11 Week Quarantine Check In

I actually had to count it out at this point. We went into quarantine after coming back from the JoCo Cruise, and that was on Sunday, March 15. That was eleven weeks ago, which feels both a long time ago and also not that long ago now, because time is funny that way. I also entertain the idea I may have miscounted weeks somewhere in there, honestly, it’s a lot of weeks.

I think also at this point the quarantine era, or at least this first one, is over. States have largely opened back up despite the virus still being out there and spreading, and people are out and about — rather dramatically in the last few days, as it happens. I don’t think they’re going to go back in after this, at least not in the way they were before.

Which brings me to the subject of the protests that have been going on this week. On Twitter a couple of days ago I wrote this, which still holds true:

With that said, I can safely say the following:

1. All that had to happen not to have (these) protests go down was for Derek Chauvin not to have put his knee into George Floyd’s neck.

2. If I’m ever caught passing a bad check, or a counterfeit $20, or whatever, you know what’s not going to happen? Me dead because I had a cop’s knee in my neck for close to ten minutes.

3. I know for certain even these two utterly non-controversial statements above will have some dude show up in my comments suggesting that no, that’s not true, and trying to imagine a scenario where a Chauvin choking out Floyd was somehow justified. Dude, yes the fuck it is true, and no the fuck it wasn’t. (Also, don’t, I’ll just Mallet your tiresome ass).

The bifurcation of my eleventh week of quarantine is that I’m at home and it’s been lovely here, and in the rest of the country, people are out in the streets and cities are literally on fire.

On a personal level, this eleventh week hasn’t been that great for me; I’ve been short-tempered and irritable this entire week. Part of that was due to news from the outside world — it’s not been a great week for the whole country, folks — but part of that was just, well, sometimes I’m cranky and people just plain set me off. I don’t think I can chalk up my crankiness this week to quarantine life. I think it’s just me. It was actually a very good week for me not to see people, in point of fact. Or for other people to see me! I’ve been doing all y’all a favor by being mostly absent the last week, and posting pictures of cats and flowers. I hope you appreciate my restraint.

This next week I will actually leave the house; I have a dentist appointment on Wednesday, at which I suspect I will be told I need a crown (this will not be news to me, we’ve been watching this particular tooth for a while). While I’m not necessarily looking forward to the dentist appointment, I’m looking forward to a drive there and back. It’s the little things, these days.

The Nebula Weekend Dance Party Set List

Last night I DJed a dance party for SFWA’s Nebula Weekend — and because it’s the world we currently live in now, it was done all online. How do you do an online dance party? Well, you spin the tunes over Zoom and then a bunch of people in their own homes dance about in front of their computers. Yes, it was nerdy and awkward. Yes, it was a ton of fun.

I was asked if I would share the set list from the dance, and as it happens the DJ software I’m using (DJay 2), keeps track of the songs one plays during a session and saves it as a file. So, here’s last night’s dance party, track by track. Three hours, almost exactly, of happy hopping about. In case you feel like replicating the moment in the privacy of your own home. Enjoy.

1. Let’s Dance, David Bowie

2. Good as Hell, Lizzo

3. Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now), C&C Music Factory

4. September, Earth Wind & Fire

5. You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), Dead or Alive

6. Bang Bang, Jessie J & Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj

7. Hey Baby, No Doubt

8. Just Like Heaven, The Cure

9. That’s The Way (I Like It), KC & The Sunshine Band

10. Baby Got Back, Sir Mix-A-Lot

11. All About That Bass, Meghan Trainor

12. A Little Respect, Erasure

13. Heart of Glass, Blondie

14. Free Your Mind, En Vogue

15. Come On Eileen, Dexys Midnight Runners

16. What is Love, Haddaway

17. Can’t Feel My Face, The Weeknd

18. Funkytown, Lipps Inc.

19. Connection, Elastica

20. Handclap, Fitz & the Tantrums

21. Miss You Much, Janet Jackson

22. Believe, Cher

23. Super Freak, Rick James

24. Maniac, Conan Gray

25. Get Down On It, Kool & the Gang

26. Don’t Stop the Sandman, Rock Sugar

27. Kiss, Prince

28. Bad Romance, Lady Gaga

29. Night Fever, Bee Gees

30. Jump Jive An’ Wail, The Brian Setzer Orchestra

31. Tik Tok, Ke$ha

32. Dancing With Myself, Billy Idol

33. It’s Tricky, Run-DMC

34. Time Warp, Rocky Horror Picture Show

35. Vogue, Madonna

36. Bizarre Love Triangle, New Order

37. Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It), Beyonce

38. You’re the One That I Want, Grease Motion Picture Soundtrack

39. Moves Like Jagger, Maroon 5

40. Jungle Love, The Time

41. Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars

42. Brick House, Commodores

43. Make Me Feel, Janelle Monae

44. Groove Is In the Heart, Deee-Lite

45. Starships, Nicki Minaj

46. Burning Down the House, Talking Heads

47. Hollaback Girl, Gwen Stefani

48. Love Shack, B-52s

49. Goodbye, Goodbye (Boingo Alive Version), Oingo Boingo

Thinking About June

First, for no good reason whatsoever, here’s a picture of Spice, turned into a faux-pastel drawing through the magic of Photoshop filters. I think it looks pretty good, actually.

Second, June starts on Monday and I’m going to use the switchover in months as an excuse to get back into a work setting. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been entirely idle prior to this; January and February I actually did a fair amount of work (I finished the next Dispatcher installment and wrote a couple of TV scripts) and in April and May I promoted The Last Emperox pretty heavily and also did some backend business stuff, which I personally find pretty exciting but the fruits of which you’re not likely to see for a while (and which I can’t talk about in detail yet, sorry).

What I haven’t done since I’ve gotten back from the JoCo Cruise in mid-March, however, is any new creative work of note. I don’t feel too bad about this, because the world has undergone some literally cataclysmic changes in that timeframe, and I think most of us can be forgiven in being shaken up about it and also trying to find our feet again. But I also know when the deadline to turn in my next novel is, and this time I would like to write it in a manner that doesn’t require a mad rush of writing at the end. Which means starting writing now (well, Monday). That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how it works.

Over the last couple of projects, I have developed a process that I think works reasonably well for me. In the mornings, between 8am and noon, I use my Freedom app to block news and social media sites, so that I don’t have those to distract me from doing my creative writing during those hours. After that I tend to my other business (emails and non-creative writing) and, while I don’t have any blocking software on at that point, I pretty much try to avoid most news until about 5pm, i.e., when everything I need to do with my day is done and I won’t be distracted by being angry at whatever is happening in the world that day. It’s weird to think of scheduling one’s angry time, but, well. Welcome to 2020, y’all.

More to the point (for me, anyway), having a schedule is pretty much how I have to live my life these days. Younger me might be a little appalled at how much 51-year-old me needs schedules, but 51-year-old me has come to terms with how easily distracted he is, and how distracting the world is, especially now. It’s not a good combination for getting creative things done. Creativity, or my creativity, anyway, needs a little bit of space and time on a daily basis in order to get going and keep going. That means a schedule. Shut up, you’ll be older too, one day, and when you are you’ll probably find a schedule helps you too.

So, June: Back to work for me. I think you’ll appreciate the effort. Eventually.

Zeus Officially Pronounces The Week Done and Over With

Go on, take a break for a couple of days. You’ve earned it. Probably.

A Dream Possibly Indicative of My Mental State at the Moment

In the dream I and Krissy and (a slightly younger) Athena are on vacation, in Denver of all places, when it’s suddenly the end of the world — we’re talking mudslides and mushroom clouds. And as we watch this from the hall leading to our hotel room, I hand Athena the ice cream cone I’ve been eating (vanilla with red sprinkles) and say to her, “you finish this.” Because in my dream I know it’s the last ice cream she’s ever going to have, and I want her to have a memory of what ice cream is like.

So, uh, yeah. That’s my brain at the moment.

To be clear, I’m fine, the family is fine and the pets are fine, and there is no reason to believe we’ll be anything but fine for the foreseeable future. But like anyone in these times, I have my ups and downs. The last few days have been… down.

The good news is, I actually have lots of ice cream in the house — I was sent a bunch as a congratulatory gift for The Last Emperox. Maybe I’ll go have some.

The Big Idea: Margo Orlando Littell

In her latest novel, The Distance From Four Points, author Margo Orlando Littell tests the proposition of whether one can indeed come back home — and whether her protagonist’s experience of doing so can and will differ from her own.

MARGO ORLANDO LITTELL:

Like most novelists, I can say that the finished version of my novel is a completely different novel than it was in early drafts. Plot elements were sliced away; characters asserted themselves or stepped aside. The big questions that led me to write The Distance from Four Points, however, never wavered: what would happen if you were forced to move back home? What if you returned to the place you swore you’d never set foot in again?

I grew up in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania, the kind of place where your high school homecoming queen, first-grade teacher, and second-cousin-once-removed are all people you run into regularly at the supermarket. Everybody knows your name and your business. Most people who grow up there don’t leave, settling in the same zip code, or even on the same street, where they were born. This was not my path. I left town for college in Dayton, went on to grad school in New York City, spent years in Barcelona and Sacramento and New Jersey, acquiring a house and family along the way. With my husband’s job in Manhattan and my kids in New Jersey elementary school, moving back to my hometown has never been part of any life plan.

And yet. I’ve always viewed my hometown as a safety net. It hasn’t been home for decades, but it’s home—Robert Frost’s home: “the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.” If something were to happen—some crisis, some loss—it would be a soft place to land. It wouldn’t be the life we’d expected, but we’d carry on and be okay.

In my writing, I wasn’t far from home. Fictionalized versions of my hometown are the settings for both of my novels. I could walk the quiet streets and make conversation at the gas station through the characters I created. It felt right to set down roots in my books as I wrote about familiar territory.

Then it got a little too familiar.

The Distance from Four Points takes up the big question of my life directly: what would it be like to actually go back home? Robin, my protagonist, is forced to return to her hometown—Four Points, Pennsylvania—when her husband dies, leaving her with only a few decrepit rental properties he blew their savings on. Robin must become a landlord to make ends meet. Researching the novel, I had a realtor take me into the worst homes available for sale in my hometown—the long-abandoned, much-abused properties available for a song.

These are not ordinary rundown homes. My hometown, an hour south of Pittsburgh, used to be a wealthy hub for coal and coke, and it was once home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country. These are houses where the town’s most powerful families lived, and, grotesquely, the opulent details remain: original woodwork amid ripped-up floors; in-tact stained glass amid missing windows; turrets; wraparound porches. Architectural ghosts of better days. One of these homes, a giant yellow-brick beauty too ruined to enter safely, was listed for $10,000 and wasn’t worth half that much, as it was actively crumbling into the ravine behind it.

A romantic-leaning person would feel strongly that these ruined homes had souls.

Not long after my visit, a friend bought one of these homes, and we partnered for a flip. It was a stately, five-bedroom, red-brick landmark with a turret. The project’s purpose was to rescue a town relic and help improve the neighborhood where both sets of our parents still lived. The flip failed. The renovation itself was spectacular—photos went viral on Facebook, with over a million views—but no one could afford to buy it. So we took in tenants, all of whom lied egregiously—we were easy marks, as absentee landlords—and failed to pay rent. Courtrooms and collection agencies entered my life. We lost a lot of money, a lot of sleep. The house we’d meant to save bowed to a new cycle of abuse.

All of this meant that the lifelong fondness I had for my hometown took a beating. Before, I would have described it as having Appalachian charm; I viewed it through the lens of a visitor, someone who’d show up to ride on the bike trail by the river or attend the annual Italian church fair. Now, having invested time and resources, all I could see were tenants who’d punch holes in walls and strew needles in the attic. It was a heartbreaking re-vision. Too gritty, too real.

Worse, for the first time, I felt like a true outsider. During visits, I’d always been welcomed, easily resuming a place that held the shape of my body even after so many years. Now, interacting with tenants by phone and email, I was only an absentee landlord. A stranger.

Meanwhile, in my novel, the path Robin walked was the reverse of mine. Her longstanding revulsion of Four Points evolves; while there, she finds unexpected community. What she believed was the worst of her hometown turns out to be what her affluent suburban life had lacked: unvarnished worldviews, blunt truth-telling, long memories. She sheds her bland existence and reaches for freedom. Though she returned to Four Points kicking and screaming, the acceptance she achieves is a triumph, not capitulation.

Researching this novel gave me an unwelcome look at the other side of this place I once knew, far away from family and childhood memories. Robin gets an answer to my novel’s big question—what would happen if you went back home?—and her contented future is, in those pages, assured. My own attempt to get closer to where I came from, however, to maybe even test the waters for a hypothetical return of my own, came up sadly short of a happy ending.

—-

The Distance from Four Points: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Facebook.

Petals and Raindrops

So this morning I went and took pictures of the flowers in the front yard, and I posted the pictures on Twitter and Facebook and misidentified the flowers, so of course every single comment was correcting me on the flower identification. So I thought, well, fuck you all, you don’t get any flowers then, and deleted them. Because, apparently, today I’m not in the mood for goddamned fucking nitpicky bullshit.

So anyway, here’s a flower. Of some indeterminate sort. With raindrops. Enjoy. I’m taking the rest of the day off from social media, since it’s clear I need to walk away from it today.

I Have No Opinions of Note to Express Today, So Here, Have a Cat

She’s not feeling very argumentative herself at the moment. And that’s okay.

The Big Idea: Swati Teerdhala

It’s said that revenge is sweet — but in this Big Idea for The Archer at Dawn, author Swati Teerdhala argues that the taste may be something else entirely.

SWATI TEERDHALA:

Revenge fantasies are powerful.

We’ve all had one, whether it’s as petty as dripping oil on your annoying neighbor’s fancy loafers at the gas station or drastic, like sideswiping a car that always parks in your parking spot at work. And maybe you’ve gone through with that revenge fantasy. It feels good. No, it feels amazing in the moment.

But revenge is an unusual, cruel thing. It dresses itself up as a balm to your wounds. Something that will soothe you, allow you to evolve past your grievances with the mere act of retribution. It’s the answer to a question you desperately think you need. And in some cases, the desire for revenge can be understood. A good chunk of action movies use revenge as the core motivator for a character––to good and bad results. Even in classic literature, The Count of Monte Cristo is centered on a long, drawn out revenge fantasy. It’s a shorthand that every human on this earth can understand.

You’ve been hurt. You must hurt. But an eye for an eye blinds the world, or so they say. Turn the other cheek, etc. There are any number of sayings or parables that encourage forgiveness as the proper response to a devastation delivered by another. To the hurt and rage and despair that drives someone to revenge.

I wanted to explore this idea, not with a forgiving character, but with someone who has used that rage and anger to shape the core of who they are. How does forgiveness work then? Is it even possible? And what part of yourself do you lose when you allow forgiveness to enter? I wasn’t sure if you could even be the same person anymore. Or if you could truly forgive, especially a crime that has defined your life.

Esha, one of the main characters in The Archer at Dawn, saw her parents murdered in front of her eyes as a kid. The one cruel act has molded her into the person she is––a rebel fighting for what’s right and good. Someone committed to making sure no one else has to endure what she went through as the Pretender King took power of the land. She’s dedicated her whole life to bringing him down. And still, the Pretender King isn’t enough for her revenge. There was someone else who held the sword, who committed the act of killing her parents. When she realizes she has a chance to avenge her parents, she must decide––her past or her future? Taking revenge will ensure that her past is clean, that her rage will diminish, but it could spell doom for her and her land’s future. Forgiveness is the harder path.

Throughout The Archer at Dawn, the characters must deal with their demons in different ways––the thirst for revenge, the desperate need to prove their worth, the unending burden of duty. I delved deep into these ideas, forcing these characters to live through their worst nightmares before offering them a chance to do better, to be more.

Forgiveness was a lantern at the end of a dark tunnel. And hopefully, they’d walk toward it.

The Archer At Dawn: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Bookshop

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow her on twitter.

Memorial Day Flowers, 2020

From around the Scalzi Compound. 

I hope today has been a fine and reflective Memorial Day for you and yours.

Sunset, 5/24/20

Some good drama in this one.

Have an excellent rest of your Sunday, folks.

About That Deal, Five Years On

Today is a red-letter day in my personal history, because five years ago (and also on a Sunday, calendars are weird), the New York Times announced that I had signed a 13-book deal with Tor books for $3.4 million, a deal notable for its length (we expected it to run for roughly a decade) and for the amount of money being splashed out. In the wake of the announcement was a week of congratulations for me (which I appreciated) and a whole lot of Monday morning quarterbacking about whether this deal was actually a good deal for me, or for Tor (which I found mostly amusing). We’re now halfway through the expected decade of the deal, so I figure now is as good a time as any to offer some thoughts on it and how it’s been for me, living with it in the real world.

First, how has the deal been working out? Well, so far, four books covered by the contract have been released: The Collapsing Empire, Head On, The Consuming Fire and this year’s book, The Last Emperox. Of the four, three were New York Times bestsellers and the one that wasn’t was nominated for the Hugo and won the Locus Award (there was an additional bestseller in there too: The Dispatcher, which showed up on the NYT’s inaugural Audio Fiction best seller list). In terms of the Interdependency series, the sales and bestseller rankings grew from the first of the books to the last. All the published books in the deal have been optioned for film/TV, and some of the currently unpublished ones have been, too. All the published books have sold in multiple languages.

This isn’t (just) luck. The deal was designed, in large part, to allow Tor and me the luxury of time to strategically build on the sales and the following I already had. One of the things I said to Tor when we were negotiating the deal is that I was perfectly happy to be known and to be labeled as a science fiction writer — I didn’t want to suddenly go “mainstream,” but I would be happy to be science fiction’s ambassador to the mainstream. Since the deal, that’s been the general thrust of our efforts; I write unapologetically science fictional books that non-genre readers might find approachable, and Tor’s magnificent marketing and PR people pitch me to the usual suspects in terms of press and readership — and then beyond that, too.

So yes, the deal has absolutely been working out so far. I have been the beneficiary of intentionality, and the agreement of the two primary parties to work strategically toward a goal, that goal being selling loads and loads of books to as many people as possible. To my credit, I’m writing accessible books that people (mostly) seem to like, and to Tor’s credit, they’ve been very active and creative in marketing and selling the books, and me. I can’t overstate the importance of the latter, and I saw it in action in the last few months, when my physical book tour had to be scrapped and Tor’s PR/Marketing folks built an online tour for me in a matter of days. I am in awe of and grateful for Tor’s publicity machine (and particularly Alexis Saarela, my direct PR person), and in return I try to hold up my end of the deal, not just in what and how I write, but in helping them promote me, and in supporting Tor and the other writers they have and promote. This is how the deal is supposed to work, and how things get done.

I’ve been asked if having a contract with so many books on it exposes me to pressure, as in Oh Jesus, I just finished another book and yet I still have nine more books that I have to write please release me from my prison of words. The short answer to this is, lol, no. I get to write for a decade (at least!) and don’t have to worry about whether what I’m writing will sell and if I’ll get paid for it. There are very few writers who would turn down that deal.

The slightly longer answer is: Hello, have you looked at the global economy at the moment, it’s in a shambles and it’s absolutely the freelancers and gig economy workers of the world — including the writers — who are going to take it on the chin. It might be years before things hit a new equilibrium. Many if not most of the writers I know are incredibly apprehensive about what this means for their ability to support themselves and their families through writing. And then here’s me, who all he has to do is — write. If I write, I get paid. Someone is contractually obliged to pay me a specified amount for every single book they’ve already agreed that they will take from me when I finish writing it. I have many problems with the state of the world today — oh boy, let me tell you about that — but getting paid isn’t one of them. That is an actual gift.

(Well, no, not an actual gift, since I still have to, you know, write the books in order to get paid. But I think you know what I mean.)

When I first talked about the deal five years ago, one of the things that I noted was that it gave me stability — rare for a writer in any era, and it feels even more rare in this one. Stability, as it turns out, is a huge boost to my productivity. This should not be a surprise — strange how when you don’t have to devote brain cycles to how you’re going to afford eating or keeping a roof over your head, you might have more cycles to commit to creativity — but when talking about a large, long contract, I think people tend to see the obligation it requires rather than the constancy it affords. For me, I don’t really see the obligation, because, you know, as a commercially-oriented author whose only job is writing, I’m obliged anyway. If I didn’t have this bigass contract, I would still have to write a book a year, more or less, plus a bunch of other things, or else I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. That obligation was already baked in to how I live my professional life.

What the contract did, again, was alleviate the anxiety of whether what I wrote would sell, or whether I would get paid for it (or more accurately, if I would get paid what I thought was reasonable). Now, being the lucky dick that I am, I will cheerfully note that selling work was never really a problem for me prior to the contract; my modus operandi was to say to Tor, “Hey, here’s a book, want it?” and they would say “Thank you, yes, that would be lovely.” But on the other hand, there is a three-year gap in my novel publishing schedule between 2008 and 2011, and it’s there for business reasons, not because I didn’t want to write novels in there. Yes, it’s weirdly coincident to the last major global economic downturn. Strange, that. Lesson: There are no guarantees in this business, even if you’re already a best selling award magnet. Unless you get that guarantee in the form of a contract.

That stability has business applications aside from money. For example, Tor has, for print and eBook, my entire back list of novels — fourteen so far, and (obviously) more to come. Having them all with the same house means we plan and strategize on how to use the back list to our advantage. So, for example, this April we did a one-day giveaway of The Collapsing Empire and a one-day $2.99 eBook sale of The Consuming Fire, directly ahead of the release of The Last Emperox. Tor can also do things like make the entire backlist readily available to bookstores when a new release comes out, so people who like the newest book have no problem finding older work, to the benefit of us and to bookstores. Book sales aren’t just about new books and bestseller lists — Old Man’s War is still my biggest seller, and it’s never been near a NYT list — and having stability and continuity in who is distributing the Scalzi library is a huge competitive advantage not every author gets to have.

Mind you, when the deal came out, there were a number of commentators who suggested that I had traded stability for the opportunity to make real money, since, depending on how one decided to slice it, an average of $261,000 per book or $340,000 per year, guaranteed, wasn’t all that much money; it wasn’t, really, what a bestselling, award-winning author should be making, now, was it?

(This is where actual authors, and actual bestselling authors, throw their heads back and laugh outrageously loudly, by the way.)

But these commentators are not entirely wrong. I mean, they’re wrong about $261k not being “real” money for a book, honestly, that’s just a ridiculous assertion in a world where the average advance for a science fiction novel from a “Big Five” publisher is something like $12.5k. But they’re not wrong that stability was as important to me as the price tag on the deal. And this was for a couple of reasons.

The first is: Look, unless you’re buying yachts and helicopters and trophy spouses and cocaine, or live in San Francisco, there comes a certain financial threshold where all your life needs and wants are taken care of and more money just becomes more money and not much more. What that number is for you depends on several factors, including where you live (see: San Francisco above), what your debts and owes are, how important being flashy with your money is, whether it’s really critical to you that your kids go to an Ivy-level school rather than Eastern Michigan University (or your state’s equivalent), where you vacation and (hopefully) how much you save for the day when you’re not making money anymore.

Turns out, for me, that number is somewhere around $200,000. At $200,000 all my bills and debts are paid, I’m able to invest and save and pay for my kid’s college, I get to buy whatever thing it is I want to buy (usually tech stuff and musical instruments), I can donate to charities and most of all I can just stop worrying about whether I can afford to live. More money after that? Great! Love it! I’m a capitalist! Into savings and investments it goes. But for me, the quality of my day-to-day life is not manifestly changed above $200k — a sum which in itself, incidentally, would still put me in the top ten percent of income earners in the United States.

What that realization means for me is that after a certain point, I had the luxury of looking at a book deal not just in terms of what the money was, but what else I was getting from it and what that would mean in the long term, financially and otherwise. It might not surprise you to know that before Tor made their offer, I was actively being scouted by other science fiction imprints, and had more than one lunch with editors and publishers where we talked about how I would fit into their house and plans. I think it’s not unreasonable for me to suggest that I could have gotten something like a seven-figure, three-book deal from another Big Five publisher, where the average advance per book would have been significantly higher than what I got from Tor.

But here’s the other reason stability was as important as the money: Because the tradeoffs matter. Is it better, for example, to go for a book deal that offers more money up front but has a shorter term, and represents a concrete break with your publishing past (this is the back list thing again), requires you to get used to a new publisher, editor, PR/Marketing team and so on, with the knowledge that if those three books underperform, for whatever metrics “underperform” represents, you’re out on the pavement again and everyone knows why? Or is it better to get possibly less per book up front than you might get elsewhere (but still more than enough, I mean, Jesus), work with people you know, like, and respect professionally, know — because it’s in the contract — that your books will be a priority on release, and if one or two (or more!) underperform, you have time and resources to adjust and compensate? For a decade, at least?

There is no wrong answer to this, incidentally — the answer is entirely about one’s own tolerance for risk and/or desire for the ability to do long-term planning and strategy. By this point, I think, my own answer is obvious.

And part of that, and because I’m not entirely immune to the charms of money, even when I have enough, is because here’s a thing I know: Money makes more money, and calls attention to itself — which is to say that the longer you’re making significant amounts of money, the easier it is to make significant amounts of money, and to be visible to the people who will give you money. When commentators looked at the deal as $261k per book or at the $340k per year figure, they were only seeing the money in a blunt and not very useful breakdown that was only about the money in the contract. What they didn’t see was what the attention a $3.4 million, decade-long, 13-book deal, could get me.

Which was, in this case: a separate deal for the audiobook rights, mirroring the Tor deal in length, with the result being that each book release is a priority for a second publisher (Audible, who is a delight to work with), meaning more publicity and marketing, also from exceptionally smart folks. More long-term deals from foreign publishers with more money attached. Increased interest from Hollywood, with option deals following. Paid speaking gigs and other business opportunities. Write ups and profiles and analysis in mainstream media, not just genre and trade publications. A raised profile that Tor and my other publishers can work with and use to increase interest in my work and grow sales, which makes the next round of publicity and marketing easier, raising my profile further — something we can do over and over and over, not just two or three times. And — this is important — increased interest in my back list, which generates sales and royalties between new releases.

Money makes money, or can, anyway. With this deal, at least, that has absolutely been the case. Krissy does not like for me to talk specific sums and I think she has a reasonable basis for this. I can say, without being overly specific, that with respect to the contract and all the knock-on deals and benefits that accrued because of it, and after (absolutely earned) agency and lawyer fees, we left that $3.4 million figure in the dust a while back. With luck, we’ll close out the contract having made a respectable multiple of that amount (Ifif I don’t mess up and write something unreadable, if the economy doesn’t crash so hard that people just stop reading, or at least, paying for books, if I don’t die of coronavirus or marauding bears, if I don’t become such a complete jerk that people can’t bear the sight of my name on a book, if a meteor doesn’t dinosaur us all, if, if, if). Please note that if I’ve already cleared that sum, my partners, Tor most of all, are doing pretty well with the arrangement too. Sometimes things work like they should.

So yes, I paid for stability. I’m happy to say it’s paying me back.

Perhaps the best thing I could say about this contract five years in is that if I had to do it over again, I can’t think of much that I would do differently. It created for me the ability to write the books I want to write, and apparently the books that people want to read. All while knowing that I have partners I can trust to sell the work, and me, to the world, over and over again. Again, this is a gift that not every writer gets to have. I’m immensely grateful for it, and I look forward to writing more books under this contract. Nine more, in fact. I can’t wait.

New Books and ARCs, 5/22/20

As we begin the Memorial Day weekend, here’s a stack of the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Anything here that speaks to you as we head into the long weekend? Share in the comments!

The Big Idea: Nancy Kress

In today’s Big Idea, Hugo and Nebula Award winner Nancy Kress takes a look at controversy, science, and change — Sea Change, as a matter of fact.

NANCY KRESS: 

At parties in my city—environmentally conscious, crunchy-granola, high-tech and socially activist Seattle—it is easy to start a flaming argument. Just walk up to a group, tilt your head, and say inquiringly, “What do you think of GMOs?” Then stand back to avoid being scorched.

Genetically modified organisms have passionate denouncers and equally passionate supporters. This is especially true for GMO crops, since the genemod bacteria and animals are usually hidden away in labs, ranches, or manufacturing facilities. But there is GMO food right out front on your table, plated in front of your kids. Everybody has an opinion.

Including me.

But I didn’t want my new novella from Tachyon, Sea Change, to be a polemic for one side of the controversy. I wanted to explore in a balanced way both sides of the myriad questions involved.  In this corner of the boxing ring: GMOs aren’t natural! We don’t know what they do to the human body long-term! GMO crops will contaminate wild flora and/or kill animals, possibly including us!  There are studies! Look at the science!

And in the opposite corner: Neither is most of medical science “natural” to the human body, from Tylenol to heart transplants! There are decades of research already! Not one person has ever died from a GMO! If we don’t engineer crops, climate change and a growing world population will starve billions of people! Those studies have been invalidated! Look at the science!

The pugilistic metaphor is a deliberate choice. It isn’t only in Seattle that “GMO” is a fighting word, and with reason. There is a lot at stake: money, scientific reputations, food security, perhaps the future of the planet. The politics of genetic engineering, of agribusiness, of food regulation are all more complicated than they first appear. Both sides have waged wars of disinformation. Sometimes the war of words has spilled over into actual violence, with test farms attacked and crops destroyed, or Monsanto employees bodily threatened.

I am not a scientist. I think I would make a very bad scientist: not detail-oriented enough, or patient enough, or logical enough. Science fascinates me (forget rock stars and movie actors—I’ve always been a science groupie, sometimes embarrassingly so). But what I find really compelling are people. Why does a given person believe, act, love as they do? This is fortunate, because a writer cannot make a story solely out of controversial arguments. The science needs to happen to characters.

Sea Change happens to Renata Black. As I age, my protagonists get older (eventually I expect to be writing about octogenarians), partly because I get tired of brash, young, badass heroines. So Renata is a middle-aged woman in a near-future Seattle. Her life is not going as expected. She is a mother, a wife in a difficult marriage, an activist in a secret organization. An idealist, but one who recognizes that realizing ideals happens slowly, with effort, imperfectly, and sometimes at great personal cost.

Sea Change also happens to Jake, Renata’s actor husband. To their chess-loving son, Ian. To thirteen-year-old Lisa, a member of the Quinalt Nation. To Kyle, an ex-NFL wide receiver turned teen counselor, who has the unenviable task of trying to hold together a revolutionary cell of talented, utopian-minded misfits.

Finally, the novella is about other things as well as GMOs. Ocean blobs. Legal jurisdiction fights. Love and loss (if I hadn’t thought of it too late, I would have called my story Sea Change: A Love Story). The Quinalt Peninsula northwest of Seattle, which contains the world’s only temperate rainforest: wild, coastal, and beautiful.

A section of the Peninsula belongs to a Native American tribe, the Quinalt Nation, and so they, too, are part of my story.  For this, I had the help of a Native American sensitivity reader. The Quinalt, who have occupied their land for 1,000 years, depend heavily on salmon fishing, which is threatened by modern agricultural run-off, in addition to the host of other threats the outside world poses to Native American cultures.

Sea Change spans twenty-eight years. It begins in 2005, the year that Switzerland banned genetically modified foods and the United States added sugar beets to the GMO foods available to consumers, which already included summer squash, soybeans, papayas, and tomatoes. Renata is in college. When the novella ends, she and the world are both very different. But the battles over science go on.

And, as I read the news each day, it seems that they always will.

—-

Sea Change: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site.

Ohio’s Opening Up But I’m (Still) Staying In

So, Ohio is on its way to opening up entirely — restaurants can open their inside dining areas today, and by June first places like banquet halls and bowling alleys can be back in business. This is all presuming social distancing, etc, inside those halls and alleys. A lot of people around here are thrilled, and I can’t say I blame them; it’s difficult to be away from the world for two months, even in the best-case scenario where your job and well-being are miniminally impacted by these events. A lot of people are ready to go back into the world, or at least the bit of it encompassed by Ohio.

I’m probably not going to be one of them. And, briefly, here’s why:

1. Because the virus wasn’t (and isn’t) actually contained.

2. Because lots of people think the virus was contained, when it wasn’t (and isn’t).

3. As a result, they’re not really paying attention to things like masks or social distancing.

4. Or they think that things like masks/social distancing make you look weak and/or like a Democrat.

5. And I live in a county that went 78% for Trump in 2016, so you do the math here.

Sooooo, yeeeeeah. My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.

I do plan to leave my house. I have a dentist appointment in June, and it’s likely at some point or another I will go to the grocery store, or the post office, or run some errands. When I do, I’ll wear a mask (well, probably not in the actual dentist chair, but right up until then) and I’ll keep my distance from most folks. You know, like I have done for the last few months anyway. Mind you, even if I stay at home there’s a chance I’ll still get exposed, because people are becoming more mobile in general, so there are more potential vectors for infection, etc. So I’m not under the illusion that I’m safe. Just safer.

(I could go on about all the political/social dimwittery that caused us as a nation to waste the time all of us were inside, and how we could have been in a better place vis-a-vis this virus if we had better leaders, but, honestly, you already know where I would go with all that, and I don’t want to bother right now. I’m angry about it, but mostly at the moment I’m just exasperated. And tired. Possibly mildly depressed. Meh.)

I am of course immensely privileged to have the resources to stay at my (objectively nice and comfortable) home, a job that allows me to work from that home, and a temperament that mostly doesn’t consider staying at home a hardship. As far as dystopias go, mine is quite cozy and it won’t be exactly onerous to hunker down for another month (or two! Possibly three!). I feel sorry for the people who would like to able to do what I can, but cannot, for various financial and personal reasons. And again, I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.

In any event: Hi, I’m still staying home. Probably. Mostly.

Today in “The Hell With It, I’m Gonna Treat Myself” News

I got myself some stupidly expensive caramels. Why? Because I wanted them, and this is week (mumble mumble) of quarantine, and fuck it, I’m getting myself some stupidly expensive caramels to see if they’ll break up the slog.

Did they? Yup! I’m not going to buy stupidly expensive caramels on a regular basis, but as a momentary mood-lifter, they did the job just fine. Also, I think two of these caramels a day is a hard limit; I could feel the fat in them attaching itself directly to my aorta. Worth it! But, moderation. It’s a thing.

Have you splurged on anything recently? Tell me in the comments.

The Big Idea: Jennifer Brody

People have dreams — and then they have the dreams that come after that first set of dreams came true. For Jennifer Brody, who created Spectre Deep 6 with Jules Rivera, her new graphic novel is about the latter.

JENNIFER BRODY:

I always wanted to work in Hollywood. Growing up in a small town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, movies were my escape. Well, movies and books and TV. Anything that allowed me to travel to different places and worlds and see how other people lived, even if they were fictional characters. My imagination always ran big and wild, especially because I spent a lot of time bored in school. But Hollywood seemed so exotic and far away—so impossible. An acceptance to Harvard got me out of Virginia, and an internship landed me at Disney.

Disney. Pinch me.

Upon graduating, I knew that I was moving to LA one-way without much money or even a job lined up. It was like that back then. You packed up your car and hit the road. You had to have blind faith. You chased after your dream. You lived on ramen. You had a roommate. You got paid $500 bucks a week. You ran errands and answered phones and started at the bottom. My first job was at Michael Bay’s new company Platinum Dunes. The first film we made was a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We were the first to do the remake thing. Everyone thought we were crazy. My parents wondered if my tuition money had gone to waste.

The film was a hit, earning over $80 million at the domestic box office. Within a year of moving West, I landed my dream job working for the executive producer of The Lord of the Rings. Did I mention that I’m a giant nerd? I’d read Tolkien’s classics cover to cover numerous times. A run of book-to-film properties followed on our slate, including The Golden Compass, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Inkheart. Working in Hollywood was a dream come true, albeit a complicated one with its share of workplace toxicity (which has now become quite public).

Despite loving my job, I had an itch that started to grow stronger. It needed scratching. After working on so many wonderful authors’ books and helping bring their worlds to life on the big screen, I found myself wanting to write my own big sci-fi trilogy. It took years and tons of work, but eventually I found the courage to do so. The result was my debut novel The 13th Continuum, the first in what would become the Continuum Trilogy. You never forget certain the things. The first time you hold a galley of your first book in your hands—your words printed on real paper. The first time you read in public. For actual people. The first time you sign a book for a fan.

I love writing and building worlds more than anything. But something was still missing. One of the things I most enjoyed about my old job was working with a team to make a film, especially the director. In cinema, the director is the one who really brings the story to life in a visual medium. I’ve always been driven by collaboration. I love how different creative talents can come together to make something better than the sum of its individual parts. Even just working with a great book editor elevates your work. I was already starting to put my books and stories together for film and TV, but that is a process that takes years and years.

I wanted something that would combine both my love of books and my love of visuals—and that’s when it hit me. I needed to write graphic novels. The medium of comics had exploded since I was a kid fueled by the Marvel and DC Comics media empires, and expanded to include more experimental and diverse storytelling. I realized that I could work with an artist to bring my vision to life, and I didn’t need millions of dollars to shoot the film or TV show (that could come later, right?). This was the perfect middle ground between books and cinema.

I had stories aplenty—I needed an artist. But they don’t just fall out of the sky, or do they?

One fine Saturday, I moderated a panel at AnaCon and a plucky, fiery artist named Jules Rivera. caught my attention. She had green hair (we both had fun hair). She wrote a sci-fi indie comic called Valkyrie Squadron and a feisty web comic called Love Joolz. She had a background in engineering. I hit her up soon after over a sci-fi short story I’d written and published called 200, and then another crazy idea followed about soldiers that died in the line of duty, only to be reanimated by military scientists and brought back as ghosts—actual spectres—to continue to carry out missions for our government in exchange for day passes to haunt their old lives and fix their unfinished business. Spectre Deep 6  was born on an afternoon brainstorming in a hotel lobby in downtown LA (though it could more aptly be named The Secret Lives of Ghosts).

The comics industry can be tough to break into, especially for women. I cautioned her. I thought we’d be lucky to sell one of our proposals. But then my amazing publisher stepped up and offered us a six book deal. Yup, you read that right. Six books! Both series would be built into trilogies. Working in graphic novel proved to be a beautiful middle place between writing prose novels (and trust me, I’m still doing those—my new series Disney Chills publishes in July) and making films. As the artist, Jules takes my words and punches them up and translates them into visuals. It reminds me of working with a director, one who gets your vision.

Jules makes my work better. We work closely together on every aspect of the scripting, character and world designs, visuals, and more. These books—Spectre Deep 6 and 200—are better for our shared imaginations and a touch of insanity. That’s how it should be for any creative work, right? I also know that Jules will be my partner in crime for many more projects.

—-

Spectre Deep 6: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Bookshop|Turner Bookstore

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Reader Request Week 2020 #10: Short Bits

To wrap up this year’s Reader Request Week, quick answers to questions I didn’t otherwise get to:

Stephanie Brown:

I’m sensing we’re at a major global change point: the virus, global warming, immigration, Trump & lots of major governing problems in the world—all coming to a head in the next decade or two.

Does this feel to you like a turning point for the world?

I mean, if it’s coming to a head in the next decade or two, it’s not really a turning point, is it? It’s more like a long slow curve at best. Also in a larger sense there is always something that feels like a turning point, but perhaps isn’t. Obama being elected as president felt like a turning point, and perhaps it was, just not in the way people expected or hoped. This is a way of saying that history is always happening and the world is always turning.

Kate M:

After losing my cat to old age a year ago, I’m looking for a new cat to share this crazy thing called life. It’s been years (over 20) since I’ve had a kitten around. I’ve also only had one cat at a time. Since you have adopted a number of cats of various ages, what do you think about one cat/kitten vs two? Some people have suggested I get two so they entertain each other. Does it really work out that way? What about adopting an older cat vs a kitten? Any thoughts/advice/anecdotes, amusing or otherwise, would be appreciated.

As a person with multiple cats, I can say that yes, indeed, they do end up entertaining each other, during the times that they are not assiduously and conspicuously ignoring each other. Kittens will have more energy and will (adorably) tear up a place if you’re not paying attention; an older cat is usually less about that, so it’s about what you want in a cat. We’ve had kittens and we’ve had older cats who just wandered into our yard and decided we’d do and moved in. They were all good.

Tom White:

John, what are your views on the two party system that controls US politics? Do you think we will ever get rid of it and (if so) what would that take?

The system wasn’t designed with two parties in mind but it makes it easy for two parties to predominate; if you want to change that you’d probably have to amend the US Constitution to do that. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Beej:

Your dedicated fans know that you don’t drink alcohol (and haven’t ever). I’m going to assume that you also have never done recreational drugs. With pot becoming legal in more states and certainly more socially acceptable everywhere, what is your attitude towards it and other recreational drugs? I wonder especially about your feelings regarding Athena and the chance that she’ll try things.

I don’t take any drugs recreationally, no. I’m not a fan of pot but I’m not overly concerned about other people using it. It’s not my place to outline Athena’s use of any recreational drug (including alcohol) but I can note her stance is generally close to mine. She’s an adult now in any event, so her decisions are her own, along with the consequences of those decisions.

Ryan True:

If you were transported into the past, when and where would you want to end up?

Generally I’m not inclined to go to the past, because the past doesn’t tend to have very good medical care or human rights overall. I’d probably stick to the last hundred years and overall would probably likely hang around, like, Canada.

Thomas Beck:

What do you think about the confirmation from the US Navy, that the videos shot from the jets during the Nimitz UAP contacts are genuine? Does it have any influence to you as an SF author?

I’d remind people that “UFO” doesn’t inherently mean “aliens,” and it seems unlikely those UFOs are from some planet other than this one. It’s unlikely to be something I consider as a science fiction writer until and unless something more concrete happens or is learned about it. I realize this is a very boring answer.

Joe Arsenault:

I’d like to hear your thoughts about the feasibility/desirability of Earth humans trying to save the species by colonizing Mars. Maybe compare and contrast with spending that effort/time/money to repair and replenish our current home planet. Thanks!

If we’re colonizing Mars to save the human species, it’s doomed. If you want to save the species, work on this planet. It’s that simple.

Rick:

You’re attracting less attention lately from members of the Internet Hate Machine. Do you think they just got bored with you, or did you frighten them off?

Who knows? Who cares? Maybe they did get bored! Good for them. As noted previously, none of it ever did me or my career harm that I can think of, so it’s just as well they found a new hobby.

Steven desJardins:

Do you think that the cruise ship experience is necessary for an event like JoCo Cruise? How do you think JoCo Cruise will change as a result of the pandemic, both in the short and the long term? What about science fiction conventions in general?

Speaking personally, and not for the JoCoCruise in any way, I would love for things to have settled down by next March, which is when the JoCoCruise is meant to sail again. But we shall have to see. I know Carnival is planning to start cruises up again in August; I’ll be very curious as to how that goes and what the impact of those cruises will be on the future of that particular industry. With reference to JoCo Cruise in particular, it is so community-centered that the cruise aspect of it is no longer required; I think it could take over a single land-based resort for a week and it would have the same feel to it. But the key in either case (and in the case of conventions in general) is getting to a point where we all feel comfortable being in large groups again. Again: We’ll see where we are in the next few months.

Julie Lindstrom:

You’ve been without a dog for a while now, do you plan on getting one in the near future or do your mother-in-law’s dogs fill that hole?

I suspect a dog will be in the cards at some point in the near(ish) future. But the decision-making process there is likely to be handled by Krissy, not me.

Steve C:

Getting down to dry financial matters, has the upheaval with Corona and the markets caused any permanent changes to your investment portfolios? I know for me at my age (67), I’ve gone super conservative.

Not really, no. My retirement, whatever that means for a writer, is still a couple of decades out, and I was already a pretty conservative investor. I’ve been investing for decades so the recent fumbletypeg does not mess me up in terms of my overall gains as it might with others who started investing more recently. Honestly, excepting a few tweaks here and there, I’m riding it out for now and we’ll see where we are a bit down the road.

Brucearthurs:

You’ve mentioned muting A Certain Politician’s name on Twitter to reduce the flood of depressing and enraging information.

How much news is too much news? How do you choose how much, and what, to filter out for your own peace of mind, and how much, and what, to follow to remain an informed citizen?

Well, to be clear, muting Trump’s name on Twitter doesn’t mean I’m not keeping up with news; it just means that on Twitter I don’t see all the rage tweets he inspires. Rage tweeting isn’t “news”; it’s visceral reaction. When I want news, I go to news sites to read the news. These days, I read the news after 5pm, when I’ve done everything productive I’m going to do in a day, so reading the news won’t get me so angry I can’t focus on work. It’s a more civilized way of dealing with things, and I have the luxury of being able to do it that way, so I do.

Sandy:

Do you think you could actually take the week off?

Maybe! I can and have gone weeks without doing anything of substance; I’ve managed to design my life so I can. Or could, and then I had to go and become successful enough in my field that there are always demands on my time if I’m not paying attention. I have to say the quarantine and everything uncertain about it elicited the reaction in me of piling up work, just in case. I’m a bit on the other side of that now. I would be happy to take off a week, and just may.

JReynolds:

Regardless of what you actually want (presumably Trump out on his ass after Monday, January 21, 2021), do you think DJT has a chance to win reelection (due to voter suppression, dirty tricks, etc)

Sure, and it doesn’t even have to rely on dirty tricks; his approval rate, low as it is, has been essentially unwavering, and all he has to do is boost it just enough come November. Mind you, I do expect dirty tricks and voter suppression in any event. So he could win. I hope he doesn’t. I won’t be voting for him, regardless.

Jay Brandt:

What are your thoughts on tracking individuals during the pandemic?

Dude, we can’t even get people to wear masks without a bunch of yahoos screaming about muh freedums, so regardless of the benefits/concerns regarding tracking people, I’m not exactly convinced it’s on the table as a practical matter.

Jani Korhonen:

These days twitter seems to a burning thrash-heap and a grotesque mockery of any true communication. As a reasonable person, how do you think it has affected you?

As noted above, I shape my Twitter feed a lot, including the muting of names and phrases, to make it more congenial and manageable. I think if you run it as an unfiltered feed, you’re gonna be unhappy. If you recognize that you can shape it to a large extent, then it becomes a better place. I make no apologies for managing Twitter (and every other bit of social media I’m on).

Steve R:

Space Force (the military branch, not the Netflix production): What are your thoughts?

At this point I have almost none, other than holding judgment to see if it will in fact turn out to be anything other than a vanity project for the current president.

Amysrevenge:

Swearing in front of your own child(ren). At what age, what sort of cusses? My kid is 9 and we are starting to pull back on our self-censorship, but we haven’t returned our vocabularies to pre-parenting full “fucking bullshit” yet. My wife is more likely to do use profanity while driving, and I’m more likely to use profanity in pursuit of humour. That said, I suspect that our kid will be the one teaching her friends on the playground what the best cuss words mean.

We always cursed in front of our kid and when she was young we laid out a schedule of what words she could say and when. That said, she didn’t actively start cursing around us until she was eighteen, and then it was like a firehose came on, suggesting that she’d been doing it all along, away from us. As I curse fairly freely, I wasn’t exactly concerned about it when she did, nor was I concerned that she would not understand when and where cursing was appropriate and when it was not. It turned out fine.

Laura Conrad:

In the current situation, how do you distinguish genuine precautions against infection from “plague theater”?

Does it stop or slow transmission of the virus? If so, then it’s a genuine precaution. If not, it’s theater. Honestly it’s just that simple.

Phil O’Dendron:

Short version: Lots of white men who made great art in the 60s-80s have turned out to be assholes. What are we supposed to do with them now?

What? White dudes turn out to be problematic in their old age? That’s unpossible! I suspect a lot of them were assholes before, too, we just didn’t know about it as readily, either because they were better at hiding it (and the culture excused it), or because in their old age they just don’t give a shit, or are experiencing a mental decline which means they don’t filter as well as they used to. As regards what to do with them: Aside from accepting that problematic people can make good or even great art, I don’t know if there’s anything you have to do. If their assholishness bothers you, leave off any of their new art, and any of their old art that you’re uncomfortable with now. Soon enough they’ll be dead and then you can decide whether you can go back their stuff now that they can’t be assholes anymore. I have my own “revisit when dead, maybe” list myself.

Professor Jason:

Why can’t we just be nice to each other?

We can! And most people usually are, on an individual basis. Being nice to each other and being good to each other are different things, however. Being nice is easy. Being good is not.

Thank, everyone, for your questions! Let’s do this again, formally, sometime next year. Informally, you can ask me questions to consider on the blog whenever you want. Try it sometime!

Reader Request Week 2020 #9: Writing Short Bits

The questions you folks asked this week about writing, answered briefly:

Target:

The Last Emperox (and the rest of the series) read to me as much more in “your” voice, or at least more similar to how you write on Whatever than your other books. Asides, turns of phrase, sarcasm are all examples where I noticed similarities.

Do you agree with that? Was it intentional?

Not really? I think I’ve written in a similar tone to that before — see The Android’s Dream — and I think all my books carry aspects of my personality and tone, just at varying levels. Honestly I think the Interdependency series is probably more flippant than I’ve been here recently; the last few years have gotten me down a bit.

Esmé Cowles:

How is the SciFi and broader publishing industry doing in Covid-19? Who’s going to be OK, who’s hurting, and what’s the best way for fans to help?

Science fiction and publishing, at least the part of it I work in, is doing fine, actually — book sales have actually been steady or even up a bit, which is a bit astonishing considering how difficult it was to buy books from local bookstores recently. And, of course, on my end I got higher up on the bestseller lists than I ever had before, and I’m not the only one — Martha Wells’ latest Murderbot book placed nicely on the NYT list as well. This doesn’t mean science fiction/fantasy or publishing is out of the woods yet, because I don’t think the economy generally is out of the woods yet, but honestly it could have been much worse. The best way for fans to help: Keep buying books, and if you can buy them from your local booksellers, so much the better.

Bill Nelson:

What do you think about The Pursuit of the Pankera, that somewhat-new book published by Robert A. Heinlein?

I haven’t read it so I can’t talk about it critically. I’m not a huge fan of The Number of the Beast, the novel it is a conjoined twin of (it shares the first third with it, as I understand it), so while I was curious about it, it’s not something I was in a rush to read. As a general rule, I do tend to think that things an author intentionally left unpublished were left unpublished for a reason, but I can certainly understand why Heinlein fans/academics/completists would be excited about writing from him they had not yet seen.

Kate:

Do you use any word-processing shortcuts? Like, do you type “Nohamapetan” in all its 11 letter glory every time, or do you have an auto-complete option for it and other long proper names? Like alt-shift-N fills in Nohamapetan, or something. I had to slow down so much just to type it twice here, I can’t imagine how good a typist you’d have to be to keep typing those names!

I don’t typically use shortcuts, no; I can type pretty fast, and once you type Nohamapetan a couple dozen times, it flows out of the fingers. I do cut and paste words that have accents and diacritical marks in them because I can’t be bothered to learn how to make those marks happen on the keyboard. But otherwise, nope, just typing.

Russdk:

Why is Science fiction and Fantasy mixed together in book stores and libraries? Or why should I enjoy fantasy when I prefer Science fiction?

I mean, Science Fiction is fantasy (as is horror), so mixing them together doesn’t offend me, in any event, and by and large is there is a large overlap between the two with respect to both readers and publishers, so lumping them into one spot is not that much of an issue. Also these days the genre boundaries lines are fluid enough that trying to separate science fiction from fantasy will mean some arbitrary choices as to where particular titles would go (this happens enough anyway, between SF/F and mainstream). As for why you should enjoy fantasy — no one says you should, just read what you want.

Michael H:

SF has evolved over the past century {& a bit}. It is likely SF authors and readers from the 1930s would find both interest and surprise in the SF of today. Where do you think SF will evolve towards in the coming 50+ years, especially since you are likely to be an influence? Since some trends might interest you, and others not so much, are there trends you might like to try as a writer, especially if you are the creator of the trend?

I don’t know that you could look at the science fiction of 1970 and necessarily derive from that the science fiction of 2020, so I I’m not in a rush to imagine what the science fiction of 2070 will be based on what’s being written and published now — except to say that I imagine science fiction will still be an active genre then. And anyway, I like not knowing where the genre is going, and being surprised when it gets there. To the extent that I’m an influence at all fifty years from now, I think it’ll be in having made humor in the genre more commercially acceptable. But again, who knows? Not me! We’ll see.

annaparadox:

I’ve found sf in the last few years fresher and more exciting than the decade or so before. Is it just me, or are we having a wave? If so, what would you call it?

No, it’s definitely having a moment, and that moment is (very broadly) rooted in the fact that a much more diverse group of people are writing science fiction and fantasy, and a much more diverse group of people are reading it and claiming it as their own. This a real and noticeable long-term trend in the genre, and one of the major reasons we had that “sad/rabid puppy” freakout a few years back, which was essentially a “white panic” about all those other people moving into the neighborhood. But the result of the change is the neighborhood is a much cooler and interesting place to be than it was otherwise. I don’t know what I would call it; I’m just glad it’s happening.

Atrus:

How do you discover new books to read?

In my case, they literally show up at my door, usually unbidden. I understand this is not how it works for most people.

Aschenglut:

Creative personalities and other artistic media:

Since you also engage in music, photography, and DJ-ing, I was curious about how you view those pursuits. Are they fun hobbies with occasional professional applications, or something else? Is it relaxing to engage in them, or is there a sense of professional rigor attached to them? In your experience with other authors, is it common for them to also have other artistic pursuits?

For me they are hobbies, to be enjoyed. I already make more than enough money from writing so I’m not looking to professionalize my hobbies, although I don’t necessarily turn down money for doing those things if it is offered, and I was inclined to do the thing anyway. I don’t know if “professional” rigor is how I would describe doing things, but if for example I am going to be a DJ, I want to know what I’m doing so other people will enjoy themselves. Nearly every writer I know has other hobbies. It’s part of how we keep sane, to the extent we are sane at all.

Digadigadig:

why do so many authors (both written stories as well as screenplays) switch between A and B storylines instead of writing the story straight through? Is it so you don’t get bored writing it? Is it supposed to keep the reader hooked? Always bugs me when the A chapter ends on a cliffhanger and then you turn the page and it’s about other characters picking up after the B sections last cliffhanger. I have friends who actually skip ahead but I prefer to muddle through. It’s so pervasive I wonder if powers that be make everyone do that else the publishers threaten not to accept the work.

I can’t speak for other authors, but for me, look: 90,000 words is a long time and you got to keep things moving along. I don’t really tend to think of “A” and “B” storylines — all the storylines are part of the same story and they matter for the larger tale being told, and I switch between them because not everyone can be in the same room at the same time. It’s entirely possible to tell a story completely in a linear sequence from a single point of view (first-person novels are more likely to be that), but that doesn’t make them inherently better. You have your preference, obviously.

Raz Greenberg:

On a recent Facebook discussion, someones linked to a page which lists OMW as one of the greatest hard science fiction books (no link, can’t remember the details. Sorry). I replied that although I think OMW is a great book, I don’t think it qualifies as hard science fiction. What is your take on this?

I tend to think of it as straightforward military science fiction, but I’ve seen people also refer to it as hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, space opera, etc. Bluntly as a writer I don’t care how you classify it as long as you read it (and hopefully enjoy it), and if people want to have arguments about what specific subgenre of SF it is, well, that’s part of the fun of being a science fiction nerd. But yeah, I usually call it MilSF and leave it at that.

George M:

Is writing with a typewriter any different than by hand or by computer?

I tend to write differently depending on the tool I use to write with, so yes, I imagine writing by typewriter will be different than writing by hand or by computer. I say “I imagine” because I’ve literally never written any fiction on a typewriter, so I can’t be 100% sure. I can say the thought of writing long-form fiction on a typewriter fills me with a bit of horror. My writing process is so tied into writing on a computer that I can’t imagine doing it otherwise.

Jonah:

Thoughts on artists/writers etc getting locked in to certain genres after achieving success? This question comes following a conversation I had with a writer friend who happens to be black. He has wanted to write a sci-fi book for some time, but his publisher has done a lot of pushing back. Keep in mind, this is an award-winning writer with decades of publishing. He is respected. But his publisher wants him to keep writing topical ‘black experience’ works. What are your thoughts on that, and do you feel locked in to writing sci-fi in a similar way because of your history and success in the genre?

I sympathize with both the writer and the publisher; I think writers should write whatever they want to, and also I understand why a publisher doesn’t want a writer to mess with their established writing “brand.” One of the nice things about science fiction, especially these days, is that it’s expansive enough that when I want to write a murder mystery I can do it in SF (Lock In) or if I want to write a humor book I can do that as well (Redshirts). So I don’t feel particularly constrained. It also helps that I’ve been writing non-fiction alongside the fiction for the length of my career, so people are aware I write other things to. With all that said, if I was going to write something so wildly non-representative of my career to date, I would a) probably write under an at-least-slightly-different name to make it clear to people this is something else, b) manage my expectations because moving into a new genre of any sort usually means leaving your previous sales and profile behind. Everyone should be able to write what they want; everyone should be aware what that’s likely to mean for their career.

Sheila Crosby:

Your books feature a lot of snappy dialogue. Any tips for those of us who’d like to do the same?

Reading it out loud will help a lot with that.

Matt F:

I miss the blogs of the early 2000’s eras, now more than ever (so thank you for keeping Whatever running!). I think what made them so special – and what would be important today’s strange, mad world – is that the writer’s personality came through more than even in op-ed, giving the reader a little more grounding in who was writing, what their priors are, and a bit more personal feel to connect to.

So, my question is, why do you think blogs died, and do you think something like it will ever come back?

Blogs died because Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc are easier to use and maintain, and they do a better job of connecting people with the people they care about. All at the cost of people being data mined and not really owning their own words and works, but honestly most people don’t care about that. The people who (still) keep blogs are the ones willing to put in the time/effort because they want to have a level of control (and permanence) other social media don’t provide, and generally speaking that’s a very specific group of people, like, say, writers. So, no, I don’t think blogs are coming back for the general population of people; they were a poor fit for those folks anyway. But I think it would be nice if more creative people kept their own spaces and encouraged people to visit them away from the social media monoliths. I think that’s possible, with some effort.

New Books and ARCs, 5/14/20

The number of actual physical books that have comes to the Scalzi Compound has slowed to a trickle (because the people who work in warehouses have largely been at home, and reasonably so!), but some books have still made their way in. Here are the ones that have arrived in the last… month? Or so? See anything here that speaks to you? Share in the comments!