Sunday, August 24, 2008

ArmadilloCon 2008: John Scalzi's Guest of Honor interview

John Scalzi's interview took a different format than the usual Guest of Honor interview. There was no interviewer; Scalzi paced back and forth, shooting the breeze with the audience. He probably didn't say anything one wouldn't find on his blog. It's how he said those things that made him so entertaining. He acted out various stories from his life as little skits. For example, he said, after you win a Hugo, you get only a week to be flaunt it -- and he did a skit of a person who mentions his Hugo award in every other sentence. After a week is over, he said, you're supposed to be blase about it -- yeah, I won a Hugo, it's no big deal.

Then there was a rich vein of humor in his attempts to find out what it's like to be a 16-year-old girl. He had to do that in order to get the "Zoe's Tale" protagonist's voice right. "Hard as it may be to believe, I've never been a 16-year-old girl," Scalzi said. He also never understood girls in high school. "You can ask people I went to high school with. They'll say, "no, John. Noooo."" So what were his options? Hang out with teenage girls at the mall? He illustrated this dilemma with another skit, that began with his sidling up to a girl in the mall, and ended with a restraining order.

And so the interview continued in this spirit. As far as creating Zoe's character, his wife turned out to be his greatest resource. After all, she was a 16-year-old girl once. It took a lot of tries to get Zoe right, but eventually he succeeded, and became proud of Zoe as one of the finest characters he ever created. He also told this story at the writers' workshop to illustrate his point that writers should venture out into unfamiliar territory and not be afraid to fail. In Scalzi-speak that's called "the power of suck".

Later on in the interview he commented on Neal Stephenson, openly admitted to stealing from other authors, and talked about why he could not afford to be as polemical in "Old Man's War" as Heinlein was in "Starship Troopers". Finally, he revealed an unexpected fact about himself.

The whole article is available on my website.

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