Linda Nagata is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Hawaii, with seventeen novels and numerous short stories. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, John W. Campbell Memorial, and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial awards. She won the Nebula award, and is a two-time Locus award winner.
She’s best known for her high-tech science fiction, including the far-future adventure series, Inverted Frontier, and the near-future thriller, The Last Good Man.
LS: What drives you to write? I mean, you have a degree in zoology, and a background in programming database-driven websites – there are so many career options there! So why writing?
I blame the last semester of college. I’d had enough of studying. I didn’t want to go on directly to graduate school. Instead, I got it into my head that I should try to be a writer. So I moved from Honolulu to Maui to be with my husband, and slowly, painfully, I taught myself how to tell a story. It becomes a kind of obsession, of course. I kept at it. It took a few years, but I finally started selling the occasional short story, and eventually I sold a novel. (Self-publishing wasn’t a realistic option in those days.)
I never did go to graduate school—and we still live on Maui. Careers are fairly limited here. I took up programming, hoping to make a better living than writing had ever brought me, and that was fun for a while. But once the kids were grown, I wanted to try writing again.
LS: Your books, regardless of genre, have mind-boggling environments and systems supporting their amazing story lines. And yet, your characters are incredibly compelling and diverse (a huge personal thank you for making the central character of The Last Good Man a middle-aged woman!) – and not just the leading characters, but the secondary ones, as well. When you approach a new project, is it the action that drives the story, or do you start out with characters who you can’t wait to put in the driver’s seat?
Thank you! My stories rarely start with characters. Usually, I begin with an idea or a broad theme, something I want to explore. I ask myself, What might it be like if…? For example, what might the world look like given a highly advanced but unevenly distributed nanotechnology? The Nanotech Succession novels and the Inverted Frontier grew out of that.
The Last Good Man grew out of an interest in autonomous weapons and how those could change the dynamics of conflict. I knew I wanted to write another military thriller, but I wanted to give it a twist, make it different somehow. And that’s where the character of True Brighton came from. From the first moment it occurred to me that I could center the story around a middle-aged woman, I knew I had to do it. From a marketing perspective it probably wasn’t a great choice, but that book is a personal favorite and I’m glad it turned out the way it did.
LS: As a follow-up, once you have a project in mind, what is your writing process like, and do you approach the different genres you work in from different angles?
Once I settle on a broad theme, I focus on developing the central conflict and a rough plot, working on the characters at the same time.
I write high-tech science fiction—both near and far future—and also some fantasy. Regardless of genre, I approach story development in the same way. I need to get the basics down before I start writing: setting, basic plot, main characters. Then I develop a moderately detailed outline. Early on, I made it a rule that I have to know how the story ends before I start writing. The end might change along the way, but it’s important for my writing process to know my destination.
LS: You have experience with traditional publishing, yet in 2010 you founded Mythic Island Press LLC, an independent publishing venture where you virtually do it all, from first putting pen to paper, to production, design, promotion, and distribution of trade paperbacks and ebooks. What prompted the move to this “second career”, and what is it like to wear every single hat in the process?
Several years prior to 2010, I’d given up on writing—too much heartbreak, too little money. But by the time I was laid off from my job at the end of the Great Recession, I wanted back in—though not like before. I’d started hearing about the self-publishing revolution, and I realized my work in web development gave me a lot of the skills I needed to start my own publishing company. And I had inventory. I’d gotten the rights back on my traditionally published novels. So I dove in, and it was a lot of fun. There was a great joy in the sense of control that came with publishing my own work, especially after the hard knocks I’d taken in traditional publishing.
The business has grown up a lot since those early days, and I’ve learned a lot too. At this point, I’ve published several original novels, including The Last Good Man, and I have no regrets. It’s a lot of work, but I find it worthwhile both from a creative and a financial perspective.
LS: You are an admitted fan of audiobooks. A few of your own books have been made into audiobooks – were you involved in those processes at all, or was it totally out of your hands for better or worse? Have you ever considered producing your own audiobooks in the Mythic Island stable, or is that a completely naïve question?
I do love audiobooks. I don’t commute, but they are perfect for listening to if I’m working in the kitchen or the yard. They make dull work endurable!
I haven’t had a lot of involvement in the production of the existing audiobooks. I’ve been consulted on narrators and have helped out with pronunciations on obscure names, but that’s about it. My most recent science fiction novel is Pacific Storm. It’s a near-future thriller set in Honolulu. I haven’t tried to sell the audio rights yet because I have a quiet ambition to try to produce that one myself. At the least, I’d like it to be read by someone with a Hawaii accent. Someday soon I need to sit down and figure out who that might be, and then move forward from there.