The new novel Leviathan Wakes (first in the Expanse trilogy) has been described as a space opera for its grand, sweeping setting and powerfully emotional content. Set in a distant future world in which humans have colonized Mars and several sizable asteroids, it is a story of conflict on a large scale and personal, human struggle. I caught up with the authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who write collectively under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey) via Skype, to talk about the book, their influences and writing process as well as some observations on trends in Urban Fantasy. 

 

These guys are a riot. You’ll see what I mean below the cut.

 

 

 

 

GeekaChicas: James S. A. Corey is the two of you collectively. How did you meet? And why did you decide to write a book together?

 

Ty Franck: That’s two different questions. The first time I met Daniel, he bought me lunch and I thought he was a dick. 

 

Daniel Abraham: Yup. Turns out my first impressions are not my strong suit.

 

TF: But then, after having bought me lunch, I decided to give him a second chance, because free food always wins me over. And then on our second meeting, I decided he wasn’t a dick, so we started hanging out, because we live relatively nearby in Albuquerque.

 

DA: When Ty moved into town, we had a mutual friend who was kind of introducing him around, so we had that connection. And, yeah, we lived really close to each other. That helped.

 

GC: So how long did you know each other before you thought about writing a book together?

 

DA: Six months, eight months. Something like that. Maybe less.

 

TF: Yeah. I don’t remember exactly when. It was whenever the first time we decided to – Jayne, my wife, and I decided to game with Daniel and his wife. It came out of that first game session. I don’t remember exactly when that happened.

 

DA: The writing definitely came out of the gaming and the gaming was not the first thing we did socially.

 

TY: It was right in there.

 

DA: Ty and I were also part of the same writers’ group for a while there before we were doing that. So we had both seen what the other one was doing as far as writing, what kinds of projects we were interested in. Ty was running this game, and it was part of something he’d been doing before. So he had this huge amount of world-building already done. We played two or three… The problem was always scheduling the games, so we didn’t do more than three or four sessions of that game. By the end of that I was thinking, “No, this is a book. I ask him the details and he knows all the answers. This is a book.” That’s what we wrote.

 

GC: There are probably a lot of people out there who play an RPG and think “This would make a great novel” and usually it doesn’t.

 

TF:  No. I would say that almost 100% of the time they’re wrong. You need to wait until someone comes to you to turn it into a book. Don’t decide that one for yourself.

 

DA: I’ve been in lots of role playing games that would have made terrible novels. Awful! The action in the book isn’t the action from the role playing game. It’s not like we just wrote down what everyone said and all the stuff that we were laughing about and thought was hilarious when we were playing made it into the book and was still hilarious and fun. It would have died if it hadn’t been rebooted. If it hadn’t been redone as a book it would not have worked.

 

TF: Yeah. I mean, it’s primarily the setting that we’re using, not any of the-

 

DA: And some of the characters.

 

TF: Some of the characters. Not many of the details, I should say.

 

DA: And it’s not a recording of the game play. I think that’s the real problem with trying to translate a game into fiction. You want to actually translate the game you played, and that is where I think it fails. I think that translation doesn’t work.

 

GC: Glad you had the opportunity to clarify that. It seems like such a fully realized world, and from what you’ve just told me I take it that most of that was Ty’s vision, growing out of this game he created. How did you decide what your story was going to be?

 

TF: Well, I had the outline of the story when we first started because I had sort of a vague outline. In one version – there have been multiple versions of this game. I created this big setting and then I created multiple different games within the setting. One of the games I was running in this world was set on spaceships and doing things out in space. Daniel and his wife and my wife, in the game they were playing in the same world, were cops on the asteroid Ceres. So, completely different events going on, but all within this same setting. I had an outline of what was going on in general in the solar system, during these games. Sort of the background events that were happening, and it is actually the background events that we wound up turning into the book. So, I went through my whole background set up with Daniel, and then the two of us sat down and hammered it into an outline that then became the basis for the book.

 

DA: So, Ty did it all. (laughs) It was him. I’ll just shut up.

 

GC:  What was working together like? It seems like you get on really well after a bad first impression.

 

TF: Actually, the truth is – I should make this point because I started out by saying on my first impression I thought Daniel was a dick. It turns out that Daniel is one of the nicest people in the world, and I’m actually a dick. So there was some projecting going on there.  (Daniel laughs.) But, once we got past that point… (laughs)

 

GC: Ty, honey, I’ve met you.

 

TF: (laughs) Yeah, so I don’t have to explain to you. Once we got past that point – and we’ve talked about this in some other interviews – the thing that makes it easy for us to work together is that we both care about the same things.

 

DA: Yeah.

 

TF: Fiction-wise. And really, you can love somebody to death and not be able to work with them, because the projects they want to do are not the projects you want to do.

 

DA: If we were doing something where I was thinking, “Okay, we’re going to write this space opera, but it’s really going to be a retelling of The Tempest. I’m going to have a whole bunch of little Tempest references in it, and once you understand the plot of Shakespeare you’ll totally understand this.” It wouldn’t have worked, because that’s not who Ty is. If I had been really fascinated by the language, the depth of reference and the literary sophistication of the book, and not really concerned about the plot as much as really showing that I have a degree in English (which I don’t, that’s part of what helps) . But if I had, it wouldn’t have flown. We didn’t know this going in, but it turns out the two of us are both interested in the same kinds of fiction. We’re both interested in the same kinds of questions that come up when you’re writing things. It also turned out that Ty was interested in actually writing half of it, which helped a lot, too. That wasn’t my assumption going in. I’ve done a lot of collaborating with a lot of different people, and the workload is not always so evenly shared as it was in this one. I was going to go in and write the thing and have him there to answer questions and he wouldn’t let me do that. It worked out.

 

TF: And there are other things that made it work, as well. I mean, I did do all the background stuff and I did do all the world-building before I met Daniel, but there is no hiding the fact that he has significantly more professional writing credits than I do. So, even though most of the background stuff is mine and most of the world-building is mine… How to structure the plot so that things are revealed in ways that keep the tension high – that’s Daniel. That’s Daniel’s professional background going okay, here’s how you do this, here’s why we reveal this here and why we don’t reveal this other thing until later.

 

DA: Also, all the descriptive passages? Those are me.

 

TF: Yeah. The descriptive passages are Daniel, because I – and I freely admit that when I read fiction, if I hit long descriptive passages, my eyes roll back into my head, and I don’t wake up again until I hit some dialogue or some action.

 

DA: If Ty had written this all on his own without me, it would have been all the dialogue. It would have been a stage play.

 

TF: It would have been dialogue and action, and that’s it. The things that I consider –  if I have any strengths in writing, they are in areas that Daniel has very complementary strengths for. Not to say that he is bad at writing dialogue, because he’s not. But if I write a chapter in which I have lots of cool dialogue and lots of cool action, and then he reads it and goes, “You know, I have no idea – is this taking place in space? Is this in somebody’s living room? You should probably describe something.” And then I can go back and add all the description in later because that’s the kind of thing he picks up on. And conversely, he’ll freely admit that I’m the one who goes through and goes, “You know, you really … it’s been too long since we’ve had an action scene. It’s been too long since we’ve had something exciting happen.” Those are the beats that my eye looks for. Even beyond just being able to work together sort of as a literary process, even in just the mechanical nuts and bolts of it we seem to have very complementary skill sets and complementary ideas about what needs to go in the book.

 

DA: That’s just raw luck. That’s not something you can plan, that’s not something you can put out an ad for. That just happened and it was a happy coincidence.

 

TF: And I will state for the record that designing a plot to a game is nothing like designing the plot to a novel. If I didn’t have Daniel’s professional expertise there during the design of the first novel’s outline, it would not be the book that it is. He was really the one who was going through and saying, “Here’s why you don’t do it that way” or “Here’s why you do do it this way.”  I think the book moves along very well, and that is entirely because of Daniel’s expertise. He’d already written five books by the time we wrote this one. Or eight books, whatever it was. So he had a lot of experience in doing it and I didn’t.

 

GC: That was one of my questions for Daniel. Exactly how many books have you written, and do you have a favorite?

 

DA: Let’s see. (Counts aloud) I think twelve. At this point I think I’m at an even dozen. Though three of them are not on shelves yet. They are finished and they are in the pipe someplace. As far as a favorite book, it’s kind of hard because most of what I have done have been parts of series. So, four of those books are The Long Price Quartet, an epic fantasy series that I have completed. And they are all part of the same story. I think probably the most successful, purely stand alone book I’ve done is the third book in the Long Price Quartet called An Autumn War. Part of my job when I got The Long Price gig was – I’d done a whole lot of short fiction, and I kind of felt like I understood how to do short fiction because I had the experience. I’d done it enough that I had a feel for it, and I wanted to write enough books that I got the same kind of feel for writing a novel. I think Autumn War is where I actually started understanding some things about structure and pace, information control and plot. Some things I knew intellectually were starting to turn into music. Once upon a time, years ago, I tried to learn how to play piano. When I was learning a new song, there was this moment when it stopped being notes and started being music. Autumn War is when it stopped being notes and started being music.

 

GC: Reading Leviathan Wakes, I could tell right away that I was going to enjoy it. It was very quick to engage me in the beginning. One of the things I wasn’t expecting was that there was such a large element of mystery to it. Almost a hard-boiled detective kind of story under the surface. That made me curious as to what kinds of stories you like. Do you read mostly science fiction and fantasy or do you read other genres as well?

 

DA: Oh, no, I’m an omnivore. The weird thing is – just talking for me, here – as I write more science fiction and fantasy and urban fantasy, I read less of it, because that part of my brain is already full. When we’re really in the teeth of writing space opera, I can’t read another space opera. I can read it again later, when we’re done, but it’s an overload [while we’re writing].

 

TF: And, you know, Leviathan is the first book in a series, and part of what we’re doing… I don’t think we were doing it consciously at first, but we’ve since sort of brought it to the fore and actually actively discussed it.  So, part of what we’ve actually talked about doing is… So the first book is obviously science fiction, but it’s also horror, because one of the things I sort of naturally gravitate to in my own writing is horror. Daniel has done some award-winning horror as well, so we’re both sort of naturally drawn to horror. And then, like you said, there’s the noir/mystery in there. Daniel has long had a desire to write mystery, and he’s an avid reader of mystery. I enjoy mystery as well. But having done that now – not that we don’t want to ever want to do those things again – we actually have talked about , in the books going forward, what other sort of literary traditions do we want to explore within the frame of our space opera. For example, in the second book we have a political thriller going on.

 

DA: In there with it.

 

TF: In there with it. At the end of the second book we also have some military fiction going on in there with it. And then we have another story in there, that is – I don’t even know how I would describe the story, but it’s sort of a, you know, a fatherhood story going on.

 

DA: I would go psychological horror on that one. (laughs)

 

TF: (laughs) But, we’re actually consciously thinking about what other literary traditions we want to mine for these. Because, after we finished Leviathan, one of the things we both really enjoyed is that…  I don’t know that we necessarily started out with this a goal, but when we got done we realized that there was such a heavy noir/mystery feel to the Miller sections of the book. We really liked that, and so it sort of became a conscious thing. “Let’s do that some more. Let’s find other things we can do that with.” So that is sort of part of the ongoing project now, to find other sorts of literary stories to tell within the frame of our space opera.

 

DA: And we were talking when we wrote Leviathan that this is the “kitchen sink” plot. We are going to mine every genre we like and put it in there. I mean, we don’t say it out loud, but it’s not like there’s not a romance plot in there, too. It’s all in there. It’s kind of what made it fun.

 

GC: Well, it definitely made it fun to read. Not that you necessarily care what I thought, but-

 

DA: I DO care what you think! (laughs)

 

GC: (laughs) I really enjoyed it.

 

DA: I want everyone to like me, right?

 

GC: It was kind of unexpected. You sit down to read a science fiction book and it has all these other elements of other genres that I also enjoy. It was a wonderful surprise, even though I’m a fan of science fiction in its own right. Who are your favorite writers?

 

DA: Oh, that’s a laundry list. You want to start?

 

TF: I don’t know. I couldn’t even begin. I will say, as far as science fiction goes, probably one of my favorite writers of all time, who heavily influenced my work is Alfred Bester.

 

DA: Bester is good.

 

TF: I’m like Daniel – it’s a laundry list. I like a ton of writers in a ton of different genres.

 

GC: Right. That was probably a terrible question to ask any writer. (laughs)

 

TF: (laughs) And the thing is, unfortunately a lot of my favorite writers are people that I’m actually friends with, so it sounds a little, a little, uh…

 

DA: Ass-kissy. You’re looking for “ass-kissy.”

 

TF: A little ass-kissy. You know, when I say that George Martin is probably my favorite living fantasist-

 

DA: Walter John Williams.

 

TF: Walter John Williams writes some of my favorite space opera. Carrie Vaughn writes my favorite urban fantasy, and unfortunately I now know all of those people and am now friends with them. So when I mention their names they’ll probably look askance.

 

DA: When I look at the people a go back and reread – I think that’s probably a decent [measure of favorites] – I reread stuff that’s out of genre. Out of what I write. I reread Dorothy Sayers and a couple of Jeanette Winterson and Camus’ Plague is like what I do when I’m depressed. I like Dickens. There’s all of these things that aren’t helpful for the genre part. You know I grew up reading Arthur Clarke and Larry Niven and Harry Harrison and Bester. All of those guys are sort of in my head already. These are just the ones I’m thinking of right now. I looked at bookshelf a while back, and I did the math. I figured out that if I read a book a week for the rest of my life, I need to die somewhere in my 90s just to get through what I have in the house right now. There’s too many to say there’s one writer that I like. I can say that because of who I’ve worked with and my experience, I’ve probably learned the most from Walter John Williams. Yeah. He’s somebody who was in a writers’ group that I was in for a long time. I’ve worked with him a lot. I’ve read almost everything he’s done, and what he can do with structure is brilliant. What he can do with controlling information is brilliant. I think a lot of what he has done is critically underrated.

 

TF: I would definitely agree on Walter. I’ve had less workshop time with Walter than Daniel has, but I’ve had enough to be able to honestly say he’s changed how I do some things as well. He’s really quite brilliant. The person I think that probably has – and this probably won’t be visible in my work, but the person who has probably most affected my writing, that I’ve never met, is Stephen King. I started out a Stephen King fan early on, and I know that he’s grown and waned in popularity over the years, over a very long career, but I’ve sort of stuck with him the whole time. What Steve does that I’m always consciously thinking about when I’m writing something, is he has an astonishing ability to make you care about characters in an incredibly short amount of time.

 

TF: He can write a chapter in which the end of the chapter is the person, the point of view character, being killed, and you only meet them at the beginning of the chapter. By the end of the chapter, their death is a tragedy, and you are deeply touched by that death. That ability to take a character, put them on screen for just a few moments, and show you enough about them that you fall in love with them, is something that I’m always thinking about. Especially in Leviathan where we have a lot of characters. We only have two point of view characters, but a lot of people wander on and off screen, and we need you to care about those people. We need you to care about Holden’s crew, even though they’re never point of view characters.  So, Stephen King is definitely someone sitting at the back of my head saying, “Here’s what you tell the reader to make them really care about Amos.” Or, “Here’s what you tell them about Alex to make them really care about Alex.”

 

DA: And that, yeah, that’s… When we talk about having the same sort of literary project, one of the things that we were talking about a lot when we were writing this and when we were writing the next ones… There’s a real impulse, when you’re writing this stuff, to be very emotionally detached, and very distant, as a writer, from the characters.

 

TF: One of the criticisms that is often raised about science fiction is that it is, that it tends to be, an emotionally detached genre.

 

DA: Anytime when you’re writing – I think all writers in all genres struggle with the fact that we’re, on some level, displaying ourselves emotionally when we do this. And then we’re sending it out into the world and inviting the casual judgment of others. That’s hard. And, one of the things that we did with the space opera, was that we were always trying to remember that this is opera. This is melodrama. This is emotional. This is sentimental. These are characters who I want you to have an emotional reaction to. And that’s Ty. I mean that’s Ty bringing that in, whether he’s bringing it from Stephen King… I didn’t know that, but that works. That sense of these stories being unafraid to have an emotional core, and an emotional core that we’re not making fun of or ironically distancing ourselves from. We’re playing that part straight.

 

DA: Connie Willis has this thing she talks about with romantic comedy. One of the things she says about romantic comedy is you can make fun of anything in the whole movie, in the whole story except that relationship between the two main characters. If you make fun of that, you kill the story. I think that’s very smart, and I think what we were trying to do in this was not make fun – not have that distance or cruelty or ironic detachment from what these people were going through.

 

GC: Right. I can see that. I was right there with them through the whole thing when I was reading it, so I think you did a great job with that. I also wanted to ask you if there was any particular aspect of writing this novel that was difficult for either one of you.

 

TF: Other than writing 75,000 or 80,000 words?(laughs)

 

DA: (laughs) I think the writing part, yeah, that was rough.

 

TF: Because this is the longest thing, by several orders of magnitude, that I have ever written. And I know that you, Olivia, read some of my short fiction, and I think the longest short piece I ever wrote was like, 2500 words long. I mean, I’m not a wordy writer. Each of our chapters is 3,000 words long, so each of our chapters was as long or longer than the longest short story I ever wrote. So that was hard for me, and I will give full credit to Daniel for sort of both training me on the discipline of writing so that it’s not a chore, so that you can get through it in the amount of time you  have without killing yourself, but also in teaching me the tricks of how to split chapters up so that you can write these sort of separate pieces and almost treat them like they are their own separate short stories. So you’re not actually looking at 3000 words, you’re looking at a scene of 500 you need to write. So you can write the 500 word scene and feel good, feel like you’ve accomplished something. You know, you’re not sitting there bemoaning the fact that you have, you know, another 80,000 words.

 

DA: Not looking at it like, “Oh, God, I have to walk all the way up this mountain.” It’s like, “No. You only have to walk the next step.” Then you do the next step, and the next step. Eventually you’re at the top of the mountain. Annie Lamott calls that “bird by bird” – just take it bird by bird.

 

GC: I’m in a book club that read that book (Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird) in the last couple of months.

 

DA: Yeah, I love Annie Lamott. She’s very funny and very thoughtful. I appreciate that. The thing with the hard parts of this one… One of the things that I guess, was – it wasn’t hard, but it was something that needed to get worked out and figured out – was the permission to mess with the other guy’s text. (laughs) You know, I’m walking into this. This is Ty’s universe. He’s built it. He has a certain amount of ownership of these characters and these places and this world that he built. I’m kind of here as a technical consultant on how to write a novel. The part where I feel like I can take what he has written and imagined and built over the course of years and say, “Yeah, but that part doesn’t work so we’re going to change it.” And the part where he can take – and, yes, I’m coming in here with books behind me-and the part where he can look at my text and my work and say, “You’ve published a lot more than I have, and you know a lot about how to write books, and on this particular point you’re just plain wrong.” There’s a certain amount of trust and permission you have to earn in order to do that. I think that we did pretty well with that part. It wasn’t – I think, if anything, we were perhaps a bit polite with each other in the beginning. (laughs) We got past that.

 

TF: To agree with that point. (laughs) Not too long ago, working on the second book –  because we’re busy at work on the second book right now… I’m using this as an example, not as… I mean, this has happened to me lots, too. But there was a chapter that Daniel had done, and it just didn’t work. So, here I am, sure, we’ve written one book together, but that book is my only [novel] publication credit, and Daniel, like he said, has twelve books behind him. You have to have a fairly good writing relationship and a fairly good amount of trust to be able to say to somebody with, you know, twelve thousand percent more credit than you have, “This chapter you did? It doesn’t work and you need to re-write it.”

 

DA: But it didn’t work and I needed to rewrite it.

 

TF: But yeah, that is hard to do. It is hard to do because you’re second guessing yourself. I don’t have the writing credits that he has. I mean, he says that to me all the time, and I’m just like, “Yeah, okay. Let me redo that, then.” Because he has a lot more credit than I do, and I just assume he’s right. I don’t assume that I’m right, in that situation. So I had to kind of build up to that. I had to kind of get my nerve up when he came over. I think I stuttered and hemmed and hawed for about fifteen minutes before I finally said it. I mean, I think I was right, and I think it’s a much better chapter now, but it wasn’t easy to do that. It wasn’t easy to say, “Do this again.” This is somebody who is a much more experienced writer than you are.

 

GC: Regarding experience, I have a question for you, Ty. This is your first novel. In writing it, was there any major lesson, any major revelation you would like to share with aspiring writers?

 

TF: Yes. Yes, several. Shall I go through them all?

 

GC: I have all the time you want to spend.

 

TF: Because… I freely admit it to everybody. I had a number of people warn me that it might not sell. I have some friends who are a little skeptical of everything, kind of pessimistic probably. They said, “You know, don’t put your heart in this, because when you get done, you know, if it doesn’t sell you don’t want to be heartbroken.” Even then I wasn’t worried about that because my answer to that always was, “Look. I have a guy who has written – at that point, I think-nine books, who is very critically acclaimed, who is considered to be one of the better up-and-coming writers of our generation. Who comes over to my house every Wednesday for five hours and teaches me how to write. So, I win.” How much would you have to pay to get that? How much would you have to pay to get a well-published writer to come over to your house and give you a five hour lesson every week on how to write, for a year? That would be expensive, and I got it for free. So, a lot of these lessons come from that.

 

 TF: One of the things that I learned is that you can outline without being married to your outline. A lot of people who are afraid of outlining, because they fear that it will stifle their creativity, don’t understand that. That is absolutely not true. Because we outlined the entire first book the first day, and then we started writing. We revised the outline probably, I think, four times over the course of writing the book. The book that we ended up with is, in a lot of ways, very different than that first book that we outlined, but having that outline as a road map, so that at least we kind of knew what direction we were going to be traveling, made an enormous difference in those early chapters, keeping us on course and heading in the direction that we needed to be heading. I’m a convert now. Any book I write from here on out is going to have an outline, because I know I’m not going to be married to it. I know that at any point I can say, “You know, this whole third act that I’ve outlined is completely wrong and I’m going to redo it, and that’s okay.” It will only make it a better book. So that’s one thing I definitely learned.

 

TF: The other thing I learned is, get something on paper. Because if you sit and try to think of the most perfect version of it before you actually start typing, you’ll never type anything. Daniel mentioned that I have a real problem with remembering to add sensory detail. On the sensory detail thing, I think I’m actually a lot better at it now, but one thing I’ve learned is I don’t have to try to remember to do it as I’m writing. I can write my chapter, and then as I’m doing my first revision of my chapter, I notice I don’t have enough sensory detail and I just start dropping sensory details into each paragraph, or periodically on each page. And that’s okay. But the fact that I got something on paper that I can go back and revise, means that I’ll actually get the chapter done. If I actually took the time to think of every sensory detail I was going to add to the chapter as I wrote it, I would never write it.

 

TF: I’ve also seen how different the final version of  Leviathan is from our first draft of it. And how different, even on a chapter-by-chapter level, each chapter is from the first draft and then after Daniel and I have revised it and plugged it into the master document. So, I’m a lot less worried about first drafts. I’m a lot less worried about getting everything perfect the first time through. I spent more time thinking about what are the important beats I need to hit, what are the important details I need to get in here that set the foundation for the next chapter. What are the important emotional moments? What are the important character moments? Those are the things I worry about now, rather than perfect wording and perfect descriptive detail. That’s something I learned by doing, something that I learned while writing this book. Any book I write from here on out is going to include those things because of what I have learned doing this.

 

TF: The other thing that I learned is, probably the biggest lesson is that it is actually possible to write a novel. You’d be surprised how many aspiring novelists don’t realize that it is possible to sit down and write a novel. It’s actually possible. You can actually sit and write, and after a year you’ll have 100,000 words on the pages and it will be a book. The trick is sitting down and writing until you have 100,000 words.

 

GC: How long did it take you to write Leviathan Wakes?

 

TF: A year.

 

DA: About that. You can actually break it down if you take the number of chapters there are and divide by two – that’s the number of Wednesdays we spent. What happens is, I come over to his house on Wednesday-we were doing this pretty strictly with Leviathan Wakes – I’d come over on Wednesday and we’d figure out what chapter I was doing, what chapter he was doing. We’d do little kind of mini outlines of the chapters. I’d write mine, he’d write his and we’d swap. So, the vast majority – the VAST majority of that book was written on Wednesdays.

 

TF: Yes.

 

GC: Wow. Sounds like a very efficient system you had going, there. That’s great.

 

TF: I will say, I’m sure there are negatives to collaboration, the biggest one being that you have to split the money with someone.

 

DA: Yeah, that sucks. (laughs)

 

TF: But, one nice thing about having someone in the room with you while you’re writing your chapter is, it’s really easy to go, “I’m not sure how to approach this” or “I’m not sure how to make this plain.” And you can have a quick little three minute conversation about it and go right back to writing. That kind of stuff can knock you out of writing for hours and/or days when you’re on your own.  Because you’re just not sure how to make this character make this point or you’re not sure how to make sure the audience understands this emotional peak. You’ll spend days thinking about it. If you’ve got two people in the room, it’s like a five minute conversation. That made our work go a lot faster, I think, than probably solo work goes. But you do have to split the money, so that is the downside.

 

GC: One thing I noticed about the Miller chapters, especially in the beginning, was that a lot of the action was really internal. He didn’t even talk very much. That can be really awful to read. (Ty and Daniel laugh.) No, no, no. What I’m saying is that it wasn’t. It was really very engaging and very exciting, but it seems like the kind of thing that less experienced writers do really poorly. Do you have any particular pointers for writing a really internal character?

 

TF: That was Daniel, so I have to let him answer.

 

DA: Well, the thing that makes Miller good to hang out with is that he has a very particular voice. This is going to be a little bit of an aside, I’m going to get back to it in a second. One of the things we’re kind of trained to avoid, when we’re starting off, is expository lumps or info dumps or whatever they call those. It’s because people think they’re boring, because a lot of the time they are. I kind of believe in info-dumps. I like them. I like giving people information that they need in order to understand what’s going on, and preferably in simple, clear, declarative sentences. The way that you keep those from being boring, the way you keep somebody who’s living an internal life and you’re getting what’s in their head from being too dull, is they’ve got a way of speaking. You’re speaking in their voice, and they’re charming. And Miller is a depressing, difficult man, but he’s kind of charming.

 

DA: In addition to that, one of the things that also helps, one of the reasons that you can do what we did with Miller at the beginning of the book, is, um, it’s not one flavor. If you had just a book of Miller, especially just a book of Miller in that first section, when he is laying in a lot of the world-building and he is laying in a lot of the kind of philosophical talk, and he is reflecting and ruminating, it helps that as soon as he’s done doing that , you’re in the middle of a firefight with Holden. That’s glib, and I’m being funny when I say that, but it’s true that, either one of those… We were very careful when we were building it to have the quiet spots in one story synch up with the action in the other guy’s story. So, when Holden is in the most trouble, Miller gets to be the quietest. And when Holden is taking his character moments and exploring the kind of quiet things that are going on in his world, that’s when Miller’s world is falling apart. There’s a certain power in context.

 

GC: Yeah. You get to the end of a Miller chapter and you go back to Holden…

 

TF: (laughs) And something’s blowing up!

 

GC: He’s hanging on to life by his toenails.

 

DA: Yeah! (laughs) “Oh, I wonder what the meaning of the world is-oh, shit, someone’s trying to kill me!” That’s the kind of dichotomy, I guess.

 

GC: Was it Raymond Chandler who said, “If things get too slow, have a man walk through the door with a gun”?

 

DA: Yeah, and you know, it’s funny, we’ve actually used that example several times when we were writing the book.

 

GC: (laughs) For me as a reader, it was a perfect balance. It was really enjoyable.

 

DA: Good.

 

GC: You can get a little worn out on constant peril, too. As a reader, you can sort of get peril fatigue.

 

DA: Yes. That’s why it’s nice to have Miller be quiet when he’s quiet and let Holden have a few quiet moments, too.

 

GC: When things are getting really hairy for Miller…

 

DA: Right. You get a break. Clear your palette.

 

GC: Is there anything else that you would like to share with GeekaChicas’ audience – mostly female geeks?

 

DA: And God bless them.

 

TF: Let them know that in the next book, two of the four point of view characters are women. We’re definitely trying to serve our female audience.

 

GC: That is another question that I wanted to ask you. Did you both write the prologue? Because you were alternating point of view characters and the prologue is Julia’s.

 

DA: The prologue is the piece that has gone through the most re-writing of all of it. It would be very difficult to say who wrote that. I think I wrote the first draft, but I don’t know that any of the individual words of that draft are still in it.

 

TF: Yeah. Daniel did the first draft, and then I did the first major re-write, and then we both alternated rewriting it probably two more times after that.

 

DA: Because that was really when we were thinking our way into it. So it was the one that was the most wrong by the end.

 

GC: Hopefully our readers will go and read about Julia. It’s really exciting, scary. Kind of gross, kind of awesome. (Everyone laughs) Then they’ll want to go buy it by the time they get to the end of that. [Prologue may be read here.]

 

TF: Yeah. And then they’ll want to go buy the second one where we have two incredibly kick ass female characters.

 

DA: Of completely different sorts.

 

TF: Yes.

 

GC: I thought it was really interesting how you managed to keep Julia sort of in the story because of Miller’s obsession.

 

DA: Yeah. That’s a little creepy when you think about it. Miller’s not well.

 

GC: He’s not sick, but he’s not well.

 

DA: Yeah, it would be… it is our solar system’s most broken romance. One of the things that we kind of pulled off with Miller is that he’s a very sympathetic character despite being kind of creepy.

 

GC: Well done. Well done. You also had Naomi, who was really kind of kick ass in the Holden chapters.

 

DA: Really kick ass.

 

TF: Yeah. Naomi is kick ass. One of the things with Naomi is we were trying to… I don’t want to keep you on too long, but this is a conversation that Daniel and I actually had about women in fiction. Because obviously he also writes urban fantasy. And urban fantasy… sort of the cliché in urban fantasy is that you have kick ass female characters. But…

 

DA: Okay, let’s hold on a second. There’s a rant.

 

TF: there’s a whole essay in there. One of the things that’s endemic in urban fantasy is that they are kick ass by way of their ability to do violence. One of the things we talked about with Naomi was that we wanted to make a woman character – a strong female character – who is completely kick ass and never once does anything violent. And if you notice in the book, Naomi is not a violent character. She never commits an act of violence in the entire story. And yet, people who read the book will come back and say, “Oh, Naomi kicked so much ass!” So I think hopefully we were successful with that. Trying to walk that tightrope of making somebody who’s really kick ass and yet to having their superpower be violence.

 

DA: Well, there’s a misunderstanding of what you mean by having a strong woman character. That phrase lends itself to being misunderstood. Because either you put the parentheses around strong woman, or strong character. Naomi is a strong character, who is a woman. She is not a woman who has been weaponized and made into a placeholder in your book.

 

GC: I love that. A weaponized female character. That’s awesome. I think that you’re right. I think that a lot of quote-unquote kick ass female characters are sort of masculinized in a way.

 

DA: YES! Yes. It’s because they are. Because, oh-you’re getting into my rant! Damn you.

 

GC: Give me your rant. The GeekaChicas will want to hear it.

 

DA: I’m going to rant for a second. I think what happens, and this from the urban fantasy stuff that I do. I write as MLN Hanover, which is a whole other gender discussion to have, but I’m not going to worry about that. And I have a character, Jayne Heller, who I have a series of books called The Black Sun’s Daughter that I’m writing with her. Part of what’s going on in urban fantasy, I think, is that we’re sitting on this huge cultural discomfort with women in power, and how to be powerful. And the default setting-the first thing that people reach for, just automatically – is you take the folks you see as being in power, and you act like them, right? So, the kick ass female protagonists that we see most often in urban fantasy are women who are embracing masculine power, which is to say, violence. Naomi is one of the reactions I have against that, and Jayne Heller is another.

 

TF: And we delve even further into Daniel’s psyche in the next book-

 

DA: WOOHOO!

 

TF: -because we have, as I said, two female protagonist point of view characters in the next book. The next book has more point of view characters than the first one, so there’s a total of four. One of whom is a politician, and so we get to do our little diatribe on women in power in a political setting. Which is kind of fun. Anybody who likes the first book definitely should get the next one because our woman in power is completely kick ass. She’s actually… In writing the book – Daniel’s writing her chapters – and in writing the book one of my favorite things to read is his chapters about her because they are always a good time.

 

DA: And she’s not violent.

 

TF: She’s not violent. She’s powerful.

 

GC: I’m already excited. Finish this book, guys!

 

DA: We’re working on it. That’s what we’re doing next. I had this whole rant on my blog about the difference between a powerful woman and a weaponized one, and some of my take about how we’re sitting on that as a culture. And that is bleeding into this, too.

 

GC: I’ll be sure to link to it, because I think this discussion is an important one, and one that is of interest to our audience as well. [Here is more follow-up on the original rant and its fallout.] It’s not like your entire catalog hasn’t already been added to my To Be Read list after this. Because I was so fascinated by Miller being such an internal character, especially in the beginning, and still being so much fun to read. I think I told Ty that he reminded me a little bit of Kurt Wallander. Have you ever read those books?

 

DA: No. I don’t think so.

 

GC: I think they’re Swedish.

 

DA: That explains it.

 

GC: They’ve been translated into English and then the BBC made movies of some of them starring Kenneth Branagh.

 

DA: No. No, I think I did [read them]. When I was in college I may have read a couple of those. I read a few series by Swedes and Finnish folks. They manage to do depressing better than anybody.

 

GC: When the BBC said they were going to make movies, of those books, I wondered how they were going to do it. Because the main character has basically supporting character amounts of dialogue. He’s this really laconic character.

 

DA: Yeah. (laughs)

 

GC: This is how much Miller ate my brain. When I was watching Wallander, it reminded me of Miller, that it’s not an easy thing to do [make an internal character interesting], but it reads very easily. It’s a lot of fun to read and you don’t really think about how difficult it would be to do.

 

TF: I know you’re not supposed to point to the mechanics, but part of what helps there is short chapters.

 

DA: Yeah. Honestly, the 3,000 word chapter is a beautiful thing.

 

TF: You can tolerate almost anything for 3,000 words.

 

DA: And then you’re in the middle of Holden having a battle again. You know? You just kind of get through it. I do have a strange and OCD-like kink about word count that actually controls a lot of the pacing of the books. Pretty much, you’re not going to find that any of those chapters is under 2600 or 2700 words, and none of them are going to be over 4,000 [words].

 

GC: What do you do if somebody starts to run over?

 

DA: Then something has gone wrong with the chapter.

 

GC: It sounds like you have a very good working relationship.

 

DA: It worked out very well because I was very set in my ways before we started and Ty was learning from me. So, he has very kindly accepted all of my kinks and problems as if they were normal.

 

TF: I don’t obsess over word count like he does, but I know that he does, so I just let him have his way.

 

DA: It works really well. (laughs)

 

TF: (laughs) Because I don’t care. And you know, the best way to teach somebody that your way is right is to do it and have it work. So it was really easy for me to just fall into doing things Daniel’s way, because I saw the end product was good. He didn’t have to convince me, because we got ten chapters in and I was like, “Wow. These three thousand word chapters are just flying by. This is awesome. This book is screaming past at, you know, freight train speeds.” I just thought, yeah. Let’s keep doing that because clearly this is working. It’s not like he had to convince me.

 

DA: It would have been different word count if you were looking for a different pace. If you were looking at a slower book, you would use a different metric, use a different length.

 

TF: We have friends of ours who are working on very different projects. I was talking to one of them just yesterday and he’s got a chapter that is 15,000 words long. That would be five chapters in our book, and it’s one chapter for him. But he’s doing a very different project. He’s doing a different thing, and his pace is not our pace.

 

GC: Right. Well, I’ve taken up a enough of your working time, unless there are any final remarks that you would like to add.

 

TF: You said we were getting paid for this, right?

 

GC: (laughs) Maybe some sales.

 

DA: That’s nice.

 

GC: Our site has a relatively sizable following in the UK. Is your book going to be available there as well?

 

TF: Yes. Actually, our series was purchased by a UK publisher.

 

DA: Orbit was primarily a UK publisher, and is now moving into the United States. The guy who bought Leviathan, and who bought the series, bought it out of London. It’s available in Australia as well, if you have Australian readers.

 

GC: We do! And I know that the Geek Femmes are going to love Leviathan Wakes. Thank you for your time, both of you. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about your work together.

 

DA & TF: Thank you, Olivia.