Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why are your email messages so short?

I get this question a lot, both from friends and from fans. The basic answer is, because I'm insanely busy.

I read and respond to all my email--work, fan, personal, etc. Not counting spam, I get something on the order of a hundred messages on an insanely quiet holiday, and on a typical work day I receive around 400 or 500 messages. I'm a quick reader and a quick typist, but plowing through all that text still takes a lot of time. So, if my answers to you are short, please understand that it's not that I don't consider your message important; I do, and I appreciate each person who takes the time to write. I simply respond with very brief messages to everyone, including family, extended family, and close friends.

I'll keep on answering my own email, but time will continue to be precious, and I will continue to have a lot to do, so my answers are going to stay short.

One of those tasks is writing Children No More, to which I return now.

The RIAA: One bully that deserves to suffer

If you're not familiar with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), it's the trade group of the record labels, which really means that it's the bully that's out to beat up everyone who illegally shares or downloads music. That means, by the way, just about everyone under 30. The fine minds of the RIAA seem to have decided that they can stop the flow of music through lawsuits. Shrewd.

Before I go further, let me state my position on this topic: I don't think you should illegally download music. I don't do it. I don't encourage it. I am so committed to paying musicians that I own over 4,000 CDs. If a friend wants to listen to one of my CDs, I loan it to him or her, or I buy him or her a copy. Of course, I'm over 30.

I also want to be clear: musicians, like all artists, deserve to get paid for their work. So do their publishers.

All that said, some people are going to illegally download music. That's an unstoppable truth. They'll do that with books, too--but only some. Most people will not. I live with that risk with my own work, because you can buy my SF novels DRM-free from Baen. In fact, please do so; I trust you.

Well, the RIAA has finally gone what I hope will be too far with this case, in which they sued Jammie Thomas-Rasset, an early thirties single mother of four, and won a settlement of $1.92 million. For sharing 24 songs.

Let me run those numbers by you again:

Share 24 songs.
Get a $1.92 million fine.

That's $80 grand a song.

Now, according to the AP story I linked to earlier, the RIAA had accused Thomas-Rasset of offering 1,700 songs on Kazaa but then "for simplicity's sake" decided to target only 24.

Gee, if they'd bothered to pursue her for that number of songs and gotten the same settlement, the tab would have been only $1,129 a song. What a bargain.

The RIAA is trying to put a nice face on this trial by pointing out that it had offered to settle all along. Here's a quote from that same AP story:

Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the RIAA, said the industry remains willing to settle. She refused to name a figure, but acknowledged Thomas-Rasset had been given the chance to settle for $3,000 to $5,000 earlier in the case.
Let's do some math on this figure, shall we?

Using the lower settlement figure, and assuming 24 songs, that's $125 a song.

Using the lower settlement figure, and assuming the full 1,700 songs they accused Thomas-Rasset of sharing, that's $1.77 a song--still more than Apple and the labels would have made had Thomas-Rasset bought them all on iTunes.

Lest you think I don't understand the concept of damages, which is key to the RIAA's claims, I do, and I know that's the RIAA's defense for this whole lawsuit. The way that reasoning goes, they were hurt by the alleged online posting and subsequent downloading of the songs potentially many times, as others downloaded and reposted the music.

The RIAA clearly doesn't get two things:

1) They can't stop some people from illegally sharing music.
2) Actions like this one alienate more people, including me, than they help.

I've never had any use for bullies. The RIAA is just being a bully. I hope the EFF is right that this decision may be unconstitutional, and in the interim I hope this foolish settlement does not destroy this woman's financial life.

Most of all, I hope the RIAA wises up. I share their goal of artists getting paid, but employing these bullying tactics is simply not a wise way to pursue that goal.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Chesley Award nominations are out

I'm a big fan of many science fiction illustrators and for that matter of illustators in general. I believe that much of the best visual art available today is coming from SF illustrators. I won't even try to list all the major artists, because there are so many great ones working right now that I'd probably slight several simply by failing to think of them right now.

One of the best ways to keep up with SF illustrations is via the Spectrum series of SF art books, the latest of which is Spectrum 15.

Another great source is the Chesley Awards, which ASFA, the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists, presents once each year at the Worldcon (this year in Montreal). The nominations for the Chesley's, which ASFA named after the late SF illustrator, Chesley Bonestell, are now on the ASFA site. If you're in the mood for good SF art, definitely check them out--but allow some time, because there are 11 categories and five or so nominees in each.

I'm particularly happy to report that a couple of pals of mine, Steve Hickman and John Picacio, are up for Best Hardcover Cover. John is, in fact, up for four different awards, as well as a Hugo for Best Artist; way to go, John! Another favorite artist of mine, Donato Giancola, is also on the ballot for the Hardcover and Unpublished Color Chesleys. Oh, yeah: Did I mention that Omar Rayyan, another great guy and great artist is up for the Unpublished Color?

I'll stop now, but you get the point: check out these award pages for examples of wonderful work--and support your local SF illustrators by buying their works at cons.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Here's another thing

about Children No More: I'm more than a little afraid of it. To be more accurate, more than anything else I've written, I have a vision of this story that is so strong, so powerful, so vivid that I know I will not be able to do it justice. I also know I have to try.

Maybe that's always the way it is. And, of course, no matter how I feel, I'm going to keep going forward until I finish the thing.

When I first saw Rent in New York City (with the original cast), I teared up at the song "One Song Glory." My reaction was not because glory is my main motivation; it's not. I'm writing because I have to write. What moved me about the song is that the singer just one time wants to get it right, really right, before he dies. Don't we all?

Here, try it on for yourself.

Me, I'm going back to this book and do the very best I can to rip out what's in my head and my heart, put it on the page, and send it out into the world.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


It's Blue Rodeo time again. Don't ask me why; it just is. This time, turn down the lights, think about loves that matter and have mattered to you, and let Jim Cuddy sing about hurt and longing the way only he does.

I love this band. I hope I get to see these guys live again one day soon.

If you live anywhere they're playing, don't miss them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

What's up with Children No More?

(For those who don't know, Children No More is the next--and fourth--Jon & Lobo novel.)

Enough folks have asked me this question that I thought it was time to answer it. I've also received a related question I'm going to answer now: Why are you saying so little about this new book in progress?

Short answers:

* I'm working on it.
* Because I don't feel like talking about it.

The first is pretty much self-explanatory: I'm working on the book. It's what I do.

The second answer is one on which I'm willing to comment a bit more, but not a lot. Children No More is by far the most complex and darkest Jon & Lobo novel to date. For many reasons, it is also a very compellingly personal novel for me, a book I am determined to write. I'm frankly rather afraid that I will be the only one who will like it.

I'm still going to write it.

My response to this fear is to control the only aspects of it that I can: my actions. Thus, I work on it, and I don't talk about it.

I realize that's not much more information than the short form of the answer provided, but it's all I'm willing to share right now. Sometimes, you just have to shut up and do the work. (Most times, actually, but some more than others.)

I'm shutting up and doing the work.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Starting assumptions

I'm constantly amazed by the foolishness of the assumptions with which many people begin their conversations. I'm not talking the easy-to-spot stupidities, such as rascist or sexist mindsets. What really surprises me is how many people assume everyone around them is

* stupider than they are
* thinks like them
* agrees with their every thought

The inherent contradiction of the first two points should be enough to dissuade anyone from starting with both of those assumptions, but it doesn't seem to be. The falseness of the third also seems self-evident--I know it can't be true, because Keith Urban sells a lot of albums and concert tickets--but I also know from experience that it escapes a lot of people.

Many years ago at a Sycamore Hill Writers' Conference, a very smart writer, one whose work I generally like and admire, commented about another writer's critique of a story of mine that the ideas of that other writer would indeed make for a great story but that "we are not in the presence of a writer capable of realizing that vision." The commenting writer had known me for less than a week. Though I'm willing to agree that it's possible he was right, he did not have enough data to make that declaration. Instead, he did so because he started with the wrong assumptions.

I think we'd all be better off if we changed the above three assumptions to a very different trio: When we meet a new person, we should assume that person

* is at least as smart as we are
* thinks in a unique way
* possesses many well-thought-out opinions that differ from ours

Of course, once a person proves any of these statements to be wrong, it's fair to replace that assumption with something more accurate, but as a starting point we'd all be better off with the second set than with the first.

Lest you think we only torture our dogs

I thought I should share with you these pictures that show that we do also reward them for their suffering.
For example, in this photo from the doggie birthday festivities, note that all their tongues are sticking out and they are looking to their left and upward. Why is that?

Because Allyn is approaching with a package of grated cheese. Everyone loves grated cheese.

Want proof? Check out these two photos.

In the first, all three are in a scrum for the cheese that is now decorating the floor. Yes, we continued the torture in that we made them go for the cheese while still in their hats, but to be fair to us, stopping them would have been difficult once cheese entered the picture.

After Holden and Shibori had eaten their shares, they implored us to remove their hats. In the second photo, Holden's is off, and he has sprinted to reclaim his bone lest one of his domineering sisters decides to take it from him. Shibori is staring sadly upward, desperately hoping someone will remove her hat, love on her, and allow her to reclaim the few tattered remnants of her doggie dignity. (Alas, she had to wait a few minutes anyone could wade across the dog-slimed floor to free her from her cone of oppression.)

Pixil, however, as is often the case, is the craftiest of the three. She has shaken off her hat and is busily taking advantage of the opportunity the others have afforded her by getting every last scrap of cheese off the floor.

Yes, they had to endure party hats, but in the end I like to think the cheese balanced the scales nicely.


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