Sword & Laser Ep. 9 - Interview with John Scalzi

Uploaded by geekandsundry on Aug 3, 2012


TOM MERRITT: Coming up, how to purchase eBooks and read them
on whatever eReader you darn well please.
VERONICA BELMONT: And we'll ask John Scalzi why he's
chopped up his next book into tiny little pieces.
So take off your red shirts.
You'll want to survive to the end of this episode.
Oh, crap.

VERONICA BELMONT: Hey everyone, welcome to
the Sword and Laser.
I'm Tom Merritt.
TOM MERRITT: And I'm Veronica Belmont.
VERONICA BELMONT: And this is a show where we ask your
questions and some of ours of some of the best authors in
the biz and also keep you up to date on the latest in
science fiction and fantasy news.
TOM MERRITT: Get ready for your reading list to get
longer, folks.
We have some great books to tell you
about in the calendar.
And our guest has written a long list
of great books himself.
John Scalzi, author of Old Man's War and Redshirts, among
many others, is here to talk about his upcoming book, The
Human Division, which is set in the Old Man's War universe.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, it's a serial.
Well, actually it's more like eBook episodes.
You know, we'll let John Scalzi explain.
Right now, we have some fast, hot news from the world of
sci-fi and fantasy.

TOM MERRITT: Congratulations to Alan Garner and George RR
Martin for being named to receive World Fantasy Lifetime
Achievement Awards.
Garner is best known for his children's novel Elidor as
well as the Brisingamen trilogy.
Martin is best known for being awesome.
The World Fantasy Convention takes place in Toronto
November 1 through the 4th.
VERONICA BELMONT: And having the best suspenders this side
of the Mississippi.
TOM MERRITT: Hell yeah.
Part of the awesome right there.
VERONICA BELMONT: Do you dream of a world where you can buy
an eBook and read it on any device, your nook, your
Kindle, or otherwise?
TOM MERRITT: It's just a dream.
VERONICA BELMONT: It's just a dream.
Well, actually it's not.
Because publisher Tor/Forge shares your dream.
Following in Baen and Angry Robot's footsteps, Tor has
made all of their books available without digital
locks in all eBook stores for all platforms.
Which means you'll have more choices of where to buy your
eBooks and how you want to use them.
TOM MERRITT: Thank you for more freedom, Tor.
Programmer Robin Sloan wanted to review Ellen Ullman's book
Close to the Machine in a way that wasn't just a
boring old blog post.
Since the book's about programming, he wrote his
review in JavaScript and posted a Java console where
readers can enter commands like s dot the book dot the
author parens and s dot why is it so good parens.
There's also a video to help you along if code like that
scares the crap out of you.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yeah, a little bit.
TOM MERRITT: A little scary?
VERONICA BELMONT: Just a little bit.
I'm glad he has a video explaining it.
TOM MERRITT: I use JavaScript everyday.
But I'm not like--
TOM MERRITT: Using it right now.
VERONICA BELMONT: --not nerd programming it.
Hey, if you're the kind of person who likes all the books
in a series to match on your bookshelf and you're a fan of
Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea series, we have got some good
news for you.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Simon and Schuster are
reprinting the series with a unified look.
Sneak a peek at the new cover art at sfsignal.com.
TOM MERRITT: That is cool.
I'm very excited about it.
TOM MERRITT: I don't have to have everything together.
VERONICA BELMONT: They've got to be all the same.
They've got to be perfectly laid out and on the thing.
Just like the forks and knives.
TOM MERRITT: Do you square the corners on everything?
VERONICA BELMONT: And everything has to be angled
perfectly on the plate.
TOM MERRITT: I've learned so much about you just in this
last two seconds.
While our dragon, Lem, calls up John Scalzi, please enjoy
this look at today in alternate history.

VERONICA BELMONT: We are feeling all warm and fuzzy to
have the author of Fuzzy Nation, among many other
wonderful books with us today.
John Scalzi, good to talk to you again.
JOHN SCALZI: It's great to see you guys again, too.
VERONICA BELMONT: So how are things going?
What's new?
JOHN SCALZI: Things are fantastic.
Well, Redshirts has done very well.
We've announced The Human Division, which is my next
project, which will be out later on this year.
And other than that, I've been traipsing around the entire
country on my book tour and having big important meetings
and doing lots of crazy stuff.
And you've caught me on one of the three days in the last two
months that I've been home.
So well done you.
VERONICA BELMONT: Excellent, excellent.
TOM MERRITT: Good timing.
Well tell us about Human Division.
I'm pretty excited about this.
It's a different take on distributing a story.
What's it all about?
JOHN SCALZI: Well one of the things that we've decided is
now that we live here in the future, we might as well start
looking at the different ways that people are reading their
science fiction.
One of the things that we knew about Redshirts is that it
sold very, very well in electronic books.
And so we wanted to try to do something
a little bit different.
So rather than just putting it all together in one single
book, what we're going to do with The Human Division is
release it serially.
But the individual chapters, the individual episodes as
we're calling them, will be sort of self-contained stories
in and of themselves.
But if you string them together, you will see a
narrative arc and events that will transpire.
And basically the metaphor that's easiest to explain it
is it is like a television season.
You have a full season.
Each individual episode is its own individual episode.
But if you put them all together, then you get to see
a sort of larger picture.
So that was kind of fun and neat and new.
And nobody has done it quite like this before.
There's been serialized stuff before going all the way back
to Charles Dickens and such.
But this is a slightly different take.
So we're excited to give it a try and see how
people respond to it.
TOM MERRITT: So you can read it out of order?
JOHN SCALZI: We're not doing it out of order.
What we are doing is if you read them out of order, if you
just read one, you will still have that whole story for that
individual episode so that you'll be able to enjoy it.
You don't have to read the whole thing.
You can sort of step in on episode six or episode nine
and still enjoy that particular story.
But if you get the whole thing, then you will see the
larger scope of how things are.
It's sort of like a Law and Order episode or an NCIS
episode where that individual serving will be satisfying in
itself, but if you know a little bit about the cast of
characters because you've been a devotee of the show, then
there's a little bit something extra that you get there.
VERONICA BELMONT: And so what's the
release schedule like?
And will it be available internationally?
JOHN SCALZI: We are doing this so that Tor has world rights.
Because one of the things that we want to make sure is that
the fans who are elsewhere get a crack at it in English the
same time as we do here in the United States.
So it'll be available all around the world and then
we're probably going to be starting it in mid-December.
Right around the same time as- rumor is there's a holiday
season where people will be getting a lot of electronic
readers or tablets or hand-held computers.
And they might want something to read on those.
VERONICA BELMONT: They may be looking for content.
JOHN SCALZI: It's a crazy idea, but it just might work.
TOM MERRITT: So crazy it just might work.
We've got some audience questions.
John wrote in and said, "How did you balance writing for
the serial version of Human Division while knowing it will
be published as a collected novel down the road?
Did you keep any serials in mind that inspired you while
writing it?"
JOHN SCALZI: One of the things that we are aware of is that
it has that dual role.
That we're going to be releasing it one
episode at a time.
But at the same time, in May probably, we will put it out
as a single book.
And we want to make sure that the people who get it as a
single book, it doesn't feel disjointed.
It doesn't feel like it's a little bit--
why are we doing it this particular way?
So yeah, I have to keep all those balls in the air.
I have to make it episodic.
I have to make each individual episode interesting.
But I also have to make sure if you just were to pick it up
and read it straight through like you would a novel that
you don't feel like it's a bumpy ride.
So it's a little bit of a writing challenge.
That's one of the reasons to do it.
I mean, I like each book that I do to have something new, a
little bit of a tightrope act for me, something I haven't
done before.
And for this one, playing with format is really quite a
challenge and it's what makes it fun and interesting for me.
VERONICA BELMONT: Next up, Casey wants to know, when you
first wrote Old Man's War, which we have a few very big
fans of in the audience, including Nick, did you set
out to intentionally write a series or did it organically
evolve as the story unspooled?
JOHN SCALZI: It was definitely not written as a series,
because it was the second novel I ever wrote.
The whole point of writing Old Man's War was OK, now this is
the novel I'm going to really try to sell.
And I focused just on that particular novel.
I didn't worry about if there were going to be sequels.
I didn't worry about anything else.
I was just make this so that somebody will look at it and
go hey, we'll buy this.
Now, once it's sold, then Tor came back to me and said you
have to make a sequel.
People want a sequel.
You're making a sequel.
I was like, OK.
And then I had to confront some of the choices that I
made in the original.
Like for example, the Earth of Old Man's War looks very
suspiciously like early 21st century Ohio.
And part of the reason that it's that way is because when
I was writing it, I said to myself, well I'm not going to
be on Earth that long.
I'm not going to do a whole lot of world building here.
What the heck, I'll just make it my village.
And so that presented a problem when I had to come
back for the sequel, because now I had to explain why Earth
seemed so familiar.
Now, the good news is I came up with an excuse that, as it
turned out, was able to become a major plot point in the run
of the entire series.
But that is one of those things that sort of tries you
as a novelist and as a creator.
That even the little things that you thought, eh, it
doesn't matter, no one will notice this, if you get a
sequel, if you get two sequels, they're definitely
things that you have to live with.
And that's something I learned and brought
forward for future novels.
Don't be lazy because it will turn around and
bite you in the butt.
VERONICA BELMONT: I actually have a follow
up question to that.
So do you think that a lot of authors start out by writing a
book and not expecting it to become a series?
Or is it that a lot of them plan out series in advance and
then they kind of have that whole story line
set in front of them?
JOHN SCALZI: I think it really depends from author to author.
I usually say there's two ways that you can write a novel.
One is to build the world in really exhausting detail and
then run an adventure through it.
It's sort of the D & D slash Tolkien way of doing it.
The other way to do it is start with a story and then
build a universe that is sort of two questions deep.
Sort of a Potemkin universe.
And those are the ones that are sort of everything's
slapped together with paste and whatever.
I'm definitely more of the second camp.
So for me, I never assume that I'm going to have a sequel.
Because part of me is--
I don't want to say impostor syndrome-- but the whole idea
of someone will come and go remember that
novel career you had?
Well it's done now.
It's time for you to go back into marketing.
Or something like that.
TOM MERRITT: Get back to work, Scalzi.
JOHN SCALZI: And I'll have to go, eh, well OK.
But there are definitely people who have been like, I
have created this world.
I've got this 10 part series in it.
It's going to get real good around book three.
And you're like, OK.
I wish you joy with that.
So I really think it depends on which author
you're talking to you.
TOM MERRITT: Victor wanted to know, particularly regarding
Old Man's War, he found that John Perry was particularly
gifted and/or lucky as a soldier, given his background
as a writer.
What was your reasoning behind making him so proficient?
JOHN SCALZI: Because it made for a more interesting
character, basically.
There's a lot of valid criticism with the idea that
John Perry just is incredibly lucky and in the right place
at the right time and does the sort of lucky thing that turns
out well for him.
And that's a completely valid criticism.
Although I have a tendency to believe that luck is what you
make of it.
Like I could have an event happen to me and someone else
could have the exact same thing happen to them.
But if they capitalize on it and I don't, then that was a
lucky thing for them.
And for me, it was just this thing that happened.
In the course of the book, there are a lot of things that
happen to John Perry, and he gets lucky with a lot of them.
and partly because from a dramatic point of view, that's
But the other thing I always tell people is like, yes,
there are some things that go very well for him.
But on the other hand, there is that whole scene where he
has the shuttle crash and his jaw flies off and his leg
kicks him in his own uvula.
He becomes the first person in the world to do that.
So he takes the lumps, too.
TOM MERRITT: Wait, that's the upper part of the inside of
your mouth?
The thing that's inside of your mouth.
The little dangley.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, the thing that's hanging back there.
VERONICA BELMONT: Oh, yeah that little dangle.
JOHN SCALZI: His jaw comes straight off.
His leg snaps.
It goes whacking him right there.
And so if you think about it that way, I think the karmic
balance gets kind of evened out there.
That's just me.
I may be a little bit crazy.
All right.
That's good to know.
So we have some general questions that we'd like to--
oh, I'm sorry.
We have one more question from John.
VERONICA BELMONT: He want to know, "Zoe's War was my
introduction to the Old Man's War series.
I thought you did an absolutely brilliant job of
both making that book accessible to the new reader
but also not rehashing too much.
How difficult was it to achieve that balance?"
JOHN SCALZI: Well, it was sort of baked in to begin with.
I'm a big believer--
which actually works really well for when I started doing
The Human Division--
is that every book in that particular series needs to be
able to stand alone.
Because you go into a bookstore, there will be
occasions where they'll have a second book in the series or a
third book in the series, but they won't
have the first book.
So the whole idea is whichever book you get, you should be
able to pick it up and read it and enjoy it for itself.
And then you can go forward in the series or go back in the
series and things will be explained to you.
With the case of Zoe's Tale in particular, one of the things
that Tor asked me to do was create one of the novels so
that they could put it into middle school
and high school libraries.
So I assumed that the audience for Zoe's Tale was going to be
a completely different audience.
That not only would they have not known about the last
colony, but they wouldn't have known anything about the
series at all.
So I worked with that as a sort of baseline.
The second thing that I did was I realized that I was
going to tell the same tale in parallel
time as The Last Colony.
And so I made very sure that the overlap was as minimal as
possible, because one thing you don't want to be accused
of as a writer is being lazy or sloppy or
just grinding it out.
And so I wanted to make sure that people who have read The
Last Colony, that this would be complimentary to it.
That some things that were skipped over in The Last
Colony get explained here.
And some things in Zoe's Tale that aren't covered in great
detail are covered in The Last Colony.
So in some ways if you read them together they tell a more
complete story of that period of time.
TOM MERRITT: Very cool.
All right, we got just a few more questions for you.
We want to know what the weirdest writing habit you're
willing to admit to, or you've heard of friends doing.
JOHN SCALZI: Oh, I can't rat on any of my friends.
VERONICA BELMONT: Well, friends, friends.
You know, your friends.
JOHN SCALZI: What is the weirdest habit that I have?
I don't know.
I mean my writing process tends to be very
straightforward, which is really I wake up
between 8:00 and 12:00.
8:00 in the morning and noon I try to write, because that's
sort of my creative period.
And I have a deal with myself that I try to hit a quota,
which is 2,000 words, or I stop at noon, because after
that point, I'm just grinding gears.
My creative brain goes, eh, now I'm done.
Time to shoot zombies.
So I don't think that there's anything
about it that is weird.
The only thing that I think is a little strange is that every
novel, you kind of get to the point where all the threads
are as expanded as they're going to be.
And they start collapsing in on themselves.
And that's when everything starts to go
downhill in terms of--
not like down hill bad, but downhill as in it's less
effort to write, because you know how
everything is going to end.
And part of my brain just wants to get everything done
and out and done so I can go on with my life.
So with every novel I have, I'll write the first 30,000
words over the space of like two and 1/2 months.
I'll write the next 30,000 words in the space of maybe
three weeks.
And I'll write the final third of it maybe in a week.
And the last day will be 14,000 or 15,000 words,
because I want to be done.
And so that gets a little weird, because especially at
the end, I look a little bit crazy.
My brain is completely blown out.
And when I type the end and I send it off to the editor,
then I go to bed for like three days straight.
And my wife knows this is going to happen.
So she'll be like to my daughters, leave him alone.
He's going to do that thing that he does where he's going
to sleep for 36 straight hours, and you just got to
ride with it.
VERONICA BELMONT: It's crash time, prepare.
JOHN SCALZI: That might be the weirdest thing that I do.
And our final question, the entire world is about to be
burninated by a fierce space dragon and you have a chance
to take one book with you through the escape portal.
What book do you take?
And all of your books are safely on your laptop through
the other side of the portal, so you don't need to worry
about those.
I think the one that I would take, if it was fiction, I
would take Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin.
It was a novel that is just beautifully written.
It was so beautifully written that it took me seven times
before I was able to finish the whole thing, because I'd
get halfway through and my brain would go, now you only
have half of this book left to read.
And it will be sad when it ends.
So I would put it down and come back to
it like a year later.
So it took me that long to read it at all.
If I couldn't do that, then I think the nonfiction book I
would take is probably a collection of columns by HL
Mencken who is a newspaper and magazine columnist in the
early 20th century.
Because in many ways, his sort of attitude and fearlessness
was an inspiration for me as a young writer.
He was definitely a person of his time.
There are things about the way that he phrased things and the
sort of beliefs that he had that are not necessarily
things that we would be totally kosher with today.
But be that as it may, as a writer he was fearless.
And that's something that I admired about him very much.
TOM MERRITT: Great choices.
John, we are honored that you were able to take some time of
what we know is a really busy schedule for you to
talk with us today.
Thanks so much, man.
JOHN SCALZI: Thanks for having me.
I really appreciate it.
TOM MERRITT: You can find Redshirts on sale right now.
And look for the first episode of The Human Division sometime
in mid-December.
Until then, let's see what else is
coming out in the calendar.

VERONICA BELMONT: August 7, Charon's Claw--
or in astronomy, Sharon's Claw--
Neverwinter Saga Book Three RA Salvatore.
In the conclusion to the Neverwinter Saga, Drizzt draws
his swords once more to aid his friends, assisting the
beautiful elf Dahlia.
TOM MERRITT: Also on August 7, the King of Thorns, the Broken
Empire, by Mark Lawrence.
The second book of the series finds the boy who would be
King is now on the throne and facing the dark depths waiting
within his soul.
Right down there.
VERONICA BELMONT: I guess everything's coming up August
7, because that day you also get Biting Cold, a Chicagoland
vampires novel by Chloe Neill.
Recently turned vampire, Merit--
TOM MERRITT: No relation.
Is on the hunt, charging across a stark mid-west,
tailing a rogue supernatural intent on stealing an ancient
artifact that could unleash good old-fashioned
catastrophic evil.
TOM MERRITT: Want to guess when this next
book's coming out?
VERONICA BELMONT: I'm going to stay August 7.
TOM MERRITT: August 7 is correct!
Star Wars X-Wing Number 10, Mercy Kill, by Aaron Allston.
The Wraith squadron is back in an all-new Star Wars
adventure, which transpires just after the events of the
Fate of the Jedi series.
VERONICA BELMONT: All right, well let's finish up with
another awesome white board review from Aaron.
We just mentioned RA Salvatore's new book is coming
out, and Aaron has some thoughts on Salvatore for you.
AARON: Arthur Conan Doyle grew to hate his creation Sherlock
Holmes so much that he killed the character off.
Didn't work.
Mobs of fans and his publisher forced the author to recant,
which makes me feel a little guilty, because over time,
I've sensed a similar frustration in RA Salvatore's
relationship to his most famous creation, Drizzt.
No spoilers, but he's been killing major characters off
like Joss Whedon after a bad date.
Some fans will tell you to read the books in order of
fictional chronology, but ignore them.
Read them in order of publication.
That way you can track Salvatore's development as a
writer and his growing frustration with the
limitations of his genre.
Now get back to work.
TOM MERRITT: OK, well this is our job.
So I guess we're back to work.
VERONICA BELMONT: We're doing it.
We're doing it.
Thank you so much.
TOM MERRITT: Good stuff.
I love the white board reviews.
You can send us your videos and you can be on
the show next week.
And we'll send you a package of prizes,
including books and stickers.
Just upload your message to your favorite video hosting
provider, like YouTube for example, and email the link to
us at feedback@swordandlaser.com.
TOM MERRITT: That's it, folks.
If you'd like to read along with us, be sure to watch our
book club episode two where we're kicking off this month's
book pick, The Farseer, Assassin's
Apprentice by Robin Hobb.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel right there in the
green button up there in the corner,
Send us email to feedback@swordandlaser.com.
And join us on our Goodreads forum at goodreads.com.
See you later, everybody.