Once again, I arrive with clumsy flourish, to bring you whatever thoughts I can squeeze from my soggy braincake. (I saw Soggy Braincake on the side stage at Lollapalooza, 1994.) Increasingly I am of a mind that treating this blog occasionally like a newsletter is not the worst idea, as those who subscribe get this neat little bundle hand-delivered by digital elves upon me clicking Publish. So, let’s get to it, shall we?
Go Watch Only Murders In The Building Now, Right Now, Hurry Up
Did you like Ted Lasso? Did you want to feel that way again? Then I have the show for you. Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez fucking kill it in this murder-mystery — it’s got more NYC sensibilities than Ted Laddo’s melange of Midwest and UK vibes, but it’s ultimately still not overly cynical. It’s funny, it’s murdery, it’s occasionally sweet. I won’t spoil it but the finale had me laughing so hard we had to pause the show so we didn’t miss anything. It’s really fucking great, and it deserves your eyeballs. And awards. And a puppy. Sidenote: Selena Gomez should be on deck to play Miriam Black in a Blackbirds adaptation for television. Dear universe, please make this happen, thank you. *stares very hard at the universe*
On The Other Hand, Succession?
I continue to bounce very hard off this show. It’s not the show’s fault. The show is brilliant. It’s a me problem, not a them problem. I’ve tried watching it a few times now, and I’ve never made it through the first season. I find the characters not merely reprehensible, but each of them bleeds this miasma of second-hand-embarrassment that makes me almost literally recoil. Again, to the credit of the show, I recognize this is intentional — and the actors are very clearly nailing it. They’re exceptional. But I can’t crack it. It’s also possible I’m watching it at the wrong time — not the wrong time in the world (though that’s part of it, too, in that I don’t necessarily want to watch a bunch of Murdochian fuckheads traipse about being epic douchebags), but I mean, literally, the wrong time of day. As we have a kidlet running around, I tend to watch more (ahem ahem) mature programming at night before bed, and before bed is not when I want to feel tense from watching Murdochian fuckheads. Part of me thinks, what if I watch it during the day? Maybe. Hmm.
It’s interesting to me, because a show like Billions works for me, and yet those characters are reprehensible, too. Sopranos, Breaking Bad, all of them contain largely reprehensible and irredeemable characters, but they’re… even when not necessarily redeemable, still human. The characters of Succession are satirical, in part, and that means they’re more openly cartoonish, buffoonish, and sinister. Their humanity is harder to find. I think there’s a trick to making unlikable characters, and as I’ve long said, it’s to worry less about likability and more about livability. Like, can you live with these characters as narrative roommates, even if they’re fuckheads? You can get away with more of this when the story is in a shorter format, right? Like, a movie makes it easier, because it’s 90-120 minutes in, then you’re out. But a TV show demands you stew in it, and sometimes it feels like hanging out in a septic tank instead of a spa tub.
But, again, I note: brilliant show, and I think I just need to approach it differently.
That, or it’s not just a show for me, which is also totally a thing!
Children Ask Amazing Questions
So, in case I haven’t crammed it into your eyeholes enough, hey, I wrote a middle grade book! Molly Grim inherits a funeral home for monsters and has to share the inheritance with a brother, Dustin, she’s never met. Dust & Grim! Please go buy it or get it from a library lest I wither like a dying spider, legs curling inward as I gently turn over onto my back! Or something.
So, this week I’ve done my first ever school visits (well, not really first ever as I’d visited my son’s school in the past), but at the very least, the first in support of a single book, and the first done over Zoom. And it’s weird, of course, because basically you get up there and talk at a screen for 20, 30 minutes, and I just sort of blather and stammer about my book and hope that I’m not totally boring the children to absolute tears. But! But. Then we get to the Q&A portion, and that is my favorite. Because kids ask amazing questions.
They don’t come up and say HELLO THIS IS MORE OF A COMMENT THAN A QUESTION, they don’t ask convoluted fan questions or crawl-up-your-own-ass-with-pretension questions.
They just ask really cool questions.
Sometimes they’re really simple, like
HI MY NAME IS JORDAN WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MONSTER
And it’s like, uhh yeah, hell yeah, that’s a fun question, I want to answer that question. No sarcasm. That’s a delight. Other times, they ask really weird questions like
HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK ALL YOUR INTERNAL ORGANS WEIGH
And it’s like, okay, that’s a fun one, too, let’s game that out, let’s do the math.
Then! Then I had one group who was very clearly doing a unit on writing, because they asked some seriously hard-hitting questions about writing. This is no joke, these are not made-up questions:
HOW DO YOU BUILD SUSPENSE IN A BOOK
HOW DO YOU MAKE ANTAGONISTS LIKABLE
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN TO END A CHAPTER
HOW DO YOU USE THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF FORESHADOWING
WHERE AND HOW SHOULD YOU START A STORY
Like, uhh, haha, oh shit those are real questions. Can’t I just talk about my favorite monster again? Those are real-deal writing queries, and the kids were really thoughtful, and it was wonderful.
Kids are cool.
Our Dog, The Bug That Is Snoo
Hey, our dog is doing okay, for those who have asked (and thanks!). She had multiple courses of anti-b’s, and has to have her BUTT GHOSTS exorcised once a month at present, but so far, that’s holding the Wolves of Surgery at bay.
Advancing The Advance Conversation
I don’t know what started it, but on Twitter there has been quite a bit of fol-de-rol over the question: is $100,000 is a big advance or not? I take it some author said it wasn’t, or it wasn’t as big as you’d think, or what-have-you.
So, let me clear up my thoughts on this:
It’s a big advance.
It’s also not automagically life-changing.
It can be.
But it isn’t necessarily.
The thing is, as with nearly all discussions, there is a whole lot of nuance that has to get packed into it, and generally speaking, Twitter is a place where nuance goes to die. Nuance are bumps and splinters, and every conversation on that cursed bird-site sands those bumps and splinters down. Everything gotta be this or that over there. But the bumps and splinters are texture…
And texture is a necessity.
Some advances are as low as $10,000.
So, a $100k advance is higher by 10x, which makes it pretty sizable.
And if you’re already working a full-time job, that money — on top of your other money — probably makes a big damn difference, and can change your life. Maybe not lottery money life-changing, but, hey, it’s a huge pressure off.
And yet, there are… considerations.
First, you’re going to give 15% of that to an agent. So now it’s a $85k advance.
Second, you’re going to give some portion of that to taxes. Assume, bare minimum, you’re going to give 25% of that to taxes, so you’re going to be left with ~$60k out of that initial $100k advance.
Third, that advance will not be paid to you all at one time. It will be divvied up in 3-5 payments. First, on signing. Then at various other mile-markers along the way: when you turn in a draft and it is accepted by the publisher, when it is published, when trade paperback comes out a year later, when there’s a Super Blue Blood Wolf Harvest Moon, when the Moon Hits Your Eye Like A Big Pizza Pie, when you finally kill your first man in Reno — whatever. There are gates, and you gotta walk through those gates to trigger a payment.
So, if in 1/3rds, you’re going to get roughly $20k each time.
And that can be paid out over the course of 1-2 years, depending on how long the process takes. Publishing a book is not fast. Drafting a book to reaching bookshelves is a journey.
Fourth, is it for one book, this deal? If so, well done, good job. If it’s $100k for, say, a three book deal, that hits real different. Because now it’s more books, more time, and less money per book.
Fifth, where do you live? Is it San Francisco? Then congrats, that advance just paid for your annual coffee budget. Is it Ohio? Congrats, you can put a payment down on a reasonable home! Where you live really matters as how far that dollar goes. That’s not to say living in San Francisco isn’t amazing — certainly you’re in the midst of a lot of culture in a city, culture you might not so easily access in, say, Centralia, Pennsylvania. (Aka, THE EVER-BURNING TOWN.) But access to that kind of culture is not cheap. Sadly. Cruelly. We continue to silo parts of our country and culture to the Already Wealthy. (Which writers generally are not, to remind.)
And a final consideration is that publishers, now trying to portion out the payments over more stages and longer periods, are also enjoying an industry that is on the rise — book sales are up, not down, during the pandemic. (Though no telling what supply chain issues will do to that.) And, my personal opinion is that they’re also spending less money to send authors out on tour or go to conventions, so, it does in fact feel like a bit of a sting to try to stretch those payments out even further, thus diminishing the very idea of what an “advance” is supposed to be. (The core idea of an advance is, or was, “Here is money you can live on while you edit this book and ideally, write the next one.”)
Anyway. All this is a very long-winded way to say, again:
Yes, $100k is a big advance. It is important to note that.
It’s also important to note it’s not as big as you think — or, rather, it doesn’t go as far as you think. And overselling a $100k advance as being this WHOA WOW LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE runs the risk of empowering publishers in continuing to pretend that they’re doing you a favor. (As a reminder, publishers are not your friend. The people inside them are wonderful, and as an industry I am of a mind that it’s a whole lot healthier than many, many others. Even still, be careful about assuming that any scraps you receive are a gift to you, rather than what is owed — or less than what you should be owed.)
Where’s Wald–Uhh, I Mean, Where’s Wendig
I was super gonzo cuckoopants lucky to get to talk to the wonderful Felicia Day, who invited me onto her podcast, Felicitations, to talk about APPLES. Not the computer. Nay. The fruit. The gorgeous, weird, wonderful fruit. Heirloom apples and Johnny Appleseed and apple detectives and we also talked about books and I think cryptocurrency? I dunno. It got weird. Anyway! I had a ton of fun on this and thanks to Felicia for having me on. Go check it out.
Dust & Grim got a shout-out from Bloody Disgusting (!!) as one of ten horror books perfect for the Halloween reading season, saying: “Wendig offers a whimsical spooky tale full of ghosts, vampires, fairies, cryptids, and monsters of all types for the young and young at heart. Wendig crafts a middle school read that treats his target audience with respect. In other words, it may be a lighthearted horror fairy tale, but the author isn’t afraid to inflict pain or heighten the stakes.”
The Book of Accidents got listed by Kirkus as one of their 13 scariest books of 2021!
I did a Q&A with Publishers Weekly if you wanna read that interview. I mostly talk about writing Dust & Grim! But also a little about writing during a pandemic, too.
Tonight, I get to hang with one of my best homies, Delilah S. Dawson, where we’re *haughty tone* TWO AUTHORS IN CONVERSATION, talking about writing and middle grade and scary stuff and spoopy stuff and who knows what else. That’s at 7pm EST tonight, please come and check it out.
Finally, Dust & Grim got its third (!) starred review, this one from the BCCB, saying: “Wendig thrills, enchants, and amuses in equal measure with this uniquely bizarre fantasy adventure.” That full review will be published in their November issue.
What I Have Been Filling My Brain With Lately
Playing: Been rounding the bend on my Mass Effect playthrough, halfway through ME3, now. It’s such a fantastic series. There’s supposed to be an ME4, yeah?
Reading: Kiersten White’s Hide and Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home. The former is a sharp-toothed amusement-park thrill-ride where a game of reality show hide and seek goes, uhhh, let’s just go with “horribly awry.” And the latter is a gut-stabbing horrory noir about crime and consequence born of out of the struggle of poverty, and the tangled nightmare of grief. Both great reads. Now onto Alex Segura’s so-far-excellent Secret Identity. Crime novel set in the world of 1970s comic book industry.
Watching: Only Murders, obviously. Gonna try to watch Dune this weekend. Watching John Stewart’s new show, which was good, if a little pokey — not that I need or desire my news-explorations shows to be funny, but Last Week Tonight and Daily Show still do it better, I think. Stewart’s show still feels like it’s finding its feet, and honestly, I haven’t been too enamored that lately he went in on the “lab leak” notion for COVID-19 origins (which so far is an unsubstantiated theory), and also that he was supporting Chapelle with his anti-trans sentiment in The Closer — while I recognize that comedy is comedy, I also think these guys really want to have their cake and to eat it, too. They want comedy to be this truth-telling medium where the jokes are actually in some way revelatory, saying what we all think. But then when they’re called on it, the jokes suddenly become “just jokes, not serious, how dare you get mad at jokes, jokes are equal-opportunity offenders,” as if comedy requires a victim to be funny. Then they go in on cancel culture, claiming they’re victims of it from their streaming TV shows that backed the money truck up to their houses. I don’t mean to suggest the comedians are vile or monstrous people, but I really think they both want the power of comedy to be this epic, transcendent thing — until they receive the mildest of criticisms, at which point, they turtle up and say, OH WAIT THESE ARE JUST DUMB JOKES, YOU DICKHEADS, HOW DARE YOU TRY TO QUASH MY FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, ANYWAY, SEE YOU LATER ON MY TV SHOW. I’m not even picking on Stewart overmuch here, or really, even just Chapelle — it’s a deeper trend of very sensitive comedians, usually men, who can’t seem to take criticism. Jokes matter, until they don’t, etc. No one can just say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” Meanwhile, they’ll never choose to identify with right-wing Trumpy-types, even though their core message remains ultimately the same: “Fuck your feelings, I can say what I want.”
Wow, that was a longer rant than I intended. Hm.
ANYWAY, NOW HERE ARE SOME PHOTOS.
Okay, first photo up (and you can see all my photos at Flickr) is maybe one of my most favoritest photos of all time. Every year I try to capture shots of golden-crowned kinglets, and these little fuckers are hard to capture. They move like a blinking cursor. They often stay on the interior of evergreens. Usually my shots of them are just blurry bird-ass. But this year, they’ve been more personable, and there have been a lot of them. So, I got this shot:
Like HOLY CRAP look at the iridescence through the wing! Really lucky with that shot.