including the New York Times
* Print, radio and TV interviews
* Confirmed author appearance on Good Morning America

Good Morning America! Damn it, I want to be on Good Morning America. I want to sit there, bleary-eyed from a 5:30 makeup call, the taste of corporate television green room pastry still in my mouth as I explain to Diane Sawyer what it was that possessed me to open Android's Dream with a chapter-long fart joke, while Diane sits there with that pleasant, unreadble anchorperson smile on her face, only the glint of her eyes to signal her internal monologue, which begins, I'm seated with a madman. It's not too much to ask.

Yes, I was on Oprah once. But that was ten years ago. I didn't have any books to hawk then. And I sort of doubt Android's Dream is a good fit for that book club thing she has going. Although I think it would be amusing to have millions of Oprah viewers flood the stores to buy my book, take it home, crack it open, read the first page, and think Oh, Oprah, honey. You've clean lost your mind. These are the fantasies that keep you up nights, giggling.

My marketing campaign as listed on the back of the Android's Dream ARC: Trade show appearances and SF media advertising. No iPod Shuffles.

Which is not actually a complaint. Tor has done a fine job selling me and my books. Indeed, in two days I board a plane to Denver to attempt to charm and delight booksellers into taking more copies of my work. And I adore my publicist at Tor, who is smart and motivated and when I think of great promotional ideas and send them to her, sends back e-mails that says "yeah, we're already doing that," but says it in a nice way that doesn't have the words you damn meddling fool of an author subtextually appended to the end of that previous statement. And the books, well, they're doing just fine, thanks.

(Note to self: Send Tor marketing department a really large fruit basket.)

So this is not me complaining about my marketing. It's just me coveting someone else's marketing. Sort of how I can really like my minivan (and I do), yet covet someone else's Bugatti Veyron 16.4. Yes. Just like that.

Mmmm... Bugatti.

I'm very excited for my pal. He writes so well, but as any author will tell you, writing well isn't nearly enough. It makes a difference when your publisher has your back on the marketing. His publisher not only has his back, they've strapped a rocket pack on it and are standing there to the side, holding a box with a big red button on it that says "LAUNCH" and asking him, so, are you ready? Damn it, that's just cool. Yes, I covet his marketing campaign. That doesn't mean I don't want him to have it.

Which I suppose, technically, means I don't actually covet it.

Man, I can't even do pettiness right. No wonder I don't have those iPod Shuffles. Oh, well, at least I can still cop to envy.

Mmmm... envy.

Posted by john at 08:07 AM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

Clarion Moves

This bit of information will be of interest primarily for the SF/F geeks who visit here: Clarion is moving.

The Clarion Foundation is pleased to announce that the Clarion Workshop has a new home. It's difficult to leave MSU, having been there since 1972. However, the future looks very bright. Starting in the summer of 2007 the workshop will be held at the University of California San Diego, with very strong administration, faculty, and financial support. Our acclaimed workshop, with its excellent teaching staff, will continue with no change in the structure of its operation. The faculty for 2007 will be Gregory Frost, Mary Ann Mohanraj, Jeff Vandermeer, Cory Doctorow, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. The workshop will run from June 25 through August 3. Further details will be posted later today.

Man, now I totally want to teach at Clarion. I know. I'm shallow. But I do love San Diego.

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

9/11 +5

Over at By The Way we asked folks for their 9/11 memories and thoughts; they posted them on their own journals and left links. I've posted quotes and links to their original entries here. It's worth checking out.

Posted by john at 02:09 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Follow-up on "Don't Piss Off Krissy"

Ah, this crazy little series of tubes we call Teh Intarweebs. Follow:

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds posts a link to the "Don't Piss Off Krissy" entry, which serves as an inspiration for his wife, Dr. Helen, to make a post on the entry, in which she takes exception to the events as reported, which leads to (among other things) folks from her site coming over here to mock and/or lecture me and Krissy. Dr. Helen's post inspires Dean Esmay to make a post which is positive to Dr. Helen's interpretation, and also inspires alicublog and Steve Gilliard to post attacking Dr. Helen's post (and Dr. Helen, and Instapundit), and sends people into her comment thread to mock and/or lecture the people there. Dr. Helen responds by linking back to alicublog with an update, and on and on.

Mmmm... internet craziness.

Points to make:

1. The story as I related it is not the whole story; it's not wrong, but it's incomplete. In the context of the whole event, Krissy's reaction was eminently justifiable. No, I won't relate all the details publicly; this ain't a trial, and you're not entitled to see all the evidence. Trust me on this or don't. Suffice to say I'm proud of the way my wife responded; it was the correct response in the situation, and I'm glad it was her course of action.

2. I don't agree with Dr. Helen's posted read of the event, but inasmuch as she was working from what I originally posted, which as noted above was an incomplete reading of the situation, I'm not upset with it either, nor with her, because I know not all the context is there. As it happens people on the blogosphere often proceed with the information they have to make points they want to make. Funny how that is (she's also less than pleased with the accompanying picture, which in the context of the post is not an unreasonable position, although I find it less problematic because I know it originally came from elsewhere where the comedic intent is more obvious, and where it's clear it's not directed toward men in particular). Some of the commenters here who I suspect came from her site I've found rather more annoying, but I've wielded the cluestick as necessary; it'll be fine.

3. There's some irony in that I'm friendly with Dr. Helen and Glenn in that Internetty sort of way, so when some others are jumping up and down on their heads for being Dr. Helen and Glenn rather than addressing the substance of her post (which is of course fair game), my reaction is, you know, quit it. I know these people and I like them. I noted in Dr. Helen's blog that I wished people wouldn't make ad hominem attacks on Helen and Glenn over in Dr. Helen's comment thread; I was almost immediately called a "douche" for it over in the alicublog. Once again, I have everybody angry at me! Excellent.

4. I do find it amusing regarding comments that people really do seem to be under the impression that they know the whole story, particularly the folks who think that Krissy is a vicious harpy who should be the one going to jail for assaulting that poor lonely sot of a man. Among the various comment threads discussing this, there are commenters who have taken my clarification that the guy grabbed Krissy first as "changing the story" because we're worried about pending legal action, and we're trying to cover our asses for when this drunk groper presses charges. Yes, well. You kids go with that theory.

5. Since a number of people seem to have taken exception of the picture of Krissy wielding the bat in a mock-threatening way, here's a counteracting photo to ameliorate their fear and dread of my wife:

See how wholesome and gracious she is, serving a holiday meal for the whole family? Yes, indeed! Truly a woman who can back up a grabby drunk and prepare a multicourse festival feast is the perfect woman. And truly, Krissy is.

Ultimately, the hoofraw around this particular event is a bit silly. But then, this is the blogosphere. "A bit silly" is what we do here.

Posted by john at 08:38 AM | Comments (108) | TrackBack

September 09, 2006

Stealing the Troll Food

Readership at the Whatever has been up recently, and with it, alas, has apparently come a certain number of people who are under the impression that when I post on controversial topics (particularly regarding politics), I am willing to tolerate trollage in the comment threads. Actually, that's not accurate. It's better to say that people are coming here expecting that the same sort of poor argument skills they employ on other sites are going to fly here. What these people don't know is that I find this sort of crap annoying. So, for the new folks:

1. Please read and study this list of logical fallacies.

2. Try not to engage in any of them.

3. Don't complain that I or others here "can't answer" you when we point out you're making a bad argument; it's not that we can't answer you, it's that responding to poorly-constructed arguments with anything other than snark and derision is not worth our time.

4. Don't be surprised that after a couple rounds of your bad argument, I tell you not to comment in that particular thread any longer and/or warn you that further posts containing this bad argument (or of you "declaring victory" because no one will seriously respond to your bad argument) will be deleted.

5. Likewise, don't be surprised when these further posts are in fact, deleted.

6. However, feel free to try again, using better arguments, in a different post. Likewise, if you can turn around a bad argument into a good argument, expect to be taken more seriously almost immediately.

I mention this for a couple of reasons. First, one of the things I am generally very proud of here at the Whatever is the level of discourse from people of all sorts of political, cultural and philosophical persusaions -- we've got smart people from all over the spectrum discussing things in an intelligent and largely civilized way, with just enough snark and bile to make it fun for everyone. I cherish this and want to see it continue. Trolls do a disservice to those who (unfortunately for them) happen to share some political/cultural/philosophical points in common with the trolls, because the trolls' bad arguments and bad actions tend to call more attention to themselves. So I'd rather not have that. Also, trollage generally brings down the level of discourse here, and I feel I owe it to people who want to have a serious discussion to give them a place to have it. I want that for the Whatever and the people who come here.

Second, jackass trolls just insult my internal feng shui because, god damn it, I know how to argue; I have a degree in Philosophy of Language from the University of Chicago, so I'm academically trained to argue, and I've spent the last decade and a half making a living from writing, so I know how to use words, and use them to good effect. This is not to suggest I expect everyone to have the same facility for argument as I have (nor does it suggest that I always make good arguments; I am human). But you know what? I expect them to try. Here at the Whatever, I want you to argue well. If I think you're making the effort, I'm going to cut you a whole lot of slack. If I think you're just being an ass biting troll, I'm going to shut you own. Yes, I am wholly empowered to make these decisions, by education, by profession, and because it's my damn site and what I say goes.

This is not about people's politics. Give me someone whose politics are not my own who can make an elegant argument, I'm going to hold my door open to him; give me someone whose politics are mine, but who is an ass-biting troll about it, and I'll close the door on him. It's also not about snark -- God knows I love me the snark, so please keep putting it in there. I promise I'll do the same.

What it's about is quality control. I've made the executive decision that I deserve good arguments; I've made the executive decision that others who visit here deserve them too. So that's what we'll be having here. I have faith that those folks who honestly don't know they're trolling can learn not to and become part of the conversation; I welcome them. Those folks who are trolling and know it are simply going to get deleted. Either they'll pick up the hint or they won't; either way, this site will be shut of them.

Posted by john at 10:22 AM | Comments (71) | TrackBack

Don't Piss Off Krissy

So, Krissy was out last night at a bar with some friends, and while they were there, some ambitious drunk got it into his head to start trying his luck with her, making all sorts of rude plays for her attention. She basically ignored him for most of the evening, until the point where the guy actually tried to touch her. At which point she shoved him up against a wall, jammed her arm into his throat and said, "I have had enough of you being rude and disrespectful toward women. The next time I see you, you will be polite and show respect." At which point the dude started blubbering all sorts of drunken apologies.

Krissy let him live.

My wife rocks.

Update, 9/10/06, 8:37pm: Because I was unclear on this earlier, yes, in fact, the guy actually did grab Krissy, and not in a nice way. Krissy was, in fact, defending herself.

Update, 9/11/06: For those of you just tuning in, my further thoughts on the matter are here.

Posted by john at 09:08 AM | Comments (184) | TrackBack

September 08, 2006

Things That Ought Really Not Have to Have Been Said in a Congressional Hearing, Yet Alas Had to Be

"I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people where an individual can be tried and convicted without seeing the evidence against him," said Brig. Gen. James Walker, U.S. Marine Corps staff judge advocate.
"I don't think the United States needs to become the first in that scenario," he said.

-- "US generals criticize Bush plan on terrorism trials," Reuters, September 8, 2006

I really doubt history is going to be kind to George Bush on this whole "alternative interrogation and trials" thing. To which I say: Good.

Posted by john at 12:18 PM | Comments (105) | TrackBack

Don't Download This Song

This is a damn entertaining video. The song is by Weird Al; the animation is by Bill Plympton. Those are two folks I personally never expected to get together for anything, but honestly. What the hell do I know.

Posted by john at 11:25 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

September/October Appearances

Because stalkers deserve first-hand information.

* This Sunday (that's 9/10/06) I'll be at the Kerrytown Book Fest in Ann Arbor, to participate on a panel on science fiction with Toby Buckell, Sarah Zettel and Anne Harris. The panel starts at 1:15 in the main speakers tent. I think there may be a book signing afterward or something; honestly, I'm not entirely sure. I suspect I should find out. But even if there's not and you want me to sign a book, just track me down; I'll be happy to.

* September 14-17 (or some portion therein), I'll be in Denver for the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association Trade Show. There I will be signing books and generally schmoozing. It's a trade show, though, so unless you're a MPBA member (or an exhibitor), you won't see me. Unless you use advanced stalking techniques. But I think I have most of those people under restraining order.

* Word up to all my central Ohio peeps, yo: First, I apologize for attempting slang. Second, on September 20 at 7pm, I'll be making an appearance at the Marion Public Library to where, I imagine, I will blather about writing and science fiction and why hemp is our future, man. All right, maybe not so much that last one. This is the closest I'll be getting to the Columbus area this year, I think.

* October 6-8 I'll be in the Bay Area for the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show, where once again I'll be doing the "sign and schmooze," this time for the wonderful booksellers of my native state. Once again if you're not a member of the NCIBA, you're unlikely to see me there --- BUT there is a very good chance I will do some sort of public appearance, and if I do, it'll most likely be at Borderlands Books (who -- remember -- are currently selling signed copies of OMW and TGB with free shipping through September! The monkey likes!). Whether I do a public appearance is largely dependent on my trade show schedule; as soon as I have all that hammered down I will let you all know.

* October 20-22 I'll be at Capclave, the science fiction convention in Silver Spring, Maryland (that's right outside of Washington DC, for those of you who do not know the area). I have no schedule for panels/readings/interpretive dance exhibitions for there yet, but I'm sure I will. Again, more updates as circumstances warrant.

That's all the appearances I currently have scheduled for 2006, actually. I may do some local bookstore appearances when Android's Dream comes out, and I sorta really want to go to Philcon, mostly to hang out with/harrass Charlie Stross, who is the guest of honor this year. But whether I can matters largely on financials which are not entirely clear at the moment. I have a lot of fun at conventions, but if you go to more than a couple a year, they start costing, well, a lot. Yes, it's cheaper than blow, and less likely to make you paranoid, or to give you a deviated septum. Even so, it's not cheap. So we'll have to see.

The rest of the time I'll stay in my office with my hand sanitizer and Kleenex boxes on my feet. As you do.

Posted by john at 09:52 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

September 07, 2006

Aaaaaaaaah.

Just finished a chapter that's been giving me fits for a week. And it's been driving me nuts because the next chapter after it is the really excellent chapter where Jane Sagan finally gets to kick some ass, full on Agincourt style, if you know what I mean, and you don't, at least, not until you read the book. That chapter will be pure creamy sweetness to write, but before I could get to it, I had to finish Mr. Difficult Chapter, the one which had to set up the pure buttery ass-kicking chapter. And it just. Did. Not. Want. To get finished. Well, now it's finished. And I say: Ha! Yes, HA! I'm the writer, and sooner or later that chapter was going to see it my way.

Barring The Last Colony suddenly sprouting another chapter, I'm three chapters and ~13k words from the end (I thought I was only ~10k words from the end earlier this week, but -- surprise! -- I needed some more words. Hey, I said this chapter was a pain in my ass). The good news here is that this is the downslope: All the plot threads are coming back into each other, and it's just a matter of tying them off.

I'm really looking forward to this next chapter. I've been promising myself a chapter chock full of explody violence (while still, of course, being integral to the plot), and now here we are. My toes are just all a-wiggle in anticipation.

Posted by john at 10:56 PM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Some Perspective on Being a "New Writer"

This thought occured to me this morning as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror: "How did I get an award for being SF's best new writer when I have so many gray hairs in my beard?" Because I do -- I'm currently wearing a beard (due to sloth), and there are a boatload of gray hairs in it, right up in front. I suspect I'd have gray hairs on my head, too, if in fact I wasn't already mostly bald.

This isn't a lament to lost youth, incidentally -- I like being 37 just fine, thanks, and as decades go, my 30s have been excellent, certainly better than my 20s (which weren't bad, mind you) or my teens (during which time I suspect I should have been slapped around once or twice). Also, of course, 37 isn't exactly old, either. It's simply weird to have a "new writer" tag applied to me when in fact I've been a full-time writer for 16 years, and I had four books published prior to my first science fiction novel.

But here's an interesting thing, which is that as far as Campbell Award winners go, getting the award at age 37 is not particularly notable. Here are the ages (give or take, I'm going off of birth years) of nine of the ten Campbell winners immediately before me, when they won the Campbell: 27, 29, 33, 38, 39, 40, 40, 48, 52. Including me, the average age of this set of Campbell winners is a shade over 38 years old. So at 37, I'm a bit below the average (and the median). Nor is this a new thing for the Campbell: Its very first winner, Jerry Pournelle, was 40 when he got his. I looking through the data, I suspect the youngest winner was Spider Robinson, who was 24(ish) when he got his. Overall the age distribution seems to be similar to the one we see in the last decade.

This is instructive, I think, for young writers -- that the folks judged by SF fans as the best new writer often have years of writing experience under their belts, in genre and (likely) outside it, before getting that title. There are other criteria that go into winning a Campbell, of course -- like any voted award the Campbell has its popularity angle, which is often independent of writing skill (I assure you I am not the most talented writer of my Campbell class) -- but it's not unreasonable to assume the majority of Campbell winners are more-than-competent writers. And as with any skill, competence in writing takes time and practice.

Yes, it's ironic that being the best "new" writer is usually founded on years of practice and experience. On the other hand, show me any skilled discipline or profession where this is not, in fact, the case.

Posted by john at 12:41 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

September 06, 2006

Open Thread: "Facts"

I'm busy writing other things today, so I can't play around here. So here, have an open thread.

Suggested theme: "Facts." It's in quotes there for a reason.

Some examples:

1. The English words "Butter," "Buttress" and "Button" all have the same etymological root.

2. The ancient Hittites believed that the center of intelligence in the human body was the liver, and that the primary role of the brain was to cool the blood. Modern descendants of the Hittites, who live in Turkey, still feed their children cow livers before school tests.

3. The world record for tongue-typing -- typing on a standard computer keyboard using only one's tongue -- is 22 words per minute and held by Barbara Chalmers of Utica, New York. Mrs. Chalmers was also the world record holder for most consecutive cherry stems tied in a knot with a tongue (410 in a row), until that record was shattered by Kevin Gunton of Santa Barbara, California, who knotted 646 cherry stems in a row with his tongue before failing to tie the 647th.

4. New research suggests that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was neither an apple nor a fig, but a variety of bael cultivated in western India.

You get the idea. Add your own!

Posted by john at 09:19 AM | Comments (173) | TrackBack

September 05, 2006

How to Make an Author Feel Special, Book Seller Division

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Sending him a congratulatory card and really excellent chocolates is a fine way to do it. I mean, really, how cool is that? I wish more book sellers would send me really excellent chocolate. Hint, hint.

(This is the book seller who was kind enough to pass along these good thoughts and chocolates, incidentally, and this is where you can get some of these chocolates for your own. They make their chocolates right there in the shop, and I'll vouch for it being the good stuff. Yeah, chocolate from Kokomo, Indiana. Who knew? Well, now you do.)

Back to book writing for me. Yes, I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. If only the end of the tunnel would just stop moving.

Posted by john at 01:54 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Signed Editions of OMW & TGB, With Free (US) Shipping!

A bit of self-pimpery here:

If you've been hankering for a signed copy of Old Man's War or The Ghost Brigades but have despaired that my "hiding out in rural America" ways will keep your dreams forever unfulfilled, or something like that, there's good news! The superultramegafabulous folks at Borderlands Books have a bunch of signed copies of both Old Man's War (in trade paperback) and The Ghost Brigades (in hardcover) ready to sell you -- and if you buy them in the month of September (that's now!) Borderlands will cover the shipping costs within the US. These are books I signed at Worldcon this year, so they are filled with my Campbell Award-winning squee. And you know how you love that.

If you're interested in getting one of these signed editions from Borderlands Books, here's what you do: Send them an e-mail at orders@borderlands-books.com and write "Scalzi said to ask you about the signed editions. And also about the monkey." The first part will get you information about the price and availability of the books; the second part will merely confuse them, because there was no monkey. At least, not one that was caught on camera. That was just a fan in a monkey suit. Ask the forensics people. They'll tell you.

The monkey says I should stop talking about him now.

Seriously, Borderlands is one of my favorite bookstores, so I'm really happy to point you guys to them for these signed copies. Buy other stuff from them too. Because, you know. You want to. Deep in your heart. Yes, it told me. We talk, your heart and I. It says "Buy books from Borderlands. Call your high-school sweetheart. And ease up on the bacon." Now you know.

Also, supplies really are limited, so if you want one of these signed copies of OMW or TGB, sooner would be better than later. I'm just saying.

Thus ends the self-pimpery. I thank you. The monkey thanks you.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

September 04, 2006

The Miracle of Teh Intarweebs

This is how it is: Somewhere on my desk is the DVD of the film Lucky Number Slevin, which I am writing up a review of now (verdict: eh, Tanantino-ish. What ya gonna do). I need to remind myself of the DVD extras, but my desk is a mess and dragging out the DVD would require digging. So I go online and find the listing of the DVD extras because going online and getting the information is easier than looking for it on my desk.

Honestly, shoot me now.

Posted by john at 12:53 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

A Matter of "When" Not "If"

Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin dead by animal mishap.

As noted, not exactly surprising. Still very sad.

Posted by john at 01:59 AM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

September 03, 2006

Sunset 09/03/06

It's been a month since I've posted a sunset picture here. And that's just sick. So:

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Good night!

Posted by john at 08:33 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Promoting the Cause of the Campbell (Tiara)

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The Dayton Daily News ran a big full-page story on my Campbell win today, which was awfully nice, I thought. Even more cool is that they used (with permission, of course) Keith Stokes' fine picture of me at the award podium, wearing the Campbell Tiara. The caption of the picture even reads "John Scalzi, wearing the Campbell Tiara, given to winners of the award at the ceremony." Jay Lake and Elizabeth Bear, you can be proud that your Campbell regalia scheme is paying off. Instant traditionosity has been acheived.

Posted by john at 10:30 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Some SFWA Inside Pool

For those Whatever readers who are also members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Association of America (SFWA for short), SFWA member Derryl Murphy is doing an informal poll of members, asking: "What Should SFWA Do For Me?" ("Me" in this case being "you," not me, John Scalzi (or me, Derryl Murphy)). If you're a SFWA member and have a strong opinion, you should head over and give some constructive criticism.

I have to say quite honestly that I don't really have any expectation that SFWA will ever do anything for me. I joined it pretty much exclusively because I liked the idea of joining the same club that Robert Heinlein and other favorite authors of mine were in. Three years in, I keep my membership for three reasons: One, the personal amusement of being in SFWA; two, to contribute to SFWA's emergency legal and medical funds; three, to vote on the Nebulas. I don't ever expect to benefit from SFWA's legal or medical funds, and I find it deeply unlikely I'll ever win a Nebula, much less be nominated for one, so I don't see either of those working for me. But it still amuses me to be in SFWA.

Now, if I were King of SFWA, I would make a lot of changes, among them:

1. Put the Nebulas back on some sort of schedule that would help them approach relevance and usefulness for the careers of the authors nominated;

2. Institute a requirement that active membership status requires a book sale or publication in a pro-level magazine/online site at least once every three years; members who don't meet this requirement are elevated to "emeritus" status which allows them to nominate and vote for Nebulas but not for officers or amendments/changes to SFWA bylaws (active status to be regained by once more meeting SFWA's entrance requirements for membership);

3. Hire a full-time publicist whose job it is to promote the works of SFWA members and get them speaking gigs, store appearances and SFWA-related signings;

4. Hire another publist whose sole gig is to promote science fiction to young readers and work with publishers and authors to create free (or very low-cost) SF-related materials for schools and teachers;

5. Rebuild the Web site so it looks and acts like something designed this millennium, and works to promote both SFWA and its authors;

6. Align the philosophies and practices of SFWA to reflect the realities of writing professionally in the 21 century;

7. Build out the Nebula Weekend into an annual Worldcon-like event, to raise the status of the Nebulas and to build public awareness of SFWA (and also, to generate revenue to be placed into a general endowment)

8. Raise the cost of membership to cover new programs and to build an endowment for the emergency funds.

9. Require SFWA members to offer a certain amount of pro bono work to help the organization meet its educational and public outreach initiatives.

Basically, I'd make SFWA an actual professional organization rather than just a nice clubhouse for all us SF writers to belong to and play in.

However, back here in the real world, I don't perceive much of an interest on the part of the SFWA membership to make the organization one that actually caters to the needs and interests of professional writers, and I'm not personally inclined to attempt to overcome the organization's institutional inertia (not to mention actual resistance) against stuff mentioned above. Well fine; inasmuch as I'm a member primarily out of affectation, if people like the dysfunctional status quo, so be it.

I recognize that the standard response to complaining about organizations like SFWA is "if you want to change it, pitch in," but the thing is, I don't see why I always have to be the one to effect change. I'd like change to happen without me having to bust my ass; that's what I pay my dues for, to have other people deal with this stuff. I realize this is terrribly selfish, of course. But there you have it. Unless SFWA really does want to make me king and I can institute all this unilaterally. In which case, Like Cincinnatus, I'll be happy to leave my plow for a while. Let's just say I don't expect my ascension any time soon.

(SFWA members, a reminder -- if you have anything to add about what you'd like SFWA to do for you, go to Derryl's blog and put it there. If you're just commenting about my megalomania and indolence, you can do it here. Thanks!)

Posted by john at 12:27 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Looking Back on "Being Poor"

A year ago today I wrote the "Being Poor" piece, which I suspect in the interim has become the single most widely-read piece of writing I've ever done. To which I say: Good. It was extremely difficult for me to write, because of its subject matter and because so much of it is taken from my own life experience, so I was gratified that with the exception of a couple of small populations of the self-righteous on either extreme of the political spectrum, most people got what I was trying to say, and shared it with others. It's still one of the most read and linked-to pieces of writing on the site.

I won't go into many further thoughts on the piece at the moment, since I've covered most of them elsewhere already, but I will say that one of the things that really surprised me about the "Being Piece" entry is how so many people who linked to it described it as a "poem," because (I would hazard to guess) because it's written one sentence per paragraph, giving it the appearance of a free verse sort of thing. It's really not a poem, or at the very least, I wasn't intending it to be a poem when I wrote it. I find it interesting so many people considered it so.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 02, 2006

In Other News, Spin Won The Best Novel Hugo This Year

As long as we're all going to do the "science fiction writers outraged on behalf of other science fiction writers" thing, allow me to say, briefly, that one of the worst things about the recent contrempts regarding a certain science fiction writer being a public jackass at the Hugo ceremony is that it's taken the spotlight off the person who ought still be in the spotlight, namely, Robert Charles Wilson, whose Hugo win for Spin was both well-deserved and (in my opinion) overdue, and who as a writer and notable SF figure deserves as much praise as a certain other SF writer is currently collecting scorn and outrage.

I don't want to dissuade those of you who are on the warpath against this certain other SF writer from marching forward; do as you will. But inasmuch as the SF fan mass mind has picked Spin and Robert Charles Wilson as its public face for the next year, and rightly so, won't you consider taking a least a tenth of the time and blog space you've devoted to smacking around this other fellow to noting to your friends, SF fans and non-SF fans alike, the excellent qualities of this most recent Hugo-winning novel and the man who wrote it? Does Spin not represent the thoughtful, intelligent, optimistically human-centered sort of book that we ought to be celebrating, and pressing into the hands of people who don't think there's anything about SF they would like? Is this not the right book and the right author, right now? Is it not worth talking about what this book's ascent into Hugo-winning status says about where our community is today?

To my mind, Spin is the big story of the 64th Worldcon, and I wish we were spending just a little bit more time celebrating it and its author. I'm not criticizing people for talking up that other thing -- it's worth talking about. But Spin is certainly worth talking about more than we have so far. It's the Hugo winner, and it deserves more and better comment than I've seen it getting to date. Robert Charles Wilson, so far as I know, has been nothing but gracious and happily dazed regarding his award, and I suspect hasn't even thought to complain, because why would he -- he just won the Hugo. But as I said, as long as we're going to be outraged on behalf of other SF writers, allow me to be, if not outraged, at least more than a little annoyed on his behalf. I'd like some more attention focused on his accomplishment, please.

Posted by john at 09:02 PM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

A Minor Domestic Incident, As Related By Krissy

"Well, it all started when Athena wanted a piece of cheese. So I got the block of colby jack from the fridge, put it on the cheeseboard, and started slicing."

"Then, as I was slicing myself a piece, it occured to me -- hey, this isn't my usual cheeseboard."

"So I picked it up to look at the back --"

"Uh-oh."

"This never would have happened with a Hugo."

Posted by john at 08:10 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

On Mail

After only about a week, I think I've finally caught up on all the mail I let sit fallow while I was on vacation. So: If you sent me mail any time between the 19th of August and now, and I did not respond to you, it's very possible your mail was lost in the avalanche of mail and/or swallowed by my spam filter and/or accidentally deleted by me because I'm a moron. I apologize, and please do feel free to resend.

Posted by john at 02:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 01, 2006

Coffee Shop; Soliciting Subterranean Magazine Comments

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I've been so busy that I've quite forgotten to show you my cool new toy: The ARC for Coffee Shop (Subterranean Press | Amazon), which Bill Schafer at Subterranean was kind enough to forward to me while I was at Worldcon, so I could wander about casually and show if off to people. Which I did. I'm happy to say it looks pretty good, and having the publication date moved back to February gives us some time to get it out to blurbers and reviewers. I'll be very interested to see what the reaction is to this one.

Speaking of reviews, Colleen Mondor wrote a very nice review of Subterranean Magazine #4 (that's the one I edited) over at her site Chasing Ray. I particularly liked this part:

I was expecting a lot of silliness and maybe some snarkiness but all my offbase preconceived notions were thrown out the window with the issue's first story, Rachel Swirsky's "Scene From a Dsytopia". This is Swirsky's first published story and man did she hit it out of the ballpark. By picking up the tiniest background characters of a story and then expanding on why they might really be in that story it immediately brought to mind every single one of those damn "Star Trek" episodes where the unnamed crewmember died in the first five minutes. Swirsky's piece is way more indepth then that - it's stunning - and much more serious. So I knew, from the very beginning, that this issue was not at all like what I expected.

Yup. And indeed, that's one of the reasons why I put Rachel's piece up front; to let people know it wasn't going to be all smirk, all the time (also because it's simply a hell of piece of writing). I was proud of this magazine when it came out and am becoming increasingly so, not in the least because Bill tells me that the magazine sold out its entire print run, which is neat because it was the magazine's largest print run. So if you got a copy, thank you kindly. I'm terribly happy about its being successful.

Also, if you did get a copy of the Subterranean Cliche issue, both Bill and I would be very happy to hear honest feedback on it; what you thought worked and didn't work and so on. You can leave a message in the comment queue here or drop me an e-mail. Or if you posted a review on your own blog/journal (or now plan to), leave me a link so I can find it. I would be appreciative, and it'll help Bill with his planning for Subterranean Magazine in the future.

To make sure you folks don't feel constrained in your review/comments, I won't be posting in this message thread, and I ask that the magazine contributors keep themselves from commenting as well.

Thanks in advance.

Posted by john at 01:39 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

If I Ever Teach College Students...

... My own version of this would likely be the first handout. And then I imagine that my second class would have half the students of the first. Which would be fine.

The only thing I would add to it would be the notation that should a parent call or e-mail me to complain that I'm being unfair to their darling child, my response will be to knock a half-grade off the student's overall grade. Because if I'm going to be labeled as unfair, I might as well live up to the title.

But I don't imagine anyone would let me near a college classroom, since publishing eight books in six years and working as a full-time writer for fifteen is not nearly the equivalent of an MFA. Ah, well.

Posted by john at 09:20 AM | Comments (48) | TrackBack