Reader Request Week 2022 #9: Short Bits, Part One

On the weekends of Reader Request Weeks, I gather up a bunch of the questions I didn’t get to during the week and try to address them briefly. I often part them out between writing questions and general questions, but this time I don’t feel like doing that. That’s right! I’m very minimally shaking up the formula! Come with me on this wild journey, won’t you?


Did you ever want to change the world?

Not in a science-fictional way, but here and now, in the present time and place where you are, using whatever is available to you.

If you’re trying, or have tried, how did it work out?

We change the world just by existing in it; if we never existed, the world would be different. In my case: No Old Man’s War or any other book I’ve written, which is a measurable difference. No Athena, which would be sad for the rest of you. Krissy would probably be married to someone else, and so on. I change the world every day! So do you.

But specifically, the thing I helped to change in the world that I think was useful was me saying I wouldn’t attend a science fiction convention without a robust harassment policy, to which hundreds of other industry pros co-signed, which helped to fast-track policies at a lot of conventions. Lots of people more directly affected by harassment had been asking for those for fucking years, but I was a white dude famous in the industry, so, uh, yeah. On the other hand, harassment policies are now standard, so putting my shoulder to that wheel did its part.


What is your experience with TTRPGs? Are they something you’ve sought out actively, and if so what do you look for in them when (if) you get to play them? Any particularly poignant memories from a gaming session?

I play RPGs (table top or otherwise) occasionally and I enjoy them, but it’s not something that’s a huge part of my life, simply and solely because I already have enough hobbies and amusements, and only so much time. I play them when friends who like them ask me to play with them, and then I play because they enjoy them, and I like spending time with my friends. That said, when I play them, I usually enjoy them! I’m occasionally asked to turn my books into RPGs, and it’s something I may consider doing, and if I do, I would probably delve deeper into them.


Question with spoiler for The Last Colony:

Both the humans and the alien coalition just ignore the planet’s native population’s rights.

Considering your stated views on native American history, this feels like a large plot hole. Would you care to explain?

It’s not a plot hole, it’s just not on plot, i.e., not something I delve in to in the course of the book because I have other things I want to get to. But it’s certainly a question worth asking! I will say it’s approached more directly in Zoe’s Tale.

Also, remember that the Colonial Union is not necessarily a benign governmental entity, as the course of the series makes reasonably clear. Finally, remember that I as an author may have opinions and thoughts different from the ones I give my characters (or fictional governments in the books). That said, I as a creator am open for examination and criticism about I handle stuff like this, so: fire away in your master’s thesis!


Care to comment on your lack of hair on your head? Both on top of your cranium and your face?

The lack of hair up top I can’t do much about, short of medical intervention, which I’m unlikely to pursue. The current lack of hair on my face is simply because after a few years I got bored with having a beard and decided to switch things up. I may change my mind again, probably when I get bored with shaving.

Mo Pie:

How likely do you think it is that we’re living in a computer simulation? If you found out for certain that we were, would it change anything about the way you live your life?

It seems unlikely to me, but then, I might be programmed to think it’s unlikely, mightn’t I? If I knew for certain that we were living in a simulation, I’m not sure that my life would change much, not the least because I’m not sure there’s much I could do about it, and this specific simulation requires me to do things to exist within it. Also, ultimately existence within a simulation seems unlikely to be different than one outside of it; one lives, seeks activity and enlightenment, and then ceases to exist. Although I suppose in a simulation my data can be saved and rerun! Hey! Reincarnation!

Shelia O’Shea:

I’ve followed you for a long time and when I first did you still had a day job of sorts as a freelance writer. I’m making my first steps in establishing myself as such (people are paying me money! To write words! I may never get over this!) and I was wondering if you had any advice in that realm.

Honestly at this point I’m doing so much less freelance work, and what work I’m doing comes to me rather than me seeking it out, that I am hesitant to offer advice to someone starting out in the field because I just don’t know what it’s like to have to do it on the daily anymore. The only advice I can offer is very broad, which is try to have as many income streams as you can, and also, develop a reputation of not being a pain in the ass, because “not being a pain in the ass” and competent will get you further than being a genius and a real pain in the ass.

Andy Vermillion:

Understanding that you are invested in your present home and other properties (such as the once and future church), have you ever considered living in any other state/region? Our winters are a lot more tolerable here in Texas (barring the outlier Feb 2021 icepocalypse).

Lol, nice attempt to elide the whole state losing power there, but otherwise: I think we’re likely to stay put. That said, if I we were likely to move anywhere I suspect the two places most likely for us to go are California, which is where both Krissy and I spent the majority of our childhoods, or Chicago, because I have a history there and am very fond of the city.

Matt Budke:

Food: Is there anything your younger self is surprised to see you eating? Or that your younger self is shocked you no longer eat? 

I think my younger self would be surprised at the brussels sprouts that I happily eat now, because younger me only ever had them boiled and sulfurous, not crispy and fried up in bacon fat and dressed with a vinaigrette like current me has, and also, today’s sprouts are actually different from the sprouts of yore, bred to cut back on the bitterness and sulfur taste. I still eat most of the stuff younger me ate. I mean, you’ve seen the burritos. I eat like kid.

Granny Roberta:

Do any of your neighbors keep honey bees?

I don’t know! I don’t think so? I think the winery across the street might? But I’m not sure. We have thought about it, but if we do it’ll be part of a plan to commit a big chunk of our yard to rewilding, and we’re not there yet.

Rick M:

What (or whom) would the hypothetical John Scalzi Award honour? Would the award itself be burrito shaped?

It’s not hypothetical, it exists. It’s an award named after a notable masonry scientist and honors the best contribution to masonry science. It is not, to my knowledge, burrito-shaped.

Tune in tomorrow for Short Bits, Part 2!

— JS

10 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2022 #9: Short Bits, Part One”

  1. If I may be so bold, as a person who also gets paid to put words on paper (though not fictional words), I’d be happy to amplify on the freelance part. Don’t be a pain in the ass is good advice, as is multiple income streams. In the no-pain-in-the-ass category, I’d note the following points:

    Hit your deadlines. Professionals hit deadlines. The end. If you can’t, you need to get in front of it immediately, long before the deadline date, explain yourself, and ask to set a new date. Unless you’re really famous or highly in demand, don’t do that twice.
    Stay off defense. Employers will have opinions about your work. Sometimes they are right! Plus they are paying you! Start by listening to what they say, ask for time to think about it, and come back with your tactful explanations/revisions. Never react emotionally.
    Unless you’re working for a firm that has salespeople, account managers, and other staff, you’re going to have to do it all. I was fortunate in that I was trained in sales and in account management. I don’t like it, I like writing, but I can do it.
    Keep your portfolio up to date. It should be online and contain as much current work as you have available. You need to be able to send links to prospective clients. Not all of them will review it completely, but you’d be surprised how many do.
    Watch your taxes. Unless you’re somehow getting paid under the table, Uncle Sam will come for you. Research what you need to do and if you need to make quarterly payments to the IRS. I can personally assure you that a huge tax bill at year end will make you very unhappy.

  2. A John Scalzi Award already exists? Cool! With all the Jeff Bakers out there, I shudder at what kind of award may be lurking in the infinite corridors of time…

  3. I am sad and disappointed to see that not a single woman has won the Scalzi award. It make me wonder…

  4. Regarding the honey bees – rewilding your acreage is a wonderful idea and so important for everyone who can do it to do it. But you are surrounded by farm fields which are certainly sprayed heavily with glysophate and neonicotinoid poisons. Both of which kill bees and are at least part of the problem with colony collapse disorder. You might find it hard to keep your colonies alive, sadly. I heard on a podcast last week that out of 100 samples of honey that were lab tested, 97 contained glysophate. If you felt like taking on yet another worthy cause, working to get these horribly destructive poisons banned would be a good one.

  5. “not being a pain in the ass” and competent will get you further than being a genius and a real pain in the ass”
    This is a beautiful quote and I only wish it were even more true.

    Also, thank you for answering my question; my sister told me I was internet famous now because you did.

    Also also, it would be beneficial to native bees if you turn some of your green desert lawn into flowering meadow. You don’t need the expensive hobby of beekeeping to justify that. And native bees don’t forage as far as honey bees, if it’s true that you’re surrounded by farmland pesticides. In their defense, farmers (besides trying to feed us all!) tend not to use their pesticides as enthusiastically as some homeowners, since pesticides are a business expense that needs to be kept as low as possible.

  6. As a fellow who also discovered Brussels Sprouts later in life, try adding whole cloves and bay leaves when cooking. Count the number of cloves added though and remove same before serving to avoid surprises. A splash of balsamic at end really sharpens flavor and the bacon flavor. Enjoy!

  7. As a former newspaper reporter and editor, agency account lead, long-time freelance writer and as the spouse of a marketing and advertising copywriter, I endorse Bryan L’s advice.

    I’d also extend on that advice a bit by suggesting that as someone who’s both sold and bought words, I think it’s REALLY helpful to get a reputation for being easy to edit. Not just presenting clean copy at or before the deadline, but also being someone who doesn’t instinctively throw themselves in front of any attempt to change their beloved, crystal-perfect words. There are few things more annoying to someone who’s editing copy so that it’s more likely to accomplish specific professional purposes than to have a writer who’s constantly fighting every edit. Many editors, account supervisors, etc. will avoid working with you in the future if you are that specific flavor of pain in the ass.

    (If you do disagree with an edit, make a reasoned case for why that’s more substantive than “My words were better before you got involved.” That may be true, but they’re paying for that privilege.)

    I work a lot with co-authors these days, writing policy papers, op-eds and other often-complicated stuff related to public policy advocacy. When I work with a new co-author, I always make the point of saying up front, “I don’t take edits personally, I had that beaten out of my by my first editor as a larval newspaper reporter more than 30 years ago. Feel free to suggest changes to anything I’ve written without fear of reprisal.” I’ve discovered that previous co-authors have endorsed me to colleagues as a potential collaborator for this reason alone.

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