Athena and the Pre-CGI Effects Films of Death!

My column is back on its regular schedule, and this week my daughter (seen above, scowling dramatically) passes judgement on all effects-laden films prior to Jurassic Park and finds them completely unacceptable. Why does she do this — and is she correct to do so? The answers await you, my friends. As always, if you feel the need to comment, please feel free to do so over at the column.

Surprise! I Have Another Fuzzy Nation ARC to Give Away

I’m traveling later in the week, so I figure I should probably give one away now, you know?

Here’s how we’re playing it this time:

1. I asked my daughter to think of a number between one and one thousand. She has.

2. Leave a comment in the comment thread. If your comment number matches her number, you win!

3. It is the number of your comment that is important, not what you put in the comment. If you try to guess which comment number will win, that won’t do anything.

4. Only one entry per person. If you put in a comment and it doesn’t show up immediately, don’t panic — it’s in the moderation queue and I will free it before I do the final count. If you post more than one entry, you will be disqualified. Sorry.

5. This contest runs until 7pm Eastern time, April 13, 2011, at which time I will announce the winner.

6. In the event that not enough people comment to reach the number in question, then I will have my daughter think of a number between one and whatever the last number is at 7pm Eastern, April 13, 2011. Whatever comment is at that number will win.

7. The contest is open to anyone anywhere in the world. So go on, leave a comment.

Got it? Okay: Go!

Just Arrived, 4/12/11

Catching up on what’s come to the Scalzi Compound:

* The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught, Jack Campbell (Ace): Campbell’s very popular space opera series featuring Captain john “Black Jack” Geary jumps into hardcover for the first time with this installment, which start a new story arc for Geary, now promoted to admiral, as he would be, and taking a fleet to meet a mysterious new race. Out April 26.

* Department Nineteen, Will Hill (Razorbill): Hey, did you know that a little-known department of the government has been fighting vampires for more than a century? Neither did teen Jamie Carpenter, but when his mom is kidnapped by the fanged bastards, he learns all about it. This is out now.

* WWW: Wonder, Robert J. Sawyer (Ace): The conclusion of of Sawyer’s “WWW” trilogy has the newly-awakened Webmind changing nearly every aspect of the world — and that doesn’t sit well with some, who are thinking of ways to bring the Webmind down. Also out now.

* The Alchemist in the Shadows, Pierre Pevel (Pyr): Cardinal Richlieu fights dragons! Well, not him directly. He’s, like, a cardinal. He’s got people to do that stuff for him. Namely, the Cardinal’s Blades, a team of swordfighting badasses to do his bidding. And bid them he does. Out April 26.

* The President’s Vampire, Christopher Farnsworth (Putnam): Hey, if Richlieu can have dragon fighters, surely the president can have his own vampire, right? It’s the most secret of secret services. In this book, vampire Nathaniel Cade looks into a Blackwater-like contractor whose own secrets are possibly of the supernatural sort. Damn private contractors. This one hits April 28.

* The Amazon Legion, Tom Kratman (Baen): This latest sequel to A Desert Called Peace follows the exploits of women warriors called to defend their nation of Balboa. Out now.

* The Ritual, Adam Nevill (Pan Macmillan): Four old university friends try to reconnect on a Scandinavian outing, but then a presumed shortcut leads them into a darkness which their friendships — and they themselves — may not survive. That’s why I stay out of the Scandinavian woods, man. This will be out in the UK on May 6.

Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison (Subterranean Press): Ellison’s classic collection gets an expanded edition, put together with typical SubPress flair, with three additional stories and a new afterward exclusive to this edition. Not cheap (prices range from $45 for the trade edition to $500 for the limited lettered edition) but very pretty. You’ll need to go to the SubPress store to get this one.

The Big Idea: Peter Orullian

Choices, motivations, and the unintended consequences thereof — heady stuff for any novel, much less a series. In The Unremembered, the debut fantasy novel from Peter Orullian, which is in itself the first novel in a six book series, each of these things is considered, and weighed, and tested before being put into practice. Orullian is here to explain why it all matters, for the book and beyond.


Who atones for a savior? Put aside your personal views on religion for a moment, and think about that question. Of course, the first thing that you must assume is that a savior or messiah figure would need such help. Some creeds won’t suffer the thought. But in the context of a fantasy novel, it was one of the germinating Big Ideas that led to The Unremembered.

I like to explore motivation, choice, and consequence. They seem to me like a set of pipes that run out from the heart and mind and right back in, often siphoning back a rather damaging bile. But, if I tax the metaphor, a few things result from this potentially toxic return flow: we gain wisdom, sometimes grow inured, sometimes perish. Of course, happiness may result, too; I’m not a complete sadist.

But as I got rolling with the book, my thoughts about one person redeeming another or maybe many others—ya know, standing up to be counted—began to shift, and that’s where things got challenging and interesting. See, because people fail. And if someone is relying on you, and your limitations or unwillingness become the reason they suffer . . . well, that just sucks. It’s where the pain lives, and it’s where I felt the book begin to grow past the tropes of fantasy. Not by trope avoidance; I don’t care about that. Since, if you’ve been paying attention, trope-avoidance is the new trope. But rather, this idea of failing someone (and again, maybe failing many) got inside me. No, that’s not right, either. It’s more like through the writing, and in retrospect, I acknowledged a fear of my own. I don’t write for self-therapy, and I’m certainly no iconoclast. Nor have I any agenda. Still, as I told the story of people (and even gods) whose help was needed and who could not or would not be able to offer that help . . . it took my book in a direction I had not anticipated.

That all sounds rather deep. Maybe. But it’s not like I was writing a thesis. It’s just that the adventure of the book seemed to me a rather thin skein if the choices along the way weren’t at least sometimes complicated, filled with ambiguity. It’s like playing with that old saw: “Doing the right thing for the wrong reason.” That’s interesting stuff. As is the inverse: “Doing the wrong thing for the right reason.”

And it’s not as though this was all conscious and deliberate as I sat in my chair, writing. It really has more to do with my intention (which I uploaded into my subconscious and then promptly forgot) that choices must matter, for good or ill.

Which then dovetails nicely with another of the Big Ideas that I believe, and hope, has shaped The Unremembered. And that’s this: Some choices have the power and opportunity to touch two eternities. What I mean by that is perhaps best related in an example given by Dan Simmons, who first introduced me to this notion, albeit slightly different. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), that a good teacher can touch eternity . . . but so can a bad one. Dan used to be an educator, so he knows the score here. I’ve never forgotten that. And as I’ve dallied with the notion over the years, it has occurred to me that some choices—depending on which way we choose—may have two separate and ultimate ends. I love (and frankly tremble at) this idea.

Now a life—even that of a character in a fantasy novel—could get painfully doctrinaire or just flat boring if every decision carried such weight. I had no interest in that. On the other hand, I did want to explore how some of those “throw away” decisions a character makes all the time might have ripple-effects they can’t fully appreciate. And two stripes of such decisions occurred to me: the innocent, seemingly harmless choice that eventuates in all kinds of badness; and the absence of action, omission.

And then this idea, for me, kind of turned the whole thing to eleven: What might happen if all this stuff were restored to the character, all these choices—their consequence, the harm, the joy, the disappointment, the shame, the hope? That’s savior stuff, isn’t it? I don’t mean with a capital “S.” More, say, in the philosophical sense. And in The Unremembered, specifically, my creation myth holds that the gods have decidedly abandoned the world.

That abandonment, that decision to withdraw, influenced how I developed and wrote about the world of my book. Regardless the reasons of these absent gods, you can imagine the underlying potential for hopelessness. That became a fun challenge, and it wound up presenting me some opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Because after all is said and done (and as maudlin as it’s going to sound), I want my stories to be about hope. But I don’t think you get there by writing platitudes. At least, that’s not the route I took. Instead, the road I traveled (avoiding spoilers here) showed my characters having to do heartbreaking things, which—if I’ve done my job—are moments of darkness that make hope shine the brighter.

Oooh, I almost waxed poetic there. My point is just that there’s disappointment, sometimes accidental, sometimes intentional. And then, you know, how do my characters make that right? If they’re even aware. If they even care. There’s war, of course, suffering by the sword. There’s also a quieter brand of suffering as a consequence of disappointment, when a hero (a savior) fails someone personally. Are they, afterward, even a hero? Who atones for that guy?

My job was to make the painful decisions of my characters seem credible, necessary, even when they cause you to want to smack our heroes around some. But mostly, the big idea became the willingness to put everything at risk for a friend, and I wound up feeling kinda good about that.


The Unremembered: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Find other media and stories relating to the novel. Follow Peter Orullian on Twitter.

Cat With Books

Zeus sits among the books I have received in the last week or so and does not judge me for not having put up a new “Just Arrived” piece. He does judge me for having so many books on my side table that he cannot lie down, however. My punishment will undoubtedly come in the night, when the Paw of Vengeance inserts itself into my left nostril whilst I sleep. It is a fair sentence.

My Minicon 46 Schedule

A reminder to Minnesotans, Wisconsinites, Iowans and Dakotans (and, heck, Manitobans and Ontarians) that I’ll be among all y’all in less than two weeks, as Substitute Guest of Honor at Minicon 46 in Bloomington, Minnesota, which you can still get memberships for and participate in the general revelry and hilarious hijinx! And yes, the hijinx will be hilarious. There’s no point in having hijinx unless they are.

And what will I be doing whilst at Minicon 46? Below, please to find my schedule of events.

The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be – 4:00 PM Friday (April 22nd)
Depictions of the world following a lack of cheap energy seem to be replacing the glitzy hi-tech future and post-nuclear holocaust in SF. Will the trends continue? Is this future more plausible than the earlier versions? How much do fictional futures have to say about the times in which they are written?
Panelists:  John Scalzi, Laura Krentz, Neil Rest, Greg Johnson, Magenta Griffith

Opening Ceremony – 7:00 PM Friday
Welcome to Minicon 46!  Meet Guests of Honor John Scalzi and Chas Somdahl.  Revel in announcements from the Minicon Committee.  See and be seen.  Maybe a bit of Shockwave Radio Theater humor, you never know.
Panelists:  David E Romm, John Scalzi, Chas Somdahl, Kevin Austin, Joel Phillips

Successful Writing In the Digital Age 10:00 PM Friday
Our author Guest of Honor John Scalzi has been writing or editing for the online world for more than fifteen years. How does one survive as a writer in the digital age? How does an internet persona mesh with the introverted lifestyle of an author?  What’s the best way to deal with the trolls and haters?
Panelists:  John Scalzi, Ctein, Aaron Vander Giessen

Science Literacy Vs. Human Knowledge – 11:30 AM Saturday (April 23rd)
The corpus of human knowledge is growing constantly. How can we even decide what the baseline of scientific literacy should be? What’s the process by which the baseline changes?
Panelists:  Chas Somdahl, Kelly Strait, John Scalzi, Howard Davidson, Rob Callahan

John Scalzi Reading and Signing – 2:30 PM Saturday
Programming Note: In addition to reading my own work, I will, with his blessing, read a little from Charles Stross’ upcoming — and excellent — novel, Rule 34. I’m doing this because Charlie was the convention’s original author guest of honor, until personal circumstances required his presence at home. So I’m happy to be able to give his fans a sneak preview here.
John Scalzi, Anton Peterson assisting

John Scalzi Interview – 5:30 PM Saturday
John Scalzi chose not to pursue other career options principally because “use more mayonnaise” does not apply as universally as one might hope.  This interview will focus on the path that he chose instead.  Questions from the audience are strongly encouraged.
John Scalzi, David E Romm interviewing

Creation Museum Slideshow – 8:30 PM Saturday
John Scalzi shares photos and stories from his visit to “the very best monument to an enormous load of horseshit that you could possibly ever hope to see.” Hilarity ensues.
John Scalzi, Rob Callahan moderating

Common Misconceptions About Publishing – 11:30 AM Sunday (April 24th)
How is the publishing industry structured? What exactly does an author sell to a publisher, and what do publishers want to see? Why are books the length that they are? Published authors and editors talk about their experiences and share their “If I knew then what I know now…” stories.
John Scalzi, Michael Merriam, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Works of John Scalzi – 2:30 PM Sunday
John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Closing Ceremony – 4:00 PM Sunday
Final thoughts from Guests of Honor Chas Somdahl and John Scalzi. The Assassination of the MN-StF President.  Wind down the con. Art show and Medallion Hunt winners, among other announcements. Final thoughts from Concom.

In addition to this I will be doing my usual loitering about in the bar area, visiting parties and otherwise being accessible as Guests of Honor should be. Come on down and join us — you’ll have the sort of fun that only unregenerate nerds can provide! And, truly, that is the best kind. See you there.

Your Hyperrealistic Movie Future

My column for last week got posted a bit late because of some site redesign issues, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still absolutely critical to your life as you know it. This column is talking about the plan by science fiction film makers to shoot their upcoming films with higher frame rates — and what that will mean for your cinematic experience, both in theaters and at home. Check it out and as always feel free to leave your own thoughts and comments over there.


Daisy and Lopsided Cat Pose For Their Spring Portraits

And as you can see, it was a lovely day for it. So lovely, in fact, that I spent most of it away from the computer. And I would do it again. Don’t worry; tomorrow’s supposed to be rainy and 20 degrees cooler. I’ll be back inside then.

Today’s Disturbing Biological Oddity

And you say, what’s so odd or disturbing about buds on a tree? It’s spring, after all. Only this: These buds, and hundreds more, are on branches which have been severed from their tree since October. These branches have been dead for months.

So you know what this means, don’t you. Yes:


You have been warned. Zombie tree is coming for you! Slowly.

Why I Didn’t Write About the Shutdown That Wasn’t

In e-mail a couple of you wondered why I didn’t participate in Shutdown-mania last week, while all the cool kids were kvetching about it and explaining why it would be a politically horrible event for [insert whichever politician and/or party they liked the least], and everything would be terrible and there would be babies eaten and kittens set on fire, etc.

Here’s why. You know when you’re at a club, or in high school, and you see two douchebags with their douchebag entourages, and the douchebags look like they’re going to get into it, and their entourages are egging them on, so they start taunting each other, and then maybe there’s a shove or two, and then a couple of the more sensible friends in either entourage make a show of restraining their pals and nothing much actually happens?

Yes, well. When douchebags start taunting and shoving, the point is not to actually get into a fight, the point is to make a sufficient show for the douchebag entourages so that when the sensible friends intervene, everyone can walk away thinking that their side won the exchange. You can’t walk away before the shoving happens, because then everyone knows you’ve lost, and then there goes your entourage. So: Taunt, shove, restrain, everyone “wins.”

Welcome to shutdown 2011.

And, I don’t know. I just didn’t have much interest in the posture theater this time around. At most I was mildly interested to see whether the “sensible friends” would act in this scenario, since the last time this happened in Congress — you’ll recall 1995’s shutdown, no doubt — the sensible friends on the GOP side forgot to intervene, and their appointed posturing douchebag leader that time around, Newt Gingrich, either got sucker-punched by Bill Clinton or ended up sucker-punching himself (depending on who’s telling the story). But I was only mildly interested because John Boehner, bless his heart, isn’t Newt Gingrich. I imagine he was delighted to have been restrained at the end.

I do think it’s ridiculous that we had to have this sort of posture theater, but that’s the way of the political landscape at the moment, so, fine, folks, have your fun. But at the end of the day (the very end of it, in this case), everyone walked away from a stupid fight being able to claim “victory” in one way or another. Nice for them, I suppose. A better victory would be a government with elected officials who don’t feel required to act like douchebags in a club, or in high school. Something for us all to keep in mind the next time elections roll around.

9:37 PM

This was the time I had in my head for yesterday’s Fuzzy Nation ARC giveaway. Which means that Whatever reader Shmuel wins, because he picked the right time to post. Timing is everything. Congratulations to him.

For everyone else, don’t worry, I’ll give away at least one more ARC between now and release of the book.

Hey, I Have Another Signed Fuzzy Nation ARC to Give Away

This time, I am thinking of a particular moment of time between RIGHT THIS SECOND and 11:59pm Eastern time tonight (that being April 8, 2011), and have told my wife WHO DOES NOT LIE what time it is. If you are the person who posts a comment in this thread at, or closest to, that moment (as recorded by the timestamp on the comment), then you will win. How absurdly easy, right? Right.

If you win, I will sign it! And personalize it! To you! Unless you want me to personalize to someone else. In which case I will personalize it! To them!


1. One entry per person. Duplicate entries will disqualify you.

2. In the event two or more people post at the same correct minute, whoever posts first wins. Because I said so.

3. In the case that someone doesn’t post at that exact moment, the first person to post after that exact minute will win. Again, because I said so.

4. If you post after 11:59pm Eastern time, you may not be paying attention to the details of this particular contest.

Update: 5. When you post your entry is the minute you choose — if you try to guess the time I’m thinking of in your comment, it won’t do you any good.

Got it? Go!

My Day’s Been Oddly Surreal, So Here’s a Nice Picture of My Kid and the Dog

I could tell you why it’s been surreal, but I promise you that you simply wouldn’t believe me. So enjoy the pretty picture instead, okay?

Achievement Unlocked: New York Appearance

For all you folks in New York City who were complaining that I never come to see you when I tour: FINE. I’M COMING. Are you happy now?

Specifically, I’m coming to be a part of this, sponsored by the New York Public Library:

Speculating on Fiction
Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 5:30 p.m.
Mid-Manhattan Library
Fully accessible to wheelchairs

Spend an evening in the realm of speculative fiction! From sword wielding creatures to clanking machines to Russian fairytales, get a peek inside some of the most creative minds in fiction today.

Lev Grossman – The Magicians
John Scalzi – Fuzzy Nation
Cat Valente – Deathless
Scott Westerfeld – Behemoth

With MC Gavin Grant – Small Beer Press

Original Music by Brian Slattery

So, yeah: That’s going to be pretty damn awesome.

You want to go? I know, silly question. The good news is, it’ll be free. But the NYPL asks if you would be so kind as to register, so they have at least some clue as to how many people will show up. Go here and follow the link at the bottom of the page to register.

So there, New York. Soon I will be in you. And oh, the fun we will have.

Revenue Streams 2010

In my continuing quest to demystify things related to the business of writing, at least inasmuch as they relate to me, today I am going to talk revenue streams. As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of writers having multiple revenue streams, so that when one of them cuts out on you — and it will cut out on you — you still have money coming in while you look for something to replace the income you’ve lost. I am also a huge proponent of recognizing that even within an individual stream of income, there can and will be substantial variation from year to year.

To make these points, I’m going to lay out to you my own revenue streams for 2010, and point out what I currently expect from each of these in the coming year. Note that for this exercise I will be discussing only my income from writing and writing-related activities, not my overall household income. I am not noting the specific dollar amount of my income last year (because I’ve been told not to by the Scalzi Family CFO, i.e., my wife), but you may assume that when Congress and the President chose to extend the Bush era tax cuts on the top income earners in the US for the next two years, one of the people who didn’t see his top marginal federal tax rate go up was me.

So, to begin. Here is a handy dandy pie chart of where my income came from in 2010:

My income profile has changed significantly over the years; it’s only been in the last couple of years that the majority of my income has come from books. Prior to that the largest chunk of my writing income came from corporate consulting work and writing non-fiction and journalism. The change has happened primarily because a) I now have a body of work that remains in print and generates royalties and b) I now generally get paid more per book.

However, if I am smart what I won’t do is look at this chart and think, well, this is the way it’s going to be from now on. It won’t be, either in the distribution of income or indeed, in the size of pie in a general sense. To explain why, let me discuss the individual slices of this pie.

Books (new, royalties, foreign sales): This category breaks down as roughly 40% new sales, 40% royalty payments on existing books, and 20% foreign, both sales and royalties. 2010 was a very good year for me in this area, but there are reasons not to count on this remaining as large a pie slice in 2011. Why?

1. Tor paid me a nice amount for Fuzzy Nation, which drove the chunk of income here devoted to new sales. However, the next novel I have with Tor is being slotted in to fulfill an outstanding contract I’ve had with my publisher for some time; it was originally part of a two-book series I never wrote, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. That contract’s price is substantially below what I’m being paid for Fuzzy, and I had already taken receipt of the first installment of that advance several years ago. Basically Tor will be getting my next novel at a discount. I’m fine with this, and I’ll almost certainly make it up on the back end, in terms of royalties. But depending on sales and reserves against returns, those royalties will take between 12 and 24 months to get to me. So for 2011, it’s almost entirely certain that my “new book” income will go down.

2. My royalty payments have been good over the last few years, but Fuzzy Nation is also my first new novel in three years (the last was Zoe’s Tale in 2008) and while that gap was filled with various editions of METAtropolis and Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, there’s been a natural decline in backlist sales over time. Now, the announcement of the movie deal for Old Man’s War has given the backlist a boost, as likely will the release of Fuzzy. But thanks to the way royalties move through the system, I’m unlikely to see that benefit for a year or so. Also given the advance for Fuzzy, depending on sales it might be a while before it earns out its advance. So for 2011, I’m likely to see my royalty income either stay stable or go down a bit.

3. Foreign sales and royalties have been healthy but again the lack of new novels between 2008 and now has had an impact. The good news is that Fuzzy is selling well overseas and that the movie announcement for OMW has spurred interest in markets it’s not already in, so that helps. I expect foreign book income in 2011 to remain about the same overall.

So, overall, for 2011, my book income will probably be down from 2010. Where it goes from there depends on a number of factors, including, of course, whether I continue to get out a new novel about once a year, and how well those novels do, both at debut and then as back list. This sort of thing is impossible to predict with any certainty.

Film Option: The film option is in a category I like to think of as “extraordinary income” — that is, income which sort of falls into one’s lap and may not ever be repeated again. The option is due to be renewed later this year, at which time one of two things will happen: either it’s renewed, in which case I get another nice chunk of income, and the possibility of further income down the line, or it’s not renewed, in which case I get nothing (unless we sell the option to someone else). Naturally I hope for the first but would be foolish to assume it’s a given. Another wrinkle: the next option step has an 18-month window, which means no film option income in 2012, unless the start of production on this film in that timeframe. So no matter what my film option income will be down, either this year or next.

TV Consulting: This was the money I made being the Creative Consultant on Stargate: Universe. The show was canceled, alas; this income stream has gone away, and in the short term, at least, is unlikely to be replicated. So for 2011, the income from this category will be zero.

Film Column: This is the column I first wrote for the site and now for the site (which is owned by AMC). I enjoy doing it and they seem to enjoy having me do it and as far as I know they’re going to keep having me do it. So I expect income in this category to stay the same for 2011.

Corporate Consulting: Primarily for a single client; who it is and what I’m doing I can’t divulge due to a non-disclosure agreement. I can say it’s been fun and interesting. Because the bulk of my payment so far has been in 2011, I can say income in this category will be going up this year. Where this category goes from there is anyone’s guess.

Miscellaneous: This includes income from various small freelancing gigs, teaching, and other odd bits, like performing at w00tstock. I have no idea what to expect from this category this year; that’s one reason why it’s called “miscellaneous.” Before any of you ask, no, so far I’m not doing any w00tstock 3.0 events. But who knows?

Short Stories: The smallest category of my writing income and likely to stay that way in 2011, seeing as it’s already April and I’ve only written and sold one short story. But I’ll probably write at least a couple more between now and the end of the year, which means that I can reasonably expect this category to stay about the same, income-wise.

In all, while I expect 2011 to work out just fine for me — Neither I nor my family will be coming anywhere close to financial instability, for which I am immensely grateful — I also expect to make less than I did in 2010, and possibly much less, and to have the relative percentages of the categories from which I make money to change, sometimes quite dramatically.

This is the way of the writing life. Year to year, some income categories will go up, some will go down, some will remain static and some will go away completely. And, also, possibly, some new ones might emerge. I might get to do more newspaper or magazine freelancing, for example, or I might get an offer to do a speaking engagement or two, or I might do some editing. Maybe I’ll get another consulting gig with a TV or a movie. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to write a comic book — or maybe I’ll write a movie script and sell it (ha!). Or maybe none of that will happen, my books will fall out of print and no one will be interested in what I’m currently writing. Some of this will be about me, but a lot of it won’t be; some of it will be about factors completely out of my control. What you can expect is that I will continue to seek out a variety of writing revenue streams, rather than keep all my financial eggs in a single basket. I will find a way to work, one way or another.

What I do expect — and if you are a writer or hope to be, what you should also expect — is that no matter what, year in and year out, writing income will be volatile. It is not a field in which you can expect anything to stay the same for any length of time, nor can you expect your fortunes to be sunny every step of the way. I am thankfully fortunate today. I hope to remain fortunate tomorrow. I work to allow continued good fortune a place to happen in my life. I plan financially with the expectation I will not be so fortunate. This means keeping a sharp eye on expenses, living within (and when possible, below) my means, and saving and investing the majority of what I have come in so that when (not if) less fortunate times come we have a margin that allows us to maneuver and prepare and plan for more fortunate times.

One reason I’m airing my revenue pie to you is to make the point that the next time I do it, it will probably look nothing like it does today. That’s not unusual. What would be unusual is that if it did look the same, year in and year out.

Today’s Ridiculous Fanboy Extravagance

It’s the limited edition (number 864 out of a 1,000) Elfman/Burton music box, featuring CDs of the soundtracks to every Tim Burton film that Danny Elfman has scored (as well as a flash drive with the same, which is that skull-looking disc you see), a hardcover book about their collaboration, a DVD of the two conversing, and other goodies, including a working zoetrope that has printed strips of Burton animations and Danny Elfman doing horrible things to his eyes. It’s ridiculous and awesome, and now it’s mine. Or more accurately, my wife and my daughter’s, since I bought it for them (they’re even bigger Elfman/Burton fans than I am). It was meant to be a Christmas gift, but production delays pushed it into April. Just in time for my wife’s birthday. Well played, gentlemen. Well played, indeed.

If you’re also a completely ridiculous Elfman/Burton fan, I understand there may still be some non-limited versions available. Time to spend all those pennies you’ve been saving!

Oh, and About That Cover Letter

You remember the one. Here’s the story on that. It’s the work of a friend of mine, and was specifically designed to terrify an editor. Which it did. So well done him.

I realize that some of you will be disappointed that Violet Thunder is no more real than TSWOTNDBOTDC, but now all the editors dreading the arrival of that particular cover letter and four sample pages can breathe easier.

And no, I never believed (nor said) it was an actual cover letter. I did say that those who doubted its veracity should ask editors they know if they’ve ever had a cover letter like it. I suspect most editors can tell you about cover letters they’ve received which were just as bad or worse. In other words, it’s not funny because it’s a parody; it’s funny because it’s all too true. It’s also terrifying for that reason, albeit mostly only to editors.

However, the admonition I gave you about that cover letter — i.e., don’t do this, ever — still holds true. Oh so very true.


In Which I Reveal That TSWOTNDBOTDC Is Totally Not Real

Oh, don’t look so shocked. You knew this was coming.

That said, with the exception of suggesting in a comment that whichever of the characters on the cover one found the most attractive was modeled after me — which is, like, so obvious a lie that no one could reasonably believe it — I’m happy to say I never once explicitly lied about the nature of the project; I was just very very choosy in the words I used to describe it. For example, I never actually said I was writing a trilogy; I said “Tor announced a fantasy trilogy of books with my name on them.” Also, when I was using the word “fantasy,” I was meaning a different definition of the word than is generally suggested in this context. I did in fact talk to Bill Schaefer at Subterranean about what a limited edition would be like; he suggested black text on black paper. Oh, and that contract? For the short story, written as if a prologue for a longer book.

Basically I wrote enough that I could say without lying that I was telling you folks the truth, while at the same time implying something that was manifestly not true. Just enough plausibility to get at least some of you over your inherent and wholly justified April Fool’s Day skepticism. Hey, I can do that, I’m a writer and allegedly good with words.

So, yes, it’s a joke, nor do I think most of you are really that surprised. As folks noted in the comment thread, we left lots of clues hanging around, not the least of which was this article, including me leaving the very first comment. And in fact, that was the genesis of the project — after I joked about writing the trilogy, Patrick phoned me up and told me the folks wanted to have a prologue for an April Fool’s thing. I don’t think he actually finished the sentence before I signed on.

Because — and this really is no joke — my brain had already started working on what a book like “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City” would be like, if I were to write it. I eventually decided it would have to go one of two ways: either a send-up of the silliest parts of fantasy, or a completely awesome action-packed novel that took that absolutely ridiculous title and totally redeemed it.

For the record, I actually got further plotting the completely awesome action-packed novel version. But for an April Fool’s joke, hey, you have to go with the humor. Also, the request got to me late and I had, like, a day to get it done. That’s enough time to write a funny short story, but not a completely awesome action-packed novel. No amount of amphetamine would make that happen in that timeframe.

Yes, yes, yes, I hear some of you say. It was a joke, but you could write more if you wanted to, right? Sure, and I had enough fun that if one day I think of an actual story to go with that prologue, I might get back around to it. Or I might whomp up that action-packed version instead, just to mess with your heads. But honesty requires me to suggest you not to get too worked up at the possibility. I already have a stack of projects on my plate. Sorry, man. I’m just trying to be square with you.

And no matter what, we’ll always have the prologue, which, I have to say, I had almost too much fun writing. I think that first sentence makes that much totally clear; it was one of those things which, after I wrote it, I sat there giggling for five minutes because I was actually getting paid to come up with a sentence like that. So then I wrote a second sentence that was even longer, and then a third sentence featuring the most hackneyed phrase in all of literature. And it was all awesome. There are probably lives for which I am better suited than the one I’m living, but I’ll tell you what, I can’t really imagine what they might be.

My Shiny New Vehicle

No, not the Mini Cooper Countryman. That’s currently on a boat in the Atlantic (seriously, it is; I know because the nice saleslady who sold us the car calls us every now and again to give us an update. The last update: “It’s on a boat!”). This is the other new ride, a Toro Titan MX4880 Zero Turn Mower. We got this because the previous lawn tractor, a Craftsman that we got the year we arrived in Ohio, was in its last legs; ten years of mowing five acres of lawn every week for eight months out of the year will do that to a machine. Our local lawn tractor folks (who are Amish, as all genuinely excellent lawn tractor folks are) suggested that a zero-turn mower would cut not only grass but huge amounts of time off our mowing session. That’s what Krissy wanted to hear. This is the zero-turn Krissy liked the most. This our new mower.

It’s very nice, but I have to admit I was taken aback when I looked at the sticker and realized something, which I then related to my wife:

Me: This thing costs more than that Escort I bought when I got out of college.

Wife: Of course it does. It has a bigger engine.

It’s hard to argue with that.