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.