Learning the DAW, or, What I Did With My Saturday

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A “DAW,” for those of you who don’t know, is a Digital Audio Workstation. I’ve had Studio One by Presonus for a while now but have only now decided to really learn how to use it (I’ve used Audition casually for years, and at the turn of the century played with ACID). I’m playing with the samples and synths and effects in the program and figuring out how to put them all in tracks. So this is the sound of me learning how to make Studio One work: Two minutes of, er, music.

It’s… rough! And very noisy! And not precisely what I would call good. And also I had to cheat and port the file in Audition for some mastering work. As I said, I’m learning how to make this thing go. But if you’re curious what one day of progress sounds like, well, here you go. It’s documented for posterity.

Fun fact: I’m actually playing keyboards in here! So that’s a first. No, not the complicated parts. Come on.

— JS


Off the Musical Deep End

I mentioned yesterday I thought it was time that I expanded my somewhat haphazard music room into an actual music studio, which made a few people ask why, in fact, now was the time for this rather than some other point in the past or future. The easy answer to this is “because I feel like it,” which is accurate — I do feel like it — but is sort of non-responsive. So here is a slightly longer answer about why I’m going a bit off the deep end on the music stuff right now.

1. Because I can afford it right now. Last year was a pretty good year for me financially and this year to date has been as well, so I have a little extra cash to throw at expanding this hobby without worrying too much about how splurging is going to impact our bottom line. Excepting The Beast — which really was an impulsive fluke that I absolutely do not regret but still probably shouldn’t have done — most of the things I’m getting right now, both in terms of hardware and software, are things I’ve been wanting to get but have talked myself out of previously because of cost issues. But right now cost is not an issue! So they’re getting purchased.

More or less. I talked myself out of getting a Mac laptop for the music room, because I have a fully specc-ed out Dell XPS 13 from a couple that I currently don’t use that often (I use my desktop for writing and pictures, and one of the Chromebooks when I need a laptop), which will work equally well as the music room computer and Digital Audio Workshop carrier. I’m still… well, cheap is not the word, quite evidently, but at the very least (and again, The Beast excepted) I want to be able to make a reasonable use case for every thing I buy. I want what I buy to have value. I can’t make a value argument for a Mac when I have the neglected, perfectly capable Dell just sitting there, waiting to be used at no additional cost to me. So no Mac for Scalzi.

2. Because I’m already competent in my other big hobby. Most of you know I love to do photography, and I’m pretty good at it — so good at it, in fact, that it will be difficult for me to improve substantially without either a huge invest of time or money or both. Time, in the sense of going places specifically to take photos there, and money, in the sense of buying new cameras and lenses to give me more photographic tools to play with. In the latter case, that means a lot of money — the next step up in terms of camera bodies and lenses means five figure layouts for either — and in the former case, that time is more than I want to spend. I like where I am with my photography; I’m not going to stop doing it, but it’s also not a huge challenge to get the photos I want either.

In music, I am what I’d call “low competent” — You give me a guitar, I can get something out of it, but I’m not going to be your first, fourth or fifteenth choice to be on the instrument. Likewise most other instruments, other than drums, which I am in fact reasonably competent. Which is fine! It’s a hobby I do for myself, not for others. But I’m at a point where I want to be able to do more with music than I can do now. There’s more headroom for me to become more competent with music. Right now that interests me. Both for itself and for another reason:

3. I want to do more songwriting. Co-writing that Christmas song with Matthew Ryan last December was cathartic and gratifying for a number of reasons, and another benefit of it was it was a proof of concept that I could, in fact, write songs. I want to develop that facility further. I’m under no expectation that I, a 52-year-old writer of science fiction novels, will suddenly challenge either BTS or Bob Dylan, or most of anyone in between, with any songs I write. But that’s not the point for me. I already have a job; this will be a hobby. I want to get to a point where I can write good songs, by my estimation of what a good song is; I’m not going to worry about much else about it.

What the goal for me (for now) is to eventually have an album’s worth of actual songs that I feel pretty good about, and then maybe put that album out there. I already have the Bandcamp page, after all. The album that’s currently there was stitched together with samples, and was fun to do; I’d like to do one where I make the music myself, and put in words. Which will, uh, take some time to get up to speed. Which is the other thing:

4. I’m 52, gotta get a move on. Which is to say, getting to a level of competence with composing/songwriting will probably take a bit of time, and while I feel good and don’t have any reason to believe I won’t be around for decades to come, I also probably shouldn’t, you know, dawdle. So, no time like the present.


5. While not exactly cheap, music isn’t as expensive/time-intensive as some other middle-aged dude hobbies. Dude, what if I suddenly decided to collect cars? Or model trains? Or firearms? That shit adds up, people. They’re also, like, lifestyles. I don’t want to go to car meet-ups or gun shows or any of that. With this hobby, all I have to do is go to my basement. So easy!

So those are all the reasons I’m going in on all this music stuff right now.

Or, you know: Because I feel like it. Either works.

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Nancy Jane Moore

Author Nancy Jane Moore takes us into her past in her Big Idea, to explain how a favorite (if not outdated) book of hers inspired her new novel, For the Good of the Realm.


For the Good of the Realm is The Three Musketeers with swordswomen and witches. While it doesn’t follow the plot of the Dumas classic closely, it takes place in a world in which politics, intrigue, and the potential of war with neighboring countries underlie everything that happens. Witches using prohibited magic increase the stakes of the intrigue and the risk for the women of the Queen’s Guard out to protect their Realm.

The Three Musketeers is one of the great successes in writing and publishing. First published in 1844, the book does not appear to have ever gone out of print. New translations are still being done. Not only are there at least 25 live action movies (starting at the very beginning of movie-making), there are multiple animated versions, video games, and stage productions, and many authors have been inspired to play in Dumas’s world.

I read it for the first time as a teenager and also loved the 1973 movie version, with a very young and pretty Michael York as d’Artagnan. Of course, I identified strongly with d’Artagnan, despite being a woman. It was a habit I picked up reading great adventure stories when I was young, because the women were rarely the ones having the adventures. 

About twenty years ago, during a fit of reading 19th century literature, I re-read The Three Musketeers and went on to read Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. Being older and (maybe) wiser, I found it harder to identify with d’Artagnan or to ignore the way women were treated in the story. By then I’d spent enough time in martial arts to have some skill with a sword and an understanding of how women can fight, so I began to play with the idea of swordswomen in a world with the monarchy and politics of Dumas’s. 

That led to the short story “A Mere Scutcheon,” in which Anna d’Gart of the Queen’s Guard retrieves a necklace for Her Majesty and must deal with a witch to do so. When Nick Gevers bought it for my collection Conscientious Inconsistencies at PS Publishing, he said he thought it would make a good novel. It took another ten years, but For the Good of the Realm is now a book. 

The original Big Idea, of course, was to have swordswomen protecting the Queen and swordsmen the King. Early in the book, Guardswomen Anna and her friend Asamir become frenemies with two members of the King’s Guard. The intrigues of the Realm, compounded by the use of magic despite the ban on it, put the royals and indeed the whole country at risk. With Anna in the lead, the four must take action to protect the Realm without letting Their Majesties know about the threats from magic. 

Here’s the thing about writing stories, even adventure stories: they turn out to be about much more than the place where they start. Yes, this is an adventure story in which women get to have the adventures, but it is also a story about a world in which what people do with their lives is not dictated by their gender. Further, the people of the Realm, which sits at a crossroads of many other countries, originally came from many other parts of the world to build a culture that includes a wide variety of skin colors and general appearance.

While the Realm is far from a utopia – it is a monarchy only recently reunited after more than a century of division, with a powerful Hierophante ruling the church, nobles who abuse their privileges, and pockets of serious poverty – misogyny and racism do not trouble it. The first born children of rulers and nobles inherit their rank, so class divides still exist, but anyone with sufficient skill can become a soldier. What started as a simple story of women having adventures became a story in which women have power and agency that, while it is constricted by politics, nature, and magic, is not governed by societal rules about their proper place. 

A fantasy, perhaps, to think a world might exist that doesn’t police gender or limit opportunity by skin color and ethnicity, but the purpose of speculative fiction of all kinds is to ask “what if?” A story can be a light-hearted adventure and still bring up important ideas. And that’s a very Big Idea indeed.

For the Good of the Realm: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website or blog. Follow her on Twitter.


The New New Toy

For various reasons, I decided now is the time in which I would finally build out the part of the basement I keep my musical instruments, into something actually resembling a functional music studio. I had a drum set and a rather large number of stringed instruments, so it was time to add a keyboard. And because apparently I have more ambition than good sense, I purchased this: The Fantom 8, which is a workstation keyboard with 88 fully weighted keys.

Now, I will say that when I bought it, I expected that it would be large, but I did not expect, uhhhhh, this. The box it came in was nearly as tall as I am, and unpacked it’s still not that much shorter than me. It’s awesome, but I’m also clearly in waaaaaay over my head.

Which is fine! I bought it so I could have all those capabilities, and I intend to learn and use them. But, seriously, whoooof. We set it up and the first thought I had when I sat down at it was, I have no idea what I’m doing, seriously what was I thinking. I love it, but it is a lot.

This is, incidentally, the thing I hinted about a couple of days ago when I said when it arrived I was likely to disappear into my basement for the next month to fiddle with it. I may have underestimated the amount of time I’ll need with it.

Also, while I think that I’m largely done buying musical instruments for a while (lol), there are still a few more additions to be made to the music area including a desk, a computer and some hardware including microphones and preamps, and then also maybe some acoustic paneling, because bare concrete walls don’t play nice with musical instruments. But the centerpiece of the music room, I have to say, has clearly arrived.

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Lavie Tidhar

Author Lavie Tidhar is on a mission to bring you the best science fiction in the world — the whole world, not just parts of it. This is a task which takes some doing, as Tidhar explains today, telling you of the painstaking work it took to accumulate, translate, and pitch the collection that is The Best of World SF: Volume One.


Why World SF? Back in 2008 I had the crazy idea of an anthology of international speculative fiction. There was only one problem. No one was publishing international SF, and no one was interested…

It’s taken over a decade, five small press anthologies put together with shoe polish and string, a blog that became a magazine that ended up publishing some of the best and brightest in the field today, and rejections that ranged from a fifty-minute-no to ghostly silences from publishers large and small to do it. But it’s here. I guess it helps just being relentlessly annoying and banging on about the same thing for over a decade to finally wear someone in the industry down.

There was nothing very altruistic about it, either. I come from outside the Anglophone sphere. I grew up on a kibbutz in Israel. I read American SF in translation into Hebrew. The idea of one day writing SF myself, let alone publishing, seemed as remote as the moon or America. And yet now I write in English as a second language. Honestly? It’s not that hard. Though even Polish author Józef Korzeniowski had to change his name to finally make it as Joseph Conrad, back in the tail-end of the Victorian era. I wish I could say things are much different now.

When I started writing SF, nobody was buying. There weren’t any international writers being published. The stories I was trying to sell were a little bit different. So I got rejections. So did a whole bunch of international writers who started at the same time, as though we were the barbarians at the gates of Rome. Sooner or later we were going to get in, but no one needed to make it easy.

I set out to do this book because I didn’t think anyone would do it for me. I hunted for stories far and wide—picking up horror collections in Malaysia, getting writer friends in China to send me rough translations, translating stories myself from Hebrew, begging and cajoling to find writers in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe… And I pitched the first Apex Book of World SF to Jason Sizemore in 2008, by telling him it wasn’t going to make him any money but it was a good thing to do.

Improbably, he agreed.

Since then, of course, the field has radically changed—at least when it comes to short fiction. You can still count the number of international novels in genre in a given year on your fingers. Liu Cixin, who I met in China many years ago when he had only published a handful of short stories, made it big—but how many other Chinese novels can you mention? Andrzej Sapkowski (who I’d met in Tel Aviv and got to publish in The Apex Book of World SF 2) made it big—but how many other Polish writers do you know? There are tremendously exciting writers from Africa now publishing short fiction—Tlotlo Tsamaase and Chinelo Onwualu come to mind—but how many African SF novels can you mention?

“World SF” was a joke term I wanted to reclaim: back from the kids who first used it in that hotel room in New York in 1939 for their “Worldcon,” so called just to ride on the then-in-town World’s Fair; back from the pros who used it in the 1970s for a fake association whose main purpose was to organise annual drinking fests for Soviet and American writers (the official headed paper was useful for visas). I wanted to take it back for people like me, and to actually publish international fiction—not just use the term to organise parties (as fun as they must have been!).

Is it a big idea? Hell, I think so! Is the field better today for being more diverse, for having more international writers, new ideas and new points of view? Hell, yes, it is! Did I have anything to do with it? Hell, no! Not really. But I got to pay a whole bunch of amazing writers, and a bunch of amazing translators, well over the going rate for their work, bundle it together into a gorgeous hardcover, and I got myself paid, too. Like I said, nothing altruistic about it. Was it worth thirteen years of pushing? Probably not. And yet it was worth every second.

The Best of World SF Volume One: Amazon

Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Twitter.


A Girl and Her Log

And yes, she made pretty short work of it, too. Charlie is still a puppy, the world is meant to be chewed upon. Better a small log from the yard than, say, a leg of the dining room table.

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Veronica G. Henry

Behind every good villain is a great henchman. Yet, we never seem to hear much about these evil sidekicks. Author Veronica G. Henry decided to tackle this problem herself in her newest novel, Bacchanal. Discover what being a villain’s minion is all about in her Big Idea.


Heroes? Every book, film, and fireside fable’s got one. And villains? Too many vile, despicable, ill-tempered examples to name. Heroes and villains get all the glory, and rightfully so. Stories wouldn’t exist without them. But there are other characters, perhaps less glamorous, but equally worthy of our attention. One of those characters is the villain’s minion.

Picture the 1930s south. The Great Depression. A traveling carnival . . . but not one powered by finicky electricity. Those were the seeds for what would become my novel, Bacchanal. All I needed to populate this world was a suitably malevolent cast of characters. 

At this point, I had no idea who the protagonist was. The antagonist hadn’t even entered my consciousness. But the minion, he made himself known. I was researching mythical African creatures. In Zaire (current day Democratic Republic of The Congo) folklore, the eloko (or biloko) are restless spirits. They come back from the grave as dwarf-like creatures. Their bodies sprout grass instead of hair, they have dog-like snouts, and let’s just say, they don’t hunt forest creatures. 

I scrawled a journal entry where he grudgingly introduced himself. We sat down, chatted, he even took a swipe at me with his claws. This character became so prominent, so insistent, that I wrote a short story about how he came to be such a surly sort. Eloko, my antagonist’s minion, was born and his story was later published in FIYAH magazine. 

Whether you prefer the term minion or sidekick, their role serves several important purposes. Ally is a given. Other possibilities: confidant, errand person, spy. But where the minion can really shine is in the role of part-time adversary. After all, like your entire cast of characters, the minion wants something and at times, that goal can be in sharp contrast to the villain’s. 

In essence, this character will serve to balance and sometimes, oppose the antagonist. In Bacchanal, Eloko is selfish, often ambivalent, and ambitious. He is devoted to Ahiku, but not so much that his own interests are always secondary. It is through him that we learn more about Ahiku’s motives and her weaknesses. So how should you go about crafting your own minion?

The secret sauce:

  • A good backstory, usually a troubled one. This character has made a choice to align himself with the villain. And there are reasons for that. Explore your minion’s history and you find the reasons for that choice. 
  • Interaction with the protagonist. In order for the minion to reach his full annoyance level, they have to become a threat or at a minimum, a thorn in the side of the protagonist. How much and when, depends on the author. 
  • Relationship with the villain. There has to be a meaningful, if not troubled relationship with the villain. Determine the dynamic of this relationship. Explore the power struggles, because ultimately, your minion may want to usurp the villain. Which leads me to the last point. 
  • A goal – decide early on, what your minion wants and have them use every trick in their arsenal to achieve it. 

One thing for certain, your minion should be as well developed as the antagonist they support. Bacchanal is a book about people who don’t belong anywhere else and the compromises they make to continue existing in a time where that existence is tenuous. They are flawed, funny, and mainly, just trying to survive. And in the midst of it all, Eloko, stirs up trouble at every turn. He was a blast to write. 

And that, my friends, is The Big Idea.  

Bacchanal: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s  

Visit the author’s website. Follow her on Twitter.


A Making Of Featurette For Love Death + Robots Volume 2

Nice things are said about me starting at 2:58, followed by an amusing visual juxtaposition.

— JS


State of the Scalzi, June 1, 2021

It may not have escaped your notice that I’m mostly posting pet pics and short bits recently. It’s because a) I’m writing the third Dispatcher novella at the moment so most of my brain is going there, b) I’m also busy away from the computer putting together a home music studio. Also c) other stuff I can’t talk about yet but which is cool, so that’s nice. Basically, I’m busy in the real world, which happens from time to time.

Also, somewhat related, until Dispatcher 3 is done, at least, I’m mostly avoiding news until later in the evening, when work is done and also my brain is, like, dude, I can’t be arsed to write about that bullshit right now, just play your damn guitar. And then I do! A much better use of my time, generally speaking. I’m snarking about the occasional news tidbit on Twitter, however, so if you absolutely must know what bits of politics get past me these days, head over there. But honestly for the moment I’m fine letting other people handle the political heavy lifting.

Also also, I’m expecting a delivery this week of a musical instrument with a steep learning curve, and once it arrives my plan is basically to disappear into my basement with it for a while (uhhhhh, after I get my required writing done for the day). I don’t expect I will disappear completely, but it’s possible I might. Hobbies, folks. They will suck your brain right out from under you.

For all of that, you should know I’m generally feeling pretty darn happy these days. My relative absence is not due to crankiness or exasperation, but mostly because I am doing other things that bring me a bit of joy. This is very definitely a change from, say, most of 2020. I’m enjoying the change.

— JS


Seriously What the Hell is Going On In This Video

I hadn’t thought of this video in probably a couple decades and then suddenly today it was all over my brain. Welcome to pointless freaky eighties surrealism! Pretty good song, if you’re into 80s electro-pop, which I think it’s pretty obvious I am. I had deeper thoughts today, I’m sure, but they were all chased off by this video. I’ll let you know if they come back. In the meantime, please be deeply confused with me.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: A. C. Wise

Getting older doesn’t have to mean you can’t go on adventures like all the youngsters. This is certainly the case in A. C. Wise’s newest novel, Wendy, Darling. Grab your bag of pixie dust and come along as she tells you all about how becoming an grown-up doesn’t have to mark the end of your adventures.

A. C. WISE: 

One of the big ideas I wanted to explore with Wendy, Darling is the idea of motherhood. What does it mean to be a mother, and specifically, what does it mean to Wendy Darling who once traveled to Neverland where grown-ups and parents are not allowed, and was asked (or forced) to be a mother to the other children there?

In so many fairy tales and classic children’s stories, being a mother means being dead, absent, or in the best-case scenario, left behind to wait and worry while your children are off on an adventure. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan ends with a whole succession of mothers left behind – first Wendy herself, then her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, so on down the line, all watching their own daughters go off with Peter to Neverland to be his idea of a mother, while they, as actual mothers, are stuck at home. 

When it comes to literature aimed at younger audiences, it makes sense that children would be front and center as the primary protagonists. However sometimes this idea gets bound up with the notion that parents – and mothers especially – are meant to fade into the background. Their job is done, they have procreated, and now they are of no more use to the world. In fairy tales in particular, if they resist this idea, they are labeled wicked and unnatural creatures, vainly trying to cling to youth and beauty by destroying their daughters and stepdaughters out of jealousy.

As Wendy, Darling is a novel aimed at adults, and picks up Wendy’s story long after her time in Neverland when she is indeed a mother, I wanted her to be very much at the center of her own story, actively going off to rescue her daughter and confront her past. This centering of Wendy as a mother allowed me to look at different ideas of motherhood, and have Wendy interrogate what motherhood means to her.

When she first goes to Neverland as a child, Peter takes her there specifically to be a mother to himself and the Lost Boys. By Peter’s definition, that means cooking, cleaning, telling stories, and generally taking on all the responsibility so the boys can continue to play endlessly knowing someone will take care of all their needs and they’ll never have to worry about anything. Peter wants Wendy to be an idealized version of a mother, who is only a mother and nothing else, and certainly not an individual with wants and needs of her own. He wants a mother who will take on all the responsibility without imposing any of her own, like bedtimes or rules or making children eat their vegetables. He wants unconditional love, care, and freedom, without having to offer anything in return.

Unsurprisingly, Wendy is not on board with this idea, even as a child. She is even less enamored with the concept when she returns to Neverland as an adult and an actual mother with the understanding that sometimes being a mother means making decisions that will be wildly unpopular with your child, being seen as unfair, and even being seen as the villain for putting your foot down and spoiling the fun in order to keep your child safe. The reality of being a mother, for Wendy, also means having something to fight for, someone she is not willing to lose, no matter what the consequences of the actions she must take to save them.

While I am not personally a mother, I have a mother, several in fact, and I think mothers are awesome! They absolutely should get to go on adventures and save the day and fight for what they love. They should get to define what motherhood means for themselves, rather than being fit into someone else’s idealized version of motherhood, and they should get to balance their roles as mothers with their role as individuals. 

Sometimes the adventures they go on might be messy and complicated. Sometimes they might be conflicted about being heroes, but they are absolutely capable of being heroes none the less. They shouldn’t have to fade into the background to make way for the next generation, slipping off the page or the screen or waiting and worrying and sitting at home. They can be at the center of the story, saving the day, and that is the big idea behind Wendy, Darling

Wendy, Darling: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

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