John Michael Scalzi II is an American science fiction author and former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
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UPDATE: Thanks, everyone, for all your questions and comments. I'm getting back to work now, so I'll see you later here on reddit, else on Twitter at @scalzi.
Hi! I'm John Scalzi. I won a Hugo for my 2013 novel Red Shirts, and am otherwise well known for my Old Man's War series, which is currently in development at Netflix as a movie. I'm also the former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a former film critic and newspaper columnist, the writer of several nonfiction books, and my Hugo-winning blog, Whatever, will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018.
I enjoy writing, cats and pie, not necessarily all at once.
Ask me anything!
What's it like, being History's Greatest Monster (Burrito Category)?
anyway, my partner has been using the Human Godzilla section of Old Man's War in her English class for the Monsters and Others unit for the last few years, so they say thank you!
Not gonna lie, being a burrito monster is pretty great. All the infamy you want, and you get fed.
And tell your partner thank you!
Regarding your "burritos:"
Why do you hate America, freedom, and all things that are good and beautiful?
Asking for a friend.
MY BURRITOS FEATURE AMERICAN CHEESE, PAUL, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, FREE, PATRIOTIC CHEESE THERE IS.
When is the Netflix movie going to be here?
I can't wait, I loved those books.
In a magic world where everything goes to plan and nothing ever goes wrong, sometime in 2019.
Realistically: Hard to say. We still have major hires to make, screenplays to write and everything else to do. Things move forward until they don't. Bears attack. Krakens rise up from the sea.
The good news is I like the people I'm working with and I know all of them want to move quickly on it.
So: Hopefully soon! We'll see!
I loved your books that I read, especially Old Man's War and Redshirts and I'm excited for your Netflix deal. Congrats on your success!
I have always loved writing and wish to do more. With a job and kids, it's hard to find the time and energy. Do you have any good recommendations or tools for a father of two with a full time job to really focus on writing projects?
First: Nearly every writer you know has a day job or some sort or another, so you're not alone there.
Second: Scheduling helps, it really does. Making the decision that every day at [insert time here] you're going to do a bit of writing (or every other day, or whatever fits into the schedule) both helps you plan and also gets your brain used to the idea that writing isn't just about "inspiration," it's about practice, practice, practice. Don't worry about getting a lot done daily. If you can even manage a couple of hundred words, after enough time, it stacks up.
Which genres outside of SF do you enjoy to read the most? What are some books you've enjoyed reading this last year or so?
This is going to be a not useful answer because I am really a small "c" catholic reader: I'll pretty much read anything if it's in front of me. So: Humor, mysteries, lit fic, non-fiction, trivia, etc. It's easier to say what I read relatively little of, which at the moment is westerns and romance -- although I do try to read in romance, seeing as it is actually the largest literary genre out there, and it seems foolish as a working writer not to know what the writers there are up to.
As to what I really enjoyed in the last year: I've been praising NK Jemisin's Broken Earth series to everyone and will do so here, too; otherwise I could make a whole list BUT I need to get to other AMA questions....
When you write, do you plan everything from your characters to Plot points A-B-C in advance or do you create as you go along?
I mostly make it up as I go along if I'm writing fiction, and outline if I'm writing non-fiction. I like seeing what makes characters and stories do as I write them, and then I'm not bored.
I love your writing!
Just recently started reading your books. So far Old Man's War is my favorite, but it's just the beginning, for me.
Do you think Netflix is going to actually do a good job with this one? I find it hard to get excited, these days, for Netflix adaptations...
Well, I'm going to be an Executive Producer on the Netflix project, so if it's terrible, it will be at least partially my own fault.
But as I noted above, I'm working with people I like and who I think are smart. I feel pretty good about our chances.
If you had a BrainPal in real life, what would you name it?
I would not have a BrainPal in real life. Don't stick foreign objects in your brain unless you absolutely have to, is my motto.
(Also I would be worried about device security. See: The Ghost Brigades or Lock In about that.)
How do you feel about being known as much for Internet Antics (bacon cat, frosting*, twitter things, burrito madness) as writing?
I like it, not only because it's fun for me, but also I think it's useful for readers/fans/others to see that I (or any writer, really) am not just a black box, from which extrudes a book on an annual basis. I have other interests, concerns and hobbies, just like anyone else.
Does consciousness transfer in the OMW series work like transporter technology? Where in if you don't turn off the original, both work as normal?
My buddy and I got into a huge debate re: Theseus ship paradox about why transporter technology in Star Trek is/is not murder. I'm of the mindset it totally is and it bums me out.
Also, I totally feel like this even asking the question.
I leave this particular question tantalizingly unanswered because I like to see people talk about it, actually.
Some of the authors I follow like yourself and Wil Wheaton have mentioned publicly how hard it has been for you to find creative spaces this year due to things happening in the world.
What is your best advice for tuning that stuff out for awhile so that you can finally get back to working on your projects?
I think the secret -- and something I need to do better at, because I lost the plot a bit this year -- is having a routine, and at least a few hours a day (for me, preferably as I'm waking up to the world) where you shut everything else out to focus on the work. Get work done first, THEN go and look at the trash fire. This may involve internet blockers or simply pulling the connection out of the wall.
What's your favorite non-writing thing to do?
Sleep, shooting Nazis in video games, spending time with family and friends, reading, watching movies, fantasizing about inherently fair and just political systems. Not necessarily in that order.
What book of yours would you recommend to someone who's unfamiliar with your work?
Big fan of your writing here.
Which character or characters that you've written do you think would be a good writer?
Well, John Perry was a writer -- albeit in advertising -- and he was good at it. So I think he's the obvious answer. I think Zoe Perry will eventually become a really good one too.
Do you ever intend to return to the universe you built in The Android's Dream? IIRC, you'd mentioned the possibility of a sequel, but don't recall hearing anything after that.
P.S.: Dammit, you made me cry during part of Zoe's Tale...
I did start writing a sequel called "The High Castle," but aside from the first chapter, which I eventually released as a short story ("Judge Sn Goes Golfing"), it wasn't sufficiently good, so I dumped it and wrote Zoe's Tale instead. Which in retrospect I think was the right call.
Does the idea of a large interconnected mega-series like Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere appeal to you? (I'm interested to hear your opinion both as an author theoretically creating your own and as a reader experiencing one someone else has created.)
I mean, the Old Man's War spans many years and multiple POV characters and six books, so I kind of already do that? I just don't make the books the size of small trucks.
(Which is not banging on Brandon, who is my friend and who is awesome. But it is a general difference between SF and Fantasy series -- SF books tend to be shorter.)
Hi John! I'm a big fan of your work. I've been trying to get everyone I know to read it since I picked it up. One of my friends even read it in a single night, inhaled the rest of the series shortly thereafter, and emailed me earlier this week about your upcoming show. So yeah, you write good books and stuff.
My question is one that's fairly popular on the fantasy and science fiction subreddits, which is this: If you had to pick three books/series for an Casual speculative fiction reader, three for an Experience speculative fiction reader, and three for a Veteran speculative fiction reader, what would be your choices? Not necessarily the ones you think are most historically significant or important or whatever, but your personal favorites.
I'm really bad with these questions because a) I know a lot of writers personally and I want to recommend them ALL, because I like them and their work, and b) the answer really depends on the person. Not all "casual" books will work equally for every reader, same with "experienced," and so on. I need to know who I am recommending to!
Which up and coming writers should we be paying attention to?
WHY DON'T YOU ASK ME WHICH OF MY CHILDREN I LIKE THE BEST
How long did it take you to get the courage to submit your writing to publishing houses? Did you get an agent, or submit yourself? What advice would you have for writers who haven't submitted anything yet?
I don't tend to think of it as courage; I tend to think of it simply as trying to engage in business. I think that's because I did a stint in freelance journalism, where you're always pitching story ideas and you know only a small fraction are going to be taken up. So the idea I might submit something, and the person I was submitting to might say "no," was not something I took into my ego. It was just the nature of the business.
I think it's helpful to approach it that way.
I'm very excited to hear that Old Man's War will be coming to Netflix! Will the green skin make it to the screen?
We'll see. There are practical issues to making dozens of cast members green, so it's something we have to look at. Also, the question of whether you can make someone look green without it just looking like makeup. As much as I love Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy, it doesn't look like she has green skin; it looks like she spends several hours in the makeup trailer every day.
When Old Man's War is incredibly successful and Netflix approaches you about more movies, which of your already written works would you like to see on the screen next?
I think Agent to the Stars would make a fun movie. Also, if memory serves me correctly, I'm pretty sure a bad burrito played a pretty pivotal role in an important event for that story ...
Well, at the moment I have six projects in various stages of development for film/TV. I can't talk specifically about them because I'm not the one who makes announcements. But suffice to say there's a non-trivial change there will be more news soon.
I've read several of your books and enjoyed them, but haven't kept up with your other pursuits.
Is there an FAQ? Any columns or blog posts that shouldn't be missed?
Annually on Christmas Eve I post on my web site a list of my favorite essays I've written in the year, so come by then!
I really enjoyed Collapsing Empire especially the colourful language used by Kiva. Which is something you don't see that often in books. "real" people using "real" language. Was there an inspiration for Kiva's vocabulary?
Would you ever consider teaming up with another writer for a style book where each writes a viewpoint (e.g. the Expanse).
No specific inspiration, although I myself do swear. Like, a LOT.
Over time I've learned I'm not the world's best collaborator, so I think it's unlikely I'll collaborate with anyone on something as long as a novel -- BUT having said that, I should say "never say never," because who knows? Maybe one day I'll change my mind.
Hey John, how much of today’s current situation seems like ambitious overwriting from a dystopian near-future novel? Have you ever written something thinking “Now, THAT'S really far fetched," only to have seen it actually happen in the world?
Novels have to make sense, reality doesn't. Reality is always more far-fetched than fiction. I've been fortunate that so far real events haven't overtaken my fiction -- I know Charlie Stross has had that happen at least once, as has Walter Jon Williams.
You signed 3 books for me as gifts to my brothers and Dad via Jay and Mary's (Thanks!). What's the craziest thing someone asked you to write in a book?
People sometimes ask me to insult them in the personalization, and I try to oblige, usually in disgusting detail.
(Occasionally I'll be asked to insult someone else, to whom they will give the book, and I generally avoid doing that, because it really is a thing you need to know the person is signing off on.)
Why isn't Agent to the stars a movie yet? :)
Have you read Hugh Howey's "Beacon 23"?
I sometimes felt I was reading one of your books.
"Agent" isn't a movie yet because no one's optioned it! I'd be happy if someone did. HINT HINT, HOLLYWOOD.
I'm a fan of Hugh's. Don't tell him, though. It will make him insufferable.
Huge fan of The Collapsing Empire, my favorite of yours so far. When can we expect a sequel? And how many books will there be in The Interdependency series?
The next book in the series will either be late '18 or early '19, depending on schedules, and currently I'm thinking about three books, but we'll see.
Ok, gonna go a little controversial-- I was pretty disappointed with The Human Division.
Not the storytelling, which was excellent as always, but with the fact that the first installment was 93 pages, then the subsequent ones were around 30.
Even now, the installments are still there for $0.99 each, even though the whole book is separately available for $9.99.
I'm all for supporting my favorite authors, but this really felt like a cash grab. So what was the deal? Did your publisher push this on you? Did you view it as a way for the most dedicated fans to get the story early? Something else?
(And before I get flamed and downvoted to hell, I'm still buying and loving everything that you publish, so this isn't intended as a dis. I genuinely am curious to know "What happened here?")
We did it to see if people would enjoy serialized stories, and we were interested to see if there was price sensitivity to different lengths. It was research, basically. The stories all sold well when they came out a week at a time.
The total cost of the individual stories was set to be the same cost (more or less) as the hardcover when it came out. Now that the book's gone to paperback, the collection cost has gone down.
Obviously, from a cost point of view, get the paperback/collected ebook these days.
Also, I don't think this is particularly controversial. But the answer is a little nuts-and-bolts in terms of how publishing works (or did work, when we did the experiment).
So I was at your Dallas reading for a sample of your upcoming book -- has anything about your approach to the fictional sport depicted in it changed since... uh... everything that's happened in the real-world since? Kaepernick, et al.
Well, the book in general definitely shows marks of having been written in 2017, that's for sure. Nothing stupidly soap-boxy -- I'm writing a different time than the one we live in -- but certainly what's going on now has weighed on my brain as I was writing and plotting.
Are you planning on writing any more Old Man's War novels or story collections?
I'm contractually obliged to write at least one more novel in the universe, which sounds TERRIBLE when I put it that way. So I'll say I'm planning to go back there, but only when I know I have a story in the world I want to write.
Not trying to step on John's toes. Putting here in case he can't get to all these good questions: https://whatever.scalzi.com/2017/12/15/spoiler-free-observations-on-the-last-jedi/ [there may be spoilers in comments though]
Yup, that's the link!
It was an interesting move to retell the events of The Last Colony from a different perspective in Zoe’s Tale. What led you to make that choice?
Because Tor asked for a book in the Old Man's War universe they could position for the YA market, and because there were a few things left unresolved in The Last Colony that I wanted a chance to explain. So Zoe's Tale worked well to do both of those things.
What is the least awkward way for someone to approach you at a con to tell you they're a fan?
"Hi! I'm a fan!" is usually a good way to do it.
So hey, thanks for the reassurance that canned Coke Zero Sugar would be a suitable replacement for Coke Zero. Turns out it's actually much closer to fountain Coke Zero than canned Coke Zero was - a huge improvement (to the point that I no longer have to maintain a home fountain system).
Also, my SO thanks you for the cats.
What would it take for you to embrace heavy augmentation (as you've rejected BrainPals in this AMA already)?
Heavy augmentation: If the other option is death, then I would consider it, probably.
If I see you at en event, i.e. where yo're walking around and not at a panel, would you generally rather I said hello or do you prefer to not be disturbed? I think I saw you surrounded by people at Arisia last year and decided against joining the throng, but I have a tendency to try to leave celebrities alone in general because, well, they're people too.
I don't mind being said hello to, if I'm just standing about. If I'm clearly in deep discussion with someone else, it might be better to check in a bit later.
Thanks for taking the time to do this, and congratulations on finishing up Head On!
Here's a question: on social media, you've repeatedly made comments to the effect of "the novel is done, all that's left is the typing." Could you elaborate on what exactly you mean by that?
That means that I've plotted the whole thing out and know what everyone is going to do and how it all ends. So the story writing and plotting is done; now it's just getting it all down into a document.
Hey John, loving your books and your twitter presence and opinions.
Is there any other genre you have ideas for or want to take a stab at outside of science fiction? Fantasy, horror, urban fantasy, etc, whatever floats your giblets?
I regularly write non-fiction, so I'm often writing out of genre. And I have also written fantasy: See The Dispatcher and The God Engines.
Do you often set out to write a book to be a series? Or do some of them just insist that you write more in that universe?
Only once: The Collapsing Empire, which we knew was the first installment of a series. Everything else was written standalone, and became series in when they sold well and the publisher asked for more.
What is the best and/or most authentic way to communicate electronically with an audience?
I used to read whatever religiously, but have switched to follow mostly on twitter and facebook. The current state of social media makes me loathe to communicate almost anywhere, given the inverse proportional effect of free time and sociopathy that seems to exist on the internet. What's your prediction of the best way to communicate what's happening to potentially interested parties?
For me, I just write what I want, and then take advantage of filtering/moderating tools if people decide to be jerks. I'm also aware that some people are simply determined to be jerks regardless, so I don't really feel bad punting them. I also don't believe that "free speech" means I'm obliged to tolerate jerks.
You mentioned in a blog post that people asking you to read their books for feedback, for free, is rude and disrespectful of your time- and I agree! How much do you think is a fair amount to charge/pay to have someone read your book?
It depends on the person and whether they are doing it professionally (i.e., as an editor) or as a pal. Most people who ask me to read their books, I don't know.
What ever happened to live adaptation of Red shirts?
It went on an away mission and died.
We'll see if it can be resurrected.
I really enjoyed Fuzzy Nation, but it's the only thing of yours that I've read. What book of yours should I read next? Where would you rate Fuzzy Nation compared to your other work? It was derivative, IIRC, so how does that shape your opinion of it?
I like it a lot, and its derivative nature doesn't much come into it. I don't tend to rank my own books -- that's up to other folks. But if you liked it, you'll probably like OMW.
I loved The Collapsing Empire. Were the ship names in tribute to the late, great Iain M. Banks?
Indeed they were!
What burrito are you going to be making tomorrow?
Well, I have some pasta salad, peanut butter and Chex Mix in the house...
Are you a fan of Melt Bar and Grilled? If so, what is your favorite? (Sorry, not sure what part of Ohio you are from)
Hey John! Love your books, any chance you have a book/signing tour planned in the future?
Yup, there will be one in conjunction for Head On when it comes out in April.
You're trapped on a deserted island with three books. Knowing that you will be reading them over and over and over again, what three do you bring?
"How to escape from a deserted island" is definitely one of them.
Also, "This book is actually a satellite phone with GPS" is a great one, too.
Hi Mr. Scalzi. Reading Old Man's War got me back into reading science fiction after having to take a break from any fun reading in college. I've since read all your books and made my mom listen to The Collapsing Empire on a road trip and now she is hooked too!
So for my question, what books, movies, shows, or other media inspired you to write science fiction?
Uuuuuuuh, that's a list that would take hours. But suffice to say the inspiration comes from every possible medium, and everything goes into the creative maw.
Do you do any of your own marketing for your books, and what seems to be the most effective? My wife has written 8 books but never published/submitted them, and I was thinking of trying to get them out there for her. Also, I love you so much and we have every copy of your books in both paper and audiobook versions. :D
I am fortunate to a have a publisher who handles most publicity/marketing, and aside from that have a large enough online footprint (and have for 20 years) that getting the word out has never been difficult.
I'd be wary of submitting/publishing anything without her permission, not because it's not a nice gesture, but because it really is her work and she should have the final say about ti.
Are the Porgs acceptable in any science fiction universe?
I'm pro-porg, man. They're freakin' adorable.
I love the character development in your books. Likeable people!
Do your relatives/friends ever accuse you of basing characters on them? Have any of your main characters ever been based on relatives/friends?
Jane Sagan is very much based on my wife. No other characters I've written have much of a real world analogue. If people see themselves in them, it's mostly coincidence.
(That said, my daughter and Zoe Perry ended up having a lot in common, sarcasm-wise.)
Hi. How is Head On going? Hope those twitter breaks helped.
IT IS DONE THANK GOD NOW I CAN SLEEP
Writing has always seemed such a solitary endeavor that it's kinda turned me off it, that and the constant revision/editing process seems painful. Hopefully you enjoy it a lot more, but can you talk a little about the things you enjoy/miss while writing? It seems burritos feature heavily in the "enjoy" column for you, but it can't all be burritos, right?
EVERYTHING IS BURRITOS MY FRIEND
Enjoy: I mean, I like writing, you know? Watching my thoughts take form, doing the craft (which includes revision/editing) and all of that is pleasurable. It's like doing a puzzle with words, making it all fit.
Miss: I can't think of anything I really miss. I'm essentially an introvert, so I like a bit of alone time anyway. Sometimes I don't want to write and just want to play video games or snark on Twitter, but that's not really "missing," that's work avoidance.
Why have you decided to declare war on all good and decent burritos?
On a more serious note, thanks for your continued support of Jay and Mary’s and the Bradford Public Library. As a resident of the area, I always appreciate your promotion of these great institutions.
THE BURRITOS KNOW WHY.
And I'm always happy to support my local libraries and bookstores.
I really enjoyed Old mans war, still one of my favorite books, and I most recently read The Collapsing Empire, which I enjoyed as well.
With those two as contrast, how do you balance the amount of "fun" in books? Is your editor on alert to make sure it doesn't become too silly, or do you just go with what feels natural?
I don't really have a specific formula. I just go by feel. I don't think Patrick (my editor) is on the lookout for the specific percentage of fun in a book. But he might be! I'll have to ask him.
Do you think up creative names for your burrito combinations? Or is it just "Burrito with cheetos and candy canes"?
E.g. I eat burritos with taco fillings and call it a Burraco. Yes, very boring, I know.
They're usually in my stomach by the time I think of a name for them. The exception was the "Wilicious" burrito, which I named as I was making it because I love Wil Wheaton so much.
Can you ask TOR to release the Old Man's War series in a trade paperback format? Want to read, just not a fan of the mass-market format. I know the first book just got a small hardcover reissue, maybe i can start with that one but in general I strongly prefer a form factor similar to your "Redshirts" trade. Surprised they don't already offer this on your most well-known series of books.
I see OMW in trade paperback in stores regularly, so I suspect it's out there if you look. If not, ask your local store to special order!
I love your books. Which of the technologies from your books do you think we'll see in the real world in the next 5-10 years?
If I knew that, I'd be rich from investing!
I met you at a signing a few years ago (my very first book event) and loved your insight and witty commentary. I also follow your cats on twitter, and love seeing them on my feed. My question is, how to hell do you organize everything when you're writing? I always have ideas bouncing around, and they aren't necessarily in chronological order. Thank you! :D
Will we ever seen the Perry family in the OMWverse again?
John and Jane, probably not. Other Perrys? We'll see.
What is your favorite pie?
Who is going to star in this movie?
I'm excited to see this movie, I loved those books.
Pecan and don't know yet!
What is your favourite and least favourite social media, that you use, and why? Loved Old mans war, can't wait to see it on netflix! :D
Aside my own blog, Twitter is clearly my favorite -- it's suits for my snarkiness. I wouldn't say Snapchat was my least favorite, but I can say I don't understand it at all.
Do you ever worry about time travelers going back in time and publishing your stories before you do?
No, I go back a little further and murder them before they can send it off to an editor.
Huge fan of OMW, and excited to hear that it's hitting Netflix.
I'm also very fond of Agent to the Stars - has there been any interest in adapting it to the screen?
Do you have any plans to revisit Cascadiopolis? I really enjoyed the possible futures presented there, and would love to read more about them.
What are your favorite pizza toppings?
Thanks for taking the time to do this!
No plans at the moment, but there were two "Metatropolis" sequels I was not involved with, available on Audible.
How do people contact you for appearances etc? I've always wanted to meet you at a convention.
I have that information on my site!
I really enjoyed Lock In and the overall idea of the book and am really excited for the sequel. Any idea on the release date for it?
Chocolate or Vanilla?
For ice cream: Vanilla. Chocolate in most other circumstances.
Well, good for you! I hope this proves to be a great adaptation and a lucrative deal for you.
Please just don't give up on writing like 'others' seem to have, if you get all the money from this deal.
I mean, I'm kinda already set for life. I'm still writing.
Do you have a specific writing playlist/music? Or does it depend on the story? Or no music at all?
I usually find music distracting when I write. I'm listening to Christmas music right now, however.
First of all, I'm a huge fan, love your work, have alerts set on Amazon so I can preorder when you announce new stuff, etc. But you said one thing that really bothers me, and no, it isn't about burritos.
Why do you enjoy cats, when dogs are so obviously superior?
I mean, I have a dog, too. I like both, for overlapping but different reasons.
What is your worst habit?
And biting my toe nails.
(I'm kidding about the toe nails.)
(I'm not flexible enough any more.)
I know you've lived all over, but as a native Ohioan, I want to know what are the virtues of my home state that have convinced you to settle down there. What do you love most about Ohio?
That my wife and child are in it! We moved here because my wife wanted to be closer to family, and after a bit of adjustment (I'm originally from the Los Angeles area) I've not regretted it. People are friendly, costs are low, there's a lot to do here and it's easy to get just about anywhere from here.