The Big Idea: Mary Baader Kaley

Real life experiences from authors’ lives often inform their fiction. In the case of Mary Baader Kaley, her life experience, and the life experience of someone she loves, lives at the heart of her novel Burrowed. What is that experience? Read on to discover.


My husband and I belong to an exclusive club we never meant to join. We are the parents of a special-needs child who will be fully dependent on us for the rest of our lives, because our youngest of three children was born with a brain malformation. Based on the parts of the brain involved, doctors surmised something impacted his development around my eighth week of pregnancy when I was very sick and hospitalized. Looking at him, you can’t see the malformation, but you can’t miss his secondary diagnosis: autism.

He’s fifteen now.

The seed of what would become Burrowed began to take root when he was three—after he began to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time and the fog of sleep deprivation began to lift. I wondered what it would look like if everyone had some sort of disability, and an entire world grew from there. Some people in this world must live underground because they’re too sickly and weak to be exposed to the general population. Everyone else is healthy enough to live above ground but suffer from debilitating conditions of their minds. I wanted to explore how people with various disabilities are treated. Is it possible to see a person for his or her strengths rather than isolate them for their defining difference?

And to bring this back to the real world, another question arises—how can non-disabled people make a difference for someone with a disability? The answer couldn’t be simpler. We can have that person’s back.

After our son was born, neurologists were keenly interested in his malformation—not to treat it but rather to diagnose exactly what type of congenital disorder it might be. A Dandy Walker variant? A strange presentation of Chiari IV? Different doctors had different opinions. Frankly, it didn’t matter.

We were sent to geneticists. The specialist summarized all the different panels of DNA analysis they could run, the costs of each, and the types of mutations that could be found. I stopped her, asking, “Will knowing any of these mutations help my son?” I didn’t mean to be rude, but my child had been prodded and poked so many times already. She replied it wouldn’t help him. From that point on, we made sure any further testing or medical appointments for our son would have one goal in mind: to help him with his actual medical issues or his development in reaching his full potential. Period.

We had bigger questions, like would he ever walk? Talk? Ride a bike? Dress himself? Well, yes, he eventually did these things on his own timetable—he can walk, skip, and run. He can ride a bike with training wheels, and he can dress himself (albeit in dial-up internet speed). And after a lot of help from wonderful teachers and therapists, he can speak. No one would mistake him for an effective communicator, but he can get his point across when he wants something (usually his iPad or a snack). And he can recite every word of his favorite shows by memory, in the voices of each character. In truth, he makes us laugh every day.

Social boundaries will always be an issue though. One day when he was about six, we were standing in line at a fast-food counter and the person in front of us just received his tray of food, turned around to find a seat, and my son grabbed a few French fries from this man’s tray faster than I could react. No sooner were the fries in my son’s mouth when he reached for more, and I had to hold onto each of his wrists to stop him. The man’s eyes opened wide with a what-just-happened expression. I apologized profusely, stammering something about autism.

Thankfully, the man was understanding, nodded, asked me not to apologize, and walked off joking, “I shouldn’t have these fries anyway.” Honestly, I fought tears—not from embarrassment but from the fact that this man was so cool about everything. Not everyone was. Other people threw us side-glances as if I couldn’t control my own child. Yet the guy with a few less French fries than he paid for? He had our back.

Hands down, my biggest fear for my son relates to the distant future when both my husband and I are gone—who will have his back then? We’ve made plans for him, drawn up legal documents, etc., but no one can guarantee these things will work out. It’s hopefully a long way off, but this fear is an icy whisper that sneaks up on me every so often.

Even now, though, there are times we’re not with our son to fend for him. He goes to school, he goes out with sitters or with other family members. What happens if he snatches someone’s food and the person isn’t as cool as that guy with the fries? What if someone doesn’t like the behaviors he exhibits as an autistic person? He’s got zero ability to spout off a clever retort or defend himself against the blandest of bullies. In short, if someone wanted to hurt him, they could. And make no mistake: my son absolutely knows when he’s being teased or bullied.

Every flavor of disability exists in this world—and for the most part just like anyone else, these people chug along within their daily routines with their families and friends who look out for them. Sometimes though, they could use a little help. Small kindnesses. Maybe a few fries.

I have to trust that other people will be there for my son when I’m not around—from his underpaid teachers, school aides, and therapists—who we adore. And still, there are unnamed others, people I won’t meet but he will come across who, like French fry guy, decide to have my son’s back.

From the deepest depths of my soul, I thank each and every one of them.

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

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

Wipeout, Rural Ohio Style

John Scalzi

Our afternoon today was interrupted by a knock on the door and a young man standing on our porch. He had come to inform us he’d made a bit of a mess of our yard, down by the road. What happened was, it has been raining more or less constantly today, and the young man’s truck hit a patch of water on the road, hydroplaned, and then went into our yard.

Actually, there was more to the story, as the picture at the top of the piece here suggests. At the lip of our yard is a bit of a ditch, put there to channel water during really heavy rains. When he hydroplaned, it appears that his truck slid into the ditch, hit the incline of it pretty substantially, and then flew a truck length or so before it came back down into the yard. And yes, indeed, the young man made rather a mess of the lawn. And, probably, his truck.

Personally, while I appreciated that the first impulse of this young man was to drive up and admit to tearing up our turf, I wasn’t especially worried about the yard. It’s grass and dirt; we can replace and reseed it and put the roller on the lawn tractor to flatten it back down, and it’ll be fine. I was more worried about him and asked him if he was all right. He said he was (he also said he wasn’t sure about the state of his truck, however). That being the case, I told him that in that we were all good. Accidents happen. If the only damage is to a yard and a truck, we’re all ahead of the game, here.

The moral to this story, if there is one, is that honesty really is a good policy, and also, please be careful on rain-slick roads, because they will absolutely mess with you. Slow and steady gets you home, folks.

— JS

The Big Idea: Jen Comfort


While it’s true that Phantom of the Opera is leaving Broadway, author Jen Comfort is here to bring a modern, gender-reversed version of it to your reading list with her newest rom-com novel, Midnight Duet.


You know how the 2019 theatrical release of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats was a visual, conceptual, and financial travesty of colossal purr-portions? Hear me out…”

It’s late 2020. My debut book hasn’t even hit shelves yet, and here I am–unreviewed by critics, untested by audiences, absolutely zero clout to my name–throwing utterly ridiculous book ideas at my editor with the outsized ambition of 2015’s Pizza Rat (may he rest in piz.. za).

What if I did that with Phantom of the Opera, except the Phantom is a woman, the ingenue is a German hair metal frontman, and it’s a contemporary rom-com novel set in Vegas?”

Context is key: in late 2020, I’d been unemployed from my restaurant serving job for seven months, the world was burning down in figurative and literal senses, and I’d spent a great deal of time with only my imagination and my cats for company. I wouldn’t say I was going insane, per se, because that does a terrible disservice to people with real mental health problems, and they’ve already gotten enough disservice from our country’s abysmal healthcare system. I’m simply suggesting if I lived in the basement catacombs of an opera house and had dedicated my life to ensuring the establishment’s musical and theatrical success, and then that opera house were purchased by two ding-dongs and a rich muppet who wouldn’t know performance art if it accidentally landed on them like a one-ton chandelier, and then the love of my life abandoned me for said muppet and the ding-dongs ruined my theater in the way (insert director of your choice) ruined Star Warswell, under those circumstances, the Phantom’s melodramatic rampage of terror isn’t entirely unrelatable, is it? Whomst among us, etcetera, etcetera. 

I didn’t expect my editor to say yes. 

Many times, while I was writing Midnight Duet, I wished she hadn’t. Because at the end of the day, I was tasked with writing a contemporary romance novel, which is a genre with a strictly regulated plot structure and tone. A rom-com should be voice-y and funny, full of delightful secondary characters, and host a plot laden with zany mishaps yet bound the confines of modern reality.

And then there’s The Phantom of the Opera–a musical set in 1870s Paris, about a mask-wearing, cape-swirling, possibly-magic-wielding anti-hero who lurks in an underground chamber with a pipe organ (how did it get down there? No one knows and no one cares) and an inexplicably endless supply of candelabras. There’s murder, fire, mystical mirror seduction, and a heroine who doesn’t see a problem with any of this, because her purpose in life is to be hot and good at singing, and good for her. 

And as ridiculous as it all sounds, this is exactly what POTO fans love about Phantom of the Operathe extra-ness, the over-the-top melodrama, the more-is-more approach to costumes, set decor, and song composition. 

There’s nothing I despise more than a remake that’s worse than the original. It’s downright disrespectful. If I was going to write a true homage to this masterpiece–and that’s exactly what my inner, 14-year-old goth girl aspired to do–I had to construct it in a way that did justice to the sheer vibes.

Problem: Where in Pizza Rat’s unholy name am I getting Phantom of the Opera vibes in our contemporary world?

Answer: Vegas. Duh.

Problem: Why is Erika–our female phantom–so goddamn melodramatic?

Answer: She’s a theater major, a former Broadway star, and a diva of Mariah Carey proportions. And like a proper anti-heroine, no one in Manhattan actually liked her, which is why, after a face-scarring accident (naturally), we find our disgraced diva wallowing in self-pity in the Nevada desert, where she’s tasked with saving her family’s Gold Rush-era legacy from a familiar rich muppet. She needs money, so she rents her opera house to Christof and his band, Nachtmusik. (If you’re wondering whether that’s an on-the-nose reference to Music of the Nightof course, it is. ALW doesn’t believe in subtlety, and neither do I.)

Problem: Christof–our up-and-coming vocalist–is a modern musician. Why on Earth would he–Answer: Glam rock. Look, I love the Scorpions, and if there’s any musical style that fits with the words “dramatic” and “extra,” it’s glam rock. We’re making this whole thing work, Spinal Tap style. 

There’s no way* to replicate the “anything is possible!” creative energy of 1986, when The Phantom of the Opera was conceived for Broadway. (*In this economy? No one can afford that much cocaine.) But I did re-write approximately 80% of this book in the final weeks before my deadline in what I remember being a sleep-deprived marathon of chocolate-covered pretzels, coffee, and desperation fueled by a terrible sense of having dug my own literary grave. And by all that was unholy: if I had to be buried in that grave, my coffin would be bedazzled in black sequins.

When I describe this book now, I call it a “loose collection of atmospheric goth vibes and horniness,” and I believe it is that. 

It is also, I hope, a fitting tribute to the musical, which will finally close in April after 35 years of atmospheric goth vibes and horniness.

It’s too bad ALW never wrote a sequel. But like the Phantom’s love for Christine, my love for ridiculously over-the-top romances will never die. 

Midnight Duet: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|The Ripped Bodice 

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

Exciting New Additions To My Collection Courtesy Of A Reader

Recently, a reader of this blog reached out and asked if they could send me a box of old cookbooks from their 96-year-old grandmother’s collection. Obviously, I said yes, and a few days later these bad boys arrived!

Ten very old looking cookbooks arranged in rows on a table.

Athena ScalziBefore we dive into what all we have on our hands here, I just want to take a minute to thank this very kind person for sending these to me. Not just sending them, but thinking of me in the first place. It is genuinely so nice they saw these and thought “you know who would like these?” and then went through the trouble of shipping them to me, and even included a lovely letter talking about their grandmother (who sounds like an awesome lady, by the way).

This is the third time a reader has sent me old cookbooks, I wrote about the first time, and the second time the person mentioned they didn’t really want to be acknowledged for it. All this to say, I have some very thoughtful readers, and I really appreciate all y’all being so kind.

So if the sender is reading this, feel free to say hi in the comments, I just didn’t know if you wanted to be named in front of everyone!

(Also in the letter, they told me that I should wear a mask and/or be outside to look at these books, but I did not heed the warning, and I regret it because I inhaled a LOT of 75-year-old book dust and sneezed several times (not on the books.))

Moving on, here we have ten different cookbooks, most of which are from the 40s and 50s.

Starting from the top left, we have The ABC of Canapés from 1953. I had never heard of a canapé before, but apparently it’s like fancy mini toasts! It just so happens mini toasts with fancy toppings is one of my favorite things in life! One interesting thing about this book is that it really does have like, the ABCs.

A shot of two pages of the book. On the left side is a recipe for butterfly shrimp, the right page is a recipe for chicken livers in sherry.

“Cost is no object when you serve caviar, but sardines and ketchup are tastier by far.” Now that is some clever rhyming if I do say so myself. But yeah, this one was super interesting.

Next we have Good Meals and How to Prepare Them: A Guide to Meal-Planning Cooking and Serving. This one is a first edition all the way from 1927. Truly remarkable! Just looking at the spread of books, you can pretty much tell it’s the oldest one among them.

Following that is The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places from 1954. That certainly is a mouthful of a title, but a unique one, undoubtedly.

After that is one simply titled French Home Cooking from 1956, and immediately following it is The Art of Italian Cooking, which I couldn’t really pinpoint a super clear date for this one, but here’s the page I usually get that info from if any of you can help me decipher it:

A long list of copyright dates and printings.

Starting the second row, we have Dinner With Tom Jones: Eighteenth Century Cookery Adapted For the Modern Kitchen from 1977. This one had a super cool dedication section:

A book dedication that reads

You can actually see the pen ink from the other side of the page, in which I assume a friend of the grandmother left her a note telling her to enjoy the book. The grandmother’s name is actually written in a few of the others, as well.

Next up is Trader Vic’s Book of Food & Drink from 1946, which also has an awesome dedication section:

A dedication section that reads

Following that is The Standard Wine Cookbook: A Practical Guide to the Use of American Wines from 1948. Of course I had to show this one to my boss at the winery, because how cool is this?!

Completing the second row is The All New Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook Complete and Unabridged from 1959. I actually have another edition of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook, specifically the 1945 version with the hardback yellow cover I got from my neighbor’s/kindergarten teacher’s garage sale.

And finally, we have an appliance cookbook, which are honestly some of my favorites (like my 1927 Electric Refrigerator Recipes and Menus). Here we have 340 Recipes For the New Waring Blender from 1947. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know blenders came out in the 40s. I’ve never even heard of that brand of blender. I was curious if they were still around, and Google proved useful in showing me that they are alive and well it seems!

I found this one particularly interesting because not only can you make fruit soups:

A page filled with recipes for

Or cream soups:

A page of recipes for

But you can make a whole five course dinner! For TUBE FEEDING!

A recipe page for a five course meal consisting of

That’s right y’all, if you’ve got a hankerin’ for lamb and vegetables but have your jaw wired shut, fear not! I mean really, who doesn’t want blended salad for dinner?

Also, I absolutely love the sexy nurse blender. Truly the cherry on top of this blender book.

So, there you have it! A quick look at these awesome books, sent by an awesome reader.

Which one are you most interested in seeing more of? Would you try blended salad? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


The Big Idea: Nancy Kress

Science fiction is just that, a blend of the science we know, and the stories we wish to tell. The mixture of these two aspects was especially important to authors Nancy Kress and Robert Lanza, who co-authored their new novel, Observer. Read on to see how they wove science into story.



You there, sitting in your chair reading this on your computer with your phone beside you in case something interesting turns up on social media—you believe that chair, computer, and phone all exist, right?  Are solid and stationary, at least until you chop them up or move them?  What if you’re wrong?  

Caroline Soames-Watkins also believed that the world around her existed, solidly and for a long time before she was born—until she learned different.  Caro, the protagonist of my novel co-written with Dr. Robert Lanza, thought she had the world figured out.  Not her personal world, which is in deep trouble due to a beloved sister in financial trouble, a predatory boss, and a vicious on-line attack that loses Caro the job she’d worked so hard for.  But Caro thinks that at least she understands how the material world works and how her consciousness operates within it.  Then, from desperation, she accepts a job at an off-shore research facility run by a Nobel Laureate great-uncle she has never met.  

The ideas behind Observer are Robert Lanza’s.  An eminent scientist who led teams that cloned the first endangered species and did ground-breaking stem-cell research, Bob Lanza has also formulated biocentrism, the belief that life and consciousness created the universe, not the other way around.  His non-fiction books put a foundation under that startling claim.  They start with hard science in “our” world, beginning with the famous two-slit experiments, in which the presence of an observer affects the path taken by a sub-atomic particle,  and move step-by-step into cutting-edge science about quantum entanglement, the multiverse, the paradoxes of time, and the nature of consciousness itself.  The universe did not spawn consciousness; consciousness created the universe.

When Bob approached me about embodying his ideas in a novel, I was intrigued.  Science fiction speculates on the intersections between humanity and everything else, and these ideas suggested very large-scale intersections.  And I had always been interested in the behavior of consciousness, my own and everybody else’s (in some circles, this is called gossip).  But in addition to being intrigued, I was also skeptical.  On the one hand, could science support the idea that consciousness creates the universe?  On the other hand, wasn’t this just recycled philosophy 101 according to Irish philosopher George Berkeley, among others?  On the third hand (SF allows as many hands as you wish), wasn’t the idea of multiple universes just a currently popular gimmick to allow a stalwart hero to frolic through fantasy settings?

In order: Yes.  No.  No.

The major obstacle, Bob and I agreed, was going to be how to present and pace the science without interrupting the story more than necessary.  Biocentrism is a complex theory and we didn’t want to oversimplify it.  It’s important, for instance, that readers grasp the current, on-going experiments in applying quantum-level physics to the macro-world.  But neither did we want to turn a novel into a thinly disguised scientific treatise.  A novel is, foremost, someone’s story.  Caro experiences loss, death, love, and the sometimes wonderful, sometimes painful intricacies of human connections.

Getting all this into a novel took many iterations.  I wrote a section; Bob and I discussed it for plot, pacing, and scientific accuracy; we decided where the book should go next; I rewrote.  This went on for two years.  It was important to both of us to explore the impact of biocentrism not only on Caro, but also on other characters of various temperaments, and on the larger society.  Some of those impacts are negative, because science inevitably leads to technology, and technology can be exploited and abused.  The day humanity learned to control fire, arson became a possibility.

An additional initial difficulty for me was that Caro is—or was well on her way to becoming before a certain night at a certain party—a neurosurgeon.  I am not a neurosurgeon.  I am not a doctor of any sort.   So before I even began writing, I read four memoirs by neurosurgeons, taking notes and absorbing this (to me) alien world.  I discovered what actual doctors think about the dangers and rewards of their profession. I discovered the range of neurosurgery, from the “easy” removal of a meningioma conveniently located outside the brain and away from major cerebral arteries and veins, to the long, risky operations battling multiple traumas or deep-seated glioblastomas.  I also discovered that some neurosurgeons write much better prose than others.

Observer is my first collaborative novel.  Writing it was exhilarating, frustrating, eye-opening, and when it was finished, my view of the universe had shifted.  Eminent physicists like Stephen Hawking, Max Planck, and Neils Bohr, to name just a few of many, have said that consciousness is intricately woven into the very fabric of the universe.  As Caro, an ambitious and practical woman, moves through her adventures in friendship, danger, love, and surgery, she experiences first-hand the truth that those physicists already knew.  

Observer: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks

Visit the authors’ websites (Nancy Kress and Robert Lanza).

The Dispatcher: Travel By Bullet Signed, Limited Print Edition Now Available for Pre-Order

John Scalzi

Yes, the third installment of the New York Times best selling Dispatcher series will soon be available in a signed, limited hardcover edition from Subterranean Press. If you don’t know what that means, it means that every copy of the book will be signed by me, and that we’re only making a couple thousand of the print edition, so once they’re sold out, they’re gone. So if you want a print version, you should go ahead and pre-order it now. If signed, limited hardcover editions are not your bag, there will also be an ebook version, not signed (sorry) but also not limited, so everyone can get one of those.

Also, the super-cool cover art? Michael Koelsch. He’s great.

— JS

Stardew Valley & Slowing Down

Athena ScalziA little over a year ago, I started playing a video game called Stardew Valley. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a super cute game in which you inherit a farm in a village called Pelican Town. After moving to the farm, you spend your days farming crops, tending to animals, fishing, foraging in the forest, crafting items, building friendships with the townsfolks, and exploring. There’s also mining and combat, but it’s largely avoidable if you’re going for more of an Animal Crossing vibe rather than a Minecraft vibe.

Anyways, Stardew Valley has a rather large fanbase, and with this comes a wide variety of ways that people play the game. There are some people that only care about crops, and won’t really bother doing things like exploring or fishing. Some people want a lot of combat, so they’ll traverse the mines in search of a fight, and not really care about making friends. Others try to complete things as quickly as possible, like leveling up, maxing out friendships, and basically climbing the ladder of success ASAP.

If you go on YouTube, you’re bound to see countless videos telling you “here’s why you shouldn’t waste your time planting cauliflower”, or “the BEST person to marry”, or “how to unlock this without having to do all this other stuff”. Basically, there’s a lot of videos telling you how to make the most money, as quickly as possible, and be the most efficient at everything.

But, is that really the point of the game?

The whole message of Stardew is laid out for you in the very beginning of the game by the grandpa that leaves you the farm: “There will come a day when you feel crushed by the burden of modern life, and your bright spirit will fade before a growing emptiness. When that happens, my dear, you will be ready for this gift.” The gift of course being the farm, which he tells you to go to and in doing so make real, human connections and reconnect with nature.

Now, don’t get me wrong, video games are meant to be enjoyed, so there’s no right or wrong way to play them as long as you’re having fun. But Stardew feels like the one game where we shouldn’t necessarily be grinding so hard to get everything done as quickly as possible, or short ourselves of some of the experiences just to make extra cash.

Stardew intentionally feels like it’s made to be played slowly, or played in a way that lets you enjoy the process of getting to the goal. There is joy in the simplicity that comes with watering your crops, not just joy in the selling of them. There is joy in the process of making friends, not just in receiving things from them once you reach a high enough level.

And yes, while you can do things like buy a machine that picks up all the eggs in the hen house for you, is there not a smidge of fun to be had going around and picking the eggs up yourself? Is gathering up the eggs a waste of our time in the game? In real life, even? Maybe. Maybe not.

When I originally started playing, I told myself that I didn’t want to use the wiki at all for help. I wanted to find out everything myself, and not ruin any of the “discovery” aspect of the game. But then I started gifting people things I found in the forest, like daffodils, and… they wouldn’t like it. And this genuinely made me sad. I found this daffodil, and it’s so pretty, and I could’ve sold it for 30 gold, but I saw you and wanted you to have it, and you don’t like it?? What’s wrong with it?

So, I started looking up what things people did and didn’t like on the wiki, so I didn’t have to feel such a sad sense of rejection, and also didn’t waste my items on people that didn’t like them. This was the start of my fall into the “looking everything up” mentality I was trying so hard to avoid.

Specifically because I wanted to romance a character named Sebastian, and I couldn’t figure out to get the cutscenes with him after leveling the hearts up. I had to look up how to trigger the cutscenes, even though they’re supposed to be something that you figure out on your own throughout playing the game.

If I had been patient, and not tried to be with him literally as soon as humanly possible, I probably would’ve figured it out eventually, but I didn’t want to wait potentially years to romance him. But isn’t that how romance is supposed to go? Aren’t you supposed to like them for a while, occasionally give a gift, and once in a while have a special moment (cutscene) with them, all leading up to actually dating/marrying? Instead here I was chasing him down all hours of the day, spamming giving gifts to him to get him to like me ASAP, and looking up how to have these nice moments with him.

Am I taking a game romance too seriously? Yeah, what else is new?

Anyways, the romance thing isn’t my point, my point is that I kept looking up everything in the game, and left none of the fun of exploring or discovery to myself. Nothing felt organic, I was just doing specific things I’d read online to do to get a certain result. Where’s the fun in that? The joy of actually playing the game?

So, I took a break from the game after I finished my first year (the years consist of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter). I just started a new save file a couple weeks ago, and I actually forget all the stuff I looked up before. I forget if Caroline likes amethyst, maybe I’ll try gifting it to her and see what happens? I forget if potatoes or cauliflower sell for more money, maybe I’ll plant both and figure it out myself? I forget if chickens are more profitable in the long run than cows, maybe I’ll just have both and give them all names and get five hearts with them anyways? And maybe I’ll enjoy the game even more this time around.

If you’re someone that enjoys playing Stardew in a way that gets you what you want as quickly as possible with as little time wasted as possible, that’s great, and I’m genuinely glad you enjoy the game. If you’re someone that only plants a handful of crops a season, has never been in the mines, and spends most of their day picking daffodils in the forest and giving them to people that don’t like them, that’s good too!

There really is no wrong way to play, and I’m tired of these videos and narratives that say I’m wasting my time or not making as much money as I could possibly be. I want to play how I want to play. And I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out just because I had the potential to make 50 gold instead of 30 gold, or because I married someone that has less benefits than someone else. I’ll figure it out, eventually. Maybe it’ll take a while. That’s okay.


Meanwhile, These Two Buttheads

Smudge and Charlie were playing around this morning, and at one point, Charlie was playing in a manner I thought was maybe a little too rough, so I told her to back off. She came up to me to apologize, at which point Smudge launched an unprovoked attack on her butt. So I said to Charlie, “You know what, forget what I said, go eat the cat.” Charlie then gleefully rejoined the fight against the surprise-butt-attacking feline. Life at the Scalzi Compound on early Saturday morning.

— JS

A Slow Day at the Scalzi Compound

Sugar speaks for the entire household today; it’s been a day of a whole lot of nothing. Part of that is due to at least one member of the clan being under the weather, which necessitated a lot of rest, and everyone else just going along with the vibe. Don’t worry, we’re all fine, it’s nothing that doing nothing won’t fix, probably. I think of it as taking an advance on the weekend, is all.

How was your Friday?

— JS

For Your Consideration: “My Year of Dicks”

John Scalzi

My ridiculously talented pal Pamela Ribon, who came up with me in the (now very) old school “Online Journals” community, and has made a name for herself writing novels, humor, television and some animated films you have heard of, has an animated short titled My Year of Dicks, which follows a teenage Pamie in her quest to lose her virginity in early 90s Texas.

It’s as funny and awkward as you might imagine, and it’s done pretty well for itself, including making it to the Oscar Consideration Shortlist for Best Animated Short (i.e., the penultimate step before the actual list of nominees, which will be announced later this month). It’s now available for viewing online (I’ve embedded it above), and I really suggest giving it a look, as it’s delightful, and I’m super proud of my pal, and everyone involved with it.

(Also, if you happen to be part of animation wing of the Academy: Hey, give it some consideration for your final ballot, please and thank you.)

— JS

What I Have Eligible for Award Consideration This Year, 2023 Edition

John Scalzi

Actually a fair amount!

Best Novel: The Kaiju Preservation Society, Tor Books, March 2022, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor;

Best Novella: The Dispatcher: Travel By Bullet, Audible Studios, September 2022, Steve Feldberg, editor;

Best Short Story: “Grizzly Bear Conflict Manager” (April 2022) and “End of the Year PR Missives From Scrooge & Marley” (December 2022), both published here at Whatever;

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): “Three Robots: Exit Strategies” (May 2022), written by me and directed by Patrick Osborne, Episode One, Volume Three of Love Death + Robots, Netflix.

I think that’s it? I guess technically The Summer EP is eligible for a Grammy in a category or two, but let’s just say I’m not waiting up nights for that.

I have mentioned this before, but I suspect that this year will be an interesting one for science fiction awards because the Worldcon is taking place in China this year, and both that, and the so far lack of ability by any one in the US or western Europe to register for the convention, is going to have an impact on the Hugos and who and what gets nominated. I would not be terribly surprised to see substantially fewer English language works as finalists this year. This is in itself not a bad thing if it happens — a Chinese worldcon probably should have Chinese work represented in the finalist lists — but I do think it’s a thing for Anglophone writers to keep in mind for this year.

In any event, if you’re nominating this year, this is the stuff of mine to keep in mind. Thank you!

— JS

Am Sick, Have Dog

I am feeling quite under the weather today, and though DayQuil is certainly helping, I think a nap may be in order for today. So have this photo of Charlie, who is looking very guilty, because she knows she’s not supposed to be on the furniture.

Charlie, laying on the ottoman and looking back at the camera, knowing she's been caught red-pawed.

And have a great day!


Closing Thoughts on 2022 + Thoughts on 2023

John Scalzi

2022 is not going to go down as a vintage year in most people’s minds, and reasonably so — to be frank, very few years since 2017 have been exactly what I would call stellar — but it had its moments, both globally and personally. I have already noted my professional year, and on a personal note I would add that it was generally good as well. There were sad moments, including the passings of my Uncle Gale and my cat Zeus, There were also friends and family and very good times. Heck, my high school even gave me an award. On balance, the personal ledger on 2022 is into the black. Barely. But even so.

For 2023, I have a fair number of plans and schemes, as I always do for any new year, and I’m well aware that these plans and schemes may or may not come to fruition, some because they just fall by the wayside, and some because they are replaced by other plans and schemes that I either make up or am offered over the course of the year. So I can say with some confidence that I am not worried if I do not accomplish everything I have planned for 2023. It will make it just like every other year. I will do enough.

If I have one overarching personal goal for 2023, however, it is this: managing my bandwidth. 2022 was a fucked-up year in that regard, because the otherwise physically mild case of COVID that I got did a real number of my ability to focus — whether because of actual physical damage to my brain, or helping to accentuate my own general lack of focus, or (I think likely) some combination of the two. Whatever the cause, it caused a months-wide crater in my schedule where I would have wanted work to be, not just because I need money, but because I do like being busy and making stuff. This was not great professionally, or for that matter for my own personal emotional and mental state.

Nor was 2022 the first year I’ve had issues like this! See 2020, where (as we all know) I ended up scrapping a whole novel because I just couldn’t focus. To be fair, 2020 was, as I’ve said before, a king tide of bad (I include January 2021 as part of that “year”), and a lot of folks were in the same boat as I was, attention-wise. But, look: When two years out of three are “wow, my inability to focus really got in the way of my professional work,” this is not an exactly subtle indication that it needs to be addressed.

So 2023 is the year I actually go out of my way to address it. Because I have lots of things I want to do, and the first real step in managing bandwidth is dealing with that. From there I can consider how much bandwidth I actually do have, and how best to use it. This does not mean, I should note, that 2023 will see a massive explosion of output from me; I don’t expect this to be like a switch turning off and on. What it does mean, I hope, is that I end up with a better way of making it so I can do more of the things I want to do, both professionally and personally. Which is a big enough goal for one year!

Onward, then, into 2023. I don’t expect it to be a perfect year. But then, I don’t need it to be perfect. I just need it to be useful.

— JS

But Wait, What About the Scalzi Pets?

Some of you were outraged I didn’t post my favorite photos of the pets yesterday along with the humans. That’s because I was going to give them their own post!

First, Zeus, who is gone but definitely not forgotten.

Next, this adorable two-fer of Sugar and Charlie. They are cuddlebuddies, when Charlie isn’t being a complete jerk and chasing the kitties about the house.

Here’s Spice, looking regal.

And Smudge, being, well, Smudge.

All the pets wish you the best for 2023. Yes, even Zeus, in the next of his nine lives.

— JS

Whatever Best Of 2022: Athena Edition

Athena ScalziHello, everyone, and welcome to this year’s “Best Of” for my contributions to this site! I didn’t start posting this year until May, so I have slightly less content to choose from in terms of favorite posts of the year, but here’s a few of them:

Unlike my dad, who did his alphabetically, I did mine chronologically. Also unlike my dad, who picked out twenty posts for this piece, I only have eight to present to you. While I could’ve picked a few more posts to get the list to at least ten or fifteen, I didn’t want to put anything on this list that I didn’t truly believe deserved the title of “Best Of”. So while there’s only eight, just know that I put my posts through a rigorous test to get them here, so these really are the best in my mind.

And I hope you enjoy/enjoyed them! I know I enjoyed writing them.

I’m very excited to write even more in the coming year! This year, I definitely slacked on putting content out, and I didn’t post nearly as often as I actually wanted to, but I’m hoping to provide even more good stuff in the near future, so stick around! And have a great day.


My Professional 2022

John Scalzi

I mean, it was pretty good, actually! Here’s some of the highlights:

The Kaiju Preservation Society: It got three starred reviews in the trades, was a New York Times bestseller in two separate media categories (once for print & ebook, then again for audio), has been optioned for television and has already been an award finalist, thanks to Dragon Con and Goodreads, and ended up on a bunch of end-of-the-year “Best Of” lists. Also, you know, people really seemed to enjoy it.

All of this makes me extremely happy, because as I’ve noted many times before, Kaiju was not the novel I had intended to write, but rather the one that came out at the end of an extremely frustrating creative process that ended up with me shelving another novel entirely. I would have been happy just to have it out in the world; instead it’s become “the little novel that could,” in a whole bunch of different ways. I dig that.

Three Robots: Exit Strategies: The lead-off short for the third volume of Love Death + Robots, it’s the first “sequel” episode of the show, which is a nice distinction and testament to how people really seemed to enjoy the characters. It was “leaked” a day early so people could watch it and get excited for the rest of new season, which I thought was pretty cool. I wrote the script for this; it was directed by Oscar-winning animator Patrick Osborne. It was well-received when it came out, and I think its stock has risen over the course of the year; certainly the final line of the episode hits much harder here at the end of 2022, after the misadventures of a certain billionaire. I’m happy to say LD+R has been renewed for the fourth volume/season, absolutely not only because of the Three Robots, but they did their part.

Travel By Bullet: The third installment of The Dispatcher series of audio novellas was a hit on the Audible Plus service, becoming one of those most downloaded audiobooks on the service as soon as it came out, being part of the service’s “Best Of” list for the year, and getting lovely reviews in the audiobook trade papers. The entire Dispatcher series is currently in development for television; we’ll see what happens next here, but so far, so good. Also, once again, the events of 2022 caught up extremely well with the events of the story, especially regarding shenanigans involving crypto. Crypto is scammy as hell, folks. Please don’t put your grandma’s life savings into it.

The Summer EP: Listened to and enjoyed by literally dozens of people! To be clear, I didn’t (and don’t) expect the music I put out to be popular with anyone; as I’ve said before, instrumental electronic compositions from a dude in his 50s is about as “niche” as one can get. Nevertheless I am proud of it, because it represents creative work, and also that I’m finally using all the musical equipment I bought for myself over the pandemic. Find it on your favorite streaming service.

Also, two short stories: “Grizzly Bear Conflict Manager” and “End of the Year PR Missives from Scrooge & Marley.” I like these a lot. Plus! A short story version of “Three Robots: Exit Strategies” is in the “Love Death + Robots, Volumes 2 & 3” anthology that came out this year. Plus! Plus! I wrote an intro for the “Art of Love Death + Robots” book that also came out this year.

So: A novel, a novella, a television episode, an EP and three stories (and an intro) out in the world in 2022. You know what? I did okay, output-wise, this year. The world certainly did not lack for my material.

And what of 2023? Well, we’ll see where the year takes us, but this much I know and is confirmed: The print/ebook edition of Travel By Bullet (currently set for first or second quarter of 2023), a short story at some point (i.e., I don’t know when the publisher is going to put it out, but it will almost certainly be in 2023), and, of course, my novel Starter Villain in September. So, just on that, it’ll be a perfectly fine year for Scalzi output as well.

Also it will come as no surprise I will be spending 2023 writing things, some of which might show up in 2023, but more likely will show up in 2024, and there’s at least one thing I working on now that’s likely not to be out until 2025 at the earliest. Things take time! And are hopefully worth the gestation period when they come out.

Anyway: Thanks, 2022! You were good to me, professionally speaking. I appreciate you.

— JS

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