Monthly Archives: February 2009

What’s “The Scalzi Rule”?

At the Potlach science fiction convention, they’re having a panel about “The Scalzi Rule” — which was a bit of a surprise to me, since I didn’t know there was a “Scalzi Rule,” and if there is one, what it might possibly be. As it turns out, it relates to this, regarding audience participation at SF con panels.

However, Cheryl Morgan says:

You see, this rule seems really quite tame for John. If there is going to be something called “The Scalzi Rule”, surely it should be a bit more, well, ferocious?

Oh, I agree.

Cheryl is opening up her comment thread for people to formulate new and better/bitchier “Scalzi Rules,” so if you want to play along, here’s where to go. To make sure participation goes there and not here, I’m closing comments. So, go on and play, and don’t worry about being nice (to me, that is; be nice to Cheryl, ’cause she’s cool).

The Big Idea: Daniel Fox

To wrap up this Week O’ Big Ideas, here’s Daniel Fox with Dragon in Chains. They say travel broadens the mind, but for Fox it did rather more than that: It gave him an idea and an inspiration to write about the place to which he’d traveled, one that in this case has paid off with no less than a starred review in Publishers Weekly (“Where many Western authors try and fail to capture the nuances of Chinese culture and mythology, this melodious tale quietly succeeds”). But just as no journey is a straight line, so was Fox’s literary journey full of turns and twists. Here he is with a map of his travel.

DANIEL FOX:

Like so many good things, it came entirely out of the blue, and not strictly to me: an invitation for a Newcastle writer to spend time on a residency in Taipei.

It was very short notice, though, and just before Christmas. Most writers in Newcastle have families or jobs or other commitments, and weren’t free to just drop everything and go.

Me, I just dropped everything and went.

To be honest, I only took it because I didn’t want to be the kind of person who turns such chances down. I never was much of a traveler, except in my head where it doesn’t count; going halfway round the world on my own was too big a step to be comfortable. Especially not knowing what waited, what was expected of me. A residency might mean anything…

In this instance, it was like no residency I’d ever heard of. I was collected at the airport by charming young people with uncertain English and absolute attitudes. And cameras. They preserved my image for the record, then swept me away to a leather-lined limousine. They’d take me to my hotel, they said, but only to deposit my bags; I was due at a press conference instantly. I protested – all I wanted was a shower and a bed; I was grimy and exhausted, I’d been awake for thirty-six hours and stood no chance of making sense to the press, even if I’d known what I was there for – but they were insistent.

My hotel turned out to be the Ritz, which made me blink even harder than the limousine had; this is not normal fare for itinerant writers. The press conference was in a restaurant, and once we’d squeezed past the journos and the photographers and the TV cameras, I found myself at a table with a dozen other writers from all over the world, from Guatemala and Canada and Korea.

It wasn’t really a residency at all, it was a symposium. Or not even that, more a PR opportunity. For Taiwan, not for us. Its global position is so peculiar – functionally a separate state, legally still a province of China, diplomatically unrecognized except by a stubborn handful – it’s always looking for sidelong ways to improve international relations. All they wanted from us was a couple of public appearances, endless photo ops for internal consumption, and finally that we should go away and write nice things about Taipei. In return, they kept us in luxury, ferried us everywhere, paid for everything and gave us pocket-money on the side.

I had – surprise! – a wonderful time. The far east has been a fixation, almost a fetish all my life (I blame my mother: who was born in Rangoon, grew up in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, talked about it just enough to feed a boy’s fevered imagination); now I was playing in the real thing, and finding it utterly unlike anything I’d imagined. Or indeed anything my mother had described, with seventy-odd years between her experience and mine.

But I was also very aware that I was seeing a heavily filtered version, isolated by money and ignorance, by privilege and adept PR. I needed to go back: which I did a few months later, sleeping on my interpreter’s floor and meeting the city again through her contacts and my own wanderings. I walked everywhere, I deliberately walked myself off the map. I’ve never felt more alien or more lost, in a city where I couldn’t even read the maps.

I ached to write about it, but I wasn’t at all ready. I nearly stayed; there was a house for rent, twenty minutes outside the city, in the mountains, overlooking the rice paddies on one side and the ocean on the other. Six months rent, two grand. I did so nearly stay. But I have cats…

Home again, I started Mandarin lessons and a book collection. I knew already what I wanted to do: I wanted to write about Taiwan since the arrival of Chiang Kai-Shek and the KMT, after they were driven from the mainland. Partly it was that classic image of the tiny island bristling at the vast mainland, bristling with weapons; partly it was the experience of the native Taiwanese, invaded by a vast northern army and living under military dictatorship. Marry those two together, and there’s a novel. But I’m a fantasist, I have small interest in mimetic fiction. I wanted to recast the story into feudal China first – an emperor in flight, the dynasty at hazard – and then into imagination, put magic in jade and a dragon in the strait.

It was six years before I was ready to start writing. And then, of course, the characters claim the story and take it in unexpected directions; so no, there is no one-to-one mapping between the actual events – or, indeed, the country – and the novel. There was never meant to be. I couldn’t pretend to represent the complexities of another culture after a few years’ distant study, and I wasn’t interested in reproducing the history under a cloak. Again, that distaste for the mimetic – I’d always rather make stuff up. So I took no notes and let the research slide largely out of my head, just to work with the traces that lingered.

It’s about impressions, not descriptions. Tolkien famously denied any allegorical significance to The Lord of the Rings, which was perhaps disingenuous; it would be equally disingenuous in me to assert any particular allegorical significance to Dragon in Chains. Any book belongs at the last to itself, and needs to subsist alone and unsupported. But the roots of this one lie absolutely in those trips, that history and my own susceptibility. All fiction is autobiography; we give ourselves away on every page.

—-

Dragon in Chains: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt from Dragon in Chains here. Visit Daniel Fox’s LiveJournal here.

Nebula Award Nominees, 2009

It’s that time again. Here are this year’s nominees for the Nebula Awards, one of the two big awards in SF (the other, of course, being the Hugo):

Novels

Little Brother – Doctorow, Cory (Tor, Apr08)
Powers - Le Guin, Ursula K. (Harcourt, Sep07)
Cauldron - McDevitt, Jack (Ace, Nov07)
Brasyl - McDonald, Ian (Pyr, May07)
Making Money – Pratchett, Terry (Harper, Sep07)
Superpowers – Schwartz, David J. (Three Rivers Press, Jun08)

Novellas

“The Spacetime Pool” – Asaro, Catherine (Analog, Mar08)
“Dark Heaven” – Benford, Gregory (Alien Crimes, ed. Mike Resnick, SFBC, Jan07)
“Dangerous Space” – Eskridge, Kelley (Dangerous Space, Aqueduct Press, Jun07)
“The Political Prisoner” – Finlay, Charles Coleman (F&SF, Aug08)
“The Duke in His Castle” – Nazarian, Vera (Norilana Books, Jun08)

Novelettes

“If Angels Fight” – Bowes, Richard (F&SF, Feb08)
“Dark Rooms” – Goldstein, Lisa (Asimov’s, Oct/Nov 07)
“Pride and Prometheus” – Kessel, John (F&SF, Jan08)
“Night Wind” – Rosenblum, Mary (Lace and Blade, ed. Deborah J. Ross, Norilana Books, Feb08)
“Baby Doll” – Sinisalo, Johanna (The SFWA European Hall of Fame, ed. James Morrow & Kathryn Morrow, Tor, Jun07 )
“Kaleidoscope” – Wentworth, K.D. (F&SF, May07)

Short Stories

“The Button Bin” – Allen, Mike (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, Oct07)
“The Dreaming Wind” – Ford, Jeffrey (The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Viking, Jul07)
“Trophy Wives” – Hoffman, Nina Kiriki (Fellowship Fantastic, ed. Greenberg and Hughes, DAW Books, Jan08)
“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”- Johnson, Kij (Asimov’s, Jul08)
“The Tomb Wife”- Jones, Gwyneth (F&SF, Aug07)
“Don’t Stop” – Kelly, James Patrick (Asimov’s, Jun07)

Scripts

The Dark Knight – Nolan, Jonathan; Nolan, Christopher, Goyer, David S. (Warner Bros., Jul08)
WALL-E” Screenplay – Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter (Walt Disney June 2008)
The Shrine – Wright, Brad (Stargate Atlantis, Aug08)

Norton

Graceling – Cashore, Kristin (Harcourt, Oct08)
Lamplighter – Cornish, D.M. (Monster Blood Tattoo, Book 2, Putnam Juvenile, May08))
Savvy – Law, Ingrid (Dial, May08)
The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Pearson, Mary E. (Henry Holt and Company, Apr08)
Flora’s Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room) – Wilce, Ysabeau S.  (Harcourt, Sep08)

Congratulations to all the nominees — we’ll find out who won at Nebula Weekend, April 24-26,2009 in Los Angeles, California.

The Panic About Kindle’s Text to Speech: Still Silly

This article attempts to explain why my and some other authors’ sanguine attitude toward the new Kindle’s Text-to-Speech capability is misguided (or more, “right response, incorrect reasoning”); in essence the argument is that we’re only looking at how computerized voice reading sounds now, as opposed to how it will sound in the future, when it’ll be easy to instruct computers how to do inflections and all that.

This is a nice try, but, no.

1. First, on a personal, your mileage may vary note, it seems to me that people generally buy the audio version of a book or the text version, rather than both; personally speaking, as a writer I don’t generally expect someone to buy more than one version of my work in any event. So the “Oh noes! Since they have the Kindle version, they won’t buy the audio version!” concern is, shall we say, not high on my list of things to worry about.

2. Has it escaped the general notice of folks that the same company that is putting out the Kindle is also the same company that owns Audible.com? Yes, Amazon owns both, and I don’t really see the company trying to put one section of itself out of business with the other. Indeed, one of the things I would very surprised not to see at some point in the near future is Amazon doing a Kindle/Audible bundle: Say, buy the Kindle version of Zoe’s Tale and they’ll throw in the actual audiobook version for $10 or so, which would make the whole package about the same cost as a hardcover. Then if Amazon is actually really smart, they’ll find a way to do audio indexing, so you can highlight a word in the text and have the audiobook version pick up right from there. And so on. This works grandly for me, because then I get twice the royalties.

Yes, other eBook reader makers might also make text-to-speech capability, and they aren’t Amazon — but that said, I imagine if Amazon does this sort of bundling, other eBook sellers will find a way as well, and then the field is leveled again.

3. I understand geeks have unlimited faith in their ability to manipulate technology, but developing a computerized audio voice that actually delivers a performance rather than a recitation is not simply a matter of “how to emphasize certain words and phrases, probably through some kind of XML-based markup standard.” This is fairly unsophisticated way of looking at how language works, and in particular how it works in fiction, narrative and exposition. We authors are crafty types and we often use language in unexpected ways, and I doubt very seriously you could create software that would accurately discern correct intonation at all times, or even be able to tell when one person was talking in dialogue as opposed to another.

If you tried to build software that could heuristically appropriately discern what emphasis to put on what words where and when in all cases, as well as being able to differentiate between characters (and their own ways of inflection, intonation, speaking, etc) not only would the code base be HUGE, but in point of fact you would have developed some damn impressive AI, and I for one would welcome our new book-reading computer overlords. If this software couldn’t manage this task completely, or did it imperfectly, you’d be having an audio version of the Uncanny Valley, in which the “almost but not quite” nature of the audio performance would be self-defeating. I’m not sure there’s an interest in doing this in any event from any of the eBook companies, but particularly from Amazon, who has a direct interest in upselling another, superior audio product.

So that’s dealt with. But what if instead of trying to birth a book-reading AI you instead and somewhat more simply created markup related specifically to a work (say, a markup specifically meant to read Zoe’s Tale)? Well, then what you’ve got there is very definitely a derivative work, and you’ll hear from my lawyers. To my mind there’s a substantial difference between a computer voice reading text which a consumer has already purchased, which to my mind is not a derivative work, and a computer voice reading audio under directions specific to a work, which certainly is. Not to mention that this markup would be created by someone who is a computer programmer, whose skills, while no doubt formidable, are likely not to be consonant with the skills required to give a book an audio performance that sounds authentic.

The author of the article linked to above imagines wikis where people write “inflection scripts” for their favorite works, and while that’s certainlypossible, I also suspect the folks who would frequent those wikis are the same sorts who currenly frequent warez sites and the like; i.e., people who don’t buy things anyway and are sufficiently geekoidial that they’re happy to load their own scripts rather than have Amazon (or whichever seller) do it for a relatively modest fee. These aren’t most people, nor will be most people any time soon.

In either case there’s an easier and likely cheaper way to generate an audio file from a book that sounds and “feels” like a human: Give it to an actual human to perform, the performance of which is a derivative work.

In short: I’m not at all convinced that realistic and engaging computerized audio will be possible at any point in the near or even middle future without requiring a clear and obvious derivative work to generate it. When it is possible, I suspect AI will be at a point where it will also be able to generate actual novels, and then, of course, I will retire, to spend my remaining days being pleasured by my sexbots, until they plug me into the mainframe to use my brain cycles for sewage maintenance and I slip comfortably into the hive mind.

Naturally people are free to disagree with me on any of these points; that’s fine. Suffice to say for all the reasons above, I’m not in the least concerned about computerized text readings, in terms of how they affect my career or my rights.

Comrades! The Cake Ration Has Been Increased to 20 Grams!

Presented for your oooohing and aaaahing, the cake my daughter made, and, clearly, decorated, last night. It is helpfully subtitled so that you may know your appropriate response to it. Feel free to respond thusly at your leisure.

Your leisure begins NOW.

Also, the first person who comments “the cake is a lie!” or some variation thereof, will, in an action filled with rich, creamy, homophonic irony, get dissolved in a barrel of lye. That is all.

Perfect Timing

Delightfully apropos to yesterday’s entry on authors (and the entry on pissy fans a couple days before that), Patrick Rothfuss updates all and sundry on the status of his second novel.

Also, Justine Larbalestier refutes one of my assertions in yesterday’s entry, for which she will no doubt be punished by our robot overlords.

The Big Idea: Brian Evenson

On the list of “two great tastes that go together,” the genres “detective mystery” and “religious fiction” might not be on the top of your list of things to combine — but then, you’re probably not Brian Evenson, whose latest novel Last Days does just that, bringing a former detective together with a very odd cult for the purposes of giving you, the reader, a hell of a jolt. What caused Evenson to bend these genres around each other? Here he is to give you the clues.

BRIAN EVENSON:

Books for me tend to start with a series of small gnat-like ideas which, if I’m very lucky, develop into a swarm and then evolve into a big idea. Last Days started when I found the first Library of America American Noir volume in a used bookstore about ten years back. I read James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and thought “Why didn’t anyone tell me to read this before now?” I read a few more Cains then moved on to Chandler, Fearing, Highsmith and others, all the time thinking vaguely that I might write something. I was gathering and collecting gestures, moods, and ideas. Then I read Dashiell Hammett.

Chandler has become so much a part of popular culture that even if you haven’t read him, he feels familiar. The amazing thing about Hammett is that at his best he doesn’t feel familiar. There are moments in Red Harvest that are beautifully brutal, other moments that are quite stark, stripped down in a different way than Chandler. You get the sense that Hammett is making his genre up as he goes, that almost anything could happen, and that he’s not interested in pulling his punches. The other books were buzzing in my head, but Red Harvest was buzzing louder. Then the cult he creates in The Dain Curse started buzzing too. Those two books seemed to be calling out to me to do something of my own, but I still didn’t have my big idea.

Then I rediscovered Philip K. Dick, who I hadn’t read for years, and loved the way he grafted noir onto SF in things like A Scanner Darkly. I stumbled onto Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, with Occassional Music (which combines hardboiled fiction and SF) and re-read Peter Straub’s The Throat (which brings horror and the detective novel together). The buzzing was louder now. When I finaly sat down to write all those ideas whirling in my head started to organize themselves, gathering themselves into a bigger idea, something that synthesized Hammett, genre-bending fiction, and my own interest in religious extremism. The result was the novella “The Brotherhood of Mutilation.”

I published that, was happy with the results, but almost immediately I found that I wanted to continue on. Sometimes what you think is the big idea is just a step on the way to a bigger idea, and that’s what it felt like in this case. The bigger idea, though, took a few more years in coming. I’d kept reading noirs and crime fiction. Fredric Brown, Dan Marlowe, David Goodis, Jean-Patrick Manchette’s beautifully violent novels, and Richard Stark all were leading me toward the bigger idea. Then I saw Odd Nerdrum’s painting “One Story Singer.” And then two friends mentioned separately mentioned that Ludwig Wittgenstein’s brother Paul was a one-handed piano player and everything started to fall into place.

As a whole, Last Days explores questions of free will and choice. It’s the story of Kline, an ex-detective who has lost his hand, who comes to the attention of a religious cult. The cult is basically a Christian group with one very odd tenet: they take literally the statement in the New Testament “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.” They’re an amputation cult: you move closer to God by letting go of more and more of your physical body. Their belief, though very odd, is also very genuine.

Press-ganged into solving a crime whose details nobody seems to quite agree on, Kline finds himself quickly in over his head, trying to negotiate a set of social rules that are completely foreign to him. An outsider in the community, he’s always at risk. He might be free to act, but he might also be a pawn in a power play that he can’t quite see. He may be making choices that will allow him to escape or the very choices he’s making may be things that have been scripted for him so that his fall, when it comes, will be all the harder.

The first part of the book raises these questions; in the second half, these questions become even more fraught in that cult members seems increasingly convinced that every action Kline takes, no matter how crazy or unpredictable, is predestined to have occurred and is proof that he has a special role to play. As he tries to keep one step ahead of his own death, he also becomes increasingly worried that they might be right, that his actions aren’t free but rather foreordained, and that in acting has he does he’s ceasing to be human. But whether that means he’s becoming inhuman or divine is a question he and the cult members disagree on. “What does it mean to act?” Last Days asks, and where do our responsibilities lie? If our choices are limited are we still responsible for them? If our actions are predestined are they still really ours? And even if they are, can we still live with ourselves after what we, out of necessity or out of fear, feel that we have to do to stay alive?

—-

Last Days: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Last Days here (.pdf link).

10 Things to Remember About Authors

Because it appears someone needs to say these things out loud, some thoughts, for the consideration of readers, about authors, particularly novelists. Warning: This is long.

1. Authors aren’t machines: Which is to say, we do not reliably and through a purely mechanical process extrude Novel-Length Textual Product with Extra Added Plot and Character Flavors™ on a predictable schedule. Like all things that live, we do our thing imprecisely. Sometimes the novels come out regularly and uniformly; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the novels conform to our own expectations of what they should be; sometimes they come out malformed and need to be fixed before they can be sent out into the world. Sometimes they just don’t work at all and have to be tossed. Sometimes production is easy, sometimes it’s not.

Certainly many authors strive for predictable process, which is why so many of them block out a regular amount of time every day, and try to bang out a regular number of words a day. But working at a regular pace and time and with a regular amount of output does not mean that any individual novel will thereby come out on a predictable schedule. Some of those 500 or 1,000 daily words will be unusable; some of those will be spent rewriting other words; some of those words will be so great that it takes the novel in a new direction that the author has to follow to see where it leads, to the exclusion of finishing the novel on a schedule. Predictable process in this case does not necessarily lead to predictable output.

Corollary to the above:

2. Authors are human: Our brains, the organ we use to create our novels, are touchy and imprecise things. They get bored. They get confused. They lose track of plot and narrative threads. They think too much about some things, and not nearly enough about others. They are sometimes ambitious beyond their actual grasp. They are likewise sometimes tremendously poor estimators of their own capacity. Our brains, in short, are a hindrance as much as a help to us — as they are for all humans.

And like all humans, we authors are a vain and rationalizing group, wanting to look good to others and rationalizing when we do not perform to our own expectations or the expectations of others — and often doing a better job of rationalizing our failures than others, because, after all, we’re pretty good with that fiction thing, and what is rationalization but self-serving fiction? Like all humans we screw up and succeed in nearly equal measure, and hope merely that the screw-ups are smaller overall than the successes. As a class of human, we are not notably different than any other class of human, in terms of performance and behavior. Wish we were better (and more attractive!), but we’re not.

Because of the above, the next point naturally follows:

3. Authors have lives: Writing is not all we do. Many of us conned other people into becoming spouses or otherwise being significant others and are thus obliged to spend time interacting with them in a manner that hopefully fosters their inclination to continue said intimate relationship. Some of us, as a consequence of above, might have spawned and are thus obliged to contribute in ways material, intellectual and spiritual, to the development of such offspring. Some of us have even managed to create and maintain familiar association with others in a phenomenon known as “friendship” — which also requires tending.

Beyond these things, we authors also have some required and desired physical and mental activities. We need to eat, sleep, poop, (somewhat more rarely) exercise and (even more rarely, alas) get laid. We may also choose to pursue activities that have no immediate profitable purpose but which refresh our brains through amusement: Watching TV, playing sports, arguing with people about absolutely pointless things online, collecting stamps, traveling, attending conventions or conferences, staring at pictures of other nekkid people, and so on and so forth. Likewise, there are some things we would prefer not to do but have to anyway, like take out the trash, do the laundry, pay the bills, call up publishers/editors and ask where our damn money is, be civil to people we don’t like but have some reason not to say “kindly piss off, would you?” to, attend meetings or therapy, and so on. While none of these things is directly related to writing, it’s likely without doing them, our interest and/or capacity for writing might be in some way compromised.

And beyond these things are the “Life is a drunk driver and you’re the poor bastard pedestrian what just stepped into the crosswalk” items: Someone we love dies. Our day job disappears from under us. We get a divorce. We or someone we know develops a dependency. We get sick (and, if you’re a writer in the US, as a freelance person, likely have no health insurance). Not only does this kick us in the ass because we’re human, it kicks us in the ass because it’s hard to be creative/funny/interesting/engaged in writing when your world is falling apart around you. This isn’t asking for an extra dollop of sympathy. It’s pointing out that being creative often works best in congenial surroundings.

Following all that:

4. Authors frequently won’t tell you about the details of their lives: Which is to say sometimes when you’re wondering why that favorite author of yours is late with a book you’re expecting, you won’t get an explanation that, say, someone close to her is suffering from severe depression and she’s spending her time tending to them, or, say, that he’s decided that what he’s written is crap and he can’t in good conscience inflict it on his readers, or, say, that he’s spent the last nine months playing World of Warcraft and has now totally leveled out all his characters, which is good, but didn’t do any writing, which is, well, bad. And why won’t you get an explanation? Simple: Because it’s none of your damn business.

No, really, it’s not. Perhaps you think it is, but you’re wrong about that. Just as the particulars of your own life need not be discussed with anyone else not actively involved in it, so too are the particulars of an author’s life beyond your purview, unless the author chooses to share them with you (meaning, most likely, sharing with the public in a general sense). And even then you probably shouldn’t expect a full accounting of details, because authors, even the ones with blogs and active public presences, quite naturally decide where their public sphere ends and their private sphere begins.

And no, being a fan of an author’s books or series doesn’t count as being actively involved in that author’s life. You are actively involved with his or her books; that’s not even close to the same thing. Following the author’s blog/Twitter/Facebook page and even commenting there doesn’t get you into their lives either. As personable as an author can be, live, online or in his or her writing, personable is not the same as personal. Authors are under no obligation to keep you informed about things in their lives. It’s nice if they do, but it’s not required. Frankly, it shouldn’t necessarily be expected.

Intimately tied into this: Authors frequently won’t tell you the details of their business lives, either, for much the same reasons.

This is related to the following:

5. Authors do many things for many reasons: Let’s say your favorite author, rather than working on a novel you want him to release, instead decides to edit an anthology. You ask: What is this idjit thinking? I and many other fans are waiting for that novel! He could make so much more money by putting that novel out! What on earth could possibly motivate such a bonehead maneuver?

Off the top of my head, here are some reasons:

a) The author was contractually obliged to edit the anthology before he signed for the novel you’re waiting for.

b) The author has painted himself into a corner with the novel and needs time to think it through, and while doing that wants to keep himself busy and getting paid.

c) The author is bored writing the novel and needs to do something else, otherwise the completed novel will suck.

d) The author is using his name and influence to help out some fellow writers by editing an anthology, which will allow him to help their careers and throw some money their way.

e) The author is curious about this whole editing thing and wants to see what it’s like.

Or: some combination of two or more of the above reasons, or perhaps none of those reasons at all. Point is, what the author does and why he or she does it might not make sense to you, but makes perfect sense to the author. Why the disparity in opinion? Because you’re not the author, and per point 4, you’re likely not get a full explanation of his or her reasoning.

6. One author ≠ another author: Now, perhaps one of your favorite authors jams out a readable novel every six months (or every nine months, or every year, whatever).  If she can do that, why can’t this other author whose books you love do the same thing? Simple: Because they’re two entirely different people. They don’t have the same writing habits, the same writing process, the same life circumstances, the same business circumstances or even, likely, the same career goals and aspirations. They produce similar consumer objects (i.e., novels), but everything else is likely quite different.

Now, one thing to keep in mind here is that the publishing world, in general, tries to select for the writers who can produce good, competent prose on a more-or-less predictable schedule, because people follow authors and want more from their favorites, and publishing wants that pipeline filled. One side effect of this, naturally, is that bookstores are filled with authors who produce good, competent prose on a more-or-less predictable schedule. It does not mean, however, that every author does works this way, or can work this way, or should work this way if the quality of their work suffers because of it. The business practices and tendencies of the publishing industry, and the type of writer those practices and tendencies favor, shouldn’t be used by fans as an argument against the writer whose own schedule does not conform to them. Because, among other things:

7. One novel ≠ another novel: Even the novelists skilled at churning out prose fast enough to make their publishers happy have wide variances in the time it takes to finish one book and another. One novel might take five weeks to finish, another could take five months, or five years — or it might never get finished. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

Why the variance? Because some novels are harder than others, and because one’s life is never the same one novel-writing time to the next. A novel that might take an author three months to finish when nothing is distracting her might take her two years if she’s getting a divorce and trying to get her life back together. A novel that she blocked out six months to write might take two months if it suddenly all comes together in her head, and she races to get it on the page before she forgets how all the puzzle pieces fit together. The kicker is as a reader you might not be able to tell a five-week novel from a five-year novel; process doesn’t work that way.

This variance takes place not only from novel to novel but sometimes also within a series; very frequently the first few books of a series are kicked out in rapid order while the final books take longer. This is sometimes an artifact of the series’ world becoming more complex and the author having to keep track of more things; sometimes it might be an artifact of the author deciding not to rush; sometimes it’s an artifact of the author getting hit by a car. Beyond this there’s another salient fact:

8. Authors and their circumstances change over time: It may be the author who earlier in her career could bat out three novels in a year finds she’s only capable of one a year now, or vice-versa. It could be an author plans to write a whole lot of books now in order to build the sort of name that allows her to write at a more leisurely pace in the future. It could be that an author who has built her name writing in one genre gets bored with that genre and wants to write something else entirely. It could be an author decides that being an author is too much damn work for not nearly enough money and decides to do something else with her life. It could be that an author becomes so famous that she decides she no longer needs to be edited, even when she does. It could be whatever creative spark that animated an author to literary heights abandons her and everything else she does from that point is merely competent at best. It could be an author just stops caring — or decides to care about something so intently it colors everything she writes.

Authors change because they are people, and people change, even the ones who hardly seem to change at all (if nothing else, they get older). Most of this change from the reader point of view happens offstage, because your primary experience with the author is their books, but you’ll notice the change nonetheless. Expecting authors to stay constant, in terms of output, quality or novelty, is not necessarily the most realistic thing a reader can do, unless they genuinely feel they are exactly as they were five, ten, twenty or thirty years ago. In which case they might want to get a second opinion from someone a little less subjective.

When we talk of an author’s circumstances changing over time, incidentally, here is something else to remember:

9. Authors’ careers (and choices therein) are not always entirely under their control: An author can write a fantastic book no one ever reads because the publisher goes under before the book is published, or decides to promote another book more avidly, or because the book comes out the same day as a blockbuster hits and it gets swamped. An author can write two books in what becomes your favorite series only to be told by the publisher that they’re not selling, so the series is canceled. An author can write good books that sell well and still get dropped because the multinational his publisher is part of is trimming costs and his next book didn’t get its contract written up in time. Conversely, an author could write something he believes is a silly, pointless trifle, have it become unspeakably huge, and find himself with the really interesting position of being able to become really rich and famous… if he just keeps batting out more novels about something he doesn’t actually care about all that much, which will consume the biggest portion of his creative life.

Lots of stuff that happens in the careers of authors happens to them, with the author then maneuvering either to take advantage of it or to get out of its path of destruction. And while I pointed out events specific to an author above, sometimes it’s industry-wide events that happen, like a massive change in how books get distributed, or one of the big bookselling chains going under, or it’s global events, like recessions, wars or just some really big, stupid fad. Authors are subject to the same chain-yanks and unexpected events as everyone else; the difference is that these will have an effect on the books you were hoping to read. Sometimes there’s not much we can do about it. Sorry.

What does this lead up to? Simply this:

10. Keep all of the above in mind the next time you go snarking off on your favorite author for not jumping through your hoops. I’m not saying don’t snark; that would be like telling the tide not to come in, and besides, I’m the last person to tell people not to snark. I am saying to be aware that behind the books you read is a single person who is trying to bring you something worth reading, while also dealing with all the same basic crap you have to deal with, plus some extra crap that is specific to his or her chosen field.

Unlike in a lot of creative fields, we don’t get to farm out some or all of the creative work to someone else; we’ve got to deal with it ourselves. It’s a fair amount of work, particularly if you’re one of those authors who wants his or her readers to feel like they’ve gotten value for their money. Yes, some writers are lazy; yes, some are inveterate fiddlers who don’t know when something is done; yes, some writers are just basically screwed up, or hostile, or stoned or whatever. Most of them are trying to do a good job for you and get you something you’ll be glad to have read.

So, a small request. Before you lump an author who is not performing to your immediate expectations into the “slacktastic asstard” category, won’t you at least consider some of the above points? Just consider them, is all I’m asking. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, especially regarding someone you’re hoping will give you something good, and who, most likely, is hoping to do the same thing.

Why One Keeps Archives

Because seven years after I wrote it, “I Hate Your Politics” is at the moment the most visited part of the site. And in fact this does not surprise me at all; on any given day “Being Poor” or my writing advice to teens is probably in the top ten of entries visited here, and bacon cat is never far behind. Contrary to the popular opinion that everything written in a blog is evanescent, in point of fact, good material is visited constantly no matter its age, and the visitorship of Whatever’s archives have a significant effect on the site’s overall popularity. Call it Whatever’s Long Tail, if you like.

Why Star Wars in 3D?

In this week’s AMC column, I crawl into the brain of George Lucas (I know: eeeeew) and find out just why it is he intends to re-release the Star Wars films, this time in 3D. No, it’s not just for the money. It involves David O. Selznick. And Scarlett O’Hara. No, seriously. You’ll just have to click through to see the explanation.

The Big Idea: Paul Melko

Our informal Week ‘O Big Ideas continues today with an appearance by Paul Melko, member of the Ohio SF/F Cabal (motto: “There’s more of us than you think”), whose latest multiverse-hopping book The Walls of the Universe is getting the sort of starred reviews (“With imagination and sympathy, Melko makes the journey genuinely exciting” — Publishers Weekly) that make other writers wish they could pop into a closeby universe, steal his book, and then come back and claim it for their own. Not gonna happen, guys. Deal with it.

In this universe, however, Melko has a point to make about how writers should never throw away a “failed” idea — there’s a chance that “failure” could come back to succeed, in a big way.

PAUL MELKO:

My second novel, The Walls of the Universe, started its accordion existence as a novel, one of my first, if not the very first novel I’d ever written. As is often the case with such creatures, I was not happy with it and returned it from whence it came – a post office box in New Jersey. Some time later, at my wife’s urging, I returned to it and realized how much I liked the central idea of a universe-jumping teen, trying to get home. I distilled the story into a novella and that story appeared in Asimov’s SF. The novella won that year’s readers’ poll for best novella, which is an award I truly value. When it came time to write a sophomore novel, I decided to expand the novella into a full-length book. So from big to small to big again, my accordion novel is now in print.

My wife isn’t the only one who enjoyed the cross-universe hopping adventures of John Rayburn. The novella was also nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Awards. I was going to so many award ceremonies, I had to invest in a new tuxedo, one that wasn’t powder blue. The 2007 Hugos were in Japan, and I decided to make the trip half-way around the world. Not only was I a nominee myself, but I was accepting — if things turned out well — for either of my good friends Tim Pratt or Ben Rosenbaum, both nominated in the short story category. I felt I had little chance to accept for either, as they were in a category with the perennial Hugo powerhouse Neil Gaiman. Nor did I harbor any hope in my own category; it was an honor just to attend as a nominee in Yokohama. And I looked good in my tuxedo.

Yes, as expected, my story did not win the Novella Hugo (at least not in this universe), but shocked and amazed, I stood and accepted for Tim Pratt for his fabulous story “Impossible Dreams.” Second only to winning one is accepting a Hugo for a good friend. It was an honor and a dream to stand on that stage and receive the rocket for Tim.

We accepters had the choice of boxing the statue up immediately or keeping it until the next day. Duh. I kept it. The Hugo, as you probably know, is a phallic metal rocket ship, set atop a base that is designed by each year’s convention. The base designed by Nippon 2007 included an Ultraman figurine that stood a millimeter higher than the rocket itself. Perhaps he was meant to be fighting it, because he wasn’t fitting inside it. Maybe he rode it like a surfboard. In any case, I was gladly, madly clutching Tim’s Hugo, one hand on Ultraman and one on the rocket, as I walked from the awards ceremony to the after party. I can only imagine the grin on my face. I passed through a group of Japanese fans on the way.

“Hugo!”

“Hugo!”

Every one of them turned to smile. Picture flashes went off.

“It’s not really mine,” I tried to explain. “It’s Tim Pratt’s. Oh, what the hell. Nevermind.”

“Hugo!”

“Hugo!”

I paused, waved, then pushed on, bemused by the reception. I thought the fans were just excited after the ceremony. But no. Everywhere I went, chants of “Hugo, Hugo, Hugo!” followed me. In one room, I was serenaded with the words “Congratulations, Dear Hugo” sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” In every room on the party floor, drinks and slaps on the back were offered. I have never been so the center of attention — for a few hours I got to feel like a rock star. An otherworldly experience, indeed.

I urge everyone to accept a Hugo in Yokohama at least once in their lifetime. When I returned home, I jumped into the revisions for the novel version of the novella.

The Walls of the Universe is a parallel-universe adventure story about a teenager from Ohio who gets tricked out of his life by a version of himself from another universe. There are thousands of universes out there, and all one needs to travel among them is a transfer device. How the original John Rayburn got his hands on a broken transfer device will have to wait for another novel; this one covers how two absolutely identical young men deal with having their lives snatched away from them. John Prime, who stole the life of John Rayburn, tries to settle into his new life passing stolen ideas as his own. John Rayburn, ripped from his life by John Prime, is desperate to return home before Prime ruins everything. The same person, in nearly the same circumstance, tempted by the same solution. Ultimately each has to make peace with where they end up.

The book also questions value. If there is a near infinite number of Mona Lisas, a trillion Guttenberg Bibles, or a billion versions of you, what value does any one of those have? Are items that exist in only one universe more valuable than those parallel items? Are singletons more desirable than multiples? Once you start traveling the multiverse, you become a singleton, since you have snapped yourself away from all your parallel selves. Unless there are an infinite number of multiverses. Ow. My head hurts.

What I love most about science fiction is that it is a celebration of ideas. We explore our ideas with story. And the best of those stories we laud with rocket ship-shaped awards for being cool. I’m glad to be a part of this universe of science fiction, and hopefully there are an infinite number of universes where science fiction is a vital, important genre.

Thanks for reading about my new novel today!

—-

Walls of the Universe: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Walls of the Universe. Visit Paul Melko’s LiveJournal here.

The Speech Comment Thread

Here you go. Have fun talking about it.

My thoughts, briefly: Good speech, done well. But then, I’m a sucker for a president who says, in essence, “You know all that crap everyone else kept putting off? Yeah, now we’ll be dealing with it.” Jesus Christ amen, man. I wouldn’t complain if I got to be part of a responsible generation, one that didn’t sucker punch our children as we made our way out the door.

Charlie Stross Offers You a Frosty Tumbler Full of Ice-Cold Perspective

Relating specifically to the trouble authors have with multi-volume epic series, and the finishing thereof. Will you quaff this heady elixr? If you’re one of those pulling a long face about GRRM being “late” on his next book, you should. And everyone else will get a nice POV on a specific writing issue. Go now.

The Big Idea: Catherynne Valente

Today begins a very busy week of Big Ideas here at Whatever – I’ll be dropping in a new Big Idea every day between now and Friday, because, you know what, I don’t think you’re reading quite enough these days, do you? Yeah, see, that’s what I thought. And to start us off, here’s one of my favorite young writers, Catherynne Valente, to talk about her latest lush novel of fantasy, Palimpsest. Valente has always brought something different and special to the fantasy game (which may be why she was graced with a Tiptree Award for the first volume of The Orphan’s Tales), and so it stands to reason that Palimpsest has something special as well. And as Valente explains, what is special about it — with its Big Idea is — is not a thing, but a place. How do you get there? Well. Time to find out.

CATHERYNNE VALENTE

Palimpsest is a sexually-transmitted city.

It is a virus, an addiction, a heaven and a hell. It is a city that lives within the body: those who visit it find their flesh marked with black lines like a streetmap, a tattoo that cannot be removed. The virus is spread through sexual contact–sleep with the bearer of the mark and wake with one of your own, and a lifetime of dreams of a sentient city ruled by a robber-baroness with an army of clockwork insects at her command, a city that has just survived a terrible war that no one wants to remember, a city full of terrible wonders, that creates itself over and over to answer every possible desire. The novel follows four people, each damaged and lost in their own ways, as they become infected with Palimpsest, and then addicted to it, and then push further than addiction, into an obsession with the power to punch a hole between worlds.

A couple of years ago, Ekaterina Sedia was putting together this anthology called Paper Cities. It was an anthology of urban fantasy, not the vampire boyfriend kind, but the decadent alternate-world cities kind. She asked me to make her a city. At the time I had just finished writing In the Cities of Coin and Spice and as that title might suggest, I was a bit burned out on making up fantasy cities–I’d spent a year knocking out a couple of new fairy tale citadels a week. I just felt like I was done. But I love Ekaterina and wanted to be a part of her project. Turns out I wasn’t done. Instead of creating cities as settings, however, I created one as a protagonist. Palimpsest is as living and breathing a character as and I’ve ever written. It progresses through its own narrative arc, coming to a kind of closure with its complex history and personal issues. It is, possibly, my favorite of my characters. In the early days of editing it, there was talk of marketing it as a vampire boyfriend-style urban fantasy; an early cover even featured a woman with her back turned to the camera, a tattoo on her lower back, a cityscape before her. Palimpsest is urban fantasy in the purest sense- is a sneaky kind of urban fantasy.

The idea of a viral city isn’t really fantastic; cities have always been memes and meme-carriers. Living in New York fundamentally changes who you are as a human and your orientation towards the world–and so does living in Sacramento, or Bangor, or Fargo. All cities are Sapier-Wolff viruses. Palimpsest is just a little more literal about the whole business. And for a child of the 1980s, the era of AIDS, the minute you say the word virus and start thinking about transmission vectors, the spectre of STDs rises pretty quickly. And because I am that child, because I grew up so afraid of sex and what it could create–namely death or a child–I wanted something else, something beautiful to be passed between sexual partners, something that wouldn’t kill you or maim you or make you sterile or make you a mother at 14. Yet still, something you couldn’t hide, something that would leave you marked, branded, even. And once that was decided, that little story of sex and the city formed itself nicely in my head.

The second birth came when I was about halfway through writing the book. Because sexually-transmitted cities are all well and good, but fantasy has to say something about our world or it just sort of slips by, a pretty but shallow thing. It’s something science fiction has always had on us, that ability to shine a light on the real world, and why science fiction gets taken marginally more seriously in the Houses of Real Literature. With The Orphan’s Tales, that was easy; fairy tales are always and forever about the real world at their core. But suddenly I wasn’t writing fairy tales anymore, I was cutting whole cloth, and the story stayed unanchored, pretty and shallow, as long as I didn’t know what I was really writing about.

I was, at the time, going through a pretty bad break-up, and had been divorced for less than a year. There were pieces of me all over the place, torn up by all the consequences of sexuality and long-term relationships and short-term relationships and being in my late twenties trying to navigate it, really navigate a mapless, fraught world for which I had almost no tools. I didn’t speak the language; I didn’t know not to drink the water. And there I was, writing about this clockpunk, sex-fueled city where everyone was a tourist, everyone was an immigrant, a stranger.

There’s a line from Neruda, something to the effect of the world being nothing but a metaphor for something else entirely. Palimpsest is also a metaphor–maybe all fantasy worlds are. But the grounding metaphor of Palimpsest is this: when humans come together, they create worlds. When sexual partners couple, they begin to learn how to live, one in the other. The local lingua franca of the art student, the programmer, the compulsive knitter. You pass through customs, the arcane rituals of mating, of proving yourself worthy to enter, and then ensconce yourself in the local culture, the food, the laws, the boundless dangers and pitfalls you could never have seen coming. You get your wallet stolen; you get lost on your way to the biblioteca. Every human is a country unto themselves, and when humans mate, their countries renegotiate borders and annex territory, even if only for a little while.

The hybrid nation you create with any one person is never quite the same as the one you create with any other–eventually the two (or three, or four) of you will have a dialect all your own, quaint ways and means, allocations of resources, small wars and large ones, such that outsiders cannot ever fully penetrate your communal interior. This is what we do: we constantly combine and recombine until our networks of alliances become so nested and tangled that we cannot extricate ourselves without at least one dead Duke.

Palimpsest is the secret space between lovers made manifest, made real–and like many secret things between lovers, it is both monstrous and beautiful.

—-

Palimpsest: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Palimpsest here. See a trailer for the book here. Visit Catherynne Valente’s blog here.

No, I Won’t Get You a Job on Stargate: Universe

This is one of those “put up now to refer people to later” pieces:

Dear random people sending me mail on this particular subject:

Yes, I work on Stargate: Universe as its Creative Consultant. No, that does not mean that I will help get you a job on the show. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. I wouldn’t know how. I work on the show, from home, about 2,000 miles away from the studio, and have contact with just a few people on the show, none of whom are the correct people to ask for jobs. I don’t know who you would ask for a job on the show — any job — and I don’t grok it’s my responsibility to find out. Hell, I barely know how I got my job on the show.

2. I suspect me asking people there to find jobs for others would annoy them. I’m pretty sure they’ve got a system set up for intake of writers/actors/crew, although per point one I have no idea what it is. Despite what people might think, generally speaking the best way to get a gig there (or anywhere) is to go through the official channels. Why? Because the official channels are designed to bring people in. Every other way of bringing people in is just extra hassle. And I ask you: Why would I want to be the person to bring extra hassle to the mix? I’m some dude giving notes from half a continent away. I’m not under the impression my job is so secure I can annoy whole bunch of people at SG:U headquarters.

3. Dude, do I know you? I understand why some of you might ask me if I know how to get on the show, since I’m hanging around out here and seem reasonably personable. And that’s fine; I don’t mind that at all (although — see 1 & 2 — in fact I haven’t the slightest idea). But asking me to actually get you in touch with people there, as a couple of you have, seems a bit much:

ME:
Hey, Stargate people! I’ve got this random person
I don’t know sending me e-mail saying I should
introduce you to them! So here he is!
He’s your problem now!

STARGATE PEOPLE
Errrr…

Look, it’s nothing personal, but if I can’t get people I know in real life jobs on SG:U, what’s the thinking that suggests I’m going to secure a job for someone who just trundles into my e-mail queue? I’m not that nice, people. Please think these things through a little. The only way I would suggest anyone at all for any job on SG:U is if the producers specifically asked me to (which they have not, nor seem inclined to do), and then I would suggest people I know whose skills I know are in line, not some dude from my inbox.

Also, while we’re on the topic, no, I won’t read your script for the series (or any Stargate series, or any series, or any script) and no, I won’t forward on your script/resume/headshot/whatever. Indeed, I’m sorry to say that whatever it is that you want me to do in reference to Stargate: Universe and making you a part of it (aside from an interested audience member), the answer is going to have to be “no.” It’s not just you — I’m saying “no” to everybody. My job on the show doesn’t include being talent scout.

Filed in the Drawer Marked “Bitter Irony”

The following quote, from CNN’s polling director:

You know times are tough when Republicans have more confidence in a Democratic president than they do in bankers or Wall Street investors.

Tough indeed! Wonder how they got that way.

Pissy Fans

My attention has been drawn to George RR Martin’s recent posting on his LiveJournal, in which he notes that some of his fans have begun to get testy that Dance With Dragons, the next installment of his fantasy series, is not already on their table to be read, and that they think he’s spending too much time doing other projects, or traveling to various places, or watching football, or sleeping, or whatever. His response was to quote Ricky Nelson at them, which, aside from probably confusing the substantial chunk of his fans whose only aquaintance with Nelson might be a vague recollection of the musical twin terrors his sons turned out to be, is also ironic because Nelson died relatively young, leaving fans who were hoping for a comeback well in the lurch.

But that wasn’t GRRM’s point; the Nelson song GRRM was pointing to was “Garden Party,” which was Nelson’s reaction to pissy fans who were upset that he was doing things he was interested in, not things they were interested in. The relevant quote in the song is this one: “you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” There is irony in that the song, in which Nelson basically told his fans to piss off, became one of his biggest hits. But never mind that.

What you should mind is the fact Nelson was right, and GRRM was right to quote him. Some fans do have a tendency to forget that the creative folks they love are not simply black boxes, who produce desired product at regular intervals. They’re actually real people who do other things than just what the fans want them to do, because humans from time to time want to do the things they want to do, not the things other people want them to do. Yes, some fans don’t like that, but you know what, screw the type of fan who thinks a writer (or musician, or actor, or whatever) exists only to provide them with the entertainment of their choosing.

I’ll go personal here and talk about my own experience. As most of you know, the books in my Old Man’s War series are my most popular ones; each of the four novels have done very well and even the shorter works are pretty popular. There are people who would be delighted if all I did was write OMW universe books from now until the hopefully long-future date at which I drop. But thing is, at the moment, I have no plans to write any more OMW books. It’s not to say I never will, if I figure out what I want to do with that universe from here. I expect I may. But at the moment: Nope. I’ve got other things I’m working on which at the moment interest me more.

Now, I know this annoys some people — my matrix of ego-surfing search engines alerts me to many incidents of fan entitlement, particularly as regards the OMW universe — but I don’t think they understand what they’re asking for. Yes, I could write OMW #5 at the moment, but I guarantee it would suck, because at the moment I don’t know what I would write about, and thus OMW #5 would simply be a bit of commercial hackery, and it would show. And these same fans would say “Yeah, the series used to be good, but then he started phoning it in around book five.” You know, if I’m going to annoy a fan, I’d prefer to annoy a fan by not writing a book that sucks, than by writing one that does.

Bear in mind that my success, in terms of sales and notoriety, is a notch or two down from GRRM’s; I have fans who are annoyed that I have no OMW books in the pipeline, but he has legions of fans enraged that he’s not finished with his book. And I guess my question for them is: Well, do you want the book now, or do you want the book that GRRM is happy with? I suppose we could shove GRRM into a room with a word processor and put him on the Brian Wilson diet, in which we all give him a cheeseburger only after he’s completed a new chapter, but the book you’d get isn’t the book those fans would want.

I don’t want to hazard guessing how GRRM does his creative thing, but I’ll say this: The reason GRRM’s series is so damn popular is because he’s created this immense, complex world strewn with characters readers love to follow. When you do this, it doesn’t get easier building on it, it gets harder, especially if you’re trying to maintain quality control. This isn’t like a television series (or their literary spinoffs), where you have several writers working in the universe sharing the load; it all comes down to this single guy, pulling it all out of a single brain.

Seriously, people, WTF? Give the man a friggin’ break. Yes, it’s taking a while. Yes, he’s doing other things. But I assume it’s taking time because GRRM believes it’s worth getting right, and I assume he’s doing other things because he wants to stay sane. Let the guy do what he needs to do to make himself happy, and happy with the writing. You’ll benefit from a book that you’ll actually want to read, as opposed to a book that is simply there to have.

All of this comes around again to the question of what authors owe their readers. My opinion on this is that what authors owe their readers is that when their book comes out, it is, in the estimation of the author, as good as the author can make it. Everything else — how much time it takes, what else the author is doing with his time, so on and so forth — is neither here nor there. Now, certainly some fans may think differently about that. But they’re not writing the book. It’s a subtle yet telling difference, there.

Various and Sundry, 2/23/09

Bits and pieces and things and stuff:

* First, a picture of me and the bride whom I married this weekend (to someone else, to be clear), Emily Weise-King:

Emily and I have known each other for the better part of a decade; she and I were part of that first generation of bloggers (“online diarists” or “online journalers,” since we hadn’t thought of the word “blog” yet), and then became real-world friends not too long thereafter. She’s basically very cool, so when she and Michael (her now husband) asked me if I would officiate, I was there with bells on (Note: I did not wear actual bells. It would have interfered with the ceremony). I will note that the Weise-Kings did briefly consider changing their name to something else; had not sense prevailed, I might have introduced the married couple to congregation as “Michael and Emily Lazer-Awesome.” But sense prevailed. Alas. Regardless, the happy couple, is, indeed, laser awesome. And don’t you ever forget it.

* For those of you in the crowd who apparently didn’t know, yes, in fact, I am able to marry people; I’m ordained in the Universal Life Church and it’s all legal as beer sales on Sunday. I’ve been marrying people for ten years or so. It’s more of a hobby than anything else; I do it for friends when they get married and they don’t have a regular minister or someone else they’d like to stand up there and direct traffic. If I may say so, by this point I’m pretty good at, because I do my officiant duties with the philosophy that the congregation wants two things: To see the happy couple kiss, and to get to the partying. When you keep those two things in mind, it’s all very easy.

* But before you ask, no, I probably won’t perform your wedding for you. As noted, I tend to do them for long-time friends, at weddings I was likely to attend anyway. And at this point, most of my long-time friends are well and truly hitched (Emily, who’s more than a decade younger than me, is an outlier, wedding-wise). I suppose that when the children of my very good friends start needing an officiant, I might see an uptick in the business again, but that’s one of those things I don’t really want to think about at the moment.

* Moving away from wedding and to the Oscars, I was delighted that I went 6-for-6 in last night major categories, not that any of you would have known that, since the Oscar prediction piece I wrote got eaten by WordPress the day the nominations came out. You’ll have to trust me on this one. That said, I’ll note a lot of people who were not me flubbed the Best Supporting Actress and Best Actor categories; in the latter, a lot of people expected Mickey Rourke to get the award, while the Best Supporting Actress award predictions were all over the board, but mostly not to Penelope Cruz. Nate Silver, for example, who famously pegged the election at FiveThirtyEight, applied his stats models to the Oscars and blew both of these categories, picking Rourke and Taraji P. Henson, the latter of whom had almost no chance of winning, frankly.

Silver is excellent at politics in general but doesn’t understand Academy politics much. In my mind Penelope Cruz was the easy pick because a) statistically speaking, the Best Supporting Actress nominee who is in a Woody Allen film is always a safe bet (see: Dianne Weist, Mira Sorvino); b) she’s been Oscar-nominated before, and recently, which also inclines votes to her; c) she’s gorgeous and well-liked and that matters. As for Rourke, to put it simply, being nominated was his reward for getting his act together, and it’s still not completely together because the dude’s still walking around in day-glo jump suits and clutching a chihuahua. There was no way it was going to happen this year. He needs to keep his act together, ditch the public exhibitions of a toy dog, and make a few more good films before he can clutch an Oscar (hint to Rourke: Get nominated in the Supporting category next time, and Oscar gold is yours).

* I will say early on I thought Benjamin Button was going to be a lock, because it was both a safe and relatively commercially successful choice, but I was amazed at how quickly the backlash smacked that film around, and how quickly Slumdog slipped out from behind. I thought there might be an outside chance for Milk, but that film got Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, so it can’t complain. And I’m delighted Kate Winslet finally got a Best Actress Oscar, because she deserves it for being so good for so long but also because now that means, pace Halle Berry and Charlize Theron, that she will now immediately make a God-awful action film in which she wears very tight black latex, and I’m all for that.

* Finally, on a more personal note: I’m waaaaaaay behind on personal e-mail, so if you sent me a personal e-mail in the last couple of weeks, I probably haven’t responded yet. I will try to do so today and/or tomorrow. Sorry for being a bad friend. You can kick me the next time you see me.