2003: Not a bad year.
I mean, for me. For the world its had the usual ups and downs as it always does; since you have Time magazine and Instapundit out there, you don’t need me to recapitulate these stories. But this is the prime source of Scalzi information (it implies such in the domain name). So let’s talk about my year, why don’t we.
Professionally, of course, it was pretty good. I had two and a half books published in the year, which is to say, two books under my name, and a hefty uncredited (but not unpaid) contribution to a third book. Although I’m not exactly sure of how much money I made this year (weird but true, although suffice to say it was enough), I am reasonably sure about half of my income has come from book writing, which is a first, and which I also like. I’m going to work on having some more years like this.
The other nice thing is that both The Rough Guide to the Universe and Book of the Dumb have done well in their respective fields of science books and books about stupid people. To my immense relief, Universe was uniformly well-reviewed around the world, with praise both for the writing and for the sheer mass of information in the book. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a huge psychic load off my shoulders. I’m not an actual astronomer, so I was sweating bullets about getting things right; I had that paranoid fantasy in which some immensely stupid error slips through (the moon being made out of boogers, perhaps, or the sun powered by AA batteries) and then Stephen Hawking makes fun of me in front of everyone. This is not happened; far from it, in fact.
Book of the Dumb, on the other hand, has not been reviewed so far as I know, but I find this entirely unsurprising since it’s not one of those books that gets bandied about in the literary pages of newspapers. It’s not for nothing that my “book tour” for BotD consisted almost entirely of radio appearances: It’s a book positively made to be plugged on “Chuck And Bob AND THE MORNING ZOOOOOOOOOO!!!” or whatever variation of that theme you have in your own home town. And you know, I’m perfectly happy with that. Given the choice between writing small, respectful books that get small, respectful reviews and sell small, respectful amounts, or selling tens of thousands of copies of a book that features people getting their arms stuck in toilets to the morning drivetime crowd, well, I’ll take the latter. I’ve got a mortgage, baby. Yes, I’m a hack. At this point, I’m surprised that this is an issue to anyone.
The thing is, of course, that it’s not an either/or situation: One can write both “small” books and “big” books. Indeed, one of the things I like about 2003 is that I did do both. The Universe book is probably not going to sell as well as the Dumb book (indeed, it’s very nearly an impossibility, as Dumb had a first printing some eight times as large as Universe’s), but I couldn’t be happier with it. Minus a typesetting error or two (which will be corrected in the next printing, anyway), it’s exactly the sort of book I always wanted to write. And I love being a writer who can write a book explaining the universe and a book that makes fun of ridiculous people — “can” meaning both “I have the ability” and “I’ve managed to dupe people into paying me to do it.” I don’t doubt there are better writers than I, but I have a pretty good range. 2003 let me confirm that in book form.
Bookwise, 2004 looks pretty good. Old Man’s War will finally hit the shelves near the end of the year (hardcover! Wheee!), and before then at least one Uncle John’s book will sport some contributions from me. And while it’s not in the same category as “real” books, I’ve decided to go through the Whatever archives and pick some of my favorites to present in a self-published book, probably in time for my birthday. I’ve been doing this for five years, after all. It’s not a bad time for a retrospective.
Outside of books, 2003 has been interesting professionally as well. One thing I’ve always mentioned about writing professionally is that one has to accept that nothing lasts forever, and indeed 2003 saw a couple of my long-term clients taper away. But then again, there are other opportunities to explore as well, not the least of which has been the AOL Journals project, and my By The Way journal. It’s been very interesting being on the ground floor of an entire online community creating itself, and also exciting to be a fundamental part of its growth. I think there will be a lot to do with AOL Journals in 2004, to take the community out of its infancy and help integrate it with the larger online community of writers, bloggers and whomever. I’m looking forward to that. So in all, 2003 was a good year for me professionally.
Personally, it was not so bad, either. Family, of course, is going along swimmingly, with me even more madly in love with my wife and child than in years before. In keeping with my general policy of not discussing my intimate family life in anything more than general statements and sweeping hand gestures, that’s all I’m going to say about that. The big social event for me was Torcon 3, the big science fiction convention held in Toronto. Cringe though you may, ye uninitiated swine, the fact of the matter was it was the first time in years I got the pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of folks in the same line of work as I am, and I enjoyed spending time with people with whom I became friendly and who (as a consequence) I’d actually like to have become friends in the traditional sense of the word. They’re not all geeks, and those that are, are eminently worth knowing. Anyway, it’s not like I’m all suave and metrosexual, you know.
It was also a reminder that I am fairly isolated, both geographically and intellectually. I like where I live quite a lot, and I also like the standard of living that rural America provides me; it’s nice to have a lawn with almost the exact proportions of a New York City block. On the other hand, outside of immediate family and neighbors (all of whom are very nice) I see no one except the guys who deliver stuff to my house, and I’m not sure they want to spend any time with me (it may have something to do with the fact I answer the door in my bathrobe).
Most of the time this isolation doesn’t bother me — thanks to the Internet, I’m in virtual constant contact with a ton of people (hi there!) — but recently I’ve been having a need to actually see people physically, to actually be in the presence of people with whom I converse. Also, to have sushi more than once a year. So of the two major New Year’s resolutions I’m making for 2004, one is “go out and actually be with people.” This may involve trips. That’s okay with me. So, fair warning: I may appear in your town. Let me know if you have a couch.
My other New Year’s resolution? Simply to be more organized. I did quite a bit in 2003 but I have the gnawing suspicion that if I had just a little more organizational structure, I’d either have accomplished more, or at the very least not felt I was running behind of stuff as often as I did. Like the classic chaotic writer, there’s always something I need to be getting to — book proposals, magazine queries, finishing a novel — that I seem to postpone more than I like.
(In the case of the novel, actually, it’s not a matter of postponing but of writing more slowly than I have before. It bugs the hell out of me but I think it’s the natural pace of this particular piece of work. I’d try to rush it but the fact is I’m really happy with what I’m writing so far, and when something is working, even at a slow pace, you’d be kind of nuts to screw with it. I’m fortunate in that so far, my editors have resisted the urge to beat me with a hammer. I love my editors. They are best and kindest people in the world. They smell nice, too!).
So: More organization. I’m definitely going to have Krissy help me with that. She’s the most organized person I know. It’s not why I married her, but I will say that it’s a damn fine marital perk.
So that was 2003 for me, and those are my hopes and expectations for 2004. Here’s hoping that in all things, 2004 is a year we remember fondly in the years to come. See you on the other side.