Monthly Archives: February 2014

Away From Keyboard Until 3/3

So here’s a picture of a cat to keep you company until then.

But yes, as promised, I’m taking a little time off from the Internets for a personal project, and also because it’s a good idea every once in a while to walk away from the online world. Now seems like a good time.

Between now and March 3, the only thing I really need to let know about is the paperback version of The Human Division, which comes out on the 25th. And now I’ve just told you! So there’s that.

Please note that while I’m away from the Internets, commenting here is suspended. I’d hate to come back and have to weedwhack through trolls. Between now and then, if you comment, your comments will go into moderation. I will probably release them when I get back, unless there are too many, in which case I might go unnnnngh, and just delete them. Probably best to hold fire for a bit. Commenting will resume on the 3rd.

Until then, be good to each other and enjoy the rest of the Internet. If you must come here while I’m away, here, click this, it’ll take you to a random entry.

See you again soon.

In Today’s “Get Off My Lawn” News

Because I am a cranky old man who will die unloved and alone, I have updated my guidelines page to explain why I won’t help kids with their school assignments. Scroll down to the bottom of that page for the details.

But seriously, teachers: Assigning your students to trawl the internet looking for writers to pester in order to complete an assignment? Dick move. Don’t make us responsible for some poor kid’s grade. We can barely hit our own deadlines.

A Late Winter Portrait

Thanks to higher temperatures and a rainstorm, the snow pack has melted out of yard, but there’s still a fair amount of icy scree, which you may see in the foreground here. Krissy took this picture whilst walking the dog; I thought it was pretty good one. (you can see a larger version here.)

She also got a closeup of the ice you see there, and found some interesting formations in it:

Ice blossoms, basically. They’ll be gone by the end of the day.

Today, no rain or snow or storms, just wind gusts up to 50mph all day long. Fun!

THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE

Context: Chris Kluwe wrote on Twitter about how the GOP are currently destroying themselves, like the Whigs did back in the day. This is what followed.

Houston: I’ll See You Memorial Day Weekend At Comicpalooza

They’ve announced it, so I will too: I’m a literary guest at Comicpalooza, in Houston, TX, this Memorial Day Weekend. If you’re going, make sure you come and say hello. If you’re not yet going, well, see, obviously you should. More details to come the closer we get to the date.

Also, at the moment I’m posting this, Comicpalooza is running this contest for a free pass to the convention on Facebook. Like or comment to enter. Good luck!

Join the Insect Army!

“The problem is that the ‘vocal minority’ of insects who make up the new generation of writers don’t scramble for the shadows when outside lights shines on them—they bare their pincers and go for the jugular. Maybe it is a good thing that SFWA keeps them locked up. The newer members who Scalzi et al. brought in are an embarrassment to the genre.” — (name withheld) on SFF.net, during the recent unpleasantness.

Heh heh heh.

I realize, of course, that the person who wrote the comment above meant “insect” as an insult. But what do we know about insects? They are numerous, adaptable, highly successful as a class, and, when they put their mind to it, absolutely unstoppable. No wonder this person seems terrified.

As it happens, I have for a long time said that there are three types of writers: dinosaurs, mammals and cockroaches. Dinosaurs are the writers who are tied into an old model of the writing and publishing life, and when that specific model dies, so does the writer’s career. Mammals are the ones who ride the wave of a new writing/publishing model into success and prominence — but if they tie their fortunes to that one model, they’ll find themselves transformed into dinosaurs soon enough. Cockroaches, on the other hand, learn and adapt and thrive in every circumstance, in part because they know that things change. If you’re a writer, being a cockroach is the way to go.

And so, oh! The irony! Of calling writers the thing that (metaphorically) it is awesome to be, careerwise.

For the record (and because it is referring to my time in office, which I can speak about): I am immensely proud to have, along with Mary Robinette Kowal (my VP for two thirds of my administration) and the rest of the board and volunteers, through our efforts on behalf of our membership, helped to bring so many of the writers this person so dismissively refers to as “insects” into SFWA. These writers are talented, opinionated, smart and adaptable, and not coincidentally write some really great things, and were already in my time doing good for the organization. If this person wants to put me at the head of this insect army, I’m delighted to accept the commission (as is Mary! I asked her! She said yes!).

Mary and I are no longer officers of SFWA, but I think our commissions at the head of the Insect Army are still in effect: After all, not every “insect” is in SFWA (yet). And so I say to you: Join John and Mary’s Insect Army! You must write! You must be fearless! You must stand your ground in the face of deeply silly insults, clacking your pincers derisively at them! And, if you believe that every person — writer, “insect” and otherwise — should be treated with the same dignity and honor that you would accord yourself, so much the better. Together we can swarm to make science fiction and fantasy awesome!

Join our ranks!

Update: Mary Robinette Kowal adds:

“One of the things that has troubled me is seeing women who say that they are apprehensive about entering SFF because they don’t want to attract the sort of bile I did.

“It’s not just women, of course. It is any group that has been historically underrepresented.

“For all of you… we have your back. There is strength in numbers. Join our army.”

(Fabulous artwork by Ursula Vernon. She is awesome.)

Mary Robinette Kowal Offers Herself Up as a Useful Representative Example

Of what? Of the sort of crap women get, all the time.

Mary doesn’t need me to defend her, and she hasn’t asked for my support. She has the latter anyway. Mary is without question one of the most competent people I know, and I know because I have worked with her directly, and did for years. Anyone who suggests she is other than competent is, bluntly, wrong. They also, bluntly, call into question their own ability to evaluate competence.

Likewise, anyone who would publicly characterize a woman who has reached the highest levels of two separate creative fields (puppeteering and speculative fiction), winning awards and acclaim in both, and who has offered up a significant amount of her personal time and effort to work on behalf of others in her fields as “no one you should have heard of, and no one you should concern yourself with” is so deeply and profoundly wrong that the only thing they should feel at such an appallingly ridiculous dismissal is shame.

How many more award nominations and wins does she have to have before she is somebody, I wonder? How many more books does she have to publish? How many more television shows does she have to work on? How many more years of unpaid, volunteer service to the trade organizations in her field does she have to offer? How many more years of abject, unambiguous and wholly undeserved contempt does she have to endure before she is allowed to be someone “you should have heard of”? Well, and of course, the answer is that for some people nothing she does will ever be enough. When you’ve decided such a woman is an “unperson,” then you will go out of your way to make sure other people see her that way too.

Mary Robinette Kowal is a wonderful writer whose works you all should read. She is an award winner in a happily competitive field. I speak from direct experience when I say that no one has given more of her time, effort and expertise on behalf of other science fiction and fantasy writers than she has, despite the fact that there have always been at least a few of those writers benefiting from her work who have treated her, well, poorly. I admire her immensely, as a writer, as a colleague and as a friend.

To those who call this incredibly competent, talented, lauded and laudable woman “no one you should have heard of” — Good god. You could not in this life or any other be more wrong about that. The woman in question is too gracious to say it. I, however, most emphatically am not.

A Note to Sean Fodera

Sean:

If you honestly believe you can sue me for libel for linking to this article, you are, in my opinion, deeply ignorant of how libel works in the US.

For the avoidance of doubt, I do not believe that anything in that article rises to libel, not in the least because the article links to your unedited posts so that anyone may read your words in their full context. It is newsworthy, and, because of the links to your words in context, truthful. As you are no doubt aware, truth is an affirmative defense regarding libel. I am not at all sure how you may show malice defamation when an article points to your exact and actual words. In short, I am very certain you have no case.

Also for the avoidance of doubt, threatening 1,200 people with a libel suit because they link to an article they consider newsworthy is not smart, nor will it keep the article from reaching further audiences. Additionally, proving 1,200 times that each individual has acted with actual malice to defame you will be difficult, again in no small part because the article points to your words in their original setting. It will also be very expensive.

But if you are determined to sue 1,200 people for linking to a newsworthy article, you may begin with me. You know who I am and I am very sure you know where I am, since many of my book contracts route through your office. I await notification of your suit.

However, what I suggest you do instead is step away from the Internet for a while. I know you to be a decent and good person. I think in this case you’ve gotten yourself neck deep in something you didn’t intend and you’re reacting with adrenaline. Let it go. And next time be aware that everything on the Internet leaks, whether you intend it to or not.

(context for this post)

(Note: I’m turning off comments on this post. Because the thought of policing this comment thread, oy.)

(Update: It’s been pointed out to me that “defamation” is more accurate here than “malice,” so I’ve adjusted the text.)

Why I Didn’t Go To Bennington College

Photograph of Bennington College Jennings Music Building, by Jared C. Benedict, used via Creative Commons.

I read the Esquire profile of Peter Dinklage this morning, and it noted that Dinklage is a graduate of Bennington College, class of 1991. Which made me think, huh, I could have been a classmate of Peter Dinklage’s, because I was also class of 1991… and I had also been accepted into Bennington. Indeed, when it came time to choose colleges, my final two choices were Bennington and the University of Chicago. There is an alternate timeline in which I zigged instead of zagged, went to Bennington and, possibly, hung about with Dinklage in the New England wildernesses of Vermont.

I’ve told people before that I almost went to Bennington, and when I tell them that — to the extent that they know about Bennington College at all — some of them wonder why I didn’t go there. On paper at least, it seems like a better fit for my personality, at least when I was a teenager: It’s an arty, freeform school that has spit out excellent writers and novelists with regularity, including Donna Tartt, Jonathan Lethem, Kiran Desai and Bret Easton Ellis (whose writing I’m not hugely in love with, but you can’t say he’s not successful in the gig), as well as scads of other creative folk.

So I would have spent four years with a bunch of kids very much like me in an atomosphere of unfettered creative ferment. Plus, at the time there was something like an 8 to 1 female/male ratio, which to a seventeen-year-old straight boy was a definite plus, in theory at least. I was all for it. And Bennington was all for me, it appeared — halfway through my interview for the school, the alumni stopped saying “if you go” and started saying “when you go,” and Bennington itself offered me flat-out the best amount of scholarship money of any school I was accepted to.

So why didn’t I go? Because as attractive as Bennington was, and it really was attractive, at the end of the day I knew myself. I was creative and artistic and full of big ideas, but I was also madly, deeply, truly unstructured. Bennington was similarly unstructured, by intention. Which was attractive but also not really what I needed. Left to my own devices, I would devolve into a puddle of inertia. The University of Chicago is many things, some positive and some negative, but the one thing it is not is unstructured. It could provide a pedagogical spine I could slop my unstructured, creative self around.

There were other ancillary reasons as well (Bennington has only 600 students, and coming from a high school with 360 people, I wanted something a bit less intimate, for one; U of C had a worldwide reputation and deep resources; Chicago is a hell of a town), but at the end of the day, it came down to structure. I didn’t have it, so I needed a school that did. I picked U of C and have never had cause to regret it.

(I am, I would note, still largely unstructured; that I have achieved as much in my life as I have is in no small part due to having a wife who aside from every other amazing quality she has is super organized and gets things done, including for me.)

Still, my choice of Chicago over Bennington should not be read as a criticism of Bennington; it was a tough choice and for good reason. Every once in a while I think about how my life would have been different if I had took the leap and gone Bennington. It’s impossible to say, but I suspect among the several differences might have been that I would have become a novelist sooner, probably wouldn’t be writing science fiction (I see myself becoming more of a Sam Lipsyte or Gary Shteyngart sort of writer — or at least wanting to be a writer like them), and I suspect would be doing the Park Slope thing or something very close to it. I would hope I would have had the sense to marry someone like Krissy, as I don’t suspect I would have met her in this particular timeline.

And, hey, I probably would have partied with Peter Dinklage a time or two. There would be worse things to have in one’s memory banks.

A Conversation That Actually Just Happened

Context: I tasked my fifteen-year-old daughter with ordering food from the local pizzeria.

Athena: Dad!

Me: What?

Athena: I tried calling the pizza place but  I got a weird noise.

Me: Like what?

Athena: “Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.”

Me: …. That’s called a “busy signal.”

Athena: Okay. What does that mean? 

Me: It means someone else was calling them and they were on the phone when you called.

Athena: …. Well, whatever. What do I do now?

Me: Try calling again in a minute.

Athena: (Sighs) Fine.

Me: You… you really didn’t know what a busy signal was?

Athena: I’d heard of them.

Me: Hmmmmmmm.

Athena: I’m going call them again now.

Me: Okay. I’m going to sit over here, being old.

A Valentine’s Day Song for My Best Girl: “Friday I’m in Love”

Fun fact: This was the first song Krissy and I ever danced to, the very first night we met — indeed, we danced to it roughly thirty seconds after she came up to me and said “you and I have to dance sometime tonight” and I said “now is good” because if you think I was going to let the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life get away after she said something like that, you’re a silly, silly person.

Anyway. Today is Friday! And I am in love! So it’s even more appropriate than usual.

Warning: This version has me singing. And playing guitar. To varying levels of competency on both.

Hope you’re having an excellent Valentine’s Day. My your day be filled with love and/or chocolate.

Publishing Notes, 2/13/14

Just a couple for the day:

One: Today someone who had pirated editions of my work very nicely came to find out how to compensate for my work, noting that he wanted to pay me directly rather than publishers, who he felt didn’t add much value to the process. I told him I disagreed and why, and in the process offered him a point of view he’d not considered before, which he appreciated. The exchange, and further commenting from readers and authors, is available for your perusal over at Reddit’s SciFi subreddit.

The takeaway: I actually like my publishers, and they add value to my work and don’t rip me off in the process. Please don’t consider them evil (at least in their involvement with me), or try to cut them out of the pay loop. Thank you.

Two: Lots of people asking me what I think of Hugh Howey’s look at author earnings via Amazon. My thoughts about it essentially boil down to this: It’s highly anecdotal (which Hugh to his credit is up front about) and based on suppositions that are speculative at best. This is an issue for me; at the end of the day I like my book sales data like I like my UFOs: Verifiable.

So, it’s interesting and will no doubt feed some polemics for the folks who think there’s some deep ideological battle going on for the soul of publishing, but it seems to me it should be approached with the understanding that regardless of intent it’s a murky, inexact representation of what’s going on in the publishing world.

Which, to be clear, is not entirely on Hugh as the author of the report. He’s working with what he has and is, I think, making a good faith effort to make educated guesses when he doesn’t have useful data. But there is a lot of useful data he doesn’t have, because so much of the data one would need is incomplete and/or highly decentralized and/or not always in the author’s power to share –or, alternately, if the author is not happy with their sales, something they want to share. It should also be noted (as Cory Doctorow just has at Boing Boing) that Hugh’s data is limited only to Amazon. As much as it would like to be, Amazon is not the entire of the publishing retail world. I personally sell a ton of books on Amazon. But I also sell a ton of books off of Amazon, too.

What I would say is that more data sharing is good. It’s why I shared Redshirts hardcover data last year; it’s why Jim Hines talks about his writing income. In that respect, Hugh’s doing a mitzvah for writers; good on him.

The Big Idea: Pamela Ribon

Every time Pamela Ribon does a Big Idea here, I inevitably note she is one of the funniest humans that I know. I note that because a) she is, b) I think at least some of her humor springs from a place I recognize — that is, being a yearny, awkward teen whose internal world of feeling things massively outstripped the ability to express those things in a manner comfortable to one’s self or others.

This is why, even though I am a boy who likes girls, Ribon’s memoir Notes to Boys (And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public) is hilariously perfect. It’s a combination of the teenage Ribon’s letters to boys and the adult Ribon’s commentary on the letters, and reading it, I was cringing and laughing simultaneously, because I was there, man, or somewhere close enough to there that I could wave. I’m happy to say we both survived.

Here’s Ribon now with her notes to you on Notes to Boys.

PAMELA RIBON:

High school sucks. It sucked then, it sucks now, it sucks in theory, and it sucks in memory. Those four years stretch time and become infinite. Every day is all the days ever. If you were anything like me, back then you found yourself sitting in Pre-Cal with a million factorial amount of insecurity.

Even worse: this was back when there wasn’t an Internet to reach out to. No world that would listen, no place for me to carve out my “voice.” There was no way to tweet the injustices I suffered in the lunchroom. I couldn’t Tumblr my way out of a broken heart.

All I had was a whole lot of loose-leaf three-hole punch paper, and a handful of crushes.  So, I started writing notes to boys.

Sure, sure. Lots of teenage girls write notes to boys. “Hey. How are you? I’m in English. Bored. Should we see a movie on Friday?”

Not mine. My notes stuck with you.  …Probably because they were sort of stalking you.

“How can I tell you how much you mean to me? Shall I harness the sun to show you how bright my love for you burns? I will do it! Just tell me to do it and I will obey.”

I know I was only thirteen, but I was just so ready to be a woman. I wanted a loving, mature relationship that would help me survive the four years of hell I had before me. I knew if I kept writing, I would one day find the boy – nay, the man! – who was ready and willing to handle all of me. My heart. My brain. My mixtapes. My notes about my mixtapes.

I wrote hundreds of notes to boys, and almost always delivered those notes to those boys – but not before making a copy. The boys got the second, more carefully handwritten draft.  But I saved every scribbly, emotion-soaked, hormonal first draft for myself.

And I still have them.

There’s the eight-page note I’d written to a boy in my homeroom class. He sometimes talked to me on the phone after school while we did our homework and watched television. I wrote asking for advice about a boy I liked – acting like he wasn’t the boy I was talking about – hoping he could help me tell a boy who doesn’t know I like him that I might actually love him. Yeah, I was smooth like that.

Eight pages of awkward love, and then I immediately called that boy and I read him the entire letter.

Over the phone.

Things ended there. So, I spent another month writing notes to other boys I liked, wondering what I’d done wrong with this boy.

Basically, I was Carrie Bradshaw without a nightlife. Veronica Sawyer minus all of the cool.

There’s a giant folder stuffed with handwritten letters I’ve carried from city to city, apartment to house, for decades. I’ve shared some of these letters in the past at stage shows or readings, but this is the first time I’ve ever pieced them all together to try to understand why my teen self needed to share just so much of herself with boys who didn’t really want to handle that much me. I mean, they physically couldn’t: the pagecount alone was probably pretty taxing on their backpacks.

It’s scary to share them in such a permanent way as a book, that’s for sure. But every time I’ve read these letters in public—when I’ve stood in front of people and let them hear what it’s like to be in the middle of such raw, teenaged angst – a funny thing happens. Almost all of them shelter their faces as I talk, as if my words become air daggers, slicing the vulnerable spots. Other people make that gut-deep sound – that horrified moan that turns into a belly laugh – which I love so very much.

But the best part is that at some point someone will come up to me or write to me later to say, “I was just like that. I thought I was the only one. I wish teenage me could’ve been friends with teenage you. I think we would’ve helped each other through it.”

All these retroactive best friends and bodyguards, protective of my younger self. It is both beautiful and humbling. I might have felt alone, but I wasn’t. You were all there, each in your own bedrooms, wondering how you’d ever get out alive.

That’s the big idea behind Notes to Boys (And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public). I’ll tell you the most mortifying things I’ve done in the name of teenaged love, and in exchange, I’ll just blindly assume you did pretty much the same. (I mean, we all almost accidentally lost our virginities to a Skinhead, right? No? Just me? It was a small town in Texas, you guys. I didn’t know.)

I’ll remind you of that time when not having the right lunch period could pretty much destroy your social standing. Of those days when your heart could slam into your throat because The One You Love But Does Not Know You Live unexpectedly walked past you in the hall. I will remind you of that time you tried to be a vegan (because you love animals), listened to Metallica (because boys love Metallica), or started an underground newspaper (because you love Pump Up the Volume and Sassy and you are afraid of getting grounded if you put your name on something protesting the dress code).

This is a memoir for the misfits of grunge. For the ones who walked around looking like they’d just left the set of Reality Bites. But it’s also for anybody who is fifteen or was once fifteen or might have to be fifteen someday. It’s both a warning and a little therapy.  I’m sorry it’s so awkward at times. It’s because I didn’t understand how sex worked.

—-

Notes to Boys: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

 

Sunset, 2/12/14

Because it’s been a while.

If you look to the left edge of the picture, you can see a faint sun dog. There was one to the right, too,out of frame, but it was even fainter. One day I’d like to get both sides, and maybe one on top. It would be something to live for. In the meantime, however, still a very nice exit by my favorite star.