What It’s Like to Live In Ohio Right Now

In the comment thread of one of today’s earlier posts, I was asked what it’s like to be living in Ohio right now, i.e., in the thick of election season, when many people seem to be of the opinion that Ohio is likely to be a state (if not the state) that helps decide the 2012 election. I can’t speak for the entire state, but I can tell you a little bit of my experience of it.

First, note that I live in a very conservative, rural county. Darke County went 68% for McCain in 2008 and 68% for Bush in 2004, and I would be deeply surprised if it did not go at least 68% for Romney this year. In my little town of Bradford there are all sorts of signs for Republican candidates and only one or two for the Democratic candidates. There’s not even a Democrat running in my US Representative district of  OH-8, which is Speaker of the House John Boehner’s territory, mostly because I think they asked themselves, why bother?

Basically, I’m used to the idea that I vote in the minority when it comes to my neighbors. They haven’t run me out of town on a rail yet, however, mostly because a) that would be rude, and b) most of my neighbors are good people who just don’t vote the same direction I do. It happens, you know?

So my day-to-day Ohio experience of the election tilts heavily towards Romney, just as it tilted heavily toward McCain in 2008 and Bush in 2004. If Ohio were Darke county, Romney could already be taking field trips to the Oval Office to take measurements for the drapes.

However, Ohio isn’t Darke County. There are 88 counties in Ohio; in 2008 Obama won 22 of them, but those 22 counties also had Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Akron in them, i.e., the heavily populated and industrialized counties. In this sense Ohio is a microcosm of the US in general, in which the rural areas, the largest by geography, are more conservative, and the urban areas, more compact but with substantially larger populations, are more liberal. Here in Ohio, it’s a pretty even split, and we have 18 electoral votes, which is why, of course, we’re being pandered to, or badgered, depending on your point of view.

Ohio’s media is being swamped by political ads of all sorts, but I personally am avoiding most of them. I don’t watch a lot of local or network television, so I don’t get carpetbombed in that way. Likewise, most of my car radio listening is satellite, which is blessedly free of commercials. I get mailings, but they don’t make it into the house; they all get deposited in the recycling bin in the garage, unread. Ironically, I’ve seen the most political ads through YouTube, which reads my ISP and serves me political ads that way; I hit the mute button and flip over to another tab until they’re done. I’m not a low-information voter, so all the political ads strike me as offensively simple. I don’t waste my time with any of them.

My phone rings a couple of times a day with robocalls, and you can tell they’re robocalls by the fact that there’s a brief delay before there’s anyone speaking; we hang up before they start speaking. I’ve been asked to poll several times and have given responses a couple of times; as I have a landline but otherwise profile as a cell phone user I suspect my answers skew the polling a tiny bit.

We had a bit of political nonsense regarding voting earlier in the election season when our Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, attempted to game the early voting procedures to disenfranchise Democratic voters and then was shocked, shocked when the Obama campaign and others called him on it. The courts eventually squashed the maneuver, as they should have, and we were reminded again that one of the least attractive aspects of the modern-day GOP is its willingness to attempt to win elections by keeping people from voting, rather than giving people a reason to vote for them.

As Ohio will likely continue to be central to the election hopes of both parties over the next two weeks, I don’t expect things to get any less noisy and aggravating around here. But on the other hand, as a believer in the voting experience and the idea that every vote does actually count — as part of the civic life of every American citizen if not strictly in the pedantic numerical sense of one’s vote being the deciding one in an election — I think it’s good to be living in a state where there’s the belief that we will be truly a factor in the future of our nation.

My belief is that in the end it will be fairly close, and that it probably is going to come down to the folks like the auto workers, who are probably pretty culturally conservative, but on the other hand got their jobs saved by Obama while Romney wrote an op-ed suggesting that letting the automakers die was not a bad idea against the bailout (edit: I mischaracterized Romney’s position; my bad). I have my suspicions on how that’s going shake out in the voting booth, but I, like everyone else, will have to wait until election day to be sure.

That’s Ohio at the moment.


Morning After Thoughts on Completing The Human Division

As a preamble, for everyone who still believes that writing is a romantic sort of life, this is what I looked like at the end of writing The Human Division:

This is what the tail end of a book two weeks late looks like. Unshaven, unkempt, tired and otherwise gaaaaah. I have since cleaned up my act:

However, I think you can still see the tired in my eyes, there. It will go away after two or three days of intensive sleeping.

The before and after pictures out of the way, let me tell you a little bit about writing The Human Division.

1. First, I think it’s a good book, and that, of course, is the most important thing. People have been on me for a while to go back into the Old Man’s War universe and tell some new stories in it, but one thing I’ve always been clear about is that I have no desire to go back in if all I’m going to be doing is grinding out books for the money. I like that universe too much, and I get bored too easily, to attempt that sort of thing. If I was going to go back, it was because I had new things to say, not because I was short on cash.

Writing The Human Division appealed to me not only because I finally figured out (to a certain approximation) where to go next in the Old Man’s War universe, but also because I would be telling that new tale in an entirely different way: Instead of a straight-up novel, I would be telling it in an episodic fashion, with each episode its own story, but all the stories bending into an overall plot arc. In other words, it’s a very different way of approaching the novel form. That was a challenge I could get into and sign on for, because I knew I wouldn’t be bored as a writer, and because then I had some freedom to explore the state of the Old Man’s War universe in ways a conventional novel would make difficult.

Having that room to explore meant I got to do a lot of cool things. There’s lots of action, plenty of drama, some humor and a fantastic set of characters, not all of whom of are human, and most of all I get to tell some great stories. With The Human Division I think I’ve gotten to see more of my own universe, and create a context for the things that go on there. I’m very happy with the experience, the writing, the stories and how it call comes together, both as multiple tales and as a single, coherent book. I’m proud of it and think you’ll really enjoy it.

2. That said, this is hands down the most difficult book I’ve written, because it’s different and because it came at a hectic time in my life. Let me revisit again with you the goals that we had for The Human Division: It needed to work as a series of independent but interconnected stories, all of which could be read on their own but which when combined together would have the scope and coherence of a novel. While doing that, it needed to revisit one of the most popular science fiction universes of the last decade in a way that made fans of that universe happy to come back, while at the same time pushing the universe forward in a way that made sense and allowed for possible and logical further expansion.

So, yeah: No pressure there.

And again, those challenges were why I did it: I like being challenged when I write because it makes it fun to write. And I need to have fun. But I was also juggling a lot of balls in the air, had a lot of puzzle pieces to put together, was hacking through totally unexplored jungle while the drop bears were falling from the trees, chose your preferred metaphor here. It was a lot to deal with, and I’m not going to lie to you guys, there were at least a couple of times where I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into.

Added to this was the fact that this was a very busy year for me, which did funny things to my writing schedule. Some of this was expected — I’m still president of SFWA, and I also had a full schedule of appearances — but some of it wasn’t. The very happy success of Redshirts, for example, ended up meaning that much of my summer was involved promoting the hell out of that book. Which I was happy to do and would do again, but which meant that I was also shrinking the number of days I had available to write a book that had a certain deadline, because it had to be ready for December. The fact it’s now the last full week of October should give you some indication of how close I ended up cutting it. This is where I thank my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, for his almost infinite patience with me.

For all that, I don’t think all that disruption was bad. One of the results of it was that I was able to spend some serious time thinking about the stories and the world building I was doing, and connections formed that I might not have otherwise made that I think are critical for the success of the book. So in the end I think I wrote it the way it needed to be written. It was a difficult birth, but a beautiful baby.

3. Yes, yes, you say. All that is fine. But tell us about the book, you moron. All right. In no particular order:

* The book is arranged into thirteen “episodes,” which is the name we’re giving to the single-serving, self-contained (but interrelated) stories.

* It’s arranged that way because starting in December, we’re selling each episode electronically, one a week, for, you guessed it, thirteen weeks. All the electronic episodes will be DRM-free, in keeping with Tor’s company-wide DRM policy. Also, Tor has the worldwide English rights to The Human Division, so the episodes should be available across the entire planet, same day and date as North American release. Or to put it another way, if you can’t buy it in your country, it’s not because of us.

* It will also be available as a stand-alone hardcover book in May, 2013.

* And yes, there will be an audio version, from Audible. My understanding is that they will also be doing the book in episodes, concurrent to the electronic episode release schedule.

* The book is 130,000 words long (minus afterword and various front matter), which means that the episodes average 10,000 words each, which is pretty much exactly as we had intended. In reality the episodes range in length from 6,000 words to 22,000 words. If you want to get technical about it, The Human Division has within it two novellas, five novelettes and six short stories. That’s because each of the episodes is written to be the right length for its story, rather than written to a specific length. And that’s because that’s how I think it should be done. All the episodes will be sold for the same price.

* The episodic electronic version and the single-volume print version will be more or less the same price when all is said and done. At least that’s the plan at the moment.

* The events in The Human Division take place after the events of The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale.

* The Human Division features some characters who have appeared in the Old Man’s War universe before, but also features a raft of brand new characters (before anyone asks, John Perry, Jane Sagan and Zoe Boutin-Perry are not players in the book. The Old Man’s War universe is bigger than just those three characters). Most episodes feature a recurring set of characters, but there are exceptions.

* And yes, I have a vague outline of what a sequel to The Human Division would look like. But, one, I have other things to get to first, and two, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we.

4. For process fans, the first words of The Human Division (which eventually found themselves incorporated into Episode Three) were written on January 11, 2012, at 2:37pm. The final words were written on October 23, 2012, at 12:02am. Most of the words were written in September and October; there were a fair number of words written before then but a lot of that got chucked.

The Human Division was primarily written in Google Docs, which lent itself to the episodic nature of the book, but parts of it were written in Pages, TextEdit, Microsoft Word and WordPress. The book was started on my now sadly-stolen MacBook Air and finished on my Mac Mini, and in between was written on my Acer One, my iPad and on a computer at the public library in Troy, Ohio that I used while I was waiting for my dog to get groomed.

The book, as previously mentioned, is 130k long, which means it’s the longest fiction book of mine, beating out The Android’s Dream, which, as memory serves, was about 114K long. As a point of comparison, Redshirts, the most recent novel, was 55k long (the codas, however, brought up to 80k length). The average length of the Old Man’s War novels is about 95k, so this one is a little long for the series. Unless you consider it as two novellas, five novelettes and six short stories, in which case, uh, who knows.

I’ll also note that, process-wise, this book was written entirely differently than any other fiction book I’ve written. I tend to write sequentially, from beginning to end. This time, however, I bounced around in sequence quite a lot, because from a construction point of view it was the smartest thing to do. It was interesting and gave me a new perspective on putting stories together, both individually and in a group. Well worth the experience.

5. And now you say, yes, Scalzi, you finished The Human Division. But that was eleven whole hours ago. What’s next? Well, I’ll tell you, you ungrateful bastards. First, I’m pretty much giving myself the rest of the week off, because I can. Then the rest of the year I’m mostly focused on the video game I’m working on. In January, I compile The Mallet of Loving Correction, the next Whatever collection, which is scheduled to be released September 13, 2013 (i.e., the 15th anniversary of Whatever). Then after that… oh, who knows. Lots of things I am thinking about. I’ll do a few of them. But right now I’m keeping the options open.

And that’s where I am, the morning after The Human Division. 


October in Ohio

At least, how it looks from my front yard, this morning. October is my favorite month for many reasons, but one big reason is the contrasts of colors you get in it.


The Human Division: Done!

It was completed at 12:02 am, Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012. Two weeks late, unfortunately, but still done for all that.

The “word count” function in Microsoft Word tells me it is exactly 130,000 words long. I think that’s kind of cool (and also makes it the longest fiction book I have written, by about 16,000  words). I will soon ruin that nice round number by adding dedications and an afterword. Even so. It’s now officially done, and I am happy to see it full and complete.

I’ll have more to say later today, but for now? Bed time, man. I am going to sleep well.

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