Monthly Archives: September 2010

Monsters, Tron and Solaris

In my FilmCritic.com column today, I talk about my expectations for the upcoming (and very inexpensively made) science fiction film Monsters, what science fiction film qualifies as world-changing even though it’s obscure, and why people are so excited for a Tron sequel when Tron, you know, sucked. I know you’re wondering about all those things. I know that you can’t get on with your life until you read my thoughts on each. So why torture yourself any longer? Click this link and find the answers — and peace — you crave.

A Chance to Win Clash of the Geeks

Rachel Swirsky, who contributed a fabulous story to Clash of the Geeks, is currently running a contest to give away copies of the chapbook to ten lucky winners.

And you ask: How can she give away copies of a book that you can get for free (although voluntary payment is strongly encouraged)?

The answer is actually quite clever, and so is the contest, and both await you here.

So go! And enter! And win!

Why Not Feeling Rich is Not Being Poor, and Other Things Financial

My “Being Poor” piece is has been getting a workout the last couple of days, because people were linking to it in response to a blog post by Todd Henderson, a law professor at the University of Chicago. Professor Henderson was kvetching about the possibility of Obama raising his taxes (or more accurately, Obama allowing the Bush era tax reductions to sunset) when he was just scraping by on a household income high enough for the president to have an interest in letting his tax cut expire — i.e., above $250,000, which puts his household in the top 1.5% or so of all income earners.

Henderson’s lament has since been taken down from its original blog — he appears to have been hurt and confused as to why so many commenters and other bloggers had a distinct lack of sympathy for him as he laid out how the change in the tax regime would affect his gardener and nanny and his childrens’ private schools — but economist Brad De Long rescued the piece from Google Cache, and you can see it here. De Long unsurprisingly also has some pungent thoughts on Henderson’s predicament elsewhere on his blog.

It’s pretty clear that Henderson either forgot or didn’t know that the problems of the well-off tend to be less than impressive to people whose own problems are not so nearly high-toned. Yes, it’s awful that you may have to cut back on your gardener and your housecleaner and your nanny, but do please understand that in airing such a lament, you establish that in fact you have a gardener, housecleaner and nanny. Which is an enviable trifecta of domestic hands on deck, to be sure. Such a loadout largely disqualifies you from sympathy from those who do without. Which is most people, many of whom would like to have a job right now, and a side order of health insurance to go along with it.

Or to put it another way, while an Ivy League graduate currently employed as a law professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the world has a perfect right to complain in public about how he and his equally gainfully-employed medical doctor wife might have to make adjustments to their wholly enviable professional lifestyle because their top marginal tax rate might go up a couple of percentage points, he really ought to have the good sense not to. You end up looking foolish on the Internet when you do. Which Professor Henderson now appears to realize, and has at least temporarily excused himself from the Internet because of it.

Professor Henderson may have been foolish to write what he did, but in fairness I don’t believe he deserved to be bludgeoned with my Being Poor piece in response. When he was kvetching about scraping by, he wasn’t suggesting that he was in any way poor — not he, with his gardener and housecleaner and nanny and private schools. It’s the wrong tool to employ against him, and I feel reasonably qualified to say so. Professor Henderson’s lament isn’t saying that he’s poor, or even feels poor. His lament is that he isn’t rich, and certainly doesn’t feel like he’s rich, what with his debts and owes — which aside from his domestic help, also more seriously include the massive school loans that come with law and medical degrees, and a mortgage which Professor Henderson implies but does not say is currently underwater. Not being (or feeling) rich is an entirely different thing than being poor, and I don’t think it serves anyone well to confuse the two states.

Now, if you are part of the rabble who populates the lower 98.5% of American income brackets, you may ask: is it really possible to be in the top 1.5% of income earners in the United States and not realize you’re rich by most objective standards? Sure, as long as two things are in play: First, that your picture of “rich” is predicated on how billionaires live and act; second, that your financial outlays come reasonably close to your financial intake. So in the first case, if your mental image of being rich includes helicopters and supermodels at your beck and call, in equal and staggering amounts, then making a quarter of a million a year looks rather more like an “average” or “middle-class” income, even when it is manifestly not. When rich folk say they feel middle-class, they’re not (always) being disingenuous, it’s just their way of saying “I don’t own a castle on an island.”

Likewise, if you make a quarter of a million a year but send out most of it paying for things, then asking yourself “wait, I’m supposed to be rich, here?” doesn’t seem horribly unreasonable. When one is poor, the problem you have with money is not having any. When one is well-off, the problem you have with money is managing it. When you have more money, you do more things with it, and that means more opportunities for it to get away from you if you’re not paying attention. This is a high-class problem to have, mind you, and generally speaking it’s not going to generate a large gout of sympathy from anyone else, especially those with little money to manage. But it’s still a problem, especially when it’s your problem.

But it is your problem, and it doesn’t mean you’re not well off, or even rich by many relevant real-world standards. Because, my dear 1.5% folks: you so very are. The median household income in the US is about $46,000 a year. If your household is bringing in five times that on an annual basis, you certainly have the potential to be doing reasonably well anywhere in the United States — even in Chicago, and even in Hyde Park — provided you have some sense about how you allocate your income and resources. And as regards the very-likely-soon-to-be-sunset Bush tax cut, if shaving off an extra couple of percent off your income above $250,000 will send your family into a dark spiral of money woes, you have other issues which you should address. Taxes are not your biggest problem in that case. Accountants are your friends.

So what have we learned today?

1. Don’t complain to the Internets about trying to get by on $250,000 a year;

2. Being poor and not feeling rich are not the same thing, don’t confuse the two;

3. Even well-off people can have money woes;

4. With great income comes great (financial management) responsibilities.

There, we’re done for the day! Let’s go get some pie.

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Scott

The writing process is romanticized, but the fact of the matter is that when ideas drop into a writer’s head, they don’t always choose the most momentous of times to do so — even when the idea is a profound one. You can have an idea good enough to write a book about when you’re folding socks. And to prove that point, here’s Elizabeth Scott, who found herself having a key realization of her latest novel Grace whilst deep in the throes of laundry. Hey, you take inspiration when it comes. Scott gives you the freshly-washed details.

ELIZABETH SCOTT:

I got the idea for Grace from a dream.

I know, how cheesy can I get? But I did. I dreamed of girl, sweating on a slow train, and she–

Well, then I woke up.

And, to be honest, I went back to sleep hoping to dream of a vacation. Or Fritos. Either one would have worked!

But instead, I dreamed of the girl–and now I knew her name was Grace–again. And there was someone, a guy, with her.

I woke up as she realized who he was, became terrified, and then I sat there, stunned and thinking, “What is this?”

I wrote it all down in the notebook I keep by my bed, handwriting slobbing all over the page (I’m not the neatest writer normally, and the middle of the night? Not my time!), and then put it aside.

Why?

A girl on the run? A girl seeing a guy who scared her? The train thing was different, and I had written down “sand, endless, hot sand,”–but what was that? How was that a story?

It came to me when I folding socks, of all things.

Grace is billed as a dystopian novel but it isn’t. It’s story of what was, what is, and what I’m–sadly–afraid will always be.

It’s a story about a girl who’s spent her life training to die, and what happens when she decides she doesn’t want to.

It’s a story about running for your life when you have no options. When you can’t run, but must crawl.

It’s a story about what drives someone to believe that killing people is a good thing. About a world where it’s okay for a teenager to kill people as long as it’s for the “right cause.”

It’s about how there are places–in the past, in the now, and, I think, in the future–where that has happened. Is happening. Will happen.

It made me wonder: who sees a child and thinks, “Yes, this will do for death.”

What sort of world is that?

Ours. And hers.

As Grace’s story unfurled for me, I wrestled with that and with finding a way to understand how someone could believe they had to die–and how they could come to not want to.

It turns out that believing you have to die is chillingly easy. Give someone no choice, give someone a belief system that stresses death as an honor, and there you go.

And if you chose not to die, like Grace does, you don’t just run for your life. You run from yourself. From why you failed. From everything and everyone you know because you are a traitor.

I wanted to know why this happens, and you know what?

I ended up not knowing. Belief is something that we all come to on our own, and that forms all of us in different ways.

What I did learn?

Death isn’t the answer.

But sometimes, in some places–then, now, and the future–it is. I don’t like that, but I think it’s important to see it. And more than that, to ask Why?

Why and what can make you believe that your death is worth more than anything else? And what happens if you somehow see your future, your death–and want more in a world that doesn’t offer it?

I don’t know if Grace provides any answers, but it made me ask a lot of questions.

It made me think about the will to die, and the will to live.

Which one matters more?

The answer seems easy, but it isn’t, and that’s what Grace made me see, and I’m glad I stayed with that dream. With that girl on that train.

With what I realized she’d done. What she believed.

And how, after all of it, she’d taken the biggest step of all.

She’d chosen her own path.

—-

Grace: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (click on the cover of the book). Read Elizabeth Scott’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

Parenting and Writing

Over on the SFWA.org site, I have up a column about managing a writing schedule while being the stay-at-home parent, as I was while Athena was an infant, toddler and pre-schooler (and still am, as it happens). It’s features five tips I used to make it work for me. If you’re a stay-at-home writer with a child at home, some of them might work for you, too.

Note: You can leave comments over on the SFWA site (I encourage it, in fact), but be aware the comments are moderated and there might be a bit of a delay before your comment is visible. Patience is a virtue.

Hello I Must Be Going

The good news: Hey, look! I (represented by my name) am on the cover of the Official Stargate Magazine! Superimposed on Richard Dean Anderson’s head!

The bad news: It’s the last issue ever.

Clearly, I’ve killed yet another magazine. I’m sorry, man. I don’t know how this keeps happening.

And, Mr. Anderson: I do hope my name scrubs off eventually.

(image snurched from here)

Clash of the Geeks Write-Ups and Status Check

Well, it’s been a busy day here at the Scalzi Compound, not the least because I’ve been kept busy with PR duties for Clash of the Geeks while still doing everything else I’m supposed to do with my day (writing, consulting on SG:U, fighting crime, tweezing the cats, etc). But it’s paid off pretty well; here’s a compendium of notices we’ve gotten today in the media.

Boing Boing

LA Times

Wired

Quill and Quire

io9.com

Publishers Weekly

And a very special mention to Neil Gaiman, who brought UnicornPegasusKitten.com to its knees with this Tweet, but then I turned on SuperCache and everything was groovy again, and Neil was awesome for sending people our way. And of course the CoG contributors did their part as well. And then finally, if you’re one of the people who blogged or tweeted (or retweeted, or made a Facebook post, and so on), please know that you are a Hero of the Revolution and your efforts are really very much appreciated. I would kiss you all, but considering how sick I’ve been recently that might not be the very best idea at the moment. Maybe a hug. A brief, friendly-but-not-too-clingy hug.

I’m happy to say we’ve raised several thousand dollars to this point (exact numbers are hard to pin down, they keep changing), but we’re hoping to do more and I’m hoping if you’ve not checked out the chapbook already, that you’ll still take the opportunity to download it, consider making a voluntary payment, and tell your friends about it. All that word of mouth makes a difference. Thanks again very much for it.

Announcing Clash of the Geeks, a Chapbook from Wil Wheaton, John Scalzi and Subterranean Press, to Benefit the Lupus Alliance of America

Unspeakably Awesome Art: Jeff Zugale

Yes, folks: It Is Here. Directly below you’ll find the short form of the announcement, which includes where to get it and how to help us fight the battle against lupus. After the short form, I’ll have some thoughts for you.

SHORT FORM:

Wil Wheaton, John Scalzi and Subterranean Press are proud to announce the publication of CLASH OF THE GEEKS, a special and fantastical electronic chapbook. It features stories by Wheaton, Scalzi, New York Times bestseller Patrick Rothfuss, Norton Award winner and Hugo Best Novel nominee Catherynne M. Valente, Hugo and Nebula Award nominee Rachel Swirsky, and others, and is for the benefit of the Michigan/Indiana affiliate of the Lupus Alliance of America.

The chapbook is available in multiple DRM-free electronic formats at http://unicornpegasuskitten.com. It is free to download, but voluntary payment is strongly encouraged, via Paypal or by tax-deductible donation, with links to both provided at the unicornpegasuskitten.com Web site. All proceeds from this chapbook will go to the Michigan/Indiana affiliate of the Lupus Alliance of America.

LONG FORM:

Holy crap, is this a great little chapbook.

I’m not just saying that. Look, like probably the rest of you, I figured that when the stories for this thing came in, they would be cute and silly, and that we’d all just bask in the glow of doing something useful, namely, raising money to help folks afflicted with lupus. But then the stories did come in, and, well, damn, y’all:

We’ve got an actual epic poem by Patrick Rothfuss. We’ve got a one act play by online gaming community legend Stephen Toulouse. We’ve got Wil having a ball playing with his own image (and mine). We’ve got a song, complete with notation, from John Anealio (listen to it here). We’ve got Cat Valente hitting one completely over the wall with her awesome. We’ve got a surprise special guest appearance by Rachel Swirsky, who submitted to the fanfic contest, and who I took out of contention because that’s just not fair for the other kids. And speaking of the fanfic contest, Bernadette Durbin and Scott Mattes’ pieces are going to just knock  you out. Oh, and yeah, I put a little something in there, too.

Seriously, people. This is great stuff. And the fact it is great stuff about the most ridiculous picture that has ever existed in the world just makes it that much more amazing. I really couldn’t wait to show it to you all. And now I don’t have to wait. Here it is. Go get it, and enjoy it, and have as much fun with it as we have, and tell all your friends about it as well.

No, really: TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT IT. We really really really want you to. We want as many people as possible to see it, because we’re proud as hell of these stories, and because we’re trying to do something good here for other people.

Which is the other thing.

You’ll notice that we’re offering Clash of the Geeks as a free download. You don’t have to pay for it, or make a donation to fight against lupus. And if you don’t, that’s fine. But if you can – if you’ve got the suggested minimum payment of $5 to spare — we would really like it if you did. All of the money that comes to us for this is going back out the door again, into the coffers of the Michigan/Indiana affiliate of the Lupus Alliance of America. We paid our writers and our artist, but we did that out of our own pockets. Wil, Subterranean Press and I aren’t seeing a cent from this. That’s not what this is about.

We did this thing because we thought it would be fun and because we thought you would have fun reading these stories. But we also did it because people we know and love and care about are afflicted with lupus. Lupus, if you don’t know, is not an easy disease to live with: it attacks your immune system and does all sorts of damage, and those who live with it genuinely do struggle. We’re doing this for fun, but we’re also doing this to help those people living with lupus, some of whom are family. It’s a personal thing.

Which is why, again: If you can pay, we hope you will pay. Our $5 suggested payment is not a lot for you, especially when you consider the sheer amount of awesome this chapbook contains. But if each of you chip in (and tell your friends about it, and they chip in, too), those $5 payments will add up pretty quickly. And then we’ll be doing some real good, as well having fun. We’ve made it to easy to pay through PayPal, but for those of you who would enjoy a tax deduction, we’ve also set up a way for you to get one of those as well. In both cases, just go over to the unicornpegasuskitten.com site and we’ll get you all set up.

And now I’ve blathered on long enough. Go and get this thing, and enjoy it. I know I did. I know you will, too.

Canoes, Canoes, Canoes

If you’ve been following the Twitter feed today, you know I was at a picnic today: My mother-in-law’s company was doing its annual employee thing, so off we went. I won’t bore you with the details, but here are a couple of pictures from the day:

Athena and Krissy, working the canoe;

Today’s sunset, minus the actual sunset but plus some fairly impressive crepuscular light.

And that’s the day for you.

This Will Be the Most Successful Whatever Entry Yet

According to the little stats program WordPress provides us, over the last two days a nearly exact number of people linked to and/or directly visited the entry where I told people to write or don’t, and the entry featuring a YouTube video of two choir boys meowing like cats.

A nearly exact number.

I find this deeply amusing.

And it also suggests that people here equally intrigued by serious themes and complete abject nonsense. Perhaps at the same time.

Which means that by my calculations, what I present below will make this the most successful Whatever entry yet.

Ladies and gentlemen: Polemical Sparkle Ponies!

And yes, I’ll just take that contract for the Polemical Sparkle Ponies Postcard Book right now. Go ahead and leave the money at the door. The cat will bring it in.

It Really Was Inevitable, Wasn’t It

Proof for you that for at least one of my works, I was paid in bacon:

As I’ve said to others, the real challenge here is to figure out how to give my agent his 15% when he’s both a vegetarian and an observant Jew.

(The actual answer: Take the retail value of the Bacon of the Month Club membership and have him take 15% of that from the cash I’m being paid. Not a funny way to do it, but a fair way.)

Anyway: Hi, I’m a walking, talking Internet cliche at this point. But I am presumably getting some fine smoked meats out of it.

Black Sheep

I’ve been off doing actual work today — I know! That never happens! — and now I’m a bit tuckered out, so here, have a song that’s been burrowing through my head for the last month or so:

This is the version from Metric, the band which actually wrote and recorded it, but the probably better known version of it is the one sung by Brie Larson in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, which you can find here (it’s not embeddable). The Metric version is slightly more cool and sinister; the Brie Larson version is a little more slutty and poppy. Both are damnably hooky. Pick your poison.

The Big Idea: A.R. Rotruck

Do you remember what you were like when you were a kid? You think you do, of course, but do you really? After all, it’s been a while for most of us. For author A.R. Rotruck, the question had relevance: in creating her new book, Young Wizard’s Handbook, she was aiming to inform and entertain an audience of young people, so making that connection to her younger self seem to be a good way to proceed. Did she raise her younger spirit? And how did the younger self guide her? Let’s find out.

A.R. ROTRUCK:

One piece of writing advice I’ve heard is that you should write a book that YOU would want to read.  When I was working on Young Wizards Handbook: How to Trap a Zombie, Track a Vampire, and Other Hands-On Activities for Monster Hunters, I decided to write the book that a ten-year-old me would not only want to read, but would treasure as my favorite book.  That became my focus, or “big idea,” when working on the book: what would the ten-year-old me and kids like her want to read?

When she wasn’t reading, the ten-year-old me (we’ll call her “Tamie”) spent a lot of time playing in the woods and making crafts.  For all the books she read, she never found one that would help with this particular hobby.  Most of Tamie’s ramblings involved imagining various fantasy scenarios; grand quests and adventures.  Tamie made a burlap sack to carry into the woods because it seemed like something the fantasy version of Tamie (maybe call her Fatamie?  No, that’s getting a bit ridiculous.) would carry.  It was bulky and scratchy, but it also, to Tamie’s ten-year-old brain, seemed authentic.  Tamie would cobble together bits and pieces of crafts from books on Native American and colonial/pioneer folk art.  Tamily only had one children’s book in this genre; the rest of the crafts were far too advanced for a ten-year-old.  With Young Wizards Handbook, I wanted to write a book for the children like Tamie: fantasy fans who want to make things to help their imagination come alive with physical tools.

I envisioned Young Wizards Handbook as a scouting guide for the fantasy world.  What would a young wizard interested in monster-hunting need to know?  What activities would prepare a wizard-in-training for a career in monster-hunting?   I researched scouting guides and modeled many of the activities in YWH after them and even got a few ideas from some guides.  The monster-hunting pack came from a line in my old Girl Scout manual that “you can make a backpack out of old jeans.”  No instructions were provided, so I developed my own.  Tamie would have really liked that one, as denim is a lot less scratchy than burlap and a backpack is easier to carry than a sack.

I wanted all the activities in the book to be something that a child in our world could either create or play with to help bring the imagination alive.  Games, crafts, recipes: all of it had to be things that a child could do.  All materials had to be readily available and, if possible, inexpensive.  This created some challenges, such as how to explain something that is typically not found in a fantasy world, like aluminum foil, that is an easy to find and easy to use craft material in our world.  I knew that Tamie would not like finding aluminum foil mentioned in a fantasy book, so I HAD to invent something that would make it palatable to fantasy sticklers like Tamie.  The challenges gave rise to some really fun ideas to write, such as how the great wizard Alum Foilbach created a spell for “thin metal.”

While there are plenty of things for kids to do in Young Wizards Handbook, the activities are only about half of the book.  This book was to also be a field guide to monsters.  As I was writing the book for Mirrorstone, I had to make the information I provided about monsters concur with other Mirrorstone books, such as Practical Guide to Monsters and even the Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manuals.  I noticed that a lot of scouting guides use recurring symbols and bits of information, so I came up with the “Sight, smell, and sound” identifiers for each monster.  That was a fun mix of both imagination and researching the monsters as, while most of the monster books would be fairly detailed about what a monster looked like, they didn’t always mention sounds and description of odors were very rare.  I didn’t just want this to be a book of activities that one could use when pretending; I wanted the book itself to conceivably be a tool that Tamie would take to the woods and consult when pretending to hunt monsters.

Other information I thought wizards hunting monsters would need was basic survival skills.  Tamie loved camping so I added basic survival information that works in pretty much any world, such as how to construct a quick tent.  One part of the book that I admit is lacking as a scouting guide is the section on “how to keep warm.”  Normally, that section would have instructions on how to construct a fire.  However, as this book is intended for kids just out having fun for an afternoon, likely without adult supervision, I opted NOT to include instructions on how to make fire and instead encouraged wizards to use a “warming spell” (and thus encourage kids to use their imaginations).

When the book was finished and I had a chance to see the final copy, I fell in love with it.  If I ever get a time machine, I’m traveling back in time to give this to Tamie so she can make a monster-hunting pack instead of carrying a rough burlap sack, dry some fruit to take on her adventures, and construct a lantern to keep away the monsters when it’s time to sleep.

—-

Young Wizard’s Handbook: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.

Just Arrived, 9/16/10

What’s come in the mail:

* Bones of Empire, William C. Dietz (Ace): In the far future, a bioegineered cop must hunt down shape-shifting aliens who threaten the empire of humanity! With guns! At least if the cover is to be believed. And why would the cover lie? This is out October 5.

* When Pleasure Rules, J.K. Beck (Bantam): It’s vampires vs. werewolves in LA! Of course, in LA, that’s usually just called “Sunset Boulevard on Friday night.” Third in a series, and out September 28.

* Memories of Envy, Barb Hendee (Roc): The latest installment in the “Vampire Memories” novel has undead heroine Eleisha Clevon heading to Denver to deal with a particularly troublesome member of her species. Out October 5.

* The Silent Army, James Knapp (Roc): The follow-up to Knapp’s State of Decay (which was featured here as a Big Idea), which took an intriguing new spin on zombies. In this sequel, hero Nico Wachalowski must stop a mad scientist from building his own zombie army. Stupid mad scientists. Always up to no good. Also out October 5.

* The Book of the Living Dead, John Richard Stephens, ed. (Berkeley): Speaking of the undead, here’s a compilation of stories about them, featuring those hot young writers H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Alexander Pushkin, Sir Walter Scott and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe! Man, what I wouldn’t pay for The Sorrows of Young Zombie Werther, and now that I’ve put that out there, I’m sure someone at Quirk Publishing is already writing it. Out October 5? You guessed it!

* Trash, Andy Mulligan (David Flicking Books): In the third world of a near future, three young boys scavenging in a trash-filled landfill discover something that others will do anything to have. Yes, it’s the One Ring! (Note: it’s not the One Ring.) Can they stay alive long enough to unravel this mystery? This is Mulligan’s US debut, and arrives October 12.

The World’s Largest and Most Ironic Green Thumb

The last several weeks at the Scalzi Compound have been dry ones, which means that our vasty yard has turned a shade I call “California Brown” — except for this one peninsula of green, which you can see here. And what is causing the emerald fjord to jut into the vast brown expanse of our lawn? Well, we have new landscaping near our house which requires watering, so Krissy got some of those fancy drip hoses, which water your plants without wasting a whole lot of water — unless, that is, you forget to turn them off after an hour, at which point the excess pools out and goes into the lawn, and follows gravity to the lowest point. As you can see, we forget about the drip hoses on a regular basis, and by “we” I mean me, since I’m the one who stays at home. Yes, I suck. But it does make for interesting yard geography.

Writing: Find the Time or Don’t

Over the last couple of months I’ve gotten a fair number of letters from aspiring writers who want to write but find themselves plagued by the vicissitudes of the day, i.e., they’ve got jobs, and they’re tiring, and when they come home they just want to collapse in front of the TV/spend time with family/blow up anthills in the backyard/whatever. And so they want to know two things: One, how I keep inspired to write; two, how one manages to find the time and/or will to write when the rest of life is so draining. I’ve addressed these before, but at this point the archives are vast, so I’ll go ahead and address them again.

The answer to the first of these is simple and unsatisfying: I keep inspired to write because if I don’t then the mortgage company will be inspired to foreclose on my house. And I’d prefer not to have that happen. This answer is simple because it’s true — hey, this is my job, I don’t have another — and it’s unsatisfying because writers, and I suppose particularly authors of fiction, are assumed to have some other, more esoteric inspiration. And, you know. Maybe other authors do. But to the extent that I have to be inspired to write at all on a day-to-day basis (and I really don’t; you don’t keep a daily blog for twelve years, for example, if you’re the sort of person who has to wait for inspiration to get your fingers going across a keyboard), the desire to make money for myself and my family works well enough. Another day, another dollar, etc.

Now, bear in mind here I’m establishing a difference between inspiration for writing on a daily, continuing basis, and inspiration for specific pieces of work; those inspirations aren’t necessarily related to getting paid, and can come from any place. But even then, I find the two inspirational motivations work in a complementary fashion. I am inspired to write a particular story or idea in a fanciful way, and then the practical inspiration of getting paid gets my ass in a chair to write the thing. It’s a congenial, if somewhat unromantic, way of doing things.

As to the second of these, my basic response here is, Well, look. Either you want to write or you don’t, and thinking that you want to write really doesn’t mean anything. There are lots of things I think I’d like to do, and yet if I don’t actually make the time and effort to do them, they don’t get done. This is why I don’t have an acting career, or am a musician — because as much as I’d like those, I somehow stubbornly don’t actually do the things I need to do in order to achieve them. So I guess in really fundamental way I don’t want them, otherwise I’d make the time. C’est la vie.

(This sort of skips over the question of whether I’d be good at either acting or music, but that’s neither here nor there. By not trying, I’m not even achieving failure.)

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

If your answer is “yes,” then the question is simply when and how you find the time to do it. If you spend your free time after work watching TV, turn off the TV and write. If you prefer to spend time with your family when you get home, write a bit after the kids are in bed and before you turn in yourself. If your work makes you too tired to think straight when you get home, wake up early and write a little in the morning before you head off. If you can’t do that (I’m not a morning person myself) then you have your weekend — weekends being what I used when I wrote Agent to the Stars.

And if you can’t manage that, then what you’re saying is that you were lying when you said your answer is “yes.” Because if you really wanted to write, you would find a way to make the time, and you would find a way to actually write. Cory Doctorow says that no matter what, he tries for 250 words a day (that’s a third of what I’ve written in this entry to this point), and if you write just 250 words a day — the equivalent to a single, double-spaced page of text — then in a year you have 90,000 words. That’s the length of a novel. Off of 250 words a day. Which you could do. On the goddamned bus. If you really wanted.

This is why at this point in time I have really very little patience for people who say they want to write but then come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they don’t have the time. You know what, today is the day my friend Jay Lake goes into surgery to remove a huge chunk of his liver. After which he goes into chemo. For the third time in two years. Between chemo and everything else, he still does work for his day job. And when I last saw him, he was telling me about the novel he was just finishing up. Let me repeat that for you: Jay Lake has been fighting cancer and has had poison running through his system for two years, still does work for his day job and has written novels. So will you please just shut the fuck up about how hard it is for you to find the time and inspiration to write, and just do it or not.

And to repeat: It’s okay if you don’t. There’s nothing wrong with deciding that when it really comes down to it, you want to do things other than writing. It’s even okay to start writing, work at it a while, and decide it’s not for you. Being a writer isn’t some grand, mystical state of being, it just means you put words together to amuse people, most of all yourself. There’s no more shame in not being a writer than there is in not being a painter, or a botanist, or a real estate agent — all of which are things I, personally, quite easily do not regret not being.

But if you want to be a writer, than be a writer, for god’s sake. It’s not that hard, and it doesn’t require that much effort on a day to day basis. Find the time or make the time. Sit down, shut up and put your words together. Work at it and keep working at it. And if you need inspiration, think of yourself on your deathbed saying “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.” If saying such a thing as your life ebbs away fills you with existential horror, well, then. I think you know what to do.