The Big Idea: Dorothy A. Winsor

If you think creating a new world for your fiction means you’ve left behind the troubles of this one, you may be right — but now you have to think about the troubles of the new world, and what they mean for your characters. Dorothy A. Winsor have some thoughts about new worlds and their details, and how they apply to her novel The Wysman.


You could say the Big Idea in The Wysman came to me suddenly in the form of the main character, Jarka, a street kid with a crooked foot and the ability to know people’s secrets by reading the wind. Or you could say it came to me only gradually in the form of repeated drafts to figure out why Jarka turned up on my page.

The plot of The Wysman turns on a question that appears in various forms throughout speculative fiction: Who should rule the kingdom? Or the country? Or the star system? I’ve always believed that secondary world stories, like The Wysman, are inherently political because as soon as you create a world, you have to think about power. Who has it? How do they get it? How do they use it?

In The Wysman, the Big Idea turned out to be that the best judge of a ruler is often a person who’s not firmly anchored to a place in the power system. In this case, that’s sixteen-year-old Jarka.

Loss or gain? Jarka was born with a crooked foot and uses a crutch. In the world of the book, Jarka’s disability gives him the ability to read the wind because the gods never take something away without giving something back. I’m a bit of a magpie as I scavenge up ideas for story elements, and I confess I “borrowed” the disability/gift connection from Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan. Miles’s disability doesn’t give him a literal gift like Jarka’s, but his mother encourages him to think of it as something that can make him a deeper person. As with Miles, tension between loss and gain—i.e., an unanchored position—was literally embodied in Jarka himself when he first appeared to me.

(I make no apology for borrowing ideas, by the way. I think stories are mostly magpie nests arranged and shaped in different ways. Borrowed ideas are turned upside down, sideways, or back to front and become something new.)

An unanchored position extends to Jarka’s relation to power because powerful people discover his gift and take him into the castle to train as a Wysman, an advisor to the king. Overnight, this teenaged boy goes from being a street kid to being groomed for one of the most influential positions in the kingdom. Not that he fits easily into his new place. Plenty of people believe he’ll never fit there.

A character living in between. For most of the book, Jarka lives in the nowhere of in-between: between high and low, castle and street, childhood and adulthood, gods and men. This in-between status is what made him show up on my page. It’s what allowed the story to evolve the way it did because when street kids begin to disappear, Jarka can’t stop looking for the monster grabbing them, even when the king orders him to and he desperately wants to avoid being back on the streets. Jarka can’t forget the insight that his in-between positioning gives him. He knows what goes on in the castle; and he knows what goes on in the streets. This leaves him uneasy, and uneasy characters make for compelling stories.

Over the course of writing the book, then, I realized that lurking behind this character who popped up on my page was the idea that a character who’s adrift offers insights and possibilities–if I can see my way to exploring them.

I think it’s often the case that writers learn the possibilities in their stories only gradually, as they write them. That was certainly true for me as I wrote The Wysman.


The Wysman: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

The Big Idea: Max Booth III

Unusually, today’s Big Idea starts with an author’s note before the main body of the Big Idea piece. As you read, however, I think you’ll see why author Max Booth III thought it important to put it in, and why some aspects of his new novel Touch the Night are almost eerily in sync with the moment.


Author’s Note: I turned in this essay to my editor on May 24th, one day before the death of George Floyd. Since then, well…I don’t need to tell you what’s been going on. I just wanted to include this brief note, since I realize how weird it might read given the current moment. As for Touch the Night itself, I started writing it in July 2016 and sent it to Cemetery Dance in June 2019. I do think it’s a strange coincidence that my novel about police brutality would come out now. I feel a little uncomfortable even trying to promote this book right now. I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m trying to capitalize on the situation. I’m very proud of this book and I hope people read it. I also hope people are staying safe and healthy and enraged. I would like to end this disclaimer by encouraging everybody to please donate to Black Lives Matter charities and bail funds. Wherever you are right now, find your local mutual aid group. Volunteer. The bigger we are, the weaker they become.

I think every book begins with one moment. A single image too vivid to ignore. It builds up and up and up until you’re on the verge of exploding, and either you finally write that novel, or literally burst like that guy’s head in Scanners.  In the case of my new Cemetery Dance novel, Touch the Night, that “single image” was less of an image and more of a feeling.

The feeling of my head being slammed against the scorching hood of a cop car.

Okay, maybe we should rewind a little bit: back to when I’m twelve years old, and I’m sleeping over at my best friend’s house. There are three of us: myself, Josh, and Ian. It’s Ian’s house we’re staying at. It’s always Ian’s house. Nobody is ever home and we have the freedom to watch videos of people getting hurt on YouTube. We have the freedom to prank call people using celebrity soundboards. We have the freedom to do whippits and grimace at rotten dot com and film ourselves skateboarding into trash cans. There is simply no better place to be than Ian’s house.

On this particular night, it’s well past midnight and the three of us are wide awake. Ian’s mom is out at some bar getting wasted. Fuck it, we decide, let’s go out for a walk, maybe get some pops and chips at the gas station down the street. Who cares what time it is? If anything, the fact that it’s so late makes everything even more exciting. So we sneak out, and we get up to the kind of things stupid twelve-year-old boys tend to do when they’re out past curfew unsupervised. At this time of night, the small town of Lake Station, Indiana, feels hauntingly empty. We throw realtor signs like Frisbees. We hit houses with rocks. We drink Jones Soda in a gas station parking lot and dare each other to do increasingly dumber things.

On the way home, we take a shortcut through the woods. Behind us, a stray dog starts following. Growling at a low volume.

Every small town has at least one knife kid, which is exactly what it sounds like: a kid who always seems to have some kinda knife in his pocket.

I’m a knife kid.

With the dog getting closer behind us, I pull out tonight’s pocketknife and flick the blade open. I have no desire to hurt this animal, but if he charges us, maybe it won’t be a bad idea to have some protection. Luckily, the dog grows disinterested and runs away before anything can get out of control.

That’s when something else starts following us.

Just as we make it in front of Ian’s house, red and blue lights illuminate the street. We freeze. I realize I’m still holding the knife. I let go of it and it lands, blade down, into the grass at my feet. Sticking up from the earth.

Two cops get out of the car. They demand to know what I dropped. “Uh, nothing,” I tell them, which is a lie they quickly bust me on.

They drag me and my two friends to their car and slam our heads against the hood so hard all I can hear is a loud ringing. The car is hot against my face as they search the rest of my pockets (and find nothing). Behind us, the cops call us names like cocksuckers and faggots. They want to know what we’re doing out here at this time of night and going for a walk does not satisfy them. They want to know where we all live, and for some reason Ian tells them he’s my brother, and he lives at my house clear on the other side of town. One of the cops ask if this is true. There is zero hesitation on my part when I nod and confirm him and I are kin.

Seconds later, Ian’s mom comes walking out of their house and asks what’s going on.

The rest of the night isn’t worth getting into too much detail. Everybody’s parents were called. We were giving strong lectures. We were yelled at for hours. Meanwhile, all I could think about was the kind of language the cops had used with us before any adults appeared. The kind of language they had used on children. How violent they had gotten with us so quickly.

This night planted a seed that would grow over time into a deep hatred for authority. It seemed inevitable I would eventually write about it, especially with the number of stories about cops executing unarmed civilians popping up more and more in the news every day. I know the three of us got off incredibly lucky that night. Things could have so easily turned to disaster. I also am positive my experience would have been drastically different had we not been white. I do understand my privilege here, especially here. It’s no secret that the police in the United States have a real disturbing fetish for murdering black kids. And it’s also no secret that this country refuses to make them face the consequences for their actions. Their crimes.

My new novel, Touch the Night, is my reaction to both my own real-life experience and also my frustrations with other, severely more serious cases of police brutality. It begins with two twelve-year-old boys sneaking out in the middle of the night and getting stopped by the police. Only…these kids are not as lucky as my friends and I were. The cops take these boys away…but not to a police station, no, someplace far more sinister than that, and it’s up to their mothers to take the law in their own hands to save them. Things get…uh, pretty dark.

Every book begins with one image. One seed. Over time, it grows and grows and grows.

Getting slammed against a cop car and called every homophobic slur in the book did something to me at such a young age. It forever altered my perspective. I foolishly thought maybe writing Touch the Night would rid this internal rage from my system once and for all.

But of course, I was wrong.

It only made me more pissed off.


Touch the Night: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Taking the Rest of June Off

I woke up at 3am with a stomachache, and before that Krissy, who has been watching me stress out the last couple of days, has suggested that now might be a fine time not to look at the rest of the world for a bit. I think she’s probably right, so I’m going to step away for the last few days of June and, I don’t know, read a book or something. I have Big Idea pieces to go up today and Monday, but otherwise I’m out of here until July 1. See you then, folks. Be good to each other, okay?

No Five Things Today

Read today’s earlier piece from me instead, thanks.

(And also today’s Big Idea, because, hey, a Big Idea.)

When Friends Fuck Up, and So Do I

So, I’ve spent a day giving myself a small ulcer trying to write this thing well, and it hasn’t been working. So fuck it, I’ll just go for blunt and see where that gets me:

I have some friends who have fucked up in how they’ve been treating women. Specifically Myke Cole and Max Temkin and Sam Sykes and (as an online acquaintance who I’ve been friendly with) Warren Ellis. Variously they’ve fucked up and it’s the first time I’ve heard of it, or they’ve fucked up, been given one strike (by me and others) and then fucked up again. Some have owned up to it and accepted that they’ve fucked up; at least one (as far as I can see) has sort of slunk off.

I’m not interested in excusing or mitigating their fuck ups. When you fuck up, you own your karma. I like and have liked all these guys to a greater or lesser degree, and also my personal feelings about them are irrelevant with regard to how they’ve treated other people, and specifically women (and, additionally, people they’ve identified as women who might be non-binary).

It’s hard and sad when friends fuck up, because they’re friends; you like them and you have a relationship with them. You have friends in common. You have at least a little bit of a life in common. It hurts when your friends fuck up. But when they fuck up, you have to be clear about it.

My friends fucked up. Not accidentally, to be clear. They made choices.

They are responsible for their wholly intentional fuck ups.

Also, I am responsible for my fuck-ups in relation to them — to what extent my friendship implies complicity with their actions, or provides cover, or has allowed me to overlook things I should have been paying attention to, or has allowed me to excuse what they were doing. This is one reason I feel like I have a small ulcer at the moment; the gnawing feeling in my gut that wonders how much of their fuck ups are at my door. In some cases, not much! In others: well, more.

(You should also know right now I definitely have that exasperated part of me that is all, like, look, I haven’t been in the same room as this guy for a couple of years! I don’t have a body cam on him! I don’t see every goddamned thing he does as he does it and to whom he does it! My brain is very full of defensive frustrated whining right now! Which is also a thing I have to work through.)

(And while I’m at it, I’m going through my own interactions with people, especially women, at conventions and other places where it turns out the power differential slides toward me. I can admit that this power differential wasn’t something I truly clued into for a while — I think it took being SFWA President to get it drilled into my head, because that was a big fuckin’ neon sign, wasn’t it — but it was there fairly early, so, uhhh, yeah. I’ve seen people commenting “well, at least we still have Scalzi,” and there’s part of my brain going, oh, man, I sure hope you do! But I also know that I have fucked up before in other places where I didn’t understand my power (see: RaceFail, now a decade back), and because of that what I did or said hurt people. That’s also a thing.)

So, yeah, I have to sit with and work through all of that.

I’m angry at my friends right now. I’m sad for my friends right now. I’m even more angry about and sad for the women who they have made feel unsafe, and who they have harassed, or groomed, or otherwise harmed, because it is unacceptable. I want to be a friend to my friends and I also want to chuck them off the side of the fucking boat and be done with them. I want to think there’s a way back for some of them, for the same reason there was a way back for me when I’ve fucked up before. That’s on them, and right now I don’t know how much, if any, of my personal time and credibility I want to put into helping them. I’m frustrated and I’m tired that we keep having to do this, and I’m ashamed that some of the reason we keep having to do this rests on me. I understand and accept why I need to write this piece and I also fucking resent having to, and that resentment rests solely on my friends, and me.

I’m well aware of how much this piece I’ve made about my reaction, when at the end of the day what it should be, simply, is this:

Women have a right to be safe and secure, and to have full participation in the cultures and communities that they create and work in.

My friends fucked that up. And me too.

I’m sorry my friends fucked up. I am sorry for fucking up too.

I’m going to work on my shit. I hope these men I’ve called my friends work on theirs.

The Big Idea: Paris Wynters

For Issued, author Paris Wynters looked at marriage and the military, and a speculative way at combining the two of them to create her story.


Writing has always been a way for me to express myself creatively. Ask me to draw, you’ll get stick figures. Color, not so great at that either even if I do stay in the lines. Decorate my living room, it’s as plain as when I moved in. But write a book, I can actually do that. So, when at a gathering with a bunch of friends, many of whom happen to be veterans, the topic of conversation came to dating, divorce, and marriage an idea sparked for a story.

After doing some research (mostly to make sure some of the high figures friends had mentioned were actually true), a big question stuck in my mind over and over: After hearing over and over that if the military wanted you to have a wife, they’d issue you one, I began to wonder what if they actually did issue spouses? Who would actually sign up for a program like that and why?

In doing some research, I found out there were many reasons people married into the military. I remember coming across a story about two friends who got married because one of them needed insurance, another where the military member had gotten married because of increased salary and other perks. But I wanted to go deeper. So, I started asking myself what would make me join a program like that.

One thing came to mind right away. Community. While I have close cousins who’d grown up with a father who was away all the time, aunts running their households and hosting holidays without their husbands present, they always had a built in community. And I loved that. It’s something I have found is hard to find in my own civilian life.

My heroine started to develop and take shape, because belonging is something we can all relate to. Sometimes I think people forget that belonging is an aspect of life adults deal with as well as teens and younger kids, especially as our circumstances change. It’s also an area that some of the veterans I know had mentioned being a reason they missed the military as well. They hadn’t found a comrade, a tribe, like they had when they were active duty.

Once this concept of belonging took hold, it also steered how I wanted to approach my novel. It needed to be focused on home life, not a romantic suspense where the military member and the love interest got caught up in a mission of some sort. One of my favorite TV shows came to mind—Army Wives. And what better reason for a Netflix (or maybe it was Hulu) binge than research. Well, it wasn’t my favorite show when it was actually on TV, it was my mom’s favorite show. And I used the opportunity to spend more time with my mom as we watched it together at her house, something I wished I had done more of with my father before he died.

The hero came together a bit easier for me. Sure, he’s a bit surly like two of my uncles, and is stubborn when it comes to his health (like my dad had been. I mean, he had lung cancer and would “take walks” to “secretly” smoke a cigarette, yet the neighbors would rat him out. Not to mention smelling like cigarette smoke the moment he came back home). I am smiling now as I remember the ways he would come home acting all innocent, the same way I had when I incorporated that part of my dad into the hero. My dad was quite the character.

Writing Issued also forced me to take a look at relationships, including my own. This was probably the toughest part of the book for me, because it caused me to face some of the not great parts and even to examine where I had faults. Like what does it mean to truly accept your spouse? How do you trust someone to see you at your weakest, especially when society dictates you should be strong? And how do you forgive, especially forgiving yourself? For someone who doesn’t trust easily like me, at times this book became hard to write emotionally because I felt like I wasn’t “practicing what I was preaching.”

Overall, I wouldn’t trade the experience I had writing this book for anything, even if it meant I didn’t have to do half of the rewrites my editor asked of me. I came out of the experience having spent more quality time with family members, learning more about their struggles and good times. I got to remember and incorporate my father in some ways into the book. And I came out with a deeper respect for active duty members of the military, their spouses and their families.


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

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

Five Things: June 24, 2020

Hello! Let’s get to today’s five, shall we?

Chair trouble: This morning I sat down in my office chair and kept going down; the pneumatic tube that regulates the height appears to have given out. Unfortunately my desk does not lower, which means working at my usual place of business is not possible today, unless I want a righteous case of carpal tunnel, which I do not. I have thus wandered about the house to get work done with my laptop and have had a fitful time of it. I’m good with the laptops for email and blog work, and when I travel (because I have no choice), but when I’m home I very much prefer my desktop and its big, roomy monitor.

So there will be a visit to the local Staples in my near future. I have taken a look at some super fancy chairs online but thanks to Covid, all of the manufacturer websites warn of shipping delays. I’m not going to be happy waiting two weeks for a whole new chair (or for a replacement pneumatic tube, to forestall an inevitable comment).

Also, this is another one of those times when I reflect that I am fortunate to be in a position where a chair breaking down on me means I am mildly inconvenienced for a day or two, rather than just having to suck it up and deal with it because I don’t have the means to acquire a new chair. Maybe it’s weird to feel fortunate when things break down. But I do, and I think the mindfulness of that is not bad.

The Last Emperox an Amazon Top SF/F Book of 2020 (so far): My publicist sent me the news this morning, which is nice, and also a reminder that somewhat incredibly, 2020 is almost half done. This year has felt simultaneously 10,000 years long and also whiplash fast. Be that as it may, it’s nice to see the book get a little love here on the doorstep of the second half of the year. I’m happy with how things have been turning out with Emperox generally, especially in this trainwreck of a year. No matter what happens with it from here on out, it feels like it’s already won.

Is Joe Biden actually running a good campaign? Writer Jonathan Chait argues that he is in New York magazine, and, I mean, maybe? Biden didn’t exactly cover himself in glory during the primaries, where he always felt like everyone’s third choice (“everyone” in this case being “everyone I know and/or who is on Twitter”) and who, upon locking up a nomination, has mostly appeared to be following the practice of not interrupting his opponent while he is making a mistake. Which, here in 2020, might be enough to qualify as a successful campaign! Chait argues he’s doing other things right too. Sure, why not. I’m going to vote for him pretty much regardless, but I agree it’s nice to see him not fucking it up on a constant basis.

Travel restrictions for the tri-state area: New York, Connecticut and New Jersey say that if you’re coming in from somewhere that has done a shit job of handling the spread of the coronavirus, you’re going to have to quarantine for two weeks. The metric they’ve determined for this basically covers almost all of the south, and Utah and Washington thrown in as spare change. I seem to recall Florida doing something like this a couple of months ago, although I also seem to recall the specifics being different (ie, Florida not doing testing and maintaining that the only way the virus could be in the Sunshine State was if it were brought in from New York). As Michael Scott would say, how the turntables. I’m not going to be too smug about it because the way things are going, other states including mine could find themselves with the same restrictions. Wear those masks, folks.

More Muppets:

The Muppets haven’t been exactly hitting it out of the park recently, but as a card carrying Gen-Xer, I’m always willing to give them another shot.

The Big Idea: Katherine Addison

When Katherine Addison gets hold of the Victorian Era in her new novel The Angel of the Crows, she does things to it that no one expected — possibly most of all herself. Here she is to tell you how and why she’s done what she has, and why she had so much fun with it.

Disclosure: I read this book in galley and liked it enough to provide a blurb for it.


I started writing The Angel of the Crows when I was in a particularly bad spot. I was depressed, I was stuck, nothing seemed to be working. So I had this goofy idea about Sherlock and angels and said, I’ll never publish this, but I’m sure not writing anything else right now, so what the heck, and started writing.

It very quickly turned not to be about Sherlock at all, but about the original Sherlock Holmes stories, which I have loved since I was a child. They are also stories that have burrowed deeply into our culture, as the proliferation of Sherlock Holmes movies and TV shows and parodies and pastiches shows. That proliferation also shows that there’s a conversation going on about the stories, about the figures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, about the Detective and their Sidekick. This is a conversation in which I’ve listened to a lot of voices, and a conversation in which, it turns out, I have something to say… by means of making Sherlock Holmes a (slightly) fallen angel.

I wasn’t going to publish it. It was obviously too weird. But if it was already too weird, that gave me freedom to throw in anything I wanted to. Angels and vampires and werewolves and steampunk watchdogs and I had to have hell-hounds, and a giant airship mooring tower in the East End of London, and then why not Jack the Ripper? I started calling it my kitchen-sink novel.

When my editor asked me what I was working on, I told the truth.

She lit up like a pinball machine.

Apparently, everything that I thought was fun in a novel, she also thought was fun in a novel, and she didn’t think it was too weird at all.

The novel is built around the Holmes stories, and part of the game I was playing was to see how far I could twist them by putting them in this new context, where people don’t get addicted to opium, they get addicted to vampires, and a hell-hound is actually the most reasonable explanation for what killed Sir Charles Baskerville.

The novel is also built around the historical case of Jack the Ripper. I have done a lot of reading about Jack the Ripper, and this was a chance to pull out an always popular what-if: what if Sherlock Holmes had taken the case of the Whitechapel murderer? It was a chance to put all my reading to good use and a chance to try the tiniest bit of historical fiction. (The Thames Torso Murderer is real, too.) My conclusion from this is that historical fiction is extremely damn hard to write. You have to make choices about things that are historically undecided, like how many victims Jack the Ripper had. (I voted for six.) I followed the historical timeline exactly, and the things Crow reads in the papers about the Whitechapel murderer are things the newspapers really said.

The temporal structure of the novel—the timeline—is Jack the Ripper. The thematic structure is the Sherlock Holmes stories, and combining the two was a complicated venture. It should be acknowledged, though, that I made no attempt to follow any kind of Sherlockian canonical chronology—I’m wrong from the start, since A Study in Scarlet begins in 1878 and I had to move things up a whole decade to get to August of 1888 and the murder of Martha Tabram. (In this world the Second Afghan War drags on for ten years because there are fallen angels and they are very bad news.) And Conan Doyle himself never tried for any kind of continuity between stories (except that “The Adventure of the Empty House” has to take place after “The Final Problem”). So chronology there is what I say it is for the purposes of the larger story.

I used as many Sherlock Holmes stories as I could, starting with A Study in Scarlet and finishing with “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” I took them apart and recombined them; I let them gambol a bit. I increased women’s speaking parts. I repurposed some characters and made up others; I rewrote the Andaman Islander in The Sign of the Four; I mixed in the occasional historical person. This is truly my kitchen-sink novel.

Ultimately, the Big Idea of The Angel of the Crows centers on the Sherlock Holmes stories. By putting the stories in a new setting, and by putting the detective up against a mystery that has baffled real-life detectives for more than 130 years, I’m offering my own commentary on the stories and their late Victorian milieu and the place they continue to have in our culture. And having a lot of fun doing it, too.


The Angel of the Crows: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

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

Five Things: June 23, 2020

Busy day! Let’s get to today’s five.

Meet my newkulele: Get it? Huh? Huh? Huh? It’s a Fender Fullerton Jazzmaster ukulele in Tidepool Blue; you can’t tell very well in the photo but it’s sparkly. I have several ukes in the house so I didn’t really need a new one, but — look! It’s like a tiny guitar! It’s so cool! And anyway it has a couple of features I wanted that none of my other ukes had, and also it was my vastly belated birthday gift to me, so. These are my excuses. It sounds nice and plays well and like all my musical instruments its true limiting factor is the person playing it. I’m enjoying it regardless.

Europe considering travel restrictions on US residents: I mean, I would, in their shoes. They actually made an effort to tamp down coronavirus transmission, while we basically farted about and can’t get a sizeable percentage of our population to wear a friggin’ mask. I traveled to the continent last year and was happy to have been able to have the privilege, but I totally understand if they’re not in a huge rush to have me back. They know where I’ve been, i.e., here in Covidvania.

Speaking of travel restrictions: Severe restrictions this year on the Hajj, the journey to Mecca every ablebodied Muslim is enjoined to make at least once in their life. Mllions usually go each year; this year it will be limited to 10,000. Which is wild. And historic, as the article notes that the last time restrictions were this severe it was because of Napoleon. That’s… a lot to take in. Sympathies to my Muslim friends.

Covid claims another theatrical release: This one the new SpongeBob movie, which is now to be released on VOD and then on CBS All Access. This is not terribly surprising and also a pretty safe bet, since the movie’s audience is (generally) young enough that having them watch it at home is probably a better idea anyway. As a long-time movie industry watcher, it’s been interesting watching which films are ditching the theaters, and what that means for Hollywood’s confidence about people going back to the cineplex. So far it’s kid’s films and indies that have made the switch, which again, have been safe bets for skipping theaters entirely. The only film with a truly significant budget to make the swap so far is Artemis Fowl, which a) is still a kid film, b) was shaping up to be a flop so it didn’t hurt Disney much to do it (they saved millions on global publicity budgets). When someone releases a $100M+ adult franchise film to VOD, that’s going to be an interesting day.

Speaking of ukuleles: The Cure’s “The Lovecats,” done by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. You’re welcome.

Five Things: June 22, 2020

Hope your weekend was lovely. Let’s get to the five things today!

Trump’s performance anxiety: Since I am, to put it politely, no great fan of our current president, you may accurately surmise that I’m having a nice little schadenfreude moment about the underwhelming number of people at his Tulsa event, and the angst and pissiness it’s engendered in his crew of chucklefucks. However, I will also say that I found those numbers hopeful — not necessarily because they’re indicative of his lessening support (although they might be), but because even in deep red Oklahoma, people were all, “Yeaaaaaah, let’s not go into a heavily populated enclosed space where no one’s wearing masks.” Yes! Correct! Good! Sensible! Because, let’s face it, the KPop stans may or may not have overinflated expectations for the event, but ultimately the actual intended audience had to decide whether to show or not. All but 6,200 decided to stay home.

Hot times in the arctic circle: specifically, 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Verkhoyansk, apparently a new record for that usually permafrosted city. And not just there; temperatures are way, way up all over the extreme north. It’s weird to think that the arctic circle is currently hotter than Ohio, where it’s merely 81 degrees. But I guess if you’re gonna righteously fuck up the planet, this is what you’re going to get, sooner than later. Apparently much sooner than many climate forecasts thought, in this case. That’s nice.

Stock market and infection rates are up! Currently the Dow Jones is at about 26,000; still well below its highs but still climbing; meanwhile new records for Covid infection rates are being made in several states, with Florida climbing past the 100,000 total infection mark. Why are they both rising? There are many reasons, he said, reasonably, but honestly I think a major one is that after several months, the nation’s capital (not “capitol,” but, also that too) has gotten the data on who it is that’s actually getting sick, and bluntly, it’s not the part of the economy that has capital and invests in the markets. The money isn’t being (substantially) harmed by the outbreak, or at least, not in a way that it thinks matters. So, up go the stocks while up go the infections. We’ll see how that works out for everybody.

Joel Schumacher dead: Oh, this is sad news. Schumacher will be forever tied to the debacle of Batman & Robin, aka, Why On Earth Are There Nipples On the Batsuit, but his filmography is actually fairly diverse: anyone whose credits include The Lost Boys, The Client, Falling Down and The Phantom of the Opera is someone harder to pigeonhole than one might expect. I met him once when I interviewed him for Falling Down and found him to be a smart and engaging conversation partner; if nothing else he seemed to be enjoying his life. Rest in Peace, Mr. Schumacher.

Hamiltrailer: About 93% of my friend group is going sploogy for this. I’m looking forward to it too, but possibly not as much as they. But that’s just me. If this is your thing, dig it.

The Hugo Window

One of the weird bits about my life is that from time to time people speculate about whether I, John Scalzi, will ever win another Hugo Award. Mostly the conclusion is that I won’t, although whether that’s about me in particular, or about general forces in publishing and/or society, is up for some discussion.

Today, speculation about my ability to win another Hugo Award comes from the Camestros Felapton blog, as part of a more general examination about who wins and/or is a finalist for Hugo Awards, and when they win them (and when they stop winning them, if they do indeed ever start winning them). The proprietor of the blog essentially argues that for every writer there is a Hugo window, during which they and their work are both popular enough and new enough to draw attention. But sooner or later that window closes.

I come up because I’m used as an example:

I am not saying John Scalzi will never win another Hugo Award but I don’t expect him to even though I think he’ll be writing good, entertaining sci-fi for many years. This is not because he’s not sufficiently left-wing for current Hugo voters but because we’ve read lots of John Scalzi now and sort of know what to expect.

It’s not about me, it’s about my Hugo window.

And do I think this is correct? Sort of, yes! And also sort of not.

To begin, in a very general sense I think it’s accurate that for most writers/performers who become notable, there’s a window where they are at the forefront of the collective consciousness of their field — they’re the flavor of the day/week/month/year — and then eventually they either fade from public view, or become “establishment,” which means they’re always there and taken more or less for granted, even as they chug along with perfectly good sales/public reputation.

(Anecdotally it seems that this window is correlated to relative newness in a field, but it’s possible to have that window happen later — one can plug along for years and then suddenly “hit” and then your window opens. I’ve seen it happen! With people I know!)

Does this correlate with awards presence? It can, especially if you fade. Most awards are popularity contests to one degree or another — the Hugos, an award given by fans, has popularity in its DNA — so to be considered you have to be noticed. If you become establishment you can chug along because you’re there, even if everyone basically understands your shtick. Sometimes you do your shtick real well, and people go, “oh, hey, I do like that!” And then there’s a finalist placing.

So let’s talk about me. From 2006 to 2013, I had ten Hugo finalist placings and three wins, including one for Best Novel (I also won the Astounding Award, formerly known as the Campbell). From 2014 onward, I’ve had a single Hugo finalist placing, and I did not win. Has my Hugo window closed?

Maybe! Certainly the “Hugo window” thing feels psychologically valid to me. I admit that prior to my Best Novel win for Redshirts, I was feeling apprehension that if it did not win, my time being able to contest the Best Novel category was going to pass. When the novel won, in addition to feeling elated, I also felt relieved. And having won the Best Novel category, which (for better or worse) is regarded as “the big one,” it’s entirely possible that Hugo voters have felt I’ve been rewarded enough, and are looking for other people and works to nominate. So there could be a window outside of my own neuroses on the matter, which could explain my relative dearth of subsequent nods.

On the other hand: Between 2013 and now we have the whole “Puppy” mess, which (to put it as neutrally as possible) altered the dynamic of the Hugo Awards in a manner that was both unique and, given the steps taken to correct the loophole that allowed slating, unlikely to happen again; I voluntarily removed myself from all awards consideration for work produced in 2015; and did not publish novels in 2016 or 2019. Since 2015 I have had four novels published; one came out this year and is not yet eligible for award consideration. One won the Locus Award and came in second at the Hugos behind the third part of a genre-shifting multi-volume work of art, and that was the correct placement. So one novel in three being a finalist for a Hugo in a year without active slating from people who unambiguously saw me as an enemy is… not a bad record?

Given that track record, I think it’s perfectly possible that The Last Emperox will be in contention for the Best Novel Hugo this next year; likewise The Interdependency for Best Series (an award, it should be noted, which explicitly privileges author longevity in the field). Will either win? Who knows? But in either case I don’t suspect anyone would find it notably unusual if that happened. Likewise it won’t be all that surprising if I keep showing up with finalist placements, as I’m a bestselling author in the field and have a long-term contract with a major publisher (two, actually, including Audible) contractually obliged to heavily promote my work when it comes out. Say what you will about me, I’m not likely to fade for a while yet.

(Also, the work generally is, you know, not bad. Which does not hurt.)

But if the book and series aren’t in contention this next year, and if I don’t subsequently make regular appearances on the Hugo finalist lists, I think both I and the Hugos will get along just fine. Looking at who have won Hugos since Redshirts, and particularly in the Best Novel category, I can’t argue that I’ve been particularly missed. It’s been a pretty remarkable run in terms of quality of work, and I feel pretty good that run of quality will continue with or without me as a finalist. If my fate is to be taken for granted for producing “good, entertaining sci-fi”… well, I mean, there are much worse fates in life, aren’t there?

I like being a finalist for awards, and for Hugos in particular. They’re my “home” award, as it were. It’s never not special to be a finalist. I like winning them even more! Rockets are fun! Please feel free to nominate me if such is your inclination. Thanks. Also, if I never win, or become a finalist for, another award ever, I will have won more than enough in this life. I will neither spend much time fretting about what it means, nor begrudging those who are finalists for, and winning, those awards currently. If there’s indeed a Hugo window, I got to have a nice long look through it. I’m happy to let others take in the view.

Happy Smudgeversary!

Two years ago today we found this adorable little jerk in the field across from our house, demanding to be paid attention to, and also, fed. We took him in and fed him and made him part of the family. It’s not been boring since.

People ask me if he’s a good cat. I say he’s very good at being a cat. Most people get what I mean there.

It is absolutely true that we do not regret him becoming part of the family. We were glad to be able to give him a happy life, and he seems glad to be able to have it, and to be with us. It works out pretty well for everyone. Including you, since you get pictures of this ridiculously handsome feline.

I hope wherever you are, you have a truly excellent Smudgeversary.

Five Things: June 19, 2020

It’s Juneteenth, and for probably the first time, almost everyone seems to know that. Here’s five things I’m thinking about today:

Trump sure seems to want a riot: His “warning” to potential protestors of his Tulsa rally is very much of the “please actually do this, I need to shore up my support with the racists” sort; it would be his dream to have a lot of BIPOC people thumped on by the police while he ranted in an arena. Tulsa for its part seems to be wanting to avoid giving the president what he wants, although if there’s actually a curfew how is anyone going to go to his rally? So many questions. Also, no one’s gonna be wearing masks at that rally and Oklahoma went from 67 new cases reported on June 1st to 450 new cases reported yesterday, so, uhhhhh, yeah, maybe the protestors should stay away regardless; it’s not likely to be a safe environment. Speaking of masks:

AMC Theaters says no masks required when they reopen, then changes course a day later: Possibly because they were being widely mocked and criticized for it on Twitter, but more likely because someone in their legal department sidled up to the executives of the organization and handed over “A Child’s Book of Liability Issues,” and read it to them very slowly. Note that Regal and Cinemark, the other two major theater chains in the US, still aren’t requiring moviegoers to wear masks; hopefully they have seen what happened to AMC and will reverse course. For my part, and this I expect will come as no surprise, I’m not in a huge rush to go back into a movie theater right away, or if I do go I’ll go to a 10:30 showing on a Wednesday night three weeks into a movie’s run, i.e., when I am likely to be the only person in the theater. This will not be encouraging to the movie studios, but, you know. I like my lungs as they are.

Major League Outbreak: Five Phillies players, and three staff members, have tested positive for the coronavirus at the teams’ facilities in Florida. I understand Major League Baseball is still trying to get a season together this year, but, well. Seems kinda iffy. Honestly for most everything involving crowds, on a field or off one, we should all agree that 2020 is a lost year and roll things up until 2021. I do understand there is money involved, but… meh? I sound like a broken record on this stuff, I know. Sorry, let’s move on.

Meanwhile, John Bolton: It seems unlikely that the Trump administration will get to block Bolton’s book, because, you know, the First Amendment is an actual thing. Which on one hand is as it should be, because, you know, the First Amendment. But on the other hand John Bolton is a shitty person for not actually detailing what’s in the book to Congress, where it could have done some good other than making him money. So: Hooray for the First Amendment! Also, fuck John Bolton.

Juneteenth moon: I took this picture on Juneteenth in 2004. It’s one of my favorite photos. I hope you like it too.

An Addition to the Site Disclaimer

For roughly all of its existence, this site has had a Site Disclaimer, Comment and Privacy Policy page, and from time to time I will make updates or emendations to its text. Today I made a fairly significant one and I’d like to talk about it a bit.

Here’s the update:

This site features content going all the way back to the 1990s. Pieces I’ve written here reflect my views and writing style at that time. A piece written years ago may not reflect my current thinking on a topic, whatever that topic might be, nor might it represent how I would approach the topic stylistically. It is often useful to check to see if there is a more current piece on the topic that better reflects my current thinking and writing style. There is a search function on the site.

Why have I added it in? Basically, because I’m not at 51 who I was at 29, which is how old I was when I started this site. I’m also not who I am when I was 35, 40 or even 45. To be clear, I think there’s a pretty strong through-line between 29-year-old John Scalzi and 51-year-old John Scalzi; I don’t think you would read something I wrote then and be confused as to who the author is. But twenty-two years is a long time. Times are different than they were at the turn of the century, and with that, some of my opinions are different, as are the ways I would choose to express them.

Having written here for more than two decades, I don’t think it’s possible or useful to go back and try to tweak the site’s contents for 2020s sensibilities; I don’t have the time, and even if I did the Internet Archive is out there with the originals. Generally speaking I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve written here, and I think there’s something to be said to having a record of who I was (or more accurately, how I chose to publicly express myself) over the time I’ve written here.

Consequently, with a few exceptions I have kept the text here as it was when I wrote it, plus or minus  edits shortly after posting, mostly for clarity or to remove unintentionally offensive things. Basically, it’s very rare for me to update a piece more than a couple days after originally posting. Thus, this site includes not a few pieces that I look at today and think eeeeeeh, I wouldn’t put it that way now, and at least a couple of actual and genuine fuck ups on my part. I have it as part of the site disclaimer that “I can be as full of shit as anybody else”; I didn’t put that in there just to be amusingly disarming. I have bad takes on a bunch of stuff on this site, and a few things I had to go back and apologize for. Pulling these from the site wouldn’t change the fact I wrote them at one point, and I’m okay with people seeing me in my full and flawed scope.

For all that, from time to time I have seen people pull something from the site from, oh, like, 2003, and post it elsewhere as if it was reflective of my current thinking, or how I might state things today. On one hand, it’s entirely fair to quote me, if indeed I did say something that one time way back when, and I wouldn’t stop someone from doing it, even if I could, and even if their intent in doing so is to paint me in a bad light. On the other hand, when someone does that, or if someone comes across something that I wrote way back when via a Google search or suchlike, and is confused/upset/angry by something I wrote, I think it’s reasonable for me to be able to say, “Yup, I said that then, and also, you might want to check to see if that’s still a position I would support.”

Because sometimes it is! But sometimes it’s not. And in all cases, further context is probably useful. I do think it’s all right to suggest that people over time might change their minds, or evolve their thinking, or be less of a raging dickhead, or however you want to put it. It’s especially helpful if there is textual evidence of that change, which, as it happens, I often have, because I’ve been writing here for more than two decades.

(Whether people will choose to believe that later text more accurately reflects my current beliefs is another matter. People will believe what they want to believe, and also, some people think I’m a smooth operator who changes his public opinions solely to stay in the good graces of whomever they believe to be the thought police at the current moment. I find this belief delightful; the fantasy version of me they have in their head is far more industrious and canny than I am in real life.)

I will additionally note that I have not achieved my final form; the 55-year-old John Scalzi will be different from me today, and the 60- and 65-year-old versions of me more different still, and so on. This site, as long as it exists, is made by the current me, who very quickly becomes the past me. I suspect there will always be things here that the then-current me will look at and say “huh, I’d do that differently today.” It’s part of being a human, and (hopefully) growing and thinking and changing as you go along.

Five Things: June 18, 2020

I’m back from the dentist! What five things am I thinking about now? Here they are!

Trump stuffed on DACA: Aaaaah, there’s that contentious 5-4 ruling I thought we might get earlier in the week. And because it was written by Roberts, it’s one of those “it’s not that your intention was bad, though it might be, who can say, but you went about it in not quite the right way” rulings, i.e., nitpicking. But it does the job, i.e., protects the “dreamers,” because even if the Trump administration somehow managed to become competent, any new attempt to boot the dreamers would drag on into either Trump’s second administration, or into Biden’s first one. If the latter, then it’s not going to happen at all; if the former, well. So much contingent on Trump and his people suddenly becoming competent.

After the ruling, Trump went to Twitter and whined that the SCOTUS didn’t seem to like him. Someone correctly noted that they’d like him better if his administration made better legal arguments. But don’t worry, the Supreme Court still has a chance to block access to his tax returns. And then just like that they’d be in Trump’s good graces. But that’s for next week (probably); until then, the dreamers and their allies should take the win.

Live Nation to musicians: Drop Dead: The leading live events company in the US is trying to use the coronavirus to drastically revamp how it does its festivals business, mostly by trying to scale back how much money they have to give musicians and increasing their penalties for cancelled shows, and shifting some of infrastructure burden onto musicians. I, uhhhhhh, don’t imagine these changes will be popular, or will go unchallenged, although since Live Nation is the biggest company in its field, I don’t know if there’s much that can be done on the part of individual bands. Perhaps collectively? It would be interesting if bands everywhere just swore off Live Nation festivals. Right now would probably be the best time to do that. The festivals aren’t happening anyway.

The Darke County Fair is a go: Are county fairs a thing in 2020? The one in my county will be! It’s scheduled to take place in August (i.e., its usual time) and it promises it will be in keeping with all state health guidelines, etc. Which I suppose is nice, but I’ll probably sit this one out. As much as I love county fair food — everything deep fried and usually covered in some sort of batter — August will still be too early for me. Also, the Bradford Pumpkin Show is in October, and I can fill up on fried foods then. I can wait. The fair still more than two months away, however, and Ohio is doing okay with its infection rates. We’ll see.

Watchmen series free to watch this weekend: If you don’t already have HBO in some iteration. It’s timely because much of the plot of the miniseries is rooted in the 1921 Tulsa massacre of black citizens and the repercussions (in the Watchman universe, at least) that propagated from there. The series was apparently the first time many (white) folks had ever heard of the Tulsa massacre, and I might tsk-tsk at them for that except that the first time I ever heard of it was in association with Rosewood, a 1997 film by John Singleton, about a similar event in Florida, so I’m not any better in first hearing about a bit of history from Hollywood.

(Pro tip: it’s okay if Hollywood is your first contact with a bit of history, but don’t let it be your last. Hollywood never gets history correct; that’s not Hollywood’s job.)

I was genuinely impressed with the Watchmen series, which I honestly expected to be something of a trash fire. In fact it is one of the best pieces of comic book-inspired entertainment in the last several years, which is in fact saying something. If you’ve not watched it yet, binge away.

And how did your dentist appointment go, Scalzi? Better than I expected! I thought I was going in to get a crown but in fact just had a filling done. But I didn’t exactly dodge the crown — it still needs to be done, I’m just having it done in July, along two additional fillings. They’re all right next to each other so we’ll be making an afternoon of it. Fun! I would like to know how my teeth became total crap in the last decade or so, honestly. I suspect it might have something to do with living in a place where I have unfluoridated well water. In any event, I have more dentist time in my future. I can’t say I’m excited for it, but better to have it done than not.

And Onward to the Next 25

A quick thank you to everyone for all your kind thoughts and wishes regarding our 25th anniversary. We had a good day. And now we’re off to the next 25!

(Well, I’m more immediately off to the dentist, to get a crown. But you know what I mean.)

Also, here one more photo from yesterday. Krissy is obviously in the photo, but I am too, sort of. I’m the reddish fuzzy blob reflected in the silver balloons. Maybe focus on Krissy instead. That’s what I do.

Five Things: June 17, 2020

It’s my wedding anniversary today, so I’m zooming through this one. I’m sure you’ll understand. Here’s today’s five!

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben head toward retirement: Because 2020 is the year when companies finally realized brands explicitly referencing slavery times and/or peddling racially submissive stereotypes are just not cool. Which, I mean, yes? Good? It would be easy for me to be snarky and say “was anyone really asking for Aunt Jemima to go into retirement?” but as it turns out, yes, they have been, and for some time now, so this is another place where my privileged white ass meant I had a blind spot in my understanding of the world. Funny about that. I’ll be interested to see what brand name replaces both items — I don’t see either PepsiCo or Mars, the companies retiring the brands, being all that keen to relinquish market share for these products.

Covid is spiking in 21 states: again, funny how when you don’t actually solve your virus problem before you open back up, the virus comes back as if you didn’t actually solve your problem. So strange! Also, it does seem the current political solution for this is “(shrug) guess people will die, then.” So, yeah, if you were hoping for this all to be over with quickly, at least here in the US, I’ve got bad news for you. And I hope you weren’t planning to do any international travel any time soon. Krissy and I had big plans to celebrate our 25th anniversary in Iceland. At this rate, we might be considered lucky to make it there for our 27th or28th.

Juneteenth an official holiday? It’s happening in Chicago, and there appears to be some momentum to make it a national holiday (if you’re going, uhhhhh, whatteenth now?, here’s a backgrounder for you). Personally I’m totally down with making Juneteenth a national holiday; some people want to swap it out for Columbus Day, and while I’m not opposed to that I think it’d be fine to have Juneteenth and take the current Columbus Day spot and make it a National Indigenous People’s Day/Enrico Fermi Day joint celebration.

“Homegrown”: If you were randomly thinking to yourself that you wanted to listen to a never-released 45-year-old Neil Young album, then today’s your day. Also, you have weirdly specific desires. I’m listening to it right now, and, yup, it sure sounds like Neil Young at his most Neil Youngish. As the kids say, if this is the sort of thing you like, then you’ll like this sort of thing. The direct link to the album stream on Young’s site is here.

Next July in Disneyland: In case you were wondering when the Happiest Place on Earth was planning to dip its toe back in. It’s also worth noting the things Disney plans to make their resorts safe, which include full masking and reduced capacity. Since Disney is a corporation intensely aware of its potential liability, it’s probably not out of line to suggest that Disney’s best practices here are probably a good minumum standard for other places to follow. Especially about the masks. Wear your damn masks, people!


25 Years

I don’t want to say that it doesn’t feel that long ago, because, well, it does feel like a while ago now — in the course of twenty five years for ourselves, our friends and families, children were born and grew, loved ones passed and were mourned, careers were made and sometimes changed. Old friends remained and new ones joined them. And the life Krissy and I would make with each other, all potential then, has been written. It’s not done being written, of course. Hopefully we’ll still have volumes yet to go. But what has been written to date is wonderful, and fulfilling, and a story that I delight in telling and in composing with her.

I think it’s better to say that the time doesn’t feel like it’s been idle or wasted. Twenty five years is a pretty decent stretch of time to stay married to one person, and I can understand how in that length of time one can eventually take one’s partner for granted, seeing them as part of an unchanging background of a life on permanently stuck in a loop. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt that about Krissy. There’s not been a time where I wasn’t finding new things to like and to love about her, never a time where my respect and admiration for who she is and what she brings to our partnership has not grown.

I don’t want to give the impression that I consider Krissy in nothing but glowing awe. She’s human, folks, as are we all. She’s no more perfect than I am, or you are. But that’s my point. My appreciation for her is grounded in who she is here in the real world, and by how she moves through it, on her own terms and as my partner in this life we’ve built and are still building together. She’s made my life better, and she’s made me a better person. I like to think I’ve done the same for her, these last twenty five years.

With that said, I should be clear that, while fully acknowledging the essential humanity of my spouse, there’s that part of me that every day looks at her and goes, bwuuuuh??? because I genuinely do think she’s amazing. The fact that she’s genuinely physically stunning is the obvious manifestation, and the reason why every time I post a picture of her somewhere, someone (usually more than one) feels obliged to remind me that I’m out of my league. Yes, I’m aware of this, indeed, and from literally the very first moment I saw her, when she walked up to me to tell me we should dance, which we then did immediately because while I am a man of average looks, I am not without some intelligence.

But you should know her physical beauty is only the door that opens into the rest of what makes her amazing. I tell people that Krissy is smarter than me and they think I am being flattering to her. I’m not. She has the ability to size up people and situations better than anyone I know, and has a capacity for straight-line thinking that has to be seen to be believed. Her ego is composed in such a way that there’s never been another person I’ve met who is more comfortable in their own skin; she knows who she is and she’s good with it (this is an ability that confuses many many people). She is kind and good, and you will never have a better friend than you will have in Krissy, provided she’s decided she wants to be your friend. Also, and not for nothing, she’s freakishly strong, which is both useful and amusing to me. In sum, Krissy is indeed human, and also, she is one of the best humans I know.

And I know all of this not just because I’ve lived these twenty five years with her, but because every day of those twenty five years I’ve seen these things in her. I make it a point to appreciate them about her, and to let her know how much I appreciate them, and her. Her goodness and kindness and usefulness as a human make me want to be better as human, too — to be, in my own way, as good and kind and useful as she is to me and to the others in her life. I want to be as good to her, and for her, as she has been to me.

While I think there are many ways to have a good marriage, I think this particular model — an awareness and appreciation of your partner’s gifts and skills, a desire to reciprocate in kind, and a recognition that it is all a continual process — works really well for us. I’ve said many times before that marriage is work, but I’m not sure I’ve always communicated that how much joy there can be in the work, or at least, how much joy I find in the work. I love that every day I get another chance to let Krissy know how much I love and value her, and the life we make together. I love that every day I get to go to work, making this life with her. There is nothing better.

Twenty five years is a long time, and it doesn’t feel long enough. I want another twenty five years, please, and — why not? — another twenty five after that, if it can be managed. I want every day to wake up next to my amazing wife, this best human I know, and to tell her that I love her, and I love the life we’ve made for each other, and I’m ready to make another day with her. I’m ready to learn more about her, and to learn from her. I’m ready to be useful to her, and to make her laugh, and to every day better become the person who she loves, and loves to be with.

Who wouldn’t want all of that? Every day? For as long as it can possibly last?

I love you, Kristine Blauser Scalzi. Every day. Happy anniversary.

Five Things: June 16, 2020

I’ve been out running errands! Fully masked and observing social distancing! Here are five things anyway.

Date-a-versary! 27 years ago today, Krissy and I went on our first official date, at the El Presidente restaurant in Visalia, followed by dancing, which is kind of our thing. Krissy told me years later that she knew she was going to marry me after that first date — not immediately, but eventually. Time proved her correct, and I’m glad it did.

Most of you probably know by now that the very first song we ever danced to was “Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure. Here’s a fun spin on the song: a “Done in Blink-182 style” cover. Enjoy.

Adam Schlesinger Tribute Album: Speaking of covers, here’s Saving for a Custom Van, a tribute album of Schlesinger-penned tunes, from Fountains of Wayne and his Hollywood work, from folks like Ted Leo, Rachel Bloom, Kay Hanley and others. The proceeds go to MusiCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund, which is fitting, giving that Schlesinger died from the virus. If you’re a fan of pretty perfect pop, and helping people, this a good way to do it. Here’s the Bandcamp link.

Diego, the tortoise who saved his entire species, finally retires to uninhabited island: Way to go, dude. Take a nap or something.

36 alien civilizations, or something: People have been pinging me about this because I’m a science fiction writer and they figure it’s right up my alley. It is, kinda, but I’m not that excited about it, because it’s just another example of people taking The Drake Equation out for a spin, and plugging in numbers based on, basically, educated guessing. My response to this particular guess: Sure, fine, okay, why not. Wake me up when one of them sends a radio wave our way. In the meantime, I’m not going to get all that excited.

“Toilet plumes” spreading coronavirus: Just what you needed to hear. Wear your mask, folks. Also, lower the lid after you poop, but before you flush. Do it for other people. It’s not difficult.

The Big Idea: Doug Engstrom

Doug Engstrom is thinking about today’s troubles and woes, and how some of them rely on people one thing and corporations… doing another. From there it’s just a hop, skip and jump to the world of his new novel, Corporate Gunslinger.


One of the things that’s appalled me as I’ve grown older isn’t seeing young people abandon the virtues I was taught while growing up, but rather seeing those virtues corrupted and weaponized by the people in charge for use against the rest of society, especially young people.

I’ve seen institutions cynically exploit honorable ideas like paying your debts and consistently striving for excellent work to wring more gains from the people they deal with. This use is all the more repugnant when those organizations have no intention of living up to the same standards.

Consider, for example, banks and other financial institutions shirking their obligations or offloading them on the public during the financial crisis, even as the continued viability of their businesses depended on millions of ordinary people regarding their mortgage payments as sacred commitments.

That corruption, and how people are recruited and trained to take part in it, is the Big Idea behind Corporate Gunslinger.

My protagonist, Kira Clark, believes in herself and her acting talent. Unfortunately, she becomes an orphan at nineteen, and without family to help or even advise, that belief manifests as a series of large loans to pay for an MFA and New York living expenses. She’s ultimately compelled to refinance and pledge her freedom as collateral – if she defaults, a “lifetime services contract” will allow her creditors to control every aspect of her life.

When she suffers an unexpected layoff, the final piece falls into place. Her fierce belief in her dignity and freedom make a lifetime of servitude intolerable, so she begins a frantic quest to avoid foreclosure. Help appears in the shape of an offer from TKC Insurance, an offer that includes a signing bonus large enough to square her accounts, and the promise of job that pays well enough to keep them current.

The small complication is that the job involves killing people.

Trial by combat is the final, deadly option offered to citizens shut out of the court system and dissatisfied with the dubious justice of mandatory arbitration. They can choose to face a company representative on a high-tech dueling field, armed with a single-shot pistol and supervised by the scrupulously neutral Association for Dueling.

Kira becomes one of those company representatives, given a year of intensive training that confers an advantage over most citizen opponents that is roughly equivalent to the difference between an NBA player and a basketball enthusiast who plays pickup games on weekends. However, that advantage is far from absolute. Although her chances of dying in any one duel are only one in twenty-five, her odds of surviving enough matches to fulfill the obligation incurred by taking the signing bonus are only about one in three.

So, Kira’s confidence, talent, and optimism have led her into debt, and from there, her desire to be free and lead a dignified life have transformed her into an effective and deadly tool for oppression in the hands of her employers.

Corporate Gunslinger is the story of how that happens, and how Kira reacts once she truly understands her circumstances.


Corporate Gunslinger: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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