Why Is This Woman Smiling

Possibly because she’s holding the last mortgage check she’ll ever write.

And no, I’m not taking over the mortgage-check-writing responsibilities. It’s the last mortgage check. Wheee!

When people ask me what inspires me to write, I frequently say “my mortgage.” I’ll have to think of some new smart-ass response.

In any event, if you’ve ever bought one of my books, you are in an infinitesimally small way to thank for getting us to this point. So: Thank you. I promise to keep writing more books, even without a mortgage dangling over my head. After all, I still have Athena’s college to pay for.

Where I Will Be in October

October is a busy month for me! Here are the places you can see me then.

Oct 2-3: Iowa City Book Festival, Iowa City. I arrive on Friday and will be loitering about, but my events will be on Saturday. I’m doing a reading and (I think!) a signing. More details soon. Nevertheless — I’ll be there!

October 8: New York Comic Con, NYC. One day only, and on Thursday at that. I’ll be doing two signings and emceeing a panel introducing a pretty talented quartet of Tor writers and leading them through a game of “Would You Rather.” It’s going to be a ridiculous amount of fun.

October 9-10: Nerdcon:Stories, Minneapolis. I’m all over this one with panels, signings and a couple of other goofy events. I will be bringing a ukulele. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

October 24: Tacoma Public Library, Tacoma. I’ll be doing two events here. From 9:30 to 12:00, I’ll be doing a writing workshop (which will likely be a couple of sessions with me talking about a writing career from a creative standpoint and from a business standpoint), and then from 1 to 3:30 I’ll be doing a reading, Q&A and signing.

So, yup, pretty busy in the month of October. And what do I have planned for November and December? Not a damn thing. Well, maybe I’ll write a book, but other than that, nothing. Don’t worry, my 2016 is packed.

When I Became a Fan

Over in the comments section of this entry at File770, there is a minor discussion of when it was I considered myself a “fan,” and whether it was before I made my formal entry into the world of science fiction fandom (at Torcon 3, the 2003 Worldcon in Toronto) or not. Well, I know the answer to this, so let me answer it here.

The answer, no, not really. Certainly I was a fan of science fiction as a literary genre before Torcon, but it was to the same extent I was a fan of lots of other things, which is to say that I had a comfortable bias toward the genre as something I enjoyed. It was one of my favorite genres to read, but I liked other genres as much if not more — I would as happily read a Fletch novel or a collection of Molly Ivins columns as I would a book by Heinlein. I’ve noted before that when it came time to write my first novel, I basically flipped a coin to determine whether it would be a SF novel or a mystery/crime novel; I could have gone either way (they both would have been set in Hollywood).

Also, I knew I that “fandom” — the group of people who attended and participated in science fiction and fantasy conventions — existed prior to attending Torcon, but I had no connection to that world at all. The closest I came to it was covering a one-day Creation Star Trek convention in Fresno when I worked at the newspaper there (Michael Dorn was the headliner). I don’t count that because I was on the job; I was assigned to go there, I didn’t attend of my free will. Interestingly, before Torcon, Krissy had been to more conventions than I had; she attended an X-Files convention (also done by Creation) as a fan of the series before she met me.

Nor, to be blunt, was I particularly interested in being in “fandom” once I started writing science fiction with an eye toward publication. The group that I wanted to be part of (and did become part of, basically as soon as my contracts got signed) was SFWA, the professional organization of science fiction writers. I assumed (incorrectly) that there was a sharp division between fans and pros in the SF/F world, so obviously I would want to be sorted into the correct group. Note that when I did go to my first science fiction convention, it was with the intent of me, as a pro, meeting the people who would soon (hopefully) be my audience. This is not precisely the attitude of someone who is diving headfirst into fandom.

Did Torcon turn me into a fan? Not really, no. Torcon was mostly about me trying to figure what fandom was and what being a professional science fiction writer was about. I had a great time and I learned a lot and I met some people there who I have been friends with since, but I don’t know that I would say I considered myself a fan after the convention. Nor do I think it took with the next convention I went to, which was the 2004 Worldcon in Boston, although by that time I felt I understood better what fandom was and how I connected to it, in part because I was by that time participating with other writers and fans online.

I would say the first time I felt that I was part of fandom was when I attended my first “local” convention, which would have been the 2005 edition of ConFusion, which takes place in suburban Detroit. It was smaller and less overwhelming than a Worldcon, which was useful, but the other thing that happened is that I started making friends, not just with the pros at the convention, but with the other folks too — and I realized that I liked them as people, and I hoped that they liked me, and I enjoyed the convention for itself and not just as a thing I should go to for professional reasons. I had also by that time learned that there really was no dividing line between “fan” and “pro” in the context of fandom — people were often both, enthusiastically, at the same time. So I stopped worrying about where I was in the context of fandom and simply started being a part of it.

So, yeah, 2005. That’s the year I felt I was part of fandom.

To this day I like to joke that I’m a naturalized citizen of fandom, in that I became part of it in my mid-thirties, having not really had a point of connection to it previously. I know people who are third- and fourth-generation fans and that fact kind of blows my mind. Naturalized or not, fandom has taken me in, with all the positives and negatives that entails — I won the Fan Writer Hugo in 2008, for example, for the writing I do here, which was to me a concrete sign I had been accepted into the tribe. I cherish it for that and for being my first Hugo… but I’ll note there are people who still grumble about the fact I won it, which is of course a very fannish thing to do, too.

And that’s fine. Being part of fandom means accepting it has many aspects and opinions and controversies and drama. It’s part of the package. I’ll take it.

How Many Books You Should Write In a Year

Folks have pointed me toward this Huffington Post piece, begging self-published authors not to write four books a year, because the author (Lorraine Devon Wilke) maintains that no mere human can write four books a year and have them be any good. This has apparently earned her the wrath of a number of people, including writer Larry Correia, who snarks apart the piece here and whose position is that a) the premise of the article is crap, and b) authors should get paid, and if four books a year gets you paid, then rock on with your bad self. I suspect people may be wanting to have me comment on the piece so I can take punches at either or both Wilke or Correia, and are waiting, popcorn at ready.

If so, you may be disappointed. With regard to Correia’s piece, Larry and I disagree on a number of issues unrelated to writing craft, but we align fairly well here, and to the extent that I’m accurately condensing his points here, we don’t really disagree. One, there are a lot of writers who write fast and well, for whom four books a year of readable, enjoyable prose is not a stretch. And, you know. If you can do that, and you want to do that, and you see an economic benefit to it, then why not do it?

Two, there really isn’t a huge correlation between time writing and quality of the finished work. Yes, as Wilke notes, The Goldfinch took Donna Tartt eleven years to write, and she got a Pulitzer for it, but so what? A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, was famously written in three weeks and is generally considered to be one of the great novels of the 20th Century. We can have an argument to which novel of the two is better, but that’s not the point, and anyway no matter what the two are within hailing distance of each other. The point is, again, there’s not a huge correlation between time writing and quality of finished work, particularly when one is cherry-picking one’s examples.

How much time does it take to write a novel? As long as it takes. I wrote Redshirts in five weeks; it took me most of a year to write The End of All Things. Which is better? It’s a subjective call. On average it takes me three to four months of daily work to write a novel. Would my novels be better if I took two years each on them? Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. I write the speed I write because that’s the speed I write. If I inherently wrote faster, then they would take less time. If I inherently wrote slower, then they would take more. I suspect the inherent quality of the work would remain about equal, because I am the writer I am.

Also, you know. What a “novel” or “book” is, is a very fungible thing. The term “novel” encompasses a book like The Goldfinch, which is almost 300,000 words, and Redshirts, which was 55,000 words, not counting the codas. The more-or-less official lower length of a novel is 40,000 words; at the other extreme, Alan Moore’s novel Jerusalem, slated for publication next year, is a million words long. I don’t recommend trying to write four Jerusalems in a year. But on the other hand, four 40,000 word stories? That’s entirely doable for a very large number of writers.

Moreover, with specific reference to self-pubbed folks, they have a considerable amount of flexibility toward the length of their books. All of my novels are contracted to be around 100,000 words, because that makes for a nice-sized book on the bookstore shelf (this is one reason, among others, why I added the codas to Redshirts). I have some flexibility there, but add up the total word count for all my published novels to date, and you get very close to 100k as an average word count number. Self-pubbed books can be considerably shorter, and many are. So again, four books of competent, readable prose is not a stretch in that case.

The economic argument for writing that much in a year is pretty simple: If you do, you give yourself more sales opportunities; there are more targets with which to draw in new readers and to keep continuing readers happy. Wilke might argue that these all aren’t Pulitzer-quality works, but even if they aren’t: So what? Not everything readable has to be in serious contention for the Pulitzer. It’s okay to eat a cheeseburger; it’s okay to read the literary equivalent of a cheeseburger. Believe it or not, some people will read both The Goldfinch and a literary cheeseburger! Because people are like that.

With all that said, I suspect that at least part of what Wilke was aiming at was that one shouldn’t feel compelled to write four books a year, just because a self-pubbed author (or any other type of author, for that matter) read something somewhere that said four books a year was what every self-pubbed author should or must do to make money. And you know what? If that’s actually part of Wilke’s argument, then she’s correct.

She’s correct for a couple of reasons. One, and most simply: Not everyone can write four books worth reading in a year, regardless of length. Because here’s a thing: There’s more to a book than word count. There’s also what you do with the words, not to mention general plotting and organization and, moving away from the purely “creative” aspect, production and distribution, the latter aspects of which self-pubbed authors have to attend to directly (other authors get the benefit of a publisher to deal with a lot of that). Some people have a lot of bandwidth for this sort of stuff; other people don’t.

If you’re one of the people who don’t, then aiming for four books in a year, every year, isn’t going to be beneficial for you. You’ll end up drained and fatigued, and writing/producing inferior work, and it will be obvious. You’ll be punished for it, in the sense that people will stop paying you for your work. If you’re writing four books worth of crap, well. People will eat cheeseburgers, but very few people will eat crap. Don’t serve up crap.

What is actually important for writers to do, all of them, regardless of publishing method, is to find their pace for how they write, and what they write. One writer can happily crank out four books a year, in which case, good for them. Another writer will take years to write a book they’re happy with. In which case, good for them, too. These two writers should not try to write at each others’ pace; they’ll both be unhappy.

Nor is it 100% certain that the “four books a year” writer will make more money than the “one book every few years” writer. Andy Weir, as far as I know, has only one book, but that one book is The Martian, so it’s a reasonable guess he’s making more than almost every “four books a year” author. The four books a year author has more shots on goal, but if your one shot hits the bullseye, then it doesn’t matter. Yes, I did just mix metaphors there. Deal with it. Point is: money is possible at every speed.

Which bring me to my next point: be aware that there’s more than one recipe to making money as a writer. I write a novel in three to four months on average, and I have a backlog of story ideas, so it’s a pretty safe bet that I could write three or even four novels a year. I don’t. Why? Well, because I do other things with my time that make money, and also, make me happy. One novel a year, more or less, plus my other activities, has done very well for me. Other writers publish more and are happy; others publish less and are also perfectly happy. There’s not a right path for everyone. There is, however, likely a best path for you.

(Nor is it a given that every writer should have as their hard goal for writing “making money.” It’s a fine goal — I’m all for it! — and if indeed you want to write as your primary means of income then clearly you have to factor that into your workflow. But not every writer wants to, or should. You can be a writer, and be a professional writer, and do other things too. It’s allowed. And indeed, in many circumstances it can offer you more flexibility for your writing than being a full-time writer allows. Just to put that out there.)

So how many books should you write in a year? As many as you like, and as many as you can do, within your ability, for the sort of writing you want to do. What you need to do is to discover what your own capabilities are, and then work within them. Write the books you would want to read, and buy. If you can do four of those a year, great. If you do one of those every eleven years, that’s good too. Most writers, I suspect, will fall in between those two data points. That’ll work.

In Which We Achieve Maximum Giving Tree

At the front of our property stood four ash trees, which were lovely but over the last few years became diseased, in no small part because of emerald ash borers, which landed in Ohio in 2003, apparently, and have taken out a substantial number of trees. Including ours; three of the four were basically dead trees standing, and the fourth was on its way.

So, today, down they came, all four of them. In their place, for now, are four piles of firewood which we will use in the fire pit out back, and later, four new trees, probably maples, more or less where the ash trees stood. It will take time for them to grow to the height of the ash trees, but, you know. We’re not planning on going anywhere at the moment.

I was sad to see the trees come down, but as noted they weren’t exactly healthy trees; bringing them down was the right thing to do. In the coming months, as the nights get colder and suited for fires in the backyard, I’ll toast some s’mores in their honor.

Here’s a Quarter

Many years ago — actually about a quarter of a century ago — I had applied for the job of Student Ombudsperson at the University of Chicago. The job of the Ombudsperson was to help students navigate the bureaucracy of the university, and to help them get their concerns heard when the usual channels weren’t working. It was a job where I got to problem-solve and advocate for people, and that appealed to me.

One part of the process for being considered for the job was an interview with a selection committee, which featured members of the faculty, administration and student body, who asked me (and presumably the other candidates) questions and offered hypothetical issues to resolve. It was during one of the hypotheticals, the details of which are not especially important, that I was confronted with a hypothetical student who simply wouldn’t be happy with any outcome. So, like this:

Q: A student comes with “X” problem. How would you resolve it?

A: I would do “Y”, and here’s why [explain why].

Q: Okay, but they’re not happy with that solution. What do you do then?

A: Then I would try “Z,” and here’s why [explain why].

Q: Okay, but they’re still not happy. Now what?

A: Well, then let’s try “Q,” because [explain why].

Q: They’re still not happy.

A: Fine, I would try “K,” because [explain why].

“Okay,” my interviewer then said, “But they’re still not happy with your solution or your efforts. What do you do then?”

“I give them a quarter to call someone who cares,” I said. “Because at that point it’s clear they’re more interested in being upset than anything else, and I have other work to do.”

Yes, I actually did say that (or something very close to it; it was 25 years ago and I didn’t record it).

And yes, I got the job.

Here’s the thing: I believe that we owe our fellow human beings a certain amount of compassion and courtesy and respect, and to listen to their complaints and grievances. We should ask ourselves whether those complaints and grievances are valid, and whether we can help — and in some cases, ask whether we are the author of those grievances, and if so what we can do to resolve them.

But I also believe that after a certain point, it may become obvious that some people just want to complain, or to be angry, or to be an asshole, or whatever, and that nothing a reasonable person can do will ever make those people happy or satisfied. So you give them a quarter, metaphorically or otherwise, and tell them to call someone who cares. Because you have other things to do. And then you go on doing those things you need to do.

They won’t be happy, but then they were never going to be happy, and it’s not your responsibility to fix their problem — “their problem” not being whatever specific complaint or grievance they might have, but a worldview that requires them to always have a complaint or grievance, and/or to believe that the root of that complaint is somehow about you. That’s something for therapy, perhaps, not for you, or anyone else who isn’t getting paid by the session.

You should be a kind and compassionate person to others when they have a problem or grievance. You should also know when it’s a problem you can’t solve, and also, when the person doesn’t actually want the problem to be solved. It’s neither kind nor compassionate to them or to you to keep being involved after that point. And to be sure, after you’ve given them their quarter, they will likely complain that you are a terrible person, and/or part of a conspiracy to keep them down, and so on and so forth. That’s their karma, not yours.

I was and am pretty proud of my time as Student Ombudsperson at the University of Chicago. I ended up helping a good number of people, and making sure that the students could get their voices heard. But I never forgot that part of the reason I got the job is because they knew I knew where to draw a line. It was a useful skill in that job. It continues to be useful to me today.

The Big Idea: Sarah Prineas

Happily Ever After… but why? And to ultimately what end? Author Sarah Prineas considers this in Ash & Bramble, and she’s not the only one who asks.


The story of Ash & Bramble, which is more an exploded fairytale than a retelling, arose out of two Big Idea questions.

The first question came out of this experience I had back in grad school when I was reading a lot of Marxist theory and joined a student group that staged a sit-in to protest that the university basically relied on sweatshop labor to produce school-mascot t-shirts and hats and backpacks. What I learned was that our stuff comes from somewhere.  We don’t have fairy godmothers who wave their wands and new t-shirts appear, wallah!—even though shopping online can be like that. But no, an underpaid, overworked laborer somewhere far away from where you live probably made the clothes you are wearing right now. She made the clothes I am wearing right now, too (pajamas from Target).

That led me to wonder: there’s all this stuff in fairytales: a dancing slipper made of glass.  A poisoned apple. A sharpened spindle. A glass coffin. And of course, the gorgeous, glittering ball gowns.

So where do all of those story elements come from? Who makes it? I mean, there’s no amazon.com in Fairytalandia, and the stuff has to come from somewhere, right?

The logical conclusion is that the Godmother has a kind of fairytale version of a sweatshop, full of shoemakers, bakers-of-gingerbread, lace-makers, Jacks-of-all-trades, seamstresses…

My stitches march on, inevitable, a straggling, wandering line of foot soldiers, with here and there a casualty where I accidentally prick my finger on the needle and the tiny bead of blood is blotted by the cloth. My fingertips ache; my hands grow stiff. 

The seamstress of Ash & Bramble is the one person who dares look up from her work and ask, “what is all this stuff for?”

The answer is, it’s for Story. And this Story gains power every time it gets another Happily-Ever-After.  It’s the Godmother’s job to set stories up, to get the wheel turning by forcing people to play their designated roles, to provide the spindles, the glass slippers, the etcetera.

And our seamstress—her name is Pin, as far as she knows—to stop her from asking dangerous questions, the Godmother decides to put her into one of Story’s most powerful stories, Cinderella. According to Story, Pin is supposed to want the gorgeous gown, the prince, the insta-love, the marriage. Except for Pin, the glass slipper doesn’t quite fit, and she refuses to settle for one of Story’s pernicious happily-ever-afters.

She asks the second big question:

What if the Stories tell us?

And if they do, how can we escape?


Ash & Bramble: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s|Signed copies from Prairie Lights

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Blurbs, Conventions and 2017

A couple of things to announce re: blurbs, conventions and 2017:

Blurbs: I am done considering books for blurbs for 2015 and will not be considering any new books until January at least. I’m swamped at the moment and need to clear out the works I’m currently considering for blurbs. I’m really far behind on some. I can’t in good conscience take on any more.

Conventions: My date card for conventions is entirely filled for 2016 and I will not be accepting any additional convention invitations for that year. I’m already scheduled to be a working guest at conventions in Boston, Detroit, Dallas, Portland, Kansas City and Hawaii, and it’s possible my publisher will add a couple more to the schedule. That’s plenty. I’ll put those all into my Upcoming Appearances page soon.

(Also, if you wanted me for something for 2015… yeah, no. Full up.)

2017: I’ve decided to take a convention hiatus year in 2017, which means that aside from conventions my publisher asks me to take part of (and a couple things I’ve already committed to attending, like Worldcon), I’m taking the year off from being a working guest. If I attend a convention in 2017, it will be as a regular fan. I do this occasionally to keep the top of my head from popping off.

This doesn’t mean I’ll be invisible in 2017 — I’m sure I’ll be at a few book festivals and other events, etc., and it’s entirely possible I will tour for whatever book is scheduled that year (currently, that’d be the Lock In sequel). Just that I probably won’t be a guest of honor at a science fiction convention.

What this means is that if you were planning to ask me to be a convention GoH or working guest in 2017, you should probably consider other guests instead, as my plan at this point is to turn down invites. The good news is there are lots of other very fine writers to consider. I don’t imagine you’ll have any trouble finding GoHs who are not me.

(I’ll be open to scheduling 2018 GoH gigs. Just, uh, not yet, please. Wait until 2016 at least to ask.)


In Which Patrick Rothfuss Gets All Bunned Up For Charity

Earlier today I noted that Patrick Rothfuss was getting close to a milestone:

This prompted the following comment:

To which I responded:


A deal is a deal, and I have donated to the Worldbuilders for Syrian Refugees campaign.

If you are also moved by Pat’s buns, may I suggest you donate as well? I, Pat, and his buns thank you.

The Privileged Poor

A (to me) fascinating article in the New York Times today, talking about “the privileged poor,” which in this case means poor students who were fortunate enough to attend elite high schools, and the advantages they have over other poor students when both groups went on to college. The article was fascinating to me because I was very much “privileged poor” — I attended a private boarding school in high school and was so well prepared for college because of it that it literally took me a year and a half at college before I was dealing with something I couldn’t just dip into my high school experience to deal with, and I went to the University of Chicago, not exactly a grunt school.

This is a topic I’ve addressed before, indeed very recently: The idea that my life had been manifestly changed because my high school let me in despite being poor; my upward trajectory in life started my freshman year in high school. It was, to be sure, an incredibly tough year, as I adjusted to the school and its expectations (the fact I was a willful little brat didn’t help any). I try to imagine that year of wrenching adjustment happening when I was eighteen rather than fourteen. I don’t know that it would have gone as well for me.

I don’t think you need to go to an elite high school to be reasonably prepared for college; lots of people don’t go to one and get along just fine. But the article does reinforce my belief that a good education leading up to college really is important. You can’t just chuck someone into the deep water of college– any college, not merely an “elite” one as noted in this article — and expect them to swim. If there’s one thing I would absolutely change about the US, it would be an immense overhaul of how we do schooling and how we prep our kids for the future. How it happens matters. It matters a lot.

My Almost Certainly Ill-Advised Proposed Award Voting Process

In light of recent events and posts, I’ve been asked, if it fell to me to create a literary award, how I might work the voting process.

My response is, first, I think I would rather pull out my own teeth with pliers than to take on the work and aggravation of helming an award, and this is from someone who was (only very nominally, and insulated by a couple of layers of extraordinarily competent people) previously in charge of the Nebulas. I’m super-impressed with anyone who can handle an award on the front lines. It’s not a gig for me.

Second, if you put a gun to my head and made me do one, or, alternately, put the gun to my head but then promised me that someone else would have to actually run the things so that all I had to do was think up the process, then here’s what I would do, for the process of a popularly-voted award.

1. Categories: Doesn’t matter, think up any category or categories you want, as the process would be the same no matter how many categories there are. I would suggest that every category would have to have a minimum number of initial voters to be considered; say, 500.

2. Who votes: Anyone can vote. Each voter gets their own ID, which can be used only by them. Stupidly obvious attempts to game the system can be disallowed by the poor bastards who actually have to run the system at any step in the process, but for reasons that will become obvious in a second, stupidly obvious attempts to game the system here doesn’t offer much long-term benefit.

3. How the vote works: There are three voting rounds: Nomination, long list, and finalist.

Nomination: Everyone votes for one and only one work (or person, if it’s that sort of category) in the category. The top ten or twelve vote-getters are sent to the long list stage (ties, etc are fine but the goal would be to get number of long list nominees as close to the ideal long list number as possible).

Long List: Everyone votes for up to three works on the long list, none of which can be the single work they originally nominated. That’s right! You have to choose something else in this stage, and hope enough other people like the work you originally nominated to include it among their own selections!

But what if people choose not to make selections in the stage in the hope that their lack of selection of other work will bump up the chances of their preferred work? Well, I would consider making a rule that says failure to participate in this round counts as a point against your original choice’s score in this round — which is to say if you don’t vote in this round, a point is deducted for your original choice’s score in this round (presuming it made the long list at all). You’re better off voting if you want your original selection to make it to the final round.

In this round, the top five or six vote-getters graduate to the final round. Hope your original choice made it!

Finalist: This vote is done “Australian Rules” style, where each voter ranks the works from first to last choice. “No Award” is an option in this round, so if you hated everything in the long list round, this is where you may register your disapproval. The winner is the one which collects the majority of votes, in either the first or subsequent balloting rounds.

Why would I do the voting this way? Because it emphasizes both individual choice and community.

  • Picking a single work in the first round makes you really think about what you loved that year and forces hard choices early; knowing that you will have to rely on other people to carry your choice into the final round also makes you think about what you believe others will find worthy.
  • Picking an initial single work also avoids obvious slating, while a long list allows for the possibility of a wider diversity of choices for the finalist round.
  • Forcing people to make a selection other than their original choice in the long list round makes them consider what else out there might be worthy of consideration, and also again punishes attempts at obvious slating.
  • Three choices for a finalist slate of five or six also again cuts down on obvious slating and allows for diversity in the finalist round of voting.
  • “Australian Rules” in the final round allows for a consensus vote for the best work in any particular category.

If you want to further reduce any chance of slating you could employ EPH to the long list round, but you get the idea.

Would this work? Got me. And as I noted I’m not going to go out of my way to implement them, because: Ugh, effort. But if anyone wants to try it and see how it works for them, knock yourself out. Could be fun. As long as someone else but me does the work.

Now: Pick it apart in the comments!

17 Years

On this day seventeen years ago I sat down and wrote the first-ever blog post on Whatever (or “the Whatever”; the disposition about the indefinite article was not resolved for a number of years). I’m still doing it, on a more or less daily basis. It’s the longest amount of time that I’ve ever kept time with something, excepting my marriage, and basic functions like respiration; even my daughter is younger than this blog by about three months. I’ve said this before and it continues to be true: In many ways, this blog is my life’s work.

More accurately, it chronicles a very specific time in my life. I started the blog in 1998, after I had been laid off at America Online and I had begun freelancing, first (ironically) for AOL and then for a number of other companies, and also for various newspapers and magazines. Two years in I published my first book; four years in I posted Old Man’s War, which then got bought and was published when the blog was six and a half. Before the blog, I was employed by a company, first the McClatchy newspapers and then America Online. The blog covers what happened when I became “my own man,” entirely responsible for whether I was working or not.

Oddly, until today I never really thought about it in that way. Obviously, I was aware when I started the blog, and the context in which the blog existed. I just hadn’t tied it to being a chronicle of this particular era of my life in any explicit way. But it is, and in that light is even more interesting to me because of it.

I’m not the same person I was when I started it. I’m older, of course (by seventeen years), but my position in the world is also rather a bit different. I was struggling when I started the blog, albeit, and significantly, that struggle was more for notability than financial stability, which fortunately came early. I don’t expect I could be said to be struggling in any sense today. I wrote things then that I probably wouldn’t write now; many of the things I would say I might phrase differently. I think I’ve generally become more tolerant, although specifically there are people who I am less tolerant of, mostly people superficially like me, whose monstrous sense of entitlement I find both appalling and wearying. I’m more comfortable with the idea that my opinions are not necessarily an accurate model of How The World Really Is For Everyone. I’m definitely balder.

I feel a direct connection with the John Scalzi of seventeen years ago, who started this blog; he was me. But I am me now, and I like me today. I think he’s probably a better person in some critical ways. There’s always room for improvement, mind you. I hope in another seventeen years(!) future John Scalzi sees the same sort of forward motion.

Last year at this time, I noted that how I use Whatever was changing, in part because of other social media (notably, for me, Twitter) and in part because of the circumstances of my life changing — me getting busier, basically. This continues to be the case, and I’m also experiencing something like fatigue on a number of topics, most clearly politics. I find it difficult to write about politics these days because what I mostly feel about them is exasperation, and exasperation is kind of a Twitter thing, which is to say, nicely expressed in 140 characters, somewhat dreary after that. I do imagine I will write more about it the closer we get to the presidential election; I don’t imagine it will become less exasperating, but it might have more daily relevance for my life, and that will help, in terms of kvetching about it here.

And once again, no matter what form Whatever takes in the next year, I do intend to keep writing it. I’ve been doing this for seventeen years, after all, and for as long as I’ve been in this part of my career. It’s an integral part of my life. I can’t imagine not doing it.


Kristine, 9/12/15

Because she’s lovely. And because the fact she’s lovely is absolutely the least fantastic thing about her.

Today’s Twitter Rant, 9/12/15

For Reasons. 

Related: Both this and this.

New Books and ARCs, 9/11/15

As we once again head into the weekend, here’s a new stack of book and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound this week. What speaks to you in this stack? Tell me in the comments!

Can’t Brain 2: The Can’t-Brainening

Actually, today it’s not that I didn’t have brain capability, it’s just that it didn’t last past about 1:30pm. I could actually feel my brain shutting down! It was amazing.

Anyway, how are you today?

Krissy Goes to Chicago

This last weekend Krissy took her mother and her daughter to Chicago, and snapped a few pictures as well. Here are five I especially liked.

Chicago. I love that town.

Approving Grasshopper Approves

Not only is this grasshopper pretty chill, it totally looks like it’s giving me a “thumbs up.” Thanks, chill grasshopper! You’re pretty awesome yourself!

This is all I’ve got for you today. But by golly, isn’t it enough?!?

My College Degree: Not So Useless After All

Apparently, if you’re getting a humanities degree and you want to make money, a philosophy degree is the way to go. This is according to PayScale, a company which surveys college graduates about such things:

Although philosophy majors rank 75th on PayScale’s overall list of majors at mid-career earnings, it’s the top humanities bachelors degree in their ranking—from early career all the way to later career.

The idea here is that getting a philosophy degree gives you a certain amount of creative problem-solving abilities other folks might not have, which may come in handy out in the real world.

Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly why I got my philosophy degree.

Although, honestly, it’s not out of line with what I’ve said the advantage of getting that particular degree has been. I learned how to learn, and I also learned how to argue and to evaluate arguments, and in particular I learned how language works and how people use it. All of which has come in handy in my professional work.

I don’t know that I would recommend people get a philosophy degree if they want to make money (note that 75th overall ranking, there), but I certainly think over time I have gotten value out of my degree, and not just for the purposes of making money, although clearly it’s done okay for me in that regard. I mean overall quality of life.

So if you want to make money, go for Petroleum Engineering or an MBA. For the rest of it, including maybe some money on the side? Philosophy’s not so bad.