I have poked around the internet and found that a few people seem to think that I rushed to get my first book, Fuzzy Ergo Sum, to the publisher to beat John Scalzi’s book, Fuzzy Nation, to print. I want to say right now that this is completely untrue. So, I will relay the history of my effort to get my first book published.
Initially, FES was going to be a piece of fanfic written for my own amusement and that of everybody in the Piper-L discussion group. I posted a few excerpts from my attempts there and got some pretty good feedback and some helpful suggestions. One of the areas of contention was my desire to name one of the characters John Carter from Mars Colony. Obviously, this didn’t go over with the group so I changed it to John Morgan.
I worked on the story off and on for the next couple of years, even after returning to college at Wayne State U in Detroit. While in college I took a Creative Writing class under Christopher Leland (1951-2012) and sat quietly while the work I had done thus far was gleefully eviscerated by the class. Anybody who ever took a writing class knows that this is normal. After graduation I became side-tracked with other writing projects. I never completely put FES down, but it was lower on my list of priorities. I wanted to get some of my own original ideas out there.
Then tragedy struck in September of 2008; the Piper-L was disbanded. The moderator, Nathan Brindle, became tired of some of the arguments and infighting between a few of the members and dropped the whole mess into Null Space. Well, I wasn’t about to sit still for that, so I opened Piper-Worlds in Yahoo Groups while David Johnson created the Zarthani.net H. Beam Piper List. I was briefly a member on the Zarthani.net, then had a falling out with David Johnson and devoted my efforts to the Piper-Worlds group exclusively.
One of the members of the Piper-Worlds was author John F. Carr, Piper’s biographer and author of several sequels to Piper’s Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. I considered it significant and a good omen that John joined my group. In 2009 he even offered to look over what I had on FES thus far. Quite the thrill for me, really! Well, look it over he did and his first comment was, “I felt the story didn’t really get started until around page 80.”
Page 80. Out of 120 odd pages. I will admit I was a bit crestfallen, but he was quite correct. I spent far too much time on setup and not enough on plot development. So, I started over. I did recycle numerous elements from the previous effort, but I also darkened the tone. I realized it was too Disney. Piper never did that so I wasn’t going to either. That is when I came up with the idea to…hmmmm…no, no spoilers. You’ll have to read it for yourself.
One of the things some of the hard core Piper fans do is get together once a year for the Irregulars Muster. Here we meet up in State College, Pennsylvania then drive out to see such historic places as where Piper lived (some of which are parking lots now, sadly) geographical locations that appeared in his writings, mostly Lord Kalvan, and just talk about Piper and anything else we feel like doing. It was during the muster of 2009 that John asked me when I was going to finish my Fuzzy book so he could publish it.
Whaaaat? I was stunned. I didn’t even know he was interested. That is when I got busy for real. It took me about a year and a half to get the book into a shape that I figured would be a worthwhile read. John and a few others gave me some advice and suggestions to improve the story. Around May I was informed that another author was also doing a Fuzzy book. First I thought, Cool. The more the merrier. There is always room for another Fuzzy book in the world.
In all honesty I had never heard of John Scalzi or Old Man’s War, or any of his other works. Well, he never heard of me, either, so I guess that made us even. Then I met him at the 2010 Penguicon in Troy, Michigan. Seemed like a nice enough guy and he told me I was working in the Piper Prime universe while he was working outside of that. Also cool.
I was back to work and hard at it. Scalzi and I were both doing Fuzzy books, but were working in completely different universes. I never felt that we were in competition.
The deadline John gave me was December 2010. In order to meet the deadline I had to break the story up into two books. At first I didn’t like the idea, then realized it would take at least another year to tell the entire story the way I wanted to tell it. Too many people had already expressed interest in the book (yeah, my mom, too) so I decided to end it on a cliffhanger and get busy on the second book PDQ. Prior to writing FES, I had never written more than 60,000 words on anything. FES rounded out at around 86,000 words, and Caveat Fuzzy 115,000. Not bad for a guy who does 35 words a minute with two fingers and the occasional thumb.
Any published author will tell you that, unless they are Stephen King, they have zero control on when the book will be printed and distributed. I though since the book was done in December it would be out there by January. Ah, the delusion! First it has to go through editing, re-editing, re-re-editing, galley layout, proof-reading, more editing, final layout, cover art approval, then a bunch a stuff I know nothing about before actual printing. That took another 4 months!
That my book came out the month before Scalzi’s is just happenstance. I started work long before he did (I presume, I doubt he messed with it for several years the way I did) and the only surprising thing, to me, is that it only came out a month before, and not a year or two earlier given how long I was at it.
I should point out that this is my first published work; I was not an experienced writer and could not dash off over 85,000 words in a few months. There was simply no way I could have beat Fuzzy Nation out if I started upon hearing about it. I was neither that fast nor that experienced. I am a little faster now, but I still doubt I could swing an entire book of any size in less than six months.
So, there you have it. The only coat tails I can be accused of riding, if any, are that of H. Beam Piper. Frankly, anybody writing a Fuzzy book would have to admit to the same; William Tuning, Ardath Mayhar and John Scalzi included. That doesn’t make any of us bad writers or literary thieves. It allows us to honor the man who started it all; H. Beam Piper.
One more thing. I am not commenting on another authors work, so don’t ask me what I think of Fuzzy Nation. I don’t feel it is appropriate, especially since Mr. Scalzi has shown me the same courtesy.
Wolfgang S. Diehr