SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Kameron Hurley
Kameron Hurley is an award-winnng, Nebula-nominated writer who hacks out a living as marketing and advertising copywriter. She’s lived in Fairbanks, AK, Durban, South Africa, and Chicago, but grew up in Washington state. With degrees in history from the University of Alaska and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal she survives on Coke 0, Chipotle, low-carb cooking and lots of words. Her science fiction novels God’s War, Infidel and Rapture, a series, are out from Night Shade Books. Her short fiction has appeared in Year’s Best SF 12, Strange Horizons, Talebones, and on Escape Pod, amongst others. God’s War was nominated for a Nebula, made the Honor list for James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award and won the Kitschies Golden Tentacle. She can be found at her website and blog, on Twitter as @KameronHurley and on Facebook.
SFFWRTCHT: First things first, where’d your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?
Kameron Hurley: My interest in science fiction came from being an imaginative kid, I guess. I spent too much time making up stories. Science fiction and fantasy was the best place to explore how things could be really different. It had the best sandbox of any genre I read. I could do whatever I wanted.
SFFWRTCHT: Who are some of your favorite authors and books that inspire you?
KH: I think most folks know I’m a fan of Weird fiction, bloody fantasy, grimdark, that sort of thing. VanderMeer is an influence but also Gene Wolfe, Joanna Russ, Angela Carter and others who blur lines. I also enjoy Abercrombie these days.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to become a storyteller and how did you get your start?
KH: Had a plan to live in a cabin in the woods in Alaska and write when I was twelve or so. My first story published came at seventeen, but it was a long time from that first story sale to my first novel sale, which didn’t come out until I was thirty. I spent most of my twenties adventuring, so it turned out okay.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you approach your first draft of a work?
KH: Like a nut? The first book draft of God’s War was just dialogue/fight scenes. I filled in the world in later drafts.
SFFWRTCHT: How’d you learn craft? Trial and error? Formal study? Workshops?
KH: I learned craft thru all of the above. Workshops since a teen, Clarion, and writing, writing, writing. The book I sold was the ninth I’d written.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you start with shorts stories, novels, screenplays? How long before you made your first sale?
KH: I started with shorts ‘cause people said I had to. But it’s not my favorite form. I started submitting stories at fifteen, sold my first at seventeen for $5. It was cool to know somebody would pay me to rant about made-up people and places. Longer stuff has always been more fun for me, largely ‘cause world building takes a lot of… words, sometimes. I always get frustrated with short fiction ‘cause I never get the time to tell stories I want to tell.
SFFWRTCHT: God’s War is about an assassin turned bounty hunter whose team is sent by the queen on a mission that could end a world war. Where’d the idea for Nyx and the series come from?
KH: The series idea came from lots of places. Too much reading about war, mercenaries, female fighters, ancient Assyria, torture. During graduate work in South Africa, I looked at how female fighters were recruited in the ANC’s efforts against Apartheid. Deep rabbit hole.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did God’s War take you to write?
KH: I wrote the first line in… 2003? I sold it the first time in 2008, then again in 2009, I think? I revised/rewrote the whole time.
SFFWRTCHT: What were your inspirations in creating the Bel Dames?
KH: The word is actually ancient Hebrew for “blood avenger.” I liked the idea of badass Biblical assassins.
SFFWRTCHT: I’ve read you had it sold and then a publisher backed out. Tell us a bit about your path to publication please.
KH: Oh man, my path to publication. I sold it the first time to Bantam (all three books). Then my editor was laid off in the great 2008 layoff. The contract was cancelled in 2009. It happened to lots of other writers. They cleaned house. Night Shade read about me losing the contract in a guest post I did. They requested the manuscript from my agent, then bought the first two books with an option for the third. It all worked out okay in the long run. And I got paid twice! Also, I just sold UK rights to Del Rey UK, which is owned by Random House, which also owns Bantam. Irony.
SFFWRTCHT: Can’t beat getting paid twice, huh? It must be particularly rewarding then to have the book generate the nominations/recognition it’s received. Congrats! I get the feeling from hints in the books that the series takes place in a far future. Have you worked out how far?
KH: It happens in the really far future. Thousands of years as opposed to hundreds.
SFFWRTCHT: Let’s dig into craft and such. Outliner or pantser?
KH: I’m a discovery writer all the way. I have to do outlines now for book proposals, but can never stick to them. Need the freedom. I never could understand how folks know what their book is about before they write it. So much happens between the first idea and the end. I can know the general plot before I go, but not a lot of other stuff. Lotsa characters died in the outline but survived in the writing.
KH: I had to write rough outlines of the other two books to pitch with God’s War. So I had an idea, but a lot changed as I wrote.
SFFWRTCHT: There’s a creative tension in your work with characters in conflict between different radical ends of cultural spectrums, I notice.
KH: I’ve always liked idea of throwing people who hate each other together & forcing them to work together. Makes good fiction.
SFFWRTCHT: When you write, which comes first-plot or characters? Theme? World?
KH: Character ideas generally come first. Then I have to sit down and create the world that would have created that character. Character and world are really linked, for me. I like to create people that couldn’t live anywhere or anytime else but theirs. I actually have a lot of trouble writing a book without having the right character’s name, either. That’s wrong – it’s all wrong!
SFFWRTCHT: They really are intertwined. You followed God’s War with Infidel and Rapture. Is that it? Or are more books planned?
KH: I planned/sold three books in this series, so that arc’s done. I have an idea for another set of three, but I’m waiting to see how UK sales do to commit. People who love these books love them, but I need to make sure sticking with this world is a valuable thing. I have other stuff on my plate.
SFFWRTCHT: But the current series follow each other chronologically with a thru line plot arc?
KH: Yes, with the current series there’s about 5-7 years between each book. Lots of time for characters to screw things up.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a bit about the plots of Infidel and Rapture?
KH: In Infidel, Nyx and a band of rogues uncover a coup to overthrow the government. In Rapture, she returns from exile to hunt down missing politician. There’s a flesh-eating desert involved. And torture. With bugs. Naturally.
KH: Bug magic! (bug punk!) Liked the idea of people using bugs for medicines andweapons. That turned into a system that powered the world. You see stuff like hornets used to sniff out bombs and robotics using the mentality of ants to inspire programming, and this was the result. The bugs really squicked some people out, but it worked in this world. No large mammals, so bugs are primary protein, too.
SFFWRTCHT: Yeah, the bugs created the electricity, fuel for vehicles, magic, all of it. Interesting. Are you a bug fan?
KH: I’d say I’m used to bugs. I lived in a bug-infested flat in South Africa. Cockroaches, especially. Flying ones.
SFFWRTCHT: At first I wasn’t sure how to categorize these. They have elements of science fiction and also fantasy. How do you describe them?
KH: It’s like Thundercats! People laugh when I say that, but to me it’s just old pairing of fantasy and science fiction we had before rigid definitions developed. People have compared it a bit to Gene Wolfe as well, or Herbert’s Dune. Stuff that could happen, maybe…but others that are fantastical. That made it tougher to market than I thought. I never liked boxes (being a Weird fiction fan), but it’s how books are sold.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the time frame of the follow up novels? Set right after this trilogy? Is there a gap? Do they also focus on Nyx?
KH: The new series would be about twenty years in the future, after Rapture. No Nyx – a new generation with some familiar cameos.
SFFWRTCHT: What other things are you planning?
KH: I’m working on a warring families space opera (with womb tech) and a five book fantasy with polyamorous portal magic.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like-specific block? Write `til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?
KH: Depends. Generally 7-9pm most nights when I’m on deadline, and also lunch breaks at work. As deadlines approach, writing starts eating more time. I had to take a week off my day job to finish Rapture on time. I was clocking 12-18 hour days for a bit there, just writing.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Do you write to music or does silence reign?
KH: I keep trying Scrivener, but it doesn’t work for me. I write in Word. I’m addicted to movie soundtracks. Lately I’m working to the Argo soundtrack. There’s a music-to-vocals ratio that music has to stay within in order to work for me.
KH: I have outlines for characters with motivations and background. As for religions, I did a ton of study, literally years, before and during writing the books.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
KH: The best advice was more of a motivational critique. I had a writer tell me my story suffered from “Failure of the imagination.” Pretty much the worst thing you can tell an SF/F writer. After that, I took things a lot more seriously. Pushed. Got better. The worst advice was to write every day. If I write every day, I get burned out. My day job is writing. Also I freelance. Forcing fiction is bad. But then, I guess I do write every day, just not fiction! That was fast track to an epic end for me.
SFFWRTCHT: Kinda covered this, perhaps. What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
KH: Yes, there’s the space opera, called Legion, and the first of the fantasy series, Forging The Mirror Darkly. I need to finish, though!
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