Don’t Buy This Place

There’s this building in the neighboring town of Piqua (yes, home of Captain Underpants) that I pass by occasionally, and I’m a little obsessed with it, because it is slowly but inexorably being eaten by vines, and no one seems to be doing anything about it. The building is for sale by owner (you can just see the sign, off-kilter, in the window), but I don’t know who would want it, nor could I recommend in good conscience that anyone buy it except possible to tear it down. For all that, I want to know its story and how it got into the state it’s currently at. The house haunts me, basically. There’s a tale here.

Any buildings like this in your personal history – one that you have no connection with, but still have a powerful interest in?

— JS

A Quick Note On Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Still of Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy 3

Athena ScalziMarvel has always had a bit of a tonal issue across their cinematic universe, and even within singular franchises, such as Thor. There was one franchise in particular though that I was positive I had nailed down in terms of what to expect. Guardians of the Galaxy was one where I was sure of what I was going to get: loveable assholes being funny whilst fighting in spaceships. There was never much more to it than space lasers, iconic music, and comedy, and that was fine. So I was extremely surprised when I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 last night, and cried about ten different times.

Vol 3. was so unlike what I was expecting. In fact, I had pretty low expectations since the most recent Marvel movie I saw in theaters was Thor: Love and Thunder, and it ended up being the worst Thor movie, the worst Marvel movie, and one of the worst movies I’ve literally ever seen in my life.

So, yeah, I wasn’t particularly excited for Vol 3., but I figured I’d give a shot. And I am so glad I did.

Vol 3. was emotionally complex, and managed to keep its comedic tone while being a real tearjerker and having some seriously serious moments. The characters were still their pain in the ass sarcastic selves, but without being wildly out of character for the sake of a joke (looking at you, Thor). They were also more three-dimensional in this one, and allowed to have more emotions than just sarcasm. The theme of “found family” was especially strong, and played in to pretty much all the conflict, and drove the plot and character motivations.

Of course, these are all positives and made for a really good movie, but it was also a hard watch. It was… sad. There was a lot of trauma, and a lot of grief, and it was painful. I went in unprepared for how much this movie would make me feel. For once, Marvel didn’t undercut the sadness with bathos. You get to sit in the sadness, experience the raw emotions of the characters, and really let it sink in. The stakes are high, the performances are powerful, and the tears are flowing.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy is a super fun, colorful, interesting new side of Marvel that was a classic opener of a series. The second one dropped the ball a bit and was pretty lackluster but at least contributed to some lore. And the third is a heart-wrenching story that wove together the past and present, showed so many forms of love and grief, and really proved that these characters love each other unconditionally and will go to the ends of the earth (or galaxy) for one another.

Overall, Vol 3. was a great movie, and did so many things well. It was unexpectedly sad, and I really recommend catching it in theaters if you haven’t already, but maybe bring some tissues. And be careful bringing children to this movie because there is a lot of nightmare fuel that honestly disturbed me.

Have you seen it yet? What did you think? Do you like the first, second, or this one best? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


The Big Idea: Jacqueline Vogtman

Some things are worth the wait, as Jacqueline Vogtman found out in Girl Country, her short story collection. Time and circumstance changed it from what it once was to something new, with a particular theme running through the whole thing.


My book, Girl Country, is a collection of short stories, and while the stories span many different settings and time periods (near-future New Jersey and Ohio, medieval Europe, and WWI-era Scotland, among others), one thing they have in common is they focus on the lives of women and girls.

I first began writing a very different version of this collection nearly 15 years ago. I was in graduate school in Ohio, unmarried, childless, a recovering poet who wanted to write magical realism. I was inspired by my fellow workshop-mates and professors, and I wrote a collection of short stories that I was happy with at the time but ultimately never published.

Fast forward to a marriage, a full-time teaching job, and a child: my writing had stalled because of the busyness of being a working mother, but the ideas hadn’t. Finally, I got to a place (read: kindergarten for the kid, tenure for me) where I found a little more time to write, and the first story I wrote was a magical, speculative, dystopian, near-future story that features breastmilk (you’ll just have to read it). In slow measure, and then more quickly, new stories came, and while I did not set out to do this, I noticed a pattern: they all focused, in some way or another, on the lives of women.

Some of the stories focused on childbirth and motherhood, others on the loss of children, yet others on women who are confined or oppressed by their society. When I made the realization that all these stories had this one characteristic in common, that’s when I realized I had a new collection of short stories. This one felt more publishable than my graduate manuscript (although three stories from that collection did make their way into this new one), and ultimately, I was elated when Dzanc Books awarded Girl Country their Short Story Collection Prize.

While it is important for me to show both the outer and inner lives of women, I wouldn’t say this book is exclusively “about” women—the wonder of literature, and the short story collection in particular, is that there can be such a variety of interrelated themes. As so many of the stories focus on women in the past, present, and future, time itself also becomes a theme of the book.

Class, too, figures heavily in my stories, as it was important to me for my characters to be working-class women, reflecting my own background and so many of the people I knew growing up, who aren’t featured enough in literature. Finally, in many stories, nature and the environment (a tree, the ocean, Midwestern farmlands, storms) are also featured prominently, and often the environment struggles against similar threats that the women in my stories do.

Ultimately, while my book focuses on women, I hope all readers, regardless of gender, can see themselves in these stories. Most of all, I hope that the wonder and magic my characters encounter in spite of their various struggles provides a porthole through which readers can see their own light.

Girl Country: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powells

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

Pre-Order a Signed and Personalized Copy of Starter Villain Through Subterranean Press

Yup, I’m teaming up with Subterranean Press once more to do the thing where, if you pre-order the latest novel (in this case, Starter Villain) through them, I will drive up to their warehouse and not only sign your book, but personalize it, to you or whomever you like. Pretty nifty! And yes, pretty sure they’ll ship wherever you like, as long as you’re willing to pay for the shipping. Check with them to be sure.

Here’s the link to get in your pre-order and to give them all the details for the personalization. There will be a cap on the number of books I will sign and they will ship, so be sure to order quickly so as not to miss out.

— JS

The Kaiju Preservation Society a Finalist for the 2023 Ohioana Book Award

And you ask, what is an Ohioana Book Award? Well, it’s the state book awards for Ohio, and there are several categories. The category I am a finalist for is “Fiction,” and here is the list of finalist authors and books in the category:

Hyde, Allegra. Eleutheria, Vintage

Ng, Celeste. Our Missing Hearts, Penguin

Okorafor, Nnedi. Noor, DAW

Scalzi, John. The Kaiju Preservation Society, Tor

Umrigar, Thrity. Honor, Algonquin Books

That’s a pretty formidable category, stacked with excellent books from fabulous authors. And me! I am delighted to have this peer group.

Here is the official announcement with all the 2023 finalists in every category. Ohio has some good writers, y’all. Congratulations to everyone!

— JS

Archiving for Posterity: A Twitter Thread on Book Blurbing, 5/13/23

Archiving here for the sake of posterity (and not relying on Twitter for it; they’ve gone wonky, alas, so this is a cut and paste job)

John Scalzi

1. To reiterate this once again for everyone: If you see me blurbing a book, it’s because I have actually read the fucking thing and I liked it enough to say so in public. I (and I daresay Neil) don’t have to blurb a goddamned thing for self-promotion.

2. A blurb won’t make or break a book, but they certainly can have an effect on the margins – several is the time where someone has told me they found a new favorite book because they saw my blurb for it and that helped them to take a chance on it. That makes me happy. It worked. 

3. I think it’s easy to be cynical about blurbs and I think it’s reasonable to take them with a grain of salt (the bit about good authors sometimes having bad taste is… not wrong). But the heart of blurbing is authors being actual READERS and being excited to share new books. 

4. Can you understand that when I blurbed, say, Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars, I was trying to convey my actual *sheer delight* at a wonderful story told in a way that I as a writer never could, and I as a reader felt was something new under the sun? How cool is that? 

5. Did I know Ryka before I blurbed the book? Nope. Did I feel I owed a blurb because Tor is my publisher? Ask the Tor editors how many books of theirs I pass on (spoiler: Most). Did I do it to spin a web of self-promoting obligation? Fuck, that’s WORK, and I’m lazy. 

6. I get nothing tangible from blurbing (aside from having read a book); I want nothing from anyone for doing it; no author or editor is obliged to me if I do blurb a book. If a book I blurb succeeds, I may joke about my power, but the author and book did the real work. 

7. I get tired of everyone suggesting blurbs are mostly just a quid-pro-quo activity. There absolutely has been logrolling, but the day-to-day reality of it is editors reaching out and saying “I have this book, I love it so much, I think you’ll love it too, can I send it to you?” 

8. Mostly I have to say no. I have very little time and I always – always – have five or six books in my “read for blurbs” folder on my computer. Even when I say “yes, send it,” I bounce off most of the books – some bad, some meh, some very good, but not for me. 

9. Beyond that, you know what? If my name is going to be on someone else’s fucking cover, then I’m not gonna have it associated with something (or someone!) I think is trash, just to be nice. I’m not that nice, people. My name means something to *me,* and I have standards. 

10. You may or may not like a book I blurb; my taste may not be your taste. But if you see my name on a book, talking about it specifically, you’ll know this for sure: That book? I think it’s worth reading. Hopefully you’ll think so, too. That’s it, that’s all. Nothing else. 

11. There you have it. And now, as always, I end this tweet thread on a cat. Thanks for reading.

— JS

Universal Yums: April 2023 Review

Yes, it is in fact May, but I only just now got around to eating the April Universal Yums Box, so here is a late April review!

This month was Belgium, and here’s all the goodies:

All the snacks from the Belgium box laid out on the table. There's ten snacks total, some coming in large boxes, others coming in chip bags or small plastic bags.

Right off the bat, this looked like a very promising spread. There’s tons of chocolate, which is to be expected since it’s Belgium, but still plenty of variety.

Obviously, I needed help to rank these snacks, and my dad was happy to oblige. He picked which one we would try first, and so we started with these Andalousian Sauce Potato Chips:

A bag of Andalouse Sauce potato chips. The bag is mostly an orangish red color to mimic the color of andalouse sauce, and shows a couple of the chips on the front of the bag alongside a bottle of the sauce and some tomatoes.

A handful of the orangish reddish chips spilling out of the bag onto the table.

Our immediate thought upon eating these chips was that they tasted like animal style French fries from In-N-Out. Since we both happen to love getting everything animal style from In-N-Out, this was not a problem for us, and we agreed that whilst they were not life-changing, we could certainly eat an entire bag. We both deemed them an 8/10.

Switching to something sweeter, I chose this Cranberry Rye Cake:

A rectangular slice of rye cake.

Athena ScalziNow, I totally messed up here and didn’t get a picture of it out of its plastic, so you cannot see all the cranberries that were in the rye cake. Take my word for it, they were there. This bread was sweet, dense, chewy, and full of tart cranberries. It was very unique, nothing like what Americans have, and we totally ate it all. My dad gave it an 8/10, and I gave it a 9/10. I would love a recipe for this because I would totally make an entire loaf.

Back to savory, we’ve got these Cheddar Nibbles:

A white and orange bag of Cheddar Nibbles. The image on the front is of several of the crackers alongside a block of cheese.

A few of the Cheddar Nibblers crackers spilling out of the bag onto the table.

I really liked the shape and size of these crackers, I thought they were kind of unique, but they ended up tasting rather mid. They weren’t very strongly flavored, and honestly just tasted like a Goldfish cracker or some other standard oven baked cheese cracker. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything special. My dad gave it a 6.5/10, while I opted for a 6/10. I would rather have Extra Toasty Cheez-Its.

Finally, we decided to try some chocolate, starting with this Raspberry Dark Chocolate Bar:

A rectangular bar of chocolate with a red and gold wrapper.

The bar broken in half to reveal the cross section which is a lighter brown and lighter consistency than the surrounding chocolate.

love the combination of dark chocolate and raspberry, or really any chocolate and raspberry, so I was stoked for this bar. Unfortunately, the raspberry flavor was pretty subtle, and the chocolate was on the waxy side. It didn’t taste bad, but I definitely had my hopes too high and was let down a smidge. It got a 6.5/10 from my dad, and a 7/10 from me.

Onto another baked cracker, we have these Ham and Gouda Biscuits:

A pink and white bag of baked crackers.

Two of the oval-ish crackers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love ham and gouda, I think it’s a great combo! But these were so icky. These tasted like hot dog water, and were without a doubt the worst thing in the box by a landslide. I dared not eat more than one. My dad was generous and gave them a 3/10, while I was harsher and went with a 2.5/10.

Sixthly, we tried the Violet Gummies:

A small blue and white bag of violet gummy candies.

Two of the small, flower shaped violet gummy candies.

I loved that these were in the shape of flowers, and that they had a sugar coating to contrast the gummy texture. What I did not love, however, was the taste. While my dad thought they were pretty good, I thought they tasted like a medicine I used to take as a kid, and I was not about it. I have to give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that the texture on these gummy candies was pretty good. While my dad gave it a 7/10, I could only give it a 3/10.

Back to more chocolate, we tried these Creme Brulee Bonbons:

A white and gold box of creme brulee bonbons.

Four chocolate bonbons, two of which are a little mutilated.

The title alone made me excited to try these, as creme brulee is my favorite dessert ever, so putting that inside a chocolate sounded pretty great. As you can see, two of the chocolates came a little deformed, and we ended up eating those ones instead of the undamaged ones. These bonbons were so rich, definitely a one and done type of deal. They didn’t really taste like creme brulee in my opinion (I am a creme brulee connoisseur), and they were strangely gritty. Not the best but not bad either. My dad went with a 7/10 on these, and I gave them a 7.5/10.

The only non-candy food left was the Speculoos Cookies:

A rectangular orange and white box of specloos cookies

Three specloos cookies

If you recall last month’s box, it also had Speculoos cookies in it, and I gave them a 10/10 last time. I am happy to report that these Speculoos cookies were just as good! I love Speculoos cookies so much. They’re super crunchy and have the best spiced flavor ever, I can’t get enough of them. How funny they came in back-to-back boxes! My dad also likes these kinds of cookies, so he gave them a 9/10, while obviously I had to bestow upon them a 10/10.

Onto the last of the chocolates, we had these Buttercream Truffles:

A yellow and white box of chocolates.

The box for these was pretty big, but inside there was just this monstrosity:

All of the chocolates melted together into one log that literally looks like a turd.

Obviously, my dad and I had a good laugh over this turd-like log of melted chocolates. It was so horrific, but here’s what it looked like when I separated one from the rest:

One of the chocolates, removed from its cluster of melted chocolates.

Not as pretty as they look on the box, that’s for sure. As for taste, they really didn’t have any sort of flavor, they mostly just tasted overly sweet and were very unmemorable. We both decided that all laughs aside, these were a 5/10.

Last, but certainly not least, these Melon Candies:

A small bag of green and orange hard candies.

Several of the orange and green hard candies spilling out of the bag onto the table.

There were two types of melon candies, cantaloupe and honeydew. I tried the cantaloupe one first and oh my goodness, it tasted exactly like cantaloupe. Like if it weren’t for the texture I would literally feel like I was eating the fruit itself. They were sweet and just a little tart. Unlike most hard candies, they were super inoffensive, like they weren’t overwhelming at all. The honeydew one ended up tasting like Lowercase honeydew. Very subtle and nice. My dad gave them a 7.5/10, and I gave them an 8.5/10. I proceeded to eat like three back to back.

So, there you have it, another box down! Admittedly a little late, but yummy nonetheless! What did you think of this selection? Too much chocolate, or not enough chocolate? Do you like honeydew? Would you dare to eat the turd-esque chocolate log?! Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


The Big Idea: Jules Sherred

Cooking is for everyone, and Jules Sherred is reminding everyone of that with his new book Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook, which aims to help make the activity more accessible to those who might have previously felt excluded from it.


If you were to ask my publisher, the “Big Idea” for Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook is, a comprehensive guide for disabled and neurodivergent cooks. I’m glad the great folks who packaged my book were able to distill it to a logline because to me it’s a Gordian Knot of ideas.

It is that and it is an affirming space. It is that and a deconstruction of the colonization of food. It is that and it is a big middle finger to ableism. It is that and it is a cookbook that has the word “bullshit” in it because the messaging disabled people get is just that. It is that and it is the first major change to how cookbooks, more specifically recipes, have been written in nearly 100 years. 

It is that and it is a response to being tired of and angry about being erased from spaces and being told the tools disabled people need to survive are horrible.

And I think I should start talking about this Big Idea with being tired. Also, angry. Incredibly angry. Incensed is the word I use in the introduction of the book, with emphasis. 

I’m a fan of anger. Anger is neither negative nor positive. Anger simply is. It is what we do with that anger that can be negative or positive or neutral. My anger spurs me to action that tends to lead to change for the better. In this case, it started with a website and then became a book. 

I was angry because I was in year five of being completely unable to cook for myself because of how my disabilities had progressed. In the “before times,” I was a guy who would easily cook for five hours for myself and guests. Losing the ability to cook killed part of my soul. 

It wasn’t the loss itself that angered me. What angered me is there was this tool—an electric pressure cooker—that immediately remedied one of the biggest barriers I had to cooking. All my previous experiences with it were people telling me to buy one, followed immediately by them complaining about theirs. I was angry because what little resources I could find were written by able-bodied people and none of them worked for me.

I had this experience a lot, with a lot of different tools that able-bodied people shat all over. They were tools that allowed me to reclaim the kitchen. The disabled people I knew had the same negative impressions about these tools because of this “common knowledge.”

I had created a huge knowledge base of Crip Up the Kitchen’s subtitle: tools, tips, and recipes that I developed with disability in mind. All because I was angry. Then 2020 came and we all know what that means. A whole lot of people were realizing they were neurodivergent as their lives were upended, and we were all experiencing a traumatic mass disabling event.

Then I got the lightbulb moment that there needs to be a cookbook and not just any cookbook. 

The next part of this Big Idea involves a little bit of autistic hubris. I was going to change the way cookbooks were written. 

Cookbooks are difficult enough to write, never mind sell on proposal to a publisher, when there already exists a template that has been the template for close to 100 years. I decided that it would be I who would change this. I convinced myself I could convince a publisher to allow me to throw out the style guide and let me do my thing. Wild, I know.

Who do I think I am? I spent so much time during the last three years yelling, “Who do you think you are?!” The part of me which is informed by trauma was at odds with the autistic part of me who gave myself a Nobel Prize in research in the middle of a report in Grade 4/4th Grade. Because I know when I have a great idea but having those great ideas sure did get me into a lot of trouble at home. I’m still waiting to get into that trouble for this book.

It had a massive impact on my writing.

I was breaking so many rules. My journey to publication wasn’t what is considered the “norm.” This also bothered my autistic sensibilities. It still does. I’m waiting for someone to tell me they changed their mind because they figured me out. 

I had to push against that while keeping true to the part of me who knows when I’ve got something worthwhile, who, like many autistics, also loves a good info dump when they are passionate about something. Somehow, I managed to convince a publisher to let me info dump a special interest and in a way that wasn’t done before.

It isn’t as fun as it sounds. Because as much as I would have loved to create a multi-volume encyclopedia with the most arcane knowledge and all sort of minutiae, an accessible and saleable guide that does not make. I had to spend a lot of time figuring out the five Ws plus the how. I had to figure out how to help the most people while keeping it at a page count that would be affordable to a target audience where money is often tight. 

I had to do this pretty much on my own because I did an incredible job convincing a publisher that I was the person to write this book and I knew what I was doing. The solution, if you are interested, was to focus on common symptoms of disability, identify points of failure in the kitchen, and create solutions and strategies to manage those.

I love rules. I love guidelines. I love operating manuals. And I was foolish enough to convince someone to allow me to create much of it from scratch. It isn’t something I recommend if you are a “spoonie,” like me, who also has the same autistic sensibilities. 

To complicate matters more, I have this quirk where I must write the entirety of something first in my head before I do the info dump into a Word doc. Plus, the revision process hurts my brain, real actual pain. I had to get it right the first download. I had a short window to write and submit the manuscript, create the images—because I was also the photographer and art director—and create the accessibility guide for everyone working on the book, knowing there would only be one quick round of edits.

It was a lot for the kid who gave himself a Nobel Prize on a 20-page report that was supposed to be 500 words because I was info dumping on a special interest. But who was also freaking out because, who the hell did I think I was to even propose this to begin with? My teacher loved the Nobel Prize by the way. My parent did not.

But I was the guy who got angry. I was the guy who then created a huge knowledge base of useful information. I was the guy who knew exactly how to turn that information into a lot of front matter and 50 recipes that teach skills that can be used beyond the book. I was the guy who was able to make it useful to the most people possible, while changing the way recipes are presented. And I was the guy who somehow convinced a publisher to let me do it.

Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Tricks for the Disabled Cook: Amazon Canada|Amazon USA|Amazon UK|Chapters Indigo|Barnes & Noble|Indie Bookstores in Canada|Bookshop|Powell’s

Author’s Socials: Website|Mastodon|Twitter|Instagram

An Appropriate Cover: “With Or Without You”

Fun fact: Bono, the lead singer of U2, has the same birthday as me: Today, May 10. So I thought it might be fun to essay one of his band’s more famous songs. It’s not going to replace the original, to be sure, but I enjoyed putting it together. Additionally, a thing I learned today: Singing like Bono is hard. But I understand even he has problems with it sometimes. I can sympathize. Happy birthday to us both, and enjoy.

— JS


Well, I’m no longer in my “early fifties,” I’m smack dab in the middle of them, and of middle age. And you know what? So far, at least, my fifties have been terrific. I’m very definitely in the part of my life where I am comfortable with who I am and what I’ve done with my life, professionally and personally. I’m very definitely a known quantity. If you like me or my work, you can reasonably be assure that you will continue to do so for a while yet. If you don’t, well, it’s not going to get better for you anytime soon.

I’m also at the point where I pass the “Bus Test,” which is “If you were hit by a bus today, would you feel like the life you lived had value?” And I do: I’m nowhere near perfect, of course, and to essay my many flaws would take up much of the day. For all that, I think overall I’ve been a good husband, father and friend, I’ve done work to make my communities, nation and world better, and I’ve worked on myself to be a mostly decent human. Plus, lots of books and other work in other media, which will likely live past me for some indeterminate amount of time. It’s been a good life, and I’m glad I’ve gotten enough life to gain the wisdom to recognize this fact.

(To be clear, not planning on being hit by a bus any time soon — indeed, living where I do, I would have to go well out of my way to be hit by one. I have lots of future plans, which require me remaining alive for at least a while longer. That is the plan, and to the best of my ability, I am sticking to it.)

I don’t love everything about being in my 50s. Most of that is physical — a twinge in my knee, my back getting sore from how I was sleeping, the steadfast refusal of my body to stop being pear-shaped, and so on — but some of it is existential, like driving down the road earlier this week, enjoy the lovely spring weather and having some part of my brain casually wonder, wow, how many more springs are you going to get? Shut up, brain, let me focus on the moment. Realistically speaking I have lots of springs left, and I plan to enjoy them all.

But overall? Again, life is good. I like, on my birthday, reflecting that it is so. I will continue to do the work of being trying to be a better person each day, and writing good work, and being a kind and useful friend and spouse and parent. And soon enough I’ll be 55.

— JS

(Photos above by Athena, by the way.)

The Big Idea: Lisa Brideau

There’s no time like the present when it comes to making positive change. That’s certainly the case for author Lisa Brideau regarding policies on climate change. Follow along in her Big Idea to see how she crafts this changed world in her new novel, Adrift.


I work all day on climate policy. I am steeped in the projections scientists have created to model what our future will likely be based on our collective actions (cutting carbon pollution slowly or quickly or not). While there’s lots of great work underway and so many opportunities to cut carbon and improve our lives, the pace of change is frighteningly slow relative to what’s needed for a habitable (for us) planet.

This is not exactly a barrel of laughs on the daily.

The Big Idea behind Adrift was me wanting to spend time in a near-future version of where I lived, but one where we had done a lot of the hard necessary things to make life better. I wanted to spend time in a hopeful version of the future, but hopeful in a realistic way that acknowledges that some climate change impacts can’t be avoided, we’ve locked those in; I’m an engineer and too much of a realist to go Full Hopeful.

It was delightful to craft that world, to zip effortlessly to a future where Canada has gotten off fossil fuels. I got to skip the messy bits, just appear on the scene and look around, much like my main character who wakes up alone on a sailboat with no memory of who she is or how she got there.

I started Adrift years ago and rewrote it several times as I honed in on the story I wanted to tell against this climate-impacted (but hopeful!) version of British Columbia in 2038.

I created amnesia refugees, sent my character on a terrible sailing journey, and had her clash with shadowy figures in a fun page-turner that follows along as she tries to figure out what happened to her. I did worry a bit about whether the extreme weather events I’d depicted were too much, too unbelievable, that people would scoff.

Then 2021 hit.

In one year, British Columbia experienced:

  • a heat dome (the deadliest weather event in Canadian history; over 600 people died), 
  • the worst flooding ever seen in the province due to an atmospheric river (at one point the City of Vancouver was cut off from the rest of Canada as all roads out were closed), and 
  • another summer of terrible wildfires that made air quality hazardous for weeks at a time

All during a pandemic and an opioid crisis.

This blew out of the water the extreme weather events I’d put in Adrift. It’s always a risk with near-future fiction that reality will catch up to you more quickly than you anticipate.

I had time to make edits as we finalized the novel for publication, but in an effort to hold on to my hopeful(ish) future, I didn’t make things that much worse. So, in Adrift 2038 is an okay year, relative to 2021. Weather is variable, after all. We’re going to see a lot more extreme weather in the future, but not every year will build on the horrors of the one before, there will be some room to breathe.

I don’t know if regular people, who don’t spend all day immersed in climate change news, will find Adrift hopeful – but it has a Canada that’s mostly transitioned off fossil fuels for electricity, the vehicles on the streets are electric, steps have been taken to protect or leave areas vulnerable to sea level rise, etc. That’s an immense amount of progress to picture in such a short time. And, really, it’s the minimum we need to be on track to maintain a habitable planet.

I set my novel at a tipping point – one where there’s still a sliver of a chance to choose the right path, to avoid the worst possible outcome. But my real hope is that readers will finish and look up and realize, actually, now is the best moment we have to make big change. That’s the real Big Idea. That people will finish the book having had a good time and then get involved in real action to shift us away from fossil fuels.

Adrift: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Chapters Indigo|Powell’s

Author Socials: Website|Twitter|Instagram.

Visiting the Darke County Food Truck Festival

Athena ScalziI’ve never been the biggest fan of food trucks. I always thought that if I wanted to go and eat somewhere, I’d like to be inside a building, not outdoors, and be able to sit and eat comfortably. So food trucks just never really fit the bill for me. However, ever since I started working at the winery, which has different local food trucks every weekend, I realized how awesome they are!

Getting to know the people that run the trucks, listening to their journey to become a food truck owner, and hearing about all the different events and places they get to go to is really cool. I realized that food trucks are peoples’ dreams being manifested, people who love good food and want to share it with the world.

All that being said, my county had a food truck rally this past Saturday at the fairgrounds, and I knew I had to check it out. Especially because some of the food trucks that come to my work regularly were going to be there!

I asked my friend from Columbus to come check it out with me, and he obliged, so off we went to the 6th annual Darke County Food Truck Rally & Craft Show.

We did a bit of a walk-through to check everything out before deciding that what we really needed to start with was a cup of coffee. Specifically, Casey’s Coffee Co.

A small black trailer with a skull painted on it and the words

This little black trailer served up a mean cup o’ joe! I’m not a big fan of coffee so I got their drink of the day, which happened to be an iced chai for $6:

A clear plastic cup full of iced chai latte with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

As someone who loves chai, this was a grand start to our culinary adventure.

Next, we decided to grab a snack from Little Boijon Asian Cuisine:

The menu for Little Boijon Asian Cuisine. There's items such as orange chicken, pork fried rice, vegetable lo mein, etc.

They had boba tea too, but seeing as I had a whole chai in my hand I figured I shouldn’t get another sugary beverage. I wanted to try the orange chicken, but I didn’t want to get a big entree since I knew I’d be trying things from other trucks, so I opted to share some egg rolls with my friend.

Three egg rolls in a Styrofoam box accompanied by a sweet chili sauce.

These egg rolls had a super crispy outside and were packed full of filling! The sweet chili sauce was the perfect accompaniment and wasn’t too spicy at all. It was $7 for the three of them.

Moving from Asian cuisine to German, we hit up The German Corner, a food truck from Indiana. They had ruebens, schnitzel, Bavarian cream puffs, and more! We chose to go with a bratwurst with sauerkraut and an order of potato pancakes with sour cream.

A bratwurst in a hotdog bun topped with sauerkraut. Also in the box is two potato pancakes accompanied by sour cream.

Okay, this brat was seriously delicious. I can’t say I’ve had too many brats in my life, but this one was definitely yummy, especially when paired with the sauerkraut. I want to say this was around $15, but I can’t remember exactly. I would’ve loved to try a Rueben or a cream puff, but maybe next time.

At this point we were actually pretty full, so we decided to get a sweet treat and head out. Thankfully, Kona Ice was there.

The oh-so colorful Kona Ice truck, featuring their mascot (a penguin in a red button up) on the side, along with tons of colorful signage and menus.

Kona Ice is kind of a big deal around these parts. Everyone loves them, and they are the best in the biz. While they have taps for their flavors, I decided to try one of their special flavors, the lavender lemonade, and my friend got the bourbon black cherry vanilla. It was $8 for both!

Two cups of shaved ice in green cups. One is lilac colored, the other is a muted orange shade.

THESE WERE SO GOOD. Oh my lordy, I have never had a better snowcone in my life. Both were super yummy, but I liked mine better because of the pretty color.

After we finished our ice, we headed out. All in all a successful venture. I definitely want to attend more food truck rallies, and I can’t wait to see which ones come to the 7th annual one next year!


The Big Idea: Dorothy A. Winsor

Sometimes, a “big idea” is a collection of smaller ideas, which, when grouped together, are greater than the sum of their parts. Dorothy A. Winsor knows a little about this, and in this Big Idea for Glass Girl, she puts it all together for you.


Big Ideas don’t always (often? ever?) leap into a writer’s mind full-blown. Sometimes disparate bits of a book have to be assembled like the parts of a stained-glass window. The Big Idea for my new book, Glass Girl, came together in three pieces.

Piece One: A Factory Run by Women

The first inkling of this book came from a story on NPR. In a factory somewhere in Latin America, the workers (all women) protested when the owner cut their wages. In answer, he flung the key on the floor and told them they should pick it up and see if they could do better. So, they did. When they made the factory profitable, he, of course, wanted it back.

I was immediately captivated by the idea of the feminine world inside the factory, and it’s always satisfying to see the underdog triumph. It was a beginning I could work with.

But I write traditional fantasy set in a pre-industrial world. In that kind of setting, most work was done in people’s homes. So, what could I use for my factory? At that point, I remembered a long-ago trip to the island of Murano in the Venice lagoon. Murano has been known for its marvelous glass for centuries. Glass making was so important to the city that glass makers were rewarded with high social status. Less happily, they were forbidden to leave. I borrowed both those ideas for Glass Girl. More important for the first piece of my idea, glass making requires furnaces and big equipment. That is, it requires a factory. Voila!

Piece Two: A Dragon!

So, the book is set among all women crafters in a glass making factory on an island. As the island took shape in my mind, though, I realized I was picturing it as volcanic. The volcano had been dormant as long as people could remember, so what did my characters think was the source of the occasional wisps of smoke from the mountain top? Maybe I’d been watching too much “Game of Thrones,” but I decided they believe it’s a sleeping dragon. Everything should matter in a book, though, so I didn’t want to just toss in a random dragon. As I thought about that, I realized I could use dragons in a way I hadn’t seen before.

The sleeping dragon could be a visionary who worked through shared dreams. My characters could be artists in glass whose work was inspired by the dragon, meaning it was sacred. This link mattered because it gave a whole new significance to the struggle to save the factory from a feckless owner.

Piece Three: A Murder

At that point, I had a glassworks engaged in dragon-inspired art and a struggle to save it. Sadly, I concluded that wasn’t compelling enough to shape a whole book. What to do? When a story dragged, Miss Snark, a literary agent who used to give advice online, would urge: “Kill somebody! Set someone’s hair on fire!”

I chose the former option. I killed the central character’s mother, who is also the glassworks craft mistress. Well, I didn’t, but someone did, and seventeen-year-old Emlin decides to find out who it was.

Weight is given to her search by her grief, but also by the fact that since her mother was craft mistress, her murder offended the dragon. It was sacrilege.

The Pieces Assembled

So my story about women winning control of a factory had become about women making glass inspired by a dragon. Their art and their connection to the dragon are so important that the murder of the craft mistress threatens the social order. All that added up to a Big Idea for Glass Girl in which everything fit together and each piece added to the others like tessera, creating a story that was dramatically different from any of the original ideas.

Between learning about medieval glass making, writing about a dragon, and plotting a murder, I had a lot of fun writing this book. A Big Idea doesn’t always leap into the writer’s mind full blown. Sometimes the pieces have to be assembled.

Glass Girl: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Kobo

Author Socials: Web site|Facebook|Instagram|Twitter

Cover Reveal: Starter Villain

John Scalzi

Tor Books has a history of giving my novels some pretty terrific covers, and, hey, guess what? They’ve done it again! Please enjoy the cover of Starter Villain, featuring, as it does, a tremendous executive-level cat. And, yes, cats are integral to the plot of the novel. How? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Let me just say, however, that if you’re a fan of cats, you will not be disappointed.

Let us take a moment now to give proper attention to the artist behind this cover, the Chesley Award-winning Tristan Elwell. Elwell has done book covers for publishers from A(von) to at least T(or Books), as well other illustration work for newspapers, magazines, game companies and advertising firms. He did a truly spectacular job here creating the sort of hagiographic oil painting you would find in a Fortune 500 boardroom, with a cat, and I could not be happier with it.

As a reminder, Starter Villain will be out in the world on September 19, 2023 in the US/Canada and 21 September 2023 in the UK (where it will have a different but equally fabulous cover). You can pre-order the book now at your favorite bookseller (including your local bookstore, trust me, they will be very happy to take your pre-order). Options for ordering signed copies are being considered and will be announced if and when they are finalized. Otherwise, and as always, any questions you have about various iterations of the book and its availability are answered in my new book FAQ.

I’m very excited about this book and there are lots of interesting things going on with it behind the scenes. I can’t wait to share this book with you all. In the meantime: Hey, look! A cover!

— JS

Reader Request Week 2023 #10: Short Bits, Part Two

John Scalzi

More short answers to pressing questions! Let’s get right to it:

Theorboast: I would love to see you rate some unusual musical instruments for suitability in your band. Theorbo? Theremin? Hurdy-gurdy? Duduk and tar?

As it happens I do own a theremin, and also some other vaguely unusual musical instruments such as an Omnichord, a MandoTenor and a Banjolele. As a practical matter, however, I end up doing most of my stuff via a Digital Audio Workstation and a MIDI keyboard, with occasional guitar and bass.

Bradley: What are your thoughts on serialised webnovels as a genre, both for the reader and the writer?

I mean, that’s how I first presented Old Man’s War here, 21(!!) years ago. In general I think it’s a perfectly fine idea, although as a general practical issue, I would suggest writers actually have the thing done before serializing it; that way the output is not threatened by, you know, life taking a week or a month out of your schedule for non-writery things.

Carl: I assume you support the WGA strike. Are you a member? Any thoughts on the strike or how it will effect any pending film or television adaptations of your work?

I’m not a member; I don’t have enough points yet. If and when I can become a member, I will do so. As for the strike, I am a supporter of it, which should be no surprise as, aside from anything else, I am the former president of a writers organization where one of our chief concerns was adequate compensation for writers. The strike does affect at least some of the projects I have in development, which is, of course, fine. When the studios and networks want to get them back underway, there’s an easy way to do it: Treat the writers fairly.

Hugo: I’ve noticed that compared to authors of previous eras, bestselling authors these days don’t tend to write a lot of short fiction – whereas (for example) the Big 3 of the mid-20th Century SF had multiple short story collections. There is the odd author who has a lot of short stories, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule. Why do you think this is?

The short answer is that short stories don’t pay enough for someone to make a living, or a substantial part of their living, off of them, which is a thing that used to be possible. I myself tend to write short stories either for my own amusement or for a very specific strategic purpose, since the money usually isn’t there. The slightly longer answer is that some of the writing energy that used to go into short stories now goes into things like graphic novels or video games, which pay a reasonable amount for the effort.

BostonDan: Let’s admit that the output of ChatGPT currently resembles that of a clever but very lazy, plagiarizing high school student. Do you expect to be astonished by the 2030 version? Could you ever consider such a program to be “intelligent”?

I think AI is going to get very good at simulating and iterating what already exists — it’s already pretty good at that — but I don’t think it’s going to be by itself very good at original thought that will appeal to humans, because its intelligence, however one wishes to define it, is not human and never will be, even if it is trained on human intelligence. I’m curious what AI creativity would be, left to its own devices.

Icarus: I think you said that you still have a landline. What does your phone bill look like with taxes and such? how much does a phone call cost you if you do it from a landline these days?

We keep the landline these days basically because it’s bundled with our home internet access and it’s cheaper to get both than the internet alone. Don’t ask me why, that’s just how they do it. I haven’t made a phone call from it for years, and if someone calls it they get voicemail. Most humans we wish to speak to know to call us at our cell numbers these days, so what messages are left are usually political robocalls or people trying to scam us. I don’t generally respond to those.

Matt S: Where do you lean on the “nature vs nurture” spectrum for how parents raise kids? How much of a child’s successes and failures are accredible to the parents, their environment, and themselves?

I don’t think there’s a “one size fits all” answer to that, and each child and each situation is different. Also, it’s never “nature versus nurture” anyway. “Nature” is what’s in your genes; “nurture” is what’s in your environment. They are complementary, not in opposition.

Justin Bowles: If IP wasn’t an issue, what book or series would you write from another writers work?

None; I’m really not interested in playing in other people’s universes. I did it once, with Fuzzy Nation, because I had a specific curiosity about what it would be like to write a “golden age” story with a more modern sensibility, and the particular story I used was in the public domain. Otherwise, I’m fine thinking up my own stuff.

Mechtroid: As a parent, what point did you decide “One kid is enough for us, thanks”?

We didn’t, biology did. Which is to say after Athena, Krissy miscarried and it was determined that the cause of that would make more kids unlikely. Adoption would have been an option, but we never really explored that and anyway, life was busy enough.

Logophage: What are your (current) thoughts on liking problematic things, and/or learning that things you like are problematic? 

Pretty much what they were before. I think it’s okay to acknowledge that art/artists you value aren’t perfect and that time may reveal their flaws; I think it’s okay to recognize that you don’t have to defend the problematic aspects of art/artists that have value to you; I think it’s okay to set aside the art/artists whose problematic aspects are now too great for you to ignore, even if they once had value to you. I have a whole bunch of art and artists that I am done with — I took value from them before but at this point I am content to put them aside. It helps, mind you, that there is so much other art from other artists that I can explore. I’m not at a loss for good art from interesting people.

That wraps us up for another year! Thank you, folks, for asking such interesting questions yet again. Let’s do this again, say, in roughly a year?

— JS

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

Reader Request Week 2023 #8: The British Head of State

Just in time for tomorrow’s coronation, this question from Miles B:

I’m British, and I’m curious what you (Americans in general, but obviously you in particular) make of the way we determine our head of state?

For those of you who might be unclear about this, the head of state of the United Kingdom is the reigning monarch, who as of this moment is Charles III. The monarch’s political responsibilities as the head of state are real but at this point (and for a while now, really) rather circumscribed; rare is it when the UK’s monarch has directly inserted themselves into the political machinery of that nation. Their duties are more ceremonial and, dare we say it, promotional; the monarchy is a boost for tourism in the UK and (mostly white) people (not formerly or at least recently part of the British Empire) see it as a quaint and mostly harmless thing for the UK to have. Awww, look, you have a King! That’s fun!

My own opinion about the UK monarchy is: Well, I wouldn’t have one, and from a democratic point of view the general idea of royalty and nobility is absolute nonsense, and I certainly wouldn’t choose my head of state on the basis of heredity; ask the Hapsburgs why. It’s just as easy to elect some largely harmless older person to be your head of state and be genially colorful but otherwise unobtrusive; lots of other European countries seem to do that just fine without promising that person’s oldest kid that they’ve got the gig when mom or dad kicks off.

But it’s not my country and not my business, and if the UK wants to keep trundling on with this sort of nonsense, and it seems clear that they do, and equally seems likely they will do through the current Prince George of Wales at the very least, then far be it from me to keep them from doing it. Go ahead and waste millions of pounds carting a 74-year-old man around in a buggy and then piling him in a church with a bunch of old robes and headgear featuring jewels pilfered from other countries, and then carting him back to his palace if it makes you feel good. You do you, UK. It’s your thing. You’ll probably be doing it again soonish in any event.

I can’t say how most Americans feel about this whole thing, but if I had to guess, I’d say we mostly consider the British monarchy as entertainment, and have done for years now. Every generation we get a new set of royals to enjoy, complete with their scandals and nonsense, and it’s mostly benign and pointless fun. Before there’s a rush to the comments, let me note that the Royal Family is not, in fact, just benign and pointless in the UK and elsewhere; they’re billionaires sucking down revenues from some of the choicest plots of land on the planet (for starters) and the family has a history of bad political and social positions and choices. But that’s not our problem here in the US! Here in the US, they’re kicky fun!

So, yeah. Not how I would do it, but it’s not up me, so you do your bad self, UK. Enjoy your new king, for as long as you have him.

— JS

Reader Request Week 2023 #7: Money Among the Generations

John Scalzi

David Goldfarb asks:

Something that occurred to me to wonder about, a while ago: as someone who grew up poor, how do you feel about your daughter’s attitude towards money? I’ve seen posts from her where she talks in a fairly casual way about spending what to me (also upper middle class! pretty close to your age!) seem like eye-watering amounts.

I wouldn’t characterize them as eye-watering amounts, personally. Eye-watering to me would be something purchasing a new automobile, deciding after a month you don’t like it anymore, and then buying a new one. That would water my eyes, guaranteed. Athena, on the other hand, buys things like stickers and stuffed animals and monthly food box subscriptions, and while those can add up over time, like anything (please don’t ask me about my guitar purchases and subscriptions to music production stuff), they’re really not in the same league. Also, we’re not upper middle class, we’re rich. We try not to be dicks about that fact! But, you know. In conversations like this, that matters.

As for my daughter’s attitude about money, let me approach that sideways by talking about the movie Crazy Rich Asians. I remember watching that movie and something about it striking me, and that thing was that some of the characters in that movie reminded me, in a very specific way, of the kids I went to high school with. Many of you will recall that I went to private boarding school in Southern California. It was a very good experience for me, and also, as a scholarship student who in his senior year was living in a trailer park when he wasn’t at school, I was also aware that my perspective on money was very different than the perspective a lot of my classmates had. I thought about it a lot; they didn’t think about it at all.

Which was the same as the characters in Crazy Rich Asians. They had their various problems and concerns and issues, and none of them had to do with finances — or if they did, were about the use and daily maintenance of money, not the acquisition and rationing of it, and even then it was not much remarked on (except by Constance Wu’s middle class character, who was the audience’s way into the story). Now, very few of the kids I went to high school with had the same level of wealth as the characters in the movie, and I certainly don’t today, but that attitude about money — it’s there, and will be there, and thus, not something to worry about on a daily basis — was certainly similar. To be very clear, Crazy Rich Asians is a movie and everything in it is heightened for dramatic and comedic effect. But the money vibe in the movie is based in a reality, and I experienced it in high school.

Athena has the same money vibe as those kids I went to school with. Not snobby, not “I have money therefore I am better than you,” which is a vibe when it comes to money, but is a different vibe, which is important to note. Rather, simply, “the money is there and I don’t have to think about it.” Material and financial security was and is a baseline assumption for her. She has absolutely none of my (frankly) PTSD about money and the lack of it at various times in my early life, or about the utter unreliability of the money when we did have it. Even now, I look at what I have and think, well, this could all go away tomorrow, even though intellectually I know that’s not going to be the case. We have enough money now that I could probably never make another dime and yet still feed myself until I roll off this mortal coil. That doesn’t matter. At the core of me, the feeling of financial instability never goes away. Athena doesn’t have that, and never has.

Which feels like a win to me, you know? Look, I’m not going to pretend I was 100% The Best Dad Ever — I am human, watch me fumble even basic things — but getting my child into adulthood without her worrying even once if she was going to have a place to live, or dinner, or shoes, well. I’m going to take that and mark it on my ledger as a plus. I and her mother did that for her, and I feel pretty great about that. I wish every kid could feel that level of security, and we all know that it’s not what every kid gets to feel, and that, in this new gilded age of ours, it’s something fewer kids get to have as we go along.

Athena’s financial privilege was not something she was ignorant of growing up. We don’t live in an enclave of well-off people; we live in rural Ohio, with farmers and blue collar workers. At one point in elementary school her classmates, because kids are blunt this way, flat out asked her if she was rich. She didn’t know, so she asked us. We told her the truth about it, which was, yes, and also, if we ever heard of her using the fact to try to make herself feel she was somehow better than her classmates (or, really, anyone), we would very unhappy, and then she would be very unhappy about that. Athena, so far as I know, took that to heart. She understood that she had essentially lucked into financial security, and that as a child, none of it was due to her. She kept, within the bounds of her age and life experience, a reasonably good grip on the situation.

I think it helped that as soon as she understood the concept that we had money, and that I and Krissy worked for it, we kept her up to date on how that money was made and what use it was being put to. Athena was told early about how much we made, the ins and outs of the publishing business, how taxes work, what we spent and how and why, so that money was not merely an abstract concept to her, nor was how it came and went in the household. I also made sure she understood how much luck was involved with that money — on my side, not Krissy’s — and what my position was relative to most writers and creatives. And I made sure she understood how lucky both of us were to have Krissy in our lives, as she has an eagle-sharp eye both for managing money and making sure we know where every penny of it is.

For all that, if your baseline is financial security and solvency, you approach the world with a different perspective than someone whose baseline is not that. Athena has spent and spends more at her age than I would have at those same ages, goes out to eat more, travels more and otherwise makes financial decisions differently than I would. I don’t generally feel these choices are especially extravagant, especially the ones that she then uses as fodder for writing (hello restaurant, food and travel pieces here at Whatever!). But they are still different choices, and I find those different choices interesting.

There’s another aspect of this understanding about money which is not as obvious to other folks, because it’s nothing something that she or we discuss much, nor will I go into detail about it now, which is that Athena has more than once used her financial privilege to help friends and others, and did so even when younger than she is now. She understood early on that a thing that was a baseline for her wasn’t so for others, and strove to be helpful with what she had. Which makes me immensely proud of her as a parent. She is a good person, and to the extent that I at all helped with that, I am grateful.

Now that Athena is an adult, she is more enmeshed with the family finances, not less; she’s going to be an active part of both Scalzi Enterprises and the Scalzi Family Foundation, not just because she’s going to inherit, but because there are things she can and will contribute to both. What’s going to be interesting to me is if and how participating in the making and formal distribution of family money is going to change her relationship to that money. We’ll find out! And I’m very much looking forward to that.

(Disclosure: As this piece is about Athena, I showed it to her and invited her to make any edits or comments she wanted before it was posted. She made none. It is as I first wrote it.)

— JS

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