The Whatever Digest, 9/13/18

First: This banner from the Subterranean Press web site, which I got a giggle over:

I love it because I think Nate Taylor, the illustrator, did a perfect job drawing me. I look ridiculous, but in a fun and affectionate way, which I think is perfect, both for me and for the book. I may put the image on my business card, if I ever get business cards again, which honestly seems unlikely, but even so.

Also, in a larger since it’s a delight to love one’s cover art, which this banner is derived from. As a writer I have generally had pretty good luck with cover art — the number of covers of my work that I love outstrips the ones I’ve not like by a considerable margin. One does recognize that cover art isn’t just about one’s own preferences; it’s also marketing, designed to sell the book to booksellers and to readers, so one has to make allowances for that. But even making allowances for that, I’ve been pretty lucky. Virtue Signaling continues that lucky streak.

(PS: Pre-order it! Now!)

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Virtue Signaling is coming out on December 31st, which means it will be the third book I will have published this year, not counting paperback releases and foreign editions. But it will actually be the fourth book I am published in, since Robots Vs Fairies, in which I have a short story, came out in January. That’s not a bad year for publishing things. I may take the pedal off the gas slightly in 2019. Slightly.

***

Trump asserting that thousands did not die because of hurricanes in Puerto Rico: One, what a venal piece of crap this president is, and two, this is probably not what people in Virginia and the Carolinas want to be hearing just as the outer tendrils of Florence begin slapping up against their coasts. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either in the potential government response, or how Trump will wiggle out of culpability if something goes wrong. Someone on Twitter made the crack that there are enough white people in the Carolinas that the FEMA response should be adequate this time, and while that’s a pretty sharp barb, with this administration it’s difficult to say it’s 100% wrong. I dislike having an administration which is so obviously white nationalist.

In any event, Carolinas and Virginia: Good luck. I don’t want to say you’re on your own, but I will say that if you drown, Trump will probably say that you did it just to make him look bad.

***

Google announced yesterday that it will be sunsetting Inbox, their much-superior email application compared to GMail, in early 2019. This makes me very sad because Inbox is my default email client, precisely because it does so many things better than GMail. Google claims it will be importing many of the features Inbox currently is better at (like email organization) into GMail, but I am, shall we say, entirely skeptical. For my money, GMail would be better off if Google simply ported Inbox over in its entirety and called it GMail. But they’re not asking me, damn it.

***

I’m a fan of Lindsay Ellis’ deconstructions of film and TV, which are both well-researched and a lot of fun to watch. But her most recent video isn’t about either of those two media, it’s about YouTube, the very medium in which she toils, and talks about how the people who are making shows and videos there are making them seem “authentic” as opposed to the conventional polish of television (or, even more so, film). Along the way she talks, on her own and with vlogger/author Hank Green, about the emotional cost of keeping up that veneer of authenticity on a regular basis, for people who, ultimately, one doesn’t know, even if they feel like they know you — in part because that’s what you were aiming for.

I found this video even more interesting than I find most of Ellis’ videos, because the issues she’s addressing are ones I’m familiar with, right here on Whatever. The site here is personable and people enjoy getting a glimpse of who I am and what I do, but as personable as it is, the version of me here is tuned — it’s a public persona. It’s not a false version of me, but it’s a version of me tweaked for the blog, as it were, just like when I’m out on a book tour, that version of my is tweaked for interacting with real live people in that particular setting.

I well aware of how much I do what Ellis’ talking about in the video, in my own fashion and mode, so it’s also interesting for me to see other people talking about it in their lives. What Ellis and others have to do and deal with is not exactly what I do and have to deal with, but it’s close enough that I can feel where she’s coming from.

***

And now I’m off — I’m heading to Columbus today to do a panel on science fiction and religion, in no small part because both The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire feature a major religious figure in them. Should be fun. You kids enjoy yourself for the rest of the day. I’ll see you tomorrow, as we start the second 20 years (let’s hope!) of Whatever.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Thirteen: Whatever

One, today’s entry title is a little reflexive. Two, it doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years.

But I don’t think anything ever does. Time is a funny thing which spans backwards and forwards from you, but at the moment it’s only ever now. You keep living right now, and being now, and in my case, writing, now. And then you look up and you have twenty years of writing, all on the same site, all pretty much in the same mode. It’s piled up behind you, and around you, two decades of it.

In the last ten years, I’ve averaged 806 entries here a year, and an average of 435 words per post. Take out about a hundred of those annual entries for Big Idea posts, and let’s say that’s 700 posts a year, 435 words a post. That’s three million words, more or less, in ten years. Let’s be conservative and estimate than in the ten years previous to this last decade, I wrote “just” two million words here on the site. So, basically, five million words of Whatever, in 20 years, give or take a couple hundred thousand on either side. For contrast, in that same twenty years I estimate I’ve written something like 1.385 million words of fiction (fourteen novels, several novellas, a modest stack of short stories).

So you’re saying you could have written three and a half times more fiction if you weren’t writing here, Scalzi! Well, no. That’s not actually how it works. Every once in a while someone takes it on themselves to say to me, here or elsewhere on social media, to stop playing around online and get back to work on the novels. I find this annoying, not just because part of is simply just fuck you, I’m not your word monkey, but also because it reminds me that people who don’t write don’t understand how writing happens and who writers fundamentally are.

First, let me assure you that the five million words here would not have magically transmuted to five million words of fiction. Rather, the five million words here would have magically transmuted into hours playing Descent, or Half-Life, or Left 4 Dead, or Civilization or Fortnite, and hours of binge-watching shows on cable and Netflix, and hours of reading countless books, and other writing, online and off. Whatever is what I do for fun. This is actually my down time! (Well, mostly. Some days it feels kind of workish.) Believe me when I say the fiction you get now is roughly the fiction you would get if Whatever didn’t exist. If Whatever didn’t exist, that time would be spent with me doing something else for fun.

Second, let me now contradict the thing I just said: In fact, there’s a very good chance that if Whatever didn’t exist, you would see less fiction from me. One obvious reason for this is Whatever is how I sold my first novels in the first place — they were discovered here, when I posted them on the site because I was too lazy to submit them elsewhere. It’s entirely possible without this site I would have never sold any novels, or at the least, sold them in a manner and time so entirely different that the path of my fiction career would be vastly different. That’s actually likely, in fact: I would have written entirely different novels. It’s not a certainty that I would have written science fiction novels. It’s not a certainty that I would have written as many novels as I have at this point.

But another reason is that over the last twenty years, writing on Whatever has generally made me happy. It’s a fun hobby, it’s a place for me to blow off steam, and it’s a place where I can write about the world, so my fiction can be (mostly) about other worlds. Here’s a hot tip about how I (and, I suspect, most writers) work: When I’m happy, I write more. When I’m not, I write less. Knowing myself and who I am as a person, I can say that it’s a very good chance that I would not have been as happy, not writing Whatever. And that in itself would have had a negative effect on the amount of fiction you would have gotten out of me.

(Honestly, if anything, Whatever affected the amount of saleable non-fiction writing I did. It’s less of an issue now that novels are my primary source of income, but when I was still freelancing, I probably lost a fair amount of revenue writing pieces here rather than pitching them to editors at magazines, newspapers and Web sites. Never forget that Whatever was originally started because I wanted to stay sharp in the column-writing format. It worked, possibly too well. Once I started getting readers here, I was less inclined to bother trying to sell this sort of writing elsewhere.)

The shorter version of this is: Like my fiction? Then be glad I write here.

I’ve noted elsewhere that Whatever rode the “blogosphere’s” cresting wave of popularity, and now that the blogosphere is increasingly a ghost town it sees rather less random foot traffic than it used to, even if does reasonably well with followers via WordPress, email and RSS. It’s a reminder that nothing ever stays the same, online or off. Times change, fashions change, social media changes. I can be sanguine about it because I never tried to monetize Whatever via ads; I don’t have to worry about losing income because Google changes its algorithm or whatever. I miss the former vibrancy of the blog world, but I’m not going be one of those people shaking his cane talking about how things were Better Back Then. It was here, it’s mostly gone now, and something else will come along.

But even when the words “blog,” “blogger” and “blogosphere” become even more dad rock than they already are, I suspect I’ll still be writing here, because, as noted above, I like it and it makes me happy. It makes me happy because writing makes me happy. It makes me happy because writing helps me understand myself and what I’m thinking. It makes me happy because at the end of the day, these are my words and I get to own them, and people get to see them. I don’t expect that anyone but me will have read every single word of the twenty years I have here, or of the however many years I have left writing here. But other people have read a lot of it. They still do.

And they still may, in the future and possibly long after I’m done writing here and shuffled off to whatever happens next. Dear future graduate students: Thanks for picking me for your thesis! Hope it’s going well. Have fun sifting through five million words at least.

In the meantime, for whatever it is I’m writing on Whatever: there’s no future or past, just now. If you’re reading this, this is at least part of who I am (or was) in this moment. This is who I have been, in the moment, for two decades now. It’s a long time, and seems like no time at all.

Announcing Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies: Selected Writings From Whatever 2013 – 2018

Today, on the 20th anniversary of Whatever, I am absolutely thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies: Selected Writings From Whatever, 2013-2018. This new collection from Subterranean Press collects some of the best writing from Whatever from the last half decade, with my words and thoughts on politics, personalities, social issues and life in general — on whatever, appropriately enough.

Virtue Signaling will be available from Subterranean Press as a limited edition signed hardcover (featuring fabulous cover art from Nate Taylor, pictured above) and in ebook format. The current scheduled publication date is December 31, 2018. You can preorder the hardcover now through Subterranean Press, which is the best way to assure you get a copy.

And now that I’ve covered the basics, let me talk just a little more about the book, using the Q&A format:

What’s covered in this book and how is it different from Don’t Live For Your Obituary, the Whatever collection you released last year?

Don’t Live for Your Obituary specifically covered pieces about writing and the writing life, published over the last decade; Virtue Signaling covers every other topic I wrote about, between 2013 and 2018 (well, through about May of this year, anyway). So while there is some overlap in time frame between the two books, the content of each is otherwise mostly independent.

The collection’s time frame includes the 2016 election cycle and the first year and a half of the Trump administration, so that’s covered some — but there’s also discussion about other world events, personal observations on the nature of life, reviews and commentary on film, theater and other events, and of course, lots and lots of snark. Lots and lots of snark should not be surprising at this point, I think.

Why did you call this collection Virtue Signaling? 

Because it amused me. Also, as I wrote in the book’s introduction (and I’m condensing here a bit from the actual intro):

“Virtue Signaling” is a phrase the dim and bigoted use when they want to discount other people expressing the idea that it would be nice if we could all be essentially and fundamentally decent to each other. I don’t believe I am notably more virtuous than your average person; nevertheless I also think we can and should be better, to each other and as a nation. Occasionally I write about it. I am delighted to signal in the direction of virtue.

I personally get accused of “virtue signaling” a lot, because of what I write here and in other places, usually by the sort of dude I think wouldn’t know what virtue actually was if it came and bit him on the ass. I didn’t title this collection Virtue Signaling just to annoy that sort of moral CHUD, but I’m not going to deny that it’s a nice bonus, either.

Is… is that supposed to be you on the cover? 

It certainly is! In my social justice warrior garb! Once again, Nate Taylor, who also illustrated the covers of The Mallet of Loving Correction and Don’t Live For Your Obituary, has done a fine job of making a cartoon version of me. I genuinely love this illustration, and think Nate Taylor is brilliant. Please hire him for all of your illustration needs.

Tell me more about the signed, limited hardcover edition and why I need to pre-order it right now.

Well, it’s signed because my signature is in each and every copy, so you won’t need to hunt me down later at a convention or tour event to get it inscribed. It’s limited because once this run of the hardcover is sold through, that’s it; no more will be made. It’s hardcover because that’s what Subterranean Press specializes in — amazing hardcover editions of books that look and feel great and add real class to your bookshelf and, indeed, to your life in general. And you need to pre-order it right now because my signed, limited hardcover Subterranean Press editions have a tendency to sell out, so if you want to be sure you get one, pre-ordering sooner than later is the way to go.

I will not be hardcover-shamed into preordering! Ebooks all the way!

Well, fine, you do you, and there will in fact be an ebook version, which will be cheaper to boot, although not as pretty and shiny as the hardcover. That version should be available at your favorite ebook retailer for pre-order in the reasonably near future.

And before you ask, both the hardcover and ebook editions will be available worldwide (for the hardcover, you will need to pay shipping). The ebook is also DRM-free, because, yeah.

Anything else you want us to know about Virtue Signaling?

Mostly that I’m really happy with this collection, and I think everyone at Subterranean Press has done a truly fabulous job putting it together. I think you’re going to be happy to have it on your shelf. And also, I’m totally going to dress up like the cover at some convention in the future. Just you wait.