Monthly Archives: January 2009

These Are the Fast Times

I’ve spent the last month or so pretty much obsessively listening to Fast Times at Barrington High by The Academy Is… and I’ve come to the conclusion it’s my favorite album of the last year or so. Not because it’s the best album I’ve heard in the last year — although it’s pretty damn fine emo-slathered power pop, and I have nothing bad at all to say about that – but because it’s simply brilliant at doing one thing: Distilling the entire senior year of high school into 12 tracks and 44 minutes. It starts at the beginning of the academic year, ends just before everyone heads to college (or doesn’t) and gets it all right, provided that you were a semi-dweeby, semi-outcast privileged-yet-drama-ridden suburban teenager that I certainly was and one suspects TAI band members were as well (TAI members William Beckett and Adam Siska actually went to Barrington High, located in a Chicago suburb that’s one of the wealthiest in the country — John Hughes territory, basically).

Now, it would be easy and simplistic to say that the reason I’m digging on this album is that I’m staring down the barrel of my 40th birthday and thus beginning my own mid-life crisis, which begins with me getting all moony and nostalgic about my own evaporating youth and ends some indeterminate time later with me tossing a travel bag into my newly-purchased sports car and driving to The Condo of Imminent Divorcement, from which I will call that 22-year-old Appleby’s waitress I threw my marriage away for and wonder why she prefers to go out with her friends on Friday night rather than watching Tivo’d episodes of The Daily Show with me. But fortunately for me — and thank God – that’s not what it is. For one thing, Krissy would keep the sports car. For another, dude, I actually remember my high school years. In detail. Don’t need to do that again, thanks. I needed them and wouldn’t have missed them, but the fact is, I’m having more fun now. If the tradeoff is that I have to be 40 for it, well, so be it. Believe it or not, kids, there are worse things.

No, the reason I’m digging on the album is because I’m almost 40, and listening to this album from that perspective is fundamentally different than the experience I would have with it if I were seventeen, or that a current seventeen-year-old would have it. They’re living this album, or some similar, consonant experience, while I’m looking back on it — and feeling a little sad about it. Not because I wish I could go back to it, but because I wish I could tell the characters in the album (and the teenagers listening to it) that things actually do get better from there. Eventually all the drama subsides, you figure out yourself and others, and you go on in life. Listening to the album, in other words, is for me like visiting the old neighborhood, remembering everything that happened there, looking at the kids living there now and seeing yourself and your friends in them, and then going back where you live now and being glad for everything that got you there.

Now, will you have the same experience with the album? I would suspect not, since you’re not me and don’t have the particulars of my life going on in yours. Be that as it may, I do recommend giving Fast Times at Barrington High a listen and seeing how you bounce off of it. At the very least, you’ll have an enjoyable emo-pop experience. And it’s possible you’ll get more out it, like I did. But no matter what, there are far worse ways to spend 44 minutes, and an entire senior year.

Oh, Great

We ran out of cat food last night, so this morning, for the first time ever, my wife fed the cats tuna, which as we all know is the feline equivalent of crack cocaine. So now that cats are tearing around the house hopped up on fish oils, fighting with each other (see above) and taunting the dog, who, to her credit, just looks wounded that the cats would treat her so. And when we do get around to getting them cat food again, I just know they’re going to peer into the bowl and then look at us as if to say what is this shit? and then they’ll steal my laptop to score some primo ahi. Basically, this is not going to end well.

People: For the love of all that’s holy in this world, don’t start your cats on tuna. And if you’ve started, just stop. Watching your little furbuddy go through yellowfin withdrawal, well. It’s just heartbreaking. And now I have to do it with three cats simultaneously. It’s going to be a long weekend.

My Inner Fifth Grader Says This is the Best NYT Article Ever

An article on easily misinterpreted place names in the UK:

In the scale of embarrassing place names, Crapstone ranks pretty high. But Britain is full of them. Some are mostly amusing, like Ugley, Essex; East Breast, in western Scotland; North Piddle, in Worcestershire; and Spanker Lane, in Derbyshire.

Others evoke images that may conflict with residents’ efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs.

These include Crotch Crescent, Oxford; Titty Ho, Northamptonshire; Wetwang, East Yorkshire; Slutshole Lane, Norfolk; and Thong, Kent.

Like I said: Best. Article. EVAR.

Oh, stop looking at me like that. I’m the guy who did a chapter-long fart joke. This is right up my alley. That said, the New York Times is getting a little saucy in the digital era, it seems.

Book Notes; Big Idea & Book Haul Information

Various notes relating to things of a book-like nature:

1. Sent from my agent yesterday: The German version of The Android’s Dream, and the Russian version of The Last Colony. I’m particularly pleased by the Russian cover art, which now appears at least tangentially related to what’s going on in the book; I don’t know if it’s original artwork or not, however. I would also note the German version of TAD is substantially thicker than its English-language counterpart; German is not a compact language. Also in the picture: The “little sister” figurine given to me by my friend Dawn, who works at the videogame company that made BioShock. Athena’s comment upon seeing it: “Wow, that’s really creepy. Can I have it?” The little sister is currently guarding the Hugo. Get near it, and she’ll call a big daddy. And frankly, I’d like to see that.

2. Various authors have either inquired about or sent hopeful essays for the Big Idea feature. So to be clear: Yes, I’m still doing them, and yes, please feel free to inquire about them. I do recommend not writing up a Big Idea unless I’ve given you the go ahead, since in fact at the moment I don’t take every request and I’d hate for you to do work for no result. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. For those of you who sent in Big Idea inquiries in the last week, I have them and will get back to you in the next couple of days. Also in relatively short order I’ll have some announcements about Big Ideas in a larger sense. Don’t worry, they’re not going away. I’ll just be fiddling a bit.

3. It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of the Book Haul features, in which I crow about the books that get sent to me while you all yearn to pummel me for it. Oddly enough, this is apparently a popular feature, since I get a lot of folks asking for it, so I’m going to make an effort to do more of them in the coming weeks and months, contingent on, you know, publishers sending along books. I’ll get on that starting next week, I think.

More on Science Fiction That’s Not

Just for kicks and giggles, over at the AMC column, I’m taking another swing at when a movie is a science fiction film and when it is not: Why, for example, Moonraker is a science fiction film, but the other Bond films with laser-bearing satellites are not. Because, you know. We don’t argue about this stuff enough already. Incidentally, if you do want to argue about this stuff some more, you know the comment thread is waiting for you over on there on the other side. And not just waiting for you. It’s yearning for you.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Science Fiction Comedy Improv!

Photo by Bluesilver on Flickr
Photo by Bluesilver on Flickr

As many of you know, last Friday Mary Robinette Kowal and I did a reading at Borderlands Books in San Francisco, in which we read a number of our short pieces, mostly humorous, and generally had a pretty good time. What you may not know is that in addition to reading, we tried something fairly dangerous, namely, science fiction comedy improv. Yes, that’s right, as a special treat/punishment for the folks who came out, Mary and I came up with an idea and ran with it, and tried to make it funny. Because we’re insane like that.

How did it go? Well, you’re about to find out, because below you’ll find the streaming audio for what we came up with, “The PetMaster 2000.” Mary plays a woman whose science fictional home technology has gotten a little out of control, and I play the rather notably unhelpful customer service representative she has the misfortune of contacting. We had fun, in any event, and it seems the audience did too. At least, at the time it seemed like they were laughing with us, not at us. Which is what you want.

The original audio was recorded by John Nichols, who brought the digital recording device you see in the picture above (behind Ripley, the Borderlands Books hairless cat). He’s got the entire appearance, which was something like 2½ hours including pre- and post- chatter, over on his site, and at some point I’ll chop the whole thing up into reasonable-sized chunks and post the mp3s here. But in the meantime I’d like to thank him for bringing his recorder and kindly providing me with the files. He rocked for doing so, and in general our audience rocked for coming out and making Mary and me feel like rock stars through the entire performance.

Anyway: Science Fiction Comedy Improv! Enjoy.

The PetMaster 2000

(Clicking will open the file in your browser (provided it can handle mp3s), or you can right-click to save the file. Yes! Save it! Forever! Give it to your children! And their children! And so on.)

Open Letter to the Scraggly-Bearded Dude in the Concert Tee Who Stood in Front of Me in the Line for the Airplane Yesterday

Dude:

Reeking of skunkweed and hasty lavatory wiping is no way to go through life. I’m just saying. I pity the poor bastard who had to sit next to you for three and a half hours. It must have been like having a coach seat in Willie Nelson’s outhouse.

So, seriously, dude: Before you subject anyone else to your (literally) crappy pot-smoking ass, air out and take a second pass with the TP wad. It’s really not too much to ask.

Thank you for your attention.

Part of the Family

An interesting article in the New York Times about the diversity of the families to which the First Family belongs:

The family that produced Barack and Michelle Obama is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. They speak English; Indonesian; French; Cantonese; German; Hebrew; African languages including Swahili, Luo and Igbo; and even a few phrases of Gullah, the Creole dialect of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Very few are wealthy, and some — like Sarah Obama, the stepgrandmother who only recently got electricity and running water in her metal-roofed shack — are quite poor.

The article notes the First Family is more diverse than most families, and it is, although I wonder if it is in fact substantially more diverse. My own extended family has white, Hispanic and black members, Christians and non-believers, straights and not-so-straights, poor and well-off, college graduates and those who didn’t finish high school, liberals and conservatives, and so on and so forth. Diversity happens, simply as a consequence of people being people, to whom one just happens to be related.

To be sure, the Obama-Robinson family overachieves in the diversity area as they appear to do in so many things. Damn overachievers! But it’s an issue of degree, not kind. As the article suggests, this is the direction we’re headed. I can’t see a problem with this, personally. Look where it’s gotten the Obamas.

Quick Pop-in

More coming later in the day when I have some real work done, but first: Notes!

* First, hey, I made it home. And it’s good to be here. For three days, after which I travel again. Sigh.

* After a week of working off my Acer netbook, my desktop monitor looks like a stadium Jumbotron. It’s awesome.

* I have a little more than a week’s worth of mail to wade through, which I will try to do today and tomorrow. I’ll do my usual Obligatory Mail Post when I’m done with that, signaling you if you’ve not heard from me and wanted to that you may resend. Please don’t until then.

* Yes, I watched the inauguration, and yes, I teared up. For a couple of reasons, which you can probably figure out. Then I walked about saying “Happy New President Day!” to people. That said, my feeling at the moment is: Congratulations, Mr. President. Now get to work.

* I’m very disappointed that in the previous comment thread, people spent so much time feeding the troll. Really, people: Haven’t I trained you better at this point? Do you really need me to be here and moderate every thread? When someone comes in brandishing several of the Troll Playing Cards™ and slaps them down on the conversational table, don’t you know to walk away? It’s the three-card monte of online conversation: no matter what you say, the troll wins. Please leave trolls alone, won’t you? Even when I’m away? I would appreciate it. Thank you.

Now, off to catch up on some stuff. See you all a little bit later.

New Day

Two things of great importance to me happen today:

1. We get a new President.

2. I get to go home and see and my family.

I understand that one of these might be of less importance to you. I’m okay with that.

Enjoy the day, people. Celebrate the possibilities we have, ready yourself for the hard work we have to do, and tell the people you love that you’re glad they’re with you.

I’ll see you all on the other side.

Click

Look! My very first concert cell phone picture! Now I’m as cool as a high school sophomore! That’s Jonathan Coulton, by the way. He was excellent. And I got a fudge cake thrown to me by Paul and Storm. You can’t beat that.

And that’s all I’ve got, because I just walked up Mason and I think I’m gonna die. Night, all.

From the Live Show

Wanted to come to the Scalzi/Kowal event last night at Borderlands Books but were kept away by rampaging toads? Or whatever? Well, here’s a portion of the evening, from Pip Lagenta, who was there (I mean, obviously). It’s of me reading my piece “Alternate History Search Results.” Stay ’til the end, there’s a tracking shot of how many people showed up.

If you want the higher definition version of this clip, it’s here, and just remember to click on the “Watch in High Quality” link. Also, for future reference, I have audio recordings of the whole evening, which I will post at some point in the near future, when I have access to my audio editing suite. Figure some time next week.

Thanks, Pip!

An Evening at Borderlands

Holy crap, what a great time Mary and I had at Borderlands Books tonight. The placed was packed, and I mean packed – they had to wheel out some of the bookselves to fit in all the people who were there — and the audience was just fabulous, and totally into it. Mary and I performed a couple of pieces together, and then each of us read individual pieces, and then we finished up with with a bit of science fiction comedy improv which was a big ol’ hit, if I do say so myself. Seriously, I think it’s the most fun I’ve had at a reading, and I usually have a lot of fun. I’m still riding the high from it.

To everyone who showed up tonight, thanks so much for coming out; you really helped make tonight a truly fantastic time. And especially thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal, who is a spectacular person to share an event with. I can’t say enough about how much damn fun it is to work with her. It wouldn’t have been half as much fun if it had just been me.

Man! What fun. And now I’m going to sleep. Which is good too.

The Big Idea: Charlie Huston

Hey kids! I’m stuck in meetings all day long (seriously, from about 8:30 to 6), but that’s no reason why you shouldn’t be having fun. And to help you have fun, here’s neo-noir master Charlie Huston to entertain you with tales of The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, his latest thriller, and to explain just what a certain beloved 70s television show which always started with a phone message has to do with anything. Incidentally, the critics are seriously digging on this book and on Huston; Publishers Weekly’s starred review of the book called the dude “one of his generation’s finest and hippest talents.” That’s not a bad way to start one’s day, if you’re him.

And now: Enjoy this. And think of me fondly (or with pity, either works) as I spend all day in meetings, won’t you? Thanks.

CHARLIE  HUSTON:

“The Rockford Files.”

Really, it’s that simple.

The big idea behind The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death (Hey, can I squeeze in a note to any novelists or prospective novelists out there? Sure I can. Just a thought, but if you’re ever, you know, thinking about giving your book a really long title, take into consideration that fact that you will likely have to write out the entirety of that title many, many, many fucking times. No shit, it gets annoying. Just saying.) was “The Rockford Files.”

Yes, my big idea was over thirty years old, and belongs to Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins. Oops. Caught red handed, stealing other writers’ ideas.

In scholarship they call it plagiarism.

In fiction they call it genius.

Bonus points to me for realizing I am no genius and that I would need the genius of others to disguise my many shortcomings.

So, the Big Idea went something like this.

(internal monologue)

Man, these books I’m writing are both very violent and very dark. And though people often talk about how funny they are, they don’t feel at all funny to me. In fact, I’d kind of like to write something that felt a little lighter. Something where the protagonist’s life is not disemboweled, the entrails dragged over hot coals, and dined upon by feral beasts. I’d maybe like to write something about someone’s life coming together instead of coming apart. And, hey, what if I gave myself a break and didn’t kill half the cast. So I could maybe reuse them in future books or something? And, hey, what if I used past tense, so the narrator could comment on the action, you know, breathe and observe and say something? And, hey, what if the guy wasn’t tough, was wrong as often as he was right, was really funny but couldn’t keep his mouth shut, had a real low-rent lifestyle and kind of liked it that way and…You know what show was really great when you were a kid, Charlie? “The Rockford Files” was a really great show. What if…

Yes, it’s more complicated than that. You don’t just pull an old favorite out of your ass, refashion it, and presto! Big Idea for a new book! There is actual labor involved. Curses.

This vague idea I had, slacker guy hanging out in his friend’s tattoo parlor finds his way into some trouble, kind of sorts it out, and over the course of a couple books becomes a detective kind of guy, and it’s all sort of modeled around my love of “The Rockford Files,” sat in my brain for several years. Waiting.

I mentioned it a few times to both my agent and my editor and they both grunted and said something along the lines of, “It could use some filling out.” Which I get where they were coming from. I just knew the tone. The kind of guy I wanted to write about.

Things started filling in.

I moved to LA and knew it was an LA book. OK, yes, “The Rockford Files” was set in Los Angeles, so it’s not like that’s a real creative leap. But all my previous books had been set in NYC, so it was new for me.

Then, I don’t know, then I was researching something. Can’t remember what, and I stumbled over an article about crime scene and trauma cleaning. Well, that was too evocative to pass up, I needed to know more. And I very quickly knew what my guy would be doing. He’d be a trauma cleaner. He’d start the book doing nothing, get drawn into trauma cleaning, get into some trouble, get out, and go into the detective thing for future books.

Except.

Except the deeper I looked into trauma cleaning, the more it took over.

It’s a sad, rich, funny, brutal, fascinating profession. Full of opportunities for intrigue, compassion, lurid scenarios, heartbreak, and maggots.

I couldn’t pull out of it.

So that was my guy. A trauma cleaner who gets involved in other people’s troubles, and solves them. Sort of. Or not at all. As things go along people may mistake him for a detective, and he may mistake himself for a detective, and he may be hired to do detecting work, but that’s not really his thing. His thing is cleaning up messes. As the books evolve, so will he, and he’ll go from being a mess himself, to a man with a talent for cleaning them up. Except when he blows it.

Or that’s my idea. Which could change. And probably will.

-c

PS

I met Mr. Cannell a few months back. I didn’t have the guts to tell him I ripped him off, but I did thank him for Rockford. An idea big enough to be used many more times than once.

—-

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Mystic Arts here. Sample other Charlie Huston books electronically here.

Room With a View; Reading Reminder & Request

First, the view out my hotel window:

It doesn’t suck.

Second, yet another reminder to folks that the fantabulous Mary Robinette Kowal and I will be at Borderlands Books tomorrow at 7pm for an evening we’re calling “John & Mary Show You Their Shorts.” We’re reading mostly humorous short fiction we’ve written, although the way we’re planning to do it, it’ll be as much performance as reading — and, to reward the folks who actually do show up, we’re doing something very cool and original and special. How cool? How original? How special. So cool and original and special that I’m not going to tell you what it is here. You’re just going to have to show up to find out. But I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. We’re going to have fun, people. You know you want in on this.

Also: hey, could someone bring, like, a mike and a computer or something? We kind of want to have a record of this, and we both stupidly left our podcast-quality apparatus at home. Thanks.

Anyway: Tell me you’re going to be there. It won’t be the same without you, man.