The Big Idea: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
The great thing about Sharon Lee and Steve Miller is that they give true value for your reading time. For example, in this post about Necessity’s Child, the latest installment in their celebrate Liaden Universe series, they are not content to give you just a single Big Idea — no, they give you a whole smorgasbord of ideas. Let’s dig in, shall we?
SHARON LEE and STEVE MILLER:
The ideas that ganged up on us and finally produced Necessity’s Child come in several sizes — Huge, Big, Medium, and Small.
The Big Idea came from Sharon’s maternal grandmother, who was wont, when she was particularly exasperated with her granddaughter’s elementary school self, to exclaim: “If only you would be stolen by the gypsies!”
That actually sounded kind of cool. Unfortunately, though the wish was frequently repeated, the Rom of Baltimore clearly knew better than a funny-looking gadje kid who read better than she talked; Sharon remained unstolen
On one particularly. . .strained. . .day, the wish having been reiterated several times, with feeling, Sharon thought she’d take matters into her own hands. Whereupon, she put the question — subtle-like, you understand: “Where do the gypsies live, Grandma?”
Grandma was reading a magazine. She answered without looking up from the page
“They live hidden.”
Oooh, that was even cooler, though it posed a potential problem.
Grandma beamed a look of disdain over the top of her half-glasses.
“If I knew where, they wouldn’t be hidden, would they?”
Since there didn’t seem to be any way to pursue this line of investigation without opening herself up to even more grandmotherly scorn, Sharon abandoned the topic. But, had she only known it then, she’d already gotten the gold.
They live hidden.
Face it — there’s a reason why so many fantasy and science fiction stories want to talk about the Land Beyond the Wall, and Those Beautiful People, and The Slans, and The (various) Secret Societies of This ‘n That.
They live hidden? That’s not just a Big Idea; it’s a Huge Idea.
It’s certainly an idea to which we’ve returned many times, because, in fact, we all live hidden; we’re each of us more, or other, than we show ourselves to be — and often more than we, ourselves, know. You could write a million riffs on they live hidden and learn something new, every time.
For Necessity’s Child, we decided to take the Huge Idea more literally than we often do. We not only wanted to find out what-or-who, specifically, was hidden, and why, but what would happen when (1) it-or-they were revealed, and (2) what was hidden over here intersected with what had been hidden beneath our feet.
So, we met three characters in our shared headspace, as we do; three people from very different circumstances, each of whom lived — or had lived — hidden.
First, we met Kezzi of the Bedel, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother. Kezzi glories in the hidden life and despises Those Others, the gadje.
Syl Vor yos’Galan Clan Korval has until recently reluctantly lived hidden from Korval’s enemies, learning survival skills that no little boy should ever need. Reunited now with his mother, on a strange world, he’s struggling to re-adapt to open living.
And, last, we met Rys, a man so deeply hidden that he’s even a cipher to himself.
So, what do we have so far?
Huge Idea — they live hidden; Big Idea — Sharon’s unrequited romance with the gypsies; Medium Idea — what will happen when the lives of three very different people intersect; how will they change; and what will we learn, this time?
Which brings us to the Small Idea.
The Small Idea is, well. . .awfully prosaic.
You see, this month, February 2013, marks the Silver Anniversary of the Liaden Universe®. The first book in the series, Agent of Change, was published by Del Rey, in February 1988. Necessity’s Child, available, well. . .right now, from Baen, is the sixteenth Liaden Universe® novel.
When you’ve been writing in a particular universe for twenty-five years, it’s only fair to those readers who may want to sample your work, but who are understandably hesitant to commit to sixteen novels — it’s only fair to give those readers a door into the Universe; a book they can read without any prior knowledge of the series, or of the ongoing characters. We’ve previously written several Liaden portal novels. . .and it was time to write another.
The challenge in writing portal novels is that they have to be satisfying to both new and existing readers of the series. There should be new characters, new situations, and hooks into the rest of the Universe so readers who have been with us since 1988 will find a fresh and exciting narrative, characters that catch their hearts, and a story that enriches the existing canon.
In addition to all of that — because who doesn’t want an exciting story and engaging characters? — a portal book needs to do scene-setting, and lay deep background, for the new folks, so that when they, hopefully, step through the door to explore the rest of the Liaden Universe®, they’ll feel right at home.
Portal books ought, also, and ideally, be fun to write. That’s true of all books, really; life is too short to write stories you hate. But it’s especially true of portal books, which allow authors to leave the straight narrative pathway, and chew up the scenery a little — or, OK, a lot.
Necessity’s Child was enormous fun to write; it was like giving ourselves two weeks at the ocean in high summer, with unlimited roller coaster rides.
We hope you have just as much fun reading it.