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January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins, RIP

Aw, hell. Molly Ivins has passed on. She was one of the best political columnists around, someone who could turn a phrase so well it'd bite whoever she was writing about right square on the ass; just ask Dubya, who was a favorite target of hers. I've long admired her writing and her passion for speaking out about what she thought was right; newspapers are about to get a whole lot less interesting without her.

Here's a tribute to Molly Ivins at Creator's Syndicate; here's her last column.

Posted by john at 07:52 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Wednesday Author Interview: Adrienne Martini

Over at By The Way, I'm interviewing journalist and author Adrienne Martini, about her book Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood, which is, in Martini's words, "about families, Appalachia and mental illness -- but funny, in the weird way that I seem to be funny. It's like a good bluegrass song, complete with moonshine and harmony but without a drowning." I thought it was an excellent book, and I'm not precisely the target market for memoirs about post-partum depression, so that should say something to you. It's a good interview, too, so check it out.

Posted by john at 05:08 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

The First Last Colony Review; Intriguing Pre-Review Comment

It looks like someone out there has read the ARC of The Last Colony and reviewed it on their LiveJournal; the review said "It's like reading a well-done episode of Deep Space Nine." This is not how I would have described it, personally, but I always did like DS9, so I'll take the compliment. The reviewer does think I larder the book too much with characters that have friends' names, which I suppose is a fair call, although this often has less to do with shoutouts and more to do with the fact I'm just bad at coming up with character names.

Not a review, but interesting all the same, a fellow who is about to review Coffee Shop says this: "I’m still trying to work out my reaction to it. All I will say is that pundits are getting younger." Well, you know. I'm 37. Don't know if that actually qualifies as young anymore, even for a pundit. In any event, with a delightfully ambiguous lead-in like that, you know I'm looking forward to the actual review.

Posted by john at 11:05 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Chunky McChunkerson Gets His Fat Ass Off the Couch

I'm clocking in at over 170 pounds these days, which is a bad thing for someone of my size and frame and age; really, at this point I'm just a couple of doughnuts away from the "spiritually defeated middle-aged white man" look, and as you might expect that's really something I'd like to avoid if at all possible. So starting tomorrow I will begin an orgy of dieting and exercise to get myself down to what I feel is my ideal weight, which is between 155 and 160 pounds, and also to get myself out of the general state of torpid larditude into which I've gotten myself in the last few months, in which even the though of exercise makes me want to lie down until it goes away.

The first step: Dance Dance Revolution! And lots of it. I was actually doing quite a bit of this earlier and found it to be excellent aerobic exercise and good for getting the heart rate up, and I've already got it in my house, so that's the easiest thing. Others I know are planning to use their new Nintendo Wiis for aerobics and weight loss purposes, and that's sort of a compelling excuse to get one, but I don't know how well I'm going to be able to make the argument to Krissy that we need to drop $250 on yet another video game system. So I'll stick with DDR for now.

My first goal is to get my weight down; the second goal is to actually get fit. We'll see how I do with both over the next few months.

Posted by john at 08:35 AM | Comments (58) | TrackBack

Upgrade Day

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This should be fun. Depending on how fun it is, I may be working on it a while. However, so far, so good. I'll let you know when my PC is back among the functional. On a side note, this is why it's nice to have a PC and a Mac. While one is upgrading, the other is working just fine.

Update, 9:18: Upgraded and up and running without too many incidents -- downloading some new drivers now.

Posted by john at 08:10 AM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

January 30, 2007

The Place to Which the Good Ship Lollipop Goes

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Athena had a school assignment in which she had to make a project with exactly 100 pieces to it, and this is what she came up with: A candy island. The land is colored marshmallow, the trunk of the palm tree Rollos and the palm leafs sectioned candy fruit wedges. All on a shoebox ocean. I thought it was pretty clever, myself, especially the part about using Rollos for the trunk. My only concern is that one of her classmates might eat it before the teacher sees it. These are the risks you take in the rough-and-tumble world of second grade school projects.


Posted by john at 12:19 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

A Novel in a Weekend?

For those of you who find the pace of National Novel Writing Month a little too leisurely, Gabe Chouinard has got your number:

I'd like you to join me, therefore, in the first annual urban drift Novel(la) in a Weekend challenge, if you dare. It will run from (your) Friday afternoon (February 2) until Monday morning (February 5) (I'm here on CST). The rules are simple: dedicate the entire weekend to churning out a Moorcock-esque short novel. Post excerpts of your progress on the forum. Or, just hang out and encourage the participants.

In sum, Gabe's hoping to get a bunch of people to crank out, oh, 12,000 words a day for three days. You know, for fun. You could be one of them.

For the record, I've actually done something close to this when I was wrapping up The Android's Dream; I wrote about a novella's worth of text on that book in the last three days. Will I be doing it this weekend? Well, I don't know about that. I am writing the followup to TAD at the moment; at the very least, I will also be writing this weekend.

If you want in, follow the links and pester Gabe about it. And then stock up on the caffeine.

Posted by john at 11:35 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

How to Hit a Deer

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Yesterday while Krissy was heading to work, a deer bolted out into the road and struck her car. As anyone who has ever had a vehicular encounter with a deer will tell you, this is usually a fine recipe for totaling your car. Due to Krissy's good reactions and smart driving skills, however, her car got through the incident with a dented passenger side door and that's about it. She's fine, the car's mostly fine, and the passenger side door still latches securely. As far as hitting a large mammal with your car goes, that's about as good as it gets.

Posted by john at 09:27 AM | Comments (66) | TrackBack

January 29, 2007

Off the Grid: An Open Thread

Athena's home sick today (she's not horribly sick, merely just sick enough that it's best she not head to class and infect all her friends) and I have plenty of non-blogging related things to catch up on, so I'm going to skip out on all y'all today. Try to have fun without me.

This is an open thread. To get you started, a topic for you:

The book you've been meaning to read, but just haven't gotten to yet.

(Note: exclude the host's books from the list, because he's more interested in hearing about other books.)

See you tomorrow.

Posted by john at 10:35 AM | Comments (131) | TrackBack

Happiness Is...

Being sufficiently competent at touch typing that I can type on my laptop in a completely unlit room and still make only about the same number of typos that I make when I can see my keyboard perfectly. It's finally happened at age 37! I can die happy!

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

January 28, 2007

Technical Request

Mac users of Firefox: For some reason the "White Castle = Not Hamburgers" single entry is causing Firefox 2.0 on my Mac to choke; the page comes in fine on all other browsers including Firefox 2.0 for the PC and Safari on the Mac. If you're on Mac and have Firefox 2.0, could you check to see if that entry also causes you problems? I want to know if it's just me (yes, I cleared my cache; that's the first thing I did). Aside from browser choking there seem to be no other issues; my Mac is fine otherwise, as is the browser.

If it does cause you to choke, close out your browser, fire up your browser again, and let me know (of course, you can also let me know if it doesn't cause you any problems -- both data are valuable). If the same problem is happening to other people, then I'll need to look at the entry to see what's causing the problem. Otherwise, I'll just chalk it up to my own personal browser weirdness.

Thanks.

Posted by john at 06:59 PM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

TAD Review in the San Antonio Express-News

It's a positive review, which makes me happy, and pats me on the back for "cleverly subtle writing" while noting that "the bizarre factor is off the charts." I'm subtly bizarre! That's what I've been saying for years.

It's also a take on the book that is pretty much entirely different from any other review I've seen, in no small part because it focuses on a character other than Harry Creek, and asserts an aspect of that character's nature that no one else has. Is the reviewer on to something? I will remain prudently ambiguous on the matter, although I think you can make a cogent argument to support the reviewer's thesis.

Note, however, that in making the argument the review presents what I think is a pretty big spoiler, so be aware of that before you click through. Here's the link. I suspect any discussion of the review will also contain spoilers, so if you haven't read the book, you might want to avoid the comment thread to this entry.

Posted by john at 03:01 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tempting, Tempting

Quick note: The Amazon ranking for Coffee Shop right now is at 1,057, which (aside from the fact it was in the low 300,000s yesterday, so we've had a healthy uptick) I've been informed may be the highest Amazon ranking yet for a Subterranean Press book. Now, this is primarily because Subterranean Press sells the vast majority of its books through its own site or through fine specialty booksellers, but it's still a nice little landmark, so thank you.

Also, I have it on good authority that if it cracks the 1,000 mark, Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer may actually wet himself with excitement. I'm more than half-tempted to buy a copy myself to see this happen.

Update, 2:08pm: #992. Bill Schafer says "Holy f-cking Depends!" Indeed, Bill. Indeed.

Update, 6:23pm: #623. Really, what are the odds I'd see that number at that time?

Thanks, folks. You guys rock.

Posted by john at 01:33 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

January 27, 2007

Coffee Shop Review in Booklist

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Hey! Booklist reviewed You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, and it's a really positive review. Aside from calling me "One of sf's most inventive rising stars," which is always nice, the review says:

Whether advising how to handle rejection or debunking concerns over online book piracy, Scalzi writes with irresistible panache, making his insights into the writing business as entertaining as they are instructive.

Awesome. Also: Thank God. If the Booklist review of Coffeeshop had said something along the lines of "clearly Scalzi hasn't the slightest idea what he's talking about," I think I might have slit my own throat. The good news here is that Booklist is the magazine of the American Library Association, which means that now the book might pop up on library purchasing radars, which would make me very happy. On the flip side, this is a limited edition -- 500 copies -- so if you're wanting your own copy, you might want to hurry with that order. February will be here sooner than you think.

Posted by john at 07:24 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

White Castle = Not Hamburgers

"Chuck in Chicago" went to an In-N-Out Burger store in Arizona and was disappointed in the fare he received, which is unfortunate, and something I suppose could happen, although I personally have yet to be disappointed with the service and food I got at In-N-Out. But when he left a note about it here on the site, he crossed a line. What line is that? Well, it's best I let the comment speak for itself:

I was in Scottsdale recently and made a trip to In 'n Out burger after I read your comments touting their burgers. What a disappointment! I could make a better burger at home with ingredients from any supermarket. I doesn't come close to White Castle, Steak and Shake, Fuddruckers or any other decent burger place. It is cheap, which may explain some of the attraction to those with no taste buds. And the service sucked as well! Please stay away from trying to be a food critic in the future.

This was my response:

White Castle is dog food on a tiny bun, Chuck, and the fact you think it's better than an In-N-Out suggests there's something seriously physiologically wrong with your tongue. You might want to get that checked out. Also, you have my pity.
Your admonition to not be a food critic in the future is also hereby ignored with prejudice, since any claims of the superiority of White Castle to any other burger, much less an In-N-Out burger, suggests something medically wrong with the claimant. This is because by any objective standard the White Castle slider is the appalling and degenerate tail end of the burger family, and is lesser than all other burgers ever created, up to and including a half-eaten microwavable burger purchased at a gas station and left rotting for seven days in the hottest July on record in the liqueur that marinates at the bottom of a slaughterhouse dumpster. Seriously, dude, you need an MRI or something.

Look, Midwesterners. Let me speak as one who lives among you and knows your sometimes incomprehensible ways. The rest of us know you love your White Castle, and, really, we're content to let you have it. But the very second you claim that those vile, dwarfish patties of indeterminate origin are good by any other definition than the "this is something my intestines won't quite reject," or, possibly, the "we're doing our part to clean up Mother Earth by recycling all those dead possums you find on rural highways" sense of the word, you lose. White Castle is as far from being a good burger as it is culinarily possible to be, a sort of anti-burger, if you will, that if it were to ever meet a real burger, would annihilate itself, not in a physical "anti-matter meeting matter" sense, but out of pure and simple shame. Claiming a White Castle slider represents a good burger is like pointing to mole rat and saying it's an excellent example of a giraffe. You're just so wildly wrong that all the rest of us can do is stare, agog, at the wonder of people who are actually capable of confusing the two.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Chuck in Chicago enjoys his White Castle. I just feel sorry for him that those insidious little squares of minced rodent and sawdust have so disfigured his tastebuds, so crushed and denatured them and inured them to a life of deprivation, that when they were confronted with an actual burger, a superior burger, his brain simply couldn't decipher their joy. It's like the burger equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome. You can't argue with that. You can just try to understand.

In any event. Midwesterners, it's okay if you like White Castle. Just don't expect any of the rest of us to go along with the theory that they're actual hamburgers. And for God's sake don't suggest to us that they're better than other hamburgers. You'll never recover your credibility, not just on matters of food but indeed on any other subject which requires critical evaluation. Because someone who is that wrong on something that obvious is simply not to be trusted. Pitied, yes. Trusted, no.

Posted by john at 11:01 AM | Comments (182) | TrackBack

Sunset With Venus

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Say hello to the first sunset picture of 2007, and look! As an extra added bonus, there's Venus, saying hello. This is the first really clear sunset we've had in a while, which is kind of frustrating for me, since I had been hoping to see Comet McNaught earlier in the month. I suppose I may have a chance again once the comet gets a little bit of a distance from the sun again. In the meantime Venus is putting on a pretty nice show.

Posted by john at 12:18 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

January 26, 2007

Old Man's War, German and French Editions

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Someone in one of the comment threads was wondering if there were any German editions of my books, which prompted me to go to Amazon.de and find out if the German translation of Old Man's War was listed. And indeed it is: Apparently in Germany it's going by the name Krieg der Klone, which, somewhat loosely translated, means "The Clone War." Here's me hoping LucasFilm doesn't have any German lawyers. OMW (or, more accurately, KdK) will be out in June in the German language; start saving your Euros now.

As long as I was checking the German language version, I thought I'd check the French language version as well, and, to my surprise, its publication date was apparently last Wednesday. In the French language it's known as Le vieil homme et la guerre, which translates to "The Old Man and the War," which has a nice Hemingway-esque ring to it, I think. I checked Amazon.ca to see if this version of OMW will be available in Canada; it appears it will be, on February 5th. Should some of you Francophones in the Great White North get hold of the book, you'll have to let me know how the translation is.

Posted by john at 07:51 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Another Thing I Want To Know...

Who was the idiot who switched my 401(k) last year to a 100% allocation to a managed bond fund? I mean, holy crap. It's like someone somewhere said, "hmmm, how can we make sure this 401(k) achieves the smallest amount of performance humanly possible? I sure as Hell know I didn't do this. I suspect whoever did this was the same person who hid my wallet earlier in the week. It's all of a piece, you know?

(I suspect what happened was that the company administering the 401(k) funds was switched this last year and if we did not express a preference when the switchover happened, the account got knocked into the most conservative option possible. And I can't remember if I expressed a preference. Bah.)

I called up my 401(k) provider and switched it to the S&P 500 Index fund option, which outperformed the bond fund 3-to-1 in the last year, so that's taken care now. Now as long as the economy doesn't entirely stall, I may still be able to retire sometime around age 80. Go, 401(k)! Go!

Posted by john at 04:37 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

The John Scalzi Experience -- LIVE In YOUR Town!

My publicist says I can mention this now, so: I'll be doing a book tour this spring, in support of The Last Colony, in late April and early May. We're still scheduling dates and locations so I can't give you specifics at the moment, however I can say that we do plan to tour the west coast and the midwest, with a couple of east coast hits thrown in just for fun. Of course, when I have official dates and cities, I'll share them here for your edification and enjoyment.

Naturally I'm very excited about this. This will actually be my second author tour, the first one being a tour I did back in 2000, when The Rough Guide to Money Online came out. That was a three city tour (DC, NYC and Chicago) that was scheduled for the week after the 2000 elections, on the rationale that, heck, the week after the national elections? What possible sort of news could be happening then? Oh, uh, yeah. Not a great tour. This one will be different. Oh, yes.

Anyway, this constitutes a head's up: Look out, here I come. I think I'll make tour T-Shirts.

Update, 1:01 pm: Dan writes in the comments:

Your tour needs a slick title. Something ambiguous yet evocative with its senselessness.
How about: John Scalzi's Puddle of Heads tour '07.
See? It doesn't make a damn bit of sense, but it sure sounds cool.

Well, all right, let's make it a contest: Whoever comes up with the best tour name -- as decided by me, of course -- will get the tour title on whatever T-Shirts I make (presuming I make t-shirts), plus a free t-shirt, and a signed copy of The Last Colony when it comes out.

Get to it! Let's say this contest is open until 11:59:59 on Sunday 1/28.

Posted by john at 12:23 PM | Comments (169) | TrackBack

Spanking -- And Not the Fun Kind

Out in California, an Assemblywomn named Sally Lieber has proposed the state outlaw spanking -- not between two consenting adults, because how would it be California without a little recreational spanking? -- but between adults and children; specifically, the proposed law would make it a misdemeanor to paddle kids under the age of four, with punishments eventually reaching a year in the slammer (and a $1,000 fine, which, frankly, is nothing compared to a year in the slammer). The proposed law doesn't look like it's going anywhere, and even if it did it wouldn't affect me, because I live in Ohio. But it did give me a moment to think about what I think about spanking, which is, ironically, that it is most effective under the age of four, i.e., the age which Ms. Lieber suggests banning it.

I'll begin by noting that I think as punishment, spanking is pretty damn ineffective. I speak from personal experience, because I got spanked on a regular basis as a kid -- at least two or three times a month -- and since my mom was not wanton smacker of her children, you can assume I did something egregious enough to warrant a spanking as punishment. But inasmuch as I was averaging a couple three spankings a month, how effective could it have been as punishment? I was still needing to be punished on a regular basis. If this was a punishment for bad behavior, it wasn't working. It's for this reason that I can't recall ever spanking Athena to punish her for bad behavior. I know my daughter well enough to suspect that spanking as a punishment will just make her more stubborn; to a large extent that's how it worked for me.

If one doesn't spank as punishment, what does one spank for? In my case, on the rare occasions that I spanked Athena (I can only remember two occasions), it was to use the spanking as a deterrent to a specific sort of dangerous activity. The last time I spanked Athena was when she was two-and-a-half or three, when she developed an unhealthy obsession with something likely to get her all banged up (I want to say wall sockets, but, honestly, I can't remember specifically), and us warning her away from it wasn't seeming to work -- she just wasn't old enough to grasp the idea that there would be negative consequences.

So when she did it again, I spanked her -- not to punish her but so that she would associate that particular activity with physical pain (although a much lesser physical pain than the one that could occur from the activity itself) . It worked, because she stopped that particular activity. Shortly thereafter, she became old enough to understand the idea that some things really are bad for you and you don't have to try them out. We haven't spanked her since. Which goes to my point: Spanking my eight year old daughter now makes no sense, because she's old enough to understand things. Spanking my two-and-a-half year old daughter then made good sense, because I needed to a way to keep her from dangerous behaviors when she was too young to fully understand the implications of those behaviors.

All of this is not to say that I don't understand where Lieber is coming from. The last time I went to Chicago, I was stopped at a street light and this woman was coming out of a corner store with a child who could have been no more than two years old in tow. The two year old was crying about something or other, and suddenly the woman wheeled around and smacked the kid hard on the face and started yelling at the kid. It was absolutely appalling, and then someone was honking at me to get my car in gear. That woman wasn't spanking her child, but I have no doubt that she does, and I have no doubt that those spankings are doing that child rather more harm than good. Be that as it may, I don't regret spanking my own child when I felt it was was necessary, because I felt it did more good than harm. If I lived in a state where spanking was banned, and I had a young child, I would be very likely to ignore the law and spank my kid if I thought it was what I needed to do. I'm pretty confident I could make a good case for having done so.

Personally, I just feel lucky I have a kid who I only had to spank a couple of times, and haven't had to spank in years. I suppose I could chalk that all up to wonderful parenting, cough, cough, but I really suspect that's not the whole story. It's nice when your kid makes the executive decision in her own little head that you as parents might actually be worth listening to, from time to time. She's a smarter kid than I was when I was her age, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Posted by john at 11:22 AM | Comments (61) | TrackBack

Androids of the Caribbean; Appearance Re-Cap

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Claudia of Ex Patria sends along this lovely photo, of The Android's Dream sunning itself on a Caribbean cruise. To which I thought: my book gets to go on a Caribbean cruise and I don't? Bwaaaah. But I do very much like how the blue of the sky -- and the clouds -- matches the book cover. This was a book made for Caribbean cruising, I would say. Thanks for passing that along, Claudia!

My appearance at the Cincinnati Jospeh-Beth bookstore last night was very cool. The appearance was well-attended, which is what you hope for, and everyone seemed to have a good time. I read from TAD and also from The Sagan Diary, and also regaled the folks with tales of Bacon Cat and the time Krissy almost killed me. And then I signed books -- just like it was promised I would -- and I think most people came away from it happy.

I was also very impressed by how welcome the Joseph-Beth made me feel for my appearance; there were signs all over the store announcing my signing, and at the signing itself there was this awesomely large banner with the cover of TAD on it. I mean, dude. Banners. They know how to press an author's ego gratification buttons. And they let me take banner home. I could squee. But I won't. It wouldn't be manly.

In any event, all you authors out there, if you have a chance to do a signing in Cincinnati, I really recommend you do it at the Jospeh-Beth. They're good people and it's a good shop. I had lots of fun.

Posted by john at 08:33 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

January 25, 2007

Found My Wallet

Now what I want to know is why you decided to put it behind a picture I have of Athena as an infant, i.e., some place where I wasn't really ever going to look except when thinking "well, I know it can't possibly be here, but I might as well check, because then I can say I looked everywhere."

Honestly, I don't know what the hell you're thinking, sometimes.

Posted by john at 12:55 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Reminder: Cincinnati, Here I Come

Remember that if you live in or near Cincinnati, and you are wondering what it is you should do with yourself this evening, that I'll be at the Joesph-Beth bookstore tonight starting at 7pm. What will I do there? Well, I figure it will be a delightful melange of over-caffeinated blatheration, followed by a mime show based on the State of the Union. You know, the usual. Honestly, I never prepare for these things. I just show up and ask people how they want me to entertain them. The Joseph-Beth Web site maintains that I'm going to sign books, so I guess I'll definitely do that. Provided, you know, people buy books and want me to sign them. Otherwise I'll just sit there with a pen and an expectant look on my face as people walk by, trying to avoid making eye contact. We authors live for that.

Also, as a reminder, I'm planning to give away something while I'm there to one of the people who shows up view me in my discombobulated glory. Which person will it be? How should I know? I haven't the slightest idea who will show up. But if you don't show up, I can say it won't be you.

Hey, look! Apparently there's "a lot of buzz" around my appearance tonight, according to Cincinnati.com's Sara Pearce. Why, yes. Yes, there is. See, now you definitely want to come out. It's where all the cool kids will be. Because the kids, they love a State of the Union mime show.

Posted by john at 11:23 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Sam Sale Update

For those of you who took advantage of the Sam Sale I told you about the other day, Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press tells me that the sale netted more than $4,000 in support of Sam's family, and that he went ahead and rounded up the contribution to $5,000. That's some good work, folks. Enjoy your new reading material, bathed as it is in moral goodness.

Posted by john at 08:49 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

All Right, People...

Where the hell did you hide my wallet?

Well?

Posted by john at 12:04 AM | Comments (76) | TrackBack

January 24, 2007

Speeches, Regarding the Union, State of

Last night, I watched as a man who had foolishly deceived a great number of people with a flawed and cynical plan for success tried vainly to extricate himself from his folly when his plans went horribly wrong and he found himself called into account. Which is to say I watched the wonderful Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock in the movie version of The Producers, which I watched in the stead of the State of the Union, because, as you all know, I can't watch Bush try to speak without the urge to pull my eyeballs right out of their sockets. I read the transcript instead.

And as ever, I come away with: Some good ideas in there, but it's the details that matter, and in any case it's too bad this administration is too incompetent and too stubborn in the face of opposition to get any of the useful parts across. Again, this is my standard rap on the Bush folks, and nothing new. It surprises people when I occasionally mention that in theory, I like some of the things the administration proposes; well, I do. I simply despair at those ideas coming to fruition in a useful way; they're often been stalking horses for other, less genial things, or simply a lot of noise that goes nowhere. I do occasionally and wistfully wonder what the last several years would have been like, had a competent president pressed forward so many of the ideas that Bush has in the States of the Union; we'll never know, and I suppose I'm foolish for thinking about it.

I did actually watch the Democratic Response, partly because it was shorter and partly because I was interested in seeing how Jim Webb gets himself across. I'm less ecstatic about it than others I've seen; I thought it was well said but not anything spectacular, although one can certainly see how Webb has gotten a reputation for pugnaciousness. It does seem to suggest that if Bush is under the impression he's still driving the bus, he's in for a bit of a surprise.

Your thoughts?

Posted by john at 09:04 AM | Comments (79) | TrackBack

January 23, 2007

That Doggie in the Window

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This is a cute puppy, isn't it? It's apparently visiting one of our neighbors. I was first alerted to its presence when Kodi started barking madly; I came down and found the pup actually in my living room. Apparently it nudged open my garage door and decided to come in. This didn't please Kodi very much; she cornered the dog until I got there. I let the pup out of the house and then it wandered about outside for a while before its people came and got it. Except for a little canine breaking and entering, there was no harm done, and the dog was friendly all the way through -- didn't appear to challenge Kodi or anything (which was good because Akitas don't take kindly to that). Even so, it added a little bit of excitement to the day. Yes, this is life in rural America.

Posted by john at 04:52 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Early Oscar Thoughts, 2007 Edition

The nominees for the 2007 Academy Awards are out, and now I'm putting on my film industry observer hat and telling you who has a chance at which awards.

Some initial thoughts: This is another low-grossing year for the Oscars, since aside from The Departed, none of the Best Picture nominees has cleared $100 million. However, it's not the total commercial embarrassment last year's slate was -- only two of this year's Best Picture nominees have been outgrossed by a Best Documentary nominee instead of all of them. It's progress! Artistically it's a fine year; there's not a single embarrassment among the major categories, which is always a nice thing when it happens.

There are three big stories out of this slate of nominees. The first is Dreamgirls getting the door slammed on it for Best Picture and Best Director, which I think is an event that's probably going to leave a mark on voting for the categories it is nominated in. The second is that Little Miss Sunshine has become 2006's little picture that could; whether it wins any Oscars is another question, but for now everyone involved with it looks great. The third is: Dude, it's Scorsese's year. The field is positioned just right for Scorsese to finally pick up the hardware, especially since Dreamgirls is out of the (best) picture. But that doesn't mean it's going to be a cakewalk for The Departed.

And now, to my early pics in the major categories.

Best Picture: Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

Little Miss Sunshine gets the ax first, because its directors were not nominated in that category, and it's been nearly 20 years since a film won Best Picture without at least a corresponding Director nomination (that would be Driving Miss Daisy). Also, it's a comedy, and the last outright comedy to win was Annie Hall, 30 years ago. Good day, Sunshine. After that, though, it gets murky. I suspect The Queen will be next to go, because Helen Mirren is the prohibitive front runner for Best Actress, and I suspect voters will think that's enough. Letters from Iwo Jima is more proof Clint Eastwood can do no wrong; when was the last time an American director guided a foreign language film to a Best Picture nomination? (answer: never.)

But while I'm not counting Iwo out, I also feel like the real race is between The Departed and Babel. Babel scored the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama), which raises its profile and may be enough to make it the putative front runner. It's also one of those serious, multi-threaded films of the sort that's done well recently (see: Crash). On the other hand, The Departed is a damn fine Scorsese film, and the "Scorsese's due" drumbeat is beginning to thump pretty loudly. For the moment, I think Babel is out in front, and that there's going to be a split Best Picture/Director decision like there was last year. But if the Scorsese drumbeat gets out of hand, look out.
Early pick: Babel

Best Director: Clint Eastwood (Iwo), Paul Greengrass (United 93), Stephen Frears (The Queen), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel), Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

I am absolutely delighted that Paul Greengrass has gotten a director nod, because his work on United 93 is so good that you hardly know it's there, which was exactly what the film needed. I think he had the toughest directing gig of the year and nailed it; if there was any justice he'd be one of the top two contenders for the Oscar. But he's not; his film wasn't nominated for Best Picture, and there's not nearly enough buzz. The nomination will have to be enough.

As for the rest, well. Look: Scorsese's due. Everyone knows it. And what's more, this year the stars are lining up for him. Frears isn't a serious threat because The Queen is not a serious contender for Best Picture. Eastwood already has two directing Oscars and (I suspect) would probably tell people to vote for Scorsese anyway, because what does he need a third for? And Alejandro González Iñárritu, good as he is, doesn't have the constituency Scorsese has. The final tip toward Scorsese this year is that unlike in 1980 and 1990, he's not going to get hosed by a neophyte actor-turned-director sucking votes from the Actor's branch of the Academy. If Scorsese doesn't win, I will buy a hat and eat it.
Early pick: Scorsese

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond), Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), Peter O'Toole (Venus), Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

Congratulations Ryan Gosling! Your asking price per film just went up half a million. Enjoy it, because you're not getting this Oscar. For Will Smith, this nomination is the acknowledgment that he's taken Tom Hanks' old position as America's Everyman; he's going to get a Best Actor Oscar one day, just not today. Leonardo DiCaprio might have had a better chance if the nomination were for The Departed rather than Blood Diamond, I think. He's also in the "gonna win one day, just not today" camp.

It comes down to Forest Whitaker and Peter O'Toole. God knows, Peter O'Toole deserves an Oscar for his body of work if nothing else -- but, as it happens, he was given an Oscar for his body of work last year, so what he has to do is hope enough voters work through their screeners of Venus and feel like giving him a proper send-off. Otherwise, it's all Whitaker, because he's in one of those outsized historical roles Academy voters seem to love, and his buzz at the moment is simply great.
Early pick: Whitaker

Best Actress: Penelope Cruz (Volver), Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Helen Mirren (The Queen), Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), Kate Winslet (Little Children).

First off the boat: Judi Dench, who must nevertheless be tickled that she continues to get nominated for terrific performances almost no one outside of LA and New York has seen. Next out, Streep, who by this time -- this is, what? Her 13th nomination? -- must also view the whole nomination thing with some amused weariness. I wouldn't be able to choose between Cruz and Winslet as to who has a better chance, but I think the good news here (for me, anyway) is that I won't have to, since I'm having a hard time imagining a world where Helen Mirren doesn't walk off with the Oscar. She's playing the Queen, for God's sake. I don't think Oscar voters will be able to help themselves, if only because everyone in the world is itching to see what happens the next time Mirren actually has an audience with the woman she's playing. Talk about your cosmically awkward moments. That's worth a gold statuette to see, isn't it?
Early pick: Mirren

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond), Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls), Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)

Bet Haley's happy this morning. He gets the role of the nominee Entertainment Tonight follows through his preparations on Oscar Day. He also has no chance at the Oscar. I'm happy that Wahlberg gets a nod; he's a solid actor whose transformation from the Marky Mark days is finally and absolutely complete. I don't suspect he's in the running. Neither is Hounsou, although this nomination serves to acknowledge Hounsou generally classes up the films he's in (hell, he was the best thing about The Island). I think this one comes down to a battle between Eddie Murphy and Alan Arkin, and both nominations have compelling narratives; for Murphy it's the first time he's got critical love of any real sort, and for Arkin this would be a nice capstone on a long and generally well-regarded career. At the moment, I think being the old guy gives Arkin the edge, but if there's outrage that Dreamgirls wasn't nominated for either Best Picture or Best Director, that might toss enough compensatory votes Murphy's way to get him over the top. We'll have to see how this plays out.
Early pick: Arkin

Best Supporting Actress: Adriana Barraza (Babel), Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal), Abagail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Rinko Kikuchi (Babel).

Look, this is a walk for Jennifer Hudson. I'm not even going to pretend anyone else has a chance in this category; maybe Blanchett, if someone was going off sheer name recognition alone. But, seriously. Is there anyone in the world who doesn't think this is Hudson's award? Anyone? Bueller?
Early pick: Hudson

Other thoughts and picks: Happy Feet for Best Animated Film, Pan's Labyrinth for Best Foreign Language Film, and An Inconvenient Truth for Best Documentary (although Jesus Camp has an outside shot). I suspect that Borat actually has a good chance at winning the Adapted Screenplay award over The Departed because the Academy might want to give something to Sacha Baron Cohen, and this is the only way to do it. The best overall category this year, incidentally, is Best Original Screenplay, which features Babel, Iwo, Sunshine, Labyrinth and Queen. I suspect Sunshine might pull this one out, but really, I have no confidence. They're all serious contenders.

Your thoughts?

Posted by john at 10:25 AM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

What to Know Before You Ask Me to Read Your (Unpublished) Work

Another of those "posting here now so I can refer people to it later" posts:

Perhaps since I give out a whole bunch of largely unsolicited writing advice, I am often asked by readers if I would look at the unpublished story/novel/screenplay/poem they're working on and give them some feedback or advice. Indeed, perhaps you yourself have been thinking of asking me this very same thing. I have two things to say to this sort of request:

1. I'm really flattered that you would think of asking me to critique your work and would trust me to give you valuable feedback. Thank you.

2. No.

And now, all the reasons why I won't read your unpublished work, presented in no particular order.

Reason #1: I don't have the time. As of right this very moment, here are the things I am committed to writing: One novel, a second edition of a non-fiction book (which requires substantial revision and rewriting), a novella, a novelette, several short stories, five blog entries every day of the week, several informational pieces for a book on Ohio, a magazine article on Elvis Presley and other ongoing work for corporate clients. All of this work has to be done because I'm contractually obliged to do it and it pays my bills.

On top of this I write daily for this Web site, which does not pay bills but which over time has become incredibly important to my career (and to my sanity). On top of that, I need to read at least a couple of books a week for an interview series I do with authors, occasionally read one with an eye toward giving a blurb, and check out yet a few others to discuss here on the Whatever (pimping writers! Yay!). On top of that, I have a family which would like to see me from time to time, not to mention friends who I would also enjoy socializing with. On top of all of this, I'd like a little time for my own non-work-related recreation. And on top of that, I'd like to eat and sleep.

Now, over time the details of what I'm doing will change. What is unlikely to change is the volume of what I'm doing. That has remained constant pretty much for the last decade and seems unlikely to decrease any time soon, for which I am fantastically and appropriately grateful. But it means that I don't have time to read your work, because critically evaluating work in a way that's going to be useful to the author takes a fair amount of time, and it's time I don't have. I understand that from your point of view it may seem like it should be a trivial thing to slip in a little bit of reading and evaluation. But over on this side of things, there's no time. There's just not.

(How do I have time to write all this, then? Well, I'm writing it once. Saves me from having to write it over and over again.)

Related to the time thing:

Reason #2: I'd rather look like a dick by saying no than look like a dick by saying yes and then not following through. Several months ago and against my better judgment I agreed to look at someone's manuscript for them and offer them an opinion on it. And I still haven't gotten to it. Why not? Because ultimately it's the last priority in my day: I have paid work, I have to respond to clients and editors, I spend time with family, I write on this site, I sometimes travel on business, and so on and so forth. All of this fills up my days, and at the end of the day I'm tired and I just want to watch the goddamn Daily Show and then go to sleep. I don't want to give this fellow a half-assed evaluation, so I keep postponing getting to the manuscript until I have time to give it the time it deserves, and that time just never manages to get here. I'm being a total dick to this guy because he's been patiently waiting for me to deliver on what I said I would do and I'm just not doing it.

I'm telling you this for two reasons. The first is that a little self-induced public shaming is just the spur I need to actually get this manuscript read. But more relevant point here is that when I say "no" to you, at least you're not left dangling for months and months like I've made this poor fellow dangle, waiting to hear back from me. Your disappointment is brief and over, not long and lingering and continual. And of course, I'd also personally prefer not to disappoint people on a daily, continuing basis.

Reason #3: You're not paying me. This sounds like me being a snide jerk, but there's actual truth to this. Here's the thing: I get paid pretty well for what I do. When people ask me to read their work, they're usually not including a consulting fee; they're expecting I'll read the work for free. Thing is, giving people a useful critical evaluation is work; in effect they're asking me to work for free. And, well. Generally speaking, I don't do that. It makes my mortgage company nervous. And since my schedule is pretty packed (as noted above), any evaluation I do takes place in time I usually allot to paying work. So not only am I not making money doing this evaluation, there's also a reasonably good chance this evaluation is taking up time I could be using to make money. And there's the mortgage people getting nervous again.

Now, let's be clear, here: When people ask me to read their stuff, it's not like I fly into a rage at their insensitivity and appalling willingness to take food from the mouth of my darling child; that's just silly. No one who asks me to read their work is saying I ought to prioritize them over actual work; they know they're asking me for a favor. What I'm saying is that all things being equal, whenever possible I'm going to fill up work time with paid work. If someone wanted me to read their stuff and was also willing to pay my corporate consulting fee, I might be willing to make time, and bump something lesser-paying down the work ladder. But I don't suspect many people are willing to pay my consulting fee -- nor should they, as there are lots of wonderfully competent editors who would be delighted to give feedback at far more reasonable rates -- so generally it's going to be people asking me to do work for free. I'm not likely to do that.

Reason #4: Some people don't really want feedback, and if they do, they don't want feedback from me. This works on two levels. First, to be blunt, there are a lot of people who, when they say, "I'd love feedback," actually mean "I want a hug." Yes, most people say they really do want honest feedback, but you know what? A lot of them are lying (or, alternately, don't know themselves well enough). How do I know which of these you are? Well, in fact, I don't, unless I actually know you in real life, which in nearly every case I do not.

This matters because, to put it mildly, I'm not a hugger when it comes to critiquing work. I'm not intentionally rude, but I'm not going to bother sparing your feelings or sugar-coating what I think you're doing wrong. In my experience this is hard enough for people to take if they genuinely want criticism; when they don't actually want criticism -- when in fact what they want is some sort of bland positive affirmation of their work or ego validation -- it's like being whacked in the face with a shovel full of red-hot coals. I think a lot of folks ask me for critiques because generally speaking I present myself as a nice and reasonable guy, and so they feel safe asking me for feedback. For certain values of "safe," this is wildly incorrect; I don't think it's either nice or reasonable to tell people their work is good when it's not. This has surprised people in the past. Over time I've decided it's usually not worth the hassle.

Reason #5: I don't want to enable you not finishing your work. Lots of people ask me to read the first few chapters or a section of something and offer feedback on it. As a philosophical matter, I think offering critiques on incomplete work is a terrible thing to do to a writer, because what all-too-frequently happens is that writer goes back and keeps rubbing and buffing the same three chapters (or 10 pages, or scene, or whatever) for months and years, and what you end up with is a highly polished useless piece of writing -- useless because it's incomplete. Also, the critique is useless because it's only about a part of the work, and who knows how all that fits in with the rest? It's like giving someone a handful of cherries and asking them how they like your cherry pie.

For God's sake, if you're going to hand your work over for critique, finish the damn thing first. Even if it's broke, you can fix it. But you can't fix a fragment. All you can do is fiddle with it, and in fiddling avoid finishing it. I don't encourage this; even with friends, I don't read things that aren't finished.

Reason #6: I don't know you. Why does this matter? Well, simple. As noted in reason #4, I don't know if you really want feedback or just a pat on the head. I don't how you respond to criticism. I don't know if you're mentally balanced, and whether a less-than-stellar evaluation from me will turn you into a pet-stalking psychotic. I don't know whether, should I ever critique something of yours and then write something vaguely similar, you'll go and try to sue me for stealing your story idea (you'd lose the case, but it would still cost me time and court fees). There are so many things I don't know about you, they could fill a book.

Now, I'm absolutely sure that, in fact, you're an entirely sane, calm, reasonable person. Most everybody is. But you know what? I actually have had someone online go genuinely and certifiably crazy on me. They seemed nice and normal and sane, and then suddenly they weren't, and then there were police involved. Don't worry, it was a while ago, everything's fine, and it didn't involve a work critique in any event. However, strictly as a matter of prudence, it's best that I don't read your work.

Realize, of course, that the converse of this is also true: You don't know me, and while I'm sure I come across as reasonably sane and decent, you never do know, do you? Maybe I will steal your ideas. Maybe I will be needlessly cruel toward your work because I'm a little weasel of man who needs to feel big by dumping on you. Maybe I am just that big of a twit. You just don't know. Maybe this is my way of protecting you from me. Flee! Flee!

So, those are the reasons why I won't read your unpublished work. I sincerely hope you understand.

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (61) | TrackBack

January 22, 2007

LA Times Festival of Books; Ingram Lists

latfob.jpgFor those of you in Los Angeles, gird your loins: I've been invited to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books as a participant, so I'll be among you the last week of April. More details as I know more, but obviously I'm very happy about this. Yay! Los Angeles! Yay! Double-Doubles!

One other nice bit of news for me today: Ingram is the top wholesale book distributor on the entire planet, and it keeps its own list of bestselling hardcovers, trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks. I have been informed that this week Old Man's War is their #4 bestselling mass market paperback. That's #4 on the general list (i.e., all mass market paperbacks), not on a SF/F-specific list. Needless to say, this makes me feel shiny. My little book, making its way in the world. They grow up so fast, they do.

Posted by john at 03:23 PM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

ConFusion 2007 Wrap-Up

ConFusion was the first regional con I ever went to, not that many years ago (I didn't start going to SF conventions until after I sold Old Man's War, after all), and it continues to be one of my favorites: It's well-run, has good guests and a varied and interesting selection of fans. Basically, a fun time all the way around. This year was, happily, much of the same.

The good news for me was that last year's "tradition" of fans coming up and kissing the top of my skull seems to have died an ignominious death, which I appreciate; sure, it was amusing to be the subject of random cranial osculation one year, but having it happen two years running would be a bit much. The only person who planted a smacker was Chuck Firment (i.e., the Guest of Honor last year what started the whole craze anyway), and he can get away with it because he's a friend of mine, and also (as I've already warned him, with a maniacal laugh) next year I'm planning my revenge upon him. Bwa ha ha ha hah! Heh. Anyway, scurrilous rumors you may have heard of mass head-kissings or me being subjected to a hallway cuddle pile of furries or whatever are all simply untrue. Untrue! And I'm going to keep saying it until I believe it.

I'm also happy to say that my programming went very well; I had three panels, all of which were lots of fun thanks to the participants. The first, on Saturday, was on unusual characters in science fiction, for which I was on a panel with Anne Harris and convention Guest of Honor Elizabeth Moon, both of whom are fascinating panelists; we talked about what it means to have be "unusual" in fiction (versus being unusual in real life), the problem of characters so alien that readers can't relate, and other various issue of interest. Later that day I was on a panel on "Committing Trilogy" with Karl Schroeder, Steven Harper Piziks, Toby Buckell and Jim Frenkel. The discussion broadened slightly to include series as well as trilogies, and we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of writing trilogies and series, both from an artistic and commercial perspective (briefly, the upside is that people like series; the downside is that if they stop liking them, you're in deep trouble).

On Sunday, Toby and I were slotted in with Elizabeth Moon to talk about what it's like to become a fiction writer when you've been a journalist; I think initially none of us had a clue about how to discuss the particular topic, but once we got started I think it became a very interesting discussion indeed. So out of three panels, I had three good ones, which is a nice batting average to have. So here I tip my hat to ConFusion programming director Rikhei Harris -- she did an excellent job, at least in programming me.

For me, however, conventions are mostly about the folks I get to see there, so spending a bit of time with people I already know and people I've newly met is lots of fun. On the "people I already know" front there were the aforementioned Karl and Toby (and their lovely respective spouses Janice and Emily), Dave Klecha and his group of excellent pals who I have filed in my mind as "The Klecha Clutch," and the ConFusion con folk who include Rikhei, Jeff Beeler, Matt Arnold among many others.

Among the new folks I got to spend a bit of time with was PZ Myers, the famed science blogger and the convention's Science Guest of Honor; he's got a nicely dry sense of humor and is as interesting in real life as in his blog. I also got a few moment to spend with Bill Higgins, the Fan Guest of Honor, who was a lot of fun to chat with and who should avoid manhole covers from now on (long story). And I met Yanni Kuznia, who I noticed actually a couple of years ago at Penguicon because she and husband can hit a dance floor and cut a rug well enough to make the rest of us look like twitching monkeys. Turns out that in addition to being a fabulous dancer she's also a hell of an interesting person; it's always nice when it works out like that (she and her friends were there to promote their TV show InZer0, which has a MySpace page, of course). Among Whatever commenters I spent some time with Steve Buchheit and also saw Hugh57 at my panels. I saw and hung out with tons more people than this, of course, but it's till early in the morning and my brain is like swiss cheese. So forgive me if I missed you in the shoutout.

I'll be returning to ConFusion next year; I kind of have to, because I'll be a guest of honor; specifically, I'll be the Toastmaster. You should come; we'll be having lots of fun.

Posted by john at 07:17 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

The Sam Sale at Subterranean: Good Books, Good Cause

sam012207.jpg

This is Sam, and he's a really cute kid. Sam has also been diagnosed with pontine glioma, a pernicious sort of brain cancer which requires specialized treatment. Sam's getting that treatment, but it's far away from his home and his parents have to run two households -- one at home and one at his treatment site -- and they're feeling some of the strain of this.

This is where Subterranean Press comes in. Today (January 22), Subterranean is having a special sale to help out Sam and his family. Today, every book Subterranean current has in print is 25% off -- and for every book that Subterranean sells, it will contribute 25% of the retail price to Sam and his family. Subterranean has promised a minimum $2,000 no matter what, but clearly it would be nice to if more could be added to the sum.

So: If you've been looking longingly at the current stock of Subterranean Press, which includes books from Poppy Z. Brite, Orson Scott Card, Joe Lansdale, Jonathan Lethem, Charlie Stross, Connie Willis and lots of others, today is a fine time to make an order. You'll get some great special editions at a great price, and you'll be supporting a good cause as well.

Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press says: "Please mention 25% off when ordering. Your shopping cart total and automatic email confirmation won’t reflect the sale price. We’ll take care of that when processing your order. If you use PayPal, please don’t go through our online store. Instead, email us and we’ll send you a PayPal invoice for your order."

Please note that this sale applies to current stock -- preorders are not eligible for the sale. Don't worry, there's lots of excellent stuff available now.

Feel free to let people know about this.

Posted by john at 05:37 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 21, 2007

Heading Home

Packing up, doing one last panel, and then heading home. Fun, fun convention; more details later.

And how was your weekend?

Posted by john at 12:01 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

January 20, 2007

An E-Mail Note Plus Mini Update

If you've sent me an e-mail in the last day or so, you'll probably have to wait until I get back home to read it; while I'm traveling I access my mail account via a web form which doesn't filter spam, and in the last day or so I'm apparently getting socked with an outrageously large number of spam mails which makes it difficult to actually locate the real mail. So, patience: You'll hear from me Sunday night or Monday morning.

ConFusion is lovely so far. I had dinner last night with PZ Myers, who was excited to eat squid and octopus, and then hung out with pals and had a good time. I did not get to the dance floor last night, alas, but there's another dance tonight -- ConFusion is riddled with gyration! -- and I'll be there for that. Oh, yes.

I'm off to a business breakfast and then to panels and general naughtyness. See you all later.

Posted by john at 07:41 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

January 19, 2007

Four Hours and Out

Karl, in the comment thread to the previous entry, says:

I have commonly read advice that writers should sit down and write for four hours then call it a day. Reading between the lines, this doesn't seem to be the way that you work. I would love to hear your opinion on the four hour advice, ideally in entry form.

In fact, I don't work by writing four hours a day and then doing something else; I tend to write for most of a standard work day (off and on; I do other things as well, like read and do business on the phone and procrastinate), and then I will sometimes write after that because writing is also what I do for fun. If I wrote for only four hours a day, it seems unlikely that I would actually get any real work done.

However, I suspect the "write for four hours" thing is a rather rigid interpretation of a set of heuristics that goes like this:

1. Write every day;
2. Write long enough to get actual work done;
3. Stop writing when you're no longer doing useful work.

I don't think trying to write for four hours a day is a bad thing for new writers to do, to the extent that they do so with the understanding that four hours is an initial setting, and that they should be paying attention to what their body and mind say about it; over time they may find four hours is too much or not enough for their natural writing pace. Likewise they ought not panic if they don't fill in their four hour quota each and every day; people generally aren't machines.

(As an aside: When writing for four hours, or five, or whatever, remember to stop every now and then and give your wrists and back a rest. Ergonomics wasn't just invented by commies; you can really screw up your writing implements (i.e., your hands) if you're not careful.)

The nice thing about saying "write four hours" is that it's an achievable goal newbie writers can click off: Hey! I was in front of the computer, banging away from 10 til 2! Look at me! I'm a writer! And that may indeed be superficially beneficial. Also, of course, it gives the guy at the Learning Annex who is standing up in front of a bunch of people who just paid $45 to find out how to be writers something to say that sounds useful. I think this is all mostly harmless as long as the budding writer takes it as a guideline rather than gospel, and I would hope that most budding writers are smart enough to do that.

Having said that and as a tangent, I am sometimes thankful that I managed to get through the initial parts of my writing life largely unmolested by writing advice and those who dispense it because I've found over time that much of what passes for "advice" -- i.e., specific and precise instructions on writing mechanics -- is either not useful to me or would have been actively detrimental to my development as a writer. This is why, when I blather out my own advice to newbie writers, I tend to avoid specific instructions (i.e., how much to write, when to write, etc) and I also strenuously warn people that I'm writing from my own experience, some of what I say may not be useful to them, and anyway, I have my head up my ass most of the time. Indeed, my feeling is that if any writing "expert" won't cheerfully admit to their own fundamentally sphinctocranial nature, he or she is best taken lightly, if at all.

Writing four hours a day wouldn't work for me; it might work for you. Try it and see what you think. Don't hesitate to change it if you need to. That's what I think about that.

Now I'm off to ConFusion. See you all later.

Posted by john at 08:41 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

January 18, 2007

How Much You Should Write Each Day

There's some discussion going on in SF blog circles about what it means to write quickly or to write slowly, and whether books that are written quickly can be written well, and so on.

This is actually pretty simple. For someone who wants to be a professional writer (i.e., wants to make a living at this crazy business):

a) It's better to be fast than slow;
b) It's better to be good than fast.

As to whether a book that is written quickly can be written well, I find this a deeply uninteresting question. There's absolutely no way to tell from the text whether a good book was written in three months or three years; likewise there's no way to tell whether a book that sucks raw eggs was banged out in six weeks or slaved over for a decade. From the reader point of view process simply doesn't matter; product does.

I mean, look: George R.R. Martin took five years to write A Feast For Crows; I took three months to write Old Man's War. Both books got nominated for the Hugo, and both books got beat by Spin, which I rather strongly suspect was written by Bob Wilson in a space of time that was longer than three months but shorter than five years. To the extent that the Hugos are an arbiter of quality writing at all, what does this tell us about how long it takes to make good writing? If you are thinking to yourself "why, not a goddamned thing! Not a goddamned thing at all!" then congratulations, you've landed on truth.

Likewise, it's not evident that Feast, Spin or OMW would be better or worse if their respective writers took more time or less time to write them. I suspect in each case the writers took as much time as was required to write the novels as well as they could. Before that time the work wasn't ready; after that, spending any more time fiddling with the text would be like putting lipstick on a pig.

I have a good general idea of how much I can write in an average day, but I don't find much point in being obsessive about it. Some days I write more, some days I write less, and as long as I don't have a deadline in a week, that's fine. I find the most important metric for writing is whether I'm happy with what I've written that day. If I am, I've written the correct amount, regardless of how many words that amount ends up being. I think this is a good guideline for writers.

Posted by john at 09:27 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Received, 1/18/07

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I mentioned earlier that I'm going to start noting the books that come to the Scalzi Compound for me to review/pimp/validate by mere acknowledgment of their existence. Here's the first batch, compiling up the books that have been sent to me in the last month or so that I have not otherwise noted to this point. If you didn't know these books were out (or are coming out soon, in some cases), now you know. I'm including Amazon links when possible, so you can go spend money on them like a good consumer. From the top down:

1. The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Edited by George Mann. Solaris is a brand-spankin' new science fiction imprint that's sending out books both over in its native UK and here in the US. This book is its calling card, a collection of original short stories from folks like Neal Asher, Stephen Baxter, Peter Hamilton, Jay Lake & Greg Van Eekhout, Mary Turzillo and others. Looks like a pretty nice way to say hello.

2. The Man Who Melted, Jack Dann. Dann's classic dystopic novel from 1984, reissued by Pyr in a nice-look trade paperback edition. I understand this book is the genesis of the literary game "The Man Who Melted Jack Dann," in which the name of the author is added to the back of the title of one of their books to craft an amusing sentence; other amusing sentences in this game include "Contact Carl Sagan" and "Twin Sisters Gore Vidal." As it happens, I can play this game with the title of one of my books: "The Androids Dream John Scalzi." So that's how I got here!

3. The Liberty Gun, Martin Sketchley. The final book in Sketchley's "Structure" series. The book comes with an audiography, so if you want to know what the soundtrack is when today's hot SF writers bang out their stories of aliens and explosions, now you'll be able to find out.

3a. Deep Storm, Lincoln Child. Whoops, when I originally posted this I forgot to mention this book, which is why the "3a" designation. Sorry about that, Lincoln Child. This book is sort your basic modern-day science fiction, in which our heroes find some really interesting and possibly dangerous things on the ocean floor. If you're thinking "Hmmm, this sounds sort of Atlantis-y," you may be right. This is just the sort of book they make very expensive movies out of.

4. Secret Life: The Select Fire Remix, Jeff VanderMeer. I meant to do a fuller write-up of this collection but then I was attacked by rodents, or something like that. Anyway, the more I read of Jeff VanderMeer, the more I realize the guy is just plain nuts, but he's just plain nuts in a way that makes for damn fine reading, and really, that's what matters (to me, anyway). Also, frankly, the idea of re-mixing a story collection is oddly esthetically appealing to me (this version includes two additional stories and a lot of funky bits). I liked this a lot.

5. Worldweavers, Alma Alexander. This is the upcoming first book in Alma's new YA series. I'm going to be interviewing Alma closer to when the book comes out (it's slated for March 1st), so you can look forward to that. I was actually sent two copies of this. I appreciate the enthusiasm.

6. The Wrath of Angels, Theodore Beale. It's not pictured in the stack because it was sent along as a pdf file (which, now that I have my shiny, shiny big monitor with portrait mode, I don't mind in the least). This is the third book in Beale's series of Christian-themed fantasies (the other two being The War in Heaven and The World in Shadow), although you don't need to read the other two to follow what's going on; I didn't have a problem catching up, in any event. If you're interested in checking out this series, Beale has all of them up in their entirety: Heaven, Shadow, Wrath.

7. Rude Mechanicals, Kage Baker. For fans of Baker's "Company" novels, this is a limited-edition short novel coming up in April set in that same universe. It has cyborgs in the year 1934. Finally, FDR's election makes perfect sense!

8. White Bicycles, Joe Boyd. This isn't fiction, it's a memoir from music producer Joe Boyd, who happened to be around for various seminal events in the sixties, from Dylan going electric at Newport to producing the first single of a little band called Pink Floyd. A tagline on the back cover of the book says it all: "He lived -- and helped shape -- the Sixties... and he remembers it all." Well, someone has to.

8. Methuselah's Daughter, J.A. Eddy and Dean Esmay. Dean Esmay's name is certainly familiar to denizens of the blogosphere, as Dean's World is one of the more popular blogs out there. This book is also about a blogger, of sorts: Zsallia Marieko, whose blog bio starts off with the interesting fact that she's 3500 years old. It probably goes faster than you might imagine after the first thousand years or so, I'd bet. In any event, this is an onion-peel of a book, in that there's a whole lot of layers going on here, in the text and in the blog world.

9. Compass Reach, Metal of Night and Peace & Memory, Mark W. Tiedemann: Mark sent along his entire Secantis Sequence of books without me even having to drop a hint, which means either he is totally psychic, or he's just a really lovely fellow. Maybe both! Who can say. It does remind me to note that Mark's current book Remains, which I enjoyed the hell out of, is currently on the Nebula long list; this after making the short list for last year's Tiptree Award. It deserves both accolades, and naturally I think you should check it out (especially if you can vote on the Nebulas).

10. Getting to Know You, David Marusek and The Shadows, Kith and Kin, Joe R. Lansdale. These are short story collections, due in April from Subterranean Press. I just got these and haven't cracked their spines yet, but am looking forward to doing so, particularly the Marusek; I met David at Worldcon and he is a wonderful and fascinating guy in addition to being an excellent writer.

There; that's one pile down. I'll do this again when I have another pile.

Posted by john at 04:23 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

January 17, 2007

Author Interview: Tim Pratt

Over at By The Way, the latest author interview is up: This week we've got Tim Pratt, who's got a rockin' collection of short stories in Hart & Boot & Other Stories, the lead story of which was tagged by Michael Chabon for the 2005 edition of the Best American Short Stories anthology. Nicely done, Tim. It's a fun interview too, with Tim putting on his many various hats (writer, editor, publisher) to talk about his writing and the state of the market today. So read it and feel all shiny and smart and stuff.

Posted by john at 08:49 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

January Appearances

My brain is mostly made of pudding these days, and I'm not sure why that is; nevertheless allow me to solidify it a bit and remind people that I am making two public appearances here in the month of January:

* From the 19th through the 21st, I'll be in Troy, Michigan for ConFusion. While there I will be I'll be on panels, chatting with folks, probably hauling my out-of-shape ass across the dance floor at least a couple of times, and trying to avoid getting my head kissed by conventioneers, which happened last year and which I've now seen in at least a couple of places online described as a "ConFusion tradition." Really, no. Not a tradition. Don't make me bathe my scalp in Tobasco, people.

* On the 25th, which is a Thursday, I'll be at the Joseph-Beth bookstore in Cincinnati, to sign books talk with people, do a reading, so on and so forth. This will be a lovely time to get a book signed by me (and if you buy it at the Joseph-Beth, so much the better!).

And to make it extra sweet, I'm planning a special giveaway there at the appearance. No, I won't tell you what it is. But when you're there, you'll go, "dude, sweet." So now you have no reason not to go, especially if you live in or around Cincinnati.

Tell me if you're going to be at one or the other of these. And, of course, when you're there, actually come up and say "hi."

Posted by john at 04:40 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

How DRM is Like Guantanamo

How is Guantanamo like DRM, you ask? They're alike in two ways: First for what they are not, and then for what they represent.

Let's begin with the first: Both are used by the people who have created them for purposes other than what they're ostensibly used. In the case of DRM, it exists not primarily to combat piracy but to amputate the right of "fair use." In the case of Guantanamo, it isn't primarily for harboring dangerous terrorists but for concretely embodying the extra-constitutional idea of expanded executive powers.

Both represent different immediate aims, but both are bad for precisely the same reason: they're about taking a society based on rights and turning it into a society based on access. In the the case of DRM, the idea being posited is that we don't have fair use, or the right to personal copies of work we've purchased -- the originator of the material has every right to the work, in perpetuity, and access to that work is given on sufferance. In the case of Guantanamo, the idea being posited is that the executive has the ability to create a new framework of rights, irrespective of those outlined in the Constitution, which means that the executive, not the Constitution, is that from which our rights derive, and access to those rights is given on sufferance. And in fact in both cases there are no rights at all for the individual or the public. There's only access, controlled by entities whose list of priorities are not notably congruent to those of the public, and are likely to become less so over time, so that access is progressively more strictly managed.

None of this is new, of course, and it's axiomatic that yesterday's freedom fighters are today's rights pocketers. Hollywood -- where the push for DRM is based -- was founded by pirates who fled the east coast and the monopoly imposed on film by the Edison Trust. The Bush Administration -- which has vigorously attempted to expand executive power -- is the final reduction of a political movement began in part as resistance to the expanded executive powers assumed by FDR. But just because these are merely This Year's Model of rights arrogation doesn't mean they don't need to be fought against.

One of the interesting things about right now is that I think we're in the (very) early days of the pushback. People are better educated about how DRM messes with their ability to do what they want with the stuff they own; people are fatigued with and suspicious of the Bush Administration and its goals and motives. Naturally neither DRM promoters nor the executive ascendancy crew are going to go down without a fight; the question is whether now being on the defensive makes them more canny in achieving their goals or will simply cause the backlash to be even more intense. I have no idea, personally, although I suspect things aren't going to get any easier for either group from here on out.

I'll tell you what I hope for, however. In the case of DRM, I think the entertainment companies will eventually recognize it's bad business. I have nothing against renting when I'm actively renting (I love my Rhapsody music service for a reason), and I think DRM is perfectly fine there. When you buy something, however, you shouldn't need permission to do what the hell you want with it. I personally ignore or break DRM when I come across it on things I buy, and if it's not possible to do either I don't buy the product. In the case of executive overreach, naturally I'd like to see that reined in by more active and engaged Congress and courts, and by members of all political persuasions who at least temporarily will put the text of the Constitution ahead of political expediency. I suspect by dint of its sheer incompetence, the Bush administration has admirably exemplified why the executive branch should not be legally ascendant above the other branches of government; this may indeed be the only useful thing to come out of this administration. But as in all things we will have to see.

I will say I'm looking forward to the day that DRM and Guantanamo -- and the philosophy of rights they symbolize -- plop onto the dustbin of history. That'll be a good day for me, and for us.

Posted by john at 10:44 AM | Comments (57) | TrackBack

When Dairy Products Tragically Overestimate Their Offensive Power

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Slowly, two members of LRF (La Révolution de Fromage) approach their feline target, hoping to take it by stealth and cunning. Sadly for them, the dairy-loving beast has already caught their scent. What happened next is too terrible to relate. Curse Kraft for making such ineffective cellophane armor!

Yesterday's responses to the "Cats or Cheese" question were, of course, quite enjoyable to read. Thank you kindly for amusing me (and, clearly, yourselves) so well in my absence. The interview, incidentally, went quite well and those of you in the Cincinnati area can hear it Sunday morning on "Cincinnati Edition" on WVXU, after which the interview will be archived on the WVXU Web site, here. Don't worry, I'll point to it again once it's up.

Posted by john at 08:19 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

January 16, 2007

Cats or Cheese: A Reader Participation Entry

I'm off to the bowels of Cincinnati today, to do an in-studio radio appearance, so who knows when I'll get back from that. But I wouldn't want you to be bored while I am away, so here's a topic for you to ponder:

Cats or cheese! There can be only one! You must choose!

Yes, in your hands is the choice that will forever change our universe. Choose cats, and cheese in all its manifestations vanishes forever with only orange powdery smudges to mark its passing; choose cheese, and cats all over the word vaporize with an adorable, furry pop. There is no alternative! Only one can exist! And only you can decide! Which will it be? Explain your choice.

This is possibly the most important question ever in the history of man, or cats, or cheese. It's not an easy choice. It's not meant to be an easy choice. I only pray you have the strength to make it. Good luck with it, my friends.

Posted by john at 06:56 AM | Comments (193) | TrackBack

January 15, 2007

Questions Answered

And now, an audio file of me answering questions posted by Whatever readers. It's 16 minutes and 14 seconds long, and 3.7MB. You can download it here. Enjoy and feel free to comment.

Posted by john at 05:07 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Questions?

I want to try out some new audio software I have (it's the Adobe Soundbooth Beta), so ask me some questions, and I'll answer them and post the audio later on. No, this doesn't mean I'll be podcasting regularly. But this might be fun anyway.

Posted by john at 01:49 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

January 14, 2007

Blasts From the Past

Further proof that the Internet exists to drag all parts of your life into the present: I got an e-mail today on my MySpace account from Stacey, the girl who lived two houses down from me when I was in 4th grade. She saw one of the books in the bookstore and wondered if the author could possibly be the same person. Surprise! It was. A MySpace search later, reconnected. Ah, MySpace. Is there nothing you can't do?

I'm especially tickled about this because, not to put too fine a point on it, I'm usually the one who is tracking down people, not the other way around. And as it happened, I was idly wondering what happened to Stacey not too long ago, and was hampered by the fact that I couldn't remember her last name (hey, it's been a quarter century. What can you do). So she did me a favor by tracking me down instead. So, thanks, Stacey. You rock.

Now, if only I could find my girlfriend from first grade, I could die happy. Deena Fasone, who went to Ellington Elementary, where are you now?

Posted by john at 10:50 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Hey! Your Truth Got Into My Book!

Novelist Zadie Smith thinks harder about writing novels than I do; of course "thinking about writing novels" is what she's being paid to do in this article. Pay me to blather on about the topic, and I imagine I could go a couple thousand words on it as well. Writers are like that.

I think some of this article is good; I think some of it is a little much. In particular I think Ms. Smith is incorrect when she notes that writers don't acknowledge a lack in their writing due to purely mechanical faults (i.e., lack of research, screwing up a fundamental fact, etc); she doesn't know the same writers I know. Likewise, I think she's overselling the ideas of author despairing at the gulf between the Platonic ideal of the novel and the novel that the author, as a fallible human being, actually produces. I think dealing with this is simply a matter of getting a grip and understanding that your job as a novelist is to try to write a good story now and to try to write one that's as good or maybe even a little bit better the next time. Keep doing that and you'll do well enough.

Ms. Smith entirely loses me on this bit, however:

Personally, I have no objection to books that entertain and please, that are clear and interesting and intelligent, that are in good taste and are not wilfully obscure - but neither do these qualities seem to me in any way essential to the central experience of fiction, and if they should be missing, this in no way rules out the possibility that the novel I am reading will yet fulfil the only literary duty I care about. For writers have only one duty, as I see it: the duty to express accurately their way of being in the world.

Further examination of "being in the world" appears to reveal it as "don't be a lazy writer; write in a way other people don't." Ms. Smith describes this as "one person's truth as far as it can be rendered through language"; I would describe it somewhat more prosaically as "trying not to suck." I guess that's me being all Anglo-Saxon while Ms. Smith is being appropriately Latinate. What can you do.

I would also disagree that being "one person's truth" is sufficient or the only literary duty, as unless the artist is content to reveal their truth only to themselves, they're going to want to put that truth into a form accessible to others. Art is expression; expression is communication; communication implies an audience. Make your truth uncommunicable or obscure and the audience is fully within its rights to say "sure, it's truth... but is it art?" I'd say the answer is no, not really. Aside from the practical matter that "books that entertain and please, that are clear and interesting and intelligent" are likely to make one a living as a writer, they're also the books that in the fullness of time will stick around because they are better at unpacking their ideas in the brains of their readers.

Basically, Smith is drastically underselling the advantages of accessibility. It's perfectly fine to make people work to get at what you're saying; it's less fine to make them do all the heavy lifting.

Posted by john at 11:09 AM | Comments (61) | TrackBack

January 13, 2007

High Up There on the List of Truly Unexpected Award Nominations

The Android's Dream has notched its first award nomination, for Best Science Fiction Novel of 2006 from -- wait for it -- the Romantic Times BOOKreviews Career Achievement and Reviewer's Choice Awards. Romantic Times BOOKreviews gave TAD a very nice review last year, so it's nice to see it's made the cut for the magazine's awards. The other nominees in my category:

Carnival, Elizabeth Bear
Crystal Rain, Tobias Buckell
The Dead Letters, Tom Piccirilli
Sun of Suns, Karl Schroeder
Farthing, Jo Walton

You know what, that's a seriously good lineup of books and nominees. The folks doing the science fiction reviews over at Romantic Times BOOKreviews know their genre pretty damn well. There are also three fantasy novel categories, in which Ellen Kushner, Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik and Jeri Smith-Ready are nominees among others, so that's most excellent. And look! Marjorie Liu and Julia Spencer-Fleming are nominated too! I like these awards.

The winners among these nominees will apparently be announced in the June 2007 issue of Romantic Times. I have absolutely no idea what my chances are for this award, and I'm really not going to worry about it. I just like being nominated with the folks I'm nominated with. This is fun stuff. And I'm happy to see The Android's Dream get noticed.

Posted by john at 09:58 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Fans: What Do We Owe Them?

Hal Duncan has some thoughts on the recent Laurell K. Hamilton asstardery, and it turns out he's not entirely unsympathetic to Hamilton's reaction to fans who buy her books and then seek her out to say how much they suck (yet still want their book signed):

Now, in the LKH rant, she talks about readers coming up and directly expressing how little they value the books. I'm not going to quote but clearly what's got right under her skin is a few people waiting in line, book in hand, to say, to all intents and purposes, this book sucks, or even, you suck. We can pussy-foot about the issue, rationalise about potential misperceptions, but it doesn't really matter. Whether this is actually meant as a compliment but actually turns into an unconscious criticism of a change in direction ("We really like your movies, Mr Allen, especially the early funny ones"), or as a respectful but intentional critique ("you know, I hate to say it, but I think you've gone a bit off-track with this one, cause yer early stuff was superb but this just doesn't work for me at all, and I really wish you'd go back to writing the way you used to"), or as a deliberately hostile and insulting reproach ("you used to be good, but this book is a pile of shit"), it is still expressing a devaluation of the book that's being signed. That person is coming up and saying, hello, I'd like you to sign this book for me, despite the fact that I actually don't really rate it at all.
So why the fuck do you want it signed, motherfucker? Why the fuck are you buying it in the first place?

What follows is a typically wide-ranging and engaging Duncanian discourse on the nature of being a fan and whether an author -- who is typically after all in the writing business to make money, among whatever other reasons they have to write -- is obliged to sit there with his or her mouth shut and just take the money (and crap) from fans, who, in fact, hate what you're doing and keep buying the work merely because of the fannish compulsion to experience everything in a universe in which they've invested so much time and energy. Hal thinks not, and indeed expresses some admiration of Hamilton for being willing to tell these erstwhile fans to take a hike. Hamilton may be mad as a hatful of snakes, but at least she's not a "true hack" who will simple take this agitated fan's cash and smile.

I think Hal asks some cogent questions here, a lot of which boil down to what obligation artists have to fans whose fannish aspect ultimately has little to do with whatever the artist might be doing at the moment, and how to deal with those fans who go out of their way to be negative. But I don't think that any of that actually has anything to do with what Laurell K. Hamilton was doing in that little rant of hers.

Let's note that Hamilton saying "if you don't like what I'm writing, stop reading it" is not really the issue; in fact, it's some amazingly sensible advice. After all, if it pains you to read something (or watch it, or listen to it, or whatever), stop, you foolish person. The book doesn't mind if you don't read it; it's an inanimate object. The author will also probably get over it as well. Since I myself don't have much of a fannish aspect -- I like some things, but not to the point of needing to have everything about it -- I don't have a problem with this. There are writers whose work I will buy unseen because I know I like what they do, but if something I buy from them doesn't meet my reading standard, the next time a book of theirs comes out, I might graze through it first in the bookstore or library before buying it. Too many bad experiences and I'll stop seeking them out, and choose to pick them up only if I hear good things about the book from people and reviewers I trust. I'll likewise do the equivalent for those folk in other media. So, at its core, Hamilton's exhortation for despairing fans to stop reading the work is a perfectly cromulent suggestion.

The issue is not that she provides this sensible advice, it's that she doesn't actually mean it, which is why the advice came clothed in such delightfully passive-aggressive raiments. If you don't like my books, don't read them, because there are lots of other books that won't challenge you as much, you dear cowardly priggish lips-moving-while-you-read imbecile of a reader. I'm sure you can find other books suitable to your reading level. Meanwhile, I'll stay with my growing number of sophisticated readers -- you know, the ones who can understand me. I'm paraphrasing here, mind you, but not by much. Hamilton wasn't saying "if you don't like my books, don't buy them," she was saying "stop buying my books, because you're not worthy of them," which is an entirely different thing altogether. I think what Hamilton wants out of this (and which I'm fairly sure she would deny, because that's what passive-aggressiveness is all about) is for those complaining fans to recoil in horror at the suggestion that their mistress has deemed them unworthy of her paradise, realign their brains to better understand Hamilton's worldview, and dive back in again, only this time finally getting her genius. It's that whole daring someone to go and relying on the fact they won't thing. If the fans Hamilton's addressing in her entry actually said "okay, I'm gone," I suspect her head would pop right off.

I'm down with telling people not to read my work if they're not happy with it; why make yourself miserable? I'm less inclined to suggest to people they should stop reading my work because they suck, which, fundamentally, is what Laurell K. Hamilton was doing. To be fair, some "fans" really are crazy screechy monkeys; something wrong with their wiring, or some imagined slight or some tiny thing you did with one character that one time has set them off and they've become some sort of horrid combination of Annie Wilkes and Comic Book Guy. And it's entirely possible that Hamilton has more of these sort of fans per capita than the rest of us. I doubt all of the fans disappointed in Hamilton's work at this point fit into that category, however; I suspect most of them are just fans who aren't quite willing to give up on the series and a writer whose work they've admired.

I've had people go out of their way to tell me that they didn't like a particular book, or that they thought one of the books was better than another. My response is generally the same: "I'm sorry you didn't like that book. Hopefully you'll like the next one more." Hal notes this response as possibly being insincere (in a general sense, not relating to me particularly), although I don't think it necessarily is; every book is different, after all, and I don't have the expectation that readers will look at any of my books uncritically or will simply and automatically buy the next one. Am I going to go out of my way to change what I'm writing to meet reader and fan expectations? Not really; I'm going to write what I want to write, and to a lesser but not insignificant degree I'm going to write what I think will sell (fortunately for me, so far there appears to be significant overlap between those two categories).

I'm not under the illusion that everything I write is going to be a home run for every reader, since there's not a single one of my artistic idols who doesn't have some bit of output I not only don't enjoy but in fact actively dislike. I mean, Christ. There are entire Heinlein novels I think would have been better left not only unwritten but unthought. There are John Lennon songs -- nay, albums -- that I believe should have been aborted at the first strum of the guitar. H.L. Mencken, my favorite essayist, had his head up his ass on a remarkable number of topics. And so on. Were they wrong to make the work I dislike? No. Should they have been obliged to take my tastes into consideration (had I been alive when they were writing said works, which often I was not)? Not really, nor are those writers, musicians and artists whose work I admire now. If their work stops pleasing me, I'll stop buying it. Simple. Which makes me not a fan, I suppose. But even if I were, it wouldn't change their level of obligation to me.

What I think creators do owe folks is also simple: A good effort. As a reader, you don't get a guarantee that you're going to like my work, but you should feel reasonably assured that the work you get is done as well as I can do it. So even if you don't like it, you can see the craftsmanship. If I've done that, I'm generally at peace with individual people's opinion of the story, whether it's positive or not, because I'm satisfied that I did what I could to give the story its best chance of being enjoyed.

Now, that takes care of the rational people on both sides of the artist-audience division. What to do about the truly irrational fan, i.e., the one who will stand in line for hours to tell you your work is crap? As a practical matter, you treat them as if they are rational, because it makes them easier to deal with (and to get them out of your hair). You don't win arguments with irrational people, because, after all, they're not rational. So you just get them off your plate and go on to the next person. You also don't actually worry about whatever it is they've said, because, remember, they're not rational, and if you start stewing over what irrational people say, well, who's the irrational one then? Which gets us back to my original point, way back when: Don't poke the monkeys. It hurts you more than it hurts the monkeys.

And this is what it boils down to, really: Who is going to be the adult in the artist-audience relationship? Ideally, of course, you're both adults -- you as the artist give your best effort, and then the audience treats your work critically but fairly and doesn't hold it against you that you're not perfect. But in the case where it turns out that only one of you is going to get to be an adult, as the artist you should damn well try to make sure that the adult in the relationship is you. This is where Hamilton fell down on the job; her pissy little passive-aggressive rant was the sort of foot-stamping you expect from a 8-year-old being told she can't have a pony, not a 40-something professional with a couple dozen books to her credit. Hamilton is of course perfectly free to do what she wants; I just don't suggest others do likewise.

Hal is entirely right that an author can quite reasonably say "if you don't like my work, don't keep buying it." I do think that if one actually says it, however, one should actually mean it. I also think one should say it in such a way that one doesn't also shit all over the people to whom you are giving your advice. Because when you do it says something about you. What it says isn't actually very pleasant.

Posted by john at 10:47 AM | Comments (81) | TrackBack

"Alien Sex" Artwork; TSD Release Date; TAD at Revolution SF

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I thought I'd show off a nifty illustration for you: This is the cover (by the fabulous Bob Eggleton) of the chapbook of "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story," which is a short story I wrote up to be a premium for the folks who shelled out for the hardcover edition of Subterranean magazine I guest-edited (the pdf version of which, remember, you may now download for free here). Outside of this chapbook I don't have any particular plans to release the story, so if you're one of the folks who paid up for the deluxe edition of the magazine: Oooooh, collector's item.

Which also reminds me that Subterranean Press now tells me that the release date for "The Sagan Diary" is tentatively set for 1/31, a date that is dependent to some extent on when the several hundred signature sheets I signed arrive at the printers. Those signature sheets go into the limited leatherbound editions; there's also the regular hardcover edition as well. Both are also collectibles, as only a limited number of each will be made.

Finally, The Android's Dream got a nice little write-up at Revolution SF; books editor Peggy Hailey had this to say about it in her article on "What Is Best in Life, 2006":

If you can put this book down after reading the first paragraph, you're a better person than me. It's got action. It's got adventure. It's got power politics and strange alien races. It's got the snappiest dialogue since Nick & Nora Charles set the banter highwater mark. Get it. Read it. Love it. And right soon.

Naturally, I agree entirely. Also on this list are stuff from Chris Roberson, Jeff VanderMeer and Jeff Ford, so you should check out the entire article.

There, that's enough self-pimpery for the day, I think.

Posted by john at 06:47 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Thanks for Delurking!

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At the end of the delurking day (which was 5am, Eastern time) I had 408 people delurking in the "Delurk for a Dime" thread, and then there were a couple of stragglers which I went ahead and counted. So that would have made my contribution to Reading is Fundamental $41. I went ahead and rounded it up to $50 and donated the amount using RIF's online form. Don't let anyone say I dilly-dallied in paying up my obligation.

For those of you who like to keep track of these things, at 411 comments (including my own final one closing the thread), "Delurk for a Dime" is the single entry with the highest number of comments here on Whatever. However, it's worth noting that it gets the award on a technicality, because I split up the comments on "Being Poor" over two separate entries which together comprise something like 650 comments.

Thanks to everyone who delurked; I'm happy you spent my money, and I hope some of you decide to stay delurked and join the conversation around these parts.

Posted by john at 06:29 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 12, 2007

Comment Thread for the Usual Gang

As promised, the follow-up entry to "Delurk for a Dime," so the folks who are not lurkers (and those who were lurkers up until a few moments ago) can have a place to discuss the previous entry. Please, if you're a regular commenter here at the Whatever, comment here, not in the "Delurk for a Dime" comment thread, which is reserved for delurking purposes only. I thank you in advance for following directions.

Posted by john at 11:01 AM | Comments (79) | TrackBack

Delurk for a Dime

delurk6.jpgNobody told me this, but apparently it's National Delurking Week, in which blog lurkers everywhere are encouraged to delurk and say hello. I think this is a fine idea because I have to admit I wonder about the lurkers here. Whatever gets between 20k and 25k unique visitors on a daily basis, but the commenters are basically the same 100 or so people. While I'm very pleased to have those 100 folks comment -- they seem to be mostly smart and engaging folks -- I think it would be fun for those people who read but don't usually comment to say hello.

So to encourage people to delurk, I'm going to make it a challenge: For every Whatever reader who delurks and says "hello" in this comment thread, I am going to donate a shiny dime to Reading is Fundamental, up to, oh, let's say, $200. So if 50 people delurk, I'll donate $5. If 500 people delurk, I'll donate $50. If 2,000 people delurk, well, that's the entire $200, isn't it? And surely it's worth delurking to help encourage literacy here in these United States.

Now, before this goes completely insane and out of control, let's lay down some ground rules, which I beg you to please read before posting:

1. You must delurk today, Friday, January 12, 2007. To include as many lurkers as possible, I'm pegging the end of "today" as 11:59:59pm in the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone, which for those folks in the Eastern Time Zone (like me), would be 4:59:59am Saturday, January 13, 2007. Any comment left before that time counts. Any left after are left to my discretion to include.

2. To qualify as a lurker, two rules apply: a) You should actually be reading the Whatever on a regular basis (let's say at least once a week), and b) you must not have made more than one comment here in the last year. No, I'm not going to be running IP address search analysis on the comments to confirm either of these, or anything anal like that; I actually have work to do today. You're going to be on your honor here.

3. One delurking per person. Hopefully there will be enough people delurking that your impulse to split into multiple online personalities for the sake of charity will be tempered somewhat. Also, no more than one comment per person, please. This will make it far easier for me to discover how many shiny dimes I need to donate.

4. This comment thread is only for delurking. People who are regular commentors, please don't comment here. For all the regulars who want to discuss this, I will post a follow-up entry right after, so you'll have your own sandbox (the newly delurked who feel the need to discuss this are also invited to post in the follow-up as well, of course).

When you delurk, of course, feel free to post whatever you like in the comments, although, from my point of view, it'd be nice if you said something more than just "Delurk! You owe RIF a dime!" or some such. Say hello, gosh darn it. Tell me a little about yourself.

Everyone clear? Great. Then lurkers, delurk... now!

Posted by john at 10:58 AM | Comments (411) | TrackBack

January 11, 2007

Why, Yes, I Am Fiddling With the Background Again

Because I'm just that way, that's why. Feel free to comment if you like.

Posted by john at 07:53 PM | Comments (55) | TrackBack

Snack Time is Truly Disturbing at the Wintersons

I wrote it. My friend Richard Polt drew it. It's from way way way back in the timestream.

Posted by john at 06:05 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Newspaper Headline: "Scalzi Back in Custody After Drink Binge"

No, it's not me; I don't even drink alcohol. It's some Australian fellow who is more than a bit bonkers: Apparently he stabbed his neighbors because they were "evil clones." Despite this, he was allowed to be detained at home rather than in mental institution or a jail; to celebrate this, he went out for a drink. Thus ends home detention. And rightfully so, I'd have to say.

Posted by john at 12:41 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Bush's Speech on Iraq

I didn't watch it, for the same reason I don't watch any of Bush's speeches anymore, which is that the man is simply painful to watch when he tries to form vowels and consonants with his lips and tongue. My understanding from reading the analysis is that Bush managed to be even less persuasive than usual, a sentiment that seemed to be uniform save for those folks who could watch the man fillet a live kitten and intone gravely about how it exemplified his great leadership. It's just as well I skipped the live show. I just paid a lot of money to repair my television; I would hate to have all that money go to waste when I threw a shoe through the TV screen.

I read it, as reading is my preferred way to deal with the President these days. There were a few moments of what I'm sure is wholly unintentional irony; the man of the "Mission Accomplished" banner on an aircraft carrier really ought not have a line in a speech that says "There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship." But overall it reads as perfectly reasonable.

Which in my mind is the problem. Every time you look at the words this administration uses in describing Iraq and their plans for the country, they look perfectly sensible, especially when you hold them in isolation. When you place them in context -- factoring in the situation on the ground in Iraq, this administration's track record executing this war, the administration's overall track record with competence and Bush's own truculent and petulant nature -- you realize that words don't mean much. Even if Bush and his strategists are absolutely correct in their planning -- that adding 20,000 troops could stabilize Iraq and get troops on their path to home -- my expectation that such a strategy could be competently executed is so low that my baseline assumption is that even if it could work, this administration will find some way to screw it up. I hate that this is my baseline assumption for my government.

As I've said numerous times before, this isn't a red or blue issue, at least for me; it's a competence issue. The Bush administration has precious little of it, and has never put a premium on it. Words are cheap; competence is dear, and I wish the Bush administration would invest a bit more in the latter (Bush is fortunate that our people in uniform are, by and large, as competent as he appears not to be).

I'll be very interested to see how this shakes out in the next few months; the war is now deeply unpopular, as is Bush, and now Bush doesn't have a compliant Congress to do his bidding. I have no illusions that Bush and his folks will go after those who question his plans and his competence, as they've always done, but this isn't 2004 anymore and I wonder how far that will go this time around.

I think the one thing everyone agrees with is that in many ways this is Bush's last stand on Iraq; what I wonder is whether this will turn out the way anyone expects. If experience is our guide, the answer will be: Of course it won't.

Posted by john at 10:09 AM | Comments (74) | TrackBack

OMW in Chinese

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From a correspondent in China:

Just noticed last night that the Chinese translation of Old Man's War is out... Turns out that it's the main selection in the January installment of the Science Fiction World Translations edition. You share the issue with Invisible Universe by Gregory Christiano and short stories by Chouhei Kanbayashi and Masaki Yamada.
This means that the title is in a non-obvious position on the cover. 垂暮之战 is in large characters roughly over the robot's left shoulder (the title is more poetic than the original: 垂暮 literally means "dusk" but is a common metaphor for old age), and to its right, in smaller characters, it says "Hugo Nominee" and "American Military Science Fiction for the New Century". Your name, 约翰·斯卡尔齐, follows the robot's arm downward.

Interesting. I was personally under the impression OMW would be published as a stand-alone book (and it may yet be; I need to double-check my contract), but this doesn't displease me, either. Science Fiction World, which is publishing OMW, is immensely popular in China; their primary magazine has a circulation I've seen listed as anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000; contrast that with the big three SF magazine markets here in the US, whose combined paid circulation (going by 2005 numbers) doesn't quite hit 60,000. Even proportionally speaking, that's a bigger market, made even larger by the fact that apparently 3 or 4 people read each copy of SFW. I'm not sure what the circulation of SFW's "Translations" magazine is, but I'm willing to bet it's going to get OMW read by quite a few folks, and that's all to the good.

As a side note, I'm reading the comments about the book in the Science Fiction World online forums, via the Babelfish translator. It's very amusing; I suspect Babelfish translates just enough for me to completely misunderstand what everyone is saying.

Posted by john at 09:17 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

January 10, 2007

From the Department of Reaping What You Sow, Adorable Sarcasm Division

Athena: (on my computer, playing a video game) Daddy, I left my pineapple juice in my room. Could you get it for me?

Me: (retrieving the pineapple juice and handing it to her) You are unbelievably spoiled, you know.

Athena: I was hoping you'd say that. That's the image I'm going for.

Posted by john at 07:26 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Wednesday Author Interview: Duane Swierczynski

Over at By The Way, the 2007 series of Author Interviews kicks off with a fun interview with Duane Swierczynski, whose latest crime novel The Blonde I enjoyed the hell out of (as you may recall). Come find out how Duane avoids crime fiction cliches, what being the editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper brings to his novel writing (and vice-versa), and why he will inevitably write a novel that takes place over the span of eight seconds. You know you want to know.

Oh, and look: Duane's got a blog.

Posted by john at 06:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What's Fun

You know what's fun? Reading the 10-Qs of cereal manufacturing companies. That's fun. Crispy, golden flakes of fun. Yum.

Having said that, apparently you can make a lot of money selling corn flakes (and other cereals). Maybe it's not a cutting-edge industry, but hey. People gotta eat.

I'm reading the 10-Qs as research for a magazine article I'm writing, incidentally. I'm not the sort of fellow who reads quarterly financial statements from major companies just because they're entertaining.

Posted by john at 11:28 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Prelim Nebulas, Nortons and PKDs

For those of you with a science fiction bent, the Nebula Long List has been announced; from these ten books (and varying numbers of short fiction), the short list will be formed, after which the authors can truly call themselves Nebula nominees. For now, they can say "Dude! I'm on the Nebula long list!" I'm happy to say a number of my pals have hit the long lists. Yay! I have talented friends! I'll especially note Toby Buckell, who's on the Novel prelim list for his debut novel Crystal Rain, which is a nice feather in his cap.

The preliminary Norton award list (that's SFWA's award for YA novels) is particularly interesting, because it's entirely made up of Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier novels, and I of course approve of that. Scott and Justine also now go down in history as the first married couple to have simultaneous appearances on a Norton list of any sort. I should note that (if memory serves) this year there is also a married couple in which both spouses are on the Nebula long list (although unlike Scott and Justine, not in the same category); I wonder how often that happens. I can't imagine it happens often.

I have some structural grumbles with the Nebulas in general, none of which have anything to do with the fabulous writing that gets nominated, but I'll save those grumbles for when the final slate of nominees is announced. In the meantime, congratulations to all the folks on the long list.

Also in the last week, the nominees for the Philip K. Dick Award (which focuses on new SF originally published in paperback) were announced, and I'm pleased to say they include Mark Budz, whom I interviewed recently, and also Elizabeth Bear, who is continuing her conquest of all known forms of writing. This is a reminder to you all that Bear's novella "Lucifugous" is continuing its serialization at the Subterranean site -- it's up to Chapter Seven or thereabouts. You could be reading it right this very instant.

Posted by john at 09:15 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

January 09, 2007

Broken-Hearted Books

Michael Berry, who reviewed Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades for the San Francisco Chronicle (and who put TGB on his holiday recommendations list), explains on his blog why he's not reviewing The Android's Dream for the Chron. Basically it comes down to the fact he can't review every single thing I write if he wants to cover a wide range of authors and books in his reviews.

This is a perfectly reasonable explanation, of course. But try explaining that to a neurotic book:

Me: TAD, I've got some bad news. Seems you won't be getting a review in the San Francisco Chronicle.

TAD: But... why not? They reviewed your other books.

Me: Well, that's just it, TAD. Since the guy's reviewed the other books, he kinda feels that he has to pass you up in order to be fair to other authors and books.

TAD: It's because of the sheep, isn't it?

Me: Come on, TAD. Let's not do this again.

TAD: "Don't put sheep on the cover," I said. "People get nervous around sheep." But you said it would be fine. Now look. I'm being ignored. Over livestock.

Me: Don't be like that. People love the cover. And you're getting tons of reviews. You even got written up in the New York Times.

TAD: Don't talk to me about the New York Times review. Stupid Dave Itzkoff.

Me: Hey, now. I had lunch with Dave. He's a nice guy.

TAD: He thought I was crap! He should be slashed with tetanus-laden razor blades and then dropped into a pool of iodine. And then fed to cats. Feral ones.

Me: I liked Dave.

TAD: Sure, because he liked your other books. The ones without the farm animals. You know what it is. I'm too fat.

Me: What?

TAD: Look at me! I'm 400 pages!

Me: That's not fat.

TAD: People look at me and wonder if I'm the new Robert Jordan book.

Me: They do not.

TAD: I'm fat and I've got sheep on my cover. You might as well just set me on the remainder table right now.

Me: You don't think you might be being a little overdramatic about this.

TAD: Don't patronize me, Mr. Campbell-Cheese-Board-Award.

The Ghost Brigades (entering the room): Hey, John, I have a question --

TAD: Oh, look. One of the favored children. The Chronicle reviewed him.

TGB: Uh... Did I come in at a bad time?

Me: We're having a moment.

TGB: Again?

TAD: I heard that!

TGB: You know, I think I'll come back later.

TAD: That's right! Run from me. Like everyone else. Bastard.

TGB: Yeah, okay. I'm just gonna go.

(leaves)

TAD: (yelling after TGB) I hope you fall off the Hugo ballot and break your neck!

Me: Now you're just being mean.

TAD: (sniffles) I just feel vulnerable, you know? I think it's because I'm a stand-alone. Ghost Brigades has Old Man's War. I've got no one.

Me: Well, I'm writing a followup to you now.

TAD: Really?

Me: Really. That should make you feel better.

TAD: (sniffles again) It does. I mean, maybe a little.

Me: You know what would make you feel even better?

TAD: Ice cream?

Me: Ice cream.

TAD: (claps) Yay! Ice cream!

We do this every day. Sometimes twice. So for all you book reviewers, if you don't want to review The Android's Dream, that's totally your call. Just remember what I have to do on this end when you don't. The ice cream bills alone are killing me.

Posted by john at 12:17 PM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

2007 Author Interviews: A Reminder

I just want to remind authors and editors and publicists that I will be firing up the 2007 round of author interviews, which will be given a loving spotlight on my AOL Journal By The Way, and also promoted here on Whatever, thus harnessing the insanely ginormous publicity power of two -- two! -- blogs (and, uh, anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 readers). Previous interviewees include Charles Stross, Jo Walton and Nick Sagan; upcoming interviewees include Duane Swierczynski, Joe Hill and Tim Pratt. You know you want a part of this sort of action.

The interview consists of six questions which are sent by e-mail and which can be answered at any length (although, you know, don't keep blathering on just for the sake of blather).

Here's what I'm looking for:

1. Writers who are writing in any genre -- I've interviewed primarily SF/F writers, but it's open to genres, and to non-fiction as well as fiction. I'm hoping for a nice spread of authors.

2. Writers whose books are coming out in 2007 -- Ideally I like to put up an interview within a couple of weeks of a book coming out. I have occasionally highlighted a writer whose book came out a couple months earlier, but in general I try to time the interviews for useful sales effect.

3. Writers whose books are not self-published or published through vanity presses (this includes presses like PublishAmerica). I've interviewed authors with books from major publishers and those from small presses, but simply as a matter of necessity I have to draw the line somewhere, and this is where the line gets drawn.

If you are an author who fits the description above (or an editor/publicist with an author who fits the above description), here's what you do:

1. Query me via e-mail at "john@scalzi.com" about two months before your book comes out. You are free to ping me earlier, but it's likely my response will be "that's a great idea, do me a favor and remind me a couple of months before the book comes out."

2. Send along a copy of the text (ARC or finished product is fine; try to avoid unbound manuscripts or galleys) to the address you'll find here.

That's it. If I have space on the schedule, I'll try to fit you in. My plan at the moment is to do an interview a week (more or less), so that's 52 interview slots to fill (well, 51, since I skipped the first week of the year). No reason you shouldn't try to get in one of those slots.

If you have any additional questions about the Author Interview thing, drop them in the comments or send me an e-mail. Thanks!

Posted by john at 12:37 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Official Request: Don't Taunt the Ohioans.

As basically the only person in the entire state of Ohio who doesn't actually give a crap about Ohio State football (born and raised in California, remember?), it falls upon me to make the following request: Don't bring up the game, folks. My entire state doesn't want to talk about it. Like, really. And probably won't want to until, oh, 2023 or so.

I make the request primarily out of self-preservation: I live here, you know. I have to deal with these folks. Please, don't taunt them. They'll just take it out on me.

I thank you in advance for your co-operation.

Posted by john at 12:22 AM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

January 08, 2007

Some Nice News for The Last Colony

My tireless network of spies tells me that The Last Colony will be the main science fiction selection of the Science Fiction Book Club in the June mailing (which will go out in May, which is, of course, when the book will be generally released). This is indeed a good thing. Thanks, SFBC!

Posted by john at 04:13 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Housekeeping

Just a couple of housekeeping notes:

* Astute observers of the Whatever will note that the band of color on the left side of the page, which was apparently loathed by many, has been replaced by something a bit more monochromatic but which, I must admit, is at least slightly easier on the eyes. See? I listen.

* Also, now that I'm back at home I've caught up with all the e-mail that has come in over the last several days, but there remains the possibility that something might have slipped through the cracks. If you've sent me e-mail for which you're expecting a reply and you don't have said reply by close of business today, go ahead and shoot me another e-mail.

Posted by john at 09:04 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Rats! The Size of Buses!

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This is probably my favorite picture from my New York trip. The rat was up as a way for a union to protest some company that, apparently, was engaging in unfair labor practices; not content to have its members protest, it also brought an inflatable rat to the proceedings. I wonder if you need a permit for something like that. Needless to say, New York pedestrians were totally blase about a 10 foot rat standing among them. After all, they'd seen the real rats in the alleys. This was nothing.

I enjoyed my New York trip, as I usually do. This one, as previously noted, was taken primarily to commune with the folks at Tor, to strategize on marketing/publicity and to plan upcoming work, and indeed there was much strategy and planning to be had, the results of which you will no doubt be made aware of soon, because, after all, this is my site and I do so love talking about myself and my career here. Beyond all the strategizing and planning, however, it was also just nice to see the Tor folks, who are my sort of people, and not just because they give me money and publish my books.

It was also lovely to spend time with Tor's publicity and marketing folks, who I got know a little better this trip, and with whom I had some very interesting discussions. As most of you know I am a proponent of being good to one's publicists, on the grounds that people are willing to promote you more when they don't think you're an insufferable twit. Tor's publicity/marketing folk make it easy to want to be good to them because they are all scary-competent at what they do, as well as being genuinely nice people. Yes, yes, I'm buttering them up right now. But really: Great folks. Authors take note: Publicists. Give them love. And chocolate (especially chocolate).

One event of note for readers of the Whatever was that while I was out and about in NYC I had lunch with Dave Itzkoff, science fiction reviewer for The New York Times; it was in fact a really excellent lunch, with lots of good conversation and back and forth. We briefly considered taking a photo where we appeared to go after each other with knives, just, you know, to amuse you, but then we decided it was below our mutual dignity; also, I had left my camera elsewhere. Suffice to say we had a fine time talking about science fiction among other topics.

Aside from work I also used this trip to NYC to visit some friends who I hadn't seen in a while; I did this by showing up at their offices and having the lobby security staff phone up my pals and go "a Mr. John Scalzi here to see you." This is a fun way to get the attention of people you haven't seen in a decade or so. Fortunately all the people I called upon in this manner were able to make a little bit of time to see me. It's amazing to me how many people I know from back in the day who have ended up in the New York area, and who are now doing very well for themselves. Unfortunately I was not able to see all the folks who I liked, because this was primarily a work trip, but hopefully soon I'll be scheduling a trip that is purely recreational. And then, oh, the fun we shall have.

Also, for those New York folks: Condolences on the Jets and the Giants. These things happen.

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

January 07, 2007

In The Air Tonight

No, I'm not channeling Phil Collins, just noting I'll be flying back home tonight and will be back in Ohio tomorrow. Stay strong until then. And in the meantime, one more open thread, with the following starter topic: You can ban one overexposed artist/song from radio for ten years. Which artist/song is it?

You may imagine that I would be nominating Phil Collins. Oh, my, yes.

See you all tomorrow.

Posted by john at 01:03 PM | Comments (64) | TrackBack

January 06, 2007

Ping and Pimp

Hey there. I'm in Jersey now, hanging out with my friend Shara and basically taking a breather from all the running about of the last couple of days. The plan at the moment is to collapse on a couch and read a book. Maybe two! Because I'm just that way.

And, uh, that's that for the day.

Since I'm clearly letting you all down on the "being interesting" front today, I declare this a pimping thread -- pimp other interesting blogs/entries and other online stuff you make part of your daily wanderings. You can also pimp your own blog and/or favorite recent entries you've written. Yes! It's all about you! Get to it.

Posted by john at 01:03 PM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

January 05, 2007

Here, Have an Open Thread.

Because I'll be wandering around NYC today and won't get back here until evening.

Topic suggestion: The damnedest thing you ever did see -- tell us about it.

Posted by john at 10:27 AM | Comments (72) | TrackBack

January 04, 2007

Pretty, Pretty, Shiny, Shiny

Look what I got in my hot little hands today:

It smells nice, too.

I also signed an ARC to be part of the Mike Ford Auction at Boskone, so if you want a sneak preview, now you have an excuse to attend that particular SF convention and bid. And since I plan to be Boskone, I'll even personalize it for you.

In other news, I managed to stay awake past 10pm tonight. Go me!

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

Smacking Around the Bigots, the Jeffersonian Way

Just briefly: U.S. Representative Keith Ellison taking the oath of office and swearing to uphold the Constitution on a Koran previously owned by Thomas Jefferson? That's genius, man. That's like stuffing Dennis Prager and Virgil Goode into a trash can, and then rolling the trash can down a steep hill, and then when poor dizzy Dennis and Virgil crawl out, covered in each others' bile, there's Thomas Jefferson, laughing and pointing at them. Some days, I just love my country.

Posted by john at 08:11 AM | Comments (148) | TrackBack

New York City is Kicking My Ass

How did I spend my first night in the Big Apple? By falling dead asleep before 10pm, that's how. I got back from my hotel room after having dinner with some college friends, got my laptop and set it down with me on the bed, and then wham, lights out. Clearly someone put something in my drink. Or alternately, it's because I walked five or six miles yesterday and my body was letting me know that sort of nonsense just wasn't going to fly. If that's the case I have bad news for my body, because I'll likely be walking that same amount today and tomorrow as well. Exercise is good, my body just apparently hates it. Too bad for my body.

In other news, I really like New York, not in the least because it does represent a change from my general life cycle -- going from a place where there are fewer people in my town than there are on your typical New York City block does make for a study in contrasts. I noted to a friend that I really liked New York; the response there was "you don't have to live here." I suppose it's true that if I was here on a permanent basis I might lose a bit of enthusiasm for the place, if only because everyone eventually begins to overlook the charms of their hometown. But, in fact, I don't live here, and it's a fun place to visit. I'll enjoy it for now. Even if it is kicking my ass on the walking front.

Posted by john at 07:43 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

January 03, 2007

Made It.

New York is my shiny, shiny bauble now. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Posted by john at 01:24 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Check Out the 1/8/07 Issue of the New Yorker

The cover is by Ivan Brunetti, who was a friend of mine in college. I saw it while I was looking for magazines in the airport. I bought it and showed it off to the cashier. She said, "It's nice when people we know do well." Yes. Yes it is.

I'm still at the airport, incidentally. But this was cool enough to note to the rest of you. Now I'm off to my gate. Later.

Posted by john at 09:34 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Off to NYC

No, not right this very second. It's 12:30 am. I need to sleep first. But I do have a relatively early flight, so I'm not likely to update again until I'm in NYC. As noted earlier, don't expect a huge amount of updating over the next few days, since I'm not flying to NYC to hang out in front of my computer. Also, if you're sending me an e-mail, expect longer delays in replies than usual. And no, I'm not going to bring you back anything from NYC. There are too many of you. I couldn't fit all those I (heart) NY Beanie Baby bears into my carryon luggage. Sorry.

In my absence, here, have an open thread. Do what you will with it. But be gentle. It's its first time.

Posted by john at 12:29 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 02, 2007

Mike Ford Auction; TAD Speaks!

Two late-breaking bits for you on this second day of January:

Deb Geisler alerts me to a Mike Ford Memorial Auction & Extravaganza which will be held on the Friday night of Boskone, in February. The auction in his memory will go to benefit the John M. Ford Memorial Book Endowment, which benefits the Minneapolis Public Library.

At the moment, NESFA (the folks who run Boskone) are soliciting items for the auction, so if you're an author or a fan with something interesting to contribute to the cause of literacy, click that auction link above and let NESFA know. I'll be pitching in a couple of items for auction myself. Don't let me be the only one.

On a somewhat more silly note, YouTube sent me an e-mail today alerting me that there had been a "video response" to my video of the mass-market paperback version of Old Man's War assaulting the trade paperback version. What was the response and from whom? Well, perhaps you'd best see it for yourself:

Heh heh heh. For the record, the trade paperback survived. Sure, his spine was cracked. But isn't that the fate of paperbacks anyway?

Posted by john at 08:48 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Start Spreading the News, etc.

Those of you getting used to the whole "look, Scalzi's updating 48,000 a day" thing, prepare for disappointment; tomorrow through Sunday I'm traveling and will update somewhat less frequently, and then once I get back I have to, you know, start making money again. So things will probably get back to their normal "update a couple of times a day" thing. Bear in mind every time I say something like that I end up ignoring it, but even so. This time it may stick.

Where am I traveling? To New York City, because, after all, who doesn't like New York in January? I'm there to do some business, and also, maybe, see people. I say "maybe" because, like the unorganized schmuck I am, I've told basically no one I'm coming. So, uh: Hello, New York friends and colleagues. I'm coming to town. It'd be nice to see some of you. If you'd like to try to coordinate something, send me an e-mail and I'll try to get my crap together. Otherwise, well, I understand New York might have a museum or two I can check out, and a few things that will stay open after 8pm.

Posted by john at 01:09 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

TAD Bookgasm Review & Explorations Top 10 List

Last week, the lit site Bookgasm listed The Android's Dream as one of their top five science fiction books of 2006; now they've posted the actual review of the book. Unsurprisingly, given the previous accolade, it's a pretty nice review:

John Scalzi has created a book that’s as thrilling as Robert Ludlum in his prime, with a gentle wit and biting sarcastic tinge that makes the entire book a joy to read.

Groovy. TAD also makes another 2006 science fiction "Best Of" list, this one from Barnes & Noble's Explorations site (their place to promote science fiction and fantasy). Also on the list are Infoquake, from David Louis Edelman, who is looking like a serious potential Campbell nominee at this point, and Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer. Excellent.

Update, 4:08pm -- Oh, and it appears The Ghost Brigades has made SF Signal's "Best of 2006" list. w00t!

Yes, it seems to be self-promotingish sort of day here on Whatever. Some days it's gonna be like that.

Posted by john at 12:24 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

When Science Fiction Meets Its Own Future

Look, it's the trade paperback version of Old Man's War! What nutty adventure will it have today?

Which is say, today is officially the day the mass market paperback edition of Old Man's War is out. Look for it in your local airport bookstore and supermarket! Or get it online. You can still get the trade paperback edition if you want it but I would assume they're not printing any more, so if you want that version, get to it.

For those of you who for some insane reason want to put this video on your own site, it's here. Remember also that this video will also be eligible for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) in 2008. Hey, if a three-minute bit of Gollum flipping off people at the MTV Movie Awards can win, surely this merits a nomination. I mean, look at the pathos of the trade paperback edition! How can you not weep at it?

Posted by john at 10:08 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

The 2007 Award Pimpage Post

I did one of these entries last year and I think it was useful to folks, so I'll do it again this year.

Should you be considering me for one of your Hugo nominations for this year, or for other genre award nominations, here's what work of mine is eligible for nomination this year:

Best Novel: The Ghost Brigades (Feb. 21, 06)
Best Novel: The Android's Dream (Oct. 31, 06)

If you're a Hugo voter, that's pretty much all you need to know to nominate the works. If you're a SFWA member and you want to nominate either work for a Nebula, then you need to make your nomination within one year of the book's publication (2/21/07 for TGB, 10/31/07 for TAD). This is an artifact of SFWA's "rolling eligibility" process for the Nebulas, which I'm really not a fan of, but there's not much to be done about it at the moment. Inasmuch as I find the chance of me being nominated for a Nebula to be rather impressively small, this is largely academic, but of course I'd be happy to be surprised.

To address the question before it's asked: On the very small chance someone wanted to nominate me for the Best Editor (short form) Hugo this year for guest-editing Subterranean Magazine #4, I'm afraid I'm not eligible -- you have to edit more than a single issue of something to be eligible. I'm totally good with this; I think the possibility of me being nominated for an Editor Hugo is a little bit silly.

Regarding the Novel Hugos, I was basically flabbergasted to be nominated last year, and I would be delighted and equally flabbergasted to be nominated this year. So if you are thinking of nominating either of these books (or both! Both!), bless you. However, to be entirely honest with you, I have absolutely no idea if either The Ghost Brigades or The Android's Dream is a strong contender this year. Indeed, I have absolutely no idea as to which novels at all are legitimately in the running for the Hugo, and I rather deeply suspect neither does anyone else.

Why? Because this year the Worldcon is in Japan, and that means a significant (and possibly majority) percentage of the nominators this year are Japanese. I doubt many of us in the Western hemisphere have any clue as to how these folks will vote or whether they've heard of many of the books in the US/UK which are eligible for consideration. Also, unless I'm reading the Hugo rules incorrectly, there's no reason why Japanese-language novels could not be nominated, if they were published in 2006. So, I suspect it is equally true that there are any number of Japanese science fiction novels which are eligible for the Hugo that we in the US/UK know nothing about.

When the Hugo nominees are tallied up this year, I expect there will be some Japanese novels on the list; moreover, there ought to be; what's the point of having the Hugos in Japan otherwise? The idea of Japanese-language Best Novel Hugo nominees is pretty exciting stuff -- I'm not aware of any foreign-language novel being nominated for a Hugo, ever, so we're well overdue -- but on a purely practical level for English language SF writers it means that none of us really have the slightest clue whether we'll make the short list, or even how many of the nominee slots will go to English-language novels at all.

In fact, depending on the enthusiasm of the Japanese Worldcon members for making nominations, it's possible that no English-language novels will make the cut. If you think it can't happen, I'll just mention that I got onto the Hugo ballet last year with 45 nominating votes, and two other nominees got on with 46 and 47 votes. With these numbers in mind, consider if you will the fact that the Worldcon will be in Japan for the very first time, which means that for a great number of Japanese fans, this is the first time they'll be able to nominate and vote on the Hugos. How motivated do you think these Japanese fans will be to nominate, and to vote? Let's just say I don't think 2007 will be the year in which 45 nominating votes gets a book on the shortlist.

I should also note that the challenges I see for English-language novels this year I also see for all English-language potential nominees -- there ought to be and almost certainly will be lots of Japanese nominees in every category. What I'm saying is, this is going to be a hell of an interesting year for the Hugos, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all sorts out.

Having said that, in addition to pimping my own Hugo-eligible work here, allow me to remind you folks that every story in the Subterranean Magazine issue I edited is also eligible for consideration for the Short Story Hugo, and that you can download a free pdf version of the Magazine by clicking on this link right here. There are some truly excellent stories in there, and I know that I'll be nominating more than one. Also, I'd note that the story I published here on the Whatever last year, "Who Put the Bomp?" by Nick Mamatas and Eliani Torres, is award-eligible as well (and good enough to nominate), and personally I think it would rock if a story published on a blog (but paid for with a genre-standard rate) got a short story nomination.

I'm done award pimping now.

Posted by john at 01:29 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Where in the World Will John Scalzi Be?

Because I know how much my stalkers hate having to guess where I'll be, here are my current convention plans for the first part of 2007.

January 19-21: Moonbase ConFusion, in Troy, Michigan

February 16-18: Boskone, in Boston, Massachusetts

April 20-22: Penguicon, in Troy, Michigan (what did Troy do to deserve two SF conventions? Beats me)

May 25-28: Wiscon, in Madison, Wisconsin

July 6-8: The Heinlein Centennial, in Kansas City, Missouri

At Penguicon I'll be a Nifty Guest, which is like a minor league guest of honor; at the Heinlein Centennial I'm a featured guest. At ConFusion and Boskone, I'll be just a common schmoe.

I don't have the second half of 2007 planned yet in terms of appearances. I haven't decided yet about Worldcon; I'd like to go, but I'd need to figure out the logistics (and the cost). I do suspect I'll want to go to other conventions in the second half of 2007 (I'll have The Last Colony to flog, after all), and it might be a good thing to try some conventions that are new to me. If anyone has suggestions for good science fiction cons in the second half of the year, I'm open to suggestion.

Aside from conventions, I'll also be doing bookstore and library appearances; in fact, I have a bookstore appearance in Cincinnati later this month (1/25, at the Joseph-Beth Bookstore -- I'll give this its own entry soon); I'll let you all know when other such events and appearances occur.

That's my 2007 appearance schedule so far. Let the stalking commence!

Posted by john at 12:00 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

January 01, 2007

Now in Magenta

For those of you who were complaining earlier in the day that the background color of the Whatever looked like the color of kitty litter (presumably unused kitty litter), allow me to point out the latest innovation of the Whatever: The ability to change background colors on the fly. Right now the color is a pale magenta, because I asked Athena what color she would like to have Whatever be, and she wanted this (it's actually closer to a lavender or even an orchid, but that's because the actual magenta color would be a bit painful on the eyeballs).

Since I can now change the background color largely at whim, I think I probably shall, more often than not. There are also other innovations, which I'll note later. In the meantime, any background color requests? One request per customer.

Update, 11:13 am, 1/2/06: I've changed the color again, to the hexadecimal value suggested by Pixelfish in the first comment. Just because I can. However, don't worry, I won't be changing colors here evey eight hours. Once every few days at most, I suspect, after i get done playing with it like a shiny toy.

Posted by john at 11:01 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

Some New Year's Reading for You From Elizabeth Bear

If you have more ambition for yourself this new year's day than just staring glassy-eyed into the TV as young men pummel each other in bowl games, allow me to suggest the novella "Lucifugous" by my pal and Campbell Award predecessor Elizabeth Bear, which begins its serialization on the Subterranean Press site today. It's part of Bear's upcoming mosaic novel New Amsterdam, also available from Subterranean, which is available for pre-order.

The first chapter of "Lucifugous" is up today; there'll be another chapter each weekday. And now you have a reason to live, at least for the first couple of weeks of January. After that, hey, pal, you're on your own.

Posted by john at 11:39 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Crazy Screechy Monkeys 1, Best-Selling Author 0

Best-selling author Laurell K. Hamilton borrows Anne Rice's crazy hat and unloads, at length, on some detractors on a message board.

Now, why you, as an author, shouldn't follow Ms. Hamilton's example:

It makes you look like an asstard.

Here's the thing. Some people won't like your books. If these people also have access to the Internet, the chances are good that they might tell other people how they don't like your books. Sometimes, they'll tell people they don't like your books, even if they haven't read your books, because some people are crazy screechy monkeys.

Now, when you encounter a crazy screechy monkey, there are many things you should not do, and one of the things not to do is go up to it and jab it repeatedly with a stick. Because all that does is enrage the crazy screechy monkey, who will then hoot and hop and call to all his crazy screechy monkey friends. Then suddenly you've got a whole colony of crazy screechy monkeys hooting and flinging their poo at you, and all you have is a stick. You can't poke them all. They move too quickly, and eventually their poo gets into your eyes. If you try, everyone watching you is going to say "look, that person is trying to fight an entire colony of crazy screechy poo-flinging monkeys with a stick. What an asstard." Then they'll laugh and point at you.

Eventually you'll have to retreat; declare moral victory if you like, but the fact is, the colony of monkeys is still screeching crazily at you, people are pointing and laughing at your asstardery, and you're covered in monkey shit.

Leave the crazy screechy monkeys alone.

It's too late for Laurell K. Hamilton. It's not too late for you.

Thank you for your attention.

Posted by john at 08:53 AM | Comments (129) | TrackBack

Some Whatevery

Oh, hey. You're up. Well, as long as you're up, some stuff about the Whatever:

* As those of you who are not obscenely hung over and/or have over-aggressive Web caches may have noted, I have yet again changed the look of the Whatever, fresh for '07, sucka. Let me just say that these new changes will allow me more flexibility in presentation than I've had before, which I'm naturally happy about and which I suspect you'll see me take advantage of in the coming year.

* Being up as I am ungodly early on New Year's Day thanks to my cat, who awoke me with a "let me out or I pinch one off on your new couch" meow, I took the time to look at the Whatever stats for 2006. Overall the visitorship of the Whatever grew quite a bit in 2006; the site had 6,125,045 unique visits, which is nearly twice the 2005 visitorship of 3,236,399 million unique visits, which is in itself more than twice my estimate for my 2004 visitorship of 1.5 million visits.

On a daily basis for 2006, Whatever averaged 16,780 visitors a day. This average doesn't reflect the growth in visitorship over the year, which was fairly substantial. For example, in January 2006, the site averaged 11,180 visitors daily; in December, it averaged 20,575. The average numbers also don't reflect weekly traffic trends, in which weekday traffic is substantially higher than weekend traffic; apparently, a'yall are popping in while you're at work (actually, since the site's daily readership tends to peak between 3pm and 4pm, this is actually probably the case). On weekdays, Whatever has been hitting between 21k - 24k on a regular basis since the unrepresentatively busy month of September, which featured the 1-2 "big post" punches of Krissy fending off a drunk loser, and, of course, BaconCat.

However, despite BaconCat's immense popularity, it wasn't actually the most-viewed Whatever entry for 2006 (most viewed in the sense of being visited directly in the Whatever archives as opposed to the front page of the site). The honor belongs to "Being Poor," which quietly racks up an average of 332 visits daily. BaconCat is easily the most-viewed entry on the site for the day it was published; I got 67,000 visitors that day. But once you've seen BaconCat, there's not much else to see. "Being Poor," on the other hand, keeps getting passed around.

"Being Poor" also highlights an interesting facet of the Whatever, which I think is unusual for the blogs, which is that my archives are actually a substantial traffic driver; aside from "Being Poor," other highly-trafficked pre-2006 entries on the site include the "Worst Christmas Specials" entry, from 2004, and "Cracking the Flag-Burning Amendment" from 2005. Other posts from earlier in 2006 also keep getting linked, especially writing pieces; both my writing tips for teens and writing tips for people who don't want to be writers get visited a couple hundred times daily. Having active archives both increases the overall visitorship, and I think converts some of those "single visit" readers into regulars. This is one of the reasons I decided to put in a "Best Of Whatever" category over there on the sidebar, both to encourage folks to root around, and to suggest to folks that interesting reading here happens on a regular basis.

* Do I have any plans for Whatever in 2007, aside from the usual "write about whatever the hell I'm thinking about at the moment" thing? Not really, since that plan seems to be working for me, and why mess with it. The only thing I suspect I will be doing differently is possibly instituting a semi-regular "Things People Send to Me" series of entries, since now I get enough stuff sent to me that I need a way to remember it all, and also, you may have an interest in some of this stuff, too, since at least some of it is interesting. Of course, people may stop sending me stuff, in which case, I won't write these sorts of entries, and also, I'll have to buy stuff like a common troll. Sigh.

* Getting back for a moment to the increasing visitorship of the Whatever, I do want to note that I very strongly suspect that, in addition to whatever I may blatherate about here, another very strong component to growing the visitorship is the comment threads, which are sometimes (oh, okay, often) more interesting than the entries to which they are attached. I've noted before that Teresa Nielsen Hayden's note on Making Light about the readers there works equally well here: "Our readers are the best thing about this weblog. If you’re not reading the comments, you’re missing half the fun." Indeed. So: Thank you again for coming around and being part of the Whatever. You help make it a much better place than I could on my own.

* One final thing, since people have asked me about it and I should have it down somewhere: People want to know if the title of this place is "Whatever" or "the Whatever." Well, as you might be able to tell from this entry, I use both interchangeably and at whim, and always have, since earlier iterations of this site include "Daily Whatever," "The Daily Whatever," "The (Daily) Whatever" and "The Whatever" as well as the current "Whatever." At the moment, since the title graphic says "Whatever" and not "The Whatever," I suspect "Whatever" is marginally more correct. However, if I can't be bothered to get it right, why should you? Call it "Whatever" or "The Whatever"; it answers to both, happily.

Posted by john at 08:00 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Happy New Year!

ka010107.jpg

We're 11 minutes into 2007, and I can already tell this is going to be the best 2007 ever! Because, honestly, what good thing ever came out of 2007 BC? Not a one, I tell you. Not. A. One.

How's your 2007 so far?

Posted by john at 12:11 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack