Anthony Vicino: Recently you teamed up to write Mass Effect: Nexus Rising with KC Alexander, and then followed that up in July with a short story for Mech: Age of Steel alongside Ramez Naam. First of all, you’ve got great taste in partners, but is this the year of Jason Hough collaborations or what? Are you officially the bacon of sci-fi (ie: you go well with everything)?
Jason Hough: Hah! It was more coincidence, really. I was invited to be in MECH, and saw Ramez’s name on the list, so I asked him what he thought about collaborating. He liked the idea and, being short stories, it was really low risk. That was over two years ago, though! It took a long time to be released. In the intervening months, I teamed up with K. C. on Mass Effect, which ended up being released even sooner than MECH, so it only seemed like some kind of coordinated plan.
AV: What was the collaboration process like with these two wily word-slingers? Which was harder to write, the short story or the novel?
JH: Well MECH was easy. Ramez and I brainstormed some ideas, then we each took one and wrote it. Once we had a draft, we sent it to the other person and let them revise it with “carte blanche” editing powers. It was a fun process and, again, wasn’t going to be the end of the world if we didn’t end up enjoying it. The Mass Effect novel was much harder to write for many reasons. First off, the schedule wasn’t going to allow for any mistakes. We had a short time to write it, no flexibility. That meant we had to figure out a way to work together and it had to be productive and effective from day 1. So we did that the only way you really can: we planned like crazy, and we communicated constantly. We outlined our chapters and then when it came to writing we just claimed whichever chapter was next and wrote it. After the first draft was done, we revised one another’s chapters and did our best to make it all from one voice. I think it worked out pretty damn great!
AV: You exploded onto the scene back in 2013 and I remember taking one look at The Darwin Elevator cover and thinking, “Yeah, this is going to do well.” Turns out my gut was dead on. Anyways, one of the unique things about your debut was that the 2nd and 3rd books in the series (The Exodus Tower and The Plague Force) were released only months later. You’ve talked about the process and experience in other interviews (links here), so I’ll save you from repeating yourself, but recently you repeated the process with your duology Injection Burn and Escape Velocity and I’d love to hear how a couple years in the game informed your process going into writing this series. Were there any lessons learned during the initial trilogy that you were able to carry into the duology?
JH: Well, the big difference with the two new books was that I knew from the beginning they would be released this way, so I just approached it as one big book that had a easy-to-split point in the middle. The Darwin Elevator was written by me as a hobbyist, with no idea how long the series would be or what would happen after (except for the very end). Even after being contracted for a trilogy, I didn’t know they would release them so rapidly. So, if anything, I took advantage of the process up front and I think that allowed me to do a better job of planning. There were things at the end of Plague Forge, for example, that I wish I’d done a better job of setting up in Darwin.
AV: Any words of advice, or warning, for authors trying to replicate this process?
JH: Well, certainly if you know you’re writing a series, at least go through the process of plotting it all out at a high level. You may realize there are things you want to do later that you can tee up in book one. That said, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It’s impossible to predict what release plan your publisher will pursue.
AV: I’m sure all of our video game nerds out there are dying to know how you got wrapped up in the Mass Effect: Nexus Rising collaboration alongside KC Alexander.
JH: It’s pretty straightforward. My UK publisher Titan had the Mass Effect license, and was looking for authors to do books for the new game. It came up when I met with them and, being a big fan of the game, I was very interested. But, I didn’t really have the schedule bandwidth to do it, so I suggested co-writing it with a friend as a way to ease the time crunch. K. C. didn’t even let me finish asking before she said yes.
AV: Having written video games in a previous life, did you find that helped, hindered, or didn’t really play a role in the process of creating Mass Effect: Nexus Rising?
JH: Didn’t really play a role. All it did was help me understand the realities of game development when they came to us after the book was written and told us of some changes to certain characters that would have to be worked into the book. I’ve been there, I get it.
AV: Tell us about the short story you co-wrote with Ramez Naam for Mech: Age of Steel. What sort of shenanigans should we come prepared for?
JH: We actually co-wrote two. One is about a kid in a far-future Atlanta who finds a wounded, incoherent Mech pilot and then finds the Mech he evacuated. The other is about a soldier fighting an AI controlled Mech. They’re both in the same universe, and we leave it up to the reader to decide if one takes place before the other.
AV: What’s next for Jason Hough? Any projects (more collaborations, perhaps?) squatting on the horizon?
JH: I’m currently working on adapting the Darwin Elevator (and series) for television. Early days yet but I’m enjoying working in a different medium. As for novels, I’m working on proposals for new books right now and hope to have news on that front soon.
AV: I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule, Jason. Before I release you back into the wild, I need to know, which of your books has your favorite cover? Personally, I’m torn between Zero World and Injection Burn.
JH: Oh, that’s a tough one. I’m torn between Escape Velocity and the German cover for Darwin City (the Darwin Elevator). They’re all great, though. I’ve been very lucky in that regard!
AV: And lastly, where can people find you if they want to follow along on your adventure?
JH: My website is at jasonhough.com, or look me up on Twitter @jasonmhough – I’m not super active there but hope to get more time for it once the kids are back in school. Thanks for the interview!
Big thanks to Jason Hough for his time and the many great stories he’s given the world.
Now it’s your turn, readers. Which Jason Hough story is your favorite? Haven’t read any of them yet? Well, go ahead and judge a book by its cover: Tell me which of Jason’s covers is your favorite. Sound off in the comments below!
The other day I was fortunate enough to be on one of those new fangled podcast things over at SF Signal. We talked about the Hugos, WorldCon, and hot up-and-coming authors you should be reading. My recommendation for a new author you should take the time to read was none other than Ernie Luis.
I’ve read a couple of his short stories now (The Killswitch and Alternate) and both were fantastic. He writes the sort of science fiction that goes down smooth, but keeps you guessing/thinking. They’re quick and fun. What more could you ask for? Give’em a try.
Ernie originally came on my radar because we are both part of Samuel Peralta’s The Time Travel Chronicles set for release this October. An anthology of short fiction you folks definitely won’t want to miss out on.
Ernie was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me, so enough of me monologuing over here. Go see what Ernie has to say!
Ernie Luis Interview
Anthony Vicino: Alright, Ernie, we’re just gonna cannonball off the high-dive and get right down to it.
Now, I know it’s hard to choose, ’cause we love all our babies equally, but it’s time to play favorites. Of the stories you’ve written, which is your favorite?
Ernie Luis: The Killswitch
AV: Oh, wow. You didn’t hesitate like…at all. Why The Killswitch? Is it because it’s the prettiest?
EL: I feel like I’ve improved my writing with each story, so it’s easy for me to say The Killswitch is my favorite because it’s my most recent. I was originally going to publish it with the intention of leaving it as a short story, but I fell in love with the characters so much that I decided to write a full length. So yeah, as of this moment it is my favorite (Sorry Alternate).
AV: It’s alright, Alternate is living in a different reality, one where you actually love it the most. (For those of you who have not read Alternate, this is a funny joke because it’s all about alternate realities. For now, just take my word for it, I’m funny.)
Tell us about some of your favorite and/or least favorite story tropes.
EL: Favorite: semi-Greek tragedies. I love a good bittersweet ending. The hero accomplishing his mission and sacrificing so much for it all makes me happy and sad all at the same time, and it’s a feeling you really only get in stories I think.
Least favorite: Love triangles. Especially the ones where you have to pick a side. The only time I’ve enjoyed it was in Hunger Games. So let’s just cut that out. Love isn’t always a triangle!
AV: In my experience, love has never been a triangle. If anything it’s just a dot, or a rhombus (I’ll leave that for you geniuses at home to figure out. Hint: I don’t even know what it means.)
EL: Love rhombus. Now you’re talking.
AV: Time to reveal your deepest held feelings of inadequacy, Ernie. What do you wish you could do better as a writer?
EL: Let myself have bad days. When a bad day of writing comes, it’s like a mucky swamp I can’t get out of, and I think “This is it. I’ve written my last good words as a writer. I’m finished.” And then I’ll eventually write something decent, wipe my forehead and say “Phew!”
AV: That’s great, and highly relatable. Take note writers, stay in the game long enough and I promise you’ll feel this way at least once or twice. How ’bout literary strengths? Whatcha got?
EL: I think my strengths are in my dialogue. I really picture my characters having the conversations I write. But I may be wrong, it’s just usually the thing I least have to revise.
AV: I’ll throw you an ‘attaboy and let you know that your dialogue is fantastic. But to stop you from getting a big head, tell us about your literary weaknesses.
EL: My weakness has to be writing stories set on Earth. For some reason, if I write about some distant planet with foreign technology, or an apocalyptic Earth, I can write for hours on the smallest details. But if it’s just a plain old real world setting, I get kinda bored describing it. My mind is made for Sci-Fi I guess.
AV: I assume you’ve been twirling pens around paper for awhile (or whatever the computer equivalent is), so how has writing changed (or not changed) for you since you began?
EL: Confidence is the biggest thing that’s changed. I’m not afraid to try new things, I’m not afraid to write what I want to write and not what I think will please everyone. I never really understood what people meant by different writing styles and flows, but now that I’ve found mine, I definitely understand. Writers have to find their own voice. And with each manuscript that gets finished, I’m getting more and more confident in my own voice.
AV: Ah, the ever illusive search for voice. It’s like Jason and his Argonauts going Golden Fleece shopping. Thankfully it’s one of the searches we all go through, and you know what they say about misery and company…it still sucks.
I’m always fascinated by how other writers write. Can you give us a little insight into your story creating process?
EL: I’m constantly daydreaming. I’m usually always thinking about a certain character or a certain scene. So throughout the day I’m always on my phone, writing little tidbits down in my notes. And then sitting down to write is just typing it all down, with all the pretty little details.
EL: I have an endless sea of notes in my phone, some small ones with basic story ideas, and some large ones with massive outlines. I like to outline big plot points, characters, and endings. I’m big on outlining endings. I’ll usually fill in the rest as it comes to me. I don’t like to outline scene by scene. I let the characters take me there. So it’s a bit of both.
AV: And when do you write? Do you have a daily writing schedule? Weekly? Once in a blue moon when the proper virginal sacrifices have been made?
EL: I try to write 800 words a day. I say 800, because I used to tell myself to write 1000 words a day, and I’d get lazy or procrastinate. So if I tell myself 800, I’m like “psh, I can knock out 800 no problem.” And then I usually end up writing 1000 anyway. But I do perform a proper virginal sacrifice every month while drinking a Blue Moon to really get the juices flowing. Doesn’t every writer do this?
AV: I do believe authors account for roughly 93% of all virginal sacrifices per year. Of those, Stephen King is responsible for 85%. But hey, it seems to be working for him. Moving forward what’s the plan?
EL: Write. Til Death.
AV: So that’s definitely what we’ll call playing the long game. How about in the nearer future. Say in the next 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years?
EL: I’m trying to focus more on novels now. I’ve been writing strictly short stories my entire first year in self publishing. So this next year my goal is to write my first trilogy of novels. Very excited. In 5 years, I hope to have a few sci-fi trilogies out, while also trying my hand at the mystery genre, as well as releasing a contemporary college romance novel semi based on my life. And 10 years? Well, ruling the world. Obviously.
AV: I’m afraid someday we’ll have to fight it out Highlander style for I too would like to rule the world. Oh well, maybe we can come up with some sort of time share option. You can rule the world on Monday, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
EL: Oh, so you get four days, huh? Typical.
AV: Quick, look at your desk. What’s there?
EL: Wallet, keys, laptop, couple baseball caps, mail, headphones, and copies of The Martian, Armada, and Shift, written by Andy Weir, Ernest Cline, and Hugh Howey, respectively.
AV: Those are three great authors to have sitting on your desk, Ernie. Props. But let’s say your favorite author calls tomorrow and says they want to collaborate. Who’s calling and what sort of story do you two write?
EL: Markus Zusak: Yo, Ern.
Me: What up, MZ?
Markus Zusak: Not much, mate. So when are we going to do this collab?
Me: I’m ready to go, man. Let’s do this.
Six months later, a novel with a beautifully dark and melancholy cover titled Monsters In The Mirror is released, centered around a detective who can see people for who they really are, and fakes a drug addiction in order to deal with his hallucinations. Markus writes the chapters from the perspective of the detective, and I write the chapters from the perspective of the novel’s killer, whose identity is slowly revealed chapter by chapter.
AV: Goddamn, I really want to read that now. I’ll put a word in with Markus for you, see if we can’t make this happen. But don’t get your hopes up, there’s still that pesky restraining order keeping me at least 50 feet away from him at all times.
EL: He’s still not over the porcupine thing, is he? Dang it, Anthony, I told you it was a bad idea.
AV: Keeping with the thread of hypothetical situations, let’s imagine for a moment that you’ve been inducted into the Writing Hall of Fame (a totally real thing I’m not making up), what do they say about you/your legacy/career?
EL: Ernie Luis and Anthony Vicino are both inducted into the WHOF for their legendary interview. Their legacy will live on forever with the bar they’ve set for author interviews. Oh, and they had good writing careers too.
AV: Well, yes. This is a given. We’re redefining art, man. Let’s get deep: What do you resent most about writing?
EL: That for months on end, I am the only one knows my stories and my messages. I wish I could instantly create the stories in my head to share them with the world. But unfortunately, that’s not how it works. And so for many months, in a long and lonely process, I am the only one who knows my stories. It’s like the great Morgan Freeman once said, it’s like having “a dream that no one sees but you.”
AV: Ah, yes. The lonely suffering artist. We’ve all been there, and unfortunately it never gets easier. Best remedy? Work everyday and finish what you start. BooM! (That’s for the noobs out there).
What’s your favorite safety line? The one that keeps cropping up in your stories.
EL: “Holy sh*t”
Beautifully descriptive and multifunctional. Don’t know how we can top that, so we won’t even try. If you want to connect with Ernie find him aat ernieluis.com or on facebook at ErnieLuisWrites!