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What It Takes to Hurl an Orange Through a Sheet of Water

Or, why restaurant food always looks better in commercials. My favorite quote from the piece:

 “I make my living basically taking food and painting a reality with it,” says Mr. Somoroff, leaning back in a chair in his office as the team preps another set-up. “And if I succeed in a given moment, you’re going to go buy that dish because you’re going to identify with the experience we’ve created. To do that with something as banal as food is the challenge. I mean, it’s easy to go out and shoot a beautiful sunset or a beautiful girl. They’re beautiful, O.K.?”

He gestures toward the middle of the studio.

“I’ve got a noodle over here.”

Mmmm… noodles.

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Just Curious

What are you reading right now?

(Aside from this blog.)

(Also, if it’s something from me, then what did you read right before it.)

Well?

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Also, What Fall Looks Like Here

In case you were wondering.

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My Newest Toy

It’s a storm drain! It’s okay. You can be jealous.

It turns out that the drainage tile in our yard was mostly fine — a few crack and slips here and there but mostly good. The contractor fixed those minor things and then put in some additional storm drains so that the water could more easily get to the drainage tile, rather than go overland in our yard. We’ll see how it works the next big rain we have. Also, note to self: Remember to put keys in pocket around this thing.

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BrandLink Communications Has the Internet Drop on its Head

For those of you who follow my Twitter feed this will be old news, but for the rest of you, The Bloggess has an object lesson on why Public Relations people would be well to remember that antagonizing bloggers is something you do at your own peril, and in any event, under no circumstances should you commit to text that you think one of them is “a fucking bitch.” Because then that blogger might, in fact, drop the Internet on your head. Way to go, BrandLink Communications, which will get to spend the next few days in damage control. This little contretemps reminds me of my own little skirmish with a PR firm a few years back, which ended up (or so I am told) with someone getting fired. Good times, good times.

To be clear, and as someone who both gets rather a lot of PR pitches and who is also from time to time the subject of PR pitches himself, the very large majority of PR people are perfectly decent people who are doing a particular and peculiar job as well as they can, namely, trying to raise awareness of their clients and their products to outlets that have a large or very specific audience. I don’t mind getting PR pitches in my e-mail; I even have publicity guidelines. When there’s something I’m interested in, I follow up and then both the PR person and I try to see if there’s some way to make both of us happy with the arrangement. If I’m not interested in something, I’ll just delete it and carry on. I suspect that’s how most people in this situation work. It’s usually a congenial thing.

What I find interesting about spit fight between Bloggess and BrandLink Communications is that the folks at BrandLink appear to have an inverted view of the relationship between their PR firm and the people they are pitching — which is evident when a vice president of the company, the one who called Bloggess a “fucking bitch,” also informed her that “you should be flattered that you are even viewed relevant enough to be pitched at all.” In other words, it’s the PR film doing Bloggess a favor by spamming her inbox with a press release that’s entirely irrelevant to her or her blog, rather than hoping she will do them a favor by mentioning whatever thing they are pitching (in this case, something to do with the Kardashians).

Dear BrandLink Communications and in particular Jose Marino Martinez, the fellow who typed those ridiculous words: You can’t possibly actually believe that, right? That you are doing any of us a favor by cramming our e-mail boxes with irrelevant crap? I don’t mind getting PR notes, as noted, but I wouldn’t miss getting the 99% of PR notices that aren’t actually useful or relevant to me. If my blog was viewed “not relevant” by the vast majority of PR folks who currently clutter my inbox on a daily basis with their missives, I’m pretty sure I would somehow find the inner strength and courage to go on. Being relevant to most PR people is not particularly relevant to me, or especially flattering.

I’m also frankly flummoxed this far into the reign of the Internet that these folks didn’t understand one of the maxims of the medium: The Internet is Looking for an Excuse to Drop on Your Head. The PR folks at BrandLink Communications were stupid to respond to Bloggess in any way other than “okay, we’ll drop you from our mailing list,” but they were even more stupid to think that their rude and obnoxiously smug response to her would not get out into the wild. Surprise! Meet the Internet. It’s kind of pissed.

What have we learned today?

1. Most PR people are nice folks just doing their jobs.

2. But some of them have apparently forgotten how the PR relationship actually works.

3. Those folks should still be scrupulously professional when dealing with the people they pitch to, especially if those they pitch to are bloggers.

4. Because if they aren’t, the Internet will drop on their heads.

5. And in any event, when in doubt, don’t call someone a “fucking bitch.”

I hope Mr. Martinez and the rest of the folks at BrandLink Communications have learned something useful out of all of this. If they haven’t, well. The Internet is still out there. And it’s climbing back up to a high perch.

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The New Resident

The daughter went off to the Bradford Pumpkin Show last night with friends and came home with this, which she won at one of the carny booths. Apparently she wasn’t the only one; at least a few of her friends went home with bunnies of their own. This makes me wish to have strong words with certain carnies. But on the other hand I suppose we just saved this particular rabbit from a fairly miserable existence in a carny’s cage, packed in with other rabbits.

The thing is now comfortably ensconced in a fairly roomy cage of its own (our friends raise rabbits and let us borrow a cage) and seems to be reasonably content and not too horribly skittish. It’s made friends with the dog, and I have a squirt bottle on hand for the cats, two of which (at least) have hunted this one’s cousins in the yard. I’ll be convincing them that this one is not for eating.

Athena has yet to name it; I suggested “Rorschach” for reasons which should be fairly obvious, but I think she’s not in love with the name. We’ll see what she comes up with.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Matt Mikalatos

Zombies and vampires and werewolves are all fantasy creatures — but there are times when you look around at the people in the world and think to yourself, hmmmm. Author Matt Mikalatos knows a bit about that, as his new, humorously theological, novel Night of the Living Dead Christian has its genesis in the real world, and with real people… including the author himself.

MATT MIKALATOS:

Many people look at Christians, especially conservative Christians, and think, “Zombies.” Sure, they get to live forever, but it’s not like they’re sparkling conversationalists. And there’s this weird, overpowering urge they have to convert people into creatures like them. Immortality can be yours at the low, low cost of … your brains. Mmmmm, brains.

My Big Idea came while I was being yelled at by one of my co-workers. I happen to work at a Christian non-profit, and believe it or not, this happens pretty often. His wild, unkempt hair and his predilection for furious, grandiose monologues jarred me out of the conversation with the realization that my co-worker was a mad scientist. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head, and I found myself completely detached from the conversation, watching the guy and wondering what was in his basement laboratory.

I started looking around and realized this woman who lives across the street from me, my good friend, had every sign of being a vampire. She was selfish and a night owl and sometimes she looked at my neck like it was a straw.

Then there was this guy who didn’t celebrate Halloween, which was suspicious by itself. Add the fact that he put up a “No Halloween Here, Happy Reformation Day!” sign in his yard, and I had to think he was trying to prove there weren’t any monsters in his house. Also, every kid in town suspected he was a jerk. I know you think I’m exaggerating, but here’s a picture.

There were so many monsters around me that I was afraid to look in the mirror. Frankly, in my life, I can’t always stop myself from doing things I shouldn’t do, even don’t want to do on some level. I can barely keep myself from punching my co-worker in the nose. I want to be changed, I want to be someone better than who I am, but in certain areas of my life that proves elusive.

The conflict for me came from two opposite Christian theological statements. One, all human beings are sinners. Evil. Messed up. Depraved. Two, all human beings are made in the image of God. Sacred. Holy. We have, in some way, to some degree, the attributes of God.

So, while a lot of theological works focus on answers, my book is more about the questions. Can human beings experience true transformation? Can we become something more than monsters? Is there a way to achieve a society without rape, injustice, violence, war, poverty and abuse? If so, is spirituality part of the answer, part of the problem or completely irrelevant? As Thomas Jefferson said, “We are afraid of the known and afraid of the unknown. That is our daily life, and in that there is no hope, and therefore every form of philosophy, every form of theological concept, is merely an escape from the actual reality of what is. All outward forms of change brought about by wars, revolutions, reformations, laws and ideologies have failed completely to change the basic nature of man and therefore of society.” I wanted to explore whether we can change our basic nature.

I’m also of the opinion that theology, by definition, should be interesting. Your biggest risk in reading about God should not be a forty pound book smashing your face when you fall asleep reading it. Which brings us to my book, Night of the Living Dead Christian. It’s a comedy theology novel, and believe me when I say there aren’t a big heap of other books like it.

The story revolves around Luther, a man who struggles with anger and violent urges, who can’t control his base nature when he transforms into a wolf. His lycanthropy is having, as you can imagine, a detrimental effect on his marriage. His wife has finally, wisely, taken their daughter and moved out, and Luther realizes that he’s going to need to work harder to find a solution to his problem. He has tried self-discipline and psychologists and a hundred other solutions, none of which worked. And now there’s a werewolf hunter determined to kill him, so the question has become one not only of saving his marriage, but of saving his life. Luther teams up with a mad scientist, an android, a vampire and the local constable of the neighborhood watch to find some answers. And their first step is something more terrifying than he ever imagined possible… going to church.

Of course, unbeknownst to him, the first church they pick is a zombie congregation. Zombies versus werewolves! Things on fire! A robot Jesus! Psychologists! Pet zombies! Lutherans! Secret Lairs! Theology! Ice cream! At the heart of things, the book is about humanity, our desire to better ourselves and whether that’s truly possible.

I don’t know that I found a complete answer, but I had a lot of fun exploring the question.

—-

Night of the Living Dead Christian: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt at Google Books. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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Steve Jobs and Me

The Macintosh was not the very first computer I remember working and playing on — that honor would go to the Radio Shack TRS-80 — but I wrote my very first story ever on a Macintosh. In fact, I wrote it on the very first generation of the Macintosh. My friend Ezra Chowaiki had one when we were in high school, and as a result, I think I spent more of my freshman year in high school in his room than I spent in my own, banging out stories (in eight page chunks, as that was the file size limit at the time) and playing with the paint program. Occasionally I would have to borrow someone else’s computer (I didn’t have my own), and then I would end up being confused and frustrated that whatever PC I was on was not nearly as simple to write on. I was spoiled by the Macintosh at the very beginning of my writing career; simply put, it was the way writing was supposed to have been. It would be wrong to say I would not be a writer if the Macintosh did not exist; it is accurate to say that the Macintosh made it so much easier for me to be a writer that I never seriously entertained being anything else.

I didn’t own a computer of my own until just before my senior year of college, when I bought a surplus Macintosh SE from my college newspaper. It was with this computer that I first went online outside of a business setting — I got myself a modem and a disc with the Prodigy online service and I was off to the races. With my next computer — a Mac Quadra — I logged onto the Internet proper, got myself Mosaic, went to Yahoo, hit its “random site” button and kept hitting it for just about 72 hours straight. Very shortly thereafter my I coded my very first personal Web Site on a local internet provider. The very first iteration of my Web presence was made on a Mac.

Which is not to say I am a card-carrying member of the Cult of Apple; indeed, there is some evidence to the contrary. But I am an admirer of technology that gets it right, and say what you will about Apple as a corporate entity and Apple products as fetish objects, the fact is the company makes some really excellent things. I’ve owned non-Apple mp3 players and I’ve owned iPods; iPods have generally been better. I’ve owned tablet computers and an iPad; the iPad is better. I’ve owned several laptops; the Mac Air I’m writing this on is hands down the best laptop I’ve ever owned. To admire the technology is to in some way admire the ethos behind it, which is even more indirectly to admire the man who inspired the ethos.

Which brings us to Steve Jobs, who I am sure almost all of you know passed away earlier today. Jobs was the man behind the Mac, the computer which made it easy for me to be a writer and to find my way online, two things which have shaped my life so significantly that I would literally be a different person without them. The Mac works the way it does because Jobs made it his business to make it work like that. For that, I owe him a rather large debt of gratitude. The iPods and iPads and ginchy thin laptops are all just icing on that substantial slice of cake.

I cannot of course speak of Jobs as a human; I didn’t know him, never interacted with him, and most of what I knew of him came through the technology press, with which he seemed to have contentious relationship at best. All that I can speak about is how what he did affected me. Simply put, it affected me by helping me to become me — to express myself easily, fluidly and to people all over the world, and in doing so, end up as the person I am today. This is important. I won’t forget it.

For it, and for everything that’s come because of it, I say: Thanks, Steve. You will be missed.

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It Sucks to Be a Jedi

Yes, if you’re a Jedi, you get cool Force powers. But you know what? That hardly compensates for all the other things about the job that kinda suck. I give up six reasons why it sucks to be a Jedi over in my FilmCritic.com column today. There are probably more than six reasons, but these are the six that leapt immediately to mind. And yes, I’m poking at Star Wars fans a bit. But, come on, guys. Search your heart. You know it to be true. And anyway, you can leave your forceful (get it? Get it? Hah!) comments and messages over at the FilmCritic.com site.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Lee Arthur Chane

Author Lee Arthur Chane wishes to suggest that sometimes, one big idea is not enough for a book — or at the very least, it wasn’t enough for his fantasy novel, Magebane. Was he correct? The reviews are inclined to his point of view: The starred Publishers Weekly review claims that “Double and triple crosses, fast-paced action, and powerful moral conviction will have readers hanging on every word.” That seems enough to let Chane explain his heretical idea of multiple big ideas here.

LEE ARTHUR CHANE:

I know this is called “The Big Idea,” but I trust Mr. Scalzi isn’t too much of stickler on that point, because, alas, my new fantasy novel Magebane didn’t grow out of a single big idea.  Instead, it grew out of four ideas: three big ones, and one not-so-big one. (But I suppose “The Big 3 1/2 Ideas” isn’t nearly as catchy a name for a recurring blog feature.)

What were these ideas, I hear you ask? Pray allow me to enumerate.

First: it is, of course, one of the hoariest of fairy-tale tropes that an enchantment can be broken with a kiss: typically, a prince kissing a princess. But one day while I was musing on this (and since I have a small daughter, princesses are something I have mused about quite often), I had the notion of writing a story in which a kiss didn’t just break an enchantment, it broke all enchantments: a story in which a kiss between a (sort-of) prince and a (kind-of) princess that would bring magic itself crashing down in ruin.

Now, that’s a somewhat subversive notion in fantasy fiction. Typically in fantasies the destruction of magic is not something devoutly to be wished: instead, they’re all about the restoration of magic, or at least the triumph of good magic over bad magic. But magic is, ultimately, a form of power: and like all power, it can be abused. Particularly if some people have it, and others don’t.

Second: since I was already thinking subversively in terms of making the overthrowing of magic a good thing, I continued thinking subversively about another common fantasy trope, the idea that restoring the rightful king to a throne can solve all that has gone wrong in a kingdom.

In the real world, restoring absolute monarchs to power is generally not seen as a good thing. I mean, an absolute monarch is just a dictator with a jeweled hat, when you come right down to it. In the real world, we (well, most of us, at least) celebrate the overthrow of tyrants…even the ones that have been, perhaps, less tyrannical than some of their peers.

Where, I asked myself, are the democratic revolutionaries within fantasy fiction?

I decided to create some.

The third big idea: what happens in a world with magic when technology (any sufficiently advanced version of which, as Arthur C. Clarke famously said, is indistinguishable from magic) begins to give those who cannot wield magic the same abilities as those who can?

With three ideas in hand, I fired up my story-making cauldron, tossed in the ideas, stewed and steeped and stirred for a while, and eventually poured off 150,000 words of what I’d like to think is pretty tasty story.

In Magebane, the tyrannical MageLords, who rule by virtue of their magical power (pretty much their only virtue), were thrown down from power centuries past in their old kingdom by the Commoners, the non-magical people they rule, with the help of something or someone called the Magebane. Fearing for their lives, they used magic to flee to the far side of the world, where they established a new kingdom, protected from attack by an impenetrable magical barrier.

But now there are various MageLords who would like to remove that Barrier and exert influence over the outside world again, there is a new Magebane…and there are, bubbling up from the increasingly technological advanced Commoners trapped in the kingdom with them, the beginnings of rebelliousness.

What no one in the kingdom realizes is that the Commoners outside, for whom the MageLords are nothing but myth, have explored the world right up to the Great Barrier itself…and that their technology had advanced far beyond that of the Commoners within the Barrier. That is, no one realizes it until one young man crash lands in the kingdom aboard the experimental airship that has just flown over the Barrier…

Yes, that’s right: my big fat fantasy novel is also steampunky!

As for the small idea that is also part of the Magebane mix? That’s the setting. The hidden kingdom of the MageLords is largely prairie in the south and forests in the north, with lots of lakes.

It has, in fact, the same geography as the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, where I live. And there’s more: in the kingdom’s capital, there is a white stone palace on the southern shore of a manmade man-made lake…just as there is in Saskatchewan’s capital city of Regina, where the Saskatchewan Legislative Building rises on the south shore of Wascana Lake, just a couple of blocks from my house.

Alas, the real lake and the real park surrounding it are not magically protected from winter’s ravages like the one in the book. You could call that wish-fulfillment, if you like, and I daresay you’d be correct.

But then, you could also call the whole book a kind of wish-fulfillment: a wish for fantasy that recognizes that even a benevolent dictator is still a dictator, and that whatever Tolkien may have primed us to believe, The Return of the King is not necessarily a happy ending.

Also, a wish for more fantasy with airships.

Because airships, like bow-ties on The Doctor, are cool.

—-

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

Read an excerpt.

 

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What’s in My Yard Today

Not the usual thing.

The reason it’s there, incidentally, is that we need to repair some of the drainage tile that runs through our yard; it’s deteriorated over the years and that means that when we get a lot of rain, it tends to flow over our land rather than under it. This will hopefully fix that, or at least make it a less frequent occurrence. Just another thing you think about when you have a five acre lawn.

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Writer Beware and “The Write Agenda”

Many of you are aware of Writer Beware, the fantastic resource spearheaded by Victoria Strauss and Ann Crispin (and supported by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, among other groups), which researches, documents and informs writers about the various scammers out there who pose as legitimate editors, publishers and agents. Writer Beware shines a light on the scumbaggery that these people do, thereby making it harder for them to separate writers from their money. So it’s not entirely surprising that some of them would try to turn the tables on Victoria, Ann and Writer Beware, and attempt — poorly — to make it look like they are somehow bad guys.

One such group is “The Write Agenda,” which gives the impression that it’s an organization of writers that impartially looks at writing information online. What it actually appears to be doing is targeting Writer Beware, its principals, and other industry pros who have gone out of their way to point out scammers and the scams they pull. If “The Write Agenda” can give the impression that it is a legitimate group, it can then cast doubt on the work that Writer Beware does for writers.

One reason it won’t work is because Writer Beware is doing what it does best: Documenting the obnoxious mendacity of these cretins, and pointing out the flaws in their logic, such as it is. While Victoria, Ann and Writer Beware were content to ignore this nonsense while it was only them targeted for this stupidity, they’re coming forward now because these jerks are now widening their targets:

… we’ve become concerned by the way TWA’s venom seems to be spilling beyond the “watchdogs” and into the wider writing and publishing community. TWA’s rapidly growing “boycott list” now includes many writers who have nothing at all to do with Writer Beware or WB’s activities; one writer is on the list for nothing more than the crime of having Victoria as a guest on her radio show (she blogged about TWA’s attempts to hijack the interview even as it was being conducted); others are included, apparently, simply because they’re SFWA members. Recently, TWA posted hundreds of one-star reviews and ratings of “boycott” authors’ books on Goodreads (see #2 on the Screenshots page for an example); these reviews were flagged by Goodreads as spam and removed, but not before they prompted some angry responses by targeted authors.

Basically, it appears as if scumbags whose cons are being thwarted by Writer Beware are trying to intimidate Victoria and Ann into silence through lies and misinformation. And, well. You can see how well it’s working.

Let me speak briefly about Victoria Strauss and Ann Crispin. Ann I know personally and have for some years now; Victoria I know through my work as president of SFWA. These two women are, clearly and unambiguously, the good guys. Writer Beware isn’t some massive machine and it’s not something these two (and a few others) do for money or for fame — there’s not any of that here. These two do it because as writers and publishing professionals they are paying it forward. They are helping out those who need help today and teaching them how to navigate through the publishing world, so that they will be able to help those who come up behind them. It’s a lot of work and takes a lot of dedication. They don’t get near enough thanks for it, although clearly they are doing what they do so well that they’ve made some especially vindictive enemies.

Unlike those who are going out of their way to trash Victoria, Ann and Writer Beware, I’m not hiding behind of phalanx of apparently fake groups, names and social media accounts — I’m an actual live person, actually working professionally in the writing industry, who actually knows Ann and Victoria and who has benefited from the hard work they have put into Writer Beware. If Writer Beware’s long and honorable history of sticking up for writers — and sticking it to scammers — isn’t enough to convince you of its good works, consider this my personal endorsement.

Returning to The Write Agenda, I’ll note that I myself am on its Author Boycott List. I could not possibly be prouder of this particular achievement of mine. As far as I can see it means that when it comes to being someone who speaks out for authors against those who would scam and deceive them, I am on the side of the angels — as are, I will note, rather a healthy number of writers and publishing industry professionals who I consider friends and colleagues. Indeed, I suspect that soon a number of other authors I know will go examine the list and be positively hurt they are not on the boycott list as well. I say: Try harder, my friends. Apparently all you need to do to get on the list is inform new and emerging writers about scammers, predators, and possibly also their deceptive front organizations. If you want to know how to get started on that, check with Writer Beware. It has some ideas for you.

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Whatever Notes: October Edition

Oh, look, pumpkins. They’ve begun their two-month moment in the sun: Jack-o-Lanterns for October, Thanksgiving pies for November, and then back to wherever these gourds go for the rest of the year (I think a commune in the New Mexico desert). They’re adorable, they are.

October this year is going to be a little hectic for me, in no small part because for two weeks of it, I’ll be in Germany, touring (actually, I’ll be touring Germany for about ten days, and then spending a couple of days sleeping when I get back home). So from the 13th through the 24th, I’m likely to put the site on a semi-hiatus, which means that while I will update the site from the road when/if I can, you probably shouldn’t expect more than pictures and a few sentences. Hey, I’ll be busy. It’s possible that instead of the semi-hiatus I might invite a guest blogger during that period, but haven’t decided yet. If I do, of course I’ll let you all know (don’t ask to be the guest blogger, please).

Either way, for about a third of the month, I’ll likely be scarce around here. During that time, depending on my connectivity capability in Germany, I’ll try to be keeping up via Twitter and Google+, so if you’re not getting your Scalzi fix there, try those. Before and after those dates, it’ll be business as usual.

Also, while I’m in Germany, there won’t be any Big Idea entries. To make up for it, next week I’ll have Big Ideas on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. You know I wouldn’t leave you without any new books to learn about.

And that’s the state of things here in October.

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Athena and the Owl

There’s a local business called Bears Mill that had its autumn open house this weekend, and so we and some friends went. Among the things there: a small art show by an Ohio artist named Gary Hovey, who makes sculpture out of flatware. One of the sculptures was an owl; naturally we had to pose Athena in front of it. Here’s another picture of the sculpture (sans daughter) and a gallery of the artist’s other work. He must go through a lot of spoons in a year.

How was your weekend?

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Holy Crap, It’s October Already

Which one of you thought that was a good idea?

Well?

 

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