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Archive for the ‘Legion’ Category

Gasping for Words: The Pro Writer Life

As those of you who pre-ordered The Broken Heavens likely already know, the release date has been pushed back from October to January. I know that seems like a lot because that extra month there at the end pushes it into 2018. But I promise the book is coming along! Alas, my usual “write a book in a week in the woods” strategy didn’t work for this one, so I’m still slogging along every week. I’m also writing a little most days on it to try and keep the momentum going instead of just binge writing on weekends. I have another book backed up behind this one (which was pushed out to 2019 for internal publisher list reasons unrelated so yay I’m doing fine!), and then I’m free to write something on spec. What that thing will be, I don’t know, but I’m already looking forward to writing it.

While authors aren’t pleased to push back release dates either, the truth was I simply didn’t have a book. Like, if I’d had 100k or something, that would be something… but. I didn’t. I barely had enough words to count as a novella, let alone a novel.

Like a lot of folks, I lost a couple months last year adjusting to this new, very surreal timeline. My day job suffered in the same way, with me barely able to scrabble along. But even then, based on my writing schedule and the amount of words I can churn out when I need to, I still had time. When I spent my week in the woods between day jobs pounding out the words and assisting with the last transitional stuff for the old day job, I re-read Rachel Aaron’s “2k to 10k” trying to figure out why I wasn’t making word count like I usually did.

There were two big issues: the first was that I had no excitement whatsoever in the writing, scene by scene. Some of this is because my agent and I had to aggressively outline this one to keep all the timelines (and worlds!) straight. I’m a discovery writer, and I found myself plodding through the scenes going, “OK, this happens, then this happens, then this happens,” which was drudgery. The second was something that both Aaron touches on in the book and something my agent mentioned, which is that maybe there was something broken in the book that my subconscious knew but I didn’t. I’ve gone back already and painfully rewritten several scenes from different POV characters, because I’d broken the golden rule of telling a scene from the POV of the character who had the most at stake in the scene.

I write for a living at my day job, so I know I can crank out any old thing to deadline if I have to. But I don’t want my novel writing life to be like my day job. While writing will always be work, I want to at least feel some joy and excitement about the work sometimes, and frankly – I haven’t been feeling anything but panic for a couple years straight now. Even the money wasn’t super motivating this time. You start to wonder why you’re doing something you don’t love now that all your basic needs are met.

And, of course, the word that kept bubbling up whenever I’d talk about this with other writers was the one whispered often in writer circles, and that word was “Burnout.” This is the eighth book I’ve written since 2011. Since last year, I’ve also started putting out a short story every month. And I’ve done that all while holding down a job in marketing and advertising. While I don’t consider that to be super prolific compared to some of my peers putting out two, three, five(!) books a year, the writers who do that are generally fulltime authors. I’m not. Keeping up with all of this has been difficult, and I’ve known for some time that my pace just isn’t sustainable. In conversation with a colleague sometime back, they noted that I was showing all the classic signs of an imminent burnout.  “Something has to push,” they said. “Writers where you are either quit their day jobs or take a couple years off or drop out all together.” I, of course, didn’t want to do any of those things.

I recently read about a writer who took five years away from their day job while their spouse worked and wrote a novel that then broke out and hit the bestseller list. This story made me irrationally angry, because it’s the story of a lot of full-time writers I know, and it’s just not an option in my situation. I do like what I do at my day job, and I’m very good at it, and I’m compensated appropriately. For better or worse, I carry a lot of weight doing the money generation, and while it’s cool to have marketable skills, in practice it means you are working all the time. I was up at 5:30 a.m. again today to work on this post, and up at the same time yesterday, and last week, to review contracts, work on Patreon stuff, revise Broken Heavens chapters, etc. etc. You get really tired of working and all you want is to take six months off and go hike the PCT.

This was a big reason I pushed out The Broken Heavens the first time – I wanted to take a couple months away from the grind and recharge. Alas, those recharge months happened at the same time as the election, and of course, I was simply going from two full time jobs to one, not actually doing nothing. So much for recharging.

As I told my agent, I’ve been churning hard the last two or three years in particular because I kept feeling like a breakout book was just around the corner. I could feel it. The Geek Feminist Revolution had a ton of amazing buzz and huge reactions when I’d do events. It did OK! It even got nominated for a Hugo! But: not a breakout book. You hold your breath every time a novel is released, giving it everything you’ve got to get it to earn out, and hopefully break out. The Stars are Legion is selling well, getting great reviews, and yes, the audio book is now finally out! But again: it’s not likely to save me from having to work full time and have a simultaneous novel writing career either. I like money, I like health insurance, and our society – especially the current one – is not set up to support that long-term for novel writers. I can’t rely on health insurance that’s constantly in danger of getting yanked away by a regime change.

So here I am, writing 1100 words at 6am, now, that’s basically just, “Hey, sit tight, the book’s pushed a bit,” and “hey, audio book is out,” and “hey, I’m still making lots of great stories, including one that was just accepted by Apex Magazine!” and “hey keep writing, because we could all die in nuclear fire tomorrow!”

Living the dream, my friends.

Adjust your dreams accordingly.


POSTSCRIPT:

I realize that a lot of the reason I haven’t been blogging as much here is twofold (threefold): I just came off writing a lot of articles for the Stars are Legion tour, and do most blogging now on Patreon for $10+ backers. The second is that, frankly, the sorts of “problems” one has at this level as a pro writer are the sorts of “problems” that I WISHED I had as a n00b, and I’m fully aware of how it comes out to hear, “Boo hoo so many people want me to write books for them I can barely keep up!” and “Boo hoo I just want to sit on the porch and drink!” (doesn’t everyone? etc).

 

 

The Stars Are Legion: Blog Tour Roundup

So there are still tons of pieces trickling in here for The Stars are Legion WORLD TOUR. I’ve booked a couple more podcasts, I have a couple more articles set to come out in March, but here’s the bulk of what ran during release month, in case you missed it.

I’m very proud of a lot of these pieces. As you can see, this isn’t quite as much as I usually do, but frankly, I have a book due in four weeks, and I simply ran out of time (I cancelled some articles). First week sales are also strong, so I didn’t feel as guilty about bowing out. I may regret that later, but as you can see from the second section, as this point readers are out there picking up the banner, so I can get back to work on new words. This is what I get for not thinking ahead with pushing out my book deadlines….

Anyway, enjoy!

And here’s what some other folks had to say about The Stars are Legion this month:

AND NOW I WILL DISAPPEAR INTO THE NIGHT

Tomorrow is March 1st, and I have a book due April 3rd, so if you are a writer, you can guess my mental state right now (I also have a Patreon story due tonight! ha ha). As noted, we still have some other pieces set to run: in particular in Writer’s Digest, Huffington Post, and Drinks with Reads, plus two more podcasts scheduled, and I’ll share those as they go live. But for now, I need to keep my head down and keep my agent happy and turn in some more pages.

My goal is to be scarce around the interwebs and hit up a cabin in the woods retreat week after next, because ye gods does this book need it.

Also, rereading this a lot. ::whistles innocently::

Book Launch: THE STARS ARE LEGION

Hey hey it’s the standalone space opera with gooey organic worldships and warring matriarchies you’ve all been waiting! The Stars are Legion is out today in the US and UK/Commonwealth.

But don’t take my word for all this awesome!

Here’s what people are saying:

“Grabs you like a gravity well and won’t let go. This is a dark, haunting, recursive tale, unlike any other space opera with which you’re familiar. Discovering Kameron Hurley’s work is like finding a whole new galaxy, and she is the star at its center.”

Chuck Wendig, New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath

“With mind-bending betrayals, heart-wrenching loves, souls and bodies driven to frenetic motion by war and hope, The Stars are Legion is a profoundly moving tale of self-discovery and self-construction in a world as wondrously layered as its unforgettable protagonist.”

Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings

“Badass.”

John Scalzi

“The Stars Are Legion is poised to be Kameron Hurley’s mainstream breakthrough, but apparently no one told her. It’s unlike any space opera you’ve ever read—a bizarro blend of New Weird adventure, political thriller, and body horror; and an intimate examination of two deeply damaged women. It’s as visceral and violently angry as anything she’s ever written, a ragged scream from the heart of a broken world—but one not past mending, if there are people brave enough to build a better one.”

Joel Cunningham, Barnes and Noble SFF Review

“A visceral, optimistic mashup of new weird and grimdark science fiction that is a cracking good read. Hurley has really leveled up.”

—- MaryJo Schimelpfenig, Powell’s Books

And the media!

Washington Post “Best SF/F to read in February”

“Hurley’s take is one-of-a-kind: equal parts love story and revenge tale, mixed with adventure science fiction and body horror.”

Chicago Tribune “Kameron Hurley’s all-woman space opera leads our science-fiction roundup”

“the most unusual and powerfully disturbing space operas we’re likely to see this year.”

–Publishers Weekly STARRED review 
http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4814-4793-5
“In a universe where the word for spaceship is the same as for world, two women struggle to escape a perpetual war in this dystopic yet hopeful space opera. Zan works to regain her memory of being the only survivor from a raid on a mystery ship, while stuck in a royal-court setting where she trusts no one but Jayd, her adoptive sister. Jayd, daughter and aide to the Lord Katazyrna, keeps her own secrets, including one that could turn Zan against her. Both are removed from their positions when the Katazyrna are ambushed by rivals, with Zan dropped down a recycler and Jayd taken as consort by the rival lord. Don’t be led astray by the gendered titles; this universe is populated entirely by women. Hugo-winner Hurley (Empire Ascendant) gives the reader little, with both protagonists unable or unwilling to explain much. As they encounter the surprising practices (including blood sacrifice, experimentation on live subjects, and hunting of genetic mutants) among the different layers of the world-ships, the reader shares their astonishment and anxiety. Hurley places herself squarely on the side of love and trust over hate and fear, even as she details how trust can be abused and love can be manipulated. She excels at keeping the reader involved and supportive of Zan and Jayd when they seem most lost, and even when they are most opposed to each other. This gripping book is both hard to read and easy to appreciate. 

–Kirkus  “February’s Must Reads in Science Fiction and Fantasy.”

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/februarys-must-read-science-fiction-and-fantasy/

“This is a space opera that makes readers rethink their default expectations.”

–Publishers Weekly RAN mention of “The Most Anticipated Novels of Spring 2017,” in Tipsheet Newsletter on 1/27

http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=d684790bedf89afe76e7b9156&id=e8238b8f82&e=32def2663a

–Publishers Weekly “The Most Anticipated Novels of Spring 2017.” 1/25

“Hurley, who’s earned increasing acclaim for both her fiction and her essays, sets this intricate and morally complex novel in a universe of warring world ships populated entirely by women.”

–Kirkus
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kameron-hurley/the-stars-are-legion/

Publishers Weekly RAN “Spring 2017 Announcements: SF, Fantasy & Horror”also featuring cover photo 12/9 (S&S/FB)
http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/new-titles/adult-announcements/article/72243-spring-2017-announcements-sf-fantasy-horror.html
“Hurley, who’s earned increasing acclaim for both her fiction and her essays, sets this intricate and morally complex novel in a universe of warring world ships populated entirely by women.”

AND THE ONLINES!

–Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog  “Booksellers Picks,”

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/bn-booksellers-picks-the-best-science-fiction-and-fantasy-books-of-february-2017/

“This is space opera like you’ve never seem it—angry, feminist, furiously inventive, and not a little frightening.”

–Barnes and Noble Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/stars-legion-kameron-hurley-transforms-space-opera-scream-rage/

“This book is unlike any space opera I’ve ever read. I had no idea what to expect, page by page. It is a sweeping epic, monstrous in its intent, naked in its hopes, and devastating in its reveals.”

–Omnivoracious  “Weekend Reading”
http://www.omnivoracious.com/2017/01/weekend-reading-amazon-book-review-1.html
Adrian Liang: “The second book with a what-the-heck-is-going-on? vibe is Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion, an SF novel told mostly from the point of view of Zan, a warrior whose memory disappears every time she enters a worldship in an attempt to overthrow it. Zan wakes after her most recent attack in the middle of a space war, and the person who tells her to trust her is the one person she yearns to trust the most but knows she must not. Zan’s amnesia, worldships and space-faring vehicles that are organic rather than metal, and secrets layered upon secrets make this a mesmerizing read.”
–Barnes and Noble Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Blog  “The Science Fiction and Fantasy Books We Loved in October,’
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/science-fiction-fantasy-books-loved-october/
Joel: “The Stars Are Legion is poised to be Kameron Hurley’s mainstream breakthrough, but apparently no one told her. It is unlike any space opera you’ve ever read—its story of two warring families seeking to control a galaxy patrolled by grotesque organic worldships is a bizarro blend of New Weird adventure, political thriller, and body horror; and an intimate examination of two deeply damaged women. It’s as visceral and violently angry as anything she’s ever written, a ragged scream from the heart of a broken world—but one not past mending, if there are people brave enough to build a better one. This book isn’t out until February; best start preparing yourself for it now.”
 
–Michael Patrick Hicks 
http://www.michaelpatrickhicks.com/blog/2017/1/6/review-the-stars-are-legion-by-kameron-hurley
“The world-building, though, is where The Stars Are Legion really shines. Hurley takes the literary technique of world-building up a notch by making actual world building a strong element of the plot itself.”

–Ann Leckie 
http://www.annleckie.com/2016/11/19/things-ive-read-lately/
“So, this is chock full of action and fights and battles and betrayals and political intrigue. And those world-ships? They are all biological. Nothing in this fleet is built, it’s all birthed, and there are tentacles and blood and mucous and body fluids everywhere. It’s kind of awesome fun. You should totally read it when it comes out. In, um, February of next year.”

–Mur Lafferty 
http://murverse.com/2016-reading/

–Helen Lowe
http://helenlowe.info/blog/2016/12/28/an-avid-reader-special-paul-weimers-five-most-anticipated-books-of-2017/

 —Tor.com

http://www.tor.com/sweepstakes/the-stars-are-legion-sweepstakes/

–Bustle  “The 17 Best Fiction Books Coming in February 2017.”

https://www.bustle.com/p/the-17-best-fiction-books-coming-in-february-2017-34006

“Violent and imaginative, The Stars Are Legion is exactly the book you’ve been craving.”

–i09 “Plan a Great Escape With All of the New Scifi and Fantasy Books in February,” o

http://io9.gizmodo.com/plan-a-great-escape-with-all-of-the-new-scifi-and-fanta-1791842017

–The Verge “There are more new science fiction and fantasy novels than you can handle this February,”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/2/1/14146360/sci-fi-fantasy-books-recommendations-february-2017

Tor.com “Fiction Affliction,”

http://www.tor.com/2017/01/31/fiction-affliction-february-releases-in-science-fiction-5/comment-page-1/
–AutoStradde  45 Queer and Feminist Books You Need to Read in Early 2017
https://www.autostraddle.com/winter-spring-2017-queer-feminist-books-365236/

–io9  “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in 2017”
http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-best-science-fiction-and-fantasy-books-coming-in-20-1790828758

–The Verge“33 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books That Everyone Will Be Talking About in 2017.” 
http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/5/13811144/sci-fi-fantasy-book-recommendations-2017

–Bookriot  “New Books for Winter 2017” list on 12/16
http://bookriot.com/2016/12/16/12-new-books-for-winter-2017/
“What makes epic space operas better? When they feature two kick-ass sisters determined to save their war-torn worlds in a universe populated entirely by women. While not for sensitive readers, this brutal story really packs a punch.”

–Girls In Capes 

http://girlsincapes.com/2017/02/03/starslegion-hurley/

Legion is a wonderful book, and I did enjoy it for the way it made me think about the world, but it’s not a book to read if you’re looking specifically for better and more diverse types of romances. If you’re not super interested in happy romances, this would be a perfectly fine book for you, but if any book epitomizes our Toxic Romance theme for this month, this one is it.

While I truly enjoyed The Stars Are Legion, it’s definitely not perfect for all readers. It’s a great science fiction read for fantasy-lovers and perfect for people who aren’t precisely squeamish. And, of course, avid Hurley fans will truly enjoy this book. 

Pop Culture Universe

http://pop-verse.com/2017/02/01/the-stars-are-legion-by-kameron-hurley/

“The Stars are Legion presents an epic war of families, generations, and worlds amongst an intriguingly unique fictional setting.”

Best Science Fiction Books to Read in February “Books to look out for in February”

http://bestsciencefictionbooks.com/blog/8-books-to-look-out-for-in-february/

–Grimdark 

https://grimdarkmagazine.com/blogs/news/review-of-the-stars-are-legion-by-kameron-hurley

“The story quickly takes off on a fast pace with plenty of action, conflict, fighting, gore, tension, deceit, revenge, political intrigue, monsters, moral ambiguity, and brilliantly vivid and original world-building that will excite even the most diehard grimdark sci-fi fan.”

–Bibliosanctum 

https://bibliosanctum.com/2017/01/30/excerpt-and-giveaway-the-stars-are-legion-by-kameron-hurley/
Notes: TS wrote to Stephenie about interest in an excerpt

–Fantasy Faction “Most Anticipated Fantasy Novels of 2017: Publisher’s Choice” http://fantasy-faction.com/2017/most-anticipated-fantasy-novels-of-2017-publishers-choice

 –The Illustrated Page 
https://theillustratedpage.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/review-of-the-stars-are-legion-by-kameron-hurley/
“The Stars Are Legion is quintessentially Kameron Hurley: violent and feminist. This stand alone science fiction novel is as dark as I’ve come to expect from Hurley, but it has an optimistic heart…The Stars Are Legion has one of the most creative science fiction settings I’ve ever read. ”

–S and F Reviews 
http://sfandfreviews.blogspot.com/2017/01/kameron-hurley-stars-are-legion.html
The Stars Are Legion is weird, strange, and horrifyingly wondrous. It asks a lot of big questions, and lets us try and find our own answers. Read this one – it’s smart, innovative and compelling in equal measure.”

–BlackGate 
https://www.blackgate.com/2017/01/18/future-treasures-the-stars-are-legion-by-kameron-hurley/

–Unbound Worlds “Top 10 Science Fiction Novels I Want Now.”
http://www.unboundworlds.com/2017/01/top-10-2017-science-fiction-novels-want-now/

–Nerds of A Feather  “New Books Spotlight,”
http://www.nerds-feather.com/2017/01/new-books-spotlight.html
Anything from Hurley is an insta-buy for me, and when I read the first chapter on Tor.com, I was hooked.I have been looking forward to this book since they first announced it. Saga Press is on fire with their line-ups.

–LGBTQ Reads “New releases February 2017,”

https://lgbtqreads.com/2017/02/02/new-releases-february-2017/
–Rinn Reads  “A Guide to 2017 releases,”

https://rinnreads.co.uk/2017/01/28/guide-2017-releases/
–Ageless Pages Reviews 

http://agelesspagesreviews.blogspot.com/2017/01/review-stars-are-legion-by-kameron.html

A unique and strange, fun book, I can say that The Stars Are Legion is definitely one I won’t forget.

–All About Books 
http://itsallaboutbooks.de/2017/01/review-the-stars-are-legion-by-kameron-hurley/
“Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion is a space opera like never seen before, putting weird on a whole new level, and featuring a fantastic cast of brutal, amazing women.”

–Dreaming About Other Worlds 
http://dreamingaboutotherworlds.blogspot.com/2017/01/follow-friday-287-is-shorthand-for.html

–Book Scrolling  The Most Anticipated Book Releases of 2017
http://www.bookscrolling.com/anticipated-book-releases-2017-aggregated-list/

–The Little Book Owl  Most Anticipated Books of 2017,”
https://thelittlebookowl.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/most-anticipated-books-2017/

–Virginia’s Bookblr  “LGBTQIA+ Books Coming Out This Year.”
http://virginiareads.tumblr.com/post/155490203407/lgbtqia-books-coming-out-in-2017

–Stories from the Shelf “January TBR”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=268&v=itSYvn8GNy0

–James Davis Nicoll
http://jamesdavisnicoll.com/review/seven-times-i-pierce-my-heart
“Very fast paced and impossible to put down.”

–Kalandi“Anticipated 2017 releases,”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peb0jZdMNFw

–Shelf Inflicted 
http://www.shelfinflicted.com/2016/12/the-stars-are-legion-by-kameron-hurley.html
“.now….you hear that boom? thats Kameron Hurley, she just dropped the mic on scifi for 2017. No spoilers but this story is beautiful, brutal as fuck, giant space opera. Weird, with just touchstones to the world we know and massive in scope. It is how Science fiction SHOULD BE DONE. Show me new worlds and things I never seen, put the bizarre in my face and make me beg you for more.The bar has been raised, 2017…………you have been warned.Don’t request this ARC, come the release date, go throw money at your book seller, THIS is a winner.

–Bibliotropic  “Top Ten Books I’m looking foward to in 2017.”
https://bibliotropic.net/2016/12/22/top-10-books-im-looking-forward-to-in-2017/

–Bookstr “Best Books to Read This Winter Break.”
https://www.bookstr.com/article/best-books-to-read-this-winter-break/2911

–Little Book Owl RAN “TTT: Books I’m looking forward to For the first half of 2017.” on 12/13 (S&S/FB)
https://thelittlebookowl.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/ttt-books-im-looking-forward-to-for-the-first-half-of-2017/

–Lynn’s Book Blog  “Waiting on Wednesday: The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley #RRSciFiMonth”
https://lynns-books.com/2016/11/30/waiting-on-wednesday-the-stars-are-legion-by-kameron-hurley-rrscifimonth/
“ I haven’t read this author yet but this book sounds amazing and could be the perfect starting place!”

–All About Books “Sci-Fi Month 2016: Upcoming Releases”
http://itsallaboutbooks.de/2016/11/sci-fi-month-2016-upcoming-releases/
“Space opera + stunning cover = sold. Main character is a woman = much excitement. The wait for this one has already been so long (it was announced at the end of 2014!), I have a mighty need”

–Book Escapism  youtube video “Add to TBR”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=85&v=sRUuQ1RHCjE

–Books Bones and Buffy RAN “Tammy’s Top Ten Sci-Fi Books For 2017 – #RRSciFiMonth”
http://booksbonesbuffy.com/2016/11/10/tammys-top-ten-sci-fi-books-for-2017-rrscifimonth/
“[Hurley] is an amazing writer and I’d love to read her again. And this blurb from the publisher has hooked me: “In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune.”

–Tenacious Reader RAN “Waiting on Wednesday – The Stars are Legion”
http://www.tenaciousreader.com/2016/05/18/waiting-on-wednesday-the-stars-are-legion/
“Because I enjoyed Mirror Empire and Dune, I figure I should give this one a shot as well!”

–New Dehli TV “Gadgets”  “Six Exciting SF Books Releasing in February 2017,” on 1/30

http://gadgets.ndtv.com/culture/features/six-exciting-science-fiction-books-releasing-in-february-2017-1653346

 

GO BUYS IT! YOU’LL LOVES IT! And even if you don’t… it sure will give you something to talk to folks about!

Now I’m off to go… uh, write another book. 

Writing Conflict

I was always OK at writing the Big Conflict in a novel. You know, the war, the genocide, the revolution, the revolt, the coup, the big hulking thing that the novel centered around. But it took me a lot longer to figure out how to write about interpersonal tension, and longer still to realize that it was often the interpersonal stuff that interests me most, and keeps people reading.

I’m currently in the process of creating a “what do they want?” cheatsheet for the characters in my next novel, LEGION. When I first started writing book length stuff, I had these elaborate character cards full of all long, boring details about people.  They were way overly descriptive, and took far more time than they ended up being worth, since I’d change a lot of the details as I went along anyway.

These days, I might have a paragraph description of somebody and their major Issues, sure, but I don’t consider the physical descriptions of my characters as all that vital to the character building process anymore. Not like it used to be. Now, the most important questions I have to answer about everybody are:

  •  What do they want?
  • What’s stopping them from getting it?
  • Do they get it?

That tells me what my primary conflicts are. To figure out my secondary conflicts, I look for reasons that the people I threw together might not get along. Maybe somebody hates peanut butter because they believe it’s morally wrong to eat it, and they’re forced to travel with a person who owns a peanut butter factory. Maybe another person is allergic to dogs, and somebody else can turn into a dog. You get the idea. There should be a mix of stuff, though – seemingly small stuff like that and other stuff like, “Character X is a drug addict. Character Y’s mother died of a drug overdose.” Or “Character A’s village was burned by Character B’s people.”

These are secondary conflicts that get played out during those transitory periods between the major conflicts. So you have your main plot bumping along, and your primary character arcs (that what do they want/what’s stopping them/do they get it thing), but along the way there are these secondary or even tertiary bumps that make things just a little bit more difficult. They make bad situations worse. They might even cause an already stressed character to go off the deep end. I found out as I was writing the GOD’S WAR books that these were actually the conflicts I enjoyed the most, because they created a deeper tension to each scene. Now people weren’t just expositing dialogue. They were verbally sparring with one another. You could start to see the heat on the page, and you started anticipating when some character was going to lose it and stab another one in the eye for making fun of the way she shot a gun.

Sometimes I think this is why I often thought “plot” was so boring. I saw plot as a series of events that kept a character from achieving the goal of the story – usually, stopping the bad guys. I didn’t see it as the complex interplay of characters, all with different motives and agendas, pissing each other off on the way to attempting to accomplish something.

Sticky, unstructured, opposing forces smashed together in pursuit of parallel-but-possibly-opposed aims are just so much more interesting to me than “let’s just all save the day cause it’s the right thing to do, mmmmmkay?”

Re-imagining the Legion

I get asked about worldbuilding a lot, and now that I’m starting a new book, LEGION, it’s probably a good time to talk about what’s working for me and what’s not.

Shorter blurb for this one: LEGION is a stand alone space opera about two feuding families battling for control of a legion of worldships sent out beyond the edge of known space. Not that they know any of that.

A lot of folks talk about different aspects of writing like once you know how to do it, you just do it. But the thing is, if you’re somebody really passionate about writing, it’s likely you want to figure out how to be a better writer. Sure, you can write the same formulaic thing time in the same vague setting and make money doing it, but if that’s not what you’re in this for (if I wanted to make money I’d write romance novels or vampire YA), then “getting better” should be high on your list of priorities.

It’s certainly high on mine.

Some of the pressure of starting a new book after a… well… a sorta critically successful series (I mean, I won an award, right?) is that you want to one-up it. You totally want to wow everybody who read the first series and thought it was Something Crazy Cool. Not just in the plot-and-pacing ways I worked on improving in both INFIDEL and RAPTURE after the rough pacing and plotting of GOD’S WAR, but in the wealth of its weirdness. When I read fiction, I want to go somewhere I haven’t been before. That’s the challenge, for me: creating some place totally unique.

The trouble is that everything is working against you.

LEGION is a space opera. That means it’s really easy to pull on old space opera tropes. It kinda creeps me out that the future we painted of 2200 in 1970 looks a lot like the future we paint for 2200 in 2012. I mean, really, folks? I recently read a highly talked-about space opera that, frankly, sucked. It read like a mashup of a bunch of really generic space games, with familiar family and social structures, dull and expected politics, clunky 1970’s future! technology, and characters I’ve bumped into dozens of times in other places.

I was really excited about this one because I’m stealing the plot. That means I’ve already got a detailed outline and synopsis. I already know all the characters and what they’re up against. But I realized as I sat down to write it that I hadn’t sufficiently done what is, to me, the most important part: figured out the gritty details of the world these people live in. I’m a firm believer in creating characters that really could not exist outside of their time and place. The way we view the world, the decisions we make, even many of our preferences, are deeply influenced by culture and place. That should work the same way in fiction, too.

I’m a big fan of organic tech (surprise) and I’d like to do more with that. The challenge is to think a dozen steps beyond the sentient starships of Farscape or Lexx and at least eight steps ahead of what I did with GOD’S WAR. Nobody wants to see you recycling bugs and magicians and boxing ad nauseum, as cool as those things might be.

When I started painting settings in this one, I kept landing on clean, sterile, environments because that’s what my brain assumes when I say “space opera.” But people living the way this particular legion lives are not going to have an understanding of their environments the same way we do. And they aren’t going to be clean and pretty. They are going to be pretty yucky to us. And terrifying.

I want to take some of body horror from shorter works like Geoff Ryman’s “The Unconquered Country” and Christopher Priest’s “Whores” and build an entire living, breathing galaxy (or perhaps solar system, depending on how one views the Legion)/ecosystem out of them. There are all sorts of assumptions that come from living in a place where your womb literally creates weapons of war, or spare parts, or food, raw textiles, and, of course monsters – the very stuff of life that your people rely on – especially in an artificially closed environment. There are massive economic shifts that will happen with that, big changes to social interactions, community mores and the like that have to be addressed.  When I throw around concepts like this, I’m also really aware of the millions of pitfalls that lie in wait. I know exactly how I could do it all wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

And there is also the environment itself, and how people relate to it. How does your conception of the world change when your world is always on the move? When it always changes? And, since this is a book written by me, how is war waged on these types of worlds? When things are destroyed, what happens? Is that it, or does it regenerate itself? How quickly? Can certain people control it?

And, of course, the most important thing: what kind of people would this type of world create? What are they really afraid of? What do they really want? What do they consider creepy vs. cool? What’s your relationship to your children when you produce them the same way you would a sparkplug?

When my characters start off life in a blank room, I know I’m not quite ready to start. What ends up happening is I write a lot of character-in-blank-room openings until the details start to come out. That’s what my challenge is now. My goal is to become not only a better writer, but a faster one, and in order to do that, I’d like to cut down on the amount of churn at the beginning and end of my writing process. I need to figure out more of how things work – and the gritty details of those  things – before I start working. Thing is, until I started working, I had no idea how little idea I had about what I was getting myself into.

So here I am, taking a step back and sketching things out more thoroughly. Before God’s War, I did this with all my books. But God’s War was a much more organic novel, where I just did a lot of research and then kind of dove in and saw what happened.  This time, I haven’t had as much research time, and I think that’s hindered me. It’s likely back to the library on Friday.

What I really need, of course, is that powerful first sentence that tells you exactly what you’re getting into when you pick up a book. I need “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.”

I’m just not quite sure what the equivalent of that is in this world yet. And until I’ve got it, it’s back to the library.