Reader Request Week 2023 #9: Short Bits, Part One

John Scalzi

And now, short answers to some of the questions that I otherwise did not get to this year:

Karen A. Wyle: What does it mean to retire from self-employment? Is there any purpose in declaring, to oneself or others, that one is Retired?

If you stop working for a living, and don’t plan to start doing it again, then you get to consider yourself retired, regardless of whether you work for yourself or someone else. I have older friends who are writers who have largely stopped writing for income, because they no longer have to, and either don’t want to anymore or feel that they’ve said everything they need to say for public consumption. I can’t imagine that, but then I’m not anywhere near retirement age. Check in with me in fifteen years.

Hope: I really, truly need Krissy to tell me her hair secrets. Her hair is always amazing.

Krissy’s secret is Pantene Pro-V shampoo and conditioner, not washing her hair every day, and extremely good hair genetics. Many people have remarked at how great Krissy’s hair looks as it goes gray, and I think a lot of that is (again) good genes, but also attitude; Krissy is 53 now and has had gray hairs since her 20s and is perfectly fine with the idea that at this point gray is going to happen. I didn’t get a vote in that decision of hers, but personally speaking I like Krissy’s hair without dyes in it.

Brian Skinn: How many accountants, lawyers, portfolio managers, real estate agents, etc. did you work with before settling in for the long haul with the ones you have now? How hard was it? How long did it take? Words of advice? Pitfalls to watch out for?

You know, I’ve been lucky* in all of these in that by and large my first choices for these things have been the right choices for me. I put that asterisk in there because one reason that my first choices in these folks have worked is that I generally had a very clear idea of what I wanted and needed from them before I went out and got them, so there was no confusion on either side about what working together would entail. So that would be my advice: Really know what you want and need.

Dorrington Williams: Could you talk a bit about your plans for your music? Any plans to do more than dabble?

At this point, no, because a) I’m not that good at it, b) the path to making real money in music is long and requires actual commitment in time and effort, and you know, I already have a real job. Beyond that, a while back I came to the realization that I don’t need make every interest a massive profit center. My music is out to streamers and if I make money off of it, cool. But my interest in it is for my own self, first, and everyone else second, and I’m enjoying the level of commitment that I’m at right now.

David Scott Moyer: I’d like to hear your thoughts on independent publishing. Not necessarily Amazon in particular, but they are obviously the giant elephant in the room. They provide a way for authors to skip the gauntlet of agents and publishers and get their work out into the world. 

I mean, you’re looking at independent publishing right now: This site is has been up and running for a quarter century, and every once in a while I take things from it and put them into book form. So naturally I’m fine with it as a concept. That said, while it offers freedom, the road out of obscurity for those who self/indie-publish is generally even longer and harder than the road out of it for people who are traditionally published, and the same power laws in terms of exposure and income apply to both: A few people are up at top, most everyone else is scraping by at best. In both cases it helps to be lucky.

Demetrios X: Now that you have a few mysteries under your belt, how do you think your career arc might have gone if the coin toss had fallen the other way, and you’d set out to write a mystery? Also, what sort of mystery would you have set out to write? 

I think I would have eventually found my way to publication if I had started in crime/mystery/thriller, although whether I would have been as successful there as in SF/F is an open question. I suspect not, since my debut book in SF/F had the luck of being in the right place at the right time, and you can’t time luck like that. What would have been drastically different is many other aspects of my life, since so many of my current friendships have come out of the science fiction community. As for what kind of books I would have written: Like the books I write now, without aliens and robots.

PHM: Would like to get your perspective on how screwed we (as Democrats or non- Rs) are with Joe Biden running again? Actually like him (or rather like NOT having a fascist in office) but very concerned about 2024.

I don’t think we’re screwed at all, and I suspect Biden will win a second term. As with his 2020 campaign, he’s not someone anyone is hugely excited about, but he’s competent and not a hot mess, and the likely alternative, in 2024 as it was in 2020, is a criminal fascist. Give then choice between “boring but competent” and “criminal fascist,” I think people will vote as they did in 2020. So, yeah, we’ll be fine (knocks on all the wood).

George McKinney: I’d like to read your thoughts on how useful ( if at all ) it would be for there to be a sane centre-right political party in the US, and if it could be successful.

Our government was (probably not intentionally) set up to privilege a two-party system, and it does the right (or what passes for a left here in the US) no good to dilute their political power by splitting it into two parties. So no, it would not be successful, if the terms of success are “electable,” and therefore it’s not going to get done. Personally, I would love it if there was a split! Then what passes for the left would have an easier time of it! But “making John Scalzi happy” is definitely not the definition of success in this case.

More short bits tomorrow —

— JS

10 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2023 #9: Short Bits, Part One”

  1. There already is a sane centre-right political party in the US. It’s called the Democratic Party.

  2. I am also an admirer of Krissy’s hair and her attitude toward letting nature take its course. I started going gray at 19. Eventually I got to a place where I was mostly a lovely platinum blonde (from a medium brown). My genetics gifted me with a beautiful silvery white, not that unfortunate yellow-grayish some people transition to. Then an extremely stressful year replete with several major surgeries made a good percentage of it fall out. After a few months it started growing back in….dark again! I have no idea if my platinum will return…I hope so. Hair is so….hairy.

  3. Thanks so much for responding. You pretty much reinforced my own thoughts on the subject. While I am far from rich, I am not in this for the money. I have no illusions of starting a career as a writer in my 60’s. I just love writing, and, after a lifetime as a visual artist, that is where my creative juices currently want to go. I am weirdly grateful to Jeff Besos for enabling me to publish my books to the world for free, and the few hundred people who have read them seem to enjoy them, so I am content. Meanwhile, I am very much looking forward to the next addition to the Scalzi Universe.

  4. First-past-the-post elections tend to lead to two party systems, because if only first place has a reward, smaller groups are incentivized to band together to leverage their voters and deal with the compromises once they’re in power. This is called <a href=",reward%20the%20two%20major%20parties."Duverger's Law in political science terms.

    This also explains, by the by, why the Republican Party is pushing numerous deeply unpopular policies (particularly with younger voters) such as trans hate and abortion restrictions, but at the same time trying to avoid their candidates actually supporting them: if they do not continue to pander to their most extreme members, the party will splinter into two or more equally unelectable groups. Since their only current goal is hanging onto power long enough to somehow enact laws that allow only their own votes to count, they have to appear to support them, but not tie them to their candidates.
    Jay Kuo on the dichotomy:
    George Takei on the GOP death spiral:

    My takeaway is that:
    1. We won’t see significant multiple-party presence until more elections use ranked-choice or Borda-count balloting. Until that time, those more progressive than Biden will have little choice about their national election candidates. Sadly the same goes for the GOP: they will increasingly be forced out of the party or to toe the line.
    2. The more pressure that can be brought to bear on the GOP’s resources, the more quickly their crisis will explode. The more unelectable candidates they are forced to endorse, $upport and defend, the faster they’ll fall apart.

  5. I think I’ve resigned myself as an author to obscurity. I still hate it when someone says, are you published? And I say nope, I publish myself. In terms of American politics, it seems to me that despite the verbal slip ups Biden is competent. I wish there was a credible democratic alternative though, even as a follow up should Biden win a second term. I’ve put a book of yours on my to read list.

  6. @prophet

    Progressives have been announcing the Death of the GOP since I was a teenager and it never seems to quite happen.

    A multi-party system would make extremism worse, not better, because the Republicans and Democrats would have to get majorities in Congress by agreeing to the demands of parties much farther to their left and right. Witness Israel.

  7. Y concern with President Biden is his age. He’s 80! When my Dad was 80 he was in excellent shape, did long hikes with the Outback Hiking Club in St George Utah, and was one bad step from the ICU. Which step happened when he was 85, and another fall killed him when he was 89. Mentally he was, thank God, sharp up until the end.

    If Biden has some sort of medical event before the election then Trump wins. That’s my worry.

  8. @dav1d

    I don’t know when the GOP will actually split – they could stay together and lose elections for years. I have to think at some point that a significant chunk of people will revolt at being tied to the extreme boat anchors that are killing their careers; whether they’ll persuade any money to join them is the real question.

    Israel is a possibility, although I think Israel is more likely to be what happens if the GOP wins (right down to the pending criminal issues, actually).

    It could also be like India in the 80s/90s (big-tent coalitions).

  9. “I don’t know when the GOP will actually split – they could stay together and lose elections for years”

    Or they’ll adjust, as political parties have done since time immemorial, and continue to win elections.

    (Since 1980, the GOP has won 6 out of 11 Presidential elections [yes, many without a popular majority] and held the House for 11 out of 22 Congresses, and the Senate for 12 out of 22 Congresses. They dominate the Supreme Court. That hardly seems a party that is in bad shape, internal tensions notwithstanding).

  10. 1) One of the podcasts I listen to solicits free music from artists (it can provide some exposure but the rule about exposure and pay should be in effect) and there seems to be no shortage of better-than-competent artists who can’t get paid consistently. If music’s fun or worthy of the effort, it’s cool, but as a generator of money it appears difficult.
    2) There doesn’t seem to be a middle position middle enough to convince people not to vote for the GOP. Part is the two-party system, and part is that they are more afraid of voting Democratic (or of the consequences of losing power) than of what horrors they might enable. It may be telling that the GOP’s backers are trying to push a third party – they think that they can split the Dems without splitting themselves, which implies that they believe their voting population to be unimpeachable. That speaks ill for the chances of compromise or reasonability.