Monthly Archives: February 2005

The Winner of the “Let’s Mock Scalzi” Contest, And Other Odds and Ends

kposer.jpg

Krissy decided that she was the only one in the house qualified to judge who was mocking me the best in the little contest I held the other day, so after much pensive deliberation (see above), Krissy has named “CB” as the winner. The winning entry is as thus (and yes, the typos are intentional):

Interesting review of OMW in this months Geriatrics Health newsletter. (link)

“Scalzi’s ‘Old Mans War’ is stimulating enough to to guarantee two movements a day”…”Makes getting old sound fun!”

I haven’t been paying too much attention to how OMW is selling but it is interesting to note that twenty minutes after that review in the GH newletter, my Amazon sales ranking went up 0.0864 percent. Also, even though I haven’t done much research into this but I do know that at this stage in its publication history, OMW is 5.26 percent more successfull then Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Anyway, time to go back to no worrying about the continuing success of OMW.

Yeah, I have to agree, that’s a pretty scary likeness. Krissy also thought well of the entries offered up by Dan, Soni, Tim Pratt, RG and Dan Alvarez. I myself was taken by Jeff Porten’s entry, in which “I” was revealed to be a 50-something schmoe from Brooklyn. Hey, it could happen.

Anyway, “CB,” drop me an e-mail with your physical address and I’ll send out that advance reader’s copy of Agent to the Stars. And thanks everyone for playing along. You were all delightfully cruel.

Now let me speak truth to CB’s wicked parody by noting some various book news.

1. Subterranean Press tells me that as of about 7pm tonight, Agent to the Stars is officially their best-selling direct sales book for February. Not bad for less than a day’s worth of sales. You guys rock. Thank you.

2. The first foreign rights sale for Old Man’s War is now a done deal, so I can tell you where it’s for: Russia. That’s right, OMW is gonna get all Cyrillic on you. I don’t know when the official release date will be (or for that matter, why those of you who don’t speak Russian would care one way or another), but I do know I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy. I am mildly curious as to what the cover art will be — whether they’ll license the art from Donato or come up with their own thing. I guess we’ll see. My agent tells me there’s interest in other foreign markets as well; if anything happens, of course I’ll mention it here.

3. Speaking of Donato, it looks pretty good that he’ll be on board to do the cover for The Ghost Brigades; I’ve just sent him some notes for cover art ideas and hopefully he’ll be able to do something with them.

4. I’m told that Old Man’s War is headed for a third printing. That’s pretty good news.

5. My cat’s breath smells like cat food. Well, it does.

That’s where I am at the moment.

The Winner of the “Let’s Mock Scalzi” Contest, And Other Odds and Ends

kposer.jpg

Krissy decided that she was the only one in the house qualified to judge who was mocking me the best in the little contest I held the other day, so after much pensive deliberation (see above), Krissy has named “CB” as the winner. The winning entry is as thus (and yes, the typos are intentional):

Interesting review of OMW in this months Geriatrics Health newsletter. (link)

“Scalzi’s ‘Old Mans War’ is stimulating enough to to guarantee two movements a day”…”Makes getting old sound fun!”

I haven’t been paying too much attention to how OMW is selling but it is interesting to note that twenty minutes after that review in the GH newletter, my Amazon sales ranking went up 0.0864 percent. Also, even though I haven’t done much research into this but I do know that at this stage in its publication history, OMW is 5.26 percent more successfull then Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Anyway, time to go back to no worrying about the continuing success of OMW.

Yeah, I have to agree, that’s a pretty scary likeness. Krissy also thought well of the entries offered up by Dan, Soni, Tim Pratt, RG and Dan Alvarez. I myself was taken by Jeff Porten’s entry, in which “I” was revealed to be a 50-something schmoe from Brooklyn. Hey, it could happen.

Anyway, “CB,” drop me an e-mail with your physical address and I’ll send out that advance reader’s copy of Agent to the Stars. And thanks everyone for playing along. You were all delightfully cruel.

Now let me speak truth to CB’s wicked parody by noting some various book news.

1. Subterranean Press tells me that as of about 7pm tonight, Agent to the Stars is officially their best-selling direct sales book for February. Not bad for less than a day’s worth of sales. You guys rock. Thank you.

2. The first foreign rights sale for Old Man’s War is now a done deal, so I can tell you where it’s for: Russia. That’s right, OMW is gonna get all Cyrillic on you. I don’t know when the official release date will be (or for that matter, why those of you who don’t speak Russian would care one way or another), but I do know I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy. I am mildly curious as to what the cover art will be — whether they’ll license the art from Donato or come up with their own thing. I guess we’ll see. My agent tells me there’s interest in other foreign markets as well; if anything happens, of course I’ll mention it here.

3. Speaking of Donato, it looks pretty good that he’ll be on board to do the cover for The Ghost Brigades; I’ve just sent him some notes for cover art ideas and hopefully he’ll be able to do something with them.

4. I’m told that Old Man’s War is headed for a third printing. That’s pretty good news.

5. My cat’s breath smells like cat food. Well, it does.

That’s where I am at the moment.

Agent to the Stars — Available for Pre-order

Okay, here’s that big announcement I mentioned the other day:

Subterranean Press is now accepting pre-orders for the limited, signed hardback edition of Agent to the Stars. When you pre-order this book, not only will you be getting a unique collector’s edition of this novel, you’ll also contribute to an excellent cause: Providing games and toys to children’s hospitals all across the United States. And if you pre-order in the next couple of days, you’ll be eligible for an exclusive gift from me and Subterranean Press.

For those of you new to the scene, Agent to the Stars is the first novel I wrote, which I then posted on this Web site for people to read. The entire novel is still available on the site (follow this link), but now those of you who prefer not to read an entire novel staring into a cathode ray tube, or have read it and want your own copy in book form, can get it in a handsome hardback edition that will be limited to no more than 2,000 copies. Once the run is sold out, they’re gone for good.

The book, which will be released in July 2005, comes in two editions:

1. The limited hardback edition, individually signed by yours truly, for $30, and

2. The deluxe, really limited hardback edition, which is leatherbound, signed, lettered and housed in a handcrafted tray case, for $150. Only 26 of these will be available, so if you want one, now’s a fine time to get it.

In addition to my writing, each hardcover of Agent to the Stars comes with an extra treat that I am thrilled beyond words to be able to bring to you: Dust jacket cover art from Mike “Gabriel” Krahulik of Penny Arcade. As most of you know, I’ve been a huge fan of Penny Arcade — and of both Gabe and Tycho — for years, so being able to get Gabe for the cover art is just about the coolest thing ever. I’m fairly certain this is the first book cover Gabe’s done outside the Penny Arcade merchandising arena, so if you needed another excuse to own this as a collectable, there it is.

cp.jpgIn honor of Gabe’s involvement, Bill Schafer, the publisher of Subterranean Press, has decreed that 10% of the cover price of each copy of Agent to the Stars bought from the Subterranean Press online store will be donated to Child’s Play, the charity created by the guys at Penny Arcade. Over the last two years, Child’s Play has distributed over a half million dollars worth of video games, toys and other amusements to children’s hospitals across the US, to make the hospital stays of sick kids less stressful and somewhat more pleasant. I wish I could say that I suggested this to Bill Shafer, but he thought it up on his own; this inspired act of generosity on his part makes me additionally proud to see the novel in book form, and released through Subterranean Press.

And in that spirit, I’m making an additional pledge: If we sell out an entire print run of 2,000 copies of the standard hardback of Agent to the Stars by December 31, 2005, I’ll donate $500 of my own royalties from the book to Child’s Play. Mind you, I fully intend to contribute to Child’s Play anyway, as I’ve done for the last two years. But this will be above and beyond that. It’ll be my way of thanking Gabe for his cover art, and thanking you for buying the book.

Subterranean Press is giving me the honor of announcing the pre-order, and to celebrate I’m doing something special: If you pre-order from the Subterranean Store today or tomorrow (2/28/05 or 3/1/05), leave the following note in the comments field of the order form: “I came here from the Whatever.” Folks who do so will receive an exclusive gift from me and Subterranean. And what is this gift? Oh, just you wait. It’ll be my way of thanking you for getting your order in early. The book is also available for pre-order on Amazon, but if you pre-order from Amazon, you won’t be eligible for this special offer and Child’s Play won’t get its 10%. So if you’re going to pre-order, the Subterranean site is the way to go.

I’m very excited about Agent to the Stars finally becoming a real book, as you can imagine. I hope you will be, too.

Agent to the Stars — Available for Pre-order

Okay, here’s that big announcement I mentioned the other day:

Subterranean Press is now accepting pre-orders for the limited, signed hardback edition of Agent to the Stars. When you pre-order this book, not only will you be getting a unique collector’s edition of this novel, you’ll also contribute to an excellent cause: Providing games and toys to children’s hospitals all across the United States. And if you pre-order in the next couple of days, you’ll be eligible for an exclusive gift from me and Subterranean Press.

For those of you new to the scene, Agent to the Stars is the first novel I wrote, which I then posted on this Web site for people to read. The entire novel is still available on the site (follow this link), but now those of you who prefer not to read an entire novel staring into a cathode ray tube, or have read it and want your own copy in book form, can get it in a handsome hardback edition that will be limited to no more than 2,000 copies. Once the run is sold out, they’re gone for good.

The book, which will be released in July 2005, comes in two editions:

1. The limited hardback edition, individually signed by yours truly, for $30, and

2. The deluxe, really limited hardback edition, which is leatherbound, signed, lettered and housed in a handcrafted tray case, for $150. Only 26 of these will be available, so if you want one, now’s a fine time to get it.

In addition to my writing, each hardcover of Agent to the Stars comes with an extra treat that I am thrilled beyond words to be able to bring to you: Dust jacket cover art from Mike “Gabriel” Krahulik of Penny Arcade. As most of you know, I’ve been a huge fan of Penny Arcade — and of both Gabe and Tycho — for years, so being able to get Gabe for the cover art is just about the coolest thing ever. I’m fairly certain this is the first book cover Gabe’s done outside the Penny Arcade merchandising arena, so if you needed another excuse to own this as a collectable, there it is.

cp.jpgIn honor of Gabe’s involvement, Bill Schafer, the publisher of Subterranean Press, has decreed that 10% of the cover price of each copy of Agent to the Stars bought from the Subterranean Press online store will be donated to Child’s Play, the charity created by the guys at Penny Arcade. Over the last two years, Child’s Play has distributed over a half million dollars worth of video games, toys and other amusements to children’s hospitals across the US, to make the hospital stays of sick kids less stressful and somewhat more pleasant. I wish I could say that I suggested this to Bill Shafer, but he thought it up on his own; this inspired act of generosity on his part makes me additionally proud to see the novel in book form, and released through Subterranean Press.

And in that spirit, I’m making an additional pledge: If we sell out an entire print run of 2,000 copies of the standard hardback of Agent to the Stars by December 31, 2005, I’ll donate $500 of my own royalties from the book to Child’s Play. Mind you, I fully intend to contribute to Child’s Play anyway, as I’ve done for the last two years. But this will be above and beyond that. It’ll be my way of thanking Gabe for his cover art, and thanking you for buying the book.

Subterranean Press is giving me the honor of announcing the pre-order, and to celebrate I’m doing something special: If you pre-order from the Subterranean Store today or tomorrow (2/28/05 or 3/1/05), leave the following note in the comments field of the order form: “I came here from the Whatever.” Folks who do so will receive an exclusive gift from me and Subterranean. And what is this gift? Oh, just you wait. It’ll be my way of thanking you for getting your order in early. The book is also available for pre-order on Amazon, but if you pre-order from Amazon, you won’t be eligible for this special offer and Child’s Play won’t get its 10%. So if you’re going to pre-order, the Subterranean site is the way to go.

I’m very excited about Agent to the Stars finally becoming a real book, as you can imagine. I hope you will be, too.

The Why of Writing

Charlie Stross, whose Accelerando you should have already pre-ordered because it’s just that good, goes into some detail as to how it is he’s able to write (short answer: life experience and luck) but is mystified as to the reason why he writes, and says: “If you find it, be sure to tell me?”

Well, Charlie, from my point of view, the answer is obvious: You write to entertain me. Perhaps this is not an existentially compelling reason, and if I am suddenly hit by a train you may be left in the lurch. But I feel confident that there will be numerous other people just as happy to have you write to entertain them as well. So you’re covered. And isn’t that a relief.

I am happy to say I do not have Charlie’s difficulty in answering the question as to why I write. I write for the following reasons, which I present in no particular order:

1. I write because it’s fun.
2. I write because I get paid.
3. I write because I’m pretty good at it.
4. I write because most other jobs I could do constitute actual work.

Chronologically, these reasons appeared in the following order: 3,1,4,2 — Early on I realized I had the facility for writing, then I realized it was fun, then I realized I should probably get as good as I could at it because I didn’t much like the idea of having to do anything else for a living, and then I managed to convince someone to pay me for it. These days all of these reasons are in play, in varying percentages at any one time.

These reasons don’t answer the question of why I, of all people, should be able to write both professionally and with relative ease, which may be what Charlie was aiming at. As to that, well, who can say? Some people are naturally athletic, and a subset throw fastballs. Some people are naturally musically apt, and a subset play a mean guitar. Some people naturally have a facility for self-expression, and a subset exhibit that through writing.

I suspect I was born with a gift for writing; I don’t spend much time worrying about the provenance of the gift, since that seems a little like tempting fate. I’m just glad I have it and I work to develop a measure of craft to go along with that gift. That way if the gift ever gives out (and who knows? It might), I’ll have craft to fall back on.

But again, I don’t spend all that much time dwelling on the philosophical aspects of why I write. Mostly I just write to have fun. And to make mortgage payments. But mostly, for fun.

Virtual Book Tours

Via S.L. Viehl, I note the existence of Virtual Book Tour, a public relations group which specializes in connecting authors with blogs to complement (or in the stead of) an actual book tour, for a fee ranging anywhere from $225 for a minimal “blogmatching” with three blogs to a three-day “tour” for $3000. Ms. Viehl seems skeptical that this service is worth the money, and I have to say I agree with her. Note that I am not skeptical that blog publicity is good publicity; I’d be a stinkin’ hypocrite if I said that. But I wonder whether doing something like this is a good use of money, and a good use of the nature of blogs.

To address the former: I doubt rather seriously whether one should spend anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to promote one’s self to bloggers, particularly if one is at all familiar with the blogosphere. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that if you’re reading this entry right now, and you’re a writer with a book from a genuine publisher (i.e., one that doesn’t make you pay to send out review copies of your own book), you’re probably competent enough to mount a “virtual book tour” at no cost to you whatsoever.

But how? Well, simple:

1. Identify 5 – 10 blogs you like, which are also reasonably well-trafficked and/or well-known to the kind of folks you guess would be interested in your book.

2. Call up the in-house publicist at your publisher and say “I’d like it very much if you’d send an advance copy to the following people,” and then give them the e-mail addresses of the blogger in question or, if you really want to impress your publicist and make her/his life easier, the physical address of the blogger in question. Let your publicist know that you’d also be willing to sit for an interview with the blogger if they’d like, and also tell them to let the blogger know you specified that they should receive an advance copy of the book (it’s flattering).

3. Let your in-house publicist do her/his job and then as you get closer to the release date of the book, follow up with her/him as to who among the bloggers has evidenced any interest.

There you go.

Your cost: $0, less the cost of your time to advise the in-house publicist as to which bloggers you’d like to have your work sent to. But even if you were self-publishing and had to bear all the cost and effort of doing the above yourself, your total cost would still be less than what this outfit is charging; the premium here presumably comes from their knowledge of the blogging field (i.e. what to send to whom). Possibly that’s worth that much money, but I’m doubtful. It’s not that hard to navigate the blogging world and see which bloggers might be useful to you, even if you’re a complete newbie. And the barrier for entry into the blogging world, promotionwise, is almost laughably low at this point. Mining blogs for their promotional value is so new that most bloggers are still excited at the idea of getting free books and stuff.

So: Is this “Virtual Book Tour” business a scam? I wouldn’t think so — from what I can see, the folks running it do what they say they’re going to do, and hook up authors with bloggers. If you want to spend your money with them, I’m sure they’ll do a fine job for you. But again, why would you want to spend that much money, for something you could get (or do) for free? $3K is a pretty big chunk of any first-time writers’ advance, and not an insignificant amount of most book advances on average.

Before you do anything like this, do check with your publisher’s in-house publicist; you may be surprised at how open they are to trying to address the blog/online angle. For example, I had no problem convincing Portable Press, which publishes my Book of the Dumb books, to hook up with Fark.com for advertising purposes, or to send the Book of the Dumb to bloggers I selected. Neither did I have any problems at all when I offered up a small list of bloggers I wanted Old Man’s War sent to. Subterranean Press, who will be publishing the hardcover of Agent to the Stars, plans to make the blog/online world a substantial part of its publicity push and indeed has already started to work that angle (see this piece at the Agony Column, from Thursday, as an example). In other words, it’s not that hard to make your in-house publicist see the light, if in fact she or he still needs to be convinced. And once you point out the fact that doing this sort of thing costs nearly nothing (especially relative to mounting a real world tour), they may become even more enthused.

Now to the second point, which relates to the nature of the blog world itself, in terms of publicity. However you decide to address online publicity, remember to keep a realistic expectation of how successful it’s going to be in terms of your book sales (or whatever else you’re promoting). For example, with Old Man’s War, I asked Tor to send advance copies to five different bloggers/online sites, all of whom I have had some personal familiarity with in the past, and could therefore not unreasonably expect might make a mention of the book. Two did and the others didn’t. Any publicist will tell you two hits out of five is pretty good; I would have been happy with just one.

Also remember that blogs have their good points and bad points as publicity machines. The good news is that blog readers tend to have a more “intimate” relationship with the blogs they read than they do with, say, magazines and newspapers; I suspect the individual reader of a blog is rather more likely to pick up a book on the recommendation of the blogger than they would on the recommendation of a newspaper review. On the other hand, blog readership is generally tiny, relative to conventional media. The Virtual Book Tour folks, as an example, promise to connect authors with blogs that have readership of 500 and 1,000 daily readers — an almost unfathomably small number of readers compared to even a modest-sized daily newspaper. The non-online publicist that promised to position a book to media outlets with 500 to 1,000 readers had better have a second job lined up to pay the rent.

On yet the other hand, there’s a difference in that the 500 visitors to a blog are reading only that blog during their visit, while the many thousands of readers of a newspaper have a substantial number of articles vying for their attention. But on still another hand, a review of your book from a newspaper or magazine will get slapped on the paperback (or future printings) and helps to position your book and future work to booksellers and the public, while a review from Joe Blogger will not. We can do the pros and cons until you run out of hands.

The other issue to address is how professionalization of blog publicity will change the dynamic between the reader and the blogger. Right now we take it for granted that when a blogger says “I really liked this book/CD/movie/whatever,” they’re being honest about their enthusiasm. But when the “top” bloggers are regularly serviced by publicists, will this remain true? Many people feel professional critics are already compromised by their interaction with the publicity machine, regardless of whether that’s true or not; why would bloggers be any different?

And once a blogger loses personal credibility, what does he or she have left to offer? If you’re reading an entry by a blogger about a movie or book (or whatever) and part of you is wondering if the blogger is writing about it because they are genuinely interested in the work or just because they promised a publicist they would, then the reader-blogger dynamic is already broken, and the blogger is just another shill. That does you no good — and as importantly, it spells trouble for the blogger as well.

These are the things to consider when you think about using bloggers for publicity — and why the best way to do blogging publicity may be to offer your work to bloggers in a realistic, low-key way that respects the independent and curious nature of blogging, rather than mounting a highly-polished, highly aggressive drive for product placement. In other words, virtual book tours that respect the real dynamics of the blog world.

I Know, I’m Weak…

topsell1.jpg

…but, hey, it’s the first time I’ve seen my name on a bestseller list of any sort, so I wanted to share. And I’m next to Yoda, who is also short and balding. We’re a matching pair, we are.

Krissy has been reading through all the entries in the “mock Scalzi” contest and has found several she likes. As for me, let me just say: You’re all mean. Funny, yes. But mean.

Back to my non-Whatever-y typing.

Let’s Mock Scalzi: A Contest

kodia2s.jpg

Yes, we are a very literate family.

Gotta take a few days off to get some work done. However, two things:

1. Be sure you’re back here on Monday for a big announcement regarding Agent to the Stars.

2. In my absence, I thought it might be fun to run a little contest, in which y’all get to brutally mock me for fun and prizes.

The Let’s Mock Scalzi Contest — The rules:

i. Imitate me writing a Whatever entry, on whatever topic you want.
ii. Put it in the comment thread to this entry.

See? Easy. You don’t have to write a full Whatever entry, incidentally; I think a paragraph or two will suffice, although I guess if you really want to go whole hog and do a whole fake entry, who am I to stop you. You can actually attempt an imitation, or just kneecap me with a vicious parody of my trite and hackneyed prose style. You know, whatever works for you. My only request is that in mocking me, you don’t mock my family (i.e., you can mock me as much as you want, and even mock me in the act of talking about my family, but suggesting not nice things about Athena and/or Krissy isn’t cool). Other than that, fire away.

I’ll look through the entries and pick a winner on Monday. The winner gets a signed Advance Uncorrected Proof of Agent to the Stars (although probably not the one Kodi’s reading; she’s possessive). I’ll personalize it if you want, or just sign it, the better for you to hock it on eBay one day, presumably after my tragic blender accident has driven up the price of Scalzi memorabilia (Note this is not a guarantee of a tragic blender accident; the details of the tragic accident may vary from its representation here).

Have fun and see you all on Monday, at which time — remember — there will be a big announcement. No, not the winner of the contest (though I’ll do that too). Something else.

w00t!

1337.jpg

0ld m4/\/z w4|2 is teh r0><><0r, d00dz!!!! I 4m 1337!!

Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just trying to hang with the kids and, you know, speak teh language.

(For those of you completely out in the dark, the number “1337” — which is the Amazon ranking in the picture above — is an analogue for “leet,” which is short for “elite,” in “leetspeek,” a kind of replacement code that gamers and others use for actual letters. It stopped being cool, oh, roughly the same time I started writing this entry. The first line of this entry, then, reads: “Old Man’s War is the rock! I am leet!”

Please bear in mind that I am, in fact, not making any real representation of Old Man’s War being the rock, or of me being, in fact, leet. The sentence in question is merely to be appreciate for the ironic value of a 35-year old man using the slang of 15 year olds. Please, go about your life.)

I Never

(Warning/Enticement: Unseemly yet anti-climatically non-revealing sexual content follows)

A correspondent notes:

Your riff on 10 Things I’ve Done You Probably Haven’t reminds me of a little parlor game we used to play that was almost the inverse: The “I’ve Never…” Game in which each person at the table, in the car, around the campfire, lounging around the dorm room tries to come up with something he/she has never done that everyone else in the group HAS done. Obviously not as satisfying for Web play as it requires a fairly limited group. (I used to win with the fact that, somehow, strangely, I’ve never read “Romeo and Juliet.” I have no idea how that happened, as I took boatloads of lit courses and even a couple of Shakespeare courses in college, but… well, I won’t go on.

Leaving aside the possible inverse relationship between “I Never” and “Things You’ve Probably Never Done,” I think my correspondent grossly mischaracterizes the goals of “I Never,” or at the very least is recounting an appallingly bland midwestern version of the game, a version you might play, if, say, you went to Wheaton College or otherwise hung out with folks well-marinated in a Promise Keeper-y sort of lifestyle (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But allow me to suggest that if you’ve won “I Never” by declaring that you’ve never seen Romeo & Juliet, you’re playing it so very wrong.

Here’s how you really play “I Never”:

1. Everyone grabs a drinkable.
2. You sit in a circle.
3. Someone says “I’ve never [enter thing you've allegedly never done here]“
4. Anyone who has done that thing — including the person who said “I’ve never [thing they've allegedly never done],” since you don’t have to tell the truth — has to drink.
5. If you have done that thing, and someone playing the game knows you have, and yet you don’t drink (say, out of a belated desire not to have your drunken friends know your licentious past), they can call you on it. In which case you have to drink twice.
6. Play until boredom/horniness/alcohol poisoning sets in.

Well, you say, what’s the goal? Well, clearly, there are two:

1. To humiliate friends playing the game along with you by saying “I’ve never…” followed by some ill-advised sexual activity they have participated in (oh, don’t worry, they’ll do the same for you).

2. To get everyone sexually titillated enough that someone — hopefully you – is gonna get some by the end of the night.

And does it work? Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but the first time I played “I Never” I ended up fooling around with one of my high school teachers (don’t worry, it was legal, by about 12 hours), and the last time I played it, someone (not me) got outed via the phrase “I’ve never had anal sex in a churchyard at midnight.” So, yeah, it works.

Mind you, you have to ramp up. You can’t open with midnight anal sex in a churchyard, because, really, where do you go from there? (Don’t answer that.) Generally, the first couple go-arounds are things like “I’ve never kissed a girl,” or “I’ve never gone skydiving,” or, possibly, “I’ve never read Romeo & Juliet.” By the third go-round nipple play “I Nevers” come out. Fifth go-round: Oral sex and bizarre masturbation — “I have never penetrated a melon for the purposes of sexual gratification” is one I recall, and yes, someone had to drink (again, not me). After that, clearly, all bets are off, and you better hope whoever’s playing “I never” with you that night doesn’t know all the dirty, dirty things you’ve done, you sick little freak.

Yeah, I don’t play “I Never” anymore. I don’t drink alcohol, so that gives me an unfair advantage, both in targeting and (an important factor) in remembering. Also, sometime between college and now I came to the conclusion that of all the things I really needed to do, advertising the moist and squishy details of my sexual adventures to a bunch of vindictively drunken so-called friends was not one of them. And let’s not forget that, being happily married as I am, I am reasonably assured of amorous activity without having to humiliate myself publicly to get it. So in all, the game has lost much of its early appeal.

Which is not to say that it couldn’t be interesting these days. For one thing… well, never mind that. For another, I now know lots of science fiction writers and fans who I believe by law are required to be cheerfully and unapologetically sexually, uh, variegated. The problem with playing “I Never” with these folks, to the extent that you want to call it a “problem,” is that everybody would be drinking all the time, and then if they were already enthusiastically libertine (as is not unlikely) they were probably scheduled to get some anyway, and possibly while wearing a vinyl corset and/or furry costume. One does strain to imagine the specificity one would drill down toward to make one and only one particular person drink in a group like this: Midnight anal sex in a churchyard simply isn’t going to cut it. More like: “I’ve never had midnight anal sex in a churchyard dressed as as a transsexual elven princess while my partner, garbed as a Pokémon, recited passages from the Bhagavad Gita in Klingon.”

Here’s the kicker: You know what the other people in the “I Never” game would be offended by? That’s right: The Pokémon costume. And, of course, rightly so.

No, I’ve never done that. The Pokémon costume was already rented out.

Hunter S. Thompson

Like every other guy who wrote for a college newspaper in the last 30 years, there was a time I wanted to be the next Hunter S. Thompson, until I realized (as we all inevitably do) that being the next Hunter S. Thompson wasn’t merely a writing aspiration, but a lifestyle choice for which most of us simply didn’t have the pharmaceutical tolerance, even if we had the inclination (which — thankfully, in retrospect — I did not). So eventually I gave it up and concentrated on being the first me, which, besides being a far less crowded field, aspirationally speaking, also turned out to be the better writing choice.

Now Thompson’s dead; he shot himself in the head. At the moment I can’t decide whether this is shocking or, given his public persona, somehow appropriate. I will note he is the second writer I’ve admired to suicide in the last year or so, the other being Spaulding Gray, who took the plunge off the Staten Island ferry in a death that was also shocking yet somehow appropriate. I don’t claim that there’s any theme to this; lots of now-dead writers whom I admire didn’t suicide. One simply notices when they do. One also notices that the two were similar in a certain way — they told confessional tales of themselves doing things: Thompson in drugged-out, balls-out fashion, Gray in his more buttoned-up New England asides. Both were storytellers, which is a facet of writing I admire and which I don’t think gets enough attention these days. And I suppose you could say they both wrote their own ending of their own stories rather than waiting for life to do it for them.

I didn’t become the next Hunter S. Thompson, which I think we’re all grateful for, but did I learn anything from him? I did indeed. I learned a little hyperbole is a wonderful thing, although too much is, well, hyperbolic — timing matters in its use. I think it’s easy to enjoy his more whacked-out passages and miss how surgically he used them when he was on his form, which is why there are so many bad Thompson pastiches out there (even on the Web. Especially on the Web). I think it’s easy to miss his lesson as a journalist, which was that a good story isn’t always the one you’re supposed to be covering. He also reconfirmed to me something I’ve been taught over and over by my favorite writers: that you can get away with a lot as long as you tell a good story.

Those are all useful lessons, and I thank Thompson for them.

Annoyed! Arrrrr!

Is it wrong for me to be annoyed at Naomi Kritzer for having a journal and not telling me, leaving me to find out about it completely by accident while snuffling through my server logs? Yes, yes it is. Even so: Jeez, Naomi. Thanks a lot. However, now I’ve found you out, so ha! Also, y’all should check it out, since among other things she has a far more reasonable take on the Newsweek “perfect mother” story than I do (no self-loathing Gen-Xery required). Also, check out her books, because she’s a fine writer. I’ve been salivating for Freedom’s Apprentice for a while now.

Also annoying: When your Amazon ranking suddenly spikes and you don’t know why. This was an Instapundit-worthy spike, but he’s not been talking about OMW recently (he’s been busy blogging the Insta-wife’s hospital stay, and I have to say I’m happy to see she’s doing reasonably well — He’s much less of a wreck than I would be if my wife were in the hospital. As with everyone else, I’m hoping everything continues to be well and better than well for her). So now I have no clue. I mean, maybe there isn’t an excuse; maybe six people simultaneously decided to pick up the book from Amazon for no good reason at all. But let’s just say I’m an intelligent design proponent in this case: Someone’s behind it.

See, this is the pathology of my Amazon Ranking mania (most authors have one of one sort or another). I don’t particularly care whether the number is high or low (at this point, anyway; as I’ve mentioned before, as soon as Old Man’s War went into the second printing, I declared victory and had a nice snack), but sharp movements in the ranking interest me. Call it my need to know.

The Problem With Parents

Those of you who come here often know that I’m no fan of the more obnoxious elements of the “child-free” community, and indeed positively delight in their snitty impotent rage at small children and the people who breed them. That being said, I will give the childfree folks credit for harping on one very important truth, which is that becoming a parent often turns people in assholes.

Which is to say: They weren’t assholes before (or maybe they were and either they hid it well or were in such a way that they were generally indistinguishable from other non-child-bearing people), but later, in the performance of their child-raising duties, they somehow became sphincterfied. In other words, they’re not assholes who happen to be parents, they are assholes because they are parents. Simply put, there are a lot of asshole parents out there, and if their numbers are not growing, then they at the very least drawing more attention to themselves.

I say this in the wake of reading the cover stories of last week’s Time and Newsweek magazines: Time’s cover story was on how obnoxious parents are making it difficult for teachers to teach, on account that they go ballistic every time junior comes home with a “B” instead of an “A”; Newsweek’s piece was how today’s mothers feel suffocated by “The Myth of the Perfect Mother” — the idea that they can be great moms and great at work and great spouses and, oh I don’t know, great at origami, too. Naturally, living up to this expectation is no fun and a lot of women are running around ragged and irritable at the end of the day, and secretly (but no so secretly they they didn’t confide it to the author of this Newsweek article) enjoy childrearing about as much as they enjoy any other dreary household chore. And naturally they feel guilty about that. In the case of the Time parents, they really are assholes; in the case of the Newsweek mothers, they’re worried they are assholes if they’re not perfect, and making all the effort required to be perfect is likely to make them a bit of an asshole.

I’m an asshole, and I’m also parent, although I try not to be former because of the latter. Be that as it may, I feel I’m qualified to comment on both topics. So let me forward one theory of mine, which, while not the complete answer, is at least part of it.

This is the era of the Gen-X parent, and if we know anything about the Gen-X stereotype, it’s that this cohort of Americans was shaped by Atari, Star Wars action figures, and divorce, divorce, divorce, divorce. Thereby, I suspect that many observers might say Gen-X parents are fueled by a desire to do a better job at parenting than their parents, and yet, given what a botched job their parents made of it, feel like they have no positive role models and/or ideas on how to go about being a good parent. So they overcompensate in their neurotically smothering way. If this essay were a Gen-X movie, this would be the part where a goateed Ethan Hawke would explain, between unfiltered cigarette puffs, how he and all his friends were raised by Bill Cosby and Meredith Baxter Birney on Thursday nights far more than their own fathers.

As attractive as this is as an excuse, it’s a pretty crappy excuse, and I don’t know if it’s on point. For one thing, the majority of the Gen-X cohort is now on the far side of 30, and the unwritten rule is if you’re over 30 and still blaming your parents for, well, anything, you need to be taken aside and told quietly to get a life (you get a pass if your parents are still actively trying to screw with your life, but honestly, that takes more effort than most senior citizens are going to make). Yes, yes, it’s awful you were in the middle of that horrible divorce. Here’s a hug. Now move on. And point of fact, most Gen-Xers have moved on, settled their issues with mom and dad, and I doubt are actively taking these dormant issues out on their kids thereby.

I don’t think it’s that Gen-Xers are asshole parents because they have issues with their own parents anymore, I think they’re asshole parents because they have issues with each other. Allow me to posit a central truth regarding Gen-Xers: We don’t much like other Gen-Xers. It should be obvious: We’re all witty and smart, in that casual, pop culture-y way that makes for amusingly light banter at get-togethers that cleverly disguises the true purpose of Gen-X communication, which is to find that weak link in someone else’s intellectual defenses that exposes them as a fraud, confirming that they’re not really your equal no matter how much money, sex or prestige they have, relative to you. It’s a generation of defensive egalitarians — it’s not “we’re all equal,” it’s “none of you is better than me.” And that’s no way to run a railroad. As Gen-Xers get older, this approach to their cohort has expanded to deal with people who are older than they (because we’re all adults now), and adults younger as well (because they don’t know much).

How does this liberal (and, coming as it does from a Gen-Xer, self-incriminating) beating on Gen-Xers relate to parenting? In relation to the parents having issues with the teachers, simply enough: When a teacher suggests your kid is something other than your own personal conception of your kid, it’s an implicit criticism of you, and that’s not to be bourne, because what does the teacher know? If the teacher were actually someone important enough to be listened to, they wouldn’t be a teacher, now would they? Fucking teachers, man. The problem lay not in you — it couldn’t — therefore, the problem is the teacher, or the school, or the damn No Child Left Behind act that all those red state bastards rammed through Congress. And out come the knives and out comes the attack. Meanwhile, little Jimmy is over there eating his crayons and not actually learning much. But this is the point: It’s not about the kid, it’s about the parent. The poor kid, in this instance, is an extension of the parent’s twitchiness in dealing with the world in general.

(This also goes back to the childfree folks’ complain about parents in a general sense — they’ve got these children completely off the hook in a public space and when someone calls them on it, the parents get monstrously defensive. But they’re not reacting to the criticism of their children’s behavior — they’re reacting to the criticism of them as a person. Again, the kid enters into the equation only as a tangential.)

With the “perfect mother” issue the “Gen-x self-dislike” factor is somewhat more muted simply because the expectations of mothers in general is a rather more complicated, and I think that in this situation there’s a lot more concern for the actual children involved. At the risk of sounding sexist, I think “motherhood” is more child-oriented than “parenthood”; “Parenthood” is a slightly more dispassionate state that acknowledges the rest of the world, whereas “motherhood” is about what happens between you and your kid (“fatherhood,” ideally, has the same dynamic). But naturally we compare how we handle out relationship with our child with how others like us handle theirs, and in the Gen-X, with its implicit undercurrent of antagonism, this is fraught with issues.

What to do? Well, naturally, I think the first thing for Gen-X parents to do is to get over themselves and whatever festering defensiveness they have regarding other people. Gen-Xers are capable of liking people their own age, of course: We all have close friends. It’d be nice if we didn’t automatically question the competence and/or worthiness of everyone else we meet. In other words, try to reset our defaults to actually like people until and unless they go out of their way to prove they are, in fact, generally unlikeable. It’s a thought, anyway. The end result of this is that parents then might be able to listen to teachers and other without feeling like it’s a referendum on them as a person. It’s not (generally). It’s about your kid, and what your kid needs.

Which is the second thing. Your kid: A little person who is probably like you in a lot of ways and yet is not you at all. Despite your best efforts, your kids will turn out as someone who is not you, and who has their own agenda in the world. In my opinion, the goal of parenthood is to teach your kid how to explore the world and find himself or herself in it; this naturally requires that the focus is on the kid, and not the parent. The parent who is leaping in and mud-wrestling a teacher over a “B” or bribing the local daycare center staff to get their kid in is probably not focused on what the kid needs so much as what the parent thinks he needs to prove. The parent who gets her hackles up about someone complaining her kid is acting like a hopped-up monkey in a public place isn’t actually doing her kid a favor if the kid is, in fact, acting like a hopped-up monkey.

What it comes down to is that when parents act like assholes, it’s usually because they’re thinking about themselves more than they’re thinking about their kids. As parents, it’s time to get over ourselves. It’s probably better for our kids, and it’s certainly better for how the rest of the world sees us as parents.

Washington Post Review of OMW…

Courtesy of Paul Di Fillipo. The review is halfway down the page. It’s a good one, which is nice:

His speculative elements are top-notch. His combat scenes are blood-roiling. His dialogue is suitably snappy and profane. And the moral and philosophical issues he raises, while not as deeply plumbed as in Joe Haldeman’s classic The Forever War (1975), still insert useful ethical burrs under the military saddle of the story.

What I found particularly amusing, given the brief discussion I gave it in a previous recent entry, is Di Fillipo addressing the question of John Perry’s luck:

One seemingly inevitable tic of this archetype is that our hero ends up being uniquely valuable to the war effort, thanks to the strength of his character and the forces of chance. John Perry conforms to this pattern as well, as you know he will. Still, it’s hard to complain about such predestination. The tale of a grunt who dies during the first engagement would be merely the stuff of journalism.

Ha! Yes, exactly. Also — and not to be ignored — I would imagine it would be far more difficult to sell a first novel (particularly in this genre) in which the hero was a bystander to history rather than in the thick of it. I think ten novels from now I might try that, though, and see what I can do with it.

As an aside, the very nice person who alerted me to the review suggested that I probably knew about it already. Despite my clear and obvious interest (read: obsession) in these reviews, it had in fact slipped past me. If you do see a review of the book somewhere, please feel free to send me a note about it. It will be most appreciated.

Washington Post Review of OMW…

Courtesy of Paul Di Fillipo. The review is halfway down the page. It’s a good one, which is nice:

His speculative elements are top-notch. His combat scenes are blood-roiling. His dialogue is suitably snappy and profane. And the moral and philosophical issues he raises, while not as deeply plumbed as in Joe Haldeman’s classic The Forever War (1975), still insert useful ethical burrs under the military saddle of the story.

What I found particularly amusing, given the brief discussion I gave it in a previous recent entry, is Di Fillipo addressing the question of John Perry’s luck:

One seemingly inevitable tic of this archetype is that our hero ends up being uniquely valuable to the war effort, thanks to the strength of his character and the forces of chance. John Perry conforms to this pattern as well, as you know he will. Still, it’s hard to complain about such predestination. The tale of a grunt who dies during the first engagement would be merely the stuff of journalism.

Ha! Yes, exactly. Also — and not to be ignored — I would imagine it would be far more difficult to sell a first novel (particularly in this genre) in which the hero was a bystander to history rather than in the thick of it. I think ten novels from now I might try that, though, and see what I can do with it.

As an aside, the very nice person who alerted me to the review suggested that I probably knew about it already. Despite my clear and obvious interest (read: obsession) in these reviews, it had in fact slipped past me. If you do see a review of the book somewhere, please feel free to send me a note about it. It will be most appreciated.

10 Things I’ve Done You Probably Haven’t

There’s a LiveJournal meme floating around at the moment that asking people to list ten things they’ve done that other people they know probably haven’t. I’m taking it from LJ and releasing it into the wilds. Here are my 10, in no particular order:

1. Scaled scaffolding on a church and touched the cross at the top of the steeple (very vertigo-inducing)

2. Proposed to Laura Dern (she said no)

3. Stepped inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and put a prayer in to the cracks of the Wailing Wall on the same day

4. Been on Oprah as a guest (refuting the ridiculous women who wrote The Rules)

5. Lost two wedding rings, one within 24 hours of getting it

6. Received an angry e-mail from the lead singer of The Cult

7. Been whacked in the head with a 5-iron by a family member (in her defense, it was a complete accident)

8. Borrowed an Oscar statuette for three days

9. Visited the studio where they were making The Nightmare Before Christmas, saw the sets, and watched Danny Elfman sing one of the songs live, while recently completed animation corresponding to the song he was singing played silently in the background

10. Discovered the fossilized jawbone of a previously unknown rodent species

That’s a fair sampling.

Jeff Gannon, Liberal Victim

Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t heard something like this out of right-wing radio, concerning the whole Jeff Gannon issue. Or maybe, we just haven’t heard it yet.

(For LiveJournal/RSS feed gackers, there’s a link to an mp3 file here.)