Monthly Archives: February 2008

Modeling the Latest in Empowerment Wear

Athena, showing off the t-shirt sent by a friend who also happens to be insanely nuts about WNBA basketball. When she opened the package and saw the shirt, she said “And I’m not a cheerleader! It’s like they know me!” Well, yes. And as a bonus, she just started in a 3rd/4th grade YMCA basketball league this week, so good timing all around. Athena’s got good shot skills (it’s all that time kicking my ass in games of “HORSE”), so that’s good too. It’s nice when it all comes together.

An Excellent Choice

Michael Moorcock will become this year’s SFWA Grand Master.

See? If you ever start one of the major movements in science fiction literature, maybe you can be an SF Grand Master as well! Something to shoot for, anyway.

This is a great and wholly appropriate choice for Grand Master, in my opinion.

And yes, there’s a new Elric book out.

Sock Addiction Claims Another Victim

Not even Ghlaghghee is immune to the charms of a catnip-filled sock.

Shortly after this picture was taken, Zeus wandered by and tried to run off with the sock. Ghlaghghee’s veto of this action was fairly robust. Yes, she is cute and fluffy, but she’s definitely no pushover.

And now I’m off. Illness over the last couple of days has messed with my sleep schedule and my work output; time to correct at least one of these. You guess which one.

Publicists/Editors/Writers: I’m Seeking Big Ideas

Hey there, all you crazy book publicists, writers and editors:

As most of you know, once or twice a week I like to use this space to put a spotlight on writers with new and recently-released book, specifically in a feature I call “The Big Idea” — in which the author writes a bit about one of the big ideas on his or her book, how they factored that big idea into the writing, and what challenges working with that idea presented in writing the book. So far this year, the authors who have discussed their Big Idea here have included Marcus Sakey, Phillip Palmer, Paul Melko and Jami Attenberg.

However, at the moment the cupboard is bare, so I’m looking for more writers to share their Big Idea here at Whatever.

Why here? Well, the Whatever receives between 30,000 and 40,000 unique daily visits every weekday, with occasional spikes in the 45,000 daily visit range and sometimes even above. That’s a lot of folks — most of whom like books and learning what’s new in the bookstores. So it’s good exposure to a literate and generally friendly crowd.

To date, most of the authors participating in The Big Idea have been writing in science fiction and fantasy, but it’s not a requirement — indeed, I would love more participation from novelists in other genres and from non-fiction writers, as well as graphic novelists. I don’t read just science fiction and fantasy and neither, I suspect, do the readers here.

If you are an author who would like to be spotlit in The Big Idea, or are a publicist or an editor who is working with an author, here’s what you have to do to get rolling:

1. First, authors must not be self-published, or solely electronically published, or published by a publishing house that offers $1 advances and/or can’t get distribution into bookstores. Yes, I know. I suck. But this is the line in the sand. Deal with it.

2. It’s helpful for me to be sent the work in advance of the publication date. Please visit my Publicist Guidelines for how to send me stuff.

3. Contact me 4 – 6 weeks before your work/your author’s work is due to hit the stores and we’ll see what availability is. The best way (read: really the only way you should try) to contact me is via e-mail, at “john@scalzi.com“; please make your interest in doing a Big Idea feature clear in the subject header to help me flag the e-mail. There’s some flexibility with this (for example, at the moment I’m looking for Big Idea entries for the next month), but since this is largely “first come, first served,” the earlier folks alert me, the better chance they’ll get something in.

4. Generally speaking it’s useful for me to have the author’s Big Idea piece a week before it goes up.

Any questions? Drop me an e-mail. And feel free to let folks know about this. I like promoting the work of authors, so I want authors to know the opportunity is here.

Thanks, and I look forward to reading and sharing your Big Ideas!

Only One Can Prevail!

Today was sent not one but two copies of Superpowers, the upcoming super hero novel by David J. Schwartz, which immediately made me suspicious. Two copies? Of a super hero novel? Nonsense! One of them is obviously from Bizarro Earth (or the nearest non-trademarked version thereof) and sent to confuse and trouble me. Either that or one of them is the evil twin, recognizable by the goatee.

And sure enough — well, as you can see here, one of the copies is clearly made of pure, hirsute nefariousness. Soon the two copies will join into an epic battle over the fate of the earth, and only one will survive, hopefully the clean-shaven one. All us mere mortals can do is witness their titanic struggle.

And the one that wins – well, I guess I’ll read.

Happy Birthday, Deven

Today is my pal Deven Desai’s birthday. He’s, uh, 36, I think. 37? Maybe 37. Somewhere in that area. Yes, it’s bad I can’t remember specifically, but it’s early and I’m groggy. This is my excuse for the day. For all day.

What I do remember is that he’s a fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and of the Beatles, so here’s a somewhat pixellated version of the former’s cover of the latter’s “Dear Prudence.”

Those of you with sharp eyes and long memories may spot the Cure’s Robert Smith in the video; for a time he was a member of the Banshees, including for Hyena, the album this song was on. If your response to this is, “well, duh,” you are officially a Goth Nerd. Revel in your time, my friend.

Incidentally, Deven is one of the featured bloggers at the Concurring Opinions legal blog. Why not go for a visit?

Some Stats, Post-Free eBook

I was curious whether releasing Old Man’s War as part of Tor’s free eBook series would have any sort of immediate impact on sales of my books, so I had a friend with access to BookScan check out if there was any sort of significant movement in the last week. So, according to BookScan, in mass-market paperback:

The Ghost Brigades sales are up 33% from the week prior;

Old Man’s War sales are up 20% from the week prior;

The Android’s Dream sales are up 9% from the week prior.

Now, percentages are not impressive if you’re not selling huge numbers (if you sold three books last week and this week you sold four, that’s a 33% jump, after all), but each of these books is still selling hundreds of copies weekly, so the increase this week is not insignificant in terms of sales numbers.

The real question is whether these sales bumps are due to the eBook release or to some other factor(s). And, well, I have no idea. I asked my friend if science fiction sales in general were up last week; he said that BookScan noted a 6% bump from the week before in the entire category. TAD might be part of the general movement, but OMW and TGB are significantly outside that. The last week has been busy around here, thanks to various topics and links in from Boing Boing and Instapundit among others, so that might have been a factor as well. But ultimately the biggest news in terms of my books in the last week was the free eBook release of OMW.

My thought on the matter is that while I don’t think there’s definitive proof of this, I do suspect that the free eBook release did have an immediate impact on sales, and that the impact was positive. Now what will be interesting to see is how the books — and particularly the mass market paperback of OMW — do over time.

So there’s some data for you folks to chew on.

And Yes, the Reason I’m Fiddling is I Don’t Have Anything Interesting to Say

Okay, I mostly like the way the site looks at the moment, so I think I’ll keep it this way for a while.

For those of you who are wondering, the theme I’m using is the “Seashore” theme here (which I have clearly modified), and this is the picture I’m using. I took it a couple years ago on Thanksgiving. This particular theme allows you to swap out the picture relatively easily, so I imagine I will do that when the mood strikes me. I may also do a little more tinkering here and there, but this is mostly it for now.

I do believe I’ll wander away from the computer now. See you folks later.

Looking for People Like Me

Am I the only person in the world for whom earbuds won’t seat securely in their ear? Thanks to the iPod, earbuds have been the preferred mode of earphone for five years now, but personally I can’t keep them in; they fall out unless I keep my head absolutely rigid. Which is not what happens to all those silhouettes doing calisthenics in the iPod commercials.

I’m just wondering if I have freakish ears, or if everybody has the same problem and are simply waiting for someone else to come out about the problem. If it’s the latter, well, here I am.  Join me.

Today is International Make Up a Word Day

I have an amazing number of things to deal with today that do not involve writing here. So I’m off for the rest of the day. However I know that your lives will be a meaningless shell without something to do here. For that reason I am declaring today International Make Up a Word Day, in which you, yes, make up a word that has not existed before. Yes, others have done this before. I don’t claim it’s original, just amusing.

How to know if it’s a new word? If a Google search comes up with nothing, you’re golden.

My contribution to IMaWD:

Straternization: Hanging out socially with people not because you like them, but for their strategic benefits (i.e., helping you get ahead in work, getting you closer to that cute young thing, raising your social status in the lunchroom, etc). Usually doesn’t work nearly as well as people hope.

Your turn.

Totally Bogarting the Sock

In the mail yesterday: organic catnip from these folks. Put a little in the toe of a worn sock this morning and presented it to Zeus. Then eventually tried to take it away. He was against that.  I think I’ll be rationing his intake from here on out. But judging from the reaction, that’s primo ‘nip, dude.

My Oscar Batting Average

Four out of six this year — not as good as some years, but not as bad as others. And I’m delighted to have been wrong in the Best Supporting Actress category, since I’ve been a huge fan of Tilda Swinton since Orlando, and I am thrilled she’s been recognized in her awesomeosity. I don’t feel bad about missing Best Actress, either, since lots of folks were surprised. I’m pretty sure this is the first foreign language Best Actress win since Sophia Loren, too.

Your Oscar thoughts can be placed below, if you are so inclined.

The Minor Detail People Often Miss

Michelle Sagara makes a very cogent observation here about a small detail people often miss when they use me as an example of how a blog can help you sell your novel, that small detail being that I had a Web site a decade before I sold that first novel, and had been accreting an audience all that time (Michelle gets the date of the beginning of Whatever wrong — it came online in 1998. But it’s true I had a Web site of one form or another dating all the way back to ’93, and that I regularly put new content on it during that time). As Michelle notes:

I have nothing against using Scalzi as an example of a person who leverages his blog to bump sales, I really don’t. But I take exception to the people who don’t understand that if you want to build Scalzi’s blog, you need to spend 10 years amusing, outraging, and moderating people, for free, and because it clearly amuses you, and you must do this before you have something to sell. But if you have a spare 10 years, you too can achieve this.

This is something I’ve touched on as well, but I really like the way Michelle’s said it, and it does continue to amaze me that people can look at Whatever and say “look! He did it! I can do it too!” and sort of miss that I’ve been doing it, in one form or another, for a decade and a half. I don’t see any reason why you can’t do what I did; just remember how long it took me to get where I am at the moment, and that for most of that time I was just another schmuck with a blog, not someone with a career writing novels.

Also, you know. It’s pretty obvious that I’m not blind to the idea that talking about my books and writing here might get people to try the books. But I’m allergic to the idea that Whatever should be about marketing my books, or that I should frame the way I talk about the books here with an eye toward getting all y’all to buy them. Jo Walton mentioned recently she knew a writer who was told by her agent to be upbeat about her next book in her blog; I think that’s a really excellent way not to engage your readership. I’m pretty sure that if all I said about my books here was along the lines of “OMG!!!1! Theyz excellent!” people would blot out anything I said about them. People really do know when you’re marketing to them.

Personally I think people think about all this crap too hard. The reason to do a blog is because you want to. If you do it for any other reason, people will be able to tell, and it’s probably going to fall on its ass. The reason I think Whatever does well is because I like doing it, and I’ve liked doing it all the time I’ve done it. Simple enough.

Movies and Books

A couple thoughts on things:

* Oscars tonight, and on looking at my Oscar picks piece from the day the nominations came out, I think my picks are still pretty solid. A couple of additional thoughts, however:

  • I’d say for Best Picture, No Country for Old Men looks more like a lock than it did earlier (thanks to its wins at the various run-up awards), but if it doesn’t win, it’s possible that it will be Juno, not There Will Be Blood, that snipes it, since it seems like there’s a groundswell in that direction, while Blood seems to be getting more of a “just too depressing” vibe the longer it’s out there.
  • Likewise, I’m less convinced Paul Thomas Anderson is going to walk away with a screenwriting award as consolation — this is another place where the Coens look like they’ve gained ground. What I think would be really interesting is if “Roderick Jaymes,” the Coen’s editor, gets the Best Editing Oscar, since “Roderick” is in actuality the Coens. It’s entirely possible the Coens will walk off with four sets of Oscars (they’re also producers on Old Men).
  • I’m still going with Ellen Page for Best Actress, but everyone else seems to think Julie Christie is going to nab it. Well, fine, believe that if you want. Page is still the cheese to my Oscar macaroni. On the Best Actor side, I think everyone in the world will be genuinely shocked if anyone but Daniel Day-Lewis wins.

* Last week I told Holly Black that my expectation for Spiderwick this week is that it would hold over pretty well, because it’s a family film and family films do better week to week than other films often do. And lo: Spiderwick made $12.6 million this weekend, down just a third from its opening weekend, which is a really solid retention rate these days (most films drop by half these days on the second weekend). Jumper is down about half (it’s also at around $12.6 million), which is totally in line for its market demo. Both of these flicks look pretty solid for their theatrical runs; they may finish under their production costs domestically but international will fix that pretty handily and then DVD is all gravy. They’re not blockbusters, but they’re solid hits, and you can’t complain about that.

* Speaking of books, there are less than 24 hours left for you to make a bid on Zoe’s Tale. Go on, you know you want it. And remember, if the bidding gets over $2,500, a hardcover of Agent to the Stars is thrown in as a premium. And then all the money goes to the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust.

* Also remember that you can still donate to the Dewey Donation System to take part in a drawing for a special edition of my upcoming novella. Cheaper than the Zoe’s Tale auction, but just as much fun, and you’ll be doing good, too, just in a different way.

The Worst Presidents?

Athena is learning about the presidents these days, not through school, but via the Animaniacs, whose “President’s Song” she is memorizing much in the same way she memorized their “50 states and their capitals” song (clearly, Animaniacs are her Schoolhouse Rock). While she was running down the presidents in the songs, and because she is into quantifying stuff as only a nine-year-old can be, she asked me which presidents I thought were the worst ever. Here are my top bottom five:

1. James Buchanan: Broke the country. Worst ever until someone else breaks the country, so let’s hope he’s not seriously challenged. I’ve written about him before.

2. George W. Bush: Provisional ranking, both because of my own personal biases and because the judgment of history takes a while. That said, there’s no doubt he’s a bad president by any account that doesn’t have “we haven’t been attacked since 9/11!” as the sole relevant justification for an entire administration. Massive deficits, torture, housing crisis, “unitary executive,” politicization of the Justice Department, so on and so forth. Won’t be missed; best Dubya can hope for is that everybody agrees never to speak of him again after January 20, 2009.

3. Richard Nixon: Who I think was actually a decent president overall, policywise, but then there was that whole Watergate thing, and that’s really hard to get around. A shame about the paranoia.

4. Warren G. Harding: Look, the dude himself knew he was bad, saying: “I am not fit for this office and never should have been here.” Looking at the scandals or his administration, notably the Teapot Dome affair, it’s hard to argue the point. The reason I personally don’t rank him higher than Nixon: He had the decency to die before his term was done, forestalling more damage.

5. Ulysses S. Grant: Great general, lame president. Black Friday, Panic of ’73, inability to pass legislation, and scandals all over the administration, etc; really, just a mess. Decent ex-president, however, and wrote what are generally considered the best memoirs of any president (mostly about the Civil War, however).

If I had to drop Bush from the list, I’d bump the three below him up a notch and then the anchorman spot would be held probably by either Franklin Pierce or Andrew Johnson, neither of whom was any great prize.

It probably hasn’t escaped notice that four of my five worst presidents are Republicans; sorry about that, GOPers. If it’s any consolation, the lone Democrat, James Buchanan, really is the winner by a wide margin. And there’s the fact that Abe Lincoln gets my vote for best president, and he’s a Republican (I’m quite fond of Theodore Roosevelt, too).

I don’t really have an extensive ranking system for worst vice presidents, but I will note that the two vice presidents I consider to be the worst, Aaron Burr and Dick Cheney, both shot people while in office. Coincidence?

Your picks for the worst presidents?

Indulging My Indulgences

The rock band Journey debuted their new lead singer Arnel Pineda at a concert in Chile two nights ago. How did the dude do in the “Can he sing like Steve Perry” sweepstakes? Judge for yourself (note: I found the volume level here a little low, let it play and adjust your own volume levels to taste):

My thoughts? Not bad at all. Although personally, I’m less interested in all the old songs than idea there might be some new ones. I know I’m in the minority there, especially because it’s Journey, a band people are content to hear the same dozen songs from over and over again. But you know, if you keep doing that, after a certain point you just become your own cover band, and Journey’s been at that certain point for the last decade. Time to move forward.

Possible Presidencies

We’ve been having fun with a certain candidate for the president of SFWA here, but in the comment threads at least a couple of people have asked a good question: What if Andrew Burt does become SFWA president? Is it truly the end of SFWA? Partly to keep those folks who are now well and truly sick of hearing me blather here about SFWA over the last few days from having to drag their eyeballs through yet another entry, my answer to this lies behind the cut.

Continue reading

Country Life

Whenever it snows, my neighbor hooks a plow to the front of his truck, plows his driveway, and also plows ours. Because it’s neighborly.

He’s doing it right now. At 2am.

The man really likes his snow plow.

I think this is kind of awesome.