Thursday, November 27, 2008

To New York, ish, Twice This Week

This last Monday was the date of the annual SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) Editorial Reception, where SFWA hosts a big gathering for members, editors, artists, and friends, to generally schmooze and reconnect. I hadn't been to one in years, so I decided at the last minute to go down, just for the day. I treated myself to Amtrak's Acela for the ride down. Great train. Then I hoofed it from Penn Station to the Tor Books offices, tipping my hat to the Empire State Building on the way. (I make it sound like I know where I was going. Yeah, me and my Google map.)

In the past, the publisher's offices were always a gathering place for writers prior to events like this, and I expected to be joining a crowd. Nope. I was the only one there, and all the Tor people were actually working. (!!) But my publicist Sam Cutler took me around to meet all the publicity people, and I waved to all the editors I knew (my own editor not being in town), then I browsed the bookshelves, plucking down books to read. While thumbing through a book, I heard a mutter from the room next door about problems with Mobipocket Creator. Having spent a good deal of time on ebook creation, I poked my head in, and thus met Pablo Defendini, maven of, and also the guy who's doing his level best to get Tor ebooks up and running. Great guy, great conversation, and eventually I grabbed some dinner with him and some of the other people, as well as Irene Gallo, Tor's art director, all good folk. Then we all went off to the SFWA thing, where I indeed reconnected with some old friends, and even ran into my agent, Richard Curtis!

Coming home on the 3 a.m. train out of Penn Station wasn't quite as much fun (actually, waiting for the 3 a.m. train in Penn Station wasn't as much fun), but hey. A good trip.

Today, I turned around and drove to pick up my daughter and a couple of friends from college, a ways up the river from NYC, then turned around again and brought them home. Could have been a lot worse; the poor souls on the Mass Pike westbound toward New York as I was coming back east were in for a long time on the road!

Safe travels for the holidays, everyone (if you travel, which you probably will, if you're in the U.S.)!

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The Page 69 Test - Sunborn

I was asked by Marshal Zeringue, the owner of a blog called "The Page 69 Test" to write an entry for Sunborn. The inspiration for the blog comes from the "page 69 test" that you can use when you're browsing a book in a store: open to page 69, and see if you like what you read. Some people use the "page 11 test." Some the "first and last page" test.

If you'd like to see what I wrote, check out The Page 69 Test: Sunborn.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Writer, Like Dragon

Most working writers are like dragons: they know down to the nickel what's in their hoard. Maybe not their hoard of gold on hand—because usually what they have on hand is a shortage of gold—but for sure they know when the gold is expected. They know who owes them what, and when it's supposed to come, and (if they're honest) how many months late it will probably actually come. It's a survival trait. When food is scarce, you keep a watch on the supply trains.

Except this time.

Our budget has been pretty tight around here of late, and our contingency actions included borrowing some cash. (If you read the papers, you'd think that was impossible. And yet, though GM can't get a loan, the credit card companies continue to offer no-interest balance transfers, even to people who demonstrably are unlikely to leave the debt in one place long enough for it to kick up to the higher rate.) Well, we determined to keep a trusting attitude about it all, and even decided that we needed to be more conscious about giving away a proper tithe of the money that does come in. Giving back to God, paying forward, call it what you will.

Today I opened an envelope from my agent—and what did I behold? A check. A substantial check. It seemed that, most undragonlike, I had forgotten that there was an on-publication check owed me for Sunborn! I had forgotten! (All of my other contracts have called for payment on signing and on acceptance, but this particular one was structured differently from all the others.) I had forgotten! Whoo-whoooo!

I did three things right away. I thanked God, I called my wife, and I took that sucker right to the bank.

"God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by." —Mark Twain

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Aliens Smoking Dope Over Saturn!

I've written before about the giant hex socket in the north pole of Saturn, set there uncounted millennia ago by aliens, for purposes unconfirmed. But now...what are those guys up to?

Rhetorical question. You can see what they're up to. They're blowing smoke rings over the poles!

You cannot tell me that's tobacco smoke. Noway. And aurora? Please! Don’t think I've forgotten about them buzzing the Saturn neighborhood in flying saucers!

Scientists will keep trying to explain it away with fables about moons, and rocks, and erosion, and auroras, and strange turbulent attractors...

Feh! We won't be fooled!

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Another Signing—Pandemonium Books!

This Thursday, November 20, I'll be signing copies of Sunborn at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge, along with Joe Haldeman and Chris Howard, who will be signing their new books, as well. In addition to Sunborn, I expect to have some copies of other novels, also—including the earlier volumes of The Chaos Chronicles.

Hope to see you there!

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Fomalhaut b — Extrasolar Planet in Visible Light

Yowza! NASA has released images of the first planet outside our solar system that we've directly observed and photographed. Readers, may I introduce Fomalhaut b...

NASA, ESA, et al.

It's a planet probably three times the size of Jupiter. The full image is kind of squished here, but you can see it big at Astronomy Picture of the Day.

This is the result of years of painstaking work. Read more about it at Science NASA.

"When I consider the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have set in place..." —Psalm 8

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Fan of John Williams Movie Scores?

Okay, I thought I was the world's biggest fan of the music from Star Wars, Superman, Close Encounters, and all the other films John Williams has scored. But I think I must relinquish that title to this fellow here (but see note below):

Here's a link to the video at scifiwire, in case it doesn't display correctly for you.

[Later note] Josh pointed out, it turns out that guy did a really clever job of lip syncing a song actually created by a group called Moosebutter. You can hear (or buy) the song here on their website. Scroll down, and you can see a video of their live performance of the number.

It would have been really nice if the fellow above had credited his source.

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Great Success!

Both book signings were terrific successes, with lots of hardcovers leaving in people's hands—in many cases, the hands of people I did not know before the signings. (Always a good indicator.) And the folks at Menotomy Beer & Wine were fantastic, made me feel welcome and even sent me home with a bottle of wine! This continues my experience that the best place to do book signings is not necessarily at bookstores (though I'm happy to sign at bookstores, too!), but at places where something else is going on. Indoor water park, church fair, wine tasting—what'll be next?

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Two Signings This Week!

I've added a second book signing of Sunborn to the one previously announced:

  • On Friday evening, Nov. 7, from 6:30 to 8:30, I'll be doing a benefit signing at Park Avenue Congregational Church in Arlington, Mass., at the annual fair.

  • On Saturday, Nov. 8, from 4:00 to 7:00, I'll be signing as a guest at the regular wine tasting at Menotomy Beer and Wine, also in Arlington.

Click for a full rewrite, with details and locations. Stop by! Have some lasagna and pie (Friday) and some wine (Saturday).

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What a Day! What an Election! Yo, Barack!

Thank you, Barack Obama, for undertaking such a long and exhausting run for the presidency, and for your moving and inspiring acceptance speech. Congratulations, and best wishes and prayers.

Thank you, all the supporters who helped make this happen for all of us.

Thank you, John McCain, for your gracious and forward-looking concession speech.

Thank you, America.

Oh, and...thanks, Starbucks, for the free cup of coffee. :)


Monday, November 03, 2008

The End of an Opus

As an old-time fan of the comic strip Bloom County, I have followed the later incarnations of the strip (Outland and Opus) with decidedly mixed feelings. I love the old characters, but they were mostly gone. And Opus wasn't quite what he once was, though he certainly had his moments.

It's been clear for a while that the strip was coming to an end, and creator Berkely Breathed was taking what seemed to me a depressing route toward the conclusion, with Opus locked away in a dog pound. (I imagine it is hard to bring something like that to a close.) Last Sunday, the final strip ran in the paper, and it...told us we had to go online to see the last panel! It also gave the wrong web address.

But here it is, the final shot of Opus (at least for now). It's too big to show here: take a look for yourself. It's really quite touching, and redeemed all of the darkness of the leadup. Bye for now, Opus. And sweet dreams!

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This Blog Endorses Barack Obama!

I didn't want to influence you all too soon, but the suspense is over. Like Republicans Colin Powell and William Weld (except that I'm not Republican) I am standing forth and urging everyone to vote tomorrow for Barack Obama for president! I'm serious. It's time to put an end to:

  • Attacks on the environment
  • Attacks on science
  • Attacks on nations that did not attack us first
  • Attacks on the Constitution
  • Attacks on the separation of church and state
  • Deceptions in the interests of money and power
And time to embrace:
  • Dialogue with other nations, including those we disagree with
  • Transparency and honesty in public policy
  • A leader who reads, thinks, and is willing to listen to opposing points of view
  • Concern for the environment, both global and local, and respect for real science
  • Concern for the disadvantaged and the middle class, and not just the wealthy
  • Sane fiscal policy, including an end to the massive drain caused by an ill-conceived war
I believe Barack Obama represents these values, and that a vote for Obama is a vote for steering America back toward the values that made this country great.

Okay, that sounded like a campaign slogan—but I actually believe it's true. I probably didn't change anyone's mind with this, but I just wanted to go on the record one last time. I urge other Americans to support these Family Values. Amen.


National Novel Writing Month... upon us again! (As reader Marco pointed out in a comment below.) This would be a hard one for me to miss, because my daughter is giving it a shot, along with several friends. Ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka... Different people have different feelings about this project, but my own feeling is, if it gets people writing and having fun writing, it's a good thing! Check it out at

"I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all." —E.B. White

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Well, this is kind of depressing. And no, I'm not talking about the election; that's still a few hours off. No, I'm talking about the stats for downloads of the ebooks—especially Sunborn. Turns out that my web logs analyzer, a program called Analog that I've used faithfully for years, has been lying to me about the number of downloads.

Well, not lying exactly, just being stupid.

I think this applies mainly just to the PDF downloads rather than the others, because people can actually open the PDF file right in their browser without downloading the file to their hard drive. And when they do, the file is sent to them in little packets, which you would only notice by the repeated little message at the bottom of the browser indicating activity. As I discovered to my dismay last night, each of those little packets gets its own line in the logs. And Analog has been counting each of those packets as a separate download request! And fooling me like a politician greasing a gullible audience.

To paraphrase one such politician of the past*, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I am not a crook. However, previous reports of the downloads of Sunborn and the other PDF files are exaggerated. A lot. A real lot. As nearly as I can tell, actual complete downloads of Sunborn are in the low-mid hundreds at this point, and the highest, Neptune Crossing, is at maybe a thousand. All told, the cumulative ebook downloads are in the thousands, but I'm not even going to try to guess a more exact number. That's not cottage cheese, but it's nowhere near the 20K plus that Analog was selling me.

To say that this discovery was a downer would be no exaggeration.

Anyone know a better free (or cheap) web-logs analyzer? (I've tried a few, but none quite fit the bill yet.)

*For the young'ns among you, or those outside the U.S.: Richard M. Nixon, the worst president in U.S. history prior to the current one.

"From my close observation of writers ... they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review." —Isaac Asimov

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