Monthly Archives: January 2007

Androids of the Caribbean; Appearance Re-Cap

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Claudia of Ex Patria sends along this lovely photo, of The Android’s Dream sunning itself on a Caribbean cruise. To which I thought: my book gets to go on a Caribbean cruise and I don’t? Bwaaaah. But I do very much like how the blue of the sky — and the clouds — matches the book cover. This was a book made for Caribbean cruising, I would say. Thanks for passing that along, Claudia!

My appearance at the Cincinnati Jospeh-Beth bookstore last night was very cool. The appearance was well-attended, which is what you hope for, and everyone seemed to have a good time. I read from TAD and also from The Sagan Diary, and also regaled the folks with tales of Bacon Cat and the time Krissy almost killed me. And then I signed books — just like it was promised I would — and I think most people came away from it happy.

I was also very impressed by how welcome the Joseph-Beth made me feel for my appearance; there were signs all over the store announcing my signing, and at the signing itself there was this awesomely large banner with the cover of TAD on it. I mean, dude. Banners. They know how to press an author’s ego gratification buttons. And they let me take banner home. I could squee. But I won’t. It wouldn’t be manly.

In any event, all you authors out there, if you have a chance to do a signing in Cincinnati, I really recommend you do it at the Jospeh-Beth. They’re good people and it’s a good shop. I had lots of fun.

Found My Wallet

Now what I want to know is why you decided to put it behind a picture I have of Athena as an infant, i.e., some place where I wasn’t really ever going to look except when thinking “well, I know it can’t possibly be here, but I might as well check, because then I can say I looked everywhere.”

Honestly, I don’t know what the hell you’re thinking, sometimes.

Reminder: Cincinnati, Here I Come

Remember that if you live in or near Cincinnati, and you are wondering what it is you should do with yourself this evening, that I’ll be at the Joesph-Beth bookstore tonight starting at 7pm. What will I do there? Well, I figure it will be a delightful melange of over-caffeinated blatheration, followed by a mime show based on the State of the Union. You know, the usual. Honestly, I never prepare for these things. I just show up and ask people how they want me to entertain them. The Joseph-Beth Web site maintains that I’m going to sign books, so I guess I’ll definitely do that. Provided, you know, people buy books and want me to sign them. Otherwise I’ll just sit there with a pen and an expectant look on my face as people walk by, trying to avoid making eye contact. We authors live for that.

Also, as a reminder, I’m planning to give away something while I’m there to one of the people who shows up view me in my discombobulated glory. Which person will it be? How should I know? I haven’t the slightest idea who will show up. But if you don’t show up, I can say it won’t be you.

Hey, look! Apparently there’s “a lot of buzz” around my appearance tonight, according to Cincinnati.com’s Sara Pearce. Why, yes. Yes, there is. See, now you definitely want to come out. It’s where all the cool kids will be. Because the kids, they love a State of the Union mime show.

Sam Sale Update

For those of you who took advantage of the Sam Sale I told you about the other day, Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press tells me that the sale netted more than $4,000 in support of Sam’s family, and that he went ahead and rounded up the contribution to $5,000. That’s some good work, folks. Enjoy your new reading material, bathed as it is in moral goodness.

Speeches, Regarding the Union, State of

Last night, I watched as a man who had foolishly deceived a great number of people with a flawed and cynical plan for success tried vainly to extricate himself from his folly when his plans went horribly wrong and he found himself called into account. Which is to say I watched the wonderful Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock in the movie version of The Producers, which I watched in the stead of the State of the Union, because, as you all know, I can’t watch Bush try to speak without the urge to pull my eyeballs right out of their sockets. I read the transcript instead.

And as ever, I come away with: Some good ideas in there, but it’s the details that matter, and in any case it’s too bad this administration is too incompetent and too stubborn in the face of opposition to get any of the useful parts across. Again, this is my standard rap on the Bush folks, and nothing new. It surprises people when I occasionally mention that in theory, I like some of the things the administration proposes; well, I do. I simply despair at those ideas coming to fruition in a useful way; they’re often been stalking horses for other, less genial things, or simply a lot of noise that goes nowhere. I do occasionally and wistfully wonder what the last several years would have been like, had a competent president pressed forward so many of the ideas that Bush has in the States of the Union; we’ll never know, and I suppose I’m foolish for thinking about it.

I did actually watch the Democratic Response, partly because it was shorter and partly because I was interested in seeing how Jim Webb gets himself across. I’m less ecstatic about it than others I’ve seen; I thought it was well said but not anything spectacular, although one can certainly see how Webb has gotten a reputation for pugnaciousness. It does seem to suggest that if Bush is under the impression he’s still driving the bus, he’s in for a bit of a surprise.

Your thoughts?

That Doggie in the Window

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This is a cute puppy, isn’t it? It’s apparently visiting one of our neighbors. I was first alerted to its presence when Kodi started barking madly; I came down and found the pup actually in my living room. Apparently it nudged open my garage door and decided to come in. This didn’t please Kodi very much; she cornered the dog until I got there. I let the pup out of the house and then it wandered about outside for a while before its people came and got it. Except for a little canine breaking and entering, there was no harm done, and the dog was friendly all the way through — didn’t appear to challenge Kodi or anything (which was good because Akitas don’t take kindly to that). Even so, it added a little bit of excitement to the day. Yes, this is life in rural America.

Early Oscar Thoughts, 2007 Edition

The nominees for the 2007 Academy Awards are out, and now I’m putting on my film industry observer hat and telling you who has a chance at which awards.

Some initial thoughts: This is another low-grossing year for the Oscars, since aside from The Departed, none of the Best Picture nominees has cleared $100 million. However, it’s not the total commercial embarrassment last year’s slate was — only two of this year’s Best Picture nominees have been outgrossed by a Best Documentary nominee instead of all of them. It’s progress! Artistically it’s a fine year; there’s not a single embarrassment among the major categories, which is always a nice thing when it happens.

There are three big stories out of this slate of nominees. The first is Dreamgirls getting the door slammed on it for Best Picture and Best Director, which I think is an event that’s probably going to leave a mark on voting for the categories it is nominated in. The second is that Little Miss Sunshine has become 2006’s little picture that could; whether it wins any Oscars is another question, but for now everyone involved with it looks great. The third is: Dude, it’s Scorsese’s year. The field is positioned just right for Scorsese to finally pick up the hardware, especially since Dreamgirls is out of the (best) picture. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cakewalk for The Departed.

And now, to my early pics in the major categories.

Best Picture: Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

Little Miss Sunshine gets the ax first, because its directors were not nominated in that category, and it’s been nearly 20 years since a film won Best Picture without at least a corresponding Director nomination (that would be Driving Miss Daisy). Also, it’s a comedy, and the last outright comedy to win was Annie Hall, 30 years ago. Good day, Sunshine. After that, though, it gets murky. I suspect The Queen will be next to go, because Helen Mirren is the prohibitive front runner for Best Actress, and I suspect voters will think that’s enough. Letters from Iwo Jima is more proof Clint Eastwood can do no wrong; when was the last time an American director guided a foreign language film to a Best Picture nomination? (answer: never.)

But while I’m not counting Iwo out, I also feel like the real race is between The Departed and Babel. Babel scored the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama), which raises its profile and may be enough to make it the putative front runner. It’s also one of those serious, multi-threaded films of the sort that’s done well recently (see: Crash). On the other hand, The Departed is a damn fine Scorsese film, and the “Scorsese’s due” drumbeat is beginning to thump pretty loudly. For the moment, I think Babel is out in front, and that there’s going to be a split Best Picture/Director decision like there was last year. But if the Scorsese drumbeat gets out of hand, look out.
Early pick: Babel

Best Director: Clint Eastwood (Iwo), Paul Greengrass (United 93), Stephen Frears (The Queen), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel), Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

I am absolutely delighted that Paul Greengrass has gotten a director nod, because his work on United 93 is so good that you hardly know it’s there, which was exactly what the film needed. I think he had the toughest directing gig of the year and nailed it; if there was any justice he’d be one of the top two contenders for the Oscar. But he’s not; his film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, and there’s not nearly enough buzz. The nomination will have to be enough.

As for the rest, well. Look: Scorsese’s due. Everyone knows it. And what’s more, this year the stars are lining up for him. Frears isn’t a serious threat because The Queen is not a serious contender for Best Picture. Eastwood already has two directing Oscars and (I suspect) would probably tell people to vote for Scorsese anyway, because what does he need a third for? And Alejandro González Iñárritu, good as he is, doesn’t have the constituency Scorsese has. The final tip toward Scorsese this year is that unlike in 1980 and 1990, he’s not going to get hosed by a neophyte actor-turned-director sucking votes from the Actor’s branch of the Academy. If Scorsese doesn’t win, I will buy a hat and eat it.
Early pick: Scorsese

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond), Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), Peter O’Toole (Venus), Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

Congratulations Ryan Gosling! Your asking price per film just went up half a million. Enjoy it, because you’re not getting this Oscar. For Will Smith, this nomination is the acknowledgment that he’s taken Tom Hanks’ old position as America’s Everyman; he’s going to get a Best Actor Oscar one day, just not today. Leonardo DiCaprio might have had a better chance if the nomination were for The Departed rather than Blood Diamond, I think. He’s also in the “gonna win one day, just not today” camp.

It comes down to Forest Whitaker and Peter O’Toole. God knows, Peter O’Toole deserves an Oscar for his body of work if nothing else — but, as it happens, he was given an Oscar for his body of work last year, so what he has to do is hope enough voters work through their screeners of Venus and feel like giving him a proper send-off. Otherwise, it’s all Whitaker, because he’s in one of those outsized historical roles Academy voters seem to love, and his buzz at the moment is simply great.
Early pick: Whitaker

Best Actress: Penelope Cruz (Volver), Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Helen Mirren (The Queen), Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), Kate Winslet (Little Children).

First off the boat: Judi Dench, who must nevertheless be tickled that she continues to get nominated for terrific performances almost no one outside of LA and New York has seen. Next out, Streep, who by this time — this is, what? Her 13th nomination? — must also view the whole nomination thing with some amused weariness. I wouldn’t be able to choose between Cruz and Winslet as to who has a better chance, but I think the good news here (for me, anyway) is that I won’t have to, since I’m having a hard time imagining a world where Helen Mirren doesn’t walk off with the Oscar. She’s playing the Queen, for God’s sake. I don’t think Oscar voters will be able to help themselves, if only because everyone in the world is itching to see what happens the next time Mirren actually has an audience with the woman she’s playing. Talk about your cosmically awkward moments. That’s worth a gold statuette to see, isn’t it?
Early pick: Mirren

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond), Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls), Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)

Bet Haley’s happy this morning. He gets the role of the nominee Entertainment Tonight follows through his preparations on Oscar Day. He also has no chance at the Oscar. I’m happy that Wahlberg gets a nod; he’s a solid actor whose transformation from the Marky Mark days is finally and absolutely complete. I don’t suspect he’s in the running. Neither is Hounsou, although this nomination serves to acknowledge Hounsou generally classes up the films he’s in (hell, he was the best thing about The Island). I think this one comes down to a battle between Eddie Murphy and Alan Arkin, and both nominations have compelling narratives; for Murphy it’s the first time he’s got critical love of any real sort, and for Arkin this would be a nice capstone on a long and generally well-regarded career. At the moment, I think being the old guy gives Arkin the edge, but if there’s outrage that Dreamgirls wasn’t nominated for either Best Picture or Best Director, that might toss enough compensatory votes Murphy’s way to get him over the top. We’ll have to see how this plays out.
Early pick: Arkin

Best Supporting Actress: Adriana Barraza (Babel), Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal), Abagail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Rinko Kikuchi (Babel).

Look, this is a walk for Jennifer Hudson. I’m not even going to pretend anyone else has a chance in this category; maybe Blanchett, if someone was going off sheer name recognition alone. But, seriously. Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t think this is Hudson’s award? Anyone? Bueller?
Early pick: Hudson

Other thoughts and picks: Happy Feet for Best Animated Film, Pan’s Labyrinth for Best Foreign Language Film, and An Inconvenient Truth for Best Documentary (although Jesus Camp has an outside shot). I suspect that Borat actually has a good chance at winning the Adapted Screenplay award over The Departed because the Academy might want to give something to Sacha Baron Cohen, and this is the only way to do it. The best overall category this year, incidentally, is Best Original Screenplay, which features Babel, Iwo, Sunshine, Labyrinth and Queen. I suspect Sunshine might pull this one out, but really, I have no confidence. They’re all serious contenders.

Your thoughts?

What to Know Before You Ask Me to Read Your (Unpublished) Work

Another of those “posting here now so I can refer people to it later” posts:

Perhaps since I give out a whole bunch of largely unsolicited writing advice, I am often asked by readers if I would look at the unpublished story/novel/screenplay/poem they’re working on and give them some feedback or advice. Indeed, perhaps you yourself have been thinking of asking me this very same thing. I have two things to say to this sort of request:

1. I’m really flattered that you would think of asking me to critique your work and would trust me to give you valuable feedback. Thank you.

2. No.

And now, all the reasons why I won’t read your unpublished work, presented in no particular order.

Reason #1: I don’t have the time. As of right this very moment, here are the things I am committed to writing: One novel, a second edition of a non-fiction book (which requires substantial revision and rewriting), a novella, a novelette, several short stories, five blog entries every day of the week, several informational pieces for a book on Ohio, a magazine article on Elvis Presley and other ongoing work for corporate clients. All of this work has to be done because I’m contractually obliged to do it and it pays my bills.

On top of this I write daily for this Web site, which does not pay bills but which over time has become incredibly important to my career (and to my sanity). On top of that, I need to read at least a couple of books a week for an interview series I do with authors, occasionally read one with an eye toward giving a blurb, and check out yet a few others to discuss here on the Whatever (pimping writers! Yay!). On top of that, I have a family which would like to see me from time to time, not to mention friends who I would also enjoy socializing with. On top of all of this, I’d like a little time for my own non-work-related recreation. And on top of that, I’d like to eat and sleep.

Now, over time the details of what I’m doing will change. What is unlikely to change is the volume of what I’m doing. That has remained constant pretty much for the last decade and seems unlikely to decrease any time soon, for which I am fantastically and appropriately grateful. But it means that I don’t have time to read your work, because critically evaluating work in a way that’s going to be useful to the author takes a fair amount of time, and it’s time I don’t have. I understand that from your point of view it may seem like it should be a trivial thing to slip in a little bit of reading and evaluation. But over on this side of things, there’s no time. There’s just not.

(How do I have time to write all this, then? Well, I’m writing it once. Saves me from having to write it over and over again.)

Related to the time thing:

Reason #2: I’d rather look like a dick by saying no than look like a dick by saying yes and then not following through. Several months ago and against my better judgment I agreed to look at someone’s manuscript for them and offer them an opinion on it. And I still haven’t gotten to it. Why not? Because ultimately it’s the last priority in my day: I have paid work, I have to respond to clients and editors, I spend time with family, I write on this site, I sometimes travel on business, and so on and so forth. All of this fills up my days, and at the end of the day I’m tired and I just want to watch the goddamn Daily Show and then go to sleep. I don’t want to give this fellow a half-assed evaluation, so I keep postponing getting to the manuscript until I have time to give it the time it deserves, and that time just never manages to get here. I’m being a total dick to this guy because he’s been patiently waiting for me to deliver on what I said I would do and I’m just not doing it.

I’m telling you this for two reasons. The first is that a little self-induced public shaming is just the spur I need to actually get this manuscript read. But more relevant point here is that when I say “no” to you, at least you’re not left dangling for months and months like I’ve made this poor fellow dangle, waiting to hear back from me. Your disappointment is brief and over, not long and lingering and continual. And of course, I’d also personally prefer not to disappoint people on a daily, continuing basis.

Reason #3: You’re not paying me. This sounds like me being a snide jerk, but there’s actual truth to this. Here’s the thing: I get paid pretty well for what I do. When people ask me to read their work, they’re usually not including a consulting fee; they’re expecting I’ll read the work for free. Thing is, giving people a useful critical evaluation is work; in effect they’re asking me to work for free. And, well. Generally speaking, I don’t do that. It makes my mortgage company nervous. And since my schedule is pretty packed (as noted above), any evaluation I do takes place in time I usually allot to paying work. So not only am I not making money doing this evaluation, there’s also a reasonably good chance this evaluation is taking up time I could be using to make money. And there’s the mortgage people getting nervous again.

Now, let’s be clear, here: When people ask me to read their stuff, it’s not like I fly into a rage at their insensitivity and appalling willingness to take food from the mouth of my darling child; that’s just silly. No one who asks me to read their work is saying I ought to prioritize them over actual work; they know they’re asking me for a favor. What I’m saying is that all things being equal, whenever possible I’m going to fill up work time with paid work. If someone wanted me to read their stuff and was also willing to pay my corporate consulting fee, I might be willing to make time, and bump something lesser-paying down the work ladder. But I don’t suspect many people are willing to pay my consulting fee — nor should they, as there are lots of wonderfully competent editors who would be delighted to give feedback at far more reasonable rates — so generally it’s going to be people asking me to do work for free. I’m not likely to do that.

Reason #4: Some people don’t really want feedback, and if they do, they don’t want feedback from me. This works on two levels. First, to be blunt, there are a lot of people who, when they say, “I’d love feedback,” actually mean “I want a hug.” Yes, most people say they really do want honest feedback, but you know what? A lot of them are lying (or, alternately, don’t know themselves well enough). How do I know which of these you are? Well, in fact, I don’t, unless I actually know you in real life, which in nearly every case I do not.

This matters because, to put it mildly, I’m not a hugger when it comes to critiquing work. I’m not intentionally rude, but I’m not going to bother sparing your feelings or sugar-coating what I think you’re doing wrong. In my experience this is hard enough for people to take if they genuinely want criticism; when they don’t actually want criticism — when in fact what they want is some sort of bland positive affirmation of their work or ego validation — it’s like being whacked in the face with a shovel full of red-hot coals. I think a lot of folks ask me for critiques because generally speaking I present myself as a nice and reasonable guy, and so they feel safe asking me for feedback. For certain values of “safe,” this is wildly incorrect; I don’t think it’s either nice or reasonable to tell people their work is good when it’s not. This has surprised people in the past. Over time I’ve decided it’s usually not worth the hassle.

Reason #5: I don’t want to enable you not finishing your work. Lots of people ask me to read the first few chapters or a section of something and offer feedback on it. As a philosophical matter, I think offering critiques on incomplete work is a terrible thing to do to a writer, because what all-too-frequently happens is that writer goes back and keeps rubbing and buffing the same three chapters (or 10 pages, or scene, or whatever) for months and years, and what you end up with is a highly polished useless piece of writing — useless because it’s incomplete. Also, the critique is useless because it’s only about a part of the work, and who knows how all that fits in with the rest? It’s like giving someone a handful of cherries and asking them how they like your cherry pie.

For God’s sake, if you’re going to hand your work over for critique, finish the damn thing first. Even if it’s broke, you can fix it. But you can’t fix a fragment. All you can do is fiddle with it, and in fiddling avoid finishing it. I don’t encourage this; even with friends, I don’t read things that aren’t finished.

Reason #6: I don’t know you. Why does this matter? Well, simple. As noted in reason #4, I don’t know if you really want feedback or just a pat on the head. I don’t how you respond to criticism. I don’t know if you’re mentally balanced, and whether a less-than-stellar evaluation from me will turn you into a pet-stalking psychotic. I don’t know whether, should I ever critique something of yours and then write something vaguely similar, you’ll go and try to sue me for stealing your story idea (you’d lose the case, but it would still cost me time and court fees). There are so many things I don’t know about you, they could fill a book.

Now, I’m absolutely sure that, in fact, you’re an entirely sane, calm, reasonable person. Most everybody is. But you know what? I actually have had someone online go genuinely and certifiably crazy on me. They seemed nice and normal and sane, and then suddenly they weren’t, and then there were police involved. Don’t worry, it was a while ago, everything’s fine, and it didn’t involve a work critique in any event. However, strictly as a matter of prudence, it’s best that I don’t read your work.

Realize, of course, that the converse of this is also true: You don’t know me, and while I’m sure I come across as reasonably sane and decent, you never do know, do you? Maybe I will steal your ideas. Maybe I will be needlessly cruel toward your work because I’m a little weasel of man who needs to feel big by dumping on you. Maybe I am just that big of a twit. You just don’t know. Maybe this is my way of protecting you from me. Flee! Flee!

So, those are the reasons why I won’t read your unpublished work. I sincerely hope you understand.

LA Times Festival of Books; Ingram Lists

latfob.jpgFor those of you in Los Angeles, gird your loins: I’ve been invited to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books as a participant, so I’ll be among you the last week of April. More details as I know more, but obviously I’m very happy about this. Yay! Los Angeles! Yay! Double-Doubles!

One other nice bit of news for me today: Ingram is the top wholesale book distributor on the entire planet, and it keeps its own list of bestselling hardcovers, trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks. I have been informed that this week Old Man’s War is their #4 bestselling mass market paperback. That’s #4 on the general list (i.e., all mass market paperbacks), not on a SF/F-specific list. Needless to say, this makes me feel shiny. My little book, making its way in the world. They grow up so fast, they do.

ConFusion 2007 Wrap-Up

ConFusion was the first regional con I ever went to, not that many years ago (I didn’t start going to SF conventions until after I sold Old Man’s War, after all), and it continues to be one of my favorites: It’s well-run, has good guests and a varied and interesting selection of fans. Basically, a fun time all the way around. This year was, happily, much of the same.

The good news for me was that last year’s “tradition” of fans coming up and kissing the top of my skull seems to have died an ignominious death, which I appreciate; sure, it was amusing to be the subject of random cranial osculation one year, but having it happen two years running would be a bit much. The only person who planted a smacker was Chuck Firment (i.e., the Guest of Honor last year what started the whole craze anyway), and he can get away with it because he’s a friend of mine, and also (as I’ve already warned him, with a maniacal laugh) next year I’m planning my revenge upon him. Bwa ha ha ha hah! Heh. Anyway, scurrilous rumors you may have heard of mass head-kissings or me being subjected to a hallway cuddle pile of furries or whatever are all simply untrue. Untrue! And I’m going to keep saying it until I believe it.

I’m also happy to say that my programming went very well; I had three panels, all of which were lots of fun thanks to the participants. The first, on Saturday, was on unusual characters in science fiction, for which I was on a panel with Anne Harris and convention Guest of Honor Elizabeth Moon, both of whom are fascinating panelists; we talked about what it means to have be “unusual” in fiction (versus being unusual in real life), the problem of characters so alien that readers can’t relate, and other various issue of interest. Later that day I was on a panel on “Committing Trilogy” with Karl Schroeder, Steven Harper Piziks, Toby Buckell and Jim Frenkel. The discussion broadened slightly to include series as well as trilogies, and we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of writing trilogies and series, both from an artistic and commercial perspective (briefly, the upside is that people like series; the downside is that if they stop liking them, you’re in deep trouble).

On Sunday, Toby and I were slotted in with Elizabeth Moon to talk about what it’s like to become a fiction writer when you’ve been a journalist; I think initially none of us had a clue about how to discuss the particular topic, but once we got started I think it became a very interesting discussion indeed. So out of three panels, I had three good ones, which is a nice batting average to have. So here I tip my hat to ConFusion programming director Rikhei Harris — she did an excellent job, at least in programming me.

For me, however, conventions are mostly about the folks I get to see there, so spending a bit of time with people I already know and people I’ve newly met is lots of fun. On the “people I already know” front there were the aforementioned Karl and Toby (and their lovely respective spouses Janice and Emily), Dave Klecha and his group of excellent pals who I have filed in my mind as “The Klecha Clutch,” and the ConFusion con folk who include Rikhei, Jeff Beeler, Matt Arnold among many others.

Among the new folks I got to spend a bit of time with was PZ Myers, the famed science blogger and the convention’s Science Guest of Honor; he’s got a nicely dry sense of humor and is as interesting in real life as in his blog. I also got a few moment to spend with Bill Higgins, the Fan Guest of Honor, who was a lot of fun to chat with and who should avoid manhole covers from now on (long story). And I met Yanni Kuznia, who I noticed actually a couple of years ago at Penguicon because she and husband can hit a dance floor and cut a rug well enough to make the rest of us look like twitching monkeys. Turns out that in addition to being a fabulous dancer she’s also a hell of an interesting person; it’s always nice when it works out like that (she and her friends were there to promote their TV show InZer0, which has a MySpace page, of course). Among Whatever commenters I spent some time with Steve Buchheit and also saw Hugh57 at my panels. I saw and hung out with tons more people than this, of course, but it’s till early in the morning and my brain is like swiss cheese. So forgive me if I missed you in the shoutout.

I’ll be returning to ConFusion next year; I kind of have to, because I’ll be a guest of honor; specifically, I’ll be the Toastmaster. You should come; we’ll be having lots of fun.

The Sam Sale at Subterranean: Good Books, Good Cause

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This is Sam, and he’s a really cute kid. Sam has also been diagnosed with pontine glioma, a pernicious sort of brain cancer which requires specialized treatment. Sam’s getting that treatment, but it’s far away from his home and his parents have to run two households — one at home and one at his treatment site — and they’re feeling some of the strain of this.

This is where Subterranean Press comes in. Today (January 22), Subterranean is having a special sale to help out Sam and his family. Today, every book Subterranean current has in print is 25% off — and for every book that Subterranean sells, it will contribute 25% of the retail price to Sam and his family. Subterranean has promised a minimum $2,000 no matter what, but clearly it would be nice to if more could be added to the sum.

So: If you’ve been looking longingly at the current stock of Subterranean Press, which includes books from Poppy Z. Brite, Orson Scott Card, Joe Lansdale, Jonathan Lethem, Charlie Stross, Connie Willis and lots of others, today is a fine time to make an order. You’ll get some great special editions at a great price, and you’ll be supporting a good cause as well.

Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press says: “Please mention 25% off when ordering. Your shopping cart total and automatic email confirmation won’t reflect the sale price. We’ll take care of that when processing your order. If you use PayPal, please don’t go through our online store. Instead, email us and we’ll send you a PayPal invoice for your order.”

Please note that this sale applies to current stock — preorders are not eligible for the sale. Don’t worry, there’s lots of excellent stuff available now.

Feel free to let people know about this.

An E-Mail Note Plus Mini Update

If you’ve sent me an e-mail in the last day or so, you’ll probably have to wait until I get back home to read it; while I’m traveling I access my mail account via a web form which doesn’t filter spam, and in the last day or so I’m apparently getting socked with an outrageously large number of spam mails which makes it difficult to actually locate the real mail. So, patience: You’ll hear from me Sunday night or Monday morning.

ConFusion is lovely so far. I had dinner last night with PZ Myers, who was excited to eat squid and octopus, and then hung out with pals and had a good time. I did not get to the dance floor last night, alas, but there’s another dance tonight — ConFusion is riddled with gyration! — and I’ll be there for that. Oh, yes.

I’m off to a business breakfast and then to panels and general naughtyness. See you all later.

Four Hours and Out

Karl, in the comment thread to the previous entry, says:

I have commonly read advice that writers should sit down and write for four hours then call it a day. Reading between the lines, this doesn’t seem to be the way that you work. I would love to hear your opinion on the four hour advice, ideally in entry form.

In fact, I don’t work by writing four hours a day and then doing something else; I tend to write for most of a standard work day (off and on; I do other things as well, like read and do business on the phone and procrastinate), and then I will sometimes write after that because writing is also what I do for fun. If I wrote for only four hours a day, it seems unlikely that I would actually get any real work done.

However, I suspect the “write for four hours” thing is a rather rigid interpretation of a set of heuristics that goes like this:

1. Write every day;
2. Write long enough to get actual work done;
3. Stop writing when you’re no longer doing useful work.

I don’t think trying to write for four hours a day is a bad thing for new writers to do, to the extent that they do so with the understanding that four hours is an initial setting, and that they should be paying attention to what their body and mind say about it; over time they may find four hours is too much or not enough for their natural writing pace. Likewise they ought not panic if they don’t fill in their four hour quota each and every day; people generally aren’t machines.

(As an aside: When writing for four hours, or five, or whatever, remember to stop every now and then and give your wrists and back a rest. Ergonomics wasn’t just invented by commies; you can really screw up your writing implements (i.e., your hands) if you’re not careful.)

The nice thing about saying “write four hours” is that it’s an achievable goal newbie writers can click off: Hey! I was in front of the computer, banging away from 10 til 2! Look at me! I’m a writer! And that may indeed be superficially beneficial. Also, of course, it gives the guy at the Learning Annex who is standing up in front of a bunch of people who just paid $45 to find out how to be writers something to say that sounds useful. I think this is all mostly harmless as long as the budding writer takes it as a guideline rather than gospel, and I would hope that most budding writers are smart enough to do that.

Having said that and as a tangent, I am sometimes thankful that I managed to get through the initial parts of my writing life largely unmolested by writing advice and those who dispense it because I’ve found over time that much of what passes for “advice” — i.e., specific and precise instructions on writing mechanics — is either not useful to me or would have been actively detrimental to my development as a writer. This is why, when I blather out my own advice to newbie writers, I tend to avoid specific instructions (i.e., how much to write, when to write, etc) and I also strenuously warn people that I’m writing from my own experience, some of what I say may not be useful to them, and anyway, I have my head up my ass most of the time. Indeed, my feeling is that if any writing “expert” won’t cheerfully admit to their own fundamentally sphinctocranial nature, he or she is best taken lightly, if at all.

Writing four hours a day wouldn’t work for me; it might work for you. Try it and see what you think. Don’t hesitate to change it if you need to. That’s what I think about that.

Now I’m off to ConFusion. See you all later.

How Much You Should Write Each Day

There’s some discussion going on in SF blog circles about what it means to write quickly or to write slowly, and whether books that are written quickly can be written well, and so on.

This is actually pretty simple. For someone who wants to be a professional writer (i.e., wants to make a living at this crazy business):

a) It’s better to be fast than slow;
b) It’s better to be good than fast.

As to whether a book that is written quickly can be written well, I find this a deeply uninteresting question. There’s absolutely no way to tell from the text whether a good book was written in three months or three years; likewise there’s no way to tell whether a book that sucks raw eggs was banged out in six weeks or slaved over for a decade. From the reader point of view process simply doesn’t matter; product does.

I mean, look: George R.R. Martin took five years to write A Feast For Crows; I took three months to write Old Man’s War. Both books got nominated for the Hugo, and both books got beat by Spin, which I rather strongly suspect was written by Bob Wilson in a space of time that was longer than three months but shorter than five years. To the extent that the Hugos are an arbiter of quality writing at all, what does this tell us about how long it takes to make good writing? If you are thinking to yourself “why, not a goddamned thing! Not a goddamned thing at all!” then congratulations, you’ve landed on truth.

Likewise, it’s not evident that Feast, Spin or OMW would be better or worse if their respective writers took more time or less time to write them. I suspect in each case the writers took as much time as was required to write the novels as well as they could. Before that time the work wasn’t ready; after that, spending any more time fiddling with the text would be like putting lipstick on a pig.

I have a good general idea of how much I can write in an average day, but I don’t find much point in being obsessive about it. Some days I write more, some days I write less, and as long as I don’t have a deadline in a week, that’s fine. I find the most important metric for writing is whether I’m happy with what I’ve written that day. If I am, I’ve written the correct amount, regardless of how many words that amount ends up being. I think this is a good guideline for writers.

Received, 1/18/07

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I mentioned earlier that I’m going to start noting the books that come to the Scalzi Compound for me to review/pimp/validate by mere acknowledgment of their existence. Here’s the first batch, compiling up the books that have been sent to me in the last month or so that I have not otherwise noted to this point. If you didn’t know these books were out (or are coming out soon, in some cases), now you know. I’m including Amazon links when possible, so you can go spend money on them like a good consumer. From the top down:

1. The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Edited by George Mann. Solaris is a brand-spankin’ new science fiction imprint that’s sending out books both over in its native UK and here in the US. This book is its calling card, a collection of original short stories from folks like Neal Asher, Stephen Baxter, Peter Hamilton, Jay Lake & Greg Van Eekhout, Mary Turzillo and others. Looks like a pretty nice way to say hello.

2. The Man Who Melted, Jack Dann. Dann’s classic dystopic novel from 1984, reissued by Pyr in a nice-look trade paperback edition. I understand this book is the genesis of the literary game “The Man Who Melted Jack Dann,” in which the name of the author is added to the back of the title of one of their books to craft an amusing sentence; other amusing sentences in this game include “Contact Carl Sagan” and “Twin Sisters Gore Vidal.” As it happens, I can play this game with the title of one of my books: “The Androids Dream John Scalzi.” So that’s how I got here!

3. The Liberty Gun, Martin Sketchley. The final book in Sketchley’s “Structure” series. The book comes with an audiography, so if you want to know what the soundtrack is when today’s hot SF writers bang out their stories of aliens and explosions, now you’ll be able to find out.

3a. Deep Storm, Lincoln Child. Whoops, when I originally posted this I forgot to mention this book, which is why the “3a” designation. Sorry about that, Lincoln Child. This book is sort your basic modern-day science fiction, in which our heroes find some really interesting and possibly dangerous things on the ocean floor. If you’re thinking “Hmmm, this sounds sort of Atlantis-y,” you may be right. This is just the sort of book they make very expensive movies out of.

4. Secret Life: The Select Fire Remix, Jeff VanderMeer. I meant to do a fuller write-up of this collection but then I was attacked by rodents, or something like that. Anyway, the more I read of Jeff VanderMeer, the more I realize the guy is just plain nuts, but he’s just plain nuts in a way that makes for damn fine reading, and really, that’s what matters (to me, anyway). Also, frankly, the idea of re-mixing a story collection is oddly esthetically appealing to me (this version includes two additional stories and a lot of funky bits). I liked this a lot.

5. Worldweavers, Alma Alexander. This is the upcoming first book in Alma’s new YA series. I’m going to be interviewing Alma closer to when the book comes out (it’s slated for March 1st), so you can look forward to that. I was actually sent two copies of this. I appreciate the enthusiasm.

6. The Wrath of Angels, Theodore Beale. It’s not pictured in the stack because it was sent along as a pdf file (which, now that I have my shiny, shiny big monitor with portrait mode, I don’t mind in the least). This is the third book in Beale’s series of Christian-themed fantasies (the other two being The War in Heaven and The World in Shadow), although you don’t need to read the other two to follow what’s going on; I didn’t have a problem catching up, in any event. If you’re interested in checking out this series, Beale has all of them up in their entirety: Heaven, Shadow, Wrath.

7. Rude Mechanicals, Kage Baker. For fans of Baker’s “Company” novels, this is a limited-edition short novel coming up in April set in that same universe. It has cyborgs in the year 1934. Finally, FDR’s election makes perfect sense!

8. White Bicycles, Joe Boyd. This isn’t fiction, it’s a memoir from music producer Joe Boyd, who happened to be around for various seminal events in the sixties, from Dylan going electric at Newport to producing the first single of a little band called Pink Floyd. A tagline on the back cover of the book says it all: “He lived — and helped shape — the Sixties… and he remembers it all.” Well, someone has to.

8. Methuselah’s Daughter, J.A. Eddy and Dean Esmay. Dean Esmay’s name is certainly familiar to denizens of the blogosphere, as Dean’s World is one of the more popular blogs out there. This book is also about a blogger, of sorts: Zsallia Marieko, whose blog bio starts off with the interesting fact that she’s 3500 years old. It probably goes faster than you might imagine after the first thousand years or so, I’d bet. In any event, this is an onion-peel of a book, in that there’s a whole lot of layers going on here, in the text and in the blog world.

9. Compass Reach, Metal of Night and Peace & Memory, Mark W. Tiedemann: Mark sent along his entire Secantis Sequence of books without me even having to drop a hint, which means either he is totally psychic, or he’s just a really lovely fellow. Maybe both! Who can say. It does remind me to note that Mark’s current book Remains, which I enjoyed the hell out of, is currently on the Nebula long list; this after making the short list for last year’s Tiptree Award. It deserves both accolades, and naturally I think you should check it out (especially if you can vote on the Nebulas).

10. Getting to Know You, David Marusek and The Shadows, Kith and Kin, Joe R. Lansdale. These are short story collections, due in April from Subterranean Press. I just got these and haven’t cracked their spines yet, but am looking forward to doing so, particularly the Marusek; I met David at Worldcon and he is a wonderful and fascinating guy in addition to being an excellent writer.

There; that’s one pile down. I’ll do this again when I have another pile.

Author Interview: Tim Pratt

Over at By The Way, the latest author interview is up: This week we’ve got Tim Pratt, who’s got a rockin’ collection of short stories in Hart & Boot & Other Stories, the lead story of which was tagged by Michael Chabon for the 2005 edition of the Best American Short Stories anthology. Nicely done, Tim. It’s a fun interview too, with Tim putting on his many various hats (writer, editor, publisher) to talk about his writing and the state of the market today. So read it and feel all shiny and smart and stuff.

January Appearances

My brain is mostly made of pudding these days, and I’m not sure why that is; nevertheless allow me to solidify it a bit and remind people that I am making two public appearances here in the month of January:

* From the 19th through the 21st, I’ll be in Troy, Michigan for ConFusion. While there I will be I’ll be on panels, chatting with folks, probably hauling my out-of-shape ass across the dance floor at least a couple of times, and trying to avoid getting my head kissed by conventioneers, which happened last year and which I’ve now seen in at least a couple of places online described as a “ConFusion tradition.” Really, no. Not a tradition. Don’t make me bathe my scalp in Tobasco, people.

* On the 25th, which is a Thursday, I’ll be at the Joseph-Beth bookstore in Cincinnati, to sign books talk with people, do a reading, so on and so forth. This will be a lovely time to get a book signed by me (and if you buy it at the Joseph-Beth, so much the better!).

And to make it extra sweet, I’m planning a special giveaway there at the appearance. No, I won’t tell you what it is. But when you’re there, you’ll go, “dude, sweet.” So now you have no reason not to go, especially if you live in or around Cincinnati.

Tell me if you’re going to be at one or the other of these. And, of course, when you’re there, actually come up and say “hi.”

How DRM is Like Guantanamo

How is Guantanamo like DRM, you ask? They’re alike in two ways: First for what they are not, and then for what they represent.

Let’s begin with the first: Both are used by the people who have created them for purposes other than what they’re ostensibly used. In the case of DRM, it exists not primarily to combat piracy but to amputate the right of “fair use.” In the case of Guantanamo, it isn’t primarily for harboring dangerous terrorists but for concretely embodying the extra-constitutional idea of expanded executive powers.

Both represent different immediate aims, but both are bad for precisely the same reason: they’re about taking a society based on rights and turning it into a society based on access. In the the case of DRM, the idea being posited is that we don’t have fair use, or the right to personal copies of work we’ve purchased — the originator of the material has every right to the work, in perpetuity, and access to that work is given on sufferance. In the case of Guantanamo, the idea being posited is that the executive has the ability to create a new framework of rights, irrespective of those outlined in the Constitution, which means that the executive, not the Constitution, is that from which our rights derive, and access to those rights is given on sufferance. And in fact in both cases there are no rights at all for the individual or the public. There’s only access, controlled by entities whose list of priorities are not notably congruent to those of the public, and are likely to become less so over time, so that access is progressively more strictly managed.

None of this is new, of course, and it’s axiomatic that yesterday’s freedom fighters are today’s rights pocketers. Hollywood — where the push for DRM is based — was founded by pirates who fled the east coast and the monopoly imposed on film by the Edison Trust. The Bush Administration — which has vigorously attempted to expand executive power — is the final reduction of a political movement began in part as resistance to the expanded executive powers assumed by FDR. But just because these are merely This Year’s Model of rights arrogation doesn’t mean they don’t need to be fought against.

One of the interesting things about right now is that I think we’re in the (very) early days of the pushback. People are better educated about how DRM messes with their ability to do what they want with the stuff they own; people are fatigued with and suspicious of the Bush Administration and its goals and motives. Naturally neither DRM promoters nor the executive ascendancy crew are going to go down without a fight; the question is whether now being on the defensive makes them more canny in achieving their goals or will simply cause the backlash to be even more intense. I have no idea, personally, although I suspect things aren’t going to get any easier for either group from here on out.

I’ll tell you what I hope for, however. In the case of DRM, I think the entertainment companies will eventually recognize it’s bad business. I have nothing against renting when I’m actively renting (I love my Rhapsody music service for a reason), and I think DRM is perfectly fine there. When you buy something, however, you shouldn’t need permission to do what the hell you want with it. I personally ignore or break DRM when I come across it on things I buy, and if it’s not possible to do either I don’t buy the product. In the case of executive overreach, naturally I’d like to see that reined in by more active and engaged Congress and courts, and by members of all political persuasions who at least temporarily will put the text of the Constitution ahead of political expediency. I suspect by dint of its sheer incompetence, the Bush administration has admirably exemplified why the executive branch should not be legally ascendant above the other branches of government; this may indeed be the only useful thing to come out of this administration. But as in all things we will have to see.

I will say I’m looking forward to the day that DRM and Guantanamo — and the philosophy of rights they symbolize — plop onto the dustbin of history. That’ll be a good day for me, and for us.