Monday, January 10, 2005

Why automatic kissing machines are a bad idea etc

You know, I find author tours as exhausting as the next person (assuming that the next person is also an author who gets long lines of people to his or her signings and winds up on extremely lengthy and often fairly punishing signing tours) but I would like to go on record as saying that I think Margaret Atwood's remote mechanical book-signing apparatus is the work of the devil, or at least a really really stupid idea. There's an article about it here in which we learn that:

The machine, created in consultation with computer experts under Atwood's newly created company Unotchit Inc.[...]will comprise two units. The first will consist of a screen, where the author can see and speak to the book reader in real-time, and a tablet on which the author will write the inscription. The second unit will be with the book reader, and will also include a screen to communicate with the author in real-time, and will have a flat book holder as well as an electronic arm and pen that will scrawl out the autograph.

The system will allow the inscription to be edited or spell-checked before being committed to paper and the quality of the signature should be identical to one done in person, Atwood says. The book reader will also be able to keep a record of the on-screen interaction with the author for posterity.

The way I see it, the whole point of a signing is to be able to say hello to the people who buy the books and for them to say hello to you, and for them to know that you picked up that book and scribbled something illegible on it. (In my case, I doubt there are any two signatures exactly the same.)

Not that signing a book is anything like being kissed (unless of course, you are kissed during a signing), but the Atwood Patented Booksigner seems to make as much sense and promise to be as much fun as a machine that would kiss you on the cheek, thus reproducing a kiss on the cheek from a celebrity you fancy, who's a thousand miles away kissing a screen, which then issues you with a slip of paper informing you that you had just been kissed by the person in question, for, as Ms Atwood puts it, posterity.

I'd rather just not be kissed than walk away with my "You were just AutoKissed by..." slip, just as I'd rather not go on a signing tour than use an Atwood machine. In my opinion it's something that should be personal, intimate, faintly silly and include all the spelling mistakes, the illegible bits and the ink-blots. (Signing that is. Not kissing. Unless you'rethe sort of kisser who produces ink blots.)

Neil, Sorry, I'm about to do what you just said wasn't all that helpful but isn't Cal Arts in California an obvious choice? The school was started by Walt Disney for pete sake. Now they might decide that they are much too snooty for this sort of thing but still it might be worth a try. Unfortunately I only have personal influence with the Acting Dean of the Theatre program which isn't really the right department for this. Seems that fine arts is where this lecture should be hosted.

Well, Paul Levitz is pretty busy running DC Comics. If I give him a bunch of messages like this, it's not really going to be of much use to him. I suppose I should have made myself a bit clearer in yesterday's post (sorry). But if you think (and I grabbed this as a sample one of dozens like it that have come in this morning) that Cal Arts (or wherever you've suggested) would be good, then please, go and ask around there, or send an e-mail -- find out if there's any interest. Point people there to my last post. If there's someone in a position to actually make something happen who might be interested, let me know, and I'll pass it along to Paul. But a bunch of messages saying "hey, what about college X, they like pop culture stuff?" doesn't really give us more than, in the end, several hundred names of colleges, mostly without any leads on departments, names, or whether it's really even worth anyone's time making a phone call (or even who to make the phone call to). And having watched Paul spend most of the year in negotiation with a college who really ought to have been interested, but ultimately weren't, I'd rather be able to send him something saying "So-and-so at College/Festival/Convention/Organisation X would very much like to talk to you about this" than "here are the list of places that people think ought to be interested".

I should add that several messages have come in from people who are in a position to make things happen, and that some of them would be really cool indeed.

(Someone wanted to know if I'd be the lecturer -- I think the idea is to have a different speaker every year, so it might be me, just as it might be Michael Chabon or Harlan Ellison (to pick a couple of people who probably won't mind me taking their names in vain) or someone else cool.)

Dear Neil:I hate to ask a question when you're Great With Book, but you clearly Know A Bit About The Book Selling Industry. As an author who grew up in the U.K. and who visits there regularly, can you clear up what may be a dumb question about a bookstore chain? There's an ugly example of a long-term employee of "Waterstone's" who was fired over his weblog--the URL is For those of us from the U.S., is the chain "Waterstone's" the local version of Barnes & Noble's, Wall-Mart, K-Mart, Borders, Chapters, or what? And does this seem "business as usual" or some sort of oddity on their part? Thanks!Bruce Durocher II, who hopes Lorraine enjoys her Orange Peeler.

And I went to the link, and my jaw dropped as I realised this the blog wasn't just another anonymous blogger getting shafted for talking on a weblog, but Joe from Waterstones in Edinburgh, who has organised a number of excellent signings and events for me there over the last eight years, both in-store and out of the store, and who is smart, well-informed, opinionated-but-in-a-good-way and always really professional. He's the only reason I've always done a Waterstones signing when in Edinburgh, rather than go to one of the other options. If I had a bookshop, I'd want him working for it.

To say that I'm disappointed by Waterstones' action would be putting it mildly -- they used to be an excellent chain of booksellers (for American readers, I suppose a bit like Borders) but they seem to have lost the plot over the last few years, and this is an astonishingly foolish and shortsighted thing to do. I'm extremely unimpressed.

I'm glad I don't have anyone who can fire me for comments made on this blog. (Actually, thinking about it a bit more, I'm glad I don't have anybody who can fire me.)


When I was a 13 year old schoolboy, my voice was starting to break, and I suddenly couldn't sing for toffee. This coincided with the school production of Oliver! where I found myself given the only non-singing part in the play. For some reason this article made me feel weirdly vindicated.


Let's see...

Over at IGN Peter Sanderson writes about "A SHORT FILM ABOUT JOHN BOLTON", the new Creatures of the Night graphic novel, 13 Nights of Fright, and about how I'm a bit all-over-the-place.

(Talking about the 13 Nights of Fright, Peter says The cavernous, macabre setting was meant to represent Gaiman's office, which looked much as I'd imagined it, though with not quite so many video screens. His assistant also looked much as I'd imagined her, though I assume his real assistant will take many more months, if not years, to live this down, which amused me mostly because Malena and the Fabulous Lorraine have become fast friends -- and Malena is going to be singing on Lorraine's upcoming solo CD.)

Roger Avary writes about John Bolton the person, "A SHORT FILM ABOUT JOHN BOLTON", and other things on his blog, the overall link for which is [Currently a script that Roger and I wrote some years ago will either be sold to some nice Hollywood people for an awful lot of money, or Roger will make the film himself, and I'll find out soon which it is (either would be good, and it's Roger's call which it's going to be, so I just await the outcome with interest).]

And there's a Newsarama article/interview about "A SHORT FILM ABOUT JOHN BOLTON" over at