Monthly Archives: January 2008

Quick Personal Pimp: 50% Sale on “Sagan” and Others

Subterranean Press is having a short sale on the latest reprints of “The Sagan Diary” and three other titles (Rude Mechanicals by Kage Baker, Promises to Keep by Charles de Lint and D.A. by Connie Willis): Each is 50% off through tomorrow (that’s 2/1/08). That means you can pick up the book version of “Sagan,” including Bob Eggleton’s excellent cover and interior art, for just $10 (plus shipping), and get equally great deals on those other equally great books. Here are the details — do pay attention to them, because you’ll need to specify the sale when you order.

Okay, unplugging the DSL now. Later.

Progress Update

Since it’s been a week: A quick update.

The writing is going very well. I’m writing a lot and I’m very happy with what I’m writing and I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not an oncoming train. Barring the implosion of a frontal lobe or two, I’ll be done in the next two or three days. I’ve told Patrick that if I don’t have it to him on Monday, I’ll probably shoot myself. So that’s where things are at the moment.

That’s all I’m going to say at the moment; I’ll have more to say about the book and the writing in the traditional postmortem entry.

Back into it –

Blathering Lockdown: Day Seven

BLATHER TEST:

Is the book done? NO

Blather limiter:
ON

Your question for the day:
You get to go back in time and tell your 15-year-old self one thing. What is it?

Hopefully my thing would be actually be more profound than what first came to mind: “Enjoy those feathered locks, kid.” But that’s where my brain is at the moment, I suppose.

Enjoy. See you tomorrow.

Blathering Lockdown: Day Five

BLATHER TEST:

Is the book done? NO

Blather limiter:
ON

Your question for the day:
The Constitution has been amended to let YOU choose the next president! Personally! The catch: It can’t be someone who ever officially entered the 2008 presidential race (“officially” = On a ballot to date). Who do you choose? Real people, please, and all official restrictions (over 35, US native, alive) apply. Other than that, go nuts. Be as serious or as stupid as you like.

Have fun with it — see you tomorrow.

Blathering Lockdown: Day Two

BLATHER TEST:

Is the book done? NO

Blather limiter: ON

Your question for the day: A two parter:

1. What’s your favorite color?

2. Seriously, you still have a favorite color? What are you, like, nine or something?

Have fun rationalizing your chromophilia. See you tomorrow.

Blathering Lockdown: Day One

My editor has made it clear that after indulging my petty idiosyncrasies for months, Tor really does expect Zoe’s Tale on or near the end of the month, which is good, because I have other work piling up and I need to boot the book out the door, but also bad, because, uh, I’m not done and I have a week. The one obvious distraction is here, at the Whatever, where I love to blather so. So from now until the book is done, each day I will have do one simple test:

TEST FOR WHETHER I CAN BLATHER INTERMINABLY ON WHATEVER:

1. Is the book done?
a) If “yes,” blather away.
b) If “no,” stop blathering; shut up and get to work.

But since I know you will all wither away into nothingness if I do not post daily (because it’s not like you exist outside my comment threads, you see), each day I have the blather limiter on, I will leave you with a question, which you can answer and discuss to your heart’s content while I bang away like a fevered monkey on my keyboard, trying to finish the book.

So, let’s put this into practice right now:

Is the book done? NO

Blather limiter: ON

Your question for the day: Where do you get your ideas?

(Ha! Yes! The writer is having his revenge!)

Have fun with the question; I’ll update again tomorrow with a new one (since it’s unlikely I’ll be finished with the book by then. Alas).

Meet Zeus (aka The Kitten Formerly Known as Temp Cat™)

Temp Cat™ has now been formally named: His name is Zeus. As it happens, this was the name Krissy had been thinking of all along. She was momentarily swayed by the idea of formally calling Temp Cat™ Temp Cat™, but Athena preferred the name Zeus, on account of the mythological Zeus’ relationship to the mythological Athena, and it’s hard to argue with that, especially when it comes from an obstinate nine-year-old. Zeus it is.

Zeus has thus far lived up to his name not by hurling thunderbolts but by watching us all from on high, “on high” in this case being a ledge above the kitchen cupboards. This is a lifestyle choice which annoys Krissy and which will no doubt be trained out of the kitten by judicious use of a squirt bottle. But in the meantime he does seem to enjoy his Olympian vantage.

Since Zeus was a name Krissy had already had in mind, technically there is no winner to the Official Name Temp Cat™ Contest. Nevertheless, I thought it worth checking to see if anyone among the 390+ entries had come up with the name “Zeus,” and as it so happens, someone did: the commenter under the nom de plume of “A Rusty Butter Knife” did so at comment #243. Way to be psychic, ARBK! If you will be so kind as to send me an e-mail from the address you have on your comment, we’ll get to work on getting you your prize.

As for everyone else, I thank you for your participation. Zeus thanks you too, I’m sure.

ConFusion Wrapup, 2008

My mother-in-law is busy being a putzteufel around the house at the moment, which makes it hard to concentrate on novel-writing (vacuum cleaners = inability to compose a thought), so let me do a quick wrapup of the ConFusion convention, which I meant to do on Monday before the sickness took me into a coma-like state for the better part of the last two days.

Basically, it was a tremendous amount of fun. I’ve noted before that ConFusion as the first regional con I had even been to (before that I had only been to a couple of Worldcons), so I was really happy when they offered me the toastmaster position, because it meant it would also be my first guest of honor gig, and I liked the symmetry there. I was also very happy that the con also picked Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier as the author Guests of Honor; aside from being entirely worthy of the selection, they are also great friends of mine, and because they were showing up, other really excellent friends of mine went out of their way to show up as well. And Krissy also decided to accompany me to the con, which was only the third time she’d gone to a convention (she decided to get dressy, as you can tell from the above picture, taken by William Dyer). So ConFusion became an excuse to hang out with some of my best friends in the science fiction world, and there’s no way to complain about that.

I’m happy to say all my events also went off without a hitch, no small feat considering I was programmed out the wazoo, and by halfway through Saturday I was a little slaphappy. I credit my liaison Rikhei with keeping me on track with both her knowledge of where I had to be and when, and her miraculous ability to produce Coke Zeros for me without me even asking. Having a liaison is an excellent thing, and I recommend it for everyone. It also helped that most of my panels were entertaining; the highlight of them was the juvenalia panel, in which Justine, Scott, and Merrie Haskell read excerpts of material they wrote when they were much younger. I refer you to Justine for the full wrapup on that panel, but suffice to say that when she says that Scott’s juvenalia was so bad I literally couldn’t look at him at points, she was entirely correct. The good news is, Scott’s writing has gotten much better since then. Even so: painful.

Another highlight for me was having my revenge on Chuck Firment. Two years ago, Chuck was the Fan Guest of Honor and in that capacity announced to everyone at the convention that they were required to kiss the top of my head during the convention. This caused lots of random head-kissing, and in one case, someone licking my skull. So as a Guest of Honor this year, it was fully expected I would return the favor. And indeed I did, but rather than do any particular thing, what I did was make Chuck paranoid all weekend long. This was accomplished by spreading the word around that everytime people saw Chuck, they were to ask him how he was doing, and make some sort of indication that they were surprised that he continued to be unmolested (so: “Chuck! How you doin’? You’re still dry, I see”). At one point, Chuck went to sit down next to someone, and they lept up and moved away, saying “I’m not sitting anywhere near you until after the con, Chuck.” Needless to say, Chuck was on pins and needles the entire convention. Then on Sunday he went home, convinced that he’d escaped unscathed, only to find something I left for him there. Yes, yes, paranoia was had by Chuck, and it was good.

I noted that there were some interesting pictures of me taken at ConFusion, which has led to demands for said pictures. Well, here’s one:

The players in the picture, clockwise from left: Jim C. Hines, Chuck Firment, Patrick “Amazing Head” Rothfuss, and yours truly (in the background: Jeff Beeler. Photo by William Dyer).

Yes, there is context for this picture. No, Patrick’s nickname doesn’t have anything to do with it. I swear. Nevertheless, it’s pictures like this that will keep me from being president one day. There are worse things.

But to wrap up: ConFusion was awesome. If you were there, you know this. If you weren’t there, well, I hope you had a good weekend anyway, but I doubt it was as much fun as ours.

Oscar Predictions, 2008

It’s time for me to put on my movie critic hat and share with you all my expectations for the Academy Awards for 2008.

Let’s preface this by saying that this is yet another year in which the movies that get nominated for Oscars and the movies that Hollywood make its money on have nothing to do with each other. Of the Best Picture nominees, only one of them actually qualifies as a “hit” — Juno, which should top $100 million in box office in the next couple of weeks; it’s currently at $85 million. None of the rest are above $50 million in box office. Meanwhile, of the top 10 grossing films of 2007, only one of them, Ratatouille, has a nomination in a major Oscar category (original screenplay). The rest have to settle for nominations in the technical categories, like sound editing and visual effects.

Philosophically I have no issue with the fact that Hollywood nominates films that aren’t making money, and makes money off of films it won’t nominate for its top awards, but I don’t think it’s very healthy for the film industry that there’s such a wide disconnect between its art and commerce that its most financially successful Best Picture nominee is #31 on the list of top grossing films of 2007, according to boxofficemojo.com, and the next most successful is at #51. Compare this to, say, a quarter century ago, when four of the five Best Picture nominees (ET, Tootsie, The Verdict, Gandhi) finished in the top twelve of movie grosses. At least this year a Best Documentary nominee isn’t outgrossing all the Best Picture nominees, as was the case in 2005.

Now, here are my Oscar picks:

Best Picture:
Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Honestly, I have no idea. Here’s the thing: Three of the films are intensely depressing flicks with middle-aged men in a crisis of one sort or another, one is a depressing romance, and one is a comedy about teen pregnancy. How do you choose? Normally, I’d throw Juno overboard first, because it’s a comedy, and comedies rarely win Best Picture, but given the absolute dread of the other four films, voters might rebel. Likewise, Atonement should also be thrown overboard, on account that its director wasn’t nominated for Best Director, and it’s extremely rare for a movie to get Best Picture without at least a director nod. But if any year was designed for a “split the baby” vote, this is it, and I think Atonement is still in the hunt. Michael Clayton is the only one I suspect doesn’t have a chance, which leaves Old Men and Blood. And here’s what I think about that: I don’t know if either of these is going to win Best Picture, but I’m pretty damn certain that the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson are going to get either Best Director or Best Adapted Screenplay, and whichever gets one, the other will get the other. This is the kind of vote splittery, incidentally, that leaves the door open for Atonement and Juno.

Prediction: If you put a gun to my head: No Country for Old Men. But words cannot describe my lack of confidence in that prediction.

Best Director
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman, Juno
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Julian Schnabel plays the role of the director whose film was not nominated for Best Picture, which means he doesn’t have a chance. Tony Gilroy is hoping to go the Paul Haggis route (i.e., former screenwriter turned director), but it’s worth noting that it didn’t work for Haggis (he lost to Ang Lee), and it’s not likely to work with Gilroy, either. Jason Reitman should be happy to be here, and to have done something his dad (Ivan Reitman) never managed; i.e., to get an Oscar nod. This category is going to come down to the Coens and Paul Thomas Anderson. My suspicion is that the Coens will nab this and Anderson will get Best Adapted Screenplay, on the following very lame rationale: The Coens already have screenplay Oscars (for Fargo), so they’ll be upgraded to director, while Anderson, three-time Screenplay nominee, will get the nod there. Hey, it’s the Oscar Orson Welles won. You could do worse. That said, it could flip and go the other way. But either way, it’s the Coens or Anderson.

Prediction: The Coens

Best Actor
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Hey, Viggo! That’s awesome. I seriously doubt he’s going to win, but it’s a well-deserved nod. Likewise, the Tommy Lee Jones nomination is not the obvious one (that would have been for Old Men), and because of it, Jones is likely to suffer. Johnny Depp’s nomination is residue of the affection people in Hollywood have for him; I don’t think it’ll be enough to get him over the line, but it’s possible. Clooney has a shot, but he also recently garnered an Oscar for Syriana, and I suspect folks in Hollywood think he’ll be around for another shot. So my money’s on Day-Lewis, who is magnetically monstrous in Blood, and who does films so rarely these days that any appearance is an event.

Prediction: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Julie Christie has the old school vote, but she’s already got an Oscar and she’s not thrilled about having to do the work to get another one, so this will probably pass her by. Laura Linney is like Meryl Streep: A safe nomination because she’s so good at what she does. Unlike Streep, however, she hasn’t won, and is unlikely to here. Marion Cotillard: Enjoy the nomination, hon. So it comes down to Cate Blanchett and Ellen Page. Hollywood loves Blanchett because she’s old-time movie star glamorous, but Golden Age was kind of dreck, and that Blanchett got this nomination speaks to both the affection Blanchett generates and the general weakness of the category. She could still win it, but I think that Ellen Page is going to end up the standard bearer for Juno, and this will be the category in which the Academy chooses to honor the film as a whole.

Prediction: Ellen Page

Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Casey Affleck is nominated for the wrong role (see: Gone Baby Gone), but this will still get him a nice salary bump the next time he goes out for something. Not going to win. Also not winning: Tom Wilkinson, because I suspect generally it’s just not happening for Michael Clayton. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a Best Actor Oscar statue; there’s no rush to give him this one. Hal Holbrook is older than God and has never won an Oscar, so he has a really good chance at what would essentially be a career nod. But in the end, come on. Javier Bardem with a pneumatic gun and a funky haircut? That’s Oscar gold, man.

Prediction: Javier Bardem

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Chuck Amy Ryan and Saoirse Ronan over the side, first off; neither has a chance given the competition. I adore Tilda Swinton and have since Orlando, and I’m delighted she has a nod here. There’s a chance this might be the one Oscar that will accrue to Michael Clayton. In the end I don’t think so, but I will be thrilled to be wrong. But I think this race come down to a choice between whether the Academy wants to honor Blanchett, one its current favorites, or give Dee a career nod. Given that Dee is also an important figure in the history of American civil rights and has led a generally admirable life, I expect the nod will tip her way.

Prediction: Ruby Dee

Other Predictions: As noted, I expect either the Coens or Paul Thomas Anderson to win adapted screenplay; I expect Diablo Cody will win original screenplay for Juno. For animation, I figure it to be Ratatouille, although Persepolis will make the Pixar folks nervous right up until the award is announced. Sicko is the likely frontrunner for Documentary Feature, and I bet there are fewer boos when Michael Moore inevitably tears into George Bush.

Your thoughts?

Various & Sundry, 1/23/08

Some thoughts on life, the universe and everything:

* I’m feeling much better today, probably due to the fact I spent about 30 of the last 36 hours dead asleep. This is how my body works when I’m sick: It pretty much shuts down completely and fixes itself while I’m unconscious. I wouldn’t say I’m operating at 100% at the moment, but at the very least I can stay awake for more than 45 minutes at a time, which is a good start.

* Some good news yesterday: The Android’s Dream has made its second foreign sale, this time in Germany (the previous foreign sale was in Russia). This foreign sale comes with its own interesting milestone: Thanks to the current exchange rate between the euro and the dollar, I’m actually getting paid more for the German version of TAD than I got paid for the English language version. Go, me. Yesterday I also got my delivery check for The Rough Guide to the Universe, second edition, which means I’m done with that, and also I can pay my mortgages this month. Go me again.

* Heath Ledger: Bummer. One of my favorite young actors who could make even the silly crap he sometimes did (cf: A Knight’s Tale) tolerable. Here’s to hoping his turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight is brilliant; if he had to go, we can hope he goes on a high note.

* The Bush Administration made hundreds of false statements leading up to the war in Iraq? That’s unpossible! Honestly, don’t know what else to say about something this obvious.

* Fred Thompson out of the presidential race: Meh. We knew this was coming. The real question at this point is why Giuliani is still in it. Yes, I know he’s betting everything on Florida, but I don’t think it’s going to turn out the way he wants.

* Yesterday I pretty much existed on sleep and water, which means that I was unconscious through any caffeine withdrawal I had. That being the case, I’ve decided that today is an excellent day to radically downstep my caffeine consumption. I’ve been sucking down four to six Coke Zeros daily, which is not a great thing, so this morning I went to the store and stocked up on a whole bunch of caffeine-free drinks. The plan is to get myself down to a single caffeine jolt in a day, and thus to avoid the twitchiness that invariably engulfs me in the early afternoon. We’ll see how this works in reality, but that’s the plan for now.

And that’s what’s going on in my world.

Unspeakably Ill

One downside to ConFusion: someone at the convention graced me with a really unstoppable chest cold and I’m spending most of my time shivering and/or sleeping since then. Basically, don’t expect great things from me today.

Also, note to self: bring hand sanitizer to the next con.

Anyway, I feel like hell. How are you?

The Big Idea: Marcus Sakey

Hey look, The Big Idea is back — this is a feature in which authors of newly-released books tell you a little bit about one of the big ideas in their book, and how they managed to work with it as they wrote their book. This feature used to be on Ficlets, but since I don’t work there anymore, I’m bringing it here. One less link for you to click through.

(For you authors editors and publicist who are wondering how you can get in on this action, I’ll be posting a new “how to” entry soon. Until then, just check out my publicity guidelines.)

To inaugurate the Whatever run of The Big Idea, we have At the City’s Edge, by crime novelist Marcus Sakey. Sakey made a huge critical splash with his first book The Blade Itself (“Sakey’s brilliant debut is a must-read,” said Publishers Weekly in a starred review), and seems well on the way to repeating the trick with City (“just as good as Sakey’s stellar debut,” says Library Journal).

Today Sakey reveals what he defines as a big idea — it’s not the one sentence you can pitch a movie with — and how that big idea grew from a wacky, nutty idea: Doing research on the city of Chicago, in the city itself. I know! Research? Who does that anymore? Apparently, Marcus Sakey. Good on him.

MARCUS SAKEY:

I don’t have big ideas.

Really, I don’t, not in the Hollywood “high concept” way, not in an a-ha! moment way. You know:

“A-ha! What if scientists extracted DNA from prehistoric insects and cloned dinosaurs that ran amok?”

or, “A-ha! What if a disgruntled cop rigged a bus to blow up if it dropped below a certain speed?”

or, “A-ha! What if an unloved orphan discovered he was actually a powerful wizard responsible for saving the world?”

I wish I did have big ideas. That last one especially. Man do I wish I’d had that one.

What I have instead is a string of little ideas. Observations about a situation, bits of dialogue, a flash of character. Incomplete notions rather than perfectly formed a-ha! moments.

For example, when I began writing AT THE CITY’S EDGE, I had only a vague idea of the story I would tell. I knew that I wanted to write a book that was political without being partisan. I wanted to talk about greed and ambition and self-interest, and about how ancient those qualities are, how little has changed since wars were fought with sticks. And I also wanted to ride around dangerous neighborhoods wearing a bulletproof vest.

My wife loves that last part.

Anyway, I took those bits and about a dozen others, and I started rubbing them up against each other in the hope that something would spark. I read memoirs of the current war—there are some wonderful books out there, visceral and personal and timely—and researched the way that we treat our soldiers on their return. I pestered cops in four cities, interviewing them about street gangs and urban blight. I rode with Chicago’s Gang Intelligence Unit, the CIA of the CPD, through a world I’d never known existed.

And somewhere along the way, my snarl of small ideas knotted into a big one.

I would write a book about a soldier. A regular soldier, not Rambo, just a guy who went to Iraq, had some rough experiences, and ended up discharged. And when he got home, lost and confused and hurting, he would find himself in the middle of another war. A war in his neighborhood that bore a lot of similarities to the one he’d left. A war between seemingly implacable forces, with regular folk caught in between—some of them people he loved.

A-ha.

Of course, it took me a couple of months to get there. I lost a lot of sleep, drove my wife crazy, and made some false starts. But that seems to be the way the process works for me. I can’t go in with a big idea. I have to unearth it as I go. And there’s something I have come to love about that fact, a process of discovery that keeps things fresh and exciting.

But I still wish I’d thought of that thing about the orphaned wizard.

Read an excerpt of At the City’s Edge here. Marcus Sakey is also on tour soon — see if he’s coming to your town.