The Big Idea: Reese Hogan
Posted on August 15, 2019 Posted by John Scalzi 3 Comments
In fantasy worlds, we’re used to the idea of “secondary worlds” — worlds not unlike our own, branched off in specific ways — and in Shrouded Loyalties, author Reese Hogan branches off from an unusual place indeed.
To try to figure out the big idea behind Shrouded Loyalties—and the wording here is something I had to constantly remind myself of as I thought about this blog post; not all the big ideas coming together, but the big idea that started it all—I’d have to boil the book down to the very first elements that were present, before it blossomed and grew into something beyond what I imagined.
Only three things from my very first draft survived until the final book: 1) the setting—I always knew I wanted a World War II-inspired secondary world; 2) people being hunted for magic tattoos—these grew into the marks two of my characters receive in the second chapter; and 3) the idea of a soldier returning home from war to discover that her little brother is an enemy collaborator.
It was this last idea that really defined how the book grew. Originally, Blackwood was a soldier in the army, rather than a sailor on a submarine, but I needed her to be farther from home to give her brother, Andrew, the space to distance himself from her emotionally. I needed to give the enemy a reason to want Andrew on their side, so his and Blackwood’s parents became scientists who’d left valuable research behind after dying in a freak accident. I needed to give Blackwood a secret big enough that the enemy getting ahold of it could mean the downfall of her own country, and I needed to give Andrew the motivation and means to take that secret and give it to the very people she hated.
Finally, from a draft of the book that only shared Blackwood’s side of the story, I gave Andrew a point of view, so the reader could understand why he makes the decisions he does—and maybe even sympathize with those decisions. So, before I ever had a pair of spies targeting the Blackwood siblings or an alternate world filled with monsters, I had Blackwood and her brother, two very very different people who could barely hold a conversation, pitted against one another in the most personal way possible.
The result brought me into territory I hadn’t expected, in terms of grief and depression and self-loathing, and I found myself growing increasingly convinced that this was the story my heart had been leading me to all along—the temptations that can seduce us in our darkest hours, and the powerful toll mental health issues can have on relationships and communication. I am no stranger to these feelings, but I don’t often see them explored in the SFF genre, and I realized as I wrote Blackwood and Andrew’s relationship that this was my chance to make these issues accessible in a new way. That’s why Shrouded Loyalties, a novel about alternate realms and spies and monsters, is at its heart a story of two people who never learned to communicate.
But I didn’t know any of this when I started writing it. In the beginning, my big idea was as simple as a teenage brother lured to the wrong side of the tracks, and the guilt of the big sister who knew deep down that she should have been there to protect him. I didn’t know if the relationship would be fixable. I didn’t know how far Andrew would go in his collaboration. All I knew was that there’s nothing more devastating than a sibling relationship gone this badly wrong, and that it was something I was dying to explore.
Shrouded Loyalties: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.
I dodged the Vietnam War draft of Richard Nixon and Melvin Laird by joining the US Navy, while leaving the upper crust liberal arts college freed up monies that the parents could use to send my younger brother to a high end prep school… St Paul’s School in NH. No coincidence that a Great Uncle we never spent time with was the head master.
As I learned how to be a Swabbie in the Navy, assigned to a WW II era Submarine Tender in Key West, supporting the last diesel boat squadron in the USN, my brother learned how to be upper crust right wing nut job in an all boy prep school full of rich snobs. My bro was from WV, so automatically not a rich snob, at least at first.
He learned to be a right wing nut job, while experimenting with pubescent gay sex, as they were all horny and there were no girls allowed. He is still a RWNJ, now in Texas, and deep into the Boy Scout Cult, firearms, shooting to kill captive exotic game animals, while I’m an older former software design guru, now retired — I shoot targets and plastic bottles.. I built fancy remote homes in folds of the Appalachan mountains and in a more remote Arizona high desert mountain range. I’m also a supporter of left wing progressive Democratic candidates for political office, while my Bro is a life member of the NRA and is a volunteer member of the Sheriffs Posse in his rural Texas county.
We don’t talk about politics much, not at all. His younger son is an officer, an Ensign in the Navy, beginning a career in nuclear submarine management, while his older son is a fully certified Texas Law Enforcement Officer, carrying a gun to protect Texas from Texans… he is on the autism spectrum and can’t look people in the eye without blushing and looking at the ground. It always seemed to me he would be better suited to be a Union member of the IBEW working on complex installs of web cable server farms, or high tension lines from a windmill farm, but he is the son of a couple of southern RWNJs. His mom thinks working for a construction union is only fit for — not fit for her son, who is special, and needs to carry a gun in case a social worker needs to recommend he seek counseling.
I don’t see them much, not at all since Don Trump was selected Dear Leader by the Republican voter suppression conspiracy.
This short bio of that part of my life history seems quite like the history in the novel being discussed above, somehow. Now I’m going to eat a late night pastry, like an eclair, and drink a glass of milk and try once more to fall asleep while I surf the web…
Sounds like a great book, though my life seems kinda dull and boring at this moment.
This sounds like it could be far too painful and personal to read. So, of course, it’s on my reading list…
And JR, my friend also avoided the draft by joining the Navy. He thought he’d see the world, but avoid actually being in Vietnam. So they made him a programmer, and he spent the war in Washington…
Man, that sounds like a hard but good read. Noted.