More on The Consuming Fire and Future Writing Plans

Now that I’ve had a day to sleep and reinflate my brain a bit, some additional thoughts about completing The Consuming Fire and my writing life in general at the moment:

1. I like it! I think it’s good! I also think it’s not quite the novel I thought I was writing when I started, which I think is also good because I think the novel that came out is a bit better.

This is not that unusual for me, incidentally; during the writing of novels I often find out that the book is a different one than I intended to write when I started out. This is a result of a) not working from an outline and b) trusting my writer brain a smidgen more than my “planning-to-write” brain. Although if I’m going to be honest, what my “planning-to-write” brain is doing most of the time is saying “Shit, I don’t know what to do, let’s just start with this thing and see where we get.” So maybe it’s not that the “planning-to-write” brain isn’t smart, it’s just hella lazy. Way to let everyone else do the work, planning-to-write brain. Go to your room and think what you’ve done!

2. Along this line, there were a couple of places in the writing of the novel where I was all “Oh. Oh. Well, I did not know that about this universe.” You will know them when you get to them, I think. I was happy they were there because suddenly I have a lot more options about things to do with book three, or any other books that might come after that, not that I am planning any more than three books at the moment (because yes, the empire will still collapse, and no, that’s not a spoiler), but you never know. I mean, I didn’t know Old Man’s War would have five sequels, either. Look, I’m kind of making this up as I go along, okay?

3. That said, The Collapsing Empire was always meant to be the first in a series, and The Consuming Fire is meant to be the second in a series, where there will definitely be at least a third book. All of which is to say, hey, if you didn’t like the fact that Empire ended on a cliffhanger, guess what? You won’t like the fact that Fire does, too. Mind you, as with the first book, there is a story with a complete arc in it, so it’s enjoyable in itself, and I think people are going to dig the hell out of the climactic scene in the book. But yes, some things are still arcing through to the next book, like, the continuing collapse of empire.

(A small detour here to say I’ve never been one of those people who insists on a series being done before reading the books in it, I guess in part because I knew even as a younger person that publishing was a business and if you didn’t support a series in progress, you might not actually get that next book, and partly because, I don’t know, I suppose I was okay with having to wait to find out what happened next because the world was filled with other books I could read in the interim, and I was fine with doing that. I think there are some people who are genuinely upset that books in a series sometimes leave things open, but I’m not one of those people, as long as what I’m reading now is entertaining me well enough.)

4. Because it was a second book in a series, I had to give thought to what I was following up on from the first book, what I was bringing in for the first time and what I was going to have to leave out or put into a later book. These are tough choices, and I think ones where people will end up asking me what happened to their favorite characters/plotlines which are not explored to their satisfaction this time around. The answers here are a) hey, choices have to be made, b) they’ll probably show up in the next book, or alternately, possibly in a novelette/novella-length piece I’m maybe (maybe. MAYBE, people) thinking about. Patience, folks.

Not everything’s going to fit in one book, unless you want that book to be a formless slodge just checking off appearance boxes. That’s not what I want, and I’m the writer, so I win (for everyone who thinks this was just a gratuitous slam on thick epic fantasy books, I’ll say that not every large book is a formless slodge, but I strongly suspect a very large book from me in this series would be). Bear in mind I’m the guy who for the second book in the Old Man’s War series ditched the former book’s protagonist entirely, because I thought that was the best thing for that particular book, and the series. So, yeah. I’m gonna trust myself here.

5. The writing process of this book was bounded by a couple of interesting factors, one of which was I didn’t know Tor had scheduled this book for this October until the pre-order page went up on Amazon and I saw when it’d been scheduled. I had been assuming that it would come out in March or April of 2019. But as it turns out, The Collapsing Empire sold really really well, and Tor, not unreasonably, wanted to capitalize on that momentum, a sentiment which I, as a commercial author who wants to sell lots of books, enthusiastically endorse. It did mean a shorter deadline than usual.

It turned out to be doable, because I am a professional, damn it, and I don’t believe it affected the quality of the book. But did mean for the second time in as many books I turned in the book at almost literally the last possible second. In this case the manuscript needed to be out to the copy editor on Monday morning; I sent it to my editor at 7am that morning (I’d been sending Patrick chapters earlier in the week so when I turned the whole thing in he had just the last couple of chapters to go through). I’m not sure I want to keep doing that.

(Relatedly, I remember a couple of years ago when I noted that I wouldn’t have a novel out in 2016, because Tor wanted time to set the stage with The Collapsing Empire, my dedicated haters jumped on that to suggest I was doomed, Tor had made a mistake giving me a long contract, and everything was on fire. I wonder what the going line will be on Tor deciding to publish two novels from me in the same year; I imagine something along the line of “they’re trying to get him to burn through his contract as fast as possible so they can stop bleeding money from his failures” is a contender. I do enjoy finding out how I’m failing today.)

6.  Yes, yes, I hear you say, that’s all very interesting about The Consuming Fire, but that’s done now. What’s next? In order:

  • Not a damn thing through the first week of July, because I need a break;
  • The sequel to The Dispatcher, which was announced in a NY Times piece about audio books last week, uh, sorry I didn’t write about or note it here then, I was hiding from the world trying to finish my book, but I’d argue the NY Times is a pretty decent venue to announce things in;
  • Probably another break for a couple of weeks because why not;
  • Probably another novel, which would either come out late 2019 or early 2020, depending.

And what would that novel be about? Got me, man. Another Interdependency novel is a strong possibility, especially if The Consuming Fire does well, but after writing three sequels in a row (Lock In, The Consuming Fire, The Dispatcher 2: The Dispatchening) I might want to do something new, so, who knows? Give a bit to think about it. I’ll let you know.

7. Finally and to forestall the questions that would otherwise show up in the comments: Yes, it will be out in ebook and audiobook, no, I don’t know if Wil is going to come back to narrate the ebook since that deal hasn’t been made yet but obviously I want him to, yes, I will be touring for the book, no, I don’t know where yet but probably not the same cities I went on tour in earlier this year, yes, the proposed TV series is still in development, no, I don’t have any more updates at this time, Yes, there will be a UK edition (see the artwork above) and it will come out a couple days after the US/Canada edition, no, I don’t know why you can’t get the ebook or audiobook in Australia, I mean I don’t see why it wouldn’t be available there but honestly it just seems getting books to you folks down there is just a big ‘ol clusterfuck, sorry, I don’t run international commerce for the planet. Also, yes, signed copies are likely to be available again at pub date; more details on that later.

You may assume that the answer to any other question relating to The Consuming Fire not addressed in this piece, either explicitly or implicitly, is, “I don’t know,” or, perhaps, “I don’t know yet.” When I know more, you’ll know more. Because that’s a thing I do.

52 Comments on “More on The Consuming Fire and Future Writing Plans”

  1. Are you in danger of becoming so prolific you need to have swaths of pseudonyms?

  2. When the book is out – or possibly when its sequel is – I’d be curious to hear how this definitively became a trilogy. I know it was always a possibility but you qualified that might just be a duology for a long time.

  3. At least you make your deadlines unlike a certain author of a massive fantasy series.

  4. Sean Eric Fagan:

    How do you know I don’t already?


    I wrote the first book and was, like, huh, Imma need more than one more book for this.

    Scott B:

    Don’t do that here, please. I guarantee you that whichever “certain author” you are thinking of, they are a friend of mine, and I don’t appreciate them being snarked upon from the peanut gallery. And even if they weren’t a friend of mine, there’s this.

  5. Is it written so that someone who didn’t read the first won’t be lost, as you usually do?
    I read The Collapsing Empire, but my memory is crap beyond character personalities. My to-be-read pile is sizable enough I hate to re-read anything just to not be lost on a sequel, and appreciate that you generally don’t make that necessary.

  6. “Not a damn thing through the first week of July, because I need a break . . .”

    Play guitar. You know you want to.

  7. Just rereading the Collapsing Empire and for the record I am still mad at you for offing my favourite character about a third of the way in… now I am trying to remember if the other ones I liked make it to the end.

    Seriously though great book, and looking forward to part 2.

  8. I really like that UK cover–even (dare I say it?) more than the US cover? It’s also interesting that in the UK version, your name is bigger than the title, as opposed to the other way around in the US.

  9. I *loved* The Collapsing Empire, and I’m really looking forward to The Consuming Fire (October in general is looking fun, with your book coming out, the next entry in the Wild Card series the week after, and new Charlie Stross the week after that :-)).

    I am wondering if the length of TCF similar to TCE? I found TCE to be a very quick read, which is possibly more a function of your economic writing style than page length (note, this is not a complaint!). Also, my OCD brain would be happy if the third book had TCG as initials (The Changing Guard?).

  10. Turns out , I AM “one of those people who insists on a series being done before reading the books in it”. That doesn’t stop me from buying said books as they come out, I just don’t read them right away. In fact, buying each book of a series right away reminds to buy the next one when it comes out.

    Why am I like that? Because, as a teenager, I was burned by the Riverworld series. Waiting six years for “The Dark Design” and then another three years for “The Magic Labyrinth” was intolerable to me as a teenager and my friends and I would bitch and moan about the wait every chance we got.

    Do I adhere strictly to that rule? Not always. I read the first two books to Tad William’s “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” be realizing that the third book wasn’t out yet. Fortunately, the wait was less than three years. Also, I was in my thirties back then and I was much more patient than I was in my teen years.

  11. Nothing cute or challenging to say – just love your books. I finished Head On, late last night. A wonderful read. Thank you.

  12. Congratulations on finishing the book! I am very much looking forward to reading/listening-to it. In a funny coincidence, I have the exact same writing process as you, and I think that’s why I’ve always loved your books. They seem to stick with me on a gut level. So, it’s cool that you shared that bit with us about your planning and your writing brains. :)

  13. Thanks for the detailed update. I’m happy that you’re still sharing your amazing stories and am glad for them no matter the timeline of delivery. I think that’s true for most of your fans but we happy-ones tend also to be the quiet-ones. Hope your downtime is rejuvenating.

  14. How do I know that Scalzi was raised in NoCal? He referred to a part of his brain as “hella” lazy. Sometimes I miss living in Cali. But mostly not. :)

  15. Enjoy the break, consume fiery burritos, and pet the animals. Oh, and remind your family that you are not just a word generating machine.

  16. I do like to avoid cliffhangers, so – like ubikuberalles above – I buy the book But Don’t Read It till it stops being cliffhangery. Author gets paid, book purchase counts towards early sales (I’m a prompt buyer), and I have the books to hand when I’m ready to read them – win-win, I’d say :) .

  17. As a confirmed consumer of content and appreciator of creative-type people, may I just say thank you for continuing to have a functioning brain where you can crank out such quality wares for your faithful and future fans. I’m definitely a get-it-as-it-comes kindof person. Though I do like to start a series at the beginning when I can, rather than the middle, I see no point in waiting until I can binge-read the entire thing. I am also perfectly happy to wait for new high-quality work and feel no need to harp on my favorite authors and other creators for it. That’s just rude and obnoxious. Enjoy your well-deserved vacation!

  18. Regarding “one of those people who insists on a series being done before reading the books in it”, my technique is to read the first book when it comes out (yes, I have the hardcover), then when the second book comes out, reread the first book and then continue with the second book. For the third, reread 1 and 2, etc.. Rinse. Repeat. As much as necessary. Please don’t write a 95 book series, though.

  19. Oh, you mentioned that Times audiobook article. It was more than a week ago. You are still recovering from the book sprint.

    I kinda doubt you have a mass of pseudonyms. The preponderance of the evidence suggests it would be hard for you to conceal this successfully.

  20. pandorasdadca:

    Actually, grew up in southern California and didn’t start using “hella” until I was an adult. But it’s a useful word!

    Jim C:

    Length is very similar to Empire.

  21. There are no books I enjoy that I don’t immediately want more of. Yours are no exception, as you are one of my favorite writers. But I am patient, and there are so many other books to read.

    I used to celebrate Terry Pratchett day every year. It was whatever day his new book came out. You are one of the writers who made it easier to accept no more Discworld after he passed away.

    Whatever you write next, I’ll be buying it.

  22. This is probably silly of me, but does anyone else think the blue cover gives more of an ice impression than fire?

  23. “I’ve never been one of those people who insists on a series being done before reading the books in it”

    Depends on the author for me. I have no worries with you – I thought Head On, for example, did a great job of quickly and efficiently reintroducing the universe (w/o a recap or info dump) so that I didn’t feel bad that I hadn’t read Lock In in quite a while. It helps that it was a sequel in the same universe and not “the second part in the consecutive adventures of Agent Chris Shane in which 43 important scenes from the first book will bear heavily on the second book” (which, by the way, would be a horrible title for a book). It also helps that your books come out relatively quickly, of course.

  24. First of all, I am enough of a professional parent that I am deeply relieved to learn that you plan an extended period of down-time to recover from your marathon. I treasure your work, and I would like to see you live to create a whole lot more of it, and that is unlikely to happen if you burn the candle at both ends indefinitely. So thank you for taking good care of yourself. Honestly, I am only somewhat selfish in feeling that way, because I like and respect your wife and your daughter, and I imagine they probably feel the same way.

    I also want to echo a couple of others here who have expressed interest in your writing process, if for no other reason than that it is fascinating to see how vastly different peoples’ brains are wired. Your process clearly works really, REALLY well for you, but that whole thing about your planning-to-write brain saying “Shit, I don’t know what to do, let’s just start with this thing and see where we get” makes MY brain scream “gaaa, no-no-no, we must plan this out in excruciating detail or we are DOOOOOOMED.” My brain works fine for what I do, and yours obviously works more than fine for what you do, but we are wired very, very differently.

    And finally, the excited little kid that lives within me is hopping up and down impatiently yelling “October, October, October, when is it gonna be October, I want it to be October NOW,” because I just cannot wait to get my hands on The Consuming Fire. It’s gonna be a long, long summer.

  25. My “re-read the earlier books in a series when the next one comes out” habit was broken by the Otherland series by Tad Williams — four books all around 800 pages each but around 5 years between books one and four. I was incredibly lucky, sort of, to only find Peter Hamilton after he finished the Night’s Dawn trilogy — which is around 4000 pages… But hey, possession and space opera, what’s not to love?
    For now I just need to get around to the Old Man’s War series, which is sitting on my to read bookcase.

  26. I’m so conflicted! I’m looking forward to new installments in the Dispatcher and Collapsing Empire universes and would love to see more Lock In and OMW stories but something completely new would be so exciting too!! How many books left in that contract?

  27. Yay! A two-Scalzi year is a good year.

    If a series is one story split over several volumes, as the Interdependency is, I tend to wait until it is complete before I start reading. I do buy the books as they come out if they’re from authors on the buy-without-question list – people got to eat if they’re going to write.

    The Collapsing Empire was an exception. OGH’s books are fast and entertaining enough that a re-read before a sequel is a joy.

    Series where the volumes are more or less self contained, I read as they’re released. It’s not always possible to tell which is which up front.

    When I have my bookseller hat on I hear a lot of whining about an authors not writing fast enough. I don’t know what they think I can do about it. I usually tell the whiner “I would rather they take as long as it takes to do it well than rush it and ruin the series.” Sometimes I follow that with “So how long does it take you you write a 350,000 word novel?”

  28. What I want to know is how you keep all the characters and storylines straight – do you use a spreadsheet as you write or something? Currently, I have forgotten the name of a minor but key character in a book I’m working on. I am going to have to go back and read the prior 25000 words to find it. Damnit all. (Ghostwriting because, uh, money. At least upfront money. The three kids left in college will not wait for royalties.)

    For me, this is the toughest part of writing a series. Who did what when? And my writing brain thinks I’ll never forget a word of it and resists notes of any kind, leaving me to bang my head against the wall further on down the line. I once hired one of my children to write down all the characters and events in one of my books. And I have barely any characters or plotlines compared to you. (Not that I’m comparing myself to you at all, I’m perfectly happy in my own little world of short novels with almost manageable plots and sub-plots. Although if I were ever to get rich I wouldn’t mind that either! Famous? Nah. Doesn’t sound fun to me.)

    Perhaps all the threads in your books are just so interesting that you don’t forget? If that’s true I definitely envy you your brain!

  29. I am very excited for the new book, as I am for all of your work. I do hope this one doesn’t end quite as abruptly as empire though. As has been noted on your Twitter account, that wasn’t a cliffhanger it was more like slamming into a brick wall that suddenly appeared in front of you just before you reached the cliff. Which is different from any other “cliffhangers” you have done. The old man war series books, even the anthologies, ended with overarching plot points unfinished but they didn’t end mid thought like empire did. They had clear narrative ends. I knew you were on vacation and had a deadline but it wasn’t the best ending, in my opinion, to a really good book. With that said I hope this one will continue an interesting story.

  30. Congratulations, sir. Classic science fiction cover vibe.

    I’d sure love to hear your thoughts on what’s going on at our southern border.

  31. 2 Books in a year? Tor is really trying to get rid of John.

    His writing empire is clearly collapsing. That’s what you get when you lose your flow man.

    If you look closely, you can literally see his career being consumed by fire as we speak.

    I really think Tor should tackle this problem head on, and just dispatch with him.

  32. “they’re trying to get him to burn through his contract as fast as possible so they can stop bleeding money from his failures”

    I so hope the haters do bring this up because it is so throughly stupid.

  33. The first one was a lot of fun and it really did move. I don’t think that’s necessarily a virtue, or that the opposite is necessarily a vice because books can be good in lots of ways, but for The Collapsing Empire it really, really worked for me. Twisty and fast with cliffhangers makes a lot of sense for the story, given what happens with the empire and the collapsing.

    I don’t generally buy into don’t read something that’s not finished, but it did make me move the Patrick Rothfuss books down the shelf a bit. I don’t mind waiting on Martin and Scott Lynch, but a third large fantasy series seemed like too many.

    Lynne Everett:
    I usually read myself the first time but like to grab an audio book for that kind of rereading. Makes that idea a bit more practical, for me anyway.

  34. Wasn’t there a YA book/series included in the Tor deal? I ask be cause the library at the school I teach in is always asking for recommendations. I got them to buy a couple copies of Zoe, but most of the rest of your catalog isn’t entirely public-high-school-library friendly. :-)

  35. Dispatchening. If the future remembers you only for inventing this word, you should rest content.

  36. Is it common for publishers to change publication dates without bothering to notify the authors that they have new, shorter deadlines?

  37. “Dispatchening” is funny. Reminds me of a friend who refers to ALL sequels in the format of “(whatever) 2: Electric Boogaloo.” It works quite well, try it today! :)

  38. “I didn’t know Tor had scheduled this book for this October until the pre-order page went up on Amazon and I saw when it’d been scheduled.”

    This seems a funny way to run a railroad, or indeed a publishing house.

  39. Paul: I find abrupt endings jarring as well, but they can work and leave the book resonating in the mind for a bit longer…The Weirdstone of Brisingamen comes to mind (or Alan Garner in general). For me, Collapsing Empire worked on that front. (YMMV, as always!)

  40. I’m perfectly happy to read episodes of a serial as they come out, as long as the author guarantees not to die before sHe has finished writing the series. In the event of a missing guarantee, I will continue my “buy and stash” habit.

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