Hey, Guess Who Will Be Going to Dragon Con This Year?

Spoiler: It’s me. I will be going. As its literary guest of honor.

I’m very excited and I’m looking forward to seeing folks there in September! More details to come, promise.

The Big Idea: Kameron Hurley

For this Big Idea, Kameron Hurley looks at what it takes to get a book right — and how her latest novel, The Broken Heavens, had to look beyond binary expectations to get there.

KAMERON HURLEY:

Two choices: Left or right. This or that.

Choose one or the other. There’s no in-between. No other choices.

From the time we are small we learn that we have choices: yes, or no. Good, or bad. The idea that there are only two choices has become pervasive in our media, our politics, our relationships, and it’s divided us deeply here in the U.S.

When I began writing my Worldbreaker Saga back in 2012, which begins with the novel The Mirror Empire, I too was obsessed with this idea of two choices: the light and the dark. I was writing fantasy, after all! While my protagonists might be morally messy early on, I always knew I was headed for a showdown where they had two choices: good or evil. Genocidal or self-sacrificing.

But it was a false choice.

And it literally took me years to realize this.

At some level I must have understood I was setting up a false choice as I finished the second volume, Empire Ascendant, and began the grueling process of tying everything up in the third and final book, The Broken Heavens. Emotionally, I was rebelling against my own embrace of these false choices, because no matter how many times I tried to get myself to write the ending I had in mind at the beginning of the series, it just never felt… right.

It took writing 90,000 words of… something for my agent to finally call me out. “Frankly, this isn’t very good,” she said. “Let’s take this out of the schedule and have you work on something else.”

I was incredibly angry with her, at first. Angry because she had identified in the writing the fact that I was deeply unhappy with the choices I had waiting for my protagonists, and I had absolutely no idea how to fix it.

Fixing issues this big, things that are so deeply ingrained in you that you have trouble thinking outside of the false paradigm, can take time.

I needed the time.

After the US election, I took a fresh look at the book and wondered if my work was contributing to this narrative of two choices; this idea that all we ever got to choose from were a range of bad alternatives forced on us by powers far larger than ourselves. How was that inspiring? Impactful? Hopeful?

The idea that we only have two choices is a very western, and honestly fairly recent, phenomenon. It’s a fallacy promoted by media for clicks, by political parties for votes, by foreign and domestic forces who want to ensure we remain angry and divided and nihilistic.

The truth is we have an infinite number of choices. Tradition, politicians, friends, family, social mores, will tell you it’s not true, but that’s because thinking outside of those choices is dangerous to the status quo. It upends assumptions about the way the world could and should be.

And in this series, I absolutely wanted to upend the world.

It took a lot of angry writing on my part. Long, long email back-and-forths with my agent, until she suggested I start thinking in another way. What if I stopped focusing on breaking things apart, and instead focused on bringing things together?

And there it was.

It all clicked.

While the rest of the book writing process was not smooth – I still did a tremendous amount of revision of the first third of the book, even after turning it over to my editor – the ending finally worked.  It was true to the world, the characters, the lore, the journey, from The Mirror Empire through Empire Ascendant and now, here, at the end: The Broken Heavens.

I am immensely proud of finishing this book. More so, I am proud that I took the time and didn’t do the lazy, expected thing with how I finished it up.

A fellow writer, Tobias Buckell, once paraphrased some advice from Tim Powers, which went something like this:

No one will remember if a good book was late. And a good book will only be late once. But a bad book? A bad book is bad forever.

I took the time to make The Broken Heavens a good, satisfying story. And it’s made all the difference.

—-

The Broken Heavens: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

When I Die and People Write About Me

Apropos of nothing in particular, I have some thoughts about my (hopefully not imminent) death, and the people who will decide to write things about me immediately thereafter. Consider this piece a bit of advance planning.

1. When I die, some people will be moved to write touching pieces about me, talking about all the kind and fine things that I did for people, and for my community, and for them in particular, and that will be their way of dealing with the fact I’m dead, and that this is how they’ll want to remember me, or will want to be seen remembering me. This is fine by me; I like it when people remember the good things I’ve done, and I like the idea that a moment I’ve shared with someone or a thing I did resonated with them enough that it’s something they’d want to share at my passing. That’s lovely.

2. Other people will feel the urge to try to write a balanced assessment of my life and influence, noting the kind things I did but, to a greater or lesser degree, not skimping on my unkindnesses or my lapses in judgment or empathy. This is also fine by me, because I’m not a perfect person, and while I try on balance to be the sort of person people remember well, I have my bad days (and weeks, and months, and possibly years). In any event it’s impossible to be on the side of angels for every moment in one’s life, or even on the side of every human you meet. If someone decides to try to measure me in full right after I’ve kicked the bucket, well, that’s ambitious, but I’m not going to blame them for trying. They might even succeed!

3. Still other people will decide it is time for an accounting of all my misdeeds, fuck ups and trespasses, perhaps because they are sick of seeing all the treacly remembrances of category one, or the “measured” assessments of category two are a little too artificially measured for their taste, and someone needs to speak truth to power, even if that power is newly dead. Alternately, it’s entirely possible that unintentionally or otherwise, I was a completely awful person to someone (or they believe I was a completely awful person in general), and they feel compelled to share that out loud.

And you know what? This is also fine. I have been an awful person from time to time, and awful to specific people. Sometimes that’s because I’m just me, and I’m occasionally cranky or clueless or stupid, like anyone else. We don’t always know to correct our mistakes, and sometimes we learn it’s too late to do so. But then there are the times when I did go after someone, because they needed a stabbing in the eye and I just happened to have a pointy stick in my hand. I regret that some people who I did not mean to rub the wrong way will think poorly of me when I die. If possible, I would have liked to make amends to them. There are other people, however, that I will be delighted to have antagonized, yea even onto death, because they were terrible people and they got what they deserved from me. I’ll see those motherfuckers in Hell.

4. In any event, I will be dead, so it’s safe to say that I personally won’t care one way or another what people say about me, good, bad or otherwise. I don’t believe in an afterlife, and if there is one despite my expectations, the last goddamn thing I will want to do with it is scroll down social media to see what people are saying about me. People who write about me after my death are doing it for themselves, and that’s fine — it’s one way of processing my death and what I meant to them, positive, negative or some combination thereof, while I was alive. I will not be healed or injured by anything anyone has to say about me when I’m dead, because, again, I’ll be dead. I’ll be beyond worrying about reputation or standing or my influence on current or future generations.

5. That said, from this side of the veil, I can say that I expect the whole range of remembrances when I kick off. Everyone’s interaction with me is different and personal, and to the extent people are moved to speak of me at all, they should speak their truth about me, even if that particular truth is not flattering to me, or not what some people would consider appropriate during a period where people who knew and cared for me are in mourning. I feel fairly confident that the people who will mourn me will be able to handle the occasional less than perfectly kind social media declaration about me, or my life and its work.

6. While I am not currently the boss of you and will be even less so after I am dead, nevertheless here is a small request: If, right after I am gone, you see someone post a remembrance of me that you disagree with, for whatever reason, just… let it go. Don’t respond in the comments, don’t write an outraged rebuttal, and certainly don’t decide to gather up all your excitable little friends to gang up on whoever is saying mean things about me because my honor must be defended (or my honor must be torn down, or whatever). One, why? Let me repeat: I will be dead. I literally won’t care. Two, being shitty to other people in the service of my memory just means you’re being shitty and using me as an excuse, and, yeah, just don’t. Be shitty on your own time.

Three, and again: Everyone will have had a different experience of me, and their experience of me will also be informed by who they were when they met me. As long as they are speaking the truth of their experience of me, I’m fine with it. As far as I’m concerned, they should be able to have their say, without taking a ration of crap for it from anyone else.

When all the remembrances of every one who feels compelled to write about me directly after my death are added up, the composite of me it represents will still be incomplete — but I suspect it will be an interesting one to read. And while I’ll be dead then and won’t care, right now I can say I’ll be sad to miss it. All of it.