Reader Request Week 2018 #10: Short Bits

And now, to wrap up Reader Request Week 2018, short takes on some of the questions I didn’t otherwise get to:

Laura: A topic I’ve been pondering is to what extent the proliferation of entertainment & informational choices — Internet, cable TV, smart phones — is an overall boon or blessing to society. Were we actually better off when we had three or four TV channels, radio & vinyl for our music, paper maps for car trips, and shelves of encyclopedias to use for tracking down facts for our school papers?

Well, I wasn’t better off — having access to a vast ocean of information makes my life and job a lot easier. The problem as I see it is that we’re at an intermediary moment where a vast part of the population (roughly early Gen-X and older) is struggling with the consequences of the technology and we’re waiting for the people who are entirely comfortable with the new baseline of technology — and its consequences — to grow into power. Anecdotally I note that people my daughter’s age seem to handle the online world and the rhetoric that has arisen out of it far better than their elders (it’s one reason why the Parkland teens are running circles around the NRA, much to the latter’s furious confusion). So no, it wasn’t better, just different, and some people are understandably better suited to that previous time.

Ron Bielke: What is your position on guns? Would you support a total ban on guns in this country? Is there even a whisper of a chance I might see such in my lifetime?

I prefer my bow, personally. You will not see a total ban on guns in this country without changing the Constitution of the United States. For the record, I don’t think we need to amend the Constitution to have sensible laws regarding firearms in this country.

Andy: As a British (English, specifically) fan of your fiction and blog (especially US politics) writing: what does Brexit look like from where/who you are?

It looks like what the US looks like right now: What happens when stupid and cruel and racist takes over the national discourse. I think both the US and the UK will get out of their current stupid and cruel and racist moments and correct their courses, albeit somewhat the worse for wear, and it will take longer than anyone sensible would like.

Matt Mikalatos: Realizing that there are many worse things, but that doesn’t mean your own situation doesn’t have down sides: What are some of the difficulties of being (comparatively) well off and well known?

At this point, very few, for which I am appropriately grateful. At this point, the most “difficult” thing I have going on is somewhat existential, which is that as a more-or-less “franchise” writer for Tor (and somewhat less for Audible, who publishes my audiobooks), I do have responsibilities to hit publishing marks and maintain output quality and consistency levels that other writers don’t have, because I have a lot of people (and a publishing company) expecting specific things from me. It’s a great problem to have, to be clear, but on the other hand it’s not as easy to hit all those marks as I hopefully make it look to people on the outside.

Dann665: The last few years have been pretty…ummm….testy. Do you see a path towards rapprochement? Not necessarily a persuasion that any one perspective is better than the others, but towards being able to live with one another civilly?

Sure; the pendulum swings, always. We’ve been in less civil times before (not even counting the Civil War) and we’ve made our way. However, thinking whatever a new, more “civil” US will look like any previous era we’ve been in is folly. Also, of course, just thinking something along the line of “everything will be better when enough of the olds just die off,” which is the lazy person’s idea of change, isn’t gonna work. If you want a better and more “civil” US, go out there and do the work.

Jonah: What’s your take on college athletics and the NCAA money-making marching in particular?

I think the University of Chicago had the right idea in the 1930s when it cut its Big Ten football program because it was getting in the way of learning. Chicago has a football team now; it’s Division III, which I think is a fine speed for college athletics. At the level of Division I, the athletes (particularly in football and basketball) are being exploited, flat out. I’d tear it all up and start with a clean sheet if I could.

SusanE: How far left / liberal (and on which particular topics) is too far left / liberal, in your opinion? At what point are you like, woah, back up and bring in some perspective here?

I mean, I think capitalism, properly managed (which it’s not at the moment, and I think obviously so) works as a decent motivator for people and to spur innovation and creativity, so I think chucking it out entirely wouldn’t be something I’d be for, which is to be clear an entirely unsurprising point of view for a well-off white dude to have. I think the left generally has the same problem as the right, which is that at the edges it has a tendency to warp toward authoritarianism and away from representative governments, and that’s also never good.

John: Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?

I wouldn’t fight them. I’d put them on display and make a bundle.

Christopher Franklin: I had the experience of seeing Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in a bright sunlit room with less than ten people just before its auction…. Has there been some visual work of art that left you speechless?

I just saw an exhibit of MC Escher work in Boston, and to be able to get up close to some of those pieces was a privilege, and fascinating.

JReynolds197: Is there any period of history that interests you and you keep coming back to?

The 1920s in the US fascinates me and is what I consider to be the start of what we might consider the American Century. So it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if in the next decade or so we see the close of the American Century, and see the rise of what I suspect is the Pacific Century, where the US is still a hugely significant player, but not nearly the only one. I think this will make the next quarter century a very interesting one to live in, like the 1920s were (and also the 30s, although… differently), and one I think I will have been glad to be here to see.

Malarkus: Re your post last year about millenials. Should we just start killing off the boomers?

No, that will take care of itself soon enough, and I’m generally against wholesale murder, of boomers or anyone else. In any event, I’m pretty sure boomers per se are not the problem, just the latent-to-overt racism a non-trivial number of them appear to suffer, chained to their groveling admiration of Mammon, and how the combination of both has led to some horrible damn decisions.

Cthulhu: Hair: at what point will you switch into full Bezos mode and just shave it all off (but keep facial hair)? When oh when will you do the decent thing and pull a full Patrick?

I tried bald a little more than a decade ago to see what it would like; I thought it looked fine but Krissy didn’t like it, and she’s the one who has to look at me all the time. I suspect at some point not long from now I’ll go full Patrick Stewart, since the hair in the front is thinning more significantly now and I don’t like the idea of wandering around with wisps. But no solid time table on that.

Dave Divilbiss: What do you miss about Fresno?

Not much? Which is not to say that I did not enjoy or appreciate Fresno when I was there — I had a ton of fun there and I think the city generally gets a bad rap in California. But the things I would miss about Fresno at this point are the people I knew there, and I’m still in touch with them and we’re still friends. So what’s to miss? I’m still fond of Fresno, but I don’t miss it.

Frankie: What are your thoughts on public education funding? What are your thoughts on recent teacher walkouts in multiple states? And, any general thoughts regarding public vs. private education?

I think public education is immensely important and needs to be funded so that every student gets a good and useful education, not just the ones in the “right” zip codes. I support the teacher walkouts generally, because the shit public school teachers have had to put up with in the last several years at least is nonsense. I went to private schools for high school and college and benefited from both, but a “vs” position is not the way I’d want to think about it — public education needs to robust and useful to students independent of any discussion of private schools. That’s the baseline. I don’t think throwing money at public schools will solve every problem, but I think adequately funding public schools removes a lot of problems and lets people focus on the other, different problems. Bottom line: Every public school in America should be a school you’d be fine with having your own child at.

Richard Winks: Do you think you might restore the dog population in your family?

Krissy will decide that. I’m not going to rush her on that score.

Heather Wallace: I really admire your cat photos and struggle with taking photos of my cats with my cell phone camera. They always close their eyes with the flash. What tips can you give aspiring cat photographers?

One, stop using flash and take the picture in a room with adequate lighting. Two, take a whole lot of pictures, one after another. It’s a digital camera, you’re not going to run out of film, and you can delete the pictures you don’t like. That’s a start!

Edward Brennan: Should one be civil to those people who are not civil to you? Obviously, we should not normally be assholes, but is being an asshole a justified response to an asshole? What about if someone is being an asshole to others, what do we do?

My general rule of thumb is to treat people with civility until and unless they give you a reason not to. Where that line is for each person is in a different place, and may depend on context. Also let’s also note there’s a difference between tolerating people who might be momentarily rude and/or obnoxious, and tolerating the actions of people who believe you or someone else aren’t fully human and/or don’t have a right to the same freedoms and privileges they might enjoy. Much of the question of “civility” these days boils down to racists and bigots plaintively whining that their opinion that other people are somehow inferior isn’t treated with respect and gravity. And, well. Fuck those guys. Fuck them right up the nose. As I’ve said before, if you want me to treat your ideas with respect, get better ideas.

And that wraps up the Reader Request Week for 2018! Thanks to everyone who asked questions. Let’s do it again in 10 to 12 months!

Reader Request Week 2018 #9: Writing Short Bits

And now, for your delight, short answers to some of the writing-and-writing-life-related questions I got this year for Reader Request Week:

jlanstey: Having acquired a new office chair, thoughts on furniture and home interior design generally. Some classic SF writers (Heinlein, Laumer) seemed to prefer stark modern, but glimpses of your abode and one picture I’ve seen of Wil Wheaton’s computer space seem to be strictly mainstream current, slightly 70s, maybe. Is home decor a mutual decision or is it up to the wife? A generational thing?

Well, my office has bespoke furniture (I had it made by a local cabinetmaker) but it’s less about making a particular esthetic statement than it is about it being functional. I think if I were going to give my cabinetry a particular description, it would probably be “21st Century Mennonite,” as this is what the cabinetmaker is, and he did the design. I picked out the wall colors and then the rest of the furniture with Krissy. I actually do like midcentury modern design, but not enough to entirely redo my office.

Allison: How much time in a given week/month do spend reading other peoples’ work for pleasure (as opposed to reading for the purpose of writing a blurb or other publishing-industry related business)?

I try to read a book a week that I want to read for myself, emphasis on try. That said, I read less fiction when I’m writing fiction, and read far less in general when I’m on deadline, like, uh, now.

Nic: On “not writing for free”. You recently wrote about not writing for free, and I understand and appreciate the post. For people who aspire to write but cannot get their short works accepted anywhere can you offer any insight as to a good way to proceed?

One, keep sending the work out until you run out of places to send it to; two, while you’re doing that, write new stuff; three, repeat step one with the new stuff; four, repeat step two. Almost everyone starts off piling up rejections. It’s part of the process. If you’ve decided to you don’t want to send out a story anymore but still want people to see it, put up a web site for your story archive. But I wouldn’t give them to other people to exploit without benefit to you.

Pedro: What’s it like being a musically inclined writer? (And how is that new guitar working out?)

The new guitar is lovely and I’m getting ever so slightly better with my six-string chording as I go along, so that’s nice. I don’t really think much about what it’s like to be a musically-inclined writer, actually. I guess it’s nice? I did recently come to the realization that I would like to try to write songs at some point, but I don’t know if I want to make the effort to write all the terrible songs I would have to write first before I wrote some good ones. I’ll have to think about it more once the new book is done.

Meg: I am curious as to how your professional experience affects your perceptions when interacting with creative works. Does your work as a professional film critic affect your engagement with films you watch for non-work-related reasons? How does your experience as a writer inform the ways you look at books you read for pleasure, or video games you play? Can you even tell whether these factors influence your reactions?

With regard to having been a film critic, having watched so many films with a critical eye means that most times films hold very few surprises for me — I can see where most of the plot beats need to happen, and where the structure dictates certain events, long before the movie gets to them. But this doesn’t ruin movies for me; it just means I get a certain amount of pleasure seeing if and how the filmmakers pull off their remit. And in a general sense, being a storycrafter makes you aware of how well story is working — or not — in most of your entertainment. I do think that influences what I like and don’t like, but not necessarily more than other factors.

Amy: What was the book that made you love reading?

I learned to read so early that I literally don’t remember not being able to read, so I can’t say which book made me love reading. I don’t remember ever not loving it.

Bilancij: Once you have a few pitches ready, how does one go about trying to get repped?

I assume you’re talking for film/TV, since you don’t pitch novels, you just write them. I got my film/TV rep through my literary agent, so he was a package deal. Which has worked out very well for me!

Luther M. Siler: How important is the “community” aspect of Whatever to you? Related: have you ever considered implementing any sort of open thread scenario where people can talk about… well, whatever?

Well, several years back I opened a discussion site called “Whateveresque,” so that community members here could carry on discussion without my blog posts as instigation. It was very successful but I had to shutter it because my career was taking off and I couldn’t devote the time to moderate two sites. As to how important the Whatever community is: I think it’s pretty great. Some people here have been reading the site nearly as long as it’s existed. Which is wild. I’m glad people still show up.

DeborahBailey914: I watched your travel schedule unfold on Whatever and was struck by the variety of cities and venues where you appeared for Head On. I’ve wondered…are authors in charge of appearance scheduling for their latest publication or are book appearances managed by the publisher?

I think it varies with author and publishers but by and large my book tour travel is managed, coordinated and paid for by Tor, via its PR department. Which is great because I have absolutely no interest in doing it myself. I’m glad Tor handles it, and in all cases they do a very fine job.

Josh Needle: You consistently use “sooner than later” instead of “sooner rather than later.” I’m assuming that this is a conscious choice. When did you start this and why? I Googled the question and both are “acceptable,” but I’ll admit that it drives me nuts and, at least momentarily, diverts my attention from the story.

I’ve always used it, and it’s always been acceptable usage as far as I know, and no, it’s not a conscious choice to use it rather than the other format you note, although I know I’ve used the other one, too. I’m afraid you’ll have to accept that I use it; I don’t think it’s that unusual.

Adam L: How long of a break do you take before finishing up one novel and beginning writing in earnest on the next one?

Usually a month and sometimes more. Honestly it depends on when the next one is due.

Magda: Would you consider writing Big Idea posts about your own books? And why or why not?

I don’t write them, because I have the option of writing about my books here any time I like. The Big Idea is meant to help promote others.

James B: Do you regularly read any political writers or pundits that would broadly be considered conservative? If so, what about them do you enjoy – or at least find worthwhile?

Some of the columnists/writers I’ve enjoyed reading over the years more on the right side of the spectrum include PJ O’Rourke, James Lileks, Mona Charen, Kathleen Parker, Glenn Reynolds and these days I’ve enjoyed Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot, who are conservative but increasingly exasperated with the Trump folks. I am an established fan of HL Mencken, who today is seen as a conservative icon, although I’m not always entirely sure why this is, having read him extensively. Mostly I’ve found them both entertaining as writers and usually well able to articulate their points, even if I don’t always agree with their arguments. There are some current writers on the right who can be clever and amusing as writers who I think are fronting some odious politics, and I find it hard to get around that aspect of their writing in order to enjoy their prose. There are others currently writing on the right who just seem dim, and I wonder how they got their jobs. But as a general rule I don’t have a problem reading political writers to the right of me.

Mike: Is it reasonable to avoid work by artists you would otherwise enjoy because you disagree with their politics?

Why do you need it to be reasonable? Also, reasonable to whom? It’s your life, man. Your life on this planet is short and in terms of entertaining yourself, I don’t see a problem skipping over work from people you find problematic in one way or another. As a philosophical matter I think it’s laudable to read widely and diversely, which includes reading people who have substantially different political opinions than you do. As a practical matter, it’s your life reading time and reading for enjoyment shouldn’t feel like a chore. So if an author pains you (even if it’s me) skip ’em and read something else by someone else. Maybe you’ll come around to them later. Maybe you won’t. But I assure you, you won’t run out of other things to read.