Chat with Linda Nagata, Author of Military Science Fiction Novel THE RED

On 17 June 2015, author Linda Nagata participated in a Twitter chat for the “Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat” series organized by author and editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Nagata offered insights on the writing process, thoughts for beginning writers, and kept things light with her wry style of humour throughout the chat.

You can read more using the Twitter hashtag #sffwrtcht, or by visiting the archives on Mr. Schmidt’s website (click here).

The chat transcript below contains only Linda Nagata’s responses to questions, and expands the numerous innovative abbreviations that better suit Twitter’s 140-character microblog format.

SFF Writer Chat: Linda Nagata

(The chat began at 9:05pm.)

I picked up the habit from my dad. I grew up an avid reader, especially drawn to adventure stories, so it was natural to pick up the science fiction lying around the house. So much has been lost to the mists of time, but Andre Norton when young. Later, Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Greg Benford, Dan Simmons…

Lots more, of course…

In last semester of college it occurred to me I’d like to be a writer. I was a science major, so this was a bit of a right turn. Not too long after I graduated, I set out to learn how to write. Five years later, my first short story was published in Analog.

This [The Red] was the first science fiction novel I’d written in ten years. First draft was done in four months — amazingly fast for me. I decided from the start to self-publish it. I was impatient; I was selling short fiction again and wanted to get a new science fiction novel on the market as soon as possible. And I just wasn’t emotionally ready to go back to traditional publishing. I’d self-published two fantasy novels and loved the sense of control, of being in charge of the publishing process.

Most often, I start with a general idea, but with the Red, character came first. My protagonist, James Shelley, came to life in a short story published in ASIMOV’S. At end of book one, I knew I should probably write book two, and while writing book two, I seriously considered ending it there.

Shelley is a young lieutenant in the US Army, in charge of a tiny, understaffed but elite [unit]… other soldiers in the squad include Sgt. Jayne Vasquez, a self-made woman who finds her army career…

It’s set in the very near future, an if-this-goes-on scenario, where frequent small but prolonged wars are assumed. I’ve heard it described as a dystopia, but I don’t think it’s that different from the world we live in — more tech. I wanted to engage with technologies that are coming into existence, blend familiar elements with edgy advances, and revisit some older science-fictional ideas, too.

On the Lack of Distinct Chapters in THE RED

I feel like it lends momentum to the story, and I wanted a forward-leaning, fast-paced plot. I used the first-person present [point-of-view] for a similar reason. Trying to achieve a sense of immediacy.

So many sources! And it depends what you need to research. Lately, it’s been military publications, and anything relating to story elements.

After the Nebula nomination I got to talking w/my agent about the book. He read it, loved it, asked if he could auction it. Saga came through with a nice offer and I liked their plans. Have you seen the terrific cover they did?

The Red Trilogy is [the] first real trilogy I’ve written. I was literally on the verge of publishing book two when I was asked to hold off. So with two finished books and a third underway, Saga decided to do a fast release. THE TRIALS, will be out in time for Worldcon, and number three, GOING DARK will be out in November.

On The Writing Process

I outline, but not in great detail. I used to have a rule that I had to know the ending before I start writing. I’ve tried Scrivener, but I still use Word. That works for me. No rituals except procrastination. ;-)

I’ve been doing the word-count goal in recent years. Generally, I write slowly, spend long hours at it. I’m fortunate I’m able to do that. I need those long stretches to get.

[On differences between short-story writing process versus longer pieces]

Oddly, much the same. My short fiction tends to have a structure similar to longer work.

On Overcoming “Writer’s Block”

Alcohol…just kidding. Sort of… if I hit a roadblock while writing a story, I almost always wind up backtracking and changing some plot element. If I just don’t have the creative spark to start a new story…that’s harder. I do a lot of reading, and try to brainstorm, hunt for ideas that interest me… keep trying.

Writing Advice — From Best to Worst

Best [writing advice]: brainstorming an idea on paper(or onscreen), by nonstop writing, asking questions and answering them. Learned this early. Still do it. Great way to find ideas.

Worst [advice]? Well, most writing advice. I don’t write every day, I stop to revise, I write what I don’t know. :-P

Upcoming Projects

Future projects — I have promised a couple of short stories that I’m going to write REAL SOON NOW…

…and am maybe 10% into a new novel. But this one has a solid outline! :-)

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