Monthly Archives: February 2004

What Agents Are Good For

A writing project my fiction agent has been sending out has been rejected by two publishers in less than a week, and you know how I feel about that? I feel good. And here’s why: Without an agent, those two rejections could have taken up to two years to get to me. Plus, I got rejected by actual editors as opposed to slush pile readers.

So this does two things: One, it gets the project back in circulation to other editors quicker, and two, it puts my name on the radar of both of these editors (both of whom were complimentary of the writing in the rejections — which, if one must be rejected, is the rejection you’d prefer to get). Also, as an aside, it’s reassuring for me as a writer — the rejections show me that the agent is actually getting the work read by the right people. I wasn’t actually worried about this (mind you, if I had been, I wouldn’t have gone with my agent in the first place), but of course it’s always nice to have confirmation.

So that’s what an agent is good for: Faster rejections, and higher-quality rejections. Inasmush as rejection is a natural part of the book business, that’s the kind of rejection you’re aiming for.

Oscar Predictions 2004 — Final

As I usually do with my Oscar predictions, here are my revisions to my earlier predictions on Oscars, which I made just after the nominations came out. This year, I’m doing almost no revising — but I also note that several categories are much closer than I suspected they would be.

As background, read my original predictions for Oscar winners this year here.

Best Picture
I had predicted:
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
I am now predicting: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Why: Because none of the other nominees have mounted any serious opposition. King has been crushing through the preliminary awards, which has led some to think there may simply be voter fatigue (thus opening the door, most likely, for Mystic River), but I don’t really buy this argument. Others have noted that none of the actors are nominated, but neither are actors nominated for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World or Seabiscuit, two other Best Picture nominees, so I don’t see this as a serious impediment. Also, as previously noted, it’s not just King that voters will be awarding — this is an achievement award for the whole Rings trilogy, which aside from becoming an instant classic in film has also raked in close to $3 billion in the movie theaters. When craft and commerce merge like this, it’s hard to see the Academy voting against it.

Best Director
I had predicted:
Peter Jackson
I am now predicting: Peter Jackson
Why: Well, see above. The man who rode herd on arguably the single most ambitious movie shoot in the history of film (remember that all three films were shot in one go) deserves recognition for pulling it off. Even people who dislike the Rings films should be able to acknowledge the logistical masterwork Jackson achieved. Some time ago I had said that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Academy gave Jackson a special Oscar, simply to acknowledge that he pulled off something no other director had to this point (as they had done, for example, in giving Walt Disney a special Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). I don’t think this will happen — but only because Jackson’s a shoo-in for the Director award.

Best Actor
I had said:
Bill Murray
I am now saying: Bill Murray
Why: Because I think people want to. One gets the vibe that Academy voters know they should vote for Sean Penn, being he’s a great actor and all, but they’re not enthusiastic — this most tellingly revealed by Johnny Depp’s surprise SAG award for Best Actor. Meanwhile Bill Murray has been making all the right moves to get the award. Now, you may ask — does Depp’s SAG award mean he has an actual chance at the Best Actor Oscar? Yes, I think it does; at least he has a far better chance that I would have expected (comedic roles are generally not serious Oscar contenders). But I suspect they may think there more there there with Murray’s performance.

Best Actress
I had said:
Charlize Theron
I am now saying: Charlize Theron
Why: Because Diane Keaton, her only serious competition, hasn’t caught fire so far as I can tell. And it’s hard for the Academy to ignore a performance where an attractive star so obviously negates her ownself for the role.

Best Supporting ActorI had said: Tim Robbins
I am now saying: Tim Robbins
Why: I think the Academy does want to give an award to Mystic River, and this will suffice. I still think Baldwin can come from behind, but I also suspect the Academy members suspect Baldwin will pop up again in one of the two male acting categories, so they might not feel a mad rush. Possible come from behind: Djimon Hounsou. It could happen!

Best Supporting Actress
I had said: Rene Zellweger
I am now saying: Rene Zellweger, BUT….
Why: I do think Zellweger can pull this through by sheer force of will (and Miramax), BUT I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Shohreh Aghdashloo comes from behind and nabs it. I think Zellweger may have been too openly covetous of the award, and anyway, supporting categories are always twitchy. You never know what way they are going to go. If I were to put it into percentages, I’d say I’m 51% sure Zellweger will get it — and 48% suspecting Aghdashloo will come from behind (the other 1%? Patricia Clarkson).

There you have it. Let’s see on Monday how I did.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is going through the roof — not because I’m getting so many more visitors recently (although I am — hi there, new people! Check out the groovy digs!) but because someone on Livejournal linked to a picture here. And the thing is, when you link to a picture on livejournal, it not only gets linked to on your blog, it also gets linked to on every single “friends” blog that has you listed. And either this person who linked the picture has a lot of friends, or people simply cut and pasted the picture into their own livejournals — thus precipitating more “friend” journal hits and so on. And apparently people are just linking to the picture — not back to me personally. And you know. I hate that. If you’re going to thieve my bandwidth, at least do me the courtesy of an actual link, so I get something out of it, like (possibly) new readers.

As a gentle reminder to Livejournalers, I replaced the picture with this:

In addition to letting them know what they’re doing, it’s also a much smaller graphic, memorywise.

To be honest, I don’t really mind people doing direct picture links, but I do wish they’d let me know first so I can say “yeah, that’s okay” or “no, you’re on Livejournal, please just cut and paste the picture into your own space” (or “hell no — you leave my precious pictures alone!!!” Although I don’t usually say that one).

Anyway, if you’re one of the livejournal people who came this way thanks to the graphic, hi there. I’m not actually angry at you. You’re just going to end up costing me money is all. Please, please, please ask for permission to link to my pictures next time. Thanks.

My Right to Same Sex Marriage (in Massachusetts)

Uh-oh, here I go again:

One of the typical responses to the whole “gay marriage” thing is that gays and lesbians won’t actually lose their equal rights by the passage of an amendment that limits marriage to only one man and one woman, because gays and lesbians can marry a man (if they’re a lesbian) or a woman (if they’re a gay man), and they won’t lose that right no matter what. (Orson Scott Card, a writer whose fiction work I immensely admire — and who is also strongly socially conservative — brings forth this argument here).

All right, fine. Let’s go ahead and play this game, and cast it another way. Which is:

In about six weeks, barring the sudden and direction intervention of God, a meteor that wipes out only the land mass of Massachusetts or a temporally mobile, socially conservative cyborg that zooms back in time to kill several members of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, people of the same sex will be able to marry each other in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This is a done deal, unless by some miracle two-thirds of the House and Senate and three quarters of the US states ram through an FMA in that time, which seems, shall we say, unlikely (this is where that sudden and direct intervention of God comes in).

However, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, in its wisdom, did not specify that only gays and lesbians may marry members of the same sex; indeed, anyone could do so — even, say, me. So sometime in May, I will have the right to marry another man in Massachusetts. Now, granted, for me to marry a man, I would first have to divorce my wife (extremely unlikely), and then find a person of my own gender who I am sufficiently attracted to in all ways — mentally, physically, emotionally and sexually — that I can be persuaded to shack up with him for the rest of my days (even more unlikely still). So it seems doubtful I will take advantage of this right (no more than, say, a gay person would take advantage of the right to marry a person of the opposite sex). But that’s not the point. The point is: I can. It’s my right.

So, if a Federal Marriage Amendment passes, not only will the United States of America be taking away the right of gays and lesbians to marry a person of the same sex (in Massachusetts), it will also be taking away my right to marry a person of the same sex (in Massachusetts).

And so, this is me saying: I want the right to marry a person of the same sex (in Massachusetts). And in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I have that right (or will, in six weeks). I won’t exercise that right, true enough, but so what? I can think of a number of rights I have that I have not yet exercised and/or have no intention of exercising, but that doesn’t mean those rights aren’t still mine under the Constitution of the United States — or that I wouldn’t get extremely agitated if someone tried to take those rights away.

I will have the right to marry someone of the same sex (in Massachusetts). And so will you, regardless of your sex, color, race, creed, national origin, or range of physical ability. The ability to marry a member of the same sex (in Massachusetts) will be, I dare say, refreshingly egalitarian. So rejoice! You have a right you didn’t have before. And that’s not a bad thing — indeed, the US Constitution is famously rife with instances where rights were expanded, sometimes for particular groups but also for the public at large.

A Federal Marriage Amendment would take away my recognized right to marry a person of the same sex (in Massachusetts) — and why would I want to amend the constitution to take away one of my rights? I mean, sure, it’s easy to take away rights of other people, especially when they’re, you know, fornicating sinners and going to Hell for their terrible terrible Sodomite ways anyway. But let me ask you — are you really willing to throw away rights which accrue to you?

And if you are, why should anyone stop there? If you’re willing to throw away your right to marry a person of the same sex (in Massachusetts), what argument do you have for wanting to keep, say, your right to bear arms? Or your right to peaceably assemble? Or your right against self-incrimination? Or your right to keep the government from quartering soldiers in your home? Or, indeed, any right you may care to think of?

I love my rights — I daresay I am greedy for them, which why I would choose not to part with a single one of them, even the ones I have no intention of using — even the right to marry someone of the same sex (in Massachusetts). I had said earlier that the Federal Marriage Amendment would take away the rights of a specific group of people, but I see now that I was wrong. It would take away my rights, and yours too, and the rights of all Americans to marry someone of the same sex (in Massachusetts). A right that even accrues to the people pushing the Federal Marriage Amendment, although clearly, they don’t deserve it. I would thank them very kindly to their hands off my rights.

So I say: Fight! Fight for your right for same sex marriage (in Massachusetts)! If you let them take it away, who’s to say they won’t come for your guns next? Or your books? Or your home? Or your liberty? If you love America and what it stands for, you can do no less than demand your right to same sex marriage.

In Massachusetts!

Building the Perfect Goth Girl

Goth girls are made, not born, and so in the interests of Athena developing that essential patina of removed disdainful alienation that will serve her well to mask her insecurities and neuroses through high school and college, we got her this little goth doll, whose name, if I recall correctly, is “Malice,” and is very much like what Barbie would have been had she been fed nothing but a diet of Anne Rice books and old tapes of Tones on Tail, Japan and Dali’s Car. Athena is delighted, although of course careful not to actually let any positive emotion about that fact show, as you can see from the photo above.

The pump was already primed. One of Athena’s favorite animated films is The Nightmare Before Christmas and her favorite holiday is Halloween; of her three favorite colors, two are black and purple (the other is pink. Give her time). And one of her favorite recent bands is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who are not goth, but as anyone who has checked out Karen O’s wardrobe knows, are definitely a step in the right direction. And: She likes spiders. Really, it’s like someone drew a map to Gothville and gave it to her.

You ask: But now how will you nurture the paradoxically passive-aggressive goth impulse, the one that claims to hate people yet dresses specifically to get attention? Well, you know. With love is how. Krissy has prepared the way with the complete sets of Rice’s Vampire and Mayflower Witches series; on my end I’ve got the complete Sandman collection, including the two stand-alone books about the Ankh-wearing gamine Death. Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice and Sleepy Hollow? Check. The recorded works of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, the Cure, Nine Inch Nails and The Misfits? Check. The Crow and The two Addams Family movies? Check and check. And we have at least one Edvard Munch print in the house. Believe me, we’re ready.

And what if Athena rejects goth? After all, she does currently have gymnastics class at the YMCA. Physical exercise is not very goth. And she also loves tuneage from They Might Be Giants and Cole Porter, neither of whom have a shred of gothiness to them. And while she adores The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy (speaking of goth training films), she’s also very positive about Kim Possible and Spongebob Squarepants. And — perhaps the biggest strike against her incipient gothosity — she likes playing out in the sun. We have to accept the very real possibility that our darling child may give in to the pink side of her nature, the part that enjoys floral patterns and Easy Bake ovens and wandering around the house in a ballerina get-up.

And of course, the answer is: We’ll love her to bits anyway, because she’s our daughter and we want her to be happy — even if that means she actually, you know, shows that she’s happy. Goth girl, cheerleader, or anywhere inbetween, what we really want is for her to be herself. We’re happy to say she’s already that, and becoming more so every day we know her.

As Long As You’re Here –

Readership is up quite a bit in the last couple of days, and since today I’m not going to be posting much of anything on account I need to make some money (plasma drive, here I come!), I encourage newcomers and veterans both to check out IndieCrit, in which I highlight cool music from indie bands. I’ve got two new selections today, and there’s a whole bunch of other music to listen and (hopefully) enjoy and (even more hopefully) inspire you to support these artists. If you’ve never been to visit this site of mine, today’s a good a day as any.

Addendum

Yes, yes, I know. I’ve been tiresome about gay marriage recently. But you know, look. As soon as I got done typing the last entry, I went over to CNN’s Web page to find that our president backs an amendment to our constitution which would, if passed, be the first time our government has specifically encoded into our constitution the denial of a right to a specific class of people — a class of people who will have that right by the time this constitutional amendment would pass. Which means that for the first time, America would constiutionally deprive a specific set of its citizens of a right they already enjoy (Prohibition, while stupid, was a blanket prohibition). The thought of my country doing that — and of a president suggesting it should be done — sickens me. There is nothing more hateful or contemptuous or flat-out immoral that we can do as Americans than to deprive other Americans of their rights — rights we let other Americans have.

The fact that Bush is willing to try — and decries judicial “activism” when it was an equally “activist” act by the Supreme Court that gave him the job — has pretty much erased in my mind any lingering doubts that the man is one of the worst presidents this country has had. He’s maybe not James Buchanan bad, but he’s definitely Warren G. Harding bad — an incompetent man led by those around him and serving the interests of the few rather than the interests of his country as a whole. And even Harding didn’t have the contempt for his fellow Americans to attempt a stunt like this.

It’s hard for me at the moment to find too much humor in the idea of what Bush wants us all to do — indeed, I would say that that the end result of passing a constitutional amendment to bar gays and lesbians to marry would simply make me ashamed to be married. Not because I am ashamed that I have declared to the world my intent to live my life with my wife (really, far from it), but because it explicitly says I have a constitutional right that other Americans do not, and implicitly says that I deserve that right more than other Americans, for the simple fact I choose to love someone of the opposite sex.

Well, let me be clear about this: If a constitutional right isn’t good enough for every American citizen, I don’t see why it’s good enough for me. If this constitutional amendment were to pass, I wouldn’t be getting a divorce — but you can be damned sure that I’ll remember who it was who made the state of marriage in America a constitutional symbol of discrimination and inequality.

Update: It occurs to me that this amendment would take away my right to same sex marriage too — and yours! I talk about it here.

Leviticans

On occasion people ask me what, exactly, it is I have against Christianity, inasmuch as I seem to rail against it quite a bit. My general response is: I have nothing against Christianity. I wish more Christians practiced it. The famous bumper sticker says “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” but I often wonder just how often they check in with Christ about that last one. I look at the picture I included with the last entry, the one with the kid protesting the gay marriages in San Francisco, wearing the shirt that has “homo” written on it with a circle and slash through the word, and I try to find some of Christ’s teachings in that. As you might imagine, I’m finding very little.

If that kid were hit by a bus and got to meet Christ shortly thereafter, I do imagine the conversation would be a sorrowful one, as the homo-negating young man would have to try to reconcile his shirt with the admonition to love others as one loves one’s self. I would imagine at the end of that conversation, the young man would be looking to see if Christ were holding a lever, and if there were a trap door under the young man’s feet.

In the comment thread of the last entry, one of the posters wondered why many fundamentalists spend so much time in Leviticus and so little time in the New Testament, and I think that’s a remarkably cogent question. Indeed, it is so cogent that I would like to make the suggestion that there is an entire class of self-identified “Christians” who are not Christian at all, in the sense that they don’t follow the actual teachings of Christ in any meaningful way. Rather these people nod toward Christ in a cursory fashion on their way to spend time in the bloodier books of the Bible (which tend to be found in the Old Testament), using the text selectively as a support for their own hates and prejudices, using the Bible as a cudgel rather than a door. That being the case, I suggest we stop calling these people Christians and start calling them something that befits their faith, inclinations and enthusiasms.

I say we call them Leviticans, after Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament, famous for its rules, and also the home of the passages most likely to be thrown out by Leviticans to justify their intolerance (including, in recent days, against gays and lesbians — Leviticus Chapter 18, Verse 22: “Thou shalt not not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination”).

To suggest that a Christian is actually a Levitican is not to say he or she is false in faith — rather, it is to suggest that their faith is elsewhere in the Bible, in the parts that are easy to understand: The rules, the regulations, all the things that are clear cut about what you can do and what you can’t do to be right with God. Rules are far easier to follow than Christ’s actual path, which needs humility and sacrifice and the ability to forgive, love and cherish even those who you oppose and who oppose and hate you. Any idiot can follow rules; indeed, there’s a good argument to made that idiots can only follow rules. This is why Leviticans love Leviticus (and other pentateuchal and Old Testament books): Chock full of rules. And you can believe in rules. That’s why they’re rules.

So, back to the guy with the “homo” shirt. Is he a Christian? Well, on the basis of his actions, it would appear not. But he’s undoubtedly a Levitican — a Levitican is just the sort of person who would go to the San Francisco City Hall and yell atgays and lesbians for having the temerity to want the same rights as the rest of us. Fred Phelps and his merry band followers who picket funerals of gay men with “God Hates Fags” signs are Leviticans through and through — not a drop of Christ in them, but they sure are full of their Bible books. John Ashcroft: Filled with the Levitican spirit and not terribly shy about it. Pat Roberts and Jerry Falwell showed their Levitican membership cards right after 9/11 when they suggested that America invited the terrorist attacks by being tolerant of “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle.” The guys who shoot abortion doctors: Leviticans to the core. Judge Roy “Put those ten commandments in the rotunda” Moore: Levitican. Hardcore.

Let’s be clear: Not every Christian is a Levitican, not by a long shot. Not every fundamentalist Christian is a Levitican. And not every person who believes that allowing gays and lesbians to marry is morally wrong is Levitican, either. (Also to be clear: Although Leviticus is part of the Torah, I don’t see too many Leviticans among the Jews, who in my experience see the Torah as a jumping off point to engage the world rather than a defense against it.) People of good will can disagree, vehemently, about what it right and what is wrong, what is moral and what is immoral, and what should be done about it. What makes a Levitican, in my book at least, is the willingness to transmute one’s beliefs into hate and intolerance, to deprive others of rights they ought to enjoy. Leviticans have ever been with us. They quoted the Bible to justify slavery. They quoted the Bible to try to keep women in the home. They quoted the Bible to keep the races pure. They quote the Bible to try to keep gays and lesbians from the benefits of marriage. And each time, after they’ve quoted the Bible to their satisfaction, they go out and use that justification for their hate to do terrible things.

In my opinion, the best thing Christians can do is recognize this group within their host — one that reads the same book, purports to follow the same teachings and alleges to worship the same Christ, but through its actions proves itself time and again to be something other than Christian. And I think Christians should ask these people: Who are you? Do you follow the loving example of Christ or do you follow the rules of Leviticus? Do you use the Bible to illuminate your love or justify your hate? When Christ comes back, how will you show that you’ve followed his path? By the number of people that you’ve loved, or the number of the people whom you have “righteously” opposed? Do you love Christ or do you love rules? Are you a Christian, or are you a Levitican?

As for the rest of us, I propose we do our best to separate the Christians from the Leviticans in our minds. I see no reason to blame those who genuinely follow Christ for the actions of those who merely use Christ as a shield for their own hates and fears. And when a Levitican comes across your path, politely point out to him or her what he or she really is: Not a Christian, merely a Levitican.

Most likely, the Levitican will hate you for it. But that just goes to prove the point.

Pictures of People’s Souls

A question for you. 20 years from now, and presuming a certain level of the ability to feel shame at one’s own public stupidity, which people in the photos below do you think will be more ashamed of their actions at the San Francisco City Hall last week? These people:

Or these people?

And just as importantly, do you think your answer to the question above will shame you in 20 years? Think carefully, now.

(First picture pilfered from “Justly Married.” Second pilfered from Rob Rummel-Hudson, who pilfered it from other sources.)

Fake Cover, Real Book

I got a couple of e-mails asking for a better look at the cover I made for my CafePress run of The Android’s Dream. So, here you go:

It was made by fusing together a picture of a sheep pasture in New Zealand with a picture of the Whirlpool Galaxy by the Hubble in Photoshop. I think it’s reasonably decent for a fifteen minute photoshop job, although given the massive light source of the galaxy, the shadows on the sheep are going the wrong way.

As I mentioned, this was an extremely limited run — there are three copies extant, one for my wife, one for me and one for, oh, I don’t know, something to auction off after I become stupid rich and famous, I suppose. That is if anyone would actually want it, since it’s the version of the book even before I did my minimal copy edit to it. Personally I would hold out for the actual book, because it will be easier to read and will undoubtedly have much better cover art.

I Am Married

I keep hearing how allowing gays to marry threatens marriage. Fine. Someone tell me how my marriage is directly threatened by two men marrying or two women marrying. Does their marriage make my marriage less legal? Does their love somehow compromise the love I feel for my wife, or she for me? Is the direct consequence of their marriage that my marriage and the commitment therein is manifestly lessened, compromised or broken? And if the answer to these questions is “no,” as it is, exactly how is marriage threatened?

I am part of a normal married couple. My wife and I have been married almost nine years. We have a child. We own a home. We pay our taxes and we live our lives in the midst of friends and family. Every day we tell each other that we love each other before we go to work. Every day we come home (well, she comes home, I work here) and spend our evening together as a family. Over the mantel hangs the picture you see with this entry. We are immersed in the fact that we are married to each other; it’s unavoidable. But that’s the wrong word to use because we don’t avoid it, and wouldn’t wish to. We embrace it. I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where I don’t have cause to be reminded how much better my life is for being married. This is what being married is.

If this very-married state of matrimony is not in the slightest bit threatened by two men getting married or two women getting married, how can the “institution” of marriage be threatened? The institution of marriage lies in the union of souls; to discuss marriage in general without acknowledging that it exists because of marriages in particular is a pointless exercise. If no single marriage is directly affected by two men or two women getting married — if I and my neighbors and my family and friends and even my enemies are still well-ensconced in our individual marriages to our spouses — how is the institution of marriage harmed? No harm has come to its constituents, who are the institution.

Oh, some of those who are married are insulted, or upset, or shocked or saddened or just generally feel less special, burdened with the knowledge that somewhere a man may marry a man and a woman may marry a woman. But those are feelings. The facts of their marriage — the legal and social benefits that accrue — are unchanged for them if two men walk down the aisle, or if two women do the same.

I’ve been looking at the pictures of the men and women getting married at San Francisco’s City Hall in the last week, and I think it’s interesting that in so many of the pictures, the couples coming out the City Hall imbue their marriage certificates with a significance heterosexual couples hardly ever do. I have a California marriage certificate too, as it happens. I remember reading it, I remember signing it. I know we’ve got it filed away somewhere. These couples won’t file their certificates away. They’re going to hang them above the mantel, pretty much in the same place and in the same manner I have that picture above. These people want to be married with a hunger that you only get from being denied something others have to the point of it being commonplace. I feel like I need to go and find my marriage certificate and give it a good long look: Something so easily provided me, so precious to someone else. I suspect they are treating their certificates in a manner more appropriate.

On what grounds do I as a married person tell others who want to be married that they are undeserving of the joy and comfort I’ve found in the married state? What right do I have morally to say that I deserve something that they do not? If I believe that every American deserves equal rights, equal protections and equal responsibilities and obligations under the law, how may I with justification deny my fellow citizens this one thing? Why must I be required to denigrate people I know, people I love and people who share my life to sequester away a right of mine that is not threatened by its being shared? Gays and lesbians were at my wedding and celebrated that day with me and my wife and wished us nothing less than all the happiness we could stand for the very length of our lives. On what grounds do I refuse these people of good will the same happiness, the same celebration, the same courtesy?

I support gay marriage because I support marriage. I support gay marriage because I support equal rights under the law. I support gay marriage because I want to deny those who would wall off people I know and love as second-class citizens. I support gay marriage because I like for people to be happy, and happy with each other. I support gay marriage because I love to go to weddings, and this means more of them. I support gay marriage because my marriage is strengthened rather than lessened by it — in the knowledge that marriage is given to all those who ask for its blessings and obligations, large and small, until death do they part. I support gay marriage because I should. I support gay marriage because I am married.

I am married. I would not be anything else. I wish nothing less for anyone who wishes the same.

Get Me Rewrite

I’ve terrified Tamar with a comment I made in the Novel Postmortem thread, so it’s worth clarifying. In the comment thread for the entry, John Popa asked: “As an aspiring-to-be-published writer, I’m curious as to how much rewriting you expect from this point? How ‘done’ is this ‘done?’” My response, in part:

I rewrite only very rarely, mostly because I tend to resolve most of my writing issues during the initial writing. In some sense I think “re-writing” is an artifact of the days of typewriters, when it wasn’t easy or practical to rework material on the fly. With computers, it’s much simpler to makes changes as you go along.

This strikes Tamar as very wrong. While granting me props for my mad writing skillz (which I appreciate), Tamar not unjustifiably worries that I’m setting a bad example by eschewing rewrites, noting:

…it scares me to think of some writer out there taking his opinion to heart, someone like my friend, looking for validation and an outside justification to avoid the work that needs doing. The world already has too many bad, unedited novels.

I would agree that there are indeed too many bad, unedited novels out there (and too many bad edited ones, too, although that’s a different matter entirely), and I would also agree wholeheartedly that as a writer I’m probably a terrible example to follow. But that doesn’t surprise me in the least; I’ve always figured that was the case. Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be John Scalzi.

I also don’t want to single myself out as a writer who is just so good I don’t need to rewrite — I mean, I think I’m a pretty good writer, y’all, but off the top of my head I can think of quite a few I think are better than me. I have no idea what their philosophy on rewrite is. And it might be that after my editor reads the book, he’ll ship it back to me with a note that reads “Are you high? This is crap!” — a possibility which I note is even more realistic now, since last night I was rereading the book and I suspect my copy edit forgot to correct the name of one character changing from “Bob” to “Bill” about two-thirds of the way through. As they say: D’oh! (Note to aforementioned editor: It’s supposed to be “Bob Pope” all the way through. Please don’t hit me.)

Be that as it may, I don’t do rewrites — or more accurately, I haven’t done rewrites; I may do them in the future (never say never). Why haven’t I done rewrites? Mostly because I never have, ever (there’s an exception to this, which I will get to). Back in high school, I had a history teacher who would make us turn in our first drafts of papers along with our final drafts; I would write the paper and then write out a “first draft” outline based on what I’d written (suitably messed up so as to show “improvement” from the rough draft to the final). From this undoubtedly bad practice I’ve continued with a basic philosophy of things being done when I’m done writing them.

The only defense I can possibly offer for it is that it seems to work for me. My non-fiction books were sent in to editors as originally written, and were all generally well-regarded by the editors and reviewers (particularly the Universe book, which pleases me to no end). Old Man’s War, which sold to Tor, was essentially the first version of itself as well; I made some minor changes based on comments from a cadre of trusted beta testers, but nothing that qualifies as a true rewrite. The first short story I wrote for sale sold as an original edition (and to the first place I submitted. Whoo-hoo!). And with articles both for magazines and books, editors tell me (usually) one of the reasons they like working with me is that I turn in copy they don’t have to fiddle with all that much. That copy again tends to be the original text. In short, I have no objection to the concept of rewriting, I just haven’t had to. What I do works for me so far.

(The exception to this: Business writing, which is constantly rewritten to suit client needs, which are, more frequently than not, a moving, evolving and — one must say — capricious target. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ll finish something for a client, and they’ll say “Hey, this is great, but we’re changing the focus — can you rewrite?” My response: I get paid for business writing by the hour. Of course I can rewrite.)

I attribute not having to do a lot of rewrite to several factors, which include:

* Years working at a newspaper. You learn to write fast and reasonably good and in a manner which does not require substantial editing. Or your editors and copyeditors stab you to death and hang your corpse in the newsroom as a warning to the other staff writers.

* A relatively high personal crap detection system. I am, thank God, not under the illusion that everything I write is pure gold. I write a lot of crap. I just don’t (usually) let other people see it. Like every other writer in the universe I have a several trash bags full of stories, articles and meanderings that were strangled the very instant I realized how hideously misshapen they were. I don’t tend to spend any time trying to revive these creative abortions through rewriting; I tend to believe (and this is strictly as relates to my own writing) that rewriting these turds would merely end up with me having a highly polished turd on my hands. I don’t mind producing turds, which are a natural and healthy part of life. I just don’t want them to come out of my brain and through my fingertips.

* A relatively realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. And complementary to that, a willingness to write to my strengths and distract people from my weaknesses through the use of hand gestures and shiny bits of foil while I work on those weaknesses offstage. This is not to say that I only write what I already know; that’d be stupid. But it means I’m generally happy to do things incrementally.

For The Android’s Dream, my big personal innovation is third-person storytelling and multiple storylines. Not a revolutionary advance in the genre of storytelling in general, but a useful and necessary step for me as a writer, and one I could take while still (hopefully) churning out a fun and readable story. I don’t know what the next step for me will be yet, although I have a few ideas. But I’ll guarantee that it’ll be a relatively small advance and that if it works well you won’t notice it because you’re enjoying the story I’ve written. If I do enough of these in tandem, several books down the road I’ll be a much better writer and hopefully will have built a following.

This does mean that there are things you won’t see me do, at least for a while. One of the reasons I love China Mieville’s writing, for example, is that it’s a style I simply cannot do. It doesn’t mean his style is inherently better or worse than mine (although I cheerfully allow at this juncture that of the two of us he is the better writer), merely that I can’t do it. Perhaps after a few more books under my belt, I can try something along that line. We’ll have to see.

* A stint as an editor. Which did two things for me: First, it made me appreciate the pain editors go through on a daily basis, and the pain I personally made them go through with some of my writing, thus forever after prompting me to respect the work they do for writers and to see them as a partner in the process rather than an enemy — and also to try to get them work they could work with (i.e., it added a significant boost to my personal crap detector). Second, it made me rather more aware of what works in writing and why — both in a general sense, and in the sense of my own personal tastes and inclinations.

I don’t say this makes me a fabulous editor of my own work; like any writer, I’m really close to what comes out of my head. I do say it makes me more sensitive to what’s working and what’s not as I write. Once you’ve wrenched your head into an editorial mindset, it stays with you, and that’s a damn useful thing. I will note that I think it is incredibly significant that I only started selling books after I spent time being an editor. Related to this:

* Years as a critic. I’ve spent countless hours watching and reading storytelling and then writing about how and why it works — or doesn’t. Most of this has involved movies, which I think has definitely rubbed off on my writing; when my fiction agent first read my work, he asked me if I had originally envisioned them as movies. The answer was no, but I could see why he thought that. If you spend a significant portion of your life looking at storytelling and having to make an opinion on it — and then having to explain that opinion to an audience — then you learn about structure and story and what works and what doesn’t (or at least what works and what doesn’t for you).

As an aside, I find that being a critic has also given me a tremendous confidence to write the stuff I know I like as a reader. As a critic, I’m not tremendously impressed with writing (or movies or music) that is intentionally opaque or difficult or obscure — none of which is necessarily a synonym for “challenging,” which good art often strives to be — and I also see the value in entertaining an audience for the simple sake of entertaining an audience (especially when I personally am entertained). So paradoxically, I think being a critic has made me less of a snob. This is good for me as a writer, because my novels are not, shall we say, high-fiber brain food at this point. I want them to be entertaining because I like to be entertained. I’m writing the books I’d want to read when I’m stuck in some airport hell, with a flight cancelled and nothing to do until they call my name for standby.

* Doing a buttload of rewrite in my head. I take marathon showers — we’re talking 45 minutes to an hour — not because I’m a filthy, filthy man (or not just because) but because I tend to get my best thinking done there. And why not? I mean, you’re just standing there. Why not think?

And what I tend to think about is: How the hell am I going to get myself out of the corner I’ve just written myself into? I spend a lot of time just standing there, going through plot scenarios in my head, chopping off story ideas that aren’t working, pumping up the ideas that are working and generally wrestling with a lot of the issues that I suspect other writers deal with on the written page. Much of this thinking relates to immediate writing issues, but I also use the time to think up big ideas and then let them accrete in my brain — stuff that has no immediate practical purpose for what I’m writing that day but which will come in handy perhaps later in the book or even in an entirely unrelated project.

I call this sort of thinking “gestating” with the allusion to pregnancy entirely intentional. With gestating thoughts I tend not to do anything with them until I know they’re ready. I gestated the idea of Old Man’s War for a couple of years until it became clear it was time to write it. I’ve got three or four big ideas gestating as we speak, and some are closer to popping out than others. There’s no point rushing any of them. And what the means is that when they’re ready to go, I’ve already lived with them for a long time. I think that cuts down the need to do a lot of rewriting to find the general shape of a story.

Now, having said all this, what will I do when my editors come back to me (as they inevitably will) and say: This part needs to be rewritten? Well, I’ll rewrite it, of course. I know that just like I know how to do my job, my editor knows his job, and we both want the book to do well. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not precious with my text. The words are words, not glistening jewels sparkling in the sunlight. Words are meant to do work. Things that work need to be told what to do and how to do it. Sometimes they’re not doing it right. I did my job getting the work to the editor in as good a shape as possible, but I’m well aware that this only the first step in making it ready for an audience.

Nor do I think I’ll never rewrite on my own. It’s entirely possible at one point or another something I write is going to need a rewrite — I’d be stupid not to do it. I might have some ego wrapped up in not having done rewrites (it is kind of an unusual thing), but I have rather more ego wrapped out in not writing terrible stuff. My ego will get over rewriting something. But if I wrote a crappy book and it escaped into the world, I’d have to live with that for a real long time. If the choice is between rewrite and releasing crap, get me rewrite.

Mack Daddy Day

Today was the mack daddy day for cool stuff in the mail. First to arrive: My personally inscribed copy of Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow, shipped from Borderlands Books, San Francisco’s finest purveyor of Cory Stuff (he’s doing a signing there this very evening! If you’re in SF, go!). Second: My review copy of Vienna Teng’s latest album Warm Strangers. I dig Vienna’s work and she was one of the very first people I reviewed on IndieCrit, so I feel like I have something of a special connection to her (although, of course, she’s undoubtedly entirely unaware of me, so this special connection stuff only goes so far). Third: My CafePress copy of The Android’s Dream, which I ran off to spare my wife from having to read it on the computer screen. It’s filled with grammar and spelling errors, I’m sure, but who cares? It’s still cool. And no, you can’t have one. Like the Agent to the Stars copy I ran off, this is a special edition for my wife. Living with me has to have some compensations, don’t you think.

Mack daddy! All right, I’m done showing off my trinkets and baubles.

Ode to Librarians

One thing I love about librarians – aside from their natural inclination to think books are the coolest things ever — is that if you scratch their mild-mannered, book-shelving exteriors, you find fire-breathing proponents for the rights of the individual lashing back at you. Last night one of my librarian friends called me in an apoplexy about a new Ohio State Senate bill which would require filter use on computers similar to the one called for in the Federal CIPA act, and vented for several minutes about how these sorts of bills cut the feet out from under local librarians who — being local, after all — have a better grip on what their community standards are than politicians in Columbus, and required already overworked and underpaid librarians to add even more responsibilities to their list of things they have to do. My friend was wound up enough that if she were placed into the same room as Ohio State Senator Steve Austria (who put this bill out there) I fear that she would eat his very heart. I dig that about her, and among librarians, I don’t feel that she would be unusual in her heart-eating ways.

I went ahead and read the bill that Austria sent up. The library stuff is almost an aside; it’s largely concerned with making sure that no child anywhere is exposed to anything to do with porn, and adds to the existing law against selling kids porn the banning of providing kids with “pre-paid adult entertainment cards” which can be used to access porn on computers and, in a related maneuver, specifies “electronic communication” as a media from which one may not provide porn to minors.

To which I say: Fine, by all means, let’s root out the evil element in our society that purveys porn to teenagers and make today’s teens get their porn the old-fashioned way: From their old man’s stash. I mean, that’s the way I did it and the way everyone else I knew did it, and if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for the kids of today.

But I do have to wonder why Austria bothers with specifying “pre-paid adult entertainment cards” and “electronic communication” when the law as it exists already forbids folks the ability to “Directly sell, deliver, furnish, disseminate, provide, exhibit, rent, or present to a juvenile, a group of juveniles, a law enforcement officer posing as a juvenile, or a group of law enforcement officers posing as juveniles any material or performance that is obscene or harmful to juveniles.” Call me a grammatical stickler about this, but “any” already contains “electronic communication” as a subset, and providing cards whose only purpose is to allow people to cruise porn can be reasonably construed as “furnishing,” so I don’t really see the value of further specifying it.

Likewise, calling for additional filtering on Ohio’s library computers seems to me to be of little material benefit; Libraries that receive certain federal funds must already have filters on their computers, so what’s the point? Reading these sorts of bills always seems to suggest that our libraries have somehow turned into crack dens of iniquity, with deranged perverts and glazed-eyed teenage boys cruising stileproject.com while masturbating openly in the children’s section of the library. However, as a reasonably frequent patron of (and provider to) my local library, I’ve yet to see any of that, and I would imagine that should anyone attempt such a maneuver, the staff would be busy beating him to death with a shovel. Telling a librarian how to keep order in a library is like telling a mechanic how to change oil. They know, already.

If I were the King of Ohio, I would be benevolent and smite only those what need smiting, but more to the point in this case, I would make it a rule that any bills or amendments to laws forwarded for the primary purpose of allowing an elected state official to look like he’s keeping busy are to be summarily booted, and the official forwarding such a bill to be clouted about the head until he learns not to waste the taxpayer’s time and money. Senator Austria’s bill seems constructed primarily so that when he goes home to get re-elected, he can say at campaign pancake breakfasts that he “strengthened Ohio’s ability to stop smut from reaching our kids,” or however he will inevitably phrase it. But all he’s really doing is adding in busy work which the Ohio Library Council, for one, figures is likely to be unconstitutional. And all that will mean is that Ohio will have to spend money defending the law in court — money that could have gone to more useful endeavors, like, say, library funding.

Two things here: First, if you’re in Ohio, it might be worth your time to ask your State Senator (here’s mine) if he or she truly figures this sort of busybodiness is a genuinely good use of the Senate’s time, Ohio’s money, and librarians’ patience. Second, you might ask yourself who you trust more to keep your kids out of trouble in a library: a State Senator or the actual librarian standing behind a counter.

I spent a lot of time in the library as a kid, and I recall the librarians doing a pretty good job of keeping the kids in line. And I know personally that I would trust my librarian friend to do a better job steering my own child around a library than I would State Senator Steve Austria. My friend knows her job. I’m inclined to trust her to do it.

Novel Post-Mortem, Volume One

All right, now I’ve had some sleep. Allow me to share some thoughts about finishing up The Android’s Dream:

* First, I’m amused (as always) at how the writing process works, at least in my case. I started writing The Android’s Dream (henceforth to be acronymed as “TAD”) at the beginning of May, 2003 and fully expected to be finished by the first of October, which is when the book was contractually due to the publisher; I had completed both Agent and Old Man’s War in about three months, so the five-month time budget I gave myself for TAD seemed pretty generous.

But it turned out not to be, I think primarily because I didn’t appreciate that I was writing a rather more complicated book than I’d tried writing before. Agent and OMW are both first-person, dialogue-driven and linear in their story-telling — both novels are basically on a rail from start to finish and don’t deviate from the course. Nothing wrong with that, of course (I like both of those novels a lot). But TAD is third-person, with multiple story lines, rather more description than I’ve ever attempted before, and a plot that has several layers (the story of the main character, a larger diplomatic struggle into which his actions are set, and so on and so forth). Like I said, complicated. The complication was added to by the fact I wrote without an outline — a fact which I think is good (more on that later) — but which also meant I spent a hell of a lot of time figuring out what came next.

End result: Nine-and-a-half months. If I had been carrying a baby, I would have been screaming to get the damn thing out — and I sort of was. The last month of the writing was actually rather intense, in terms of output: Most of the back third of the book (about 35,000 words) in that time, over 23,000 words of of which were in the last five days, and 14,000 words in the last 20 hours or so. This after a couple of months where I was lucky to get a couple thousand words out.

The difference was that in the early months my brain was still working on how the plot would unfold, and in the last month the plot stopped unfolding and started folding back in on itself — the “backside” I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, in which I as a writer know (more or less) everything that had to happen to get to the end of the book, so now it was a simple matter of writing it. And once I know exactly what I’m going to write, you know, stand back — I write fast. It was gratifying, actually. After spending several months convincing myself that it was okay to write slowly because the story just needed to be written at the the pace it was going, it was a blast just to pound out that final third.

So writing this book was like eight months in first and second gear followed by a month in fifth gear and the final five days with a rocket engine strapped to my head. I don’t know that I’d recommend this sort of writing technique to anyone else (I don’t know that I’d recommend it to me), but in this case it’s what worked. If you have the time and luxury to let a story write itself at the pace it wants to be written (and I did — thank you, Patrick), you should do it, no matter the pace, and no matter the changes in speed along the way.

* Am I happy with it? I am indeed. Writingwise, I think it’s pretty good, especially some of the final chapters, which are just jammed with action. And that’s a good thing, since I sold the book as being action-packed. Structurally, I think it’s sound as well, and I’m pleased to discover that I can write a third-person story with multiple plot lines. Now that I know I can, I do think (hope, pray) that subsequent excursions into the form will write themselves more quickly; this particular story-writing muscle got a workout. Pacingwise, I also think it’s good — it starts off with a bang (the six of you who attended my reading at Torcon 3 know about this), lets out some line to let the story develop, reels in the slack with a couple of action-oriented chapters, and then from there repeats the cycle of “little bit of slack, then lots of action” right up to the end.

I’m also pleased with the quality of the story. I don’t like to contend that I am an entirely original thinker when it comes to plots; I enjoy taking basic plot ideas I know have worked before and try to put a new and interesting spin on them (OMW is an example of this: Your basic classic SF military tale with the twist being the age of the combatants). TAD has a lot of classic themes — worlds in the balance, a hero on the run, people caught in the crossfire of power struggles above their heads — but I there are a lot of story details and plot devices that haven’t been used before, which will make it enjoyable to read and make people want to find out what comes next.

Is TAD about anything? Well, as I said over at By The Way, you could say it’s about identity — who we are as opposed to who people assume we are — since several characters in the book have identity issues. But speaking as the author (yeah, yeah, what do I know?) I don’t know that I would make a huge deal about the identity issues. The book is designed to be a fast, fun but not-entirely-stupid adventure story. Tonally speaking, if this book could be said to have a model, it would be the books of Carl Hiaasen or Gregory MacDonald — mystery and thriller writers — than any particular science fiction author. It’s not meant to be a classic of literature, it’s meant to be something you might read on a beach or an airplane. It’s what I was aiming for.

I have no objection to writing books about ideas one day, if the opportunity/inclination comes about. But I promised Tor a book they could sell in supermarket racks, and also to the point, I wanted to write a book like that, too (I want to be huge! HUGE!). I think this book does that.

* As I mentioned, I typically write without an outline, and one of the things that means is that I’m often amazed at what I thought would be in the book that is not, and that some things that turn out to be integral to the book I hadn’t even thought of prior to the writing. For an example, early on the book I imagined that there would be alien rebels who would help the hero in a “storm the castle” sort of action sequence; there are alien rebels, but they have very little to do directly with the hero, and they certainly don’t help him storm any castles. Likewise, I imagined a rather significant section of the book would involve an information metaphor that large-scale computer systems use to communicate with each other, but I never got around to using it because it didn’t make sense to shoehorn it into the story. Not every cool idea (or accurately, every idea you think is cool) is going to work.

On the flip side of this, there was one small character detail which turned out to be hugely useful with the construction of the book; I returned to it again and again and it fact it became one of the spines upon which the story is supported. It’s significant enough that I wish I could say I planned it. Once the book comes out I’ll let you guys try to figure out which detail it might be.

As an aside to this, there are a number of places where I think it could have been interesting to delve deeply into one detail or another, but I chose not to as a writer (one of these involves a specific character, who exists in a certain state). I didn’t go into these bits generally for two reasons: One, there’s a small chance that I’ll create other books in this universe, and I’d like to leave some avenues open for later exploration. Two, I think it’s fun to have a universe that’s incomplete — not sketchy or underwritten, but rather where not every single thing is explained in detail. It gives the reader things to think about in an undirected sense. That is to say, you as the author aren’t pointing to something going “Look! This is something to ponder!” Rather, readers find something and go “I wonder why that is,” and let their imaginations run with it. I mean, hopefully. They might also go “Damn it, why doesn’t he explain this?!?” But that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

* When does it come out? Well, presuming Tor likes it, my understanding is that it will hit the shelves sometime around November 2005. Please understand this is an extremely tentative prediction on my part; it’s up to Tor in its bibliographical wisdom to place it on the schedule.

Does this mean you’ll have to wait at least 18 months to read it? Well, yeah, basically. I don’t expect I’ll be placing it online in any capacity between now and then. But it’s not as if you won’t have enough other stuff from me between now and then. In fact, I’m likely to have some announcements coming on that subject some time in the near future. But for now, good things (or at least things I write) come to those who wait.

100,000

For all of you keeping score at home regarding my novel progress, this is just a note to let you know I just cracked the 100,000-word mark, which makes it my longest novel ever. (Agent and Old Man were both in the 96,000-word area of things).

Patrick, if you’re reading this, never fear: There’s just one and two-thirds chapters left to write. My personal guess is that this baby’s going to top off in the 110,000 range. If it goes much longer than that I may have to shoot myself.

Also, of course, each and every word is essential. Essential, do you hear me!

Back to it –

I’d Pull Out My Hair if I Had Any

Okay, so, I’m like this close to finishing my novel — close enough, in fact, that it’s driving me nuts that it’s not done, and I’m in a mad frenzy to get it banged out and out the friggin’ door.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m taking a break until I get this argin’-fargin’ thing done. I’ve promised Krissy I’m going to try to get the writing done this week (really, I’m that close), so hopefully this hiatus will be reasonably short. But I swear I’m going to brain myself with a hammer if I don’t get it done soon.

So: See you here in about a week or so (hopefully). I will during that time still be updating By The Way (because they pay me to) and IndieCrit (because it takes, like, five minutes). Wish me luck. Hopefully I’ll be back here sooner than later.

They Say Phenylalanine Does Things to Your Brain

Sometimes, when a Diet Coke and a Minute Maid Light Lemonade really love each other, they’ll ignore all the naysayers who demand that their passion for each other be kept a dark, desperate secret, and flaunt their desire for each other for all to see. And sometimes, through the purity of their love, a fruit of their love blossoms:

I, for one, applaud any Light Lemonade and Diet Cola — regardless of brand affiliation — who have the personal courage to stand up to the bluenoses and puritans who say that caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages should keep to their own kind. What do they know? If that cola and that creme soda had not bravely stood up to restrictive social mores, the world would not have known the joys of Vanilla Coke. And we would all be poorer for it.

So gaze, if you will, on the face of Diet Coke with Lemon. It’s more than just another beverage. It’s the face of the New America. I salute it. I salute us all.