Here’s Sugar curling up with a good book, in this case the ARC of Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my upcoming collection of essays about writing and the writing life, which comes out in December from Subterranean Press. And you can win it! Here’s how:
Tell me in the comments which Beatles song I am thinking of right now.
The person who correctly guesses which Beatles song I am thinking of wins. In the case where more than one person correctly guesses, I will number the correct guesses in order of appearance and then use a random number generator to select the winner among them.
“Beatles song” in this case means a song recorded by the Beatles, and includes both original songs by the band, and the cover songs they recorded. Solo work does not count. Here’s a list of songs recorded by the Beatles, if you need it. The song I’m thinking of is on it.
Guess only one song. Posts with more than one guess will have only the first song considered. Posts not related to guessing a song will be deleted. Also, only one post per person — additional posts will be deleted.
This contest is open to everyone everywhere in the world, and runs until the comments here automatically shut off (which will be around 3:50pm Eastern time, Sunday, July 23rd). When you post a comment, leave a legit email address in the “email” field so I can contact you. I’ll also announce the winner here on Monday, July 24. I’ll mail the ARC to you, signed (and personalized, if so requested).
Kitten not included.
Also remember you can pre-order the hardcover edition of Obit from Subterranean Press. This is a signed, limited edition — there are only 1,000 being made — and they’ve already had a healthy number of pre-orders. So don’t wait if you want one.
Now: Guess which Beatles song I am thinking of! And good luck!
So, on July 21, 1997, which was a Monday, I posted the following on the alt.society.generation-x newsgroup:
Thought y’all might like to know. I’m happy, pleased, tired.
96,098 words, cranked out in a little under three months, working
mostly on weekends, grinding out 5,000 words at a sitting.
Learned two things:
a) I *can* carry a story over such a long stretch;
b) like most things on the planet, thinking about doing it is a lot
worse than simply sitting down and doing it. The writing wasn’t hard
to do, you just need to plant ass in seat and go from there.
I did find it helped not to make my first novel a gut-wrenching
personal story, if you know what I mean. Instead I just tried to write
the sort of science fiction story I would like to read. It was fun.
Now I go in to tinker and fine tune. Will soon have it ready for beta
testing. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
That novel? Agent to the Stars. Which means that today is the 20th anniversary of me being a novelist. Being a published novelist would have to wait — I date that to January 1, 2005, the official publication date of Old Man’s War — but in terms of having written a full, complete (and as it eventually turned out, publishable) novel: Today’s the day.
I’ve recounted the story of Agent before but it’s fun to tell, because I think it’s a nice antidote to the “I just had to share the story I’d been dreaming of my whole life” angle first novels often take. The gist of the story was that my 10-year high school reunion was on the horizon, and having been “the writer dude” in my class, I knew I would be asked if I had ever gotten around to writing a novel, and I wanted to be able to say “yes.” Also, I was then in my late 20s and it was time to find out whether I could actually write one or not.
Having decided I was going to write one, I decided to make it easy for myself, mostly by not trying to do all things at once. The goal was simply: Write a novel-length story. The story itself was going to be pretty simple and not personally consequential; it wasn’t going to be a thinly-disguised roman a clef, or something with a serious and/or personal theme. It would involve Hollywood in some way, because I had spent years as a film critic and knew that world well enough to write about it. And as for genre, I was most familiar with mystery/crime fiction and science fiction/fantasy, so I flipped a coin to decide which to do. It come up heads, so science fiction it was, and the story I had for that was: Aliens come and decide to get Hollywood representation.
(I don’t remember the story I was thinking for the mystery version. I’m sure death was involved. And for those about to say “well, you didn’t have to stick with science fiction for your second book,” that’s technically correct, but once I’d written one science fiction novel, I knew I could write science fiction. It was easier to stick with what I knew. And anyway I write murder mysteries now — Lock In and the upcoming Head On. They also happen to be science fiction.)
I remember the writing of Agent being pretty easy, in no small part, I’m sure, because of everything noted above — it wasn’t meant to be weighty or serious or even good, merely novel-length. When I finished it, I do remember thinking something along the lines of “Huh. That wasn’t so bad. Maybe I should have done this earlier.” In the fullness of time, I’ve realized that I probably couldn’t have done it any earlier, I wasn’t focused enough and it helped me to have some sort of external motivation, in this case, my high school reunion.
Once finished, I asked two friends and co-workers at America Online to read the book: Regan Avery and Stephen Bennett, both of whom I knew loved science fiction, and both of whom I knew I could trust to tell me if what I’d written was crap. They both gave it a thumbs up. Then I showed it to Krissy, my wife, who was apprehensive about reading it, since if she hated it she would have to tell me, and would still have to be married to me afterward. When she finished it, the first thing she said to me about it was “Thank Christ it’s good.” Domestic felicity lived for another day.
And then, having written it… I did nothing with it for two years. Because, again, it wasn’t written for any other reason than to see if I could write a novel. It was practice. People other than Regan and Stephen and Krissy finally saw it in 1999 when I decided that the then brand-new Scalzi.com site could use some content, so I put it up here as a “shareware” novel, meaning that if people liked it they could send me a dollar for it through the mail. And people did! Which was nice.
It was finally physically published in 2005, when Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press published a limited hardcover edition. I was jazzed about that, since I wanted a version of the book I could put on my shelf. The cover was done by Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik, who among other things knew of the book because I was one of Penny Arcade’s very first advertisers way back in the day, advertising the Web version of the book (those guys have done okay since then). Then came the Tor paperback edition, and the various foreign editions, and the audiobook, and here we are today.
When I wrote the novel, of course, I had no idea that writing it was the first step toward where I am now. I was working at America Online — and enjoying it! It was a cool place to be in the 90s! — and to the extent I thought I would be writing novels at all, I thought that they would be sideline to my overall writing career, rather than (as it turned out) the main thrust of it. This should be your first indication that science fiction writers in fact cannot predict the future with any accuracy.
I’m very fond of Agent, and think it reads pretty well. I’m also aware that it’s first effort, and also because it was written to be in present time in the 90s, just about out of time in terms of feeling at all contemporary (there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remaining, to pick just one obvious example in the book). At this point I suggest people consider it as part of an alternate history which branched off from our timeline in 1998 or thereabouts. Occasionally it gets talked about for being picked for TV/film. If that ever happens, expect some extensive plot revisions. Otherwise, it is what it is.
One thing I do like about Agent is that I still have people tell me that it’s their favorite of mine. I like that because I think it’s nice to know that even this very early effort, done simply for the purpose of finding out if I could write a novel, does what I think a novel should: Entertains people and makes them glad they spent their time with it.
I’m also happy it’s the novel that told me I could do this thing, this novel-writing thing, and that I listened to it. The last couple of decades have turned out pretty well for me. I’m excited to see where things go from here.
I was perusing the Cake Wrecks Facebook page the other day (where every follower gets a free invisible puppy!!) when I came across a rather unusual request:
Ahh, so you want to pop open the hood and take a gander inside the wrecks, is that it, Jennifer?
Well, I'm glad you asked.
Hey, Jennifer, you ever wonder how cupcake cakes (ptooie!) keep their icing from falling through all those big gaps?
NOW YOU KNOW.
We just saw last week how a gender reveal cake failed to actually reveal anything - other than plain yellow cake - but here's the opposite problem:
The cake was blue inside with pink icing.
Now I'm going to show you my absolute favorite cake cake wreck of all time, Jennifer, and which I've been hanging onto for just this moment.
First, though, let me explain what (we think) happened:
A bakery was unable to sell a Halloween cake in time, but they didn't want to throw it away or reduce the price. So instead, they simply flipped the entire cake over, icing side down, and re-decorated the other side to make it into a generic birthday design.
CW reader Shannon had no idea of the skullduggery at work until she cut the cake, and found this:
That's a whoooole lotta icing, right there.
(And think how fresh!!)
And finally, I know I posted the video of this over on FB a week or two back, but here's a quick .gif reminder of the importance of proper wedding cake support:
(Watch the original video here to see them both continue to laugh hysterically, which is just adorable. Cutest couple ever!)
Welp, I hope that satisfies some of your blood lust for caketastrophe, Jennifer!
And hey, for the rest of you, the request line... IS OPEN.
Thanks to Cherie O., Leann S., Jaunna, Fribby, Sarah, & Shannon G. for reminding me of those times bakeries accidentally left scissors, a paring knife, and other various cutlery in their cakes - because that was a HOOT. (And also because "TRAUMATIC BIEBER" *still* makes me snort-laugh.)
Alice Grove is finished. I'm going to take some time to just do QC for a while and then start another side project sometime in the fall. Patreon subscribers will get sneak peeks, advance previews, and other stuff as it develops. Thank you for reading my comics.
Ah, my dear friends, I have a terrible dilemma before me. Both Olga and Natalia wish to be my wife; each has written several times to me of their passion. They are equally attractive; both are looking for love, but neither appears to be able to do laundry.
Well. That's really not a dilemma at all, is it?
So, today was an odd day. One of those days where Things Got Done, but they were Entirely the Wrong Things. On the other hand, a day that includes a milkshake and an unexpected ride in the country can't be too far awry.
At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
I did make it to gym and waked for miles. My "gym book" this go is a Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal, and a buncha other awards, soon, I'm told to be Major Motion Picture. Again.
AWIT was published when I was 10 years old. Despite this, I didn't read it (the first time) until I was an adult. It was sitting on a table in EJ Korvette's in...damned if I remember -- Towson, probably. Anyhow, remainder table, one among many of its own kind, and many others, not necessary of its kind. I was waiting for my then-boyfriend to finish up doing something or another, and started to read AWIT, as the most interesting looking book on the table, and by the time he re-appeared, I'd tessered once already and wasn't about to miss the rest of the story. It was a buck I never regretted spending.
I read AWIT a couple times since then, but not for 20 years or so -- found the sequels, but none of them held my interest beyond the first two pages. . . So, yanno, life goes on; so many books, so little time; and all like that.
But AWIT is going to be coming out as a movie next year; this time, so the hype goes, done right, which means that lots of people who read it as kids, and who imprinted on it, are re-reading. And some are being disappointed, and blogging about their disappointment (one more time from the choir: What an age we live in). Now, by the time I'd read AWIT, I'd read. . .a buncha books, many of them science fiction/fantasy (Back when I started reading sf/f, you could easily read the monthly titles, and still have room left over for others kinds of books. It just wasn't possible, if you were any shakes of a reader at all, to read only science fiction.). I thought AWIT was a good enough book. Certainly, the Mrs. Whatsit, Who, and Which have pleasantly improved my inner life. Meg irritated me -- but Meg was supposed to irritate me. Partly, after all, this was a story about Meg coming to terms with Meg, and if she could stand it, so could I.
I did have some reservations about the sudden appearance and utter acceptance of Calvin, especially the part where he liked Meg straight off. Otherwise, he seemed like good enough kid.
Charles Wallace was being set up either as John the Baptist, or the new Christ figure, but I'd already read Perelandra, and Out of the Silent Planet and whassis -- That Hideous Strength. Plus, I'd been raised Roman Catholic. All of which meant I was pretty good at ignoring the God-stuff and following the story along.
So, anyhow. I read it back then; liked it well enough. Read it a couple times more and liked it on rereads.
This time, I'm still liking it. Meg perhaps annoys me less, but, then I know how the story goes, more or less. I find that I misplaced a couple things on the timeline, but no big surprises so far. . .The Happy Medium, surprisingly or not, irritates me more than Meg does this time. Hmm.
One of the reviewers I read was saddened by the fact that AWIT didn't sing for them anymore, and blamed -- the 60s (given a 1962 pub date, and its long history of rejection, AWIT was probably written in the late 50s). The 60s, said the reviewer are just too unbelievable to a person of modern sensibility, and the story therefore suffers from its setting.
I will go on record here as saying that the 60s setting doesn't detract from the story at all, for this reviewer. OTOH, I lived through the 60s.
After gym, I ran the rest of the errands on my list -- sadly, neither CVS nor Agway had any of the bug repellents I had pinned my hopes upon, so I wound up ordering from the internet, rather than shopping locally.
Agway did provide me with a ginormous lacy yellow day lily, a hug pot of bee balm and a
Jimmy hosta with white bells (the hosta on the other end of the property have blue/purple bells). I have probably under-bought, but the wallet gets a vote, and this will at least start a Cat Garden Renaissance.
For those keeping score at home, I remain Utterly Delighted with my new fountain pen, which has scarcely been out of my hand since I bought it. So delighted am I, that I have purchased another Pilot Metropolitan, this is the formal White Tiger color scheme, and blue ink, so I will have a fine signing pen at Confluence.
And that? Really is all the news that's fit to print.
Everybody stay cool, or warm, as appropriate.
When biographer and historian Nat Segaloff sat down to interview science fiction Grand Master Harlan Ellison for his new book A Lit Fuse, he knew that he was in for a challenge. What surprised him about the process was how much it wasn’t just about Ellison, but also about him.
How do you write something new about someone everybody thinks they already know? A writer who is famous for putting so much of his life into his stories that his fans feel that even his most bizarre work is autobiographical? That was the unspoken challenge in late 2013 when I agreed to write Harlan Ellison’s biography, an adventure that is just now seeing daylight with the publican of A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison.
I wrote the book because Harlan wouldn’t. He came close in 2008 when he announced he would write Working Without a Net for “a major publisher,” but he never did. Maybe he figured he’d said enough in his 1700 short stories, essays, and articles he’s published over the last 60 years. It wasn’t as if he was afraid of the truth; he always said he never lies about himself because that way nobody can hold anything against him. That was my challenge.
When we shook hands and I became his biographer, I also became the only person he ever gave permission to quote from his work and take a tour of his life. What I really wanted to do, though, was to explore his mind. What I didn’t expect was that, as I examined his creative process, I would also bare my own.
When you sit down with someone for a conversation, it’s fun; when you sit down with someone for an interview, it’s serious. Harlan has been interviewed countless times and he has always been in control. This time, I was. I had to get him to say stuff that was new, and I had to go beyond where others had stopped.
A Harlan Ellison interview is a performance. He will be quotable, precise, vague, and outrageous. He takes no prisoners. He will run and fetch a comic book, figurine, photograph, or book to illustrate a point, all of which breaks the mood. My job was to get him to sit still and not be “Harlan Ellison” but simply Harlan.
Harlan is one of the few speculative fiction writers (along with Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and a handful of others) who became public figures. Part of this stemmed from the quality of his work but much of it was created by his being, as I kept finding in the clippings, ““fractious,” “famously litigious,” and “argumentative.” Indeed, most of the stories I found during my research could be divided into two categories: “What a wild man Harlan is” and “I alone escaped to tell thee.”
Balderdash. What I discovered was a man who takes his craft seriously and fiercely defends others who labor in the field of words. An attack on them was an attack on him, and an attack on him was not to be deflected but returned in kind. “I don’t mind if you think I’m stupid,” he told one antagonist, “it’s just that I resent it when you talk to me as if I’m stupid.”
Even though I had final cut, I ran whole sections past him to get his reaction. He never flinched. In fact, he challenged me to go deeper. It was almost as if – and don’t take this the wrong way – I was Clarice Starling and he was Hannibal Lecter — the more I asked of Harlan, the more I had to give of myself. Both of us put our blood in the book even though I am the author.
Aw, look at the sweet cake for Sarah-Maude's second birthday:
Although, those balloons look a little odd, don't they? Let's take a closer look...
[eyes bulging] Great Scott! Hide the children!!
And I KNOW you see what I see, people, so don't even try to accuse me of having my mind in the gutter. It's the Fireman cake all over again.
Eric N., thank goodness this was for a safely oblivious 2-year-old. Still, given how obvious those balloons are, I'm pretty sure I'd steer clear of this bakery in the future. Unless it was for a bachelorette party, of course.
The bill for Athena’s fall semester at Miami University arrived a couple of days ago, and we paid it, and I have some various thoughts about that I want to share.
When I went to college, 30 years ago now, I couldn’t pay for it. I did what the majority of people did then and do now — I cobbled together various sorts of funding from multiple sources. A scholarship here, a Pell grant there, a work study job and loans — and still it wasn’t quite enough when one of my funding sources fumbled the ball pretty badly and I had to ask my grandfather for help (which to be clear, he was happy to provide, with the only provision being that I would write him a letter a month, a request very much in my wheelhouse). I graduated with a fair amount of student debt, rather more than the average amount back in 1991, which was around $8,200. I think I was around 30 when we paid it off.
I don’t regret my college debt — I’m of the opinion that my education was worth what I paid for it and then some — but at the time I didn’t really like having the anxiety of wondering how it was all going to be paid for, and my education being contingent on outside financial forces, over which I had no control. I was lucky I was able to find ways to cover it all. I was also lucky that I got a good job right out of college (in 1991, during a recession), and was always financially solvent afterward. That college debt never became a drag or a worry, as it easily could have been, and which it did become for a number of my friends.
I don’t think scrambling for money or paying down college debt added anything beneficial to my life, however. As much as certain people might make a fetish of having to struggle in one way or another for one’s education, and that struggle having a value in itself, I’m not especially convinced that the current American manner of “struggle” — pricing college education at excessive rates and then requiring students and family to take on significant amounts of debt, effectively transferring decades of capital from the poor, working and middle classes to banks and their (generally wealthy) shareholders — is really such a great way to do that, especially since wages in general have stagnated over the last 40 years, the same period of time in which college tuition costs have skyrocketed, consistently above the rate of inflation. Worrying about college funding and paying off college debt isn’t character-building in any real sense. It’s opportunity cost, time wasted that might be productively spent doing something else educationally or financially beneficial.
So: I don’t regret my college debt, but I don’t think it was something that added value, either, to my education or my life. All things being equal, I suspect I would have been better off not having to worry whether I had enough funding for college any particular quarter, or being able to take the monthly post-collegiate debt payment and use it for something else, including investment. Not just me, of course; I don’t think anyone, students or parents (or colleges, for that matter), benefits from the current patchwork method of college funding, or the decade-long (or longer) hangover of college debt service.
We always assumed Athena would go to college; very early on we began saving and investing with the specific goal of funding her education. Along the way we caught the break of my writing career taking off, which meant the account intended for her education plumped out substantially. By the time it was the moment for Athena to decide where to go to college, we were in the fortunate position of being able to pay for it — all of it — wherever it was she decided to go. So, to go back to the initial paragraph, when that first Miami University bill came up, we were able to cut that check and send it off. No muss, no fuss. We’ll be able to do the same for the other college bills over the next four years.
Which is great for us! And not bad for Athena, who will end her college experience debt-free in a world where the average US student with college debt in 2016 was in the hole for $37,000, with that number only likely to go up from here. But let’s also look at everything that had to happen in order for us to get to that point: We saved early, which was smart of us, but we also had the wherewithal to save, which meant we got lucky that Krissy and I both had work, that in her case her gig included health insurance for all of us and that in my case I was in constant demand as a freelance writer, which, I assure you, is not always the case. We got lucky that the books took off as they did; the odds on that were not great. We were lucky that no one of us got seriously or chronically ill, or that other family crises depleted savings. Athena is an only child; that’s not necessarily lucky, but it definitely was a factor when it came to paying for college. We only have to do this once.
All of which is to say that Athena will be getting out of college debt-free partly because we planned early but mostly because of factors that we had only some control over, and over which she had almost none. She didn’t choose her parents or her circumstances; she got what she got. And in this case, she got lucky.
That’s fine for her. But it’s not a very useful strategy for paying for college. “Get lucky picking your parents” should not be the determining factor for whether you leave college debt-free, leave with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, or can’t afford to go to college at all. Every single one of those circumstances can have a substantial effect on how the rest of one’s economic life will go — and how the economic life of how one’s children will go. There’s a reason why in the United States, home of the “American Dream,” it’s actually pretty difficult to move up the social ladder. Yes, I did it, but I also don’t pretend I didn’t get lucky — a lot — or that my path is easily repeatable. Take it from someone who is living the American Dream: It stays only a dream for most of those dreaming of it.
I’m proud that we can pay for our daughter’s college education. I’m also well aware how many things had to break our way to be at this point, which just as easily could have gone another way. It would be better to live in a world where luck, one way or another, is not a salient, determinative factor for whether one can afford college, or whether one can graduate from college without debt. In fact, that world does exist; just not here in the US. College tuition in most developed countries is substantially less than it is here, including being basically free in places like Germany and France. We could do that here, for state schools at least, if we decided we wanted to.
But we don’t. I know we have our reasons. I just don’t think those reasons are very good.
Also, the number of people in the comments who said they'd totally read it...
I swear, the ill-fated "Pillsbury Nazgul" British cover for Paladin of Souls ticks almost all of the boxes.
Ta, L. Easily amused this morning.
posted by Lois McMaster Bujold on July, 19
Monograms can add that perfect crowning touch of elegance to your wedding cake.
Or, they can look like this:
Proof that sometimes it's better to quit before letting your five-year-old write on the cake.
Still, it could be worse.
The monogram could match the rest of the cake:
Hey, it's not easy to make tinfoil look this good.
If you do find a mistake in your cake's monogram, don't panic. There are plenty of seamless ways for your baker to fix the error.
This isn't one of them.
Now, I'm all for sharing new words, broadening folks' horizons, furthering education, etc, but if you have to explain to the baker of your wedding cake what a monogram is - a "T, J, and H" put together, for example - then maybe, just maybe, a few alarm bells should go off.
Or I suppose you could just take your chances.
After all, what could go wrong?
At least the quotes add a little something "extra."
Thanks to today's wedding wreckporters Anony M., Hilary R., Cyndi P., & Cyndee M., who think all bakers should be required to ask, "Can I quote you on that?"
The first time I came out as bisexual to a partner, it was a mess. What was a passably tolerable relationship became a wasteland of conspiratorial winks, elbow nudges, and endless attempts to convince me to have a threesome with someone, anyone, just pick an attractive person of the same gender.
Thing is, I don’t blame him.
Bisexual representation in media is a fraught topic. More often than not, bisexual people are characterized as wild, promiscuous individuals with thrilling sex lives, perpetually ready to jump into bed with whomever they find attractive. (Not necessarily untrue or even wrong, but that’s a conversation for another space.) Consequently, we end up with people like my ex, who begin quivering with lascivious curiosity the moment they so much as hear the hum of that first syllable.
But we are getting better at it. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has one of my favorite bisexual characters of all times: Darryl Whitefeather, a middle-aged divorcee who comes out mid-season and proceeds to have a stunningly healthy relationship with his new boyfriend. (That show has its problems, but I will forever love the writers for making sure the queer couple is the happy one.) And genre writing is even further ahead in that department. Take Kai Ashante Wilson’s work, for example, which remarks on polyamorous queer relationships without even the barest breath of hesitation. After all, in a world of dragons and technical-minded gods, what is there to fear about a man who loves a man and also a woman?
With Bearly a Lady, I’m hoping to build on that canon. Zelda McCartney is a complicated character, for all that she might sometimes appear like an airhead. She’s been out for a long time; this isn’t a self-discovery story. Instead, the book, which goes into some dark places between the lines, interrogates the idea of expectations, labels, and toxic relationships.
And that is because she is a werebear in a human world, a woman endlessly bombarded by external forces, all looking to chip at her self-esteem for the sake of a quick buck or someone else’s emotional fulfillment. It’s no surprise that Zelda has only half an idea as to which box she belongs. Honestly, a lot of people don’t figure that out. Especially those raised outside of liberal communities.
I’d know. For the longest time, that was me.
(Except for the werebear part.)
So, that’s one of the Big Ideas behind Bearly a Lady. I wanted my main character to be full of internal conflict, certain in her identity but uncertain of the words that one might use to define oneself. A mess of paradoxes and imperfections glued together by bad sitcoms and ice-cream. I’m hoping that, one day, Bearly a Lady might be part of some bisexual teenager’s library, another piece in the puzzle as they figure out who they are. Maybe, Zelda will be an example of who they hope not to be. Maybe, they’ll see a bit of themselves in her. Who knows? That’s not up to me.
Bearly a Lady might be a queer paranormal rom-com with werebears, vampires, and billionaire fairies galore, but it’s also a look into the life of a queer woman who doesn’t always get it straight.