Become a Character in My Latest Book: A Contest

So, I’m busily writing away on my newest book, the one that should be out sometime in 2012. And I just wrote a character whose name is currently “Lieutenant Merkel,” for no good reason than because for that second I was thinking about Germany. But I don’t really like the name for the character, so I figured, hey, why not have a contest, the winner of which will get to have his or her name replace that of Merkel’s?

Why not indeed.

So, a contest! The winner of which will have his or her name replace that of Merkel’s. Now, before you enter, here’s what you need to know:

1. Merkel/You is a bit player, but of generally good character;
2. Merkel/You may or may not live to see the end of the story. Because if someone has to die, I need to work with what I have on hand.

So you need to be cool with the fact there’s a chance I might kill “you” off. But if I have to I’ll try to have it be, like, heroic and all. But no promises. If it makes sense for the story to have you ingested by voles, I’ll be doing that. Because, hey, man. I’m an artist.

To acclimate yourself to the concept of death, that will be the theme of the contest.

For the contest, write a haiku from the point of view of some who is either about to die or has just died, from one (or more!) of the following:

1. A spider monkey or monkeys;
3. Poor GPS directions
4. And, of course, Spontaneous Human Combustion.

So, for example:

I’m really amazed
Who knew that spider monkeys
Enjoy human snacks?


Did you know humans
Smell like bacon when they fry?
Just found out myself!

Got it? Excellent.


1. One haiku per person. So make it good.

2. “Haiku” in this case means a poem in 5/7/5 syllable configuration. You don’t need to make a seasonal reference.

3. All entries have to be in by 11:59:59pm Eastern, Sunday, January 16, 2011.

4. If you win, the name used will be your last name. The person using your name may or may not be of your own sex/nationality/creed/sexual predilections, etc. You won’t be able to substitute anyone else’s name.

And there you are. Drop your entries in the comment thread.

Good luck!


Yeah, No


At this point it’s certain neither Sarah Palin nor any other politician or pundit is responsible for Jared Lee Loughner shooting Congresswoman Giffords or anyone else that he did.

Sarah Palin has a perfect right, both legally and morally, to protest those who are trying to directly tie her, her rhetoric, or the rhetoric of her political allies, to Loughner.

Doing so by asserting that her and her pals getting pinked for their political messaging is just like the entire nation of the Jews enduring centuries of pogroms and persecution because of the enduring lie that they murdered babies for their religious ceremonies? Well, there are many ways to explain why this is idiotic, contemptible, morally egregious, conceptually denegrating and just plain wrong, but perhaps the best way to explain it is to send other a few other things through the Palin Equivalence Filter:




French fries with insufficient salt: THE POTATO FAMINE

Bad table at a restaurant: STALIN STARVING THE UKRAINE

Morning breath: MUSTARD GAS AT YPRES

Having to fly coach: THE BLACK HOLE OF CALCUTTA

Bad cell phone reception: LOCKED-IN SYNDROME

“Sarah Palin’s Alaska” canceled: MANTLE-CRACKING ASTEROID


I hope this is sufficiently explanatory.

Again: Palin perfectly correct to complain about those trying to blame her for Loughner’s actions. But of all the stupid, appalling, jackassed things Sarah Palin has ever said in the history of the time she’s inflicted herself on the consciousness of our great nation, this is, alas, merely the most recent.


Yes, It Will Suck. No, I Don’t Really Care

Over at my column this week, someone tries to taunt me into outrage about the fact that this summer there will be yet another Transformers film unleashed upon the world. But the truth is, I can’t really work up more than a token amount of fury about it. Go there to find out why.

And of course, if you want to be outraged, either at the Transformers movies or with me, well, that’s what the comments section there is for.


People We Can All Agree Are Scumbags

Some folks are asking me about my thoughts on the Westboro Baptist Church deciding to picket the funeral of the nine-year-old victim of the Tucson shooting. Very briefly:

1. Fred Phelps and his pals make me wish I were a religious man, so I could enjoy imagining the lot of them spending eternity as a human centipede in the very bowels of Hell. But that’s really not a good reason to want to be religious.

2. The day Charlie Stross pointed me to an online essay positing that Fred Phelps is a con man, I felt many things were suddenly clarified. You may find it similarly elucidating.

3. I do think one positive thing about the Westboro Baptist Church is that whether we’re conservative or liberal, gay or straight, hawk or dove, young or old, rich or poor, we can all agree on one thing: those people are assholes. And that’s a comforting thought.

Along that line, allow me to commend to you this essay on the Patriot Guard Riders, written by my then-guest blogger Mykal Burns. My understanding is that a large group of Tucson citizens will be doing a similar thing at the funeral in question. Good for them.


Oh, And —

Old Man’s War currently at #1 on that Best SFF Novels of the Decade poll. For today, anyway — I really don’t expect to keep that ranking, considering how many very good SFF novels were published in the last decade. But for today: w00t! Thanks.

If you’ve not voted in the poll yet but would like to, use that second link above. You can vote for as many SFF novels from the last decade as you think should qualify as the best, which I think is a good way of going about it. Vote’s open through Friday.

(And to be clear: Vote for my books only if you would have done so anyway. I’ll still love you even if you don’t think my books are the best of the decade. And by “love you” I mean “will consider you a prime source of bus fare.”)

Update: Uh-oh, Neil’s just tweeted about the thing to his 1.5 million Twitter minions. Sigh. My reign was fun while it lasted.


Chicagoland: SOON I WILL BE IN YOU

A reminder to all and sundry that in less than a month from now I will be Author Guest of Honor at Capricon XXXI, which will take place February 10 – 13, at the Westin Chicago North Shore, Wheeling, Illinois. Whilst there I will be on panels, probably do a reading and/or a Q&A session, sign books, and show you crazy earthlings the true meaning of love. Yes! All that and more. And I will be joined in Guest of Honorosity by John Picaco (awesome artist), Janice Gelb & Stephen Boucher (fantastic fans) and special guest Bryan Palaszewski of NASA.

If you are in the Chicagoland and/or Tri-State area and you miss this, your nerd accreditation will be revoked. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. Hey, I don’t make the Nerd Rules. I’m telling you simply that they will be enforced.

Also, you will probably be amused by my Guest of Honor bio.

Also, for those of you for whom this matters, at the moment this is my only scheduled public appearance in Chicago for 2011 (obviously, I’ll be back in 2012), so if you want to see me this year in or at least near the great city of Chicago, this is probably the time to do it.

See you there.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Kelley Eskridge

Being alone: we all experience it at one point or another in our lives. The question is: what do we do with alone? Is it a time for reflection and restoration, or do we wish it to end as soon as possible? Each of us deal with it in our own ways. Author Kelley Eskridge knows about the power and mystery of alone, and in her newly-reissued novel Solitaire, examines the condition and how it plays out in the telling of her tale. Here’s Eskridge to tell you about it.


I always knew I would write about being alone.

I’m an only child, and I grew up in a neighborhood without any kids. I spent my time reading, or riding my bike endless miles, an intrepid explorer of my Florida town’s urban zones and weed-choked alleys and tony enclaves where the streets were still paved with red brick. It was fabulous. It never occurred to me there was anywhere I couldn’t go alone.

Alone in those days meant by myself. It wasn’t until my twenties that people began using it to mean you must be lonely. But they aren’t the same thing.

Alone. By myself. Individual. Self-determined. Without needing help. Without having it. Disconnected from others. Unencumbered. Insular. Afraid. Autonomous. Joyful. Small and stuck. Free. Limitless. Singular. Solitary.

I wrote Solitaire to explore the complicated landscape of alone. I found a character named Jackal who defines herself foremost in terms of her community and her connection to others; then I took all that away, and trapped her in the most alone place any of us can go – inside our own heads. Jackal ends up in virtual solitary confinement facing an utterly realistic experience of being locked in a cell for eight years. What happens to her there – her journey through alone – changes everything.

But change is never the end, is it? It’s only the beginning. And so it was important to bring Jackal back from her solitude into the human world, and to see whether, and how, she would find her way to reconnection.

Those three parts of the book – connected, alone, struggling to reconnect – were very different to write. Parts 1 and 3 are pretty straightforward narrative. But how to show the inward journey when there is nowhere for Jackal to go, and no one for her to talk to? Nothing to ‘show’ and no good way to ‘tell’? “As You Know, Bob” dialogue is even worse without a Bob.

The trap of sequences like this one is the temptation to do only the surface work. Eight years alone, that’d be awful! Let’s give her a big dose of the awful and get her out of there. But no one wants to see a character rolling around in the misery mud for eight years. It’s depressing – and worse, it’s boring.

And so I leaned heavily on structure. There’s a display in Jackal’s cell that shows the count of her days, and the story gives us snapshots of her behavior and thinking as being alone changes her. What would you do on Day 1 of 2,920 days? Perhaps by Day 205 you would think you had a coping system in place. Perhaps by Day 377 you would know it wasn’t working. What happens when you get into serious trouble inside your own head, and how in hell do you get out of it? And what happens when you get into serious joy inside your own head, the kind of joy you can only have alone?

I went as deep into alone as I could for this book. I pulled up everything I know about it, and took a long hard look. And then I wrote the moments I thought would best provide the blueprint for the reader to imagine the rest: the long, hard, bright, hopeful, stubborn and sometimes ecstatic days of Jackal’s time alone.

Alone is the part that gets the most attention, but it’s not where I had most of my head-banging I suck at writing moments. That was Part 3, when Jackal comes back into the world. I had to throw out 11,000 words at one point, and it hurt: I had a demanding job and limited writing time, and those words were a year’s work gone. But the words were wrong. They were misery mud, and that was a sign that I was only doing the surface work.

The deeper work was this: Jackal’s journey made me face the reality that I am not that girl on her bike anymore. Begin human is the grand dance of alone and together. There are places we must go by ourselves; there are places we can only go with others. That’s what Jackal and I both learned in the last part of Solitaire.

There’s power and wonder in being alone. There’s power and wonder in finding our way to ourselves. And then we find our way to each other.


Solitaire: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read the first chapter. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.


Oh, Look, a Poll is currently running a poll on the best science fiction and fantasy novels of the last ten years, with the top ten at close of polling (on Friday) to be written about in appreciations, etc. You can nominate as many novels as you choose.

I’ll note that Old Man’s War is currently number eight, with 40 votes, which makes me wonder WHY YOU ALL HAVE FAILED ME SO. I’ll just sit here. In the dark. At number eight. That’s not even bronze. That’s, like, tetanus-laden rust.

(Note: Please don’t actually stuff the ballot box on my behalf. I just like to pretend to complain about my ridiculous good fortune in overly-dramatic tones.)

And more seriously, if you’ve got science fiction and fantasy books you’d like to nominate as the best of the last decade, head on over and make your recommendations. I’ll be interested to find out what eventually makes the cut.


This is Dumb

Did you know that Monday tends to be my business day, professionally? In addition to my “No Internet until quota” policy — hit my quota at 10:30, incidentally, thanks for asking — this is the day I write my column, and today I also did work for a consulting client, doing SFWA matters, and sending off the usual flurry of business e-mails to various and sundry folks. Why, it’s almost like having a real job! Except that I can still be in a bathrobe at 2:30pm. Not that I am, mind you. But I could be.

But my busy-ness means I’m off being busy rather than posting here. Sorry. In lieu of a post at the moment, allow me to send you to this Slate article, which makes a point about why a new proposed bill intended to restrict violent words and images when applied to government officials is in fact a pretty stupid idea, and not just because there’s that whole First Amendment thing we have here in the US.

I would certainly be pleased to see the political rhetoric toned down a bit; trying to legislate it is a sign you’re really missing the point.

Back later.


Notice: Official John Scalzi Public Facebook Page Now Live

So, I’m rapidly approaching the 5,000 friend limit Facebook imposes on personal accounts, because, apparently, when you say “yes” to nearly every friend request you get, that’s what happens. For those of you who will be locked out in the cold when this happens and/or feel that you otherwise don’t get enough of me on Zuckerberg’s Folly, I’ve gone ahead and created a public Facebook page, which apparently any number of people can “Like.”

What will I do with it? I have no idea. But the point is, now I have one. If you would like to like it, it’s here. If you don’t want to like it, well. I think I may survive. Maybe.


Christopher Trussell

Oh, this makes me sad: via my high school friend Jason VanBorssum, I learn that Christopher Trussell, who was one of my favorite teachers in high school, passed away this last November. Chris taught music while I was at Webb and also directed a number of the plays, most notably the school’s annual musical. He had a wicked sense of humor, and could occasionally descend into what I can only describe as a distinctly Trussellian level of high-toned bitchery, which was delightful to see as long as you were not its target, especially as it was conveyed in Chris’ English accent. But mostly he was kind, which is a good thing for a teacher to be.

Chris left Webb before I graduated and eventually ended up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he became a priest and also taught at local schools there. I would call him up every once in a while to see how he was doing and he always seemed happy to be where he was and doing what he was doing. I’m sad I won’t get the opportunity to do so again.

If you would, take a moment to think of Chris; in my experience of him, a good man. He’ll hold a special place in my memory.


Giffords Shooting Follow-up

Some additional thoughts on the conversation of the weekend.

1. I’m still uncomfortable ascribing a political motivation to alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner — or more to the point, ascribing a political motivation that maps more than tangentially at best to current, popular political trends. As someone elsewhere notes, a guy who lists Animal Farm, The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf as some of his favorite books is someone whose peg doesn’t fit into current rhetorical holes without more than a little bit of hammering (it may suggest a general mistrust of organized government, but such a state is neither inherently “left” or “right”). We know next to nothing about the fellow, he’s currently invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination (if reports are to be believed) and otherwise what we know about him are bits and snatches and rumors.

What little I’ve seen — which is basically what everyone else has seen to this point — doesn’t convince me this is about politics as anyone but Loughner understands it. We may (and probably will) learn more as time goes on. But for the moment, I’m of the opinion that whatever this is about, is about Loughner, rather than the overall state of politics in the United States.

2. That said (and at this point I suspect independently), Loughner’s choice to shoot a US Congressperson whose district was recently mapped by political opponents using a shooting target (a Palin spokesperson’s post-shooting assertion that the images of targets on a Palin Web site were of surveyor’s crosses is one of the more transparent bits of complete bullshit in the aftermath of the event) means that at the moment we’re having a discussion of the current state of political rhetoric in the country. As much as they wish it weren’t so or wish to complain that they’re not the only ones partaking of such rhetoric, the Tea Party folks and their associates are the ones most on the defensive here.

I think this should not be in the least surprising. If your political messaging traffics in rhetoric heavy on gun imagery and revolution of the overthrow-y sort, then when someone shoots a congressperson who you opposed, then guess what: You get to spend some uncomfortable moments in the spotlight being asked if it’s not reasonable to suspect a connection between your rhetoric and the actions of a shooter targeting someone you’ve opposed. You also get to spend time being asked if, in fact, your rhetoric isn’t overblown, simplistic and on balance detrimental to the nation’s body politic. Querulous complaints about the unfairness of this can be reasonably overruled by others; the time to complain about your bed is before you make it.

Bad and obnoxious rhetoric is not solely owned by any party, but I do think the current, predominant strain of it dates back to Newt Gingrich and his rhetorical policy of demonizing political opponents and their positions rather than allowing for the possibility that reasonable people might disagree. Gingrich was not the first to do this, of course (check out the political messaging of the early 1800s, just for fun, nor does one have to go back anywhere near that far). His particular strain of it was both efficient and congenial to the rise of partisanship as entertainment, however, of which both both liberals and conservatives partake, although it’s not (necessarily) an insult to note than in general conservatives are better at it, or at least seem to enjoy it more.

And now is a fine time to ask whether the Gingrich strain of rhetoric is past its sell-by date. I think it is. I think it encourages bad politics; it’s a primary tool in making the manner in which people think of politics in the United States the same as they think about football games. I don’t think it’s going to die without a fight — it’s the morning and evening bread and butter for two of the three major cable news networks (not to mention a whole panapoly of talk radio hosts), so there’s a lot of money invested in its success. But what’s good for the 10-Qs of publicly-traded entertainment companies who happen to own cable news networks and newspapers or the ratings of radio stars and reality shows isn’t necessarily what’s good for the actual political health of the nation.

I wish people were smart enough to recognize this. If one result of this shooting is that we start to think about it more, it’ll be a thin silver lining to a very dark cloud. Even if the shooting eventually turns out to be unrelated to the current state of political rhetoric in the country.

3. A friend of mine who suffers from a mental disorder wrote me a letter to suggest to me that the comments in the previous thread about the possible mental illness of Loughner run the risk of carelessly painting everyone who suffers from a mental illness or a disorder with the same behaviors — i.e., they’re all bad/violent/nasty/evil/dangerous, etc.

This is a fair concern on my friend’s part, and so I think it’s worth noting that a) a layman diagnosis of mental illness via the very limited information available online is worth exactly nothing, b) any general equivalence between mental illness or disorder and one being bad/violent/nasty/evil/dangerous, etc. is uninformed and pretty stupid. Loughner may or may not suffer from mental illness, but it’s going to take professional and in-person observation by trained folks to determine that. I imagine that will be happening soon if it’s not already happening. But even if he does, his individual manifestation of his illness is just that — individual, and not representative of anyone else’s.

Or as my friend puts it: “Maybe you could remind folks that the people with mental disorders are around them, right now, being mentally disordered? Also, being lawyers, parents, farmers, soldiers, nurses, truck-drivers, teachers, college students, judges, 5th graders, fishermen, mechanics, martial arts instructors, writers, and general good folks. Just like them.”

So noted.


Congresswoman Giffords Discussion Thread

Folks have asked for a thread to discuss the ongoing situation with Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot today, along with several others, at a meet-and-greet at a Tucson supermarket. Here you go.

My thoughts on it at the moment:

1. It’s a terrible thing that’s happened, and I suspect nearly all people are properly shocked.

2. At the moment, we don’t have any information about the motives for the shooting and until we do, I am personally going to avoid ascribing political motivation to it. I want to know more about the “why” first.

3. In the thread you don’t need to maintain the same “wait and see” attitude I have, but inasmuch as this is a highly charged incident, I’m going to ask each of you to be on your best behavior with each other while taking part in the discussion. This means both keeping one’s temper and having patience with those you see losing theirs. You can assume I already have the mallet pre-warmed and ready to go, and it’s a lovely time to re-acquaint yourself with the site comment policy.

I’ll have more detailed thoughts on the event later, I’m sure. In the meantime, go ahead and talk to each other.


Your Driver is Here

“Where is it you want to go? The veterinarian’s? I’m sorry, I don’t go there. I don’t go anywhere near there, frankly. I’ll take you to Burger King instead. Yes, you can pay me in Whoppers, why do you ask?”

She’s actually not bad. Not so good with the parallel parking. But then, who is.

How’s your Saturday, then?


The Thought of Stringing Words Together On a Friday Afternoon Fills Me With Inexorable Dread, So Here’s a Picture of a Cat

He looks about as thrilled as I feel at the moment.

Therefore, I hereby declare it the weekend.

Brain stem shutting down… now.


Today’s Observation at Just Past One AM

Having just finished Thursday’s work a few minutes ago:

Damn, 2011 got busy, fast.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be busy.

But, damn.

I’m going to bed.


And Now, An Excerpt From My Current Work in Progress, Which Will Change Your Life Forever

Here it is:

“What the hell is an ice shark?

Enjoy! Because until it’s published, that’s all you get.

Oh, and also: Fuzzy Nation on Blastr’s list of 11 sci-fi and fantasy novels they’re looking forward to in 2011. See what the other ten are. I can’t disagree much with this list.


The New Speaker

I was asked how I feel about my Congressional representative John Boehner now being Speaker of the House. The answer is, well, I wouldn’t have voted for him (and didn’t, actually), but enough other people did that he got the job anyway, and, well. That’s democracy for you.

On the positive end of things, I think in a general sense Boehner’s stated desire for transparency on House dealings is a positive, although everyone always says they’re open to transparency, don’t they, and then things go opaque real fast. So if he can do it, great. I’m not holding my breath. That’s less about Boehner than the nature of Congress, however.

Other parts of his agenda, I’m less in love with. The nonsense about overturning the health legislation is just a waste of time, since it will get stuffed in the Senate (still controlled by the Democrats) and even if it didn’t it would get vetoed by the President. I’m aware of the symbolism of the vote, but I still think it’s silly. Once the pointless gestures are out of the way we’ll see what actually gets done, and that’s what I’m mostly interested in.

I don’t suspect it will come as a surprise to most that I’m not hugely impressed with the current iteration of the GOP, which I think is a more than a little light in the brains department, and more concerned with rhetorical scare tactics than an actual political philosophy, or the boring but useful aspects of governance. But regardless of what I think, the GOP convinced enough Americans that it should run the House (or at the very least, that the Democrats shouldn’t).

So it’s theirs for the next two years at least. While I’m skeptical, I’m also willing to be surprised — not necessarily with the rhetoric, which I don’t suspect will change much, but by whether they’re actually serious about governance. If they are, they might end up pissing off some of their fringe, but they might also actually do some good. I could live with that.

So, good luck, Mr. Boehner. Enjoy being Speaker. Serve with honor and conviction and a sense of fairness; that earns my respect even if I don’t share all of your political positions. Let’s see what you do next.


The Workspace

People are wondering how The Great Stay Away From the Internet Plan of 2011 is working, and I say, well, jeez, I’ve only been doing it for three days now, give me a break — but that said, it’s doing fine. Good progress is being made on the current work, and I’m being reminded generally that I do tend to write pretty quickly, so I’m making my intended quota in a reasonable amount of time each day. Early days yet, as noted. But so far, so good.

For the current batch of writing I’m also choosing to use the Cr-48 for creative writing, for two reasons. One, when I applied for one, I said that I would write a novel on it, by way of seeing how a “Web OS” experience had an impact on the writing experience. So in that respect I’m doing what I said I would do. Two, although technically the Cr-48 is constantly connected to the Internet, in a practical sense when I have Google Docs up on full screen there’s nothing else going on but what I’m writing. So all the distractions I have pretty much melt away and I focus on getting my work done. And then when I’ve hit my quota for the day I close up the Cr-48, turn on the big monitor, put the desktop keyboard back in position and check up on how the Internet could have possibly survived without me.

I’ve also found that so far writing the novel via Google Docs hasn’t been a problem. The major change I’ve made is to make each chapter its own document rather than to have one very large document, both to save me from having to do a lot of scrolling and because that way it’s easy to pop up an earlier chapter if I want to refer to something in it. Google Docs automatically saves what I’m doing every couple of minutes or so, so it’s nice not to have to worry about that (I have my Word program set to save every five minutes or so, but sometimes you can write a lot in five minutes that you don’t want to lose). Google Docs is still a fairly limited word processor, but generally speaking for writing novels I don’t use a whole lot of complex functionality. When Doc finally put in a ruler that allowed indenting it became full featured enough for my novel-writing purposes. I still back up what I’ve written every day offline — Google could explode, you know — but from a practical point of view, writing this way is pretty functional.

The one other reason for me to be writing on the Cr-48 is simply to shake myself out of the idea that my longer-length writing needs to be done on the desktop computer, with the big fancy-schmancy screen, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big fancy-schmancy screen; it’s my lovely 24-inch baby, and I really do have use for it. But its more to the point that I spend a substantial amount of my time traveling and being on the move — I’m going to be averaging a week of travel out of each month of this year — and that travel time is lost productivity time if I’m only doing my creative writing at my desk at home.

I understand this point I’m making is well-nigh incomprehensible to those writers used to writing on their laptops wherever they may be (including the dreaded coffee shops), but, you know. Everyone has a routine that works for them. The problem is when you start working for the routine. This is me working to make sure I’m focused on the writing, not the where I’m writing (and in front of what screen, and in which chair I’m sitting).

In short, I’m doing all sorts of things to shake myself up and keep myself writing. It’s working right at the moment. Let’s see if it keeps working moving forward.


Science Fiction Films I’m Looking Forward To

A new year, a new slate of science fiction films to consider — and over at my column this year I point out the ten upcoming science fiction films I’m most looking forward to in 2011. Maybe they won’t all be awesome, but at this point we can still live in hope. Check out the list, and if you have thoughts on it or want to share which films you’re looking forward to, add those to the comment thread over there.

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