Linda Nagata grew up in a rented beach house on the north shore of Oahu. She graduated from the University of Hawaii with a degree in zoology and worked for a time at Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. She has been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and lately a publisher and book designer. She is the author of eight novels including The Bohr Maker, winner of the Locus Award for best first novel, and the novella "Goddesses," the first online publication to receive a Nebula award. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.
- Tell us about your science fiction books.
I love adventure stories. I always have. This is a big reason that I gravitated to science fiction: it’s the perfect genre for telling tales of great adventures, and that’s what I’ve tried to do in my novels. The first four books take place in the same story world, sharing a future drenched in nanotechnology, in which it sometimes seems like all things are possible, but in which things can, and do, go very wrong. The next book, Limit of Vision, is a near-future thriller that explores the escape and evolution of an artificial life form, while touching on the theme of how the future always unfolds in unexpected, and unforeseeable ways. My last traditionally published book, Memory, goes in a different direction. It’s a far-future, hard SF tale that feels like fantasy—a coming of age adventure set on a world where the underlying technology has begun running out of control. Oh, and I should also mention my young adult novel, Skye Object 3270a. It’s a far future, hard science fiction adventure aimed at advanced middle school readers.
- Why did you choose hard science, and what do you hope to achieve with your writing?
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, so my first goal as a writer was to write the sort of stories that I desperately wanted to read. I’ve also always been deeply interested in science, in particular biology. I was raised in a household where science shows were always on the TV and science books were always on the shelf, so it was natural to combine my interests by writing hard science fiction. But I also like the challenge of the genre, the idea of working within a fairly strict rule set.
- Is there an underlying message in your science fiction books?
I didn’t set out to include one, but most of my work is interested in the evolution of people, culture, and technology, and the idea that if it can be done, someone, somewhere, is likely to try it. Also, that what we might find reprehensible today, particularly in fields like genetic engineering, could very well be seen as perfectly normal a little further down the timeline.
- Tell us about your science background and how it has helped you to create your work.
I majored in biology, with an emphasis on ecology, evolution, cellular structures, and biochemistry. I managed to not learn much physics until after I graduated, when I needed to figure things out for the books. Also, lots of reading of layman’s books on many subjects. I simply could not have written the books without this background. Not that the books are about science. Very few of my characters are professional scientists. I’m just interested in constructing a story world that’s in some sense an extrapolation of known science and technology.
- Of the characters you’ve created, do you have a favourite? If so, why this particular character?
Oh, I’m very fond of all of them! I think an author has to be, to stick with the same characters throughout an entire novel. But since he managed to put in an appearance in three different books, I’ll have to name Nikko, from The Bohr Maker, as one of my favourites. He’s an unapologetic, genetically engineered, radical technologist, and I put him through hell.
- How is writing hard science fiction different from writing other genres?
I think all genres have their rules. Hard science fiction just has a different set of rules, and that rule set varies with the writer. For example, none of my stories use faster-than-light travel. I’ve also been very cautious about including aliens, though many hard SF writers freely include both. Many fantasy novels, historical novels, thrillers, etc. require just as much research to get right.
- What do you find most rewarding in the writing process?
For me the pleasure comes in those moments when I know I’m finding the right words to tell the story I wanted to tell. This usually takes place during the revision, when the story starts to come together and the words begin to feel graceful instead of awkward. But of course there’s a lot to be said for that moment when someone first tells me they loved the book.
- What do you find most challenging, and how do you overcome it?
Focusing on the work and writing everyday; keeping the faith that what I’m doing is worth the time and anxiety. I’ve written nine novels, but on many days I still find it very hard to give in mentally, embrace the challenge, and do the work. It’s ever so much easier to go work on one of the websites I look after, or to prep another eBook, or work on a cover or layout. Right now, for example, I’m supposed to be revising my latest novel, but I’m doing this interview! And I’m late with it too. How do I meet the challenge of working consistently? Simply by returning to the work, whether I want to or not. Aiming for a daily word count helps. 2011 has been my year of writing with a new level of determination. I’ve written and published one novel so far, and I have finished the draft of a second novel. So it can be done.
- Tell us about your decision to strike out on your own.
Despite awards, some very nice reviews and support from other writers, my career was caught in the infamous “death spiral” in which each book is printed in smaller quantities than the one before; and so each sells less than the one before. It was very frustrating, and the couple of books that I tried to sell after Memory didn’t find buyers. So I decided that if somebody was going to fail at selling my books, it might as well be me! Realistically, the field is changing so fast that the idea of signing a traditional contract scares me. I’ve come to enjoy having full control over my work. Right now it’s not something I’m willing to give up.
- What have you done to promote and market your books, and what advice would you give to other authors?
Don’t look to me for advice on promotion! I’m terrible at it. This was a weak point in my traditional career, and it’s a weak point now. Mostly, like everyone else, I try to be active on social networks, in particular Twitter (@LindaNagata), and increasingly, Google+. I also have my blog; but this is a puzzle I’m still working on.
- You have also written a fantasy book entitled ‘The Dread Hammer’ under the pen name, Trey Shiels. Tell us about this book, and why you decided to use a pen name.
I love this book, for itself, and because it got me seriously writing again. It has a “medieval-ish” setting and involves a rather violent young man - well, he’s not quite human - who finds himself unexpectedly in love. The Dread Hammer is a bit outrageous. It’s a fast-paced, violent, sexy short novel that touches on marriage, family, and self-determination. People seem to like it.
Why the pen name? First, because hard experience has shown that the name “Linda Nagata” doesn’t sell many books. Second, because the readers who do know my name expect a different sort of story from me, and I don’t want to mislead anyone. It seemed like a worthwhile experiment to publish in a new genre under a new name.
- Would you like to see any of your books adapted for the screen? If so, do you have any aspirations, or reservations, regarding this?
I almost answered this question with “Who wouldn’t?” but I suppose there are writers who would hesitate. For myself, I’d love to see it happen. Most of my books would be very hard to do, given the level of special effects required and the complexity of the stories, but I’ve actually written a treatment for my novel Limit of Vision. That didn’t go anywhere, but it was an interesting experience. Now that you mention it, maybe I should do something with The Dread Hammer. That’s a story that could work nicely as a screenplay.
- Tell us a little about a good science fiction or fantasy book you’ve read recently.
I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I want to, but my latest “Book Rave” on the blog was over Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads, a fantasy novel set in a huge, complex, wild world, following the adventures of a man named Moon, a classic outsider looking for his place in life. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it highly.
- Describe your Nebula award-winning novella ‘Goddesses’, in one sentence.
A near-future tale of how simple actions can make the world a better place; also, the first online fiction to win a Nebula award.
- As an ambitious science fiction author, I would love to have my novel considered for a Nebula award. What advice could you give to independent authors regarding this?
I haven’t looked into the process in years! Awards are great to mention when you’re trying to interest people in your books, but a lot of great books have never won awards. Awards and readers don’t necessarily go together, and while the awards are fun, I’d rather have the readers.
- Where can we find you and your books?
My books are getting easier to find. Most are available worldwide via Book View Café, in both mobi and epub formats. You can also find them at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Amazon UK, and at the UK online store, Wizards Tower. I’ve also been at work republishing some of the books in print editions. Look for them at Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble. Hopefully they’ll also be showing up soon at some Australian online bookstores.
You can find me at all the usual haunts. Here’s a quick list, depending on your preference: