Monthly Archives: February 2005

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.)

A Vaguely Word-Related Post

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The school called today to let me know Athena had an earache and fever, so she’s home today, and here’s something to warm this writer daddy’s heart: Athena sat down in front of her white board and started writing without even the slightest suggestion of such an activity from dear ol’ dad. She writes words the way she thinks they should be spelled and then I’ll check them for accuracy. She’s beginning to learn English is bizarre in terms of spellings, which I think annoys her. And rightly so.

Unrelated but exciting: We’ve got our first foreign language offer for Old Man’s War, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to take the offer. I’ll provide more details when contracts are signed, but suffice to say that I think it’ll be neat to have a book in a language I can’t even read. And of course, foreign rights are like free money. And who doesn’t love free money? It’s free.

And entirely unrelated to any of the above: A short article in the Dayton Daily News about the Book of the Dumb books, in advance of the appearance/signing I’m doing tomorrow at the Dayton Barnes & Noble. DDN is a “registration-required” site, so you’ll have to measure your need to view the article against that (I tend to use bugmenot in those cases). But I’m happy with article. Hopefully this will help me net more than six people at the signing. We’ll see.

The S.L. Viehl Memorial Self-Pimpage Entry

A nice review of Old Man’s War at Bookloons: “Think of the movie Coccoon, morphing into Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and you’ll have an idea of what Old Man’s War is all about.” Heh. That works.

Apropos to Old Man’s War, I’ve seen a couple of reviews and comments that remarked on the fact that the book’s main character seems improbably lucky (here’s one). I hadn’t really thought about it that way; speaking as the writer, I’d say it’s not so much he’s lucky as that if he were unlucky, he’d be dead, and then I’d only have, say, half a book. And there is that one incident at the end of Part II which doesn’t strike me as him being particularly lucky. But as more than one person’s mentioned it, there may be something to it. I’ll have to think about it some more.

Unrelated: Someone seems to have put up a LiveJournal atom feed of Whatever here. No, I don’t know who. It differs from Scalzifeed (which I also didn’t set up) in that it actually sends along the entire entry rather than the first 100 words. Naturally, if you’re a LiveJournal user, use it if you feel fit, although I would ask if you like a particular entry and want to link to it, link here, and not to a LiveJournal feed bearing my name. I like new visitors. Also, of course, making a comment on either of these LiveJournal feeds virtually guarantees neither I nor anyone else will see it, since I don’t actually subscribe to either of these feeds. Even I’m not that narcissistic.

Well, okay, I subscribe to Scalzifeed on my LiveJournal friends page. But that’s because I put it in there for testing purposes. Honest.

PublishAmerica Douses Self in Kerosene, Lights Match

(Those of you not familiar with the recent PublishAmerica contrempts, about which I will now vent, go here for some background. If you are familiar with it, please continue.)

What an ass:

In an exclusive interview with SCI FI Wire, the president of PublishAmerica defended his company against charges by a group of SF and fantasy writers that his company is a “vanity press,” despite falling for a hoax perpetrated by the writers. The writers, in response to PublishAmerica’s criticism of SF&F writers, concocted a deliberately bad bogus novel, Atlanta Nights, and submitted it for publication to test whether PublishAmerica would accept anything; after the hoax was revealed, PublishAmerica rescinded its offer of publication.

Speaking for the first time about the hoax, Larry Clopper, president of PublishAmerica, based in Frederick, Md., said his company knew about the hoax before it became public knowledge and withdrew its offer of publication at that time… Clopper said many mainstream publishers similarly do not read the entire manuscript before making an offer of publication. “The hoax failed,” Clopper said. “It was a very amateur gag.”

In fact, of course, the hoax succeded brilliantly. Here’s why:

1. Clopper’s contention that publishers make offers on completely unknown first-time fiction authors before reading an entire manuscript is appallingly wrong; either Clopper knows this, and is lying through his teeth, or he doesn’t know this, and he’s a monumental incompetent. It is true that publishers of fiction will ask that initial submissions consist of, say, three chapters rather than an entire manuscript. But the point of that is that if they like the three chapters, they will ask for the rest of the manuscript. You know, to read. Then and only then will they take a chance on a completely unknown first-time fiction writer.

Why? Because — to repeat — you are a completely unknown first-time fiction writer. If you’re Stephen King, they might be reasonably assured that you can carry off the whole manscript, since you have a track record of doing such things in a profitable manner. However, you can bet that whoever bought Carrie, King’s first novel, read the whole damned thing before making the offer.

2. Even if we lived in an alternate world in which “mainstream” publishers did make utterly unknown first time fiction authors publication offers based on a partial manuscript, the fact of the matter is no reputable publisher would make an offer on Atlanta Nights, because no matter what part of it you read, it’s all bad. Trust me: Writers who are regularly published know what it takes not to be published, for the same reason that, say, Eddie Van Halen knows what sounds like crap coming from a guitar. It is well within a competent professional writer’s skill set to write so poorly that no reputable publisher would touch the work.

Speaking as a former acquiring editor, I’m here to tell you that Atlanta Nights is awful from the very first page. Indeed, I will now reprint for you the first page (or so) of Atlanta Nights to prove it:

Pain.
Whispering voices.
Pain.
Pain. Pain. Pain.
Need pee–new pain–what are they sticking in me? . . .
Sleep.
Pain.
Whispering voices.
“As you know, Nurse Eastman, the government spooks controlling this hospital will not permit me to give this patient the care I think he needs.”
“Yes, doctor.” The voice was breathy, sweet, so sweet and sexy.
“We will therefore just monitor his sign’s. Serious trauma like this patient suffered requires extra care, but the rich patsies controlling the hospital will make certain I cannot try any of my new treatments on him.”
“Yes, doctor.” That voice was soooo sexy!
Bruce didn’t care about treatments. He cared about pain, and he cared about that voice, because when he heard the voice, the pain went away, just for a few seconds, like.
“Report to me if there is any change,” the man’s voice said.
“Yes, Dr. Nance,” said the sexy voice.
A door closed, and Bruce heard breathing, and smelled the enticing smell of shampoo, and perfume. It was Chanel Number 5.
He opened his eyes.
All he saw was the roundest, firmest pair of tittles he’d ever seen in his life, all enclosed in a crisp white nurse’s uniform.
I’m in heaven, he said. No, he tried to say, but his voice wouldn’t work, his mouth was dry, and there was some terrible tube thing in his nose—and hey, what’s that thing in his dick? It hurts!
The tits bounced like Aunt Alice’s molded jello back at home, and then moved away.

I guarantee you by right about that sentence, any acquiring editor worth his or her paycheck would have thrown the manuscript in the trash, or at the very least stuffed it into a self-addressed, stamped envelope to send it back to the poor bastard who wrote it. It takes less than 300 words to know this thing is unpublishable; as they say in the industry, one does not have to eat an entire egg to know it is rotten.

What sort of editor reads those 300 words and says to him or herself: By God, this needs to be published? One of two people:

1. A monumental incompetent;
2. An editor whose acquisition criteria are based on something other than those of a “traditional” publisher — which is to say, the need to sell the book en masse to people who have no relationship to the manuscript’s author.

I’d be willing to buy into the idea that PublishAmerica’s acquisition editors are incompetent, but let’s be charitable beyond all reason and assume they are not. Call it a professional courtesy. That leaves non-traditional acquisition criteria, and that’s pretty clearly PublishAmerica’s scheme. Anyone who looks at PublishAmerica’s practices gets the idea pretty clearly that the publisher is not in the business of selling to a mass market; it’s in the business of selling to the writer and to the writer’s immediate friends and anyone the writer can convince to carry the book. And of course there’s a phrase that fits those kinds of publishers: Vanity publisher.

Assuming someone at PublishAmerica did actually read Atlanta Nights, what they thought to themselves was not “Damn, this is good,” but “We’re betting this guy has a lot of friends who will buy this out of pity.” And so PublishAmerica made an offer. One can reasonably assume that PublishAmerica has done the same with many of its other authors. Not all, possibly. But many.

And naturally, this does all those poor authors a tremendous disservice. By implying that in the real publishing world, crap like Atlanta Nights is actually and genuinely publishable, Publish America gives these authors a heart-breakingly low benchmark of presumed competence for publishability. Authors who assume that being published by PublishAmerica means they’ve hit actual publication standards for competent writing will be confused when future work, written to the same level of competence, gets rejected in the real world over and over and over again.

And of course, that’s possibly part of PublishAmerica’s plan as well: To create a stratum of authors whose only publishing option is to go through PublishAmerica because they’re not competent to be published anywhere else. The company doesn’t see them as authors; it sees them purely as a revenue stream, and it’s content to keep them hobbled as writers to do it. And if that’s the case, PublishAmerica isn’t simply a vanity press, it’s also unspeakably cruel.

The hoax worked because it exposed one of two things: Either PublishAmerica is staffed by monumental incompetents, in which case you’d be daft to publish with them, or it’s staffed by cynical, black-hearted bastards who purposely deceive and manipulate their authors, in which case you’d be daft to publish with them. The third option is that they’re both monumentally incompetent and cynical, black-hearted bastards, in which case you’d be daft to publish with them and they should probably be taken out and beaten with the spines of their own books. For starters.

However you slice it, PublishAmerica is bad news. The only good news about the whole Atlanta Nights hoax is that no matter what PublishAmerica does, it makes itself look worse. To which the only thing to say is: Good.

“Agent” Info and Appearance Reminder

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Gaze upon the advance uncorrected proofs of Agent to the Stars, of which I was sent five. It’s very nice to see the novel in actual booklike form.

Those of you who have expressed interest in owning a copy will want to make sure you’re loitering about the site at the end of the month, when more information will be forthcoming. Remember that this will be a limited, signed hardcover edition with cover art by Gabe of Penny Arcade(aka Mike Krahulik), so ordering early might be a not bad idea.

Also a reminder: I’ll be doing a chat/signing at the Dayton Barnes and Noble on Saturday, February 19 between 6:30 and 8:30 (pm) for Book of the Dumb 2, although I will be happy to discuss Old Man’s War and other writings, and to autograph those books as well. If you happen to be in southwest Ohio this Saturday and have little better to do on a weekend night, come harass me.

Covenant Marriage is Stupid

Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and his wife Janet renewed their marriage vows the other day under Arkansas’ more strict “covenant marriage” law, under which, according to this news story, “couples getting a covenant marriage agree to seek counseling before they wed and before they seek a divorce. A covenant marriage also requires a two-year wait before a divorce becomes final, except in cases of adultery, abuse or imprisonment for a felony.” Huckabee is upgrading (or downgrading, depending on your point of view) his marriage into covenant status in part to draw attention to the concept of covenant marriage, which, to put it lightly, has not been a hit, even in Arkansas: just over two thirds of one percent of Arkansas marriages have been covenant marriages since the new variation of marriage was enacted into law in 2001.

Simple reason for that: As a concept, it’s pretty damn insulting. “Covenant Marriage” implicitly suggests that people won’t stay married unless they subject themselves to onerous governmental restrictions on their personal freedoms; basically, it’s the state telling you that it expects you to get a divorce at some point, unless it makes it too annoying for you to get a divorce to make it worth your while. The State of Arkansas is banking on sloth, apathy and state bureaucracy to keep a bunch of bad marriages together, as if bad marriages are really better than divorce.

On the flip side, going for the covenant marriage seems to suggest that you feel you need that government intervention to make up for your own lack of marital will. And that’s not really a positive attitude to have going into a marriage, is it? Here’s a tip: If you feel you’re going to need a covenant marriage in order to keep your marriage together, you might want to re-think the whole “getting married” concept in the first place. If you really want to bind your entire life to another person, it’s going to be immaterial whether or not it’s easy to get a divorce. It’s like frosting on a cat.

Most people like to think they’re getting married for life; most people don’t want the government poking its nose into their personal business. Add it up, and it’s no wonder covenant marriage is a big fat flop. I mean, it’s nice Huckabee’s renewing his vows to his wife — I applaud that. I think it’s mildly distasteful that as he did it, he tried to sell a brand of marriage that both implicitly demeans the marriages of the overwhelming majority of Arkansans and runs counter to the presumed conservative principles of a smaller, less invasive government. But isn’t that modern conservatism for you.

You know, I got married in California, where getting a divorce is only slightly more difficult than saying “I divorce you!” three times in sequence, and where, of course, all those horrible liberal Hollywood types with their terrible loose morals live. And yet, a married couple in California is rather less likely to get a divorce than a couple from Arkansas. The state that has the lowest incidence of divorce in the US is Massachusetts, which as we all know is so flamingly liberal that they even let the gay people get married, to other gay people, even. What do California and Massachusetts know that Arkansas does not? Whatever it is, it’s got nothing to do with covenant marriage.

If I wanted, I could walk away from my marriage. I could just get up, go, wait an appropriate time and whoomp, it’s done: No-fault all the way. My wife, if she so choose, could do the same thing. And yet we don’t – and we keep not walking away from our marriage every day of our marriage, because that’s not what we want. We don’t want that for the obvious reasons that we love each other and we love our life together, but also because we both understand that marriage is supposed to be work, and that a marriage is a commitment to be renewed on a constant and continuing basis. We work on that, and it’s good work. You could make divorce a 30-second act, as simple as clicking a button on a Web site, and I still wouldn’t divorce Krissy, nor (I rather deeply suspect) she me. The strength of our marriage — the strength of any marriage, I’d say — is entirely unrelated to how easy it is to end it.

“There is a crisis in America,” Huckabee told people at the rally that included his covenant marriage. “That crisis is divorce. It is easier to get out of a marriage than (to get out of a) contract to buy a used car.” Well, yes. It’s also easier to get married than to get a contract to buy a used car, too, so long as you’re willing to marry someone of the opposite sex (and not even that in one commonwealth). But you notice Huckabee doesn’t make mention of that. The crisis is not divorce, the crisis is marrying poorly: Marrying without expectation of what being married requires from both members of a couple, marrying without the appreciation of the consequences, marrying because it’s what’s expected rather than what’s best for either (or both) the people in the couple. The only good thing about Arkansas’ covenant marriage law is it requires couples counseling before the wedding; should covenant marriages actually have a lower incidence of divorce, I’d imagine you’d find the pre-wedding counseling was the key.

Making sure people who are getting married are ready to be married — and married to each other: That’s what’s going to bring down your divorce rate. Do that well enough, you won’t have to try to sell the rather insane idea that making it harder to divorce is going “save” a couple’s marriage. It won’t; it’ll just make them suffer longer for no good reason at all. Making it harder to get divorced is like making it harder to open a fire escape: By the time people get to the point of using it, the damage is already done. Time to let them out.

Conventioneering

Well, this is nice: Noreascon refunded me my membership fee, on account it made a profit (or some such). I have rolled it over for an Interaction membership, so now the net cost of the Interaction membership will be about $30. Thanks, Noreascon!

In other news, I just bought my Interaction membership and booked a room at the Best Western Glasgow Milton Hotel & Spa, so y’all can expect to see me in Glasgow in early August.

In other other news, I’ll also be at Penguicon in April, mostly to see how jittery Cory will be ahead of the Nebula Weekend, which will be the next weekend in Chicago. I had given some thought to being at Nebula weekend — I love Chicago — but I’m going to skip out of that.

So, then, my convention schedule: Penguincon, Wiscon, Interaction. And then I suspect that will be that for 2005, except, possibly, Context. That’s five conventions in a year, up from one for each of the previous two. That’s more than enough conventioneering for one person, I’d say.

2004 Nebula Nominees

As I was on the Nebula short fiction jury this year, it behooves me to post the final list of Nebula nominees (list gacked from Gwenda Bond):

2004 Final Nebula Ballot

Novels
Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Eos, Oct 2003)
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow (Tor, Feb 2003)
Omega, by Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov 2003)
Cloud Atlas: A Novel, by David Mitchell (Sceptre, Jan 2004)
Perfect Circle, by Sean Stewart (Small Beer Press, Jun 2004)
The Knight, by Gene Wolfe (Tor, Jan 2004)

Novellas
“Walk in Silence,” by Catherine Asaro (Analog, Apr 2003)
“The Tangled Strings of the Marionettes,” by Adam-Troy Castro (F&SF,
Jul 2003)
“The Cookie Monster,” by Vernor Vinge (Analog, Oct 2003)
“The Green Leopard Plague,” by Walter Jon Williams (Asimov’s, Oct/Nov
2003)
“Just Like the Ones We Used to Know,” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s, Dec
2003)

Novelettes
“Zora and the Zombie”, by Andy Duncan (SCI FICTION, February 4, 2004)
“Basement Magic,” by Ellen Klages (F&SF, May 2003)
“The Voluntary State,” by Christopher Rowe (SCI FICTION, May 2004)
“Dry Bones,” by William Sanders (Asimov’s, May 2003)
“The Gladiator’s War: A Dialogue,” by Lois Tilton (Asimov’s, Jun 2004)

Short Stories
“Coming to Terms,”by Eileen Gunn (Stable Strategies and Others, Tachyon
Publications, Sep 2004)
“The Strange Redemption of Sister Mary Anne,” by Mike Moscoe (Analog,
Nov 2004)
“Travels With my Cats,” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s, Feb 2004)
“Embracing-The-New,” by Benjamin Rosenbaum (Asimov’s, Jan 2004)
“In the Late December,” by Greg van Eekhout (Strange Horizons, Dec.
22, 2003)
“Aloha,” by Ken Wharton (Analog, Jun 2003)

Scripts
The Incredibles, by Brad Bird (Pixar, Nov 2004)
The Butterfly Effect, by J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress (New Line
Cinema, Jan 2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, by Charlie Kaufman & Michel
Gondry (Anonymus Content/Focus Features, Mar 2004)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien (New Line Cinema, Dec 2003)

I’m personally excited for Cory Doctorow, who is a friend of mine, that he made the final list, and of course I wish all the rest of the nominees good luck as well.

If you’re curious as to what I did on the Nebula short fiction jury, well, I and my fellow jury-mates looked through material to see if there was any story/novelette/novella we thought was overlooked, and if so, we had the ability to add one title in each category. Long-time observers of the Nebula process will see if we did, but otherwise I prefer not to note if we added a nominee or not; every Nebula nominee should be evaluated on his/her writing, not by the process through which he/she landed on the ballot.

Scalzi’s Overloaded Minestrone

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Every now and again I get it in my head to make dinner — not just phone in a pizza order or heat up some ravioli, but actually make something. In those cases I tend to make either chili or minestrone. I’ve already posted my Random Chili Recipe, so here is the recipe for Scalzi’s Overloaded Minestrone. The basic idea is to take minestrone soup and pile on until its consistency is actually somewhat closer to a stew than a soup. This may or may not be heresy if you love minestrone. But, I’ll tell you what, it’s good.

Scalzi’s Overloaded Minestrone

4-5 thick bacon slices, chopped (optional for the vegetarian-oriented)
3 large celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 medium to large onion, chopped
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped
3 large leaves of chard, chopped
28-oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes
1 1/2 cans pinto beans
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 spring rosemary
1 cup orzo pasta
8 – 9 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock if vegetarian)

Get a big pot. In that pot drizzle in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Dump the bacon in and fry the bacon until it is cooked but not crisp. Then add celery, carrots, onion, cabbage, chard, garlic, basil and parsley and cook until the green begin to wilt. Drain your tomatoes and then break them up into the pot; cook for about 3 – 5 minutes. Drain the beans and squish them with your hands before adding them to the pot; cook another 3-5 minutes. Add the chicken/vegetable stock and bring to a boil; then put to simmer. Add the rosemary spring and cover. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring only occasionally. Then remove the rosemary spring and then add the cup of orzo. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, depending on how al dente you like your orzo; stir occasionally. Serve. Makes 8 – 10 cups.

Like I said, this will give you an unusually thick minestrone. See if you like it.

HTML in Comments

I’ve long disabled HTML in comments, basically to help my readers avoid accidentally clicking through on comment spam. But now that I seem to be managing the comment spam well enough, there’s no reason not to let real live human commenters use HTML when they want. So:

Comment HTML for everyone! (except spammers, of course.)

Naturally, I ask everyone who chooses to adorn their comments with links and html to show some basic common sense and courtesy to me and other commenters, and if I think someone’s use of HTML in comments is egregiously bad, I go in and snip it out (though, as with general editing of comments, I can’t see why I would do that very often). The good news here is that I think most you already have common sense, so this entire paragraph is redundant.

There you have it.

A Link You Don’t Get Every Day But Should

Personally, I think it’s always a happy day when a professional dominatrix links to my writing advice, and suggests that much of the advice translates neatly into her of field of professional endeavor. Well, and I imagine it does. You can add your own “writing is a dominant/submissive exercise” allusions here (“Why do you think they call it submitting? Huh? Huh?!?“). But more seriously, I’ve seen a couple of other people link to the advice and say it tracks pretty well with their professions as well. Except possibly that, say, plumbers won’t get any action showing off their pipe snake at a coffee shop (on second thought, maybe they will. Pipe snake indeed!).

Now, before anyone complains, quite obviously if I’m linking to a blog of a professional dominatrix, you may run across something on her site to which you object. Or, alternately, something that excites you. Or both! Funny how that works sometimes.

My Musical Top Ten

Was scrolling through my computerized music collection today and thought to myself: Which bands to I have the most music from on my computer? And now I know:

1. Depeche Mode — 157 songs (lots of remixes in here)
2. The Beatles — 137 songs
3. U2 — 126 songs
4. The Cure — 110 songs
5. Kate Bush — 104 songs
6. Metallica — 100 songs
7. Tori Amos — 82 songs
8. Nine Inch Nails — 70 songs
9. Journey — 68 songs
10. Tie: Tom Lehrer and They Might Be Giants — 67 songs

Artists also represented by more than 50 tracks include Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Sarah McLachlan, Neil Finn/Crowded House/Finn Brothers, Iron Maiden, Billy Joel (I don’t know why I have so much Billy Joel), Waylon Jennings, Howard Shore (the Lord of the Rings soundtracks), Pink Floyd, Oingo Boingo and Yaz(oo)/Alison Moyet/Erasure (oh, come on. Like Alison Moyet and Andy Bell don’t sound the same).

What does it mean? Uhhhh, that I like all those artists? However, some of my favorite artists aren’t on the list, including Daniel Lanois (36 songs in my collection), Brian Eno (47), kd lang (44), fairground attraction/Eddi Reader (36), Emmylou Harris (16), The Pretenders (36), and the La’s (a mere three tracks on my computer). So I wouldn’t necessarily call that top ten entirely representative of my personal tastes.

It’s also not representative of, say, my entire CD collection, since I have a tendency to rip only tracks I want, rather than entire albums. So some bands are underrepresented on my computer, relative to their presence in my CD collection — and newer bands are overrepresented, since I’ve stopped buying CDs as much and started buying more music online.

But it is interesting. As I said, who knew I had that much Billy Joel? It’s not like my iTunes ever seems to play any. What does it know that I don’t?

Who is most represented in your music collection? Because, you know, now I’m curious.

Moderated Comments

Since a couple of people have asked about it to me in e-mail, a quick reminder:

I’m moderating comments more than seven days old, because that’s the easiest way to stop comment spam from actually showing up on the site. What this means is if you comment on an entry that’s more than a week old, your comment probably won’t show up right away; it’ll show up when I go through the new comments to clear up the comment spam (comment spam still comes in; it just doesn’t show up where you all see it). If a moderated comment is clearly from a human being, I’ll let it through, so, no, I’m not moderating for content (and more than I usually do, which as we all know is not much). I’m just keeping the spam out for your total reading satisfaction.

I did put in a little note about this right above the comment function pages, but I understand that people don’t always read the fine print (I don’t always, either).

On a related note, now that spam doesn’t actually show up on the site, it’s actually kind of fun to clean it out. I enjoy looking at all those Viagra and poker spams stuck in limbo before I delete them into oblivion. It’s the little things, you know?

The one small drawback is every once in a while I accidentally delete a real comment — I deleted one of my own comments this morning, which is sort of embarrassing. So if one of your comments disappears, it’s not censorship, it’s just me being clumsy. Sorry about that.

Propaganda

Science Fiction writer S.L. Viehl is apparently annoyed at my incessant pimpage of Old Man’s War:

The book has been the topic 28 times in January, and 7 since the beginning of February. I can’t count the book-related links, my calculator doesn’t have that many places. The cover art for this book has been slapped onto the blog template as well, so it’s in your face everytime you go there. Just in case you didn’t read the last entry about how much [insert important reviewer entity name] loved it.

Really dedicated propaganda effort, too. Used car salesman quality. How the hell do you think of that much to say about your own novel? But the desperation is sad. Tempts one to post a comment on the blog, like Dude, we get that you published a novel and everybody loves it. You’ll sell. Relax.

Heh heh heh heh heh.

Well, you know, she’s right. I won’t deny I’m writing about the book a lot (look! I’m doing it again! Somebody stop me!). You got me. I do think Ms. Viehl misinterprets my purpose for doing so. This is my first published novel, after all, and the first time I’ve had a book this widely reviewed. Simply put, the process is interesting to me, and I write about what’s of interest to me here on the Whatever. It’s why I’m not writing much about Book of the Dumb 2, for which I was paid a lot more than, was released at about the same time as, and — truth to tell — is almost certainly outselling OMW. I like Book of the Dumb 2 a lot, actually; I think it’s overall a better book than the first book in the series. But I’ve already been through the process of releasing that kind of book, and the mechanics of that process are not as interesting to me at the moment.

In any event, I sort of doubt that there’s all that much propaganda value in writing about OMW here. I figure most of the people who read the site who were going to pick up the book at all probably did so in the first couple of weeks, and those who didn’t aren’t likely to be moved one way or another to pick up the book. Pretty much everyone who reads this site is has been innoculated to Old Man’s War’s charms, and has been for a while.

Now, if I truly wanted to propogandize the book in the blogosphere, what I would do is frequent a lot of other blogs and find subtle ways to mention my book in the comment threads, whether it were germane to the topic or not. And yeah, I don’t do much of that. Because then I would be a dick. I restrict my monomaniacal musings to this site, because where else would be better? This site is about me me me me me. Hell, I hardly even mention Old Man’s War at By the Way, and when I do, I apologize for it, because that site’s not about me (not all the time, anyway). I’m missing a prime propoganda opportunity there, since unlike here, I’m almost always on my best behavior, and most AOL Journalers seem to like me. Yet somehow I manage to resist the pimping opportunity.

You know, when I’m not writing books, I’m making most of my income writing advertising and marketing materials, and I do very well with that. Trust me, you would know if I was trying to propagandize the book. Instead, I keep most of my thoughts on the book confined to this one site, and avoid being a pathetic first-time novelist grasping for attention on other people’s sites. I think that’s entirely reasonable.

(As for redoing the site in the book colors: Oh, I don’t know. I think it looks pretty.)

I do recognize that not everyone who reads this site is going to share my enthusiasm for noting the continuing adventures of Old Man’s War out in the world, but to refer to the site disclaimer, this site is operated by me for the purposes of my own amusement. With the possible exception of myself, everyone who visits the site is going to find something of mine they’re not going to like. And I’m just fine with that. If the site bugs you, the simple solution is to go away and come back when you feel like it, if you feel like it. Either the subject will have changed and be more to your liking, or I will have continued to drone on in my self-absorbed way about a topic that you couldn’t possibly care less about. That’s how it works around here.

However, I would like to thank Ms. Viehl for giving me yet another excuse to talk about the book.

My Politics Since Bush

As long as I’m writing entries on reader comments and e-mails, I’ll note a reader sent me an e-mail suggesting I’ve moved to the left politically since Bush came into office, and that my readership is far more lefty than it used it be, say, a couple of years ago.

My thoughts on both of these — eh. On the issue of whether my audience is more liberal than it used to be, I don’t know if I see it. Prior to March of ’03, it’s hard to judge, since I didn’t have comments enabled, and since then the comments seem to break slightly more to the left than right. But there’s plenty of representation from both ends as well as from the folks who prefer not to see their politics as being left or right but along “practical v. impractical” axis, which as it happens I tend to see myself along. I think during the run-up to the election things became a bit more polarized here, as they did on every site where people actually debated viewpoints rather than just doing a circlejerk with their ideological buddies. That’s the nature of living in a political system that offers you two choices. Since then, however, I don’t think the comments here have been particularly left or right, although that has as much to do with the fact that for the last six week’s I’ve mostly written about writing, and not about politics.

As for whether I am more liberal than I was before: No, not really. I’m certainly less stereotypically liberal than I was, say, when Clinton was in office. As an example, in 1995, I was pretty resolutely anti-gun and held the opinion that the 2nd Amendment didn’t specifically allow for a universal individual right to bear arms. Here in 2005, not only do I think that the individual right to bear arms is implicit in the formulation of the 2nd Amendment, I also recognize that with just about as many guns as people in this country, attempting to get rid of everyone’s guns is unfathomably impractical and would likely start riots — and armed riots at that. So for both philosophical and practical reasons, you can no longer call me anti-gun, even though I myself continue not to be a fan, particularly of handguns. I am also far more fiscally conservative than I was ten years ago, because I see the deficit as the single biggest impending crisis we have.

Socially, I am rightfully pegged as liberal, but I think that label comes down to two positions: Same-sex marriage, of which I approve, and the right of a woman to control her own body, of which I also approve. Why either of these positions are held as “liberal” is an issue for another time, but there you have it. The rest of my social positions are, I think, reasonably mainstream.

Politically, what I am, with a few notable positions both to the left and right, is a moderate, which is something you don’t hear too much about these days. But in actuality, what I really am is anti-stupid, and I think this is where my correspondent might indeed believe I’ve gone to the left, because this administration has been so unremittingly stupid in its actions that it’s all a thinking person can do not to have multiple simultaneous aneurysms trying to conceive how so much incompetence can be shoveled up in one place at one time — and elected to lead a nation.

Here’s my dirty secret about the Bush administration: I think it has some fine general concepts, but I’m appalled, over and over again, at how unremittingly awful it’s been in the execution. Tax cuts when the US government is running a surplus? Well, okay — I would prefer to pay down the deficit, but I won’t complain. Tax cuts while the economy’s struggling and we’re in a friggin’ war? Gold-plated stupidity is what that is. I like how Bush is running about, puffing his chest out about how austere his new budget is, but you know, I would have been rather more impressed with his fiscal-mindedness a couple of trillion dollars ago. Bush’s wanting to get credit for fiscal toughness after he’s spiraled up the US debt is like a drunk driver wanting to get credit for making it home without killing anyone.

Toughen security measures at home in the wake of 9/11? Absolutely. This is not the same as stripping US citizens of their constitutional rights, even if those citizens are brown and have an outside chance of being terrorists, or creating a Homeland Security department whose biggest security advance to date is color-coding and a one-time boost to sales of duct tape. Invade Iraq? Well, probably unnecessary, but for my own reasons I didn’t complain. But who honestly believes the occupation of Iraq hasn’t been one massive FUBAR-fest?

And now, Social Security: Who among us does not believe it should be overhauled? And yet I’d rather entrust my dog to come up with a workable plan to modernize it than the Bush Administration, because if there’s a group of people who can plow the thing into the ground and leave millions of men and women starving and homeless in their senior years, it’s this crew. Bank on this: If Bush somehow manages to push through his Social Security revamp, the USA is going to turn socialist in 2032 as all those dirt-poor retirees vote to start taking 70% of the younger generation’s income for their own needs. You’ve got 27 years to prepare, kids.

And it’s not just the administration. The stupid wing of conservatism is falling out all over the place, running about like untrained dogs, pissing on the constitutional furniture. To call the current crop of conservatives “unthinking” is too neutral — they are actively anti-thought, and that offends me enough that I generally choose not to be silent about it. Sadly, most of the the anti-thinking branch of conservatism also claims to be the “Christian” branch, which, if I were a Christian, conservative, and owned a brain, would offend me to absolutely no end.

Look, it’s simple: Give me a conservative who I can see engaging his or her brain to make argument and points — even points I disagree with — and that conservative will have my undying respect. Give me a conservative who thinks it’s a perfectly legitimate tactic to simply lie, ignore or bully, and I’m going to get out my whack stick. I’m not stupid and I’m not going to be bullied, certainly not by a bunch of smug dicks who assume both that they’re smarter than me, and that they have got God in their back pocket.

Yes, the left has more than its share of anti-thought folks, but a gentle reminder: The left’s not in power. I guarantee you if Gore had won and his administration had been as despairingly dumb as Bush’s, I’d have people wondering why I had suddenly swung to the right. However, in the real world, it’s the Bush folks who are running things, and doing so very poorly. It’s not about their politics, or at least, not all about them: It’s mostly about their competence.

Part of me wants to cringe when I say this, but at this moment, ideologically speaking, I’m probably closer to Arnold Schwarzenegger than any other high-profile politician out there. He’s socially liberal, apparently fiscally conservative, pro-environment and pro-business, open to compromise but also willing to take on the existing political structure (his current fight to de-gerrymander California’s congressional and Assembly districts? Swoon). He’s not a perfect match for me, and I loathed the way he managed to get into office (with the caveat that he was a far better person to have gotten in than the other grasping GOPers who manufactured the recall in the first place). But by God, he’s awfully close to what I’d want in an ideal candidate. I wouldn’t amend the Constitution on his behalf, but if it happened, oh the temptation.

That’s where I am politically in the Bush era.

The Money Involved

Someone asked in one of the comment threads: If the first printing of Old Man’s War sells out, will I have earned out my advance? So I crunched the numbers and the answer is: Yeah, it looks like it — the first print run was about 3,800 copies, and my math shows my break-even point at 2,700 or 3,400 copies, depending on what royalty rate you use (I could pin down the royalty rate by looking at the contract, but then I’d have to dig it out, and that would take too much effort) Even a worst case scenario (which has me signing a contract that offers a 6% royalty, because I was high on cough syrup or some such) would have me earning out after about 4,500 copies sold, and it seems reasonably likely at this point OMW will hit that target while still in hardback.

This is a good thing, obviously. One, it means paperback royalties go into my pocket, and that’s likely where the majority of money is to be made; two, if I’m breaking even on the hardback that means Tor is almost certainly making money. And as a general rule, you want to make money for your publishers. It encourages them to publish you again, and I’m all for being published again.

Now, the fact that I will have earned out with such a relatively small number of books sold should indicate something to the more observant among you: either I have a truly extravagant royalty rate, or my advance was pretty small. Well, I don’t have an extravagant royalty rate, I in fact have a rather pedestrian one, so that points to a small advance. And indeed, it’s well within the “meh” range by this formulation. However, I should note I’m just fine with this, and I’ll tell you why.

Meet Sam Lipsyte. Mr. Lipsyte is the star of the article I’ve just pointed to, in which we read about the Herculean struggle he had to get his second novel published here in the United States (he ended up having to get it published in the UK, to rave reviews, before someone would bite over here in the states). Why was it so difficult to sell his second novel? Well, it could be because, by all indications, Mr. Lipsyte is a writer whose prose one either loves or hates, which is a strike against him at least 50% of the time, and also his quirky style makes him difficult to quantify, which will drive the marketing people right up a wall. But more likely it was because the publisher of his first novel gave Lipsyte a $60,000 advance for his first novel, and the first novel stiffed. Big time.

Perspective: To earn out a $60,000 advance, Lipsyte would have had to sell 25,104 copies of his book at 10% royalty, or 31,413 copies at 8%. Any amount under that, he’d have to make up in the paperback sales, where the price (and thus the royalty) is lower. More perspective: for mainstream fiction, 25,000 copies is considered bestseller status (if what I read in the New York Times is correct).

While it is entirely possible for a first-time novelist to become a bestseller, the actual odds are pretty grim. It’s even less likely if reviewers keep comparing you to somewhat inaccessible writers (Thomas Pynchon, for example) and warn readers that “the characters here don’t so much converse as exchange obtuse epigrammatic non sequiturs and indulge in linguistic quips.” Basically, Lipsyte probably got hosed because his publishers spent too much money for a book that was deeply unlikely to earn out its advance. And it didn’t: It sold 5,000 copies.

And so his next book, Home Land, sold in the US — when it sold — for a quarter of what he got for the first one: $15,000. As it happens, the book came out the very same day as mine did, and by all indications is selling in numbers not dissimilar to my own: The article notes it’s sold 2,000 copies to date, which is in the same ball park as mine. Here’s the thing: If I sell 5,000 copies, I’m a success, at least as far as the rubric of earning out your advance is concerned. Lipsyte, on the other hand, is still underwater at 5,000 copies; he’s underwater until he gets to 11,500 copies (presuming 10% royalty). If he doesn’t get there, he’s a two-time commercial loser, which would likely make it that much harder to get to book number three.

Bear in mind this has nothing to do with Lipsyte’s talent as a writer. He may indeed be wonderful to read, and it’s quite likely he should be read by a wider audience. What I’m saying is that if he and I — both writers in our mid-thirties, both in relatively the same place in our writing careers — both were to sell, say, 10,000 copies of our latest book, I’d be seen as a happy success to my publisher, and he’d be seen (whatever his talent) as a mild disappointment, and the only real difference between us — commercially speaking, anyway — is a few thousand dollars in advance money.

Which does bring up the question — why did this guy get a $60,000 advance for his first novel, and I one a rather small fraction of that sum? Is he many multiples better than I as a writer? Alternately, is his fiction a multiple more salable than mine? As toward the latter, evidently not, and for the former, it’s certainly possible, but probably irrelevant. I suspect a more likely answer is simply that Lipsyte writes literary fiction whereas I write genre fiction, and anecdotally speaking it appears that publishers are willing to pay more for literary fiction than for genre fiction.

One does of course wonder, if this is true, why that might be — I would love to have someone slap down the sales figures for genre writers and for lit fic writers and show me whether the average and median sales for each justify either the high advances for literary fiction, or the low advances for genre fiction. I rather strongly suspect that what we’d find is that literary fiction is overvalued as to its commercial prospects relative to genre fiction, for no better reason than snobbery toward little green men (I can possibly accept an argument that literary fiction is, on average, more literary than genre fiction, but being “literary” is just one portion of being “readable,” and as we all know there’s a lot of literary fiction that’s well nigh unreadable. Also, I suspect that China Mieville and Neil Gaiman, to name just two, are as resolutely “lit’ry” as anyone, and yet still readable, so there’s nothing to suggest genre work can’t be eminently literary as well).

In any event, I’m not entirely sure I want to take a position that non-genre authors ought to be dragged down to genre authors’ rather meager pay scales; I’m pretty sure that won’t make me a lot of friends. And God knows I’m not criticizing Lipsyte for taking the $60k when it was offered to him, because, you know, I’d not be likely to turn it down, either. I do think, however, that publishers aren’t doing first-time non-genre authors any favors by offering them advances they’re not likely to recoup and then branding the poor bastards as uncommercial when they don’t. That really is blaming the victim. Either literary fiction editors are absolutely clueless about money, or they simply don’t care and are happy to spend stupidly. Either way, I would probably fire these editors and replace them with editors trained in genre fiction; I suspect that after the shock had worn off in the lit fic community, the corporate parents of book publishers would find a modest uptick in their bottom lines.

My advance for Old Man’s War was small, but as it turns out it’s pretty much what it should have been for me, both for the short-term happy accomplishment of earning out my advance and for the longer-term goal of beginning to establish myself as a commercially viable author. Do I want to get a bigger advance next time out? You bet — and, as it happens, for The Ghost Brigades, I got one. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and so far it’s working for me.

Other People’s Books

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Someone recently asked me what I was reading, to which my immediate response was a quick laugh — like I have time to read for fun right now. Nevertheless, I have been buying books, and here’s some of the most recent. From the bottom up:

The Ancestor’s Tale, by Richard Dawkins — Dawkins is the current bete noire of the creationists and the IDers, mostly because he’s able to break apart their tinny little “scientific” arguments with his mighty hammer of evolutionary biology knowledge, and they of course hate that, since their game is to muddy the waters enough to confuse the people with a bare bones understanding of biology, and thereby shoehorn their nonsense into science classes. This book traces back the evolutionary ancestors of humanity going back to the first single-celled organism, and (so far as I’ve read, at least) does so in a way that a reasonably intelligent person can find not too hard to follow. Should probably be required reading for anyone on a school board. I’ll be donating my copy of the book to the local library after I’m done reading it.

Roger Zalazny, The First Chronicles of Amber; Robert Heinlein, Expanded Universe; Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle — Clearly, I’m continuing to use the Science Fiction Book Club to stock up on books from dead guys. I used to own some Amber books as well as Expanded Universe, but in both cases that was in junior high and high school and God only knows where those books might be at the moment; time for a hardcover upgrade. And I’d never read High Castle before, and I figure it’s better to read Dick from the era in which he wasn’t communicating with aliens or ghosts or whatever it was he was hallucinating in his later years. What’s really interesting is how short all these novels are — I thought Old Man’s War was reasonably short, but each of these novels are about two-thirds the length. When did all us writers become windbags?

Orphanage, by Robert Buettner — The other recent debut novel that’s getting compared to Starship Troopers and Forever War; it’s a paperback release but the SFBC has a special hardback edition, and since I couldn’t find the book in my local bookstore, I went ahead and got that version. I’m only a couple of chapters in but so far, so good; Buettner’s writing more of a straight-ahead SF military story than I did, as far as I can see. I think I may be helping to move a few copies of this book, since every now and then Amazon has one of those “buy both these books!” links jamming the two books together, and elsewise I’ve noticed that when my Amazon ranking gets a bump for whatever reason, so does his. It’s “The Long Tail” in action. If I am indeed helping him sell, that makes me happy; I’m a big fan of trying to lift all the boats in the water. Of course, it could be that he’s helping me. In which case: Thanks, Robert.

Coyote Rising, by Allen Steele — Got this at the local bookstore. I enjoyed Coyote, so this sequel is a natural purchase. Some of the reviews I’ve seen have given Steele flack for the political systems he’s put in the book, the gist being people wondering why he’s kicking socialism when it’s already so obviously down. Well, it’s not down in the book, and secondly, I don’t know, I think people are spending far too much time these days obsessing over the political angles of things. I don’t think Steele’s making a huge statement about socialism, so far as I’ve read; I think he’s working within the parameters of the story he’s constructed. At the very least, I haven’t felt like it’s been annoying polemical so far, and I have a pretty good ear for annoying polemics.

Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, by Olivia Judson — A really neat conceit: An evolutionary biologist/journalist who explains concepts about sexuality in the animal would by creating an “advice column” format and having various species write in with their sex problem. This is exactly how popular science should be approached: By making it fun and interesting even for people who get scared at words like “science.”

The Good War, Studs Terkel — I’ve somehow managed to get through 35 years of life — some of which in Chicago, for God’s sake — without reading any Studs Terkel. Seemed like a good time to fix that. Also, I’ve recently become interested in oral histories as a form, and again, this seems like a good place to start.

That’s what on the reading list, should I get the time to, you know, read.

Finding Old Man’s War

Well, the good news is Old Man’s War is selling really well. The bad news is that it’s selling well enough that the first print run is almost entirely sold through, and copies of the book are getting scarce. Amazon, BN.com, Booksamillion and even (gasp!) Wal-Mart are currently out of copies and are listing waits of a week or more before the book arrives.

Tor is rushing through another printing (yay!) and actually expanded the number of copies it’s printing (yay! yay!), so more books are on the way. But if you want a book within the next week, you’ll have to do some hunting.

Or, alternately, follow the links below, because I really, really, really want to keep people happy and satisfied.

Powell’s appears to have five copies.

Mega Media Depot, which has a store via eBay, claims to have 29 copies, and not a bad price for them, either.

Total Campus (another eBay store) has two copies.

BookMarz II and More Movies Direct each have one copy.

And of course the Science Fiction Book Club has their own edition of the book still in stock. If you haven’t already signed up for SFBC, you can sign up for their “5 books for $1″ thing, with the catch being that you then have to buy four more books from them over (I think) a year. If you buy a lot of SF, and don’t mind book club editions of books, then it’s a pretty good deal.

I’m pretty sure that more than these 38 copies plus book club exist in the physical world — no doubt there are still copies on the shelf. And in any event the second printing will be in stores very soon. But for now, that’s where I’ve found it selling and in stock online. Have at them.

You can imagine how I feel at the moment: Pleased the book is selling well, and apprehensive that the people who can’t get the book exactly when they want it (i.e., now) will forget about it later. I’m sure that won’t be too much of an issue, but it’s one thing to know it and another thing to feel it. So let’s go, second printing! Assuage my petty fears, if you please.