My Favorite Bit: Kameron Hurley talks about THE MIRROR EMPIRE
Kameron Hurley is joining us today with her novel The Mirror Empire. Here’s the publisher’s description.
On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.
In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.
Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of ruin.
As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.
Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.
In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.
What’s Kameron’s favorite bit?
My Favorite Bit: These Aren’t Your Typical Ents
When my epic fantasy novel The Mirror Empire was making the rounds, looking for a publisher, I found myself overcome with a desire to build dangerous terrariums. I’d spent the last nine months writing about flesh-eating plants, and terrarium building seemed like a good creative outlet that wasn’t writing. It turns out, as many already know, that nurturing carnivorous plants is trickier than it looks. Despite care with filtered water and non-enriched soil, I watched my pitcher plants and Venus fly traps shrivel and die.
I was reminded of this vision of death when my first round of structural edits came back on The Mirror Empire after it found a home at Angry Robot Books. My editor had highlighted my favorite chapter of the whole book, the one where the reader finally gets a look at the semi-sentient trees I’ve been foreshadowing throughout the narrative, and said that though the chapter was “entertaining-ish” it really didn’t add much to the story, and perhaps I should consider shortening or cutting it.
A bolt of cold terror cut through me. I starred at my favorite chapter, where the non-magically-gifted head of the militia outsmarts a gifted assassin by exploiting her knowledge of the herds of sentient trees that roam the woodland. I loved that chapter to pieces. I loved the pacing, the character moments, the horror, the weirdness, and of course – the bizarre trees that snarl up the dead from the ground and deposit them into these big pitcher-like growths swinging from their crowns, to be devoured and digested in delicious plant juices.
If this was what my editor thought of my favorite chapter, I thought – how bad was the rest of the book?
I’ve told my agent and others that I work best under deadlines. The adrenaline of a deadline helps me focus and prepare my best work. It turns out there’s another way to give me a spike of adrenaline: the fear that the book I’m about to send out the door and have book bloggers and colleagues review is a piece of crap.
It doesn’t matter how many books I write: the fear is still there. The fear that somehow, this one is the crappy one.
That editorial note freaked me out, and I attacked the book with new vigor.
I loved my evil sentient trees. I loved my witty militia-leading heroine. I was not going to cut them. So I needed to make them – and all the events leading up to them – crisper, tighter, more interesting. I needed to justify this chapter.
I ended up cutting about 10,000 words from the manuscript, and completely reimagining several plot lines. I gave my characters more personal stakes instead of just concentrating on the overall story stakes. I kicked at my dialogue and my character relationships and turned a rather messy book with some good ideas into a more succinctly plotted and powerful book.
On the downside, I’d already send out the first version of the book to other authors for blurbs. I still wince at that. On the upside, I kicked the book into shape, all because I wasn’t going to lose those damn semi-sentient trees.
An editor’s job isn’t so much to be prescriptive: I think a lot of writers outside the publishing game think you have to do what editors say all the time, or that they rewrite your books for you. But great editors simply point to problems. They tell you where things are lagging, where you lost them. They make suggestions. If, like me, the suggestion is to cut out your favorite part of the book, you need to sit down and take stock of exactly what that means. Does it really mean cut it out, or does it mean you didn’t do a good enough job justifying it being there?
It’s often harder to go back and fix everything that came before than it is to just cut the chapter. A writer who got that edit who thought editing was prescriptive might have just cut the chapter and moved on. But I’m not that kind of writer. I’m here to write the best book possible.
So it should surprise no one that I’m trying again to raise those carnivorous plants in terrariums, now. I’m taking what I learned from last time and giving it another go, because failure doesn’t mean you give up. Failure means you work to get better. Failure means you’re on to something great. You just need to put in the work to transform a failure into a pitcher plant.
A really big one. With sharp, nasty teeth.
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy, comprising the books God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Year’s Best SF, EscapePod, The Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.