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.

21 Comments on “TGB Post-Mortem”

  1. It is always interesting to read what I am thinking now that I finished post-mortem. Congrats on finishing the book. Now go relax!
    Don’t you already have a huge editing project on your plate coming up?

  2. Congratulations. Sounds like your writing process is a bit like mine. I giggled all the way through your conversation with Evil Plotter. And now – go have fun with your new camera! ;-)

  3. Hmmmm, no current books… so you could start writing writing “Ghost Brigade Meets the Wolf Man” now so there would be less delay when Tor begs you for another novel. (C’mon, you know those tuition costs keep rising and, besides, what about grad school?)

  4. To be honest, after 1.5 years of closely following your blog, I still haven’t read OMW. However, Ghost Brigades sounds like it is up my alley – more dark. I’ll have to get around to reading that one. It’s good to know that you have attempted to make it stand on its own.

  5. Karl says:
    To be honest, after 1.5 years of closely following your blog, I still haven’t read OMW.

    Man… that reminds me… I still haven’t read OMW either (except the first chapter). But that’s because stupid “Gravity’s Rainbow” is taking me freaking forever. Which… I must admit… is actually because I drunk the WoW Kool-Aid, and for most reasonable intents and purposes, I’m a dead man. Sure, I force myself out of the apartment to see friends, and… you know work (just like I am right this second… can’t you tell how much work I’m getting done?) but when it comes to stay-at-home time. Anyway, you get the picture. I need to read more.

  6. Like Karl, I too am looking forward to the darkness. Especially dark dark darky darkness.

    So… when do I get to preorder?

  7. In Defense of Ewoks

    Talking about the possibility of a third book in his Old Man’s War series, John Scalzi says this:
    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 …

  8. “So… when do I get to preorder?”

    Now, I would think. One of the benefits of John being so very very late.

    That said, allow me to repeat more or less what I said to John in email, which was: roXXoring ending, d00d. [waves lighter in air] (Why, yes, we do in fact communicate all corporate messages at Tor in Cretin. Glossary on request.)

  9. I think if you’re planning on writing another book then you’ll have to write another after that, else you’ll have commited a trilogy. And we can’t have that.

  10. No books on the schedule. I DO need two more guest bloggers for November. (Hint! Hint!)

    Actually, this summer’s project induced hypergraphia. I’m now rewriting that one, prepping a second one (based on a verbal pitch), and juggling the last two small press books (or “the freebies” as some of my more cynical friends call them.) When all four books are done and packed off to publishers and agents, I’m going to go mad trying to find something to do.

  11. SF Tidbits Part XII

    Welcome to another installment of SF Tidbits!John Scalzi has completed writing The Ghost Brigades, the sequel to the outstanding Old Man’s War. Neil Gaiman was recently interviewed at Book Standard. Cory Doctorow is interviewed at Double Filtered. Kim …

  12. Now, I would think. One of the benefits of John being so very very late.

    Say, what are the chances that there might be some sort of special incentive deal on Whatever (or Wherever) where preorders get signed copies or some such? I ask because it’s not without precedent in the realm of Scalzidom.

  13. I can’t wait for the book to come out…

    Heart-eating genetic clone warrior women? I am agog with anticipation.

  14. Let me be the first, er… make that the umpteenth, to say Congratulations! It’s a book!

    I like the suggestions above of signed pre-ordered copies (hint, hint). As if you need something else to write, eh?

    Also, I seem to remember an explanation in OMW about why the Americans went into the CDF while other nationalities went to the colonies. (Or am I imagining this…)

    Oh well, I look forward to the explanation, as well as the rest of TGB.

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