Reminders of a Science Fictional Nature

Because you need to be reminded of these things, darn it!

* First, a reminder that I’m the author Guest of Honor at InConJunction, which takes place this weekend in Indianapolis. You should come. It’ll be fun, trust me. And for those of you who already know you’re coming, here’s my programming schedule:

Friday, 2pm: Sci-Fi vs. Sci-Fact: What’s real in Sci-Fi and what’s Sci-Fi in reality.

Friday, 7pm: Opening Ceremonies

Friday, 8pm: What is Our Reliance on Science?: How strongly do we lean on it or give it credence?

Friday, 9pm: Nurturing an Online Audience: How to show love and keep a relationship with online fans.

Saturday, 1pm: John Scalzi Q&A

Saturday, 7pm: John Scalzi’s Real Life Honest Money Advice: This is me doing the live show of the column I wrote on the subject earlier in the year.

And somewhere in there I think I might have a signing, but I’m not sure when that will be (and if not, you know, just find me and bring a pen). See you there.

* I finally got around to buying my membership for Denvention and a plane ticket for Denver, which is good because the convention had already given me my programming schedule. So yes, officially: I’ll be there. I also finally got around to voting for the Hugos this year; I had a hard time choosing in the Best Novel and Fan Writer categories, but finally found someone in each I could vote for (whew!). You now have exactly one week to get your vote in, so if you haven’t voted yet but plan to, you better get on that, like, now. You can vote online, which is what I did, which makes things easier.

* If you’re planning to submit an application to Viable Paradise, the one week writing workshop at which I’ll be teaching this September, you have, uh, 11 more hours to do it (as of me typing this). So, you know. Get a move on.

* Charlie’s book is out tomorrow. Buy it.

* That’s everything I can remember to remind you about at the moment. If something else comes to me (and I’m sure it will) then I’ll let you know.

A Note of Appreciation for Michael Capobianco

As many of you know, last year I ran for president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as a write-in candidate against Michael Capobianco. Among the reasons I ran was that I was concerned that Michael, who had not recently published, might be out of step with some of the challenges faced by writers in the current era of publishing. I lost the election, not just because I was a write-in candidate and came to the party late, but also because of the high regard SFWA members had for Michael, who had been president before. He won by a substantial margin.

It turns out I dodged a bullet, and that Michael got a crash course in some of the challenges writers face today, because less than two months into his tenure, SFWA found itself engaged in a major online copyright fracas after its VP sent out badly-formed DMCA takedown notices that resulted in the organization violating a number of copyrights (ironically while helping some of its members defend their own). The outrage exploded online, and it was on Michael to do something to smother the flames.

In the moment of crisis, Michael did the right things, and did them quickly: He apologized on behalf of SFWA to those the organization had wronged, he corralled the SFWA board to suspend issuing DMCA takedown notices pending a review of SFWA policies, and asked for and got an exploratory committee to look at when and how SFWA should help its members control their work, both online and off. He did this all when basically everyone on every side of the event was screaming in his ear, and he did it with competence and a measure of calm. I’m happy to say that I discovered that my concern that Michael would not be up to the challenge — one of the primary reasons I had run — had been unfounded. I had been wrong about him.

In the aftermath of all this, I didn’t always agree with the actions that Michael and the SFWA board took — in particular, I thought appointing the SFWA VP who had caused the copyright meltdown as chair of a new copyright committee was a major error (which was rectified not too long after, thanks to internal pressure) — but I respected the man and believed he genuinely wished the best for SFWA, even when I disagreed with him. The last year would have been a tough one for anyone, and I certainly couldn’t say with any honesty that given the same pressures and controversies Michael had to contend with, that I would have handled them any better. He did as well as anyone could, and by his swift action in dealing with a public crisis, calling for the formation of the Exploratory Copyright committee and with the board taking many of its recommendations to heart, he’s left SFWA better ready to help its members in the future. Which is to say SFWA is better off for having had him as its president. That’s what you hope for from any executive.

Michael’s tenure ends today; tomorrow Russell Davis steps into the presidential position, bolstered by what is in my opinion a very excellent board. I wish them well and they have my support. That said, I want to publicly thank Michael for his service to SFWA, and for his being a calm center in what became a whole lot of storm. He has my appreciation and admiration.

Not That I’ve Been Keeping Track or Anything

After two months of just barely missing the mark, the site finally broke past the one million unique visitors mark, and with one day and three hours to spare:

What does it mean? Not much, considering I don’t run advertising on the site, and also because, as a friend recently noted, it’s not that a million different people are visiting the site, it’s mostly the same 30,000 or so on a daily basis, plus a few thousand people who hit the site more or less randomly on any given day, added up over the course of a month. That said, it’s still a nice number of people coming by to read, and it’s still a nice feeling to get into the seven-digit range in aggregate. For the first half of 2008, I’ll end up with just over 5.7 million visits; to give you some perspective on that, in 2006 I got 6.125 million visits for the entire year, and in 2004, I saw about 1.8 million visits. It’s good to grow.

I’ve said it before, but just in case you’ve all missed me saying it, I’ll say it again: Thanks for coming by, and continuing to come by. I’m glad to have you here, whether you’ve been visiting for years or are here for the first time. Welcome.

Miss Athena Does Not Approve of Your Gauchery

“No, sir! I do not approve!”

Miss Athena and I are now off, to go see Wall-E. For the sake of the people sitting behind her, she will not be wearing that hat.

What a Scandal Doesn’t Look Like

I’m seeing some folks getting all hypervent-ally over a new tidbit of news, in which Newsweek discovered that Cindy McCain was behind on the property tax on some of her property, to the tune of some amount less than $10,000; apparently she was in arrears on the taxes for fours years and were about to default when Newsweek alerted the McCain campaign. She apparently paid up immediately, because, after all, when you’re worth $100 million, you can do that.

Folks on the left side of the B’sphere are trying to rouse up some outrage, but you know what? Meh. So some properties they have slipped through the cracks. When you have a lot of properties and investments, this will happen from time to time. The details of the story suggest pretty strongly that Cindy McCain wan’t trying to avoid paying taxes, there was just some screw-up in delivering the tax bills; the end result would have been an elderly relative of Mrs. McCain being booted out of her residence, which one may reasonably assume would not have been what either McCain would have wanted.

Now, the problem is that if we know anything about the Internets — if we are aware of Internets, so to speak — we know that what it’s really good at is revving people up insensibly over things that are fundamentally penny-ante. And while this is fun, I think it desensitizes people to things that actually matter, and also gives ammunition to the spin doctors, who can use amped-up outrage over little stuff like this to lessen the impact of something that is potentially, genuinely scandalous on the part of a candidate (or in this case, let’s note, his spouse). Outrage against a candidate is a finite resource, not an infinite public utility; use it sparingly and wisely.

In other words, all signs point to a minor screw-up, now rectified. People trying to use this as an example of the absent-mindedness we can expect from McCain re: the economy if he is the president are hereby presented with a small paper bag and the advice to breathe into it slowly. This is not a big deal. It merits sarcasm at best.

On this point, electoral vote tracking site has an interesting piece called The Electric Minor Political Scandal Acid Test, in which that site’s proprietor looks at five factors to see whether a minor scandal like this will have any legs. By his formula, “La Jolla-gate” will have medium impact. He may be right. It’s not worth even that.

Yes, I Am On the Verge of Overdoing Both Cat and Sunset Photos

Be that as it may, this is a pretty cool shot.

Upholding the First Law of Cat Lounging

Which is, of course, “all lounging cats must attempt to take up the maximum possible space.” This is especially applicable on desks and beds. Notice Zeus’ extended paw action to claim extra desk space. He’s a pro.

Also for your amusement, the following pensive portrait:

I see this as being his author photo for his scandalous tell-all The Bastards Fed Me Kibble: My Life With the Awful Scalzi Family, in which he reveals that it was I who got him hooked on that demon catnip. Well, it’s true, I suppose. But, hey, I paid for his rehab, you know.

Re-Hipify Me: A Weekend Assignment

So, despite buying a lot of music and having ready access to Rhapsody and indeed the whole of the Internet (and, um, having been a music critic for many years), I’ve fallen prey to a malady common to many people in their late 30s, in which I’m more or less clueless to new musical artists.

My ego steps in at the moment to assure you (and me) that I’m not entirely to blame; hey, I’ve been busy. And, heck, what with the implosion of the music business over the last couple of years, it’s difficult even for the kids to figure out what the kids are listening to these days. Also, let’s face it, when you live in an era in which the two largest forces shaping the direction of popular music are American Idol and The Disney Channel, there is, shall we say, a disincentive for some of us to keep up with what’s going on these days.

Nevertheless, I live in hope. And thus I ask the assembled masses:

Tell me what new music or artists you’re listening to these days.

For the purposes of this discussion, “new” is defined to mean:

1. The artist/band started publicly releasing music (or alternately made their major label debut) after January 2005;


2. The artist/band started publicly releasing music (or alternately made their major label debut) after January 2003, but you only heard about them in the last year.

In either case there’s a hard cap at January 2003. So if you wander in saying something like “Well, I know Emerson Lake and Palmer is an old band, but I started listening to them this year and they’re cool” then you fail (and indeed you fail on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin).

(One small clarification: Musicians who were previously in bands but released solo albums for the first time since January 2003 get in under the wire. Just use your head: telling me about Rob Thomas’s or Gwen Stefani’s solo excursions isn’t going to do me much good, you know?)

Other than that, no limitations: Any genre, any musician, any band that you like and listen to that’s new, tell me about them. Include a link to a band page or song, if you can, so I and indeed everyone else can take a listen to this cool new band you can’t stop talking about (remember that more than three links a post will trigger automatic moderation, so if you don’t want to wait until I get around to releasing moderated links, stick to a couple links per post). You can suggest as many new band/artists as you like, but don’t just show off your iPod contents to be hipper than the room — stick to the bands/artists you really really like.

To get the ball rolling, I’ll roll out one new artist I do know, albeit because I’m an insensible fan of his dad: Liam Finn, here performing his song “Second Chance”:

He sounds a lot like his dad (which is a good thing to me), but he’s also clearly got his own perspective on things (which is also a good thing to me), and his album I’ll Be Lightning is sweet and a bit sloppy, which I find a bit endearing.

So that’s what I have for you. What do you have for me?

And Now to Explode Your Head As You Head Off For the Weekend

I pretty much guarantee you that you won’t guess which well-known 80s song this is a cover of until at least a few lines of lyrics in. And when you do figure it out, blood will shoot from your temples.


There’s more here.

Internal Book Workings

Answering a couple of questions I’ve gotten recently about the mechanics of the book-related stuff here:

* First, for those who were wondering about the disposition of the Duck and Hate Mail contests: The winner of the Duck contest will be declared on Monday. The Hate Mail winners, I suspect, will follow shortly thereafter, because I have to compare notes with the other judge. Hey, you guy spewed some excellent bile. It takes time to digest it.

* Several people have asked me how I got book companies to send along their books (presumably so they could do something similar). The short answer is I didn’t do anything, other than letting it be known I was happy to get them, and once having gotten them, perhaps to talk about them here. I’m not entirely sure this is an effective tactic for others. Hell, I don’t even know if it’s an effective tactic for me, since not every science fiction publisher — not to mention publishers in general — sends me stuff (I don’t think I’ve seen anything from Eos or Bantam Spectra, for example, and now that I think about it Tor’s been erratic as well, which is ironic).

And this is fine: Publicists are generally good at what they do, but they’re not psychic, and if I don’t actively ask to be put on mailing lists, they can’t be blamed for not putting me on them. It’s not like their Scalzi-sense is tingling, or anything. While it’s not out of the question for me to ping a publicist (I’m sorely tempted to beg for an ARC of the new Neal Stephenson), I’m mostly content to just sit here and see what comes my way. Because I’m lazy, you see.

* Given that this is my method of procuring books, you may be unsurprised to learn that my method of procuring participants for The Big Idea is basically the same: I wait for authors to ask. Now, sometimes if I’m at a convention and I see an author and I know they have a book coming out, I’ll remind them that I run the Big Idea feature here, and that if they want to participate, they should ping me. But that’s about it. Otherwise it’s mostly about others asking me, and me looking at the schedule. This keeps things relaxed and fun, for me at the very least.

* Do I read every book I am sent? No, nor do I attempt Klausnerian feats of speed reading in order to do so (Harriet Klausner, incidentally, just wrote her review of Zoe’s Tale, which was mostly positive; I was unaware there were shapeshifters in the book, but in her copy, apparently there are). If I did nothing else, I could read one book a day enjoyably, but I don’t do nothing else; rumor is, I occasionally write books myself. I typically read a couple a week.

* What do I do with the books when I’m done? Some I keep, some I give to friends, and sometimes, after a suitable time has passed where I’m no longer concerned that I’m interfering with author sales, I’ll give them to the local library, which will incorporate a few into their holdings and put others into their library sales. Seems a good way to do things.

You ask, why don’t I give them away to Whatever readers, hint, hint? It’s a nice idea, but unless you’re all planning to make a pilgrimage to my house to pick up your books (note: please don’t drive to my house with the plan to pick up books; Kodi will eat you), sending books out by mail costs me money, and I’m not sure why I would want that.

That said, I’ve toyed with the idea of putting together a mystery box of books I’ve received and auctioning it off, with the proceeds (minus shipping costs, naturally) to go to Reading is Fundamental or some such. It’s a thought; maybe I’ll do it when I’m more organized.

Any other (book-related) questions?

The Book Haul, 6/27/08

What came in this week?

Quick notes:

* I’m really excited to get Cycler, which is the first novel of my good pal Lauren McLaughlin, and which has a hell of a premise, which you might be able to infer from the cover, and the apparel of the model — and if you can’t infer it, I’m not going to spoil it for you, not in the least because Lauren is going to come back to pen a Big Idea piece on the book this August. But come on. It’s all there on the cover, people! Figure it out!

* Ghostgirl started off online, became hugely popular, got a book deal, blah blah blah… yes, yes, all very nice, well done you, Tonya Hurley. What impresses me about the book, actually, is the actual book design, which includes a transparent panel in the shape of a coffin and is otherwise fairly gothtastic, up to and including the liberal use of pink (which, I have been assured by people in the know, is an advanced goth color. I know my daughter made a beeline toward the book when she saw it, which suggests the people packaging this thing know how to appeal to an audience. This is also an August book.

* First thought on seeing Shadow of the Scorpion, aside from “cool, new Asher,” was “holy crap that’s the biggest flea I’ve ever seen.” This is a Polity novel, so fans of the series have something to live for this July. Arriving at the same time, and from the same publisher, Incandescence, by Greg Egan, which also comes out in July but is already available in the UK. Man, I hate having to wait, just because I’m American. I know, the rest of you out there in the world are not sympathetic. Of course, I don’t actually have to wait, because I have the ARC. But still.

* Busted! isn’t actually a book, it’s the first issue of Fray, which is, as it describes itself “a quarterly of true stories and original art.” This particular issue has as its subject people getting caught doing things, mostly things they probably ought not to have been caught doing. Their web site contains excerpts. I recommend this one as choice bit of stupidity and well-deserved comeuppance. It’s interesting stuff. Mind you, I remember from back in the day. Those were times, I will tell you, once you get off my goddamn lawn, you damn kids.

* The record for ARC sent furthest in advance for 2008 goed to Alembical, an anthology of four novellae written by Jay Lake, Bruce Taylor, James Van Pel and Ray Vukcevich, which won’t be out for another six months (technically it will debut at World Fantasy, which is in late November, but still). Haven’t gotten into the book yet, but the fact that Jay Lake has extruded yet another story causes me to fear him even more. He’s a perpetual motion writing machine. You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him. In, uh, pages. Yes, that’s it.

Thoughts/comments on any of the books here?

The Big Idea: David J. Schwartz

If Spider-Man — and indeed the entire Marvel canon — has taught us anything, it’s that being a super-hero isn’t as easy as it looks. But if you think that’s difficult, try writing one… especially when you’re aware of all the inherent flaws of the genre, no matter how much you love it. In Superpowers, author David J. Schwartz writes up not one but five newbie superheroes, and decides in working with them to zig where most writers (and readers) zag, just to see what would happen. What’s the zig — and what happens? David J. Schwartz uses his super-typing powers to explain.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point I became a person who has a lot of skepticism about the things I love. Pulp fiction? Love it–aside from the bits where women always bring trouble, the mysteries rarely make actual sense, and the bewildering etymology of the word “gunsel.” Latin American literature? Transcendent, if you’ve got a tolerance for metric tons of macho, the dominance of Catholic themes, and a fascination with incest. The Lord of the Rings? It still gets me–except for the part where it’s all about buttressing flawed monarchies, defining good and evil along racial lines, and, well . . . elves.

Which brings me to comic books, specifically super-hero comics. I can’t get enough of these stories, and I have the long boxes to prove it. I love the discovery of weird abilities, the monthly struggle to do the right thing, the last-minute victory against overwhelming odds. This despite the rampant sexism in comics which presents women as ornaments or victims in order to appeal to the fantasies and insecurities of adolescent boys; despite the fact that I worry that heroes with unlimited power and unimpeachable virtue make some readers complacent about the state of truth and justice in the world; and despite the fact that the struggles between costumed figures often seem too mythic to say much about the mistakes and choices made by normal humans.

I like mythic, too, but for Superpowers I made a decision early on: no super-villains. No silly men with overly complicated plans, no giant monsters, no shadowy government organization pulling strings. In a way super-villains make it easy on heroes; obviously _someone_ needs to do something about Dr. Unpleasant, and who better than the ordinary sanitation worker who’s just received the strength of a gorilla from a radioactive plantain? This is how writers and editors avoid having decent, hard-working Captain Banana beat up on normal civilians, which is all well and good except for the part where crime becomes something perpetrated by archetypes instead of people.

That wasn’t going to work for me, because what I really wanted to talk about was power–political, military, and personal–and how we use it. The story is about how these five college kids in Madison, Wisconsin wake up one morning with new abilities, and how that changes their lives. It’s about their good intentions and the bad decisions that follow. In a way, power itself becomes a villain, because the thing that they discover is that once you have that sort of power, it’s very difficult _not_ to use it.

Which is all well and good, but there’s one thing that villains do really well, and that’s drive a plot. My Rule One for writing–hopefully every writer’s Rule One–is DON’T BE BORING. The challenge for Superpowers was, having decided to forgo the slug-fest, not to go to the other extreme and write a full-bore angst-fest. How to avoid that? My personal crutch is humor, and there’s a lot of comic potential in not knowing your own strength, or having no control over when you’re going to turn invisible. Keeping it light works until the point where it’s necessary to knock that crutch out from under the reader and beat them with it. Hey, you don’t need a villain; you’ve got me!

Did I say that I love superhero stories? I do, and as much as Superpowers is about Big Ideas, it’s also about the sheer fun of being able to fly, or to run the two-minute mile in less than a second. Yeah, these are power fantasies, but I think we’ve all imagined what it might be like to do those things. I also had a lot of fun referencing–both openly and in ways that only the true geeks will pick up on–the characters and stories that I obsessed over in my teens and twenties. Many of which did the sort of thing that I’ve tried to do with this book–tell a good superhero story with full awareness of the problems inherent in the genre.


Superpowers: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Superpowers here. Visit Schwartz’s Livejournal here.

DC v. Heller

The Supreme Court upheld the appeals court overturning Washington DC’s ban on handguns. I’ll post the link to the decision when it goes up, and maybe offer my thoughts when I’ve glanced through it; until then, here’s a thread to comment on the ruling and other recent SCOTUS decisions. Remember: Civility is nice.

Update 1: .pdf of the ruling, written by Justice Scalia, is here.

Update 2: The juicy part:

1. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
Pp. 2–53.

(a) The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms. Pp. 2–22.


2. Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Update 3: ZOMG! Scalia gives props to a “living Constitution”!

Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 849 (1997), and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g., Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 35–36 (2001), the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.

My head, she is explody.

Update 4: I found this interesting:

A constitutional guarantee subject to future judges’ assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee at all. Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or (yes) even future judges think that scope too broad. We would not apply an “interest-balancing” approach to the prohibition of a peaceful neo-Nazi march through Skokie. See National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie, 432 U. S. 43 (1977) (per curiam). The First Amendment contains the freedom-of-speech guarantee that the people ratified, which included exceptions for obscenity, libel, and disclosure of state secrets, but not for the expression of extremely unpopular and wrong-headed views. The Second Amendment is no different.

Update 5: Well, just gave the ruling (although not the dissenting opinions) a very quick read through, and in an event sure to cause cranial rupture to everyone who is of the opinion that I believe that anything Justice Scalia says is wrong, period, full-stop, I agree with it in a general sense, and to the extent that I’ve zoomed through Scalia’s ruling, I think his reasoning here is solid and commonsensical. I think he bangs on poor Justice Stevens a bit much, but that’s Scalia for you. I do think it’s important that Scalia noted that there are limits which may reasonably be imposed on gun possession in certain places and by certain people, and on how guns are sold and registered — and I suspect there will still be a lot of skirmishing, legally-speaking, on how those work, and what is Constitutionally acceptable or not.

How will this shake out in terms of gun violence in a general sense? I have no idea, although if I had to guess I would suspect it won’t make a bit of difference one way or another, since the sort of person most likely to put a bullet in someone else isn’t the sort of person who would be concerned whether or not his firearm was banned. I’ve believed for a long time as a practical matter that handgun bans are useless; there are already millions of them and they will never disappear from the American landscape even if there were a Constitutional amendment banning them (which I don’t recommend). You will never not be able to find a handgun if you really want one.

But beyond that I really do believe (as does Scalia, apparently) that the Framers wanted everyone to have the right to own weapons, for defense of home, etc. It’s true that we do pay a price for it, in terms of gun violence (not to matter simple stupidity involving guns, including the tragic examples of when kids pull out mom or dad’s gun and start playing with it — the stupidity there is on the part of the parents, generally). But we also pay certain prices for the expansiveness of our right to free speech and our habeas corpus rights, to name but two constitutionally-enshrined rights we enjoy.

In any event: I basically agree with this decision, although I note the caveat that this is off a quick read, and that I need to read it in more depth. I doubt that reading in more depth will fundamentally change my opinion of the ruling, although it may reveal details I might quibble (or additionally agree) with.

The floor is open for more comments.

Help Build a List of New SF Film Classics

For my AMC column today, I review the American Film Institute’s list of the Top Ten SF films of all time (verdict: the list doesn’t suck), and note that the list stops at 1991. What does that mean? Well, an opportunity to create a list of the Top Ten SF films since 1991, of course!

But — rather than filling out the entire post-91 Top Ten, I filled in only five spots (and not necessarily the top five) and then opened up the floor for everyone else to fill in the gaps. So now it’s up to you (both generally and specifically) to finish what I started. Get over there and offer up your picks, and then explain why they deserve to be in the top ten along with my five. Go!

(The picture above, incidentally, from 12 Monkeys, which is in my five.)

The Difference a “Big Post” Makes

A couple of years ago I talked about the concept of “Big Posts” — posts that draw in more than the usual number of readers to a blog — and what they mean for growing the readership of a blog over time. If you’ve not read that post, click that link and check it out, because it’s on point to what follows (Note: if you’re not a huge blog stats geek, don’t feel you have to bother, or to bother continuing to read this post, because it’s all blog stat geekery from here on out).

Caught up? Okay. I note this because this month I had a “Big Post” with the Michelle Obama/Fox News thing, and it resulted in a fairly instructive example of how a Big Post works for a site, in terms of building readership.

First, a graphic:

This graph charts the number of unique visits the site has gotten daily (so far) here in June. I’ve broken up the data into three sets. In yellow are the data representing daily uniques prior to the Big Post readership spike (11 days); in red are the data representing the Big Post spike (2 days); in green are the data post-spike (12 days). For reference, the day of the actual Big Post was 6/12; anecdotally I’ve noticed that readership spikes for Big Posts are spread out over two days rather than one, so this two-day spike period is actually pretty typical.

For the first 11 days of June, before the Obama/Fox News post, the average daily unique visits is 32,890; interestingly this average includes one minor readership spike (on 6/7) when a group of folks newly discovered, and linked in to, my “Being Poor” entry (lesson: some Big Posts continue to draw even years after their original appearance). For the 12 days after the Obama/Fox News post, the average daily unique visits is 35,773, with no noticeable additional readership spikes. This is an average gain of 2,883 unique visits, or a gain of about 8.7% in daily unique visits since the first part of the month.

What’s interesting (to me, anyway) is that the usual upper bound of daily uniques (40,000) has stayed the same; what’s changed is that the lower bound seems to have hiked up. Prior to the big post, the lower bound was around 25k unique visits (lower bound days are typically on Sundays, which are generally my lowest readership day of the week); afterward the lower bound looks like 30k. And, of course, daily unique visitorship is up in general on a day-to-day basis.

Now, whether this average boost in uniques persists over time is another issue, although experience teaches me that typically speaking readership here has trended up rather than going down. For example, I’d note that the high point of “Being Poor” readership spike back in September of 2005 was about 25,000 unique visits, which today represents the lower bound of daily visits for the month. Basically, if you’re updating daily (and being at least marginally interesting), I don’t think you decline in readership. Of course, it’s the constant updating that’s the catch, isn’t it.

You ask, well, if you know how to bring in more folks, why don’t you do it on a regular basis? But that’s the thing about Big Posts, as I noted a couple of years ago: It’s not up to you to decide what’s a Big Post. In the case of the Obama/Fox News post, I benefited from having Daily Kos, John Cole and Andrew Sullivan linking in unsolicited, which each funneled thousands of probably new folks into the site, some of whom, presumably, have since stuck around. Now, I’m not stupid: I’m aware that when I write about politics here, there’s a good chance it’ll generate discussion and some links. But you never know what’s going to work for people more than usual and what’s not. I don’t typically solicit links these days (and didn’t for the Obama/Fox piece), so essentially I never know who is going to link in or why. It’s a crap shoot, and besides, I’m aware that the single most successful post I ever did, visitor-wise, was of me taping bacon to my cat. You can’t know what’s going to work, in point of fact, and trying to game all the time it will drive you nuts.

What you do is what you should be doing anyway: writing interesting stuff on a regular basis. That way, when lightning does strike, and the curious new reader looks around to see what else you’ve got, you have stuff that will make them realize the Big Post that got their attention wasn’t just a one-time fluke. The Big Posts bring them in, and that’s their value; it’s everything else you’ve got that keeps them coming back, and that’s the value of the blog as a whole. Jot that down, folks.

And hey, if you’re one of the new folks around here: Thanks for coming by, and welcome.

No Sunset Today

The sunset was blocked by a big ol’ thundercloud. But the clouds were interesting:

Yes, they’re very pretty, until they’re right on top of you. Which they’re about to be, here.

Off to Charity

You may recall that in April I put up my short story “How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story” as shareware, for people to read, and if they liked, to send me money for. When I put the story up, I noted that half of the proceeds would go to the Lupus Foundation of America, that being a favorite charity of Bill Schafer, publisher of Subterranean Press, which originally published the story. Well, today I sent off the donation. The amount of money brought in by the story was in the neighborhood of $570, but I rounded up and sent in $300. Thank you to everyone who sent in money for the story; I appreciate it.

After this point, the story is still available to download and read (it’s a zipped .pdf file), but I’m not actively taking any more money for it. If you send me money, I’ll take it, but you shouldn’t feel obliged. That said, if you read that story and like it, and want to be a good human, consider making your own donation to the Lupus Foundation of America; it’s a good cause, and at this point I would appreciate you making a contribution there more than I would taking any more of your money for this story. Thanks.

If Only I Had Known

Henceforth, whenever mail, electronic or otherwise, delivers to me news I don’t wish to hear, or act upon, like the President of the United States, I shall simply not open it, and therefore, it won’t have happened. I’m kicking myself now about all the mortgage payments I have stupidly made over the years.

And now, the following discussion with the wife on the matter:

Me: What would you say if I suggested to you that from now on, if something comes in the mail we don’t want to know about, like our mortgage and bills, we just refuse to open them, like the President?

Wife: Okay. Can we do that with our taxes, too?

Me: I don’t see why not!

Wife: Actually, I have a better idea. Rather than ignoring our bills, why don’t we just mulch the current president and put someone else in there?

Me: I don’t think we have to mulch him. There’s an election coming up.

Wife: No. Mulch and start over.

I should note that Krissy’s tolerance for shenanigans these days is really rather low.

Also: Hey, you know what I would do if the White House told me that it wouldn’t accept an e-mail with a Supreme Court-ordered document in it? I would PRINT IT OUT and DELIVER IT BY HAND. Because you can do that. Seriously, now, does every single appointee of the Bush Administration have the IQ of a LOLCat?  “Oh noes! Theyz not openz our e-mailz! Our public policiz is rooned!” To be flummoxed by a recalcitrant refusing to download a file suggests, well, that you are a candidate for mulching.

The more I think about this the more I feel I am in danger of bleeding uncontrollably from the ears, so instead and per recent tradition, here’s a picture of a cat:

Hmmm. I think I’ll just go ahead and bleed from the ears anyway.

Interesting News for the Members of Company D

Got my copies of the German version of The Last Colony today, and put it next to the other books in the series so you can see the wild variety Heyne, my German publisher, provides each new title in the Old Man’s War series:

I have a sneaking suspicion I might know what the cover of Zoe’s Tale will look like when it comes out over there.

But never mind that now. What I really want to say is this: In the German version of The Last Colony, Heyne also added in “The Sagan Diary” as an extra, which I think is kind of cool. But what’s really cool is that when they did the translation, they also kept in the pages that are “In Memoriam” for the ill-fated Company D, the company Jane and her other fellow Special Forces soldiers are meant to rescue on her first combat mission. The names of the soldiers, you may recall, were the names of the folks who pre-ordered the Deluxe Edition of TSD from Subterranean Press. So, if you were one of them: Congratulations, you’ve been memorialized in two languages! Don’t worry, your names have remained the same, although it’s now “Kompanie D” that you were part of.

A Musical Walkback

Robbie Robertson and U2:

Sweet Fire Of Love – Robbie Robertson

I remember playing this song for a kid in my college dorm who was absolutely insane for U2 and watching him go insane because a) he didn’t recognize the song instantly and b) that his heroes somehow managed to put out a song that he didn’t know about. After the song was done, he actually ran out of my room and went instantly to the record store to buy it for himself. Robbie Robertson had a cup of coffee on me that day, he did.