Just Arrived, 10/14/10

All this talk of electronic books today makes me want to tell you about the physical books which have arrived at my house in the last week. And here we go:

* The Wonderful Future That Never Was, Gregory Benford and the Editors of Popular Mechanics (Hearst Books): Or, hey, this is where your flying car went. The picture-heavy book looks at all the breathless predictions about the future that Popular Mechanics has made over its century-long publishing history and tells you all about the ones that didn’t quite show up — at least not in the form shown here. Well, at least we don’t have to all wear silvery tunics. I was slipped an early version of the book to see if I would blurb it, and had so much fun with it that I did. If you’re a big future nerd like I am (or alternately, a retro science fiction writer who needs reference material for when steampunk burns out), this is going be a book you’ll want. It’s out now, and ironically one for which getting the print version is definitely the way to go.

* Echo, Jack McDevitt (Ace): Nebula Award winner McDevitt adds to the Alex Benedict saga, and this time the galaxy’s foremost antiquities collector is hot on the trails of clues that point to evidence of a whole new alien civilization — only the second ever found. This hits on November 2.

* The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, edited by Robin Harve and Stephanie Meyers (Harper Perrenial): No, not  Stephenie Meyer, although how amusing would that be? This is a collection of Christmas-related essays from A-list atheists like Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Neal Pollack, my personal pal Phil Plait, and others, including Simon Le Bon, which is a name that pretty much pops the “bwuh?” button for me, but, hey, welcome to the party, Simon. The front matter of the book says the book is “an atheist book it’s safe to leave around your grandmother,” which certainly sounds like a dare to me.  This is also out on November 2.

* The Fallen Blade, Jon Courtenay Grimwood (Orbit): Grimwood, who writes dark, twisty science fiction, is trying his hand at fantasy this time around. Is it dark and twisty? Well, with vampires skulking around the Renaissance, all signs point to oh, my, yes. I’m a fan of Grimwood’s work, so this is definitely in my “to read” pile. For all y’all, however, you’ll have to wait until January.

* Kris Longknife: Redoubtable, Mike Shepard (Ace): The latest chapter of the long-running Kris Longknife saga has our heroine fighting slavers and pirates while trying to stay clear of a powerful rival power. But then it gets personal. As it always will, sooner or later. This one lands October 26.

* Gilded Latten Bones, Glen Cook (Roc): Cook adds another installment to his fantasy private investigator series, and this time Garrett’s trying to break away from the P.I. lifestyle and settle down. But then someone tries to kidnap his love! And beats up his best friend! Hey, remember when I said it gets personal in the last paragraph? Well, guess what? It gets personal here, too. This is out in November.

* Enemies and Allies, Kevin J. Anderson (Harper): Superman! Batman! Cold war! And so on and so forth. This is the paperback edition, and is out now.

Reading Electronically: A Review

A few months ago I was given a Nook by a friend, who thought it would be something I could use. I appreciated the gesture; I wasn’t going to go out of my way to buy a dedicated eBook reader, but if one was going to be given to me, I’m sure I could find a way to use it. And so I have. In the months since, in addition to the Nook, I’ve also been reading off the iPad, the iPod Touch and off my Droid X (all of which have Nook, Kindle and other eBook reader software installed). I’ve been reading off these now for enough time to formulate some thoughts on the subject.

The first is that in fact I like reading books electronically just fine. In particular I do like reading them with the Nook, which is about the right size for my hand and has the passive “E-Ink” screen, which as it turns out really is a whole lot more comfortable to read off of than the lighted screens of the iPod, Ipad and Droid. I don’t find reading off my primary computer to be a problem, and quite like opening up a pdf file and reading it two pages at a time. But the secret there is that I have a big-ass monitor, which means I don’t have to jam it right up into my face to read stuff. That reduces eye strain quite a bit. With the iPad, iPod and Droid X, I have to get them pretty close up and after a while the eyes go screwy and want a break. With the Nook this is not a problem.

It’s not to say the Nook is perfect — its UI could use work, and the page contrast and screen refresh could be better — but if I’m reading an entire book electronically, it’s the reader I have I prefer. I’ll use the other readers for short duration reads (for example, I’ll read off the Droid when I’m taking Athena to Tae Kwon Do practice), but for a long haul reading session, it’s the E-Ink screen for me.

In terms of books, I’m not finding electronic reading is cutting into either my interest in or propensity to buy print books. As it happens, when I buy books, I tend to buy hardcovers (and occasionally trade paperbacks), and I buy them because I want to have them as much as I want to read them. For the having impulse, eBooks don’t do it for me, so I expect I’ll be buying hardcovers for some time to come. I think makes the proprietors of my local bookstore very happy.

What I find, however, is that eBooks are replacing (and this is important) increasing what would be the equivalent of my paperback purchases. I tend to buy paperbacks for travel or to replace books that have been lost/ruined, or to buy backlists of authors who I have recently discovered. But I would only do so fitfully, in part because it’s not like I don’t have a flood of new books coming through my door on a daily basis. With the eBooks, it’s a lot easier to give into that replacement/completist urge, especially when it’s coupled with travel.

When I went to AussieCon4, for example, I purchased and downloaded nine books into the Nook, including books by Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg and Matthew Woodring Stover, which I wouldn’t have been able to find in the local bookstore, because it does naturally tend to focus on newer works. Without the electronic book option, I would likely have bought those books used, which I prefer not to do with authors who are still living and desiring on occasion to eat. So in getting the electronic versions, they got royalties and I got their books to read on an insanely long plane rise across the planet, in a format that did not cause me bursitis lugging them about. As they say, everyone wins.

My own anecdotal experience as a reader is one reason why I as an author am not exactly freaking out about eBooks. I’m a writer for whom eBooks will probably be a good thing because a) I write in a genre filled with tech-friendly readers, b) I write in a genre filled with completist readers. The guy who just discovered Old Man’s War and wants to get everything else I have ever possibly written in the history of ever can do it in five minutes or less. This is not bad for me.

(Yes, that same person probably could search the Internets and find unauthorized OCR’d copies of everything I’ve written, but book retailers and publishers have made it really easy for them not to do that, and enough readers actually buy through those easy retail channels — thank you, folks — that I’m optimistic the “hey, let’s feed the author” impulse will continue for at least another generation. Heck, as I was writing this, someone just tweeted that they had finished one of my books and was now downloading another one for the Kindle. Good for them. Good for me, too.)

For me, then, eBooks are just another format I can use as an author to give people what they want, and for me as a reader to get what I want. Will they supplant hardcovers? I don’t think so, because people like physical things, and like giving them (and getting them) as gifts and having them on shelves. Will they supplant paperbacks? Not completely, because some people will still only read a couple of books a year, on airplanes or at the beach, and they’re not going to buy an eBook reader for that, even if the price comes way, way down.

Will I as a reader read and buy more because I have an eBook reader? I already do, and given the amount I travel these days, and how easy it is to travel with lots and lots of books now, I suspect I will continue to for some time to come. I don’t imagine I’ll be alone in this.

Shorts and Singles

I’ve been asked if I have any thoughts about the newly announced “Kindle Singles” thing from Amazon. The idea would be to publish shorter works via Amazon — 10k to 30k words is the range I hear batted about — and price them commensurately. The question then becomes whether there is a sufficient market for such things, and whether it will Save Short Fiction, etc. So here are some thoughts on that.

1. I think it’s reasonable that short fiction (or other short work) will sell electronically, and I have some real-world experience for that, because short fiction of mine has sold reasonably well. The God Engines is selling solidly as an electronic release, both on Amazon and elsewhere, as is “After the Coup,” the short story I wrote for Tor.com. And of course Clash of the Geeks, which is a short anthology of very short works, performed admirably just off this site alone. I acknowledge I may be an outlier due to my personal level of microfame in science fiction/writing circles. Even so, I suspect that there’s no real bar to selling shorts, as long as they’re reasonably priced for their length, and the writer in question has an established base of readers to flog.

Philosophically, I would love it if a work could be its most effective length and not a length required by publication necessities, and to the extent that electronic publication can help that, bring it on.

2. That said, there’s no guarantee that Amazon is going to be the one to effectively exploit this particular market. Amazon’s gone to this well before; some of you may remember the “Amazon Shorts” program which launched from the retailer more than five years ago. If you don’t remember it, that might also tell you something. It ended up not working particularly well.

2010 is not 2005, in no small part because rather more people now have eBook readers and are otherwise more used to reading electronically. But in many ways the issue isn’t consumer trends in reading, the issue is whether Amazon (or whomever) is committed to making its short works market viable. Part of that will be editorial selection and part of that will be marketing. If the “Kindle Singles” program ends up being yet another avenue flooded with marginally-edited, really-shouldn’t-be-published material, and people have to work to find things worth reading, then it’ll pretty much die on the vine.

Authors can be as much of a problem here as Amazon, incidentally — I suspect the “Kindle Singles” program will be an excuse for some of us to trek to the trunk and pull out the stuff we couldn’t sell elsewhere, so why not throw it up against the wall here and see if it finally sticks. But, you know. Trunk stories are very often trunk stories for a reason.

3. As with everything, the devil will be in the details — I’ll be wanting to see how Amazon plans to administer rights and divvy up payment and so on. I would expect that Amazon would also be wanting some sort of exclusive window on the material (i.e., on Kindle only) and that would have to be factored in as well.

Absent of any information at all from Amazon about the details, I’d say the first question I would have as a writer is what does this program offer that I can’t do for myself or can’t be done with one of the publishers I already have a relationship with. If I write a novella, for example, would it be better for me to release it as an Amazon Kindle, or to see if Subterranean Press wants it, because it would release it first as a lovely printed book and then electronically in all the major formats and outlets? If I write a novelette, might I not be better trying Tor.com first, with its established presence and marketing apparatus and its non-insulting per-word payment, which I am paid up front?

Alternately, I might choose to keep my options open and publish it myself, and use Amazon as an agent rather than as a publisher (just like the big boys!). It’s probably more work for me, but then it would also probably be more direct income to me as well. I’m not unknown; I could probably do just fine. Now, again, my situation is different than the situation of some other writers, although I know other writers of my acquaintance who are in a similar place. But every writer should be asking him or herself the question above. Just because Amazon (or whomever) offers a program doesn’t mean it’s a smart fit for what you do, or that it’s better then how you could do elsewise.

In sum: I think shorter works could sell electronically; I’m not 100% convinced Amazon knows how to do it based on past experience; I’m waiting to see the contracts for the details; I think it’s smart to know all your options. And there we are.

Some Whatever Stats Geekery For You

I’ve had a couple questions recently about stats, as in, how many people visit daily and where they come from and so on. It’s been a while since I did a public airing of statistics, so here’s what I know, at the moment.

First, a long-winded introduction and caveat: I no longer have a really reliable idea of how many people visit the site on a day to day basis, and that’s because of two things. One, the site is currently divided into two areas which report to different stats programs: My WordPress install (which as noted earlier this week is housed in WordPress.com’s VIP area) reports in one place, and the rest of Scalzi.com reports elsewhere.

Two, even when everything was in the same place, the stats programs I would use to track unique visitors, pages served and other data would report different numbers. For example, in 2008 — before I migrated Whatever off the site — the stats program that my ISP 1&1 uses regularly showed the site receiving between 25,000 and 40,000 unique visitors daily (factoring out search engine spiders and other automated visits), while the WordPress stats package I used would show 50% to 70% of those numbers for “visits.” Some of that was due to site content not in the WordPress software being ignored, but even accounting for that there was a pretty significant discrepancy between the two stats packages. I used the 1 & 1 stat package numbers as my “official” numbers, as it was better integrated with my site overall, so I made the possibly-not-entirely-defensible assumption its numbers were closer to the actual site visits and pages served.

These days the 1 & 1 stats package doesn’t count the people directly hitting on Whatever’s WordPress install, since the URL sends them to WordPress.com’s servers. But it counts everything else, including archive pages not in WordPress, and also sub-sites, like UnicornPegasusKitten.com. Those pages still get several thousand visits a day. On Whatever proper, I have WordPress’ stats package running and also Google Analytics, both of which report slightly different numbers, Google Analytics typically but not always being slightly lower.

So, what does it all mean? Given my knowledge of the site’s reportage pattern history and my own back-of-the-envelope number-crunching, I can say generally and with reasonable confidence that the site hasn’t lost readers at any point and by all indications continues to gain readers at it goes along. How many readers that is, is the interesting question. The low end — the one that works off the Google Analytics numbers for the WordPress install and assumes the 1&1 stats package overreports substantially, is about 15,000 unique visitors daily. The high end, which assumes the WordPress stats package underreports and the 1&1 stat package is on bead, is about 50,000 unique visits daily. The actual truth is undoubtedly in between.

What I’m comfortable saying to people is that the site gets up to 45,000 visitors daily, which to me implies that it generally gets below that but that the site shows spiky behavior, which in fact it does. Indeed, a number of days spike substantially above 45k in terms of visitorship (as seen through the WordPress stats suite), usually when I’m pressing some button about politics or publishing or what have you.

If I were trying to sell advertising on the site, I wouldn’t guarantee the 45k number; I’d pick a number well below what the Google Analytics reports, because that’s the stats package I would assume they would want reporting from, because the advertising would probably be placed only on WordPress pages anyway, and because I believe in an overabundance of caution when guaranteeing eyeballs. So: say, 10,000 visitors daily, which I know is far less than the site gets; that way I wouldn’t have angry advertisers.

(Not that I plan on selling advertising here anytime soon; I’m just rattling on.)

(Update, 6:10pm: in the comments, someone asked me if RSS readers are included in the stats numbers above. The answer: No. The WordPress stats package notes syndicated readers in its entry breakdowns but doesn’t add them to the general overall stats, and the Google Analytics doesn’t track them at all, as far as I can see. My 1 & 1 stats don’t include current RSS feed readers either. This is another complicating factor in pinning down the total readership of the site, to be sure.)

One day, when I have the time/money/an actual reason to do so, I will actually hire someone to consolidate all the content on Scalzi.com into one install from which it will be easy to get more accurate reports about visitors. For the moment, however, I just have to live with the fact that while I know lots of people come to visit, the actual number is a mystery.

That said, for the purposes of what follows, I’m using data from Google Analytics. It captures only a subset of the people who visit the site, but it captures their data in some detail, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that generally speaking, the larger audience for the site follows the trends in the data reported here.


1. More than 90% of Whatever readership comes from four countries: The United States (which is more than 76% of the overall total readership), Canada, the UK and Australia. The largest non-English speaking country visitorship comes from Germany, from which a little over 1% of the site readers hail.

2. In the US, the state with the largest readership is California, with over 15% of the US total, followed by New York, Texas, Washington and Massachusetts. Ohio, where I live, is #6, with 4.6% of the US total visits. Top US city visiting Whatever: New York City (2.77% of the US total), followed by Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and Portland. Top Ohio City: Columbus, at #13.

3. 70% of you have Windows machines, while 24.5% of you are Mac heads, and 4.16% of you are Linux nerds. Of the relatively small number of other types of machines which access the site, most of them are iPads and iPods.

4. Whatever draws a Firefox crowd, as 47% of you use that browser, followed by Internet Explorer at 21% (hi, mom and everyone at a corporate workplace), then Chrome, then Safari (those two almost tied at 14.4%) and then Opera. One person accessed Whatever with a Nook browser, which I think shows real commitment.

5. The very large majority of you are visiting with computers whose monitors are set at higher than 1024×768. This generally implies newer computers or at least newer monitors.

Add all of that up, and what sort of educated guesses can we make about the Whatever readership?

Well, I’m guessing that in general the Whatever readership is urban/suburban, educated, tech-savvy edging into tech-nerdy, probably mostly white, probably mostly moderate-to-liberal, probably generally 45 and under, and generally reasonably well off (or in the sort of social strata where being reasonably well off is not uncommon). I’d also guess, of course, that a large chunk of you read more than average, and read at least some science fiction and fantasy.

In short, overall, you’re not terribly unlike me. Bear in mind that I’m not saying you are all the things above (particularly regarding politics, as there is a vocal conservative/libertarian subset here), but on balance I’d guess you’re more of those things above than not. I’m not sure this should be terribly surprising to anyone.

Lopsided Cat Wishes You to Know He Finds the New Chair Marginally Acceptable

I mean, no, it’s not a bed made from the entrails of all the rodents he’s disemboweled over the years, but then, what is? Well, except for the rodent entrail bed I made for him last Christmas. But that didn’t last; items like that never do. Until I make him another, this new chair will do just fine.

Harry Potter Gets Flattened

Over at Filmcritic.com this week I talk about Warner Bros.’ decision not to release the next Harry Potter film in 3D — and why it’s probably the smartest thing they could do for the film. Check out my reasoning and as always, feel free to leave your own thoughts and comments. Harry would want you to.

Book Covers From Distant Lands

Hey, wanna see some of my book covers from Romania and South Korea? Sure you do:

The one on the left is the Romanian version of Old Man’s War, which took a long and arduous path to publication but finally made it into print this last week; the one on the right is the Korean-language version of The Ghost Brigades, which has been out for some time, apparently (I was sent it by my Korean translator, who was asking me a question about The Last Colony, which he’s currently prepping).

Both are handsome-looking covers, and quite green, I have to say, keeping with the soldiers in question. And the way I have them arranged, it looks like the starburst from the Korean cover is causing lens flare on the Romanian cover. It’s just a coincidence, I’m sure.

On Where to Send Me E-Mail


Yesterday’s short outage notwithstanding, if you want to send me an e-mail and you want me to actually see it, the very best place to send it is to my “john@scalzi.com” address and not to any other service I might be on, including Facebook. I don’t check in to every social service I’m a part of on a regular basis; for example, I check in to Goodreads maybe once a month. If you post an e-mail to one of those social services, I might not see it for days or weeks.

Also, on the various services I’m on, the e-mail function tends to feel last minute and kludgy, and doesn’t sufficiently archive or do other things civilized e-mail should do, so I basically dislike using those services for anything than the most informal of messages. So, if you’re on Facebook or whatever and just want to send a short, quick “hello,” that’s fine, but if you have something serious to ask me, sending it to “john@scalzi.com” is the way to go.

I’ll note here again that because of the volume of e-mail I get (it’s a lot, even without the spam), I don’t always respond to every e-mail and sometimes an e-mail gets past me. If you were hoping or expecting a response from me and didn’t get one, after a week or so, just send a follow-up. It’s the smart thing to do.


METAtropolis Out in Germany + Sequel News!

If you happen to be in Germany, or, really, any German-speaking country, today is the release date of the German version of METAtropolis. Look how bright and shiny it is! You just want to go up to it and hug it. Go and buy seven.

In other METAtropolis news: Hey, did you know there’s going to be a sequel? Well, there totally is. I’m going to cut and paste project editor Jay Lake’s announcement of it:

I’m pleased to announce that On November 16th, Audible.com will release METAtropolis: Cascadia. This is the sequel to METAtropolis, was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Audie Award (the top honor in the audiobook industry), as well as being published in print by both Subterranean Press and Tor.

This project was edited by me, with work from five other very fine writers. The intention was to focus on just one of the regions covered in the original METAtropolis. This audio anthology deals with the Pacific Northwest, and the successors to Cascadiopolis, subject of my story in the original volume, “In the Forests of the Night.” My own story is a direct sequel, some forty years after the first piece, which explores the direct consequences of the fate of Cascadiopolis. The others take different directions into this same future.

The line-up is:

Here’s the blurb for the anthology:

“As the mid-21st Century approaches, the Pacific Northwest has been transformed — politically, economically, and ecologically — into the new reality of Cascadia. Conspiracies and secrets threaten the tenuous threads of society. The End of Days seems nearer than ever. And the legend of the mysterious Tygre Tygre looms large.”

Very, very cool, and with an excellent line-up of writers. I wasn’t able to join in this time around due to other commitments, but as you can clearly see, they did just fine without me. I’ll be picking up my copy in November, because I’m looking forward to hearing how this world continues. It’s going to be awesome.

The Big Idea: Matthew J. Kirby

When in doubt, simplify. This is a piece of advice that has general application but particularly works for writers, who can get lost in the thickets of their own words and ideas. Just ask Matthew J. Kirby, whose middle-grade novel The Clockwork Three (which just received a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly) has it roots in a series of ideas, but which came to life when Kirby realized that the gears of his story meshed together on a more fundamental level. Kirby puts it all together below.


Before I began writing The Clockwork Three, I thought I had three big ideas.  I thought I had three separate books for young readers, stories that had nothing at all to do with each other.

First, there was the story of an Italian street musician.  His name was Giuseppe, and he was inspired by a real boy the New York Times of 1873 named “Joseph.”  During the 19th century it was a fairly common practice to buy or kidnap children from Italy and ship them off to Paris, London, or New York City, where they were forced to play music and beg on the streets for money.  Many of these children endured years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their padroni, or masters.  According to his later testimony, Joseph was regularly beaten, bound, starved, and he had a scar on his ear where his padrone, a man named Vincenzo Motto, had bitten him.  Motto threatened to kill Joseph if the boy ever tried to escape, but one night Joseph did just that.  He fled into Central Park, where he was eventually found by a park-keeper and taken to a woman who ran one of the cottages in the park (a building now known as the Dairy).  This woman looked after Joseph, and he eventually took the stand to testify against the man who had held him captive.  After reading this story, I knew I wanted to tell it in some way.

For my second big idea, I wanted to tell a mystery story, a secret history for young readers.  I knew it would involve a colorful Madame Blavatsky type figure, and Spiritualism, and something hidden.  I had an idea of the setting in which the story would take place, a grand 19th century hotel, and I knew the main character would be a young maid working in that hotel.

My third idea was for a science-fantasy in which an apprentice mechanician violates the edicts of his guild and attempts to create an artificial man.  Looking back, I know I was overly ambitious, but in my hubris, I wanted to write a Viriconium for middle grade readers, something that would cause them to wonder and think about the technology they are growing up with and taking for granted.  It’s an idea I may still return to if I ever feel able to take on something so large, which won’t be anytime soon.

So I had these three big ideas, and I was pursuing them all as independent stories.  But at some point, I realized I didn’t have three big ideas.  I had one big idea for a story that would bring all three characters and stories together.  The stories of Giuseppe and the maid in the hotel fit naturally in terms of setting.  The story of the ambitious mechanician went through the greatest changes, but he soon became an apprentice clockmaker, and the automaton he creates, with the help of the other two characters, became the central metaphor of the novel.

I know it was the right choice to bring them together.  As soon as I began writing, it was as if the characters had wanted to meet and help each other all along.  And as complicated as the plot is, I was able to write the majority of the book without an outline.  Everything simply fit, page after page, scene after scene.  The stories of Giuseppe, Frederick, and Hannah interlocked, like the turning gears of a clock, and they became The Clockwork Three.


The Clockwork Three: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the book site, with a trailer and an interview. Visit the author’s blog.

You Say You’d Like Some More Music? Well, Fine

Somewhere along the way I became a The Academy Is… fan, mostly because I like me some power-pop cake with emo sprinkles, and that’s what the band serves up. Here, have some.

That’s off the band’s Lost In Pacific Time EP, which is available on Amazon, iTunes and all the usual places.

E-Mail Glitchination

My primary mail account seems not to be accepting incoming e-mail and has not been for the last 90 minutes or so, so if you sent me mail in that time I haven’t gotten it. I’m looking into it now.

Update 2:26: They’re propogating a fix; it may take up to an hour for it to work into the system. To be on the safe side, don’t send me e-mail until about 4pm.

In the meantime, your hold music:

Update 4:07: Okay, looks like I’m getting mail again.

My (Unsolicited) Annual Plug for WordPress.com

As many of you know, for the last two years (the second anniversary was yesterday) Whatever has been housed not on my own Scalzi.com site, but on WordPress’ VIP platform. At the time of the switch it was suggested to me that WordPress would offer nearly entirely burpless service, and given that I had spent months trying to get my own site to play nice with the traffic I was getting, that seemed like a good deal.

Two years in I can say WordPress has definitely lived up to their end of the bargain; even on very high traffic days (the release of Clash of the Geeks; my review of Atlas Shrugged, my saying goodbye to my dog), the site can handle the load. I no longer fear a Boinging or a Farking or an Insta-lanche or any other sort of massive traffic redirect to the site. It works just fine. Which is great for me because now I can just worry about putting stuff into the site, rather than fiddling constantly with the back end.

So this is me saying, first, thanks to WordPress.com for making my life a whole lot easier over the last two years, and second, if you’re considering a site for your blogging needs and you don’t want to bother hosting yourself, give WordPress.com a look. It works for me really well; it might work for you, too.

A Little Historical Perspective

Ten years and one week ago, I was mulling writing a second novel, the one which would eventually become Old Man’s War. I think it might be useful for folks to see now what I was thinking then, particularly in light of my recent entry on finding the time to write.

Oct 2, 2000

I think I want to write another novel. This is something I talk about a lot, or at the very least think about a lot, but it’s not something I’ve actually put high on the priority list. Why? Mostly because I’m in a pragmatic frame of mind recently — I’ve been doing well writing non-fiction, both in the form of my book and in the form of my consulting work, and it’s been reasonably intellectually fulfilling while also being reasonably easy to do. This is opposed to novel writing, which is a thankless freakin’ task, in that it requires a lot of brainpower to actually make something up, and also that the chances of one actually making any money off of it are damn close to nil.

I mean, hell. I wrote one novel, which I thought was pretty decent, and I ended up putting it up on my Web site. People have been nice enough to actually send me money after  reading it, which was very kind of them, let me be clear. But the amount of money I got off writing that novel comes out to something like .2 cents a word.

But this is actually part of why I want to write another novel. First, among friends and the occasional person who shoots me off an e-mail looking for professional writing advice, I always say that the reason one often takes “non-creative” work is that it provides a little financial headroom so that one can work on stuff that is fun but might not make any money — novels, of course being a perfect example of this. However, although I say this, I’m not actually doing it recently — all my writing recently has been for cash on the barrelhead. Nothing wrong with this, of course (this is what I do for a living), but I ought to practice what I preach.

Second, I think it’ll be good for me to write something that doesn’t already have some sort of built-in economic benefit for me, since lately I’ve been thinking entirely too much about money. Not about spending money or even having money: I don’t live extravagantly by any means, and as far as physical possession of my cash goes, I don’t have any; I literally sign my checks over  to Krissy and then she does whatever she does and I frankly don’t think about that money again (it’s better this way becaue when Krissy handles the  money, bills actually get paid).

I mean just about money, and what sort of money writing will get me. A client calls for a project and little money signs ring up in my head; I look at potential things to write, and whether or not I’ll make a decent amount off of it is one of the first things I consider. Again, nothing wrong with this, since this is my line of work — but it’s also the thing I love to do. I need to write something simply for the exercise of writing, and I need to do it without the little money signs dancing in my brain. Sure, it’d be nice if I could sell whatever novel I write, once it’s written. But it’ll be even nicer not to have that be a primary consideration, and just to write something I enjoy for itself.

And there’s the other reason to try a novel again, of course: I’ve got a couple of stories that are just about to pop in my skull, so it’s the right time creatively as well. Now we’ll have to see if wanting write another novel actually translates into writing another novel. I think it will. I hope it will.


I will say that that I’m still mostly in agreement with myself a decade on, and I do find it’s especially important to make time to write stuff for the fun of it without worrying terribly much about whether it can sell. And lest anyone ask me when the last time I did that was, I’ll note that I wrote Fuzzy Nation last year specifically for fun and without regard to whether it would sell. Not to mention a little story about yogurt. I still do practice what I preach.

New Office Chair

Just picked up: The new guest chair plus side table for the office:

The chair is deeply comfortable, I have to say. As in, when you sit in it you have roll to save against catnapping. I mean, if you want to save against catnapping. And why would you? We had the chair special ordered (here’s the generic version) so the upholstery matched the rest of the room’s decor and to make Krissy happy, since she’s already made clear that it’s her chair (Athena’s already colonized the chaise lounge).

I like it both in its look and because it’s part of my office’s further evolution from a style I choose to call Particleboard Convenient to something that better expresses my own personality. I go into my office now, and it’s my office, if you know what I mean. We have a few finishing touches to go — I have to get matching blinds, put things back on the wall and I have to drag the library out of the basement and put it into the new shelves — but even without those the office is much more homey place than it was before.

When I finally get those finishing touches in I’ll be posting a whole tour of the office. Until then: Hey, look. Chair.

Viable Paradise 14

As earlier noted, the reason I wasn’t here much in the last week was because I was at the Viable Paradise writing workshop, at which I and other science fiction pros offered advice and information to newer writers. The workshop this year was very good; I expect you’ll see a number of VP14 students selling their works sooner than later, since in at least one case my advice about a story was “I have no advice to give you. This story works. Send it out.” This is not to say I won’t claim credit for this and other students’ successes when they inevitably happen, mind you. Oh, that writer? Was a student of mine, you know. Everything they know? From me. Yes, indeed.

For the VP14ers and others who are interested, here’s my rather meager Flickr set from the week.

This particular VP session was ever-so-slightly melancholy for me because I won’t be an instructor next year; I have plans for next October which I can’t detail at the moment because they’re not totally set yet, but when they are you’ll probably agree it’s pretty cool. But it means not being at VP, which makes me sad. In the three years I taught there I made a number of good friends, benefited from the wisdom of my fellow instructors,  and I also learned about myself as an instructor of writing, primarily that I can be a pretty good instructor of writing. I wouldn’t necessarily have laid money on that one before I did it. It’s an interesting thing to discover about one’s self, and for me a good thing. I do like being useful to other writers; I like to think I’ve been useful to these VP students. Especially since I plan to take credit for their success anyway.

In any event, I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have three very good years teaching at Viable Paradise. I hope the instructor who replaces me next year feels as happy to be there, and gets as much out of the workshop and the students, as I have. I don’t doubt that they will.

A Visual Representation of My Literary Workshop Critique Style

Photo credit: Gwen Hill.

Yup, that’s about right.

In other news, I am now back at home. I’m going to spend it catching up with family. See you tomorrow.

Heading Home

I’m off to Ohio after a week at Viable Paradise. What a lovely time. But it will be nice to be home. I’ll ping you again on the other side.

Yes, I Know I’m on Google Quote of the Day

You don’t have to send me an e-mail/Tweet/Facebook note about it. Thank you, though.

For those of you who lack context, the quote is from Old Man’s War, and John Perry talking about his marriage. It’s not a direct assessment from me about my marriage.


The Big Idea: Paul Crilley

The Big Idea series here is predicated on the idea that one big concept can motivate the creation of art, but saying this doesn’t discount the idea that authors can want or desire to accomplish a number of things in their book. For The Invisible Order, Book One: The Rise of the Darklings, author Paul Crilley had a list of things he wanted to do, and worked to have those goals dovetail into each other to make one complete whole: the final story. Here he is to give you the details about that.


Magic in the mundane world has always fascinated me. The possibility that around the next corner, separated by the faint whisper of a magic spell, is a hidden world full of danger and mystery.

This was the seed that eventually grew into The Invisible Order. The idea that there was a magical world existing alongside the real one. A mirror image that reflected reality at a slightly skewed angle, where if you only knew how to look you would discover a whole other world: a fey street in Victorian London hidden around a dark alley in Cheapside, where an obese Oberon, once King of Faerie, now spends all his time eating and drinking and has to be wheeled around on a massive wooden chair. A three thousand foot oak tree hidden far below the streets of London, inside of which the Faerie Queen holds court. Hidden spells locked away in the galleries of St Paul’s Cathedral, awaiting only the answer to a specific riddle before releasing their magic. A world where Black Annis and Jenny Greenteeth are as real as you or I, waiting patiently for children to stray too close to the edge of the Thames so they can devour them, limb, by crunchy limb.

A world where creatures of Faerie and monsters of legend battle each other for control of the city, a hidden war fought beneath our very noses.

Victorian London is another subject that has long held my interest. I love the history of the city, the legends, the mixture of old and new, the collision of spiritualism and religion against the onslaught of technology. I love the sheer resilience of a city that has been subjected to plague, fire, drought, floods. It never falls, but rises, sometimes sluggishly, from the ashes and mud to renew itself, disaster after disaster.

And finally, secret societies. I’ve always loved reading about secret societies. Cryptic lore, hidden treasures, clandestine meetings in fog shrouded streets. The name of the series is actually a reference to the secret society created by Merlin the Enchanter back in the mists of London’s pre-history. Merlin founded The Invisible Order and gave its members only one remit: when the fey creatures tried to harm mankind, (and they would), then the Order had to stop them. By any means necessary.

I first wrote The Invisible Order as a short story for the DAW anthology Under Cover of Darkness. But even then I could see that there was potential for broadening the world. This was back in 2004, and I spent the next few years juggling working on the novel with my day job of writing for South African television. (I used to write Zulu language sitcoms. I didn’t have to write in Zulu, which was a Good Thing. I wrote in English and the scripts were translated by someone else. But to say that a lot of jokes don’t cross the language barrier is something of an understatement. I also spent about 18 months writing on a soap opera set in an acting school. Sort of like Fame but with really bad acting and more hysterics.)

While I was writing the book, I knew there were a couple of things I wanted to do. I wanted to create a main character who was competent and engaging. Who garnered reader sympathy without the reader feeling sorry for her. I wanted a character who didn’t need to keep running to adults to solve her problems. Someone who was resolute, who took what life gave her and then did her best to solve her own problems without having to rely on someone older than her to help.

And secondly, I wanted to write a book that could be enjoyed by kids and adults. Yeah, sure, I hear you say. Who doesn’t? But it’s true. I didn’t write the book thinking it was for 10 year olds. I wrote the story I wanted to read. Simple as that. My hope is that younger readers and older readers might take something different away from it. The opening quotes say it better than I ever could.

‘It is not children only that one feeds with fairy tales.’ – Ephraim Gothold Lessing

‘Some day you will be old enough to enjoy fairy tales again.’ – C.S. Lewis.

At the beginning of the book, Emily is an adult in everything but size. She doesn’t have time for magic and fairy tales. All her time is taken up with the real world, with making sure she and her brother have enough to eat and a place to stay. But as the story progresses, she begins to open her eyes a bit to the magic and wonder around her. She slips out of the slightly cynical skin that Victorian London has draped across her. She begins to accept – with, I hope, the reader – that maybe there is more out there than the mundane life she leads. That if you only open your eyes and look around, you’ll find that there is magic out there.

You just have to know where to look.


The Invisible Order: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit Paul Crilley’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.