Taking a News Break

The last couple of weeks have been genuinely and literally amazing as far as news goes — so much happened every day, of such importance to the nation, that it’s been hard to keep up or to process it all, or (and this is important) to get into a frame of mind to do a whole lot of work. The very last of these is not great for me, as I have a book due soon.

So this week I’ve decided to go on a news diet; basically, to not go out of my way to read news or to follow it on Twitter or other social media (I’ve also muted the word “Trump” on Twitter, to aid in this project). I’m sure some of it will leak in regardless; I’m just not going to go out of my way to find it. What I’m saying is, I’m going to go ahead and let everyone else be on top of things for a bit while I recalibrate and try to get my work/outrage balance back into whack.

This is, incidentally, something I suggest everyone does from time to time (I mean, if your job doesn’t actually involve writing about the news), especially these days when just the daily dose of news can be overwhelming. Pace yourself, folks. It’s going to be a long haul.

Cory and I Talk at Goodreads

Because when we were on tour together, we went to Goodreads and talked! Here’s the interview.

(Interestingly but not entirely surprisingly, what they didn’t put in this interview transcript was the question where we were asked to offer our opinions on Amazon, which is the parent company of Goodreads. My answer to that was, basically, that Amazon had done some great things for my career and also had done some not so great things for my career, and that I don’t operate under the impression that Amazon cares about me more than it cares about itself. I suggested that other authors operate likewise.)

New Books and ARCs, 5/19/17

Heading into a very fine weekend, and what better way to do that then with some very fine books and ARCs? Tell us what in this stack is beckoning you to read it!

Once Again News is Coming in Too Fast to Process Intelligently, So Here, Have a Picture of Krissy

And she’s happy to see you. And a little squinty, as I took the picture in full daylight and she prefers her sunglasses for that. But, you know. Good squint, I’d say.

My Trump Quandary

I’m not writing about Trump and his party pals as much as one suspects I might here, and honestly, here’s the reason for it: Everything is happening so damn fast these days. Hard as it may be to believe, if I’m going to write something more than a snarky tweet, I want to be able to actually think about the thing and frame it in my head, and every time I try to do that, by the time I’ve figured out what I want to say, that dense, angry Tribble-scalped bastard has done something else, and I have to rethink. I literally can’t keep up, especially because I’m trying to do other things, too, like write books.

It’s frustrating, because I have a lot I’d like to say. It’s just that by the time I would say it, it’s already three news cycles back, and all I’m left with is me howling SEE I TOLD YOU THIS SHIT WOULD HAPPEN, and really, now, how often can I say that before it gets boring.

So: Sorry, folks. I’m trying my best. But Trump watching isn’t actually my full-time gig. And it’s really hard to keep up.

My Boring Shoes

Behold the Sketchers Men’s Diameter Slip-on, size 8.5, which just arrived here at the Scalzi Compound. This is the third pair of these that I’ve gotten, the first having been purchased more or less on a whim three years ago at Sears, back when you could still go into Sears without being crushingly depressed at how far the store had fallen. The shoes are super boring — there’s really nothing that calls your attention to them. I wear them because they’re cushioned and have arch support, and because they’re easy to take off and on at the airport. They are, in effect, designed to be worn by middle-aged men who value comfort over fashion, which is, basically, me.

I came to these shoes reluctantly, I’ll note. I was a devotee of Vans slip-ons for years but a few years ago had to come to terms that Vans slip-ons are not actually designed with the “increasingly middle-aged” demographic in mind, since they have zero arch support, and wearing mine to conventions or anywhere else that required lots of walking meant having feet that felt like they were being stabbed by the end of the day. I still love Vans and have a couple of pairs, but I save them for short trips and lazy days. For other every purposes: Super boring, cushy Sketchers above.

(I suppose I could find prettier shoes with equal arch support, but, meh. These work well enough, and they’re relatively inexpensive. I have dress shoes when I need dress shoes.)

The funny thing is that when I wear these shoes, every once in a while another middle-aged dude will compliment me on them, and I’ll look down and see him wearing the same shoes. Because he’s a middle-aged dude and he knows. Arch support, man. It’s a thing.

Robots vs. Fairies: I’m In This

Saga Press today announced a new anthology called Robots vs. Fairies, in which, as you might expect, there are stories about robots, and stories about fairies, and perhaps a few with robots and fairies. The anthology includes a story by me, entitled “Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Human Era for the First Time,” which, well. The title pretty much spells it out.

The author line-up for the book, as well as the story of the really very cool cover, is available here on the Barnes & Noble blog; the book itself will be out in January 2018. Something to look forward to in the coming year.

Mother’s Day 2017

This is my Wonder Woman. 

To mothers and the people who love them, have a fantastic day.

Hey, Wanna Watch Me and Cory Doctorow Talk for an Hour About Super Nerdy Stuff?

Sure you do! Here you go. This is from when Cory and I did a stop together at Google during our book tours.

Diversity, Appropriation, Canada (and Me)

So, I’ve been following this thing that’s been happening in Canada, where (briefly), Hal Niedviecki, a white editor of a literary magazine, in an edition of the magazine focusing on the indigenous writers of Canada, wrote an editorial in which he encouraged white writers to include characters who weren’t like them, saying “I’d go so far as to say that there should even be an award for doing so – the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.”

This outraged a bunch of folks, and Niedviecki ended up apologizing and resigning, which in turn outraged a bunch of other (mostly white) literary and journalistic folks, some of whom briefly started going about on social media about actually trying to fund an “Appropriation Prize” before at least a few of them realized that maybe they shouldn’t be doing that and started backtracking as fast as they could.

(You can catch up with all of this here and here.)

As I’ve been reading this, I think I have a reasonably good idea of what was going on in the mind of Niedzviecki. I suspect it was something along the line of, “Hey, in this special edition of this magazine featuring voices my magazine’s reading audience of mostly white writers doesn’t see enough of, I want to encourage the writing of a diversity of characters even among my readership of mostly white writers, and I want to say it in a clever, punchy way that will really drive the message home.”

Which seems laudable enough! And indeed, in and of itself, encouraging white, middle-class writers out of their comfort zones in terms of writing characters different from them and their lived experience is a perfectly fine goal. I encourage it. Other people I know encourage it. There’s more to life than middle-class white people, and writing can and should reflect that.

But it wasn’t “in and of itself,” and here’s where Niedviecki screwed up, as far as I can see:

1. In an edition of his magazine about indigenous writing in Canada, his essay pulled focus away from indigenous writers to focus on white, middle-class writers, (probably unintentionally) signaling who was really more important here.

2. He tried to be clever about it, too, and the failure mode of “clever” is “asshole.” Specifically, the crack about the “Appropriation Prize,” which probably sounded great in his head, and by all indications sounded pretty great to a bunch of other mostly white Canadian authors and journalists.

3. Which is a point in itself, i.e., the easy conflation of “diversity of characters” with “appropriation.” Very basically, the former says “I as a writer acknowledge there’s more to the world than me and people like me and I will strive to represent that as best I can,” and the latter says “The imaginary version of people I’m not like, that I have created in my head, is as valid as the lived experience of the actual people I claim to represent in my writing.” And, yeah. Maybe these two should not be conflated, even if it makes for a punchy, memorable line in an essay. Also, if you genuinely can’t tell the difference between these two states, you might have work to do.

(This is why the white Canadian authors/journalists yakking about funding an Appropriation Prize are particularly clueless; they’re essentially saying “Hey! Let’s give money to white writers for the best fake version of people they’re not!” Which is not a good look, folks, really. Words do mean things, and “appropriation” doesn’t mean a good thing in this context.)

This whole event really appears to fall into the category of “Well-meaning person does something they thought would help and instead makes things worse.” Niedzviecki thought he was championing diversity in Canadian writing — because (I have no doubt) he actually does wish to champion diversity in Canadian writing — and instead blundered into controversy because lack of understanding about what he was doing, or at least, lack of understanding of how what he was doing would look outside of his own circle of experience. He meant well! But he showed his ass anyway.

And, well. Join the party, Mr. Niedzviecki! There are many of us here in the “We Showed Our Ass” club. And judging from the response to the piece, and Mr. Niedzviecki’s decision to resign his post, more are joining as we speak. “Cultural Appropriation: Why Can’t We Debate It?” asks one Canadian newspaper column headline, from another white writer who clearly doesn’t understand what “cultural appropriation” actually means and seems confused why other people are upset by it. Niedzviecki, to his credit, seems to have picked up the clue. Some others seem determined not to. And, look. We all show our ass. The question is whether we then try to pull our pants back up, or keep scrunching them down to our ankles, and then poop all over them and ourselves.

****

Now, related but slightly set apart (which is why I’ve separated this part off with asterisks), let me address this issue of diversity of characters in writing, using myself as an example, and moving on from there.

I’m a white male writer of North American middle-class sensibility, and I try from time to time to write characters that are not like me, because it reflects the reality of the world to do so, and because in science fiction I believe we write the futures we want to see, and I want to see diversity. How do I do, writing these characters who are not like me? Well, that’s for other people to decide. But here is my thought on doing it, which I take from Mary Anne Mohanraj’s essays here on the subject:

a) I should write diverse characters.
b) I’ll screw up sometimes, and when I do people with the lived experience I’m trying to represent will let me know.
c) I’ll learn and when I write diverse characters again, I’ll try to do better. If I make mistakes again, they’ll be new ones, not the same ones over again.
d) Repeat until dead (or I quit writing, which I suspect will happen simultaneously).

With that said, while I think it’s useful for me to have diverse characters in my writing, I also think it’s even more useful for publishing to have diverse writers. This is not just because of some box checking sensibility but because other writers tell stories, create characters and interrogate writing in ways I would never think to. I’m a pretty good storyteller, folks. But my way of storytelling isn’t the only way it gets done. As a reader I like what I like, but I also like finding out about what I didn’t know I’d like, and I even occasionally like reading something and going “wow, that was so not for me but I get that it’s for someone.”

This is relevant because even when I write diverse characters, they get filtered through me, and while that’s fine and I think necessary, in a larger sense it’s not sufficient. I’m not running me down here. I give good character. But as a writer I know where my weaknesses are. Some characters I will likely never explore as deeply as they could be explored by other writers, because I am not able to write those characters as well as others could. I strive for diversity in my writing. But my writing won’t ever reflect the diversity that literature in general should be capable of. You need writers whose lives are not like mine for that.

White writers adding a diversity of characters into their work is one thing. Publishers seeking out and publishing a diversity of writers is another. A fall down happens when people — writers, editors, and publishers — appear to think having the former is somehow equivalent to the latter, or that having the former is sufficient, so that the latter is optional, if the former is present. It’s not. The former can be laudable (if it doesn’t fall over into appropriation, which it can, and when it does is its own bag of issues), but it’s not and never is sufficient. A field of literature that comes only from one direction is bad literature because it’s incomplete literature. There’s more to it and it’s being missed out on. And that’s a much larger issue.

So, yes. Good on me and any white writer for having diverse characters. Go us! But if your argument about diversity in writing and publishing is centered on that, and not on an actual diversity of writers, you’re missing the point in an obvious way. Everyone who isn’t a white writer is going to notice.

That James Comey Thing

I tried writing about the James Comey firing earlier in the week and got mostly a lot of GRWARRRRGHNNNNGHFFFFFK out of it, so I decided to let it be, and anyway, at this point there’s very little to add to it that hasn’t already been said elsewhere, mostly relating to Trump being incompetent, possibly criminal, and in all cases a schmuck.

That said, I think it’s reasonable to address a point that both Trump and his various apparatchiks have been petulant about, namely that no one on the left liked James Comey and many people thought he should have been booted from the job, and yet when Trump booted him, they freaked out. Isn’t this what they wanted? I mean, hell, just before he got punted, I wrote this tweet about him:

So you would think I would be among the ones cheering the punting. As much as I roll my eyes at the Trumpkins, I think it’s reasonably fair for them to be confused about this.

Well, here’s an answer:

Let’s say there’s this guy who is an enormous asshole and everybody hates him and wishes that he’d get, like, hit by a bus or something. Then one day, a bus indeed comes up on the curb, smacks into him and basically turns him into paste. Does everyone then pin a medal on the bus driver? Well, no, the bus driver just killed someone. Now we look into why the bus went up on the curb. And if in this particular case the bus driver just happened to be someone the enormous asshole was investigating for possible criminal activity (because the enormous asshole was maybe a cop or a private investigator), well. There might be cause for concern. Especially if the bus driver then says “I was driving around looking for him in order to hit him with a bus!” to Lester Holt in a televised interview.

An even shorter, analogy-free version is: It’s allowed to both believe Comey wasn’t very good at his job and that Trump fired him in order to impede the FBI’s investigation into his, his campaign’s and now his administration’s ties to Russia. And while the first is a problem, the second is stuff impeachments are made of.

That Trump appeared to think that the annoyance of the first would make people brush aside the potential criminality of the second is yet another reason why he’s not actually very good at his job. So there’s irony there, at least.

New Books and ARCs, 5/12/17

Hey, look! More books and ARCs! Who’d’ve thought? If you see something here you have an interest in, tell us all in the comments. We want to know.

The Dispatcher a Locus Award Finalist!

In the “novella” category. I’m super pleased.

Here are the other finalists in the category:

That’s a very excellent field for the category, with many wonderful writers. I’m honored to have my work among them.

Here’s a link to the entire slate of finalists in all categories. Congrats to everyone! This is a very fine way to start the weekend.

A Senior Day Moment

Not graduation day; don’t let the robes fool you. Senior day is the day the seniors are handed out their awards and scholarships, take their final class pictures, and then are dismissed until graduation day, two weeks hence. Technically Athena has already graduated — she finished up a semester early — but she’s walking with her classmates because why wouldn’t you. It’s a last hurrah for Bradford Class of 2017. These two, at least, seem happy about it.

48

My 47th year was a pretty productive one: Three books of mine were published (The Dispatcher, in both audio and print; Miniatures; and of course The Collapsing Empire), one video game I worked on was released (Midnight Star: Renegade), I toured all around the country and saw lots of people, I had some work optioned and even won an award in Israel. Not bad. More importantly, I got to spend another year with my wife and child and with friends, all of whom I cherish beyond measure, and who have made my personal life full and wonderful.

There was that election. But, look. You can’t pin that one on me.

I have plans and ambitions for my 48th year, which outside that which you probably already know (i.e., write a whole bunch of books) I’m going to keep to myself for now. But in the spirit of commemorating the day, if you feel inclined to mark my birthday, in lieu of gifts, please consider doing the following:

1. Be decent to each other, as much as you can.

2. Be mindful of the people you care about. They’re going to need your help, and you might need theirs.

3. Donate locally, and donate critically. There are people in your own neighborhoods who could use a hand up, especially now. Also, our nation is going to need people to defend rights and principles other people seem in a rush to strip and junk. To the extent you can, give.

4. Look up from the news every once in a while and give yourself a break. This is one I especially need to remember, so I figure the rest of you could use that reminder as well. I think people can and should be engaged in the world, now more than ever. But it’s also important to know when you need to rest, so you can be more effective when you come back to it.

5. Take care of yourself. You’re not getting any younger, you know. Do things that give you joy, with people you like and love. It’s more important than you might think.

And that’s what I have for you today, on my 48th birthday. I’m looking forward to the next year.

Hitting Tech Sufficiency

I was recently gifted with a Google Chromebook Pixel, which although now two years old is still the most specced-out Chromebook you can get (the version I received has an i7 processor, 16 gigs of ram and a 64GB SSD, as well as a retina-like touchscreen). I was delighted to get it, and can attest to it being an all around lovely laptop, as well as (of course) just about the best Chromebook I’ve come across. It can run Android apps too, which is a bonus, although I don’t find myself actually using that ability much, either on this or the other two Chromebooks I currently have in the house. Be that as it may, if you have a hankering for a Chromebook, the Pixels are still well worth looking into. Google’s not making them anymore, so supplies are limited, but on the other hand you can pick one up these days for about $400, a steep discount from their original pricing (of about $1k).

As much as I like the Pixel (and I do!), one of the things I’m aware of at the moment is that I’m currently in a moment of technological sufficiency, which is to say that I’m at a point where I don’t really have a hankering for any new bit of tech. Before the Pixel arrived I already had the latest Asus Flip Chromebook, which I liked quite a bit and which I took on tour with me, where it performed in an entirely satisfactory manner. My desktop computer is a couple years old now but still near the upper end of things, techwise; as long as it doesn’t explode I’m fine. My cell phone is likewise well-specced and I’m in no rush to upgrade it. Basically, there’s no tech out there in the world I really feel the urge to pick up. I’m good.

This is very weird for me, I should note. There’s usually a laptop or cell phone or graphics card or camera or TV or whatever that I don’t have that I wish I did, and which I’m sorely tempted to get even if I don’t exactly need it (this is what Charlie Stross calls “having to make a saving throw against shiny“). But at the moment: Nope.

I think part of the reason for this is a bit of self-awareness, i.e., no matter what new computer (or phone, or whatever) I get, I’m almost certainly going to use it for the same things I always do — in the case of a laptop, to write emails and occasionally work on a novel (if I’m not at home), and read social media. These are not things which require blazing speeds or massive computing power, which is one reason I’ve become enamored of Chromebooks in the last couple of years; they’re nicely good enough, especially now that I can get models with backlit keyboards. They are so “good enough,” in fact, that at this point (for me, anyway), it becomes increasingly difficult to justify spending hundreds more for a PC or Mac ever again. Maybe if my laptops were my primary computers (i.e., no desktop computer). But they’re not.

Also, I think I might have a little bit of technology fatigue, which is to say at this moment in time there’s nothing so particularly new or innovative in terms of technology that I feel an urge to race out and upgrade. Laptops are sufficiently small and light and capable; their functionality isn’t notably different from what it was five or even ten years ago, at least in terms of how I use them. The most recent attempts to innovate in that area amount to either removing capability (Apple ditching inputs and forcing its users to use dongles) or adding capability of dubious utility (Apple again, with their “Touch Bar”). Likewise, the newest generation of cell phones doesn’t add much to the party for me — again they’re either dropping capability (no headphone jacks? Screw you), or what’s being added doesn’t impress me much.

(Tablets, I’ll note, have dropped entirely off my radar; I loved the Nexus 7 tablet, which was the perfect size for me, but I barely use mine anymore. Likewise the iPad Mini I have, which I got because I’m working on games designed for iOS. What I used tablets for previously are now handled by my phone, which now has a large enough screen, or by my Asus Chromebook, which flips about to make a perfectly serviceable tablet, especially now that it runs Android apps.)

There’s nothing that grabs me, upgrade-wise, so I suspect I’m unlikely to upgrade until my current set of toys break. Which will be soon enough, as tech these days is not made to last. But when it does break, the question will be whether I’ll upgrade, or just… sidegrade, and get tech that is equivalent to what I have now and thus, relatively cheaper because it will no longer be the shiniest of the shinies anymore.

I don’t suspect this state of affairs will last, mind you. I am famously susceptible to new tech toys, and I suspect that soon some as-now-unheralded feature or functionality will presently become indespensible (or will at least feel like it is) and then there I will be, Fry-like, thrusting out a fist of dollars and telling someone to shut up and take my money. But for the moment? Yeah, I’m fine, tech-wise. It’s a weird feeling. But I could get used to it. And so could my wallet.

Prom 2017

Athena and Hunter went and got all dressed up for their senior Prom night last night, and of course I had to take a ton of pictures, because that’s what I do. If you’re curious to see the results (and to look upon a fabulous Belle dress), the entire Flickr album is here. Enjoy!

New Books and ARCs, 5/5/17

For your Cinco de Mayo delectation, this lovely stack of new books and ARCs! What seems especially tasty today? Let us know in the comments.

The Brain Eater

So, let’s say, there’s this writer.

(It doesn’t have to be a writer. It could be a musician, or painter, or actor, any aspirant in any creative or indeed competitive field, in which there will be many who participate but few who will end up on top, commercially or critically.)

Let’s also posit this writer is probably white and straight and male. Mind you, for this exercise, one doesn’t have to be white and/or straight and/or male — it’s possible that others could be slotted into this exercise — but let’s also allow that this exercise requires a certain amount of expectation, whether consciously acknowledged or not, that there is a path, and the path is achievable; and indeed not only achievable but achievable by them; and one might say, not only achievable, but expected.

So, again: This writer. He starts in his twenties in his field, writing short stories and perhaps working on a novel. And things start to happen for this writer. He gets work accepted by magazines and publishers. People start to talk about his work. He starts getting good notices and acceptance in his field. He begins to see his name pop up in conversations about the best work of the year, and selected for anthologies with the word “best” somewhere in the title. He has peers coming up with him. They hang out at conventions and book fairs.

One day, to his delight, as he edges into his thirties, he discovers some of his work has been nominated for an award, or possibly even two. Now when he goes to conventions and book fairs, his peers high-five him. When he sits on a panel, he no longer modestly suggests that he doesn’t know why he’s there when everyone else on the panel is so better known than he is. An agent at a convention asks him if he’s working on a novel (and of course he is, even if he wasn’t two seconds previously) and gives him a card and tells him they’d love to see it. Magazine editors invite him to submit. Anthology editors do the same, hinting that his name might even make it onto the cover.

The writer goes home and starts work on a novel. The agent likes the work and takes him on. When the novel is finished, the agent shops it — and it finds a home. The writer announces the deal on social media to the acclaim of peers and fans. The books goes out to reviewers and the first reviews are kind. The book hits stores and the sales are good! For a debut.

Our writer smiles to himself and says, now I am on my way. The path so far has been an unbroken upward road — not without challenges but one still clear and tractable — and from his vantage point he can see everything that lies on that upward path: More award nominations, this time for his novel(s), and then award wins. Then bestsellers status and with it attention from film and TV producers. A novel is adapted into a film and launches the book into the stratosphere of general public consciousness. He’s liked, and admired, and in appropriate time new writers speak of him as a signal influence on their own work. From there, he garners his career awards — a Grand Master accolade, maybe a National Book Award or even a Pulitzer — and is comfortable in the knowledge that his work, his legacy, his part in the national conversation — is assured, even when he’s gone. This continuing upward path is not without its challenges, of course. Of course! But again, the path so far has been clear and tractable. There’s no reason for him not to be able to continue on it, predictably, inevitably.

And, then, one day, our writer looks around and he’s fifty. And he realizes that the book awards and the bestsellers and the movie deals haven’t come. He’s still publishing his novels (or maybe he isn’t), but he and his peers not part of the conversation like they used to be (well, one or two of them are. Just not him). His sales are slowly declining and some of his previous work is out of print. His agent admits that it’s harder to sell his work than it used to be. New writers — who are these kids? — are coming up and winning the awards, hitting the best seller lists, getting those TV and movie deals.

Our writer’s body is thicker than it used to be, and slower, and creaks. He’s not young anymore nor ever will be again. He’s not one of the Young Turks; he senses he’s barely part of the establishment. The new writers coming up treat him like just another writer; he’s not an influence, he’s just another jobber in the word mines. His upward path — that clear and tractable path, the expected and one would dare to say entitled path — is not the path he’s on. He’s on a path that has plateaued and indeed may be starting to run downhill, getting steeper as it goes.

How did this happen?

Well, our writer thinks, it can’t be because of him; he’s done the work, put in the words, is writing at the same level he always has. He’d been up for awards, back in the day, and doesn’t know why he shouldn’t still be. And it can’t be just be because sometimes, despite your best efforts, things don’t happen for you — that you could have been in the right place at the right time but weren’t, and someone else was, and they got a boost and you didn’t because on occassion that’s the way it goes. No, things don’t just happen, things happen for a reason.

And things, in particular, are happening to our writer — or more accurately, aren’t happening, because someone or a group of someones, are actively making it not happen. Our writer looks around at who is new, who is hot, who is making it in the field and who isn’t, adds up the anecdotal evidence that doesn’t involve the impossible factors of himself or just plain bad luck. And then he thinks to himself:

You know, maybe it really is the Jews keeping me down.

Or the blacks. Or the gays. Or the liberals! Or the Millennials! The lousy SJWs and the feminists! Or all of them! All at once! For starters!

And that’s when our writer looks up from the path, and in front of him stands the Brain Eater.

Who pulls out a spoon, cracks open our writer’s skull, and starts feasting, while our writer goes onto the Internet and talks angrily and at length about who it is that is keeping him from what he deserves.

Please note that this is just one representative example. Not every path to the Brain Eater is traced into the dirt like this particular one. Some come to the Brain Eater sooner; some come later. Some get further along in their career before they arrive at the Brain Eater, having won accolades and fame (but just not enough); some leap into its arms at the first available opportunity. What’s important is the gap, that wide space between where they think should have been and where they are now — and the “fact” that someone else, not them and not chance, is solely responsible for their failure to be who they are supposed to be, and their failure to achieve what they were entitled to achieve.

Please also note that no one has to come to the Brain Eater at all. Even folks statistically most susceptible to the Brain Eater can realize how much luck, circumstance and timing plays a part in one’s career, and resist the temptation to ascribe their own situation to a shadowy cabal out to defeat them personally. They might also realize that the “expected” path isn’t and never was real, and that nothing in one’s career or even life is ever a given.

They might also recognize that in writing, at least, it is never too late — as long as you’re writing and submitting and putting your work out there, there’s always another chance for you and your work. There are writers who failed and failed and failed and failed and hit. There are writers who hit, hit bottom, and hit again. There are writers who didn’t start publishing until they were in their fifties, or beyond. There are writers who started early, kept at it, never “hit,” but nevertheless loved the life that being a writer gave them.

There is no expected path. Believing that there is will only make you unhappy, and from there, bitter, and from there, blame-seeking. There is only the path you make for yourself and where it takes you, however long you choose to be on it.

Or, you can let the Brain Eater feast. It might make you feel better temporarily. But then you might find that what you’ve long suspected is actually true: People don’t want to work with you. Not because of some shadowy cabal directive but simply because people are reluctant to work with someone who descends into blame-seeking and bigotry when things don’t go their way. It’s unpleasant to watch and deal with, and people will suspect that if everything doesn’t go your way, sooner or later that your impulse to blame will be directed at them.

And thus the irony of the Brain Eater: It makes you become, by your own hand, the thing you suspect others were working so hard to make you be: A failure.

The Beehive Shrinks

Well, this is sad news to me: The Fresno Bee, which is the newspaper I wrote for lo those many years ago, has basically killed off its local arts and sports coverage, in the process laying off eight reporters, including my very dear friend Donald Munro. Donald worked at the Bee for 26 years and basically inherited my job as movie reviewer (among other responsibilities) after I left to go to AOL. Donald’s own take on events is here; he’s his typically gracious self, which is probably more than I would have been in a similar situation.

I’m sad to see Donald and the others laid off, and I also think it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to eliminate local arts and sports positions in the newsroom. Local news is the thing papers like the Bee (or the Dayton Daily News, my local) do that other papers can’t and won’t do, and which is actually needed — I mean, I don’t subscribe to the DDN for its national coverage. Local arts and sports is part of that coverage no one else will do.

It’s possible the Bee will now just freelance out that work; it’s cheaper that way and they won’t have to carry health insurance or retirement plans (which reminds me, hey, did you know that the GOP is even as I type this working really hard to make health insurance both expensive and useless to everyone again, especially the self-employed?). But here’s the thing — when arts and sports don’t have their advocates in the newsroom, even if editors remember to put them on their daily budgets, they won’t get covered as much, or as often. Which will make the Bee less useful to Fresno over time.

The Bee that Donald and I worked at 26 years ago — he had arrived just before I had, in 1991 — was a different place; it had just added a movie reviewer (me!) to go along with reviewers it already had on its entertainment staff for television, music, restaurants and local events. All those positions are gone now, along with many, many others, the casualty of the transition to digital and other economic forces in journalism. I miss it; I miss the features newsroom with all its clever and committed folks writing about what was going on in town.

Donald was my last link to that time, still in the Bee newsroom. And while I have no doubt he’ll land well, wherever he goes and whatever he does, I’m sad that link is gone now. And I’m sad the Bee is diminished. Whether it knows it now or not, they’re going to feel the loss. The Bee’s readers will, too.