I got a little help from the Blogfather himself on this one! Here's John Scalzi, waving to you all from the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale this evening. I told him it would be "delightfully recursive," or words to that effect; and he was happy to do it.
I also tried to get a picture of him taking a picture of us waving, but somehow I ended up with a timing delay and a shot of the floor. Ah, well. He said to say hello, and he'll see you soon.
Actually, his wave - as well as his appearance - was part of a double bill. Here's the (relatively) uncropped version of the same picture. The other writer here, waving for my camera at Scalzi's request, is Jane K. Cleland, a mystery writer currently touring in support of her novel Deadly Appraisal. As with Scalzi and One Man's War, Cleland is up for a major award for her debut novel, Consigned to Death. Scalzi won the Campbell Award; Cleland is up for an Agatha.
Jane Cleland spoke first, for which she was interviewed by a local librarian who was a fan of her work. Cleland's amateur sleuth, Josie Prescott, is an antiques appraiser, which sounds like a fun and original angle for a mystery series. My appreciation of the mystery genre pretty much begins and ends with Sherlock Holmes, but she spoke with such affection about her characters that I bought Deadly Appraisal anyway. After all, I like Antiques Roadshow as much as the next former eBay seller. And I'm a sucker for good, likable characters.
Then it was John Scalzi's turn, doing his solo act. He joked that this included "interpretive dance." When someone called him on it, he did a bit of what an old social studies teacher of mine used to call "polka in place" - that is, he danced from the waist up, kinda. He then proceeded to explain that he does know how to dance, and why (basically it involved meeting girls), and how he met his wife on the dance floor. Aww!
Anyway, he was highly amusing and somewhat informative. He talked about his market-driven decision to write military sf, the premise for each of the books in the Old Man's War trilogy, and the fact that he started the third book in the series, The Last Colony, three times, trying to get the right focus on the right characters. He also mentioned his belief in a strong opening sentence, and told the story of his first book tour, in support of The Rough Guide to Money Online, a book that tanked due to the bursting of the Internet bubble.
It quickly became clear that most of the somewhat modest audience was there to see him. Cleland's reception was cordial and insightful, but there was definite fandom going on for Scalzi, and rightly so, as far as I'm concerned. The bad news was that it was over way too quickly. Each author had only half an hour to talk, and therefore did only tiny snippets by way of a reading. I personally could have interviewed each of them for half an hour more. For Scalzi, maybe an hour more. But I limited myself to one question, which was not the question I thought of in advance. I asked whether there's another genre or subgenre he'd like to try, and whether Tor would be interested in publishing it. He mentioned a great premise (in my estimation) he'd come up with about the incarnation of an idea, and that it got a politely unenthusiastic reception from his editor. Nevertheless, it sounds as though he probably will be writing some interesting stories outside the niche his current novels are in, with Subterranean Press on hand to publish some of the more "experimental" stuff.
This is going to sound kind of odd, but for me the wonderful surprise of the evening was how darn nice John Scalzi is in person, and how nice he was to me in particular. Yes, we can tell from By the Way that he's a good guy as well as an amusing one, but somehow I didn't quite expect him to be quite that friendly and bouncy and generous. Remember, it was almost exactly a year ago that I last drove up to metro Phoenix to see a major author, and that experience was pretty much the opposite of this one. For all his talent and energy and charm, Harlan Ellison is not a terribly nice man. He's perfectly capable of being rude, harshly unpleasant and even a bit unfair to people who like and respect him, even if he likes and respects them in return. Harlan said some very warm things to me last year, but he also ridiculed me in public, and not in a gentle or funny way. Having actually met him now, I can't imagine Scalzi ever behaving that way. Yes, he may sometimes repay rudeness and boorishness with sharper words than any I heard tonight; but otherwise he's pretty much a friendly teddy bear version of the Algonquin Round Table - witty, but nice. That's pretty much in keeping with both his By the Way persona and his slightly edgier Whatever persona.
So the niceness shouldn't have been much of a surprise. What really got to me was that he instantly recognized Karen Funk Blocher of Tucson in the audience, said hi, and asked about my car. I was flummoxed for a second before I realized what he was asking about. Then I said, "It's gonna cost me another $450 to fix," because it is.* (It needs bushings on tie rods, an alignment and some freeze plugs.) He then proceeded to explain to the audience that he blogs for AOL, about the Weekend Assignment and the Monday Photo Shoot, and that Karen writes "novels" in response, which he then has to precis. Well, yes. Sorry to put you to that extra work, John, but it doesn't sound as though you mind too much. (Thanks for mentioning the tengrem, by the way.)
So that was all wonderful, and later during the signing I got to tell him that I finally started reading Old Man's War and liked it. He seemed amused rather than disappointed by my admission that I hated the first page of The Android's Dream, and he was glad to personalize my copy of Coffee Shop, which of course was already signed. I even got a hug - actually, more than one. He was genuinely happy to see me, and I him.
There you have it. After three years or so of all this interactive online wackiness between us, John Scalzi and I have finally met, and officially like each other. Yay!
I wanted to bring him something from In-N-Out Burger, but there really wasn't an opportunity, and he said he'd get a shot at visiting the chain tomorrow in San Diego. Nevertheless, I sought out the Chandler location after the bookstore appearance, basically in Scalzi's honor. I don't find the food overwhelmingly great, but I like their retro designs. A Tucson location just opened last week, with a reported waiting time of two or three hours to sample the food. Shades of Krispy Kreme (which later tanked and closed)! Meanwhile, back in Chandler, I read a little more of Old Man's War as I waited just a few minutes for my #1, no onions.
Finding the Chandler location of In-N-Out from memory proved to be a little tricky. If you ever get a telepathic message from me, wondering which exit has the In-N-Out Burger, send me vibrations to the effect that it's on Ray Road, not Chandler Blvd. I had to double back for it. Just as I pulled into the lot and got out, John (Blocher) called to say that he'd just discovered that many of our oldest and/or most expensive, irreplaceable clothes, which were stored in a cedar chest, have been eaten down to clumps of tattered thread by some furry black bugs that have been infesting my bathroom recently. We had no idea that they ate wool! So John's 1960s serape is gone, and a wool jacket, and a replica Tucson Cowboys uniform, and a wizard robe and our cowboy hats and so on. Drat!
That wasn't the only disaster of the day and night. First there was the car, of course. I dropped it off the first thing this morning, took the bus up Craycroft to Fifth and walked the rest of the way. My friend Kevin was on the bus, but I had no idea this was the case until he said hello as he got off. As I walked up Fifth, I came across some colorful, fun tiles in the sidewalk in front of an elementary school. I took a picture of this one for you, Pat, because it reminded me of your mascot, Myrtle Kelley.
But the disaster of the day came after the news of the tie rod bushings, after the missed exit for a double double, after word of the destroyed clothes. I ran out of gas in Marana! Enterprise (which wouldn't pick me up until I moved the reservation to a different location) had upgraded me to an SUV, saying it would be safer than a compact for my drive to Scottsdale. Maybe, but what a gas hog! I started with almost half a tank, spent $20 on Toltec Rd., and still ran dry on I-10 at midnight, halfway between the Marana exit with gas and the Cortaro exit with gas. The Highway Patrol gave me a ride to the gas station, and I hoofed it most of the way back before a nice man gave me a lift the rest of the way. But here I am, home again, safe and sound. Good night - or should I say, good morning! Darn good thing I arranged to take this morning off!
*Update: the garage called me this morning. They can't get the bushings, and have to get the inner tie rods themselves (or something), which just doubled my repair bill. Ack! Apparently the repair is not an optional one. If I don't want to buy another car, I have to spend the $800.