Molly Ivins, RIP

Aw, hell. Molly Ivins has passed on. She was one of the best political columnists around, someone who could turn a phrase so well it’d bite whoever she was writing about right square on the ass; just ask Dubya, who was a favorite target of hers. I’ve long admired her writing and her passion for speaking out about what she thought was right; newspapers are about to get a whole lot less interesting without her.

Here’s a tribute to Molly Ivins at Creator’s Syndicate; here’s her last column.

Wednesday Author Interview: Adrienne Martini

Over at By The Way, I’m interviewing journalist and author Adrienne Martini, about her book Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood, which is, in Martini’s words, “about families, Appalachia and mental illness — but funny, in the weird way that I seem to be funny. It’s like a good bluegrass song, complete with moonshine and harmony but without a drowning.” I thought it was an excellent book, and I’m not precisely the target market for memoirs about post-partum depression, so that should say something to you. It’s a good interview, too, so check it out.

The First Last Colony Review; Intriguing Pre-Review Comment

It looks like someone out there has read the ARC of The Last Colony and reviewed it on their LiveJournal; the review said “It’s like reading a well-done episode of Deep Space Nine.” This is not how I would have described it, personally, but I always did like DS9, so I’ll take the compliment. The reviewer does think I larder the book too much with characters that have friends’ names, which I suppose is a fair call, although this often has less to do with shoutouts and more to do with the fact I’m just bad at coming up with character names.

Not a review, but interesting all the same, a fellow who is about to review Coffee Shop says this: “I’m still trying to work out my reaction to it. All I will say is that pundits are getting younger.” Well, you know. I’m 37. Don’t know if that actually qualifies as young anymore, even for a pundit. In any event, with a delightfully ambiguous lead-in like that, you know I’m looking forward to the actual review.

Chunky McChunkerson Gets His Fat Ass Off the Couch

I’m clocking in at over 170 pounds these days, which is a bad thing for someone of my size and frame and age; really, at this point I’m just a couple of doughnuts away from the “spiritually defeated middle-aged white man” look, and as you might expect that’s really something I’d like to avoid if at all possible. So starting tomorrow I will begin an orgy of dieting and exercise to get myself down to what I feel is my ideal weight, which is between 155 and 160 pounds, and also to get myself out of the general state of torpid larditude into which I’ve gotten myself in the last few months, in which even the though of exercise makes me want to lie down until it goes away.

The first step: Dance Dance Revolution! And lots of it. I was actually doing quite a bit of this earlier and found it to be excellent aerobic exercise and good for getting the heart rate up, and I’ve already got it in my house, so that’s the easiest thing. Others I know are planning to use their new Nintendo Wiis for aerobics and weight loss purposes, and that’s sort of a compelling excuse to get one, but I don’t know how well I’m going to be able to make the argument to Krissy that we need to drop $250 on yet another video game system. So I’ll stick with DDR for now.

My first goal is to get my weight down; the second goal is to actually get fit. We’ll see how I do with both over the next few months.

Upgrade Day


This should be fun. Depending on how fun it is, I may be working on it a while. However, so far, so good. I’ll let you know when my PC is back among the functional. On a side note, this is why it’s nice to have a PC and a Mac. While one is upgrading, the other is working just fine.

Update, 9:18: Upgraded and up and running without too many incidents — downloading some new drivers now.

The Place to Which the Good Ship Lollipop Goes


Athena had a school assignment in which she had to make a project with exactly 100 pieces to it, and this is what she came up with: A candy island. The land is colored marshmallow, the trunk of the palm tree Rollos and the palm leafs sectioned candy fruit wedges. All on a shoebox ocean. I thought it was pretty clever, myself, especially the part about using Rollos for the trunk. My only concern is that one of her classmates might eat it before the teacher sees it. These are the risks you take in the rough-and-tumble world of second grade school projects.

A Novel in a Weekend?

For those of you who find the pace of National Novel Writing Month a little too leisurely, Gabe Chouinard has got your number:

I’d like you to join me, therefore, in the first annual urban drift Novel(la) in a Weekend challenge, if you dare. It will run from (your) Friday afternoon (February 2) until Monday morning (February 5) (I’m here on CST). The rules are simple: dedicate the entire weekend to churning out a Moorcock-esque short novel. Post excerpts of your progress on the forum. Or, just hang out and encourage the participants.

In sum, Gabe’s hoping to get a bunch of people to crank out, oh, 12,000 words a day for three days. You know, for fun. You could be one of them.

For the record, I’ve actually done something close to this when I was wrapping up The Android’s Dream; I wrote about a novella’s worth of text on that book in the last three days. Will I be doing it this weekend? Well, I don’t know about that. I am writing the followup to TAD at the moment; at the very least, I will also be writing this weekend.

If you want in, follow the links and pester Gabe about it. And then stock up on the caffeine.

How to Hit a Deer


Yesterday while Krissy was heading to work, a deer bolted out into the road and struck her car. As anyone who has ever had a vehicular encounter with a deer will tell you, this is usually a fine recipe for totaling your car. Due to Krissy’s good reactions and smart driving skills, however, her car got through the incident with a dented passenger side door and that’s about it. She’s fine, the car’s mostly fine, and the passenger side door still latches securely. As far as hitting a large mammal with your car goes, that’s about as good as it gets.

Off the Grid: An Open Thread

Athena’s home sick today (she’s not horribly sick, merely just sick enough that it’s best she not head to class and infect all her friends) and I have plenty of non-blogging related things to catch up on, so I’m going to skip out on all y’all today. Try to have fun without me.

This is an open thread. To get you started, a topic for you:

The book you’ve been meaning to read, but just haven’t gotten to yet.

(Note: exclude the host’s books from the list, because he’s more interested in hearing about other books.)

See you tomorrow.

Happiness Is…

Being sufficiently competent at touch typing that I can type on my laptop in a completely unlit room and still make only about the same number of typos that I make when I can see my keyboard perfectly. It’s finally happened at age 37! I can die happy!

Technical Request

Mac users of Firefox: For some reason the “White Castle = Not Hamburgers” single entry is causing Firefox 2.0 on my Mac to choke; the page comes in fine on all other browsers including Firefox 2.0 for the PC and Safari on the Mac. If you’re on Mac and have Firefox 2.0, could you check to see if that entry also causes you problems? I want to know if it’s just me (yes, I cleared my cache; that’s the first thing I did). Aside from browser choking there seem to be no other issues; my Mac is fine otherwise, as is the browser.

If it does cause you to choke, close out your browser, fire up your browser again, and let me know (of course, you can also let me know if it doesn’t cause you any problems — both data are valuable). If the same problem is happening to other people, then I’ll need to look at the entry to see what’s causing the problem. Otherwise, I’ll just chalk it up to my own personal browser weirdness.


TAD Review in the San Antonio Express-News

It’s a positive review, which makes me happy, and pats me on the back for “cleverly subtle writing” while noting that “the bizarre factor is off the charts.” I’m subtly bizarre! That’s what I’ve been saying for years.

It’s also a take on the book that is pretty much entirely different from any other review I’ve seen, in no small part because it focuses on a character other than Harry Creek, and asserts an aspect of that character’s nature that no one else has. Is the reviewer on to something? I will remain prudently ambiguous on the matter, although I think you can make a cogent argument to support the reviewer’s thesis.

Note, however, that in making the argument the review presents what I think is a pretty big spoiler, so be aware of that before you click through. Here’s the link. I suspect any discussion of the review will also contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book, you might want to avoid the comment thread to this entry.

Tempting, Tempting

Quick note: The Amazon ranking for Coffee Shop right now is at 1,057, which (aside from the fact it was in the low 300,000s yesterday, so we’ve had a healthy uptick) I’ve been informed may be the highest Amazon ranking yet for a Subterranean Press book. Now, this is primarily because Subterranean Press sells the vast majority of its books through its own site or through fine specialty booksellers, but it’s still a nice little landmark, so thank you.

Also, I have it on good authority that if it cracks the 1,000 mark, Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer may actually wet himself with excitement. I’m more than half-tempted to buy a copy myself to see this happen.

Update, 2:08pm: #992. Bill Schafer says “Holy f-cking Depends!” Indeed, Bill. Indeed.

Update, 6:23pm: #623. Really, what are the odds I’d see that number at that time?

Thanks, folks. You guys rock.

Coffee Shop Review in Booklist


Hey! Booklist reviewed You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, and it’s a really positive review. Aside from calling me “One of sf’s most inventive rising stars,” which is always nice, the review says:

Whether advising how to handle rejection or debunking concerns over online book piracy, Scalzi writes with irresistible panache, making his insights into the writing business as entertaining as they are instructive.

Awesome. Also: Thank God. If the Booklist review of Coffeeshop had said something along the lines of “clearly Scalzi hasn’t the slightest idea what he’s talking about,” I think I might have slit my own throat. The good news here is that Booklist is the magazine of the American Library Association, which means that now the book might pop up on library purchasing radars, which would make me very happy. On the flip side, this is a limited edition — 500 copies — so if you’re wanting your own copy, you might want to hurry with that order. February will be here sooner than you think.

White Castle = Not Hamburgers

“Chuck in Chicago” went to an In-N-Out Burger store in Arizona and was disappointed in the fare he received, which is unfortunate, and something I suppose could happen, although I personally have yet to be disappointed with the service and food I got at In-N-Out. But when he left a note about it here on the site, he crossed a line. What line is that? Well, it’s best I let the comment speak for itself:

I was in Scottsdale recently and made a trip to In ‘n Out burger after I read your comments touting their burgers. What a disappointment! I could make a better burger at home with ingredients from any supermarket. I doesn’t come close to White Castle, Steak and Shake, Fuddruckers or any other decent burger place. It is cheap, which may explain some of the attraction to those with no taste buds. And the service sucked as well! Please stay away from trying to be a food critic in the future.

This was my response:

White Castle is dog food on a tiny bun, Chuck, and the fact you think it’s better than an In-N-Out suggests there’s something seriously physiologically wrong with your tongue. You might want to get that checked out. Also, you have my pity.

Your admonition to not be a food critic in the future is also hereby ignored with prejudice, since any claims of the superiority of White Castle to any other burger, much less an In-N-Out burger, suggests something medically wrong with the claimant. This is because by any objective standard the White Castle slider is the appalling and degenerate tail end of the burger family, and is lesser than all other burgers ever created, up to and including a half-eaten microwavable burger purchased at a gas station and left rotting for seven days in the hottest July on record in the liqueur that marinates at the bottom of a slaughterhouse dumpster. Seriously, dude, you need an MRI or something.

Look, Midwesterners. Let me speak as one who lives among you and knows your sometimes incomprehensible ways. The rest of us know you love your White Castle, and, really, we’re content to let you have it. But the very second you claim that those vile, dwarfish patties of indeterminate origin are good by any other definition than the “this is something my intestines won’t quite reject,” or, possibly, the “we’re doing our part to clean up Mother Earth by recycling all those dead possums you find on rural highways” sense of the word, you lose. White Castle is as far from being a good burger as it is culinarily possible to be, a sort of anti-burger, if you will, that if it were to ever meet a real burger, would annihilate itself, not in a physical “anti-matter meeting matter” sense, but out of pure and simple shame. Claiming a White Castle slider represents a good burger is like pointing to mole rat and saying it’s an excellent example of a giraffe. You’re just so wildly wrong that all the rest of us can do is stare, agog, at the wonder of people who are actually capable of confusing the two.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Chuck in Chicago enjoys his White Castle. I just feel sorry for him that those insidious little squares of minced rodent and sawdust have so disfigured his tastebuds, so crushed and denatured them and inured them to a life of deprivation, that when they were confronted with an actual burger, a superior burger, his brain simply couldn’t decipher their joy. It’s like the burger equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome. You can’t argue with that. You can just try to understand.

In any event. Midwesterners, it’s okay if you like White Castle. Just don’t expect any of the rest of us to go along with the theory that they’re actual hamburgers. And for God’s sake don’t suggest to us that they’re better than other hamburgers. You’ll never recover your credibility, not just on matters of food but indeed on any other subject which requires critical evaluation. Because someone who is that wrong on something that obvious is simply not to be trusted. Pitied, yes. Trusted, no.

Sunset With Venus


Say hello to the first sunset picture of 2007, and look! As an extra added bonus, there’s Venus, saying hello. This is the first really clear sunset we’ve had in a while, which is kind of frustrating for me, since I had been hoping to see Comet McNaught earlier in the month. I suppose I may have a chance again once the comet gets a little bit of a distance from the sun again. In the meantime Venus is putting on a pretty nice show.

Old Man’s War, German and French Editions


Someone in one of the comment threads was wondering if there were any German editions of my books, which prompted me to go to and find out if the German translation of Old Man’s War was listed. And indeed it is: Apparently in Germany it’s going by the name Krieg der Klone, which, somewhat loosely translated, means “The Clone War.” Here’s me hoping LucasFilm doesn’t have any German lawyers. OMW (or, more accurately, KdK) will be out in June in the German language; start saving your Euros now.

As long as I was checking the German language version, I thought I’d check the French language version as well, and, to my surprise, its publication date was apparently last Wednesday. In the French language it’s known as Le vieil homme et la guerre, which translates to “The Old Man and the War,” which has a nice Hemingway-esque ring to it, I think. I checked to see if this version of OMW will be available in Canada; it appears it will be, on February 5th. Should some of you Francophones in the Great White North get hold of the book, you’ll have to let me know how the translation is.

Another Thing I Want To Know…

Who was the idiot who switched my 401(k) last year to a 100% allocation to a managed bond fund? I mean, holy crap. It’s like someone somewhere said, “hmmm, how can we make sure this 401(k) achieves the smallest amount of performance humanly possible? I sure as Hell know I didn’t do this. I suspect whoever did this was the same person who hid my wallet earlier in the week. It’s all of a piece, you know?

(I suspect what happened was that the company administering the 401(k) funds was switched this last year and if we did not express a preference when the switchover happened, the account got knocked into the most conservative option possible. And I can’t remember if I expressed a preference. Bah.)

I called up my 401(k) provider and switched it to the S&P 500 Index fund option, which outperformed the bond fund 3-to-1 in the last year, so that’s taken care now. Now as long as the economy doesn’t entirely stall, I may still be able to retire sometime around age 80. Go, 401(k)! Go!

The John Scalzi Experience — LIVE In YOUR Town!

My publicist says I can mention this now, so: I’ll be doing a book tour this spring, in support of The Last Colony, in late April and early May. We’re still scheduling dates and locations so I can’t give you specifics at the moment, however I can say that we do plan to tour the west coast and the midwest, with a couple of east coast hits thrown in just for fun. Of course, when I have official dates and cities, I’ll share them here for your edification and enjoyment.

Naturally I’m very excited about this. This will actually be my second author tour, the first one being a tour I did back in 2000, when The Rough Guide to Money Online came out. That was a three city tour (DC, NYC and Chicago) that was scheduled for the week after the 2000 elections, on the rationale that, heck, the week after the national elections? What possible sort of news could be happening then? Oh, uh, yeah. Not a great tour. This one will be different. Oh, yes.

Anyway, this constitutes a head’s up: Look out, here I come. I think I’ll make tour T-Shirts.

Update, 1:01 pm: Dan writes in the comments:

Your tour needs a slick title. Something ambiguous yet evocative with its senselessness.

How about: John Scalzi’s Puddle of Heads tour ’07.

See? It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but it sure sounds cool.

Well, all right, let’s make it a contest: Whoever comes up with the best tour name — as decided by me, of course — will get the tour title on whatever T-Shirts I make (presuming I make t-shirts), plus a free t-shirt, and a signed copy of The Last Colony when it comes out.

Get to it! Let’s say this contest is open until 11:59:59 on Sunday 1/28.

Spanking — And Not the Fun Kind

Out in California, an Assemblywomn named Sally Lieber has proposed the state outlaw spanking — not between two consenting adults, because how would it be California without a little recreational spanking? — but between adults and children; specifically, the proposed law would make it a misdemeanor to paddle kids under the age of four, with punishments eventually reaching a year in the slammer (and a $1,000 fine, which, frankly, is nothing compared to a year in the slammer). The proposed law doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, and even if it did it wouldn’t affect me, because I live in Ohio. But it did give me a moment to think about what I think about spanking, which is, ironically, that it is most effective under the age of four, i.e., the age which Ms. Lieber suggests banning it.

I’ll begin by noting that I think as punishment, spanking is pretty damn ineffective. I speak from personal experience, because I got spanked on a regular basis as a kid — at least two or three times a month — and since my mom was not wanton smacker of her children, you can assume I did something egregious enough to warrant a spanking as punishment. But inasmuch as I was averaging a couple three spankings a month, how effective could it have been as punishment? I was still needing to be punished on a regular basis. If this was a punishment for bad behavior, it wasn’t working. It’s for this reason that I can’t recall ever spanking Athena to punish her for bad behavior. I know my daughter well enough to suspect that spanking as a punishment will just make her more stubborn; to a large extent that’s how it worked for me.

If one doesn’t spank as punishment, what does one spank for? In my case, on the rare occasions that I spanked Athena (I can only remember two occasions), it was to use the spanking as a deterrent to a specific sort of dangerous activity. The last time I spanked Athena was when she was two-and-a-half or three, when she developed an unhealthy obsession with something likely to get her all banged up (I want to say wall sockets, but, honestly, I can’t remember specifically), and us warning her away from it wasn’t seeming to work — she just wasn’t old enough to grasp the idea that there would be negative consequences.

So when she did it again, I spanked her — not to punish her but so that she would associate that particular activity with physical pain (although a much lesser physical pain than the one that could occur from the activity itself) . It worked, because she stopped that particular activity. Shortly thereafter, she became old enough to understand the idea that some things really are bad for you and you don’t have to try them out. We haven’t spanked her since. Which goes to my point: Spanking my eight year old daughter now makes no sense, because she’s old enough to understand things. Spanking my two-and-a-half year old daughter then made good sense, because I needed to a way to keep her from dangerous behaviors when she was too young to fully understand the implications of those behaviors.

All of this is not to say that I don’t understand where Lieber is coming from. The last time I went to Chicago, I was stopped at a street light and this woman was coming out of a corner store with a child who could have been no more than two years old in tow. The two year old was crying about something or other, and suddenly the woman wheeled around and smacked the kid hard on the face and started yelling at the kid. It was absolutely appalling, and then someone was honking at me to get my car in gear. That woman wasn’t spanking her child, but I have no doubt that she does, and I have no doubt that those spankings are doing that child rather more harm than good. Be that as it may, I don’t regret spanking my own child when I felt it was was necessary, because I felt it did more good than harm. If I lived in a state where spanking was banned, and I had a young child, I would be very likely to ignore the law and spank my kid if I thought it was what I needed to do. I’m pretty confident I could make a good case for having done so.

Personally, I just feel lucky I have a kid who I only had to spank a couple of times, and haven’t had to spank in years. I suppose I could chalk that all up to wonderful parenting, cough, cough, but I really suspect that’s not the whole story. It’s nice when your kid makes the executive decision in her own little head that you as parents might actually be worth listening to, from time to time. She’s a smarter kid than I was when I was her age, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.