Off the Musical Deep End, Part III: Programageddeon

“Hey, Scalzi,” you ask, “any more choice thoughts about your new little basement studio?” Why, yes, I have a couple!

* First, folks, I’m sooooooo in over my head right now. I know I’ve said that before, but let me reiterate that I’ve really overcommitted. I’ve, like, bought all the software (to go along with all the hardware, which I also bought), and while buying all that stuff was fun in a retail therapy sort of way, now I actually have to learn all of it. And that’s also fun? But also kind of like work? But if I don’t do it I’ve literally spent a whole basket of money on nothing?

Mind you, I absolutely plan on learning all this stuff. But at the moment I’m at the very bottom of the learning curve looking up and going, yuuuuup, this is gonna take a bit. The good news is, while I can’t guarantee at the end of it that any of the songs I might write will be any good, if I learn this stuff like I want to, at least they will sound good. This will be the aural equivalent of making terrible food but plating it spectacularly. We work with what we have.

* I do think at this point I’m pretty much maxxed out on hardware and software, however, at least for the rest of 2021. More accurate, and per the point above, I have enough on hand that adding more just means I won’t get to it anytime soon, and even if I did I wouldn’t necessarily know what to do with it. So again: Time to work with what I have, and then see after a while if there’s anything else that’s useful and/or necessary.

And here the musicians snicker, and, well: Fair. But I’m gonna try to hold this line for now. Don’t mock me! Okay, mock me a little.

* The most recent major purchase for the room: A friggin’ chair, because I temporarily used a dining room table chair for a couple of days and it almost wrecked my lower back. I forgot I was old and my body is looking for any excuse to fall apart. The studio chair is not as swanky as my office chair, but it’s more than good enough, and when I sit in it I don’t feel my vertebrae trying to slip sideways out of my back. Also it matches the carpet and The Beast, and that’s nice.

* Finally, I’m discovering the drawbacks to having the studio in the basement. The first is that this is where we keep the cat boxes, so there’s the faint smell of, shall we say, “cat business” about. It was always there but I wasn’t in the basement for hours on end, and now I am. So, that’s not great. I expect I’ll be cleaning out the cat boxes more frequently than I currently do, which is probably for the best anyway.

More pressing, however, is that the basement is damn cold. Which makes sense: Cold air sinks, and the basement is underground and largely windowless. But also: Brrrrr. I’ve taken to leaving a hoodie and thick socks down there as part of the studio basic equipment. This gives me an excuse to play my drums to warm myself up.

So, yeah. The easy part of buying stuff is mostly over. Now comes the hard part of learning stuff. Let’s see where it goes from here.

— JS


26 Years!

I’m 52, and today is the 26th anniversary of me and Krissy getting married, which means, if I haven’t entirely lost my ability to do math, I’ve been married to Krissy for almost exactly half my life, and have had her in my life for an even larger percentage. Not gonna lie, looking to increase those percentages quite a bit before it’s all said and done. She’s terrific.

I hope you have a great Scalzi Anniversary; we plan to.

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: India Holton

The women of The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels have a most unusual talent — one that their society most decidedly does not approve of. Author India Holton raises the roof on this unusual ability… and why it was the one she chose for her cast of characters to have and use.


The big idea which inspired my fantasy romcom The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels was actually quite a small, simple idea to begin with. I wanted to write self-assured women characters who possessed power in their world – in this case, a magical incantation which allowed them to fly buildings. It seemed straightforward enough to me, and I settled in to have some fun with a group of ladies I intended to send swaggering and swashbuckling through an alternate Victorian England.

But as the story unfurled, all the intrinsic elements of a woman’s existence kept arising to block the characters’ power or outright take it from them. From how they should sit in a chair to their actual right to exist as independent people, these wicked lady pirates who disregard law to wreak havoc in their weaponised flying houses still find themselves constrained by gender-based social rules, misogyny, or male domination. 

I could of course have chosen to ignore these influences, since I was creating a sideways version of reality. Or I could have chosen to lean the Wisteria Society even further away from niceness, into a reckless brutality which cared nothing for any rule.  But I became fascinated by the dichotomy between female power and powerlessness.

Setting the book in Victorian England, a time in which even the Queen-Empress herself submitted to the dominant patriarchy, was an obvious choice. Every period of history has repressed women, of course, but it was the Victorians’ sentimentalisation of this, with their whole idea of “The Angel in the House,” that hooked me. So, I had my women turn their houses into battleships. Even so, they would never dream of hanging an unfashionably coloured curtain in their windows – and woe betide anyone who tries to call upon them outside of visiting hours! One might be a pirate, but that doesn’t mean one should be uncouth. 

Although it seems daft that a woman capable of stealing diamonds from a duchess would still submit to the etiquette of how to address that duchess properly – or which spoon to use at the tea table while planning a heist – such disjunctions have in fact been normal for women throughout history. (And yes, it is daft!) Living in New Zealand, I’ve watched several female Prime Ministers wield authority with a capable hand and brisk intelligence, and still be scrutinised on their parenting choices, clothing choices, and how often they smile, in ways male leaders never are.

And so, my small idea quickly become a major theme which shaped every relationship dynamic in the book. While I hadn’t set out to create a treatise on feminism (not even a wacky, ridiculous treatise with bonking – on the head with parasols, if you please), looking back it seems inevitable that, as a woman author writing about women with power, I was going to find myself addressing feminist themes to some degree.

Ironically, the magical power my ladies possess actually made it easier to explore the elements of powerlessness. But this is one of the great things about writing fantasy. We can take a rather ordinary idea and twist it, conflate it, or blow it to pieces with a cannon fired from an elegant parlour window. So, the Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels enter the battle of the sexes with a cry of yo ho ho and a cup of tea. And they have riotous, villainous fun doing it – which in the end felt to me like the boldest feminist statement of all those I tried to make with this book.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels : Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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

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