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QUESTION:

I was wondering how long it took you to write the Ender Series and how much you like it compared to the rest of your work that you've done in your career? What is your favorite series that you have written as of now?

-- Submitted by Ryan Bane

OSC REPLIES:

Each book in the Ender series has its own history. "Ender's Game" began when I was sixteen and thought of the idea of the battle school as a way to train soldiers for 3-D combat without the risk of them flying off into space when they make mistakes. Later, when I was 24, I finally thought of the idea of having the soldiers at battle school be children, and then I wrote the story in two days. With a few revisions later at Ben Bova's request, the story was published in Analog in 1977, and was popular enough to be included in several anthologies.

In about 1979, I started working on an idea for a novel about a world in which warfare is an essential step in the reproductive cycle of an alien species -- the idea that would give rise to the piggies in Speaker for the Dead. I was also working on the idea of someone who sings at funerals, and thought of combining the ideas into one novel. My wife informed me that I'd done enough stories about music -- and I knew she was right. So I changed it to "Speaker of Death" and there the idea sat for a couple of years. Then, in 1981, I realized that if the speaker of death were Ender Wiggin, long, long after the events in Ender's Game, the story really worked. With that premise, I sold the book to Tom Doherty for his new publishing company, TOR.

But writing Speaker for the Dead (as it was now called) gave me fits, and the reason was simple: Getting from the end of Ender's Game to the beginning of the real story of Speaker for the Dead was taking way, way too long. The best solution was to rewrite the story "Ender's Game" -- and the best way to do that was to adapt it to a novel. So Tom agreed to add Ender's Game to the contract and I set out to write the novel. As is usual with my books, I wrote the first several short chapters and then waited a few weeks -- in this case to do a book signing tour for my novel Saints -- before returning to the book. So I spent a week writing the opening, and then three more weeks writing the rest of the book.

Then, after writing Wyrms as sort of a "warm-up" to the concept of the Descolada, which was now threatening to take over Speaker for the Dead, I set out to write Speaker. I got about a hundred and twenty pages into it, when Gregg Keizer, a friend and fellow editor at Compute! Books in Greensboro, made it clear that he couldn't tell the characters apart -- the novel wasn't working. I threw it out and began again, earlier in the story. This time, with Novinha as the root of the story, I was able to finish. Again, one week for the opening I threw away, then about three weeks, maybe a bit longer, to write the rest of the book.

Xenocide and Children of the Mind were supposed to be one volume, based on an idea I'd pitched to Jim Frenkel at Dell, called "Philotes." I wasn't ready to write it then; not till my agent sold the "Ender trilogy" in England and I kind of had to come up with a third volume did that idea come back to the surface. It took several years before I was ready to write it even then, however, and as I got to about 100,000 words and realized that I was only a quarter of the way through the outline, I realized something had to give. Furthermore, while I knew where the Han Qing-jao storyline was going, I had not yet clearly resolved what would happen once certain characters appeared "outside." So I called Beth Meacham and made sure it was all right for me to split the book in half. The Han Qing-jao storyline would provide the closure for this book, while the emergence of the characters who appear at the end would be the cliffhanger setup for completion of that story. It took about a month and a half to write Xenocide.

Again, years passed, until I was able to begin Children of the Mind, having found my way into it through some thoughts I'd had about Japanese culture and the way power sometimes seems to be located in places different from what seems to be the case. This novel was written under very odd circumstances. I had begun it (as usual) and worked on it for a week when I had to go to San Rafael to work on the dialogue for a LucasArts computer game. Mornings I would go to the office and write dialogue for "The Dig," then afternoons I would come back to my hot hotel room (a lovely old-fashioned hotel, but no air-conditioning, and it was June) and write Children of the Mind, then spend the evening playing Sid Meier's "Colonization" -- three completely different projects. But in a month, I had finished both the game and the book.

As to how much I like the Ender series, I can only say that every book represented an attempt to tell a story I cared about and believed in as clearly and powerfully as possible. There's not a book I've written in which I have not found flaws, but in every case it was the best I could do at the time I wrote it. The five series I've worked with in my career -- Ender, Alvin, Homecoming, Mayflower, and Pastwatch -- each have their own reason for being and there are things I love about them all. Ender allowed me to explore the meaning of humanity and how we judge each other. Alvin is my chance to explore the history of the American community -- plus it's plain fun to write. Homecoming was my exploration of the Book of Mormon as well as a serious effort at working out how communities function and form and collapse. Mayflower is a revolutionary story in the midst of a paean to smalltown life. Pastwatch allows me to address key points in history, a sort of historical "Just-So" story. I love doing all these things. At the same time, if any of these series ever became repetitive, the same book over and over, I'd quit doing it. It's only because each novel in the series stands alone, with new issues to explore and new characters to work with, that I can enjoy writing them. None is my favorite; all are my favorite.

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