Kameron Hurley is the writer of grimweird and SF noir and strange fantasy novels that fit between the spaces of genres, including the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Mirror Empire, which was nominated for a Gemmell Morningstar Award. Its sequel, Empire Ascendant, is out this week from Angry Robot—you can read an excerpt from the novel here on Tor.com. We’re also looking forward to Hurley’s essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution, forthcoming from Tor Books in May 2016.
Hurley recently took to reddit to talk about her writing process, the books that have shaped her approach to fantasy, and what it’s like writing fantasy while female. We’ve rounded up the highlights below, but you can check out the entire AMA here!
Which writers are her greatest influences?
Kameron Hurley: I’m certainly influenced a lot by the New Weird, which was sort of a thing in the early 2000’s. VanderMeer, Mieville, KJ Bishop, Mary Gentle, Elizabeth Hand, Angela Carter, M. John Harrison – all creepy, weird writers who definitely had an impact on me.
Does she have any recent books to recommend?
KH: Planetfall by Emma Newman and The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson!
And her three desert island reads?
- The Hours by Michael Cunningham.
- Dradin, In Love by Jeff VanderMeer
- On Strike Against God, by Joanna Russ
Were any specific writing exercises helpful to her development?
KH: Not a specific exercise, but a book of exercises: Ursula K. Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft is excellent and really helped me out as a fledgling writer.
How does she name her characters?
KH: I can’t start a book until I’ve named the major players. I have a character naming sourcebook I’ve been using forever, and recently took a tip from Robert J. Bennett and just take real-world names and transpose letters. This is sort of what I did for the Dhai – I came up with an alphabet for them and just started putting letters together and seeing what came out of it. Names in the Worldbreaker books were honestly the worst. Ahkio’s name was Robin, then Rhobyn, then Auryn, the Auriko, then Ahkio. Many characters went through a similar evolution, though his was by far the most extreme. He just never sounded right.
What does her average writing day look like?
KH: Really there are a few modes I operate in now. One is promo mode, which I’m in now: that’s me up at 5am writing posts, scheduling stuff like this, doing interviews, podcasts, etc. I generally do that from 5-8:30, then do the day job until 4:30 or 5 and come home and get back to work on this, with that lunch break also dedicated to stuff like social media.
Most of my actual writing, though, happens in big chunks of time on the weekend. I like to give myself 4-8 hours on a Saturday and/or a Sunday to just work. I’ll hit the coffee shop or the beer lounge and just knock out word count. I tried hard to write every day, but I found that it just made me miserable to work all day and come home and try to bleed out 500 words. I really like to take the time to immerse myself in my world. I like to feel like I’m really there, and that often takes a good dedicated amount of time being “in” it. Catherynne Valente likens this to going to sleep, and it really is like that. You need a good half hour or so to sort of submerge into the world and stay in that sort of lucid dreaming state. Works for me.
What influenced you to put so much organic technology in her worlds? Why is everything made of meat?
KH: For better or worse, because my body’s pretty broken, it’s given me an awareness of the body, and bodies, then ends up oozing into my fiction. And on a more technical level, honestly, when I think about long-term space travel, I err on the side of organic stuff that can grow and regenerate and repair itself over our dead tech “tin can in space” model. Long-term, if you’re going to send people out there, they just can’t live in a big metal can sustainably over tens of thousands of years. But they can in a living organism.
What would she say is the most effective strategy in promoting her work?
KH: I think you have to choose what you’re good at/what you like to do, and double down on that. I know lots of folks, like Scalzi, who are very good at public appearances. I’m pretty good at them, sure, but I don’t enjoy them and they burn me out long term, so that just wasn’t an option for, say a 5 week book tour.
But what I am really good at is writing blog posts. So I lean heavily on blog tours in addition to podcasts and interviews. Life is too short to do stuff you hate. I like a good mix of events/articles/podcasts/interviews because you want to reach as many people in as many different forms of media as possible, but it always ends up being mostly blog posts, because i can write them fairly quickly and I enjoy them.
Someone once asked if I could only do 10% of the stuff I do for promotion, what 10% would I do and it’s like, if I could only do 10% and know that was the 10% that worked, I’d just do the 10%! What a lot of people (company CEO’s included) don’t realize about marketing is that it’s not one thing. You don’t just put out a book trailer and say, “Well, I didn’t sell a thousand copies.” All of these elements MUST work together, and they must work together in a very specific timeframe. Putting out a blog post this week, a podcast next week… you’re just not going to see any traction there. It’s the blitz, whatever blitz in whatever medium it is you enjoy most and/or are the best in.
How has her real-life experience (especially studying African resistance movements and living in Alaska) influence her writing?
KH: It informs pretty much all of it. I was once told to read outside the genre and travel, if i really wanted to be a better writer, and I took that to heart. All of the bug magic in the God’s War novels was inspired by my time in South Africa. Alaska is basically Saiduan from the Worldbreaker books.
Did she ever consider telling the story of The Mirror Empire over more books?
KH: The original outline for the Worldbreaker Saga was 15 books. I winnowed the story down to 5 books, but was again told that likely wouldn’t sell, so got it down to 3, then was only able to sell, initially, the first 2. Luckily the first one did great, so my publisher bought the third. No doubt now that it’s performing they would have bought a couple more, too, but the fact is that after writing the first two, I was already locked into the three-book structure. Changing it for $ would have ruined the story… So it went from 15 to… 3. Which may explain there’s so much stuffed into so few pages. I had a lot of ground to cover.
Does she have a favorite board game?
KH: I really, really love playing Elder Sign. Cooperative madness and despair awaits.
Given that female fantasy writers are still at something of a disadvantage in the field, as someone with a gender neutral name, is she ever tempted to roll with people assuming she’s a man?
KH: This is a fun question, because last year I got to see a lot of “best of” fantasy lists that included just two women: me and Robin Hobb, and I laughed and laughed because the advantage of the gender-neutral name was so obvious. People remember you first. This is a largely unconscious bias. Men and women do this all the time. There have been tons of studies done where men and women both will judge resumes or musical performances more negatively if they believe the candidate or artist is female. It’s like when we were taught the word “writer” we all imagine a certain sort of person – for me that’s an old bearded man in a tweed suit, like Walt Whitman. And the trouble with attaching our formative images with specific people or types of people is that that’s also going to be who comes to mind first when people ask who our favorite writers are. There’s all sorts of other baggage on top of that, but that’s the start…
Hurley actually has plenty more to say on this and a range of other topics, so check out the rest over at r/Fantasy and enjoy the full discussion!