So, Scalzi, What Are Your 2021 Goals?

Honestly? They’re my 2020 goals, but this time, I will totally follow through, I swear.

Or not! Look, I don’t feel bad about falling down on my 2020 goals, because, well, 2020 — one of my goals was to see more friends, for example, and the pandemic made that very difficult to do. It won’t be one of the immediate things I get to do in 2021, either, although I feel optimistic about the second half of the year, and enough people getting vaccinated (and the culture of country changing a bit because the president won’t be a pissy mask-avoider) that actually seeing people might be a thing we start to get to do again. But I’m not going to rush it. I’ve been patient for nine and a half months, I can be patient a while longer. My friends are worth the wait.

The rest of the goals we’ll take as they come. I will say that of the goals I outlined a year ago, the one I made the most progress on, and the one I want to keep progressing on, was playing more music. I did! I even managed to co-write a song, and it’s a song which I think is pretty good. I need to finish this novel I’ve been wrestling with before I do much of anything else, but after that I think I’d like to try to write (or co-write) some more songs.

The thing I think I failed the hardest on — which is no surprise either to me or anyone else, I think — is maintaining structure. Again, I’m not going to beat myself up too much for that one, since 2020 was the focus puller to end all focus pullers, and I’m not the only one who had this problem this year. But not beating myself up about it is not the same as being happy about it. I’m not. The older I get the more I realize that if I want to get things done, I really have to build a schedule and stick to it. Schedules in themselves don’t make me happy — if I were inherently a schedule-oriented person I wouldn’t have this perennial problem — but the results of scheduling (more work done, more time to actually do things) make me happy indeed. So: back at it for 2021.

The one thing I think I’ll add to the goal list for 2021 is prioritize my own contentment, and conversely, to minimize the things that leave me discontented. I like to think this is something I do more or less automatically (I do not live a hugely discontented life in general), but again, 2020 reminds us all that it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of suck. To work on my own contentment I don’t think I will need to hide from the world; I think I might need to better understand and prioritize how to the world affects my daily life and business. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to nail this one down in 2021, but one does have to start somewhere.

So, yes: Goals for 2021, same as for 2020, plus one extra, and hopefully with an at least slightly less explode-y world. I feel optimistic. Let’s see if it’s warranted.

— JS


News Books and ARCs, 12/29/20

Behold the penultimate stack of new books and ARCs for 2020! What things here would you like to take into the new year? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Michael Mammay

We view ourselves in a certain way, because we live with ourselves on a daily basis. What happens when people see us differently, and can those differences fuel the plot of a book? This is one of the questions Michael Mammay asked himself for his novel, Colonyside.


The concept of a Big Idea can have a lot of different applications when it comes to writing a series when compared to a single book. Almost certainly there was a big idea that kicked off the series, but when you’re on book three, as I am with Colonyside, it’s different. For some writers, it’s probably less important, as perhaps they had the big idea for the series figured out ahead of time. My series wasn’t originally a trilogy, so every book has its own big idea. So for me, I’d argue that in book three, the big idea is actually more important than it was in book one. I say that because before I ever started writing the third book, I already had the characters, and I had a lot of the world building. Readers had already gone through two full novels with Carl Butler and seen him change. For the third book to be interesting, I had to have something new.

For Colonyside, I came up with the whole thing starting with only a big idea. After all, I was on a two book deal, and to sell book three, I had to sell that big idea to the publisher. For those who haven’t read the first two books, without spoilers, I’ll provide a bit of context. In book one, Planetside, a big thing happens, and as you would expect, the main character is in the middle of it. Book two, Spaceside, is his reaction to that thing—how he deals with it, and how he tries to change from it. In Colonyside, the third book, he has moved past that phase and is into acceptance. The things in the past have happened, and he has mostly come to grips with them. But not everybody sees him the same way he sees himself.

And that’s the big idea behind Colonyside. What happens when things have happened in your past and you see yourself one way, having learned from those things and moved forward, but others see you only how they know you from that past incident? And I think it’s a timely subject. In our current environment, we see things pop up from people’s pasts—usually bad things—and there comes a public reckoning. And in that discourse, inevitably questions arise as to how much we should hold something against someone from their past.

And I’m not going to dwell on that here, because everyone has to come to their own decision about that on a case-by-case basis. Make your own call and forgive or don’t. But that’s what makes it interesting to me as a fictional situation—the fact that people can see it very differently, and more than one of those opinions can be valid.

But regardless of an outsider’s opinion, the almost universal truth in it is that the person who did the thing in the past sees themself differently than other people see them. Because assuming that person is honest with themself, they have the best possible information on how they’ve truly changed or haven’t. Others can’t always see that change, as their information is often filtered through the media or public relations. So there’s an inherent conflict in that. A person who has changed sees themself one way and other people see them another.

And that’s the story of Colonyside. Carl Butler has changed from the person he was in the first book, but those book one events were very public, and his change has come mostly in private. Let me be clear: Carl Butler is not a victim. He was a willing participant in the bad things that happened in Planetside, and he deserves all the ire of people who still hold it against him. He struggled with that in book two, trying to find redemption. But by book three he’s past that. He has come to accept that it is what it is. He’s both the person who did those things in the past, and he’s also the person who has changed. Other people see him however they see him, but he no longer lets their opinions define him.

And that becomes the conflict of the book. When other people expect him to act as the person he was in the past, it clashes with the person that he actually is in the present.

Colonyside: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s|E Shaver Books

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

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