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Writing Excuses 8.29: Out Of Excuses Retreat Q&A #1

Writing Excuses 8.29: Out Of Excuses Retreat Q&A #1


Key points:
1. Dan? How did you end up selling your Serial Killer novels in Europe before you sold them in the US?
Actually, they were sold in the US first, but published in Europe first.
2. Howard? Some comics have a different storyline for Sunday than weekdays. Why do you use the format you do?
Sunday different from weekdays is an artifact of syndication sales. But I can use the big Sunday for exposition, and do.
3. You've talked about outliners versus discovery writers. Have you changed?
Yes. Started discovery writing, then shifted to more outlining. Different projects need different approaches.
4. Why is Scalzi Brandon's evil nemesis?
Competition! Who is this guy? Scalzi Bane and the Scalzi award.
5. What is the best way to reset between full-time work and writing at home?
Videogames! Commuting on the freeway. Physical activity.
[Mary] Season eight, episode 29?
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses,Out Of Excuses Retreat Q&A #1.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] And I'm Howard, and it's 10:25 PM and we've got a room full of awesome people...
[Brandon] Exciting people. Yes.
[Brandon] If you somehow missed that we're recording at the Writing Excuses retreat, it might be because it sold out in nine minutes when we did it last year, so you didn't ever get a chance to come. But it's been a lot of fun. We're at...
[Dan] Or even know that it existed.
[Brandon] Yes. They have prepared a bunch of questions. Rather than giving them all a microphone and wasting time doing that, we took the questions ahead of time. So I am going to read to you what they asked us.

[Brandon] The first question was to Dan. How did you end up selling your Serial Killer novels in Europe before you sold them in the US?
[Dan] Okay. That is actually a fallacy, a misunderstanding of what happened. They were published in Europe first, because of the way publishing schedules work. I first sold to Tor in the US, sold them US rights, and they had a... They did not have a hole in their publishing schedule for that year. I can't remember at this point what year it was. They had it pushed back to the following year. I then sold British and German rights very soon after that. They did have spots in their publishing schedule that were open. So those books ended up coming out first. That was a weird situation to be in, but it was also a fun one, because when we finally got to America, everyone assumed I was a European author. So they thought I was a lot cooler than I was.
[Brandon] If you want to ask someone this question that actually did, I believe Steven Erikson sold in Europe first. He's from Canada, I believe. I could be wrong on this, but you can go talk to him about it.

[Brandon] So, second question was for Howard. Have you... Some comics have a different storyline happening on Sunday than they do on the weekday comics. Have you considered that format and why did you consider... Choose the format that you did?
[Howard] Okay, so the... Six days one story, and the seventh day a different story, is an artifact of newspapers being allowed to buy the Sunday comic separately from the weekday comics from the syndicate. So there are some newspapers that only get Dilbert on Sundays, but wouldn't get Dilbert on the weekdays. Or only got like Alley Oop on Sundays. Didn't get him on the weekdays. So the cartoonists back then, if they knew that the syndicate was able or was willing to carve this up for sale, they had to do different continuities weekdays and Sundays. Anybody who can read me on Friday and Saturday can read me on Sunday, unless the server farm...
[Brandon] I don't have the Internet on...
[Howard] Unless the server farm has caught fire or...
[Brandon] On every other Thursday [inaudible]
[Howard] So I thought, I need Sundays in order to do being expositions. So I really can't tell my story without being able to use big pictures one day a week.
[Brandon] Now, I do know that there are some webtoonists that have done the other way. Like Dave Kellett for a while did a separate Saturday story or something like that? Just to shake it up a bit. But that's the nice thing about webtooning is you can do whatever you feel like today.
[Howard] I can do whatever I like. Sometimes I'll do a big picture on a Thursday because I've...
[Dan] Well, that's what I was going to ask, is why did you make the decision, or was it simply following tradition, to keep the big Sunday strip model?
[Howard] It was tradition. Now it is kind of the chapter form that I work within. It is an artifact that I'm kind of slaved to for pacing. What's nice is that when I break from it, I break from it for a very short period of time, and it's surprising. People don't expect it. It changes the flow of the story. It's horrible to try and lay into print, because...
[Brandon] When you break the format, you mean?
[Howard] No. The format itself is awful to lay out in... Laying out Schlock books is a miserable, miserable experience. You should all buy them, because we work so hard to make that miserable experience wonderful. But, yeah, if I had it to do over, I would lay things out so that whatever I was doing would neatly fit into 8.5 x 11 rectangles. Oh, Internet.

[Brandon] All right. Next question. You've talked a lot about being outliners versus discovery writers, those two tools that you use. Have you always been the way that you are, in outlining and discovery writing? Did you transition? If you did, how hard was it? Did you try each tool? Etc.
[Dan] Well, I want to start by saying that I believe that those terms, while useful, give the wrong impression. Because it's not two different styles of writing, and you're either one or the other. I think every author is going to have portions of each. They'll set somewhere along the spectrum.
[Brandon] Most authors that I know that do a lot of writing, slide on that spectrum depending on the project.
[Howard] There are two kinds of writers. Writers who sit on the outlining side of this arbitrary line I've drawn and writers who sit on the... Yeah, that's...
[Brandon] But... Yes. But it is a fun... It is a useful tool to talk about, because they are kind of polar opposites that you can have a scale in between. So I'll start this one off. I've long... I started just by discovery writing. Because I think almost everybody dies. Maybe there's other people that just are outliners that just... But I just started writing books. I think a lot of us just started writing books. I started to find that if I planned out that book better, if I planned it out ahead of time, I was more excited about writing it and it worked for me. So I slowly grew into more and more of an outliner, until I actually got so far along outlining that I felt I was writing the life out of some things. I swung back the other way, which is why I discovery write my characters. This is just a different swinging pendulum I use. Nowadays, there are a lot of books that I'll still just go discovery write. Short stories. Like, the Rithmatist was completely discovery written. For me, a discovery write is... I'll still start taking notes. There's no way I can not start taking notes about what's going to happen. But I don't start with an outline in hand. But my big books, I still outline a lot.
[Mary] I also started discovery writing, and discovered pretty quickly that for me at any rate, I write faster and less frustrated when I know where I'm headed. Now the last of... The book I just finished, Valour and Vanity, is an example of where I tried a different format. Because it's a heist novel. It's basically Jane Austen writes Oceans 11.
[Howard] With magic.
[Mary] With magic.
[Howard] I've read it. It's delightful.
[Mary] In any case, my usual outlining process did not work for this book. Because a heist novel has very specific elements... We spent some time talking in one of the podcasts, but it has such specific elements that what I ended up having to do was listing the scenic require... The structural requirements of a heist. In order to be a heist, you have to have essentially a car chase, you have to have the reversal, this whole list of things. Then I made a... I put these down in the order in which they usually occur, just as... I need a car chase, which in this is a gondola chase. It's in Venice.
[Mary] Then I made a list of set pieces, what I call them. Which I've really cool things that you can do with magic in Venice, with Glamorists and Lord Byron and Dr. Who...
[Mary] Then I just slotted them in. It's like, okay, well, I think... I know I want a gondola chase, oh, and that can go here. So I slotted it in that way. It was a very alien way of working for me, but it was the only way that this particular novel came together.

[Brandon] Excellent. Let's do our book of the week. Which is going today to be given to us by Howard. The Human Division.
[Howard] The Human Division. The Human Division by John Scalzi, which...
[Brandon] Scalzi!
[Howard] Actually, when I first... When I began subscribing to this electronically, I realized it really was the worst web comic ever. Because it was coming out once a week, and there were no pictures...
[Howard] And I had to pay to get it. Which was really... It was really quite bad as a web comic. As a book, it's delightful. It's... We talked about... I don't know what order these episodes are going to air in, we've talked about pacing and chapters and scene-sequel. Human Division is a collection of essentially short stories or novelettes with shifting POVs but a constant theme, constant setting, some recurring characters. It's all about political intrigue in Scalzi's Old Man's War universe.
[Mary] And narrated by Wil Wheaton.
[Howard] It's narrated by Wil Wheaton, and it's available on audible. Head out to, start a four... 30 day free trial membership. I'll get this right eventually. Get the Human Division for free, and Wil Wheaton will read it to you.

[Brandon] Scalzi! All right. Next question was actually why is Scalzi my nemesis? For those don't know, John Scalzi is my evil nemesis. Now, I am not his nemesis. So don't get this wrong. I'm not putting anything upon Scalzi that way. But he definitely is my evil nemesis. What happened is, when I first got published... He and I got published the same year in novel form, he'd worked in nonfiction quite a bit. But our releases were in the same year. I started going to conventions and signing my book. Every... Like at the conventions, they have these bookstores in the convention space that are out there. I would go and I would be like, "Hey, can I sign my copies... The copies... Your copies of my book?" They'd be like, "Yeah, sure, it's right over there." I'd go over and look, and there was this Scalzi guy right next to me. Sanderson, Scalzi. Who had already been there and signed his books. I went to like a bookstore off-site. They're like, "Yeah, that other nice guy was just in here, John Scalzi." I'm like, "Who is this guy?" Then the next year, the nomination for the Campbell award came out, and there's that Scalzi guy who is on there. I'm like, "Who is this guy?" All of my friends are like, "Yeah, he's going to win." I'm like, "Gah!" So I raised my fist to the air and started, any time someone mentions his name, started yelling, "Scalzi!" It became this big fun thing among my friends. To the point that we dubbed one of my pens Scalzi Bane.
[Brandon] Which we joked was the one true pen which would some day slay John Scalzi. I'd never met the guy at this point. Then I got to WorldCon and he was so nice. I'm like, "Oh, no, my evil nemesis is a nice guy. What does that make me?"
[Mary] That makes you the villain.
[Brandon] That makes me the villain. Yeah. My friends... Dan, do you want to tell... Were you involved in this stupid thing?
[Dan] Are you talking about the Scalzi award?
[Brandon] The Scalzi award. Yes.
[Dan] That's exactly what I wanted to say.
[Brandon] Go ahead.
[Dan] One of our other friends, Isaac and I, decided... At the WorldCon where they were both nominated for the Campbell, and we all knew Scalzi was going to win, we felt bad for Brandon and we wanted him to win something. So we figured he should win the Scalzi award. This was at the LA Con, so it was just like two blocks from the little Disneyland thingy and they had a Lego store. So we went over to the Lego store and built a little rocketship that looked like a Hugo award out of Legos. But we thought this would be so much cooler if we could get Scalzi to sign it. So we took one of the key Lego pieces and tracked him down at WorldCon and handed him a Lego and said, "Could you sign this for us?" He stared at that for a good 30 seconds and finally said, "This is going to come back and bite me, isn't it?" But he did sign it. Then we later got a picture of him and Brandon and the Scalzi award and Scalzi Bane. Scalzi of course wearing his little Campbell tiara.
[Brandon] I still have the Scalzi award. They dubbed it the person to lose to John Scalzi by the greatest margin. Because I was last place for the Campbell award. So, yes, I may have to have passed that one. I should have passed that on to someone else.
[Howard] As John Scalzi pointed out when we had dinner with him in Salt Lake, being his... Having him as a nemesis has worked out pretty well for you career wise.
[Brandon] Yes it happens. More people should choose John Scalzi as their nemesis. Let's get back to something serious so we can end this on a note that isn't about me doing something stupid.

[Brandon] Dan and Howard. When you had full-time work, what was the best way to reset when you came home? Mary, did you ever have a full-time job, like the puppeting... Puppeteering while...
[Mary] Yeah.
[Brandon] So this can apply to you, puppeteering... I don't know what the proper term is. I'm sorry.
[Mary] Puppeteering is correct.
[Brandon] Okay. When you came home, how did you...
[Dan] I thought we weren't going to end on you doing stupid things?
[Brandon] I just wanted you a chance to speak, so you can show me up with stupidity.
[Dan] No problem.
[Brandon] When... What is the best way to reset when you come home, particularly when your job used in the same parts of your brain that writing does.
[Howard] [whistle]
[Dan] Yeah, I did then a lot of what I do now, which is I broke up my writing with videogames. That... Today I'll usually do something like Diablo or Star Trek. Back then, I would be so beaten down by how much I hated my job and my cubicle and whatever that I would come home and play shooter games and just blow everyone up for a half an hour. Then I'd say, "Okay, I'm ready." Then I'd go back and write some stuff.
[Howard] See, instead of doing the virtual killing like that, I commuted for 15 minutes on the freeway. You may have read about that. No, I would just... On the commute, I would try and put aside all the junk from work and start running character dialogue in my head. Maybe I was cursing at the other drivers and driving too fast, but it was an activity that divided my day into two pieces. Then I got home. I'll be quite honest, I have lots and lots of regrets because during that time period, I was at a 60 to 70 hour per week high power career position. I was managing $100 million business unit for Novell. It was very soul sucking. Resetting was hard. Then I got home and paid no attention to my family for another 20 or 30 hours a week in order to create the comic. That's four years of my life that... I mean, I love where I am now, but I do not get that time back. If I'd known what that was going to cost in terms of relationships with my kids and wife, I don't know that I could do it again.
[Brandon] Wow. We might be podcasting with Dashner right now.
[Howard] You might be podcasting with Dashner. Yeah.
[Brandon] Mary? Any advice here?
[Mary] Yeah. So. You'd asked if I'd had a full-time job. Actually, when I started writing was I had a wrist injury and had a desk job for a while. That was actually when I started writing. I found that way easier than balancing it with my puppetry career. Because I was doing sales for Portland Spirit River Cruise Dinner Boat. It was... It didn't use any of the same parts of my brain. That was fine. I biked to work. So resetting while biking. The puppetry, when I am performing, it doesn't use the same part of my brain. But when I am designing, it uses exactly the same parts of my brain. Like when I have projects due in both puppetry and fiction, it is very hard to balance those two. So what I do is, I usually try to do some kind of physical activity. Washing dishes, going for a walk, something that gives me a... Gets the blood moving and gives me time to switch gears. I will force myself... I have to actually start thinking, "Okay..." Start querying myself. We talked about this actually to our students today, but querying myself about how to... What my characters were going to do, in order to switch the gear. Then coming back I would have to go, "Okay, and the knee joint is going to go where and how am I attaching the eagle balls?"
[Brandon] Okay. Well, we are going to end there.
[Mary] It's a ball and socket joint. It's a ball and socket joint on an eagle.
[Brandon] Got it. Got it. Got it. That's totally what I was thinking of.
[Howard] Very American Eagle.
[Brandon] Yes, yes.
[Mary] They were... Yeah. It was actually an eagle for Neil Gaiman.
[Brandon] Nice.
[Mary] Neil Gaiman's eagle balls.
[Dan] That totally sounds like a microbrew, kind of...
[Brandon] Clean rating! Oh, that's a great microbrew. That's actually Scalzi's next band.

[Brandon] Dan. You have to follow that up with a writing prompt.
[Dan] I have to follow... Writing prompt? Personally, I was just fascinated by the idea that Mary got a wrist injury puppeteering. Like was it opening the puppet's mouth too wide that did it? Write a story in which someone is doing a puppeteering move so extreme that they end up hospitalized.
[Brandon] All right. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.
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