The Big Idea: Nick Cutter

Author Nick Cutter has an obsession, and it’s in his latest novel, Little Heaven. It’s an obsession with an aspect of human nature that involves spirituality, and possibly, gullibility. It’s an obsession he’s here to explain to you now.

NICK CUTTER:

You write enough, you likely reach a point of familiarity with your obsessions. Those bugaboos that seem to crop up your books. The things that vex or intrigue or drive you. Now sometimes they creep in insidiously—often, in my case, against my best efforts to keep them at bay. Other times they mosey on in bold as a bull, just kinda squatting in the middle of your narrative and taking up space. You might try to shoo them away, or ignore them, or write around them—sometimes you even succeed—but often they’re there, they’re loud, proud, and most fundamentally, they’re you. That’s the nature of obsessions.

Sometimes these obsessions don’t fully reveal themselves until you find them cropping up over and over again in your work. People will tell me, “Craig (or Nick, as may happen), you are clearly consumed by the concept of time” or memory, or pancakes or sloths or whatever they see cropping up over and over in my books. Sometimes I’m aware of those things, whereas other times I’m like, “What? Really?” And that person says, “Really!” and points those instances out to me. Sometimes they’re right, and I’m gobsmacked. Other times they’re kind of seeing things they want to see in the text (which is totally their right as readers) moreso than that which might actually exist on the page.

But one thing that I know to be a personal obsession, and which drove the conception and plot of Little Heaven, is religion. Or maybe more fanaticism.

Or maybe to distill it to its core: False prophets. Profiteering prophets.

This is too big a topic to plumb in depth—and the word limit of this column is clearly stated—so I won’t say much beyond: I don’t trust prophets. Of any stripe. Whether they preach from a pulpit or a boardroom or a Dianetics center or barstool or a milk crate in the town square. At no point and in no place would I believe or (as I like to assume, perhaps only because I haven’t sampled every moral poison on offer) would I follow someone whose agenda, to me, always seems pretty plain. That is, to assemble a flock in order to shear them down the road. All the Popes and Timothy Ferris’s and Napoleon Hills and Benny Hinns and John Edwards and Tony Robbins of this world—fah! To the devil with them all. They’re all snake oil peddlers; their tonics might be differently-flavored and brightly-and-bouncily colored, but they all taste the same: the sour, gamey funk of subservience and obediency.

Call me a cynic. Lord knows I am. But everywhere I look, whenever I set my gaze on these fellows (and they’re almost always fellows, with the odd Rhonda Byrne or Long Island Medium melted into the fetid stew) I see shysters. People who have happened upon some universal infirmity or fear that’s knitted tight to the human condition, and instead of helping, really helping, they prey on that infirmity under the guise of guru-ism or religious subservience.

It makes me sick, it really does. But it also obsesses me.

That’s the way it is with a lot of obsessions. They repulse and fascinate in equal measure.

So. The preacher character in my book Little Heaven. It won’t take a scholar or historian to see who he’s loosely based on. The mirrored Aviator shades. The greasy duck’s ass hairstyle. Yup. Ole Jim Jones. A lot of people followed Jimmy, too. Followed him out into the middle of the jungle. Followed him right down to the bottom of those Kool Aid pitchers. And that horrifies me. The power the man had over his flock (and that’s really the right word, isn’t it? A flock. And too often those flocks have a sociopath as a shepherd—perhaps it’s that sociopathy that made them want to be shepherds in the first place, and maybe it’s that fundamental distance from true human emotion that allowed them to be so good at their chosen path)—anyway, that power astonishes and terrifies me.

And that was the Big Idea that propelled and directed a large part of the novel’s narrative. That Idea’s done the same work in other books and stories of mine. Which is how I know it’s one dilly of an obsession.

I could point towards certain recent political events, too, that illustrate the toxic power of demagoguery of the sort Jim Jones practiced . . .

But anyway. That’s a story for another day.

—-

Little Heaven: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s 

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

Reminder to Authors: Route Blurb Requests Through Editors/Publicists

Dear authors:

A reminder: Per my blurb policy, which I’ve had on this site for years, and for which a link is prominently featured on the sidebar that appears on every page of the blog, please do not send requests for book blurbs directly to me. I will reject the request. Have them come through your editors or publicists or agents or publishers instead.

Why? Bluntly, because I am very selective about the books I blurb and most books I’m asked to blurb I don’t. Often that’s because I run out of time in terms of when the blurb needs to be in, but sometimes it’s because I’m not in love with the book. I have to be in love with the book to blurb it. A blurb is explicitly an endorsement; it’s me saying “I love this and you should try it.” My name is attached to the book, and that matters to me.

(If I don’t blurb a book, it doesn’t mean the book isn’t good, I should note; just that I didn’t love it. I can think of a couple of books I was asked to blurb that I chose not to that went on to be bestsellers and/or award winners and/or critical favorites; conversely I remember a couple I did blurb which then sank beneath the waves and were never heard from again. My taste is my own and my endorsement does not guarantee sales. Fair warning.)

It’s really awkward to have an author — a peer — directly ask you to blurb their book and then have to come back to them after reading and say “I can’t”; it’s a little like someone asking you if you think their kid is smart, when you saw the kid shoving crayons up their nostrils five minutes beforehand and saying the cat is made of ham. There’s not a good way out of it — or at least there’s not a good way out of it for me.

Which is why I’ve made it a requirement for all blurb requests to come through editors/publicists/agents/publishers — that way, at least, there’s an intermediary, and it’s an intermediary who won’t take it personally if I have to pass on the book, for whatever reason (time, too many books of the same sort coming to me, less than complete love for the book, etc), and who can help manage the expectations of an author in terms of blurbs in general.

“But I would never hold it against you if you didn’t like the book!” I hear you, a completely rational, grown-up and understanding author, say. And I want to believe you! Alas, experience tells me that some authors who believe they would totally be okay with me not endorsing their book get a little salty when I say “I can’t.” Which totally makes sense! These books are our brain babies. We want people to like them. It’s one thing to say we’d be fine with someone turning down our book for an endorsement. It’s another when it happens. Some authors can handle it just fine; some can’t. How can you tell which is which? Well, you can’t, until it happens. To be fair, often they don’t know, until it happens. Which is why I route blurb requests through others.

“But we’re friends!” Dude, I need this policy especially for friends.

(For those of you wondering: I myself do not ask people for book blurbs, nor have I ever. My editor or publicist handles that end of things. Honestly, I don’t even know if my books go out for blurbs, or to whom, unless and until I see the book has blurbs somewhere on the cover. When they do, it’s a pleasant surprise. I don’t ever know who said “no” to blurbing it; I don’t ask, and no one ever tells me.)

I should note that there are some authors who have asked for blurbs who I have pointed in the direction of my blurb policy explaining why I pre-emptively turn down direct author blurb requests, who have then gotten pissy and annoyed with it, and with me. That I can handle, one, because the policy isn’t about the specific book or author, it applies to everyone; and two, because, again, the policy has been up and easily findable for literally years on my site, and I make occasional reminders (like this one!) that it exists. It’s not entirely unreasonable to have the expectation that people know about the blurb policy — or at least, understand why I have it and apply it. If they’re still unhappy about it, that’s fine.

So, again, authors: If you want me to consider your book for a blurb, don’t ask me directly. Tell your editor/publicist/agent/publisher that I’m one of the people you want them to consider asking for a blurb. And then let them handle it from there. Thanks.

New LA Times Article, Plus Thoughts on Essays

First, and in case you missed me talking about it on Twitter yesterday, I have a piece up at the LA Times site (a version of it is also in the Sunday newspaper) about getting creative work done in the Trump years — some advice about how to keep focus when it’s likely to be a challenging time for the creative class. Note that this advice generally probably also works for people working in professions generally considered “non-creative” as well, but I’m working with what I know here. Also, of course, if you’re neutral or positive on the idea of the incoming Trump administration, then this particular piece is probably unnecessary for you. Carry on, then.

Second, when I had the idea I originally thought to post it here, but then remembered a) that the LA Times books section has a freelance deal for me to be a “critic-at-large,” an appellation with actually a fairly wide remit, under which an article like this would probably fall, b) The LA Times has a pretty wide reach and the piece would probably be seen by more people there than here, both online and in print, c) also I could get paid, which is always nice. So I queried, and it was accepted, and it went there.

This reminded me that one of the things I did want to do this year is to place more essays/columns in newspapers and magazines and online sites, partly to purely strategic reasons — like, getting my name out to people who might not have otherwise heard of me, and to keep a healthy sideline in a form that I was writing in long before I became a novelist — and also for the fact that I like seeing my byline in lots of places. Once you’ve been a jobbing freelancer I don’t think this impulse ever leaves you.

So basically here is a thing this means: When I think of something I want to write about in essay form, I’ll probably ask myself the following questions:

  1. Is it something I could actually sell to someone else?
  2. Do I want it out immediately, or can I wait?
  3. How lazy am I feeling?

If the answers are “yes,” “I can wait” and “I’m feeling reasonably industrious, actually,” then it’s possible I’ll try to place it elsewhere. Because that would be neat!

That said, knowing me like I do, the answers to the latter two questions are generally “I want it out immediately” and “I’m feeling lazy as hell,” so I don’t know if there’s actually going to be any impact to what gets put up here. Plus, you know. I like writing here. So there’s that, too.

I guess basically what I’m saying is perhaps I’ll be writing even more this year! I mean, aside from two novels, one non-fiction book, a video game, occasional LAT columns and of course what I put up here (oh, and Twitter, let’s not forget Twitter). The funny thing is I consider myself a very lazy person.

Anyway, enjoy the LA Times piece. I think it’s pretty good, and useful.

The Big Idea: Rusty Coats

I’ve known Rusty Coats since he and I were twenty-something newspaper columnists geeking out over Coen Brothers films together, so it’s no surprise to find him today with a novel, Avalon, full of noir and speculative elements. Today in 2017’s first Big Idea essay, he’s talking about how to build a virtual city, meant to be a haven, but ending up as something else entirely.

RUSTY COATS:
The Big Idea behind Avalon is a dystopian future where a virtual reality city, once built as a beacon of hope for a world that has fallen down, has become a hedonistic destination full of brothels and bloodsport. Basically, VR meets Prohibition, with a conspiracy to seize control of the city – and humanity itself.

Avalon is told in the first person by Jack Denys, whose parents were part of the global project to build the virtual city. Jack had grown up on Campus, believing in the promise of a city that would unite a world scarred by nuclear exchanges, pandemic and economic collapse. But his encryption program was deemed an act of treason, and Jack, the last privacy hack, was sent to prison.

Now it’s eight years later. Still incomplete, Avalon was outlawed after a mysterious “programmer’s disease” killed thousands and left millions hopelessly addicted. The United Nations tried to destroy the metropolis but failed when a new mafia called the Digerati seized control. In an age of Prohibition, the Digerati have retooled the City of Light into an online Babylon. And Jack, who has vowed never to return to Avalon, has been hired by one of them for a job that turns out not be so simple.

I had been on a noir kick, reading a lot of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, while talking a lot with a friend who was launching a virtual reality company to document big-building construction. (Bonus: You can see through walls.) Throw in my love of Depression Modern design, an infatuation with FDR’s Works Progress Administration and a love of all forms of encryption and you get the major ingredients. I wanted to blend the language and style of Depression-era and noir fiction with an alternate future where VR is simultaneously a source of hope and despair, told through the flawed voice of an antihero.

To design the virtual-reality city, I turned to Norman Bel Geddes, the early 20th Century designer responsible for the iconic designs of the 1939 World’s Fair. Since Depression and Prohibition historically breed fanatics, I added an agrarian/Luddite sect called the Sons of David – a blend of my former work as a reporter covering Amish and Northern Californian off-the-grid communities. And, since everyone likes a good global conspiracy, I created technocratic cult, the Neuromantics, which promotes itself as benevolent caretakers of a wounded populace but, well, we’ve all seen how that usually turns out.

The Big Idea, then, is an amalgamation, and a bit of an homage. My grandfather worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, part of FDR’s New Deal, and it was the first step in moving my family out of poverty in Southern Indiana. The designs of Bel Geddes and others were symbols of hope – that a streamlined, futuristic design could accelerate the country out of the Depression. And, as someone who has worked in media for 25 years, I’ve seen how every digital development – from AOL chat rooms to virtual reality immersions – are met with equal parts ecstasy and dread.

And we all need a little privacy in the promised land.

—-

Avalon: AmazonBarnes & NobleInk n Beans Press

Read an excerpt.

I Completely Lost Track of Time Today and This Evening’s Sunset is a Total Bust, So Here, Have Yesterday’s Sunset Instead

It was pretty, I think. Unlike today, which is just low clouds with sullen spats of snow. Winter, it is here, and it’s moody.

The 2017 Awards Consideration Post

Do I have work for you to consider for this year’s awards? I do! Here they are:

Best Novella:

The Dispatcher (10/16, Audible)

Best Collection:

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi (12/16, Subterranean Press)

Aaaaaand that’s it, I think. There are individual short stories I’ve written that are eligible, including in Miniatures, but I think it hangs together best as a collection, so that’s what I’m asking people to consider it for.

Note with The Dispatcher its eligibility will be dependent on whether the awarding group considers audiobook publication the same as print publication for the purposes of their awards (I know it is for the Hugos; I have a query in about it for the Nebulas). If it’s not eligible as an audiobook, well, the print version comes out in May, so I might end up listing it next year, too. Awards! They’re wacky. Also note that in the places where it might matter, I consider The Dispatcher to be fantasy, rather than science fiction.

Thanks!

Miniatures Audiobook is Out

As most of you know, the print and ebook editions of Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi came out on December 31 (here’s the Amazon link); now, today, the audio version of Miniatures is also available for your listening delight, available through Audible.

I just listened to it myself, and while I should be considered biased, for obvious reasons, here’s a couple of reasons why I think Audible did a very fine job with it:

a) They used multiple narrators, which is good because it changes up voices between stories and makes the “interview” stories — which are basically dialogues between two characters — a whole lot more enjoyable and easier to follow;

b) With the “interview” stories, they dispensed with the “Q & A” dialogue tags entirely, which makes the audio versions basically humorous radio skits. Which is exactly as they should have done, and means they’re pretty delightful to listen to.

So basically the audio version is less like a traditional audiobook and more like a comedy album with a really skilled company of actors. All of which makes me want to do this book with performers in front of an audience. Hmmmm. Maybe on the boat!

Also, it’s $7. Cheap! Get it and the eBook, which at $6, is also cheap! (But if you want the signed, limited edition, there are also a couple of those left through Subterranean Press.)

Really, I just continue to be thrilled with Miniatures. Subterranean Press did a terrific job with it, and now so has Audible. I literally could not be happier with how this collection has turned out.

Mark It

Monday, January 2, 2017, 9am-ish: Work officially begun on Head On, the sequel to Lock In.

Wish me luck!

Sunset, 1/1/17

Today I went on a date with my wife, wrote something I liked, and got a pretty sunset out of the day. 2017, you’re off to a decent start. Keep it up!

The New Year and the Bend of the Arc

As we begin 2017, there is something I’ve been thinking about, that I’d like for you to consider for the new year. It starts with a famous quote, the best-known version of which is from Martin Luther King, but which goes back to the transcendentalist Theodore Parker. The quote is:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

In the main I agree with that quote. There are things about it, however, that I think many of us elide.

The first is the word “long.” I think both Parker and King understood that moral endeavors can be measured in years, decades and sometimes centuries. This is not an argument toward complacency; indeed I think it’s an argument against defeatism and fatalism in the face of setbacks and stalemates. We live in moments and days and it’s often hard to see past them, and it’s easy to believe when we are struck a hard blow that all is lost. All is not lost. The arc is long. Nothing is ever fully decided in the moment or the day. There are years and decades and sometimes centuries yet to go. The arc continues to bend, if we remember that it is long, and that we need to imagine it extending further.

We need to imagine that because of the second thing: The arc is not a natural feature of the universe. It does not magically appear; it is not ordained; it is not inevitable. It exists because people of moral character seek justice, not only for themselves but for every person. Nor is the arc smooth. It’s rough and jagged, punctuated in areas by great strides, halting collapses, terrible reverses and forcible wrenching actions. There are those, always, who work to widen the arc, to make that bend toward justice as flat as they can make it, out of fear or greed or hate. They stretch out the arc when they can. If people of moral character forget the arc is not ordained, or become complacent to a vision of a smooth, frictionless bend toward justice, the work to flatten the arc becomes that much easier.

Right now, today, here in 2017, there are those working very industriously to flatten out the arc. They have lately seen little penalty for their hate, or their dissembling, or their disdain or greed; they have contempt for justice other than a cynical appreciation of its features when and only when it is to their advantage; they don’t care for anyone or anything outside the close horizon of their own interests. They have won a moment; they have won a day. They will try to win more than that, now, however they can, flattening the arc with hate and fear and greed.

On this day, in this year, in our time: Help to bend the arc back.

As you do, there are things to remember.

Remember the arc is long. It’s not one moment or one day or even a year or four years, even when that moment or day or year seems endless.

Remember the arc is not inevitable. It needs you. You are more important than you know, if you don’t give in to despair, to complacency, or to apathy. Add to the moral weight that bends the arc toward justice. You can’t do it alone, but without you the work becomes that much harder.

Remember that those who are working to flatten the arc hope you give up and give in. They are relying on you to do just that. Disappoint them. Disappoint them in big ways. Disappoint them in small ways. Disappoint them each day, and every day, in all the ways you can. Do not consent to this flattening of the arc.

Remember finally that this arc toward justice never ends. We are human. We are not perfect. We will not arrive at a perfect justice, any more than we will achieve a perfect union. But just as we work toward a more perfect union, so too we bend the arc toward justice, knowing the closer we get, the better we and our lives are, as individuals, as communities, as a nation and as a world. This is a life’s work, not just work for a moment, or day, or year. You won’t see the final result. There isn’t one. It doesn’t mean the work doesn’t matter. It matters. It matters now. It matters for you. It matters for everyone.

It’s a new year. There’s work to be done. I hope you will do it, and that you find joy in the work.

Happy 2017.

See you on the arc.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is Out!

Let’s end 2016 on a high — or at least, humorous — note, shall we? Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is now out and available! The limited, signed hardcover edition (of which there were 1,500) is now almost entirely sold out, so if you want that version, you should order it directly from Subterranean Press, and quickly. Fortunately, electronic editions of the book are cheap(!) and plentiful(!) at online retailers:

Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks|Kobo

For those of you who are still unaware of what Miniatures is about, it’s a collection of my very shortest fiction — no story here over 2,300 words — with a focus on the humorous and science fictional. The stories span a quarter century of my writing, from 1991 to 2016, and the collection features four stories that have never before been published. It’s gotten some nice reviews from the trades:

“Scalzi readers will find these refreshingly concise tales delightful” — Library Journal

“Verging on the silly, but on the whole, quite amusing” — Kirkus

“Lighthearted and amusing” — Publishers Weekly

In short, if you like science fiction and also laughing, the ebook of Miniatures will be a very fine use of $6 out of your holiday gift cards.

And now, to take your questions:

Is it available internationally? I know it’s out in Canada right now, and I think it will available elsewhere, it’s just a matter of the title winding its way through retailer processing queues.

Will there be an audiobook version? Yes! It’ll come out on Tuesday. I’ll post on that specifically when it comes out.

Who did the fabulous, fabulous artwork? Why, that would be Natalie Metzger. She did the cover and internal art, and it’s all wonderful. Please hire her for all your artwork needs. She also has a Patreon. I was super pleased that she agreed to work on Miniatures. It’s a better book because she did.

Why are you releasing Miniatures on New Year’s Eve and on a Saturday? Because we wanted to!

Isn’t that unusual? Yes, generally speaking in the US, books are released on Tuesdays, and not on a holiday (or the eve of one). But this isn’t actually the first time I’ve had a book released on December 31 — The God Engines came out on News Year’s Eve, 2009, also from Subterranean Press, and that did pretty well. And of course Old Man’s War came out on January 1st, 2005. So the end/beginning of the year is a good time for my books, I would say. And also, I wanted a book out in 2016. And here we are.

Is this your first short story collection? In fact, it is — well, if you don’t count The Human Division and The End of All Things, which I guess technically are collections of short fiction, but I tend to think of them as serial novels. So it depends on how nerdy on definitions you want to be. Let me put it this way: I think of Miniatures as my first official short story collection. I think you should, too.

Will there be more short story collections? Maybe! We’ll have to look at schedules and see what works. But that’s for the future — right now we have Miniatures, and it’s good.

I hope you’ll pick up Miniatures, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I think we could all use a good laugh these days. I think you’ll find at least a couple here. Happy reading!

New Books and ARCs, 12/30/16

And here it is: The final stack of books and ARCs for 2016. Is there anything here that calls to you? Tell us in the comments!

Some Reasons 2016 Didn’t Entirely Suck, at Least for Me

2016 was, globally speaking, and to put it mildly, not the best of years. I will not be sad to see it go. But it’s worth it to remember that no year is entirely irredeemable. People have been passing around this list of 99 reasons 2016 was a good year, and I think that it’s a useful reminder to people who are feeling beat down by the last 360-some-odd days.

I think it’s also useful to remember in a year like this that there were good things in one’s personal life too, when they were there, and are in danger of being overshadowed by the overall tenor of a year. So, with that in mind, here are some reasons 2016 didn’t entirely suck, at least for me. Again, this is in no particular order, and not a complete list, merely a representative sample.

1. I wrote a novel I really like (that would be The Collapsing Empire) that I can’t wait for people to see.

2. I released my first short story collection ever (Miniatures! Which officially comes out tomorrow! Wheeee!).

3. Redshirts won an award in Israel, so that’s pretty cool.

4. The Dispatcher was the #1 audiobook on Audible for two weeks (two? Maybe three?) and in the top ten for two or three more, and while I’m not supposed to say specifically how many copies were downloaded, I am allowed to say “six figures” is accurate. Plus, it was read by Zachary Quinto, and how awesome is that. And people seemed to like it, which is also a thing that does not suck.

5. Short stories I wrote or co-wrote (“Muse of Fire” and “On the Wall”) appeared in two anthologies, published on the same day (Black Tide Rising and Mash Up), and I was featured in a third book (The Books That Changed My Life). For someone who doesn’t really appear in anthologies, this was kind of a banner year for ’em.

6. Became a Critic at Large for the Los Angeles Times, my hometown newspaper growing up, and in whose pages it was always a dream for me to be featured in.

7. My kid got through high school. Early! And she became an adult, which means Krissy and I got her through childhood all in one piece.

8. Finally went to Hawaii, which a) lived up to the hype, b) helped me get through a substantial portion of my novel writing by being six hours removed from the mainland, c) meant I got to hang out with a bunch of cool folks. A++++, would visit again.

9. Was awarded the 2016 Governor’s Award for Arts in Ohio, which is a pretty big deal here in the state, and was the first science fiction author ever to get that particular award, which makes me feel shiny.

10. I got to watch a whole lot of my friends have amazing years creatively, the highlights of which included NK Jemisin getting a hugely-deserved Hugo award, others land NYT bestsellers, seeing friends’ TV shows succeed, and watching friends’ movies gross more than a billion dollars worldwide to date.

Plus, I remained married to this fabulous person.

So, for all of that, thanks, 2016. You weren’t all bad.

If you’d like to post some good things that happened to/for you in 2016 in the comment thread, I would be happy to see them, and so, I suspect, would others.

Some Things I Plan to Do in 2017, Not Work Related

Do I have personal goals for 2017? I do! Here are a few of them, in no particular order.

1. Get more organized. I’m actually good at getting organized; I’m shit at staying organized. Welcome to my life for the past 47 years. For 2017, however, I have three books due and a lot of other things I want to do, so if I don’t get better at the organizing thing, I’m going to be unhappy. I’m pretty sure I’d rather be organized than unhappy. I mean, if those are the choices available to me, and for 2017 it kind of looks like they are.

2. Better manage my online life. This is a subset of number one, but inasmuch as I can lose hours just crawling Twitter, a fairly important one. I already keep off online media while I write books until I meet a daily quota, which is super-helpful for concentration. This next year will be about finding a better balance of enjoying social media — which I love, especially Twitter, which is where I hang out with friends — and enjoying everything else, since I have a pronounced tendency to fall down the Twitter hole for hours at a time in lieu of other entertainments. Which brings me to the next point:

3. Read more books. 2016 was a year I noticed I read notably fewer books than in other years. I had reasons for this, relating to work and other factors, but regardless of that it’s not something I want to get in the habit of. So I plan to take at least some of the time I’ve been frittering away on social media and turn it back into reading books for enjoyment. And maybe also other forms of entertainment! Rumor is there’s some good TV out there.

4. Family time! I get a lot of this anyway, I should note. But Athena will be going off to college in the second half of the year, and that’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it. So I think it’s fine to make sure I enjoy the time we have left with the family in its current “all under one roof” configuration.

5. By the same token, more face time with friends. This is slightly more of a challenge, in that most of my friends don’t live in my area. But you know what? I want to see them anyway and spend time with them. The good news (for me) is that many of my friends are writers/creative folks/geeks who go to conventions/book fairs/geek-themed cruises which I will also be at, so that helps. And there’s also the book tour, which in many ways is not ideal for quality time (since I have to be a performing monkey most of the time) but which does get me all around the country. Also, I can actually go places without a work element involved to see people too! (You laugh, but I actually do forget this sometimes.) So, yes, this is what I want to do more of.

6. Try to exercise more. Stupid middle age, man.

If there’s an overarching theme to this list of plans, and there is, then it’s this: Balance. I’m not good at it; I want to get better at it, because the alternative is to feel stressed and annoyed. I have a very strong suspicion the rest of the world will give me enough stress and annoyance in 2017; I don’t need to generate more on my own. So these are the goals. Let’s see if I make progress toward them in the next year.

Work Life 2017

Independent of anything else that might go on in the world in 2017, which is likely to be considerable, mind you, I myself will be having rather a busy year. Why? Well, to begin, here are the thing I am writing/have written that will come out in 2017:

1.  The Collapsing Empire, March 21

2. The Dispatcher (print/eBook version), late May

3. Currently untitled non-fiction book, fourth quarter

4. Exiles of Embermark, a video game I’m part of the brain trust for, tentatively scheduled for 2017.

The first two of these are already done and scheduled; the other two are contingent on a number of factors. Be that as it may, right now, they’re all on the schedule for 2017.

Now, here are the things I have to write in 2017:

1. Head On, the sequel to Lock In, scheduled for publication in 2018;

2. The sequel to The Collapsing Empire, with the working (but to be clear very tentative) title The Last Emperox, scheduled for 2019;

3. That currently untitled non-fiction book, for fourth quarter 2017.

4. Additional work on Exiles of Embermark.

In addition to these, I’ll also be writing occasional pieces for the Los Angeles Times as one of its Critics-at-Large, and of course writing here on Whatever as well, although it should always be understood that as a matter of practicality, pay copy comes first.

I’ll also have some appearances! Which include:

1. A substantial book tour, tentatively starting on March 21 (the publication date of The Collapsing Empire) and running through the month of April (with, to be clear, a couple of breaks to see family and pets). More details on places/dates soon;

2. The JoCo Cruise the first week of March;

3. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books;

4. The Antioch Writer’s Workshop (at which I will be giving the keynote address);

5. BEA/Bookcon.

Note that these are the things currently scheduled; I’ll likely have more things added in during the year and I’ll let people know about them as they pop up (which is to say, as the fabulous PR people at Tor add them in).

I will be attending a few science fiction conventions this year, including, probably, Worldcon 75, but I should note that outside of readings/signings I’ll be mostly be attending as a fan, i.e., hanging out to visit with friends. I have no guest of honor convention gigs this year, in part because I knew I’d have a monster book tour and would otherwise be booked by my PR folks for events, and somewhere in all of this I have to actually write books (and see family, friends and pets, and sleep). I’ll be more engaged in the convention circuit in 2018 and 2019, I suspect.

And on top of everything above, I have a couple of currently secret and/or unannounced projects about which I can’t say anything yet but if they come to fruition should be pretty cool. I’ll let you know about those when I can.

So, yeah, my 2017 will be busy. Which is good! The alternative in my line of work is pretty grim. I am, as they say, blessed with work.

2016 Top Ten Whatever Posts + Social Media Stats

Time for my annual nerdery about the most visited posts here, and the state of my social media presence. Ready? Sure you are, that’s why you’re here! This and cat pictures.

First, here are the top ten posts on Whatever f0r 2016, ranked by visits. Posts with asterisks were originally posted in years other than 2016.

1. The Cinemax Theory of Racism
2. Trump, the GOP, and the Fall
3. Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is*
4. Thoughts and Prayers
5. You Never Know Just How You Look Through Other People’s Eyes*
6. Apologies: What, When and How*
7. Clinton and Sanders and the End of the Road
8. My Endorsement for President, 2016: Hillary Clinton
9. Being Poor*
10. 10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing*

This year’s top posts are half current and half from the archives, which is actually about normal around here — as I’ve noted before, Whatever is fairly unusual in terms of blogs in how many “evergreen” posts the site has. Given previous trends in this area, I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Cinemax Theory of Racism” becomes a similar evergreen; it’s the most visited post on the site since “Straight White Male,” and barring some event, Trump will be president for four years.

If you remove archived posts from the top ten, here are the five other pieces from 2016 that would have made the cut:

It’s fair to say that the top posts of 2016, written in 2016, were about politics and guns. It was that kind of year, alas.

In terms of daily visits to the site proper, Whatever saw a bit of a drop this year, which doesn’t surprise me: I spent several months in a “semi-hiatus,” in which I was posting fewer daily posts than I have in previous years. So as of today, there were 5,164,500 visits to the site for 2016, down from 5.8 million last year. This averages about to about 14,266 visits a day. Nothing to complain about! But still down.

Interestingly, however, the number of unique visitors is up — the highest it’s been since 2013 — and the visits to individual posts are pretty much where they were over the last few years. This suggests to me three things. One, that “event” posts like “The Cinemax Theory of Racism” brought new readers to the site as they linked in from other places (a similar thing happened in 2012 with “Straight White Male”); Two, that post-for-post, visitorship to Whatever has been pretty stable for a while now; Three, if I want to get visit numbers up next year, I should, you know, post more entries on a daily basis.

(Will I? Maybe, maybe not. As it happens I have three books due next year (a topic for a separate post) and will be doing a lot of travel. I’d like to post more; I think in 2017 I’m likely to have plenty to say. But then there my actual paid writing schedule to consider. So: We’ll see.)

As with last year, most people coming to the site came here by three ways: Google, Facebook and Twitter, those three arranged in descending order of importance. This is the Internet as it exists now, folks. The one individually-owned site that sent the most people here (Daring Fireball) sent maybe 1.5% of the traffic Facebook did over the year. Which, actually, is pretty impressive if you think about relative sizes.

Aside from people physically visiting Whatever, people read the site by “following” on WordPress, which serves a copy of entries to a reading queue (basically like an RSS feed). Those aren’t counted as part of the site’s recorded daily visits. As of this second, Whatever has 26,567 followers, up almost 5,000 from last year. So that’s nice. Hello, WordPress followers! Thanks for reading. Added to that, the non-Wordpress areas of Scalzi.com (which include previous non-Wordpress versions of Whatever) racked up 1.16 million visits, a testament to old, old links on the Internet (which is why in point of fact I keep up those previous versions of the site). Update: In the comments, NeilN notes that Feedly also logs 12,000 people following Whatever through that RSS service.

So: In sum, Whatever seems to be doing just fine, and maybe I should post more entries in 2017.

Leaving Whatever, my largest presence online, as it has been for the last couple of years, is on Twitter. As of right this second I have 111,329 followers, up 17.8K from this day last year, and tweeted a frankly ridiculous 19,712 times as of right now (which is still off last year’s pace — man, what was I doing with my life last year?). Those tweets garnered 177.54 million impressions, up substantially from last year, with the following being my most popular tweet of 2016 in terms of impressions, with more than 780,000:

(Pro tip: If you want a tweet to be seen by a lot of people, get retweeted by JK Rowling.)

My public Facebook page is up for the year as well, from 14k likes to 18k, while both Google Plus and Ello have remained basically perfectly still in terms of number of followers, which given their basically dormant state at this point, is entirely not surprising.

So, in sum: Whatever down in visits but up in visitors and followers; Twitter up in followers and individual tweets got more impressions on average; Facebook followers up; everything else, meh.

On to 2017.

RIP Carrie Fisher

People reports she died this morning.

Obviously she will be remembered for Star Wars — she played one of its most iconic characters, who was a general, a senator and a princess. But as much as I liked her in that role, she came most alive for me when I learned that she was a writer, and a good one, and not only a good one, but an extraordinarily witty one, one who was called in to save movie scripts and who could write novels and memoirs with characters and turns of phrase that inspired me at least to want to be that witty too.

Beyond that I admired her openness talking about her struggles with addiction and mental illness. I think she did good work in helping people who shared her struggles in their own life know that they didn’t have to stop you, you just had to know they were part of the landscape. I think she saved lives being open about her own.

So she not only played a role model but was one in her own life, for all sorts of people, including me. I’m glad she was here with us. I’m sad she is gone now. I just know she would have a great parting shot about it.

Update: I wrote a longer piece on Carrie Fisher as a writer, for the Los Angeles Times. Here it is.

Update, 12/28/16: Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher’s mother, has died, one day after her daughter.

Read an Excerpt From The Collapsing Empire

Tor.com has got up the prologue The Collapsing Empire, my upcoming novel. It works as a complete short story in itself. Here is the link to read it. Happy Boxing Day!

P.S.: If you like it and want to pre-order it, Subterranean Press can get you a signed, inscribed copy (signed and inscribed by me, to be clear). Here’s the pre-order link for that.

George Michael + A Trump Christmas Carol

George Michael was dead; to begin. And that’s a very sad thing for those of us of an 80s vintage. 2016 has been an especially bad year for musician deaths, and this removal of George Michael on Christmas Day just seems like insult to injury. I was a fan both of his bubble-gum pop Wham! material and of his somewhat more thoughtful (usually) solo work. I’ll miss him.

Also, last week, as a result of a Twitter conversation that included Laurie Penny, Anne Theriault and me among others, I helped write a Dickens pastiche called “A Trump Christmas Carol” with Penny, Jo Walton and Roz Kaveney. I suspect you can tell by the title who is the subject and which Dickens tale we’re pastiching. Uncanny Magazine was kind enough to publish it, which marks my first appearance in the magazine. It was fun to write, and maybe a little cathartic.

Hope your Christmas was lovely, if you indeed celebrate Christmas. Mine was mostly about eating cookies and watching movies. A fine way to spend the day.

A Seasonal Greeting From Daisy

Daisy ecumenically wishes you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, brilliant solstice, joyous Kwanzaa and all the best for the coming year. And so do I!