The Big Idea: Jay Lake

Normally I write a bit about each of the Big Idea authors, but here’s all you need to know about Jay Lake, one of my fave people in science fiction/fantasy and a Hugo co-nominee with me for METAtropolis: He’s awesome. His new book Green? Also awesome. His Big Idea piece? Totally completes the awesome trifecta. I’ll get out of the way of all this awesome now, so you can experience it for yourself.


Mainspring came out in June of 2007.  Escapement followed a year later.  I knew there’d be at least one more book in the clockwork cycle, and maybe more than that.  But in discussions during the winter of 2007 and spring of 2008 (books take a long time), my editor Beth Meacham said, “Unless you want to be the Clockwork Guy for the rest of your life, you might want to take a break and try something different.”

She had a point.  On the one hand, being the Clockwork Guy wasn’t the worst idea I’d ever heard.  On the other hand, my short story career has practically been the definition of eclectic, as I’ve played with styles ranging from straight Robert E. Howard pastiche to high interstitial weirdness.  And pretty much everything in between you care to name, with the possible exception of nurse romances.  (And there’s even a romantic interest with a nurse in my short story “Jack’s House.”)

This argued for another direction.  As it happens, I flick ideas off myself the way a fourth grader flicks boogers.  Never been much of a shortage in that department.  But a novel had been tugging at me for a couple of years, based on my short story “Green”, which originally ran in Aeon magazine’s fifth issue.  I liked the original story a lot, and had written several spinoffs, including “A Water Matter” which ran at,  ”People of Leaf and Branch” which is running this June at Fantasy, and “The Daughters of Desire” forthcoming in Blood and Devotion. Obviously this setting had been running around in my brain for a while.

More to the point, I’d been wrestling at the time with some serious issues in my own craft around writing female protagonists who felt genuinely female, and not like me in a dress, as it were.  The notion of tackling a substantial piece of fantasy from a single-threaded tight first person POV sounded like an incredible way to expand my writerly horizons.

Thus, Green was born.

She’s almost an anti-hero, at least to my way of thinking, and unreliable as a narrator in some subtle ways, because though she’s very inwardly focused, Green isn’t particularly self-aware.  She’s an angry, violent young woman who doesn’t see those things in the mirror, and so never really understands why people react the way they do to her.  Given the roles into which she is thrust, her forceful nature is the only thing which does ensure her survival, but that makes her trip a hell of a ride.

The story begins with her being sold by her father at the age of three.  Her mother is dead, they are the poorest of peasants in a destitute tropical country.  Green is taken across the sea to Copper Downs for the sake of her beauty and raised among pale-skinned, pale-eyed strangers for whom she is a thing, most literally – a product to be formed and shaped and tailored into a fit wife or courtesan for the nobles of the Stone Coast.

Her training is suborned by a careful plot against the immortal duke ruling the city.  Green’s own fractious spirit and this undermining of her training combine to make her a dangerous rebel, and rebel she does – both against her trainers and against her conspirators.  From that unfolds a tale of claim and counterclaim, gods and ghosts, politics, sex and the place of women in the world.

All of this centers on a big idea that is also very small.

The big idea in Green is the notion of agency.  That’s at the heart of many of fiction’s epic struggles, but Green takes her fierce sense of individuality to the ragged edge and beyond.  Would you kill to be who you think you ought to be?  How badly would you need something to be willing to die for it?  The book’s tight internal narrative lets me get close to some very hard choices – grand versions of the choices we all make every day, in incremental steps and small doses.

Tor took this book and gave it one of the prettiest covers I’ve ever seen.  Striking, yet also strange and violent like Green herself.  I’ve already outlined a sequel, Endurance, which will be written later this year for a likely 2011 publication.  She’ll be back, tough as ever.  Get to know her now.


Green: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Green. Visit Jay Lake’s blog. Follow Jay Lake on Twitter.

21 Comments on “The Big Idea: Jay Lake”

  1. FYI: This looks really screwy in Google reader for some reason. It’s like there’s two copies of the text, one fine, the other with every single word flush to the left.

    I’ve never had this happen with either your site or Google reader before.

  2. Yeah, it came up screwy in the RSS on LJ too – the italics are written like _this_ and the URL’s aren’t working right. Probably not -your- fault, but I came over here to read it because the formatting was distracting.

  3. @Steve: Looks like someone turned the screen on its side and a bunch of letters fell off and piled up! Kind of cool actually.

    I feel bad sometimes that people put so much effort into formatting their blogs (or so little in some cases) and then I never see it because I read most things through google.

  4. Oh, and just so there’s a comment that isn’t about formatting issues, the book sounds fabulous, and the cover is awesome. 103 on my Goodreads to-read list!

  5. The book sounds awesome, and the cover artist is currently up for a hugo I believe ( has the art for download in a sampler).

    Oh, and google reader b0rk the interweb reading of this post :)

  6. She’s hanging upside down, suspended from one hand, in a tree that grows beets, and she cut her face with her own dagger, in a town with massive smog problems, and a moon that is experiencing orbital issues.

    That’s a seriously large moon.

  7. Concur: awesome & beautiful cover. Would like to judge the book by the cover, but that’s not encouraged around here. I will have to judge the book by the words, and thus must buy it soon.

  8. Beets? Looks like a pomegranate tree to me, albeit a large one. I know it’s a mug’s game to critique cover art, as its primary purpose is to sell books and not necessarily reflect accurately upon the story. That said, I love this cover art and would have picked this up in the bookstore even if I weren’t already a huge Jay Lake fan.

    Knowing almost nothing about the book, from the cover art I assumed that the “moon” was actually a large Jupiter-like gas giant, and that the art depicted a scene from one of its moons. Since it’s night on the (presumably tide-locked) moon, we’re seeing the sunlit face of the gas giant. The large amount of reflected light explains why it’s not completely dark but a kind of eerie twilight. But who knows, perhaps the artist simply thought it looked cool, which it does.

    Sounds like an good story that wrestles with some big questions, and I’ll be picking it up this weekend.

  9. LOVED “A Water Matter” so you pretty much had me at this being set in the same world. Well, that and I loved Mainspring too. This sounds like a very fun read… on the list for sure.

    Oh and the cover rocks.

    PS: There’s an excerpt from the book at and they’ve made the cover art available in various sizes if you wan it as wallpaper. For your COMPUTER! geez…

    PPS: Yes, I spend too much time on the web.

  10. I’ve been a Jay Lake fan ever since I read Trial of Flowers, so naturally this was on my Must Buy When the Paycheck Arrives list. But this blog just bumped it up to the top of my Now That I’ve Bought It I Have to Read It pile. You know…once the paycheck arrives and I actually buy it. Cause it’s an actual pile, not a metaphorical one.

  11. Since “A Water Matter” pulled my brain in strange ways, which I liked by the way, this book is definitely on the must read list.

    I figured pomegranates immediately so when Greg mentioned beets I went “whaah?” and had to scroll up and check. Yep, pomegranates. Remember, don’t eat six of the seeds or you have to stay in hell 1/2 the year… 8D

  12. Scalzi writes a book to get into the mind of a girl.

    Lake writes a book to get into the mind of a girl.

    I sense a funny joke, or drag competition, here somewhere.

  13. pomegranate trees usually don’t get that big. The moon certainly shouldn’t be that big. They supersize everythign in this world.

  14. Definitely an awesome cover and I see a lot of potential from the synopsis. I’ll be on the lookout for it.

    (Greg@#14): “They supersize everythign in this world.” Well not quite everything. The young lady doesn’t appear to be particularly “large”.

  15. “writing female protagonists who felt genuinely female, and not like me in a dress, as it were. ”

    Jay, you say this as if you in a dress would be a BAD thing.

    Laura Resnick

  16. I don’t think I’ve ever read Mr. Lake’s work.

    That might not be entirely true, I might have went through a story here or there, but not a novel. “Green”, which I’ve read the info on Amazon, does seem interesting.

    I might pick it up the next time I can afford to do so. That’s for the heads up.

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