Hey, you like books? I like books too! Here are a bunch of new books/ARCs that have come to my door this last week. See any you like? Tell me in the comments!
Hey, you like books? I like books too! Here are a bunch of new books/ARCs that have come to my door this last week. See any you like? Tell me in the comments!
Thoughts on a few things, thoughtfully contained in a single post:
* First, look, a kitten picture!
So dramatic. As noted elsewhere, I suspect that at this point my obit will be headlined, “John Scalzi, Cat Photographer and Occasional Author, Dead of Dander” or something of the sort. But, eh. I’m having fun. And the kittens don’t seem to mind.
* Some folks have asked me if I have any thoughts on the most recent Democratic debate, and the answer is no, not really, for reasons that I mentioned earlier: Basically, Sanders and Clinton represent two flavors of “perfectly acceptable” to me, both in terms of their general positions and relative to whomever the Republicans eventually cough up on their side, so, really, the debates are at this point generally superfluous for one such as myself.
It’s not to say that the debates shouldn’t happen — I think it’s useful for both the candidates and others to see them go head to head on each other, and I suppose there’s a vanishingly small chance that either one of them might do something genuinely foolish or appalling, and then everyone will fall in line with the other candidate after that. But unless and until Clinton or Sanders start gargling puppy blood on stage, whatever.
* On the Republican side of things, it was amusing to watch Trump freak out about not winning Iowa, sad to see Jeb Bush beg people to clap, schadenfreudelicious to see Cruz get apparently absolutely no political or social bump from his win, and interesting to watch the entire chattering class decide that Rubio’s third place finish means he’s going to be the eventual GOP nominee.
Does it? Possibly, although don’t expect either Cruz or Trump to play along, the latter of whom is wounded but is still far ahead in New Hampshire, and the former of whom would happily push a schoolyard of children in front of a bus, one at a time, if that meant he was assured of the presidency. Neither will go down without a fight. Trump I think is already planning his ragequit and independent run should New Hampshire and the next round of primaries not go his way. Also, at this point in Republican history, it’s maybe not the best thing to be seen as a malleable empty suit for the billionaires, which is the thing that recommends Rubio at this point over his main competitors, despite on of them being funded by billionaires, and the other actually being one.
But, honestly, I think Kasich is the best of the GOP field, so what do I know.
* The Internet Outrage of the Week™ was about pathetic MRA/PUA troll Roosh V planning public meetups with his equally pathetic troll pals, only to cancel the meetups when the world announced its general intention to show up and mock the shit out of them. A writer at the Washington Post suggests that everyone got played and now this Roosh character has tons of attention, which is what he was really after. But, you know, when the major story coming out of this little escapade is that the fellow who is the grand alpha mastermind of a men’s movement, who frequently takes selfies of himself with nice cars and mad stacks of cash to signal his manly manliness to the boys he wishes to impress, lives, apparently on sufferance, in his mom’s basement, it does take the air of the fellow a bit, not to mention his “movement.” He’s got attention, but what the attention is saying is “you’re sad and ridiculous.”
The whole “Roosh lives in his mom’s basement” factoid inspired a bit of hand-wringing, in the form of “is it okay to mock someone for living in their mom’s basement when times are tough and sometimes you need the help of your family?” Well, one, in general? Totally fine to live in your parent’s basement as an adult if that’s the hand life is dealing you at the moment. Two, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to note that and also indulge in the rich, creamy irony of a dude trying to posit himself as a testosterone-spiked lord of all he surveys, surveying only as far as his mom’s washer/dryer unit in front of a foundation wall. Or to it another way, with regard to this Roosh character, I was immediately reminded of this meme:
(This isn’t to suggest the ethos this character promotes is to be laughably dismissed, since that shit is noxious and dangerous to women. He is sad and ridiculous; his ethos needs to be stomped on, hard.)
* This Roosh V nonsense washed up on my particular shore because more than a year ago the dude wrote a piece suggesting that maybe rape should be allowed on private property, and then apparently a couple of days ago appended a “THIS IS SATIRE DUH” notation on it when the media started referring to him as pro-rape, and he realized that his publicity master plan doesn’t do him any good when he’s referred to as “Pro-rape jackass Roosh V,” or some variation thereof, in headlines. As justification for his “satire” some of his useful idiots unearthed this piece of mine from 2012, which is indeed satire and on the subject of rape, and whined about why it was that I got to get away with my piece, and not this Roosh fellow.
Well, since the question has been asked:
1. It helps to note for those who might not be clear that the piece is satire, that it is satire, which I did, in the very first comment to the piece, before anyone had actually read it, rather than to, oh, wait a year to append the notation on the piece, long after it had found an audience, and after the media has latched on to it as representative of your views.
2. It also helps when your “satire” does not closely correlate to virtual reams of text you’ve produced as a “pick up artist” guru, suggesting in no uncertain terms that you think “no” means something other than “no” and encouraging others to model that sort of thinking, which would suggest to people that the “satirical” piece is actually representative of your views. Jonathan Swift did not espouse the efficacy of cannibalism generally; likewise I do not promote the ethos of “no means keep going” when it comes to sex.
3. With the two points noted above, announcing suddenly that something that has become inconvenient to you is now satire, duh, is a poor argument for it being so, especially if it’s been pulling freight to one’s audience as something else for the better part of a year. If you think it works this way, this is evidence that you may subscribe to the idea that life is like a card game, and that if, for example, you can lay down the “satire” card, it will totally negate the “accusation of pro-rape” card your opponent has played and give you a +3 Aggrieved Self-Righteousness bonus against further attacks. When you’re a grown-up, you learn that’s not how life actually works. This may be why this particular master of PUA (which tries to gamify human interactions) lives in a parental basement.
Now, despite the early notation of my piece being satire and complete textual lack of me as a person supporting the ethos in the satirical piece, some MRA/PUA types like to assert that the piece is evidence I have confessed to being a rapist. So the irony of the same sort of people simultaneously suggesting that it’s evidence that this Roosh character piece should be treated as satire, is, well. Substantial. Make up your mind, children.
* To end on a better note, Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff have a new EP of Bowie covers, and it’s pretty good. I’m particularly fond of their “Ashes to Ashes” cover. Here you go. Enjoy (and buy if you like it; a portion of it will go to cancer research).
Super heroes are a trope, and fantasy novels are a trope too. So what happens when these tropes collide? Ask Marshall Ryan Maresca — he knows, and The Alchemy of Chaos is the latest installment of just such a mashup.
MARSHALL RYAN MARESCA:
I’m a total super-hero junkie. I have a steamer trunk in my garage filled with the comics of my teenage years. My favorite shows on television right now are Flash and Arrow. Superheroes are in my blood. That my first novel took the shape of a superhero origin story shouldn’t have been a surprise to me.
But when I first started The Thorn of Dentonhill, I wasn’t planning on writing a superhero book. I was writing a fantasy novel about a magic-student who had a secret life tied to the city’s street gangs and drug trade, fighting his own private war against a drug lord. It took a while before it was clear to me exactly what The Thorn of Dentonhill was. Boiled down to the High Concept Elevator Pitch: Veranix Calbert is a magic student by day, street vigilante by night. Harry Potter as Spider-man.
The Thorn of Dentonhill was the origin story. Veranix started out harassing a drug lord– Fenmere– for entirely personal reasons. Trying to disrupt a drug shipment, he ends up stealing two magic items. He decides to use in his fight and becomes “The Thorn”– folk hero for the neighborhood, a symbol to everyone who wants to stand up to Fenmere. He gets Great Power.
When I sat down to write The Alchemy of Chaos, I had fully embraced the kind of story I was telling. It’s a pulpy, action-packed fantasy novel, but it is still a superhero story. More importantly, it’s a superhero sequel. The Alchemy of Chaos is about what it now means for him to be The Thorn. What he needs to do, what he wants to do, and what doing that could cost him. He deals with the Great Responsibility part of the equation.
So I threw everything I had at him.
Veranix is already overburdened from the start. He’s got several exams, as well as assisting on a special project that he is supposed to be devoting all his free time to. He shouldn’t even be going out as The Thorn, but the drug trade is creeping into the neighborhood he swore to protect.
Then come the pranks. Disturbing magical pranks that start as obnoxious and escalate to dangerous. The first prank affects hits Vernix’s dorm, so he’s immediately engaged. But given everything he already has on his plate, he has to ask himself: Is this his problem? Should it be his problem? Shouldn’t he just trust that someone else, someone official, will take care of it?
Of course he’s not going to trust that. No one puts on a cape (or in this case, a magical cloak) because they think that someone else ought to take care of the problem. They do it because they think they have to, that they’re the only one that can.
So Veranix is juggling as much as he possibly can: exams, special project, stop the drug trade from crossing over and figure out who this prankster is and stop them before the tricks turn deadly— and the small matter of the assassins that Fenmere hired.
This would be a terrible time for someone to figure out his secret identity, wouldn’t it? Especially the strident science student who is at the top of Veranix’s list of suspects.
Fortunately, Veranix does not have to face it alone. Harry has Ron and Hermione, Barry has Caitlin and Cisco, and Veranix has Kaiana and Delmin. They’re the ones who keep his head on straight, distract people so he can slip away, patch him up when he gets beat up, and remind him what he’s supposed to be doing. Of course, Kaiana and Delmin have a very different idea what Veranix is supposed to be doing. Veranix’s real problem is that they’re both right. He’s got to deal with all of it: magic, science, action, exams, assassins, street gangs, and fancy dinners. He’s got to take all that havoc and try to craft it into something that will not only keep him alive, but still in school.
That’s the Alchemy of Chaos.
There you go, all caught up now. You’re welcome.
Plus, a dog! You know, as an extra. You’re welcome again!
At the moment it’s 51 degrees here in Bradford, and expected to hit 54 as a high, which, I would note, is twenty degrees higher than the average temperature here for February 3rd. And while we again remind ourselves that weather is not climate, plus El Nino, I am nevertheless reminded that we had no snow in December and only a few genuinely cold days in January, and that while we might get to freezing daytime temperatures tomorrow, after that it’s all 40s until well into next week. February is generally one of our snowiest months around here, but this year, snow-wise, it looks like it will be a real bust.
Which, again, as someone who spent his childhood in Los Angeles, is fine with me! I went outside and took this picture in a t-shirt and bare feet! How awesome is that! And yet, the description I’d use for the winter is uncanny. There ought to be snow in February in Bradford, Ohio, or at least cold. 51 is not cold. It’s barely cool. On one level I like it. On another it’s unsettling. And it does make me wonder what the rest of 2016 is going to be like, weatherwise. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
And now, from J. Kathleen Cheney, a very touching Big Idea about her new novel, Dreaming Death. As you read the Big Idea, you’ll realize I’ve just made a horrible pun. And I’m sorry. I’m a terrible person. But you should read the piece anyway, because it’s super interesting.
J. KATHLEEN CHENEY:
What happens when someone becomes overly sensitized to touch? That’s what my main character in Dreaming Death endures.
My original idea for this came from a late 1980s Glamour magazine that had a snippet in it about a scientific study that linked pale eyes and shyness. What the study actually claimed was that there was a correlation between pale eyes and ease of over-stimulation. And that got me thinking about my characters’ senses, and what it was like to sense too much.
We frequently see expanded senses in superhero stories: Superman and his x-ray vision, Wolverine and his excellent sense of smell, or Daredevil’s hearing. But we don’t often explore the superhero with an overdeveloped sense of touch.
The sense of touch is a curious thing. The skin is essentially one organ, but not every part of it senses at the same level. Science classes sometimes conduct an experiment where students measure skin’s responsiveness (usually by sticking each other with pins) to create a sensory homunculus. If you look this up online, you’ll see an unappetizing series of drawings and models that show distorted figures with huge hands and lips and tongues, because those are the areas of the skin that are most sensitive to touch.
So when I thought about my character, Shironne, I tried to apply what I knew about the sense of touch and extrapolate what it might be like to endure extreme sensitivity every day.
She feels every speck of dirt she touches, especially with her hands and feet. Her lips and tongue are more sensitive areas, so she’s aware of every impurity in her water and her food. Her face is sensitive, so a dirty breeze smacks her with smoke and fine dust and mist and spit from the man who’s walking past and talking. When her clothes are washed, particles of…well, everything…transfer from one part of her clothing to all the others via the water. Horse manure that got on her hem the day before spreads to her tunic sleeves, and she knows exactly what’s touching her skin. All day long.
(For those of you who are now cringing under your desks and rubbing yourself down with Clorox wipes, I apologize. A lot of people prefer not to think about this kind of thing.)
I can only imagine that an overdeveloped sense of touch would be awful. So until my heroine learned to ignore some stimuli in favor of others, her life would be a horrible and confusing cacophony of signals, some too terrible to contemplate. It’s certainly not a superpower I would want for myself.
I did my best to be aware of it in every scene. This is a curse Shironne has to live with for the rest of her life. She’ll eventually become acclimatized to some stimuli, and learn to set that input aside, like those of us who sleep through our alarm clocks. But I have to admit, I also fudged from time to time, just to keep readers from applying the Clorox wipes to the page.
Hopefully, I struck an acceptable balance.
A website named Forebears.io claims to know the number of people who share one’s surname and their distribution worldwide (presumably via publicly available census materials), so I figured, what the heck, I would plug “Scalzi” in there and see what happened.
What happened: If the information on the site is at all reasonably accurate, then there aren’t a whole lot of Scalzis out there — just over 2,000 worldwide, just under half of them (somewhat logically) in Italy, with the US in second place with just over 700 (as a contrast, there are over four million people with the surname of “Smith” worldwide). There are more than four times as many people named “Scalzo” out there. “Scalzi” is, according to this Web site, the 175,162nd most common name in the world.
This doesn’t really tell me anything that I didn’t already know, i.e., that there aren’t a whole lot of Scalzis in the world. I knew that because outside of my extended family I only know of relatively few Scalzis, particularly here in the US, although of course of those there are, the Internet makes them easier to find. Hi, guys!
It also explains why, for all intents and purposes, I am the Scalzi online, which is to say that I’m all over the search engine results for the name. It’s not that I’m all that amazing; it’s that the field of other players with the name is limited. I mean, I’ll take it; I like being very easy to find on Google. But it’s a case of being a big Internet fish in a small online pond. I do once again apologize to all the other Scalzis out there. Sorry for hogging the bandwidth on the name.
Interestingly, my wife’s previous last name, Blauser, is even less common than Scalzi, worldwide, although it has nearly 100 more people using it in the US than Scalzi has. What can I say? We’re uncommon people.
Big Ideas are exciting and scary and sometimes dangerous. So, of course, I dare, perhaps far too often, in life and in writing. In life, it’s whitewater kayaking. In writing, I dared to create a series about a character who has two souls and two distinct voices.
Mind you, to me, voice is one of the most important things in writing. Together, authorial voice and character voice create and support so many of the other elements of writing—from tone, to atmosphere, to point of view, and even to character development. Two different voices meant two different … everything. Two different character arcs, two different reactions to conflict, two different thought processes, two different worldviews and two points of view. My two voices weren’t even the same species—the character I envisioned was a human with a mountain lion soul intertwined with hers.
My human character is Jane Yellowrock. She’s a Cherokee skinwalker (the version from the oldest pre-European, Eastern Cherokee, storylines). My fictional take on the old tales made her a being able to assume the shape and form of any animal for which she has sufficient genetic material, always keeping in mind the law of conservation of mass/matter and the peculiarities of genetics. This means that Jane’s magic is best suited to creatures of her own size/mass and gender. I like the physics and the genetics of my magic systems to feel internally consistent.
An orphan, raised in a Christian children’s home, with all the guilt, remorse, sexual hang-ups, and self-reproach that come with that, Jane starts out as a hunter of insane vampires—vamps who attack and kill humans. The series opens with her taking a job for the Master of the City of New Orleans, an apex predator blood-sucker with no hang-ups at all.
My mountain lion character is Beast, a contrary, opinionated cat (also an apex predator, like Jane’s new boss), who has very specific likes and dislikes. She loves hunting and a fresh kill, tolerates thawed steak—raw—and hates cooked meat. She loves lying on a rock in the sun, wants to hunt alligator the moment Jane and she arrive in Louisiana, finds vampires enticing, and likes nothing better than for Jane to go on long rides on her Harley, Bitsa, so she can take in the smells and claim territory, even if just temporarily. She also has strong feelings about Jane’s love life and what kind of person Jane should choose as mate. Beast is feisty, determined, and a killer, without the conscience, contrition, or self-reproach of her human-ish host. Even when she’s in human form, Jane can feel/hear Beast’s opinions, and she both battles and embraces them.
The way these two characters came together is revealed over the course of the series, beginning with a mountain lion attack in 1839. Jane was five years old at the time, but in that fight for her life, she accidentally worked black magic. She stole both the body and soul of the puma who attacked her, and inhabited the big-cat body for two hundred years, her magic keeping them alive far longer than the usual life-span of a Puma concolor. When Jane finally became human again, Beast was trapped within her. And those two diverse voices are what, I think, has given the Jane Yellowrock series an original tone and an audience that is still growing.
One of the ways I dealt with the two character voices in the first book, SKINWALKER, was to mention Beast—but not let her speak, as a separate character, until page twenty-six. Even then, Beast was permitted only one word. Hungry. And that, only moments before Jane shifted into her Beast form for the first time on the page.
When I write in Beast’s voice, she’s an animal who perceives the world the way a young cat might. Sounds are more penetrating, scents are heightened and powerful, colors and the intensity of light are totally different. Beast can’t see the color red. Jane can’t see in the dark as well as her Beast. Jane would describe a vampire as too pale, too demanding, too dangerous to the public, and a pain in the butt. Beast would describe the same vamp as tasty, a good choice as mate, and a good hunter of prey. Jane would say that blood is red. Beast would say that blood smells good-to-eat.
But I can never forget that they’re in the same body, experiencing the same things, no matter who is at the forefront of their consciousness, and whether they are in human or cat form. Over the series there has been an organic evolution where Jane becomes more like a mountain lion and Beast becomes more like a human. They’ve been broken and shattered in the same way and have drawn strength from each other. And in those moments where they come together and depend on each other, the two distinct voices I have worked to create swap DNA and become the same voice or a hybrid voice. I must admit, that was something I did not expect!
In the course of the now New York Times bestselling series (the tenth book, Shadow Rites, will be published in April), there’s been an emergence of different camps of my readers. Yes, Beast has her own fans, which pleases her enormously. She also has her own point-of-view stories in my nineteen story collection, Blood in Her Veins, on sale today.
I’ve been writing for many years, under various names, and Jane/Beast is the character, bar none, who challenges the writer in me most. Jane / Beast are unpredictable, demanding, playful, and hunters of prey, each in their way and own voices. They are, for me, the Big Idea.
Last month I was the author guest of honor at the Arisia convention, and Johnna Y. Klukas was the artist guest of honor. She works primarily with wood, and had brought a number of pieces to the convention to show off as examples of her work, and to sell. One piece I had admired, and which my eye kept coming back to, was one called “Oscillations.” The piece was up for sale and I didn’t want to deprive any Arisia attendee of the opportunity to purchase it for themselves, so I didn’t put in an offer. But then it was Sunday and they were about to pack it up, so I said, “Hey, that one? I’ll totally buy it.”
And I did! And now here it is at my house, and I think it’s lovely. And so does Krissy, which is a good thing, because it’s not small, and now she has to find a place for it in our house.
In any event, I wanted to show off my new acquisition, so look: Here it is. And if you like it, here’s Johnna Klukas’ Web site, with other pieces she has done. Well worth the look, and I’m sure you can check with her to see what she has available for sale.
In the category of science fiction novels, naturally enough, alongside excellent novels by folks like Paolo Bacigalupi, James Cambias, Ann Leckie, Cixin Liu, Nnedi Okorafor, Adam Roberts, Justina Robson, Michael Swanwick and Catherynne Valente among others. Then there are the fantasy novels, first novels and all the other short fiction and non-fiction categories.
It’s an impressive list of worthy reading, and you can see the whole thing here.
It’s also a fine place to look for things to consider for awards; I would particularly suggest the non-fiction and art books categories for the Best Related Work category of the Hugo Awards. There’s some good stuff there, and the Best Related Work category, I think, is a category that’s particularly susceptible to mischief, in terms of nominations.
(Another reminder that I am myself sitting out the year in terms of award consideration. Nominate other people and works, please!)
Super pleased TEoAT made this year’s recommended reading list, and even more pleased to be in the company of excellent writers, not only in my own category, but in the list in general. Congratulations, everyone.
The Scamperbeasts Twitter account passed the 5,000 followers milestone today, which is a nice round number considering it’s only been around for a little over three weeks. People love kittens.
In commemoration of this achievement, and also for the betterment of the Twitter experience in general, I made the following announcement:
Because, you know what? If you’re going to be the sort of jackass whose idea of a fun time is to troll and/or insult me on Twitter, I think it’s entirely fair for me to introduce a filtering process, dictating whether or not you rate any of my attention at all, involving kittens.
Why the somewhat arbitrary choice of using my kittens’ Twitter follower number as the filtering criterion?
1. Why not? It’s not like Twitter trolls/assholes deserve more consideration than that;
2. Because it amuses me to say to myself, as I mute these twits forever, “Come back when you’re not thoroughly trounced by kittens.”
(Not that I will unmute them if they do get more followers than my kittens, mind you. It’s totally meant as a dismissive statement.)
Formally codifying this into The Scamperbeasts Rule:
If a Twitter troll/jerk has fewer followers than the @scamperbeasts Twitter account, do not engage; ignore and mute/block.
My adopting this new Scamperbeasts Rule means that roughly 99+% of all possible Twitter trolls/jerks fall into the automatic “ignore and mute” category, as the Scamperbeats have more followers now than more than 99% of all Twitter users. Which is useful because honestly I’m tempted to snark at these jerks before I mute them forever. As enjoyable for me as that can be, it ends up taking brain cycles more profitably used in other endeavors. The Scamperbeasts Rule is a time management tool for me, basically.
(And what will I do with the would-be trolls who do have more followers than my kittens? My plan is to condescend to them once and then mute them, and bask in the knowledge that they are henceforth wasting their time only, trolling into a blank wall.)
Now, The Scamperbeasts Rule will not necessarily work for everyone, but if you do think it could work for you, I heartily encourage you to employ it. Just the pleasure or looking at someone spewing bullshit at you and thinking sorry, you’ve been bested by cats before you consign them into oblivion is reason enough to use it. I’m looking forward to it being my own standard practice.
At ConFusion last week, I had a great many conversations with a great many folks on a large number of topics, but there was one topic that seemed to pop up more than usual: Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome, briefly put, is the feeling that one’s achievements and status are a fluke, and that sooner or later one will be revealed as a fraud. Anecdotally speaking, it seems, Imposter Syndrome affects a lot of writers, editors and other folks in the publishing life. I think this is in part because the writing life is a precarious one, financially and otherwise, and also in part because people in publishing seem to be a generally neurotic lot anyway. Imposter Syndrome is just another log on that particular fire.
Imposter Syndrome is a real thing and it’s not something I’d want to make light of because I think it has harmful effects. I think it can make people cautious in the exercise of their art and their career when they could be (and want to be) taking chances, and I think it can make people vulnerable to being taken advantage of by people/organizations who intentionally or otherwise leverage those feelings for their own advantage.
It’s pernicious, basically, and it frustrates me that so many talented people who have earned their places in the field with their work battle with it. I think it’s good that people are talking about it, however. It means that they are aware that it’s a thing and that it’s a lie. Naming it and describing it and knowing of it goes a long way in fighting it.
The discussions over the weekend also made me reflect on the issue of Impostor Syndrome and me, and the fact that as far as I know I have never had it, particularly in regard to being a writer. This isn’t an accomplishment, mind you, or something to brag on. It’s just an observation; at no point in my writing career did I ever feel like I didn’t deserve to be where I was, doing what I was doing. I’ve always been, yup, this is who I am and what I do.
Which is nice for me, you know, but also prompted me to think about why it was that I felt that way. I mean, it could be the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which incompetent people don’t believe they’re incompetent. Certainly I have enough detractors who would be happy to suggest that this is exactly the case, when it comes to me. Which, okay, sure. Maybe. Why not.
But if it’s not that, and I’m pretty sure it’s not, then what explains my lack of Impostor Syndrome?
Here’s what I think.
One, I knew fairly early that I wanted to be a writer and worked toward it directly. I knew at age fourteen that I wanted to be a writer. Having decided that, I was done seriously considering any other career choice. I didn’t have a back-up or fallback plan.
It helped, I suspect, that the type of writing I wanted to do back then was journalism, which was at the time both a practical and achievable goal — there were newspapers in the 80s! And they hired people to write in them! — rather than to be a novelist or fiction writer, which was (and is) a more amorphous thing.
But basically, having decided in my early teens that I was going to be a writer, I did not doubt I would ever become a writer. So when I became a professional writer I didn’t question how I got there. I got there because I had planned it all along. That said,
Two, no one ever questioned my intent or ability to be a writer. Which is to say that, particularly in high school, no one ever pulled me aside and said to me either “hey, you know, writing is a tough gig, maybe you should plan to do something else with your life,” or “you idiot, what makes you think you can be a writer?” Not my mom, or any of my teachers, or any of my schoolmates.
Indeed, quite the opposite: At every step in the early years of my ambition I was encouraged. My mom encouraged me because among other things that’s what parents should do at that point. My teachers were more grounded about it but did the same — they gave me tips on how to write, and pushed back at me when I got lazy (which was often), and otherwise were very much like, this is what you want to do? Okay, let us help. And as far as my schoolmates were concerned, they very quickly accepted my persona as That Dude Who Wants to Be a Writer (plus I wrote stories where many of them were characters, and they were all very clever in the stories, and who doesn’t like that).
So: I knew I wanted to be a writer early on, and early on everyone I knew — really, everyone — accepted that I was going to be a writer. That early determination and reinforcement went a long way.
Three, I progressed without impediment early on. This means that I never found a problem in leveling up to doing the things that reinforced that writing was a thing I could do, was good at, and that people expected from me. When I showed up to the University of Chicago, pretty much the first thing I did after dropping my stuff in my dorm room was head to the offices of the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper, and announce that I was going to write a column for them. And what did they do with this cheeky twerp who said this? Well, they let me write a column. And then another, and then after that I was a weekly columnist and reviewer of music, books and films.
Later I became an editor and then editor-in-chief, these things in turn opening doors to become an intern at a daily newspaper. That in turn helped me become a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines in Chicago, which (in addition to my degree from Chicago) helped me land my first full-time professional gig as a film critic for the Fresno Bee newspaper.
All of this socially reinforced the idea that I was a writer. At Chicago, most people who knew of me knew me first through my column in the newspaper. So, literally, what people knew about me, before they knew anything else, was that I was a writer. That column also gave me cachet and status (to a minor extent, let’s not overegg the pudding) because the students read it, or at least knew it existed. They might have thought it was terrible and that I was a jackass, jackassedly spouting jackassed opinions, but they knew who I was nevertheless. Later as the film critic and a columnist at the Bee, it was the same dynamic, on a larger scale.
Again: The way most people knew of me, if they knew of me at all, was as a writer.
Four, when I went upward, my reaction was not “now they’re going to find me out for sure,” it was “look what I just pulled off!” When I got that column gig at the Maroon, I was proud of the fact that I was a first-year student writing a weekly column. When I got the gig at the Fresno Bee, I was inordinately proud of the fact that, at 22, I was the youngest full-time syndicated film critic in the United States. A couple of years later, when I got a weekly opinion column, not only was I the youngest nationally-syndicated opinion columnist out there, I had achieved my actual life goal — Hey! I’m newspaper columnist! Like Mike Royko or Molly Ivins! — before the age of 25.
The fact that I was objectively not a very good newspaper columnist at age 24 was immaterial to this feeling (I was just good enough, barely, and had a lot of slack cut for me, although unsurprisingly it wasn’t until later that I realized that fact). The point was my ego was and always had been turned to “this is good for me!” as opposed to “this is where they find out I’m unqualified.”
This can be a dangerous thing — remember that Dunning-Kruger thing? Well, my attitude is pretty much exactly how that happens — but I was also fortunate at every step of the way to be surrounded by people (editors, other writers, friends, etc) who helped to rein me in and also pointed out when I was being a jerk, or oblivious to the point of being an ass.
I even listened to them, from time to time. I remember at one point blathering on to my non-fiction agent about something and mentioning my age at the time as a qualifying feature, and he said, offhandedly, “You know, 28 is kind of old to be a prodigy at anything.” Which I’m sure he meant as a throwaway point, but which I took very seriously. It meant that I had stop being proud of stepping stone achievements, and start investing more in the quality of the work at hand.
Like I said, offhand comment, but it mattered, and I’m glad that at the time my ego was not so enormous that I couldn’t listen.
Speaking of which:
Five, when things hit a wall, I re-invested in being a writer. My ego in my 20s, particularly with regard to being seen as a writer, was huge, in part because it had never been challenged. Turns out it’s easy to cruise along in a wafty cloud of clueless self-regard when everything’s pretty much gone your way. What’s interesting is what happens when it doesn’t — as happened to me, in 1998, when I was laid off from America Online, where I was then working as a writer and editor.
I’ve written about this before, but the short version was that being laid off hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. All my self-regard and ego did not save me from having my job cut out from under me for reasons that didn’t have much to do with me (the group I was in was dissolving; I as the in-house writer/editor was a company-wide resource; no one wants to put a company-wide resource on their departmental budget). I was not so special that I was not expendable. Yeah, that hurt.
More importantly, it made me question a lot of things that I had previously just assumed, including centering my image of who I was on my job, and the fact I was a writer. When it was all over, I reordered my self image a bit. I was a writer, yes. It was what I wanted to do with my work life and I was going to find a way to make that happen. But I was also not just my job anymore — or more accurately, the amount of my ego that was invested in “John Scalzi, writer” became less; it got refocused into being a person and husband and (soon-to-be) father. I was comfortable enough about what I did as my job that I didn’t have to let it define me to the extent I let it before. I could have the confidence to let it go a bit.
The conscious re-investment in being a writer, and re-evaluation of what being a writer meant to me, mattered. I can’t speak to anyone else, but for me, as drivelingly cliche as this is to say now, this crisis did become an opportunity, and (this must be noted) with the help of my wife particularly, and with the help of friends, I was able to take that advantage of that opportunity.
Much of what my life is now is because of that. This is why I often say now that being laid off turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.
As a result of this:
Six, my view of myself of a writer is now not focused on whether other people consider me so. It’s not a coincidence that I started writing a blog soon after I was laid off from AOL; it’s not a coincidence that the first novel I wrote I decided to post here, rather than try to sell to someone else. To be clear, I like selling work and I like being financially successful as a writer — doing both gives me freedom to make more (and usually better) choices in terms of my career. Nor am I disingenuous enough to suggest that at this point in my career, the awards and contracts and so on aren’t useful signifiers.
But ultimately, I’ve done enough and I know myself well enough that if I never sold another piece of work to anyone, it wouldn’t matter in terms of my self-image as a writer. That is what I do. I have millions of words to speak to that point, but more importantly, I have self-awareness of who I am and of what writing has meant to me.
Now, it may be that some other people might then want to deny that I’m a writer, for whatever reason that they would need to do that. But you know what? That’s their karma and I wish them joy with that. I’m not obliged to care what they think. I don’t need anyone else’s approval or approbation to know what I know about myself. I’m a writer.
So there’s that.
(And having said aaaaall of that, let’s note a couple other things. Like: Hey, did you know I’m a straight white male who benefited from a really elite education? That helped — for example, when I forgot to apply for newspaper internships and a friend of mine called his dad, who called his pal the publisher of the San Diego Tribune, and a couple of steps later, whoa, look, an internship! Also, I happened to be in my 20s at the same time the first Internet Bubble was puffing up, which was great for finding gigs and building a resume. Also also, with respect to novels and fiction, I had been a professional writer for fifteen years before my first novel was published, so I had a decade and a half (not to mention several non-fiction books published prior to Old Man’s War) to get used to the idea that writing was a thing I could do. Also also also, I appear to be generally less neurotic than most writers, or at least, neurotic in somewhat different directions. And so on. It all helped, and helps.)
I think it’s important to note something at this point: These are reasons why I believe I’ve never had Imposter Syndrome. But at the end of the day, the main reason I would say to writers that they shouldn’t ever have to feel like they are impostors is that if you write, you are a writer, and it really is that simple. Whether you sell a book to a publisher is immaterial to this fact; likewise whether you become a bestseller, or award winner or if you write a book that people are still talking about two hundred years from now.
Here’s the question: Do you write? If the answer is yes, you’re a writer. Believe it.
And if anyone gives you shit about it, including yourself, come back over here and read this following graph:
Hey, that person? They’re wrong. If you write, you’re a writer. Done.
Now get back out there and write some more.
And now, to carry us off into the weekend, here’s a dozen new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound in the last couple of weeks. See anything here that floats your proverbial boat? Tell me what it is in the comments!
For those of you of a science fictional and/or fantastic bent, the nomination period for the Hugo Awards has now begun and will run until March 31. You can nominate if you were a member of last year’s convention (Sasquan), if you are a member of this year’s convention (MidAmeriCon II), or are a member of next year’s convention (Worldcon 75). If you are not a member of any of these but will still like to nominate, you have until January 31 (that’s two days from the writing of this post) to become a Worldcon member (here’s the information on that).
(If you are currently a member described above, emails including the PIN you’ll need to access the nomination ballot are going out and should arrive in the next week.)
Voting for the Hugos is pretty simple: You look at the categories, find works you like that fit in the category, and then nominate them. You can nominate up to five works per category, although you can nominate fewer, too. And if you nominate online, you’ll be able to update your ballot right up until the deadline, so if a week from now you find something you love, you can put it in, and also a week later, and a week after that, too.
If you’re looking for things to read to see if you’d want to nominate them, or to suggest things that other people might consider for nomination, two ideas for you: First, the Hugo Nominees Wiki, and second, this Hugo Awards Google Spreadsheet. Both are packed with works to consider, and in both cases you can add your own suggestions.
Three points I want to make at this juncture:
1. Your Hugo nominations are meant to be your Hugo nominations, reflecting your own personal taste in science fiction and fantasy work. In the last couple of years, some folks have been presenting slates of potential nominees and encouraging people to vote for the slates for reasons. This didn’t work out well for anyone. Take suggestions, read widely, and then make your own nominations, reflecting your own taste, not anyone else’s.
2. If you are eligible to nominate for the Hugos, I think you should nominate for the Hugos. One reason the slating shenanigans happened was because only a minority of Worldcon members nominate for the Hugos, making the nomination process susceptible to gaming. This year there are at least 11,000 people eligible to nominate for the Hugos; last year over 6,000 people voted for the Hugo awards themselves. If everyone who voted for the Hugos last year nominated this year, any attempts at slating by group would probably be mitigated — and also, the nominations would reflect a more diverse group of science fiction and fantasy fans. The more people who nominate, the better.
3. Folks who are nominating should not neglect the “non-marquee” categories, including fan categories and categories like Related Work and Semi-prozine. Because these categories are often less nominated in, they can be more susceptible to gaming in general. The good news is there are lots of excellent works and people who can be nominated. The wiki and spreadsheet linked above can help with your explorations of the categories.
In short: Nominate, nominate for everything you can, and nominate out of your own brain, not anyone else’s.
(Also, a reminder: This year I’m asking people not to nominate work of mine produced in 2015 and will decline any Hugo nominations I might receive. Nominate others, please!)
Over on Facebook I see a fair number of people linking to the story that although the average Facebook user has 155 “friends” on Facebook, there are also on average only four of those “friends” that a Facebook user would call in a genuine crisis, suggesting that just because you are “friends” with someone on Facebook, it doesn’t mean you are actual friends with them in the real world.
My thoughts on this:
One, hey, having four people you can reach out to in an actual crisis is a pretty good number;
Two, I’m not sure why this is at all surprising to anyone at all. Just because Facebook calls its connection mechanism “friending” doesn’t mean that everyone you connect with there are actual friends; they’re merely people who, for one reason or another, you’ve decided to connect with on a social media network. It’s not in the least relevatory to me that the number of “friends” one has on social media doesn’t make much difference to the number of people you consider actual friends, or the number of people who would help you bury the proverbial body.
Here’s a thing about social media, in my experience of it. The people (or entities) one follows on it tends to be part of three groups which overlap but are not exactly the same: The people one cares about, the people one knows of, and the people who one is entertained by. Only one group of these is properly friends; the other groups may or may not be acquaintances, and their presence in one’s feed comes down to the fact that most of us like to have a varied mix of things to look at when we sign on and scroll down. Someone does not need to be your friend to entertain you, either by telling you tidbits of their own life or by putting up links to material they’ve found online that they find interesting.
Can people you otherwise do not know become your friend through online interaction? Sure, although (also in my experience) eventually it helps to make an offline connection as well, to confirm that the comfort level you have with them isn’t just an artifact of online presentation and the fact that it’s mediated in a way that face-to-face encounters aren’t. I have a number of friends I’ve met online. I’m not going to rely on any of them to bury a body with me until we have that click in the offline world.
But then again, how many people do you need to be willing to help you in a crisis? Four really does seem sufficient in most cases. Likewise, if you have two or three dozen people you would call your true friends, well. That seems a lucky amount to me. That’s a person a day for a month you’d be delighted to hang out and spend time with and involve in your various shenanigans. That’s a full life right there, folks.
My personal Facebook feed has (currently) 641 people in it, most of them people who I’ve known personally (meaning, actual physical face-to-face time) at some point in my life, starting from elementary school and moving through my life now as a writer and author. Are they all my friends? Well, some were friends back in the day, and might be friends again if I got to spend face time with them in the physical world. Some are people I’ve more recently met who I would like think could become friends with me if circumstances allowed.
Not everyone of my Facebook Friends is a current friend, but the way I curate that list, the potential for friendship is there, at least. One of the reasons to connect on Facebook is to keep that potential humming along, through the exhibition of pictures and news about our lives. This qualifies as mutual entertainment as well; I like knowing about them and I hope they like knowing about me.
But I don’t expect the vast majority of my Facebook cohort to feel obliged to help me in a crisis. It seems a little much for me to pick up the phone and expect the guy I knew best when we were in elementary school to drop everything and tend to me. And maybe he would! But it seems a lot to ask. I save that for the few people that I already know are there for me in that capacity (and for whom I’m willing to serve in that capacity as well). It’s more than four, I’m happy to say, but not so much more than four that it invalidates the general concept.
The article I linked to above says “The results suggest that people with hundreds of Facebook friends are kidding themselves if they think they can maintain a network so large.” Well, no. They’re not kidding themselves if, one,and again, they realize that just because Facebook calls their connection “friending” it does not oblige them to actually be friends, and two, if they recognize that some people they’ve “friended” are there to be entertainment (and for whom they are likewise entertainment).
And there’s not a thing wrong with that! Thank you, Facebook friends, for entertaining me with your lives and links. I hope I do likewise. And don’t worry that I’ll send a message asking for money, or a kidney, or for you to show up somewhere in the middle of a rainstorm with a shovel and several gallons of lye. Most of you will never get that call. I think you’re happy about that, or should be, anyway.
Once upon a time
There was a kitten on a stairwell
Basking in the light of the sun
As kittens are known to do.
And all was peaceful in the land of kittens.
Or so it seemed.
But then another kitten
Jealous of her sister’s place in the light
Decided that the light should be hers alone
And attacked! And thus
The Battle of the Scamperbeasts was joined!
Sugar’s defense of the light was devastating
And Spice learned that her assumptions
That her sister would easily surrender her position
Were in fact foolish.
But then Sugar
Fell prey to Spice’s vicious counterattack!
Clearly this was a battle
Of two equally matched foes.
“How could this happen?”
During a hard-won break in the battle.
“Should it be a mere sunbeam
Could rend the true bonds of sisterhood?
Are we not better than this?”
But the existential quandaries of life
Would have to wait.
The Battle of the Scamperbeasts was rejoined!
Sugar raised to her paw
To halt the next onslaught!
“Sister!” she cried.
“Wait! We do not need to fight!
There is enough sunbeam
For the both of us!
Join me in the light!
Together we can enjoy its luminous benefits!”
Was not well-received.
With a heavy heart
Sugar knew there would be no peace
Until Spice was vanquished.
“Alas!” cried Spice.
“In my foolish pride
I thought I could keep the sunlight to myself
And deprive my sister of its boon!
Only now in defeat do I see
That the true darkness was in my own heart!”
And with that
Spice leapt from the banister
Plunging into the inky depths
Of the front hallway.
The Battle of the Scamperbeasts was ended.
Sugar once more
Resumed her place in the light.
Would Spice return?
Would she again demand
Sole possession of the sunlight?
Or could they
In sisterly accord
Bask in its warming glow?
These questions would have to wait.
For now, it was time to nap.
TO BE CONTINUED(?????!?????)
A question that authors often ask themselves: Who am I writing this book for? For Never Let Me, a compilation volume of novels by Jennifer Brozek, the author discovered who she was writing her series for — which included, among others, a very specific set of people.
My Big Idea hid from me until I finished writing the last book of the Melissa Allen series. The compilation, Never Let Me, encompasses Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, and Never Let Me Die. It also includes the new short story, “Never Let Me Feel.”
There were two motivating factors behind me writing the young adult novels starring Melissa Allen. The first was: Write what you want to read. In my not-so-humble mind, I liken Never Let Me to “What if Stephen King specifically wrote for teenagers back in the day?” I read a lot of King’s work growing up and loved it. Part of me always wondered what if he had written a story specifically for me as a teen? I pondered what I thought that would look like. Then I wrote it because that’s what I wanted to read.
The second factor was the need to write a flawed, mentally ill character whose mental illness didn’t make them a superhero or a villain. It just was. The illness was one more invisible, personal thing to deal with—like migraines or gastric reflux. Too many times, mentally ill characters are taken to unrealistic extremes—savant, dangerously wicked, innocent to the point of child-like—when, in reality, they are just normal people trying to get through the day. They are medicated, dealing with side effects, and know that even when the chemical cocktail is working today, it might not work tomorrow.
In specific, I watched daughter of one of my friends—her name is Cait—grow up fighting with her illness, dealing with the side effects, and sighing over the issues with her psychiatrist. I helped her as much as I could. I never thought it was enough, but I didn’t know what else I could do.
Cait stuck with me all these years, even after I moved away from her. I knew that she never had a mentally ill protagonist in any young adult book she’d read that she could look up to. I wanted to write this series for her, and for the other teens like her who struggle with mental illness on a daily basis. I wanted her to see the heroine in herself.
I never thought of myself as a heroine. Growing up, I had a lisp and a stutter. I went to three years of speech therapy to bring my speech into something much more acceptable. I’m dyslexic. Also, I am high-functioning autistic. I never saw a protagonist like me in any of the stories I read. For a long time, it didn’t occur to me that someone like me (or Cait) could be a hero. People like us weren’t heroes.
I wanted to change that. At first, it was just for Cait. She was the one I’d written the novels for. She was my ideal reader. Then, as I expanded the stories and the protagonists, I added a character for my mom. This character has a congenital defect in her hand like my mom. My mom didn’t have a hero like her to read about growing up. I thought she deserved one, too. In the end, when I sat back and looked at what I’d written, I realized my Big Idea.
I was the one I had written these novels for… because they were about people like me and about the everyday people around me. I wanted to see fictional heroes that mirrored the real life heroes I looked up to every single day of my life. Including the person I looked at in the mirror. She may have a stutter when she gets excited. She may rock when she’s tired. She may not always understand the expressions she sees on people’s faces. She may have bouts of anxiety… but she is still a hero.
Sometimes, we write the heroes we need to see in ourselves.
A brief note here to note the passing of Tom Louis, Kristine’s uncle (shown here with Richard Alvarez, my brother-in-law, at family gathering), whose memorial service I’m about to head out the door for. Tom was pretty much the definition of “salt of the earth” and cared deeply about the family, and was always kind and decent in the way he treated everyone I ever saw him with. It was good to know him and good to have him as part of the family I was fortunate enough to marry into. I’m going to miss him and his good humor.
This where I remind you to let those you care about know what they mean to you in your life. It’s never not a good idea. And if they already know, remind them again. That’s always a good idea, too.
For various reasons that are not relevant at the moment, we needed a rental car for the next several days, so Krissy ordered one. I think she ordered up something along the lines of a Honda Accord; the rental place, however, spontaneously and without additional cost upgraded her to the brand new Ford Mustang convertible that you see here. Such is the inherent power of my wife. Fear her.
(Well, either that or it’s the fact no one rents convertible sports cars in Ohio in winter, which means it was on the lot when all the Accords were out. But still.)
I’ve never been much of a car person but I’ve always had a thing for Mustangs; in high school my friend Rob Lawrence drove around a ’65 and we had many adventures in that thing, and the residual good will I’ve had for the brand has continued on. I had a crush on the Bullitt Edition, and at one point I came very near to agreeing to write a book in exchange for a Mustang, the kibosh of which was put on by my wife, who pointed out that a) we already had two cars in a two car garage, b) I was the stay at home parent, so I would end up driving the minivan anyway while she drove the ‘stang, so maybe wait until the kid was a little older. So sensible, Krissy is.
More recently, in the wake of my contract with Tor, I considered buying Krissy a Mustang convertible, much like the one above, as a celebration gift and to acknowledge that the contract, and the excellence of my life in general, wouldn’t have happened without her. When I surreptitiously sounded her out about it, however, she indicated that she wasn’t in love with Mustangs like I was and that she could wait until Athena was in college for a car upgrade. Sooooooo, no convertible. Yet.
(As I never mentioned this to her before, when she reads this, this will be the first she knows of my plan — or more accurately, as she usually knows what I’m up to regardless, the first time I’ve acknowledged the plan. But! What Krissy has now is a convertible coupon, redeemable at the time of her choosing for the convertible car of her choice. Because she’s wonderful and the reason my life is also wonderful and also she would look sooooooo hot in a convertible. Love you, baby!)
Anyway, I’ve been driving Mustang about, marking really my first time in one of these vehicular creatures, and my verdict is… it’s nice, but I’m not entirely sure it’s me. By which I mean I get in the thing and while I still appreciate it looks cool and has a nice low rumble and the sixteen-year-old me is giggling, but the 46-year-old me can’t help notice there’s very little trunk space, no one under the age of six will want to be in that back seat — which you have to climb into, incidentally — and it gets something like 20 miles to the gallon. It’s the back seat especially that gets me. I’ve got a Mini Countryman, which is shorter than the ‘stang by a not inconsiderable margin, and yet it has four doors and legroom for actual humans in the back seats. And 27 miles to the gallon or such.
And also, let’s be real, I’m unlikely to get on the road and open the throttle and hoot madly as I do 130mph, trailing Ohio State Troopers behind me like angry flashing bees. That’s not who I am. The who that I am is really looking forward to electric cars that drive themselves because fundamentally I don’t much care about driving, I care about getting to where I want to go, and I would be delighted to have an automated automobile get me to where I’m going at a safe, unflashy, practical speed while I sat in it and read a book. That sounds pretty awesome to me, actually.
All of which is to say that while I’m enjoying the Mustang on a temporary basis — who wouldn’t? — I’m also of the opinion that on a more permanent basis, it’s probably not the car for me. I mean, I could be wrong. Someone buy me one with all the bells and whistles and we’ll see if I change my mind! But for the next car I buy for myself, it’s not on my radar. Which makes 16-year-old me a little sad. But then, 16-year-old me wanted a lot of things 46-year-old me would happily pass on. This is another one. If 16-year-old me gets too loud about it, we can always rent a Mustang again for a few days. That should do the trick.
Here’s the status:
February: All February slots are filled. I’m doing three a week for the first three weeks because during the fourth week I’ll be on a big ass boat in the Caribbean. If I have not already contacted you about February, assume I’ve passed on your Big Idea query.
March: Partially filled; I still have slots available the week of the 14th and 28th. If you have a new book coming out then, send a query but hurry as those slots are likely to go quickly.
April: Don’t query me yet. Wait until February, please.
And now we’re all caught up!