Monthly Archives: November 2007

How to Enrage Charles Stross

This is how. Note that it has to do with SFWA, so those of you who don’t care about that should move on. Those of you who do care, however, should read the whole thing.

For the record, I was the chairman of the committee Charlie served on. Our recommendations to SFWA’s board are here; the board’s eventual distillation of our recommendations is here.

While I in no way wish to minimize Charlie’s anger or his reasons for it, let’s just say I’m not as enraged as Charlie. I have a little more faith in the process the committee we were on created for SFWA, much of which the board adopted; this process will make it harder for the same screw-ups to occur again. I also don’t think I or the committee members were used as stalking horses; our recommendations stand as they are, and we always knew it was up to the board to use them or not. We did our job, and I think we did it well, and I don’t regret having offered the service, or having worked with the committee members, all of whom did excellent service for SFWA. Finally, I’ve some sympathy for SFWA president Michael Capobianco and most of the board members; this was a messy subject to deal with.

That said, I think the board choose puzzlingly, to use as polite a word as possible, in its choice of chairman for the new committee, for some of the reasons which Charlie outlines in incendiary but not unreasonable fashion. It would not have been my choice, for those reasons and a few others (the suggestion in the board’s statement that our committee recommended installing the chairman of the new committee is quite obviously in error). I believe the situation was additionally complicated by the fact that the once-and-future chairman is on the SFWA board, and voted on the recommendations, and voted for himself as chairman of the new committee; had I been him, I would have chosen to recuse myself from the deliberations.

This is pretty much all I’m going to say in public on the matter right now, and yes, I’m choosing to be politic about this. I don’t have the time at the moment to invest in a long discussion about it, and anyway Charlie’s already off and running on the subject. I suspect most of the commentary will be on his site. Indeed, to promote the discussion there, I’m closing the comments on the entry here. Head on over if this is of interest to you.

Let Down by Soft Rock Yet Again

It took me 33 years to realize it, but you know what: Oz totally did give something to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have, namely, that heart-shaped watch on a chain. That’s why he gave it to the Tin Man in the first place. And the Tim Man wasn’t like, all, “oh, thanks, I was wondering where I put that.” Honestly, I don’t know how they missed that.

Also, I doubt you can find the Tropic of Sir Galahad on any credible map.

They were correct about how in the desert, the heat is hot. But I don’t know how much credit they should expect to get for that.

Sorry, I had to interrupt my book writing to tell you this because my brain would not give me peace until I did.

Don’t even get me started on that bastard Dan Fogelberg.

I’m going back to work now.

Dragon Magazine Wants to Own Your Ass, Cheap

Note to aspiring fantasy writers out there: avoid Dragon magazine, which has apparently re-opened to fiction submissions. The pay is on the low side of adequate for the genre (three to six cents a word), but the kicker is that for that royal sum, you are expected to give up all rights to your work. Says so right there on the submissions page — in fact, it says it twice, in rapid succession: “In the event we buy your manuscript, you must assign your rights to us. That means that once your contract is signed, we’ll own all rights in your submission.”

These aren’t submission guidelines, they’re a stupidity test, as in, “are you actually stupid enough to give up all the rights to your work for three to six cents a word?” And if you are, what other stupid things are you willing to do for a mere pittance? I ask only because I have this gallon of latex paint here, and seventy-eight cents in my pocket. And I’m willing to pay every penny of that seventy-eight cents to see someone drink that paint. Because, man, that would be a hoot. That’s 9.75 cents a pint! What a rate!

Quick definition: When you write something and you give up all the rights to it, you’re doing “work for hire.” Some writers have a philosophical problem doing work for hire, but I don’t — provided that the upfront fee for the work is good, among other factors. For example, when I worked for a newspaper, the paper owned my work. On the other hand, I got a salary, a 401(k), health and dental, and someplace to get out of the rain on a daily basis. Fair trade. Likewise, many of you know I occasionally contribute pieces to the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series of books. That’s work for hire, but I also get paid a really excellent rate; I got paid more for contributing articles to the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into the Universe book, actually, than I got as an advance for my own astronomy book. The point is, when you do work for hire, you should be compensated fairly for walking away from future gains from your work.

Three to six cents a word is not even close to a fair rate to give up all rights to your work. Hell, three to six cents a word is hardly a fair rate for publishing anything, if you want to get right down to it, and most genre editors know it, or should. Those rates are barely adequate for first North American serial rights (i.e., the right to publish the story once). A 3 to 6 cents rate is on the lowish end of what pro genre publications pay, so Dragon is not only offering no premium to authors for their work for hire, it’s actually paying less than some magazines who buy fewer rights. Which brings us back ’round to the “stupidity test” aspect of submitting one’s work to Dragon.

Why not submit to Fantasy & Science Fiction? It offers 6-9 cents/word for first North American and foreign serial rights and an option on anthology rights. How about Weird Tales? It offers 3-4 cents/word for first North American serial rights, with an anthology option. All other rights stay with the author, who also retains copyright. Realms of Fantasy? A nickel a word up to 7,500 words. The site doesn’t offer information on the rights it buys, but I would be deeply surprised if it tries to vacuum up all rights. Strange Horizons: five cents a word for a two-month exclusive window (NB: They’re closed to submissions through the end of the 2007, however). All of these places will treat you better than Dragon. Indeed, I would personally suggest that pretty much any paying market that does not presume to suck up all your rights is better than Dragon, because you’ll have the chance to make more with your work later, and you definitely won’t have that with Dragon.

It’s stuff like this that shoves your face into the fact that writing, whatever else it is, is also a business. From a purely economic point of view, the Dragon set-up is terrible for a writer: No premium to the writer for work-for-hire, and no potential benefit for the writer on the back end. It’s a lose-lose situation. Mind you, it’s win-win for Dragon, and its various corporate owners (Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro), since they’re getting viable intellectual property for very literally next to nothing with no risk of having to share revenues later. Brilliant! Somewhere an Hasbro IP lawyer has gotten his wings. Good for him. Bad for the writer.

To sum up: Submitting your work to Dragon = dumb. Giving up all rights to your work for pennies a word = dumb. Supporting a magazine happy to bend you over a desk, violate your rights and then slap down a couple of grimy bills for your time = dumb. Not remembering writing is a business = dumb.

If after all this you still kinda want to send something in to Dragon, well, you go right ahead. But when you’re done, be sure to drop by my place. This gallon of paint ain’t gonna drink itself.

Also, Before You Ask

Athena is home sick at the moment, which is why I’m writing early in the day.

Also, and I could be wrong here, but I believe if I post date an entry I write, WordPress will post it at the time I specify. Which could be useful. One of you WordPress geeks can tell me if I’m wrong about this.

Gaming the Social Networks

Cory Doctorow’s got an interesting article on why social networks like Facebook and MySpace are doomed over time: essentially his argument is that they make it too easy for all the folks you hate to find you:

For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there’s a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I’d cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, “Am I your friend?” yes or no, this instant, please.

I think Cory’s right, but only to the extent that people actually care about the sort of crap. I have profiles on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, et al., and my philosophy is to friend pretty much anyone who asks. As a result, I’ve got about 500 MySpace friends, of whom maybe about 10 percent I actually know or care about (if you’ve friended me there, be assured you’re in that ten percent. I love you, man). Same with Facebook. I don’t dislike most of the people who have friended me; I’m sure they’re nice people I would like. I just don’t know them. But if it makes them happy to have me on their friend list, why not? It’s harmless to me.

More to the point, I don’t actually confuse MySpace friending with actual befriending out in the real world; just because MySpace says we’re friends doesn’t make it so. If the people who annoyed me in seventh grade showed up on MySpace and wanted me to friend them, I would, because what do I care? It doesn’t mean now we have some sort of bond. I’m not obliged to them in any sense. I’ll friend ‘em and then commence to not think about them any further. It’s a pretty simple thing.

Cory points out that one of the problems with Facebook, MySpace, et al., is that all of a person social spheres get dumped into one bin, and suddenly your conservative boss, who you’ve friended to be polite, knows that you hang out with a bunch of polyamorous hippies when you’re off the clock. Aside from my personal inclination to tell any potential boss with hangups about my personal life to just deal with it, dude, there’s no reason one can’t manage one’s online social life as one does one’s offline life, with multiple faces for different people. Use one MySpace account for all your polyfreak pals, another for family and non-polyfreak pals, and another one for your boss and coworkers and random people in the seventh grade what used to beat you up. Think of the latter as the social network equivalent of a spam trap. Don’t tell the people in your social spam trap that, obviously.

No, I don’t have secret MySpace/LiveJournal accounts I’m not telling you about, because, remember, I’ll friend anyone, and most people who I actually know, know to reach me other ways. The only “secret” social networking thing I have is an IM account; there’s the public one (ScalziOnAIM) which anyone can chat with me on, and then there’s a more private one, because unlike a MySpace profile, IMs demand attention and have to be managed. I don’t actually expect the more private IM is secret, but if I’ve not personally given you the account name and you IM me on it, you’ll get to experience Cranky Scalzi, which I don’t think you want, and then I’ll just ban your ass.

Which is the other thing: Cory’s formulation is rooted in the idea that people aren’t willing to be seen as dicks online, so they’ll just friend anyone to avoid conflict. This is not a problem I have; I don’t mind being seen as a dick if people annoy me or presume we have a relationship we don’t have, and won’t take a polite hint. But more to the point, if this sort of stuff mattered to me, I wouldn’t have a problem letting people know they exist in particular social spheres. Because it’s actually not offensive to point it out. Or shouldn’t be, anyway.

Author Interview: Josh Conviser

Over at Ficlets, I’m interviewing Josh Conviser, who’s one of those guys that make you a little sick, because not only does he write novels (his most recent one being the snappy techno-thriller EMPYRE), he’s also got a career in Hollywood (you might have seen the most recent show he was involved in, HBO’s Rome), and he’s a genuinely nice guy. Sick making, I tell you.

In the interview we talk about the new book, the challenge of writing a second book with the same character (EMPYRE is a follow-on to his novel Echelon, although both books are stand-alone, a strategy I heartily endorse), the state of the surveillance state (a theme in both books), and the differences between working in Hollywood and working in your own little office, banging out a novel (one difference: No hot D-girls (or D-boys, if you want to go that way)).

It’s an excellent interview, and if you miss it, you will be gripped with the sort of existential dread that drove Nietzsche mad! Well, actually, it was probably tertiary syphilis that drove Nietzsche mad. But the existential dread didn’t help. Hedge your bets. Go read the interview. Also, go to the doctor and get that shot you’ve been putting off. I’m just saying.

Deadline Schedule

Book is due at the end of the year, which if you’ll check your calendars is six weeks away, and has some annoyingly time-consuming holiday things before it.

What this means: Whatever is a now a secondary priority. Indeed, pretty much everything that doesn’t involve me finishing the book is a secondary priority. Also secondary priorities: Eating, sleeping, bathing, shaving, keeping Athena from playing with power tools, being a pleasant human being to be around. Don’t tell my wife about those last two.

What that means for Whatever readers:

1. Whatever won’t get updated unless/until I have written a certain amount in the book daily and/or

2. You’ll get repeats from the vasty depths of the Whatever archives and/or

3. I’ll figure out some sort of audience participation thing to keep you all amused and/or

4. I’ll do some easily programmable thing that will take me fifteen minutes a day to bang out and/or

5. Some combination of any or all of the above.

I do want you all to be amused, but at the same time, you know. Book. Deadline. Gaaaaah.

Anyway, Whatever is on Deadline Schedule starting… now.

The Australian Election

Justine Larbalestier is incensed I haven’t written anything about the Australian election, in which not only did the Liberal party lose big time to the Labor party (equivalent to the Republicans gett sacked by the Democrats here in the US), but the sitting Prime Minister, John Howard, almost certainly lost his seat, becoming only the second Prime Minister in nearly 80 years to do so.

So: Yay! Australian elections! Here’s to participatory democracy!

Also, congratulations to Justine, who is clearly over the moon about the outcome. I hope to feel the same in about a year’s time.

What I Want for Christmas: Not a Damn Thing

Another in my series of “post once, refer people to later” entries, this time on gift giving:

For a number of years, I’ve told people who have been thinking of getting me something for Christmas or whatever holiday excuse they have for gift giving that I’d simply prefer they not get me anything at all. The reaction to this often ranges from confusion (i.e., how can you not want gifts?) to exasperation that my insincere “no, no, you don’t have to get me anything…” ways just means they will have to be extra crafty in getting me a gift, since I’m not helping them by hinting at what I want. This is when people ask my wife what I want, and she tells them that I told her years ago to stop getting me Christmas gifts. At which point I suspect their heads explode.

So, honest and truly: If you’ve ever thought about getting me a Christmas/holiday gift, stop now. The best thing you can get me (with one small exception, to be detailed below) is nothing. And no, it’s not because I’m an agnostic and/or communist and/or have environmental concerns and/or had the “seasonal joy” sections of my brain removed as a child. The reasons are somewhat more mundane than that, and I’ll be happy to detail them to you now.

1. When I really want something, I buy it. Because why wouldn’t I? I want it, and can generally afford to buy it, and I’m not patient enough to hint to other people that I want it and hope they get it for me. It helps that most things I want aren’t hugely expensive; even so. What this means for everyone else, however, is that all the really obvious stuff to get me is taken off the table, because I’ve already gone out and gotten it. Done and done. What’s left then is a whole bunch of stuff I don’t really want, and I don’t see why people should feel obliged to buy me something I don’t really want, just because it’s the holidays.

Well, you say, surely there are some things you want that you don’t have. The answer: No, not really. The things I want that I don’t have fall into two categories: Things that money can’t buy (happiness, world peace, a spousally-sanctioned hotel room romp with Julie Delpy and Kate Winslet, in which Julie and Kate, you know, actually show up and are in a romptastic frame of mind), and things that are a multiple of my average monthly income, a category at the moment which currently has only one object of desire in it: the 2008 Bullitt Mustang (Warning: the first one of you jerks who whines about wanting a car with a solid rear axle is going to get such a smack). Pretty much everything else that I want, I already own.

Now, to be clear, if you want to buy me the 2008 Bullitt Mustang for Christmas, I won’t stop you, although I’d probably ask you if you don’t have better things to do with that $32,000, like your retirement account or your kids’ college fund (if you can arrange the spousally-sanctioned Delpy-Winslet romp, you are a master of time-space manipulation, not unlike Dr. Who, and you really shouldn’t be wasting your time with trivialities like my own increasingly middle-aged perversions). But let’s just say I would be surprised if anyone actually likes me that much. Short of the Bullitt Mustang, though, you can basically assume that if you think I would want it, I probably own it.

Which brings us rather handily to the second reason I don’t want holiday gifts:

2. I have too much crap already. Because, you know, even most of the stuff I want I don’t really need, and once I’m done playing with it, it just takes up space. Right now my office looks like a bookstore exploded in it, and then an electronics store was dropped on it to smother the flames. This is a good thing, in my opinion (my wife is somewhat less enthusiastic about it), but it reinforces the point that I don’t really need more stuff, especially when, as noted above, it’s likely to be stuff I’m indifferent about in any event.

3. I don’t like people feeling obliged to get me stuff. This is actually a big one for me. One, of course, I don’t pick friends on the basis of who is liable to produce gifts on holidays and special occasions. Second, it’s money more profitably spent on people who want something in particular, or (if you’re in this frame of mind) to a charity, or just kept in their own pocket. Third, well, you know. The holidays are stressful enough without me adding to the stress. Why would I want to stress out my friends and family? I’d like them to think “Oh, Scalzi. Don’t have to get him anything. Wow, that was simple.” See, a ray of sunshine in their lives, I’ll be.

Actually, in the real world, it doesn’t always work out that way; some family were stressed about getting me something every year, but they were even more stressed when I said I didn’t want anything — because it’s not natural to give people nothing, especially if they’re family. People like to give other people stuff. It doesn’t help that we buy gifts for friends and family — my not wanting to get gifts is not rooted in cheapness — so people feel like they should reciprocate. But eventually it gets sorted out.

But this does bring up a secondary point, which is that I sometimes will send holiday gifts to people, just because I feel like it. If you get one, don’t feel you have to reciprocate. I’m not sitting there with a clipboard, checking off the people who have hurriedly run out to Target to get me a bauble because I sent them a CD or whatever. Relax, folks; it’s not the way I work.

4. Because I know some people won’t listen to or believe me: Now, after all of this, let’s say you still really feel like you want to/have to get me something for the holidays. Go right ahead. I don’t think anyone should feel obliged to get me anything, but I’m certainly not going to have the poor grace not to accept a gift and to appreciate the spirit of giving behind it. Because that would just make me a dick.

That said, here’s a suggestion: I’d rather have, say, a mix CD of your favorite songs, or a picture that you took that you think is especially artful, or a goofy drawing, or whatever, than just about anything you could buy in a store. Because I have enough stuff I can buy, and can get stuff I can buy easily enough; there’s an almost infinite number of ways to buy crap in our society. What I can’t get in any store — pretty much by definition — is something that’s personal. So that’s what I’d much rather prefer to get. A mix cd or a picture or whatever doesn’t cost much of anything — just the time to make and the cost of wrapping paper — but it’s worth rather more to me, because it’s not something I can buy, and because I know it’s not something that could come from anyone else.

If you haven’t the time to craft something, and decide to get something from a store, then have it be something you’d want to share: Music you really love, a book that spoke to you, a movie you can’t live without. You know what I’m talking about. Send it with a note telling me why that particular book, CD, or DVD matters to you. I love all those things, anyway, and knowing it’s one of your favorites will make it something I’ll pay extra attention to (if it’s a book/cd/movie you were involved in the production of in some way, that’s even better).

If you can’t do that, just get me something goofy. I just got a bacon wallet, for example; that was cool.

No matter what, if you’re spending more than $50 on a gift for me, you’re doing it wrong. Start over. Cheaper. Unless, of course, you’re getting me the Bullitt Mustang. In which case, spend all you like.

But when all is said and done, what’s important to me is not the gift, but the impulse behind it, which is the true gift. I’m glad you’re thinking of me. I’d be glad of it even without the bauble. That’s a hint.

Attack of the Logy Brain

I promised someone I would do a big write-up of the books I’ve been sent recently, but I swear to you that if my brain actually climbs out of first gear at any point in the day it will be a miracle, so I’m going to punt until Monday. I can do that! It’s a personal site! You can’t stop me! Bwa ha ha ha ha hah ha!

In lieu of any writing today, I may fiddle with the site look a bit. Or, hell, I may just wander off and play videogames all day long. It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving, after all. Being logy and brainless is what it’s all about. Well, that and shopping. And I’m not doing any shopping today.

Happy Thanksgiving

I’m off all day stuffing myself silly! I might return later this evening, but given the pernicious effects of tryptophan I can’t promise that what I write will make any sort of sense. So be warned.

For those of you online today: Dude, take a day off. But if you’re going to ignore me on this one — really, why should you start listening to me now – do the Thanksgiving thing and tell me about something you’re thankful for this year down there in the comment thread.

Me? At this particular moment, I’m thankful for a mother-in-law who is totally committed to stuffing about 27 pounds of food down my throat today. Go peritonitis!

The Big Idea: Kristine Smith

Campbell Award winner Kristine Smith has a groovy new book out — Endgame, the completion of her Jani Kilian series — and she’s also the start of this week’s Big Idea column at Ficlets, talking about what it takes to make a “hybrid” character like Jani — part human, part not — not only believable but engaged in her own hybrid-ness. Apparently it’s hard out there for a hybrid. I don’t doubt that in the least. Check it out.