In Which I Reveal That TSWOTNDBOTDC Is Totally Not Real

Oh, don’t look so shocked. You knew this was coming.

That said, with the exception of suggesting in a comment that whichever of the characters on the cover one found the most attractive was modeled after me — which is, like, so obvious a lie that no one could reasonably believe it — I’m happy to say I never once explicitly lied about the nature of the project; I was just very very choosy in the words I used to describe it. For example, I never actually said I was writing a trilogy; I said “Tor announced a fantasy trilogy of books with my name on them.” Also, when I was using the word “fantasy,” I was meaning a different definition of the word than is generally suggested in this context. I did in fact talk to Bill Schaefer at Subterranean about what a limited edition would be like; he suggested black text on black paper. Oh, and that contract? For the short story, written as if a prologue for a longer book.

Basically I wrote enough that I could say without lying that I was telling you folks the truth, while at the same time implying something that was manifestly not true. Just enough plausibility to get at least some of you over your inherent and wholly justified April Fool’s Day skepticism. Hey, I can do that, I’m a writer and allegedly good with words.

So, yes, it’s a joke, nor do I think most of you are really that surprised. As folks noted in the comment thread, we left lots of clues hanging around, not the least of which was this article, including me leaving the very first comment. And in fact, that was the genesis of the project — after I joked about writing the trilogy, Patrick phoned me up and told me the folks wanted to have a prologue for an April Fool’s thing. I don’t think he actually finished the sentence before I signed on.

Because — and this really is no joke — my brain had already started working on what a book like “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City” would be like, if I were to write it. I eventually decided it would have to go one of two ways: either a send-up of the silliest parts of fantasy, or a completely awesome action-packed novel that took that absolutely ridiculous title and totally redeemed it.

For the record, I actually got further plotting the completely awesome action-packed novel version. But for an April Fool’s joke, hey, you have to go with the humor. Also, the request got to me late and I had, like, a day to get it done. That’s enough time to write a funny short story, but not a completely awesome action-packed novel. No amount of amphetamine would make that happen in that timeframe.

Yes, yes, yes, I hear some of you say. It was a joke, but you could write more if you wanted to, right? Sure, and I had enough fun that if one day I think of an actual story to go with that prologue, I might get back around to it. Or I might whomp up that action-packed version instead, just to mess with your heads. But honesty requires me to suggest you not to get too worked up at the possibility. I already have a stack of projects on my plate. Sorry, man. I’m just trying to be square with you.

And no matter what, we’ll always have the prologue, which, I have to say, I had almost too much fun writing. I think that first sentence makes that much totally clear; it was one of those things which, after I wrote it, I sat there giggling for five minutes because I was actually getting paid to come up with a sentence like that. So then I wrote a second sentence that was even longer, and then a third sentence featuring the most hackneyed phrase in all of literature. And it was all awesome. There are probably lives for which I am better suited than the one I’m living, but I’ll tell you what, I can’t really imagine what they might be.

89 Comments on “In Which I Reveal That TSWOTNDBOTDC Is Totally Not Real”

  1. Noooooooo, say it isn’t soooooo! How sad. I had Blaine read it to me, I was totally wrapped up in the story. All the kids were totally wrapped up in the story. You need to seriously rethink this one John. It could be a best seller!
    Don’t give up the ghost so soon!

  2. I printed out the part down to where the “dark and stormy night” phrase first comes in, and everyone in my household agreed that it’s a shame there’s more than one sentence, because it certainly deserves some kind of credit in the Bulwer-Lytton contest.

  3. They do say that the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.

    Farewell, TSWOTNDBOTDC. We never knew thee, but you shall be missed. :)

  4. I’d probably buy the send-up version if you wrote it but there’s probably not much point in annoying the fantasy fans at the same time :) I’m sure some of them buy sci-fi too, if they know what’s good for them.

  5. Out of curiosity, was the cover painting created specifically for the joke? If so, nice job on the follow-through, haha. I never doubted that the whole thing was a prank, but I did wonder if the nicely done cover was a hint that there might be something else in the pipeline to go along with that image.

  6. John H:

    You in some kind of rush? Stringing folks along was part of the fun!

    Jeff James:

    Yes, the cover was created specifically for the story.

  7. So, where are the survey results? I want to see if gullibles travel. (Boo, sorry)

  8. So I am a little confused. In the Clarke’s World story you mentioned just having finished a novel. That can’t have been Fuzzy Nation because you finished that some time ago right? I thought you were going to say TSWOTNDBOTDC wasn’t real but here have this instead!!! Or is that novel you just finished still super-duper double-double animal style glitter pooping unicorn secret? If it is you can tell me I swear I won’t tell anyone.

  9. Andrew L. Rice:

    The just-finished novel is something entirely unrelated. It’s with Patrick Nielsen Hayden right now and barring him returning it with a note saying “ZOMG THIS SUCKS SO MUCH” it will be out in 2012.

    Dr. Jim:

    Go to the poll and click the link at the bottom that says “View Results.” Most people didn’t think it was real.

  10. The cover illustration is great!

    I like option #2, redeeming the title in a totally awesome way, but I suspect that would be a LOT harder to write (based on how hard a time I’m having writing something totally awesome that doesn’t even have a title yet).

  11. I still wish it WAS real. Or that you’d take on longer-form satire. You are seriously funny, and there’s not enough funny out there these days! Also, the night dragon on the battlement seemed delightful, and I’d like to know more about him….

  12. That prologue was amazing, it sure made my day, and heck, I don’t care if it won’t be a book (actually, I’d have loved to read it, but hey). I think the part that has me up in stitches most is what TSWOTNDBOTDC would look like as a twitter and forum hashtag, and who would remember it in the right order. So would fans of the series be called Shadow War of the Night Dragoners?

  13. I knew it was an April Fool’s joke, but as much as I enjoyed the prologue, I was hoping that it would turn out to be a real project. I would definitely buy the book if it was written as a send-up, but I am not sure if the other version of it would appeal to me with my continued move away from traditional fantasy novels and series. Kudos on the prologue though, you did a fantastic job for only having a day to get it done.

  14. I was sure this was a joke, but I’m still slightly disappointed. I really wanted this to be real. I shall now go drown my sorrows in the epicness of that prologue.

  15. I hadn’t heard of the rule that April Fool’s jokes must be committed without actually lying.

    The lightning round of gags.


  16. Not trying to be smug, not trying to act like I’m smarter than anyone else in the room, but I never bought it as real. First, there’s that ridiculous (ridiculously funny) title, then there’s that jawbreaking first sentence, then there’s “It was a dark and stormy night.” I mean, really?

    What really told me it wasn’t real? Drindelthengenflagen. For this, Professor Frink and Giacomo the Jester wag their fingers at you.

  17. I’m just mildly surprised. I thought this was a double jointed joke or something. When I read the post and prologue on the 1st, I didn’t find it very convincing, but I thought you wanted it that way, so people would assume it’s a joke only to find out it was real.

    Man, I thought I was smart.

  18. I figured that contract was for the “prologue”. I’m with those who wouldn’t mind seeing you take a shot at a long-form parody, but I don’t know if I could take such… turgid? purple? ultra-violet? prose for much more than what you’ve already written. Maybe you could do like George MacDonald Fraser did in The Pyrates, where the first chapter was in this overly florid Georgian prose and then he admits on the page that nobody is going to read a whole book like that and goes modern for the rest of the book.

  19. You know, John, it’s April Fool’s. Nobody is going to excoriate you for just saying, “Yeah, I lied. But check out that prologue!”

  20. I kinda liked it. It had a Terry Pratchett feel to it, and we could really use more Terry Pratchetts in the world.

  21. Bag the Prologue, write the “completely awesome action-packed novel that took that absolutely ridiculous title and totally redeemed it”.

    I’d read it.

  22. It reminded me alot of Terry Pratchett.

    If you had spent more time talking about the filth and glutinous muck oozing out of the decaying city, it would have reminded me of China Mieville. (Okay, not really.)

  23. But did you get the money truck?

    Or since it was just a short, maybe you got a money lawn cart that came hooked up to the back of that awesome ZTR mower?

  24. Well, Robert Rodriguez was totally joking when he made the trailer for Machete as part of Grindhouse, but he managed to make it into a movie that both was a send-up of the silliest parts of action movies and a completely awesome action-packed movie that took that absolutely ridiculous title and totally redeemed it.

    The trick is to start a buzz early, like Rodriguez did. It looks like you’ve accomplished that. Now, go write a hilarious action packed farcical fantasy novel! Simple.

  25. So if you aren’t actually the model for the most handsome guy in the cover, who ARE the models?

    The slightly shortish guy on the left is a young Harlan Ellison, we can all see that, and of course the guy in the middle is a late-life Heinlein, but the only person I can find for the man on the right is Ron “I made BSG cool” Moore, and he’s way to busy to pose for a painting these days.

  26. I certainly hope that you’re getting that you’re getting that Stanko cover art as a print to hang in your office. Real or not, that’s a work of beauty and needs to be placed prominently on a wall for all to see.

  27. John: “Sure, and I had enough fun that if one day I think of an actual story to go with that prologue, I might get back around to it.”

    That’s what fan fiction is for.

  28. Any time I see a book title of the form “The [adjective] [noun]s of the [adjective] [noun]s”, my hands start itching, as if I were grasping an Editing Pen of Flame. So I figured it was an adjective noun a seasonal gag, since John’s fine writing should not taper off when title composition time arrives.

  29. I think I over-thought the whole thing too much. Is it real? Is it a fake? I started imagining all sorts of “Deathtrap” style possibilities where you revealed it was real, but it wasn’t real, but it would be real, maybe.

    Good job stringing me along!

  30. As I said on Twitter “So help me, but I kinda want to read this… April Fools or not”. Where might a reader find the short story, once it gets published?

  31. I thought it might have been both joke and real. I mean, I knew it was a joke, but I also figured that if anyone could take an April Fool’s joke and turn it into an actual project, it’d be you.

  32. A friend who read the prologue commented that they had no idea what to say to it either, but the movie had better star Brendan Fraser.

  33. Brendan Fraser as Scalzi as Drindel-master. Brilliant! Hands down it would beat Mars Needs Moms!

  34. ” I was just very very choosy in the words I used to describe it.”

    And are you sufficiently satisfied with the result, that you’re considering full-time employment as a politician?

  35. So, basically what you are saying is that you have successfully pitched a fiction sale with simply the text, “I’m totally going to write the “Shadow War of the Night Dragon” trilogy. Please have Tor back up the money truck to my front door. kthxbye.”

    You do realize, of course, that this is less plausible than anything you have ever done or claimed to do before in your entire authorial career, right?

  36. Y’know, I actually thought the premise was very interesting: What *would* a mage and a politician/emperor do if the threat they had made up to provide excuses to invade/bomb/assassinate/what-have-you some other country or other political party suddenly turned out to be true, and very, very dangerous?

    And, yeah, it was laugh-out-loud funny, too.

  37. (And, further, not only was that the text of your query letter, but you posted it as a blog comment.)

  38. I got the joke on the 1st, but I have to wonder if anyone has suggested doing a string of connected shorts? Like a serial, all parody, rather than a novel or novella that would take a much larger amount of work.

  39. True enough. I exaggerate slightly. But, still — I keep looking at it, and it keeps being astoundingly implausible, especially out of context.

  40. Aw, rats. I figured it for a joke but an entire trilogy written like that would’ve been a sheer delight. So, someday when you have an empty couple of months (Ha!) you might consider actually doing a fantasy parody novel? You’re really good at it.

  41. I’m full of no surprise at all, though it did weird me out a little when it took you so long before you said it.

    Here in Denmark the newspapers did just the opposite of that and ruined their own April fool’s jokes by revealing them as April fool’s jokes already at noon on April first. That way it’s no fun, so I like your way better than theirs.

  42. I’d like to note that you seemed to be channeling Terry Pratchett when you wrote that prologue. This is not a bad thing at all.

  43. Don’t forget Diana Wynne Jones’s “The Tough Guide To Fantasyland”.

    I read the bit in there about how every book has a map, and every map has a big empty space with a town right in the middle, and every adventure in Fantasyland starts at the inn in that town, and the town’s name always has an apostrophe in it.

    Then my Mom bought me Eragon for Christmas–I’m in my thirties, here–and I open it up, and there’s a map, and a big empty space, and a town in the middle, and the adventure starts at the inn in that town, and there’s an apostrophe in the name

  44. It was funny. It still is, actually. One of the few obvious april fools thingies on the webs which actually was fun.

    Thank you. The insanity of it saved me,.

  45. And if you can’t hold it together long enough to write a novel-length coherent story in that universe, open it up to a anthology collection of short stories, or some such, and let other writers in on the fun.

    Drindel Inks!

  46. I think someone should take that first sentence and give it to a fourth grader to diagram. If they do it successfully, they should be excused from all future diagramming assignments for life.

  47. Joining the chorus of people saying: Man, you had me so pumped! It was going to be the next “Eye of Argon”, but self-aware!

    Oh well. It was good while it lasted. Now I’ll just have to write the rest of it myself.

  48. @Erick – does anyone diagram sentences anymore? I turn forty tomorrow and I only know about diagraming because I read Little House on the Prairie.

    Anyway, I would love to find out how The Powers That Be handle their fantastic scapegoats being real. If there is no time for a trilogy of novels, I would like to second the notion of a series of short stories!

  49. Since you are not actually writing this book, is the idea up for grabs? Because its pretty awesome!

  50. @Judy – I don’t know if they do, but they should. Understanding how sentences are constructed helps to understand what the person who wrote them was trying to say. The most I can tell you is that they were still teaching it 26 years ago, which is when I learned in fifth grade. I don’t remember how to do it any more, but I remember why it was important and how the different parts affect a sentences’ meaning.

  51. Even though it isn’t a real tale, please please (pretty please with sparkly unicorns) submit the opening sentence to the Bulwer Lytton contest.

  52. Hey, when you come back to this project; remember you don’t have to choose between the humourous and awesome versions… Write both!
    One can be plain old “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons”, the other can be sub-titled “The True Story”.

  53. OK – I must swear off reading your blogs at work. I snorted quite loudly when I read the 1st sentence of the piece. Then I was reduced to muffled snerkling for a bit. Very distracting to the person in the next cubicle.

  54. But we have already completed sculpting the prototypes for the action figures. The scalzoid demons alone took a hundred man hours. And we have estimates for production costs and a struggling factory in Japan is depending on us. And the ScyFi channell is dangling a huge $150.00 advance for the movie rights.

  55. I was reminded of a short parody bit I wrote a while back: the prologue for Shiv Chasm #1: Shiv Chasm and the Revenant Oceanographers

    The Zodiac bobbed upon the waves, rocking from side to side
    like a nautical cradle as the sole occupant got to his feet and looked
    out across the dark waters, craggy face and blue eyes impassive as a
    statue. Silence was king here, and darkness was its concubine with a
    harem of shadows. It was a black night, darker than pitch at the bottom
    of a mineshaft, but that didn’t bother Shiv Chasm.
    No, the lich-whales he was after only came out when the
    darkness of the world matched the darkness in a man’s soul: his soul,
    black and hard as the wrought-iron bars that were forged into the gates
    of Hell itself…

    I think I’m easily outdone.

  56. I didn’t think it was real because it looks like Zach Braff is on the cover. I can’t imagine Zach Braff making it on the cover of one of your books. Ever.

  57. All this bafflegab from the guy that wrote ‘The Android’s Dream’, ‘Agent To The Stars, etc???? And made them REALLY good to boot?
    Just shut up and write the book already.

  58. I’m always curious if people who write comments like the one immediately above know they’re coming across as obnoxiously tiresome dickweeds, or if it would come as a surprise to them that they are.

    So, Lawrence: Intentional obnoxiously tiresome dickweed? Or a surprised one?

  59. I am glad that you, and Tor are amused. Conga-rat-u-lations. I also have a joke in mind, which I will explain in one year, on the next April first. I hope that you, and Tor will find it at least slightly amusing. WB

  60. But but but… I really wanted to read the rest of the story! *Sob*

    Sure, I knew it was a joke, as did most people. What most impressed me was the way it started out being so ridiculous and wound up in a place where it was still funny AND I was itching to read the next page. Well done, sir. Well done.

  61. Well Played Mr. Scazli, well played!!

    Every time I saw the cover I kept thinking they all looked like you….

  62. Maybe Tor doesn’t realize that the first was 6 days ago. Just got this in an email from them:
    John Scalzi’s Epic New Fantasy Series Revealed!

    The science fiction master has traded his genre cap, working many long nights to bring you a brand new fantasy series – and you can preview it right now on! Click here to read an excerpt from The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City.

    Find out what happens on a blacker than black night, when three palace guards are on watch to defend the kingdom from a deadly threat…

  63. The fact that this is an April Fool’s prank just ruined my evening; I thought I had found my next favorite hilarious book to read. :(

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