The Big Idea: Alexander Weinstein

The trade paperback cover of

Is love feasible in this bleak world we live in? Is connection possible in a world where everyone seems so blatantly disconnected from each other? Author Alexander Weinstein says it is! Read on to see how he expresses a hope for love in this world in his newest release, Universal Love


In the early years of the new millennium, we often worried about our battery life. We needed outlets, power banks, rubber sleeves with extra juice. We asked shopkeepers about passwords, made sure there was wi-fi flowing through the atmosphere of every place we settled, and found charging stations at the airport where we could sit, wires stretching our bodies to small islands of electricity as other wires hung from our ears. From the fortresses of the Social Media empires, they stressed that the addictive apps they provided us with were all about connection. We were one global community, they said, as we sat scrolling through our phones, alone on busses and subways, laughing silently through lol echo chambers, our faces reflected in the selfies and dead screens of our smartphones. 

We weren’t alone—it seemed everyone was looking for connection. And it wasn’t just electricity we needed. We wanted human connection as well.  It was, after all, what the internet had promised us. We were searching for love. And if we couldn’t find that—then sex at least. There were plenty of apps to find the latter, all advertised with promises for the first. And as we scrolled through face after face, trying to open our hearts, we also learned to swipe people into the trash more quickly. We went on hopeful dates, and when we were in the bathroom, our dates scrolled through messages from other, hopeful dates. We unfriended. We blocked.  We ghosted. We deleted our dating apps, sickened by the emptiness of seeking love online and endless unsolicited dick pics, and then we uploaded the very same apps a couple weeks later.  

As a speculative fiction writer, I find the ways our lives, hearts, and families are being rewired by cybernetics both fascinating and worrisome, and it was the omnipotence of our internet culture alongside our secret hopes for love that led me to write the stories in Universal Love. Because though our interactions had become increasingly robotic (monetizing algorithms & getting-more-clicks are now legitimate personal goals), I sensed that we were yearning, more than ever, for real human connection, and it seemed that beneath all our clicking, scrolling, emailing, and endless messaging, there was a deep need for love arising in our culture. 

Speculative fiction often begins with a what-if.  What if we tried replacing lost loved ones with holographic replicas?  What if we purchased sentient robotic children and they began to use drugs like regular teenagers?  What if the world became flooded from global warming and a father and son were stranded on a small island with diving gear, exploring the drowned world below? Such what-ifs conjure vast landscapes, and part of the pleasure of writing is the world-building these stories demand.  And yet, speculative fiction cannot simply rely on a premise or it risks sacrificing character. For my stories to succeed, they have to go deeper than simply a what-if plot/premise; they need to explore the hearts of the characters. To achieve this goal, I must intertwine something that I deeply care about—my fears, hopes, and dreams—and give them to the very characters within the stories. 

This doesn’t merely deepen the stories, it deepens the mystery of the writing process itself, because the what-ifs suddenly take on new lives as much more meaningful metaphors. A story about children getting cybernetic brain implants to telepathically access the internet (We Only Wanted Their Happiness) suddenly becomes a way to speak to the struggles of limiting our children’s data usage. Holographic parents reveal a truth about the mystery of my own parents and the importance of connecting deeply with the people I love. And a father and son diving for buried treasure is secretly also a tale of watching my teenage son prepare to sail away for college, and the treasures I hope he takes with him.  

Writing about love is challenging.  There’s always a risk that the work will be overly sentimental, cliché, or schmaltzy. The process itself requires a great deal of vulnerability.  For writing about love is similar to loving in real life, it requires opening your heart, and part of the writing process for Universal Love involved finding ways to tap into the deepest parts of my own tenderness. I found these moments through my life as a father, as a partner, through yoga and meditation, and by listening to music which directly works to open the heart (such as Krishna Das and Nada Sadhana).

Interestingly, heart-filled writing is not always good writing. I tend toward the ecstatic too easily in first drafts, and when I do, my language becomes overly verbose and epiphanic. Unlike learning to love in real life, the editing process involved a great deal of holding back, allowing the element of love to remain beneath the surface of the stories rather than always being openly expressed on the page. My challenge was maintaining the humanity of my characters while realistically portraying their struggles within a world which has often gone awry. And though I may want my characters to find love, transform, and transcend, I often had to cut overly happy endings from early drafts. The robotic children in my story, Childhood, were indeed addicted to smoking their own emotion chips, the children of We Only Wanted Their Happiness had learned to use their brain-implants for authoritarian power over their parents, and the air in Beijing was nearly unbreathable, forcing my characters to choose between air tanks or food.  

In this struggle of portraying both love and grief, there’s a truth about being alive. For as much as I’d like to write about the beauty of parenthood, I’ve also failed in the battle against my son’s data-usage and we’ve had the teenage fights all parents struggle with. And right alongside my memories of those fights, are memories of a snowy Michigan day, when I found cross-country skis and my son and I set out together through the woods, huffing and happy as we struggled to learn.

It’s this constant back and forth, between moments of grace and the battle against losing our human connection that fuels my writing. Because within the dark political and cybernetic frontiers of our increasingly digitized reality, there’s simultaneously a great wealth of human kindness. It’s present when we gather together to listen to musicians at concerts, or hear poetry readings, or in the hugs of our friends and family at the in-person gatherings we once went to. During this pandemic, our choices to stay inside—alone and online—also demonstrate a love for others, and our human connection has emerged in beautiful ways.  In Italy, when people stepped onto their apartment balconies to create a cross-balcony concert together, or when a lone trumpet player played “Imagine” for a morning solo—what was revealed was the beauty of the human heart, projected on all of our screens to see. 

Beneath the robots, holographic parents, and virtual-reality-love-making couples of my speculative worlds, are stories of my own life. The challenge for me has always been to give my fiction a piece of what I hold sacred.  Sometimes its fatherhood, kindness, or compassion, other times it’s the vulnerability of heartbreak, grief, or the nostalgia of parenthood, where one day your child is holding your hand, and the next they’re waving goodbye.  These are the hearts of my characters, and the work of every story I write is to risk such truths in my fiction. While my near-future landscapes are sometimes dystopian, the stories in Universal Love believe a deeply utopian idea: that we can care for each other more deeply, that we can love one another more fully, and that we can work together to make this world a better place.


Universal Love: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Connect with him on Instagram. 


Housekeeping 1/20/21

John Scalzi

Small note here that thanks to the lovely people at WordPress, there are a couple minor improvements that have been implemented here today. The first is that now each post has a byline up top, so that you’ll know who is writing a piece even without our pictures and our initials at the end. I think we’ll probably keep up the “picture and initial” practice for now at least, but if we forget and/or write a piece too short for a photo, you’ll still know right away.

The second is that the individual post pages will also feature bylines and dates at the top, which was a thing that temporarily went away when I picked this new theme. I’m very happy about this.

The third thing is that comment preview is back, albeit slightly in a slightly different form than it was before. You’ll see the ability to check your comment when you track down to the comment form, and you’ll be able to switch back from one format to the other. I hope it’s useful for you (here’s a hot tip, whether you use the new form or not: Read your post aloud before you post it. You’ll catch more errors that way. It’s what I do).

Hopefully these small but useful changes will make the site easier to use for those of you who come visit it directly. Enjoy!

— JS

A Brief Installment Of Plant Based Food Reviews

Athena ScalziAs some of you may know, I used to be a vegetarian. In fact, I was a very strict vegetarian for about five years before I stopped on my eighteenth birthday. I don’t know why I stopped; some part of me just got bored of it, I guess. I just was tired of putting in effort. But now that it’s been a few years, my morals are reinvigorated and I feel ready to make a new change!

Lately, I’ve been thinking of being vegan. Maybe not completely cold turkey style, like I did when I became a vegetarian. But I would definitely like to cut down on my animal product consumption, if not cut it out of my diet completely.

One of the main problems for me, though, is that I don’t particularly like any substitutes for the real things. When I was vegetarian, I rarely ate fake meat, because I didn’t especially like it. Sure, there are some fake chicken nuggets or sausages here and there that taste alright, but to me it wasn’t really worth it go through all the trouble of eating fake meat when I could just, not. I was totally fine with that.

With milk, it’s a different story. I love milk, whole milk especially, and don’t even get me started on chocolate milk! In my pursuits as a vegetarian, I dabbled with the idea of being vegan, so I tried some milk alternatives. I hated all of them. Soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, coconut milk, I couldn’t stand to drink any of them, or even use them in cereal. I even tried chocolate soy milk and I still didn’t like it. Even when I got the sweetened or vanilla versions of these milk substitutes, they just didn’t cut it.

That being said, in my newest pursuit for veganism, I decided to give milk alternatives a shot again. There had to be at least one I could tolerate, right?

Well, the other day, I happened across an ad for a new almond milk, Simply Almond. I had had the Simply brand of beverages many a time before; their orange juice, apple juice, lemonade, watermelon juice, etc. So to see them make a milk of some kind really threw me off.

I was skeptical to try it, but I picked up one of the vanilla ones anyway, which looks like this:

I’m not kidding when I say this is the best plant based milk I have ever had. Not only do I tolerate it, I actually really enjoy it! This almond milk is very good, and I can absolutely see myself making the switch from regular milk easily. It’s perfectly sweetened, creamy, and doesn’t taste significantly off like all others I’ve tried. I really recommend giving this a shot if you have been a milk-alternative hater for years, like me. This is the shining beacon in a world of dark fake milks.

While I was at the store picking this up, I also thought about how I would never be able to give up eggs. Even when I was vegetarian, I ate them, because I didn’t really count them as meat. I seriously love eggs, cooked in any style. Scrambled, omelet, fried, poached, deviled, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, they’re all amazing! They’re so cheap and easy and you can do so much with them.

Clearly, I was dreading giving them up. That’s when I saw this egg substitute.

JUST Egg. The packaging looked appealing to me, so I decided to give it a try, as well. And I was very pleasantly surprised! These cooked exactly like regular scrambled eggs, as evidenced here:

Tell me those don’t look like some regular ol’ scrambled eggs (yeah, I might’ve overcooked them, but I do that with regular scrambled eggs, too (I fear salmonella!)). Not only do they cook like and look like the real thing, but they taste like it, too! Sure, there’s a little bit of a difference, but it’s not even in a bad way, like these honestly taste really good!

While I definitely feel like I could absolutely make the switch from regular eggs to this alternative, it is a bummer to me that you can pretty much only make scrambled eggs with it. It comes as a liquid that you pour into a skillet, and you can scramble it or make it into an omelet. While that’s great and all, you could never make something like poached or deviled eggs with this, which are like my two favorite kinds.

When it comes to veganism, I worry about baked goods a lot. How can you make delicious baked goods without milk and eggs? Most milk alternatives are too thin to replace milk in recipes efficiently, and I didn’t even know about egg alternatives until the other day. Thankfully, both of these brands’ websites have a recipes page. While the Simply one doesn’t have any recipes for their milk alternatives yet, I would imagine they will soon, since their almond milk pretty much just launched. So I’ll check back with that later. However, the JUST one has many a recipe showing you ways to use their product, including oatmeal chocolate chip cookies!

So, yeah, I’m really glad I found these two products. I was very skeptical of both of them, but they turned out to be amazing, and I know if I do decide to go vegan, or at least cut down on animal products, these will both be essential parts of that.

Have you tried either of these? Are there any milk/meat/ice cream alternative brands you’ll swear by that I should check out? Let me know in the comments, and as always, have a great day!



So Begins the New Year and Era

Because, after all, it was not 2021 until noon today. Now it is. And while there was much good to take away from the inauguration of President (!) Biden (!) and Vice President (!) Harris (!), this is the moment that will stay with me, from Amanda Gorman. All the tears I wasn’t yet crying went out here. This was a good day for our nation. Hopefully one of many.

— JS

The Unlamented Man

A picture of Donald Trump waving, with the words "Good riddance" to the side.
John Scalzi

First and always, a liar.

Then a con man, a thief, and a grifter. A man who never saw a venture he couldn’t make fail, which is why he was always starting new ones: It was easier to jump to a new ship than stay with the sinking one. A cad, a harasser, allegedly a rapist. He treated women like they were disposable vessels for anxious manhood and was loved by the “family values” contingent for it, because they see women the same way he does. A racist, a bigot, a white supremacist. He saw neo-nazis march in Charlottesville and some part of his brain knew then that he had found his shock troops for an insurrection. A bully, a boaster, a braggart. He looked up to the worst leaders in the world because he wanted what they had: To be unquestioned, feared, and obeyed.

A bad man, a bad human, a bad person. And a bad president.

Not just bad, of course: In fact, the worst. A recitation of his moral failures and actual probable crimes would have us here all day, so let’s pick just one: 400,000 dead, so far, from COVID during his presidency. He is not responsible for the virus. He is responsible for denying its seriousness; for choosing to downplay it because he thought it would make him look bad; for making something as simple and useful as wearing a mask a political issue; for bungling a national response to it and then the distribution of medical supplies and, later, vaccines; for spreading misinformation and lies about it; for, fundamentally, not caring about his fellow Americans, and viewing the pandemic through the lens of him, not us. Hundreds of thousands of Americans who are now dead would be alive under a better president. Their deaths are on his hands, and he simply doesn’t care. He never will.

If there is a silver lining to any of this, it is that he was never popular, never the choice of the majority of Americans. He lost the popular vote in 2016; his electoral win came from razor-thin margins in a few states. This was enough to legitimately make him president, thanks to an electoral system rooted in having to accommodate slaveholders, which still disadvantages the descendants of the slaves. But he was never the people’s choice. He knew it and it rankled him. He was reminded of this fact every day of his administration, because never once did the average of his popularity polls crack fifty percent: indeed, according to FiveThirtyEight, which tracked it for his entire presidency, it never even cracked forty-six percent approval. There has been no president in the history of modern polling who was as unpopular in their first term for as long as he was.

This was how he, in turn, lost the House, the presidency and the Senate for the Republicans, even in a system that had been engineered over the years to value that party’s voters more. It takes effort for an incumbent to lose the White House, not to mention the legislature. He is the first in 80 years to lose it all.

But this silver lining is indeed just a lining to a very dark cloud. Americans are dead, the worst of us are emboldened, and our country’s standing in the world is at a historic low. One of the major political parties of our country simply abandoned what principles it had remaining to serve his will to power, choosing to abet his lie that a legal election had been tainted rather than to acknowledge he had, bluntly and widely, lost. We are nowhere good right now, save for the simple fact that very soon, someone else will be president. We did not so much lose our way as we were driven to a terrible place and abandoned there. We have to wait for someone else to come bring us home.

He will be gone after today; indeed as I write this he is already gone, winging toward Florida to an uncertain future. It is alleged he plans a new political party; I imagine the impending lawsuits and criminal investigations will keep him busy enough. Most importantly, he will no longer be president. He will no longer have the levers of power to injure the nation as he has done for four very long years. He is gone, and his administration is gone, and all that is left of him is an enduring stain on the presidency and the judgment of history. The judgment of history, I assure you, will not be kind. Its unkindness has already begun.

Here is my hope for the man: That no one ever has to think about him again. That his capacity for injury is limited only to those who choose to put themselves in his path. There will always be some; some people can’t, or choose not to, learn. I leave them to their own fate.

But for everyone else, a blessed silence — not an expungement of memory but the knowledgement that this man, this sad, defeated man, this piteous though not pitied man, this liar, this bigot, this churl, this failure, never has to be thought on in the future. After all he has put this country through because of his own ego, it would be a perfect goodness to never again have to say his name.

We’re not there yet. But soon. Let it be very soon indeed.

— JS

President Boring

An image of Joe Biden with the words "Boring as fuck. Thank God."
John Scalzi

Has there ever been, in the history of the Presidency of the United States, so low a bar for the incoming occupant of the position as Joe Biden now has? After Donald Trump’s tenure, if Biden did nothing more in his term of office than not shit on floor of the Oval Office, nor set fire to the drapes, he’d still be ahead of the game, in terms of personal comportment. Lord knows Biden is not a perfect man nor a perfect politician, but neither is he a buffoonish sociopath with rage issues and a chorus of inadequacies screaming in and out of his skull all hours of the day and night. Biden is boring, in point of fact, and never has boring felt so good. We’re not settling for boring. Boring is what we’re hoping for.

But boring alone won’t be enough from Biden. It’s been a tradition for the last few presidential cycles for a Republican president to fuck up the country in some significant way, and for a Democrat to come into the office and spend a not insignificant amount of his term fixing things; indeed, one could say fucking up the country is an actual Republican goal, to keep the Democrats from being able to achieve their own policies and plans. In this regard, Trump has done marvelously well; the US is as dysfunctional now as it has ever been short of an actual (declared) civil war, and while Trump did not do that on his own — he had vital assistance from the Republican party, who aided and abetted his worst excesses, up to and including an insurrection against the legislature — he certainly did enough. It’s good that Biden’s boring, relative to Trump. But if boring means simply a functional status quo for the next four years, a milquetoast attempt to get back to “normal,” we’re all fucked.

I want Biden to use his boring for good — a bland, genial and chummy front to keep white people from freaking out about substantive work his underlings are doing. And when I’m talking about “white people” here, I’m not talking about the dimwit QAnon jackasses who will need years of deprogramming to even conceive of the notion that Joe Biden, of all people, is not in fact the head of an international conspiracy to do terrible things to children and pets. I’m also not talking about the actual fascists, who are these days too bold and too many. Those people are lost. Fuck ’em. I’m talking about the rest of the white folks out there, the perfectly nice, oh-sure-we-vote-Republican-but-we-thought-Trump-was-a-bit-much folks, and also the perfectly nice, oh-sure-we-vote-Democrat-but-let’s-not-get-ahead-of-ourselves-here folks, who even after an actual white riot at the Capitol still don’t grasp how their own privilege and assumption got us to a place where we almost chucked away our republic for someone who represents the worst possible version of our union. White people in their obliviousness almost “both sided” our country into authoritarianism and, yes, fascism. We have a loooooong way to go to get back from that bullshit. If Biden’s “Uncle Joe” shtick makes them comfortable on the way, great, because now we really do know what the alternative is.

That said, I’m not expecting miracles from Biden. One, the political reality is there are razor-thin margins of Democratic control in the House and Senate, and then there is a radicalized Republican party, much of which still won’t admit that Biden actually won the presidency in a legitimate election, and which still unfathomably has not chucked to the side a corrupt, unpopular and criminal president who lost them the House, the Senate and the White House. There are things Biden and his administration can and should do from day one, and it looks like at least some of them will be done. But a lot of the really hard lifts are still going to be hard. No one likes to hear that, but it is a real thing.

Two, Biden’s grandfatherly centrist shtick isn’t just a shtick, he’s really that way. He’s a 78-year-old white man who spent his entire political life just to the right of whatever was “center left” at the time, and is still under the illusion that just because he spent time in the Senate with Mitch McConnell, McConnell wouldn’t stab him in both kidneys at the earliest possible convenience, sniggering as he did so. This is yet another place where Kamala Harris will come in handy: pointing out to Biden that the Senate is a very different place now, and there’s only so far “bipartisanship” is going to take him. Hell, Biden should know that after watching eight years of Obama getting his hand slapped away every single time he reached it out. But I guess Biden is gonna give it the ol’ college try anyway.

So, yes, I suspect I will be exasperated with Biden a lot, and remember that I am a well-off cishet white dude who is not, in fact, a radical liberal. However exasperated I will be is a mere fraction of what others, more affected by the nonsense of the last four years, will be feeling. What I’m going to try to remember in those moments is that every step away from the abyss our nation almost toppled into is a good step. Biden will be my president (thank God), but he’s not the president for me. He’s the president for White People Who Still Haven’t Realized How Bad It Just Got, and hopefully through him, things get better for a whole lot of other people. Every day of that will be a victory of sorts. Or could be, at least.

I will take that for now. It’s a vast improvement over what we’ve had for the last four years. I’m willing to let boring work for us. Let’s see where it can get us in four years, and then, possibly, beyond.

— JS

The Big Idea: M. A. Carrick

In today’s Big Idea, the authors behind The Mask of Mirrors are going to tell you the truth, about the fact they’re not going to tell you the truth. Truly. Should you believe them? Read on and decide!


We’re going to lie to you.

It’s what you pay us for, after all. Fiction is lies, told for the purpose of entertainment. You agree to play the game of believing, and if we do our job well enough, then for a little while, you may even forget it’s a game.

Our Big Idea for this book is an accomplished liar. Although we have multiple points of view and strands of narrative, the most central one is Ren — aka Renata Viraudax, aka Arenza Lenskaya, aka some other aliases we won’t spoil for you — a half-Vraszenian con artist in the colonized city of Nadežra. The title of the book is The Mask of Mirrors because in the divinatory pattern deck used by Vraszenians, that’s the card of secrets and lies . . . and this book is a layer cake of deception so complex, at one point we had to make a chart of which characters knew which bits of the plot, and which personas of theirs could admit to knowing it.

People lie for many reasons, some good, some bad. You might lie to protect yourself: from embarrassment, from anger, from violence. Or to protect someone else. You might lie to gain an advantage over the listener, pretending you’re in a stronger position than you are, or luring them into an unwise move. You might lie out of sheer malice. You might lie to preserve the peace, or to break it into pieces.

In stories, we often enjoy watching liars do their thing. It’s fun to be “in the know,” aware of truths the other characters don’t see. And competence of any sort can be sexy, whether that’s athleticism, intellectual agility, or the ability to weave an intricate web of deceit. Con artists make for fun characters, the audience breathlessly wondering how their house of cards will stand up — or whether it will come crashing down.

On the other hand . . .

Anybody who’s ever been taken in by a scammer knows the horrible jolt that comes with realizing you’ve been had. Con artists stop seeming quite so sexy when you’re the one biting the hook. Lies can destroy relationships, or leave someone so scarred they have difficulty trusting like they used to.

And that’s part of our Big Idea, too. When we set out to have Ren con the noble Traementis family into believing she’s the daughter of an estranged relative, we also vowed to keep our eye on the other side of that story. The Traementis aren’t a faceless evil corporation in an episode of Leverage, deserving every fall they take; they’re people with their own history and problems, who might have feelings about finding an imposter in their midst.

Nor is Ren the only liar in Nadežra. And nobody hates being played more than a player.

There’s a lot of deception in this book. A lot of games being played simultaneously, some of them at cross-purposes. Not all of the falsehoods here are being told for good reasons, and depending on your feelings about this topic, you may draw the line between them in different places.

But if we’ve done our job right, you’ll thank us for the entertaining lie.

The Mask of Mirrors: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Indiebound|Bookshop|Powell’s|Orbit Books

Read an excerpt. Visit the authors’ joint site, or Marie and Alyc individually. Follow them on Twitter: ma_carrick, swan_tower, alychelms.

The Four Movies That Have Made Me Ugly Cry, Part 4: The Lovely Bones

Still from

Athena ScalziThe Lovely Bones, aka the saddest movie of all time, is last on this list, and much further spaced apart than the other three, because I didn’t want to watch it again. I put off watching this movie for a whole month because it’s just so sad.

Before we go any further, here is your OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING.

In case you haven’t seen it/don’t know what it’s about, The Lovely Bones is a Peter Jackson-directed film from 2009. It’s about a teenage girl that gets murdered by her next door neighbor, and watches her family grieve as a ghost.

The first time I watched The Lovely Bones, I was fourteen. This was the same age as the main character, Susie Salmon. I think this had a lot to do with how sad I found the movie. It just really hit different because I could relate to her in so many ways, even if she was a teen in the early seventies and I was a teen in the mid 2000s.

Like: That feeling of having a crush on a super cute senior guy that you think is too cool for you. And damn did that movie cast a really, really cute senior guy for Susie to like. My fourteen-year-old heart, and even my twenty-two-year-old heart, burst with joy for Susie when Ray walked up, asked her about Shakespeare, and told her she’s beautiful. He even asked her on a date, more or less. I was so happy for her!

And then she immediately died right after.

Like, WHAT?!

I would say it was unexpected, but Susie’s narration over the beginning says that she was murdered, so it’s not like it was a shock. It wasn’t surprising. It was still intensely sad.

Mr. Harvey, the neighbor that murdered her, knew exactly all the right things to say to lure Susie into his trap. He used just the right words of manipulation to goad her into walking straight into her grave. And it’s because he banked on her innocence, her naivety. The trap was set up specifically in a way that involved him tricking her, because he knew she’d fall for it, because she was a sweet, unsuspecting child.

Did Susie’s innocence get her killed? No. A cruel, evil man killed her, not her naivety. But those two things made it all the easier for him to murder her.

It was so messed up that the movie led us to believe for a moment that she got away. When she made it out and took off running, I was ecstatic. She didn’t get murdered after all! But that wasn’t what really happened. Her body was back in the cellar with her murderer, and she was dead. She just didn’t know it yet.

Watching Susie watch her family fall apart after losing her was sad enough as it is, but to see her constantly checking in on Ray, the boy she liked, was the sad little cherry on top of the world’s saddest sundae.

To see her mom leave, or her dad become obsessive about finding the person responsible, or seeing her sister become detached, all these things are just… tragic. Just like her death. The only good moments are when Susie occasionally interacts with the living world and gives her family signs that she’s there. Like the candle flame in the window, or kissing her brother on the cheek. Just these little things she did to let her family know she was around.

There are so many moments in this movie when you could practically scream at the screen. So many moments where you’re just tense, hoping so much that they’ll figure it out. Not to mention all the opportunities when Mr. Harvey could’ve been caught, like when the detective was in his house and if he had just looked down he would’ve seen Susie’s charm bracelet. It’s just a really frustrating movie. You want the villain to be caught so badly, and it’s so obvious to you, the viewer, that you just wish the family could know it was their neighbor all along.

This story is fictional. It has made-up characters, a fantastical after-life, and Susie is a ghost. Obviously, not real. And yet, so jarringly real at the same time. It is about something that really happens. Half a million children are reported missing in the US every year. Kids really do go missing, and not just the runaways, the ones that are taken.

That’s one of the frustrating things about the movie: the detective asks the parents if Susie has ever run away before, or if there are problems at home that would cause her to run away. But she didn’t run away, and the parents insist she would never do that. Assuming a kid ran away seems pretty shitty, because saying they ran away due to problems at home assigns a lot of blame onto the parents, which in Susie’s case is extra sad because she seems to have really nice parents and a loving family. I’m sure the parents felt bad enough to begin with, they don’t need to think that it’s their fault Susie didn’t come home.

When I was fourteen, I didn’t cry, or even tear up, until the credits hit the screen. And then I burst into tears. I was sobbing even though it had just ended. It was like the entire movie hit me at once. All these emotions had been building inside me, my emotions were wound like a wind-up toy, and then all my tears were released when it ended. It was wild.

This was the first Peter Jackson movie I ever watched, and from what I’ve seen, critics didn’t really like it. It didn’t get reviewed particularly well. Certainly, there are better Peter Jackson movies, right? So why did I think The Lovely Bones was so good?

Well, I think part of it had to do with being able to relate to the main character, and part of it had to do with my age. If I hadn’t seen it when I was fourteen, I don’t think it would’ve had as profound an effect as it did. If I didn’t adore the love interest so much, and think he and Susie are just the cutest ever, it probably wouldn’t have been as tragic to me that she doesn’t get to be with him.

The poem that Ray gives to Susie stuck with me for a long time after watching The Lovely Bones for the first time.

If I had but an hour of love,

If that be all that’s given me.

An hour of love upon this Earth,

I would give my love to thee.

As someone who loves poetry and at fourteen wanted nothing more than a cute guy to give me a poem and confess his love for me, this shit made my heart melt. It’s such a beautiful poem. I’m so glad Susie got to say goodbye to Ray at the end. Though, I do wish she had mentioned that her killer was right outside and currently throwing her body into a sinkhole, but it is what it is.

Stanley Tucci, in

Watching Mr. Harvey die a horrific death was so satisfying. I would’ve liked if the cops had caught him instead of him dying randomly; I feel like Susie’s family could’ve been more at peace knowing that her killer was caught and wouldn’t harm anyone ever again, instead of believing that he’s still out there somewhere doing the same thing to other girls. Still, great death scene.

The Lovely Bones was sad, and tragic, and just goes to show that bad things happen to good people, which is a sad, sad truth of life.

If you’ve seen it, what did you think? If you’ve read it, how was the book different from the movie? Let me know in the comments!

And have a great day!



Mundane Sacred Objects

John Scalzi

The picture above is of me (in the pink denim), my sister and my mother, on the occasion of the first day of school in, I want to say, 1977, although I may be off a year. I’d be in second grade that year, and it was a new school, so this is me trying to make a good first impression. Not only is the jacket pink denim, but so are my trousers, and also I am drenched in Hai Karate aftershave, although of course I don’t shave at that point. Nevertheless I made a good impression on at least one person, since I met my friend Kyle Brodie that day, and we are still friends now, which means he’s officially my longest running friendship. Good job, me and Kyle.

I post this picture today for two reasons. The first is it’s my mom’s birthday, so: Happy birthday mom, here’s a very 70s picture of us all. The second is that I think this may be the only picture I have of my second grade year. There were other pictures taken — 1977 had cheap cameras and film cartridges of 110 and 126 film — but over the course of years the photos were lost or abandoned or thrown away. Some of the pictures were put into photo albums, but I don’t have the photo albums, and I don’t know who does; maybe my mom does, but if she does they’re in storage. At the end of the day, this photo is it for me for the second grade.

Which puts it up on most other elementary school grades for me! I don’t have any pictures of kindergarten or first grade; third grade seems lost as well. You would think I would have some pictures of fourth grade, because I broke my leg that year and me in a cast seems like something we’d have documented, but I have no pictures of me in said cast. Indeed, in sum I think I may have a grand total of ten pictures of myself from the 1970s. Things get better in the 80s, because of yearbooks and such, but the 90s are hit and miss until 1995, in which an avalanche of pictures arrive in the form of my wedding. But, honestly, it isn’t until the 2000s that photodocumentation of my life really takes off, because a) digital photography happened, and b) I started taking pictures because I didn’t have to send them out to be developed. I have more pictures I took yesterday, than I have of my life in the whole decade of the 70s. Most of yesterday’s pictures are of my cats.

This isn’t a complaint, really. I don’t think I’m all that unusual. Lots of pictures were taken in the pre-digital age by a lot of people, but not a whole lot of them survive until today. I imagine for a lot of folks there is just a single photo, or a mere handful of photos, to represent whole years or even eras of their lives. Photos were and are physical things; they get lost, and misplaced, and thrown out. Even the ones that are preserved in photo albums experience rot and fading pigments, and eventually the albums themselves are thrown away, when the owner passes on and none of the heirs wants them or knows what to do with them.

And you might think, well, that’s yesterday’s problem — today we all have too many photos of ourselves. And on one hand yes, but on the other hand, really, no. Digital photos are even more ephemeral than the photos taken on cheap instamatic cameras in the 70s, because they are wholly contingent on storage devices. I took more than 20,000 photos last year with my dSLR and my phone. The dSLR photos are on an archive drive; the phone photos are backed up to Google photos. Of those 20K photos, maybe 700 ended up on Flickr, which is where I post the pictures I want to show to the world, and an equal number on Twitter or Facebook, and a couple hundred at most (not counting pictures of books) on Whatever.

Thing is: Hard drives break down and data rots. I regularly transfer to newer drives (and also store on multiple drives), but there’s always a chance of a physical failure costing me some or indeed all of those photos dating back two decades. Google Photos and Flickr are “in the cloud” but that doesn’t mean they are permanent in any meaningful sense — Flickr is on its third owner since I joined it, and honestly I just assume that at some point it’s going to close up shop. Likewise Twitter and Facebook; hard as it may be to believe, one day we may all get that note that informs us Twitter or Facebook is shutting down and that we should download our data if we want to keep it, which some of us will but a lot of us won’t, and even those who do often won’t bother to ever open up again. And then, of course, what happens to all that stored data and all those stored photos when we pass on one day? Will our heirs want them? Will they know how to even find them? Will they know the passwords?

I took 20,000 photos last year; unless I actually print some of them out, or leave specific instruction how they are to be preserved (and those instructions are followed), there’s a very good chance they will all be lost one day to digital rot and neglect. And I’m someone who is (relatively) careful with digital photos, backing them up on regular basis and making sure there are multiple instances. Does the average person? It seems less likely. Do you back up your photos? Do you print them out?

What I’m saying, I suppose, is that it doesn’t really matter how many pictures you take. It matters how you keep them. We may take exponentially more photos than we did in the decades past, but even so, it may still turn out that in the end we have just a few photos that will stand in for entire years or eras in our lives, with the rest lost — like photos in other eras — to time and rot and benign neglect. Photos are often mundane things in the moment but when you come across them later as the sole image from an entire time in your life, they can take on an almost sacred feel, the one small path back to a different time and place.

Certainly I did not expect this photo of me in a pink denim outfit to represent an entire era of my childhood. but here I am, with that photo, and only that photo. You — we — may yet be surprised which photos make it through the gate of time to represent today, and which ones don’t. There will probably be fewer of them than you think.

— JS

A Special Music Recommendation: K/DA

Athena ScalziHello, everyone! Usually, when I do music recommendations on here, it’s a song or artist I like, and I just say, “Here you go! Enjoy!” and call it a day. Today, however, I’m recommending you such an interesting artist/group that I can’t help but explain them a bit! The group is called K/DA. They’re so unique, and I love their music so much I knew I had to share.

If you haven’t heard of K/DA, I’m glad you’re here because I’m about to enrich your musical life by a million percent. K/DA is a fictional K-pop group made up of characters from the MOBA game, League of Legends. The members of the group, Ahri, Akali, Evelynn, and Kai’Sa, are all playable characters in League of Legends, and have their own classes and unique abilities. They’re all animated, and their songs have animated music videos to go with them.

I discovered them back in 2018, when they released their first song, “Pop/Stars”. Originally, the fictional group was meant to promote the game and sell skins (basically outfits). It drew in a completely different demographic than the one that game pandered to already, and made people who had never previously heard of League of Legends want to play it, or at least made them aware of it.

The first time I saw it, I was hooked. I listened to it every day for months, and I still listen to it constantly. I even annoyed the shit out of my friends because I made them watch it. The animation, the music, the lyrics, the outfits, it’s all just stunning and amazing!

Without further ado, here is “Pop/Stars”, for your viewing and listening enjoyment!

This song was the only thing K/DA came out with for two years, until their new album, All Out. It’s an EP, so it only has a few songs, but they are all SO GOOD.

Only one song aside from “Pop/Stars” has an official music video, that being “More”.

Another absolute banger, and this is their second most popular song. “Pop/Stars” has almost half a billion views on YouTube, while “More” only has 66 million. This might be simply because they are the only two songs with official videos, or maybe it’s because they’re the two best (in my opinion, of course). Though “Villain” is a very close runner-up.

I know I said the other songs didn’t have music videos, but this one is only a concept video, and the other two are “official” ones (though I suppose it does say official concept video…). I love this one so much. The whole aesthetic is so awesome, I mean the vibe is just killer. And the visuals are super cool! Plus the beat is just chefs kiss.

And here is the final song I’m sharing with y’all today! Even though this one is last on the list, that does not mean it’s not good. In fact, it’s amazing. I know I said the first two were my favorites, and then “Villain” was a runner-up to the two favorites, but maybe this one is the other runner-up? I just don’t know! They’re all so good in so many different ways. Though this one doesn’t have a video, so I suppose that’s a downside. Interestingly enough, I had the opportunity to listen to this one in particular while wearing a haptic vest, and that was such a cool experience! I really felt the bass deep inside my bones with that thing on.

K/DA has two other songs on their EP, but I didn’t want to share every single one of their songs in one post, so I just hand picked my favorites of the bunch to give to y’all. I sincerely hope you enjoyed them! They’re such fun, unique songs, with the ability to make their music videos look cool as shit, because they’re animated and don’t have to follow any rules of physics.

Let me know in the comments which one is your favorite song! Or who your favorite band member is (I like Akali)! And have a great day!


The Big Idea: Tim Susman

Independence does not mark the end of a revolution, for a country or for an individual. This is a fact well illustrated in Tim Susman’s newest novel, The Revolution and the Fox. Read on to find out how a revolution turns out after the smoke clears.


The fight is over and the good guys won. Now what?

That’s the question I asked myself when I set out to write the fourth and final book in my magical alternate history series about the American Revolution. The Calatians follows the titular fox Kip, one of a race of magically created animal-people, and his human friend Emily, as they struggle to escape the prejudices against their kind and gender (respectively) and prove their worth, first in a college of sorcery, then in a war. At the end of the third volume, the American Revolution is over and Kip and Emily have established their reputations beyond any doubt. More than one of my beta readers assumed that must mean the end of the series. This is perfectly reasonable, especially for American audiences with our heavily mythologized origin story; just like coming-of-age stories for people, coming-of-age stories for nations tend to end with the achievement of independence. But my Big Idea for a fourth book was to go beyond that ending and find out what my now come-of-age protagonists and their fledgling society would make of their new independence, and the responsibility that comes along with it.

When given the freedom to choose your own path, at that one rare point in our lives when almost any path is open, what do you do? In some ways, this freedom is deceptive; sure, we can take any path, and a post-revolution country may shape itself in any image, but we can only walk the paths we know, and we favor the familiar ones—even those that turn us into the people (or countries) whose influence we just escaped. We inherit beliefs and habits from our parents, some we’re conscious of and others we’re not, and those last ones especially can direct our futures without us realizing it. I didn’t want my protagonists to fall into that trap.

So the fourth book had to expose them to new ideas, and that meant there needed to be a reason to search out those new ideas. Since the end of the war, Kip and Emily have established a magic school without restrictions based on race and gender. It’s kind of working, but they’re still living among people for whom those goals weren’t priorities, and who don’t care as much as they do about maintaining the school. If their new country isn’t going to support them much more than their old country did, they need to find a solution elsewhere.

Since one of the common abilities of sorcery in my books is to be able to instantaneously go anywhere the sorcerer has already been, I was able to open up the world to my characters early on in the series, so I went back to that device to broaden their horizons here by having the Dutch put on an International Exposition of Sorcery that would include countries from around the world. I relied on some of my own travel experience and a lot on research, but as I was mostly concerned with how sorcerer schools worked in other countries, I had to do a lot of guessing and making up things based on what we knew about those countries two hundred years ago. 

This part of the writing opened up something for me that I hadn’t expected: much as I was trying to open up my characters to new ideas about sorcery and society (as well as how to be an adult in this world), I found that I was challenging my own ideas about how I’d made up the world of sorcery in the first book. Schools, I’d decided, were arranged like so, students took this course of study and ended up in one of these three broad destinations, the sorcerers had a particular relationship with the government, and so on. By the time I was writing the third book, the institutions might as well have existed in my mind for the hundreds of years they’d existed in the world.

So when I set out to expand the world of my characters, I had to challenge my own preconceptions first. Why was sorcery integrated into society in this way? It made sense because I was working from a perspective steeped in American and English history, and so I slotted sorcery into the patterns I knew instinctively. But of course, duh, sorcery doesn’t have to be only one way. So I got to go through and re-examine every bit of my imagined sorcerer society.

I’ll say right here that I’m sure I missed an order of magnitude more opportunities than I took to change things around. I could have happily researched and studied and invented for a decade. But the book had to come out, and I wanted to focus on aspects of the world that would most directly inform my characters’ choices—for example, how the sorcerers treat demons, the powerful and capricious spirits they summon from another world to do their bidding. 

In the end, the choices the characters make about who they want to be directly impact the kind of society they’re trying to form. I had fun revisiting a time when I could make those kinds of decisions, and challenging myself and my characters to think about our preconceptions, even the ones we weren’t aware we had. It would’ve been easy to stop with independence, but if I had, there’s so much I would have missed.

The Revolution and the Fox: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s||Argyll Productions

The Calatians series page: Amazon|Argyll Productions

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

Why “Soul” Is Good For Your Soul

Still from

Athena ScalziDisney Pixar’s newest movie Soul scored 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, and with a rating like that, it should be easy to see why.

Except for me, it wasn’t, at first.

The first time I watched Soul, I didn’t like it. I didn’t really dislike it, either, but it was just very okay to me. I didn’t understand what the hype was, or why it was so highly rated. I thought it was kind of weird, I didn’t like the characters, and the whole before-and-after-life set-up they had going on wasn’t really doing it for me.

But the second time I watched it, I loved it. How could I have missed it all the first time around? It just hit totally different the second time.

So, I’m going to tell you why it’s so amazing and why you should watch it (or rewatch it)! Also, here is your OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING.

In case you haven’t seen Soul (which if you’re reading this I hope you have because, again, spoilers), it is about a guy named Joe Gardner trying to make it as a jazz musician, who is currently unsatisfied with his band teaching job. After landing a huge gig, he dies  — well, not really, because his body is alive and in a coma, but his soul goes to the Great Beyond, so, essentially, dead.

Not ready to be dead, he tries to escape and lands in the Great Before, where souls exist before they head to Earth. There, he meets 22, a soul that has never been able to complete their Earth sticker and be born as a living person. They have to work together in order for Joe to get back to his life. Hijinks ensue, 22 ends up getting put into Joe’s body, and they have to continue working together to get Joe back in his body and 22 back to the Great Before.

Now that you’re all caught up, here we go!

Soul is one of the few Pixar movies without a villain, which allows it to focus on the message of the story, along with characters and their development through the film (Even if you count Terry, the existential soul counter, as a villain, they were really only a small part of the movie, and they were just doing their job and didn’t really do anything to be antagonistic on purpose).

For most of the movie, I thought Joe was a terrible main character. He only cared about himself; even when he did something “nice,” it was only to benefit himself. Originally, he didn’t actually care about 22, he just wanted them to find their “spark” – assumed to be their reason for living – so he could use their completed Earth sticker for his own gain. He was so unsatisfied with his life, that it caused him to be blinded by what he thought would make him happy.

Joe and 22 and Terry, in a still from

On the other hand, we have 22, who is utterly uninterested in what life has to offer and is convinced they wouldn’t like being alive. Joe tries to convince them of all the good things Earth has in store for them (again, for his own benefit, because if 22 wants to live they’ll try harder to get their Earth sticker), but nothing really sounds that appealing. 22 asks, “Is all this living really worth dying for?” It’s a fair question. Is all the hardship we face, all the struggle we go through, really worth it? Is existing worth the effort? It is only when 22 experiences these things for themselves that they see that maybe there is something to this whole living thing.

22 feels very relatable to me. They can’t seem to find that certain something that they really enjoy in life. 22 has no spark, and not having a spark is part of what makes them not want to try out living. What’s the point of living if you have no spark? If you don’t have a spark, then what even is your purpose?

And that’s where the message of the movie comes in. Pixar movies always carry a heavy, emotional message that can sometimes make them seem like they’re too sad to be “kids’ movies.” However, I think Soul has an absolutely perfect message for both adults and children:

Life isn’t about fulfilling some great purpose bestowed upon you by the universe, it’s about living. It’s about enjoying being alive and finding things that make you enjoy the wonder of the world.

This spark that 22 is searching for isn’t found by eons of trying out soccer or painting, it is only found when they go out and live for themselves. They try delicious food, see the sky, feel the breeze, so many little things that seem so insignificant in our daily lives but are actually essential to the enjoyment of life. At first, all the sights and sounds are overwhelming to 22 and they despise living. It is in the quiet moments, like when they catch a helicopter leaf falling from a tree, that they gain the desire to live.

Part of what I like about the ending of Soul is that we don’t get to know what filled in the last spot on 22’s Earth sticker. Not even 22 knows. And it doesn’t bug me not to know, because it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that 22 wanted to live. Why is it important what the spark is? They’ll find out eventually. What was really important was that 22 possessed a new-found zest for life that wasn’t there before.

As for Joe, he becomes a good guy. Did it take the entire movie? Yes. But it happened eventually. Honestly, it was never that Joe was a bad guy, he was just so wrapped up in himself and achieving what he thought was his true purpose, that it overshadowed every other aspect of his life. Joe was so obsessed in getting the thing he thought would make him happy, that he didn’t try to be happy in other fields of his existence.

It is only after he gets what he thought he wanted, that he realized he was still unfulfilled. And that’s because he was convinced this thing he sought after was his only purpose for existing, when really it was just his spark that is supposed to be something you enjoy in life, not your overall purpose.

It was only after Joe saw 22 live his life, that he discovered what he should be doing with his. 22 was an inspiration to Joe to appreciate the small things in life, and see the beauty that he was too blinded to notice before. It took a pair of fresh eyes to see what he’d been missing in his life.

Joe became truly good with his ultimate sacrifice. Joe was entirely consumed with getting back to his life throughout the entire movie, his empty, sad life; but after seeing 22 live so fully in just one short day, he realized the things he thought were important weren’t really what life was about. He was willing to sacrifice his own life to give 22 a shot at experiencing it for themselves.

In a world where life is all about gaining, in our society where “the grind never stops”, it’s important to take time to focus on the little things, like 22 did. Catch a falling leaf, enjoy a slice of New York pizza, watch the clouds go by. Do your best to find happiness in the small things, the things that you’d miss if it disappeared forever. Like rainbows, and stars, and a piece of candy. Just try to enjoy it to the fullest.

Funnily enough, the reason I didn’t like Soul the first time was because I simply wasn’t paying much attention. Of course, that’s enough to make any movie confusing and unenjoyable. I missed all the subtle beauty of the movie; the wonderful message it conveyed was completely lost to me. Much like Joe, I was too distracted to see the little things. These little things, these little scenes and moments I had missed the first time, were what made the movie so amazing.

The movie ends on a such a beautiful line. “I’m going to live every minute of it.” That’s what we should all do. Because that’s what life is all about, that’s our great purpose:



A Fall of His Own Making

We don’t need to wait on history to recognize that the fall of Donald Trump’s literal and figurative fortunes over the last week is the stuff of a Greek tragedy, not lacking the Furies driving him from the stage. On the morning of January 6th, Trump had lost the presidential election, yes, but he was still a force to be reckoned with. Twitter account in hand, he was, for better or worse, the front runner for the GOP’s presidential candidate slot in 2024 — and if he couldn’t be or didn’t want to be the candidate, he could still exert massive influence on who would get the slot. If not king, then the kingmaker. Skeptics (waves) would and did point out the myriad of legal and financial issues awaiting Trump in his post-presidency. But Trump had been in legal and financial quagmires before, and had always managed to fail upwards. It was possible, against all odds and with a pool of fervent, credulous former voters, that he could do so again.

On the evening of January 13th — a mere one week later — the best Trump could do for himself was keep his presidential pension. He was, most obviously, impeached for a second time, on the (accurate) charge of inciting an insurrection. His senate trial will apparently have to wait, but the historic shame of a second impeachment is his forever. He is literally half the presidential impeachments in the history of the United States. He is radioactive politically; all but the dimmest of QAnonic political figures have (correctly) disavowed him, in name if not in policy.

Trump’s business and financial connections have severed themselves from him dramatically and unambiguously; he has no way to raise money in his post-presidency now, and has hundreds of millions in debt waiting for him. His biggest fans are now wanted by the FBI. His Twitter account, the violent nuclear heart of his power, is no more. He doesn’t even have Parler at this point; at most he can settle for Gab. And of course he still has all the legal issues he had before the attempted coup — and more now, all waiting for him when he’s finally shown the other side of the White House door six days from today.

Who is to blame for this historic fail, and this monumental fall? Why, he is, of course. Trump’s inability to process defeat and his abject terror at being branded a loser is the very cause of him becoming, definitively, the biggest loser in American history. He has lost not just an election; he has lost his power. He’s lost his aura, his invincibility, his mojo, his swagger. In place of his heedless and fear-inducing bluster, he now has a querulous whine, a mutter as he wanders the White House halls, complaining not to social media but to hapless, bored aides about an election that wasn’t, in fact, stolen from him and which he now has no power to make others pretend it was. Here is a defeat of his own making, one for which he cannot blame others, although he will, since he is psychologically incapable of blaming himself.

We don’t have to wait on history, but as it happens, this is how history will remember Donald Trump: Not as a forceful, charismatic authoritarian, but as a corrupt and pathetic wretch, who spent the final days of his presidency shouting at the walls about how the world is against him.

He is correct in that much. The world is against him, because the world, finally, no longer has to pretend to tolerate him. He has done this to himself through fear and hubris and a smallness of soul. The rest of his life will be spent in the full knowledge that his name represents not success, but a failure so abject and profound that there is no other comparison to it.

He will pretend it doesn’t bother him. We all know that will be a lie. It will bother him, every day, from now to his end. He will deserve every moment of it.

— JS

Novel Writing Status, January 2021

Picture in which people who do not want to talk about politics talk about politics
Cartoon by Emily McGovern. Visit her site by clicking on the image.
John Scalzi

So, Scalzi,” you ask, “how is the writing on the next novel going here in January?

Thank you for asking. The answer is: Not well at all!

And the reason, of course, is [gestures at the world]. I made the comment a couple of weeks ago that it wouldn’t actually be 2021 until January 20th at 12:01pm, but turns out neither I nor anyone else really had any idea just how 2020 the first couple of weeks of January 2021 would be.

Here’s my here’s how my January novel writing has gone so far:

January 1-3: Hey, it’s New Year’s weekend, maybe actually relax and get ready for the first work day of 2021 on January 4.

January 4: Here we go! Aaaaand: 250 words. Okay for the first day back!

January 5: Another 250 words. All right, but, gotta bump up those numbers, those are rookie numbers.

January 6: Well, fuck.

January 7 – 10: Seriously though what the actual fuck

January 11: Okay, focus! Sooooo here’s another 100 words plus moving some stuff around to see if it’s any better in a different configuration, okay, no, not really, fine, but still, you did something, that’s a victory, take it

January 12 (today): Gaaaaaaaaaaah fuck where is my brain

And the answer to that is the same answer as I think most other people have at the moment: Following the news to find out what Our Seditious President and His Traitorous Party are up to today. To recap: The president just ordered a hit on Congress and also American democracy; his enablers in Congress are in deep denial about that and/or trying to pretend, like the abusers they are, that it’s somehow the Democrats’ fault; and all the president’s little insurrectionist foot soldiers are apparently waving their Trump flags and screaming “we’re coming back to do it again next week!” This is not conducive to writing novels, folks, or at least to me writing them.

(“But you’re writing this, how is that different?” Well, because this is reaction. It’s me processing events; I don’t think after 22 years of this site being around that it will come as a surprise when I tell you that one way I contextualize and get a grip on the world is to write about it here. Reaction is a different writing muscle than creation, and my creation muscle works best when its owner (that’s me) isn’t freaking out about the world (or is sick, which is a thing that happened last November and December).)

(Also, I think it doesn’t help that the current novel I’m writing is meant to be a little darker than what I usually write, is a war story, and has a political subplot (in the context of that universe, not this one) which helps drive the story. To the extent that writing fiction can be seen as escaping this world into a different one without the problems of our own, the world I’m “escaping” to is, as a matter of structure and story, not at all better for my overall mood.)

The next novel is meant to come out in October; it’s January and I’m nowhere near done with it. I can still get it done in time for October, depending on when I do finish it, and how much of a crush we put — again — on the editing and production processes. Tor gave me extra time with this novel so that I could get it in early enough that we could have a leisurely production process and have more time to market/promote it. This was a fabulous idea, which happened to run smack into 2020 (and this bit of that year’s hangover), and the various physical and mental challenges that year offered.

As they say, it is what it is. I’m responsible for getting my work done, and while Tor and the people I work with there have been more than understanding about where my brain is and how it’s had an impact on my productivity — in no small part because they’ve seen that impact with other of their authors, and themselves — I still feel bad about the current state of my novel. One of my great selling points is reliability; like the Post Office, I deliver in rain and snow and sleet and dark of night. But like the Post Office, our current situation is really fucking with my reputation.

I feel bad about that — but I feel bad about it up to a certain point, and not much after that. Without qualification, we live in extraordinary times, times that have no exact parallel in our country’s history. I wrote this on Twitter the other day:

And the thing is, it’s true. January saw a bomb go off under our democracy, put there by a president whose own emotional frailty made it impossible for him to accept that he was voted out of office, and by a political party who saw a concrete benefit in pretending that a legitimate, legal election was anything but. Both the president and his party spent months energizing the worst among us into the violence that we saw last Wednesday, violence which may continue in the week to come, and perhaps even beyond that. To be clear, the events of last Wednesday are not a direct parallel to 9/11 (Twitter folks immediately started nitpicking that, because of course they did), but they are on the same level of wrenching national impact.

And, well. How bad should I feel about having my ability to write a novel impacted by that? How bad should I feel for at this moment prioritizing the real world over a fantasy world? In both cases: Not all that much! Right now, I feel intellectually that the real world is where my attention should be. And also, even if I did not feel that way intellectually, on an emotional level my brain is going to focus on the real world anyway. I can either fight it or accept it. I’m going to accept it.

Here’s my plan from now through 12pm January 20: I’m not to preclude the idea of getting work on the novel done, but I’m also not going to fret if it doesn’t, because, after all, [gestures at the world]. After 12pm January 20? Well, I suspect I’m probably going to need a day or two to see how things shake out immediately after the switch in administrations, and then we’ll go from there. Please know I don’t expect the world to immediately change into a happy land of cakes and flowers in the week after the inauguration. I’ll just be looking for the signs that it’s all right to start thinking about other things again.

Why do I tell you these things? Two reasons. One, to the extent that it’s useful for me to say “Hi, I’m an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of many books and someone who has been writing professionally for 30 years, and this last week has fucked up my brain, don’t feel bad if it’s done the same to you,” I’m happy to do that. You and your fucked-up brain are not alone.

Two, if in fact my next novel doesn’t get released in October, and is punted down the schedule a bit, the events of this month, and a bunch of the stuff leading up to it, is some of the reason why.

I’m okay with that, and you should be, too. Neither I nor Tor, nor any other of my publishers, has any interest in putting out something that reads like I was distracted and unfocused. If the book comes out in October, it means I was able to get back into the novel’s world on time. If not, then you’ll be glad I took the time to get back into the novel’s world. Simple as that.

That’s the state of my novel writing, right now.

— JS

The Big Idea: Tim Pratt

For Doors of Sleep, author Tim Pratt dreamed a little dream… and then another one, and another one, and another one after that. What does all that dreaming mean for the novel? Read on.


Doors of Sleep is probably the most elevator-pitchy, high-concept thing I’ve ever written. It’s a multiverse adventure, following the adventures of a character named Zax, who suffers from a peculiar malady: whenever he falls asleep, he wakes up in a new reality. Sometimes he opens his eyes in nice places—pastoral wonderlands, techno-utopian cityscapes, orbital habitats full of amiable posthumans—but other times… he ends up in worlds that are rather less nice. 

He can’t control where he ends up. He can’t even control how long he stays, except through the use of stimulants and sedatives. He can’t go home. He can take people with him, if they go to sleep in his arms when he transitions, but they inevitably get separated, or simply choose to stay behind when they find a world they like. (When I told my agent about it she said “It’s like Doctor Who combined with Quantum Leap,” and yeah, that’s a pretty good comparison really.) 

Zax isn’t from our world. He’s from a slightly more technologically advanced reality, where he trained to be a harmonizer, a sort of social worker devoted to helping people thrive personally while also contributing to the whole of society. (That means I couldn’t solve plot problems with creative violence, which was a nice challenge.) Of course, the nature of his condition means he’s never part of any society, and though he tries to help where he can, he never knows if his actions have had any lasting impact or unintended consequences. (“How do I know who my protagonist should be?” new writers sometimes ask. “Whoever would suffer the most” is one reasonable answer.)

When I conceived of the book and put together a proposal, I worked out a plot and supporting characters and complications and reversals and betrayals and arcs and all that, but there was one part of the book I deliberately declined to prepare in advance (apart from a couple of key scenes): the different worlds.

I’m one of those hybrid writers, not quite pantser and not quite plotter. I usually know the broad plot strokes and key emotional beats of a novel before I start writing it, but I leave myself room to improvise, surprise myself, and figure out exactly how I get from a problem to the solution. If I meticulously planned every scene, the writing process would lose much of its sparkle for me. (I’ve compared writing a novel based on a super-detailed outline to chewing gum that somebody else has already chewed. Which is disgusting. I’m sorry. But there you go.) The parts I don’t plan are the parts where the magic of inspiration happens.

The best part of writing Doors of Sleep involved exactly that magic: it’s the dozens of worlds I got to invent. Some of them I get to explore for many pages, and others are depicted in just a line or two, but every world is meant to be a spectacle or a revelation. 

I wanted the alternate worlds in this book to be really weird. While I enjoy parallel-universe stories where small tweaks make big changes–some historical figure chokes on a fish bone instead of going to a meeting and the fate of nations shift —I wanted to do something way more widescreen and over-the-top with this book. I knew much of the joy, for me, would come in discovering those worlds at the same time Zax did. 

Often, if I wrote a scene where Zax fell asleep, I wouldn’t know exactly what kind of world he would wake up in until I started writing it—usually there were lots of possibilities that could serve the needs of the plot–and I had so much fun inventing wildly bizarre landscapes, along with places that seem more mundane, until some twist reveals itself. 

There’s a world where fast-moving glaciers trapped technological wonders in fields of ice, just waiting for someone to come along and chip them out; where living skeletons with onyx eyes and hydraulic muscles worship at fountains of blood (laced with anticoagulants, of course); where people live in literal bubble-habitats so they’ll only encounter people who agree with them on social, philosophical, and political issues. There’s one inspired by J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World, where a shimmering armor has crept across everything; another where giants covered in moss and lichen amble through slow-motion wars (in low gravity, because otherwise, how could they get so big?); one where “gentleperson naturalists” in airships made of forcefields study the local flora and fauna, willfully ignorant of the sapience of their subjects. There’s a grim plain where basalt pyramids hold sleeping horrors; a pleasant little city where blood is a form of currency; the wrecked spacecraft of a sect who went searching for the homeworld of God. 

And more, and more, and more: space stations, planets, underground cities; worlds close enough to Zax’s lost home to break his heart, and others so strange he can barely comprehend them; places where he makes friends, and, almost always, loses them. Getting to invents scores of imaginary worlds was the thrill of this book (and why I’m eager to write another in this universe). What makes it a good novel (I hope!) is the characters who inhabit those worlds, and the way they see them, and the way the changing worlds change them

Doors of Sleep: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Wearing Masks, Then and Now

Athena ScalziBack in January 2018, I was traveling from California back home, and I was sick. I had gotten sick halfway through the week of visiting my family, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t travel. However, I was sick enough that I knew it was a bad idea to be in public, especially an airport. I knew that I was more than likely going to infect people if I flew, and I obviously didn’t want to do that. So I wore a mask.

My cousin had one of those blue, surgical masks that were super popular at the beginning of the pandemic, before anyone had the more “fashionable” masks. She said I could have it to wear at the airport. I wore it the entire time I was in the Sacramento airport, on the plane, and in the Dayton airport.

I got looked at like I was a freak.

People gave me weird looks, even dirty looks, the entire day. I’m not just talking one or two people, I mean practically every stranger I passed. From the people in line at security, to the people sitting at the gate with me, to those on the plane, almost everyone that looked at me made a face, or gave me a look. It really started getting to me. I felt like a weirdo, like there was something wrong with me, but I was just doing it in an attempt to protect them from me.

I was extremely lucky with my seating arrangement. I had the first row, there was no row across from it because it was adjacent to the bathroom, and there was no one in the seat next to me. Which meant no one was in my immediate vicinity.

The only person who didn’t actively look at me weird was the flight attendant. Bless her heart, she was so nice. She brought me extra orange juice and napkins after I threw up in the airplane-provided bag.

After my experience with wearing a mask in public, I wanted to write about it. I was tempted to make a thread on Twitter talking about how so many people looked at me weird for doing something completely sensible and normal. But at the time it felt like overreacting, like I was being too sensitive or that it wasn’t really a big deal.

But now, eleven months into the pandemic, where people are still shamed for wearing masks, called “sheep” or “pussies” for complying with mandates and attempting to protect others, all I can think of is that day two years ago. Even now, when I go into Kroger or Walmart and there’s signs plastered on every door that masks are required, I get looked at funny by the people that aren’t wearing one. Why am I the weird one?

Why are we, the ones that are trying to protect others, looked at like we’re the bad guys? I truly don’t understand anti-maskers, and I know it’s because I have what they lack. Empathy. Anti-maskers are unempathetic; to the people dying, the people suffering for months on end, the families planning funerals. They only care about their “freedom”; the freedom to risk the lives of others by going out and exposing people to a deadly virus. Anti-maskers are selfish, and have no compassion for their fellow citizen.

Why is it so hard for them to wear a piece of cloth in front of their face? Why is it such an unbearable burden to put a little bit of fabric over their mouth for the ten minutes they’re in Dollar General? Why is it an inconvenience to protect others?

I often think if the USA had the mindset that China or Japan does, where it’s common to wear a mask if you’re sick to protect others, that we wouldn’t be in this situation. But we as a country have never really been the community-oriented type. This pandemic should’ve made us more so, but sometimes it seems like it has done the opposite.

(Side note, if you’re someone who calls people who wear masks pussies, fuck you.)

So, in conclusion, please wear a fucking mask. Yes, we’ll make it through this, but so far two million people worldwide haven’t. A lot more will make it through this if we all wear a mask. Please.


%d bloggers like this: