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Hammeredby Elizabeth Bear
Author Q & A
Thoughts on Writing Hammered
By Elizabeth Bear
I wrote Hammered sitting cross-legged on the floor of the spare bedroom in my best friend’s house in Glastonbury, Connecticut. I wasn't exactly homeless at the time, but I wasn't exactly secure in my place in the universe either. I was trying to find work in an uncertain economy, trying to move home after a long time away, and trying to find a way to turn the ideas in my head into the ideas on the page. I had written three novels; I was about to start on my fourth.
I told a friend that I wanted to write a book about trash.
"Trash?" she said. "What do you mean, trash?"
And I told her, "The things that get thrown away that aren't really garbage. The things that are a little dented, not so pretty anymore but maybe still have a lot of use in them. The things that could be salvaged if you gave them half a chance. You know. Trash."
And she laughed, but not in an unkind manner, and so I sat down to think about writing the book.
My stories almost always start with a character with a problem, and in this case I knew exactly who I wanted to write about. Not your typical hero or heroine but somebody a little older, a little sadder, somebody with enough scars to know better and too much compassion to quit trying. I dug around in the back of my head until I found somebody who looked likely, sat her down to interview her a bit (metaphorically speaking), and before I knew it, we were off.
I should add that Master Warrant Officer Jenny Casey is an old friend. I first met her in 1994, when she appeared as the protagonist of a novelette, so I knew going in that she had a strong voice and very definite ideas about how she wanted to tell a story. I also knew the story would be dragging up some old demons for her, in the persons of old friends and enemies better forgotten, and that it would be much, much bigger than she'd be able to see at the outset. And I knew that she had been badly injured in the distant past, and that she was disabled, and that that disability had to be the core of the story.
I knew I wanted to talk about climactic change and cyberspace and medical science–the unexplored ramifications of actual, functional cyberware have been bugging me since I first fell in love with Cyberpunk back in its heyday–and I've always been a sucker for a good political thriller or noir detective story. Travis McGee and Easy Rawlins are friends of mine, and mysteries are just darned fun to plot. And my favorite science fiction has always been what I'd describe as "the literature of testing to destruction:" the books that take an idea or a problem and push it until it breaks, and then explore the mess left over.
Once I combined these things with some secondary characters and events–a gang lord, a drug war, a not-so-mad scientist or two, a few politicians and police officers of questionable ethics, a mysterious alien derelict–I started to become very excited about the book, because I could feel it taking on a life of its own, and getting bigger, so to speak, than the space inside my head. There's a moment, for me, when the stories really take off–when I can feel the whole plot solidly click into place–and I could tell, when that happened, that Hammered was a big, complicated story.
In fact, a little too big. What I had on my hands, it turns out, was not one book, but three.
It's a little weird to be nearly done with Jenny and her friends. Kind of an empty place in my head; I've been living with them so long that I've come to consider them as cantankerous but generally helpful neighbors. On the other hand, I'm also very happy and excited that they're going out into the wide world now, hopefully to make some new friends. I just hope everybody else has as much fun having them around as I have.
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