Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Linda Nagata Interview
2/28/2011 6:14:40 PM
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LTS: For todayís guest blog, I have a special treat for you, if youíre into the sci-fi/fantasy genre! Iíd like to introduce you to the Nebula and Locus Award-winning author, Linda Nagata!
Iíd like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers. I know you reside in beautiful Maui, Hawaii, but what else would you like to share?
LN: Yes, Iíve made my home on Maui for almost thirty years. Iím here because this is where my husband spent his career, and though heís retired now and the kids have both grown up and escaped into the wild, weíve stayed on. I worked briefly for the National Park Service after college and have had a long interest in Hawaiian biology and conservation. Iím the author of six novels published by New York houses between 1995 and 2003, but these days I look at myself as an expatriate from big publishing. I feel like Iíve started my writing career over again during this past year as an indie writer and publisher. I like where I am, but even more, I like where Iím going.
LTS: Most of your writing took place during the mid to late nineties, but has writing fiction always been an interest of yours, and was becoming a published author a lifelong dream?
LN: If it was a life-long dream, it wasnít one I ever admitted to myself. I remember reading a back-of-the-book bio on Walter Farley when I was in fifth grade, and imagining how great (and how impossible) it would be to be a successful novelist. And that was the last I ever thought about it for many years. From that time almost until I graduated from college, I was going to go into science. I studied biology in college and did very well, but finally realized that I loved the theory much more than the practice. In my last semester it occurred to me I should write fiction instead. Howís that for a leap of faith? It took me five years to learn to write well enough to get my first short story published in Analog magazineóand quite a while after that before the novels started to sell.
LTS: You are the recipient of the Nebula Award for the novella ĎGoddessesí and the Locus Award for the best first novel for your ebook ĎBohr Makerí, but of all your works, which story is your personal favourite and why?
LN: ĎThe Bohr Makerí was originally published as a mass market paperback, but is indeed available now, for the first time, as an ebook under my own imprint, Mythic Island Press LLC. For those interested in sampling my writing I usually recommend starting with ĎThe Bohr Makerí, or for those new to science fiction, ĎMemoryí (soon to be available as an ebook).
But my personal favorite of my books is ĎVastí. Itís a challenging, hard core science fiction novel that assumes a fair amount of knowledge on the part of the reader. As the title suggests, itís a celebration of the vastness of the Universe and the vastness of timeóand yet itís set on a very small stage. Most of the novel takes place among a handful of characters on an interstellar ship embarked on a mission to discover the source of a hostile alien civilization. Itís my favorite book because it was so very hard to write. It took everything I knew about science and then some, and required me to push my imagination to the limit. It was exhausting and exhilarating, and the reaction from dedicated hard science fiction readers was utterly gratifying. Itís great to be able to offer Vast to a new audience in ebook format.
LTS: What was the inspiration behind this particular story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist?
LN: I wanted to write a star-faring novel that extended the story world Iíd developed in my first three books, and that respected the lightspeed barrier. Itís a common convention in science fiction to dispense with the great distances between planets and the far, far greater distances between stars by employing ďhyperspaceĒ or ďwormholesĒ or ďstar gatesĒ or whateveróbasically a magical mechanism to speed things up. I wanted to write a story that didnít use that, and I wanted to continue working with characters developed in earlier books.
(As a side note, given the state of genre publishing in the nineties it was a safe assumption that your book would go out of print very quickly. Knowing this, I deliberately wrote four related but independent books in the collection I now callí The Nanotech Successioní. They share the same story world and some share the same characters, but each is a stand-alone novel.)
ĎVastí has multiple protagonists. Urban is a young man whoís abandoned home and family for the chance to venture across the galaxy. Lot is his best friend, who would have happily settled for home and family, but whose genetic heritage has made him the vector of a ďcult virusĒ that insidiously infects human populations. Then thereís Clemantine, a woman who appears young but has lived for hundreds of years, and who saw her home world destroyed by an alien warship. Strangest of all is Nikko, an engineered human, adapted for space, vastly old, and emotionally scarred.
LTS: Your latest title ĎThe Wildí is an epic fantasy. How does it differ from your earlier novels?
LN: It differs in just about every way possible, I suppose. Itís emphatically not science fiction. It uses magic. Itís set in a very low tech story world. Itís a quest novel that relies on a journey and a sense of duty. My science fiction novels tend to ask questions about the effect and fallout of technology. ĎThe Wildí asks questions about the place of people in the natural world, and what our duty and obligation to nature might be.
Iíve long been known as a ďscience fiction writer,Ē but the truth is what I like to write are adventure stories. Science fiction was a great genre for that; fantasy is as well; and one of these days I would love to try a historical novel that is all about adventure.
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Youíve had the good fortune of being published by Tor and Bantam Spectra, and yet, youíve chosen to self-publish your latest novel ĎThe Wildí. What made you decide on this route and can you tell our readers a little bit about Mythic Island Press LLC?
LN: Like any new writer, I was ecstatic when my first novel sold to Bantam Spectra, and the editors there were great, but that first sale was the high point. As the years passed I found the experience of working with big publishing to be emotionally devastating and financially absurd. So very many things went wrong and I had so little to show for it there didnít seem to be much point in writing anything at all. So I changed careers. Since I was already pretty good at coding websites I decided to learn database programming for web applications, and I did that for many years. But during this time I was also working bit by bit on ĎThe Wildí, until finally I had a finished manuscript. I sent it to my agent, but it didnít sell, so I re-wrote it, and re-wrote it again. This fall I asked my agent if heíd care to try it again, but he declined. Though it sounds a bit odd, I was relieved! At that point I had the rights back on all my books, and I wanted to keep control of all of them, including ĎThe Wildí. Given the changes in publishing over the past few months, I feel vindicated. Indie publishing is hard, hard, hard, but even so, I feel like I have far more potential for future success than if I had won a low advance and a small print run from a publishing house that may or may not be in business two years from now.
Mythic Island Press LLC is my own publishing imprint. I planned for years to re-publish the early novels on my own, but didnít do anything about it until January 2010. A lot of writers will tell you that you donít need a formal business entity to publish your own work, and theyíre probably right, but I wanted to separate business from personal, and here in Hawaii it was not complicated to put together an LLC.
LTS: Do you have any advice youíd like to share with the author struggling to find representation from a literary agent?
LN: My best advice is: Be very, very careful! Itís been a long time since I looked for an agent, so my personal experience isnít very useful, but before you sign anything, please go visit Dean Wesley Smithís website and look up his articles on agents: what theyíre for and what their job is. My agentís been terrific, but sadly the same canít be said for all.
LTS: Iím curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to produce so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
LN: Honestly, Iím in transition. For years I was the type of writer who could spend hours on a single paragraph, and weeks on a story opening. Iíve given that up. In my new writerly existence Iím trying to write faster and shorter. I start the day with coffee, twitter and general web-reading, but I try to wind that up fairly early and then sit down to work. Iím going easy on myself by asking for only a thousand words a day. Unfortunately that still very often requires most of the day for me to do. A thousand words are easy of course, but one-thousand of the right wordsónot so easy. But Iím getting faster, and Iím having a lot more fun.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your storyline in great detail or if your writing is more organic, with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
LN: When I started writing I began many stories that I never finished because I couldnít think how to finish them. So I had to impose a rule on myself which Iíve followed ever since: I am not allowed to start a story unless I know how it ends. Now this doesnít mean I have to end it in the way I originally conceived. I wonít turn down a better ending if one should present itself, but I need to know I have somewhere to land before I jump.
My stories generally start with a character and/or a situation. My first step in story development is to put together a story ďbibleĒ with characters, story world background, major plot elements, etc. Itís not a formal outline, but the document can be fairly extensive. Generally, only the opening chapters are outlined in detail. I have a rough idea of the major plot points throughout, but the details get worked out as I go along.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
LN: No real rituals. Iíve briefly tried meditation, morning pages, a ritual object, that sort of thing, but none of it means much to me. In the words of one old-time writer, itís a matter of ďapplying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chairĒóalthough I sit on a pillow on the floor these days and work at a very low table.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writerís block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
LN: Iím only now really learning how to deal with this question and for me itís been a matter of schooling myself to stop worrying about whether every word, every sentence, every chapter is award quality material (or as close to such as I can get it). So Iíve opened myself up to a much sloppier first draft and thatís helping me a lot. Thatís the day-to-day sort of writerís block.
The truly scary writerís block is the one that goes on for years. I produced almost no fiction for a number of years after 2000 and the reason for it was pretty obvious all along: deep down, I didnít feel like there was any point to it. For years Iíd given everything I had to write books that were well-received by critics, but that disappeared from bookstore shelves within a few weeks, never to be seen again. My muse rebelled, and though I tried many times to start new work, most of it didnít go anywhere.
For me, the cure for this sort of all-consuming writerís block has been the revolution in indie publishing. Iím far from making a lot of money, and Iím not racking up eye-popping sales figures like the famous names in the field, but just knowing that Iím in control of my own work makes for a much happier mental horizonóand over the years Iíve found that I need to be reasonably happy to write.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
LN: I have lots of authors and lots of books that I love and Iíve learned from. Iím not really much for hierarchies. But the one book thatís had the most profound effect on me is The Lord of the Rings. I love it for its wonderful characters, inspiring story, and its expressions of duty and morality. I loved it so much that I gave up on fantasy early-on because in my opinionated youth I decided that Tolkien had written such a defining work that it could never be topped so what was the point of trying to write fantasy? Fortunately Iíve become a little more flexible and forgiving since then.
LTS: What is the most important lesson youíve learned on the road to publication?
LN: First, if you have anything more rational and rewarding to do with your time, go! Go do it! Youíll probably be happier in the long run. Are you still here? Then the next lesson, which I am only learning late in life, is ďdonít take yourself so seriously.Ē Have fun with your writing. Write fast. Finish what you write. Start something new. Try stuff.
LTS: Great advice, Linda! What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
LN: K.J. Parkerís The Hammer. Itís a new release from Orbit that Iím reading solely because a reviewer I follow on Twitter was excited about it. Once I decide to read a book I want to know as little about it as possible, so at this point Iím still not sure if itís going to wind up being science fiction or fantasy, but itís a good read so far.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out into other genres? When can your fans expect the release of your latest title?
LN: Over the next five years I hope to have several new novels come out in multiple genres, and perhaps under multiple pen names. Iíve also got one screenplay off with an agent and Iíd like to try a few more. Itís possible my current novel-in-progress, as yet untitled, will beat ĎThe Wildí to publication, but itís too early to say. Look for the first book of ĎThe Wildí around July.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share in your works and your writing experiences, Linda. For more information about this fab author and her novels, check out:
Follow Linda on Twitter: .LindaNagata
Where to buy the book: Amazon: http://amzn.to/aSYYew
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/eFSY3U
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