renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
[personal profile] renay posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
In the days leading up to this event, I spent my time either a) packing, b) working or c) reading all the books in the Old Man's War series, so assume mostly C. The series was just as good as I remember. I've changed as a reader a lot so I could see some of the man behind the curtain, but I also think that can be chalked up to Scalzi learning more about how to build stories since the first book was written. I so rarely followed professional authors before the late aughts that it's weird doing it now and seeing the progression of the artist. The reread was fun, I'm totally stoked to read my copy of The Human Division once my Hugo reading is done, I'm excited about the next installment, and left the event (shaking like a squirrel-addled poplar tree alksjdlkjasd) remembering just what John Scalzi means to me as a creator. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back!

Sign for The Booksellers at Laurelwood.

Thanks to Tor and all the people there and at The Booksellers at Laurelwood, who organized the event and made my year. Seriously, everyone involved: thank you. I'm showing my roots by being so epically grateful for this chance to meet an author I admire. I've said it before and will probably say it again, but I grew up in an area with no author events (I drive two hours each time I go to this store for events, and have to plan it weeks in advance because of $dayjob). I'm pretty sure the first time I met any published authors was when I started university and met professors who had written books. After that, I didn't meet any authors who were writing fiction I liked to read until 2011, when The Booksellers at Laurelwood hosted Cherie Priest. I will probably become jaded and cynical one day, when I live in a place where I can overdose on this aspect, and forget that I missed out on this literary culture the first few decades of my life, but I hope not. Thanks to those who organized it and made it happen! \o/

This event was crowded compared to my last (there were people standing in the back) and I was surprised by the mix, which seemed to skew older. I guess I am now an old myself, yet I picture John Scalzi fans as if they're actually One Directioners or Beliebers or something. Some folks from MidSouthCon were there (I got a card! Maybe I can go...?), and a few people around my age and a little younger. There were people that drove from Fayetteville, which, for scope, is across the entirety of the state of Arkansas and an hour and some through Memphis. Blows my two hour drive out of the water. :) I think I recognized someone from the last event I went to — I should make a local SF/F friend if I see them at the next one! Curse my inevitable shyness.

The event opened with a reading from "Hafte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today" which was a great character/philosophical piece, both on the topic of inter-species relationships and understanding, and on the finer points of churros and churro-related activities (including selling, buying, and eating). I wish some adventurous studio would make this series into a television show. The aliens would be so much fun to see.

Then Scalzi read an upcoming piece from The Mallet of Loving Correction, which I've read and recommended multiple times, Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be. Scalzi was nicer to Joe Peacock than I would be, proving again I am a terrible, judgmental person and need to work on my empathy, since as soon as he told us what he would be reading I got a twitch just thinking about it and how mad I was at the time.

There was a lot of great discussion of Scalzi's writing style and choices and a lot of questions about his female characters were based on his family. I understand why that's an interesting avenue to explore because his family lives a semi-public life via Whatever — how much do certain people influence choices he makes about characterization of women, for example? However (and I was too anxiety-ridden and nervous to ask this at the time), I think a more interesting question would be whether he plans to challenge himself to write women characters that are polar opposite of the women he knows. I'm definitely waiting for the Scalzi non-series novel where the sole main character is an adult lady never featured before in a previous book! :P

Unsurprisingly, he is a fan of explosions like I am a fan of explosions: non-violent resolutions are more enriching for the character journey — characters get to be awesome and the end of their story isn't taken out of their control by distracting bombastic shenanigans; those are saved for the run-up to the characters being awesome at the end of the story and retaining their agency. I really like that the person who asked the question pointed out that so often Scalzi does make a point in the Old Man's War series to show communication and human (well, human/alien) interaction solves problems just as effectively, and maybe more so, than fighting. This was my favorite question of the entire event; it really made me want to examine the books from a war/diplomacy angle and see how it works, because I definitely have time for a thesis on a science fiction series right now.

There were other neat questions about his interest in astronomy, about Fuzzy Nation (which I haven't read), and, predictably, goats, that I failed to take good notes on (there was a lot of laughing; his ability to work a crowd is no joke). I asked no questions because I always look like an asshole when I do and I was on a mission not to be an asshole. Anyway, I would've only asked the horrible, "When will you finally put me out of my misery and write a sequel to The Android's Dream?" question and had all my hopes crushed when he said, "2024" or worse, "Never." Better not to risk it.

Other writing related topics:

  1. When writing/researching: fake it first, then go appeal to friends and knowledgeable acquaintances. BEST ADVICE.
  2. Not directly presented as writing advice, but he discussed how at school he learned how to learn. That's an important skill for, well, not being an ignorant ass in general, but exceptionally useful as a writer. Notably, none of my academic adventures taught this particular skill until I, in my bitterness, started taking graduate level courses as an undergraduate. Achievement unlocked!
  3. Also not presented as advice, but relevant, was a short discussion of his work on Stargate Universe, and being the guy whose job it was to make his work invisible to the viewer. That's a great way to think about creating a story: as the author, set things up and then get the hell out of the way. I love Stargate Universe (ZERO SHAME) and I was so happy to learn the trivia abou it, even though the scientific explanation went directly over my head. :P

Then I bought The Human Division, stood in line and freaked out, and then actually met John Scalzi. :) I told him about a fan letter I wrote him, back in 2008, that I think (I HOPE?? I wrote that thing when I hadn't slept and was also a complete creep) got eaten by spam, and he told me that he practiced his signature when he was younger because he knew he was going to be successful, which is both adorable and the kind of confident I wish I could be. Anything else is lost to the repetition of "don't be an asshole, don't be an asshole" going through my head at the time. Then he signed my books and I spent the next twenty minutes shaking like a maraca after walking away.

John Scalzi signing a book.

Part of this anxiety inherent in walking up to an author who I have followed pretty steadily since 2006, first for his nonfiction at Whatever and then for his fiction when Tor offered Old Man's War as a free download, is that John Scalzi's work was the cause of a renewal in my interest in original science fiction after some time away. I often felt dissatisfied and as if I was missing something exciting from these books everyone else was finding in spades. I loved visual science fiction — the mid-to-late aughts was when I buried myself in Stargate and associated fandoms, caught up on films I had missed as a teenager, and watched (and re-watched, sometimes on a loop) some classics. However, science fiction literature just wasn't doing it for me. Scalzi's work, more than any other work at the time, introduced me to accessible science fiction literature that reminded me so much in tone of fanfiction that I loved. His work bridged the gap between the two aspects of my fannish identity and said, "hey, there's stuff for you here that's both generally lighthearted and ripe for consideration, come on down!", whereas so much of the science fiction I kept running into offline was truly hard science fiction which I often felt (and sometimes still do feel) too dumb for. His fiction put out a welcome mat for me and invited me in. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the fact that Old Man's War was him early on, in the murky space between fan and professional, where he could hit that perfect tone between Mainstream Science Fiction Adventure and Gleeful Fannish Romp to appeal to both sides of who I was at the time: fan, and someone who wanted space adventures like the kind I was watching in film and television, with the sort of plot that didn't require a lot of science I didn't know to keep the narrative moving and making sense. That's changed some on the fannish bits; his novels now have lost what I think of as their fannish tone (for me; I imagine this depends on the person) which is only right; as appealing to a broader market makes good financial sense for him, and for us, as we want him to be able to keep writing.

I still remember reading Old Man's War in one day, devouring it and turning around and pushing it on everyone who would take a moment to listen. I remember being so incredibly grateful for the work and the offhand chance I had to read it. I wasn't making near enough money to take risks on science fiction at that time, given that it was likely I wouldn't connect with any books I did buy, so the odds of me reading his work under my own power were low. I remember wanting to write afterward; I remember that feeling of intense desire to create something awesome that the best stories inspire for me. That doesn't happen very often. But it almost always happens with John Scalzi's work; for me it's both affecting, motivating and confidence-building.

So yeah, this event wasn't just about meeting an author I love, who is entertaining and charming and kind. It was about connecting with someone who, even though they didn't realize it, re-opened the door to this fandom for me, who keeps opening it with every new book or interesting meta or perspective on the SF/F world. It's not about idolatry so much as a love shared of a genre through writing, which, hell, is a big reason I write in the communities I do. Scalzi talks about it in the nonfiction piece he read during the event:

Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. [...] When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say "ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER." [...] It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome. (source)

I don't think I would have stayed away from science fiction forever — I was always going to come back because SF/F in fandom is also where I live. But John Scalzi set me on a fannish path at a particular time that changed my life — would I know some of my current bookish friends without his work? Would I still want to be a professional writer — would I even believe I could be without having seen someone who writes like I want to write and who is successful at it? Would [community profile] ladybusiness, where I deliberately focus on SF/F, exist if not for one novel, by the right person, at the right time?

We all have our catalysts. John Scalzi was one of mine. I'm incredibly thankful that I had the chance to meet the person so integral to my development as an SF/F fan.

Signed title page of Zoe's Tale.

Thanks for being awesome, John Scalzi! ♥

Date: 2013-06-11 02:36 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
"I will probably become jaded and cynical one day, when I live in a place where I can overdose on this aspect, and forget that I missed out on this literary culture the first few decades of my life, but I hope not."

I wonder about this too. The place where I currently live is by far the best place I've ever been as far as literary culture is concerned, so I can see the potential for... taking it for granted, I guess, even if not exactly becoming jaded. But at the same time, I think the years of draught are going to stay with me. I still have moments when I want to explode with gratitude for the opportunities I have now.

Anyway, this post is so happy-making! I've always liked Scalzi, but knowing he played an indirect role in the inception of LB only makes me like him more :D I'm so glad this space exists and that I get to share it with you.

Date: 2013-06-12 01:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Having been exiled to suburbia for the time being, I will say that you get unjaded real fast as soon as you go without that beautiful, pulsing heart. I miss the city so much.

What a lovely write-up. I wanted to let you know I liked it. :)

Date: 2013-06-20 02:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Scalzi goes to some lengths to be sweet to his fans in person. A couple of years ago during the Fuzzy Nation tour, I drove an hour to a nearby city to see him read, and he signed my book and even recognized my name and said "you just reviewed this one, didn't you?" That was a thrill I will never forget.
You don't have to have read Piper's Little Fuzzy to enjoy Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation, but reading the first does enhance one's reading of the second, and they're both good SF so why not?


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