Monthly Archives: July 2011

Today’s Advertisements for Myself

Out there in the world are some nice recent pieces about me and/or my latest book:

1. My local paper, the Dayton Daily News, has run a feature about me and Fuzzy Nation, with a focus on what it’s like to be a writer living in Ohio (pretty good) and if living here has had a negative impact on my career (evidently not).

2. Right before the madness that is San Diego Comic-Con, the San Diego Union Tribune chimes in on Fuzzy Nation, and has nice things to say about it, including this blurb-worthy line: “Year’s best? Yeah, one of them.” There are also reviews of 7th Sigma, The War That Came Early and that new book by a fellow, the last name of Martin. I know, never heard of him either. But let’s be encouraging to him anyway.

3. Also chiming in about Fuzzy Nation is the Seattle Times, in a book column guest-written by Duane Wilkins, who many book folks will know as the fellow in charge of the science fiction and fantasy section of the University Bookstore in Seattle. Duane’s been a huge supporter of Fuzzy and my other books, and I suspect I owe him a fruit basket in appreciation.

Enjoy the links.

Visiting Dog is Visiting (Again)

I know how passionate you all are about the comings and goings of the various lesser beasts in the house, so it is incumbent upon me to inform you that Visiting Dog is once again visiting, and as you can see here, making herself comfortable on my office rug. Despite her retiring demeanor, she is capable of energetic movement; the daughter was telling us that when she took both dogs out in the yard this morning, Visiting Dog took a running start at (the much larger) Daisy, ran up her back and then launched herself into air, apparently just for the hell of it. This improbable telling of events was confirmed by the presence of paw prints on Daisy’s spine. So there you have it. It’s probably best if Daisy does not try to do the same to Visiting Dog. We wish to give her back to her family in one piece.

First They Came For the Trees and I Said Nothing Because I Was Not a Tree

I looked out the window this morning and saw this funny yellow vehicle out by my trees. And I said, huh, I wonder what that funny yellow vehicle is doing out by the trees. And then fifteen minutes later –

ZOMG the yellow vehicle ate all the trees. It was horrible! I tried to imagine what offense the trees had given to merit such a punishment — producing oxygen without a license? Flagrant exhibition of chlorophyll? — but I came up with none. And then I remembered my wife had called these guys to come take out the pines because they were largely dead and/or dying and at this point were mostly just upright kindling. Therefore, this wasn’t murder, just a decent burial.

Or so I tell myself, so in my mind I don’t have to hear the awful screaming of the pines.

The Debt Thing

Lots of you asking me what I thought about this, including one correspondent who asked the question thusly: “Will there be an economy in three weeks?”

At this point, yes, I think so, if only because Mitch McConnell has already provided exit hatch on the negotiations, i.e., Congress gives all debt-raising responsibility to the president and then runs away screaming in the night. I think this is a generally horrible way of proposing to do things — checks and balances only work when people actually wish to check and balance — but in a practical sense if it comes to that in the short run it’s better than defaulting and blowing up not just our economy, but the world’s as well.

That said, I don’t suppose it’ll be entirely surprising that I think if any debt deal fails, it’s going to fail because of House, and specifically because of the crop of dogmatic morons ideologues that comprise the Republican freshman class. I do suspect that many of those, who are currently yammering about how the people sent them not to raise a penny in taxes, are going to be surprised at how quickly the people are going to be screaming at them when the government slashes their Social Security checks in order to service debt first. If they are really made to choose between grandma and Rupert Murdoch’s tax burden, well, Rupert’s in a bit of a bad odor anyway these days. Obama did the tactically smart and entirely mercenary thing of bringing that bit up and dropping it in the GOP’s lap, I suspect both Boehner and McConnell recognize a political grenade when they see one (Eric Cantor, on the other hand, does not, much to the delight of the Democrats).

I do feel a smidgen sorry for the GOP leadership on this, because they’re trying to be grownups and I suspect they recognize, aside from any political gamesmanship issues, that at after a certain point one does not destroy the nation’s economy simply to make a point, and they have to deal with dogmatic morons ideologues who are either too ignorant or too stupid (or both!) to realize what a very bad thing it is for the United States to default on its debts. Only a smidgen sorry, however, because they actively encouraged the American people to vote in these dogmatic morons ideologues. This is one of those “You made your bed, complete with a dogmatic moron ideologue ready to screw you, now sleep in it” moments. Alas, the rest of us are in the same bed, and we have to watch.

Yes, yes, some of you say, but Obama and the Democrats are doing the same sorts of things, blah blah blah, they’re all bad actors, blah blah blah, socialism, etc ad inifitum. Meh. Are the Democrats posturing for political gain? Well, duh, yes, of course, and in these late days, seem to be doing a good job of it, too. Are they refusing to consider any sort of spending cuts for a debt deal, which would be the corresponding absolutist position for the Democrats? Not so much. I realize it’s in fashion in conservative circles to define “negotiation” as its actual opposite, i.e., offer nothing and then complain loudly that the other side isn’t willing to meet you halfway. But that’s not what “negotiation” means. And once again, while I appreciate the tender and loving consideration the Tea Party folks have for the wealthiest among us — thanks again, guys! You’re great — the fact is the wealthiest among us really can spare the cash.

Anyway. I do expect it will all get sorted out one way or another, and it’s not entirely unlikely it will end up with Boehner having to give up more than he wants to in order to get Democratic votes in the House while his far right flank sits and howls. I’m perfectly fine with this myself, and as at the end of the day Boehner is situated in an utterly safe congressional district — trust me, I know — I imagine if it comes to that he’ll be fine with it too. We’ll see if it comes to that.

(Update: edited to replace the word “moron.” Not all the freshman GOP are morons, to be fair. Although I think their obsessive focus on never raising taxes ever is foolish.)

A Writer, Pausing

No, not me. I have deadlines. But notable writer Steph Swainston, who was in my Campbell Award class, is stepping back from writing to become a chemistry teacher. Why is she doing so? The Independent has the story, and in it Swainston has a lot to say about the pressures writers face both from publishers, fans, and in making enough money to make enough books to keep both publishers and readers happy. It’s worth a read, and if nothing else it reinforces my reminder to people that writers are not in fact text-extruding black boxes; they have real lives and real life concerns, both of which sometimes get in the way of the writing.

In any event, good luck to Ms. Swainston, and I hope that she is eventually able to get back to writing, on her own terms. She writes good stuff. It’d be good to have more one day.

 

This is Useful to Remember

Sort of the flipside to this. It’s also worth remembering that if you do decide to attend an argument, you don’t have to stay until the end; you can get out early, before everyone else is rushing for the door.

(Click the illustration to go to the site I found it on.)

The People Have Spoken

And I am proud to introduce my new Google+ circle:

Who is in it? Everyone in my contacts whose last name starts with a “B,” of course. Also, those who are bees. Of which at this point admittedly there are not many. But when there are, I am ready.

Pick the Title of My Next Google+ Circle: A Poll

Because I’m sure I’ll need another one at some point.

Remember, this is for posterity. So choose wisely.

So Long, Harry

I believe it would actually be against the law for me to not note the last Harry Potter film in this week’s FilmCritic.com column, so this week I ask: Will we ever see something like the Harry Potter film series again? My answer is, yeah, probably not, but quite obviously you’ll need to click over to find out my reasons. Because, hey, if I posted those here, it’d be a blog post, not a column. And I wouldn’t get paid. And we can’t have that. So come and read, and leave your thoughts in the comment thread.

Our Furry Visitor

Which we caught dining out of the bird feeder on the porch. We’re going to have to do something about that. The little dude’s cute, but it’s only a matter of time before the dog will feel the need to try to hug it with her teeth. And that won’t end well for anyone.

Wolfgang Petersen on Old Man’s War

In an interview otherwise about Das Boot, Wolfgang Peterson is asked about Old Man’s War, which as you probably know by this point he’s slated to direct in movie form. Here’s what he had to say:

CraveOnline: I know you were going to do World’s Finest at one point, and you were attached to Ender’s Game. Is Old Man’s War finally the sci-fi movie you’ve been trying to make?

Wolfgang Petersen: Well, a long time ago I did Enemy Mine and I’ve always wanted to come back at some point. Now with Old Man’s War, I think it’s a great opportunity. That is one unusual story, let me tell you. With sci-fi, I always try to do some kind of a very emotional core to the story. In Enemy Mine it was the strange relationship between these two guys. One was a hermaphrodite and one was a human being, so that’s wild. Here now it’s a love story, it’s two humans but also there is a big twist. It’s a beautiful, beautiful series of books actually.

Oh, I agree completely.

The rest of the interview is here.

And before you ask: Everything is going fine with the movie. We just passed another option window and I’ve been told they’re in the “tweaking the script” stage. Obviously I’ll let you all know when something else happens that I can tell you about.

Another Part of the Gen-X Childhood Done and Over

Sherwood Schwartz, ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and ‘Brady Bunch’ creator, dead at 94

They were both kind of terrible shows, you know. You watch them today and you’re kind of agog; they’re related to Arrested Development and 30 Rock the way an aye-aye is related to Hope Solo. But when I was eight? They were awesome.

Godspeed, Sherwood.

Now It Can Be Told, Sort Of

Original artist unknown. If you know who it is, please inform me so I may credit them. Many of you are aware that at any one time I am, in addition to my novels, working on various Seekrit Projects, some of which pan out, and some of which do not. Here’s one that did not: For much of last year, I was working on a video game for a major game maker. Which major game maker? I cannot say. Which game? I will not tell. In both cases my Non-Disclosure Agreement is probably still in play, even as I’m otherwise no longer working on the game and as far as I know the game itself is no longer being planned. I will say this: Man, if that game had ever seen the light of day, it would have been so very cool. But not every project works out. Life is like that in the big world.

I will also say that despite the project not moving forward, I don’t regret devoting a whole bunch of time to it last year. I got to work with some really fun and creative people in a field that I didn’t already know, and in doing so I learned a bunch of new skills and also got a good look at the current state of the video game industry. All of which was really valuable and worth the time investment, and the investment of creative energy. Also, I got paid well for my time, which helps, too.

Would I work on a video game project again? Absolutely, as long as there was time in my schedule and I was working with people I admired, on a project that was worth doing. As with everything these days my time is at a premium so I have to make sure that what I’m doing is what I really want to be doing, because otherwise there are other things I’ll want to be doing more. This is not a bad state to be in.

And before you ask: Why yes, I have some new Seekrit Projects I’m thinking about and working on. No, I can’t tell you about them yet. Then they wouldn’t seekrit, would they. But yes: they are very cool indeed.

A Big Idea Reminder for Authors

It is: I’m getting a lot of authors in the last couple of months asking whether I’ll take e-book only or self-published works. The short answer is no; the slightly longer answer is to read the Big Idea submission requirements here.

As for why I have those submission requirements, there are two primary reasons:

1. So that people who are interested in a book featured in a Big Idea have a reasonable chance of walking into a bookstore or major online retailer and finding it immediately;

2. Because I don’t have time to read every single book that people propose for Big Ideas, and I so use publishers who service bookstores on a returnable basis as a filter for which books to consider, particularly from authors who are new and/or of whom I have not previously heard.

Yes, there are good books that are distributed by e-book-only publishers and/or are self-published. However, I generally don’t have time to read those books to make sure. Life is unfair sometimes, and this is one of those times. If the general submission criteria change over time, I will post them and let you know. But for now and the forseeable future, the current submission requirements will stand.

My Instant Google+ Review

Folks have been asking me for my thoughts on Google+, the new Googlelicious social network, so:

I like it, for a few reasons: One, it doesn’t have an arbitrary cap on the number of people you can connect to; two, it’s easy to organize the people you connect with into buckets (Google calls them “circles”) that  better reflect your actual relationship to those people; three, the interface is clean and minimal but effective; four, it’s not yet clogged up with bots and announcements from games I don’t give a crap about that one or another of my connections has bought a cow or taken over a castle or whatever. So: Clean, easy to use, not obnoxious. Is it perfect? No, but from my point of view it’s better put together than other social networks, if for no other reason than the people at Google have had time to look at all the mistakes MySpace and Facebook made (and the previous mistakes they made with Buzz and Google Wave) and avoid doing those. So far: it doesn’t suck.

Will I use it a lot? Got me. My main online hangout is here, followed by Twitter; I update both of those several times a day on average. I put a post on Facebook maybe once a week, partly because Facebook irritates me enough that I wish to spend as little time as possible on it while still keeping contact with friends who like it (I’ve mostly stopped adding “friends” there because I only have a couple hundred friend slots left and I want to keep those for people I actually know — sorry people I don’t know who want to be my Facebook “friend.”). I notice myself going to Google+ more than Facebook (or MySpace, or LinkedIn, etc) because I find it easier to get about in and so far it doesn’t annoy me technologically and philosophically like Facebook does. Take that as you will.

Would I recommend Google+? If you’re in the market for a social network, sure, why not. I still prefer my own blog, followed by Twitter, but provided you can get enough of your own pals to join up with you, Google+ does the things social networks are supposed to do — make it easy for you to stay connected with people you like/know/have some passing interest in — without making an ass of itself. So far, anyway; we’ll see if it lasts.

Clarion and San Diego

For those of you who like these sorts of things, a recap of my last week.

Clarion: No real specifics here on account that I told the Clarion students that what goes on there stays there, and I would look like a real asshole if I turned around and blogged in detail about it. But I can say some things on a general sense. First, this year’s crop of Clarionites is smart and talented and I would not be in the least surprised if you see them selling stories very quickly (in fact one sold a story last week, so there you are), and I really enjoyed spending my week with them, both in the classroom setting and then outside the class as well — mostly at meals, which is one reason I gained a few pounds last week, ooof. But it was worth it. And the Friday Night Ukulele Hoedown will almost certainly go down in Clarion history. I will say no more about it. You had to be there, man.

Second, Clarion was a learning experience for me, which I regard as a positive thing. I have done the workshop instructor thing before, of course; I did three years at Viable Paradise. But there I was accompanied by seven other instructors, who shared the load of critiquing, lecturing and other sorts of student/instructor interaction. At Clarion, it was largely just me for a whole week. Before it happened I wondered how it would go, and whether I would be able to actually be useful to students flying solo. Clarion in itself is scheduled so that as an instructor you get a fair amount of time with each student, which helps a lot. But largely it’s on you. I decided the way I was going to be most useful was to talk to the students about the practical aspects of the writing and publishing life, which is a focus that will come to no surprise to anyone who spends any amount of time here. So I did that and generally it seems to have worked. Color me relieved.

I’m relieved that I think I’m a good writing instructor in the workshop setting. I think it’s interesting as well since to be blunt about it I would have been an absolute disaster as a workshop student, primarily because at the point in life where a workshop might have been useful, my attitude toward workshopping was “Are you an acquiring editor? Are you going to pay me for this story? No? Done with you.” In other words, I was a prick about it. Perhaps more generously to my former self, I think it continues to be true that workshops are more useful to some people than to others, with much of that contingent on a personal willingness to engage in the process. As an instructor, I’m working with students who have self-selected to be open to this particular process (generally; there’s always the chance the student doesn’t know themselves well enough and misjudged their ability to handle criticism), so that makes the process congenial, from an instructor point of view. I am glad I as an instructor never had to deal with me as a possible workshop student. I probably would have pushed that smug little jackass out a window.

So yes, Clarion: A very positive experience for me, and I hope a positive experience for the students as well.

San Diego: Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been shy about expressing how much I genuinely enjoy San Diego and its environs; it’s pretty much the perfect city for me. This last week reinforced that general opinion, since it was perfect weather all the time I was there, and walking past the eucalyptus groves on the UCSD campus reminded me why no matter where I live I continue to think of myself as a Californian in exile. I’m not in a huge rush to get back to California on a full time basis, mind you — I like where I am — but this is about mindset as it is anything else. But if I were going back to California, San Diego would be a prime destination.

That said, most of my time last week was spent on the UCSD campus, since that’s where Clarion was, and that’s what I was there to do. When I lived in San Diego for a summer in 1990, I would occasionally get onto campus to visit friends, but this was the first time I spent any real time there, and I have to say it’s a very nice place to go to school. I’m hoping California’s current budget crunch (another reason I’m not in a rush to get back, although it’s not as if Ohio is covering itself in glory on this matter either) doesn’t gut the place. But even if it does, it’s still in La Jolla. Dear UCSD students: You are lucky bastards. Remember that.

I was in San Diego to work, but Krissy and Athena were on vacation, so they did all the vacation stuff you’re supposed to do, including the zoo, the Midway, Sea World (see previous entry with dolphin pictures) and of course the beach, which I managed to accompany them to once. I’m pretty sure they had fun all week long.

My own non-Clarion big event was a reading at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, which was, happily, well attended (it was standing room only) and at which people seemed to have fun. It was fun for me since I had family there and also a couple of surprise guests, including one of my best friends from college who just happened to be in town and showed up; I had real moment of (happy) cognitive dissonance when I saw him standing there. He went to dinner along with me and my family and Greg van Eekhout, who also popped up for the reading and who I was happy to get to spend a little time with. The reading was also nice because some of the fans there noted my daughter in attendance, and as Zoe’s Tale was dedicated to her, asked her to sign the book as well. So here, for historical purposes, is Athena signing her first autograph:

And there you have it. San Diego and Clarion: Fun for everyone involved.

What the Other Scalzis Were Doing in San Diego

So what did Athena and Krissy do while I was teaching at Clarion? Commune with dolphins, as you can see from the picture above. I was all for this until they came back to the apartment we were staying at in San Diego and started moving around the room via echolocation; that gave me a headache after a while. But otherwise, it was groovy.

In other news, hey, we’re back in Ohio. The plan for Sunday: Sleep and lots of it. You can tell me this is not a good plan, but I won’t listen. Because I’ll be asleep. It’s foolproof.

On My Way Home

Clarion has wrapped up for me, although not for the students (they have four weeks to go, and Elizabeth Bear is their next instructor). I’ll have more to say about it later, but the short form is: A very excellent time, with folks whose writing I don’t doubt you will hear more about in the near future. Saturday will be given over to air travel and then seeing if the cats remember who I am. I hope they do. We will see.

Catch you all on the other side.

The Big Idea: Diana Rowland

What if everything you knew about zombies was… well, if not exactly wrong, at least somewhat up to negotiation? Author Diana Rowland asked herself this question while thinking about the subject of her latest book, My Life as a White Trash Zombie, and by using her BRAAAAINS (yes, yes, I know, I’m sorry I just did that too), gave on an established set of zombie tropes some new life. What did she do? It’s time to find out.

DIANA ROWLAND:

Fun fact of the day: In an average, run-of-the-mill autopsy, the internal organs—including the brain—are removed from the body for closer examination by the pathologist. However, when said autopsy is complete, the organs aren’t put back into the body, but are instead placed in a container or plastic bag and are sent to the funeral home along with the body.

I know this because I used to work in a morgue, and part of my job was to do the actual brain removal. (I’ll refrain from going into detail as to the actual procedures out of respect for any of John’s readers who might not have as high a tolerance for ick and gore as I do.)

The first time I put a brain into the plastic bag, I—being the nerd that I am—joked that it was a waste of a good brain, and that any self-respecting zombie would be more than happy to feast upon such. It says a great deal about the people with whom I worked that they found this funny instead of horrifying.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of a zombie who worked in a morgue for easy access to brains. However, at that time I was shopping my novel, Mark of the Demon, to agents, and wasn’t in a position to dive into another project. Therefore I simply made a few notes, and set the idea aside. My demon book sold not too long thereafter, and thus I figured it might be a few years before I could think more about zombie morgue-workers. Unfortunately, the publishing world had different ideas, and shortly after Mark of the Demon hit the shelves I found out that a reorganization within the company meant that I—along with many other authors—were not going to be offered contracts for more books, for reasons that had little to do with our sales numbers.

Suddenly I had motive, means, and opportunity to see if this zombie story had any life in it. At least, if I wanted my writing career to have any life. (Yes, I’m doing a metaphor thingy.)

Obviously, it was a story that needed to be told from the zombie’s point of view, which also meant that I had to jigger with the “purist” concept of zombieism—the one that defined a zombie as being a mindless, ravenous creature. However, after a good deal of research, I discovered that, for all intents and purposes, there was no such thing as an original zombie story. Every author or filmmaker who’s ever put zombies into their stories has made up their own rules, which meant I could do the same. And, I did. I decided that my zombies have to eat brains in order to stay “whole.” Without them they rot, turn mindless, and get very, very hungry.

Now I needed my character. I didn’t want this to be a depressing story about someone whose life was ruined by becoming a zombie. Instead, I decided that this needed to be the best thing that could have ever happened to my character. She needed to be a loser, without prospects, with nowhere to go. She had to be someone who couldn’t hold a job, who suddenly had to hold a job, i.e. working in the morgue so that she could get the brains she needed.

And thus my main character was born—a high school dropout with a pill and alcohol problem, a felony conviction, a loser boyfriend, an alcoholic dad, and a bad attitude.

Since I also used to be a cop I’m big into mysteries, so I wrapped her story around a search for a serial killer—one who took the heads of his victims. Oh, and I also wanted it to be funny. Easy, right? It helped that a former coworker of mine at the coroner’s office used to tell all sorts of outrageous stories about her white trash dad and her redneck family. “I’m going to write a book about you someday, Angel!” I used to say…

Going back to the death of my writing career (yes, I’m being all metaphory again!): My wonderful agent was doing his very best to find another publisher to take on my Demon Summoner series. However, since I knew the chances of that happening were quite slim, I went ahead and wrote up three chapters and a synopsis of My Life as a White Trash Zombie, and sent it to my agent, who in turn sent it to Betsy Wollheim at DAW. Less than a week later I received word that she wanted to buy three White Trash Zombie books. Oh, and she also wanted to pick up my other series, and offered to buy three of those books as well.

And now I shall beat you to death with the metaphor: Getting dropped by my first publisher was the best thing that could have happened to me. Like a zombie on brains, my career has new life. And a new series!

—-

My Life As a White Trash Zombie: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.