Daily Archives: February 12, 2008

On Writers, Marriages, and NYC/LA/SF

Much not to my surprise, of the 10 pieces of advice I gave in the Unasked-For Advice to New Writers About Money, I’m getting quite a deal of push back on two of them: “Marry (or otherwise shack up with) someone sensible with money, who has a real job,” and “Unless you have a truly compelling reason to be there, get the hell out of New York/LA/San Francisco.” So let me talk a little bit about them.

First, before I get to those, I would like to remind people that I did say “Some of this advice may not apply to you,” and not just because I was trying to cover my ass in some quasi-legalistic sort of way. I said it because all writers (and their careers) are different. Some of this might work well for you, some of it less so, and some of it not at all. You all have brains; you all presumably have some perspective on your life. You know which of the bits of advice apply to you and which don’t. All advice given here is done so on the presumption that you will critically evaluate it on your end. Don’t be like those guys who trust their GPS more than own eyes and drive themselves into a river; filter this stuff with your own experience.

Now, of the two major points of contention, the NYC/LA/SF one is the easiest to deal with, since most of the opposition to those is along the lines of “well, I need to be in NYC/LA/SF because…” followed by some explanation. To which my response is “so, you’re saying you have a truly compelling reason to be there? Well, I guess you better stay, then.” The object is not to spur a mass exodus of writerly sorts from NYC/LA/SF, the object is to make writers who are there ask themselves “do I really need to be here?” and to make the new writers who are under the impression you have to go to NYC/LA/SF ask themselves if they really have to make the pilgrimage. Because it’s expensive to live there, you see. I do see some folks in these cities saying “well, once you factor out housing, it’s not that expensive,” which is a little like saying that once you factor out gravity, it’s really easy for pigs to fly.

To be sure, there are excellent reasons to live in these cities: A community of writers, job opportunities, things to do when you should really be writing, thai food withing walking distance and so on. But in many cases those things also exist elsewhere, where the rents/mortgages are cheaper. As a working adult, I’ve not lived in NYC/LA/SF; I’ve done pretty well despite that. I even had quite a number of clients in NYC when I lived elsewhere (Yes, I have lived in major metro areas, notably DC and Chicago, but they’re not off limits in this construction, and when I lived there, they were still significantly cheaper than living in NYC/LA/SF). What writers need to ask themselves is whether the economic opportunities afforded by NYC/LA/SF outweigh the economic costs. I don’t think enough writers are asking themselves this, and I think a fair number of them are struggling economically because of it.

Incidentally, in comments Nick Mamatas brings up the idea of living on the edge — that is, living in an “edge” part of a major metro area that is notably cheaper but still has city access. This works for me. Yes, it may make you a bridge-and-tunnel dick, or whatever, but if you’re really worried about things like that, you’re beyond the help of any of this advice anyway.

So, done with that, and on to the marriage thing. There’s been a whole lot of pushback on this one, most cogently from Justine Larbalestier:

This is something that worked really well for John. I’ve met his wife, Krissy, and a more formidable, fun, amazing person I have yet to meet. And she knows from money. Seriously smart about it. I wish I had married Krissy.

But, really, this is Scalzi confusing his own excellent good luck with general advice for everyone. Not everyone’s going to meet a Krissy. I suspect there’s only one and she ain’t leaving Scalzi anytime soon. Not everyone has any interest in getting married or shacking up. And, call me a romantic, but taking into account someone’s money management skills is not something I was thinking about when I fell in love.

Not to mention the salient advice my mother gave me which was to never depend on some man to look after you. Make your own way in the world. Earn your own money.

First, let me be clear: indeed, this is based on my own experience, and indeed, Krissy rocks. I don’t think people with Krissy’s skill set are as rare as Justine implies, but neither do I pretend that I didn’t get lucky. But my luck can be your planning – I’m letting you know what qualities she has that you might look for in your own spouse/significant other, in addition to other more immediate qualities that attract one person to another.

Second, and to expand a bit on the above, I’m not suggesting one needs to get married to be a successful writer (that would be silly), nor am I suggesting that if you do wish to get married, that excellent financial skills and a solid, benefits-laden job should be the primary criteria you look for. You know. Find someone you like, heck, even love, and about whom you think you’ll feel similarly 25 years from now. Marry ‘em if you want (or can, since some people can’t marry who they want even if they want, which sucks), or don’t. If they don’t have ace financial skills, oh well. If they do: Bonus.

That said, “love” is not the same thing as “long term committed relationship.” That being the case, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that when it comes to long-haul relationships, it’s not outside the realm of acceptability to consider other factors aside from the love issue, when it comes to deciding whether to bind your life to someone for years and years. I love my wife to bits, but other factors of compatibility (including the fact she was excellent with finances) constituted the tipping point for the actual decision to get married. Conversely, there are other folks in my life who I could very easily see myself in love with but whom I wouldn’t want to marry, because of some fundamental disconnects in personality, worldview and compatibility (note well that the problem child in those relationships should not necessarily be assumed to be the other person; I have my bad points). I love these people and am attracted to them, but the other factors weigh against a bonding relationship.

People do talk to the people they love about what they want to do with their lives; finding someone who can help (or is at least willing to help) you do those things can certainly be a significant contributing factor as to whether you actually bind your life to theirs, legally or otherwise. For writers (or would be writers), having a spouse with a good head for finances is useful; so is one with a job with benefits. I mention this to put it on your radar, when you are looking for people to spend your life with.

In comments, Carrie Vaughn asks:

I have a question for you about #3, which I haven’t managed just yet. This is a purely anecdotal observation with no basis in research, which is part of why I’m posting it here, so I can get some other purely anecdotal observations. So here it is:

It is my observation that male writers have a much easier time accomplishing #3 than female writers. That is, most of the men I know who are writing full time are married. Most of the women who are writing full time are not.

So, am I on crack or is there something going on here?

I’m not sure if something is going on there or not. I know a fair number of single women writers, but then I know a fair number of married women writers as well. I know single and married male writers too, although I know more married male writers than single ones. If anyone wants to pitch in and help Carrie out with information based on their own experience, by all means, put a comment in the thread.

As for the idea of not having someone else look after you: Well, yes. You shouldn’t have someone else looking after you. But in my book, there’s very little wrong with a couple looking out for each other, which to my mind is a different state of things entirely. It’s entirely possible for me to handle all my business affairs; I’m not incompetent. On the other hand my wife is by training and temperament better at it than I am; it makes sense for her to handle it, so I can focus on my competencies. There are other things in our life that my wife could handle but which I do handle, because I’m better suited toward them.

A marriage (or any other long-term relationship) is many things, and one of the things it is (or can be) is a jointly-owned business. No, this aspect of marriage is not romantic. Deal. As with any business it pays to identify who is best at what job and then have them do it. One reason I make what I do is because we have my wife doing certain things; if I insisted on handling them, I’m pretty sure I’d make less (or at least, I’d make the same but collect less). Yes, there’s a risk in combining one’s finances etc with another person, because relationships end, people break up and so on. That’s life. And in the meantime, you might do each other some good.

Does a writer need to get married to be successful? No. Can it help? If you have a spouse with good financial skills and a good job, yes. Should a writer seek a mate with financial skills/good job as a top criteria? I don’t suspect the relationship will last long if they do. Should a writer factor in a potential mate’s financial skills along with everything else when deciding whether to get into a serious relationship? It couldn’t hurt. Should a writer sponge off a competent, employed spouse? Hell, no. Should a couple work together to achieve as much long-term personal and financial success as they can, even if it means, short-term, that one of them carries more of a load? Well, I think that’s one of the things long-term relationships are for.

The floor is open.

Represent!

My pal Colleen Lindsay has put out her shingle as an agent, specializing in “fantasy and science fiction, horror, paranormal romance, graphic novels, YA fiction, and pop culture.” And she’s looking for potential clients.

Try not to completely smother her with your submissions, okay? It’s her first day. Maybe pace yourselves a bit. Also, you know, read her submission guidelines before you drop a submission. Remember, actually following the submission guidelines increases your chances of being considered, because it shows you can follow simple directions. Which is an admirable quality to have.

The Big Idea: Paul Melko

Paul Melko is another member of the Ohio SF/F Cabal (our motto: There’s More Of Us Than You Think™), and he’s just released his first novel, Singularity’s Ring, to a not inconsiderable amount of acclaim (“[A] superior debut… the ingenious character development and startling images and ideas are deeply satisfying” — Publishers Weekly). Some of this acclaim comes because he’s come up with a pretty nifty idea: His main character just happens to be spread over five people. Which, while making shopping for shoes something of a challenge, does open up other very interesting possibilities. How does Melko pull this off, and why did he think of it in the first place? Well, naturally, that’s the subject of his installment of The Big Idea.

PAUL MELKO:

I love big ideas in my science fiction. Big ideas are why, back in 1979, I started reading science fiction. (Those first two books were Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and The Rolling Stones. Talk about your big ideas.) It only makes sense that I like big ideas in my own fiction.

Singularity’s Ring started with the protagonist, Apollo, who stemmed from an idea an anthology editor suggested: give me a future in which computers and internets aren’t the focus of human technology. So I got the silicon out of my future; the computers in Apollo’s world are humans, or rather groups of humans. Apollo isn’t just one person; he’s five humans who act as one. He’s (they’ve?) been genetically altered to share thoughts, memories, and emotions via pheromones and chemical thoughts.

What titillated me about biological plurals – pods, multiples, group minds – was the idea of emergence in complex networks. The simplest pods in my future are duos. Two humans and one link: the simplest network. Add one more human and now you have three brains and three links. One more and you have four brains and six links. By the time you get to Apollo — five brains, ten links — the complexity has multiplied. As emergence suggests, the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. We see phenomena that are not featured within the nodes, but are a result of the interaction between them. (Continue on this train of thought to Organizational Theory; the rest of us will get off at Implications.)

So, Apollo, my protagonist, is actually five people, acting as one, sharing thoughts. Implications? You bet. If science fiction is a double banana split, implications are the stomach ache at 2 AM.

1) Order matters. Suppose you could move your right brain to where your medulla oblongata is and put your hind brain next to your cerebellum. Your thoughts would be totally different. (And you’d be insane, but great fun at parties.) Apollo can do that; he can rearrange the path of thinking by moving component nodes from one place to another. If Apollo holds hands in a circle, he thinks different thoughts than if he stands in a line. If one of Apollo is missing or too far for high throughput, the thoughts are different. Apollo changes how he thinks by arranging himself spatially.

2) Who’s Got the Puck? I decided it was like a token ring system. I know! It’s old tech, but I needed a computer analog. Consider this: some node in Apollo thinks a thought and passes it on. The next node accepts it, thinks about it internally, modifies it, and passes it on. A five node system could be thinking about five things at a time, passing the thoughts — tokens — down the line once they are each done.

3) Link Layer Transport - If brain-to-brain interfacing was easy, there’d be an RFC for it already. In this day and age, we use words — written and oral — to do brain-to-brain interface. The pods use chemical interfaces to do it faster, but it’s still s-l-o-w compared to internal thought and silicon computers. To share a thought, they have to form it in a node mind, bundle it up into a chemical format, excrete it (they have pads at the wrist and neck for this), and pass it to their cohort. Talk about your air gap. This transport layer includes skin, air, and bloodstream. There’s a lot of lag there; a pod could take minutes to reach a conclusion that a normal human does in seconds.

4) Complex brain == complex thought == complex insanity - Sure, it might take longer to reach a single conclusion, but if you could talk over every decision you make with four other people, you’re going to make good decisions. But what if the pod is wrong? Pods use something called pod consensus to guarantee validity – each decision is rigorously analyzed before being agreed to. This is a way to guard against pod instability – emergence can be delicate.

5) And the Lower Orders? - If you can group-mind humans, why not dogs, or cats, or cows, or bears? Sure. It makes the fauna funner! But what if your dog is smarter than you are? Sorry, that’s a different story.

6) Overmind your Own Business - Humanity can be broken into three groups in my future – singletons, or normal humans like you and me. Pods, or group minds of 2, 3, 4, and 5 humans. The Community, mostly gone in a Singularity Event, but composed of billions of minds working in concert. A pod member can understand the whole of their thoughts, but the Community is so complex, a member can’t fathom it at all. Can you trust your own mind? What is your hindbrain up to anyway?

I write for the implications. We live in a linked world, not as linked as Apollo’s, but everything that we do, posit, or think is tied to the things around us. Science often models the world by simplifying it; science fiction models the world with as complex a model as the writer can create. Science fiction authors write about the big ideas, but what they are really exploring is what the big ideas mean to us.

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss my book. See you on the other side of the Singularity. Maybe.

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Read Paul Melko’s Livejournal here.