Seeking Beta Readers

So, I’m starting writing Book of the Dumb 2 on Thursday (depending on client work — I may slip until Monday if I’m feeling lazy) and I’m looking for certain special someones to be the beta readers for the book as it comes off my fingers. Being the wanton exhibitionist that I am, I find writing something like this for an audience helps me bang it out. I’m sure there’s some psychological explanation for this need, but who cares? Look at me! I’m writing!

The responsibilities of beta readers are thus:

1. Read the material and (hopefully) enjoy it.
2. If you are so moved, let me know when I’ve misspelled something, or dropped a word, or have made an egregious grammatical error. Also, if you know I’m totally off on something I’m presenting as factual, it’d be nice if you clued me in.

The payment: Bupkus, although as with the beta readers of the first Book of the Dumb, I’ll be happy to acknowledge you in the book. And of course, you’ll get to read for free what everyone else will have to pay $12.95 for (not that you shouldn’t buy the book, however. Your name will be in it, after all).

The beta reader group will be fairly small: No more than 30, of whom I have already chosen a couple. If you were a beta reader before and want to repeat, you can ask, but I do intend largely to pick a new group of people. As with the previous group of beta readers, I also intend to pick at least a few people I don’t know particularly well, so if you’re interested but have never spoken/written/waved to me before, don’t let that stop you.

If you’re interested, here’s what you do: Drop me an e-mail today or tomorrow (3/31 or 4/1) and let me know you’re interested and also tell me a little bit about yourself. I am open to bribery, although, come on. It’s not really worth all of that. I’ll let everyone I choose know by Monday where they can go to read stuff. So if you don’t hear from me by Monday evening, sorry.

As I noted, I’m planning to keep the beta group fairly small and with a diverse mix of readers, so if I don’t select you, please don’t think it means I think you’re an awful person who smells funny and reads by moving your lips. Really, it’s not that at all. You know I love you, and that thing you do. You know, with that other thing. Yeah, that’s it. Also, of course, I’m sure I’ll need beta readers for other things in the future. Like (knock on wood) Book of the Dumb 3.

Anyway, let me know if you want in.


A Car Accident

There were two things I noticed about the dog before it hit my car. The first was that it was a beagle — I could tell by the body shape and by the brown and black spots on the coat. The second was that there was no possible way it was not going to hit my car.

Which is not to say I didn’t make the attempt to avoid the connection; I swerved. This is why, to be blunt, the dog only hit the forward edge of the car instead of going under the wheels. In one of those things that is a little strange to be thankful for, it was a relatively clean hit: When I stopped the car and got out to inspect the damage, there was no blood on the bumper and nothing on the wheels. I imagine the dog’s head and upper body hit the bumper and then the animal quickly went in the other direction. It’s pretty clear also that the dog was dead the second it hit the car. I think this is a good thing.

I saw the dog the fraction of a second before it hit the car; I didn’t see the hit but I heard it and I felt it. I immediately pulled over to the side of the car and Krissy and I did our own internal triage: We were fine, Athena was fine and our dog (who was in the car with us) was fine. Although I believe the collision was unavoidable, I managed to keep control of the car without much of a problem; I was a fan of ABS brakes before but now even more so. Athena was of course very upset that something had happened, so both Krissy and I made ourselves very calm and explained to her that something hit our car but that everything was fine and we just had to check some things. I got out and inspected the damage: the front bumper on the driver’s side was caved in, but otherwise superficially the car seemed fine.

That part of my brain that does these things did the quick math for f=m*a: Beagles are not very large dogs, and I’m reasonably sure the dog didn’t hit square on. And yet the damage to the bumper was extensive; I doubted this was something a body shop was just going to hammer out. My wife works in insurance and sees the damages that’s visited on cars that have been hit by deer or livestock, and it’s literally like someone hit a wall made out of blood. I’ve never hit anything larger than a bird before, so while I could intellectualize the idea that a deer, or a cow (or a person) could destroy a car, the understanding of it pretty much wasn’t on my radar. It is now. I also very much understand the idea that you have that fraction of a second where you perceive something leaping toward your car and you process the knowledge of what is going to happen next without having the ability to do anything about it.

You have no possible idea of how grateful I am that this incident didn’t involve a human being. As it happens, when I was 10 years old, I was hit by car. I leapt out from between two cars and into the road to cross a street and got whacked by a Pinto; the impact threw me about 30 feet into the air and turned by right tibia and fibula into powder. I can’t imagine how that poor man who hit me felt (he was out of his car and helping me the second after it happened; he didn’t run and as far as I know he never tried to avoid blame), but considering how I felt after I felt the dog hit my bumper, well. 25 years on, my heart goes out to that guy.

Once it was clear that we were all right and the car was not destroyed, I went back to look for the dog. I doubted it was alive but if it was I needed to know, and in any event I would want to know if it had any tags or other identification so we could find its owners. Dogs are part of homes; legally there’s probably no “hit and run” penalty for hitting a pet, but speaking as a pet owner I know I would hate it if my dog went missing and I had no idea what had happened to her. Being a decent human being meant going back to find the dog.

I didn’t find the dog; I found the owner, in front of whose house I hit the dog. Her first question was about me and my family and if everyone was okay. I assured her we were fine and that I was coming back to find the dog. She mentioned that her son had already picked up the dog from the road and asked again if we were okay and then told me that she would be happy to give me any insurance information I needed. I walked back with her to her house to get the information and she said that she had gone to feed the cats when the dog got out and headed for the road. She had heard the hit from our car and then another as another car hit the animal (the other car, from what I could see, did not stop).

The dog lay in the driveway, next to the family cars. It was dark enough that I didn’t see the dog or any damage very well, but it was clear enough that the animal was lifeless. As I said before I imagine it was dead the instant it hit my car, but to the extent that something like this can be considered good, it was good to see that whatever suffering the dog had was brief. It’s hard to know your pet has died. But I imagine it would be harder to have that pet have lived even briefly in such terrible pain.

I told the owner that I was very sorry for her loss, and she said something I think was very important, which was that up to the minute the dog had died that it knew it had been loved. It had had a good life, with people who cared for it; it was never abused or hurt. It had known happiness; it had known love. At one point she reached down and touched the dog, as if to say goodbye. I have no doubt that what the owner had told me was true: This was a dog that was loved, whose life was good until the moment it died. For a dog, you can’t ask for much more. You can’t ask for much more if you’re a human, either.

We’re fine; the car can be fixed; the dog is dead. Our insurance companies will handle the details and assign legal blame for the purpose of paying for the car. I am very sad for the family and woman who lost a beloved pet, and grateful that her first contact with me, the one whose car it hit, was one of concern for the well-being of me and my family, and understanding that the death was something that I wish with the whole of my heart had not happened. It take some measure of grace to be able to do that. If my dog were to run in front of someone’s car, I could only hope that I would have the same understanding and concern that she showed me and mine.

For my part, I’m fine. I wish the dog hit not been in front of my car, but I am convinced there was little I could have done to avoid it. It was night, it was a rural road, and the dog was moving quickly toward my car. I did what I could in the circumstance to do the right thing for my family and for the family who owned the dog. As far as awful things go, this one ended as well as it could, and I’m satisfied that I did as many things right as could be done. All the same, it’s not something I’d want to have to go through again. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone.


Quick Note on Clarke and Right-Leaning Blogs

(Quick unrelated note: In the comment thread I note the appearance of the 6,000th comment posting on the Whatever since I switched over to Movable Type. It’s the second posting, so feel free to check it out. I say nice things about you (speaking in the second-person plural sense).)

I’ve been blogging quite a bit about Dick Clarke over on the Detroit News blog (link — and the link to my entry archives is here), so I won’t repeat myself here; just go over to the Detroit News blog and see what I have to say on the subject. But to get a bit blog-centric here, I will say that I’m very nearly dumbfounded at the extent to which many right-leaning bloggers appear to be totally clueless as to how bad Clarke is making the Bush administration look — to be blunt, he’s making them look like secretive, paranoid blunderers, and he’s adeptly coring the Bushies’ core re-election issue (i.e., the idea Bush as done a good job fighting terror) and hollowing it out in ways that deeply compromise it now and which set the stage for larger pummelings to come.

Clarke’s Sunday Talk Show Massacre this week is a perfect example: Rather than imploding under the weight of Republican hints he’s a lying sack of crap, he’s dared them to declassify everything he’s ever said, which he certainly knows they won’t do. But it doesn’t matter; he’s called their bluff, and when they fold, the Bush folks won’t just look bad, they’ll look weak — and that plants the seed of doubt which will undoubtedly blossom over the next several months (the handwritten “thank you” note from Bush that he propped up on TV was a nice touch, too). This is beyond bad for Bush, who frankly has no other issue on which to run. Really, what else does he have? The economy? Well, let me just say this about that: It’s hard to tell people the economy’s better when they can’t find jobs. The war on terror is all Bush has got, and it’s getting taken away from him.

But you wouldn’t know it on the right side of the blogger table, where they appear to give the impression that it’s already settled that Clarke is a dissembling aggrieved bureaucrat, and we can all move on from here. Well, no, guys; it’s not settled. Clarke’s credibility is high (because unlike any number of Bush administration members one can name, he’s testified under oath and publicly) and getting higher as he leads the Bush administration into rhetorical corners and then hands them buckets of paint to slather about themselves. Let’s have a moment of bracing clarity, here: When the best the Republicans can do regarding Clarke is Bob Novak’s implication that Clarke’s real issue with Condi Rice is that she’s black, that’s a pretty good indication there’s nothing more substantive to go after this guy with.

So why aren’t right-learning bloggers being more honest with themselves that Clarke is kicking the hell out of the Bush administration — and that he’s using the Bush administration’s own inclinations toward paranoia and secrecy against them, i.e., hoisting them on their own petard? I mean, come on, now: Even if you don’t agree with Clarke’s message that the Bush administration is staffed with incompetents, at least you can admire the craft with which the message has been delivered. The Bushies have been defending themselves against the same guy for ten days now — ten days! Even Bush’s pathetic deflective attempt to gain goodwill by tossing up the idea of broadband for everybody by 2007 was shown to be just that — deflective and pathetic. Come on, right-wing bloggers, just come out and admit it: Clarke is beating the Bush administration like a festive piata. You’ll feel better when you do. And you’ll get candy!

But I doubt they will, and here’s why: Most right-wing bloggers I read are either generally neutral on Bush or actually sort of dislike him for every other thing except the War on Terror — but their focus on that War on Terror is such that when it comes to it, they’re willing to put up with everything else — the contempt for most Americans, particularly the ones who are not rich, the fundamental disregard for entire swaths of the Constitution, the unseemly theocratic leanings — because they believe Bush’s actions since 9/11 have kept them safe; the entirety of their political thinking, therefore, can be summed up in the words “There’s a War On.” If Bush is in fact shown to have been negligent or incompetent in the execution of this war, what happens is that these poor folks are going to have their noses rubbed in the fact they’ve willingly compromised every other important political position they have in order to put their trust in someone in whom that trust was entirely unwarranted. In short, they’ll look like they’re naive dumbasses. For the sake of their own personal political self-image, they have to defend Bush’s war on terror to the bitter, contradictory end.

Let me make it easy for these guys: Yes, I believe that Bush’s moves after 9/11 have in many ways made this a better and safer world in the long run (for Americans). But it does not necessarily follow that Bush actions were the best actions — indeed that they were even primarily correct actions. To use a metaphor here, if a patient is gravely ill with a disease in his leg, the doctor who amputates that leg at the hip might save the patient’s life — but a more competent doctor could have saved the leg and the life. Is it ungrateful for the amputee to note that a more skilled doctor could have saved his leg — or to wish that a more skilled doctor had been the one wielding the knife — or to make sure the less competent doctor doesn’t get a chance at his other leg?

Bush is an amputator par excellence — of the many things that people say about him, positive or negative, “subtle” has never been one of them — but it’s entirely fair to ask whether an amputator is what was required then, and certainly whether such drastic services are still required now. Personally, I am glad for the leadership Bush provided directly after 9/11, and I’m glad his “moral clarity” allowed him to make some important, correct decisions. However, I do not delude myself that all — or even most — of Bush’s implementation of those decisions have been skillful to any degree, either in the War on Terror or in the Invasion of Iraq. Some 18 months ago, regarding the Iraq War, I noted that it was possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Today I will note it’s entirely possible to do the right thing, and do it really badly.

Bush has done things really badly in the War on Terror and the War in Iraq. Clarke, whatever his other motivations, is entirely correct in pointing this out to the public. I feel sorry for the right-leaning bloggers that they can’t seem to wrap their brains around the idea that Bush could have good ideas and poor execution, but that’s their karma, not mine. I’m just glad it’s not me. My head would hurt.


Different. Better.

Anyone who reads the Whatever knows how much I adore James Lileks, but this bit from Friday’s Bleat is puzzling me:

So if Al Qaeda had failed on 9/11, do you think OBL and the rest of the merry band would be sitting around a table in Kabul holding hearings about who was to blame? I tend to think they would have moved on.

Well, see, the thing is: Aren’t we supposed to be different than OBL and his merry band? Oughtn’t we have, well, higher standards in terms of accountability? Shouldn’t we expect our leaders to do a better job of understanding the failures of their policies than a bunch of zealots hiding behind a holy book to justify their amoral and immoral acts? Can we not expect the citizenry of the United States to be offered a better quality of introspection on an executive level than bin Laden may feel he’s obligated to provide his followers?

I mean, I hate to be touchy-feely about this, but I think we are, we ought, we should and we can. If nothing else, I’m an American, and that means that by virtue of the fact my government works for me (is it not, after all, as one of our executives put it, “of the people, by the people, for the people” — of which I am one?), I should not unreasonably expect it to resolutely examine 9/11 in order to gain as complete an understanding of it as possible. My government owes me explanations. I’m not terribly interested in blame; I’m interested in knowledge. I’m interested in comprehending what happened and why. I’m interested in knowing how my government has conducted its business since 9/11 to keep our nation secure, and if it has (or can) do so while still keeping the essential character and quality of our country intact. If it means having some hearings, well, again, not to be touchy-feely here, but it seems such a small price to pay for what we as a nation stand to benefit.

No, bin Laden and al Qaeda wouldn’t have hearings. But that fact is to my mind not a recommendation against having them. Indeed, I’m rather pleased to discover ways my leaders and my government are not like these two. It beats discovering that they might have too much in common, I would think.


And Now, Some Music

You know, I was going to write a piece on politics, but the mere thought of doing so crushed me with such a wave of nausea and bile that I decided that I’d just fiddle around with my music sequencing program and maybe put together a composition instead. Here it is. I call it “Perfect Moment,” because that’s the title that popped into my head. It’s a streaming Real Audio file, and yes, I know Real Audio is evil. But that what my ISP allows to stream off its servers. Take it up with them.

P.S. — If you do want to read me rant about politics, remember I’m still doing a guest blogger stint at the Detroit News’ Politics Blog. Here’s the link to the whole blog. If you just want my spoutage, here’s that link.


Handling it Well

Okay, after a week of writing about writing, I am personally ready to move on to other topics for a while. However, as a parting thought, I want to offer up an example of a writer who, unlike the much-belittled Jane Austen Doe, handles the vagaries of the writing life with some amount of grace. And so we turn to Pamie. Pamie, as many of you know, is a writer with a very popular Web site and a well-regarded and generally well-reviewed first novel. She’s been shopping around a second novel, and in this entry in her Journal (separate from her blog, you know), she talks about some of the troubles she’s been having selling it. Her eventual response to this is, I think, almost abnormally healthy:

So what do you do? I have to move on. I want to keep writing books, so I don’t want to pass up the opportunity to write more instead of stalling here. I guess this manuscript needs another draft, maybe when I’m a little older, maybe when I’m a better writer.

And so she’s moving on to other things. Now, I would imagine there’s a fair amount of emotional stuff about this decision Pamie isn’t getting into in the entry; any writer knows that it’s difficult to have worked on something for a long time and then have to come to the conclusion that it has to be let go, even if just to shelve it pending another draft at some unspecified point in the future. The point is, whatever that process, she’s done it and she’s doing what she needs to do to keep writing and hopefully keep publishing.

This is one of the reasons I think in the long run Pamie’s going to have a fine writing career: She gets that writing books is a business and that sometimes even things you love aren’t always right for the business end of it (the other reasons she is going to have a fine writing career are, in no particular order, that she’s smart, she writes well, and she’s funnier than a shaved koala). Unlike the lady in Salon, she doesn’t seem to be looking for sympathy or outside forces to blame. She’s just getting on with it.

And so I say onto Pamie: Rock on. Also, of course, consider book #2 pre-ordered, whatever that book may be and whenever it may come out.


Cafe Society

Hee hee hee hee. I have to say I find it very amusing that the thing being most discussed about my recent spate of writing advice is the part where I mention that writers sitting in coffeeshops with their laptops aren’t fooling anyone. The response here generally seems to be: “But… but… I do go to my coffee shop to get writing done! Honest!” Well, okay. If you say so.

Update 3/25/04: The comment on the coffeeshop thing I’m most amused by, from here:

Oh, Christ! I was reading this on my laptop in the coffeeshop. Don’t let that redhead link to the page before I leave.

Thank you and good night!


Authors Whining

Since I seem to be writing about things writeresque the last couple of days, allow me to comment on Salon’s lead story today, in which a book writer details how publishing has broken her heart, and has caused her to — brace yourself — get a day job:

Dear Author:

Aw, shut up.

Perhaps it’s because my first exposure to the fiction market was a genre market (i.e., generally not a whole lot of money to throw around), or that my introduction to the book world was informational non-fiction (see above), or maybe it’s because, I don’t know, I think I would go insane if I put all my writing income eggs into one basket. But the point of fact is, I never expect to support myself from writing books alone. I just don’t.

I love writing books, fiction and non-fiction both, and I want to do it the rest of my life. But given the amount I’ve made from my books so far — and I have sold six, so I figure I’m officially not a novice author anymore, even if it is still reasonably early in my career (I hope) — I’d be a fool to give up my various rather more regular writing gigs (i.e., my day jobs), which allow me a more consistent income. That income pays my mortgage and my bills and allows me not to freak out about what the hell I’m going to do if my next book doesn’t sell to a publisher. If my next book doesn’t sell to a publisher I still get to eat and have electricity. That’s not bad.

The article also reveals the preciousness that some of the author clan seems to have regarding jobs not involving writing books. Clearly this writer sees a day job as the mark of failure, an idea that will come as a mildly offensive surprise to the thousands of authors who see themselves as successful and yet also manage to hold down a day job as well. Yes, maybe authors don’t like the idea that they might need to hold down two jobs, but I don’t have time for that sort of stupid thinking. My mother consistently held down two really crappy jobs for most of my childhood — one cleaning the houses of other people and the other varying depending on time and circumstance, but generally shitty regardless — and all she got out of it was a few bags of groceries at the end of the week and the knowledge she’d fed and clothed her kids once again. How horrible for writers that they might have to consider lowering themselves like that when all they get out of it is a published book.

Articles like this just enrage the hell out of me and make me think that my tribe is populated by jerks with a sense of entitlement the size of a hot air balloon (and as subject to the random winds). Are authors as a class this disconnected to the real world? My personal experience tells me no, but then again most of the writers I know are genre writers, who despite their fanciful subject matter seem to be grounded in the realities of the economics of writing books. I doubt this woman writes science fiction or romance.

Of course the article is also running in Salon, which has a history of chronicling the “misfortunes” of unfathomably privileged people who by all rights should be beaten in a public square for their heedless lack of clue. This article is right up taht particular alley, a far-flung reminder that Salon’s staff and contributor list of overfed liberal twits are still living in a 1999 mindset in which clever people are given stupid sums of money for no especially good reason, and are shocked beyond belief at the prospect of a world that is not, in fact, their personal teat, endlessly alternating between skim lattes and Diet Cokes.

I do feel sorry for this author, but not the way I’m supposed to. I’m mostly embarrassed for her that her cri de coeur comes off as the lament of someone who simply does not understand why the world does not love her and give her money and fame. I’m certain that this was not her intent: I do believe she’s warning authors coming up not to make the mistakes she has in assuming that writing is still valued, and that the business of writing (that is to say, the publishing world itself) can still support the writer. To that end, I disagree with the first — people still love to read — and am neutral on the second. Yes, I would love for my book writing to support me and my family. I invite any of my publishers to make that happen. I assume it never will.

Paradoxically, this does not chain me down; I think it frees me to write what I want and not worry about anything other than the writing itself. To put it another way: Because I am not overly worried about money, I got to write a popular book on astronomy (now in its second printing. Yay!) — a life goal for me because I love astronomy and want to help other people love it as much as I do. I also got to write two novels pretty much exactly as I wanted to write them. They may be good or they may be bad (we’ll see), but I didn’t have to worry about anything other than writing books I’d want to read.

This is freedom as a writer. I don’t know that I’d trade it.


My Internet Decade

Hey, look at this: My very first USENET post ever, dated March 20, 1994 — exactly 10 years ago today. Fortunately, it’s not one of me asking someone for porn.

I wish I had something deep to say about it being the 10th anniversary of my appearance on the Internet — you know, something to say about all the things I learned, all the friends I made and all the wacky adventures I’ve had. But I do all that anyway, pretty much every day, so I’ll avoid being bloviatingly redundant and just say it’s been a fun and interesting decade and I’m very glad the Internet exists because otherwise I doubt I’d be able to live my life the way as I do — which correspondingly means that my life wouldn’t be as good as it is. As technology, it’s critical to my career, and as a way express myself, well, look at where I’m writing this.

Anyway: 10 years. Let’s move on.


Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice

For various reasons which I will not go into at the moment because I don’t feel like it, I have the urge to provide wholly unsolicited but practical advice to writers. So here it is. Why should you as a writer listen to my advice? No reason except that I published two books last year, will publish two books this year and am likely to publish another couple of books next year, and aside from that I make a whole lot of money doing what I do. On the other hand, I am also famously a cranky blowhard who readily admits to having his head up his ass a lot of the time. So take it or leave it.

1. Yes, You’re a Great Writer. So What.

Let’s be clear on this, so there’s no confusion on that matter: No one cares that you’re totally the best writer ever. They just don’t. Because while people want their writers to be many things, “the best” isn’t usually one of those things. Readers want you to be entertaining. Editors want you to have commercial appeal and not be a pain in the ass to line edit. Publishers want you to fill a hole in their production schedule. Book stores want you to stimulate foot traffic in their store. None of that inherently has anything to do with being a great writer. If you can do one or more of these things and be a great writer, nifty. If being a great writer keeps you from doing these things, well, pal, expect to be deeply underappreciated in your time. Somewhat related to this:

2. I Don’t Care If You’re a Better Writer Than Me.

Because why should I? Yes, words drip from your pen like liquid gold skittering across the finest vellum ever pounded out of a lamb. Trees weep with gratitude that their deaths afford you the paper upon which you will cast your thoughts. That’s very nice for you. Meanwhile, I’ve got my own books to write, projects to develop and clients to make happy. Your preternatural ability to weave filigreed musings into deathless prose impacts my life not at all.

I of course accept your superiority to me in the great hierarchy of writers — clearly, confronted with your brilliance, how could I not? I just don’t care. Unless you intend to spend all your time trying to thwart my career because you can’t bear to contemplate my muddy work sullying the field of endeavor over which you float, carried by the angels, simply as a practical matter what you do and what I do will have very little to do with each other.

I suspect my feeling here will be echoed by other writers. Be as brilliant as you want to be, friend. Just don’t expect the rest of us to look up from our toil to stare agape as you waft by. And somewhat related to this:

3. There is Always Someone Less Talented Than You Making More Money As a Writer.

Why? Because life (and publishing) is capricious and cruel, that’s why. Some fat bastard has been rewriting the same book for the last 25 years, and each “new” book is even more of a pointlessly smudged photocopy of his last book than the one before it, which in turn was a smudged photocopy of the book before that. And after his thick, retarded lummox of a book is planted in its own stand-up display smack in the middle of the store’s primary traffic pattern, the author is going to take that money, buy a gorgeous house on Lake Tahoe with it and use the excess cash to charm smart, pretty, ambitious girls and boys to have rampaging sex with his flabby, liver-spotted body while he watches Nick Jr. on his 83-inch high-definition plasma television. Because he can. Meanwhile, you’re lucky if a single copy of your achingly beautifully-written trade paperback, for which you were paid barely enough to cover three month’s rent on a bug-infested Alphabet City 5th-floor walkup, is shelved spine inward in a forgotten limb of the bookstore for a month before its cover is amputated and sent back to the publisher as a mark of abject failure. Welcome to the literary world!

Just remember when that happens that someone else’s retina-blindingly gorgeous manuscript — which is so much better than the tripe you write that you hardly deserve to know of its existence — lies neglected in a slush pile at a publisher, to be pawed over by a summer intern with as much taste in books as a heat-addled aardvark, before being returned 15 to 22 months after it was submitted. Yes, that’s right: You’re one of the lucky ones.

4. Your Opinion About Other Writers (And Their Writing) Means Nothing.

In one of the comment threads on this site, a correspondent mentions that another writer was telling her that no editor would ever buy my novels — and later that very same day I announced that I’d been signed to a two-novel deal, and that the books would be coming out in hardback. Why on this subject was this other writer so clearly and obviously wrong, wrong, wrong? Well, simple: Because he knows nothing — or at the very least, he knew nothing useful about the market in which these books would be in play. His opinion was that I was a bad writer and my books stank, but the reality was someone in a position to buy my work thought I was competent enough and the book good enough to purchase (and to justify another book purchase from me, sight unseen).

This is not to pound on this particular writer for knowing absolutely nothing about the market he was presuming to comment upon. Well, actually that’s a lie: it is. But allow me to be the first to note that there are a lot of books out there — really successful books — that I wouldn’t have given a snowball’s chance in Hell of ever being published. And yet, there they are, selling millions. Why? Because I know nothing, too. As writers, our jobs are not to know anything about other writers and their work; our jobs are to work on our own writing.

This is not to say one can’t have opinions about other writers and their work; we can. We all do. But we shouldn’t bother pretending that our opinions have any relation to how that writer and his or her work will fare in the world. Speaking as a writer, and someone with an opinion, I don’t need to validate my opinion by assuming it has a greater significance than being my own opinion. I have enough of an ego to feel that it merely being my opinion is good enough.

5. You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, You Know.

I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn’t be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said “Looking For Sex.” Go home, why don’t you. Just go.

Admittedly if everyone followed my advice the entire economy of Park Slope would implode. But look, do you want to write, or do you want to get laid? No, don’t answer that. Anyway, if you really want to impress the hot whomevers, you’ll bring your bound galleys to the coffeeshop to edit. That’ll make the laptop tappers look like pathetic chumps. We’re talking hot libidinous mammal sex for days.

6. Until You’re Published, You’re Just in the Peanut Gallery.

This is regarding your thoughts on the publishing industry, mind you (you’re still perfectly entitled to your opinions about what you like and don’t like. I know, it’s nice of me to let you have that, right?). And no, CafePress and the various Publish-on-Demand iterations don’t count. There’s nothing wrong with those, in my opinion, and of course I “published” my first novel on my own Web site, and I think that novel is perfectly good.

But it’s not the same, because (among other things) if it were the same then people who get published that way wouldn’t have to spend so much of their time defensively suggesting that it is. You have to be really published by someone who is going to pay you money up front, and then get walked through the secret handshake and all the mysterious Gutenbergian rituals, and that thing with the hot type pressed searingly into your trembling but willing flesh, before anyone who is published gives a crap about what you think (and even then they don’t think much of it — see previous points).

Yes, it’s snobbery. So what? You make it sound like snobbery is a bad thing. Anyway, not being published yet doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it just means you’re not published yet. But writers feel about people spouting off about writing like Marines feel about civilians spouting off about the Corps; unless you’ve done your time, you’re just farting through your larynx. Get published and then come back and tell us what you think about things.

7. Did I Mention Life’s Not Fair?

Well, it’s not. Take me. I got my first book sale because my agent thought of me when a publisher was looking for a particular kind of book. No effort required. Sold my first novel off of my Web site. Not much effort required there, either. Sold my second novel off a one-sentence pitch; see above (the writing of that novel, however, required a lot of effort). And now I’ve got myself a nice little book franchise with the Book of the Dumb books.

Lucky? Well, duh. However, it’s worth mentioning that around the same time I sold my novel for a modest little sum, some 19-year-old named Christopher Paolini had his self-published fantasy book called Eragon snapped up by Knopf for $500,000; now it’s a best seller and they’re going to make a big expensive movie of it for Christmas 2005. So I’m lucky, but our young friend Paolini hit the friggin’ jackpot.

Is it fair I have a book career through little effort of my own (aside from the trivial but necessary step of writing the books), while others of equal or greater talent plug away for years with no success? Nope. Is it fair that Paolini is a best-selling, fairly rich author at 20 years old while I have to wait until I’m 35 to have my first novel in the stores — and others have to wait even longer (if they ever get published at all)? A big fat “nope” to that one, either. Life isn’t fair. It really never has been and it seems awfully naive to expect it to become that way anytime soon.

I am happy to grant that some of the success I have had has been a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but I don’t feel obliged to feel guilty about taking advantage of that fortuitous positioning, since the end result is a good life doing what I want. And if you’re in a position to take advantage of similar luck, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it either. Chalk it up to an advance on your karmic balance; try not to screw it up.

8. Don’t Be An Ass.

Did you know that writers, editors and publishers will forget their own names and the names of their children, spouses and pets before they forget the tiniest of slights that you as a fellow writer might inflict upon them? It’s true. Verily, they could be in the throes of an advanced, prion-twisting affliction that wipes their memories clean like a Magna-Doodle in an MRI, and yet if your name is but whispered from across the room, their eyes will blaze and they will exclaim “that bastard!” before lapsing back into the blank darkness. That being the case, why would you go out of your way to antagonize these people unless it is absolutely necessary — which it almost never, ever is?

In this life, and in this field, you’re going to have enough problems as it is. Don’t make any more enemies than you have to. Try to be nice. And if you can’t be nice, then shut the hell up and go stand in the corner with your drink and leave all the rest of us alone. Yes, yes, you’re right and everyone else is wrong. That — like your immense talent — is a given. But just because you’re right doesn’t mean you should be a dick about it.

9. You Will Look Stupid If You’re Jealous.

Just as there will be writers with more success and less talent than you, some of your writer friends will do better than you, by whatever standard you decide “better” counts as. And you know what you should do? Be happy for them, you neurotic twit. Because it’s more than likely that their success has almost nothing to do with you — which is to say that if they were less successful, you would probably still be no more or less successful than you are. Life is not a zero-sum game; the fortunes of others do not mean our own fortunes are diminished. I mean, for God’s sake, there are 280 million people in the United States. Do you really think the success of one of them in your field of work negates your ability to be successful? Jesus. A little self-centered, aren’t we.

So, suck it up. Be happy for your friend. Not only is it what you’re supposed to do as a friend, and thus its own very good reason, but it’s also the way to make your friend get the idea that now that he or she is successful, they’re going to go out of their way to help you. So if you can’t be happy for your friend for his or her own sake — optimal — do it for the career opportunity it affords you — less optimal but we can’t all be cheerleaders, can we.

(And if turns out you are the most successful among your writer friends, well, you know. Be a pal.)

Being jealous of people you don’t even know, incidentally, is so rock-dense stupid that I’m going to pay you the compliment of assuming that you wouldn’t do something as pointless as that. You’re welcome.

10. Life is Long.

So long as you don’t intentionally step out in front of a bus, chances are pretty good you’ll make it to 70 or 80 or some bone-deteriorated age like that. That being the case, what are you worried about? Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the process of writing. Revel in the joy of creating whatever it is you’re creating and don’t worry. For some people writing success happens early, for others later, and for most somewhere inbetween. Did I think I’d be in my 30s before I sold my first novel? No, but there’s lots of things about my life I didn’t expect — and since I can’t imagine why I would want my life to be any different than it is, I guess that this is good thing.

Life is long. You can write all the way through it; this ain’t gymnastics, after all. Live life, do your writing, and get used to the idea that things happen when they happen. There’s no timetable. There’s just life, and any part of it can be as good as any other to be the writer you want to be.

I’m done.


Someone Getting Stuffed

Today Teresa Nielsen Hayden expends a considerable amount of verbiage pounding on someone who wrote her a letter taking her to task for calling a writer an “idiot,” because apparently as an editor (and an editor of science fiction books, of all things), she’s not allowed to say anything bad about writers, and certainly not publicly. Teresa corrects this impression, primarily by noting that, in fact, she can say anything she wants, so there (however, she does it in a much more compelling style).

Normally I wouldn’t say anything about this — Teresa pounds on the arrogant and clueless on a regular basis — but given her description of the letter writer, I’m pretty sure I know who it is. Teresa noted that the fellow was given to trashing writers himself: “The most notable instance I found was back in 2003, when he devoted considerable column space to trashing an author whose novels Patrick had bought a few months earlier.” I suspect the author referred to is me. If so, it narrows down the field of possible candidates for the identity of the letter writer. As Teresa has not outed her letter writer, I won’t out him either, except to note he’s commented here before and I’ve linked to his site on at least one occasion (interestingly, to an entry where he expended considerable column space trashing my writing. I’m just perverse that way). If I’m wrong about this, I’m sure this person will let me know.

I don’t doubt the letter writer will be upset that a private letter has been slapped up on the ‘net and publicly beaten like a piñata (he was distressed when I linked to his opinion piece about the quality of my writing), but one of the truths of online communication is that everything eventually shows up there. People also have sliding scales regarding what is public communication and what is private. Some people will post any e-mail they get, some will post it if they don’t specifically refer to the person who sent it, and others regard all e-mail as private unless otherwise stated.

I fall into the last camp myself, but there’s nothing wrong with the other two policies, and one ought not assume that just because you assume an e-mail message is private that the recipient will do the same. So, in short, never write anything in e-mail form that you’re not willing to have splashed on the Web and ridiculed. I imagine that might trim down the amount of e-mail out there. Actually, I imagine it won’t. Although maybe it should.

Regarding the content of the letter itself: Eh. I’ll leave it to Teresa and her unnamed correspondent to hash it out. However, I do think Teresa has an obvious point in that her quasi-public persona as a Tor editor does not prevent her from saying what she wants, how she wants to say it, in her own private Web space (“private” meaning privately-owned). One does not take a vow of silence when entering the editing field — even (as apparently presumed by Teresa’s correspondent) a subsection as lowly as editing science fiction. In any event, if one were entirely circumscribed in one’s speech by one’s work, the online world would be far less interesting, and a great deal less contentious. And in this specific case Teresa’s not even bagging on a writer to whom she owes some duty (as she might with a writer whose book Tor has purchased and she is editing); she’s just responding to some guy. Really, what’s the problem.

(Apropos to this, however: Teresa, if you’re reading this, should you ever feel the need to publicly nail my hide to the wall, by all means go right ahead. I won’t presume any public disagreements we might have would impinge on your ability to do your job as it relates to any work of mine you have in front of you. You’re far too professional and competent for that. So that solves that.)

In all, a fun little tempest in a teacup. Check it out.

Update: Talked with Teresa. Yeah, it’s the same guy.


My First Franchise

I have the contract in front of me and I’ll sign it as soon as it’s printed, so it’s about as official as it can be: I’m writing Book of the Dumb 2, which I kind of hope when it comes out in stores might be called Book of the Dumb 2: Book of the Dumber (incidentally, the picture above is not the official artwork; it’s just me playing with Photoshop). Consonant with the Portable Press tradition of very short timelines on books, this book is actually scheduled for release in September, so as you may imagine, I’ll be getting to work on this one Real Soon Now — that is to say, probably not long after writing this Whatever.

I’m pretty excited about this for a couple of reasons. One, I like the Book of the Dumb idea: It’s fun to write to and I think people enjoy reading the results (at least, enough do to warrant a sequel). The new book will have much of the same sort of content, with a few new elements to keep things fresh, but it’s mostly a formula that works, so why mess with it too much.

Two: Hey, I have a franchise! It’s the closest thing to sure money a writer gets; as long as one doesn’t betray the reader’s trust by making a lousy book (which I don’t expect I will) there’s no reason not to ride this train for a while. To be clear, it’s not entirely my train; Portable Press owns the name of the series, for example, and can boot me any time they feel like it. But for now they like me and I like them and everyone’s having fun and making money, so choo choo choo, let’s get this engine out of the station.

As long as people keep doing stupid things, this series has legs. And — bwa hah ha hah! — people show no signs of stopping doing stupid things any time soon. I could be doing this for a while. I’m okay with that.


A Moment of Uxorial Praise

I’d like to take just a minute here to recognize my wife, the fabulous Kristine Blauser Scalzi, who while I was away took it upon herself to clean my office. If you know anything about me, then you know my office is pretty much a portal to the fifth circle of Hell, which is reserved for the slothful. Well, Krissy sealed up the portal and returned the office to a state that is fit for human habitation, for which I am truly thankful. I don’t know what I did to deserve this woman (indeed, many have suggest I don’t deserve her), but whatever it was, I’m glad I did it. My wife rocks.


New York and Etc.

Like most out-of-towners I enjoy the hell out of New York every time I’m there. First, of course, it just makes me feel like a bigshot to say “I’ll be in New York on business,” as opposed to what I usually say, which is “I’ll be feculently marinating in my home office, banging out copy.” Also, it makes me feel like an actual writer to go and spend time with my editors and my agent, and sit around with them and talk about the business. I imagine all people in all lines of business do this, but I submit to you that there’s something especially romantic about talking about the business as it applies to publishing. The next closest thing, I suppose, would be movie people talking about their business, but I think publishing has it beat because it is simultaneously more earthy (on account of there’s not usually untold millions in cash being bandied about — writers are more tethered to reality, income-wise) and more relaxed (because writers aren’t desperately looking for someone to cough up millions in order for them to do their thing). And of course, writers and editors and literary agents are all dreadfully witty. It’s instant Algonquin! Just add liquor!

I am becoming more aware of the fact that my social circle does now in fact include other professional writers and authors, which was not necessarily the case earlier — I have great friends, but most of them do other things. But these days I have cause to interact with writers, and it’s a lot of fun. While I was in New York, as an example, I had the pleasure of having breakfast with Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld, who managed to shoehorn me into their schedule even though they were on their way to Sydney Australia later that day. This puts them among the ranks of the seriously cool in my book (aside from the fact they’re awfully cool to begin with). Hopefully my relationships will other writers will never devolve into the morass of sniping and bitterness they appear so often to do. I don’t expect they will; if I want to snipe at people all I have to do is go on USENET. I’d rather not snipe at fellow writers in the real world.

Likewise it was again a real pleasure to be able to spend time with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, the dynamic duo of the science fiction publishing world, with whom I was fortunate to have dinner and conversation. I also was occasioned another trip to the Tor offices, which are still delightfully and frightfully overstuffed with flammables left and right. While I was there, Tor’s art director Irene Gallo showed me the cover of my book — the actual painting, as it was still there — and I have to say I’m pretty damn pleased. No, sadly, I won’t be displaying it for you now because I forgot to ask if I could, and in the absence of an actual “yes” from Tor, I’m loath to put it up. I don’t want to step on toes. But trust me, it’s pretty cool. I was also finally able to meet with Ethan Ellenberg, who is my fiction agent, and the more I know him the more I’m pleased he is my agent. So overall, a trip filled with literary goodness. You can’t ask for more.

This trip also marks the first time since 9/11 that I’ve been to the World Trade Center. I had been avoiding it in my previous trips simply because I didn’t want to make a special trip just to gawk at the wreckage — my own personal feelings about the site did not require that. But now they’ve reopened the PATH station at the WTC site and as I was staying with a friend in Jersey City, I traveled through it several times during the time I was there.

Needless to say, all the debris has been carted off, but the knowledge of the absence of these huge buildings is overpowering. Quite honestly, I don’t really see the need for a memorial on the spot; simply leaving it as it is would be compelling enough. I know that each time I wandered through the PATH station during the day there was always a group of people with their digital camera, documenting The Pit:

Interestingly, I never saw anyone do the tourist thing of having someone else snap their picture in front of it. I guess most people realize this isn’t the usual tourist attraction, and that posing with it just didn’t feel right.

My trip was a working visit, but my work schedule was more relaxed than it usually is and now that I’m back at home I’m looking at a schedule that’s nicely packed with work over the next month or so. I’ll have some fairly interesting work-related news in the near future which I’ll share when the time is right; but otherwise it’s back into the swing of things after a nice break. And as I’ve noted elsewhere, it’s nice to be home. Going places is great, but I actually like coming home better. Maybe I should travel more to get more of that feeling.



Quick note:

I’m back in Ohio. I’ll be updating later today — right now jamming through some work for a client. Stay tuned. And go about your lives. Two opposing ideas, I suppose. But you know what I mean.


Leviticans in Action

First, an administrative note: This is the 400th Whatever since I started using Movable Type. It comes a little less than a year after I started using it (about two weeks shy of a year, actually), so I’m averaging a little more than an entry a day. Not bad when you consider I take off days at a time.

Second, another administrative note: A reminder that from today through next Monday I’m in New York and am reasonably unlikely to update. It’s not to say I absolutely won’t, but, you know, don’t hold your breath. I will do minimal updating for the By The Way (on account of I get paid for that), so if there’s nothing new here, you might try over there.

Now, in case you’re wondering what a Levitican looks like up close, take a gander at Michael Heath, the executive director of Maine’s Christian Civic League, a group whose goals include, among other things, “to reflect, in all ways, a genuine Christian compassion and respect for all people.” This group was agitiating for a state constitutional amendment that would ban same sex marriage, but this idea didn’t get far, as the Maine Senate decided against creating a committee to draft such an amendment. In apparent retaliation, Heath announced on the CCL Web site that the League would start trolling for information on the sexual orientation of Maine’s legislators:

In this age of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Sex in the City,” it is only appropriate that all of us here in Maine understand the “sexual orientation” of our leaders. Since this matter of “sexual orientation” is of such fundamental importance that we must turn civilization on its head to accommodate it, we feel duty-bound to help you gain a better understanding.

We will therefore be writing about state leaders in coming months regarding their “sexual orientation.” We are, of course, most interested in the leaders among us who want to overturn marriage, eliminate the mother/father family as the ideal, etc. The list is long, so we won’t lack for material.

Heath asked readers to send “tips, rumors, speculation and facts” for the project. So, in effect, Heath was looking to start a witch hunt and asked the faithful to bring the torches. Heath of course denied this: “This isn’t a witch hunt, but this is about sexual orientation in terms of what is going on as it pertains to public policy.” The implication being that if you’re for same-sex marriage, you’re probably a fag, and it’s best that you’re publicly branded as a sodomite, just so we good folk can know what to expect from the likes of you.

The good news here is that it appears Heath got his little initiative stuffed: There was outcry from all sides of Maine’s political community, and Heath ended up retracting and apologizing on his organization’s Web site:

I am sorry for indicating that the League is going to keep a list of the “sexual orientation” of public policy makers and leaders. In the midst of fighting for something I feel very strong about I wrote and said things that I should not have written and spoken.

Which is excellent news, although the wording of the apology makes me wonder if the League isn’t still interested in the information, even if it has no plans for “outing” politicians in a public fashion. But let’s be Christian and assume the fellow is indeed truly sorry for his obnoxiousness.

As a contrast to this, I submit to you the story of Michigan Republican Lorence Wenke, whom I wrote about for the Detroit News politiblog. He was one of the three Republicans in the Michigan Lege to vote against a proposed marriage amendment there, thus sending the proposed amendment to defeat:

He believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. But he had watched as a childhood friend was pressured into a disastrous marriage, with children, followed by divorce. The friend, now openly gay, married his partner last year in Canada. And Wenke also felt guilty about not helping another minority — blacks — battle for their civil rights…

“I do not support gay marriage,” said the 60-year-old rookie lawmaker who graduated from a Christian high school. “I do, however, support the creation and recognition of a legal arrangement between same-sex couples. Clearly, the intent of this amendment is to make sure homosexuals don’t get the same benefits as others.”

For his pains, declared a spokesperson for the American Family Association or Michigan, he’s likely to be challenged in the primary by another Republican. I presume one who is for keeping those uppity homos down.

To ask a purposely leading question, whose actions here seem more “Christian” to you: The fellow leading an ostensibly Christian organization who planned to pry into the sexual lives of legislators until he was shamed out of his plans, or the legislator who, although opposed to the idea of same-sex marriages, nevertheless voted down a constitutional amendment because he believed it was wrong and unfair? Who, to use the Christian Civic League’s words, reflects in all ways a genuine Christian compassion and respect for all people?

I’ll give you a hint, in case you need one: It’s not the guy who has the word “Christian” embossed somewhere on his business card. Isn’t that funny.


“Dogs and Cats! Living Together!”

This picture would be Hallmark card precious if, in fact, it weren’t located in the swirling vortex of slobitude that is my office. Be that as it may, it’s still pretty damn cute. And it also goes to show just how big Ghlaghghee has gotten, since Kodi is not exactly a small dog.

And yes, the two of them actually do get along this well in real life. Kodi will occasionally chase Ghlaghghee around the house, but then, on occasion Ghlaghghee will attack Kodi’s head for reasons which appear well nigh suicidal to the outside observer. They both seem to enjoy it. So why not. Obviously my concern would be regarding Ghlaghghee, who grown or not still barely rates as a fluffy morsel for a dog of Kodi’s size. But one of the nice things about Akitas as a breed is that they have a very good understanding as to who is family and who is not. Kodi is not above chasing the hell out of strange cats who show up on our property, but she knows to leave her housemates ungnawed. That’s good enough for me.


Busy, Busy

To answer the question of many (well, some — well, a few), no, I haven’t been taking a hiatus, nor does the guest blogging stint at the Detroit News mean that I’m not updating here. I’ve just been busy with the paid work. Specifically I’ve been doing a couple of projects for AOL, finishing up contributing to another Uncle John Bathroom Reader (that’s two I’ve contributed to this year, and I may contribute to a couple more before the year is out), plotted out a project proposal and prepared for some financial messaging work — I’m having a conference call on that project tomorrow. And I’m trying to jam in all this work early in the week because I’m headed to New York later in the week to meet with publishers, agents, business clients and — yes — even a couple of friends. So, you know. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off has been the order of the week.

I love it. I love being busy; specifically I love being busy with writing work (being busy doing taxes, or cleaning the house, or hosing down the cats — eh). I like the fact that somehow I keep managing to get to do the writing thing without needing to get that second job as a Wal-Mart greeter just really tickles me silly.

I do wish there were more regularity, however. I have definitely noticed that writing work comes in clusters — there will be some months (like this one) in which I’ll have everyone knocking on my door, and then other months in which if it weren’t for the AOL Journal and the OPM columns, I’d be up a creek without a mortgage payment (so AOL and OPM — I love you guys. Don’t go changin’). But there’s not much to be done about it. And given the choice between too much and not enough, well. You know where I stand on that.

But it doesn’t seem like y’all have been missing me much — I note that message threads have been well and truly active in my absence. I’m so excited that people play around here even when I drop out of sight. It’s heartening. And I notice that by and large, you’ve been playing nicely which each other. It is, indeed, much obliged. It’s nice to see that a certain level of decorum can be achieved, even with people who have strenuously differing viewpoints. I’m just so damn proud of you all.

Anyway. Just to let you know I’ve not abandoned the place — although given work and traveling, the next week may seem a little sparse. Just talk amongst yourselves. Before I leave on Thursday I may leave an open thread posting (a la the NielsenHaydens) and see what mischief you kids have come up with when I get back. I can trust you not to break things, right? Right?


Guest Blogging

Just a quick note: For the next month or so I’ll be guest blogging at the Detroit News Politics Weblog, writing specifically about the campaign. I’ll likely update on a daily basis. The main page is here; if you just want to read me and only me (which seems a bit churlish), you can go here. No, I’m not getting paid. On the other hand, I am getting even more exposure. So that makes it four blogs/journals/whatever that I write. Am I insane? Possibly.



The Oregon county Portland is in has begun to issue marriage licenses to single-sex couples, so that’s good news, but what I find especially interesting is the following comment by one of the county commisioners:

“Multnomah County cannot deny marriage licenses to gay or lesbian couples,” Commissioner Lisa Naito said. “We will not allow discrimination to continue when the constitution of the state of Oregon grants privileges equally to all citizens.”

Commissioner Maria Rojo De Steffey said the Oregon constitution “and my Christian faith allow me no other choice.” (emphasis mine)

I’m waiting for someone to be the first to call her a bad Christian.

What’s that? People can disagree on the subject and still be called Christians? So there’s not monolithlic agreement among the religious community on the matter? Interesting. Hope people remember that.

Also, while I’m on the subject, can someone tell the Republicans that the “Activist Judges” bit simply doesn’t fly? Last I saw, all the single sex marriages that have been performed to date in the US have done so under the aegis of local and county governments — not an activist judge among them.

I mean, if you’re going to have a talking point, at least pretend it has some relation to the truth.

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