The Shiny New Toy

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As promised, here’s the shiny toy I bought myself the other day: a Nikon D70s, along with a bunch of various ridiculous trappings (lenses, filters, tripods, etc) which I may or may not ever end up using, but I decided that if I was actually going to get a camera like this, I might as well dive into the deep end. Also, since I don’t actually expect to buy another camera after this one, like, ever, I might as well get the bells and whistles.

I initally had my eye on the D50, which is a slightly less expensive version of this camera designed for people graduating from point-and-click cameras to SLRs, but I decided — per the “never buying another camera ever again” bit — that in all it was best to get something I was less apt to outgrow. The reason I wanted a new camera at all is that I was bumping up against limitations on my otherwise perfectly excellent Kodak EasyShare (which I still recommend for people who just want snapshots). A camera that gives more options than I will probably ever use makes rather more likely I won’t have an expensive upgrade twitch a couple of years from now.

Two things make this purchase especially sweet. One, I bought it with a royalty check I wasn’t expecting, so it was “free money” (i.e., money not in the budget), and therefore it’s psychologically like getting this bitchin’ camera for free. Two, because I do a photography thing for “By the Way” every week — and I get paid for writing “By the Way” — this is quite legitimately a tax-deductible business expense. Sometimes the life of a writer rocks, I tell you.

The one fly in the ointment: The camera package I was sent was missing a lens, the 18-70mm jobbie that one would actually use on a daily basis (the lens here is the 70-300mm lens, perfect for seeing into the next county). I called and they’re shipping the lens to me even as I type this. And when I get it, oooh boy. Picture time down at the Scalzi’s.

TGB Post-Mortem

The two hours of sleep I got between five and seven am have apparently ruined me for sleeping for the rest of the morning, so in lieu of that, let me me do a little bit of a writing post-mortem for The Ghost Brigades. Don’t worry, I won’t give away plot points.

* As I initially noted here, writing The Ghost Brigades was actually somewhat difficult. I set the bar fairly high I wrote by attempting not to write it like a sequel (i.e., you could read this without reading Old Man’s War), by changing the viewpoint from first person to third person, and also by delving into the social structures of the universe I created. While other people will have to judge how well I did on all these things, I have to say that I’m pretty satisfied with the book, although as it happens what I set out to do and what I achieved are slightly different things.

The place I notice this the most is in The Ghost Brigades’ “stand alone-ability” — which is to say, the ability of someone to read this without first reading OMW. I think that I’ve achived that to a fair degree; the book refers to events and characters in OMW and in a couple of cases uses them to further the plot (particularly relating to the Consu and the Battle of Coral), but in those cases TGB in itself contains the information you need to know about them, so one can keep going without missing anything relevant. However, what I didn’t expect, because I’d never written a sequel before, is how much the two books “talk” to each other.

In my opinion, you can read either book without having read the other, but if you’ve read both, you’ll have a richer experience overall. As an example, one of the entirely valid criticisms of OMW was that even though it’s clearly set in the future, the America that John Perry comes from could easily be our own, right now (and, additionally, the non-US readers of the book were a little annoyed with the US-centrism of the soldier). TGB makes the answer to that question a plot point for the novel, so people who read TGB after OMW will get that answer, while those who read TGB in a standalone way will simply take it as a matter of course.

I was surprised and pleased as both a writer and a reader to see how much the two books are in conversation with each other, while (in my opinion) still standing up on their own.

* When I was discussing writing The Ghost Brigades with Patrick Nielsen Hayden (who is my editor at Tor, for those of you who don’t know), one of the things I said to him was, “now, you know this one’s going to get dark.” And he said he was fine with that, for which I bless him, but I don’t think even I realized how dark parts of this book were going to get. If I may make a flawed analogy here, if Old Man’s War was my Star Wars, then The Ghost Brigades is very definitely my Empire Strikes Back. Now, personally, I’m good with this, since Empire is in nearly all senses a better film than Star Wars. But no one suggests Empire is exactly cheerful.

To be clear, it’s not all about the moodiness and dark dark darky darkness. I’m still me. There are funny bits and there are a lot — a lot — of action sequences, as befitting a book of this type, including one in the middle that I am particularly proud of. But I do imagine that folks expecting a light skip through the OMW universe will wonder if my pharmacist has been fiddling with my anti-depressants or something. The answer is no, because among other things, I’m not actually on anti-depressants. People who prefer the lighter touch will definitely want to check out The Android’s Dream, incidentally, when it finally sees the light of day in late 2006. All I will say about that book is: It’s got sheep.

If OMW is my Star Wars and TGB is my Empire, does this mean that any possible thrid book will be my Return of the Jedi? All I can say is that to each and every one of you, I make this solemn vow: Not. One. Goddamned. Ewok. Ever. Unless it’s to do unspeakably horrible things to them. In which case, I’ll have many.

* And yes, as I’ve mentioned before, if Tor comes knocking asking for a third book in this universe, I’d probably say yes. I have a vague idea what I would do for that book, and also, as I was writing, some portion of my brain I call the Evil Plotter was slipping in sequel fodder. The Evil Plotter and I would have our moments, many of which went as below:

Me (reading something I just wrote): What is that?

Evil Plotter: What, that? It’s just a little something I thought I’d put in. You know, add a little spice to the mix.

Me: It’s an open-ended plot point, isn’t it.

Evil Plotter (defensive): Maaaaybe. So what? It resolves your textual issue! Look! You need it!

Me (putting hand on forehead): We’ve talked about this, man.

Evil Plotter: Aw, come on! Look at it! It’s so cute and useful! You know you want to keep it. And then, later, if there’s a sequel, maybe it will come in handy. I’m just saying.

Me: Another sequel, you say.

Evil Plotter (snappish): Hey, one of us has got to put that kid of yours through college, you know.

Me (throws up hands): Fine. We’ll keep it. For now. But that’s it, do you hear me? No more.

Evil Plotter (holds up shiny, useful open-ended plot point): So I guess that means you don’t want to know about this baby, then.

Me: Gaaaaaaaaaah! (head explodes)

Yes, this is actually how my writing process works. Look, don’t ask. Just enjoy the end result, okay?

* I’ve been avoiding talking about specifics regarding the novel, but I will say this: I think you’re all going to enjoy Jane Sagan in this book. She’s my wife’s favorite character that I’ve written, and it’s easy to see why: Like my wife, she’s a tough, capable, results-oriented woman, and if you get in her way she will eat your friggin’ heart. It’s no lie, people. Don’t piss off my wife, or Jane Sagan.

* What am I going to do now? I’m going to relax, damn you all. I have a short story I have due by the end of the month, but other than that, bookwise, I’m tapped out; nothing officially on the schedule for the first time in three years, during which time, I’ll remind you, I’ve written eight books and contributed to several others. A month from now, not having a book on my schedule will begin to bug me. At the moment, it’s excellent. I could use the break.

In the Trib

The “Being Poor” entry was published today (edited for space, looks like) in the Chicago Tribune op-ed section. I’m very happy about that. Seems like it’s just a good writing day all the way around.

The Ghost Brigades, Completed

At 3:28 am 9/15/05. 95,000 words exactly.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a sequel.