The Big Idea: Brenda W. Clough

In today’s Big Idea, Brenda Clough explore the issues of power, and superpowers, and whether both are more trouble than they are made out to be — and how that affects her new trilogy, of which The River Twice is the first installment.

BRENDA W. CLOUGH:

I was born in Washington DC and have lived here, off and on, all my life. So a fascination with power comes naturally to me. All my novels revolve around power and the difficulties of acquiring and managing it, and my new time travel trilogy Edge to Center is no exception.

And what is time travel but the ultimate power? Think about it. Nothing is over, if you can go back and fix it. No battle lost, no relationship destroyed, no opportunity missed. You blew it big time. But you could go back and make everything right – couldn’t you?

Well … of course not. Who wants to read about Superman steamrollering all the opposition? The whole point about writing about power is to explore the dilemmas it generates.  My hero Jack Wragsland falls into every possible pit of knives his ability to manipulate time allows him to get into. A reasonably conscientious fellow, he does try to fix it. It does not go well.

But there’s more to power than tinkering with space/time. The main tool the human race has developed to manage untrammeled power is government. Only good governance separates Americans from Yemen or North Korea. There’s a reason people want to immigrate into the United States, and it’s not because of our climate. Living in a well-run nation allows you to get stuff done: useful things like staying alive and having a family and not starving to death, picky details like that. And writing books – are there any great novels you know of that written by a resident of Pyongyang? Think of how difficult it would be to start a decent theater project in downtown Lebanon today. If art is the fullest expression of a culture, it’s government that gives the space for that culture to flourish.

So the other protagonist is Calla Ang, heir to an (imaginary) country in Southeast Asia. The problem she has is how to manage her political power. God knows there are plenty of knife pits a ruler can fall into, and the misery this can generate is just as great as meddling with time lines. Which Jack helps her with, a couple times.

There is a solution within the story, one that both characters work towards. It’s a grown-up answer, not an action-movie solution, kind of Zen: that you don’t have to wield the sword. You can have the power, and hold it back. Sometimes the wiser path is to simply not use the maximal weapon in your hand. Of course you can dive in there, thrashing and trashing, and that makes (I trust) for a thrilling set of novels. But if you keep on throwing the big hammer, are you smart? Sometimes, as Tolkien told us, the answer is small and mundane.

I insist that my protagonists be smart. Jack and Calla make horrible mistakes, but they learn from them. They don’t keep on banging their heads against walls. They grope their way, eventually, to a solution that Marvel heroes would never fall into.

—-

The River Twice: Amazon|Book View Cafe

Visit the author’s site. Read the Book View Cafe blog.

I’m Not Saying Sugar Is Judging You, But

Sugar, being judgy.

In fact, she is totally judging you. She is in reality the most judgmental of all our cats, the cat voted Mostly Likely Not to Be Angry, Just Disappointed (although in fact she’s got a temper, so don’t cross her).

Busy Monday around here. How was yours?

The Cat Catches On Quick

“What? You want me to pose for a photo? Well, I suppose I could –”

” — wait, what?”

“Oh, I get it. Smudgeception. Very cute, human.”

Revenue Streams, 2018

Eight years ago I wrote up this piece about my revenue streams, talking about where it is my money comes from. In 2010 I had just made the switch to having the majority of my income be from writing fiction, after two decades of having other sorts of writing be my primary source of income. In that time some things have changed and some things have stayed the same, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about how my money comes in today, so you can have an idea of the contrasts.

This time I did not make a pie chart (too much effort) or specify percentages; rather I will do a ranking of the income streams, and I’m going to divide up “books” into several specific categories because I think the mechanics of the revenue streams will be of interest.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

1. Domestic royalties: This includes royalties from my US publishers (mostly Tor, Audible and Subterranean Press, although there are others), and is mostly from novels, although I do get royalties from non-fiction, novellas and short stories as well. The main driver of my royalties is my backlist, and specifically the works that were published before my 2015 long-term contract with Tor, although I am earning royalties from some titles covered in that contract. I’ll note that in 2010 I was making relatively little money from audiobook royalties, but in 2018 audiobooks were a significant part of royalty income stream; this is due to the audiobook segment of the market expanding hugely in that time, and also, me being lucky that audiobook fans seem to like my work in that medium.

I’m very fortunate that my novel backlist sells well — the Old Man’s War series essentially sells the same amount year in and year out and is as close to constant as one can get in the business, and Redshirts and Lock In are also reliable sellers. The other standalones outside the 2015 contract go up and down but chug along. However, and perhaps surprisingly to people, the shorter pieces available in eBook form also sell solidly; people seem happy to spend a couple of bucks on a short story. The non-fiction books — mostly the essay collections from SubPress — also tend to be solid backlisters.

2. Domestic advances: My advances for my Tor books are sliced into four bits: An amount at contract signing, an amount at acceptance of the manuscript, an amount at hardcover publication and an amount at paperback. This means that in any year I’m getting a chunk of advance money on books at different stages of publication. For example, in 2018 I got five advance payments: Two for delivery of a manuscript (Head On and The Consuming FireHead On was completed in December 2017 but the payment came in 2018 — two for publication (same two books), and one for paperback publication (The Collapsing Empire). In 2019, I’ll get three: Delivery for The Last Emperox (assuming I turn it in on time, which I will) and paperback for Head On and Consuming Fire. The gist of this is that thanks to the 2015 Tor contract, my advance income is fairly predictable, so long as I finish my books on schedule, which I tend to do.

There have been years where my advances income has been greater than my royalties income; they’ll switch from year to year depending on circumstances. However, generally speaking, domestic advances and domestic royalties are usually my top two income streams at this point, and that seems unlikely to change (I’ll note a possible exception later).

3. Foreign language sales: This includes both foreign language advances and royalties. I am fortunate that my literary agency (Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency) does a very excellent job in placing my work outside of the English language as well as inside of it. My books are currently in a couple dozen languages. The advances in other languages don’t tend to be as much as they are in the English, although they can be sizable, but if you’re selling rights in multiple languages, the amounts add up. Another wrinkle: foreign language rights tend to be term limited, so you can sell them again after a few years, either to the same publishing house or to a new one. Foreign language sales tend to track one’s success in the English language market — foreign publishers prefer you to be a hit in your own language — but if you can manage that, it’s a nice income segment.

4. Film/TV options: I have five options out at the moment, and those options come with (typically) low to middlin’ amounts attached up front, with (usually) more coming if the project makes it into production. Those options can also (usually) be renewed at a certain point. This year I had some things optioned and some options renewed. If anything gets into actual production, this particular line item could jump up in the rankings, possibly all the way to number one. But as with everything regarding the film and television industry, the time to count one’s chickens is when they’re deep fried and in a bucket on your dinner table. Also, of course, these could dry up in an instant. Hollywood is a fickle beast.

5. Speaker’s Fees: This is a relatively new revenue stream for me, and one I actually like, since anyone who’s seen me do my thing knows I like to talk and that generally speaking I can be entertaining. This isn’t ex-president money for me, but it’s not chicken feed, either, and it’s one I think I can expand, and hope to, in the coming years.

6. Consulting Fees: Occasionally people or corporations invite me out someplace to pick my brain on one topic or another. Apparently I’m an expert on some things! This is different from doing a speaking event largely because it’s I’m being a resource rather than entertaining people. This is, I will note, a markedly different type of corporate consulting than I used to do, which was mostly doing writing/editing for companies.

7. Freelance writing: I’m a “Critic at Large” for the Los Angeles Times, which means I write a few pieces a year for them, and they pay me for them, and I really enjoy both sides of that deal.

8. Video Games: Got a payment I wasn’t really expecting from Industrial Toys, with whom I was involved on Midnight Star and Midnight Star: Renegade. It’s nice to get money you’re not expecting.

9. Short Story Anthology Payments: I had a short story appear in the Robots vs. Fairies anthology, for which I was paid (and another story in the Resist anthology, the payment for which was donated to the ACLU). I wrote a couple other short stories but published them on my site rather than bother to submit them anywhere, because I’m lazy, you see.

10. Download/Streaming payments on my music: Wait, what, now? Weirdly, it’s true! I have an album of music you can download or stream, and apparently people actually have or do, since the payments show up in my PayPal account. I made dozens of dollars with my music last year! Dozens!!!

For 2019 things my revenue streams are likely to be similar to 2018, with the possibility of new streams coming online depending on how some business deals work out. I’ll let you know if or when those happen.

In the meantime: This is how it gets done, or at least, got done in 2018.

Yes, There’s a Point to Bad Reviews in 2019

Got a request:

So I read the piece. And here are some thoughts, informed by having been both a professional critic and reviewer, and a professional creative artist. These thoughts, perhaps not surprisingly, get longer as I go along.

1. The point of a bad review is to point out when something is bad, and give relevant context for that badness.

2. Some things are bad art. It doesn’t mean that the bad art can’t be popular, or enduring, or even, in time, a “classic.” “Bad art” means very generally that the creator(s) did not achieve in their art what that art was meant to be, or at the very least, what it was advertised to be by them to others. These failures happen (in my opinion) mostly for reasons of competence, or lack thereof. There are other definitions of “bad art” but this one works the most often.

3. It’s okay to call out what in your opinion is bad art, especially when your job description is “reviewer” or “critic.” And sometimes it is even necessary; someone has to point out when the emperor has no clothes.

4. Criticism itself is an art — the ability to gestalt someone else’s art and coherently, cogently, and persuasively comment on it is a skill, and a much more difficult skill to master than people often assume. Sometimes the criticism of the art is better (and sometimes arguably more important) than the art itself — Roger Ebert’s famous pan of North is a better piece of art than the film it criticizes, for example. I saw (and reviewed) the film. There is not a line in Ebert’s review that is inaccurate or undeserved, and his ability to so memorably and compactly assess the film’s flaws and shortcomings is why the review is remembered long after the film itself has been purged from the cultural memory.

Ebert was famously the first film reviewer to get a Pulitzer for criticism; there’s a reason for that. Ebert was an artist, whose medium was the film review. Other critics are artists as well.

5. Which means that their art is equally up for criticism! There are plenty of bad reviewers and critics and commentators out there, offering bad takes because they’re incompetent, or ignorant of the field or art which they choose to review, or poorly frame the context of their criticism, or are more interested in tweetable snark than cogent commentary, or whatever. Sometimes the frame for reviewing and criticism can be simple — “Is this film/album/art worth your actual money or time?” — and sometimes it can be more complex.

Critics and reviewers do not have to be artists in the field they are commenting on, but it helps immensely if they know about that field — and also, have a reasonable grasp of rhetoric and argument. Anyone can criticize, but not everyone can create good and useful criticism, the stuff that contextualizes the art in question.

6. There’s a difference between a “bad review” — a negative review of a work — and a poor review, which is a review that is poorly done. Bad reviews can be brilliantly done and useful to their audience; poor reviews can be negative or positive about the work in question but add no useful context or argument regarding the work. Poor reviews are bad art.

7. This is important: The critic does not work for the artist. The critic’s audience is (as examples) the readership/viewership of whatever media outlet they work for, a particular group with a specific aesthetic interest, future scholars of whatever medium the criticism focuses on, and so on. When I was a film reviewer, I was working for a newspaper and my audience was the readership of that paper. I was not writing for the filmmakers, or their studios, or their PR people (and most of the time filmmakers/studios/PR people understood this very well). I literally did not care what the filmmakers thought of the review; the review wasn’t for them. It was for the people looking for how to amuse themselves on a Friday night. I owed it to those people to say whether a movie was (in my opinion) worth their time and money.

8. This doesn’t mean that artist can’t or shouldn’t read reviews of their work — or have opinions about the particular reviews, or the particular reviewers — but I think it would be helpful to them to remember that reviews are almost never for them, and that a reviewer/critic/commentator has a specific fiduciary duty that is not in any way about them. And also: Sometimes a bad review can be good for you as an artist! Yes, it sucks to have someone review your work negatively, but it’s also useful to remember that a bad review isn’t always a poor review, and sometimes a negative review can cogently identify a bothersome issue that you yourself have not been able to put a finger on — and having identified it for you, you can now work to fix it in later work.

9. In the piece linked to above, there’s a bit where John Krasinski talks about mentioning to Paul Thomas Anderson that he didn’t think a new film (from a third director) was very good. Anderson tells him, basically, to keep it that to himself, realize that not everything is for him, and to support the other artist anyway, because it’s a tough field and all their compatriots need support.

And you know what? I don’t think that’s bad advice for artists generally. It’s very rare you will see me, as a science fiction author, write or otherwise publicly offer a negative review of work from other writers in the genre — I’ll tell you what I liked in the field, but I don’t go out of my way to tell you what I didn’t like. Because it’s a tough field, not everything is for me, and generally speaking I’m for helping out other people in my field even if their work isn’t something I’m personally excited about. I do this on the principles of paying it forward, and of a rising tide.

Can and should every artist do this? That’s for them to decide, and I’ll be the first to say that my position on the matter is more than a little informed by my position in my particular field, and the repercussions to me and others if I’m perceived to be “punching down” (note that both Krasinski and Anderson would be vulnerable to the same repercussions in their rather higher-profile field). It’s more to the point to say that there is a difference between the role of the artist in their community of peers, and the role of the critic, acting as a commentator and contextualizer of the field those artists inhabit.

10. Do bad reviews still have a point in 2019? Yes, obviously they do — there is still bad art out there, and it’s within the remit of reviewers and critics to comment on it, both for the sake of their direct audiences, and to help identify and explain the larger cultural context within which the work resides. The bad review runs the risk of hurting the artists’ feelings and/or enraging the admirers of that artist, but that’s their problem, not a problem for the critic.

What does the critic owe anyone? Competence, basically — the promise that a “bad review” is not a poor review. If the critic can’t manage that, then they’re as vulnerable as any other artist to justified criticism.

And that’s what I think about it.

New Books and ARCs, 1/11/19

Hey, it’s 2019, and this is our very first stack of new books and ARCs for the year! See anything here that you would like to inaugurate your 2019 reading list with? Tell us all in the comments.

That’s Entertainment

So I put on one of those YouTube “videos for cats” — usually videos of birds and small mammals scampering about — to see if the cats would, in fact, be intrigued by them. The answer, for Zeus at least, is yes. I eventually had to turn it off because he was trying to figure out whether he could leap up on the shelf to go after the monster-sized critters, and I figured that would not end well, either for the cat or for the electronics.

But it’s good to know that in fact one may amuse one’s cats in this fashion. This may come in handy over the weekend, as apparently we have a large winter storm coming, with up to six inches of snow. As for me, I’ll probably read a book.

And Now, the Dickhead Report

An email from a reader today, which (to paraphrase) noted I don’t seem to mix it up as much with dickheads here or elsewhere, and wondered whether that had to do with maturity or just because everyone’s moved on.

Maybe both? On the personal level, I’m rather less feeling the need to bother with the jerks. Over on Twitter, I’ll offer up a single pro forma condescending tweet before I mute/block someone; and over here on Whatever I’m even less inclined these days to humor trolls. At this point there’s just no percentage in it and I have other things to do. I made the decision last year to cut down on the amount of ego-searching I do, which makes a difference as well. Dickheads might be talking about me, but I don’t see it nearly as often, so from my point of view it’s not something I think about as much. Occasionally someone will bring something some jerk said to my attention, but that happens less as time goes on; we’ve all got other things to do, it seems.

Beyond that, it does seem that most of the dickheads who used to rail about me have either moved on or sunk themselves into obscurity or both. The fellow most enthusiastic about being a jackass in my direction over the years has recently fixated on someone else, which is nice for me and apparently harmless enough for the fellow he’s fixed himself upon. The object of his affections doesn’t seem to be suffering any real negative effect from the jackass’ constant need to attach himself, lamprey-like, to someone else’s career in the hope of gobbling up leftover crumbs. He’ll occasionally still snark in my direction, and mutter something to his sockpuppets about my blog visits, which, fine. But I don’t think his heart’s much into it anymore. He’s found a new crush, and I wish him joy.

Outside that dude, there’s a small group of indie writers (and their fans) who have used me as a fetish object in their never-ending war against the SJW-ing of science fiction, but that’s mostly just, like, six dudes reminding each other they’re in the “I Hate Scalzi” club over and over. Again, it’s not done me any harm, so let them have their whine circle if it makes them happy. But they seem to do it less now, as far as I can see. Among the former Sad Puppies, a couple of them will still hitch the strawman version of me to their chariot and drag it around the walls of their compound, to desultory cheers. But honestly, that was soooo long ago now. In the here and now, most of them are busy trying to build (or rebuild, as the case may be) their careers, and that’s probably a better use of their time. Good luck to them.

And that’s pretty much it, I think? Science fiction isn’t the locus of trolling and random dickheads like it was a few years ago. Most of those dudes moved on to comics and/or retreated back into video games once it became clear they were just wasting cash trying to sabotage the Hugos. That tide has retreated, so my share of abuse from it has commensurately declined. And also, you know. I’m a well-off almost-50-year-old white dude, and I can’t be fired from my job. The random dickheads have other people they prefer to bother.

And again: Fine by me. The path of my career has never been materially affected by these dickheads, but they can become enervating over time. I’m perfectly happy that most of them have moved on, and that I have moved on as well, in a different direction. Life is short.

So that’s why there’s been less of this sort of nonsense recently. I’m sure it will never go away entirely — this is the Internet, after all — but it really does seem to be in decline, and likely to mostly continue in that direction. Knock on wood.

What Regret Looks Like, Cat Division, January 10, 2019

Cat out in the cold.

“I had not been sufficiently informed of the recent temperature drop and resulting snow, which was not here previously. Please let me back into the house.”

(Spoiler: I let her back in. Eventually.)

The next ten days will be at near-freezing temperatures. I expect a lot of indoor cat time. As usually happens in the winter.

Look What I Got Today

Crowns for teeth.

These are crowns for a molar and pre-molar, respectively, from top, and the teeth they were applied to are right next to each other in my mouth, which is why I got them at the same time; didn’t seem much point to getting just one of them done. These are my first crowns, so I guess I should be happy that I made it this far without any, but as I was noting elsewhere, the funny thing about teeth is that ultimately they’re going to do what they’re going to do. I brush and floss daily and I still needed these. Such is life.

We’re fortunate to be a place where I can get good dental care without having to worry too much about the cost, which is good, since at the moment we’re out of pocket with our dental insurance and I had to pay full freight on these babies. I hope they’re worth it. In the meantime, I’m not allowed to eat sticky things for an entire day, which is fine because I don’t really feel like chewing at the moment. I suspect dinner will be soup.

How is your Wednesday going?

The Big Idea: Jess Montgomery

Who tells the story of a novel? For her new novel The Widows, the question is not an academic one for Jess Montgomery — her story of 1920s Appalachia hinged on the right voice to tell the tale.

JESS MONTGOMERY:

A few years ago, we were planning our first trip to visit our younger daughter for her birthday weekend at Ohio University, in Athens County, Ohio. While searching for places to hike in the Appalachian foothills, I ran across a tourism website for Vinton County (just southwest of Athens County), which featured Maude Collins, Ohio’s true first female sheriff in 1925 after her husband was killed in the line of duty while writing a speeding ticket.  Maude worked as her husband’s jail matron in the small jail attached to the county-owned sheriff’s house, where they lived with their five children. So perhaps it was expedient practicality that led the county commissioners to ask Maude to fill out her husband’s term. In any case, she won election in her own right as sheriff in 1926—in a landslide.

My imagination immediately sparked at the notion of a woman in law enforcement at a time when that was nearly unheard of. (Women still represent a minority of officers in sheriff’s departments.) But I was also taken with the mix of attributes I saw in Maude’s expression in a photograph of her: toughness and tenderness. Sorrow and selflessness.

I was also drawn by the setting of Maude’s story—1920s Appalachia. So many 1920s stories and books are set in big cities. The pop image of 1920s femininity is a sequined flapper girl with a feathered headband. Both Maude and the setting went counter to stereotypical 1920s imagery.

What’s more, my family of origin is from Appalachia, with deep roots that go back generation after generation on both sides. I grew up steeped in Appalachian lore, dialect, food, attitudes, customs, crafts, music. When I was in high school, I wrote a musical, “Just an Old Ballad,” inspired by the Appalachian ballads I’d grown up learning. Amazingly, my school’s drama teacher allowed me to produce and direct it—and I cast in the lead male role a young man who I’d later date and marry. Thirty-plus years later, we’re still happily married—a pretty great outcome for a self-penned and produced high school musical!

A deep desire to write again in such a setting quickly came to the surface as I considered Maude’s story, time and place. And soon, I started asking the sort of “what if” questions that lead writers—and their characters—to interesting places. What if a 1920s Appalachian sheriff is murdered—but his young wife doesn’t know who did it? What if she fulfills his role, motivated by the burning need to find out who killed her beloved—and why? What might she discover about him? About herself? About her community?

Soon I’d developed Lily Ross and an inkling of plot. I started writing from Lily’s point-of-view, in the past tense.

The story fell flat.

I wrote forty or so pages incorporating the murderer’s point-of-view.

The story felt cliched.

I wrote a hundred or so pages from the point-of-view of Daniel, the murdered sheriff in my story.

The story felt forced.

But through all these misstarts, another character emerged—Marvena Whitcomb. Daniel’s friend since childhood. A widow herself, after her common-law husband died in a mine collapse. A unionizer. A moonshiner.

And as I wrote, I realized that Marvena and Lily were unlikely allies, destined to discover together who had murdered Daniel and why.

What’s more, I realized that the story’s Big Idea wasn’t woman-in-1920s-becomes-sheriff-and-solves-murder-of-husband.

The Big Idea was about relationships and community. How those can support us, yet betray us. How difficult it can be to balance individual desires with the needs of the community. What it can cost our humanity—or give our humanity—no matter how we tilt the balance, whether toward our individual wishes or toward the community.

I realized that though Lily is the main protagonist of The Widows because she has the greatest character growth and change, the story needed to be told from the point of view of both women. Together, they do so much more than solve the crime of the murder of the man they both love in different ways. Through them, so much comes to life. Daniel, in their hearts and memories. Their community, in all its many aspects, both wonderful and dark. The backdrop of their story—woven from worker’s rights, strife between union miners and management, women’s rights, prohibition, coal mining.

Once I realized that The Big Idea in The Widows is the relationship between Lily and Marvena, and how it develops, the story began to unfold and live for me.

I hope it does, as well, for readers.

—-

The Widows: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

So This Is Interesting, He Said, With No Self-Interest Whatsoever

Tim Miller, David Fincher to Create Adult-Themed Animated Shorts Series for Netflix

I’d watch that.

Author Incomes: Not Great, Now or Then

What’s being passed around among authors in the last few days: The latest Authors Guild survey, which shows that the median income for all authors (from their books) is $6,080, while the median income for full-time authors is $20,300. That $6k median figure is down significantly from previous years. So if you made more than $6k from book earnings last year, congratulations, you made more than half of your authorial compatriots.

Before everyone panics about the declines too much, please note: “The Authors Guild’s prior surveys were focused on Authors Guild members. For our 2018 survey, we greatly expanded the number of published authors we surveyed to provide a much larger, highly diverse pool and wider perspective,” i.e., the comparing the results this year to previous years isn’t apples to oranges, but might be comparing a Honeycrisp to a Red Delicious.

Interestingly to me, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America does not appear to have participated in this survey, and I’d be curious to know how its participation would have nudged figures one way or another (I suspect not much either way). Also, these are self-reported numbers from about 5,000 North American authors, which is a) only a small slice of those writing books, either full-time or part-time, b) represents those who knew about the survey and were motivated to answer it. I’ll note I was not aware of the survey and (thus) did not participate.

It’s not to say the survey is inaccurate or especially alarmist, rather that it’s a snapshot of these 5,000 specific authors, with income noted from specific places, and conclusions made from that specific data. As a contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that in the United States, the 2017 median income for its category of “writers and authors” was $61,820 annually, with 131,200 jobs in the category (which excludes PR specialists and technical writers, but does include people who write PR and offer technical consulting, so go figure).

The Author Guild and the BLS data sets overlap (the full-time authors) but aren’t the same, but that’s the point I’m making. The BLS would tell you it’s not a horrible time to be in the category of “writers and authors” — it estimates the field will expand 8% in the next decade! — while the Author’s Guild is sending up red flags all over the place. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Well, neither is wrong. But perhaps the immediate lesson one should take from this is that if you’re hoping to be an author, you should probably keep your day job as you do it.

Which, it should be noted, is not new advice, either. I’ve been giving people that suggestion for literally decades now, and kept that advice myself well into my authoring career. For the first decade of my book publishing career, the majority of my income came from my “day job” of freelance writing and corporate consulting. As an overall percentage of my 28-year professional writing career, “full time author” accurately describes only about a third of that time. I kept my “day job” until it didn’t make economic sense to do so anymore. For some people it will always make sense to keep one’s day job. It doesn’t mean they won’t write excellent books in the meantime, or that the day job will be a hindrance rather than a solid economic foundation.

The Authors Guild’s survey points out some things that authors should rightly be concerned about, including the economic domination of Amazon over their particular commercial sphere (particularly if they self-publish, as Amazon has something like 85% of that market, and Amazon’s terms for participation there are non-negotiable). But it also has Authors Guild higher-ups saying things like this in the New York Times:

“In the 20th century, a good literary writer could earn a middle-class living just writing,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, citing William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Cheever.

I mean, okay, first, Faulkner, Hemingway and Cheever maybe aren’t the best examples of the writing middle-class, since by the height of their careers they were festooned with bestsellers, awards, film adaptations and general fame; I mean, two-thirds of them have friggin’ Nobel Prizes, which also suggests they are seen as better than just “good” in their field. But second, it’s also worth noting that even these celebrated authors didn’t see a uniformly comfortable existence from “just writing.” Faulkner memorably decamped to Hollywood in the 30s because he wasn’t earning enough “just writing” to support his growing family. Hemingway equally famously expatriated himself to Paris in the 20s because it was cheap to live there on a writer’s income. Cheever, who for a time made a living writing summaries of novels for MGM, got a Guggenheim fellowship at the right time, which was nice for him, since it allowed him to focus on “just writing.”

The Authors Guild’s problem here appears to be one of survivorship bias, namely, that the authors its execs can name off the top of their head as being writers making a living “just writing” in the 20th Century are the ones that are the literary equivalent of the one tenth of the one percent. When you’re reaching for a name of a “middle-class living” writer and you pick a Nobel Prize winner, you’re not exactly bolstering your argument. And you’re also eliding years of impecunious anonymity and/or economic volatility writers often suffer before they got to the place where they would be at the top of mind when you’re reaching for an example of 20th Century authorial “middle-class living.” I’m more curious how the jobbing authors of the mid-century fared; the ones who didn’t win Nobel Prizes or hit the bestseller lists or got film adaptations of their works. I’d like to know more about whether they managed a middle-class living, and whether that middle-class living was consistent, or more about being in the right place in with a particular economic phenomenon that supported their specific type of writing.

Which brings me to this interesting curio, in which the mid-20th Century English science fiction author John Brunner offers up an account of what it was like to be a jobbing author in the UK in the 1960s — a period of time in which one major income stream for SF writers (short story magazines) was declining whilst another (novel publication) was ascendant, and it was possible to generate income from both. This piece was published in 1967, a couple of years before Brunner would capture his share of fame with the Hugo-winning Stand on Zanzibar, and release his most notable novels, culminating with The Shockwave Rider in 1975.

What’s interesting to me about Brunner’s depiction of what it’s like to write SF in the 1960s is how similar it is to what it’s like to write it today — how much of it depends on volume and hustle to counteract the general low advances and pay, how variable the pay can be depending on factors that have little to do with the author themself, and how Brunner himself acknowledges that his own “middle-class living” relies on location, in his case the less-than-glamorous-at-the-time UK, rather than what he saw as the rather more expensive United States.

Did his string of novels from Zanzibar to Shockwave solve his economic worries? As the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes, not really: “Unsurprisingly (with hindsight), though these novels received considerable critical attention, they in no way made Brunner’s fortune. He was always extremely open about his finances and his hopes for the future, and made no secret of the let-down he felt on discovering himself, after these culminating efforts, still in the position of being forced to produce commercially to survive. This naivete was humanly touching, but fatal to his career.”

Brunner’s tale here is anecdotal, and as with all anecdotes one should be careful not to make more of it than it is. But at the same time, as an anecdote, Brunner’s tale has more to tell us about middle-class author jobbing in the 20th Century than the tale of Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner. And to bring it around to where we started with this piece, it does suggest that at all times, it’s a hard time to make a living — middle-class or otherwise — solely as an author.

Is it harder now? It might be. It’s different than it was fifty years ago, with different players and challenges, but also with different opportunities — it’s the best time in decades to be writing novellas, for example, and the best time ever for writing work meant for the audiobook format. And if the BLS has anything to tell us, it’s not the worst time ever to be a writer in a general sense, at least in the US.

Just, you know. Maybe keep your day job. Still.

Me and My Grandfather

Me at age 4 or so, with my grandfather, Michael Scalzi

My mother posted this on Facebook a few days ago, and I thought I’d also post it here so it didn’t get lost down the Facebook memory hole: This is a picture of me and my grandfather, Michael Scalzi. I’m guessing I’m about four or five in that photo, so this would be from 1973 or 1974, and I’m guessing that it’s in my grandfather’s home in Covina, California. Judging from the presents, it’s also on or near Christmas day. I was and remained very fond of my grandfather, to whom I was closest to of all the surviving grandparents at the time (my maternal grandfather had passed away before I was born).

I don’t really have that many pictures of my grandfather, so it’s lovely to see him. He looks pretty much as I remember him, albeit slightly younger here; in this photo he would be only a few years older than I am. That’s a hell of a thought. There’s not a whole lot of family resemblance between him and me, I’m afraid; physically I take much more after my mother’s side of the family than my father’s (this is flipped for my sister, who looks much more like the Scalzi side).

It’s a little strange to realize how much of my grandfather at this point exists only in my memory. As I mentioned, I don’t have many pictures of him and he wasn’t a writer or actively creative, so I don’t have anything like that. If nothing else any future grandchildren of mine will not lack for supporting evidence of who I am or what I thought. I would like to have more mementos of my grandfather, of course, but I do have to say I don’t feel a lack because I don’t. He’s where I can find him, and will always be.

The Athena Veto

Krissy and Athena.

Today’s Twitter kerfuffle (not counting the enduring discussion of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knowing how to dance, much to the consternation of some conservatives) comes courtesy of this Washington Post article, in which a “mommy blogger” by the name of Christie Tate discusses why she won’t stop blogging about her kid, even though the kid had asked her to. At the end of the article Tate mentions she and her kid have come to an agreement about how and when Ms. Tate can write about her, and it’s important to note that mom still retains the upper hand and can choose to write about her kid even if the kid objects.

My thought? Basically: Well, that’s not the way I did it.

The way I did it was, when Athena was an infant and a toddler, everything I wrote about her and every picture I posted of her went through Krissy for approval. When Athena was old enough to understand that I wrote about things she did or said, and posted pictures of her, and all of that was seen by thousands of people, most of whom she didn’t know, I let her know she had approval over what I wrote about her and what pictures I posted of her. If she didn’t like what I had written, or didn’t like a picture, then she could veto them, with no argument from me.

And she did! There are at least a few blog posts (and rather more pictures) which I would have posted but didn’t because Athena wasn’t comfortable with them one way or another. She said no, so they didn’t go up. I should also note this rule is still generally in effect, even though Athena is now an adult — in point of fact, I messaged her that I was writing this piece and asked if that was okay. She said it was.

This rule is also in effect for Krissy, who has absolute veto power over anything I write about her here, and any picture I want to post. It’s also generally in effect for other people in my personal life, when I’m mentioning them specifically and they have not posted something publicly that I’m responding to.

Why do it this way? One, because it’s polite and kind to do so. Two, because I’m aware that for better or worse I am a public figure with a wide readership, and largely the people in my life are not, and so my portrayal of them is going to be how most people know of them. That’s a lot, so I think it’s only fair that they get to approve of their portrayal. Three, because I don’t want the people I love to hate me. It’s not out of line to say the approval of the people who are close to me is more important than the curiosity of people I mostly don’t know.

Also, in the case of my daughter specifically, I thought it was important that she both understood she had agency and should expect that agency to be respected, and that if it wasn’t, then there was a problem — and that the first place she learned that lesson was in her own home, from her own parents. I think that’s the sort of thing that echoes forward in one’s life, hopefully positively.

In her piece, Ms. Tate was concerned that not writing about her kid would have a direct impact on what she writes and how she expresses herself. One, sure. Two, so what? I’ve been writing this blog for two decades now — people who have been reading the site literally saw my daughter grow up in front of their eyes. There’s a lot you can write about even when you give your child (and spouse, and other people) the right to veto how they’re portrayed in your writing. It will make you a better writer, not a poorer one, to consider the wishes of the people most important to you in how you portray them.

The other, final benefit of giving my kid (and spouse) veto power on their presentation in my writing and photography is that, so far, at least, I’ve not had cause to regret anything I’ve written or posted about them, and nothing I wished, later, that I could take back. That’s not a bad record over two decades with Athena, and even longer with Krissy. It’s a streak I hope to keep going.

The Death of the Author! Maybe!

Cultural critic and commentator Lindsay Ellis (disclosure: a friend of mine) has a video up talking about “The Death of the Author,” which is a primer and discussion of that particular literary theory, and whether it makes sense to apply it to work today. It’s an interesting video and makes a number of relevant points (among them one noting that “death of the author” as theory relies more than a little bit on a homogenized critical outlook), and I can recommend it for viewing — and have helpfully included it above.

It’s also given me a reason to offer of some of my own thoughts on the concept and the role of the author in general, inspired by, but not necessarily in conversation with, the points that Lindsay brings up in her video essay. These thoughts are not exhaustive (i.e., this is not all I think about the topic), but I think worth thinking about.

1. Sometimes all you have is the text. It is in fact possible to know nothing about an author or a work before you read it; just go into a bookstore or library cold and pick a novel out of the shelves more or less at random and start reading. All you will have is what’s on the page.

Now, in fact, most people don’t approach a book that way — we’ll have heard about the book or author elsewhere, or at the very least we’ll read the flap copy and see the author’s photo — but if memory serves, children often do approach books that way. Kids are given books, or pick them because of cover art, or simply don’t make the connection that the stories in the books they read are written (and illustrated, as the case may be) by a person. The author as a construct doesn’t exist, and if it does, they’re not important to that reader. What’s important is the text.

I get a couple dozen books a week sent to me by publishers, and while I can’t claim to be entirely ignorant of the concept of the author (or the idea that the author is a living, breathing human being), I can say sometimes all I know about a particular author is their name on the cover, and the text of the book they’ve written. I don’t do a full background search on every author I read; I have neither the time nor the interest. In those cases, the book stands more or less on its own.

2. The book isn’t the author; the author isn’t the book. I’m fond of noting that when Old Man’s War came out, a lot of people assumed that I was politically conservative, given their own reading of the text. Then they would come over to my site and be surprised and/or angry and/or confused that I as a person didn’t mesh with their conception of me based off the text, and relatedly their assumptions about military science fiction and the (American) people who write it.

It’s easy to ascribe personal or philosophical attributes to an author based on what you read out of their fiction, and I’m not here to tell you not to do that. I am here to tell you that you should be prepared to be wrong, as often as you’re not. Books are highly distilled intellectual product designed for particular effect; authors are messy dingleberries who on average are neither better nor worse than other people. They just write better (or have better editors, as the case may be).

One side effect of this is that you should expect that at one point or another the authors whose work you admire will disappoint you, across a spectrum of behaviors or opinions. Because they’re human, you see. Think of all the humans you know, who have never disappointed you in one way or another. Having difficulty coming up with very many? Funny, that.

(Don’t worry, you’ve disappointed a whole bunch of people, too.)

Following on those top two points:

3. It’s possible to separate the art from the artist, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. In the cases where all you know about the author of the book is the name on the cover, the art is already largely separated from the artist, and even when you do know something about the author, who they are as a human might be largely separated out from the highly mediated product of their efforts. A shitty human can write great books (or make lovely paintings, or fantastic food, or amazing music, etc), and absolutely lovely humans can be aggressively mediocre to bad artists. There is very little correlation between decency and artistic talent. You don’t need to be a good human in order to understand human behavior well enough to write movingly about it; remember that con men are very good judges of character.

With that said, if you discover that the writer of one of your favorite novels (or whatever) doesn’t live up to your moral or ethical standards, you’re not obliged to give them any more of your time or attention, because life is too short to financially or intellectually support people you think are scumbags. Likewise, you and you alone get to decide where that line is, and how you apply it. Apply one standard for one author, and a different one for another? Okay! I’m sure you have your reasons, and your reasons can just be “because I feel like it.” Just like in real life, you might put up with more bullshit from one person than another, for reasons that are personal to you. It’s nice when you have a standard that you apply rigorously, but you know what? I for one am not going to judge you too harshly if you pick and choose. There are more creative people in the world who produce at a standard you find acceptable than you will ever get a chance to read, listen to or otherwise appreciate. It’s fine to abandon some and go find others more to your liking, whatever that liking may be.

Related, remember that some work (and some authors) will age poorly for you, because times change and you’ve changed. I mean, probably. Maybe you’re one of those people who stopped changing your opinions and thoughts when you turned 25! Bless your heart.

4. Authors know more about their worlds than you do, but maybe don’t have all the answers. If you believe that only the text matters, then an author’s thoughts, beliefs, etc about the world they constructed on the page are no more relevant than your thoughts or anyone else’s; if it’s not on the page, it’s not canon. And that’s fine for you to believe, but as the author, I certainly don’t believe it, because among other things I know how much of the world I have to create in order to support what’s on the page. I have to know more about my world than my readers do, otherwise it’s going to be difficult for me to keep consistency of action (and consequence) across the work, both in characters and the world in general.

But, as it happens, sometimes writers and readers don’t find the same things important, with regard to the worldbuilding. As a result, readers sometimes think about certain things more than the authors have, and the authors get caught flatfooted when readers want to know more about that particular thing. Alternately sometimes the author kind of bullshits through something because they don’t think it’s important and later it comes back to bite them and has to be explained away. In Old Man’s War, I didn’t do any sort of real worldbuilding for Earth because I knew I was going to leave it in a chapter, and I didn’t think about whether I would ever write any sequels.

And then one day I was asked to write a sequel, and readers were asking why future Earth seemed exactly like now, and I had to recon my way out of my own laziness. It worked out okay (indeed the explanation became a seed for much of the series onward), but the point is, at the time of the original writing, there was no deep-seated reason for doing it other than “it doesn’t matter, so why bother.” Guess what! It mattered.

How much should you trust non-textual commentary from the author about their work? I tend to advantage the author (as I would, wouldn’t I), but there limits, and it helps when there is evidence outside the author’s word. The famous example of JK Rowling noting Dumbledore was gay was not in the text of the book series in any obvious way, but Harry Potter movie series screenwriter Steve Kloves noted that Rowling had him take out lines alluding to Dumbledore’s heterosexual dalliances because it wasn’t correct for the character, and did so before she went public with his sexuality. So there’s some reasonable evidence it’s not an entirely post hoc bit of character development.

Ultimately (and banally) the owner of the intellectual property has say as to what’s official “canon” and what’s not, regardless of what’s text and what’s commentary. It should also be noted that this is a gross oversimplification of matters, since over time public sentiment hugely influences the perception of an author’s work, long before it enters the public domain (but especially after). The “canon” of Sherlock Holmes, in terms of the perception of the character, hasn’t been limited to Doyle’s works for decades. The most famous cultural image of Pride and Prejudice (for now), D’arcy taking a swim, is nowhere in the original work’s text. And so on.

Related to this, and finally for now:

5. The actual death of an author makes a difference in a number of interesting ways. On a prosaic level, an author physically dying starts the clock ticking for their work to enter the public domain, where the work itself has a better opportunity to separate itself from its originator. Their death also begins to distance the public approbation and opprobrium of the author from the work. In the short run it means that people who were, say, uneasy about the moral character of an author can enjoy their work without worrying that they’re putting money into the pocket of a creep (or racist, or whatever).

In the long run, almost everything about the author becomes a footnote to the work. Even Shakespeare, arguably the English language’s most notable writer, is better known as an icon than as a person, save for occasional and historically shaky appearances in films. Occasionally death elevates an author into notability — Emily Dickinson comes to mind, although in the public eye even she is more about her work than her life — but it’s usually the other way around. Time wipes the author away from their work until inevitably people approach the work like a child would: With only the text itself, and a name that has no context outside of it.

Which might sound depressing if you’re an author, but, eh. One, you’ll be dead so you won’t care. Two, people even remembering your name for a century (or two!) is a hell of a thing. I know the name of L. Frank Baum but not the name of my paternal great-grandfather, who was alive at the same time. I don’t know anything else about L. Frank Baum off the top of my head but his name, but I know there’s a Wikipedia article about him I can go look at. My paternal great-grandfather is not so lucky. Now, note well that not all of authors are going to be L. Frank Baum; we’re probably not even going to be Temple Bailey (a bestselling author of 1919, and now you know). But at least you have a shot at it.

(Also, in case you’re wondering which authors alive today will be household names in 2119: Rowling and Stephen King. I think you’re probably not surprised by this prediction.)

Suffice to say that if you truly are a fan of the “Death of the Author” style of literary criticism, in the long run, you’re not wrong. But in the short run, the author isn’t dead yet. Especially when, you know, they’re actually still alive.

The Big Idea: James L. Cambias

Can a “big idea” be a bad idea? Author James L. Cambias (who has been one of my favorite writers since we were both at the University of Chicago together) grapples with this problem, and how confronting this issue made his new novel Arkad’s World all the better.

JAMES L. CAMBIAS:

“It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

— David St. Hubbins

Sometimes Big Ideas can be dangerous.* My new novel Arkad’s World was almost killed by a Big Idea.

The book is (in part) a love letter to boys’ adventure stories. As a tip of the hat to one of the greatest adventure stories, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, I wanted to include an ambiguous villain — a Long John Silver type character, who would seemingly befriend my young hero Arkad, while pursuing a selfish hidden agenda.

My incredibly clever Big Idea would be that this slippery character would never actually say anything true. His statements would all be sarcastic, or jokes, or rhetorical questions; and when he actually seemed to be speaking in a straightforward manner he was lying. This pathologically untruthful villain would get hold of Arkad, and the two of them would search for a lost spaceship containing Earth’s lost cultural and historical treasures. Meanwhile, a seemingly menacing rival team (who are of course actually the good guys) pursue them and ultimately Arkad realizes he has been duped.

Sounds good, right? Very clever, right?

Okay, here’s the problem. My young hero is naive. He knows a lot about the world he lives on, but almost nothing about what’s going on elsewhere in the Galaxy. He doesn’t know how important the lost spaceship is. He doesn’t know the political background.

And the only character who can tell him all that important information is lying all the time. Which meant the reader can’t find out any of this stuff either.

For about six months in 2015 I bashed my head against this project, until I finally realized that my clever Big Idea was actually a really bad Big Idea. It was so clever that it crossed the line into Stupid. I had to scrap most of what I had written, redo my outline, eliminate my unreliable character, and start over.

The delay meant that I didn’t finish the manuscript until the end of January, 2016. I was about a week away from submitting it when I got the news that David Hartwell had died.

David was my editor at Tor. He “discovered” me and published my first two novels. He gave me encouragement and wise advice. I wanted him to see this book — not just because I wanted to sell it to him, but because I wanted his opinion of it. I wanted to impress him.

But because of my stupid clever Big Idea, he never saw Arkad’s World. I felt really bad about that.

His death also meant an emergency reorganization at Tor Books. Without David as an advocate, Arkad’s World kind of fell through the cracks, and the company declined to publish it.

In the end, it was someone else’s Big Idea — an absolutely crazy-sounding Big Idea — which finally got Arkad’s World published. In the Fall of 2017, at Gregory Benford’s urging, I went to the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama. (You can read my account of it here.) The TVIW is a conference dedicated to actually building and launching an interstellar probe to Proxima Centauri by 2060. It sounds mad, but right now I wouldn’t actually bet real money that it won’t happen. The people involved in the project are very smart and very dedicated, and at least a couple of them are very wealthy.

On the third day of the conference I played hooky along with some other science fiction writers — including Allen Steele, Sarah Hoyt, and Toni Weisskopf, the publisher at Baen Books. We went on a tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center, including a visit to the old Saturn rocket engine test stand from the Apollo program. Ms. Weisskopf and I were both disinclined to climb the rickety-looking stairs all the way to the top, so we had a little time to chat while the others made the ascent. I told her about Arkad’s World, and she asked to see it.

Pitching a science fiction novel to an editor when you’re halfway up a rocket test stand is pretty damned cool. I think the Rule of Coolness forced Ms. Weisskopf to buy the book. Which she did. And now it’s out, so everyone can see the Big Ideas I didn’t have to throw out.

*See the history of the 20th Century for examples.

—-

Arkad’s World: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.

Wasting My Own Time

For 2019 I didn’t do any resolutions, because over the course of time I can’t say that I’ve found them particularly useful, either as an encouragement or as a goad. For me, the way it usually works is that I decide to do things, or I don’t, and my behavior changes accordingly.

With that said, in 2018 I think I ended up doing myself a real disservice with regard to how I was spending my time. I wrote about writing The Consuming Fire in two weeks, which sounds impressive except for the fact I noted I didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter, because my time management had not been great. So when unavoidable issues came up, whether positive or negative, I didn’t have enough margin in my schedule to compensate. Life comes at you fast and sometimes no matter what you just have to deal with it. At the same time, better discipline with one’s time often means the difference between being able to manage what comes at you, and just having to push through at substantial overall cost.

The other thing I noticed last year was that I wasn’t very happy with how I was spending a lot of my time, or more on point, how I was wasting it; I had a few too many days just sort of hitting refresh on social media even though there was nothing there I was particularly interested in seeing. I love hanging out on Twitter and chatting with friends, but much of what I was doing wasn’t that. It was me just staring into Tweetdeck, watching people get worked up about things that didn’t necessarily have to do much with me. I wasn’t reading as much, or playing games, or watching movies or TV — relaxing things that generally made me happy. I don’t think I was on social media more last year than I was in previous years, on balance. I just think for some reason it contributed to me doing other things less. I think it’s an attention span issue.

One more thing: I’m going to turn 50 this year. I’m not using this occasion to freak out about my mortality or my place in the world, since I’m pretty comfortable with who and what I am, and don’t really mind the fact I’m going to die (although hopefully not, like, soon). I am, however, thinking about how I’m using my time, and how much I want to use the increasingly limited amounts of it that I have, on things that aren’t either useful or making me happy. I’m increasingly finding that just staring into the computer when I’m not actively writing or engaging with friends isn’t actually enjoyable or making me happy.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to do a few things, and I’m going to tell you now about three of them. The first is something I was already doing to some extent: blocking social media between 8am and noon when I’m at home and having that as my prime writing time; that is, when I’m writing the stuff I’m being paid for. The second is relieve myself of the idea that there is such a thing as multitasking, and to focus on doing one thing at a time. So, when I’m writing (say) a piece on Whatever, not to be checking Twitter or Facebook while I’m doing it, which is really easy for me to do and also really distracting.

The third is simply to ask myself “is this the best use of my time” when I’m aimlessly sitting in front of my computer. Sometimes it is! Sometimes “aimlessness” is me doing nothing in order to recharge my brain. But often it’s not. And when it’s not, I should be doing something else — reading a book or writing something or actually walking on the treadmill or making Smudge chase a red laser dot, or whatever. I do have things I want to do, that aimlessness in front of the computer isn’t helping with. I’m gonna be 50. I’m not going to regret not sitting aimlessly in front of the computer, but there will be other things I’ll regret not doing instead.

These aren’t resolutions and I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t perfectly execute them. What they are, is me tweaking my process to make me happier with how I’m spending my day-to-day life. If they work, great. If they don’t, I’ll try something else instead. As I believe I noted elsewhere, the process isn’t the goal, the goal is the goal. And the goal here is to be happier with how I spend my time.

Will that make a difference for you from your vantage point? Probably not; again, what you’re mostly seeing on your end is output, not process (and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to see the process, as it mostly involves me in a bathrobe). The thing is, and I hope you understand, this isn’t about you. At least, not very directly. But hopefully in the longer run we’ll all see the benefit of me making better use of my time. We’ll see how it goes.

The 2019 Awards Consideration Post

For those of you casting about for things to nominate for various awards this year, here’s what I have that’s eligible.

Best Novel

Head On (April 2018; Tor Books; Patrick Nielsen Hayden, ed.)

The Consuming Fire (October 2018; Tor Books; Patrick Nielsen Hayden, ed.)

Best Related Work

Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies: Selected Writings From Whatever, 2013- 2018 (December 2018; Subterranean Press; William Schafer, ed).

Best Short Story

Regarding Your Application Status” (May 2018; published at Whatever/Scalzi.com)

Automated Customer Service” (November 2018; published at Whatever/Scalzi.com)

Although Athena and I did a podcast last year, it’s not eligible for the Best Fancast category since we only did three episodes.

That said, and speaking of Athena, as my intern she did quite a bit of writing about science fiction, fantasy and other material of fandom interest (her posts from the summer are here). She was compensated, because I believe in paying people for their work, even (especially) interns; nevertheless I do believe she is eligible for consideration for the Best Fan Writer Hugo category, if after reading her material you believe it merits such a nomination.

(Indeed, and of course, only nominate anything for an award if you genuinely believe it merits a nomination, including obviously my own work. I’m okay if you look at what I’ve written this year, and then look at other work you read and go, “yeah, I think I’ll nominate that other stuff.” It happens! I won’t think it means you didn’t like what I wrote; it just means there’s a limited number of things you can nominate in any given year (and if in fact you didn’t like what I wrote — well, sorry about that, I guess).)

Happy reading and nominating this year!

In Which the Fundamental Nature of Smudge is Very Precisely Communicated in a Single Picture

Yup, this pretty much covers it, I’d say.

Also, hello and welcome to 2019! How was your new year?