Today, as a part of the special The Gender & The Genre of El Fantascopio Blog, I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing Linda Nagata, in collaboration with Cristina Jurado. If you read Spanish, be sure to check my review of The Bohr Maker, a novel that I can't recommend highly enough. And you can also find the Spanish translation of this interview at Cristina's wonderful blog Más Ficción Que Ciencia. Hope you enjoy it!
Cristina Jurado & Odo: Technology is a central part of your SF stories. From nano-technology in the acclaimed The Bohr Maker to the philosophical cells of the spacecraft “Null Boundary” in Vast, it seems that you envisioned the future as a inevitable mix between organic beings and AIs. What made you take this stance? And what do you think of the nanopunk label, which has been frequently used to describe your work?
Linda Nagata: My background is in biology, and biology is full of examples of organic nanomachines—all those intricate goings-on that create life—so it seemed a natural for me to move in that direction.
As for the term nanopunk, I don’t care for it. “Cyberpunk” was cool. The rest seems derivative—but if readers find it a useful way to sort books, that’s fine.
CJ & O: Even though you also write fantasy, you are most known for your science fiction stories. Why did you fall for SF?
LN: It’s incredibly frustrating to me that my fantasy novels are not more popular! I would love to be able to write more in the Puzzle Lands story world, but without reader support, it just isn’t practical. At any rate, science fiction is my first love. It’s a habit I acquired from my father, who was always very interested in both science and science fiction. I think it’s the suggestion of possibility in science fiction that makes it interesting to me. As much as I love many fantasy novels, the question asked by the harder side of SF is, Could the human experience evolve in this direction? Science fiction is not predictive, but that potential, that “maybe,” can still connect us to even distant extrapolations such as Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center series.
CJ & O: You have a degree in Zoology, and grew up in Hawaii (one of the natural wonders of our planet), where you currently live. How do you think this influenced your stories?
LN: Hawaii has incredibly diverse geography, from tropical shorelines, to rainforests, to lava deserts, cinder fields, and alpine peaks—and over the years many of these features have found their way into my stories. Hawaii is also a very multi-racial place, and that too has been part of my work from the beginning. Over the last few years, as I compare my experiences to others, I think that growing up here, in a family where the fact of my being a girl was never used to hold me back, has spared me the negative experiences that affected so many others as young women.
CJ & O: Can you describe your creative process when writing a story? Do you use character cards, outlines, alpha-readers?
LN: My process has evolved a lot over the years. I used to insist that I know the end of a story before I started it, and I was dedicated to developing outlines, though of course I was free to modify the outline as I progressed. I would also polish each chapter before moving to the next.
That’s all changed now. I still like to have at least a rough outline, but with my soon-to-be-published novel, The Red: Trials, I had no clear concept of how the story would end until I reached the point where I needed to write it. Not a strategy that I recommend!
I don’t use character cards. At most I will write a brief character sketch as I begin to develop a story idea, but often I won’t even do that. I also never use alpha readers. No one reads my work until I have a solid draft that I’m fairly happy with—that’s just the way I work.
CJ & O: You have recently written an article on iO9 stating that “it is time to start reading hard science fiction again”. Has hard SF fallen out of grace? Why do you think that hard SF is relevant nowadays?
LN: The seed of that article was planted after I heard several disparaging remarks about hard SF being a genre of cardboard characters. Every genre has its good and bad books. It’s up to the writer to bring life to characters and story, and it’s up to readers to demand quality writing.
CJ & O: Do you believe that being a woman has made it more difficult to publish your SF stories?
LN: That has not been my experience, although my traditionally published novels were sold in the nineties, so my experience may not be reflective of what's going on today. My 2013 hard SF release, The Red: First Light, was never submitted to traditional publishers, so I have no idea what its reception might have been.
As for short stories, I think magazine editors are hungry for more hard SF. Over the past couple of years I've sold stories to Analog, Asimov's, Lightspeed, and a couple of anthologies.
Now, if you were to ask, Does being a woman make it more difficult to convince readers who don’t know you to buy your books? I would have to say “maybe.” There is no real way to know this, of course. I can’t say what goes through a reader’s mind when he or she picks up one book over another. I do know that, although my readers have always been small in number, men have long made up a large part of them, and many of these men have enthusiastically supported my work. Lately, I hear from more and more women, and that’s extremely gratifying.
CJ & O: You publish your stories and novels through Mythic Island, your own publishing imprint. Why did you decide to take this direction? How has been this experience so far?
LN: Actually, all of my short stories have been originally published by magazines or anthologies, though I've republished some of them through my company, Mythic Island Press LLC. As far back as the nineties I had wanted to publish my own work. Somewhere along the way I taught myself a basic proficiency in InDesign, intending to do a print run of Vast, but I never quite got around to it. Then the self-publishing revolution hit, and by the fall of 2010 I began turning my early novels into ebooks, and later into new print versions.
My experience in traditional publishing had been fairly harsh—despite good reviews and a couple of awards, my work was soon out of print—and given family and financial demands, I felt like I was wasting my time writing, so I moved on. When I started writing again, I decided to self-publish for many reasons, among them that I would be in control of my work, that I would be in a position to correct mistakes, and that I would get a much higher return per book sold, which would allow me to do more promotion.
It's been extremely challenging, but it’s been enjoyable too, and I hope to continue self-publishing my novels for the foreseeable future.
CJ & O: Your last novel, The Red: First Light, has beennominated for the 2013 Nebula Award (arguably the first self-published novel ever to achieve that), and has been included in the “2013 Locus RecommendedReading List”. What is the impact of those acknowledgements? Do they translate in sales?
LN: It was wonderful to receive both of these acknowledgements, especially since it had been so long since my last SF novel. And yes, they did impact sales, especially the Nebula nomination—but not in any overwhelming way. Despite the nomination, “discovery”—that process of letting readers know you exist—remains a huge challenge.
CJ & O: You have worked as a programmer. What are the differences and the similarities between writing fiction and writing code?
LN: I used to work in website development, using PHP/MySQL, and for many years I really enjoyed the process. I found it similar to writing a novel in that the goal was to create this large, complex, detailed, and yet well-integrated end product. But with programming, measuring success is easier. After all, you are building a website to accomplish a specific purpose. If the site operates as intended, you win. But things are not so clear cut in writing. You may get to the end of a novel, but is it any good? Who knows? One reader may love it, another may think it’s a complete waste of time. There is no clear way to measure the result of your labor.
CJ & O: What are you working on at the moment? Can you give us a sneak peek of your future projects?
LN: I’m getting the sequel to The Red: First Light ready for publication. I’m not sure when this interview will post, but the new novel, The Red: Trials, is scheduled for release on May 20, in both ebook and print versions. After that, I have some short fiction I want to work on, and then more novels to come.
CJ & O: Where can we learn more about you and your work?
LN: Visit my website at http://mythicisland.com for information on all my books and stories, along with sample chapters. I blog irregularly at http://hahvi.net, and I'm fairly active on Twitter, @LindaNagata. Please stop by and say hello!
CJ & O: Any other thing you would like to add?
LN: Just a hearty thank you for this interview!
CJ & O: Thank you very much for your time and your answers!