Daily Archives: September 8, 2004

My Grandfather’s Eulogy

I thought I had already posted this somewhere on my site, but apparently I had not. And since I had thought I had lost it and only came upon it while searching through my computer for something else (my wife’s resume, still lost), I figure I’ll post it now, so that even if I lose it again and I very likely will, it will nevertheless be committed to the world memory that is known as Google. It is the eulogy I delivered for my grandfather in June of 1991. Those of you who know me know the high esteem in which I held (and hold) my grandfather; those of you who don’t know me should know I consider him the most important male role model in my life. So there you are. And here it is.

Eulogy for My Grandfather.

My grandfather and I had a number of secrets between us. Most of these, I can’t tell; the salient feature of a secret is not the matter contained within the secret, but the trust implied.

But I’ll tell you one secret, because I think it’s important, and because I think that my grandfather won’t mind. It’s a little secret, without much drama to it: My grandfather once told me that he would have liked to have been a history teacher.

Like I said, it’s a little secret. It’s a little dream. But ever since he told it to me, four years ago now, the image of my grandfather in front of a class, teaching history, has stayed fixed in my memory. It is something that seems right and true.

Part of this may have to do with the fact that, in a very real sense, my grandfather embodied history to me. I have only just now come to that point in my life where time has loosed itself from its moorings, and memory has begun to develop an appreciable depth. But to me, my grandfather always seemed to have that depth.

We can all remember asking our grandparents about their lives; it’s fascinating to a young person, because here is someone talking about a time and a place that never existed or could exist for that young person. Here, before you, is someone who has traveled through time.

And as you reconstruct the past with a grandparent, you also reconstruct the person. My grandfather had always been my grandfather: Older, balding, and grumpy. But he was also once a child, who didn’t speak English until he was five years old. He was a teenager who used to play baseball. He was a young man who was dragged to a USO dance by a buddy, there to meet the woman he would marry. There’s a richness of a life that can only be told though a recitation of its history. My grandfather came truly alive to me when I knew his life.

A place and its history are meaningless unless there is a context in which to place it. The proper context for my father was within his family. Families are also the embodiment of history: The individual elements change as the men and women of it pass though time, but the family remains. My grandfather told me that in the little Italian town from which our family came, there is a book that lists the names of our family back hundreds of years. It’s a staggering thing to know there is so much history there.

But it is easily lost. On my mother’s side of the family, there is a box that contains the portraits of a dozen or more of my relatives who lived during the 1850s and 60s. All we have are those photos; names and knowledge of them simply does not exist. I know nothing about them. The photos stare back at me when I look, but they do not speak.

Grandpa spent countless hours tell me about the Scalzis and their kin and their friends, reaching into the past and bringing it forward into the present day. I didn’t know why it was so important to him that I know about you all, many of whom I am meeting today for the first time as an adult.

But I think I understand part of it now. Your family is more than a historical context. It shapes you and colors you and binds you. You can feel the tangible connections between us, linked through time from the past and fading into the future. My grandfather wanted me to know about those who had acted within his life, because they would play a part in my life as well, if only indirectly, as their attractions pulled at my grandfather during his path through life.

Grandpa loved his family deeply, although he did not always understand it. There is much that my grandfather has done that he knew was wrong, much concerning the route the path of his life took through his family that he wished he could change or alter, some pains he wished he could take away. You must believe me: At the core of my grandfather’s soul was love for his family. It is simultaneously his greatest pride and disappointment, and he loved you all with a mixture of love and resignation.

What a small dream my grandfather had, but what a powerful dream as well. I look at most of you now through my grandfather’s eyes and memories. Who you are to me must spring from the foundation of knowledge he gave me, from the sense of history that he tried to instill within me, about you. It is a good foundation, a good history, and my grandfather’s life was a good life.

My grandfather was a teacher of history, although he did not know it. It is a history that is still living, as we compose its elemental parts, as we create our world in our own time, linked together and stronger for it.

I thank my grandfather for his lessons, I love him, and I honor him. And as befits a teller of history, I shall not forget him.

The Real World Book Deal Descriptions

Now, if you’ve read the previous entry about Noreascon, you may have come away thinking that most of what writers do at conventions is drinking and carousing and then possibly drinking some more. And you’d be right. However, I don’t want you to think that nothing of value was accomplished there — or indeed that nothing of value can be accomplished even while drinking.

As proof of this, it gives me great pride to introduce to the world the Real World Book Deal Descriptions, as formulated at Noreascon 4 at the Sheraton Hotel Lobby Bar by a group of only somewhat inebriated writers including Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Kelly Link, James Patrick Kelly, Lauren McLaughlin, Eliani Torres, Shara Zoll and your humble narrator. A couple others were there as well (if you were there for it, feel free to chime in in the comment thread), but the point is, this is group wisdom, based on decades of collective writing experience.

Now, some background. One of the most widely-read e-mail lists in publishing is Publisher’s Lunch, in which various book deals are announced with certain euphemisms to describe what sort of money was involved. For example, book deals that get the writer up to $100,000 are known as “a nice deal.” $100K to $250 is “a good deal,” and so on up past the $1 million point, at which you have “a major deal.” And well, yes, if you’re up at that point, it certainly is a major deal, you bastard.

Thing is, for most writers (and I include myself here), about 80% of those levels never get used: The vast majority of book publishing deals are “nice.” However, using one adjective to describe both the $1000 book deal someone gets from a teeny university press and the $90,000 book deal from the major New York publisher is obviously ridiculous. A $1K book deal and a $90K book deal are quite clearly not equivalent; one is, oh, 90 times better than the other. If only for sheer honesty’s sake, there needs to be book deal rankings that accurately reflect what deals really get done and the financial quality of those deals for the writer.

So, after another round of beers, this is what we came up with.

$0 to $3,000: A Shitty Deal. Because that’s what it is, my friends. Possibly the only thing worse than a shitty deal is no deal at all. Possibly.

$3,000 to $5,000: A Contemptible Deal. The deal you get when your publisher has well and truly got your number, and it is low.

$5,000 to $10,000: A “Meh” Deal. It’s not great, you know. But you can pay some bills. Get a few of these, and a tolerant spouse with a regular income, and you can tell your day job to piss off. This year, anyway.

$10,000 to $20,000: A Not Bad Deal. Note that “not bad” here should be said with a slight appreciative rise of the eyebrows and a small approving nod — this is the level at which the money begins to look not embarrassing both to writers and non-writers. A couple of these, and you’ll definitely be punting the day job (I did, anyway).

$20,000 to $100,000: A “Shut Up!” Deal. This needs to be said in the same enviously admiring vocal tone as a teenage girl might use to her girlfriend who is showing off the delicious new pumps she got at Robinsons-May for 30% off, or the vocal tone (same idea, lower register) Jim Kelly used when one of our number admitted to having at least a couple of deals in this range. With this kind of money, you don’t even need a supportive spouse to avoid the Enforced Top Ramen Diet (although, you know. Having one doesn’t hurt). But it’s not so much that the other writers actively begin to hate you.

$100,000 and above: “I’m Getting the Next Round.” Because if you’re at this level, you can buy and sell all the other writers at the table. Get ‘em a friggin’ beer, for God’s sake (ironically, this is the only level not thought up at the bar, but in the cold hard light of the next morning, by Shara Zoll).

Think how much more interesting and useful the Publisher’s Lunch would be if these rankings were used:

“Joe Wannabe’s THE FIRST NOVEL IS THE MOST ANNOYING, a coming-of-age story about a not particularly interesting 20-something graduate student who is eventually dumped by his girlfriend for being a mopey, emo-listening sack of crap, to Random Small Press, in a shitty deal.”

“Susan Midlist’s THE MARY SUE CRITICAL MASS, the story of a world thrown into chaos when large numbers of bookish women spontaneously appear at critical events of historical importance and passively-aggressively demand to play a role, to Not Insignificant Genre Press, in a meh deal.”

“Neil Popular’s A DARK UNIVERSE FULL OF CASH, a tale of a man who wakes up one morning with fame and fortune but then must tolerate being accosted at random intervals by strangers who want to be his best friends and/or to have him blurb their own work, to Big Respected Publisher. He’ll get the next round.”

See, that’s much better.

The floor is now open to comments.

(Note: Those of you coming over from Publisher’s Lunch (hi there!) may also be interested in the follow-up entry you can find here.)