PCC’s Chat with the Gateway Science-Fiction Writer

Photo by Athena Scalzi

By Paul Freeman [August 2015 Interview]

You don’t have to be a science-fiction aficionado to be enthralled by the novels of award-winning, bestselling author John Scalzi. His latest book, “The End of All Things,” is brimming with excitement, humor and imagination.

The new novel - actually a collection of four connected novellas - is a direct a sequel to 2013’s “The Human Division” and the sixth book in Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” universe. In this book, attacks on both the Colonial Union and alien races threaten to inflict chaos… and possibly trigger the annihilation of humanity.

Publishers Weekly calls the new book, “polished and powerful.”

Scalzi has earned that polish. He grew up in Southern California and, after graduating from the University of Chicago, worked as a film critic for the Fresno Bee, becoming a political and humor columnist, as well. He later served as in-house writer and editor for America Online.

“Old Man’s War,” Scalzi’s first novel, was published in 2005. He won the John W. Campbell Award for best new science fiction writer. His 2012 book “Redshirts” earned the Hugo Award as best novel.

Three of his creations - “Redshirts,” “The Old Man’s War” series and “Locked In” - are currently in development as TV series.

After signing a new 10-year, 13-book deal with his publisher, Tor Books, for a reported $3.4 million, Scalzi has earned a level of security most science-fiction writers can only fantasize about.

Scalzi, 46, married for 20 years, lives with his wife and 16-year-old daughter in Ohio. He continues to write a popular blog. He took time out from his busy schedule to chat with Pop Culture Classics.

In “The End of All Things,” it must have been fun, right out of the chute, writing a narration for a disembodied brain.

[Laughs] I mean, it is kind of fun in that sense that it is a challenge to think about how do you actually make it interesting, when your character actually, literally has nothing to work with other than his own thoughts. The other thing about it, you have to be careful, because you do have to respect the fact that someone who is basically trapped in their own brain is going to have kind of a different perspective and a different sort of thought process. And you want to try to model that as much as possible, while, at the same time, doing what you’re supposed to do, which is to make the story continue to be interesting for everybody else.

So it is and was an interesting sort of writing challenge to get into that particular sort of perspective. And, of course, aside from just the inherent drama, that sort of writing challenge is one of the reasons that I wanted to do it in the first place.

Do you go into it thinking the book has to work both as part of the continuing saga and as a stand-alone?

Yeah and that’s something that we’ve done with both this and the previous book, which was called “The Human Division.” In each of those cases, the novel was composed of episodes. With “The Human Division,” there were 13 basically short story-sized episodes and for this one, they were novella-sized, which means that they were larger and longer.

But yeah, the challenge is - how do you tell a story that, on its own, can stand alone as a piece of entertainment, but when you stack it with three other similarly sized stories, that there’s still a narrative arc to it, as well. And it can be a difficult thing. It’s something that people who have traditionally done like television series have to do. You don’t know whether the person tuning in that week is a longtime viewer or someone who’s just checking out your show. So you have to make sure that everything you do works individually and also works conceptually over the long haul.

And it’s a fun challenge to do, although, it can also be extraordinarily aggravating. This book was tough to write, structurally, so it actually took me much longer than most of my books do, because I wanted to make sure that I got that stuff right.

What’s your writing process? Do you start with tons of notes and outlining beforehand? Or do you try to let it flow and then analyze?

My general rule of production is to make it up as I go along, partly because that’s what I’ve always done and it seems to have worked so far. The other thing is that the couple of times that I’ve tried to write from an outline, I’ve felt very kind of hemmed in and I didn’t like that very much. So basically, I usually have one or two ideas in my brain. I start writing and then sort of build it out on the fly.

Now the thing is, I go back, as I’m writing, and tweak, so that when it’s all done, it looks like it was entirely intentional. But the fact of the matter is, my process is all chaos. But that is what works for me. I have other friends who are writers who rigorously outline and who are extraordinarily happy doing that. And what I do just fills them with horror.

First of all, every writer’s process is different and what’s the right process is the one that ends up actually working for you. And the second thing is, nobody reads a book for the process of how it was written. The reason they read it is because they want to be entertained. It doesn’t matter how you get to the finished book, as long as the finished book is worth reading.

When you created “Old Man’s War,” did you know that it could or would be a series?

[Chuckles] I had no idea. The whole point of “Old Man’s War,” when I originally wrote it, was I wanted to write a book that somebody might want to buy. I wasn’t thinking of, “Well, I’ll make it a series.” I wasn’t thinking, “I’ll be writing the sixth book of it 10 years down the line.” What I wanted to do was write something that someone would say, “Yeah, we’ll publish that.”

So no, I had absolutely no idea that it was going to happen that way. And once the book was out, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor, came in and said, “Well, now we need the sequel.” I said, “Really? You want a sequel? Okay!” And we kind of went from there. And the thing that I strongly believe, again, going back to what we were talking about with the challenge of writing each of these individual novellas so that they’re stand-alones, I kind of feel that same way about the book in general.

Any book that you have in a series, you don’t know if someone’s going to come into a bookstore, whether or not they’re going to have any of the previous books in the series there. You don’t know what sort of familiarity they’re going to have with it. So every book in the series, or any book in any series that I’ve tried to do, the rule of thumb is - this has to stand alone. If they never read the book before it, if they never read the book after it, they still have to be able to have a good experience with the book they have. They shouldn’t have feel like they have to do a lot of homework to enjoy that one single book.

In contemplating a universe to create in a book like this, are you trying to balance making it accessible, while also bringing in surprises, fresh, inventive ideas?

I don’t think that’s a difficult balance to do. I think accessible and sort of new and fun are not things that are on opposite ends of the seesaw. I think that they can go pretty much hand in hand. The accessibility thing, I think is extraordinarily important. Science-fiction is very popular in television. It’s very popular in film. It’s very popular in video games. But it sometimes has a struggle convincing people who love science-fiction in all these other media to take a chance on particular book. And part of that, I think, is a feeling that people have of, “Oh, I don’t know if I”m going to be able follow all the stuff that goes on.”

So a lot of my writing and a lot of the success that I’ve had from the writing has come from the fact that I see it as part of my job to be a writer of gateway science-fiction, that somebody who hasn’t read a lot of science-fiction, who may not even think of themselves as a science-fiction fan or anything like that, can pick one up and enjoy themselves. And so that is always kind of a baseline thing.

The person I always think about when I’m writing one of my books is my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law reads Nora Roberts and Julie Garwood, romance stuff. And so I think about her when I’m writing about these new concepts. And I think to myself, “Can Dora…” who is my mother-in-law, “Can she follow this stuff?” And if she can follow it and yet I can still take these cool ideas and express them in a relatively engaging way, then anybody can. And I think that that has been instrumental to my success.

I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say, “I don’t read a lot of science-fiction, but I’ve read your books and now I want to read more.” And my response to that is, “Great, aside from reading me, here are some other writers who are doing science-fiction and fantasy who you should consider.” Because once you recognize that the genre of science-fiction literature is not forbidding, that there’s not a high bar for access, then there’s so much more out there that you can look at and read.

This is a wonderful time to be reading science-fiction literature. It literally is a new golden age in terms of what’s out there and who is writing science-fiction these days. It would be a shame for all that to be missed, because people feel that it’s forbidding in some way or another. It’s not. It’s just that you have to have that person who is holding the door open and says, “Come on in.”

For science-fiction to work well, what are some of the things it has to accomplish that maybe writers in other genres don’t have to consider?

We like to say that we’re the literature of ideas, but I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. We are the literature of speculation. One thing that science-fiction can do really well and that is almost exclusively its remit is that it models the things that people are interested or concerned about in the modern day. And by modeling it, what I mean is for example, in the 50s and 60s, there were a lot of stories about nuclear bombs and there were a lot of stories about apocalypse and so on and so forth, partly because those were issues that people who were living in those days, in the full blush of the cold war, were extraordinarily concerned about. And so what science-fiction writers did and what science-fiction allowed for people to do was to model the future where nuclear war has happened or nuclear bombs have been used. And what has that meant?

And since generally, most of the portrayals of the use of nuclear weapons has not been especially positive, in many ways, that sort of repeated exposure to these nuclear scenarios in fiction I suspect went a long way to making people eventually realize that there was no such thing as a survivable full-scale nuclear war. So that’s an example of something people are concerned about.

In the late 60s, early 70s, there was a lot of stuff about population. People were concerned about the decline of urban spaces. Not too long ago, when cyber-punk came out, in the 80s, a lot of that was worried about the dehumanization that comes from technology. So again, this is something that science-fiction does better than other genres - that sort of modeling and letting people explore the world that they are concerned about.

Right now in science fiction, for example, Paulo Bacigalupi just put out a book that was called “The Water Knife.” And it’s about the near future and water shortages in California and Arizona and Nevada and the length that people will go to, to secure that water and what that means. Again it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to be living in that future. But you get a chance, through books like that, to kind of experience that world and ponder, “Well, how would I actually like to be in that world?” So that is something that we do better than anybody else.

As you’re writing, do you even think about what seems to be the popular fashion in science-fiction these days? Or do you just try to tell a story you like?

I usually try to tell a story I like. The thing about it is, if you are writing something today that is based on what’s popular at the same time, you’re already too late, because, unless you’re self-publishing and just shove it up on Amazon, if you’re going through the traditional publishing channels, it’s going to be anywhere from a year to two years before your book finally comes out. So if right now science-fiction about bees is popular, if I write a bee story, it’s going to come out two years from now and the bee wave, as it were, will have already passed.

So what you don’t do is write to a trend. What you do do is, one, you write what interests you, because, ultimately, if you’re bored with what you’re writing, it’s going to show and nobody will like what you’re doing. But you can also look at where the gaps in the storytelling marketplace are. And if any of those gaps are things that you have a personal interest in, then that might be an exciting place to go. And it doesn’t have to be something obscure. It doesn’t have to be something that is just a hyper-niche.

The perfect example for this is, a couple of years ago, I wrote a book called “Redshirts,” which eventually won the Hugo Award. And “Redshirts” was about the characters on spaceships that are the minor characters, who are the ones that always wind up dead, because you can’t kill off the major characters. Right? And the thing is that this was a topic that people had joked about and done little skits about, but no one else had ever done a full-length novel about what it was like to be a redshirt, what it’s like to be an expendable character in one of these situations. And what that means in the larger metaphysical sense.

And part of the reason that no one had done it was because everybody was like, “Oh, yeah, yeah. We get the redshirts joke.” And I’m like, “Well, there’s a lot you can do with this. There’s this magnificent, low-hanging fruit that’s just there on the tree, waiting to be plucked. Is no one else going to take this magnificent, low-hanging fruit? All right, I’m going to take it. I’m going to make a pie out of it.” And it ended up being a bestseller and ended up winning the Hugo and the Locus awards, in part because it had been addressed in skits and everybody knew what the joke was, nobody had actually gone and pulled it out in that novel way. So that’s what I mean about looking where the gaps are in the market and going and playing to them.

Concepts like “Old Man’s War” and “Redshirts” are so terrific, did you know as soon as they crossed your mind that they would work? Have there been ideas that seemed cool, but then didn’t pan out for you?

[Laughs] What I tend to do, at any one time, I have five or six or seven ideas for novels or story ideas rolling around in my head. Like I’ll get an idea that pops up in my brain and what I don’t do is write it down. What I figure is, if it’s a good enough idea, I’ll remember it the next day… or the day after that. And if I don’t remember it, then maybe it wasn’t that good of an idea. So, like I said, at any one time, I’ve got these five or six or seven ideas rolling around in my head and eventually one of them I think about enough that it creates enough weight as it were, in terms of complexity, in terms of how my brain has built it up, that it essentially drops, as in - this is the idea that you’re going to work with. There’s always some sort of competition that’s going in my brain with these ideas.

And there are some…. I mean I had this idea running around in my brain for a decade about a recasting of the United States political system. And what kind of story would you build off of that? And it’s been in my brain for 10 years. And it’s still in my brain, because even though it’s a kind of really cool idea, structurally speaking, the story that attaches to it, the story that actually makes it interesting as a reading experience, instead of a conceptual idea, hasn’t happened yet. So that’s a cool idea that I still haven’t been able to make work in my brain. And I may never. There are other things that have come up and I’ve dropped before. And so ultimately, not every idea is gold. Not every good idea is actually a good idea for a story… or at least a story from me. And that’s okay. The competition in my brain of which ideas are interesting enough to actually make a writing process out of, I’m okay with them fighting it out, rather than just taking any idea that pops into my brain. I think ultimately, if they’re strong enough ideas, they will survive the arena of my brain.

Incorporating humor into your books, are you conscious of that being an important ingredient of the entertainment? Or is it just your personality shining through?

Well, I think it’s a little of column A, a little of column B. I mean, that is part of my personality. I like humor and I like it, when it’s done well. But the other thing, comedy in science-fiction is very strange, because for a very long time, it was difficult to sell it. What happened was, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” came out and was so tremendously successful, everybody just assumed that that was what humor in science-fiction was. So everybody started to try to write, basically, British farce. And the problem with that is, British farce is actually extraordinarily difficult to do. And most people are pretty terrible at it. Douglas Adams, who wrote the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” books is one of only two people, outside of the Monty Python troupe, who ever got credit for a Monty Python skit. So he was a writer of British farce, before he was a science-fiction writer.

So for a long time, it was very difficult to sell anything with humor. I pitched humorous science-fiction stuff and I was just told flat-out, “We can’t sell books that do humor.” Now, you could put humor in a book and that would go over just fine. But you couldn’t sell it as humor. It took us from “Old Man’s War” to “Redshirts” before I could convince them that we should say, “Redshirts is funny,” that this is meant to be a funny book and that should be part of the marketing. All the books before that, the humor was there and people got used to it. But it took until that book, it took me eight novels to finally convince my publisher that the time was right to actually say, “This is a funny book.” And this is not an insult to my publisher. I think my publisher was correct. We had to spend that much time building the reputation, getting people to trust me as a writer, so that, when we said, “This is a funny book and you will laugh,” they would actually believe us, as opposed to immediately just like, “Oh, well, I’ve been burned before.” Right?

And as it happens, “Redshirts” even though it’s one of my most successful books and it won awards and so on and so forth, it’s also the book that has the widest range of critical reviews. There are people who absolutely love it. And then there are people who absolutely hate it. The reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, which are the trade magazines for publication, were fairly brutal. They were like, “This is sophomoric tripe and why would anybody want to read this?” Whereas other people were like, “This is fantastic!” Because that’s just the nature of comedy. If drama doesn’t work for you 100 percent, you can still be affected by it. But if comedy doesn’t work for you, you get pissed off, because you’re like, “I was told this would be funny. This isn’t funny at all.”

So yeah, it was a risk to say, “This is a humorous book.” The fact that we managed to pull it off, commercially and generally critically, I think is a very positive thing. Certainly there are others writers doing it as well and we have brought back around the point that science-fiction doesn’t have to be always dour, dystopian or depressing, that humor can be absolutely a part of the mix, as well.

Since there is such a wide range of response and you know you’re never going to please everyone, do you try to just slough off all the reviews?

Well, I’m in a lucky position, personally, where at this point, I’m okay if people have bad reviews. But the other thing about it is that - here’s an exercise for anyone - is to think of your favorite creator, your favorite musician, your favorite author, your favorite teacher, whatever. And now think of that one thing that they did that you just don’t like. Right? So like, for example, for me, John Lennon, who is one of my favorite musicians, as a solo artist, there are entire albums he’s done where I’m like, “I will never listen to this again.” It’s not that he’s not a genius. It’s not that he wasn’t working at an extraordinarily high level. It’s just that this doesn’t work for me.

Robert Heinlein, who is one of my favorite classic science-fiction authors, the books that he wrote after “Friday,” which was 1982, he put out four or five more books after that, none of which I’m particularly fond of. The simple fact of the matter is that nobody ever puts out something that everybody likes. And even your favorite creators don’t hit it out of the park every single time. If you are expecting that you are going to be, as a creator, an exception to this rule, that everybody will universally feel the same about your work each time, then you have either an unduly high opinion of yourself or an unduly unrealistic expectation of how humans behave.

In that sense, I think it’s fine and legitimate and makes sense that no matter which book I have, that there are going to be some people like, “No, this doesn’t work” or even worse, when they just slam it. One of my favorite things to do - and one of the things that I encourage people to do - is to go to Amazon and go to Goodreads and look at your one-star reviews and post the ones that are the most imaginative.

Like some of my favorite reviews are Amazon or Good Reads one-star reviews, because the people who really hate your book want to express just how much they hate it and so they will actually make an effort. And sometimes that can be extraordinarily amusing. But it also brings the point that, if you can look at them and go, “Well, yeah, that was kind of a funny slam on me,” then you begin to build some perspective on the simple fact of the matter being that there will always be people who like your stuff and there will always be people who hate your stuff. And what you want is people to feel strongly about your work one way or the other. If the vast majority of your reviews are kind of like, “Eh, I guess it’s okay,” then that’s kind of the worst place to be.

I was as film critic for a number of years at the Fresno Bee, out there in Fresno, California. And I would see 300 movies a year. Ten percent of them were wonderful movies that I couldn’t wait to tell people about, that they should go see them. Ten percent were these terrible movies that I wanted to let people know that they should avoid. But 80 percent of them were in that vast, undifferentiated mass in the middle, where you’re going like, “You know, it’s okay, if you want to go see a movie, I guess you could go see this one and that would be two hours where you could be watching something flicker on the screen.” And that is sort of the place where you don’t want to be. When people put down your book or people take off their headphones after listening to something that you’ve done or people turn off the TV, you want them to have felt something strongly, one way or the other, rather than kind of go, “and moving on…” So if people feel super negative about the thing, what that says to me is that they actually had to spend emotional time and energy thinking about why they hated it so much. And in that respect, I have a hard time really criticizing them for doing it, because at least they gave it a fair shake.

You mentioned Heinlein, who were the other science fiction writers or filmmakers who first captured your imagination?

Well, Heinlein was one of them. When I was growing up, I also liked Susan Cooper, who did “The Dark Is Rising” series of YA books. And Douglas Adams is another one who I thought was tremendously wonderful. Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a book called “Always Coming Home,” which blew the top of my head right off. Those would be four people that I would say would be instrumental in science-fiction.

But a lot of my interests weren’t in science-fiction. For example, in film, some of my favorite writers - William Goldman, Elaine May, Ben Hecht, Larry Gelbart - they are comedy writers, as opposed to science-fiction writers, per se. I loved the way they did dialogue, the back and forth. The telling of story through people just talking is actually hugely influential with me. Also, with writers, some of the writers who influenced me, when I was younger, weren’t even fiction writers - Mike Royko, H.L. Mencken, Molly Ivins, P.J. O’Rourke, folks who were columnists, who spent a lot of time observing others and commenting about them and doing it on a daily basis for newspapers and magazines, stuff like that.

I was a journalist and I wanted to be a newspaperman before I became a novelist. I was, like a said, a film critic in Fresno. I had a weekly humor and politics column while I was there, which wasn’t necessarily a good idea, because I was 24 and it was exactly what you would think a 24-year-old would write about politics and humor [laughs], but I still got to do it. And those writers were hugely influential.

The thing I tell people, as a writer is, if you’re a science-fiction writer and you only read science-fiction, if you’re a romance writer and you only read romance or a mystery writer and you only read mystery, then you’re doing yourself a massive disservice. Writing in a genre, any genre, is better when there’s kind of a hybrid vigor, that there is influence from outside the genre. Otherwise, it becomes a problem, whichever genre you’re writing, that you’re basically only addressing what’s come before, only responding or reacting to what’s come before in that genre, rather than correctly placing the genre as part of a larger library world. And also, it’s boring, if you only read one type of thing. If you’re only ever reading science-fiction as a writer, your writing is going to suffer… or romance or westerns or mysteries or whatever.

Writing your blog, does that give you an opportunity to express yourself in a different way, show a more personal side of yourself?

Oh, absolutely. I was doing the blog long before I had any science-fiction published. I started the blog in 1998 and the reason for that was because, at one point, I had been a newspaper columnist and I wanted to keep sharp in that form, should I ever get back into newspapers. Now it turns out that that never happened. But the blog in and of itself has been kind of a means to its own end, in the respect that I am able to address stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise be addressing and to express myself in ways that are fun for me, so that I don’t get bottled up just writing novels or something like that.

And it sounds weird, right? I’m only writing novels, I want to do other things. Someone who’s not writing novels will be like, “I need to push you in front of a bus right now.” But you know how it is - if you’re only ever writing one thing or you’re only ever doing one thing, then eventually, no matter what, it becomes a job and it becomes tired. You have to be able to exercise your brain in other ways, as well. And it also allows me to talk about stuff that wouldn’t make sense for me to talk about in my novels. I’m not one of those novelists who, even though I’m writing in contemporary time and contemporary issues are important for me as sort of idea fodder, I’m not one of those people who explicitly talks about contemporary politics in my novels.

Writing about contemporary politics in science-fiction would be like you and I currently having a really intense argument about the Alien and Sedation Acts. It doesn’t make sense. There’s nobody who does that. There are overall themes that can be addressed and overall concerns or overall tropes and topics that can be played with, but that sort of level of specificity is not, in my opinion, at least for what I do, a great idea. So rather than inflict it on my science-fiction that takes place 200, 300 years from now or whatever time in the future, I talk about that stuff on my blog. And that, I think, ultimately, gives me a good place to have the separation of creative powers, so to speak.

Some of your works being developed for television?

Yeah, we have currently three things under development - “Redshirts,” “The Old Man’s War” series and “Locked In.”

Would you hope to be hands-on, if they go into production?

Well, I’m an Executive Producer on all of them and executive producer is one of those nebulous concepts, meaning anything from, “All right, if this thing goes to series, we’re actually going to want you on set and taking part in it” to “Well, here’s your title and here’s an extra hunk of money for each episode, now please don’t bother us.” And in terms of these properties, I’m mostly closer to the first than the second, but there’s a little bit of a spread. And every step of the way, I’m kept in the loop and I give them ideas and I talk to them about what I think they should do.

But the simple fact of the matter is, I should be at all times involving TV and film, the least competent person in the room, because my job is writing novels, it’s not creating television series and it’s not creating movies. Unless I move aggressively into that area of things, the idea is that everybody else should be more competent. And I can give them ideas. It’s not that I’m inexperienced with film and television. Like I said, I was a film critic for a number of years and I’ve been following the industry as a business since the 90s. So I’m not uninformed and I’m not stupid. But at the same time, on a day-to-day basis, my life is going to be busy writing novels.

I just signed a very large contract with Tor for 13 books over 10 years. I’m going to be engaged doing other things, so what I hope, and what we look for, when people come looking for these various properties, is we want people that are good at what they do and we can trust to actually make decisions that make sense for the series, adapting it for television or film. It’s never going to be the book. The book is the book. TV is different. Films are different. What you want is an adaptation that captures the ideas and concepts of the book and the feel of the book, while at the same time, working for the medium that it’s going to be in. And the more that you have people who have consistently shown that they have some idea of what they are doing, the better it is for you. So yes, I’m involved, but like I said, if I’m the most competent person in the room, with television and film, then there’s a really, really big problem and I have chosen poorly.

The new 10-year publishing deal with Tor, do you anticipate that making writing easier, in terms of having that security? Or is it added pressure?

I think it’s going it’s going to make it easier in the sense of, one of the things that happens, when you’re a writer is, you get a one-book contract or a two-book contract, somewhere along the line. And that’s great for a couple of year that you know what you’re doing. But when that’s done, all of it has the possibility of going away. Right? The momentum that you have can go away, if you don’t sell the next book. The marketing that your publisher has done, will not necessarily support you if you go over to another publisher.

Tor and I have been working together since 2005. All my science-fiction novels have come out from Tor. And so I was at the end of a two-book contract and I was thinking, “All right, what do I want to do next?” And ultimately, I decided, what I really wanted to do was to concentrate on writing and maybe a little bit of marketing, because those are the two things I’m good at. I didn’t want to have to go out every single time and renegotiate, basically do the same steps over and over again.

And from Tor’s point of view, I’ve been a very reliable seller for them. I’ve been a good name for them. What this means for both of us is we have theoretically 10 years together, where they don’t have to worry about whether I’m going to go off to another publisher. I don’t have to worry that they’re going to drop me. And given the amount of money that’s involved in this thing, we’re both motivated to find some way to make this actually work really well. And because that’s the case, this will be something where we can strategize, not just for this book or the next book, but for books five or six books down the line, so that everything that we do, hopefully, is part of a building pattern, as opposed to, “Okay, we can only think through to 2017.” Well, no, we can think all the way through 2026. And what does that allow us to do? What risks does that allow us to take? What strategies does that allow us to develop that we wouldn’t get to do otherwise?

And ultimately, for me, it’s not just a question of security, in terms of money, but it is a security in knowing that, for the next 10 years, that I have partners. And again, partners who are competent, partners who I trust, partners who are motivated to be as successful as I want to be, as well. So in a very real sense, the security is there, but I’m more excited about the idea of what it allows us to do long-term that literally almost nobody else in publishing gets to do, because they all are book-to-book or two books or whatever. We get to look further out than anybody else has the opportunity to. And that’s actually really exciting to me.

So you have even more of a stake in a non-dystopian future.

[Laughs] Well, you know, the thing is, in many ways, it’s hard to know what’s going to happen in 10 years. Even looking back at 2005 in terms of publishing marketing, the publishing world is so different today than it was even just 10 years ago. Anybody who tells you that they know all the ins and outs of the market 10 years from now is trying to sell you something. And that’s the other reason that this deal is kind of nice is that, for 10 years, we both get something that allows us a little bit of margin. They get someone who they see as a reliable storyteller that will give them stuff that we can sort of fiddle with and try new things with.

The whole thing with “Human Division” and “End of All Things,” doing them as episodes, part of that was, here’s this digital market. How do we address that digital market? What will work and what won’t? So we took a very popular series, up to that point, and put it in a completely different format and saw how people would respond to that. We learned a ton of stuff. We will probably continue to do that sort of experimentation, when the opportunity allows. And again, it’s great for them, because they have someone they know is willing to do that sort of stuff. It’s great for me, because I get to try new stuff, basically with a parachute on my back, so that if worse comes to worst, I still have a relatively soft landing. So in that sort of sense, whatever the world turns out to be - dystopic or utopia, we’re hopefully in a good position to take what happens and roll with it.

You’re based in Ohio now?

Yes. I live in Bradford, Ohio, population 1800.

Rural and idyllic?

Well, I grew up in L.A. Now i live in a place where a traffic jam is three cars behind an Amish buggy. And when I say that, people go, “Oh, that’s funny.” I’m like, “No, that’s actually true.”

In terms of the intangibles, what are the most rewarding aspects of your novel-writing and the most challenging?

The rewarding things are, one, I get to be who I wanted to be when I grew up. And it’s a fun job. And I get to make stuff up for a living. And I get to work from home. So those are all things that are kind of cool. There’s a flip side. There’s also the thing that in a very sort of small bore way, I’m known, which is kind of cool, too. I go to a convention and, for three days, I’m somebody important. Then I get to come home and nobody cares who I am, which is exactly the sort of level of fame that I like. Do you know what I mean?

I have friends who are genuinely famous and I wouldn’t want that. But being able to kind of have that sort of small bore notoriety, basically being, I would say like, a K-level celebrity, is actually kind of nice.

The flip side of it is, quite honestly, my job is to be entertaining. My job is to write stuff that you will care about. And that is actually, while it is not like lifting heavy objects or hard manual labor, it is still a lot of work. And it is something where there is a performance aspect to it that I have to be absolutely aware of. I mean, the reason that I have this book deal is that I’m seen as reliable. But the simple fact is that means that I have to continue to be reliable. I have to hit my deadlines. I have to write stories that are engaging. I have to write them basically in a way that is easily marketable and understandable. And you put all that stuff together and it is, as much security and everything else that you get with this sort of situation, the simple fact of the matter is that it is a burden. It is something that you have to live with. And also, there’s the fact that, no matter how cool your job is, it’s ultimately a job that has to be done. As soon as I get done talking to you, I have to get back to writing a novella that I’m writing that is due the day before I leave for a three-week book tour.

And again, if I sound like I’m complaining about it, it’s perfectly legitimate that people want to push me in front of a bus. But at the end of the day, that’s 25,000 words that have to be done before I go. And I’m away from my family for three weeks, being a performing monkey every single day. And so ultimately, as much as people think, “Gosh, I wish that I could be a writer,” it’s a job. You still have to do your job and some days you wake up and go, “f—k, I hate my job.” But you still have to do it. When I was a film critic, the day I stopped being a film critic, I didn’t watch another movie for six months. And people said, “Why did you do that?” I said, “Because I watched a movie every day for five years.” I didn’t want to have to watch another movie. And for six months, I didn’t. I just stayed at home and I read books and I just sort of let my brain reset. No matter how cool your job is, whatever your job is, at the end of the day, it’s still a job. And it can still get to you. And like I said, people will have a hard time believing that, but it’s the lay of the land.

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