Thoughts on the Completion of The Last Emperox

Now that it’s done, and because I think it’s useful and interesting for people, let’s talk a little about the process of writing The Last Emperox, and other things about the book. The following thoughts are in no particular order because, well, my brain is still a little mushy.

* I rather famously wrote TLE’s predecessor, The Consuming Fire, in two weeks. Did I do the same with The Last Emperox? No, and also maybe a little. The writing this time went a little like this: Nine months to write the first third of the book, three weeks to write the second third, and one week to write the last third, which includes an 11,000-word final day (which was yesterday).

This breakdown of writing time, i.e., first third slow, second third faster, final third in a rush, is actually not at all unusual for me. The first third of the writing is usually less about the typing than it is about the figuring out of the story and the characters and how they all fit together — this is the time where I spend lots of days staring out windows or taking long showers or looking up at a dark ceiling when a cat’s woken me up at 3fucking AM in the morning — seemingly pointless activity, but what my brain’s doing is problem solving.

The first third is also where I write a lot of stuff I don’t end up using, either writing what I thought was going to go into the book but eventually didn’t, or occasionally writing things so I can know it for myself, even if no one else sees it (sometimes I start writing the first but then it becomes the second). Writing that stuff out also takes up time.

After the first third, things speed up because by that time I know who the characters are, what they’re doing and where the story goes. There’s still the opportunity for surprises in terms of the writing, and for me to make substantial changes if necessary, but that sort of thing becomes increasingly rare the longer I’m in this phase.

With the final third, everything is locked, and the “writing” — plotting and story building — is done, so the only thing left is the typing. And I can type pretty fast.

So that aspect of the writing wasn’t and isn’t unusual at all. When I wrote The Consuming Fire, I did it unusually in that I did almost all the plotting and story building without physically writing. So when it came to do that, I did it all in one burst (which I don’t recommend because it meant me doing 8,000 words a day, which is neither physically nor mentally comfortable). This time, I did it more like I usually do it, and was not mentally/physically exhausted at the end of it. Which is a nice thing. Exhaustion is a lot.

* Except — well. I don’t usually take ten months to write one third of a book. What was going on with me this time that it took so long? Some explanations, which are different from excuses:

  1. I tried to write two pieces of long fiction at the same time to see if I could do it — TLE and the second installment of the Dispatcher series, and found it was detrimental to both stories, which is good to know about my bandwidth but bad in terms of getting either done (Dispatcher 2 is still only halfway done, and I will wrap that up in December, I think);
  2. I did a lot of travel this year, particularly international travel, and I was busy while traveling, so that both cut into writing time and also messed up my internal clock during and after, which made writing and focusing more difficult;
  3. I developed (and still have) a pretty significant case of tendonitis in my left shoulder, which has had an effect on the arm’s mobility and my ability to use it, from things like lifting overhead baggage to, yes, typing comfortably. It’s also messed up my sleep significantly (turning in bed sometimes means waking up suddenly in a lot of pain), which has had an effect on my ability to focus… rather more than I actually anticipated, and for a too-long time, wanted to admit;
  4. And of course, the world is on fire, and 2019 has been particularly fire-y, and world’s ability to pull my focus has been even more significant than usual. I’ve written about the difficulty of focus in the current era before, so I don’t need to do it again here. I will say that in four years now, I haven’t gotten inured to it all. This is good for me as a measure of my being a decent human, but regrettably not great for my writing speed.

At the beginning of the year, the theory was that I would be finished with The Last Emperox in April or possibly May, which would leave lots of time for fine tuning, promoting and what not. Obviously, I failed at that. This frustrates me a great deal. I have been fortunate that the team at Tor, from Patrick Nielsen Hayden on down, have been uniformly great in dealing with my delays, and the book will be out when it was meant to be out. The thing is, I don’t want them to have to be uniformly great. I want for me not to be a problem child.

It also means some projects I wanted to get to this year had to be punted down the road, which is also frustrating. I’m 50 now, and there’s only so much more punting I get to take before certain things will have to fall off the schedule forever.

The short version of this is: I need to do better at focus, and also, please fucking vote against bigoted awful incompetent criminal chaos actors in 2020 if you want work from me on a regular basis, thank you and please.

(Please note that I am not looking for advice here — I get to deal with my own shit, and also, since you’re not me, your advice on one (or more) of these issues is not likely to be directly useful. Thank you for the impulse, but just don’t.)

(Also, if you’re thinking of commenting something along the lines of “hey at least you write faster than GRRM/Pat Rothfuss/Whomever hur hur hur” and I know some of you are, do me a real big favor and don’t do that shit. Because it’s not a contest, and I get sick of hearing that sort of crap and I’m not even them. Also they’re friends. Don’t dump on my friends and/or other authors here and think you’re complimenting me when you do it.)

* I am happy to say that, kvetching about lengthy gestation periods aside, I’m happy with this book. Intentionally writing a trilogy is a new thing for me — I usually just write a standalone and then put out sequels if people like it — so one of the things I was confronting with these books was pacing: not just within a single book, which is hard enough, but three of them. Patrick will let me know soon enough, but I think I pulled it off reasonably well.

I also got to have a lot of fun with the established series characters in this book. There was more than once when Krissy, who reads the book chapter by chapter as it comes out of my brain, yelled up the stairs “You did WHAT?!?!?” to me as she got to some particularly gnarly plot point or event involving the characters. And of course I would just sit here in my office and snicker when she did.

I won’t go into detail about what happens, obviously. But I will say I think it’s very much of a piece with the previous two books, and people who enjoyed those books will enjoy this one as well. And now that the trilogy is done people can enjoy the entire scope of the series. There are no cliffhangers in this one, I promise…

* … Although there are places to go if I ever come back to this universe. To be clear, this trilogy is this trilogy; it’s done and finished, and the characters in it go to their various endings. It’s not a spoiler in the least to say that the promised collapse of an empire is fulfilled. I don’t tease like that, folks. But on the principle of “waste not, want not,” there’s enough open space for me in this universe that I could return to it without disturbing the fundamental nature and character of the Interdependency trilogy.

Fun fact: This trilogy was originally sold as a two-book series, in which the empire collapsed entirely in the first book, and in the second book we come back to see what’s going on 5,000 years later. Things changed once I got into the writing, and the single book very quickly expanded into three. And that book about things five millennia later? Well. Let’s see how things go.

* TLE comes out on April 14, 2020 in North America, which means probably April 16 in the UK and territories served by UK publisher. Yes, there’s an audiobook (remember that I have a deal with Audible that mirrors the Tor deal, so if I’m publishing a novel with Tor I automatically am publishing with Audible as well, you don’t really have to ask at this point). I can’t confirm who the audiobook narrator is at this point but I would be deeply surprised if it’s anyone other than who it’s been for the other two books in the series. Obviously it will be out in ebook format as well.

(If you want to pre-order the book in your preferred format so you won’t have to worry that the crush at your local bookstore will overwhelm you, please do. You can do that at your aforementioned local bookstore, who will be happy to take your order, or you can do it with your favorite online retailer.)

I imagine there will be a book tour when it comes out in April, but I haven’t confirmed that yet, nor do I know the particular cities I will be visiting on the tour. The way to make it more likely that I visit your town is not to tell me you want me to come, but instead tell your local bookstore, because they’re the ones the Tor PR people talk to. Also, people outside the US/Canada, asking the tour to include you won’t work because Tor only publishes my books in North America, so they’re going to focus on this continent (and, honestly, mostly the US) as a matter of practicality. You’ll have to ask the local publisher of my work to bring me out and tour me (or suggest me to a book festival in your country).

* And for the people who want to know, yes, the TV adaptation of the Interdependency series is still in process, and I’m very happy with how it’s going so far, although I can’t give you any more details than that at the moment. Just remember it’s a very long process involving a whole lot of people, and there are a whole lot of opportunities for it to fall down a dark hole, because that’s Hollywood for you. The good news is, no matter what, you have the books.

* Indeed, that is the good news: You’ll have the books. Going back to the idea that this is my first intentional trilogy, there was something a little disquieting about the idea that I might get eaten by a bear or run over by a fruit cart or whatever, and because of that people would never know the fates of Emperox Grayland II or Marce Claremont or Nadashe Nohamapetan or Kiva Lagos. Now, no matter what happens to me, you will. Patrick has the manuscript, and the actual book making process has begun. So now I’m fair game for bears and/or fruit carts and/or bears pushing fruit carts. Come at me, Fruity bear merchants! I await your wheels.

49 Comments on “Thoughts on the Completion of The Last Emperox”

  1. They say that the first ten percent of a work take up ninety percent of the time, and the remaining ninety percent of work have to fit into the remaining ten percent of your time budget… but you should not try to run a marathon that way.
    But Yay! Books!

  2. Interesting description of your creative writing process! Does such writing tend to keep your brain ‘young’ or does it sap your mental fortitude?

  3. I now have a mental image of the local Amish fruit carts harnessed to ravening hordes of bears and may have to write a short story based on this.

    This will be complicated for me as to date the only creative writing I’ve done is on PowerPoint slides showing how wonderfully my projects are going in direct contravention of the readily observable facts…

  4. First off, congrats on finishing the trilogy! I’ve probably listened to the first two about 30 times each and cannot wait to listen to TLE.

    Second, I’m one of your fans who ALWAYS wants to know what is happening in the universes you have created. I wanna know what is going on with Harry Creek and Robin Baker. How has Michelle Beck changed the world and is Tom Stein able to handle it? Do Harry Wilson and Danielle Lowen take a trip out to Ohio and visit his old friend John Perry and his wife Jane? So continuing stories in the Interdependency universe – I’m all for that, be it way after the events of TLE or what lead to the Free Colonies breaking off in the first place.

    Thank you for the amazing novels that I listen to over and over again.

  5. First of all congrats to the new book. I mean the congrats go to you. But you know, for the book…
    The last days I was reminded of how TCF was typed in two weeks and I was worried that it might be similar for this one. I’m relieved that it went smoother.
    Also I’m thrilled that the shower is apparently a ressource of creativity for you as well. I’ve never heard anybody talk about it, but a lot of my best work (I’m a composer) started to form there – and I never sing in a shower or anything like that.

  6. “the second installment of the Dispatcher series”

    I just squee’d out loud.

    And yes, everyone needs to vote so we can move on from this shitshow of a timeline. Although I think any type of “normalcy” is going to be hard to come by for a while.

  7. This is so helpful! And I agree with everything. I am also 50, although I only started writing seriously at 40, after my mother’s death (because it awakened me to my own mortality) and have been thinking about how I need to be productive because time is getting limited. The book I’m working on (my second) is MUCH easier than my first, and I think part of that is because I get where this is going. (The other part is that everything gets easier the more you do it.) Thanks for this–and yes, let’s vote out Trump!

  8. IMHO, the second book in the trilogy is your best novel so far (it’s rare that a sequel is better than the original). So I’m pretty stoked for The Last Emperox.

    The prospect of finding out what happens 5K years later is also appealing …

  9. The second novel in the trilogy was my favourite of your books so far. So I’m very much anticipating this one.

  10. Honestly, that seems like a fairly common process for creation of creative… um, creativeness. It’s pretty much how my first foray into making a webseries went. And also typical of mission proposals at a certain space agency.

  11. “There was more than once when Krissy, who reads the book chapter by chapter as it comes out of my brain, yelled up the stairs “You did WHAT?!?!?” to me as she got to some particularly gnarly plot point or event involving the characters.”

    Huh. Interesting that she’d say “You did WHAT?!”, and not “[Character Name] did WHAT?!”

    I mean, of course she has a stronger connection to you that most of the rest of us do the author of the books we read, but I rarely imagine authors as having much agency in the things that their characters do, unless the character does something very out-of-character.

  12. I’ve already taken the “please fucking vote against bigoted awful incompetent criminal chaos actors in 2020 (or any other year)” pledge so, y’ know, anything to help. I look forward to the book.

  13. The “you did WHAT?” *snicker* part sounds wonderful. In six months when we’ve read the book after it’s published, I expect there will be a lively guessing game here to spot those points in the finished story.

  14. Excellent news, and glad you hit the deadline (if only barely :-)). Selfishly, I want all of the authors whose work I enjoy to practice self care so they can write more of what I like – so please take care of your shoulder and do whatever your doctor/physical therapist/etc tell you. And dear god yes let’s hope (and indeed work towards) a progressive majority and president.

  15. 5000 years after sounds like fun. A prequel would be cool too. And of course there’s whatever has been going on with Earth all this time.

  16. I remember thinking, back in August, when I pre-ordered TLE, that it was pretty cool I was ordering a book that I knew wasn’t even finished yet.
    Can’t wait!

  17. I remember you saying that Krissy always gets to read your stories as you finish chapters, I’m curious about that. Do you share any of the deleted chapters/backstory/worldbuilding during or after you’re done writing the whole book? How do you share it – I assume not printed out so do you email it, share it on local devices (downloaded to a tablet), or do you have a home storage system that you make a folder in labelled “Krissy torture device” and put chapters there?

    And your process sounds a bit like what started to happen to me in college. I found I was spending a lot of time organizing the homework writing in my head, and the best time to dump it all out was early in the morning, sadly often the day it was due. It worked! It was great, I got A’s, and then when I got it back I would reread it and think woah, who wrote this? It was weird….

  18. Glad that you’ve finished this one: we’re on pins and needles in this house waiting to find out how the trilogy ends.

    I’m also glad to hear your thoughts on comparing other authors’ processes. Yes, there are some other series I would *love* to read the next/final books of, but that’s up to those authors and there’s really no comparing the process of getting words on pages between two different people. (Though, I really do want to read those books, too, someday.)

    Congrats on finishing!

  19. Congratulations on finishing this trilogy! I’m so looking forward to reading it. I’m so sorry to hear about your shoulder troubles. I have chronic shoulder issues too and the worst part is that I can’t sleep on my back or stomach, so side sleeping it is… which just make the shoulder issues worse! Ugh! I feel your pain but I hope you’re out of pain soon.

  20. Your comment on how you’re not in competition with certain writers of multi-volume, bug-smasher fantasies does suggest that if you ever have the urge to write a multi-volume, bug-smasher fantasy you’ll need another writing strategy!

  21. So first of all, yay, I get to read the book in about half a year.

    But more importantly, I recall reading that Krissy has implied some sort of severe consequence if Kiva Lagos doesn’t live. So there’s that. Much like fans of GoT (no this ISN’T a GRRM bash) can rest assured that allegedly GRRM’s wife has also threatened marital repercussions should anything fatal befall Tyrion.

    In a larger sense, are you aware of other authors who have placed certain characters “off-limits” due to spousal favoritism? Are there any characters in Lady Astronaut that Mary Robinette Kowal’s husband has placed on the Do Not Kill list?

  22. @Christoph, that’s not quite it. The first 10% of the work takes up the first 90% of the time, and the other 90% of the work takes up the other 90% of the time.

  23. I know you said ‘no advice’ but teasing the ‘Fruity bear merchants’ is kind’a dangerous.

  24. A bit of a process question:
    You’ve explained before that you’re not one for writing drafts and revising, and that you instead tend to write fairly linearly through your books. Since you don’t have defined “first draft,” “second draft,” etc., do you use any tools for keeping track of changes over time? As a software developer I’m used to tools like version/source control software so I can generate diffs.

  25. As someone who’s been there ( I have TWO cobalt / titanium shoulder joints), the sooner you face up to having replacement surgery on your tendinitis shoulder the sooner you’ll be free from the pain that is distracting and slowing you down.

  26. Fruity bear merchants would be the unannounced sequel to Fuzzy Nation, right?
    Right now it’s code-named Fruity Bear Merchants, but will probably be released as Gummi Nation?

    (Yay finished novel that I will be reading next spring!)

  27. Not necessarily germane to this conversation, but I just read “The Android’s Dream” and enjoyed it immensely. I, too, would love to know what happens next for Harris Creek and Robin Baker.

  28. Actively working against bigoted awful incompetent criminal chaos actors in 2020, but also psyched for more of your work.

  29. I appreciate you sharing your process this way; as a totally non-creative person, it is fascinating to see how a creator’s mind works. As others have noted, I, too, am very glad that you were able to spread the effort out over a longer time and did not need to pull an all-nighter to finish, even if it wound up taking longer than you expected.

    And please accept my sympathies on the shoulder woes, too. I seem to have inherited the gene for creaky joints, and it Sucks Giant Rocks Through A Bendy Straw(TM). Getting old is not for the faint of heart, though it mostly beats the alternative. I hope your MD and/or PT and/or OT are able to help you be more comfortable, and also that you can get a quick and painless repair to that molar.

    Enjoy cats, food, relaxation, computer games, and family, not necessarily in that order, to your hearts content – you have surely earned it.

  30. I am very much looking forward to finding out how the trilogy wraps up. I’d welcome more stories in that world as well, but mostly I’m just happy with a new Scalzi novel. You are one of the best around right now, and I have enjoyed all your books.

    I certainly won’t be voting for the GreatTangerine Turd next year, also there’s little chance my state, Maryland, would go for him anyway.

    I keep telling the people who set up author visits at the Library I work for, Baltimore County Public Library, to ask the TOR folks to consider us for a tour stop. Maybe some day they will. If they do ever set that up I’d certainly like the chance to shake your hand and thank you for the fun books.

    I really hope you didn’t kill Kiva, but if you did I know she’ll go out with her foot firmly lodged up some fuckers ass.

  31. This was very interesting to read, and I am excited for this book! Hope your shoulder gets better soon, and that you are doing therapy, or will have time for therapy now. I had frozen shoulder this year, and egads! The pain! Hope you get past it, and keep churning them out, sir!

  32. Re sore shoulders, when I talked to my doctor this week about my sore shoulders he had me do some range of motion tests and then commented. “that actually looks pretty good for someone your age.” So that’s not super encouraging going forward.

    Re shower time, I can’t count the number of engineering problems I solved during my morning shower (before I retired). The key was to make sure that I remembered the solution when I got to work to implement it.

  33. I said this elsewhere but I will echo it here: TLE is one of the books I am most anticipating in 2020 (along with How We Found Our Backbone And Yeeted The Oligarchy Right The Hell Out Of The Government, which hasn’t been announced but I remain hopeful).

  34. I will make sure to not vote for a crazy unbalanced Democrat next year, thus paving the way of four more years of severe TDS being suffered by everyone worldwide.

    Perhaps if people actually stopped acting like crybabies about the 2016 election for the past four years and acted like responsible adults, you would be looking at another Republican one termer (like GHWB).

    But no, the way people are carrying on, they’re going to make people like myself, who didn’t vote for him the first time around, vote for him the second time around. Not because he would continue to be a decent President, but because there’s only so much abuse one can watch/stand before doing something about it, which in this case is at the ballot box.

  35. I’m sure it’s been said many times before but for myself, I would like to thank you for your entire body of work. It has been a joy to read. It has fed my appetite for good Science Fiction and left me well satisfied.

  36. “Some explanations, which are different from excuses:”
    So say we all!

    (also, what Richard above said, but snarky is so much easier than complementary)

  37. Blaming politics is a thing on day to day work struggles is a thing? Not sure that would fly with most people’s job. Just saying.

  38. “Apparently doing nothing about a project while your brain works overtime figuring out how to do it” is a part of any creative process. In the physical process I know most about, building and remodeling the interior of houses, we’ve come to call that “head scratching time” around our place. We’ve also learned that failing to budget head-scratching time into the schedule as a legitimate and necessary part of the process leaves you running way behind in real life. I’m sure you already know this.

  39. Thanks for writing about this. I get down on myself for not simply vomiting forth a novel, or not knowing everything about what I want to write immediately. To know that there is a long process of working it out helps.

    Yes, of course I wanted to read TLE minutes after finishing the second book, but hey, I’m just glad to be along for the ride. Thanks again.

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