Lock In Afterthoughts

Wielding the Mallet. Photo by Kyle Cassidy

Now that Lock In is done and sent into its editor, some thoughts on writing the book.

1. It was a challenging book for me to write. For one, it’s near future, which is not my usual thing, and which presents its own set of challenges, notably that you want to reasonably extrapolate future technology from existing technology without letting current technology overrun you. For two, it takes place in a short span of time (roughly six days) and during those six days a lot has to get covered; no one in this story gets much in the way of sleep (including its author).

For three, it’s explicitly designed to be a thriller with a technological aspect — not a technothriller in the Tom Clancy sense but one in which people use technology to get what they want, and they know their way around the tech pretty darn well — and that has to be balanced with making the people in the story worth caring about. Finally (and for four), I wanted to place a complete story within a world where things are socially and technologically in flux; the story is a snapshot of events within a larger context, and that larger context, while informing the story, goes on nearly heedless to the story’s event.

Oh — and it needs to be fun to read, with occasional murders and explosions and intrigue and maybe even some snappy dialogue dropped in here and there. You know. As you do. Plus there are other things I am trying in this story which I don’t want to reveal at the moment.

So: A lot.

And it had a hard deadline of the end of November, because it’s coming out in August, and we need that time for editing, revisions (if any) copy editing and marketing.


The good news is that I hit my deadline when I needed to. The even better news is that I hit my deadline with a manuscript that I am happy with, and which I think does most of the things I wanted it to do. But I’m not going to say it wasn’t a challenge. This one made me work for it.

Which is not a bad thing, mind you. I think it’s a good thing for me to try to be ambitious with the things I write. You may or may not like what I write, depending on your tastes, and you may or may not think I am successful at hitting what I’m aiming for, again, depending on your tastes. The one thing I would prefer you not to think, whether you like what I do or not, is that I’m just hacking them out without my brain engaged. That’s not the case, I can assure you.

2. As an example of how this book decided to fight me, I’ll note that I wrote roughly seven chapters of the book with one set of protagonists and then realized that, in fact, these two protagonists were actually supporting characters and the actual protagonist was over in an alternate universe, being all protagonistic. So I had to go find that alternate universe and start writing in it. Fortunately it was right next door. Unfortunately, I could only repurpose about 20% of what I had already written when I did. So, pretty much back to the drawing board.

This was annoying but I would not say it was a total waste of time. A lot of worldbuilding got done in those seven chapters, and that worldbuilding was transferable. I had a much clearer idea of everything involving the world and the story I was running through it — including the fact that my former protagonists weren’t getting the job done. They weren’t fired — it wasn’t their fault — they were just demoted. Fortunately, they took the demotions with good grace. And the actual book — the one you’ll read — is better for having gone on the detour.

3. As is fairly typical for how I write, a substantial chunk on the book was written in the last month, with the most substantial portion of that being written right near the end — the point at which all the story points are solved in my head and what’s left isn’t the writing, but just the typing. Unfortunately for me, when I get into the “must finish book” phase, I tend also to snack more or less constantly, with my excuse being that I am feeding my brain. Well, my brain is fed, all right. Sadly, so is my gut. At the moment I weigh 178.4 pounds, which is roughly ten pounds heavier than I was when I started the month of November (you can probably see a bit of the extra poundage in the picture above). So tomorrow I start another diet. Also, for the next book: Learn not to do this again.

4. I noted on the site that for November crunch time I was going to try to avoid news as much as possible, because it was distracting and angried up the blood, and I kind of didn’t need that on deadline. I largely succeeded, with occasional slips, which were duly noted on Twitter. For my sins, someone suggested on a political site that I was using my deadline as an excuse not to comment on the healthcare.gov Web site debacle because liberals like me couldn’t stomach our hero Obama being criticized, or whatever.

Which made me want to say, hey, you can have a novel in 2014 or you can have me snark on Obama’s health care follies, but you can’t have both so pick one. But I didn’t (at least, not until right now). If you look at November blog posts, you’ll also note I didn’t write anything about all the stupid things the GOP/conservatives did in November either, because, you know, I was on a deadline. Also you can’t actually pick which you want, because one’s contractually obliged and the other isn’t.

(For the record: Obama’s November ACA follies: A definitive clusterfuck, for which he and his administration richly deserve the criticism they’ve received. Having your public face for your administration’s signature policy be a 404 for a couple of months is not the way to win friends.)

It was certainly the case that the lack of commentary here had an impact on visits; the visitorship for November was the lowest it was for two years, and as a result it’s entirely possible 2013’s visitor numbers will be lower than 2012’s. C’est la vie. As I’m pretty sure I’ve noted here, pay copy has to take precedence. Because I like living in my house and eating food. But maybe I can make up for it in December with full-frontal nudity:

(Incidentally, if you make the sort of pun-related comment that naturally follows from such a picture if you are twelve, then I will Mallet your comment and tell Santa to put coal in your stocking this year. Just so you know.)

5. And what do I plan to do now? Two words: Video games. Also: sleep. And: Diet. Alas.

68 Comments on “Lock In Afterthoughts”

  1. I enjoy your explanations of your writing process. I know that each writer has his or her own process, and yours is not much like mine, but I learn things from reading about yours. I also like that you seem excited to be writing and challenging yourself. That too is inspiring.

  2. Same here regarding a translation. Tight deadlines. The last month everything needs to just get done. The waist expansion. It’s funny how most people think a translation translates itself! HA! Congrats on reaching the end with your sanity (if not your waistline) intact. I’m sure the book is better for the detour. Will be waiting for August with sweet anticipation.

  3. Thank you for all the hard work. We may not have visited as much but we also knew you were working. So get some sleep, kill some stuff on a screen, and we will wait with bated breathe for August.

  4. The good news is that I hit my deadline when I needed to. The even better news is that I hit my deadline with a manuscript that I am happy with, and which I think does most of the things I wanted it to do. But I’m not going to say it wasn’t a challenge. This one made me work for it.

    Hm. Your last couple of projects have seemed to be personal challenges to you, where you had to really work at it.

    Good. Because I liked the end products, and I got more out of it than just a simple read.


  5. >cat-related pun redacted<
    Also, don't bother dieting until Jan 5th, it will just make you crazy.
    Also also, you may be the only novelist I have "met" who uses that mallet to nail deadlines (rather than enjoying the whooshing sound as they fly past.)

  6. Out of interest: do RSS feed views count? Because I for one only click through if I expect the comments to be interesting or want to comment. I can think “pretty picture” and go on with my day the rest of the time.

  7. I used to snack non-stop on orange food (Cheetos, Doritos, you know) while writing, and would always balloon up. I finally learned to put a jar of mixed nuts–unflavored & unsalted–from the bulk bins at the CoOp on my desk. Still feeds the brain, but without the addictive salt/fat/sugar combo of doom. Add an apple and a slice of cheese 2x/day, for meals, and Bob’s my uncle. Took a little getting used to, but I’m actually more productive, because I’m not constantly sucking fake cheese powder off of my fingers. Which is gross, anyway.

  8. I didn’t even THINK of the cat pun till you mentioned being 12, and immediately went to 12. But that really is a pretty kitty.

    Good luck with the food-changes, and grats on the book!

  9. Chris:

    The shirt is a one-of-a-kind, actually.

    Kimberly Unger:

    Nah, I started a diet last year on December 1 and it worked fine (I lost the weight and prety much kept it off until this last month). Also, if I wait longer, it’ll just be that much more weight to lose. No time like the present.

  10. I have to say, John, for someone who aspires to write his own novel, I find these posts so informative, and hopeful. It all makes so much sense to where I’m at. As in, ‘okay, so I’m not insane after all.’ What I try to bear in mind is stick to the story, tell it, progress it, and keep on going. Inch by inch or foot by foot. Just keep going. It will fill up and then it will end. And then, gasp, I’ll have something approaching a novel. So, thank you. Lots more I could write here, but it’s besides the point. Bottom line, thank you for these insights you provide from time to time.

  11. I enjoyed the look into your writing process, especially the part about getting seven chapters in, and needing to rework everything. My 12-year old daughter went through a similar experience when she did NaNoWriMo YWP this November. I’m sharing this on her FB page and telling her to skip to #2…and then to the cat picture.

    Here’s my caption: “Go ahead, rub my belly. See what happens.”

  12. I’m curious as to how much work remains after “sending it to the editor”. Does that usually mean there’s a substantial back and forth where he/she suggests restructuring and revisions that will require another big chunk of time, or do you pretty much have a finished product at this point with only minor typos anticipated?

  13. danielb:

    I typically write pretty clean copy so there’s not usually a lot of back and forth. However, past results are not necessarily indicators of future results. It’s possible my editor will come back with a bunch of notes and I’ll have to address them. I’m fine with that if it happens. Every book is different.

  14. Speaking of broken websites… has anyone else had problems with the Science Fiction Book Club’s website since they did a “re-design” several months ago? I have literally been unable to complete a purchase or give SFBC my money — and I’ve given them a lot over the last forty years — since the changes went into effect. (More details on my own blog’s most recent post.)

  15. My goodness, that full frontal feline nudity gave me
    paws for thought

    Don’t worry, I’ll see myself out.

  16. Praise the Mallet! Praise it! Glory unto its One True Wielder, the legendary Old Man Warrior, Scalzius the Invincible, He-Who-Smites-Dipshits!

    And d’aaaawwwww!!!!! Look at the little woogums! Ghlaghghee looks so adorable in that picture that I could die!

  17. You seem to challenge yourself a LOT, so that isn’t a surprise.

    As for the full-frontal nudity, I was once involved in a discussion of whether there was full frontal nudity at a gathering. I concluded there was full frontal AND backal nudity, but wasn’t sure about neckal nudity (“Hey, _hostess_, does your cat have a collar?”) That one stayed in the group’s lexicon for a LONG time.

    And I’m another who almost always clicks through from the RSS feed for discussions but didn’t click through much this past month. Did check out the pix in the feed, though.

  18. I look forward to reading the end results of your effort and focus. And I chose to use the break in brain-intensive posts as encouragement to click through the archives and see what I had been missing in the years before I found your site. I highly encourage it for time suck purposes…click on the random post link, then read through the posts and comments as desired, using the previous and next entries to give context, then when you hit something you’ve already seen or aren’t interested in, click the random post link again. Hours of entertainment. Either that or buy/re-read Hate Mail and/or Mallet for your Whatever fix.

    I enjoy your posts and I enjoy your books, so if less of one gives me more of the other, I’ll amuse myself.

  19. No puns, but that cat pic reminds me of a Calvin And Hobbes comic (last some decades ago) about rubbing your face in a cat’s soft belly fur.

  20. I’ll take fewer political comments in exchange for a new Scalzi novel any day. Thanks for sharing some of your process – it helps to remind people that you’re not simply sipping Martinis on your plantation while dictating Bon Mots to your Dictation Monkey. Very much looking forward to “Lock In”. As it happens, I have a birthday in August….

  21. Clancy is a crappy writer. I am sorry you compared anything you do to any turd he crapped out after Red Storm Rising. He was proof that good writing requires an editor to enforce discipline. John, you are a good writer, but if they ever stop editing you please find someone to do it for you. Clancy didn’t have half your ability but he could write decent yarns, his ego drove him into the ditch and only his name sold books.

  22. @mintwitch

    I do that too, but I also have a can of chocolate raisins and a plate of veggies with my own homemade low-fat dip. I like chocolate (the kind with sugar), so I consider it nutritional for my (very mortal) soul even though it’s less than salutary to my corporeal health. Man (and woman) does not live by gluten-free bread alone. You can have my sugar when you pry it from my cold diabetic hands :P

    In truth I practice a combination of epicureanism and moderation. The modern connotation of epicurean has warped to become a synonym for gluttony, but the ancient Greek philosophers of that school emphasized quality over quantity. That’s why when I cook, I make small portions with as much hand-crafted care as I can muster.

    And that concludes my contribution of unsolicited dietary advice for the day.

  23. Warren Terra @ 5:20 – My brother used to rub his face on our cats when we were kids. (I probably did, too.) Then, years later, he was at a game preserve in South Africa and tried it with a “tame” cheetah. He is the only person I know that can cross “survive a cheetah bite” off his bucket list.

    I’m not sure I’d try rubbing Scalzi’s cat, no matter how tempting, because there are a lot of pointy ends and you’d need a lot of bandages afterwards. On the other hand, it might be worth a little lost blood.

  24. I’ll just say that the kitty pic reminds me of a Lords of Acid song, and leave it at that.

  25. I had to really think about the Pun That Shall Not Be Named, and I think I’m OK with that. Maturity! On the other hand, I LOL’d at vian’s excellent use of the David Caruso/sunglasses meme. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

  26. Just as a little throwaway note here: we found actual coal thingies made of candy for the kids’ stockings this year. Not sure how easily they can be found in the States.

    Have to say it has so far been a highlight of the Christmas shopping for the year to be able to legitimately put coal into my kids’ stockings :-)

  27. Eeeeeeee!!!!!

    Fuzzy kitty tummy!!!!!

    Must! Resist! Face-rub!! In da belly fur!!!

    Oh, ah, right. Errm.

    Congratulations on completing your latest opus, Mr. Scalzi, and best of luck to you on losing the excess avoirdupois that you seem to have found over the past month. All I ask is that you don’t send it on to me – I’ve more than enough of my own, thanks just the same.

    Now, please go give that adorable fuzz-butt a good chin-scratch from me. And maybe a nice nibble of dehydrated salmon.

  28. I love this post! As an aspiring writer who is still plodding away at her first novel, it’s nice to know that there are really good writers out there who have to work just as hard as I do to produce that amazing, finished work I love reading so much! I can’t wait for August!

  29. I enjoyed reading Redshirts; so I went ahead and purchased several more of your books. A mistake I made was that I after I read Redshirts I was interested in reading more of our work and started on Ghost Brigades, then Last Colony, Old Man’s War, Zoe’s Tale and finally Human Division. Notice the order in which read them? I should have read them in order but in my defense I as not aware there was an order (I blame Amazon for not making me aware of this fact) and I did not order them in that order. Still, I enjoyed the series despite starting in the middle.

    I am looking forward to your new book, I realize that it is not a follow up to the ones I read.Will there be a followup to Human Division? There were some plot lines that need to be settled (who is behind all the attacks, unless I missed that, in that case, speed reading does have drawbacks).

    From what you have posted, it sounds interesting. Meanwhile, until the book is released in 2014, I have a few more that I can read.

  30. Actually, a little more mass on your end of the MOLC will be multiplied per Archimedes onto the recipients of the blows, especially if it’s your trademark leap from the top rope.

  31. Good to know I’m not the only one who sometimes wanders down the wrong story path. I had to toss out 2/3 of the novel-in-progress in much the same way you did. It was a bitch, but the story is soooooo much better for it.

    Looking forward to the new novel!

  32. I was looking for a “like” button at Greg’s comment about Jim Hines. Well played, sir.

  33. Congrats, Mr. Scalzi! Looking forward to the new book. I just read “Human Division” and loved it. I was happy to see the churro reference – it felt like a special shoutout to all us folks here in the comments section.

    Thanks too for sharing about your writing process. I cut out the main villain in my first draft because I realized (when I was done…) that he wasn’t the real bad guy. But he didn’t he get demoted, he most definitely got the chop!

  34. Being a cat owner/owned by a cat, I can tell you with 100% confidence that you’ll get roughly one tenth of one second of being able to scratch/pet a cat’s tummy before your hands gets those funky little red stripes.

  35. “hey, you can have a novel in 2014 or you can have me snark on Obama’s health care follies, but you can’t have both so pick one.” I really don’t this kind of people wishes for either…

    I, for one, am looking forward to this book, if the process is any indication. I just started Redshirts and it is a roaring good read!

  36. +1 Lurkertype! I think that I’d risk pointy death/pain for some of that fluff too.

  37. I was doing NaNoWriMo last month, so whenever you’d mention your book deadline at the end of November, I’d think “Hey — I’m on a book deadline too. I am JUST LIKE JOHN SCALZI!” Except for the part where you’re a bestselling and award-winning author and I haven’t even been published yet. But still…

    Anyhow, I look forward to reading the new book.

  38. Vis the SFBC’s new site: I had trouble. Now, the login page is slow to load, but the site works the way its (insert insult) designers intended. If I were still having trouble I’d try visiting with a different browser.
    As for the Affordable Care Act website: I’ve never gotten a 404 because the site authors wrote their own special pages for that, or the page just sits and spins rather than loading.

    Wait? “Cat pun?” Oh, right. Well, I’m not twelve, but if thinking “cat pun” some of the comments are quite saucy.

  39. @G.B. MIller,
    Really depends on the cat. Previous cat would get in my lap and REQUIRE me to rub her belly, for hours at a time if I’d been willing or hadn’t needed to stretch, or go to bed, or take care of necessary functions. Current fur-lord prefers a good long rub under his chin, but will suffer the occasional belly-rub so long as my hand doesn’t stray too close to “that area”. Haven’t ever been owned by a longhair breed, so maybe it’s a breed-of-cat thing.

  40. I have a cat who is 70% fur by volume and also regularly demands that his belly be rubbed. My other cat prefers no petting at all ever, and opts to be Batman and lurk in the shadows above the cupboards and make sure no evil-doing takes place in the apartment. I think it just depends on the cat, rather than the breed.

  41. Whenever an author talks about how x% of the book had to be junked to start over, or some such, it always gets me interested, at least a little bit, in a kind of “director’s cut” version of the novel in its original form. I doubt the book would have been better — the writer did cut it for a reason, one presumes — but it would be interesting to read an alternate version of a book you really enjoyed.

  42. I love it when my cat lies on her back like that; to me it means the cat is perfectly happy and content and absolutely trusting of everyone within at least 100 feet of where they are lying. Beautiful cat, and looking forward to reading the new book.

  43. I know you don’t solicit authors for Big Idea pieces, but I’m thinking you really should try and get that John Scalzi fellow to write up a little something… I hear he has a book coming out around August next year.

  44. Kitties are pointy & sharp on five ends and smelly on the other. Never rub your face in their delightfully seductive tummies lest you desire an impromptu facelift. –The Voice of Experience.

  45. I wish I had a similar picture of my old cat Mingo in a similar pose that I could post. You see, she was incapable of full frontal nudity.

    Pure black cat except for three white marks on her underside: two symmetrical round spots just below her forelegs, and a triangle between her hind legs. Built-in bikini.

    (And on an entirely different note, I misread the new slugline on the main page for a second as LEAVE YOUR MESSAGE AT THE SHEEP – which conjured the image of a large, woolly and bemused ovine standing in a field with many notes thumbtacked to its thick fleece. God, I wish I could draw.)

  46. Supposedly intermittent fasting increases clarity and creativity in the morning….you could kill 2 birds with one stone…more work / less food.

  47. After many years of being owned by cats who were belly-rub averse, I have a cat who loves having her stomach fur stroked. It’s delightful, but a bit disconcerting.

    New book sounds intriguing; I’m looking forward to it.

  48. Wait, so about the whole contractually-obligated thing, how much do you charge per pound of snark? I see a Kickstarter in the offing…

  49. sounds like John falls into the Gardener type writer as opposed to the outliner type writer. I think George RR Martin spoke or wrote about this. John’s best posts are when he talks about writing. As I have said before I like to read blogs by people and read about what they know best and its generally their craft. Interesting how you go to a certain point and then realize that it wasn’t working. From what I have read this seems to happen to a lot of writers.

    Book sounds like it may be a little harder sci-fi that you normally write.

    If you want a fun and cheap computer game to play, try Don’t Starve. Its an action survival roguelike. You are dropped in the woods and your goal is not to die. I died in 5 minutes the first time. I think you can pick it up for about $10 and its got some nice mods on Steam. They are still actively adding features to it. It has fun cartoon graphics.

    one of these days, Ill get you to try Cataclysm DDA. This one is 100% free, but its hard…


  50. btw, authors that write in spurts and then play video games reminds me of a story about a painter. I used to work with a guy whose brother was an artist. He would have inspiration and paint literally non stop for months. Finish, do a show, sell the paintings, and then play video games until he was inspired again.

  51. Yeah! Something too look forward to if I ever finish *my* deadlines and can read for fun again.

    Also, a photo that properly captures Her Most Shining Radience would be a true Christmas Miracle at this point.