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Another Scalzi Christmas Rerun: Jackie Jones & Melrose Mandy

After posting “Sarah’s Sister” yesterday, I got a few e-mails from people wondering what the third holiday-related piece I wrote for my 2003 RIF fundraiser was, and if I would share it. The answer was, it was a poem meant for the kiddies, and sure, here it is, behind the cut. It’s about a kid perhaps overly invested in one particular toy. I’m sure none of you were ever that way EVER. Anyway, once again I’ll note this poem is probably slightly less snarky than my usual tone, but as I was aiming it to be read aloud to the ten and under set, I’m not going to feel to guilty about that. Enjoy.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Rudy Rucker

Rudy Rucker has lived an interesting, interesting life, one that if you heard about it you would think, hey, that would probably make an interesting book. And so it has, with Nested Scrolls, Rucker’s official autobiography. With any sort of book, there’s a process of discovery the author goes through in putting a biography together — discovery even though the subject is one’s self. Here’s Rucker to share some of what that experience was for him as he considered the totality of his life.

RUDY RUCKER:

Recently, I decided that I’d better write my autobiography, Nested Scrolls, before it was too late. What with death and senility closing in.

(I have a visual memory, and a lot of my material comes from mental images, and I often photos in my blog posts. But rather than pasting illos into this short post on John’s blog, I’ll simply intersperse some “Memory Flash” paragraphs that describe images. If you actually want to see the photos, you can find them under the Photos link on my Nested Scrolls page.)

Memory Flash: Snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake in the South Pacific, amid three million jellyfish. It was one of those scenes that felt like a concrete model of some inner reality. The jellyfish were like images of the thoughts swimming around inside my mind.

I didn’t want my autobio to be overly long or dry. I wanted it to read something like a novel. Unlike an  encyclopedia entry, a novel isn’t a list of dates and events. A novel is all about characterization and description and conversation, about action and vignettes. I wanted to structure my autobiography, Nested Scrolls, like that.

Memory Flash. Writing in a rented office in the early 1980s, using my beloved IBM Selectric to write my novel Wetware. At that time I was a freelance writer, i.e. unemployed.  My family and I were living in Lynchburg, Virginia, of all places. I was a cyberpunk in TV preacher Jerry Falwell’s home town—in my own way I was an evangelist too.

So what’s the plot for my autobiography? Well, okay, a real life doesn’t have a plot that’s as clear as a novel’s. But, as a writer, I can think about my life’s structure, about the story arc. And I’d like to know what it was all about.  In writing my autobiography, I came up with a few ideas.

Memory Flash. Holding a cone shell to the side of my head, kidding around, imagining the shell is sending alien thoughts into my head. And then I put flying cone shells into my novel, Mathematicians in Love. I like turning bits of my life into SFictional images.

You might say that I searched for ultimate reality, and I found contentment in creativity. I tried to scale the heights of science, and I found my calling in mathematics and in science fiction. You don’t have to break the bank of the Absolute. Learning your craft can be enough.

Memory Flash. Standing on a bar in a Manhattan artist’s loft to make a speech when I got the Philip K. Dick award for my novel Software in 1983.

In my earlier years, I was drinking and smoking pot. But eventually I found a way to stop. Once you’re in your forties, Jack Kerouac and Edgar Allen Poe aren’t good role models. They died in their forties.

Memory Flash. Painting giant red red flames on my bland white Ford as a way of staving off middle age. My kids came to help.

In some ways I like children better than grown-ups. Their minds are more open, less encumbered. As a youth, I was a loner. But then I found love and became a family man. I’ve spent a lot of time with my wife and our three children over the years. And now we have grandchildren. New saplings coming up as the old trees tumble down.

Memory Flash. With my wife Sylvia in a North Beach art gallery, hanging a show my paintings in 2007. We can hear cool music coming through the wall from the club next door.

In recent years, I took up painting as a hobby. It’s a lot harder, at least for me, to sell a painting than a story or a book! I’ve had a number of careers. Initially I was a math professor—math always came easy for me. Nothing to memorize! Then I took up writing, which remains my core career. But, even with thirty-odd books out, writing doesn’t pay very much.

So I spent the last twenty years working as a computer science professor in Silicon Valley. Riding the wave. It was a blast. And eventually I even got good at teaching, mutating from a rebel to a somewhat helpful professor.

Whatever I did, I never stopped seeing the world in my own special way, and I never stopped looking for new ways to share my thoughts.  So now, here I am with Nested Scrolls.

—-

Nested Scrolls: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

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Whatever Shopping Guide, Day 2: Non-Traditionally Published Books

Today is Day Two of the Whatever Shopping Guide, and today the focus is on Non-Traditionally Published Books: Self-published works, electronically-exclusive books, books from micro presses, books released outside the usual environs of the publishing world, and so on. Because, as someone who published his own first novel on his Web Site long before it was available in bookstores, I can say good writing is where you find it. I hope you find some good stuff today.

Please note that the comment thread today is only for non-traditional authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors of non-traditionally published books only. This includes comics and graphic novels, as well as non-fiction books. If your book has been traditionally published — available in bookstores on a returnable basis — post about your book in the thread that went up yesterday (if you are in doubt, assume you are non-traditionally published and post here). If you are a creator in another form or medium, your thread is coming tomorrow. Don’t post if you are not the author or editor, please.

2. Completed works only. Do not post about works in progress, even if you’re posting them publicly. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. Likewise, don’t just promote yourself unless you have something to sell or provide, that others may give as a gift.

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Now: Tell us about your book!

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A Scalzi Christmas Rerun: Sarah’s Sister

Back in 2003 I did a small holiday fundraiser thing for Reading is Fundamental, in which I wrote three pieces for people who donated money. One of them, “The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time,” has become something of a Christmastime staple around here, but the other two are somewhat less known, so I thought it would be worth it to bring one of them back around on the site. So, behind the cut you’ll find my holiday story “Sarah’s Sister.”

A small word of, well, I guess “warning” is not the precise word for it, but: One, it’s not a science fiction story; two, it’s so very much a Christmas story; three, it’s almost certainly the least snarky thing I have ever written in my life; four, I wrote it with the expressed purpose of making my mother-in-law choke up on tears when she read it. If you’re not in the mood for a non-snarky, sob-inducing Christmas story, it’s best to walk away now. There, you have been sufficiently advised.

Of course, if you are in the mood for a non-snarky, sob-inducing Christmas story: Hey, I have one for you. Enjoy.

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Whatever Shopping Guide 2011, Day 1: Traditionally Published Books

Welcome to the first day of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2011 — My way of helping you folks learn about cool creative gifts for the holidays, straight from the folks who have created them.

Today’s featured products are traditionally published books; that is, books put out by publishers who ship books to stores on a returnable basis. In the comment thread below, authors and editors of these books will tell you a little bit about their latest and/or greatest books so that you will be enticed to get that book for yourself or loved ones this holiday season. Because, hey: Books are spectacular gifts, if I do say so myself. Enjoy your browsing, and I hope you find the perfect book!

Please note that the comment thread today is only for authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors only, books only. There will be another thread for other stuff, later in the week. Any type of book is fine: Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, etc. If you are not the author/editor of the book you’re posting about, don’t post. This is for authors and editors only.

2. Your book(s) must be currently in print (i.e., published before 12/31/11) and available on a returnable basis at bookstores and at the following three online bookstores: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s. This is so people can find your book when they go looking for it. If your book isn’t available as described, wait for the shopping guide for non-traditional books, which will go up tomorrow. 

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like (as long as it meets the criteria in point 2), but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Got it? Excellent. Then tell the folks about your book! And tell your author friends about this thread so they can come around as well.

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They’ve Got It Down to a Science

I was over at Jay & Mary’s Book Center earlier today, signing the books people have ordered, and I was impressed at this innovation for this year: A formal Scalzi Order Form, so as to make easier for them (and you, the book buying public) to keep track of what was ordered and how it should be signed. I can attest that it made it a whole lot quicker and easier to get through the books, because I could pull out the sheet and know exactly what I was signing and to whom. I love it when my life becomes marginally easier.

Also, as a reminder, you have until the 12th to get orders in for signed books (if you want to guarantee they will arrive before Christmas), and I’ll be signing for another week after that for late gifts, etc. All the details are here.

Thanks again to all of you who are getting books signed this holiday season. I really appreciate you supporting my local independent bookseller.

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Paul Izzard! Eddie Williams!

It’s been noted to me that I was not the first person to come to the conclusion that Axl Rose is beginning to look like Paul Williams. Well, that’s fine. However, I do believe that, on the Internet at least, I am the first person to note the similarity between Paul Williams in his current ‘do:

And Eddie Izzard:

It’s uncanny, it is.

And now my work is done.

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I’m Back Home and Have Two Days of E-Mail to Catch Up On, So Here’s a Picture of a Cat

There, that should keep you busy for a while.

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Quick Guns N’ Roses Review

I saw Guns N’ Roses a few years ago with my friend Bill Schafer, and last night he and I did it again, with about the same results. Guns N’ Roses is more accurately the Axl Rose Traveling Show, but they put on a nice show and everyone seemed happy they came. Axl himself seemed slimmed down a bit from his peak apparent weight in Rio last year, which was good for his lithe rock god shtick, but regardless of that as he gets older I can’t help notice he’s beginning to look more and more like Paul Williams (pictured above for your convenience), which is a little unsettling. On the other hand Paul Williams did co-write “The Rainbow Connection,” so there may be worse things in the world than that.

Anyway, a fun time with a good friend, which is always an excellent thing. I’ll soon be heading off home. Expect a slow day here while I travel, as blogging and driving don’t mix.

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Whatever 2011 Shopping Guide Schedule: Get Ready to Promote

Now that it’s officially December, I’m going to get my Ho Ho Ho on and announce that next week, each week day, I am going to post a specific entry for authors, creators and others to promote books, creations and charities. Why? Because I have a big damn readership, full of people who are looking for interesting stuff to give (and get!) for the holidays. And because, you know, I shop for the holidays myself. I could use an idea or two. Or three. Or many.

To give you folks time to prepare, here’s the schedule of what to promote and by whom:

Monday December 5: Traditionally Published Authors — If your work is being published by a publisher a) who is not you and b) gets your books into actual, physical bookstores on a returnable basis, this is your day to tell people about your books. Includes comics/graphic novels.

Tuesday December 6: Non-Traditionally Published Authors — Self published? Electronically published? Or other? This is your day.

Wednesday December 7: Other Creators — Artists, knitters, jewelers, musicians, and anyone who has cool stuff to sell this holiday season, this will be the day to show off your creations.

Thursday December 8: Fan Favorite Day — Not an author/artist/musician/other creator but know about some really cool stuff you think people will want to know about for the holidays? Share! Share with the crowd!

Friday December 9: Charities — If you are involved in a charity, or have a favorite charity you’d like to let people know about, this is the day to do it.

Any questions? Leave them in the comments. Note I’m running about this afternoon so I may not respond immediately but I’ll get through the thread eventually.

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Colleen Mondor

Telling stories about fictional characters is hard, but telling stories about real people can be even harder — especially when those stories involve a dangerous job. Author Colleen Mondor confronted this fact head on with her memoir The Map of My Dead Pilots, about her time working for an airline in the wilds of Alaska. Mondor’s here to talk about the balancing act telling true stories requires, and how she walked that line.

COLLEEN MONDOR:

If you ask for the short description of The Map of My Dead Pilots, I always say it is about Alaska and flying and how some of the job was crazy cold and all of it was just plain crazy. I can write for pages about what it was like to run operations for a bush commuter out of Fairbanks and how sled dogs truly are the worst cargo in the world and that being the low bidders on the Interior Alaska Dead Body Contract is just as disturbing as you can imagine.

At the “Company” we flew convicts and high school sports teams, live chicks and dead moose, thousands of pounds of dog food and on one particularly memorable day, a multi-tiered wedding cake. I can write about the history of the early pilots and how those larger than life men in open cockpit biplanes created an aviation environment spawning what the NTSB refers to as “bush pilot syndrome” which is still blamed for a large quantity of accidents in the state today.

I could talk and write about all of this but none of it includes the hard part of writing the book, or the issue I am still dealing with after its release.

Map deals with the incidents, accidents and day-to-day experiences of pilots I knew and worked with at a place I refer to as the “Company”. It is specifically about several men who are still alive and well, some of them now flying corporately or in the major airlines in the Lower 48. When we worked together none of us thought I would one day end up writing about the job and there was no small amount of nervousness on their parts when I told them I was working on a book. Map has been a project over several years and I’m sure that along the way, as much as I said I was staying with it, they probably all thought it was something that would never leave my laptop let alone be read by other people.

When I announced I had signed a deal with Lyons Press, these pilots had to acknowledge that their lives were about to be shared in a way that gave them very little control. What I promised them was that their real names would not be attached to the book and the contemporary characters would all (with the exception of one brief mention that was approved) have aliases. This has proven to be a bit more complicated then I imagined, however, as family and mutual friends have asked for confirmation of their own suspicions (I’ve let the guys field those requests), but I’ve held to it. The real challenge though was never the pilots who came through just fine, but rather the ones who lost their careers and worse.

It is difficult enough to write about what your friends did when everything ended up all right, but to second guess wrong decisions knowing nothing was ever the same again, or to pore over NTSB accident reports that only reveal what happened and never consider why, brings a whole new level of seriousness to the narrative. The investigators are very good at determining where the flaps were set and the condition of the weather, but they never consider what a pilot was thinking in the air or what was happening on the ground before he ever took off. I chose to ask those questions, and thus had to acknowledge the answers I found.

In many respects Map is the final word on aircraft that crashed on the sea ice near Nome, off the end of the runway in Bethel, on an unknown mountainside near Kotzebue and worst of all, into the Yukon River. People will read Map and gain some understanding into what happened in these far flung locations, but they will never know how hard it was to tell those stories well, or not judge too harshly pilots whose final acts were unrecoverable mistakes.

This is when the telling the truth got very dicey but also most important.

In writing The Map of My Dead Pilots, I discovered the Big Idea was finding balance between wanting to protect those who could not, for whatever reason, speak up for themselves and also being as honest as possible about a job that often relied upon a certain level of dishonesty every day. (Flight loads are always exactly at legal weight, the weather is always flyable, the aircraft are always in perfect condition.) Part of why the belief persists that Alaska is a place where the rules do not apply is because so many stories about it have been mythologized for so long. (Look no further than any one of the reality tv programs set in the state for proof of that.)

In aviation the “glory stories” are particularly pervasive and I didn’t want to contribute to that cycle – in fact I wanted to expose it. But I also didn’t want to hurt the friends who were still impacted from accidents years before or the families of those who lost someone dear. It was a fine line to walk and one I continue to worry about. There are parents who will read my book and find out more than they perhaps want to know about their sons, both living and dead, and that is a responsibility I feel quite heavy on my heart. I didn’t want to do anyone wrong, because even when the crashing was their own faults, no one deserved to be judged harshly by me or anyone else years later.

The final verdict is still out on just how well I accomplished this high wire act; I’m waiting to hear from some friends who are featured prominently throughout the book. I hope I did them proud, of course, but I also hope I have shown just how much the stories we tell each other still matter, and that they don’t need false glory to make them any more powerful then they have always been.

—-

The Map of My Dead Pilots: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt presented in the Anchorage Press. Visit the book page. Follow Mondor on Twitter.

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