by Laura Davis, managing editor
John Scalzi, one of our very best present-day science fiction writers, turns 45 today! One of my favorite stories Scalzi tells is how he got his start as a professional writer. He graduated college in the middle of the recession in 1991, and, as he explained, “blithely assumed I could get a job — height of arrogance — I decided I wasn’t going to apply for any newspaper that had a circulation under 100k, AND was more than 50 miles from a beach. Out of 25 newspapers, 24 rejected me.” The twenty-fifth was the Fresno Bee, which offered him a job as movie critic. “I was completely unqualified,” he added.
Scalzi is perhaps best-known for his Old Man’s War series, which launched his career as a novelist, with a bit of luck. Scalzi said to a packed house at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (LATFOB) in 2013, “Yes, I am a good writer. Yes, I have good business sense, but one of the prime drivers for where I am now was luck. All these other things matter, but let’s not pretend luck didn’t have something to do with it. As with many things, luck favors the prepared mind.”
So, it was lucky indeed when a reviewer from Publisher’s Weekly wrote of Old Man’s War, “Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Scalzi’s astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master … The story obviously resembles such novels as Starship Trooper and Time Enough for Love, but Scalzi is not just recycling classic Heinlein. He’s working out new twists, variations that startle even as they satisfy.” Heinlein fans who’d been hungering for something new for years pounced on Scalzi’s work with fervor, and they were not disappointed.Scalzi’s work has been very successful, though, he is quick to point out, he is still very much a working writer. In a recent interview, our station manager, Gene Turnbow said, “You’re John Freaking Scalzi!”
Scalzi laughed. “Well, thank you. It’s easy to say, ‘You’re John Freaking Scalzi,’ but really, to Athena [his teenage daughter], I’m just dad,” and he explains that he still has to get up and work every day.
He explained to this year’s LATFOB audience that selling his novels is much easier than selling his stories as television or film concepts. “I’m at that point, for better or worse, where I’m like, ‘Tor, would you like it?’ [and they say], ‘Oh, yes, please!’” But he also pointed out that unless he is “at the level of, say, J.K. Rowling,” he’s going to have to keep pitching and finding new projects.
One of his latest projects, a limited-run series on FX, based on the novel Redshirts, is now in pre-production, and Scalzi is taking a much more active role than he did when Old Man’s War was sold as a film.
“When I sold Old Man’s War for movies, I wasn’t that involved, because I knew almost nothing, and I was clearly the least competent person in the room. In the interim, I’ve worked in television, been dealing with Hollywood quite a lot and I’ve got a certain measure of competence. So, when we asked for the executive producer credit, it wasn’t just so we could have another revenue stream. It was that I would actually like to be involved and I would actually like to be helpful … I want to be useful; I don’t want to be a pain in the ass. I don’t know how I’m going to manage that, yet, because, I don’t know if you know this about me, but my natural default state is pain-in-the-ass.” We can’t wait to see the Redshirts series!
For most of Scalzi’s fans, buying him a drink or taking him out for coffee on his birthday is not gonna happen. If you would like to honor him on his birthday, you can make a contribution to a cause Scalzi has been strongly supporting: a fundraiser for healthcare expenses for Scalzi’s friend, John Anderson. Anderson suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Scalzi wrote on his blog, Whatever: “[John Anderson] is a good friend and an excellent person, and my life would have been immeasurably poorer had I not known him. He is, simply put, important to me. I would look on it as a personal favor if you would consider helping him now, and also if you let other people know about this.” You can purchase the single song written by Matthew Ryan for $1, or you can contribute more, if you wish.
We at Krypton Radio would like to wish a very happy birthday to John Freaking Scalzi, our favorite pain in the ass!