Monthly Archives: August 2010

Caption Contest Winner

Movieguy @ Comment 79 wins it! I’ll send you an email to which you can reply with your home address for the books!

It was a really tough choice to pick the winner. Ultimately, Movieguy’s comment made me laugh as I thought about the famous scene between Jack and Rose on the ill-fated Titanic.

Honorable Mentions include:

Mordron: Put the money on the dresser….no don’t hand it to me…put it on the dresser.

Latasha Ewell: Well, it all started a few years ago… when he taped bacon on me.

SarahB: Youz want me tah do whut?! Dat’s it, whut kinda maguhzeen is dis?

Thank you to everyone for participating!

The Big Idea: Harry Connolly

Monsters: you know, those big, hairy and scaly things with the claws and teeth and the overwhelming desire to do nasty bad things to you? But then there’s Harry Connolly. No, he’s not a monster (I mean, as far as we know), but he has definite ideas about monsters, and what they should be – and what they don’t have to be. Explains himself, and how his thoughts on the subject inform his latest novel, Game of Cages.

HARRY CONNOLLY:

In The Philosophy of Horror, Noel Carroll nobly attempts to define the monster. To paraphrase him (in a way that would certainly make him cringe): a monster is a threatening and impure creature that violates the natural order as it’s defined by contemporary science.

“Threatening” is pretty straightforward. “Impure,” though, is more complicated. Monsters can be mixtures of things that do not belong together: man and wolf, living and dead, animal and machine. They can be incomplete: a living hand, a bodiless ghost. They also be magnified in size, like a giant shark, or in number, like a swarm of rats.

(And so on. It’s an  interesting book with much to quibble over. I think of it often when I’m planning a new novel.)

And while I don’t write horror (my agent says so), I do write thrillers about extra-dimensional beings who make incursions into our world to feed and reproduce. That means I need a monster for each book–maybe more than one–and being me, I wanted them to be original.

Now for a short but important digression: One thing that bothers me about modern monsters in fiction (aside from seeing the same ones over and over) is the reliance on creative choices designed to work in movies. I’m talking mainly about huge claws and teeth, usually accompanied by animal growls.

There’s a good reason for this–the sight of a gigantic jaw full of long, sharp teeth (another example of magnification) evokes a powerful subconscious fear response. Unfortunately, filmmakers have been one-up each other for decades, finally creating monsters that verge on the  ridiculous.

But fiction isn’t an image medium, so why do so many books try to copy movie monsters?

Once again, I was defining myself by what I didn’t want to do.

I decided to make the monster beautiful rather than ugly, and to have it inspire love instead of fear. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (inspiration to so much modern contemporary fantasy) had already shown that frenzied, irrational love could be scary as hell in “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” the episode where Xander Harris casts the love spell. But in this case, I wanted to replace romantic love with the love between human and pet.

And here I must tread carefully. Our good host has (I’ve learned not to say owned) several pets and one recently passed away. I offered my sincere condolences, but to be honest, the love between a human and a pet is mysterious to me. I grew up surrounded by pets–dogs, cats, snakes, fish, hamsters, guinea pigs–but once I moved out on my own I realized that, whatever feeling people get by sharing their homes with an animal, I don’t share it.

Intellectually, I know the feeling exists. Emotionally, I don’t understand it and maybe never will. That’s not meant to be a criticism, implied or otherwise; it’s simply an acknowledgement of one of the ways I’m different from most people.

And that’s the idea behind Game of Cages: a creature that could force you to love it so much you’d sacrifice everything for it. You’d give up your job, your friends, your life, your children just to be near it and care for it. Instead of magnifying its size, or its teeth and claws, I magnified the emotional connections it created until they became irrational and destructive.

—-

Game of Cages: Amazon|Barnes&Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel.Visit Harry Connolly’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

The Big Idea: Mark Van Name

Fiction can inspire those who read it to do new and even possibly noble things with their lives – but fiction can also be cathartic and transformative for the writer as well. While writing Children No More, author Mark Van Name discovered he wasn’t just trying to write an efficient page-turner, he was working on something that would make him confront parts of his own past… and work to change the future of some whose own pasts need healing.

MARK VAN NAME:

Novels begin for me like small leaks in a dam.  One idea shoots through, then another, then more and more, each one growing stronger until the dam vanishes beneath the water.  With Children No More, what came first was an image of my protagonist, Jon Moore, standing with a few other people, one of them a child, in front of a small army.  The child had until quite recently been a soldier. 

I knew I’d write the book the moment the image came to me. 

In addition to thinking about what would have brought Jon to that point, I also wanted to challenge myself to attempt things I hadn’t done in any previous books.  Other notions then rapidly added to the idea flood.

 Jon couldn’t fight safely with a child at his side, so I had to create a situation in which not fighting was better than fighting—even with armed soldiers threatening him and others dear to him. 

Jon is a classic American mono-myth character:  People ask for his help because of the skills he possesses and his willingness to use them, he deals with the problem at hand, and he leaves.  Leaving is vital, because the very traits, such as an aptitude for violence, that make characters such as Jon necessary also make them undesirable when the action is over.  When you work in conditions that are fundamentally horrific—think soldiers, cops, firefighters, relief workers, and many more—you pay dearly and are forever altered.  You witness things no one should have to see, PTSD settles into you like a black mist, and you never again fit into normal society as well as you once did. 

So of course I had to make Jon stay when the action was over. 

That decision immediately led to another problem:  How to sustain dramatic tension while writing about the post-action parts of the story.  The previous three novels in the series all had the reputation of being page-turners, and I wanted the same compelling reading experience in this one. 

Excellent.  Make him stay, make fighting the less attractive alternative, and make the book a page-turner. 

About that time, I remembered that Jon had been trained as a child to fight and to kill, but I’d never told the story of those times, so I’d do that, too. 

Even better.  Make him stay, make fighting the less attractive alternative, weave in a long story arc from a much earlier time, and make it a page-turner. 

As I was starting the book, my mind finally reminded me of something I’d managed up to this point in the process to ignore:  I had been trained as a child to fight and to kill. 

When I was ten, my most recent father died.  In an effort to give me some male influence, my mother signed me up for a youth group that trained boys to be soldiers.  Its intentions were good:  To use military conventions and structures to teach discipline, fitness, teamwork, and many other valuable lessons.  It accomplished many of those goals with me—but it also did many bad things.  Part of the problem was the time:  I joined in 1965, as the war in Viet Nam was gaining speed.  My first day, an active soldier on leave acted as our drill sergeant.  When he formed us up in ranks and started screaming at us, I began to cry.  He punched me so hard in the stomach that I fell and vomited.  He then ground my face into my own puke with his boot.  A few hours later, I saw my first–but not my last–necklace of human ears and learned the ethics of collecting them. 

I was a member for three years.  The first day wasn’t even in the top twenty worst days I had. 

The worst of those worst days was nothing, nothing at all, compared to what child soldiers around the world endure. 

Those years, though, gave me a strong understanding of their pain and a deep desire to help stop the practice of using children to fight wars. 

That desire led me to the last big idea of Children No More, one that hit me last February, when I was finishing the third draft of the book, about a month before I turned it in.  I was sitting at TEDactive, listening to people talking about changing the world, and I decided I wanted to do something concrete to aid child soldiers, something more than just write the book. 

After some research, I found a group, Falling Whistles, that was working to help rehabilitate and reintegrate child soldiers and other war-affected children, mostly in the Congo.  I partnered with them in a simple program:  I’m giving everything, including the advance, that I earn from sales of the hardback edition of the novel to them to help those kids.  So, when you buy the book, you’re not only getting a good read, you’re not only spending time on an important social topic, you’re also doing a good deed, because money is heading to those children. 

So, I had to make Jon stay, make fighting the less attractive alternative, weave in a long story arc from a much earlier time, make the book a page-turner, and spend months dealing with a lot of shit from my past.  I feared that I might not have the skills to do all that, and I definitely didn’t want to spend that many months in those dark places in my head. 

If I succeeded, though, I could help child soldiers in the real world. 

With a payoff like that, I had to try.

—-

Children No More: Amazon|Barnes&Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel.Visit Mark Van Name’s blog.

First Day of School

From John:

Today’s the first day of school for Athena — sixth grade this year — and normally I post a picture of her on the first day, so here you are:

Yes, she’s quite the fan of Gir and Invader Zim. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today is also the day I’m off to Australia. I have 25 hours of plane rides awaiting me. Joy. Dear Australia: You better be AWESOME.

Playlist Confessions

In anticipation of my upcoming trip to DragonCon, I had to update my iPod’s playlist for traveling. As I searched the almost 40GB of music, I cringed. I don’t remember adding the entire Spice Girls album to my collection or “Ice Ice Baby”. In an effort to cull the list to prevent embarrassment, I found others like:

  • Quad City DJs – “Space Jam”
  • McHammer – “Hammertime”
  • Extreme – “More than Words”

I’m sure there are more in there that I haven’t found.

Granted, I have no idea why I am now singing each of these songs. I guess I’ll just file them away in the “guilty pleasures” file.

So tell me, I dare you, what do you have on that player that you don’t want anyone to know about? Come on, I won’t tell anyone. I promise

The Swell Season Ensure that Their Fans are Not Left ‘Alone Apart’

As if their abundant talent as artists weren’t admirable enough, in the wake of tragedy, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who perform together as the Swell Season, yesterday provided another reason to admire and respect them.

Perhaps you may have heard that tragedy befell the band a week ago when, in the midst of their performance in Saratoga, CA, a man climbed onto a lighting rig above the stage and leapt to his death onstage, an apparent suicide.  In the days following the tragedy, the band met with grief counselors “to help try and make sense” of the situation, and I’m proud to say that one of the counselors who got the call to work with the band is a friend of mine.  As proud as I was of that friend when I heard that he’d gotten that call and had provided counseling for the band (of those conversations with the grief counselors, the band say they “were of great service to our mind, body, and soul”), I’m every bit as proud of the Swell Season for the statement they made yesterday on their official website.

Full details are available in the statement but, in brief, in recognition of the traumatic event that their fans experienced a week ago tonight, the band has arranged for both one-on-one and group counseling sessions over the coming weeks with Kara, a Bay Area organization, and the sessions are available for free to any and all attendees of the Saratoga concert where the tragedy occurred.

You hear artists talk about “giving back to their fans” fairly regularly (although it tends to be a curiously vague notion when you hear such things), but it’s not too often that you hear about an artist demonstrating this level of thoughtfulness, concern, and genuine caring for their fans, and I, for one, thought that such action merited public recognition and thanks.

Not familiar with the band?  Watch Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous performance of “Falling Slowly” at the 2008 Academy Awards.  The song is from Once, the charming independent movie in which they both starred, and for which they took home the “Best Song” Oscar later in the program:

On a personal note, I’m off to Portland on vacation in the morning and, with grateful thanks to the Whatever community, I’ll be arriving in the city with a mouth-watering to-do list of restaurants, brewpubs, wineries, and arts-related recommendations.  I plan to return to guest blogging duty on Labor Day with a passel of Portland tales to tell…

Now Playing: The Swell Season, by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, an achingly beautiful album that I haven’t listened to in far too long.

Thought experiment: How do you react when you witness bigotry?

ABC’s show “What Would You Do” staged an experiment. They had an actor dressed as a Muslim woman enter a convenience store and had the clerk, another actor, refuse to serve her. Then they talked to the customers in the store.

My hat is off to the gentleman close to the end.  While I’d like to think that I’d be among the people who would speak out, my fear is that I would be in the 22 who said nothing.

(Just a reminder that our friend Kate wields the Mallet of Loving Correction so please keep your comments respectful. If you have doubts, review Scalzi’s comment policy)

Edited to correct the name of the program

The Big Idea: Mike Shevdon

If you want to tell a story in a modern setting, you often have to look at the past to figure out how you got here and now — even if, in the here and now, you want to write a fantasy story. Mike Shevdon learned this in the course of writing Sixty-One Nails, in which a desire to tell a story set today meant he had to follow paths that lead to the past, in the process discovering, as Faulkner once memorably put it, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” Here’s Shevdon to explain why.

MIKE SHEVDON

When I started writing Sixty-One Nails, I wanted to write fantasy set in the real world – the world of shopping malls, CCTV cameras and mobile phones. I wanted to create a feeling that if you were quick and observant enough, you might see something quite extraordinary. I wanted magic in the now.

This is easy to say, but it immediately spawns a host of questions. Where is the magic? Who’s doing it and what are they using it for? Most of all, why don’t we know about it? After all, if people were able to do magic, it would be obvious, right? We’d be able to go into stores and buy it.

As I began researching the novel I realised how little people actually see. So much of modern life is about attracting your attention to adverts or warnings, that we routinely block out anything that isn’t shouting for our attention. It occurred to me, therefore, that it wouldn’t take very much to be completely unnoticed – not invisible, just not seen. I began to postulate that there could be another race of beings living alongside humanity, unseen by most people; the creatures of folk-tales and faerie stories. What if they existed and were part of our world, but we just didn’t notice them?

That spawned a whole new set of questions. If they exist, why aren’t there any records of them? Where are the fossil remains? Why has no-one photographed them? Why don’t they show up on CCTV or trigger burglar alarms? Where do they live? What do they eat?

I started reading and researching English folk-lore and discovered layers of stories like sedimentary rock, with the oldest stories often revealing more ominous themes. The Victorians gentrified fairies and gave them flower petal hats and mushroom houses to live in – Barbie for the nineteenth century – but before that there were other stories with a darker tone.

A number of themes emerged. The appearance and disappearance of creatures and people, often accompanied by a loss of time. Abduction and replacement of children with something older and not necessarily human is also frequent. Sex crops up, often as a single night of passion which seems like a dream once daylight returns. Deals and bargains occur, often to the benefit of the human party, only to fall apart when the human gets greedy or tries to take the source of the power for themselves. These themes fed into the imaginary world hidden beneath the surface of everyday life.

The questions became opportunities. Why are they so interested in sex, fertility and children? Don’t they have any children of their own? What if they live a very long time and therefore breed very slowly? What if they breed so slowly that a catastrophic failure in fertility goes unnoticed until it’s too late? What if they’re dying out? What if they’re the last of their kind? What happens when they discover that a union with humanity is fertile? What happens to the children of that union? Would the half-breeds be a welcome boon, the saving of a dying race? Or would they be gene pollution for an ancient and noble race?

What if it’s both?

As part of the research I started looking into the relationship between faerie-folk and iron. Its use as a talisman against magic is still present in today’s society, which is why horse-shoes hang over doorways and are used as symbols at weddings. It’s why you find iron nails embedded in the roof-beams of old houses and why blacksmiths are considered lucky.

While researching horse-shoes, I came across something unique. In London each year, in the Royal Courts of Justice, which is home to the Supreme Court, a ceremony is conducted as it has been since the year 1211. It’s the oldest legal ceremony in England barring the Coronation, and it involves the payment of two quit rents, a medieval mechanism allowing a person to ‘go quit’ and avoid an obligation to their baronial lord by making a payment or delivering a service in its stead.

The first of these quit rents is for wasteland called ‘The Moors’ in Shropshire, an area well-known for its ancient iron-workings, and it consists of two knives, one blunt and one sharp. The knives are made by a smith and presented to the Queen’s Remembrancer, an official who is also a senior master of the Royal Courts of Justice. The knives are tested in court to verify that the blunt knife will dent, but not cut, a hazel stick of one year’s new growth, and the sharp knife will cut clean through it.

The second Quit Rent is for a forge in Tweezers Alley, just off the Strand and not far from where the ceremony takes place. The forge is no longer there, but the rent is still paid. It consists of six iron horse-shoes and sixty-one nails, all of which are counted out each year in court. The horse shoes are massive, sized for a Flemmish war-horse, and are the oldest known to exist in England.

The ceremony takes place each autumn (I have been to several now) and next year will be the eight-hundredth anniversary. The question that occurred to me was why, after 800 years, though numerous different governments and changes of political system, an industrial revolution, a civil war and two world wars, was a ceremony involving horse-shoes and iron knives still being performed at the heart of the realm?

The answer to that question forms the core of Sixty-One Nails and inspired the title of the book. It is a tale of magic hidden in plain sight, of danger and darkness threading back through human history. It is the story of a man who has a heart attack on the London Underground and is revived by an old lady who tells him that the reason he is alive is that he is not entirely human. It is about his fight for survival, and his discovery of the magic hidden in the real world.

—-

Sixty-One Nails: Amazon|Barnes&Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel in .epub format. Here is the PDF.Visit Mike Shevdon’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Grown Up Decisions

We all (most all of us, anyway) make decisions everyday. Lots of them. Whether it’s the choice between getting up with the first alarm or the fifth tap of the snooze bar, the choice between giving voice to your internal monologue or keeping your job, or any of a multitude of other choices, we’re usually making decisions at breakneck speed.

It is just a fact of life that the ability to make those choices expands greatly once you become an adult. As a kid, many of the choices you would like to make are decided for you by the adults in your life; mostly parents.

When I was a kid, I would occasionally tell my mom that I wanted to have dessert first. The answer was always no.

“When you’re a grown-up,” she would say, “you can do whatever you like.”

Whether I’ve grown up or not is a debate for another time, but I have most certainly reached the age of majority; I am definitely an adult. Now I do whatever I like.

Thus, I would like to show you yesterday’s lunch.


That’s it. This Strawberry Shortcake and a bottle of sparkling water. It was delicious.

Wish me luck…

…just do a better job with the wishing than this, okay?

decorated cake, rainbow-colored, bearing the words You Are Tolerable

From Cake Wrecks, one of my favorite non-lolcat sites.

I have a job interview today! Alas, I’m not quite as published as John yet, and thus not quite able to become a full time writer — although I don’t think I’d want to, even if I had the financial wherewithal. I tried the full time writer life for a few months after I got my book deal, and discovered that it was surprisingly boring to sit at home and write all day. Inorite? Not at all what I expected, back when I was an unpublished writer dreaming of making a career out of my imagination. But really, “boring” is an incomplete description of the problem. I’m not a raging extravert — I’m almost 50/50 on the E/I scale of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, with a slight leaning towards introversion. But you know what my favorite thing to do is? Teach. Teaching is considered a hardcore “extravert” activity, but I absolutely love standing in front of a group of people and helping them understand some complex subject. Since I’m a career counselor in my day job life, I’m usually teaching concepts like work-life balance — and for me, and my balance, I need to have some meaningful work other than writing. Specifically, I need to be helping people, making some real, substantive difference in the lives of others, in order for my fiction to feel meaningful to me. Plus, paying the rent on time is kind of nice.

So while I may make concessions to my writing life — this job is part-time, for example, to allow enough time for writing; and I may try the full-time writing thing again at some point in the future if deadlines demand it — I don’t think I’ll ever fully give up my day-job life. I just like it too much.

So here are your fru-fru touchy-feely questions for today: what is it that makes you feel most fulfilled? Do you have it, or not? I’m going for mine; how are you gonna get yours?

Kermit goes to the Smithsonian. Plus bacon.

Home! For nine whole days! While in the midst of catching up on things, I ran across this article about the original Kermit the Frog. The Henson family has just donated him and several of the other characters from “Sam and Friends” to the Smithsonian. I’ve seen video clips of the first Kermit but never seen the actual puppet. You may be certain that a pilgrimage to the Smithsonian will be finding its way onto my schedule for the next time I’m in D.C.

Here’s the original Kermit selling bacon…

The 2010 Summer Sci-fi Wrap-Up

It’s incredibly sad to think that the days of grilling out, sitting by the pool and enjoying the beach are almost over. With the end of the season upon us, John shares his thoughts on the sci-fi movies that kept us cool on hot days. Follow the link to his weekly filmcritic.com column, grab a glass of lemonade and try to hang on to the last few weeks of warmth.

As usual, comments are closed. Click and join the discussion over there.

The Big Idea: Matthew Hughes

I’ve been a follower of Matthew Hughes’ work since Old Man’s War and one of his novels had the same “birthday,” and that following has been rewarded with a series of works that think deeply on a number of issues, along with enough plot twists and turns to keep things interesting along the way. Template, his latest novel, is more of the same, with a panoramic view not only a series of worlds, but with a series of people and cultures, and the things that make each culture unique… or perhaps more accurately, uniquely corrupted. Here’s Hughes to tell you more.

MATTHEW HUGHES:

Not so long ago, if you called a man a liar, it was coats off and outside, pal. Go back a few generations farther, it was sabers or pistols at dawn.

Reputation was everything. “Give a dog a bad name and hang him” meant that when good standing was lost, all was lost with it. Better to die, or at least take a beating, than be branded a weasel.

Then something changed. Now people go on “reality” TV to lie and cheat their way to fame and fortune. And their blatant weaselhood doesn’t earn them public contempt. Instead, they become celebrities.

These aren’t secret agents who lie to defend their country. They’re doing it for the money and a chance to appear on Good Morning America. And every time there’s an audition, tens of thousands more rush forward and beg for a chance to connive and backstab their way to the top.

The thing that has changed, it seems to me, is that the role that honor used to play in our society has been supplanted by greed. I see it as a side-effect of the social transformation wrought by marketing in my lifetime: today we no longer think of ourselves primarily as citizens of a society, with rights and responsibilities; instead, we have become consumers in an economy whose only purpose is getting and spending. You know: “This means war! Everybody go shopping!”

In the old days, honor was an extension of pride, especially the esteem of our fellows. People might do something unworthy, but they sure didn’t want anyone to know about it. Our grandparents’ world was built around vanity. Our times are driven by avarice. We want it all, and we want everyone to know about it. And how we got it doesn’t much matter.

Being classically educated (well, I’ve read some really old books), I am aware that greed and pride are two of the seven deadly sins. I once got to wondering if there were societies based on any of the other five. For those of you who don’t read really old books, the rest of the seven big bads are: anger, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth.

Anger was easy: Sparta, Nazi Germany, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Envy? What about all those Asian societies where it is crucial not to lose face? And mini-cultures within our own sphere where keeping up with the Joneses is a driving force?

That’s about as far as I followed the train of thought, when I first had this insight eight or nine years ago. I was only looking for an idea that would underpin an 800-word guest column for the Vancouver Sun. Writing satirical op-eds was one way I kept my name in front of my client base back when I was a freelance speechwriter in British Columbia.

So I wrote a column on the vanity-avarice switch. Then, about a year later, I was working on a novel called Template. It would have been my second book for Tor if the first, Black Brillion, had sold more copies. Template is a Jack Vance-influenced, multi-planet space opera, about an Oliver Twistish orphan whose origins are shrouded in mystery and who has to go from world to world trying to find out who is trying to kill him and why.

I thought it would be cool to work in the idea that all societies are based on one of the seven sins, and take my wandering hero through exemplars. That turned out to be easier said than done. Pride, greed, anger and envy were no problem. The hero came from a world where every human interaction was an economic transaction; that took care of greed. He visited a society on Old Earth where money was considered disgusting but people knew their social worth precisely and he met a fellow from another world where people endured excruciating agony rather than say uncle.

To look at a society based on envy, I had him make a brief stop on a planet where everybody constantly sought to score one-upmanship points against each other without admitting it–passive-aggression as a way of life. A world built around anger was part of the dark secret behind the hero’s origins.

I didn’t want to do a world populated by overeaters (too easy). So I extended the meaning of gluttony beyond mere chomping and swilling to account for a society whose members tended to go overboard on whatever their interest were–imagine a world full of completist collectors.

Lust was a little trickier. Of course I toyed with the idea of a Hollywoodesque planet where sex appeal was the only determinant of status, but it kept coming out as buffoonish. In the end I opted for a sinister cult of decadent Old Earth aristocrats–a secret society called the Immersion–whose members vied “to encompass the full depth and breadth of amatory experience and thus enable themselves to break through to a new realm of consciousness they call Prismatic Abundance.”

With sloth, I confess I gave myself a pass. I will argue that any society based on doing as little as possible would soon die out or be supplanted by some invading culture that was powered by a more energetic iniquity.

All taken in all, I think I made the idea work well enough to support Template’s overarching theme: that there are all different ways to be a human being among other human beings, and that the most important thing in life is to discover where (and perhaps to whom) you belong, then go there and make the best life you can.

—–

Template: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s|Paizo

Read an excerpt from the novel. Visit Matthew Hughes’ news page.

My New Ride

As photographed at the Barnes Airshow in Westfield, Mass. As the bus emerged on the far end of the runway, I turned to my friend and asked why. As it shot white smoke and left a trail of flame, the why turned into laughter.As it raced down a wet runway at 350 mph, I exclaimed with delight, “That is so cool!”

I am easily amused.

This was rather interesting as well. There is nothing quite as sobering as reminding yourself you are in fact,  not living in the movie Inglourious Basterds.

John’s Worldcon Schedule

Hey, folks:

For those of you coming to AussieCon4 in a couple of weeks and are wondering what my schedule will be, here’s what I’m doing and when.

Thu 9/2 1500 Rm 201: Kaffeeklatsche
Notes: This is where I sit around a table with about ten or so folks and talk about me me me me me me me. For these you typically have to sign up on a signup sheet and they’re first come, first served. This Kaffeeklatsche is very early in convention (for perspective, the Opening Ceremonies are at 2pm/1400), so if you want to be in on it, remember to come early to the convention.

Fri 9/3 1100 Rm 201: Signing
Notes: You bring the books, I’ll bring me (and a pen). Note that I have a panel directly after this signing slot so if you want a signed book, coming earlier is better than later, and I’ll probably limit folks to three signed objects at a time (you can always get back in line).

Fri 9/3 1200 Rm 219: Making a living: Professional writing for speculative fiction authors
“For many writers of science fiction and fantasy, the money earned from her or his craft is never enough with which to make a living. What other opportunities are there to earn a sustainable income? A look at ways to earn many as a professional writer outside of the speculative fiction markets.”
Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, George Ivanoff, Jennifer Fallon
Notes: Because, as I’m fond of telling people, multiple revenue streams are your friends.

Fri 9/3 1500 Rm 203: What is the SFWA?
“Find out about the SFWA and what it does.”
Notes: This is meant to be a very informal and informational session for both current and potential members to catch up on what SFWA’s doing at the moment and what it offers to writers. It’s not a business meeting — we’ll be having that at World Fantasy — just a way for me to say hello as the President. Overseas Director Sean Williams may also be there, his schedule permitting. Everyone is welcome. Also, “SFWA,” not “the SFWA.”

Sat 9/4 1000 Rm 210: Videogames as art
“In early 2010 noted film critic Roger Ebert famously stated ‘no videogame can be art’. His comment sparked off a wave of discussion, outrage, disagreement and debate, but the question still remains: can videogames be art? How do we define quality art in games? What are the best examples of ‘high art’ games?”
K. A. Bedford, Foz Meadows, John Scalzi
Notes: Video games are TOTALLY art. And now, let’s all have snacks.

Sat 9/4 1200 Rm P3: The future is overtaking us
“Science fiction used to be a means of extrapolating today’s technology and society, and predicting the future. More and more often, however, our ideas of the future simply aren’t turning true. What happens when the real world starts advancing faster than the imaginations of science fiction writers?”
Kim Stanley Robinson, John Scalzi, Mike Scott, Norman Cates
Notes: Hey, the sooner I get my rocket car to the moon, the better.

Sat 9/4 1500 Rm 211: Reading
Notes: Apparently all the reading slots are 30 minutes long, which actually means 20 minutes in order for people to get in and get out of a room. I think a 20-minute reading slot is a bit silly, but hey. To make it all up for you, I’ll write something specially for the occasion, which no one else will have ever heard, ever. And it will probably be funny, because that’s how my short bits usually roll.

Sun 9/5 1700 Rm 204: Talking it on the chin: authors and reviews
“Sooner or later, every author is going to receive a bad review. Bad reviews hurt, and it’s often hard not to take them personally. How should authors react to negative reviews? How can  you tell the difference between a review that’s negative one that’s actually unfair – and what can or should you do about it if it is?”
John Berlyne, Jean Johnson, Karen Miller, John Scalzi
Notes: This could be a fun one, not just because of the topic but because it’s a couple of hours before the Hugo ceremony and I’m likely to be a nervous wreck.

Sun 9/5 2000 MCEC Main Plenary Hall: Hugo Awards Ceremony
Notes: Wish me luck.

Mon 9/6 1200 Rm 204: Losing the plot: plotting in advance vs. writing as you go
“For some authors, the most important aspect of writing a story or novel is preparing a meticulously constructed plot. For others, the appeal of writing comes from developing the  story on the fly, and allowing the plot to develop as they go. What are the benefits and drawbacks of each approach, and the best techniques for plotting in a chosen way?”
Stephen Dedman, John Scalzi, Melinda M. Snodgrass
Notes: As a spoiler, I just make things up as I go along. It’s not really a spoiler, I’ve been telling people this for years.

Mon 9/6 1400 Rm 210: Shared universes and united visions
“Wild Cards, the Cthulhu mythos, the DC and Marvel Universes and Forgotten Realms: self- contained fictional worlds with multiple creators. What are the creative opportunities when  a group of writers collaborate on a unified fictional universe, each writing their own works but feeding into a common backstory and environment? What are the drawbacks and challenges?”
Sean Williams, John Scalzi, Alan Stewart
Notes: I imagine I’m on this panel because of METAtropolis.

When I’m not doing these things I am likely to be at whichever bar people end up deciding to hang out at, up at the SFWA Suite, or possibly, you know, sleeping. They say you should every now and again at a Worldcon. Maybe I’ll try it this time.

See you there!

Love ‘The Wire’ and ‘Toy Story’? This Post’s for You…

N.K.’s posting of Inception parodies the other day reminded me of what may very well be my favorite movie mash-up to date.  For my fellow fans of both The Wire and Toy Story, especially those of you who aren’t represented as being among the nearly 300,000 hits the video has seen to date on YouTube, you’re in for a treat, and it’s my pleasure to serve it up.

If, like me, you regard The Wire as being the Greatest Show in the History of Television (yes, I realize I’m hardly alone in thinking this, and if you’re not a fan, or you haven’t gotten around to checking it out, I’m sure it’s beyond tiresome to hear someone else make that claim at this point, but for what it’s worth, I’m probably in the minority of those who say it who believed the show had the potential to become exactly that pretty much from the moment the end credits rolled on the night the first episode aired …because yes, it’s true, I’m all about the writing, and I was already predisposed to love the show given the involvement of two of my favorite writers, David Simon and George Pelecanos… and when the series later went on to also feature teleplays by the likes of Richard Price and Dennis Lehane, well that only served as so much icing on an already delicious cake), and especially if you also happen to love Toy Story (and really, does anyone who’s ever seen it not love Toy Story?), get ready to be happy.

Two final notes, and then I’ll finally shut up and leave you to it.  Note the first is that if you haven’t seen The Wire (and, specifically, the first season), what follows will probably be, at best, mildly amusing, so you might want to take a pass.  Note the second is that, while the images herein are all from Toy Story and are thus suitable for all ages, the dialogue is all from The Wire (and, it must be said, the syncing herein of characters/scenes from The Wire with characters/scenes from Toy Story is pure genius), and you should thus be warned that “earmuffs” may be necessary depending on your particular viewing circumstances, as there are several bombs launched herein, and some of them are of the “F” variety.

Onward!

Your Plan for the Zombie Apocalypse

So I was sitting in a Cracker Barrel restaurant a few weeks ago and instead of being involved in the conversation, I was lost in thought. Glancing at all the old and wickedly dangerous kitsch surrounding us on the walls, my musing turned into dreams of survival. I blurted out, “You know, this structure would be a pretty great place to make a last stand in the impending zombie apocalypse!” My dining companions were suddenly very confused.

“No really, you could totally use that scythe over there to decapitate.”

“We’re trying to eat here, Kate.”

“But, it would be awesome, think about it! That ax, that baseball bat, that plow, hockey sticks, kayak. It’s probably filled with industrial size cans of food. It’s got indoor facilities, clothes and tons of retro candy!”

“Really? We’re having this discuss…”

“Also, table checkers!”

—-

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I would meet my doom.

So you have to help me out here! What are your plans for the impending zombie hordes? I can’t be the only one who is anxious enough to plan while out with family. Right?

Right?

Hello?
Brrrraaaaiiiinnnnsssss…