Monthly Archives: January 2009

Fiscally Sound

To the person who just sent me e-mail wondering how I might be affected by Pajamas Media closing their advertising network as of April 1: Wait, what? Not only am I not a member of the PM ad network, but a quick glance at the site reveals that there is in fact no paid advertising here at all. Save a dummy test ad I put up to see what it would look like, this site’s never had advertising on it, and at the moment I’m leaning again toward keeping it off.

I read several Pajamas Media blogs and am friendly with some of the bloggers there, but let’s just say their general editorial bent is not one that would induce me to throw my lot in with them, even if I were shopping around for an ad network, which I’m not. In short, the Pajamas Media ad network collapse affects me not at all, except to the extent some of the bloggers I read are now a little twitchy about losing that bit of income as of the first of April.

Somewhat vaguely related to this, I’ve had a couple people ask me in e-mail and in person whether my pulling The High Castle from Tor’s 2009 release schedule puts me in a wobbly financial position for the year. In a word, and without going into any significant detail: no. I do have other projects humming along and independent of that we here in the Scalzi household are big fans of the concept of tucking away for a rainy day, i.e., actually saving some of the money we earn, which until very recently was a fairly un-American attitude lo these last couple of decades. What can I say, we’re strangely old school in some ways.

In any event: We’re fine, thanks. I do appreciate people are concerned. It’s a nervous time for everyone, fiscally speaking.

Stab Stab Stab: A Quiz

So, I’m cranky. Knowing me all as you do, do you suspect it’s because:

a) I have low blood sugar at the moment;

b) The world actually is a cesspool of petty hate and ultimate lameness, filled with people whose brains would be an embarrassment even to lower orders of mollusks.

It’s one or the other, people. You tell me. Meanwhile, I may take a nap.

Metatropolis ARC; eBear Giveaway

Hey, look what I got:

It’s the ARC for the printed version of the Metatropolis anthology, and I have to say it looks great: cool cover, great interior design, and rumor is, the stories inside are not so shabby, either. The people who get it (and it could be you!) are definitely going to pet its sleek covers and call it precious. Heck, I’m doing it already.

Speaking of Metatropolis, the lovely folks at Subterranean Press, which is publishing the printed version of the anthology, are hosting a special giveaway featuring the work of Metatropolis collaborator Elizabeth Bear:

We have THIRTY copies of the mass market paperback of BLOOD & IRON, each of which is good to a free home, U.S. residents only, sorry. If you’d care to have people email me their name and postal mailing address to subpress@gmail.com, the first thirty recipients will be sent out a copy of the book next week. Have them put “Blood & Iron Giveaway” in the subject thread so we can quickly sort them out from the usual mail. You should note that we won’t be responding to emails. As this is just a fun giveaway for us, and not intended to be a time sink, we need to do it quickly and cleanly, and move on to the next bit of nonsense we have scheduled.

So what are you waiting for? Free book! Free Elizabeth Bear book! Hurry! Before they’re all gone!

Update, 11:02 am: They’re all gone. Stop sending e-mails, please.

Tools of Change Appearance

For those of you planning to go to or thinking of attending the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference in New York City, February 9 – 11th, be aware that I’ll be there and I’ll be on a panel that is in fact pretty much about this very Web site: “Where Do You Go with 40,000 Readers? A Study in Online Community Building”

Here’s the abstract for the panel:

Science fiction author John Scalzi began writing the Whatever blog in 1998, posting about a wide variety of topics including the core themes of politics, writing, and science fiction, which helped him accrue an audience of roughly 40,000 daily readers over the course of a decade. In 2002, Scalzi serialized a novel, Old Man’s War, on his website and got the attention of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, a senior editor at Tor Books—which, starting in 2005, published that book, three sequels, and another novel over a three-year period, with yet another book on the way for 2009.

Publishing industry observer Ron Hogan will interview Scalzi and Nielsen Hayden about, among other topics:

* the role of Whatever in building up a fan base for Scalzi’s fiction
* the online community that emerged from that fan base
* how to nurture such a community—and how lightly to hold the leash
* the model Scalzi’s success offered for the creation of Tor.com
* using free ebooks to promote authors and publishing imprints

As noted, I, PNH and Ron Hogan are on the panel — but the panel also as a special guest star: Tobias Buckell, who as you probably know does that there Web thingie himself. It’s going to be tons of fun. The panel will be at 3:40pm on Wednesday — one of the very last panels of the conference, actually — so mark your calendars now.

I think it’s kind of cool that Whatever is being held up as a model of community building, etc at one of these conferences, and I’m looking forward to talking to all of them about all of you. Don’t worry, I’ll say only nice things. What, you think I’m going to talk smack about you all behind your back? I would never. Well, there was that once. But I was drunk. I swear.

Here, Have a Pimp Thread

It’s been more than a month since I’ve done a pimp thread, and folks are sending me e-mails wondering when the next one will be because they have something they want to promote, and while I enjoy their piteous cries, my cruel nature doesn’t run that deep. So: Here you go folks. Tell us what you have that you want to promote the heck out of. Pimp your stuff, pimp your friends’ stuff, pimp the stuff of folks who don’t know but whose stuff you like, and so on.

Remember that if you put more than three links into a comment that it’s likely to get stuffed into the moderating queue. Don’t panic; I’ll release it.

As for what I’m pimping, I’m pimping something local and going on tonight, so you Dayton folks, consider going out and representin’ at Books & Co at The Greene for:

KELSEY TIMMERMAN
THURSDAY, JANUARY 29; 7-8 PM @ The Greene

KELSEY TIMMERMAN will discuss his book, Where Am I Wearing: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes. Have you noticed that the clothes you’re wearing come from all over the globe?  Have you ever wondered what the lives are like for the people who make your clothes?  That idea intrigues Kelsey as he set out to visit the countries whose nametags were on his clothes.  His travels took him to China, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Honduras.  He’d like to share his journey with you as he puts a personal face on the issues of globalization and outsourcing.  He learned that 97% of America’s clothing is imported.  China accounts for 30% and the garment industry accounts for 75% of Cambodia’s and Bangladesh’s exports.

You’ll recall the Big Idea piece on this one. If you can make it, it’ll be worth your time.

So: Promote, people! Tell us what you’ve found all shiny and new and worth sharing.

I Wanna See This

This week’s AMC column is has a pretty simple topic: Five SF/F books I think would make good movies — if they got the right filmmakers (Children of Men, above, being an example of a good adaptation of a good SF novel). The list mixes classics and current hits, and of course you’re encouraged to list the SF books you think would make fine movies over there on the AMC site. No, don’t list my books — that’s a bit dodgy. List anyone else’s.

Reasonably Unscrewed-Up Character ≠ Mary Sue

When Mary and I were doing the Q & A portion of our Borderlands Books appearance, I went off the ranch a bit and kvetched about one of my pet peeves concerning science fiction reviewers, which is the assumption that any main character who is not screwed-up is somehow automatically a Mary Sue wish fulfillment character for the writer… or perhaps more accurately that my main characters are Mary Sues for me. Rather than recreate the kvetch, let me transcribe it here, edited slightly so you don’t get every stutter and “uh”:

Forgive me father, for I have sinned, I have been reading my reviews. And there’s one thing that just always pisses me off, and that it is that when they mention characters, they say, well his main character is fine and blah blah blah but it’s really just a Mary Sue character. And it just drives me insane because it’s in all my reviews: “The main character’s a Mary Sue.” Well, no, the main character is not a Mary Sue, he’s just not incredibly fucked up to begin with!

There’s a difference between having a character that’s, you know, fairly on beam, and having a Mary Sue. Having a Mary Sue would be like, ‘Harry Creek, five foot eight, a little more portly than average but still devastatingly handsome and sexy, stepped in. And they said “Thank God, Harry, you’re here!” And he said, “Why yes, I am, and I will solve that problem for you. Now, now, don’t thank me — this is what I do. I will now go retire and have sex with many people.”‘

So all these things… they’re like John Perry is a Mary Sue, and my immediate response was just because the dude lives in my little town, in my house, and is a writer, doesn’t mean he’s my Mary Sue. Which I understand is unconvincing. But then there’s Harry Creek, he’s a Mary Sue. I wrote something for METAtroplis, and the review was “this is yet another Mary Sue character.” That Mary Sue character was the nineteen year old screw-up who gets a job as a pig farmer and on his first day on the job gets enveloped in shit. I’m like, yeah, I want to be that character! When I was right out of college, which is the equivalent of what this character is, my first job was as a movie critic at a newspaper — I watched movies for a living, and I got to tell people about it. For an egotistical 22-year-old man, it doesn’t get any better than that. This guy is not my Mary Sue, I’m his!

So just because a character is not immediately in pain doesn’t mean he’s not a Mary Sue. He’s just not in pain.

Bear in mind that as I was saying this all, I was in ranty hyperactive mode, playing to an audience, who was laughing with me (as opposed to at me, you can be sure), so I’m a little more strident here than I might be otherwise. On the other hand, I do have a point here, which is I think SF reviewers have gotten into the lazy assumption that any character that’s not immediately laden down with problems and/or is meant to be more competent than usual in a particular skill or skills is a Mary Sue for the author.

Now, maybe that’s the way it works for other authors, but for me, not so much. I make some of my characters more competent than usual because a) non-competent people don’t generally interest me as primary characters and b) from the standpoint of story mechanics, unless the journey to competence is the point of the story, the less time you have spend getting your character up to competence, the more time you have to deal with the story itself. None of this has to do with me having any wish fulfillment, other than the practical wish of keeping my story bubbling along. As for why I don’t make my main characters all fucked-up, well, I suppose it’s because the stories I’ve written so far don’t need them to be. When I need one, I’ll write one. But I’m not going to make a character all fucked-up just because. Seems a mean thing to do to a character, and possibly a bad thing to do to a story. Again, this is less about my own wish fulfillment than practical issues of story construction.

(And as for John Perry, as I’ve noted before (.pdf link), the reason he lives in my town and in my house and is a writer is because I’m lazy, not because he’s me. In the OMW universe, the character most like me is Harry Wilson, who doesn’t get his own star turn in the universe until the short story “After the Coup.” And even then (spoilers!) he gets the crap beat out of him, which doesn’t seem like something you’d let happen to your Mary Sue on a regular basis.)

I’m aware that the term “Mary Sue” is experiencing some definition creep so that aside from meaning “author wish fulfillment character” it’s also come to mean “supercompetent, non-screwed-up main character.” But this seems like critical and linguistic laziness to me — Let “Mary Sue” mean what it’s supposed to mean, and let something else mean that other thing; I vote for “Campbellian Competent,” myself. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize writers on both counts — Campbellian Competent characters can be lazily constructed and boring as hell, just as Mary Sues are painful to read in their own way. I’d just suggest critics actually try to parse the difference. It’d be more useful to readers, and I know it would annoy me less.

Why I So Infrequently Wear a Bowler Hat

Because I’m about 30 years too old to pull off the “adorable street urchin” look, that’s why.

Photo by my friend Doselle, who I suspect the bowler hat would have looked much better on. Bowler hat via my pal Brian, who in fact it did look better on. It takes a special sort of man to work a bowler hat, basically, and I am clearly not he.

Here it Comes

Big storm on its way – well, the leading edge is already here, because snow is falling. We’re expecting between five and eleven inches of snow, which is, for those of you not up on these things, quite a bit for a single day (Canadian and Alaskans — yes, yes, we know. You laugh at our wimpiness, etc. Fine). Basically, if you’re anywhere in the Midwest or the East coast above Washington DC, now’s the time to hit the supermarket. Tomorrow you might not be able to get out of your house. I have no doubt my daughter will see this as a feature rather than a bug.

The Big Idea: Carrie Vaughn

Werewolves and radio talk shows? Who’da thought they would be two great tastes that go great together? Carrie Vaughn, that’s who, and a good thing that she did. She’s taken that idea an parlayed it into the New York Times bestselling “Kitty Norville” series, in which a lycanthropic radio host has all sorts of wild adventures. The latest in the series, Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand, has just hit the shelves, and in this Big Idea piece, Vaughn explains how the real world informs her fantasy world — and how deciding which of two worlds is the weirdest is not always such an easy thing.

CARRIE VAUGHN:

I write a series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged.  Your vampire boyfriend’s a pain in the neck?  Call Kitty.  That’s pretty much the bedrock idea for the series.  I figured if vampires and werewolves really did exist, the conventional radio psychologists like Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil wouldn’t have a clue how to handle their problems.  They needed their own show.

At first, I didn’t think this idea was all that big.  I figured it was good for maybe a short story.  When the first short story ended up being 10,000 words long, I should have known something was up.  I managed to whittle that first story down and sold it to Weird Tales.  But a few years later, I got a novel out of it.  And several more short stories.  And several more novels.  I just handed in the seventh.

Kitty’s radio show turned out to be the perfect platform to examine any topic I wanted.  One part of the current wave of urban fantasy novels is asking the question, what would all this magic look like in the real world?  What if there really were vampires, werewolves, witches, oh my?  I’ve taken that question seriously.  I’ve had Senate hearings on the supernatural, an evangelical faith healer who claims to cure vampirism, vampire night shift clerks, a punk band that really is playing the devil’s music, a Broadway star who seems ageless because, well, she is (and she doesn’t do matinees).  I’ve made it my mission to scrape the bottom of the pop culture barrel and squish the result through a supernatural filter.  Wait till you see the reality TV show I cooked up.  With Kitty’s radio show as a backdrop, I can make anything fit.  And Kitty, my inquisitive and chatty main character, who at heart is an average person just trying to make her way in the world (So what if she’s a werewolf?  Everyone has issues), is a great point of view through which to explore.  I still haven’t run out of ideas:  I want to tackle Iraqi war vets who are also werewolves, have an international conference of scientists studying the paranormal, show the Filipino vampires that suck fetuses from the bellies of pregnant women, and I’ve decided I must include the Monkey King someday.  Because how cool would that be?

I set the fifth book, Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand, in Las Vegas and barely had to make anything up.  There really is a production show called “Bite,” featuring a cast of “vampires.”  Who knew?  And of course I traveled to Vegas.  All in the name of research.  A-hem.

I’m very glad I did.  These days, researching a novel’s location isn’t that hard.  You can find just about anything you need on the internet or even (gasp) in a book.  You don’t have to travel to a location you don’t know to find out about various neighborhoods, the popular coffeehouses, or where the drug deals happen.  Google Earth can help you feel like you’re really there, even when you’re not.  But you don’t travel to a place to learn the facts.  You travel to learn what no one thought to put in a book.  How else would I have learned about the roving packs of bachelorette parties?  (Very easy to spot:  look for the groups of twenty-something women in short skirts and high heels.  The one in the middle will be wearing a plastic tiara with a veil.  I counted twelve of these gangs in one night.)

Then there’s the Sirens of TI.

One of the scenes in Dead Man’s Hand depicts a sexy stage show.  I thought I had it pretty far on the edge.  Then I saw the Sirens of TI.  A bit of background:  the Treasure Island Casino has a lagoon and pirate ship out front.  Pretty cool.  Ten years ago, when Vegas was in its “family friendly” promotional phase, the pirate ship was the centerpiece of a slam-bang action adventure pyrotechnic show, with lots of sword fighting and cannon fire, totally free, right on the Strip.  Then Vegas realized that family friendly wasn’t selling and “what happens in Vegas” was.  So Treasure Island revamped its pirate show.  It now features lots of women in “pirate” outfits (assuming pirates wear short shorts and push-up bras) bumping and grinding.  The story (yes, there’s a story):  the cabin boy of a more conventional ship has fallen overboard and swims to a mysterious, ghostly ship.  He climbs aboard — and is suddenly accosted by the Sirens, a dozen buxom women swinging and dancing their way across the ship.  They don’t like trespassers, so they capture the cabin boy, tie him to the mast, and…punish him.  And that’s just the beginning.

My sheltered upbringing betrayed me at last.  I realized the scene in my book wasn’t nearly edgy enough, so I added whips and chains.  Like I said, at this rate I’m never going to run out of ideas because reality just keeps producing more.

—-

Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel here. Visit Carrie Vaughn’s blog here. Read the very first Kitty story, “Doctor Kitty Solves All Your Love Problems,” here.

Patience: Not Very 2009

Is it just me, or is what’s coming out of various political circles something like the following –

“Obama: He’s been in office almost a week. So why isn’t everything better already?”

– with the subtext being that if the man hasn’t solved everything in the first 100 hours, his administration is clearly a failure.

To which I have to say: Dudes. Expectation management is your friend. People are still finding their offices. Certainly it makes sense for, say, Fox News to act like we’re all going to die a horrible death at the hands of the swarthy as of 12:01 pm January 20, but everyone who isn’t in fact suckling from Rupert Murdoch’s withered, reactionary grandpa teats or otherwise engaged in banally predictable conservative panic might want to consider taking a run through shady glens, hugging a box full of kittens, swilling down an Xanax smoothie or whatever it is they need to do to relax and let the man and his administration get up to speed. And it’s not like they haven’t already been busy enough.

So please: Calm. You will have at least four whole years with the man and his administration. Give him at least a couple of weeks to settle in before accusing the lot of them of slacking off on the job. It’s just a thought.

21st Century Vroom

At the reading Mary Robinette Kowal and I did in San Francisco, one member of the audience was wearing a Tesla Motors T-Shirt, and in conversation he mentioned he wasn’t just wearing it as an affectation, he really did work at Tesla Motors. At which point I used my Jedi mind tricks to get him to give me a Tesla Roadster. And lo, it worked, because this was waiting for me when I came back from (ironically) Detroit this weekend:

Excellent. Mind you, the intended scale of the car is a little off, but I blame that on my sloppy Jedi mind skills more than anything else. Athena asked what it was, and I said “It’s an electric motor sports car,” to which she said “Cool, can I have it?” To which I said, “Get in line.” We weren’t talking about exactly the same car in that short conversation, you understand.

While I’m unlikely in the immediate future to get a real Tesla Roadster, I have to say I’m delighted to finally be in a place and time where a car like the Roadster exists — i.e., an actual electric car that isn’t the automotive equivalent of eating bran in the morning. It’s doing more for the argument of weaning ourselves off our pathetic addiction to burning petroleum products than an entire army of Ed Begley, Jrs. could ever do. An entirely electric car may not be my next automobile purchase, but I’d bet a lot of money it’ll be the car purchase after that. And maybe then I’ll be able to afford the Roadster. A boy can dream.

In any event: Thanks, Greg, for a shiny new car.

The Complete “John and Mary Show You Their Shorts”

Flickr photo by Bluesilver
Flickr photo by Bluesilver

John Nichols, who recorded my and Mary Robinette Kowal’s reading at Borderlands Books on January 16th, has thoughtfully chopped up the audio files of the performance into the individual stories and events, thus keeping me from having to do so myself, for which he wins my eternal gratitude. So for those of you who are interested, here are the links to the whole event. Each link will take you to Mr. Nichol’s site, where the audio will stream for you, with the exception of “The PetMaster 2000,” which I posted here earlier as a downloadable file.

The Performance

Denise Jones, Super Booker” (Read by both of us)
Nails in my Feet” (Mary)
Missives From Possible Futures #1: Alternate History Search Results” (Me)
Trip, Trap, Tripping” (Mary)
The State of Super Villainy” (Read by both of us)
Evil Robot Monkey” (Mary)
The PetMaster 2000” (Science Fiction comedy improv from the both of us)

Before & After

Pre-show chatter (~20 minutes)
Post-show Q&A (~25 minutes)

Extras

Encore chatter/Kodi doesn’t miss me
KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

Thanks once again to John Nichols for recording and posting these. It was a heck of a lot of fun, and I’m glad those of you who weren’t there get a chance to listen to it.

Also, if you click on the picture above, it will take you to an entire photo set of the evening, taken by Flickr user Bluesilver. Also much fun.

Fame, of a Twisted Sort

You know you are of some strange level of notability when not only does your cat Twitter, but so does your ego.

For the record, I write neither of those. I have no idea who does. I do assume it’s not really my cat or my ego, however. I think I would know.