Monthly Archives: April 2012

Away For the Day

Because I will be at the LA Times Festival of Books and also hanging about with pals. Not that you’re not my pals. I love each of you as if you were my best friend since Kindergarten. But these other friends will be physically present, you see.

I’m sure to be Twittering, however, so just keep track of me there.

Also, if you will be at the LA Times Festival of Books, remember that I’m autographing today at 1pm, at the Mysterious Galaxy Booth, which is, I think, booth 372. See you there (and if you miss it, don’t panic, I’m doing two signings tomorrow, after my panels).

My Day at Webb

As part of my visit to Los Angeles, yesterday I went to my high school Alma Mater, the Webb Schools of California, to talk to the students and to give a reading. Webb, for those of you not aware, is a boarding school in nestled in the foothills of Claremont, California; among my classmates there is Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.

It was really nice to be back. Unlike a fair number of the Geek Nation, I actually had a positive high school experience, so stepping back onto the campus is always a nice thing to do. Enough time has passed that I no longer feel I should be heading to a class (unless I’m teaching), but it’s still nice to wander about with the memories of being there.

My visit had two parts. For the first part I met with two classes of students for an hour. They were studying the idea of the artist in society, and so we had a good discussion of that particular concept, looking at how (and why, and if) artists provoke, tech and provide a frame for their time. Webb always has had excellent teachers teaching generally smart kids, and both were in evidence with the crowd I was talking to — the kids were sharp and the conversation was as good as some I’ve had with adults.

The second part was me doing a reading and Q&A, which was attended by students, teachers and alumni, including some very good friends of mine from my own class. It was definitely a little weird to be doing my Author Thing at my high school, but it was also very satisfying. I started writing in earnest in high school; I wrote my very first short stories there and was encouraged onto the writing path there. This was the place where I first knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and to come back being that person — being a writer and author — did feel like coming full circle. I was happy I came.

When I was done at Webb I had the extra fun of hanging out with my very dear friends Natasha Kordus and Rob Lawrence in Claremont. We caught up and I bought Natasha a ukulele and taught her a couple of songs  on it. The Ukulele Nation has one more citizen! I feel so proud. But mostly it was just a wonderful time with people I care for, in a place that I was happy to be in again.

In all, an almost perfect day. I’m glad I got to have it.

The Big Idea: Justin Jordan

I was a 98-pound weakling — until I read this Big Idea by Justin Jordan about his comic book, The Strange Talent of Luther Strode! And just look at me now!

JUSTIN JORDAN:

You can blame The Strange Talent of Luther Strode on Charles Atlas.

Despite what my joints tell me when I get up in the morning, I am not actually all that old. But I am just at the age where I can remember when comic books were a quarter and actually did have advertisements for X Ray specs, sea monkeys and UFO’s that you could build yourself. And, of course, the Charles Atlas ads.

There were a bunch of different ads that ran over the course of decades, but the one that’s really resonated is the Hero of the Beach ad. I’d be willing to bet that even if you’ve never actually seen an Atlas ad, you probably know this one: a skinny young nerd gets sand kicked in his face by a burly bully, does the Atlas workout, comes back, punches out the bully and gets the girl, who is apparently only attracted to violent thugs.

It’s an idea that has resonated in pop culture, I think, because it speaks to something a lot of people, including but not limited to teenage boys, feel; the feeling of powerless, of feeling like you are at the mercy of things you can’t fight. And the ad promises to give you enough strength and power to be able to fight back. To be the one in control.

Which I thought was an interesting thing. What if something like the Charles Atlas course worked? I mean, really worked, and made you so strong and so powerful that you could never get sand kicked in your face again. How would a person handle having that much power handed to them?

Power is a tricky business, especially when your power is basically the ability to beat the snot out of anyone you want to. Punching out the bully might be satisfying, but then what? Do you go on punching out bullies? And do you really want a girl who is only attracted to you because you can pummel people into submission? Do you start trying to fight criminals Batman style? Where do you find them?

That was the idea that was the genesis of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, where our hero orders an exercise course from the back of an old comic and finds that it gives him superpowers. And while Luther is a good kid, he’s still just a kid, and the story is about him trying to use those powers in a way that helps people rather than hurts them.

Of course, it’s also about ancient murder cults, hyperviolence, getting the girl of your dreams and the difficulty of being a costumed vigilante, but it all started with the ads in the back of comic books. So if you like the book or hate it, well, blame Charles Atlas.

—-

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell‘s|Image Comics (digital download)

Read a preview. Visit the comic book’s Web site. Follow Jordan on Twitter.

 

 

There’s Something On the Wing

So this happened while I was on an airplane. Probably best told with the actual tweets.

Seriously, this Tristan Salazar fellow apparently just whipped that out in 20 minutes using his iPad. Yes, I am envious. And also glad that wasn’t actually on the wing of the plane.

In other news, I love it that my life is such that when I goofily dare random people to impress me, they do.

Also, hello. I’m in Los Angeles today. Well, actually, I’m in Upland, in a hotel furnished in what is best described as “College Dormitory Modern.” But on the other hand I slept extremely well last night, so who am I to complain. Today I go to talk to students at my high school and give a reading for students, faculty and alumni. This should be fun.

My Los Angeles Times Festival of Books Schedule

I’m going to Los Angeles this weekend to (among other things) participate at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which you should come to, because it’s totally free for you. Here’s what I’ll be doing:

Saturday:

1pm: Signing at the Mysterious Galaxy Booth (Booth #372). I’ll be there for about a hour. Buy a book, get it signed!

Sunday:

10am: World Building (Panel 2081). With Lev Grossman, Frank Beddor and Charles Yu (moderating). At the David Continuing Education Center.

3pm: The Nerds Shall Inherit the Earth (Panel 2093). With Pamela Ribon, Maureen Johnson and Amber Benson (interviewing). At the Bovard Auditorium.

I’ll be signing books after both panels, as I understand it.

These are going to be fantastic panels (no pun intended), with fantastic people. So now you know what you’re doing with your Sunday, should you be in the LA area.

See you soon!

Your Kickstarter Promotion Thread

I promised a thread for you to promote your Kickstarter projects, and — behold! — here it is. This is where you can share with my up to 50,000 daily readers what you want to do that they should give money to you for.

But there are rules! Please read them before you post.

1. Please post projects listed on fundraising sites only. Kickstarter is the big name in the field, but there are others as well. The point is that there is an intermediary party that people are comfortable giving financial information to.

2. Creative projects and 501(3)(c) charities only. i.e., you’re selling something or you’re doing a charity fundraiser for a recognized charitable organization. Yes, I know some people raise funds to directly pay for their rent. Not here, please.

3. Current projects only. Which is to say, projects that are still open to fundraising. This should be obvious.

4. Briefly describe yourself and your project in the comment. That way people will know if they want to link through to the full project. Don’t go on too long, though. Imagine it’s an elevator pitch.

5. One project per post (and one link per post is advised). This is because if you have three or more links in a post it will be punted into the moderation queue, and I’m traveling this afternoon and won’t be able to free them immediately. One link per post is good. Obviously you may post about more than one project, provided it fulfills every other rule above.

If your post is punted into the moderation (or spam) queue, don’t panic. I will be going through both when I am on the ground (and, if my flight has wifi, there too). They will be released in due time and if history is any indication, people will go through the comments at all times of the day and often more than once.

6. No comments in this thread except projects. Any other comments (including comments commenting on posted projects) will be deleted. This comment thread is for pitching projects only. This makes it easier for everyone to navigate. If you have questions, e-mail me; the contact info is in the sidebar.

Okay: Pitch your projects, people!

Happy Birthday, Kristine

It’s my wife Krissy’s birthday today, and she is as fantastic as ever, and I am as flummoxed as ever about how I’ve managed to be able to live my life with someone who is as clearly and obviously fantastic as she is. Of course, I understand this is what every smart husband says publicly about his wife, but seriously, people, I don’t think you understand. When people meet the both of us, and then Krissy later excuses herself for whatever reason, as soon as she is out of earshot, every single person says to me something along the lines of wow, you sure did luck out, pal. It would be annoying if I didn’t agree entirely. I suspect in a past life I must have saved a dozen infants or so from a burning orphanage and then raised them as my own children. So to the past life me who gave me such awesome relationship karma: Dude. You rock.

If you desired to offer my wife birthday wishes, I would not look askance upon it.

Speaking of My FilmCritic.com Column…

…It’s coming to an end soon. My final column there is scheduled for May 9th. In a nice bit of symmetry, my first column for AMC/FilmCritic.com was May 8, 2008, so I will have written the column for four years to the week.

The nice folks at AMC took pains to let me know that the reason  for the cancellation of the column had nothing to do with me or the writing — they were very happy with the column during its run — but was down to the usual “we’re taking the site in a different direction” stuff, which meant cutting columns in general, my column being a subset of that. As they say in the business, it is what it is.

And you ask: Are you upset? Should we start a letter-writing campaign? Storm the AMC headquarters with pitchforks? The answer to all of the above is “no.” One, I’m not upset because this is the nature of freelancing: You work a gig until you don’t. You enjoy it while it’s there and move on to the next thing when it’s done. Four years a decent amount of time to do anything freelance, and in my experience of gigs, that’s right around the average. I did the AOL Journals thing for three and a half years; I did my Official PlayStation Magazine gig for six. This slots in nicely between them.

Two, I also practice what I preach in terms of approaching writing as a business: This column is one gig, and one revenue stream, among several. It’s going away but the others are still there to keep me busy and paid. We live within our means and we save a substantial amount of what we bring in. Because we understand the nature of the business, and because we’ve prepared and planned prudently, this doesn’t hurt us. I’m in a good position from which to find new projects to replace this income. We’re going to be just fine.

Three, the AMC folks have always treated me extremely well, always appreciated the work I did for them, and always paid me well and on time. I have nothing but very good things to say about them and my experience working with them. I am delighted they let me work with them as long as they did, and I would be happy to work with them again. And heck, I even got a book out of it. That’s what you call a positive work experience.

So, no, I’m not upset. I’m pleased the gig lasted as long as it did, and that it was so thoroughly enjoyable all the way through. Clearly, as I am not upset, I don’t think there’s a reason for anyone else to be upset on my behalf. Keep the e-mails and pitchforks sheathed, if you would.

I will miss writing about films, particularly science fiction films, on a regular basis. But don’t worry. I do have plans on that score. Nothing I can share yet, and I have some other things to do first, most notably The Spank Chronicles, Book One: The Spankening. But if it pans out, it should be fun.

In any event, enjoy the FilmCritic.com columns while you can, and remember you can always pick up 24 Frames Into the Future: Scalzi on Science Fiction Film if want a memento to remember the column by (in addition to that link there, it’s also available on Amazon). And thank you for reading the column every week. I’ve had fun writing it. I hope you’ve had fun reading it.

(P.S.: As an irony, I make a snarky comment in the column this week begging not to be fired. It’s completely coincidental and was written before I was told the column is ending. I think it’s pretty funny. Note to self: Make no more snarky comments about being fired, ever.)

The Big Idea: Bradley P. Beaulieu

Do you like a little gray — that is to say, moral complexity and ambiguity — in your fantasy? Author Bradley Beaulieu is a fan of it, not only in his writing, which includes his latest novel The Straits of Galahesh, but also in what he reads. Beaulieu pops in now to explain why these shades of gray appeal so much.

BRADLEY P. BEAULIEU:

When I was young I gravitated toward Big Bad Evil sorts of books. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were my entrance books to the world of fantasy, but I quickly moved on to things like Dragonlance, The Sword of Shannara, Thomas Covenant, and plenty of others. And I suppose I was perfectly happy with them for a time, but somewhere along the way I started to find another sort of book I liked better, one where things weren’t so black and white. I found myself drawn to books with grey characters living in grey worlds. Thieves’ World had a big effect on me when I read it. Paradoxically, for a world described as the armpit of the Rankan Empire, it was like a breath of fresh air seeing so many characters not out to Stop Evil, but to further their own ends. C.J. Cherryh’s Faded Sun Trilogy and Celia Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy had an even stronger influence. In these books I was dealing with people only a shade or two different from me. Yes, they’d been raised in a world different than mine, but I could see myself having the same hopes and fears, and doing the same things because of them.

I didn’t know it at the time, but these were the coals in which my writer’s voice was being forged, a voice later sharpened and honed by authors like Glen Cook, Guy Gavriel Kay, and George R.R. Martin.

Around this time (my college days at the Milwaukee School of Engineering) I became transfixed by the lead up to and eventual deployment of Desert Shield. I was certainly interested in the war from an American citizen’s standpoint, but I’ll be frank, I was more interested in it from a humanist standpoint. I’d only ever experienced war through history class and documentaries and through the utterly imperfect lens of movies. To watch what were essentially first-hand reports of bombs dropping down chimneys was not merely chilling; it upended my views on the meaning of war. Through the wonder of technology, I was seeing war, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if a bomb were guided by laser down my chimney—or worse, down my mother’s or my father’s or my best friend’s.

I marveled at how easy it was for nations to go to war. I marveled at how, even in our supposedly modern day, a mere handful of individuals can bring us to a place of senseless carnage, a place that has little to do with what we were supposed to be fighting for in the first place. I marveled at how few people can be involved in such momentous decisions, at how many would be affected, at how small the world was becoming. As time went on, Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm, and eventually we ended up with the Afghan War, the Iraq War, and countless further complications from events that had occurred not just in the past few decades, but in the past few centuries.

Through all of this, it became clear just how capricious we can be—and by we, I don’t mean Americans or British or Iraqis or Afghans; I don’t mean Atheists or Christians or Muslims or Jews; I mean humans. This long-term fascination with conflict spurred an interest within me to explore its very nature, an itch that these novels, The Lays of Anuskaya, are finally allowing me to scratch.

Mind you, I didn’t set out to recreate the conflicts of our world in my fiction. I was, after all, writing in a secondary world filled with cold, inhospitable archipelagos and Muscovite leanings. Plus, by the time I started writing The Winds of Khalakovo, the whole question of how and why we turn to war and what comes of it had largely been absorbed into my psyche as something that needed expression; it was part of the very soil in which I was working. So while I didn’t set out to recreate any one conflict from our world in my Cyrillic fantasy, you’ll certainly see echoes of colonialism and exceptionalism in my work. You’ll see fundamentalism and the polarization of politics. You’ll see the rigidity of views passed down from father to son and from mother to daughter.

This is all really dancing around the premise of this blog, though. What is my Big Idea? Like many authors, I had a difficult time nailing this down, but if there’s any one Big Idea in my trilogy, I suppose it would be this: to explore our inability to back down in even the smallest of ways when we stand on the opposite sides of an argument. In The Winds of Khalakovo, I explore exactly that, this rigidity of thought, and in the second book, The Straits of Galahesh, I show the first tentative steps toward reconciliation, hands extending in friendship even while swords are raised to lop them off for doing so.

And in the third book… Well, we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out.

—-

The Straits of Galahesh: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (PDF link). Read the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Whatever: Now With Extra Added Comment Preview

At the request of many, I have, with the help of the folks at WordPress, enabled a comment preview button here. So now you may check for typos, errors, and bad html coding in your comments before they go live. You’re welcome, and I hope you enjoy your Whatever feature. Try to use it only for good.

Also, let me know if you find any problems with the feature; I’ll try to get the dealt with as soon as possible.

There was slight fiddling with Whatever’s theme as part of getting the feature to work. Don’t panic, I’ll gussy the place up again later today.

I’d like to thank Thorsten Ott at WordPress for doing all of the heavy lifting on this; he was extraordinarily helpful, and that helpfulness is but one reason why I am delighted that Whatever is housed on WordPress’ VIP service.

Go ahead and try the preview on this very comment thread, if you like.

Starred Review of Redshirts in Booklist

This makes me rather pleased: Booklist’s reviewer was thrilled with the book and the magazine gave it a star, which means they consider the book to be of special note. You’ll need to be a Booklist subscriber for the full review, but if I were a publicist, these are the pull quotes I would use:

[Scalzi's] new novel is a real joy to read… new and decidedly mind-bending… It’s hard to imagine a reader who wouldn’t enjoy this one.

w00t! Cannot complain about that.

Head’s Up Re: Kickstarter Promotion Thread on Wednesday

By way of making a tangential connection to the last post, I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails recently about people who have Kickstarter things going on asking if I wouldn’t mind putting in a pointer of some sort. I’ve gotten enough of them that I’ve decided that on Wednesday I’ll have a Kickstarter Promotion Thread, in which all y’all can tell folks here about your Kickstarter project, and include a link to the project’s Kickstarter page. I figure a little advance warning will be good both for the folks who want to promote a project, and those who’ll want to fund them.

So: Wednesday, let’s say, oh, about noon, I’ll put up a thread for Kickstarter promotions. PREPARE YOURSELVES.

(And to assure none of you jump the gun and put up promotions/links early, comments on this entry are closed.)

Catching People Up On What I’m Writing

I’ve been talking a bit about the new project I’m working on here and on Twitter the last couple of days, which has led to folks peppering me with questions about it. I’ve answered these questions before but I’m not opposed to grouping the answers together for your convenience, so here’s a quick, compact update.

Dude, what are you working on?

It’s a new project I can’t officially tell you about yet, which I have given the code name of The Spank Chronicles, Book One: The Spankening.

Is it part of the Old Man’s War/Android’s Dream/Fuzzy Nation/Shadow War of the Night Dragons universe?

What part of “I can’t tell you about it yet” is not coming through?

BUT WE NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING.

Sorry, you’ll have to wait until I can talk about it.

For how long?

Probably until some point this summer.

We hate you.

I know.

What did you just finish that you are so happy about?

There was a big thorny chunk of The Spank Chronicles that I managed to hack through and which I am very happy with now.

Can we see it?

No.

Look, we’ll offer you this kitten in exchange! (holds up kitten)

I have three, thanks.

You mentioned you’re writing this on Google Docs. Why that choice?

Because my desktop computer had a meltdown and I’m writing primarily on a laptop for this project — but which laptop varies depending on which room I’m in and which one is available at the moment. Typically I use the Mac Air, but sometimes Athena or Krissy want to use it for whatever reason. In which case I use a different laptop. Using Google Docs means that I can pick up on what I’m writing regardless of which computer I’m using, and that’s actually pretty useful. Also as a word processor it’s now sufficiently advanced that for the (actually very simple) needs that I have, it works just fine. And finally, unless Google explodes, the document I’m writing won’t disappear into the ether if something happens to my computer (if Google explodes, we have bigger problems).

But now you can’t write without an online connection! You’re a slave to the man!

When I’m somewhere I can’t access the Internet (which, these days and considering I walk around with a wifi hotspot on my phone, isn’t all that often), I can still use Word or TextEdit (or Pages or LibreOffice or one of the several other word processors I have on my computer) and then paste into Google Docs later. In short: everything’s fine.

When is The Spank Chronicles going to be done? When can we see the completed Spank Chronicles?

It’ll be done when it’s done, but hopefully that will be be in the next few months. I can’t tell you when you can see it yet; that’s still being worked out.

But… you could release it on the InterWebs right now and we’d totally pay you for it! Do a Kickstarter!

Sorry. It’s contractually promised.

Hmph. Well, you should still do a Kickstarter one day.

Maybe one day.

It’s not too late to tell us what The Spank Chronicles is about.

Yes it is, we’re at the end of the entry.

Wait, no we’re n

DRM On My Books

Question in e-mail today:

I have your books on my Kindle. As an author, would it bother you if I stripped the DRM from the ebook, to read it on another ebook reader? Or should I buy another copy?

Speaking personally and only for myself, I’m of the opinion that once you bought the book, in electronic format or otherwise, it’s yours to do with as you please. So if in the privacy of your own home and for your own personal use you de-DRM’d your book files? Fine by me.

I should note on a personal level that typically speaking I don’t strip out the DRM on my ebooks because from a practical point of view I don’t find it particularly onerous. Amazon, Nook and Google all have reading apps for my phone, tablets and computers, so I don’t find the need to crack the DRM in order to read what I want, where I want. I’ll note the Apple bookstore doesn’t have an Android or PC app as far as I can know, which keeps me from buying many books out of that store (Krissy buys some, as most her iReading is done on the iPad). As a practical matter, it’s access, not DRM per se, which is the issue for me, and I suspect access is the issue for most folks.

This is separate, mind you, from the philosophical issue of DRM, which on a personal level I find unnecessary for the books I write, and which from a business point of view may actually become an economic hindrance to publishers in the long run. Charlie Stross mused about this recently, and I recommend his thoughts to you. Other authors may feel differently than I do on the philosophical and economic desirability of DRM for their work, and that’s fine, and I support their choices. My belief is every author should have the ability to say how their work is presented to consumers in the marketplace.

But again, once you’ve bought it, I think the thing is yours. As long as you’re stripping out the DRM for your own personal use, what do I care? Please don’t turn around and put the book on a torrent, etc, blah blah blah. Athena needs college. But I don’t think most people are really that interested in becoming pirates, arrr. I think most people just want to read the books they buy. I’m for people doing that.

And Now, An Insight Into One Writer’s Brain

So, here’s what my brain says to me when I write a certain amount of words of fiction in a day.

500 words (or less): YOU DO NOT GET TO EAT YOU WORTHLESS TOAD.

1,000 words: You’re a slacker. Do better tomorrow.

2,000 words: You’ve hit quota! Have a donut.

3,000 words: ZOMG TODAY SIR YOU WERE ON FIRE.

4,000 words: Whoa, dude. Nice run, but you keep doing this, you’ll collapse a brain lobe.

5,000 words (or above): UUUUNNNGH FLOOOOBA GUNNA UNGH *THUNK*.

The most I’ve ever written in a single day: About 14,000 words. I pretty much slept for three days straight afterwards.

Today I wrote about 5,000 words. Flooooba gunna, dudes. Flooooba gunna, indeed.

Saturday Is For Things and Stuff

Can’t play today; I’m busy trying to finish up a writing project, and then I have things to do and stuff to take care of. Or is it stuff to do and things to take care of? I always get the two confused.

Which brings us to today’s poll to keep you amused whilst I am away:

As always, feel free to explain your vote in the comments.

Your Weekend Reading: The 2012 Short Story Hugo Nominees

As you may have heard, the nominations for this year’s Hugo Awards are out, and I am nominated in the Short Story category for my completely ridiculous April Fool’s tale “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue.” I am of course delighted. But there are four other stories that have made the cut, and they, too, are excellent. Have you read them? If you have, then congratulations, you are awesome. If you have not, well, let’s fix that.

So: Below, the links to all of this year’s Hugo Short Story nominees. Read them, enjoy them, and, if you plan on voting for the Hugo this year, consider how you’ll rank them for this year’s ballot. It’s going to be tough to pick a favorite, I know. But it wouldn’t be fun if it were easy.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld April 2011)

The Homecoming” (PDF link) by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s April/May 2011)

Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s March 2011)

The Paper Menagerie” (PDF link) by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction March/April 2011)

The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (Tor.com)

Happy reading!