Bunnies Made of Cheese: The Book

I’m checking a last few things and putting papers into an envelope when the dog wakes up from her nap. “Hey,” she says, stretching, “What’re you doing?”

“I’m getting ready to mail this,” I say.

“What is it?”

“Several copies of a book contract that I just signed.”

“It’s a book about me, right?” she says, wagging her tail hopefully. “Because I’m the best.”

“Well, sort of. It’s a popular science book, based on our conversations about physics.”

“That’s a good idea, too.”

“Well, some people obviously think so, because they’re going to pay me to write it.”

“How much are you getting?”

“Well…” I bend down, and whisper a number in her ear.

Shut up!

“I kid you not.”

“That’s…” her brow furrows, as she does unit conversions. “That’s lots and lots… and lots.” Math is not her strong suit.

“It’s true,” I say.

“I’ll take my half in steak!” she says, wagging her tail enthusiastically.

“Pardon?”

“My half of the money. You can give it to me as steak.”

“What makes you think you’re getting half of the money?”

“Well, I’m half of the conversation, I should get half of the money.”

“Uh-huh.” I say. She wags her tail really hard, and tries to look extra cute. “I don’t think so. You may get half of the dialogue, but I’m doing all of the typing. I think I’ll be keeping most of the money.”

“I will get some steak, though, right?” She looks a little worried.

“I’m not promising steak, but you’ll get something, yes.”

“Oh, good. Because I like stuff.”

“Yes, I know.” I seal the envelope, and stand up. “How about we walk over to the mailbox, and send this out?”

“Ooooh! Good plan!” She goes tearing off for the back door, nails clattering on the linoleum in the kitchen.

———————————

A while back, I saw Walter Mosley speak on campus, and somebody asked him how to get into writing. He started his reply by saying that the absolute worst people in the world to ask about the business of writing are writers, because they all got into the field by some ridiculously improbable path that would never work if you tried it deliberately.

Now, I’ve got one of those stories.

Back in May, I wrote a post in which I discussed the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics with my dog, because I was in a silly mood. It got picked up by Making Light, and Boing Boing, and then Digg, and Metafilter, and about a quarter of the LiveJournals in the world, I think. I got a whole bunch of comments, and a bunch more emails.

One of the emails was from someone at a talent agency, saying “This was great, we should talk.” I laughed a bit, and forwaded it to Kate, but when he emailed a second time, I agreed to talk to him on the phone. He suggested that it would be a good book, but I was skeptical that the conceit could be stretched all that far. Because, really, how many different things in quantum mechanics can you discuss with a dog?

I agreed to talk to a literary agent about it, though, so he set up a conference call. Two things happened between the first discussion and the conference call: first, I thought of another half-dozen topics for doggie physics dialogues, and second, I emailed Patrick Nielsen Hayden to ask if he’d heard of the agency. When I mentioned that they thought the dog dialogues would make a good book, he wrote back “that’s a _great_ idea for a book. Believe it.” Given that he’s forgotten more about the business of publishing than I ever knew, that did a lot to convince me that the idea had potential.

So, having acquired an agent, I put together a formal proposal, and sent it off. And Scribner bought the idea, for an eye-popping amount of money.

So, now, I find myself signing a contract to provide approximately 40,000 words of “a smart and humorous work of non-fiction that explains the basic principles of quantum physics in language that even our dogs would understand” (that’s verbatim from the contract), tentatively titled How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. My life is really very odd, but in a good way.

(Do I need to state explicitly that setting out to break into publishing by reproducing this path would be completely deranged?)

Anyway, the basic concept is that the book will consist of 10-12 chapters, each containing a dog dialogue similar to those already posted here, in which Emmy latches onto some idea from quantum physics as a means of catching squirrels or bunnies, or just obtaining more treats for herself, and I explain how the physics really works. That will be followed by a more detailed explanation of the physics, along the lines of the explanatory posts I write here, with a sort of canine spin– dog-themed examples and metaphors and so on.

I’ve got solid ideas for 11 quantum physics concepts so far, and dialogue written for a bunch of those. Of course, the dog dialogue is the easy part– writing out the pop-level physics explanations and making them smart and humorous will be the hard part. Which is why I’m keeping most of the steak money for myself.

I’ve got about a year in which to produce this, and 6-8 months after that, it should appear in bookstores. Of course, I also have a day job, but happily, I’m on sabbatical this fall, and not teaching, which will free up a bit of time. Between the lab work that I need to get done, and writing the book, though, there may be a significant reduction in blogging around here in the near future. Or, I may start taping meat products to things and posting pictures in a deranged procrastinatory blitz.

Stay tuned to find out.

Comments

  1. #1 Aaron Bergman
    September 10, 2007

    Congrats!

  2. #2 Jeff
    September 10, 2007

    Does that mean you’re contractually obligated to figure out how to explain quantum mechanics to dogs? Good luck with that. (And congrats too)

  3. #3 Sandra Porter
    September 10, 2007

    Congratulations! That bunny post was one of my favorites, too!

  4. #4 blf
    September 10, 2007

    I see a series here:

    * PZ can explain evolution to squids;

    * Grrl can explain something to birds;

    * Orac can explain vaccination to Daleks ;-)

    and so on…

  5. #5 blf
    September 10, 2007

    I see a series here:

    * PZ can explain evolution to squids;

    * Grrl can explain something to birds;

    * Orac can explain vaccination to Daleks ;-)

    and so on…

  6. #6 blf
    September 10, 2007

    Apologies for the double-post: The server reported “an error” without being specific, so I assumed the comment vanished into the bit-bucket, and hence tried Posting it again…

  7. #7 Jonathan Vos Post
    September 10, 2007

    Congratulations!

    There is a precedent for listing dogs a co-authors. Two dogs kept getting their leashes tangled around telephone poles when the human walked the dogs. The owner, a mathematician, wrote a paper about the knot theory of this, and credited the dogs by name in the paper, as co-authors. However, he did not get paid for the academic publication, and did not need to buy them steak.

    My dog comments: “Steak? No steak for a good dog? Okay, you take the steak, I’ll just have the bone that was in the steak. T-bone is fine with me, any time. Time. Hmmm. I still don’t get that time as 4th dimension thing. Can I hide my bones in the 4th dimension?”

  8. #8 marciepooh
    September 10, 2007

    Cool! Make sure and let us know when and where to order advanced copies. Finally, physics for my mother.

  9. #9 Stuart Coleman
    September 10, 2007

    Congrats!

    Also, you’re the second blog that I read to get a book deal through the blog. Maybe it’s not all that uncommon.

  10. #10 Stuart Coleman
    September 10, 2007

    Another thought occurred to me after my previous post: Will you be sending out review copies to other physics-y bloggers? We could help generate buzz! Buzz is good! As are free books!

    All right I’m done now, and congrats again, this sounds like a really fun book that I might have to get for assorted family members.

  11. #11 Steinn Sigurdsson
    September 10, 2007

    Review copy… (hint)!

    I don’t suppose they want to do any complementary series involving cats,
    for those of us who are caninely challenged.

    Be easier to write, cats don’t talk back.

  12. #12 Scott Raun
    September 10, 2007

    Dancing Rodents! (AKA the infamous Conga Rats)

  13. #13 Pam
    September 10, 2007

    Wow, cool! I hope it is a best-seller, so I can say, “I knew him when.”

  14. #14 Josh
    September 10, 2007

    Congrats! Sounds like a fun project!

  15. #15 John Novak
    September 10, 2007

    Awesome!

    (For all the bitching I do about my job in LJ, one of the biggest real complaints is that I’m just not at any real liberty to talk about it, in any detailed way, in public. You not only get to do that, but write a book about it. I am having one of my very rare jealousy moments.)

  16. #16 Devin L. Ganger
    September 10, 2007

    Way to go, Chad *and* Emmy! I envy you; after working on a couple of technical computer books, 40,000 words would seem like pure luxury. That’s an awesome target, a great take on the subject, and I hope you have a blast.

  17. #17 Nick
    September 10, 2007

    That’s awesome! Congrats!

  18. #18 magista
    September 10, 2007

    Re #8: Careful there, marcipooh… I think you just called your mother a bitch. :D

    Congratulations Chad. I’ll definitely be in the line at Amazon to purchase this one. There’s an endless hunger among my high school physics students to know more about modern physics, and I’m sure this will help fill the bill nicely. Not to mention helping me with my own 17-year-old rusty skills.

  19. #19 Jeff F.
    September 10, 2007

    Congrats Chad! So, does this mean Union will soon be adding a Physics for Dogs class to the curriculum?

  20. #20 Sean Carroll
    September 10, 2007

    And here I thought I had the dog/quantum mechanics market safely sewn up. But talking to the dog, that’s the bit of genius that raises it to the next level.

    Congrats!

  21. #21 cisko
    September 10, 2007

    Fantastic Chad – congratulations! I got a lot out of the earlier discussions, so I’m really looking forward to the book.

    Now, if the author photo involves you wearing a mortar board and gown, holding a long pointer, lecturing to Emmy who is wearing glasses, well that would be pretty nifty.

  22. #22 Jennifer Ouellette
    September 10, 2007

    Three little words: “MARLEY AND ME.” Dogs are huge in publishing. Dogs talking about quantum physics? Even huger. :) Congrats on the book! You know I’ll be on hand to flog it, not to mention read it and send it as gifts to all my non-scienc-y pals, once it’s out…

  23. #23 Rajesh
    September 10, 2007

    Congratulations, Chad! I look forward to reading it. Will it have photos of Emmy as well?

  24. #24 Michael Pereckas
    September 10, 2007

    I didn’t think this photo from my lab had anything to do with your dog and physics, but the comment “The Rocketeer” left made the connection clear.

  25. #25 JT
    September 10, 2007

    I’ll buy it :) That post got me here by way of Digg, and while I’m hardly a scientist, I like to read about science, so I stuck around.

  26. #26 Rebecca
    September 10, 2007

    Steinn Sigurdsson: Sure they do! They speak LOLCATS, is all. There’re quantum physics LOLCATS out there. My favorite has a picture of a taped-up box and the legend “I CAN HAS DETERMINACY?” Wish I could find it to link to it.

    Congrats, Chad! I can’t wait to read the book!

  27. #27 Ron
    September 10, 2007

    Congratulations!!! (Can we talk you into starting a list of test-readers as you work on the chapters for those of your fans who can’t wait that long?! Please? If so, sign me up!)

  28. #28 dr. dave
    September 10, 2007

    dammit, everyone in the world has a book contract but me.

  29. #29 Michael I
    September 10, 2007

    Woo Hoo!

    Congratulations!

    I’ll be looking for the book in not quite two years…

  30. #30 Will
    September 10, 2007

    Congratu-bloody-lations!

  31. #31 Mary Kay
    September 10, 2007

    This absolutely hilarious and completely wonderful. And the book *must* have pictures of Emmy.

    If, as suggested above, you need beta-readers, I’m not inexperienced at that, though I’ll admit it’s all been fiction so far. But as a physics groupie I’m sure I’d have no trouble at all.

    MKK

  32. #32 John Scalzi
    September 10, 2007

    Excellent.

    And congratulations. This is good news not just for you, but everyone who likes to read you.

  33. #33 HI
    September 10, 2007

    Welcome back and congratulations.

    Now, I have a request if it’s not too much a problem. Would you be able to summarize the recent paper “Progressive field-state collapse and quantum non-demolition photon counting” (Nature. 2007 Aug 23;448(7156):889-93) for non-specialists? How do you interpret it?

  34. #34 milkshake
    September 11, 2007

    This is a very good idea – and it is remarkable that the publishers/agents recognized it instantly and are actually wooing you; usually it is the other way around.

    I can see only one potential problem – I think it won’t be easy to get the tone right: I worry that a curious grandma won’t get your point (except for the cute doggie dialogue) it while a 10 year kid would find it too dumbed down. The reason why I am mentioning this (perceived) danger is that when I was in junior high I got a book from Gamov, adventures of Mr Tompkins, that has had a great reputation (of describing the puzzling relativity and quantum mechanic effects to laymen) – and I found some parts of the book very tiresome.

  35. #35 jrolsma
    September 11, 2007

    Major congratulations! I will even buy a copy to see more explanations involving string theory that I can actually understand.

    I think Emmy may have a better grasp of physics than me.

  36. #36 Andrew Plotkin
    September 11, 2007

    Congratulations. And… take this as a weird coincidence if you want (because it *is*), but I think Emmy showed up in my dreams last night. Yes, before I read this post.

    It occurs to me that my current crazy project is named after a dog. Hm. Possibly the dogs on the Internet are taking over.

  37. #37 Mike Bruce
    September 11, 2007

    May I just say: dude!

  38. #38 Brad Holden
    September 11, 2007

    Congrats, that is pretty awesome.

  39. #39 Jamie Bowden
    September 11, 2007

    Emmy FTW.

  40. #40 Andy
    September 11, 2007

    #11: Your cat may not talk back, but mine sure does (shows what I get for taking a siamese cat into my life).

    On the other hand, given his talent for passing through closed doors, I don’t think I want him to know any more about quantum physics than he already does.

  41. #41 MaryKaye
    September 11, 2007

    Way to Go, Chad and Emmy! Best wishes with this project.

  42. #42 Scott Spiegelberg
    September 11, 2007

    Congratulations. I think I’ll go with exlaining music to fish. There ‘s a big connection between clasical music and water, with Debussy, Mahler (St. Anthony’s sermon to the fishes), Wagner, Smetana, etc. One of my cats likes the idea, but he might have ulterior motives for getting a fish in the house.

  43. #43 Ross Smith
    September 12, 2007

    Congratulations! But you’ve gotta come up with a catchier title than How to Teach Physics to Your Dog

    Hmmm … The Dog Particle? The Canine Lectures on Physics? Possibly The Scratch-‘n’-Sniff Book of Quantum Mechanics might not go down well.

  44. #44 Arturo
    September 12, 2007

    Congratulations! I can’t wait to read it.

  45. #45 djs
    September 12, 2007

    Fantastic! Congratulations! Can’t wait to get a copy. Bunnies made of cheese, indeed.

  46. #46 Eddie Savage
    September 17, 2007

    Super Fine news! (but my cats could care less, but what do they know…)

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