Posted on April 1, 2003 Posted by John Scalzi 11 Comments
Happy April Fool’s Day. I hope you’re telling someone a big fat lie even as I type this. I haven’t done a major April Fool’s prank since the time I convinced the woman who was trying to prank me into thinking she got a new job (she was looking to get a job with me at AOL at the time) that I had taken her seriously and given the job I had open for her to someone else. There’s nothing sweeter than pranking those who are trying to prank you, especially when it involves money and/or employment. Alas, these days, the only people I have to prank are the pets, and they’re no fun. The cats would just run away and the dog will merely look up at me with her sad, sad eyes, as if to say, but why would you want to prank me? I love you. Stupid unconditional love.
In celebration of April Fool’s Day, however, allow me exhume an April Fool’s Guide to Pranking that I wrote, um, about seven years ago. And let me just say, good friggin’ lord, am I getting old. Enjoy.
Other people are celebrating April Fool’s, but April 1 has a different significance for me this year — it’s the opening of book season, the period in which my primary occupation will be grinding through the books I have contracted to write this year. In order to do so, I’ve largely cleared the deck of most freelance work except for a couple of specific clients who help me cover the mortgage, and I’ll be adopting (this is where you may gasp in shock and horror) — a schedule! Yes, a schedule, because nothing says “bite me, I’m writing” like a set in stone writing routine. Also, without a routine, I tend to flail and panic and instead of writing, I’ll give myself over to multiple bouts of first-person-shooter bot deathmatches, which is really unbecoming in a man of my advanced professional stature and level of male pattern baldness.
The two books in question are The Book of the Dumb and the second novel for Tor, which currently is running around without a title — I had thought of one, but then Patrick Nielsen Hayden, upon hearing it, said “Hmmmm… that sounds like a fantasy title.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that I’m not writing fantasy, I’m writing Science Fiction, which needs sharp, metallic, reflective pointy titles. Which, although I’ve never thought about it before, makes perfect sense. A science fiction book, no matter how good it is, isn’t going to go anywhere with a title like The Fluffy Ponies in the Candy-Coated Space Station of Love! Which is really too bad, if you ask me. So, title to come.
It’s a very interesting time to be writing my particular science fiction novel — the idea I sold to Tor was of (here’s the actual quote) “a diplomatic troubleshooter who solves problems through the use of action scenes and witty dialogue,” and at the moment, we’re living in a time where both diplomatic troubleshooting and witty dialogue have almost nothing to do with our current administration’s plan for resolving thorny international problems (although, to be fair, it’s very big on action scenes).
I don’t think there’s going to be any doubt that the current world situation here on Earth is going to leak into the adventures that will transpire in the book. Not directly, of course — it’s that whole idea of “If you want to send a message, use Western Union” which I whole-heartedly endorse — but certainly it’s food for thought whilst I write.
The temporal appropriateness of writing The Book of the Dumb at this moment in time is of course all too obvious, so I need not belabor the point. Let’s just say that for both books, the timing for me is good, almost too good.
Incidentally, regarding The Book of the Dumb, I’ll have an announcement to make fairly shortly — basically, I’ll be hoping for some audience participation, and I’m writing up the details for that right now. More is coming, so stay tuned.
So I am actually going to start writing the books today? Well, no — for all my deck clearing, I’ve got a couple of barnacles: A couple of assignments for my beloved masters at Official PlayStation Magazine (Hi, Joe!) and a series of additional articles for Uncle John’s which will actually take me a couple of weeks to complete. I’ll begin writing the novel probably as early as tomorrow, with the writing on Dumb to commence after I complete the assignments for Uncle John (they’re being published by the same people, so I’m sure they’d endorse this); in the meantime for Dumb I have some concrete setting-up exercises I need to do (which as I said, I’ll be sharing with the rest of you soon).
What it means that from now through the end of September, I’m primarily in book mode. I’m very excited about this of course — the natural habitat of a writer is to be writing books. Well, that and scrounging toothpick-speared finger foods from wine-and-cheese author events (other author’s events, of course). Unfortunately, I’d have to commute for those. Guess I’ll just have to write instead.
“a diplomatic troubleshooter who solves problems through the use of action scenes and witty dialogue”
Sounds like Kieth Laumer’s character Retief. I’ve only read one Retief book but he’s a “two-fisted diplomat” that is more concerned about results than appearances and always gets the job done.
This has nothing to do with the post, but I didn’t want to put it farther down, cause I didn’t want it to be missed: your link to The Whatever from the main site goes to the old page, where I am told to update my bookmarks.
The irony’s on you, John.
Adam, that’s not irony, just laziness.
Nevada, yes, I suppose not unlike Retief, although I’ve only read one Retief story in my life (and that after I already pitched the idea to Tor), so its a coincidental thing. As it happens, and regrettably for him, Mr. Laumer is dead, so the field is open for new interpretations.
Can I just say that the first dumb thing about The Book Of The Dumb is the title? The Big Dumb Book is just way, way dumber.
Jeez, man. Let me write the thing first.
Personally, I wanted to call it “Monuments to Stupidity,” but I like “The book of the Dumb” just fine. The Uncle John’s people thought up the title, and they know their market pretty well. I’ll trust them on this.
You might consider using “Book of the Dumb” as the subtitle, and naming the book CRETINOMICON. It never hurts to snipe curious Neal Stephenson fans :)
Something that might be of interest for your book of dumb (assuming that you are looking for such things, and that it fits), is what I like to call “the Sandwich question”. It goes like this:
Humanity developed cooked meat about the same time as it discovered fire, basically way back in the beginning…
Humanity invented bread somewhere between 8000bc and 5000bc.
Thus by 3000bc at the latest, humanity had all the tools necessary for the Sandwich.
But it took until 1762ad for someone to slap a piece of meat between two pieces of bread. Why in the name of the gods did this not happen sooner? Or if it did, why is the Earl of Sandwich remembered today?
This is, I think, an example of collective dumb on the part of the whole human race…
So, what’s wrong with “Sharp, Metallic and Reflective” for your novel title? I’d probably pick up a book with that title just to see what it meant.
Of course, it might help if your hero(ine) fit that description, in some way, shape or form…or, I guess, if something in the book did. :-) If it’s the hero(ine), then there may be some leeway given for poetic license for the metallic part. Maybe. :-)
I left off the “pointy” part, because it just didn’t seem to fit in as well, plus I like lists of three. :-)
CRETINOMICON, if your book went around by that title millions of Evil Dead fans would just think it had something to do with the Necronomicon from the movie. Good move if you want to sell a million more copies….bad move since I doubt it has anything to do with Evil Dead.
……..And there’s my moment of stupidity for the day……
Some of the best science fiction titles combine pointy reflective things with soft fluffy things, like “Do androids dream of electric sheep?”. The perfect title, if there ever was one!
There is simply no hook in purely pointy titles but to combine the contrary, ah, that is a magnificient and alluring thing.
“The Fluffy Ponies in the Candy-Coated Space Station of Love” sounds like an outtake from a Prince album, or a Philip Dick story when the drugs were really mellowing his harsh.
Just a thought in passing: how about “The Bok of the Dumbb” with an insert for the second “o” and a slash through the second “b”. Still call it by the correct name in the bookstore computers, but makes for a nifty cover design.
Be sure to let us know about the audience participation portion of the book sometime. I may have something for you.
I thought of Laumer’s books as well from your description. His Retief books at first mirrored the Vietnam-era times pretty closely, with bureaucratic models as if designed by Joseph Heller and a lot of “destroy the village to save it” kind of rhetoric. When the stories became more independent, lost a lot of its zing, and I found the last book unreadable. Sort of like M*A*S*H* when it went gooey on its characters. But like you said, Keith’s dead and I don’t recall any others like Retief, so it sounds crazy, but it just might work.