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scalzifeed July 22 2014, 17:32

Paul & Storm: Ball Pit is Out!



A friendly reminder to you all that my pals Paul & Storm have a new album out called Ball Pit, and it’s terrific and funny, and I’m not just saying that because it features two songs I commissioned from them (“Fuzzy Man” and “(The Shadow War of the Night) Dragons of the Night”), nor am I saying that just because they paid me a shiny penny to say it, although they did, and to be honest, the penny is only moderately shiny. Well, you should buy the album anyway. It’s available at BandcampiTunes,  Amazon, and Google Play as downloads, with physical CDs coming soon.

If you get it and you like it, Paul and Storm would be obliged if you posted a review of it and/or tell other people about it. Because that’s how people find out about these things.

And yes, they paid me another shiny penny to tell you that. And this penny isn’t shiny either. Damn it.

(Seriously, though: A fine album which I like a whole lot. Get it!)

scalzifeed July 22 2014, 17:02

Subscription Services and My Writing



People have asked me if I have any particular thoughts on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription plan, and whether my own work will be on it (and one presumes, on other similar subscription services, like Oyster and Scribd). So, some thoughts:

While one should never say never, I don’t anticipate any of my novels being on subscription services in the immediate future, no. One, Macmillan, who has published all my novels to date, hasn’t started working with any of the subscription services. Speaking with no direct knowledge whatsoever of their corporate thinking on the matter, it seems unlikely to me that they will, unless there’s a clear economic benefit to them in doing so. Two, even if Macmillan decides to opt in, contractually they’ll probably have to ask my permission first — at which point I have to decide whether there is a clear economic benefit in doing so.

And is there a clear economic benefit to me putting my novels on a subscription service right now? At the very least, some early analysis suggests there would be a better economic benefit for me than for many self-published authors, thanks to the fact I am “traditionally published” — an irony for those who still labor under the impression that publishing is an “us vs. them” sort of business — but I have to say I would want to see some actual, useful data on how writers actually get paid from subscription services before I’d want to jump in with the novels.

Part of that hesitation is based on the experience of musicians with their own streaming services, such as Spotify or Rhapsody — many musicians earn substantially less from streaming than from sales, and unlike musicians, most writers can’t really try to make money from touring (some could. Not many). Now, to be clear, early reports say that the subscription services credit a full sale after someone reads 10% or so of a work (although how much a “full sale” counts for seems to be contingent on several factors, including whether one is “traditionally published” or not — again, see the link above).

That’s not bad. But I’m less than entirely convinced that there won’t be near-immediate pressure to push that compensation downward; say, by trying to cut into the money credited for a “full sale,” or by pushing back the percentage of a book read before a “full sale” to 25% or 33%, or by any other number of ways which I can’t now think of off the top of my head but which the subscription model will in some way enable. For me the question is not if such a push will happen, because it will. The question is when.

So the question becomes: Why would I want to do that?

(Note: This question is asked not in the “why would I want to do something that stupid?” sense but in the “so, what’s in it for me?” sense. As is the next question –)

Why would I, as a writer and a businessperson, want to enable a model that introduces another layer of opportunity for others to drive down the amount I can make from my work? The uninformed may fulminate about how publishers are parasitic middlemen, but in point of fact my publisher does a lot of work for me: Editing, copy-editing, art and design, marketing and publicity and distribution. I argue with my publisher on what my cut of the takings should be (these are called negotiations) but there is an exchange of services. So what is the exchange of service a subscription model would offer me? Does it offer enough to compensate for another potential slice to be taken out of my income? Does it offer enough to replace or at least augment the distrubtion model which already exists, and from which I benefit?

If it does — and it might! — then that’s great. Let’s get to it. If it doesn’t, however, then we have a problem.

(This line of inquiry does not consider at all whether a subscription service might be good for readers. It may or may not; I suspect the answer will entirely depend on how many books one actually reads a month. Be aware that buffets make money because they charge you more for the food you eat than you the amount of food you can on average consume, and that this is a buffet, with books instead of crab rangoon. Also be aware, in the case of Amazon in particular, that the long term plan is to make it so you never ever have to go anywhere else to buy anything, ever, and that running Kindle Unlimited at a loss for a while would be fine if it serves that long-term goal. Neither of these things are particularly good or evil in themselves — once again Amazon (and other subscription services) is acting in its own self-interest, as businesses do.

However, none of that conversation is of interest to me when I have my “working writer” hat on. My immediate focus is my own interest — whether a subscription service is good for me, and my business, and my ability to make a living. And you may see this as immaterial or even selfish, especially if you like the idea of drinking from the book subscription firehose. But I gotta tell you, if the amount I can make writing fiction falls through the floor, so will the amount of fiction that I write, as my time will have to be spent doing things that pay my mortgage. We do not live in a glorious socialist paradise here in the US; I have to make money. So do other writers.)

The flip side of this is that every new distribution model offers opportunities tuned to that particular model of distribution — the question is whether one is smart enough to figure out what the strengths of any distribution model are, and then saavy (and lucky) enough to capitalize on them. For example, I think a subscription model might be a very fine way to make money from shorter works: short stories, novellas, less-than-book length short fiction and so on. That’s something I could definitely see pursuing aggressively, while (if necessary) keeping longer-length work in distribution channels that are more profitable for it.

The key is not seeing any distribution model as a threat, even as you’re looking at it critically, but in finding the way it can work for you, and how you can take advantage of it. Right now, I’m in the “still looking at how it can work for me” phase of things. We’ll see how it goes from here.

scalzifeed July 22 2014, 01:06

The Neighbors’ Mailboxes Vs. the Scalzi Riding Mower



Spoiler: The neighbors’ mailboxes lost.

We have of course informed the neighbors of the event, and have told them that we will gladly pay for the repair/replacement of the boxes. Because, duh. This is our fault. And that’s what you do when something is your fault.

scalzifeed July 22 2014, 01:06

This Thursday (and Elsewhen) in San Diego



Yes, I’ll be in San Diego this week, and all my events are on Thursday, the 24th. Here’s where you will find me:

1:30pm: Reading at the Grand Horton Theater, 444 4th Avenue (between Island and J streets). I’ll read a bit from Lock In, or I might decide to do something else. You never know! Be on edge!

9:00pm: I’ll be making an appearance at the LA Times Hero Complex party.

Thursday evening I may also be making appearances at w00tstock and/or the Geek and Sundry party, depending on several factors. Twitter will be the best place to find out where I will be that evening (and if I know earlier than that evening, I’ll note it here).

I’ll also be in town Friday and Saturday. Much of that will be for private business — I’ll be having meetings, y’all — but I might decide to park myself somewhere and do “office hours” at some point. Again, Twitter will be the place to learn about that. If I do office hours I will be happy to chat and/or sign books.

I will not be at the convention center or on the SDCC floor. Here are the reasons for that.

If you can’t/don’t see me this week in San Diego, I will be back on September 8, 7pm, at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore as part of my Lock In tour. Details on my official tour schedule.

See you in San Diego!

scalzifeed July 21 2014, 15:29

My 80s Dance Set List from Detcon 1



I’ve been getting requests for the set list of songs that went into the 80s dance I DJ’ed at Detcon 1. I had a source list — songs that I selected as the ones ready to queue up — of 346 songs, with everyone from Africa Bamabaata to Cher to Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy to Ozzy Osbourne on it. Of those, I ended up playing 45 songs, or about 13% of the available playlist. Those songs (as best as I can remember them — I was busy DJing at the time) are listed below, alphabetically by song as opposed to by order of play.

For those wondering how I chose which songs I was going to play, the answer is outside of the first two songs (“Let’s Go Crazy” and “Dancing With Myself”) two songs at midnight (“Time Warp” and “Rock Lobster”) and the final song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”)*, I just read what the crowd seemed to be into, and also took requests. The overriding DJ philosophy was to give that particular crowd at that particular dance as much fun as possible over the course of three hours.

And now, without further ado:

The Detcon 1 80s Dance Set List!

Addicted to Love — Robert Palmer

Beat It — Michael Jackson

Bizarre Love Triangle — New Order

Blister in the Sun — Violent Femmes

Call Me — Blondie

Cars — Gary Numan

Dancing With Myself — Billy Idol

Dead Man’s Party — Oingo Boingo

Don’t You (Forget About Me) — Simple Minds

Genius of Love — Tom Tom Club

The Glamorous Life — Shelia E

Head Like a Hole — Nine Inch Nails

Hungry Like the Wolf — Duran Duran

I Feel For You — Chaka Khan

I’m So Excited — Pointer Sisters

I Want Candy — Bow Wow Wow

Jungle Love — The Time

Just Like Heaven — The Cure

Kiss — Prince

Let’s Dance — David Bowie

Let’s Go Crazy — Prince

A Little Respect — Erasure

Lucky Star — Madonna

Master and Servant — Depeche Mode

Mirror in the Bathroom — English Beat

Miss You Much — Janet Jackson

My Sharona — The Knack

Pour Some Sugar On Me — Def Leppard

Relax — Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Rock This Town — Stray Cats

Safety Dance — Men Without Hats

Sexual Healing — Marvin Gaye

Situation — Yaz(oo)

Sledgehammer — Peter Gabriel

Smooth Criminal — Michael Jackson

Super Freak — Rick James

Tainted Love — Soft Cell

Take On Me — a-ha

True — Spandau Ballet

Under Pressure — Queen with David Bowie

Walk Like an Egyptian — The Bangles

We Got the Beat — Go-Gos

* There were three songs not from the 80s that were played: “Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show (because it’s a Michigan SF/F convention tradition to play that song at midnight); “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s (because I thought it the best song to follow “Time Warp”); and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (because it was the last song of the dance, and I think the song pretty much closed the door on the 80s era of music).

Also, because I haven’t said it before: Thanks to the Detcon 1 folks, and particularly Detcon 1 head Tammy Coxen, for asking me to DJ the dance. I had a ton of fun doing it, and I think the folks at the dance had a lot of fun as well. It was a personal highlight of a convention that was already pretty damn terrific.

peterdavidblog July 21 2014, 11:15

But I Digress flashback: 1971



digresssmlOriginally published February 23, 2001, in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1423–Special “1971″ theme issue

I think comic books just cost me a date with Debbie Moss, and that might be the last straw.

I can’t believe I’m saying that. I mean, y’know, when I first started reading comics when I was five years old, I felt like I’d found a whole bunch of friends I didn’t even know I was missing. And here I am, ten years later, and suddenly I feel like, y’know, these same fans are dragging me down.

Regular readers of this column know that this has been coming on for a while now. I mean, for one thing, y’know, I’ve been screaming about the skyrocketing prices for ages now. When I first started reading comics, they were a nice, tidy, twelve cents. One dime, two nickels. I could go into a comic book store with a buck and buy eight comics. Y’know, pretty much keep up with everything cool that was coming out.

I can’t tell you how bad it hit me the day I walked in and they’d gone up to fifteen cents. I couldn’t believe it. Is nothing sacred? Do they think teenagers are made of money? And I feel like we’ve barely recovered from that, and all of a sudden… twenty cents? Twenty cents? For a comic book? A twenty two page comic book? And now I’m even hearing rumors that they’re talking about it going up to twenty five cents!!! Twenty five cents!!!

When I was a kid, twenty five cents for a comic was a major deal, because that meant you were getting an eighty page giant. The eighty page giants were the coolest things, because you got all these great early stories, and it was just twenty-five cents. Twenty to twenty-five cents for a regular comic now? I don’t think so, guys. Because I keep feeling like, y’know, I just put up with it and say, “Okay,” and dig deeper and find the money, you know what’s going to happen? Thirty years down the line, that dollar which used to buy eight comic books… it’ll only get you two, three comics tops! Do you really want to go into a comic book store, plunk down your hard-earned dollar, and get just two comics for it? I sure don’t!

That’s strike one: The crazy prices we’re dealing with. Now we’re getting to strike two: Subject matter.

I read comics to be entertained. I read them to read about, y’know, superheroes, going around and beating up on bad guys and fighting for truth, justice and the American way. And I have to tell you, I’m really upset—really upset—with what’s going down in comics lately.

The leader of the pack is Green Lantern/Green Arrow. At first I was excited about the book because the art looked really cool and everything, but all the stories were these preachy, socially relevant hippie crap stuff. Look, I don’t want to be reminded of the real world, okay? Every day gets me one day closer to draft age, and I sure as hell don’t want to be shipped off to Vietnam, so the last thing I need are comic books that remind me what a scary place the world is. I want comics where the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, the good buys beat the bad guys, and that’’ it, it’s over, y’know?

And even worse, Marvel—my main publisher, the top of the heap—started to get into the act. There’s this whole drug storyline with Harry becoming an addict. Drugs are entertainment? It didn’t bother me when DC started copying Marvel, making their heroes less perfect and stuff because it meant that DC finally realized that Marvel is where it’s at. But now DC has to go and try and top Marvel, and we get this super-relevant crap. And worst of all is what was done to Speedy! Speedy! We fought for, y’know, ever to get Speedy into the Teen Titans (why he was left out in the first place, I have no idea. Why didn’t they have him in the first place instead of Aqualad? Is there any character lamer than a character with “Aqua” in his name? Aquaman was always lame in the JLA. Somebody just stick a harpoon in him or feed him to piranha or something.)

So Speedy was finally getting the respect he deserved by being in Titans, and suddenly here’s this issue of GL/GA coming along… and he’s a drug addict? This is entertainment? This is respect for the heroes? What, just because his name is Speedy, somebody felt it would be really cute that he’s got a drug addiction problem? They were actually showing him shooting up on panel? This is the hero?!?!? What were they thinking?!? Was anyone at DC paying attention to this? How did this get past the Comics Code? Don’t they care anymore?

I’m really, truly afraid that that’s how they’re going to try and pull in readers, now that they’re putting crazy prices on the covers. I’m afraid this whole “relevant” thing is going to catch on, or be pushed as heavy as possible. It’s not right, y’know? There’s nothing comical about it. Heroes with drug problems isn’t adventurous, or heroic, or fun, or anything. It’s just sad and creepy and gives you something less to believe in.

So that’s strike two. As for strike three, well…

I was in the local magazine shop, y’know, J&M Magazines, over on Bloomfield Avenue. And I was checking out the comic rack for the latest books, and I’m standing there with my main man, Spider-Man, the latest issue, in my hands, and suddenly I hear from behind me, “Oh my God!” I turn around, except I know the voice before I even see her. It’s Debbie Moss. Now you guys who have been following this column, you know she’s the most gorgeous girl to walk on two perfect legs in all of New Jersey. And I’ve been trying to get her attention for ages, and she’s been actually talking to me a little, and I was all set to ask her out. And she’s standing there, by the candy, with a couple of her friends, and they’re looking at me and pointing and giggling, whispering to each other, pointing at me. And I know just why Debbie said “Oh my God,” it’s because I’m fifteen years old and I’m still reading comic books.

I tried to be cool but totally screwed it up. I tried to act like I picked it up by mistake and shoved it back into the rack as fast as I could. But I jammed it in sideways and it got all bent up, and to make matters worse (as if they could be worse) the guy behind the counter sees it and shouts, “Hey! You’re gonna have to buy that!” I could feel the stinging in my face; I knew I was blushing. I went over to him, feeling like I had lead weights on my feet, and shoved the money at him and didn’t even count the change. I muttered “Hi,” to Debbie but she just said, “Oh my God” again and I got the hell out of there.

So comics have embarrassed me in front of a girl I really like, because she thinks I’m some kind of mental midget because I read comics, because comics are for little kids. Plus the stories are getting depressing, and the prices are ridiculous. So maybe I should just quit them altogether. Get out of the whole stupid thing for good. Give up this column, ditch the Buyer’s Guide, just walk away, cold turkey.

Here’s what I’m doing.

I’m dumping DC.

I still love Marvel too much—and mainly Spidey—to get out completely. But by ditching DC, I’m making a protest against their crappy drug issues, plus if I’m buying fewer comics overall, it’s less of a money drain. So long, DC! Bye bye, Batman! Sayonara, Supes! It’s been fun! But a guy’s got to grow up, make some tough choices. And at least Marvel is still big on college campuses, thanks to Stan the Man, so maybe—maybe—I can convince Deb that Marvels are not just little kids’ stuff because college guys read them. Maybe.

Bet you guys are breathing a sigh of relief, huh? Thought this was the end of Pistol Pete’s column? Well, not yet, buckos! I still have hope! I still have faith! So until they give Spider-Man four extra arms and kill off Gwen Stacy, make mine Marvel!

(Peter David, fan of stuff, can be written to c/o Verona High School, Verona, New Jersey.)



scalzifeed July 21 2014, 01:32

Detcon, Briefly



Me and the wife at the Detcon 1 80s Dance Party, at which I was DJ. Photo by Al Bogdan.

I spent the weekend at Detcon 1, the North American Science Fiction Convention, held this year in Detroit, and had a pretty fabulous time. The convention was held at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, and it was the first time I’ve been downtown Detroit for a couple of decades. Those hoping for a report on a blighted hellscape will be disappointed — we walked around downtown quite a bit and it was was perfectly fine; a decent number of restaurants and shops and such, with the extra added benefit of Canada on the other side of the water. I’d be happy to visit again soon.

I kept myself busy at Detcon 1 with several panels and events. All of my panels were good ones, which is a happy thing, since that’s not always a guarantee. But every panel had a good mix of smart panelists and engaged audiences, so I came away from each feeling pretty good about them. I also had an excellent reading, in which I was paired up with Jacqueline Carey. What she writes and what I write are sufficiently disparate that we both worked on the assumption it would be a fine time to introduce ourselves to at least some portion of the audience. It worked out pretty well, or at least, the audience didn’t divide into two camps and decide to have a knife fight. So we had that going for us.

My big event without question, however, was the 80s Dance Party on Saturday, for which I was the DJ. I had DJ’ed a dance party at a science fiction convention before — at Capricon, a couple of years ago — and on the basis of that I was asked to host a dance here. I overprepared just a bit, in that I had a playlist of 23 hours worth of music for a three hour dance, but it worked out well for me in that I had a lot of options for when the actual dance. The dance took place in a pretty ideal space (the 42 North lounge at the Marriot hotel) and the convention threw in a laser light show for free, so if I screwed it I couldn’t blame the location.

Fortunately, it does not appear that I screwed it up. The dance floor was full for the very first song (Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”) and it was full for the last song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” because it was the song which officially closed the door on 80s music), and it was full for all the songs inbetween — which is, to my mind, is the relevant standard for a successful dance party. I also hopped about like a madman for three hours straight, occasionally going out on the dance floor myself, and at least once getting up on a chair to pump up the crowd. It was a ton of fun, but man, am I feeling it today. Worth it, though.  And I got offers to DJ other convention dance parties, so if this whole writing thing falls through one day, it’s nice to know I have a backup skill.

The only downside to Detcon was that on the way home I seem to have been hit with a case of sudden onset con crud and ended up crashing out in the back bench of the minivan for most of the ride home. I’m still fairly out of it; I suspect tomorrow will largely be spent sleeping and staring glassily into the TV. Again, worth it for such a fine weekend. I would do it again.

scalzifeed July 18 2014, 14:43

View From a Hotel Window, 7/18/14: View of Two Countries Edition



In the foreground of this picture is the United States; in the background, and unusually, south, is the great Nation of Canada. From these facts you may ascertain that I am very near the waterfront in Detroit. Also, when Steve Perry sings of someone being “born and raised in South Detroit,” he may be speaking of someone growing up, Eloise-like, in this very hotel, because as far as Detroit goes, this is as south as it gets.

Detcon1 is a very good convention so far; I had one panel yesterday which seems to have gone well, had dinner in Greektown and then hung about in the bar with friends until it was time to lose consciousness. In all, an excellent day. Today I have two panels, a reading and I’m taking part in the mass autographing. Which is to say a pretty busy day. I’m gonna get to it.

peterdavidblog July 18 2014, 11:19

BID mailbag: Retcons and Stetcons



digresssmlOriginally published February 16, 2001, in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1422

’Tennnnn hut! Eyes front, maggots. The following e-mail (I hardly get regular mail anymore) arrived from Commander R.A. Benson, USNR:

I am writing you in reference to your column which ran in in the 02 February issue (topic: retcons and “stetcons”), but not in direct comment upon your words. Rather, the photo from Superman #166 which complemented your article has resurrected an issue I’ve had with comics professionals for some time.

I understand you had no direct involvement with the panel or the issue of Superman in question, nor with any of the criticism I am about to discuss. But I come to you for your professional opinion, based upon your experience and knowledge of the field.

I am a career military man, twenty-two plus years in the U.S. Navy, and conservative in political opinion. I recognize that you are more liberal; but you are also honest and, as I said, employ logic in your opinions. That’s another reason I come to you with this, since you are from “the other side”, so to speak–and I think that perspective will be helpful to me.

As I said, the art in question highlighted two long-standing issues with me.

The first is the more egregious, as I am concerned. Even though it is not my service, I can readily spot that the uniforms drawn on General Rock and Major Lane are far from accurate. This inaccuracy in depicting military uniforms has continued for decades. And believe me, the usual depiction of Navy uniforms has been even worse. (The only comic artists to be accurate in their depiction of military uniforms were Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, and Kurt Schaffenberger–all of whom are either sadly deceased or no longer doing comics on a regular basis.)

Now, I know enough about the comics illustration profession to know that artists have a reference file. If an artist wants to draw, say, the Empire State Building, he refers to a photo of the actual building so he can draw it accurately. The same thing with automobiles, women’s clothing, specialized furniture, and so forth. Anything beyond the generic, the professional artist uses a reference.

So why does it seem that comics artists never use a reference for military uniforms? They are easy enough to come by. For decades, World Book Encyclopedia has featured full-length photos of each armed service’s uniforms under their individual listings. There are other, commonly available sources. Especially with today’s availability of the Internet. Instead, it seems that every comics artist for the past twenty years has “winged it” when drawing military personnel.

The other item from that reprinted panel: the copy reads that Major Sam Lane is Luthor’s choice for Secretary of Defense, and the art supports the presentation that Major Lane is an active-duty Army officer. Obviously, the writer was under the impression that a military man serves in that position. According to law, active-duty military personnel may not serve as one of the Cabinet secretaries or any of the service secretaries. (They may be members of the Reserve, so long as they are not in a permanent active-duty status, such as I am.) This is in keeping with the Founding Fathers’ desire to deny the possibility of a military take-over by ensuring that the military remains under civilian control. In all of United States history, there has been only one exception to this: in 1948, General of the Army (i.e., five-star rank) George C. Marshall was appointed by Truman as Secretary of State. There are no more five-star officers, but at the time, the law specified that officers of five-star rank were permanently on active duty. It required a special act passed by Congress to permit GEN Marshall to hold the post.

This is not the only occurrence of such obvious military errors. (I remember one short-lived series which had an Army lieutenant taking orders from an Army sergeant major and calling him “sir”–scarcely likely in real life.) I thought writers did basic research into areas with which they were unfamiliar. At least, the professional ones do. I recognize that Wombat-Man #42 isn’t in the same league as Jurassic Park, and the time constraints are tighter–but isn’t (or shouldn’t it be that) basic research part of the professional comics writer’s job?

The only other field which receives this kind of short-shrift inaccuracy is–as Bob Ingersol’s column, The Law is an Ass, so often reminds us–is the law. But there genuinely seems to be a strong bias in comics toward getting anything in the military correct.

Is this just carelessness on the part of comics writers/artists, either routine or unavoidable? Or–and I only pose this as a possible reason, not a personally held belief–is it that most comics professionals hold liberal philosophies and tend to hold the military in low regard; therefore, they don’t care enough to concern themselves with getting the military right? That they don’t have military experience doesn’t obviate the fact that they can research at least these basic facts; thus, the only reason I can see for such an inaccurate depiction of the military is that of personal apathy or bias.

As I said, I am not necessarily making this argument. I am simply pointing out a long-standing phenomenon and asking you, sir, in professional opinion, what might cause this. This is why your liberal perspective and honesty will help in providing me an accurate answer.

I’m not standing on a soap-box here. Of course, I’d like to see more accuracy in depicting the military in comics; but I’m not on a crusade. Nor does it necessarily bother me when military people are depicted as bad guys. These are, for all their entertainment value, simply comic books. I was just wondering why the military seems not to receive the same care and research for accuracy as other aspects depicted in comics.

You brings up two interesting points, but answering the overall question first: No, I hardly think there’s some sort of bias against the military. One should never ascribe to hostility or contempt that which can be chalked up to simple ignorance. As you say, many (if not most) writers working today—not to mention editors—have never served in the military, and derive their knowledge from such sources as M*A*S*H or Officer and a Gentleman. We may not be able to tell you accurately how many men there are in a garrison, but gosh darn it, we know that army surgeons are wacky and the only two things that ever come out of Oklahoma are steers and queers.

In terms of visual reference, it’s always been my feeling that somebody should be endeavoring to get things right. In the case of Supergirl, for example, I know that Leonard Kirk is obsessive about detail, and so I’m content to toss in whatever I want into a story because I know he’s going to do the legwork, whether I supply it or not. For instance, an upcoming issue features a sequence in ancient Rome. I was able to provide Leonard with a detailed description of Caligula, but I had absolutely no clue what a Roman marketplace looked like, and left it to Leonard to make it convincing. As a writer you can do that when you have a regular artist and a solid working relationship.

On the other hand, for the Reed Richards limited series I did for Marvel, the final issue was set in Egypt and heavily focused on the Sphinx. I provided not only visual reference, but also websites where the artist could see it for himself, because I didn’t want to take it for granted that the artist would have this info at his fingertips. Nor did I think it fair to make him start from scratch.

Because it’s always been my feeling that the artist should be the last person in the chain to have to find the reference. I think it should start with the writer. Writers should allow for the notion that no matter what they’re writing about, someone out there is going to be an expert in it, and the expert is entitled to read the story with as much enjoyment as the person who knows jack-all on the subject. If you’re going to do it, do it right. The second person in the “chain” should be the editor. Either the editor or assistant editor should serve not only as a fact checker (to make sure the writer got it right) but also should be providing reference where necessary. Ideally, I think, the artist should get a nice package with everything he needs to draw the story so he can go ahead and start penciling the thing.

Of course, it has to be a two-way street. I know one writer who set a sequence in a French bistro and provided visual reference for the artist as to what a nice little sidewalk bistro looked like. The artist couldn’t be bothered to study the reference and copy it. Instead of getting two characters sitting outside in Paris, the writer got the characters sitting indoors at a Burger King, because that’s what the artist felt like drawing. Plus pencilers get to deal with their own aggravations. For instance, there was one inker who was known in the industry as “the man who erased armies,” because when given a crowd scene he simply couldn’t be bothered to ink them in. So sometimes you can go to a lot of effort and a lazy artist will deftly torpedo it.

In regards to your second point: Once again, it comes down to the writer and editor. A writer should try to get it right, and the ultimate responsibility comes down to the editor. The problem for the writer, though, is that he has to know there’s potential to get it wrong. If a writer is scripting, say, a, a person having a heart attack, he’s aware of the limitations of his knowledge in that regard, and knows whether to do research on it or not, as well as any ancillary info that might be required. For instance, I once called a drugstore to get the label correct for a vial of nitro glycerin pills that a heart patient was holding.

On the other hand, if the writer simply doesn’t know there’s potential for error, it won’t occur to him to research it. It’s hardly limited to comics. The writer of the film Ransom obviously didn’t know that New York City police officers are forbidden, by law, to accept reward money in the performance of their duties, but part of the film’s plot hinges upon it. In the marvelous little comedy Sweet Liberty, Alan Alda portrays a historian who becomes progressively more frustrated when a movie director carelessly riddles the film of his historically-accurate book with mistake after mistake.

In the case of Superman, it’s entirely possible that the writer was unaware that an active-duty service man can’t serve in the cabinet. I sure know that I didn’t know that, and had I been conceiving the storyline, I would likely have made the same mistake. Sure, it’s possible to make excuses for it… the first and foremost being that maybe in the DC Universe, the law works differently. I mean, hell, let’s face it, in the real world all these costumed vigilantes simply wouldn’t be allowed to operate, period. Superman would be shot at every time he entered foreign airspace without obtaining permission.

Ultimately, though, that’s a nifty excuse, but it’s still just an excuse. And it’s hardly limited to the military; you’re just more aware of it because you’re in the military. I’m sure writers also manage to annoy doctors, lawyers, cops, firemen… anybody and everybody whose professions show up now and again. Bottom line, it’s the job of the creative personnel to get it right whenever possible… and the job of the fans to alert them to mistakes so—at the very least—we can get it right in the future. But no single profession should ever take it personally. We are, in the final analysis, equal opportunity screw-ups.

(Peter David, writer of stuff, can be written to at Second Age, Inc., PO Box 239, Bayport, NY 11705.)


scalzifeed July 17 2014, 16:01

Off to Detcon1



By the time you read this, I will either be at or be very near to Detcon1, this year’s NASFiC (an acronym which, if you already know what it means, suggests you are exactly the sort of geek who will be at the convention already). Once there, I will commence with four days of general nerdery, and I will speak on panels, read from my work, sign books, and DJ what is sure to become the most infamous 80s dancein modern history. Can’t wait.

It does mean that posting here is likely to be sparse through Sunday (the end of the convention), however. As always, in trying times such as these, I suggest keeping tabs with me through the magic of Twitter. The last few tweets of mine are always on the sidebar here, but here’s my actual Twitter page. Keep it open and with you at all times (or, you know, just follow me on Twitter, which is the less dramatic but probably easier option).

Have a good weekend, y’all.

scalzifeed July 17 2014, 12:30

The Big Idea: Sarah McCarry



On the road again — or perhaps, on the road for the first time? Sarah McCarry is a writer who perceived a certain lack within a particular narrative trope. Dirty Wings is her attempt to address it; here she is to tell you about it, and the book.


When I was nineteen or twenty I used to drive up and down the west coast like the length of the 101 was a trip to the corner store. I had fallen in love with someone who was good at getting into trouble, and then it turned out I had something of a knack for trouble myself. Out there at the edge of the world with the silvery mass of the Pacific at my feet, a wilderness of stars pricking to life in a darkening sky so big the bright spark of my own life shrunk to nothing—out there it was easy to believe that nothing much mattered, that any want I dreamed up was a reason to keep going, that running away and running toward were only different ways to tell the same story.

We don’t tell girls to set themselves free. My own life, up until the moment I left home, was a more or less ordinary one. I wanted something bigger, but I didn’t have the words to name the shape that size might take. When I was very young, I believed in dragons, thought there was one out there waiting just for me—waiting to pluck me out of the mundane (tormented on the playground, awkward, too mouthy, too smart, not quite right for a girl) and carry me into the fantastic, where the qualities that made me unwelcome among my peers would reveal themselves to be a hero’s gifts. But in a few years I saw that the idea of a story with a girl like me at its center was itself so fantastical that the dragons would’ve been more likely. I hankered after far horizons, but good luck getting there, young lady: the road is no place for a girl. There was a home in the world for clever girls—that I didn’t doubt. But I wanted to be more than clever. I wanted to be bad news.

“When a man steps onto the road, his journey begins. When a woman steps onto that same road, hers ends,” Vanessa Veselka writes in “Green Screen,” her magnificent essay on the lack of female road narratives. The older I got, the more often I met girls who were living the stories I wanted, the stories that taught me how to make my own life in their image: girls who hopped trains, hitchhiked alone across continents, vagabonded through other countries, bicycled solo for thousands of miles, wandered without company through wildernesses. But for the most part, those girls’ stories—our stories—are left off the printed page. We get dragons, sure; we can be sorceresses and princesses, witches and swordswomen, assassins and vampires and robber brides and queens. Sometimes we even get to be monsters. But a girl whose heart’s too big for her body, a girl whose whole self says go out the door and keep going—that girl’s still got to write her own book.

So I did.

Dirty Wings is about a lot of things: it’s about love and death and music, and it’s about what happens when old stories catch up with new ones—the old story, in this case, being the death-tinted romance of Persephone and Hades. Underworlds both literal and imagined, labyrinths within the heart and below the earth. It’s about the magnificent allure of truly bad decisions, and it’s a little bit about magic, and a lot about friendship. It’s about the wide salt home of the Pacific, and that ribbon of the 101 that’s stitched still, forever, through my heart as much as it is the hearts of the girls I wrote about: Cass and Maia, new friends and twinned spirits on a road trip that will alter both their lives.

But really what it’s about—what it’s about for me, anyway—is being that girl with her eye on the edge of the world, that girl who says yes to all the wild things, that girl teaching herself how to run for the sake of running, choosing the uncertain, writing her own rules. Telling her own story, drawing her own maps. That girl who decided not to wait around for dragons. I wanted a story about girls who made their own trouble, and so I wrote it. Here’s hoping you like trouble, too.


Dirty Wings: Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | WORD Bookstore (signed copies) | iBooks

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website and blog. Follow her on Twitter.

scalzifeed July 16 2014, 18:56

On Book Reviews at Whatever



One of those “post once for future reference” posts.

I’m getting a lot of requests for book reviews, many from indie/self-published authors who are, understandably, hoping to see their book talked about, but also from editors/publicists from established presses. So please allow me to note:

I do not regularly, nor do I plan to in the immedate future, review books here on Whatever.

The primary reason for this is simple: I have a finite amount of time, and that time needs to be spent on my own books. I don’t get paid for reading books; I get paid for writing them. The secondary reason for this is that I’m not a gentle critic, and I don’t expect that people asking for reviews would be happy with what I have to say if I don’t like their books.

This does not mean that I don’t read other people’s books; I do. I read them for fun and enjoyment, not with an eye toward formal reviewing. I may from time to time write a quick review or comment here about a book I particularly liked (or, and rather substantially more rarely, gripe about a book I didn’t like). This should not be construed to suggest I intend to regularly review books here.

In lieu of regularly reviewing books, I do the following:

1. I present the Big Idea feature here, in which authors talk about their books. Here is how to be considered for the Big Idea. Indie/self-pubbed authors: please note the criteria for inclusion.

2. I (usually weekly) note new books/ARCs that are sent to me, both here and on my Twitter account. As I take a picture of these books/ARCs, a physical copy of the work is required. Here is how to be considered for this particular feature. This is open to any author.

Either or both of these achieve what I suspect is the goal of most people asking for reviews, which is exposure here on Whatever. It’s also easier for me. Everyone wins.

Requests for reviews will largely be ignored. I don’t have time to respond to each review request. Sorry.

Editors/PR folks at established presses, I understand review requests are part of your boilerplate. However, please take a moment to update your contact information about me. I’m happy to consider your authors’ works for inclusion in the Big Idea feature, but please note that I will not request their participation. You (or they) must ask. Thanks.

scalzifeed July 16 2014, 15:26

Your Dose of Pure 80s Music Video WTFery for Wednesday



The video for “Dancing in Heaven” by Q-Feel:

I actually really like the song, but I did not know the lead singer (Martin Page) looked like a stretched-out Oompa Loompa with a John Waters mustache. This video makes me question everything I knew about the 80s.

scalzifeed July 15 2014, 20:54

Another Life Milestone for Athena



My daughter now has her learning permit to drive, and I have co-signed to be the parent responsible for her learning how to drive (she will also need to take official driving classes). I am proud, and hope my car survives.

(P.S.: Athena wishes you to know that she was squinting into the sun when this picture was taken. That is all.)

scalzifeed July 15 2014, 14:24

The Big Idea: Sebastien de Castell



Author Sebastien de Castell dislikes knights — well, dislike may be too mild a word for it — and loves justice. Does that sound mildly contradictory to you? De Castell explains why it is not, and how his novel Traitor’s Blade aims for that justice through a new and unexpected class of hero.


I hate knights.

How is it that the biggest bunch of self-involved bullies in all of European history became the most prominent heroes in fantasy literature? These are the same brutish and brutal thugs who murdered, raped, and pillaged their way across Europe and the Middle East in the name of God (thanks a lot, Pope Urban II). Which pre-Madison Avenue public relations firm managed to convince us that knights – I mean, fucking  knights - were the paragons of honour and virtue in the Middle Ages?

Were there any  good knights? Sure. William Marshall, sometimes called the ‘Flower of Chivalry’ was probably an alright fellow, but he’s the exception that proves the rule. The vast majority of medieval knighthood was made up of noble-born thugs whose most positive contribution to society was due to the occasional accidental death that comes from charging at each other with long sticks on horseback for the entertainment of slack-jawed yokels.

The hell with knights. I’d rather write about heroes.

That little rant is what launched me into writing  Traitor’s Blade. I wanted characters that I could see myself rooting for–men and women without the advantages of wealth or military power who fought in service to an ideal rather than a particular church or nobleman or even their own personal honour. In other words, I wanted my main characters, Falcio, Kest, and Brasti, to be the opposite of knights.

I took my starting point from the  justices itinerant of England’s twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These were magistrates, appointed by the King and commanded to travel from village to village to hear cases, pass judgments, and ensure verdicts were upheld. A similar phenomenon existed in the United States, especially along the frontiers. In fact, Abraham Lincoln spent much of his early law career on horseback, travelling alongside a judge (the actual term ‘circuit court’ comes from the designated routes of these wandering magistrates.)

I was fascinated by how dangerous a life being a  justice itinerant might be. What happens when a baron or count decides he doesn’t like your verdict? Which way might the local knight or sheriff sway when his financial wellbeing is in the hands of the man you’re ruling against? Worst of all, what happens when the sovereign who appointed you dies? Those questions became the basis of the Greatcoats – the wandering magistrates of  Traitor’s Blade who dedicate their lives to bringing justice to those living under the capricious rule of the nobility only to be disbanded when the king who appointed them is deposed and killed.

With  Traitor’s Blade, I wanted to explore the struggle to keep alive an idealistic view of the law that is at odds with the very foundations of a feudal society. This meant recognizing that, while Falcio, Kest, and Brasti might be heroes to me, they wouldn’t be seen that way by the majority of the population in the world in which they live. Where the knights are admired and respected as military men in service to the will of the gods (which, miraculously, tends to align with the interests of the nobles who employ them), the Greatcoats are despised by the nobility and often reviled even by the peasantry who see them as having failed to bring the justice they promised.

Creating these anti-knights also meant thinking about tactical considerations. Where knights are designed for war, especially mounted combat, the Greatcoats are trained to be expert duellists. In a society like Tristia, the fictional country in which the novel is set, trial by combat is an idea that is ingrained into the culture. It made sense that the men and women who had to hear cases and render judgments might often need to uphold their verdict at the point of a sword. So while the knights wear heavy armour, the  Greatcoats wear, well,  coats - long, leather coats with thin bone plates sewn inside to provide some measure of defence against the weapons of their enemies while still being light enough to manoeuvre in for extended periods of time.  This also fit with the Greatcoats’ need to travel long distances at speed and be protected from the elements. Their coats contain dozens of hidden pockets with little tricks and traps and chemicals to help them survive the dangers faced by those whose role is in direct conflict with the powerful in society.

The more time I spent envisioning the Greatcoats, the more I found myself searching for other adaptations to the way laws are administered in a corrupted feudal society. Verdicts need to be remembered in order to be upheld and a large portion of the population in a country like Tristia would be illiterate. So the Greatcoats set their rulings to the tune of songs that people know – making it easier for people to remember. Verdicts also need people willing to do what’s necessary to uphold them, and so the gold buttons on the coats could be used to pay twelve men and women who would act as a kind of long-term jury and ensure the ruling was upheld after the Greatcoat left.

The process of developing a new societal role inside of a more traditional fantasy setting was without doubt one of the most fun parts of building the world of  Traitor’s Blade. I doubt that the historical  justices itinerant were much like my Greatcoats, just as the knights of European history have little in common with their modern portrayals. But I like to think that there was a spark of that idealism in those who once wandered the long roads in an effort to bring the machinery of justice to those who lived far outside the protection of the courts.


Traitor’s Blade: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

peterdavidblog July 14 2014, 19:53

Why Don Mirscher knows squat



Who is Don Mirscher? The executive producer of the Emmys, who apparently took exception to another year of criticism for the egregious omissions of this years nominations. No “best series” for “The Good Wife.” No “best actor” for James Spader. Most shockingly, no best actress for Tatiana Maslany.

What was his excuse?

““The Emmys are not a popular choice award. The Emmys are an industry award. The Emmys are determined by the men and women who create television. That’s why for those of us who are lucky enough to win an Emmy, it means a lot because it’s our competitors and our peers that have given that to us. I think the way it’s set up and the way it’s going to work again this year is that the nominations came from people in the industry who make the product. How many people watch a particular product I don’t think is as important as the quality of the product, and that’s been reflected in the nominations that you’ve seen four days ago.”

Here’s why this excuse is idiotic.

It IS a popular choice award. The fact that the popularity choice is being rendered by people in the industry doesn’t make it any less so. Popular series get paid attention to; less popular series are ignored. Maslany wasn’t nominated because far fewer people watch “Orphan Black” than the other nominated series. Spader was ignored because…I dunno, they’re dumbasses.

But oh my God, they have to limit the number of nominations because…well, I don’t know why, exactly. The Academy award doubled the number of nominated films and that didn’t cause the Oscars to collapse. Why couldn’t they have said, “You know what? We need another space or two in these categories because we can’t ignore Maslany and Spader; they’re just too good.”

Sorry, can’t do that. Because they’re professionals, don’t’cha know. And you and I and the other non-voters, the ones who they actually fall over each other to get us to watch their programs, we’re fine when it comes to making shows for us. But when it comes to expressing opinions, we should keep our mouths shut and leave it to the pros.

This is the exact kind of pig-headed thinking that will likely continue to screw Andy Serkis of an Oscar nomination next year when he gets once again overlooked for his brilliant work as Caesar in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Any person with a brain knows that that’s Serkis acting up on the screen. But to the professionals, he’s just a special effect and nothing more.



scalzifeed July 14 2014, 18:53

An Interesting Quandary



I went over to Scribd and discovered that several titles of mine were on the site without my permission, which gave me an opportunity to try out Scribd’s DMCA reporting form and process. I’m happy to say that Scribd seems to be doing a fine job on that score: The elapsed time from report to removal of the content was about ten minutes. That works for me.

However, one title of mine, The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, I haven’t requested to be taken down yet. It’s not up on the site by permission of the publisher, because among other things, the book is currently out of print and the rights have reverted to me. I certainly haven’t given permission for the book to be there, either.

But as noted, the book is currently out of print — there might be a few copies still in bookstores, but not enough to represent any major economic benefit to me at this point, and no more are going to be made. I retain the rights to the work and may eventually do something with the contents of the book, but at the moment I don’t really have any solid plans. Which means that although the text is there illegally (and I can have it taken down), at the same time it’s not actually doing me any economic harm to have it up there, either. It’s not stealing sales from me because as an out of print book there are no sales to steal.

And so my position on it is kinda: Meh. I took down the books of mine that are still in print; if you want them, please pay for them or borrow them from a friend or your local library, that what bookstores, libraries and friends are for. But the out of print ones? For now I’m content to leave them out there. If I ever do get around to doing something with the text I might change my mind. Or I might change my mind because I’m mercurial. Until then, though, if you see The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies on Scribd or anywhere else, have fun with it.

scalzifeed July 14 2014, 16:23

My Detcon1 Schedule



I’ll be at the Detcon1 convention this upcoming weekend, Detcon1 being the North American Science Fiction Convention for the year (and the NASFiC being the convention that gets run in the US/Canada when the Worldcon is on a different continent). It’s in Detroit, downtown. It’s not too late to come along — it should be a fine convention, not in the least because I will be DJing an 80s dance at it. Yes! Me! Finally, all those years of dance training will pay off! Or something!

In fact, here’s my whole schedule for the weekend:

Thursday, July 17

5pm: A Renaissance for Science Fiction

Chuck Von Nordheim (moderator), Saladin Ahmed, Anne Harris, John Scalzi, Ellen Denham, Carrie Patel

Our panelists discuss the theme of Poul Anderson’s Detention Guest of Honor Speech: authors should create “not merely clever variations on a theme, but stories which are about people and about science and about history and about art and about philosophy and about the way a mountain looks at twilight when the stars are just coming forth. That kind of science fiction is entertaining.”

Friday, July 18

2pm: Dealing with Bad Apples

Steven H Silver (moderator), Tim Miller, Mark Oshiro, Jesi Pershing, Diana M. Pho,John Scalzi

Trolls, creepers, or just plain jerks. We’ve all encountered them at cons and online. Panelists discuss tools–like comment moderation and harassment policies–for keeping foul and prejudiced people from chasing others out of our community spaces, events, and organizations. And what to do when “they” are “us.”

3pm: Fanzines and Professional Writing

Steven H Silver (moderator), Nicki Lynch, Roger Sims, Jim C. Hines, John Scalzi

At Detention a discussion by the editors of amateur magazines was sparked by Ed Wood asking, “Why weren’t fanzines as good as they once were and why were their writers no longer becoming top quality pros very often?” The panel lasted from about 11 p.m. Sunday until 4:30 a.m. What is the state of fanzines today? How have digital formats affected fanzines? What role do they have now in the career of a professional writer, especially compared to 50 years ago?

4pm: Reading: Carey/Scalzi

Jacqueline Carey, John Scalzi

Jacqueline Carey and John Scalzi read from their work.

Saturday, July 19

12pm: The Other Worldbuilding Panel: Gaming

Jon Davis (moderator), Mike Substelny, John Scalzi, Carrie Patel

Our panelists discuss worldbuilding techniques for video games, focusing on how stories are developed and told for interactive software titles.

10pm: ’80s Dance with DJ Scalzi!

Join DJ Scalzi for a retro dance. Wear your ’80s on your sleeve!

Sunday, July 20

12pm: Creators and Brand Identity

Beverly Bambury (moderator), Martin L. Shoemaker, Sean Mead, John Scalzi

Neil Gaiman. John Scalzi. Would they be mid-list authors in a world without the Internet? Can you be famous in 2014 only by writing or making art? How does a creator build a brand?

I’ll note that for the 80s dance I have (I think) two hours for the dance, and 22 hours worth of music ready on my dance playlist. Because I believe in overpreparation. It’s gonna be fun.

I should also note that there is supposed to be a mass autographing session at 8pm on Friday. I am likely to be there if you wish to have books signed.

When I am not at panels or events, I am likely to be in the bar, per tradition. Feel free to say hello!

See you at Detcon1, I hope.

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