The Big Idea: Jordan Summers
Posted on November 11, 2008 Posted by John Scalzi 22 Comments
Fairy tales and post-apocalyptic futures: Are they two great tastes that go great together? This is the question Jordan Summers tries to answer in Red, in which elements of some of the most primeval of fantasy tales get a whole new science fiction-y spin, with action and romance thrown in to spice it all up. What possessed Summers to create this hot combination of literary ingredients? She’s glad you asked.
Like so many other ‘big ideas’, Red started with a single question: What if Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf turned out to be the same person?
There are a lot of places you can go with Red Riding Hood as a starting point. Even the most subtext-averse, literal reader of tales would admit there’s more to these rich images than don’t wander off the path. You have the girl, alone in the deep woods. You have awakening, deception and death.
So the idea continued to poke at my subconscious, darting in and out of my mind until the first character, Gina ‘Red’ Santiago, raised her head (or gun, in her case) and began to speak. It was only then I realized this story was not set in a contemporary world. It would take place in the near-future after an apocalyptic war. The setting and time-period presented more than a few problems, since I was writing a twist on the old tale. I had to ask myself: if a series of murders were following a medieval fairytale on post-apocalyptic Earth, how would anyone know? Were the people in this world still reading fairytales now that countries no longer existed and paper books were rare? If not, who would know about such stories? This led to the creation of the Others.
The Others were men and women in the original armed forces who volunteered for genetic alteration to become super soldiers. Some of these soldiers mirror present day monsters. There are two-legged werewolves, who can change in a flash –their skins growing thicker, teeth sharper, nails deadlier. All the better to kill you with… There are vampires, who might drain you or telekinetically stop your heart. Even if you managed to kill one, they are still considered a deadly weapon. In Red, some vampires, who are exposed to the sun, will expand and harden until they explode. Their bodies become human shrapnel in order to kill the enemy or whoever is unfortunate enough to be standing nearby. There are chimeras and psychics. Each holds various abilities, depending on their natural talents.
These medical procedures were a last ditch effort to win an unwinnable war. After they failed, no one in the remnants of the old governments wanted to admit to participating in such atrocities. Their answer to this problem was to destroy the evidence. The soldiers went from being heroes to being hunted. The Others who survived went underground, which was where they remained until an inquisitive tactical team lieutenant named Gina Santiago stumbled across them. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one looking for them. One man, Roark Montgomery, wants to reorganize the world and there’s no room for the Others.
In the end, the book isn’t merely a twist on a fairytale. The story addresses a lot of issues currently making life interesting here in the states and around the world—environmental problems, illegal immigration, crime, and borders—whether these are your own walls, or the barriers meant to separate the states from Mexico, man-made boundaries are rarely successful in keeping the ‘monsters’ out.
Red is the first book in a trilogy. The story details one woman’s quest to find the truth behind several murders, where each death reveals more about her own life. The search for the killer turns her orderly life into a chaotic nightmare where—like the fairytale—deception is the norm, and the truth may mean her entire life is a lie.
Red: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s
Read an excerpt of Red here. Visit Jordan Summer’s blog here.
I’ve noticed lately that romance novels are the new place where SF and Fantasy writers can go to get published.
Having a friend who’s a romance writer for some years now, and having seen how far superior the RWA is to the SFWA in terms of membership requirements, coaching and training, and general promotion of the craft, this is not particularly surprising to me.
What does surprise me is that I’ve been seeing a lot more romance-type writing showing up with the Big Ideas. It can be a very formulaic style, where the crafting and presentation of a specific variation on the formula would be more important to the buyers than the innovative idea. This is still true in the fantasy-flavored romances, but they throw in the specific stage-dressing of a variation on vampires, magic styles, their incarnation of the Masquerade/Secret War, the Hidden Society, and it’s sometimes that stage dressing where a Big Idea can crop up, which is I think what’s happening with this book.
Which is not to say anything negative about this one in particular… I expect to buy it when I see it.
I remember this one had great cover art on Tor.com at the same time as Zoe’s Tale. I guess they went with a more “romantic” cover with the bare-chested dude. I was pegging this as a romance… but the excerpt was *not* what i was expecting… much darker, more thriller/horror. sounds interesting.
oooooooo! This sounds cool! Just ordered on amazon.
Just picked it up today, looking forward to reading it. ;)
Sam, I LOVED the original cover for Red. So much so, I begged Chris McGrath for a print. Unfortunately, it wasn’t considered romance enough so they went with the cover you see above, which is still good just different. As you can tell from the excerpt, I didn’t write a typical paranormal romance. That’s why I like writing for Tor. They give me room to ‘play’.
I adore Jordan’s books because they are not typical romances. I like the mishmash of different genres, hybrids, where a girl can be tough, be smart, kick some ass, and still get the dude in the end. Just because she’s independent and likes to solve her own problems doesn’t mean she has to be alone in the world.
Going on the Christmas wishlist :D
I don’t have any hard and fast numbers, but it does seem to me that the F/SF field as a genre is shifting and changing.
There is more fantasy published than SF these days, and within fantasy, there is a lot of supernatural modern-day fantasy (Laurell Hamilton territory). Romantic infused fantasy also seems to be on the rise. Arguably, Lois Bujold’s Sharing Knife novels are romantic infused fantasy. Not as strongly infused as a typical romance, but clearly more than previous novels.
Just read the excerpt – holy monkeybutts, that was disturbing. Red is now on my got-to-have list.
Oh hell yeah! I’m all over this one. And Sam, thanks for Tor.com comment. I knew this book/author sounded familiar, but I was drawing a blank.
Yes, the original cover art on Tor.com was awesome! This one is good too, but sometimes I wish we didn’t need a bare chest to sell a romantic book. Oh well. At least it is not Fabio, right. :)
I’m very much looking forward to this trilogy. I haven’t yet had a chance to read RED but it is in my TBR stack. Maybe I’ll have to move things around and read it soon.
The urban fantasy genre is full of women who kick-ass. A lot of them are smartasses, too, which is something I always appreciate in a character. Some a hyper-capable, and some aren’t.
It’s annoying that the bookstores don’t seem to know where to file these books, so they wind up split between the scifi/fantasy and romance sections.
I just finished ‘Magic to the Bone’ by Devon Monk, and have Red next on my to-read pile, after having finished multiple military scifi books and the latest Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker. It’s good to mix it up.
I love man titty covers. The half nekkid women with huge round things on their chests…not so much.
I read half of this book, but it just wasn’t for me and I didn’t finish. Publishers need to start a returns program for books that sucked, sort of like what every other company has when you are unhappy with the merchandise. Maybe not cash back, but store credit at least.
I ordered the book today from Amazon. The thought process alone that you described was enough to sell me. Good luck, Jordan! I want to see more of these kinds of books selling in romance.
I’ve ordered it as well, and am looking forward to curling up on the couch to read it. Thanks for telling us how the story came about in your mind. Makes it a bit more intriguing.
Well, I just grabbed an ARC to look through, and it started out with a scene in which a werewolf chases down, rapes, and then eats a woman.
All in all, I think a warning might be a good idea.
When working with and changing (especially Russian) fairy tales I always wonder whether authors are you familiar with / influenced by the work of the
Vladimir Propp; are you? And if so, could you comment a bit on how that influenced your writing?
Fun feature! I love learning about how books evolve, especially dark and gritty ones like this. Jordan, best of luck with this release.
I went to the bookstore today all happy and shiny and full of discretionary cash. Nothing to be seen in the SciFi aisle. Clerk asked if she could help, I said “Red by Jordan Summers, please.” She looked into her computery thing and walked me back to the romance section with narry a smirk. First you get me hooked on Sci-Fi but now you have me buying romance novels? Next thing you know, I’ll be taping bacon to my cat.
[…]Learn about RED’s evolution in this feature at John Scalzi’s Whatever[…]
I asked my wife to pick me up a copy of this based entirely on the mention Red got here on the website. She bought it and then teased me mercilessly that she’d found it in the romance section. Given that she reads a ton of romance, mostly as mental popcorn to relax when doing astrophysics gets to be too much, I didn’t really think she had a leg to stand on, but I was willing to put up with the teasing in order to get a good read.
Unfortunately, it’s not a good read, and I feel like Whatever has let me down. Perhaps I’m just not in tune with the conventions of the genre. I thought the world building was very weak. I had a couple of ‘throw the book across the room’ moments between the tech level, the cardboard villain(s), and the plot twists I saw coming a mile away. I didn’t find Red herself to be a particularly strong female character. I didn’t find any of the characters compelling in the least. And I found the prose serviceable at best.
I don’t want to come down too hard on the author. I did think the idea of combining the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood was a cool one. I was just expecting something a lot closer to the old Ace fairy tale line than what I got. Cool idea, yes. Execution not so much.
Just to check my assumptions, I asked my wife what she thought about the book. She said the whole thing didn’t look particularly interesting to her, and that if I’m going to read fantasy-romance, I should be reading Michelle Sagara instead.
This is the first time Whatever’s let me down for a book recommendation. Everything else I’ve read, particularly the Tobias Bucknell stuff, has been great. I’m hoping it’s just an anomaly.
I have a review of the book up on my website. I agree with Michael, the poster just above my post. And there should be rape trigger warnings, since that’s what the first chapter of the book is all about.