Snapshots: Linda Nagata interviewed

What’s recently or soon out?
The Red: First Light by Linda NagataIn any other month, the big news would be the publication of my short story, “Through Your Eyes,” in the March/April double issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. It’s a near-future story with a theme focused on technology and civil rights, and it’s the first story I’ve ever had in Asimov’s, so I’m pretty pleased about that. But the news that supersedes this is that I have a new novel also out this month, called The Red: First Light—and in a nice bit of synchronicity, “Through Your Eyes” was the direct inspiration for the novel.

Sometimes characters just walk on stage and demand attention. That was the case with James Shelley, the protagonist of “Through Your Eyes.” Though I was done with the short story, I was not done with the character, and within a week of sending the story off to Sheila Williams at Asimov’s, I was writing the novel. Like the story that precedes it, The Red: First Light is concerned with the impact of evolving technologies, but the novel takes a different approach. It’s a boots-on-the-ground military thriller that engages with warfare, politics, and other, stranger things.

Near-future fiction has its own special challenges. Given the ongoing, rapid rate of technological change in the world it’s easy to imagine a near-future novel becoming obsolete almost overnight—or perhaps reclassified as an alternate history. Despite the risk, I like the immediacy of the subgenre. I’ve written in the near-future before, in particular with my novel Tech-Heaven, but also with the more recent Limit of Vision. I’ve also written about armed conflict on occasion, but The Red: First Light is my first true foray into military science fiction. That was pretty intimidating for me, but I really wanted to write this book—for the adventure, for the tech, for the politics.

What are you working on now?
Mostly I’ve been working on promotion for the new book. The Red: First Light is an indie book, published under my own imprint, so the responsibility for getting the word out is all mine—and of course I’m finding that publicity is even more challenging than writing a novel. But I’m also well begun on the follow up to First Light. No publication date yet for The Red: Trials, but the goal is to have it out within a year, and sooner if possible.

I also have several short story ideas brewing. In my early career I was never very interested in short stories, but over the past year and a half all that has changed and I’ve really come to enjoy reading and writing them.

Tell us about your experiences with publishing – both traditional and the new e-publishing environment that’s emerging.
Looking back, my experience with traditional publishing seems like a psychological experiment designed to test my sanity, with each incident of sublime luck countered by disaster. On the plus side, my first four books sold to Bantam Spectra, where I had terrific editors. The books had great covers by Bruce Jensen, most were picked up by the Science Fiction Book Club, one won an award. On the downside, I had three different editors for the first two books. All were published as mass-market originals, and despite good reviews, they were out of print in short order. At Tor I was better paid and I had hardcover editions, but a failure of communication made it a tough ride.

As far back as the nineties, though, I was interested in being a publisher. At some point I decided to learn the page layout program InDesign, thinking I would do a new print version of my novel, Vast. At the time, I couldn’t figure out how to make that work economically, but circa 2010, the technology arrived. I’d spent nine years working in web development, and ebooks are just HTML (web) pages wrapped up in zip files. So it wasn’t a big leap for me to start putting out my backlist in electronic format. I remember being shocked when some of my books sold in the first week they were available. I put out everything in ebook editions as quickly as I could, and by early 2011 I released my first print book, using the print-on-demand services at Lightning Source. Bruce Jensen, the original cover artist for the Nanotech Succession books, very generously let me re-use the cover paintings, even putting together new front covers for me. Now almost all my books have print editions.

Sales are modest, but I’m happy with this new approach. With traditional publishing, my work was in someone else’s hands. I had no real input on the production of the books, and simply had to accept the result, whether it turned out good or ill. Now I’m in control and I like it a lot. If I mess something up I’m in a position to fix it, which is also grand. Book covers that don’t work out can be changed, book descriptions can be revised. It’s wonderful. I would like to find a solution to the distribution issue—right now you will not, to my knowledge, find any of my print books in bookstores—but new options may be emerging. We’ll see. For now, I intend to stick with indie publishing.

Describe your typical writing day.
Up very early, regardless of when I went to sleep. Consume coffee and squander time on the Internet. Note in shock that a large portion of the morning has slipped away with nothing accomplished. Force myself away from the big, beautiful Mac desktop and plant myself in front of the aging Toshiba laptop that I use for writing. Try to get into the zone. On good days this happens very quickly. I become completely involved in what I’m doing and it’s hard to pry myself away to fulfill other obligations. On bad days every word is a struggle. When I’m working regularly on a draft I do try to produce some minimal word count. A thousand words is the goal, but sometimes I have to be happy with five hundred. Much of the time I don’t know what will happen in the next scene. It takes time to work that out.

At any rate, if it’s a good day I’ll generally keep writing well past my goal, taking advantage of the zone while I can. If it’s a bad day, I’ll struggle along until I get my thousand words. If it’s a really bad day, I’ll quit early and go mow the lawn.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
For those new to my work, the first back-list book I point to is The Bohr Maker, which won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and is the first book of The Nanotech Succession story world. As an alternative, and especially for those new to science fiction, I recommend Memory, a far-future, coming-of-age tale. Or for something completely different, the Puzzle Lands books, starting with The Dread Hammer—my experiment with fast-paced, scoundrel-lit fantasy.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
Chaz Brenchley recently re-released his novel Dispossession through the writer’s cooperative Book View Café, of which I’m a member. Mildly curious, I started reading it, was immediately hooked, and enjoyed it immensely.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Flee! Run away while you still can! …but if it’s too late for that and writing is already in your blood, then don’t stop. I more-or-less stopped writing for roughly ten years. It’s true I was intermittently working on a fantasy novel during this time (The Wild, now being serialized on my blog), but I wasn’t publishing anything, I wasn’t diversifying, I wasn’t learning anything new about writing, I wasn’t even following the genre, and I fell way behind. What readers I had must have assumed I’d given up and gone away. So don’t stop. Keep pushing yourself to try new things.

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing? How will writers be making a living and publishing in five or ten years? What will readers be reading?
Ha! Well, in my best scenario, droves of readers will be preordering the next Linda Nagata novel (FYI, preordering isn’t currently possible for indie print-on-demand books or ebooks). But I suspect the future of publishing will be a diversity of options, with more and more writers working both sides of the fence—indie and traditional—along with the ongoing development of some cool new trends like enhanced ebooks that include more art and maybe even music. As always the big question will be how to earn a living from our creative endeavors. That’s a question I’ve never managed to answer, but during my occasional bouts of optimism, I keep imagining it will work out.

More…
The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata

Linda Nagata is a Nebula-award-winning author of both science fiction and fantasy, with multiple novels and short stories. She grew up in Hawaii, in a rented beach house on the north shore of Oahu, and has been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and lately a publisher and book designer. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.

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About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

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