In our family, we have a rule. (We probably need more, but at least we have one. And we tend to stick to it, so I’m thinking maybe we shouldn’t extend ourselves.) We only buy lottery tickets on holidays. I’m talking about scratchers here, usually $1. For each holiday, we each get one. Sometimes the holidays pile up (yay, February!) and we find ourselves buying for several holidays in a bunch. Like today, we bought six. And I won $3. You could call that a 50% loss, but I call it a 50% return. Why? Because I’m a writer, and playing the lottery is better than being a writer. Well, in some ways…

  1. The odds of winning a cash prize (on the tickets I bought today) is 1-in-7.99. Do you know what writers would do to get 1-in-8 odds for a magazine submission?
  2. It’s only a buck. Writing used to cost more. You needed typewriter ribbons, carbon paper (ask your parents), paper (lots of it), envelopes (two per sub) and postage. Now you don’t need anything but an internet connection. But it’s still time-consuming, and even if you’re only charging yourself minimum wage, that’s a lot of dough sunk into each story.
  3. Your chances of winning big are much better. Yes, you have the same odds of winning the Powerball as of having the shark that’s attacking you being hit by lightning. But you can go an entire lifetime without hitting the big bucks as a writer, and you probably will. What’s a little standing in line at 7-11 compared to that?
  4. You can set your own target. Go ahead. Buy the $1 “Chinese New Year”scratcher. Or the $5 “Moon Shot.” Or both. Or neither. Nobody cares if you switch tickets, or buy different-priced tickets on different days. But if you’re going to be a writer, you want to be known for one thing, so readers can find you.
  5. No waiting. Buy your ticket, scratch your ticket, toss your ticket. The whole process takes less than a minute. Nobody has ever been rejected that fast. It can take months. (I’ve had it take years.) The fastest rejection I’ve ever gotten took over an hour. Do you know how many scratchers you could buy and uncover in an hour? (And you’d certainly make money, which is more than that rejection paid.)

So if you’re going to gamble, take it easy on yourself. The lottery is only money. Writing is money, time, sweat, depression, feelings of inadequacy, and frustration. And with the lotto, you get money. Money you can spend on things you don’t need. Then it’s gone, but at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you spent it. With writing, all you get is a warm feeling in your heart when you hold that magazine in your hand and think about all the thousands of people who will read it, people who will all wish they were you, and even after you put the magazine on the shelf it will lie there for years, and you’ll have to move it whenever you need to dust, and every time you do that you’ll only get that same warm feeling all over again.

Money you can spend right now versus a sense of accomplishment you’ll have to carry around for the rest of your life? Hmm, tough choice.


A Super-mistake

A little late to the party, but since my theme is based in the 1960s, I don’t suppose a few weeks really matters. You see, back when I was (first) collecting comic books like a madman, everything Superman did was, well, “super.” All his powers were super, his cousin, dog, and probably his dry-cleaner were “super,” and even his mistakes were “super-mistakes.” (Kind of like “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.“) As time went on, this trend faded. But it seems that the era of “super-mistakes” has not passed away.

As anyone who is interested is aware, at the end of “Man of Steel,” Superman kills General Zod. (I had heard something of this ilk was up, and never saw the movie. But it’s common knowledge now.) This editorial decision was not popular in some quarters (to say the least). And it appears that the ghost of this choice has never been exorcised; it still haunts the sequel, “Batman v. Superman.” Zack Snyder, the director, is having none of it.

“People are always like ‘You changed Superman.’ If you’re a comic book fan, you know that I didn’t change Superman. If you know the true canon, you know that I didn’t change Superman. If you’re a fan of the old movies, yeah, I changed him a bit. That’s the difference. I’m a bit of a comic book fan and I always default to the true canon…”

Well, yes and no. When he was first introduced, Superman was like the Punisher. It is rather shocking to our latter-day eyes just how ruthless he was. But that was 75 years ago. He’s changed. In many ways, becoming both much more powerful and much more controlled.

Now, we’ve gotten used to cinematic heroes who kill–even superheroes. I’m a fan of “Arrow,” but man, that guy has laid out his share of baddies. And Deadpool’s coming out; he’s not exactly a pacifist. (Not to mention Wolverine…) But there’s a large and critical difference between those guys–and almost everybody, really–and Superman, which is…he’s Superman. Faster than a speeding bullet, flies, can’t be hurt by much of anything.

Face it, the only thing between Superman and taking over the world is that he doesn’t want to. The only thing between Superman and getting rid of anyone who annoys him is that he doesn’t kill. Because he chooses not to. And now, Zack Snyder, you’ve taken that away.

So, yeah, that’s a super-mistake. Now that Superman has killed, he can kill again. What’s to stop him from being the super-bully? Superman was always the one you could look up to, the one who always did the right thing. Now he’s just another vigilante. And yes, that’s what “Batman v. Superman” is all about. But you know by the end of the movie they’re going to be friends, or at least colleagues. So you’re left with a tortured killer who roams the city seeking justice in memory of his lost parents–and Batman.

Sorry, Zack, but you were handed the goose that laid the golden eggs…and you broke them to make omelets.

“Tryst,” my Victorian ghost story that arose out of a weekend of reading entirely too many Victorian ghost stories, is live at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores. Please let me know how you liked it; like the characters in the story, I’ll be haunting this space.


As Strange as Fiction

It’s often said that “Life imitates art.” But as I posited in my last post, that doesn’t normally happen in SF. And yet, here we are: We have a presidential campaign that imitates a Hugo campaign.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Donald Trump campaign v. the Rabid Puppies.* Lately (and not-so-lately) it has become the fashion in certain quarters to wonder if the Donald is trying to lose the nomination.** I mean, the things he says…about women, immigrants, war heroes… Is there a non-white male group he hasn’t tried to alienate?

And then there are the Rabid Puppies. Now these guys I’m sure are in it for the laughs. It’s another example of someone trying to tick everyone else off, and I can’t see that it’s serious. It’s just a way to “stick it to the Man” (assuming in this case there is a “Man”) and see how much fun can be had. It’s “Bart Simpson Goes to Worldcon.”

The surprising thing in both instances is how well it’s worked. Last year the RPs pretty much swept the Hugo nominations, to everyone’s surprise, which lead to a conclusion that no one is proud of. This year Trump has lead the Republican field for months, and if he gets the nomination, I don’t think the results will make a lot of people happy.

But maybe this is all to the good. Systems that lie in place unchallenged for too long become complacent; people adjust to the status quo, never noticing that maintaining the status quo, over the long term, is called “stagnation.” So once in a while you have to stir things up. People don’t like it when their comfortable status quo is stirred up, particularly those who have made it to the top of the heap. (This doesn’t mean that the stirrers are necessarily right, merely necessary.)

Is it painful? Yes. Is it scary? Yes. Is it necessary? Unfortunately, yes. And even more than that, it’s inevitable. But the result is that people realize that the system does not operate on auto-pilot, that it needs attention, just like in all those stories about generation starships that encounter problems a hundred years later and somebody has to exceed himself to fix them. We haven’t reached that point; we only have to rouse ourselves a little bit, pay a little attention, and a new, perhaps better, status quo can be achieved. It may not be quite the same, but that’s how the system works.


*Last year, I could have included the Sad Puppies, but they claim to have reframed their narrative and I have no reason to doubt them.

**This is not an invitation to discuss political issues. Thank you.

Did you ever notice that science fiction is not terribly good at predicting the future? Yeah, if you look backward, you can say that Star Trek presaged handheld computers/cell phones, but did it predict that people would walk into walls while looking at their tricorders?

SF is really good at forecasting large-scale, far-future developments, the kind of things so vague that they have a good chance of happening (just not in our lifetimes). But it’s the smaller ideas, the personal ones, that really make a difference that SF is lousy at seeing from far away. It’s like that popular complaint: “It’s the 21st century, where’s my flippin’ flying car?”

The truth is, SF was for too long only about the inventions and the gadgets and the rocket ships/blasters. (Or at least that was the perception. I’m not here to argue about the exceptions.) As I have said before, when I was in college one of my friends once said that he thought writing SF was the way to go because you didn’t have to worry about characterization. This misconception has plagued the field, and individual writers, for decades. (Which is ironic, if you accept that SF is lousy at predicting the future, too, leaving one to wonder what it is good at.)

SF is bad at predicting the future because that study is always focused on things, e.g., where’s my flying car? But the future isn’t dictated by things, it’s dictated by people and their actions. This is the concept that eludes the public when thinking about SF, and that eludes so many writers when they’re starting out. (This is me raising my hand.) The reason we don’t have flying cars is not because we can’t build them, it’s because they’d be too darned dangerous. You see people on the freeway every day performing the most mind-blowingly stupid stunts just to shave five seconds off their drive–do you want them doing that in three dimensions? Right over your head?

SF is just another form of literature, and at its best, literature describes the human condition; SF simply uses outsized canvases to do it. But if you try to define the future (more than a few weeks out) by describing human behavior, you’re going to fail. (Unless you’re Isaac Asimov, and that was kind of his point.) So the fact that SF isn’t terribly good at predicting future events is really a good thing; it means we’re concentrating on the right subjects.

On the other hand, an attorney friend of mine recently pointed out that Star Trek’s future doesn’t seem to include any lawyers. Maybe we’ll get lucky and that’s one prediction SF will get right.



I am pleased to introduce the cover art for The Secret City. I think it turned out rather well…


The book will be available February 29 for $3.99. Pre-order on Amazon and Smashwords now for only $2.99.


There is a new controversy in town–not a surprise–that concerns whether authors should be paid to attend book festivals. What is a surprise, at least to me, is how many authors feel that they should. When informed that many of these festivals work on a volunteer basis and can’t afford it, the response seems to be, “So charge more. It’s work, and I deserve to be paid for it.”

Well, I’m an author, and I have a counter: Nobody’s making you go to these things.

I volunteer for the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and have for nearly 20 years. Every year I have been an “author escort,” which entails accompanying authors to and from panel sessions (mostly so they don’t get lost). I have escorted dozens of authors in my time, the famous and the not-so-famous (and when I say “famous,” I mean it). Some of them are friendly, some are distracted, some treat the appearance as a business appointment. But none has ever complained about being there, none has ever complained he was mistreated (at least not by me), and most of them return year after year.

Now, I don’t know if the Festival pays an appearance fee. They’ve never asked me to appear, so it hasn’t come up (and I certainly have never asked). But I do know that none of these writers was shanghaied to the UCLA or USC campus, made to wade through crowds of 75,000 people per day–none of whom has paid an admission fee, forced to speak to a packed lecture hall for an hour, or chained to a chair in a shady tent while fans stood for up to an hour for a chance for an autograph and maybe a picture. They did it because they liked it. Every one of them has enjoyed his time in the limelight (and I would know, because from leaving the green room to returning, I am never out of sight of my authors).

So if you want to be paid to appear at a festival or a convention (which I have run, and we didn’t pay those authors, either; some showed up without even being invited), that is your right, and more power to you if you can get it. But to demand that all festivals and conventions pay their author-speakers is…well, if you don’t want to go, just give them my number. I’ll be happy to explain you were busy.



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