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Guest Post | Kameron Hurley Says Don't Lose Your Edge

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Guest Post | Kameron Hurley Says Don't Lose Your Edge

God's War was a sneaky title. First under contract with Random House, then cut loose, Night Shade Books picked it up, and released it in early 2011. It released to little fanfare, but through word of mouth, and a few influencers, it grew into one of the most buzzed about novels anywhere. By year's end Hurley was nominated for a Nebula Award, and won the Kitschy Award for best debut novel. 

Along with its sequel Infidel, God's War is touted to be about “Bugs. Blood. Brutal women.” Unlike a lot catch phrases, those three ideas capture Hurley's style perfectly. Comparisons between authors is difficult, but if I had to compare Hurley to anyone, I would call her the love child of Joe Abercrombie and China Miéville, sans the Britishness and baldness (Miéville only... so far), with a stronger sense for the female character. I'm eagerly awaiting Rapture, the third (and final?) book in the Bel Dame Apocrypha.  

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Kameron Hurley...

***

I’m one of those writers who reads all their reviews. When you try to tackle complex issues in your fiction – race, class, gender, religion, war, colonialism – it’s good to keep an eye on how other people are reading what you’ve written. One wrong word can completely ruin a book for somebody; one lazy assumption can destroy a reader’s confidence in not only your story, but in you as a storyteller.

I’d heard that reading too many reviews could cripple you as a writer, especially as a first time novelist writing your second book. With great power – or, in this case, expectations – comes great responsibility. But I got lucky when I started writing my second book – the contract for my first book, God's War, was canceled, so instead of looking at a lot of reviews, I spent all that time finishing up the second book while my agent shopped it around to the next publisher. 

By the time reviews started rolling in, the second book in my trilogy, Infidel, was already done and moving into copyediting. 

For me, writing Infidel was a cathartic experience more than a terrified for frantic one. I was angry and depressed about my first book contract being canceled, and uncertain about the future of the series. I went through about of year of writing-related depression, where I’d just open up the manuscript for  Infidel  and stare at it, then close it again. There were lots of contracts canceled during the Publishing Meltdown of `08, but to many folks it happened to, it felt very personal. 

Infidel  is, in many ways, a much slower and more introspective book than  God's War. The characters are a little older, and perhaps a little wiser. I spent a good deal of time trying to rectify the problems I had with pacing and plotting in the first book, as well. So a lot of that depressed downtime wasn’t downtime at all but a long period for me to think about the book and what I wanted to accomplish with it.


When we finally re-sold the series to Night Shade Books, I had the motivation to pick up the manuscript again. In a fit of annoyance at what I now felt was a mediocre plot, I cut the entire second half of the novel and re-wrote it from scratch. Even with the significant rewriting I did before the folks at Night Shade saw it, it was still all done before readers saw the first ARCs of  God's War. I’m really thankful for that, because with the bout of depression I was in during that time, I’m not sure I could have processed both the reviews and the canceled contract. 

As it was, I was free to blow stuff up, and have my characters barter over flesh-eating sand, and kill a major character, and write some of my favorite scenes in the series during a time when they belonged just to me. There’s a freedom in writing without an audience, especially when you’re angry, or disappointed. 

When it came to writing my third book, I’d already read all the reviews of the first two, and I felt a lot of pressure from reader expectations. Was I including too much of this character, or not enough of this one? Was there enough of their religious life? Crap, is this reader going to hate it because I totally crapped on this character? I finally had to just ignore everything as best I could and write the book that needed writing. But I can tell you now – if I’d had to write the second book knowing all those reader expectations, it would have taken a lot longer. Luckily, by book three, I was settled into the world of the series, and more confident in my writing.

I wrote  God's War while I was dying. I wrote Infidel while I was deeply depressed. I wrote Rapture while under extreme deadline pressure, writing sometimes 14-16 hours a day, and I was very aware that I needed the final book to show that I’d gotten better at some of the things I was really weak at in prior books. And though those external pressure and situations do, I think, sometimes lead to more interesting work, I’m kind of looking forward to writing a book that’s not under contract that can be as unsaleable as I like.

So after a year of some worry and frantic writing, I’m finally starting to feel some of the same freedom I did when I first wrote Infidel. I’ve already turned in the final book in my trilogy, Rapture, and my new book, a standalone space opera called Legion, isn’t currently under contract. 

Much as I hate to say it, not being under contract is kind of a fun place to be. I actually sat in bed last night and came up with a scene to open the second chapter that kind of freaked me out and I thought, “Oh, crap, I’m never going to be able to sell this book with a scene like that.” But you know? There’s something freeing about that. It’s how I wrote God's War and Infidel. A part of me wishes I had written more of Rapture like that, though I think it’s by far the best plotted of the series. My first readers all came back after that one with big thumbs’ ups. 

But as nice as it is to hear folks saying that I’m getting technically better, or stronger, as a writer (well, we’ll see what other folks think of book three!), there’s a part of me that never wants to lose that edge to my writing, that “What the hell holy crap what did she just do?” thing, and worrying too much about reader expectations or “salability” can really screw with that. If you want to write something different, something that makes you and others uncomfortable, you can’t be thinking about what came before, or what people are going to think. That’s one of the reasons this business is so tough, because both your successes and failures are so public, and are often endlessly scrutinized in public. 

All you can do it dig deep, and hunker down, and be the best writer you can be, no matter what book you’re writing, or what crazy constraints, situations, or expectations you’re writing under.

And with that, I’m going to go write about a woman in the process of aborting a world. 

Because in the end, they’re my stories to write, and I’m very interested about where they’ll take me next.

***

You can find Kameron Hurley on her website and Twitter. Be sure to visit the former to learn more about the Bel Dame Apocrypha. Hurley enjoys taking photos with adult beverages on top of her head.

Come back later today for an excerpt from Rapture!

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4 Comments:

At July 17, 2012 at 5:39 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Thanks, Kameron.

I've followed your novel work since the early days of God's War, and watched as your craft has changed and improved and grown.

I look forward to Rapture and where the stories you have to tell take you next. And take your readers. :)

 
At July 17, 2012 at 8:11 AM , Blogger Mazarkis Williams said...

Interesting! I am looking forward to writing NOT for contract.

 
At July 17, 2012 at 1:09 PM , Blogger Anne Lyle said...

As I'm heading into Book 3 of my own trilogy, I confess I'm already looking forward to the next project. And whilst I very much hope to sell it, there's a certain satisfaction in knowing that - since the chances of earning a living from this gig are slender - one still has the freedom, ultimately, to please oneself. After all, I've already proved to myself that I can get a book (or three) published, so what's the next big challenge? If I can nail that and still sell books, I'll be a very happy bunny indeed...

 
At July 27, 2012 at 11:46 AM , Blogger Philip Tucker said...

Powerfully written post, Kameron! This is where I say something clever about great pressure turning coal into dynamite (I know it's diamonds, but that came out by accident and sounds cooler). But whatever. I'm really excited by your desire to push the edge, to keep going deeper into your own creative Marianna Trench, and see what wonders and sights your report back to the rest of the world. Kudos!

 

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