Monthly Archives: December 2005

The Last Thing I’ll Post About Bush This Week (Maybe)

Not so much a commentary as wryly noted:

Look! Bush is up in the polls! He rocks!

Look! Bush’s ratings are unchanged since he went on his charm offensive! He still sucks!

How nice it is in this holiday season that everyone can find a major poll to fit their mood.

Yeah, I’ll definitely be talking about other things for a while.

More On That Whole Impeachment Thing

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, some meaty thoughts on whether the president’s wiretap program actually broke the law. The author’s current, “extra-cautious” conclusion: “it seems that the program was probably constitutional but probably violated the federal law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.” While I bask in my own I-am-not-a-lawyer-ness, I have to confess this is pretty close to my own reading of the situation as far as I can winkle it out under my own intellect, given what information is available to me. And if this particular reading is borne out, you can bet the folks rubbing their hands about the idea of impeaching Bush are going to cackle even more gleefully.

So let’s ask: If after all is said and done the president did break the law, should he be impeached? As I’ve alluded to before, on general principles I’m against the process of impeachment because it’s so immensely disruptive; personally, I’d want to see a president caught red-handed dealing crack cocaine or strangling babies before I’d consent to such a thing. But this isn’t about my own dread of the impeachment process, it’s about whether there’s an actual case for impeaching the president.

And for me, what it comes down to is three things. First I’d want to know — regardless of whether the president did break the law — if he broke the law knowing unambiguously that his course of action was entirely beyond the pale of law. If the president can show a solid legal argument that a reasonable person versed in the relevant law could see as a not-entirely-specious rationale for thinking that FISA did not apply, then I’m inclined not have him frogmarched over to Capitol Hill. If on the other hand, he said something along the lines of “I don’t care if it’s illegal, just do it,” well, then, I’d be more inclined to say “hoppity-hop, Mr. President” — but not entirely, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.

We’ve been hearing the president and his people throwing out various legal interpretations to the press today to see if any of them stick, so I have no doubt Bush has got a rationale. But I think he has a very serious problem in that his administration has played fast and loose with legal and constitutional interpretations of the scope of its powers for so long that its credibility on the matter is entirely shot. Rationalizing spying on Americans in the US without a warrant might have been doable if we didn’t already know the Adminstration was content to deprive US citizens of their constitutional rights (which required the Supreme Court to smack it down in an 8-1 decision), or to assert that agents of the US should be exempted from anti-torture strictures, until shamed into agreeing they shouldn’t by a senator of its own party who had been tortured by the North Vietnamese. Time and time again the Administration has shown that it simply doesn’t care about compromising civil rights in the pursuit of enemies. It’s also shown that it doesn’t particularly care about dialogue about its decisions, either — the administration has contended that it kept key Congressional figures in the loop about the warrantless search thing, but some of those Congressional leaders have said, basically, that the Administration came to them and said “We’re not asking you, we’re telling you” — and that even then they weren’t told everything. Naturally that’s an issue.

(And no, it doesn’t matter that the Administration has only been depriving bad Americans of their rights. The Constitution doesn’t say that only “good” citizens get rights. Get it right, people.)

Now, let’s posit that the president knew his actions were illegal, but didn’t care. Would that merit impeachment? In my opinion, no — if the president could prove that his actions saved Americans from imminent harm that following the law could not have prevented. Basically, if the Administration can show that the FISA process was so broken that it needed to be ignored in order to protect Americans, I would be uninclined to have the president punished for doing what he quite rightly feels is his job: Protecting Americans from harm. Naturally, Bush and his administration are pushing some form of this rationale at the moment.

I’m open to hearing this argument, but my default position is to be very skeptical of it. The FISA court procedures seem to be quite flexible when it comes to allowing the government to deal with immediate threats: having a 72-hour retroactive window for warrants is something I suspect most law enforcement folks wish they could get. Moreover, I would say that even if the FISA procedures were in some way problematical and required a workaround, it would still be incumbent on the administration, while continuing to employ the workaround, to try to fix and improve the FISA court within the law to make a legal avenue more responsive to real world issues. It doesn’t seem that the Administration has done that, or even tried to do that, which goes again to the Bush Administration’s apparent lack of interest in playing well with the other branches of government.

If we granted that the president both knew what he was doing was illegal and that it was determined that such evasion of law was entirely unnecessary, now are we talking impeachment? This is the point where I go “gaaaaaaaaah” and raise a point that will be entirely unpersuasive to many, which is that I genuinely believe that Bush wants to protect Americans, and that matters to a non-trivial extent. I’d be loathe to impeach a president for that, and I would find it difficult to support people who would. There, I’ve said it: I don’t think you get impeached for trying to protect Americans.

But that’s about all the slack I’m ready to grant the man. Look, I don’t doubt the Bush folks want to protect Americans. That’s not even an issue for me. But I’m not at all convinced that fully protecting Americans requires going beyond the law, and I am deeply concerned about the precedent the Bush administration is attempting to set, which is that a president can do any damn thing he or she wants. This is a pretty simple thing: there are three branches of government, and the idea is that each of them is co-equal. The Bush folks pretty clearly wish to assert otherwise. I’m not inclined to agree, and I’m pleased that members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, are finally starting to come around to my way of thinking. I appreciate that in wartime presidents should have leeway, but I think the Adminstration’s had four years of leeway with some less-than-desirable results regarding civil rights. So that’s been quite enough. A little more oversight would be nice. Well, a lot more, at this point.

Outside Sources and Etc.

The Philadelphia City Paper picked up my “Defending Dubya” piece from the other week and printed in their fine alternative weekly, so if you’re in Philadelphia, please do pick it up; if you’re not in Philadelphia (or are in Philly, but just lazy) here’s the online link. Also as a head’s up for Philadelphia area folks: I’m going to be coming to your town for a wild and crazy publicity event in the second half of January, the details of which I will entice you with after the new year. For now, just be aware that Scalzination is imminent.

Speaking of the President, last night was one of his better speeches regarding Iraq, not in the least because he’s acknowledging what most of the rest of the country already knew; it’s always nice when the reality distortion bubble around the White House flickers a bit. Expect “defeatists” to become the new catchphrase when one is discussing folks who object to the current disposition of the Iraq situation; I would imagine those folks will move fast to nip that one in the bud.

As positive a step as I think last night’s speech was for the president, I have my doubts as to what it means in terms of what goes on on the ground in Iraq. Bush didn’t give that speech because he wanted to have a moment of candor with the American people; he gave that speech because his administration’s had the rug pulled out from under it, and his moment of candor was damage control. If we know anything about George Bush, it’s that he resents being made to do something he doesn’t want to, and he doesn’t like having to explain himself. So the question is whether he uses this acknowledgement of difficulties as an opportunity to adjust strategy, or whether his adminstration uses it to say “look, we said it was going to be difficult,” and then just keeps doing what it’s doing. If it’s the latter, I don’t expect his popularity to go up much, particularly in light of other current events.

We’ll see how it goes.

Small Happy Dance

The hardcover of Old Man’s War is #12 on the Amazon SF bestseller list at the moment and #777 in all their books, which is not a bad place for a debut science fiction novel to be more than a year after it first showed up in bookstores. The Ghost Brigades is doing pretty not badly as well, at about #2,100, which is cool considering it won’t officially be out for another two months. I rather strongly suspect this has something to do with it. And when I say “strongly suspect” you should read “I really have no doubt in the slightest.”

Someone fairly recently said to me that I might be the first SF writer whose sales have come primarily because of being talked about online. I don’t think that is true — if anyone lays claim to that, I figure it would be Cory Doctorow — but it is entirely true that OMW’s relative good showing as a debut book comes substantially from the online world, both in recommendations from other bloggers, who have a level of recommendation trust with their readers that most traditional forms of media simply can’t touch (unless one’s name is Oprah), and in just me hanging about here, so that people can get used to my voice and get curious about the other things I do. If I had to guess, I’d say about two-thirds of my sales thus far have come directly from online recommendations and presence (and mostly, recommendations).

It’s difficult for me to overstate the online world’s importance to my writing career in this regard, and how pleased and genuinely humbled I am that so many folks online seemed to take on OMW, and discussed it in their blogs and journals and in online review sites. If you were one of these people, please believe that the thanks I give you now is sincere and genuine: what you wrote actually did matter for my book. Most books — and certainly mine — exist in a space where one-on-one word of mouth and friends talking to friends through blogs and journals makes a real-world impact on how well they do. So thank you. Really. It mattered, and it continues to matter.

The Impeach Bush Bandwagon

It’s begun, over here. Apparently, authorizing the NSA to spy on US citizens on US soil may not be entirely legal.

For the record: I think we need another impeachment process almost exactly as much as I need to strap a salmon to my scalp and headbutt a grizzly.

And oddly enough, I’m feeling a little sorry for our president. He was working up a nice head of approval steam this last week, taking responsibility for intelligence failures in Iraq and all that, and then all that gets tubed by this whole spying thing. The guy just can’t catch a break; other presidents may have had worse years in their administrations than Bush has had in 2005, but not many. The guy clearly needs a hug.

Mind you, I’m not feeling so sorry for the man that I think we need to let this whole domestic spying thing slip past us. Oh, my. Let’s not.

Son & Foe

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Those of you who are itchin’ for new reading material of a mordant and/or quirky sort would be well-advised to check out Son and Foe, a new online magazine with an interesting distribution model: It posts material from its editions on its Web site, but not all at once — and it also offers a downloadble version, complete with multimedia goodies, for $3. I have the downloadable version, which I recommend over sucking down the free feed, because in addition to the fiction of the magazine, the short films and music that come in the multimedia packet are both good and curious: songs about massively decompressing planes and funny short films about high school gym riots (featuring elephants!) are highlights. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of offbeat tidbits, and I’ve been having fun sampling the buffet.

So check out the Son and Foe site, and if you like what you see, give thought to shelling out the three bucks for the whole package. It’s a queer bill well invested, I’d say.

Son & Foe

sandfcover.jpg

Those of you who are itchin’ for new reading material of a mordant and/or quirky sort would be well-advised to check out Son and Foe, a new online magazine with an interesting distribution model: It posts material from its editions on its Web site, but not all at once — and it also offers a downloadble version, complete with multimedia goodies, for $3. I have the downloadable version, which I recommend over sucking down the free feed, because in addition to the fiction of the magazine, the short films and music that come in the multimedia packet are both good and curious: songs about massively decompressing planes and funny short films about high school gym riots (featuring elephants!) are highlights. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of offbeat tidbits, and I’ve been having fun sampling the buffet.

So check out the Son and Foe site, and if you like what you see, give thought to shelling out the three bucks for the whole package. It’s a queer bill well invested, I’d say.

Outreach in Action: Gateway Science Fiction

Having bloviated yesterday that current science fiction offers few “open doors” for non-Science Fiction readers to check out the genre, I want to offer interested parties an opportunity to prove me wrong, or at the very least, prove that I’ve wildly overstated the issue. So, consider this your opportunity to suggest Gateway Science Fiction — Good, recent science fiction for people who don’t read science fiction.

Here are the conditions I’m setting upon recommendations:

1. Assume your audience is a reasonably literate human adult (25+) who is unstupid and technologically competent (i.e., can use a computer, cell phone and iPod), but whose literary SF experience is limited to whatever SF they may have been assigned in high school and college.

2. While I love Young Adult books, focus on SF marketed to adults.

3. No books before 1995.

4. Book has to be primarily SF. A few fantasy elements are fine, but if you’re an SF/F geek, you probably have a good idea where the line is. If not, see here for a decent arbitrary dividing line between SF and fantasy.

5. Recommend a book that you would actually recommend to someone; which is to say, don’t recommend a book just because its geek form factor is low enough that a mundane reader can follow the tech. A book that has a low technological barrier of entry but which has a lousy story is not going to be a good book to recommend to anyone.

6. Refrain from buttering up the host by recommending one of his books. I mean, thanks and all, but no. Also, refrain from recommending your books, even if they’re perfect gateway SF. Let’s share the love here, not bogart the gateway goodness.

There are the ground rules. Now: What have you got?

“Alien Animal Encounters” at Escape Pod

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Image: Douglas Triggs

Can’t wait until the Synthetic Confusion convention for someone to read my work out loud? Well, then, you shouldn’t have to. The fine folks of Escape Pod have enacted my short story “Alien Animal Encounters” in verbal form and placed it into a convenient podcast package here. Download it and carry with you always as a symbol of your undying love for me and/or Escape Pod and/or science fiction and/or podcasts. So much love. Enjoy!

Science Fiction Outreach

A question from the audience:

Greg Benford and Darrell Schweitzer have written an article on fantasy overshadowing science fiction and what that means to society.

Rather than bias you with my opinion, I would like to hear yours since you’re a rising SF writer of demonstrated intelligence. Hopefully, you’ll blog about it.
The article is at http://benford-rose.com/blog/?p=3

I read it. I also read Elizabeth Bear’s and Scott Lynch’s take on the matter as well, which I commend to folks who are interested in the topic. I won’t rehash any of their opinions here, since they’re extensive, so go ahead and take a gander; I can wait until you get back. Or just go on ahead; I think what I have to say on the matter is fairly clear regardless.

Speaking specifically about Benford/Schweitzer, I think they’re overthinking the matter by a considerable margin, because, of course, overthinking is what science fiction writers do. I think tying in the rise of fantasy and decline of science fiction to ominous cultural trends feels nice, because there’s nothing like being held in the pitiless thrall of a world-historical hairpin turn toward entropy to make one feel better about the fact that it’s JK Rowling making a billion dollars from her books and not you. Let that woman have her blood money! We’ll all be fighting the cockroaches for scraps soon enough! However, I personally believe the problem is somewhat more prosaic, and it comes down to marketing and writing problems that science fiction literature has that fantasy does not; namely, that math is hard, and science fiction looks rather suspiciously like math.

Because science fiction literature is math, damn it. The best SF book of 2005, in my opinion, is Charlie Stross’ Accelerando — more mind-busting ideas there per square inch than any other book this year, and on the off chance Old Man’s War gets nominated for any awards this year, I shall be pleased to have my book lose to Charlie’s. That being said, and as I’ve said before, Accelerando is for the faithful, not the uninitiated — and if you look at the significant SF books of the last several years, there aren’t very many you could give to the uninitiated reader; they all pretty much implicitly or explicitly assume you’ve been keeping up with the genre, because the writers themselves have. The SF literary community is like a boarding school; we’re all up to our armpits in each other’s business, literary and otherwise (and then there’s the sodomy. But let’s not go there). We know what everyone else is writing, and are loathe to step on the same ground. This means SF is always inventing new vocabularies of expression, which is good, but it also means the latest, hottest vocabularies are not ones that, say, my voraciously-reading but resolutely middle-of-the-road mother-in-law has any hope of understanding. It’s math to her. Which is bad.

Meanwhile: Fantasy. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: My mother-in-law can read that just fine. Harry Potter? She’s got the books. American Gods? Maybe a tinge gothy for her, but she could handle it. Just about the only commercially significant fantasy writer of the last decade whose books I couldn’t give her right off the bat is China Mieville, mostly because Mieville is generating a fantasy mythology informed by the tropes of recent SF (his fantasy is like his remade characters — a delightfullly grotesque mashup). I think of giving my mother-in-law Perdido Street Station and giggle for the rest of the night. But, as I said, Mieville’s the exception, not the rule (and anyway, I love his writing enough for the both of us). Fantasy writers are no less in each other’s armpits than SF writers, to be sure, but they’re not pushed to reinvent the wheel every single time they write a book; the vocabulary of their genre evolves more slowly. It’s not math, or if it is, it’s not math of the higher orders, and people like my mother-in-law can dive right in.

And this is the point: Fantasy literature has numerous open doors for the casual reader. How many does SF literature have? More importantly, how many is SF perceived to have? Any honest follower of the genre has to admit the answers are “few” and “even fewer than that,” respectively. The most accessible SF we have today is stuff that was written decades ago by people who are now dead. You all know I love me that Robert Heinlein as much as anyone, but why does my local bookstore stillhave more of his books than anyone else’s in the genre? The most effective modern “open doors” to SF are media tie-ins, which have their own set of problems: They’re fenced in grazing areas that don’t encourage hopping into the larger SF universe, and also, no one but unreconstituted geeks want to be seen on the subway with a Star Wars or Star Trek book in tow.

Thanks to numerous horrifying lunchroom experiences growing up, SF geeks are probably perfectly happy to be let alone with their genre and to let the mundanes read whatever appalling chick lit and/or Da Vinci Code clone they’re slobbering over this week (Now, there would be a literary mashup for the ages: The Templars Wore Prada! It’d sell millions!). But then we’re back to the Benford/Schweitzer lament, aren’t we: SF is getting lapped by fantasy in terms of sales and influence and will probably continue to do so. It’s all very well to say the world has turned its back on SF, but if SF authors and publishers are saying this while resentfully suggesting that we didn’t much like that stinky world anyway, and that it’s much more fun here with all our friends, who, like, totally get us already — well, let’s just say I find I lack much sympathy for the genre if this is going to be our position.

Darrell Schweitzer wrote in his lament that if someone wrote a SF novel as compelling as Stranger in a Strange Land, that people would read it despite it being science fiction. I find this formulation incredibly off-key. People are writing books as compelling as Stranger in a Strange Land today; they’re simply writing them for an audience who has already read Stranger. And God knows that any science fiction book that apologizes for being science fiction or that begs the reader to try it even though it’s science fiction (horrors!) is doomed to failure, because no one follows up on a pity read. They won’t call it tomorrow, they won’t send an e-mail, they won’t ping it when it’s on IM, and they’ll pretend not to see it at the next party they’re both at. A pity read is an awkward, awkward thing indeed.

What we need are people who are unapologetically writing science fiction — and are unapologetically writing science fiction for people who have never read science fiction before. You want new people to read science fiction? You want SF books to matter to the masses? Then do some goddamned outreach, people. Write an intelligent, fascinating, moving piece of science fiction for the reader who has always thought science fiction was something that happened to other people.

Don’t dumb it down — people can figure out when you’re typing slow because you think they’re moving their lips when they read. Just don’t assume they’ve read any science fiction other than that one time they were made to read “Harrison Bergeron” in their junior year of high school. Make it fun, make it exciting, make it about people as much as ideas and give them a fulfilling reading experience that makes them realize that hey, this science fiction stuff really isn’t so bad after all. And then beg beg beg your publisher to give it a cover that a normal 30-something human wouldn’t die of embarrassment to be seen with in public. If we can do all that, then maybe, just maybe, science fiction as a literary genre would be back on its way to cultural relevance.

Not every science fiction author needs to do this — the idea of some of our more bleeding-edge folks trying to model a universe for skiffy virgins is one best left unexamined — but somebody should do it, and the rest of the SF writing crew should cut those brave volunteers some slack when they do. The person who reads intelligent but training-wheels-gentle SF today could be the one who is devouring Accelerando or other such advanced works tomorrow. That’s good for us, good for them, good for the genre and good for the whole damn known universe.

And that’s what I think about that.

(Update: Having said that there are few “open doors” into science fiction for non-SF readers, I asked folks to prove me wrong by offering suggestions for good “entry-level” science fiction for adults. Their answers are here.)

Find the Old Man’s War Trade Paperback in the Wild: A Contest

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At the doorstep today: The trade paperback edition of Old Man’s War, which looks excellent and smells like lilacs. All right, it doesn’t smell like lilacs, but it looks great and generally I’m extremely happy with it, although if you get it (or get it for someone else), I’d like to add a small caveat: Don’t read the 4-page excerpt from The Ghost Brigades that’s tacked on at the end, because it gives away a plot point I think is better not to be given away. Now, I personally don’t read excerpts, nor know anybody who does, but someone must, otherwise they wouldn’t put them in there. So if you are one of those people, don’t read this one. Trust me. Pass it on.

Aside from this minor thing, the book is gorgeous and will make a lovely gift for the seasonal holiday of your preference. The official release date is 12/27, but as with the hardcover last year, it’s likely to be out a couple of weeks prior, which is to say imminently. Indeed, its arrival is so imminent, that I am right this very second announcing a contest: The Find the Old Man’s War Trade Paperback in the Wild Contest. The contest is thus: The first three people who send me photographic evidence of the OMW trade paperback in the wild will receive my chapbook “Sketches of Daily Life: Two Missives from Possible Futures” signed not only by me but also by Athena, which I figure will make it a super ultra collectible, and also, I know you all like her better anyway. In addition, I promise to mail the winners their prize before the end of the year (or have Krissy mail them, which is what’s going to happen).

The only caveat is that each picture has to be from a different bookstore. Three pictures of the book from the same bookstore will not stoke my monstrous, monstrous ego. You know how it is. Alternately, should you choose to buy the book, you can send a picture of the book doing something exciting, like going to the beach, or performing elective surgery, or making out with Angelina Jolie or whatever. I’m not picky (hint: Go with the Angelina thing. Please.).

Anyway, that’s the contest. Have fun with it, you crazy, crazy kids.

Mail Note

My host provider is having mail issues at the moment (the moment being about 12:30 Wednesday, 12/14/05), so if you’ve sent me mail in the last hour or so, I haven’t received it yet, nor will I be able to until they get it fixed. I’ll let y’all know when that happens. So, no, I’m not ignoring you. Or at least if I am, I have a technical excuse independent of me simply being a jerk.

2pm: Fixed. You may resume your campaign of e-mail harrassment.

I Heart Instapundit, Part [Insert Large Number Here]

I suspect Glenn Reynolds should get a cut of my profits. At the very least, I’m going to buy him and the InstaWife a nice dinner when I see them. I suspect I owe a nice dinner to Steve Green, Stephen Bainbridge, Cory Doctorow and Eugene Volokh and their respective spouses/significant others as well. Maybe get them all around the same table. That’s dinner conversation!

As a bit of early logrolling, I will say I am genuinely interested in Glenn’s upcoming book An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, which at first glance seems like the zeitgeisty sort of book that will cause lots of people to whip out their highlighters to yellow up passages and mutter “so true” to themselves. I also wonder if Glenn himself is the model for the “Goliath” on his book cover. That looks like his hairline.

The Little Things

For everyone who remembers or cares, yes, I did finally get Firefox 1.5 to work swimmingly on both my computers; it involved uninstalling Adblock and installing the most updated version. 1.5 doesn’t want to work with my WYSIWYG interface for Moveable Type, but I can live without that for a while. What I did miss were two extensions that hadn’t been formally updated on the Firefox Extensions site: Copy Plain Text and Super DragAndGo. The former lets you copy text from Web sites without the annoying html coding it wants to drag along (this is useful for me when I’m doing community stuff for By The Way), and the latter lets you highlight a URL (say, in one’s log file), and then click it and drag it a little to the side; when you stop clicking, it pops up the url in a new tab. In both cases it was a case of not missing what you had until it was gone.

So, small happiness today: I found versions of both this morning that work with Firefox 1.5. Now I feel like all is right with my world, speaking purely in the context of my Web browser. The little things really do mean a lot.

15 Things About Me and Writing

A variation of the meme in the entry immediately before this one. Naturally, if you’re a writer, feel free to do your own version of this.

1. The first time anyone told me specifically that I could write and should keep working at it was when I was in the sixth grade; it was my teacher, Mr. Johnson. His comments were amplified by my freshman composition teacher, Mr. Hayes.

2. Since freshman year in high school, I’ve never considered doing anything else with my life other than being a writer.

3. At the risk of sounding egotistical, in a general sense writing is very easy for me. Specific projects may be difficult due to research or other factors, but the actual sitting down and crafting the words has never been a problem. When other writers talk about how hard writing is for them I can sympathize but not really empathize.

4. Despite it being easy to do, I can get distracted from writing pretty easily, which can get me in trouble. To some extent this is mitigated by my being able to write quickly (5K words a day is not uncommon for me), but one thing I continually try to work on is my ability to structure my time effectively.

5. I find it difficult to write if I’m not using a keyboard — the act of typing is definitely part of my writing process. I write very differently when I am writing long hand or if I am dictating, and (in my opinion) not better. For this reason I am a bit anal about my keyboards. When I bought my Mac, I knew within a week that I couldn’t think using the keyboard that came with the Mac; I tossed it unceremoniously. Now both my Mac and my PC have Logitech keyboards. Logitech keyboards apparently help me think.

6. I’m not a writer who works well in group settings. I don’t like workshops (I have a caveat to that coming up) and I prefer my relationships with other writers be casual rather than professional; I would much rather have a drink with a writer and talk shop than try to co-write or start some sort of writing group. Now, this does not mean I think writers who like collaboration and creative consultation with other writers are doing something wrong; if it works for them, that’s good and well. I just don’t have the inclination for that myself.

7. Having said that, here’s the caveat: I think it would be fun to teach at a workshop, and I like being an editor (on occasion; I don’t know if I have the temperament to do it full time). The fact that I’m interested in teaching and editing but not in peer review and collaboration speaks volumes about me, I’m sure, but as I don’t think what it says about me is a bad thing, that’s fine.

8. Like most writers, I have a hard time judging what writing of mine is going to be particularly resonant with readers (and editors). Some of the writing I thought was not my best has been my most successful; some of the writing I liked the most no one has noticed. What is important is that I know when I’m writing crap, and that writing almost never gets seen by anyone else. So while I can’t tell which of my writing is going to be successful, I at least know all the writing I put out there meets a minimum standard of readability, and that minumum standard is fairly high.

9. And having said that, I do have to say that one of my great challenges as a writer is making sure that my writing is more than merely facile. Writing quickly and not having to struggle to write is a blessing, to be sure, in pounding out sale copy; however, it can present huge issues in quality control. I threw out the first chapter of The Ghost Brigades about six times because what I wrote was perfectly readable, but it wasn’t good — and yes, there is a difference between “readable” and “good”.

10. As a writer, I am not particularly interested in description unless it’s necessary to the plot. For this reason, I think, I am sometimes asked if my novels started out as screenplays, since the convention in screenplays at the moment is not to be overly specific in description, since being so limits the film’s casting directors and production designers.

11. Speaking of which, I have yet to write a screenplay. I’m vaguely interested in the format and I suppose if someone wanted to pay to me try to do one, I would. But it’s not a storytelling format that calls to my soul. Having said that, I think I would be a pretty good script doctor, and I think it would be a lot of fun trying to bang an already-existing script into shape.

12. I’m not in the slightest bit romantic about writing — I love doing it and I would do it even if it weren’t my job, but as it happens it is my job, and since it’s my job one of my aims is to make a lot of money doing it, so I don’t have to do anything else. This is occasionally off-putting to other folks but I don’t worry about that much. Being unromantic about writing doesn’t make one a hack — that comes when you don’t give a crap about what you write, just as long as you get paid. I want to get paid, but I care about what I write. I write for money, but I don’t write just for money.

13. Every year I buy a Writer’s Market, and every year I never use it. I buy it to remind myself that if everything I have going for me at the moment craters and collapses, I still have a couple thousand other chances to still keep writing professionally.

14. I have no good answer for “what would you do if you didn’t write?” I can’t imagine not writing. I can imagine not making a living at it, but that’s an entirely separate thing. If I couldn’t make a living writing, I don’t think it would particularly matter what I did, since I doubt my self-image would be connected to that job.

15. I think I’m a good writer. I also think I’ve been a very lucky writer. Both have worked to my advantage at different times in my career. I know that some better writers have been less lucky than I, and that some worse writers have been more lucky. In both cases, I try not to worry too much about it. I just try to make sure that the luck I have eventually gets justified by good writing. If that gets me to a place where I can spread some of my luck around, so much the better.

15 Things About Me and Books

One of the few blog memes I’m actually interested in participating in. I’m snagging this from Mrissa.

1. I don’t remember not being able to read. Or more accurately, one of the very first memories I am sure about was reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I was about two at the time.

2. Possibly the most influential book in my life was The People’s Almanac, which I encountered when I was six at my grandmother’s house. It seemed that everything in the world it was possible to know was contained in that book. So naturally I was astounded a few years later when The People’s Almanac #2 showed up.

3. When I was in kindergarten my teachers had me tutor third graders on reading. As you may expect the third graders weren’t pleased about that.

4. My love affair with astonomy started in kindergarten as well; I can still see the book on astronomy with pictures of stars of all different hues, and their temperatures listed beneath.

5. My mother used to scrounge old Time-Life science books and science textbooks for me from thrift stores. That was the coolest thing ever.

6. The first science fiction novel I’m entirely sure of reading was Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein. The first fantasy novel I’m entirely sure of reading is The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I’m pretty sure I also read A Wrinkle in Time around the same time, but I’m not sure whether it came before or after those other two books.

7. Because I both grew up poor and was in awe of books, to this day I read my paperbacks in such a way that I don’t crack the spine. If you were to come over to my house, it would appear that all the paperbacks have never been open. They have, trust me.

8. In high school, I burned one of my math textbooks at the end of the year and immediately regretted having done so, to the point of actual shame. I still have the remains of the book to remind me that was essentially a betrayal of my beliefs.

9. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve regularly bought hardcover books.

10. You would think that one of the cool things about being a writer is I can go into a bookstore and see my own books there, and you’d be right. But what’s even cooler is going into a bookstore and seeing my friends’ books there. It’s like being able to visit them wherever they are.

11. There are some books in which I enjoy the writing so much, I can’t bring myself to finish the book, because that would mean there is no more of the writing to read.

12. I am delighted that Athena both thinks that going to the bookstore is a treat, and that not being able to buy the entire bookstore is a tragedy.

13. As much as I love books, I am not a serious collector. I don’t particularly care about first editions and the like. The value of books is what’s inside them.

14. With the exception of Twain, I don’t like reading novels written before the 1920s. The writing style is so different that it’s distracting.

15. I’m not an audio book person. I understand why there is a market for them, and I don’t think ill of people who listen to them — that’s just silly. And I wouldn’t mind if one of my novels were made into an audio book. But, really, they’re not for me. I read with my eyes, not my ears. That said, the people at Escape Pod are going to be doing an audio version of one of my short stories at some point in the near future, and I’m very interested to hear what that will sound like.

I’m going to do a riff off this meme soon.

The War on Christmas Has Its Subversive Element

I see nothing in this year’s idiotic “War on Christmas” campaign that causes me to revise what I said on the subject last year. That said, but I will say that the news story about a bunch of “megachurches” being closed on Christmas day adds a certain zesty tang to the whole proceeding, doesn’t it? If the mass retailers of Christ can’t be bothered to do up Christmas right, why should the mass retailers of DVD players? Speaking of DVD players, here’s how one megachurch plans to spread Christmas joy to its parishoners this year:

Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., always a pacesetter among megachurches, is handing out a DVD it produced for the occasion that features a heartwarming contemporary Christmas tale.

“What we’re encouraging people to do is take that DVD and in the comfort of their living room, with friends and family, pop it into the player and hopefully hear a different and more personal and maybe more intimate Christmas message, that God is with us wherever we are,” said Cally Parkinson, communications director at Willow Creek, which draws 20,000 people on a typical Sunday.

And you know what’s really cool about that DVD? If you put on the commentary track, you can actually hear how the DVD makes the baby Jesus cry.

This is definitely one of those “mote in the eye” moments for the Merry Christmas Militants. How can a certain breed of willfully excitable Christian tell the rest of the world that saying “Happy Holidays” is just like stabbing Jesus in the crotch, if some of their more casual Christ’s Club, arena-filling brethren can’t even bother to pop in at Mary and Joe’s place on Christmas day, and give their greetings to the birthday boy? I mean, really, who’s crotch-stabbing Jesus now?

Clearly these members of the flock have lost their way. Before these militant types bother others about how they choose to approach the holiday season, maybe they should go back to deal with these lackadaisical apostates. You know, get them all in lockstep so they can present a united front when they tell other people how they should think and behave, so as not to make the persecuted and politically weak Christian minority in this country feel set-upon with Satan’s syllables, “Happy Holidays.” Maybe they entice them to the chapel with something festive, like, oh, I don’t know, a Herod-shaped pinata filled with Contemporary Christian Music CDs and candied eucharists. Because nothing would say “Christmas” better. Well, except maybe a DVD.

But you know what? I don’t think that would work. Honestly, if one is going to make the previously innocuous and friendly phrases “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” tension-filled code words for political and religious orthodoxy, one damn well better be sure one’s shock troops are all in a line. You don’t do that by pummeling paper-mache Romans with sticks. You do it with fear. It’s not Christmas unless every living Christian soul is in a pew, whether they want to be or not, and it’s up to all those Merry Christmas Militants to make it so. Because, you know, there’s nothing Christians like better than being told by other people how to practice their religion. That’s why that whole Protestant Reformation thing never caught on. Martin Luther. What a silly man he was.

So, to arms, you Merry Christmas Militants! Those lazy no-church-on-Christmas-Sunday so-called “Christians” are making a mockery of your cause and values! Quell these vipers in your midst! I think Bill O’Reilly bludgeoning the pastors of these churches with a peppermint-striped truncheon live on Fox News would be a wholesome and instructive start. It would really show everyone the spirit of the season — or at the very least, the spirit some folks would like to see applied to the season, and those people are really the only people who count. And they wouldn’t want these other “Christians” to make them look bad.

Christmas: If you’re not with us, you’re against us. Especially if you’re Christian. Yes, yes. That’s what Jesus was all about.

Two Small Notes of a Literary Nature

And here they are:

1. Rick Kleffel interviews me over at The Agony Column about The Ghost Brigades, with side trips to other books and works.

2. We’ve decided on a tentative title for the collection of Whatever entries:

Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: Selected Writings, 1998 – 2005.

A tip of the hat to Jon Hansen, who first suggested the title; in addition to my thanks, I’ll be sure you get a free copy. Just, you know, remind me when the time comes.