As mentioned previously, Scalzi was one of the two author spotlight panels on my schedule that I absolutely did not want to miss. (I had originally planned to have this one and the Rothfuss panel report share a post, but when I realized that together they would end up being a pretty huge chunk of words, I decided to split them.) His was at noon on the final day of the con, and it was kind of the inverse of the Rothfuss panel with regard to structure—he started off the panel by reading some of his work to us, and then followed with Q&A.
I slid in to the panel a few minutes late, but made it there in time to hear the end of a poem Scalzi wrote once upon a time, called “Ode to a Clone.” I missed the context but was nonetheless amused by the poem, especially this phrase: “a Nome clone dome home.” (If that doesn’t hook you, then I don’t know what will.) Later, I wanted to read the beginning of the poem and tracked it down on this website of science jokes (it’s about the 5th one down the page). Check it out if you’re into nerdy rhyming science humor.
Next up in Scalzi storytime, we were given a choice between a piece called “Flaming Babies” and another called simply “Chocolate.” There was some dissent in the audience over which to choose, but the flaming babies won out (and how could they not, really?). So Scalzi read us a piece from when he was a writer at AOL in the ‘90s (I think that’s where the clone poem is from, too), wherein he recounts a tale of calling the Pampers and Huggies hotlines to discuss the chances of diapers catching on fire, as had happened to him when he was a baby. It’s just as funny as it sounds (my favorite bit: “Is there some sort of weird diaper lady cabal?”), and you can read it here on his blog.
After we all vicariously learned to keep diapers away from bonfire pits and intense sunlight, Scalzi decided we had enough time to do “Chocolate” as well, another short piece from his early writer days that addresses the topic of his wife’s passion for the stuff and how though he himself has never been able to appreciate it, he can appreciate her appreciation for it. It was especially funny because his wife was in the panel audience, bearing up well. Later in the Q&A someone asked her if it was strange to hear him read that out loud, and she said, “The moment he said ‘chocolate’ I knew what it was…and I know exactly the dinner he’s referring to.” Again, if you find yourself so inclined, you can read it on his blog here. It’s short. It’s funny. Give it a go. I just re-read it, and now I really want to go hunt down the Hershey’s Kisses I know are in the freezer somewhere.
After finishing off that one, he said, “So that was okay, right? The fifteen-years-ago stuff worked alright.” We agreed that yes, it was definitely alright, and he continued, explaining the worry a little bit. “The thing is,” he said, “I’m being super highly selective, because when I was doing my column for the newspaper way back in the day, I was 24, 25 years old. I was the smuggest twenty-something you ever met, and I thought everything I wrote was pure gold. Then I became an editor for AOL and had to be writing a humor area where every year I had 20 open slots for humor-related material, and I would have 1000 submissions a month, because we did this thing called paying people, which apparently gets a lot of people to actually submit things. After going through all thousand submissions, I would still have ten open slots, because comedy’s actually hard. So I’d actually have to start telling people, ‘Well, here’s what you can do to tweak it and improve it,’ and then give you some examples and all this other stuff, doing what editors do. Then later on I went back to all the stuff that I wrote at the newspaper, which I had thought was gold, and my reaction to most of it was—[choking, horrified noise]—because it was terrible! Whoever thought it was a good idea to let me have a column—they were high.” Everyone laughed at that, and he added, “It wasn’t that they were high, it was just that I made enough noise that they were like, ‘Fine, give him Wednesday.’ I went back to that newspaper to visit at one point and I went to my editor at the time, and I was like, ‘Thank you so much for not stabbing me in the eye during all that time I was writing that column.’ And he was like, ‘I have waited for this day.’ I’m a much better writer now. Thank God. It was only 20 years.”
Q&A of DOOM
The reading portion of the panel thus completed, we moved into the question-and-answer session in earnest. After a compliment from an audience member that resulted in a short discussion of Dave Barry and piles of money, the first question he got was if there are any more plans for Scalzorc. “She’s referring to something we did…5 years ago now, which was called Clash of the Geeks, where I commissioned a picture of me as an orc and Wil Wheaton in his clown sweater and hot, hot blue shorts astride a unicorn pegasus kitten, battling each other while there was a volcano behind us. As you do. And we commissioned writers like Patrick Rothfuss, Cat Valente, Stephen Toulouse, and a number of other ones to write very short stories about what the hell was actually going on in that particular painting.”
Feast yer eyes!
“It was actually very impressive. We put that all together, and we put it up as pay-what-you-want with all proceeds going to the Lupus Society of Michigan because Subterranean Press, which was publishing it—the founder’s wife has lupus. We raised about $25,000 with it, which was actually really, really wonderful. Because people were totally down with it—‘I’ll happily pay $5 for this absolutely ridiculous thing.’ It was great, because Patrick Rothfuss did an edda, an actual epic poem, Wil did something, Rachel Swirsky, who has won two Nebulas now…just an amazing amount of talent in that actual, ridiculous thing. We don’t really have any plans to revisit Scalzorc or Hot Pants Wheaton, although Hot Pants Wheaton is the name of my next band. Somebody tweet that now! Done, and done… But certainly I will be doing more charitable stuff because I like doing the charitable stuff. It’s nice to be actually able to sort of spontaneously generate tens of thousands of dollars to worthy causes and not tell them about it until all the money starts rolling in. It’s like, surprise, here’s some money! Cuz we love you! So, yeah, there will be more charitable stuff, maybe not particularly that. Wil and I talk about, like, ‘Let’s get the band back together,’ sort of thinking on that one, but it’s just a matter of time and scheduling and everything else. But definitely I will be doing more charitable things.”