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Interview with Yoon Ha Lee


Please welcome Yoon Ha Lee to The Qwillery. Raven Stratagem (Machineries Of Empire Trilogy 2) is published today by Solaris Books.



Interview with Yoon Ha Lee




TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, Raven Stratagem (Machineries Of Empire Trilogy 2), is published on June 13th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote Ninefox Gambit (Machineries Of Empire Trilogy 1) to Raven Stratagem?

YHL:  Hello, and thanks for having me! The writing process was mostly the same! In both cases I started with a longhand rough draft written with fountain pen, although with Ninefox I just wrote in notebooks, while in Raven Stratagem, because it has three main POV characters, I color-coded the characters' chapters using pastel Clairefontaine paper in a binder. I also color-coordinated the fountain pen inks (pink paper and red ink for Shuos Mikodez because red is one of the Shuos colors, for example). It's ridiculous, but it made the structure of the book easier to see at a glance, and it appealed to my sense of frivolity. I took later drafts into Scrivener for ease of editing and revisions, and ran them by multiple beta readers, then did more revisions. For revisions, I would write quick summaries of each chapter on index cards along with the POV, and rearrange the index cards so I could quickly reshuffle my plot--especially useful when I had to add some chapters to Raven Stratagem and needed to reorganize the novel so that the midpoint event once again fell at the actual midpoint of the wordcount.



TQNinefox Gambit has been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke, Hugo and Nebula Awards. How does that affect your writing if at all?

YHL:  Well, it made me more of a nervous wreck for a while there, simply because it was so overwhelming! But honestly, while I'm honored for my book to be considered, it doesn't change the day-to-day work of writing. The words still have to get down on the page (or in the computer). Congratulations to all the Nebula winners, by the way!



TQWhat do you wish that you knew about book publishing when Ninefox Gambit came out that you know now?

YHL:  Mostly that the book publishing process takes months to years! I remember having one short story get published by a webzine literally weeks after I sold it. I'm pretty sure you can't do that with print books. It's more like what I imagine running a marathon would be like (if I could run marathons). You have to be in it for the long haul and keep sight of far-off goals.



TQWhat method or methods do you use to keep track of the characters and events in the Machineries of Empire Trilogy?

YHL:  I realized pretty rapidly that I was going to need a continuity bible. Mine is a 40,000-word Scrivener file that I...really should update more often, because it's outdated again, and from time to time I export dated copies in mobi format so I can put it on my Kindle for easy reference. For events, I have a timeline. It's hilarious, because I hate keeping track of dates, but given how obsessed the hexarchate is with numbers and dates, it was impossible not to.

For major characters, I do full write-ups on their personalities, quirks, notable traits, physical appearances, and so on. I also stat them up as if they were overpowered roleplaying game characters, with the caveat that since they're book characters they don't need to adhere to some notion of "game balance." And for some of the major characters I also write up their opinions of the other characters, which may or may not have much basis in reality, since characters have their own biases and misconceptions.



TQ Tell us something about Raven Stratagem that is not in the book description.

YHL:  Partway through the book, you'll get some more backstory on Shuos Jedao and Nirai Kujen and their entirely unhealthy alliance! This includes some things that Jedao himself isn't currently aware of.



TQ Please tell us about the cover for Raven Stratagem.

YHL:  The art is by Chris Moore, who also did the cover art for Ninefox, and it depicts one of the space stations in Raven Stratagem, the Fortress of Spinshot Coins. I think the starships are supposed to evoke ravens based on the title, which I thought was an especially nice touch. I'm thrilled by Moore's covers (I have seen previews of the one for Revenant Gun, which is the third book) and they're all gorgeous, but I have to admit that Raven Stratagem's is my favorite!



TQWhich character in the Machineries of Empire Trilogy (so far) has surprised you the most?

YHL:  I think Hexarch Nirai Kujen. Originally I'd written Ninefox Gambit as a standalone, and Kujen was a very minor character. He ended up becoming much more important than I'd intended. His personality also changed significantly, partly as a consequence of feedback from my sister and my husband regarding the very first draft of Ninefox, in which Jedao was an out-and-out sociopath. I mean, he's still not a particularly nice or good human being, but my sister and husband felt that having Cheris be overshadowed and bullied by someone so palpably evil would make the book too unpleasant for anyone to actually read. So I dialed Jedao back and redid his personality and motivations. But of course, I guess there's a conservation of sociopathy going on, so that Kujen, who was originally a cowardly mad scientist who pursued immortality because he was terrified to die, ended up as a sociopath in revisions. Sorry...? I'm afraid you'll have to wait until the third book to get much more background on him, although there's some more material on him in Raven Stratagem.



TQThe Machineries of Empire Trilogy is Space Opera. What do you think is the appeal of Space Opera?

YHL:  Well, I don't know about anyone else, but for me it's two parts Big Space Battles to one part not having to sweat the fine details of actual physics. Certainly there are space operas that adhere more strictly to known physics and engineering, but there's a whole spectrum of this stuff from technology as essentially magic (which is where Machineries falls) to harder sf, so there's something for everyone. I like physics fine and sometimes read hard sf for fun, but sometimes I don't want to sweat Lorentzian contractions or be bothered about how the FTL system makes no sense. (They rarely do, in my experience...)

The other thing I think might be particularly appealing about space opera is its romantic nature, not in the sense of kissing scenes but larger-than-life plots and personalities. I hear that in history two opposing approaches to understanding events are Big Personalities vs. Massed Social Forces. I think there's value to both approaches (I say, despite not being a historian), but space opera very definitely tends toward Big Personalities, which can be appealing as a fantasy of agency.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Raven Stratagem.

YHL

          “Look at the insignia,” the man said. “That’s some kind of officer, isn’t it?”
          Whoever the medics were, they clearly weren’t Kel.
          “That’s a lieutenant colonel, you dimwit.” The owner of the first voice sounded like they wished their companion were something smarter, like a slime mold.



TQWhat's next?

YHL:  I'm currently working on a Korean mythology space opera for middle grade readers called Dragon Pearl for Disney-Hyperion. The heroine is a shapeshifting fox spirit girl searching for her brother, who allegedly deserted from the Space Forces while hunting for the Dragon Pearl of the title--an artifact that can terraform worlds. As you can imagine, considering that this whole thing is set in space, I'm playing fast and loose with the source folklore and not sweating authenticity too much.

After that, I'll be working on a collection of hexarchate short stories called, appropriately, Hexarchate Stories. Half the material will be reprints of extant hexarchate material, and half of it will be new to the collection. And after that, who knows?



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

YHL:  Thank you for having me!





Raven Stratagem
The Machineries of Empire 2
Solaris, June 13, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
Captain Kel Cheris is possessed by a long-dead traitor general. Together they must face the rivalries of the hexarchate and a potentially devastating invasion.

When the hexarchate's gifted young captain Kel Cheris summoned the ghost of the long-dead General Shuos Jedao to help her put down a rebellion, she didn't reckon on his breaking free of centuries of imprisonment – and possessing her.

Even worse, the enemy Hafn are invading, and Jedao takes over General Kel Khiruev's fleet, which was tasked with stopping them. Only one of Khiruev's subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, seems to be able to resist the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.




Previously

Ninefox Gambit
The Machineries of Empire 1
Solaris Books, June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics.  Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics.  Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake.  If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own.  As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.





About Yoon Ha Lee

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
Yoon Ha Lee's first novel, NINEFOX GAMBIT, came out in 2016 from Solaris Books and was shortlisted for the Nebula, Hugo, and Clarke awards. Its sequel, RAVEN STRATAGEM, is forthcoming in June 2017. He lives in Louisiana with his family and an extremely lazy cat, and has not yet been eaten by gators.

Website  ~  Twitter @motomaratai






Yoon Ha Lee has written guides to the factions of the hexarchate in his faction blogs at Solaris Books:

The Factions: HIGH FACTION RAHAL
http://www.solarisbooks.com/post/1990


The Factions: LOW FACTION NIRAI
http://www.solarisbooks.com/post/1996


The Factions: HIGH FACTION ANDAN
http://www.solarisbooks.com/post/1999


The Factions: LOW FACTION VIDONA
http://www.solarisbooks.com/post/2002


The Factions: HIGH FACTION SHUOS
http://www.solarisbooks.com/post/2005


The Factions: LOW FACTION KEL
http://www.solarisbooks.com/post/2008


The Factions: HERETICAL FACTION LIOZH
http://www.solarisbooks.com/post/2011

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee


Please welcome Yoon Ha Lee to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Ninefox Gambit was published on June 14th by Solaris Books.



Interview with Yoon Ha Lee




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Yoon:  Howdy! I became interested in writing in 3rd grade, when my teacher, Mr. McCracken, had a habit of dressing up as the superhero "Story Man"

and coming in to teach us about creative writing. Up until then, I had had some vague notion that stories fell out of the sky or grew on trees or something. The idea that people wrote books was amazing, and I wanted to try my hand at it. So for years, my sister and I wrote little stories for each other, even making "book catalogues" with catchy summaries and ordering stapled-paper "books" from each other, most of which we failed to actually finish writing.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Yoon:  Plotter, definitely. I envy pantsers, but when I try to do it that way, I write myself into a hole pretty consistently.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Yoon:  Oh my God, characterization. When character-oriented writers talk to me about how easy it is to have characters in their heads who come alive and tell them what they (the characters) want to do, I am so envious! I do best when I can relate to something about the character's personality.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does your background in mathematics influence your writing?

Yoon:  Reading Roger Zelazny and Patricia McKillip in high school taught me that language could be beautiful for its own sake. For worldbuilding, I've been influenced by a number of game settings. For example, Planescape was an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons setting with several factions in which reality is shaped by belief, even to the point that cities can shift out of one dimensional plane and into another. Another is Warhammer 40,000 with its bloodthirsty endless grimdark wars; I am not willing to pay for the miniatures, but I really enjoy the over-the-top-ness of it all. And the third I'd like to mention is Legend of the Five Rings, which is a samurai fantasy setting where the clans are in conflict all the time, with bonus demons and zombies.

For short fiction, I often structure stories like a proof, starting with the core premise (axioms) and reaching a conclusion (theorem). I didn't do that in Ninefox Gambit, but I used some mathematical imagery and concepts. I think math is incredibly beautiful. People think of numbers sometimes as being really cold and impersonal, but I think of them as being incredibly personal. Math is the language the universe is written in, and numbers are literally life and death! I've tried to get across some of that in Ninefox Gambit.



TQDescribe Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire Trilogy 1) in 140 characters or less.

Yoon:  Disgraced captain teams up with undead tactician to save the galaxy from heretics. The catch: the tactician may be out to kill her.



TQTell us something about Ninefox Gambit that is not found in the book description.

Yoon:  The world's technology base is mostly magic--and the magic is based on calendars. If everyone uses the same calendar, it enables one set of technologies. If people start using a different calendar, those technologies--which include things like the stardrive and FTL communications--stop working and other technologies become enabled. So the government has a very strong incentive to enforce timekeeping. I got this idea from reading about different calendar systems in Marcia Ascher's ethnomathematics book Mathematics Elsewhere, with a side of Harlan Ellison's "The Paladin of the Lost Hour."



TQWhat inspired you to write Ninefox Gambit? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

Yoon:  A couple years earlier, I had started writing a space opera fanfic version of Legend of the Five Rings (L5R). I had to pause this project when I tried out to become one of L5R's official Story Team writers for Alderac Entertainment Group. As it turned out, I was one of two writers selected to be added to the team (Robert "Spooky" Denton was the other), so I definitely had to shelve that fic. And then I was busy writing official game tie-in fiction, which was a great experience.

Later, after I'd stopped writing for AEG, I realized I still wanted to write a space opera. I'd been publishing short sf for years, but I was interested in trying something with more scope for a bigger world and a larger plot, especially since space opera is about scale!

The other thing was that I had become addicted to TV Tropes. My favorite pages on that site, then as now, are Moral Event Horizon, Magnificent Bastard, and Chessmaster. I wanted a chance to use those tropes in my own writing, and so I started brainstorming Ninefox Gambit with those in mind.

What I like about science fiction is that it lets me tell stories about worlds that aren't. As long as I can keep things entertaining and spin in some general plausibility, I can make up a lot of details. It also lets me imagine a spacefaring future. I'm personally too chicken to ever leave the planet and with my health problems I'd be a lousy candidate for it anyway, but with the help of the imagination, I can go anywhere I like without leaving my couch.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Ninefox Gambit?

Yoon:  Tons of military reading, for starters. While my dad was an Army surgeon for a while, I don't have any military background. I read field manuals (my favorite is FMFRP 12-2 Infantry in Battle) and I've spent most of my life reading military history, which helped. I also read Ross Anderson's Security Engineering (both editions) to prepare for writing my antagonist, and some of the related cryptology stuff I already knew about from studying it as a math major. Also some stuff on game design--I have done a little of that, so I was already interested in the topic--because one of the characters has a standing interest in games.

The weirdest thing I ended up researching was goose farming. Someone kindly pointed me to Dave Holderread's The Book of Geese. I spent a full week asking my husband if we could quit it all and start up a goose farm in the country, and he reminded me that I like to get up around noon and this is not conducive to farming. It did, however, give me a great excuse to do roast goose for Thanksgiving, so at least I got something tasty out of it?



TQIn Ninefox Gambit who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Yoon:  Jedao was the easiest character once I figured out his voice. Disturbingly, he wouldn't shut up! I'm actually a little shocked, because his personality is the opposite of mine. He's a raging extrovert who loves being around people and he's a lot smarter than I am. (Also, I am not a mass murderer and I totally disapprove of mass murder. Just so that's clear.) But the fact that he was the antagonist also made him a lot of fun. If you point at any of his lines of dialogue, I can tell you whether he's telling the truth or lying or something in between, and why he's saying what he's saying.

The protagonist, Cheris, was the hardest. I designed her to complement Jedao, which meant she was introverted and quiet, and it was a struggle sometimes to make her compelling when the contrast was so strong.



TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Ninefox Gambit?

Yoon:  I didn't write Ninefox Gambit to be about social issues per se--I intended it as a rather bloodthirsty space adventure--but some of that inevitably comes in when you talk about dictatorship. The setting is an extremely restrictive and dystopian police state. A certain amount of the story involves Cheris learning to think beyond the confines of her upbringing.



TQWhich question about Ninefox Gambit do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Yoon:

Question: Why do the ships and space stations look like that?

Answer: Confession time. I'm almost completely non-visual--I have perfect pitch and I can hear symphonies in my head, but pictures, forget it. So when I name things, it's to evoke a feeling.

The starships are called "voidmoths" because they're based on biotech; they're actually enslaved and cyborged aliens. (The protagonist doesn't know this, though.) As for the space stations, I just gave them interesting-sounding names without thinking about what they would look like.

This became interesting when it came to the cover. To be perfectly frank, I was expecting to have the frequent thing happen where the cover illustration bears tenuous resemblance to anything that actually happens in the book. So I was shocked to be asked about the setting and its visuals. The illustrator, Chris Moore, did a fantastic job of interpreting my names! The station on the cover of Ninefox Gambit is the Fortress of Scattered Needles. It sure looks like its name!



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Ninefox Gambit.

Yoon:
"What happened to the cup?" He was waiting for her to ask anyway. Was there a trap in the question?

"I lost it on campaign. Ambush, a nasty one. One of my soldiers went back for the fucking thing against direct orders because she thought a cup mattered more to me than her life. You won't find this in the records. I didn't think there was any sense shaming her family with the details since she was already dead."

Jedao could be lying to her and she would have no way of verifying the story. But no one could have guessed that the small details of his life would matter centuries later. If they mattered. What she didn't understand was, what was he trying to prove with the anecdote? He sounded like a good commander. Of course, everyone had thought he was a good commander until he stopped being a good human being.


TQWhat's next?

Yoon:  I've already turned in the second book of the trilogy, Raven Stratagem. Right now I'm revising a space opera comedy novelette about Jedao doing a mission back when he was a starship commander (goose fat is involved and in fact crucial to the plot), and working on the third book of the trilogy, Revenant Gun.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Yoon:  Thank you for having me!





Ninefox Gambit
The Machineries of Empire 1
Solaris Books, June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics.  Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics.  Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake.  If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own.  As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.





About Yoon Ha Lee

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
Yoon Ha Lee's short fiction has appeared in Tor.com, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and other venues. His short story collection Conservation of Shadows came out from Prime Books in 2013. He lives in Louisiana with his family and an extremely lazy cat, and has not yet been eaten by gators.

Website  ~  Twitter @motomaratai


2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee


2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee


The Qwillery is pleased to announce the newest featured author for the 2016 Debut Author Challenge.


Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit
The Machineries of Empire 1
Solaris Books, June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics.  Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics.  Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake.  If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own.  As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.

Interview with Yoon Ha LeeInterview with Yoon Ha Lee2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

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