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Posts tagged ‘space opera’

‘First, I make tea’: the craft of writing with Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean-American writer of science fiction and science fantasy. YHL has a B.A. in math (maths to those of us in Australia) from Cornell University and an M.A. in math (yes, maths) education from Stanford University. Yoon loves to explore mathematics for story ideas. His fiction has appeared in several revered sci-fi & fantasy (SFF) publications such as F&SFTor.com, and Clarkesworld Magazine, and his stories have been chosen several times for  “The Year’s Best…” anthologies.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to review Yoon’s fabulous book, Hexarchate Stories, an instalment in his much-loved Machineries of Empire series. I introduced my review with this sentence:

Prepare to be amazed and captivated by this collection of science fiction delights…

Imagine my pleasure when Yoon agreed to be interviewed for the Last Word of the Week!

Welcome, Yoon, and thank you for speaking with me today. You’ve been widely published and have quite a name in SFF circles. What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

YOON: There is a lot of writing advice out there.  Realize that every writer is different, and that advice that works for one person may not work for another.  There’s often no harm in trying something to see if it works for you, but if the advice doesn’t work, there’s likely nothing wrong with you.  It’s intended for a different kind of writer, that’s all.  Take what works and discard what doesn’t.

That’s very reassuring. Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

First I make tea.  Then I sit down to write, except my tortoiseshell cat, Cloud, jumps up and blocks the keyboard.  I pet her until she decides that she’s had enough worship and wanders off.  Only then do I get started.  Really, worshipping a cat is one of the most pleasant ways to brainstorm anyway.  She interrupts me at intervals for more petting, which is a great way for me to take typing breaks!

I think I need another blog series called ‘authors and their feline muses’! How much research is involved in your writing?

It depends on the story!  In a sense I’m constantly researching, because I keep an eye out for ideas and interesting facts as I read or browse the internet or listen to conversations.  Some stories are mostly invention, so they don’t require me to research anything specific.  On the other hand, my forthcoming novel Phoenix Extravagant is set in a fantasy version of Korea during the Japanese occupation, and its protagonist is a painter, so I spent six months reading everything I could get my hands on about Korean archaeology and art history.  Spoiler: it’s hard to find much on those topics in English; I am indebted to my mom for helping me find books!

Ah, a secret research assistant. Excellent! How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!

First, I go to my husband and whine at him, usually with the words, “Joe, my novel is brokedy.”  Then I make him take me to a cafe, where I explain why my story isn’t working (and probably the other patrons are giving us weird looks because we’re talking about nanomachines or undead generals or whatever).  He brainstorms with me and comes up with a solution.  I ask him to type it up and email it to me.  I read the email.  Then I ignore his suggestions and do something completely different.  Strange as this method sounds, it works!

I must try it! I can’t get my husband to read my books until they arrive in paperback form. How you get feedback about your story before it’s published?

I have a trusted group of friends whom I ask to beta read for me.  There’s usually a few people willing to volunteer at any given point in time.  Some of them are writers, some of them aren’t.  Every beta reader has different strengths and weaknesses, so I try to get a few different viewpoints.  For example, my husband is a physicist, so he’s great at finding logic holes.  Character arcs, not so much.

The Candlevine Gardener & Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

The Candlevine Gardener & Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Good plan. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

Right now I’m working on a science fantasy short story for the Silk & Steel anthology.  I’m a novice fencer attending the Red Stick School of Fencing in Baton Rouge, so there will be dueling!  My duelist character is going to be much more competent than I am–what else is wish-fulfillment for?

I’m currently under contract for a sequel to my kids’ Korean mythology space opera, Dragon Pearl, so I’m excited to be working on that after the short story’s done.  I love space opera so it’s going to be fun returning to that genre.  That’s due in October.  And after that, who knows?

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Machineries of Empire #1)

That’s quite a program! And you’re the third SFF author I’ve met who also fences… What’s your favourite genre to read?

I have two right now–nonfiction and tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs).  The world is full of weird and fascinating facts; my shelves have books on linguistics, military history, music theory, and other delights.  As for the RPGs, I’m a gamer with an interest in game design, so I love looking both at older settings like TSR’s Planescape (a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting) as well as indie RPGs like Monsterhearts 2 or Tiny Frontiers.

Are you planning to write any graphic novels?

I’d love to give it a go; I’ve experimented with one- and three-panel gag strips in the past.  My current project, sort of in the nature of a warm-up, is a 22-page comic adaptation of my short story “The Battle of Candle Arc,” originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/lee_10_12/).  I have a script, thumbnails, and color test, so the next step will be to do the pencils.  Trying to make a story work in a visual format is extremely interesting.  I’m personally looking forward to drawing exploding starships because, please, don’t we all?

What would be a dream come true for you?

This is a very long shot, but I would be thrilled if someone made an animated TV adaptation of Ninefox Gambit or even all of Machineries of Empire.  I suspect that doing it as live-action would be cost-prohibitive because of all the “magical” special effects and space battles, but maybe animation would ameliorate that?  It’s nice to dream, anyway!

A wonderful dream – I’d love to see that! Thank you so much for the chat. You’re an inspiration.

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

 

LINKS

website: http://yoonhalee.com

Twitter: @deuceofgears

Instagram: @deuceofgears

BOOK LINKS

Phoenix Extravagant (preorder):

https://www.amazon.com/Phoenix-Extravagant-Yoon-Ha-Lee/dp/1781087946/

Dragon Pearl

https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Pearl-Yoon-Ha-Lee/dp/136801335X/

Ninefox Gambit

https://www.amazon.com/Ninefox-Gambit-Machineries-Empire-Yoon/dp/1781084491/

Carleton Chinner on Xhosa storytelling and space opera

Carleton Chinner writes near-future space opera. He is the author of the Cities of the Moon series—The Hills of Mare Imbrium, and Plato Crater. He also reviews new releases of predominantly science fiction for the Aussie Speculative Fiction Review where he enjoys reading stories that explore what science means to humanity. Carleton is known to enjoy solid science and will grumble at stories where fires burn in a vacuum or scuba divers spend hours underwater without needing decompression. I detect a healthy dose of scepticism in a writer with no need to suspend disbelief.

Welcome, Carleton, and thanks for joining me on Last Word of the Week. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Carleton: I’m more a storyteller than a writer. I guess that comes with the territory when you spend your childhood on an African farm where old Xhosa women spin marvellous tales of river serpents and white-painted, clay-clad women who return from the dead. I absorbed the craft of stories from these Xhosa ladies: the pull of suspense, the impact of vivid imagery, and the all-important need to suspend disbelief. There was no book learning, but learning nonetheless, in the deep organic sense of stories told in voice and rhythm. Learning in the way of things told and remembered.

That’s the best description of storytelling I’ve encountered! Lucky you. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

Just one scene? If I had to choose it would be a scene from my second book, Plato Crater, where two characters who cannot be together meet as remotely piloted droids in an uninhabited lunar crater. Circumstances mean there is no way they will get together soon, but they still find a way to share a kiss under the endless stars.

Plato Crater - eBook small

I love this scene because it captures an idea that is quite central to my writing; no matter how whizzbang the future technology is, people will still be people with human needs and desires. 

That’s really romantic, especially for droids! If I told one of your characters that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Brother Jonas is a monk in a collection of short stories I am writing who may be something other than human. It would be great fun to tell him he was imaginary. I suspect it would lead him to deep introspection about who we are and what makes us real. 

Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I’ve always been drawn to descriptions of our first interactions with aliens that cast light on who we are as humans. One of the first books I read like this was Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land where a child raised by Martians comes to Earth and has to comprehend human culture. Heinlein’s description of laughter as a human response to the suffering of another had me sit back and go “Whoa! I never thought of it like that.”

I’m a big fan of China Miéville’s creative worldbuilding, but his Embassytown stands head and shoulders above the rest with its twin-brained aliens who get high on language, in a world where hyperspace is like travelling on the sea complete with seasickness and sharks.

More recently, I’ve been reading Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis series which is packed with a diverse array of ideas about race, sexuality, violence, and even body modification.

Wonderful books in that list! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Don’t be afraid of rejection. Just write! Tell the stories you want to tell.

I wasted so much time wondering if I should write instead of just getting on and writing. 

The Hills of the Moon - eBook small

Good point! What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Planning for the GenreCon * conference in November is taking up a lot of my writing time right now. It’s hard work, but worth it. GenreCon is going to be great.

When I’m not busy with that I’m working on a new technothriller about how Australia implements a reputation system like the new Chinese system.

*Genrecon will be a three-day feast of genre held in Brisbane from Nov 22, 2019, with fantastic speakers and panels.

Oooh, that sounds interesting! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

An oldie, but I would love to be Phillip Linx from Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx stories as he explores crazy worlds in the Humanx Commonwealth. More importantly I’d be Flinx for his pet Alaspinian mini-dragon Pip. How cool would it be to have your own dragon?

Super cool! Thank you for sharing with me today, Carleton, and all the best with Genrecon.

Carleton-Chinner-web

Carleton’s Links:

Website: https://carletonchinner.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sunfishau

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarletonChinnerAuthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/carletonchinner/

Buy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0758DSP5Z

Last Word of the Week: Jane O’Reilly

Today’s guest in Last Word of the Week is Jane O’Reilly, an English author whose SF writing I very much enjoy – the novels Blue Shift and Deep Blue, respectively numbers #1 and #2 in the Second Species trilogy. Jane has written in other genres too. Her space opera is being published by Hachette in Australia. I admire how prolific and witty Jane is across many platforms – see the links at the end of the interview.

Last Word of the Week: Welcome, Jane, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Tell us, when did you write your first story?

Jane: The first one (not including all the ones I wrote at school) was about 9 years ago. I had been at home with my children for several years and had reached the stage where I’d started to feel like my brain was dissolving. I needed something to challenge me mentally, but it had to be something that I could do at home that wouldn’t cost a lot of money. I had read somewhere that Nora Roberts had started writing when she’d been at home with young children so I decided I was going to give it a try.

LWOTW: Good plan! So, what do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?

My dreams are weird, my imagination is sometimes more of a hindrance than a help, and planning is key. Lots of writers like to pretend that stories are built using some sort of magical ability which only they possess, but I don’t think that’s true. A story has form and function which is why you can write 100K but not actually have written a story. I didn’t plan my first few manuscripts because I didn’t understand any of this. Once I began to learn about story structure I also began to plan, not just because it is really helpful, but because I understood how.

LWOTW: That bit about planning sounds like something I should consider a bit more often. I know you’ve had a deal of success, but what’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

Definitely seeing one of my books in a bookshop for the first time. That’s really exciting. I had been digitally published for several years (11 titles in total) before I got an agent and a paperback deal, so seeing my book in a bookshop represented a massive step forward. It was in a bookshop called Foyles on Charing Cross Road in London.

LWOTW: I would love to see mine there one day! Jane, what are you most busy with at the moment?

I just finished the third book in my space opera trilogy so I’m waiting for my agent to let me know what she thinks of it, and in the meantime I’m working on a new book. No title as yet but it’s about a woman who discovers that her neighbour is an alien. She finds herself being taken off planet with said neighbour (who is not exactly thrilled with the situation) and adventures and shenanigans ensue. It’s a bit like Jupiter Ascending (with added space dinosaurs).

LWOTW: Space dinosaurs! What could be better? Now, if you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Be patient.

Getting published isn’t a quick business despite how many stories you see of people in their early 20s being signed for a six figure sum from a partial straight out of university. It can take years and multiple manuscripts before you sell your first one and that’s OK.

And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?

Pink. (We thought it might be blue!)

Jane’s links:

Website: www.janeoreilly.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/janeoreilly

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/358-2495086-1749742?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=jane+o%27reilly+deep+blue

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Blue-Shift-Jane-OReilly/9780349416595?ref=grid-view&qid=1535980181682&sr=1-2