Monthly Archives: March 2014

Three Things on a Monday Morning

They are:

1. I’m traveling back home today, so once again don’t expect too much here. Don’t worry, you’ll get a full blast tomorrow, even if I don’t in fact get bored and write a post on the plane. Seattle was lovely; Emerald City Comicon was a blast.

2. Today is the VERY LAST DAY to nominate for the Hugos, so if you have not done so (and can), now’s the time to do it. You have until 11:59pm Pacific time. Get to it, folks.

3. Tomorrow will be the last day to get the latest edition of the Humble e-Book Bundle, the drm-free set of excellent science fiction and fantasy works which includes “The God Engines,” i.e., “The Most Cheerful Thing John Scalzi’s Ever Written” (note for the sarcasm-impaired: It’s not actually cheerful at all, quite the opposite in fact). Remember that you can name your price and that a portion of the proceeds go to charity. Can’t lose on this one.

Have an excellent Monday, folks.

 

Reminder to Emerald City Comicon Attendees: Reading/Q&A Today, 5pm

It’ll be in room 3AB, which I’m told seats about 350, so there should be pleeeenty of room. Please come by and do your best to fill it up. To entice you, I will be reading from Lock In, my upcoming novel. Yes! Get a sneak preview before nearly every other human on the planet! And then will be answering whatever questions folks can think up. It’ll be fun. And the rest of the day I will (mostly) be at my table, TCC Level 3, Table JJ-23. Bring your books from home or get new books from the University Bookstore, which has set up shop in room 309. I will sign them all.

An update for everyone else: Emerald City Comicon has been lovely and crowded so far (I expect today will be even more crowded), and I’m having a pretty good time. I’ve managed to get away from the Convention Center a couple of times and see the city with friends, so that’s been a good thing, too — Seattle is a great city, even when it rains. And some of my favorite people are at ECCC this year, so that’s been making it even better. So, generally, a good time. The only drawback is my body is still on east coast time, which means that by 10pm I turn into a pumpkin. I’m sure that will fix itself just in time for me to go home on Monday.

Off to the Emerald City Comicon

Well, I mean, once I get out of this bed, shower, and maybe eat something.

I’m likely to be scarce around the blog today, but if you can’t live if living is without me, keep tabs on the Twitter feed. Weird to think some of you don’t follow me on Twitter, but there you go.

View From a Hotel Window, Seattle Edition

I got a gull! Actually, there’s several. I expect they will wake me. Not sure how I feel about that.

In other news, hi, here I am in Seattle for Emerald City Comicon, which begins tomorrow. Here’s my schedule of events. Come say hello! That is, if you can get in; I understand it’s sold out. Even so.

The Big Idea: Elle Cosimano

13424949823_462cc3db3c_z

 What’s in a name? If you’re author Elle Cosimano, it turns out quite a lot. The name of her protagonist in Nearly Gone was a key to unlocking the character — and the novel itself.

ELLE COSIMANO:

I don’t really feel like I know my characters until I know their names. The early stages of writing a book often feel like walking through a crowd at a party, trying to identify smiling faces that look only vaguely familiar across the room. There’s a comfort in knowing someone’s name, an implied closeness. So when my little brother turned eighteen and changed his name, I questioned whether I’d ever really known him at all.

Shannon had always been small, a wisp of a boy with a mop of hair that was bigger than he was. He was picked on mercilessly for years, for his too-petite size and his too-feminine name. He was the smallest kid on the wrestling team—hell, he was the smallest kid in all of his classes—and yet somehow, he managed to be the loudest and most troublesome, like he spent every waking hour trying to prove to the world that he was big.

The day he left for college must have felt to him like a fresh start. A way to become someone new. Someone stronger. He wrapped himself in the name Sean, burying Shannon inside him, expecting someone larger than life to come bursting through. And while I quipped to him that I didn’t know this boy named Sean, I don’t think I truly understood Shannon—his most deeply rooted fears and insecurities, or the acceptance he yearned for—until he chose to become someone new.

My main character’s name wasn’t always Nearly Boswell. Finding her name was a journey that seemed to mirror my brother’s search for a name that fit him inside. Thumbing through old journals and outlines, I could show you pages of ordinary names I considered: Rachael, Kate, Samantha—but none of these names called forth an image that fit the character I was creating. The girl I pictured in my head was inspired by a former co-worker, a single mother of two adrift in the aftermath of a painful divorce, who spent her lunch hours obsessing over the Missed Connections in the paper. She poked fun at the ads, as though it were only casual entertainment, but when she thought no one was watching, all that humor slipped away. She struck me as deeply lonely, as if she secretly hoped one of the ads had been written for her.

This image in mind, I tried on name after name, hoping one of them would ring true and help me see this character more clearly, but none of them fit. Who was she? What was she looking for?

Determined to find the right name, I started with a character sketch, a loosely scribbled outline of physical and personality traits. Her features were similar to, but not quite the same as her father’s, and while her hair was curly, it wasn’t as curly as her mother’s. She was good at math and science, almost top of her class. And she might have felt pretty sometimes, were it not for her second-hand clothes.

I ended up with a list of glass-half-empty words: almost, not quite, just about, sometimes. I found her name at the bottom of this glass. Here was a girl who was nearly.

Nearly. The word held a heartbreaking connotation that made me feel and relate to her more deeply. Because I’d felt nearly at points in my life, too.  I remembered the frustration of being a B+ student, the shame of being only worth kisses in secret but not being cute enough to date, and the pain of being loved, but not enough to hold my family together when it was tearing at the seams. Nearly became real, because she existed inside me.

Finally, my character had a name. And yet, something still didn’t fit.

Like my brother, I knew Nearly would never be satisfied to wear a name that mirrored her own sense of inadequacy. She wanted to be more. She ached to be enough. This girl, who dreamed big and set goals for herself despite odds and obstacles, would choose her own nickname, maybe even change it if she could.

And she did. As I wrote, Nearly took the nickname “Leigh”, a name that made her feel stronger and less ashamed. That choice helped me know her more deeply, just as my brother’s choice helped me to understand him. Nearly’s vehement rejection of her own name revealed her motivations and self-doubt. She wasn’t just looking for someone. She was looking to fill the void inside her—to feel whole.

My “Big Idea” revealed itself in this almost-missed connection between the significance of a search in the personal ads and the search for Nearly’s identity: that we are all, in some way, nearly—not just looking for someone else, but seeking to be someone else.  Like my brother who wanted to be bigger, Nearly who wanted to be more, and my co-worker pouring over the Missed Connections, we are all searching for our own missing piece.

—-

Nearly Gone: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The God Engines Now Added to Humble Bundle 3

Here’s the cool thing: The God Engines, my Hugo and Nebula nominated novella, is now part of the Humble eBook Bundle 3, a collection of DRM-free electronic works. The God Engines joins Jumper by Stephen Gould, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Tithe by Holly Black, and several other books by some of the best science fiction and fantasy writers today.

And how much do you pay? Well, that’s the thing: You pay as much or as little as you like for the Humble Bundle. But the more you pay, the more titles you unlock — and if you kick in $15, you’ll get the audiobook version of Cory Doctorow’s novel Homeland, narrated by Wil Wheaton (who has a book of his own in the bundle). $15 for eleven titles in total is not a bad deal at all.

And, when you buy the Humble Bundle, not only does your payment go to the authors, it also goes to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund (supporting science fiction and fantasy writers when they get into medical scrapes) and to Worldreader, dedicated to increase literacy worldwide. Two good causes, supported by this one bundle.

If you want this bundle — and why would you not? — move quickly: It’s only available for one more week.

Again, here’s the link. Happy reading!

My Emerald City Comicon Events

I’ll be at the Emerald City Comicon this weekend, hanging out, signing books and setting fire to all those who oppose me (well, maybe not so much that last one). If you will be at the convention, here are the things I will be doing:

Friday, March 28:

Writing Dialogue That Works
Room: WRITERS BLOCK (309-310)
Time: 11:00AM – 11:50AM

Writing great dialogue does not always come easily to writers. Join John Scalzi and local authors to learn how to know if your dialogue works and what to do if it doesn’t.

Saturday, March 29:

ECCC Writers Block presents John Scalzi
Room: 3AB
Time: 5:00PM – 5:50PM

Listen to John Scalzi talk about his life as author, father and all around raconteur! Best known for his Old Man’s War series, three novels of which have been nominated for the Hugo Award, John’s novel Redshirts was also recently optioned by FX to become a television series.

Also, apparently I have a table on the con floor: JJ-23, which is on TCC Level 3. Come find me. I will sign all your things. I will be there all weekend, when I’m not wandering about. My understanding is that the University Bookstore will be on hand selling books (look for Dwayne, he’ll be one of the three tallest humans at the con), so if you need to pick up copies for me to sign, there will be some on hand.

See you all in a few days!

The Big Idea: Adam Christopher

Author Adam Christopher believes two words are incredibly important to any writer, and those two words aren’t “get paid” (they’re important too, to be sure). What are those two words, and how do they relate to his latest novel, The Burning Dark (which, incidentally, received a coveted starred review in Library Journal)? Christopher’s about to tell you.

ADAM CHRISTOPHER:

What if…?

It’s the single most valuable question in a writer’s toolbox. From those two words, an infinite variety of story can flow. I might even go so far as to say it’s the foundation of storytelling.

Except, while you can reverse-engineer that initial question out of each of my first four published novels—Empire State, Seven Wonders, The Age Atomic, Hang Wire—I’m not sure any of those actually started from that point. There are as many ways to come to a story or idea as there are stories or ideas. “What if?” is a powerful tool, and although you’ll be answering that question when you write a book, you don’t necessarily need to be conscious of the fact.

But for The Burning Dark, my first foray into the kind of space opera-tinged science fiction that I grew up adoring, it wasn’t just one “what if?” question that gave me the big idea for the book. It was two.

I like science fiction of the kind that features spaceships and warp drives, federations that embrace a thousand different alien races and cultures, galactic empires that stretch across impossible distances. I was always going to write a book that had a least some of that in it.

But I also like ghost stories. From an early age, they were my favourite kind of story, and as I got older—helped, no doubt, by living right next door to a small library which had a remarkably well-stocked section on the paranormal—I developed into something of an armchair ghosthunter. From creaky old houses filled with shadows and cold spots and doors that open and close all by themselves, to people being thrown out of bed and living rooms trashed by poltergeists, I drank it all in. Whether such phenomena are real or not is beside the point—it’s a fascinating aspect of social and cultural anthropology. And they make for some damn fine stories.

So… what if you had a traditional ghost story, but instead of a haunted house, you had a haunted space station? What would that be like? How much of the trappings of old fashioned supernatural tales could you include, and what would be different?

The Burning Dark was born. Here I had an idea to combine two interests—space and ghosts—into a single story. Sure, it’s not like I’m the first person to have ever thought of that, but it immediately struck me as a fascinating idea. And one as creepy as heck.

I began to build the world. Space opera is science fiction on an epic scale, and while I was writing a small scale ghost story set aboard a decommissioned space station at the edge of nowhere, a larger universe unfolded. From that “what if?” question, I found myself describing the state of the human race a thousand years in the future, and the terrible war they were fighting against a machine intelligence, a hive-mind without reason or motive that was swarming across the galaxy with eight-legged killing machines.

And then I had another “what if?” question burning in my mind.

I don’t remember where I first heard the story, but the “urban” legend of the lost cosmonauts is something that has creeped the bejeezus out of me for years. As the story goes, before Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight, the Soviets sent up a whole bunch of cosmonauts, each mission ending in failure and death, with capsules either burning up on re-entry or drifting off into the infinite black. It’s a slice of Cold War paranoia, backed up by the Soviet’s Orwellian habit of erasing people they didn’t like from history, literally airbrushing people from photographs and deleting them from records. It’s a scary and terrible story about sending heroes to their deaths, but there’s little evidence to support it.

Except for some audio recordings, made by a pair of Italian brothers, radio enthusiasts who managed to patch into Soviet communications. The recordings are indistinct and poor quality, and, to be totally honest, could be of anything. The most famous recording is of a female cosmonaut dubbed Ludmila, apparently reporting to Soviet mission control as her capsule burns around her. Listening to her is a very weird, even slightly disturbing experience. While there is no doubt that the recording came from the Italians—that the brothers picked up something—whether or not it is what it is supposed to be is, like a good ghost story, irrelevant.

But what if the lost cosmonauts were real? What if Ludmila really did send a mayday to Earth as her mission went fatally wrong?

What if someone, a thousand years later, picked up her signal, trying desperately to answer the call before realising the transmission was an echo from another time?

And… what if Ludmila answered back?

From two different but equally unsettling ideas I had something new, something that was as big as space opera but as claustrophobic and tense as an old ghost story told around a campfire. A story about space marines fighting alien war machines, while confronting an evil far stranger, darker and older than anything they have faced before.

All from two simple words: What… if?

—-

The Burning Dark:Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

New Public Appearance Announcements: Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Phoenix

2014 has become a very busy year for travel and for appearances. New on the slate:

1. I’ll be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 12, doing the panel “Redshirts: From Page to Screen” with Redshirts producer Jon Shestack and with TV Writer/novelist (and my super-awesome pal) Pamela Ribon as moderator. That will be at 2:30pm in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, on the USC campus. Immediately after the panel I’ll be signing books, and I’ll be doing a second signing session at the Mysterious Galaxy tent at 5pm.

2. For booksellers and other folks in the publishing/book-related world, I’ll be at Book Expo America this year, which runs May 29 – May 31 at the Javits Center in New York. My schedule is still being formed and I will post it when I have it, but I can already tell you I will be doing some pretty cool stuff.

3. On May 2 – 4, I’ll be at Penguicon, in Southfield, MI (i.e., suburban Detroit). I don’t currently have anything planned for the convention other than hanging about, but I may add a panel or two.

4. Finally (for today, anyway), I’ll be returning to Phoenix Comicon once more for three days of fun and excitement and crazy wacky nonsense. The con runs June 5 – 8; I’ll be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Phoenix always does a great job getting fantastic authors to participate, and this year is no exception.

These are on top of already scheduled appearances in Seattle (this week!), Houston, San Francisco, Detroit (again) and London. And there are likely to be at least a couple more to come, not including the tour for Lock In, which will happen in the August/September timeframe. All the dates and details, as always, are noted on my Scheduled Appearances page. Check in on that page anytime.

Reader Request Week 2014 Recap

In case you missed any this year, the complete Reader Request entries for 2014:

Reader Request Week 2014 #1: Travel and Me

Reader Request Week 2014 #2: Writerly Self-Doubt, Out Loud

Reader Request Week 2014 #3: How I Stay Happy

Reader Request Week 2014 #4: How I See You, Dear Reader

Reader Request Week 2014 #5: Hitting the Lottery

Reader Request Week 2014 #6: Enjoying Problematic Things

Reader Request Week 2014 #7: Editorial Independence

Reader Request Week 2014 #8: What Writing Lurks In the Shadows?

Reader Request Week 2014 #9: Short Writery Bits

Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits

Thanks again, everyone who submitted a request!

The Big Idea: Bill Quick

It’s the end of the world as we know it — and we do know it, because the end of the world has been essayed enough over the years. How to change it up and make things fresh? That was the question Bill Quick asked himself for his latest novel, Lightning Fall. This is how he decided to do it.

BILL QUICK:

I’ve been writing science fiction for going on fifty years now. I was weaned on the later Golden Age guys like Asimov, Heinlein, Clark, Niven, Pournelle, and the man who inspired me face-to-face, Ted Cogswell, who wrote a landmark story called The Spectre General back in the day, to whom I dedicated my first published novel, Dreams of Flesh and Sand.

I still like all these writers. For better or worse, their use of big canvases, themes, and concepts still inspires the way I write and what I choose to write about. In particular, I’ve always been moved by what were once called disaster novels, but now have been sliced and diced into several sub-genres, including apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction.   There aren’t many books I still re-read. Books like Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land have not worn well with me, but every few years I pick up an book called Lucifer’s Hammer, written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, turn to page one, and make the trek out of a burning Los Angeles once again.

I’d always intended to try my hand at this sort of epic, but somehow, in the course of writing and selling a few dozen other books, I never quite got around to it. Until now.

EMP (electromagnetic pulse) fiction has become almost a sub-genre of its own. I’ve read several examples, and found one or two impressive, but I noticed that most of them used EMP as a McGuffin: An EMP happens, and that’s the end. Everything else is all about surviving the sudden imposition of an 18th century environment on a technological civilization. A particularly risible example of this approach was a recent TV series, Revolution, which depicted young people contending against threats with steel swords.  Apparently none of the screenwriters had any idea just how much technology was involved in making swords, let alone making and working steel, and how rare that knowledge is in present day society.

My view of modern technological culture is that it is well-nigh impossible to understand how interconnected everything has become. But I wanted to write an EMP disaster novel that tried, as well as I was able, to show the social, political, technological, economic, and cultural brittleness and frailty inherent in the existence we take for granted.

The best way to do so, it seemed to me, was not simply to turn out the lights, but to turn out only some of them – and then tell the tale of the sort of problems modern America would face if somebody or something abruptly removed, say, California from our current scenery.

A book I read a long time ago, The Late, Great State of California, took a similar tack, but handled it as a laundry list of what America would lose if California sank into the ocean after The Big One.

After much thought, I decided that things would be considerably more complicated than that. It took me a couple of years of research and writing to work out those complications, and I discovered in the process that human factors and reactions would likely have at least as much effect, if not more, than the problems created by the technological disaster.

We like to console ourselves that things generally work out for the best, that our leaders usually make intelligent, rational decisions, and that tomorrow will be a better day.  Unfortunately, history teaches us this is not always, or even usually, the case.

Lightning Fall: A Novel of Disaster, is my attempt to explain, in classic hard SF tropes, why and how catastrophe has been such an enduring and intimate feature of human history.

And is there a happy ending?

Well…maybe. Depends on what you mean by happy, I guess.

—-

Lightning Fall: Amazon (Kindle)|Payloadz (ePub)|Createspace (paperback)

Visit the author’s Web site.

The Fan Writer Hugo, and Pros

Over at File 770, Mike Glyer takes aim at pro writers who have won the Best Fan Writer Hugo, me included, on grounds that we tend to minimize the Fan Writer Hugo on our professional resumes; as Glyer puts it, “People who are building careers as writers do not want to identify their brands with anything that hints of the amateur.”

I have a direct response to him in the comments there, which basically is, no, actually, I’m really proud of my Fan Writer Hugo, it’s important to me for all sorts of reasons, and I mention it here not infrequently. At the same time I’m careful how I advertise the win in my professional life because I recognize that a fair number of fans would be spiky about me using it there. In my case it’s not about worrying that it’s an amateur award, but trying to respect the context of the award and the community which awards it. Clearly (as in Glyer’s case) the mileage may vary on this sort of thing.

Glyer’s post jostled up a few other thoughts I have about the Fan Writer Hugo, how it relates to pro writers, and a couple of other points. So let me just toss them out now in no particular order.

* I disagree (obviously) with the contention that I don’t mention the award because I’m worried about its “amateur” status, but I will note that it is a strange award to discuss with people outside of sf/f fandom. “Fan Writing” is a phrase that either doesn’t mean anything to them, or, alternately, means fan fiction writing — which is generally not what is meant by “fan writing” in sf/f fandom, although strictly speaking there’s no reason a fan fic writer couldn’t win the fan writing award.

However, outside unfamiliarity with the Fan Writer award also offers an opportunity to talk a little about the dynamics of sf/f fandom, and why, in fact, it honors that amateur and fannish activity with the same awards as it honors professional work. I’ve certainly done that, because I’m not shy in discussing my Hugos with people who ask about them. It’s interesting to see the reactions.

* Now, I’m not gonna lie: As a practical matter, in my professional life as a science fiction writer, the Hugo I have for novel writing is more useful that the one I won for Fan Writing (or for Best Related Book), and there’s no point pretending otherwise. When I’m doing things in a professional context and awards get trotted out, I usually lead with the novel Hugo. But in fact, having the other two Hugos is also useful in a professional sense, because it speaks to the breadth of my writing interest and skill. When I’m selling myself as a nonfiction writer — which still does happen — those work for me.

* I (again obviously) don’t think there’s a problem with a writer who is primarily known as a pro getting the fan writing award, if the writing is fannish (i.e., largely done outside a directly professional context and touching on matters relating to science fiction/fantasy culture and interests). And I think when I won the award, it was a useful win in that I was the first person in nearly two decades to win the award who wasn’t Dave Langford, i.e., it reminded people that spreading the award around was not a bad idea (this is where I note that Dave Langford, in all that I know of him, is a lovely person who deserves recognition for his work). I’m still pleased that since I won, there has not been a repeat winner in the category.

Still: at the center of Glyer’s complaint is a perfectly reasonable and valid point, which is that pro writers nominated in the fan writing category often have one useful advantage over other nominees — they’re better known. The Hugos are a popular award; having a name helps. It doesn’t guarantee a win — I lost a Hugo in the Fan Writer category before I won it, you know — but it can certainly be a factor. It does make it tougher for the other nominees in the field.

And so in this category, as in every other category, it behooves the people voting to make the effort to read the work of the nominees and ask themselves which ones have work which best exemplifies the goals of the award. If it’s nominee best known as a pro writer, fine. But if it’s not, why not vote for the one with the best work that year? Or at least, rank them highly, the Hugo Ballot being an Australian Rules ballot, after all. Awards are given, but awards should also be earned.

* I would be sad if the Fan Writer Hugo became little more than the Pro Writer Compensation Hugo, because there are lots of people writing in the fan community, not generally considered professional science fiction and fantasy writers, who deserve recognition. For example, I think it’s something of a crime that Steven Silver, for one, does not already have a Fan Writer Hugo. This is an error that should be corrected sooner than later. James Nicoll’s LiveJournal is a daily stop for me, even when the commenters there are taking a brickbat to my head; I’d like to see him awarded as well. Abigail Nussbaum is another excellent candidate for a win, in my opinion (I suspect me noting this will surprise her), and this year Natalie Luhrs also makes an excellent argument for consideration in the category. These are just four people off the top of my head; there are many more.

* I don’t think you can stuff the pro writers in the the Fan Writing category back into the bottle, if for no other reason that there have been people who have been nominated in and winning the category who have likewise been pro writers too. When I was nominated for Fan Writer and Best Novel in 2009, I wasn’t even the first person to do that; Piers Anthony had me beat by nearly forty years. But Glyer’s not wrong that the award is worth celebrating as its own unique category, and that it should be given for its own merits, and appreciated as such (particularly by the winners). I am proud to have won the award; I would be happy for the award to be won by people who are not always like me.

The New Phone, March 2014 Edition

Today was the day my two year contract on my last phone ran out, and not a moment too soon, because after two years, the previous phone had seriously begun to chug. That one has now been retired with thanks for its service; here’s the new one, the latest Droid Maxx. Its primary selling point (for me, anyway): A massive battery that theoretically at least can last up for two days. Given how much I travel (a lot), that’s a heck of a selling point. It also has a hands-free thing that allows you to talk to it, and it calls and texts people. That’s pretty nifty.

I also signed up for Verizon’s “Edge” program, which will allow me to upgrade my phone every few months if I want. I am aware that it’s not necessarily the most financially responsible option, but I get annoyed with phones pretty quickly and also I can afford the relatively minor additional expense to avoid annoyance. Plus then I get shiny new technology on an accelerated schedule! Seemed reasonably prudent, all things considered.

So yes: New techno toy. I hope I like it.

Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits

And now, to close out the Reader Request week, short thoughts on a bunch of topics:

Bruce: “I never see you write about sports. Are there any out there that interest you?”

I very occasionally write about sports, but I have to admit that as a general rule I don’t care much about them; they’re just not where my interests lie. That said, I frequently enjoy reading sports journalism, which I think is often livelier than most other sorts, and more fun to read. I also, interestingly, wrote a sports newsletter for AOL that went out to hundreds of thousands of readers weekly, and it deeply amused me to do it. My highlight with that was the time I called the winners all but one of the college bowls. I should have run a pool. All of this means that I am well-informed about sports, even if I don’t care about it. This comes in handy when meeting people outside my usual circles.

Nagol99: “I’d like your thoughts on Taxidermy & if you’d ever have a “stuffed” woodland creature hanging above your fireplace mantle. If so, then what would you have mounted?”

It’s not my thing, really, and I can’t think of a dead animal I’d want hanging about my house. I don’t find it morally repugnant, however, and I can appreciate when someone does a good job of it. It simply isn’t of interest to me in a general sense.

Anon: “Your thoughts on following in your parents footsteps. How many people do you know who are in the same careers as their parents? Did you ever consider it. Would you want your kid to consider it?”

My parents had jobs, not careers, and in any event I knew very early on that I wanted to be a writer, which neither of them were, so that solved that. I know several people who have the same job/career as at least one of their parents — mostly writers, but some doctors and a couple of lawyers. The amount of concern/pride/worry they have in doing what their parents did varies from person to person; the one advantage I can see is that you have someone close to you who can give you unique insight into the gig. My own daughter happens to be a very good writer, and I would be happy to see her try her hand at it for a career. But what I would rather see is for her to do the things that interest her. If that’s writing, great. If not, great.

Rafe Brox: “We all know of (and celebrate/mock) your love of Coke Zero as caffeine delivery system of choice. How did this come about? Did you experiment in college? Was there something you preferred, back in the day, that went off the market, and this was your next-best thing? Do you occasionally peruse other beverages out of curiosity or a sense of novelty?”

It’s not nearly that interesting. When I was younger I preferred the taste of Coke over Pepsi or other colas, and as I got older I switched over to no sugar versions because the sugared version was making me fat because I drank too much of it. I drink Coke Zero because it’s the actual Coke formula (Diet Coke is the New Coke formula). Soda is my preferred caffeine intake vehicle because I don’t like the taste of coffee and tea doesn’t do much for me either. While Coke Zero is my preferred soda, I’m not horribly dogmatic about it; I’ll drink a Diet Pepsi if I’m at a restaurant that only serves that, and I do drink other (mostly no-calorie) sodas. Currently in my fridge I have Diet Cherry Doctor Pepper, Diet Barq’s Root Beer, and Sprite Zero.

ProfMel: “As a parent of a teen, do you see the generation that’s growing up now approaching the world differently than we did? (Lo, these many years ago) If so, what do you see as positive or negative about it?”

Anecdotally speaking I don’t really notice too much of a difference. The trappings of adolescence are different — my daughter texts her friends constantly rather than doing what I did, which was to talk aimlessly on the phone for hours at a time — and new technologies and changes in the culture have fiddled with the dynamic a bit. But, you know, the basic template of adolescence is the same because the human animal hasn’t changed all that much in the three decades since I was a teen. I don’t see a huge philosophical difference between today’s teens and yesterday’s, either. Teenagers continue to be self-centered (which is not always a bad thing in a developing human, to be clear), highly-sensitive and status-observant, and absolutely certain that today, things are different in a way no one else not in their cohort could possibly understand. In short, yeah, I think they’re a lot like us.

Matthew: “I remember the cool video you showed of Athena seeing a record for the first time. What was she like as a kid growing up in rural Ohio and seeing the Ocean for the first time.”

Actually she was born in Virginia and lived her first two years there, and by her second birthday had been to both oceans the US touches. We also travel regularly, so she’s had numerous opportunities to see them in her life. So I don’t think she sees them as being entirely outside her experience of things. She does like the ocean, though. In a larger sense, one of the nice things about being who we are is that we have the opportunity to show our kid lots of the world. Living in rural Ohio is not as limiting as you might imagine.

ArthurD: “What from the world of today would impress the you of twenty or twenty five years ago?”

I suspect the current state of cell phone technology. There were mobile phones in 1989, but they were bricks, and in any event, for today’s cell phones, the actual “phone” part is almost an afterthought — these days I’m always vaguely surprised when someone calls me on mine. Cell phones are (for anyone over say, 40 years of age) genuinely science fictional — a computer you fit in your pocket that can access unfathomable amounts of information, understand when you speak to it and perform the functions you request, and record any moment you choose with full sound and audio. Honestly, it’s mind-blowing — and we don’t think anything of it. Because you get used to the future very quickly. But 1989 me would probably wet himself with amazement.

Noisegeek: “Is it just me, or has the subject of gender identity gotten super complicated in the last 10-15 years (publicly at least, I realize that for people dealing with the issue personally, it’s probably been complicated for a whole lot longer)?”

Yes, it has gotten more complicated in the last several years, in part because more transfolk and folks who feel some degree of gender fluidity have decided to stand up and stop passively accepting the status quo. And I think that’s as it should be. As I’ve noted before I think it’s a good thing for people to get closer to being who they really ought to be. And personally speaking, you know, I would love to be a person with whom other people can feel they can truly be who they are, when it comes to their gender expression. That takes work on my part, because like everyone else I’ve got a raft of assumptions and prejudices and things to get over. But saying it’s work is not saying it’s an imposition. It’s really not. So yeah: More complicated. But, hopefully as we go along, better, too.

Douglas: “Should we bring back extinct animals through cloning or other scientific breakthroughs?”

I’m not opposed to it in a very general sense, but I would say in all seriousness that I think those animals would be very lonely.

iQ666: “Would you write a short story for Playboy if solicited? Or do you intend to pull someday some strings to make this happen?”

It’s been so long since I’ve read Playboy that I’m not even sure they run fiction anymore, or, really, are still in print. Generally speaking I don’t send out work — I wait to be solicited — so I won’t be contriving to get into its pages, no.

Lawrence LaPointe: “Canada. The 51st state or the next superpower? “

Probably neither. I am deeply fond of Canada, however, and seem to be becoming more so as time goes on. I’m happy to share a continent with it.

Greg: “The Drake Equation. Where the heck is everybody?”

They’re out there having fun without us. Figures.

Malkara: “What’s your opinion on so-called cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, etc)? Do you think there’s any future in them, or are they all a load of shit?”

I only vaguely understand how their value is derived, and it seems to me that trusting a store of value that has almost no regulation is a fine way to lose the value you’ve stored there. So for the near-term future, at least, I’ll stick to nation-based currencies.

Hugh57: “Do you think that anyone other than Hillary Clinton has a realistic shot at the Democratic nomination in 2016? Who do you see as the future face of the Democratic Party?”

No, and likely Cory Booker, in that order. I also strongly suspect that the next realistic shot the GOP has at the White House is 2020, and that itself will depend on how Hillary Clinton’s first term goes.

Dusty: “An issue important to me – How do you feel about the skepticism movement? And folks like James Randi, Michael Shermer, and Phil Plait?”

Phil’s a friend of mine; I like him quite a bit. I don’t know either Randi or Shermer. Philosophically I’m aligned with skepticism; as a community as far as I can see it seems to have a number of social parallels to other geek communities, which includes some very real issues with how women are treated. If my knowledge about that is correct, then hopefully that’s being addressed.

Adam: “Profanity! How the fuck does one use it effectively?”

Fuck if I know, man. I just let that shit happen.

Thanks, everyone, for another successful Reader Request Week! I hope you had as much fun with it as I have.

New Books/ARCs, 3/21/14

And off we go into the weekend with another set of new books/ARCs what have come to the Scalzi Compound. Tell me what causes you to feel that certain need — I must know! I must! Share in the comment thread below, if you would.

Reader Request Week 2014 #9: Short Writery Bits

Questions on writing/publishing/etc that I didn’t want to give a full entry to, but were interesting:

Skyfisher: “How much do you think the cover of a book influences how people (especially you) judge it?”

It depends on the person. Having read and made gifts of science fiction and fantasy books all my life, there have been times when I would tell someone to whom I gave a book “ignore the cover, the book is good anyway.” To my eye, these days SF/F covers are less questionable than they were when I was younger, so that’s nice. But even outside of SF/F, you notice cover tropes repeating, and eventually to me an oft-repeated cover trope suggests the material inside may be a retread as well. Whether that’s a positive or negative depends on what you want out of the book, I suppose.

Erf: “How do you approach researching a topic (be it for a non-fiction work, novel, blog post, personal interest, whatever)? “

I usually start with Google/Wikipedia and proceed from there. I also take time to evaluate the source of the material; if I find something on some random site, I doublecheck it against a source I recognize as authoritative before I use it. But for quick grazing and idea generation, Google and Wikipedia are fine places to begin one’s research.

Adam: “What influences, entertainers, medium or style do you credit for developing your sense of humor?”

In no particular order: Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, William Goldman, Elaine May, Nora Ephron, Michael Maltese, Larry Gelbart, Douglas Adams, Dave Barry, P.J. O’Rourke. Those are the ones off the top of my head; there are definitely others.

Guess: “How come SFWA writers can’t get along? Liberals and conservatives get along all the time. Have you considered that it might just be that many of you have personality issues and not just the people you don’t like?”

Well, you know. SFWA has 1,800 members. It seems unlikely that any groups that large will have everyone get along all the time. With that said, I think you may be overestimating the number of members who don’t get along with the others — even the biggest arguments involving SFWA tend to involve a couple dozen principal actors, and usually less than that. The large majority, in my experience, do just fine with each other. Also, just because people disagree on a some topic doesn’t mean they don’t get along with each other otherwise — a fact oft-overlooked in online spitting contests.

FBSA: “I’d love a discussion of your epic literary feud with Brandon Sanderson. Complete with epic poems, Klingon operas, the Great Pen Scalzibane, and Twitter wars.”

Heh. You know, this “feud” of mine and Brandon’s has worked out pretty well for the both of us. I think we should continue it, obviously.

Chris Davis: “For a lot of writers, their alien characters come across as humans in rubbery costumes. Can you talk on creating believable alien characters, especially their psyche, philosophy, and emotions. Where do they differ from humans, where would they be similar.”

I think if you’re having your aliens be point of view characters in some way, that there usually has to be something that readers can relate to, otherwise it’s harder for them to find purchase in the narrative. If you’re using aliens as set dressing, or not doing a whole lot of getting into their heads (or whatever), then you have a chance to make them more “alien,” as it were. For me at least, a lot of it will come down to whether I am spending a lot of time with the aliens, having them speak, and so on. Note that “having something readers can relate to” doesn’t just mean “humans in rubber costumes” — it does mean some motivations these aliens have should be recognizable to humans. Writers can ignore this observation of mine to great effect — see Ted Chiang on this — but if you do, you should have the skill to make it work — see Ted Chiang on this, too.

TheMadLibrarian: “Have you ever considered mentoring someone, or felt that at some point in your early career a mentor would have been beneficial?”

I participated in an online mentoring program a few years ago and I think it was useful to the mentorees, but for me a great problem with me being an official mentor is the fact my time management skills are shaky enough as it is. I prefer just being friends with people and talking shop — which is largely what I did with my journalist colleagues early in my career. Same result, different dynamic.

Rob G: “Why do publishers release a hardback edition first and then wait so long to release the same work as a paperback?”

Because they make money that way, i.e., why almost anything is done, in the commercial space.

Mtpettyp: “How can someone like myself who exclusively buys ebooks support their local independent bookstore? These stores can be a great source for suggestions on relatively unknown authors and books, but at the end of the day I have no desire (or room) to buy the dead-tree versions from them.”

Print books make great gifts. And everyone likes gifts!

Quorn: “What non-anglo SF most interests or influences you?”

I don’t think it’s entirely surprising that it would be Japanese SF, in the form of manga and anime — it’s the non-anglo SF most readily available (and exhibited) here in the US. I’d be happy to see more and different SF, but I also admit to laziness in seeking it out, so I don’t see much of it. Vicious circle, that.

Not That Frank: “How has Twitter affected your writing experience, particularly here on the blog. Although I’d be interested if it affects your fiction writing as well.”

It doesn’t affect my fiction as far as I can tell; when I’m writing fiction I tend to pull the DSL line out of the computer so I can get work done, so it doesn’t affect the process. In terms of mechanics of writing, Twitter is pretty far removed from novel writing. In terms of this blog, I’ve noted before that a lot of short, silly stuff goes on Twitter now instead of here. But then again, some really nifty Twitter conversations have found their way back here, because of my desire to have them part of my “permanent record,” as it were. So maybe it’s a wash.

MWC: “As a writer, what is your opinion of used bookstores? Is there an acceptable tradeoff between making money on your work through new purchases vs recirculating dead trees in book form?”

I don’t have any problem with used bookstores and tend to think they’re a good way for people to sample the work of unfamiliar writers at relatively low cost. I don’t see them cutting into my income in any significant way, and I tend to think that the benefit to the community in having a store of books for sale outweighs any lost income to me. That said, as always, if you really want to support an author whose work you love, buy their books new. We don’t make any money off used books.

Neil Hepworth: “What do you do when you’re asked to review a book, you agree to review a book, and then you really don’t like the book? “

At this point I don’t usually review books professionally — not enough time and also if I don’t like a book I’d prefer not to note it at all. It’s one of the reasons I created the Big Idea: It gives me a chance to spotlight writers and let them speak to my readers directly, without me getting in the way. That said, when I do read a book for my own enjoyment and like it, I’m happy to tell people about it.

Megan: “[T]o what extent do you believe that I, as a writer, am responsible to portray three-dimensional non-cisgendered straight white people? Am a propagating so much of what is wrong with our culture if my characters are straight? Or if they’re white?”

I think you should have fully-realized characters regardless of anything else, and if you intend to reflect reality (or achieve reasonable verisimilitude in the fantasy/science fiction work), you should have more than just straight white people in your work, because in the real world, there are more than just straight white people. And anyway, it’s not that difficult to add people who are not just straight and white to your writing. Here’s one way to do it: When introducing a character, ask yourself: “Is it absolutely critical for the story for this character to be straight and white?” If the answer is no, then consider not making them that. Because why not? If you create a world where diversity is just there, then it stops being a thing — it just becomes how the world is. And then you get some experience writing different kinds of people, and that’s a useful skill to have in your writer toolbox.